2000 YEARS HENCE
RUMM THE FOREST-DWELLER
Still it becomes colder. This is obvious even to a being of such dim
perception as Rumm. His favourite hollow has not yet cleared of snow,
and already the sun has passed its high point. From now on, for the rest
of the year, the days will become shorter and the air colder. Therefore
the snow will not melt at all.
2000 YEARS HENCE
Homo glacis fabricatus
Mosses, lichens and heathers provide the slow-moving tundra-dwellers with their diet. A hook-like nail on the foot, developed from the main toe, scrapes up moss and also provides a grip on the snow. Migratory by nature, the dwellers move to open tundra each summer but winter deep in the forests. As with all migrations it is the old, the weak and the young who fall prey to predators.
Larn strides across the grassy plains at the head of his
tribe. Not far off he sees a thicket of bushes and thorn trees that he does
not trust. Another group of plains-dwellers met danger at such a clump not
long ago when a pack of some new kind of animal burst from within, taking them
by surprise, and killing three of their number before the rest could escape.
Larn had thought about this incident for some time, and it made him uneasy. He had noticed that the other animals, the little animals of the grassy plains, had their enemies. There was always strife and death in the undergrowth, but not for the plains-dwellers. He had always assumed that this was because the plains-dwellers were the largest creatures around. They had no enemies. The plains were theirs, and theirs alone.
As a result the populations of plains-dwellers are growing and growing. As a lad, Larn could remember travelling with his tribe for days on end, and not meeting any others. Now other tribes are seen daily, and each one seems to be becoming bigger and bigger.
In one part of his mind Larn feels pride at this; his people are the masters of this landscape, and they should spread and fill it. Another, quieter part of him rebels, however. If there are more and more plains-dwellers as time goes by, will there always be enough grass to feed them all?
He turns and looks back at this tribe, and counts them: ten females, all his mates; five young males, that have latched on from other tribes; six of his children, almost adult; twelve of his juvenile children; and two old females, members of the original tribes of two of his mates. He took responsibility for these when he chose the females from those tribes.
It was the two old females that kept the tribe moving slowly. They all had the long legs with muscular thighs and tapering feet that allowed them to run quickly. However, they rarely had the chance to do so. Sure enough the youngsters would run about, very actively, but the older members had to remain close to one another, and so moved at a slow and sedate pace. It was so long since Larn had run that he thought he might have forgotten how – not that there was any real need for speed.
The children enjoy it, though, he muses as he watches them scamper and gambol through the long yellow grasses of the open plain.
Suddenly there is a hideous howling and baying noise from the suspicious thicket. He had let his mind wander and had forgotten the danger that the other tribe had faced.
With a yelled warning he brings the whole tribe together, but the youngsters are scattered too far. A crashing noise issues from the thicket and about ten indistinct forms burst out and streak through the grass. One of his children is brought down with a crash and a flurry of dust and broken plant stems.
Without thinking, for the moment, of his loss and grief he runs about, rounding up the others, trying to get them to crowd together, instinctively knowing that a large group is stronger.
He is dimly aware that the others are doing their best as well. The young males have rushed together in defence of the younger females and the juveniles. They stand shoulder to shoulder while the others sprint into the distance.
Then he comes across a horrible sight. One of the old females lies dead, her throat torn. Over her stands a hideous and misshapen, yet strangely familiar, figure. It is almost like a plains-dweller, but it does not have the long legs, its belly is not so round and its teeth are not so massive. These must be the strange new creatures that have moved onto the plains.
It is staring at him, the female’s blood dribbling down its chin. Its eyes are grey and steady, it bares its teeth, and then it pounces. As a reflex, Larn brings down the cutting edge of his left hand, thrusting it into the soft flesh of the creature’s neck, killing it instantly. So they are not invulnerable, Larn thinks with triumph; we can kill them.
Then another dark shape crashes into his back, sinking its teeth into his neck, and as he falls into the dust he realizes his mistake. He should have run, like the young females. These creatures have cunning and hunting skill, but they do not have speed.
If plains-dwellers are to continue to be the masters of the plains, they must learn to keep clear of these monsters. Speed is going to be their saving, but it is too late for him.
