Dougal Dixon "Man after man. An anthropology of the future" 500,000 years hence
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500,000 YEARS HENCE

STRINGS OF SOCIALS


A string of figures winds rapidly through the arid scrub, kicking up clouds of dust from the red powdery soil. The sun is rising to the height of its heat, and soon the open semi-desert will be no place for any living thing. Despite their dark skins, and the protective covering of hair over their heads and backs, the socials would not be able to tolerate the shrivelling temperatures of midday. That is no problem, since at their speed the string will reach the Home before the conditions become too bad.
The spine of the string consists of about 30 youngsters, each carrying his or her allocated load of roots and tubers in woven bags. Moving parallel to them on both sides are about a dozen mature males, their sensitive eyes and ears scanning the red and grey landscape for potential enemies, their elbows bent and their huge bladed hands dangling in front of them ready for the defence of the string.

The socials evolved from the earlier plains-dwellers, the adult males are warriors and hunters.
The juveniles of Alvearanthropus desertus do most of the food-gathering.

At the tail of the string two of the young gatherers are carrying a living creature between them. It is somewhat like one of the socials but smaller, and it does not have the long legs that allow the string to move so quickly. The two socials that carry it have interlocked their arms to form a kind of seat, and on this the creature perches with its arms around the necks of its supports. They treat this creature with care: it is their seeker.
Without a seeker the semi-desert would not yield up its tubers and roots, and its water deposits would remain hidden. Socials would use up their energy and time roaming the vast wastes in random attempts to find new food supplies. The seekers, although they are not part of the socials’ family and lead their own lives within the Home, are a valuable part of the community.
The stringmaster pauses. There is something not quite right about the landscape ahead of them. He barks a single word and the whole string stops instinctively. They all drop down behind the scrubby bushes, to become invisible, but the cloud of their dust remains over their heads like a flag.
It is another gathering string, one from another community, encroaching on neighbouring gathering land.
With a few quietly grunted words, the stringmaster commands the young gatherers into a tight huddle, surrounded by about half of the fighting males, while the rest of the males spread out in a defensive arc facing the interlopers.
They need not have troubled with the stealth. The interlopers know they are there and are approaching in a determined advance, eschewing any cover. The stringmaster views the approach in dismay. This is no gathering string that has lost its way. It is a band of warrior males, without a juvenile gatherer or a seeker amongst them.
No further need for camouflage. The stringmaster barks orders that jab his own warriors into action. Up they leap from their cover and flail into the oncoming party. Instantly the stringmaster sees that his own fighters are outnumbered by about three to one, and so he calls forward those that are guarding the gatherers and their burdens. As for himself, he steps back out of the way of the fighting. He is too valuable to be wasted in the thick of the bloodshed.
They are still outnumbered but they fight on, kicking out with their elongated legs and feet, hacking downwards and sideways with the cutting blades of their hands, poking and gouging with their long fingers. The gristly hand-blades, originally designed to cut grass, can now shear through flesh and smash bone, and these are the main weapons of both sides. Severed limbs and heads lie in the dust, still pumping blood, as the defenders are forced back to the knot of helpless gatherers.

The females are confined to the community, looking after the young and the breeding mother.

Only one female breeds at a time. The rest of the community revolves around her breeding cycle.

 

The hand-blades, originally developed to cut down thick grasses, have evolved as weapons making Alvearanthropus desertus a dangerous foe. When socials fight, it is to defend territory.

500,000 YEARS HENCE

SOCIALS

Alvearanthropus desertus

Strictly-regulated and disciplined, social living produces a stable and efficient society essential for surviving in the more inhospitable places on the Earth’s surface. However, genetic aberration occasionally produces individuals whose responses are not standard, and these introduce an element of chaos into the tightly-structured existence of such communities. Within the society, responses to danger are consistent and predictable – as are responses to any other stimuli. Functions are hierarchical and rigidly defined.

