The Tragically Short Span of the Human Mating and Life Cycles (2006)
(And the End of Life as We Know It)
“Now, as we can see from the data plotted out from the last nearly 4,000 years, we are currently experiencing the lowest population growth in the history of mankind. It is my belief that we have actually passed zero growth for the first time ever and are now moving into negative growth.”
Lyse stood to the right of the screen where her figures, data and charts were being projected. She preferred the antiquated visual/audio feeds herself- but she was dual feeding the presentation through the neural sourcers too. The audience was rapt but she was uncertain if they even fully understood the implications of her words.
“By using the data collected from the early 19th century we can clearly see the life spans of humans increasing from roughly 38 years old for men and 40 yrs old for women to nearly 80 yrs old in less than a century.
One of the most significant life spans of that time was Mrs. Lillian Brody- who died in 2006 at the ripe old age of 116 years old. She had 75 Great-Great-Grandchildren.
At that time the push was to cure all diseases and increase the life span as much as possible. While the environmental ramifications of such longevity was debated at the time- it was not considered until much later what impact this would have on the race as a whole. And while there was a general consensus among the populace that kids were having sex younger and younger- no one put these two things together.”
At this point she changed out the neural feed to show a series of images of young men and women who had clearly matured sexual organs. The initial images were from the Renaissance- early 15th century. The women were older looking, generally overweight, nude and in poses that were not overtly sexual.
Lyse had chosen her images carefully- she had been doing these presentations long enough to know that you had to hold the attention of your audience if you wanted to have even a chance at getting your point across.
So the rather prosaic imagery of the Renaissance gave way to the pornography of the early 21st century… a few of the audience gasped in shock at the clearly exposed genitalia. Others laughed uncomfortably- and just a few affirmed their appreciation with well timed moans.
For nearly 2 minutes the montage continued, the brashness of the 23rd century youth gave way to the severe visages of the 28th, and then on to the 36th– where the imagery depicted children of less than 10 years old- fully matured sexually- but with a look of confusion in their little faces. They had the tools but had lost the insight of how to use them properly. They looked almost as awkward as the geriatric stars of the first pornographic films of the early 1900’s.
“As you can see the urge to mate, and in fact, the ability to do so have manifested earlier and earlier throughout man’s history. It took nearly three thousand years to do so- but in that time the age of sexual maturity decreased from the mid-teens to less than 8 years old.
The human life span has increased nearly 10-fold in the same timeframe. What does this mean? Well, it is my belief that our current zero-growth population is the end-product.
I Know, I know…. You say – ‘How can that be? Our children still have sex. They still hit a point in their lives when the only thought is of sex. How can it be that we have reached a place where there are no kids being born?’
You also need to consider this important fact- in the mid-21st century the age at which most women experienced menopause (the effective end of the mating cycle for them) was mid 50’s-early 60’s. Doing the math you see they were capable of producing offspring for almost fifty percent of their lives.
Does anyone know that percentage today?”
She paused, waiting for a response. After a moment of silence she continued, ”Factoring in the younger age at the beginning of the mating cycle and a slightly older age for menopause you would think the percentage goes up- but you can not leave out the longer overall lifespan. An average age of nearly 1000 years leaves us with a percentage somewhere around 8-9%.
Well, I would posit that we, as a race, have pushed our mating cycle to the very limit of its ability to sustain our existence.”
At this point in the presentation there were always a few gasps and even a boldly vocal dissent or two.
She paused, waiting for the expected response, and smiled wryly to herself when it happened exactly on cue.
People were so predictable.
Lyse, was nearly 945 years old. Would, in fact, be 945 years old in just under a month. She could remember a time when you had to actually use external machines to contact family and friends- the concept of manipulating frequencies was still just a plot in the Science Fiction Dream-Implants her father had been so excited to subscribe to the first years they had become available.
That was strange to think about too– a device that told stories to your unconscious mind while you slept. You awoke, completely rested- your mind still tingling from the sensations implanted there from the headphone-like data sourcers.
