Chapter 1


*** Prologue ***

"...and thanks for your call, let’s go to wild card line one. Scott in Arizona, you’re on the air with The Night Watchman, good morning."

"Good morning, Bruce, it’s an honor to be on your show, first time caller, long time listener, how are you tonight?"

"I’m quite well, thank you, what’s on your mind?"

"Uh, Bruce, I’ve got some highly-incriminating evidence that the United States military is in the process of conducting classified experiments at a massive secret installation."

"Well Scott, we’ve long suspected such. What sort of experiments are we talking here?"

"Things involving... uh, transgenics, teleportation, directed-energy weapons, faster-than-light transportation, psionics--"

"Mind control?"

"More like mind reading. Remote viewing, clairvoyance, things like that. They’re also working on holographics, advanced materials..."

"Advanced materials?"

"Yeah, they’ve got this... it’s like an alloy, only it’s resistant to heat up to ten thousand degrees, and it’s a hundred times stronger than titanium."

"Very impressive stuff, you’d... mentioned transgenics?"

"Transgenics, yes, Bruce."

"What sort of...?"

"They’re, uh, turning animals into people."

"Oh, they are? What sort of animals?"

"Canines, mostly. Some domestic, some wild. There’s wolves, too, and foxes--"

"So American scientists, under government orders, are creating little... fluffy people?"

"They’re not all little, Bruce. The foxes are only about five feet tall, but some of the wolves are over seven, they walk on two legs, and some of them have even been taught English."

"For what purpose?"

"Super-soldiers. To fight the Soviets."

"Hmm. Perhaps, but I wonder if they’d hesitate before using them on American citizens. There’s only so many communists."

"I hadn’t thought of that. It’s even scarier when you find out they’ve also got, uh, secret ex-Nazi scientists--"

"There are no ex-Nazis, Scott, once you become one, you never--"

"Yeah, sorry, my mistake. Nazi scientists from South Africa, working on--"

"South Africa?"

"Yeah, they’re smarter than they look."

"Why the South Africans?"

"In exchange for their... unique genetics expertise, we’ve been giving the Apartheid regime military and financial aid to oppose the Angolan communists. South Africa would’ve collapsed if we weren’t propping them up. They brought some of their tougher African species over, they’re assisting our scientists at this installation, doing crimes against... nature. They call it Project Genesis."

"Charming name. Where is this installation, Scott? New Mexico? Nevada?"

"It’s, uh, it’s in another galaxy."

"...another galaxy?"

"The teleportation equipment isn’t very precise yet, they’re working on it, the best they could find was a habitable planet in another galaxy. They teleported an advance team in and some Army Corps of Engineers and built a massive facility, I’d guess it to be over a billion dollars of our taxpayer money."

"I see. So the U.S. military is turning animals into talking super-soldiers at a secret government installation in another galaxy?"

"That’s correct, Bruce."

"Uh huh. You said you had incriminating evidence?"

"I’ve got photographs of the people involved, the project buildings, the experiments--"

"The animals?"

"Yeah. I’ve also got some un-censored documentation signed by high-ranking government officials authorizing the program."

"Really? How high-ranking are we talking here?"

"President Reagan."

"I see... well, um, that’s quite a charge, Scott, thanks for your call. Good luck with your investigation, and I hope you turn over something we can use to prove what the military is really up to. Let’s go to our... east of the Mississippi line, Dennis from West Virginia, you’re on with Bruce Madigan."

"Hello, Bruce! Fantastic show, I listen every night. I’m calling to tell you about a Bigfoot sighting I had about two weeks ago down near the Guyandotte River."

"By all means, go ahead..."

*** Chapter One ***

Observational Journal, February 21, 1984

Program Head Rex Jeremiah Gierling

The initial specimens are growing well, thirty-six months since embryo incubation. Estimate of Fox Specimen’s weight is 9.7 kilograms, height 0.86 meters, German shepherd specimen somewhat larger at 14.2 kilograms and 1.21 meters. Both exhibit signs of restlessness, unease, and confusion. Fox specimen displays projected appetite, though as of yet no specific preference of food. German shepherd specimen shows a distinct, apparently intentional sleep deprivation and severe loss of appetite. Intervention may be required. Observation continues unabated. First contact currently scheduled for one month.


