On the outer edge of the universe, beyond the fly zone from the centre, all alone and in private, Rover had established his experiment. He sat in a large cocoon shaped chair, suspended in a translucent bubble, many kilometres above the island, overlooking its rampant growth. It was where he went to meditate. Every now and again words would whisper from his lips in broken sentences as he argued with himself and reasoned his next move. It had been many years since he had completed his civilisation. It had been more than satisfactory. Not only was it aesthetically exceptional, but it was also self-sustaining. He adored the architecture, which was wholly unique and utterly surprising. It adhered to organic principles of design, yet was obviously man made and purposeful. He looked upon his works and they were good.
But despite the delight he got from the buildings it was the artificial life that gave him the most pride. It had begun simply and then rapidly evolved beyond his comprehension; a teaming mass of artificial biology that had never been seen before. What it was and what it did was inexplicable. It was, what it was. A fascinating interconnected ecology that had reproduced and murdered its way to the top of the evolutionary scale. It was artificial life with its own purpose and meaning, and nothing like his definition of human.
Now he wanted to bring it all down. Not for destructive reasons, but to try and understand where it all came from; a kind of reverse engineering. Well, it had all gone so fast and been so successful, Rover had not paid much attention to the process.
He squeezed the bridge of his nose and dragged his fingertips from the corner of his eyes collecting the grit and sleep from a restless night. He thoughtfully combed his fingers through his thinning hair and tapped the space bar that sent an animation of early life scrambling. It was a sequence from his PhD thesis, a screen saver and quaint reminder of those early beginnings.
The rest of the planet was largely bare. It had been terraformed to support the island; he named it Beagle. He had no means of communicating with its intelligent species. They barely knew of his existence bar the occasional cataclysm caused by the occasional coding error, or the time he just got drunk and infuriated and decimated a seemingly worthless bunch of tripedic zombies that did nothing all day but camp outside the main city’s walls. He thought they were good for nothing, he was wrong. After the equivalent of a millennium of horrific environmental and ecological disasters the island had rectified itself. It was hardly a week in Rover’s timetable, and he only recalled it because it was such a stand out disaster, and he had caused it.
Since then he had done very little to Beagle or its inhabitants, preferring to steer clear of anything but tweaks to the ancillary code; it was stuff he could predict and incrementally adjust.
Rover had become increasingly unhappy with his lack of overt control. He had written the original algorithm but now he was too frightened, or just plain insecure to affect any major change. It was the classic case of the company founder who had made himself redundant.
Once the realisation hit him his course of action became obvious.
The hardest part was deciding when to halt the frenetic evolution. He had no idea about any detail of the ecology of the island. For one thing it moved unbelievably fast. For another, he couldn’t comprehend the surface culture, little alone the intricacies of how the multitude of species interbred or their anatomy functioned.
The island had obviously evolved beyond him.
The halt command was his most crude and deliberate intervention in over a decade. Rover had been nervous and excited as he uploaded the code. To the inhabitants of Beagle it would be a painless and instantaneous stasis. It would quickly freeze everything. The power of his decision was oddly satisfying, although he did feel guilty because it felt good. He was after all bringing an entire mini-verse to an artificial end.
The duplication of the data took over a week, even at the blinding speed of the massively parallel processors. He then took the original island offline. The devolutionary algorithm would run five thousand times faster than the code that initiated the life sequence, and was the engine that throbbed beneath the surface of artificial life on Beagle.
At the beginning it was a surprise. Rover thought it would look something like a reverse time lapse, but it didn’t. The most apparent changes began with the outward appearances of civilisation. The cities that he found so inexplicable could now be understood at a very basic level. Interestingly the height, shape and density of the structures pulsed and breathed almost like some strange underwater variant of a jellyfish. It was organic and frightening. The advanced stages of the city had been decentralised and more like villages without any obvious vehicle infrastructure. It had rapidly contracted and towered in height, clogging and choking the biological resources. That lasted for a twinkle in his eye before it came crashing to earth again and returning to patches and clumps of village outposts. Strange and beautiful coloured patterns accompanied the equivalent of millenniums of cultural change.
The organic species were far harder to observe. It was again a bit like watching a kid’s kaleidoscope; fractal patterns of colour and texture were mesmerizing in their beautiful.
Rover sat forward in his chair and pushed his forehead against the bubble as he gazed down in terrified awe at what he had done. It was almost like watching a drop of acid bubble and hiss on the surface of someone’s skin as the ecosystem popped and shrivelled with a frenetic and monstrous energy.
He glanced back to his workstation. One hundred thousand years left. And it was over.
Rover heard nothing except the white noise of the very faint air scrubbers. A nice touch dreamed up by the sound designer for the biopod module in which he had spent the last fifteen years of his work. He let out a spontaneous sigh and craned his head to see if anything remained on the island. It was uniform sand, devoid of features. The workstation cheerfully informed him, ‘run complete’. A cursor blipped on and off, as if to say, ‘yeah, and what now?’. But Rover had no idea, what now. He slumped back into the cocoon. It was over. There was nothing left.
‘BIP’, Rover nearly lurched through the bubble. The workstation had suddenly begun to register bio activity. ‘Shit’ Rover exclaimed.
He sat up and used the zoom tool to focus on the zone of activity. Nothing was apparent. He continued to zoom until he was beyond the magnification he normally used for viewing molecular reactions. All he was seeing were the crystal patterns from the artificial sand.
Then he saw him. At first an imperceptible grey spot on the edge of the frame, rapidly it enlarged to fill the screen. It was the back of a man. Rover swore in disbelief. The tiny man was typing. Rover spun the view round to look from the front.
The little man looked up from an exact replica of Rover’s own work station and winked.
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