1 MILLION YEARS HENCE
HUNTERS AND CARRIERS
The leader starts from his sleep because his carrier is uttering grunts
of alarm. Dawn is almost here, and the sun is already shining on the
highest snow-clad peaks of the range, although the valleys are still
in deep purple shadow. The mountain birds have set up their calling and
the short grass beneath him is damp with dew, but his fine pelt keeps
him from the chill.
ONE MILLION YEARS HENCE
Communication between hunter and carrier has been simplified to a telepathic link – the huge slow-moving tundra-dwellers controlled directly by the weaker but agile-minded hunters. Fights, when they happen, are usually ritual. Death is unexpected.
There is no more food growing here; it has all been cleared
out. The ravaged soil has scraggy shoots sticking out of it, but it will be
a long time before these grow and bear anything worth eating. Dead tree trunks
stand gaunt and stripped, harsh splintery wood, killed by greed — no, not by
greed, by necessity. The leaves had to be taken to feed the aquatics, but now
the trek from the sea to the food is becoming longer and longer.
Ghloob peers through the watery film and the gelatinous envelope over his eyes. This work is dangerous and unpleasant, but the days of easy and pleasant life disappeared long before his birth. It is said that once the sea, their home, supplied all their needs, but then their numbers became too many, and all the food was gone. Famine raged. Whole populations perished and sank into the dark deeps. Sometimes after famine, the fish, krill and plankton would return, but this food source was never enough. As soon as it came back it was exploited and destroyed once more. Nothing can be done about it: if they want to survive they have to eat; if they eat they lose what they have and die.
It is as if there can never be a balance. They live there but they intrude on the natural system of things; and nothing that they do will make it any better.
Now they are exploiting the land as well, thanks to the algal mats that they have developed. Filamentous algae forming a fine mesh, impervious to water but permeable to air, can be induced to make shapes that will hold water. An aquatic can ascend from the ocean into the harsh sunlight and thin air above, still immersed in seawater, but contained in a flexible gelatinous envelope of algae filaments. Air passing through the envelope keeps the water aerated, and the aquatic neither desiccates nor suffocates, as long as the envelope holds.
Progress has been considerable. When the technique was first developed the envelope had to be spherical, holding a vast quantity of water. The adventurous aquatic moved along in this, rolling the squashy sphere around him, a cumbersome process. Now, and Ghloob cannot remember when it was otherwise, the envelope is form-fitting. Only the thinnest of water layers surrounds him and protects him from the harsh world of the outside. Movement is still difficult, though, and always will be. He feels his own weight — an unknown sensation in his natural home - and he must pull his elongated body along the ground with his arms. If he is carrying something, he must wriggle along as best he can. Then he has to take care that the jagged denuded ground does not rip the envelope. No, this is not natural.
ONE MILLION YEARS HENCE
The flexible envelope is made of gelantinous algae filaments and filled with seawater. Its close fit allows more freedom of movement than the earlier bubble.
It has been good enough, though, to allow the aquatics to
exploit all the lands that border the ocean. They sweep them clean of any growing
or living thing, and do not give anything time to regrow. The teeming populations
below the waves cannot wait.
In the distance, glimpsed hazily through the algal membrane, loom shapes that could be trees, or they could just as well be naked rocks. Aquatics had no colour vision built into them when they were engineered, and none has evolved since.
He cannot communicate with his companions, but he hopes that his actions will be clear. He humps his long body, in its glistening envelope, in the direction of the shapes. The three others that are like him turn and follow. The fourth, the one encased in the spherical bubble that looks like one of the originals, is guided along by them. It is he who will enfold and carry home any food that they find.
They are travelling up a slope, which is not good. Distance from the sea is one thing, but height above its surface is another matter altogether. The aquatics live happily with the pressures experienced in the top layers of the ocean, but they are under considerable strain when exposed to the reduced pressures above the surface. To go any higher would produce all sorts of unwelcome effects in their tissues. An abrupt contour line, above which vegetation grows freely in many parts of the world, marks the limit of aquatic exploitation.
Beyond this contour line live the land people – strange beings who neither understand nor tolerate the aquatics.
There are the tree-dwellers, of whom the aquatics know little. They keep themselves in the branches away above. Aquatics rarely look upwards (it is difficult for them to do so), and so these beings are rarely seen.
Then there are the ground-dwellers. Savage and hostile, they feed in the undergrowth and the long-growing vegetation – the very materials that the aquatics harvest. Gangs of them have been known to burst out of hiding and set themselves upon harvesting groups, tearing at their protective membranes with claws and teeth, and sometimes inflicting some damage.
