Monday, 21 November 2011

The Model

For the eighty seventh time Chris watched the recording of the model extrapolation through each generation of genotype expression. The cold hard fear that he had felt the first few times he had watched it was now gone and a numbness had taken its place. There was nothing for it but to take a “scientific” attitude to the results and to continue to try and refute them. He’d changed the starting parameters a dozen times. He’d changed the weightings on all of the phenotype modules. He’d varied everything down to even changing things that were totally unlikely to happen in nature like the number of offspring per female and the expected lifetime density function. Nothing he had done had changed the outcome that was again staring him in the face.

The BOINC project he had started as part of the support for his PhD thesis had been running on somewhere in excess of two hundred million devices in the grid. Each of those devices had something like eight cores available for use so that the total number of “individuals” in the model was typically well in excess of a billion. Sure that was well below the world’s current population of ten billion but surely it was enough? Maybe the basic theories implemented in the model were just plain wrong? He’d run each module’s specifications past each of the review boards specialists and they had been checked and cross checked. The only options left would take the model to where, well, that was the point wasn’t it – deviation of the primary modules would mean starting with something that was exactly what the outcome was repeatedly pointing to: non-human.

The first time that he had accepted that the grid runs were pointing to something decidedly disturbing his mind had flashed back to an old movie he had seen as a boy – “the Time Machine” by H G Wells. A world far in the future where the race had split into two evolutionary lines – one that was made up of sexually very attractive but intellectually moronic “sheep” and one that was made up of monstrous extrapolations of humans – super intelligent, physically superior but frighteningly non-humans who’s main food source was the “sheep”. It was only a story - just a story from the rich imagination of Wells. This was different. This was as real as it was ever going to get without actually running it “for real”. And this was not like Well’s story where the Eloi and Morlocks lived so far in the future that it really did not matter. This was happening right now. In fact, the only acceptable conclusion he could draw from the results was that it had already started. What had been labeled as psychiatric disorders and CEO “personality” were clear signs the process was well under way.

Who could he tell? Whereas Well’s story had conveniently split the species into clearly identifiable lines, here, there was no way to tell by just looking whether you were dealing with one group or another. That there was a clear distinction seemed now to be irrefutable. In fact Chris knew he could define a DNA test that would show clearly whether someone was in one evolutionary stream or the other. But who would ever back such a project?

Chris spent the next few hours preparing an interim report for Holly, his supervisor. At least she’d better know. He could not sit on this forever though the thought of destroying everything and dropping out of his PhD course had crossed his mind at least several times a day. He’d always answered those thoughts with the same line though – it was just a matter of time before another student came along with the same idea. That’s how ideas worked – when their time was ripe they emerged all by themselves. Oh well, so be it. He set up a slide presentation with sample phenotypes from both ends of the predicted ring species of the model. He picked a few hundred samples at random and ordered them by first by gender and time and then by group with the group he’d come to call the ‘Eloi’ first and the ‘Morlocks’ second. He finished up with various tables of stats and some graphs of time-lines and population distributions. As an afterthought he added a final slide that was simply the words “this presentation will self destruct in 5 seconds”. Might as well laugh at it all. There was really nothing else anyone could do. That was the problem. The model allowed for no other end result. He locked the presentation with two separate quantum keys one of which he coded to his DNA and age with an expiry of twelve months and one to Holly’s DNA and an expiry of thirty days. She’d have to come to him for another copy after that but he’d have finished his final report by then.

“Sibby, call Holly and ask her if she can spare me twenty minutes this morning.”

“Ok Chris.” His phone responded.

While he waited he prepared another few runs. These though he opened up to a much more varied set of outcomes by relaxing every weighting constraint. He also linked the “black swan” generator to a random web search. These changes would mean each run would take weeks and would most likely produce completely meaningless results or simply terminate with all populations dying off completely with each population centre dwindling around one strange attractor or another. But there seemed no point wasting the trillions of process cycles he’d painstakingly acquired over the two years of his project. If he didn’t use them they’d be wasted on some SETI project or would be grabbed by some financial freaks in the quantum labs to run some advanced “algol” models with the hope they could sell the results and themselves to “the Squids” as the ruling class had come to be called since world denationalization earlier in the century.

Sibby: “She can see you now Chris. She said bring some chocolate if you expect it might take more than a quarter hour. She likes coconut creams remember?”

“Thank’s Sibby. Yes, I remember, you can stop reminding me now.”

“Ok Chris.”

He picked up some chocolates and coffee on the way to Holly’s office on the eastern campus block. His car quickly go-linked to a set of three speeding their way across the city to the same region and his car decoupled just before the campus off ramp. He left the car to park itself and made his way through security checks to her department. The door was open so he walked straight in plonked the food offerings on her desk then went back and closed and locked the door.

“Oh, Chris, all these years and finally you’re going to make a move on me.”

“Holly, you’re old enough to be my mum no matter how gorgeous you are and I’m not going to risk you failing me if we were to have a fling that turned into a disaster. You’ll maybe understand the door when you’ve seen my report. You’re going to have to give up some skin to see it – it’s quantum locked. You can get to it from your link to my course blog though it’s only visible to you.”

He sat down facing her and she looked at him for a while before raising each of her eyebrows one after another as she often did when she was attempting to look perplexed – which she never was. Holly was a polymath – an absolute genius and Chris knew he was very lucky to have her as his supervisor though her personality quirks were a bit much at times.

