"All right, children, settle down please," the Teacher said to his class as the gentle chimes signaling the start of class whispered into the room. The last of the students to arrive quickly and quietly took their seats.
The Teacher looked over his class and smiled. All of them were there, seated in their cushions, legs crossed, ready and eager to learn, sunbeams from the east windows bathing them in the morning light.
Suddenly he frowned and diverted his attention to the far left corner. "No telepathy. You know the rules. Time to pay attention to me." A few of the children quickly sat up a little straighter. "That's better."
"All right, this is the last week of Primate Evolution," the Teacher began after clearing his throat, "so, we're finally to the most interesting part, the part you've been eager to get to all semester, the primate species directly before our own in the chain of time: homo sapiens."
There was an audible murmur of anticipation from the class.
"Why wasn't there any time devoted to us?" asked a boy with dark eyebrows.
"Check your schedule," the Teacher said, "a class devoted entirely to the evolution of our species, Homo Psyopsis, starts in Sunuary.
"OK, now, let's get right into it. Today will just be a lecture; I will be summing up the best I can who they were and a little bit of their history. We'll get more in-depth into the details of their society and culture in the coming days."
The Teacher nodded to the computer panel on his nearby desk. A life-size hologram of a male and female human, clothed in only shorts and tee shirts, appeared beside him. "These are Homo Sapiens!" he declared. The students looked at them in amazement. They'd seen images of them before but they were always quite surprised by how tall they were and how flat their foreheads were. And as always most intriguing were their extra little fingers and toes.
"First, I just want to make a few comments on them, I want to clear the air a bit: our predecessors, for all of their faults - and there were plenty, trust me - were the most advanced species of their time, the first primate species to be self aware - capable of self examination and knowing, at least somewhat, their place in the universe. It's rather popular to look on them quite unfavorably amongst my peers but I'm a bit of a rebel in that I do believe that Homo sapiens, or humans as they usually liked to call themselves, were wonderful and beautiful people with a rich culture with their music and arts and literature. Actually they weren't just one culture, they were many, each of them unique and interesting in their own right, but they had a problem with mistreating those of differing cultures or religions. Sometimes they enslaved or killed, sadly, only for differences in skin color. Differences of religion was the major reason, though, for many of the wars and atrocities the'd encountered."
"What's a 'religion?'" a girl asked, puzzled.
"We're discussing human religions in-depth on Thursday," replied the Teacher, "but basically religions are a collection of paradigms related to spirituality usually involving the worship of a deity or deities. Disagreements between religions caused a lot of great friction between and within human cultures." This drew several nods of understanding amongst the students. Sensing they were satisfied, the Teacher moved on.
"But, it has to be emphasized that they accomplished many feats, including travel to the moon and out deeper into space and even established the first Mars colony. Most don't know that. They also mastered nature to some degree and learned a lot about physics, molecular biology, and even dabbled in quantum theory. We owe them a great debt as they served as the foundation of most of our knowledge of the universe and technology. But, yes, unfortunately, as most of my colleagues are very quick to point out, this wonderful knowledge and intelligence they'd possessed was used for terrible things."
"What kinds of things?" asked Maxie, a little girl with big, round blue eyes. The Teacher quite liked how the sun sparkled in the little blonde curls on the top of Maxie's head. The Teacher fondly recalled holoimages of humans, males and females, who could grow the hair on their heads so much longer than his species could.
But those images quickly faded as pictures of horrible destruction began to play out in his mind. He sighed.
"Well, as some of you may know already, humans liked to wage war on each other quite often, and as their technology advanced, so did their ability to kill, en masse. But it is actually not this that was responsible for their twilight in history. They'd killed each other by the billions with their violent tendencies (some were actually pacifists but they were only willful pacifists) but it was not any war that brought them to their knees. They had bombs that could split the atom and unleash a horrific amount of death and destruction but, fortunately for the planet at least, there was never any global nuclear catastrophe as many of their science fiction stories had predicted. Rather, what did them in was very, very tiny and it was actually their medical science, not weapons technology, that was to blame."
"Oh, a disease!" a boy with a little curl of black hair on his scalp blurted out.
The Teacher smiled. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Neville. Just listen...
