The Sheep and the Goats

7 Jan

Hating towns and their streets, Boe Xucht only came into Mouton when he had business to transact there.

After all, the lanky grazier herded hircines, not the woolly ovines that were the primary product of the Savane Prairie. His father and all his ancestors as far back as memory stretched had been herders of goats on the hilly elevations. This tradition was their family pride, but now it posed problems of an unforeseen nature.

The tall, thin plainsman found what he was looking for on a brick street near the center of town. “Genesiological Institute” read the stone sign over the entrance to the brown adobe building two stories high. This was where he had set up today’s appointment by mail post. His amber eyes scanned the reception room as he entered it. A secretary at a small desk asked his name, then directed him to go down the corridor to the last room on the left. He thanked her and advanced to where she told him to go, knocking on the quercine door and receiving instructions from inside to enter.

Dr. Ilex Mejor, the zygotic breeder, was standing in front of his willowwood desk. He was a short, chubby young man with red hair and roux eyes. He offered Boe a hand which the pasturer shook.

Once both of them were seated, the gametic breeder took the lead in their conversational exchange.

“I understand that you own a hircine herd and are interested in its biological improvement.”

“Yes, sir. Until now, those like me have had little contact with the new, advanced genesiology. We are people of tradition, reluctant to change any of the old methods by which we breed our flocks. My purpose in traveling to town to see you is to explore the unfamiliar advances made by your science.”

The smaller man smiled. “Yes, you are quite correct. My profession had tended to ignore the goats that those like you breed and herd. But sheep have for ages been the main animal of the Savane region. Our allelomorphic progress has only made that predominance of sheep greater than it ever was before.”

“The markets for hircine wool and meat are highly limited,” noted Boe with sadness in his face. “My ambition is to reverse that negative current that I and my comrades swim against.”

Dr. Mejor seemed to be drifting off into the past.

“For eons, our forefathers have been combining and mixing varieties. The original ovines of these plains were bighorns, aoudects, and argals. These were domesticated and brought down from the highlands. Skilled, expert breeding produced the mouflin and the merino over many generations. Careful selection produced the fine wool-bearers we have today. But our zygotic science allows us to insert specific traits of one species into the allelomorphic structure of another. Yes, we can accomplish immediately what was impossible before even with ages and centuries of time. Particular alleles can be chosen and separated, then implanted into an improved breed of ovines.

“Look at the size of the sheep interbred with antelopes for the purpose of getting individual characteristics of the latter into sheep. We can pick height and weight we want from a wide spectrum that includes imported ghazals, gemses, gnus, and springbucks. The large, heavy cheviot breed that is so popular throughout the planet is a result of genesiological processes that were first developed here in this Institute.”

The anxious Boe Xucht suddenly interrupted him. “But are you willing to work on the needs of hircinists like me, sir?”

Dr. Mejor beamed a smile at him. “Yes, of course. I already have many ideas of my own that can give a good start to the work that lies ahead.”

The scientist’s apartment was on the outer edge of Mouton. His single window looked out onto the blue-eyed grass of an enormous lea. Ilex worked on his plans and charts all through the afternoon and the evening.

A loud rapping at his front door attracted the attention of Mejor. He rose and went at once to see who it might be.

The massive figure standing there had a head like a cube with bulging whitish eyes. Ilex thought he looked familiar, as if with enough time he could identify who this person was. But the giant form introduced himself at once, without hesitating.

“Excuse me, I am Hecho Tocine, head of the Shepherd Association. May I come in? There is a need for the two of us to discuss a certain important matter.”

The surprised biologist moved to the side and allowed the other to enter the parlor of his apartment. Ilex began to guess what this visit might be concerned with. It could only be one thing: the project he had that day taken on for Boe Xucht and the goat herders.

When the two were seated at a small dinner table of teak, the man named Hecho Tocine started to speak.

