Global Mean Temperature

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Global Mean Temperature

Post by Surlethe » 2007-02-07 11:39pm

More original fiction: a series of vignettes, updated as I write. Enjoy, and (as always) criticism is appreciated.


Global Mean Temperature


September 25, 2076
Global mean temperature: 18.2° C

The gathering darkness obscured the home of the man known to authorities only as "Valdemar". He stood out front in the humid Florida evening, leaning on his cane. Around him, the wasteland stretched, tortured and twisted tree limbs, crumpled two-by-fours, the refuse and detritus of crushed homes and lives. The government had abandoned the city, left Orlando to its fate. The entire Florida peninsula had been evacuated in the past three weeks as Kappa approached, back behind the new dikes stretching from the panhandle to the Georgia coast. He grunted at the thought; who'd have suspected the US government could act so efficiently, even in the face of the destruction of an entire state? Certainly not he, and he'd been living here for fifty years and watching the American hegemony implode for ninety. Off in the east, he could see the first high cirrus clouds of the approaching hurricane.

Kappa. The thirty-sixth named storm of the season, and the largest to date: a furiously spinning cyclone large enough to stretch from New York City to Chicago, boasting winds of over three hundred forty five kilometers per hour -- two hundred fifteen miles per hour; even in the fade of Western civilization, the United States still had not adopted the metric system. Old pride dies hard, thought Valdemar. The ruinous wars in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey during the beginning years of the century had first cost America, once the light and hope of the Western world, her prestige, and then her treasury. Growing debt had destroyed her economic fortunes, and the oil crisis of the twenties had crushed the rest of her economy. It had taken twenty years to switch to a nuclear and electric infrastructure, and for a decade, everything had seemed golden and glorious, although the rising sea levels had been annoying.

Then agriculture in the midwest and plains collapsed, and stayed down for seven straight years as the topsoil blew off in cyclones and droughts worse than the 1920s. Valdemar smiled at the memory: brittle humanity, reaping its reward. Nature was striking back, and humans took it hard. Starvation literally decimated western civilization. Then the dikes had come, humanity fighting, struggling to keep life in its beating civilization. Its fate, however, had been sealed in the 1990s, as industrialization had sped up, pumping gas into the atmosphere with abandon, mirrors that reflected the Earth's heat back onto it. Now, western civilization was in its death throes, beset by cooling in Europe, deserts advancing from the northwest into China as that country's cities were slowly flooded, deserts marching from the great plains out across the Mississippi valley toward Appalachia, the Amazon rainforest burning in great uncontainable firestorms, Siberian and Canadian permafrost melting, turning the northlands from hard-grounded tundra into mossy peat bogs. And to top it all off, storms coming.

Valdemar snorted. He had been on this planet ninety six years; he had raised his family, seen his grandchildren, lived a good life. Short pangs of regret stabbed him, that he couldn't do more to protect them, but he suppressed the feelings; there really wasn't more he could do. And through it all, he had watched civilization destroy itself, with a sort of detached fascination.

The sky in the northeast suddenly flared yellow-orange, like a sunrise against the purple sunset in the west. Another shuttle launch, the third in a week. Apparently, they were getting full use out of Cape Canaveral before Kappa hit and the dikes broke. Valdemar watched as the light faded, then turned and hobbled back toward his home. In the west, the sun was just dipping below the horizon; in the east, distant lightning flashed noiselessly in night skies blacker than black.


January 3, 2149
Global mean temperature: 20.6° C

Peloma Remiraz, short of breath, stepped onto the crest of the mountain. From up here, she could see both down to the shore, sparkling under the cloudless sky, where her tribe's village clung precariously to the rock as it plunged down into the ocean, and down the other side of the Andes ridge to the remains of the grassland, where even now little eddies of dust whirled devilishly in the wind. In the distance, she could see a golden line on the horizon: dunes, creeping south toward them.

Pleased with herself, she sat down. She'd missed her period last week, and was reasonably sure she was pregnant, though she hadn't told her husband, Menual. The doctore hadn't confirmed it with a diagnosis yet, but there was no reason not to trust her intuition, which also told her that the morning sickness would start any morning now. Best to get her journey to the top of the mountain done right off the bat.

It was a ritual now, started with her first and second children. Now that the third was on the way, she was almost in the habit by now. It was interesting, to compare the condition of the grasslands over the past eight years. They'd certainly deteriorated. Mama, before she had died -- God rest her soul -- had said that many years ago, the entire grassland had been a forest. As a child, Peloma had doubted; now, having heard the stories the elders told, of men who flew the skies, could sail on water, talk across mountains, and store a lifetime's worth of stories on a single card the size of a piece of shingle, she wondered what the truth was. No way to ever know, probably.

She turned back to the ocean. Down on the shore, as the rock shoulder of the mountain plunged into the sea, she watched her village carefully. From up here, it was simply a collection of brown dots against the shiny black obsidian. There was never really enough food, although there was the daily catch from the ocean. Fish were sparse, but they always were, and always had been, as long as she'd been alive.

The huts they lived in were old, and rotting, and there wasn't any wood to build new huts out of. Elder Migual had been speaking for some time in council about some caves that Don Cerlos' eldest son had found on a fishing trip to the south, saying that they should pack up the huts, take them south, and move into the caves. Apparently, Don Cerlos had found fish there, and a moist wind blew in from the ocean that they could set the nets up to catch for water. That, and there were some springs back in the caves.

Peloma didn't want to leave. The mountains to the south were lower, and didn't have a view like this one. She could come up here and feel perfect, looking through the crystal air off at the horizon, seeing the panorama stretch around her larger than it could ever be, feeling the wind on her and sun warming her and cold, dry rock beneath her as she stretched out on a flat stone.

She lay there for some time after she had regained her breath, then stood and began the descent back down toward the village, her children, her husband, and her mundane, daily tasks.


June 29, 2193
Global mean temperature: 21.0° C

Savik stalked through the Siberian bog. There was a deer grazing on a solid patch ahead of him. He hadn't seen anything like it before, but, mythical or not, it was meat, and meat was meat was meat. The family hadn't eaten anything beyond berries and long leaves for days, and the leaves didn't stay down for more than a few hours. Enough to take all the possible nutrients out of it, but it was still better than the starvation that was staring them in the face.

