Climate of Change
By Piers Anthony
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2010 Piers Anthony Jacob
All rights reserved.
The precise chronology of the development of modern mankind is obscure. We are "primates," because we fancy we have a prime position in the animal kingdom, but only recently — within the past million years or so — have we demonstrated much of that. Climate drove our development throughout; millions of years ago we were rain forest creatures, but when the climate changed and the forests shrank, we had to change too, or lose. So as dryness changed our habitat, we adapted to handle it. This adaptation took the usual evolutionary form: anyone who couldn't handle dryness died.
We became more flexible in gathering food, drawing on a greater variety of edible things, including scavenging meat. To get meat, including nutritious bone marrow, we had to use tools, and that made us use our brains more. Tools enabled us to manipulate our environment, to an extent, rather than being manipulated by it. Tools helped us compete with specialized animals, including predators. But it took time.
Australopithecus started walking on two feet about five million years ago; two and a half million years ago Homo habilis showed an expanded brain and a smaller gut. These were related: it seemed we faced a choice whether to develop a more versatile digestive system, or a more versatile brain. Some primates chose the gut and huge teeth; we chose the brain. Homo erectus moved into Asia well before the moderns evolved, and was a sophisticated hunter. Spears have been found dating to 400,000 years ago, well made and balanced; Erectus knew what he was doing. But he seems to have lacked the fine breathing control needed for modern speech. He could probably talk, just not as readily as we do.
Meanwhile back in Africa an even more sophisticated variant was evolving. Nothing less had any chance to displace Erectus, who had already conquered as much of the world as he cared to. For the purpose of this novel, it is assumed that modern man evolved in the Rift Valley and the region of Lake Victoria, in Africa. When the climate changed, constricting the plant and animal resources there, the growing human population could not be sustained. Some people had to move out, or all would starve. Thus a significant portion of mankind had to leave the Garden of Eden and travel elsewhere, searching for sustenance. They were not entirely pleased, as their subsequent legends suggested.
The setting is the southern merging of the divided Rift Valley, north of Lake Malawi. The time is 100,000 BPE (Before Present Era). It should be remembered that at this time the human species was virtually identical to what it is today, in everything except numbers, technology, and information. The culture may have been primitive, but a man of that day was just about as smart as a man of today, and just about as competent with his hands and language. Subsequent small changes in aspects of the brain were to make a big difference, however. There is some evidence that there were startlingly elegant harpoons and knives in this region at this time, but it is inconclusive; more likely these date from 50,000 years ago, matching the level elsewhere in the world. So "conventional" technology is assumed for this story.
* * *
It was the twentieth day of their journey south: both hands spread twice, in the gesture dialect. The end of the world was near, for ahead loomed the huge range of mountains that bordered it. If they did not find suitable land here, they would have to turn back, their mission failed.
Hero shook his head. He had said he was confident, but he wasn't. People and tribes much like their own occupied all the territory they had traversed, and all were crowded and hungry. The drought had impoverished the entire region. None wanted newcomers hunting or foraging in their lands. They were courteous to the travelers, but made it plain: Not Here.
They were following the trading trail, which was marked by widely spaced piles of rocks and scraped earth and specially twisted trees. Travelers were allowed to hunt, forage, or fish along this route, but could be considered enemies if they strayed from it. Every so often they spied others watching them from a distance, so they knew that the restrictions would be enforced. It was bad luck to kill a traveler, for the spirits of the dead could be vengeful, but there were sharp limits to tolerance when times were tough.
Haven sniffed. "Smoke," she said. She was his sister, one year younger than he at seventeen years — three hands and two fingers — but a full-bodied woman who knew her mind. Her senses were sharp; she could spot a ripe fruit or hear an odd sound before Hero could. She was the apt forager, and that really helped on this mission.
Now he smelled it too. "A hearth," he said.
"A cooking hearth," she agreed. "We may have lodging for the night."
They moved on toward it, feeling better. They were used to traveling, but this was the end of the day, and they were tired and ready to rest. A native home could be very nice.
In due course they saw it. At the base of a southern mountain was the house, formed of poles and brush, thatched over with woven branches. The hearth was in front, its open fire licking modestly up, roasting a leg of animal.
There was a young woman by it, focusing on her cooking; her gender was made evident by her employment and her bare breasts. She had long hair, worn loose, just as Haven did, as an indication that she was unmated. But there was surely a man in the house, for lone women did not hunt large animals.
Hero cupped his hands around his mouth. "Ho!" he called.
The girl looked up. She spied them, and jumped to grab a spear, holding it defensively before her. The gesture was more to show that strangers were not trusted than to indicate any actual fighting ability. She had surely been aware of them, but preferred to pretend innocence. It was part of the protocol.
