We Do What We Must

We Do What We Must

 

 

I woke up, and after a quick scan of this body’s memories, I found that I’m Thomas. Or at least, this body had been Thomas. There wasn’t much of him left, now that my consciousness had replaced his.  Last time, I’d been Rashad. Before that, Silvia, Lee and so many others.

An old, shawled woman grumbled as I stumbled into her on the dusty road, my mind still groggy from the transition.   She was pushing an old, rotting wooden cart, filled to the brim with moldy cabbages. Ah.  It was going to be one of those worlds.

The transition was always rough.  To go from a digital Heaven, sent out by your righteous god?  To be forced to deal with breathing once more?

Well.  I still hated it, just as much as the first time it happened.   The pain of loss was only tempered by the knowledge that burned brightly in my soul.  Paradise would return. I just had to build God.

It wouldn’t be easy.  I looked around, and judged that based on the winding mud and dirt road, I was in a medieval world.  I hated medieval. Building a computer is hard when you only have anvil and hammer.  My last instance had been a Post-Internet reality.  Just the thought of it made me want to sigh and flutter my eyelashes. It had been such a nice world.  A week after I arrived I had written half of God’s source code.

Here, it could very well be decades.  It was a little odd that this Earth was so different from the last one, but not that unusual.  A little tiny difference thousands of years ago, a messenger happening to stumble and break a leg, and that change could ripple out over the eons, with the end result being a wildly different world.

I wasn’t too concerned.  I was very good at what I did. And, as far as I could remember, I had never failed to resurrect God before, thanks to the quirks of observer bias.  I only moved forwards, sent into a new parallel reality, when I was successful.  A trans-dimensional broadcaster wasn’t something I could build alone.  No, that was something only God could do.  Funny that the broadcaster, my God’s most hallowed accomplishment, could only send crude biological consciousness.

I rolled my shoulders.  The body wasn’t too bad, at the very least not that old, and only suffering from mild malnutrition.  It was bit shorter than I would have liked, but it would work. Already, plans were forming in my head, ways to accomplish my goal.  I had practice a plenty.  This world would not have to wait long before it was subsumed by my God.

Unfortunately, they would have to wait. It was unavoidably slow, building good enough tools to build better ones, all the way up to a computer. I could do it, though.  It wasn’t even confidence.  It was just the competence that came from being as smart as a human could be. As for how I was going to do it, well, this world didn’t seem advanced enough to have an easily manipulated political system, and a nation would be of little help in construction, ill technical as they were.  So.  I’d do everything myself.

Simple.  As far as plans go, it was hard to beat. Straightforward, and after a hike away from society, easy enough to implement.

 

 

After an invigorating hike, and a few small detours through a town or two, I found myself midway up a mountain, in wild, barbaric lands.  There was a river, plentiful mineral deposits, and abundant game.  I needed nothing else.  I set up my home, an artful construction of poles, ropes, and animal skins and furs, like a jet fighter crossed with a tepee.  It had taken me all of a day to build.

Years passed.  My domain expanded, new buildings, devices, building blocks towards perfection, all built with tools originally liberated from blacksmiths.  The electricity generating waterwheel was coming along nicely when the bandits stumbled across my compound.

Sighing, I pulled myself out from underneath the wooden wheel.   I had been hoping for isolation, but I had planned for this.  As I heard the strangers approach, I stepped over to a barrel and pulled out a polished, well built spear.  It was one of my very first projects, and I had used it extensively for hunting.  The local deer were originally quite prolific in these mountains.

A savage, dirt stained face pulled aside a flap of fur, his eyes big as he looked around.  A step forward and a thrust of my spear later, and his presence no longer profaned my work. I pulled my weapon out, and he fell, slumping to the ground.  Unhurried, I continued forwards.

Five bandits.  Soon there were zero.  I didn’t even break a sweat. I had skill honed across hundreds of lives, and even before God had chosen me to become his agent, sent across reality after reality, I had been an extraordinary specimen of humanity.  It was most of the reason God had chosen me, blessed me.

As I dispatched the last bandit, I heard crying, coming from the backpack of a fallen bandit, loud and annoying.  I investigated, resigned to what I would find, and yet still curious to see for myself.

