Short Story: “Managers at a Power Plant”

April 27th, 2009

Teaser: The universe is unimaginably complex, and there is no sufficient explanation for why we are here. Could it be because we’re just machinery in a humdrum factory?

Jack was in charge of running a galaxy and making sure it generates the enough energy to meet his quotas and help his galaxy group maintain its production levels. The group was known for having the best energy-to-matter ratio and his galaxy was particularly efficient. In fact it was too efficient. He neglected monitoring large sections of the galaxy and failed to fix several problems that resulted in a runaway string of star explosions and rapid aging (the stars began burn uncontrollably through their matter and cut short their energy production). It even disrupted the black hole in the center of the galaxy so much that it stopped producing gravity and fell apart. He didn’t notice anything was wrong until he lost control of an entire galactic arm. By the time the emergency responders arrived to stop the reactions by dousing the area with energy-absorbing matter, he lost 70% of all energy-producing elements and the galaxy turned into nothing more than a cloud of elements. The best that could happen was that cleanup crews move the valuable matter to other regions for more star formation.

Once it was over, Jack was called into his boss’s office. After a throrough ear boxing he was demoted down to managing just an average solar system in an otherwise average galaxy. Jack’s boss and his superiors were uncomfortable with Jack’s haphazard experimentation and neglect of his duties. Normally such reckless destruction was covered up with a promotion, but no one was ready to let Jack fail so spectacularly any time soon. So he got the solar system.

The solar system is in a region on the other end of the universe, far away from all his friends. His new boss, Kimberly, had little time for Jack and left him to fend for himself. He set up his office and got to work checking out his new limited responsibilities.

He was done surveying the solar system in a fraction of the time it normally took him to do the tour of a galaxy; with no pressing issues, there was little for him to do but coordinate the solar cycles and monitor planetary settings. 

 There are different kinds of energy produced in the universe. Some, like that produced by a star, is easily controlled and provides a great deal of low level energy that can be aggregated with other stars in a galaxy and quickly transferred outside of the universe when needed. Other forms of energy, like that produced by life forms, is much harder to manage and control – but necessary to keep the rest of the universe running smoothly. Life energy is unevenly distributed throughout the universe but is capable of expanding in power by absorbing unused energy from stars and other power systems. If properly managed, the life can spread throughout a galaxy (though rarely farther than that) and generate enough power to expand the universe or exported to build a new one. Jack’s solar system was lopsided in its energy production: only one planet had any significant complex life, the rest only had simple organisms that could barely support the life energy needs of this system.

But that planet generated almost all of the life energy produced in Kimberly’s galaxy. No one knew this because several sources of life disappeared in other parts of the galaxy and the production schematics hadn’t been updated in a very long time. Also, the galaxy group that included this one was tasked with producing solar energy. The largest life energy producers were concentrated in another region of the universe. This one planet in Jack’s solar system generated enough life energy to keep the other energy cycles in the galaxy in check.

This situation was discovered when Kimberly made her first meeting with Jack and toured his solar system. The density of the life on his special planet was evolving to such a point that it was counting for nearly a third of the life energy production for the entire galaxy group. The pressure was on Kimberly to figure out where this was all coming from and she narrowed it down, region by region, to Jack’s solar system.

At the visit Jack showed Kimberly how 99.99 % of all life in his solar system was on a single planet, which was so overgrown with life it had changed the planet’s composition. She asked him what kind of protection the planet had against destruction. He replied that the system was very quiet and it wasn’t near anything that could cause any problems. Could it be destroyed by a gamma ray burst? Yes. Oh dear. She spent some time watching the planet and sent a report back to her superiors, making special mention that the life energy production was increasing and would make the galaxy self-sufficient in life energy shortly.

She was told to put a high security lockdown immediately on the entire region and a general lockdown on the galaxy. That meant that the galaxy had to be protected from outside influences and that the data connection be opened to the high command. The data connection allowed for real-time reporting of everything going on in the galaxy to be reported to higher levels. Because it required more matter and energy to create the data than exists in the galaxy, it’s only allowed for special situations. Kimberly was called back to give her report and left Jack to his duties.

To keep himself occupied during all the downtime he had, he played little games, touring the life planet and studied the life and how it organized itself. Jack, like the rest of management, were a species of life far more evolved than anything in the universe and he could fully understand the intricacies of the planet’s ecosystem (say nothing of the operations of an entire galaxy). Yet he was amazed at the complexity of the life. This planet was nearly as complex as the galaxy he once managed and destroyed. A manager could be assigned to just the planet and they would have their hands full; but the planet was self-regulating and could run smoothly without any outside intervention.

He researched life energy production and how it works in other parts of the galaxy. There were several areas of the universe that was teeming with life, but Jack couldn’t find any planet on record that had as much life as his planet.

While he was poking around the planet he noticed that it had an open data connection. The connection was built to always be on, as if it was being regularly monitored. But he had no way to tap into this data stream. Kimberly had no knowledge of the region or the planet and denied knowing about any data connections. That meant that someone in the high command was monitoring the planet itself. If that was the case, then why were they responding as if no one knew the planet even existed? Kimberly wasn’t much help – she admitted she was better trained with solar energy production and had much more pressure to generate solar energy. But she was happy that the galaxy was producing enough life energy to keep hers and several others well stocked and self-sufficient in their energy cycles. But before he could study life energy more closely, he was granted vacation. 

By the time he left, the planet was generating so much energy production that it was attracting interest by managers throughout the universe. None of these visitors had a clue why this one planet was generating so much life energy. Jack had a relaxing vacation, spent doing very little and letting others take care of him. 

