Extinction is not permanent. Not anymore.
Multi-millionaire researcher Alex Pierce has developed cutting-edge genetic techniques to extract viable DNA from preserved samples of breathtaking species that humans have erased from the Earth. From passenger pigeons and Tasmanian tigers, to Pleistocene dire wolves and sabretooths… even the humble dodo.
The cornerstone of Alex's dream is to resurrect the woolly mammoth. Majestic and massive, these creatures no longer roam the world, driven to extinction by ancient hunters. At his isolated Pleistocene Ranch in the wilds of Montana, Alex has actually bred the very first mammoth to walk the Earth in 10,000 years.
But there are those who believe what is extinct should remain extinct, and that any tampering goes against the laws of nature. And their fervor may be far stronger than Alex's dreams.
Mammoth Dawn is the original acclaimed novella written by New York Times bestseller and Hugo and Nebula Award nominee Kevin J. Anderson and multiple Hugo and Nebula winner Gregory Benford; this volume also includes their detailed chapter-by-chapter treatment of the full novel the two authors originally envisioned, as well as a non-fiction overview of current scientific attempts to clone mammoths—a reality that may be much closer than you think.
And speaking of which, my own coauthor on MAMMOTH DAWN, Gregory Benford, is quite impressive in his own right, a respected SF writer best known for TIMESCAPE but also for other award-winning and bestselling novels. Some years ago, he and I developed a story about cloning mammoths and genetically bringing back other extinct species. Our novella was published in Analog magazine, and we developed the full-blown treatment for a novel. If you were facing a gigantic resurrected woolly mammoth, you'd consider it quite the monster. – Kevin J. Anderson
If only the protesters' intellect matched their verbal cleverness, Alex thought, the Helyx Corporation wouldn't have any problems at the gate.
It's Not Nice to Fool with Mother Nature! said one of the waving signs displayed on a securitycam window projected on the surface of his desk. The usual. Alex Pierce had stopped trying to understand the Evos' odd point of view, had ceased even being bemused by their antics. He had a company to run.
He relegated the securitycam image to the background and brought more important documents forward. Datascreens and e-mail lists cluttered his table-sized desktop screen as much as memos and paper messages had once done.
Earlier that morning he'd woken up in Miami with a hangover. He'd downed three drinks too many at yet another fancy fund-raiser dinner—this one to preempt birth defects through parental genetic screening. Before midday he had choppered back to the main lab administration offices in rural Montana. For a worldwide corporation, business hours lasted all day long, and it was always time for the boss to get back to work.
His wife, Helen, had stayed home on the ranch. She disliked black-tie functions like the one in Miami, though she could be devastating in a cocktail dress, the barest breath of jewels implying wealth far better than gaudiness did. But too often the diplomats and VIPs treated Alex as the only important face in the room, and Helen the gorgeous trophy wife rather than a talented scientist in her own right. She hated the attitude, and Alex had made appropriate excuses for her.
But Helen's real reason was that she wanted to stay with her mammoths.
As his company had grown from a fledgling startup with one biotech product—a symbiotic microorganism that could fend off strange E. coli in the human digestive system—to a corporate leviathan that spent most of its resources just figuring out how to receive and manage the enormous profits, Alex had learned to multi-process. While taking care of corporate details, answering vidmessages, and delegating responsibilities, a calm and meditative part of his mind was anticipating an evening of campfires and peace with his wife, out near the herd.…
"We got another fence-jumper," Ralph Duncan said on the secure phone, interrupting a dozen separate trains of thought and delivering a problem of his own. "Got him cold."
Alex's autosecretary instantly knew this was important, captured the call and transferred the Security man's weathered image to the upper corner of the desk. "Remember that li'l hint we got on the acoustics? Tracked him in the woods up along the eastern ridgeline. Ambitious bastard."
Alex was glad to be interrupted from pharmaceutical statistics, Third World traveler health records—dull, even if they did point to continued success. "Another Evo type?"
"They don't carry some kinda ideology tag, Boss, but you can bet he was trying to get a look at the mammoths. Should I tell the sheriff?"
"No, he'll just process the guy, slap him on the wrist, and let him back out to cause more mischief." Alex rubbed his fingers over thin lips. "Usually only the hardcore ones try to get past the fences. How's he outfitted?"
"Pretty fancy. Overnight gear, one of those microbags for sleepin,' videocam with closeup fittings. Five kilometers inside the fence, easy. No question about boundaries and jurisdictions." Ralph snorted.