She quickly zoned into the blog through her CAT (computer aided thought) interface and the various contents were then visible above the holopad. He directed her to the glowing gold safe threecon that was visible near the top where he’d left it and she placed her hand in the DNA scanner to open it. The first slide of the presentation then emerged: an incredibly beautiful young woman with distinctly Asian features.

“I can see you are trying to make me feel jealous.” Said Holly glancing my way before thinking to the next slide – another young woman who was even more beautiful than the first.

He sat and watched her go through the slides as each showed a woman more beautiful than the one before.

“How many generations between samples?”

“About eighty. It varies with other factors like the impact of the climate and resource modules.”

“Where are the males? I bet they’ll be more to my liking.” She smiled at him but he just sat there. She’d get to the male samples soon enough. He’d purposefully left out most of the transition phenotypes and gone straight to near the cycle end males of the ‘Eloi’ side of the ring. He needed her to feel the impact that he had felt the first time he’d sat there alone stepping through the results of the first model run.

She looked enquiringly at him again but he said “just keep going Holly.”

The last of the ‘Eloi’ girls was above the pad now and he watched Holly’s face carefully as she thought to the next slide. As the image blinked into view her face contorted into something he’d never seen on any human’s face in his entire life. True and total horror. He watched then as her expression flicked through all the stages of “grief” in quick succession to finally settle on a look he had no trouble identifying: disappointment. And anger.

“I’m sorry Chris but there is something I thought you’ve understood about me since you were an undergraduate. I don’t take kindly to student pranks even form grad students.”

“Holly, I’m very unhappy to tell you this but it’s not a prank. I’ve kept these results back from you for three months just so I could rerun the simulations another sixty or so times.”

“Then there’s clearly something wrong with your models.”

“Holly, you and the other professors have all checked and rechecked the modules. After all, every module came from one team or another of your list of accredited models. Every module has at least three different source models. There’s no mistake. These are the outcomes.”

He watched her while she went back to kaleidoscoping her face through sequences of feelings and thoughts while she brought her prodigious mental powers to bear on where the flaws might be. As she’d think up each possible flaw he’d counter with the work he’d done to deal with that possibility. This went on for almost an hour until eventually she just sat there staring at the ‘Eloi’ male with a look of abject loss on her face.

“Holly. You’ve only looked at one side of the ring. You need to look at the other. It starts about twenty slides further along after the last of the ‘Eloi’ males.”

He watched her steel herself for what was to come. She tried hard and he felt a pang of guilt as he realized how this was affecting her. She clicked through each of the increasingly large and grotesque ‘Eloi’ males until she got to the first of the ‘Morlock’ females. He’d chosen fewer samples for the ‘Morlock’ display as the impact of the ‘Eloi’ males was enough to convey the enormity of the results. She clicked through and periodically asked a question or two but her heart was no longer in it or rather her mind wasn’t – her interaction with the presentation was now entirely visceral and emotional and the only expression her face seemed to be able to hold on to for any length of time was loathing. The last slide evoked neither reaction or smoke.

“What about breed back?” She asked finally after she had finished the slides and sat there for a while.

“It might be possible for one end of the ring to breed back to a viable interbreeding line but the model moves into the realm of science fiction when I push it to have both ends of the ring actively breeding back to lines that might be compatible. Problem is that the further the lines progress from the starting point the less likely either end is going to want to see the other end of the ring as attractive enough to do it. On the one hand you have the ‘Eloi’ who will just not be smart enough and on the other you’ve got the ‘Morlock’ who do not breed on the same principles of attraction as the ‘Eloi’. As you can see from the results the ‘Morlock’ line breeds for smaller bodies and larger brains and can you imagine a ‘Morlock’ male having any chance at all against one of those male ‘Eloi’ monsters?”

They sat in silence for a while. Finally she stood and as he stood too she looked at him hard and cold.

“Chris, I’m going to dig up one of my old unpublished papers and put your name on it and then submit it on your behalf as your final thesis. It may raise a few eyebrows seeing as it will only be vaguely related to what you have been doing but the quality will be enough to quell any discussion. I’ll sign off on that thesis. You can consider yourself a PhD as of this moment. But now I want you to destroy your work. I will organize a post doctoral project for you working under me. It will have just the one goal – you are to head off anyone else who looks like following your lines of research. If any hint of these findings gets out I do not have any doubt that someone will come after us both.”

He looked at her for a while before responding. “Just how long are we to keep this up?”

“Until the crash. After that it won’t matter. Once geographic isolation has been established there will be nothing that can stop the outcome. Your model will prove itself or reality will show that you should never have earned your PhD.” She smiled but it was not a smile full of mirth but a mask of grim acceptance stretched over a face that suddenly looked a lot older than its thirty eight years.

He smiled the same grimace back at her and turned to leave.

“Chris, one more thing?”

He waited.

“The ends of the ring – where are they geographically located?”

“The ‘Morlock’ end is based around New York. The other end is in China – that’s why the girls are all so beautiful – they had already been breeding for beauty there for more than five thousand years but there’s been enough variation to keep the males small and competitive.”

He paused at the door before he left.


“Yes Chris.”

“This post doctoral project you have in mind for me.”


“Would it be OK with you if I relocated to China to do the work?”

She looked at him with that characteristic smirk of hers that every male student had come to cherish.

(if you liked this story you might also like the land of skinny people)

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