Homo Pulmos
by Jack Morton

994 words

I've discovered a new type of human.


I should say "old," not "new."

 

Is "discovered" wrong, too? Is it like claiming to discover a continent which has millions of people from hundreds of unique cultures already living on it?

 

I headed a team of archeologists in uncovering remains of a previously unknown subspecies of human. Better?

 

More. It needs to be full.

 

This has happened before. Homo denisova, Homo neanderthalensis. They aren't around anymore, but they also weren't around before our time. Our cousins, not our forebears. Different results of evolution, not previous stages in it. The same is true of our discovery. We're calling them Homo pulmos. Their ribcages indicate extensive lung capacity.

 

Ugh. Too cold, that'll never do.

 

Imagine being an 18th century European, on board a huge ocean vessel, equipped with the latest in navigational technology: compass, sextant, star-charts, chronometers. You arrive at a tiny Pacific Island. No more than a speck on a vast ocean. Then you meet its inhabitants, who build boats with stone age tools.

 

Of course, racism and eurocentrism quickly fortified them with explanations. "This child-like, unchristian civilization must have been blown here by mistake," they thought. But would it be easier for a contemporary, open-minded, dare I say, 'woke' person to accept the truth? Suppose humans landed on Mars tomorrow and found a steam-powered civilization had been thriving there for centuries. Beaten in the race to the stars by people with inferior technology. I know it would challenge me.

 

It did. Because that happened. We have been beaten to the stars.

 

Good. Warmer, less of a shock. Now for the salt.

 

Of course, any European who accepted that the Polynesians conquered the Pacific with canoes would be shunned. And I alone among my colleagues, well, former colleagues, have accepted the truth, but we did lose the race to the stars. Homo pulmos probably used crude stone tools, and definitely harnessed fire, because they created pottery. Impressive in scale, but basic in composition, those huge clay pots were the extent of their "technology" as we normally use the word. But that's making the same mistake the Europeans did. In their racial and religious chauvinism they couldn't even conceive of others having technologies beyond theirs. Not scientific technologies, cultural technologies. Feeling ocean currents, mapping stars by memory, listening to birds and fish, wayfinders deployed a mastery of a cultural technology that European science couldn't begin to comprehend.

 

I don't understand Homo pulmos' cultural technologies. But I had the imagination to perceive them, and the courage to admit their existence. And for that I'm a laughingstock.

 

That's it. I can taste the bitterness. And next the chains.

 

European Christianity certainly contributed to binding the minds of those explorers. Without it they might have been freer to learn from other people rather than fearing and attacking them. But it's still my heritage, so I'll use it for an illustration.

 

In Paradise Lost, Milton explains the creation of Earth, and specifically humans, as God's attempt to replace the angels lost with Satan's betrayal. The angels who fought with Christ to expel Lucifer had proven their loyalty. So rather than restore the population with fresh baked angelic beings, God devises our entire reality, with its freedom of will and capacity for good and evil, as a test, so humans can prove themselves worthy of taking the emptied places in heaven. It's not meant to be literal, but it let him conceive of a creator's motivations in tangible terms. In those terms then, God created all life, plants, animals, humans, with the same tool, evolution. If one of the goals of evolution was a being who could leave this earthly existence and travel to a higher plane, we are not that end point. Homo pulmos was.

 

They beat us to the stars. Not using science to develop rockets capable of reaching Mars, but using cultural, spiritual technologies capable of transcending this reality entirely.

 

Is that strong enough? Remember a human will fight with unmatched ferocity against anything that would tear it from the world it knows.

 

I find the evidence conclusive. Baked-in images cover the clay pots. They depict figures carrying the massive pots to the sea and filling them with salt water. A Homo pulmos climbs inside, completely immersing themself. The pot is sealed closed. Then the body melts away, and an intangible substance ascends into the sky. The final image shows the pot filled only with water under a starry sky.

 

These images alone might describe a burial rite, and a belief in an afterlife. But we found dozens of the pots intact. Some contain well preserved bones. We got more excited by those at first, full skeletons of a new subspecies of humans. But then we noticed that the pots without remains in them, while still containing water, were not as full as the others. As if some of the water had been displaced by something which is now gone. About 60L of water. Or, around the volume of a body.

 

Others called it a coincidence. So did I at first. Until we realized that the pots were all sealed the same way. From the inside.

 

Yes. I think that's inescapable.

 

They were not more advanced than us, they developed in a different direction. And if Milton nailed it and we're meant to seek the heavens, their way was better.

 

It's possible some humans achieved the same thing. There are stories of enlightened or spiritual people who disappeared, leaving no body. Padmasambhava's rainbow body, Enoch ascending directly to heaven. Can some combination of understanding and belief allow us to escape too? If we're to carry on living faced with this knowledge, we have to hope so.

 

At least, I have to hope so. Because it's the only way out of what's in front of me.

 

The pot is full. The water is warm. I've added the salt. I won't be able to escape the chains. It's time to get in.

Jack Morton studied English and Writing at UofT. His short stories can be read in Expanded Field Journal, NonBinary Review, and upcoming in Parsec Ink. He lives in Toulouse, France.