On my way up to the north I passed the headquarters of Nestle in this country, with its logo of a mother bird feeding two baby birds in a nest burning bright against the winter night. I knew that there were some people who were apparently incapable of recognising corporate logos – the advertising world was aware and apparently studying this affliction so they could work out a way to reverse it and use it against people. I also knew that I apparently wasn’t one of those afflicted – seeing as I had just recognised this one, after all. On the other hand, the massive NESTLE underneath in neon letters did kind of give it away.
Even though it was almost spring, the branches of the trees in the landscape passing by were thin. We had just passed Gatwick when the rat-faced man got on the train and sat down next to me.
Reader, I don’t mean to be rude about anyone. It’s just that there was something verminous about this character. His nose twitched and sniffed the air, like an animal smelling a piece of rotting meat. I suppose it’s wrong to say something like that, isn’t it? We’re all supposed to accept everyone for who they are, these days.
Rat face sat down next to me. He had tanned skin and high cheekbones, and I couldn’t place where he might be from. Perhaps he had just touched down at the airport, or perhaps he was from around here? I suppose it’s wrong to think about that, isn’t it? Double-plus badthink. Everyone is from everywhere, now, aren’t they? Imagine there’s no countries. It’s easy if you try.
This man was the child of parents who must have had grandparents or great grandparents who came from places far from here. They belonged to nowhere, simply human people scattered to the corners of the earth since the time of babel, meeting other people and overcoming their differences, and (Allah be praised!) they had created a hybrid – a bit like Sterling’s bloody moon baby, if he was right about it.
But what if, aside from being spread out and isolated for long periods of time, there was some *other * reason for the differences between the people of the different races of humanity – something which we had, in this day and age of the earth, hardly even guessed at? What if there were some intentional design in our common origin?
Perhaps this man’s parents or grandparents had come here looking for a better life, and better opportunities. Perhaps the Moonchild – or whatever eldritch descent gave rise to it – could have told some similar story? Perhaps it came here from some dying planet that had once passed close enough to our solar system for intercourse between the two worlds?
But I dismissed the feeling. The notion was simply *too* sensational.
I was starting to sound like Sterling.
‘Where are you headed?’ the rat-faced man asked me, grinning. He must have noticed me staring at him. Damn! I looked up from my book and cup of coffee, that I had tried to go back to – a bit annoyed, I must admit – I do enjoy being left alone to read on a train. I tried to humour him – ‘I’m going to a conference on Human Origins,’ I told him.
‘Human Origins? Is there any money in that, then?’
‘None at all,’ I said, ‘I’d imagine. It’s more like something people want to find out more about because they have an interest in where we all came from.’
‘I know about that. I saw it in a documentary on BBC2,’ said my friend the auto-didact. ‘We all came out of Africa.’
‘Actually the Africa theory is just that – a theory, held up by a pretty thin scientific consensus based on some poorly-understood research on genetics.’ I was on auto-pilot – had I read this in a book somewhere?? ‘Whilst it may well be true to say that human beings began in Africa,’ I droned on, ‘a great deal more work needs to be done before anyone can say that theory is correct. At the same time, there are contradictions, for example in the Rhesus negative -‘
‘Nah. It’s definitely true. Because I saw it on television.’
‘While humans evolving in Africa might be a scientific possibility, that’s just a consensus that’s currently popular with some people because questioning it would be too inconvenient. This consensus has only been around since roughly the Second World War, since it allows everyone to feel good about our modern inclusive society whilst at the same time subtly re-enforcing white people’s prejudice that they are a more evolved and somehow superior species – and has it occured to you the fact that this story is the most politically appealing to everyone might be, in fact, one reason to suspect that maybe it isn’t true at all?’
‘Well, this is my stop.’
The man got up and let out a mighty yawn, went down the aisle and beat his head redundantly on the door at the end of the carriage until the train pulled into the the next stop and it opened, spilling him out on to the platform. ‘Nice talking to you, too,’ I said under my breath.
I was turning into one of *them*, I thought – just another wacko, going to those wacko conferences, bending strangers ears on trains. ‘I’m not interested in it myself,’ I told myself, ‘you understand, it’s just that I have a friend who’s going to be there…’
The next train is cancelled,’ The voice on the tannoy was saying, ‘due to circumstances beyond our control…’
* * *
‘And so we can see why ancient burial practices may have originated,’ the man who was due to speak before Professor R D Fripp was saying, as I sat down in the darkened auditorium in the conference centre with the other seekers after truth.
The conference centre was an ancient crumbling and grafitti’d vaguely deco building that might once have been a bingo hall, but now looked to have been mothballed for years. I had almost missed it, having sat for hours through the long and tiring journey across the incressingly bleak landscape to get here, I would have assumed it to have been derelict and long-since slated for demolition were it not for the queue of haunted-looking people shuffling towards the doors to the auditorium.
