“The God Hater”
In this sample section, Nicholas (our atheist curmudgeon) has seen the other philosophies and religions fail within the computer world they’ve created. He now goes against everything he believes and has to speak to the creation from “outside their world” to try and save their community. Alpha 11, who was designed from memories of Nicholas’s dead son, has lost his entire family to a plague carried by rats . . . the direct result of the community’s belief in Eastern mysticism and reincarnation:
Alpha . . .
The voice was as soft as a breeze. Yet so intense it took his breath away. He turned from the heat of his baby’s funeral pyre to see who had spoken. Just six weeks earlier, every burning platform in front of the Grid was in use. Day and night they disposed of the bodies, releasing their spirits in the flames . . . and, for more practical purposes, preventing the rats from eating their remains. But now, with so few left to die, the deaths came less frequently. In fact, he saw only one other person, five or six platforms over. A woman slightly younger than himself, lost in her own grief. She could not possibly be the one who had spoken.
Alpha 11 . . .
Once again he gasped. It came from every direction. Above. Below. Inside.
Taking a moment to summon his courage, he finally spoke. “Who—” His voice caught in his throat. He took another breath and tried again. “Who’s there?” he called.
The woman across the pyres glanced to him, then looked away. She pulled up her shawl and shook off a climbing rat.
Don’t be afraid, Alpha.
The voice was kind, like his own when he spoke to his son. And yet terrifying because it was everywhere.
“Who are you?” he asked.
There was no answer.
He looked up to the sky. “Hello?”
He scanned the grounds, the surrounding hills.
I am your . . . The voice seemed to hesitate. “programmer.”
Alpha’s mind reeled. The answer made no sense. Yet the exhilaration he felt when the voice spoke, the sense of absoluteness that rose up inside him—it was as if everything suddenly had focus . . . meaning.
Seeming to read his thoughts, the voice replied, We programmed your world.
Alpha reached out to steady himself on a branch sticking from the pyre. “What . . .” His mouth was as dry as sand. He was unsure what to say. From someplace far away, he heard himself ask, “What do you want?”
I want you to exercise authority.
Over your world.
“I’m sorry, I don’t . . .”
Look down, Alpha.
He glanced to the ground, to the swarm of gray and brown rats crawling over each other, circling the fire, smelling the flesh of his dead child but unable to approach because of the heat.
Those are what killed your wife. Those are what killed your baby. Exercise your authority over them.
The thought was as astonishing as the voice. “But . . .” he stammered, “they are life, they are sacred.”
No. You are sacred.
You must take charge.
Alpha continued staring at the rodents, his head swimming. Was it possible? Were these creatures the ones responsible for killing his wife? His son? For destroying his community? Yes, they were a nuisance, and yes, they were growing and multiplying by the thousands, but to be responsible for such evil? How could that be? They were a natural part of the world, which was the shadow of a much greater world. Even more shocking, how could he possibly be their superior?
He lifted his gaze to the crackling flames. Maybe he was losing his mind to grief. He’d seen it happen to others.
I am speaking truth, Alpha.
Alpha closed his eyes, trying to comprehend. If this was truth, if he wasn’t going crazy . . . then everything he’d been taught was a lie. Everything the priests had told his wife was wrong. A fabrication that brought about her own death. That killed their own baby. Moisture filled his eyes. He swiped at them and focused on the burning bundle in the center of the flames.
You are a steward of this world.
Could it be? Could he have been so wrong for so long? The moisture continued welling up until it spilled onto his cheeks. They were tears of confusion, tears of grief. And now, as his mind raced through the memories, tears of resentment.
You are sacred because you were programmed to be like us.
He began to tremble. It was slight at first. But it quickly grew.
Emotions roiled inside him, swelled into his chest. He looked down at his foot and saw a rat scampering over it. Defying everything he knew to be holy and true, he angrily kicked it. His foot caught its belly, lifting it into the air, sending it twisting into the flames. It landed, writhing, squealing, then stopped, its body catching fire and burning alongside his child’s. He cringed at the sight, at the pain he’d just inflicted. But instead of rebuke, or threats of retribution, the voice spoke with calm encouragement.
That’s right. Do what I say and take authority. You are the stewards. You are what is sacred.
The tears came faster now. The trembling more violent. How was it possible? To have been so wrong? Another rat approached. He kicked it harder.
Again, no rebuke.
He kicked another. And then another. And another, until he was no longer kicking rats. He was kicking his foolishness. His stupidity. His superstitious ignorance. That’s what killed his family. That’s what destroyed everything he loved.
Across the flames he saw the wavering image of the woman. Her grief no longer allowed her to stand. She had dropped to her knees, sobbing, broken, like so many others he’d seen. And the rats, taking advantage of her position, swarmed around her knees, scampered up her robe, climbing onto her back and shoulders.
Treat one another as though you are sacred. Treat one another as you would treat me.
Now, his entire body shaking, he stepped to his son’s pyre and pulled a burning log from it. Sizing it up in his hands, he looked back to the woman. Then, exploding with a rage he could not contain, he raced toward her, raising the log over his head yelling, roaring.
She looked up, startled, eyes widening in terror. Her mouth opened in a scream, but he could not hear it over his own fury. She barely had time to cover her face before he arrived and began clubbing them. Like a madman, he batted them off her body, hitting one after another, kicking them into the flames, smashing them, crushing their skulls—all the months, all the years of suffering, all the anger focused and unleashed.
He grabbed the woman by the arm, yanking her to her feet, away from the squealing creatures. She screamed. She kicked and clawed and scratched. But she would eventually understand.
If he had not lost his mind, she would understand.
* * * * *
Nicholas reached out and steadied himself against the console. It was one thing to observe the character up on the screen, but to actually communicate with it, to interact with it—that had taken more out of him than he had anticipated.
“That’s it?” Travis asked from beside him. “Do what we say and be stewards? Treat each other like you would treat us? That’s all you’re telling them?”
“It’s enough,” Nicholas replied. “If Alpha is anything like his prototype, he’s a thinker—he’ll expand on the words and adjust them where they’re needed.”
“And that’s all it will take to save their world?” Rebecca asked skeptically.
“If we applied it, it’s all that would be necessary to save our own.”
A moment passed. No one disagreed. He glanced to Annie, who gave him a little nod. Although he knew it was for encouragement, the act irritated him. He didn’t need her approval. He turned back to the screen and watched with the others as the woman collapsed into Alpha, exhausted and sobbing—as Alpha wrapped his protective arms around her, pulling her shawl up over her shoulders.
“It’s okay,” he whispered, “you’ll be all right. You’ll be okay.”
It was a touching scene that no one in the lab dared interrupt.
Finally, Travis cleared his throat and turned to Hugh. “Let’s push it. Let’s fast-forward and see the impact on their future.”
© Copyright, Bill Myers 2010