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The Purpose of Life (a short story)

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Yahweh sighed and slouched back in his leather desk chair, rubbing his snow-white bearded chin thoughtfully.

“You still don’t understand, Lucifer,” he said. “Let me run through it again.”

He rubbed his temples. His good friend Lucifer sat across the desk from him and toyed with the stapler. Lucifer was a bit brash and naive at times, but Yahweh was quite fond of him.

“You see, Luce, I almost never tamper with the inputs once a project is running. That’s why I put so much effort into getting the initial conditions right. It’s not that I can’t make adjustments on the fly, but doing so requires some major recalculation so as not to mess up anything.

“And this project… well, I knew it was going to be one of my most ambitious yet. I worked for literally months on the initial inputs. But because of the sheer scope of the project — this thing is really huge in terms of energy requirements — I figured eventually I would have to step in and make a tweak here or there. Chaos rears its ugly head. It’s damn hard to keep every butterfly flapping it’s wings just so…”

Lucifer squinted. “I get that the chaos thing was impossible to totally account for, even with all the computing power at your disposal. But Yack — you had control over everything when you set it up — so why introduce chaos at all? Why not make everything completely determinate?”

Yahweh shrugged. “I like a challenge. What can I say?”

“Okay,” Lucifer continued, “So we have chaos. And despite your best efforts to mitigate it, you realized that by the end of the Cretaceous period, an intelligent bipedal dinosaur would have appeared, and you didn’t want that…”

“Of course not,” Yahweh interjected.

“Yeah, I get it. We’ve been over that. But don’t you think wiping out virtually the whole clade was a bit harsh?”

“To be perfectly honest with you Luce, I was never that fond of the little bastards anyway. But you have to admit, I handled their destruction with great finesse. A meteor just the right size, at just the right speed and angle. Just enough to set off a chain of events that both wiped out the dinosaurs and opened up a niche for mammals, without wiping out all life. Not bad, huh?”

Lucifer grinned that mischievous — almost evil — smile that had the effect of causing both endearment and a twinge of fear simultaneously. “Yeah, old boy, I’d say it was a master stroke. Except…”

“I know, I know.” Yahweh fiddled with the stapler, then put it down. “I knew it would eventually lead to the endless cycles of ice ages and warm periods. I just didn’t think about how freaking boring that would be.”

“So you really wanted to warm things up, and keep them warm, right?”

“Exactly. You know how I hate cold. And snow, by Me! One of my worst inventions ever. I wanted things much hotter and much wetter.”

“Come on, Yack!” Lucifer grinned, revealing a jagged set of pearly whites. “You know I’m not buying that. You couldn’t care less about the temperature on Earth. You did it because of her, didn’t you? Come on! ‘Thou shalt not lie’, big guy!”

Yahweh winced. He hated it when Lucifer mocked him with the crap they made up and claimed he had said. Not that he had a problem with this particular admonition. But some of the stuff they came up with! He shivered.

“Okay, okay. Yes, Sophia asked me to turn up the heat a few degrees. So I did. Big deal.”

“But, you had to do it quickly, didn’t you? She wanted it done, like yesterday, didn’t she?”

“Yeah. I told her that heating an entire planet takes many millennia. It’s not like I can just thrust the planet into a new orbit or make the sun hotter. Those kinds of drastic changes not only take an enormous amount of energy, but they also have literally millions of side effects, any one of which can wreck the whole damn shooting match. Makes my 500 billion-year-old head throb just thinking about it.”

“Okay, so you had to put that off a while. What about the primates? You were going to tell me about your big end game.”

For the first time during the conversation, Yahweh’s face lit up. Literally — he was glowing. He loved talking about the primates.

“Yeah, those critters are pretty cool, aren’t they? I mean, they’re not as impressive as the whales or as smart as the dolphins or as graceful as the big cats. But overall I think they are my finest work.”

“That wouldn’t be because some of them came out looking a lot like you, would it?” There was that evil grin again.

“Hey, I didn’t plan that. Evolution, you know! Can I help it that the bipedal form is do damn beautiful? Anyway, as I was saying… wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, the primates were very cool, but late in the Pleistocene I noticed that a few of their species started showing signs of doing what those smart ass bipedal dinosaurs had been doing. They even started making crude tools and starting fires. At first I was a little freaked out by all that.”

“So you decided to wipe them out too?”

“You know, I thought about that — seriously considered it. Creatures should never learn to think and create as we do. It’s just not natural. But then an idea hit me as I watched a band of Neandertals…”

“You mean Neanderthals.”

“Shit. I wish they would make up their minds about that word. Anyway, I was watching those cavemen as they built a huge fire to cook their dinner or scare off tigers or some such thing. And then it hit me…”

“Burn ’em up in the flames of Hell?” Lucifer laughed wickedly. Were his eyes aglow?

“One of these days, Luce. One of these days I’m going to forget what great friends we are and string you up by your pointy tail! May I continue?”

Lucifer, still snorting with glee, nodded.

“No, what occurred to me was the damn fire! For the first time I realized that creatures could learn to tame fire. They were burning wood, and I knew that it was adding a minuscule amount of carbon to the air. Now that’s not a problem of course. I have all sorts of self-regulating mechanisms built in to keep the atmosphere in balance. But I remembered all the trillions of tons of carbon I had locked up in the Earth’s crust from…”

“From the Carboniferous period!”

“Exactly. So what happens if you release all that carbon over the course of a few days?”

“‘Days’ being our days, not theirs, right?”

“Naturally. A day to me is about, what, a thousand years to them?” He chuckled at the inside joke. “Anyhow, all I had to do was get most of that carbon released into the atmosphere, and then guess what happens?”

“Oceans of tonic water?” Lucifer offered.

“You never were much on science, were you, you little devil? No, lots of carbon in the air means a runaway greenhouse effect. Which means I get Sophia’s hot house, and fast!”

“Oh, I see, Yack. But you already said that massive engineering projects like that are not feasible, especially in so short a time. How do you unlock all that carbon quickly?”

“Easy, Sulfur Breath! I don’t. I let them do it for me!”

“What… the cavemen?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

Yahweh leaned forward, obviously enjoying this.

“The cavemen could unlock all the carbon in the earth’s crust in a day or two, given enough technology.”

“Whoa!” exclaimed Lucifer. “It’s been a while since I checked on your Earth peeps. But last time I looked, your hominids were still writing on animal skins and nailing saviors to crosses. No way could they be capable of extracting and using all that carbon yet. Could they?”

Yahweh ignored the joke about Jesus. His friend enjoyed pushing his buttons, and poking fun of the nutty things humans invented in Yahweh’s name was his favorite.

“Lucifer, my friend, you’d be amazed at the difference a couple of their millennia can make, once I made a few simple tweaks. You see, for better or worse, their invention of Christianity and later Islam eventually led humans to great heights of artistic and scientific achievement. In a roundabout sort of way, of course.”

“It also led to much suffering and death,” Lucifer reminded him.

Yahweh shrugged. “Collateral damage. But in the end, it worked. The past few hours have been fascinating. They have burned up a good fraction of the carbon that was stored in the crust of the Earth in the form of coal, oil, and other hydrocarbons, and they keep coming up with more efficient ways to get at the stuff that’s locked up really tight. As a result, the sauna is almost ready. In fact, any minute now, I expect them to pass the point of no return, and within a few minutes after that, Earth will be hotter than…”

“Hell!” Lucifer laughed.

“Well, yeah,” Yahweh smiled. “But it won’t be a dry heat like Hell.”

“Wait,” Lucifer intoned. “Now that you mention it, this kind of sounds familiar. I think I saw a tweet recently about this. Aren’t the cavemen figuring all this out and trying to stop it?”

“A few are,” Yahweh admitted. “But most of my wonderful emissaries are working against that. They have a lot of political power in the most powerful nation. They are calling it a hoax and some of them even blame you! Isn’t that a hoot!”

Lucifer laughed. “So the fundies really are doing your work. They just don’t have a clue to it’s true nature! Yack, you’re a genius.”

Yahweh smiled sardonically. “The sweetest irony,”  he said.

“But wait,” Lucifer protested. “Won’t your runaway greenhouse also wipe out the humans?”

For the first time, Yahweh looked a bit disturbed. “Yeah, I suppose it will. But at least they will have served their purpose. My girlfriend gets her steam bath and I get some peace. Not a bad day’s work, right?”

“So, you’re telling me that you actually had a purpose in creating homo sapiens? And that purpose was…”

“To turn up the heat.”

They both laughed.


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