Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis. Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?
Here’s a summary:
Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.
Every week, I’ll post part of this story.
Here’s Part 4 (A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine):
Human nature is potentially aggressive and destructive and potentially orderly and constructive.
There the Creatures squatted, grunting noisily, no further from Raza than a well-thrown stone. Dirty clumps of hair hung to narrow shoulders. Their muscular chests tapered to pinched hips. Nut-brown skin bore only the barest layer of translucent fuzz. Their vaulted foreheads rounded high above thick rounded brows and broad muzzles—like his own, Raza thought, but flat as though Mammoth sat on them.
Raza drooped his eyes and hunkered deeper into the thick reeds across the pond from the Creatures’ camp. They were not what he expected. In fact, the only similarity to the ones he’d seen outside his home base was their movement.
They glided like Crocodile through water, with a grace belied by their over-long legs and truncated arms.
How could these winter-lean, hairless creatures be predators?
He hadn’t set out this morning to actually see them. He’d only wanted to track them. He’d waked early. He covered his body in mud and dung, barked a farewell to his Primary male Hku and set off to hunt. The day couldn’t have been more perfect. An unusual scattering of clouds shaded the parched ground with splotches of shade. Smoking Mountain slept, though Raza knew at any moment it might awaken with a ground-shaking growl, much like Eagle’s cry before her death dive or Cat’s throaty snarl. Today, though, the only indication of Smoking Mountain’s presence was a slight sulfur taste in the air.
His bare feet cut quickly through the talus field that bordered home base, across a dry patch of savanna, following the prints of Man-who-preys’. This Creature. They were bulbous at the bottom with splayed nubs on top, like his but straighter and narrower. Depth and size varied, but the scent was always sour like spoiled roots. Dust sprayed by his pounding feet tickled his nose and eyes and turned his dark feet a dinghy white.
When he caught the odor of pond reeds, he froze and let his senses explore what his eyes couldn’t. He ignored the ripening noxious cloud from his melting dung coat and focused on his surroundings. He heard water lapping against the pond’s shoreline and smelled the piquant scent of decayed vegetation crushed by hooves and paws and feet pounding to the water’s edge.
Nothing unusual, so he slid forward like Snake until he could see the watering hole. Its blue surface shimmered with heat like a watery flame. At one end, a herd of long-eared dik-dik and a lone hyaena-cat drank. Wave after wave of gentle ripples rolled from the pond’s edge as prey and predator alike lapped up the crystalline water. Cat’s cousin feasted on a bloated calf. A motley horde of flop-winged vultures squabbled nearby, hopping closer and closer to the cadaver, awaiting their turn. A mammoth family splashed directly in front of him, spraying their huge bodies with long noses. They trumpeted at something, flaring their ears and swaying their giant forefeet before trundling off to give Raza an unobstructed view across the pond.
At the face of the Creature. Man-who-preys. So much for his plan.
Every muscle in his body tensed and his breathing became labored. He rubbed his scarred knee as he worked through this problem. Man-who-preys was nocturnal. Raza knew this like he knew Cat attacked when she was hungry and eating meat with white worms made him sick. Were some Cousins nocturnal and others diurnal, like Cat’s cousins Leopard and Sabertooth?
He rubbed his knee harder, feeling the smooth scar left by searing lava, absently exploring the ridge where flat even skin became coarse leg fur. He’d lived his entire life on these savannas, memorized each scrub bush and boulder, every baobab and meandering border forest. He knew the carnivores that hunted him and the tricks Nature employed to prey on him. He’d felt safe until these gangly russet-colored creatures entered his life.
At that time, his band lived in a different home base, protected by cliff walls and abutting a pond. No animal bothered them there until Man-who-preys arrived. One night, as the evening shadows deepened from blue to purple, they appeared, barely visible in the faded light, watching. They never bothered the hominids and always left before Sun’s return. Hku accepted them as friendly, like Cousin Chimp, and found comfort in their silhouettes limned against the blackness knowing predators must pass Man-who-preys to attack the Group.
Then, when the herds left with their young to avoid Sun’s heat, the band’s children disappeared. Why would Man-who-preys steal children? When Raza asked Vorak, his partner shrugged.
“Why do you care? We have pairmates. We will make new children for the Group.” He glanced at Raza. “It is more difficult to replace a hunting partner. I will never let them steal you.”
Vorak, with his lean muscular build, strong prognathic snout and ready smile, made everything sound simple. When they returned from hunting, he sought out his Primary-Female. She sat as usual a hands-width from the stick she’d secured into the ground. Every day, the stick’s shadow circled the center. For some reason unknown to any in the Group, Kee placed marks along its path.
“Are we in danger, Kee?”
She stared through him, her face expressionless. He rubbed his scarred knee with the stub of a missing finger, and made his decision.
“I will find out if they are a threat.”
