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.
"... alas, too many people think consistency the hobgoblin of little minds." -Publius
Daily Nugget of Wisdom from Goldman Sachs:
"I say 'keep the change' purely for my own convenience."
"A space shuttle on the back of an aircraft carrier in New York City is perhaps the most American thing you could have without the help of a deep fryer. I'm surprised anyone in the US opposes it." - Gandalf
WARNING: May become overexcited by mathematics or monetary policy.