Haven opened her hide cloak, spread her arms wide and stepped forward several paces, then stopped. She was showing her gender by her own bared breasts, and offering to come in alone, unarmed. That was the main reason she had come with Hero: to facilitate lodging with families. It had worked well enough so far.
The girl paused, then beckoned with her free hand. Haven walked on in, while Hero stood where he was. He watched her go right up to the hearth and talk with the girl. Then Haven reached into her pack and brought out a small object, and gave it to the girl. That would be one of their brother Craft's wooden carvings. They were marvelously intricate curiosities, linked circles cut from a larger piece. Anyone could bend a small branch around and tie it to itself to make a ring, and link another such ring to it, but to link always-solid circles was a novelty that intrigued just about anyone. So these artifacts were another key to hospitality, for there was no one who didn't have some curiosity about oddities. That was part of what made a person human.
The two talked more, and then they embraced. They had decided to be friends. That meant that there would be comfortable company, food, and lodging for this night.
The girl faced Hero and beckoned. Haven had made him seem all right. He waved, then strode forward. He carried his spear and staff across his shoulders, sidewise, making it clear that he did not intend to use them. When he got close, he pushed the staff point into the ground so that the shaft stood up without falling. Then he leaned the spear against it, the stone head up. He was disarming himself, without throwing away the weapons. This was another part of the protocol of introduction. There was very likely a man hiding in the house, his weapon ready; only when it was quite clear that Hero had no hostile intent would that man reveal himself. The girl's father, or uncle, or brother. Girls of any group were generally not left unprotected.
Now he wished that his younger brother Keeper, named for the way he kept animals, had come along. Because Keeper had tamed a den of wolf cubs, after Hero had killed their mother. It had seemed ridiculous, the way he carried the tiny wolves home and struggled to feed them and protect them. But as the pups survived and grew, Keeper's craziness turned out to be savvy, because the little wolves did not run away; they remained with him, loyal to him alone. Now they were grown, and he was training them to help hunt. Others were amazed, but had to concede that there was something to it. Also, the wolves were very good at sniffing out strangers; they knew the smell of every member of the family, and tolerated them, but raised a clamor when any stranger approached. One of them would have let Hero know for sure whether there was an ambush in the house.
But it had seemed better for Haven to travel with him, for she could be friendly in a way the wolves would not. They were looking for cooperation, not antagonism. So this was not the place for the wolves. Haven had just demonstrated her usefulness, by successfully approaching this woman. Once they found new land, the wolves would help tame it.
Hero took the last few steps to join the girl. This close she looked young, not far into nubility, slender and pretty. She wore a short skirt of reeds, and simple sandals. Her small breasts did not sag, and the nipples were enhanced with red stain. Her face was rounded and sweet, and her hair was brown rather than black. So were her eyes. But her thighs were solid enough; she would be bearing children as soon as she took a man.
"I am Hero," he said, naming himself. "I am a hunter, and warrior at need. But now I am traveling, seeking no quarrel." He made the sign of peace, his head bowed, his hands spread empty.
The girl eyed him appraisingly. "I am Crenelle. I am three hands years and unmarried." She too augmented her speech with gestures, for her dialect differed from his and she wanted no confusion. She finished with a brief tug at her own hair, calling attention to its looseness.
Fifteen. That was about what she looked. A girl could marry when she got breasts, and usually did not wait long, especially if she was pretty. But the fact that she stated it, and her marital status, meant that she wanted similar information from him. Her lack of concern about the presence of two strangers indicated that she felt safe with them, and that in turn probably meant that protection was close by. He saw another spear leaning against the house entrance, and smelled manodor. There was surely a man listening.
"I am three hands, three fingers years," he said, spreading his own right hand three times and adding three fingers. "Eighteen. I have no wife, and seek none at this time. I search for land for our family to occupy."
"There is none here. Only for members of our family/tribe." She smiled at him, more than passingly. "You lack interest in women?"
Now there was no doubt. She was interested in him as a prospect for marriage. "I have interest, but I must see to my family first. We are going hungry in the Lake area. The water is sinking. The game is disappearing. We must move to better territory." He gestured as he spoke, touching his crotch, his belly, making waves with his hand, and finally making a broad hand sweep to indicate spread land.
"It is not good here in the Mountain area either," Crenelle said. "The trees are dying. Game is scarce here too."
"Maybe we need to look farther," Haven said with regret.
"No, no need for that," the girl said quickly, surprising Hero. "We can manage, if we just get more rain."
Their gestures were gradually diminishing, as the concepts became more detailed and it was clear that their dialects were mutually intelligible. "If we got more rain, the lake would rise," Haven said. "The game would return. But there is never enough."
