15 Apr The Machine
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"The Machine"Written by Carter Milford
Estimated reading time — 18 minutes
Griffin and I were both 25. We hadn’t seen each other since college but kept in close contact. I was working at a cybersecurity firm, and I really wasn’t sure what he had been doing. He always told me he was “just working on something.”
I took a few vacation days from work to go and see him. We went camping for a night. When we woke up the following morning, he told me about The Machine.
“Wow-wee, sure is beautiful,” I said stepping out of my tent.
“Damn right it is,” Griffin responded. He was a silhouette in front of the red light of dawn creeping over the mountain behind him. “Come here.” He was fixing a pot of coffee.
“It’s serious. Come here.”
I sat beside him on a large log we’d rolled over the night before to sit on around the fire. “What’s up?”
“I want to tell you,” he said.
“Tell me what?”
“What I’ve been working on.”
“But hear me loud and clear, you can’t tell anybody. It’s a secret between you, me, and God.”
“I won’t. I swear to—”
“No, no. I don’t need any promises or swears. I just need your word. Say it again. You won’t tell anybody.”
“I won’t tell anybody, Griff.”
“Okay, then,” he sipped from his thermos and muttered, “a man’s only as good as his word. Someone famous said that, I think.”
“I think that’s from the Bible, dude.”
“Ha! That’s funny, considering what I’m about to tell you. Makes me wonder if there is a God…” he trailed, looking off in the distance.
That made me uneasy for some reason. “Go on, tell.”
“Let me start off by saying this: I know how it’s going to sound—crazy. I know. You’re gonna think good ol’ Griff has lost his mind. But bear with me, now. I have proof. I have it with me.”
“You have what with you?”
“The Machine. That’s what I call it.”
“What does it do?”
“It can—well, let me show you.” He ran to his tent, unzipped something, and came back with a laptop, of sorts. But it was heavily modified, and connected to it by wires was a small, black box. He put the laptop in his lap and put the box next to him on the ground.
“You carried all that on a hike? You could’ve shown me all this stuff back at your place.”
“I could’ve, yes, but didn’t want to. What I have here is a game-changer, man. If the government is tapping our phones and TV’s, I don’t want them to know about this.” He pressed a couple of buttons and The Machine made a whirring startup sound. “It takes a minute to get going.”
“What does it do?” I asked again.
“It can create, destroy, and transport matter.” He said it bluntly then sighed long and hard. I could tell he’d been waiting to tell someone about it.
I didn’t have an answer to what he said. I was silent. I didn’t believe him, but at the same time I believed he was about to show me something—something I’d never forget. Dread began to boil up inside of me.
“You don’t believe me.” He smiled. “I wouldn’t believe me either, but let me show you once this gets working.” He patted his hand on the box like a man would pat his dog’s head.
“You’re really telling me that thing can, just, what? Create something out of nothing?”
His smile never thinned. “Yes. And delete something into nothing. And it can move matter in a millisecond—faster even!”
“So, your box breaks every law of physics?”
“It’s not ‘my box.’ It is The Machine.” A couple of beeps came from the modified laptop. He typed a couple of things frantically, and then looked in my eyes. His smile had been replaced with a stern, determined grimace. “Hold out your hand,” he said.
I obeyed, and held my hand out, palm towards the sky.
“Ready?” he said.
I nodded wordlessly, my tongue stuck in my throat.
He pressed a button, and I felt a weight in my hand instantly. Faster, even. My jaw dropped slightly and all my concentration, all my senses, and all my sanity was working overtime trying to comprehend what had just happened.
In my hand was a nice, shiny, red apple. It came from nowhere. There was no sound, no wind, no WOOSH or KAPOW. It did not exist a second before, but there it was, sitting in my hand.
“Hold out your other hand,” he said. I was not looking at him, but I knew he still had his serious face on. I complied, and held out my other hand, almost hypnotically. My eyes were still transfixed on the apple.
That is, until it wasn’t there. It had moved to my other hand—if you could even call it moving. It transported. It teleported. It shifted through time and space like it was no big deal. And then a couple of seconds later, it vanished. Gone. He deleted it. Never to be seen again.
