Dougal Dixon "Man after man. An anthropology of the future" 5 million years hence
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5 MILLION YEARS HENCE

MOVING STARS


Strange stars move in the frosty sparkle of the night sky. The eternal star patterns themselves have moved little in 5 million years, but now there are new stars superimposed upon them; and these stars are in gentle continual motion. They are ignored by the creatures below, who do not appreciate what profound changes are about to be inflicted upon their world.
The sluggish beings in the trees of the forests can comprehend nothing higher than the tops of the trees that they inhabit. Nor do they need to, all their food existing to hand in their own environment. Nothing outside can have any effect on them.
Out in the vast deserts, the members of the few huge hives that are left continue their lives in the familiar mechanical way. Permanently-manned foraging and gathering routes reach out, tentacle-like, from the massive hubs that consist of labyrinthine subterranean bunkers, all swarming with ordered and predestined life. Amongst these millions of individuals there is not one mind that can comprehend the heavens, let alone the significance of new moving stars.
The decadent parasites, embedded in the fat layers of their grotesquely misshapen hosts, care nothing beyond their hosts’ continuing survival; and their hosts are mere feeding machines, dumbly eating, eating, eating.
The swift hunters, specialized for catching birds, small mammals, fish - or even the parasites’ hosts – may wonder about the movements in the night skies above them; but they have not the wit to imagine that these events could possibly have any effect on them.
Out in the oceans, the teeming aquatics know little of what happens above their watery ceiling. They can hardly comprehend the existence of life on land, let alone the nature of the stars in the sky.
Only the possessors of the hereditary memory could have understood, but these have been extinct for millennia. Their religious refusal to use the knowledge that they all possessed meant that they could do nothing to help themselves to improve their situation. When natural conditions changed they refused to change as well. The Earth’s magnetic field reversed, continents moved, and changing sea levels cut off migration routes. Rivers changed their courses, volcanoes threw up new barriers, and climates altered from year to year. Creatures of lesser wit and no knowledge of the past survived these upheavals, which constituted disasters on a local scale, but merely inconveniences on a global one. However, amongst those with the memory, the changing conditions took their local environment further and further away from what they knew or remembered, and eventually, rather than change with it, they perished.
The coniferous forest is black and silent in the night. Hunters lie huddled, asleep. The trees jut up black spikes into the sparkling sky – the sky in which there are now, for the first time in 5 million years, slowly-moving particles of light. Overhead a star, one of the new moving ones, is glowing brighter than the rest. It expands and descends in a gentle arc across the sky, stringing behind it a fading trail of glowing mist. A shock of thunder eventually sweeps across the surface of the land beneath its path, rousing the birds from their trees, and shaking awake the startled hunters on the ground. The glowing descent is now accompanied by blasts of fire as its course is altered, and through the dazzling incandescence can be seen the vague shape of some kind of vessel. It slows, and directly beneath it a descending waft of hot air becomes a searing blast that incinerates trees and undergrowth in a spreading circle. The vessel sinks into the boil of smoke and flame that is produced, and very gently it touches the ground.
The Earth’s long period of innocence is over.