2000 YEARS HENCE
Developed in the earliest centuries of genetic engineering as a refinement to the aquamorphs, the aquatics were the first group to carry hereditary genetic changes. Clumsy and vulnerable on land, the sea is now their instinctive habitat. Piscanthropus submarinus can move swiftly and powerfully within water. The ocean provides food and does not vary its temperature as swiftly as air – valuable when the increasing cold forces land-based species such as Homo virgultis fabricatus into adaptation or retreat.
The tide seems to be going out further these days. Coom is
only a young lad, but he is sure that he can remember when the water came right
up to the cliffs. Yes, sure enough, there is still a line of whitened tree-trunks
and bleached sticks, the remains of debris brought up by the waves long ago.
His father is much older than he is, and can probably remember when the sea
came right up to the foot of the cliff all the time. He might even remember
it washing to the top of those austere stone faces.
Now the water is well out, leaving pools and puddles amongst the slippery, weed-covered rock. It will return, before the day is out, but it will not come anywhere near the cliffs. Coom thinks that it probably never will again.
He drops to all fours by the nearest of the rock-pools. The empty woven-reed bag flops onto the cold rocks beside him. Nothing much in the water here. Further down, towards the edge of the sea, the pools will be more alive.
Here he has to be careful. The rocks are wet, weed-coated and slippery; and they are very cold beneath his feet. Now the cracks in the rocks are full of winkles, limpets lie flat and immobile against the wet algae-clad stone, and crabs scuttle and hide in the clear waters of the pools. With his long fingers, Coom pulls the shelly creatures away from their rocks, and dips into the cold waters for the crabs and sea-anemones. It is meagre fare, and even when his bag is full it will not give very much nourishment to this family.
He straightens up and looks back towards the cliff. There, in one of the caves along the foot, live his parents and his three brothers and sisters. It is a good thing, he thinks, that the sea does not come up to the cliffs any more. He and his family would be washed away.
He is far enough down the beach now to see the mountains rising beyond the cliff. They are white, and have been for some time. He can remember, when he was very very little, that sometimes they were green and purple. It is snow and ice that covers them, he knows that. Even the rocks and the cliff are covered in snow and ice now and again. Then a sudden thought strikes him - snow and ice are made of water, so could it be that, with so much more snow and ice over the land, the water has been taken from the sea – and that is why the sea does not come up to the cliff any more?
A loud splash from behind him breaks his train of thought. Something big trapped in a pool! He turns quickly. At first he thinks it is a fish, but he has never seen a fish as big as that. Then he thinks it is one of his family who having slipped in is finding it difficult to get out, but no. It is neither of these.
It seems to be something in between.
The creature rises half-way out of the water. It has a face like his, with eyes, a nose and a mouth; but the eyes are enormous, the nose a pair of slits, and the mouth a vast downturned feature between huge fleshy lips. It has arms and hands, but the rest of the body is indistinct in the water. It seems to be smooth and shining.
Coom stares at the apparition, and it stares back at him. The great mouth begins to work, and sounds come out. It is trying to say something.
Is it dangerous? No, Coom does not think so; in a strange way it is almost like himself. He says a few words back to it, one or two of the few words that he and his family use, but that is no good. Whatever it is does not understand. Instead Coom tentatively reaches out his hand; the odd creature reaches out its own hand, and the two touch.
A friend! Coom has found a friend outside his family.
He lets drop the strange slippery hand, and turns to run back to the cave to tell everybody, full of joy and surprise at his discovery. His father is there, at the entrance, cracking open and scooping out a shellfish that the others of the family have brought him. Coom goes running up to him, grunting out his news. His father is all attention, as are his older brothers.
The result is unexpected. Coom is snarled at to move out of the way, then thrust into the cave while the others run off down the beach towards the sea.
That is not right, thinks Coom, that is not how it should have happened. They do not seem at all pleased about the new friend. He is not going to stay in the cave while all this is happening, so he runs down the rocks after them; but he is too late.
Already his father and his brothers are throwing rocks and bleached sticks at his new friend, and shouting the most hideous threats.
The strange creature, in panic, has pulled itself out of its rock-pool, and is wriggling its way across the clammy weed and cold rocks towards the waves in blind terror, bleating out strange sounds as it goes. Coom stops. He does not want to be any closer, and see in more detail. He can imagine the weals and bruises on the glossy body, the blood from the fresh cuts, the look of anguish and pain on the outlandish face. He can only hope that the strange being reaches the water before his father and his brothers.
With sadness he watches it slip into the waves, beyond the gesturing figures of his family. A flip of the fin-like tail and it is gone.
