Dinosaurs in the Duckpond
by Tony Noland
I don't know why this should be so hard for you to accept. John Carmack is blowing millions on building those goofy vertical takeoff spaceships down at Armadillo Aerospace. Bill Gates is throwing away almost a billion dollars trying to end malaria. If they can chase expensive pipe dreams in their retirement, why do you begrudge me my little genetics experiments? Sure, it's a long shot, but I made my fortune seeing opportunities where other people only saw brick walls and hallucinations.
Besides, once we get through just a few more generations, we'll have all the ancestral genes fully repaired and they'll look like proper apatosaurs. Our computer models suggest that they'll end up being about one-fortieth the size of the largest members of the class, the ultrasaurs and seismosaurs and so on. They'll be a little bigger than a Great Dane.
Oh, did I say "suggest"? Sorry, I meant "prove". Our computer models prove they'll be perfectly manageable. And, of course, if any single individual apatosaur ends up pushing the bell curve toward the larger end of the spectrum, well, that's what culling and selective breeding is for, isn't it? After all, meat protein and leather are some of the ancillary products we expect from this project. It won't just be about fashionable companion animals.
Now, as you can see, the ducks are perfectly happy to swim in the same pond with the neo-ducks. See them circling, keeping their distance? This batch of neo-duck is five generations removed from the original breeding stock, so they are really starting to show the apatosaur physiognomy, especially in the teeth. In the first couple of generations, the gene-boosting caused plenty of changes, believe you me! However, they were mostly expressed as changes in blood chemistry, internal organ structure, behavior, and so on. Nothing too visible. In fact, if you were to look at the F1, F2, or even the F3, you probably would have just thought they were funny looking ducks. There's no mistaking these F5's, though! Their breeding cycle turns out to be fast as hell, too, which is a big time-saver.
OK, here come a flock of them. See how they use their wings to walk? That's a behavioral reversion that showed up as a transient phenomenon in the F4's, but the F5's grew out those ridge talons on the wing joints, so they do it all the time. It's hilarious the way they walk, isn't it? They look so ungainly, like their stumbling over their own beaks. Right now is an awkward time, since the anatomical changes are coming in. For the next few generations, they'll have to be mostly aquatic, like ichthyosaurs. It'll be at F12 or F13 that they'll re-emerge onto land permanently. Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, you know!
And there they go, the whole flock down into the water. Really, though, I guess we should start calling their groupings a herd. They've been "neo-ducks" since F3, when they lost the ability to interbreed with the parent stock of true ducks. I'll have to speak to Dr. Singh, though, see if we can't come up with a better term for the next few generations, until we can switch to "proto-apatosaur".
Here, watch what happens when I clap my hands.
See that? See how dumb they are? Every one of them turned this way. That's a sauropod for you, among the dumbest of the dinosaurs. The ducks just scattered, but even at the F5 stage, these neo-ducks don't have sense enough to run. They lined right up and oriented themselves towards us. And we didn't teach them that wedge shape, either, with the big ones in front. No sir, they came up with that themselves. Must be instinctive. We think it's so the littler ones can be protected back in the back, while the leaders do that dumb show of hissing and baring their teeth to scare off whatever's bothering them.
Our animal psychologist believe that behavior means they'll be especially easy to domesticate when the time comes. If all the neo-ducks are all so willing to take orders from the leader of the flock - or herd, or whatever we end up calling them - then the proto-apatosaurs and the true apatosaurs will follow the same instinct, only to a much greater degree. All we have to do is establish the farmer as the leader. They'll practically tend themselves. Think what a labor saver that will be! It'll be the best damn thing to happen to American agriculture since the Rhode Island Red.
Hey, how's about I put you down for one of the first pairs of apatosaurus-hide boots, now what do you think of that? Should have 'em for you in two years' time, or dinner's on me.
Yepper, these things are gonna be glorious once we're finished with them, just glorious! So much more practical than spaceships or pie-in-the-sky vaccines. You won't believe what a difference they'll make to the world.
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