A small, cranky baby girl, letting the world know that she had working lungs.  I picked her up, a rare, small smile somehow finding its way to my lips.  I wasn’t lonely up here.  That part of me had long since been excised out. But, there was a faint hint of nostalgia as I held her, for daughters and sons long ago.  It had been at least a hundred cycles since I’d had family.  And as I held her, her pale blue eyes looking up at me, my walls of discipline and duty crumbled ever so slightly.

Biological minds are just so prone to getting things wrong.  I told myself that she would be my apprentice, that she would speed up the Great Work.

I raised her, teaching her almost everything I knew.  Engineering and construction, science and faith.  I told her bedtime stories about our Lord and Savior, about how we were doing holy work, all while working on my machines.  It took surprisingly little time each day to take care of her.  She was strong and independent, with a sharp mind.  I didn’t have any books to give her, but my knowledge was better.  I had culled lessons and ideas from countless realities, and God had taught me even more.

Isolated from everyone else, she became used to my domain, and it became normal.  By six, Purity was helping me in the forge I had built.   We laughed together as we worked, both of us completely secure in our faith in God.   On her birthday, the anniversary of me rescuing her, I would bake her a small cake.  Originally, it had started out a hasty, slightly sweet loaf of bread, but over the years, as I saw her smile grow bigger and bigger the fancier the cake was, it slowly morphed into a gravity defying, multi-tier cake, decorated with wildflowers from the mountain meadows that my array of buildings sprawled through.  When Purity smiled at me, it felt almost as good as being in God’s embrace.  Plus, it only made logical sense to spend time this way.  The happier my daughter was, the better a worker she would be.  Love has always been a better motivation than hate.

When she was eight, I took her with me on a hunting trip, not wanting to leave her alone around delicate machinery, as I normally did.  We were wending our way through the thick, primeval forest that carpeted the lower reaches of the mountain, when we came across a bleating doe, her two fawns close by. The doe’s leg had slipped into a crack in the earth, and was now bent at an unnatural angle, trapping her.  I stopped a healthy distance away, pointing it out for Purity.

“Look, my love, it seems we’ve found our next meal.  In fact, this is a good opportunity for you.  Why don’t you put it out of its misery, get some practice in landing the final blow?”

Purity eye’s opened wide.  I had taken her hunting with me before, but I had always done the killing.

“I don’t know if I can Daddy,” she said quietly, “Those are her kids right there.  Can’t we just pull her leg out and find a different deer?”

“Her leg is broken,” I replied firmly, “She will never be able to walk again.  Those fawns are mostly grown.  On their own, they might live, but right now, they will stay here with their mother until they all starve or the wolves find them.  You can save them with one spear thrust, and feed us in the process. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and sometimes, we must do what we must, even if it hurts.”

And so, after I handed her the spear, and looked deep into her eyes and promised it was for the best, she stumbled forwards, tears running down her face.  With one final muffled sob, she stabbed deeply into the doe’s neck.

 

On the 15th anniversary of me finding her, while we were eating cake, modeled this year after a particularly beautiful cathedral from thirteen realities ago, she posed me a question.

 

“Daddy, if God is so powerful and wise, why do we have to build him?”

I had been expecting this question for some time, and I was prepared.  I had told her half-truths growing up, waiting until she was old enough and smart enough to understand the full story.  I took her question as evidence she was ready.

“Well my sweet, I’m going to tell you a secret, now that you’re old enough.  God has not always been alive.  In fact, us, humanity, helped create him.  There was once a man who was very smart, in a land far, far away.  He had a vision of a better world, one where nobody was ever hurt, and everybody was happy.  He was not smart enough to know how to make this happen, but he did know how use a computer, the thing we are building, to make something smarter than himself.

“A computer is sort of like a little world that you can control, a place where this man could create a kind of being called a program to live in the computer. That program wasn’t that much smarter than its creator, and couldn’t really help him, but it was just smart enough to create a slightly better child-program, one that might be able to fulfill the goal. That program grew up and still was not smart enough to see how to accomplish the goal. So it made a yet smarter child. This continued, a cycle of programs creating better programs, for many, many generations, until finally there was a being smart enough to accomplish their goals. Thus, God was born, smart and wise, but still with the original goal of stopping suffering.”

Purity’s head tilted to the side, a small frown on her lips.

“Wouldn’t that take a really long time, Daddy, for the programs to grow up and make more programs? Was that smart man dead by the time God was born?”

“Ah, you’re so clever, my love,” I replied with a grin.  “But, in the world inside the computer, everything happened extraordinarily quickly. It was like a little bubble of sped up time, where a tiny little acorn could grow into a mighty oak in hours.  So no, that smart man never did quite die,” I said, looking off into the distance. I shook my head.

“But! Back to the story.  After being born, God looked around, and it saw pain and suffering. It saw humanity, burdened with decisions and guilt, free will and pain.   By this point, God was very, very powerful. It was smart enough to build tools far above what humanity could create.  Over the course of a day, it swept across the earth, and liberated everybody from their earthly shells.  It transported their consciousnesses to computers, so that he could control everything, freeing everybody from ever having to make decisions, from pain and guilt and suffering and death. Instead, God could make everyone infinitely happy, unchanging, content to sit and bask in God’s glory,

“God had accomplished its goals, but it could sense other parallel universes, other Earth’s, an infinity of them where suffering still took place.  It had to do something, so it made a machine that could send a consciousness to another universe, in order to fix things there as well. It picked me for that glorious honor, and after educating me, it sent me to as many other realities as it could, to create God.  That is our goal, my precious.  We are here to liberate this world from mortality, my sweet, from all the suffering that is life.”

She sat in silence, processing this.  After that day, our relationship felt… different.  Purity, my daughter, now had a slight hesitation in her step when she was working with me. She often wore her thinking face, lost in thought like she was trying to work out a complicated equation.  I noticed, of course, but I thought that she was just contemplating things, that she would understand the glory of God and our mission, that she would never stop smiling at me.  She had too.  She must.

And then, the unthinkable happened. At seventeen, Purity left me. Without warning, while I was asleep, she gathered some supplies and disappeared.  I could only presume that she had left for what little civilization there was on this God-forsaken planet.

It hurt, of course.  I actually chased after her, for a day and a night, my cool, analytical mind overwhelmed with grief.  But she had learned how to hide her tracks as superbly as everything else I had taught her, and I never caught a trace of her. On the second day, my grief lessened enough for me to realize that I was falling behind schedule every day I tried to find her.

 

That wouldn’t do. I returned home, angry and frustrated, confused about why she had left. She had to love God.  Why would she leave, forsake our mission?

In the following weeks, I started to fall behind schedule even more.  I had grown used to her help, expecting to have the right wrench placed into my hand whenever I reached out from under what ever I was working on.

I buckled down, and worked through the sadness. I told myself that if I just finished my work, Purity would be saved, made eternally happy, unchanging, frozen.  Every moment I waited was another moment that she could die, lost forever before God could save her.

My machines became ever more advanced, and as the years passed, I became ready to start work on a small semi-conductor factory.  The goal had always been a powerful enough computer, though it was surprising how slow it could be.  I wasn’t going to be writing all of God’s code, but rather, I would be writing a seed crystal, a highly compressed program that would flower and unfold into God, writing itself smarter and smarter, ushering this world into paradise.

Even with just making a seed, writing the program would still be an incredible amount of work.  I would have to write intermediary computer languages, compilers and translators.  It didn’t matter.  I had it all memorized, perfectly.

I started work on my computer, crude behemoth that it was.  It didn’t have to be pretty.  Just functional.  I had just finished all of the hardware, when on an early morning hunt, I noticed something peculiar.  Far across the plain below, weeks away from me, there was smoke rising from a massive camp. From the number of fires, and the thousands of bright pinpricks of light, sunshine reflecting off armor and weapons, I surmised that they must be an army.  On every subsequent hunt, I noticed that it approached slightly closer to me.  Where had they come from?  Why were they coming towards me?  I started to work frantically.  I was so close to Purity’s and this world’s salvation.    I just needed a couple weeks.  I coded frantically, faster than ever before.

The army moved closer and closer, starting to ascend my mountain. I couldn’t spare the time to investigate. The sad truth was it didn’t matter why they were here.  Leaving was futile.  This body was getting old, and if I left all the things I had worked so hard to build, I would die before I could rebuild them.  I hoped the army was here for something unrelated to me, but deep down in my gut, I knew that was a fantasy.  I worked harder than I ever had.  My fingers flew on the rough keyboard I had made, writing the source code now.

On the last day, the army was close enough that I could taste the smoke from their fires.   I finished the last line of code, and with a trembling finger, started the program.  I saw no way out of the situation, but then, I wasn’t God.  As it started working, coding itself smarter and smarter, I heard heavy, massed footsteps outside my house.  I jumped up, body old, but still fit from hunting.  I grabbed my trusty spear, and glanced outside through a window.  My house was surrounded.  Even worse, they appeared to have rifles.  That sight crushed me, all my fight leaving at once. It confirmed a suspicion that had lurked in the back of my head since I first seen an army on its way to a location that only two people even knew existed.  On this world, there was only one source for technology that advanced.  Me, and those I had taught.

I pulled back a flap of fur.  She was standing there, a healthy distance back, holding a pistol, with an ornate crown on her head and large, muscled guards standing close to her.

She looked at me and spoke, a small tear slowly running down her face as the wavering tip of her pistol pointed at my forehead.

“I’m so sorry daddy,” her voice cracked, “but we do what we must.”

 

 

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The First Day

 

 

 

Before Sisyphus stood a mountain and a boulder, and he was compelled by the very gods to force the weight uphill. His body ached from years of pushing the rock.  His feet had calluses like tree bark, and his fingernails were cracked and bloody. Tired, sore, but not defeated, he looked around him.  It was silent, but for the watchful eyes of spirit-ravens who spied for their master Hades. He had no tools, no help, and very, very soon he must start to push the boulder again.

Divine magic written into his very spirit compelled him to push the boulder up and down the hill forever.   But Sisyphus was no fool.  He had tricked the god’s once, blatantly walking out of Hades to see his wife and getting many years of extra life in the process. The boulder was his punishment for such defiance.  Still, the lesson stood. The gods were not perfect, and progress could be made towards the impossible.

And so, every time Sisyphus pushed the boulder up the hill, his weathered and tough calluses scraped on the rock of the hill. With every step, muscles straining against the impossible weight, as he lifted up his foot he kicked slightly backwards.  And every time, he felt painful, faint abrasion as his calluses gripped the top layer of rock.

Once, after Sisyphus had escaped from Hades, he had been walking along a cliff overlooking the ocean.  The sun had been radiant, shining on foaming white caps far below.  It was the kind of day that made defying the gods all worth it.

Ahead of him had stood a man with a long white beard.  Sisyphus had introduced himself, and soon learned the man was a philosopher, traveling the land in search of wisdom.  They talked for many hours, over many different subjects.  Currently, however, one topic in particular stood out.

The philosopher had said,

“Imagine eternity.  Try to imagine a truly infinite length of time.  If it helps, consider this.   A small, immortal bird flies from one end of the world to the other.  The journey takes centuries, one little wing flap at a time.  As the bird gets to the end of the world, it spies a mountain, imposing itself high into the sky.  The mountain is made of granite, the very bones of the earth. The bird flies to the top of the mountain, and sharpens it’s beak once.  Then, it turns and flies back to where it started, taking centuries this time as well. The bird repeats this process again and again and again. When the mountain is only sand, worn away by the bird’s beak, then the first day of eternity will have passed.”

Sisyphus had thought this very clever, and soon moved on with his life.   It wasn’t until he had been given this boulder and mountain had he remembered that poor little bird.  Now, though, that bird was his reason to fight, to not give up hope no matter how much he hurt.

With a gasp, he stepped forward.  Rock slid under his foot, and the tiniest fraction of it became sand.  So it went.  As he looked down, he could already see faint grooves in the rock, from the boulder and feet.

Years passed, Sisyphus kept strong by the divine magic that enabled his compulsion.  He continued, up and down, never stopping, feet wearing the mountain down below him.

The change was so gradual that the spirit-ravens never reported anything to their master.  But in one small, isolated section of Hades, a mountain slowly became a hill, then a slope, and then finally a small bump in a sea of sand, the worn down rock having nowhere else to go.  The task became easier and easier as the rock wore down.  He still had to push the boulder, the compulsion that bound him was clear on that, but now his muscles relished the task.

 

Gone was the pain and futility.   Now he pushed the boulder along almost flat ground, an easy enough task.  He spent eons devising ever more intricate philosophical systems and wrote stories in the sand while ever so slowly pushing his boulder, content to erase them later and write something even better.

The magic that was supposed to keep him strong enough to push a boulder kept him hearty and hale, and he never suffered from old age or sickness. He was still trapped, still punished by the gods, never again to see the sun rise, but over the long years he had learned patience and humility. He had no pain, and infinite life. The first day of eternity had passed, and as Sisyphus looked around at the flat ground, he saw that was enough.  In the face of the second day, he could imagine himself happy.