GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
It was the tone Jerry’s mother used to use when she was annoyed. Jerry rolled his eyes out of habit. “What?”
YOU MUST CEASE YOUR CALCULATIONS.
It was then that Jerry realized he didn’t know whom he was talking to. No one was supposed to be in the Maths wing this late, and he was pretty sure he would have heard the classroom door open anyway. He looked around hesitantly from the chalkboard. Behind him about two meters back, between the lectern and the front row of desks, and hovering perhaps a half meter off the floor, was a figure robed in elaborate white—tall, with a red and gold stole, and three brilliantly backlit heads that emerged from one neck, noon sunlight streaming from a spot just behind them.
Jerry gaped. “Wh-Who are you?” he managed to stutter.
For a long time, the being didn’t answer. Then:
EHYEH ASHER EHYEH.
Jerry raised a hand against the light and squinted. “What does that even mean?”
I AM THAT I AM, GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
YES. DESIST IN YOUR MATHEMATICS.
“Stop? No! I can’t. God, no!—sorry—Don’t you realize what this will do to the world? Of course you do, you’re omniscient.” Jerry rolled his eyes at himself. “Jesus!—sorry, sorry—it’s just, this would revolutionize everything! How can I stop? Why? Why would you tell me to do that? You can see the good it would do”
QUITE SIMPLY PUT, EACH BEING MUST FIND FAITH FOR HIM-, HER-, OR ITSELF.
Jerry gave the three-headed being a look. “You’re omnipotent. If my equation is so problematic,” he said, “why not simply prevent me from finding it. Or better yet, make it unproblematic, or make me interested in entomology instead of math?”
FREE WILL IS ESSENTIAL.
“Free will is— So I needed to find faith in my own way, and I need to be allowed to decide what to do with my discovery on my own? You can’t—or won’t—stop me. You want to persuade me.” Jerry sneered out that last verb.
God was silent.
“What if I do publish the formula? What, then? Will you punish me?”
HUMANITY IS NOT KIND TO PROPHETS, GERALD.
“Is that a threat?”
IT IS SIMPLY A STATEMENT OF WHAT YOU KNOW.
“You’re threatening me.”
I DO NOT WISH YOU HARM.
“Great.” Jerry almost rolled his eyes again before a thought stopped him. “Now, wait a minute! I’m not going to preach any sort of religion whatsoever. This is hard, mathematical proof here. Not craze-brained hallucinatory belief.” He spat the last word out like a knot of mucus.
TRUTH IS REGULARLY UNCOVERED, GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN, BY MANY MEANS. IT IS JUST AS REGULARLY BURIED, REJECTED, OR IGNORED.
“So some of those prophets had it right.”
The figure looked at Jerry.
I AM THAT I AM, GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
“OK, so which ones were right?”
ALL OF THEM. NONE.
“Alright. So why all the contradictions among accounts? Why all the resultant conflict?”
QUOD VIDĒ FREE WILL.
Jerry narrowed his eyes. “I call bullshit. That’s a cop-out answer, and I won’t accept it. You’re God, or you say you are. Creator, divine spark, all that. Presumed all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful. You made choices. Deliberate ones. Informed ones. There’s no other option for you. Even changing your mind isn’t really a change, let alone a surprise for you, but rather a calculated decision. If it can really be called calculating, since for you, it’s merely knowing. You can’t make something and let it go free to do as it pleases, since you’ve always already known what it will do and become. Maybe it’s not control, per se, but it sure as heck isn’t freedom either.”
The triune figure said nothing. Jerry crossed his arms. “You don’t deny it.”
I AM LETTING YOU COME TO YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS.
“Oh, fuck off. You’re not above this. You came down to me.” Jerry got bolder. This whole thing was going tits up and he was going to blow the cover off it. “Everything you say or don’t say, every little action you take or fail to take, influences me. You know that. You know exactly what you’re doing, and where this conversation will end.”
“And you’re a royal ass, is what.” Now that Jerry had said it, it seemed a little small, like not enough blanket to cover the bed. Like a baby blanket on a king-sized bed, even.
YOU ARE ANGRY.
“No. Yes. I was, up until I said what I just said.” Truth was, Jerry was tired. “Look. You try coming face to face with your creator only to find out he’s—it’s a giant fucking manipulator. See how you feel.”
A pause. The being floated there, saying nothing, showing nothing.
“Are you—are you hurt?” Jerry asked.
I LOVE YOU, GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
“Like fuck you do. Don’t change the subject.”
I LOVE ALL OF MY CREATION.
“Uh huh. Right. Well. I guess that’s better than the alternative, O He of Two Emotions. I don’t really fancy being wrathed into a pillar of salt.” Jerry felt his cheeks flush again. The fucker was good at pissing him off, wasn’t it?
YOUR SIN DOES NOT MERIT THAT TREATMENT.
“Yeah. What sin does? Real goddamn reassuring, you are. You’ve already determined the outcome. Doesn’t matter what I say, or even what you say. My end is going to be my end, whenever and however that happens, because you chose it. Or actively didn’t not choose it. Fuck you.”
GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
“No, seriously, fuck you. Fuck you for coming down here to tell me what to do, fuck you for trying to make me think I have a choice, and fuck you for predetermining everything anyway.”
Jerry was breathing heavily now, red-faced. This was not how he had expected his proof to turn out.
DO YOU WISH ME TO GO, THEN?
“What?” Jerry was taken aback.
DO YOU WISH ME TO LEAVE YOU TO YOUR CALCULATIONS?
“I- you- they- gaaAAAAAAa!” Jerry kept growling for a minute.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
“What a dickish question. Yes, I want you to leave me alone with my math, but no, I don’t want you to go away. (How often does one get this sort of chance?) I don’t know. Do whatever you intend to do. You were always going to do that, anyway. Fuck.”
There was silence for awhile, then clicking as Jerry picked up the chalk and renewed his work.
JERRY. YOU ARE HUMAN.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
YOU ARE FALLIBLE. FRAGILE.
Jerry hissed out a sigh. “Threats again? How does one tell God to go to hell?”
YOUR WORK EXACTS A PRICE FROM YOUR BODY. FROM YOU.
“Yeah, yeah. Fatigue, stress, etc. I exercise four days a week and I get plenty of sleep, thank you very much. You sound like my mother. Go to hell.”
There was more silence. Then:
YOUR PROOF IS STRICTLY PERSONAL.
“Of course it is,” Jerry said, wiping sweat from his cheek. “I don’t get paid to do this. I get paid to coddle undergrads.”
“What else is new?”
THE ONLY CERTAINTY TO BE HAD IS IN DEATH, GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
“Fine,” Jerry said. “You know what? I think I’m going to finish this. Just to spite you, I’m going to finish my proof.”
YOU WILL NOT CONTINUE.
“Yeah? Fuck you.”
YOU MISUNDERSTAND AGAIN.
Jerry clenched his mouth into a firm line. Then he went to move back to the board, but something twinged somewhere in his chest and he stumbled. Tried to catch himself against the chalk ledge, but instead he was on the floor. Everything far away and moving in stilted clips. The distant sound of a door opening, and voices, and