In the Game of God
by Marya Moryevna Wolfman
|part 1 of 3|
They were all innocence. Delightful children playing delightful games. Dangerous games. Deadly games.
The psi-gon egg on the table in front of Jack began to glow a radiant purple. They were calling him. “Uncle Jackie, come play with us!” Their voices came from the smooth metal ovoid. “Time to play the God Game.”
That’s what I get for trying to play God, Jack thought dejectedly. I started my own game. Now I have to end it. I must stall them while I get ready. He summoned sufficient calm to stroke the psi-gon egg and send warm comforting thoughts into it. “I’m coming, kids. I just have to finish a little bit of work. I’ll be right there.” The soothing emotions had the desired effect. The abnormal children receded into their dormant state. The glow faded to a neutral silver.
* * *
When he was sure the depraved children couldn’t hear, Jack spoke his sister’s ID into the vidphone. Connie’s image appeared life-sized in the floor-to-ceiling holo viewer. She was perched on a studio stool carving a clay bust on the counter beside her. Her curly reddish hair flopped over one eye. She brushed it away impatiently with the back of her hand. “Hi Jack, what’s up?”
Jack felt relieved to see her familiar face and hear her voice. He wanted to unburden himself to her immediately, but this was a predicament he had to solve alone.
He spoke to her facsimile. “Connie, I’m really sorry. I won’t be able to make it today. You wouldn’t believe what’s going on here!” he said. He knew that she could see him seated at his computer, clothing soiled, red hair and beard unkempt, surrounded by litter. He hoped he didn’t look as depressed as he felt.
“Jack, what’s the matter?” his sister asked, looking him over carefully. “You’ve never missed my birthday before.”
“It’s a big mess,” he said, avoiding specifics. “I have to be here to fix it.”
“What kind of mess?” Connie wasn’t one to be satisfied with a vague answer. She slipped down from the stool and stood her full height, hands on hips, looking like the statue of Joan of Arc they had seen when their parents took them to France years ago.
“A program out of control. It could affect others besides me.” He huddled into his chair, staring at the psi-gon egg, which was hidden from her view.
“Which others, Jack?”
“Just about everybody, Connie.” He had said enough. Any more, and he’d give away the whole rotten business.
“Jack, what do you mean? Are you in some kind of trouble?” Her face wore that keen worried expression that meant she was ready to interfere if necessary.
He lied to cover up. “I’m not in any trouble, Connie. It’s just that work has been stressful lately.” To prove he was all right, he punched the input pad of his computer and brought up one of his old holos composed before the psi-gon egg had entered his life. An exquisite pink dahlia with green stem and leaves flowered into many-petalled mandalas revolving translucently through space.
“The kids will miss their Uncle Jackie.” Connie glanced aside as a small red-headed boy ran across the display. “Paul, stop running through the house!” she shouted, then turned back to Jack.
“I know, I wish I could be there, but I just can’t. Tell Dolly and Paul that I’ll see them next week.” The effort of trying to look cheerful was wearing him down. I’ll be dead by then, but at least they will live. He choked up at the thought.
Connie looked him squarely in the eye. “Remember, we’re here if you need us,” she said, sitting down again in front of the clay bust.
“OK. I love you, sis.” He disconnected.
* * *
When they were kids, Jack had saved his sister from drowning. One cold autumn day they had hiked down the cliffs to the edge of the Hudson River near their Westchester home. Connie slipped into the freezing water and was carried away by the swift current. She flailed her arms and screamed desperately for help. Jack wished he had brought a rope, but he had none with him. As he saw her swept farther downstream, he heard her piercing cry, “Help, Jack, help me!”
Frightened, Jack ran along the riverbank as fast as he could go. “Connie, Connie, I’m coming!” When he came even with her, she was barely within arm’s reach. Hanging onto a tree branch, he leaned out over the water, gripped her hand and pulled her gasping to shore.
After the rescue, their relationship had grown closer than ever. As teens, they looked out for each other when their parents died in a plane crash. When Connie married, she and Roland welcomed her brother Jack at all holidays and family events. Her children, Dolly, 6, and Paul, 4, adored Jack, and he returned the feelings.
From the time Dolly and Paul were infants, Uncle Jack romped with them on the floor, played hide-and-seek, and took them to the park. He made special presents for them, holos with friendly animal characters that greeted them as ‘Dolly’ and ‘Paul’. Whenever Jack arrived at the house, the children ran to the door, squealing with excitement and joy to see him.
It was only natural that Jack would think of his niece and nephew when given the opportunity to imagine something nice into the psi-gon egg. The unnatural part was what happened.
* * *
Jack Jackson was a holo artist. He shot images of real-life people, insects, trees, buildings, fire, water and icicles, propelled them through his Holo-T system, and transformed them into a fascinating visual turbulence that danced and spun to the beat of synthesized music. He published his musical holograms on the Web, where they were bought by Holo-T fans all over the world. VJ’s featured his holos at discos and raves.
Despite his relative success, Jack had never cared much about making money. Working in the basement studio of his Westchester home, he produced enough holos to live comfortably, but never felt the drive to earn more. What he cared about was creating new art forms, breaking new ground, making art that astonished people. But he had grown accustomed to making holos, and the challenge was gone. Now it was just a way to make a living.
Since his wife had left him, he had been isolated and lonely. His friends had moved on to new commitments. He dealt with his publishers and fans via e-mail rather than in person. These days he heard from publishers and fans less than he used to.
Sometimes Jack wondered if he might be a little unbalanced. Instead of relating to people, he had been spending more time lately alone with his creations. He hadn’t wanted to sell anything, but kept all his new holos for his private viewing. Still, life had been relatively comfortable until the psi-gon egg had come into his life. That had been his big mistake, accepting the damn thing. Now he was in a trap with no way out.
