300 YEARS HENCE
HARON SOLTO AND HIS MECHANICAL CRADLE
Haron Solto opens his eyes to the soothing light display
on his ceiling. Gentle scents exude from the walls, and a hot drink appears
instantly in the alcove by his hand.
300 YEARS HENCE
Homo sapiens machinadiumentum
When biological organs consistently fail, substitutes
must be developed. The more vital the failed organs that cease to work,
the higher the technical back-up needed. Scientists are already working
to produce tissue-based replacements.
On his personal display Haron Solto sees the figures for the
day’s world requirements, its preferred geographical distribution, the output
from the various factories, and the flow of the transportation systems. With
a practised eye, he reads the graphs and evaluates the estimates; then three
quick presses of a button and the day’s production is in balance. He can rest.
The motor units of his cradle lift him away from his workstation. Today he will contemplate his sculpture collection, which always gives him peace of mind. He sweeps across the room to where the three-dimensional images are housed, but beneath the healthy hum of the levitation motors there is another sound - a hissing and grinding noise. His forward motion ceases abruptly, an edge of his cradle tilting and scraping the floor.
Panic! No, don’t panic: it can all be controlled. Punching a button, he injects the right amount of sedative into his system to regain calm. It was a minor malfunction of his locomotor system, nothing more. Summon up one of the handlers, immediately.
After a short time, a time when Haron Solto is beset by thoughts generated by helplessness and indecision, the handler appears in the external door. He is a primitive, like Haron Solto’s ancestors must have been, and obviously male. He walks without mechanical aid, and his body is symmetrical, with two arms and two legs. Like all handlers, he will have been taken from the outside ruins. Their versatility makes them useful, and they are willing to perform distasteful functions in return for food and comfort. This creature has few mechanical appliances, but his body is covered with an insulating clothing, and he carries a bag of instruments around his shoulder. Solto tries to close his mind to the disgust he feels; but has to acknowledge that these people are necessary.
With a few words, in a dialect that Haron Solto can hardly understand, the handler diagnoses the problem and sets to work. A panel of the cradle is removed, then tools and artefacts are brought out of the handler’s bag and fixed into the mysterious innards of the machine. It all takes place out of Haron Solto’s sight. The inside of the cradle is something he has never seen and has no wish to see. All he perceives is the hairy top of the handler’s head as he bows over his work, making a humming noise with his lips and teeth, a noise that Haron Solto surmises passes for music.
The experience is too much. Haron Solto blasts some narcotic into his vein and drifts into a more pleasant substitute world.
He is roused by a loud slam, as the panel in his cradle is rammed home. The handler says two brief words to him. The first denotes work done, and the second is a mode of address, basically respectful but which, Haron Solto suspects, has now become a term of amusement and mild mockery amongst the handlers.
Haron Solto dismisses the man, having first endorsed his identity chip to say that the work has been done.
Haron Solto is alone once more, fully functioning, and can continue his day’s reverie. Someday humanity will not need these grotesque throwbacks to primitive man. There will be a better method than the present mechanical contrivances: a system that lives, grows and repairs itself. That is for the future, however, and someone else will have to develop it.
Humanity has a potential which cannot be bound by mere machines.
There must be a better way forward.
These are thoughts that have beset Greerath Hulm ever since she witnessed the last failure of the local food generator. It was a terrible time during which the handlers fought amongst themselves. On one side, the disciplined faction struggled to repair the breakage; on the other, those whose food supplies had been cut off first were trying to break into the machinery to feed on the raw materials. Order was restored, but only through massacre.
What had human beings come to now? Wizened bodies encased in machines, kept alive by mechanical contrivance and synthetically-grown organs.
Once, a long long time ago, humanity developed through the process of evolution. With the coming of intelligence and civilization, this natural process was swept away. Medical science developed, and those that would have died off were now able to survive and reproduce. As a result for man the directive force of evolution-the process of natural selection – was eliminated. In consequence, the species deteriorated. Unhealthy changes that would have been wiped out now survived and were spread. The genetic stock became weaker as populations became bigger. This did not matter, because medical science was always there to sustain life. No matter how degenerate a human body became there were always the technological systems to keep it alive.
The result was certainly a triumph over the raw wildness of nature, but there must be a better way. Machines keep breaking down and the food and drug supplies are constantly disrupted. Synthetic organs must hold the key.
