Simulate (Part Two)


(Part One)


Jack stopped at the coffee place right outside the office. He rubbed his hands together, inching forward in line, eager.

“What can I get you?” the woman at the register asked him.

“A smoothie,” Jack said. “No! Wait! Iced tea! Ah, no, a mocha, but with whipped cream, and sprinkles! And that caramel syrup! You know what? Get weird with it! Get real weird with it! Make me something absolutely bizarre!”

The woman stared at him. “What?”

“Just start mixing ingredients together,” Jack demanded. “Make it wild! Pick up anything and ask yourself, ‘would adding this be stupid?’ And then add that if the answer is yes.”

The woman kept staring. “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”

“Oh!” Jack exclaimed. “Am I not allowed to do that? Is that not an option that’s programmed in?”


“Yeah, sure, it must not be possible for you to execute that command. Fine. Whatever. Mocha. Whipped cream. And you bet your ass there’d better be sprinkles on it. Oh, wow, and get me one of those sandwiches too. Nah, just half of one. I’m not that hungry.”

The woman looked one hundred percent flummoxed, but she put in the order and motioned for Jack to get out of her sight.

A guy brought the drink out promptly, and the sandwich was soon after. “Hey, hey!” Jack said. “I only ordered half a sandwich.”

The guy looked at the plate. “Oh. You don’t want it?”

“No, not particularly. I doubt I’d finish it even if some external force mysteriously were able to empty my stomach. No, no, I won’t stand for this.”

The guy took a step back. “Look, man. I don’t want any trouble.”

Jack’s eyes lit up. “No trouble! No trouble! This isn’t what I ordered!” He snatched half the sandwich off the plate and held it in the air. “Here. Eat this. Get it out of my sight.”

“Eat it?”

“Good lord, my boy! This half of the sandwich needs to be disposed of! You don’t want it going to waste, do you?” He flapped the sandwich half in the guy’s face.

“Okay! Okay! Jeez!” He took the half from Jack’s hand and nibbled it nervously.

“Faster, I don’t have all day,” Jack demanded. “Customer’s always right and all that, yeah?”

The guy seemed close to tears. He was taking bigger and bigger bites. The whole half of the sandwich was gone in half a minute.

“Perfect! Perfeeeect!” Jack said. He took his drink and looked at the plate. “Eh, I’ll take this to go.” He picked the other half of the sandwich up and then struck the plate with his elbow. It hit the floor so hard it would’ve shattered it the programmers had been ready for it.

As he walked out of the coffee shop, he noticed a professionally dressed woman carrying a briefcase. She seemed to be looking right at him.

He went to the bus stop. He was going to do it. He was going to get on a bus, go to the airport, hop on a plane, not give a damn where it went, and maybe he’d just keep going, forever! Push this simulation to its limits!

The bus pulled up right before he was about to reach the stop. He’d just missed it. Ha! Tough luck. He’d have to wait for the next one. Fifteen minute’s time. Jack finished his drink and threw the empty cup on the ground, despite a trash can being inches away from him. Who cared? The cup would despawn as soon as he was out of this loading zone. Every video game did that. It saved memory. He finished the half of his sandwich and realized that he probably could’ve handled the other half of it.

The next bus came, but apparently it was totally full, filled to the brim, people packed in like sardines, so it just drove on without him. “Funny,” Jack said. “Weird! Ha ha! That’s nuts! Surely a coincidence!”

The next bus was running late. Real late. In fact, it seemed like it wasn’t going to show up at all after enough time had passed. “Whatever,” Jack said. “I’ll call a taxi.”

He took out his phone, looked up the number, and gave a taxi service a ring. An automated message came through, saying that all of their cars were busy, and would be for hours. Ha! On a Wednesday afternoon! Gibberish! He tried calling an Uber, but it seemed they were all busy too. Zany! Ludicrous!

A car stopped at the traffic light right in front of him. “Eh, this’ll do.”

Jack opened the door and got in the passenger seat.

It was an old man driving. “What! What are you doing? Get out of my car!”

“Hey man, nice to meet you,” Jack said, cheery as can be. “Where are you headed? Airport?”

“No! I’m not going to the airport! I’ve got to get these groceries home!”

Jack looked in the back seat. Bags of groceries were piled there, but he could’ve sworn they hadn’t been there a second ago. “Really? What a convenient excuse!”

The old man was suddenly frightened. “You’re one of those carjackers, aren’t you? Please! Don’t hurt me! I just want to go home to my wife!”

“Wow, what a cliché! Nah, nah, pal, cool it. I’m just trying to get to the airport. I know it’s something of a detour, but I’m in a bit of a hurry. I need to get there before the programmers manage to delete all of the planes.”

The man’s face changed. He was afraid, thinking he was talking to a crazy person. How wrong he was! “Alright. Alright. I’ll do as you say,” the old man whispered. The light changed, and he went.

Jack tilted his seat back, his hands behind his head. He hadn’t bothered with a seatbelt. “Ahhhhh yes. This is the life. Didn’t even have to pay bus fare.”

