Missing Links

2015 Finals: Open Genre, an Animal Sanctuary, a bullet-proof vest.

2015’s winner: Candace Liegh Coloumbe‘s Heart-Tugging “Jimmy Cooper, Jimmy Cooper
(Read it – it totally deserved to win! – but bring a hanky…).  

 

De-extincting an ancient species offers insights into the nature of humanity.


 

7/15     20:30

Primary female and alpha male engaged in mutual grooming.

7/15     20:37

Male pushes female to nesting area, initiates mating.

R’yanna sipped at a cup of Adahran tea, setting a timer to record the duration of the mating so she could enter it in the log. She didn’t hear the door behind her open, but there was no mistaking the heavy footfalls of the night security officer. The equipment belt and anti-ballistic vest added some 10 kilos to his slight frame, and he clomped through the corridors like an elephant.

Because some of the projects at Anahareo Sanctuary were government-funded, the United Authority provided security staff to protect the classified research – actual security experts, with specialized training in how to minimize damage to the research during defensive operations. It was a huge step up from the Cepheus Refuge where R’yanna had interned; scientists there constantly fought for their lives against both poachers and accountants.

“Evening, R’y,” Jehrod greeted her, as he did every night.

She had chosen the afternoon-to-evening observation shift so she could keep her focus on the animals in the sanctuary rather than the people. Jehrod, however, seemed to know when she wanted company and when to just say hello and leave.

“Anything interesting?” he asked, as he always did.

She gestured vaguely at the monitor, and he turned to look.

“Animal porn again, huh? Learning anything?”

She chuckled in reply as he poured himself a cup of tea.

They stood companionably before the monitors, drinking their tea and watching the apes settle in to their post-mating behaviors.

7/15     20:42

Coitus x 3min, 42sec, followed by “spooning” behavior. Male pulls female down on her side, holding her against him for “cuddling” rituals.

7/15     20:45

Male asleep, holding female close for physical warmth. Female awake, shows signs of moderate agitation. Female holding one forepaw between her thighs – attempting to restrain urination…?

He waited until she had finished making notes in the log, then spoke again.

“So, tomorrow’s the big day…”

Her stomach fluttered at the thought of unveiling their research; she couldn’t decide whether the feeling was excitement or terror.

“Mm-hmm. Everything we know about these little guys will be released to the scientific community.” She smiled, trying to look self-assured. “The things we have learned are going to change our understanding of our history and evolution – of the whole human race.”

“Still gonna hang out with me when you’re famous?” he teased.

“I’m counting on you to keep me safe from the admiring throngs.”

“That happen a lot? Beautiful scientists getting mobbed by admiring throngs of… what, biology students?”

She flashed him an impish grin and returned her attention to the monitor. He watched her for a moment before turning his attention back to the animals.

“I still think those are some of the weirdest looking apes I have ever seen.”

“That’s why we keep them here – because…” They chuckled as they finished the sentence together “…nobody has ever seen anything like them.”

“But…what are they?”

She put on her ‘classified research’ face, and he interrupted before she could reply. “Come on, R’y – everyone’s going to know tomorrow anyway…”

After a moment’s consideration, she relented.

“The reason you have never seen anything like them is because they haven’t existed for thousands of years.” She paused a moment, enjoying his obvious confusion as he tried to reconcile her statement with the creatures on the monitor in front of him, who quite obviously did exist.

“Their native habitat disappeared millennia ago. The species migrated and evolved, of course – obviously, because we exist. But this period of our evolution was effectively wiped from the historical record.

“150 years ago, an archaeologist found a grave site that appears to date to the era of the habitat destruction. The remains were in remarkable condition, making it possible to extract viable genetic material. We used that to revivify the species.”

“You mean…. Those are prehistoric apes?” He gawked at the animals on the monitor.

“Exactly! And not just any prehistoric apes. We think they’re the so-called ‘Missing Link.’ Those ‘funny-looking apes’ may be one of the earliest intelligent primates to have existed.”

She paused to let him assimilate the statement.

“Anahareo was the perfect place to study them quietly, until we could understand just what it is that we found.”

“So…what exactly is it that you found?”

He watched intently as she crossed the room and tapped commands into a research library station.

“Well, their life span is about a tenth of a human life – so we have been able to observe several generations. They are fairly bright and have shown a limited capacity for creating and using tools.”

She tried to use her ‘scientist voice,’ practicing for tomorrow’s press conference, but found that she was instead grinning and speaking rapidly. That flutter in her stomach had definitely been excitement.

“They hunt in teams, have complex vocalizations, and live in small socio-familial groups, with a single dominant male. Females compete for desirable males with good hunting ability and strong physiques while males adhere to a traditional dominance hierarchy. They behave more or less like any other lower-order primate…”

Realizing she had left her tea at the monitoring station, R’y reached out her left hand and levitated the teacup into it. With her right, she updated the library display to show the researchers’ documents from the archaeological site.

 “Yeah, but…” Jehrod interjected. “I mean, what are they?”

“We call them Homo gaea primordia – primordial humans.” She continued to type into the research station, using her latissimal tentacle to turn the display toward him. “But according to artifacts found at the grave site, earlier scientists seem to have profoundly overestimated their intelligence, referring to them as…” She couldn’t quite stifle a giggle at the exaggeration.

“…Homo sapiens.”

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