Silverwood: Chapter 3

One thing that I can tell you with absolute certainty: It is not a good feeling to be extinct.

Extinction is the world saying to you, “I no longer have any use for your kind. Thanks for playing but you did not make the cut.” What an insult. The ultimate insult.

I and my species, the Tromindox, know what that feels like, because we have been extinct. We did not like it.

We went extinct because we made a strategic error. I should point out that our species had existed for millions and millions of years, occupying this Earth for as long as the sharks. The sharks showed up even before the dinosaurs did so you know that is a very long time. You would think that we would be better at avoiding extinction with such a long and distinguished history behind us.

It would seem that nature had different ideas.

Every predator has their own special variety of prey. Different meals for different creatures, right? Diversity is the rule. We all fill our niche in the natural world.

The Tromindox feed on brain activity. Brain waves. Mental energy. Brains generate a great deal of energy, you may know. They are quite similar to batteries. So that is what we feed on. No, we are not zombies. We do not go around scooping brains out of people’s heads and eating them. That is stupid.

It is particularly a complicated process to consume brain activity, because you have to keep the battery running for a while to get the energy out of it, and it tends to be in use by some other animal. The other animal obviously does not wish to share it, any more than a gazelle wants to share its meat with a hyena.
We Tromindox are shape shifters and mimics, like an octopus. We bend and twist our bodies and alter our coloring to match our surroundings. In one situation it may suit us to blend into the crowd on a city street, taking on a human appearance. At other times we might retreat into a crevice so as not to be seen at all. This is how we move amongst our prey.

We use venom to immobilize our target and dissolve the body and consume the energy. This process can take a long time, like a python consuming an antelope. If you are a human reading this, maybe that is not so pleasant to think about. But consider some of the unimpressive things you people eat. Fast food, for example. Don’t point fingers.

I said that we had made an error. Perhaps that is too strong a word. We only adapted to the best prey available to us. It just turned out that this evolutionary adaptation presented some significant problems.

We had gone along for millions of years feeding off of animals that were, to be honest, not very smart. You’re not going to derive a lot of mental energy from a dinosaur, such as those enormous ones that stand around staring straight ahead and chewing leaves. Those creatures do not have a lot going on in the thinking department, no dinosaur is going to study physics or write a symphony. So they were not very efficient as a food source. It also took a large quantity of venom to paralyze one of those huge things, let me tell you. What a mess.

Smarter dinosaurs came along, and that was an improvement. The velociraptors and other creatures like them – they had a lot more happening upstairs, and their brains generated a great deal more energy. So we adapted to this higher-quality prey. We developed the ability to shape parts of our bodies into claws and spikes, since these smarter animals were also a lot meaner, and faster. And so much more violent.

Which brings us to the humans.

When the human-like animals came along, it seemed an obvious choice to begin hunting them. Humans did not possess big claws or teeth or tough hides like the velociraptors, but their brains – those were huge. Those were some very powerful sources of energy. One kill, and you could be taken care of for weeks. It made perfect sense.

So, the Tromindox species evolved, and after a few millennia humans had become our exclusive diet. No more dumb dinosaurs, no more squirrels or tiny-brained meals. We developed skills shifting our shape to look like a pretty beat up but believable human. Humans are difficult to mimic, they come in such a vast number of variations. But we needed to move around amongst them without attracting attention. So we worked on our camouflage. And humans tend to be preoccupied most of the time. For all their big brains, they sure aren’t paying attention much to their surroundings. This makes our job easier.

What we did not count on was that the humans would turn out to be so much more violent than those velociraptors, even without any claws. The humans invented weapons. A wide variety of weapons, in every shape and size. Humans talked to each other and made plans. In short, humans were very, very creative about how to kill things.

Humans violently confront anything that they perceive as a threat. Take the example of wolves. Wolves have been shot almost out of existence, because the farmers do not want wolves coming near their flocks of sheep. This is the humans’ response: to destroy enemies, utterly and completely. They even make sport out of it.

We Tromindox thought we had discovered fleshy creatures with big brains that were honestly pretty easy to pick off. But there was so much more to them than that.

When a gazelle disappears or dies, the rest of the herd moves on before too long. But when something happens to a human, it can seem as if the whole species gets involved and doesn’t stop until whatever or whoever is responsible has been wiped from the face of the Earth.

This is even (or especially) true of humans when they are threatened by other humans.

We thoroughly, tragically underestimated the willingness of human beings to hunt down and kill things.

And they kept getting better and better at it, too. They used their weapons on their own prey, and on each other, they really got to be pros at killing everything. And the Tromindox of course were a prime target, being the only species that eats humans. Except for polar bears.

I guess we should be happy that humans did not start making soup out of us like they did with the sharks.

A few hundred years ago, the humans pushed us to extinction. Our entire species had collapsed until it consisted only of a single female. She had taken refuge in an underground cave and by all accounts was waiting around to die. When there is only one of your kind left, as any biology teacher will inform you, your days as part of the natural world are numbered.

But something miraculous occurred. Our one remaining ancestor pulled herself out of the ground, and out of time and space, and out of extinction. The details remain elusive, but we do know that with the aid of some stolen human technology and her own genius, she found out that the future held an absolutely enormous population of humans – billions and billions of them. She knew that if the Tromindox could get there, we had a chance.

That is all anyone wants, right? A chance at a future?

This brilliant (and desperate) ancestor of ours took her Tromindox DNA and got to work. Soon she had a small group of hunters cloned up. And she set them loose in the future. They began to hunt, and they thrived amongst such plentiful prey.

And here we are now, looking back toward the past. A past that nearly swallowed us up in our entirety.

In the present day our population remains rather small, but we have learned our lesson. We must be a great deal more subtle in our human-hunting methods. No more dramatic killings out in the open for us, no sir. You will never see Tromindox on any nature special. We get in, make a kill, get out. It is best if most humans go through their lives totally unaware that we exist. All they see is some unresolved missing-persons report. A cold case. Something for a true crime TV show.

Some humans seem to be using their sizable brains to catch on to our little time-traveling scheme (to be fair, this is probably in part because of the fact that our ancestor stole the technical means from humans in the first place). So these days we Tromindox have to be vigilant – always on the lookout for human agents and bounty hunters. They have become skilled in spotting us, and to their credit they don’t raise the alarm so as not to panic the whole (billions of people in the future) human population. But as long as we can stay one step ahead of the humans, we will survive and our numbers will grow. The worst they can do is send us backward through time, back to where we came from. But if they get too good at recognizing us and we can’t get to our prey, we will find ourselves starving out of existence, just in another time. Again. So we track the humans and their agents and their bounty hunters, and they track us. Cat and mouse. Human and Tromindox.

Thanks to our one ancestor, we have this one chance to rebuild our species from scratch. Maybe we are as creative as those humans. Time will tell.

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