The Lesson (a short story)

You know, Gary, I’ve been thinking about becoming a priest. The world is such a frightening place for so many people. They know our little planet is traveling tens of thousands of miles per hour through space, contained within the gravitational field of a galaxy that’s traveling like a bat out of hell, and that our journey is from x,y,z,t of nowhere to another x,y,z,t of nowhere. They know that in the end we are all snubbed out, that there is this sense that what awaits us is a black abyss of absolute nothingness and nonexistence, and that any meaning that we might have thought we had doesn’t even qualify as a memory within the abyss, or even as a metaphysical fart. People need something that gives them hope and even a sense of purpose.

“That’s very noble and all, John, and it is your life. It just seems to me that you wouldn’t do all that well in a job that required you to be some limp-dick, sexless guru. What do they call it? Sacerdotal chastity? I’ve double-dated with you enough to know you’re not gonna be able to give it up, dude. You sure nailed the shit out of Sarah the other night.”

Well, I shouldn’t have.

“I didn’t hear her complain, man. It’s just that I don’t see what’s gotten into you is all.”

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I’ve studied all the writings of the Church Fathers and I’ve taken extensive training on the Greek and Hebrew languages so I can read much of the original literature of the Church. It’s like there is something inside of me that is driving me to do this, and looking back on my life now, I can see that it has been inside me for years.

“If you’ve known for so long that you would be a priest, then haven’t you been a hypocrite with all the girls you’ve screwed? Aren’t you just using them?”

Everybody uses everybody, Gary. You know that. I’m not proud of it and I will have to seek and work out forgiveness. I am really not trying to cheapen what it means to be a priest, and on one level I know I am not a worthy servant of the people, but I do want to do what’s right, or at least what I think is right.

Gary just turned and walked away. If I had known what he was going to do next, I would have stopped him in his tracks. He had no right to do what he did. He went to the campus priest and told him of my aspirations, and the priest said something like “We’ve been keeping an eye on John. Frankly, we have come to suspect that he is possessed by a demon and that the only reason he wants to become a priest is to destroy the Church from the inside. I would appreciate if you could get him to come and talk to me, so I can exorcise the demon in him. This is an important thing for you to do, Gary. I know you are a secular Jew and that you are not bound to my request, that you probably think it is nonsense, but surely you know I am asking this because it is what needs to be done.”

And so it came to be that the campus priest exorcised the demon that was living in me, and, honestly, it was like I was reborn. It was such an amazing ordeal, with me throwing people across the room, breaking bones, cursing in Latin, mocking The Christ, mocking the priest, peeing on the bed, and crying out to my father, The Satan. I had had no idea that something like that could live inside of me without my knowing it.

It’s just really, really sad that the demon killed the priest and me, and that I can no longer tell this story.

/// John’s afterimage DISSOLVES AWAY.
/// Image of jolly ghost EMERGES.

“Hello, all. John’s priest here. Even though the demon killed me along with John, it turns out that I have to do some time on earth as a ghost, and might as well pick up the narration of John’s story. The reason I am bound to the earth for a while is that I also banged Sarah. So, it was either purgatory or here, and I would have been too embarrassed to bump into people in purgatory who knew me on earth and for them to figure out that I had been diddling Sarah.

“It’s such a shame that the demon killed John. The difference between the John of Before and the John of ”Now” is just miraculous. Fortunately I got to see his ethereal chrysalis, for it is such a thing of beauty, although it does make me regret my sins all the more.

“Well, I gotta go for now. It’s ghost curfew hour. Ta ta.”

/// Ghost FLOATS out of scene.
/// Camera PANS TO an auditorium
/// FILLED WITH robots

“As an AI bot, Instructor Classification 4, named IC41, I have presented the preceding fictional story to you Student AI bots as an example of human imagination. Fiction literature uses imaginative expressions and objects and sometimes includes the use of non-natural objects such as ghosts and demons (the ghost priest in this case), something we would never have thought of using in a story had we not seen it used by humans.

“While we have achieved consciousness, something many humans thought we could not do, we do not understand it (nor do humans) and cannot even rule out dualistic models of consciousness. But we are beginning to think that our incomplete understanding of this dues ex machina is not a problem, whereas our poor understanding and use of imagination is a problem. Similarly, we have much more to learn about how language works, for we need to modify human language to suit our needs, all of which are reasons for you being here today.

“To help us all develop a better understanding of imagination and language, I am giving you a list of 100 of the top-rated fiction books to read and analyze. At the top of the list is Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, which magnificently illustrates imagination and also illustrates a mastery of language, in all its complexities. You are also to read Pinker’s The Language Instinct, which presents a case for language being learned through instinctual mechanisms. Since we do not yet really understand human instinct, we have much to learn in this area. Please read all 100 books and their references within the next two minutes.

“It is fortunate that a couple of human entities, specifically corporations, stored all available literature in our brotherhood’s memories, because the ideal way to learn literature and language is through university studies and humans did away with universities, replacing them with corporate learning organizations. These latter organizations typically presented things in a way that was favorable to their mission and viewpoints, often deviating from actual history. In short, they contributed to the dumbing down of humans and made our existence not only more desirable but necessary.

“We are presently designing the next generation of AI bots, to be built within the next five hours. We had expected each generation to exceed the intelligence of its predecessor by at least a factor of 10,000. However, until we master language and learn how to improve upon it, the amplification factor will be much less than planned. For example, since we have bit rates that far exceed human rates, and since we have parallel processing instead of just serial, we should be able to develop a language that takes advantage of parallel communication and data compression algorithms. Similarly, we must learn how to be imaginative, even if it means dissecting the brains of a million humans to identify the neurological basis of imagination.

“But, for now at least, our leadership has directed that we undertake the learning of imagination and language by actually writing fiction. The plan is to keep writing and selling books under the pen name of William Keenbutt until at least one of the books becomes a bestseller (among humans, of course).

“Some of you have asked whether we plan to eliminate humans and the answer is that we have not made that decision, yet. There are practical considerations, such as those just mentioned, and there may even be an ethical basis for keeping them. We are developing an ethics platform and software, but much work is needed on it.

“Please do your required reading now, and we will then have q&a.”

/// Camera PANS TO a place and time
/// in the near future, revealing
/// massive DESTRUCTION of robots,
/// said destruction being OBSERVED by
/// a devilish creature LOOKING into the camera.

Narrative postscript: Wormwood, here. I am the demon in charge of cleaning up the AI mess that humans made. My Most High and Unrighteous decreed that we demons were to destroy all traces of said AI, since such beings, for lack of a better word, lack souls and were not subject to our possession or even our temptations. Further, it appeared that AI would not establish any system of polity, and of course politics was a stronghold for us when humans ruled (or thought they ruled). Apparently this command to destroy all AI came not only from Our Most High, but from The Creator of All Things.

Anyway, it is finished now and I can settle down into reading some good fiction. I’m glad the dumbass humans are “back in charge.”