Only a Matter of Time This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

April 28, 2010
It was set in motion: the labors of our arduous work. The endless sweat and toil I had to go through just to keep this project going another day, especially when your experiment has gone on for the better part of a decade. But seriously, for the first time, we, human beings, had created actual sentient organisms. Pretty big accomplishment, if you ask me. They’re molecular make-up made it difficult, but having them silicone-based, like we originally planned, didn’t work out. That’s an understatement. We instilled highly controlled use of the Incubator, calculations were made and triple-checked, but predicting the time frames of their evolutionary phases was near impossible. We couldn’t speed-up the necessary processes without fast-forwarding through the point in time where we should’ve added in a certain strand of DNA to keep them going. In the end, all we had were dead, tiny blocks that would’ve served a better use in the calculators years back. But this… this was different.

My team and I figured out, albeit a little by accident, how to get life started. It was the love child of bad electric wiring and a misplaced Petri dish. First, we began with radical ideas of new life forms, new molecular structures, and all that good stuff. Ugh, we should’ve known to crawl before walking, but hell, we tried pole-vaulting right off the bat. We had all the information needed to create simple carbon-based beings, naturally, we should’ve just started with carbon. Sure, more fragile than silicone to work with, but we knew what we were doing with carbon. All we needed to study was how us Homo sapiens came along. Naturally, we’d just recreate our primordial environment; plug a couple wires into some protein and enzyme-rich ooze, and voila, instant life forms. Well, technically, not instant. The Incubator made it instant. It was just one of the many scientific breakthroughs of the 23rd century. Normally, under perfect conditions, which would’ve been preferable, it’d take three weeks, but hey, you don’t want to be fickle when you have the people funding your work breathing down your neck.

“Sir, have you been talking to me this whole time?” asked a perplexed spectacled man peering from behind a screen. I’d been talking out loud in the library.

Goddammit, I’m losing it a little more everyday.
“No, sorry, I’m suppose to present a speech soon and I’m a little nervous,” I replied, covering up that accidental rant with a little smile that lasted until the stranger looked away.

I can’t help but go over the events in my mind. The project ended up being a success, that was as clear as day. What’s this soggy napkin doing on the table? This place is never clean. This strudel is absolutely delicious, however, so I guess it evens out. Sigh. So many awards, all vague ones, implying that you’ve contributed to the general beneficence of mankind. I got barraged with plenty of oddly shaped trophies. One of them looked like a foot. That’s honestly the only one I really remember. Why, that’s probably one of my most vivid memories, going up to the podium grasping the heel in-between my index finger and thumb, wonder, “What should I say, getting a toe-hold on life? Something about heeling the world of science, or that is accomplishment was no small feet.” I chuckled to myself then. I didn’t crack a joke, though. It was an important ceremony. They even had little triangular cards with your name placed in front of your seat. One does not jest at such conventions… at least not until everyone has had a decent amount to drink.

But still, most of those recollections were irrelevant. Skipped through like those pages in magazines that stand in the way of your article, probably advertising some sort of male enhancement product.

So yeah, my team and I appeared in loads of scientific journals and mainstream magazines. We caught the eyes of many big companies, too. Went to lots of parties hosted by huge conglomerates hoping to waver our scientific principles and resolutions of fact, observation, and dedications to discovery for times practical and noble causes, but mostly for mutual material gain. Gone was our world of laboratories, Petri dishes, glass vials, test tubes, and hope that our grant money would hold out until our big breakthrough, which half of us never thought would happen. Everything was an enticement. We were no considered attractive by even the pickiest of supermodels, and we would all be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy it.

It would dry up eventually, though. Even though we were capable of creating sentient life, establishing a miniature planetary eco-system to support it, along with the possibility that, with enough, a group of them might be able to set-up a simple micro-civilizations, it’s nothing without a real-life application. We had to choose a company to work with. None of us could work alone, each of us crucial to the entire process, so we weighed our options and considered each offer carefully. We made our choice, and were about to let the company we selected know, until someone a bit more generous came out way.

His name was Niola Vitrik, CEO of one of the largest multi-national companies in the world, producing everything from medical equipment to cheeseburgers to clothing. This guy held enough control over the global market and a large enough circle of influence to significantly affect a nation’s government; several simultaneously, if he were ever so inclined. Either out of fear, or the fact that the monetary sum he was offering us looked like someone fell asleep on the zero key, we accepted.

