Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future, page 7
It may still be like that in the cities of the Hitek. The people in the old cities suffered from lack of food and land, what there was being poisoned. Then the air got too warm, the sea rose and the cities drowned. Deny nature and that is what happens, and it will happen to the Hitek as well.
Her man, Hamstrom, is playing with little Haria on the beaten earth outside their hut, and the beautiful smell of cooking fish is wafting out of the curtained doorway. Harla is their fourth child, and the only one to have lived. They know that she will survive and thrive. The settlement consists of about 100 people, which is just enough for their crop land and their fishing stream to support. If they used the ancient form of measurement they would say that they occupied 50 square kilometres, or a region that was a little less than 5 miles square. Over the hill to the north there is a similar settlement, and to the south another.
To think that the Hitek believe them to be inferior, just because they have not become so inbred and decadent that they need mechanical devices to keep them alive. You cannot live in a natural world by turning your back on nature, regarding it as an inconvenience to be overcome, a hazard to be avoided, an irritation to be shielded against. If that is what they wanted, they should all have gone to the stars on the colony ships of centuries ago. The time will come when they will see that the future does not belong to them, with their artificial systems, but to those who can live in balance with nature.
* * *
500 YEARS HENCE
Homo virgultis fabricatus
A human-based creature engineered to survive and flourish in a temperate forest without the backup of civilization would need to be omnivorous. Forests are less abundant than jungle. To reach the full range of foodstuffs available, Homo virgultis fabricatus has to be extremely nimble, and be able to live both at ground level in the undergrowth and high in the treetops. Arms and legs are of similar length and long, but agile, climbing fingers increase its range. A covering of fine hair keeps the woodland-dweller warm in the temperate conditions.
The omnivorous diet is reflected in the dentition, with heavy crusing back teeth for nuts, and delicate front teeth for catching insects. Its diet is close to that of early man; as is its evolutionary potential.
Long prehensile toes and fingers can grip rough bark. Lack of a supporting big toe means that the forest-dweller walks crouched but climbs with ease. It is the least specialized, and therefore, most adaptable of the engineered species.
* * *
CARAHUDRU AND THE WOODLAND-DWELLER
This is the one that is going to cause the problems, Carahudru sees that. It has few adaptations, but looks little like its ancestral Andla. It is covered by a fine furry pelt, so that it need never manufacture clothing. The arms are longer, the fingers are more delicate, and the teeth are stronger. What is more the feet are prehensile, with the big toe developed into a thumb to help the creature to climb trees. Deprived of the support of the big toe, it can no longer stand upright, and its position at rest is a four-footed crouch. It is like an animal, but there is no avoiding that. The traditional human frame is totally unsuited for anything but a cultured civilization, so if mankind must live from the fruits of nature without resorting to culture and civilization it is going to have to abandon any traditional view of beauty and elegance. It is going to have to return to the beast.
It is inside the head, however, in the brain, where the most fundamental difference of this creature lies.
What makes a human being? That is the solid residue to which the argument condenses. Are we more human than the Andlas because we make greater use of technology, and they just live in the wild and grow their own food? Are the Andlas more human because they are healthier and look more like our ancestors? If the latter is the case then we could argue that the more primitive the being is then the more human it is.
In that event the specimen before him must be the most human of all. Long arms and prehensile feet will allow it to live both in the deciduous forest trees and on the ground. There is a lack of specialization in the shape, simply because there are so many different food supplies in a deciduous forest that it would not be practical to adapt this creature to exploit anyone in particular. However, all this food is not necessarily palatable. Many plant-produced substances are poisonous to the human metabolism, and diseases may abound that have not been anticipated. The engineers have done their best and built in systems that could combat most of the known natural poisons, so whatever has been overlooked will have to be regarded as part of natural selection. As a result, they have engineered a generalized hunter-grazer-browser-insectivorous scavenger.
They also engineered it with low intelligence. If it is to be surrounded by food, the argument went, then it will only need enough intelligence to allow it to find it. An intelligent creature may cause trouble, may feel resentment at being experimented upon, envy at not being able to live in the cities, rebellion against those that engineered it. What is more it may try to better itself, and build its own civilization – and civilization does not now seem to mean a longlasting and successful species.
In the back of Carahudru’s mind is a lurking misgiving. Throughout evolutionary time, the unspecialized creatures proved to be the most adaptable. The new world that is being engineered now is supposed to be balanced, with an engineered creature installed in each environment. If one in particular evolves to encroach on another’s environment, what will the long-term result be? It may even be that intelligence will re-evolve by itself.