If they improve, muses Greerath, that would put her and many like her out of work (she controls the manufacturing process for a series of synthetic enzymes and stimulants that benefit humans the world over). That might not be a bad thing. She would like to devote more of her time to listening to music, looking at art, and wallowing in the newly-developing medium of hypnotic-involvement-drama.
Then, with a start, she remembers two friends who recently retired from work to do just that - and both of them switched off their life-supports after a few days. Probably their stimulant-mix was wrong - something that will not happen to Greerath; after all, she is in the business.
Genetic engineering must be the future, though. Humans have already dabbled in it during the last century, when it produced beings that could live in space. That was specifically for work on the star-colony project; so, as always in history, a specific emergency or a specific goal fuelled a burst of technological development. In the past it was always warfare that provided the emergency. The technology usually involved the development of more sophisticated weaponry. Then, as ever, once the emergency passed and the goal was attained, the newly-developed technology fell fallow. Now that the star-colony project has come to an end, and the last of the 37 ships has been dispatched, there are no more space children. Those vacuumorphs 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. The aquamorphs, the humans engineered to live in the sea, are still there, though, living in the warmer waters of the ocean. A veritable underwater civilization is developing.
A burst of sunlight from behind the clouds, slanting down the fissures between the tall buildings, cut to geometric dapples by the supporting girderwork, and discoloured by the translucent filters of Greerath’s habitat, creeps into her living unit and brings her out of her daydream. Her day’s work is almost over, and she has hardly done a thing. Once, she thinks, mankind was ruled by the sun: when it rose people woke up and started their day, and when it set they slept. Now nobody could care if the sun were there or not – as long as it powered the solar cells, and kept the ocean currents churning away and driving the submerged energy units.
Out there, where people no longer go, there are wild spaces on the planet. For a while these were poisoned. Now all that has changed. The big animals have gone, all right, but the plants have re-established themselves. Steamy tropical forests are growing again along the equator, and grasslands lie in belts to the north and south. Further north and south are the spacious deserts that, because of the natural pattern of circulation of the wind and moisture, will never be fertile. Beyond these there are deciduous and coniferous forests, then towards the north and south poles lie the cold tundra regions and the icecaps.
Greerath knows of all these things from the information banks, but the subjects with which she is most familiar are found in old recordings. The tropical forests she now visualizes were full of monkeys, tapirs, anteaters, snakes, sloths, apes, jaguars, humming birds, toucans and eagles. The grasslands were alive with herds of zebra, elephant, antelope, giraffe, and pursued by lions, cheetahs and hyenas. The deciduous and coniferous forests had deer, beavers, squirrels, badgers, wolves and lynx. The tundra supported reindeer, musk ox and foxes. She knows that now these animals are all gone, and are as relevant to the modern world as are the dinosaurs, the moas and the mammoths. Today these habitats are open and silent, with only the smallest rodents and birds living there, along with insects and other invertebrates.
Surely out here should be the future of mankind? If so, a renewed campaign of genetic engineering could be the means of reaching it.
It is probably the most dangerous and most exciting time
of his life. Hueh Chuum is slowly and purposefully disconnecting himself from
his cradle. For a few brief minutes he will be isolated from the things that
keep him alive - but it will be worth it.
He has been preparing for months. Gradually his physicians have been turning off his libido suppressant. He has been trained thoroughly as to when to switch off this device and that organ. Those that are fundamentally necessary to his continued existence are connected to trailing cables and tubes – vulnerable but necessary for the essential few minutes. He is luckier than most: his heart is his own.
It is almost time. His sensors tell him that Bearnida, his love, is outside the door. He has seen her before, but only on screens and holograms, and was first attracted to her by the way that she had decorated her cradle. He realized that this attraction was not as superficial as it seemed. Her artistic taste showed that, deep down, she was similar, and that they would make a good mating pair. She approved, as did all her colleagues, physicians and relatives.
The environmental lights dim to a soft hue, and the ambient odours and music produce a gentle and seductive atmosphere. The access slides open and Bearnida’s cradle wafts in.
He is seeing her for the first time without the help of mechanical media. Only her face, of course, is visible, and it looks a little smaller than he expected. The decorations on her cradle are bright and flamboyant, as befit the occasion. Inside the mechanisms, he knows she has switched off her life-supports for the short time necessary. She smiles at him, and he returns the smile - the first purely personal communication he has had with anybody.
The cradles drift together and their touching panels open. The lights go out – for who wants to see the wizened deformed body of a naked human, however much in love they are? Hydraulic arms, supporting the little bodies in their harnesses, swing out until they meet... .
