Oh sure, said Xarlox, on my time scale, infinity is practically instant.
I’m not sure how you found me or why.
Come to watch the fireworks?
Don’t worry, you’re safe here.
You are outside of the universe. At least as much as it is possible to be outside of the outside and not inside. You’re outside of time too.
Fireworks? Sure. Look into the sky. Oh yes, sorry you’re new here, I forgot for a moment, or maybe a trillion years, they’re kind of one and the same.
The sky, it’s all around, it’s essentially nothing, right now, pure blackness, almost empty, but just keep your eyes open. Because soon the show will begin. Of course, everything is soon on this time scale.
Do you see it?
Should I describe it to you? Or do you just want to watch it for yourself on you’re own?
Okay, there will be more displays to come and I can tell you what I know with each.
It’s always over too fast. But don’t worry, another one will be on its way, soon, relatively soon anyway. In the meantime, why don’t I tell you about time and perspective?
Two minutes after your own birth, when your own clock is turned on and begins to run, one minute is half you’re lifetime. Which means that by perspective one day for a two day old, is equal to nine years for the youngest adult, twenty-five years for the man in his midlife crises, forty years for the octogenarian speaking his dying words.
There’s another firework. I like this kind, I call them bouncers, two for the price of one.
Did you see that? The way it spread out to an apex, held there for just a moment and sucked back in on itself to do it again. I’ve seen that kind of firework before, where it expands and collapses five, ten times. They’re rare of course, but in infinity even rare is common.
These aren’t fireworks by the way. I think you know that already.
Yes, of course, they are universes.
Strange word to use in plural because it literally means one.
People don’t come here very often, but usually, when they do it’s so I can explain these fireworks to them. Do you want me to do that?
A new burst should begin momentarily.
There we are.
They tend to start out the same. The sky is utterly black, devoid of almost anything. Then a ball appears, a flash ball. It grows so fast that it seems to blink into existence. Then the whole ball fades to black again. But that’s not the end. Lights start to pop up in the balls place, then more and more until it forms a lattice of webs in the sky. Multicolored, coming together to form a new color every time a firework goes off. The web sparkles in the sky while the threads and filaments move and warp into strange shapes, and shapes not as strange, shapes that your mind’s eye recognize when reading between the lines of grotesqueries. The web pulls apart until few threads are left, and grows darker and darker while it sparkles even more. The sparkling slows down and eventually stops, with one final great pop, but you never know if that is it or if there is still more left from that last bang. A medium bang, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a big bang, I’m sure you understand. It’s dark for a while, quite a while in fact, and that’s when some of the most interesting things seem to happen. And then, wait for it, boom, it starts again.
What is it that happens?
What does it all mean?
Interesting stuff. Real interesting stuff.
The Big Bang starts from nothing.
Every point in the universe has the potential to be a universe of its own. It’s not likely of course, but it’s not impossible and given enough time and space any and every non-impossible event can and will happen.
So the singularity explodes and the universe expands from a single point to roughly as big as it’s going to be, sure it grows a little more after that, sometimes a lot more depending on what kind of universe it is. But the big show, the lattice of stars, mostly fits inside that blinding flash bubble that blinks into existence.
Soon afterword the bubble fades out of view. Light is created by stars and stars are created by clouds of hydrogen that coalesce into burning balls. It takes time for this to happen, and in that time you can’t see anything.
But how can everything happen so fast? Well, it didn’t happen so fast. If time at the start of the Big Bang, the start of the universe, is zero, then any amount of time later, greater then zero, is infinite time by perspective. And the singularity, being a single point in an empty universe, with a volume of zero, when that expands to any size, that size, by perspective, is infinite.
Then the stars start popping into existence. They gather into galaxies. The galaxies form into clusters, the clusters into superclusters, and the superclusters finally into the great web-work we see.
I would say this is the era you are currently in, but that’s not exactly right is it? You’ve already seen several universes born and die since you’ve met me here in this far out outland. When you live in infinity you almost always live in the Dark Era. Universes are born built burned out and born again, like fireworks in the dark.