The last warrior to fall is the stringmaster himself. He is happy to give his life for the defence of the string; less happy that it has been in vain and the string is lost. His last regret is that he will now never have the chance to mate with the mother.
After the defending warriors, the gatherers are easily slaughtered. Soon there is nothing left of the original string but the seeker, who stands unmoved by the carnage. The interloper’s stringmaster addresses it and it agrees to lead them to its own Home. After all, it is a seeker. Seekers obey socials, whatever their Home.
The attacking stringmaster dispatches two of his warriors back to their own Home to summon young gatherers to take back the booty – warriors do not carry. He assigns about a third of his men to guard it where it lies. Then he organizes the remainder into a raiding string and has the seeker lead them towards the Home of their enemies. This string must move slowly, since the seeker cannot run as fast as the socials, and it cannot now be carried. Warriors do not carry.
Towards the blaze of noon, the bulk of the Home appears on the horizon. From a distance it would be unnoticeable. All that can be seen is a pair of ventilation chimneys that look just like the solid pointed towers of the beautiful and sacred insects that inhabit the entire region. The Home itself is in a hollow, an impenetrable fortress. Smooth walls, with no hand- or footholds, red and hard as bone, curve upwards enclosing the entire colony in an impregnable dome, the shape of a tuber. Only the two tall chimneys at the top break the symmetry. Near the top a crack in the structure is being repaired by a small group of gatherers, moist red clay being kneaded and pressed into the damaged area. In this vast structure are the mother, the infants, the juvenile gatherers, the female nurses, an unknown number of male warriors, old male drones, a ghetto of seekers and, most important for the raiders, the foodstores that would sustain them all.
The raiding stringmaster, having hidden his warriors and crept as close as he dares, peers over the rise of the land not far from the Home. It is as well guarded as his own. Each of the ground-level entrances is guarded by several warriors, and most likely many more warriors are housed in chambers close to the entrances. Breaking in is going to be difficult.
The vague stirrings of an idea occur to him. He often has ideas. Even when he was a mere gatherer he did, but it was difficult to work on them then, when everything that he did was prescribed, regimented and expected of him. Likewise, when he had grown to a warrior and his female siblings had gone to be nurses those ideas came to him. Only in the heat of battle, when an individual could act on his own initiative for the good of the Home, could any of them come to fruition. Most of the time events showed that his ideas had been justified. That is why he is now a stringmaster. This idea, however, is something quite novel – disturbingly so.
Stealthily he makes his way back to his warriors and the captured seeker. With much difficulty, through the few words they possess, he gives the seeker his instructions. The seeker is puzzled. It takes a long time to convince him of what is required, as this is something new to him as well. Eventually he seems to understand and goes off towards the Home.
The guardian warriors at one of the entrances start into attentiveness as they see the lone seeker scrambling down the dusty slope towards them. They demand to know what he is doing. Dutifully the seeker states that the string is under attack, not far away, in the direction from which he has come. When he is asked for more details, however, he is blocked. He was not told to report anything more. As these warriors ask him questions he becomes more and more confused. The answers he should give are in conflict with the statement he was told to make. He was given orders by socials. Now he is asked questions by socials that would confuse the first orders. He throws his arms over his head and collapses to the ground. He cannot understand what is happening.
Nor can the defending warriors. What they have understood is the report that one of their strings is under attack. They rouse the other warriors of the Home and form themselves into a fighting string, running out in the direction indicated by the gibbering seeker.
Once they have gone and things are quiet, the raiding stringmaster brings his warriors stealthily from the other direction to the abandoned entrance. He picks up the cowering seeker and shakes him back into attention. Then, preceded by the seeker, the raiding party enters the Home.