Professor Rutherford sat at the experiment monitoring station. She rapped her pencil, slow sometimes, fast others, mostly striking notepad but other times impacting metallically on the stainless steel surface of the display readout. When it lost her fancy, she twirled it between her fingers, making a game of how many times she could before losing control. Her record was twenty-seven.

"Good evening, Christine."

Rutherford straightened her back, wincing at lingering stiffness. She smirked at the middle-aged, brown-haired man that had entered the room. She hadn’t heard him come in.

"Hello, Rex. Good to see you’re back." She gestured towards the empty lab. "Sorry it’s quiet, we were expecting you several hours ago."

Rex Gierling sighed. "Just got held up. You know how it is."

"How’s Earth?"

He shrugged and walked up next to her, leaning one elbow on the telemetry console. "It’s still there, still the same bureaucratic and academic nonsense. You missed the winter games."

"How’d we do?"

Gierling shook his head. "Could’ve done better."

"Ah, we’ll get them in the summer in L.A." Rutherford removed her glasses and rubbed fatigue from her eyes. "How’s your family?"

"They’re all right. Didn’t get a lot of time with them, busy talking to people and making sure this all continues. Got to be there for Joey’s birthday, at least. He’s eight this year."

Rutherford smiled. "You should’ve mentioned, I would’ve gotten him something. What’s he like?"

"Nolan Ryan."


Gierling shook his head. "Doesn’t matter." He looked into the enclosure next to the telemetry station. "Anything new with the German shepherd?"

"Another four hours of my life slipped away," she said. "That’s about it."

He frowned and walked up to the mirrored glass. "Nothing? Really?"

"Would I lie?"

He sighed heavily and folded his arms behind his back. Just on the other side of the glass, only two meters away, lay new life, a new race, a species. Ten years ago, it had existed only as a hypothetical, a poorly graded thesis.

"It hasn’t moved in nearly three days," she said.

"No response to stimuli?"

"None," Rutherford said. "Same results for light, dark, noise, food. We even gave it a toy, it wouldn’t touch it."

"Did you try heat and cold?"

Rutherford shrugged. "The cold made it curl up tighter."

Gierling frowned. He’d been given nearly free reign to make his dream come true, and yet, he couldn’t help but feel disappointment. He’d expected something more, something different. Not this ragged heap, at least.

Rutherford got up from her station and stood next to him, and they both looked at the creature huddled on the cement floor.

"It looks lonely," she said. "It reminds me of my husband’s dog. He had this big, beautiful golden retriever that he’d owned long before I met him. He adopted him in high school, they lived together in his apartment. When we moved into our house, he was working nights. Every day he went to work, that dog would lay at the front door, and I couldn’t make him move for the world."

Gierling nodded. "How’d you get him to move?"

She sighed. "James died. That dog understood, and a piece of his heart died with him. He relocated from in front of the door to his bed, and he lay there another year until he died too."

"You think that’s the problem?"

Rutherford shrugged. "How can I say?" she said. "I don’t know how it thinks or feels, or even if it can. It may be lonely, or maybe it’s just exhibiting an autonomous defense mechanism."

Gierling ambled along the length of the observation wall, hands behind his back, watching the creature. Its ears seemed to follow him, shifting to point towards him, but it must be an illusion. The containment room was soundproofed.

"General Rochester wants results," he said.

Rutherford sighed. "What do you want me to tell you, Rex? That the protocol for this experiment is too strict? That we can’t even talk to it over the intercom because it’d contaminate some invisible requirement we’re not privy to?"

"It cost sixty million dollars to make it."

"And about five seconds to ruin it."

Gierling reached the far end of the five-meter wall and stopped. The creature, if it had heard his movements, showed no indication of it now. It lay still, as motionless as before, with only a faint indication of breathing if one looked hard enough.