But meat scarce, Raza had to hunt every day, waiting for the sick or injured or old of the shrinking packs to fall to the great predators. By the time the herds returned and hunting eased, the memories of Man-who-preys had disappeared with the children.
“This time, I will find your Camp!”
Raza crouched deeper into the reeds. Sweat dripped through his kinky fringe of black hair and etched grimy trails down his chest. As Sun climbed invisible-mountain-in-the-sky, struggling up and over the lower peaks, Raza watched the Creature. He made no sound even as a cloud of insects ate through his mud-and-dung coat and filled their bellies with his blood. Silence was his greatest defense.
Man-who-preys made many sounds. Barks and yips and hisses. Their mouths scrunched open and slammed shut into narrow flat lines as their voices varied in tone and volume. Raza too had a vast range of sounds. The guttural noise ‘Raza’, like the hiss of silence, was how groupmates called him. When he flattened his lips and squawked ‘Vorak’, his hunting partner answered. Kee’s sign was a high-pitched monotone, like Cousin Chimp greeting a playmate. But once Raza had a groupmate’s attention, he used body movements, silent communications heard by everyone. Any sound not in Nature’s language brought with it danger. How did Man-who-preys survive?
Nature tingled at the closeness of her two creations. Despite Man-who-preys ‘noisiness’, they were her most dangerous creation yet.
“You will be like him in the future, when language evolves inexorably as the oddly human trait of killing your own.”
Raza waited until each hunter disappeared from sight, carrying a tree limb taller than his body and as thick as his wrist. Then, Raza returned to Camp. Hku met him, feet spread wide, mouth set in an angry line. Raza knew solo hunting wasn’t permitted, which was why he’d returned. He wilted, not sure anymore about his plan to find Man-who-preys and save the Group.
“I will show you,” he motioned with his body and headed back to the water hole. When they got close, Hku froze and pointed out a trail of elongated prints. They lay within a stride of where Raza had been hunkered down watching the predators. The new adult gulped.
Hku scowled. “Go. Get Baad.”
Raza raced back along the traveled trail, his thoughts spinning. Had Man-who-preys been watching the Group, again as before? He found Baad, barked and motioned him to follow. Baad was a handsome hominid in his prime with powerful muscles that corded the length of his legs and bulged beneath the thick fur of his chest. He had taken the loss of the children hard. The band marked the Camp’s territory as Cat did, with the urine and feces of the male members. All Nature’s creatures knew not to cross this feral boundary, but Man-who-preys had and Raza didn’t think Baad had every recovered. Now, Baad’s jaw clenched as he bit back the memories.
When they reached Hku’s side, he pointed toward a shimmer of blue bubbling up from the horizon, where Sun slept each night. He pummeled a clenched hand into the splayed fingers of the other, blending ‘danger’ and ‘predator’. Raza rubbed his sore knee, and then forced his hands to stillness. He must focus. Hku and Baad exchanged a few words and headed out at a fast jog. Raza sprinted after them, his thick fur puffed with the satisfaction that he hunted danger. He chirped the signal that told the females to return to Camp, then screeched Eagle’s call. In the flat expanse of the grasslands, it would be heard as far away as any hunter traveled.
“Hku.” The call sign sounded like Raza clearing his throat. “How do you know it is their home base?” Who would camp at the home of a dangerous predator like Smoking Mountain? Or was Man-who-preys so mighty, like Saber-tooth and Mammoth, they had no fear?
“I once found shards of their knapping there.”
Raza sucked in a sharp breath. He had never found remnants of tool-making anywhere other than the camps of his kind. None of the predators like Cat, or the herds like Gazelle or Mammoth, used stone or wood tools. Raza squared his shoulders in pride.
“These are the creatures who steal our children?” Vorak appeared at his side. Raza nodded and both dropped into silence.
The hunters followed the prints until they melted into the scree slopes of Smoking Mountain. After a futile search, they headed back. Shadows were already slipping up the rocks by the time they hooted their entry call and rounded the boulder that marked Camp. Raza was tired, hungry and discouraged. All he wanted was his mate to groom the dirt and insects from his fur and to sleep. He’d eat tomorrow.
He listened for the clack of females pounding roots, the glee of children rough-and-tumbling, and the muted mumble of males gathering whatever meat they had scavenged that day. Instead, he saw only Kee, a slight male named Ma-g’n, and a milling pack of subadults. Raza glanced toward the food areas for other females, and then along the pond’s edge where the children usually played. No one. He frowned toward Hku. Concern clouded the elder’s dark eyes. He eased down next to Kee with a crackling of joints.
“You heard the danger signal?” Hku’s face remained calm as Kee offered a quick nod. She refused to look at him, so Hku lifted her chin until their eyes met. “Where are the others?”
Kee pulled away and went back to crushing the tiny clods of dirt that pebbled the ground. Hku patted her shoulder and rose, turning to face Raza and Vorak.