That is for the future, though. Carahudru throws open the door and his creature steps gingerly out into the bracken and brambles of the deciduous woodland. Immediately it feels at home. Into the thicket it runs, having totally forgotton Carahudru in the flying vessel. Carahudru catches a last glimpse of the sunlight casting a dappled pattern on its back before it disappears into the warm greenery.
1000 YEARS HENCE
* * *
KLIMASEN AND THE BEGINNING OF CHANGE
Something is wrong. The ship is not responding properly. Klimasen directs his brainwaves through the neural contacts but they are not having the right effect. The ship is drifting out of control.
He noticed it on the last trip, but not as strongly as this. Then he was able to bring the vast vessel into dock safely, and deliver the food with no real problem.
As a desperate measure he disconnects the neural system, and with his most delicate pair of synthetic arms he removes the guard panel of the instruments before him. He can detect nothing wrong, nothing malfunctioning. Yet still he is drifting away from his course, out of control. If there is nothing wrong with the ship, it must be something external.
Beneath him he can see brilliant white flecks on the grey of the ocean surface – icebergs. He has never seen them so far south before, but that is not really surprising, for the ice has been pushing southwards further each year as the weather has been cooling. That should not worry anybody because the whole of civilization is well guarded against changes in the climate. Only those scattered tribes of primitives will have problems.
The presence of the icebergs does not disturb Klimasen. What is alarming is the direction in which the vessel is travelling over them. It is evidently the guidance system that is causing the trouble; but that cannot be – the guidance is worked from the Earth’s magnetic field. A surge of alarm sweeps through Klimasen’s puny body, and is instantly neutralized by a burst of sedative generated in the bulbous stack of synthetic glands grafted to his back. If the Earth’s magnetic field is varying beyond the limits that the machinery of the ship can tolerate, then there may be trouble for all trade and communication around the world.
It cannot possibly be that, he thinks. More likely it is the strong winds that are accompanying the edge of the ice pack; but the sensors do not show any winds that are stronger than expected. Something is seriously wrong.
Desperately he brings his manipulator hands into play to work the seldom-used manual contr
Cold grey ocean and glistening icebergs are rushing up to meet him. With his feet and his most powerful pair of arms he braces himself for the impact.
* * *
THE END OF YAMO
For the tenth day in succession the clouds have obscured the mountain top. The sunlight that does filter through is not enough to activate the solar collectors and keep the food generators working at full efficiency.
For the first time in his life Yamo finds his work overwhelming, and his efforts largely fruitless. He does not control the process. He just inspects the machinery that repairs the devices that do control the process. He does not think that there is anybody now living who knows enough to control the process, and now this particular plant is collapsing because the machinery is slowing to a halt. There is no power coming in from the solar collectors, nor is there any coming in through the network from other collectors in other areas. Everybody else is having the same problem. What is more, power-storage facilities are almost exhausted.
His massive carrying legs transport him, cocooned in his organic cradle, down to the depths of the factory. He has lost count of how many times he has made that journey in the past few days. It is all to no avail, as there is nothing he can do when he gets there. It is still as silent as ever, but the smell of decay, as the nutrients and raw materials rot, is stronger.
There is something disrupting the weather systems, something that was never allowed for when the manufacturing process was designed. All right, the climates are gradually becoming cooler as time goes on, but this is a gradual process, and something which was taken into account when the whole system was set up. It should not bring about the effects that are being produced now.
His food cake appears at his dispenser. At least, working in the plant, he has first call on what food there is left.
The door hisses open. Someone else stands there, someone he does not recognize. The light is behind the figure and all that Yamo can make out is the silhouette – the lumpy shape of a standard organic cradle, with the powerful legs, and a selection of arms dangling.
What is this person doing here? No-one has ever come into his module before. It must be important. Then he realizes that with the power deteriorating the communications systems must be failing as well. There has been no communication from outside at all for days. He turns to check his screens and monitors, but before he can do so he feels a pair of handling arms seize him. Manipulators rip into his own cradle, reaching for his head.
Dimly, as Yamo’s biological back-ups rupture and collapse in a spray of blood surrogate and synthetic hormones, he realizes that he must be the first murder victim for centuries.
Murder, too, for the oldest of causes. The newcomer steps over the pulsating form ofYamo’s broken cradle, and picks up the little cake of food.
* * *
1000 YEARS HENCE
Homo sapiens accessiomembrum
Medical technology has developed ‘soft’ forms of the backups that keep alive the weakening human form. Replacement organs, grown synthetically, are grafted onto the body. Eyes, ears, mouth and nose still function. The fingers work only as organs of touch. Lifting or handling is left to arms grown artificially. Fashion plays a part in such surgery.
