The last hundred thousand years had been hard work. Rallin wiped the sweat from his forehead and sagged back into his chair which shifted to accommodate his position. He was the best Editor they had, he knew, even if they didn’t, and to attain that position among his peers he had been forced to keep creating, keep inventing and the strain was beginning to show. He didn’t care, this one was stable, all its characteristics were in exquisite balance. It was a masterpiece.
He was exhausted, but had enough time to rejuvenate before the judging, time to reflect on the last year. His place at the Academy was unique, he had won a full scholarship with his high school project. A woefully inadequate example of universe creation, more a little ‘pop’ than a ‘Big Bang’ but the Academy recognised the talent in that ‘pop’ and had recruited him immediately. He had been ecstatic, his dream was being realised. Sadly with success often comes failures. He remembered his first appearance at the campus. There were many other entities enrolled who resented his sudden advancement. Most Academy recruits had to spend years in preparation, in some cases they had to expend enormous resources to even get an interview.
The campus was far larger than Rallin had imagined. His father had tried to describe his own memories of the place to him but when buildings and grounds could change from day to day it didn’t really help prepare him. It was vast. Most students travelled by the more expensive Dimentrain but Rallin’s parents weren’t rich. A portal was good enough. Rallin didn’t see the need to travel within time anyway. For him time was precious and he didn’t want to waste it by ‘admiring the scenery’.
He had spent the last two weeks preparing himself for the trials of Academy life. He knew he was intelligent and had the potential to be very powerful indeed. He wasn’t arrogant about it but he knew he had a destiny and nothing would distract him from it. His energy levels were full and he was fizzing with creativity. He wanted to get started.
The rush of excitement as he stepped through the portal and into his new life was electric. An initiate was supposed to be there to show him the way to his residence.
“Rallin?” A soft feminine voice called his name, he turned towards the voice eager to get unpacked and start his new existence.
“Yes, I, er…”
Rallins mouth dropped open. His words stuck in his throat as he focused on the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. His hearts fluttered, it felt as if they had missed a beat.
She smiled at him as though boys often stopped speaking in the middle of a sentence.”So you’re the prodigy.”
Her voice was sweet and seductive. He felt a warm burn on his face as he blushed. Rallin swallowed. He desperately didn’t want to disappoint her but his mouth was suddenly dry and only a croak came out when he tried to reply.
She smiled again, a little uncertain now. “I’m Shia, I’m your initiate liaison.”
Rallin forced a smile and wished he could say hello back. The blush had crept all the way to his ears.
Understanding dawned in her eyes.”Oh it’s your first time In a portal isn’t it?”
Rallin just nodded, not able to trust himself to respond normally.
She laughed, the sound like the tinkling of a thousand sweet bells. “Don’t worry, it affects everyone the same way. Here drink this.” She gave him a small bottle of water, patted him on the arm and threw one of his bags over her shoulder. “Come on I’ll show you to your room.”
Rallin gratefully followed her, wondering why his arm tingled where she had touched him.
His room was directly across from the arena. The top of the building was open to the azure sky allowing the creations room to expand. As they passed he could see there was a match going on. Two universes collided and the crash of sound and light was immense. He didn’t realise he had slowed until Shia nudged his arm.
“Amazing isn’t it? That’s Darwine and Agolith.”
He recognised the names, he had seen them battle before on the Academy arena casts. They were both good Editors and he resolved to watch a replay later.
Shia saw his fascination and winked at him. “You’ll get your chance don’t worry, everyone does eventually.” She moved on. She didn’t know how right she was.
A month later and Rallin had his first challenge. He had spent a lot of time in theory classes acing the evaluations and impressing the professors. He felt ready. The Academy encouraged competition and Rallin was fair game.
Darwine Farr was the name he had come to hate, a loud mouthed and popular second year. He was the darling of the campus and he was in a relationship with Shia.
“Hey smart boy! Your first month is up, you can’t hide anymore.” Darwine pushed his face close to Rallins. “You’re mine.” The sneer in his tone was obvious.
Rallin didn’t understand how he had managed to alienate Darwine so much. He had imagined that at the Academy he would be accepted for who he was, appreciated even. He had hoped to make a friend or two but that was not the case. They hated him, he knew now that being special was not a guarantee of success. The fact that Darwine had Shia as his own bewildered Rallin. He was determined to show her he was worthy and the first step was to take Darwine down. Physically he was no match for the older boy, but in the challenge arena physicality was no advantage. Creativity, control and intelligence were the name of the game there.
The arena had not changed for aeons. Artists had been trying to recreate its splendour with little success for almost as long. The challenges were the highlight of inter-dimensional societies, replayed and reviewed by trillions. Just being there was an honour. Rallin took his place and summoned his energies.
The game was simple. You created a universe with specific characteristics as stable as you could make it. Your opponent would try to collapse your universe by any means that they could think of. It was a time honoured way of training Editors and it helped weed out the less able.
