The investors sat in the viewing room, each in their own plush chair, which were positioned perfectly so that no one investor’s view could be blocked by another. The room, like a lecture hall or a movie theater, had steps of seating extending upward toward the back. A waiter in a dapper suit stood at each corner of the seating array, ready to respond to the investor’s needs.
Dr. Ethine found the whole affair to be mired in ridiculous extravagance. This room didn’t even need to be constructed in the facility in order for it to function. If he was honest, there hadn’t been a need to construct this facility at all, in order to complete their task. It was useful, to be sure, and it made their working conditions top-notch — but sometimes he looked at it and considered what a frivolous expense it all was, when they could have used a tech lab somewhere that already existed.
Behind him, a large, curved screen took up the majority of the wall. It would be the focus of today’s exhibition. The investors, as a group, had chosen this as their viewing method for the results of their investments. The majority of them were getting on in years, and the idea of a more involved experience using the immersion units made them uncomfortable.
Yes, the room spoke of extravagance — comfortable chairs, plush carpeting, rich wooden wall panels, and an incredibly expensive high fidelity screen. Dr. Ethine supposed, however, that this entire project was merely the result of the whims of rich men, who had money to spend on something they thought might be interesting, regardless of whether it might gain them anything.
Right now, the screen was mostly black, with only a floating white symbol in its center. The symbol would be unknown to the majority of those gathered. It was a confusing nest of lines and dots tied together into an artful circle. Dr. Ethine knew its origins, and even most of its meanings, but the investors did not.
Dr. Ethine’s Integrated Cerebral Environment displayed a panel of light, hovering at the corner of his vision. He tapped a button there, and his microphone linked to the speaker system in the room.
“Greetings, ladies and gentlemen,” Dr. Ethine said. “I’m glad you all could make it today to view the fruits of our labors, and the amazing results that your investments have allowed us to achieve.”
With the illusory controls provided by his ICE, Dr. Ethine connected to the display behind him. It transitioned from its waiting screen to a still photo of a small room filled, from floor to ceiling and on all four sides, with a massive computing terminal.
“There are those among you who have toured the facility in its entirety, and those who have not. If you haven’t seen it, what I’m showing you on the screen right now is the heart of our entire project.”
He pointed at the screen, and where he pointed, his ICE created a small point of light to highlight his selection. “Here, you see the size of the computational equipment required for our project. There’s actually about three times as much computing power here as we need for the present state of the project, but given its nature, we wanted to build in some redundancies.”
He pointed to another part of the screen. “This is a dispenser for a special flame-retardant gel, which has been formulated so as not to damage the equipment. Next to it is a dispenser for a second chemical which dissolves the gel once the fire has been dealt with.
“Of course, both of these are a backup should our primary defense fail to take effect. The space outside of this room is kept in a vacuum. In the event of a fire, this room, too, can be swiftly and efficiently be voided of all air and other particles, thanks to the ether-powered pumps we keep in the vacuum chamber.
Dr. Ethine gestured, and the image switched to one of that vacuum chamber, where rows of ether generators surrounded the computer room. “Here we see the ether generators.” He highlighted two of them. “These two are the regular ether generators, which power the vacuum equipment.” Dr. Ethine highlighted the rest of them. “These are the violet ether generators. They are used to power the computing terminal.”
He paused. “This entire project is made possible because of the nature of violet ether. Without its discovery, and without the advances made in this last decade in harvesting it from the planet’s etheric aura, our project would not have had nearly the same results.”
He looked to his audience, and smiled at the bored yet patient faces. “I’m sure none of you came here for this part of the explanation, though, did you?” There were some raised eyebrows and faint nods, but no vocal response. That was fine. Dr. Ethine hadn’t expected it. “Welcome to the world we’ve built, gentlemen.”
The still image disappeared. In its place was the living image of a planet, not vastly different from their own, with a sea of clouds sweeping over many small continents splashed across a brilliant blue ocean. One larger landmass dominated the southern hemisphere of the planet.
Only the sun made this world immediately recognizable as something foreign, if the observer didn’t have enough knowledge of geography to recognize the vastly different array of the landmasses. The sun of Ioros, Dr. Ethine’s planet, was a brilliant sphere that rotated around Ioros in a predictable pattern.
