Science Fiction

A new scientist learns the dark secret behind scientific research

It’s time for another free short story! Here’s one I made some time ago. If it has a point to it, I have no idea. Enjoy!


“There is something I need to show you, something no one gets to know until he or she is officially a scientist.”

Jeremy stood outside with Professor Ostrander, looking in awe at the research center, which was bathed in moonlight. “Do you always bring out new researchers in the middle of the night like this?” Jeremy asked.

Ostrander was an elderly, bearded scientist leaning on a wooden cane. He looked back at Jeremy with intelligent eyes, though there was something secretive about them. “Many see our job as shining light on the truth,” Ostrander said, “but some things are still better kept under cover of darkness. Come.”

Ostrander slowly led the way inside the building. After heading through the lobby, he pulled a keycard out of his white lab coat and used it to unlock a door. Inside was all the research equipment that Jeremy had ever dreamed of using. Lasers. Electron microscopes. More test tubes than he could count. “So this is where the research is done? This is where we uncover the truth?”

Ostrander chuckled. “Nothing of consequence is done here.”

Jeremy continued staring at all the research tools. “What do you mean? This is millions of dollars in equipment.”

“Appearances are important,” Ostrander said. “But it is time you learned where true science is done.” Ostrander hobbled over to a glass cabinet with different bottles of chemicals. He opened it up, pulled on a green bottle, and the cabinet slid to the side, revealing a secret passageway. In it, Jeremy could see torches lighting a spiral staircase that twisted downward. Ostrander turned to Jeremy and met his eyes. “I caution you: what you are about to learn cannot be unlearned.” Ostrander headed for the staircase. “The memory-erasing device doesn’t really work very well.”

Jeremy followed, trying to develop some theories on what he was about to see, but nothing seemed to fit with what he expected from his job as a research scientist. Finally, after going down many stairs, they reached a cavernous area, the walls covered with burning candles. On one wall was a statue of something demonic in appearance, a vaguely human-like figure with fangs, bat-like wings, and horns protruding from its head. At the center of the room was an altar on which lay a white lab coat.

“That will be your lab coat,” Ostrander explained. “But first, a ritual must be performed.”

Jeremy took another look at the demonic statue and shuddered. “Wha-what is this place?”

“This...” Ostrander waved his hand through the air. “...is where the power of science is unleashed.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Of course not.” Ostrander smiled malevolently. “But isn’t science all about understanding?” Ostrander then laughed at a joke Jeremy didn’t get. “Let me explain. Before science, the earth was flat. It was the center of the universe, and the sun and the stars all revolved around it. Everything was composed of only four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. And the explanation of creation was that a deity one day just decided to make everything.”

“But then science came along and showed the truth of things,” Jeremy added.

Ostrander shrugged. “Well...not exactly. You see, the early scientists were like you in your naive state: ready to set out and find the truth of the world, no matter what it was. The problem was, what they found was what everyone already believed. It was just this simple world in the center of a very limited universe.”

Jeremy scoffed. “Are you saying all the foolish notions about existence from the dark ages are true?”

Were true,” Ostrander said. “That is where science comes in. So the early scientists found there wasn’t really much use for them — everyone had pretty much the correct understanding of the world around them, so there wasn’t any need for smart people to explain things. Luckily, these early scientists were too ambitious to accept the truth of the matter. The world needed a better-educated, smarter class of men to explain everything to the common folk, and for that, there needed to be more complicated truths to explain.”

“You’re saying they made stuff up?” Jeremy asked.

Ostrander rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, for centuries, thousands and thousands of scientists have all kept up the same lies. That’s an absurd conspiracy theory. Come on, Jeremy, try to use your brain here. No, what these scientists did was a much better and workable solution.” Ostrander pointed to the demonic statue. “They made a deal with Dark Lord Asmaliel to gain magic powers to warp reality and make the universe a more complex place, such that only the truly dedicated would be able to explain it.”

Jeremy started looking very carefully around the room.

“What are you looking for?” Ostrander asked.

“Cameras.”

“Well, they make them very small these days,” Ostrander said. “You wouldn’t be able to find them. But there aren’t any; this isn’t some Candid Camera-type thing. This is the truth behind science — real science.”

Jeremy took off his glasses and wiped them with a handkerchief. “That truth being that reality had been manipulated by so-called scientists working with an evil demon?”

Ostrander looked confused. “Who said he was evil?”

“You called him ‘Dark Lord.’”

“Just because something has ‘dark’ in its name doesn’t make it evil,” Ostrander said. “Is dark chocolate evil? Anyway, you’re getting off-topic. The point is not who this guy is.” He motioned again to the demonic statue. “The point is that it’s our job as scientists to keep manipulating the universe into becoming more complex but still seemingly coherent enough to keep ourselves employed revealing these ‘truths’ to the world.”

Jeremy put his glasses back on, but part of his view was still smudged. “So all of science is just made up by people?”

“Made up... and then made reality,” Ostrander explained. “Come on; in all your study of science, you never suspected? Didn’t it all seem a bit absurd to you? For example, that humans evolved from bacteria through random mutation?”

