Shape

by Karlos Allen


Mark entered the computer lab out of breath. Fin had called him out of a very sound sleep and insisted he get right over. One look at his face had told him that something had shaken him badly. That wasn’t easy to do; one of the side effects of youthful indiscretions with marijuana was a kind of inability to comprehend the seriousness of anything. It hadn’t seemed to have affected his intelligence, but it had given him a “hey man, it’s all good” outlook that was hard to get through.

Fin still looked bad. “What’s up, Fin? Did the computer blow a processor?”

Fin sat at the screen a moment longer. “No, I got the results.”

“And you couldn’t resist peeking huh? You know, as project head, I oughta have you terminated for that.” Mark walked over to the screen. It was blank. “So that’s what the universe looks like? A big gray fog? Somehow I’m not surprised.”

“No, I turned it off. I couldn’t look at it any more. Don’t worry, I didn’t erase it or anything, I just shut the screen off.”

“OK, Fin, I can wait a bit. Got any coffee?”

“Just instant.”

“That’s OK, I was raised on instant.” He pulled a semi-clean cup out of the cupboard and blew it out. He then filled it with water and put it in the microwave, set it for about two minutes and turned it on.

“So, Fin, what is it about the shape of the universe that has you so freaked out?”

“It’s hard to describe. Remember when we proposed this project? Nobody thought it was possible. Or else they thought it had already been done. Which, in a way, it had.”

Mark remembered all right. ”Fin, we didn’t get a one mega-core computer to repeat other people’s work. The universe has been mapped.”

“No, it hasn’t. The universe is not a three-dimensional object. It’s ten dimensions, eleven if you count time, which we won’t for this.”

“If that’s so, what the point? You can’t display ten dimensions in a 3-D screen. It won’t make sense.”

“We won’t have to. The other seven are wrapped up small, so small you can’t see them. We could ignore them except for one thing.”

“Oh, what’s that?”

“Gravity and dark energy both travel through these dimensions. That’s why they’re so weak at the scale we live on. But they do affect the shape of the universe and have to be taken into account. Nobody’s ever had the power to do that before.”

The microwave beeped, interrupting Mark’s train of thought. Fin was rummaging through the freezer looking for something to snack on. Mark grabbed the cup and poured a spoonful of brown crystals into the hot water.

The patterns the bubbles made on the surface had always fascinated him as a kid. He gave a quick stir and watched them collect together forming a mound with pieces that broke away and drifted out to the rim of the cup, forming smaller spirals as they did. Fin walked past with an old frozen burrito, glanced at the cup and shuddered. He threw it in the microwave without a plate and set it for about a minute.

“All right, Fin. Are you ready to show me the screen?”

“Yeah, I’ll show the close view first.” He jabbed the power button below the display and then jabbed an icon floating in the lower part of it. It first it didn’t look much different; clusters of galaxies of various sizes floating outward in a kind of flattened sphere.

“OK, now I’ll pull us back.” The universe seemed to shrink, flattening quickly; soon it looked like a one-dimensional line with a slight bulge in the middle. Then new clusters began to appear. Mark stopped him, “Wait, what are those? According to the scale, we shouldn’t be able to detect them, they’re too far away.”

“That’s right, but they exist just the same. Every theory of cosmology we have calls for mass existing beyond our horizon. We’re getting out to the edges now.”

The amount and density of the clusters began to rise until it formed a ring of superclusters. He looked at the scale. It read fifty billion light-years. “Wow, a whole other part of the universe we can’t detect. You’re right, Fin, that would blow anybody’s mind.”

“I’m not done yet.” The view pulled back a little farther, the ring seemed to curve upward slightly and then stop. Then he saw it, a huge white wall extending upward about five billion light-years before ending.

Fin rotated it until he was looking at it face on. “Look familiar?” There was a crash as Mark dropped his coffee.


Copyright © 2005 by Karlos Allen

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