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Crafting Pandora

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Most people thought that a volcano would erupt suddenly. But of course, those who lived near one would say that the pressure built up slowly, over a very long time.

And so the earth was formed just like fine jewelry is. Just like a smooth gold cup, and just like a rough bronze sword.

With heat. Pressure. Patience.

When they asked him to make a woman, one of the human variety, it wasn't his place to ask why. But he knew it was intended as a punishment for someone. The king had it in his head that females were always punishment.

So right before he gave her up, before he handed her over to those who wanted to use her to turn her species into a smear of ash, he whispered in her ear.

"Come back to me, my child. When it is done, come back to me, and I will try to atone for what I've let them do."

She looked alarmed then, wanting to ask him something, but the messenger was not to be kept waiting.

But later she did come back. She came back broken, weighted with the grief of all that her need to discover had loosed on the world, disease and war and starvation and fear. She came back in tears and shame and rage.

But she did come back, and she remembered his promise. And so he gave her the greatest possession he had. His skill.

He took her as his apprentice, and taught her everything. Most humans would not have had the dexterity for much of his work, but he had made her graceful and strong, and the ones who used her had given her curiosity enough to keep learning no matter what.

And when he had taught her everything he could, he said, "Now, Pandora, make what you want to make. Use anything in my workshop. Your name means that you can give or provide anything, so choose well."

She set to work. It was difficult at first to discern what it would be, what the curved surfaces and the ornate raised-gold decorations might soon become. But near the end of her work, Hephaestus saw.

She made a box. The kind capable of holding things that humans wouldn't normally be able to hold in their hands.

For a moment, Hephaestus wondered at her intent, at whether she was about make humanity even sorrier.

But then Pandora lifted the lid ever so slightly and breathed into the box. Her breath descended into it, like a mist sparkling at dawn. Hephaestus knew then what she had put in the box.

Curiosity.

She had enough of it still for herself, of that there was no doubt. But when she went back to the world of human beings and let open the box, it would spread everywhere, infecting the people.

And so Pandora kissed him good-bye and thanked him and left, though both knew that it was unlikely that they would see each other again. But he was still the one who made her, and even when she walked the earth, he could always sense her. And so he knew the exact moment when she lifted the lid and let curiosity shoot across the land, fast and bright and unrelenting. He knew that she smiled with satisfaction every time she saw a curious healer notice something new and helpful about an illness, every time someone decided to approach a stranger with a question instead of a spear, every time someone tried planting their crops in a different way, every time somebody risked something -- anything -- to find a truth. Each time Pandora saw this, she smiled in triumph. And Hephaestus, seeing this, smiled in pride. More than any other person, she knew how to make beautiful things come into being.