[To see the diagram in details click the picture or here]
200 YEARS HENCE
The grey-green of deep water is floored by a bed of rubble,
sprouting wisps of red algae and sparse fan coral. Rusting steel hulks, caked
with sponge and algal growth, jut up in incomprehensible shapes in the gloom.
A few fish move slowly in the dark hollows, as the occasional scuffling crab
raises brief clouds of sand and silt particles with its pointed feet.
Suddenly these few creatures dart for cover, as a much larger shape bounds its way slowly over the bottom. It is streamlined, as are all swimming animals, and its surface is smooth and rounded, all angles padded out by a thick layer of insulating blubber. The legs are somewhat frog-like, with webbed feet, but the webs continue up each side of the leg as far as the knee. The forelimbs are prehensile and adaptable, but for the moment are held tightly against the torso so as not to disrupt the streamlined shape. The creature gives off an air of deep sadness, but only because of the face, with its big dark eyes and an enormous lugubrious downturned mouth. The mouth funnels into a broad throat that connects to a wide belt of gills across the chest.
It ceases its movement and crouches on the bottom, looking upwards through water above it. Up there is a whole new world, a world that should not be strange since it is the world of the creature’s immediate ancestors.
Its great-grandfather was a librarian, Jon Artur Blick, looking after and cataloguing the accumulated knowledge of centuries of human civilization. Its grandfather, Jon Blick Jr, was an artist, contributing to that civilization’s culture. Its father, Jon Blick III, was an astro-physicist, adding to the information mankind could draw upon. Now Piccarblick is an aquamorph – a creature engineered to be part of a new frontier. This creature is human.
Piccarblick rises slowly towards the undulating silver ceiling that separates home from the hostile environment above. He rarely comes to the surface since he is not directly involved in trading with the land people. Whenever he does he is always uneasy, even though it was the environment of his parents. A flurry of bubbles arises about him as he ascends towards the surface. Controlling his ascent so that the pressure on his tissues is not released too quickly, he bubbles up through the final few metres and breaks the oily, scum-laden surface.
The skull is shaped and positioned so that a rounded head and short neck add to the streamlining.
200 YEARS HENCE
Fish-like and frog-like, the aquamorph is genetically adapted to live within a totally marine environment. Each physical feature – the streamlined body with the smooth skin and the insulating blubber layer, the gills on the chest, the paddles on the legs – was grown by the embryo. But this embryo was the result of manipulation of the sperm and egg cells. The chromosomal make-up was adjusted, creating genes that would produce features such as skin with a low drag fractor, and the whole organism was allowed to grow to its designed form.
The lower leg of Homo aquaticus forms a powerful, well-muscled paddle, spread by the toes.
Facial expression for the aquamorph is limited to basic responses. It relies on simple sounds to communicate.
Many of his family are already there. He can just make out
their heads bobbing around him amid the floating rubbish. The sky, grey-white
with an orange tinge of smog along the horizon, has an alien beauty about it
- like the sparkling surface of the unpolluted Earth as seen by the first astronauts.
He looks towards land, but it is indistinct. His eyes will not function properly, because the difference between the refractive index of air and water is such that he cannot focus on anything above the surface. From his utility belt he takes air goggles and slips them over his head.
Now he can see clearly. The strip of rubble beach is backed by towering brown and black buildings of the land people. Down coast the buildings protrude from the sea, built on top of those already submerged, using the drowned hulks as their foundations and piles. The city he sees will not last for long, as the sea levels are continuing to rise and this area will also have to be abandoned.
Not, however, until the establishment has served its purpose. On the flat runway lies a narrow pointed cylinder, too distant for the details to be seen, but Piccarblick knows it from descriptions. Beneath the small wings at the rear lie the huge oxygen-compressing rocket engines that will heave the craft off the ground, through the successively thinner layers of atmosphere and eventually into orbit. There it will rendezvous with the starship, transfer its passengers and return to the runway.
The starship itself is complete and almost ready to go. All his life Piccarblick has been involved in its building. He and his family worked the great underwater deuterium mills that produced the fuel to power it, and farmed the continental shelf to sustain the land-dwellers and space-dwellers while they constructed it. Before long, fully manned and equipped, it will move out of Earth orbit, build up speed through the solar system and leave the regions of known space for ever. Its departure will mark the end of the work of Piccarblick’s life. He and his fellow aquamorphs have toiled away, knowing that mankind’s future may not lie on this dirty planet or in its polluted waters, but elsewhere in the cosmos.
Warning klaxons sound across the water. A flight of scavenging birds takes to the air from the beach as smoke bursts from the tail of the distant craft. After a seeming age the rumbling roar sweeps over the floating observers and slowly the vessel increases its speed along the runway and lifts itself into the air. Out over the sea towards the watchers it flies, rising as it goes. The sound builds up and, as the elongated shape hurtles overhead, the impact of the noise disorientates sensory organs more used to picking up water-borne signals. Then the ship is gone, leaving a lingering trail of smoke that slowly dissipates and adds its particles to the weight of atmospheric pollutants that have been building up for the past few centuries.