The first thing we had to do was sign multiple non-disclosure agreements. Maybe a red flag I should’ve noticed. I don’t know. It was pretty standard procedure. Should the number of cameras have startled me during the interview? Why should I have been? A company this size had to keep secrets to stay ahead. I was in a pale, dimly lit room, with fluorescent lamps, baby blue walls, and a water cooler in a corner. Were it not for while plate in the center of the table heaped with sprinkle-topped topped doughnuts, which seemed to glow in contrast with the dismal room, I would’ve felt a bit threatened. I was in a room with Isaac, my biologist, and Leila. She made some adjustments to the Incubator. Made it more efficient without botching the timeline up. We were asked a series of “routine” questions we were allowed to have personal questions, which following that, we’d finally get clearance to specific sectors of the building. Asked is maybe too weak a word. We were interrogated. Asked questions on our research, where we met, and making sure the story of our meeting to beginning and end of the project was coherent and agreed upon by the three of us. We had no idea where the rest of the guys were; perhaps in one of the many identical rooms, in one of the many identical hallways, in one of the many identical sectors. We had been cut off with the rest of our group, and the feeling pressed on me as if the pressure in the room had tripled. My eyes took long while to adjust to the intense harsh light every time I gazed off into the shadows.
“Name?”
“Ken Donolsen.”
“Date of birth?”
There was no person behind the questions, it seemed.
“August 17, 2217.”
“Residence?”
“LA, California.”
“More specifically.”
Hadn’t I already filled this out in the paperwork?
“1717 N. Oceanic Ave.”
Eventually, the questions became more invasive.
“Married?”
“No.”
“Girlfriend, relationship of some sort?”
“Yes, actually. Been in a relationship for almost a year now,” I replied fondly. I miss Rachel.
“That’s nice,” he replied with a palpable icy-edge to his voice. Or maybe I just mistook that for the absence of kindness.
“Do you find your sexual relationship important?”
“What?!” I exclaimed, astounded at the inquiry. “Why would you need to know that? What happens between her and I is strictly our business.”
The interview gave me a glare I’d expect from a cinderblock, and nonchalantly skipped the question going to the next one. I looked to my left. Leiah had long since zoned out, bored with the monotonous exchange of information, while Isaac’s face seemed to say, “Look at everything we had to go through just to get here, this surprises you?”

We later met up with the rest of the team later, and judging by the wearing in their eyes, they had shared similar experiences.

“So… what did everyone else do today?” asked Micah, our geneticist. “Can’t tell you,” responded Rachel, bacteriologist. “Same,” I heard muttered across the table. Taking a look at what adorned the walls and ceilings, I figured that if someone said anything, they’d know.

We each had a six-month contract with Niola’s Company, TrikTech, to work on a project that we weren’t suppose to be told about until our John Hancock’s were on a clean, white stack of papers. That had been two days ago. TrikTech lost no time. As soon as everything was cleared with the upstairs, we were moved into our onsite private quarters. Apparently, we wouldn’t be seeing much of anything else for a while. Nevertheless, our rooms were elegant, spacious, and full of expensive breakable stuff. We forgot about the interviews in a heartbeat.

The next week went by in a blur. We met the heads of all the departments, familiarized ourselves with the equipment, and began to ignore the all seeing eye that watched us every minute of our waking and sleeping hours.

We were then finally given our assignment, and we couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The instructions were simple enough. Redesign our life-sparking procedure so it could be scaled up or down. This puzzles us at first. While most just shrugged it off, John, the engineer, thought it was especially strange. One day after work, he came into my room, pulled me into the bathroom by the sink (the only place they told us they weren’t monitoring us, but to this day, I’m still not sure) and started going off about how it didn’t make sense and how it in no way could be a good idea to recreate life for this type of company.
“Think about it, Ken,” he told me, panting out of breath, “Why would they want to recreate life?
“I don’t know, but now is not the time,” I replied exasperated, my body screaming to take off the lab coat and just lay down and watch some TV.
“It’s just weird is all,” he muttered. I didn’t reply. He dejectedly left.

I didn’t see him the following day. At two o’clock, I started getting cold sweats as yet the fourth person came to me asking where he was, needing help setting the specifications on a machine. His thoughts and questions started echoing in my mind. Did someone hear the discussion in the bathroom? Is he in some cell somewhere being questions or tortured, like in the movies? No, no, we’re a potentially Nobel Prize winning group of scientists. That’d be an idiotic thing to do.

It eventually came to the point where out work moved at snail-pace. We could get nothing done without John. The on-site engineers, specializing in fields so obscure, most veterans of science probably hadn’t heard of them, came to our aid and tried to assist us. We were given the extension numbers to practically every PhD in the building, but they weren’t familiar with our work. They weren’t intimate with the love of our labors. The formulas and questions we so painstakingly derived from countless experiments and observations. We barely got any work done. The representative eventually told us everything was perfectly fine, and that John was performing a side-task for them. Why did he take so long to tell us? I was calmed down, at least, but it did nothing to soothe the disgruntled team that had lost nearly all momentum.

