“Open your eyes, child. You’re home” a voice boomed, seeming to come from every direction.
Fuck me, it didn’t work. My head hurts. An entire bottle of codeine followed by a vodka chaser will do that. Carla must’ve found me passed out and called an ambulance. Fucking Carla. Now I have to explain why I did this to her, to my parents, to everybody. That’s gonna be an awkward Facebook post.
I cracked my eyes open by a sliver, wincing already from the painfully bright overhead lights. “You didn’t call anybody yet, did you?” I managed. But they must have, that’s got to be hospital policy. Who did I list as next of kin? I think I filled that form out when I was a teenager, it’ll be Mom and Dad for sure.
When my vision came into focus, I laughed. Out of shock mostly, but also because it had to be a prank of some kind. The source of the voice turned out to be a short balding man that looked to be in his forties...dressed up in an angel costume.
His assistant, a tall and curly haired fellow with a smile that revealed entirely too much of his gums, was wearing an angel costume as well. The halos just kind of floated there. Thin wire or something. I couldn’t knock the quality, the wings were made with real feathers and looked expensive.
“Is this for a TV show?” I muttered. The squat balding man suddenly stretched out his wings. I clapped, sincerely impressed. I’ve seen these things before. There’s a cosplayer who custom builds them for like five hundo a pop. Mostly it’s furries who buy them.
“You died. Welcome to the kingdom of Heaven.” He gestured to the far wall, which split open before my eyes to reveal a landscape made of clouds, with immense pearly gates. To one side of the gates stood a figure I assumed was meant to be Saint Peter.
My jaw hung open. “No fuckin’ way.” The taller of the two angels asked me what was wrong. “Well I mean, am I really dead? This is really happening right now? I never believed in any of this shit.”
The taller angel shot a concerned look to the short, balding one. “It says in your file that you attended Catholic private schools and were confirmed at 14. There’s no indication that you ever apostatized.”
I bit my tongue for a moment, worried perhaps I’d been let into Heaven by some sort of clerical error and was blowing it. But then I realized the absurdity of celestial beings making clerical errors. “Alright, who are you guys? I mean really. Drop the act.”
They once again gave each other worried glances, and the taller one spoke. “Why? What makes you say it’s an act?” I folded my arms and raised an eyebrow at him. “Listen guy. Let’s say I told you I’m the greatest person ever to live. If you believe that, and spend the rest of your life worshiping me, you’ll receive a fantastical reward.”
The taller angel opined that it sounded pretty good so far, plainly bluffing, so I continued: “The thing is, this supposed reward is conveniently unfalsifiable because it’s after you die. But I assure you that’s not by design, it’s just the way things are. Likewise with the horrible punishment you will suffer if you don’t believe me, and decline to worship me. Also if you begin at some point but then stop later in life.”
The balding angel shrugged and said he didn’t see the problem, so I pressed the matter. “Alright, next I tell you that if you doubt me, it’s because of the influence of an invisible trickster whose existence I also cannot prove to you. So you should ignore your doubts and pre-emptively mistrust any evidence you might encounter that contradicts my claims.”
They both looked increasingly irritated, so I hurried it along. “I also tell you the world is ending soon, but I don’t say exactly when, so it always feels as if it could happen at any moment. Therefore it’s urgent for you to convince as many other people to worship me while there is still time, so they receive the fantastic reward and avoid the horrible punishment.
I urge you to sell your belongings, leave your home and job to follow me, and tell you that if you love your mother or father more than me, you’re not worthy of me. Do you believe all this? If not, what might I be trying to accomplish with such a complicated lie?”
The balding one objected: “What if you performed miracles?” I rolled my eyes. “Only according to a book written by my followers, not corroborated by any contemporaneous writings? Then you may as well believe the accounts of miracles found in the Qur’an, or Book of Mormon.” The tall one chimed in. “What if you predicted future events?” I asked if both the predictions and their fulfillment were recorded after the fact, in a book written long after my death.
He nodded sheepishly. “Then it’s easy to fake” I pointed out. “My followers could just record what actually does occur, then alter the details of my original prediction so it matches up. After a couple of centuries, with no internet to preserve information, only that account of events will survive because my followers will have made sure to preserve it.”
The two of them, having apparently had enough, took off their halos. “Fine, mister smarty pants. You’re not in Heaven. Happy now? But what I don’t get is, how come your file says you died a Catholic? Our information is never flat out wrong.”
I explained that I lived my life as a Catholic despite not believing. “I kept it to myself for the happiness of my family. They never would’ve accepted me if they knew I stopped believing. I never so much as wrote down what I really thought about it anywhere.”
The two men now busily disrobed to reveal plain white uniforms under the robes and wings, which they hung up in a closet alongside multiple other types of costumes, corresponding to the beliefs of other cultures. I dimly remembered some of them from when I took a world religions class.
The pearly gates and cloudscape outside shimmered, then vanished. What replaced it was a stunning view of a city unlike any I have ever seen. Abstract white buildings more closely resembling works of art or monuments than anything meant to be lived in, with transparent tubes carrying fast moving water around and between them.
As I watched, I could faintly make out people in bathing suits careening through the tubes, which I now figured for the most extensive water slide I’ve ever witnessed. “Where am I, really? Who are you people? Is this the future?”
The bald one gestured, and a trio of comfortable chairs rose out of the floor. The minute I got off the gurney, it sunk into the floor as if absorbed by it. At their insistence, I took the only open seat. “Yes, you might say this is the future. But you really are dead, or rather you were.”
That’s impossible! I said as much. “I don’t believe in souls, or spirits, or whatever. It doesn’t make sense. If science couldn’t detect souls because they’re immaterial and thus non-interactive with the material universe, how could souls interact with our material brains and bodies in such a way as to control them? For that matter, what do we need such large, complex brains for if they’re only signal receivers?”
They shook their heads. “No, no spirits. Nothing like that. The truth of the matter is simultaneously more, and less, spectacular. Are you familiar with determinism?” The word rang a bell, but I invited them to fill me in as I couldn’t remember the particulars.
He gestured, and some sort of three dimensional visualization appeared in the midst of our chairs. I gasped, having never seen technology this advanced. “Essentially” he said, “the universe is more or less just a collection of particles, and those particles all behave in ultimately predictable ways.” The image depicted a couple of atoms.
One of the atoms collided with another, which changed the course and speed of both. “If you have detailed information about the position, spin and velocity of every particle within a given volume, you can predict every interaction and future state of those particles however far into the future you care to compute.”
I nodded along. “It’s like falling dominos. Knowing how particles interact, where they are, what they are doing and how fast they are going allows you to predict where they will be, what they’ll be doing and how fast they’ll be going a second later. Or a minute, or a year, or a century.”
The animation sped up, now consisting of thousands of particles interacting with each other. But then it began to slow down, until frozen...before it began to rewind. “This principle is reversible” the former angel explained.
Stay Tuned for Part 2!