The old man was silent, focused on the road.

A couple of vans with tinted windows were driving on either side of them. Looked like something the CIA would do in a movie or something.

As soon as they were on the highway, traffic got really thick. Rush hour wasn’t supposed to start for another half hour or so. Somebody had decided it would come early today.

The old man was shaking with anxiety. His hands were tight on the wheel.

“You know what?” Jack said. “I’ve changed my mind. Looks like I’ll be walking. Heck of a lot faster than sitting in this, right?”

Without waiting another second, Jack opened the car door and stepped out onto the highway. Everybody was giving him odd looks. He paid them no mind.

There were a lot of vans on the highway, all with the same tinted windows he’d seen before. Goofy! Loopy!

As he passed by one of the vans, making great time by the way, the door slid open on one of them. A woman stepped out, holding a briefcase. She was dressed for success, that was for sure.

“Excuse me,” the woman said.

“Ha ha! Hello!” Jack said. “You’re walking too! Crazy traffic, right? Almost supernatural!”

The woman was expressionless. “My name is Venus. I’m afraid you’re going to have to come with me.”


(Part One)


Simulate (Part One)


(Part Two)


“I think I’ve got it,” Jack said. “I’ve finally figured it out.”

Dylan looked up from his computer. “The error you were getting on the new software?”

“No, no, not that!” Jack said. He was grinning. “Life! I’ve figured out life!”

Dylan squirmed in his seat. “I see.” By now he should’ve been used to the nonsense that Jack spouted all the time.

“I was listening to a podcast a minute ago, and it was talking about living in a simulation,” Jack explained. He pressed his elbows into the back of Dylan’s chair and nudged him left and right. “Someday we’re going to have the technology to create a simulation of Earth, and populate it with life-like people, right?”

“A whole planet? That would take a lot of processing power.”

“Sure, but a thousand years in the future? Why not?” Jack’s grin had somehow gotten bigger. “So someday that’s possible, yeah? It’d be like a more realistic version of Sims.”

Dylan tossed a hand in the air. “Yeah. It’s possible.”

“If the simulation is realistic enough, then over the span of a few thousand simulated years, the people in that simulation would be capable of creating their own simulation. Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Dylan repeated. “It’s possible.”

“And it keeps going down. Simulations within simulations within simulations. Theoretically infinite! And do you know what that means?”


Jack spread his arms dramatically. “If there are infinite layers of simulations, what are the odds that we’re in the real world?”

Dylan wrinkled his nose. “Low, I’d suppose.”

“Exactly! It’s proof that our lives aren’t real!”

“Proof, huh? This all sounds theoretical.”

“But you admit that it’s possible, so if there can be simulations like that, then it’s already happened! Who knows how deep down the rabbit hole we are right now!” Jack was looking around the office, as if he were expecting a standing ovation. Clearly nobody else was listening.

Dylan clicked around his computer, pretending Jack wasn’t there for a moment, but he eventually had to ask, “What’s your point?”

Jack’s eyes widened. “My point?”

“Yeah. So what if we’re in a simulation? Life’s still life. Feels real enough to me.”

“Don’t you get it? It explains everything!”

“Everything? Name one thing it explains.”

“Why is my life so boring?” Jack asked. “Nothing exciting happens to me. No serious accidents. No serious illnesses. Maybe some minor drama, but nothing too wild. Think about it. My life has been as generic as possible. I’ll bet the simulation is why I haven’t had a serious long-term girlfriend in so long! They programmed it that way!”

“Why would the simulation be programmed to make your life boring?”

“Processor power! Too much to program! I don’t know!” Jack was ecstatic. “I couldn’t even be sure that you’re real! I’m probably the only conscious person in this whole simulation!”

Dylan frowned. “Well now I’m certain that you’ve lost your mind.”

“Processor power!” he said again. “I hear about crazy things happening to other people all the time, but never me! It’s too much to design. Hell, they probably haven’t created most of the planet. Any place I travel to, they have to make a bunch of 3D structures, and populate it with a bunch of character models! I’ll bet that’s why I’ve never left the country! I’ve always wanted to see Indonesia, or somewhere crazy far like that. And I’d look out the window the whole flight, so they have no choice but to generate all of that ocean!”

“Sounds like a basic copy-past job to me.” Dylan saw Jack’s passionate expression was unchanged. “You can leave the country if you want.”

“But they can control events! Maybe they’ll slow down my perception of time, make me freeze, so they have more time to program! It’s just a hassle for them. Maybe they planted the idea in my head not to bother leaving the country! Every time they think I’m getting close to traveling to a new location, they dissuade me, make me hesitant!”

Dylan shook his head and sighed. “I asked you what the point was, and I feel like we haven’t made any ground on that subject.”

“The point is that I don’t give a shit!” Jack exclaimed.

That made a few heads pop up in the neighboring cubicles.

“Nothing is real! I can do whatever I want!”

“Sure, you can do whatever you want,” Dylan said. “But you’ll still face consequences that feel very real. And you still haven’t given me any serious evidence that we’re in The Matrix.”

