Dougal Dixon "Man after man. An anthropology of the future" 5000 years hence
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5000 YEARS HENCE

TRANCER’S ESCAPE


He will be known as Trancer. He really has no name, since neither he nor his people have sophisticated speech, and so cannot think of themselves or of each other in terms of words. They have, however, a deep commitment and affection for members of their own group. Co-operation is necessary in the bleak mid-latitude tundra and coniferous forest where they live. To the north lie the snows and glaciers of the vast icecap; to the south, beyond the narrow belt of conifers, lies the vast sweep of cold steppe. There may be more habitable places beyond the chill grasslands, but they are too far away to contemplate.
The gnawing cold of winter is reaching downwards again, and the store of food that they have gathered this year is not very big. It will be difficult to feed all 20 of the group all through the winter, and impossible if they are raided by others.
Trancer is weary of fighting. Half of the food store in the shelter was gained by stealing from the other groups of the forest. This should not be. There should be plenty of food for everybody, and if there is not it should be shared equally. Certainly Trancer would be willing to share the mound of seed-cones that he is now carrying back to the shelter.
His weariness is temporarily overcome by a vague sense of achievement, as he is now carrying more cones than he has ever been able to before. He found the sloughed bark of a dying tree, and he kept piling cones onto it until it could hold no more. Then he carefully lifted it from the ground, and is now carrying the find, and the food, back to the shelter. If he had been using a thing like this all summer the whole group would have been able to gather much more food.
He breasts the edge of the narrow gully where the shelter is built, and begins to descend the slope carefully. Between the straight trunks of the trees the soil is loose - a yellow fragrant crust of decaying needle leaves and a rich black soil beneath. The shelter is a tightly-woven hood of sticks and branches, covered with a cosy layer of soil and needles. It is built half-way up the slope that faces the sun, so that it will be warmed by the earliest rays of next season, and yet is far enough above the floor of the gully to avoid the bitter frosts of the hollows. These hints for survival have been passed on by example from one generation to another.
Strong smells of crushed needles stop Trancer in his tracks. There is something wrong! He drops his load of cones and finds the shelter of an isolated bramble bush. Dimly, far along the slope, he can see a dozen figures heading silently towards the shelter. They are not his own people. It can only be a raiding party.
Trancer leaps from cover and runs down the cascading stream of soil and needles towards the shelter. He shouts to break up the raiders’ stealth, causing the surprised faces of his group to appear at the entrance. Then, at the edge of his vision, he sees that the approaching party has abandoned its silence and burst out into a full-force attack.
The males of his group rush out of the entrance to defend the shelter, and Trancer turns to join them. Then he sees that the raiders are much more numerous than he had thought, and realizes that his little group is not going to stand much of a chance.
Wearily he steps back from the front line. He is not going to fight. He has had enough. He retreats into a corner of the shelter, closes his eyes tightly and curls himself up into a compact ball. With all his mind he wishes that this were over, that all the fighting were done and that the raiders had gone away. He wishes. He wishes!
He opens his eyes to a dark silence. Nothing is moving anywhere, and there is the unmistakable stench of death about him. His head aches, he is cold and, as he stretches from his cramped position, he finds himself to be unbelievably stiff. What has happened?
Slowly he crawls to the jagged shape of lightness that is the entrance to the shelter. Day is just dawning. He must have been asleep! In the midst of a battle! This could not have been an ordinary slumber.
As the sky lightens, he is able to take in what he sees about him. The raiders have left his tribe all dead; the bodies of his family are scattered limply around. They must have ignored him, thinking him dead as well. He does not look at the food store. He knows that it will have gone. He cannot possibly survive the winter now.
Then he looks closer at the bodies of his family. The spilled blood is dried to blackness, the faces are blue and sunken, the eyes have been taken by birds. These people have been dead for days!
He has been asleep for days! How can this be?
For the next few days and nights he can think of nothing else. His last recollection of the battle was of himself curling in a corner and wishing that it were all past. Now suddenly it is all past, as if he had wished himself into a temporary death to avoid danger.
If he can do that to avoid permanent death in a battle, could he also do it to avoid death by cold and starvation through a harsh winter?
It is worth a try. Best thing is to eat as much food as he can now – presumably his body will still need it while he is ‘asleep’, even though it will use it more slowly. Then he will have to find a comfortable sheltered place and wish that winter were all over.
He hopes that it will be as easy as that. It is his only chance of seeing the winter through until the warm growing times return.

A few of the swiftest woodland-dwellers have adapted to life in the tundra.

