Sometimes, when it’s night time and I just need to think, I’ll leave the lights off in the lab. Let the glow of the emergency exit sign guide me; the corridor light that spills through the window, the 60Hz pulse of the computer monitors, the night light in the fish tank. Other, smaller, LED lights act as geographical markers: the power button and small display on the printer; a keypad to the safe in the corner that actually belongs to the guys from the physics lab; the indicator on my RAID array telling me that our three terabytes of research data are all safe. I let the door click shut behind me, ignore the light switch, and drift between the benches and machinery.
Having left Sophia at the bar I came back and, in the dark, sat in front of the IGS, and stared at it for a long time. It has a cold grey aluminium exterior that, tonight, was only visible by its reflection of the specks of light from the various sources I described. It hummed at about 50Hz at a bare 10dB, an electronic drone to accompany the cacophony of thoughts blasting through my whisky-addled brain.
Eventually, I swung the thermo-goggles around – a binocular head piece on the end of an extended arm attached to a computer which read data from an advanced heat reader placed inside the IGS. I leaned forward and visually entered a world of faint red and orange swarms, a world with which I had already come to feel so familiar, and yet tonight once again seemed so alien. I had no idea what they were saying. No idea what they thought of me, or whether they knew I existed. They could have been worshipping the ‘sun’ I’d made for them, for all I knew.
“Hello, down there,” I whispered softly, knowing full well that they would never hear me until we installed a bespoke module in the IGS, a project which until now had never even been fathomed. It was an uncharacteristic moment; I am not sentimental. But here in the dark, I spoke to my Specimen.
“Sorry about the hum,” I continued. “It’s the only way we can keep you alive, actually. Gosh, it would be helpful if you could sustain your peace treaties yourselves and not cause Sophia and I to worry endlessly about whether you’ll wipe yourselves out before we’ve finished our observations. Not that you’re just experiments to be observed, of course,” I hastily added, before remembering again that they couldn’t hear me, let alone understand.
“Anyway, it would save the bother of this odd suggestion someone has made to us. They think I could become one of you. It would be nice to meet you on your level, of course, but it might save us all a bit of a pain if you could get along alright by yourselves. You pole traders just . . . go easy on everyone else, would you? Play nicely . . . ”
Hum. Dark. The occasional beep or whir. Something swam up from my childhood memory.
“You know if you want to talk to me, you can say something like this: Our Father . . . hmm . . . stick to Our Maker . . . who art in heaven . . . no, let’s just call it what it is: laboratory. Our Maker, who art in laboratory . . . Harold be your name. My name isn’t actually Harold – that’s just what we used to joke when I was at school, and I don’t know what the other word really means. So you might as well stick with Harold.
“Thy kingdom come. Hmm . . . perhaps Thy lab results come, preferably as quickly as possible. Thy lab results come. Thy will be done . . . ” I trailed off as I remembered the conversation earlier. “I don’t suppose that’s any good if you don’t know my will. You’ll wipe yourselves out and that’ll be the end of it. The only race of its kind like it, gone again in a couple of years. The first race created by humans. And probably the last. The only ones to empirically demonstrate that humans have failed at being god.” I stood and threw my arms out, knocking an empty test tube from its rack. It smashed. “Oh, how can I give you up, Cylandria? How can I leave you to your self-destruction? I will come to you! It’ll be like in Honey I Shrunk the Kids, or – yes! – that one where he was shrunk and injected into the other guy! I think. Maybe not . . . ”
I leant forward with hands on my knees, feeling the rush of blood to my befuddled head. A janitor whirred past the door with his floor-cleaner. The IGS hummed.
“Ah, do what you like. You have free will, whatever the heck kind it was. I am not the god you want me to be. For me to come to you would take decades more research, development, experimentation and device-building. Decades! That’s centuries in your time! Millennia! You could wipe yourselves out tomorrow if you wanted! Do it, for all I care! Thy will be done! On Cylandria, as it is on Cylandria!”
I paused, free will and St Andrews and Rev. Morton and Sophia and whisky and the hum all burning through my head at once. I sat down again, and stared some more. Let the dark settle me again.
Midnight struck, marked only by the RAID array which started softly clicking and whirring as it undertook its nightly backup. I laughed under my breath. “And lead us not into the CfSE . . . ”
The CfSE. The DfE. The AAS. I looked over to the space where I knew, if the lights were on, I’d see the untouched pile of correspondence. “Lead us not into . . . the CfSE . . . ” My hand fumbled for the crumpled note from St Andrews that I’d taken from Sophia. “But deliver us from evil.”
The CfSE. The DfE . . . St Andrews. The note began to burn in my hand.
Before I knew what was happening my legs were launching me from the stool in a diagonal line across the floor which didn’t quite properly navigate the benches; more papers, test tubes and instruments went flying as I landed by the lab phone, grabbed the handset and blindly punched the ‘5’ button to speed-dial Sophia’s mobile.
“Uh, boss?” a sleepy voice answered.
“Oh, gosh, sorry Sophia. It’s midnight!”
“No that’s ok I wasn’t quite asleep. Is it the secondary temp gauge?”
“The fish tank again?”
“Sophia, the AAS were proposing some funding for trans-locale specifics, right?”
“Well, yes, if we housed it with them. What’s going on?”
“Never mind. Never mind housing it with them I mean. We can negotiate. They were the closest institution?”
“Yes. Boss if you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, you’ve made the right decision. It’ll boost the research project for the last phase, and like I said, you need the money.”
“Well – yes we are entering the final part of the research phase – but I don’t think what you think I’m thinking is what I’m actually thinking. Listen carefully. And I don’t think this is just the whisky talking.”
And so it was that after an abrupt phone call to the AAS the following day, laying out exactly my terms and obtaining their grudging agreement – they knew any offer was one they couldn’t refuse, even if it wasn’t what they wanted – that work began to get underway to relocate the IGS. Suddenly the final part of my research phase which, as I mentioned at the opening, finished last month, became a whole lot clearer and more pressing, much to the relief it seems of Sam Phelps (whose wife was expecting their third). But a new and more extended period of ongoing research was now funded, to be undertaken by a team under (I emphasised to the AAS) my ongoing supervision, to take place at a brand new research facility to be erected some twenty miles out from the University. Oh no, the CfSE, the DfE and even the AAS to a degree weren’t to get full and permanent possession of it.
For another phone call was made that day to a somewhat more surprised party, wholly shocked, humbled, intrigued and ultimately obliging, who was to be in charge of the moral and spiritual welfare of Cylandria, the Reverend Anthony Morton. I have to thank Tony and the congregation of St Andrews for their open concern and pastoral care for the Specimen and their willingness to consider future inter-planetary relations once the new research project has sufficiently matured. And thus it is that the planet Cylandria and the IGS may be found in a new outbuilding in the well-kept grounds of the 17th century church building, care of Rev. Morton, and I remain faithfully yours, reader, Dr James Stanley Milbank Smythe, or to the people of Cylandria: Harold.