Piccarblick and his colleagues watch the ship go. Although excited by the sight, they remain silent because they cannot speak above the water. Quietly they turn over and dive back into the depths, where, as they descend, they can chatter freely to one another. They are home.
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 twentieth 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 make-up according to what would be required for survival away from the Earth’ atmosphere, united the two and let their offspring develop in an extra-uterine environment on the orbiting laboratory 200 kilometres 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 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 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 the 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 make-up. 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 tonnes of helium-3 scooped from the gases of Jupiter’s atmosphere, and 20,000 tonnes of deuterium distilled from the Earth’s oceans, all compressed into frozen pellets. When running, these pellets will be injected by 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 per cent 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 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 a 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 manoeuvre as it drifts towards the starship. Cralym and her fellows clamber along towards the port to watch.
Heavy lids shield the eyes against solar wind, while a sealed lens protects them from the vacuum.
The spherical shape and the hard outskin keep in the body pressure, and contain the additional organs.
200 YEARS HENCE
Homo sapiens sapiens
Only the most perfect human specimens are being sent to colonize the stars. Perfection, in this case, is clearly defined. Each colonist is carefully selected to ensure that his or her biological make-up is as flaw-free and reliable as possible. Space will be its own habitat. And later the surgeons will require the best raw material available when it becomes necessary to build new living creatures to fit those unknown environments to be found far beyond the solar system.
Jimez Smoot can breathe again. The acceleration of the take-off
and the lift to orbit had squashed the breath out of him. Now, as the ferry
coasts into free-fall, he and his fellow passengers are released from the gravitational
grip of his planet – for ever. He was trained for the accelerations and the
weightlessness, of course, in the acclimatization camp back home, but no amount
of training on simulators could have prepared him for the actual power and
terror of the real thing.
Back home? Yes, he will probably think of Earth as ‘back home’ for the rest of his life, although he will certainly never go back there. He was taken from his community and subjected to years of rigorous training for survival in a small group, the members of which were drilled to accept, psychologically, that they would be going on a journey from which they would never return, and which could well end in failure and waste rather than the founding of a new civilization. He and his colleagues will abandon everything that they have ever known.
They are the lucky ones.
No amount of scientific application could have stopped the deterioration of the Earth’s environment. No amount of moral guidance or medical technology could have slowed the suicidal birth-rate. No amount of exercise of the new-found science of genetic manipulation could induce crops to produce enough food in the right areas to feed all. No amount of political co-operation ensure a fair distribution of what was available. The most influential cultures relied entirely on technology; and stable conditions were necessary for their technologies to flourish. As their systems crumbled, one by one, the less technological peoples spread to take their place; but inherited the economic systems left by their predecessors, and quickly adopted and rebuilt the highly technological way of life, with all the disadvantages and disasters that implied. Desperate and amoral, but practical, choices were made. New beings were genetically engineered to fit into the uninhabitable environments, so that new areas could be exploited for the good of the whole.
Yet industry still generated its waste products. The carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere rose and the world sweltered under an accelerating greenhouse effect. The icecaps began to melt and the sea levels worldwide rose. Already most of the great cities of the world, those built on deltas, estuaries and low-lying coasts, were flooded and uninhabitable. Temperatures at the equator became intolerably high and populations migrated to cooler latitudes, abandoning the stripped rainforests and the desertified grasslands.
All this change came about in a mere two centuries; but those two centuries were the culmination of 4000 years of burgeoning civilization. Yet, on the time scale of the planet, 200 years, even 4000 years, were hardly noticeable in the context of the 4500 million years that the planet had been in existence.
We will do it better next time, Jimez Smoot muses as he looks out of the porthole. The dislocated Earth systems are invisible from up here - just the odd smear of brown or yellow showing where smoke is particularly concentrated. Across the cabin, past his companions and through the opposite porthole, he can see the ungainly shape of the starship as they approach it. The airlock on the pay-load module, surrounded by the tiny figures of the vacuumorphs, beckons invitingly. This will be their new home. Neither he nor his children may be the ones to begin the new civilization on a new planet; but eventually the ship will reach somewhere habitable and one of his descendants will be part of the new system of humanity, which will benefit from the lessons learned from the mistakes of the old.
As food becomes scarce, order becomes a luxury. Civilization has been replaced by a society on the edges of chaos. Boundaries are clearly defined, and family groups fight to defend their territories.
The moving lights in the sky, glimpsed through a brief break
in the clouds, mean nothing to Kyshu Kristaan. He had to work hard to steal
the meagre portion of food he carries wrapped in his rags, and he cannot let
his attention waver from his journey for an instant. Now he has to step quietly
over the sleeping huddles that lie in the dry alleyway. Should anyone wake
up and sense what he is carrying then he would have to fight again, and this
time, exhausted from his last skirmish, he would not win.
