When I first began thinking about writing Shepherds I was aiming at a contest with huge prize that even promised a movie contract. I thought the book should be written like the old Saturday serial movies. Each chapter would end with some sort of cliff-hanger. I knew the main theme would be about the dying oceans, the loss of fish stocks and the senseless killing of dolphins. All that was good but the idea for factory tuna herded by the genetically altered people called “shepherds” was a bit thin. I started to think about what happens when free and open areas of territory are suddenly closed off. Ah, I thought, I’m writing a new version of the classic western novel, range wars between the free range people and the homesteaders. Only in this setting, the free range “cowboys” were the fishermen who thought they should be able to net fish wherever they wanted. The factory teams of shepherds and their dolphins were the homesteaders. Essentially they were closing off sections of the ocean by filling them with factory owned tuna. Conflict was unavoidable. Of course, just doing a simple battle for turf (so to speak) wasn’t enough. I needed something more. Drug runners filled that void well, and from there the story took off.
Enjoy the action, adventure and suspense in an unusual setting with a romance that rivals that found in the movie The Shape of Water.
A sample follows:
When there is a significant decrease in the world’s food supply, the situation leads inevitably to turmoil and conflict. In one possible future, this shortage has left millions of people without enough food to survive. Those without sustenance, the poor and the dis-advantaged, have rioted in protest and their violent search for food spills across international borders. Marauding bands have pillaged through the countryside, hungry for even meager foodstuffs. Old hatreds have resurfaced, border skirmishes have increased, and world stability is threatened.
The oceans, once an abundant source of food, have been over-fished and now only the wealthy can afford seafood. But mankind, ever ingenious, has resorted to radical science to solve the food supply problem and return the oceans to productive aquaculture. Bio-engineered mermen and merwomen, known as shepherds, aided by trained dolphins, herd huge schools of re-engineered tuna at the whim of multinational seafood corporations. Held by those companies in indentured servitude, these much-maligned “cowboys” live aboard submersible rafts in areas of the open ocean allocated to them by international agreements. Further complicating matters, the partitioning of the oceans into ranches has severely limited the ability of independent fishermen to make a living. Those that continue to fish legally have banded together to fight for their rights utilizing the world courts. Other fishermen have found more lucrative though less honorable work.
Desperate men do desperate things and the oceans are now filled with treachery, pirating, and worse.
Olga belonged to the sea. It owned her as surely as solid ground owned the rest of humanity. On land, the lubbers ridiculed her and called her an abomination, an ugly “thing” born in a devil’s laboratory. But here, swimming in the vast Pacific, her body was beautiful with a grace no lubber could match. She drifted along peacefully, cradled by the warm water. The rocking caress of the gentle swells brought a sense of comfort, of belonging, of home. She pulled hard, breast-stroking with webbed hands and shot ahead, rolling over on her back to look up at the dark vault of the night sky. Off to the east, the pre-dawn glow hung at the horizon so that, overhead, only the brightest stars were still visible in the gray that preceded sunrise.
She glided backward through the tranquil swells, listening to the dolphins blow and dive as somewhere ahead they circled the tuna herd like sheep dogs. Twenty meters behind her, she could see the red, green and white running lights of the submersible raft, Homestead, cruising on autopilot.
Floating in her reverie gave her time to think about the radio message Ni had given her yesterday. The crumpled paper lay on her bunk. Star-Kist had offered to send Olga home to Russia – as if Russia had ever been her home — to see her mother, a mother she’d never met. Why now? Did her mother ask to see her? Olga wasn’t at all sure how she felt about meeting her mother. She’d thought about it before, dreamed about it, shed tears. And now to have a chance to visit her, to meet the mother who had sold her into servitude. For all of her life, Chloe, the housemother at the St. Croix dormitory, had been Olga’s mother. It was hard to think otherwise. Mostly she tried not to dwell on it. Her first R&R was months away and nothing could be done until then, so there would be time enough to decide how she felt.
She took another long, strong stroke, her hands pushing the water backward towards her feet so hard that miniature whirlpools swirled in her wake. The momentum carried her over the next swell and down into the following trough, gliding like a shadow in the feeble light, through the dark gray water. She slid her hands down her lean, graceful sides, feeling the smooth, tanned skin, skin that would never wrinkle no matter how long she stayed in the water.
She was naked except for the triangular patch of cloth between her legs, and even that small concession to the lubbers social mores she resented. Out here she could be proud of her body. She was a woman, but a woman like no land-dwelling lubber. She had been redesigned for a life on the open ocean. The genetic engineers had molded her body, streamlining her breasts and shoulders for faster swimming. Her strong arms and legs rippled with genetically enhanced muscles. Her hands and feet had long, slim fingers and toes that, unlike the earlier genetic designs, were fully webbed from fingertip to fingertip and from toe tip to toe tip. Only her blond hair, which she kept cut so short it barely covered her scalp, and her blue eyes had not been altered.
Even internally she’d been altered. Olga’s lungs and blood steam had been modified to carry extra oxygen and she could easily hold her breath for thirty minutes, maybe longer. She was proud of her ability to swim faster and stay underwater longer than her older, genetically less sophisticated shipmates. Sometimes she thought Ici and Ni, the first generation shepherd couple who ran Homestead, were jealous. Out here, away from the lubbers, her improved engineering was the one thing that gave Olga a sense of satisfaction.