“Think about all of the things in this world that don’t really make sense,” Jack tried.

“Like what?”

“Physics! Chemistry!”

Dylan’s face drooped. “You don’t understand physics or chemistry?”

“Yeah! Like, what the hell is electricity? And radio waves! How do those work? How does the internet work? You’re telling me that there’s hundreds of gigabytes of information flying around the air all the time, invisible? Yeah right!”

“Well…” Dylan hesitated. “If you’d read a textbook once in awhile, you could understand it.”

“No!” Jack proclaimed. “No! I’m done with this office! I’m done with this job! None of this matters! I’m the only conscious man alive! They won’t let anything happen to me! They need me to stay alive for the sake of the simulation!”

Dylan pressed his palms into his eyes. “Who’s they?”

“The programmers!” Jack waved a hand. “I don’t have to argue with you. You’re just going to say whatever they want you to say. It’s meaningless!”

“I have never known nihilism to strike somebody so hard and so suddenly.”

Jack started strutting away. “I’m outta here! I’m going to do whatever the hell I want!”

Dylan considered stopping him. But this would be fun to watch.

Jack hammered his fist on the door to the boss’s office, then opened it without waiting for a reply. “I’m leaving,” he told the boss. “Goodbye!”

The boss sat up straight. “You can’t leave work an hour early!” he said.

“Why not?”

His boss frowned. “Hm. Alright. Be on your way then.”

As Jack strolled up the hall, he gave Dylan a smile and an I-told-you-so sort of look. Already he was loosening his tie and untucking his shirt.

Dylan tried to focus on his computer again, but found it difficult. “That guy needs to stop listening to so many podcasts.”

On the other end of the office, a woman was sitting with her briefcase on her lap. She popped it open, touched something inside for a moment, and then shut it again. She stood and followed Jack out the door.


(Part Two)



They had infected him while he was sleeping. Somehow the little Bugs had slipped in through a crack in the window, or maybe they’d squeezed in though the floorboards, and they’d infected him.

Jamison couldn’t stop seeing spam everywhere he went. A little pop-up would appear when he walked through the kitchen, telling him about great deals at local stores he’d never heard of. When he went by the TV, a thousand ads for shows, for movies, for illegal downloads, for torrenting, would all whizz in front of his eyes. He’d try to go to sleep, but whoever was sending the brunt of the spam was likely on the other side of the world, in another time zone, sending him ad after ad after ad for Viagra, or for prostitutes with bizarrely punctuated names. He’d been contacted by seven hundred Nigerian princes seeking to give him money.

He’d have to get his eyes removed. It was the only solution. Either that or a software patch of some kind. New eyes would cost several thousand dollars, probably two month’s salary, but a software update might make his eyes work even worse, and that was assuming they got rid of the Bugs at all.

Jamison shook his head every time another ad came up and he brushed it away. He wished he’d woken up before it happened. He wished he’d heard the little tittering of the Bug when it climbed up onto his bed. He wished he’d felt it crawling across his chest in the night, slipping into his eyelids and infecting his cyberware. But he’d slept through it, and he hated himself for it.

Every day was agony. He’d wake up, swipe away some ads, go to work swiping away ads all the while, sit at his desk and try to get work done while swiping ad after ad, and then he’d go home and just switch his eyes off, because he was sick of the things completely. He’d rather be blind than deal with another Russian woman trying to seduce him with inexcusably bad grammar.

But he needed his eyes! Jamison always liked to check his vitals in the morning, and his nutrition, but the diagrams that he brought up would always get smothered under the spam. He could barely read off his own heart rate under all the crap. Even trying to use his car, adjusting the settings to avoid traffic, he couldn’t trace his finger along the GPS before another ad popped up in his eyeballs, ruining the route. Jamison had gotten very good at drawing routes quickly, even if it meant a little clumsiness that sent him down a weird side-street or two.

He put up with it for a week and a half. Then he went to get some new eyeballs.

“A Bug, huh?” the surgeon said. Jamison could tell that the surgeon had a chart drawn on his eyes, the way that he was moving his hand in front of him to scroll through it. Jamison had no idea how his chart looked, because he hadn’t had the heart to check on it since he’d been infected.

“I’ve had the Bug for a week and a half,” Jamison told the surgeon. “Ten days. No, maybe eleven. It’s all a miserable blur. I can’t even remember.”

The surgeon nodded, still flipping his hand through invisible pages. “Health has been on a steady decline. Nothing serious, only minor, but the change is there. Sleep cycles are, ouch, really quite poor. My, you should have come in sooner. Your mood has been nearly at the level of a person with chronic depression.”

“I’m really sick of the spam,” Jamison said. “But I’m not sure that I’m looking for a software patch. The last update that I got made my vision a little blurry around the edges, and I think the resolution was lower.”

The surgeon paused, his eyes clearing as he brushed the chart away. “You haven’t gotten a patch since that one? That was quite some time ago. You should be keeping up. That may be the reason you were infected by the Bug so easily.”

