Humanity was inescapably doomed. There was simply no way to increase the population. And every time a couple failed to produce two children, humans would lose another sliver of hope, take one more step towards extinction.
Mara was an elder in her tribe, which was one of the larger tribes remaining in the world. It was her responsibility to pass on the history of that doom onto the next generation. Although it seemed pointless to her, this was the way that it was done for many, many years. So she gathered up the children and told them this story:
"...so it came to be that everyone was accursed. But back then, people thought we could somehow escape our doom. There were a great many more of us humans, and we were quite skilled in our sciences - and that fueled our false hope."
"There were many attempts to get around the curse. Before everyone was afflicted, some had tried to escape by moving away from the Earth altogether, by flying far into the sky and colonizing other planets. But the curse went with them, in unwitting people who did not know that they were its carriers. Eventually, everyone was accursed, and it did not matter where they were."
"There were advances in midwifery technologies, but none of them could get around the curse. Nothing changed the fact that we could only have "up to two kids". We also tried to clone people - that's when they used science to make a copy of someone else - so as to circumvent that limit. But the curse counted the clone as a twin of the original person - that is, as a child of that original person's parents. So cloning would succeed only once if performed on someone who was an only child, but always fail otherwise. So it was useless as a way of increase the population."
"Others tried to have non-biological "children" through AI programs - that's when they used to use science to make a fake machine-person. But the curse extend there as well. These ancient peoples wanted a "true AI", a machine worthy to be called a "child" of those scientist. But they didn't know that the curse would count that one machine as one offspring for everyone involved in its creation. And these were monumental projects: they involved thousands of people. And absolutely none of them could have already had two children. Otherwise the project would fail because the resulting machine-person would then be a third child. Not realizing this caused many failures, for a very long time, to the point where many thought the task impossible."
"They eventually succeeded by only using childless scientists on the project - but it was not worth it. Can you imagine, thousands of people losing one of their two allotment for children, all so that they can produce just one fake machine-person? Yes, the machine-person was slightly smarter and more durable than an average person, and it had the potential to be improved upon. But it could not replace all the potential children it had consumed, the promising children of these very smart scientists. And they could not make more of these machine-persons without consuming even more potential children. So these projects were abandoned; they could not save us from our doom."
"We also tried to increase our lifespans, so that the increase in life from longer lifespans might outpace the decrease in life from failure to reproduce. But this was a forlorn hope. For this to work, we needed to extend our lifespans indefinitely forever, which is impossible."
"We tried many other things - but nothing worked. We are still cursed. As the repeated failures built up, humanity lost hope. The population dropped precipitously, and our past greatness and abilities have disappeared along with the people."
"And that, children, is how we - humanity - find ourselves here after these long years, diminished in number and power. We cannot hope to escape the curse, but we can defy it. That is why we are going to live on and resist our fate as long as we can. That is why you must know of our past history, and why you must all have your full allotment of two children. That is the only thing remaining for our species before extinction."
At this point, a messenger ran up to Mara and interrupted her story. "Elder Mara", he said, "I bring an important message from the hills clan."
"What is it?"
"Four of their people have been killed in a hunting accident, including their chief's wife. They are now too small to sustain their own population. Their chief now only has his near of kin as potential breeding mates; all their other women are locked to other men by the curse. But he still has one more potential child to produce, and he does not want to waste that potential. Therefore he formally requests for a full merger of his clan into our tribe."
"Yes, such breeding inefficiencies are the last thing humanity can afford. Notify the other elders and call for a council tonight. We must discuss this merger."
Mara then dismissed the children and the messenger, and prepared for the council. They must accept this merger: that was obvious. It was their best chance at leaving their full allotment of children.
But even as she went over the details, the thought came unbidden back to her mind: 'why bother? It's all pointless. It'll all end the same anyway'. But she shook it off. They were going to resist extinction for as long as possible. That was the only thing of any meaning left to be done. That was the way it had been done for many, many years now. It had to be done this way, until the bitter end.
There remains little to tell.
There was, at last, a man - or a boy, rather - with no name. Names, it turned out, are not really necessary when the only other person that he'd ever seen in his life was his mother. A simple "Hey, you" or just a grunt sufficed in place of a name.
There was nobody else. He supposed that he must have come from a father, and his mother acknowledged as much, but the boy never met anyone else, in all their long travels throughout the abandoned world. He supposed that they were the only humans left.
His mother had used her curse on him when he was eleven - as soon as he began to show signs of puberty. He was now irresistibly in love with her.
He copulated with his mother nightly. But it made him sad to see that she did not particularly enjoy these sessions. He loved her with a burning passion, but the feeling was not reciprocated. His mother's heart was not really into it, as if it really belonged to another. He hoped that when he grew up and his curse became activated, she could finally enjoy him.
After these copulation sessions, his mother would always tell him the same things: that he must get her pregnant. That the child must be a girl. That they had only one shot at having a girl and not a boy. That he must then use his curse on that girl - his daughter - even if he was still in love with his mother. That he must then get his daughter pregnant, and this time it must be a boy. He must then instruct his daughter to mate with her son. This was the way it was done. It was done this way for a while now. This the only way for a mother and a son, who can each only have two children, to propagate themselves. This chain of incest was the only way to stave off extinction.
Rarely, his mother told him of other things as well: that there used to be a lot more people in the past. That humans did not always have the curse - that once upon a time, humans could have more than two children each, just like dogs or rats can. That it all started from just one man who first accepted the curse. On such occasions they sometimes talked about what life must be like for a dog, and philosophized about the pros and cons of being human. But nothing changed the intense envy they felt whenever they came across dead dogs, especially when it was being eaten by the fellow dogs in their pack.
For, of course, their plan for the chain of incest was ultimately futile. Soon, someone in this chain would be born as the wrong sex, or die in an accident, or become barren due to the genetic defects caused by incest. And when that happened, that would be the bitter end. Their lineage - humanity's lineage - would then finally perish, extinct for the want of a mate.
(The next post will be a consolidation of the whole story into one post.)
You may next want to read:
On martyrdom - a parable (Part 2)
Isn't the universe too big to have humans as its purpose?
Another post, from the table of contents