5000 YEARS HENCE
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.
A few of the swiftest woodland-dwellers have adapted to life in the tundra.
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.
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
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.
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.
|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|