“Well, think about it. The agglomeration is only so big, right? Nothing leaves, pretty soon there’s no room for anything new. ”
“You’ve got a point there. So?”
“We went with the idea that each kind of creature would have a certain share of the overall lifespan of the agglomeration. ”
“You mean all the creatures don’t last as long as the planet can play host?”
“Right. Everybody gets a share. ”
“With plenty of time to do what each creature is most likely to do?”
“Sounds right. Anybody know how else to make room for new creatures?”
“What if we give the dinosaurs a means of transportation to another agglomeration?”
“First of all, we’d be interfering. And second of all, they won’t be smart enough to pilot them. I mean, you really have to get into this thing unfolding in a natural way or all kinds of complications start to arise. ”
“OK, OK. Then it’s settled. After the dinos have been around for a long time –"
“– I absolutely insist on being generous. How about 100 million years or so?”
“We took your always benevolent inclinations into account. How about 150 million years?”
“Done. Go on. There’s a big fire. ”
“And, as I said, there are no fire trucks. So the fires keep burning. The sky fills with smoke. Not enough light and heat can get through it. The planet gets cold and the dinosaurs – “
“– don’t say that word. You know my position on that. ”
“Right. The dinosaurs do not – whatever – they complete, or end, their lifespan on the particular agglomeration. ”
“And all because they didn’t have fire trucks. ”
“Yeah. Well, if we’re going to let a planet start from scratch and go through its lifecycle on its own, we can’t very well start with a big red fire truck sitting there, and the dinosaurs driving them around. ”
“Doesn’t seem at all like a natural development to me. ”
“Please, continue. But remember. Never say ‘die. ’”
“Believe me, I learned my lesson. Now, what’s the eventuality? You’ll be delighted to know that over time, and I mean a good deal of time, the smoke clears away and the dust settles back down. So the heat and light can get through again. ”
“And the whole thing starts over again?”
“Almost. Some creatures will make the transition. ”
“Good. But how do you plan to work that?”
“We figure that some of the water creatures will stay cool enough to make it. Of course, some of the ones that remain amphibians can skedaddle back into the water. And some of the smaller land creatures will find hideouts, especially the ones that don’t need too much heat or fresh air. We restart with those. ”
“Well, now that we’ve done big dumb, we think it’s time for small smart. ”
“Seems like an appropriate variation. Where do we get the new critters?”
“Well, after the big fire and the clearing sky, the conditions are a bit different. Naturally, some of the creatures start changing into whatever’s just right. ”
“In what sense?”
“Well, for instance, if we’re going to have smarter creatures, they have to be able to do more than walk around and grab food. So the smarts we programmed into them will go to work and develop, not only feet, but hands. ”
“Really? They’re going to have those, too?”
“Got another way for them to have something that helps them do more with their increasing intelligence?”
“I think you’re right. Please, proceed. ”
“So here’s the deal. They sit around all day and try to do more and more with these hands. Some of them finally even develop what we call a thumb. ”
“Yeah. We took it from the thought, When a creature has one of these, it won’t be dumb. ”
“Thumb, not dumb?”
“I like that. "
"Me, too. "
"Good. Let me show you what I mean. I have a mockup. See, four things we call fingers and this fifth thing we call a thumb. "
"Interesting development. Keep going. ”
“Well, watch this. See how the thumb works with the four other fingers. Neat, huh?”
“Whoever would’ve thought just one more digit could make such a big difference?”
“Yeah. And imagine looking at your hands all day and thinking, I know I can do a lot of things with these, but I just don’t seem to have enough brains. And what happens? You got it! The thought sends a signal to the brain: Can you please get smarter? And, over time, guess what? The brain catches on and meets the request. ”
“It develops into a more complex central processor. ”
“Of course. Excellent. ”
“Thanks. Now, let me show you some examples of smarter creatures. They’re waiting outside. OK, you can come in now. Please, if you’ll just stand right here. I’ll take the one that’s in the cage. See this one? One of the first to develop with feet and hands. We call it a monkey. ”
“Yeah. The ‘mon’ part stands for “moronic by comparison” with some of the later creatures but the ‘key’ stands for the fact that it's the key to getting significantly brighter creatures. ”
“'Mon-key? Nifty. ”
“Glad you approve. Anyway, since the monkeys are the first ones with feet and only pretty functional hands, they aren’t that smart, so they don’t listen well. That’s the reason for the cage. But as you can see, all the other ones understand enough to listen. Excuse me. Could you please arrange yourselves in order of appearance? Thank you. See how they gradually change from looking more like the monkey until we get to this guy and gal, who look the least like the little guy in the cage?”
“Suddenly, so little hair. Why so?”
“Oh, it seems like a less beastly motif. But notice that they have plenty on top and a sparse distribution elsewhere. We were trying to differentiate the new series, and the first thing we thought of is, Hey, why not let them stand on their own two feet, to free their hands up completely. But they still looked pretty much the same. Then we noticed the obvious. They were all covered with about the same amount of hair. From then on it was a no-brainer. We decided to take the wrapping off and saw right away that more brains, less hair seemed like a natural marker. ”
“I can see that. Won’t they get cold?”
“At times, but, hey, they’re smart, right?”
“So they figure out how to cover themselves with things. ”
“Yes, they do. ”
“Talk a little about those two at the head of the line. ”
“You used the right word. ”
“Yeah. They’ve got some pretty good ones on their shoulders. You can say hello if you want to. ”
“Hi, there. ”
“Nice to meet you. ”
“Hold it. You mean they can even talk like us?”
