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The Endless Lives of Kama

William Delman's work has appeared in The Arcanist, Little Blue Marble, and many other fine publications. When he's not chasing his three-year-old daughter around Salem, MA, he's usually at his desk working on a story, or on the mats at Fenix BJJ working on his Jiu-Jitsu. Or doing laundry. He does a lot of laundry.

I'm standing in my bathroom, bare feet on cool ivory tiles, body wrapped in an expensively soft towel.
There are very few things in this room that cost less than the average family makes in a month.
Including the antique .38 in my left hand.
How does one atone for creating and destroying worlds?
By listening to prayers.
This is why I sit at the terminal every morning. Before drinking my first cup of coffee, I examine the logs produced by The Model.
The first time I opened the logs, in what feels like another life, I expected to see strings of numbers, codes, messages detailing the inevitable failures in the nascent predictive engine I was designing.
Instead, voices chorused out, begging: please. Please, don't let my daughter die. Please, let me have this job. Save us from another war. Another famine. Another depression.
Let the Earth cool. Show the scientists for the charlatans they are. Reward our faith. Please. Why am I here?
I spent most of my graduate years programming and tweaking the thing that would become my future, whenever I wasn't studying. Jessica was the exception.
We were both pursuing PhDs, although Jessica's was in English and American Literature, a fact I, arrogantly, found endearing. Our first kiss was at a rally to support the creation of Boston's canal system.
She was brilliant, beautiful, and intense, destined for academic stardom somewhere.
We were a nearly perfect match. But I could never commit.
Even as I wrote the first lines of code, I knew I loved the idea of The Model more than anyone could love a thing and lead a normal life. As more hours went into my creation, I started canceling, and then forgetting dates. We went from seeing each other daily, to weekly.
Finally, Jessica took me out for a nice dinner on the North Island. As we looked out, across Commercial Street, on Boston's ever-shrinking coastline, she accused me of infidelity.
She was more horrified to learn the truth.
"You can't do it," she said, "and even if you could, you can't change everyone by knowing the future. Smokers still smoke. Alcoholics still drink."
"Not all of them."
Jessica kept going like I hadn't said anything. "And, seriously, we already know our consumption is unsustainable, but we're still driving cars, eating cows, and making babies."
"Not all of us," I said. "And imagine, if a person knew the future, maybe they could move the future, make the future." I didn't know how else to explain. "I'm sorry."
She shook her head. "I should have known better than to fall in love with a would be Muad'Dib. You're an idiot."
Then she stood, kissed me for the last time, and left.
Now I live the life I can, inside my Xanadu, this New Mexico compound.
The business trades and networks frequently refer to me as, "The Kama Nexus."
I have become a capitalist avatar, a symbol for humanity's atavistic desire for egocentric omniscience, a sort of deva.
They ask me questions; companies, nations, NGOs; and a few individuals similar to myself, entities so staggeringly wealthy and powerful that they are no longer truly people.
I run their questions through the model, and choose which ones to answer.
My magic is more rigorous and exact than in the days of Delphi, but no less miraculous; for each question, I extract answers from the worlds I conceive, observe, and terminate.
Most questions are turgid. "What are the ramifications of the skirmishes between the Chinese and Indian Martian colonies?" or, "Will the free trade agreement between the Confederated States of America and the Russian Federation negatively impact New England-Canada relations?"
A few are more straightforward. "Does she still love me?"
"If I left everything behind, could we survive? Be happy?"
At first, my discovery of the prayer logs nearly shattered me with questions of sentience, free will, and responsibility. What did it mean to be the creator of a simulation populated by entities who believed in their existence?
I'd lost Jessica, and with no outside life I worked endless hours in my rundown apartment, only leaving to grab the occasional banh mi and more instant coffee.
I ran The Model through iteration after iteration seeking a silent oracular perfection.
No matter what I did, the logs overflowed with entreaties I couldn't answer.
Then, it happened, the prediction that changed everything. Rice, grain and water futures were about to become more valuable than anything had ever been--and I had a choice.
I could bury the Model and the questions it raised, I could let the world find its own way, or I could spend years sacrificing everything for the chance to save my world.
I put warnings out on social media, told Jessica about the impending famine, told anyone that would listen, while sinking every penny I had into futures I knew would pay me ten thousand times over.
Sixteen months later I was a multimillionaire, my future days blocked in the patterns I'd seen, the disasters to come.
Each successful prediction would amplify the influence of the next prediction--slowly, The Model would turn the world into Pavlov's dog, waiting for me to ring the bell.
And now, this morning.
My immolation, false confession of hopelessness, and the destruction of The Model will set off a chain reaction. Key corporate and political bodies will finally make the moves necessary to reverse our march into the grave.
The Model has shown other sparks, low-percentage maybes. Change could manifest without my death.
I could donate my money, surrender my responsibility, show up on Jessica's doorstep in St. Louis like a supplicant--The Model has shown me this too: the possibility of recovery and forgiveness.
I stare into the mirror and feel the system revolving around me like an orrery.
Then, I think of Jessica.
The .38 feels impossibly heavy, and I wonder: am I too human, or not human enough?
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 21st, 2018

Author Comments

Four or five years ago, I had this idea for a story about a person who started getting cries for help from people who were living inside a simulation. I tried a few different approaches. Nothing seemed to work, and I moved on to other things, but the idea stuck with me like an unresolved melody. Then last year I decided to reread William Gibson's Neuromancer. As soon as I hit the scenes with Lady Jane, some new path got mapped inside my noggin, and I had a vision of my isolated conjurer, a maker of predictive worlds and souls. Once I had that, other things started to drift into place, bits and fragments of this character and the ailing world outside their Xanadu. Finally, I had to convince myself the story was solid enough for circulation--a process that took another six months. To see Kama finally land here, in DSF, is honestly a better end to this little Odyssey than I had ever imagined. Thank you!

- William Delman
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