Astounded. Excited. Terrified. Those three emotions battled out in my head. I took in a deep draw of air, realizing I had stopped breathing somewhere in those 20 seconds or so.
“How…” that was all I could manage to say.
“Later,” he told me, “later, I’ll tell you how everything works. Quit your job. Work with me.”
“I… I just…”
“I know. It’s mind-boggling. Come work with me on it. It can be improved. There’s so much to do.”
“But… I need a paycheck and—”
“No, you don’t. When I said this was a game-changer, I meant it. What do you need money for? Food? We can create all the food you need. You want a new house? We can build one with this. But how are you going to keep the lights on? We hook it up to a battery-run generator, and we simply create and replace the battery with a fresh one every day. Car? Gas? Water? I haven’t had a bank account for a full year, man, and I’ll never need another cent again.”
My hands were still stretched out, and my body felt like it was in shock. “Okay.”
“Okay?” His smile reappeared.
“Okay. Let’s do it.”
He closed the laptop and put it to his side. He cracked a beer open, even though it was 8:30 AM, and he looked to the sunrise. I turned and watched it too.
“The possibilities are endless,” he said.
“So, you’ve tested it a lot, I’m assuming.”
“Yep. A whole lot.”
I don’t know why my mind went to this, but it did. “Have you ever, eh, done it to a human?”
He side-eyed me. “Done what?”
“Well, you know. Have you ever deleted someone? Or moved someone? Or, created?”
He seemed to think on it before responding. “I’m not sure if I can create a human. I don’t know the intricacies that go into building a living being. But I’ve moved myself—teleported—whatever you wanna call it. Not far, just to a different room in my house. It’s a weird feeling. But it works.”
I waited for him to go on, but he didn’t. So, I asked, “And… deleted?”
“No.” he took a swig from his bottle. “I’ve deleted an insect, though. A spider. He was just gone. Like the apple. Never done it to a human.”
I was relieved he hadn’t murdered someone, but then I thought, well it wouldn’t be murder would it? They wouldn’t be dead. They’d just, not exist anymore. Every atom of them would be gone from the universe—any consciousness or awareness they once held would be vaporized into absolutely nothing. Maybe it’d be more peaceful than death, or maybe it’d be a fate much worse.
But then I thought of how this could change everything. This machine could feed the hungry forever. It could erase tumors and cancerous cells. It could provide shelter and clothing for everyone. It could eliminate the need for any transportation. It could clean the atmosphere. It could transport people to other planets instantly. Humans could expand all across the galaxy—the entire universe, maybe.
“We are going to change the world,” I said.
“We are going to run the world,” he responded.
And as his words died in the morning air, my worries came to life. The Machine can destroy anything, idiot, I thought to myself. It can and will destroy. Sure, your goodie little two-shoes wants to help humanity. But imagine what would happen if a terrorist organization had it. They could wipe out an entire city at the snap of their fingers. A hostile country could delete an entire continent if they like. Hell! All it’d take is one evil son of a bitch with the key to that thing to destroy the entire Earth! Or the Solar System! Or the Universe!
These thoughts clashed in my head.
I sipped my coffee. Griffin sipped his beer. We watched the sunrise.
Whatever was to come, I couldn’t stop it now.
* * * * * *
I spent the next couple of months living with Griffin. In that time, he spent almost every day explaining to me how The Machine worked. It was very complex, but I finally understood. I will not be explaining to you how it operates. And I hope you’ll forgive me for that, and hope you understand why I refuse to share that knowledge.
After learning all there was to learn about it, I posed the question to him.
“Do you think you could make another?” I asked him.
“Sure, it’d take me a couple of weeks but—”
“No, I mean, do you think we can create another Machine using this Machine?”
He cocked his head back. “Wow, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that.”
So, we worked for a few days, programming every detail of The Machine into The (original) Machine, and by day five, the code was complete and ready to go. I pressed enter, and there it appeared. A second Machine, right next to its partner. Its creator. Its father. Its God. Yet they were equal.