“First of all, I must tell you that I know of this new research that will be concerned with hircines. Do not try to find out how I came to possess such information, that does not at all matter. Let me say that I have valuable sources who tell me everything that transpires in the Institution. Now, let us get down to the vital business at hand.

“You must not go forward with research on the improvement of goats. My organization is ready to use all its resources to prevent any such enterprise from being attempted. Initiatives in that direction will not be tolerated by the association that I represent. We intend to attack such a dangerous venture in every way conceivable. No mercy will be shown to our enemies. This is a warning to you and your associates to desist from becoming involved with schemes that only benefit the herders of goats.”

The gigantic visitor glared threateningly at the uncomfortable scientist, who had never in his life experienced such a confrontation.

Then, without another word, Hecho Tocine turned around and swiftly stalked out of the apartment of the stunned biologist.

Ilex now knew the dimensions of the conflict he faced.

Boe was told of this event the following day at his meeting with Dr. Mejor.

“What do you intend to do about this new factor?” the former asked his new partner.

“Nothing specific at the moment,” answered Ilex with a wicked kind of smile. “I do not fear this opposition in the slightest degree.”

“Neither do I,” said the hircinist with a grin.

Ilex proceeded to describe what was known about the genesiology of ruminates, quickly surveying species like the shamois, khalibou, bubalus, gamal, urchso, and llama. The last of these drew the special attention and interest of Boe.

“Is there any animal that is more promising if it can safely be used to contribute characteristics to the goat?” asked the herder.

Dr. Mejor leaned his head forward. “Yes, I am thinking in much the same direction as you.”

“When can you begin to explore those possibilities?”

“As soon as possible.In fact, immediately.” The scientist thought for a moment. “You and I could ride out to the Institute’s experimental station this afternoon to have a look at the animal resources we have there.”

Boe agreed to this, so that he accompanied Ilex in the latter’s two-wheeled trap. An old bay nag that had worked for many years pulled the small vehicle out of the town, into the waving grassland. The pair passed by fields planted with phleum, poa, and trifolium gramines. Bent grass surrounded their destination, the genesiological farm where breeding projects were carried out.

The two men climbed out of the trap once it stopped inside the courtyard. Then, after Ilex tied the horse to a parking rail, they headed for the main barn of the facility. “I want to show you the most promising candidate for successful zygote-splicing for goat enhancement, in my estimation,” announced the specialist in advanced animal breeding.

Mejor led the way to a stall holding a three-foot high creature with long, silky wool over its body.

“This is a distant relative of the llama, brought here from the south continent to contribute to better sheep-breeding. It is scheduled to give its fine wool to the zetlan sheep and improve their value. But the idea occurred to me last night that its characteristic skin wool could be added to the hircus or capric, so as to improve these types of goats as well. What do you think of the idea?”

Boe was reluctant to provide a definitive answer to this question.

“Yes,” he at least replied. “I can see that there are possibilities in that.”

Ilex appeared to be satisfied with that. “Let me show you the rest of what we have here,” he said to his partner.

Hecho Tocine constantly received reports on the course of the zygotic breeding of a new kind of hircine. Every failed step and every successful leap forward came to him. And he prepared to take counteraction.

The most effective weapon in the arsenal of the ovine interest would be a biological one, Tocine and his cohorts decided.

They needed something that could harm and kill goats, but leave the sheep and other animals alone. Did any such means of warfare exist?

Hecho called a meeting with several veterinarians employed by the Shepherd Association and loyal to it. None of them had the experience or knowledge that he was looking for.

Finally, the frustrated sheepherder turned to a group of hirselers who worked with sheep flocks out on the hills and fields.

An old, grizzled herder gave Hecho the answer that he wanted and needed.

“What will do the job is a worm that affects the brain and spinal cord only of the hircines. My memory tells me that long ago there was such a serious disease of the goats called the sturdy, resembling the ancient gid that plagued and killed many sheep in those bygone times. Today, we have medicines for such diseased sheep, but I doubt whether there is anything to treat a similarly diseased goat.”