“That’s perfectly explainable,” Jeremy asserted, almost offended. “We can show that process step-by-step through the data.”

“Well, yeah,” Ostrander said. “We’ve been working on filling in the gaps on evolution for a long time, but from a top-level, isn’t the whole thing rather ridiculous?”

Jeremy thought about it for a few seconds. “Well... I guess... it does seem a mite hard to believe... from a top-level out-of-the-data view.”

“It’s completely insane,” Ostrander said. “And that’s really what science is: us seeing what absolutely absurd things we can assert about the universe without everyone figuring out something weird is going on. For instance, the early scientists started small. Everyone knew the earth was flat, so they said, ‘I bet this will blow your minds: the earth is a spherical ball.’ And everyone at the time said, ‘That’s crazy!’ But then the scientists demonstrated that the earth was a sphere — having manipulated reality to make it so — and everyone said, ‘These guys are geniuses! Let’s fund their scientific endeavors!’

“And it continued on like this through the centuries, with scientists trying to figure out how much they could push things without people becoming suspicious. For instance, one scientist — his name and what mind-altering drug he was on are unfortunately lost to the ages — said, ‘Hey, you know how the sun goes around the earth? What if instead, the earth went around the sun?’ It was a crazy idea, but still, scientists got to work manipulating the laws of the universe to make it so. It was a really big job, that one, but Copernicus finally jammed it all together, though it still needed a lot of fine-tuning afterward. And it was really a hard sell — for a while there, we thought we overstepped the bounds, and no one was ever going to believe this. We were almost found out, and scientists started being imprisoned on suspicion of manipulating reality.”

“No, they were imprisoned for blasphemy for trying to tell people the truth,” Jeremy said, again looking quite offended.

Ostrander shrugged. “Well, yeah, that’s what we got the history books to say, but really they almost found us out. And, of course, we can never let the general public know what’s going on. I mean, think of the ramifications. We could lose... all our grant money.”

“That’s all that this is about?” Jeremy asked, exasperated. “Keeping us employed?”

“Well... steady work is not a small thing,” Ostrander answered.

“And everyone thinks this is ethical?”

Ostrander looked confused. “Ethics isn’t a real thing. That’s just a made-up word. Anyway, you’re getting focused on the wrong things again. I still need to explain how you fit into all of this. You see, for the longest time, scientists had a pretty good thing going. They would just modify a little bit of reality here and there and release new discoveries ever so often, and people would continue to be amazed by them. But then something problematic happened: people got it in their heads they should teach science to kids.”

Jeremy sat on the altar next to the lab coat. “And we’re against that?”

“Oh, yes. Once all this science becomes common knowledge, we need to make it even more complicated to keep ourselves employed. So at first, scientists said, ‘Kids don’t need to know all this esoteric science stuff; it’s irrelevant to them.’ But that made people suspicious, so we had to take another route. ‘Science is super-duper important. Everyone should know about black holes and evolution and whatnot. Why, if someone still thinks the sun goes around the earth, that’s the worst thing ever!’ So in the meantime, we’re frantically trying to fill the gaps we left in reality and adding more complexity so that regular people still can’t understand it all. And it’s a minefield. Like the day a kid raised his hand and asked, ‘How exactly does gravity work?’ and scientists realized they had completely forgotten to put any sort of explanation behind gravity. You see, one day, Sir Isaac Newton was sitting under a tree, and an apple fell on his head. It must have whacked him pretty hard because he suddenly thought, ‘Can I use what made this apple hit me to explain how planets move and how the universe is held together?’ And it seemed pretty ludicrous, but Newton jammed it all together somehow, and everyone thought he was pretty clever. Still, he never got around to giving gravity any sort of backstory.”

“Well, can’t you use this... science magic to fill in an explanation for gravity?” Jeremy asked.

Ostrander nodded. “Yes, we could, but we decided to leave that space blank until we figure out what in the world we’re going to do with a unified field theory.” Ostrander groaned. “And don’t get me started on that. Way back when, we had all these scientists working on gravity, electromagnetism, and strong and weak nuclear forces, completely separately with no coordination. Now for the life of us, we can’t figure out how to fit them all together. But anyway, that’s what science is now: a big mess. It’s like a TV show that’s gone on for far too many seasons and has far too many plotlines to ever possibly have a satisfactory resolution.”

“So it’s like Lost,” Jeremy suggested.

“Yes, exactly, it’s like the TV show Lost. We can keep people hooked because we can promise we’ll eventually give them answers, but we can’t even imagine any good answers for all the craziness we have out there.” Ostrander shook his head. “We really should have listened to Einstein. He very powerfully wielded science and knew exactly what he was doing, and he said his relativity was complicated enough to keep science beyond the general public’s knowledge for ages. He was against us adding in this quantum physics idea, and I think he was right because we have absolutely no idea where we’re going with it. You know, that’s why we like to antagonize things in the evolution arena and keep people focused there because we’re used to defending that. So we’ll say, ‘Hey, we have just proved whales came from hippos; thus God is not real,’ and everyone will argue about that and not focus on this quantum physics stuff, because... well if they think evolution is baloney, wait until they take a hard look at quantum physics. Doesn’t pick a state until people look at it — I mean, really, how did we think we were going to make any sense of that?”