BUILDERS


Decades later the moving stars look down upon an altered countryside. At night the landscape glows. Buildings, the likes of which have not been seen on Earth for 5 million years, have appeared everywhere, but they are not like the structures of old. They are more like compact domes, or sealed cylinders and boxes, under pressure so that nothing of the natural planet can get in, or their contents get out.
What has happened? For 5 million years, since the extinction of technological man, the Earth has remained a reasonably natural place. Granted it has changed, with the enlarging and shrinking of icecaps, the rising and falling of sea levels, the reversal of the magnetic field, the creation of new mountain and volcanic island chains, the miniscule movements of continents, the replacement of forest by grassland, or grassland by desert, or desert by forest - but these changes have taken place with the incomprehensible slowness of the creep of natural processes. The only unnatural large-scale change has been the covering of the lowlands with algal mats for a time, but this also took many thousands of years to establish, and many thousands of years to disappear once more.
This is something different! In less than 100 years, since the coming of the lights in the sky, the world has been altered out of all recognition.
It would now be difficult to find a place on Earth that still had its natural vegetation. Everywhere is covered by the buildings. The first were brought down from above, but later they were made from the materials of the Earth itself. The carbon of the buried and fossilized algal mats was ripped up and used as fuel for all this change; and the minerals were gouged from the mountains and rendered down to make the great structures.
Even the oceans are partially covered. Huge rafts of floating cities, totally enclosed against the water and the air alike, mass on the surface of the waters.
Yet the builders, the occupants, the new masters, are never seen. They are so intolerant of conditions on the Earth’s surface that they cannot expose themselves to it, so they remain in their sealed boxes. When they do venture forth, it is only in pressurized suits that disguise their true forms, confusing even the basic shapes of their suits by instruments and appendages that enable them to carry out some function.
It is difficult to realize that these beings have merely come home. Their ancestors left 5 million years ago in the great starships to seek out and colonize new worlds in other star systems. In order to build their ships, they drew upon the newly-developed science of genetic engineering, creating beings that could live and work in space, for the construction, and beings that could live and work in the oceans, for their provisioning. They took the knowledge of genetic engineering with them on their journey.
Far away from the Earth they found new planets, ones that could support life. However, the life that these planets could support was not the life of Earth, so from the offspring of the space-travellers new beings were engineered, ones that were able to breathe unfamiliar gas mixtures, subsist on the novel products of the new planetary surfaces, withstand the new forces of gravity and function under widely different atmospheric pressures than those to which their parents were accustomed.
Eventually these new creatures created their own civilizations on the far planets; but so great were the distances between them that they could never communicate with one another, and the development of each of the colonies proceeded independently. Most found conditions too harsh and perished. Some, however, established themselves and flourished.
Eventually a vastly different civilization, consisting of totally different creatures, and therefore based on unimaginable social and moral considerations, resumed exploration of the galaxy. On their travels, they met up with the other successful colonies, so completely changed that neither recognized the other as a cousin.
Now they have returned to Earth. Whether or not they recognize it as the planet from which their ancestors came is doubtful. If their bodies have changed totally, then so much more have their minds. It would be impossible for a mere Earth-bound imagination to understand the motives for their exploration, their attitudes to the life-forms they have found, or their long-term intentions.

 

5 MILLION YEARS HENCE

ENGINEERED PACK-ANIMAL

The second phase of biological engineering is exploitation. When applied to a planet this is known as ‘terraforming’. Change and adaptation become secondary to whatever purpose the genetic engineers find important. Earth has not been exploited for 5 million years. When resources are abundant, methods of collecting and refining need not be sophisticated. The function of most of these altered creatures is as simple beasts of burden, able to operate within environments intolerable to their masters.
The atmosphere is being changed. With oxygen no longer present in quantities sufficient to keep Homo sapiens-based species alive, air-tanks and purification systems are essential. Control is by telepathic input direct to the central nervous system.

 

5 MILLION YEARS HENCE

ENGINEERED FOOD-CREATURE

Developing animals so that they produce food more efficiently has always been one of the basic drives behind genetic engineering. A food species may look grotesque – but then the natural forces of evolution often drive in a different direction to the consuming forces of science and civilization.

Penarius pinguis, the parasite host, has been reduced to a mound of fat and flesh, fed by chemical nutrients. Harvesting devices remove meat as it is grown.

 

5 MILLION YEARS HENCE

JIMEZ SMOOT’S DESCENDANT

Descendant of Homo sapiens sapiens and the product of millions of years of genetic engineering and elective surgery, the newcomer is not yet at home in his new environment. The composition of the air can be changed but the unfamiliar atmospheric pressure presents greater problems. If the newcomer decides to stay, then further engineering will be essential. It was the constant need to withstand different gravities and breathe other atmospheres that led to one change being put on top of another; until genetically, psychologically and intellectually, the newcomer bears no resemblance to his ancestor, Homo sapiens sapiens.

Encased in a pressurized suit, Man’s descendant sits astride a creature engineered from Homo virgultis fabricatus, the temperate woodland-dweller. Direct telepathic control is exercised over the central nervous system of its mount.

However, the results of their exploration are easy to see. The planet’s land surface has been changed beyond repair. Everywhere are the pressure-shelled settlements, the natural vegetation has been stripped away, to be used as raw materials for some process, and new gas mixtures are being generated and emitted from the factories to produce an altered atmosphere. A different people, using a different tongue, would call the process ‘terraforming’.
The animal life has suffered terribly at their hands as well. With the spread of the new buildings and the destruction of the natural forests and vegetation, and the alteration of the atmosphere, most animals have perished. A few of the larger ones have been taken and used. The science of genetic engineering has been brought into play once more and any likely-looking animal has been altered to suit the newcomers’ purposes.
Food is the main consideration. Many of the larger animals have been seen as excellent sources of protein for the newcomers. Some of the larger buildings now contain rows and rows of them, genetically refined, bloated, misshapen and unrecognizable. Huge mounds of fat and flesh grow in sturdy racks, fed by chemical nutrients pulsing through pumps and tubes connected directly into the tissues. Harvesting devices scour through the flesh, removing the meat and fat as it is grown. Only the presence of a few identifiable organs – shriveled pulsing limbs and blind, gaping faces – show that these food-generators have been transformed from something that was once more noble.

