The engineer

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(Text by Patrick Vedie)

“A very long time ago, I made up a universe, all by myself. I say, ‘by myself’, I was just a kid then, and the grown-ups always overestimate children’s imagination, and it probably wasn’t that original. Nonetheless, I gave it a nice shape, that varied depending on the perspective you took from within. You know, it appears round, then maybe flat, or curved with a rugged surface, a bit like that pastry I like so much. The trick is to get the lighting right,  without burning your fingers on the stars; they’re bloody hot, you can believe me! After that, you begin putting the rubble together. It’s easy enough to make a pinpoint go ‘Ka-boom’, but then all the matter is blown all over the place, and you have to knead it together, like bread dough, without overdoing it with the pressure, or the whole thing collapses again. Then you need to let it cool off for a while, give it a little spin and let it expand. Also, my mum called me down for dinner, so I didn’t have much of a choice but to let it do whatever it needed to do.

I got quite obsessed with it for months, assembling more and more galaxies and adding details to planets, fashioning atmospheres, and stabilizing Black Holes. Nasty little things, they were; you had to be really attentive to not drop anything in there, because you’d only get it out again in shreds of energy, and you could get a nasty sting from touching them. Once or twice, I ran crying to my dad, and he told me off for not being careful enough with my universe, and that I wouldn’t be allowed to play with it anymore if I didn’t look after it better. It forced me to grow more skilled and careful, if anything else.

After a while though, it became less fun. I didn’t understand why at first. It had been so cool to arrange and rearrange matter and energy fluxes; but once everything was in place and running smoothly, it felt sort of empty. I mean, it’s all well and good to pretend-play with your universe, but having autonomous existences evolving within it, isn’t that the greatest kick at that age? Except of course that my parents were dead set against it. You have to look after these things, they objected, and who’s to feed them or clean up after them? I kept pestering them and annoying them and making the typical empty promises, until, for my birthday, they eventually gave in. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for my birthday party to be over and my Nan kissed  good-bye, so I could run to my room and, at long last, create Life for the first time. It’s not that easy, you know, I had to give it a couple of goes cooking amino acids in glaucous ponds, and slowly building it up from there. Took me quite some time, but you try hurrying goo into becoming some sort of big scaly, green monsters so you can have them fight one another. But I was a proper little nerd at the time, and I kept making them bigger and scarier. Unfortunately,  I had gotten so absorbed by my creatures that I had forgotten to clean up some of the free-floating debris in that specific galaxy; and, one night, when I hadn’t had time to play with my universe because it was the end of term and I had exams coming up, the unavoidable happened, and a bit of rock collided with the planet I had stashed my monsters away on, and it killed almost all of them, except a few boring smaller ones. I remember, when I found out, I cried the whole night. I’d put so much effort in it, and it had been for nothing. But then I decided to start over again, this time with smaller creatures, and I thought, if I make them cleverer instead of larger, they will after a while come up with solutions to dangers by themselves and won’t need to be watched over constantly. They proved tricky to tweak correctly, though. They were a kind of hairy, long-armed life form, yet the smarter you made them, the more glabrous they became.  I never really got it right, I think. But apart from looking rather ugly and soft, they seemed off to a good start. Very soon, they managed to adapt themselves to their surroundings, they even changed colour and appearance. They gave a nice, mixed sight and I was really pleased with myself, I admit. The Summer holidays came soon after, and we went away. I wasn’t allowed to bring my universe with me, as it took up too much space. So, I left it at home, confident that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the big monster mess. And being a kid slowly becoming a  teen, I had now more fun staying outside with friends on the sunny days, and when the new school year loomed, I had practically forgotten my universe. Almost a year went by before I  looked at it again, and only because mum had ordered me to clean my room she’d deemed  ‘filthy’.

I didn’t know what to expect, or if I had expected anything at all, but the sight of the planet I’d put so much work in was just heart-breaking. The little creatures had indeed grown intelligent, but instead of working together at resolving their differences and problems, they used their gift only to slowly ruin their home, cover it in soot and turn the waters to sludge. Not only that, but they had also come up with a whole bunch of deities and ideas in the name of which they turned on each other by the millions. Sometimes, they didn’t even seem to need a  justification at all, they just didn’t like the other’s looks or behaviour. I was horrified at how unkind they had become towards their own and everything else for that matter, and, trying to understand what had gone wrong, I turned back time a bit, although you’re not supposed to do that, you might damage the universe’s fabric, and found times when they slaughtered one another on an industrially organized level. They were so hate-filled, caused so much pain and destruction, it nearly made me sick.

After that, I never played with my universe again. Let it rot, I thought to myself, it’ll break down sooner or later on its own. School became more demanding, and I went on to study,  and despite meaning to check on my creation then and again, the heart wasn’t in it anymore and  I never did. It’s funny, I had cared so much for the little creatures, they had seemed so frail, I’d even given them a pet name. ‘Hoo-mens’, I had called them. Ah, this is my stop!”

As the tram came to a halt, I got up and was about to beg farewell to my affable travelling companion, when he asked me whether I thought the little creatures were possibly still alive.

“If they haven’t blown themselves to pieces, they’re probably still trying to figure out how to get it done”, I replied and shrugged. “But that day I learned a valuable lesson about creation: not to care. Let Life sort itself out.

“How so?”

“I’m an engineer, you see. Nowadays, I build universes professionally.” And with that, I descended onto the platform.


  • Patrick (*1979) is a writer, poet and former film maker, who's been writing stories ever since he learned to write. His stories are frequently, but not exclusively, inspired by myth, and his travels around the world. His practice of martial arts and irascible character have earned him the nickname 'The Dragon', which he wears with a certain degree of pride.

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