2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
The food will be there, and can be taken, as the travellers know. Every
year the enclosures ripen, the planters awake, feed, repair the enclosures
if necessary, plant the new seed and return to their slumbers once more.
The secret is for the travellers to time the journey so as to arrive
before the planters rouse from their long sleep. The planters are supposed
to be a very ancient race, and each one lives for many hundreds of years
– if ‘live’ is the right word. How can you be living if more than nine-tenths
of your time is spent asleep?
The body and limbs of Homo vates, the seeker, have atrophied from lack of use. Telepathic powers have weakened its other senses and removed its need for eyes and ears. The hivers now feed, protect and carry their guides.
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
The travelling party of 15 contemplate this, as they sit in
the cave mouth, watching the rain hurtling down, stirring up the smells of
the forest. This cave, in fact this whole hillside, is unfamiliar to the party.
They have never passed it in previous years, so they must have gone well off
course. It should not be too much of a problem: once the skies clear they can
take their direction from the sun and the stars.
If the skies clear.
Night is falling, and the wet greyness is becoming darker. They are going to have to spend the night here, but at least they have the shelter of the rocky overhang.
When morning comes there are only 12 of them. During the night something has come out of the cave and taken away the other three – something that their communal memory has not anticipated, something with small humanlike feet that have left damp prints on the rock.
The survivors move on. The skies are not clear, but they would rather make a guess about which way to go than stay in this place.
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Alvearanthropus desertus/Homo vates
The seeker is a tiny, wizened object – a degenerate fragment
of its ancestor. It has no need of legs, since it is carried everywhere, and
so it has none. It has no need of arms, since everything is done for it, and
so its arms and hands are atrophied. It needs neither eyes nor ears, since
the only sense it uses is deep down within its head, and has no external organ;
so its eyes and ears are sunken and shrivelled. It is merely a head with a
nose and mouth, and a little body.
It nestles within the huge hands of the bearer - a sterile adult female that has been turned away from life as a nurse and potential queen deep within the hive and kept at the surface as part of the foraging bands.
The adult males, the warriors, have changed little in outward appearance since the hive communities first evolved. If anything, their legs have become longer, enabling them to cross open spaces more quickly and to forage over large areas. Their bodies have become smaller, and have lost their pot-bellied appearance, since the warriors hardly ever eat grass now and have little need of the voluminous intestinal bacteria vats of their ancestors. The cellulose-cracking enzyme produced by the engineered pancreatic gland is still being produced, but not in such quantities as previously. They eye-coverings are dark, shielded from the harsh glare of the sun, and protected against the stinging sand by heavy lids. The nose is bulbous, the internal passages winding between bony panels covered with a damp membrane that moistens and cools the harsh desert air long before it reaches the lungs. A bushy moustache around the nostrils and across the upper lip filters the grit and dust from the breathed air. A smooth hump of fat over the shoulders and neck is established in the wet and abundant season, but this tends to shrivel away when the climates become dry.
The islanders have evolved parasitic feeding habits that rely on the tundra-dweller’s metabolic need to produce surplus fat. In this way, the obese tundra-dwellers have found an ecological niche that allows them to exist now that the tundra plains have disappeared and the mountain tribes failed.
Gone is the tundra-dweller’s thick fur and winter colouring, the need to lose heat means that Penarius pinguis requires direct air to skin contact.
It is mostly in their behaviour that they differ from their
ancestors. Now they have no individuality at all, listening for the few grunts
of command from their leader and obeying blindly. It is not in the interest
of the hive as a whole for anyone to show an individuality, and so it was lost
generations upon generations ago. Now and again, however, it surfaces once
more, and under the influence of these throwbacks hives begin to experiment
with new and different ways of living, which nearly always end in failure.
The progressive hive dies, turns to dust, and the neighbouring hives absorb
As always, the youngsters, male and female, make up the gathering parties, using their big hands to dig in the soil and carry the food that they find. When they come of age, the males develop into warriors, and eventually may become breeders. The females become nurses, with the possibility of becoming queens some day; or else they become bearers, entrusted with the task of satisfying every need of the all-important seekers.
