Was the super-continent of Pangaea split because of a management dispute? Is the biblical flood the earliest evidence of why “technology and water don’t mix”? If you always suspected that mass extinctions, such as the Black Death, had an otherworldly reason, you just might be right. Is there a real message hidden in the mysterious manuscripts that human sages and savants have created through the generations? Is there life out there, beyond our planet, and why has none of it shown up on Earth yet?
Earth-Sim is a unique spin on the history of Earth and the history of mankind. What if Earth and the entire universe were actually part of a simulation program? What if the most iconic and memorable events in Earth’s history were decisions (or more frequently accidents) triggered by two college students, Jem Moran and Kir Davos, who are still sorting out the finer points of working together and more importantly, still arguing over the finer points of planetary management?
Bring your sense of humor. Earth-Sim is frequently whimsical and often irreverent. Either way, you finally have someone to blame for the state the world is in.
Definition of SIMULATION
1: the act or process of simulating
2: a sham object: counterfeit
3a: the imitative representation of the functioning of one system or process by means of the functioning of another
3b: examination of a problem often not subject to direct experimentation by means of a simulating device
– The Merriam-Webster Dictionary
A roomful of business-suited graduate students could make the most confident undergraduate feel like a gauche freshman again. With poise she did not feel, Jem Moran wove her way to an empty seat and settled into a chair set close to the ground. Neural receptors built into the chair’s synthetic alloy frame analyzed her brain waves; the chair adjusted to her unspoken desires, boosting the seat off the ground and emitting a subtle heat to keep her comfortably acclimated.
Once settled, Jem glanced around. The classroom was one of the smallest on the Itibar University campus, with just enough seats for forty students. She concealed a smirk as a young man scrambled into the room on the heels of Professor Jahn Ptera. At least I’m not the last to arrive.
The remaining seat was at the back of the class, but the professor held out his hand before the student could make a dash for the chair. “Just wait here. We’ll be heading into the simulation laboratory in few minutes anyway.”
Equal measures of excitement and consternation flickered across the faces of her classmates. Jem supposed that the army of drunken butterflies in her stomach could be translated as “consternation.” Personally, she would have classified the sensation as “barely concealed panic.”
The professor, who looked like an old but still dashing movie star, smiled at the many faces staring at him. “Welcome to SIM-709. I’m not unaware of the effort that each of you put in to be accepted for this class, and I want to thank you for your enthusiasm. Make sure you hold on to that feeling. It is a yearlong class. Enthusiasm and energy can fade. Don’t let them; a world depends on you.” He chuckled at his little joke. “I’m transmitting a list of team assignments to your personal devices. Check it out, and find your partners while I get the androids in here.”
Like most communication and data organization devices, Jem’s personal device was built into a metallic band she wore around her wrist and connected to the neural processors implanted in her brain. A single thought summoned the interface; a swirl of colors coalesced in front of her into a palm-sized screen. Another focused thought located the list that the professor had sent.
Jem scanned it quickly. Her name was paired with Kir Davos.
She groaned aloud when she saw the hologram associated with the name of her assigned partner. It was the student who had arrived late for class, and like her, Kir was a senior, the only two in a class full of graduate students.
Damn. They were set up to fail.
She would have to make sure they did not.
Jem did not bother with the name of the android. The androids were all identical anyway, if not in appearance, then at least in function.
A lovely voice, too fluid and cultured to be real, interrupted her thoughts. “Good morning, I am SimOne.”
“Jem Moran.” Jem stood up and nodded, first at the android and then at Kir Davos who stood beside SimOne. The flash of irritation was so familiar that Jem scarcely felt it anymore. She had never understood the business logic of making androids look extraordinary. Why would anyone want to be overshadowed by a machine? Next to SimOne’s long-legged, blond-haired beauty, Jem felt short and plain. The fact that her appearance just then was not her real one was irrelevant; the point was that she liked her spiky brown hair, snub nose, and large brown eyes. Looking ordinary and blending into the crowd were blessings she would never take for granted.
Kir, at least, was as ordinary as she was. He was short, though he still had two inches on her. His dark hair was neatly cropped and his features were unremarkable, save for his bright brown eyes and his enviably long eyelashes.
Her gaze shuttled between Kir and SimOne. They looked back. No one said anything.
Before their silence became awkward, the professor’s voice interjected over the noise of other conversations. “Now that you’ve formed your teams, let’s head into the lab. Once you’re in there, your android will show you the way to your planet.”