There are still warriors in the chamber behind the entrance, but these are soon silenced, and the raiders make their way into the interior. Pushing the unhappy seeker before him, the stringmaster and his warriors penetrate deeper and deeper into the Home. The air becomes heavier and stuffier. This is to be expected. As the females grow to be nurses and, in a few instances, mothers, they spend their time deep in the airless tunnels and chambers. Their metabolism slows, allowing them to consume less air and less food, and devote their lives to feeding mother and infants.
The seeker dodges out of the passage and into a side chamber, illuminated by a dusty shaft of light slanting through a hole in the outside wall. A great commotion arises. This is part of the seekers’ own quarters, a rambling disorganized muddle of chambers and passages within the walls of the Home, a place of chaos and random life where these low creatures mate and play at will, fed and cleaned constantly by the Home’s nurses. The seekers, despite their disgusting habits and lifestyles, are essential to the life of the Home.
The dark bobbing shapes of his companions welcome him back but are then thrown into consternation by the appearance of strange warriors behind him. A nurse, bringing the seekers their daily ration of food, is shocked into immobility and stares stupidly at the raiders. A bowl of chewed roots and flattened insects falls from her long hands. They kill her immediately but leave the seekers alone. The captured seeker has now collapsed in terror and confusion amongst his companions and will obviously be of no further use. The stringmaster and his men push onwards and downwards, feeling their way in the darkness now. Occasionally they come across the soft slow body of a nurse, or the active one of a juvenile, and these they kill without hesitation. Those that are nimble enough to escape are ignored. The raiders are after more important prey.
Eventually, in the dimly-lit chamber beneath one of the ventilation chimneys, they find her: enormous and reclining, fat with obesity and pregnancy, her hairless skin over folds of fat glistening dimly in the gloom - the mother.
Around her move a dozen pale nurses carrying in food and taking away waste. Slow drones, their weapon hands hanging long unused by their sides, stare stupidly at the intrusion. All cluster around the mother in a vain attempt at protection.
The raiders move in. The nurses put up no fight at all, but the drones, remembering their glorious days as warriors, make a token struggle – and perish. At last the prize is won. In the dimness the mother pathetically tries to pull her great bulk away, on her stunted legs and wizened arms. She lets out a plaintive wail as the raiders fall upon her, and she dies under their hacking hands.
Not long afterwards, the mother’s body hangs head-down from the partly-repaired crack on the outer wall of the Home. The stringmaster stands in triumph above it. All the fighting is done now. The returning strings of defending warriors, those that had been lured from the Home by false information, are totally demoralized by the sight. Their tightly coordinated groups break up and scatter, and the individuals wander off into the arid landscape, inevitably to die.
The Home is the stringmaster’s now. Normally he would send messengers to their own Home, and they would return with gatherers who would strip the captured place bare and carry all the food and the seekers back to their own, thus expanding their hunting territory.
This time, though, he is going to do something different. This whole incident has been different so far. There has never been a Home won over by using deceit, a totally alien concept amongst the socials. Their language is simple, but it has always allowed for individuals to express themselves, for stringmasters to communicate orders to warriors and seekers, and for gatherers to describe the whereabouts of food supplies and their dimensions. This is the first time that their language has been used in a deliberate way to deceive. It is indeed a new and useful development, showing great promise for the future.
The other difference in this campaign is that this Home is not going to be destroyed. There will still be young nurses cowering in the tunnels and warrens below, one of which he will make the new mother. The other nurses and the few juvenile gatherers that are left will naturally be loyal to her, and his warriors will remain loyal to him, or he hopes that they will until he can raise new ones of his own. He will send deceitful word to his former Home that his own string has been wiped out, so he will not be missed.
For the first time a new Home will be established, not by a mating pair cast out of a single Home, but by uniting two strong Homes, drawing on the strengths of each.