Jeremy took a deep breath. “You were going to tell me how I’m supposed to fit into all of this?”

“Well, as I’ve been explaining, we’ve manipulated reality into this big, complex mess. It was fun for a while because people have really come to respect scientists. We realized we could get away with absolute craziness, and people would just believe us automatically — well unless we actually are telling people to do something, as we found with global warming. I mean, you say ‘there are black holes millions of miles away, and they crush all mass down into a singularity where physics breaks apart’ and people just nod and say, ‘Neat!’ but when you tell people to drive their cars less, suddenly they’re like, ‘This science doesn’t make any sense!’

“But then, the climate change stuff has been useful again to keep laymen from focusing on the bigger problem. With all the complexity we’ve made by manipulating reality, we might have broken the universe a bit. But, of course, you know of entropy.”

Jeremy went wide-eyed. “Are you saying it’s scientists’ manipulation of the universe that caused entropy and will lead to the heat death of the universe trecentillion years from now?”

Ostrander nodded. “Yes, that’s what I’m saying.” He hesitated a moment. “...give or take trecentillion years.”

“What are you saying...?”

“Things may be a bit more... unstable than one might be led to believe,” Ostrander said. “All our manipulations aren’t exactly playing well with each other, and there is the slight chance the universe could collapse at any moment.”

“I can’t believe this!” Jeremy exclaimed. “Didn’t anyone think fiddling around with reality might have consequences?”

Ostrander shrugged. “There’s no mention that the Dark Lord Asmaliel warned of us of any such problem.”

“Do you think maybe getting us to destroy our own universe was his ploy all along?” Jeremy asked.

Ostrander considered that for a moment. “Hm. Maybe the ‘Dark Lord’ part did mean he was evil. And maybe I shouldn’t eat so much dark chocolate.” Ostrander shook his head. “No, we’re pretty sure we manipulated science so that dark chocolate is healthy. Anyway, the possibility of the universe collapsing at any moment is spilt milk now, so no use fretting over whether people should or shouldn’t have made deals with demons in the past. We’ve now made a new decree — no more adding complexity — and all work is now focused on keeping the universe patched together. That’s what string theory is — a nice hack we have that’s so far kept things from collapsing, though we’ll need a better solution eventually. So stabilizing the universe is what we’re all focused on. Well, there are still a few scientists going rogue here and there when one gets angry at a business or restaurant, and that’s why you’ll see reports of some new food or substance causing cancer.”

“And that’s from some scientist cursing a food to cause cancer?” Jeremy asked.

Ostrander nodded. “I thought that was fairly obvious. But most of us are focused on trying to save the universe. And that is what your job will be now. Saving the universe. Pretty important job, huh?”

“Except I’m saving it from the mess other scientists have made by manipulating reality and participating in some giant cover-up of that?”

“Yep, basically. That’s why, although the pay is decent, it’s not too great. Anyway, that finished my explanation of the true nature of science. We just need to perform the enchanting ritual on your lab coat, and then you can join in. Any more questions?”

Jeremy thought long and hard. “So what was the explanation for the creation of life and the earth before everything was manipulated?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Ostrander waved his hand through the air. “I guess God or something made it all.”

“Or something!” Jeremy yelled. “Doesn’t that seem fairly important to know?”

“Eh, not really. Whatever the original explanation was, we’ve pretty much scienced it away by now.”

“And you aren’t afraid that God or something — if He exists — is going to be angry about what we’ve done to creation and come after us?”

Ostrander looked worried for a moment but then shrugged. “He hasn’t so far. So, Jeremy, are you ready for all this?”

Jeremy stared at the floor. “This is a lot to absorb. All my life, I had it in my head what science was, and now that’s all gone.”

Ostrander patted him on the shoulder. “This happens with every job. You get some idea of what it’s like when you’re in school, but it’s completely different when you get out in the real world. For science, a lot of people come in thinking it’s a search for the truth when it’s really just using a demon’s power to alter the very fabric of reality. But the important thing to keep in mind is that it’s a fun job and a steady paycheck if we can pull it off. And there is a lot of work to do to keep people from finding out what we’ve done because if they ever find out, you can be assured we won’t get paid to work as scientists anymore. We’ll probably have to flip burgers or something.”

Jeremy sighed. “Well, maybe when you get a job flipping burgers, they’ll reveal it’s actually done by summoning cooked meat from some alternate realm.”

Ostrander laughed. “Possibly. But I’d still rather do science; we pretend this job to be very important. And it kind of is now, with the whole universe collapsing. So, we good?”

Jeremy sat quietly for a while, rubbing his temple and trying to process it all. “It’s all so wrong. So very, very wrong.” Finally, he stood up and took a deep breath. “So, how do we get started?”

Ostrander smiled. “Just grab a lab rat and a ceremonial knife, and I’ll show you what to do.”