By now, the questions came automatically to Alex. The ranch often had intruders. "No weapon?"
"Nope. Except for tryin' to run at first, gave us no trouble."
As he dealt with the conversation, Alex finished some routine computer work, forwarded several inquiries to Helen's mailbox, bumped a set of interview questions to his PR squad (who knew all the right answers anyway), and keyed out, using his thumbprint to secure the device. At no point did Ralph ever notice that he didn't have Alex's full attention.
"If you ask me, this guy wanted to be caught. Claims he knows you professionally." Ralph's sun-grizzled face showed just a hint of amusement. "His ID says Geoffrey Kinsman."
Now Alex paid attention. "Damn! I think I know him. Spelled with a G?"
"What's a good biologist doing with that bunch of Luddites?"
"Says he'll talk only to you, Boss."
Alex shut down the other operations in the office, signaling all his staff distributed around the world that he was not presently available. "Bring him to the Hospital, not here."
Ralph had an intuitive sense of Alex's moods, born of a decade's close collaboration. But now the Security man seemed surprised. "Show and tell, Boss? For one of those clowns?"
"The Evos are always more afraid of what they imagine than what they actually see." He put on a pair of spex and tested the uplink as he headed out of the office, his boots clomping down the varnished wooden stairs, and out onto the plank porch. "Stall him for five, Ralph. Give me time to profile him."
When Helyx had purchased an isolated chunk of northern Montana, Alex kept the original ranch buildings, letting them fade and weather from bleached white to an ash gray like raw silver. The primary genetics labs were in the old pine-log barn, which Helen had dubbed the Pleistocene Hospital.
"Full database search," he subvocalized into the spex as he walked. "Summarize relevant information on Dr. Geoffrey Kinsman. Reference point: He was in my lab around fifteen years ago. Apply context filters."
With a big drive-in bay and concealed windows, the hospital barn looked like an equipment garage. Inside, the crisp antiseptic air mixed with the moist organic odors of feathers and fur, droppings and feed—a contrast to the smelly oil drums just outside on the loading dock.
Lounging in his jeans against the split rail that bounded the old barn, Alex read a data summary that scrolled across the spex. All he needed to know about Geoffrey Kinsman: a man with just a bit too much clout and education to dismiss as simply a misled Luddite, as Alex had always considered the Evos to be.
For years, Kinsman had associated with political activism, starting with Ruckus Society training camps, where bright-eyed kids learned street protest tactics. His molecular biology research had produced over a hundred papers, recently with an angle toward genetics and species preservation. Another "clean genes" guy. Unarmed, a routine lab type, Kinsman did not seem dangerous. Maybe that didn't include the threat of being bored to death.
Alex bit his lip in annoyance. He wished they had a network of sympathetic locals who would warn Helyx before a guy got this far in. He had endured the backwoods suspicions, had expected them because he'd grown up just over the Idaho border. For the first few years, the locals had given him a narrow-eyed appraisal. In fact, for a while, an ugly rumor had spread that he was here to recruit locals as organ donors for sinister Helyx experiments.
But when his staff offered only day work and some well-paid farmhand jobs, the people were disappointed—until the area economy picked up and kept growing. Within a year Alex Pierce could walk into any bar and get his beer paid for, because Helyx Ranch pumped in a goodly share of the county's revenue.
Alex pursed his lips, pondering. A lot of the locals might agree with the protester's views, even help them out a little. A bitter truth—he hadn't won the war of ideas even here, in home country. He knew these people, shared many of their gut responses. But he had not lived in their world, really lived in it, for a good long while. Ralph was the real thing—and looked it in his rough pants and boots as he came through the door with his captive.
The man walking next to him was a dapper, compact item, fresh from an upscale outfitter: olive green Gore-Tex jacket, trim all-weather leggings, a big hiker's watch with a Global Positioning readout. He looked as out of place as a chicken in church. A bit heavier than Alex remembered, but the tight mouth was the same.
Geoffrey Kinsman's voice was as hard and flat as a stove lid. "Dr. Pierce." East Coast accent, mid-Atlantic state. He held out a hand, and Alex ignored it. "You don't remember me?"
"I remember. Just read the data squirt about you, Dr. Kinsman. All the good stuff." He decided to have some fun with him. "You seem to have strayed a bit out of your way."
