SUNSET OF FURMANKIND
— by Ted R. Blasingame
Strong is the need for humans to expand outward and to change themselves and the world around them. The human race, in all its self-manipulated forms, will never be content to live with everything around them. Things must change, and they must always strive for progress.
“Late in the mid twenty-first century after decades of research, scientists made a chance breakthrough discovery that allowed faster-than-light travel using tachyon particles that slip through space, bypassing the speed of light limitations. This slip-drive allowed mankind to begin earnest exploration out into deep space to nearby stars believed to have planets. Instead of interstellar travel taking centuries to reach other stars, a trip could be condensed into months.
“Automated probes went first and manned expeditions later followed. There were many dangers and several Slipships were lost in the endeavor, but exploration continued as need for new lands for an overcrowded Earth grew.
“Several new planets were discovered habitable, but initial colonies to each suffered high mortality rates due to accidents and sometimes harsh living conditions. While humans are highly adaptable, they were just not physically hardy enough to endure some of the conditions they faced.
“Then a breakthrough happened in an unrelated field of research that would forever change humanity. Genetic scientists working on a cure for cancer could take a single damaged cell from a patient and correct the aberrations in its DNA, but the trick was getting the healthy cell to replicate its new code in through the millions of other cells in the body. They believed they found a way to eradicate the cancer, but they needed a way to force the new cell to over-write the natural coded sequences to make changes at the cellular level.
“Professor Oliver McEwen of the University of Edinburgh worked relentlessly on the dilemma for years before a chance experiment using goetazine unlocked the first of several steps that led to his success. As with all new medical breakthroughs, extensive testing had to be done before it was determined safe to use on humans, but the end result was nothing short of miraculous. Cancer still cannot be prevented to this day, but the cure for its attack has been successful.
“Years later, genetic scientists from the Terran Colonization Coalition soon began tinkering with condemned prisoners in secret and used the McEwen process to combine human DNA sequences with other Terran life forms, primarily canine, feline, ursine and vulpine — dogs, cats, bears and foxes, respectfully. It was their hope to improve humanity in such a way to give settling colonists an edge on their survival.
“The genetic mutations were successful and brought about the development of four new races, the Canis, the Felis, the Ursis, and the Vulps. These new races were able to stand upright as bipeds due to enlarged digitigrade back leg muscles and bone structure. The forepaws had fingers and opposable thumbs for using tools, yet were padded for running on all-fours. The tongues and vocal cords were altered for human-type speech and they retained their human intelligence while also maintaining animal instincts specific to each species.
“Due to natural fur and fat insulation, these new individuals would not require clothing for anything more than genital modesty, but since these people were formerly human, there were some with a perceived need for fashion elements designed specifically for their new bodies.
“During their forced genetic mutations, delicate brain surgery was performed on the test subjects to wipe out past memories of their criminal lives, and then they were educated with specialized skills necessary for standard colonization teams.
“With the success of genetic manipulation, the Anthro Human Colonization Program was formed, and these new races were sent to the untamed colonies of Earth in an effort to see if the changes would give them an edge on survival in the wild environments. If the test subjects failed, the condemned would be considered an acceptable loss, but if they succeeded in surviving, it would provide new avenues for the overgrowing human population to spread out into the stars, even if no longer completely human.
“The test was a success. While the pure human colonists had a tough time surviving the alien environments, the engineered Anthro Human colonists, now called either furmankind or simply Furs, did well in their new elements.
“Word spread across the Earth, and although the experimentation on those with past criminal history of the Furs was kept a secret until just recently, a call went out for volunteers for anthro-human starter colonies. There was little response at first, as there were great fears that alteration into a Fur would classify them as sub-citizens, so before the practice became widespread, there were lobbies and eventually legislation granting Furs full human rights. Only after years of negotiation and reassurances that the sciences involved were safe did the public finally embrace the notion.
“It began as a trickle of volunteers. Some were individuals who had wanted to join the colonization program before, but were afraid due to the high mortality rate of the settlers. Others who volunteered were tired of life on Earth and yearned for new horizons, while some of the infirmed hoped the change would give them new strength and health. Then there were simply down-and-out people looking for a different life. There were even a few who volunteered simply because they liked animals, but the administration tried to discourage those without skills since the purpose of the Furs was to colonize other worlds.
“The genetic process was irreversible and education for colonization specialties was mandatory. The only Furs who would actually remain on Earth would be a select few to help new Furs prepare for their altered lives. Once the willing signature was on record, the nine-month process would begin immediately, accompanied by psychological counseling and physical therapy to help the new Furs get used to their altered forms. When certified ready, re-education would take place over approximately one or two years before they would be assigned a place in one of the colonies.
“Once the program was officially underway, four Institutes were formed at locations around the world. The first one completed and put into operation was in Stockholm, Sweden. The next was in the Adirondacks of New York. Following them were locations in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in Toyohashi of the Aichi Prefecture in Japan.
“This was twenty-five years ago, class. Furs have become somewhat commonplace and the starter colonies are now thriving due to the success of the program. Once their numbers grow, a successful colony will have the variety of genetic material necessary to sustain themselves without further seeding from additional Furs. There have been Furs who have mated within their species and produced natural offspring. The children — as cubs, pups, kits or kittens — are the first real members of their races whose lives were not altered by genetics at a period in their lives.
“As will happen, there has become a movement on Earth promoting 'pure' humans as the dominant race, but the legislation that was passed at the start of the project continues to protect the rights of all Furs when possible. Despite this, some countries on Earth have outlawed Furs altogether.”
The instructor looked around her room of students and spied a young woman with a raised hand. “Yes? You have a question?”
“Yes, Professor. Why did they choose those particular species? Why not select raccoons, mountain goats, deer and etcetera?”
“That's a good question. In order to survive, predatory species were chosen as the hardiest choices. Prey species were likely to be just that – prey – to any indigenous predators on the colony worlds. The plan was to survive, and it seems to have worked.”
“What about cross-species mating?” asked another student.
“Although you may never find a natural cross between a bobcat and a cheetah here on earth, such a blending is possible between the feline-based Furs, primarily possible due to the common human ancestry. However, the divergent differences between feline Furs and canine Furs will never have the genetic coding necessary for such a union to produce offspring. The same rules apply to the vulpine and ursine Furs as well.”
“Have you ever met a Fur, Professor Flynn?” someone else asked.
The instructor smiled with a casual nod. “Yes, I have. You see, before I became a professor at this university, I worked for an administrator of the North American Anthro Human Colonization Program. It's been a decade since I left the program, but I still have some contact with a few of the Furs who became my friends in the process.”
“What can you tell us about your personal experiences with furmankind?”
The Professor smiled and leaned upon the podium before her. “Let me tell you about one particular Fur who comes to mind. I suppose I knew him as well as any other, but his specific case deserves recognition.”
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.