Three brilliant students. The world’s best supercomputer. What could go wrong?
Mathilde, a brilliant student at l’ENS, Paris’ best research university, wants to simulate a new Big Bang. After months of hard work, their project is complete: the Mosverse – and for the very first time, all three step into their brand new universe.
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Chapter Eight: Brave New Universe
“What do you mean we can’t pause it?” Szymon said as he buckled on his seatbelt.
“I mean that we need to go home right now!”
She drove off with a screech, and heard a thunk as Oliver’s head hit the window behind her. Szymon desperately latched on to the handlebar with both hands.
“Look,” she said, as they finally hit a straight road, “Because of l’ENS’ firewall, if we want to do anything on Mark II, we need to do it from our home IP right?”
“Right,” said Szymon.
“Well right now the simulation is running at 500 million years a day and we have no way to stop it because we can’t access our flat’s network!”
“But can’t we just tell Mark III to do it? We receive notifications from there, don’t we?” asked Szymon
“It’s one-directional,” said Oliver from the backseat, “It sends us updates but we can’t communicate with it.”
“How could I be so stupid?” Mathilde slapped her hands on the wheel in frustration, “Get off the road you stupid-ass tourist!”
“Mathilde,” said Szymon soothingly, “Calm down. Counting 6 hours to Paris, that’s only 125 million SzymonYears – the Mosverse won’t disappear in that time.”
“How do you know? Maybe we only managed to create one star! What if by the time we arrive it’s all burnt out?”
“Mathilde,” he said again, “A star like the sun lasts ten billion years. Even a couple days won’t make a big difference. Slow down.”
She grudgingly obliged. Szymon let go of the handle and settled into his seat. He took out a Tupperware container from his bag, opened it, and smiled contentedly.
“Poop of Happiness,” he said, grabbing the piece of cake Mathilde’s mom had insisted he take for the road. Everyone at her mother’s birthday had been surprised when Mathilde had suddenly stood up, loudly proclaimed they had to go, and rushed to her room to pack her things. She had powered through her mom’s protests by saying it was a university emergency and she would make it up to her, but Szymon had still managed to grab a few of his favorite Breton specialties.
“Szy, is that the cake?” asked Oliver, “I didn’t get to taste it. Gimme some.”
“No way,” said Szymon, “It’s my poop. I’m eating it.”
Oliver reached over the seat and tried to grab the box. Szymon batted his hand away and started to yell. As they fought beside her, Mathilde tried to suppress a smile. They were idiots, but they were her idiots.
“Mathiiilde,” whined Szymon, “Tell Ollie to knock it off!”
“Guys! Guys!” she said as they kept fighting, “GUYS!” They froze.
“Can you believe it?” she said with a giant smile, “We passed the Heavy Check.”
It hit them again then, and they all began to whoop in joy. Szymon connected his phone to the car and began to blast music from his favorite Korean pop band, the Lilypop Girls. For once, neither Mathilde nor Oliver minded, and instead began to dance and sing along as best they could.
“Oliver, what about immortalizing the moment?” she asked. He obliged, reaching between both seats with his phone. This time, all three of them smiled as he took the selfie.
Mathilde didn’t wait for Oliver to unlock the door; the moment they made it to the fifth floor, she whipped out her tablet, connected to the Wi-Fi, and accessed Mark II.
“Done,” she said, relieved, “Paused at 2.23 billion SzymonYears.”
They entered the flat, dropped their bags in the entrance hall and headed to the kitchen.
“So?” asked Szymon, “Let’s go check it out?”
Mathilde blushed red. “Actually, we can’t yet. I haven’t coded in a viewing interface.”
“Well we need a machine to run it on. All of Mark II is busy running the Mosverse, and Mark III was doing calibrations. Now I have to to split Mark III into two, and use half to create a viewer for us.”
“Yeah – but it won’t take long. An hour, tops. I just have to feed it the dimensions to use as space and time, add in a little user interface for when we’re plugged in and we’re good to go. I can find pretty much all of it in the repositories. It’s basically cut and paste.”
It took three instead, and each minute stretched out longer than the one before. Mathilde chain-smoked in front of her tablet while both of the boys looked on over her shoulder. None of them could manage to focus on anything beside the Mosverse.
“OK,” she said, closing a bunch of windows, “Done. I’m sending you a local network address. Log-in with your usual avatars.”
