Upgrade to a better browser, please.

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Books

Accidental Creatures

Added By: valashain
Last Updated: valashain

Accidental Creatures

Purchase this book through Purchase this book from Purchase this book from
Author: Anne Harris
Publisher: Tor, 1998

This book does not appear to be part of a series. If this is incorrect, and you know the name of the series to which it belongs, please let us know.

Submit Series Details

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags:
Avg Member Rating:
(3 reads / 2 ratings)


Anne Harris returns with an outstanding look at the near future. Never before has her technological insight been so acute, or her portrayal of sex and gender issues more startling or insightful.

A bio-technology corporation has created a new species, intelligent, four-armed, humanoid "tetras" who can live in the vats in which "the company" grows biopolymers. Both the tetras and the human vat-divers they were created to replace are at the mercy of vicious corporate politics. But soon the victims become the aggressors, and something amazing, a transcendent change, occurs not only in their lives, but throughout the world. Anne Harris has created an extraordinary, breathtaking vision of the future.


Accidental Creatures



THIS building is condemned by the WEB Nine Zoning Authority. Please vacate the proximity of this building. This building is condemned by the WEB Nine Zoning Authority," droned a soft feminine voice. Chango paced the genelink fence in frustration. On the other side, the great brick bulk of the Russell Industrial Center loomed like a beached and lifeless whale.

Two days ago there was a rave-in here: fifty or more squatters partying, cooking, eating, and sleeping. Loud music and vivid strips of celluplast streamed from the windows of the abandoned factory, announcing the presence of the rave to anyone in the neighborhood while electrical and coaxial line usage seeped into Cityweb's awareness.

The squatters had picked up and moved on to another party, another building. They left a trail of condemned theaters, hotels, and office buildings behind them in their travels through the city. They were supposed to leave before Cityweb got wind of them, but they weren't always that fast.

Scanning the genelink fence for gaps, Chango made her way around to the back of the Russell, to the parking lot and loading docks. It was no use trying to cut an opening, nothing could cut through genelink except for a molecular saw, and if she could afford one of those she'd probably be able to buy the whole damn building.

On the far side of the Russell there was a walkway bordered by a small strip of patchy, gravel-dusted grass. Chango rummaged in her backpack and came out with a small shovel. Here the genelink had not been buried in the ground but merely stretched across it, and a hole could be dug. Not a very big hole, just enough for her to wriggle underneath.

Once inside, she didn't worry much about sensors. They'd detect her, sure, but this was a condemned, building, and clearly marked as such. The zoning authority wasn't too concerned about whether or not it was empty when they came with the disintegrators.

The Russell Industrial Center was really a group of three brick buildings, each covering a city block. A concrete yard between them once gave trucks access to the loading docks, but now its barren expanse was just a home for the hardy weeds that sprang up between the cracks in the paving.

Chango made her way along one wall, keeping to the shadows until she came to a blank metal door next to a freight platform. She yanked on the handle. It was locked, but the simple electromagnetic identification reader was no match for her inertial lock pick--an expensive little piece of equipment, but it got her places. It bypassed the automation on most modern locks and went to work directly on the tumblers, so all she needed to do was keep the system busy or off-line. She didn't need to figure out the protocols of a system and then talk to it, she just had to shut it up.

She opened the door and crept into a long, dark, tiled hallway. At the end of it was an alcove with a freight elevator and another metal door. She took the stairs. She never had trusted the elevators in the Russell, and she had even less reason to do so now. On the tenth floor she stepped out from the stairwell onto the vast floor of a machine shop. The large room was lit by sunshine from the windows all around. The rusting hulks of die-cutting machines striped the cracked linoleum floor with shadows.

Chango wandered in this gallery of disused mechanisms, running tentative fingers across the dusty, corroded flanks of forgotten tools, their intricate purposes a mystery to her. The rave-in had been in the north building, they had never even ventured here, had never laid eyes on these arcane devices, had neither knowledge of them nor desire to find out. To the ravers, an abandoned buildingwas simply a place to hang out for a while. To Chango, each was a world unto itself, a landscape to be savored.

At the far end of the floor she turned around, taking it all in with careful eyes, the angle of the light, the swirls of dust on the floor, the boxy lines of the machines in all their many shades of grey and brown. She absorbed every detail, burning it in her mind. She'd spent days exploring the Russell, and this was her favorite spot, or almost. In a day or so, it would be gone, but she would remember. She had already remembered so many of the old buildings in Detroit; the curving dome of the Bonstelle Theatre, the majestic columns in the lobby of the Fox, the murals on the third floor of the old library. All were gone now except for in her memory, where she kept them.

Chango climbed on top of a machine bench sitting against the wall and crawled out the window above it. An iron ladder was bolted to the outside of the building about six feet away. Gripping the upper casement of the window, Chango shuffled as close to the edge of the window ledge as possible, and then crouched and leapt. Unfortunately she struck the wall first, but managed to catch the ladder before she fell.