He let his forward hand sink into the wet, mossy soil. He was smeared with mud and streaked green, staying prone as he searched slowly for his next foothold. There -- a tuft of grass above his right knee. Slowly, he drew his right leg up, set his foot against the grass, and began to inch forward, searching for the next handhold. There was a rustle, and the deer's head shot up. Savik froze. The deer looked around, flicked its ears, then, curiosity apparently satisfied, dipped its head back down to begin grazing again.

Another inch forward, another inch closer. He was almost in range. Nothing could outrun him when surprise and the bog were on his side. It was just like inching up on a groundsquirrel, though he hadn't seen any of those for weeks. Another inch. He slowly reached back to his waist, slipped the metal knife out of his belt sheaf. His mother said it had been in the family for two hundred years, and there wasn't anything else like it in the tribe.

The deer was ten feet in front of him. Slowly, he arched his back up, feeling his feet sink into the mud, the knife dirty in his hands. Slowly, slowly, he tensed his muscles -- the deer still hadn't noticed -- and then he sprang forward. The deer jerked its head up in a heartbeat, and then took off across the bog. Right behind it, Savik blazed through the marsh, a step behind the deer, its slender hooves sinking into the soft ground. A minute and a half later, the deer was sprawled out in front of him, and Savik leapt on it, ignoring its piteous sqealing and bucking head. Savagely, he brought the knife across its throat once, then again into the same wound, sawing deeper. Warm blood fountained out across his hand.

His tribe had been wandering through the marshes of northern Siberia trying to eke out a living from the land for as long as anyone could remember. At night, they sat around the fire, telling stories. Grandfather always had the best ones; he'd learned them from his own grandfather, who, he said, had been there for the events. Apparently, there had been great mountains of metal, the same stuff his knife was made of, and people lived all together there. Then the oceans had risen up in wrath at the mountains of people, and their plants had turned to dust; nature had killed most and driven the rest away.

Savik was skeptical, he thought, although you always had to lend some credence to your elders; Grandfather knew what he was talking about in everything else. The deer had died, and Savik looked down at the knife. It always made him think of Grandfather's stories. Wiping it off on the animal's matted fur, he let it glint in the pale light coming through the clouds. Mountains and pillars made of the stuff? Naah.

He replaced the knife into its sheath and lifted the deer across his shoulders. It was heavier than he thought it would be, and he had to keep moving so that his feet wouldn't sink too deep into the mud. Turning, he strode back across the marsh toward this week's camping ground.
Last edited by Surlethe on 2009-06-25 11:00am, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by Surlethe » 2007-02-08 12:12pm


July 4, 2238
Global mean temperature: 21.1° C

Adraw squatted in front of the flames. They'd used up the last of their wood to build this fire, after stripping the surrounding plain clear of saplings. This place had once been called Canada, had once been a frozen wasteland covered with snow all year round, as the stories related. Once nobody had lived here. Now, there were five or six tribes, all scattered across the huge plains -- and the plains themselves were dry, dusty, with grass growing here and there. The only living things were the people, roving, eating bark, berries, and what meat they could, the birds, the bugs, and several kinds of gopher. Those were difficult to catch, and were rare.

His little sister, Ene, sat next to him. She was just six, and since their mother had died giving birth to her, she had only Adraw to look up to. In the dry warmth of the plains summer, there was very little water, and, like each of his fourteen summers, he'd had to resort to catching birds in their nests and squeezing the warm blood out of them. There were a lot of birds, but they were aware of the people, it seemed, and only in the past year or two had Adraw gotten the hang of sneaking up.

Across the fire, he could see grandma and grandpa, the only other ones allowed to sit down and wait for food. The rest of the family, all twenty members, were scattered across the surrounding plain, hoping to find food: a stray gopher, maybe, or an unprotected nest. Sometimes, it seemed like the only things around them that were surviving well were the grass, amber and taller than him at this time of year, and the ants. Ants were everywhere; their nests were sometimes taller than the grass, and it was always an unpleasant surprise to feel prickling stings, look down, and see ant fur, as he called it, covering him from his knees down.

Grandpa stirred, spoke in that croaking, kindly old voice of his. "Have I told you two youngsters about the old days?"

Ene shivered, even in the lingering heat of the summer day, and snuggled closer to Adraw. "Tell us more, Gandpa!" she said, irrepressibly enthusiastic like any six-year-old. Grandpa had always told Adraw that he'd been the same way when he was six -- "Before your father died", and then he'd get that faraway look in his eyes and wouldn't say anything more.

Not tonight. The firelight was dancing in Grandpa's eyes as he sat up a little straighter and his voice cleared just a little bit, his eyes widening a little, as he always did when he was about to tell a good story. "A long time ago, when my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather was alive, there was a great leader named ... " -- he cast around in his memory for a moment -- "Shrub. He ruled the great Kan Empire with an iron fist. I've told you about the great Kan Empire, right?"

Ene shook her head no.

"I haven't?" Mock surprise. "Well, my little dear, the great Kan Empire was the greatest of all the peoples of the world. Back then, you know, there were lots of people in the world, as many as there are ants in a nest." Adraw couldn't even visualize one hundred people, let alone as many as there ants were in an ant nest. "Back then people lived together in great pillars of metal, the same thing that my bracelet is made of --" Grandpa held up his bracelet; it was harder than rock and gleamed dull orange in the firelight -- "that were all together. They lived together kind of like ants do."

"So what about the Kan Empire?" asked Adraw.

"Ah, yes; I was just getting to that. Back then, people had magic. They could fly across the world in a day; they could point at another person and kill him; they could even destroy metal!" There was nothing that could destroy metal; everyone knew that. "But the Kan Empire discovered one thing that nobody else had. They discovered how to bring the very Sun itself down to the Earth. They used this power to destroy their enemies, so that nobody could stand against them."

"And Shrub was its leader?"

"The Kan Empire had many leaders," said Grandpa. "Shrub was its last great leader. You see, he wasn't afraid of anything." Adraw nodded; who would be afraid of anything, if you could bring the Sun itself down to Earth? "He wasn't afraid of anything," repeated Grandfather, "except for one thing."

Ene and Adraw both leaned forward involuntarily. "How could he be scared of something, Grandpa?" asked Ene. "He could order the Sun down to the Earth whenever he felt like it!"

Grandpa was solemn. "The one thing he was afraid of was fear itself. So, he started a war against fear. He marshaled the armies of Kan, and waged war against wherever he found fear. But you can't defeat fear with magic, not even with the magic of the Sun."

