I woke up trying to remember what I 'd been worrying about as I went to bed. That was it: at the bank that employed me, they’d asked me to ignore a budget entry and with the shining examples of Jean-Luc Picard & Richard Feynman in my head, I couldn’t do it, and when it came to it, resignation was a blessed relief. The discovery in the following weeks that no one else would employ me was less of a relief.
The doorbell rang and I crawled out of bed and stumbled over to the front door habitually kicking at last night’s beer cans, that, oddly, didn’t seem to exist anymore. The postman stood there bathed in the morning sunlight, smiling, like an advert.
'Good morning!' he said. His enthusiasm made my head hurt.
'Is it? Sorry, for me it's just an opportunity to realise that I'm unemployed and trapped alone in a world getting madder by the minute!'
'I'm here to deliver a gift.' he said.
'It must be a very small one' I replied looking around his person. 'So small, in fact, that I can't see it.'
'Actually it's so HUGE that you can't see it.'
He didn't look mad, more like a religious canvasser, with an air of 'God'll look after me, I'm all right Jack'.
'Look, sorry, I'm not in the mood for jokes.'
'No joke. I'm here to tell you that you are now in a better universe.'
He proudly indicated the early morning suburban road as if he’d just produced it from a hat.
I regarded him seriously.
'Very good. I suppose you want me to pay for it..?'
I paused, as I watched the symptoms of brain activity cross his face, then said
'..in which case I'll have to take the black and white version, I'm afraid.'
He seemed rather puzzled by this.
'It only comes in colour.'
'That's convenient isn't it? What's the cost then for living in a colour universe?'
'You work and die.'
'Oh. That seems a bit harsh.'
'It's balanced by the gift of life isn't it?'
'Depends how much you enjoy life I suppose.'
'Well, enjoy it then!' he said, a bit shortly.
'I will, thank you. Oh, do you want a biscuit before you head off back to the mental home?'
'You have a very dry sense of humour, sir. Enjoy your new universe!'
With that, he winked, turned on his heals and walked off down the pathway, which was flanked by spring crocuses. This surprised me, because I didn't remember having a pathway.
Hardly had I slammed the door furiously at his retreating back then there was a phone call. I picked up the receiver. Who could be calling at 9:40 in the morning?
There was an explosion of sound at the other end.
'Dinkins? Why are you not in your office? I came to see you. Are you ill?'
'I'm sorry, I think you have the wrong number.'
'You don't fool me Dinkins. This is the dean you're talking to!'
'Well, I'm very sorry your reverence, but you've got the wrong Dinkins! I have no job!'
'Don't tempt me Jim...now get on down here prompt, we need to iron out this ExoMars proposal!'
The phone slammed down at the other end.
I was left in silence. I looked at the door and thought a thought that I was immediately ashamed of. What if this was a new universe? One in which I still had a job, and one that involved Mars in some way!? I immediately experienced a moment of self loathing. Only a delusional fool would entertain a thought like that, even for a moment. Painful thoughts were usually a cue for opening a can, or turning on the TV. It was too early for beer and so I turned on the box. It was the news. I girded myself for the onslaught of global madness.
'..the US President announced his new goals: reform of the banks, a tax-based healthcare system, reform of the UN, a Manhattan project for renewable energy, and Moon-settlement by 2025..’.
A long-idle emotion assailed me: hope. I quickly switched off the TV, grabbed my coat, and, using callback, I worked out where the Dean worked. Silly me! He wasn't one of the clergy. He, and I apparently, worked in Exeter University's physics department. I'd been there to study physics, but I'd spent too much time reading philosophy books so I had not done well enough to pursue a research career. I’d only been accepted by Van der Stolen's bank in London, but found this so mindless and amoral that I kept a moral lifeline of sci-fi books in my desk drawer and, as you know, eventually resigned.
I took the bus to the department with some trepidation. The bus driver, Frank, seemed unusually chirpy and was whistling a tune I didn't recognise. Apparently it was 'Western Spring' by Coldplay, but I'd never heard it, and it seemed far too upbeat for them.
At the physics department I asked for Dr Dinkins’ office. Amazingly there were two. In one there was a woman talking on the phone. She was attractive in a pale-skinned, scrubbed, English, kind of way. She motioned me in to sit opposite her, while she ended the phone call slowly, pulling the phone gradually away from her ear towards the cradle. She turned a 100-Watt smile on me.
'You're late in aren't you? I should have woken you.'
'Er…well…the dean phoned me.' I said.
'Jiggers! We were up late playing Divine Comedy weren't we?'
'Er. Were we?'
'You remember? You managed to get up to level 5.'
'Oh, yes. Sorry...I'm feeling a bit odd.'
'In what way?'
'I feel good. That's what's odd!'
'Well, that’s pretty standard for you I would say. Home at 5?'
'Sure, where do you live?'
'You feeling alright? We’ve been married for a year!'
I'd decided it was best to go with the flow. If I was actually going mad, which I'd decided was the best assumption, then I may as well just enjoy myself while I could. I said truthfully:
'I'd give you a lift to Ulan Bator on a lawnmower if you wanted.'
She smiled, and put her head to one side.
I smiled nervously back at this woman I was supposed to know intimately.
'Now, have some coffee! You seem unusually dopy this morning, and that's saying something! Then you’d better get to work on that Mars proposal, the Dean’s been around looking for you.'
After winking (everyone was winking at me today) she walked past me, and away down the corridor waggling her bum in a way calculated, iteratively by evolution, to attract my attention. To my surprise, for a brief moment, luminous writing appeared on her bottom as she walked, and I'm sure it said:
You performed a moral and selfless act in a universe at morality level 5.1, so we have moved you up to 5.2. Have some fun! :) God.