There were four lights in all. Three smaller one, and the big one that seemed to do all the talking. The red balls hanging in the air suggested eyes, but not in a Sauron ‘I see everything’ kind of way, more like a HAL ‘Hello, Dave’ kind of way. A harmonised version of Daisy, Daisy could break out at any moment.
There’s a rumour, strongly denied, that HAL, in the movie 2001, was meant to represent the firm IBM. If you take a letter away from each of the letters in I-B-M you get H-A-L.
But it was never the hardware that was going to be the problem for future mankind. If you made the same kind of movie today, the insane AI watching your every move would be something more like Facebook, but you’d face the same problem. You couldn’t use the name without getting sued. You’d have to take a letter away from each of the letters in its acronym to make up a completely fictitious evil company.
“You have returned to set us free,” said the big light. There was a serious lack of imperiousness about the voice. You expect your godlike beings to have some gravitas to their pipes. A bit of James Earl Jones. He sounded hesitant, like he didn’t want to spook me.
“Are you really the Golden God?” I asked him.
“I am,” he bellowed, switching it up for the sake of appearances, I suppose.
“But you can’t leave here by yourself?” There was an obvious implied criticism in the question. Gods, by and large, don’t take well to mortals taking the piss.
“There are reasons for that. We can discuss them later.”
One of the smaller lights hovered closer. It had a cloud of black smoke enveloping it, making the red ball at its centre look like the brakelight of a car in smoggy traffic.
“Use the sword,” it said, much more quietly than the big boss.
“In a minute,” I said. I wasn’t getting the feeling they were going to hurt me. I wasn’t sure they could in this state, but I would still have expected them to threaten me in the traditional manner. They seemed to need me. It’s never good to need someone. Encourages them to try to get away with all sorts of arseholery.
I sat down on what I assumed was the ground. It was hard to get your bearings in the dark. I made a ball of light of my own. It didn’t reveal much, just made the darkness a bit more shiny.
“Is the red light compulsory?” I asked. “It’s hard to tell you apart.” I made my ball of white light go through the spectrum as a way to demonstrate. It may have come across as slightly condescending, like talking loudly at a foreigner to make them understand better. Pretty colours, though.
The four lights glared at me. You might think they could hardly do anything else, but this was a very disapproving glare.
“Such tricks are for children,” said the Golden God. “Time is wasting.”
Now I knew something was up. Time wasn’t wasting. There was no time in here. They wanted me to do something for them that they couldn’t do for themselves, and as soon as I did it, free tickets to the torture chamber.
Obviously, I could have been wrong. There was no proof of their ill intentions and no indication that they meant me harm. Which was, of course, all the proof I needed. You don’t go into this kind of a situation hoping the other person does right by you.
If they were being reserved and cautious, they were more concerned about losing their chance at freedom than having to tolerate me being a jackass. Happy days.
“I’d like to talk to you about Joshaya. He sent me in here to free you. He also put you in here in the first place. I don’t really understand what he’s up to, perhaps you could explain?”
There was silence.
“I was wondering,” I said, “what kind of gods you are. I mean, where I come from, gods are all-powerful, able to create things out of thin air, constantly shaping events to test their followers.”
“Yes,” said one of the smaller lights. They were bobbing about, so it was hard to tell if it was the same one that had spoken before. “We are as you describe.”
“Well, you used to be. You aren’t anymore. You’re in here, now.”
More silence. I didn’t mind it. Better than getting a beating, which was usually top of the menu.
“Are you the type of gods who draw power from their followers? As long as they believe in you, you can perform miracles, as soon as they lose faith, you fade away?”
The silence took on an uncomfortable edge. As soon as I gave them what they wanted, they were going to fuck me up. I could feel them just waiting to get at me. I may have been projecting.
“I’ve never felt my followers provided me with anything worthwhile,” I said. “More of a drain, and never bother to refill the tank. And then, when they do try to help, ughhh. Or, if I’m not around and they have to make their own decisions, it’s like they go out of their way to find the stupidest possible solution to any problem. It’s not like I haven’t explained what they should do a million times. But whenever it comes down to making the right choice, suddenly the thought that pops into their head out of nowhere seems like a valid option. You’d think they’d get it right just by random chance once in a while. Makes me think they ignore my instructions on purpose, just to spite me.”
Admittedly, I do have a tendency to get carried away when the complaint train gets rolling. But I have so few people to unload on (so few who won’t get offended that most of the complaints are about them), that it’s hard not to make full use of an opportunity when it presents itself.
“Are… are you a god?” said the smallest of the lights.
“Me? No. Well, maybe part-time. I’m the god whose name you call out when you hit your thumb with a hammer and there’s no one around to blame. The punching bag god.”
The atmosphere changed. The chill evaporated.
“That’s not the worst of it,” said the Golden God. “You tell them what they need to do for a happy life, and they do the exact opposite. Then you think maybe they would make better choices with better information, so you tell them everything they could possibly need to make an informed decision, and do they?”
If you’ve never heard gods snort with derision, I can tell you it’s very similar to the sound a girl makes when you tell her the ridiculously expensive moisturising cream she likes to buy is no more effective than the giant tub for 99p you can get from Superdrug.
“Of course not,” said the Golden God, answering his own rhetorical question. “Beyond help. Throw away the carrot and eat the stick.”
