|MEGAFAUNA by Tris Matthews
“Nnnnn,” said Harry. His primitive mind awoke first, leaving the higher, human part to its slumber. He was a dumb beast with a beast of a headache. Thoughts didn’t form words.
Around him, a cacophony of squawks and growls erupted, evoking an appreciative audience at a classical concert. Harry blinked his eyes open to a Monet blur of Gauguin colours. He reiterated his first proclamation with a more passion, steeled his mind and focussed on focussing.
The fuzzy outlines became crisper till he discerned the fuzzy outline of a koala sitting on his chest. “Nnnn?” Harry repeated, but this time with meaning.
The koala leaned forward till its beak touched Harry’s nose. It pinched his cheek with its fleshy fingers and said “Stupid man. Welcome back.”
‘Stupid’ is the worst thing to call a scientist. However, if that scientist has completely forgotten who they are, it facilitates a quick recovery.
“I beg your pardon,” said Harry. “I have a PhD in Stem Cells for Neural Regeneration and Recombination.”
A giraffe leaned over, the dappled light shimmering off the iridescent scales of its neck. “Never had a peachy dee,” it said. “Are they tasty? We all share here. Hand it over.”
Birds were chirping, and two were harmonising a fowl rendition of ‘What a wonderful world’.
Harry strained to prop himself up on his elbows. He was in a cryostasis pod. His last act came back to him: sealing the Cryo-Room’s security door, setting the wake-time for five-thousand years and scuttling to this pod.
But this wasn’t the Cryo-Room—it was an overgrown park. Amongst the trees and brambles comingled a Disney assortment of species: all sizes, all colours; they milled with not a hint of inter-species hostility, and the sight of them brought it all back.
Together with twenty-one co-workers, Harry had perfected the art of infusing one species with sections of another’s DNA. They’d designed and bred a diverse range of fauna with bulbous skulls chock-a-block full of human-enhanced encephala: heavy on altruism; light on aggression. A perfect recipe for inter-species harmony. Humanity was already on an obvious crash course for disaster, so Harry and colleagues had hopped into cryostasis while homo sapiens went extinct, leaving whatever few of their creations survived the apocalypse to babysit the world till their return.
Harry’s heart pounded with pride as he beheld his progeniture. The superior scientist inside suggested he grab a notepad and document the morphological differences from the first generation. He felt there was something significant he hadn’t grasped. But the curse of humanity’s higher cognitive functioning was a slow boot time, and before he could apply rigour to his inspection, Harry saw the other cryostasis pods strewn around, strikingly clean and untouched by the grasping undergrowth.
None were open.
Harry frowned. “Why are we outside?”
Harry couldn’t tell who—what—spoke. In his panic it didn’t matter. “If the pods aren’t connected to the Cryo-Room’s power, they will shut down.”
“All dead. No problem.”
Harry tossed off his koala and leaped from his pod (it was more of a stumbling flail, but as the last man alive, Harry dictated the narrative), and rushed to the nearest pod.
“Joan!” he groaned. He bounded to the next. “Rob!” he sobbed.
One by one, Harry checked the cryostasis pods. Each readout was dark, each entombed human pale. The further he ventured, the gaunter the face and the more deeply sunken the eye sockets.
A deer joined him peering into the egg-shaped tomb of his dear friend Sandeep.
“They’re all dead!”
“No problem,” said the deer.
Harry turned to take in its face. There really was no point. A deer’s face is just as unreadable to a man who can see it as to one who can’t. The deer bared rows of sharp, triangular teeth in an endearing smile.
“Lucky, man,” it said. “Last human—nobody worries you go like rabbits again and mess things up. You be popular. We a big happy family.”
The deer looked Harry up and down, then added “Popular with females too.”
Harry draped himself across Sandeep’s pod and monologued: “We were the greatest geniuses the human race had ever seen. All of this should have been ours to rule as we saw fit. We would create a beautiful world free of human greed and ego.”
“None of that here,” the deer agreed.
Harry beat his fist on the pod. “How did we end up outside?”
“Ah,” said the deer. “Yeah. Found you in a man-cave three weeks back. Very clean, many lights. Knocked on glass, but you ignored. Dead, we said. Took out. One at a time. Strong fellas, those gorillas… and not bad looking.” The deer’s wink was lost on Harry. “You could do way worse than a gorilla! But still, your coffins are heavy and gorillas treasure their leisure. Do one a day.”
Harry fell to his knees. “Why? Why would you do that?”
“Stuck in that room, can’t return to the earth. Circle of life. Sustain nobility.” The deer sketched a circle in the air with one antenna then nodded wistfully.
“We were returning to Earth,” Harry wailed. “To shape it into something great! Now look… it’s all gone. The future is empty!”
“Oh, I don’t know,” the deer said. “I’ve got yoga this evening. Looking forward to that.”
Harry dug his fingers deep in to the loose soil and tore up two mounds.
“How would you like it?” came an irate squeal.
The creature stood amidst the leaves Harry had disturbed in his tantrum. On this most bizarre day, it was the most bizarre creature.
As a stranger in a strange land, one is afforded a certain leniency, but when Harry enquired “What on Earth are you?” the curious critter rippled with offence.
Puffed up with pride, it said “Mother was a butterfly; Father was a hedgehog.”
Harry barked a hyena’s laugh.
“A hedgehog and a butterfly… But that’s imp-”
Heedlessly trampling the butterhog (hedgefly?), Harry erected himself once more. With eyes newly opened, the diversity of this new world hit him: he saw the pussyguins and zebrogs, the dolpharoos and elequirrles…
He saw bees of green, red crows too,
He saw a raboon; a wasparoo.
And he thought to himself:
I know what to do.
“Excuse me, deer,” Harry said, slapping a palm on the deer’s shoulder. “Could you help me with something?”
“Could you introduce me to those gorillas you mentioned?”