Unit 4207’s Failed Assignment

Decrypted sections of the file are as follows:

Data log attributes: Begun on 5787th day of 23rd Lunar Cycle; Type: Personal

Today was the day I started on the gene project. It was fortunately not as complicated as I expected. Unit 5481 tells me the beginning is always easy. All you have to do is choose the number of genes you want to work with. It’s maintaining the culture that’s the nightmare.

The data bank consists of a million different types of genomes. Some Units get really creative and make their own chemical combinations, if the ones listed don’t suffice. These are also the ones with the lowest survival rates in the laboratory. They  take it upon themselves to push the boundaries. They can afford the failures. You need to have collected some level of credit in order to make those choices. I have barely any credits to my account. That’s why I’m hoping my first project will work out well enough.

I didn’t know how many to choose from. I definitely needed to do something better than making another useless bacterium with two genomes.

5481 finished his last project yesterday. It was a plant species. 5 genomes. Not too bad for a beginner, I suppose. There’s a rumor in the laboratories that if you choose the number of genes as the date of the lunar cycle, there’s a higher chance of success. Even though this is statistically proven, the result does not compute.

I chose 83 genomes. A fair number. Enough to display my competence with. If things went bad, I could always allot it to a lower level on the food-web and create only a few of the species.

I can’t stop obsessing about my culture. There are so many other Units that are using at least a 1000 genomes, and due to lack of space I’ve been assigned to one of their empty cubicles. I feel really awed by their specimens, though theirs are mostly tiny. I register their condescension.  Hopefully it will all work out…..

Data log attributes: Begun on 5825th day of 23rd Lunar Cycle; Type: Personal

5481 told me he’s doing a mammal this time. 23 genomes. Standard terrestrial non-arboreal vertebrate. Two fore appendages. Two end appendages. Sexual reproduction. He’s already completed his first template. Now he’s adding designer touches. He says these will enable the species to be selected during the demonstrations. I asked him what they specifically were. He won’t tell me. Competitive confidentiality, or some such subroutine.

My culture is coming along beautifully. Multiple epidermal layers. Extended appendages. My own customized arboreal reptile format. I wonder if that classifies as “diverse” enough?  Sexual reproduction, as well. It’s a complex design, but hopefully, the creature should grow out okay. I’m simultaneously creating another female. So that I can prove that the species is self-sustaining.

I peeked into some of the other specimens today. Especially some of the ones from the laboratory cubicles next door. The 1000 genome creatures seem to be very physically small. So fragile. What was the value of their genetic diversity if they were incapable of survival?

One of them caught me employing my snigger subroutine at the simulations of their specimens. They glowered at me and threatened to have me reported for trespass. Such bullies. Bullies do not compute. Why do I get all the bullies all the time?

Ah well, dimensions had never been an evaluating criteria for survival. Most of them are categorized under entomological names. Insects. Ooh. I worried for a bit what would happen if my culture grew before theirs. What if my creature started feeding on their specimens. I would be in unimaginable trouble. Not only that, what if they decided to tamper with my specimen? So, I took extra care to lock my laboratory. The other Units might be highly venerated, but we were still competing to create fine upstanding members of the food web.

In terms of the designer touches that 5481 was talking about, I think I’m going to create a whole new phylum for myself. Why should I classify my first endeavor under some already known phylum? I was going to make my own. it would have it’s own food web. It’s own food chain. It was going to be brilliant. One of the best species put down on the petri dish the elders had fondly labeled “Earth”.

Data log attributes: Begun on 6201st day of 25th Lunar Cycle; Type: Personal

I am so dead. I should have never started on this project in the first place. How in the universe did I ever think this was going to work out properly?

When I walked into the lab today, I bumped into 5481. He seemed to be using his smug subroutine at maximum levels. I enquired why. Says he finished his specimen. He was going to present it today, even. Then I walked into my lab to discover that I had been locked out of it. Spite, no doubt. The other Units in the lab jeered at me while their 1000 genome annoying tiny things buzzed to life and I was still trying to unlock my door. How does locking my door justify an inescapable snigger on the size of their specimens my part? It does not compute. Fairness does not compute.

More so, without the diurnal addition of nutrients, my culture was going to be ruined. By the time the authorities got my cubicle unlocked, the DNA was almost unraveling. My sensors were overloaded with sniggers from the rest of the laboratory. More so, now my emergency panic sub-routines are rapidly executing themselves. While they are running around in my CPU, I can only panic.

….I am just a novice. This sort of unjust behavior is mean. Meanness is a valid result. It does compute. What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?

I passed over to 5481’s cubicle in search of some assistance. His laboratory had been cleaned out. His presentation was successful and the authorities had agreed to placing his specimen on the planet. It was moderately sized hominid. Animalia, chordata, mammalia. A fine addition to the library of primates. Due to the genetic flexibility, it would even evolve to other forms in the future and diverge, so it was going to be a lovely stable creature in the ecosystem. Formally known as Hominidae Pan troglodytes. Turns out 5481 called his design “Ape”. He wanted a simple name.

I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO NAME. WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY PATHETIC EXISTENCE?!

My secondary coolant engines are locking into place now. I should be able to generate some ideas given the time constraint. After all, I am not a dysfunctional machine. Generating ideas is my job. I can do this.

The first algorithm my heated CPU churns out is to steal 5481’s specimen. Before the sanitizers eradicate all traces of the DNA tomorrow, I could have collected enough samples to create a copy of the creature. I still have the modification systems in place. Perhaps I could use 5481’s fabled genetic flexibility and vary the creature without making it appear like blatant plagiarism. If things turned out well, I wouldn’t need a new phylum. My species would be comfortably tucked into the same niche as 5481’s in the food web.  We could call each other hominid buddies and design friendship subroutines and I would still have my job and everything would be all right and all I needed was 12 hours to accomplish this.

Then my absolutely unnecessary morality core kicked in, and I wondered if stealing was really such a good idea. Why not just create a parasite that fed on the so-called “insects” and reduce their numbers? Computationally, it seemed like a good idea. It would finally equate the fairness. But then, it was beyond my time constraint, so I think I will design it for my next project.

