Stan came into the office, bursting with his usual insufferable enthusiasm.
“Bad day, Doug?” he prodded, with mock sincerity.
Doug was wearing an expression of pain and disappointment as he looked through his reports.
“Shut up, Stan,” he replied dryly without moving his eyes from his screen.
“I can see you’re very busy, but I wonder if you could just clarify something for me. I heard a rumor…”
Doug sighed audibly. Stan wasn’t going anywhere, that much was clear. He stopped what he was doing, leaned back in his chair, and gave Stan his full attention, hoping that Stan would go away after unloading whatever insult he came to deliver.
“A rumor… and?”
“Yes, I heard a rumor that you sent a rep down there a while back. Didn’t go too well for him, did it?”
“I have no idea what you’re on about,” replied Doug, wincing visibly at the memory.
“Yeah! I’m sure it’s just a vicious rumor. You know, something made up by all those people who don’t like you. I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear it.” Stan spread a sinister grin clear across his face, seeming to take great pride in his perfect dentition.
“Listen, Doug, you want some free advice?” Stan asked rhetorically before inviting himself to occupy the seat next to Doug. Doug answered him with silence. Stan leaned in so close that Doug could smell his sulfurous body odor. He dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.
“You’re going about it all wrong. Your clients, they don’t want what you’re selling. You know what sells? Sex.”
“Yes, and violence. I know all about your sales tactics, Stan. Not interested. I’m above all that.”
“Well, you certainly know about violence! I heard you lost your cool down there a while back…”
“Never mind all that. I’ve changed. Now, go away. I’ve got work here.”
“Suit yourself. Just trying to help!” shouted Stan, leaping from his seat. Doug was trying his best to ignore him.
“Anyway,” continued Stan after an awkward silence, “I’d love to chat, but I’ve got a meeting with management this morning. Seems they want me to take on another account. Honestly, I’ll tell you, I don’t know if I have the time. I mean… I’ve already got more than anyone else here!” Stan rolled his eyes in feigned embarrassment.
“OK then… good luck with all that,” said Doug flatly, turning his attention back to the work at hand. Stan gave him an ironic thumbs-up before leaving the office.
Doug went back to reading through the morning’s reports. All the performance indicators were pointing the wrong way, as usual. He rubbed his eyes and put his head down on the desk.
The phone rang, waking Doug from his half-sleep. This was highly irregular, thought Doug. Nobody ever called.
“Yes…?” answered Doug after letting it ring a few times.
“I’m sure you know… Things are pretty bad down here,” trembled the voice on the other end. “We need your help.”
Dr. Ramone’s career path had been twisted, to put it kindly. After completing his doctoral degree in astrophysics at the age of twenty-one, he had concluded, much to the disappointment of his parents, that science could not provide the answers he sought. He started a program in philosophy at a different institution, but he never finished it. He drifted for a couple years through a haze of prescription drugs and bad existential films. Then one night, he met Phyllis at a bus stop. She was a deeply spiritual person. They had nothing in common.
They spoke about the weather at first, but the conversation quickly turned to other matters. He was drunk, looking for company, and anyone would do. She was sober, more sober than anyone he’d ever met. The distractions of his mind receded as he listened to her voice. She drew him in with her steady gaze and her gentle smile.
They both missed their bus, but they barely noticed. After an hour of conversation, Phyllis asked, “What is your name?”
“People call me Buck,” he said. Nobody had called him that since college.
When Dr. Ramone came home, he found his inbox filled, as usual, with desperate pleas for help from around the world. He switched on the TV to his usual news station, which informed him of the usual horror show of escalating death and destruction. Three hundred thousand dead here, a million or so over there, all in the most usual horrific circumstances. He popped a Xanax, locked the door, and went to bed, as usual.
In his dream, he had found the answer. Phyllis was there, and he knew exactly what to do. When he awoke, he couldn’t remember much of it, but he knew he had to talk to her. He called her, and they met for coffee.
As Phyllis spoke, he scribbled frenetically on a series of napkins. Ideas were rushing into Dr. Ramone’s head as if a dam had burst, and her words were the river pouring through his mind. It was almost noon when he looked up from his notes and said abruptly, “I have to go.”
After their meeting, Phyllis called every day, but Dr. Ramone was too preoccupied even to hear the phone ring. On the twenty-third day, he had it. It was all theory, of course, but it was correct. There was no doubt in his mind. The phone rang again, and, as if awakening from a dream, he picked up the receiver.
“I have it!” he exclaimed.
“Hi… How’ve you been?”
“Never felt better! You’ll see… I want to show you. But first, I must build it. Please, give me time.”
Phyllis finally agreed to come to his apartment in one month, and Buck set to work.
“What… is it?” Phyllis gasped as she entered the room. Her voice was all wonder and amazement, but her face betrayed deep concern.
“A prayon transduction device!” exclaimed Dr. Ramone, as if expecting her to know exactly what he meant.
It was a huge, elaborate mess of tubes and obscure hardware, taking up most of the living room where they stood. Scattered about were tanks full of various gasses, connected to a respirator, and, in the middle of the room, a seat. A sort of helmet was connected to what looked like a computer with blinking lights, which was in turn connected to a parabolic dish.
“People, doing it all wrong, for thousands of years! Hands clasped, ineffective. This… not tested, of course it works. Theory can’t be wrong. Have a seat,” said Dr. Ramone, the tone in his voice more command than invitation.
Phyllis felt somehow compelled to abide, against her better judgment. Dr. Ramone strapped on the respirator and placed the helmet on her head. “Now… think of what you would say to God,” he instructed her before she drifted into a very strange place.
“I’m sure you know… Things are pretty bad down here,” said Phyllis. “We need your help.”
“Uh… Well of course, that’s what I’m here for. How may I be of assistance?” answered Doug, remembering his training.
There was a long pause. “Hello? Ma’am? May I be of some assistance to you today?”
“Yes,” answered Phyllis, mustering all the self-control she could manage. “We would like… peace.”
Doug rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’ve heard you say that before. To be honest, it doesn’t seem to be what you really want…”
“Peace… and love!” cried Phyllis.
Doug was losing his nerve. “Look, I sent a rep down there to explain it all to you, and all he did was make things worse. It’s not my fault! Do I really need to go back down there in person, again!?”
“Yes,” answered Phyllis unequivocally.
“Ugh… fine!” said Doug, and he hung up the phone.
It was a normal day on Earth. People were going about their lives, working, doing business, suffering and killing each other, watching other people kill other people, and so on. Then the sky opened, and a voice thundered from the heavens.
“OK, let me say this one last time. Don’t kill each other. Don’t steal stuff. Don’t be jerks… I mean, come on! Was that hard to understand? Am I just bad with words??” Doug had to check himself. After his last outburst, he had been threatened with anger management classes, something he preferred to avoid.
And the voice was gone.
The people of Earth stopped what they were doing. They did not know how to answer the question. Many ideas were soon voiced concerning what God had meant by “jerk” and “words”, and most of all, “understand”. These ideas diverged, people disagreed, and the disagreements became more and more violent.
“Oh Doug! There you are. Hey, really sorry to hear about your account,” oozed Stan.
“Fuck off, Stan,” said Doug, who was managing a mop.
“Yeah… word has it they blew themselves up. That’s a real shame. They had good potential! I’m sure I could have managed them.”