Father had specifically requested Dream-Plants that were designed to educate her and her 9 brothers and 10 sisters about all manner of nature and animal-life.
Her siblings had mocked the nature ‘plants- preferring to adventure through space and explore the vast realms of imaginations of the more popular “‘Plant-Scapers” of the day.
But she had taken an immediate interest in the biology and life cycles of the all manner of creature. For her it was not just a hobby- when she began to study a given species – she found herself compelled to understand every facet of its life cycle.
One of her earliest memories was tracking genetic mutations through nearly 735 generations of drosophila- from a kit given to her as a gift at the baby shower of her 8th child, Sen. She had crafted a giant chart- tracking the lineage, characteristics, and age of each of her subjects. It was such an exciting time- Sen on her hip, and a seemingly endless stream of discoveries to attend to.
So it was of little surprise when, for her 113th birthday, she requested the complete works of Darwin, Genlin, and Kelawney on Dream-Plant.
Her fascination was well known throughout the family- and while they made a point of teasing her about it- the teasing was always good-natured and ultimately, her 7 daughters, 4 sons, 10 sisters and 9 brothers had not let her down. They had called in every favor, rounded up every credit they could find, and presented her with the most comprehensive library of human existence in existence.
It took her about 5 months to assimilate the information and openly question the inherent inequities. Within the year she had authored a complete and total repudiation of nearly everything Kelawney had to say about – well, pretty much everything. She was somewhat kinder with the works of Genlin- and she more or less left Darwin alone, dismissing many of his notions as too primitive to be considered seriously.
Of her own 11 children only two took the same shine to her line of work. Poor Sen was killed at the very young age of 263 in a failed attempt to land on Haley’s Comet – in search of bio-matter. The icy ball had virtually exploded on contact with the tiny craft he was attempting to guide to the surface. The impact of all that matter had easily overwhelmed the screens on his tiny exploration module.
No one had ever suspected that the comet was so fragile- it had, after all, survived uncounted millennia. Only to be destroyed by the one person who prized it more than anything.
And even though she might go for decades without thinking of that- it always brought a tear to her eye when she did. If only he had lived maybe he’d have fathered a few more sons to help carry on.
“By decreasing the age of sexual maturity, while advancing the human lifespan we have created a situation where humans are reproducing in substantially lower numbers. This was not the case at all in the early 22nd Century- it seemed that sexually mature humans were, in fact, moving inevitably towards an overcrowding of the planet. No one believed for a minute that we were running out of fertile and willing mates. For Heaven’s sake- the Chinese alone were adding to the population exponentially.
There was disease still, starvation was a very real phenomenon, and socio-economic pressures had yet to manifest themselves in any real sense. But the mating cycles of humanity were decreasing.
Birth control was widely available and even considered morally acceptable.
People had also become much more selfish with regards to how they wanted to spend their lives. The number of people who actually enjoyed taking care of completely helpless infants greatly decreased with the advent of the fully automated nursery.
Can I see a show of hands of anyone who has ever changed a diaper?”
Again the response was as disappointing as it was expected. Not a single hand went up. A few people grunted in disgust, and one elderly woman got up and walked out.
“I thought this was supposed to about sex…” she was heard to exclaim on her way out.
Lyse waited for the calamity to die down and continued, “My point here is this- no one wanted to deal with children. Who can blame them- children are helpless, they require a ton of time to raise properly, they are needy, and they insist on doing things that no reasonable adult would ever consider.
But we were all children once… so what happened?
Well, it would seem that as the age of sexual maturity got lower and lower, the drive to actually have sex became as learned and mundane as using the bathroom. Or brushing one’s teeth.
There were other way more intriguing stimulations to attend to than mere sex.
The species as a whole began to move towards a less sexual existence. And who could blame them- us. How could a simple orgasm compare to the sensations of entering the heart of a star, experiencing the Xannan Effect, and escaping to tell the tale?”
