I am known as Ring to those who know beings by names.
I am a planet-builder.
That is, I am soon to be. The task is imminent. And after eons of watching, studying, and waiting, I am ready for it.
Some of the more charming of the fleeting corporeal beings in the cosmos refer to the grand scheme of artificial planet-makers as “Planet Manufacturers Incorporated.” I was once informed by one of these tiny beings that I worked for what they deemed the “marketing department.” My task for these many eons has been to announce the arrival of planets—specifically habitable planets—in parts of the cosmos where such planets are in high demand and in scarce supply.
The task is necessary and can be challenging. But my dream has always been to move from marketing to manufacturing.
I have always dreamed of being…a maker of planets.
A maker of planets!
There is an order to these things. I will start simple, of course. But I will live eons more before I make every kind of planet I’ve visited. And in the vast ocean of the cosmos, I’ve only visited the planets in a single drop. Unlike my mentor and my superior.
I am fortunate to have Proto as my guide. Proto has built countless planets and has guided countless apprentices through becoming planet-builders themselves.
I’ve watched hundreds of planets being built, from above and even from within. I’ve become a gas cloud to visit gas giants, a crystal to visit planets whose atmospheres sparkle with tiny shards of diamond, a protoplasmic slime mold to visit planets pregnant with nascent life. Once, I even became a corporeal sentient and walked through the streets of a perfect metallic sphere. A fascinating—if stifling—experience.
Yes, I am ready.
But that’s not just for me to decide.
“It takes balance. Some things require a delicate touch. Some things can just be thrown together. And watching a planet be made is not the same as actually doing it.”
Proto spoke the words, and I nodded at each one. I had been taught all of it. I had witnessed it. But to hear the words from Proto gave them a density they had not possessed before in my perception.
The demonstration began, and though I’d seen hundreds of planets being made, I’d never seen one made by Proto.
If I were one of the air-breathing corporeal beings, I would have held my breath.
Nebulous gases shimmered as they swirled past me. Particles crashed and fused. Vapors thickened into plasma and then into liquid. Specks became pebbles. Pebbles became rock. Rock collided with rock.
They were rings within rings, dancing past me. And they began to condense.
Around a molten glowing core, there spun a delicate layer of gleaming metal. Around the gleaming metal, there twirled a multitude of stones, crowding and clasping each other, crunching together. Around the stone, there was liquid, transparent, luminescent, and fresh. A simple and elegant construction of three vital atoms.
The rings were now spheres within spheres. In places the stone melted from the heat of their motion and seeped into the liquid layer and was cooled and turned solid again.
The layers of the sphere began to close into one sphere, imbued with a strong enough measure of gravity to draw a fine cloak of dust around itself as it spun into place.
I was agape.
Proto turned to me and simply said, “Did you get all that?”
“It’s habitable,” I marveled.
But Proto, who was already moving away, glanced back and merely said, “Oh? Yes, it is.”
I had a question about a few billion of the pebbles alone, much less about the nuances of the lava flow. Proto answered all of my questions, but did so absently as if half-thinking of something else.
Of course, I should have expected that. After countless planets and countless apprentices, that glorious planet and I were nothing new to Proto. We were nothing old. We were…nothing?
I dreamed of making planets. I would not tire of it if I lived to the end of the cosmos. But I wondered…what did Proto dream of?
Dare I ask?
I would. But not yet.
I would not be making a habitable planet on my first planet-making effort, of course. A planet capable of supporting even the simplest forms of life was a complex endeavor. The cosmos could make them, but then who among us is as vast and wise as the cosmos, eh?
As I asked my questions during further demonstrations of planet-building, I sprinkled in a few questions meant to draw my mentor’s full attention.
“What was the first planet you ever built?”
“What is the most profound lesson you’ve learned from making a planet?”
“Is it true that you went corporeal and entered a contest of beauty once, on a dare?”
“Have you ever been in marketing?”
Surely at least one of my questions would inspire interest, curiosity, or irritation. Someting—anything—to lure my mentor’s mind from whatever sleepy corner of the galaxy it rested in.
