Planet Ape

A wondrous work of hopeful speculative fiction imagining a futuristic city where humanity attempts to coexist with a myriad of colorful creatures…

by: Juan Takai (Translated by Toshiya Kamei)

In a town built on top of the ruins of a megalopolis, a crowd gathered to reminisce about their former prosperity.

In the distance, a voice beamed through the speaker on the roof of a car with a prominent cross.

“Humanity was given dominion over every living creature…God commanded it…”

Beside the cross stood a billboard with a large “X” mark on an ape’s face.

A man in a guide’s white uniform sneered at the billboard and he ushered the visitors in to a domed conference hall. They glanced sideways at the car before descending down a flight of stairs under pale lights. Once, Earth was divided into countries as numerous as the seats in the hall.

“When an ape stood here…” In front of the podium, the guide spoke to children. “Humanity finally realized something.”

A Sikh family from a rural settlement looked around the venue. A group of Mennonites nodded. On the fenced platform was a microphone with a ribbon and an assortment of charters in every language. Then, the projector at the back of the conference hall flickered and began to show scenes from the past.

“How long did it take for us to realize that human perception isn’t finite?” the guide continued. “And so is that of various life forms. Moreover, we had no more use for bombs or nuclear disasters.”

The footage showed crying children in stop motion and then a mushroom cloud filled the screen.

“We all dream. And dreams remain vivid in our memory. However, it hurts a bit to remember. Often we wonder, are the dreams false memories?”

The visitors sat on benches in the middle of the conference hall, groaning and cheering. Rays of light seeped in from the opened skylight above. On the screen, the mushroom cloud became condensed in the eyes of a single ape.

“Dolphins communicate through ultrasound. So do bats and other animals. Pigeons and migratory birds also have unique abilities. Monkeys and humans communicate, but at first we were laughed at and despised. Initially, communication was difficult even among humans, and those who were once deemed mentally ill, autistic, and developmentally disabled it turned out were more in tune with the feelings of others than those who were considered normal. What did nurture their perception?”

A few people in white uniforms remained deep in thought while taking in aerial photographs of various natural settings around the world. They seemed to keep staring at the images, disregarding the time limit or quota. When the automatic door slid open, everyone turned their heads. There stood two bonobos, one male and one female.

“Thank you for waiting,” the male bonobo spoke in a clear tone, baring his teeth in a grin. He had a bulge in his throat and a small box with a belt around the waist.

“Ivanhoe, Ursula, welcome.”

“Thank you,” the male bonobo said.

The bonobos slowly took a seat on chairs in the back of the room.

“An old image, isn’t it?” Ivanhoe said.

“That’s right,” the guide answered. He pressed a button on the remote control and changed the image on the screen. Now it showed Earth.

“Despite everything we’d done, even today Earth looks blue and has some vegetation left.”

“Humans paid no heed to nature’s warning,” Ivanhoe pointed out. 

“Well, our pride got us into trouble,” the guide chimed in. “After all, humanity is only a very small part of nature.”

“Of course, every life has its own purpose, its own special place in this world,” Ivanhoe said. He held the bulge on his throat and closed his deeply set eyes while scratching his crotch with one hand.

A woman stroked her flushed cheek and glanced toward a corner of the screen. A small logo read “Exodus.”

“Exodus. I hate the sound of it,” she blurted out.

“I agree. It sounds too heroic. It’s typical doublespeak, though. It reminds me of the old Chinese saying which goes, ‘fifty steps laughing at one hundred steps,’” said Ivanhoe.

Ursula nodded. Unlike Ivanhoe, she lacked a bulge on her throat and couldn’t speak. She then burst into laughter and struck the console at the bottom of the chair. A monotonous, robotic voice filled the room: “Exodus is a public domain text whose copyright has expired. Author unknown. It occupies two kilobytes of memory. Would you like me to read it aloud?”

“No thanks!”

A roar of laughter broke out from the crowd.

A man in a tight-fitting diving suit looked at the horizon from the lobby of a marina resort. The Miami space elevator waited on the opposite bank. As he walked, he sneered at mottos floating in the air: “We live on Earth. What we see is not the sea but Earth. What we eat is Earth. We’ll be Earth someday. Earth will continue.” The man reached the shore. A group of fishermen gathered around him. Beads of sweat shone on their suntanned skin.

“Are you gonna make babies with dolphins?” one fisherman quipped.

“I hope so, someday,” the man answered.

“Ask ‘em which day is good for fishin’,” another fisherman said.

“All right, I will. But please make sure they won’t get caught in your nets.”

