Friday, May 31, 2013

An excerpt from TUSKERS

TUSKERS takes place on the day of the Oklahoma vs. Nebraska football game in the year 2090. This excerpt is a flashback, describing the origin of Archie's role as the Tuskers mascot. It's posted as a result of all the recent stories about cloning of mammoths. Enjoy. The whole book is available as a trade paperback from createspace and as an e-book on kindle, smashwords, and nook. TUSKERS is R-rated because of language. There is no sex, violence, crime, or other standard devices for creating a despicable character, so my only recourse was filthy language (think Mel Gibson on steroids).

Then, when the world’s African elephant population finally dwindled to three, two old cows well past their calf bearing age and an ancient sterile bull in the San Diego zoo, the decision was made to kill all three and take their genes to the University of Nebraska. The scientists knew this desperate gamble might not pay off, but they also knew that if the elephant genes could be preserved and expressed anywhere in the world, it would be at the NU Beef Lab.
     And, of course, tradition demanded that the last elephants be sent to Nebraska in a vial. Fossil elephant teeth had been found in every county in the state, and aside from football and corn, the only thing Nebraska had to show for its several hundred million year history was a museum full of mammoth skeletons unearthed by local farmers.
     So, the three old elephants were put to sleep and their DNA extracted. Thousands of school children gathered at the San Diego airport to wave goodbye to their beloved proboscideans, totally confident that the guys at the Nebraska Beef Lab could revive the species. At NU, the genes were quickly preserved. Then the scientists began trying to produce elephants. At first they put elephant genes in mouse cells, then put the mouse cells into a cow’s uterus. They succeeded in making perfect elephants, all right, but they were the size of mice and acted like cows. Finally, elephant sized elephants were successfully produced by putting some of the biggest genes in the library into the mouse cells, namely the genes from the extinct redwood trees. The first baby with those genes was still about the size of a mouse, but had enormous feet.
     “Jesus, look at the size of those feet!” said one scientist. Then everyone in the room stared at one another. They knew what they’d done, so named their baby “Redwood.” Baby Redwood died within a few months, from complications resulting from her growth rate, but with that experiment, the scientists had learned how to adjust the size of elephants. Within a few years, they had a herd of regular African elephants in Nebraska.
     Naturally, the Beef Lab was well prepared when a frozen woolly mammoth was discovered in the rapidly melting polar ice cap. Periodically in the past frozen mammoths had been discovered, but nobody knew what to do with them. So the local explorers and Eskimos usually ate some of the meat, and fed some to their dogs, then had their pictures taken standing around the carcass with grins on their faces saying “look at us we ate mammoth meat and survived.” But now with all the new genetic technology, the Beef Lab scientists knew exactly what to do. The mammoth body was chipped out of the ice and flown to Nebraska. Then the genetic engineers took out the mammoth genes and put them into an enucleated elephant egg, which they implanted into a surrogate elephant mother. Fourteen months later, for the first time in ten thousand years, a live woolly mammoth walked the Nebraska prairies.
     He could have no other name than Archie, the nickname of Archidiskodon imperator, the biggest skeleton of them all. Archie was only a few days old when the Beef Lab scientists made a startling discovery:  woolly mammoths were many times more intelligent than elephants. Furthermore, they were capable of the most amazing facial expressions. They could smile, grin mischievously, cry and laugh. Their vocalizations were far more complex than those of elephants. Right away the scientists re-wrote their theories about why mammoths became extinct. For decades biologists had thought mammoths were too stupid to compete with early humans. After studying Archie, they decided that mammoths had in fact tried to domesticate humans. Evidently they’d wanted to train humans to do many tasks that mammoths, because of their structure, could not do. That effort was clearly a mistake. Like any new technological tools, humans were a two-edged sword. The little bastards were capable of magnificent feats, but they were also dangerous.
     Archie, however, had awakened into a new world, one that his ancestors could never have imagined. Values and attitudes had changed since the Pleistocene. Thanks to corn slime, few people were truly hungry any more. The humans that hovered around Archie were admiring, caring, little animals, instead of cold and starving ones armed with spears. Time and technology had accomplished for Archie what purpose had not been able to accomplish for his extinct brethren, namely the domestication of Homo sapiens.
     From the human perspective, woolly mammoths turned out to be a marvel. They were smart enough so that they didn’t need fences, which was fortunate because it was impossible to build a fence that would hold them inside anywhere. But the best feature of woolly mammoths was that they could, and would, eat unprocessed slime corn. Thus their massive food requirements were easily met by the cheapest weed in Nebraska.
     Archie himself was somewhat bored as he entered puberty. Although he didn’t know it, the source of his boredom was the environment in which he lived. There was no challenge to being a mammoth in the 21st Century, no problems of survival to solve, no would-be predators to stomp, no floods and fires and volcanic explosions laying waste to the plains. Archie was surrounded by people who did nothing more than feed and study him, and wonder why he seemed so bored.
     Then one day when Archie was about seven feet tall and his tusks were just beginning to curve, the students asked the Beef Lab if Archie could march in the Homecoming Day Parade. Sure, said the scientists; a parade will cheer him up. Jack Alexander was president of his fraternity and president of the pep club, so he got to be in charge of Archie. Or rather, Archie got to be in charge of Jack. Jack was a junior in college. He had not met Suzi yet. Jack had another girl friend at the time. Her name was Nancy and she played in the band.