"So what happened?" asked Adraw. Grandpa was starting to get the look in his eyes.

"Shrub used the magic of the Sun to fight fear, and he lost, because at the end of the war, every person in the Kan Empire was afraid with paralyzing fear, like the kind you get when you look down and there are ants crawling up your legs. And that's when the Sun took vengeance on the Kan Empire, caused it to become deserted, its people to die. Now it is no more.

"So, the moral of the story, my dear grandchildren, is that of everything in the world, the one thing you need not fear is fear itself."

Adraw and Ene both sat back, wondering at the stories. The very power of the Sun, mused Adraw. Grandfather startled them both out of their reveries. "And do you know what time it is, children?"

"No, what time?" said Ene.

"Bedtime! We have a long walk tomorrow; Jas has found a whole city of gophers to the west."

Grumbling, Adraw and Ene were shooed over to the sleeping mats, and were both asleep in minutes. That night, though he didn't remember it, Adraw dreamed of pillars of metal and people flying between them, and all of that disappearing in a flash of light so bright he couldn't see the Sun in the sky.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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Post by Surlethe » 2007-02-09 11:10am


February 29, 13804
Global mean temperature: 23.4° C

Tibal Onkot broke the surface of the ocean, gasped for breath, then dove again. Above, the sky was cloudy, and there was a warm breeze blowing in from the north; below, the water was crystal-clear and lukewarm. As she swam deeper, scanning for food, she noted something strange poking through the silt and growing weeds on the bottom. Curiously, she swam closer. It was hard and pitted like rock, but angular -- not like any of the basalt she'd seen in the caves where she'd grown up.

Five minutes underwater. Her lungs were starting to ache a little bit. Curiously, she tugged up a convenient rock lying nearby and set herself down in the mud, walking slowly through the gently waving seafloor cover over toward the object. She could feel the cool seawater caressing at her skin, spreading her short head-hair out and fanning her body hair. She was sleek, strong, very feminine, had three suitors already, and was only fifteen. Of course, she was the best diver and swimmer in the tribe; of all the twenty people who lived together in the caves -- discounting the other families, who fished the waters kilometers south and whom they rarely saw -- she possessed the most innate talent.

Fish had been pretty rare -- they were always rare -- but, said great-grandfather, who rarely swam anymore, there were more than there had been for a thousand generations. He said he knew this from talking with the ancestors, but, like any healthy eighteen-year-old, Tibal was skeptical. According to the stories, after humans had fallen from heaven, they'd been forced to live in caves and make nets to catch fish, but the gods had taken even nets from them, and forced them to learn to eat the weeds they found on the seafloor. Occasionally, they could stalk and catch fish (Tibal was particularly good at that; sometimes, she even managed to get a fish a week), but their diet now consisted chiefly of seaweed and crustaceans that lived on the ground, burrowing into the silt and mud.

She was at the weird object now. Squatting, she bent to examine it. Dark, rough, and sticking up at an angle from the seafloor, it gritted as she rubbed it. She winced as a small cloud of blood billowed from her long, thin finger; she'd scraped the skin from her fingertips. The object seemed to be a low ridge of some sort, sticking up at an angle from the seabed and disappearing back down into the mud maybe four or five strides hence. It was clearly buried, and had been recently uncovered; perhaps the storm yesterday had done the trick?

Ah, yes; storms. There was one brewing now; the currents picking up had as good as told her. That, and she'd been underwater for nearly ten minutes, so her lungs were aching to bursting now. Taking one last good look at the ridge, she dropped the rock and sped upward. It was a good kilometer and a half (although she didn't think in those terms) swim back to the cave, but there was plenty of time before the storm. Breaking the surface, she gulped in air, then dove back down and streaked beneath the waves, swimming with a curious sinuous motion.

In ten minutes, she was back at the cave, pulling herself dripping out of the water. That night, a bad storm hit -- the worst in a thousand generations, great-grandfather said. While the family was huddled together in the back of the caves, hugging each other for warmth, grandfather told stories, and Tibal picked her husband. Of course, for the next few days, she forgot about everything, except eating. By the time she remembered the curious ridge and swam back out to check it, it was gone; two storms had covered it up, and she couldn't even begin to find it. There were times she thought that she'd dreamed it.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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Post by Surlethe » 2007-02-09 12:50pm


October 23, 13926
Global mean temperature: 23.5° C

Jan (that was his only name) rolled over and stood up. Cocking his head, he checked the sun for the time, and then darted into the grass. They'd be back in less than an hour, and he had to be gone by then.

The Canadian savannah (of course, Jan knew neither the name nor the name of the plains; he had been born about 600 generations too late) around him had been awake for eight hours, and the sun was shimmering red over the western horizon. The power of the sun ... he remembered the bedtime stories his grandfather used to tell him, about Shikan and the sun magic. Closing his eyes as he dashed through the grass, he threw off a quick prayer to the sun, if it might help. Blind their eyes, let them lose my path. Curse them as Shikan did with the sun's light he brought to Earth.

Jan was a thief. For near on two years, he'd been stealing food -- a little meat here, a few seeds there -- and trinkets from the others until he'd been caught. Just last week, in fact. Of course, his father had beat him, and the scabs were still raw and itchy.

The long, tall grass, two and a half meters tall -- nearly twice his height, even though he was mature -- whipped past him as he ran, struggling for breath. The others could run further and faster, but none had his cunning, his genius, he reassured himself as he fought the itch in his side. Off in the distance, he could smell the sea. Unbidden, memories of his sister seized him, and he stopped cold.

No. No. NO! They had no right to beat me for that! There were older scars underneath the newer stripes on his back, scars he'd done his best to forget. The injustice of all of it rankled him something terrible. There was nothing wrong with it, nothing at all. Why were they so concerned with it? It had been years since she'd disappeared, and still they felt he was the culprit?

But he was smarter than them. He could make his own living, picking off the occasional gopher from the cities that stretched for miles around the savannah, and there was enough grass to sustain him forever, though he didn't particularly like the tough texture, and it gave him mild diarrhea. It wasn't difficult to avoid the wild dogs; he could smell them for miles. What his tribe could do, anything they could do, he could certainly do better alone!

