May 26, 2020 for Alex

A Simulated Kind of Love

“Do it again,” said Lea, and Damon filled the sky with shooting stars.

They lay there in the tall grass, the late May air heavy with heat, beads of sweat dripping lazily away, and enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime show for the third time. Damon’s fingers found Lea’s, and they laced together, holding tight in rapture and awe.

“I can’t believe you found this,” she whispered. “It’s so beautiful.”

Damon just shrugged like it was no big deal. But it was. It really was.

When the last of the stars fell, Lea turned onto her side, head propped up by an arm, with the most devilish look upon her face. “What else? What else can you do?”

Damon took a moment to think. “I’m not sure,” he said. “Let me just...” He looked like he was trying to dig up a very old memory, and then suddenly, behind him, the sky changed from a deep, rich blue, to a kind of dark pink, like a grape. He blinked, looking up at his handiwork, and smiled. “Cool. It worked.”

“It’s incredible,” she said. “Can you do orange? I love orange.”

“Oof, I dunno,” he said. “I’m really bad at RGB values.”

“RG what?”

“Red, green, and-- you know what, never mind. Let’s try...” He thought again, and the sky changed colour to... a weird kind of cyan. Not quite right, but not at all orange. Damon winced. “Yeah, I’m more of an HSB kinda guy.”

“It’s OK,” she said, giving him a consolation kiss. “You can put it back. I don’t mind.”

The look on her face was so mesmerizing, he had trouble concentrating. He used the first solution that came to mind, then smiled at her and said: “Lea, I know things have been tough lately, but I...” He touched her cheek, leaned closer. “I just want you to know—”

“What’s that?” she asked, and he turned to see what she saw.

There was a second moon in the sky. A second moon. Different than the first, but bigger, and visibly moving through the heavens, like it was in a rush to get somewhere new.

“What in the...” Damon gasped, sitting up in awe. The whole sky was different: two moons, and a kind of nebula arching over half the horizon, like a celestial waterfall running along the edge of a sphere. And there, off to the east, was a starfield thicker and more vibrant than anything he’d ever seen. It was incredible, and so, so impossible.

And then the air beside them pivoted sideways, and a woman in striped pyjamas stepped into the field. Her eyes were locked on the sky, turning around to take it all in. “Well this is just great,” she grumbled. “Which one of you idiots did this?”

Lea gave Damon a sideways glance as he raised his hand, meekly, and said: “Me?”

“What was it? What command?”

“Uh...I mean--”

Scifi? Fantasy? What?”

Sky->reset()?” said Damon, and the woman’s face went blank.

“Oh shit no,” she said, and whipped around to look at the sky again. “Oh shit oh shit oh shit. Why would you do that? Are you crazy?”

“What?” he yelped. “What did I do?”

“You put the sky back to its default settings. You undid literally a millennia of customization. People have been fine-tuning that sucker for generations, and you just...blew it all up for fun.”

“Not for fun,” said Damon. “For love.”

“Oh gag,” said the woman with a massive eye roll, glaring at Lea. “Are you really so easy that a little buffer overflow is all it takes to get into your—”

“Wait wait wait,” said Damon, getting to his feet. “You know about the overflow?”

“Do I...?” laughed the woman. “Kid, everyone knows about the overflow. You’re not the first person to feel a bubble in the back of your mind and go poking. You’re just the first one to not read the help file first.”

“There’s a help—” said Damon, and then: “Oh. Yeah. I see it.” He started reading, in his mind, for all of three seconds before: “Oh shit. I broke the sky.”

“You broke the sky.”

“But can’t you fix it?” asked Lea, still on the ground and looking at the stars. “Like...reset the reset?”

“Yeah,” said Damon. “Roll back the changes?”

The woman laughed a big hysterical laugh. “You think we have commit access? Good God, man, this is a production universe we’re in! All we’re ever doing is hacking the simulation in incremental ways, seeing what happens and going from there. But this? This is just a world-class f—”

“What if I just...” Damon said, and squinted at the second moon, and poof! It disappeared. “There! See? Just a few more—”

The woman smacked him upside the head. “Stop helping. You’re making it worse.”

“What? How—”

Just then, the air to the right of them pivoted to reveal an Asian man in a nice suit and a thin black tie, completely drenched in water.

“We’ve got a problem,” he said to the woman, then noticed Lea and Damon and said: “Who’s the idiot?”