His wife and seven children lie, hungry, in an old culvert beyond the flooded thoroughfare. They have not eaten for three days. That was the last time the reliefer flew over and dropped food on the drowning city for the squatties. The relief drops were becoming more and more irregular, and Kyshu Kristaan knows why. Inland government does not care about its people; all it cares about is producing monsters: monsters in the seas, monsters in space. As for the weak mockeries of human beings, the hand-fed who have never had to fight for their food in their lives, the soft ones that they are sending to the stars... Kyshu does not even want to think about them.
At the entrance of the alley the road slopes down into the oily water. With his sharp eyes Kyshu Kristaan can make out the tangled tidemark of discarded artefacts, empty containers and decaying bodies that lies along the edge of the water. Tide is out, he registers, so he can wade across. His brother died because he did not have such good eyesight, and would not have noticed whether the tide were in or out. He had not seen the man who lay in wait for him in the darkness as he returned home with his food. Kyshu Kristaan hopes that his own children will inherit his sharp eyesight; Sem Kristaan died before he could father any children and so his weak eyesight died with him.
Chest deep, Kyshu Kristaan crosses the flooded thoroughfare, holding his precious bundle high so that it will not become any more tainted. Slowly, making sure that no ripple breaks and makes a warning noise, he rises from the water at the other side. Yet, as he pulls himself from the water the silent night shatters into a cacophony of yells and shrieks, bursting from the direction of his sewer home.
No! - he despairs. Not more fighting tonight. Other people do not live like this. The inland people, the ones that have things to do, do not live like this. There is plenty of food for them and they do not have to fight.
Now his wife Seralia is yelling and his children are screaming, and he drops his bundle and runs to help. Seralia is at the culvert mouth, flaying about her with a steel bar. There are still figures at her feet and others grabbing her by the arms and legs. Kyshu surprises them all. Seizing the hair of two of the attackers, he cracks their heads together with a force that must kill them; then he turns and fells a third with a blow of the edge of his hand. The others disappear into the darkness, as do the shadowy watchers.
Then, while Seralia calms the frightened children, Kyshu gropes back to where he dropped his bundle, but it has gone, stolen by one of the dark watchers. An exhausted depression creeps over him. Must it always be like this?
Seralia calls to him for help, as she drags the bodies over to the water to deposit them (no point in fouling the entrance of their own home). It is said that the squatties in the next city eat the victims of a fight like this. That would be practical, but inhuman, although Kyshu could believe anything of them. Their attackers appear to be from across the water, probably on their way back from a raid, and their ragged pouches are full of stolen food: fair compensation for the food that Kyshu has lost, so he does not feel so bad now. Six men have been killed, which is a good total for such a skirmish.
He and Seralia can feel proud of the night’s work. There may be monsters in the sea, and monsters in space, and the weaklings can be sent to the stars; but it is here, in the squats of the drowning cities, that true men and women are still to be found.
|FOREWORD by Brian Aldiss||8|
|INTRODUCTION – EVOLUTION AND MAN||11|
|IN THE BEGINNING||16|
|The Human Story So Far||16|
|8 MILLION YEARS AGO
|3 MILLION YEARS AGO
|2.5 MILLION YEARS AGO
|1.5 MILLION YEARS AGO
|500,000 YEARS AGO
|15,000 YEARS AGO
|5000 YEARS AGO
|2000 YEARS AGO
|1000 YEARS AGO
|500 YEARS AGO
|100 YEARS AGO||19|
|MAN AFTER MAN||22|
200 YEARS HENCE
|Piccarblick the aquamorph
|Cralym the vacuumorph
|Jimez Smoot the space traveller
|Kyshu Kristaan the squatty||29|
300 YEARS HENCE
|Haron Solto and his mechanical cradle
|Greerath Hulm and the future
|Hueh Chuum and his love
500 YEARS HENCE
|Gram the engineered plains-dweller
|Kule Taaran and the engineered forest-dweller
|Knut the engineered tundra-dweller
|Relia Hoolann and cultured cradles
|Fiffe Floria and the Hitek
|Carahudru and the woodland-dweller||48|
1000 YEARS HENCE
|Klimasen and the beginning of change
|The end of Yamo
|Weather patterns and the Tics
|Hoot, the temperate woodland-dweller
|The end of Durian Skeel
2000 YEARS HENCE
|Rumm the forest-dweller
|Larn the plains-dweller
|Coom’s new friend
|Yerok and the Tool||61|
5000 YEARS HENCE
|Snatch and the tundra-dweller
10,000 YEARS HENCE
|Leader of the clan
|Disappearance of the plains
50,000 YEARS HENCE
|Families of plains-dwellers
|The advancing desert
|Schools of aquatics
500,000 YEARS HENCE
|Strings of socials
1 MILLION YEARS HENCE
|Hunters and carriers
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
3 MILLION YEARS HENCE
|Slothmen and spiketooths||111|
5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
|In the end is the beginning ...||123|