She paused as the presentation filled with the minds of her audience with everything they needed to concede her point. Someone loudly chided the woman who had recently departed as being impatient.
At the reception afterwards Lyse greeted her patrons- at her side was Ori, her granddaughter; Ido, Lyse’s only living daughter, being too sick to leave the house these days.
Ori, daughter of Ido, was in her mid-800s.
Ori had chosen the same field of interest as her mother and her mother’s mother.
She was a bright girl and had seen the writing on the wall early on. She had testified in all manner of committee as to the nature of the problem facing humanity. She was about as tolerated as her Grandmother- politely, with a trace of condescension.
As Lyse made her way through the crowd of patrons she would pause here or there and answer the occasional question- or more often than not politely deflect the sly jokes directed at her presentation.
It was always the same- but it never failed to unnerve her to realize that these people were there for there solely for the after-party. Like every other presentation she had given in the last 200 years- she had walked off the stage wondering if her audience had a clue as to what she was truly talking about. But more and more she had come to the realization that they knew exactly what she was talking about- they just didn’t care.
It was not immediate to them- so they simply could not care.
Ori approached her at one point, “Do you think they get it?” she asked.
“Yes, they understand- but it won’t matter”, Lyse replied with just a hint more bitterness than intended.
“How can they just go on sipping their champagne, devouring hors d’ouevres, and making inane small talk- when the very essence of mankind is slowly dwindling?”
This was common script played out between Ori and her Grandmother – with one or the other playing the role of exasperated scientist- while the other became the apathetic patron.
“Well God knows I was pleased when my 7th husband finally got tired of his little sex pills.” Lyse replied in her best doddering old woman voice.
Usually at this point they would enjoy a small laugh and get back to the seriousness of the topic at hand. But today Lyse was still smarting from the woman had who walked out of her presentation- her voice was filled with rancor. Ori did her best to divert the acrimony to a less toxic subject.
“Well, I hear they are finally making some headway over at the Cloning Labs. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Dr. Edonsel was able to produce a random mutation of cloned cells to produce a more or less unique version of the original – without any appreciable defects.”
“There’s no way that’s ever going to work- you know that. We’ve talked about this a million times. There can never be a truly unique solution when the answer can only be a product of the same subset of variables.” Lyse felt her anger welling up again, and for lack of a better target was directing it at her Granddaughter. She knew this was wrong but it felt better to direct her anger at someone who actually gave a shit. For a moment the volume of her protest cut through the ambient noise of the reception. A few of the patrons standing closer paused in their revelry and regarded her for just a moment but almost immediately went back to their own merriment. This only fueled her contempt.
“Idiots!” she mumbled under her breath. She began to make her way to the door when Ori caught up with her.
”Mim!” she exclaimed loudly. This was their private name for Grandmother. She almost regretted using the most personal name in public- but the need to impress her feelings upon her Grandmother had apparently trumped the need for modesty.
“Please don’t be angry with me- you know I’m on your side. I was only trying to make you see that not everyone is here for the sex show. Some people really care about this- they are working every bit as hard as us to find a solution. I mean if you think about it- aren’t we all just ‘variables of the same subset’?”
“I know”, Lyse replied dolefully, “I guess I’m just getting old”.
This, too, was a private joke between them. Statistically, they were practically sisters. But a hundred years difference can be a long time even if you have known someone for over 800 years.
While she could have broken character and tried to make her old friend feel better Ori chose instead to play her role out, “Well I doubt I’ll ever understand what it’s like to be as old as you- even if I live to be a thousand.”
It was a half-hearted attempt to get her away from the unhappiness she was suffering- and Lyse realized this. She couldn’t be mad at Ori for any real length of time anyway; the girl was too much like herself. Fortunately, she didn’t have any real hang-ups about herself.
“Come on; let’s get some of the Bourbon Soaked Mandril before it’s gone.”
