An introduction to a new sci-fi novel coming this winter: 2013-14
Stories are like dreams. They fill your head with all sorts of terrific nonsense when they aren't busy scaring the bejesus out of you. I think it must be that the people who have no stories to tell are the same people who cannot remember their dreams. If you ask me, it is a sad misfortune to have a head with no nonsense in it.
The Wayfarer came from the lone moon of Venus more than 300 million years in the past, long before there were intelligent life forms to give it a name. His first few thousand years of life were spent inhabiting fish-like creatures on one of the moon’s many far side lakes. The water was highly oxygenated thanks to the lush plant life, though an anoxic environment would have suited him just as well.
He knew nothing of his origins. Like some of the loricifera found on Earth, he had no mitochondria, yet he was not entirely hydrogenosome based. His tiny microscopic body produced energy from various materials found in other living creatures. Strictly speaking, however, he was no parasite. Being mitochondria free, he was a long-liver with a lifespan that might reach billions of years, and as such, had no need to reproduce. In fact, if there were others of his own species, he had never come across one. It’s likely he wouldn’t have known it if he had.
Similar in construct to an amoeba, he had no head, no eyes, no ears—not even a set mouth. Like a millipede, he had several rows of tiny legs that were equally at home walking, climbing, or swimming. Being microscopic in size, he would float on currents of air as easily as waves of a lake until he sensed the warmth of a living creature and would take up residence there, generally entering through the mouth. Once inside, quickly and instinctively he’d find his way to the creature’s cerebral cortex. Using the spines on his legs, he would hook them into various sensory and motor neurons that would transfer electrical sensations to his own brain which, although quite small, was much more complex than any modern scientist could believe to exist in such a tiny creature. Here is where the real living began.
Multicellular life emerged with great rapidity on Venus’ moon due to it’s distance from the sun among a tapestry of other complicated reasons. What took billions of years on Earth happened in less than a hundred million there. The Wayfarer journeyed from creature to creature, living within each, often for many, many years, usually until they died. Then he would move on. While he took up occupancy, their sensory perceptions would become his own. Thus, he saw through their eyes, heard with their ears, experienced taste with their tongues. He lived their existence with them, though never interfering. They were totally unaware of his presence.
This was his normal mode of existence (he could conceive of no other) until, thanks to the sun’s gravitational pull, the moon finally impacted the planet with such great force that it set Venus on it’s odd reverse rotation.
* * *
He was intelligent but did not know it, his reasoning not yet having been put to the test. It was only the first year after his hibernetic journey on a fragment of the moon which hurled itself into the heart of the Earth’s Panthalassic Ocean more than a hundred miles from the western shore of Pangaea. Neither extreme heat nor cold, nor the great collision of the fragment made much of an impression on the sleeping space traveler. Like many microscopic critters, The Wayfarer was indeed hard to kill.
When he first awoke, he found himself floating near the ocean’s surface. Almost a full week would go by before he sensed a tiny bit of warmth emerging from the first cold-blooded creature he physically encountered—a young cladoselache shark. Grasping a gill slit with his many feet, he was able to hitch a ride. Within a day he was safe inside, attached to the shark’s cerebral cortex.
The Wayfarer was pleased to be within such a hardy creature, especially one which would surface from time to time so that he could look beyond the sea to the greater world. He especially liked to view the stars in the early morning hours as the young shark jumped and played in the rushing tides, although he could no longer recognize their patterns from his new outpost in the cosmos.
The shark was nearly four feet in length, very large for the Paleozoic Era. He had few natural predators, or at least, few that could keep up with him provided he saw them first. His main diet consisted of anything that lived in the water and would fit in his mouth. The Wayfarer rather enjoyed the taste of the early proto shrimp and various bony-fishes. The slimy hagfish he could have done without and regularly turned off the sensory receptors in one of his legs responsible for taste information when one of these was consumed. All in all The Wayfarer was contented living vicariously through the shark and did so for many years until a thirty foot dunkleosteus fish came from behind and crushed the cladoselache (who was now quite old) between his powerful jaws. But within the space of an hour The Wayfarer would find his way to the brain of the dunkleosteus and become co-master of the Panthalassa.
He remained an ocean dweller for the next 250 million years living in all kinds of ocean dwelling creatures big and small, even surviving two cataclysmic events nearly 200 million years apart, both of which heated the ocean’s waters to staggering temperatures. But both times he sensed the danger and was able to take up occupancy inside proto shrimp that dove deep down into the vast trench that once ran along the western side of Pangaea (and later Laurasia) where the water stayed cool, each time remaining for hundreds of thousands of years, and then re-emerging to find a vastly different planet with most of its life forms gone.
Finally, one warm, spring day a loon dove into the water and swallowed whole the small bony-fish The Wayfarer was residing in. He had no idea what had swallowed his home, but it took him very little time to get to the loon’s tiny brain, and after the right connections were made he found himself staring down at the Earth 4,000 feet below and immediately knew his time as a water dweller had come to a close.
* * *
There had been no avian life on the moon of Venus, not even flying insects. And while his minuscule body was capable of floating softly on air currents, this was a whole new experience. Whizzing high above the ground at nearly 80 miles per hour, diving into the ocean to grab fish and then upon resurfacing to literally run along the surface of the water for a hundred or two hundred yards before acquiring enough momentum to regain flight, snatching insects right out of midair for a snack—it all seemed impossible. He took great satisfaction living in the loon for several years and would inhabit thousands of other birds before he was done.
