Student #36 squirms in his cyber-chair,
chewing power-gum and texting his robo-friend on his space-phone, trying
to pay attention to Teachers presentation on Complete World History.
Teacher points his laser-chalk at the holo-board and says:
We believe homo sapiens emerged
as a thinking force in nature around 10,000 B.C, but none of them thought
to organize agriculture or domesticate animals for 4,000 more years,
around 6,000 B.C. It was another 3,000 years before the first written
languages began to form.
Student #36 raises his hand but Teacher
does not pause.
In 1,800 B.C, the Babylonian king
Hammurabi created an empire with roads, a postal system, and many other
prototypes of modern infrastructure. He also introduced the concept of
public laws, but it wasnt until around 500 B.C that the very basic
principles of science started to appear, and art was still limited to wall
drawings and the occasional statue.
Student #36 shakes his hand in the air
and Teacher finally acknowledges him. Student #36 asks:
How could it take people so long to
figure these things out? What were they doing with their time all those
Thats a very good question. Please
place your palms against your psy-books for todays psy-film.
Student #36 places his palm against his
psy-book and feels the buzz in his nerves as the book interfaces with his
brain and sucks his consciousness into a full-immersion mind-video. He
sees floating images of a bearded man in an animal-skin tunic tilling a
field, planting rice, slaughtering a goat, while Teachers voice echoes
through the scene:
Given how little human evolution has
advanced in the last few millennia, it can be hard to understand how early
man progressed so slowly compared to his modern counterpart. Ancient man
had the same brain and same intellectual capacities as modern man, so how
could it take thousands of years to learn how to forge iron, and thousands
more to harness electricity?
What must be taken into account is
the myriad handicaps facing humanity at these points in history. Hunger,
disease, warthese are all distant history to us, conquered centuries ago
by advances in technology and social sciences, but in ancient times these
were daily realities that forced mankind to spend all its time fighting to
survive, leaving very little for study, invention, or deep thinking of any
The psy-video cuts to a shot of the
farmer standing in his field, watching the sun go down.
But by far the greatest handicap
placed on early mans development was a bizarre and horrific malady known
The farmer enters his hut and lights an
oil lamp. He kisses his wife and children. Then he lies down on a flat,
elongated chair with no back. He stretches his body out on this cloth
rectangle like a corpse on a morgue slab, pulls a thick sheet of fabric
over his chest, and closes his eyes.
Despite appearances, this man is not
dead. In ancient times, Somniaor Sleep as it was calledravaged the
populous of the entire earth, including most animals, although many
species were immune. A human Sleep victim suffered from paralyzing
fatigue, which would intensify in the evening hours until he could no
longer function at all. Eventually, he would succumb, and lose
The video zooms in on the farmers
face, pallid and utterly blank, eyes twitching faintly under their lids.
This comatose state would last for
an average of 8 hours before the symptoms would subside enough that he
could even stand up, much less function usefully. And these debilitating
attacks would recur every single night for as long as the victim survived.
The video fades to black, then Student
#36s vision snaps back to the classroom in front of him. Teacher
Somnia was part of life in those
times; it had been around since the beginning, a silent death lurking in
the DNA of everyone living, and it was never questioned. Amazingly,
primitive man, being a highly superstitious creature that loved tradition
and feared change, considered this devastating disease a natural
process, and very little thought was given to curing it. Imagine being
born with a bleeding, pus-oozing gash on your face, and thinking that
because it had always been there, it was supposed to be there!
The classroom reacts to this image: a
mixture of laughter and Ewww! Student #36 smiles to himself. He likes
So then, Teacher continues, imagine,
if you can, losing 8 hours of every day to a mysterious neuro-physical
disease. Your day would be only 16 hours long. Would you have time to do
everything you want to do today if it was only 16 hours long?
The children shrug and look around.
Do you think youd be able to play 10
hours of Ultragalactic Devilcreeps and still finish all your
Muted chuckles ripple through the
classroom as children shake their heads sheepishly.
