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Tundra-Dweller

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The Tundra-dweller, Homo glacis fabricatus, is a large, white-furred, yeti-like human from 500 years (the 25th Century), engineered from Andlas, meant to live in tundra and conifer forests, in Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future.

Mosses, lichens, heathers, coarse grasses - very meager fare. Yet such a diet used to support very large animals like reindeer, muskoxen and mammoths. So there is no reason to suppose that a suitably-engineered human could not subsist on such a diet.

Knut has been raised on it for a decade, but that was in the safety of a living module. The cold-weather plants were brought in regularly by flying machines, and the chill conditions were maintained artificially. All this time, Family have been outside in the warm and looking in.

Now the situation is reversed. The Family members, in their cradles, with all their delicate life-supports, are keeping warm in the modules of the flying machine, while Knut is outside, standing in the crisply-frosted grass of the tundra wilderness, beneath the vast cold grey and white sky. This is what he was brought up for, to take his place in nature.

Centuries ago there were herds of big animals here, which moved north and south as the seasons changed, wintering in the deep coniferous forests to the south and spending the summer on these wild plains. In those days, he was told, there were fierce hunting animals as well - animals that would harry and kill the gentle plant-eaters. Now there are none of those left either, and the whole landscape is his.

He looks down at the coarse little plants at his feet; they look the same as those he has been eating all his life. With the ice-hook developed from the nail on his big toe, he scrapes up a patch of moss, then he goes down onto his furry knees and scoops it up with his spade-like hand. Yes, it tastes just the same. He will survive here.

The whiteness that has been building up at one side of the sky descends. Chill flakes of snow begin to swirl past him, settling on his fine-curled fur over the layers of fat. In reaction he rolls up the ruff of fat around his neck and his face disappears into it. From the direction of the great flying ship behind him he can hear the clang and hiss of hatches and accesses closing and sealing. This is too much for Family. There is a sudden blast of warm air as the great vessel leaves the ground. They are going back to the cities where it is warm. Knut is left here, where he belongs.

Yet too much harsh weather will kill him, and the brief northern summer is over. He knows what he must do. As the sudden flurry of snow passes, he brings his face out from the folds of fat and turns it towards the south where away yonder are the huge coniferous forests and winter shelter. Like the great herds of grazing animals before him, he moves southwards with the season.

Yet, unlike the animals of the vast seething herds, he is alone (the only one of his kind) but this does not worry him. If he survives, and he has every intention of doing so, then the experiment will be a success. Others like him will be produced and together they will repopulate the chill northern wastes of the planet.

By 2,000 years (the 40th Century)

Temperate tundra

The five engineered forms do not perceive each other as descendants of the same ancestor. When different types meet, they do so as competitors and enemies; or else ignore one another as irrelevant.

Mosses, lichens and heathers provide the slow-moving tundra-dwellers with their diet. A hook-like nail on the foot, developed from the main toe, scrapes up moss and also provides a grip on the snow. Migratory by nature, the dwellers move to open tundra each summer but winter deep in the conifer forests. As with all migrations it is the old, the weak and the young who fall prey to predators.

Still it becomes colder. This is obvious even to a being of such dim perception as Rumm, a male temperate woodland-dweller. His favorite hollow has not yet cleared of snow, and already the Sun has passed its high point. From now on, for the rest of the year, the days will become shorter and the air colder. Therefore the snow will not melt at all.

It is going to be far more difficult to find food. Although his intellect is basic, his senses are acute enough when food needs to be located.

His mate and his children are safe from the cold in their hollow-tree den, but they will soon be hungry. They may need to move away, to follow the Sun like all the others in the area have done. Rumm has always resisted that because his instincts told him that if everybody else moves away all remaining food will be left for himself and his family. So far this philosophy has worked. The gathering of food has become more and more difficult, but there has been enough to keep them alive. Now he is not so sure. If the snow does not melt, then little will grow during the rest of the year.