Ribs smarting, she climbed six more stories to the uppermost roof of the Russell Industrial Center.

From here she could see the city sprawling out beneath her like the recumbent body of a very old woman; the buildings and streets a map of scars, tracing her history. The clean black lines of maglev highways were fresh and dark against the faded webwork of paved streets. The areas they led to thrummed with activity, alight with cash and electricity. Elsewhere, whole expanses of the city languished in obscurity.

Once this city was a legend. The Motor City. Motor cars were built here, and for a while, a brief and fabled golden age, Detroit was the axle of industry around which the world turned. But the world moved on, and gasoline got expensive, and foreign manufacturers beat the Motor City at its own game. Even before the advent of maglev transportation, the auto industry in Detroit had fallen far from its glory days. And when maglev did come, it was the final deathblow.

But even industry hates a vacuum. Attracted by a cheap and available labor pool, GeneSys moved its headquarters here, to theold Fisher Building, and brought most of its production facilities with it.

The green-tipped tower of the Fisher, now known as the GeneSys Building, rose up against gathering clouds. At night its peak would be lit gold, and red warning lights would flash from its spire. As a child she had called it the Gold Top Castle, and imagined grand parties held there.

Several miles to the south, the towers of the downtown business district reared abruptly from the surrounding two- and three-storey buildings like an apparition, the curving glass walls of the Renaissance Center and the Millennial Building its glittering centerpiece. Roughly eight blocks square, the district was so incongruous to the rest of the city that it had earned the name Oz.

To the west she could see Vattown, once the home of one of the city's largest automobile plants, now the production center for GeneSys. Rows of vat houses shimmered their grey steel shimmer at the noonday sky. They took up several city blocks, and around them, huddling close to the warmth of industry, were the little brick houses of her neighborhood. It was meager nourishment, and dangerous.

Vattown was a small pocket of working-class living standards in the bipolar morass of the few rich and the multitudes of poor. But the workers paid a heavy price for relative prosperity. Swimming in growth medium did things to your genetic structure; things that would catch up with you, sooner or later.

Like they had with her sister Ada. Her death had left a hole in the Vattown community that could be felt to this day. Though as a teenager, Chango had certainly not appreciated her sister's leadership, particularly her efforts to raise her after their parents died.


Chango remembered the last hour of the last day of her senior year in high school. She'd sat in the humid, crowded classroom, her eyes on the clock. Five more minutes and she'd be free, but Ms. Hinkie, the English teacher, droned on, oblivious to her own irrelevance. What could you learn in the last five minutes of four years spent skipping and smoking and passing on the curve? It was a vat school. Chango and her classmates regarded it as four years of vacation prior to diving in the vats for the rest of their lives.

The minute hand on the clock moved a notch--four more minutes. Behind her Vonda Peterby kicked Chango's chair leg and slid a folded piece of paper past her shoulder. Chango palmed it smoothly and opened it on her lap. A smoking joint was rendered in finest number-two pencil, and beside it the words, "Behind Hannah's." Chango pocketed the note and gave Vonda a quick nod.

The last three minutes of her high school career ticked by with excruciating slowness. When the bell rang, Chango was swept along by a surging wave of students which poured out of the school onto the streets of Vattown. After a block the crowd thinned, and Chango slowed to a walk, ambling lightly down the cracked concrete sidewalk, heading west and south, towards Hannah's Eclectic Homestyle Restaurant.

It was a major hangout for vatdivers, and in the alley behind it, high school burnouts like herself and Vonda congregated to smoke pot and drink beer. When she got to Hannah's, Vonda and their friends Coral, Val, and Tashi were already there, clustered around stacks of milk crates and cardboard boxes.

"Hey, Chango, what happened, you get caught in the stampede?" shouted Coral as she approached.

"Here." Vonda handed her a big fat joint.

Chango toked it, drawing the dense, sweet smoke deep into her lungs. "Dang," she said, exhaling a cloud of smoke, "I thought that last class would never end."

"Yeah," said Vonda, "can you believe that Hinkie, trying to cram one more lesson into us, on the last day."

"Like we're gonna need to know the imagery of T. S. Eliot where we're going," said Coral.

"At least Mr. Beaudet let us talk among ourselves," said Val. "He knew better than to try and make us sit through another hour of chemistry."

"At least chemistry has something to do with vat diving," said Coral. "Look at your sister, Chango, she's putting it to good use."

"Yeah." Ada was taking night courses in chemistry and biopolymer engineering, so she could train divers to do their own safety monitoring on the vats. It was part of her unionizing efforts. Divers couldn't rely on the safety standards GeneSys provided. The company considered three fatalities a year an acceptable margin of error.

