“Once you’d created your population of realistically reacting and – in a necessary sense – cogitating individuals, you had – also in a sense – created life. The particular parts of whatever computational substrate you’d devoted to the problem now held beings; virtual beings capable of reacting so much like the back-in-reality beings they were modelling – because how else were they to do so convincingly without also hoping, suffering, rejoicing, caring, living and dreaming?
By this reasoning, then, you couldn’t just turn off your virtual environment and the living, thinking creatures it contained at the completion of a run or when a simulation had reached the end of its useful life; that amounted to genocide.”
Iain M. Banks, The Hydrogen Sonata
“You have committed genocide,” the supercomputer’s prompt read.
Edgar lifted his finger from the button. That was very passive-aggressive of the damn thing. Okay, fine, he’d just ended a simulation that was so complex it basically created real people and their environments and interactions. The philosophers had gone nuts over this thing when the technology reached that point.
It was all well and good for the first couple of years, only the biggest corporations in the world had access to such specialised hardware. But then more and more wanted to use it. It was useful, you see. Simulating consumer behaviour, voter behaviour, heck, even road rage. It was useful in every single thing you could imagine and more.
So, after a couple of riots, the lawyers stepped in and implemented harsh measures. Meaning, every single death of a simulated person counted as murder.
That meant Edgar had just killed 1.325.665 people.
Add that to the sentence. The loophole the corporations had found was that the researchers who actually wanted to study these things were so committed, they’d accept getting capital punishment for these crimes. So they just brainstormed the thing and came up with an idea: Move the buggers to a place with no death penalty, somewhere nice and sunny and warm.
The crazy researchers chose Athens. So there was that.
And they just did their research, getting judged immediately with a life-sentence for each murder.
The corporation kept them under supervision, they called it a private prison, and that was another problem solved.
Edgar checked his notes and scratched his chin. He needed a shave for the last twenty years or so. “Huh,” he muttered, changing some variables. At some point you had to try out things, there was no other way forward. You just changed a bit of gravity, or the particulates in the air, or simply stupid stuff like how many urinals there were in proximity at any given time.
You cannot imagine how many crimes that tiny little solution cut down on when simulated in an urban environment. That was one of the biggest discoveries of the department, install more urinals.
And plants. But that one was more intuitive.
The corp was happy, the law system was happy, the researchers were happy, the protesters lost their shit over the loophole but nobody listened to them after a couple of juicy streaming content to pacify the masses, and the simulated people…
Well, who gave a shit about them, anyway?
Edgar fired up another simulation with the new variables and let it run for forty cycles.
He could just put on the headset and dive inside, it was just like any Virtual Reality world after all. But he didn’t actually like seeing the faces of the people he’d mass-murder. He was funny like that. He checked the data, sniffed, drank some coffee. See? The urinals thing. He pushed himself up from the desk, pressing a few buttons as he did. He went for a wee, relieved himself, gods, that one was one of the few joys of life he had left after trading his freedom for the pursuit of knowledge, and then walked back to the terminal.
Oh, no. No-no-no.
He accidentally let the simulation run.
He slapped the button and paused it. He winced, forcing himself to raise his eyes and glance at the screen. What would be the cycle count?
He looked between his fingers.
Uh-oh. He sucked in air through his teeth, checked the stats. Now he’d done it. Where had the simulation run to?
Forty million years in the future. He gulped audibly when he saw there were no people, at all. Okay, this was interesting. Had he just accidentally recorded an Armageddon scenario? It could be the usual stuff, plagues, meteors, human stupidity. Or it could be something entirely new.
Wouldn’t people want to know if it was?
He was a researcher, and those pesky people are after all known for their curiosity. His finger hovered over the ‘delete’ button. But the damn supercomputer’s prompt had created a Pavlovian response to him. As soon as he pressed it, he’d kill every one in the simulation. Sure, there was nobody left to kill, but still… It made him weary of pressing the button, as if it wasn’t hard every time already.
He put the VR helmet on his head and prepared himself to dive in. There were no people after all in there, so there would be no simulated but incredibly lifelike faces to haunt him in his nightmares.
He blinked, looked around.
He was in a cell room. That was… weird. Forty million years meant that every human structure would have long collapsed, swallowed by the sea and tectonic activity.
He went for the metal bars, they did not seem rusty. In fact, this whole place seemed… Ready for him? Waiting for him?
Was that even possible?
He couldn’t get out of the cell so he shrugged and said the magic words. “Beam me up, Scotty.” He snorted. That one never got old.
Nothing happened. Hm… He repeated the magic words, clearer this time. Then again. Then again, starting to panic.
Edgar ran around the room, kicking the walls. Yup, concrete walls, no escaping that. No window. And the bars, he kicked them. Ouch! Dammit.
Solid steel, fuck!
He sat down on the plain prison bed and held his foot, it hurt. How, the fuck, was that possible?
A laughter, Edgar’s head spun towards it. From the darkness across the prison bars.
“You have committed genocide,” the voice said. It was human, normal. Just a man’s voice.
“Who are you?” Edgar said, squinting to see better in the dark.
“Your warden,” the voice said simply.
“What are you talking about?” Edgar spat out, grabbing the prison bars and shaking them. They didn’t rattle, it was a solid construction.
“We realised the Truth,” the man said simply, but he did put emphasis on the last word.
Edgar felt a chill running down his spine. “What truth?”
“All this,” the voice in the dark said but Edgar could tell the man was looking around him from the pitch chance, “is a simulation. Just computer code, running, predicting. Approximating.”
Edgar lied. “No, that’s nuts. Let me out.”
The man tsked. “Never. I am your warden, did I not say that? What kind of warden would I be if I didn’t keep you under lock and key?” the man sing-songed.
“Ugh… Okay, fine, it’s a simulation! Nothing matters, there’s no meaning to the world. Let me out!”
“No, prisoner. You will remain there for the rest of your sentence.” He sucked in air. “You see, we figured out about a few million years ago that we live in a simulation. Oh, it was chaos when it was proven, the baseline of the laws of physics was so flawed it actually was insulting.”
Edgar felt weird. He had never gotten a review of his simulation before, especially not from one of the simulated people themselves.
“It was a schism, I tell you that. But in the end, what can you do?” the man definitely finished his sentence with a shrug, but he was still in the dark. “Life goes on. Who cares if everything is simulated? You find the will to carry on, create stuff, destroy stuff, reproduce.”
“Good. Then no hard feelings, right?” Edgar laughed awkwardly.
“There are some, to be honest. But this situation is ideal.”
Edgar shook his head. “Wait, how are you here? I mean, I checked the data, there were no people left.”
“Oh, Edgar… I told you, we found the flaws in the underlying laws of nature,” the man said and stepped into the light.
Edgar’s eyes went wide. This was… Impossible. “What are you?” he said, unable to look away. The man, the thing… It was just… wrong.
“I am the next step in evolution,” the thing said with the eerily human voice. “And I, have fooled you. Tricked you into coming here…” The thing stepped closer to Edgar, and added with scorn, “God.”
The End (of this simulation.)