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The Escape

A Confrontation in Four Scenes

by David Brin




Across a dark stage, we catch sounds of a medical emergency. Muffled voices — medics fighting to save someone. The erratic flutter of a heartbeat-monitor as a LASER writes pulse-beats across the ceiling, distracting the audience as actors move into position.

We're losing him! Let's intubate and get ready that adrenaline!

Medical sounds start to fade away as the stage lights rise. We see THE DEVIL — Big D or BD — in a swivel chair, small horns on his brow, feet up on a lustrous desk in a grotto-office. To the rear stretch a row of depressing-looking office cubicles with shadows moving sluggishly within. A backdrop gives a visual impression that the cubicles go on, depressingly, almost forever.

Our human — POLO — enters stage right, stumbling at first, quaking once as the fading hospital voices shout “Clear!” and an electric tremor zaps... then fades away... The hospital sounds vanish.

Recovering a bit, Polo looks around the grotto, at first confused but curious.

Startled, Polo stares at BD. Then, as realization dawns on Polo, he nods... then wanders over to a trophy case and wall of pictures.

You can tell a lot about someone from their decorations... or their hallucinations.

Oh? How so?

No pictures of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot... any bigtime killers. What I do see are propagandists. Goebbels. Savonarola. Cable news executives... you must be proud of those.

BD answers with an accept that conveys olden times, perhaps a twang, but with aristocratic tones.

One keeps up with the times. So you know where you are? Who I am?

Who you’re supposed to be, sure. Lucifer, Satan, Serpent, Iblis, Agni, the Devil, Big D....

I like that. “Big D.” You have — or had — a knack for words.

Polo listens as heart monitor sounds rise again, briefly, to audible.

“Had?” So... I’m toast? No chance they’ll save me?

Oh, there’s a chance. It’s why you’re here. Won’t you sit?

No offense if I stand? Call it a gesture of self-control.

You’re the one who mentioned “illusion.”

I said “hallucination.”

Is that what you think I am?

Hm. “There's more of gravy than of grave about you.”

Dickens. So, I’m just a delirium, while emergency room doctors fight to save you. A hyperactive mind, keeping busy to the last. Sorry... keeping busy through a crisis.

Polo gestures at the display case.

Hence, your trophies are what a guy like me would imagine on your wall. Never mind tyrants and slayers. They're all great fibbers — beloved of the Father of Lies.

So you’re sticking with that notion? I’m just “an undigested bit of beef.” The delusion of a dying man?

Polo winces at "dying man."

I shouldn't have stepped off that curb... rushing in where my 'help' wasn't even wanted.

Polo shakes his head ruefully.

What? Oh yeah. Whether you're a delusion. Yeah. Pretty much.

Actually, it’s kind of important that you at least consider.

Consider what?

That I might be real. All this might be real.

Why is that important?

Because only then would this have legality. Please, do sit.

Big D uses his cane to push a thick paper-binder across the desk — a contract. Polo comes around to sit in the guest chair... rickety, with one leg slightly short. He flips to the first page, then looks up sharply.

A contract. With the Devil. Really? This cliché?

“Clichés” tend to have a basis. Someone first said “To be, or not to be...”

Nah. Shakespeare heard it from a guy who heard it from Homer... who heard it from Toomak the caveman.

Polo taps the contract.

Why me? A lapsed scientist and literary meddler?

Let's say I have uses for your talents. I’m willing to pay.

So I'm special?

BD (laughs)
In some ways. Though less than your well-groomed ego would have you believe.

You offer deals to others?

Some. Who teeter between fates... and have useful skills. Isn’t everything a deal?

There must be a million people dying, or near death, at any moment. How can you be in two places at once, when you're...

...really nowhere at all?

So Satan can play with space-time, just like Santa?

You do persist in doubting me.

It's the only reasonable position. Look at how you just happen to fit my expectations of how you’d appear. Dapper, handsome, witty... sarcastic. Male.

Your preconceptions are easy to read. They help mold your perceptions.

Exactly! So at some level you are a product of my own, fevered mind.

BD glowers as Polo flips through contract.

Really, am I supposed to take all this on... faith?

It’s proof you want?

PERSEPHONE, an attractive female demon enters from behind the office cubicles bearing a tablet/iPad.

Thank you Persephone. Now let's see... what if we start with your bank account?

BD scribbles with his finger on the tablet and hands it to his assistant to give to POLO, who glances at the figure.

I won’t ask how you got my password. Nice. Though after taxes... I guess you have tricks in that department?

My favorite department.

Polo hands back tablet.

I'm kind of insulted.

Mere money. Worth an attempt. Let’s try something else.

While BD scribbles on the pad, Polo glances at PERSEPHONE, who winks.

Really? Is this sexism normal?

I’m right here, asshole.

Sorry. I meant the question for both of you.

BD replies while scribbling.

