“Do you ever think about the end of the universe?”
“What?” John jumped as Dirk broke the silence, pulling his focus away from hit 2009 blockbuster Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
“I said, do you ever think about the end of the universe?”
“I said, do you ever think about the end of the universe?”
“Uh,” John racked his brain, trying to think of any thoughts he’d had in that department. He came up empty, but he had no way of knowing if that was because he’d really never thought of that or if his mental search engine was just lacking in accuracy. He’d long suspected that his brain was running Bing instead of Google.
“I’ll take that as a no then?” Dirk looked at him from across the couch, his expression something like he’d just eaten a really sour gummy worm and was trying to hide his grimace, rather than his usual straight line stoicness.
“Yeah, I can’t remember ever really thinking about that before. Also, why are we talking about this during the movie? I’m trying to watch McConaughey.”
“John this movie is shit, I’m doing us both a favor by creating a distraction.”
“Uh, no. This movie is great. They’ve been in love with each other since middle school dude. It’s poetic, not to mention the allusions to classic literature.”
“It has a 27% on rotten tomatoes, John. That’s the same score as Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail , John. And copying A Christmas Carol does not make something high art.”
John shot Dirk his best death glare, and Dirk deepened his sour candy grimace in response.
“Critic ratings have nothing to do with how good a movie is , Dirk ”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re insufferable?”
“Yeah. Rose says it, like, every other day. She still texts me all the time though, so I don’t think she means it.”
Dirk opened his mouth like he was going to say something, then stopped and pressed a hand to his forehead instead, tangling his fingers in one of his perfectly gelled swooshes.
John paused the movie. “So, are you going to rejoin me in my movie watching bliss, or are we going to talk about what you brought up earlier before you started ripping on a masterpiece?”
“Ugh, I’m not even in the mood to talk about it anymore. Give me a second to find my angst again so we can have a conversation that’s not about how hot you are for McConaughey.”
Dirk gathered his hands in front of his face that he probably thought looked cool and thinkerly but looked, in John’s opinion, more like a shitty naruto hand sign than anything else. John hesitated, unsure whether to wait for him to “find his angst” or to just unpause the movie and let Dirk deal with his shit on his own. In the end, he decided that McConaughey could wait.
After a long minute of silence, Dirk lowered his fingers, his default stoicness restored.
“I want to talk about the end of the universe.”
“What about it?”
Dirk paused. “Doesn’t it scare you?”
“No. Should it?”
“Yeah. I think it should.”
He paused, breathing in and turning to lean against the armrest of the couch to face John. “We’re immortal you know. Unless we somehow hurl ourselves ass backwards into a just death here in utopia, we’re going to be around to see it.”
“Oh. I never thought about that.” John swallowed. This was threatening to get grim, even by Dirk standards, and he was beginning to regret not just continuing the romcom bliss he’d had going before.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Thinking and researching, actually.”
“Theories about what will happen. I want to be prepared.”
“I’m afraid to ask, but what are the theories?”
“Well there’s two prevailing ones among scientists, and I have one of my own as well.”
“You think you know better than science?”
“Scientists haven’t played Sburb, John. Did my universe end in a way that was predicted by science? Did yours ?”
John frowned. He knew what Dirk was getting at, and he didn’t like it. The game was terrible. Even with it letting him meet his friends, it was still the worst thing that had ever happened to him by far. He didn’t want anyone to ever have to go through that again, not in his universe, but he knew that it was possible.
“Okay yeah, I guess there’s a pretty good chance that the game will happen again. So what, we all get smashed by meteors while some new group of kids has to go suffer? Would that even be a just death?”
Dirk shook his head. “I don’t know what will happen to us. We might die with everyone else, since Paradox Space or whatever it is judging us out here in the new universe could conceivably rule our deaths just because they’re necessary to create new Gods and let the cycle continue onward, but that’s not a guarantee.”
“So what, we just sit here and keep living in a universe that doesn’t exist anymore? How would that work?”
“I don’t know, but it could happen. Maybe we’ll get dropped into furthest ring with the dream bubbles, or maybe we’ll just be trapped here in a universe cut off and destroyed, nothing left but us and a vast, nonexistent emptiness. We’re gods, John, but someday we’re going to be gods of a universe made irrelevant.”
John turned away from the TV to sit facing his friend, looking him up and down in the process. “Hey, are you okay? You’re getting really dark dude.”
Dirk shook his head. “I’m as okay as I’ve ever been, I’ve just been thinking about this a lot lately.”
“Okay, well… keep talking I guess. Pretend I’m Rose in therapy mode. Maybe getting it all out will help, or whatever junk like that.”
Dirk snorted, the corner or his lip twitching upward into something like a smile. “Sure thing doctor John. Please don’t take advantage of my vulnerable, exposed psyche to have your way with me during our tender therapy session.”
“Ew dude no. That’s gay.”
“Yeah?.” Dirk turned to stare down John head on, his delivery as dead pan as a skillet full of corpses. “Everything I say is gay. Everything I do is gay. Hell, everything I touch is gay. You wish you could be as gay as me.”
“If everything you touch is gay, does that make this couch gay?”
“Depends. How do you label the sexuality of a genderless, sexless couch?”
“How do you know the couch doesn’t have a gender? Have you asked it?”
“Shit, you’re so right.” Dirk turned to the back of the couch, said “hey bro, what’s up with your gender?” then pressed an ear against it. He lingered for a moment, then nodded thoughtfully and straightened back up. “The couch says it’s trans.”
“Yep. My queer aura is so strong that it makes everything I touch not just gay, but trans too.”
“Huh, I wonder how come I’m not trans then.”
“It’s not about touching skin John, it’s about touching souls.”
John stifled a laugh, trying to retain some degree of composure. He’d been trying to match Dirk’s deadpan deliveries, but he was no match for it. “Aw c’mon. How come you’ve never touched my soul?”
Dirk tilted his head forward to peer over his shades, giving him a very obvious once over. He sat in silence for a minute, staring with his weirdly orange eyes, then returned his shades to his default position. “Nah. That’s gay.”
John lost his shit.
Once he finally stopped laughing, he had to breathe in hard and concentrate to keep from losing it again. He looked at Dirk in an attempt to bring himself back to earth, and was surprised to see he was smiling a little too.
“I’m serious by the way smiley. I don’t mind talking about your weird end of universe angst with you if it’ll help you out.”
“Sure. Thanks for the reminder John. I was having fun not thinking about our inevitable doom, but you really brought it back.”
“Hey, you brought it up, I’m just keeping you on topic.”
“Okay fine, but don’t come crying to me when we undergo this massive tonal shift. The road of Dirk brain exploration you’re walking is about to go down the tunnel of grimdark, so I hope you’re ready for this edge.”
John smiled at Dirk. “You’re always edgy.”
“Touché.” Dirk leaned back against the side of the couch again, swinging his legs up onto the cushions. They were touching John’s now, which he was pretty sure was a little gay, but he decided not to bring that up. The last thing a productive conversation needs is multiple gay joke tangents.
“So what else is bothering you?”
“Nothing’s bothering me John. I am unbotherable. Certain thoughts have just been… sticking in my mind lately. Like I said, I’ve been fixated on the end of the universe.”
“The stuff you said about what’ll happen when the next game of Sburb starts?”
“See, that’s the thing. We have no way of knowing if the game is going to happen here. How much do you know about the cherubs?”
“Not much. I know that they’re green skull aliens and that one of them is Lord English somehow and the other one is cute and kinda maybe dating Roxy.”
“Right, but that’s not the important stuff.”
“Roxy’s relationship isn’t important to you?” John raised an eyebrow, trying his best to get Dirk smiling again. His smile was rare enough that it was, in a weird and definitely not gay way, kinda cute.
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
“Then I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Did you know that they’re from my universe?”
“Yeah. Caliborn and Calliope grew up on a very, very old version of my Earth. A version after all the people had died out or left and all that was left was a husk orbiting a swollen, near death sun.”
“And you know what else? Caliborn beat his session. That’s how he ascended as far as he did.”
“But his game was different than ours, wasn’t it?”
“It was, but you have to remember that the game is first and foremost a universe reset mechanism. What would be the point of one that didn’t create a new universe upon completion?”
John frowned, trying to rack his brain to remember everything Rose, Kanaya, and Karkat had tried to teach him about game mechanics. “What about, like, the frogs and stuff? Doesn’t a session need a space player to make a frog to make a universe?”
