“God made the world, but he couldn’t go into it,” Aaron told Alice as they walked along Navy Pier, sharing a puffball of cotton candy on what was, to all appearances, a date. “That’s the problem with being eternal. It’s different from being everlasting. It means existing outside time. If God were to enter the world, there was a chance he’d get stuck. Stuck in time. In temporality.”
Her hand swung next to his, brushing against it now and then. It would be easy to take her hand and hold it, to make this a date instead of their usual hanging-out session. They had made out once after a party the previous semester, less with passion than with a drunken need to be in contact with someone, but neither had brought it up since. Planet Platonic, Aaron thought. Like a B-movie title. Escape from Planet Platonic.
“So how could he get stuck in time if he made time?” she asked him, drinking her soda. Carnival lights flickered across the pale of her face.
“He wouldn’t get stuck. More like he’s too big to fit into it.”
“Like a rock so heavy he couldn’t lift it?”
“That, I think, is a strictly Christian thing to ponder. I’ve never heard a Jewish person ask that question.”
“I thought it was a universal kid question.”
“Not with us, apparently.” Since coming to University of Chicago, Aaron had reclaimed his Jewishness not as tradition but as an identifier, a differentiating datum. People understood you better when they could file you and tag you, and Aaron preferred to be tagged Jewish rather than tagged scholarship kid. “Do you want to do rides or anything?” Alice shook her head. “Anyway, there are still things He needs to get done. So he starts making angels and he gives each one a list of tasks. Powers and principalities. ‘Anpiel, you’re in charge of birds’ and ‘Uriel, you be the head of the thunder department’. They’re the way he enters the system. The world.”
“So that’s why you name the programs after angels.”
The week before, Aaron had attracted some unwanted attention on campus by submitting a program called Raphael in his computer science class. Raphael could waltz through the firewalls in the college grading database and bestow Dean’s List level grades on anyone it chose. During the class demonstration, he’d elevated everyone with a seven in their student ID number to a 3.7 GPA, then quickly switched it back. His professor had nodded nervously, then slipped away to report Aaron to the Dean of Academic Honesty. After extensive grilling, there was no evidence Aaron had ever used Raphael to permanently alter any grades and he was off the hook, albeit under unofficial parole. Word spread around campus and other computer science majors tried desperately to recreate Raphael with no luck. By the end of the week, Aaron had switched majors from computer science to comparative religion, pursuing his programming interests away from the eyes of professors who, he had decided, were probably all narcs.
“It made sense to me,” he said. “You can’t get into a computer and rattle things around in there, you have to send something in to do it for you. Like God with his angels.”
“I also thought. I mean, I’ve never been very Jewish. My mom always wanted me to be, and I’m into the cosmology of it, but the same way I think Norse creation myths are cool. The practice of it seems so old fashioned. Anyway, if I ever become a famous programmer, it would make my mom happy that I’d used something Jewish to do it.”
“A famous programmer?”
“That’s what I thought, anyway.” They took a seat on a bench, legs pressing against one another.
“So then what’s this Metatron thing you were working on? “
“Metatron is the voice of God, in the mythology,” he said. Talking about his work was one of the few situations he didn’t feel stunted and awkward. Normally terse, he would prattle about his angels for days given the chance. “There are angels who speak to humans. Announce things, tell them about God’s plans. But Metatron speaks directly to the World with the voice of God. He can tell rocks what to do, stuff like that.”
“This is a program you’re working on?”
“It’s kind of a pipe-dream, but yeah. Every computer runs an OS, right? Windows, Mac, whatever. But underneath that is the system that actually runs it. The command line. And from there, you can tell the computer what to do in a voice it can’t resist. Below every password and every firewall. If you could create a program that would speak to every computer right at the command line, you could make them listen to anything you wanted to.”
“Voice of God,” Alice said, sucking the last of her soda loudly through the straw. “So did you do it?”
“It’ll probably never work,” said Aaron. All semester he’d been picking at Metatron like a scabbed wound, almost absent-mindedly. He didn’t want to admit to himself he was working on it, because he’d have to admit he was failing. But he couldn’t stop turning it over in his mind. It was like one of those programs you can run in the background on your computer, ones that process little pieces of massive data sets or try different types of protein folding to help cure cancer. It was a tiny draw on his consciousness, slowed down his processing speed by a quarter-step. But he couldn’t shut it off.
“What would you do with it if it did work?”
“I don’t know,” he said, pushing the lid of a soda cup along the pavement with his sneaker, enjoying the scraping noise. “Fuck around with people.”
“Huh,” said Alice, staring off at the water. Aaron realized the things he was good at talking about would always stand between him and any girl in the world. Prisoner of Planet Platonic, he thought. Plan None from Planet Platonic.