Terry and Larry watched — as they always did — in awe as the smallest of the Big Ones filled their food bowl.
Neither of them spoke a word, and the world around them seemed to hush. As if the very air itself held its breath and paused in anticipation. The Big Ones had the size and strength to kill them in one stamp of their lower paws or one squeeze of their upper ones. But they never did that. No, the Big Ones looked after them. The small Big One stepped away, and then voila — grass hay, fresh vegetables and pellets. It said something in its alien language and then wandered off, back to its giant enclosure.
Larry wasted no time. As soon as the Big One moved aside, he dove face-first into the chow. For one gleeful heartbeat, Larry gorged himself on the offerings. And then he came up for air, bits of Timothy hay stuck to his face, jaws stuffed. “Oh, oh God, that’s good,” he said through his mouthful. Larry glanced at his companion. “Isn’t that good, Ter—” His words trailed off.
Terry hadn’t taken even a tiny bite of the array of delights on offer. His mouth hung open, and a small trickle of drool sparkled on his chin. His eyes had taken on that glazed, off-in-another-world look that Larry had grown to know. He gazed out of their pen, off into the blue heavens.
With a sigh, Larry asked the question. Better to get it over and done with, so they could get back to the real issue at hand, here: the food bowl. He’d lived with Terry long enough to know his quirks and vice versa. “Whatcha thinking about, Terry?”
“Hm?” Terry’s eyebrows rose, but his stare remained locked on the sky overhead.
“I said, whatcha thinking about?”
“Oh. Hm. Yeah. About the Big Ones. And, well, big things.”
“Big things, Terry?”
Terry’s eyes came to. He nodded at Larry. “Big things, Larry.”
“What big things? I mean, besides the aforementioned Big Ones?”
Terry paused. His brow furrowed. “Oh, you know. The skies above, and how they seem to stretch on for eternity. The Earth itself, and how zoomed in our perspective is of it. It’s easy to see how some considered this planet to be flat, for an age, isn’t it, Larry? And, well, that got me thinking. It made me zoom out, as it were. What other flat-Earth theories do we carry that haven’t yet been dispelled? Metaphorically, I mean.”
Larry nibbled at some of the hay. He puffed his cheeks out and let out a slow, deliberate breath. “Christ. Is that all you were thinking about, Terry?” He’d meant it as a joke. But when Terry shook his head and raised his paw in his classic philosopher’s pose, Larry knew he’d let himself in for it.
“And what about those giant eagles that soar above us, Larry? Do you ever think about them, hm? You know, the bloody great massive things that blot out the Sun for a second, the ones that scream as they pass by. What do the Big Ones call them? Playnes? Well, think about it, Larry. Go on, think about it.”
Larry nodded and chewed his mouthful of lettuce. “All right. I am, Terry. What of them?”
“Well, why don’t they prey on us, Larry? We’re rabbits, they’re eagles. Eagles eat rabbits. It’s what they do. I don’t much like it, and I doubt you do either. But that’s the way the world is. Veggies eat sunlight, we eat veggies, eagles eat us.”
“What eats the eagles, Terry?”
Terry’s eyes widened. “Oh. Oh God. I hadn’t even thought of that before! Jesus Christ, what eats the eagles? What eats the eagles, Larry? What eats the eagles? What could take down such a monster? An even greater monster? Something totally and utterly beyond our reckoning, Larry? Some Lovecraftian behemoth from the stars? Is that the answer, Larry? Is it Cthulhu? Sunlight, veggies, us, eagles, Cthulhu?”
Larry stared at Terry, mouth wide open. A chewed fragment of lettuce dropped from his gaped maw and splodged to the grass.
Terry shook his head. “Can’t be. The Big Ones don’t factor into that equation, and they’ve got to slot in somewhere, haven’t they? Every piece of the jigsaw has its spot.” He chewed his lip. “I’ll have to ponder on this some more.” He nodded. “I’ll get back to you on that, a very good question, Larry. Hm. A very good question indeed. Yes, I’ll contemplate this in great depth.”
Larry picked up his lost bit of lettuce and rolled his eyes. “Oh, good grie—”
“But, ah, where was I? Oh, oh yes! The giant eagles.”
Larry groaned. “The playnes.” He spoke through gritted teeth.
“Yes, that’s right. The playnes. Well, why don’t they eat us, Larry? We’re rabbits, they’re eagles. They should eat us. That’s what nature dictates. But they don’t. And I want to know why. The potential answer chills me to my bones, Larry.” Terry emphasised each word. “To. My. Bones.”
“All right, Terry, so what is this bone-chilling theory of yours?”
“What if—” Terry licked his lips. “What if they don’t eat us because we’re too small for them? What if, out there, beyond the wire mesh walls, there are giant rabbits to satiate the giant predator’s hunger?”
Terry looked around. As if to say to a passerby, Are you hearing this? “So? So? So where did the giant rabbits come from, Larry!”
Larry interjected. “Hypothetical giant rabbits, Terry. Hypothetical.”
“Well, yes, of course, it’s all hypothetical, Larry. Everything started out hypothetically. Heliocentricity, germ theory, evolution, game theory, plate tectonics. All of them started out as hypothetical thoughts. Calling something hypothetical doesn’t rob it of its potential to break new ground. We don’t need to offer warnings of hypotheticality before our debates. Because any rabbit with half a brain would be aware that it was so. So.” Terry took a deep breath. “Where did the giant rabbits come from?”
Larry shrugged and glanced around their pen. “Well, I don’t bloody know! Why don’t you tell me, O Wise One?”
“No need to get snarky, I was just posing you a thought. And, whilst we’re at it, I do have an answer. The answer lies within us. In our genes. Our DNA, Larry. Our DNA. Deoxyribonucleic acid.” Terry took a deep breath and let the moment hang in the air for a second. Larry continued to munch on his veggies. “Evolution, Larry. Survival of the fittest.”
Larry frowned. “Eh?”
“Think about it, Larry! Eagles eat rabbits. So, what do the rabbits do?”
Larry gnawed on a chunk of carrot and gazed at Terry. He spoke without hurry. “Eat the vegetables?”
“No! Well, yes, but that’s not what I mean. The rabbits evolve, Larry! The rabbits get bigger. They get bigger, Larry.”
Larry bobbed his head. “Big rabbits, sure. But that doesn’t answer—”
Terry stopped him with one raised paw. “I’m getting to that, I’m getting to that. So. If the rabbits get bigger, then, surely, we reach a point at which the rabbits are too big to be preyed upon. And what happens when the eagles can’t prey upon us?”
“We become the eagles?” Larry ventured a guess and knew he’d guessed wrong before the sentence had left his mouth.
“No, you—” Terry bit down on his tongue before he could say something offensive. “No. What happens is, the eagles get bigger. Survival of the fittest, remember?”
“So. We’ve got giant rabbits.”
“And we’ve got giant eagles — playnes if you will.”
“Well, I was wondering, how far advanced are those giant eagles? Are they simply the next step for eaglekind? Are they eagles 2.0? Or has the natural world far exceeded that? Outside these wire mesh cages, Larry, what chess pieces does mother nature move? Are we on rabbit 26.7 and eagle 26.6 out there?”
Larry stared at Terry, the bit of celery in his mouth forgotten.
“And that got me thinking,” said Terry, faster now. “What are we? Are we rabbits 1.0? Or are we before that? Are we the prototypical rabbit, Larry? Or maybe we’re something after that? Maybe we’re — say — rabbit 3.0? How would we know? How would we ever know what step along the chain we are?”
“I don’t see how it mat—”
“And do we keep going? Out there, beyond the walls, away from the Big Ones? Where nature is left to bloom and thrive and flourish without the helping hands of these small Gods? On and on and on? With bigger and bigger rabbits? With bigger and bigger eagles? A perpetual cycle of oneupmanship? Richard Dawkins likened the competing evolutions of different species to an arms race. So, we must keep going, on and on, bigger and bigger. Because — let’s face it — neither side wants to concede. Nobody wants to have lost the arms, race, Larry.” Terry planted a firm paw into the grass. “Nobody.”
Larry nibbled at a bit of cabbage, looked up at the Sun, and then squinted at his old friend. “What are you getting at, Terry?”
“Well, where does it end? If bigger rabbits mean bigger eagles, and bigger eagles mean bigger rabbits, where does it end? Once every last resource on this God’s green Earth has been plundered? Until this planet is nothing more than a barren rock spinning around a dying star? What if not even then? What if it goes on and on and on forever? Until the very fabric of existence cannot sustain our growth? Bigger and bigger and bigger until the universe implodes?”
Larry paused, mid-chew. His shoulders dropped, and he turned to face his friend. “Oh, good God, Terry. Every day it’s something new. The implosion of the universe this, the heat death of the cosmos that. Who are we, what are we, why are we. What’s our place in time, what’s our place in history. Will future generations remember us, or will we be forgotten to time, lost like so much dust in the wind. Well, I’ve had enough, Terry. I’ve had it up to here—” Larry raised a paw “—with your spiralling. All you ever achieve is anxiety. And, what’s more, you make me anxious as well. And I was having a grand old time not thinking about these things at all, Terry. You give me enough existential crises to fill—” Larry paused. “Well, to fill our food bowl!”
“But how can you not ponder the complexities of the universe, Larry? How can you not sit in awe at our microscopicity in the grand scheme of things? I mean, is that all we are? Subpar rabbits, Larry? Unevolved beings? Throwbacks to the paleolithic era when rabbits lived in caves? Are we but the stepping stones to bigger and better things, Larry? Are we the middlemen — middlerabbits — in evolution’s chain of life? Will we soon become extinct when the more evolved of our kind take the Leporidaeic throne? Is our time — not just you and I, Larry, but us as a species here and now — coming to an end?”
Larry stared at Terry, then glanced down into the food bowl. He pawed at the ceramic. “Just—” He paused. “Just have a goddamn carrot, Terry. Eat it and enjoy it. I guarantee that all your great ponderings won’t mean much if you starve to death. I can’t change anything, you can’t change anything. So, why worry? That’s what I say. Let’s just eat our veggies and enjoy them, ’cause the veggies are real, Terry. The veggies are here, right here, right now.” Larry nudged a carrot over to his old companion, a good one, too. “I’m here too. And I’m your friend. So, let’s just be happy we’re here, and enjoy this brief slice of life we’ve got. However short and disappointing it may be. However many questions remain unanswered, however many mysteries continue to swirl. It’s okay to ponder, but not at the cost of the here and now. Not at the cost of enjoying the little things. Like the taste of fresh vegetables, or the company of an old friend. So.” Larry tapped the bowl with his nose.
“Eat your carrot.”