The bubble hummed. It had grown into a dark globe and was partially submerged in the table top. Yao sat at the bench and looked into two long tubes. His hand hovered over a toggle.
“Let there be—”
“Yao!” came a shrill voice from beyond the stairs.
Yao pulled back his hand and gritted his teeth. “What?” If he hadheld the toggle too long, or not long enough, all this preparation would be for nothing.
Lucy called down. “Are you coming up for dinner?”
“Not now!” Yao shouted. “My work is at a delicate stage. Leave me alone!”
He could hear her moving at the top of the stairs.
“Alright,” she said. “Have it your way.”
Yao took deep breaths until his nerves settled. Shelves of exotic equipment lined the cinderblock basement. A tiny above-ground window was cracked open for ventilation.
At last Yao was calm enough to proceed. He wanted to savor this moment. The long tubes contained magnifying lenses that slowed time. Without them, he could never perceive the rapid, miniscule events within the bubble. Yao pulled the proto-matter trigger. There was a tiny flash in the lenses, like someone sparking a match in a dark room. Yao closed the valve and waited.
He didn’t wait long. The globe flashed with life. When Yao returned to the lenses, his mouth gaped with wonder. Motes of light expanded to fill the bubble. As the motes flew outward, tiny bits of dust spiraled around them. Yao wanted to call his brothers, but things were happening so quickly he dared not look away.
Yao focused the lenses on one tiny corner of the globe. He and his brothers had each planted a seed in the world below. His brothers had gotten bored. They went back to their wives and jobs. Yao was alone, with no one to share this joy. His brothers said this wasn’t real.
What Yao saw below him was more real than anything he had ever experienced. Green sprouted around pools of blue.
Yao couldn’t help but smile when tiny dots started moving around the green areas, and then even between the green areas.
The stairs creaked. Lucy was in her nightgown and carried a plate with a sandwich on it. “It’s after three in the morning. Are you coming to bed?”
Lucy was a lovely woman. Yao’s brothers were fond of asking her why she was with their nerdy brother. Sometimes Yao wondered that too. Today however, he barely glanced at her.
“I can’t.” Yao spoke through a mouthful of sandwich. “Even using these lenses to slow things down, everything’s happening so quickly.”
“What’s so interesting in there?”
Yao zoomed in on one particular young man. The man wasn’t much different than any person Yao might meet. He was lean under his colorful robe and had a short brown beard. Time had slowed considerably inside the bubble, but Yao still had to adjust a knob to make sense of the action within.
Yao moved away from the lenses and motioned for Lucy to take a look. Her wavy red hair dangled over the long tubes.
“Already 19 generations have passed. I’ve named that one Abraham.”
“You named it?”
“Yes!” Yao swiveled a cone to his mouth. “We are on different time scales. There is no way I could communicate with them directly, but I’ve inserted quantum-bots into the globe. They speed up my voice. Watch…” Yao cleared his throat and spoke into the cone. “Take your family and move east, to the foot of the mountains.”
Lucy’s mouth hung open. “He’s looking up at me!”
Yao continued to speak into the cone. “When you arrive, sacrifice a sheep to me.”
“He’s packing up his belongings, herding a bunch of animals together…”
Yao shoved Lucy out of the way so he could see. “Look at him go!”
Lucy scowled. “What about the thing with the sheep?”
“They started that on their own, giving me these token gifts. A sheep is a pretty big deal to them.”
“It’s a really cool game, Yao, but it’s late.”
“This isn’t a game! These are real, intelligent beings.”
“I’ll admit, it’s a great simulation, but they aren’t real. They don’t actually think for themselves.”
“But they do! I tried to confine my creatures to an enclosure. I wanted to keep them separate from my brother’s creations, but they broke out in less than one generation, one blink of an eye!”
“So they escape from their cages and you give them names. At best, they are like pets.” Lucy waved her hand at the globe. “I’ll admit they’re cute, but it’s late. Turn it off and you can play again in the morning.”
