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PROLOGUE

Something monumental was about to happen; possibly the most monumental thing ever to happen anywhere, ever.

Hunched against the spongy base of the baobab tree, under a streak of dyspeptic sky, she gazed across the lake towards the mountains as an endless flock of hooked-beaked birds migrated across the waters.

Why wasn't he here? Why wasn't he with her?

She knew the answer. He was unreachable, two, perhaps three days away - hunting. Molasses of sweat trickled down the ridges of her brow and dribbled on to the broadness of her jaw.

Then it happened again.

It came back.

The lasso of pain whipped around her hips and slowly began to tighten. She bared her teeth and a sound that seemed utterly alien to her small frame erupted into the night sky. For a second even the cicadas were silent. Alone, and as scared as she'd ever been in her entire life, she started to cry. Why had she continued to climb up-river looking for fruit? Why hadn't she turned back when the pains first started? But she'd been carrying the child so long she'd ignored them, not realising that her time had finally come.

Now it was too late.

Another lasso.

Her brown nails dug huge crescents into the palms of her clenched fists as the garrote squeezed and squeezed, until it felt as if her heart were being turned inside out. She pushed and grunted and screeched and screamed, and just when she thought she couldn't bear the pain any more her body parted, and a head thrust its way into existence.

She supported the child' s head in her hands and pushed.

First one shoulder wriggled free, followed by a second, then suddenly the child slithered out into her arms, trailing a trembling neon black umbilical cord. She took hold of the cord and wrapped a length of twine around it, a thumb's distance from the child's stomach, then carefully bit the cord in two, another thumb's distance from that.

She held the child up and peered at it critically. A whimper of delight staggered out of her exhausted body.

It was a girl.

She licked some of the ooze from its face. She could see it better now.

But wait.

There was something wrong. She felt it, instinctively, The child's limbs were too short, its forehead was too high and its head - its head was so large. She held it, uncertain what to do.

But she was right - there was something wrong with the child. The child was going to be abnormal.

It wasn't going to be like its mother. It wasn't going to be like its father. It wasn't going to be like anyone.

Anyone ever.

She curled the savannah grass around her sun-gnarled .fingers and looked across the clearing. Here, in a huge Y-shaped gorge, in a place later called the Serengeti plains, in northern Tanzania, she had given birth to the first. The first of a species that would later take the name Homo.

That would first become Homo habilis, then Homo erectus and finally Homo sapiens.

The first had been born.

The first human.

She fastened the tiny creature to her breast and it started to feed. After the child was nourished, the ape woman removed the child from her breast and placed it gently on a bed of red oat grass.

The child curled itself into a ball and slept.