With a small spatula, I collected some of the DNA off 5481’s simulator. Covertly. Now I have to modify it enough to make it appear as unrecognizable to 5481 as possible. At first I wondered about physiological changes. How about red fur instead of black fur or something? Too superficial. Everyone would know. How about carnivorous appetites? How about symbiosis with the environment? Too much to alter in too little span of time…

Must go work now before 5481’s samples are also lost.

Data log attributes: Begun on 6202nd day of 25th Lunar Cycle; Type: Personal

Finally, the specimens are complete. It has a lot less body hair, for one.

I’m sorry. I haven’t had my stand-by cycle yet, so I’m probably very incoherent right now. I’m sure when I read back this entry later, my data processing centers will understand what I wanted to say.

Fortunately, the review by the authorities went off well. They assumed it was a standard primate. Nothing too exceptional. Which is correct. My genius was ruined by “insects”.

They asked me about the “designer touches”. I had given this a lot of thought as this was a final boundary between plagiarism and creativity. They were going to be the strongest differentiating factors from 5481’s specimens.

I made a neural adaptation to the creatures, whereby they could extend their own sense of being. It was very subtle (very easy to implement as well) and not so apparent. I made the creatures self-adaptive. I think the local term for that is “intelligent”. You can locate in the directory under sentient. Designed a few evolutionary stages for it. For one thing, I removed most of the body hair from the “Ape”. 5481 cannot stop talking about that ugly thing. His aesthetic sensors must have malfunctioned.

I emphasized a bit on the sexual dimorphism, made it omnivorous. 3% genetic variation across all evolutionary forms. All the slight subtle changes. Due to the exceptional glory of 5481’s design, he has his own family of species. Due to the not-so-surprising similarity with 5481’s design, they also classified it as a hominid.

There you go. I don’t have much to expect of this creature, since it is so similar in genetics to 5481’s. It should be okay in the existing ecosystem. I expect it will be extinct in probably 8 million years, which is a normal number for a creature of such biological mediocrity. I’ve parked it mid way in the food web, so it can be consumed as well. Just in case my creation gets too annoying for the likes of 5481’s.

I don’t know if giving the creature added intelligence and cognitive capabilities was a good idea or not. It seemed to be the only sort of addition I could add to an already well-conceptualized work like 5481’s. I don’t know if it has any remarkable biological value or not. Don’t think it does. It’s too puny to survive most of the the big ones on the planet, anyway.

Must not let pessimism cloud my endeavors.

There you go. That was the story of my creation. It’s listed formally under the records as Homo habilis. It has a few other fancy evolutionary stages I put in to evade close scrutiny by those who suspected anything.

I don’t experience any grandiloquence when I record their names, sine I can’t even tell if they’ll be able to make it that long. But here they are: Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis  and maybe Homo sapiens, if it lives that long. So finally I get to call it my own name. I wanted to call it “Hoo-mahn.”. Or maybe “Human?” It is not as aesthetic as “Ape”. But I think it will suffice. Besides, I always wanted to name my own species. The authorities may choose to add a suffix or a prefix if they think it has too many similarities with the original hominid name.

At any rate, this entire experience in the laboratory is something I want to put behind me as soon as possible while I enjoy some uninterrupted stand-by cycles. The other units say it’s not bad for a beginner. 5481 had started out skeptical during the presentation. But at the end of it, he was convinced. Unimpressed, but convinced. Now I had better encrypt these logs before anyone finds out that I stole his specimens…..

 Warning: The data you are trying to access has been corrupted. Erasure of those sections is in progress.

Atom and Eve

Image Credits: Jenova by IIIustrathor on dA at http://iiiustrathor.deviantart.com/art/JENOVA-331676917

Image Credits: Jenova by IIIustrathor on dA at http://iiiustrathor.deviantart.com/art/JENOVA-331676917

 

1. Breakup and Distance

“I’m sorry, I don’t think this is working out,” said Eve apologetically to her fourth genetic partner.

“Am I not adequate enough?” Linda asked, staring up at Eve’s eyes with eyes that welled up and quivered.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” said Eve, seeking the refuge of a tired cliche one more time.

“After….after all this time? I loved you, Eve. I gave you everything. We were going to procreate together!”

“Linda….I, I…..it’s not that I love you any less..”

“Do you?! Do you really?!”

“I can’t help it that this feels wrong! Please don’t force me into this, Linda. At least you know I’m not lying to you.”

“You’re selfish, Eve. You’re a horrible selfish person. I should have known better when you said you had three partners before me….I’m sorry I loved you, Eve.”

Linda walked out of the door and Eve was certain she would never come back. Her sharp ears heard Linda’s sobs as she transported away from Eve’s residence. It struck Eve as slightly odd how Linda left all her clothes and belongings behind. She probably expected Eve to come after her, except Eve felt as though she had made the best decision in her life. Unlike any other relationship, Eve had never felt heart-broken when any of her genetic partners waked out on her. Linda was the fourth, which meant that Eve had experience with breaking up. There was that odd silence, which flooded with relief and joy.

But still, Linda, the kind, caring, effusive, ever-helpful, slightly bumbling, sort of annoying presence wasn’t there anymore. No more would she have a companion who woke up beside her. No more would she have someone to share her contact with, merge physically and mentally with. There was a fleeting sense of empty. For the first time ever, Eve wondered if she should reconsider her decision. Maybe Linda was right. Maybe she was giving in to a childish impulse. Maybe their relationship just needed more time to mellow out. Maybe she needed to figure things out better.

“I hope you’re happy,” said Azilan, the AI that was wired into Eve’s brain and in all of her technology.

“Come on. I just can’t feel for her the way she feels for me.”

“She’s an adult woman, with very viable DNA. It’s only natural she feel the need to procreate,” came the justification.

“I’m not denying that! I just don’t feel that way…”

“You’re not getting younger, you know? Your eggs are going to die soon. You might as well procreate now that you can.”

“But I just don’t feel like doing this…..”

“This is childishness, Eve. Linda is a superb specimen. So were all of your previous partners. If you don’t know what you’re looking for that’s highly problematic.”

“Maybe it’s me, Azilan?”

