The inquiry was done in secret, and the assembly was quickly handpicked upon his arrest. At the long table, three interrogators were centered, flanked by official witnesses. The rest was security. Darius assured himself there were multiple weapons trained on him at every corner; he saw them in the infrared scan.
The central figure, a military VIP well past middle age, finally spoke with a degree of haughtiness. “I’m interested with how you evaded the records without a last name. Would you mind identifying yourself in full?”
He was neither prepared nor ill-equipped. He answered with marked aplomb, “I don’t have one. It’s just Darius. Is that against the law?”
“I see. Yes. Without the proper specifications to identify each individual, it’s rather hard to keep track of the citizenry. Now,” he said, getting down to business, “it’s understood that, according to unredacted reports, and in addition to your testimonial, you are not from any known location on Earth. Your claim is distinctly out of context in spite of your savviness in the national dialect. All evidence is to the contrary unless proven irrefutable.”
“That is correct,” he replied, unafraid of impending consequences.
“If I told you I wasn’t from this universe, I presume I’d be taken less seriously. Let’s just say I’m from off-world.”
“An intractable answer, nonetheless, Mr. Darius. It happens to be our chief concern to know your capabilities in light of that tour-de-force of yours back in the public square, in plain daylight no less. The miracles you performed were seen live, filmed, and disseminated across social media. It’s apparent you were unwilling to hide this, that no chicanery was intended, only a bravado that left us suspicious on your motives. Prior to your detainment, we were forced to shut out certain media outlets pining for your attention.”
“And what of it?”
The officer cocked his brow. “And what?” He threw out his hands, flustered at the brazen response. “Even we saw to your little charade when you placed your hands over the sick and lamed, watching them toss their crutches and waltzing away as if their afflictions never existed. Food even magically appeared in your hands before dishing it out to the homeless. You even persuaded one of your spectators to throw a rock at you when you became momentarily translucent, and this is from our own account as we observed the rock passing right through you like a pocket of air! Do you acknowledge these allegations to be true?”
“I wouldn’t call them allegations at this point, but yes. They happen to be accurate, so I’m not going to pull any punches with you.”
The officer looked confused. “Well, Mr. Darius, from the evidence gathered, you seem to have nothing to hide, despite that it would behoove a saner individual with such capabilities to keep a lower profile.”
“So, no one will know anything beyond the limited scope of their worldly understanding? That someone so gifted would die without ever sharing their gifts to a suppressed majority? Anyone,” he intoned the word, “in their right mind would use such power to reveal a reality far beyond the humdrum life in which one would expect nothing more than debt and an early grave.”
“So, your claim insinuates that sharing the secrets of the universe is everybody’s business even though you might be handing off a dangerous weapon to a three-year-old?”
“I didn’t say I’d be sharing my powers. Nothing I said imputed my abilities to anything beyond the work of my hands.”
“I’d say ‘sleight of hands,’ though it’s apparent we’re dealing with something beyond a mere sideshow.”
“Without a doubt.” Darius kept affirming the obvious, an impetuous demeanor that raised eyebrows.
“Nevertheless, we know what you’re capable of, Mr. Darius, and you made no bones about it. You even cooperated with us upon arrest without a hint of protest, considering the only ones in danger would have been ourselves. We can only conclude that some ulterior reason lies behind your blatant self-exposure. Care to explain?”
“There’s not much to explain. If anything of value came from the demonstration, it would be an oracular message. You see, anything I say that describes where I come from and why I’m able to bend this reality at will, would only generate further confusion and elicit a violent response. It’s in your nature, well, programming specifically. It looks like truth has become taboo in this construct we designed not too long ago.” He shook his head in self-pity.
“Construct? I’m not sure what you mean. And I would advise against asserting blind accusations against us.”
“I don’t need to make any accusation. Your reality stands as is.”
“Then kindly elaborate.”
“I won’t prevaricate. Humanity, as you know it, is too predictable in its patterns of behavior. That’s how we programmed you, a problem of professional oversight.”
The interrogators shared bemused glances. “What do you mean by ‘programmed.’”
“The anthropic protocols? I thought you were in the business of molding and shaping the conscience of an entire planet, so you should have some fundamental understanding of how programming works. Your kind is as pliable as tinfoil. How else can you easily manipulate an entire demographic into a collective thought, to vote the way you want, or to buy whatever product deemed essential because you’ve hedged on the aforementioned investments? With rare exceptions, the crowds follow what they’re told, believe what’s propagated as truth when in fact it's a lie, and condemn those who don’t tout the scripts you’ve indoctrinated them with––”
Irritated, the officer raised an open palm. “Just get to the point, Mr. Darius!”
“I am! Your civilian underlings know nothing more than to march around mechanically while sporting the latest craze and parroting the talking points of the pulpit. That doesn’t sound like there’s much intelligent life in this construct––”
“People are satisfied to be slaves. What does it have to do with your public display of miracles?”
