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.
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 of Yamo’s broken cradle, and picks up the little cake of food.
1000 YEARS HENCE
Homo sapiens accessiomembrum
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
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 ignore it and continue their journey. It has nothing to do with them.
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.
In fact, in outward appearance he resembles the ancestral human being. Inside his long body, however, his digestive system contains special organs for treating particularly tough food, and self-sustaining colonies of specialized bacteria that can break down tough silica and cellulose, allowing him to digest just about anything that he swallows.
His mind, though, is dull. That was part of the plan as well, as it had been believed that such a creature would survive better without the typical human power of logic and reasoning. Its food was all around it, so it would not need to experiment, to try to make its life more efficient, since its environment would sustain it perfectly adequately. The prototype worked so well that many others were engineered, and now there are self-sustaining colonies throughout the temperate forests of the northern hemisphere.
Nevertheless, Hoot now finds something new in his forest. On top of the hill, close to his own trees, there has always been an array of glistening things, like the leaves of a tree, but bigger and square. Hoot has always known that something big exists deep within the hill, connected to these strange things. A minor sense that came to the surface when his ancestor’s furry pelt was engineered was sensitivity to electrical fields: a tingling of his hair roots tells him when he is in the presence of electrical machinery. He understands none of this, of course, but he knows that this sense tells him that something important lies beneath the hill; and this something big is important to the lumpy creatures that he has always thought of as some kind of distant relation to his own people.
An unfamiliar noise and increased electrical disturbance has brought him to the hill this morning. Flying things came in from all round the sky and descended, disgorging more lumpies than there are woodlice in his tree. Sometimes when his own people are angry with one another – say, if he wants to mate with the same female as somebody else – he can sense the tension in the air. Anger and hatred are obvious and can be communicated without noise, and it is the same here. Hundreds of lumpies have collected together and they are angry. They want to get into the hill, and are pushing at the door.
Eventually they break through, and other lumpies come out and tackle them. Hoot has never seen such a fight –dozens of lumpies tearing away at one another, pulling each other apart, stamping each other into the ground. His own people do not do things like that.
Eventually the battle moves on, into the hill. The noise and the chaos retreat underground, leaving the soil littered with dead.
Stealthily, Hoot descends from his tree and scampers over to the site. The first dead lumpy is still warm, and oozing blood. He sniffs all around the corpse, using his selective sense of smell to ignore the main odours and concentrate on the smells that seem most interesting. He lowers his mouth to the seeping wound and, experimentally, licks the blood. It is good. He licks some more, using his tongue as an organ of touch, to find the parts that may be palatable. Then he starts drinking.
His digestive system was designed to absorb almost anything. This is as big a feast as he has seen in many a day, and the others of his kind should have a part of it.
Rearing up to his full height, he lets fly his own recognition yodel, summoning all of his brethren who are within earshot. It looks as if this is going to be an easier winter than last.
As he hears the crashing and scampering of his relatives approaching through the leaves and undergrowth he turns back to his feast. With a feeling of contentment he sinks his teeth into the synthetic flesh and artificial organs of the creature before him.
Some things just cannot be predicted, Durian Skeel muses;
but he knew that the end would come as something like this. Mankind has built
defences against everything that nature can inflict. Throughout human history
the waste products of civilization built up and poisoned the air, the seas
and the land. When the damage became too much to bear, technology was brought
in and in the end halted the process. Nature repaired the damage eventually.
Now processes have been found that produce little or no waste; but it has not
Climates have been gradually changing for ages. Now mankind can shelter away in artificial habitats, immune to the changes in weather conditions; but it has not been enough.
Only so much food can be grown or manufactured. The only way to guard against shortages has been to regulate population, so that there are never too many people for the available resources; but it has not been enough.
There are the larger-scale processes that mankind can do nothing about, no matter how sophisticated the technology. The moon goes around the Earth. The Earth goes around the sun. The movement of the Earth’s metallic core generates the magnetic field that has subtle influences on everything on its surface.
It has always been known from the geological record that the magnetic field changes. At times in the past there has been a magnetic north pole at the geographic north pole and a magnetic south pole at the geographic south. At other times there has been a magnetic south pole at the geographic north and vice versa. It has never been fully understood how these change, when they change and how long the change takes to occur. There must be times, during the changeover, when there is no magnetic field whatsoever, and this must have an influence on just about everything.
The Earth is undergoing just such a change now, and there is no magnetic field. The most obvious effect is on the technology of transportation and navigation. With no magnetic field the compasses and everything that works on a compass principle must cease to function. There are natural processes of navigation as well: most creatures have organs, sensitive to the Earth’s magnetic field, which help them to find their way about. The mechanics of fish and bird migration and the homing processes of bees have been disrupted and are now ceasing to work.
Humans have this ability too, but it has never really been used. Only now that the field has collapsed is its absence noticed, with even the most sensible and level-headed of people becoming confused about direction and time and many other subtle things. In the natural world this should not really matter, since the magnetic effect is relatively minor, and most animals navigate by the sun and the stars. However, with no magnetic field the ozone layer of the atmosphere breaks down – just as in the bad old days of pollution. This allows for deeper penetration into the atmosphere by ultra-violet solar radiation, upsetting the normal climatic patterns and producing abnormal wind circulation and hence abnormal ocean currents. The resulting overcast skies break down any biological stellar navigation systems.
On top of all that, there is the harmful biological effect of ultra-violet rays: burns and skin cancers develop wherever the sun does shine through, and birth abnormalities are increasing to well above normal levels. Then there is the disruption of radio waves through cosmic interference. Each human community is now effectively isolated from any other – denied both the exchange of information and physical travel.
Modern civilization and technology are not tuned into any of this. Durian Skeel knew that all this was going to happen, and he tried to warn people from the start. They would not listen.
He takes a grim satisfaction in the knowledge that he, and only he, foresaw the collapse of human civilization. Its death would be slow, from a human point of view, but rapid and catastrophic in the historical scale. Eventually the magnetic field will re-establish itself, with the opposite polarity to before. It may be within months, or it may take decades, but it will be too late to rescue civilization as it hurtles downwards into rubble.
He is not waiting. Purposefully and methodically he disconnects each of his life-support devices and lapses into peaceful oblivion.
Beneath the tumultuous surface of the ocean, the aquas swim around in a leisurely fashion. Something is different, but they do not quite know what. The huge machine with its constantly-turning rotors and fans is now still and silent for the first time in memory. That is nothing to do with them – it was built by the strange beings from above the surface. The movement of water is different, but that has no effect on them either. The fish and the sea plants are still there. Even now the sea life is beginning to colonize the vast dead structures.
This may be a good thing for them. They do not now need to travel so far to find their food, and the new children that are born seem to have a better chance of survival now that food is more available. What is more the knowledge has gone out across the seabed, and aquas from other areas are moving in. It looks as if the population is growing quite fast in this area, and they no longer travel in small family groups. A whole interactive society may develop in this region, with all the advantages which that entails. Things may change from now on.
|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|