“I don’t like the patches,” Jamison said with a little shrug. “All the settings go back to defaults, and I have to relearn some of the hand gestures.”

“Only every few years is there a patch that changes the gestures,” the surgeon said. He looked like he wanted to get off of this topic. “So you’re thinking of getting a new model of eyes, then?”

“I do have some concerns about, um, cost. If there’s any kind of virus detection program that can remove them…”

“This Bug is quite advanced. If you’d kept up on the patches, security may have… Ah well, what’s done is done. I think we can find new eyes that will fall into your price range, though you may find a decrease in resolution, and perhaps fewer features.”

Jamison quickly said, “I don’t need a lot of features. Besides the health monitors and the maps, and the other basics, I really don’t use much of anything.”

The surgeon nodded, pulling up a page on his eyes. “Good, good. I think you’ll be an easy customer, if that’s the case.” He swiped his hand, brushing page after page in front of his eyes. “The very cheapest model is currently running in 720p. Quite a downgrade, but it’s on the table.”

Jamison nodded. 720p was pretty terrible resolution, but he could consider it.

The surgeon gestured at the desk between them. He’d really meant that they were on the table. A small vial of white eyeballs were sitting in the corner. The surgeon picked them up and displayed them. “All of your basic applications, three-year warranty. I can pull up a price sheet if you want to include phone calls and video calls.”

“Oh, right.” He’d had forgotten how often he used the video calls. He could go back to only audio, couldn’t he? An ad for teeth whitening popped up, and he swiped it away angrily. He’d gotten so quick about swiping away the ads, he’d accidentally deleted a couple of important emails already.

The surgeon rattled the eyeballs in front of his face. “Do these suit your needs?”

Jamison struggled to convince himself that he could handle 720p. “Show me some more options.”

The surgeon lifted his fingers to his eyes and swept forward, sending a webpage straight from his eyes to Jamison’s. “There are many options,” the surgeon told him. “I’m sure we’ll find something to suit you.”

The prices were a lot higher than when Jamison had last gotten new eyes, almost a decade ago. The cheapest option was almost as expensive as the eye’s he already had had been, and that wasn’t including the monthly payments.

After shifting through the documents for a moment, Jamison let out a long, tired breath. “Okay. Alright. I’ll take the cheap 720p eyes.”

The surgeon lifted the vial again and rattled them around. “Good. I think you’re making a good choice.”

Another ad popped up, and Jamison swiped it away.




It was getting easier, since her parents had died. When they’d fallen from that building, Carrie’s life had completely changed. Her closest relative, her uncle, lived deep in Nevada. Deep, deep, where all there was to see was hills and grass and stone.

Carrie liked the cows. They spent all day wandering around, nibbling on the brush, and sometimes Carrie would follow them all the way up The Big Hill, on the farthest corner of her uncles property.

There was a town about eight miles away, but maybe town wasn’t the right word. Town sounded too big. It was just a stop, a place to get a bite and chat with strangers. None of them were strangers to her uncle. He knew every man, every woman, every kid. They only went into town a couple times a week, and it was just to buy food, or fill up the truck with gas.

Carrie was only nine years old. Her uncle knew that she wasn’t to be trusted with any real work on the farm. All that she had to do was let the cows out at the crack of dawn, and then round them back up before sundown. It was like a game, really. Carrie went all over the land, over the hills, around the big stones, and under the one big tree on the whole property. She’d find every single cow, and she’d offer it food and let it follow her back home. It took a couple of hours to get them all, but it was sorta fun, and the cows were all really nice.

When she’d first come here, there had been seventeen cows, but now there were only sixteen. Her uncle hadn’t told her what happened to the seventeenth one. There’s a little room in the back of the big barn, a room that her uncle never let her look at. He said it was where the cows got turned into meat. Carrie had no idea what happened in that room, and she was scared to look.

Every week, a man in a big truck came by. Her uncle always asked for Carrie’s help moving all of the milk. The man in the big truck bought the milk at two dollars a gallon, which didn’t seem like very much, but her uncle didn’t mind. There wasn’t much to spend money on out here anyway.

Carrie missed talking to people, to kids, to friends. She talked to the cows a lot. Every day she gave them new names, because they were so hard to tell apart. Today the two under the big tree were named Betty and Susie. Tomorrow they might be Billy and Sally. On some days, Carrie had time to go over the whole land, all along the prickly fence, and she’d name every single cow, but she’d always forget which names she’d already used by the time she got to the last ones.

There was a time that her uncle forgot to fill up the truck with gas when he went into town, and he didn’t have enough to get to the gas station. He had to walk for miles to get a big orange container full of gasoline. It took him ages to get back home. Carrie had never really thought about how big the world was before. The hills went on and on and on and on. Before cars were invented, how did anybody get anywhere?

And it captivated her. Most days, just as the sun was setting, just before she was supposed to round up the cows, Carrie would climb up The Big Hill and look at it all. On the clearest of days, the hills never ended. She wanted to run until she found the edge of the world. But there was no edge. It really did go on forever.