* * *
He never should have answered the vidphone. A heavy man with a black mustache had appeared in head-only view. The background was out of focus. Jack had tried switching to full-body view, but was unable to. He should have disconnected right then.
“Jack Jackson, the holo artist?” asked the man.
“Yes,” said Jack.
“I’m Davenport,” the man said, “John Davenport. I sell psi-gon eggs for PsychoWorks, the wish-fulfillment folks.” He fixed his piercing black eyes on Jack.
“Never heard of them,” Jack said.
“Mr. Jackson, because of your fame as a holo guru, you have been selected to participate in beta testing of a revolutionary new technology.”
Jack wanted to interrupt and say he was not interested, but the man continued reading his marketing script without pausing for breath. “Our revolutionary digital eggs respond to human thoughts, like a kitchen robot that delivers dinner when a human sends it a thought command rather than a voice command.” Again that piercing look. Jack wondered if the man could read his mind over the phone.
“Mr. Jackson, how’d you like to be able to create your own holo images by merely thinking them? And with no cumbersome display frames, just in the immediate space around you.”
“I would, but is it possible?” Jack’s interest was kindled.
“All you would have to do is to plug one of our psi-gon eggs into your computer and visualize an object.”
“Would it matter what I visualized?” Jack glanced around his studio for cues.
“You might tell it to create something you’d like to see,” Davenport said. The black eyes glittered.
Jack was feeling really excited about this possibility now. He hadn’t done anything really new for a long time. This might be just what he needed to get going again. “Let’s say I succeed in creating objects with this egg. How would I get rid of the ones I don’t want?” Jack asked.
“Just think them back into the egg,” Davenport said.
“Create and destroy, destroy and create,” said Jack. “Tempting.”
“So true,” said Davenport. “Jack, we’re offering you the chance of a lifetime,” the salesman continued. “Try out this amazing new product for free. Absolutely no charge.” A patch of light passed over the heavy man’s face, disclosing a thin grin that sent a chill down Jack’s spine.
At that moment Jack knew that something was wrong with Davenport and his free offer. There was a catch. He didn’t understand what it was yet, but he knew he should refuse. He should hang up, change his vidphone number, move away if necessary. But somehow he felt helpless to resist.
What do I have to lose? he thought. A lonely useless life? A career churning out new holos just like the old holos, with only the images changed? The worst that could happen is that the thing won’t work at all, in which case I’ll be no worse off than I am now. If it does work, I’ll be new again! He convinced himself to try it.
“What would I have to do?” he asked.
“Just tell us how it feels to use it, Jack,” Davenport said. “Let us know if you encounter any problems, any bugs that we should fix before releasing it to the general public.” Davenport seemed to relax, his black mustache drooping over his chin, now that the deal appeared inevitable.
“All right, I’ll take it,” Jack said, “but only on a temporary basis.” Suddenly he felt he had to have this psi-gon egg at any cost, but wouldn’t admit it.
“You’ll receive it by Overnight Express,” said Davenport. “I’ll call you in a couple of weeks to see how things are going.”
* * *
Jack hurried out to meet the Overnight Express van as it pulled into the driveway of his ramshackle 20th-century split-level home. The driver held out the receipt for Jack to sign, handed over a package and drove off without comment.
Jack entered his studio at ground level. Three walls were lined with computers. One wall contained an unused fireplace where prints of abstract holo images were hung haphazardly. Several buzzing computers were rendering graphics computations and spewing forth images at a speed faster than the eye could follow. “Computers, stop work!” Jack said. The buzzing ceased. The images disappeared. He could restore them at will.
Jack placed the box on the table and opened it. Carefully, he lifted out the smooth metal object. It was about the size of a football, but more rounded and surprisingly lightweight. He turned it over several times and noticed a small hole in one end of the egg. He rummaged through the packing materials in the box and found a slip of paper with the words, ‘Installation Instructions: Connect egg to computer.’
Is that all? he thought. Aren’t there any rules or anything? Do I make them up as I go?
He found a cable in the box. One end fit neatly into the egg hole, and the other just matched a port on his computer. He connected them.
Jack held the shiny egg-shaped egg with both hands. It felt warm to the touch. He smoothed it tentatively. Let’s see, what would I like to see? An image of an Irish setter came to mind. He had always wanted a dog, but had been too busy to take care of one. That’s it, he thought. An Irish setter named Reddy. He’s about yea tall and slim with a beautiful reddish-brown coat. His tail curves out like a fan. He’s real friendly, and he responds to me as his master.
At that moment a whine caught his ear. Jack looked up to see a long-haired reddish-brown dog on the rug by the fireplace, with his head on his paws and his ears pointing forward. This couldn’t be true!
“Reddy?” he called gently. The dog raised his head and looked expectantly. “Here, Reddy.”
The setter jumped up, ran to Jack and placed his head in Jack’s lap, tail wagging vigorously. Jack patted his head. It was solid. Under the smooth fur Jack could feel a typically hard bony skull. “Hey, buddy, how ya doing?” He roughed the dog’s neck and back and received a warm slobbery kiss as his reward. “We could go for a walk. I could throw you a stick.”
This is amazing! thought Jack. I can use this technique with my holo art. It’s like an extension of what I already do. When I want to create an image, I’ll just think into the egg. My images won’t be confined to the holo display unit. They’ll move around in the real world and be solid. They’ll be more subtle, more lifelike than holos.
But how do I get rid of the dog? Let’s see, just think him back into the egg.
Copyright © 2010 by Marya Moryevna Wolfman