Well, programmers and scientists alone couldn’t create something so vibrantly alive as the world they had constructed in their simulation. No, Dr. Ethine’s staff also included a large number of artists, and among them were those who had wondered what a world would be like if the sun was something vastly different from that to which they were accustomed. At the project’s start, they had managed to catch the interest of the physicists, as well.
Thus it was that, rather than a spherical sun which rotated around the world, Neos had a sun in the form of a giant torus, stretched thin, which encircled the planet like a ring. Its light caused a band of day to pass around the planet, meaning that two poles of the planet were dimmer at all times, rather than one half of it, as Ioros experienced.
The primary effects this had upon the planet was that it had no room for a moon, and that no part of it ever experienced a night nearly as dark as though on Ioros. Also, as the artists had predicted and as Dr. Ethine’s current viewpoint showed, it looked extremely cool.
“This is Neos,” Dr. Ethine said, giving the screen a grand gesture. “We are currently viewing it through Deity, which is the somewhat cheeky name my crew has assigned the program that allows us to view any and all parts of the planet at any time. Deity is exempt from the world’s rules of physics, and can thusly travel past the speed of light.”
Dr. Ethine gestured, and the planet receded into the distance. The sun stood out golden amongst a field of stars in far more shades than those surrounding Ioros. “This allows us to zoom out on a whim and reposition the ‘camera.’ It also allows us to zoom in.”
With another gesture, the field of view took a sickening lurch forward. In a flash the planet filled the entire screen. The camera whipped through the clouds and sped toward the ground, though it didn’t stop there. Faster than the eye or the mind could follow, it drew in closer and closer. Dr. Ethine watched in amusement as several of the investors shifted in their seats, bracing themselves for a crash. It did not come.
“This is nearly as close as Deity allows us to zoom,” Dr. Ethine said. The screen now displayed the individual cells of something alive, with no loss of focus or clarity. “Originally we had planned to program Deity to be able to view things even to the molecular level, but both our physicists and our programmers decided against it. Our biologist, however, are quite happy with this level of focus.”
He zoomed out once more, slowly this time, in comparison to his previous speeds. The cell was revealed to be that of a flowering plant growing in a cultivated row, though the species of plant, while showing hints of relation to real plants on Ioros, was unfamiliar. The biologists in Dr. Ethine’s employ had given it a name and an identification, but he doubted the investors were interested in such minute details.
“Of course, for the rest of us, it’s this level of zoom which is the most interesting.” He panned out, just a bit more, and revealed to the investors a village, with homes woven of the long, stiff grasses that waved in the distance. “Here are the people of Neos. Or at least, some of them.
“Our interference with the development of Neos has been limited, if not minimal. We created a variety of animal and plant species, which were mostly exact copies of those found on our homeworld. We also created humankind on Neos, since our investors as well as our biologists and anthropologists expressed great interest in seeing how humans might evolve and change on a world different from our own, without any of our culture as a baseline for their behavior.”
“We ran the first hundred years of the simulation at ten times the speed of our reality. Now, we’re running at one two times the speed.” Dr. Ethine indicated the buildings the humans on which he focused had constructed. “The humans in this grassland biome have learned to construct homes from the sturdy grasses that surround them. They’ve learned how to cultivate edible plants, as well.”
He panned to another part of the settlement. “They’ve also begun domesticating certain types of animals. As you can see, this village has begun to domesticate a type of deer, both as a food source and as service animals.”
He zoomed in on a woman in the village, then slowed his view of the simulation down to half the speed of reality’s passage of time. “As you can see, the humans of Neos look a bit different than those of Ioros. That’s to be expected, of course, given the different environment and the lack of interaction between the two, after we initially placed what we might refer to as the prototypes for humanity.”
The woman had long, silky hair of mahogany brown, which fell in waves across her shoulders and down around her body, where she had plaited it to cover her chest. Her skin tone didn’t match that of any human found on Ioros. Instead, it had a golden hue reminiscent of dark honey, which was contrasted by eyes the color of azure ice.
He used deity to pan over other inhabitants of the village, still viewing the simulation at one-quarter of its current speed, though of course in the background the simulation chugged on despite the speed at which he viewed it. All of the people had that same honey-gold skin, with slight variants in tone, and all had vibrant eyes in colors ranging from blue to green to yellow.
