The number on the left counts the software agents as they are spawned, perform a trade on one electronic market or another, and then are killed. The number on the right summarizes profit. Both numbers are rising steadily.
You feel like throwing up. The man behind the insanely expensive desk, the man who had been funding your research for the last four years, it feels, only so he would be able to turn around his laptop and show you those two numbers, is looking at you with something that's neither pity nor disdain.
"No, that has nothing to do with my work," you finally say. "My research has nothing to do with finance. I'm a quantitative psychologist, not an algorithm designer"
The man doesn't smile. His voice, of all things, sounds almost didactic. "The Market doesn't care about strategies, Doctor." You don't know why, but the way he said "market" was obscene. "That's a delusion of those who think themselves clever enough to incur debts without paying them."
"I told you, I work with psychological models; I don't know anything about loans or markets. I would be broke if you hadn't been funding my research."
"Monetary debts are trivial. True wealth is paid for with a different coin." The number on the left of the laptop screen keeps rising. "You figured out how to teach software to fear death." Now the man smiles for the first time, and there's a sudden foul taste on the back of your throat.
The man pushes a check across the desk, as if passing something you had just asked for. The number on the check is surreal. The name is yours.
The number on the left of the laptop screen keeps rising. Every single increment is a program that was born and died, and between those two moments simulated awareness of being and horror of ceasing to be.
Only simulated, you tell yourself.
"Wealth," says the man, and his voice somehow smells of blood, and stone, and something else you don't want to recognize,"requires sacrifice."
You run away from the office, barely reaching a bathroom before throwing up, still holding the check in one hand.