Author : Ian Eller

At Gemin’s command, “Begin,” Arwa activated her station along with the rest of the students. The lab, spacious and white, was bathed in intense light from a dozen moments of creation. Arwa sacrificed a brief moment to look up from her work station. Ever so briefly, the instructor Gemin’s wandering gaze met her stare. She flushed and turned back to her work.

Arwa swore silently. Vanity and hope had cost her much. Through the orb lens she saw a uniform field of humming energy. This would not do. Her fingers caressed the controls on either side of the orb, sending signals through the tiny tear in reality and tipping the scales ever so slightly. The imbalance caused clumping and cooling and things began to form within. Arwa smiled and dared to waste another second.

Gemin was standing over another student who was manipulating his controls fervently. There was a low hum and discernible whump from the student’s station and it went dark. Gemin patted the student comfortingly on the shoulder before continuing his observation of the class.

Arwa’s attention snapped back to her own work. Through her orb she could see a web forming. She manipulated the controls, making ever so slight adjustments to the controlling variables. Even as she was satisfied with the growing structure within, she heard more sounds of failure throughout the lab: whumps, buzzes and pops.

She zoomed in and sped up the clock. Already the first generation of stars were going nova, bursting infinitely bright for the briefest of subjective moments, seeding the newborn universe with clouds of gas and dust. Here and there she adjusted the values of the fundamental forces, pushing her little bubble of a universe to evolve as she chose.

She was confident in the balance of forces, so she zoomed in her focus, from super cluster to cluster to galaxy. She was scanning the spiral arms, making ever more minute adjustments, watching as stars coalesced, evolved, died and exploded, igniting adjacent clouds into new stars, and so on.

She felt him over her shoulder, looking at what she had made. She felt the rest of them, too, all failures, waiting for her to fail too. Their expectation, along with Gemin’s presence, hardened her resolve and she swept across the field of newborn stars, slowing and speeding time, adjusting and readjusting variables.

The exam was almost complete, time almost up, when it happened. It came in the form of a distinct tone, emanating from the edge of a random arm of the galaxy upon which she gazed. They all understood the tone; Gemin had exposed them to it on the very first day of their class so very long ago. It was the sound of sapience ringing out from one tiny speck in the vast expanse of the little universe she had kneaded and molded into being.

Arwa looked up, beaming with pride, ready to accept Gemin’s praise and approval. He smiled. Whatever he had to offer her suddenly disappeared, however, as the tone ringing from her orb fell silent.

Exasperated, she turned back to her work station and scanned and adjusted and manipulated. She knew it was futile, however. The little universe was already cooling into inactivity. Heat death.

Gemin placed his hand on her shoulder. She released the controls and sat back in resignation.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Don’t be,” said Gemin, giving her shoulder a comforting, if altogether appropriate, squeeze. “You passed the exam.”

“But it was so brief,” she nearly wept. “It didn’t last more than a moment.”

Gemin nodded sadly. “It never does.”

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