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In his spacious office atop the Headquarters Building of the Celestial Construction Company Inc., the General Operations Director hummed to himself as he sat at his desk and scanned over Contract 15,000,000,000 B.C. The contract document was brief and straightforward, and called for the creation of a standard Mark IV universe--plenty of light; the usual suns, planets, and moons; a few firmaments here and there, with birds and animals on the land; fish-filled waters around the land. There was an attached schedule for accessories, spares for renewable resources, and some supporting services. Deadline for the contract was seven days--a piece of cake, the GOD told himself. Design Engineering Department's final proposal for the bid lay to one side of the desk in the form of a bulky folder that constituted the Works Order Review Document. Until final approvals were granted, the WORD would be all that existed of the universe . . . but it was a beginning.

What promised to make this project a little different from the previous Mark IVs, and somewhat more interesting, was the optional extra that Design Engineering had tagged on in the Appendix section of the proposal: people. Unlike the species that made up the usual mix of Mark IV animal forms, which simply consumed resources and multiplied until they achieved a balance with the environment, the people would have the capacity to harness fire, make tools, and generally think about how they could be better off. This would produce an awareness of needs and the motivation to do something about satisfying them. Eventually they would discover that as their numbers and their demands increased, they would no longer be able to satisfy their needs with the resources that came readily to hand. At that point, the simulations indicated, they could simply give up; they could fight over what they had until it ran out and then be obliged to give up anyway; or they could develop the intellectual potential inherent in their design and apply it to discovering the progression of new resources hidden around them like the successively more challenging, but at the same time more rewarding, clues in a treasure hunt. The way out of the maze lay in the third alternative.

What the purpose of the game was, Design Engineering hadn't said. The GOD suspected it was more for their own amusement than anything else, but he hadn't objected since he was quite curious himself to find out how the people would handle the situation. A modicum of applied precognition could no doubt have revealed that, but somehow it would have spoiled things.

He was still browsing over the last page of the contract when the phone rang with a peal of rising and falling chimes. It was Gabriel, Vice President of Manufacturing. He sounded worried. "It's proposal number fifteen billion B.C.," he said. "I think we might have problems."

The GOD frowned. "I was just going through it. Looks fine to me. What's the problem?"

"Somebody from Equal Employment Opportunities Creation had been onto the Legal Department. They're objecting to the proposal for people on the grounds that it would discriminate unfairly against the animals. I think we ought to get the department heads together to talk about it."

* * *

"The EEOC says we can't endow one species with that kind of intelligence," the Head of the Legal Department explained across the gilt-edged conference table a quarter of an hour later. "Doing so would confer such a devastating advantage that the animals would be guaranteed permanent second-class status, with no opportunity to compete."

Another of the lawyers added, "The people would eventually assume a uniquely dominant role. That could set us up for an antitrust suit."

All heads turned toward the Chief Design Engineer. "Well, we can't take the intelligence away from the people," he objected. "The physiques that we've specified don't give them any other means of survival. They'd have no chance. Then we'd still be in trouble with EEOC but with everything the other way around.

"Why not make all the species equally intelligent?" somebody suggested.

The CDE shook his head. "We planned the ecology so that the animals would do most of the work for the people in the early phases and provide a lot of their food. If we made them equally intelligent the situation would qualify as slavery and exploitation. We'd never get it past the Justice Department."

"And on top of that they'd all become eligible for education, sickness benefits, and retirement pensions," the CDE's assistant pointed out. "HEW would never accept the commitment. They couldn't handle the load."

That was true, the GOD admitted as he thought about it. Harps, Eternity-pensions, and Wings had insisted that all guarantees of benefits be deleted from the proposal. Ad that had been just on account of the projected numbers of people, never mind all the animals. "So why can't we change things so that the people don't have to depend on the animals at all?" he asked, looking up. "Let's make them strong enough to do all the work themselves, and have them just eat plants."

"Not that easy," the CDE answered. "They'd have to be at least the size of elephants on a diet of vegetable protein. Then food gathering would become such a problem that they'd never have any time left over for mental development, which puts us back to square one." He thought for a second or two, then added, "Though it might work if we redesigned the food chain somehow."

The GOD looked over at the Head of Research. "What do you say to that?"

The scientist didn't appear too happy. "We'd have to figure it out again all the way down to the bacteria. You're talking about a complete redesign, not just a few modifications. Setting up a whole new ecology and running it through the simulator is a big job. I don't think we could finish before the closing date on the bid. If we could use the new Infallible Biological Modeler we might have had a chance, but it's not up and running yet."

"I thought the IBM was supposed to have been installed last week," the GOD said, sounding surprised.

"It was, but the systems angelists haven't handed it over yet. They're not through exorcizing the bugs."

The GOD sighed in resignation and looked at the CDE. "I'm sorry, Chief, but it sounds as if we're stuck. I guess there's not choice but to drop the extras and revert to a standard Mark IV."

