“I’m telling you J, this is all my fault,” I hissed. “I got careless in there, tried to cover it up, and now I have to commit mass murder to prevent Dad from finding out.”
“Arrrr, G,” Janus growled as he stretched, turning over on his stomach to escape my finger poking his chest. He closed his eyes in an attempt to go back to sleep. “Mass murder? You couldn’t even kick a puppy, drama queen. Let’s talk in the morning.”
“J, please. I’ll say it again simply for simple minds. I. need. your. help. I did something dumb and you’re going to help me fix it. That’s what big brothers do, right?”
“Nope, not this big brother.” He waved his hand to dismiss me, but paused and cocked his head to the side, like our cocker spaniel does when she’s hoping to get a treat. “OK, tell me about this dumb thing you did, Miss Perfect.”
Though he only wanted a secret to lord over me for future blackmail, my heart leapt as he actually got out of bed. I took his hand and led him into the hallway. “Let me show you. It’s in Dad’s workshop.”
“Gods, G. We’re not supposed to be in here. Remember when I borrowed Dad’s hammer and forgot to return it? I’ve still got scars! Does Dad know you’ve been in here?”
“Yes, he’s been working on a present for Mom. I think he wanted to show it off and I was the one he could trust,” I said, gesturing for him to keep his voice down.
The present was laid out on Dad’s worktable. It wasn’t actually laid out on the table, it was hovering about a foot above it. It was the shape of a big disc, like Dad had taken a dinner plate the size of the entire table and set it spinning slowly in place. But unlike a dinner plate, the disc wasn’t solid. It was composed of thousands of little bits of some unknown material. Some bits were points of light so bright you couldn’t look directly at them. Other pieces were dark but glinted as they caught the light. Even as the entire disc rotated as a whole, each bit also turned in place, rotating about its own axis like a dancer pirouetting on a rotating stage, or leaves caught in a whirlpool. The whole thing shimmered and sparkled like morning dew on a spider’s web. It was mesmerizing.
“Ho, I saw Dad with some of that shimmery stuff in his beard a couple weeks ago! I thought it was leftover lunch and gave him a napkin,” J chuckled. “This was a lot of work! It must have taken Dad forever to make this.” J scratched his stubbly chin. “What do you think it all is? What does it do?”
“Dad calls it the ‘Cosmos’. He built it in a week. It’s not supposed to do anything. You just look at it and enjoy it.” I took a different tack, “You know how Mom really likes her zen garden? She spends all day in there raking out the sand and pruning the little trees. The Cosmos is supposed to be relaxing like that. Mom was so pissed when Dad forgot Mother’s day. I think he wanted to do something really special for her birthday.”
“So it’s just art then?” J was unenthused.
“Yeah, I guess it’s ‘just art,’” I frowned. I get a little pissy when people don’t see the value in good art. “It doesn’t have a functional purpose, but it’s really amazing. Look at this trick Dad showed me. Stand close and hold my arm.”
As he grasped my elbow, I made a gesture with my hands, throwing them apart as if to scatter seeds. Our view of the Cosmos changed. Everything got much bigger and closer, as if we had stepped directly into the swirling mass. The pieces that had been just little specks of light were now marble-sized and surrounded us. I made the gesture again and the lights grew to the size of chariot wheels. J gripped my arm tighter. “Dad showed you this?”
“Yes, he said I could come in here and observe as long as I was careful not to touch anything. Dad calls this ‘zooming in’. He said he used something called ‘fractals’ in the design so we can zoom in like this forever.”
“Oh, it must have been some fractals I saw in his beard.” J clapped his hands together, “Well, it all seems to be working. Let’s leave before Dad finds out I’ve been in here and I get a lightning bolt in the-”
I made another gesture, this time pointing my arm out straight, fingers extended. We began to move forward. “Dad calls those bright bits ‘stars’ and the dull pebble-like ones ‘planets,’” I explained as bits and pieces streamed past us on all sides. “Remember when I had that head cold two weeks ago? I had such a headache. It was so loud in the kitchen I brought my lunch in here to rest. I had just taken a big mouthful of soup when I had a tremendous urge to sneeze.“
“You didn’t!” J looked horrified.
