Big Ancestor

Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at



Illustrated by EMSH

[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction November 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Man’s family tree was awesome enough to give every galactic
race an inferiority complex—but then he tried to climb it!

In repose, Taphetta the Ribboneer resembled a fancy giant bow on a package. His four flat legs looped out and in, the ends tucked under his wide, thin body, which constituted the knot at the middle. His neck was flat, too, arching out in another loop. Of all his features, only his head had appreciable thickness and it was crowned with a dozen long though narrower ribbons.

Taphetta rattled the head fronds together in a surprisingly good imitation of speech. “Yes, I’ve heard the legend.”

“It’s more than a legend,” said Sam Halden, biologist. The reaction was not unexpected—non-humans tended to dismiss the data as convenient speculation and nothing more. “There are at least a hundred kinds of humans, each supposedly originating in strict seclusion on as many widely scattered planets. Obviously there was no contact throughout the ages before space travel—and yet each planetary race can interbreed with a minimum of ten others! That’s more than a legend—one hell of a lot more!”

“It is impressive,” admitted Taphetta. “But I find it mildly distasteful to consider mating with someone who does not belong to my species.”

“That’s because you’re unique,” said Halden. “Outside of your own world, there’s nothing like your species, except superficially, and that’s true of all other creatures, intelligent or not, with the sole exception of mankind. Actually, the four of us here, though it’s accidental, very nearly represent the biological spectrum of human development.

“Emmer, a Neanderthal type and our archeologist, is around the beginning of the scale. I’m from Earth, near the middle, though on Emmer’s side. Meredith, linguist, is on the other side of the middle. And beyond her, toward the far end, is Kelburn, mathematician. There’s a corresponding span of fertility. Emmer just misses being able to breed with my kind, but there’s a fair chance that I’d be fertile with Meredith and a similar though lesser chance that her fertility may extend to Kelburn.”

Taphetta rustled his speech ribbons quizzically. “But I thought it was proved that some humans did originate on one planet, that there was an unbroken line of evolution that could be traced back a billion years.”

“You’re thinking of Earth,” said Halden. “Humans require a certain kind of planet. It’s reasonable to assume that, if men were set down on a hundred such worlds, they’d seem to fit in with native life-forms on a few of them. That’s what happened on Earth; when Man arrived, there was actually a manlike creature there. Naturally our early evolutionists stretched their theories to cover the facts they had.

“But there are other worlds in which humans who were there before the Stone Age aren’t related to anything else there. We have to conclude that Man didn’t originate on any of the planets on which he is now found. Instead, he evolved elsewhere and later was scattered throughout this section of the Milky Way.”

“And so, to account for the unique race that can interbreed across thousands of light-years, you’ve brought in the big ancestor,” commented Taphetta dryly. “It seems an unnecessary simplification.”

“Can you think of a better explanation?” asked Kelburn.

“Something had to distribute one species so widely and it’s not the result of parallel evolution—not when a hundred human races are involved, and only the human race.”

“I can’t think of a better explanation.” Taphetta rearranged his ribbons. “Frankly, no one else is much interested in Man’s theories about himself.”

It was easy to understand the attitude. Man was the most numerous though not always the most advanced—Ribboneers had a civilization as high as anything in the known section of the Milky Way, and there were others—and humans were more than a little feared. If they ever got together—but they hadn’t except in agreement as to their common origin.

Still, Taphetta the Ribboneer was an experienced pilot and could be very useful. A clear statement of their position was essential in helping him make up his mind. “You’ve heard of the adjacency mating principle?” asked Sam Halden.

“Vaguely. Most people have if they’ve been around men.”

“We’ve got new data and are able to interpret it better. The theory is that humans who can mate with each other were once physically close. We’ve got a list of all our races arranged in sequence. If planetary race F can mate with race E back to A and forward to M, and race G is fertile only back to B, but forward to O, then we assume that whatever their positions are now, at once time G was actually adjacent to F, but was a little further along. When we project back into time those star systems on which humans existed prior to space travel, we get a certain pattern. Kelburn can explain it to you.”

The normally pink body of the Ribboneer flushed slightly. The color change was almost imperceptible, but it was enough to indicate that he was interested.

Kelburn went to the projector. “It would be easier if we knew all the stars in the Milky Way, but though we’ve explored only a small portion of it, we can reconstruct a fairly accurate representation of the past.”

He pressed the controls and stars twinkled on the screen. “We’re looking down on the plane of the Galaxy. This is one arm of it as it is today and here are the human systems.” He pressed another control and, for purposes of identification, certain stars became more brilliant. There was no pattern, merely a scattering of stars. “The whole Milky Way is rotating. And while stars in a given region tend to remain together, there’s also a random motion. Here’s what happens when we calculate the positions of stars in the past.”

Flecks of light shifted and flowed across the screen. Kelburn stopped the motion.

“Two hundred thousand years ago,” he said.

There was a pattern of the identified stars. They were spaced at fairly equal intervals along a regular curve, a horseshoe loop that didn’t close, though if the ends were extended, the lines would have crossed.

Taphetta rustled. “The math is accurate?”

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