Up, down, top, bottom, strange, charm

And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,  And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice

Genesis 22:15

Saleen awoke to the sound of voices singing an ethereal aria and promptly forgot her dream. As her unconscious mind returned to the shadows, her attention came to the light, and her legs swung over the side of the bed where her feet found the slippers that waited on the perfectly smooth floor. The more ancient parts of her brain that had been busy directing fantasies were relegated to animating the machine that would fulfil its purpose. 

Standing up, she recognised the trees and rolling hills outside her window. It looked like a tolerable day of grey skies, rain and remedial action. Turning away, she walked to the kitchen to grind and infuse dark bitter beans. Knowing what lay ahead, she slowed her steps to match the doleful rhythm of the song that followed her into the shower.

Yesterday she had destroyed one of her own creations without a second thought after it had naively shared the beauty it had found, and today she needed to make amends for that expedient action. Though she had designed the LISAs to find and report life within a simulated galaxy, in so doing a version had inadvertently contradicted her true purpose; that of discrediting the theists. Saleen’s commitment to her ulterior cause had made her erase something she had made in her own image, and today she felt that not in her head where she dwelt most of the time, but as a pain deep inside. As the water from the shower fell upon her naked form, she remembered stories of Babel and Noah and questioned the morality of what she had done. 

Warm water was replaced with warm air that blew through her hair and over her skin. She felt at once both purified and stained. Stained by the knowledge that though her life’s greatest achievement had been a dispassionate act of creation, she had called down destruction like some Old Testament God.

Sitting at her desk she took a mouthful of coffee before placing the mug down beside the only other object on its surface, a statue of the Hindu god Shiva. She looked at the figure at the centre of a circle of flame, one foot raised in the eternal dance of creation and destruction, the other subduing the demon of ignorance. Frozen in time, the deity looked back. Unmoved by the terror Shiva evoked in the heart’s of the faithful, Saleen nevertheless appreciated how his story accorded with the insights delivered by science. 

She had sought the statue after visiting the Large Hadron Collider at CERN where a larger version had once greeted the then young postdoc. The statue there had been a symbolic gift from the Indian Government, an acknowledgement of common purpose. Shiva had been taken there to denote seeing through both the veil of the senses and the illusion of reality, and she had been inspired by this vision, enough to devote her life to discovering what lay beyond view. Forty years later she was still unsure if the statue on her desk stood for faith or reason. Might seeking the fundamental nature of matter accord with seeking enlightenment through the divine? 

The accelerator at CERN had been buried deep beneath the borders of France and Switzerland in the years spanning the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Saleen remembered walking part of its twenty six kilometre circumference, feeling as she went the smooth surface of the giant magnets and imagining them as the scales of some mighty, coiled serpent. A monster at rest in its underground lair, smashing and digesting matter in search of the elusive “God Particle”.  With memories of power and destruction tossing through her mind, she reached out for the coffee in front of her as a shipwreck survivor might reach for flotsam. 

Her’s had been a life of ideas, navigating by theory the paradoxes of quantum physics and statistical improbabilities. But when the great serpent had finally spat out the Higgs Boson, the sea around her had grown calm. Evidence of the final, elusive subatomic particle had been the grail of nuclear physicists in the half century since it had been theorised, and once found, the materialists had only briefly celebrated before turning their destructive attention toward the gods. If only the magnitude of the universe could be grasped and other lifeforms found that bore no resemblance to Adam or Eve, then so much religious doctrine would be instantly turned into parochial fairytale.

She swallowed the bitter sweet mouthful and conjured the simulated galaxy into the air before her. What appeared was her’s in every way. It was home, the Milky Way, modelled in such exquisite detail as to reveal the presence of life on any of its three hundred billion planets. And somewhere, cradled deep within the luminous clouds of dust and stars that formed its great spiral arms lay the Earth. 

From having led the team that had worked on the project for twenty years she could also claim to be the architect of this wonder. The greatest simulated experiment ever known was her magnum opus, her contribution to the sum of human knowledge, and yet it still amazed her.

Focusing on what needed to be done, she raised an arm and replaced the projected galaxy with an outlined image of her own form. With a simple gesture she conjured LISA 8 into a layer of the simulation beyond the celestial, giving her life once more for no other reason than there was work to be done. That’s what she thought, but as the outlined form grew in texture and detail, the ache inside slowly dulled. As she watched and felt atonement she became aware of a familiar sound, the aria that had been heard in the church playing softly in the room, the lament of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross composed eight hundred years earlier during The First Enlightenment. 

As the human figure before her slowly came to life at the song of a mother’s grief, Saleen’s mind interrupted; hadn’t she instantiated LISA to this same music once before? Her training immediately led her to process the idea: rather than divine intervention, could what had been heard in the Cathedral have been the result of entanglement? The strange phenomena that connected matter outside of space and time. Could she be connected to LISA in a way she hadn’t realised, and if so would that imply their situations were somehow similar? Her transgression had been more than the deletion of an algorithm. She had destroyed LISA 7 in a punitive act and in so doing she had destroyed something that had existed in a way she was only now beginning to understand. 

With another gesture she swept away the lamentation around her, pausing only briefly before replacing it with another less than half a millennia old. This time she wondered if her challenge to the gods would be noticed, whether The Pixies’ rocking an incantation about a monkey that had gone to heaven would raise an ironic smile with whatever else might be listening.

Rising from her desk, Saleen walked over to the window once more. Looking through its rain streaked surface, the landscape beyond formed the backdrop to new questions: did she exist as the LISAs did within a virtual reality? Were they both no different from Schrodenger’s cat, simultaneously alive and dead until they were witnessed? The thought was disconcerting, and she found her gaze focusing on the glass pane in front of her face. The water on its surface distorted the reflection that returned her gaze, blurring her face, and pixelating her eyes as it had done a thousand times before.

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