"It was exactly 4,568 years ago that we believe that our species began to emerge, although those individuals were still considered human. Even though for millennia there had been controversial claims of psychic abilities amongst humans, it was in the Human Year 2008 when a girl named Magenta Albright was born in a place called England, the first person ever to display scientifically verifiable telepathic abilities. She shocked the world in 2027 passing a barrage of tests"
"My mom said that she was the first one of us!" Maxie interrupted.
"Not technically," the Teacher said slowly, squinting a little, "as she was human, but a telepathic one. She was just the first of many, though. Over the next two centuries generations of people, descended from that same woman, were born, most with the same abilities. It was very advantageous in many ways, and raging jealousy caused them to be quite mistreated at times, but the most important thing their telepathic abilities gave them was a heightened sense of empathy, the likes of which no human had experienced before. Of course this is why they - and we - were and are not violent.
"But, yes, you're wondering, I thought we were going to talk about how they all died, we're next semester." The Teacher chuckled slightly. "Patience, patience. Their End is also our Beginning. In the Human Year 2234 a nasty bacterial plague broke out, a mutated form of a bacterial plague that had wiped out twenty percent of the human population a century before, also a mutated form of a plague, the Bubonic Plague, which had wiped out about twenty-five percent of the population many centuries before that. Anyway, we believe a combination of oversanitation and overmedication was to blame; too many antibiotics were creating hyper drug resistant bacterium at the same time that too many antibacterial soaps were sanitizing everything, weakening the humans' immune responses because of lack of practice. A very lethal combination. The Plague that began in 2234 killed roughly forty percent of the world's population before a scientist named David Price, in 2240, developed a desperate tactic to fight the bacteria: an engineered virus. It did not harm people but it did virtually wipe the world clean of that bacterium - and many others. Dr. Price was lauded at first for stopping the plague, but then hated when his virus mutated a few years later and started killing humans and it proved to be more lethal than the bacteria it had been created to kill. That plague killed eighty-five percent of the population, breaking down the very infrastructure of their global society; governments broke down, a good portion of the survivors reverted to utter savagery, it was basically bedlam for a while. Descendents of Magenta Albright, though, were mostly unaffected by both plagues and of course resorted to no violence in the wake of the anarchy. (The full telepaths are who I'm talking about, those born from two telepaths. Partial telepaths - those born from a normal human and a telepath - were not immune.) The reason for the immunity is still a mystery; was it merely a coincidence that the telepaths had the immunity, too? Or maybe the two were related somehow? We may never know for sure. There were scientists who dedicated all of their waking hours poking, prodding, testing telepaths, trying to figure out why they were immune and exploit that to cure the plague but each of those scientists - including Dr. Price - died of the plague before they found anything conclusive. You'll be learning about some of the theories they did have in Advanced Telepath Biology. There's still some research going on now but we may never know because the first plague doesn't exist any longer and the virus - which had came to be known as the 'Price Virus,' has mutated thousands of times since it was first introduced.
"So, anyway, Natural Selection in the remaining human population accelerated as the population decreased. Telepaths were preferred mates, especially with having an immunity to the virus, despite arising physical differences like significantly smaller pinky fingers and pinky toes and bigger foreheads. By 2300, with humans continuing to have problems with the virus and its constantly-mutating successors, the world's population of people was at two billion, sixty percent of whom were full telepaths."
"So is that when we were a different species?" asked Neville.
"Not quite yet," the Teacher replied, "but we're close.