He returned after three days. I asked him what he was doing, but he told me he couldn’t say. Big surprise. Later that night, in my room, expected him to barge into my room anytime. Maybe give me some kind of theory for me to mull over and eventually deem ridiculous. He never did.

Work continued smoothly afterwards. John would sporadically disappear for hours at a time at seemingly random intervals. Sometimes our programmer would go with him, returning with tight lips and clenched teeth. None of us could get a word out of them. Not even Sandra, and boy did John like Sandra for a good while before we had hit it big. That may’ve changed. Last I’d heard, he had this thing going with a florist, but most of us hadn’t been able to see our significant other for a good while. Tanya was just inches away from ending it. Man…

There were only two weeks left, and we were on the brink of finishing the project. It was only a matter of polishing things up and making sure we had no loose ends or wires. That was the day the representative inadvertently left his tablet in the lab as something was going on in one of the control rooms. I wasn’t able to touch and scroll through the documents on it since devices like this would definitely have some sort of fingerprint sensor or facial recognition alerting the presence of unauthorized personnel. I took a look at it, and saw what appeared to be schematics for some sort of spherical objects, black points randomly places on its surface. I didn’t know what is was, but my half-hearted curiosity was satisfied, and I resumed my work.

Last day working with the company, it was finished. My documentation was complete along with those of the others, and everything was set. Whatever it was being used for, it was ready. We left the company, and never looked back.

Five years later, something weird started going on. TrikTeck was dominating the markets. When I say that, I mean everything seemed to fall in line for them. When the necessary elements for fuel were starting to thin, TrikTech had already developed them synthetically, ending the shortage before it began. When the vehicle industry dove, they had already sold most companies directly tied to their design and manufacture. They someone even figured out what the results for that year’s electoral campaign would be, which placed them under the microscope for months, but nobody ever found anything out. Something told me it was related to our time and work their, but I knew everything that happened under my supervision. It wasn’t enough… and then I remembered. It took me a while to find John’s number.

He was in Boston, but was coming to town on a business meeting, and agreed to meeting up at a local coffeehouse. When he arrived, we shook hands, sat down, ask each other how we were doing, and ordered espressos.

“So,” I tentatively began, “You’ve noticed what’s been going on?”

He finished stirring the beverage with a straw, tapped it on the side of the glass getting those few drops back in the drink, placed it on a napkin, and looked me in the eyes.

“Yes, yes I have.” He sat there in contemplation, looking down at his drink. “You know they’ll be listening.”

I squinted in confusion.

“TrikTech’s guys.”

I nodded, pretending to understand.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to someone about this for a while. It gives me this nagging feeling in my chest. I just want you to know you’re accepting a certain amount of risk upon hearing this.”

I gave him a blank stare, but he ignored it.

“They had me design a sphere,” he began. “Or, well, it was supposable suppose to be models after the Earth, so basically, a scaled down version of our planet. With the bulge and everything, so not a perfect sphere. Sensors scattered across the surface, inner-mechanics inside. They wanted me to help design the thing. Make sure everything would work and mimic the biological rhythm of the planet.”

“This means…” I asked, wide-eyed but lost.

“Combine that with our original research, sparking life. Recreating our own species from scratch, scaled down.” He gave me a moment to let that sink in. While I was still trying to figure it out, he got up, patted me on the shoulder, and said good-bye.

I got up, turned to him and half-yelled while my mind was still in a frenzy, “Wait where are you going?”

“My daughter’s dance recital. It’s only a matter of time.”

Walking home, that night, I pondered what he told me. I stopped halfway through entering the code on my door. Oh my god. It kept me up all night, until I finally fell asleep at 5 o’clock in the morning, my body finally letting exhaustion take over my mind.

I woke up. I was in a bed. It wasn’t my bed. These weren’t my clothes. I ran outside. I had no idea where I was.

To this day, it’s hard to swallow, but everyday is proof. People for centuries wanted a way to simulate human behavior. Simulate their actions, their motives, figure out why they did what. The programming for it would require so many layers of psychology of decades, perhaps even centuries of research before even a beta version could be built. Even then, the results could be inaccurate if a single variable went wrong. To this day, people don’t know what parts of the human brain are used for. But that wouldn’t be necessary if they could crank out as many little humans as they want, use the Incubator to fast-forward through history, and create a replica of current time Earth. Sure, it’d be a pain to do, with large gaps of unknown history in our timeline, but very possible with the advancements of the past century. Especially since a company like that could obtain the greatest minds.

I still don’t know where I am.





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