Darwin’s World: the Prologue

So what’s the book about?  This excerpt may help. It’s Science Fiction, Action-Adventure, Time Travel, Survival, and the setting is the Pleistocene. Just not the Pleistocene you’ve read about before.

Prologue

I drifted from sleep to drowsiness. The walls were plain white, not as I remembered, but I didn’t wonder at the discrepancy. There was an open door to the side of my bed and I could make out bathroom fixtures in the adjoining room.

I lay half-awake until I felt the urge to use the bathroom. There was a coverlet over me, so I pulled it aside and got up. I used the toilet, cleaned myself, and flushed. I felt groggy; I couldn’t still be asleep, could I?

The bathroom was simple. The walls were white, though not glaringly so. There was a toilet, a basin with a towel, and a shower enclosure with a larger towel. I stepped into the shower, and as soon as I was inside, warm water sprayed gently over my skin.

A recessed shelf held soap and shampoo, so I washed my hair and bathed. I noticed while shampooing that my hair was short and quite thick. My arms were faintly hairy and the hairs were dark, as was the small patch on my upper chest. Strange; I didn’t remember being like this. My hair was sparse and gray, wasn’t it? Something had happened but it didn’t seem important. Perhaps I was dreaming.

I saw no controls for the shower, so I stepped out onto a mat and the water flow behind me stopped. I toweled myself dry, hung the towel over the shower enclosure, and returned to the room where I’d awakened.

The bed had been made in my absence. One wall now looked out on a tranquil forest scene. Beside the wall stood a figure, watching me. There was a chair so I sat down.

“Your name is Matt,” the figure said, and I realized that it was so.

I repeated the name. “My name is Matt.” There seemed nothing more to say.

“This is phase one of your awakening,” the man said. “You will be here for some time while we complete your transformation. Don’t expect to understand everything immediately. You will know more next time we wake you.”

Curious. Perhaps this wasn’t a dream after all. But I waited to hear more.

“We took you away from the time you were born in. In that time, you died. Your body had begun to break down from the changes that time brings. We recognized the onset of lethal changes in time and took you from the hospital. We brought you from your time to ours.”

I remembered; there had been a hospital, although the memories were vague and incomplete. How had I come to be there? I couldn’t remember. Despite the mention of dying and hospital, it didn’t seem to matter. I didn’t understand why, but I wasn’t worried. Was this a dream or was it somehow real?

“You have been harvested and we will now complete your transformation. The process will take some time but you will not recall what happens. Some of the procedures are painful. We induce unconsciousness to spare you pain. You will be transplanted to a different timeline after the transformation is complete. I will explain more when you wake. You will alternate between sleep and wakefulness as we process you. You will have questions and I will answer such of them as we consider meaningful.”

“How long will I be asleep?” For some reason, that seemed important to me.

“As long as necessary,” he replied.

I was beginning to feel drowsy and I thought I might want to ask another question, but he disappeared as I drifted into sleep.

#

I woke up faster this time. As before, I made a trip to the bathroom. The bath worked as I remembered and I now remembered much more about my previous life. When I went back to the ‘bedroom’, the only room I had seen other than the bathroom, the man was standing against the wall again.

“We will now continue your orientation. This is your second waking period. Much of the physical work on your body is complete. There will continue to be mental changes, but additional physical changes will be so small as to be undetectable by you. Such changes will add strength and coordination as the transformed body and brain adjust to each other. You will accomplish this task yourself.”

I had a lot more questions this time. “You mentioned that my body was breaking down and that I would die. Am I about to die?”

He answered slowly, “That body was terminal. We got little from it other than your genetic code and memories. We retained most of those. The body that we’ve grown using your genetic code is so changed as to be a new body. You’re physically equivalent to what you were in your early twenties. Mentally, I estimate that you will be approximately equal in cognitive ability to someone in his late thirties. Your memories will be those of a man who has lived a long time, at least as your culture measured such things. We have augmented your memories to add knowledge that we deem important, so what you remember is an amalgam of your own memories and those we chose to add. But no, you are not about to die of the causes that were killing your original body.”