"Telepaths by that point had started to recognize a new area of their brains that was responsible for our telepathy, at the front, that we now call the psyoptic lobe, which had started to push our skulls. That's why their foreheads are much flatter than ours." Several students began instinctively rubbing their foreheads after the Teacher pointed to his own. "They were murdered by the thousands, incarcerated by the millions, for being different, because of jealousy, because the humans were starting to see what was happening. Some governments arose from the ashes of their former selves like a phoenix and to some degree law and order were restored but the humans could not return to their former glory. Even the most powerful human nation before the plagues, the United States of America, was never fully restored, all of her states were no longer united and most of them were in chaos. To answer your question, Neville, it wasn't until around 2360 or so that it was recognized that humans and full telepaths could no longer intermate. For years every fetus that had been conceived between a normal human and a telepath was miscarried. Within a generation, it became impossible to even conceive at all between the two. And this put an end to partial telepaths being born. It is at this point that the telepaths declared themselves, through books and published scientific papers, a different species, as the inability to intermate is a sign of species separation amongst Animal Kingdom (although some species of animal can mate with other similar species). One of the leading telepathic scientists here was of course our famous Dr. Niagra Rand (you'll be hearing a lot about him and his theories next semester) who published our most coveted document, his paper entitled The New Species of Man in 2371. Oh, and as if we needed more evidence, it was also around this time that we developed telekinetic abilities... moving things with our mind... flying. And we no longer had those strange extra fingers and toes by that time, too."
"Why did we lose the fingers and toes?" asked Maxie.
The Teacher shrugged. "You will learn about some theories in your upcoming biology classes, but the simple answer is, we just don't know."
After a brief pause, he continued: "As you might imagine, this declaration of our new species caused quite an uproar. Our mistreatment at the hand of the humans grew worse. But that was not to last. Even though we were pacifists, soon we outnumbered the humans two to one and it was simply not feasible for them to suppress us any longer. (It became harder and harder for their snipers to shoot us out of the sky when we knew they were there waiting, by the way.) Besides, we may not have been violent, but our superior abilities to manipulate minds also came into play. We took over the governments one by one and soon, without a shred of violence, we took over the world. Meanwhile, because of plague after plague after plague of the ever-mutating Price Virus, the humans continued to dwindle in number."
"What happened to them?" asked a small dark-skinned boy, who had no hair at all.
"Well, let's find out, shall we, Tippin?" the Teacher said, looking at the boy thoughtfully. "It's here that we have a little to be embarrassed about. Despite their mistreatment of us, we had no right to do what we did next, especially with how we were going on and on about our empathy. I think our species as a whole suffered from a superiority complex and began to view the humans as violent savages. A few decades after taking over all the governments, around 2410, we began to pass laws against them, basically making it illegal to be human. We locked them away everywhere, thinking maybe we could cure them of their violent tendencies, messing with their minds essentially. It was messy business I think we'd all love to forget. Soon all four hundred million humans were accounted for. We not only removed them from society at large, we began to remove all vestiges of their former regime that we could, foolishly trying to make everything our own, including renaming some of the months. At exactly 11:59 PM, December 31, 2419 is when we decided to end the human era symbolically by starting over at Year One, or 1 A.H. (After Humans). They began to die off at a quicker pace, being crowded up in our facilities, until only about a hundred million remained in 21 A.H. when we shamefully realized our folly and let them go.
"So that is where we come to the end of the End of the humans."
"There are humans still alive, right?" Neville said.
"There are, I read a book about it!" Maxie exclaimed.
"Correct, there are still humans around." The Teacher smiled at them. "There are 2,345 by my last count. And actually I have a special treat for you all. You're about to meet one of them!"
The children all opened their eyes wider. They gasped and began quiet chatter with their mouths and minds. The Teacher looked out the window on the classroom door and nodded. It opened and, being escorted by one of the school's administrators, was a Man.
He sheepishly half-smiled as he looked upon the class. He was tall, taller than any person any of them had ever seen. He was at least six inches taller than the Teacher. He had a full head of curly, dirty blonde hair (and there was so much of it!). The blue jumpsuit was form-fitting and there was so much muscle on his arms and torso that he made them nervous. "Uh, hello," the Man said in his deep voice. He started to study them with his green eyes. He seemed almost as nervous as the kids. A puzzled expression squinted onto his face.
"Children," the Teacher chuckled, "remember, he's not telepathic. Our telespeak usually confuse humans. And he cannot respond in kind."
Then the children erupted into audible greetings and questions.
"Children, children!" exclaimed the Teacher, trying to hold back more chuckles, "that will confuse him, too, I'm afraid! One at a time, please. Let's start with you, Tippin, since you are the loudest."
"What's your name?" Tippin asked the Man.
"Seven Delta," the Man replied.
"Seven Delta?" Maxie asked, screwing up her face. "Why is your name Seven Delta?"