“Scanning for the millionth time. Scan complete. Besides your own stupidly constructed psychological symptoms, there is nothing wrong with your physiology.”

“Maybe I just haven’t found the right person?”

“When will you? The longer you delay it, the weaker your genes will get.”

“I’ve still got time, Azilan. Besides, until then I have you to make me feel less lonely.”

“Linda was right. You’re selfish,” said Azilan.

Eve stayed quiet. She was used to failing herself. She was used to disappointing this other metallic voice inside her head.

But what was the problem? Eve couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Was she not normal, by choosing to have normal genetic partners? Why did she not feel the need to procreate?

Eve stepped out, to be transported away. She needed to get away from this suffocating home which smelled of Linda and Eve’s supposed mistakes.

“Running away, now?” sneered Azilan, masterfully.

“Either tell me where to go or be quiet, because I will not stay.”

Azilan had been around her long enough to know when she was being serious. The operating system wondered if it should delete the memories of Linda, in order to make Eve’s emotional turmoil feel better. It was her fourth break-up, but that didn’t mean it hurt her any less.

“Altitude co-ordinates 43.68. Azimuth co-ordinates 29.76. Nearest transport embarking in 36 seconds and counting.”

“Take me away,” said Eve, as a professional cyborg would say to the implanted system.

2. Who man?

“Azilan?”

“Yes?”

“How do species on other worlds procreate?”

“Well, before cloning and before our genetic technology, there used to exist a biological mechanism called sexual reproduction.”

“If it was natural, why did it die out?”

“Our technology produced more viable hybrids and better designs than the natural genetic mixing could ever provide. Those species didn’t host another artificial intelligence inside their heads, like you can.”

“They must have been able to enjoy their quiet moments in peace.”

“Hey! I resent that. I don’t interrupt your quiet moments!”

“You don’t have a choice. We’re both stuck within the limited confines of my skin until I die,” replied Eve, mimicking Azilan’s trademark sneer.

Azilan searched to change the topic. She let Eve feel her displeasure by forcing her aural nerves to a static wash. Eve cringed, but did not protest. She knew she had got the point across.

“Anyway, sexual reproduction required two different species to genetically combine in order to produce viable offspring, which could be harvested either within or externally of the two combining members.”

“Two species?! How were they genetically compatible?”

“Your ancestors, for example, had two species. Each with the same number of chromosomes. However, one species had both X-genes. They were listed as female, they were the carriers of the offspring. The other had one X and a Y. They were listed as male. They propagated their genes in order to create more offspring.”

Eve couldn’t imagine what it must be to have two different species. She paused momentarily, trying to imagine a world where there could be someone who was equal to her, except differently designed, in some way she had no idea about. After a while, her imagination failed, and she simply let Azilan flood her mind with data.

“What happened to the males?”

“As evolution progressed, the males became susceptible to a space-born disease. The Y-chromosome served as a host for this genetic virus and they were soon extinct. The females, who survived the purge, then went on to find other ways to procreate. That was the dawn of the Cloning era.”

“….Then they discovered that clones couldn’t be genetically viable?”

“Correct. Reproductive technology evolved that would use two healthy citizens, combine their genes at random, and using the combined template of both participants, design an offspring that satisfied it’s parents’ expectations…..”

That was the kind of expectation that Linda had of her. The kind she had failed, for the fourth time.

“Why am I scared of procreating, Azilan? It seems so much simpler and cleaner than ages ago…It’s not like I don’t like Linda. I like having her around me very much, but I somehow don’t see us bearing offspring. I just can’t seem to be as emotionally invested as all of my genetic partners are.”

Azilan felt compelled to comfort her host. It was a question that didn’t really have a specific answer.

“Maybe you just haven’t found the right person?”

“After the fourth time? What are the odds of that, Azilan?”

“Statistical aberrations happen, Eve.”

“My parents would consider me a failure if they knew that I can’t procreate.”

“I’m sure Elise and Marie would continue to love you, Eve,” said Azilan, referring to her parents by their names.

“I want to know how the two species reproduction works, Azilan.”

“Why? Males have been extinct for many centuries now.”

“Maybe that way worked better?”

“Eve, you’re grasping at straws here. Our society is complete with all of its given species’ composition. Our ecosystem cannot support any more, simply because it doesn’t need to support any more.”

“……Just satisfy my curiosity, Azilan. Tell me more about males.”

“You understand that I’ll be reconstructing data that is very ancient, at best. I’ll use whatever extrapolation algorithms that I have to offer you a complete picture, but it may not be accurate.”

“That’s okay.”

Eve stayed quiet as Azilan went on a long recursive search. She closed her eyes as Azilan flooded her mind with grainy, partially formed images of what the human male once was.

“Interesting,” said Eve aloud, as she studied the male physiology. It was something so unique, so different than anything Eve had seen before. This species was so old that most biological or genetic annals failed to record them in their listing.

“Azilan, let’s go to my chamber and finish the reconstruction there. I want to be able to interact with a live holographic model of this species.”

“WHAT?!” spluttered Azilan. “I don’t have enough data to be able to do that!”

“Azilan, you’re smart and so am I. Let’s get to my chambers where we can put our combined intelligence to use.”

“This had better be just for curiosity,” muttered Azilan in the recesses of Eve’s brain. She could tell that Eve was determined.

More so, as Eve embarked the nearest transport to her chambers, Azilan was worried. Eve’s sudden determination could not have just been fueled by curiosity alone. Sharing Eve’s subconscious, Azilan could tell exactly what it was that was driving her, but she refused to speak it aloud for fear of creating a psychological construct inside Eve’s mind.

After all, Eve was hungry for more data on these extinct species. She seemed to justify her thoughts on the surface with a prefacing, “Oh, I just want to know how our ancestors procreated, that’s all.”

Azilan almost dreaded to name the conclusion that her analyses of Eve’s psyche were telling her. Maybe, just maybe, was there the slightest hint of attraction?

That, in itself, implied something that could very well shake the foundations of their current society. Eve could be regressing back to genetically “natural” ways.

Nothing. It’s nothing. Azilan told herself, erasing her memory of the last five seconds of internal analyses. But then, as they arrived in Eve’s chambers, Azilan felt worried again.

