The Earth was dying, and only the erta could save it. Created to be genetically superior, hyper-intelligent and unburdened by the full range of human emotions, they succeeded by removing the cause: humans.
Now the erta are faced with a dilemma—if they reintroduce the rebellious and violent Homo sapiens, all of their work could be undone.
They decide to raise one child: a sole human to decide if we should again inherit the Earth.
But the quiet and clinical Ima finds that there is more to raising a human than she had expected; and there is more to humanity’s history than she has been told.
Now we have whet your appetites, here is Chapter Eight of The Human Son where we find out a little more about the erta…
Permit me to tell you about erta in a little more detail.
By definition, I was not alive when my eleven ancestors—my parents and their eight fellow council members and Oonagh, who lives in the mountains—were created. However, I know enough through gestational updates and informative conversations with my mother to have gleaned a clear understanding of our history.
In 2054, when it was clear that Earth’s situation had reached dire proportions, a distress call went out. You had the remains of something called the internet, a crude but optimistic attempt at organising yourselves and the information you had gathered about the universe into one cohesive system. The internet was, like everything else, dying. Its nodes had been compromised; its infrastructure hijacked by the now megalithic corporations who had taken the role of humanity’s leaders. I had heard that your species once bowed to pharaohs, empresses, Caesars and queens. You left the earth bowing to chief executive officers.
Despite its ruinous state, a handful of persistent system administrators around the world fought to keep the internet alive, enabling it to remain sufficiently functional to propagate a simple encrypted message. This particular message originated in a place called Paris which had been under siege for some years, and was sent by another archaic system, also in ruins, called the United Nations—which is somewhat of an oxymoron, if you want my opinion.
The message was thus, in these exact words:
This is a message from the last remaining states of the United Nations. We issue a challenge, a call of hope, to any individual or group still operating in fields of research. To academies, libraries, laboratories and home enthusiasts alike: come forward with your ideas. Anything you have, no matter how outlandish or unfeasible, will be considered. We implore you—share with us your idea and tell us how to stop this destruction. Tell us how to save our souls.
There is no record of how many people heard this message, or how many responded. But we do know that it reached Dr Elise Nyström’s laboratory in the mountains of northern Sweden.
Dr Nyström was an expert (in human terms) in many fields, including neuroscience, bio-engineering, intelligence and nanorobotics. She was also a transhumanist, which meant that she believed human development could be guided into perfection by means of cybernetic enhancement and genetic engineering.
She was quite correct.
Quite simply, Dr Nyström’s life’s ambition had been to create a better version of a human, and the timing of her success and her interception of the United Nations’ message could not have been more serendipitous; just three months before, Oonagh had stepped, dripping, from Nyström’s gestation tank.
Nyström asked Oonagh: what should be done?
Oonagh’s answer was simple: create more of me.
This they did, and the council were born.
Physically, erta are larger, stronger, faster and more robust than humans. They live far longer and heal with ease, thanks to immune systems enhanced by swarms of self-replicating nanomites trained to hunt and destroy anything which does not belong within the body. Tumour, virus, disease, toxin—nothing that dares enter our blood stream with malicious intent will last longer than a minute.
We eat the same, although our diets are less varied and consist primarily of herring, vegetables and broth from the sanitation tanks. We drink the same, and although we have not developed a taste for alcohol or any other such drugs, I am told it affects us in similar ways.
Although our gestational requirements prohibit procreation in the traditional sense, we do still have sexual organs which can, in the rare case of couples such as Haralia and Jakob (so she says, and as I say I am highly sceptical), be used for idle pleasure.
We urinate and defecate in the same manner and from the same orifices, the texture and colour of what is issued being consistent and predictable with what was issued before.
But when Dr Nyström designed Oonagh, her genius (when compared with other humans) was not in what she added to the blueprint, but in what she left out. Rather than merely focussing on what could move you forwards, she spent just as much time on identifying what already held you back.
Desire. Fear. Greed. Anger. She muted it all, and in doing so created a far more peaceful space in which to think. The erta do not get distracted so easily. They do not think about themselves over others. They can see how things fit together without thinking about how they would prefer them to fit together. They do not fear the unknown, they do not want what they do not have. They do not fight to be heard above the next, because we recognise, implicitly, the value in a different perspective. Logic rules our thought, purely because there is nothing else to take its place.
You can understand now why that council meeting was so perplexing.
Of course, an erta’s mental capacity is also far superior to that of a human. We can remember every event as clearly as when we first experienced it, think in parallel, many times over, and at thousands of times the speed. We can analyse our sensory data in greater resolution and with far greater accuracy but in the fraction of the time. All these things we do without effort. The hard work goes on deep within our minds.
Which explains the final similarity between erta and humans: sleep. Erta require regular, consistent sleep, probably to a greater degree than humans and, possibly than almost any other form of life upon the planet. It is when our minds perform their deepest levels of processing, and if it is lacking, then so are we.
The erta need their sleep.
I need my sleep.
You, it seems, do not.
You wake up at night, many times over. There is no pattern. Or if there is, then I cannot find it.
Prior to the day you vomited, you had been sleeping soundly through the night, as every other diurnal life form upon this planet, including me, should and does. But that night you woke before midnight, bringing me with you, unwillingly, into consciousness. I rose and sat upon the bed. My house was illuminated only by weak starlight, the moon a waning crescent obscured by the southern cliffs. The tide was high, and I heard the waves washing the beach. It was a peaceful sound, whereas your cry, as ever, was not.
I applied the feeding routine, attaching you to my breast as I had done during the day and dribbling milk from a cloth down my flesh. You took it hungrily for six minutes, then removed yourself, gurgled and immediately slept. My own passage back into unconsciousness was not so swift; I had rarely in my life woken before my body and mind had enjoyed sufficient sleep, and it was strange to be awake during the night. I lay there listening to the shuffling of the palms against my roof, and the quick, light steps of rodents over the porch. A night owl screeched. It was nine minutes before I fell asleep, and two hours, thirty nine minutes and fifty seven seconds before I was awake again.
My brain usually assembles sensory data so expeditiously that I can, for example, know everything about a forest clearing the moment I step into it—the species of grub crawling through tree bark, the network of roots beneath the ground, the ambient temperature, humidity, the frequencies of bird call above and so forth. But this time my brain did something which it rarely does. It faltered, and for a brief moment I found myself lacking data. I did not know why I was awake, or where I was, or— I was somewhat chilled to note—who.
It is extremely unnerving to lose an identity which has stood firm for five centuries. But this was a momentary glitch, and I sat up and repeated the same procedure, as before.
You woke twice more that night.
The next day was not a good day.
The Human Son by Adrian J Walker is available now as an ebook and paperback published by Solaris.