Sophia took me out for drinks and backgammon one evening shortly before her stint with me came to an end just under a year ago.
“We have had another letter from the Centre of Scientific Enquiry,” she began, raising her eyebrows. (She said ‘of’ but I knew she meant ‘for’; her English teacher in Catalonia had, I think, other motivations for tutoring her, which I don’t understand.) “They’ve made another offer.”
I gripped the whisky glass harder and pushed two red pieces sharply across the board. “Quacks!” I snapped. “Put it through the shredder along with the rest.”
“Boss, I think you need the money . . . ”
“Sophia, I’ve told you, I’ll sell my house before I sell my soul.”
“I thought you rent?”
“I . . . yes, but you understand me don’t you? The CfSE will shake us for everything we’re worth then claim all the credit, and Cylindria will be propped up in a government lab somewhere where we’ll never see it again and . . . goodness knows what might become of our Specimen.” I gulped and shook my glass at a passing waitress to indicate my wish for a refill. “They made a mess of Merillan’s advances into cellular research, you remember. Pulled the wool over van Hoosen’s eyes too; now their own minions’ names are all over his fine work on Biometric Logarithmic l-function Quasi-Loop-Based Variant Categories in Schleiermann’s Cellular Regeneration Model while he (van Hoosen) is pushing paper for an industrial chemist” (I spat the words as hard as I could but couldn’t quite make enough of the handful of fricatives and sibilants required to add spite) “up in Dumfries paying for his chips with dirty corporate money. No, Sophia,” I concluded leaning back and, realising that the limits of the small wooden bar chair didn’t allow for such posture adjustments, leaned forward again to look her intently in the eye. “You can tell the CfSE, the DfE, the AAS and whatever schmuck from NASA tried to email me last week, Cylandria is fine right here where we have the IGS set up and an ongoing experimental regimen.”
Sophia was smiling. “Ok, boss. But you also got a letter from another source this week. Word is getting out.”
“Who was it, the NCBS? It’s only a matter of time before they try to sink a hook.”
“It was Saint Andrew’s of Chelmsfield.”
I stared for a minute. Sophia nonchalantly flicked three black pieces onto my side of the board and took a sip of her cocktail. “Is that a research centre?” I finally asked, stupidly.
“It’s the chief seat of the parish of Chelmsfield. It’s about twenty miles out. Actually,” she said, reaching into her jacket pocket on the back of the chair, “it’s from the vicar there. Seems like a nice man. The Reverend Anthony Morton.”
Sophia handed me a single sheet of paper containing a full-page memo on headed paper that looked twenty years old. I scanned it, then read it more intently, two or three times.
“Do you understand this?” I asked, waving it at Sophia.
“I think so,” she replied. “Actually, just last week I may have let something slip to my priest back home – he also seemed quite inquisitive on these lines.”
“Please explain,” I said, handing the note back to her, ignoring her admission of having notified yet another party of our experiments.
“So, Anthony is the priest. An Anglican, unlike my priest who is Catholic. So he must be more of a Protestant. He’s asking you what kind of god you plan to be.”
“He’s asking what kind of god I plan to be.”
“Vishnu,” I replied, taking a cocky swig of the dry single malt.
“Look at it this way, boss, I think you could expect a lot worse from religious communities; you might get it in fact, before too long. You could be called a blasphemer. Only God can create life.”
“So I’m supposed to be grateful to this parish priest for pointing out my moral responsibility for our Specimen? Sophia, these people have no idea about the hard work we do; they think they can swan in and play their games . . . ” I felt sure my sighing and shaking of head was sufficiently indicative of my clear intellectual superiority. If only the Reverend were here to cringe.
Sophia looked back at the note and continued. “He says, do you plan to be a Calvinistic god, or an Arminian god. That seems to be his primary question. He details several subsidiary points of consideration and questioning that relate to one or the other system.”
“Let’s stick to the main one for the moment. I think I remember a couple of things that my religious studies tutor droned on about while I drew diagrams of leaf cells. Calvinists follow Calvin Klein – ”
“You mean John Calvin!”
“Who’s Calvin Klein?”
“The underwear, boss, the perfume. It’s the fashion label. You should get some, sometime.”
A little startled, momentarily caught between a confusion with underwear and theology and Sophia suggesting I make a foray into fashion and perfume, I finally continued. “John Calvin?”
“Calvinists follow John Calvin . . . was he something to do with the Reformation?”
“Okay. Okay. See, I knew that. And Arminians come from Armenia. What am I missing?”
“Arminians follow Jacob Arminius.”
“You seem to be pretty well up on this stuff.”
“My priest caught me up on it when we spoke last week. But I have also gone to church from time to time. What about you, boss?”
“Well I’m stumped. What else can you tell me, choir-girl?”
“Calvinists believe that everything that happens is the will of God, and that God has chosen who will be saved, and who will not. Arminians believe in free will, and that God will save all who want to come to him.”
“Okay, easy,” I said downing the remains of the second glass of whisky. “I’m an Arminian god; our Specimen have free will just like we do, right? It was almost an accident that I created them. Not so sure if or how I can ‘save’ them, though.”