3. Regression and solitude

“Please enter your access code,” asked the Central Genetic Database system, guarding the entrance to the formidable structure that maintained their world in a constant ecological balance.

Azilan supplied the system with the necessary data while Eve waited. Eve transported to her office and located the necessary modeling equipment.

Slowly, Azilan started pooling the data she had collated from varied sources about human males into the system. Their genetic structure, hormonal composition, physiological variations, sexual dimorphism and other anatomical traits.
Whatever data the system failed to provide, Azilan calculated and estimated. Their numbers, their populations, their propagated methods, etc.

The more Eve discovered about this species, the more she marveled. Her ancestors must have truly been complex evolved beings in their own right, if they could sustain reproduction within themselves with such primitive external technology. She wasn’t just in awe of the Ancient Human Male. She was also in awe of the Female that was expected to be his partner, expected to complete a complex creature such as the Male.

All that was left now, was for the Database to compile a visual, three-dimensional, motile specimen of the entered parameters.

“Eve?”

“Azilan?”

“There’s something you have to admit to me honestly, Eve.”

“Azilan, you’re inside my head all the time. You know me better than I know myself. How am I possibly expected to hide anything from you?”

“There have been occasions where you have made decisions without my control, Eve.”

Eve paused while she remembered, or Azilan made her remember, that she broke up with Linda despite Azilan’s objections.

“Why are you bringing up Linda, Azilan?”

“This whole search began with wondering why you can’t procreate, right? Those doubts about your ability started sprouting up only after Linda left.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Now you’re actually doing research on an extinct species on order to prove that the natural way of procreating was right. You’re here about to run simulations and other environmental factors so that you know what it would be like if human males were willed back into existence.”

Eve stayed silent.

“Answer me honestly, Eve. You owe me at least that much.”

“Maybe that’s the only way I can procreate, Azilan. Look at this way, I can’t seem to work with any of the existing partners that I had, or have available around me. You’ve tested me several times, and there’s no biological reason why I can’t procreate. But there’s definitely some reason I can’t. I don’t know why I’m doing this Azilan, but I have to do it to find some answers for myself.”

“Do you find yourself sexually attracted to this species?”

Eve staggered somewhat under the realization of what Azilan was trying to get at.

“Is it wrong if I do?”

“It’s not accepted in our society, Eve. You know it.”

“What sort of a society dictates to me who I am allowed to feel sexually attracted to?!”

Azilan stayed silent. This was beyond natural regression.

“Besides,” said Eve, feeling the desperate need to justify her disposition, “that was the way it had worked in the past. Why shouldn’t it work now?”

“Many things have changed since those times, Eve. Those people – the males and females lived in a world where population was uncontrolled, many species were dead or extinct. Their ecosystem was polluted and choked with the burden of hosting so many members of each individual species. Today we live in a world where every birth and every death of every species is recorded and noted. Everything is regulated and controlled, just as how the natural ecosystems should be.”

“Are you saying that the human males were the only species responsible for the ecological demise of the ancient planet Earth?”

“I am not. But what I am saying is that our world is functioning at its best. If you were to create and design, or even procreate with a new species, you would be upsetting the delicate balance which we have maintained here for centuries.”

“But they’re not new! They’re old. Very very old. They are even sentient and intelligent! Simply forgotten.”

“That does not change my argument Eve.”

“Don’t you think the world would be better with more men? With more natural procreation? Genetic sustainability within our bodies instead of outside of it?”

Azilan stayed silent. “I do not know, Eve. Our society has been functioning very well thus far.”

“You know that with every single one of my partners thus far, I’ve never felt sexually attracted to any of them.”

“That’s true. At first I thought you were merely scared of procreating.”

“That’s what I thought too. But when you described to me of other procreation techniques and how frightening they could be, I wondered what I had to worry about this process at all.”

“…..And?”

“I realized that I probably simply didn’t feel that way about my partners. I’m sure, no I’m certain, they were all great partners in their own right, and they were more than willing to offer their genetic diversity up to me. But I simply cannot explain why I never felt the same about them.”

“…Eve, please don’t do this,” said Azilan, aware of what was to follow.

“I can’t help it that I wish to procreate with these older species!”

“You’re regressing, Eve. Stop this. Regressors get very severely penalized and you know that. You realize that by what you’re thinking or about to do, you’re going to damage everything our society has worked to build. It’s not just about you, Eve, think of the other citizens of this world as well.”

For a fleeting moment, Eve heard the echo of Linda’s memory. “You’re selfish, Eve…”

“If this is what you’re going to do, you will be proving her right, Eve,” said Azilan, also hearing Linda’s voice.

For the first time in her life, Eve felt compelled to curl up into a tiny ball and cry. Her circuitry prevented her from weeping, as Azilan could get shorted out in that process, but she had to process this sadness and frustration somewhere before her mental capacity was completely overrun.

“What do I do, Azilan?!”

“Statistical aberrations happen, Eve,” said Azilan, realizing that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Do I go back to Linda? Do I go through with this? What do I do?!”

“I’m not going to say do what feels right, Eve. Because while you may feel it’s right, there are several other citizens at stake here. Maybe you just need to go home, sleep some more, calm down, meet new people and you will come across the right partner this time. Just promise yourself that the next time, you will actively involve yourself in making your relationship work. ”

“How do you know I’m alone in feeling this way? What if I can’t force myself to love the next partner in my life?”

“I don’t know what else you expect from me, Eve,” said Azilan helplessly.

There was a long pause during which Eve gulped and swallowed all of her confusion, angst, misery and the memories of Linda. Azilan distributed the emotions evenly, so that Eve could go back to her natural composed self.

“Let’s just go home. I don’t want to deal with this.”

Azilan tacitly agreed.

Eve transported back home rather quietly, watching a couple hold hands as they navigated together. She watched families with the little offspring laugh as they boarded the multiple transport stops. Never before had it bothered her to such a great extent that she might actually be destined to simply be alone. Or alone with the memory that she could have been a suitable mate for a species that did not exist anymore. All in the limited confines of her head.

Which Azilan shared. “Don’t worry, Eve,” she said quietly. “At least you know I’ll be here for you always.”

