I’m dreaming about ebony-colored horses and a triceratops feasting on the world’s largest salad. I find nothing wrong with it, other than that I am not joining in with the feast. I feel hungry, though everything around me is food. This probably means something, I think, but I continue to act according to the logic of what is presented in front of me. It disturbs me.
I see a flash across the sky, and suddenly an aurora. A man named Antepenultimatum teaches me how to overcome myself and release the witch inside of me and all beings, though I know there is nothing third-to-last about me. I am the best.
The flash across the sky turns into a human shape and floats down to meet me in the grassy plains. I greet the being of yellow energy, until it turns into Dyan Moore. Then I am more befuddled than anything.
“Guess what, Richard?” Dream Dyan asks me.
“What is it?” I pay no mind to the existence of this Dream Dyan as anything other than a manifestation of my subconscious, and one that I am thoroughly pleased with at the moment.
“I’ve invented Dream Technology that allows me to visit the subconsciouses of others and talk to them even while they’re asleep! Isn’t it great?” Dream Dyan seems completely serious in her words; I realize that she isn’t joking.
“You’re… in my dream?”
“Of course I am. I’m the richest woman on Earth; I can pretty much do anything, as long as I give enough funding to talented people such as yourself. Not that you made this dream device. You’re in the biological department, so this isn’t quite the same thing. I mean, your stuff is just as important, but hey, I’m sure Dream Technology can help the project out somehow.”
“But aren’t you dead?” I ask.
“Oops. I forgot.”
Suddenly, a large foot stomps on Dream Dyan, killing her instantly. The large foot is attached to none other than… I have no idea what the hell that thing is.
It kills me too.
Richard’s eyes popped open. It took her a couple seconds to realize that she was out of her dream and back in real life. She looked over to her left, and saw that Stephen was no longer in bed with her; he seemed to have already left.
“Huh, I’m the one who usually does that,” she said.
She got up, put some undergarments on, and made herself some breakfast. The only breakfast food she ever bought from the facility’s grocery store was bran flakes, but she was fine with being economical, as long as she was energized enough to go about her day with ease. Not like the grocery store had anything expirable, anyway, considering how long it took each shipment of food to get here. The cereal was not very good, but it was healthy and filling, so she munched at it regardless.
It had been about six months since preparations for the project began, and it was nearing completion. Dyan’s notes were helpful, almost prophetically useful in setting each of the biomes to be suitable habitats for dozens of ecosystems, which would eventually converge into one microcosm.
It was too bad that Dyan wouldn’t be able to see the project launch. The only one who would be seeing it would be her AI self. Though while she seemed exactly the same at first glance, AI Dyan had some marked differences in behavior. Most notably, she was somewhat more mechanical and courteous, which contrasted with Non-AI Dyan’s… well, entire personality. It was probably an intentional engineering of her personality in order to control the inner workings of the facility with any sort of efficiency.
And speaking of that AI, she needed to report to her in their daily meeting, which was coming up in about forty-five minutes. Richard finished off her cereal, washed out the bowl in the sink, and stepped into the shower.
AI Dyan flickered on as soon as Richard stepped into the door. “Why, hello there,” the flickering green hologram said. It turned out that there were multiple hologram projection spots located all over the facility, but they were all currently deactivated until the project launch, as per Dyan’s notes. Why the projection spots would be useful after the project had already begun was beyond Richard, but she never questioned orders, unless she was certain they were a terrible idea.
Richard bent down and picked M’tsargh’i up as she walked over to the desk and sat down. She had actually kind of grown to like M’tsargh’i a little bit, despite still being a hideous-looking insect. “So, AI Dyan,” she began. “We sure do have a lot of really interesting technologies here at the ISRFA, right?”
“Plenty. We are the most technologically-advanced nation on Earth,” she replied. Richard ignored AI Dyan’s mention of the ISRFA as a “nation.”
“So we wouldn’t happen to have any technology involving… the subconscious, would we?”
“Well, most of our inventions and innovations are the dreams of anywhere else in the world, if that’s what you mean,” she said, obviously playing coy.
Richard decided to drop that subject. “So, what do you think the ETA is on the project launch now? Has progress continued to be ahead of schedule? The great auk and wooly rhino populations have been breeding far past our original estimates, so I think we’re getting done very well on that end.”
“According to my estimates, we will be able to release our entire cache of flora and fauna to the ‘wild’ in exactly… ten days. In fact, the work is almost entirely over.”
“Ten days?” Last week, the ETA was two months; Richard had no idea what could have advanced it so much that quickly. “Did we cut the owl imports because of legal problems again?”