“Now we each have one, I guess,” he said.
“Thank you,” I told him.
“Thank me? It was your idea.”
“No, not for the machine. For letting me know. For teaching me about it.”
“You’re my closest—really my only, friend. I didn’t want to go about this alone.” He put his hand on my shoulder.
“So, what’s the actual plan? What are we going to do with these? Where do we start?” I asked.
“I’m not sure.”
“Do we tell anyone?”
“Hell no. Like I said before, this is a secret between you, me, and God.”
“Okay, but, think about it. Think about all the things we’ve talked about doing the past couple of months. Cleaning the air, deleting all plastic from the ocean, feeding the hungry, and traveling to Mars and beyond! Those are things that we can’t do unnoticed. It’s going to get out.”
He let that rattle around in his head before he replied. “That’s just talk, though. You know how dangerous this is. I know we’ve been beating around the bush and not talking about that aspect of this. This can’t be public knowledge. This goes beyond danger. If this technology falls into the wrong hands, it’s over.”
“Are you saying we don’t do anything?” I grunted. “So, what do we do? Sit here with a thumb in our ass looking at the greatest invention of human history and never use it for good? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I don’t know what I’m saying.” There was a long silence before he spoke again. “I just—I don’t know. We can’t not do anything with it, you’re right.”
“You’ve known about this much longer than I have. What have you been thinking about? What’s the endgame in this?”
“Honestly?” he asked.
“Honestly. Tell me all your thoughts.” I said.
“Well. Okay then. I’ll tell you. My entire thought processes. The good, the bad, and the horrific. I’ve thought about all the good stuff, like you have. Helping the hungry, the poor, all that. But to tell you the truth, I’m afraid of that too.”
“Let’s say we feed and shelter every human. Let’s add to that too, why not? Let’s give out free generators to every home and building in the world, like our houses have. And once a day the batteries are replaced with new ones. So, we have free food and water, free shelter, and free energy.”
“Well, then no one will want to work anymore. Why should they? What do they need money for? All their basic needs will have been met. That’s millions, if not billions of people quitting their jobs because they don’t need to work.”
“That kind of sounds nice, actually. Everyone would be relaxed.”
“Sure, at first. But you know who else stops working? EMTs. Police officers. Firemen. Those people that work long hours and save lives every day no longer have a reason to go in. Doctors, who study for years and step into six-figure debt willingly? They won’t want to practice medicine anymore. And school? Why go? What’s making anyone want to go? On top of that, who would teach? There’d be a billion dummies by the next decade who don’t know how to read or write. So, if we give it to the public, we’re screwed. The whole world is screwed.”
I hadn’t considered any of this. I was stunned. And he wasn’t done talking.
“I’ve also thought about using it for other things, though. Let’s say we keep this private. What would we do with it? We could use it for other purposes.”
My eyes had widened. I knew what he meant. But I still asked. “Like what?”
“Any way we like. Let’s go right to the extremes, shall we? Imagine a politician, live on TV, making some big announcement to the nation…”
“…and all of a sudden, he drops dead. All we had to do was shift his brain stem an inch to the left. Or! Or! Let’s get even more graphic! We just delete the fucker’s head right on national TV! A clean cut, right across the neck. We delete every atom in his head and boom! Gone. Dead. No one knows why. Or we delete his entire brain. The autopsy comes back and no one knows what to make of it. Biggest news story of the century! We could create a new genocide. We could create a new virus every day and spread it worldwide. We could create a fucking asteroid and send it straight into Earth!”
I couldn’t believe the things he was saying now, things I didn’t know a regular person could think. He kept on, his face was reddening, and eyes were bulging.
“Or! Let’s think even bigger! We could change the entire atmosphere on Mars. Make it just like Earth’s. Nice and stable. Then, we teleport ourselves and The Machines there. We can bring a couple of ladies and start a whole new town. A whole new planet! And we can look to the pale blue dot in the sky that we once called home—look at everything we knew, everything we loved, every ounce of human history, and burn the bitch to the ground. And when the fire goes out, we delete it, like it never existed in the first place.”