He came back to his solar system just in time to watch an asteroid head straight for the life planet and kill of 90% of all living things. To say that alarms went off was an understatement. For the first time the galactic region had to import life energy from other parts of the universe to keep everything from falling apart. The drop was so huge that a nearby galaxy was thrown off its planned trajectory and moved to a path that would meet Kimberly’s galaxy head-on in the distant future.

What was happening on the planet was out of Jack’s control. The planet was so complex no other life energy experts understood enough to figure out what was going on.

Not long after the asteroid collision, Jack had an unscheduled visitor. This happened regularly. Operators and managers were social and always looking for reasons to go meet other managers and talk shop. Jack got a lot of visitors because of his special planet, though most viewed it as a curiosity.

Richard initially acted as though he were a visitor from a distant region; it was quickly clear to Jack that this guy was from way high up – maybe in high command. Jack had instant rapport with Richard, who asked for a tour of the solar system with special emphasis on the life planet. He asked questions about the ecosystem and how the life interacted and what happened after the asteroid – and was amazed that Jack was could answer his questions completely. Jack asked if he was a life energy expert. Richard said he was the designer of the life energy system for the whole universe and worked for high command. Jack then asked about the planet’s data feed. Richard said he installed that himself – he did it on any planet that met the conditions for complex life.  Jack asked about life in other parts of the universe. Richard said that the life system on the planet was more complex than any system anywhere in the universe – and he had special interest in this planet. Was the same complex life going to come back to this planet? Oh yes, Richard said. There was enough life left for a strong comeback. In fact, soon there would be a species capable spreading life to other planets, including the same complex ecosystem, so that it could create a massive rise in life energy production. Richard only worried about whatever species developed the intelligence necessary, would very probably figure out how to destroy all the life on the planet before it would begin spreading life to other planets and thus spread the risk of total destruction. Jack asked how Richard could know that something like that could happen. The life on the planet was self-regulating and has so far managed to keep itself propagating.

Richard said that he knew because he designed the planet and all the life on it.

There is no energy system that can run without any outside energy added – they’ve figured out how to produce more but any excess energy has to be removed from the system or the whole system breaks down and the universe could be destroyed. Outside energy often comes in different forms. For example, Jack was a part of external energy – the staff was needed to provide input and management of the complex systems to keep the machine running smoothly. Life energy keeps solar energy cycles in check. This special planet represented an experiment in creating a massive amount of life in a concentrated place with the ability to spread to other planets quicker than traditional ecosystems. This had the potential to generate vast amounts of life energy, which the high command wanted to build another universe.

But how could it spread, Jack asked. The life on the planet was wedded to it – Jack even experimented moving some of the life to a nearby planet, but that failed and the local life reverted back to basic lifeforms already there.

Richard admitted he programmed the ecosystem to encourage the development of life that could think for itself. Combined with the same urge to reproduce as all other life, it could very likely desire to spread to other planets. But the life forms must be left alone – interference could disrupt the balance and send intelligent life reeling from the experience and never recover.

He made conditions just right by allocating resources to the right places. The initial breaks – the formation of the solar system, the star, and the planet. Making sure the right kinds of matter were sent to the planet to encourage the development of life. During the early stages he intervened by building the first organisms, but they quickly evolved into self-sufficient states. Basically, Richard said, he gave the life that developed every opportunity to succeed and fail in just the right ways. But he couldn’t control everything. All the life on the planet nearly perished many times, not unlike what happened with the asteroid. But just enough survived to carry on growing.

Richard had to leave and he told Jack that however his career progresses, he should maintain direct management of the solar system to make sure the life forms get all the support they need; but to not intervene if something goes wrong. He would continue to monitor the planet, but the high command was turning off the galaxy-wide data connection and removing the security lockdown. That meant that the life on the planet would be open to any kind of dangerous destruction like gamma ray bursts and intelligent life migrating from elsewhere. But Richard said that the planet would be relatively safe for a long time.

Jack was promoted to manager of the entire arm of Kimberly’s galaxy soon after Richard’s departure, but he insisted on keeping direct control of his solar system. Life on the planet recovered and became even more complex and interconnected.

Kimberly was promoted to director of the local galaxy group and Jack’s success in increasing the solar energy production of his galactic arm while bringing the life energy production of his special planet back to old levels gave him the opportunity to become manager of the entire galaxy. Upon his promotion, and for a time afterward, he reorganized the management of the galaxy be more efficient and quick to respond to any emergencies, much to the delight of his old bosses. He also developed a plan to minimize the negative aspects of the collision between his galaxy and its nearest neighbor. An assistant kept him updated on his old solar system and the special planet – and Jack regularly stopped by for tours and often found him self enjoying simply watching his little wonder.

While busy managing the rest of the galaxy, a group of creatures on the life planet began developing advanced intelligence. Several moved down from the trees and learned to survive on smarts alone. One species developed massive brains that enabled them to invent language and technology and how to support large populations. 

The assistant noticed that the creatures were actually changing the ecosystem of the planet and alerted Jack, who rushed back. By then the creatures were all over the planet and were starting to look beyond to far away places.

That’s when Jack realized the creatures had invented ways to destroy all the life on the planet. The planet was generating enough life energy to support several galactic groups, and the loss of that power could be detrimental to the high command’s desire to build another universe. That’s when Jack got an unannounced visitor. Richard was joining in to watch and see what happens next on the little planet overflowing with life.

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