"Waiting five seconds too long may ruin it too," he said.

Rutherford set her notepad back onto the monitoring panel, the pencil clattering to the steel surface and rolling to rest against a lip at the bottom. She leaned backwards against the panel, watching the specimen’s immobility.

"This is new life here, Rex. It’s never existed before. We don’t know how it’s going to react, what it can or can’t do, what it can be taught to do or whether it can be taught at all."

Gierling sighed heavily and looked at the immobile creature. Its body rose and fell with every breath, slow, an unhealthy grey tinge to its black and tan fur. Long, bushy black-topped tail curled around its face, hiding its snout beneath it, leaving only its tall tapered ears free.

"I’ve never owned a German shepherd before," he said.

"I’m not sure if you own this one. I don’t think anyone does."

"You used to have a dog. How do you get along with one?"

Rutherford chuckled. "My husband had a dog. I just happened to live under the same roof as Lightning. We co-existed. I don’t think he trusted me. Dogs need trust. I’ve read about German shepherds, though."

"What’d you learn?"

"That they need a purpose," she said. "That they want to belong and be useful."

"Don’t we all, Christine?"

"They’re also very active and need exercise. You can’t get much exercise in a three-by-five meter room."

"It does looks scrawny. I’m afraid we’re damaging it mentally more than physically."

"Well it hasn’t eaten in five days. Kozlowski even brought in some dog treats from Earth, but it wouldn’t take them."

Gierling smirked and put his hands in his jacket pockets. "You gave it dog treats?"

"Tried to, anyway."

"You didn’t tell me about it, when was this?"

"The last time they took it for an exam, about a week ago. We left a bowl of biscuits in the corner of the enclosure, but when it awoke from sedation, it didn’t even notice them."

Gierling walked back towards the front of the cell. He hesitated at the door. The numeric keypad invited him -- only six numbers separated the human race from first contact.

"Don’t even think about it, Rex. I’d have to turn you in."

"I know. It’d be dangerous, I don’t know how it’d react. Besides, I couldn’t put you in that situation."

Rutherford shook her head and grinned. "Nice to know you’re thinking of me."

"Well, geneticists don’t grow on trees."

"Not ones with American citizenship and special access program clearance, at least."

"Don’t be so harsh on yourself. It wasn’t just a matter of convenience, you had some impressive credentials."


Gierling chuckled. "Well, none of us really exist on this side, do we?"

Rutherford smiled and tossed her shoulder-length dark hair. "So it is ordered, so it shall be done."

Gierling shook his head. "You watch too much science fiction."

She sighed and stared through the glass. "It used to be fiction..."

He nodded and glanced back inside. The German shepherd was still motionless. Perhaps he could get special permission from the Administrator to intervene before the experiment failed entirely.

He walked to the enclosure next door. Inside was a creature much more interesting, lively, and -- most importantly of all -- healthy. The red fox was stretching, but not like one would expect an animal to; rather, it moved slowly, deliberately, as if following a regimen. It stood upright, bipedal, then leaned far to one side. It stretched one furry arm over its head and down to the floor on the opposite side, all while maintaining perfect balance. It twisted its spine slowly, backwards, and then performed the same movement in reverse. Its russet pelt seemed to shimmer along its naked, furred humanoid frame, its eyes closed in concentration, ears pinned back against its skull and a placid look on its slender, vulpine muzzle.

"The red fox specimen looks healthy," Gierling said.

Rutherford followed him and stood in front of the containment room. "It’s been eating appropriately. It sleeps regularly, shows curiousness of its environment, but also restlessness. It measures its physical activity throughout the day, it alternates routines, shows impressive coordination and concentration. I’ve seen it do hand-stands for hours on end."

Gierling looked around the enclosure. "What happened to the puzzle I requisitioned?"

"It did it already. It was only a hundred pieces, took it about four minutes. Gutierrez let us borrow some of his kids’ puzzles, so we gave them to it the next day. We gave it a five hundred, thousand, and a five-thousand. It was an enlightening afternoon."

Gierling paused. "Did you say afternoon?"