He gathers the twigs and branches of the scrubby bushes rising above the snowy ground cover. With a prickly armful he turns back towards his den. The leaves will be bitter and tough, but at least they will be edible.

He surmounts a ridge, and glimpses a group of people below him.

Fast as a blink, he drops his branches and falls to the ground, off the skyline. What are people doing here? Everybody in the area has moved away, following the Sun.

Stealthily he moves back up the slope and peers cautiously over the top. They are people, all right, but quite unlike any people he has ever seen. Their bodies are padded out with fat, and their hair is dense and curly. There are thick rolls of flesh around their necks and wrists, and their faces are broad, with enormous nostrils but tiny eyes. There are about ten of them and they are moving towards the Sun.

It is as if these creatures have come from an even colder place, and they are following the sunshine, just as Rumm's people have done.

Are they really people? They have a body, two arms, two legs, just like Rumm, but apart from that they are quite different, with their furs and their fatty rolls. They are also from a different place, so they cannot be people, like him.

They must, then, be animals.

Food!

The coarse leaves and twigs forgotten, Rumm waits until the group has crossed the open ground and moved into the wispy trees. Then he scampers down the slope towards their track, taking advantage of any cover that lies in the way. Their smudgy footprints in the snow make their trail easy to follow. Silently, as he does when he is stalking birds, he creeps up on the rear of the party, waiting for stragglers. There are none. They are moving as a tight compact group.

After a while the party comes across the stream that runs through the valley, tinkling along coldly between transparent shelves of ice. They pay it no heed, but move onwards, except for one youngster. Unnoticed by its group, it goes down onto its knees by the chilly water, scoops some up in its broad palm and begins to drink. The remainder of the group presses onwards.

This is Rumm's chance. Silently he pounces upon its back and the youngster stiffens beneath him and gives out a single, high-pitched plaintive yell, like one of his own babies crying.

That yell almost stops the attack, so human is it; but he presses home his advantage. Throwing his hand over the creature's broad nose and mouth, stifling the unnerving noise, he wrenches its head backwards, into the folds of its neck. A cracking noise tells Rumm that the move has been satisfactorily fatal, and the body goes limp.

The yell has alerted the rest of the group, who turn back and with cries of anger descend upon Rumm and his victim. It is too late, though. The temperate forest-dweller has hoisted the dead creature onto his shoulder and disappeared into the snowy thickets. As he goes, he hears the noises of anger behind him, and hears them change into wails of anguish and loss.

What has he done? Creatures that can feel loss so acutely, and can make such sounds of despair - surely they must be people after all? The wailing fades and disappears behind him, but it will remain long in his memory. It will come back to him in quiet moments, or when he is concentrating on something else; and for many a day he will feel sorrow and sympathy with these strange beings. What has he done?

He has fed his family, that is what he has done. With a more confident stride he makes his way with his prize back to his mate and his children in their hollow-tree den. They will see the winter through all right now.

By 5,000 years (the 70th Century)

Snatch duck tundra
This one will be referred to as Snatch. In shape, he is much like the generalized dim-witted temperate forest-dwellers generated in the laboratories of the now extinct genetic engineers 3,000 years ago. He has the long body with the complex digestive system that allows him to eat almost anything, from leaves to grubs. His arms and fingers are long and nimble, but his legs are quite short - they were meant for pushing through thicket and undergrowth and for climbing the thick trunks of the deciduous trees, not for striding across the wobbly peat bogs and sharp grasses of the open tundra. Nevertheless the quickness of his actions has enabled him, and a few like him, to live on in his original area despite the fact that the landscape has changed from mixed woodland, through coniferous forest, to chill tundra bleakness in a few thousand years. Now an icecap sparkles on the northern horizon, where there was once the luxuriant green of forest in the time of his great-great-great-grandfather. The standing waters of the peat bogs attract huge flocks of ducks and other birds for most of the year, and Snatch has become adept at catching these. By floating variously-shaped bits of wood on the surface of a pond he can entice the birds to land there. Then, when they are settled, he darts out of the concealing reed beds and grabs one before it can fly off.