The fishermen roared with laughter. Then they rolled up the winch and began gutting the catch. Several cats lay in wait for their share. As the man passed several boats, he wondered if it’d be possible to talk to fish, insects, and weeds one day.

After reaching the end of the marina resort, he cast a light on the surface of the sea. After a while, waves stirred as dolphins surged forward. The man put a green glittering band on his head, slowly dipped into the water, and faced the dolphins.

“┐└┐┬.”

The dolphins sent their words through ultrasound. They wanted to meet bonobos rather than humans.

“Sorry, not today.”

“─!” the dolphins splashed their fins, showing their irritation.

“You don’t want me?” the man asked.

“┌!” One dolphin answered, giving him a hard time.

“─└├─.” Another dolphin carried on the banter.

“You want me to be a bonobo? Don’t I look like one already?’’

A splashing sound reached his ears.

“─!”

A bonobo in a wetsuit joined the company. Delighted, the dolphins bared their teeth.

“Alexander, what are you doing here?” the man asked.

“I was spending time with some nearby fishermen. Hey, how are you guys?”

Two dolphins made clicking sounds and circled around the man and the bonobo. The primates and marine animals gathered to discuss issues concerning the surrounding waters. The dolphins weren’t the only ones participating. They communicated with whales in other parts of the ocean through ultrasound. Bonobos played a mediating role between human participants and other living creatures. Of course, they had overcome many trials and errors, twists and turns, reactions, collisions, failures, and accidents. This exploration continued even today. Regarding the differences between human time and animal time, and their respective perceptions on the word “love,” they’d keep seeking answers in the future.

“┬┐.”

“Tell me your name.”

“. . . “

“Oh, Gene. Is that it?”

The man couldn’t understand the name of each dolphin that came into his head. He still had to rely on a tag attached to each dolphin’s fin. He wasn’t able to pronounce what was transmitted by ultrasound. Still, he kept asking their names with the hope that he’d someday understand.

“Alexander, do you understand?”

“No, but they all have names,” the bonobo answered.

“Why don’t we understand their names?”

“Surely they have a different concept from ours,” Alexander continued. “Just as there are differences between bonobo and human concepts too.”

“Sex, for instance,” the man said.

The dolphins spewed water.

“─┤!”

“Let’s get serious now,” Alexander cut in. “Okay, let’s get started on preparing a chart for removal of an old submarine cable. We’d like to start at sunset the day after tomorrow.”

“┤─.”

“We need two boats for that.”

The man was still unsure whether dolphins and humans were truly communicating. Unlike bonobos, who had acquired verbal language, dolphins used a drastically different way of communication. But he was quite satisfied with what they had achieved together. As a result of their interspecies cooperation, the ocean was increasingly cleaner.

Ivanhoe placed his hand against the window of the space station and gazed toward Earth and the smiling faces in the space elevator.

“Did you take the disease for Earth and life forms?”

“I don’t consider myself sick.”

“But—”

“I’m not sick. It’s not a compromise or a retribution. I needed it.”

A man with almond-shaped eyes extended his hand to Ivanhoe, who was shorter. Using his hands and arms, Ivanhoe climbed over the man’s shoulders and head.

“Some believed we humans had to have forty-six chromosomes. That short-sighted brand of thinking kept us cornered and ended up damaging Earth.”

A woman smiled and supported Ivanhoe.

“Nowadays, most of us have just forty-five and a half. Moreover, many are still suffering from radiation damage.”

“How long did it take for us to consider Earth as a single entity since the days of Yuri Gagarin and James Lovelock?”

Looking at the enormous, blue sphere, the woman sighed. Ivanhoe wasn’t able to do so himself, but he understood how she felt.  Those who lived there had developed Williams Syndrome, once considered an autism spectrum disorder or a genetic disorder, and received congenital treatment. Thus, they all lacked some parts of their chromosomes, unlike those “complete humans.” Everyone was proud of that. A bald, white man opened a chat window in silence, perhaps in his ascetic practice.

“This semester, we offer Zen class from seventeen o’clock standard time. Would you care to join us?” he typed.

“I’ll pass,” Ivanhoe answered. “I’m not really into that kind of stuff.”

The man shrugged and smiled at Ivanhoe, updating his chat.

“I can’t say which religion is the best, but there’s one thing I know for sure — when someone noticed others’ suffering and comforted them, a religion was born. And it was often necessary after death or destruction.”

Some nodded. Others scoffed. New humans, old humans, bonobos, dolphins, and various types of life forms continued to interact by trial and error. This attempt at cross-species communication was much better than environmental destruction, exploding bombs, and nuclear disasters.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *