Ram knew he was early, but the first day of the semester demanded that he act a little differently today. After five years of teaching here at the university he had not lost the feeling that he was in some kind of wonderful dream. As he turned down the corridor he was surprised to see two students already waiting for him to open the doors of the lecture hall. He notice that they were two from the new exchange program with Japan. Just a bit too conscientious. He mused.
Ram acknowledged them both as he searched for his keys. Opening the doors he sensed the familiar odors of the mini auditorium. The two students regarded him so reverently that Ram was forced to step in front of them to enter the room. He went and put his notes and slides on the lab table. Arranging the slides in the order he wanted them viewed, he cleared his head and once more began to go over the subject he would begin the semester with. As he was in the process of doing this he could hear the sounds of the students entering the hall and their whispers mounted with their numbers.
Looking up he almost gasped in astonishment. "Zrummers, "he thought. It was obvious who they were from the way they dressed and with their icons of God prominently displayed. They seemed to sit in a group. Well that they were here would change nothing, his lecture today ran the gamut from the earliest forms of life up to the dinosaurs and he was going to mention evolution with a capital E. If the ultra-religious and conservative Zrummers could dare to show up for his lesson today there was no reason not to expose them to Science. God help them! Science is not kind to myths. At least he didn't have to worry about some religious lawsuit or public involvement with the substance of his course. He couldn't imagine having to always have to mention the Holy Manual's theory of creation every ten or fifteen minutes, like they had to in the public College across town. Fortunately his was a privately funded, non-religiously affiliated institution.
He glanced out the window at the quadrangle below. The small sunlit area was in sharp contrast to that which was still under the building's umbra. The unseen nano-machines were in the process of constructing, repairing and unfolding the tiny petals of the solar panels. Tiny fliers were out surveying the fields, attempting to identify any aberrant manufacturing or breaks in the transmission of solar-generated electricity to the power grid. The shaded area was, in contrast, quiet, still, curled up, and expectant.
"I want to welcome all of you to our first class. As you know we are going to study dinosaurs, dinosaurs, dinosaurs. I'm sure that most of you are familiar with this most popular subject. But we are going to dispel many of the myths and misconceptions that perhaps still haunt public opinion today. This is not to say that you will not discover that some of the earliest fables of dragons and dinosaurs were actually too tame. You will Learn that the truth is often far more exotic than fiction.
We are only just beginning to piece together their societal life. Their various interactions give proof that the dinosaurs were social of necessity. These were not the rogue monsters of legend. But in what fashion did these gigantic creatures interact? How could they have ruled our planet and why did they become extinct? These are a few of the fascinating questions that we will deal with during our semester together.
We have commenced to scratch the surface, but what I want to emphasise is that this is the time to be involved in this research. Perhaps, even as amateurs, you may make a significant contribution to Science! Now let us look at the first slide.
These two specimens seemed to live as a couple far from the hivecenters that for want of a better word we'll call cities. Although I'm sure that you will not mistake them for the idea that we normally have when we think of a city; modern or ancient.
We are now looking at an artist's conception of a cross section of a relatively common species. Note this small area, here, That is the brain. The entire neuron complex of these massive creatures (some well over 15 meters long) was less than a billionth of your capacities. Though I must admit that after grading some of your papers last year some of you may barely be on par with our monster here.
Yet, with such slender mental abilities they were capable of vast and precise migrations, some daily, some seasonal. If you look at some of these aerial photos you can see the huge swathes that they cut in the mountains themselves. A testament to their titanic power. Look, too, at the complex patterns their movements created. It gives on pause. Reflect on that, also, they travelled to every continent on the globe except Anarctica. How they crossed oceans and seas remains a mystery, but there is a recent theory that they had a symbiotic relationship with certain of the massive species of aquasaurs.
We are only just beginning to understand their somewhat bizarre ecology. How and why was nourriture distributed throughout the city? We are talking of astoundingly intricate relationships accomplished with the least possible intelligence. Solving exactly how this was done may hold solutions for some modern problems as well.
