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Coffee Break

Since his first story in Daily Science Fiction back in 2013, Rob Butler has had about thirty pieces of short fiction appearing in a variety of publications. Some of these can be found on his Amazon Author pages. His latest publication was in the new science fiction magazine from Scotland: Shoreline of Infinity.

"So The Ethics Committee's coming to have a look, then?"
"Yeah." The doctorate student rubbed his hands over his tired eyes before glancing up at his supervisor. "This is really annoying. I'm so close to the end of the experiment. I've hardly slept since I fired it up two weeks ago."
The supervisor looked at the vast Containment Vessel and then leaned forward to study one of the computer screens. He frowned at the single red flashing dot.
"How did it happen?"
The student sighed. "I popped out for a coffee."
The supervisor stared at him. He tried to keep his voice under control.
"You had a full-scale Universe simulation at the 99% stage of its life. And you popped out for a coffee?"
The student fidgeted.
"I would have been back well before I needed to check all the final parameters, but...."
"Well, I bumped into Yvette from Accounts, and, er...."
"Well, I've always fancied Yvette, so we got chatting and I, er, persuaded her to come out for a date with me."
"Oh good. I'm so pleased. That certainly makes up for the fact that you've wasted almost the entire budget of this Department for the next two years."
A silence simmered for a while.
"So, you got back to your console and discovered that intelligent life had appeared within the simulation."
"Which was obviously going to happen, as you have an identical model of our Universe in which, as we know, intelligent life has appeared--at least, some of it is intelligent."
"But instead of making that little tweak to stop things at the bacterial level, you were off canoodling with Yvette by the coffee machine."
"We weren't exactly canoodling."
"I don't care what you were doing. Look. Can we just switch it off before the Committee gets here? Fait accompli. Let them have an enquiry and when the dust's settled we can fire it up again."
The student looked horrified. "We can't do that. There are billions of them."
"Billions!" How long were you out there with this Yvette woman?"
The student bristled. "Hardly any time at all, actually. It's just that with the vastly inflated timescale inside the experiment they're developing very rapidly. I mean, since I got back from coffee, they've gone from the Stone Age to Spaceflight."
The Supervisor ran his fingers through his hair and sighed heavily. "So, will the Committee let us just stop everything and kill it off? Or, horror of every possible accountancy horror there is, do we have to keep the simulation running until these life forms die out naturally? That could bankrupt us."
The student squirmed.
"I really am very sorry. I'm a Physics student. I'm not very good at all this biological stuff."
"Does Yvette know that?"
The student chose to ignore this and stared back at his screens.
"Mind you, they're a bloodthirsty lot. I reckon if we don't pull the plug there's a good chance they'll wipe themselves out, anyway."
"Really? Well, let's hope so. That would certainly solve our problem. I might even get to keep my job. Have they got nuclear weapons by any chance?"
"Yep, they figured that out a few minutes ago. They're making great strides now. This is actually very interesting. They're closing in on the answer."
"What answer?"
"The reason we set up the simulation in the first place. The Universe. How it started. What it is. They've found all the same issues we have, dark matter, dark energy, the relative weakness of gravity, and they've nearly sussed it." He looked up at the supervisor with a big grin on his face. "They're going to solve the simulation for us!"
"That's fantastic. This could get us out of jail. Why didn't we think of doing this in the first place--it's genius." The Supervisor looked anxiously at the clock. "But will we get the answer before the Committee arrives?"
"Oh, bound to. They're seconds away. Come on my beauties." The student hunched over the console as columns of data flashed across the screen.
Then he sat back. "They've cracked it." He didn't turn round.
The supervisor hardly dared to ask. "And what's the answer?"
"They've discovered they're in an artificial containment chamber. They're rather pissed off."
Silence fell.
After a few moments the Supervisor spoke.
"So, they were in a simulation identical to our Universe?"
"Identical. Yes."
"And they found all the same problem areas that we are trying to resolve?"
"Just the same, yes."
"And they discovered this was because they were in a containment chamber?"
The two stared at each other. Their tails waved thoughtfully from side to side.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Author Comments

When attempting to write humorous stories like "Coffee Break," I often find that characters just seem to emerge who are supposedly expert and competent but who, in fact, haven't the faintest idea what they are doing. I suspect I'm actually writing about myself.

- Rob Butler
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