Simulate (Part Two)

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(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?”

“Programmed?”

“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)

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Simulate (Part One)

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(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?”

“Nope.”

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)