They headed off to their rooms to deck their VR gear. Mathilde put on her contact lenses and gloves, and glanced once at her haptic suit in the corner. She shook her head and turned the contacts on: it made no sense to wear it. She would code in haptics eventually, but until then she would just have to do it like Szymon – no suit. She headed to the address and pressed the ‘Connect’ button that floated in front of her eyes.
Her screen went black, and a ‘Connecting’ progress bar appeared at the bottom of her field of vision. She had instructed the viewer to send them to where it had first detected an atom that passed the Heavy Check, but she suddenly realized she had no idea where in the Mosverse that would be. She was most likely going to end up right in the middle of the star they had created. She braced herself for a sudden flash of light.
The display loaded and her breath caught in her throat. Wherever she was, it wasn’t in the middle of the star.
She was in a snowstorm.
Millions upon millions of tiny sparkling dots floated around her in a white shroud. They were everywhere, randomly distributed; some grouped up in short tendrils, others shining like lone diamonds in an empty fog. It was a maelstrom of snowflakes, swirling in eddies of little shining lights that seemed to ebb and flow around her.
She had expected pure white light or utter blackness, but this was neither. Everything was a different tone of light, blending together in a cosmic tapestry of bright stars.
Squinting, she discovered variations in the stars’ color. Some shone a cold and ethereal blue, others a deep orange, and just a few were faintly yellow.
She gasped in air, suddenly realizing that she had been holding her breath.
“It’s bloody magnificent,” Oliver said from beside her.
She nodded, unable to find the right words. Moving her gloves, she slowly rotated, looking at the infinity of stars spreading out in all directions. Try as she might, she couldn’t tear herself away from the ocean of tiny snowflakes that seemed to wrap her in a jeweled blanket.
“Mathilde?” Szymon asked cautiously.
She stopped her rotation, looked over to him, and suddenly recoiled in shock.
Floating next to her was an old and wrinkled man, with bright blue skin and long flowing brown robes. He held a warped wooden staff in his hand, a huge emerald lodged in its tip. His eyes were dark as night as they stared straight through her.
It took her a moment to regain her breath. “Szymon,” she panted, “Why would you log in with your Chronicler avatar? You scared the shit out of me.”
“Oops, sorry,” he said. The old man shimmered and was replaced by Szymon.
“Better,” she brought a hand to her chest, trying to slow her racing heart, “Szymon… We…”
“I know,” he said, grinning wildly as he looked at the snowstorm of stars around them.
“We didn’t just create one star…”
“They’re so beautiful. There must be billions of them. Billions of stars.”
Szymon tilted his head. “Mathilde,” he said slowly, “Those aren’t stars.”
“Look closer,” he said, pausing for effect, “They’re not stars. They’re galaxies.”
It took her a full minute to realize he was right. What had looked like tiny dots turned out to be much more complex. As a child, she had often stared out at the night sky, and always loved the fact that the longer she looked, the more stars she discovered. In much the same way, she began to make out miniature whirlpools, small uneven circles and slim bars of light. And suddenly, the whole sky was filled with them: spirals, bright dots with glowing scythes on either side, and galaxies tilted at each and every possible angle.
“Szymon, where are we?”
“Middle of nowhere,” he grinned, “Although based on the white fog all around us, I’d say a gas cloud of some type.”
“OK,” Oliver floated in between them, “Mathilde, I have an important question: how do we navigate around here?”
She spent the next few minutes showing them the hand combinations for various actions. Moving forward, back, up and down were fairly intuitive. Having anticipated the gigantic size of the Mosverse however, she had also coded in one other important movement function: scale.
They had appeared in the Mosverse at what would be their actual size. For Mathilde, that meant 1 meter and 68 centimeters. But by pinching in and out with her right hand, she could change her size relative to the universe. In just a few pinches, she could become a light-year tall, and move around the incredible distance of space in instants.
As soon as she explained it to Szymon, he frantically began to pinch out.
“Szymon wait!” she said, as he ballooned up in size. The color of the Mosverse changed from milky white to blue, as they found themselves engulfed in Szymon’s rapidly expanding jeans. “Szymon!” she yelled again, before starting to pinch outwards as well. Oliver followed her.
She finally caught up with him. He was smiling crazily, swinging his head in every direction, looking like a kid in a candy shop.