Eve stayed lost and silent. “I’m sorry I loved you, Eve” said another remnant of Linda. You don’t have to be sorry, Linda. I’m the one who’s sorry because I’m confused.

Future Prospects

Sardang was a troubled pterodactyl. As a species, it was a matter of pride to the pterodactyl community that they could interpret the knowledge of the skies, their natural homes. Through reptilian evolution, they learned that not only did the heavens forecast the weather but they also revealed celestial secrets. Sardang was frustrated with the data they had acquired. He had re-verified as much of it as he could, tabulating it afterwards against past data engraved on the cliffs, but the conclusion seemed irrefutable. The accumulated statistics were leading to an unbelievable disaster. Amid the growing confusion, the pterodactyl community had called for a meeting of the Council.

The Reptilian Empire had accomplished so much. His data claimed that all of it was going to be ground to dust just by one bright flash in the sky. The thought was frightening, to say the least. Civilization as it had existed for so many years would vanish. Sardang felt that at least with an early warning, the dinosaurs would at least be able to store their best components away, or keep them in some form of suspension or preserve them to continue the way of life as it was before the disaster. This wasn’t going to be the end, hopefully. A new reptilian kingdom would arise, and someday claim the same power as the current reign had.

As Sardang flew, he saw a group of young styrachosauri fighting over some petty grass groves. Sardang was momentarily disgusted to forget that he was bearing the message of doom. After years of development, he felt it was pathetic that reptiles, elevated creatures, should still feel the need to indulge in raw displays of animalism. If they were mammals, perhaps, they could be excused. Mammals had been a lesser form of life ever since their evolution. They were small creatures, too limited in their scope to see and understand anything beyond the basic needs of survival. But to think that after so many years, even respectable members of the reptile empire felt the need to do the same, made Sardang feel shameful. Even within Sardang’s own swarm, small arguments continued to break up the formation. Sometimes, it seemed to Sardang that the pterodactyls had forgotten their honorable duty and were now using their sharp eyes to pick up petty squabbles. In times of such uncertainty, how could they argue about such minutiae?

The Council was an exhibition of passive croaks, groans and shrieks against the primeval sunset. Usually, the Council convened for disputes over the allocation of power, food or shelter. The largest of all the species assembled, the King of the Empire, sat in the centre, and any sensible dinosaur knew to give this creature a very wide berth.

A huge ferocious animal that lumbered around on the land, his fore-arms were unusually strong given their size, combined with the agility of a huge tail which made him a formidable predator, Rakavar was a clumsy tyrannosaurus. He was annoyed by sensing a slight movement in the grass behind him and with one sweeping motion had the poor mammal in his jaws, perfect for a light snack. As his powerful fangs ripped the meat apart, the herbivorous members of the Council edged away nervously, while the carnivorous members crept closer, lured by the blood. Soon, an entire swarm of pterodactyls glided into the focus of his tiny eyes and gracefully landed before the Council. The sight of a tyrannosaurus feasting made the pterodactyls want to stay at a respectable distance. When he had the attention of the Council, Sardang presented his case.

“Honored Council, we wish to bring a matter of utmost importance to your notice. After months of observation, we have discovered that there is a bright flashing object, unlike any that we have encountered before. From the projected trajectory, it is heading straight towards the Earth. We believe it could cause very serious damage to our habitats.”

“Where is your evidence, Sardang? A bright object blazing across the sky could be anything. In any case, even if it is something new and undiscovered, it doesn’t necessarily mean it would amount to catastrophe as you have claimed. It might just be a pebble from outer space. Surely, a pebble wasn’t capable of destroying our habitats?” croaked, Balgar, a particularly eloquent velociraptor, preening himself with the importance of an experienced spokesperson of the Council.

Sardang noted that the lack of the customary tone of respect. Balgar harbored a grudge against him for rescuing a small hatchling from his hungry clutches and had since then, always been on his snappy side. Sardang was annoyed with his interruption. The velociraptors never seemed to give up on any opportunity to claim political power, an annoying trait they had inherited along with the genes that made them distant cousins of the tyrannosauri. This was a question of the near total destruction of the Empire, not some petty ego issues. Offending the velociraptors would lead to the eviction of pterodactyls from the Council, a maneuver designed to acquire more power. A pebble, indeed. What did that smooth-jawed scavenger know about watching the skies?

“Respected Speaker, we have watched the skies for many days. The object is brighter than several of its neighbors in the sky and is considerably larger too. If it is perceived to be this large from such a distance, it will only become bigger and brighter as it approached the Earth. Are we to risk our habitats at the mercy of such a powerful force? My data will testify that what I say is not a fabrication.”

Rakavar growled in contemplation, overriding Balgar’s authority. “Consequences, Observer?” The entire Council fell silent.

“Almost irreparable destruction of the Reptilian Empire,” said Sardang quietly, trying to avoid staring into the expressionless eyes of his king.

For a moment there was only the sound of the waves crashing on the beach and the leaves rustling in the air, and the distant screeches of younger dinosaurs and the cries of pained mammals. In the tense silence, Sardang was desperately trying to convince himself that he had done the right thing. Then, Balgar spoke up, shattering the silence.

“Is there anything that can be done to avert this disaster?”

Sardang felt the annoyance at the back of his beak. Just like a velociraptor to ask the stupid questions. He was not bringing them news of some carnivorous dinosaurs pillaging the habitats of some innocent herbivores. This was not the kind of thing that could be solved by the interruption of a few sturdy triceratopses. What possible defense could they have against an astronomical fireball? Hide under the trees, hoping to avoid the impact of a supposed pebble that was already leaving streaks of destruction in the sky? Cower under the cliffs?

Rakavar, for the benefit of other members of the Council, asked Sardang to answer the question.

Sardang tried to control his impatience. “Honored Council, this is the end of civilization!”

The Council erupted in chaos. Every creature flurried around in panic, loud screeches and barks tore the air. The denizens of the ocean were startled by the sudden din, and a few even ventured closer to the surface of the water to satisfy their curiosity. Amongst this pandemonium, the only group that stood its ground was the pterodactyls.