“They’re golems––they were programmed as such. The proof can’t be anymore blatant. It’s all a sham. And you think you’re the game masters? Au Contraire! You’re no different. No soul, no enlightenment and bereft of innovation. You’re as much of protocols as your subjects that grew out of the intrinsic selfishness of this primordial soup we’ve developed. It was only specific codes that you were given your lofty status; a stark reflection of the compliant nature inherent in how we build this world pixel by pixel…to put it in your parlance. The compliant are always the first to vie for power, which explains their willingness to crush everyone under their thumb. Hence, yourselves. It makes you feel big and powerful. That’s why your kind would not only be untrustworthy in the real world, but you would be deemed an enemy of all sentient life and well condigned of punishment!”
After a brief pause, Darius concluded, “That’s why we blame ourselves for creating you.”
The façade of austerity on the interrogators was starting to crack. They grew restless, visible in the way they tried to suppress their squirming.
The officer cleared his throat. “In all evidence to the contrary, you have nothing to back up these allegations.”
“You expect me to renounce blatant facts to a bunch of computer codes in a grand simulation of our own design? This world you call Earth is nothing more than that! You all happen to be autonomous protocols in this vast engine that we call ‘sprites,’ so please excuse the word when I mention it again in passing conversation.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Technically, none of you are real. We made you, programmed you and set you on your merry way. You’re protocols, sprites, and you were designed to self-replicate and govern yourselves under your own stimuli, and from what I’ve seen, the engine works better than we ever anticipated!”
“And so, you interact with us as if…” he paused, splaying his hands and searching what to say, “…as if you were playing some glorified video game?”
“How do you think I’m able to pull every magic trick out of the hat like a rabbit?”
“Never mind, Mr. Darius,” he grumbled shaking his wrists. “The question we’d like answered is why we don’t have those abilities, if what we’re accustomed to is nothing but an elaborate alien hoax.”
“Can programs inside a machine perform anything outside their function, regardless of how intelligent they were made?”
A pair of fists hammered the table, breaking the drone of dialogue. “If that’s the case, Mr. Darius, then why did you even bother entering our world if you come from a place insinuated to be superior to our own?”
“To ensure some of you sprites a way out. Perhaps you can call it salvation for those who attest to the highest virtues and principles, even critical thinking, while stuck inside a well that has long since dried.”
“Are we now dealing with some sort of Jesus complex?”
Darius looked askance, temporarily in thought, and subtly nodded. “Like Jesus.” A broad smile arched across his jaw. He was proud of the taunt.
“Well then, Mr. Darius,” he threw his hands out in mock submission, “since you are unafraid to expose your talents accordingly, I suppose you could reserve some time and treat us to a little more of your entertainment, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Darius put his hand out flatly without touching the surface of the table. “Take any object and drop it through.”
There was a beat of hesitation as sweat pooled over the brows of the interrogators while they exchanged glances. Finally, the officer on the left pulled out his cell phone and waved it through Darius’s hand. The phone clattered on the table. He recoiled himself, afraid to get any closer. A wave of grumbling pitched across the room.
Darius brushed the phone back toward the officer too preoccupied with what he had seen to notice it thud up against his cuffs. “Got anything inexpensive?” he said. “Anything you’re willing to throw away?”
Someone fished out a ballpoint pen and impatiently waggled it an inch or two from Darius’s face. Grabbing it, he gently placed it sidelong in the air before removing his hand. It stood there without support, frozen in time. The interrogators swayed from side-to-side, leering at the impossible. Another wave of murmurs arose, ebbing after a sharp hush came from up front. With the ensuing silence, Darius lifted both hands and tenderly prestidigitated around the space of the pen. A skein of blue-white lightening shimmered into view, weaving itself into a sphere surrounding the object. A bright blossoming light glared from the center, then faded as the threads of electricity crackled away. The pen was gone, but something clinged and rolled onto the table. The officer on the right slapped his hand to stop it from rolling onto the floor and held it up in plain view. Astonishment filled the room. Wedged between two fingers was a nugget of solid gold.
“You literally transmuted a cheap hunk of plastic into…” he pinched his fingers feeling its ductility while gazing its facets, “…looks like twenty-four carats!” he said, facing the first officer, and proffered him the piece.
The door clicked open. The whine of an electric motor increased in pitch as it approached. The crowd of personnel parted, revealing a wizened old figure confined to a wheelchair that slowly crept to the center of the room where Darius sat. Like the rest, his true expression was unreadable at first glance, but Darius saw what was buried underneath that passive withered smile.
