Card Challenge: Day 21
Guys, today marks the 1/4 Mark of the Challenge! Twenty-one of 84 days down! It’s pretty exciting, for me at least. I’m proud of what I have accomplished so far, and look forward to spinning some more interesting tales. For my own enjoyment, I am planning to print and bind the completed challenge, so I am keeping a running Comprehensive document on my computer Thus far, there are 65 pages and over 25,000 words! That’s so much writing since January 1! That means the final product will be around 260 pages and over 100,000 words. Wow.
Well, thank you for allowing me to marvel for a bit. Today’s piece is finished and probably one of my favorites so far. The card was really hard to describe, but I did my best. Please enjoy!
Card Day 21: A man with an ax approaches a tree. The branches of the tree have some tiny leaves on them, but then are covered with clouds and planets. The roots of the tree transition into tentacles and streams of water, a fish swimming along them.
What does it take to destroy a universe?
A cataclysm? Apocalypse? Do those things destroy a universe? No. We assume that the collapse of all we know is sue to the effects of some fated, predicted catastrophe that strips daily life of all its rules, laws, and foundations. But that is our mistake. You see, these things are the effects of a universe in freefall. We mistake effects for cause, and spend all of our life searching for an effect so we can prevent was has already happened.
We can conceive of what a destroyed universe might look like, but the cause is far beyond us. It is terrifying in its utter alienness. Because for the universe to be destroyed, there must be a fatal flaw in the processes we so certainly depend on, or there is something far larger than any of us.
So, what does it take to destroy a universe?
I worked for DelSanto Labs for fifteen years. I had high hopes of reaching some heretofore unknown peak of human intellect and advancement with my tiny projects, plying my hands at the great unknowns. It was all a pipe dream until Dr. Swanson asked me to be her lab assistant for her latest project. In conspiratorial whispers she told me about their goals to model the macro level processes of cosmic organization, tracing the development of the laws that held our planet spinning in place. She showed me the lab, rows of gleaming and pricey equipment meant to provide a safe haven for a universe all their own.
I was a lowly cog in the machine, not privy to the secret underpinnings of how you create a self-sustaining universe. The goal was staggering; we sought to create an environment that would evolve, exist, and balance itself out much like our own universe. Of course, it was trying. How can you create a blank slate and build a working universe of physics and nature? That was the first hurdle. They worked for months to create just the minutest hole in our laws of nature. My job was to keep rigorous notes and monitor the displays for any important changes.
Somehow, they did it. The created a void, suspended through the well calibrated workings of a dozen different machines. It was ultimately artificial, yet ultimately the most real thing that had ever existed. There was nothing to misperceive or misunderstand. It existed as pure nothingness.
This breakthrough alone should have been enough, but Dr. Swanson kept a tight lid on any information leaving the lab. She would not breathe a word of the breakthrough until she finally had what she wanted—a living model of the universe to be picked and pulled and ultimately deconstructed into omniscience. Once the void was maintained, she provided matter.
You’d be amaze at quickly existence begins. The few atoms we spewed into the void hung there, initially lost and confused. There was no set of unbreakable principles that arranged their structure. Yet existence has a way of fighting, and over the course of a week, the matter began to assemble. It began to set itself apart according to rules that were unknown to science up unto that point. It coalesced, drawn together by a strange magnetism that at once resembled our gravity, but then broke it.
On day 16, it exploded. The tiny bits of matter we introduced had reduced down, crushing in n top of itself, fighting to develop a hierarchy of rules and existence. Finally, it ruptured into a brilliant glare on our monitoring equipment. I saw it happen, shielding my eyes from the brilliance. The Little Bang, as we called it, marked a new beginning. Suddenly, the universe we had created had a shape and a purpose.
I typed pages and pages of notes, observing ever minute alteration or fluctuation. We had every sensor you can imagine pointed at it, taking temperature, electrical, ion, weight, size, gravity, radiation, and a dozen other metrics. I studied the recordings, but it was not my job to make interpretation, merely to dutifully record what I saw. I also had the boring task of calibrating the equipment nightly, an endeavor that took up the scant hours of time I had left. Others were engaged with manipulating that data, breaking it open and reading its secrets. I was merely a scribe and technician. Yet I still carry its burden.
Day 43 was another day of relatively little activity. It had been about a three weeks since everything settled into an orbit. We had hoped for galaxies upon galaxies, but the matter we provided generated only a few spinning hunks of dust and pinpoints of impossible light. The energy output was startling, but manageable. I left the camera trained on the tiny plantelets was I went about my night calibrations. There was something soothing about watching a small collection of planet orbit their sun—something omnipotent and existential about it.
Pausing in my task, an odd change caught my eye. One of the quarter-sized blips had changed. It sat there, spinning slowly. Clouds swirled over the surface, obscuring the surface from time to time. And then, there was a sudden sparkle of light beneath the clouds. As I watched, a softly glowing trail rippled across the planet, lighting up the tiny sector of space.
I rushed to the console, zooming in as far as I could see. And then I immediately called Dr. Swanson on the phone.
She did not believe me, of course. But, to her credit, she rushed into the lab and looked down at the screen. There it was before us, a network of lights hovering the dark side of the planet. The closer we got, the clearer the organization became. The more distinct became the arches and solid forms of buildings. The more terrifying became our ultimate creation.
Her face was pale, bloodless, and drawn. She stare at the screen with quivering eyes, and her voice was just above a whisper. “Shut it down.”
“What? We can’t do that—“
“We can’t have done this,” she whispered. Her words were haunted, spoken more to herself than anyone else. I saw true terror as she considered the implications of creating a whole group of people built in a lab. Organisms had never been the goal; they had been a risk, potentially creating something that could destroy everything we knew. And our trial run as God had resulted in impossible outcomes. “Shut it down,” she commanded again, her eyes finally leaving the screen. They were grim and determined.
“I won’t do that,” I said, taking my stand. Ultimately, she did not need me to. She pulled the plug herself, and I watched the laws of the universe fall apart beneath our watching camera. The fields that had carefully cradled our test tube universe disappeared, and its own laws tore it to shreds.
I left DelSanto that day and began the years-long process of ridding myself of the unbearable guilt. So far, I have not been successful. Some nights, I imagine I hear their screams.
So, what does it take to destroy a universe?
Fear, cowardice, and inaction usually do the trick.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.