By Linda Boroff
Happily I sit, slouched on my space-time hammock, admiring that sun-loving, seductive little sapphire I nicknamed Goldilocks for its perfectly tuned location. Watching Goldilocks spin at its plump, warm equator almost makes my own head spin. How did I ever coax that ridiculously weak force of gravity to coalesce this lovely oblate spheroid from its cosmic dust bunny in only 4.5 billion hominin-years?
The solar system, I admit, is not my favorite, with its uninhabitable, bloated gasbags like Jupiter and Neptune and their lumpy, methane-spewing moons, asteroids spread all over the place like shingles, and even Saturn’s rings are overrated. But just once I did get it right. Only this zircon-rich little planet is worthy of its true name, earth.
Yet, a certain flaw in my masterpiece triggers a nagging sense of remorse I can’t discard. That would be pain.
As an infinitely loving imaginary deity, I wanted none of my Creation to suffer. Hadn’t I patiently waited billions of years for earth’s atmosphere to shed its toxic hydrogen sulfide glut, just so I could pop up the cute little crawlers I was envisioning?
So, fast forward a few hundred million years, and I finally had my early biota all lined up. But while they learned photosynthesis handily enough, they just weren’t going much of anywhere, evolutionarily speaking. As the eons passed like… well, eons, I hit on a way to spin up a metabolism that would let life on earth do more than just bore me silly. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I called it predation. And my little guys took to their lessons pretty quickly—allow me a minor temblor of pride—once they learned how to meander up to some unsuspecting rotifer, pierce its membrane and suck down some tasty cytoplasm. Maybe, I should have taken that as a warning instead of signing off then and letting evolution go driverless into high gear?
But I’d earned a break. So I turned Creation loose to do its own thing, hoping it would eventually produce a zygote that I could turn into William Shakespeare and other fun stuff. But when I finally checked back after that geologically brief nap, I just about lost a dimension.
They’d been busy, all right.
Poor Goldilocks was teeming with parasites, amoebae, fungi, bacteria, prions, you name it, all insatiable. There were even bits of matter named viruses (“v” for vicious) that served no purpose at all and even I couldn’t tell if they were alive or what?
How had I lost control of Creation? And what to do about pain? Because pain was everywhere. Any organism nimble, patient, and cunning enough had a license to devour. One creature’s tender, dewy offspring was another’s bloody, warm and twitching meal.
They were gorging on each other in total defiance of my best intentions. And rather than a peaceful paradise, Goldilocks was a violent horror show, all crowned by a perverse near-hairless mammal variant that was one voracious eating machine, gobbling up whole species it had taken me millions of years to evolve.
And the poor oceans! My droll little copepods had evolved sharp, calcified prongs for the sole purpose of ripping other life forms into gorgable chunks. Their handy intake vacuoles had become massive tunnels surrounded with daggers and roiling with acidic juices. Whose nightmares were these?
Wasted everywhere was the bountiful blood that I had ingeniously blended using the same components as sea water, just so it could deliver oxygen to every cell in just the right amount. But now, what they didn’t instantly slurp down they spilled everywhere for squads of bacteria to turn into stinky muck and grow more of themselves in. Worst of all, the very senses that I had installed to warn them away from sharp rocks or hot liquids now delivered unrelenting, purposeless pain.
Only then did I recall the almost forgotten Law of Unintended Consequences, which was now fully operative on poor Goldilocks.
Why would I, a well-meaning Illusory Being, desire that a living creature, defenseless, disabled and mortally ill or wounded, should suffer to its fullest extent before eventually expiring in agony?
I needed a quick solution without throwing out the entire Creation—much like Boeing someday would work to reengineer its rogue killer 737 Max without sacrificing all that slick, nearly fault-free technology.
And suddenly, I had an inspiration: I could create a patch in the form of a pretty little angiosperm. I would tempt my creatures to sample the sap of its curvy, colorful blossoms; and my magnum opus—natural selection—would do the rest. I decided to call my patch Hope-ium. While it wouldn’t help a wildebeest being dismembered by hyenas, those agonies were mercifully short-lived.
But creatures who fell victim to injury, illness and infection faced such torment that they would actually prefer the Abyss—tossing out my priceless gift of life like some nosh past its expiration date.
And that was a concern. Because the brain of the oxymoronically named Homo Sapiens, had quite recently grown out of control, with trillions of neurons and synapses squeezing themselves into ugly folds and wrinkles across its pre-frontal cortex. The end result was that consciousness spontaneously arose, and the creature decided that it was equal to me and capable of Knowing what only I Know!
At first it concocted some rather touching entreaties and rituals to honor and placate me. But soon, many of these practices grew shockingly irrational and even called for inflicting pain and death on each other in my name.
In fact, some nervy ones even decided that they were me. They rose up on their hind legs and shook their front paws and shouted death threats if I didn’t do as they saw fit—even over trivial issues like finding it an ‘optimal’ mate. Because of course the depraved creature is obsessed with reproduction, devising all sorts of ways to prolong and intensify its own sensations during simple fertilization.
Did this creature ever stop to think that I have a whole universe to oversee? Whole tranches of galaxies to set spinning and smashing into each other and star nurseries to tend to, and quasars and pulsars to track? And all the while supernovae going off left and right like a migraine prodrome? The universe is racing away from itself so fast that in a few billion years even I won’t be able to see where it has gotten to.
And that was only at the cosmological level! I also had to work out spookiness at a distance and figure how bosons and fermions fit in so I could mold the whole mess into the Grand Unified Theory I keep promising to get to one of these days.
But now Hope-ium will offer me some free time. I gave it the ability to grow almost anywhere and need only simple preparation to produce an instant Godlike sensation! In fact, rather than just removing pain, Hope-ium makes a creature feel even better than before its misfortune. I tried out the same formula I used when I completed my first draft of the universe—that euphoric conviction that I could do no wrong!
At last, I can show my creation how much I love them and prove that I really have been listening all along. With pain under control, all of Goldilocks can rejoice and celebrate my Name every time they enjoy Hope-ium’s magnificent benefits. Now I can rest at last awaiting the paeans of praise, relief, and tribute they will be sure to offer up.
About the author: Linda Boroff graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English. She was nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2016 and 2021. Her coming-of-age story, published in Cornell University’s literary magazine, Epoch, is currently under option to Sony and Road Less Traveled Productions.
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