He jerked his head up. The grass was swishing in the distance -- not from the wind. Were they coming? They were! He took off running again, careful to bend as little grass as possible. The stitch in his side, almost gone, was back with interest, and in a few minutes, he was panting, running doubled over. He didn't notice the grass thinning around him until he was standing in a clearing, staring up at a huge, almost impossibly steep mound of dirt: the largest ant nest he'd ever seen.

His legs were tingling -- not with the familiar running-ache, but with a thousand little ants swarming over them. He let out a strangled yell, and started hopping back and forth. Too late; there was no way out, and already the tingling was running up his body, followed by a wave of excruciating pain and then numbness. He collapsed, and the last thought Jan had before darkness overwhelmed him was of his sister's head seeming to crazily grin at him as he pushed her into the makeshift grave he'd dug for her.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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Post by Surlethe » 2007-03-15 07:16pm


August 29, 14135
Global mean temperature: 23.5° C

Adrin liked to think of himself as a swift, lithe hunter. Now, though, he wasn't doing anything except sitting and wondering where his next meal was going to come from. Sitting back on the warm basalt, he clicked his sharpened fingernails (not as good as a nice, heavy obsidian knife, but better than nothing when a knife broke on you) against the stone slab. Where were the others? The mountainside offered a nice view of the surrounding landscape: the marshes with their low trees stretching off to the south; the mountains behind in the north thrusting up into the clouds. The gods lived up there, he sometimes thought, when he saw distant lightning flashing between the clouds.

Off in the distance across the mountainside, something moved. He froze, eyes flickering. What had that been? Slowly, the outline of -- was that a groundsquirrel? It was something like that, lithe and low-slung, slinking across the mountain. There would be a home somewhere nearby, and if he could track it back, he could live there for a while off them.

He stood, slowly, and started moving toward the groundsquirrel. Hunger gnawed at the pit of his stomach, and he could almost feel it scraping at his ribs, which were visible through the skin of his sides. The groundsquirrel, oblivious, poked around and nibbled a bit at the grass, picking some seeds off. In this region of land -- what Adrin's distant ancestors would have called "Siberia" -- there were two main species of mammal: the groundsquirrels and the humans who lived on them. There were other animals, of course -- birds, some colorful and loudly annoying; some who seemed to be aping the groundsquirrels' lifestyle, digging in the ground and living there; some who hunted groundsquirrels; some who haunted the human tribes, carrying off infants and small children when parents weren't looking. There were also insects everywhere, but there had always been and always would be insects everywhere, barring some supremely unlikely collision with an astral body.

Adrin stalked the groundsquirrel for three hours, watching it from a distance as it, meandering, foraged its way across the mountain. Carefully, he noted where he was going; he'd never actually been across this mountain and into the valley beyond it. All of his life had been spent to the south, in the marshes. He continued to tail the groundsquirrel another hour. The sun started to sink behind the cloud cover that had been hanging low all day, and the day imperceptibly began to slip away into twilight. The groundsquirrel picked up the pace and headed toward a row of low mounds lying in the base of the valley.

There must be ten thousand of the critters living there, thought Adrin, as he moved closer to the mounds. The place was simply crawling with the things. The mounds themselves were low, stuck out of the ground -- some sort of hardened clay, he noticed. There were blocks of the same clay scattered through the valley, when they weren't stacked into the mounds. He stalked closer, and was rewarded with the shrill cry of a lookout groundsquirrel. The area emptied just like that. Adrin sighed. He would spend the night here, and hopefully eat well in the morning.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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Post by Surlethe » 2007-05-31 09:07am

November 30, 56720
Global Mean Temperature: 24.8° C

For tens of thousands of years, Canadian humans had been living in larger and larger roving social groups, eating whatever nuts and berries they could find, and grass to stave off starvation. Jam's group was one of these. Jam himself was nineteen, and of marriageable age, if his parents could find someone to marry him off to. He was the tallest of his mother's six children, and second-oldest. Jan was older; she'd been married two years already, had two kids and was pregnant with a third.

Jam rolled over, blinked at the bright morning sky. The grass waving around him was golden brown and heavy with seeds; the rest of his clan was stirring in the distance. He'd slept the night away from the majority of the clan: slightly dangerous, but also rare, and it proved that he could face the possibility of danger and conquer his fear. He had his eye on a pretty girl, a couple of years younger than him, with nice eyes and wide, round hips; his little stunt was sure to impress her.

He pushed himself up, squatting to rise, and froze, sniffed the air. There it was: the distinct musk of a wild dog. His ears quivered as he slowly rotated his head. Grass rustling, more than the wind, from two different directions, and -- the hiss of breath from a third? Slowly, he narrowed his eyes, and swiveled his head around again. Now, looking for it, he could see the grass stalks moving, and for an instant, he thought he glimpsed an outline of bunched, furry body. Adrenaline pumped through him, and his muscles tensed.

Jam leaned forward, senses tuned to the grass around him. Another distinct rustle from the third direction: they were sneaking closer. Was anything between him and the clan? Another slow rotation of the head, scanning; no response. A small, three-dog hunting pack, then. In the distance, he could hear the buzzing of insects as they moved in and out of the tops of the grass. Slowly, slowly, he rotated himself. Every hair on his body was standing on end. After a minute and a half, more than one hundred twenty heartbeats later, he could hear the clan in front of him. The small, hair-covered bulb at top of the cleft between his buttocks quivered in time with his muscles. He slowly ground the balls of his feet into the ground beneath him.

And . . . NOW! He exploded forward and, an instant later, heard a chorus of snarls behind him. The grass rustled furiously, and he heard the pound of feet on the ground. Grass whipped by him; the clan was only one hundred meters in front of him, and there was safety in numbers. He could hear the wind whistle by his ears. Behind him, the feet were gaining. He leaned forward a little more and dug his feet into the ground as he sprinted. If his body hadn't been covered with hair, he'd have had a thousand small cuts open on his face and shoulders by now.

One of the dogs was almost beside him. He risked a glance, caught a red mouth, white teeth, and a flash of grey-brown fur. The dogs were normal-side, as tall as his elbow, and one was up beside him -- gaining and driving him to the left, trying to separate him from the clan. Jam took a risk, hunched down without breaking his pace, and drove his shoulder into the side of the dog. It bounced away and snapped at him; though the adrenaline didn't let his brain register pain, he felt his shoulder tear, and an instant later his arm was slick with bright red blood.

