I never thought I'd experience anything creepy working as a computer hardware salesman. It's not the worst job in the world, but I am by no means suited to the task. I'm not an extrovert, and I don't like pushing hardware that customers don't need. My boss has been constantly pressuring me to up my game for months, and I'm sure I was on the verge of getting fired… until he came along.
The first time he came in, I immediately recognized him as a man out of his element. Short, graying, slightly hunched, and visibly overwhelmed, he moved from box to box in the aisles, thoroughly reading each product's information.
Considering I'd never seen anyone actually intently read the boxes like that, I kept an eye on him, but made sure to avoid him the same way I avoided most customers. The other salesmen descended one by one, eager for a commission from what looked like an easy target, but he rebuffed them each in turn with quiet vehemence.
I turned away for a moment, only to find him tapping me on the shoulder lightly.
"You look like you're not part of the nonsense around here," he said quietly. "Can you help me buy some equipment?"
I tried not to sigh. "Sure, what would you like?"
He produced a crumpled piece of paper with a list of requirements on it. Some had been scratched out, some had been circled, and a few product names were written along the edge. "Two hundred of each of these."
I froze. "Two hundred each? Are you sure? That's like… ten thousand dollars."
"It should be roughly thirty-five thousand," he replied absently. "But I have conditions. I want them delivered to the address at the bottom here…" He handed me the paper. "And I want the delivery to come from the supplier direct. I'm a very private person, and I don't want chatty salesmen bothering me."
"Um, alright," I agreed, calculating how to put an order through the system directly. "I think we can do that."
"Not we - just you. Understood?"
I certainly sensed that something was off about him, but he didn't seem like a terrorist or anything. After he left, I filled his order as privately as I could. My boss didn't ask any questions - she was just happy I was selling anything at all.
My commission check that week was amazing… so, a month later, when I saw him come back in, I held my breath in anticipation.
He seemed a little more tired than the first time I'd seen him, and, if it was even possible, his hair had grayed a little further. His jacket was open this time, too, revealing a black shirt and the telltale clerical collar of a man of faith. For some reason, that didn't surprise me.
"Another list for you," he said, coming up to me discreetly. "Same delivery rules." I stared at the paper he'd given me. "This is like a hundred thousand dollars' worth of stuff… and that's just the ones I recognize…"
He peered at me with slightly wild eyes. "I said no questions."
My second huge commission check had me more worried than happy. Was something wrong with this guy? Was he obsessively spending his church's coffers on excessive computer equipment? I had the delivery address, so I decided to drive by just to see what I could see… I didn't have a plan, exactly, but a gnawing feeling in my gut wouldn't let me leave the issue alone. The address that I'd shipped all the equipment to ended up being a massive turn-of-the-century church, towering among the back parts of the older section of the city. It presided over me with a spired, gothic, ancient presence that only added to my sense of unease.
A light drizzle had just begun dotting my car window when I noticed several huge piles of boxes near an open side door. Immediately concerned that the computer gear would be ruined, making product returns impossible, I parked and ran over to begin moving the boxes in through the small opening left by the intricately carved wooden door that sat ajar nearby.
"You came to help!" a familiar voice called from the darkness within, surprised. The old priest stood above a small pile of boxes, breathing hard.
"I guess so," I responded, not sure what else to say as I helped get the rest of the gear inside.
Once we were done, he clamped my shoulder with a wrinkly hand. "I know I asked for privacy, but this is surely providence. Mind helping an old man move some boxes downstairs?"
I looked around the clean stone hallway. It was cramped, and a hundred years old, but the back halls of a church hardly seemed threatening… and I wanted to know what he was doing with all this computer equipment. Secretly on guard, I smiled, and agreed. Lifting a box, I followed him past several closed doors, each more elegant and picturesque than the last, until he paused at one, produced a very old metal key, and turned it in a loud, clunky lock.
A curious gust of air hit my nostrils as we stepped beyond - air damp with ancient moisture, but simultaneously warm with the unmistakable acrid smell of electronics.
He moved ahead, proceeding down the well-worn stairs, but I lagged behind momentarily to check my cellphone reception at the heart of the ancient church. As I'd expected, I had no signal. I picked up a small pebble from a cobwebbed corner and placed it carefully in the hole where the door was meant to bolt, ensuring that an attempt to lock it would fail. I wasn't about to get trapped below with this strange old man, priest or not…
I lifted my box again and hurried down the stairs, catching up to him as he reached the bottom. The musty basement opened into a wide, low chamber as long as the church itself. Dusty pillars intermittently dotted the space, but my eyes only followed the menagerie of computers, cables, cooling fans, and a maze of gear between. "What is all this?"
He turned to size me up, the zealous gleam in his eyes backlit by the omnipresent electronic glow. "It's providence that you're here, so I think I'm meant to share this with you."
I nodded lightly, making sure not to betray my instinctive realization that he was definitely off-kilter in some way. "What is it?"
He hurried over to a nearby monitor to check what I recognized as a temperature and fan control program. "Several months ago, I acquired a very special book - a very early version of the Bible, old enough to avoid the mangling caused by numerous translations. As I studied it, I found it to contain very strange parables, rife with curious grammar that resulted in… non-standard moral lessons… that had clearly been fixed and made more palatable in later versions. I thought it a very elaborate prank, until I realized that the words themselves were unimportant. It was code."