SNATCH AND THE TUNDRA-DWELLER


This one will be referred to as Snatch. In shape, he is much like the generalized dim-witted temperate forest-dwellers generated in the laboratories of the now extinct genetic engineers 3000 years ago. He has the long body with the complex digestive system that allows him to eat almost anything, from leaves to grubs. His arms and fingers are long and nimble, but his legs are quite short – they were meant for pushing through thicket and undergrowth and for climbing the thick trunks of the deciduous trees, not for striding across the wobbly peat bogs and sharp grasses of the open tundra. Nevertheless the quickness of his actions has enabled him, and a few like him, to live on in his original area despite the fact that the landscape has changed from mixed woodland, through coniferous forest, to chill tundra bleakness in a few thousand years. Now an icecap sparkles on the northern horizon, where there was once the luxuriant green of forest in the time of his great-great-great grandfather. The standing waters of the peat bogs attract huge flocks of ducks and other birds for most of the year, and Snatch has become adept at catching these. By floating variously-shaped bits of wood on the surface of a pond he can entice the birds to land there. Then, when they are settled, he darts out of the concealing reed beds and grabs one before it can fly off.
This time the weather has caught him out. The water of the lake is too cold for a long-term immersion, and the birds have not been coming. The sun is going down and the sky is about to turn to the misty purple he usually sees when he is almost back amongst his tribe; but this evening his tribe is a long, long way away.
Yet still he remains, reluctant to return empty-handed.
Over on the other side of the lake forages one of the tundra-dwellers, which also seems to be separated from its group. Its compact appearance, with its furry rolls of fat and its short arms and thick legs, makes it look as if it belongs in the landscape. It seems to be at home here, while Snatch, with his long limbs, does not. The two beings ignore one another. Their differing lifestyles do not put them in conflict, yet it seems to Snatch that the tundra-dweller should resent him, for being somewhere he does not belong; but he does not think about it too much. All he hopes for at the moment is that the other creature’s movements do not interfere with his hunt.
Then, with a comical quacking noise, half-a-dozen birds settle on the still water, breaking up the reflection of the cold empty sky. Now Snatch squats into his hiding place amongst the fluffy heads of the grass, waiting for his chance.
It is a long time before any of the birds paddle close enough for an attack, but eventually they drift over towards his side of the lake. With a single dive, he throws himself out from the bank, his long arms and delicate fingers shooting out towards his prey. Startled ducks leap straight upwards from the water, flapping towards the sky and safety. One is too slow. The long fingers close around a webbed foot, and with a flurry of feathers it is dragged back as Snatch’s body splashes downwards into the chill waters of the lake.
The numbing impact of the icy water cannot subdue Snatch’s yell of triumph as he leaps out of the lake with his prize. Yet, before he has wrung the bird’s neck, the chill has crept from his skin, through his flesh and to his bones. His newly-caught meat will be of no use to him if he freezes to death.
He rips the head off the bird, tears away the crop, and plunges his numbed fingers into the warmth of the carcass. It is not enough. He must find more body heat somewhere.
There is only one other big living thing nearby.
The tundra-dweller stands, still as a dead tree, watching all this with a dim curiosity. It shows no fear as Snatch approaches it carefully. Why should it? Tundra-dwellers have no natural enemies out here on the tundra, and no capacity for fear was ever designed into them by the genetic engineers all those millennia ago. For Snatch, there is a problem. How does he kill a big creature like this? His hands have only dealt with small mammals and birds up to now. The face, with the tiny eyes and broad nostrils, stares at him from within the frame of its voluminous neck ruff. There is no expression, and the creature does not flinch as Snatch drops his bird and throws himself at it, groping for a soft or vulnerable spot on its broad chest or its thick neck. Everywhere his fingers find tightly-matted hair and yielding blubber – nothing to hold or tear. Then, slowly, the great body leans over him and goes down onto its knees, pinning him to the springy vegetation. Snatch panics, and writhes and twists to pull himself out from under the mass of bouncing fat, but he is trapped. He can do nothing now but wait for the great creature to kill him.
After a while Snatch realizes that he is not dead. The tundra-dweller has not tried to kill him – it is just ignoring him. It went down onto the ground to reach Snatch’s dropped bird, and is now eating it. Snatch was trapped by accident.
Night is falling, and it is warm in the folds of furry fat. As long as the tundra-dweller remains where it is, Snatch will survive; so he is quite happy to let it have his catch, in return for this life-saving imprisonment.