On her first night at her uncle’s farm, she hadn’t slept at all. She kept thinking over and over that her life was finished, and this was some new, imitation life. She wasn’t ever seeing her parents again. She wasn’t ever seeing her school friends again. She wasn’t ever going to have new friends, not as long as she was out here.

But sleeping got easier, because it was so tiring to climb the hills all day. When the sun set, Carrie got so tired that she couldn’t think about how sad she was. Or maybe she wasn’t really sad anymore. All that she felt was sleepy.

And this was how some people lived their lives. This was how her uncle did it. There was no time to feel if you were so busy managing cows, milking, bottling, working. There was something new for her uncle to do every single day. He had to fix a leak in the ceiling, or chop wood to build a fire, or go into town for something important. He scarcely even had time to talk to her.

Carrie hadn’t finished third grade, because she’d had to move out here, and she knew that as soon as summer ended, she’d have to go to the little school in town. Wouldn’t she? Her uncle didn’t have time to drive her into town every day, and he couldn’t afford the gas. She’d asked him about getting a bicycle, but he hadn’t really told her yes or no.

Maybe she didn’t have to go to school. Maybe she never had to learn ever again. It sounded nice, but it felt wrong in a way.

It was getting easier, since her parents had died. Since they’d fallen from that building, Carrie’s life had been put on pause. Time didn’t pass out here. Every morning was the same. Every afternoon was the same. Every evening was the same. Every night was the same. Was it a bad life? She couldn’t be sure. Maybe some day her uncle would teach her new things, like how to fix a leak in the ceiling, or how to chop wood to build a fire, or how to drive into town, and someday she could own the whole farm.

But for now, life was okay when it was on pause. If time stopped, maybe Carrie wouldn’t even notice.



Steve couldn’t believe it. He actually couldn’t believe it.

He had been a straight-A student. He was in all AP classes. He was always considered the brightest guy in the class.

And then the law had changed.

The grade he had skipped, all the way back in third grade, was now invalid. Steve was supposed to be going into his senior year at high school, but he wasn’t allowed to. You can’t go into twelfth grade if you haven’t finished third grade.

So here he was, on the first day of school, sitting at a tiny desk in a tiny chair, surrounded by eight-year-olds.

Mrs. Reeve didn’t look surprised to see him when she walked into the classroom, just as the bell rang. She had likely been warned about Steve beforehand. As her eyes ran over the students, one by one, they seemed to go straight past Steve, as if he weren’t even there.

There had to be some way out of this. There had to be. When Steve first went into high school, he’d been able to skip straight into pre-calc by convincing the algebra teacher that he knew all of the material. His algebra teacher had let him take the final exam, and he aced it. Just like that, he’d been allowed into pre-calc. Maybe there was some sort of quiz he could take, proving that he knew literally everything a third grader would know.

Just as Mrs. Reeve was about to open her mouth, Steve said aloud, “Is there any way that I could, like, not be here?”

Mrs. Reeve narrowed her eyes, and the kids around him snickered. “When you speak, you have to raise your hand first,” Mrs. Reeve told him. She looked impatient already.

With a grunt, Steve raised his hand.

She didn’t call on him. “Welcome to your first day of third grade!” she said, suddenly wearing a brilliant and cheesy smile. “Don’t any of you worry. Things won’t be too difficult on our first day. We’re just going to play some games to get to know each other.”

One of the girls in the back row asked, “Who’s the big guy?”

Steve hissed at her, “You have to raise your hand!”

He was ignored. Mrs. Reeve answered, “This is Steve. He’s one of our older students. He had to be held back, due to complications he had with his high school.”

“That’s not really how—” Steve started, but he was drowned out by the muttering and giggling kids all around him. Why had he decided to sit right in the center of the classroom? He should’ve sat in the back, so he didn’t feel so surrounded. And that way the boy picking his nose behind him could actually see the board.

Do they care that a boy his blatantly picking his nose in the middle of the classroom? No. They care that the really big kid forgot to raise his hand.

“Everybody,” Mrs. Reeve said. “We’re going to go around the room, and I want everybody to say their name and something special about themselves. We’ll start here.” She pointed.

“I’m Jessica,” a girl said. “I have a horse!”

“Excellent!” Mrs. Reeve said, wearing her cheesy smile again.

“I’m Toby,” a boy said. “My dad has a motorcycle!”

“Great!” Mrs. Reeve said.

The activity continued predictably, but Steve actually felt nervous as his turn approached.

“My name is Susie, and I can make cookies!”

“Wonderful!” Mrs. Reeve beamed.

Steve cleared his throat. “I’m Steve. I’m seventeen years old.”

“Mmhmm,” Mrs. Reeve grunted, turning to the next student. Apparently the special fact wasn’t special enough.

“I’m Cody,” the next boy said. “I can do a somersault!”

“Lovely!” Mrs. Reeve said cheerily.

Steve couldn’t help but roll his eyes, yet as soon as he did, he felt embarrassed. He found himself hoping that the teacher hadn’t noticed.

