Short Story: “Nat”

Hey guys! This is my first attempt at short fiction for adults since I was in college. Please let me know what you think (and tell me if you find any typos). This blog is a place for me to hone my skills at prose before branching out into the wider world. Wish me luck!

Nat

In the beginning, all was void. Then God created the universe. Then he created the celestial bodies. Then he textured the bodies with lumps and craters. Then on these lumps and craters he laid the plants and fungi. Then he created the large animals and the small animals. Then he created the very small animals and bacteria. And, lastly, he created humans.

The humans were a peaceful race, only fighting when there was true Evil. And when true Evil appeared, they fought it without fear, for those who die fighting true Evil will surely go to Heaven.

In time, the humans learned things. Thanks to God’s guidance, they discovered science and technology, and they advanced. They discovered certain points on the Earth’s surface dipped in gravity at regular intervals. These became the first spaceports, grace be to the Lord.

They soon realized they were alone among intelligent creatures, though life of lesser kinds was abundant in the universe. They colonized lush Mars, temperate Mercury, autumnal Venus, and the rest of the planets soon after. In the years to come, grace be to God, they discovered wormholes near every planet, and that these wormholes were easily manipulated.

They fared far into the universe, colonizing galaxy after galaxy, doing greater and greater experiments, and finding more and more truth and beauty.

And then, on a Wednesday, there was Nat Rauling. Nat was the first human ever to talk to God. He had just drafted a monograph on a perfect Theory of Everything, when a strange light appeared. The light blinded him at first. As his eyes adjusted, he realized the light was expanding. Soon, it engulfed him.

“Lord?” said Nat.

“I’d prefer you didn’t call me that,” said a voice. “I’m an atheist.”

Nat was confused. There had been atheists on ancient Earth long ago. But, once it was shown that human DNA was genetically distinct from all other animals, most of them gave up. When it was found that a secret message, “Great Job! Keep going!” was hidden deep in Euler’s number, they quit entirely. But, he supposed, there was no reason God himself couldn’t be an atheist. After all, he could do anything.

“Why have I been allowed the pleasure of speaking to you?” asked Nat.

“Well,” said God, collecting his thoughts. “I thought it’d be cool if at the pinnacle of scientific discovery, the creator of the universe showed up.”

“Oh,” said Nat. “So, I haven’t been selected for special purpose.”

“Oh,” said God. “No. No, I suppose not.”

There was an awkward silence.

“May I ask why you’re an atheist?”

God thought for a moment. “I suppose there just isn’t enough evidence.”

“But what about the perfect order of creation?”

God laughed. “Maybe in your universe! Sorry, I forgot. Let’s see… do you believe in an afterlife?”

“Of course. I attend seances regularly to talk with my deceased great grandfather.”

“Ah, see that’s perfect. Perfect. See, in my universe, that doesn’t happen. A lot of people wish it worked that way, but it doesn’t.”

“I don’t understand.”

“As far as I know, in my universe, there is no afterlife.”

“Your universe?”

God sighed again. “You see, things are kind of disappointing over here. For example, my people weren’t created special. We ‘evolved.’ We’re the long time descendents of apes.”

Nat laughed at this for a long time before he realized God was serious. On Earth there had been people who believed in this sort of thing, but they were dissuaded by how the human mind shared almost no similarities in design with any other animal.

“It’s true,” said God. “And you know how you had crusades.”

“Sure.”

“Well, in your case, you were fighting true Evil.”

“The skeleton lizards of Darkmore.”

God snirked. “Yeah. In my universe, we had crusades, but it turned out it was against regular people who had different beliefs. We even had a crusade of children and most of the kids died en route.”

“How could children die? It’s physiologically impossible.”

“Right, right. You see, Nat, my universe isn’t so easy to live in. So, I sort of… figured out all the problems I could and built yours.”

“Oh,” said Nat. And he thought for a while in silence. “So… is none of anything… is nothing I do… you know… meaningful?”

“Of course it is!” shouted God. “It’s a lot more meaningful than me. You’ve solved the puzzle of your entire universe. And when you die, a program I wrote will scan your brain, determine your perfect afterlife, and construct it for you. When I die… POOF! That’s it.”

This both pleased Nat and emptied his hope. “But…” he stammered, “If you built everything, then is everything predetermined? Is free will a myth?”

“Huh. Huh. I hadn’t really thought about that. I suppose so, except, well, now that I think about it, it really depends on whether my universe is predetermined.”

“Is it?”

“Jury’s still out.”

By now, God was starting to grow distraught. Nat sensed this and tried to think of the most relevant possible question.

“What happens to us when you die?”

“Oh, don’t worry. You’re on a solid state drive. It’ll be about a googol to the googol googols generations before things are over. And I’m trying to get my son to take over after me, but he’s not really a computer guy.”

Nat fell silent at this. His mind stretched. He imagined all of time, stretching out before him. He knew that within 50 years, he would be enwombed in all the delights of Heaven for all time. But it would still end one day. Perhaps another Wednesday. It would still end and it was likely that everything that had ever mattered would be a nothing of nothings.

The silence lasted too long for God’s comfort.

“Well,” said God… “I hope you don’t feel bad. I’m sure you make sims like this in your world. We’re practically obsessed with them.”

“No,” replied Nat. “Why would we?”

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22 Responses to Short Story: “Nat”

  1. H says:

    Awesome story!

    (s/snirked/smirked).

    Could the ending be made more clearer or am I missing the point entirely? The only possible interpretation I see is that Nat is more mature than his god. Isn’t that what you intended it to be?

