by S.A. Barton
Once, there was a more-than-ape who struck another more-than-ape with a stick.
There was no artifice to the blow. The stick was awkward and leafy; the impact was no more than that of an ordinary more-than-ape fist. The experiment was not repeated for a long time.
But it did happen again, some years later, and more frequently as generations passed. Slowly, slowly, the more-than-apes grew into something more than more-than-apes.
Eventually, a proto-human picked up a very straight hitting-stick and stripped most of the twigs and leaves off before hitting. The blow was much harder than that of a fist. The nameless proto-human hitter smiled a toothy smile and hit again. And again.
Much later there was a near-human who, picking a smooth stone out of a dry wash to use in beating a good hitting-stick free from a tree, dropped that stone. By chance, that stone fell against the point of a harder stone. A broad flake leapt from the softer stone and skittered across the gravelly wash.
The near-human (he had a name, Hooruh, a grunt much like the hundred or so other grunts his people had learned to make and assign meaning to) picked the fallen stone up, and then the flake. Hooruh held the two objects, one in each hand, and moved them slowly together. The flake touched the stone. Hooruh shifted the flake to fit the divot it had leapt from.
The flake bit Hooruh’s finger. Hooruh hooted and threw both rock and flake down. He fled.
The experiment was not repeated for a long time. But eventually it was, and Hooruh’s great-times-who-knows-how-many granddaughter left the flake where it fell but took the chipped stone away with her. She used the edge around where the chip had spalled free to hack down sticks and break animal bones slightly quicker than had been possible before—until the edge blunted, which didn’t take all that long.
And similar incidents happened again, and again, more often as time and generations passed, and eventually a near-human thought to drop the soft rock on the hard one over and over to make many little flakes and many poor, jumbled edges. But still, that very rough axe could hack a hitting-stick down considerably faster than a smooth stone, and the many edges made it last a long time.
Later, yet another near-human cut meat with one of the flakes that cut her finger.
Yet another used a big flake to cut a fellow near-human.
And then a brighter one thought to jam flakes into cracks on hitting-sticks for better fellow-cutting. Another held the soft rock in his hands and pounded it on the hard rock over and over so the flaking made a crude but purposeful edge.
They were almost-human now, and soon they were more.
A human taught himself to knap flint into a strong, straight edge that could fell not just hitting-sticks, but smallish trees.
A human worked flint chips so broad and fine that she could cut a pig’s throat with hardly an effort—a great improvement over the old way of laboriously clubbing pigs to death.
A human fire-hardened a sapling shaved to a point with a stone axe until it could be pushed all the way through a pig—or a human, and the broad flint chip knife was soon out of fashion for hunting.
Later, a human tipped a hitting-stick with a finely worked pointed flake held on with dried pig gut, and threw it.
A human dropped an enormous steel egg of nuclear fire and it hatched over the heads of more than three hundred thousand humans, incinerating and concussing and radiation-poisoning a third of them to death in an instant. Then another human did it again.
A human pushed a gargantuan mountain out of space and it crashed into the Pacific Ocean. It made a deep hole from which magma welled, and steam and clouds and fire wreathed the humans’ world.
Later, after a very, very, very long time, a not-quite-human hit a not-quite-human with a stick. It was not clear at the time if they were less than human, or more, or simply different. But the experiment was not repeated for a long time.
All the humans were among the stars, preoccupied with newer hitting-sticks, and took no notice.