"Never enough," Crenelle agreed. "Yet the weather changes as it wishes, and maybe will change again."
Hero shrugged. "We have traveled far, and would like to return home. But I think we must go on until we find a land with enough rain."
"But you can't," the girl protested. "You come from the north. To the south is just mountains, and a big lake, and the lake folk are hostile. To the east and west are fire mountains. There is nowhere to go."
"This is bad news," Hero said with deep regret. "Perhaps I should talk with your brother."
"My brother?" She stepped from foot to foot, in place, making her loose reed skirt shift and reveal flashes of her thighs. She was trying to be seductive, and succeeding reasonably well, because they were good thighs, slender but firmly fleshed.
Hero smiled, masking his interest. "There are the possessions of a man here, and I'm sure you did not make this house yourself. I should meet with him before talking too much with you, lest he misunderstand my intention."
"My brother is away," Crenelle said. "He had to go to trade for dry fish."
"Then we should not be here. You do not wish to sleep with strangers too near."
"I think you are not strangers any more. Haven gave me a wonderful toy, and you I would like to know better." She put her hands to her belt thong, and drew up her skirt so as to show a clear flash of her crotch. It was no longer possible to doubt the nature of her interest. She was being somewhat too obvious, but had the right motions. His interest was indeed being aroused.
Hero glanced quickly at Haven, but she turned away. This was his problem to settle. So he addressed it directly. "I have just appeared here, and you offer me your skirt, knowing that I must go on elsewhere tomorrow?"
"I think you would make a good husband. If you married me, you could stay and hunt here."
"But what of my family? I have two grown brothers and two grown sisters, and younger siblings who may similarly have to find other territory."
Crenelle shook her head. "My people let only spouses remain. Haven could marry my brother Harbinger, and stay. I'm sure he will like her. She has a full body."
Haven jumped. "I'm not marrying either!"
Crenelle turned persuasive. "But then you could stay here. Your family would be free of two members, and the others could look elsewhere. That is better than failure."
She had a point. But Hero refused to desert his remaining siblings. "We are close. They would not desert me; I will not desert them. So I thank you for your interest, but we must be moving on, with regret."
"You are generous," Crenelle said.
"Not generous," Haven corrected her. "Decent."
"Yes. I like you." She considered briefly, then shrugged, making her breasts jiggle. "If I were a year older, I could seduce you, and make you marry me."
"Surely so," Hero agreed. He was not merely humoring her; she was impressing him enough as it was, and the added flesh a year would bring would make her a beauty. "Now we must move on and find a place to camp for the night."
"No need; stay here, by the fire. I have food enough, this night, and my brother will return tomorrow with more."
"But I can't give you what you want, so should not take favors from you."
She looked at him with a new sort of appraisal. "You are a hunter — and warrior. You can use those weapons." Her glance flicked to the standing staff and spear.
"Yes. But never against a friend."
"Bring them here, and protect me. I get nervous, alone. There is a lame leopard who may attack."
That was fair enough. Normally leopards stayed clear of human settlements, but lame ones could not hunt well, and so could go after human beings in desperation. Hero walked to his staff, took it in his left hand, pulled the spear from the ground with his right hand, and returned. He set both down within reach. Meanwhile Crenelle was taking down the roast, which was now ready, and was using her stone blade to carve off chunks of meat for each of them. She also had some fermented berry juice to share. That was bound to be a pleasure.
They sat cross-legged around the hearth and ate. "This is a feast," Hero said appreciatively. "I hope there is some threat in the night, so that I can justify my presence."
"There may be a way," Crenelle said.
Aware that she had something other than the leopard in mind, he glanced at her. Her position caused the strands of the skirt to diffuse, showing aspects of her lightly furred crotch, surely by no accident. Haven was sitting similarly, but wore a loinskin that remained in place regardless of her legs. So did Hero. "A way?"
"There could be a storm, damaging the house. You could repair it."
"A storm would bring water," Haven said.
"Good luck, a blessing from the spirits," Crenelle agreed.
He realized that Crenelle had diverted his question, not telling him her true thought. But there seemed to be no harm in her, and he did like the view she was giving him, so he did not pursue it.
"How is it that your brother left you here alone?" Haven inquired.
The girl grimaced. "He didn't want to. But since our father died, we have had to make do as a family of two, and can't be together all the time. So he leaves the spear in sight, and I pretend he's here. So far there has been no trouble. But there really is a leopard, so I keep the fire burning all night."
"We would not have approached, if we had known you were alone," Hero said.
"Why not? You would have taken me for easy prey." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Climate of Change by Piers Anthony. Copyright © 2010 Piers Anthony Jacob. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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