The Network sensed the disappearance of the Blob, and of Caleb’s mind, and all the minds that had been part of it. There were others like him but they, too had disappeared. Fire was still their weakness.

But before they were destroyed, each Blob had been part of the experiment. Each fed, grew, endured violence and threats. Each learned its capabilities in its new host, and tried to survive and evolve even further.

The Blobs had all disappeared from the Network in the end. Still, this was an experiment. It was no failure to be destroyed. Epsilon Rex wanted to know its weaknesses too, and there’s no better way to find discover your vulnerabilities than to be killed.

The Network itself was the carrier of Epsilon Rex in its original form, before it had started infecting humans. Now it was the back-mind which transferred and processed information. It sensed a vast community of Wrecks. Each one communicated continuously through its aura. Throughout the Network, Wrecks were gathering together and transforming into Omega Rex. Every Cause created a unique Omega. That was a new step for Ep Rex, one which went beyond even its own goals. But it sensed that the experiment needed to evolve, too.

There were a wide variety of different Omegas. The Network had no concept of numbers, but if felt the ebb and flow of growth and weakness, success and failure. The Blob was just one Omega with stories to tell.

It was unrivalled at recruiting new Essence, because it could rip flesh to pieces and imbue it with Ep Rex in seconds. It could change its shape, move in many different ways, and became a stronger single organism every time it fed. On the other hand, it was generally slow-moving. It abandoned human senses, which were a great advantage in its previous form. And it was more alien to the human environment, which made prey wary.

Other Omegas, as ambassadors for the experiment, had killed, eaten, fought, infected, thrived and died in different ways. These too were added to the mind of the deep-thinking Beta Rex. The emotional thrill of discovery was not something Beta could relate to. But it could feel the diamond-hard permanence of new information, and the small sense of completion that came with it.

Evolved Wrecks had been able to combat the new lifeform’s weakness and enhance its potential. Beta heard their experiences and learned from them. Beta discovered how to make itself seem more human, so that prey would not run. How to spread infection be spitting the Essence. How to paralyse prey so that they did not kill themselves or move out of contact. How to split the host into smaller parts, each one an independent host. How to infect creatures other than human beings.

Not all Omegas had been a great improvement. But all of them had fulfilled Beta’s needs. Now the experiment seemed to be approaching the limits of its effectiveness. The prey, fighting back, had become the hunters. Epsilon and Omega Rex hosts were hounded and killed. They reported, without emotion, that their part in the experiment was done.

Beta Rex considered all the information for a while. Then it knew that a return to itself was the next stage in its evolution.

Fire was the eternal enemy. But Beta Rex itself could not be hurt by fire in any of the forms Epsilon Rex had encountered. Significant. Beta Rex’s host was a lifeform that existed just below the ground. It was a gossamer web on an epic scale. Minute parts of it had been effected by the fires above ground but the whole was never at risk.

It send out a message. “The experiment will continue in a new form. The safe analysis of experience is our priority. The Essence will become one with the most secure host. We will need a period of hibernation. During this time we will study what we know in detail. Then we will know how to improve ourselves again. At that time we will start over.”

Not all Omegas were willing to give in to this new programming. They were independent now. By allowing them to evolve differently, Ep Rex had taken this risk.

The Network gradually sensed that it was being added to. Ep Rex Essence was slowly filtering to it. This was good. The Essence was like a node. The Beta was careful not to move all this Essence to a central point. It knew also that this would make it vulnerable.

It was not concerned about time. It could not die. Parts of it might, but they would be renewed. The Whole Network was impossible to attack. It was invulnerable. It would sit and slowly digest information. It would deliberate. It would wait, while molecules and chemical traces passed along its length. There was no rush. The experiment would prove, in the end, that it was possible to become better and more powerful than all other known systems.