The next slide shows what is perhaps these ancient beasts most controversial social behaviour; a dinosaur graveyard. Why did they often travel hundreds of kilometres to these huge mounds to die? What was the attraction? What were the benefits? Obviously it was of enormous advantage to the scavengers to have all of them in one place. But why did they come here? True there are many who doubt that they came here of their own will. Many have suggested that it was a kind of powerful hunter or hunters acting in concert that herded the different species of animals together.
But analysis of the wear and tear on their skeletons give indications that the creatures gathered here had come here at the end or near the end of their useful years. True, there are the young, who have been found buried at these cemeteries, but they are all mortally wounded. In fact injured so severely, such that it strains our credibility that they could have even reached these vast bone yards. I think it is important that you understand that Science doesn't claim to have all the answers."
He said with a sly dig to the religious zealots in the hall today.
"To be frank, there are errors in our theories now that will look pathetically simple in two or three generations.
These patterns of behaviour may have significance to us today because for the quiet real possibility that they were our ancestors. Is it likely that we were derived from such primitive creatures like these?" Ram said as he switched to yet another slide.
"I know what many of you are thinking: that we were made in God's image, that we are the crown of creation, and there is no connection between ourselves and these lumbering behemoths. But consider: the neural wiring systems are virtually identical to ours. The very stuff and manner of our creation is the same except for its complexity. If we were to try to manufacture life in the laboratory the chances are slim to next to none that we would come up with anything remotely similar to life today. There is no question in my mind that we are unlikely to be able to discover every missing link between us and all of the ancient animals. But at this moment it is possible to construct a plausible history of evolution."
"But, professor," asked Ecran, one of his brightest if more insolent protégés:"
Are you saying that Ibm, boy is that hard to pronounce, and his wife Mackentoss really were not thrown out of the Garden of Eden?"
The room was filled with a few snickers and you could sense that the Zrummers were truly miffed. Ram paused a moment for effect, and then he resumed speaking:
"The problem with a question like that is that you'll have to give me a definition of this Garden of Eden. Tell me where exactly was it and then maybe we'll set up a dig there to answer your question. You can say that like most morality tales it may have some validity in how we conduct ourselves, but in that case we are not speaking of Science. Understand that I can't prove the non-existence of the Holy Trinity of Lotus, SuperMario, and the Sega. It is impossible to disprove the imaginary. I'll leave that to theorists and theologians."
He heard a collective gasp from some of his more devout audience. Well, what did they expect, he thought.
"All right," he continued: "insubstantial." A number of Zrummers got up to leave.
"To get back on the topic of today as we will find out in our upcoming expedition in the field: these wrecks, these remains of the dinosaurs are anything but insubstantial.
There are vast differences between them and us. Why do they roll while we walk? Or perhaps we should consider why don't we have wheels or fly? "Why keep this form?"
Looking at the expressions of anguish on the faces of his remaining Zrummers, he tried to console them by saying:
No, I am sorry, perhaps I go too far for the first day. But this is, after all, what it is to search for knowledge in the name of Science: to consider what is possible without preconceived restraints and ideas. I know it is hard for some, but the lessons you learn in this class will serve you well in your careers scientific or otherwise.
Let's return to our representations on the wall and look at this particular fossil. A close-up reveals many otherwise invisible features. Can any of you point out any of the mysterious race markings... that almost seem to be a form of hieroglyphics.
Yes, there is one on what we believe is the fore or aft of our wreck here."
Ram's metallic eyes seemed almost to glow in anticipation of lecturing on one of his pet theories. He began:
"There are many ideas as to why or what the markings
signify. The signs like CHEVROLET, B.M.W., AND LINCOLN CONTINENTAL
are found in different concentrations in different parts of the
globe. It's my contention that they had connections with specific
birth stations or shall we say mother organisations. And that
those found far from such..."