When Lyse was around 439-or 440 years old she had presented a thesis to be peer reviewed by the entire Global Consortium of Scientists. Her topic was “The Ever-Lengthening Life Cycle of the Cockroach”. Her speech was met with jeers suggesting she do ‘real science’ and insinuations that she might want to ‘keep her day job’.
She had returned from the convention upset and angry but for the wrong reasons- which turned out to be the right reasons – it just took her almost a century to see that.
Everyone around her had frothed with indignity at the way she had been treated. They shook their fists and questioned the wisdom of the judges. All in the vain attempt to bring back a smile to their sister/wife/mother’s face. And their support was met with even greater anger- Lyse had not wanted an emotional band-aid she wanted good old fashion revenge.
Of course not in a violent way- the violent tendency had long since been bred out in a “thinning the herd” kind of way. Violent individuals often died earlier in life than their more even-keeled brethren. Longer lives meant more opportunity to have more children – more docile children. Thus more docile children were being born to more and more docile parents.
But that did not remove the desire to seek revenge. It only modified the methodology. And 400 plus years of dealing with idiots had taught her a thing or two about methodology.
Rather than take the Consortium head on- she began to make the rounds in various scientific circles that had little or no connection. Using any number of (somewhat questionable) techniques, she got close to people in many disciplines. Having a 150 year plan always helps too. And in that time her little cockroach peccadillo at the beginning of her career faded to a humorous footnote in her steadily growing bibliography.
She had gained a modicum of respect but every now and then someone would make an Exterminator joke and she would simply bristle. On the outside she would smile resignedly and with a grace that few of her peers would ever truly master. But on the inside she seethed.
It took another 75 or so years to finally let all of that anger go. Truth be told she had mostly only misplaced the anger for awhile. It had been replaced with a much more compelling emotion- fear.
Her lectures during those years had been frantic- urgent in their attempt to convince others to see the urgency. But, still, life around her plodded on without any real acknowledgement of her efforts or discoveries.
Sure there had been some accolades but they were mostly ceremonial. Like the Honor service she received for her 750th birthday. Every family member they could jam into one place had shown up to share a meal and some fun. While it should have been an exciting affair- it had somewhat soured for Lyse early in the day.
It was rare for someone to not have a 750th birthday… so it wasn’t like the 21st when you got to drink legally. Or even the big Five-O when you were allowed to finally start driving. All of her friends were traveling or wrapped up in their own business. And even a few of her own children had schedule conflicts- this despite the fact that her birthday hit on the same day every year. She got a few ‘sourcer-messages and that was about it. Kind of like the last 300 birthdays it had occurred to her at the time.
The day had gone awry when one of her colleagues from the ‘old-days’ had commented on the relatively small gathering. She had then committed the cardinal crime of taking up a topic of conversation that may as well have been politics or religion in a different time. She began talking about children and giving birth; her position on the topic being clearly that of an Abstainer.
Over the past century or so the fashion had been to completely abstain from having children. At first it was just a quiet personal choice that most women rarely spoke of. Then there was a period of civil unrest where women were quite vociferous about their desires to live their own lives, and have their careers, and to not be subject to the physical rigors of childbearing. There had even been discussion of legislation that would protect individual freedoms- such as “Just Saying ‘no’ to Children”.
They had plenty of reasons for their opinions- some valid, others not. Sadly, they also had the moral superiority that often seems pervasive amongst people who perceive the universe around them as something that ends just beyond their (arguably stubby) fingertips.
It was the opinion of many that the Abstainers were just being selfish. They were so wrapped up in their own selfish little world that they could not fathom the consequences of their (in) actions. Still, most people stayed out of the debate- figuring that personal choice trumped any form of governmental intervention.
Lyse, of course, had been on the other side- one the “baby-fascists” trying to “force her opinions on free individuals” who had the right to decline becoming a “baby factory”. Her research was considered a farce and was condemned by the politicos who held all the power as being “scientifically unsound” and “out-right balderdash!”
