By Marion Ryan, Ireland.
>./ uncode < 14: 53949874-53956958
……… if humanity wipes itself off the face of the Earth, its creative output will survive forever. Servers, hard drives and the libraries of books may degrade, yet a teaspoon of DNA could hold the two zettabytes of data that exists in the world. We are exploring ways to preserve this elegant form of data storage. In the first instance, we have encased ‘data DNA’ within a protective casing, capable of withstanding extreme temperatures. We will then endeavor to integrate it into the genomes of a living organisms, preserving it forever. The ‘Orb library’ standing before me, will protect every record ever known. It is a functional piece of extraordinary art, symbolic of the achievements of this research institute. Someday, our descendants or an alien species may follow our instructions and decode our history and our culture. If they do, let’s hope they find us inspiring, that they jump for joy, sink with wonder and cry with sadness. I hope too that they can learn something from our time on earth, however long that may be. I hope they find us as wonderful as I do………
<end of output>
Patronus looked to the earth. Her fingertips perpetuated the Orb’s shining equator, its northern and southern hemispheres dark as infinity. Low surging tones escaped from the slow reverberations of the drum hypnotically driving the protectors forward, steadily and equidistant from their comrades. Her arm ached in its unnatural pose. The hands and bodies of the sacrosanct departed as the tempo shifted and a crescendo overshadowed every other sound. The soothing vibrations rising through her bare feet, removed her from the frenzy that prevailed, until the bell finally resounded. Exhaustion remained.
The golden threads in her robe sparkled under the dim glow of torches. She stared into the glistening patterns until her eyes lost focus. Yet, she could see the others. Patronus could see the outline of one, hands held in suspension while her anguished face contorted as she danced. Then another, being jostled. Rigidly and passively he endured the masses, staring blankly into a space somewhere between them both. As his focus changed to meet hers, Petronus snapped her gaze away, redirecting it to the ground, before extending tall again. She moved her eyes down until the others blurred once again. Then, one deliberate step at a time, she returned with the others to the terrain of the protectors and to her pod.
As she lay down, the faces from the ceremony reemerged like spectres before dissolving into the darkness. Her young clone shifted closer to settle her as she startled in her sleep, their fine orange hair mingling, undiscernibly. She prayed she might dream well, the dream which came to her on wonderful occasions. It was never new to her. She knew every turn, the soft cornered houses, small and warm, the streets, gritty and tidy. All framed by a silhouette of trees and set against a grey cloth sky which extended for eternity. Inside, dust drifted in the sunlight yet never settled, the animals that lived there, perpetually asleep. She never saw the others, but it did not matter… Each evening she let go, seducing her dreaming mind to let her back in… just one more time.
At her monitor, she watched another account from the old world. A lion pinning a tiny gazelle to the ground, securing its neck before dragging its limp body to her eager young. Then, elephants shuffling together following the death of one of their own, but given some consideration, their wider program for survival is uninterrupted. They move on. Petronus had never witnessed anyone being torn apart or clenching a hand while they gasped their last. Anyone having ‘trouble’, or being ‘trouble’, were removed from the colony in a manner that was organised.
Her favorite attendant was gone a while now. Petronus dared not enquire and missed her song. The attendant would sing strangely and while the words changed, the eclectic song stayed the same. The attendant had been making mistakes and the other Protectors joked that they would be drinking her for tea before long. Each day she stood, jug enclosed by her shoulders, her thin frame in a pose of permanent anticipation. Petronus hummed her song always without thinking and the attendant would smile at her and give her extra. Close up, she saw her face, etched, as she focused on her task, pouring from a pot held securely by her scalded hands and all the time, singing her song. Petronus considered later if she had been transported or reconstituted but still did not confirm this with the others. From that point she could not find her dream nor recollect the attendant’s song, which like clay, became more distorted as she clung to them. The songs that came to her were unbearable. The sad, the banal or the ridiculous found their home, arriving uninvited and lodging for the day.
