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‘Everyone ready?’, the announcer inquired, ‘3–2–1-go!’.

The monthly contest for universe creation had begun. Contestants were meant to build a universe in their imagination and let it grow and develop for three hours. Years ago, the winner was the one whose universe collapsed last. Now everyone was getting better, so the winning condition was no longer to be able to imagine a stable universe. To win now, one’s universe had to give birth to conscious beings that manage to uncover all the laws of their universe and also figure out they are being imagined. And to make it more complicated, there was a minimum required size of the imagined universe. Contestants were allowed to interfere in the imagined universe only three times, and the interference could not go beyond the initially imagined set of laws.

All contestants had a very vivid and powerful imagination — enough to create and observe a whole universe for hours. But in order to inspect the contents of each contestant’s imagination, they all had to put a special imagination-reading helmet on their heads, and a jury panel was inspecting everyone’s progress. It was also aired live to a big audience.

J was already quite experienced, although he hadn’t won any contest so far. His approach this time was to imagine a universe as simple as possible. He devised laws that would allow for constant change, in hope that self-aware life could eventually appear. He was sure this would happen, so he planned to reserve his interferences for when it happens.

But it didn’t. For the first two hours after the initial explosion his universe only managed to form lifeless lumps of matter and void. His laws worked pretty well at that, as the universe expanded and became very diverse in terms of conditions, but contrary to his expectation, that wasn’t enough. Then suddenly that changed. On several “planets” (as he called the lumps of matter) conditions turned inorganic matter to organic matter. It was just beginning to evolve, as he has initially conceived in his plans, when all of the planets were either devoured by black holes, or had their conditions change dramatically and eventually all the organic cells were destroyed.

That was a troubling setback. He was sure it would eventually happen again, but did not have the time to wait. So he used his first allowed interference and arranged the proper conditions he witnessed earlier. Chemicals, gases, light and matter were all combined in the spontaneous generation of organic matter, and soon lead to the formation of living cells. The process was getting into speed, when he saw an imminent danger — the core of the planet was becoming unstable. He was not allowed to change the process inside it in any way, and using another interference for the same thing again would be a loss.

He decided to wait. To his disappointment, the planet exploded soon and thousands of pieces of it were scattered around. But in a few seconds he realized what a great stroke of luck that was. The living cells were not destroyed and now they were flying on big rocks through his universe, eventually landing on multiple other planets. That lucky incident surely raised his chances of winning.

Soon the flying rocks crashed into several other planets. The cells on some of them died or couldn’t survive the local conditions, but on others they thrived. Minute after minute (millions of years in the imagined universe) life was expanding, adapting and evolving. It was a beautiful and fulfilling process. He knew it would work out that way, but was still fascinated to see how it unfolds. Soon enough the diversity of life was so vast, that the expected conscious, self-aware, intelligent life form was due to appear. But then he observed a stasis — organisms stopped evolving and seemed “satisfied” with what they currently were. The three hours would soon be up.

His second interference was meant to break the stasis, to make an evolutionary jump possible. He was sure that conditions would eventually change, as they had been changing in the past minutes, which would definitely break the stasis, but he didn’t have time. So he slightly tweaked the properties of one gas common to all the planets where life had managed to survive, which resulted in a change of conditions. That had different effect on different planets — it lead to the complete death of life on some, didn’t manage to break the stasis on others, but ultimately ensured the required evolutionary jump on several planets, which was all he needed. Soon enough conscious beings were walking on some of the planets and even though he had very little time left, he knew it would go faster from now on.

And indeed it did. The beings started discovering his imagined laws one by one, figuring out the world around them. Some even assumed that they are being imaginary, although they couldn’t prove that. Some deified the “imaginer”. Some thought they are not just matter, which was technically correct, as they were imagined. What was left was discovering the full picture; realizing how exactly this imagined universe was working, and proving that it was imagined.

He reserved his third allowed interference for that last part, and one minute before the end he was just about to use it, when the announcer’s voice echoed:

‘We have a winner. Contestant number four managed to fulfill all the requirements’.

J was number three. It was someone else that managed to win, just seconds before J. That was disappointing, but also motivating.

The universe he had imagined was “unimagined” when the contest finished. It disappeared. But he would often go back and revisit the events and the beings that they gave birth to.

Next month he would win the game of universes.

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