Genetic engineering is not so far advanced that something grown artificially can match the complexity of 3500 million years of evolution. Grafted organs are single not multifunctional.
* * *
WEATHER PATTERNS AND THE TICS
They laughed when it first started, the farmers and fishermen. They could see that the ocean currents were changing. They knew that somewhere out there, at a great depth below the sea surface, was one of the great ocean-current power-generators that supplied the energy for the Tics. Now the movement of the water had changed and it would not be working any more. How were the Tics going to keep themselves alive now, in their monstrous living suits and their food factories?
Now, however, it is not so funny. The new weather patterns have brought unceasing rain, and the crops have failed. The fish have not come to the river this year, as though they could not find their way to the spawning ground. The bees are in disarray; they cannot see the sun and their internal directional instinct is failing them.
It seems to be happening throughout nature. Every year the birds move north and south at the same time, but not so this year; they do not seem to know their directions. It is affecting people, too. The trading caravans that move between settlements are becoming confused and lost. Men and women admit that they are finding it difficult to find their way along even well-known routes.
Then there are the sicknesses. Diseases that have never been known before are beginning to afflict those who spend their time outside. It seems to be something to do with the sun, which whenever it appears from behind the unfamiliar clouds is harsh and glaring. It burns the skin, and produces growths that do not go away until the victim dies.
The collapse is coming all right just as the farmers and the fishermen have always predicted; but it is not restricted to the Tics. It is going to affect everybody: those who deny nature and those who live with it.
* * *
The hazy grassland stretches away, green and yellow, to infinity, and the herd of grazing creatures moves gracefully across it. There are about 20 of them, the adults moving along on the outside of the group, with the youngsters in the centre. This is some sort of instinctive arrangement, serving no real purpose, as there are no dangerous animals to defend against. They have no real speech, these creatures, since all their needs are simple and amply met. Food grows all around, there are no enemies, and they have the companionship of their own kind.
Towering clouds are building up overhead. The plains-dwellers are aware, but only dimly, that conditions are changing from year to year. There seems to be more rain than there used to be, but this no problem. It only means that the grass – their food – grows more prolifically. It also means that new types of plants are beginning to grow: saplings that will develop into bushes and trees. Still, there will be plenty of grass left for them.
As they move slowly through the waving leaves and stems, they become aware of a distant humming noise. Looking up, their leader sees an oval spiky shape floating above the horizon away to one side. Such things go over now and again, but they have no effect on the plains-dwellers, who barely notice them.
However, this one is different. It is not pursuing its usual straight unwavering course but seems to be tilting to one side and descending in a very irregular manner. This is unusual enough for the herd’s leader to stop and look at it, as does the rest of the herd.
The shape wobbles, and finally drops into the plain some distance away. Immediately it is engulfed in a white flash that fades into a billowing red and black ball, rising and spreading. A little time later, the explosion is heard as the sound sweeps across the open countryside, and the infants and parents alike start in alarm, but feel no fear. The leader, however, does see the danger. The burst of red has spread as a fire across the landscape and it is coming towards them.
He has seen this before (fires are commonplace on the grasslands), and is knowledgeable enough not to run away from it when it is sweeping towards the herd. He assesses the direction of the wind and moves his herd along at right-angles to it, so that the fire will eventually travel by them.
He need not have troubled. The clouds that have been building up throughout the afternoon now open, and a curtain of torrential rain appears between the herd and the fire drifting over them and soaking them instantly. By the time the downpour has passed nothing is left of the fire but a steaming black smudge on the distant landscape.
The erstwhile flying shape is steaming and black as well, but the plains-dwellers ig
* * *
HOOT, THE TEMPERATE WOODLAND-DWELLER
The advantage of living in a temperate deciduous forest is that there are so many different things to eat at different times of the year. In the spring there are delicate shoots and soft buds; in the summer, the trees and bushes are full of leaves; and autumn is the time of fruits. It is winter that gives the problems. With any luck a forest-dweller has eaten so much throughout the rest of the year that it has built up enough fat to enable it to exist through the lean months, or it may be sensible enough to gather food such as nuts during the autumn and store them away for winter. Throughout the year, too, there are insects, grubs and small animals hiding under stones and beneath the bark of trees.
The temperate forest-dwellers were designed as omnivores, in order to take advantage of all these circumstances.
Hoot is typical. He looks very much like his great-great-great-great – great to the power 20 – grandfather, who was one of the first genetically-viable forest-dwellers to be engineered. He is built as a climbing creature, with long arms and legs, but he is just as comfortable on the ground. His teeth are quite generalized, able to cope with a wide range of foods from soft fruits to hard insects. His main senses consist of sight, smell, taste and hearing.