This was it: the final stretch. He pushed back, pulling out reserves of strength he didn't realize he had. The dog he'd pushed away was to his right behind him and gaining again; another was on his left, snarling and biting at him. He felt teeth catch at his waist and then he shook them off, felt blood slide down his side. Then he was in the clearing, rushing past the line of taller adults into the circle of youngsters, where he collapsed, exhausted. The three wild dogs slunk into the clearing, growled for a moment; but they couldn't get away with an attack on a circle of fifty keyed-up, ready adult humans. The humans were all screaming and shouting now: an intimidating display, especially since several were a head taller than Jam and correspondingly more muscular.

Jam's body hair was slick and matted with already-clotting blood and grass seeds. As he relaxed, he winced and groaned for an instant as the pain set in. His parents were squatting at his side; he looked up at them and smiled for a second. At his other side, the girl he'd been eyeing was squatting, a startled and worried look on her pretty face. He looked her in the eye and grinned weakly. Then delicate hands were putting grass mats on the wounds, and he relaxed back, losing himself in the pain.
Last edited by Surlethe on 2007-06-01 12:16am, edited 1 time in total.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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Post by Surlethe » 2007-06-09 10:12pm


February 18, 68320
Global Mean Temperature: 24.9° C

Gran dove down into the water, flipped, and dove again. At sixteen, he was already considered an adult in the tribe, though the elders were much, much older. Wriggling, he paddled himself forward and down with his feet, hands at his sides. He held enough air in his lungs to last as much as twenty minutes underwater, though for the last five, he'd have to slip into a state of semi-consciousness as he moved toward the surface. Flexing and giving a last furious kick, he leveled off and glided forward smoothly. He could feel the water flowing through his thick coat of hair, across his body, and past his protruding spine.

The water was thick and murky. He felt the first strands of seaweed brush past him almost before he saw them loom up out of the nutrient-rich mud. His eyes were relatively useless; he closed them, flexed his ears. They were as large as the palm of his hand, stuck out from his skull, and the tips were covered with thick tufts of hair. He also opened his mouth, let the seawater flow in. Reveling in the thick, salty taste, he rolled it around his tongue, spit it back out. He felt the warmth of his saliva dissipating as it moved past his face, and then sucked more water in. Lobster urine, very faint. Also, some shrimp, and, of course, the seaweed all around him.

Gran stilled himself with a short forward wave of his thick, paddle-like arm. He could feel his lungs starting to throb: about half his air was gone. Off in the distance, he could hear the offshore current rushing; closer, the seaweed was swishing about, though the water was relatively still. On the other side, he could hear the surf pounding against the rocks, and the peculiar sloosh-swoosh of the water sloshing in and out of his tribe's ancestral cave. He focused his attention beneath him. The bottom here was a silty muck of dead plants, crabs, and shrimp, so it was difficult to hear the movements of prey. Still, if one focused, it could be done ... .

There. Not in the muck, but a disturbance through the still water just above it. It was coming. He risked opening his mouth, tasted the water. Lobster scent, much stronger amidst the omnipresent seaweed. He opened his eyes, looked down slowly. Nothing through the murk, but that was to be expected. He listened again, then dove in a sprint. The lobster realized a second too late what was coming, and hurled itself backward just as Gran's hands shot out and grabbed it, his long, tapered thumbs locking beneath it and constricting the crustacean's movement. The lobster's pincers grabbed at Gran's forearms, but closed harmlessly on the especially thick hair covering them. They were shaped like thin elm leaves tapering toward his hand, while his upper arms were thick and muscular to pull the forearms through the water.

Lobster securely held, Gran kicked powerfully toward the surface, glimmering faintly in the starlight above him. His lungs were starting to ache: he had only a few minutes left before he went catatonic and rose automatically as he slowly expelled air. His back muscles were sore from pulling him sinuously through the water, and his thighs ached from kicking his broad, wide lower legs and feet. There -- at last! He broke through the surface of the water, kicked once to throw his body up, and crashed back down forcefully on the lobster. It was knocked unconscious, and relaxed its grip on his arms immediately. He set the shell at the top of its back between his teeth and bit down hard; it cracked slightly, and he bit again, floating and taking deep breaths. Blood leaked out, and he licked his lips, savoring the salty, iron taste. Then he bit again, peeled the shell fragments off of the lobster, and set at work tearing the fresh, tough meat from the lobster's back. Blood ran down his chin and into the water. He loved it.


December 1, 71412
Global Mean Temperature: 24.9° C

Vild crept through the underbrush. The long night was nearing its end, although it was still very dark. Above him, he could have caught a glimpse of faint, twinkling stars, if he'd felt like looking. He didn't feel like looking: he was instead focused entirely on the large groundsquirrel grazing on the ground several meters in front of him. When it stood on its hind feet, it came up to his chest, which meant that if he were alone, he would have to use all of his strength to bring it down once he'd chased it down. Fortunately, he wasn't alone; he knew there were three others from his clan all stalking this particular groundsquirrel with him. They had it surrounded, and when it came down, it was fat enough from eating through this winter that it would feed all of them for a week.

His eyes dilated a little more. He could see the trees standing in front of him, and the low bushes between him and the groundsquirrel. Its coat was winter-dark, so he could only see hints of movement through the trees, but he could hear it, and he could smell it. Its musk was the strongest scent in the air for miles.

Vild inched forward, then heard the groundsquirrel sit up on its haunches and sniff. Mentally, Vild cursed: he was upwind, but one of his comrades, Kin, was downwind, and there was no doubt that it would smell him. The squirrel sniffed again, bright nose quivering in the starlight. Then, it lunged forward and ran straight at Vild. He froze.

From the brush on either side of the groundsquirrel and behind it burst the other three in Vild's clan. They closed in after it, but sprinting, the squirrel had the advantage. In a second, it would be on Vild. He was still frozen, watching it approach, closer, closer -- now! Every muscle tensed, Vild threw himself at the beast. He landed on its back, and it was knocked on its side, but then it was kicking at him with hard, dull claws, and biting at him with its sharp rodent teeth.

Vild was taken aback for an instant with the ferocity of the defense, but then he pushed the groundsquirrel back, and, flopping on its belly to stifle the kicking limbs, dug into its throat with his hands. His hardened, sharpened nails tore through its skin as it squealed, and with a jerk Vild tore out its carotid artery. Blood fountained out onto Vild's hands, and the kicking quickly frailed and died.