“I couldn’t stop it, J! It was the biggest sneeze ever. It just shot out of my mouth and nose and sprayed everywhere.”
“G, you sneezed boogs all over Mom’s present?” J looked like he was making an effort to contain himself but quickly gave up. He laughed, tears streaming down his face. “I can just imagine it. You sitting all quiet and proper…” He folded his hands and tried to look prim, “then, BOOM! Droplets of ick raining down all over Dad’s creation, everywhere all at once!” Trying to catch his breath he said, ”I might become the favorite child after this gets out. Gods!”
“J, it gets worse.” In front of us loomed a blue, green and white planet. I made a gesture and we came to a sharp stop.
“This planet got the worst of it,” I said. “A big glob of spew landed here.”
“I don’t see a problem,” J shrugged. “This one is really pretty.”
I sighed. “I thought it would be an easy fix. Zoom in, wipe up the mess, zoom out, problem solved. But when I touched this planet, it wobbled and I knocked this piece out,” I pointed to a small white planet rotating around the blue-green one. “I didn’t want to touch anything else because I was afraid of knocking everything out of alignment and collapsing all of the Cosmos. It’s really fragile!”
J smiled. “Don’t worry, I like the little planet you made. It’s white like my butt. Let’s call it ‘the moon’!”
I groaned. “Butt jokes? Are you 18 or 8? Anyway, there’s more to the story. When I first saw this planet, it was dark gray and kind of squishy. After the big sneeze, I came back the next day to see if I’d done any permanent damage. This planet had turned blue! I couldn’t believe it so I zoomed in further and… J, there’s stuff living on it! All that blue is water, and there are plants and fish and lizards!
“I’ve messed this all up. I’ve looked at a lot of other planets around here and none of them have water or lizards. This is not what Dad intended. He entrusted me with this secret and within weeks, I’ve ruined everything!”
J nodded and gave me a hug. “Cheer up, kid. Dad will love you again when he gets over it, in like, 100 years.
“I was pretty groggy, but I think you mentioned murder when you dragged me out of bed. Who are you gonna go house on, little sis? Are you gonna zoom in there, stomp around and flatten all the lizards?“ He made a scary face, held his arms out straight, and stamped his feet like he was a crazy monster attacking ants.
“J,” I laughed and then tried to assume an irritated expression, “Please, be serious. What if I zoom in there and something sticks to me and zooms back out with me? We could have a Cosmos lizard running around Dad’s workshop. If this all started because of my boogers, they’ve been mutating in there, turning into lizards, incubating diseases, and who knows what else. It’s not safe.”
“Whatever you say, scientist.” J shrugged, then frowned and started to take his shoe off. “My foot hurts. I’ve got something in my shoe.” He fished around inside his enormous sneaker, “Gotcha. Just a little rock from the sand pit at discus practice.” He casually tossed it away from him.
I watched helplessly as the stone from my brother’s shoe descended towards the blue planet.
The stone touched the surface of the planet, striking one of the large swaths of blue. For a second it seemed like nothing would happen. Then, a white spot appeared above the impact point and quickly expanded until the entire planet was fully white.
J swallowed hard. “Oops. Well, I think I may have solved your problem, G. That does not look good for those lizards. Maybe we should go down and check.” J waved his arms in a poor imitation of the zoom gesture.
“No, no!” I grabbed his arm. “If it’s not good for the lizards, it won’t be good for us either. We can zoom in and observe and touch stuff, but we could get hurt in there. We don’t have any special powers.”
“Well, easy come, easy go, booger lizards. G, let’s assume your extermination is complete, thanks to me. I’ll send you a bill.” He grinned and brushed his hands together as if dusting them off. ”Now, let’s get out of here, cause if Dad finds us in his workshop, he’ll flip out like it’s the end of the world.”
“You’re right, J.” I said a little sadly. “I wouldn’t have the heart to do that but I think it needed to be done. Thanks.”
I thought of all the life we’d so casually doomed on that planet. I felt remorse, but, honestly, I mostly felt relieved as we zoomed back out to our normal size and left Dad’s workshop.
However, like the lizards on the blue-green planet, my relief was short lived.