Even smaller forms are developed from Homo virgultis fabricatus, to work intricate machinery in confined spaces. They are closest Homo sapiens comes to being a computer-aided soft machine.

Elsewhere other members of the local fauna have been engineered as work machines. These mostly retain their original shapes – two arms with prehensile hands, two legs with strong feet – but their heads are encased in metal and plastic boxes. Radio or telepathic receivers analyse their masters’ wishes and stimulate the appropriate centres of the workcreatures’ brains. Containers of their natural air keep them alive in the changing atmosphere. They have been developed in many sizes. Giants, larger than the extinct slothmen, carry heavy loads and put together the prefabricated parts of the buildings. Midgets, smaller than the parasite part of the extinct parasitehosts, manipulate the fine structures and operate in confined spaces. All sizes in between do the various other jobs. All work outside the domes and sealed cylinders is done by these beings.
When one of the newcomers ventures out, it does so encased in an anonymous armoured suit, and usually astride an engineered creature. The vaguely human limbs of this creature are now long and spindly, but still able to take its own weight and that of the being seated upon it. As with the workcreatures the top of its head is encased in a mechanical device that controls its brain directly.
These are all that remain of the creatures that once roamed the landscape of this planet.

 

EMPTINESS


Centuries later, all has changed again. The moving stars in the sky have gone. The newcomers have gone.
All living things on the surface of the Earth have also gone, leaving nothing but a harsh barren landscape littered with decaying and collapsing buildings. The sky is an unfamiliar colour, with the sunlight filtering through a foreign mix of gases and drifting pollutants. The rocks and exposed mountains are crumbling to sand and dust, as the new atmosphere – completely alien and incompatible with the physics of the Earth and the chemistry of its surface – slowly tries to find some kind of stability now that it has been deprived of the artificial systems and technologies that generated it and sustained it for such a short period of time.
The newcomers came, took what they wanted and departed once more, presumably to other planets that they could use for their purposes. What they left behind in the way of artefacts will slowly crumble away and disappear. The havoc that they wreaked in the atmosphere and surface of the land will take considerably longer to resolve itself.

IN THE END IS THE BEGINNING...


Throughout the oceans of the world there is a network of volcanic ridges. New crust is constantly being generated here, built up from hot material welling up from below the Earth’s surface. The newly-formed crust is continually moving away from the ridge axes as even newer molten rock constantly forces its way up. This is the mechanism that moves the continents and alters the geography of the Earth.
The seawater along these ridges seeps into the newly-formed crust, is heated by the volcanic activity, dissolves many of the minerals that it finds there, and erupts once more as hot springs on the ridges. The instant cooling brings the minerals out of solution forming dense smoke-like clouds of suspended chemicals in the water around the vents.
The chemical energy present around these ‘smokers’ is immense, and bacteria thrive on it. Traditionally, organisms have relied on the energy of the sun to produce their food energy. Plants have used their chlorophyll to harness the sun’s energy and use it to make their own food from the gases of the air and the minerals of the land. Animals have also eaten the food produced by the plants, and other animals have eaten the plant-eaters. All animals die and decay into the gases of the air and the minerals of the land, which are turned back into food by the plants. The sunэs energy turns this wheel.
Around the smokers, well away from any light of the sun, the chemical energy is used by the bacteria to produce their own food. Simple, single-celled animals feed on the bacteria. More complex multi-celled animals feed on these, and so on. Gigantic worms and blind crabs thrive in these hot oases in the cold dark depths of the barren ocean – descended from remote ancestors that were once part of the sun-driven ecosystem far, far above them.
There is also another creature, only come to the smoky oases in the last few million years, and unnoticed by anything on the surface. This creature has a fish-like body that allows it to swim, and prehensile hands that help it to feel its way about and find its food. Its total blindness is no disadvantage in the solid blackness, but it has a sensitive organ on the top of the head, developed from an organ that its remote ancestors had forgotten, that is sensitive to heat and can give a temperature-based picture of the surroundings. More importantly, this creature has a brain that is complex enough to give it an intellect. This intellect tells it that something strange has taken place far above it.
Maybe someday it will be possible for its descendants to travel upwards, and even possible for them to live in conditions that are totally alien to it, if they can change enough.
Maybe someday...


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