She turns her head, with her small dark eyes on either side, to alternately examine the orb that she carries (it is still there) and the door to the lecture hall (it is still closed). Lika thinks of all she has done to get here (it is more than some, but less than others). She runs her dull blue feathers over the orb, caressing it like she assumes her own mother did to Lika when she was only an egg (she didn’t).
From inside the lecture hall, there is a cascading eruption of disappointment (it is another failure). Lika clutches her orb closer to her chest, as if to protect all she hopes she has created inside (she can’t). Her turn before the Board of Gardeners is next; soon she will learn if she is worthy enough to join them (it is statistically unlikely for good reason, not everyone can be entrusted to generate new life). She practices a confident smile (she would be better served preparing for a life of relative obscurity, but it is somewhat endearing to watch).
She attempts to calm herself by cataloging again all the required safeguards she has put in place for the universe inside her orb (many things can go wrong, after all). She runs through the list, counting on an outstretched wing:
- Astronomical Redundancy (multiple suns are all the rage with Candidates these days)
- Black Hole Disposal System (a truly elegant solution to wayward dark matter)
- Cyclical Seasonality (what goes around, comes around)
She has gotten all the way to Star Hatcheries (a reminder of her own incubator) when the door opens and a voice from inside calls out (the Gardeners capable of speech jostle for this responsibility).
“Candidate Lika, please take your place.”
With a quick downward thrust of her wings she rises and flies low to the ground through the doorway (the orb is in her small talons). The room is dark, but she feels the pressure of many eyes and ears and other things (the Gardeners are all here, and we are all very different).
Lika alights onto an illuminated raised platform with a dais (the Gardeners prone to gambling start to make their bets). The spotlight comes from the back of the hall; the Candidates cannot see the Gardeners (but we are all watching in our own way). She gently places her orb into the holder, using her wing to sweep away the ring of dust that was once an orb full of potential (clearly, the previous Candidate was a better fit for the Board of Pruners).
“Candidate Lika, please proceed when you are ready.”
Lika ruffles her feathers once, then smooths herself out (she is ready). She places her beak close to the transmitter device so her vocal vibrations can be easily detected (the Gardeners who do not communicate by speech appreciate this).
“Board of Gardeners, I present to you today an orb of my own making: a fully-contained universe to fulfill the Creation requirement in order to join your ranks. The orb has been designed with appropriate initial conditions to generate sentient life in sustained, observable quantities. Species development will be varied and range from Type I to Type III civilizations within the allotted two billion orb universal years or one-hour observational time limit.”
Lika leans back and takes a deep breath but keeps one wing touching her orb (she is more protective than most, we notice).
“Candidate Lika, the Board of Gardeners recognizes the parameters as valid. We applaud your ambition at aiming for Type III, but remind you that even a single sustained sentient Type I civilization has been…challenging enough for Candidates to achieve. The observation period will begin after the oath is taken. Please place one hour on the clock.”
Bright red lines sputter on the side of the platform in no discernible pattern (they are never ready). The shapes are small Gardeners capable of self-illumination, and after some confusion they arrange themselves to reflect the allotted hour (they only have one job, and it is not that hard). Lika believes her orb’s sentient life should occur quickly and is hopeful that at least one particular species will reach Type I in the first ten minutes of observation (roughly 350 million orb universal years, but Candidates rarely make it that long).
Lika recites her oath (her tail feathers give her away).
“I will faithfully observe the civilizations which I am about to create. I have designed these conditions to bring about life, not in my own image, but in the manner most fit for the conditions of the universe. If successful, I will serve as Gardener to all sentient life, in all its forms, across the universe herein.”
Lika hopes none of the Gardeners catch the lie in the second line of her oath (we do). With both wings, she cradles her orb, feathers wrapped around the black swirling nothingness (she is not the first to want to create little versions of herself, some Gardeners think). Softly, she speaks the incantation that will start the chain reaction inside her orb (the Gardeners settle on letting the process play out, as we have so few successful new Gardeners these days).
Lika watches as the lifespark explodes inside her orb and her universe begins with a big bang (the Gardeners all lean forward; this part does not get old).
She hopes she has done enough (we watch in eager expectation).
About the Author
b.e.stack (she/her) is a queer science fiction/fantasy writer making her publication debut in the inaugural issue of Space Fantasy Magazine. She is interested in stories that help build empathy and point the way to a better world. Her background in historic preservation means she spends much too much time talking to abandoned buildings.
For now, b lives in New England with her crafty, clever wife. She loves looking for tiny birds in tall trees, road trips, smokestacks, and long-haul train travel. She can be found on Twitter at @_bestack.