By Ken Liu
Artwork by Jose Baetas.
McComber: Welcome to Live With McComber!
[As McComber speaks, a video plays for the audience: a pair of giant pandas lumber through the predawn light on an American suburban street. Gingerly, they pry open trashcans on the curb and pick through the contents.]
My fellow patriots, you've no doubt noticed some extraordinary changes around us the last few years: strange animals doing strange things.
[The video shifts to a manatee lazily swimming through murky water. A motorboat approaches on the surface, but the manatee puts on a sudden burst of speed by jetting water out of its mouth and dodges out of the way at the last minute. It then spits into the faces of the startled passengers. The camera lingers on the smiling manatee.]
I've told you before my suspicion that these changes were the result of a conspiracy between the climate-change industrial complex and the environmental movement special interest lobby.
[Now the video shows a family of penguins waddling amongst Canadian geese next to a pond on the Boston Common. Children toss bits of bread to the birds but scatter and scream as the penguins chase after them.]
But the truth, my friends, the truth has turned out to be even stranger. My guest today is the man behind the shadowy organization that claims responsibility for these strange events: say hello to Kasper Filip, Founder and Executive Director of WikiGenes!
[Filip, a tall and gangly man with pale freckled skin and floppy hair, strides across the studio floor awkwardly. He's too nervous to even look at the camera. But when he arrives at his seat, he seems to get a sudden burst of courage and stands up to give McComber an awkward, tight hug that lasts for several seconds.]
McComber: [utterly flummoxed] Okay, that was ... sweaty. And I'll leave it at that.
Filip: Sorry. I just think we should .... uh ... love each other more ... you know ... as fellow life-sparks on this great ... great planet.
McComber: You're a unique snowflake, aren't you? So, what is WikiGenes?
Filip: Uh ... we are a ... non-profit. Volunteers ... um ... collaborate ... to save endangered species by, by, uh, modifying their genes-
McComber: I think you're a bunch of bio-terrorists! What in the world made you want to mess with animals?
Filip: I've always liked animals. Love them, in fact. Just thinking about them calms me down. [Grins goofily.] Even back in college, in my tiny dorm room, I kept four cats, a pair of cockatoos, a saltwater aquarium, six rats, a sugar glider, two-
McComber: I pity your roommate.
Filip: One day, I was watching a nature show on TV with Caca-
McComber: Your girlfriend?
Filip: -my oldest cockatoo. The program said that with global warming, penguins were in trouble. Warmer seas meant less ice and fewer fish and shrimp for them to eat. Many chicks went hungry and died.
I felt so bad that I wanted to stop eating fish and donate my share to the penguins.
McComber: You should have moved to Antarctica. Would have saved all of us a lot of trouble, like that spitting manatee that flipped my boat.
Filip: And then Caca said, "Here! Here!" And I fed her a grape and a piece of the dinner roll I took from the cafeteria. She always ate whatever I ate.
McComber: Now I pity this poor bird. No animal deserves that.
Filip: So, that got me thinking: Caca can eat all sorts of food, not just special fish found in the Antarctic. Why don't we modify the genes of the penguins so they can eat new foods and live in warmer places? That would save them.
I went online and asked for help. And that was the beginning of WikiGenes.
McComber: You're messing with nature. Playing God!
Filip: We've been doing that since forever!
Think about it. Species that have adapted to us thrive: the cockroach, the rat, the raccoon, the cat and dog, cattle and sheep, banana, wheat, rice, potato, corn. These are the most successful species ever. They live wherever we live.
McComber: And you mean that literally. Didn't your neighbors have you evicted because you kept-in their words, "a menagerie composed of skunks, raccoons, and rats"-in your apartment?
Filip: We were researching the adaptations that allowed them to live on our garbage. It was important work!
McComber: Yes, I'm sure the work smelled great, too.
Filip: Garbage eating is just one of many useful traits. Most species are endangered because they haven't figured out how to live with us. We want to help by giving them the traits needed to move into our spaces.
McComber: I understand you're not very popular among the environmentalists.
Filip: No, they probably hate us even more than you do.
McComber: That's about the only reason I've been civil to you so far.
Filip: We don't care much about their way of doing things. They just want to keep endangered species in dwindling parks and preserves, habitat islands like prisons. It's only a matter of time before they
all go extinct.
