MAP had lived long enough with the people of Ourobouros to learn the language; but not long enough to see their faults writ large, which meant that he still felt liking for them. Heknew he wouldn't approve of what they would, thanks to him, soon become.His role had, he realized now, been that of the Tempter. However, hehad also seen how, despite all mythological statements to the contrary, the Serpent had, in a way which defied belief, effectively been the garden. In short, Tempter and Serpent were, in teleological terms, antitheses.Consequently, in unconsciously playing the role of Satan, MAP had achieved what no self-respecting time-traveller ever sought:a place in the history of human evolution. He smiled wryly as he thought of the 'pivotal' role he had played, the impulse to label himself 'seminal' had, he reflected, been strong. Freud would have made much of it and, not surprisingly, his mind's 'censor' had done what the good doctor would have expected.
The sound of the man coming through the trees was drawing closer now.He who had committed the crime would have been sentenced and, because the guilt was in some part his to share, MAP had decided that he must stay until it was all over. Moreover, he knew that, although the stains on the block of stone which stood in the centre of the clearing were real enough, they were old. The stone was, in fact, rarely used. He would not be witness to a bloody sacrifice - that would come later. This was, rather, a place of punishment.Those who used it believed in taking an 'eye for an eye', but this most recent case had set a legal precedent.The offender had been found guilty of the 'new' crime of - MAP found himself grimacing at the term - 'manslaughter'. He couldn't decide whether the fate which awaited the criminal was 'worse than death' or not. Only time would tell: indeed, time had told, but the full unfolding of the sequence of events which MAP had set in motion now belonged to futurity, the search for an antidote to the troubles of his own time paling into insignificance beside the subtle machinations of fate.
The decision to linger, however, wasn't entirely due to MAP's newly acute sense of responsibility. He knew that, if he didn't see it, he wouldn't believe it and, more importantly, he wouldn't be able to convince anyone else. The human race must be prepared for the evolutionary shift which, having seen how the great wheel turned, he now knew was coming. As he stood there in the shadows cast by the great ferns, waiting for the blow from the stone axe which must fall if a new biological epoch was to dawn, his mind drifted back to the scene in the laboratory which had confirmed for him that what his imagination had told him was true was the truth.
He had, in an attempt to appear nonchalant, forced himself to loll against a lab bench: 'So what doyou think Rob? Does the theory hold water? Is the human race doomed? Are we dying out like the dinosaurs, or what? His friend's shrug of indifference hadn't been entirely forced; his stake in the future of humanity was, after all, limited; 'Your 'theory' - as you like to cal lit - is sheer speculation and, unless you can persuade me otherwise, that's how it'll stay.' His sigh, however, had been one of admission: 'Unfortunately these samples do confirm that, even since the early nineteen-nineties, the average male sperm count is down by fifty per cent.' MAP's face had grown a rueful smile. It had grown bigger - and less apologetic - as his hypothesis was confirmed in another area too. 'It seems,' Rob hadn't batted an eye, 'that the average sizeof the female clitoris has, as you have anticipated...' MAP's smile had transformed itself into laughter; partly, it must be admitted, because of that revulsion toward female genitalia which he knew his friend possessed, but mainly because the evidence had, despite Rob's scepticism, tended to support his thesis. 'Look,' Rob had said, 'if you're so convinced of your own infallibility,' the glare he hurled would have removed, if MAP had had them, any doubts about his friend's innate masculinity, 'why not forget you're a scientist and we can dispense with the donkey work.You can just wallow in your own sense of self-worth and I can ignore the necessity of proving,' the mask habitually worn by his friend had slipped for an instant to reveal the painful ambiguity of the feelings which lay beneath, 'or disproving your 'theory'.'