The unrelenting energy of her younger clone exhausted her. She understood the colony still held magic for her, its boundaries still wide enough, while each year, Petronus felt the edges tighten. She hid this from her now. The ancient whisperings, contained in the walls, once filled with hope, no longer spoke to her. Tethered to all of this was the unchanging sequence that took place on the day her older clone departed for “Nulla Temporis”. Petronus was muted as she watched the embarkers, glide in procession, bellowing the chant of departure. The ethereal music couldn’t break through as she watched her clone, third in line, step up on to the transporter. Petronus reimagined this same scene over and over. At times, she could still feel her hand jumping forward, boldly snatching her, making a terrible scene, bravely taking the consequences. But… on the day, the hand remained at her side, paralysed and obedient. And it was not fear of the Metacognitives that made her stand ridged, but her clone’s radiant face painted with absolute joy, like a shield, forged from years of reading stories from the old world. The die had already been cast, she was gone, living amongst the creatures of the pre-industrialised earth and fighting for survival amongst them.
Perhaps she was sitting amongst snow monkeys in a thermal spring, the lower-ranking members left in the freezing surroundings. Or, she considered if she and her kind had already scattered the alphas of this species and taken their privileged position. Or sometimes she was returning to her warm underground house, shielded from bitter winds? Or… galloping through a humid jungle, after a hunt, crusted in dirt and sweat and poisoned with adrenaline. Her heart decelerated as she thought of her looking at the moon being broken and reformed on the ripples of a calm sea, there she would take time to think about them.
Petronus peered upward through the sky light and imagined the storms sweeping her away, blowing her into the stratosphere, heat turning her to dust in milliseconds. She strained on her toes to look down, she saw the miners exiting the colony. The fleet moved like insects, the contours of the terrain visible in the flashing reflections on their solar panels, quickly obscured by the dust. Suicide scouts had identified a rich repository of polymer and alloy outside the safe zone and now the battery power of the tanks had been extended they would venture further than ever.
“Have you forgotten something?” a quiet voice came from behind.
Underneath the hooded gown, there were tiny eyes peering down. Her resistance exerted a fraction of the force propelling them forward. She left, dragged like an antelope, perhaps to be brutally killed and eaten by his tribe? They moved quickly until her exhausted legs took her to another corridor within the closed area, forbidden to her kind. He placed a card to the wall, it opened, and as they disappeared, it closed seamlessly, leaving no trace.
The immediate darkness was replaced by dimness. Her eyes readjusted as they moved along a path encased with pipes and grids. Its persistent sounds hummed like strange music to her unaccustomed ears. They reached a clear area of polymer, again he pressed his card to the wall, exposing another door, another corridor. This time, no pipes or wires. Petronus felt her heart race faster than it had for a long time and not with fear like she might have expected. The new exhilaration peaked as she wondered if perhaps, only she was being kidnapped as part of some rebellion? She may for once have a tale to tell.
The new silence contrasted with the gentle hum she had become accustomed to. As they continued to hurry, the corridor extended for what looked like eternity, converging to a single point, beyond the limits of her own eye. The immensity and scale of this part of the colony, the working part, overwhelmed her as she moved toward the unchanging horizon. The corridor was but a single artery amongst many, its tributaries occasionally falling away from its main stem.
As the creature navigated with extra-sensory skill she was lost. The steady sounds turned to absolute silence until yet another door consumed her. This silence was overtaken by the drone of machines. Around her, green lights flickered against the backdrop of black and grey, a vast computer, extending to the ceiling. Its components stacked in multitudes like encyclopedias, its green lights nagging for attention. As she gazed at the gigantic computer, awe smothered her fear and its mythical status converged with reality. Finally, the creature pulled his hood from his face. He was an analyst, she was sure she even recognised him. There were only a handful of the others she could ever remember from the ceremonies. Unlike the breeders or the makers, analysts tended not to get excited at the ceremonies skulking in the corners unimpressed with the drama. An irreverence that was an irritation to the higher-ranking Protectors. The snub to their superiority secretly amused Petronus, something she could never admit in her own circle.
The machine awoke from its sleep. The analysts face adopted a mask of calmness and likewise, the green lights of the computer lost their randomness and adopted a serenity of their own. He said nothing as he tapped on its controls, interacting with a speed and dexterity she had never witnessed. The computer spoke to him in a language of light and she was not part of the conversation. His hand clicked control board as if it were a musical instrument, his eyes focused intently on this task. Finally, he took the time to look at her.
“You are wondering why you are here?”, his voice woke her as he spoke to her with strange familiarity.
“I was the first analyst to examine the DNA of the last Protector to be reconstituted,” he announced proudly.