"Well, 'cuz there's a Seven over in Theta and in Shoreline," the Man replied, "it keeps us from getting mixed up. But I guess you guys can just call me Seven."
"How come there’s no hair on your face?" Neville asked. "I saw a holoimage of a man once and he had a lot of hair coming from under his nose and chin."
"Like most men in human society he opts to shave it off, usually daily," the Teacher answered for Seven.
"Aren't you afraid of the Price Virus?" a child from one of the back rows asked.
"I actually had it once," Seven answered, "but I survived it... barely. Man, it was horrible! So, until it mutates again, I'm sort of immune. At least for now."
"Yes, he's safe temporarily," the Teacher said, "so he can go outside."
"Outside?" asked Neville.
"The humans that are left are kept safe in various Centers around the world," the Teacher said.
"Wait, so we've locked them up again?" asked little Trudy with a screwed-up face.
"It's to keep them from extinction," the Teacher replied quickly, "I know how it seems, and when our governments started that program two thousand years ago they tried to keep it a secret. But we learned quickly that in a society filled with telepaths, secrets don't last very long." A wave of small chuckles washed over the class. The Teacher chuckled a little himself, then continued. "But that Price Virus is still around. At its worst, it gives us the cold, that's about it, but it it's still highly deadly to humans and some other mammals. We figured they'd go extinct if we didn't either a) try to eliminate the virus or b) preserve the humans that were left in a sterile environment. And by the way, all attempts at making a vaccine have failed, before anybody asks. It changes too often."
"Yeah, I don't mind, I guess," said Seven, "I mean, if it keeps me alive..."
"But what kind of life is that?" Maxie blurted in.
"We make sure to treat them like kings!" the Teacher replied, grinning, turning to Seven. "We make sure the facilities are like luxury hotels. You have simulated reality suites where they get to act out any fantasy you want."
"Yeah, those are cool," Seven said, "we get pretty much anything we want."
"Except their freedom," Neville said flatly. The Teacher sighed.
"Would they rather have death?" Tippin asked, turning to Neville, then back to the Teacher.
"I'd kinda like to see more of the world," Seven said, "but I get to, sorta, with the holosuites. You can hardly tell it's not real. It's better than dying." Then he shrugged.
"You're not expressing how you're really feeling," Maxie said.
Seven shifted his stance. The Teacher spoke up: "Now he is uncomfortable. It is rude to read the mind of somebody without their permission, especially somebody who is not a telepath."
"Well, it's OK," Seven said, "I mean, it's not like I'm miserable at the place, and now that I'm safe for a while I can get out a little now. But, yeah, I guess... I dunno, I guess it sucks being cooped up."
"Do humans always talk like this?" Neville asked the Teacher. "With so many qualifiers, unsure of themselves?"
"Neville," the Teacher said firmly, "do not talk about him as if he's not here, that's rude, too. You should treat him with the same respect as a telepath, despite our superiority."
Seven looked at the Teacher. "Well I guess it depends on what you consider 'superior.'" For the first time he seemed annoyed. "I mean, I could beat you at arm wrestling." He looked down at the Teacher's thin arms, and then at his own.
"Yes, I'm sure you could," the Teacher said, half-smiling. Then he looked at the Administrator who'd brought him in. This was not a good idea he telespoke to him directly so the children couldn't hear. The Administrator nodded his head.
"Time to go," the Administrator said to the Man. He put his four-fingered hand on Seven's left shoulder.
Seven looked at the Teacher, then back at the Administrator. "Uh, OK. Bye, kids." He waved at them before he walked out of the classroom with his escort.
An awkward moment of silence followed.
"I don't think I'd want to be caged up, no matter the circumstances," Maxie spoke up.
"Even if you were pretty sure that you'd die?" Tippin asked Maxie.
"Would you trade a long life for a short time of freedom?" the Teacher asked. He began slowly pacing in front of the students. "Would you rather live - and live well - confined, or die free?" Then the sounds of the end-of-class chimes trickled into the room. "Think about that question tonight, at home," the Teacher said quietly. "And please write me a short essay on your answer."
While pondering the question the students stood up and prepared to leave.
For SciFiQuest 3008.