This time the weather has caught him out. The water of the lake is too cold for a long-term immersion, and the birds have not been coming. The Sun is going down and the sky is about to turn to the misty purple he usually sees when he is almost back amongst his tribe; but this evening his tribe is a long, long way away.

Yet still he remains, reluctant to return empty-handed.

Over on the other side of the lake forages one of the tundra-dwellers, which also seems to be separated from its group. Its compact appearance, with its furry rolls of fat and its short arms and thick legs, makes it look as if it belongs in the landscape. It seems to be at home here, while Snatch, with his long limbs, does not. The two beings ignore one another. Their differing lifestyles do not put them in conflict, yet it seems to Snatch that the tundra-dweller should resent him, for being somewhere he does not belong; but he does not think about it too much. All he hopes for at the moment is that the other human's movements do not interfere with his hunt.

Then, with a comical quacking noise, half a dozen ducks settle on the still water, breaking up the reflection of the cold empty sky. Now Snatch squats into his hiding place amongst the fluffy heads of the grass, waiting for his chance.

It is a long time before any of the birds paddle close enough for an attack, but eventually they drift over towards his side of the lake. With a single dive, he throws himself out from the bank, his long arms and delicate fingers shooting out towards his prey. Startled ducks leap straight upwards from the water, flapping towards the sky and safety. One is too slow. The long fingers close around a webbed foot, and with a flurry of feathers it is dragged back as Snatch's body splashes downwards into the chill waters of the lake.

The numbing impact of the icy water cannot subdue Snatch's yell of triumph as he leaps out of the lake with his prize. Yet, before he has wrung the bird's neck, the chill has crept from his skin, through his flesh and to his bones. His newly-caught meat will be of no use to him if he freezes to death.

He rips the head off the bird, tears away the crop, and plunges his numbed fingers into the warmth of the carcass. It is not enough. He must find more body heat somewhere.

There is only one other big living thing nearby.

The tundra-dweller stands, still as a dead tree, watching all this with a dim curiosity. It shows no fear as Snatch approaches it carefully. Why should it? Tundra-dwellers have no natural enemies out here on the tundra, and no capacity for fear was ever designed into them by the genetic engineers all those millennia ago. For Snatch, there is a problem. How does he kill a big creature like this? His hands have only dealt with smaller mammals and birds up to now. The face, with the tiny eyes and broad nostrils, stares at him from within the frame of the voluminous neck ruff. There is no expression, and the creature does not flinch as Snatch drops his bird and throws himself at it, groping for a soft or vulnerable spot on its broad chest or its thick neck. Everywhere his fingers find tightly-matted hair and yielding blubber - nothing to hold or tear. Then, slowly, the great body leans over him and goes down onto its knees, pinning him to the springy vegetation. Snatch panics, and writhes and twists to pull himself out from under the mass of bouncing fat, but he is trapped. He can do nothing now but wait for the great creature to kill him.

After a while Snatch realizes that he is not dead. The tundra-dweller has not tried to kill him - it is just ignoring him. It went down onto the ground to reach Snatch's dropped bird, and is now eating it. Snatch was trapped by accident.

Night is falling, and it is warm in the folds of furry fat. As long as the tundra-dweller remains where it is, Snatch will survive; so he is quite happy to let it have his catch, in return for this life-saving imprisonment.

By 10,000 years (the 120th Century)

Some temperate woodland-dwellers found that they could live close to some of the dull tundra-dwellers and share their body heat. The tundra-dwellers did not mind this, if the temperate woodland-dwellers shared their food with them. So the symbiotic situation gradually developed, until now the newly-evolved hunter symbionts could not travel by themselves in the tundra and these particular tundra-dweller descendants - the symbiont carriers - would not be able to survive on their own.

By 50,000 years (the 520th Century)

Tundra meets islanders

Isolated from mainland evolution, island-dwelling temperate woodland-dwellers have developed a high-protein diet and reduced in size. Now, as a new species, the islanders return to the mainland, where many of the tundra-dwellers have adapted as a leaf-eating forest people.