There is also the massive compound being, a huge basic creature, bloated and misshapen, lumbering through the forests with four or five spindly little figures attached to it, embedded in it, seeming to live off its flesh. These beings cause no trouble; in fact, they sometimes blunder out into harvesting parties where they are particularly vulnerable. In the open they are easily brought down and the moving reef of flesh can be killed by blows from an agile aquatic or drowned by being dragged within a membrane. The small attached creatures – tiny wizened bodies with spindly crablike legs and enormous mouths – become strangely pathetic without their mount and scuttle clumsily for cover. There is good eating on the fat creature and it is always borne back to the sea as a prize.
Finally there are the fighters, which are a menace, because they seem quite at home on the devastated areas left behind after harvesting. Their home is in the drier parts of the landmasses, where little grows anyway. They are organized, and many dozen can attack at once, moving as a single entity as if controlled by a single mind. Their forelimbs are cruel cutting weapons that can slice through a living membrane with a blow and kill the aquatic inside, so this time it is the aquatics who are the prey and their wet dead bodies are dragged away to the fighters’ citadels. Of late, the attacks have been so organized that it is evident that the skirmishes are no longer defensive. Parties sally out with the firm intention of capturing and killing the harvesting aquatics. These beings must be left alone, and their domains avoided at any cost.
The shapes prove to be trees after all, but the undergrowth beneath them is patchy, curled and dead. Since the area down to the ocean has been devastated and left open to the sky, the air moving off the sea has swept in through the branches and between the trunks, drying up and battering the fragile stems and shrivelling up the leaves. Loose sand and dust from the bare lands has gusted in, suffocating the more delicate types. There is little to be harvested here, but what there is must be taken.
Ghloob and his companions reach out their hands through the membranes and snatch up whatever is growing. Anything that is organic, and contains proteins and carbohydrates, can be used as the basis for food, however tough, however unpalatable. Bundles of leaves, stems, sticks, insects, slugs – anything – are caught up and passed into the sphere of the gathering aquatic. Small punctures in the membranes, like those caused when hands pass through, seal up immediately and there is little or no moisture loss.
Before long the cache within the spherical bubble has become quite large; large enough to take back. The five of them turn to make their laborious way back to their ocean home, glistening welcomingly away on the horizon.
No sooner have they left the shade of the dying trees, and begun their long slow descent, than Ghloob sees something at the periphery of his vision, something moving.
Slowly he turns his head. Ground-dwellers! A whole pack of them! They are running towards the aquatics, waving sticks of some kind. His companions see the danger at the same time, and try to move more quickly. However, their laborious humping motion is not conducive to haste, and anyway they cannot move faster than the spherical bubble containing their harvest - the only reason they are here in this hostile environment in the first place. The ground-dwellers quickly surround them, and as their hazy shapes appear before him Ghloob notices something different about them. They are each carrying something: something like a blade at the end of a stick.
Ghloob has not much time to notice anything else, as he ducks out of the way to avoid them, but after heaving himself along the ground for some distance he turns to look back. The ground-dwellers have all set upon one of his companions. They have plunged their weapons into his membrane and are pulling it apart. With two creatures pulling in different directions this turns out to be very easy, and the membrane collapses in a gush of water leaving the stranded aquatic gasping in the circle of wet mud.
Ghloob and the others crawl frantically away, towards the tempting but distant sea, panic rising within them; with good reason, for the party of ground-dwellers leave the dying aquatic and come running after the straggler of the group and fling themselves upon him. Ghloob does not stay to watch this time, but keeps wriggling.
With every jump and jerk he expects to be attacked from behind, and his membrane torn away from him. The waves of the ocean come closer and closer, but agonizingly slowly. Will he make it before they catch him? He tries not to think about it, and keeps going.
With an intense feeling of joy he feels the pressure of the first wave close around him. He is safe, and at last he can look around. The bubble with one of his companions and the gathered food has reached the sea. The food is also safe, but at what cost? Three companions are lost - punctured, dehydrated and slaughtered on the distant dusty dryness.
The ground-dwellers have never fought like this before. Perhaps the aquatic harvesting has had such an effect on their lifestyle that they have had to adopt these extreme measures to fight back. Maybe the conflict and strife have forced them to find new ways of living and organizing themselves just to survive.
Ghloob’s algal envelope dissipates now that he is fully submerged, and with graceful movements he descends the sloping seabed until he is below the push and pull of the waves, and home. Now he has time to ponder. Is this organization and use of weapons by the ground-dwellers to be a feature of all such attacks in the future? Has the aquatics’ exploitation of the land made even that more hazardous? Is there nothing that they can do to feed their people without making things worse and worse and worse, and destroying everything that they have? Is this to be the continuing fate of intelligent life above and below the water?
|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|