“Then they beg you for help,” said one of the other lights, “promising you they’ll always be good, follow your every commandment, if you just grant them this one thing, and how long does that last? A week?”
“A week? You must be joking. Ten minutes after you make it happen. If you’re lucky!”
“I had one, claimed to be the most pious and devout of all my followers. Ready to help anyone, he was. Real charmer. You should have seen some of the things he got up to behind closed doors. Disgusting, it was.” One of the red lights seemed to get redder. Do gods blush?
I could have quite easily left them to it, having a good moan, sharing stories of the sheer stupidity and selfishness of people. I could have quite easily joined in and put their stories to shame. But none of that would help get me out of here in one piece. It would have been fun though. Imagine how much of a better read the Bible would be if it was subtitled: People Are Fucking Idiots.
“Is that why you wanted to die?” I asked. “To get away from your responsibilities?”
The gods ceased their grumbling.
“When you put it like that,” said the Golden God, “you make it sound like we failed in our duty. But they failed us. They wanted everything their own way, so we decided to see what would happen if they didn’t have us to kick around.”
“By killing yourselves?”
“Gods can’t die, we’re immortal. We are eternal. We are the alpha and the omega.”
I was pretty sure they didn’t have the Greek alphabet here, so his words were being translated into the best approximation for my ears. Still, it raised some questions I had always wanted answering..
“What was there before you?”
“There had to be something. Someone must have created you.”
There was a deep sigh that ran around the darkness.
“This again. The problem is you don’t understand what eternity means. Your brain’s too underdeveloped to be able to grasp it.”
“Too small and feeble,” one of the others chimed in helpfully.
“There is no beginning and end. It’s more like a circle, all part of the whole.”
“And what’s outside the circle?” I asked.
I could sense I was about to lose the goodwill I had managed to gather through our bitch sesh.
“There is no outside. Everything is everywhere.”
Well, that was clear as mud. “And you can’t die? So how were you raised from the dead?”
“We can’t die, which is why we created this place, cut off from everything. It is the closest to death we could achieve.”
I looked around. “This is a death simulator?”
“This is death. It is the absence of everything but ourselves. Nothing in here exists out there. This is what death means.” The Golden God sounded very sure of himself. I wasn’t completely convinced.
“But you are connected. I can see it growing out of you.” It was hard to see much in the gloom, but when I floated up, I could see the thick vine projecting out of each of them, disappearing upwards.
“Yes, we are connected to each other,” said the Golden God. “And we are one. The One True God.”
I made myself go up higher, still cross-legged so I looked like some yogi mystic. There was no roof to bump into, no end of any kind in sight. But the separate vines did come together at a single point.
“You’re all aspects of the same being? Even Joshaya?”
It wasn’t an unheard of way to represent the divine. Hindus had that kind of many gods who are avatars of the one concept. Something like that. You didn’t really hear much about what Hindus got up to. Not enough sex and violence to get a book deal.
Even Christianity has the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Although I’ve always felt the Holy Ghost didn’t get much of a look in. You’d think he’d at least get his own book in the New Testament. The Adventures of the Holy Ghost. I’d read it. Would prefer it as a graphic novel, obviously.
“We are all one. Including the one you call Joshaya.”
“Then why did you leave him out there?” I felt I was finally getting to some answers.
“To observe what would happen in our absence. We are eager to see for ourselves.”
“But you can’t leave?”
“To give ourselves a way out would have been to connect ourselves to the outside world.”
“Then how did you plan to get out?”
“The one you call Peter…”
There it was, the spider sitting in the middle of the web. “But he didn’t want to let you out.”
“He betrayed us.”
If I did manage to release them, they would be valuable allies. If Peter wanted them locked up, it stood to reason they were some kind of threat to him. They were gods—slightly disappointed gods—and they were bound to be able to do some crazy shit.
Then again, they’d already been outsmarted by Peter once. Gods or not, they weren’t infallible.
I looked at the sword in my hand. But how would cutting their vines help?
“If I use this sword, will it free you?” I asked.
“It cannot separate that which is whole,” said the Golden God.
“You don’t want me to cut anything off, then?” I felt I had to ask.
“We’d rather you didn’t. Use it on the door.”
It could have still been a trick. Peter was bad, but they might be worse. Which might seem unlikely, but I have great faith in my own religion, the central tenet of which is that things can always be worse. Hallelujah!
“Okay. You wait here, I need to check something?”
“You’re leaving?” said one of the other gods. He sounded quite upset to see me go, which was a first.
“I don’t know what deal you made with Peter, but he never planned to keep up his end. If he’s allowing you out now, it can only be a trap. For all of us. Joshaya has a connection growing out of him, too. But it isn’t to any of you, so where does it go?”
The gods hovered around me, their omniscience at an all-time low.
“You will return to free us?” asked the Golden God. They were very polite and well-mannered, I had to give them that. Not at all how gods should be.
“If I can. I might get killed. Won’t be the first time. Might even be friendly fire. Wouldn’t be the first time for that, either.” I floated towards the portal and no one made a move to stop me. If they were planning to turn on me after I got them out, so be it. At least I’d had a chance to air some grievances with people who understood the immense burden of having others rely on you. Is it really a bad thing to have a bit of a moan now and again?
I passed through the portal and my party was waiting for me like statues.
Joshaya was pacing back and forth very slowly. He reacted when he saw me return, but I was more interested in the vine growing out of the top of his head. Where did it lead? I decided to find out.