Well, his father must be always right. Coom considers the matter. He must have done wrong to try to befriend it in the first place. It is obvious that his people, the people of the land and the creatures of the sea will never be anything but enemies.
They are not going to be able to stay much longer. Old Yerok
knows that the tribe is finished in this area. They will move on somewhere
else, probably to a place owned by another tribe, and where the Tool is of
no use at all.
He looks down at the clay model inside his shelter. It has taken him all his life to build, and now that life is almost finished it is becoming useless as well. The boxes, holes and chambers are an accurate reproduction of what has been found beneath the gravel and sand across the plain, but soon the whole thing – original and model – will be engulfed.
Every year the waters change. The rivers flow out of the ice wall and wash across the plain to the distant sea, splitting, crossing one another and rejoining, amongst the shifting pattern of gravel banks, sand bars and clay pans. They change their courses continually. This has always happened; the tribe is accustomed to it. Now, however, the ice wall is creeping out so far it is spreading over the plain itself.
Beneath the gravel, the sand and the clay, lies the Mystery. It was built by people a long time ago, and it was built to live in. Yerok can tell that by the pictures that he has found in it. Then it was destroyed by the sea, which he can tell by the layers of sand and mud that fill the rooms, chambers and passages, and the old seashells that cluster on the crumbling walls and the red powdery metalwork. Other people lived there afterwards, once the sea had retreated again, probably digging into it like his own tribe does. He can tell this by the skeletons piled in the mud layers above, that have to be shifted every time they dig downwards with the Tool.
The skeletons are of people, but of people quite unlike those of his tribe. His own people have longer arms and longer fingers and toes, as though they were designed to climb on things – rocks or even trees. Their teeth are bigger, as though they were meant to chew harder foods. Yerok feels a great sympathy with these old people, guessing that when he is dead, and that occurrence is not too far away, his skeleton will be found to be more like that of one of these ancient people than that of one of his own tribe.
He has known that for years, but of course nobody else noticed. He was born different, as if he were actually the son of a very distant ancestor, but one who had lain dormant, generation after generation, and only reappeared with Yerok’s birth. His resulting greater intellect soon made him the leader of the tribe, and he led them into peaceful and plentiful times. It is his one great sadness that his children do not take after him: they are all the same long-armed, long-fingered, dull-witted, instinctively-acting creatures as their mothers.
He has always known there were riches to be found in the old dwelling places buried beneath the gravels of the plain. He built the Tool, and used it to dig into the sediments to find them. Now all the tribes within marching distance have drinking bowls, clothing and footwear, extracted from this plain by his tribe and traded for food.
Soon all that will be finished. The ice has been encroaching on the plain for as long as he can remember. In the gloom of his shelter he leans on his digging Tool and looks down at the meticulously-crafted clay model of the layout of the ancient dwellings – the model he uses to determine which part of the area the tribe should dig in next. Some of the places are gone already; those to one side have now been buried by the ice. The ice surge this coming winter will probably cover and obliterate the Mystery for ever.
Not only that, but the tribe is drifting apart. His two eldest sons, Hrut and Gultha, detest one another, both wanting to lead the tribe once he has gone. No amount of training will persuade them that it will be in the interest of all if they compromise. His death will be a sad blow for the tribe, and for all the other tribes in the area that benefited from the trading.
His death comes so suddenly that he has no time to recognize its approach. Hrut, silently behind him, brings down a rounded boulder from the gravel banks upon his head, and instantly obliterates the one force that has lifted the tribe out of the surrounding savagery. The body that once held the last spark of civilization, a throwback to a sophistication that once was, falls limply into the clay plan of the ancient city, crushing the delicate walls and collapsing the whole intricate network.
With a cry of triumph Hrut grabs up the Tool. With this symbol he is now the master.
A shadow appears in the doorway of the shelter. It is Hrut’s brother Gultha. Despite the slowness of his mind he sees instantly what has happened, and growls out a challenge. Hrut swings up the Tool in a wide arc, catching Gultha across the face and neck, and sending him staggering backwards to collapse bleeding on the gravel. He leaps out into the chill blue daylight and chops downwards with the Tool, until he is sure that Gultha is dead.
Then he stops to catch his breath. He is truly the leader now. He shakes the bloodstained trophy in the air in triumph – he has discovered the true function of the Tool.
|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|