They had gone over the biological evidence again, but by now it was clear even to the man in the street that twenty-first century woman was becoming more aggressively masculine than the opponents of her feminist ancestors had ever dreamed. Rape, at least by men, was now to be found only in historical fiction. No man in his right mind would have considered this an option today - the castration laws had seen to that. But that wasn't the only deterrent. Often the girls-only teen gangs wouldn't wait for a court judgement. Sometimes it wasn't even necessary for a man to behave violently: if they didn't like the way you walked or the lookyou gave them, or even the 'vibes' they picked up (whether you were actually conscious of giving them out was immaterial), your manhood was liable to be mangled ('mangirlling' they called it); usually psychologically, but often, and this was rapidly becoming the norm, physically too. The consequences had been twofold. Society was more peaceful, indeed, war was, at least in the 'liberated' West, an anachronism. On the other hand, Western woman's dominance had resulted in a rather subtle emasculation of her menfolk. It seemed that violence - albeit subliminal - was, for the male of the species, part and parcel of the sexual act. Domestication had meant not only a reduction in his sperm count, and therefore a levelling off of population which many had interpreted as 'nature's way' of ensuring that humanity didn't develop into 'planet cancer', but an antipathy toward the sexual act itself which looked like becoming a permanent socio-cultural phenomenon.
Men had reacted by turning to each other for support and consolation; much in the way that women of the twentieth-century had formed 'sisterhoods'. The parallels with the feminist extremists were also evident. Homosexuality, since the unexpected disappearanceof the AIDS virus in the early years of the century, was considered an 'option' for radical, thatis, 'normal' or heterosexual but, and this was the rub, 'political', members of the 'brotherhoods'. As with the early lesbian feminists, it was considered politically correct for men to assert their solidarity by choosing a sexual orientation which negated the role of the 'other' sex. Perhaps it wasn't nature's way of showing her disapproval, but noone ever suggested that anal sex was a 'fruitful' mode of intercourse, and the sperm count dropped even further. This, then, was the problem, and the Bureau of World Science had brought in MAP, one of the few male genetic archaeologists that were left in the higher institutes (it was rumoured that, due to fears about possible infiltration from female supremacists, women were not even considered for this project), to solve it. His decision to co-opt Rob Lush had met with a few raised eyebrows, not only because Rob was a 'political radical', that is, homosexual by choice, but because of his field of expertise - time-travel.
There was a familiar sound in the corridor, a sharp tap-tapping of high heels. In past eras the sound would havesent a thrill of sexual adrenalin coursing through a man's body.These days the thrill was more likely to be one of fear. MAP knew that, if he didn't force himself to (no pun intended) stand up straight in the presence of a woman, he would unconsciously adopt the position which best afforded him a chance of protecting his testicles. Not that women were given to launching unprovoked kicks at a man's scrotum; the wounds they inflicted were largely psychical, but the end product was the same - unmanning.
The footsteps ceased at the front door and a figure could be seen outlined through the frosted glass panel. The handle turned and the woman walked in.Rob disappeared behind a wall of jars and tubes; he could be heard at intervals, shuffling about, running water into sinks, generally keeping himself out of harm's way. MAP, on the other hand, seemed merely to adjus this loose stance by the bench in order to confront his uninvited guest:'Pat Horner! What brings you to this neck of the woods?' He cursed himself silently; this false bonhomie was, he knew, acceptable in male company, but women saw through it immediately.Just what it was they saw he'd never been able to deduce. Perhaps it was just female psychology; you know, the idea that there must be something you're trying to conceal from'mother', so why not accept your guilt? Anyway, was it his fault his genitals always tingled in the presence of the opposite sex? Damn it! He did his best not to be come aroused, but that fabled intuition of theirs detected the slightest disturbance in a man's aura. His grandfather had told him how, in the old days, women had used their sensitivity to find a bedmate, but that was during the period of what came to be called the Sexual Prevolution, a period of 'free love' which, all the experts now agreed, had been a contributing factor to the spread of AIDS in the last century, and which had produced in the women of that time an unhealthy fear of what lay coiled inside a man's trousers, a fear that led to unconscious hatred; and finally to outright hostility - like now.
MAP experienced the familiar feeling of a woman's gaze passing through him to settle on what, in the face of ever-deteriorating relations between the sexes, had become that ever-guilty and ever-persecuted worm which was to be found squirming ineffectually at the core of every man's being. He noted the slick black body sheathe, the thigh high white boots, the peaked leather cap, all fetishistic objects which, in another time and place, would have tickled a man's erotic fancy. Now, however, they inspired fear in the guilty (and who, faced with the 'crime' of owning a penis, wasn't guilty) and obeisance (genuine grovelling, that is, not as part of some twisted form of Eros worship) in those who had lost the vestiges of their pride in being masculine.
