Gerald O’Driscoll snatched a rather tired looking sandwich from the canteen vending machine and raced back to his desk. ‘Let there be light!’ he wryly muttered to himself as he entered his office – and there was. His laptop instantaneously projected a gently pulsating lipstick pink halo onto the huge plasma screen which covered the full length of one wall. This was accompanied by the simultaneous streaming of ethereal music subtly combined with a soothing undercurrent of shy, girlish laughter – and all synced to greet him each and every time he made a reappearance. It was a divine touch!
Of course, this complete and utter self-glorification was merely the machine obeying Gerald’s pre-programmed commands to simulate a gesture of obsequious adoration as soon as its facial recognition software registered his remarkably unprepossessing figure shambling in through the door. Still, given his desperation for approval, this gross piece of synthetic self-worship temporarily satisfied a deep-seated desire by turning itself on with all the heartfelt animation of a lover’s smile … which was, after all, highly appropriate, there being no other lover in his life.
Now aged thirty three, Gerald was a programming genius beyond compare who could work miracles with a just a single line of code. He had been obsessed with computers since childhood and, for the past decade, had been employed as one of a host of experimental programmers for Universal International, a global conglomerate and world leader in the increasingly controversial field of cyber reality … and yet he had remained profoundly unfulfilled. The anonymity galled.
However, during the past three years, he had finally found his mission and his life had suddenly radiated with meaning. He had been summoned forth from the bitter wilderness of obscurity and elevated to overall responsibility for an ultra-top-secret project – the development of a revolutionary games console which employed a processor so advanced that it would take gaming into a realm in which the current Triple 6D innovations of Universal’s chief rival would become obsolete overnight. Gerald’s role was to oversee the evolution of operating software so powerful that it would practically breathe life into this super-sophisticated piece of kit. Although he couldn’t entirely predict the outcome once the prototype was activated, ten or even eleven dimensions seemed entirely probable … at least, according to the maths.
Such was the brilliance of Gerald’s vision, and such was the extent of the company’s financial investment, that the project had expanded to encompass the combined talents of approximately twelve hundred of the industry’s top programmers, all working on discrete units of code in various far flung corners of the globe. Nobody but Gerald, and one other colleague, had any idea what the assembled design would produce. Secrecy was imperative. The stakes were so enormous that Universal would either dominate all aspects of the cyber reality industry for decades to come … or else go bust in the attempt.
Gerald nonchalantly swallowed the final mouthful of the lifeless canteen sandwich, barely registering the mingled blandness of the low fat filling encased within the unsalted bread. Health and Safety had become so predominant that its influence could be felt deep within the bowels. Still, now wasn’t the time for idle lamentation. The clock was ticking and the moment of creation would soon be upon them. He hastily typed an email to the one other person who was fully aware of the history they were about to make:
From: Gerald O’Driscoll
The final algorithm deployed six days ago is about to unify the trillions of lines of separately developed computer code from all of our programmers across the entire globe. In a matter of minutes, we will be ready to go live. Get up here at once!
Click, and the summons was sent. That should bring the big lug running!
As he waited for Zeus to make his way up to the seventh floor, Gerald allowed himself a few moments of smug satisfaction. The revolutionary new console with its even more revolutionary software may well be light years ahead of anything ever previously created, but the basic concept was as old as time itself – that familiar (but guaranteed) recipe for success, Good versus Evil. How many times had that old chestnut been used? But this time, it was going to be given a spin unlike anything that had ever been witnessed before.
They were about to unleash a cyber universe into which Gerald had pre-programmed a seemingly impossible set of evolutionary jumps and some very elusive laws of physics that would keep the more intelligent of the hapless inhabitants periodically believing that they were on the verge of a great scientific breakthrough … but, frustratingly, never quite able to crack the code. The irony amused him.
Furthermore, he was going to fill this simulated parallel universe with all the misery that his twisted genius could devise. If people thought things could be tough in this one, wait till they saw what he had in store for the deluded self-believing inhabitants of this new cyber reality. And the masterstroke, which would sell the whole thing in truck loads, was the facility for the consumer to send lightning bolts of arbitrary injustice on these unsuspecting creatures with just the click of a mouse!
Gerald sighed with immense satisfaction. It had been an exhilarating, but exhausting week – he’d even had to come in on the weekend just to finish the job off. Still, tomorrow was Sunday and so he could take a well-deserved break and enjoy a complete day of rest. Gerald’s self-satisfied musings were cut short as the athletic Zeus suddenly loomed large in the doorway, having just effortlessly sprinted up a mountain of stairs.
‘This is it,’ said Gerald eagerly reaching for the on-switch.
Zeus drew an impressively deep breath, then abruptly halted Gerald with an imperious raising of his hand. ‘Such a momentous occasion … Before we start, we should give it a name.’ He took a crumpled piece of notepaper out of his pocket and solemnly read aloud: ‘The Live Interactive Freewill Experience!’
Gerald looked doubtful. It was too much of a mouthful and could detrimentally affect sales. Also, he had to make it perfectly clear who was ultimately in charge. ‘I’m thinking something more snappy; perhaps just a single word.’ He pondered for a moment. ‘What about L.I.F.E.?’
‘An acronym? Very clever. I like it. Yes, let’s call it Life!’ It was perfect; all existence summed up in just one word. Zeus grinned. It was an excellent beginning.
The two men exchanged one last long and very meaningful look, then Gerald pressed the switch. There was a sudden surge of power, a mighty hum, swiftly followed by an array of lights which encompassed all the visible colours of the spectrum and which sent vertical bars of heavenly glory shimmering along the full length of the room. The gigantic plasma screen momentarily turned black. And then, without warning, there was a sudden blinding flash followed by an almighty explosion.
‘Wow,’ said Zeus. ‘Quite a bang!’
‘The bigger the better!’ retorted Gerald with a genuine sense of awe. ‘But there’s something missing … it lacks opening credits.’
Even at a moment like this, his enormous ego doggedly came to the fore. Hastily, he jotted down the title which needed to be synchronised with that initial explosion, all to be enshrined in towering pillars of flame:
LIFE … by … G.O’D!
‘Another acronym,’ mused Zeus. ‘Well, it’s got a certain ring.’
There was a second gigantic flash, much larger than the first, which bathed the entire room in a celestial golden glow and which took Zeus quite by surprise.
G.O’D smiled. It was just the First Phase of a pre-programmed universal expansion. Contentedly, He watched the screen … He noted the light and, with much satisfaction, He saw that it was good.