BOATBUILDERS


The working of metals had been a forgotten art; but then it was remembered – and forbidden. The making of boats had likewise been forgotten and then remembered and had likewise been forbidden.
Now those who have dared to practise these skills are dispossessed. The boats they made carry them to safety, away from the anger of the remainder of their people.
The boats are sturdily-built, of planks cut by metal tools and pinned together with wooden pegs. Someday they will be able to build them of metal – if this is permitted. For now the five boats are carrying the 43 individuals who represent the only group of beings in the world with the courage to use the remembered knowledge of their ancestors. The woven sails bulge with the wind that they know will carry them to the islands in the warmer regions of the globe.

500,000 YEARS HENCE

BOAT PEOPLE

Homo mensproavodorum

The inherited skills that began with the making of fire threw up the memory of boatbuilding. With the forbidden memory came an instinctive drive to use it. Descendents of the memory people, the boatbuilders can now travel freely to colonize habitats not their own. Sharp teeth and hooked claws are their natural weapons, but with the discovery of metal comes the blade.

The aquatics have devised a method of returning briefly to the land, carrying their own saltwater environment within a tough sphere of gel. Faced with enemies, they are slow and vulnerable.

It is not that they lack the conscience and moral terror of the rest of their people, just that they feel strong enough to overcome any danger. They know, deep inside them, that the knowledge their ancestors gained, generation by generation, eventually destroyed them. They know that their ancestors made things, that they took power from the sun and the sea, from the ancient concentrated remains of life, from the breakdown of the very forces that held matter together. With this power they took metals, food and other materials from the solid Earth and from the living creatures that existed on it. They were able to increase their life spans, eradicate the diseases and accidents that held populations in check, and spread over the whole surface of the Earth. Eventually the Earth had become too crowded and burdened to carry them, and they perished under the weight of their own technical cleverness. All this they remembered, although they hardly understood it; but the inherited memory of the loss of everything that their ancestors had achieved was enough to forbid the use of the inherited memory of the means of achieving it.
All abided by this, except for the boatbuilders, who continually flouted their people’s taboo on using their ancestors’ knowledge, and were persecuted for it. They fought back with blades, but the overwhelming hostility had driven them away from their fertile homeland. Now they are on the run, but it may not be for long. Many of their boats have been left behind, and it seems likely that the more zealous of their enemies will come in pursuit. Although boatbuilding is forbidden, sailing them may not be – and everybody shares the memory of how to sail.
What is more, their choice of destination has been made on the basis of inherited memory. Their pursuers, using the same mix of ideas, inspiration and basic knowledge that the inherited memory entails, will come to the same conclusions. There is no such thing as secrecy now.
After many days of steady winds, the fugitives see the first of the islands. It is as they expect. The first sign is a cloud on the horizon; blue hills appear next, then the green of lowland vegetation, and finally the white streak of beach. All is as predicted – except for the bubbles.
Several shining bouncing globes are moving up the beach. The puzzlement that they produce in the boatbuilders is short-lived, however, as the boats are caught in the rising swell of the shallowing sea. The waves that have pulsed unnoticed across the open ocean are now funnelled and magnified as the seabed shallows, building up into steep walls of green water that curl over and crash into an oblivion of sparkling white spray and surge, hissing up the hot sandy beach. In this turmoil the boats heave upwards, dive into the hollows and are flung towards the land. As the prows crunch into the beach, the boatbuilders jump out, splashing ankle-deep in foam and sand, and drag their vessels to safety. Then, when all are safely ashore, they collapse onto the beach in joy and exhaustion. Although the voyage was completely predictable, because of their common memory, they have been very uneasy during their days at sea. That was not their environment at all.
One of their females notices it first: the huge translucent sphere beneath a sagging palm tree at the head of the beach. They had all seen the bubbles from the sea, but had ignored and then forgotten them. It was always the way that the inherited memory was more powerful than that developed by the individual. In size, the sphere could probably be encompassed by the outstretched arms of three people. It is shiny with a greenish tinge, and its base is spread and flattened by its own weight. Its outer covering seems flexible and the whole thing wobbles as it rolls slowly down the beach towards them. Sand adheres to its outside as it moves, but dries and drops away very quickly.
The female who first saw it stands and watches it roll right up to her. All watch, to see what happens next. Inherited memory cannot guide them now. Before there is time for reaction, a silvery arm shoots out of the side of the sphere, seizes her hand and tugs it inside. Then it starts rolling towards the water’s edge, dragging the surprised female with it. When she realizes what is happening she begins to scream, but she and the sphere disappear beneath the surf before anyone can do anything about it.
The travellers stare after her, stupidly. Then several more of the spheres appear at the head of the beach. They do not seem intent on attack – they roll towards the sea, avoiding the party. Anger, an emotion not often felt by the boatbuilders, surges to the surface, like one of the bursting waves, and as one they launch themselves in a revenge attack at the nearest sphere. Surrounded, the sphere cannot move, but it seems to waver, this way and that, to try to break free. Its surface is yielding but too tough to be penetrable. Blows and punches are absorbed and bounce right back. Then one of the boatbuilders brings a blade from the boat and plunges it into the glistening surface.
The sphere bursts, and a rush of salty water gushes over the attackers and sinks into the dry sand. The punctured surface has collapsed into slimy gel, releasing seawater. In the middle of the stain lies a strange creature, gasping.
Like them it has a black skin, but the skin is completely smooth and hairless. The head is like that of a fish, with big eyes that do not seem to be functioning in air. The mouth is huge and gaping. No neck separates the bulbous head from the streamlined body. Gills on the chest flap ineffectively, and the body narrows to a paddled tail. It is the arms, however, that are most remarkable: they are human arms, complete with hands and fingers. The thing flaps about on the beach pathetically as it slowly dies of suffocation.
The sea creature has devised some means of coming onto land and bringing its own environment with it. If these islands are now the domain of these creatures it is going to be difficult to settle here, for they have proved to be undeniably hostile.
Moreover, what will happen when the boatbuilders’ pursuers arrive?


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