“I uncovered variation that was very unusual. Large stretches of junk, I thought… but when I converted the sequence into binary format, there it was… film and audio footage stored outside of her artificial data chromosomes, messages from the old world, from our founders.”
Petronus remained silent as she did not fully understand his speak.
“I believe some of our creators have left their important information in the Protectors. You and your kind may not only hold the archives of our old world but unseen references to the history of this colony.”
He began to type… >./uncode < 4:6201525-6670567>. On entering the command, a woman’s voice could be heard.
……… There is a hidden world. It is a world commanded by a community who, like Latin- speaking monks, interact in a language understood by few. This world is not under lock and key, however its literature is incomprehensible to most and their amassed data retrievable only by a minority. Today, the volume of published scientific data is so vast, that significant discoveries have been lost amidst the insignificant, yet given equal weight. The scientific community have become irrelevant. Yet the coins are flipped into their unfathomable caps, to investigate anything that threatens our existence. So, our engine is always fueled, yet no one hears our message, the information that underpins our existence has been hidden from the society that funds its discovery. It is time to speak a new language, understood by all, visual and tangible, one of action and application………
The screen went black, except the words…
<end of output>
He immediately entered another code >./uncode < 1: 149384898-149474585>. A male voice, it was commanding and exciting.
……..The human genome, is sequenced and its cartography complete. Finally, we can see with clarity, the unchanging master-genes underpinning our evolution, passing undisturbed from lifeform to lifeform. We have mapped the non-coding regions and within it, the epigenome, which links our genome to our environment. High speed processors and unlimited storage permits the analysis of data at an unprecedented rate. Thousands of DNA variants have been uncovered. Human characteristics can be deduced from genetic sequence with confidence, and using CRISPR, we can now edit this variation with precision. Databases from multiple biological disciplines are seamlessly integrated. Combined with epigenetic reprogramming and somatic cell transfer, we can now generate identical replicas of any living organism. The potential to enhance the survival of any species is now without boundaries. We are moving towards the creation of organisms not only optimised for survival, but optimised for a purpose…
<end of output>
He reduced his volume to an excited whisper.
“This is a fraction, there is much more….”
“I can report you,” Petronus threatened as her fear swelled and her sense of rank resurfaced.
“No, you won’t,” he said in a manner that was almost relaxed.
His boldness confused her, setting her back as he grabbed her hand. The dome of blood on her finger was absorbed quickly and placed on another machine.
“Let me show you something else.”
He turned to the computer once more, ignoring her once again.
“These are your forty-six chromosomes or at least a graphical representation of them,” he explained finally.
Forty-six coloured bars laid out on the screen like cards, variable lengths and shapes.
“These others are synthetic, where the data from the old world is stored.”
“I know that the Protectors carry records from the old world,” she interrupted finally.
“Why do you do this and why do you want me?” she queried.
“I retrieve information from your genomes, left by the extinct, it is my main purpose. I work from the coordinates held by the Metacognitives and retrieve the requested information.”
“But… I need the sequence outside your data chromosomes and within your own genome, it is unchartered. I can download some, but not all in one go.”
“It will take time…”
“Then, you too can learn, aren’t you curious?” he queried.
“I have not informed the Metacognitives, I am not sure if they even know this information exists, it’s our secret now…”, he whispered with a dangerous charm.
“I can reference records from the old world any time I want,” she replied.
“Extensive as the catalogue may be, you see what the Metacognitives allow you to see,” he corrected.
He pointed to some smaller objects, symmetrical and featureless, like newly invented cities. As he increased the resolution, coloured bars, changed to symbols, then to names and with each magnification, new descriptors emerged until finally, she saw individual letters.
“I will show you information you have never seen. Look for a string of A’s in a row, this is where DNA ends, and data begins.”
“Select it… and then type >./upload, then >./uncode.”
She touched the table; it had whisperings embedded within it and so was sacred at least. Her fear left her again for a moment. The analyst looked at her with some kind of negative expression, although it was difficult to tell.
She stared vacantly at the extending green bar as he waited in anticipation. Footage of a woman washing her hands, he immediately stopped it… Although like hers in their architecture, his hands worked at a speed that was unnatural to her and beyond her capability. Another piece of film, a girl sitting on a swing, with sun shining through the edges of her blond hair, like a halo. She puts something in her mouth. A man sits beside her, they smile at each other and sing… ‘Bart’s chewing gum takes us home’.