“No, nothing like that.” AI Dyan was much less readable than her real-life counterpart, thanks in great part to the vastly-reduced body language capabilities. “Just know that I have it on faith from Dyan herself that the project has advanced at a completely unforeseen rate, thanks in great part to your leadership abilities.”
“Yes. She’s here today to check up on the status of the facility.”
“Time travel shenanigans,” Dyan said the moment she saw Richard walking up to her in the observatory hall. “That’s all I could explain to you without getting far too deep in detail.”
“It’s very complicated.” Dyan shrugged, and Richard followed suit. She looked over at the massive forest that the west end of the hall overlooked; how they grew all those trees in six months was astounding enough, so time travel allowing someone to bring themselves back from the dead was probably not all THAT far-fetched. “It looks good, doesn’t it?”
Hannah, who was close by talking to some other workers, chimed in. “It looks great,” she said. “Though I’ve been wondering if we’re not doing something stupid here.”
Dyan cocked her head to the side. “Stupid? No, you’re stupid for thinking that.”
“I don’t mean stupid in the knowledge sense. More like, what if we’re not supposed to do something on this scale? If this is some sort of modern Tower of Babel and we’re going to come crashing down any moment?”
“Nah,” Dyan answered simply. Hannah rolled her eyes and left the conversation. Richard wondered if there was any validity to what Hannah was saying, if everything would go to shit, or even worse, a shit that couldn’t be recovered from.
“Richard, could you call Odawaa and your friend Stephen over here in just a minute?”
Once a small crowd of people had gathered in the observatory hall overlooking the forest biome, Dyan turned on a microphone connected to the PA system of the entire facility.
“Alright, is this thing on? Hello? I have no idea if this is actually on. Hopefully I don’t have to make this speech again, because I’m going to hit all the high marks now, and it’d suck the second time, I just know it.
“So we’ve been preparing for a super-special project over the past several months. It’s been very mysterious, and I know you’re all dying to find out what it’s all about. It’s kind of like the people in Oak Ridge building the Atomic Bomb, except we don’t get to end the mystery in a gigantic explosion. Honestly, I’m not going to tell any of you that don’t already know, sorry.
“Super honestly? Everyone working at the ISRFA is fired, effective immediately, please leave the premises of my station, yeah I know, ‘scientific research community’ and all that, sorry, go away. The only people who can stay are the direct team working under Richard Phylum, the maintenance technicians, and Stephen Harris. Sorry everyone else. You’re gone. There will be boats and planes leaving every day from here until next Saturday, and you’d better be gone by then. Bye.”
Dyan turned off the microphone and began walking away. “I’ll be in my office if you need me, guys.”
Stephen’s jaw was dropped. “What? Why is everyone fired? Why am I not?”
Richard patted him on the back. “Don’t bother asking. Just be glad you’re still here, I guess.”
“Does this mean I finally get to know what the project is actually about?”
Ten days after Dyan’s mass-firing, and it was the project launch date. The remaining thirty or so people that were still employed at the ISRFA gathered together in front of the desert biome overlook as Dyan prepared the probably-needlessly-elaborate launch ceremony.
“I still don’t understand any of this,” Stephen said to Richard. “So starting today, we’re just opening all the doors in the facility and letting the animals roam free for the rest of time?”
“Kind of, yeah,” Richard said. “I thought I told you that already.”
“You did. It’s just weird. Why aren’t we also letting them go outside the facility and experience the winter wonderland of Antarctica? Won’t they get cramped in here?”
“Well, for one, if you count the teleporters going to the seven other stations across the continent, the facility is like, twenty-five thousand square miles. That would be very hard to overpopulate in a short amount of time. For two, it’d wreck the climate control systems and probably kill everything. At least until all the ice sheets melt and Antarctica is habitable again.”
“When will that be?”
“Oh, come on Stephen.”
Four claps, and everyone silenced. Dyan stood up straight and pretended like she was being formal. “Alright, just getting your attention. Sorry about that. Here, let’s commence the project.” She hit a series of buttons on one of the control panels and typed in several very long override commands. “There.”
The observatory hall actually started to shake a little bit, as the massive walls separating all of the enclosures and biomes and everything else sunk into the Earth and disappeared. There was now absolutely nothing underneath the observatory hall except for the floor, half a mile below. Richard tried desperately not to think about that because she had a very bad fear of heights.
“The experiment has begun!” Dyan shouted. Everyone clapped.
Then everyone went silent for a moment.
“Uh, yeah.” Dyan nodded her head, as if she were listening to some good music.“Good experiment, huh?”
“So…” Hannah trailed off before she continued that thought.
Then there was a large thud. And another.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
“What was that?” Stephen asked.
Richard saw Dyan. Dyan, for the very first time, looked completely uncertain about what was going to happen next.