Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future, page 15
No sooner have they left the shade of the dying trees, and begun their long slow descent, than Ghloob sees something at the periphery of his vision, something moving.
Slowly he turns his head. Ground-dwellers! A whole pack of them! They are running towards the aquatics, waving sticks of some kind. His companions see the danger at the same time, and try to move more quickly. However, their laborious humping motion is not conducive to haste, and anyway they cannot move faster than the spherical bubble containing their harvest – the only reason they are here in this hostile environment in the first place. The ground-dwellers quickly surround them, and as their hazy shapes appear before him Ghloob notices something different about them. They are each carrying something: something like a blade at the end of a stick.
Ghloob has not much time to notice anything else, as he ducks out of the way to avoid them, but after heaving himself along the ground for some distance he turns to look back. The ground-dwellers have all set upon one of his companions. They have plunged their weapons into his membrane and are pulling it apart. With two creatures pulling in different directions this turns out to be very easy, and the membrane collapses in a gush of water leaving the stranded aquatic gasping in the circle of wet mud.
Ghloob and the others crawl frantically away, towards the tempting but distant sea, panic rising within them; with good reason, for the party of ground-dwellers leave the dying aquatic and come running after the straggler of the group and fling themselves upon him. Ghloob does not stay to watch this time, but keeps wriggling.
With every jump and jerk he expects to be attacked from behind, and his membrane torn away from him. The waves of the ocean come closer and closer, but agonizingly slowly. Will he make it before they catch him? He tries not to think about it, and keeps going.
With an intense feeling of joy he feels the pressure of the first wave close around him. He is safe, and at last he can look around. The bubble with one of his companions and the gathered food has reached the sea. The food is also safe, but at what cost? Three companions are lost – punctured, dehydrated and slaughtered on the distant dusty dryness.
The ground-dwellers have never fought like this before. Perhaps the aquatic harvesting has had such an effect on their lifestyle that they have had to adopt these extreme measures to fight back. Maybe the conflict and strife have forced them to find new ways of living and organizing themselves just to survive.
Ghloob’s algal envelope dissipates now that he is fully submerged, and with graceful movements he descends the sloping seabed until he is below the push and pull of the waves, and home. Now he has time to ponder. Is this organization and use of weapons by the ground-dwellers to be a feature of all such attacks in the future? Has the aquatics’ exploitation of the land made even that more hazardous? Is there nothing that they can do to feed their people without making things worse and worse and worse, and destroying everything that they have? Is this to be the continuing fate of intelligent life above and below the water?
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
* * *
The food will be there, and can be taken, as the travellers know. Every year the enclosures ripen, the planters awake, feed, repair the enclosures if necessary, plant the new seed and return to their slumbers once more. The secret is for the travellers to time the journey so as to arrive before the planters rouse from their long sleep. The planters are supposed to be a very ancient race, and each one lives for many hundreds of years – if ‘live’ is the right word. How can you be living if more than nine-tenths of your time is spent asleep?
How did this come about? It probably goes back to the time when the differences between the cold times and the warm times were much greater than they are now. There have always been animals that have hibernated – slowed down their systems and gone to sleep during the coldest time of the year. These creatures usually gather their food and store it, waking up and eating from time to time; or else they eat so much when they are awake that they build up stores of fat that nourish them while they sleep. The planters were once normal, like the travellers, but probably not so intelligent. Back when the ice had just shrivelled up from the continents and the ‘winters’ were still cold, they developed the ability to sleep away the harshest of conditions, and they stored up food as well. Some of the seeds and grains that they stored would have germinated by the time the stores were opened; if the hibernation time were long enough they may even have fruited again. As the centuries and millennia passed, the planters developed the ability to remain suspended until harvest time, when they would come out and eat, plant the next crop and retire again.
The travellers knew that it was possible for such things to happen. Vaguely they remembered the knowledge that their ancestors had possessed, knowledge about changing conditions and changing life.
There must never be any dealings with the planters. The planters build their enclosures, and use the growing vegetation not just for food. They gather their food from where it grows, but also plant it in places that will be more convenient for them to collect it from. They build walls and roofs of stone and wood to protect what they have done, just as their remote ancestors did. It was the beginning of the changes that eventually destroyed everything – the land, the living things, themselves. Now nothing must be altered, nothing must be built, nothing must be changed from its natural state; that is the credo of the travellers.
It is a sign of their strength that they know how to make their life easier, but ignore the knowledge. Any one of them has enough inherited knowledge to dig the burning stones or the naturally-distilled organic fluid from the ground (if indeed there are any deposits of these left) and use their heat to melt down the metal minerals. They could all break down the substances from the rocks and use them for many varied purposes. They know that it is possible to fly to the moon and stars, and they know how to do it; but they will not. They will not call down the destruction once more.