He paused for a moment. “You have enough of your original memories remaining to understand the concepts I’m explaining. You may die after being transplanted, but we cannot estimate when that will happen. It may be that you will live much longer than you ever expected to, or you may die during the first day after being transplanted.

“For our purposes, it does not matter. Remember that you were terminal when we harvested you. Every day that you survive now is a day of life you would not have had if we had not intervened.”

“You said early twenties as far as the physical development stage?” I asked.

“Just so,” he responded. “The concept has little meaning. It’s simply where we stopped development. In your time, change began at birth and continued until eventual death. Early development made you larger and stronger and your body morphed from baby to toddler to child and adolescent before becoming adult. You are physically adult now.

“From that point, you added experience, learning, and a few other changes. Many of the changes were harmful. Your cells accumulated damage. Some of the changes altered the genetic code you were born with. Your muscles became weaker, joints became stiff, cartilage ripped and atrophied. Over time the changes became so overwhelming that life was no longer sustainable.

“There were also mental changes as your body aged. Physical changes within your brain caused later memories to fade, although your early memories remained nearly intact. We supplemented your memories with generic knowledge. The memory of your personal history is yours alone. We selected memories of things that were commonly known to others in your time and augmented your memory. Some of the memories are highly specialized. It would not have been possible for you to acquire all the memories you now possess in a single lifetime.

“Also, as a part of preparing your body to make you more suitable for transplanting, we removed the tendency of your cells for programmed death. The changes you experienced and the death that was inevitable were the result of accumulated damage to weak areas within your genetic code. We corrected those weaknesses, but you should know that we cannot prevent future mutations. Some of the weakened areas came about because of influences from such things as solar radiation. Other influences may also be encountered after you leave here, influences from naturally-occurring radiation and chemicals. We cannot predict what will happen to you except to repeat that your DNA sequence contains no known weaknesses. Another way to state this is to tell you that you are less susceptible to genetic change than others from your time. But less susceptible does not mean you are immune to the things I’ve mentioned.

“It is no longer certain when you will die. Disease is unlikely to kill you in the near term, but we cannot be certain that a disease may not evolve in future which will terminate your life. Still, your own body will no longer kill you unless an accumulation of damage cancels the work we’ve done.

“You can die from a multitude of other causes. Trauma, blood loss, drowning, or a broken neck can kill you. A knife or spear that pierces your heart or lungs or brain will cause death. Given time, your body will heal from lesser injuries, but there’s no certainty that you will have the necessary time for this to occur.”

I thought that over. “You keep saying that you’ve ‘harvested’ me and that you intend to ‘transplant’ me? Can you explain?”

“Certainly. We are from your future. Our science is far more advanced. Despite all we’ve done, or perhaps because of it, humanity is dying. We have conquered death as you knew it, and if any of the mutations I spoke of occur in the present time it’s a fairly simple matter to correct them.

“Still, our people continue to die. Most commonly this occurs from suicide. People don’t die from age or disease, but we also do not reproduce. There is no incentive to do so, and the practice became uncommon when it became clear that we must reduce the population of humans lest the Earth be unable to support us. Numbers declined naturally thereafter and this continued for more than a century. A much smaller population now inhabits the planet. The human population of your time numbered in the billions. There are now less than one hundred million people alive, and the number continues to decline. We estimate that humanity will become extinct within a century, possibly less.

“We have explored the solar system but found nothing that was of more than transient interest. There was nothing beyond the Earth that we needed. We have the ability to transform ordinary matter and to conserve and recycle what we cannot transform. We might have established viable colonies throughout the system but we lost interest in doing so. We never got beyond the outer boundaries of the home system. Einstein’s limit prevented that at first, and by the time we reached the level of knowledge to evade that limit and colonize beyond the home system, it no longer seemed important. The Earth now provides all that we need.

“Our people have no future other than death. Almost all now alive accept that. A few of us refuse to believe that extinction is inevitable and we are attempting to change our future. There are less than a hundred of us engaged in this project. We have the equipment and knowledge to harvest a specimen such as you from the past. We accept responsibility for harvesting and preparing the subject for transplant. There are similarities in what each of us does, but also differences. The different methods may be beneficial. We cannot yet say.