“I’ll try another,” he stated, his voice transmitting both frustration and acceptance.
Then there was some music.
Petronus interjected, “None of this is interesting or significant.”
“Most of human civilisation wasn’t interesting or significant, one of the many reasons for its extinction. I wade through mountains of junk before I find the gems,” he qualified with annoyance.
“And what is your reward then?” she asked finally.
“I want to know how we came to be here, the truth… I believe we have not been told the truth, because it has been lost somewhere along the way.”
He put the computer to sleep, closed the monitor and re-opened the door.
“I will see you soon,” he stated with certainty.
He adorned her with his cloak and hurried her back. As she arrived at her familiar terrain, she was abandoned, charged, exhilarated and alone. At the pods, she hesitated momentarily before weaving back to her own. She feared someone might notice a culpable change in her expression. She glanced quickly at her reflection in the monitor. She had not changed, but the complacency of the others, evoked a surge of panic. She closed her eyes, her thoughts darted chaotically as her mind shifted. As she re-opened them, most of the other protectors were seated, meditating or sleeping. Some were reading their allocated literature. Others tuned to the familiar films, relaying stories from the old world. For a moment, she watched with envy as they continued to do what they always did.
She went to the food area to pick her rations. Some silk juice and paste, fresh from the fermenters. She was even allocated some strips of carbs. One of the other Protectors, pointed disapprovingly to a loose thread on her gown, then moved quickly away. She returned to her pod. In the neighboring pod another Protector was reading to her gen-20 clone, before their older gen-18 clone joined them. Then the pod closed over half its circumference. Petronus jumped as her younger gen-20 clone raced to her, out of breath; she had been trying to make words from the whisperings under the guidance of the elders. Petronus fondly remembered doing this too. The mumbled sounds in the adjacent pod discussed the day until finally it closed fully. The silence amplified their small sounds as they lay against each other. Petronus read while her clone worked on her puzzle. They said nothing and nothing needed to be said.
Petronus handed the paste to her clone, the essence was quite nice.
“They have changed it,” she said gleefully.
“We never know what’s coming next, that’s what makes us want to go back for more, it keeps us awake.”
“The Metacognitives are so clever.”
“I know! they are most certainly the cleverest creatures,” Petronus replied with unexpected sarcasm.
“Arial-18, said she actually saw them.”
“She never did!” Petronus replied in exaggerated wonder.
“She was commanded to go to their area because she broke a law…. deliberately broke it, just so she could see them. She said their heads were the same size as their bodies and because their heads were so big, they couldn’t even stand up and she said their bodies were like snails, they can only slide. They turn the colour of mud when they are cross and have loads of arms and fingers that change shape all the time…”
“They let her go because…. when they read her mind they said she just hadn’t been bad enough….. but if she ever did anything bad again… she would definitely be reconstituted.”
“They of course never reconstitute Protectors, you know that?”
“They do too, what about Orion-17?”
“She was very sick and was never going to get better.”
“What about her clones, will they get sick?”
“They have been edited before they were born, they found her mistake, it happens sometimes but it’s rare.”
In the morning she could see them emerge from the neighboring pod, they didn’t look across as they began their daily and predictable routine. The little girl had begun to take the form of her older clones which although inevitable, was still surprising. Her slight features were becoming stockier, her manner deliberate and slow. Four generations, moved in unison, their bodies working seamlessly together. The youngest had her future laid out with certainty in her genetic great-grandmother and her acceptance of her fate was evident in everything. Petronus felt heavy again, reminded that her clone had stories in front of her, and soon she would reach the end of the story and ‘Nulla Temporis’ would take precedence as it had for all of her ancestors.
The others distrusted her. She would leave her clone just as all her ancestral clones had. That was her nature. The arrogance of this perpetually irritated them as they went about their daily routine, forever grateful for their privileged position within the colony. They crafted endlessly with supplies from the miners, producing the most exquisite creations, regardless of what they were supplied with and arose each morning, endlessly making. Everything was critiqued by the eldest clone. Anything that did not reach her high standards was pulled apart, except of course the inventions of the youngest which were always deemed perfect. Petronus caught their disapproving glances as they watched her, constantly reading stories from the old world.
