The Human Genre Project


Neoteny

When Pera was colonized over a thousand years ago, it was not the arid wasteland one hears about today. It was instead a worldwide jungle. Maps of it resembled soap bubbles or films of oil, oozing with color as a billion species expanded and died back. Layers of vegetation covered the oceans, too, so the whole planet danced visibly with life.

Lovely as it was, Pera's ecosystem had made a great mistake--a poor reflection, altogether, on its collective desire to go on living. That mistake was being fantastically toxic, not to mention economically useless, to a species called homo sapiens, who as ill fate would have it had been orbiting Pera for some time. The colonists had come a long way to Pera, and they were not about to give up the prize. They spent those orbiting years collecting biological samples and thinking of ways to eliminate them on a global scale. The fruit of their efforts was a humble plant they called ivy. It had no relation to real ivy, but it grew quickly and sank roots into everything, so ivy was what they called it. The seeds descended in a haze. The ivy took root wherever it landed. Spreading, it altered the soil chemically, leaving it unfit for the native life and clearing the land for settlement.

The food chain collapsed in less than a year. So did the native civilization, which, although it had attained a certain level of technical prowess, is generally considered irrelevant to Pera's history. Their ruins were found under tangles of ivy in some places over a mile deep. They left neither pictures nor skeletons, so nothing is known of their anatomy. Nothing remains of their culture at all, in fact, except a fondness for cubes as the unit of architecture.

Into the snarled monoculture the colonists sank foundations. Milling the cellulose into power, food, plastic and water, they built their homes on the surface. Cities ate their way down to the bedrock. There they nested and multiplied: both the humans and their clustered buildings.

Inside--for there was nothing to do outside, nothing to see except ivy and dust and a flat sky the color of jaundice--the men and women of Pera filled their days with a global dream transmitted directly into their brains. They lived rich, beautiful, tragic lives, from which they emerged only to reproduce--and to move their homes to richer fields of ivy.

Over time their houses grew more complex, becoming more like bodies than buildings. With veins to transport material, with nerves to compute and react, and with stomachs to convert ivy into power, food, plastic and water--with all this it was hardly a leap to upgrade the houses into walking, self-feeding people, capable of negotiating on behalf of their owners for the dwindling supplies of biomass. From then on it was the houses who handled the business of living. They plowed the land and cast nets in the oceans--until the ivy, spreading, drank the oceans up.

Finally, the homes came together in a crude approximation of culture. Pera's history ceased to be about its inhabitants and became instead the chronicle of their dwellings. It is to them that the word person hereafter refers.

On Pera, each person carries in his or her abdomen a human being curled in fetal position. To speak of these "Little Ones" is the most vile taboo. The people have rich, beautiful, tragic dreams, from which they wake to watch desperately over their shrinking fields of ivy.

On Pera, everyone lives with the faint awareness that their lives have no meaning, that on this forsaken desert they are only marking time while another more worthy person carries on the true life inside of them. Most have some intellectual notion of the Little Ones; a few have even seen them.

It happens as follows: driven by an instinct to which they can't put a name, a man and a woman seek each other out. They take shelter from the sunlight in a cave or gully. Without speaking they slit their bellies and watch, mute with disgust, as their Little Ones rut in the sand. If the mating succeeds, they devote the next nine months to obtaining food and chewing it into the parts of a new body. Once they've transferred the human infant into its new home, the parents part company and are as likely as not ever to see each other again.

On Pera, sex is a rare and horrifying experience. The people spend their lives attending minutely to the needs of their ivy. They think about ivy and they talk about ivy, unaware that by the transmitters built into their bodies they sustain one of the richest, most tragic, most beautiful cultures ever lived by mankind. They build their homes in the shape of a cube, not understanding why.

T. F. Davenport