The titanium-reinforced double doors in the back of the classroom opened up into the simulation laboratory. Jem followed SimOne into the laboratory and froze when light vanished into the darkness of space. Her jaw dropped, and her eyes were wide with wonder. It was impossible to tell how large the room really was when there were no visible ceilings, floors, or walls by which to measure scale. The simulation extended in all directions around her, even above and below her.
The professor’s disembodied voice spoke though an invisible sound system. “You are supported by an anti-gravity system that will allow you to move freely in three dimensions around the laboratory. The simulation’s central command system is also attuned to your intended destination, and it will condense space to get you to your planets more quickly. Don’t be surprised by the changing scenery. We’ll continue the briefing when you’ve found your planets.”
Jem lost sight of her other classmates as their androids led them in different directions. She followed SimOne, occasionally glancing back to confirm that Kir tagged along. Together, they walked into a spiral galaxy as massive as a storefront display on Coronation Avenue. The lights that swirled tightly around them spun apart as the simulation’s central command system reversed the effects of space condensation. The faint gleam of the small star closest to them expanded into a large yellow star the size of the SIM-709 classroom. Planets churned into existence seemingly out of nothing, although in reality, they were merely emerging from the unpacking of the space-time continuum.
SimOne stopped on the outer edges of the star system. “We are here.”
For all its apparent size, Jem knew that the star system was tiny. She had personally traveled through star systems with four times as many planets and accompanying satellites.
Kir, however, looked impressed. “Are we supposed to manage the entire star system?”
“No, just the third planet.” SimOne stepped past the much larger planets whirling in elliptic orbits around their yellow star and pointed to a small planet the size of a human head. “Identification number 280-934-6253-4726-349573.”
Their assigned planet was less impressive than the star system. The planet’s surface was covered in water, except for a single, large landmass. Jem ground her teeth. They were starting out with nothing.
The professor’s voice spoke again. “All right, the androids confirm you’ve all arrived at your planets, so let’s get started. First, your android is your team’s interface with the simulation’s central command system. The androids will execute the orders you give. Of course, you can also directly manipulate the planet. The planets are real, as are the things on them, so please be very careful. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is a multi-year project. SIM-709 had its inaugural class last year, and those students set things in motion. They determined the laws controlling the universe—you have no idea how long those discussions took—and then each team was assigned a planet to manage. Your android has access to records of the decisions the teams made. I recommend you take the time to review the records.”
The professor paused briefly. “Adan Treb has a question: can we make different decisions? The short answer is ‘yes.’ The longer answer is, ‘this is your world.’ You’re making the decisions now. Within the constraints set by the greater rules of the game, the universe, you can make any decision you want. Just remember that it is a multi-year game. You’d want to have something—preferably alive—to hand off to the next team. By the end of the year, I’d like you to come up with something to call your planet other than its assigned identification number. Any other questions?”
“Can you please explain the rules or goals around the competition?” Jem asked.
There was a barely perceptible lag as SimOne conveyed the question to the central command system, which passed it on to the professor. “Jem Moran had a question about the goal of the competition. It’s both simple and incredibly difficult. Create a world worth living in. You were selected for your depth of knowledge in specific fields or breadth across many fields of study. SIM-709 is where it all comes together—physics, chemistry, biology, geology, mathematics, sociology, philosophy, psychology, the fine arts. The judges are professors from the university as well as experts and leaders in industry. They’ll review your progress throughout the year, and the winners will be announced at the commencement ceremony. Other questions?”
“One more thing,” the professor said. “You can directly manipulate your planet, but not other planetary systems or interstellar objects. Put simply, in the event of a planetary war, you cannot stand in front of your planet and swat away alien spaceships. This simulation isn’t a test of your reflexes, though you may think it is. It’s a test of your planetary management skills. All interactions with other planets must be conducted indirectly through the life forms on your own planets, the managers of the other planets, or the central command system. Don’t bother trying to get around that particular rule. The central command system will not permit it.”
Jem rolled her eyes. It was a relief to know that no other team would be able to spin her planet out of orbit and into the yellow star.
The professor’s voice continued. “No other questions? Well, if you need anything, I’m here during the scheduled class sessions, and of course, your android is always available to interface with your world or give you a tour of the universe. Your names have been registered with campus security to provide you with full access to the laboratory at any time. The simulation is going to take more than five credits worth of time each semester, but I’m sure you were already aware of that. Go ahead and get started. Have fun out there.”