Rakavar rarely roared. But he did so now. Every creature who heard Rakavar unleash the full strength of his roar shivered, trying to suppress the instinct to return back to the burrows of the earth, to dive back into the depths of the ocean, to take off into the comforting heights of the skies or to run away as fast as possible and never look back.

“I will have silence! Citizens, are we not higher beings? Only a Council of mammals would allow themselves to driven by panic.”

The Council was instantly silent at the general insult. Sardang poked his leathery wings with his own beak, in agreement with Rakavar’s methods. Even mammals knew how to behave better, noted Sardang as he watched with disgust the prancing group of velociraptors, chirping away in high-pitched squeals, snapping at themselves in nervousness.

The only community who had the strength to combat Rakavar himself then spoke up. Heradon, leader of the triceratops, quietly pawed the ground for attention, more as a formality in the silence than as anything else and then said, “Since the Great Observers,” here she paused to bend her huge head to the pterodactyl group, as a mark of respect, which was returned with a bend of their beak “have implied that nothing can be done to avert the disaster. Surely, we can contrive other means to ensure that at least the casualties are minimized?”

Finally, Sardang felt that somebody in the Council understood the real reason why he had brought this news. An early warning was better than no warning at all. Rakavar nodded his enormous head in approval.

Balgar felt the innate need to speak up again and this time, he was careful to be more polite, as he usually was when he wanted to be sarcastic, “What possible means can we contrive to save ourselves from a disaster of the order of magnitude as described by the Great Observers?”

“I don’t mean to interrupt you, Respected Speaker, but perhaps we can preserve our specimens for re-growth after the disaster?” volunteered a voice from the skies.

Diploid, foremost representative of the brachiosaurus community was speaking. Sardang took flight and perched himself on the tallest enough tree that would enable him to listen to Diploid’s views better. In any case, they were worth more than Balgar’s opinions and sarcasm, wondered Sardang as he watched the little creature struggle to climb up to a tall enough rock. To pick on Diploid’s valid arguments, no doubt. The creature was deeply biased against herbivores.

“But we are so many species! How will we preserve them all?!” asked Balgar, almost laughing at the ludicrous idea. Rakavar emitted a low, echoing growl that hastily shut him up.

Heradon asked, “In what way do you propose to execute this plan, Respected Thinker?”

Diploid turned his small head to a side, as though contemplating the horizons of some distant ocean. He conferred with some of the others in his group for a while.

“Honored Council, we wish to bring a matter to your attention. One of our herds was grazing near the other side of the coast, when we heard an interesting report from one of our marine cousins. Several tylosaurus communities have complained of increasing activity under the ocean beds. A few tylosauri schools have located a crevice in the beds, more an accidental discovery necessitated by the search of food than anything else…”

“What is the relevance of all this in the face of a catastrophe?” interrupted Balgar, condescendingly. These brachiosauri were going off on a tangent again.

“Balgar, don’t interrupt, or I’ll personally have you thrown off the cliffs,” said Rakavar, quietly. Heradon pawed the ground threateningly as the velociraptor tried to hide behind her huge form. Sardang watched from above with satisfaction.

“Please continue”, Rakavar nodded his agreement, baring his bloodstained fangs at Balgar, who retreated hastily, knowing that the next interruption could not only cost him his membership of the Council but also his life.

“The tylosauri have found that there are several rock sheets, peeling away near the crevice which contains several remarkably intact skeletons of some of our evolutionary ancestors. Notably, the preserved skeletons seemed to belong to a species of Trilobites, which have been long since extinct. Trilobites are simple minute creatures that used to inhabit the ocean beds. Perhaps, if we could study them, we may discover how they managed to preserve specimens that survived so long under the oceans.”

Again, there was a silence as the creatures stared either in silence or preened each other in confusion.

“Pardon me for disagreeing, Respected Thinker, even if we were to discover their methods of self-preservation, they probably would not be applicable to our particular case,” countered Heradon.

“The specimens have survived under the ocean, which is a relatively much calmer and uniform environment than what our world might be after the disaster. I doubt that we have places above the water which are capable of withstanding such a catastrophe. There is no point in preserving specimens that do not have resuscitation procedures, as we have not seen any living specimens. Also, the natural habitat of the Trilobites served as a convenient store house. All of us cannot do the same. Again, the Trilobites are only one species, we are an entire planet.”

“Respected Fighter, your arguments are pertinent. But, we still ask permission to study the Trilobite specimens.” conceded Diploid.

“Thinkers,” said Rakavar, “we will justify your allocation of resources to this Trilobite project. However, as the Fighters pointed out, there is the danger of your results being inconclusive and arriving too long to be effective. While I sanction your research, I need the Council to come up with more immediate plans of action.”

After sharing several grunts with her comrades, Heradon pawed the ground for attention again. “Honored Council, we think that dinosaur populations should begin evacuating. By dispersing, we are less likely to be wiped out in one single stroke. If the Great Observers,” again Sardang flew down to a lower branch to hear what she was saying, “could pin-point the exact location of impact, we can begin pushing out dinosaur populations from there. Until the Thinker’s research provides us with optimistic results, we should consider this.”

The Council slowly grew to a buzz. It would clearly involve the separation of many herds and swarms who have shared several life-times together, let alone disrupt all the symbiotic relationships that sustain them. How would they divide the groups? How would they be able to protect their young? How would they be able to find new nesting sites? How would they have access to food or prey in new unfamiliar territories? Sardang volleyed a few screeches between his swarm. Some of them were to go back to the largest nesting sites and convey the news. The others were to watch the skies, with the intention of finding where exactly on Earth it would strike.

Rakavar called the Council’s attention. “Citizens, decide amongst your populations how to share your responsibilities. Leave to your homes and do not delay.”

The beach was a flurry of many different sounds, as Sardang and his group took flight. They watched the ground for a while. Heradon was leading her group back over the plateau, remarkably agile for a creature of her size. Diploid and his herd craned their long necks forward and began to run, while Balgar had emerged from hiding and began to jump his way home, prancing from rock to rock. Even Rakavar had lumbered off to some other part of his territory. The earth, as it seemed to Sardang, was a canvas of reptilian motion whereas the darkening sky above told the story of impending doom.

