It was the second day after I’d died, and everything had been going OK so far. I’d had a big meal, made a start on my daily ration of seventy-two white raisins, and now I was being taken on stage two of the introductory tour. I’d asked, just out of curiosity, how many stages there were, but Michael hadn’t been completely sure; since Heaven is a cube somewhere between the size of the moon and infinite in all spatiotemporal directions, it was hard to plot a full itinerary.
Today we were going to the Universal Gallery, which is why Michael himself was accompanying me. Apparently you shouldn’t wander the gallery without divine escort until you’ve had a few years to get used to being noncorporeal, as the scale of an individual life being measured against cosmic scales of space and time can give people a bit of a headache.
The Universal Gallery is like an art museum built of holograms. You pick a universe and stare at it for a bit, and then that universe sort of comes out of the frame and surrounds you. You can zoom the scale in and out, but Michael advised me to take it slowly at first, as the sudden crash-zoom onto the Earth’s surface from a height of ten billion miles has caused the occasional trouser-soiling incident amongst some of the recent deceased who forget that they no longer need to pass solids.
The first universe we came to seemed like a blank page. It was neither black nor white, just sort of no colour, and there was nothing to see. I looked a question at my accompanying archangel.
“Zoom in a bit,” he said.
So I did. I zoomed and I zoomed, and finally, right at the edge of my perception, something appeared. Little grains, like motes of dust caught in sunlight, but perfectly equidistant from each other. Rows and columns of stationary dots, leading out in all directions.
“Hydrogen atoms,” explained Michael, “a whole empty universe, and at its centre, gazillions of bloody hydrogen atoms doing bugger-all.”
We moved on to the second universe. It was extremely dark, and I sensed, without feeling, an incredible sensation of pressure, like being at the bottom of the deepest sea. My ears rang faintly.
“You’re still zoomed in,” muttered Michael at my ear. “Pull back a bit.”
I did, and though the pressure barely abated, after a while I broke free of it. I found myself staring at a tiny ball, like the eight-ball from a pool table, but unbelievably heavy. I could sense its weight, the impossible heft of it, the heaviest feeling ever, like a cheap Polish sambuca feels when it hits your stomach.
I didn’t need him to tell me what this was. A black hole. All the matter in the universe, compressed as small as it would go.
“Where’s my universe?” I asked, and Michael took me over to it. It was quite late on in the gallery, definitely in the last third or so, and it was gorgeous. From the outside it looked like a big empty space where pinpricks of light swam, but the further in I zoomed, the more beautiful stuff there was – swirling galaxies, then the stately, regular sweep of planets around their stars, down to the subatomic level where crazy electrons pinged all over.
“He’d more or less got it right by now,” said Michael.
“Got what right?” I asked.
“Gravity,” he said. “That first universe, no gravity. Nothing moved. Those hydrogen atoms just sat there doing nothing, like lumps. Then that second one – too much gravity. Everything just dashed into one place and stayed there like a game of sardines. In the end He came up with a compromise.”
“Like my universe,” I said, “the gravity’s like Goldilocks. Not too weak, and not too strong.”
Michael tutted at me. “No, nothing so simple. Your gravity’s incredibly strong – it pulls stars together, it holds galaxies in their places. Incredibly strong. But also incredibly weak. So weak that a whole planet doesn’t generate enough gravity to stop you jumping a foot in the air. Weak enough to stop all the planets in your solar system crashing into each other like pissheads on an ice-rink. So strong it reaches out across all of space to pull on every molecule…so weak that it can be beaten back by a wren’s wings.”
“But…how does that work?” I asked. “How can a force that underpins the whole universe be almost infinitely strong and so spectacularly weak at the same time? That just doesn’t make sense.”
Michael shrugged, the feathers on his wings ruffling. “Hey, I’m not a physicist. I’m an angel. As far as I’m concerned, what God does doesn’t have to make sense.”