“Go.” His hand movements indicated a stealthy search of the adjoining pond, the foraging fields and protective boulders and cliffs. He added a quick bark for emphasis. “Baad. We go where the males hunted. Ma-g’n. Stay with Kee and the youngsters.”
The group split. Their bodies spoke what all felt. As Wolf howled his mournful evening call, Raza returned to find Hku surrounded by a cluster of confused males, their arms spastic and breathing shallow as they absorbed the news. Hku mouthed soft words of encouragement to each, palms down and parallel to the ground: Stay calm. We will figure this out. Raza shook his head as he met Hku’s tense gaze.
“We found only their foraging tools and a pile of roots.”
Hku lowered his head as he scratched his upper arm. Raza never doubted Hku would know what to do. When had he not known?
From within the group, a howl sounded, deep and anguished. It was Baad.
“They took our females as they did our children.” His cheek muscles bulged as he clenched his massive fists. “They are for our breeding, not theirs. Sabertooth never breeds with leopard, nor Hyaena-dog with Snarling-dog.”
Baad leaped into the air, landed, and beat the earth until the ground shook and his fists bled. Then, he threw a massive tree limb, barely missing Ma-g’n. The shock froze Baad, but for just a moment. Finally, he howled his helplessness. The youngsters looked terrified: Their belief that all in the group were safe had cracked.
Raza’s pride at his first hunt as an adult-of-the-group soured like meat rotted in the sun. What was his purpose if not to protect those around him? What mattered if not the band? Tears rolled down Ma-g’n’s frozen visage as he groomed his son Ch-hee. In this simple task, was normalcy. The child tilted his head up and offered a trusting, innocent smile. The children would recover, but what about the adults?
The next day, Hku led them to a new home base as far away as they had ever migrated. The group adopted the children-without-Primaries and the males found new pairmates from the subadults. Raza tried to forget, but no matter how exhausted his body was when he lay down to sleep, the memories intruded like rain through a canopy. Could they stop this two-legged predator? Nothing so far had succeeded. He understood Cat—when it hunted and where its territory lay. The same with Mammoth. Even with Nature, he knew how to avoid her fires and flash floods, but this predator attacked for reasons Raza didn’t understand.
“Raza. Take another pairmate. Baad took Falda. I took one.” This from Vorak as he knapped a chert stone into a cutting tool. “What do females matter except for children?”
To Raza’s surprise, Vorak had pairmated with Kelda, an abrasive, whining female shunned by all. When Raza asked about his decision, reminded Vorak she was nothing like Shta, Vorak’s first pairmate, Vorak nodded. Yes, the very reason he took her. There was no other like Shta.
Raza had no interest in finding a pairmate or raising children. In fact, he felt nothing beyond an eviscerating fury. It waxed and waned every day as he hunted with the males and played with the children of the group. At night, when his groupmates slept, he stared beyond Smoking Mountain, to the lake where his mate had been taken. He imagined what she might be doing. Did she think of the band she’d been torn from? Did she live?
In his dreams, she smiled at him across the abyss of time and distance.
When Kee could stand it no more, she sent him across the Rift, to find a mate. He agreed. It was his duty. Whoever he found needn’t know children were a distraction he couldn’t afford.
A gray drizzle filtered down from the cloud-choked sky the day Raza and Baad left. They traveled first along the forest edges, then through the copper-colored fields and toward the spread of the Great Rift. By the time they reached the
bordering forest, rain pelted the ground. Every time Raza looked back along the traveled trail, memorizing a landmark for the return journey, he saw Hku. The old male moved from hillock to berm to mountain until finally, his image faded into the colors and textures of Raza’s homeland.
Nature scowled. ‘Free will’ was annoying, not unlike mosquitoes. It popped up at the most inopportune times making it impossible to be sure what her creations would do. Free will was the reason Raza now sought the female Lucy . What if Lucy joined him?
Nature shook her head. No, Lucy would never leave her homeland. Lucy felt a fascinating emotion called ‘love’ for the hominid Garv. Though he had disappeared, with Nature’s help, Lucy woke each day with the hope he would reappear.
Another odd emotion Nature didn’t understand, this ‘hope’. Why did the female cling to Garv over the competent and virile Ghael? Ghael could provide for her, create her babies and insure her place in the band. Still, Lucy only agreed to be his pairmate until Garv reappeared.
What had caused ‘emotion’? One day, the chemistry was pristine; the next, some cataclysmic combination occurred in Nature’s Lucy experiment. First free will, then a conscience, and now emotion. Surely these were flaws in her artistry, mutations that would be bred from the species over the fullness of time. Until then, Nature would use them to bind Lucy to the past rather than the hope of a new beginning.
Nature raised a cloudy finger to her ethereal chin and scratched a rumble across the arboreal landscape. Was this when Lucy would ask her for help?
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Part V next week…
Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and author of two technology training books for middle school. She wrote Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a tech columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for ISTE’s Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, will be out this summer. Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.