Tashi fastened an alligator clip to the joint and passed it to Vonda. "Are you really going to take the clerical entrance exam, Chango?"

She shook her head, "Not if I can help it. Ada's dead set on it, but can you imagine me spending the rest of my life shuffling papers for some goon in a suit?"

"At least you'd have more of the rest of your life," said Tashi.

"Yeah, if the boredom didn't kill me."

"Then what are you going to do?" said Vonda, passing the now minuscule roach to her.

Chango hit it, grimacing as she burned her lips. "I don't know. What the rest of you are doing, I guess. Get sterilized and dive in the vats."

"You think Ada will let you?" asked Val.

Chango shrugged. "I'm out of school now, I'm an adult. She doesn't rule my life."

The others nodded vaguely. Since their parents died, Ada had taken it upon herself to raise Chango, and she was determined to keep her little sister out of the vats. Watching them, Chango bristled. They didn't believe her, they thought she'd eventually do just what Ada said. But there was no way she was going for an office job. Even if she could get it, she'd hate it; she'd rather do what her parents did, what her friends would do--dive, and die at thirty-five.

"So when do you guys have your appointments with Dr. Snip?" asked Coral smugly.

"Not until August," said Val.

"July twenty-third," said Vonda.

"July thirtieth," said Tashi.

Coral smiled. "I'm getting done June sixth. I am going to have a great summer."

"You bitch," said Tashi, "how did you get yours so soon?"

"'Cause my daddy's a foreman, silly girl."

Everyone groaned. Val spoke up again, "So when are they hiring new divers?"

"Not until September," said Coral. "Word is that vats twenty-two through thirty-one need fresh blood."

"Hey, wouldn't it be great if we all got the same assignment?" said Vonda.

"It won't happen," said Coral. "They'll only take three or four new people at a time, so they can learn from veteran divers."

"I hope I get in that Gordon's vat. He is so hot," said Tashi.

Chango snorted. "You're hopeless."

Sunlight slid in patches across the cracked and stained concrete of the alley. The back door of Hannah's swung open abruptly, and DiDi, the dishwasher, came out hauling a trash can, brimming with garbage, and hoisted it into the black maw of the Dumpster. She didn't acknowledge them, her face closed in a busy frown.

Chango leaned against the pitted brick wall of the restaurant, lifting her eyes to the blue and cloud-spotted sky. The conversation of her peers washed over her, their concerns seeming distant and unrelated to hers, even though she'd known them her whole life.

Ada would never let her go to the vats. She'd lock her up first. And truth be told, Chango wasn't all that keen on it anyway. She'd seen her mother and father die within two years of each other, neither of them more than forty years of age, bedridden for the last two months of their lives, their bodies riddled with cancerous tumors suddenly come to bloom. What little she'd seen of life, she liked, she wanted to keep on doing it. She wanted more than forty years of it.

But she wasn't about to take some clerical job for GeneSys. How could she type letters and file reports for a bunch of white-collar geeks whose decisions determined whether or not her friends lived or died? It was like the choice between picking cotton in the fields, or working in the big house. Sure, it was better to work in the big house, but Chango wanted off the plantation altogether.

The shadows in the alley lengthened, the sunlight turned to mellow amber. The conversation had turned from the graduates' prospects to the more immediate concern of where the parties were that night.

"Claudia's having a house party," said Val.

"That bitch?" said Coral, "I hate her fucking guts."

"Oh yeah?" said Tashi with a smirk. "How come?"

"'Cause Coral's got it bad for Jerome," taunted Vonda, "and she has since before Claudia nabbed him."

Coral's face turned red, and she glared at them, but she didn't deny it.

"Forget that anyway," said Chango. "Josa's is giving free pitchers to graduates."

"Yeah, and the Ply-Tones are playing," said Val.

"Yes!" said Vonda.

"I am staying out all night, tonight," said Chango.

"You'll do nothing of the kind, kiddo." The voice came from the kitchen door. Chango turned to see her sister standing there, tall and strong, her blond hair short and neatly combed.

Looking at her standing there in the late afternoon sunshine, Chango's jaw clenched unwittingly. She'd never seen anyone so fucking perfect in her life. Certainly she would never be like that, no matter what she did. For one thing, she wasn't tall, Ada had strength and weight on her, and she wasn't beyond using them to her advantage, even in front of Chango's friends.

Chango stood, "I'll see you guys later."

"Uh-huh," "Yeah," "Sure," came the dubious replies.

Chango followed Ada in through the back door of the restaurant, burning with rage. They went through the kitchen and took a corner booth in the dining room. They sat down in silence, and Rita brought them coffee. Ada stirred cream in her cup and sipped at it. "You know you can't go out tonight, Chango, you've got an exam tomorrow morning."

