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Short Story: Planet Making
Writer: William Fischer
Photographer: Rosel Meyer
Building a Universe is a complicated business, and many different masters of crafts are required for it. There are the star inflators, the black hole punchers, the comet spinners and, of course, the planet makers. For most of the known history of our Universe, the chief master of planet making was the illustrious, and somewhat unorthodox Cárnathach Bob, whose work makes up most of what astronomers are finding in their lenses today.
Not so long ago - only 4.6 billion years - Bob was hard at work putting the finishing touches on a gaseous giant when he made a slight miscalculation in hydrogen and the whole thing went up in smoke. Took a few moons and a passing comet with it. Now Bob, in all his billions of years, had made his share of mistakes, but never one on quite this scale, and he didn’t take it well at all.
“That tears it!” he thundered. “Hand over my pension and give me my gold watch – it’s high time I retire!”
Of course, it wasn’t as simple as all that. Remember, Bob was the chief master for planet making, and finding a successor was a very serious matter. Tradition demanded that the job go to Bob's apprentice, but as it happened, he had two at the time. The senior was Leonine, who had served Bob almost since the Beginning, and the junior was Papy.
Bob summoned his two apprentices before him, looked them right in the eyes, and said: “Well, you weak-fingered whittle shavings, this is the end. I’ve put in my two eons notice and I bought myself a cracker box off the southern arm of Andromeda. It’s time for one of you to have this headache!”
“Have you made a choice yet, O Lord of Planets?” asked Leonine.
“It’s plain ‘Bob’ now, far as I’m concerned, so you stuff your salutations!” Bob barked. “Each of you throw together some little rock to go around a yellow star. And I don’t want some pockmarked orb scorched dry by the gas ball either; I want a world with life! Whoever cocks it up the least, gets the job. Now, off you get!” And so the work began.
Leonine chose to put his planet around a yellow star in the Sunflower Galaxy. He was a very proper sort, never having been fully comfortable with his master's eccentricities. "It is time to bring things back to the recipes," he told himself, being very sure of his chances, "and I will start with this contest." Doing things this way is straightforward enough - measuring out the ingredients down to a microscopic level, building up core, mantle, and crust with spherical moulds, layering the atmosphere with special pumps, and so on. Leonine spent millennia in cold and careful labour on this planet, deviating not one jot from his recipe. "Life must be made in the same way," he declared, and he made his life from a careful stewing of matter in the depths of the sea.
Papy chose to put her planet around a yellow star in the Milky Way. Planet making was not Papy's first attempted craft, or even her twenty-seventh. A bumbler if ever there was one, she only reason she'd lasted so long with Bob was that he was the only master patient and unusual enough to endure her. Reading the recipes, she scratched her head and grumbled: "I can't work this way. I don't even have the tools!" It all came down to feelings with her; shaping the sphere by hand until it felt right, blowing the atmosphere around through a straw until it was tasty, and so on. Working like this, Papy took roughly as long as Leonine, give or take a century, but she became hung up on the matter of life. The stew her peer had used was well beyond her ken, and alternative methods tended to be on the violent side. But, soon enough the deadline was on her.
"The violence will have to do," she gulped. She threw a meteor into her still-boiling sea, let the results play out how they would, and created a moon on the side. Maybe it'll get me extra credit, she hoped.
The contest, rushed at a mere 200 million years to accommodate Bob's retirement date, soon came to a close. "Alright then," Bob declared, "let's see what you two low-impact moon craters scraped together!"
"Let me present first, O...Bob!" Leonine cried, rushing up to present his effort first. Looking it over, Bob saw a perfect sphere, large by rock planet standards, with an even division between land and sea. The geology was stable, the climate tame, and the forms of life - a collection of spores and moulds - maintained the atmosphere and a symbiotic relationship with one other. It was a world as stable and reliable as clockwork.
"It's not quite finished yet," Papy’s planet said of her planet. She held it out, and Bob saw a rather small sphere of imperfect shape. The land was all bunched together, but showed signs that it could split in pieces at any moment. The climate swung from hot to cold, the atmosphere wouldn't keep consistent, and life evolved in every direction imaginable, engaging itself with everything from wild competition to nonsensical cooperation.
It didn’t take Bob more than a few decades to make his decision. All other planet makers, and the masters of all other crafts, assembled in all their finery to anoint the new chief. Leonine and Papy sat before them all. Bob himself was packed and decked out for his cosy Andromeda retirement, with the name of his successor in his hand.
“The winner,” he cried out, “is Papy.”
“PAPY!” yelled Leonine, and the rest of the audience shared the sentiment. But convention demanded that the ceremony go forward, and Papy was sworn in with due pomp. Bob only stayed to say "congratulations" before heading out the door. Leonine went running after, demanding an explanation.
"Do you remember what I asked for when I set the contest?" Bob asked him.
"Of course. You wanted a rock planet with life on it."
"'Well?' 'Well' what? Did I not deliver?"
“My young beard,” Bob sighed, “you delivered a dull-as-a-black-dwarf rock ball with a few living things. What I wanted was a world with life!”
William is a native Nebraskan with a BFA in Theatre Arts (emphasis Film and New Media) from the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film of UNL and is currently pursuing work as an author/illustrator.
#Otherworldly #SciFi #ClimateChange #ShortStory #Fiction #CreativeWriting #PlanetMaking #WilliamFisher #UNLAlumni
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