I fingered the note as I hurried through the great hall after dinner. The note said, “Meet me at workshop when D at senate 2nite.” It had been a few days since the stone tossing incident. I hadn’t been in the workshop since, telling myself I was too busy with lute practice, tapestry weaving and writing scrolls for ancient theology studies. In truth, guilt about the fate of those lizards made me hesitate to return. I did not need a reminder that my attempts to save my reputation doomed millions of lives to a horrible fate. What had that stone done when it landed? Had it created a tidal wave or covered the sun in clouds for eternal winter?
I concentrated on the current situation to push aside the melancholy thoughts. Why had J left that note in my school locker? My heart was racing ever since I’d read it. Did J tell someone about the Cosmos? What else could be wrong?
I saw J as soon as I stepped into the workshop. His back was turned as he stared intently into the Cosmos.
“You haven’t touched anything, have you?” I whispered urgently as I closed the door. “Why are you here?”
“G, I kept thinking about all this after we left.” He motioned to the table. “I knew you’d be mad, but I stopped by to see it again this morning. It’s entrancing.” I raised my eyebrows at him. “Entrancing” was a big word for my meathead brother.
“Great, you can come in here after Mom’s birthday. Let’s not take any more chances and…”
“Shh.” J held up his hand to silence me in that infuriating way he has. Who made him God?
“When I snuck in here before school this morning, I thought I saw something odd and I wanted you to have a look. Zoom us back to the blue planet.”
“You zoomed this morning? You saw how easily we can mess things up!”
“Yeah, that’s why I want you to do the zooming. I’m not very good at it. I had to fly all over before I found the blue planet. It’s blue again, by the way.”
“That’s a relief,” I said as I offered him my arm, happy that the planet had stabilized, even if it still wasn’t the original color.
“Hmm, yes, maybe.” He was non-committal as we stopped with the blue planet in view. “This morning, I saw… Wait… I just saw it again… There, look at this!” He pointed.
A tiny speck was circling the blue planet. It was barely noticeable, like a mote of dust next to the immensity of “the moon”. I moved us closer and zoomed in some more. There were actually lots of specks circling the blue planet. They looked kind of like insects, but they seemed to be made of metal. Were they alive?
As we watched, we saw more specks moving between the moon and the surface of the blue planet. We even saw one speck circle the moon and then head off towards a red planet in the distance.
“What do you think those are, J?” I said, warily.
“I don’t know, G, but this morning I noticed just one of those gnats. Now, there’s a whole swarm. Also, as I was blundering about trying to control the zooming and flying, I noticed little gnats like that all over the Cosmos.”
“What? Those little gnats have infected all the planets?”
“I’m not sure it’s those same gnats, because some were fat and round and others were skinny and pointy. But, I even saw a couple other blue planets.”
“Doh!” I said, facepalming. “J, my sneeze must have gone everywhere! I infected the whole Cosmos. This is all my fault! What will I tell Dad? Mom’s birthday is tomorrow!”
Turns out, Mom liked the Cosmos as it was, gnat infestation and everything.
Honestly, I think she would have been pleased with any gift, just so long as Dad remembered her birthday. J and I never told Dad about the sneeze, or the stone throwing, or the gnats. Dad never noticed. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” J says.
Dad moved the Cosmos out of the workshop and installed it on the ceiling of the great hall. For a while, Mom, Dad, J, and I liked to recline and eat grapes while watching the peaceful swirling of Dad’s handiwork. After trying the zoom in and fly-through features a couple times, Mom and Dad never do it anymore. Mom says zooming makes her nauseous. Dad’s tinkers on other projects in his workshop and barely notices the Cosmos except to show it off to house guests.
J and I used to zoom in there quite often to check on the blue planet and the gnats. But, after the stone throwing accident, I always worried that I might inadvertently cause a catastrophe and wipe out generations of lifeforms like we did to those poor lizards. So, I just observe. I never touch and I make sure I’m not feeling the least bit sneezy when I go.
The Cosmos is a really busy place now. There are more and more gnats in there every day. They’ve spread across the entire disc. But, J’s busy campaigning for the Senate, and I’m focussed on building my tapestry business, so we rarely zoom in anymore. However, whenever I’m visiting Mom and Dad, I always look up at the great swirling mass as I cross the great hall and whisper a little prayer, “Good luck, little gnats. You’re on your own. Love, Gaia”.