My mouth was slightly open from shock. I was at a loss for words, yes, but found my footing and spoke. “But—but you don’t actually want to do those things? Right?”
He panted a little. He was out of breath. His face slowly came back to its original color. “No. God, no. I wouldn’t do any of that. But you asked what I’ve been thinking about. And you asked me to be honest.”
“Yeah, I guess. I’ve thought about some of that too. Maybe not quite as… detailed, I guess.”
“You asked for honesty. And whether you like it or not, the human brain has its dark places. I’d never act on it. They’re just thoughts. And I was sharing them.”
“I know, Griff. I know. Just thoughts.”
Just thoughts, I supposed. Yeah, like gunning down a bunch of high-schoolers. Or flying a plane into a building. Those are just intrusive thoughts that people have sometimes. Maybe a lot of people. But it only takes one person crazy enough to act on those thoughts.
“So, we can’t take it public, and we aren’t going to be killing anyone or destroying the planet. What do we do?”
He shrugged. “We have fun, I guess.”
* * * * * *
We did have fun, for a while. We lived in nice houses we designed ourselves. We drove nice cars we created (not as hard as it sounds, surprisingly). We drank and ate in excess. And we never paid for any of it. When we wanted to go out to bars, clubs, or restaurants and pay for things, that wasn’t a problem either. Once we figured out how to create legitimate $100 bills, we could pay for anything. No one would ever be able to tell the difference, because there wasn’t a single atom out of place.
Then Griff found heroin. I do not want this to become a story of addiction. No, a story of addiction would be about a man, struggling to survive, battling out his demons, losing money, and finding a balance between substance and family. No, once Griffin found heroin, nothing else existed for him. Heroin and The Machine were all he needed.
He never had to pay for it, either. When he wanted a fix, he simply typed the command in The Machine, and there it was, ready in a nice, clean needle waiting to be stuck in his vein. He never left the house after that. Why would he? He needed nothing outside his bedroom, as long as The Machine was there.
That was one possibility we didn’t even consider. Something so simple that we both overlooked it. I would do anything to go back to that day we were camping, and make an oath that we’d never touch any drugs again. What a mistake.
Griffin died of an overdose on December 24th, 2018. I found him the next day. He never got to open his present.
How? How could a man with all the power in the universe—more power than any man had held before—fall so feebly to something so plain? He was a God walking among men and was taken down by an ounce of liquid in a syringe. He had an endless path of wonder and possibilities in front of him, and he chose not to go. He chose to stand still.
I chose not to stand still.
I was about to get busy, very busy.
I was alone. Me and my two Machines. The universe was my playground. Griffin was gone, but his knowledge was not. I had that.
Yes, I had that.
A secret between me and God.
And no one else.
* * * * * *
It wasn’t easy getting over Griffin’s death, but I’ll spare you the details of my mourning and coping.
When Griff died, I had—I don’t know—an epiphany of sorts? An awakening? I realized—I’m only human. And so was he. But we were acting like we were Gods. We thought we had everything. We broke the laws that the universe had set, and we gave the middle finger to the cosmos.
“We are the outlaws of the universe, the writers of the rules, with no police in sight,” Griff used to say.
But we weren’t. We were two humans, mortal and easily-wounded. We would die-off eventually and be a useless sack of bone and flesh just like everyone else. We just found a little loophole in the universe—something that God forgot to patch up. But with The Machine came power; there was no denying that. I was human, yes, but I wielded a weapon no one else had. It would be like bringing a nuclear bomb to a sword fight. That’s what I thought. A weapon no one else had. A tool that no one else had.
In those couple of months that passed after his death, I thought of destroying The Machine. But of course, I didn’t. I didn’t want to go back to my old life. I didn’t want to work all day. I wanted to have a good time, and I wanted to change the world.
I didn’t have a “good time” though. I was an absolute shut-in. I worked day and night for months on the solution. Let me tell you how I was going to try to help humanity. Here’s what I programmed into The Machine (roughly, in layman’s terms):
- Copy Earth into The Machine.