She went to the ceremonial area to meditate. At the entrance, there was darkness just before the dim glow of lit torches highlighted the shadows on the uneven rocks, like pools of orange. Beneath the rocks there were small stones and between them sand. Stones which had long since left the company of moss or lichen. Now, she and the other Protectors were the only creatures that molded around them. She imagined each stone longing for the caress of a living thing and connected fully with each one regardless of its sharpness. She stood with her back to the whisperings and looked at the Orb. Its solid form partially embedded as if it had dropped from the sky. Its power so undisputable that she could hardly bear to look at it too long. As her palms settled on the whisperings, she could no longer feel the sharpness of the stones nor the stale rub of the sand. Now, the flow from her bare feet to the tips of her fingers had taken over. Now, each symbol, each word, each letter was articulate. The physical and temporal barriers between her and her ancestors diminished as she stood with them, touching the same soil. They were united and the measurements of time dissolved. A second, an hour, a day, a year had no meaning.
She jumped up. The dream she had was one of nothingness. It left its stench and her body felt like lead. Her hair clung to her face like a parasite, while her dry mouth was the only part she could awaken. When she met the analyst, she moved with him as if being pulled by invisible treads. They marched into the forbidden area until finally they reached their destination. She waited as the synthetic sounds swelled around her. The analyst’s gaze tracked her fingers as she subconsciously rubbed the reddened tissue of her many punishment tattoos. As his glance met hers, Petronus’s eyes darted down in response and she hunched her shoulders unnaturally, pulling her sleeves down over her arms. The analyst looked away returning to the monitor, his face different, like it had melted somewhat. She was again hypnotised by his boney hands. Her shoulders softened as she sat, sharing his space. Her eye examined his face, his slanted eyelids drooped over his tiny eyes. He was a creature, no longer the human he might have been, humanoid they called it. Things were as they were to him, he did not comment on meaning and exercised no judgement. His ambivalence was calming. He did not worship her, he laughed at her when she said something strange. He could be irritated by her and bored of her. To him, she was not sacred, she too was a prisoner and now their worlds were expanding beyond the polymer that confined them.
The analyst’s mysterious routine had become interesting to Petronus. Everything the analyst had attempted to show her in the past could never infiltrate her mind. Now, as he laboriously trawled through one sequence after the next, hoping to find something valuable, she joined him in his waves of excitement, disappointment, ennui and even confusion. They had no control over what they might find but when they did stumble on something, it was like unfolding a beautiful gift. With each new item, whether it be a film, a documentary or music, her hope of something wonderful outweighed her disappointments. Each time she found a gem it was theirs to keep forever. She might even ask if she could try to look by herself soon… not just yet. For now, she was happy to share his rare triumphs and his company. The presence of this friend filled her with an elusive calm, and the direction she unknowingly yearned for was here too, right in front of her, hidden behind the millions of blinking green eyes.
Finally, exhausted from their searching, the analyst shut down the computer. Each time they ventured out, despite having the analyst as her chaperone, she remained disoriented. This time though, even she could sense they were on a very different path. The unrelenting, subsonic sounds were barely discernible and again the horizon never came closer. On this track, she was interrupted first by a different sound and then a strange smell, organic and putrid. Its novelty halted her as she was roused by its intensity and newness. She could hear multiple conversations escalating before finding a unified lull, then swelling again.
“Don’t draw their attention,” he warned, as they hurried.
The laughing and chattering stopped, restarting once they passed. The same cycle of stopping and starting continued at each point, the noise dipping and rising like a wave. Petronus kept her hood over her face, while the analyst strode ahead, his head held high.
“Your privilege is that you never have to leave.”
“My privilege! I am free to roam wherever I want, I see everything,” he stated with pride as he guided her through an area totally forbidden to her, savoring her reactions.
The cackling and chattering continued.
“Never let them see any finery, I have seen them kill each other over a trinket from the old world, they are to be feared.”
“I am safe, I own nothing,” he reassured.
She glimpsed beneath her hood. Sat at tables piled high with brown sludge, horrid creatures dug with their arms, pulling and searching within. Row after row of filth, being scavenged eagerly.
“Items collected from the old world are rarely pretty and are becoming uglier.” he stated.
“We are moving towards the outermost layer of the working area of the colony, the edge of this part of the biosphere,” he explained as they marched.
