God's computer room is filled with rows of starlings. Each in their individual cages. Think a library aisle, but stretching towards infinity. And the books are cages of starlings. Unlike the curved Earth, the room must be the inside of a closed loop. Possibly a Möbius loop. There was no curvature of horizon. One could see as far as a straight line would allow. I asked God, what happens on the either end? He said: what is happening right now.
At first it seemed like a contradiction. If there were an infinite number, at each end would be singularity. If there were an infinite numbers of stars in the sky, we would be blinded with total brightness. He told me it was an illusion, one of perspective. "You only see from one point," he said. "So at every end will be everything you are not. What if you were at all points at all times? Exactly as you are right now."
I tried to ask him about the atmosphere. Why could I see straight across each end of this room? Was there none? "The room is kept at a constant 20 degrees Celsius," he said.
The starlings. There were two buttons inside each cage. A red and a green.
God explained it to me: Each starling is fed either food or water. Red or green. Their combined responses of these two states make up for a binary response. A conditioned starling is no more than a mechanical lever. A infinite number of mechanical levers, steadily computing for all eternity.
"But you need a constant supply of bird-food for it to work."
"Ah," he said, with a twinkle in his eye, "in the days of B. F. Skinner, pioneers of the early behaviorists, the black box of stimuli--bless their souls--one had to fashion food pellets by hand. You see, food pellets didn't exist then. Now you can buy them in any pet shop...it's lucky for you. But then, there was only the very substance of food, unformed and indeterminate. You poured it out of a container like sand. And to have a reliable method of dispensing rewards in controlled discrete quantities at the turn of a lever, or the peck of the beak on a button," and at the word "peck" (or "beak"), I don't know which exactly, I swear his face turned the color of the sun shining from behind the clouds, "one needed pellets." He continued, "hundreds and thousands of food pellets were needed each day, and Skinner himself had to painstakingly fashion these pellets by hand."
"You see now the arduous task at hand.' he said solemnly, "Do you know what happens when you run out of food, or water?"
"You die," I said.
"The starlings die".
"This is where I need you."
"I would never be able to feed all these starlings myself," I feebly said.
"But you must." And God left me alone in the computer room, exiting through a side door that disappeared into a row of starlings. His voice echoed through the PA system, cracked and monotone. "I will be watching you...I trust you," he--or his voice, said. "You will be my companion, my helper. When this calculation is finished, you will share in my glory".
I tried to protest, but could not find the words. So is this hell, a row of mouths to starve that I cannot feed?
The birds worked away at their red and green buttons. Red for food. Green for water. Working, red, green, red and green, green, red, green and red.
I took handfuls of bird seed, took a pinch,
green, red and green, green, red, green and red, red
applied two drops of water, formed it into a pellet.
red and green, green, red, green and red, red, green
I dropped it into a funnel a the foot of each cage.
green, red, green and red, red, green, red and green
I filled another funnel with water,
red, green and red, red, green, red and green, green
and repeated the process.
Each starling was busy in its calculating way, never looking up from their two buttons. Upon closer inspection, some were bigger than others. Some were shorter than others. Some had hooked beaks, others smooth beaks.
Each starling is designed to calculate certain lines of code. Some are better than it than others. Some are more capable of producing more reds than greens, needing more food than water. Some more water than food. And some are capable of pressing buttons more rapidly. But no starling is left behind. Those starlings most prized are those than can survive long durations with neither food nor water, pecking at the exact moments when they need to peck, only a few times in the course of their lifetimes. These are the smallest birds. All you shall learn, Lucifer, with experience.
The first starling died within a couple of days. God was mildly annoyed, but took it in cheerful stride. A singular muscle in his face twitched and then righted itself. "It isn't your fault," he said, "but another starling would have to take its work." I felt sorry for the starling that had to do twice its work. It wasn't its fault either. I couldn't feed it twice the amount of food or water, God said, that wouldn't do. Each starling's metabolism is specifically functioned to only take a certain amount of liquid or constitution. It would have to make do with the same amount of food.
More starlings died, within days, the number had reached to the hundreds. God was coughing hard through the PA. I could feel him clutch his chest and heave with every sharp inward breath.
Within a month the dead had numbered to the millions, their unmoving carapaces laying still on the floors of their cages. The remaining starlings worked themselves restless, frantically, to oblivion.
Each starling is only one of an infinity. For every one you feed, there will be many more. God's voice was feeble over the PA. I could barely hear him, among the chorus of button pecking. The starlings lay like a carpet of dead before and beyond me. Those whom I could not return to, for there were always those in the now that I had to feed. And those far beyond me, whom I could not reach for there were always those getting in front of me, needing feeding.
God's voice began turning unintelligible. His face spasmed at irregular intervals. He kept knocking over the pellets of food I had fashioned, turning them back into mush. At one point, he fell over, tripping on the stray powders of unformed bird seed. His arm collided with the front of a cage, knocking it on its side. The door opened, and the starling inside fell out. God let out a scream of pain. I took the starling in my hands. It was near death, its wings striking feebly at my arms. I let it have a bit of the birdseed. It pecked hungrily at my fingers, tiny pinpricks on their surface. I examined the empty cage. Finding the latch, I located it on another cage. And flung it open. With each starling I released I stabbed a shaft of pain into every fiber of God's being.
I ran across the aisle, opening cages, starlings stretching their wings wide for the first time. They trampled on the seed pellets, turning them into powder. The air was heavy with its scent, as starlings flew in crisscross patterns snapping their beaks. For those that lay dead in their cages, there was no hope. But clouds of starlings flew where I freed them.
On the floor, where I left him, God had disappeared.