“Hey, why not? We figured, How smart can they be if they can’t talk?”
“Wonderful. I just love that idea. Land creatures that can talk just like us!”
“Fantastic! You guys in tech never cease to amaze me. ”
“We do our best. You can go now. And please take the monkey with you. Thanks. OK, that’s the top line on the land creatures, at least, as far as we need to go into it at this session. Of course, there'll be whole lot of smaller creatures, like bugs and worms. But they're a given. ”
"I think you covered those sufficiently in the previous session. Anything else?"
“I'd just like to ask if you're planning for even smarter creatures than this last group?"
“Right now they're just a hypothesis. I think we want to see how the last entry in the series does. "
"The couple at the head of the line?"
"Yeah. We think they'll be smart enough to manage. If they turn out to be unequal to the challenge of life with thumbs and bigger brains, they're programmed to request an improvement. ”
“Good. I need you to get the whole thing right from the get-go. ”
“We are doing our very best. Anybody need anymore detail on the land creatures?”
“Exactly how smart are the latest thumb creatures?”
“Well, you know, as the saying goes, ‘Vanitas, even among the Gods. ’”
“Translation, ‘vanity. ’”
“Oh. What, we have a weakness?”
“Well, I don’t know about you, but after all the work we’re putting into inventing the universe, we thought there should at least be one creature who’s smart enough to appreciate our handiwork and even understand a certain amount of it. ”
“Well, the potential is there, so realizing it seems more right than just pretending it’s not a possibility. ”
“Actually, I don’t see any downside. ”
“Well, let’s talk about that. All the creatures, wherever they are, will be able to appreciate what we did to a certain extent, won’t they? I mean, they’ll be alive. They’ll see, hear, feel, smell, and taste things. They’ll reproduce. Sleep, wake. The usual drill. ”
“Yeah, but most of them aren’t going to be able to think about their own lives by standing outside of themselves and saying, ‘Hey, look at me. I’m a monkey in the woods. What should I do with my life?’”
“No. They’ll just be into enjoying life in all the basic ways, mostly physical with enough mental ability to get done whatever they’re capable of. ”
“I think you’re saying that the smartest ones will have the capacity to think about their own lives?”
“Yes, we are. ”
“Will they even be able to decide whether or not they like our handiwork?”
“I think we should give that a go. ”
“I’d say they’re all bound to think, Wow, look at the land, the water, the sky, the heat and light, the plants, the other creatures, and I get to be part of it, so aren’t I lucky? So they’re bound to like us. ”
“Well, I think we should have the courage to let them make up their own minds. You just know there will be some dissenters. ”
“I suppose, and, going back to our variety principle, I think you're right. Let them decide for themselves, regardless of where they come out. ”
“I concur. As soon as we slap a restraint on them, it’s like we don’t trust our own craftsmanship and, out of respect for the ladies in the lab and right here in this room, our craftswomanship. ”
“Well said. ”
“Thanks. As I mentioned earlier, we’d even like them to be able to discover how things work. In fact, if you don’t mind, we’d like to give them enough intelligence to become scientists. ”
“Now that is a bit of vanity, making them scientists, too. ”
“You’ll have to excuse me, but we really like the idea. ”
“I’ll go for it as long as we can have some esthetically minded creatures among them. You know I’m a beauty maven. ”
“I want all kinds of variations. So there we have it – scientists, artists, and, of course, plenty of folks just to enjoy what those two groups manage to do. "
"Don't forget business types. Somebody's got to support all this science and art. "
"Of course. But go on. I’d like to know just how much these creatures will be able to understand?”
“We thought we’d be daring and let them figure out anything about the universe. "
"Anything? I don't know about that. "
"I mean, such as what it’s made of and how it works. ”
“How about how it got there?”
“From what we decided to call the birth of the universe on. ”
“You mean, we limit it to the post partum stuff?”
“Right. What about why it’s there in the first place?”
“There will be limits, and we're going to give them a pet that helps them understand their situation. "
"What kind of pet?"
"We call it a dog. "
"How does it help?"
"When these creatures talk to it, it will have this ability to cock its head to the side, like this, and look at them as if it's trying to understand. But they'll realize it never really does. It just looks that way. "
"And that reminds them of their own situation in terms of the questions we decide are beyond them?"
"Right. They'll know they're not alone with certain limits. But now we've gotten into material I'd like to reserve for our question and answer period. ”
“I agree. I think we’ve done enough for today. Between the ones in the water, the sky, and on the land, my mind is literally overrun with creatures. Anything else you want to say before we close the meeting?”
“Only that we’ve really had a great fun thinking them all up. ”
“The work shows it. You really got into it. Before we adjourn, may I ask what’s on tap for next session, which, I assume should be our last, at least, on this project?”
“It should be. We just have to settle on some details, like gravity and magnetism, after which we’ll have our Q & A session? Then I think it’ll be a wrap. ”
“Sounds like a plan. Extraordinary effort. I think we’re on our way to a promising universe. See you all tomorrow for our final and, I trust, infinitely satisfying meeting. ”
So now we had invented the creatures. Thinking back over the developments, I never would’ve thought so much would depend on fire trucks. The next session looked like the last one we’d need before we moved into major production and distribution. After the Q & A period, I planned to bring up my idea that every planet where life can develop should come with an instruction manual. I haven’t got a clue how the idea will go over. But I’m hoping for a green light.
Tom Attea, humorist and creator of NewsLaugh.com , has had six shows produced Off-Broadway. Critics have called his writing “delightfully funny, " “witty, " with “good, genuine laughs" and “great humor and ebullience. "