At home in the ocean, he had missed the entire era of the dinosaurs, although he viewed them many times from the water near the shore and felt a shiver. There had been nothing on his old moon that could compare in size, strength, and fierceness. At least he didn’t think so, but he couldn’t really remember his old home. His brain and memory were vastly superior to anything on Earth. His neural network could store information literally by stacking atoms along the sides of his body chamber, a bio-electrical wonder. But even a long-liver such as he had only so much storage capacity.
The Wayfarer would spend the next 50 million years within an extremely wide variety of birds and animals of every kind and size while roaming the land mass which would eventually become North America. He came to think of it as home and learned to extract himself from birds when they migrated south for the winter. This was his land now. He had no desire to live anywhere else, even temporarily.
In many ways, each day was the same. Whatever creature he occupied would spend the majority of its time looking for food while trying to avoid being eaten by others. When it wasn’t eating, it was sleeping. Birds were somewhat more interesting in that they built nests for their young and this he found fascinating. Once he spent an entire evening in a tree watching a spider spin a complex and intricate web that filled him with awe. He also found it frustrating because the bird he was taking up space within, and whose eyes he viewed the spider through, would often look away or would look at something else where only a small part of the web was visible from the corner of one eye. The bird wasn’t intelligent enough to be curious about much of anything for long. The Wayfarer never seemed to find another creature as curious as he, and this he found to be a curiosity in itself. But something vastly more astonishing than birds building nests or even spiders spinning webs was about to happen.
It was only 10,000 years ago that the Wayfarer and his bird were perched in a tree when the bird’s ears picked up an extraordinary sound unlike anything either had ever heard. The noise would come in short staccato bursts and in slightly different pitches. It was very peculiar indeed even to the bird who kept his head cocked to one side listening intently. The sound gradually came quicker and louder. Soon the source (or sources) of this sound appeared over the hill to the west, walking on two legs side by side, carrying the carcass of a whitetail deer between them and—talking.
The Paleo-Indians were so vastly different from other animals that creatures would come out of the woods to sit and watch them (they as yet had no reason to fear humans), completely fascinated, especially by their hands.
The Indians sat beside a nearby creek and dressed out the deer. The Wayfarer was entranced with the adeptness of their hands and the stone tools they used to carve and skin the doe. They did something else very odd, something The Wayfarer wouldn’t have believed possible. They started a fire by scraping two stones together to create a spark. Surely these were no ordinary animals! Where did they come from? he wondered.
They cooked and ate the meat, packing away the portion that was left in a deerskin bag. They even wore the skins of animals for clothing. Even their feet were covered in skins. The Wayfarer had a hard time understanding the purpose of this.
One of the Indians began carving on a bone while the other disappeared into the woods and came out again carrying vines. The bones had been used to make fish hooks. After attaching the vines, they used the deer’s liver as fishing bait and sat by the creek making that noise with their mouths again, often showing their teeth at each other—yet they didn’t appear to be angry. The Wayfarer was confused. Why bare your teeth if not to strike terror?
Just then The Wayfarer’s bird flew away, and he would not see another human for more than 2,000 years.
* * *
When The Wayfarer next saw humans again, there were several of them in a pack. He was in the body of a gray wolf that lay on a small plateau overlooking the valley below where they made camp. Some of their young boys were taking turns throwing a long stick with a pointed rock tied to the end, trying to land it in a circle they had drawn in the dirt while the adult men left to hunt and the women built huts of sticks and animal hides.
The Wayfarer would in fact start to see humans with a certain amount of regularity from that time on, always with great interest. He later watched the early mound builders in the central plains, was there when the first bricks and stones were laid in the five story complexes at Chaco Canyon (it amazed him that other native peoples never bothered to copy the stone building technique), saw all kinds of dwellings come and go from teepees to longhouses and partially underground sod homes, watched great Indian nations fight for land and hunting grounds ... and saw the first white men make their entrance from the east.
They came in great wooden vessels across the seas and over several centuries filled the land, blazing paths that would crisscross the continent and eventually give way to concrete and asphalt. They took rock from within the Earth and made iron which they would mold and bend to their heart’s desires. And with iron came the strange houses that belched beautiful billows of white smoke and moved along iron rails and wooden planks. They also made wire and hung it from wooden posts stringing it from coast to coast.
Great and magnificent horses were brought to the land and were used to pull wagons, carts, and plows. (The Wayfarer lived in one for a time, and the farmer’s children would ride upon its back coming home from a hard day’s work in the fields and would pet the animal and give it apples which the Wayfarer greatly enjoyed.)
But the humans were not always peaceful and eventually fought one another in a grand war which left thousands of dead bodies strewn across the land.
With concrete roads came the iron horses. In another 50 years there would be more of them than anyone could imagine running at terrific speeds throughout the entire countryside.
Humans built great domiciles reaching higher and higher until, no longer being satisfied with their connection to the Earth, they made houses that could fly across the skies.
In all this The Wayfarer looked on with astonishment, but something more, almost a kind of reverence. So much so that he never once considered attempting to live in a human. They were in his mind something far above him—a creature to be admired from afar. However, while he could hope to leave one creature and enter a certain other nearby, having no eyes or ears of his own, the animals; birds; and fish he lived in throughout his life were often the result of happenstance. And so it happened that on a warm spring day in 1959, the bluebird he inhabited flew into an open window at St. Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana and into a wall where it died. The Wayfarer would get a ride on a custodian’s sleeve and settle on a bed in the maternity ward where Mrs. Evans would give birth that evening. The Wayfarer had just made his final connections to the newborn’s cerebral cortex when he heard her say, “Bode Jack; his name will be Bode Jack.”