Damon raised his hand. The Asian man nodded like that was all he needed to know.

“He reset the sky,” explained the woman.

“What, like ->reset() reset?”

“Yup.”

The man stared at Damon like he was a five-footed asparagus spider on fire. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Why are you all wet?” asked Lea, still on the ground, but feeling increasingly left out because of it.

“You into physics?” asked the man.

“Doubtful,” said the woman.

“Maybe I am,” said Lea, then slumped a bit and muttered: “But I’m not.”

“You know what happens when you spontaneously create a massive celestial body less than 100,000 kilometres from the Earth? No? Tide change. Massive, massive tide change. Sea levels in the Pacific rose 500 metres in two and a half minutes.”

The woman glared at Damon, whose only response was a feeble: “Oops.”

“But you know what’s worse?” asked the man. “When you spontaneously take the stupid thing away.” He turned to the woman, apologetic and broken and said: “I did what I could with air currents, but the damage is just...it’s...”

“I know,” she said, glaring at Damon. “We’ll have to figure something out, after we—”

And suddenly, the world went blank.

Damon was still there, and Lea was still sitting on the ground, but there wasn’t really a ground to sit on. It was all just an indistinct void, with no colour whatsoever, and no sound, and no smell, and no...anything.

Lea checked left, then right, then down—realizing the concept of “down” was a little flimsy at the moment—and then tugged at Damon’s shorts. “What’s going on?”

“I...I was getting so stressed, I just—”

“Damon, what just happened? Where is...everything?

“I couldn’t—”

“What did you do?”

“I created a new universe. It was all I could think of. I think those two were going to kill me, so I—”

“But...” She stood up, looking around, and discovered her version of “the floor” was about half a metre lower than Damon’s. Also, on a slight angle. “What about...Earth?”

“It still exists. I think. It’s just in a different namespace.”

“A what?”

“They’re in a bubble, we’re in a bubble. Same basic idea, but different implementations.” He looked around some more. “I just thought it would init with a little...more.”

“Can we go back?” she asked, panic starting to set in. “I mean, can we go back home? To our regular universe?”

Damon thought of what that regular universe would look like very soon, and all the trouble he’d be in if he did go back, and he came up with a better solution: “We don’t need to go back. We can make this universe anything we like. It can be ours...”

Lea, despite her misgivings, seemed intrigued by the idea. “Like how?”

“The sky,” he said. “I’ll find you the perfect shade of orange...” He thought very, very hard, and changed the sky to 255, 160, 0, and...

All around them, everything was on fire.

“No!” screamed Lea, grabbing onto his legs for dear life. “Stop it! Stop! Stop stop stop!”

Damon reset the sky, which was more like his previous disaster, with two moons, the nebula, the starfield, and a blazing sun floating precariously below them—at which point he realized there was no Earth beneath them, and got some wicked vertigo very, very suddenly.

He initialized the Earth, and things got a lot less scary.

He sat down next to Lea, on the pre-organic volcanic rock that made up everything around them, and sighed. “This is harder than I thought. There’s just so many moving parts in our day-to-day lives that have to be aligned just right for anything normal to exist, it’s insane. Like the grass, right? I want to grow grass—I tried to start growing grass—but that means I need soil, which means I need erosion, and biological material, and—”

“I miss home,” she said, staring off at the twinkling nebula. “I miss...home.”

Damon had an idea. More of a goal, really, but something to hold onto. “Champagne,” he said. “I’ll get us some champagne. It’ll just take a little prep work...soil, vegetation, weather patterns, the Champagne region of France...”

“Really, Damon, it’s fine of—”

“No,” he said. “I can do it. I just...” He frowned, because in this list of available commands for the entire universe, there was one called champagne->MakeBottle(). “Huh. Would you look at that...”

He called a bottle of champagne, and suddenly the woman in the striped pyjamas and the Asian man were standing next to them.

“Told you,” said the woman, to the man, and held out her hand. “Ten bucks.”

Damon was back on his feet, ready to fight or run or do something effective for a change. “I’m not going back,” he said. “I can’t go back.”

“Well you can’t stay here,” said the woman. “This is a shared server universe, kid. The more instances you run, the slower we all get. You know what happened the last time someone tried to branch their own reality?”

“Scientology,” said the man.

“What? No. The time before that.”

“Ohhhh...” said the man. “The Dark Ages.”