“Well, hang on boss. Should the Specimen believe in compatiblist free will or libertarian free will?”
“Come again? Where did you get all this from?”
“Oh this is the letter again. It’s one of Rev Morton’s subsidiary questions.”
I frowned and took a minute to survey the bleak situation on the backgammon board. “Well I don’t know which I dislike more, the CfSE hanging on the doorbell or unhelpful questionnaires from god-botherers expecting me to respond to their theological inquiries. I’m a scientist!”
“You’re a creator, actually, boss,” Sophia retorted bravely.
I twiddled one of my red pieces that had made it off the board, between thumb and forefinger.
“These people have different kinds of free will, now? Seriously, what do they get up to every Sunday? I thought it was hooty boy choirs and dusty readings.”
“Libertarian free will is a no-holes-barred view, the limits are off: you are entirely, solely and completely free and able to make your own decisions for yourself.”
“Sure. Let’s go with that one.”
“Compatiblist free will says that we only have a semblance, an illusion maybe, of free will, and that in reality very often what we perceive as an act of free will is in fact a pre-figured decision that was bound, or perhaps even ordained, to have been made in the way it was.”
“Well it definitely can’t be that one, that’s daft. Can we start a new game?”
“But compatiblist arguments do suggest that we all make these kinds of decisions every day – decisions that as far as we’re concerned are choices of our free will but in reality were always going to be made in the way that they were. Like for example your choice of whisky. You’ve been in a mood all evening, boss. Your chemicals directed you to pick whisky, not your free will.”
I frowned again. “I’m not sure I follow.”
“That’s because you’re onto your third already,” she laughed. I looked down to discover that she was right.
“What does it matter, Sophia? They have free will. Heck, they can do what they like, for all I care.”
“Really? You don’t mind that they’ve already been through several wars and sustained serious loss of life among themselves? What if they completely wipe themselves out?”
My tongue stuck momentarily. The scientist’s nightmare. “Oh, no, they mustn’t do that.”
“Plus, you don’t know what they’ve discovered about you, boss. They could be firing rockets at the outer edge of the IGS any day now. Soon they might work out how to listen into your conversation and begin to decode it so they can understand you.”
“I hope they like Dire Straits then,” I laughed, distracted by the thought that my Specimen might start to get to know me. “That reminds me, I must get a Father’s Day card,” I muttered.
“What will they think of you boss? What if you leave them to die? Will they be sad that you didn’t step in to help them?”
“Well that would be a violation of their free will,” I announced, confidently and finally triumphing over the unexpected philosophical discourse that had bamboozled us this strange evening.
“Then you’re a poor scientist and a lousy god,” Sophia shot back. She was dead serious.
My jaw hung loose for a second. Alcoholic tears threatened to fill my ducts, which at the time I put down to a chemical imbalance brought on at the suggestion of my scientific ineptitude. But then another thought took over.
“Well, hang on: How am I supposed to be their god and not violate their free will? How do they figure that one out at St Andrews? How can anyone,” I drunkenly asked the room, “be a loving god and not violate the free will of his created people?”
“The Reverend . . . does have a suggestion.”
“He says it’s probably mostly hypothetical… he’s not sure if it’s scientifically possible, although he says some very flattering things about how you’ve got this far…”
“Oh, yes, I enjoyed that bit. Did I read that he’s suggesting some kind of DNA-mapping procedure, some kind of micro-cloning operation?”
“He’s suggesting you become one of them, yes.”
“Well, a DNA-replica of me. In their own species.”
“Right . . . ”
Billiard balls across the room kissed and rolled.
The slow, irregular thud, thud, thud of a darts game marked the time.
Clink. Quiet conversation. Evening jazz.
“I’m not sure I like that idea.”
“Why not? If you map the DNA from a strand of your hair onto a test plate, watch the regenerative process from there first, then incrementally increase the hyper-thermoid function . . . ”
“No, Sophia, it’s not that I don’t know how I’d do it,” I said, mentally repeating what she had said and hoping I remembered to write it down later. “I don’t like the idea of a little-me going down there. What would they do to me . . . little-me?”
“I don’t know. Give you an award? A pat on the back?”
“Hi!” I said, imitating little-me’s visit (and bear in mind I’d have to somehow cause little-me to realise it was little-me and give it a message to communicate). “I’m your maker – or at least, one version of him! How’s it all going down here? I’ve come to tell you to stop all this fighting as it rather threatens our experiments . . . ” Sophia smirked. “I’m serious! I don’t think it would go down too well.”
“Well, it didn’t turn out too well for him, did it?”
I pointed at the crucifix around her neck. “Oh, yes,” she said. “Well, I don’t think it was exactly to do with experiments in his case.”
“I hardly think that’s the point.”
“You’re probably right.”
I threw up my hands, bothered at the direction the whole conversation had taken. It felt like an experiment with no conclusion, a lopsided equation with no correct solution. A simple hypothesis which turns out impossible to prove.
“Who knew creating a race of people could be so problematic.”
“I guess he did,” Sophia said, gently twisting the crucifix on its chain.