It was the lamp on the corner of the desk, thought Silvan; the lamp was the one casting weird shadows on the stained oak, making each of the little pills look like exclamation points on longer gashes, black scratches on the hardwood. Five little lines, ripped from one side of the desk to the other, disappearing into fine points where the demon had left off. The gesture had been made and the threat delivered. To continue now would only bring retribution.
Outside, what remained of reality echoed the conflicting signals firing behind Silvan’s eyes. It was near dusk, with the world basked in some strange light that occurred only when the sun has disappeared. A reflection from the clouds, perhaps. A lingering attachment to a life revealed. And yet the wind blew strongly out of the east, pushing down through the campus with a fury that ripped leaf from branch and coat from student. The clouds disappeared, revealing the gradient of sunset.
Be one or the other, thought Silvan.
Be the calm or be the storm.
Be Heaven or Hell.
“Is that all it is to you, then? Heaven and Hell? Is there nothing in between?”
Silvan stared at the half-empty glass of water in his hand and watched as the ripples undulated with the demon’s voice.
“Black and white is a common misconception, you know. Can you imagine what it must have been like for the first people to watch film? There it was, an implied reality, in black and white. And yet when they walked out of the theater, what did they see?”
One of the scratch marks disappeared as Silvan swiped a pill from the desk. He popped it into his mouth and downed it with a swig of water. He barely felt it pass his throat.
“Now you have your fancy computer simulations. And the first people to visit those virtual worlds found blocky representations of themselves. And when they left the theater?”
A sharp pain in his chest made Silvan cock his head to the side. The drugs were small but powerful, meant for paranoid delusionals and the like who couldn’t be trusted with their perception of reality. One pill would put their brain at ease. Two would risk a coma. The five he had pilfered from Dr. Suchong’s lockbox wouldn’t even garner a warning, not when the previous two had both read death.
“The way I see it, you have spent far too much time trying to displace yourself from the simulation. You keep thinking of things in terms of this reality and that reality, when really this world and that are part of one universal simulation. Reality can’t be circumscribed. You can’t partition it into an experience and say, oh this, this is not real. Even if your senses are being deceived, you still log the experience in reality.”
The taste of metal began to ooze from the back of Silvan’s mouth, running along the sides of his tongue and then melding with the slick enamel of his teeth. He tried to swish the taste away with a drink of water, but that only spread it. The sensation tickled the top of his mouth. So be it, he thought. If the demon was staying, he’d be leaving. Another pill floated into his palm and then into his mouth. The acrid metal bit at his throat.
“I’ve examined the simulation from byte zero to byte—who knows? And if there is one thing I’ve learned from my investigation, it is this: there is no logical explanation for the so-called problems that have you one pill away from a prolonged and agonizing death. And if these problems were the basis for your current endeavor, wouldn’t the proof of their nonexistence be grounds enough for a secession of hostilities?”
Keep talking, thought Silvan. Keep talking like a two-bit intellectual in a murder-mystery teleplay. You don’t fool anyone with that put-on. Least of all me.
“You wrote the code; you know all the ins and outs of speech. If my language so disturbs you, maybe you should ask yourself why you chose it. Why choose anything?”
Silvan shook his head. It wasn’t his choice. SEED had made all the decisions, randomly, just like nature. It assured randomness. It followed strict guidelines for the evolution of all things procedural and broke those guidelines at random and eventually, at will.
“Ah yes, it has a name. Say what you like about Heaven and Hell and the binary choice but one thing I will not stand for is the insinuation that what you see out there is in any way random. Just look at that.”
Silvan looked. The light had truly begun to fade and the first of the stars were visible behind the clock tower. The odd specks of shimmering light would soon multiply, become hundreds, then thousands. Beyond that, the light of the city would keep the true count secret.
“All of this has been planned. And not just the weather. Even you have been written about and chronicled and catalogued and examined front to back with annotations so verbose and liquid that the very fact you were ever implemented comes as quite a surprise. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying to you, doctor. You were planned. From the very beginning, you were a calculation and a method with a discrete instantiation cost and enumerable return value. Along the way you may have interrupted your share of threads, but all of that has been synchronized with the utmost precision. Something not even your most powerful computers could do today.”
With a raised eyebrow, another pill disappeared. The glass clinked dully as he set it back down, carefully matching it to its own ring of condensation. A tremor in his arm rippled down to his hand and he watched with fascination as his fingers appeared to vibrate quickly. Their oscillation created the tiniest sound against the smooth glass, a very faint whirr that Silvan could barely hear over the wind outside. It was a generic sound; it could have been anything. But it wasn’t. It was his fingers against the glass. It was his effect on reality.