Chango stared at the salt and pepper shakers for a long time. "Ada, I'm not going to do it," she said, finally glancing at her sister's face.

Ada stared at her in anger and surprise. "What?"

She shook her head, "I'm not going to do it. You can't make me."

"Why?" Ada shouted, and there was a momentary lull in the surrounding conversations as other patrons turned to look at them, and then returned to their own talk.

Chango took a careful breath. "Ada, I'm not doing it. I won't go be a suit for you, get it? I don't belong there, I'm not one of them."

Ada stared at her, her jaw stiff, her eyes frozen with anger. "Oh yeah?" she said tightly, "what are you then, huh? You tell me."

"I'm a vat--"

"A vatdiver? Is that what you think you are? Let me tell yousomething, little sister. You won't last. Mom was in the vats for six years before you were born, Dad ten. You already show signs of gene damage. Your eyes, Chango, don't they tell you anything?"

Her eyes: one blue, one green. A genetic anomaly not present in any of her known ancestors, a mutation.

"If you dive," Ada continued, "you won't make it past thirty. You won't even have a chance to start getting old."

"Who says I want to get old?" asked Chango.

Ada shook her head and gazed at the ceiling in exasperation. "I do, you fool, and you know it's true."

Chango licked her lips and studied the tabletop. "Yeah," she said quietly. "But I can't go corporate, Ada. It's like joining the enemy."

"Nonsense. You can be useful to us there. You can work to change management from within."

"Sounds like a nice idea, Ada, only it's yours, not mine."

Ada sighed. "Then what do you want to do?"

Chango shrugged. "I don't know."

"Well, you've got to do something. You can't just go on partying and hanging out with your friends. You've got to make a living somehow. Think of Mom and Dad. They worked so hard. They wanted something better for you. I owe it to them to make sure you take that exam."

Despite all her protests, Ada took Chango home and locked her in her bedroom with the clerical exam study guide. That night Chango crawled out of her bedroom window and went to Josa's, then to the party at Claudia's, and finally ended up passing out at Coral's house and sleeping until noon the next day, after the entrance exams were safely over.

Ada was furious. She tried to lock Chango in her room again, and even boarded up the window, but Chango kept finding ways to get out. They didn't speak to each other for weeks.

Then one day Ada came home from work early. Chango took one look at her face and knew something had happened. "Hargis is sick," she said, setting her lunch box on the table by the door.

"But she's only been diving five years," Chango said, and wished she hadn't. That was how long Ada had been diving, too.

"Company inspection missed a hole in her suit. It'll go quickly for her." Ada sat down on the couch, her arms resting on her knees."That seems to be about all I can hope for anyone anymore, that when the sickness comes it will take them quickly." She shook her head. "It's hopeless. I keep telling everyone we need to organize, but they don't listen. I can't save them," she looked at Chango. "I can't even save you."

She almost retorted that she didn't need Ada to save her, watch out for her, lecture her, or do any of the other things which Ada saw as duties and Chango saw as infringements on her liberty. But she stopped herself, shocked to see her sister near tears. "That's not true," she said. "I'm not diving."

"But you will!" Ada shouted, tears suddenly springing forth from her eyes. "Any day now, when my back is turned, you'll put in an application and make an appointment to be sterilized."

"No. No I won't, Ada. I won't be a clerical worker like you wanted, but I promise you, I won't dive either. I'll find another way to get along."

"Really?" Ada wiped her eyes and sniffed.

"Really." Chango sat down next to her on the couch. "I promise."

Ada nodded. "Well, that's something," she said, and managed to smile a little. "But I'm afraid the vatdivers are a lost cause. They're so afraid of what GeneSys will do if we organize. They'll never listen to me. I might as well give it up."

"You can't." Chango stood up again, shocked. "You can't give up. Sooner or later they'll realize they have nothing to lose, and even if they don't, you'll know you did everything you could to change things. If you give up, you'll never be able to live with yourself. You know it's true."

Ada stared at her a moment and then nodded in resignation. "I know. I guess today I just wish it weren't," she said, looking more tired than Chango had ever seen her before.


But all of that was before Ada's death and the suspicion of negligence that darkened her name and discredited the union movement. Everything had changed since then. Now the question of whether or not to dive in the vats was a moot one. GeneSys wouldn't hire sports anymore. It was one of the things Ada had fought for and gained in the movement's first and last strike.

Chango never did decide what she wanted to do with herself, so she, like so many others, led a marginal existence. Exploring old buildings, scavenging, repairing automobiles, cutting lawns, cleaning houses, scanning cash cards. She lived anyplace she could park her car or bum a floor for the night, but for the most part that was still Vattown, those gritty streets and weathered buildings where she remained, obscure in her sister's shadow.

Copyright © 1998 by Anne Harris


Accidental Creatures

- spoltz


No alternate cover images currently exist for this novel.