5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
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
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
5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
JIMEZ SMOOT’S DESCENDANT
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.
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.
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.
|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|