“Sure, in a traditional session there has to be a space player around to hatch the next genesis frog, but who’s to say that’s how it always has to be? Caliborn’s solo session was totally different from a normal one. Paradox space has ways of sorting itself out, and I’m willing to bet that, though it’s not certain, it’s pretty likely that some sort of new universe spawned from that asshole’s game. Certain smaller quests of his along the way might have set in motion the steps necessary to create the same final product as a regular session with a space player. His universe could just be out there, godless like ours was when the trolls didn’t enter.”
“Maybe. What’s your point?”
“My point, John, is that we don’t know that this universe is going to have a game. Maybe we’re just in an offshoot, an oversaturated cotton candy tumor growing on the side of the real frog. We know that, thanks to Caliborn’s game, there’s at least one likely source of universal reset besides us, not to mention all the countless other possible sessions that could’ve happened unconnected to ours. Have you ever heard Dave’s Obama conspiracies?”
“Bro, you’re already straddling the line of crazy, but that stuff is nonsense.”
“Don’t be so sure John. You’re selling Obama short.”
“You grew up worshipping Dave strider and also have some of his same DNA. You do not get to have an opinion on his Obama theories.”
“We all share DNA with everything. A little over sixty percent of our DNA is shared with a banana.”
“You know what I mean! You and Dave and your weird ectobiology shenanigans.”
“They’re not my shenanigans John. You’re a product of the same process, not to mention the one that actually pressed the buttons. How cute was my baby self by the way? I bet I was the cutest.”
“Shitty and beady eyed, and I think you were born wearing hair gel.”
Dirk pressed a hand to his heart, looking dramatically off to the side. “You wound me John, but at least I know that young me was keepin’ up the ‘do.”
John rolled his eyes. “So what, there might not be a game in this universe?”
“Exactly. We have no way of knowing if it’ll happen or not.”
“Isn’t that a good thing, though? We don’t have to worry about our reward universe getting destroyed or our people getting put through the same stuff that we were.”
“Oh, it'd be great for our subjects, but not so good for us immortals.”
“I’m afraid to ask, but why?”
“Because if the end of the universe doesn’t happen because of Sburb, it’ll happen via one of the prevailing scientific theories, and those are just as bad as, if not worse than what’ll happen to us if a new session starts here.”
“Okay.” John frowned. As stupid as it was, he did feel like he was playing therapist in a way. Even if he couldn’t do anything to help, he suspected that Dirk really did need to talk through all his pessimistic nonsense. God tier knows he probably hadn’t opened up to anyone else about it. The dude was like an emotional soda can. He was all shaken up inside, but it never showed until someone popped his tab. Unfortunately for John, he seemed to be a naturally gifted Dirk-tab popper.
“Tell me about your theories.”
“They’re not mine. They’re the leading scientific theories of the day, but scientists don’t really understand the game’s universe creation mechanics like we do, so I’m not sure how much I trust them. One of the current main ones is mostly conjecture, full of the kind of complicated math that people like Jade get off on, but the other one is pretty good.”
“You mean the kind of math that people like Jade and you get off on.”
“I take offense to that John. I’m a coder; I only jack off to well written C++. Astrophysics equations do nothing for me.”
“Then why did Dave tell me he walked in on you dirty talking your fancy telescope?”
“What Sheila and I have is special. It’s not about the math, it’s about that sweet, sweet cylindrical bod of hers.”
“Aren’t you gay? Why did you name you weird sex telescope Sheila?”
“Don’t be so cis, John. Gender is a spectrum, and Sheila can detect the whole thing, even the stuff invisible to the human eye.”
“Ooooooookay dude. Let’s get on wi-”
“Wait hold on, are you still hanging out with Vriska?.”
“You and I could both hear the eight o’s in that okay. I don’t say this often, but you know she’s a bitch, right?”
John grimaced. He knew Vriska sucked, but he still liked spending time with her. She was fun when she wasn’t being terrible, not to mention she was friends with Terezi. “How about the dude who hangs out with ARquisprite shuts up about who I spend my time with.”
“You do realize the person you just insulted is partly a copy of my brain, right?”
“Whatever, just get back to telling me about how we’re all going to die.”
“Can do. Let’s talk about the Big Rip.”
“The Big Rip?”
“The second, shittier theory with all the complicated math.”
Dirk stretched, extending his arms from his pose slumped against the armrest. He paused for a moment, then swung his legs even farther up onto the couch than they had been before, draping them all the way over John’s lap so that he could lay down. This was definitely a little gay.
“You know, you’re really touchy for a guy that grew up alone like you did.”