McComber: And your alternative is better?
Filip: I want to give all species a chance to thrive in our man-made world!
Take pandas. Unmodified, they were doomed. Their bamboo groves are threatened by farmers needing more land-and the Chinese have a lot of mouths to feed. Pandas are also terrible breeders.
So we figured out how to make pandas that have a lot more sex and that are much less picky about what they can eat. Now they roam all over the world.
Just look at these pictures I brought of some baby pandas.
McComber: [softening] I have to say, I never cared much for these fur balls, but those pictures are cute. [blustery again] But were you working in cooperation with the EPA? Did you get funding from the UN?
Filip: No! Of course not! Had we revealed our true purpose before we completed our work, every government in the world would have wanted to shut us down. If you want to get anything done, you don't go to the government.
McComber: Amazingly, you and I agree on that point. People in this country have lost their frontier spirit, their gung-ho can-do. They think they need the government to take care of them, to approve every little thing-
Filip: Exactly, why do we need permission? Animals don't need to ask some government bureaucrat for permission to have sex and recombine their DNA. That's all we're doing: DNA recombination.
McComber: But there are some negative consequences to what you're doing, aren't there?
Filip: Negative? We're saving cuddly and cute creatures! Who doesn't like more pandas? Everyone loves pandas!
McComber: I think many of our callers feel differently. All right, you're on.
First Caller: Hi, this is Mary from Waterford, Connecticut. I hate your mutant penguins. There's a colony of them camped right outside my house, and they smell.
I've never seen such aggressive birds. My children can't play in our yard anymore because they get pecked. You people need to be put in prison.
Filip: Mary, I'm sorry you feel that way. Maybe instead of feeling so entitled to your yard, you can try to make friends with the penguins? Try learning their language. I can recommend some good tapes made by the WikiGenes Foundation.
Second Caller: Hi, this is Eric Schneider from Glendale, California. Let me tell you, watch these giant pandas dig through garbage for a few weeks, and they don't seem so cute any more. One of them has even started to steal the tomatoes from my wife's garden. And that constant mating, right in the street!
I can't wait till the governor declares panda hunting season.
McComber: Mr. Filip, you're responsible for the terror of our suburbs: the omnivorous, sex-maniac panda.
Filip: You're not looking at it the right way. Think about it, we used to have to go to a crowded zoo to see a panda, but now they live right next to us.
McComber: But they don't belong next to us!
Filip: Well, that seems awfully narrow-minded of you. Who really belongs here? Aren't we all immigrants?
McComber: Oh please! Just look at the number of panda sex tapes on YouTube. What kind of environment is this for a kid growing up in the suburbs when they can't even walk to school without seeing pandas humping?
Filip: I'm pretty sure the kids aren't the ones complaining.
McComber: Your speedy mutant manatees are attacking motorboats down in Florida-I have personally experienced this! And the amount of penguin poop that towns have to clean up is breaking their budgets. You can't just ignore these issues.
Filip: We're not. Ha! Heh, actually, we have a solution. Ha.
McComber: I do not like the way you just laughed.
Filip: An anonymous contributor came up with this idea, since I like animals so much and don't get bothered by these "new problems." If we can make everyone like me, then problem solved.
McComber: Oh, no, you don't-
Filip: Yup. We've isolated the features of my brain chemistry that make me especially delighted by living in close proximity with so many of our wonderful non-human fellow creatures. And we've engineered a cool virus that will deliver the same changes to everyone in the coming days. Everybody will share a bit of my unique snowflake, as you put it.
McComber: You goddamned hippie fruitcake-
Filip: You'll be among the first to enjoy the new attitude, Mr. McComber. Remember how you appreciated those baby panda pictures? When I gave you a hug, I also put a patch on your neck.
McComber: [frantically rubbing the back of his neck as he stares at Filip, eyes bulging, lips moving, but nothing coming out]
Filip: Remember, Spaceship Earth has many passengers, and only some of them are human. Isn't it better that all species now have the potential to live together?
McComber: Damn it, those manatees do look kind of cute. I'm feeling all sentimental and gooey...
Filip: Enjoy getting to know your neighbors!
Note from Kasma's Editor: Love Thy Neighbors was originally published in Unidentified Funny Objects edited by Alex Shvartsman.