“They’re not even grateful enough for their own lives to pay some respect to the parents who produced them”, the woman had said that day to a group of onlookers. She went on to imply that it was by some parental fault that the children had been raised poorly, and that perhaps someone had brought this on themselves by even having children to begin with. Then she gave a slight, knowing nod towards Lyse.
Despite generations of non-violent breeding- even Lyse could not contain her anger; she had snapped back at the woman something along the lines of “Well at least they’re out there trying to do something for mankind. Unlike some- who simply can not make the sacrifice of their perfect, perfect lives to have a child or two in the name of humanity.” Then she had chucked a rather large plate of multi-colored Pro-Fu at the old bitch.
The room had erupted into chaos as if suddenly the dam that maintained manners and social grace was finally pushed beyond its limit.
The woman had been hustled from the party by a rather large group of grand kids.
Looking back on it, Lyse, had never felt her age more abrasively.
The reception ended without incident and Lyse found herself alone packing up her data. Ori lingered awhile longer than necessary mostly to make sure her oldest friend didn’t feel complete abandonment.
“Mim”, she timidly inquired, “what happens to us now? I mean what are we going to do now?”
“I really don’t hon. I guess we’ll just keep doing what we have been doing and hope for the best. I think I might take a trip up north. The leaves are changing and I’ve always thought that was the most beautiful time of the year. You know your grandfather’s old house is still in the family….. I haven’t been there in years. Yeah I think that’s what I’ll do.
Would you like to come with me?”
“Umm yes, sure, I mean if you don’t mind some company.”
“That’s the plan then. Here help me with these ‘sourcers.”
In the years that followed the family sized waned. A flu contagion had swept through most of the major cities and there were very few who escaped without some form of collateral damage. For Lyse, she lost her closest friend, Ori.
Her own daughter had died in a plane accident shortly before the pandemic plague. Six of her sons were lost when their fishing expedition off the coast of Florida was caught in a category 4 hurricane.
Over the years she had moved further and further from her research. Her interest finally satiated by the unwanted arrival of an answer that could not be avoided. Human life on earth was done for and there was nothing anyone was going to do about it.
The scientists at the cloning labs had done everything they could but the solutions they sought were simply not there.
She moved north to the family house and talked less and less to the outside world. The outside world invaded her space less and less. Until one afternoon when she realized that years had passed since she had heard another human voice.
She was nearly 1200 years old, slow moving and fragile though she was, she still managed fairly well. She wandered into her long neglected office and saw the communications equipment left there unattended centuries before. On a whim she flipped the switch that activated the equipment. It fired right up- the power source being nuclear in nature probably had a good millennia or two left in it.
She then began entering the last known numbers for any relative she could still recall that might be living. Each attempt was met with a dead click on the other end… no one answered.
She then began trying other numbers- almost at random. Again with the same conclusion. As a last ditch effort she began dialing emergency numbers- surely someone had to be out there somewhere.
If they were out there they had not answered.
No one had answered. And while she knew there was no way she could be certain- she knew the truth….There was no one left.
She cried a little – but after a fashion decided there was nothing to cry about anymore. She was the last person on earth and she was finally ready to die herself.
She made her way through the house pausing here and there to gaze at some old relic of her youth, fingering old mementos, and trying to remember the names associated with faces that stared back at her from the ancient pictures.
She was the last one. How could they have been so bullheaded? If only they had listened to her- then she wouldn’t have to be the last.
She wandered out to the porch and sat down in an old chair. As she looked out over the pond that stretched across the western side of the property, the sun slowly eased itself to the horizon. The breeze was cool and the leaves had just begun to change. Tomorrow the sun would come up on a different world.
A world without knowledge of the great civilization that had risen to the grandest of heights and then had returned from whence it came.
Her eyes shut slowly and she waited quietly for the sweet embrace of eternity. In her final moments she wondered to herself if the cycle would ever start again and she smiled.