It is much, much later. Hueh Chuum’s shock is beginning to wear off and grief is settling in, but that can be dealt with by suitable injections. He is back in his cradle where he is safe. He is never coming out again as long as he lives. Never!
He thought that he and Bearnida were well-matched, not only mentally and emotionally, but physically too. Like him, she had her own heart; but hers was not nearly as strong as his, and the strain of mating was too much.
He can console himself that he is not alone, as only about 10 per cent of matings these days are successful. If this goes on, the human species will dwindle and die out.
The sea waves, blasted by a south-western gale, curdle and
foam in cold blue slopes that march remorselessly across the desolate surface
of the northern ocean. From the lead-grey sky the chill rain hisses down in
the icy green hollows and is lost in the streaming foam of the crests. The
sea surface is not a welcoming place.
Below the screaming, tumbling chaos of the surface and in the top few feet of the ocean water the gale is silenced, the waves suppressed to a gentle to-and-fro motion. Further down, the movement becomes weaker and weaker until it dies away completely. This is the world of the fish – and of the creatures that have abandoned their life on land to accept their ancestral home in the great oceans of the world. To some extent the sea otters did this, with their sinuous bodies and their webbed feet; the seals and walruses did it more efficiently with their streamlining and their flippers; but the now-extinct dolphins and the great whales did it to perfection, even adopting the fish-shape of their forebears.
Now humans have done it too.
In the green half-light below the ocean’s turbulence they swim. An unaccustomed eye might have taken them for dolphins, moving and turning, dashing away in a sudden streak, hanging for a while motionless.
They cannot breathe air, these creatures of the ocean. Instead they circulate the seawater through their mouths and pectoral gills, extracting the oxygen as it goes. They also feed constantly, filtering plankton through the same gills and transferring it to the digestive system. Now and again they take a fish - turning and streaking after it with a twist of the tailfin, a balance of the arms and a quick bite.
The tailfin is all that is left of the human legs. In embryo, the limb buds grow together and fuse into one organ. The hip girdle does not develop and the limb bones become almost an extension of the backbone. The phalanges of the toes spread and shape themselves into a network that supports the powerful diamond-shaped fin. The hands retain their human structure, but the arm has flattened and become modified into a balancing and stabilizing organ.
The development was started a century ago as part of the star-colony project, but the creatures developed were only partially successful. Later the engineering laboratories, in a last bid to produce something permanent before being closed down, refined the design and produced a truly aquatic human being; and (their final triumph) the genetic changes that they produced were actually hereditary. Yes, these newly-developed creatures were fertile, and produced viable offspring.
The process really started way back in the early days of civilization when man’s quest to possess all the things of the world took him to the water. He invented mechanical devices that enabled him to take his air down into the sea with him and to breathe it at a workable pressure. Implements strapped to his body allowed him to see underwater and to swim with powerful leg strokes. As time went on great communities, rather like island cities, were established on the sea bed. The sediment-choked ruins of these still litter the continental shelves. When genetic engineering was developed, gills could be cultivated from raw tissue and grafted onto the human body, enabling humans to breathe like fish. This was still clumsy and imprecise compared with the later engineering of a creature with no need of cities or artificial swimming and breathing devices.
What swims here is merely the surface race of the creature. In the blackness below, hundreds of fathoms down, others exist, rarely seen by any but their own kind, and even then they are not strictly ‘seen’. In the blackness they can only feel their way about and communicate with one another by a kind of echolocation. These creatures are sluggish and inactive. There is little food at these depths and they must conserve what energy they have.
Since the aquatics rarely meet any other form of human, there is no enmity between them and any other group.
A female suckling a wriggling youngster undulates gracefully towards a group of males who are chasing fish. She speaks. The ‘voice’ is a rattling sound, produced from clicks in the relict windpipe in the neck. The young males clatter their reply and swim off in what seems to be a random three-dimensional pattern. Suddenly the fish with which they were sporting congregate in a mass in front of the female’s head, herded there by the precisely coordinated movements of the males. A quick flick and a snap, and she has swallowed one – the rest scattering into the green murk. She clucks her thanks to the males and swims sedately away. To look at, one would think that these are creatures that had existed in this environment since the world was young. It is only the face – a grotesque parody of the human face, with big bulging eyes, tiny degenerate nose and downturned mouth - that shows it to be derived from a human being.
|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|