Storytime: The Argument.

July 14th, 2010

A very, very long time ago, there was a wafting cloud of interstellar dust, gas, and general bits of leftover matter.  A very small bit of it bumped into another very small bit of it, and they stuck, to each other and soon to others. 
This took a long time.
Afterwards, there was a very small, very dense ball.  It kept growing, kept packing itself tight, getting denser and denser.
This took a very long time. 
But when the long time was done and everything had finished sorting itself out, it was a surprised and pleased ball of debris that looked around itself and decided that its existence was really pretty neat.  In fact, it decided its existence was more than merely neat. 
“Wow,” it said as it looked around the endless expanse of the universe, at the nebulae and galactic arms, at the dust clouds and lonely comets, at the asteroid clusters and gas giants.  “I am absolutely incredible.  I am amazing.  In fact, looking at all that stuff out there, I think I’m just about the best at everything I am!”
This was an unusual attitude for a ball of interstellar debris.  In general, the denser they are the better off they become, but perhaps this one was a bit too dense. 
“No you’re not,” said another voice. 
Now, a clarification on this voice, because it will be heard regularly: it is not a nice one.  It’s smug, insufferable, self-satisfied, and unpleasantly plump to the point of bloated.  If voices were animals, this one would look like a big fat toad. 
“What?” snapped the debris ball. 
“I said,” the voice said, from a clump of trans-galactic litter much like that that made up the debris ball, “you’re not the best at everything you are.  And I said this because obviously I am.”
The ball swelled up in outrage, absorbing a third of its weight again in particles.  “You?  Not a chance!  Not at all!  You’re tiny, you’re teeny, you’re barely there!  I’m more than you’ll ever be!  What a joke!”
“What rubbish!” scoffed the clump.  “What folly!  Look at you, barely a blip!  You’re comparing atoms to quarks, you miserable cretin, and you can’t even do that properly.  Look, as you can see, I am easily your better!”  And as it spoke, it sucked in its neighbours, ballooning in size to prove its point. 
Now, at this point a fair mind would provide a crude estimate and declare that the two were as near as made no difference.  But this was something neither of them was all that eager to possess.  An ego is a terrible thing to waste. 
“I’m bigger!”
“No, I, you miniscule dolt!”
And at each exchange, they both grew a little, a boost to secure their positions, just to be safe, to be sure.  And their argument got louder and hotter.  Much hotter, although that could’ve had a little to do with their increasing density. 
“Pompous gasbag!”
Now, this heating and growing went on for a long time, as it’s measured by many life forms.  For a pair of squabbling bits of leftover cosmic garbage, not as long.  And the argument was seemingly settled when right as the first bit of dirt and rock was trying to come up with a really good comeback, it ignited.  Fwoosh
“Ha!” the new star declared as it lit up a microscopic bit of the sky.  “Now who’s the best?”
“Still me, I’m afraid,” smarmed its neighbour, oozing condescension from a mere couple of light-years away.  “I believe you’ll find my entourage speaks for itself.”  And indeed, a pretty cloud of solar bits had formed around it, spinning neatly as if to marvel at its newfound heat. 
“What?  Well, I’ll show you!” and the star worked its gravitic muscles as hard as it could, twisting and bending bits and scraps to it. 
“You’ll find that mine are bigger,” called over the rival. 
“Not for long,” said the star with grim spite, and it set about collapsing and coalescing its makeshift audience as fast and hard as it could.  When both of them were through, some hundreds of thousands of years later, they had a spinning solar system each of gas giants and rocky little spheres, one two-and-six, the other four-and-three. 
“I have more,” said the first star, smugness oozing from it stronger than ultraviolet. 
“Mine are more sizeable,” snapped back the second. 
“Mine have rarer elements.”
“Mine have higher albedos!”
“Shiny rubbish!”
“Dull dirt-lumps!”
The fight was brought to a halt as a comet shower passed through both systems.  It dropped some very small bits and pieces of odd chemicals on one planet in each solar system, and it started to do odd things to propagate itself over the next few million years. 
“What’s that?” asked the first planet suspiciously.
“I don’t know,” said the second planet.  “But I don’t quite think I like it.”
“I have more than you, and I don’t mind it,” said the first planet. 
“We’ll see about that!” 
And so before long, both of the stars were encouraging the growth and spread of the strange stuff – they called it life, and both insisted the other had copied their name – the only way they could: by bombarding it with all kinds of radiation and seeing what stuck.  It took some heavy work to get it through the thickening atmospheres of their worlds, but they persisted, and for every time they saw the life wax from overtly enthusiastic efforts on their part they saw it change and redouble in vigour. 
“I have more!”
“Mine’s more common!”
“Shut up!”
A few billion years down the line, something really weird happened.  A bunch of the stuff started sticking together in clumps.  Before the stars knew it, life was getting bigger and bigger, and spreading through their planets faster than a solar flare. 