Yao was flustered. “It doesn’t turn off! It’s not a game. This is a universe, a universe full of people!”
Lucy sighed. “Whatever. I’m going to bed. You will have to sleep eventually.”
Yao scowled. He didn’t know how he could ever have been attracted to someone like Lucy. Her shapely behind swished up the stairs, and Yao remembered how it had happened. She was hot. Yao wondered if he would have been better off with someone else, someone who could understand what he was doing. He wished Lucy would be that person.
The world progressed in the globe, and Yao forgot all about his wife.
A shrill mumbling woke Yao. He lifted his head from the table. His mouth was dry and the half-eaten sandwich remained on a plate beside him.
Terror gripped him when he saw Lucy speaking into the cone. “What are you doing? You could ruin everything!”
“Can’t I play too?”
Yao looked into the lenses. “What did you do?” Abraham was now an old man with a long gray beard and bald head.
Lucy smiled. “I told Abraham to sacrifice his child to us.”
“If a sheep is a big deal, think what a sacrifice his child will be.”
“That’s barbaric! Abraham only has one child with his wife! I’m planning to breed him.”
Yao pulled the cone to his mouth, but Lucy stopped him from speaking. “Relax. If they are real, intelligent beings, he won’t go through with it.” Lucy’s eyes were wide and untroubled. To her it was all a silly game. “An intelligent being would never kill their own child just because some voice tells them too.”
“If he refuses…”
Lucy shrugged. “Then maybe you really have created something unique in there.”
Yao could have stopped it all with a few words into the cone. He hated the idea of torturing his creations, but he wanted so much for Lucy to understand. He accepted the devil’s bargain. “Alright. You will see.”
They couldn’t bear to take turns at the lenses, so they each put an eye to one of the tubes. Their faces pushed against each other, and they were closer than they had been in months.
Abraham took his son into the mountains.
Lucy smiled. “He’s going to do it.”
Yao shook his head. “It’s a trip to the mountains. They are probably taking a vacation.”
Abraham tied his child up.
“He’s going to do it!” Lucy said.
Yao’s heart beat like thunder in his chest, and sweat covered his palms. “He’s thinking about it. Give him time!”
Abraham lifted an iron knife above the child’s head.
“Wow,” Lucy said. “This simulation is really convincing. The look on that kid’s face almost makes me feel guilty.”
Yao was practically hyperventilating. “Abraham is hesitating. He’s not going to do it! You see! No parent could look into those eyes and kill their own child!”
But Abraham raised the knife once more, eyes clenched in determination.
Yao jerked the cone to his mouth. “Stop!” Yao closed his eyes, and his hand trembled on the cone.
“He stopped,” Lucy said. “He obeyed his master.”
Yao looked into the lenses. Abraham had dropped the knife and looked to the sky expectantly. His child was still tied to the rock. If it seemed long to Yao, then Abraham and his child must have been there much longer. They might stay like that forever if Yao didn’t say something.
Yao cupped his hand over the cone and cleared his throat. “It was all a test. You passed. You are a good man, a good, good man.”
Yao looked into the lenses and watched Abraham embrace his son. Their joy seemed so real, but it was all illusion. Yao wiped a tear from his eye.
Lucy pulled him close. “Come on. I’ll make you some breakfast. Maybe we can go on a picnic today. Some fresh air would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
Yao sighed and nodded his head. He followed her up the steps. Yao took one last look at the dimly lit globe. Perhaps he would return one day and see how his simulation progressed without him. For now, it was time to concentrate on his wife and the world around him. Yao flipped off the basement light.
Food for Thought
Many individuals argue whether we should believe in God, but how do we know if God believes in us?
About the Author
Matthew’s stories have appeared in House of Horror, Roboterotica, Gifts of the Magi, and Welcome to Indiana. More information and samples of my writing can be found at submatterpress.com