Jem swallowed hard. Great. No pressure. SIM-709 was the most prestigious simulation competition on Sylvania, the ruling planet of the Etherian quadrant. She looked at her two partners, Kir and SimOne. “Shall we?”
“I guess so.” Kir shrugged. “So, what do we know about this piece of rock? Well, SimOne?” he asked explicitly, when the android remained silent.
“Forgive me, Kir Davos. You said ‘we.’ I wasn’t aware that you knew anything about this planet, and I didn’t want to speak for you.”
Jem suppressed a chuckle. Androids with attitudes. Who had programmed her?
Kir grinned, too. “What do you know about this planet?”
“It is young relative to other planets in the universe, and has completed four billion revolutions around its star. The planet’s surface consists of liquid and rock. The poles are covered with solid ice or sea ice. The planet’s exterior can be considered stable. However, the planet’s interior remains active. It has a solid inner core made of iron, a liquid outer core, as well as a thick, relatively solid mantle.”
“A liquid core? That doesn’t sound stable to me,” Kir said.
Jem agreed. “There’s probably a fair degree of geological activity. What about the crust? Is it moveable?” Cautiously she poked a finger at the large land mass, and it shifted slightly. Water sloshed over its edges. “It’s definitely not stable. It’s not even attached.”
“It looks like we have our work cut out for us,” Kir said. At least they agreed on that point. “Can you describe the crust, SimOne?”
“It is primarily silicate.”
“Primarily like fifty-one percent or—”
“Ninety percent,” SimOne confirmed.
“So we have silicon-based life forms on this planet?” Kir asked.
“No. The life forms are carbon-based.”
Jem’s eyebrows furrowed. “Wait, the crust is ninety percent silicate, but the life forms are carbon-based?”
“Carbon-based life is more reactive,” Kir interjected before SimOne could reply.
“That would fit with everything we’ve learned about this planet so far, then,” Jem said irritably. “We should just delete the word ‘stable’ from our vocabulary.”
Kir laughed. Somehow, she did not get the sense that he was laughing at her. “Carbon atoms tend to form long chains, making them both stable and reactive, whereas silicon tends to form crystal lattices, making them far less likely to re-combine in different permutations to support life.”
“Are you a carbon chauvinist?” she asked him.
He grinned. “As a carbon-based life form myself, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to you.”
“Mechanical engineering, then I wised up and switched to the Business school instead.”
“Is that a good ‘hmm’ or a bad ‘hmm’?”
Jem smiled thinly. “We’ll have an entire year to find out. I’m majoring in Biology and Philosophy.”
“Hmm…” Kir took on an air of studied thoughtfulness. “I’m a little afraid for our world now.”
“Great. You’re catching on. I became afraid for it ten minutes ago. Zero stability.”
“Change is a good thing. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
“Dying counts as change too,” Jem pointed out.
“Fair point.” Kir looked at the android. “How are you getting information out of the planet? Do you have sensors implanted?”
“Yes, we do.” SimOne held out her hand. From the base of her palm, light emerged and took on the form of a gelatinous circular mass with long, trailing tentacles. It shimmered, pale and translucent, undulating with unnatural grace.
“Cnidarians?” Jem’s eyes widened. “You implanted Cnidarian sensors on the planet?”
The android inclined her head, the gesture stately. “Zaaf Farron made that decision last year. Given the abundance of water on the planet, Cnidarian sensors appeared to be the most viable strategy for monitoring the planet.”
“But what about the landmass?” Jem asked.
“Blattodea sensors.” The light flickered and the image of the Cnidarian sensor gave way to a much less enchanting picture. Six tri-segmented legs, each ending in five claws, supported a broad, flat body, a small head, and most importantly, two long and quivering antenna. The Blattodea sensor spread its wings to display a set of membranous hind wings beneath the protective layer of its thicker front wings.
Jem sighed, more motion than sound.
“Bad news?” Kir asked.
“It could be better. The Cnidarian sensors will be probably be all right, but Blattodea sensors tend to be more trouble than they’re worth. They’re incredibly hardy though, which—given the instability of the planet—is a huge point in their favor. SimOne, can you please send the archives of the planet’s activity and sensor reports to me?”
Kir did not ask for the planet’s archives, which did not bode well. Jem tried to keep her voice even. “What kind of life forms are on the planet right now, SimOne?”
“There are limited forms of flora, marine, and terrestrial fauna. Would you like me to transmit the information to you as well, Kir Davos?”