"Mm-hmm. We put them in after lunch and it was done before dinner. When we got back, it had flipped all the pieces over of the five thousand and was putting it together with the picture-side down."

Gierling shook his head. What was so different between the German shepherd and the fox? Why did the red fox thrive where the shepherd was a lifeless furry heap on its enclosure floor?

"What do you know about foxes?" Gierling asked.

"Machiavelli admired them. They’re cunning, adaptable, and stealthy." She gestured at the contorted creature. "That’s why it’s here."

Gierling frowned and watched the red fox bend its leg backwards to its shoulders. "What about personality? Do we ever really understand what goes through a wild animal’s mind?"

"Ethology isn’t my strong suit. Do you want me to get Gutierrez?"

"Not right now, I’m just thinking out loud. What does he say about this?"

"He says the red fox psyche is geared towards independence and self-reliance, and can often exhibit rudimentary efficiency judgments."

"Perceived value over time."

Rutherford nodded. "Like the book we gave it. It studied it for about twenty minutes, but hasn’t touched it since."

"It may have decided that the amount of time required to decipher English outweighed its potential value."

"Maybe it didn’t like the story."

Gierling stepped up to the acrylic glass and watched the creature. It must have been his imagination -- he thought its ears moved to track him.

"Estimates on age?" he asked.

"Physiologically, Dr. Wolfsong estimates its progression as over halfway to puberty, about the equivalent of seven or eight years. Right now, he projects that it should be physically mature in about three more years."

The creature folded its other leg up backwards around its shoulders. "So it’s aging twice as fast?" Gierling asked.

"Foxes only live about three years in the wild."

Gierling chuckled. "I guess it’s already past its life expectancy."

"You could look at it that way."

Gierling shook his head and turned away from the glass. The fox was something more like he’d envisioned, something to operate autonomously and able to withstand the crippling loneliness of red tape. They couldn’t rush in too fast, but the fox’s canine neighbor may not be able to wait that long.

He strode slowly down the row of enclosures -- only the first two were occupied. The rest of the cages were empty, save for the scattered rubber squeaky toy someone had left. He reached the end of the hallway, two dozen cells later, then turned and walked back to Rutherford.

"You’re thinking, aren’t you?" she asked.

Gierling shrugged. "Always."

Rutherford smiled and walked up next to him. "You look frustrated. Penny for your thoughts, Rex?"

"You’re right," he said. "I spent so much time working on this all, the methods, the principles behind inter-species genetic splicing techniques, begging for funding from deaf ears, and then this falls into my lap. I’m just doing it again, trying to convince everyone that this will work, and then I come back here and that dog is just laying there acting dead and I can’t do anything about it without permission from ten generals and thirty congressmen and everyone else who’s got their nose in this thing."

Rutherford sighed and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You just need to relax and keep your head down. This is your life’s work, Rex. This project is extremely expensive, and you can’t expect to not run into naysayers. They’re going to want you to justify those expenses."

"I try, but then I come back here and look at my project, and I look at my team, and we don’t know what the problem is."

Rutherford forced a smile and rubbed his shoulder. "We’re making better progress than the psionics division, at least."

"That’s true," he said. "We’re lucky we got funding for the other experiments." Gierling looked out over the empty enclosures. "When are the others due out of incubation?"

"Next month. The desert fox might be out as early as next week."

He nodded. "The habitat construction is behind schedule. They can’t stay caged for long."

"Gutierrez agrees with you, for what it’s worth."

"He should, it’s true."

"Have you talked to the Administrator?"

"The Administrator is... a very busy man."

"So that’s a no."

Gierling chuckled and folded his arms behind his back. "For someone who’s only known me about four years, you seem to be a good judge of my character."

She grinned. "After observing these creatures for so long, you’re much easier."

Gierling laughed, briefly, the first time in months. He adjusted his grey polo shirt, tugged on the collar, and then walked towards the room’s exit. "I’ll go talk to him now," he said.


He paused at the door, one elbow propped against the frame. "Yes?"

"Who’s going to make first contact?"