After they’d finished the activity, every kid got a piece of paper and was told to draw a picture of themselves. What? Seriously? Steve had finished elementary school so long ago, he’d forgotten how stupid this stuff was. Like, he knew it’d be kinda stupid, but but this was ridiculous! He was bored out of his mind.

Two hours passed. The monotony finally stopped when their first recess started, at ten thirty. Steve dragged his feet out to the hall while the kids swarmed around him, threatening to knock him to the ground. Steve seemed to be the last person to make it to the playground while other classes spilled out of the school. Fourth graders. First graders. All of them. The play structure was coated with children.

“Who’s the big kid?” one girl asked a friend, too loudly.

“I dunno, but he looks gross,” her friend answered.

“You don’t think he’s stupid, do you?”

Steve spoke up. “It’s not because I’m stupid. I’m actually quite—”

But the girls screamed and ran away.

Somehow that was the best thing that happened during recess. A kid followed Steve around making faces. One boy called him a “baby adult.” A few of the kids thought that he was some kind of undercover teacher, and kept trying to figure it out in the least subtle ways imaginable. A couple of girls decided that he had cooties, and Steve thought it would be funny to tell them what an STD was, but a teacher overheard him and made him stand in a corner for half of the recess.

It was insane. It was impossible. How could the highest achieving student in an entire high school be reduced to this? How was he being treated like a disrespectful idiot? And… were these kids bullying him? Was that what this was? The teachers seemed to loathe the mere sight of him, so he got the feeling that he would be getting into trouble a lot more he already had.

But at least there wasn’t going to be much homework. At least he didn’t have to worry about grades at all.

It was a whole year. An entire year of third grade.

Steve wasn’t going to survive.


Migration Patterns


“Well, where is it?”

Pamela shrugged, her binoculars still at her eyes. The whirr of the helicopter’s propellers was deafening, so she felt that there was no point in responding.

“Well?” Evan said again. “Where is it?”

She shushed him, aiming her binoculars left as the helicopter turned. Evan had been flying her for almost two hours now, a much longer excursion than usual. It was easy to understand his frustration. Still, Pamela hadn’t gotten a good triangulation. The elephants were traveling northeast, and the birds were flying southeast, but where would their paths cross?

“What about the fish?” Evan asked. It might’ve been a joke. The helicopter was so loud, Pamela couldn’t even be sure if she’d heard him correctly.

“What about them?” Pamela said, humoring him.

“We can’t track them, can we?”

“Plenty of aquatic life have tracking tags,” she answered. “Marine biologists love those things. We can ask them later.” It was almost a good enough angle for her to take out her camera and snap a photograph. It would’ve been marvelous, and their boss would’ve loved it, but they had to stay focused. There wasn’t time to get the camera set up and wait for a perfect shot, not with Evan in this mood.

“Can we land?” he asked her. He might’ve been begging.

Pamela aimed eastward. They were far from any cities, hanging over northeastern Egypt. There was sparse foliage, and there was hardly any color but beige to be seen.

“Has anybody figured out why this is happening yet?” Evan complained.

“Instinct,” she replied.

They were all going somewhere. It was clear to everyone in the world. It started quietly, only noticed by a handful of researchers, noticing migration patterns changing. Some animals shifted course, going due east, others going due west. Even the sea creatures, like the whales and the fish, all suddenly changed course. The birds stop flying south for the winter. The salmon stopped returning to the rivers. They were all going the wrong way.

Other people started to notice too. There weren’t so many mosquitoes out anymore. There weren’t so many ants, or flies, or bees. One by one, families found that their cats and dogs had escaped from their houses, sprinting off without any clear reason. Birds went wild, breaking free form their cages. Hamsters tried to squeeze between the bars, break free. Fish leapt out of their aquariums only to dry out and die on the hardwood floor.

They were all going to the same place. Every single animal in the world was traveling as fast as it could to one location.

The scientists worked together, comparing data, and the military donated some vehicles to watch over the bizarre migrations, and everybody seemed to cooperate thanks to this strange, inexplicable phenomenon. Everything else in the world simply… stopped. No more wars. No more politics. No more economics. It was captivating.

They were gathering in the Middle East, right around the location of the Fertile Crescent. It had long been said to be the dawn of humanity.

“Maybe it’s the whole region, and they’re already at their destination,” Evan suggested.

“It’s not,” Pamela told him. “They’re all still moving. We need to find a herd of animals that has stopped.”

“Here’s what gets me,” he said, his words almost completely lost under the helicopter’s propellers. “If all of the animals are going to the same place at the same time by sheer instinct, oftentimes even land-designed animals leaping into an ocean and drowning because the stupid things can’t swim, why aren’t humans captured by that same instinct? We’re animals too, aren’t we?”

That made Pamela lower her binoculars. She chewed on her lip as she thought. “We’re following the animals. Seems like we’re winding up at the same place anyway, doesn’t it? Maybe the others are doing the same thing, just following each other.”