He shook his head. “Not yet, and it’s just ‘Kir.’ I’m surprised the planet didn’t progress further in four billion revolutions. I’d have expected a great deal more bio-diversity.”
Jem did, too. A hard knot formed in the pit of her stomach. “Did something happen recently, SimOne?”
“Yes, Jem Moran. Summer vacation happened. The planet was unmonitored for three months. I am sorry to report that ninety-six percent of all marine species and seventy percent of terrestrial vertebrate species are now extinct. Fifty-seven percent of all families and eighty-three percent of all genera were killed, including the only known mass extinction of insects to date.”
A stunned silence followed SimOne’s announcement. Jem dragged a hand through her short, dark hair. “We lost everything?”
“No. Four percent of the marine species and thirty percent of terrestrial vertebrate species survived.”
“I can do the math, SimOne,” Jem said with exasperation as she stared at the ruined planet. “Damn it. This is a piece of crap.”
“The mother of all mass extinctions,” Kir added softly.
Jem squeezed her eyes shut against the tension headache clawing through her skull. “The judges better take into account where the planet started off in the new school year or we’ll never stand a chance of winning this competition.”
“At least everything after this will be an improvement.” Kir grinned.
It had better. Jem shook her head. “I’m going to read through these reports. We’ll need to come up with a plan by tomorrow, or we’ll never be able to reverse this planet off its suicidal path.”
“I’m guessing it’s not as bad as it looks,” Kir said. “SimOne, has the planet gone through other mass extinctions?”
“Yes, but none as severe as the most recent.”
“It’ll probably recover, then,” Kir said.
“On little more than a hope and a prayer?” Jem asked. “Not very likely. We’re going to need a plan, Kir.”
He nodded amiably. “Right.”
He still had not asked for the archives. Were facts going to feature in his plan at all? Jem turned to look at SimOne. “What actually caused the mass extinction, other than neglect over the summer vacation?”
“The causes are inter-related. Volcanism, methane hydrate gasification, sea level fluctuations, anoxia, and hydrogen sulfide emissions.”
“What’s that in a language we actually understand?” Kir asked.
SimOne continued without missing a beat. “Volcanic eruptions, including flood basalt eruptions over an area of two million kilometers, resulted in dust clouds and acid aerosols. The dust clouds subsequently blocked the light from their star, disrupting photosynthesis and destroying the food chain. The aerosols washed out of the atmosphere in the form of acid rain, destroying land-based flora and fauna with calcium carbonate exoskeletons. The eruptions also released carbon dioxide, resulting in rising temperatures.”
“That is an appropriate descriptor, Kir,” SimOne said.
“What else?” Jem demanded. The headache was unavoidable at this point. The only question was whether it would escalate into a migraine.
“There’s more?” Kir asked, a note of disbelief seeping into his voice.
The android continued. “The oceans became anoxic.”
“Severely depleted of oxygen. The anaerobic sulfur-reducing organisms then dominated the chemistry of the oceans, causing massive emissions of hydrogen sulfide.”
“That would be toxic, right?” Kir asked.
“That is correct,” SimOne said.
In essence, it had been the perfect storm.
Jem sighed. “Life on this planet is so fragile.” She looked up when Kir chuckled; he wore an expression of wide-eyed innocence.
“If we had silicon-based life forms instead, they might have…” Kir’s face relaxed into a grin when she scowled at him. He chuckled again, his brown eyes crinkling at the edges. “Never mind.”
“Very funny, Davos.”
“Then why aren’t you laughing?”
“Because I’m still wondering if I should cry. Can’t you see? This planet is a wreck.”
“Yes, but it’s our wreck.”
She turned her back on him.
He rushed after her as she stormed out of the laboratory. “Okay, all right. It was a bad joke. I’m sorry.”
She blinked sharply, recoiling from the bright lights in the classroom as the darkness of the universe peeled back from around her. She shrugged off his hand and glowered at him.
He immediately held his arms up in a placating gesture. “I’m just trying to add a bit of levity to the situation”
“Your levity is misplaced. Let me tell you something, Davos.”
“I only call my friends by their first names. Listen carefully. I am only going to say this once. The competition is everything to me. I intend to win it. I’ll do it with or without you, but I’d much rather do it with your help. Take it seriously, please.” She waited, meeting his eyes directly.
After a long pause, he nodded. His voice was quiet. “All right. I get it. You want to win.”
It was not until he had left her alone in the classroom that she realized that he had not actually said if he would help or if he would just be a burden for the entire year.