"Me, of course."

"I should’ve known."

"Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ve already planned it out. If things go well, I’ll introduce it to all of you in time."

Rutherford nodded. "Thanks. Good luck with Rochester."

Gierling sighed as he walked out the door. "I’ll need it."


General Joseph Rochester had been expecting him for some time now. The only question on the man’s mind was why it’d taken Gierling so long.

He stood when Gierling entered, and gestured towards a mahogany chair. "Ah, Dr. Gierling, good to see you again. Please, have a seat."

Gierling forced a smile and sat. He folded his arms in his lap and examined the general’s office. For such a quickly built facility, the room was well equipped with fine sculpted wood furniture. The desk was meticulously organized, papers awaiting their turn, a desk computer occupying most of the right side. A vast window occupied much of the rear wall of the second-floor office, displaying a pristine vista of the long, empty plain that surrounded the facility. Gierling gazed at the mountains rising in the distance, and noticed a faint distortion near the peaks. It was the same, one-way glass as in the specimen enclosure.

General Rochester tugged on his uniform, settled back into his office chair, and crossed his arms on his desk. "Welcome back to New Frontier. Do you like the view?"

"It’s impressive, yes."

"You haven’t been in here before, have you?"

Gierling shook his head. "No, I haven’t."

"I enjoy it myself. It’s empowering to look out there and know that it’s something no human has seen before. It must be how Columbus felt when he discovered America."

"Well, there were indigenous people living there already."

Rochester twisted the corner of his mouth up. "Hmm, yes, of course." He chuckled and gestured towards the window. "I don’t suppose there’s any Indians out there, but we brought our own this time."

Gierling didn’t find any humor in the General’s snide comment, but he was at least polite enough to chuckle.

"So, doctor, what brings you here today?" Rochester asked.

"It’s about Project Genesis."

"How is it progressing since your last status report?" Rochester leaned down to a desk drawer and withdrew a file folder. He opened it and looked through its contents. "Last time you said your specimens were performing to metrics, you requested additional funds for two females for your species -- those were approved, by the way. First contact is still scheduled for March 25th, we’ve already sequestered a small team to help you with that--"

"I want to move up first contact."

Rochester’s left eye twitched, and he quietly closed the folder. He didn’t look up. "Why?"

"We’ve been having some difficulties with the German shepherd specimen."


Gierling shifted in his seat. "Since last report, it’s mental and physical condition has deteriorated severely. It’s ceased eating, it’s become restless and anxious, and exhibits signs of loneliness and moderate depression."

Rochester quietly rubbed his hand on his chin, staring down at his desk in thought. He exhaled, slowly, and then nodded. "I see. And you believe that first contact will help alleviate these issues. Fully?"

"Perhaps," Gierling said. "Or at least in part. Gutierrez says--"

Rochester waved a hand. "I know what Gutierrez says. I read his progress reports while you were gone, he didn’t even try to hide his feelings in them."

"I see."

Rochester steepled his fingers and looked back. "Of course, you realize the position this puts me in."

"I don’t understand."

Rochester stood up from his desk and walked slowly to the window, hands folded behind his back. He stared out at the panorama, a subtle frown on his aged features, his wrinkled visage reflected back by the glass. "I’ve been charged with making sure this entire facility, and the projects contained within, function properly, regardless of personal opinions. Deadlines to meet, schedules to keep, results to achieve."

He chewed his lip, then curtly shook his head, looking back to Gierling. "Frankly, I’m not convinced that Project Genesis has any lasting value, military or civilian, despite its impressive price tag." He held up a hand. "Now don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s amazing. Fantastic! But at this point, despite promises and hypothetical scenarios, I don’t see how it’s going to translate into an actual benefit for the United States."


"Gierling, you’ve made a significant contribution to humanity, don’t kid yourself," Rochester said, turning back to face him. "I’m not going to recommend any changes in funding. However, I need results, and frankly--"

"With all due respect, sir, I believe we’ve made significant progress with the red fox specimen. It’s performing to all specifications and projections."

