Chapter 09 – Retrogression
It had been a while, but the shift towards bipedal was going smoothly. I realized somewhat belatedly that their long bodies and short legs might be a bit awkward when going fully bipedal, so I also began lengthening their limbs to compensate. All in all it was going well, and I was proud of the progress.
There were sometimes bright lights that occurred during the breeding season, but I largely ignored them for my current project. But then came one that I couldn’t ignore.
Or rather, two. Almost all of the brighter lights had something that made them different than their fellows. Most of the time, those differences made them weak, unable to function properly, and those that actually made it to the eggs often died without intervention. Not every change resulted progress. But these two were different, stronger. They both shone in the same way, so both would exhibit the same adaptation, I was certain.
Appropriately, it occurred in one of the shore colonies. Releasing my influence on the rest of the young that were developing bipedal legs, I used my influence to see that these two lights successfully fertilized eggs, and hatched without problems. Attempting something a little more draining, for the sake of their future legacy, I tweaked something very small within both of them. Fertility.
When the brother and sister were born, I was filled with a sense of excitement the likes of which I hadn’t been in a very long time. I knew from their lights how they would look, but actually seeing the pair was quite the joyous occasion.
To the other lizards, they looked fairly normal, and the difference was not as immediately obvious as when the Defenders had first been born. But if one took a closer look towards the base of their shoulders, there appeared bits of exposed flesh on either side of their lower necks. It was like their scales had cracked, or been rent open by a predator.
The fleshy bits were sensitive, but as long as they took care, I didn’t foresee them experiencing any major problems in the foreseeable future. The real moment of truth came after their scales hardened and they started learning to swim from their family.
They took to the water as easily as the other young born to the shore colonies, all well suited to swimming. They naturally locked their legs back, using their tail for propulsion. Ah, I could see it now. Water washed over the exposed flesh at their necks. The flesh had small, shallow folds, allowing water into the crevices.
The two stayed under water almost twice as long as their colony-siblings. Able to draw about half a breath of air directly from the water before having to return to the surface. I was certain in their pre-history, before I came to them, they had once been water dwelling creatures. They were simply returning to it.
The two would be the start of something new for the lizards. They swam in the water now, but it was not their domain, they were merely visitors. But that exposed flesh would eventually become something more, an organ that could process the water the way lungs processed the air. The name came to me, a word from memory: Gills. They weren’t true gills yet, but they would be. My heart filled with a yearning. Gills had been beyond the realm of my people, cutting us off from the depths of the water but for the barest glimpse.
My people. Another memory of them resurfaced. They were a people without gills, who did not consider all of their fellows as family. That was the limit of my knowledge of them. Even so, I held those two pieces close; they were all I had.
I would give the lizards what my people never had. I would give them the land, the trees, the sea, the sky. Their family would reach the highest heights and the deepest depths. They would not be limited, they would be free.
The two somewhat-gilled lizards proliferated the shore colony with their young. The male was one of the few that bred outside his family unit, likely due to his enlarged libido. The female typically had clutches around eight eggs, nearly all of them surviving incubation. The change in their fertility had been the right choice. The more it spread, the more adapted they would become to life in the water.
I came to another realization about their children. For their descendents, I would forego the shift to bipedal. In order to master the water, they would need a different focus. Not only improvement to the pseudo-gills, they would need to be able to move easily in the water, and see in the dark depths.
I thought it would be more difficult to concurrently nurture two different traits within two sets of the lizards, but was surprisingly only mildly impactful. The retrogression would take some time before living in the water full time could be achieved, the bipedal shift would likely be done before then.
The heels of the lizards had already elongated to the point that they could squat forward, resting on the balls of their feet, the heel lifted in the air. A surprising side effect of the change was their ability to leap. They had already been capable of jumping, but with the moderately strengthened legs and improved posture, the leaps were quite amazing to behold. I felt they would end up very athletic at this rate.
The forest dwelling lizards also adapted well to the change in leg structure. To work with tools before, they’d have rest on a limb to be able to sit, but with the increased strength, their grip seemed to increase as well, and they could now hold onto the trunks with just their back legs while working on other things with their hands.
They were all advancing well. I was also certain I was advancing. My thoughts seemed more complicated, more attention paid to minute details, my influence branching into many different areas. But at the same time I felt like I was missing something.
There was a disconnect. When was the last time I had thought of them as my lizards? For all that I was connected to each and every one of them, there was a wall that separated us. Where did this wall come from? How did it get there? Why did I only notice it now?
How strange. Were the lizards cutting me off somehow? That didn’t make sense, they didn’t even know I was here. A great pang resounded throughout my essence at that thought, and the wall between us vibrated. Ah, I knew the answer now.
I created that wall.