“Szymon,” she said, “Next time, maybe wait for us?”
“Look,” he said blankly.
The snowstorm was gone, replaced by a structure she had no words for. At this size, all the galaxies had coalesced into pillars of light, connecting to bright nodes that shone sharply against the black of space. It was like a brain, neurons of blue light reaching out to each other with thick glowing tendrils made of thousands of galaxies.
“Is this normal?” asked Oliver with wide eyes.
Szymon’s mouth hung open. He finally broke out of his trance.
“Yeah,” he said, “It’s called clustering. Matter is attracted to matter. At the scale of the universe, the galaxies group up, and form into this.” He pointed towards one of the tendrils, and then one of the nodes, “That’s called a filament, and that one’s a cluster. Or a supercluster. I’m not sure.”
They looked on in awe.
“It’s beautiful,” he said, “I’ve seen artist representations but they never even came close to this…”
Suddenly, the whole universe darkened. Mathilde looked around, and saw that Oliver had disappeared.
“Ollie, where are you?” she asked.
“I grew big! I wanted to see the next level!” he answered.
“Well, should we join you?”
“No, I can’t see anything. Pure black,” an edge of panic began to creep into his voice, “What’s going on?”
“You grew too big – you’re probably outside of the boundaries of the universe,” said Szymon calmly.
“You mean I reached the edge? Cool!”
“No, I mean you’re somewhere that doesn’t exist. There is no edge.”
“Oh,” Oliver sounded disappointed, “Well how do I get back to you guys?”
“Left hand counter clockwise,” said Mathilde, “You’ll see both of our tags. Just tap on one and you’ll be sent straight to us.”
“Cool!” repeated Oliver as he materialized right beside them, “Mathilde… this is amazing.”
“Wait, wait,” said Szymon with a grin, “We haven’t seen anything yet. Come on, let’s go check out a galaxy.”
Navigating in the Mosverse took some getting used to. They had to move towards a galaxy, and slowly reduce their size as they got closer. It required a nimble balance between movement and scale: if they became too small too fast the distance to their target increased drastically.
Szymon guided them towards a galaxy with four spokes in the shape of a shuriken ninja star. As the galaxy began to occupy most of her field of vision, Mathilde took in a quick breath at the sheer scale of the Mosverse. In just that one galaxy, there were already far too many stars to count, easily numbering in the hundreds of millions. To think that each of the billions of snowflakes they had seen earlier contained this amount of stars was almost beyond comprehension. A shiver of vertigo passed through her.
Szymon looked back, his smile stretching to his ears. She started to move her haptic gloves as fast as she could, intent on overtaking him and reaching the galaxy first. Oliver quickly caught on, and they ended up in a neck-to-neck race. Galaxies zoomed past. A few were so close she could make out their shape perfectly, and even identify a couple of individual stars.
When the galaxy they were headed for grew to the size of a small table, they stopped.
“Where are we going Szy?” asked Oliver.
Mathilde extended a hand to touch the closest extended point of the galaxy, and marveled at how it passed straight through. With a nudge of her thumb, she gingerly moved closer until she was standing in the very center, the curved spokes growing out of her waist. She twirled on herself, slowly, admiring the spider web fabric of the galaxy, as if it were made of the softest silk, straight out of a fairytale.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve seen you wear a skirt,” teased Oliver.
“If I could buy skirts like this, I’d be wearing them all the time.”
“This one!” said Szymon, pointing at a star near the center, shining a brighter blue than any around it. He immediately started to dive smaller towards it. Oliver and Mathilde followed.
They descended to real size and stopped a small distance away from the star. Or was it? she thought. Distances were complicated by scale here. Everything looked both bigger and smaller than it actually was. They could easily be one hundred kilometers away, or one hundred million, or even one hundred billion.
She turned to face the star and gasped.
At this distance, the blue star no longer looked like a sphere; it was a wall of blue fire, flames frozen in time, filling up her entire field of vision. It reminded her of images she had seen of a frozen sea, waves locked mid-motion, stretching out as far as the eye could see. But these waves were different; they were wispier and seemed to dance in their stillness.
“It’s a supergiant,” said Szymon in an awed tone, “Given the color, it has to be burning at least at 10,000 Kelvin.”
“Mathilde,” said Oliver, “Can we unfreeze time?”
