Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Story 219: Vexatus Aeternum

Naamah sighed, and gazed out the window across the lake of blood.  It looked the same as always.  She had often thought that Hell should have more weather - hurricanes, floods, blizzards, something to keep things interesting.  The monotony was hellish in its own way, but after a while everyone wondered if the humans had gotten used to their torment and were just faking agony to make eternity pass by faster.  The only interesting thing in her schedule, the only thing that was different from every day in recent memory or every day should imagine going forward, was something she didn't want to do.  Meet with Doug.

Doug was a minor clerical demon, always looking to improve on things.  Naamah approved in theory, but talking to Doug was extremely tiresome and none of his ideas ever panned out.  He had presented some strange ideas about chain letters that had almost worked, and something similar and yet totally different based around something called "Tupperware", and... there were about fifteen schemes in the last forty years.  That's a lot of innovation, by demon standards, but who in Hell cared if the success rate was zero?

What was she going to do, though?  Just stare at the lake of blood forever?  "Send him in."

Doug, as always, was smiling.  It wasn't just that his oversized fangs forced his face into that shape - he was actually smiling all the time even as ideas he had worked on for decades were shot down.  It was one of the things people hated about him.  He had something large in his arms.  One of those computers the humans were so in love with?  Naamah had learned about them somewhat and had required the other demons to at least study the basics once it was clear this would be a common thing with the mortals.  She didn't see the appeal.

"Great and powerful Naamah!  I have brought you something amazing!"
"It looks like a computer."
He looked at it as if noticing it for the first time.  "Um.  Sort of!  Better!  It's a robotic brain, they call it a neural network.  It's a thinking machine."
"That's what they said all computers were."
"Oh.  Right.  This is… a much more thinking machine."
"Fine.  Sure.  Get on with it."
Doug set the extra-computery computer down and turned it on, after which everyone who was hanging around the court waited for fifteen minutes as he mumbled things about it being ready any second and how it had started up no problem earlier.  Finally, an artificial voice chirped at them.
"Hello!  My name is Dante!"

Naamah raised a spiked eyebrow.  "Please tell me there's a point to this."
"Oh, yes.  Yes!  You're going to love this.  I was thinking about what you told me that one time a few decades ago.  About intent."
She remembered the conversation.  He had tried to get people to sign away their souls with something called an ‘End User Licensing Agreement’, but like his other ideas it hadn’t accomplished anything. "I'm going to stop you right there.  This is… a tool.  Like a pencil.  Making it talk doesn't give it intent."
Doug nodded, looking even more excited than before.  "I know.  You're right.  And even if it did, it doesn't have a soul we could collect.  But you're also wrong, partly.  It's so much more than a pencil.  It can decide things, it can want things.  Sort of.  It has a bit of intent.  A sort of proto-intent.  Here, let me demonstrate."
Doug typed something into the machine, and after a moment it began intoning some sort of demonic spell.  Badly.  Its pronunciation was atrocious, and some of the words weren't words at all.  Rather than interrupting, Naamah just slouched in her throne.  Whatever.

Doug still looked excited for some reason.  After a moment, there was something.  A fat spark cracked in the air above the device.  Everyone perked up, and started listening again.  It was still mostly gibberish, but… there, it almost had the words right to…

A dove burst into existence and promptly collapsed, twitching.

Naamah stood up.  "Doug, what are we watching here?"
"Well.  Um.  It doesn't have sufficient intent or the soul required to enter into a demonic pact, but it turns out it does count as intelligent - just enough - to cast spells.  It's learning them still, and it gets a lot wrong."
She knew where this had come from.  Doug had - hundreds of years ago - tried and failed to teach parrots to summon demons to the mortal realm, reasoning that it would mean they always had a way in.  "Okay.  But why have it learn on its own?  If a computer can cast spells, just give it a list of spells."
"If I do it that way, the magic treats the computer as a sort of wand.  If I do it this way it's actually the computer doing it."

That was interesting, but hardly seemed useful.  "Doug, this is… mildly amusing as a party trick, I suppose.  But unless you can control what spell it casts I don't see the use." In fact, even in that case it would be hard to get much out of it.
"Oh, I can.  I mean, I can give it some guidelines that could cause it to lock down onto one spell, once it learns the basics.  There's just one problem, which is that it can't direct the magical energies.  So it can make a flame, just for example, but not tell that flame to appear on a candle."
So it was useless, no matter what.  Another total waste of time.

Unless.

"Doug.  Can you teach it to cast a Communion spell?"
He looked at the device, just as it caused a flickering green light to briefly appear in the air.  "Yes, and I could give it a list of demonic names to choose from, but after the initial contact it wouldn't be able to actually say anything."
"That's perfect.  Make me as many of these things as possible.  I want them to be able to cast night and day, as rapidly as possible.  But… let me get the list of names ready for you."

---

Sealtiel twitched as he heard his name called again.  "Hello?"  There was nobody there.  This had been going on for days.  Another angel stumbled past, clutching its ears and weeping.  All of heaven was in disarray.  "Hello?  Hello?  Damn you!"  He would have suspected the hosts of Hell but demons couldn't call out to angels, just each other.  He had tried to trace the signal back only to come up completely blank - almost like there was no mind at all on the other end.

"TALK!  HELLO?  JUST TALK, OR SHUT UP!"  He couldn't take much more of this.  It was every second or so, and he was compelled to reply.  He needed to go to God, to be in His direct presence.  Surely that would make things better.  As he walked he saw bloody cracks in the walls, marking the spots where angels had slammed their heads in an attempt to make the voices stop.

God should have stopped it already, should have done something.  Part of Sealtiel cringed at the thought, at the implied criticism of the Almighty.  Of course God had His reasons for everything.  Technically Sealtiel shouldn't even be going to Him, but there was no other option.  Sealtiel turned the corner and saw a swarming throng of angelic beings, screaming as they pounded on the great golden doors.  God wasn't letting anyone in.  This was bad.  This was… "Hello?  HELLO?"

Of course, there was one way to make it stop if God wouldn’t oblige.  It was drastic, but technically Sealtiel had already abandoned his post.  The Communion call couldn't get through to him if he wasn't an angel anymore, because his name would be changed to a demonic one.  And he wouldn't have to be a particularly bad demon…

---

Naamah smiled and gazed out the window across the lake of blood as the seventh fallen angel appeared, streaking down like a shooting star.  The rate seemed to be increasing.  Finally, she thought, something interesting was happening.