'How's the project coming?' Was it MAP's imagination, or did he detect a sexual emphasis in the words project and coming? Was she conscious of how, just by running her tongue along her teeth like that, she could make a man's trouser snake go rigid with pleasure? Already he felt it swelling up down there; getting itself good and ready; informing him - and her - that whenever...' Pat cleared her throat peremptorily, jerking him back from the fantasy. Big Boy down there, in spite of assurances of its invincibility, curled up like a slug with salt on its tail. If this goes on much longer, the thought flashed through MAP's mind prophetically, it'll dig itself a hole and crawl in. He frowned. There was something in that; if he could just... Pat moved past him; the clicking of her heels making it impossible to concentrate: it was as if the coils of his cerebrum were being dragged about the floor like loops of dead spaghetti. 'Where's your faggot? Do I frighten him?' she stared mockingly at his crotch. MAP resisted the impulse to change his stance and ease his discomfort: it worked! Was that a flicker of embarassment he saw flit across her features? Apparently not, he observed, as her stare travelled slowly up his torso to rest challengingly at a point just in front of his eyes. He hadn't, he decided, got time for this: 'Rob's busy.He's been working hard.' Again he kicked himself mentally. 'What did you say? Wanking hard? I didn't know they could get hard anymore. Did you?' He wasn't going to fall for that one: 'Did I what?' Again she dropped her eyes to mock his manhood: 'Look Pat,' again he was cut off. 'Oh,' she laughed, 'I am. I am.' He cursed himself inwardly: 'What is it that you want? We're very busy here and...' Once again she overrode him: 'I told you, we're interested. What have you found out?' God preserve us from right wing lesbians, he fumed silently. He would have liked to tell her toshove it, or something of the sort which she shouldn't interpret as a sexual innuendo and turn against him; but it was part of the conditions of his contract - thanks to women's pressure groups - that the two projects co-operate. Needless to say, so far the 'co-operation' had been entirely one way: 'It seems,' he paused mockingly; waiting for the interruption which, because this time it was important for her to listen to what he had to say, wasn't forthcoming, 'that my theory was right. Men are becoming sterile, while women are beginning to develop certain peculiarly masculine traits.' 'You mean we're growing cocks?' Clearly she wasn't going to make this easy for him: 'It isn't that simple,but...' 'I've got some news for you brother,' this time she chose to interrupt him with an insult to boot.This was going too far: 'But...' 'But nothing,' suddenly MAP realized that what she had to impart must not only be dynamite but shattering in its finality; they'd never told him anything before this, 'you remember that clit born fifteen years ago in Rumania?' She paused while MAP nodded his assent: 'Well, that clit can not only fertilize herself, she can fuck too. You know what that means?' He gave a low involuntary whistle.'That's right dickbrain.You're obsolete.The board have decided to shut down your half of the project and go with us. The human race will continue, but on our terms.' Without waiting for any further response she turned on her heel and headed past him through the open door; then, as if remembering some unfinished business, she sang out mock sweetly: 'Bye bye Rob.' MAP wasn't too stunned to know what that meant!