Rallin expended a third of his energy to create his cosmos. A large amount for one challenge and a collective gasp from the physical audience betrayed their appreciation. A glittering infinite palace of stars and novae, his first creation since his high school project. It was glorious, beautiful. His eyes watched Shia’s. Her mouth parted as she gazed into the complex fractal eternity he had woven.
Darwine’s creation was simple, basic, brutal, it imploded Rallins within three moves. The loss was physical. Rallin felt the energy being ripped from his being. A literal loss of life force, it would take many weeks for him to recover. He couldn’t breathe, the pain, the loss was agony. Tears leaked from his eyes and left burning tracks.
Darwine glowed with his victory, light radiating from his eyes.
“Pathetic.” He spat a globule of crackling energy at Rallin’s feet, an undeniable insult and a waste of energy. The worse part was seeing the pity in Shias eyes as she left with Darwine. The rest of the spectators faded back to their studies. The fascination with Rallin’s first challenge replaced with satisfaction at his belittling.
He wouldn’t survive many more defeats, the energy was replenishable but if he lost too much he wouldn’t be able to create his final project. Worse still, If he was too wasteful he might even endanger his health. Rallin couldn’t afford to waste his one chance to join the ranks of the Editors.
He returned to his studies, redoubling his efforts and pushing thoughts of Shia away. He needed his focus more than ever.
He was much more careful with his energies now, challenges came again and again. This was all normal behaviour, every Editor had to accept a challenge from a peer from time to time (indeed, it was both expected and encouraged) but for Rallin the challenges were frequent, very frequent.
It was, he thought, an attempt to wear him down, to break his spirit, in reality it spurred him on. Rallin wouldn’t quit, he worked harder and harder, quickly gaining skills in his defeats and as time passed he became an expert at defence. More than that, his skills were honed by the constant pressure, and he then started to win, ultimately challenging others himself.
Being the aggressor was different but the experience he had earned helped him to annihilate his opponents. Universe after universe fell to his ploys. He gathered more and more void energy until the urge to create was almost painful.
His last challenge had been the hardest. Shia, the golden wonder of his thoughts. The love that he had never known, never dared, was now his opponent. His enemy.
He had learned his lessons well. Hatred, desperation, love and beauty, these had no place in creation. When he saw her opposite him he couldn’t help but feel the tug of emotion.
He forced it away.
Her universe was sentient. He appreciated the wonder of its intelligence, this truly was a worthy opponent. No one else had even thought to do something so bold. His surprise almost made him lose, his attention strayed and Shia launched an attack on one of his principal constants.
With anyone else the match would have ended there, but Rallin always had a redundancy now, even though the constant was changed, his universe didn’t implode it evolved.
No one had ever done that before either.
Shia’s expression was one of awe. Rallin almost let her win at that point. What did it matter? He had enough energy to finish ten projects he didn’t need this one. He could give her the win, have her look at him with that look on her face. He could be her hero.
Rallin it’s so amazing, how did you do that? Her eyes were shining with delight. Shias voice still sent a shiver down his spine. Her universe was also enraptured. Rallin didn’t reply, he decided to give her the win. Sentience was precious and she had woven a universe that deserved to be celebrated.
Shia’s universe was smart, when it understood it could never win in a contest with a universe that could evolve to meet each new challenge, it imploded itself. It had chosen its own destiny. Just like him.
Rallin would never forget the horror on Shia’s face at that moment. Shia fled the testing chamber, her tears were blood red.
She wouldn’t speak to him after that, two days later she left the campus for good.
The others were gone now, their energy wasted in petty jealousy, not even enough to prepare their own final projects. Rallin had been ruthless and gave them no quarter.
He had broken them. All of them.
So it came to be that Rallin alone had something to show, he had used all the energy he had captured, the testing was soon and he was excited. Anyone could create a basic universe, the art was in the detail, the marrying of creation and chaos. In this, his final project, the greatest difficulty was creating the history, to keep it clean without paradox was tricky. He made sure to leave no inconsistency.
If he passed, his universe would be allowed to exist until it expired. He would be given a new name, one that signified his new status and standing. If he passed with honours, he would then be allowed to sign it. An eternal monument to his glory.
Footsteps were approaching, Rallin looked out into the hall and saw the judgement panel approaching. This was it. He turned off the lights and stepped into the hall to meet the party.
“I humbly greet the panel and ask that you judge my worthiness.”
Rallin bowed deeply to the panel and they moved into the dark presentation room, he followed. The ritual words had yet to be said. They crossed the room and stood in front of the universe womb.
The Dean looked at Rallin and nodded for him to begin.
Rallin swallowed and said the words he had wanted to say since he could remember, the culmination of his life’s ambition, his moment of triumph and judgement.
“Let there be light.” He said, as he let his universe be born. The panel focused on his Work and the assessment began.
He felt lonely.