Angel of Doubt
Angel of doubt
Image from Bernd Helfert
by Anders Sandberg (2001)

From my nest in the fourth dimension I can see the lives of millions of people. I know that Mikh Vorgath in sector Truth 8 secretly sneaks out to watch the heatpiles arrive from orbit. I know that Barkov Kelkusat of Enlightenment 3 spends too much time in samadhi. I hear the gossip in purification chamber Calm 5-84 about the new deacons. Beneath me I see all humans. I am an angel.

I was waiting in a small holding chamber for the punishment of my crimes. There was never any point in denying what I had said and done thanks to the ubicams and mitebots. The court reviewed it all in excruciating detail. They wanted complete evidence I was a subversive, so they forced me to re-live and repeat myself again and again to the polite gasps of outrage from the jury. What I had hoped for was the chance to at least make a last statement, a rebellious last rhetorical stand. But they used court procedure against me, sending me into exile before I could make my speech. It might actually have been for the best, since I am far better at suggesting some vexing implication or logical problem with a system of thought than preach. I doubt that I would ever have even dented their self-righteous thinking with my words, they were too far gone into cemented faith to ever question even a footnote in the Web of Mir.

The holding chamber was a neat cylinder in the asteroid wall, useful both as an airlock and cell (a subtle hint that they could, but would not, eliminate me - they were all oh so compassionate). Had there been gravity it would have been cramped, now it was merely boring.

I was drifting in and out of angry sleep, too aroused by my defeat and the idiocy of my fellow humans to sleep, but too bored and exhausted to stay awake. When the patterns of light began to play over the walls I first thought I was merely imagining. But gradually I noticed that something what was going on inside the chamber. Then I suddenly became supremely lucid as I not only saw It, but also heard, felt and smelled It. I was visited by a God.

"I am Adonaj" the manifestation said directly without any theatrics. I believed it. I had never told anyone how I imagined the appearance of God, but here It was. Exactly like I had imagined. It was a supreme irony. I had argued against the tenets of Adonaism, railed against the injustices in the system and questioned both the sanity and presence of the god without even getting seraphim interested. But now, when I was a defeated subversive about to be sent to some heathen planet, then the Great Lord manifests itself.

"What do you want?" I croaked. I had hoped I could say it in a firm, slightly annoyed voice as if the presence of divinity did not affect me, the die-hard agnostic. But I couldn't avoid betraying with my voice how I felt. Of course, Adonaj could most likely see and predict my emotions before I had them anyway.

"Bishi Deretan of Truth 16, you have been found guilty of sedition, heresy of the two levels, malmemesis and illegal information management. As a punishment and protection of the souls of your fellow citizens you have been sent into exile to Davenport II. Do you consider it fair?"

"What are you doing? Of course I don't think it is fair! It might be completely, perfectly, fair according to the law, but that doesn't make it right. Your society casts out its critics, anyone not agreeing on the party line. Everybody agrees with everybody else. No wonder stupid management decisions are made like the Kroessler thing - there is nobody around to tell anybody to use their brains. I was *helping* your damn society by my questioning, not damaging it."

The manifestation listened to my ranting. It floated impossibly in the air, composed of points of light that seemed to drift through the walls - perhaps nanotech, perhaps just something projected into my mind.

"I have a choice for you, Bishi Deretan of Truth 16. You are a critic, someone questioning other's beliefs, seeding doubts in their minds and nurturing the growing ideas. At the same time you are an outsider. Would you like to continue with what you did before?"

"Are you kidding... sorry, I don't know how to formulate myself. What do you mean?"

"Become my seraph."

The whole idea was so absurd that I laughed aloud, my voice resonating in the tiny chamber. Me - a seraphim?! When only the purest of the pure, the exemplars of ethics had the chance to undergo the beatification and grow into angels. The rest had to settle for immortality in the memory. But me, a confessed heretic and freethinker?

Adonaj read my mind or simply predicted my thinking "What I offer you is the role as a special seraphim. The Angel of Doubt."

"Never heard of that angel."

"It is not widely advertised or mentioned in the scriptures." The thought was a shock. Adonaj Itself had just confessed that there are parts of the hierarchies that are not public, one of my old claims that had landed me in the court. What do you do when God agrees with your heresy?

"Within my domain people strive towards goodness, fulfilment and spiritual perfection. Some easily reach great degrees of purity, others stumble along and have a hard time refining their minds and souls. My seraphim help them along the path, in different ways. But there is one thing help cannot achieve: tempering. The greatest enlightenment comes not from the people who just naturally believe and centre themselves, for they have taken the easy road and their perfection is fragile. The man, woman or andro who has wrestled with doubts and then overcome them, they will have a much stronger faith. They know the difference between the chaos of doubt and the surety of faith, they have dared to look at the problems in their thinking and overcome them."

"So you mean I should seed doubts in peoples minds?"

"Yes. Within some restrictions of course, but in general you will be free to device piercing questions, uncomfortable scenarios and contrary opinions. That will strengthen our society and help the spiritual growth of all your victims."

"Are you not afraid I will use this to spread a major heresy?"

"As I said, you are free. I know my faithful, and I know there is no risk for a large group of them to schism, even with your prodding. Our society is self-healing: if someone ails or has doubts, others will come to their aid. What I seek you for is to be the one that creates that doubt. Without you society would be just as static as you claimed, with no ability to resist the truly dangerous ideas when they do occur."

"No strings attached? I will just go around as usual, trying to get people to think rather just accept? You are turning me into a tool for the system I despise."

"Do you truly despise the system, or do you despise the naivety of people?" I stared at the god. At that moment I knew it understood myself better than I had ever done. There was nothing I could hide from It, neither my ambition and eagerness to grab immortality and power, my ironic spite against the believers who were not offered this option, my fear and awe of It, my horror of becoming just another part of the system that kept people comfortably dumb... whatever I would decide, Adonaj probably already knew it.

Of course, I took the chance. Even as part of me screamed at this sell-out another part of me already thought thoughts of triumph - Adonaj had given me far more ability to get people to question their assumptions than I would ever had. It has acknowledged that I was right, if not about what I said but at least in questioning.

I do not know exactly what Adonaj did, I just experienced the vastening feeling as my mind expanded into the lattices, knowledge and memory fractalising outwards and my body being reduced to an old memory. Thoughts went from muzzy imaginings to crystal clear objects that could be studied in detail as if they were abstract art objects. I now live in a world I could not have imagined even after spending a lifetime in holy interface. I can look down into the everyday world from my vantage point as if I was in the fourth dimension. No part of Flatland is safe from me, the Angel of Doubt. I can reach down and send a whisper into the minds of the faithful or send a mail to confound them. I can twist the innards of their technology to make it voice my questions and demand answers.

Most of the other seraphim avoid me. They are just the wise, balanced and unchanging religious people I despise. But a few actually seem to understand me and my role, and we occasionally meet to discuss. It is strange; they seem to be far more interesting and willing discussion partners than most people I knew as a human. In a way we are both helping each other by testing our arguments, finding the weaknesses and strengths of thoughts long before we introduce them to the humans. They try to seed doubts in my mind, and I do the reverse. Together we create immunity.

I better get back to work. Adonaj has not said anything, but I suspect I am watched - and all the other seraphim too. By not demanding anything It probably makes us work harder than we ever would have done otherwise. Not that we mind: our existence is based around whatever we love to do.

I cannot help but admire It. It has rewarded me in a way I would never have been able to imagine before my ascension, not just helping me but acknowledging my ideas and myself in a way beyond flattering, as well as giving me the chance to prove the value of my convictions. At the same time it is also an eternal punishment - I will exist as long as Adonaj wishes it. I actually does Its work for It even if I am critical of the whole edifice. It has turned me into one of Them; worse, I did the choice, I turned myself into Them. Together it makes such a fitting punishment and reward that I cannot help but admire Its brilliance.

Sometimes I wonder what my existence would have been like if I had said no to Adonaj. But over to Barkov Kelkusat - are you meditating for devotion or just for the pleasure?

Sometimes I wonder what my existence would have been like if I had said yes to Adonaj. I sit here on the beach on Davenport (imagine that - a whole sea of water!), watching the moons rise and the discbreakers clamber onto the shore to look for algae. A few small points of light above the constellation Upali are the only sign of my past home. Now I am a citizen of the Free Archipelago, what we exiles call our ramshackle little town on the edge of the Crater Sea.

Meeting fellow heretics and malcontents was an eye-opener. For the first time I could participate in real debates, and I quickly found both what it meant to meet real masters and how silly many of our ideas were. Sure, as Kozlo pointed out, any organised political and religious system looks good when you're nearly out of nano, but I still recognise that a lot of it was just contrariness that would have critiqued any system. So now we have a hard time getting anything done here, and I love it.

When Adonaj asked, I almost gave in. But I realised that the only way of beating It was to say no. It could predict my mind, my every decision with nearly infinite precision. It would not have asked unless there was a high probability that I would say yes. But I still had my freedom, and I acted against its prediction. A small, puny riposte the minutes before the shuttle took me away, but at that point I knew I was in charge of my life. My only, precious mortal life with no backups.

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