“Perhaps he can be of temporary use!” he croaked. The three interrogators shuffled out of the way. The whining stopped, and the wheelchair swiveled with a quickness that jostled the old man. He was face-to-face with Darius. The smile stiffened into an impassive line, lifting any veneer of friendliness. Darius knew off the bat what he was going to ask just by making a casual observation.
“So…Mr. Darius,” he began, “from what I’ve seen of your records, as well the closed-circuit footage,” it wasn’t hard to realize the captive was on constant surveillance, “it seems that you have full command of the elements over this little game we’re a part of…all except you, of course.”
“Any engineer involved with what we call the Earth Engine…well, he’ll have some leeway in making the rules, especially when they decide to become a part of their own creation.”
“No doubt. As you can see, I’m not exactly some spritely…oh, wait. I guess we’re all sprites, as you called it.” He guffawed. “It doesn’t matter. You don’t see me jumping and cavorting about without a care. In light of what I’ve seen of your thaumaturgical abandon, I would like you to do one last demonstration for the day and heal me of all my blights, and even reverse my advanced age, say to something about thirty-five.”
“Fair enough.” He shrugged at the ad hoc requisition. There was a shade of mockery in the way the man stared him down, expectant of results that his arrogance could muster from years of commandeering. Regardless, Darius honored his request, and held out his arms as if holding a beach ball. The room lit up in violent flashes of blue. Streaks of lightning threaded into a sphere around the old man’s head the way it did when transmuting the pen and expanded to envelop his entire presence. The lightshow ended as fast as it started, and the result showed in the round of jaw-dropping astonishment. Darius retracted his hands and folded them on the table.
The old man had vanished without a trace in the room. A few agents swung their heads at every angle hoping to find any sign it was a prank, despite the preceding evidence to the contrary. Seated in the wheelchair was a man no more than in his mid-thirties, his face smooth and his hair dark brown and coifed. There was not a wrinkle to his merit, except when he furrowed his brow, a look of contempt Darius suspected was his typical mode of wielding his authority. Mutterings of awe filled the silence. The man, having shed half a century off himself, stood up and nudged the wheelchair out of his way. The second officer used a cell phone camera in reverse as a makeshift mirror and lifted it to the man’s face. He lightly padded the hair stubs at his temple, then dismissed the officer with a wave of his fingers. Facing back to Darius, he folded his hands in front and erected his posture that would have been impossible in his previous incarnation.
“I am thoroughly impressed, Mr. Darius. Not only are you a walking miracle the likes of which had walked the Earth thousands of years ago, if such events were true even though it appears all the more likely with your timely arrival, but a god unto himself with no bounds to his power! Thank you for your generous contributions to the citizens of Earth, and especially for the restoration of my health as well as granting me another forty years of leadership, a service expected of someone already with a lifetime of experience under his belt.”
He lifted his welcoming hands, and a round of applause followed.
“And now, I hope you understand that someone like you cannot simply flaunt authority over the elements, particularly to the lay. Despite the good works demonstrated, you’ve only given false hopes to those wishing for a chance to escape this world you call a simulation. And for us, it simply cannot be,” he grew more wicked in tone, “despite your ungainly efforts to usher in a better world, as I’m sure that was your intention…”
It is, Darius thought. This man is quite astute!
“…your methodology was, in fact, unfit for propagation without transferring mutual power out of our hands. We never settle for zero-sum games, Mr. Darius. The people need leaders; they need a system as a crutch because they are too limited in their faculties to rule themselves––”
“So, keep them idle so they never question why they’re always in a state of arrears; leave them devoid of cognitive skills and fill them with mindless distractions and defer their anger to an imaginary adversary.”
“Exactly! And as I understand it, your goal was to provide the flocks with that holy flame handed off like a baton. That, unfortunately, works against you.” He stuck two fingers out and waved them dauntingly. In an instant, Darius was seized from both sides, yet he retained a straight face, predicting the outcome.
“I assume it’s not in your ethical code to fight back against your own creations even when they sting you,” with a closed fist, he struck the captive across the cheek, “like a scorpion!”
“So, leave your world in a perpetual hell just to keep your space on the pedestal!”
“Spare the platitudes, Mr. Darius!” He interrupted. “If there was any master in this world, it would be us, not you or anyone else who wishes their own place in the pages of history.” He chuckled with a diabolical sneer and jabbed his forefinger sidelong in the air. Darius felt something prick his upper arm.
“Remember, Mr. Darius. Someone like you is too dangerous to walk the Earth. Our structure is fixed, the rest remain the serfs, regardless of who comes prancing in on their white horse. You’re not God. We are!”
“Why don’t you…” he began stuttering, “…just give me my…crown of thorns…while you’re at it…!”
“Goodbye, Darius. Thanks for your services…and your impactful secret. And one more thing.” Darius barely could keep his head up. “Game over!”
The entire world grew bleary, then ebbed into a veil of black.