I came to praise Caesar, not to bury him.
Hell, we all did.
The farm spread out before us, green and rolling, dotted with paddocks and water troughs. It looked like the kind of place you wish your parents had taken you when you were a kid and the world was still full of wonders.
Well, the world may not have been full of wonders any longer, but the farm was. Problem was, they weren’t exactly the kind you used to dream of-unless you were coming down from a really bad acid trip.
The farm was the brainchild of Caesar Claudius MacDonald. He’d finally knuckled under to public pressure and agreed to show the place off to the press. That’s where I came in.
My name’s McNair. I used to have a first name, but I dumped it when I decided a one-word byline was more memorable. I work for the SunTrib, the biggest newstape in the Chicago area. I’d just broken the story that put Billy Cheever away after the cops had been after him for years. What I wanted for my efforts was my own syndicated column; what I got was a trip to the farm.
For a guy no one knew much about, one who almost never appeared in public, MacDonald had managed to make his name a household word in something less than two years. Even though one of his corporations owned our publishing company, we didn’t have much on him in our files, just what all the other news bureaus had: he’d earned a couple of Ph. D.’s, he was a widower who by all accounts had been faithful to his wife, he’d inherited a bundle and then made a lot more on his own.
MacDonald was a Colorado native who emigrated to New Zealand’s South Island, bought a forty-thousand-hectare farm, and hired a lot of technicians over the years. If anyone wondered why a huge South Island farm didn’t have any sheep, they probably just figured he had worked out some kind of tax dodge.
Hell, that’s what I thought too. I mean, why else would someone
with his money bury himself on the underside of the globe for half a lifetime?
Then, a week after his sixty-sixth birthday, MacDonald made The Announcement. That’s the year they had food riots in Calcutta and Rio and Manila, when the world was finding out that it was easier to produce eleven billion living human beings than to feed them.
Some people say he created a new life form. Some say he produced a hybrid (though not a single geneticist agrees with that). Some-I used to snicker at them-say that he had delved into mysteries that Man Was Not Meant To Know.
According to the glowing little computer cube they handed out, MacDonald and his crew spent close to three decades manipulating DNA molecules in ways no one had ever thought of before. He did a lot of trial and error work with embryos, until he finally came up with the prototype he sought. Then he spent a few more years making certain that it would breed true. And finally he announced his triumph to the world.
Caesar MacDonald’s masterpiece was the Butterball, a meat animal that matured at six months of age and could reproduce at eight months, with a four-week gestation period. It weighed four hundred pounds at maturity, and every portion of its body could be consumed by Earth’s starving masses, even the bones.
That in itself was a work of scientific brilliance-but to me the true stroke of genius was the astonishing efficiency of the Butterballs’ digestive systems. An elephant, back when elephants still existed, would eat about six hundred pounds of vegetation per day, but could only use about 40 percent of it, and passed the rest as dung.