Some called it the year the Earth died, but actually it was the end of human dominance. The Earth survived; the Earth always survives. Between natural disasters and industrial accidents, humans were nearly wiped off the face of the world. Small pockets of them existed in isolated areas but they kept to themselves, trying to subsist without amenities they were once dependent upon. The destruction of human civilization left room for another species to become dominate.

Surprisingly, it was a creature of the seas, one hit hard by past proliferation of human pollution, who recolonized Earth. Following the downfall of humans, hundreds of creatures crawled out of the oceans, adapting to life on land. Turtles were the first to slide out of the ooze. They were swiftly followed by mammals who already split their time between land and sea: otters, sea lions, seals, and walruses. Dolphins quickly adapted, trading flippers for feet, returning to land as eagerly as they once abandoned it. But it was the gentle sea cow, the manatee, who flourished.

As an herbivore, one would not think a manatee had the cunning it takes to conquer an entire world. One would be wrong, for the manatee is related to the elephant, after all.

Despite their unattractive appearance and slow demeanor, the manatee had a complex social structure and a long life span. Different species could be found on the coasts of every continent and when they arrived on land, they arrived with a plan.

They started small, creating self-sustaining villages near their natural habitat. They were hard workers, plodders more than thinkers, so thought the derisive dolphins, who themselves were thinkers rather than workers. Dolphins hadn’t done anything constructive other than move into structures abandoned by humans.

Manatees started by building ponds with ingenious filtration systems that not only kept out polluted water, but collected the hydrocarbons that drove them from their original environment. They were able to farm their own food in the ponds, growing enough plants to sustain more than a village of manatees. The hydrocarbons were collected and stored in clay containers for later consideration.

Once food was plentiful, the manatees had time to expand their minds and their culture. They built communal housing out of mud and grasses. Due to the nature of these dwellings there was no need to heat or cool them, for regardless of weather, the mud domes remained the same temperature as the Earth.

Each herd lived in the houses as a familial unit. Monogamy was considered a failed human conceit and a manatee could have congress with any consenting adult they wished, as long as they didn’t share blood. Many young bulls left their village for another when they came of age so as not to defile their sisters and to keep the blood lines strong.

As for the social structure of the herd, it seemed simple on the surface, but as with everything manatee, not all was as it seemed. The elders of the herd were the organizers, the younger bulls were the brawn while the cows spent their time raising the next generation, but as in any group of individuals, there were some who didn’t or couldn’t fit into their assigned role. They were allowed to join whichever group fit their talents best. Females worked along side the males in the ponds, males raised calves with the females, and some of each joined the elders because they had ideas, fantastical ideas, on how to make their society better. These individuals were valued above all. They became the architects, the engineers, the linguists, the storytellers, the teachers. They were the instrument of progress, and progress they did.

Before long the manatee spread throughout the globe. Wherever there was water, there was a manatee city. They used their ponds for irrigation purposes, bringing water to much needed areas and attracting land mammals, who were once indifferent to the manatees. They farmed fish and shellfish as well as water grasses, algae and plankton. They created deeps pools of both fresh and salt water for recreation. Once other species recognized the industriousness of the manatee, they traded with them. Whales carried messages between the continents to other other manatee enclaves; birds, canines, deer and equines did the same job within a land mass. Elephants, happy to be united with their long lost kin, helped with manual labor.

The only creatures not happy to align themselves with the manatee were the dolphins and the humans. The dolphins, having lived in the human cities, thought the exile of the humans was extreme and they could still be useful members of society. The manatees disagreed and took measures to keep the humans in their compounds.

Other than the discord with the dolphins, the greatest challenge facing the manatees was what to do with the hydrocarbons. The black crude corrupted humans and they didn’t want it falling back into the hands of those who could use it against them. There were rumors of humans raiding manatee cities, searching for oil, so they could restore their old way of life.

There was an outcry from other species. They wanted the collection of crude oil to stop, for the hydrocarbons to be destroyed rather than saved. The manatees were more farseeing; they could see the difference their efforts made in the oceans and the denizens of it. Less species were dying as the water became more oxygenated.

The best solution was to give it back to the Earth, where it came from originally, but doing so seemed an impossible task. Finally, a young female manatee came up with a solution. The canisters of hydrocarbons would be returned to the Earth through extinct volcanoes.

It took tremendous effort from the manatees as well as their allies but eventually the task was completed and protocols put in place to ferry new canisters into volcanoes. This went on for generations; the oceans became cleaner and life became easier for every species.
Then one day a dormant volcano rumbled awake.