"No people?" The CDE sounded disappointed.

"No people," the GOD confirmed. "It was a nice thought, but it's out of the question on the timescale for this project. Keep working on it with Research, and maybe you'll have it figured out in time for the next bid, huh?"

* * *

The Chief Design Engineer was on the phone shortly after lunch the following day. "Have you heard?" He sounded distressed.

"Heard what?" the GOD answered.

"Feathers, Aviation, and Aquatics have been onto our legal people. They're trying to tell us that our birds and fish aren't safe."

"That's ridiculous! They're the same ones that we always use. What's wrong with our birds and fish?"

"According to FAA regulations, all flight control and navigation systems have to be duplicated. Our birds only have a single nervous system. Also, we're allowing them to fly over water without inflatable life jackets."

The GOD was completely taken aback. "What's gotten into them?" he demanded. "They've never complained about anything like that before."

"They've never really bothered to check the regulations before. But the controversy over the people has attracted their attention to this project. All the angelcies are brushing the dust off manuals they've never looked at before and going through them with magnifying glasses. We could be in for some real hassles."

The GOD groaned. "But what do they want' us to do? We can't go loading the birds up with all kinds of duplicated junk. They'd never get off the ground."

"I know that. But all the same it's regulations, and the FAA won't budge. They also say we have to fit bad-weather landing aids."

The GOD's patience snapped. "They don't fly in bad weather!" he yelled. "They just sit in the trees. If they don't fly, why do they need aids for landing? It would be like putting life jackets on the camels."

"I know, I know. But it's what the book says, and that's all the FAA's interested in."

"Can we do it?" the GOD asked when he had calmed down.

"Only with the penguins, the ostriches, and the others that walk. I called the FAA guy a couple of minutes ago and told him the only way we could equip all the birds for bad-weather landing was by making them all walk. He said that sounded fine."

 

"What's the point of having birds at all if they're only allowed to walk? We can't have planets with walking birds all over the place. The competition would die laughing." A few seconds of silence went by. Then the GOD asked, "What's wrong with our fish?"

"The shallow-water species don't have coastal radar."

 

Pause.

"Is this some kind of a joke?"

"I wish it were. They're serious all right."

* * *

The Environmental Protection Angel was on the line that afternoon. Her voice was shrill and piercing, grating on the GOD's nerves. "Without any plants at all, the levels of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur compounds from volcanic activity would exceed the permitted limits. The proposal as it stands is quite unacceptable. We would not be able to issue operating licenses for the volcanoes."

"But the limits were set to safeguard living organisms!" the GOD thundered. "We've scrapped them--all of them. There aren't any living organisms to be safeguarded."

"There is no clause in the regulations which specifically exempts lifeless planets. The standards are quite clear, and they must be met. Good day." The line went dead.

The GOD conveyed the news to Design Engineering, who discussed it with Research. Without volcanoes, there wouldn't be enough planetary outgassing to form the atmospheres and oceans. Okay, the atmospheres and oceans would have to go. But the volcanoes were also intended to play a role in relieving the structural stresses and thermal buildups in the planetary crusts. How could that be taken care of without any volcanoes? Only by having more earthquakes to make up the difference, the CDE declared. The GOD told him to revise the proposal by deleting the volcanoes and making the crustal formations more earthquake-prone. Everybody agreed that the problem appeared at last to have been solved.

* * *

The Department of Highlands, Undulations, and Deserts called the GOD a day later with an objection. "I'm dreadfully sorry, old chap, but we seem to have run into a bit of a problem," the man from HUD told him. "You see, the mountain ranges you've proposed don't quite come up to the standards set out in our building codes for the increased level of seismic activity. We'd have no choice by to condemn them as unsafe, I'm afraid."

"What if we do away with the mountains, then?" the GOD growled sullenly.

"That would be perfectly satisfactory as far as we are concerned, but I rather suspect that you might still have a problem getting it past the OSHA. All those fissures opening up and landslides all over the place. . . . It would be a bit hazardous for the animals, wouldn't it?"

"But we've already gotten rid of the animals. There won't be any."

"I see your point. But it is still in the jolly old rules. You know how finicky those OSHA types can be. Just a friendly word in your ear, and all that."

The GOD was past arguing.

Design Engineering's response was to make the planets completely inactive. There would be no mountains, no fluid interiors, no mobile plates--in fact, no tectonic processes of any kind. The planets would be simply featureless balls of solid rock that could never by any stretch of the imagination be considered potentially hazardous to any living thing, whether one existed or not.

The Great Accounting Overseer didn't like it. "What do you need them for?" a GAO minion challenged a day later. "They don't serve any useful purpose at all. They're just a needless expense on the cost budget. Why not get rid of them completely?"

"They've got a point," the CDE admitted when the GOD went over to talk about it. "I guess the only reason we put them in was because that's the way we've always done it. Yeah . . . I reckon we should strike them out. No planets."

 
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