Dirk shrugged. “What can I say? I spent sixteen years lacking in the soft caress of human skin. I’m just making up for lost time.” His mouth twitched upward in something like a smile, and John couldn’t stop himself from smiling in return. “Besides,” he raised and dropped one of his legs, thunking it into John’s lap, “I gotta assert my dominance as the alpha couch user.”
“I don’t know the meaning of those words.” He looked at John with that heart fluttering half smile for a moment, then reclined backwards again, hiding his face from view in the process. John tried not to think about why that disappointed him so much.
“But anyway, back to the big rip. This one’s a little hard to explain in layman’s terms, but I’ll do my best. Essentially, it’s all about dark energy.”
“It’s a special kind of energy that astronomers theorize about. It exists, and we can observe the effects that its presence has, but we have no way of directly observing the energy itself. It’s undetectable.”
“That’s seriously a thing?”
“More or less. It hasn’t been proven in certain terms, but it’s the best hypothesis we have for explaining certain observable phenomena.”
“So this theory postulates that, as a result of the presence of a certain hypothetical form of always increasing dark energy, the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate. The problem with that is that there has to be so much of this dark energy to do that, that we’re eventually going to reach a singularity called the Big Rip, the point where the ratio of dark energy to everything else is such that the entire universe is ripped apart at an atomic level.”
“Was that clear enough?”
“I think so? Dark energy increases until it rips everything up, yeah? I’m still foggy on what exactly dark energy is and how this would all actually work, but I guess I get the what, even though I don’t understand the why.”
“Close enough. I’m personally not so scared of that theory, though. It’s built upon a lot of hypotheticals, and even if it does happen, it’ll be relatively quick once everything really gets going.”
“So the other theory is slow then? Is that what’s so bad about it?”
“In a way, yeah. Have you ever heard the phrase ‘the inevitable heat death of the universe?’”
“Um, I think maybe?”
“Well, that’s a real thing, not just something for existentialist memers to make deep fried jpegs about, and there’s a good chance that it’s going to happen to us out here in this shitty cotton candy bubble.”
“Yeah.” Dirk grimaced and stretched, bracing himself against the couch for maximum elongation. “We’ve been sitting here for too long. I need to pace around or something.”
John shrugged. “Pace ahead; I won’t stop you.”
Dirk nodded and slid off the couch, stretching again before beginning to pace the area between the couch and the TV. “Heat death is what happens when the universe hits maximum entropy.”
Dirk nodded again. “It’s hard to define in layman’s terms out of context, but essentially what you need to know is that the more reactions and processes using energy take place in a closed system, the more entropy increases. When we hit the point of maximum entropy, no more reactions can occur or energy be generated within that closed system.”
“So, it makes energy changes stop happening?”
“It’s not causal, John. It’s reactionary. Things happen in a closed system and that creates entropy. Hitting the point of max entropy isn’t the cause of the end, it’s just an identifiable symptom.”
John sat up from where he’d been leaning against the armrest, turning to face forward and run a hand through his hair. He wanted to help Dirk talk through stuff, he really did, but all this was both depressing and hard to understand.
“I guess I understand kind of, but I don’t get what this has to do with the end of the universe.”
“Our universe is one massive closed system John, and we’re going to hit max entropy someday. It makes sense, even in the context of being within a genesis frog.”
“So would entropy increasing be like the frog getting older?”
“Well again, it wouldn’t be causal, but they would happen concurrently.”
“Okay, let me try to explain this from a different side. You know the universe is expanding, right.”
“No, I didn’t know that.” John gave a melodramatic sigh and flopped backward against the couch. “I’m not some genius like you and Jade and Roxy, y’know. I like simple logic, not giant cosmic mysteries.”
“Sorry.” Dirk sat back down and placed a hand on John’s shoulder. “I’m not trying to give you shit. I get so fixated on certain topics that I tend to forget they’re not part of a standard curriculum.”
“That’s fair. Also, it’s not like I even graduated middle school. Maybe I was supposed to learn that and I just never got to it.”
“Hey, at least you went to school. I learned everything I know from wikipedia.” Dirk pulled his hand away from John’s shoulder, but remained seated very close to him. His shitty manspreaded knee was touching John’s. John tried to ignore it, tried to ignore the fact that that contact made his throat twist ever so slightly.
“C’mon man, wikipedia? Most teachers at real schools won’t even accept that as a source for a project.”