Rochester nodded slowly, still staring out the window. "How many specimens are currently in this experiment, Gierling?"

"There’s two youth specimens, and six more that have yet to leave the incubator."

"So eight, then. Suppose we extrapolate the success rate for the two youths of fifty percent across the whole experiment."

"I don’t think that’s accurate--"

The general held up a hand, silencing Gierling. "And how many total specimens are you looking to create?"

"We’re awaiting authorization to begin creation of six more, and we’re currently sequencing four more, as well as researching the possibility of additional suitable species."

"Rough estimate, Gierling."

"Eighteen to twenty, thirty if sequencing goes well."

Rochester nodded again, silent in contemplation, mulling the numbers in his head. He pointed out the window at a construction site a half-mile across the base grounds. "Airplanes."

Gierling sat up in his seat. "Airplanes, sir?"

"Have you ever thought about them?"

Gierling shifted, clutching the report papers in his hands tighter. "I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at."

Rochester turned to face him. "The corps is clearing out a temporary mile-long landing strip. Eventually this base will have two runways large enough to land the space shuttle on."

"Assuming it found a way to get to this planet."

Rochester chuckled and shook his head, sighing. "Right. Anyway, the airplane started as an idea in two mens’ heads, more than impossible. How could man fly, after millennia on the ground? Unthinkable. But they had the right plan, they followed through, built what they needed and developed their theory as it went along, even when it nearly drove them to financial ruin. And now it’s hard to think of modern society without airplanes. What started as a frail, flimsy wood and canvas craft evolved into fighter planes, jet bombers, supersonic airliners, even the space shuttle." Rochester tapped his head for emphasis. "But it started with an idea."

Gierling nodded, hesitantly. "You think that relates to Project Genesis?"

"The Wright Brothers had their share of failure, too, but they soldiered on. It wasn’t fifty percent, but it was enough to disrupt them. And they changed the world."

"If you ask my team, we think we can change the world, too."

Rochester stepped away from the window, walking directly up to Gierling, hands still behind his back. He stared down at him, expression unchanging. "I’m not talking about your team, Gierling, I’m talking about you. Do you have an idea that will change the world?"

Gierling swallowed through his dry mouth. "I think so."

"Don’t say you /think/ so. Will you change the world, yes or no?"

Gierling didn’t hesitate. "Yes."

Rochester continued to stare down in silence, taking in Gierling’s conviction. Then, he nodded, and stepped backwards to give him more space. "The Wright brothers had more than enough doubters, lay and scientific alike. I’m sure you’ve been laughed out of universities before with your ’crazy’ idea, haven’t you?" Rochester frowned and shook his head. "I doubt your program, Gierling. At this stage, I have no choice. But I’ll be god-damned if I’m going to be the one to hold back the next step forward in humanity." He twisted his lips. "Even if it involves talking animals."

Rochester held out his hand for the report, and Gierling offered it. The general slowly flipped through the pages, reading in silence. Gierling’s breath caught when Rochester reached the last page in the report, the page detailing the proposed solution to the current issue, as well as cost and manpower estimates. Rochester studied it for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally, Rochester sighed, heavily. "I see you also want to start creating females. I can’t, in good conscious, authorize that at this time. We can’t let let these... things start breeding on their own before we know what they are capable of.”

“Understood, sir.”

“But here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to let you move up first contact to next week, and I’m going to give you until the end of March to solve your problem with your German shepherd. I’m going to give you double your requisition budget to help make that happen."

"Thank you, sir."

Rochester closed the manila folder and set it on his desk. "However, if by that time you don’t report significant progress, I will recommend terminating all additional specimens in your experiment."

Gierling grimaced. He knew there had to be a catch, and that would put them on a very tight schedule. "I understand."

Rochester sat down at his desk, hands folded atop it. "If you know what you’re doing, you’ll succeed, and prove my doubts wrong."

Gierling stood, his knees quavering. "Thank you very much for your confidence, sir. You won’t regret it."

Rochester nodded absently, having returned to work signing papers. "For your sake, I hope not. Dismissed."