Jeff and Andrea wanted to do it right. Be authentic. They got their hands and legs modified right before Solstice, and set out for the Pleistocene preserve soon after. By the time they arrived, Jeff could already walk on his knuckles.
Hormones had covered them both in a layer of fine, warm hair. Their short legs and hardened hands supported their weight in the four-legged walk that many doctors recommended as more natural, better for the back, and conducive to a healthy lifestyle. They ate only raw fruit, bugs, and the occasional animal kill. They joined a tribe who lived in the forested edges of a vast savannah on the northern continent of Xeno, a historical reenactment moon orbiting Gleise D. But the Pleistocene lifestyle wasn't quite what they were expecting.
First of all, there were a lot of disagreements about how to recreate the Pleistocene Era. Jeff and Andrea's tribe was technically pre-Pleistocene, as they had adopted the bodies of hominins before bipedalism. Other groups went the other direction, adopting the Lithic cultures of the Paleo-Indian tribes of the Americas, hunting megafauna, creating complicated symbolic art and maritime technologies.
Privately, Andrea scorned these Lithic reenactors. Their lives were as unhealthy as modern humans' — maybe even worse, since they ate so much meat and walked on two legs. Also, their relationship with the world was basically the same as a modern human's as well. With so much symbolism and technology in their environments, the Paleo-Indians might as well have been in a city surrounded by bots and holograms.
Worse were the people who had come to Xeno with absolutely no desire to reenact the Pleistocene at all. There was a huge group who had built an artificial oasis and river for their perfect replica of the Mesopotamian city of Ur.
Curled together beneath a tree, out of earshot of the tribe, Jeff and Andrea sometimes whispered hoarsely in a language that was too complex to be period.
"Why did the Mesopotamians even come here?" Jeff muttered. "There should be no cities in the Pleistocene."
"They're just mistreating their bodies. All that cooked food, and the terrible diseases that cities cause . . . " Andrea trailed off, picturing the horror of early urban life. Then she thought with satisfaction of how good she felt, now that her back wasn't protesting against its artificial bipedalism and her stomach was filled only with fruits eaten raw, as nature intended.
After a famous travel writer published a guidebook to the Pleistocene reenactment lands, things got a lot weirder. People came who wanted to live in an alternate history version of the Pleistocene, where magic was real and vast temples to living gods contained priests who could do miracles. Or at least, who could use a simple fabricator to manipulate atoms. It made Andrea long for the misguided Mesopotamians and Lithic types.
Jeff and Andrea's twelfth winter in the tribe was hard. The popularity of pre-bipedal mods had tapered off and their group was aging. Jeff caught pneumonia and couldn't eat raw food — in a feverish daze, he demanded in very loud, modern language that he wanted oatmeal, toast, and hot soup. Her friends nudged her gently, grunting and gesturing. They were pointing north, to the modern city and teleportation hub. The only place on the moon where Jeff could see a doctor whose medicine went beyond white willow bark and incantations.
"You know, the Pleistocene lifestyle isn't as healthy as we once believed," the doctor told Andrea as Jeff slept with a hydration bulb slowly deflating on his arm. He loaned her a smart paper and gestured a few brochures onto it about reversing the quadruped surgeries she and Jeff had had what seemed like a lifetime ago. She also found some self-help books about leading a natural human life, the way people did on Earth before agriculture destroyed everything.
Poking through the texts and video felt strange. It had been so long since she'd used her fingers for reading. Almost as long as it had been since she'd read. Lifting her eyes from the crawling words, Andrea noticed another group in the ward with them. A man, trampled by a toxodon, was there with his two wives. They worked on a hide with obsidian tools while an engineer regrew the man's lost leg muscles.
The women looked graceful and healthy with their bipedal bodies and pre-urban symbolic culture. Leaning forward onto her knuckles, Andrea watched them talk quietly to each other, a pair of late-Pleistocene people, behaving in the ways humans had evolved to find the most comfortable. Stretching her fingers out more, Andrea poked the smart paper until she got through to her bank account back on Earth.
She and Jeff still had plenty of credits. Maybe even enough to fit themselves out for a Lithic cultural transformation.
The art that inspired my flash fiction today is by Emmanuel Malin, a Paris artist and illustrator who has worked in video games, comics, and graphic design. You can see more of Malin's work on his website.