They had both been worried about the human race's dying out, but Rob wasn't exactly a family man; he didn't have a vested interest. MAP wasn't married either, but he liked kids and it was an 'option' for him, which meant he wanted a future not only for men and women but for men with women. Moreover, Pat's threat suggested that, although there might be a role for men like him, if her kind wasin control, it would be a future without 'queers' - voluntary or otherwise. Extermination? Were they already making lists? The brotherhoods weren't secret organizations; so far they hadn't had to be, but now? This, MAP couldn't help thinking, ought to provide Rob with the incentive he had seemed to lack. But there was another thought buzzing around in his head which wouldn't let up until he'd examined it. He struggled to think; then, as if their thoughts had been running along similar paths, Rob appeared from behind a wall of instrumentation: 'Another of their terms must have been that, if the WSB didn't want them to take their findings to the separatists, this concern would have to be shut down due to its being 'no longer viable'. MAP snapped his fingers: 'Of course. That's it!' 'But,' he spluttered in realization, 'that's ridiculous! Now that we know what the problem is we can do something about it. Where's that artefact?' Rob reached into a pocket of his lab coat: 'Here.' He tossed it across. MAP looked at the circle of stone he now held in the palm of his hand: 'This is the oldest example you could find?' Rob nodded: 'It's the oldest there is. Nobody knows how old. What I do know is that, if we link it up to the machine, I can send you back to when it was made.' MAP looked at the image; a dragon with its tail in its mouth: 'Can you do it now?' Rob frowned: 'Ten minutes ago I would have told you it couldn't be set up for a week, but now...' Once more Rob shrugged, but the gesture was no longer indifferent. As if to underline its affirmation, he took the stone circlet from his friend, walked across to the wall of instruments, opened a panel, and placed it inside: 'Appropriate.' 'Oh,' MAP's curiosity was unfeigned; anything Rob thought interesting was, 'why's that?' 'The self-devouring serpent has, since its inception, been associated with time-travel. Have you ever heard the story of the man who went back to find out whether or not Jesus actually existed? He asked about Him everywhere, even quoted scripture; recounting the story of His life until, finally, Pontius Pilate had him crucified as a dissident. Turns out he was Jesus all along. A time loop.' He flicked a switch: 'So watch yourself. Ready?' MAP was taken aback: 'That's it? Just like that?' Ron grinned: 'It's been ready for weeks.The brotherhoods have been keeping tabs on Pat and her bunch.' He adopted a pained expression:'Not that I ever needed an incentive.' MAP laughed: 'Okay, let's go.' He picked up what he always thoughtof as his 'bag of tricks' and stepped forward; but, as he slid into the booth, he frowned: 'Haven't we forgotten something?' Rob produced what looked like a vitamin pill: 'Swallow this. When you want to come back all you have to do is think it. You don't even have to return to this room. Or this country.You can materialize in the Pope's bedroom if you like. Not that I'd advise it.She might be busy with one of her novices.' Their laughter smothered what, in less fateful circumstances, might have been the tell-tale sounds of multiple spiked heels beating a tatoo to the door of the lab.So it was with the element of surprise when, with Pat at their head, an all-female security squad marched in: 'That one,' she pointed towards Rob, 'I denounce him as a member of the brotherhood. Don't move Lush. That,' she gave him the finger, 'is a definite nono.' Rob shrugged but, asMAP now knew, he only seemed indifferent. He had tried to shout out, to stop him before it was too late, but suddenly it was too late. For a moment the guards were fooled and had relaxed their stance, which was what, in feigning resignation, Rob had been counting on. He had lunged forward, slapping a couple of switches with one hand, pressing a button with the other; then the laser bolts tore into him. MAP's final impression of the world he left behind had been Rob's blood-smeared hand sliding down the glass panel of the booth; his thumb raised in what, MAP now felt, was an ironically camp salute.
It hadn't been difficult making contact. Actually, he hadn't even had to start looking; they found him. There had been none of the posturing and mock threats he had anticipated from primitives faced with the shock of the new. Although he was clearly the strangest stranger they had ever encountered, he was clearly alone, and consequently not considered to be dangerous. He presumed that scouts would have been sent out to locate other members of his - tribe? But, for obvious reasons, he hadn't worried about that. They had, he supposed, taken him prisoner or, as it seemed in hindsight, into protective custody. He still hadn't bothered to discover much about the local fauna; though he now knew that some of it was both voracious and, there was no simpler way to put it, big! Hence the caution with which his 'captors' had led him back to the caves in which they lived.
They had found him almost instantaneously, he had wondered if the suddenness of his arrival had caused some sort of dislocation in the surrounding area; some of the foliage had apparently been singed, and there was a silence which, after experiencing the more commonplace shrieks and bellows that usually accompanied a stroll in the jungle, he had later decided was the natural response to a loud noise. Rob would have to - damn! His friend's sacrifice had loomed fresh in his mind, even though, paradoxically, he hadn't yet made it! That thought, although it seemed to him that it shouldn't have madeany difference, did; he was quite cheerful when, shortly afterwards, he had seen shapes flitting toand fro amidst the giant ferns which, at first, he had taken for trees. However, after a brief survey of the faces that peered out at him from the shadows, he had perceived his error. Later inspection had revealed that, due to some trick of the light, the creatures had seemed more reptilian than they actually were, but, for MAP, it had meant only one thing: the stone circlet was an artifact of the period known as the Mesozoic, which was of course impossible - was being the operative word.