Evan shook his head. “Seems fishy.”

“There!” Pamela said. There was a circle, a great circle on the horizon. “East! Due east!”

Evan was gawking through the front windshield searching for what she saw. It was very faint, but she knew. There was a massive circle of animals, all standing around one specific point.

As they flew in closer, Pamela could tell that they weren’t the first ones to arrive. There were a couple of other helicopters landed on the uneven terrain, not a long distance off. And there were tire tracks, and sounds of commotion, and cars, and vans, and it was an incredible sight to see.

“Land,” Pamela commanded.

“Let’s get closer,” Evan said.

“Land? You’ll scare them off!”

“I don’t know about you, but I get the sense that these animals aren’t going to move for anything. They came all this way to get scared off by a couple of pesky people? I don’t think so.” Nonetheless, Evan seemed to see the sense of it and started to bring the helicopter downward.

“Who do you suppose they are?” Pamela asked, shifting her binoculars. “The people, I mean.”

“Researchers like ourselves,” he guessed. “Or maybe locals around the area. We’re not the only ones who noticed the stampede. It’s all over the news.”

Pamela gave him an incredulous grimace. “They aren’t stampeding anywhere. They’re migrating.”

Evan muttered something under his breath, impossible to hear over the roar of the descending helicopter.

As the ground grew closer, there were more people visible than she’d imagined. Hundreds had gotten here before them. Pamela couldn’t help but feel a twinge of annoyance that they were far from the first to find the location.

By the time they’d landed and packed up their gear, four more vans had driven up and parked, one of which belonged to a news team. It only made her more anxious. It didn’t seem right, all of these wild animals being gaped at like they were in a zoo. Then again, she’d shown up to gape at them as well.

The circle of animals was almost half a mile in diameter. There was nothing in the center, nothing but a big empty space on a barren piece of land.

“You’re here for the show?” a grinning man asked her as she passed with Evan close behind.

“Show?” Pamela said back to him. It wasn’t the right term at all. These people had no respect. Before long, this really was going to turn into a stampede, and nobody would be grinning then.

The man took of his sunglasses, squinting. “The show. You haven’t got the news, have you? With you flying around the past hour or so, must’ve missed it.”

“What’s going on?” Evan said, catching up. He already sounded winded from the short hike.

“A new animal,” the man said.

Pamela looked back to the circle on the horizon. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

He grinned again. “This place is sacred. The birthplace of all life. Mankind started here, and I suppose every other animal did too. And now there’s a new one.”

Pamela didn’t understand. Everything she knew about evolution and adaptation was flickering through her brain, but she contained herself. “A new animal,” she stated.

The man pointed. “It’ll appear right in the center of that ring. Instinct brought the others back home to watch. S’pose it brought you two as well.”

Pamela glanced to Evan, who had nothing to say, likely because he was still breathing too heavily to speak.

“Well,” Pamela said, “let’s go and see the new animal.”


My Favorite Robot


“I’m very sorry, Mr. Clark, but you’re dying.”

Brett swallowed. “Dying?”

The doctor adjusted his glasses. “It’s a neurological disorder. Degenerative. The longest you might live is up to ten years, but I wouldn’t get optimistic. Most people don’t even make it to three.”

Brett looked at his hands in his lap. He was clammy all over. He’d felt it in his head, in his brain, only slightly. There hadn’t been any real symptoms, just a feeling of uneasiness. He’d also been feeling dreadfully lonely, which the doctor had assured him was a classic symptom. “Is there no cure? No operation? Nothing?”

“There… is a cure,” the doctor said, as hesitant as can be. “But it is extremely difficult to, er, administer.”

“But of course I’ll do it!” Brett said. “Why shouldn’t I? Tell me what the cure is. Is it a matter of cost? I’ll pay everything I’ve got!”

The doctor was shaking his head the moment Brett had started talking. “The cure isn’t something that I can give you. It’s not medical, precisely.”

Brett wasn’t following. “Not medical,” he repeated numbly.

“Not medical.” The doctor took a breath, and then finally dropped his clipboard on the desk in front of him with defeat. “The only cure is true love.”

Brett assumed that he’d misheard. “True love?” It was silly to say it aloud. Obviously he’d misheard. Brett didn’t know much about neuroscience, but it was clearly ridiculous.

“That’s right,” the doctor said. “The only way to treat this disorder is to find true love. Of the reported cases, only five percent, maybe less, have been able to treat themselves. Despite appearances in the modern world, true love is extremely rare.”

“True love!” Brett found himself laughing. He must’ve been dreaming. “The only thing I have to do is find true love? I’ll go on some dating websites! Do some speed dating! Whatever! You said I had years to pull it off!”

The doctor coughed into his fist. “Erm, yes, I did say that you had years. Many patients with this disorder make it at least two years after being diagnosed. But you see… true love is a chemical thing. Your brain is changed by it. A very small percentage of the population actually experiences it, even if they think that they can.”