“Of course, the people on the other side of the world look a bit different.” He gestured. Deity caught up to the simulation’s current time, then took him to the opposite side of the planet, to a village he had selected before.
Here, the people had built their homes of stone and clay. He pointed out their differences — the shape of their ears and noses, the fact that their eyes were all different shades of brown and tan, and the faint reddish hue to their skin and hair.
He slowed his viewpoint down to real time, and let Deity play the sounds of the village for the investors. The villagers spoke in an unfamiliar language, with no familiarity to it at all. Dr. Ethine didn’t detect a single cognate with a language he knew. It made him smile, though the investors didn’t look nearly as invested.
He did this four more times, swapping to different human settlements around the world, on different pieces of land separated by the wide oceans. Each group of humanity looked different, and each looked different from those found on Ioros. Each spoke a different language. One had developed a beautiful written language, from which the word knot on his opening screen had been taken. The only difference they shared in common was that, because of the ring-shaped sun, the people of Neos tended to be darker overall.
They went about their lives just like real people. Primitive people, to be sure. It would be many centuries before they reached the level of technology currently enjoyed on Ioros. The true miracle of them, as Dr. Ethine made clear to the investors, was that they really were just like real people, in more ways than one. They were not just preprogrammed artificial intelligences.
“There were some things we did not program into our simulation which we were surprised to find existed within it nonetheless,” Dr. Ethine said, after he was satisfied that he had given a good tour of Neos. “As you may or may not know, discoveries in the last year have vastly upset our understanding of certain areas of science. The Neos simulation was already far, far along its path of progress before these discoveries were made public, and therefore there was no way for our programmers to include them in the simulation. Yet, without our input, they are present.”
This, finally, drew the investors’ attention. They had not known he would be telling them anything like this. It had been a closely guarded secret amongst his staff until now.
“If you’ve followed the news, or if you keep up to date in any way with new scientific discoveries, then you know that we’ve discovered that every person is made up of three components.” Dr. Ethine exited Deity and brought up an illustration to further clarify his point. “We all have bodies, which our science has believed for aeons to be the only component to us that matters. Religions and other spiritual systems of belief have often presented the idea of the spirit and the soul, but given the lack of proof of their existence, science has often cast those terms aside as superstitious.”
Dr. Ethine highlighted a portion of the diagram on the screen, an irregular shape of white light in the middle of an outline of a human body. “This is a soul. It exists, and it is real, and it is apparently quite necessary to the existence of every human being, and every other being on the planet besides.”
He highlighted another portion of the diagram, a glowing purple beacon within the head of the outlined body. “This is the spirit. This is the part of us that thinks and feels and believes. It is not merely a function of the brain, as we believed for so long, but a function of something beyond the brain.”
“It turns out that, as we knew before this discovery, the body actually attracts ether from the planet’s etheric aura when we are born. It is an essential part of our function. The spirit, in turn, attracts what we’ve taken to calling violet ether.” He pointed at the soul. “The soul attracts a third type of ether, which we’ll call golden ether, which is extremely scarce but equally necessary.”
“I won’t go into much greater detail about these three types of ether, nor the three parts of beings, because if I’m honest, that’s the extent of my understanding.” He held out his hands. “This is far beyond my area of expertise. I am a programmer at heart. What I’ve brought you here today to tell you is something marvellous, magical, and impossible.”
“When this discovery was published, some of my colleagues here — and yes, it IS their area of expertise — decided to test the people within the Neos simulation.” Dr. Ethine shook his head. “They did so without permission or warning that they would do so, because they believed that they would turn up no results. They did not want us to ridicule them.
“I find it incredibly fortuitous that they acted as they did, because, thanks to them, we have knowledge of something like the world has never seen. The people within the Neos simulation, the artificial humans that we believe we created, are real. They are real people living on what is to them a real world. We know this because they have souls. They have spirits. They attract ether from our own planet’s ether sphere, and they exist — truly, actually exist — within the simulation.”
“Gentlemen, we didn’t set out to do this. We didn’t know it was possible. Maybe you invested in our project on a whim, or with a belief we would achieve something amazing. Whatever your reasons, you are part of this. We have created life.”