It is not just their memories that impress this credo upon them. Wherever they travel, through the lush forests and woodlands or across the open plains and deserts, they see the dismal results. In a forested valley, where they remember once stood a city, the rocks that outcrop in the slopes of the stream gullies are not natural. They are man-made, sometimes with unnatural angles and faces that have miraculously survived 2 million years of burial. The soil here is stained and streaked with red and green where the vast volumes of metal that went into the artefacts have oxidized away to dust. The area is disgustingly unnatural, and avoided.
Elsewhere lie similar remains that are lethal to any creature that passes close by. Even now, 2 million years later, the technological overproduction of their ancestors has the power to kill. Nothing appears at the surface here, but not far down lies the disintegrated ruin of some vast structure. So great have been the natural forces of erosion and decay that nothing recognizable of the original structure remains even underground, but some of the raw materials still lie there, emitting a deadly force. Anyone crossing this area sickens and dies. The travellers remember that it was something to do with the generation of energy.
This is why the travellers despise the dark-minded creatures, their distant relatives, with whom they share the planet but who do not have the remembered knowledge. These beings, such as the planters, constantly use their minds and their hands to devise and construct artefacts. They are intelligent enough to think out anew the ways of doing things, although they do not remember that these things have been done before. It is as if the whole disease were starting all over again.
Dig a shelter today. Build a house tomorrow. Clear a forest for a city the day after. Choke the landscape with the waste materials the next.
Plant a seed today. Cut down a clearing for many seeds tomorrow. Deforest and irrigate a valley the day after. Change the global climate the next.
Make a spade today. Make a spear tomorrow. Make an explosive machine the day after. Engulf a plain with instantaneous fire and leave it a poisonous
Although the travellers make it their work to frustrate any of this activity wherever they find it, they also use its results. In the far north where they go when times are warm they eat the food grown in the enclosures by the planters. In the far south, when they have travelled there along the spines and ridges of high ground between the foul low-lying slimelands, they eat the roots and tubers stored in the cooled chambers of the hivers. It is a paradox that they do not even try to solve – they are, after all, human beings.
Things are set to change, however. It was not just the making of things and the deliberate changing of the planet that killed their ancestors. The planet itself undergoes changes from time to time, and these changes were such that their ancestors could not withstand them. A force within the Earth that allowed them to tell which was north and which was south died away and then reversed: that was one of the factors.
That same force is used by the travellers themselves; something, some sense inside them, allows them to detect and follow it. Over the past few generations, however, it has been fading away again, and now travel between feeding grounds is going to become increasingly difficult.
The travelling party of 15 contemplate this, as they sit in the cave mouth, watching the rain hurtling down, stirring up the smells of the forest. This cave, in fact this whole hillside, is unfamiliar to the party. They have never passed it in previous years, so they must have gone well off course. It should not be too much of a problem: once the skies clear they can take their direction from the sun and the stars.
If the skies clear.
Night is falling, and the wet greyness is becoming darker. They are going to have to spend the night here, but at least they have the shelter of the rocky overhang.
When morning comes there are only 12 of them. During the night something has come out of the cave and taken away the other three – something that their communal memory has not anticipated, something with small humanlike feet that have left damp prints on the rock.
The survivors move on. The skies are not clear, but they would rather make a guess about which way to go than stay in this place.
* * *
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
A harsh and arid habitat has forced the socials to evolve into hivers – all individuality curtailed by the group’s need to locate water and food. A hump of fat across the shoulders still provides sustenance in the barren season, while heavy lids now protect their eyes against sand. Longer legs allow the hivers to travel great disrances.
The body and limbs of Homo vates, the seeker, have atrophied from lack of use. Telepathic powers have weakened its other senses and removed its need for eyes and ears. The hivers now feed, protect and carry their guides.
* * *
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Alvearanthropus desertus/Homo vates
The hive itself is a massive rock-like structure, with breathing chimneys and thick vented walls similar to those of a giant termites’ nest. Flat sloping roofs jut out to provide shade in the heat of the day. Tunnels and shafts beneath the hive reach down deep into the water-table where food is kept cool by constant evaporation from the moist walls. Damp air from the lower levels is driven through the hive by wind movement across external vents.
The queen is protected and provided for in caverns deep below the hive. Food is gathered for her by the young hivers. Warriors guard the ancient hive and her person. Nurses feed her young.
* * *
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Penarius pinguis/Nananthropus parasitus
The islanders have evolved parasitic feeding habits that rely on the tundra-dweller’s metabolic need to produce surplus fat. In this way, the obese tundra-dwellers have found an ecological niche that allows them to exist now that the tundra plains have disappeared and the mountain tribes failed.