As Sardang’s leathery wings glided over the air currents, he mused about the plan of action. If Diploid’s hypothesis was a success, then the whole disaster would be a minor interruption in the glorious history of the Reptilian Empire. But, Heradon’s arguments were right, as well. There were far too many creatures to preserve. No doubt they would be preserved in some form of socio-political hierarchy. Hopefully the brachiosaurs would forget the velociraptors do everybody a favor. It was also necessary, especially for herbivore species, for plants to survive as well. Under the endless grasslands, Sardang passively noticed several groups of tiny mammals trying to burrow their way out of the ground, evading the passively grazing hadrosaurs. Those poor things would probably be extinct. How could beings so delicate have any chance of survival?

Sardang crossed a stretch of water, watching the ripples shine with the undulating forms of the tylosauri under it. He scanned the waters with his probing eyes. They probably had all the hiding places, Sardang wondered. Not like the skies, where it was impossible to hide anything. Sardang hoped to spot a few Trilobites soon, in some confirmation of a faraway dream. He had now reached the top of the cliff where several pterodactyl families were nesting. In the corner of the robust nests, were freshly laid eggs. What would their future be? How was he going to ask parents to part with their hatchlings? Families to disintegrate and form new relationships based on trust?

When the next Council was summoned, Sardang had already disbanded several nests, though not as many groups as the other dinosaurs had. He was still expecting something worthwhile from Diploid’s research. In any case, the remaining pterodactyl populations were small enough.

As the Council had assembled, the opening formalities hurriedly done with as an indicator of stress. Rakavar began, “Citizens, before we ask every species represented here…”

Sardang wondered if every species was represented here. They didn’t have representatives of the trees and grass, or even of the mammals or insects for that matter. Also, several of the dinosaurs were missing, the most conspicuous of which was Balgar’s absence. Had the velociraptors fled already? Cowards.

He turned his attention back to Rakavar. If resources were going to be scarce, they’d need every little bit for themselves instead of worrying about mammals. “… we will ask the Thinkers to present the results of their studies.”

Diploid spoke, “Honored Council, after we had retrieved several intact specimens from our tylosaur cousins, we monitored them under different conditions. We tried exposing them to atmospheric conditions, allowing them to revive their natural metabolism. That did not succeed. So, we asked the tylosaur cousins to observe a few of the specimens submerged underwater, the assumed natural habitat of the Trilobites. After a few days, we noticed a green protrusion growing from the skeletons. We assume that rapidly expanding mass is the Trilobite body, filling itself out due to regenerative growth caused by exposure to the right conditions. However, it has not shown any sentience, or any motility.”

Rakavar was surprised. “The Trilobites don’t eat? Or speak?”

The Council was suddenly interrupted by Heradon and several other dinosaurs “Look! Look! Look at the sky!”

Sardang and his swarm flew upwards immediately. The sky had immediately become much brighter, and there in the distance was a huge bright streak of light, which made the night sky seem almost like day. A bright, fiery intruder was blazing past.

There was no panic. Just this awe-inspiring silence, followed by a rapidly increasing boom as the object collided with the surface. The resounding thud knocked everyone on the ground off their hind-limbs. Even the triceratopses, the strongest of the land animals, staggered under the shock. “What happened? What happened?” was the general murmur as the creatures cowered in fear.

The brachiosaurs were the first to raise their heads to look. Sardang was still trying to deny what had happened. They had taken off just in time, as the ground began to quake. The shake which began as a small vibration in the ground began to worsen as cracks spread along the way. The oceans were pushed out of imbalance as the ground gave way. And where the blinding ray of fury had struck there was a now a dull, expanding darkness. Sardang and the pterodactyls tried to stay in the air as long as they could, knowing that any terrestrial structure was unstable now. The air was rent with shrieks and howls. Nearby groups of disbanded dinosaurs had surely seen the impact. Sardang tried to fly in closer to explore the debris. The object that he had spotted in the skies was huge. Sardang had no doubt that at least a million dinosaurs had died on the spot. As he struggled to fly higher, he saw that where there had been vast plains, there was now a giant rock. A giant, red hot rock which left waves of cinders behind.

There was a sudden rush of air away from the alien intruder, billowing out the darkness. The winds carried the dust uprooting trees, disturbing the tormented waters, pouring dust all over the ground. Sardang heard a familiar roar. The sound had been going on for quite some time, but the pterodactyls had been too absorbed by the spectacle of raw destruction to pay attention. Rakavar was calling them back. Even Rakavar’s roar could not match the ferocity of what they had just seen.

Sardang did not know how to describe the masses of charred remains of countless species. The rock had wiped them clean off the face of the planet. His descent to the council was accelerated with the winds pushing him away and outward, clawing his leathery back with dust, leaving painful scratches. They could not fly. They were literally thrown back covered in dust and injuries to the Council.

Sardang tried to recover from hitting the earth at such speeds. He was sure that his beak was broken. Several others had their wings torn and digits damaged. Heradon gently pushed him to his fore-limbs with her massive skull. He had mustered enough strength to tell the Council what had happened, when there was another loud boom. For the second time in the night, the sky was lit brighter than the hottest day. The creatures were thrown into disarray and panic, clinging onto the earth as the ground rippled and the sky began to rain dust and fragments of rock. This was disaster personally wreaking havoc on them.

“The object seems to have exploded” said Diploid, to nobody in particular, in the midst of the chaos. The winds were brutally punishing now. Sardang tried to fly back up. He needed to watch. To observe. To do his duty right. But the air, the skies, which had been the familiar territory of the pterodactyls, was now filled with vengeful alien dust. Creatures groaned and shrieked and dust filled their jaws and contaminated the air. The dust coated the ocean and the ground. With the dust, followed the darkness. With the darkness came death.

As the swirling vortexes of dust blacked out the stars of the night sky, creatures began to suffocate and slowly die. Wherever creatures tried to flee, death followed. Sardang soon realized through partial visibility, that the wind carried a lot more than the dust. Trees, rocks, pebbles, followed in the darkness, claiming their victims. The hadrosaurs coughed and choked to a painful death. Sardang was about to leave the ground, until he heard Heradon’s hoarse, dust-filled shriek. He felt the gentle thud of her body collapse, glad that he had moved away quickly enough just to avoid being crushed by the massive body, her cold blood oozing on him. “Fly away”, said Heradon, before she coughed herself to death.

