22 May 2009

"Creation Blues"

By Curtis C. Chen

"You there! Cake or death?"

Patrick blinked with surprise. "Um, cake?"

The clerk grinned. "Just seeing if you're awake. All right, come on through."

Patrick trotted quickly through the open doorway and into an empty corridor. He limped forward, following the glowing signs, and once again regretted not bringing his cane today. His wife had called it foolish pride. She was probably right.

The interview room was just as featureless as the corridor. Even the desk and the examiner's suit were a flat, off-white color, making it look almost as if a disembodied head and two hands were floating in the air.

Patrick handed over his application papers and sat down in the white chair. In his dark dress uniform, he felt like an invader, the germ in a sterile laboratory.

"Right. I see you've ticked the 'non-lethal' and 'Homo sapiens' boxes," the examiner said. "Those two features are naturally opposite. How do you intend to reconcile them?"

"Mutually repellent biological auras," Patrick said. "No species may harm its own kind. I've described the mechanism on the 505/B."

"Interesting." The examiner flipped through Patrick's forms. "That covers proximate cause, but what if, for example, someone drops a hammer onto someone else's head?"

"That's negligence," Patrick said. "Not homicide."

"Fair enough. And how do projectile weapons fit in?"

"No individual may cause intentional harm to another," Patrick said, rubbing his knee. "Accidents may be tragic, but they're not malicious."

"What about evolution?" the examiner asked.

"What about it?" Patrick asked.

"Well, how does speciation affect your aura mechanism? Let's say your Homo sapiens eventually mutate into a new, biologically distinct but physically similar species which exist contemporaneously with their ancestors. It's happened before--like Neanderthals, or Homo erectus. Would those two species be able to kill each other?"

"I hadn't thought about that."

"Well, you must consider these things when you're a god," the examiner said. "It may not technically be homicide, but it would certainly look like it, wouldn't it? One hominid cracking another's skull? And if they're both sentient, does that mean it's murder?"

"I don't know," Patrick said, his face feeling hot.

"Don't feel bad," the examiner said, selecting a rubber stamp. "Most applications are rejected initially. Just last week I had a bloke in here wanting to create a miniverse where faster-than-light travel was possible. Wasn't happy when I told him he had to actually do the math on a 447/A."

Patrick shifted in his seat. His leg throbbed with a dull pain.

"Now, your problem's a bit simpler," the examiner said. He stamped each of Patrick's forms with a blood-red REVISE AND RESUBMIT. "You've basically got magic in your 'verse; you just need to work out the logical rules, and the computers will take care of the rest."

Patrick took the forms back.

"Best of luck," the examiner said. "And by the way, thank you for serving."

Patrick nodded. His walk back down the corridor seemed much longer than before.


Audio: "Creation Blues"

Why is the examiner Scottish? I can only think it's because I love Kelly McDonald's accent as Della Smith in the BBC miniseries State of Play (remade this year as an American political thriller)--especially the way she overenunciates "murdered."

Music: 'Acoustic Guitar 1' + 'Bass' + 'Drums' stems from "Tom Cruise Crazy" by Jonathan Coulton, licensed under Creative Commons.


Happy Memorial Day

The inspirations for this week's story include Eddie Izzard...

...Terry Gilliam, Douglas Adams, and John Scalzi. Any failure to execute on their ideas is entirely my own.