     Jack was a little bit afraid of Archie at first, but took the leash anyway. They marched right in front of the band, and periodically Archie would plop great heaping mounds of steaming mammoth manure into the street. This act made the band furious. They yelled and screamed at Jack. Jack didn’t know that Archie was making the deposits on purpose in order to stir up some excitement. Archie thought Jack was pretty dumb; Jack thought Archie was undisciplined. Nancy was not very happy either. She finished the parade with mammoth manure all over her uniform.
     “Jack,” said Nancy later that evening, “if I ever see that goddamn mammoth again, you and I are through.”
     By the time the parade had ended, Jack had lost his fear of Archie and was rather proud of the attention he’d received.
     “It was kind of fun,” he answered defensively.
     “If it was so damned much fun taking him to the parade, why don’t you take him to the game?” Nancy was an expert at sarcasm. Lately her smart-alec tongue had been irritating Jack.
     “Well maybe I’ll do just that,” he said, every bit as sarcastically.
     Jack Alexander was sleeping on the morning of the next game when the telephone rang.
     “Huh? Yeah?” mumbled Jack.
     “Archie wants to go to another parade.”
     “There isn’t any parade today.”
     “We know. We thought you could take him to the game, since he had so much fun at the parade.”
     “The band would kill him.”
     “Fat chance,” replied the guy from the Beef Lab.
     “Find someone else,” said Jack. The game was with Kansas State University, usually the most boring game of the season. The KSU Wildcats were favored by at least fifty points and everybody Jack talked to thought they might win by eighty. The K State quarterback was a Heisman Trophy candidate and two of their linebackers had been nominated for the Butkus Award. Nebraska had not beaten Kansas State since before Jack was born. If he hadn’t been president of the pep club he would have slept all day instead of going to the game. It was simply too painful to see the Huskers, as they were called back then, a once great team with a winning tradition, get kicked around so shamefully.
     “Archie wants you, Alexander.”
     “Hey, fix him up with a date,” offered Jack, ever the quintessential fraternity guy. “A blind date. I’ve got just the girl.”
     “Is she smart?”
     “Better than that, she’s wise.”
     “What’s her name?”
     “Nancy,” said Jack, “she’s supposed to be my date but Archie can have her.”
     “That’ll be great,” said the guy from the Beef Lab. “How will Archie recognize Nancy?”
     “Take him to the south entrance of the stadium. She’ll have on red.”
     So, one of the guys from the Beef Lab took Archie to the game. There were very few people around, and most of them were dressed in purple, not red. Even the Kansas State fans wouldn’t travel to watch such a boring game. Archie didn’t see anybody in red except the band and he knew that after his performance in the parade nobody in the band would go out with him. Finally two people wearing red showed up, but they were both male. Another person, the only female not dressed in purple or in the band, had on jeans and a brown leather vest. It was Suzi on her way to the museum and art gallery.
     When Suzi saw Archie she stopped and stared. Even though Archie was six years old and seven feet tall, and Suzi had watched the mammoths from the public viewing area, she’d never been this close to one. By this time Archie was feeling pretty depressed, sad, and abandoned. Maybe Nancy doesn’t like me because I’m big and hairy, he thought. If she only knew how intelligent and sensitive I am, she’d like me. The guy from the Beef Lab said “don’t cry, Archie.” But Archie began to cry anyway, hanging his head, letting the tip of his trunk drag on the concrete, and blinking out tears that hit the sidewalk like water balloons.
     Suzi was devastated. She could never have imagined the power that a crying mammoth could have over her emotions. She walked up to Archie’s handler and asked what was wrong. The man said “he was supposed to have a blind date but she stood him up because he’s so big and hairy. Now he’s all depressed.”
     To which Suzi replied, “he’s no worse than some of the football players.”
     This wisecrack made Archie cry all the more, his massive body heaving with gigantic sobs and three feet of snot gurgling in his trunk. Suzi had insulted him terribly; he thought football players were barbarians. Then Suzi said
     “When I get depressed I usually kick the shit out of something. Usually something big. That makes me feel better.”
     “Uh oh,” said the guy from the Beef Lab. The only big thing around to kick was the Kansas State team bus, a superslick black windowed silver coach with an abstract purple wildcat on the side.
     Archie’s ears perked up. Then he raised his head, wiped a tear with his trunk, blew out three or four gallons of snot, reared up on his hind legs and smashed the KSU bus. Metal and glass went everywhere. The two guys in red shirts stood off to the side. One of them said
    “Wow! Tusker power!”
     The other said “that’s cute; Tusker power.”
     The first guy yelled “Tus-ker!”
     The second guy yelled “Pow-er!”
     The two students looked at one another. Something out of their distant past, maybe something acquired by their grandparents, bubbled to the surface, as they began to chant:  Tus-ker! Pow-er! Tus-ker! Pow-er!
     The Cornhuskers lost by only three touchdowns that day. They played their finest game in years. But the best part of the day was that a legend had been born. Before the end of that season, Suzi had met Jack at a party, Archie had become a cult hero, and the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers had started back on their winning tradition. Well, at least they stopped losing quite so badly. They even tied Oklahoma. Next to Nebraska, Oklahoma was the worst team in college football. The tie spread hope among the faithful and the few fans that did attend the games began to yell Tus-ker! Pow-er!
     It would be another five years before the Cornhuskers actually won a game, but each year their losing margins were less than the year before. The optimism generated by this turn of fortunes was contagious. The fans worshipped Archie. The year after he’d destroyed the Kansas State bus, Archie was allowed to run around the field after every score. The Cornhuskers kicked five field goals that season and made one touchdown. Archie got to run around the field twice after the touchdown and once again after the extra point attempt, even though the kick was blocked. Everybody in Nebraska knew deep in their hearts that it was only a matter of time before the Cornhuskers won a game. What they didn’t know was that when it happened, there would be no more “Cornhuskers.”

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