This day is much like any other. The party of gatherers, guided by the seeker and guarded by the warriors, sets out from the hive in the pre-dawn, the coolest time of the day and the best for travel. Behind them, a silhouette against the lightening sky, lies the bulk of the hive; its flat roofs jut out like natural rock formations to produce the shade in the heat of the day, the vertical walls beneath the overhangs form banks of variously-sized openings for access and ventilation, and its many chimneys and breathing funnels point up like fingers and arches against the sky.
Deep below is the maze of passages and chambers dedicated to the housing and comfort of the queen and her young offspring. Here lie the food storage units cooled by the constant circulation and evaporation of water from moist walls. The dampened air is then carried around the hive through the living quarters by an ingenious network of finely-fashioned holes and tunnels, driven by the natural movement of the wind across the external vents. The vapour is eventually recondensed to liquid before the stale air is lost to the outer atmosphere. The water for all this is brought up from the deep wells and waterpits by capillary action through the rocks.
The party, 100 strong, takes its usual route along the undulating foothills, skirting the dreadful slimelands on the right, and the barren rocky uplands on the left. Beyond, the slope widens out into a valley in which water flows for much of the year, and where plants can grow and there are usually tubers or thick roots to be had.
Before their narrow path widens the leader of the party grunts an order to halt. The seeker is agitated, but is not telling them that there is food close by: it is telling them that others approach.
With another grunt the leader calls the warriors together in a protective wall; but they need not have worried. Those who approach pose no threat.
It is full day now, and the party can see five or six shambling creatures moving down the rocky slope towards the slimelands. The bodies are bulky (very bulky for the size of their legs) with thick hummocks and rolls of fat seeming to engulf them. Dull faces look out from the folds of pale flesh. In the dim light, however, the parasites are just visible: tiny and spider-like, four or five of them are embedded in the deep fat of each figure, their faces buried and unseen, feeding continually from the creature’s surplus.
No threat to the hive, and so of no interest to the party; but the leader does recollect that more and more of them are seen nowadays wandering over their domain. They seem to be spreading from the forest areas that are their home. Dimly the leader wonders what they find to eat here, and how they protect themselves from the harsh sun. He does not wonder for long, however. With a backhanded gesture, he brushes the first of the day’s sand out of his moustache and signals for the party to move onwards. Soon he has the party on the move once more and the strangers have been completely forgotten.
Had the party stayed to watch, they would have observed the lumbering creatures scramble down into the flats of the slimelands and wade out amongst the disgusting blue-green sogginess. Dumbly they scoop up handfuls of the slime, exposing the yellow stench beneath, and begin to feed on it. The parasites embedded in their fat ignore all this. The food, be it nuts, leaves or slime, will be converted into huge deposits of fat and tissue that will sustain them.
The parasites and their hosts are not the first communal creature to arise since the days of the engineers, but they are the only surviving type. The symbionts, in which the hunters teamed up with the tundra-dwellers, to live on the cold plains, are extinct now. They took to the mountains after the cold plains faded away, and there they existed for some time; but they were never really developed as mountain creatures, and all kinds of maladaptations began to show themselves. Eventually the populations dwindled and the whole race died out.
That is not the case amongst the parasites and their hosts. The hosts, too, are descended from the tundra-dwellers, but unlike the carriers of the symbionts they changed as the conditions changed. Gone are the woolly coats and the resistance to extreme cold, but they still retain the thick deposits of fat. Indeed their metabolism generates more fat than they could possibly need, and that is what sustains the parasites. The energy and raw materials for all this production comes from the constant consumption of plants - any kind of plants, including the blue-green algal cultures that the aquatics developed as their own food source and spread over the lowland areas of the globe, turning them into the foul slimelands so despised by most of the land-living creatures.
It is not only the hivers that ignore the parasites and their hosts as they wade into the featureless slippery mat. Also ignoring them are the aquatics, not far away, looping and slithering about in the moist yellow depths below the slime crust. They are grazing their way through the algal culture that their ancestors established aeons ago on the lowlands above the surface of the ocean. There is plenty of food for them now, not like in the days of want. They know very well that some creatures from the land come and steal from the edges, but the losses are small. The only trouble is dehydration. If the algal covering is breached there may be a considerable water loss before it has a chance to grow again; but with all the world’s lowlands covered in the self-sustaining food-generator there is little to worry about.
|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|