But Proto would simply answer my questions, teach me the lesson at hand, observe me practice, and nod a farewell to me before we parted.
One time, I arrived to the lesson late, just to try something new. I found Proto gazing at the young yellow star of the system that we would be working in.
After a quick reprimand and reminder to be at our lessons on time, Proto continued the lesson. There was no punishment after. On the contrary, I learned how to form plasma.
“Thank you for teaching me,” I said, out of both guilt and gratitude.
I stretched out a bubble of plasma. “This is my dream.”
A whim struck me. “What is your next dream?”
I sensed a shift in Proto’s attention. I felt it as a warming and a brightening of the space around me.
“My next dream?”
“Planet-building must have been your first as it is my first—perhaps my only dream. But most beings have more than one dream.”
“I haven’t thought about dreaming of anything for a long while.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“When I first started, there was such a need for new planets that there was no time to think of anything else. We had no teachers to teach us. We taught ourselves. And I have already told you of my many disastrous errors. It was a good thing that we devised procedures and standards. Good that making a planet has become…routine.”
“But still exciting.” My bubble of plasma started drifting away for some reason. I chased after it. My mentor followed.
“I have now seen everything, Ring. And of that everything, I see nothing that I want to do. No, you must condense it. It’s gone too far.”
We continued the lesson, but I sensed a prickling in Proto’s tone.
I thought I would feel triumphant at drawing my mentor’s full attention to me. But the warmth I’d felt earlier turned somewhat searing, and I shifted all my questions toward our lesson.
I began to arrive early to our lessons, to be as prepared as I could be. To ask the questions before the demonstration. I did it to appease my mentor, and out of hopes that Proto would forget about that one time I managed to irritate.
But I didn’t seem to have much to worry about. Proto’s attention once again drifted away from me, until I began my final lesson, the making of my own planet.
My heart swelled as I wrote in my log the first line of what would be multitudes.
Ring Planet One: Imminent.
Strange, that no matter how closely I pay attention to a demonstration and no matter how much I attempt to account for every detail, I always manage to miss something when I try to do it for myself.
My first attempt, a simple cold rock, no more than an over-sized asteroid, seemed to be a success. But as we watched, it started spinning off its axis and deviating from its orbit, barely missing collisions with other planets in its system, and at last crashing into its star.
I felt Proto’s warmth after that failure. “As expected. The first one always fails.”
Proto had warned me as much, but I had still hoped that I—with my middling talent and budding skill—would somehow succeed.
Now, the second planet…the second one should have succeeded. I accounted for everything, everything needed in the delicate balance that Proto so often spoke of.
But my second planet fell into the path of an asteroid field and was bombarded to bits.
I tried my hand at a gas giant. It dissipated away. I tried my hand at a super-dense planet of rock and metal. It collapsed into a hidden dimension.
My fourth planet failed. My fifth and my sixth.
And for most of them, despite my efforts at studying what went wrong and why, Proto had to be the one to tell me.
The warmth of my mentor’s full attention comforted me. But I took no comfort in earning it through pity.
Deciding to be ambitious—since I was failing anyway—I attempted to create a planet that could be habitable to some simple form of life. Just like my first planet, all was well at first. I dared to believe that I might have stumbled upon my first success.
I soon realized why Proto had moved our efforts to a different location.
I almost destroyed a small galaxy. (The planet became habitable alright, but to only one being, a hungry elemental who was drawn out of the singularity in which it typically lived, by an enticing spark that I had imbued the planet with.)
One day at last, I glared at the remnants of my latest effort. Shards of crystal scattered through empty space.
“Enough,” I said.
Proto turned to me. “Enough?”
“Each one is more disastrous than the last. I’ve had enough!”
With folded arms, Proto peered at me. “Then, has our time come to an end? Has your dream?”
I now turned my full attention to my mentor. The radiance of anger and frustration faded and I felt a calming within me when I met my mentor’s gaze.
“I’m not giving up for good. I’m just giving up for today.”
