The ultimate triumph of the genetic engineer. The product of grafting, surgery and cell manipulation, the vacuumorph can live and work in the free-fall of orbit and the airless void of space. The basic human reproductive cells were manipulated to produce the necessary shape, but extra organs had to be grafted on, including a hard impermeable exoskeleton grown from tissue culture. The result, however, is sterile. The vacuumorph has a limited life and no future of its own. The vacuumorph cannot breed and would not survive the rigors of gravity.
Cralym does not take after her mother, nor does she have her father's features. Both her parents were conventional unengineered humans, exactly like those that flourished and expanded throughout recorded history, reached their peak late in the 20th Century, and then declined under the weight of overpopulation, dwindling resources and hurtling environmental deterioration.The genetic engineers took her ovum and his sperm, and altered their genetic makeup according to what would be required for survival away from Earth's atmosphere, united the two and let their offspring develop in an extra-uterine environment on the orbiting laboratory 200 kilometers above the decaying Earth. The body matured and developed as a being able to live under conditions of weightlessness. All organs that had evolved to work in conjunction with gravity (legs and feet, hands with palms, sturdy backbone) were suppressed. The new legs and feet looked and worked more like arms and hands, and long fingers grew from muscular wrists; all these emerged from a compact spherical body designed to contain the pressures of the internal biology. Extra artificial organs that could not yet be developed by genetic manipulation were then inserted, such as the third lung used as a temporary oxygen store and the fourth lung used as a dump for carbon dioxide and other waste gases. The sealed-lens eyes and impermeable vacuum-proof outer skin, grown from tissue cultures in the orbiting biological vats, were later grafted on. The result was Cralym.
Throughout history animals were bred for particular purposes. Cattle were taken from the wild and mated with different strains, to produce varieties that developed more milk or more palatable meat. Selective breeding produced dogs with long legs that could hunt swift-footed prey animals, and dogs with long narrow bodies that could run down burrows and hunt subterranean animals. It worked. It was part of the influence that civilization had on the natural world.
When it came to adapting human beings in the same way, however, that was different. It implied a choice imposed by some individuals upon other individuals. It implied the wielding of a moral power over those who did not share that particular morality. It implied the deviation of human development from its natural course (a course perhaps decreed by a deity). It implied the making, not only of a body, but of a soul; and that soul would not have been acceptable in any of the faiths of the world. You could do all that to nonhuman animals - but not to human beings. The concept was reviled by the word "eugenics".
Nevertheless, a time came when ethical considerations had to be compromised. If humanity were to survive, then it had to change. With the old system of selective breeding, the genetic material from one chosen individual was combined with that from another, in the hope that the desired attributes of each would appear in the offspring. It was a gamble. Genetic engineering was different. The precise function of each gene in the human system was now known, it was possible to manipulate it: to kill off a certain gene that produced an undesirable attribute, to add another that would emphasize a particular physical feature. Now beings could be produced to any specification.
Now aged 25, Cralym climbs along the outside of the starship's hull, gripping the struts and rungs with her toes and pedal thumbs. Her grip is now an entirely reflex action; very rarely has she lost her hold and drifted uncontrollably into the void. On such occasions she has been able to return by venting waste gases from her fourth lung and steering herself back to the ship. Someday the engineers will be able to develop some organ that will allow the vacuumorphs some effective locomotion through the vacuum itself.
With her pressure-sealed eyes tinted against the glare, she watches for the ferry to rise from the dazzling white and blue of Earth below. She is unsure of its precise arrival time, but hopes that she will see it before she has to return to the interior of the ship. Sooner or later she will need to recharge her third lung with oxygen. At the moment she is quite relaxed, safely protected within her spherical exoskeleton from hard vacuum and cosmic rays (the environment for which she was developed). By custom Cralym is referred to as "she", because of the original genetic makeup. The title, however, is a formality since she is neuter. Someday, perhaps, it will be possible for a heavily-engineered being to breed (but not yet).
It took 20 years to build the starship, and it will probably be only the first of many as eventually mankind, in one form or another, will spread out across the whole of the galaxy. The ship is shaped like two great conical spinning tops, fused nose to nose. The forward cone is the living chamber, a little world in itself that will have to be home to several hundred people for probably as many years. Around the waist is a ring of spherical propellant tanks, containing 30,000 metric tons of helium-3 scooped from the gases of Jupiter's atmosphere, and 20,000 metric tons of deuterium distilled from Earth's oceans, all compressed into frozen pellets. When running, these pellets will be injected by an electromagnetic gun into the aft cone (the reaction chamber) where they will be compressed into a fusion reaction by high-power electron beams. Magnetic fields will direct the continuous blast rearwards and the entire vessel will move out into unknown space, accelerating continually as it goes, eventually reaching about 15 percent of the speed of light. The people who go with it will never return.That does not include Cralym, who would not have been sorry to leave Earth's orbit. She has never set foot or hand on Earth itself, nor has she ever had any wish to, but she would have liked to travel to another planet, another system around another star. She could never have survived the journey, however, as she was designed for living under the conditions of zero gravity in space. The starship, flying under a constant acceleration, will generate its own gravity, and allow non-engineered humans to live without problems. It will be crewed by the non-engineered, but genetic engineers will be amongst the passengers. Who knows what conditions they will meet, and need to adapt to, on another planet in a distant star system?
A glint of light is caught and reflected in her sealed lens. The ferry will soon begin its docking maneuver as it drifts towards the starship. Cralym and her fellows clamber along towards the port to watch.
By 300 years (the 23rd Century)
The vacuumorphs die out. They were never perfect; they were not so much bred as built up from pieces grown synthetically, and there was never a possibility that they would reproduce.