“Yeah,” she said, still unable to move her eyes away from the vertical sea of flames in front of them, “Form a fist with your left hand and twist your right hand as if you were turning a dial. Don’t turn it too far or it’ll move into fast forward.”
The sea of flames burst forth like a beast unchained. Arcs of electric blue swept up and down the wall while roaring dark spots exploded into fountains of plasma, and tongues of flame emerged to lick at the darkness. It was a roiling mass of barely controlled chaos, feeding on itself, currents of fire dashing forth, disappearing, and beginning anew.
She advanced towards the wall hypnotically, drawn in by its sheer energy, vaguely aware of Szymon and Oliver doing the same beside her. The universe became bluer and lighter. Flames whirled past, blasting faster and faster until she was fully enveloped in burning gas. The gusts of burning wind wrapped her in an oppressive blanket of liquid fire. She suddenly felt trapped. Wherever she looked, the flames seemed to push in closer, capturing her in a suffocating embrace. Compared to the absolute emptiness of earlier, it was utterly claustrophobic.
Her fingers scrabbled at the controls, and she quickly grew herself out of the star and back to a place where she could look at it from afar. Oliver materialized beside her a minute later. His facial muscles were twitching, half caught between the desire to laugh and the urge to scream in fear.
“THAT WAS INCREDIBLE!” said Szymon as he jumped in next to them, “We were inside a supergiant!”
“That was scary,” said Oliver, “The fire… I kept thinking it would burn me. I couldn’t convince myself it wasn’t real. ”
“It’s a simulation… ” Szymon rolled his eyes, “Mathilde, you ok?”
“Yeah,” she said, shaking her head and smiling, “It’s just a bit much you know? It’s like-”
“A PLANET!” yelled Szymon, cutting her off and pointing wildly. He tore off in the direction of a black chunk below them.
They followed him onto a brown planet tinged with streaks of dark red and green-blue. Szymon set down on the surface, in a large plane dotted with huge craters and small mountains. Left hand in a fist, he slowly twisted an imaginary dial with his right hand and fast-forwarded time. A silent wind seemed to pick up, that slowly chipped away at the edges of the craters around them, smoothing them out. Plumes of smoke randomly erupted around them and disappeared an instant later. “Asteroid strikes,” he dismissively explained when she turned to him.
Mathilde and Oliver followed Szymon around as he explored the galaxy. It quickly became clear to both of them that he knew what to look for more than they did. Szymon pointed out different types of stars as they soared past: red giants, white dwarves, deep navy blue stars and dirty white ones that threw off messy brown flames. As they approached the center of the galaxy, he tore off with a hollering yell. “BLACK HOOOLE!” he whooped.
Her eyebrows shot up. He was fast. He had grasped how to navigate around the Mosverse in surprisingly little time. She raised a hand, prompting Oliver to stop, and called up her user display.
“He’s too fast,” she said, “I’ve got a better idea.”
She waited a full minute, and tapped on Szymon’s user tab in the corner, sending her straight to where he was. She emerged and blinked twice, unable to see anything except for her body. Everything else was the purest black she had ever known. She looked towards Szymon, and saw nothing but an outline that pointed behind her. She turned to follow it.
Floating in the wall of pitch black darkness was a perfectly round window with glowing edges.
It looked like a portal leading out to the universe. Through it, she could make out not only the stars of the galaxy they were in, but also the galaxies that surrounded it, and those that were so far away they looked like yet more stars. Despite the tininess of the window, she felt as if she could see more of the universe from here than when she had been outside of it.
“That’s half the universe…” said Szymon, as if sensing her thoughts, “It’s attracting light from fifty percent of it. We can see it all from here.”
“So this is what it looks like from the inside of a black hole?” asked Mathilde.
“Well, no,” his tone was that of an annoyed professor, “If we were really in a black hole, we’d be spaghettified. Super long and super dense. We’d die immediately.”
“Szy, you know what I meant.”
“Who knows,” he said, “This is how it looks like in the Mosverse. In real life, maybe it’s completely different. ”
They followed him out the hole, and on towards different planets and different galaxies. Szymon was relentless in his exploration, while she and Oliver mostly tagged along, enjoying the ride. At times, the realization that she had built this struck her with the force of a baseball bat. “This is mine,” she found herself whispering over and over again, “I did this.”