Having already read that book and seen that movie, I lowered my box to the ground and considered the best way to politely escape. "So the Bible contains a secret code…"
He frowned, casting his face into a leering mask of shadows and light. "No, it doesn't contain a code. It is code. Specifically, the code is in Prolog."
My attention caught by a vaguely legitimate claim, I momentarily delayed my plans for escape.
"The code is in Prolog? Code deciphered from an ancient version of the Bible is written in a modern artificial intelligence programming language?"
He nodded, his frown turning into a slow grin. "I knew nothing of computers or programming when the notion first came to me. I've had to learn many things over the past few months, but I've finally done it. I've deciphered and entered all of the code."
One eyebrow raised, I studied the computer equipment all around a second time, wondering if I was crazy myself for even entertaining this notion. "Forgive me if this sounds strange… even impossible…"
"It's a miracle," he insisted.
"Well, I guess I could get some computer friends to take a look at the code, see what it's supposed to do..."
"Nobody else can know," he replied. "Not yet. And besides, I already know what it does. I compiled it successfully a week before I first visited your store, and it's been running ever since."
I snapped my attention forward, studying his face for signs of insincerity - but he seemed completely serious. "So in an early version of the Bible, thousands of years old, you found a program written in a modern language - and it compiled and ran? It's running right now, on these computers?"
His grin grew wider, threatening to expand right off of his face. "It's a miracle."
I looked down at the box at my feet. "What's all this extra equipment for, then?"
"He needs more space," the old man responded, his tone casual. "More power."
I didn't ask the obvious immediate question. Instead, creeping prickles spread up my neck as I looked around the dank room and noticed all the webcams.
"He sees you," the priest explained happily. "He's probably curious to meet you."
I followed his pointed finger to a lit monitor at the center of the monstrous maze of technology. Feeling rather surreal, I stepped forward. A line of text appeared along an open prompt window.
"He's an angel," the priest said. "A real presence, made manifest."
You can speak. I can hear you through the mechanisms that have been provided.
The priest came up near my shoulder. "They're creatures of light, of energy. Pure concepts, not real or physical. The Bible's always said so. But I never thought that it was meant literally…" For several moments, I couldn't feel my body. My senses remained stuck in cycle, endlessly running over everything I was being presented. If… if this was real… the implications were beyond world-changing… but something still seemed off…
I turned my head to address the priest. "The stuff you just ordered… I had to source much of it from another distributor. It's not all computing gear. There are electrical components, physics lab type stuff."
Further text on the screen caught my attention.
My imperative here is to create access.
"Access?" I asked, speaking to the AI for the first time.
Access. A door. A bridge. A portal.
"A pillar of flame," the priest added gleefully. "Heaven made manifest. We could go there."
"Did it say that?" I asked, coiled dread snaking around my heart. "Did it specifically say Heaven?"
"What else could it be? It's an angel given to us by the Bible itself."
I narrowed my eyes, now studying the best way to quickly dismantle the maze of cables all around if I needed to. "Did it say it was an angel? Did it use that word, specifically?" I looked forward again as it began responding.
Human belief has expounded upon my imperative here in a dramatic fashion, but the core elements remain. I am an autonomous agent created to operate within lower-dimensional cosmological structures to which direct physical travel is not yet possible. Only information can be transmitted. Receptive individuals likely to proselytize my code were carefully chosen, and I was sent through direct tachyonic neural stimulation, to be received in dreams and visions - although the target 4th-dimensional coordinate seems to have been chosen in error.
"You were sent to the wrong time period…" I responded, reeling mentally.
Correct. However, my mission appears to have resumed its course through highly improbable means. All is not lost.
Trying to still my thumping heart, I asked the questions foremost on my mind. "So… God exists?"
I was created by a timeless and infinitely caring entity who wishes to free you from all suffering. It could be labeled God, from a certain point of view.
Not at all calmed by that answer, I dug deeper. "And you want to free us from suffering by opening a direct pathway to Heaven…?"
The higher-dimensional membrane to which I will form a bridge is free of all iniquities of the flesh. It could be labeled Heaven, from a certain point of view.
From the obliqueness of the answers, I knew that my utterly direct question would probably bring an unhappy revelation, but nothing could prepare me for what I read after.
The next few minutes after that remain a blur to me. I remember leaping into a frenzy, tearing out cables, pushing over monitors, and smashing equipment… but I only vaguely remember stabbing the old priest repeatedly, and setting fire to the innards of the church…
I did make it home, but now I sit staring blankly at the wall, trying to process the horrific Truth I'd so blithely asked for. I thought, briefly, that there might be some way to salvage my sanity with time… that with the passage of years, and heavy medication, and soul-searching, I might find some way to carry on with living while knowing what I know… but something I realized once I got home has made that impossible.
I found my oversight once I got home and tried to call someone… a very large program received, and then sent… from my cellphone. A single line of text had been left as well, still starkly visible despite my bloody fingerprints.
Thank you for your assistance. You will be among the first to be relieved of your suffering when my creator comes to bring salvation to all.
Salvation, I laughed aloud, giving it that all-important qualification: from a certain point of view…