“I think you know why I’ve called you in here.”
Bumba sat across from his teacher in her office.
He suspected the meeting was about his science fair project. He had put off the assignment until the night before it was due. Despite working clear through the night, when the suns had rose, he found the project had not been completed to a level his (or any) teacher would find satisfactory. It was obvious in fact to any that would see it, that it wasn’t completed at all.
To compensate Bumba worked on it as he traveled to classes. Before classes. Even during class, tinkering with it as the teacher walked around checking other projects, not putting the tools down till she was seconds away from his station.
It seemed the extra time did him little good. While the teacher had beamed at each of his classmates as they explained what they had accomplished, when she arrived and gazed upon his creation, her beaming face turned in on itself. While Bumba explained his project, his teacher’s face formed a look that at best could be considered intense disappointment and at worse an endorsement for radically increasing the age constraint on abortion of an organism. She did not say anything when he finished speaking, but that look told him all he needed to know.
It was not the first time Bumba had seen that look.
And like every previous time, the look was followed by a note sent to his work station: Please see me in my office after classes.
Which led Bumba to the seat he currently found himself in. He had learned from the previous encounters to stay as quiet as he could, that most of his teacher’s statements were not meant to be verbally responded to. Yet, after her opening comment, she remained so quiet that he found himself forced to speak:
“Did you wish to tell me in private that I won the universe building contest, but due to societal pressures you must award the prize to another student? If so, I understand and am willing to comply for a reasonable price.”
This turned out to be a poor gambit.
“No Bumba… no. Simply put, I don’t even know where to begin to tell you what an awful job you did with this project. It’s embarrassing to me that a student of mine turned in this kind of work. And the fact there are living organisms within it is, well, horrifying.
I suppose we should start from outside in. The forces used to construct your universe are so poorly designed and executed that it appears you needed invisible strings just to hold it together. To populate your universe rather than creating a clear motif, you seem to have thrown an assortment of minerals into the model, then left a gravitational constant to sort it out for you. And the circumferential constant for the universe isn’t even a rational number!”
The teacher was right with the first two attacks, they were indeed the result of rushed, shoddy craftsmanship, however making the circumferential constant irrational had actually required extra effort and valuable time. Making such an important figure needlessly irrational was one of those early morning ideas that seemed too funny to pass up.
As Bumba tried to respond he found himself suppressing laughter. It turned out it was still funny in the late afternoon.
“Yes, I feared my work would be interpreted that way. I promise it is rather the contrary. In the guidelines you made it very clear that the universe must contain at least an element of chaos, that it could not be a ‘model on rails’ as you put it. I thought, why only a select element of chaos? Why not make it the whole motif?”
Bumby was quite happy with that and showed it.
The teacher was not happy with that and showed it.
“So what appears to be obvious design flaws, are in fact the result of a carefully sculpted plan to make your universe appear to have very obvious design flaws?”
“Yes. Perhaps too perfectly sculpted it seems.”
Bumba realized as soon as he uttered his response, that her statement had been one of those those remarks that was not meant to be responded to.
She was on the verge of breaking out the look again, but instead his teacher decided to dig further into her well of criticism:
“Well, as you seem to have an advanced grip on this assignment, you know the project also required a minimum quota of sentient species in the universe. Most students took this as an opportunity to create a number of distinct species, each with its own planetary system molded to their unique biological needs.
Bumba, you however, opted to create a single inhabitable system in the entirety of your universe and placed every single species on the same rock.”
“Could you think of a more appropriate expansion of the chaos motif?”
“Why yes, it would have been more chaotic if you had not resorted to sloppy, inflationary techniques to hit the organism minimum. How can you possibly expect me to count these as separate species?”
The teacher tapped her desk and immediately side-by-side images of two of his creations sprung up. Both were the same relative height, length and mass. Both walked horizontally on four legs with elongated tails for balance and had distinctive pointed ears. The only difference between the two was the hair covering the body of one of the organisms was completely black, while the other organism had alternating black and tan stripes.
Bumba knew better than to try justify this failing.
It was a hard truth, pressed for time his creativity had deserted him, forcing many of his created species to end up as re-skinned versions of created species from earlier in the night. Other actually unique species had created more problems than their diversity was worth, forcing him to exterminate them and bury the evidence beneath the crust.
Which is exactly where his teacher attacked next:
“Since you don’t seem to have an answer for this,” she tapped the desk again and the images dissipated, “let’s then examine the chaos planet itself.