The others surrounded him, and he looked up at them, baring his needle-sharp teeth in an expectant smile. They smiled back, and one clapped him on the back as they squatted around the kill. Vild rolled off the carcass, and sat back on his haunches, balanced by his thick, heavy lower spine. As the man who'd brought down the prey, he was allowed first choice of meat; in celebration, he chose the good, thick thigh muscle. Scratching at the groundsquirrel's body, he first pulled the skin off the leg, then brought the haunch up to his mouth and bit at the fresh meat, the points of his teeth digging in and then jerks of his neck tearing it off. He swallowed it almost whole, with little chewing to soften it up; blood ran down his chin, and as Vild basked in the approval of his comrades, he thought that life was good.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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Post by Surlethe » 2007-07-13 01:50pm


July 4, 152947
Global Mean Temperature: 23.8° C

Gul's tribe was scraping out a pitiful living on the south tip of a continent that had once been known as "Australia". For a ten and a half thousand years (although Gul himself had no concept of time longer than a few years), the birds they'd preyed on had been slowly declining, and now there were only a few dozen of the birds out in the brush thickly lining the coast. During the short days, the corresponding handful who were left of the tribe were out as long as the sun was up, swinging through the tall mangrove trees and fighting pangs of hunger as they searched for prey. Although they were used to the birds, anything warm and meaty would do -- but there didn't seem to be anything at all.

Gul was huddling in a treetop nest with his wife, sleeping through the long night, when something woke him. Gul poked his head up, pricked his ears. He would have been considered alien to any human of Valdemar's time [I owe you another half-pie. -Ed.], though upon closer inspection, they could have bred, but not produced any fertile offspring. Gul's tribe, and others scattered like a string of pearls along the southern coast of the continent, were on average one meter tall, and covered with fine hair. They lived almost their entire lives in trees, a complex game hunting birds and being hunted by larger birds.

What had awakened him? He couldn't tell for a minute. Beside him, Ras, his wife, snuggled closer to him and whimpered slightly; he supposed she was dreaming. Quietly, he disentangled himself and stood up, swung out of the nest and onto the thick, forking branch. Beneath him, the river sloshed quietly back and forth with the sea. The scent of fish and brackish water assaulted his nose; beneath it, he caught a sharp, thick smell. What could that be? He scrambled down the branch and jumped lithely to neighboring tree. The mangroves here, with their roots in and out of the water like a grotesque pod of octopuses, wove together so much that one of the exploits of Dan al-Luma, the famous hero of legend, was traveling from the east coast of the continent to the west and back without touching the ground.

Gul followed his nose, careful in the cool night. His hair kept him warm, but not as warm as he would have been curled up with Ras, he thought. The scent grew stronger, and suddenly his eyes were watering as it turned from an undercurrent in the quiet sea of mangrove smells to an overwhelming acrid stench. He could see a flickering orange glow through the trees. Fire! Instincts moved him before his mind had decided what to do, and he was flying back through the trees, back to his tribe, his wife.

The fire did not move quickly enough to outpace him, but while its crackling dwindled beneath the quiet rush of the sea beneath him, the smell was always there, hurrying him. At long last, he arrived back, and as quickly as he could roused his wife, then the rest of his tribe. Gul was frantic, leaping up and down and chattering in his high-pitched voice as fast as he could. The language was primitive, but effective for their purposes, though "fire" was a little-used word. In a few minutes, everyone -- all fifteen of them -- had heard him, smelled the fire in the east, and were rushing to the west.

Perhaps Gul was faster than everyone else in the tribe; perhaps a sudden wind had sprung up and was urging the fire on; regardless, in a few hours, they could hear the rumble of the holocaust behind them. The smell was overwhelming and struck terror into Gul, even more than before. If he glanced back, he could see the glow through the trees; if he looked, up, the low-hanging clouds -- smoke or dust? -- were a dull, angry orange.

Still they fled, turning north along the shore. The tops of the mangrove trees were burning like gassed tinder; already, Gul could feel the heat on his back. They'd covered probably fifty miles by now, and were exhausted and limping along. Andu had fallen and broken his back during the second hour of flight; Jul and her baby had dropped behind them and nobody dared go back to check on them. They were down to twelve. At last, they halted for a brief rest, squatting on leafless tree branches and panting. Behind them, the inferno's rumble grew slowly louder. After a few minutes, the chief ordered them up and on, but Gul ignored him and dropped down lower into the trees. They were on the border of the mangrove forest, now, and trees of a different type climbed up the rocky slope a quarter kilometer to the north.

Gul had faint memories of a childhood here, and one place he'd gone exploring. Beckoning, he summoned his wife as they ran and explained what he remembered to her, inasmuch as their limited language allowed. She, in turn, talked to the chief and he talked to Gul again. Then he made a decision.

They cut to the northwest, across the fire's advancing front, and continued to flee in the new treetops. These weren't flat and thick like deciduous branches; they were short, thin, and leafy, though the leaves were shriveled and dead from the long winter nights. Gul constantly scanned the ground. Then -- there! He screamed his happiness and dove down through the branches toward it, running the last few meters on the ground. A cave opening loomed above him, and he entered without fear, confident that this was the one.

Everyone piled in behind him, and he led them back, feeling his way through the damp interior toward the back and the cool water pool he remembered. It was damp, and the rocks he clambered over were at once smooth and slimy. Still, before there was any sign of the water pool, the cave entrance -- far behind them, now -- blazed up with furious orange, coruscating into red and white. The heat penetrated to even this far, drying hands and singing hair, and the brilliant firelight illuminated the cave. It stretched on like a throat, ribbed and long. They continued to move away, though they were safe for the time being. After a little, the fire at the entrance dimmed and died, and in the resulting darkness, Gul let his smell, touch, and hearing guide him. At last, he heard the gurgle of fresh water before him, and dipping his hands to the stream, drank in the cool water.


September 11, 153268
Global Mean Temperature: 23.8° C

Juan was a matriarch in every sense of the word. A grandmother already, she led the tribe in its yearly migration across the Canadian grasslands, and had done so for five of her twenty-six years. She knew all of the wild dog packs that prowled in their path -- the Duanka pack, with its fierce, but cautious, alpha; the Dunlap pack, large but unorganized and ineffective in bringing down humans; the Kildan pack, small but machinelike in its efficiency; and five others who had marked out huge territories to roam and terrorize the many and varied prairie dog herds. Juan also knew enough to stay away from the huge rodents; they were vicious when in a group, and begrudged the use of the prairie to the human tribes who wandered it, scraping a living from the tall sawgrass and the shorter sweetgrass that only grew after a herd of the prairie dogs or rare megabirds had passed. The immense herds of grazing beasts cut swaths miles across, and tribes like Juan's could follow in their path, gleaning from the small sprouts that poked up after the great, tall cover had been mostly stripped.