"Might as well admit the obvious," Ralph growled, playing the tough cop. "You wanted to create some disturbance—give the Feds a pretext to come in here."
Kinsman glanced at the old security chief as if he were some kind of lab specimen. "You overestimate my powers."
"That's just what you did at that animal experimentation facility outside Topeka, five years ago," Alex said. It sometimes put these people off balance if you could demonstrate up front that you knew all about them.
But Kinsman didn't even blink. "That was coincidence."
Ralph snorted, and Alex grinned. Kinsman was not going to be any trouble, he judged; he didn't even have a cover story. "We'll be fine, Ralph. Thank you." As the Security man turned to leave, Alex scowled back at Kinsman. "So why, exactly, was it so important to break through my fences and trespass on my private property?"
The man allowed himself a small, dry chuckle, but his eyes were a brittle gray, like chips of slate, as he said, "To talk some sense into you. I consider that constructive, not destructive."
"Sense? Those people at the South Gate have an excuse: they're ignorant. But we worked together, so I thought—"
"You didn't think twice about me when you published that paper, the one on mammoth genes."
"Right, you did some of the preliminary scans on the gene lines. A grad student for two years, then left."
Kinsman took on a self-righteous air. "I disagreed with the work, once I understood what you were doing."
"So what was your gripe? Was it because I 'didn't think twice' about you?"
"Neither of you even asked if I wanted my name on that paper."
Alex shook his head. "You were doing straightforward stuff. Not original. Sorry if we didn't acknowledge you—" He couldn't even remember for sure.
"Oh, there was a paragraph at the end, thanking me and a dozen others, sure."
Alex smiled slightly. "You wanted to be on the paper. Is that what this is about?"
"No, damn it!" But Kinsman's flushed face belied his words. "I just thought you'd listen to me because I was a lab grunt for you once. Maybe your money has insulated you from the arguments against this entire—"
Alex held up a hand, quick and decisive. "Already heard them. Before I took you on as a grad student, I had invented most of the arguments. Or my wife had. But we thought it through. Decided for ourselves."
Kinsman blinked, looking taken aback at Alex's bluntness. He must have had plenty of time to rehearse this confrontation while backpacking across Helyx wilderness property, Alex mused, but a lot of emotion churned in his face. There had been a lot of grad students in Alex's lab then, most of them doing routine tasks to get experience. Somehow this one had left little impression on him. But clearly that old, simple paper had been a big deal to Kinsman. Students normally didn't get their names on technical papers unless they did something creative, but Kinsman had apparently taken that irritating grain of sand and turned it into this pearl of a grudge. Alex had never been really good at judging people, but his years leading a stupendously successful company had sharpened what little skill he naturally had.
Nothing brings enemies out of the woodwork more effectively than success.
"Okay, let me talk some sense into you." Alex gestured toward the old oaks that towered near the barn and the ranch buildings. The immense, gnarled trees were majestic and stately—and full of birds. "Look over there, Dr. Kinsman. Beautiful birds, graceful. You should see them fly at sunset, like a cloud." Even without squinting, he could pick out a dozen nests in the branches, and the constant shifting, cooing, fluttering made the branches tremble.
"I didn't come here to look at birds, Dr. Pierce." He spat out the title.
Alex turned to him sharply. "You should. Once they blackened the skies, billions of them in North America when Columbus landed. But it was in their nature to nest in huge colonies, only in big stands of oaks or beeches, which made them easy prey. Over the centuries settlers cut down the oaks and beeches for firewood and lumber, or just to clear farmland. Hunters shot millions of those birds, usually for sport, though they shipped the carcasses to the cities by the barrelful."
Kinsman looked impatient, then startled. "Those are—"
"Passenger pigeons lay only one egg each spring. They couldn't possibly reproduce faster than they were slaughtered. It was genocide, pure and simple, Dr. Kinsman, perpetrated by human beings. The last passenger pigeon died in 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo, and the species was extinct in a historical blink of an eye. Until Helyx brought them back." Alex couldn't keep the happy pride out of his voice.
