Freedom of Choice

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Chapter 7

Freedom of Choice . . .

Chapter Seven:

Well, that took less time than I though. And thanks for the soda.

You're welcome. Need another bathroom visit before you go?

No, I'm good.

What about the lights? When they coming back?

My laptop is programming the last EPROM right now. Once the backup motherboard checks out, it'll run a full system diagnostic and reset the new main breaker. Shouldn't take more than ten or fifteen minutes, easiest four grand my boss ever made.

Dang! That much?

The Chinese border is still closed. Nothing gets in or out since September. And that's not likely to change until they finish purging the nut cases in their military who threatened to nuke Tokyo if Link Events kept showing up in their territory . . . as if Japan has anything to do it.

Until their mutual embargoes end, I'm going to spend a good portion of each working day begging Euro zone suppliers for compatible replacements, or ripping obsolete junk I buy on eBay apart for parts. It took me two weeks to stock up the stuff I just used. Try not to shoot it up again anytime soon, okay?

At those prices you have my word.


Could you help me out before you go? I have to do something that requires more than two hands.

Sure. What ya need?

See that bag under that chair you're sitting on? There's a long orange plastic strap inside. Give it to me.

Here you go.

Thanks. Now while I hold it around Tim's neck, you twist the locking mechanism on the ends together.

Wait . . . what? Why you calling a cow . . . that's a Linker?!


Don't go spastic on me! It's not catching!

I know that! I just . . . I just never been this close to such a large animal Linker before.

Go ahead and finish twisting those ends together. I have to get all this done before they take him upstairs.

There, it's all tight. Anything else you need?

Nah, I can handle the rest. You'd best step back just in case . . . a little more.

What's that thing?

It's a cryogenic branding iron. It uses compressed carbon dioxide to brand livestock in a more humane way. Tim?


Here we go, buddy. As I told you, I've got to cancel out your old branding iron mark. If that band I put around your neck ever comes off, you might be mistaken for food. And neither of us wants that, right?


Good. I'm going to set off the gas three times to chill the working end. It's going to be be loud and make big puffs of white fog. This might sting a little, but trust me, it's nothing like the red hot metal kind. Ready?


One, two, three . . . all done! And a little antiseptic spray just in case. That's the best letter "L" I've ever done.


Is Tim one of the Stevenson twins you mentioned before?

Yes, Timothy is the other one. Don't you hate parents who get all cutesy naming twins?

Shouldn't he be here to help his brother? I know I'd be . . . if I had a brother that is.

He's right about . . . there.

Why are you pointing at . . .? No, really? He's inside the fetus?

All seventy to a hundred pounds of it. That's about the average weight of a near term Holstein calf. My father had a great track record predicting if a heifer or bull was going to drop before he retired. I never was that good.


Relax, Tim. Don't fight the tranquilizer I gave you. You'll be feeling much better soon.

What happens now?

Internalized Double Link Events are extremely rare. Counting these guys, there's only three known IDLEs in the United States since this mess started. The lab on the sixth floor wants to induce Tim into labor and put Timothy into their MRI and Cat scanners within minutes of birth.

What for?

Who knows? There are all kinds of wacky rumors floating around the hospital. Some people think they're looking for physical changes to a Linker's brain, while others claim they're trying to make a shield they'll keep . . . THE THING . . . out. Both of those ideas are crazy. How many times do they have to prove a Linker's mind is encoded into their Link partner's Kirlian aura, not the Link partner's brain itself? Tim would be a babbling idiot otherwise. Cows aren't known for their stunning intellect. A shield is even loonier. What could anyone possibly build that's going to stop something that zips through the Earth's molten core a couple dozen times a day?

You're right. That is nuts.

I know something nuttier.

Like what?

One of my repair crew guys heard two white coats whispering in the stairwell. They were talking' about a secret military project to create a device to attract . . . THE THING . . . and force it reverse the Link Swap.

You win. That is nuttier. THE THING . . . is likely the closest we'll ever get to see a Metastate transitional fourth dimensional object. If it weren't for the secondary and tertiary electromagnetic effects its presence generates, we wouldn't even know it's around except for the Link Events themselves. It barely exists in our universe.

I said they were only rumors. For all I know they're looking for a faster hi-tech way to barbecue veal. And what the hell is a "Metastate transitional fourth dimensional doohickey?"