The caves were located halfway up the face of a cliff. MAP had been visibly relieved when it was made apparent to him by sign and gesture that he wasn't expected to get up there by muscle power alone. One of his few aquaintances emitted a sharp whistle and, it was evident they had been expected, because a serviceable rope ladder was immediately cast down. The individual who appeared to lead the group had gone first; demonstrating to MAP how to avoid slippping and breaking his neck, a courtesy for which his pupil felt he would be eternally grateful: heights made him dizzy.
It must, MAP had conjectured, be an extraordinarily massive cave; judging by the size of the welcoming committee. He discovered later that, in fact, there was but one cave; those he had seen from the ground were essentially subsidiary entrances. There had, however, been little interest in him; he had soon realized that his companions were far more important to the community than he was; or rather what they had failed to bring with them would have been. The leader's apologetic open-handed stance told MAP all he needed to complete the picture. The group which had, as it were, 'trapped' him had been hunting for food, and his arrival had probably scared off whatever passed for game in these parts. The looks of contempt which he had received from many of the onlookers had tended to confirm this supposition. At least, MAP had thought, they didn't consider eating him! Unfortunately, after explanations had been sought and given, MAP had been promptly forgotten about. Apparently this had been the only reason for his being dragged along; to provide the hunters with an excuse for their failure to feed a hungry populace.He had supposed he ought to have been thankful that his problem wasn't how to overcome that hostility which strangers always seemed to encounter; instead he had had to cope with an almost total lack of interest.
The first inkling of a potential breakthrough had come when, after sitting with his back to the cave mouth for much of the night, a figure had appeared beside him with a steaming bowl of lumpy fluid which it laid quickly at his feet before disappearing back into the darkness. MAP had eaten his fill; it hadn't been that unpleasant either, a bit like swallowing axle grease with bits of india rubber floating about in there to give you something to bite at. His stomach was satisfied though,which allowed his mind tosleep. When he awoke there was nothing else for it but to enter the cave and get on with what he had come here to do.He had his mini-lab; all he needed was a willing subject. He hadn't been able to detect anything unusual about his reluctant benefactors' physiology, apart from the reptilian cast to their features, but that was mainly because of the voluminosity of the garment with which they hid their nether regions.There could, he knew, be a very good reason for this, but he didn't want to get his hopes up too much.
Another thing he hadn't been bothered with before, but which now seemed significant; all the specimens he had met with so far had been male: he could be sure about that because none of them had worn anything upon their upper bodies and, well, even he couldn't have missed what his grandfather had used to delight in describing as a woman's 'love bumps'.
He rapidly discovered that there were no restrictions on his movements, apart from one, he was not allowed to enter the mouth of what, at first glance, seemed a small cave at the back of the cavern. However, from the amount of to-ing and fro-ing that went on, he quickly came to assume that only the mouth of this cave was tiny, inside, he had guessed, lay a cavern at least equal in magnitude to its parent.What went on in there it took him longer to learn. Direct enquiries were, until he began to master the language (by sitting, watching and listening; noone volunteered to teach him: what, the blank eyes they turned upon him seemed to say silently,would be the point?), impractical; and, having achieved command of a few basic words, unfruitful. However, because of the continuing non-appearance of a female of the species and, more importantly, the absence of recognizably young children, he had deduced that the cave within a cave was the place where the mothers of the tribe reared their young, but surely, he had put the question to himself, the women can't spend their entire lives in there?