Kinsman, though, looked disgusted to the point of being ill. "Extinction is Nature's way, Pierce—for whatever reason. You can congratulate yourself for the hubris of your genetic breakthroughs, but can you honestly say the world is a better place because you have brought back a… pigeon?" He waved dismissively toward the oaks. As if at a signal, several of the birds took flight, ruby-throated, with lovely gray body feathers and long pointed tails. "Your means are dangerous, and your ends are utterly inconsequential. Pigeons!" The fire in Kinsman's eyes made Alex reconsider the wisdom of having sent his security chief away so quickly. "You're a bigshot businessman—what possible market can there be for passenger pigeons. For zoos? Pets? Meat?"
"Market talk is what I feed the Board, but that doesn't even start to explain why I'm here." He allowed a small, self-deprecating smile. "I didn't want to go down in history as Dr. Diarrhea." Alex turned from the split-rail fence. "Come have a look. Maybe we can use a crowbar to open your mind."
Inside, the lab was a mix of cool high-tech surfaces and ancient woods, the barn's past never wholly banished. Consoles and elaborate digital diagnostics stood next to old feed cabinets, still useful for storage. High spotlights gave the scene an evenly lighted patina and crisp, conditioned air fought the old horsey smells and new disinfectants. Chrome countertops sat next to wooden fences and thick wire-mesh cages.
"Not many people get to see this, Dr. Kinsman," Alex said.
"Not many people should."
Why do I try? he thought. If Kinsman wasn't a colleague…
Inside a shoulder-high pen stood two gawky-looking birds like giant chickens with stretched necks. They had mottled brown feathers, lizard-like feet, and towered nearly ten feet tall.
"This is our first mating pair of moas, a New Zealand bird that went extinct sometime in the 1600s." Elated notes crept into Alex's voice, but he saw no wonder in Kinsman's eyes. "We're currently in our third-generation retrograde development of the Tasmanian tiger, too. But the lack of a close sibling-species as well as general difficulties in dealing with the marsupial gestation process has caused some delays."
He glanced toward the set of thick doors and reinforced windows at the back of the Pleistocene Hospital. Kinsman looked suspiciously at the closed-off rooms… but Alex didn't think the man was ready for that sight yet. "Other resurrected animals," he explained with an offhanded comment. "Look, I don't have time to show you everything. It's obvious you're more interested in proselytizing than in science."
A rotund bird higher than a man's knee waddled across the floor, looking comical, its black beak blunt and ugly, its eyes innocent. Two stubby wings betrayed the flightless nature of the bird, which moved at a rapid, though ungainly clip. A tufted curlicue of feathers poked up like a pigtail from its rear. The bird prodded around in corners, pecked at imaginary insects, as if it had forgotten where its food dish was.
This time Kinsman stared. "Dodos, too?" The dapper man leaned forward and took out his pen, pointing it at Alex as if it were a symphony conductor's baton. "Where will you stop, Pierce? Do you intend to bring back smallpox as well? Or any number of vermin the world is better off without? Have you no respect for the natural order?"
Alex picked the ungainly bird up and carried it squawking to a bowl of grain. The dodo immediately forgot its annoyance and began to gobble the corn. "These birds lived quite nicely on the island of Mauritius until European sailors came and killed them for food. That wasn't so bad, but the sailors also let loose dogs, rats, and hogs, which ate the dodo's eggs. It took only a century or two for the entire species to be wiped out." He scratched the feathers on the turkey-sized bird. "What, exactly, is natural about that?"
Kinsman directed a condescending look at Alex Pierce—who captained a gigantic corporation, who had developed a cure for the digestive misery of billions—as if he were an ill-educated child. "You can't possibly predict the long-term consequences of your tampering. Forced breeding, gene-selection, wombs implanted with embryos they were never meant to carry. Why must you push things so much?"
"Because I don't have time to waste," Alex said mildly. "Evolution can meander all it likes. We have calendars."
Kinsman sniffed, clicked his pen twice in a nervous gesture. "Mankind is part of the natural order, Pierce, the dominant species on Earth, while other species failed along the way."
"Sometimes with a little help from us. What's wrong with rectifying that?"
Kinsman tossed his pen onto a cluttered desk and actually clasped his hands together in a melodramatic beseeching gesture. "What makes extinction caused by human interference so different from extinction due to, say, a huge asteroid impact? Will you try to bring back dinosaurs next?" He scoffed. "Or woolly mammoths? I've heard what you have back in your valleys."
Alex maintained a noncommittal expression. "Rumors."
Alex didn't respond, trying to hide his surprise that Kinsman and his protesters could have gotten such high-resolution images from the Feds.
Kinsman pressed his advantage. "I want to see them, Pierce."