In my log, after my last failure, I had marked the status of my first planet as “failed.”
I changed the log.
Ring Planet One: In Progress.
And I gave up…for the day.
“You know, these disasters of yours are fairly typical. You do show potential, Ring. You certainly have talent, and you are developing skill. And you are—for the most part—a thoughtful maker.”
I was stunned into silence.
The warmth of my mentor’s full attention was comforting. The heat of my mentor’s irritation was upsetting. But the dazzling intensity from my mentor’s praise was…almost unbearable.
I muttered a “thanks” and commented that I hadn’t expected the process to be so subtle. There were nuances to planet-making that were never apparent to me when I was watching others make planets.
“That is the difference between watching a great work and doing a great work,” Proto said.
“I must study on my own for a while,” I said. “Before I make my next attempt, I must examine my own works and figure out why they were not so…great.”
“Very well, apprentice.” Proto seemed almost on the verge of a laugh—surely a smile. “I too have questions to contemplate. Find me again when you are ready.”
I should have removed my stomach.
It’s lurching would surely distract me.
I was still an apprentice. So I was not allowed to try making a planet on my own. But I would have liked to practice before I came back into the presence of my mentor.
Only a few ages had passed, but I had forgotten the tension I felt in the presence of Proto. The tension of wanting my mentor’s full attention, but also fearing it. Not because I feared Proto. But because I feared Proto’s disappointment.
I had solved most of the problems I had encountered in my previous attempts. Most of the subtleties that I had missed before became apparent to me. And once I saw them, I caught similar gaps in my weavings. And I knew why each and every one of my previous planets had fallen apart.
I did not see everything. I could not. Some subtleties are unique to each planet. I would only know them during the making. I would have to watch carefully. I would have to watch close. And I would have to watch far.
I had simulated the making of thousands upon thousands of planets.
I was not ready for success or failure.
I was only ready to make.
And so I made. A simple planet of rock and ice. Nothing would live on the planet. There was no reason to visit it. But as I made it, as I saw the gaps and reached out to fill them, as I sensed the shift in the tilt and the orbit and tipped them with the gentlest of nudges, as I perceived the condensing and crashing of particles and energies and let them be, I felt a sense I had not felt before.
I had sought to control the making. I never could. I never would.
What I felt now was a sureness. Whether the planet failed or succeeded, I had truly done the best I could, and I had done all I should.
It was a simple planet. But it was beautiful and balanced.
Proto examined my planet, then turned to me and nodded. “Congratulations, planet-builder.”
I gazed at my planet. I had thought I would feel triumphant. But I felt serene. “I did it.”
“You did. And you can do it again.”
“Thank you, professor!”
“I must thank you, Ring. I’ve had many an apprentice with a twinkle in their eye. But seeing the making of planets through your eyes helped me to remember, that it’s not just an important and necessary work that we do, it is wondrous work.”
I beamed. I had never heard my mentor speak with such passion.
Proto sighed deeply. “But it is no longer my work. I’ve made all the planets that I will make, the best planets that I will ever make. My heart wanders when I do the work now. And a maker with a wandering heart does a disservice to every planet they make.”
Though it seemed Proto’s eye was on a distant horizon, I felt my mentor’s full attention upon me, warm and radiant.
“A curious apprentice once asked me what my next dream is. I have found the answer.”
Proto laughed. “I am a maker, Ring. Like you. And now, I dream of making stars.”
“It is an old dream. I had never really forgotten, though I tried to. It might be too late. It might not.”
“But you’ll never know if all you do is watch someone else do it.”
I tilted my head toward the planet I had just proudly made. “Does this mean the apprentice has become the professor?”
“Not even close. Perhaps after a few eons…or more.”
“I suppose this means I’m going to lose the best teacher I’ve ever had.”
“No, it means you’re going to gain a fellow apprentice.”
I beamed as Proto pointed to my log.
Still beaming, I amended my first notation.
Ring Planet One: Completed.
Copyright © 2021 Nila L. Patel