It wasn'tlong before his question had been answered. Every day at twilight his mysterious benefactor had continued to appear with food. Aware of the many dangerous taboos which lie in wait for the unheedy when in contact with fundamentally alien societies, MAP had refrained from tampering with this arrangement. One evening, however, becoming proud of his limited grasp of this incurious race's tongue, he had addressed his provider; asking why, when everyone else ignored him to the degree that he sometimes believed himself invisible, this one deemed him worth feeding? His speech had met with a startled glance; then the bowl had been hurriedly put down but, before the figure could make its escape, MAP had, he shuddered at the chance he'd taken, grabbed an arm.There had, he recalled now with some embarassment, been a brief struggle in which his hand had touched what he hadn't yet seen, a 'love bump'. Good God, he had nearly let go his bowl; this, then, was a female!
Eventually they had come to a sort of understanding. He would release her, and she promised not to run if he did. The disengagement proceeded to the satisfactoion of both parties and, after a few misunderstandings, his visitor had managed to put across the idea that he was to wait while she went to fetch a light. A short time had passed in which he'd envisioned a vengeful father or boyfriend emerging from the shadows to hurl him from the cliff, but she kept faith and had returned with a flaming torch which, set in a nearby crevice, cast sufficient illumination to enable each to see the other. It was, he mused, incredible how attractive she had seemed, uncannily so. One thing, as they say, had led to another. He had been certain, although noone could have expected him to have known why, she was a virgin. At first she hadn't seemed to know what it was he wanted her to do; an ignorance he put down to either an inability to communicate his desire verbally or some natural reluctance in her due to fear or inexperience; perhaps there was even a taboo of which he was unaware; or,and the possibility only occurred to him later (Pat would have said it was typical of a man), perhaps she just didn't fancy him?
Events had proved otherwise. When, by behaviour which, from his point of view, made it plain what he wanted, he had failed to make her understand, he had opted for drastic measures; unzipping his fly and taking hold of his member, he had placed her fingers firnmly around it and sat back: let's see, he had thought, what she makesof that! Her reaction had, however, been baffling; and not a little humiliating. She had laughed.For a moment he had feared she would become hysterical; then he had felt humiliated: was this savage ridiculing him? Fortunately, however, he quickly hit upon something of the truth; it was a laugh of incomprehension: she still didn't know what to do. This was going to be more trouble than it was worth! Oh well, in for a penny... He had signalled to her that she should take off her clothes, while getting rid of his own.They had stood for a moment looking curiously at one another as the shadows cast by the light from the flaming torch danced festively over their skin. Oddlyenough, he now saw, it was she who had reached for him; it seemed that instinct had taken over: she had, still gripping his tool, lain upon the ground, forcing him to his knees. He had, to her obvious amazement, parted her thighs and, as she strained to see what he was going to do next, forced his way into her. Her eyes had opened wide in astonishment and, as if further confirmation were necessary, brief pain; then he began to thrust, slowly at first to let her get the rhythm, then faster as he felt her body respond. He had begun to squeeze her breasts in time with the motion they were creating, and she had looked up in wonderment; then, as he watched, she lost focus, her back arched and she came: again and again her body shook until, excited by her uncontrollable fitsof ecstasy, he had squirted out his own joy.
He hadn't known they were being watched, and nothing happened immediately thereafter to suggest that this was the case. If he had known...but that was just pissing in the wind. He'd done what he'd done, now he had to live with himself. It hadn't been long before he'd discovered the reason's for Lizzie's (he called her that, because though he was ashamed to admit it, he had thought of her as his 'lizard lover') laughter when he had first shown her his prize possession; although, if he had remembered why he was there in the first place, it would have been self-evident. His insight had come when, exploring a robbed Egyptian tomb, he'd come across an image carved into the stone of the burial chamber, a representation of the serpent Ourobouros. On the day he was granted admittance to the mysterious 'Chamber of Birth', he had known what that figure really represented. Darwin would have suffered apoplexy; Jung would have spoken of the archetype's power of trasformation: Freud, and subsequent events would prove the correctness of - if not his theories - his methodology, would have said:'I told you so.' MAP had, to his great surprise, been invited to participate in a ritual; the essential detail of which he grasped straight away, almost as if he already knew it - which was so. The rest was, or so he had believed, irrelevant. He wondered how his hosts would react once they saw, like Lizzie, that he was incapable of performing in the way they expected.