“Their loss. That site taught me everything and I’m a genius, so by extension, wikipedia is fuckin dope.”
“Suuuure.” John rolled his eyes, and Dirk elbowed him in response.
“So, do you want to get back to my shitty lesson in theoretical astrophysics?”
“Yeah okay, why not?”
“Okay. I’ll try to go slower, make sure you get what I’m layin’ down. Square one, the universe is expanding and full of reactions of all kinds, and as a result, entropy is increasing.”
“Okay. Got it, I think.”
“Sweet. So as the universe is expanding, it’s slowing down. The frog can only expand so far, you know. We’ve got bounds on this bitch.”
So the universe is expanding, and full of reactions, but neither of those things is boundless, and that means that one day, both of them are going to grind to a halt. Everything will expand and expand, drifting apart until everything is so incredibly far apart. Each galaxy will be an island, impossibly far from the next, and each star within those galaxies will be the same, and that’s when we’ll stop moving. We’ll run out of high grade energy, all the bigger, more powerful stars burning themselves out long before this point, and all that will be left are red dwarfs. They’re the smallest, coolest burning stars, so they last the longest.”
He paused, looking at John.
“Okay, that all follows from what you said before, I guess.”
Dirk nodded. “Okay, now imagine that we’re stars.”
“Right, so out there is space, this,” Dirk pressed his knee even more against John’s, “does not happen. Instead,” he shifted down to the other end of the couch, “we’d be here. And then, as the universe expands, we’d get farther,” he stood and took a step back, “and farther,” he took another step, “and farther away. Then, as things neared the end we’d either be dead or we’d be red dwarves, so tiny and dim that we might not even be able to see each other anymore. Any remaining life will be stuck huddled around these dying stars, desperate to harness any source of power they can to survive as, one by one, the few remaining lights in the night sky go out. Eventually, even the red dwarves will burn themselves out, and the universe will be dark. Entropy will increase until it no longer can, and we will be left here, cold and alone in a universe that has used itself up, in the belly of a dying frog whose heart no longer has power enough to beat.”
There was a long beat of silence as John processed what he’d heard. He thought of that life, of that future, all cold and red and lonely, and it chilled him to the bone. It was like an inescapable universal depression, the lack of light and energy. He understood why it scared Dirk; it scared him too, in a way.
Dirk and pressed a hand to his face. “Shit, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-”
“Dude, do you want a hug?”
John stood. “Do you want a hug?”
“I don’t know much about physics, but this has to be a really, really long way away, right?”
“Right. Billions and billions, maybe trillions.”
“We’re nineteen Dirk. We can revisit this in a few billion years, can’t we?”
“We could, but that’s not the most practical.”
John took a step forward. “It is though. You can’t spend your whole life worrying about the end of it. That’s how depression and anxiety happen.”
“I’m already depressed, John.”
“Yeah? Well so am I, so come here and hug me already.”
“Fine.” Dirk came over there and hugged him already. John held him close, treasuring the sensation despite the obnoxious pointiness of his bony joints.
“Hey Dirk.” John was whispering, still holding him close. “Do you wanna know my theory about the end of the universe?”
Dirk said nothing, just nodded.
“I think that we’re gonna be okay.” John let go of Dirk and took a small step back. “I think that someday, out there in all that spooky, cold, entropy filled darkness, the remaining people are gonna look up and see bright lights in the sky, one orange and one blue and probably a bunch of other colors too, and they’ll look closer, and it’ll be us. What you talked about is scary, but we’re gods with billions of years to figure it out. We’ll be fine.”
“We don’t know that, though.”
“I do. And even if we don’t have a solution, we won’t be alone out there. We have each other.”
“That’s some real sentimental bullshit there Egbert, but thanks.”
They stood there in heavy silence, neither of them moving away from the other. John knew that he really should take a step back because he was way too close, but he didn’t. He liked being close. In a weird, unfamiliar way, he was pretty sure he wanted to be closer. A lot closer.
“How gay would it be if I kissed you?”
“Is it weird that I kinda want to anyway?”
“Nah. I told you, I turn everything I touch gay. I gave your soul a class a groping during that hug.”
“Oh fuck off.”
“Nope. You brought it up, now you gotta kiss me.” Dirk wrapped one arm around John’s waist and pressed another to his cheek. “Unless this is too homo for you?”
“Nah. I think I’m good with it.”