I’m one of those insufferable human reporters—you know—the hatchet-faced adrenaline junkies who will do almost anything for a story. It’s the 32nd century, the year 3116, and I’m in grave danger. By means of biological transmutation, I’m invisible . . . but artificially stabilized enzymes will only support the effect for about 6 hours—I must make the most of my time. I’m risking my life because, after an extraordinary juxtaposition of fortunes, humans have been subordinate to animals for centuries and I’m shadowing “Praxis,” the current Animal Kingdom Supreme Leader. Praxis is a lion: omnipotent, proud, powerful . . . brimming with animus. If I should become visible and be discovered, I’m history!
Since early this morning Praxis has been hosting a small party of visiting Ghias—a backward race of unsavory aliens—on Earth ostensibly to improve their government. Their leader is especially repulsive—he has a rat’s twitchiness—the others less so. My guess is they seek improved methods of genocide, but, hey—I’m just a journalist. Whatever their purpose, today Praxis seems pleased with the reprieve from more demanding burdens of office. He is accompanied by two aides (bodyguards?); a vindictive crocodile with the eyes of a cobra and a young lynx.
There is a quiet breeze coming in from the uplands. With boastful pride Praxis explains, “After the dinosaurs, for three millennia humankind carried the upper hand on Earth, only to fall victim to greed and an unsustainable sense of entitlement. They befouled the planet, wasted precious resources and failed to respect the forces of evolution and natural succession. They were unworthy stewards. They became the source of their own demise. Today we husband them for our own purposes.”
There was a heartbeat of uncomfortable silence.
“But your planet is rich in natural resources and unspeakable beauty,” the Ghia leader retorted, “if these humans managed your planet so poorly, why is it not apparent today?”
His mind and memory were like honed Swedish steel. With a sardonic smile, Praxis continued, “The supremacy of nature is relentless. Control the offending species, evacuate the cities and move them away from their element, limit their numbers. What ensues is a remarkable resurgence. Asphalt and concrete gives way to new growth and verdant vegetation—within twenty years abandoned cities become a veritable jungle, teeming with irrepressible life.”
The Ghia leader was visibly energized, “You plotted this overthrow?”
“No,” replied Praxis, “in those days humans made effective war upon their own kind, they nearly exterminated themselves . . . the result—extirpation—it was a logical, predictable consequence.”
The Ghia’s interest fibrillated, “So you banished the remaining humans to select cities? How did you manage to do that?”
“When his numbers are few, man is easily frightened by large predators. He has lost his connection to the wilderness. Exploiting this fear, we cultivated only a few urban areas—the chosen human habitat,” Praxis said. “The species is abhorrent of solitude . . . they keep to their cities, unable to assimilate the natural world with its immutable laws. Indeed, this was their fatal flaw—they chose not to coexist with other species.”
“Then what good are they to your planet,” asked a subordinate Ghia, “do you depend on them for meat?”
The Crocodile’s lethal jaws parted slightly; the lynx splayed his claws and the lessor Ghias stared—their eyes, brown and feral.
After a dramatic pause, Praxis assumed a professorial mien, “A long time ago some of us killed humans for food, but only out of desperation. In nature’s grand scheme, man is NOT prey. But as the genus Homo began to decline, most predators realized the value of the resource . . . and the need to protect it from extinction.”
This comment launched a lively discussion among foreign tongues. The leader silenced the group and said, “And so you manage this species’ population through conservation efforts—by preserving fragments of their habitat—even though you do not need them as a food source?”
“Yes, that’s right . . . to preserve the sport.”
“We are instinctive hunters,” Praxis lectured, “for us the human species provides diversion and outlet, a source of recreation.” Praxis noted the crocodile and lynx gently rolling their eyes.
The Ghia leader was enthralled, “You breed these humans to hunt them?”
Finessing the question, the Supreme Leader continued, “The educated ones are easily distracted by primitive electronic devices,” he said, “We engage them to navigate and find migration routes and hunting grounds in ways we never could. Their little ones we sometimes keep as pets.”
The aliens stared, rapt, fully mesmerized.
“We breed some for speed and agility and race them for sport. Others we breed for fighting; we bet on outcomes,” Praxis continued.
“And they willingly succumb to these domestications?” asked the leader.
“They have no choice,” Praxis said, “their natural habitat is all but eradicated—very few cities remain—their very existence depends on us.”
“How bizarre! You manage all the factors of their existence, making sure there is a sufficient population for your needs and recreation. Tell us more.”
Flattered by the interest and envy of his audience, Praxis relaxes:
“Several times a year, we close down the parks and have a public hunt. It’s great sport. We disperse them into the wilderness from their urban centers and shopping malls and stalk them down, fair and square . . . sometimes we trap them and display their unusual skins. For the most able opponents, we mount their heads on the walls of our dens as testimony to our accomplishments as hunters.”
“Are you not constrained by moral imperative here,” the Ghia leader asked, “your society is tolerant of this view of these—these humans?” There was something arch and improper in his tone.
Praxis’s eyes flamed as the Ghias stood chilled to the marrow, “Absolutely, sir, humans exist for our service, our pleasure and our recreation. There is indeed nothing more thrilling than hunting at exclusive private wilderness preserves. Rare humans from all parts of the globe are brought into these grand ranches. Fences are so high the humans have no hope of escape. This is where the really coveted trophies are harvested. Wealthy predators pay mightily to hunt at these venues—we funnel most of the revenues back into our conservation program so that the future of the sport is ensured. It’s very important to teach our youth the value of conservation and bond them to our heritage.”
Something had happened. All could feel it, like a sudden drop in the temperature . . . Praxis continued:
“Our planet’s society, gentlemen, is comprised of many species and we are connected to one another in a complex web of life. Those at the top of the food chain have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the whole, so that we all may enjoy the gift of life. The human species squandered their dominance and reneged on that responsibility. It’s is the nature of life on this planet that only the strongest survive. Humans were unable to adapt to their own over-consumption; it was self-inflicted—they’re lucky to be here at all! A ruthless, brutal process—but clean and beautiful.”
That’s when the lights went out. My corporeal body became visible to the astonishment of everyone present, myself included. I suppose I’m fortunate; I could have been eaten on the spot. I’m now surviving in a free-range nature preserve: no more reporting for me, just staying alive is adventure enough. Although I did manage to save my story so that others may read it, today I peer out through the wilderness with fear and hopelessness. As a sentient being, I know my life will be short—I recognize the glint of the high fence in the afternoon sun. There is no escape. It’s only a matter of time. I find myself moving like a dying beast, without reason or hope, toward the final, cool, sheltered place where I will eventually be slaughtered for sport. The horror!