“Each of us places our transplant into a dimension we’ve selected. We chose this dimension because there are no native humans, and because the Earth of that dimension is physically similar to our present world. Life there will be hard and there will be danger. We prepare you to face the dangers and give you the ability to overcome hardships. Whether you do so is up to you. We believe that some of the transplants will succeed, but accept that some will not. We cannot say which transplant will have the qualities necessary for success.

“I have sent more than a hundred specimens to the selected dimension. Others have sent as many and some may have sent more. I have not begun harvesting the offspring of my transplants yet. I will do so shortly, then prepare the selected individuals for transplanting here in my own world and time.

“We do not know what the eventual results of our experiment will be. The harvested and transplanted specimens may adapt to life here and become as the rest, content to live out their lives without ambition. We hope they may retain the drive and curiosity that we have lost. It is not possible to say. We will continue the process and hope that it succeeds. It is worth noting that none of us engaged in harvesting or transplanting specimens from ancient cultures have terminated our own lives.

“In the meantime, we have established humans on a dimension where they did not naturally occur, humans of our type. Some of the dimensions we’ve explored have humans much changed from what you are and what I am. We leave them to work out their destiny in their own way. We hope they feel the same once they develop the ability to cross dimensions, but we understand that they may not. This, too, was a part of our reasoning when we decided to begin the transplant program.

“We hope that your descendants will possess an enhanced sense of survival. There will also be other qualities, and some of those qualities may not be advantageous. We will be very careful of which specimens we choose for transplanting here.

“You’ve said that I could die from any number of violent processes. Will you assist me to avoid that?”

“No. We give you a healthy body, a mind that is well developed for your time and culture, and then we release you. You will be transplanted to an Earth that has no naturally occurring humans, but the only other advantage we provide is that we select a location where survival is possible. We avoid extremes of weather and places we suspect of being geologically unstable. You may choose to seek such places on your own, but that is a choice for you to make.

“You will be alone when I transplant you, but there are other humans within a reasonable distance. You may seek them out, or not. The choice is yours. Some will be male, some female. Some will have been there a considerable length of time, others will have been transplanted after you. I cannot say, because I do not know what the others engaged in this activity have done. I do not know what they will do in future.

“The time period on that alternate dimension is between glaciations. According to your reckoning, the conditions are similar to the late Pleistocene period. However, some geological processes took place there in a fashion that is different from what happened on our Earth. Your knowledge of the past will be useful, but you should expect differences.

“There will be humans transplanted to each of the major continents and they will be released within the zone that lies between 40º north and 40º south of the Equator.”

I was beginning to feel drowsy, and I watched him for a moment. Then, with no further speech, he simply disappeared. I wondered if he was perhaps a hologram or if his appearances were ‘in the flesh’, so to speak. I fell asleep while wondering.

#

I soon fell into a routine; I would wake, use the bathroom, have breakfast, then use the well-equipped gym that opened off the bedroom. It was accessed through a door that I hadn’t seen before but that was otherwise similar to the bathroom door.

Work as much as I could; take a break, have lunch, work again. Break for supper. Shower and sleep. These were the things I did.

I don’t know how long this went on but it probably lasted for weeks. After the first two ‘weeks’, I was stronger and more agile than I’d ever been. I expected muscle soreness but that never happened. After a time I stopped gaining strength. From that time on, I worked on developing coordination and agility. Both qualities improved rapidly.

At the end of one of my workouts, the man appeared and looked at me. After a moment, he disappeared.

The next awakening found me in possession of more memories. Some I thought were my own, and some I was certain were of things I’d never done. But they were there. I wondered how long it would take to integrate them into my own memories, the ones I’d acquired at the cost of pain and occasional blood loss before the futurist had found me.