- Remove human beings, animals, and any sentient life from copy.
- Remove atmospheric pollution from copy.
- Remove man-made everything from the copy—infrastructure, roads, waste, etc.
- Replace man-made infrastructure with roughly the same terrain from surrounding environment.
I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but it took a long, long time to get that all programmed correctly.
And I know, there are some issues with this, but compared to other solutions I had thought of, the drawbacks were minimal. My plan was to place this edited copy of Earth on the other side of the Sun. Do you get it? There’d be a second Earth, the same distance from the sun, but on the other side of it, revolving around the same direction and speed that Earth is. Then, after I would place it there, scientists would find out quickly of its existence, and we could travel to it and start anew.
A whole new, clean planet for mankind. It was a temporary solution, but nonetheless, a solution—a step in the right direction. I was about two days out from executing the commands and placing “New Earth” into existence.
Unfortunately, something happened before I could do that.
I was sitting on my bed, staring at The Machines, just thinking. I can’t remember what about, exactly. But all of a sudden, one of them disappeared. It happened right in front of my eyes. Deleted. Erased. Vanished. Or taken, I wondered for a split-second.
But it wasn’t just gone, in its place, a note laid on the ground.
I walked over to it. It was a single sheet of yellow paper torn off a legal pad. It had coordinates written on them, and then beneath, it said: Let’s talk here.
Dread flowed through my veins and filled my brain, but I managed to stay calm. I Googled the coordinates, making sure I wasn’t about to transport myself to the middle of the ocean, or some volcano. I wasn’t. The coordinates were set for somewhere in Utah, USA. There was nothing around for miles. I guess that was the safest place to talk.
Like when Griffin told me about The Machine in the mountains, I recalled.
I put the coordinates in The Machine, and set it for me (and The Machine, so I had a way to get back) to be transported there. I hit enter.
And just like that, faster than I could blink, I was standing in a cornfield in the middle of Utah. The Machine lay next to me on the dirt.
I heard the corn stalks jostle around in front of me—and emerging from the noise was a figure, slowly approaching. He was wearing jeans, a white t-shirt, and cowboy boots. His hair was white and matched the scruff on his face.
“Hello,” he said in a deep, flat voice.
“Hi,” I said, simply.
We stood unmoving, just staring at each other. Sizing each other up, maybe?
“I assume you know why I asked you to come here.”
“Yes, if that’s what you want to call it.”
“You have one too, huh?”
He laughed at this. He laughed for a long time. “No boy, no. My Machine is right up here.” He tapped his finger on his forehead.
“How—” but before I could finish, he took the same finger from his head and pointed it at The Machine lying next to me. It disappeared immediately.
“You see?” he said, “I don’t need a hunk of metal like you do.”
I was dumbfounded. “What are you?”
He walked a little closer to me. “If you’re religious you’d call me God, or perhaps the Devil.”
“And what would you call yourself?”
“Hm, maybe a little bit of both? There’s no use for names where I come from.”
“And where is that? Where do you come from?”
“Utah.” He said that with a straight face. I furrowed my brow. It was silent. Then he busted out laughing again, harder this time. “Oh, man, oh! I almost had you, didn’t I? Utah! Ha! Me! From Utah!” He kept laughing.
“What is wrong with you?! What do you want?”
He calmed down some. “I wanted to let you know that it’s over. This whole universe thing.”
“Wh—what? What do you mean?”
“Well, the whole reason your machine-thingy works at all is because this universe is broken. I’m going to start all over.”
“Yes. Start over. Delete and then ‘let there be light’ again and all that jazz.”
“So, you created all this? You really are, like, a God?”
He shrugged. “I created it, yes.”
“Why not just fix this one? You don’t have to delete a whole universe because one guy figured out a mistake in it.”
“Maybe I’d fix it if this happened earlier. Like, in the 1200s or so, I would’ve fixed it. All the good stuff came after that, the things I didn’t wanna miss—Black Plague, slavery, the most exciting wars, genocide, etc. etc.”
“What! The good stuff? What the hell are you talking about?!”
“Oh, don’t act so surprised. You think I created an entire universe so I could watch people hold hands and sing happy songs? No, no. That’s no fun. You know what is fun? Huh? Do you wanna know what is fun?!”
His voice was growing maniacal, more wicked-sounding. I didn’t answer. I knew he would continue anyway.
He smiled wide. “What’s fun is watching your stupid little monkey brains develop over hundreds of thousands of years. One day, one of you rubs two sticks together and creates fire. You ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ over the pretty bright lights, but then you discover it’s hot so ‘ouch!’ don’t touch! And then you beat all odds against you and somehow start communicating and developing language. Building relationships. Trust. Then your stupid little monkey brains stumble upon the idea of putting food in the ground to grow. Farming! Ding! Ding! Ding! And you build little cities around those farms. You start marking whose property is whose. You begin to trade with other little stupid monkey brain communities. You do this for a long time and some battles take place, but then real civilization comes next. Rome is built! Education is more widespread, and your stupid little monkey brains are getting smarter. Empires rise and fall. Countries are resurrected and borders are drawn. Wars are fought. Your brains are now smart, you think. You build transportation—boats turn into trains, and trains turn into cars, and cars turn into planes. Your first weapons were sticks and fire—now you have weapons so powerful everyone is too scared to use them. But what never stops is the fighting, oh, how great it is to watch. You fight over invisible lines you call borders, skin color and birth location, and whose God is the right one. That’s my favorite. A fight as old as humans—which God is the real one—all the while, I sit there and laugh at you all. Me! I laugh. I’m your master. I’m your God. I’m your devil.”
I stood frozen, hesitant to move or talk—unsure if I even could.
“You see, now?” He said. “All the fun stuff is in the past now, the credits are about to roll. The climax is over and done with. In a decade or two, this world will have ended by nuclear bombs and the nuclear winter that follows. Or a little later down the line, the pollution would be so bad you’d suffocate yourselves. That’s not fun to watch. That’s boring. You see now, yes? I don’t care to stick around for that. That’s watching the credits roll. The show is over.”
I still hadn’t moved but gained some composure. I tried to ignore everything he’d said, but I still asked, “Is it just us… in this universe? Is there no life anywhere else? No other planet to keep you entertained?”
He crossed his arms. “Think of Earth as a nutrient. You eat dinner. You absorb the nutrient. You shit out everything else the next day.”
“You see, Earth is that tiny bit of nutrients that are important. The rest…” he gestured towards the sky, “…is waste. Cosmic waste—just a by-product of creating this planet. ‘Earth’ is the only thing that matters.”
I’d never felt so small in my entire life until he spoke those words. All that space in the universe, with nothing inhabiting it. It’s just us, all alone on a floating rock. I was stunned, angry, and upset. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because deleting an entire universe takes time. It’s fragile. Very fragile. I can’t have things being created, destroyed, or moving during the process.”
“Yeah? Well, what if I go home and build another Machine? I could delete you!”
He laughed again, only slightly. “You think you could do that? Sure, this form I take now is made of atoms and molecules, but I am not. I’m something your simple brain can’t even fathom. I exist beyond this universe. You can’t destroy me even if you tried.”
I felt like I was about to cry. “Why can’t you just leave this universe alone?”
“There’s only room for one at a time. Don’t take it personally, kid. You’ll still be around for a couple of months, maybe a year. Try to enjoy it. Like I said, it takes time.”
I had nothing else to say, and for the first time, neither did he.
He simply pointed at me, and all at once, I was back in my bedroom. Alone.
I sat still for a couple of hours, hoping it was all a fever dream of sorts, but I knew it wasn’t.
Now, I tell you all this only to say: do not blame me. Do not shoot the messenger. Without Griffin’s discovery of The Machine, we wouldn’t even have any warning at all.
So, spend time with your loved ones, do what makes you happy, be good to others, and live a good life—while you can.
There’s nothing we can do.
It won’t be too long until we’re gone.
A secret between you, me, and God.