The Butterfly and the Dragon
The opening, for now, of a future work by John Maberry
Her iridescent blue scales flashed brightly in the morning light streaming through the glass-enclosed boardroom, holding their attention as she presented her report.
“Sales of the home DNA repair kits are better than expected,” Roz told the Dragon directors. “The humans are defenseless against appeals to their vanity—not to mention their insecurities about gene-linked disease. As soon as we get the kits on store shelves, they’re gone.”
“When will we see results of the ‘repairs’?” T’ssac, interrupted, sliding his tail slowly from side to side in a gesture reserving judgment.
“Increases in heart attacks will take a little longer but we already are seeing an uptick in liver and pancreatic cancers. By the time anyone realizes that the repair kits are actually causing this, it will be too late.” Roz replied. No one could have expected it.
“Great job, Roz. I knew we made the right choice putting you in charge of bioengineering and now you’re taking the lead on this project!” Said K’tosh, flicking his tongue out to sample the confident aroma Roz exuded. As one of the original Dragon Development programming directors, K’tosh had a big stake in the success of the plan to take over Earth.
“Yes, yes—we know how enthusiastic you are about the plan, but don’t let pheromones from the lovely Roz distract you. We have to be certain the Consortium doesn’t have any clues about what we are really up to,” said T’ssac.
“Don’t let my looks fool you, T’ssac; I know what I am doing,” Roz said, thumping her tail loudly on the floor even as her scales darkened in a mix of embarrassment and anger. “As I was saying, the sale of the kits is going very well. We have developed 17 different degenerative DNA strands for the kits. Distribution of the strands is randomized to avoid raising any alarms.”
“Well then, that seems to bring us up to date for now. Thank you for your report, Roz,” said Prilk “if anything urgent comes up, call my secretary; otherwise we will look forward to hearing from you again at our next regular meeting.” As chairman of the board, Prilk had the power to cut off debate; he also had the knack of knowing when to exercise it.
The butterfly’s bark shook Prentice from his reverie. A tart sound, heard only with brain-pepper augmented senses. Without enhancement, he had no hope of navigating the rain forest that offered many painful deaths—some quick and some prolonged. How long have I been standing here? He wondered, tracking the butterfly’s upward path until it veered away. That’s when he saw the giant spider, expectantly flexing its mandibles two feet overhead. Only the butterfly’s warning saved him from the hypnotic hunter’s mind-web, holding Prentice tightly. “Hey, a spider’s gotta eat,” the hairy-legged monster said, “no offense.”
“None taken,” said Prentice, blowing a hit of brain-pepper in the spider’s face—a fatal toxin for arachnids of all sizes. The drug’s effects on Prentice must have been wearing off, three hours from the last assault to his seared septum; otherwise, he would have noticed the spider before the mind-cloud got him. He had paused to rest for only a moment when the memories of Roz flooded over him, thanks to the eight-legged killer. Brilliant blue hues reflecting from steel-hard scales—how could there be a more beautiful lizard anywhere in the galaxy? He had to get her back, even if it meant daring the deadly rain forest.
Despite the havoc it wreaked on his nasal passages, he took another snort of the stimulant. He hadn’t tracked Roz across the galaxy to be stopped by drug company security. The pharms imported the genetically engineered predators from low gravity labs orbiting the fertile planet Soleus, protecting their investment in medicinal flora and fauna with deadly force. Which way, which way Mr. Butterfly? Will you show me a safe path? Prentice wasted no words on the blue morpho, who had no ear for talk. Still, it heard his unspoken plea, with one quick yip and a waggle of its wings flashing brown and blue, it pointed Prentice the way—in hopes perhaps, of some reward for a successful lizard hunt.
Of course, Prentice never should have let her seduce him that way, compromising not only his mission but threatening an end to the human race. He was supposed to get close to her, close enough to steal or sabotage her work—not fall in love with her. Perhaps his handler underestimated the risks. It seems inevitable now, well into the last half of the 21st century, but in the early decades, who could have foreseen the global effect of reality programming. The real threat to the world came not from the extremism of terrorists, but from extreme entertainment and associated marketing. The political and military-industrial complex withered away, replaced by the Entertainment-Food-Cosmetic-Consortium. As time wore on, of course, viewers wanted more and more extreme action. So the Consortium suits looking always for the next jolt were thrilled by the unexpected entry of Dragon Development, newly arrived from off-planet into the mix. The Dragons offered fresh fare for jaded viewers.
The Dragon programming breathed fire (literally) into the extreme entertainment that had begun losing market shares among jaded viewers. Wrestling small-brained reptiles held little interest anymore. Dangling over piranha-infested waters—blasé. Battling an intelligent lizard, a sentient species, now that was entertaining! While the Consortium loved the ratings that generated product sales, when Dragon Development began competing in the apparel, cosmetic and pharmaceutical arenas concerns arose that the Dragon producers were taking the first steps in a hostile takeover. Little did they know how hostile.
Selling beer, snacks, shampoo and skin smoothers continued unabated, but product and show development resources were diverted to defeating the Dragons product marketing initiatives. Genetic engineering had become an essential adjunct to profits by making available more exciting games, more exotic foods and bizarre new products. So designing the Prentice chimera posed no great bioengineering challenge. But the enlarged reptilian brain stem, below the limbic system, created risks unforeseen by the Consortium and Prentice himself, once he began spending more time as a lizard. Prentice himself had enough reptile genetic material to flash-change, chameleon-like, into a passable male lizard. The problem was, along with the physical changes came emotional responses—mind altering changes that made him susceptible to the allure of Roz.