‘Supposing these ancients had found a way they could re-create an individual from DNA,’ the smiling, ruddy-faced man was saying, ‘preserved in exactly the same way that the ancient Egyptians preserved their bodies. This would explain, for instance, garbled legends that have come down to us like the story of Isis and Osiris. Perhaps mummification first came about due to a garbled memory of some process involving lost ancient high technology. If that technology had been lost because of some cataclysmic disaster in mankind’s history, mummification would be one way to preserve the genetic material of the initiates and kings until such time as technology reached the point that they could be reborn again.
‘We know that the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Americans both made mummies out of their dead. And both built pyramids. Both had the same obsession with astrology and symbolism of dying and rising gods. Is there some connection to an ancient lost civilisation?
‘The science of DNA was only discovered – or rediscovered?- fifty years ago. Now if any of this is true, we ought to see some pretty interesting revelations soon. We must keep re-evaluating what the evidence of the past continues to tell us in the light of what we now know…’
The hotel nearby the conference centre to which I had checked in was a somewhat run-down looking 1970s building on the edge of an industrial wasteland on the outskirts of the otherwise pretty anonymous northern town. I wondered if other planets had such things, or indeed if they even had a north? I wondered about why it was that if you go north far enough you eventually begin going south, but if one travels east one is always going east. Hence the expression – ‘east is east’. A peculiarity of the way we make maps and divide distance, I suppose. There are no east or west poles, are there?
I didn’t hold out much hope that this was where I would find Sterling, but I had to wait around just in case something had happened to him – Julia would have never forgiven me in that instance. She had a tendency to embellish, and I was certain that the whole thing would somehow become my fault if any harm came to him. I didn’t want that. And then there was the question of why had Pons decided that this Fripp man was so important. Aside from anything else, I have never been able to resist the charm of a good mystery – or a beautiful woman.
So I’d headed north and got my ticket, which was a cancellation – I was lucky, the conference had been oversubscribed. Then we all filed into a room and listened to a spod who looked like a maths professor from my childhood speaking on the kind of essential weirdness you’ve just heard for around three hours… What happened then was a man came out and announced that Professor Fripp was ill and that someone else was going to have to deliver his lecture for him. I don’t recall what the guy’s name was, but there was a groan and a kind of obvious sense of disappointment went round the darkened rows of folding chairs.
Nonetheless, the lecture seemed to go down pretty well, consisting of the kind of conjecture about an alien moonbaby having been found at the bottom of a mine shaft that I’ve already given you. The surrogate repeated that nothing was concrete, but un-verified DNA testing had now established that it was of a species that was variant enough to be considered non-human, with enough recognisable DNA to suggest a hybrid at least *partly* belonging to this earth. The skull was about 900 years old. It had been found by an American girl on holiday in Mexico in the 1930s, who had discovered it in an abandoned cave, apparently part of an ancient mining network, in a shallow burial along with the other skeleton that was perhaps its guardian, who buried it there because it was considered important for some reason before ritualistically committing suicide or herself dying of wounds sustained (from what type of attacker or attackers we don’t know). The skulls had been removed and left on the surface by the young American girl, apparently for some time, before she had been able to come back and collect them – which was when the water damage had occurred (are you following all this??).
As a result of this, only the top part of the Moonchild skull was extant, along with a small piece of jawbone. The provenance of the object since that time was well documented and not in question – it had belonged to an unnamed Hollywood film-maker, who had planned to make a documentary film but for whatever reason had been persuaded against the project. In the nineteen-eighties he had sought out Fripp, who was a making a career as a writer on the paranormal at that time. Fripp contended that if this were a human child the extent of deformities meant that it wouldn’t have survived past birth, yet the evidence of wear on teeth suggested that it may not be a young child at all but a being that was already an adult. The rest of the lecture was made up of the professor’s strange ideas about present-day humans having been genetically engineered for whatever reason, for evidence of which he pointed to humans having over 4,000 known genetic disorders where other animals on this planet seem to have almost none, while he pointed out the marked difference between humans and other great apes including the complete absence of a thorax capable of producing the sounds of speech in apes and the growth of hair being on entirely different parts of the body on apes compared to humans. ‘The number of intermediary fossils that have been found showing the transition from apes to humans is zero,’ Fripp’s surrogate concluded. Everyone leaped up and applauded, judging the lecture a big success.
The conclusion of the lecture was a videotaped message from a sickly looking Fripp, projected on a big screen, telling us that we should all continue our work and that the mainstream would have to wake up and smell the coffee soon. As I stood up and gathered my coat and my notebook ready to get out, the tall blonde man in the suit who had been in the seat next to me spoke up.
‘He is wonderful, isn’t he?’ said the tall man.
‘Who is?’ I asked.
‘Doctor Fripp, of course. So fearless! Such a shame his illness meant that he couldn’t be here in person.’
‘What I want to know is, why couldn’t they hold this event somewhere easier to get to?’ I asked him.
‘They won’t have us,’ said the tall man, simply. ‘We’ve been deplatformed. You’re from London?’
‘Brighton,’ I said, quickly. ‘I’m staying in the Travel Inn.’
‘Oh dear,’ he said, ‘that doesn’t sound too good. You had better come with me…’