As it turned out, he needn't have worried. Once the ceremony (which, he gathered, took place during the time of the full moon) had gotten underway, noone paid him any attention. He was, however, able to watch the preparations of the other participants. All those present were, MAP hadn't needed to check, male. They had, he shivered in remembrance, proceeded to remove that article of clothing which, as he later found out, acted as both restrainer and protector. Anyone else, he was sure, would have passed out or gone mad. He had known what to expect; but still, the reality was hard to accept. Unfettered, the object which passed for a penis among these worshippers of Ourobouros,sprang erect. There would, of course, have been (apart from its outré context) nothing truly uncanny about that, but these rods of flesh and, MAP had noted dazedly, pulsating blood and muscle, were at least two feet long! He had stared in fascination as, all around him, men had stroked and carressed these shafts before, bowing their heads, they had inserted the bulbous head into their mouths and begun to suck. Dante himself, MAP had mused, couldn't have imagined a weirder scene. It took about fifteen minutes: then,one after another, each great shaft went into spasm and shot its seed down the throat of him who had wielded it.There was a brief pause in which, he had supposed, everyone was given time to recuperate before returning; but, as men lay down all around him, it soon became clear that he would not be leaving the cave until the next day - if then.
He had dreamt of a glittering, multi-faceted wheel of green and gold which, as it span, emitted sparks of white fire; then, gradually, it had slowed and he had seen what it was. This inner light show had been caused by the flashing scales of the self-devourer as it chased - and eternally gobbled - its own tail; but there was something more, something he had missed. He had awoken with the same sense of not having seen what he had been invited to look upon, and it was a sharper gaze that he had cast about him.. His surroundings had then come in for a much closer scrutiny; without paying much more than cursory attention, he had been aware that this inner chamber as a natural amphitheatre: his companions of the previous evening had, before indulging in their orgy of masturbation, seated themselves in rows about a shallow pit in the centre of the cavern. MAP had glanced around him to see what, if anything, the morning sun was going to offer in the way of entertainment. Most of the revellers had, he was pleased to register, already left; the rest were gathering by the pit. The one whom he had labelled 'leader' had, he recalled, proved to be so; him it was who, circling the pit, had given the signal for the rite to begin: that morning he had fumbled at his throat once more; then, raising the talisman which hung there, he had stared directly into MAP's face. His target had gotten the message and, reluctantly, had ventured down for an unavoidable tete-a-tete.
It hadn't been altogether startling to find that it was the familiar carven image of Ourobouros which, hung about his summoner's neck, had been raised to catch his eye; it was, he had allowed the superstition to creep in, fate's messenger: but there had been no time for such philosophizing. Each man in the ring about the pit held an object in the crook of his arm; it looked, MAP hadn't been serious, like a leather egg: then he realized that that was exactly what it was -an egg! The dream image came back to him vividly; that was what he hadn't understood: the Ourobouros wasn't only the self-devourer but also the self-begetter. It all depended how you looked at it; if you saw it one way it seemed as if the serpent were devouring itself; but, looked at another way, it appeared as if it were giving birth to itself! Before he could analyse his discovery, their leader had brought out a stone knife and, pulling MAP toward him, had ripped open the front of his shirt, exposing his chest; then, bizarrely, he had placed his hands upon his victim's nipples and squeezed the flesh with which they were surrounded. MAP had quickly drawn back; holding the tattered remnants together with one hand, but that was the end of it, with a snort of disgust the perpetrator of the assault pointed to the mouth of the cave and turned away.
Lizzie had provided him with some illumination and, with what he had been able to deduce for himself, he thought he had gotten a pretty good picture of how things stood. He had, from his researches into the cult of the serpent, guessed that, in earlier epochs, the male penis had been much bigger; indeed, this was the reason he had come here, to gain knowledge which would allow him to restore the potencyof the men of his own period: his discovery that the people of Ourobouros were capable of self-fertilization had, therefore, added to an insurmountable complication. In genetic terms, it was improbable that, at such an evolutionary remove, there could be any likelihood that, using tissue samples from these specimens as a biological template, genetic engineers could restore penis power to the twenty-first century. He'd try to get the samples he needed, but he hadn't been sanguine about the outcome.