They moved to a new area, now there were no sounds except their own. With the boggy smell still resident, she moved cautiously to the wall and glided her hand over the polymer which from a distance looked almost like rock. It was grey and uneven, almost dirty, like nothing she had ever seen. Within it, she could see whisperings but not in their usual form. They were almost loud. Amongst the disjointed fragments of letters and symbols that were so familiar, there were full words, perhaps partial sentences. Suffocate, Fresh, Cola, water, frozen, allergy, nutrition…. Endless words appeared to her, all out of character with the inventions and interpretations that had prevailed in her for so long. Only the individual letters were familiar, their fonts and colours recognisable. She stopped reading and looked away, unsettled by what she was seeing and without understanding she turned away, repulsed. The analyst kindly touched her shoulder and guided her back.
On their return, the analyst stepped up and placed a piece of paper in her hand.
“I may have been uncovered by the Metacognitives, some of my access privileges have been locked down.”
If so, you need to see this,” he stated quietly and urgently.
He presented her with a folded cloak and his access card as if it was a parting gift
She unfolded the paper. Printed in bold, werethe genomic coordinates, 2:176098810-176225981, 4: 256123910-276335543.
“A colony with a history will not be so easy to control,” he stated quietly as he left.
She returned to the computer, shunning the whisperings within the table beneath. These genomic coordinates did not refer to her artificial data chromosomes, but her own. As she input the coordinates, she did so without thinking, ignoring the fear which took the blood from her skin.
>./ uncode < 2:176098810-176225981
The selected DNA region encoded a documentary. A man in a grey suit, standing within a manicured green space, interspersed with buildings, some single story, others like monoliths.
…This research institute is at the forefront of innovation in life sciences and computational research, driving technology transfer and application within these important fields…
The camera panned to the sun’s reflection on a large windowpane before moving into the laboratories within. What she assumed were scientists, attended machines and computers. She immediately recognised the faces of some of the colonists. The strangeness of seeing members of the colony, their ancestors, juxtaposed in the old world, was overridden by something immensely unsettling. The program continued in what seemed like slow motion, a fairy-tale being acted out. More and more of the colonists were there, she scanned each face. As the documentary continued, it moved to another building. Suddenly she was halted by the familiar. The Orb, nobly positioned within the hall of one of the buildings, shone from pole to pole. Six individuals walked elegantly in front of it, as the presenter continued in his upbeat tone.
…The CEO, Gregory Macintosh, and his executive team are the driving forces behind the ambitious ‘Project Genesis’, managed within this campus…
… we believe the impossible is always possible. This is a multigenerational task, driven by specialised scientific groups who will endeavor to coordinate the repopulation of earth, at a time prior to its industrialisation and predicted decline. A safe time, called ‘Nulla Temporis’.
…Each member of the executive group will lead their respective team, comprising physicists, biologists, computational scientists, and engineers. All working to tight deadlines and towards this important and unified goal…
…The life-sustaining biosphere will maintain our scientists until a workable trajectory to ‘Nulla Temporis’ is optimised…
She examined the Orb with peculiar fascination, she knew every contour. Petronus returned to re-examine the footage, replaying parts of it repeatedly. As she looked at the Orb, its power diminished each time the six directors appeared in shot. As Gregory Macintosh walked closely alongside another director, she noticed their conversation, effortless and intimate as the others lagged, aloof and excluded. She wore a tidy suit and her fine orange hair danced on her shoulders as she moved.
When the footage finally ended, she immediately referenced the next set of coordinates.
>./ uncode 4: 256123910-276335543
… over the course of ‘Project Genesis’, the physics teams failed to align and translate their theoretical models to the engineering team. The chances of transporting our scientific colonists to the ‘safe time’, to ensure the survival of this colony and our species are minimal. This is confounded by the fact that the CEO, Gregory Machintosh and his descendants exhibited ‘weaknesses’ and that his original plan may have been delusional. Now time itself is against us. As new CEO and in consultation with the other directors, we have agreed that it is in our interests to abandon ‘Project Genesis’ and initiate a new survival strategy, ‘Project Darwin’. This will commence with immediate effect ….
The woman delivering the information stood on a podium in a featureless room. She stepped down as the audience clapped weakly. Coyly she pushed her fine orange hair away from her face, her eyes fixed to ground as she walked away.
Petronus stopped the footage, her detachment peaked as she sensed the analyst standing behind her, rubbing her stinging eyes before turning.