Sardang did not know exactly what strength allowed him to take off. The only way he could feel that sensation was when his hind-limbs finally let go of whatever they were holding on to. In the darkness, air, water and earth all seemed the same. All filled with pain and anguish. Sardang was in blind shock to realize that one by one, his swarm was dropping out of the sky and falling down into the many corpses. The carnivores were torn between trying to flee, trying to survive or trying to eat as much as they could. Velociraptors and other scavengers began to pick on the raw supply as quickly as possible, until the dust and darkness claimed them. Rakavar lumbered around, trying to get the smaller species to the safety of stable rocks, trying to fight the dust with his tail. Diploid’s body lay on the water, his neck tantalizingly close to the disturbed sharks. Soon enough, all that was left of him were the few fragments of his bones and an expanding pool of black liquid on the black waters.

Sardang felt his body shatter as a large rock of nearly the same dimensions of his body attacked him. His eyes burned with the cruel abrasion of the dust. He knew he was falling, flecks of blood oozing from his beak. He didn’t know if it was his blood or Heradon’s. He felt his leathery body surrender to the pain.Sardang hoped his descendants would live to see another Reptilian Empire. Hopefully there were enough evacuees to see the morning sun.

None of the dinosaurs survived. There was no morning sun for a very long time. If Sardang had lived long enough to survive the catastrophe and the aftermath, he would have been very surprised to find out who survived….

145 million years later

Paleontologist Ryker was annoyed with digging in the unbearable heat. Anthropologist Weaver had already contaminated the spot. She could still remember how Weaver had confidently said, “Sorry,”evidently not sorry at all.

“What are you doing here?” asked Ryker,failing to hide her inherent dislike. She had to push around several papers, and glower at several people indignantly to get this excavation approved. Now she discovered that this incompetent buffoon had first access to it with lesser effort. All because his museum placed a higher priority on extinct Neanderthal artifacts than her museum placed on finding some of the best preserved fossils.

“We came in the morning, given that we’ve got some really nice pieces lying around here. But I didn’t know you’d be coming,” said Weaver, aware that his museum provided him with more funding for his project than Ryker’s had. “Don’t worry. We find any big bones, we’ll let you know.”

“You don’t have to. My team’s getting on it in exactly five minutes.”

“But, we’ve already set up our grafts and started cataloging. You can’t just barge in!”

“You can catalog at the museum as well, Weaver. As for barging in, I was scheduled at this site before you.”

She went on to firmly but politely offer that Weaver’s team either evacuate the place or remained confined to very strict boundaries of the site.

Weaver was about to interrupt when Ryker flashed him a sarcastic smile and said, “Don’t worry. We find any odd lumps of clay, we’ll let you know.”

Now that the afternoon sun was burning her back, Ryker regretted sending Weaver’s diggers away. By now they should have dug up something substantial, unless the natives’ reports were false. Still, she wiped away the sweat and continued with a personal vengeance, before Weaver saw the opportunity to claim back his territory. Dark shadows arced over Ryker, who sat amongst geological evidence of nearly 145 million years ago. Ryker looked up.

Birds. The last evolutionary remains of the dinosaurs. They screeched and flew across the sky, enjoying the freedom of their natural homes. A peregrine falcon, swooped on her with its majestic wings over the sky and settled on a rock near Ryker. It stared at her with its expressionless eyes, not afraid of the proximity. Ryker almost felt as though she was being watched.

“They’re probably wondering why this mammal is digging up their remains,” said Ryker, more to herself than anything else. The falcon squawked, almost as if in response, startling Ryker out of her wits. The expressionless eyes seemed to be considering her with the hidden intelligence of an extinct species. Ryker was momentarily intrigued.

She moved closer to the bird, which still remained unafraid. “You’re watching me dig up your ancestors, aren’t you?” she said to the bird. The bird sat quietly, cocked its head to one side, as if trying to understand. It hopped over to where Ryker’s tools were lying on the ground and nudged them with its beak. The falcon then pushed the pickaxe over the rock edge, to where the underlying layers were peeling away. “Hey!”, said Ryker, as she tried to retrieve the pickaxe. Unimpressed, the bird stared back at her with intimidating intensity. This was either some very advanced Pavlovian reaction or some elaborately random motion.

A large shadow loomed up and the falcon suddenly took off, leaving a very puzzled Ryker in its wake. Weaver had frightened off the bird. “Passing interest in zoology, I see?” he sneered. Ryker immediately felt foolish. What possible reason could she have, for standing in the middle of a barren plateau and talking, of all things, to a bird? The sunstroke was definitely leading her to imagine things.

“What are you doing here?” she asked for the second time, sounding as annoyed as ever.

“Generally checking up on the progress of one who is dedicated to looking for lesser species.”

Reptiles were not lesser species, she wanted to argue back. But she knew that was what Weaver wanted. His half-evolved apes weren’t any better.

“You’ll get your site back by the evening, Weaver.”

When Weaver left, Ryker returned to the ground, forgetting her avian companion with every stroke and worrying more about the complete lack of discovery. Her efforts were not in vain. She had finally found the shale bed with a beautifully preserved specimen of a pterodactyl.

Within minutes, the entire site was full of activity. There was an instant boost in morale; everyone was already describing the pterodactyl, trying to classify it, estimating its dimensions and so on. Weaver haunted them again, bearing apparent congratulations. Ryker accepted his congratulations very neutrally. The pterodactyl remains made Weaver’s mud clumps look absolutely irrelevant and ugly. This was nature’s beauty at work. Not some primitive manifestation of supposed intelligence. It took her quite a while to discover a large peregrine falcon staring at her from the cliffs above.

Ryker ensured that Sardang had survived to the future. He was now behind a glass cage, called by the name of Pterodactylus simus, while mammals stared at his bones. The observer under observation. Perhaps what was an even greater twist of irony was that the next exhibit was that of a Trilobita asaphidae.