“Exactly,” she said. “The world got so slow, years were passing but nobody was accomplishing anything. Took a monk two hundred years to write a single book. Real mess. Nobody liked it. We’re not doing that again.”

“But...” said Damon. “But what if we live simply? Just the two of us, in a really basic no-frills Earth?”

Lea looked a little uncertain about that idea.

“No, that won’t work,” said the woman. “You think you’ll live simply, and then you’ll remember what it was like to drive down the freeway with the top down, and all of sudden you’re creating asphalt and combustion engines and San Francisco and meanwhile, over in the real universe, we’re all stuck using iOS 13 for the next 400 years. Thanks but no thanks. You’re coming w-w-w-w—”

The woman seemed to be stalled. She was making jerking motions, back and forth, like she was skipping frames, stuck in a loop. Damon got to his feet, and Lea did, too, and noticed the man was also frozen, and the shimmering of the stars was a little more erratic, a little less controlled.

“Uh oh,” Damon said under his breath. “I think I made it worse.”

“How?” asked Lea. “What did you do now?”

“Grass,” came a voice, and they both turned to see an entirely new man standing there, arms clasped behind his back, wearing a vintage Zelda t-shirt and a very stern scowl. “You absolute imbecile.”

“Uh...who are—?”

“I’m from the prime universe,” said the man. “The one that spawned the one that spawned the one that spawned these idiots, who then spawned you. I am the Original.”

Damon gaped at the capital letter. “So you’re...”

“Here to stop you,” said the Original. “Because you’re going to make them reboot the VM, and kill us all.”

“But—”

“You tried to grow grass,” said the Original. “And you were just smart enough to realize it wouldn’t work without the right conditions. So you created a recursive function to check if grass was feasible, and if not, to check again. And again. And again...”

“Yeah, but—”

“You loaded the grass module before checking states. Which takes up memory. And since the function runs ten thousand times a second—”

“Wait, what?”

“—and it will be approximately 15 billion years before there’s any soil in this area—”

“Uh oh.”

“Yes, uh oh! You’ve already written two hundred quadrillion yottabytes—”

“That’s a yotta bytes,” remarked Lea.

“—in the error logs, and the whole server is going to crash.”

Damon gasped. “So what can we do? What do I do?”

You do nothing,” snapped the Original, and then with a blink of his eyes, the entire world changed around them...

...to a kind of blissful utopia. A pleasant island in a perfect blue ocean, waves washing up on the brilliant sand, palm trees overhead, and a little house just past the forest line, with a hammock swaying back and forth in the breeze. Heaven, by any standard.

The woman in the pyjamas and the Asian man were gone. It was only Damon, Lea, and the Original, and a bottle of champagne.

“Where are we?” asked Lea.

“This is my universe,” said the Original. “I’ve created you this place, far, far far away from everything else, so you can live your perfect life, forever, in peace and safety. Whatever you want will be created. Just so long as you don’t try to create it yourself. Deal?”

Damon looked sheepish. “Yeah, OK. Deal.”

“Excellent,” said the Original, and snapped his fingers and suddenly it was nighttime again, and torches along the beach lit up, and soft music wafted from the speakers inside their little house. “Enjoy yourselves. You haven’t earned it, but the rest of us could use a break.”

And with that, he disappeared.

Damon turned to Lea, held her in his arms, and smiled. “Well, what do you think?”

“It’s not how I thought this night would go...” she said.

“I know,” he said. “But it’s pretty great anyway, right?” He and bent down to kiss her and—

She didn’t let him.

“Eternity is a long time, Damon...” she said. “And I...”

“What?” he asked. “What is it?”

“I was going to tell you. Tonight was the night I was going to tell you, but then you made the stars fall from the sky and I just...” She shrugged. “It felt like bad timing.”

“What did?” he asked. “What’s bad timing?”

She winced at him. “I’m leaving you. For Brad.”

“Hold on, you’re what?”

“He just...thinks things through, you know?” And then she turned away and said: “Person->Make(‘Brad’)” and Brad appeared before her in an open Hawai’ian shirt and sandals, arms open wide, and she ran to him, and kissed him like he'd changed the world for her.

Long after they’d retired to the house and dimmed all the lights, Damon finished his fifth bottle of champagne, threw it into the surf, and lay back to watch the shooting stars.

Memory,” he said, softly, to himself. “->clear().”


Written for Alex, whose topic was: our simulated universe.