Dougal Dixon "Man after man. An anthropology of the future" 2 million years hence
Main Site library Forum Guestbook
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE

TRAVELLERS


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?
How did this come about? It probably goes back to the time when the differences between the cold times and the warm times were much greater than they are now. There have always been animals that have hibernated – slowed down their systems and gone to sleep during the coldest time of the year. These creatures usually gather their food and store it, waking up and eating from time to time; or else they eat so much when they are awake that they build up stores of fat that nourish them while they sleep. The planters were once normal, like the travellers, but probably not so intelligent. Back when the ice had just shrivelled up from the continents and the ‘winters’ were still cold, they developed the ability to sleep away the harshest of conditions, and they stored up food as well. Some of the seeds and grains that they stored would have germinated by the time the stores were opened; if the hibernation time were long enough they may even have fruited again. As the centuries and millennia passed, the planters developed the ability to remain suspended until harvest time, when they would come out and eat, plant the next crop and retire again.
The travellers knew that it was possible for such things to happen. Vaguely they remembered the knowledge that their ancestors had possessed, knowledge about changing conditions and changing life.
There must never be any dealings with the planters. The planters build their enclosures, and use the growing vegetation not just for food. They gather their food from where it grows, but also plant it in places that will be more convenient for them to collect it from. They build walls and roofs of stone and wood to protect what they have done, just as their remote ancestors did. It was the beginning of the changes that eventually destroyed everything – the land, the living things, themselves. Now nothing must be altered, nothing must be built, nothing must be changed from its natural state; that is the credo of the travellers.
It is a sign of their strength that they know how to make their life easier, but ignore the knowledge. Any one of them has enough inherited knowledge to dig the burning stones or the naturally-distilled organic fluid from the ground (if indeed there are any deposits of these left) and use their heat to melt down the metal minerals. They could all break down the substances from the rocks and use them for many varied purposes. They know that it is possible to fly to the moon and stars, and they know how to do it; but they will not. They will not call down the destruction once more.
It is not just their memories that impress this credo upon them. Wherever they travel, through the lush forests and woodlands or across the open plains and deserts, they see the dismal results. In a forested valley, where they remember once stood a city, the rocks that outcrop in the slopes of the stream gullies are not natural. They are man-made, sometimes with unnatural angles and faces that have miraculously survived 2 million years of burial. The soil here is stained and streaked with red and green where the vast volumes of metal that went into the artefacts have oxidized away to dust. The area is disgustingly unnatural, and avoided.
Elsewhere lie similar remains that are lethal to any creature that passes close by. Even now, 2 million years later, the technological overproduction of their ancestors has the power to kill. Nothing appears at the surface here, but not far down lies the disintegrated ruin of some vast structure. So great have been the natural forces of erosion and decay that nothing recognizable of the original structure remains even underground, but some of the raw materials still lie there, emitting a deadly force. Anyone crossing this area sickens and dies. The travellers remember that it was something to do with the generation of energy.
This is why the travellers despise the dark-minded creatures, their distant relatives, with whom they share the planet but who do not have the remembered knowledge. These beings, such as the planters, constantly use their minds and their hands to devise and construct artefacts. They are intelligent enough to think out anew the ways of doing things, although they do not remember that these things have been done before. It is as if the whole disease were starting all over again.
Dig a shelter today. Build a house tomorrow. Clear a forest for a city the day after. Choke the landscape with the waste materials the next.
Plant a seed today. Cut down a clearing for many seeds tomorrow. Deforest and irrigate a valley the day after. Change the global climate the next.
Make a spade today. Make a spear tomorrow. Make an explosive machine the day after. Engulf a plain with instantaneous fire and leave it a poisonous ruin the next.
Although the travellers make it their work to frustrate any of this activity wherever they find it, they also use its results. In the far north where they go when times are warm they eat the food grown in the enclosures by the planters. In the far south, when they have travelled there along the spines and ridges of high ground between the foul low-lying slimelands, they eat the roots and tubers stored in the cooled chambers of the hivers. It is a paradox that they do not even try to solve - they are, after all, human beings.
Things are set to change, however. It was not just the making of things and the deliberate changing of the planet that killed their ancestors. The planet itself undergoes changes from time to time, and these changes were such that their ancestors could not withstand them. A force within the Earth that allowed them to tell which was north and which was south died away and then reversed: that was one of the factors.
That same force is used by the travellers themselves; something, some sense inside them, allows them to detect and follow it. Over the past few generations, however, it has been fading away again, and now travel between feeding grounds is going to become increasingly difficult.

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

HIVERS

Alvearanthropus desertus

A harsh and arid habitat has forced the socials to evolve into hivers – all individuality curtailed by the group’s need to locate water and food. A hump of fat across the shoulders still provides sustenance in the barren season, while heavy lids now protect their eyes against sand. Longer legs allow the hivers to travel great distances.

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

THE HIVE

Alvearanthropus desertus/Homo vates

The hive itself is a massive rock-like structure, with breathing chimneys and thick vented walls similar to those of a giant termites’ nest. Flat sloping roofs jut out to provide shade in the heat of the day. Tunnels and shafts beneath the hive reach down deep into the water-table where food is kept cool by constant evaporation from the moist walls. Damp air from the lower levels is driven through the hive by wind movement across external vents.

The queen is protected and provided for in caverns deep below the hive. Food is gathered for her by the young hivers. Warriors guard the ancient hive and her person. Nurses feed her young.

HIVERS


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.

 

2 MILLION YEARS HENCE

HOST/PARASITE

Penarius pinguis/Nananthropus parasitus

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.

 

 

Nananthropus parasitus have developed small blood-letting front teeth.

The only function of the long fingers and toes is to allow the parasites to grip folds of fat.

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 its territory.
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.


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