I'm not exactly sure. It was printed on the cover of the National Geographic magazine I received in the mail yesterday. I just started reading the article, but it still makes more sense than what my daughter picked up in first grade. I doubt if a magical unicorn named Twilight Sparkle has anything to do with what's going on.

Ah, kids. My daughter is in second grade and would agree with you. She's absolutely convinced a pony with wings she calls Rainbow Dash is responsible because it flies so fast it makes circular rainbows. And I pity anyone trying to convince her otherwise.

Getting back on topic . . . what's going to happen to the twins when they're done upstairs?

Tim and Timothy were working a milking shed at Shamrock Farms Dairy in Phoenix, Arizona when they got Link Swapped. The background files in that bag with the Linker collar say they were trying to earn money to pay for community college back home in Denver. Sooner or later they'll be going back to the dairy. Permanently.

You think we should be talking about this right in front of you-know-who?

Let me check. TIM!! HOW'S IT HANGING, BUD?! He's tripping. That shot I gave him would make a moose dance the polka. The only thing keeping him upright on four hooves is pure reflex.

You think that's fair?

Would you want to be wide awake when somebody sticks both arms up to their elbows in you and yanks out a baby cow?

Not that, shouldn't they be going back to their family?

Not going to happen. Their folks live in the middle of a Denver. They could never afford to keep high maintenance Linkers like Tim and Timothy healthy. Nor would their home owners association let them keep two cows in their front yard. Tim's new job description will mainly involve getting milked by a machine. Timothy's career path is still an open question. Dairies only let bull calves grow up to do one thing. Mother Nature, injected hormones, and expensive veterinarian care will insure he does that as often, and for as many years, as possible. Maybe even with Tim. Their parents and siblings will have full visitation rights, but I doubt if they'll ever use them. Would you?

I still don't think that's fair.

Tim isn't something you can feed scraps under the dining room table. He weighs somewhere between twelve and thirteen hundred pounds, and will need to be milked two or three times a day when he, I should say she, is pregnant; which will be almost always if the dairy owners get permission to let him get anywhere near a bull. Likewise for Timothy if he pops out as a heifer. Getting knocked up too often shortens a Holstein's maximum projected lifespan from just over twenty years to less than seven. PETL inspectors will likely keep that from happening.

What's PETL?

People for the ethical treatment of Linkers. It's a semi-official government agency most people don't know much about. You've got to get certified by them before you're allowed to take a human-animal Linker home. My neighbors across the street retired and started breeding parrots for extra cash. Howard Link-Swapped with a huge Australian King around five years ago. It took Susan three months to get him back. He still drinks beer and curses at the television when the 49ers lose a game, and she pays the bills selling chicks from the eggs he lays and broods to pet stores. How those eggs get fertilized is something he doesn't care to talk about. Like they say when every news show starts, "It exists. It's not going away. Get use to it."

Still, couldn't the twin's parents . . .?

Do you have a spare bedroom big enough for a very large guest with extremely poor waste retention control issues?

My wife and I live in an apartment. Our lease won't even let my kid have a hamster.

See what I mean?

What happened to the twins?

They're right here . . . oh, wait, you meant the human ones. Those files say they've already been processed. A touching article was printed in the local newspaper . . . standard cover story . . . and, after a gorgeous funeral . . . caskets full of bricks . . . they were buried in the family plot at taxpayer expense. A large consignment of high demand transplant-ready organs will be arriving shortly at several hospitals in Denver. See? Everyone's happy. And nobody asks the family any embarrassing questions.

What's the hurry? Couldn't it be, I don't know, a bit more dignified?

An animal-human Linker will never become sentient. Seeing someone's body trying to hop around in circles with a rabbit's mind in control is only amusing for so long. It's better this way. Human to Human Links are a completely different matter. And subject to completely different laws. If you had permission to go to the seventh floor, you'd see HL group counseling sessions going on all day. Frankly, Link Swaps of either kind give me the creeps.

There goes my timer. Got to throw that switch and see what happens.

Good luck.

No, good luck to you. The only components I didn't exchange make those I did look dirt cheap. And I don't know if I can find replacement parts for any of those in less than a month.

The hospital director will have a cow! Then I'll have two of them on my hands!

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