Anyway, the latticework is the Stelliferous Era, the most interesting era, at least for most people. The most visually spectacular. The Big Bang might be more interesting, to some, but it’s just so quick, so quick to people like us that it will lose its luster. Quick even to the mortal beings that count their time in years to really appreciate by simply viewing.
We should talk about time. How we, those without end, measure time.
Here we use log years. Where every year is ten times longer than the previous year.
The Primordial Era, from the Big Bang to when the first stars start popping into existence, is about six log years or a million regular years. While the Stelliferous Era lasts for fourteen log years. And remember it’s not oh just one more year, each year is ten times as long as the last. Which means that the entire primordial era is one-tenth the length of the first log year of the Stelliferous era.
Eventually the last stars will burn up. And there will be no more hydrogen left to create new ones. A few red dwarf stars will be floating around the universe, but not too many. Two dead white dwarfs might collide and make a new living red dwarf, and that red dwarf will burn for a trillion years. Years not log years. They will burn for twelve log years. But twelve log years in log year sixteen is only five minutes out of a year by comparison.
What happens after this depends on the type of universe.
We’ve already seen a few fireworks since I’ve been talking to you. Each firework a universe. Each universe ending a different way, most of them starting the same general way.
The Big Freeze, the Big Crunch, the Big Rip, and the Phase Transition. Those are the usual ends of the universe.
Heat Death is what usually happens. So we can start from there.
In a universe where the protons decay, after about forty log years the last of the protons will decay and the only things left are black holes. In time they too will explode. Decreasing in volume due to Hawking radiation (named after a guy you might have heard of) until they are no longer massive enough to enforce their own gravity. And they explode. These explosions are brief and seldom but given the vast stretch of nearly nothing they are noticeable.
After a hundred log years there will be few black holes left. One or two black holes the mass of a hundred trillion stars will hang on a bit longer, maybe one hundred and six log years.
No, no, your right, that’s not a bit longer. That’s a million times longer than the bigger black holes. Still when you’ve been around as long as I have the log years do not seem so big. You understand right?
After that, we get to the Dark Era. To me, that’s the most interesting era. But before we get to that, we need to tackle the other ends of time, the ends without the dark.
The Big Crunch. I call them bouncers, we’ve already seen one. A while ago. The universe expands warps, decorates the sky with its lattice of filaments membranes and spider webs. And then it deforms likes it’s going in reverse until it hits the singularity and bounces back. It can’t keep doing this forever, but it can go on for a while. It’s like flipping a coin. It can’t come up heads every time, not if it’s an honest coin and an honest flipper, but it can come up heads any number of times. I’ve seen bouncers bounce as much as twenty-three times when paying attention. Maybe some have lasted even longer since I can’t say I’ve seen every universe. I’ve missed one or two while talking to you, and I’ve missed I don’t know how many before I got here. But I do know that I’ve missed most of them, considering that they go on forever, and I have not been here quite that long.
The Big Rip doesn’t happen too often. Sometimes a universe will continue to expand definitely, increasing all the time in speed. The filaments that hold the superclusters together rip apart then the superclusters, then the clusters, the groups. But it doesn’t stop there. The galaxies are ripped apart, then their individual stars and the planets and even the atoms themselves are ripped apart until the universe is just a vast and loose soup of fundamental particles.
For people like us (if you want to call us people, which by now I think you know is not at all the case) it makes for a rather boring display of cosmological fireworks, a fade out to nothing. But I’m sure anyone who lives in the midst of something like that will tell you it is anything but boring.
In every universe there comes a time when it will transition into a different phase. This transition is a new Big Bang.
It could happen right now, to us, if we were, as it were, inside the universe, which we are not. Sometimes a universe can be in the middle of its Stelliferous Era, sometimes a minute or two after the Big Bang, very weird when that happens though, and hardly even noticeable from our perspective.
Think of it like this. At every moment a million dice are rolled. Every now and then you will end up with all ones, a million eyed snake. It could happen at any moment, but the likelihood of that happening is very unlikely. Accept…
Give me a moment, and we’ll get back to that.
So back to the Degenerate Era.