So Juan had known well the feeling prickling down her spine and out onto her short tail, making the short, thick, wiry hair covering her body stand on end. It only came when the days grew short and the north sea cooled: time for the migration to the lakes. From the plains south of the body of water that was once known as Baffin Bay, Juan had led her tribe south and west to the land of many lakes, and past them to the shore of the great lake known in the ancient past as Lake Huron.

Thence also many other tribes had retired, and, of course, following them were the predators, from wild dogs to the birds that always hung around and threatened to steal infants. But Juan had led her tribe past the others and down toward the forbidden lands. They were the subject of great myth and rumor among the humans living in the due north; the heat, even in winter, was almost unbearable, they said, and the place was haunted by the ghost of the past. Juan put little stock in such legends; in fact, excellent though she was at bearing children, leading her tribe, and outwitting the stalking predators of the plains, she had little imagination to waste on flights of mystical fancy. The tribe priest balked at her wandering attention during religious ceremonies, fertility rituals and the like, but she had saved his life no less than five times and borne him two children, so she figured she had some leeeway with him.

The plants along the southern shore of Lake Huron were much, much different from what Juan had grown to know in the north, but she pushed on anyway. The ground was rocky and barren, with only sparse, tough grass and some prickly green things that grew along the water's edge. She had some trouble biting into it, but once she'd shorn off the spines and cracked it open with a rock, she was rewarded with juicy pulp. The only animals they saw as they trooped down the dusty isthmus between Huron and Lake St. Claire (though they didn't know of that lake's existence) were little birds with long, thin beaks and some catlike beasts that hunted them, though they didn't pose much of a threat at all to the larger humans.

But Juan pressed on, driven by an urge she couldn't understand. Not even the rising hormones could turn her back, although several of the men in the tribe were already courting her heavily. Rising murmurs of discontent among her tribe were enough to cause her to send them back, but curiosity -- a word she lacked the abstraction to grasp -- drove her forward, into an increasingly arid land.

She was the only person left of her tribe that day; the rest had turned back a week ago. She was still within sight of the glittering blue waters of the lake; the sun was roasting her already-tan skin beneath bleached hair. Leaning forward, and walking quickly on her toes to avoid burn from the sand that was pooled here and there in the rocks, she crested a hill and beheld a sight that no human would ever believe, even if she told it. A lone bird, wandering far from its flock, cried out shrilly as it circled above her, rather too eagerly anticipating carrion.

The sun was a brilliant yellow in the cloudless blue sky above her; to her right, Lake Huron stretched from the sterile beach as far as she could see. In front of her, sand dunes covered the vista from the base of the hill, where the rock disappeared beneath the surface of the sand, to the horizon, in every direction. But that was not what caught her breath in her throat: sticking up from the sand like a glittering forest were a million shining ... things. Strewn between them were darker, yet no less improbable hulks. They looked from a distance like rock outcrops that were a little too straight, a little too shaped -- and the shining things must have been miles away, yet towered as though they were next to her. Even the dunes ended as they approached straight rock cliffs that fell into the lake.

Juan turned and ran, loping elegantly and swiftly away from the sight. She caught up to the rest of her tribe two days later, and mating season banished all thoughts of what she'd seen; by the time of the migration back to their summer homes, she was healthily pregnant and passed the uncomfortable nights telling stories of the great shining ghost forest to her grandchildren.


August 30, 161189
Global Mean Temperature: 23.9° C

Ec was an aggressive little swimmer, his parents thought. He'd been in the water for a year and a half, since the age of two months, and already he was as agile as an adult, though not as fast. Ma, his conveniently-named mother, was a good eighteen years old, and had been an adult in the tribe for two years. All thirty-two people nominally lived in a cave at the base of cliffs that plunged from the snow-covered Andes peaks above them to the Pacific ocean beneath them; they actually lived most of their lives in the ocean itself.

Ma and Ec were inseperable, as all mother-child pairs were until the child was adolescent. That day, Ma was out a few kilometers from the home cave, with the Andes peaks still visible in the distance. She was streaking through the cool waves with Ec frolicking beside her when the already-short day started to darken. She was too absorbed with her progeny to notice the increase in the height of the rollers, and when the first raindrops splattered on the ocean, she was beneath the surface showing him how to swim. By the time they surfaced for air, Ma knew something was seriously wrong. Sheets of rain were pouring hard from the black sky; bolts of lightning cracked inside the cloud. She pulled Ec to her breast, took a deep breath -- hard in the water-laden air -- and dove.

Down here, in the murky depths, she could hear the storm in the background: a low, dull roar vibrating from above. But swimming was hard, too; the water pushed and pulled her in strange directions, and she couldn't see more than two or three feet in front of her. The kilometer that would have taken five minutes took an thirty, and she was exhausted at the end of it. Above her, she could still hear the storm, furious as ever, raging.

She had to surface for air, already. Ec was writhing and almost blue-faced; the underwater gag reflex overrode the breathing reflex, and while adults could hold their breaths for nearly an hour, Ec could barely go forty minutes without fresh oxygen. In a few seconds, she had broken the surface, and was bobbing up and down on the huge rollers, barely staying afloat. Both were gulping in the precious air. Then Ma dove again, and swam as hard as she could in the direction she thought she was going. Once more, the bottoms of the waves tugged and tossed her, and in fifteen minutes, she had to simply go limp, worn out. Her body was screaming prematurely for more air, so she weakly paddled herself up, snaking slowly through the water.

The storm was weaker now, and Ma could float on the surface with Ec crying on her chest. The boy had no idea what was going on, and was only afraid because his mother was. After several more minutes, the squall passed, the last bits of rain sprinkling down on the two people. At the top of the next wave, Ma looked around. Ocean surrounded them as far as she could see; there was no hint of the mountains of home, and no hint of the way they'd come.