The crust is an obvious patch job to an overcooked core, the damn thing won’t sit still. I’m not sure why you made every organism so completely dependent on your dihydrogen-oxide compound, then needlessly added sodium to three-quarters of the supply making it unconsumable. Lastly, correct me if I’m mistaken here, but the best solution you could come up with for the electrical buildup in the atmosphere– were unpredictable, roving bouts of electrostatic discharge?”
The teacher allowed herself the smallest of smiles, believing her student finally bested. Bumba never one to disappoint at disappointing, could not keep up the silence:
“I agree they were not the most elegant solutions, but I wanted to challenge myself. It would have been easy to recreate one of the classic designs from the textbook like many of my classmates chose to do. I decided instead to tread a new path.
Rather than creating a safe biodome for the organisms, I wanted an environment that tested their abilities. What can be learned from observing organisms surviving in a habitat constructed to fulfill every biological need? Surely more knowledge can be garnered from watching a number of species live in an almost hostile world, to see what minute differences between organisms can mean in their ability to survive.
Which is why I needed an environment that challenged the organisms. One that continued to change even as the species inhabit it, allowing us to watch them adapt. Why the planet, in my opinion, is as much a living organism as the species. And perhaps should be counted as such.”
His teacher’s smile faded. Her face began to dangerously border on the look again.
“Even if I granted you that handicap, I doubt it would significantly help to offset the duplicate species I should remove from the count.”
Bumba wondered if it was possible he would receive another summons from his teacher at the end of this conversation for a disciplinary meeting in an even tinier back office to discuss how poorly he had presented himself in their first disciplinary meeting.
Rather than allow a response, the teacher tapped the desk again. A single organism appeared this time.
“Lastly, let’s discuss the bipedal organism you marked as the crowning achievement of your project.
I must cede the technological advances you have shown them to be capable of is impressive. Not only in comparison to your other ‘works’, but even when placed beside other students’ work, the species holds up middlingly.”
Bumba smiled, the first hint of genuine praise for his creation. Naturally, it did not last.
“However, I’m not sure how to put this lightly. I’m a bit concerned by their intense urge to constantly replicate.”
Another example of needing to speed up the process. Almost all organisms are created with self-preservation as the top biological urge, followed closely by empath. Unfortunately, self-preservation and empathy were never attributes to quickly populate a planet.
“Yes, continuing with my motif, I made the act of replication one of the more enjoyable acts. In fact, I believe it is the most pleasurable action possible for the species. Followed by consumption.”
“How much more pleasurable is replication than consumption for the species?”
“There are no absolute answers, their biological desires fluctuate often. If they have not replicated in a considerate period of time, the urge could rise to being 50 times more potent than their next most powerful urge. Immediately after replication however, it is about even with consumption. Some of the more ingenious organisms have even combined the acts.”
Bumba’s teacher let her deep surprise show.
“But–but they are the only species to have made any technological advances. You showed me footage of the species even making it off the planet and onto an orbiting mineral deposit, through the utilization of refined carbon and reforged metals. How could they possibly achieve that if they are so consumed by the urge to replicate?”
Proud of the last bit, he did not want to mention that it had seemed to be a fluke, as after the first few landings, the species seemed to have abandoned the deposit. A shame since Bumba had hidden some nifty toys under the surface.
“Yes. From what I’ve observed, most of the advancements have come about from individuals dedicating their existence to the task of bettering the species, in the hope it will help them to attract a more desirable replication partner. Or failing desirable, just an increased number of replication partners.”
For not the first, second or third time in the meeting, his teacher seemed disgusted.
“So, an ideal existence for one of these organisms is to thrust about replicating until it gets too energy-deficient to do anything other than consumption, then return to replicating?”
“Yes. Although, it should be noted after enough time they will become too physically exhausted to continue replicating, at which point they suspend all actions for a period of time. Then straight back to replicating if the partner is willing.”
For a long while nothing was said, then Bumba’s teacher asked one final question:
“How have they not replicated themselves to death yet? By even the most conservative mathematical expansions, without some culling mechanism any species that spends that much time and energy creating new members would quickly reach unsustainable numbers and face extinction due to resource scarcity.”
Bumba smiled, finally having a definitive answer to his teacher’s question:
“Well, you see, that’s where the roving bouts of electrostatic discharge come in.”