In some universes, the protons do not decay at all, or they take a very long time to do so. In these universes, the Degenerate Era lasts a much much longer time.
In some universes, stiller objects last on all the way to log year two hundred or so, and decay not do to traditional proton decay, but by virtual black holes and higher dimensional supersymmetry.
In other universes, the dead stellar remnants hold on even longer, until about log year fifteen hundred, when the universe enters the Iron Era. Where through cold fusion stars will turn into cold sun-sized balls of pure iron.
The Iron Era will last vastly longer then what you can already imagine. Where even the writing of log years becomes cumbersome, and things get measured in double log years. Ten to the ten to the whatever year it might be. Starting at about double log year twenty-six in the universes that do not decay, enters a different sort of Black Hole Era.
Unlike the normal black hole era, this era is still dominated by iron stars, but from time to time they will break down, from the same processes that cause the stars to turn to iron in the first place, and they turn into black holes.
We know how long black holes hang on for… no wait, no we don’t. A supermassive black hole will evaporate after a googol years. No, that spelling is not wrong. But a googol years, by the perspective of these vast double log years, is less than one second in a billion billion years. Nearly instantaneous. These iron stars fall to quantum tunneling and collapse into relativity quickly evaporating black holes, the last ones bursting around double log year seventy-six.
After this, a strange event will occur. Regions of space, made up of mostly nothing, will have spontaneously appearing within them, entities that dream reality. A Boltzmann Brain. It’s not so much a floating brain roaming universe. But a region of sentient energy that to itself makes its own universe.
Some of these brains are aware of themselves, others are not. They can last for a single moment in time, to log years, double log years, triple log years.
Other brains exist outside the universe and time altogether and can watch a sequence of universes from cradle to grave, like a cosmic fireworks display. Something you and I know about very well I’m sure.
Each brain, like each firework, is a universe, and if that brain only lasts for a second then the universe inside it lasts that long too, but to them, one second is forever.
And so we get to forever.
The different universes depend on when we get to the end. The bouncers won’t reach the end until they transition to another phase, another type of universe. When protons decay we reach the Dark Era at log year one hundred roughly, and the dark era ends in Heat Death at log year five hundred, when the photons, the last remaining recognizable structure of the universe freeze mid-flight, at absolute zero. Heat Death is not death by heat but death of heat you see.
If protons do not decay, the universe will still reach Heat Death, but not until the iron black holes have evaporated. The five hundred log year slow down, after seventy-six double log years, is again nearly an instant.
Everything is frozen, nothing moves, and it seems very much that even time itself is frozen.
But time moves on, for things like us time always moves on. And there is one more thing to happen.
Phase transitions will always happen. Each one causing another Big Bang, creating a universe that, at its birth, draws its own blueprints to its own apocalypse. Whether it’s a Big Rip, a Big Freeze or a Big Crunch.
The phase transition is a very rare event. But it will happen eventually, twice for every universe. Once at the beginning and once at the end. It can happen at any time, in any era: Primordial, Stelliferous, Degenerate, Black Hole, Dark, Iron, or Brain.
But it has to happen, there is a date by which it will happen for every universe. And that date is one hundred and ten quadruple log years.
Don’t forget on this time scale, even though the universe has reset, with a new Big Bang, in nearly an instant, by our perspective, the stars will burn out, collapse into black holes, evaporate, and the empty universe will freeze again.
By that date, time itself will reset. Universes will be built again, and that’s as long as you have to wait. You’ll have a chance to see it again, do it all over again, and maybe just maybe you can do it right this time.
So hang on, the next firework is coming, and you can jump right in, or wait for the one after that. It doesn’t matter either way. If you want to wait longer, I have other stories to tell.
Zach is a graduate of Chestnut Hill College and has been writing for more than a dozen years, struggling all the while with Dyslexia. He was recently a judge for the Ginger Collect Halloween Contest. His work has previously appeared in: Crack the Spine, the Short Humour Site, Foxglove, the Corvus Review, Independent Noise, and most importantly the Ginger Collect among others. You can find out more about him at his Blog:theobscuritysymposium.wordpress.com.