This is from a story I will be submitting to an anthology. It is set in the Planet Texas universe.
“It looks right,” István Gabor said as he walked around the small pen. “Color, horns, hoofs, body shape, all correct. But . . . not mammal?”
Dr. Szentmihaly spread his hands in a shrug. “Not mammal. None of the bovine genetic stock we brought to Novi Magyarsk proved viable. Ovine, yes, but not bovine or equine yet. We need a herd grazer now, and this native-base stock works. The meat tastes like beef.”
István studied the grey creature contentedly munching hay in the portable pen. The bureaucrats from Colonial Approval would refuse to allow such a thing. If they knew about it. “Has anyone made an official report to—?” He pointed up at the sky.
“No, sir. No time, and we need the power for more urgent needs.” A small smile appeared under Dr. Szentmihaly’s thick mustache. “It is better to delay any reports until resources are available.”
István smiled in return. “Most certainly. Survival of the settlement is our first priority,” he quoted. And if that meant preserving the botanical environment with a reptile-based gulyas, well, so be it. “No milk?”
The biologist shook his head. “No. But we have sheep and goats, and can work from there.”
“Well done. Cream in our coffee can wait.” He missed that, but all things came with time. The grasses needed to be grazed as soon as possible. The build-up of senescent material already posed a fire risk in some parts of the colony. He started to return to his vehicle, then caught himself. “Wait. No horses yet?”
A long sigh met his question. “Not yet. The stock they sent seems to be unviable. Our,” he waved at the white and tan buildings and half-domes housing the genetics workers, “first try with a native species . . . The legs are too thin and would break too easily. We can’t thicken them and keep the creatures docile enough to have round people.”
Co-located genes struck again. “Thank you for trying. I know your team will find a way. The cattle are our first priority, and the sheep.”
Dr. Szentmihaly smiled again. “You’re welcome sir. We’ll start breeding more of these and send them out to the ranches.”
Five planetary years later, Dr. Szentmihaly sounded disappointed. “It’s not perfect.” He shook his now-bald head. “The genes for a mane were co-located with a lethal cardiac defect.”
Fulop Gabor shook his head in awe and wonder as he studied the stallion. “He’s beautiful as he is, Doctor.” The dark grey stud’s long, flowing tail blew like a banner as he trotted around the pen, then stopped and came toward them, snorting. Calm brown eyes studied the humans, and his ears twitched. The stallion’s hoofs thumped the dirt, strong and sturdy. He was broken to ride but not fully trained yet. “Uncle István will be delighted.”
“I hope so. To have cattle without horses . . . The founders would throw meteors at us.” The biologist scowled. “Or paperwork.”
“Paperwork. The consul from New Texas avers that paperwork is worse than storms, volcanos, or a locust plague.” The locusts should not have been in the terraforming package. Honey bees should have been included. Non-viable horses and cattle were the least little woe compared to that!
Dr. Szentmihaly frown shifted to a smile. “Csirip. This one, three mares, are yours. We will trade out stallions to mix the blood after three years, until a large pool develops.” He shrugged.” And we cross more, now that we know how. Are the cheese goats working?”
Fulop wagged one hand, still watching the almost-horse. “Mostly. The hard cheeses are taking longer than planned, but that’s not the milk. Do these,” he nodded to the animal, “have a name?”
“Majdnemio,” came the instant reply. “Almost horse in the old tongue.”
“My-nem-eeoh.” Fulop nodded. “Perfect.”
Fulop’s uncle met him and the transport the next day at “Tanyanagy,” their ranch. Fulop opened the side of the transport, lowering the ramp, and the four majdnemio walked out. They wore halters, so the waiting men approached slowly, each clipping a lead rope to one beast. “Behold, uncle. Horses.”
István busied himself with the pale brown mare, leading her to the pen. Once all four had been turned in, fed, and watered, he sighed a little. “No hair.”
“Only the tail, and the skin in winter, sir. Dr. Szentmihaly said that manes and heart death are collocated.”
The medium brown mare shook all over, then rolled in the dirt. “Oh.” István watched the horses for another minute or two. “They are shorter shoulder to tail than the video animals.”
“Sprinters, Uncle. We’ll find a way.”
Uncle, nephew, and ranch employees shared tired sighs. It was the unofficial colony motto. That, along with “Swear, then Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome,” and “Bureaucrats and fish stink in three days.” Off-worlder bureaucrats especially.
(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved