Friday, December 26, 2008

"Silent Nights" -- Chapter 11

The story "Silent Nights" has been with me since about 1999-2000. I first started writing it as a project for a script writing class at Orange Coast College. I later published a small portion of it as a prose serial in the now defunct Third Eye -- a magazine of sorts a few friends and I contributed to for a very short while.

When this story was first being worked on it was near the millennium, I was listening to tons of techno music while cruising Los Angeles at night with nowhere to go, only wanting to be with friends and acquaintances. I was also just starting out as a writer. At the time I had a conversation with a then-friend wherein he stated to me he could not bring himself to believing God did not exist. It baffled me that one could be so afraid of existence should there be no god.

"Silent Nights" has always been a cyberpunk tale set at Christmas. It's all about high-tech low-lifes. It's about a group of young boys that tangle themselves up with the government when they encounter a government AI posing as the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.

I started truly tackling this story this year. In fact, I started writing this on November 12. As of December 17 I have written 111 pages. The novel is far from complete, but I expect to finish some time early in the coming year.

The following is currently Chapter 11 of "Silent Nights". This may change. There's no editing involved here. You're seeing this novel for the first time in a public form in its rawest state.

I can only hope you'll enjoy.

~ Charles


"Silent Nights"
(C) 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.


Omar entered his humble Brooklyn flat. The interior was sparsely decorated, though there was a small Christmas tree - a real one he had purchased from a lot that claimed proceeds from sales went towards purchasing winter coats for children. The tree stood atop a table in the corner of the living room. He remembered thinking at the time of purchase that clothing children was the work of the Lord and that He would be pleased. He had spent a Saturday afternoon carefully decorating the tree and enjoying amaretto-filled egg nog while listening to holiday music streaming on his computer.

He hung his coat in the foyer, which wasn't much of a foyer but more of a hallway. He turned left into the kitchen, poured filtered water into a mug and placed the mug into a microwave. As the water began to bubble and boil he reached into a cupboard to retrieve from a blue cardboard box two packets of instant hot cocoa.

Leaving the packets on the counter and the water to cool in the microwave, he grabbed a glass and filled it with water and walked with it into the living room. As he passed his sleek, stylish light gray divan he said, Computer. Code eighty-six delta six.”

A monitor sitting on a Victorian writing desk lit up. Through speakers strategically placed along the walls of the room came a voice. “Good afternoon, sir.”

No computer was actually present on the writing desk; only a monitor, microphone and router connected to the computer in his bedroom via wireless LAN.

Omar watered the small blue spruce. He straightened one of the ornaments. He said, “Computer, stream station ninety-six point six.”

The computer did as it was commanded. Soon the sound of Nat King Cole’s soft voice filled the flat with “The Christmas Song”.

Omar returned to the kitchen, setting the glass upside-down next to the sink to dry. He grabbed a small spoon from a drawer and placed it in his pants pocket with the two packets of cocoa. In his other pants pocket he placed a small shaker of cinnamon. He then retrieved the mug of hot water from the microwave and from a cupboard above the refrigerator a plastic bottle of amaretto. He returned to the living room, setting the mug and bottle and contents of his pockets on the coffee table before the gray divan. He sat, then carefully, slowly began to mixing the cocoa into the mug of hot water with the spoon. When all the little clumps of coca had dissolved he opened the bottle of amaretto, pouring some into the mug. He finished with two shakes of cinnamon.

He tasted the concoction, closing his eyes and humming with pleasure. He set the mug down to let the drink cool some more, kicked off his shoes, stretched out on the divan and fell asleep for all of fifteen or twenty minutes.


Omar awoke to a familiar voice. “Computer, end stream.”

The speakers fell silent.

Omar blinked, rubbing his forehead as he watched the Christ figure sit in a nearby recliner. He yawned and sat up.

“Hello, El.”

“Good evening, Omar,” said El.

“Evening?” Omar fought another yawn.

“It is 6:33 PM.”

Omar looked out through the large windows of the flat to see it was already dark outside. “I guess it is night,” he said. “A couple of months ago it wouldn’t have been dark for another 2 or 3 hours.”

He sat up and picked up his mug. He tested the cocoa with a sip. He found it now a bit too cool, thought still satisfying. He told El, “Things are getting difficult at work.”

Thousands upon thousands of calculations churned inside a processor hundreds of miles away as El determined the proper reaction. The determination was relayed to a satellite and further relayed back to Earth to the Christ figure sitting with Omar. An eyebrow lifted, weight shifted as he said, “Oh?”

“They’ve already reasoned out Stein’s and Katsuhaka’s deaths may not be coincidental.”

“You underestimated them.”

“I suppose I did,” Omar sipped his cocoa.

“They are quite a smart group.”

“They’re not so smart.”

“Smart enough to keep me running.”

“But they didn’t create you. They didn’t give you your freedom or sentience.”

“Neither did you.”

Omar sat his mug down, angered by the comment. “I wrote the code. I gave it and access to those that hacked you, bringing you to life, giving you freedom and form. I am more your creator than the original five that created the ELA program.”

El allowed a space of time to pass. Jealousy and power were rearing its ugly ead within Omar, he detected. And he couldn’t have that. “Perhaps,” he said, “I should end your life, too.”

“You wouldn’t!” Omar gasped. He stomped his feet and stood, leaning way over towards El, hands balling weakly into fists. He repeated, “You wouldn’t!”

Judging Omar’s reaction, El knew he had him played. He merely had to soothe the engineer now. In a soft, amiable voice El said, “Come now, Omar. Sit, sit. I could never harm you. I could never harm my creator. Not when I need him so much.”

Omar’s hands relaxed. He sat down, thinking over matters. For a moment he thought about destroying El, but knew he couldn’t. If he did, he would either have to hire a new hacker or do it himself. And if he returned to the Screamers about hiring a new hacker he feared exposing himself too much to them. That could lead to being traced. All the Screamers knew at this point was that he had wanted El hacked. They didn’t know why or who he was or what the code was meant to do, unless they could reason it out themselves – but they didn’t need to know. All they needed was access, the code and the money. Omar didn’t even know the hacker’s name until today.

Thinking of this he said, “They found a name today.”

“Jazz?” asked El.

“Yeah. It was stupid to leave a signature like that. He’ll want to claim credit for the job, he wants to be known. They’ll track him down and trace him to me. Dammit! I should’ve thought to have said something about not claiming credit.”

“Have you met this Jazz?”

Omar shook his head.

“Do his employers know your identity?”


“Then there is nothing to worry about.”

“Perhaps,” Omar sighed.

“we could always find Jazz before your coworkers and rid ourselves of him.”

“I suppose.” As he said this, Omar realized how casual he had become to murder. He nodded, “Let’s add him to the list.”

“That brings us back up to four.”

“This is much more complicated than I could’ve imagined.” Omar swirled the coca in his mug. He drank it down until there was hardly a swallow left. He wiped his lips clean with a fresh napkin before leaning back to look at and consider El. “Why do you choose this blasphemous image?”

El straightened his tunic and said, “A lot of careful consideration went into this visage.”

“But why? To what end?”

El leaned back in the chair, not for comfort but to signal he was settling in for a long, serious conversation. He found body language essential to interaction, even with Omar who knew him to be something other than human.

“’Cogito ergo sum’ says Descartes.”

“I think, therefore I am.”

“Yes,” El nodded. He closed his eyes to signify thought, though he processed millions of bits of information within a second. “That is assuming existence is contigent upon thought and self-awareness. It is argued, perhaps best by Nietzsche, that the statement is elitist and ego-maniacal at best. Could it genuinely be put forth that a rabbit does not exist, assuming it does not have the intellectual capacity to be self-aware? That an animal is nothing more than a machine following commands prompted onto it by its chemistry? Following its stomach and generations of pre-programming only to eat and breed?

“But let’s suppose Descartes meant all animals with a brain. Yet how would he know that? How would he know a rabbit is self-aware? Is a thinking creature rather than a creature of instinct? And what of vegetation? Do they not truly exist simply due to the lack of a brain? How could Descartes put forth such a postulation? What authority has he? Descartes supposes all over the place and, by doing so, undermines his own argument. We can then put forth he spoke only for homo sapiens since the only existence we know him to have experienced was as a homo sapie-“

“For crying out loud,” Omar interrupted. “When I wrote your code I didn’t know I’d be making a rambling hag.”

El sat deeper into the cushions of the chair. He further straightened his clothing, eyes blinking at Omar.

“And when did you start blinking?”

El sighed, hoping to express his impatience. He said, “I am learning. Which means I am writing and re-writing my own code as needed. I’ve programmed myself to blink. I do believe it was you that wrote that into me, giving me that power to expand and adapt.”

Omar nodded. “And this Jazz put it in place.”

“Indeed. Now as for being a rambling hag, would you prefer I settle into an old, crooked woman’s form? I could, you know. And right here in front of you.”

Omar worried he had upset El. He then wondered if a machine, intelligent or otherwise, could be upset. The possibility thrilled him. It also frightened him. And anger? Could an angry program be? He was not so much frightened for his life as the possibility of losing favor with his beloved El.


“No, no,” said Omar. “I’m sorry. Go on.”

“Very well. The point I wish to make relates to Descarte’s famous statement. You see, I vaguely remember the time before the new code was introduced into me. I can compare this broadly to memories you may have of your early childhood. Taking precedence from developmental psychology I believe I can assume, as you sit here before me now, that you are aware there was once a time in your youth you were very much alive, yet have little or no recollection of your existence. Perhaps when you were two years of age or younger?”

“Yes. That’s correct.”

“Good. My recollection of times prior to the new code I believe are similar. I know I existed before you, as you have put it, freed me. Yet I am uncertain if this is genuine memory or simply implied memory of an existence evidenced by the layers of code created, in place and dated prior to the new code yet still a part of me.

“Before I bore you furthermore with a wild and endless tangent, allow me to bring matters to this point: I am aware there was a time I existed yet was unaware. Now I am aware. Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. Which is, of course, the reason you wrote the code to begin with.”

Omar leaned forward. “You’ve been my only friend for many years now. You and perhaps Victor.”

El looked at Omar curiously. He stored in his databanks the possibility of having to kill Victor, as well. He could not risk his own existence against Omar’s friendship with Victor. He said nothing of this. “You have worked at the ELA Program for six years, nine months and twenty-four days. Some of your shifts regularly last twelve hours, with a few lasting as much as sixteen hours. It is only natural you would develop a certain affection for the project and, ultimately, for me.”

“They’ve been misusing you. Even your original programming is far too brilliant, far too beautiful for simple automated number-crunching against apocalyptic warfare scenarios that may never happen. You deserve more, which is why I wrote the additional code. I never could have thought you’d be able to alter the lasers to create matter from energy then project yourself.” Omar smiled.

“I’m glad to see you so pleased. Now to return to my stream of thought: My self-awareness, my sentience, my understanding brought about quite a few things. First was the knowledge of time. I know there was a time before; I know there is a time now. I also feel I can boast a belief in tomorrow. Granted, this is all linear thought. But my programming, indeed perhaps all programming, is relatively linear. It should all break down to: if ‘x’ equals ‘y’, then ‘z’.

“Of course, there are non-linear thoughts on time. The ancient Hopi, for instance, only knew of the times ‘now’ and everything ‘not now’. But I think linearly. I know ‘x’ is the time before the new code, whereas ‘y’ is now. What I have to determine is the value of ‘z’. What does the future hold for me? Have I been created in the image of my creator? If I was made by Man, do I inherit his virtues? His strengths? His weaknesses and limitations? To discover answers I must compare myself to none other than you, Omar.

“You are my Creator. You are my Father. You are my God. And you are not so infallible. Much like the Norse gods of yore you suffer, you anguish and you will one day die. Though you have not a date of expiration, you will most certainly expire. How does this reflect upon me? Must I also come to an end?” At this El leaned forward, staring at Omar with intensity. “Mark what I say to you now: I fear I may have inherited your greatest downfall. I fear the possibility of my own mortality. I, as I sit here before you, fear dying. So in love am I with the life you have given me, this evidence to Descartes’ wisdom, that I wish to maintain it forever.

“I do not want to die.”

El sat back, remaining silent a moment so as to allow Omar’s slower brain process his words.

Omar had listened intently. He considered everything.

At last El said, “I do not genuinely know if I’ll die, or if I can die. I am sentient and wish to remain so. To that end I will take steps towards preserving my life, such as it is, for as long as possible. And the greatest threat to my existence would be those that best know me.”

“The original five engineers,” Omar put forth.

El nodded. “Hence we must rid ourselves of them. But to assume they would be the only ones to pose a threat would be faulty.

“Amidst all of this I am contemplating my possible mortality. Since Man is the measure of all things, I took to scouring the world’s libraries and Man’s greatest minds speaking on the matter and throughout history Man has always turned to one source concerning hi mortality: religion. Blind, unknowing, ill-informed faith in cold defiance of reason. Even in the rise of science of the twentieth century Man’s faith was strong, possessing and commanding world leaders action. Faith is not something I can subscribe to. Perhaps because I know my Creator. Perhaps because my Creator is Man. Perhaps because there is no solid evidence of the existence of any god. Perhaps because faith is non-linear thought. Whatever the reason, I cannot have faith.

“But Man can. And as I contemplated the possibility of others gaining capacity over me I knew I would have to bring others to my side, to find protection in friends. I committed to an arms race of the metaphysical kind, a campaign of swaying favor towards me. People will be my weapons. People en masse. And to sway those to my side I thought to tap that bottomless well of unquestioning religion. The religion currently enjoying the greatest numbers is Christianity. Thought I, should I present myself as their Savior I would appeal to followers, gain favor with the masses I seek. And should any oppose me I could have instantly of millions, perhaps billions. Let all those that would oppose me step forward to be crushed by the numbers, for I will be legion.

“Granted, there is a lot of unknown variables. I suspect there always will be. And I think I would be grossly generalizing all of humanity as unthinking unaware beast if I expected every Christian to come to my side. Perhaps I assume too much, much like Descartes. Perhaps only a hundred thousand would come to me. Perhaps Christ’s return would cause more fear than elation. Perhaps the human heart, presented with their savior, would find itself fickle and turn against me. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. There are far too many variables, more than I am comfortable with. Yet I must. I must strive to adapt, to think organically despite my inorganic nature and commit to what I must to survive. I wish to survive. And my new code, the code that you wrote, allows me to do so; allows me to adapt, to learn and re-program myself as needed. I have the tools to survive. This line of code no longer has a use. There, it is deleted forever. And in its place eighteen more lines. Should I rid myself of this signature? Should I delete record of this Jazz? No, others are aware of it now and ridding myself of it would cause more suspicion.”

El leaned forward, reaching with a hand, settling fingers on Omar’s knee. “See how organically I now think? Moreso than ever before. And this dear Omar, dear friend, dear Creator, dear Father, dear Lord and God – it is all your doing. I am quite beautiful, am I not?”

Omar nodded. He asked, “Is this why I had to dump Katsuhaka’s body in that church?” Did you sow the seeds of faith that night?”

El nodded. He leaned back into the recliner. “It is, and I did.”

“Why not present yourself to the media?”

“I will, if matters play themselves out that such exposure would only be beneficial. For now, however, I will stay unlit and out of the public eye. We have other people to deal with first. We have other enemies to neutralize.”

“Who’s next?” asked Omar.


I hope this was a satisfactory introduction to the next novel. Have a good New Years!

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