No, I dont think you would. So
imagine how this illness affected ancient man. Each day was functionally
only 16 hours long, each week only 4 and a half days. Humanity lost 121
days a year to Sleep. Thats 33 years every century! So when you wonder
why ancient man took so long to advance, keep in mind that a millennia of
history during the Sleep plague equaled only 670 of the full years we
enjoy today. Does that answer your question, Student #36?
Student #36 nods, awestruck.
So, lets jump forward in history a
little to the first year A.D, when a Persian alchemist named
Khalid ibn Yazidby
made by far the most important discovery in human history: the cure for
Sleep. The circumstances surrounding his cure are shrouded in myth and
legend, and since Somnia has never made a resurgence in modern times,
modern scientists can not analyze it and can only theorize how Yazidby
accomplished the cure. Was it magic? The panacea or Philosophers Stone of
alchemical lore? Was it some shadowy ancient science so deceptively simple
it eludes the modern mind, like the construction of the Pyramids? Or was
it some incomprehensible feat of sheer will that somehow broke the rules
and scaled the fences of the universe? We may never know. What we do know
is that Sleep no longer troubles us, and humanity is free to move forward
uninterrupted. So, lets continue our timelinewhich after the eradication
of Sleep, accelerates rapidly
Student #36 begins to daydream. He
imagines what it would be like to be a Sleep victim. To feel his life
bleeding out of him every evening as if he had a serious wound and no
auto-healer, to feel gravity dragging him down like death. Collapsing onto
those soft burial slabs and struggling, clinging desperately to his mind
as Sleep slowly claws it away from him, tucking it into blackness. And
then disappearingjust disappearing for a whole third of a day, collecting
dust and flies and feebly trusting in the obscure inner mechanisms that
might bring him to life again
Student #36 shudders and thanks
Space-Jesus that he was born in this modern age of miracles, no longer a
slave to his crude and unenlightened biology.
In 1145 A.D, Thomas Newcomen created
the first practical steam engine, ushering in the Industrial Revolution.
The United States declared
independence from Britain in 1188, and concluded its Civil War by 1247.
Ten years later, electricity had been fully harnessed and Thomas Edisons
incandescent bulbs were lighting every home. The first affordable
automobile rolled off Henry Fords assembly line in 1280. Neil Armstrong
walked on the moon in 1317. The Apple iPod was released in 1338, and the
U.S elected its first black president 5 years later. Cancer was cured at
the turn of the Fourteenth Century, followed by AIDS and heart disease in
1412. By the end of the 1400s, self-powered food synthesizers were
ubiquitous, ending world hunger, renewable energy sources had completely
replaced fossil fuels, and a re-engineered United Nations had achieved
sustainable peace throughout the world
Student #36 tunes out the lecture and
begins drafting an outline for his report. His atom-pen makes brilliant
ultraviolet strokes across his neutron-notebook as he scribbles notes in
super-shorthand. History is not his favorite subject, and he cant wait
till the gravity-bell rings so he can go home to his sky-pod and watch
hyper-films until his bio-mother makes him take a vitamin-bath and eat his
muscle-sprouts, but he does find todays lesson somewhat intriguing. He
sketches a quick note:
So much has happened in such a short
time, but so much time wasted! What if Sleep were cured sooner? At the
dawn of man, 10,000 B.C? What unimaginable future age would we be living
in today? What blinding wonders would compose our lives?
Student #36 presses Stop Record on the
cyber-chip in his ear and begins playing back the lecture, jumping from
key point to key point with a few simple thoughts. He places his
fingertips on his electro-pad and interfaces with it, then closes his eyes
and begins to turbo-compose his cyber-report:
HOW SLEEP STOLE 3,315 YEARS FROM
HUMANITY AND COULD HAVE STOLEN MORE
By Student #36
November 28, 1776
Isaac Marion, 2009