HRUSHA’S MEMORY


That way lies the end of the blizzard and the howling white blankness. Somewhere in that direction is the secluded dell of gentle green woodland, full of berries and nuts, with misty shafts of bright sunlight slanting through the leaves, bringing dappled patches of warmth, and the relaxed noises of chattering, twittering birds heard over the gurgling of a little brook as it splashes over the moss-covered rocks.
How does Hrusha know that? She has never been here before. She has never even seen a gentle green woodland, would not recognize berries and nuts for what they were, and would be alarmed at the strange noises of twittering birds. Yet somehow she knows that these things are to be found in the direction in which she is walking.
Her colony by the seashore is starving. The colder weather this year has meant that fewer fish have come to the beaches, and fewer herbs are growing along the spume-blown shingle that separates the grey ocean from the white of the icecap. Others have travelled out from the colony both ways along the coast, to try to find new sources of food; but few have returned, and those who did come back reported no success.

5000 YEARS HENCE

MEMORY PEOPLE

Homo mensproavodorum

As the genetic engineers have long gone, there can be no further artificial changes. When climates and conditions shift, altering habitats, the inhabitants must normally adapt or evolve to survive. But the woodland-dwellers have a different option.

A genetically-manipulated but latent ability to recall the long-term past is forced to the surface by climatic extremes. A group of Homo virgultis fabricatus become the memory people.

Now Hrusha and her mate Vass have tried going inland instead: a bold and dangerous choice, and one that Vass is constantly regretting. Inland is nothing but snow and ice.
As they trudge onwards the blizzard develops, intensifies and turns everything to a featureless whiteness. Their vision is blocked by the relentless glare, their hearing muffled by the unchanging howl of the wind, and their sense of touch numbed by the cold.
Suddenly, with her normal senses dulled by the disorientating surge of the blizzard, Hrusha remembers something that she could not possibly have experienced, and with excited gestures urges Vass to follow her. This is too much for her mate, who turns and tries to find their tracks, hoping to follow them and make his own way back to the coast.
Acting on the hunch that is stronger than her mating bond, she trudges in the direction her senses dictate, deeper and deeper into the blasting, blinding blizzard, and suddenly the snow gives way beneath her. She falls, tumbling with the snowy lumps, and ends up face down in a shallow drift. As she struggles free she finds that the wind has dropped, and she is lying in a sheltered ice-free valley. Dark rocks jut from black frozen soil, and an ice-bound stream winds along the valley floor. The most remarkable features of the landscape, though, are the hulks of dead trees, standing black and branchless, frozen and upright, where they died of cold an unimaginable time ago.
This is the green and leafy dell that she remembers, but changed by time and creeping coldness. How can she remember this, when the trees she sees around her have obviously been dead since the time of her father’s father’s father’s father? Could that be it? Could the landscape have been seen by one of her fathers? Could the memory have been passed on to her, like her distinctive hair and eyes? As far as she knows, none of the others of the colony have had that experience before. Certainly her mate Vass has not.
She settles by the frozen stream, smashes the thin covering of ice, and drinks from the cold water beneath. Surely this experience could be useful. Surely she must be able to remember other things that her ancestors saw and knew – things that would help the colony in its time of trouble. She must think.
Where is there food?
Where the stream comes out, comes the answer, in a lake full of fish, a lake that never freezes over even in the harshest of winters. She remembers that now.
Weary from her journey, but now filled with hope, Hrusha rises and walks heavily down the frozen soil of the valley following the winding stream between the dark rocky banks. Eventually the valley gives out and a plain stretches out before her. The blizzard has abated and she can now see for some distance. In the middle of the plain is a white expanse of perfectly flat snow that can only be the lake. It is frozen now, but the ice is quite thin, and it seems very likely that fish still live in there.
That is what the colony needs to know. She turns to retrace her journey to the coast, and there in the distance she sees a figure coming towards her, a figure she seems to recognize. It is not Vass, is it? No. Vass does not have the knowledge that brought her here. It must be someone else who can remember this place from long before they were born. Someone else who has the ability – an ability forced to the surface by the jeopardy of the colony. The figure is closer now, and she sees that it is Kroff, the son of her cousin, a person she has always ignored since the two of them have never had anything in common.
That must change now. If Kroff has the knowledge, then he is a far more suitable mate for her than Vass ever was. This needs to be seriously considered.

