Doctor Martel trudged through the dusty corridor, past a small pile of rubble, to the thick and pitted steel door. After punching in his access code, he waited for the rusty contraption to groan and grind its way open. Wrapping his threadbare and dingy lab coat about him, he made his way to the chilly side room where he worked and began to toil away.

Martel's current assignment was the development of a more efficient light source. With the current tight supply of energy and the inhospitable surface conditions, producing desperately needed light without wasting fuel was vital. He lifted a small metallic sphere from its protective sleeve and began to tweak it with slender black tools.

Later that night, Martel put his work away with some disappointment. At its current rate of fuel consumption, his device was little better than their current lamps. Foreseeing a long night of extra work at home, he slipped a small case of tools and the device into his pockets.

The next day, as he returned to work, Martel nearly stumbled over a small girl playing atop the stony rubble near his lab. On a whim, he paused to rummage through his pockets. Suddenly, he noticed the marks. Bluish gray and spidery, they covered her neck and most of her face. The little girl was yet another victim of the plague, in its last stages. She was not contagious, but her life was doomed. No one in her state ever lived past a week, perhaps ten days.After a slight, shocked pause, he lifted the device from his pocket and moved towards her. She looked up as he approached, a mischievous grin on her face. He couldn't help but smile in return as he dropped the device into her palm.

It lit up with the brightest, most beautiful light she had ever seen. The girl-queen sat regally upon her throne, clasping the brilliant icon of her power in one hand and brushing her dress smooth with the other. Slowly, her smiling knight turned and walked a few steps, pausing before the castle gates. Slowly they swung open, roaring defiance as her emissary strode forth to do battle with the darkness.

Both the girl and the device lasted longer than I ever expected, but both grew dim with time, as all things must. But even when the light is gone, the memory of it will support us, and even when the memory is gone, hope will support us. And in this, there is magic.
“You’ve all been waiting to find out the Grand Unified Theory of all physics. Well,”

“Here it is! After five years of work in the lab, this is it! We’ve got it in a paper report also,”

“But as the report is over three thousand miles of paper long, we thought we’d better find a more concise way to represent it. (chuckle)”

“So we’ve rigged up the holodeck to give a presentation which should convey the knowledge just as effectively. If you’ll step inside, you can see it all for yourself!”

Pete and Rodney, the two scientists, facing a group of thirteen of their fellow-creatures, the entire population of their small universe. Pete with grey fur and a white moustache, Rodney with white fur and blue moustache and round spectacles, both with animated manner and squeaky little voices and sparkling black eyes.

Murmuring excitedly in anticipation of what marvelous discovery Pete and Rodney had come up with this time, the audience drifted into the dark holodeck. “Just a moment please,” shouted Rodney from behind the controls, and then everyone was suddenly transported to a dimly lit place, about the size of a warehouse, suggestive of the inside of a watch perhaps, with all the machinery flailing around, but really like no place they had ever been before.

As young Michelle with the yellow fur and grey moustache explored the place and played with the machinery (it was very much an interactive exhibit), she gradually became aware of meanings in each movement of the machinery, meanings that could not be not be put into words fewer than three thousand miles’ worth, but nevertheless she knew with each observation of the machinery more aspects of how the universe worked. As she moved around the holodeck taking in more and more of the exhibit these aspects coalesced into a sublime whole, a vision of a universe of transcendental complexity and inevitable logic; she tilted back her head, closed her eyes, feeling deeply happy that the world should be such a wonderful machine and also a profound sense of well-being to be embedded snugly in the machine’s belly, inextricably part of all its perfect movement. As Magus piped more opium smoke into the holodeck from Outside, she drifted further away from her body to completely lose herself at last in the beautiful vision.

Suddenly everything went wrong. The machines in the holodeck exploded, imploded, flailed wildly about, or stopped dead still; the fifteen furballs flew up into the air and fell on the ceiling with loud cries of pain; fires broke out randomly in the middle of the air and sprayed jets of ash and disappeared. Rodney was running everywhere muttering, “This can’t be, what could have gone wrong?”; Pete found him and started telling him about how he suspected it should have been a triple integral in equation 46789.98983209840983; Rodney said that might be so, but what would that imply for equation 3289903.9879879827327673644? Pete noticed a flaming furball running past and said that this discussion could wait, they had better see about getting their friends to safety.

From Outside, Magus watched the chaos unfolding in the furballs’ universe, which was kept in a large globe in a hall in the center of the castle where Magus lived and worked. It was Magus who, acting on instructions the gods had given him during his prayer five minutes earlier, had made the spell that had abruptly changed all the physical laws governing Pete and Rodney’s universe. Now he chuckled at the furballs’ frantic scurrying to get a handle on their situation. You’d think after forty Change-Ups they’d learn more skepticism for the theories they came up with, but every time there was no doubt that they had really found the Grand Unified Theory. -–Of course, they actually did have the Grand Unified Theory, but only until the spell changed the laws that governed their universe; then the theory would be moot and they would have to start all over to figure out the new laws. They’d probably have given up if they were not motivated by the promise of the opium high, though of course they did not realize they were being drugged. The funny thing is, they never guessed, despite all their cleverness, that the laws simply changed arbitrarily; rather, they assumed that underlying the changes were meta-laws governing the changes, which they would assimilate into the rebuilt theory.

“They must be specially bred to have the characteristic of faith in constant underlying laws,” he thought to himself as he continued with the day’s duties, and once again fell to speculating about all the aspects of the project that were hidden from him. The gods never revealed much more than was necessary for the immediate task at hand; when Magus had been abruptly relocated to the castle and given his tasks, he was told no more about the furballs than that their special “science” training was needed for some secret sabotage against the Drighan rebels in the Naput sector. Magus wondered what purpose such specialized training could serve, but of course he knew next to nothing about the Drighans and what their weaknesses might be. Their land was very far away.

Presently his mind came back to the dream he had had last night. The furballs, clever little devils that they were, had in their scientific investigations stumbled upon the spells that Magus used to control the laws of their physics. With that knowledge they acquired godlike power, at least within the confines of their own universe; furthermore, they became able for the first time to detect Magus and the world Outside, and they started devising plans to make war on Magus, whom they naturally regarded with considerable hostility.

Magus was not really bothered by the dream, although he had once calculated that his dreams came true with approximately 30% frequency. He knew that it was not the gods’ way to allow those who served them to come to harm. They had put him in stranger situations before, and it had always turned out all right. But of course he could not help but be curious as to what would happen if the dream did come true. Could it be a part of the furballs’ course of training, to temporarily overpower and imprison their trainer?

Such were Magus’s thoughts as he wrapped up the last of the day’s business and settled down with one last pipe of the furballs’ opium, before finally taking himself off to bed. Good night.

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