Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future, page 17
Now all the anteaters, the aardvarks and the numbats have been extinct for 3 million years, yet their food has remained: there are still ants and termites all over the world. It is the way of nature that if a food supply exists then a creature will evolve to exploit it, usually emerging from a group of fairly unspecialized animals. In this case, the most unspecialized animals around were the humans genetically engineered to live on the wide range of food of the temperate woodlands. Consequently, over the last few million years these omnivores have developed, under the natural influences of selection, to become specialized feeders in the various different environments present. One group has developed into the anteaters.
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3 MILLION YEARS HENCE
The fatty deposit across his shoulders is depleted but not yet exhausted. Bat-like ears radiate waste heat. Although similar in appearance to a hiver, the desert-runner’s ancestors originated in the temperate woodland. Through convergent evolution, the desert-runners are beginning to adopt the shape that was designed into the plains-dwellers all those millions of years before. However, the runners are carnivorous, unlike the hivers.
The runner’s long strides take him swiftly across the scorching wadi and into the sharp blackness of a rock shadow. There he rests, looking out at the dazzling sand with his polarized dark-lensed eyes.
The sun burns blisteringly down, baking all the landscape and beating up from the sharp naked rocks and the pockets of dry dust that lie between. All is yellow and grey, and no plants are to be seen anywhere. In a wadi (a gushing torrent in the distant rainy season but now a parched gully) the sand lies deep and barren. The only sound is the distant hum of the wind, and the constant hiss of sand as it is blasted against the rocks and swirled about in the hollows. The monotony is broken by a faint scrabbling sound as a brown lizard scuttles amongst the loose stones and vanishes into their shadows, then all is stillness again. Few things venture out in the killing heat and dryness of the desert noon.
Yet in the distance something large is moving, and moving quite swiftly too. Its legs and arms are long and thin, and its head seems inordinately large, covered in white hair and surmounted by a pair of huge ears. It looks like one of the hivers, but it is travelling and hunting alone. It is, in fact, one of the hunters that has evolved and adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert – a desert-runner.
His long strides take him swiftly across the scorching wadi and into the sharp blackness of the rock shadow at the other side. There he rests, looking out at the dazzling sand with his polarized dark-lensed eyes. He sees things only in black and white, as the rod cells of his eye have developed at the expense of the cones, increasing his distant and night vision. He has just travelled many miles over the rocks and dust and will now rest a while to cool his body. Despite his adaptations to life in the desert he must still guard against the killing heat of the sun and the dryness of the wind. The fatty hump behind his neck is almost depleted, the store of fat having been turned into energy. Nevertheless, he knows that he will soon reach a fertile spot where his stores can be replenished.
The hump is only one adaptation to the dry heat of the desert. Greatly-enhanced kidneys distill and use every drop of water that enters the body. Waste heat is radiated from the body by means of the great bat-like ears, acting as heat-exchangers, and the long thin legs that give a very large surface area for the mass of the body. These are necessary, since no sweat exudes from the skin – all water is saved. The ears, eyes and nostrils have thick folds of skin that can close them off and keep out sand and dust when the winds get too high.
The sun has now passed its zenith, and the black desert shadows are lengthening. Rested now, the desert-runner creeps out to continue his journey. The first part of his travel was over sand, where he used his long legs, with their light elongated foot bones powered by the concentration of muscles in the thigh. Now his way takes him over naked rock, so his passage is slower, using his long toes and gripping fingers to find purchase in the cracks and joints of the hot crumbly stone. As the sun descends into the dusty haze of evening, his goal is in sight.
The hive looks like one of the rocky hills that surround it. Its vast roof slabs look just like the horizontal strata of the surrounding rocks, and the black entrances just like the wind-blasted caves of the dusty crags. Just as desert-living humans evolved along the lines of the desert animals, the desert cities of the hivers developed along the lines of their habitats. The vast thick roofs paralleled the flat stones that absorbed the heat of the sun and protected the creatures that existed underneath. The tunnels burrowed deep into the Earth, cool by day and insulated from the bitter cold of the night. Water was gathered by vast dew-traps in the surrounding sands, and food was gathered from wide areas and brought swiftly to the cities by the foraging teams.
The desert-runner will spend some time here. The hivers eat only plants, while he eats only animals, so they will not conflict with each other. The moisture that is generated in and around a hive and the food stored within attract all kinds of insects, reptiles and small mammals which the desert-runner will hunt, while the hivers, with completely different nutritional requirements, will tolerate his presence.
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3 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Large plant-eating animals inspire the evolution of meat-eating creatures to feed on them. Acudens ferox is heavier than other hunting species. It can afford to be, needing neither speed nor stealth to hunt the slothmen. It has slashing front teeth able to penetrate the thick fur and tough skin of its prey.
In carnivores it is normally the pointed canines that develop as killing teeth. The spiketooth, however, has a jaw that drops down to allow the teeth to be used efficiently, and it is the upper incisors that have become the weapon.
The slashing teeth of Acudens ferox have evolved from the incisors of his original ancestor, Homo sapiens.
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3 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Temperate climates encourage the evolution of large creatures, bulk retains body heat and large leaf-eaters can find enough nourishment to support their mass. By a process of convergent evolution the slothman is now similar to the giant ground sloth of South America from pre-human times. But two factors were needed to allow the tundra-dwellers to evolve into slothmen – plentiful food and no enemies. Sustenance is still there but now they face a newly-evolving predator.
Although much larger than the tundra-dweller, the slothman retains the proportions of the species from which it evolved. The fat layers are still in place and heavy claws are needed to pull the huge body upright.
Tree sloth form, parasite host with parasite and spiketooth. All come from the same basic stock.
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SLOTHMEN AND SPIKETOOTHS
A huge mound of fur-covered flesh, an indistinct lump in the luxuriant undergrowth, pushes its way through the bracken and brambles. It makes contented burbling noises to itself as it goes. Insects, small mammals and birds burst from cover to get out of the path of the great creature as it crunches slowly through the greenery. It is quite harmless, but its immense weight causes a great deal of damage as it passes.
It stops by a tree and looks slowly upwards. There are appetizing fresh green leaves up there. Using its forelimbs against the trunk, it slowly pulls itself upright. Now it begins to look more like a human being, to be precise the tundra-dwelling human being, that was its distant ancestor.
From the bushes beyond, a number of other creatures stop feeding and move out of the way. They are also descendants of the tundra dwellers and have grown large, but not nearly as big as this great creature. Nor have they changed much in the last million years or so: they still produce the huge quantities of superfluous fat, and are still infested by the tiny parasites that live on the excess.
Like the giant ground sloths, too, they are succumbing to a newly-evolving predator.
The hunters have been evolving into many specialized types, each one hunting a specific type of prey: some hunt birds, some hunt small mammals, some hunt fish. One, however, has evolved to hunt the descendants of the big tundra-dwellers. The spiketooth is larger and heavier than the other hunters, not needing stealth or speed for its hunting since its prey is large and slow-moving. What it does need, however, is a specialized killing weapon, and this it possesses in the shape of its front teeth.
Amongst the traditional carnivorous mammals, of which there are only a few small species left, the killing teeth were normally the pointed canines. In extreme types, like the sabre-toothed cats, they developed into long slashing blades that were able to penetrate the thick hides of very large animals. In the spiketooth the weapons have developed instead in the incisor teeth at the front, rather like the only remaining teeth of the parasites that also feed on the flesh of the descendants of the tundra-dwellers. The spiketooth’s mouth is very large, allowing its jaw to drop clear of the upper teeth so that they can be wielded efficiently. The hands are large and powerful, with strong fingernails that allow the spike tooth to hang onto the fur of the slothman while it stabs at the neck, or onto the fatty rolls of the parasitehost while it slashes its way through the blubber.
This may seem like cannibalism, since both predator and prey are descended from human beings; but their common ancestor existed so far back in time that the creatures involved now comprise entirely different species. The preying of one upon the other is merely the natural result of the development of a stable ecological system.
The slothman munches placidly at the leaves and twigs, unaware of the approaching danger. A way below him in the undergrowth the parasitehosts have already left, their dim wits sensing the approach of a pair of spiketooths. If the distant crashing caused by their lumbering flight through the thickets causes any concern to the slothman, he does not react to it. He does not react at all until the familiar form of a spiketooth steps out from the shade of the forest and he suddenly recognizes the shape and the smell. Slowly he turns away from the tree, turning his back on his enemy, and begins to descend to all fours.
The first spiketooth, less experienced than the other, leaps for the broad back, hooks onto the long fur, throws up his head and drops his jaw ready for the strike. This is a mistake, as it enables the slothman to use his only weapon – his weight. He slowly topples backwards, while the attacking spiketooth tries frantically to untangle his claws from the fur. Remorselessly the attacker is pressed back down into the bracken and the soil of the forest floor, and the slothman lands spread-eagled on his back with his enemy crushed to death beneath him. However, this makes him vulnerable to the spiketooth’s mate. She now leaps upon the unprotected chest and plunges her long killing incisors into the slothman’s neck.
The kill is a success, which is all she knows. There is no grief for her dead mate. The spiketooth has evolved so far from the original human state that she feels no emotion at all.
5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
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Strange stars move in the frosty sparkle of the night sky. The eternal star patterns themselves have moved little in 5 million years, but now there are new stars superimposed upon them; and these stars are in gentle continual motion. They are ignored by the creatures below, who do not appreciate what profound changes are about to be inflicted upon their world.
The sluggish beings in the trees of the forests can comprehend nothing higher than the tops of the trees that they inhabit. Nor do they need to, all their food existing to hand in their own environment. Nothing outside can have any effect on them.
Out in the vast deserts, the members of the few huge hives that are left continue their lives in the familiar mechanical way. Permanently-manned foraging and gathering routes reach out, tentacle-like, from the massive hubs that consist of labyrinthine subterranean bunkers, all swarming with ordered and predestined life. Amongst these millions of individuals there is not one mind that can comprehend the heavens, let alone the significance of new moving stars.
The decadent parasites, embedded in the fat layers of their grotesquely misshapen hosts, care nothing beyond their hosts’ continuing survival; and their hosts are mere feeding machines, dumbly eating, eating, eating.
The swift hunters, specialized for catching birds, small mammals, fish – or even the parasites’ hosts – may wonder about the movements in the night skies above them; but they have not the wit to imagine that these events could possibly have any effect on them.
Out in the oceans, the teeming aquatics know little of what happens above their watery ceiling. They can hardly comprehend the existence of life on land, let alone the nature of the stars in the sky.
Only the possessors of the hereditary memory could have understood, but these have been extinct for millennia. Their religious refusal to use the knowledge that they all possessed meant that they could do nothing to help themselves to improve their situation. When natural conditions changed they refused to change as well. The Earth’s magnetic field reversed, continents moved, and changing sea levels cut off migration routes. Rivers changed their courses, volcanoes threw up new barriers, and climates altered from year to year. Creatures of lesser wit and no knowledge of the past survived these upheavals, which constituted disasters on a local scale, but merely inconveniences on a global one. However, amongst those with the memory, the changing conditions took their local environment further and further away from what they knew or remembered, and eventually, rather than change with it, they perished.
The coniferous forest is black and silent in the night. Hunters lie huddled, asleep. The trees jut up black spikes into the sparkling sky – the sky in which there are now, for the first time in 5 million years, slowly-moving particles of light. Overhead a star, one of the new moving ones, is glowing brighter than the rest. It expands and descends in a gentle arc across the sky, stringing behind it a fading trail of glowing mist. A shock of thunder eventually sweeps across the surface of the land beneath its path, rousing the birds from their trees, and shaking awake the startled hunters on the ground. The glowing descent is now accompanied by blasts of fire as its course is altered, and through the dazzling incandescence can be seen the vague shape of some kind of vessel. It slows, and directly beneath it a descending waft of hot air becomes a searing blast that incinerates trees and undergrowth in a spreading circle. The vessel sinks into the boil of smoke and flame that is produced, and very gently it touches the ground.
The Earth’s long period of innocence is over.
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5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
The second phase of biological engineering is exploitation. When applied to a planet this is known as ‘terraforming’. Change and adaptation become secondary to whatever purpose the genetic engineers find important. Earth has not been exploited for 5 million years. When resources are abundant, methods of collecting and refining need not be sophisticated. The function of most of these altered creatures is as simple beasts of burd
The atmosphere is being changed. With oxygen no longer present in quantities sufficient to keep Homo sapiens-based species alive, air-tanks and purification systems are essential. Control is by telepathic input direct to the central nervous system.
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5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Developing animals so that they produce food more efficiently has always been one of the basic drives behind genetic engineering. A food species may look grotesque – but then the natural forces of evolution often drive in a different direction to the consuming forces of science and civilization.
Penarius pinguis, the parasite host, has been reduced to a mound of fat and flesh, fed by chemical nutrients. Harvesting devices remove meat as it is grown.
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5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
JIMEZ SMOOT’S DESCENDANT
Descendant of Homo sapiens sapiens and the product of millions of years of genetic engineering and elective surgery, the newcomer is not yet at home in his new environment. The composition of the air can be changed but the unfamiliar atmospheric pressure presents greater problems. If the newcomer decides to stay, then further engineering will be essential. It was the constant need to withstand different gravities and breathe other atmospheres that led to one change being put on top of another; until genetically, psychologically and intellectually, the newcomer bears no resemblance to his ancestor, Homo sapiens sapiens.