This Island Universe

This is my entry for August’s TCWG short story competition. As I struggled to think of anything, I came up with this and really only the title meets the subject criterion of “Islands”. It’s 1310 words long.

This Island Universe

Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes. Well, when it comes to a university degree in making universes, that certainly is the case. In your first year you have to just have a go and, you know what, no one ever makes a viable one. They implode, they explode, they whimper and die, they grow so vigorously that they’re unstable and burn out and countless other things go wrong. First year students’ attempts fail. That’s an unwritten law.

But then one year there was a new student and with 120 others entering the course, he didn’t seem special. He was a bit shy and prone to daydream. He liked his ideas for what should be in a universe. He had lots of notebooks outlining the things he thought would make the perfect home for life. Perhaps his tutors should have noticed that none of these ideas were outrageous, though many were original. This combination was perhaps a hint that he was someone special.

The first year progressed and he did all the usual things that new undergraduates do, from joining countless societies that he’d attend only once to getting thoroughly pissed and passing out in the town square. It was almost as if this small university had a checklist of things that first years must do before they could really be considered a part of the university. But, of course, U. of L.I.F.E. was the leading institution for Universe Creation Studies and the fact that they hadn’t changed their name when granted a charter did rather make people laugh. I mean, it’s a rather cumbersome and tautologous name, The University of Lovington Institute of Further Education.

Universe Creation Studies combine elements of Fine Arts, Architecture and Theoretical Physics. A very strange subject for a select few students who had to leave school with exceptional grades. Yet the professors, so learned that they’d make the likes of Einstein and Newton, as well as the equivalent best minds from the arts look like ignoramuses, thought of their typical intake of first year students as “unremarkable”. Well, this year at least, they were wrong. There was this one student.

One of the first courses was Supernova 101. This was put in the first term because it was undeniably fun for anyone who could master the physics, while anyone who couldn’t would have dropped out or been “persuaded” to transfer to a less demanding degree course. Of course, the intake being the best of the best, though unrecognized by the professors, the dropout rate was approximately zero, while the transfer rate was an almost an infinitesimally small amount larger. The students had to demonstrate that they could create, control and direct a supernova before they could pass the course. And for this one special student, it just accelerated his level of creativity and made him come up with even better ideas that weren’t outrageous. You see, the thing is that most students on this course have fanciful and outrageous ideas that simply cannot ever work regardless of how much fine tuning they try.

In the Lent Term the students biggest practical challenge was in the course Black Hole 101. In this they had to develop and control a quantum singularity, colloquially known as a black hole. It wasn’t for anyone who got bored easily. It was that horrible combination that all science students hate, dull and difficult! But the professors were aware of this, so rather than an individual effort, the entire 121 intake of students, less any who had dropped out or transferred, were allowed to do this as a group project. It was seen as a training exercise in mass cooperation. And this is where this special first got noticed by the professors. He took control and lead from the front. The class had their black hole up and running in record time and were able to study it for far longer than any first year group in previous years.

In the Summer Term, each student had to have a go at designing and building a universe. Then all 121 universes would be put together to interact. In a successful system, a few would die, a few would burn out and most would be influenced by the best universe to create a stable interaction. By this time, everyone knew who was likely to be the creator of the best universe. And indeed this very special student wasn’t going to disappoint.

One of the things that applies to the construction of a universe is that the creator can set certain laws of physics that will apply within his universe. However, certain other laws create themselves according to the ingredients that the creator chooses to include. At the University, the professors include many options for ingredients, some of which always work, some will work if mixed with the right others and some will never work but are there to make life harder for the students. Of course, a student could make a viable universe by using only ingredients that always work. The problem is that this would make a very dull universe and the student wouldn’t pass because the course was as much about creativity as about making it work. In fact, on this exercise, creativity got 70% of the marks and so a student making a safe universe would fail, while a student with great creativity whose universe exploded instantaneously could get a first for this project.

The professor in charge of the exam stood before the assembled class and said, “We all know that you’ll fail to make a viable universe but that is not the point. At this stage in your degree course, we do not expect you to be able to make a viable universe that has the desirable level of creativity. No one has ever succeeded at this stage of the degree in making a stable universe that meets all our criteria for creativity. To pass, you have to meet all our criteria for creativity and viability is considered so unlikely that we simply don’t think it will happen. Remember, think creative over viable and good luck everyone!

“You have three hours.”

So the students looked at the available components and began to build universes. They thought creatively and all the others watched the star student. This was permitted because part of the examination was about creating something interactive, so while students couldn’t copy each other they could try to build in a degree of interactivity between the different universes. At the end of the three hours, all the universes were complete and the students awaited the next stage.

After a thirty-minute break they reassembled in the practical lab. The professor took the universes and mixed them randomly, so that no one knew whose universe would be next to whose.

The professor said, “Now for the final part where we see just how well your universes function.” He flicked a switch and the universes cam into being. He expected them to have all disintegrated within five seconds but, while some died and few exploded, the main bulk began to form a symmetrical pattern around one universe, the one created by the start student. After a minute, there was definite symmetry and the professor looked at the readout and his jaw dropped.

He turned to the class and said, “Congratulations! You’re the first first-year group to succeed in creating a stable system of universes. As you can see, a symmetric pattern of universes has formed around this one in the middle and they’re growing at a healthy rate. Looking closely at this one in the middle, there’s a galaxy currently in its middle and in that galaxy there’s a planet with sentient life, the requirement in a stable universe that shows sufficient creativity to pass the exam. It seems that they call their galaxy the Milky Way.”

Everyone knew whose universe that was. It was created by the star student, one George Oswald Davies, known to his friends as GOD.

© Charles Stuart 2016

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