“The transporter?” Her shallow utterance occurred without realisation.
“The transporter is the climate-controlled door to ‘Project Darwin’ the backup plan of your ancestors,” the analyst interjected.
“The biology team, or ‘Metacognitives’ did not upgrade themselves and the others in one go, it was trial and error. They edited single variants aimed at genetic improvement and also took huge risks, duplicating and editing the highly conserved gene regulatory networks that influence the body plan.”
“The less successful prototypes are then returned to a climatically chaotic planet if they don’t quite work out. Some even parceled off with the illusion that they were ‘designed’ to survive.”
As his voice tapered, her older clone flooded her consciousness. The image of her, full of apprehension and joy forever vivid and flawlessly etched, was now veiled with blackness.
“The ‘successful’ versions remain here in this climate-controlled Utopia, to be cloned as required,” he continued.
“The same fate is applied to extraneous clones whose energy demands outweigh their usefulness,” he stated, avoiding her gaze.
Suddenly, the lights of the computer pulsated in unison like a scream. The analyst exuded horror as he placed his hands on the keypad, trying to reset it, trying to calm it. Gradually the whirring subsided as the lights changed to a new sequence. The last light extinguished and they both waited for it to light again. They listened for a sound, but they could only hear their own shallow breaths. The analyst lay his head down, his eyes focused on the whisperings until finally they closed. Petronus sat beside him as he remained motionless, looking to the floor. His strange hand extended out to hers.
“Seek out my upgrade when he arrives, we look quite similar,” he smiled wryly.
Alone within her pod, she watches another account from the old world. Petronus can still feel the touch of the analyst’s hand and flinches as the small hand of her younger clone appears to replace it. She pulls her to her knee as she continues uninterrupted to watch the monitor, her resounding heart overshadowing the voice of the narrator. A fatally injured baboon limps onto a tree following a desperate attempt to rescue her infant from a starving crocodile. Following a prolonged and harrowing struggle to survive, the dependents of the diminishing waterhole, perish in succession. Finally, the mummified carcasses of the hippos, baboons, antelopes lie in situ. The largest crocodile also succumbs, its skeleton half buried in what was the deepest section of the pool.
“In nature there are no happy endings, only a continuum,” the narrator states in conclusion.
The camera shifts to a nearby cave; an encrusted crocodile lies in hibernation, its opaque eyes, grey and still. Motionless, it waits to be reawakened by the floods. Her clone shifts on her knee.
“Why are the horrible animals the only ones left?” her small clone queries.
“They are resilient.”
“Are we resilient?”
“Will we get eaten when we go to ‘Nulla Temporis’?” she asks with concern.
The conversation is interrupted by refreshments, Petronus accepts one for both. The attendant bows and leaves.
“We just might get eaten or… we can stay here and be crocodiles too?”
Before she can see her rising despair, Petronus grabs her clone and launches at her ear.
“I have a secret,” she whispers excitedly.
With eyes wide and mouth gaping comically, Petronus places her head set over her clone’s small ears. As she waits for her reaction, her own adrenaline surges in anticipation. Her clone’s face is quiet and expressionless, as she too absorbs what she is hearing. She turns to Petronus, beaming involuntarily.
“A gem amongst the junk,” Petronus explains.
She takes the earphone and they listen together. They do not stir or speak, savoring every second.
“My skin…. feels tingly.”
“And… there are more songs, lots more, I have downloaded them for us,” Petronus says excitedly.
“I think this could be my new favorite song.”
“What, you’ve just replaced ‘Save all your kisses for me’, just like that!”
“But, I can’t dance to this song, it’s not fun and it has hardly any words.”
“Some of the best songs are not fun and do not need words,” Petronus states with newfound wisdom.
“Can I tell Icarus-20 about the song. I think she would love it too?”
“You must not tell anyone.”
Petronus sits still, her heart racing in pace with her urgency to show her more. She arrests this notion, fearing she could overburden her. But…. she knows at this moment she will show her everything very soon. She knows she will show the others too, show them what they do not want to see. She closes her eyes, shutting down at least one of her senses, and starts to sing and like an old friend; it comes home… the attendant’s song, as familiar as ever. She sings out loud, so she can’t forget it, over and over and then… she can see dust drifting in the sunlight and through the window, the soft-cornered houses, small and warm, the silhouette of trees framed by a grey cloth sky …..