Here was something worth looking into, decided Hecho. But where was he to find a tape worm agent to infect the intended animal victims?

It took ten weeks to splice together the component alleles for the planned alpaco-hircine. The size of the animal was to be greater than that of the familiar capric goat. The wool turned out to be long and silky. Nothing like it had ever existed before. The spectacular success gave joy to both Ilex and Boe. They realized that a great forward step in genesiology was close to being completed.

A second animal, then a third and fourth were born at the experimental station. Before long, there was a beginning flock of half a dozen.

But then an invasion of disease and death descended on this new breed of hircines. The young kids began to vomit and stagger around in confusion. Mouth and eyes came to have a light pinkish tinge. Something was clearly wrong. Veterinarians were called in and diagnose the afflicted animals. The immediate conclusion they made was that these were rare and strange cases of coenurus infection. No one could say how the disease was acquired.

Every specialist summoned to the Genesiological Institute reached the identical conclusion. Only some undefinable modification in zygotic splicing could defend against this mysterious malady.

Boe and Ilex had much to think about and discuss between

They met at the scientist’s apartment to consider what their options were under that unexpected outbreak of an incomprehensible illness among the experimentally altered goats.

“We have to try something or else go down in defeat,” insisted Dr. Mejor. “Time is running out fast for corrections or revisions of any kind.”

The hircinist concentrated his mind on the problem of the disease. All of a sudden, a wild idea occurred to him, one that surprised and somewhat disconcerted him.

“Tell me this, Ilex: can a triple splicing be carried out?”

For a few moments, the genesiologist tried to figure out what his partner might be thinking of, but could come up with nothing.

“No, my friend. That would be so difficult that it might be called impossible. It has never been attempted, as far as I can tell. All splicings that I have done or know of have been based on two ingredient factors, but no more. That has, so far, been the limit of our technical ability.”

All of a sudden, Boe sprang to his feet in rising excitement. “I believe there is a way to defeat the coenurus that is blocking us through the addition of a third biological component into the zygotes of the test goats. It would be risky, but I think we have to attempt something new. This may turn out to be the solution that saves our project.”

“What is it that you propose we do?” asked Ilex with heightening curiosity.

The hircinist told him the details of his idea as convincingly as he could.

In just a few months, goats with new immunity to sturdy disease were available at animal markets.

Early experience on the grasslands and hilly pastures proved them to be resistant to the danger from the worm. What was the added third ingredient that made the alpaca-hirsine combination able to withstand the terrible disease? Many individuals made guesses about this biological mystery. But beyond Boe, Ilex, and their closest associates at the Genesiological Institute and its experiment station, few had any inkling what it might be.

The question of the third zygotic splice drove Hecho Tocine to distraction. He had to find out how the Shepherds’ Association had been defeated by its competitors, the goat-herders. What had his enemies added to strengthen and improve the new breed of hircus?

He and his closest henchmen agreed to carry out a break-in at the Institute and search through the records of Dr. Ilex Mejor. They were sure there would be some evidence there they could use to determine the character of the compound zygote and what was added to it. With ease this small group broke into the building in the dead of night, Hecho himself taking the lead.

The gang headed directly for the office of the successful genesiologist. Using a small pencil light, Hecho started to rifle through the files, all of which were unlocked. It took him less than three minutes to discover what he was after.

There it was in black and white, on a simple order blank.

Dr. Ilex Mejor had ordered a half dozen merino sheep for the experiment station’s secret breeding project. These were worm-resistant sheep similar to the ones that he himself and his comrades raised.

The intruder was dumbfounded.

With frenzied haste, Hecho ordered all the others who had broken in with him to evacuate the Institute at once.

The simple secret of the newly bred hircines with the special features was the third splicing that gave them an ovine trait enjoyed by the sheep herded by Hecho’s own followers.

In his thought, Hecho Tocine denied and resisted the idea that an uncanny form of justice had been carried out by genesiological zygote-splicing.


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