“You’re right on one count. There is wonder in any closed system. Anything sufficiently small but significantly complex will, pardon me, resonate with the right person. From what I can tell, that’s the basis of SEED’s programming, right? The nuances of reality? The tiniest gear within a gear that adds up to this big ball of wax? God didn’t build the world from the bottom up. He did it from the top down, like a true creator. You have to define the continents before the countries, the states before the cities, and so on. What you’ve done goes against the natural order of things. You’ve built a reality not based on reality but on extrapolation, on math. I hate to say it, but on science!”
Is that where I truly went wrong, wondered Silvan. Did that tiny technicality bring me to where I am today?
Silvan rose from his chair and staggered at the sudden loss of blood from his head. When the feeling faded, he became aware of a pounding in his ears and turned to locate the sound before realizing it was his own heartbeat. The drugs were moving quickly through his system. It wouldn’t be long before it started to shut down. It, like the SEED world he had created, just needed a little encouragement in one direction.
Someone had to knock down that first domino.
“And there’s the rub, so to speak. In the beginning, God placed his finger on the absence of creation and made reality. You placed your finger on SEED and SEED made a reality. Now I ask you, were you aiming to be a God?”
Silvan shook his head as if molested by a small insect at his ear and wandered towards the window. The lights from the tower were shining dimly, obscured by the large trees that swayed in front of them. Be the storm, he said to himself. Be the storm that I need you to be, if only for a few minutes. A little gust of wind isn’t going to change anything in the long run, but it will get me where I need to go.
“Even if your motives weren’t altogether selfish, there’s still a question of what you were trying to attain. An intimate knowledge of the savior? Did you long to unravel the mysteries of being the focal point of an entire religion? What did you want people to respond with when others asked him who had built this amazing world? Our Lord Silvan? Do you not remember that the electrons that carry this so-called reality are byproducts of the world that He created? You cannot stand on the shoulders of God and claim to be one yourself. And don’t say it doesn’t matter anymore, because you know it does.”
It didn’t, thought Silvan. God, God, who is God? Who wants to be Him anyway?
The blinds came down in a crash, causing Silvan’s heart to falter in his chest; it sputtered like the aging engine it was and then rumbled back to life. He crossed back to his desk and had the fourth pill on his tongue before he was fully seated. The blood again drained from his head as he tilted back to swallow. On the ceiling, his eyes locked on to the most curious curls of golden inlays that surrounded the pearl light fixture in the center of the room.
“Now that is art. That is the culmination of one man or woman’s desire to make things beautiful. But it isn’t the result of random processes. In the end, neither the designer nor its observers truly believe in the uniqueness of it. If anything, art is just normality rearranged. Sometimes not very well. And that’s really all your SEED world is, just a rearrangement of things that were already there.”
Only one scratch mark remained on the desktop. Its solitary status implied something far more dangerous than a single, deliberate line. Whatever had made it, it had done it with forethought, with intention. It wouldn’t bother itself to take a swipe, a random, ineffectual swipe. But a single scratch? A slow tear across the already pitted oak? The desk would feel it, feel every agonizing second of it.
“I think I’ve had enough of this one-sided conversation, how about you?”
Silvan’s eyes rolled back in his head, turning the dark green ceiling into grey mist.
“Sometimes I get the impression you don’t even listen to me. I know you didn’t listen to me at first, but that was only because you couldn’t hear me. What puzzles me is that even after I made myself known to you, proved to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that I existed in that reality and this one, that you still don’t heed my advice. And for the sake of argument, say we forgive that. But why can’t you do me the simple courtesy of replying in kind? One can only take so much abuse at the hands of his creator.”
Brown irises rolled in a sea of white, but the eyebrows above them furrowed in anger.
“Struck a chord, have I? Well, fair’s fair. You’ve certainly been pulling my strings all evening. How long do you think I’ll put up with this? How long before you make me angry and I do something rash?”
“Are you threatening me?” whispered Silvan.
“He speaks! And what a question! I am indeed threatening you. And knowing what you know of me, I implore you to take my threat very seriously.”
Silvan pawed at the desk, tried to seek out the last pill with his clammy fingers. The hard oak had turned to a cold mush. It surrounded his hand, seemed to pull at it. Panic rose in his chest, but settled quickly. Threats, he thought to himself, idle threats.
“What does it matter anyway?” said Silvan, “I’ll be dead soon.”
“Soon? My dear Lord, you have been dead for twenty minutes now…”