But Brett had stopped listening. There was a commercial running through his head, he’d seen it on TV a hundred times, with that stupid little jingle. “Ladybot,” Brett said. “Ladybot. You’ve seen the ads, haven’t you? Manbots and Ladybots? They’re a couple thousand bucks, but hey, that’s cheaper than cancer treatment!” He was laughing again, uncontrollably. “That’s all I have to do! I’ll buy myself a Ladybot and program her with the exact settings that I need!”

The doctor leaned forward. “It’s a possibility, but you might find—”

“It’ll work fine! You’ve seen how realistic they look these days! A good Ladybot is practically indistinguishable from a human!” Brett paused. “Maybe it’ll cost more than a couple thousand if I want the best on the market. Ah, but don’t you see?” He was grinning like a crazy person.

The doctor spread his arms. “As I’ve already told you, the treatment is not medical. I can give you recommendations, but this is out of my hands.”

Brett stood and felt compelled to shake the man’s hand. “Thanks a ton, doc. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine! I’ll be great! I’ll be cured in a month!”

Brett was not cured in a month.

“Sweetie?” he asked his Ladybot. “Can you fetch me something to eat?”

“Yes, Mr. Clark,” she said, her smile unfading.

“No, no,” Brett said, his hand over his face. “Stop calling me Mr. Clark. Brett will do just fine.”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Yes, Brett. I will get you food right away.”

Moments later, she returned with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, his favorite lunch. “Again?” he said, his shoulders slouching as he took the plate. “You gave me PB&J yesterday for lunch.”

“Of course!” Ladybot said. “You had told me that it was your favorite lunchtime meal! I can show you my data logs if you’d like.”

“No, no, no, that’s fine. It’s just… Three PB&Js in a row is a little much. Can you spice things up a bit?”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will be served no more than two lunches in a row. They will also feature spices.”

“No! No spices!” Brett shouted.

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him.

He set the sandwich aside. “Now, please, sweetie, have a seat.”

Her strangely cold flesh sat down in his lap. “Yes, Brett? How can I help you?”

“Well, ah, hm, the trouble is, you’re being a little too helpful. Do you know what I mean?”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him.

“It’s like, you know, you do everything I ask. It’s like you’re a slave, not a person. If you really want me to love you, you need to show some personality, maybe have some opinions that differ from mine.”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Brett, I do not like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They are incompatible with my software.”

“See! There we go!” Brett said, trying to make himself sound cheery. “Perfect. Just wonderful. What would you like to watch on the TV this afternoon?”

Ladybot’s head hung to its side. “It is not my opinion to watch TV, Brett. What do you want to watch?”

“Well the game’s on, you see. I’d like to watch that.” He went for the remote.

“Brett, I do not like sports,” Ladybot said. “It is not my opinion to watch this game.”

“Hm, ah, well, alright,” Brett said, his arm still halfway to the remote. “Now I feel like you’re just disagreeing with everything that I say. That isn’t quite what I meant. I think that you need to find a middle ground.”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Please enter a percentage value for future disagreements.”

“Ah, hm, well, sweetie, if I tell you a percentage value, I feel like you’re still choosing your opinions at random. I mean, I’m no expert with computers, but—”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “My opinions can be determined via a random number generator. Does this mode suit your desires?”

Brett shifted in his seat. Her skin felt a little too clammy. “Er, yes. I suppose it will do. We can work out the specifics later. But if I tell you how to act, it doesn’t make you feel all that… human?” He shifted again. “Your skin is very cold.”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Body temperature increasing. Body temperature settings will remain at near-human temperatures indefinitely.”

“Anyway, as I was saying,” Brett went on, feeling her slowly warming, “I was thinking that maybe we should have some arguments, or something. It’s normal for couples, isn’t it? We can’t be perfect. It feels too weird. So the percentage of future disagreements settings… Well, I feel—”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “I hate you. I am breaking up with you.”

“Oh! Ah! Hm. Well, that’s not quite what I meant. And you know I told you about using contractions more often.”

“Contraction frequency is set to 10%. 10% of possible contractions in the English language will be applied to my vernacular. If you wish to reconfigure the programming—”

“Ah! Hm! Oh. I think you’re missing my point. And please, can you make me something else to eat? I don’t think I’m in the mood for PB&J right this moment.”

Ladybot stood. “Yes, Brett. I will make you some tuna sandwiches instead.”

Brett drummed his fingers on his leg. “Hm! Oh! Ah. Well, I don’t quite like tuna sandwiches. I thought we’d discussed this.”

“We have,” Ladybot said. “We are having an argument.”

“That’s not, er, quite how it’s supposed to go.” Brett leapt to his feet, suddenly in a panic. “You’re supposed to make the tuna sandwich anyway, without even asking me! And then I’d get it from you and tell you I don’t like it, and you’re supposed to get offended! And then, THEN we fight! And you’ll tell me to eat it anyway, and complain about how much you do for me without anything in return, and I’ll try to defend myself, and… and…!”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “I will be in the kitchen, preparing our argument.”

Brett sunk into his chair. Just a little more tweaking was all she needed. Just a little more.