She thought she had seen Szymon’s biggest geek-out when he had explored the black hole, but was proven wrong when he suddenly started to yell like a 10-year old boy at a Lilypop Girls concert.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Look!” he panted, pointing towards a bright shining object, “Look!”
They moved towards it. A giant beam of uneven light was pouring out of what looked like a flat, glowing white plate.
“It’s a white hole!” he exclaimed, “I mean, I think. I’ve never seen one before. It’s been theorized but-”
“What’s a white hole?”
“It’s the opposite of a black hole. Instead of attracting everything, it rejects everything and emits a constant flow of energy. In theory, you can never reach the center. The closer you get, the more you get pushed back by a level of energy that’s trending towards infinity.”
“In theory, they should – if you can have a singularity one way with black holes, then by symmetry you should have the opposite. ” he pointed at the giant shining plate, “White holes.”
“Are they connected to black holes?” asked Oliver, “Like, is this just the other end of a black hole?”
Szymon smirked. “Maybe,” he said, “We don’t know. We didn’t even know if these existed. I mean, maybe they don’t exist in our universe… but given the rules we’ve coded in, it would make sense that they’d exist in the Mosverse.”
He looked at it a moment longer, and then turned around. “Come on, let’s keep exploring!”. Oliver gave her a knowing look, and she nodded.
“Szymon, we need to take a break,” she said, “We’ve been at it for hours. Let’s go grab some food and come back, I’m starving.”
“What? Come on, we’re barely getting started,” he whined.
“Szy, seriously, we need a break. We’ll come back right after okay?”
He grumbled but eventually agreed. They logged out. Mathilde took off her contact lenses and took a moment to steady herself. She felt dizzy. Whether it was because of the time spent in VR, or the elation of having been blown away by her creation, she wasn’t sure. She waited for the room to stop spinning, tied her ponytail back tighter, and walked to the kitchen for a smoke. The sky outside was completely dark, the streetlights off. It was already the middle of the night.
“Do you know what time it is?” asked Oliver as he walked in and pulled out a pot to cook pasta.
“I dunno,” she said, “1 a.m.?”
“Three,” he answered.
“Wow, so we were in there for six hours?”
He chuckled softly, pouring water into the pot and setting it to burn, “3 a.m. on Monday.”
She checked her watch. He was right. They had been in the Mosverse for over 30 hours. No wonder she felt so exhausted.
Szymon however, did not. He burst into the kitchen shouting like a maniac.
“IT’S AMAZING!” he yelled, “THE MOSVERSE IS AMAZING!” Looking at both of their worn-out faces, he paused. “What’s wrong with you two?”
“Szy, we’ve been in there for 30 hours.”
“Yeah, I know,” he dismissed them with a wave, “Come on, hurry up and eat, let’s go back.”
“Szy, you can go back if you want. Ollie and I need to eat and sleep first.” Oliver nodded. Szymon’s arms fell to his sides in disappointment, but he dragged out a chair and sat down facing her. Oliver set out three plates and waited for the pasta to finish cooking.
The food helped. Her weariness slowly faded away, and with each bite, the magnitude of their accomplishment sunk in a little more. A smile slowly grew on her lips, and before she knew it she was giggling like a teenager. Szymon and Oliver joined in, making her laugh even harder, and in no time they were all holding their stomachs with tears streaming down their faces.
“We did it,” she said, “We fucking did it.”
“It’s mind-blowing,” said Oliver, “We need to share this.”
“What? Why? With who?” asked Szymon.
“With anybody! Do you know how much people would pay to access this? We’d have millions of visitors a day in no time.”
Mathilde raised a finger. “Not yet.”
“What? Why not?”
“Well, first, because we’re operating off of Mark II, remember? If that gets found out they’ll shut us down in a second – AND kick us out of l’ENS.”
“Who cares?” he said, “We’ve got a proof of concept! We can do it again. Venture funds are going to be breaking down our door to fund this.”
“And then,” said Mathilde with a sly grin, “There’s the second reason. We’re just getting started here. Don’t forget the end goal. We still need to find out how complete the Mosverse is.”
“It’s pretty complete,” said Szymon, “Billions and billions of galaxies, every type of star, even white holes…”
She set down her fork and looked at both of them, measuring each word carefully.
“Yeah. But now the fun begins. Now we search for life.”
~ End of Chapter 8 ~
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