# Substitution

Finding the right numbers isn’t always easy. Solving these equations. Making all of it work.

It’s especially challenging when the stakes are as high now. When lives are being lost. Entire corners of the universe simply ceasing to exist unless and until we get it exactly right.

We’re doing all we can. We’re solving these equations as fast as possible. Half impossible from time to time.

– “Coach! It’s just not working out there! It is not!” I yell over the noise the crowds are making. Trying to make myself heard by the man standing right beside me.

– “Wait,” replies the head coach to me. “Just wait.”

I wait another three minutes and watch the opposing team score another twelve fucking points.

– “Coach, come on!! We have got to make a substitution!!! We’re dying here!!!”

– “Hold on…”

Suddenly all players are substituted by wild cats. In a nearby school, all pens are replaced by bananas. A mother feeding her baby begins to lactate razor blades instead of milk.

Poof. The game and the players are gone. The school, the mother and the baby gone as well. There’s yet another glitch in the system that means they now have never existed at all.

– “Bloody hell! That ‘Ő’ was supposed to be 63446.455686644372357! Not 63446.455686644373257!!! Who the hell punched it in wrong???!!!”

After a moment’s silence, an exhausted tech replies “That would be me, Madam. I’m sorry, Madam. I have no excuse.”

– “No excuse? You damn right you have no excuse! Try saying that to the four trillion and sixty eight thousand nine hundred and twenty five people we just lost from this universe!! Except you can’t! Can you??! Cause now they do not exist!!!”

– “I’m sorry, Madam,” the tech repeats awfully close to tears.

She sees his exhaustion. Knows first hand just how tired we all of us are. She takes a deep breath to calm herself down.

– “No. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled. We’re all of us doing the best we can under these extremely difficult conditions. It is perfectly understandable that mistakes are beginning to creep in after a hundred and thirty nine cycles of this. Unfortunate, but understandable.”

She looks around at every single one of us. Takes another deep breath, and then continues, addressing us all.

– “The state that we are in now, the way the situation is going… how long it’s been…” She sighs. Makes her decision, and continues: “I believe that it is time to radically alter our approach.”

Murmurs sound around the room. Murmurs expressing both agreement and dissent. We all knew that this was coming. We know where this is going.

None of us actually like it, but most of us are still very much relieved. She finally says what we have been waiting to hear.

– “We will no longer even try to hold on to the whole of the universe. We will let it drop. For the most part. Everyone focus your attention on protecting and safeguarding just and only the most essential parts of the system. We all know what those are.”

Another deep sigh, and she says “We can always rebuild the damn thing once this current crisis is over, and total catastrophe has been averted… So long as the important bits are saved. Agreed?”

– “Agreed!” we all of us respond, and get to work.

Most of the universe, in fact, almost all the universe, apart from only one or two essential seeds, is simply switched

off. Deleted through all time.

Once the numbers are correct, once the equations have been fixed, we slowly begin to expand again.

Someday there’ll be a match once more. This time the coach may listen.