TROPICAL TREE-DWELLERS


Plenty of fruit is available in the tropical treetops, so there is nothing to worry about here. Like the extinct monkeys and apes, the tree-dweller (he has not the wit to consider himself as an individual let alone as a being with a name) climbs the vertical trunk through the luminous green of the leafy canopy, and scampers four-footed along a broad bough, forking on to a thinner branch and finally along slender waving twigs to reach the point where the bunches of fruit dangle invitingly. Hanging upside down now, he reaches outwards with his narrow prehensile fingers and delicately prises the bunch free from its stalk. Some fruits drop off, falling with a fading ‘plop, plop’ through the layers of leaves and twigs below, away to the forest depths. These are immediately forgotten, as he has secured enough for his needs.
This is his whole life. It is of no relevance to him that the equatorial tropical forest belt of the Earth is narrower now than it has been at any time within the last million years, that the cooler climates have been encroaching from the north and the south, bringing their windy grasslands and barren deserts with them. The only significance to him is the fact that when he is in the gloom of the lower branches he often sees, on the forest floor, bands of strange creatures moving purposefully in a particular direction. Since he rarely ventures down onto the floor anyway, he just ignores them.
The lost fruits, dented and bruised by their fall through the branches, at last thump softly down into the decaying plant matter of the forest soil. A group of gaunt long-legged plains-dwellers, uneasy and out of place in this strange environment, but driven from their grasslands by increasing cold and ravening packs of wild creatures, starts at the sudden noise. Then, when they see the fruit that has fallen, all four of them pounce upon it, scratching and tearing at one another in their attempts to reach it first.
This drama is completely irrelevant to the tree-dweller. There is always plenty to eat up in the sunny heights and he can leave the lower shades to those strange beings.
It is in the far north and the far south that the ice age is causing its havoc. Fluctuating icesheets and glaciers, together with unstable weather patterns, are forcing highland middle-latitude inhabitants to resort to drastic measures and changes in lifestyle just in order to continue living, and encouraging genetic changes in body and mind that could not have endured if the environment had remained constant and unchanging. Here, in the tropical forest, however, things have not altered for thousands of years. The tree-dwellers have a constant supply of fruit and insects in their leafy canopies, so there is no need for them to move to new areas or to change in any way.


CONTENTS

FOREWORD by Brian Aldiss 8
INTRODUCTION – EVOLUTION AND MAN 11
Genetic engineering 12
   

PART ONE:

 
IN THE BEGINNING 16
The Human Story So Far 16
8 MILLION YEARS AGO
16
3 MILLION YEARS AGO
16
2.5 MILLION YEARS AGO
16
1.5 MILLION YEARS AGO
17
500,000 YEARS AGO
17
15,000 YEARS AGO
17
5000 YEARS AGO
18
2000 YEARS AGO
18
1000 YEARS AGO
18
500 YEARS AGO
19
100 YEARS AGO 19
   

PART TWO:

 
MAN AFTER MAN 22
200 YEARS HENCE
Piccarblick the aquamorph
22
Cralym the vacuumorph
24
Jimez Smoot the space traveller
25
Kyshu Kristaan the squatty 29
300 YEARS HENCE
Haron Solto and his mechanical cradle
31
Greerath Hulm and the future
34
Hueh Chuum and his love
35
Aquatics 36
500 YEARS HENCE
Gram the engineered plains-dweller
37
Kule Taaran and the engineered forest-dweller
40
Knut the engineered tundra-dweller
42
Relia Hoolann and cultured cradles
43
Fiffe Floria and the Hitek
43
Carahudru and the woodland-dweller 48
1000 YEARS HENCE
Klimasen and the beginning of change
48
The end of Yamo
49
Weather patterns and the Tics
49
Plains-dwellers
52
Hoot, the temperate woodland-dweller
52
The end of Durian Skeel
53
Aquas 54
2000 YEARS HENCE
Rumm the forest-dweller
56
Larn the plains-dweller
58
Coom’s new friend
60
Yerok and the Tool 61
5000 YEARS HENCE
Trancer’s escape
62
Snatch and the tundra-dweller
63
Hrusha’s memory
64
Tropical tree-dwellers 66
10,000 YEARS HENCE
Symbionts
67
Hibernators
69
Leader of the clan
70
Disappearance of the plains
71
Cave-dwellers 71
50,000 YEARS HENCE
Families of plains-dwellers
72
The advancing desert
73
Islanders
74
Schools of aquatics
75
Melting ice 76
500,000 YEARS HENCE
Strings of socials
78
Boatbuilders 83
1 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Hunters and carriers
87
Aquatic harvesters 90
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Travellers
93
Hivers 96
3 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Fish-eaters
101
Tree-dwellers
106
Antmen
107
Desert-runners
108
Slothmen and spiketooths 111
5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Moving stars 115
Builders 116
Emptiness 123
In the end is the beginning ... 123
   
Further Reading 124
   
Index