There was something new when I awoke this time. A table now stood in the ‘bedroom’ and a knife and axe lay on the table. The knife had a blade that was a bit less than a half-inch at its thickest and about ten inches long. The blade was two inches wide and tapered to a wickedly sharp point. The knife had wooden grips and a small cross-guard in front of the grips. A heavy pommel at the rear of the handle provided balance. I picked the knife up and examined it. I liked the feel of it and the edge was sharp. I tried shaving my arm and it easily removed the hairs. The blade had a clouded or mottled appearance. I concluded that this knife was made by repeated forging and folding to produce a strong blade that would take and hold an edge, while retaining some flexibility from the softer layers. It was a tool, but it might also be used as a weapon.

The axe was larger than a hatchet but smaller than a standard woodsman’s axe. The haft was wood and was about two and a half feet in length. The back of the blade was flat; it would useful as a hammer. Call it a camp-axe, more useful than a hatchet but still not large enough or heavy enough to be unwieldy.

I had nothing better to do, so I examined the knife and axe carefully. Some of my memories had to do with knives and axes, and some of them clearly were of places I’d never been and people I’d never met. For whatever reason, the memories left me pleased with the appearance and usefulness of the tools.

How would I use that axe and knife after being ‘transplanted’? Pioneers in North America had considered themselves adequately equipped if they had an axe, a knife, and a shovel. I had no shovel and the axe was small, but the knife was superb.

Some primitive societies had not used metal shovels. They’d made do with sticks or carved branches and those had worked well enough. Perhaps I could do the same. I hoped that the knife and axe would go with me when I was transplanted.

The two were fine weapons, but also too valuable to risk unless there was no other choice. I would need weapons that could be risked or used up in an encounter. The weapons would necessarily be things I’d made and that I could make again if they broke or were lost. A club, a spear, eventually a bow and arrows would be needed.

Meat or fish would provide protein. Vegetable protein would help, but I couldn’t count on finding it where the futurist placed me. I would have to hunt. I would also need to defend myself from predators, including humans. I finally placed the camp-axe and knife on the table and noticed that the man was back.

“Our work with you is done. It is now up to you to make your way when you are transplanted. This will happen after your next awakening. The tools you see will go with you. We will also provide a sturdy costume. The costume consists of belt, undergarments, shirt, trousers, socks, and boots. It is similar to what you are familiar with and the shirt and trousers have numerous pockets for carrying things. There is a simple leather scabbard for each of your tools, and you may choose to carry them in your hands or wear them.”

“How long before I’ll be released?”

“You will sleep, and when you wake you will be fresh and prepared for your first day in your new timeline. The process for transplanting you is painless and does not cause disorientation. You will be provided food before you depart and there will be no immediate dangers where you are released. You should consider what you will need to do immediately on arrival. I caution you that danger may not be far away. You should plan accordingly.”

I was getting drowsy again as he disappeared. I wondered how he did that. I supposed that it was not important, but it would sure be a handy ability to have.

I woke up energetic and hungry. There was a meal prepared, the same type I’d had before. The clothes I’d been told about lay on the table. I got dressed and put the hatchet on my left side, facing to the rear. The knife hung on my right hip.

The hanging tools felt comfortable and I didn’t want to chance the tools being left behind. Regardless of what the Futurist had said, I was cautious enough not to take unnecessary chances.

I ate the meal, whatever it was. I had never been able to identify the ingredients; the meals had been tasty and that’s all you could say for them. If one of the dishes was meat I hadn’t recognized it as such. There were no obvious muscle striations or the connective tissue that separates individual muscles. Just…something.

As soon as I’d finished eating, the man appeared.

“It is time. Come with me.”

He walked toward a different part of the wall and a door opened. Beyond the door was a small chamber with no discernible features. It was blank; a floor, a ceiling, three walls, and the door I walked through. That immediately disappeared and became a wall behind me.

Another door appeared where the opposite wall had been. Beyond it was grass, and three hundred yards away there were large trees. I stepped through the door and glanced behind me, but there was nothing there.

I was alone. I had near-perfect freedom. I could live or die, I could prosper or fail.

With the feeling of aloneness came the realization that I was a very small entity surrounded by a very large and dangerous world

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