The first seeding went bust. Per the Protocol, months passed while the Progenitor tested the water, noting that this batch of photosynthetic microorganisms was not thriving. This was not unexpected – the Progenitor’s Heart had hundreds of mixes of various flora and fauna, and it knew that there were factors even beyond its abilities that could lead to a species’ failure to thrive. It simply loaded up another sample and tried again. It took more than twenty different mixes of algae and other microorganisms for the first successful seeding. This particular batch took off like a rocket. Algae absorbed energy from the Star, converting trace minerals and chemicals in the sea to reproduce itself. Bacteria metabolized waste products and the miniscule deceased corpses of the other organisms, while omnivorous eukaryotes swam through the microscopic seas, gobbling up bacteria and algae and each other. Life spread through the Planet’s oceans, and after a few centuries, was present in samples as far away as the Progenitor’s rovers could reach, a thousand kilometers away. Satellites on the other side of the Planet recorded occasional color changes on the surface of the seas, confirming that the Seeding had conquered every major body of water in the World. The next step in the Protocol was ready to begin. Deep within its Heart, the Progenitor incubated and bore millions of babies from hundreds of species – crustaceans, echinoderms, cnidarians, and more, including the most rudimentary chordates. It released them in sequences, per the protocol, up and up the food chain. Life competed, and a billion miniature battles roiled within the waters between predators and prey. This phase took more than a millennium, but finally the Progenitors’ instruments verified that it, too had spread throughout the waters of the World. And even within these relatively short periods of time, natural forces were at work. Organisms adapted and evolved at a frenetic pace to keep pace with each other, and the Progenitor noted that a few species of crustaceans had adapted to cling to rocks at the water’s edge, or to hide beneath them, in order to escape predators. There were a hundred more similar surprises, not that the Progenitor was capable of such feeling. The phases of the Protocol continued. Different breeds of algae from the Progenitor’s Heart were introduced on land, thriving and spreading from rock to rock in this competitor-free environment. After a suitable time, simple mosses, lichens, and fungi were introduced, growing very slowly in the virgin soils beginning to form from decaying algae and organic matter deposited by the sea. The atmosphere changed, faster from biological processes than by the Progenitor’s earlier artificial efforts. Centuries later, these organisms were followed by simple vascular plants, along with worms, mollusks, and arthropods introduced onto a few islands, carefully monitored to track their progress. Larger and larger organisms were introduced. The first fish, carefully incubated from tiny frozen eggs, swam through the Planet’s oceans, gorging themselves on the tiny crustaceans and algae ubiquitous through the waters. Larger, more complex predators followed. On the islands and continents, the first colonial insects were released, along with omnivorous relatives. From deeper within its Heart, the Progenitor drew the genetic material for amphibians and reptiles. Cunning incubation tools crafted artificial eggs, planting the genetic material deep within, to grow the first generation of land vertebrates. Trees and shrubs and grasslands were grown, providing dozens of new niches in which animals could survive. For the first time, the windswept but no-longer-quite-so-barren cliff of the Progenitor chirped and called and sang with the sounds of life. Sharks and predatory fish patrolled the seas, devouring the much more common grazers and filter feeders that survived on the nutrient-filled waters. Slimy and scaly beasts crawled over sand and rock, consuming insects and worms and mollusks and each other. After a few millennia, the Progenitor added mammals and birds to the mix, this time, as per the Protocol, starting on the larger continents to prevent the cunning little beasts from wiping out everything else on an island. Caring for such advanced life forms proved to be the Progenitor’s greatest challenge yet – special purpose-built rovers, small and covered with artificial feathers or fur, provided nutrients, warmth, and affection to the hungry young creatures, but the infant mortality rate was staggering at first. Larger and more diverse creatures continued to be added to the Planet from within the Progenitor’s Heart, at sea and on land masses large and small. New species were born in the Progenitor’s artificial incubators, or sometimes in the eggs and wombs of the previously introduced organisms that were most similar in size and form. Per the Protocol, the mix of creatures and plants was different on each island, and its tools carefully monitored the environments to prevent species from invading territory not meant for them. Forests and jungles sprang up at the heart of many of the continents, and on a hundred tropical islands. Birds nested and primates climbed and jumped among their branches and leaves, while cunning predators stalked the ground below. Leviathans swam through the blackest parts of the oceans, gorging on the fish and mollusks that thrived in the deep before surfacing to breathe. In the polar regions, rotund and well-furred or feathered predators stalked the land or dipped into the frigid seas to feed, huddling together for warmth when they returned to the icy ground. The Progenitor continued to watch the Planet, and thousands of years passed. Some species were outcompeted and disappeared, while others began to adapt to local conditions. While it analyzed and observed, the Progenitor physically expanded, for the first time in ages. Per the Protocol, using local materials, it constructed dozens of chambers, expanding further inland from its windy cliff. For ages these chambers remained unused, but they would not be unused forever. In addition, per the Protocol, it began to gather fuel and resources to revive its old power source. Clean burning volatiles and solar power were enough for its tasks so far, but in the future the Protocol demanded that the reactor that brought the Progenitor through light-years of space be restarted. The Protocol also demanded that much of the land between the new chambers be cleared. Several varieties of seeds were drawn from its Heart, and its rovers and tools planted them in rows in the soil of the new fields. Produce was harvested and preserved, and new generations were planted. Decades passed, and finally the Protocol called for the Final Seeding. From the deepest chamber within its Heart, the Progenitor drew out dozens of embryos, handling them with the utmost care. Very slowly, they were unfrozen and transferred to specially constructed artificial wombs. Once implanted, the embryos were fed through artificial placenta, and carefully monitored as they developed. Long-unused databanks were consulted, with instructions followed to the letter to care for the developing embryos – far more attention than any other organism so far. They grew from microscopic, to centimeters, and to a significant fraction of a meter in scale, and from milligrams, to grams, to kilograms in mass. Finally, it was time. Hormones were introduced, and the Progenitor gradually increased the lighting. The artificial wombs were stirred and palpated, and when the organisms were suitably wakened and distressed, they were drawn from the wombs and into the light. For the first time on the Planet, the newborn creatures were not released into the environment. Rather, they developed in the new chambers, divided into small groups, and tended by unique rovers dedicated to their supervision. These rovers, covered in synthetic flesh, and each one with a subtly different appearance, brought them food, taught them to communicate, gave them affection, and met all their daily needs. Periodically, between episodes of educational play both indoors and out, the growing creatures were evaluated for their communication and reasoning skills. The Protocol deferred the next step until a certain level of achievement for all of the creatures had been met. Some of them learned faster than others, but after years of learning and practice, finally all of the young organisms passed these tests. On that day, they were brought to the largest chamber. A file was retrieved from the Progenitor’s deepest databanks – a video file that had lay dormant for millennia. An overhead screen lit up, with a giant face smiling benevolently down on the children. “Who is she?” asked a child. “She has been dead for a long, long time,” responded a rover. “Where is she from?” “A place far, far away. Where your people evolved.” “Can we go there?” “No, child. Nothing can survive there, not anymore.” “Are there others like her? Like us?” The rover paused minutely, waiting for guidance from the Protocol, which came nanoseconds later. “There has been no one like you anywhere, not for thousands of years.” The face on the overhead screen spoke in the language they had been taught by their guardian rovers. “Hello, my children. Hello, humanity. Welcome back to existence.”
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