A raft with island voyagers has found itself on the beach of the mainland - a region the existence of which was only guessed at by the island people. After the rigors of the accidental voyage the new country may be either an unending source of plenty to the small hungry group of five islanders or deceptively barren. The islanders' original digestive systems allowed them to eat almost anything, but millennia of island-dwelling on crags and slopes that supported few nutritious plants have changed all that. Now they can only subsist on the high-protein diet that they gained from birds and their eggs, and the fish and shellfish of the sea. No birds seem to nest on accessible crags here, and the shingle beach gives little purchase for shellfish.

There may also be enemies. Some huge figures are moving about down the beach. In build, they are somewhat like the islanders, but they are more than twice their size, and very slow-moving.

The islanders do not know these creatures for forms of the tundra-dwellers. The tundra is dwindling away now, but for many thousands of years groups of its inhabitants have been spreading southwards, changing their diet and adapting their lifestyle as they went, through the coniferous forests and into the zone of deciduous woodlands. Because they have been forced to change all the time they have a better chance of survival than the groups of their relatives who remain static on the tundra. Now they are massive leaf-eating forest-dwellers (dim of wit but quite adaptable to changing conditions). However, they do retain the thick deposits of fat that are now superfluous to their purposes, and indeed could be disadvantageous to them in the hot times that may come. Nor do the islanders realize that the difference in size between them comes from the fact that the tundra-dwellers were created large by the ancient genetic engineers as a precaution against heat loss in the cold north, and the islanders have become small over the past few thousand years as an evolutionary adaptation to their limited resources.

The islanders have no fear of the great creatures. They see them, as they see all living things that are not their own kind, as food. Nimbly they sprint down the beach towards them. Alerted by the crunching and rattling of the shingle under the tiny feet, the big tundra-dwellers see the little figures coming, and dimly perceive that there is some kind of danger. They turn to lope back into the forest, but they are too slow.

Two of them are caught by the legs and brought down with a crash. One is knocked senseless by the impact, the other is killed by quick bites to the neck and face. The killing is not easy. The hide is thick and covered with a woolly pelt, and there are deep layers of fat beneath.

It is the blood that the islanders want, and they gorge themselves on that of the slain tundra-dweller, balancing their feast with the carbohydrates from the fatty deposits. The corpse carries more food than the group of islanders can eat at one time, and having satisfied themselves they leave the remains to the white seabirds that have gathered on the shingle to watch the feast. This seems to the islanders to be a waste of food.

Together they pull the corpse of the second tundra-dweller up the shingle and into the shade of the forest, before it begins to decay in the Sun or is eaten by scavengers. If only there were some way of keeping such a big creature alive while feeding from it. Then there would not be so much waste.

The massive form stirs; it is not dead at all, merely stunned. The islanders seize it by the limbs and pin it to the ground. They are not letting this one get away, nor are they going to let it die and rot before they need the food again.

By 1 million years (the 10020th Century)

The tundra-dwellers do not understand the harvesting aquatics.

There are massive compound tundra-dwellers, bloated and misshapen, lumbering through the forests with four or five spindly little islanders attached to many of them, embedded in them, seeming to live off their flesh. These beings cause no trouble to the land-visiting aquatics; 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 islanders (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.

By 2 million years (the 20020th Century)

Many warm climate-inhabiting tundra-dwellers change as the conditions change into the hosts to the parasite descendants of the islanders. 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.

By 3 million years (the 30020th Century)

Stock

Tundra-dweller, host with parasites and spiketooth. All come from the same basic stock.

Tundra-dwellers evolve into a number of new larger species, including the slothmen (the biggest of them all).

The tundra-dwellers that adapted to woodland life did so very successfully. Their heavy bodies were well supplied by the voluminous plant life of the habitat.





By 5 million years (the 50020th Century)

They die out before the arrival of the Travelers of the stars.

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