He had learned from Lizzie that his inability to lay an egg had been the occasion for what, he had been amused to hear, had been a 'sexual' assault. There had, it appeared, been some doubt as to his masculine credentials;apparently they'd decided - to MAP's great relief - that he was sterile, which had meant he wouldn't have to go through that again. There remained but one question: if the 'men' of the tribe were self-sufficient in terms of the reproduction process,what was the point of women? Why did they exist? Lizzie had explained that, as he had guessed, they were used as 'mothers'; but that hadn't made evolutionary sense: until, that is, she'd informed him that, not only was he the first to make love with her, but all of the other women were still virgin. It seemed that, prior to his coming here, neither sex had known what the other was for. Apparently the women were seen by their counterparts as 'drones'. At first they had been killed outright ('nature's way' of weeding out the unviable); then, as the numbers born steadily increased, they had been granted citizenship - of a sort.
That night it had all changed. Lizzie hadn't appeared and MAP had become worried; then, shortly before moonrise, he had heard the scream. He had known it was a death cry; he had known too that it was hers. By the time they found her she was dead; the culprit hadn't even tried to escape, and MAP had known why. The 'murderer' was naked, his 'weapon' limp, but still a foot or so in length. MAP knew then that someone had been watching as he and Lizzie had made love. This one must have wanted to see what all the fuss was about and, ever-willing to please, she'd agreed; but these beasties were just too damned big for a little girl like her: it must, MAP had considered, have been pleasurable to contemplate but, in practice, the pain would have been excruciating. Her partner couldn't really be blamed for what had happened, likely as not he'd probably been too far gone to stop: this, it had to be remembered, had been his 'first time' too.
So that was it; here he was, standing in the shadow of the great ferns, waiting for justice to be done. The guilty party now stood with his head bent forward over the punishment stone; the leader struck the necessary blow and, after a few brief phrases which, to MAP, were inaudible, the group left the scene. As he obtained the tissue specimen he had sought, once again the image of Ourobouros flashed through his brain. What further significance could it have that he'd missed? Then it came to him; the self-devourer and self-begetter was, looked at from yet another angle, the tail eater! If he had needed convincing, this did the trick; it wouldn't belong. MAP was sure now, before the procedure he had just witnessed became institutiionalized: it would be a long time, however, before circumcision denoted merely an excessive preoccupation with hygiene or an archaic religious bias. It had, he imagined, takes millennia for Woman to appear. How long, then, would it be before men were born who didn't need to be surgically 'adapted'?
He stood by the monitor watching the 'bot-docs' working on Rob: it had been relatively simple - once he'd gotten the idea of thinking himself into the WSBs headquarters - to get the chief's permission for a spot of temporal manipulation. His armed medical squad had been able to wait while, in the next room along the corridor, Rob had sacrificed himself to send an earlier MAP back to meet and greet Mesozoic man. He'd gambled that Rob's brain would have remained intact and, as that had been so, they would be able to rebuild him. Pat, he grinned now at the memory of it, hadn't been pleased to see him; but then she hadn't known all the facts. When she'd calmed down, he'd told her how, thanks to the renewed importance of their joint projects, Authority would be taking no action against her faction. It would take, he felt sure, only a few days for the implications of what he had brought back to sink in.The great wheel was turning again for both men and women; it was MAP's hope that, this time, the transition could be effected without trauma.There would be many difficult phases to withstand; if he hadn't been able to forewarn them, he perceived that his half of the species would undoubtedly have gone mad during the retractile stage: he envisioned his own penis shrivelling up before, drawing his testicles after it, disappearing into his groin - no way you could cope with that without councilling! For a while the separatists would have what they wanted, at least until the male vagina had become functional; but Pat was helping now: she agreed that, although women would, for a while, be able to fertilize themselves with their newly grown penii, this was itself a transitional phase. Some had conjectured that evolution intended them to have cocks of their own to suck, but MAP didn't give that theory much credence. It might, he hoped, be nature's way of forcing the sexes back together; by reversing their sexual polarities. How would Rob and the 'brotherhoods' take it? God only knew. He gazed at the screen. Nice arse. Rob loved him; but did he love Rob enough? Love was, he shrugged, something to think about.