“Mine went multi-cellular before yours.”
The very peculiar thing about the life was its speed.  In a few scant tens of millions of years it would shrink, grow, shrink again, change itself five times over, then almost collapse and start over.  Keeping track required very close attention, something that both the stars developed grudgingly as a way of one-upsmanship. And it was a good thing they did, otherwise what happened next would’ve completely slipped their attention spans. 
“My word,” said the second star.  “I do believe some of my life is making things out of other things.”
“What?” asked the first star, suspicion filling it.
“See for yourself,” it said, and the first star could see, now that it was looking.  Some of the other star’s planet was now sprinkled with strange piles of minerals and repurposed carcasses. 
“What are those?” asked the first star, curiousity momentarily overcoming malice with heroic effort. 
“I do not know, but I believe I will call them artificial.  My new life enjoys creating artificial things.”
“Well,” the first star snarled, “so will mine!”  And it stepped up its radiation again. 
Sure enough, it had sentient life on its planet soon enough.  Both of them egged them along as best as possible, and although their methods were harsh, clumsy, and often collapsed civilizations due to impossibly harsh and dangerous environments, they certain led to interesting species.  Very, very surly ones with immensely tough radiation tolerances and extreme survival instincts that tended to fight brutal turf wars. 
“So tasteless,” complained the second planet. 
“Mine are tougher.”
“The hell they are!  Mine are meaner!”
“Not a chance!”
At long last, after something like the hundredth world-wide war on the first star’s planet and the hundredth-and-thirty-first on the second, they realized that their planets were getting awfully cluttered and broken, and there was real worry that their life could run out of space soon, or just not be quite tough enough to last through that next nuclear conflagration. 
“There are other planets,” said the first star, “and my life shall be the first to reach them.  They’ll spread across the galaxy, and they’ll be the toughest, nastiest, and strongest of all!”
“My life will be there first and faster, and they’ll consume yours before you can so much as flare twice,” boasted the second. 
This time the star’s searing efforts at egging them on did very little to aid the actual advancement of their life, but it certainly added urgency to their movements.  Swarms of little extremely angry and violent beings put new effort into crude spaceflight, slowed but scantly by their instinctive desire to mount terrible and monstrous weaponry on everything they built. 
“Nearly done!” said the first star, watching a fleet of colony ships being outfitted with antimatter warheads to crush any resistance on fertile worlds they found. 
“Almost there,” said the second, gloating over its creations as they tore out the minerals lodged in their planet’s core with drills that would make an Oort cloud wince.
“Never had a chance, you puffed-up little smidgen,” said the first.  “You don’t have the hydrogen to pull this off, not with your tiny little core.”
“I burn brighter, burn harder, and shine stronger than you ever will, mewling dwarf,” said the second. 
“Can you top this power?” asked the first, flaring up violently and swelling. 
“Bah!  Outshine this if you can,” said the second, and it glowed bright red, growing larger still.
“That’s nothing,” seethed the first, life forgotten as it restarted the oldest argument of all among them.  “I’ll burn so bright that you’ll vanish against me!”
“You call that bright?  You’re barely yellow, you’re turning red!”
“And you,” said the first, snowballing in size, “are tiny.  Hot you may be, but I could eat you up without noticing.”
“Pah!” said the second, bloating like a toad left under a sunlamp. 
They fought and grew and fought and grew, and they both got redder and redder.  Their inner planets began to vanish into their bulk. 
“You’re nothing but the same cosmic speck you’ve always been!”
“You’re a dust particle in your core!”
“Well you’re….. what?”
“What?” demanded the first planet, and then it saw they had both stopped growing. 
“How embarrassing,” confessed the second.  “I seem to be out of fuel.”
“So am I,” mourned the first. 
“I feel heavy.”
“I wonder why this happened?”
There was a brief (cosmically) silence as the two considered this, and then they both exploded, taking their entire solar systems with them. 
The two separate colonization fleets looked up from their battered, bleeding worlds as they fitted their cataclysmic drive engines for the first and final flights, then were unceremoniously obliterated by the joint supernovas at almost exactly the same time.  About half of them regarded it as a thankful relief as they evaporated, the rest were, as usual, very, very angry.   

That corner of that cluster of that galaxy of that tiny chunk of the universe was very quiet.  Only a pair of colourless, lightless weights on the fabric of everything remained, straining existence through their vast gravity wells in sullen silence. 
About a billion years passed calmly, and then:
“Say what you will about this whole sorry mess…”
“… but I believe that my mass is greater.”

“The Argument” copyright 2010, Jamie Proctor.

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