A week later, some swimmers out hunting crustaceans and small fish found Ma's decomposing body floating at the base of a cliff. She was still identifiable. What was surprising was Ec, stubborn little Ec, was still alive, and sleeping peacefully on his mother's breast.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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Post by Surlethe » 2008-01-29 10:09am


February 14, 168240
Global Mean Temperature: 23.9° C

It had no intelligence to speak of, just the music of the spheres subtly tugging and pushing. If it had a memory, it would stretch back four and a half billion years, to the first vortices in the cosmic dust cloud slowly collapsing. Now, it had slowly been moving broadly about the star for all of that four and a half billion years, always being pulled and pushed by omnipresent Jupiter, the subtler harmonies of Saturn and Mars, and the even further influence of the outer gas giants and the inner rocky planets.

Then, a half million years ago -- the blink of an eye, if it had had eyes -- there had been a change, and it had coasted in toward the sun, slowly picking up speed. It sailed past Mars, the red dot ballooning into a disk and then shrinking behind. Its orbit took it down closer to the sun than Mercury ever went, and if it had had nerves it would have felt itself heat heat up as it sped past.

Then it was back into the relative cool as bright Venus went by, never more than a large dot off to the left (if it had had hands, it would have known what that meant). Ahead in the distance, a single blue spark gleamed a little brighter every passing day, as the four million ton asteroid would have known, if it had had a brain.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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Re: Global Mean Temperature ([14]: 1/29/08)

Post by Surlethe » 2009-06-25 10:59am

Well, this has been sitting on my hard drive for about a year and a half, so I thought I'd better post it and wrap up this little run until I can go back and really revise the background of the story. This series has a little bit less story potential than I originally thought; there're only so many variations of "X eats/sleeps/has sex/survives natural disaster/hunts/flees from predator".

Regardless, without any further ado:


January 1, 10967452
Global Mean Temperature: 21.2° C

Ian Jorgstund was the last of his race, he suspected. It was common knowledge that disaster had befallen every attempt man had made to civilize a planet -- a string of failures stretching back into the distant foggy past.

The tremor beneath his feet, and the slight force directed upward (in his frame of reference, he reminded himself) were the only reminders that he wasn't back home in his former house. It was long-gone, he reminded himself, as well as everything else. The music of the spheres was irresistable, and there was little anyone could have done to stop it; while the rest of his people had abandoned their home for another planet, which was probably gone, too, along with them -- cosmic accidents do happen, and civilizations can kill themselves just as surely as an asteroid -- Ian had abandoned his people for a quest that had been burning in his heart for as long as he'd been alive.

So while they all boarded the worldship, a self-sustaining artificial hollow planetoid constructed from the remnants of a planet that had fallen too close to the sun billions of years ago, Jorgstund had bought a spaceship and a supercomputer with the last money from an exobiological research grant. The supercomputer, he used to store every last bit he could find about the history of his race; the spaceship, he outfitted for a trip longer than any that had ever been made before. A thousand years before the black hole's effects would be felt strongly on the system, two hundred until the sterilizing rays from the accretion disk became strong enough to wipe out all life, human civilization had boarded the worldship and set off, powered by hydrogen mined from the star; Jorgstund, meanwhile, had bidden all his friends goodbye and launched himself into an orbit several light-hours from the star. He then put himself into hibernation, and programmed the computer to wake him when it was done with its calculations or when one hundred fifty five years had passed, whichever came sooner.

Jorgstund was forty when he had started the trip, though the dream had been with him since he'd been a small boy sitting in elementary history classes. Curiously, he'd been asexual and very strongly introverted, and so the thirty years of no companionship on the voyage (not counting the century of hibernation) posed no problem to him save impatience. Regardless, he put that time to work on biological experiments, classifying, and computer programming -- while on a relativistic ballistic curve, the computer had nothing to do anyway, so he'd taken the passable AI in the computer at the time and programmed it into a friend with whom he could banter.

He was a biologist by trade and inclination, however, so twenty-five days out of the month, when he wasn't in his frequent periods of cold hibernation, he was experimenting and trying to draw predictions out of the tantalizingly sparse data he'd gathered before he left his home. It was on the whole frustrating, since only fragments of snippets remained from the period before the colonization of his home.

And now, he could barely contain his excitement. He'd been in a state of hardly-suppressed enthusiasm since the deceleration had begun four years ago, and now, today, it was to end. The gleaming star shone in the viewport, a yellow disk hanging unchanged. Everything from the system matched his predictions, had checked out and confirmed the calculations he'd made. And now ... now, he was going to actually land on the white-and-blue half-disk hanging above - below? - him.

A few hours later, the planet had swallowed up the viewscreen and the computer, respectful but familiar, communicated that they were in low orbit. The lander was ready. Jorgstund took a gas mask and breather and ducked into the pod, which separated from the diamond-shaped blue-gray ship he'd come so far in. The entrance into the atmosphere was signalled only by a slight bump, and then a greater force pushing him down into his seat. The computer remotely guided him, so he had to do nothing but wait; at last, he felt a smaller bump, then the engines died. It was completely silent.

The gravity was crushing. He could barely stand, despite the exercises he'd been doing faithfully for years; nonetheless, his excitement pushed him on. Hurriedly, he pulled on the gas mask, strapped it down -- the few seconds for the click-whirr signifying atmospheric integrity took a lifetime -- and then popped the door open. The atmosphere rushed out, to be replaced by the noxious fumes of the planet he'd landed on.

And as he stumbled out of the lander, he was awestruck. In the distance, a gargantuan herd of huge grazers stomped across the plain; he could see a pack of carnivores stalking them. Above him, a flock of batlike creatures winged through the blue sky, their cries swallowed up by the huge, grassy plain. At the edge of the lake, another herd of smaller semi-aqueous creatures eyed him warily, while small ground-dwellers were scattering, squeaking warnings loudly to each other.

That evening, the astronomical data from the huge telescope on the ship began filtering down to the landing capsule. Over ten thousand planets in this galaxy, and who knew how many others, were stocked with life; another fifty thousand artificial stations were home to it. None of it was human, but it was all descended from the men who had begun here on Earth. And of the other galaxies in this cluster, whose planets the ship's telescope lacked the resolution to reach, who knew if they'd been colonized or not? The galaxy ancient man would have known as Andromeda, from which Jorgstund had come these past two and a half million years, certainly had been, six million years ago.

Jorgstund shook his head in amazement at the realization: The age of humans was at an end; the age of man had just begun.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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