Gone is the tundra-dweller’s thick fur and winter colouring, the need to lose heat means that Penarius pinguis requires direct air to skin contact.
Nananthropus parasitus have developed small blood-letting front teeth.
The only function of the long fingers and toes is to allow the parasites to grip folds of fat.
* * *
The seeker is a tiny, wizened object – a degenerate fragment of its ancestor. It has no need of legs, since it is carried everywhere, and so it has none. It has no need of arms, since everything is done for it, and so its arms and hands are atrophied. It needs neither eyes nor ears, since the only sense it uses is deep down within its head, and has no external organ; so its eyes and ears are sunken and shrivelled. It is merely a head with a nose and mouth, and a little body.
It nestles within the huge hands of the bearer – a sterile adult female that has been turned away from life as a nurse and potential queen deep within the hive and kept at the surface as part of the foraging bands.
The adult males, the warriors, have changed little in outward appearance since the hive communities first evolved. If anything, their legs have become longer, enabling them to cross open spaces more quickly and to forage over large areas. Their bodies have become smaller, and have lost their pot-bellied appearance, since the warriors hardly ever eat grass now and have little need of the voluminous intestinal bacteria vats of their ancestors. The cellulose-cracking enzyme produced by the engineered pancreatic gland is still being produced, but not in such quantities as previously. The eye-coverings are dark, shielded from the harsh glare of the sun, and protected against the stinging sand by heavy lids. The nose is bulbous, the internal passages winding between bony panels covered with a damp membrane that moistens and cools the harsh desert air long before it reaches the lungs. A bushy moustache around the nostrils and across the upper lip filters the grit and dust from the breathed air. A smooth hump of fat over the shoulders and neck is established in the wet and abundant season, but this tends to shrivel away when the climates become dry.
It is mostly in their behaviour that they differ from their ancestors. Now they have no individuality at all, listening for the few grunts of command from their leader and obeying blindly. It is not in the interest of the hive as a whole for anyone to show an individuality, and so it was lost generations upon generations ago. Now and again, however, it surfaces once more, and under the influence of these throwbacks hives begin to experiment with new and different ways of living, which nearly always end in failure. The progressive hive dies, turns to dust, and the neighbouring hives absorb its territory.
As always, the youngsters, male and female, make up the gathering parties, using their big hands to dig in the soil and carry the food that they find. When they come of age, the males develop into warriors, and eventually may become breeders. The females become nurses, with the possibility of becoming queens some day; or else they become bearers, entrusted with the task of satisfying every need of the all-important seekers.
This day is much like any other. The party of gatherers, guided by the seeker and guarded by the warriors, sets out from the hive in the pre-dawn, the coolest time of the day and the best for travel. Behind them, a silhouette against the lightening sky, lies the bulk of the hive; its flat roofs jut out like natural rock formations to produce the shade in the heat of the day, the vertical walls beneath the overhangs form banks of variously-sized openings for access and ventilation, and its many chimneys and breathing funnels point up like fingers and arches against the sky.
Deep below is the maze of passages and chambers dedicated to the housing and comfort of the queen and her young offspring. Here lie the food storage units cooled by the constant circulation and evaporation of water from moist walls. The dampened air is then carried around the hive through the living quarters by an ingenious network of finely-fashioned holes and tunnels, driven by the natural movement of the wind across the external vents. The vapour is eventually recondensed to liquid before the stale air is lost to th
The party, 100 strong, takes its usual route along the undulating foothills, skirting the dreadful slimelands on the right, and the barren rocky uplands on the left. Beyond, the slope widens out into a valley in which water flows for much of the year, and where plants can grow and there are usually tubers or thick roots to be had.
Before their narrow path widens the leader of the party grunts an order to halt. The seeker is agitated, but is not telling them that there is food close by: it is telling them that others approach.
With another grunt the leader calls the warriors together in a protective wall; but they need not have worried. Those who approach pose no threat.
It is full day now, and the party can see five or six shambling creatures moving down the rocky slope towards the slimelands. The bodies are bulky (very bulky for the size of their legs) with thick hummocks and rolls of fat seeming to engulf them. Dull faces look out from the folds of pale flesh. In the dim light, however, the parasites are just visible: tiny and spider-like, four or five of them are embedded in the deep fat of each figure, their faces buried and unseen, feeding continually from the creature’s surplus.
No threat to the hive, and so of no interest to the party; but the leader does recollect that more and more of them are seen nowadays wandering over their domain. They seem to be spreading from the forest areas that are their home. Dimly the leader wonders what they find to eat here, and how they protect themselves from the harsh sun. He does not wonder for long, however. With a backhanded gesture, he brushes the first of the day’s sand out of his moustache and signals for the party to move onwards. Soon he has the party on the move once more and the strangers have been completely forgotten.