Lucy from the Sky

posted 26 August 2008, updated 26 August 2008

Her name was Lucy, and she was dying.

It was her choice. She had been given the opportunity to avoid death, and refused. But that had been in the abstract, a noble choice made when death was a theoretical possibility. Now it was a reality, the world fading slowly around her as the sun set and life left her body, and the pain had not been part of her calculations. But she had not much basis for comparison; death was a very rare event in her world.

At the dawn of the 21st century, humanity had finally unlocked the secrets of its own genome, and the decline of death began. It was slow at first, and very uneven, so much so that it had taken centuries for humanity to even recognize that the change had started.

The economic injustices of the previous centuries became the biological injustices of the new ones, as the wealthy bestowed artificial genetic gifts upon their children. Not only did the rich become richer and the poor relatively poorer, not only were they better fed and clothed and healthier. Now the rich became objectively smarter, stronger, and longer lived, and the pace of this change accelerated constantly.

Of course, as demand for these treatments rose the price fell, and the genetic enhancement of humanity began to spread across the globe and across income levels. Even the majority of the very poorest, six centuries later had been gifted whole lifetimes, inoculated at birth with genes that eliminated many chronic diseases and greatly extended lifespan. But the edge, the peak of development, was always those places where it had always been, for reasons of history or luck of geography millennia before.

Competition to be better than the generation before became a cultural obsession across much of the world, and encouraged experimentation. People focused less on physical perfection and more on mental acuity. Brain cases expanded; slowly, and with much moral hand-wringing, natural birth became at first risky and then impossible for a significant portion of the population.

The end of death was accompanied by a decline in the birth rate, but nevertheless a population explosion was inevitable. This initially looked to be disastrous, as increasing demands for land and water destroyed the last of the forests and illegal fishing laid waste to the seas. The green movement born at the end of the 20th century moved from being a special interest group to the primary party across much of the developed world, as environmental preservation and self-preservation became one and the same.

The inevitable solution to environmental destruction and overpopulation arrived in the form of the Earth as Womb movement, who advocated that humanity move wholly into interstellar space. In space there was no shortage of room or energy, and given sufficient quantities of those everything else -- even the creation of matter -- was rapidly becoming a possibility. The once-overwhelming hostility to life of space, the movement reasoned, was no reason not to colonize it now. In the same way that we are conceived in the overwhelmingly benevolent environment of the womb, but must inevitably emerge into the relatively hostile outside world, humanity had long overstayed its welcome in the womb of the world, and it was time to leave it behind.

It took centuries to become a genuine possibility, as enthusiasts built experimental habitats and modified their genes for low gravity, low energy, low-mass living. They grew smaller, eschewing cumbersome clothing for warm fur; freed of the constraints of gravity, they increased the dexterity of their feet. Once it became truly practical to migrate to space, it took thousands of years and the ever-worsening physical condition of the planet to persuade humanity that it was the right course of action. Humanity took to the stars.

But right at the edge of the bell curve of economics, progress was still uneven. Even in the age of exodus, there were still those who had less and those who had more, those who lived lives of exploration and discovery, and those who worked to survive. Lucy was one of these, one of hundreds of thousands of park workers who roamed the now-empty Earth, erasing the scars of the megacities, caring for the planet as it healed itself. To limit their own impact on the environment they survived off the land and used purely biological tools, built into their genes. The truly dedicated -- and Lucy was one of these -- had also decided to forgo life extension technology, to live natural lives and die naturally, as part of the ecosystem.

So when the bank gave out under her and she slid to the bottom of the gully, shattering her left leg and her right arm, she knew she would die, and thought she would probably never even be found. She accepted this, and through the pain was even proud of it. She was a part of the world, the womb of humanity, really part of it, not viewing it as some historical abstraction from a vantage point thousands of light years away. As her last breath left her, she smiled.

She was wrong. Countless millenia later, after the stream had covered her body and centuries had turned it to stone, and the continents had moved and the rivers vanished, the wind ground away at the stone until she was again uncovered. There, driving around a dusty plain on the way back to camp, her bones were found by the Earth's next children. Over the next 3 weeks, they dug her up, and told themselves stories about her brain and her bones, getting it all complete wrong.

But quite by chance, they got her name right.

P.S. Here is the real story of Lucy. She really was named after the Beatles song.