Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Temporal Tuesday: Dances with Wolves

Palm tree tattoooImage by Colin Purrington via Flickr
Dear Readers,

  Imagine with me for a moment something that I think you won't accept as real.  Imagine a world where hominids did not win the evolutionary race to dominance.  It's not the most likely time stream after the hominids develop opposable thumbs, of course, but then the idea that evolution can diverge across time streams might be something you hadn't considered yet.

   When I was earning my second undergraduate degree, the one I got from the University itself, I took a class on evolutionary biology.  The professor cited Anachronism data that showed a time stream where humans' primary evolutionary competitors came to the forefront instead of humans.  This other animal had an intelligent mind, a social mentality, and was a most effective hunter.  This animal was the wolf.  The main reason that wolves and humans did not turn out the other way around in your time stream is right on the edge of your hand; they lacked the opposable thumb.

  Today, imagine a time stream where they did not.  I have (mostly) translated this species' quirks to make the piece more accessible.  The only word I cannot translate is the name "Rolf," though it's curious that this name appears in both wolven as well as German, though they have very different meanings.  Since the wolves are deeply religious, it's been easy to find analogs for other names.  For example, a wolf name meaning "the first wolf" is easily replaced with "Adam."


  Dr. John Skylar
  Department of Anachronism
  University of Constantinople

Julie [Orig: "Young One"] clambered up the ramp outside the temple. [Reversed knees would not handle steps well]

She could feel herself begin to pant with the exertion.  They built the temples to such a height, as if the Great One should wish his children to feel relieved when they got to the top.  It just made Julie tired.

She would rather be anywhere else.  She would rather be across the world and stare off its edge, or at the top of a mountain, or alone in the forest in search of a deer.  Her skin crawled all over her and she felt nothing but sad illness. Today, Adapa [This is the original word; I was very surprised] would take her brother.  And those who Adapa takes, never return.  Julie did not think it such a huge honor.

Somehow, though, her family accepted the Temple's payment without a word of protest.  They would take Jonathan to the temple, they said.  Adapa would have him.  Only their monkey, Fidel, made even a single noise to object.  Instead of fighting that night with her brother, Julie cried with him.

Julie stepped into the vast hall.  She felt a chill on her skin, through her light, gray fur.  Through the open portal to the temple, she saw the Columns of Adapa.  They showed everything that he gave to the wolves; fishing, farming, astronomy, writing, rocketry, chemistry, physics, trains, everything.  Adapa brought them greatness.

Every column jeered back at her as she walked the halls.   Adapa's fish-face and wolf-body stared back from the stone.  His face mocked her, as if saying, "You are in my house, little wolf-child.  And in my house, you will lose your brother.  And there is nothing-you-can-do-about-it."  She shuddered.

Just a few more steps, and Julie entered the main hall.  She saw all kinds of wolves across the congregation, all of them here to devote their prayers to Adapa and to her brother.  On another day, for another wolf given to Adapa, she would feel such awe...she would growl and leap and sway along with them.  Today she found a seat, like an old woman.  Today she felt nothing but loss.

When she sat, she felt a rumble in the ground.  Her stomach turned, as she knew it came from the congregation.  They drummed their feet to invite her brother to enter.  She wanted to cry, or to vomit.  How could she lose him like this?  Julie shook, and the claws on her feet flexed.

She saw them bring out her brother, gallant with his spotted hide and tall frame.  He would have led their neighborhood, even the whole city.  He would have been great.  Now he wore the clothes.  She saw the knife and knew what would happen next.  Julie shut her eyelids and waited for his scream.

And then she heard the airy whisper whisper, "Julie, you do not need to be frightened.  Do not be frightened."

She opened her eyes, only to return to beating drums and the sight of her brother's head on the chopping-block.  She screwed them shut again.

It returned, a small comfort, "Do not be afraid.  I am Adapa.  The ceremony will kill only the body.  I have so much more to tell your people, so much to show them.  I take the ones who can learn."

She knew it must be a hallucination.  She shook it from her head.  Then she heard the shriek.

Julie could not control herself.  She smelled her brother's blood.  The scent of blood that could only be him.  His whole identity and life wafted  through the air.  And she got up and ran.  She ran to the gates of the Temple, ready to leap out and hide in the fields.

"Julie, he was right.  You can always find me here.  With Adapa, I am forever."  Her brother's voice.  Julie stopped cold.  What magic could make a dead wolf live?
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