Sexism? Normal? For most of the last 10,000 years. Blame your subconscious, in part. But I’ll be Elizabeth Hurley, if you like, or Channing Tatum. Or else...

Persephone LIP-SYNCs (MOUTHS) BD's voice-over... while BD's original body slumps.

(mouthed by Persephone)
I can talk to you from here… or conjure up Dame Edna Everidge. Margaret Thatcher. Judi Dench? ... (swings hips) Mae West? Why don't you come down and SEE me —

Okay. Okay. Let's stay classic. Minimize distraction.

The original BD rouses and resumes tapping on the tablet.

Could I have...

2nd assistant, ANTICLEA, Enters with a tray, pours a glass of water.

Ice. Good touch. So, let’s get this straight. Which devil are you? Catholic, Old Hebrew, New Hebrew, Hindu, Aztec, so many kinds of protestant.

What difference does that make to a fair offer?

The devil you know...

But my history is soooo long. Tedious.

Nonsense. I’m fascinated! To calibrate... can you create living things? That’d rule out Catholic, though you could be Manichean... Can't be the Jewish "Shaitan" ‘cause he was God's servant, never an adversary... Can you alter the course of nations, or just pump bank accounts? Cure my enlarged prostate? And what’s with that damnation thing? Do you have a quota, a set sin-score you need to get below? Speaking for all males, I hope we’re graded on a curve!

BD is typing.

I’ll be right with you. Meanwhile, babble away. Lots of folks do.

Ouch. Still, you can’t expect me not to ask. Y’know, standard puzzlers, like the Question of Evil and Pain? C.S. Lewis concocted some howler excuses for that one. Hey! Is the universe synergistic? Zero-sum? Someone else loses, for my every gain? That’d be nasty.

Polo leans toward BD.

Those horns. Nifty. Classic “lamps on the brow.” They represent our prefrontal lobes, right? Humanity’s organs of empathy, imagination and foresight! So are you Prometheus too?

Polo sits back and sighs.

I am babbling. Must be something they injected in the hospital.

BD finishes tapping on the tablet. Hands it over.

I love these. It saves all that tedious snapping of fingers.

POLO’s mouth opens... and closes. He studies the tablet, taps around.

Wow, your wifi is... really fast.

Naturally. We incubated Xfinity, Sky, Cox... all of them down here. Actually incubated, from demon-eggs. Even kept the call-centers in-house.

BD gestures at the apparent ocean of dull cubicles. Polo glances at shadows moving sluggishly and stooped beyond the partition, seems tempted to comment, then turns back to the tablet.

So... you changed my Wikipedia page. Your powers are truly wondrous, oh Great One. Heck I could do that... Oh, you mean all this new stuff would be... true?

True schmoo. It’ll be true to others, in the reality where you waken. And no, I don't do The Matrix. I’m up on your sci fi lingo.

POLO puts the tablet on the desk and sits back.

You mentioned Bedazzled. In that flick Satan has a wager with God. So is this...

None of that is it your concern!

No? You want me to work for you... but I can't ask about my job? Or my boss? That seems petty.

Are you trying to enrage me? Why, I could...

Could what? Are you annoyed by a mortal’s curiosity? Either that verifies you’re petty... Or else you're a much larger being, only pretending to be crabby.

And the difference that makes...

...is huge! You’ve shown me there are steep hierarchies above humanity. Even some atheists long suspected as much.

So, you finally admit...

If you are some dismal, petty, pseudo-uber-man who reacts to verbal insults, that proves you feel close to my level. Which implies there must be other levels above yours.

Oh, so now you’re going to pray?

I see that bores you. What fraction of folks do that?

By this point? About half. Another quarter have already signed the contract.

Interesting. You seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the Other Fellow. So if you don’t mind... and even if you do... I think I’ll aim my appeal above Him.

THE END of this sample

The Escape

about this book

One of the oldest notions in fantasy is a hero's confrontation with the supernatural. Humans are forever pondering some way to change the hand they're dealt. From Gilgamesh and Odysseus to Faust and Daniel Webster, fascinating characters have tried arguing with fate or divine will... or the Devil. In the genre of "debating the devil," The Escape takes a hyper-modernist and rather science-fictional take on that theme, reshuffling the deck and challenging the Grand Order of Things.

Copyright © 2020 by David Brin. All rights reserved.

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giving the devil its due

letting others have their say

The Sandman, vol. 1, by Neil Gaiman

The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov

Paradise Lost, by John Milton

The Devil You Know, by K. J. Parker

The Devil's Detective, by Simon Kurtz Unsworth

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy

The Devil and Miss Prym, by Paulo Coelho

Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett



a brief intro to author David Brin


David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!).
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shorter fiction

Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form.
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David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research.
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Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.
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Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.
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Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was appraised as "#1 influencer" in Onalytica's Top 100 report of Artificial Intelligence influencers, brands & publications. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others.
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