  2. Mark says:

    A couple of typos… some plot and story issue, but few and far between. Otherwise, something incredibly solid to work from. The tears welling in my eyes is at the sensitivity with which the conversation took place. I am going to share this with a friend or two (maybe three!)

    Excellent story.

  3. ZachWeiner says:

    Thanks! Please point out any typos. I’m going to not respond to story/plot critiques for the time being so as not to pollute the waters of judgment. (ooh, good band name…)

  4. freespace says:

    Just noticed one typo, “at the pinnacle of scientific discover”

    This post also brings to mind minecraft and the Hofstadter-Turing test:

    An entity passes the Hofstadter-Turing Test if it first creates a virtual reality, then creates a computer program within that reality which must finally recognise itself as an entity within this virtual environment by passing the Hofstadter-Turing Test.

  5. freespace says:

    Ops, forgot to say, it was a good short story :)

  6. matt says:

    Tiny typo at the end–you left out a quotation mark. The penultimate paragraph should be ” “well,” said God…”

    Good story! I really liked it, but I did think the end was rather sudden. I may not be the best judge in this regard, but I do think I enjoy some real closure.

  7. Tyler N says:

    Straight up fun to read. Your site just bumped off Facebook as the first and last page I visit each day.

  8. pallen says:

    Very interesting and thoughtful premise. I’m looking forward to reading more.

    “May I asked why you’re an atheist?”

    s/asked/ask

  9. Robert says:

    While we’re pointing out typos, in your previous post you have written “know prior knowledge” which should be “no prior knowledge”.

    Also, if “God” is living in an era where essentially infinite processing power is available and AI is a reality, why does he bother with an antiquated technology like SSDs? He’d more likely be using some fancy schmancy futuristic technology like holographic memory or quantum memory. (Though surely he isn’t using a current generation SSD which would die well before a googol to the googol googols writes. Also I realize that solid state only refers to the notion of there being no moving parts, but again, in a futuristic era, presumably all drives are solid state and saying “solid state” becomes redundant. Might be funnier and just as geeky to say “Oh, don’t worry. I’ve got backups.”)

  10. Amitron94 says:

    Awesome story.

    No more and no less. (Well, maybe more. ;)

  11. Erich says:

    Great story Zach! However, Issac Asimov wrote a story just like this. That said, I prefer your version.

  12. Adam says:

    I really liked the story.

    @Robert: Perhaps “solid state storage” would have been more appropriate? Or maybe we could say that “God” was trying to communicate with Nat in a way that he would understand. If this new creation/simulation hadn’t developed past solid state storage, maybe he didn’t want to confuse Nat with fancy schmancy futuristic technology :P

    I will admit that as soon as I read the main character’s name I started looking for hints that this was going to be a Spider Robinson or Isaac Asimov-style shaggy dog story.

  13. Rylan says:

    This is brilliant. The only typo I saw was snirked, but that’s been pointed out already. It has tons of potential to be expanded, if that’s where you want to go with it. If not, it’s still a pretty great dialogue.

  14. Elithrion says:

    This bit:

    ‘This both pleased Nat and emptied his hope. “But…” he stammered, “If you built everything, then is everything predetermined? Is free will a myth?”

    “Huh. Huh. I hadn’t really thought about that. I suppose so, except, well, now that I think about it, it really depends on whether my universe is predetermined.”’

    Doesn’t make sense to me. Obviously free will (under the standard definition) is a myth either way. There’s no souls or other “true selves” making the decisions – the decisions are in either scenario determined by the execution of the program. Similarly, I don’t think there’s really much debate on whether universe is predetermined (see many-worlds interpretation, etc). We basically get chance due to quantum in our world, which should translate into greatly reduced, but still present, chance due to quantum (unless there’s an additional software-level implementation) in their world.

    Also, eh, not a bad story, but I personally didn’t find it very interesting. Needs either more original ideas on how a created world would be better (humans’ heuristics designed to be unbiased in a modern world? would be neat), or some other additional hook. Or maybe to just formally kick me out of the target audience, because I’m sure there are lots of people out there who would find it much more novel ^_^

  15. kitukwfyer says:

    Hmm

    I actually like it, but it would probably be better if it were expanded somewhat. As it is, it seems a little abrupt in places, like the ending, as others have said. It would also be interesting if you made the argument go deeper than it does now, but it’s a cool idea.

    Note: I happen to be a Christian, so, if you’re interested, I don’t personally _think_ it’s offensive. My mother might have a fit if I sent this to her, though….And then you just might get a nice, loooong email explaining what’s wrong with the theory of evolution, etc..

    I’ll have to think carefully before I do something so rash. :)

  16. David Duboi says:

    Wow! That was a terrific story. I really like it.

  17. JRM says:

    Liked the story.

    Very minor quibble: Didn’t like “for a long time,” after “laughed.”

    More would be charming!

    –JRM

  18. Byth says:

    Right on man! That’s how you end a story. It’s how I end mine, so I know it’s the right way.

  19. Sam says:

    Love it! Don’t listen to the calls to make it longer or more ‘explained’ – it’s good that it leaves you with a little bit of ambiguity.

    @kitukwfyer: point out to your mother that it doesn’t matter that there are still aspects of the theory of evolution to be improved/reworked/rethought/restated: that’s the whole point of science – it doesn’t weaken the theory, merely serves to improve it and will continue to do so. Much better than claiming to already have all the answers or be fundamentally unable to know them…

  20. Daniel says:

    I love it! You have a lot of interesting twists on the simulation argument in your comics, but it makes it much more interesting when you write a story where you can go into more depth. You clearly have a lot of really cool ideas, why don’t you write short stories more often?

    btw, don’t change the ending, it’s perfect.

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