“Jacob! You are needed.”
Jacob woke up. Still blurry from sleep, he could only tell that a bright figure stood at the foot of his bed.
“Who . . .”
“You are needed.” The figure repeated. The voice was both musical and terrifying. Even after blinking the sleep from them, his eyes wouldn’t focus on the being.
“Needed for what?”
“Come with me.”
A doorway appeared in the middle of the floor, and the creature gestured for Jacob to enter. This had to be a dream, he decided, so he played along. As he stepped through the doorway, he felt the world twist and then right itself.
He found himself in a large room with screens covering all four walls. The door by which he had entered was no longer evident. The only other thing in the room was a four foot high square pillar in the center. On the top was a black button. Before he could ask another question, the figure spoke again.
“From this room, you can end the world. You need to press the button.”
“Press the button, Jacob.”
“No! Why would I want to destroy the world?”
Screens began to flicker on, and scenes of destruction filled the room. Forest fires. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Drought. Famine. War. Hospital wards.
“The world is dying. You can see it on every news broadcast. Instead of making everyone suffer through the slow demise, better to end things quickly.”
Before Jacob could even start thinking about how to respond, another figure, equally bright, appeared in the room. The newcomer spoke with a similar, but deeper, voice.
“This is low, even for you.”
“Exile, this is none of your concern.”
“Of course it is. We have an understanding. Both of us must agree to end the game.”
“Unless a human decides to end it.”
“So you brought him here to cheat.”
“I am simply giving humanity a chance to opt out.”
“You are being used, human.” The second figure addressed Jacob directly.
“I don’t understand what is going on. I was brought here to destroy the world?”
“I would advise against it, but the one who brought you here seeks that outcome, yes.”
“Misery and suffering have reached unacceptable levels,” the first responded. “Why not put an end to it before it becomes even worse.”
“So you would have them give up? Abandon hope? Take away even the possibility that they might overcome these challenges?”
“They have had decades with no appreciable progress.” The first’s voice was even and sounded matter-of-fact.
The second turned again to Jacob. “It is ultimately your choice, human. I oppose this course, but I cannot stop you. Indeed, I would not even if I could.”
Jacob looked from one figure to the other and back again, still unable to focus on either.
“I don’t want any more suffering and the world does seem to be a mess. But I cannot decide this for everyone. How much hubris would it take to think that I could?”
“But the world . . .”
The second cut off the first. “Enough. He has made his choice. You tried to manipulate the situation and failed. No more of this.”
The doorway reappeared. “Thank you for your choice, Jacob,” the second said to him. “Please return to your world.”
As Jacob stepped through, he heard the first call after him. “If you change your mind, you need only call out for me.”
The next morning, Jacob awoke in his bed, unsure of what to make of his rather vivid dream.