Author : Ian Wise

The children gathered in a cluster outside the gate. The light from hydroponics reflected softly off the tops of their heads, all turned to the large black and white animal a few feet away. It dipped its head down and took a bit of grass, a tail swaying back and forth as if in a breeze. The tour guide of the Lasker City Zoo stepped in front of the children and gestured to the animal.

“This animal is called a cow. They were domesticated by homo sapiens around 12,000 years ago and used to as a source of food. In the early 21st century, they became the first livestock animal to have a fully mapped genome, which made them an obvious candidate for a domesticated protein source here.

‘Most cows used for food are housed in a warehouse and are raised brainless. They spend most of their lives in a coma. The only time you will see a cow like this — active and grazing on its own — is in a facility like ours.”

The children had read about animals, but most of the nine year-olds had never seen an animal any larger than cat. Their homes were populated by sameness as all civilians had adopted pale, powder white skin and brown eyes. The children had learned that their bodies, hairless and stocky, were adaptations to a confined space and controlled temperature. They referred to homo sapiens as primates and meant it to mean more primitive versions of themselves. The children were raised to be analytical thinkers, and there was a brief pause before a child near the front raised their hand.

“The cow looks just like the picture in our book. How come they didn’t evolve like us?”

“That is an excellent question. Animals are no longer capable of breeding, which means that any animal you encounter here is a clone. They essentially carry the same DNA they did a thousand years ago.”

“How many different kinds of animals were there?”

“Oh, thousands, I’m sure. A lot of records were lost, but I’m sure there were probably a few thousand. There are pictures of animals with horns on their faces and some documentation of entire civilizations of small creatures called ‘insects’ that built dwellings under the ground, like us. But it’s hard to say how much was fantasy.”

Locked in the archives, the library they had pulled down below, there were records of nearly nine million different species having inhabited the Earth. What was lost was where they all went, because when the lucky future citizens of Lasker fled the cancer and impending nuclear winter above, they shut it all out. 2,000 feet under ground; children of Lasker looked up to the ceiling and were forced only to wonder what used to be.

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