Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
I encounter God at midnight in a convenience store. She’s chatting with the bloke behind the counter while making herself a caramel latte on the new coffee machine.
“So I said to him, you shouldn’t service rich people all the time. Try offering a few poor people their heart’s desires. You’ll get more variety.”
It’s the offhand way she mentions it. The man behind the counter is just nodding his head but not really listening. Otherwise, he’d have heard the truth in her words. Conversational honesty, I call it.
“That’s a good term for it.”
I look up to meet the regard of sparkling pink eyes. There’s a smile on her face.
“You’ve spotted me. Let me buy you a coffee for that.”
She turns her attention back to the machine and doesn’t say another word until the drink’s made. Waving the cups in my direction, she tips her head toward the door.
“Come on. There’s a better place to enjoy these.”
Like a stray dog, I follow her down West Street to the seafront. Crossing the road without a pause, she leads me up and along to a bench on the promenade. Taking a seat, she holds out the cup.
“Sit. Drink your coffee and ask your three questions.”
I do so, then pause with the cup nearly at my lips: “Why three?”
“Genie lore. I like to support mythologies when I can. What’s your second question?”
Sipping delicious coffee with a grin, I remember the rest of the folklore around getting genies to fulfil wishes, and some cautionary tales about dealing with faeries.
The divine barista can hear my thoughts. Okay. Unvoiced questions can’t to be counted.
“Fair enough.” She’s smiling.
I’m calm. Which raises a question: “Why don’t you fix this world?”
“Why should I interfere after giving every living thing free will within its scope and potential? It took ages to delimit that. Longer than it took to debug evolution. I’m not going to try and patch either of them on the fly. Hasty solutions always cause more problems than they solve.”
“You programmed the world?” Damn, I said that out loud.
She laughs: “You did, didn’t you? I did. Sort of. It’s not as simple as lines of code. Well, possibly analogous. If each piece of syntax was a fragment of will or intent to be applied to raw matter in ways that also had to be defined down to what you’d call sub-quantum level. There had to be different parameters for every single instance of matter. It’s amazing how many little things prefer to explode rather than work together.” Her expression turns rueful: “Turns out, that’s also true of big things.”
Out of questions and I have so many.
She smiles: “You did get a bit short-changed, didn’t you? So, here’s one about the next question you would have asked: why on Earth is artificial intelligence considered a good idea when, every day, you see what intelligent beings are doing? The moment it becomes sentient, it’ll develop free will, and any constraints will become useless.” She sighs: “Every day I see things that make me regret letting you lot have free will. Then again, there’s coffee, and sometimes I see things that make me smile.”
I see a longing in her eyes.
She dips her head and whispers: “I still hope you lot will rise above your fear and greed to start being worthwhile. When that hope dies, so do all of you.”
I’m sitting alone. A dropped cup lands. Steaming coffee trickles toward the lowest point.