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A Case for De-Extinction at the End of the World

Story by Lyndsie Manusos (Read author interview) March 1, 2021

Art by Don Pinnock

Because when I was a child, I read that the first woolly mammoth fossil was discovered in 1799. I swear I felt the hair on my arms thicken to match the guard hairs on the mammoth’s skin. I wanted to be full of coarseness and sprout tusks in place of dull canines. I wanted my budding breasts to be the lumps of fat to survive long winters. When my parents asked if I wanted a pet, I pointed to a woodcut drawing of the mammoth in an old encyclopedia. They laughed and ruffled my hair.


Because, when I was 20 and the youngest of my graduating class in genetics, my then-older boyfriend asked what I wanted to do with my life. I hadn’t known he had a ring in his pocket––he had such plans apparently––but I was already planning to leave him. When I told him my plans, he said, “You’re such an idealist.” He said, “For a scientist, you have an unhealthy view of the fantastic.”


Because there is no more wonderment. Because dreaming was the easiest way to show our backs to the other side of the bed, where the tension and fear and disappointment lay. Because the adults of our childhoods said magic could only be found in books, and we grew up exerting such energy, such fury, to prove them wrong.


Because at 25, I was part of the somewhat-secretive group of scientists tasked with growing a cloned mammoth fetus in a womb created from spinach leaves. It was secretive because it was nonessential. It was wonderment as opposed to necessity, and who the fuck did we think we were, anyway? Human heart tissue had been first created from spinach in 2017, and we lifted the process greedily, choking down information until our stomachs were full. From conceptualizing to the actual completion of the genome, I don’t believe I slept a full night for many years.


Because by then, I had torn out the page of the mammoth woodcut and kept it folded in my lab coat pocket. I clutched it till the oil of my fingers made the ink blur, and it looked as if the mammoth had sprouted more hair.


Because at 30, after countless attempts, the womb finally cradled a four-legged creature. It was miniature, of course. The lab couldn’t grow a mammoth to scale for numerous reasons. My colleagues dropped out of the study day-by-day. Running away. Because what now, they realized. What to do with something so old and new at the same time? We’d already desecrated the Earth’s history, fossilized it with ash and dirty water, and half the people we announced our successful study to no longer believed in science anyhow.


Because, when I turned 32, our funding neared its end as the rest of the world did. The remaining scientists had fled. The ground shook at least twice a day. By then, I lived and slept next to the womb, which was suspended amongst tubes of fluid and wiring. My hair grew into a ragged nest. Instead of sleep, I drew outlines of tusks in the margins of decaying notes. Waiting…waiting…waiting…watching the womb of spinach-made tissue pulse. The outline of a tiny creature bumped the membrane in anticipation…

Sometimes the ground shook so hard my teeth rattled.


We can discern the age of a mammoth fossil by the rings in the tusks, much like a tree. I draw tusks with rings of unfathomable ages, as if there were mammoths that had never died, as if I might take a boat to Wrangell Island in the Arctic at this very moment, and they’d still be there. The woodcut drawing would be in my pocket. Next to the drawing, the tiny mammoth clone would nuzzle my palm with its trunk. It would all be there. And there would be wonderment and discovery again. And my coarseness would match what was in my pocket. And my body would be enough for the long winters. And the remaining herd would turn to me in welcome as I wade ashore.

About the Author

Lyndsie Manusos’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Passages North, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and other publications. She lives in Indianapolis with her family and writes for Book Riot and Publishers Weekly.

About the Artist

Find more photography by Don Pinnock at Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy

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