The Perfect Simulation: A Haunted Tale

Last week, I discussed the difficulty of creating a perfect model of our environment. Once, I toyed around with the idea of a perfect simulation... wouldn’t it be indistinguishable from reality? What if we created the perfect model--and it turned out to actually be reality? As advanced as our technology is, we obviously won’t have to worry about this any time soon. But in a science fiction story, where plausibility is a little plastic, we can explore such questions. So, that’s what I did last year--I wrote a story. And here it is:


By Karmen Lee Franklin

The General swept his fingers through a digital cloud; grimy nails raking at glowing, intangible flecks. Intricate maps and charts dissolved into the air at his touch. The information swirled about like dust motes in the sun before blinking out of existence. The pixels obeying the hands of the General seemed a strange sight, even for the tech-savvy writer who was watching in silence. "This will be too much fun" the grotesque man chuckled. "You see, no one has ever destroyed an entire timeline before." Tightly, he clasped the dirty hand that had manipulated the ethereal maps onto the writer’s shoulder. "This is the next generation of warfare, my son... We’re going to make history here."

Or destroy it, the journalist thought, touching his data sheet to verify transcript of the quote. His opinions of the General struggled to come to the surface-the man seemed to contain an illness deep within his physical body, a corrupt and aging soul--but he knew better than to allow an inappropriate outburst. Instead, he slipped from the grasp with as delicately as possible and searched for the right question.

"Most people agree that the Y’ggurf species is a serious threat that must be dealt with, a race with nothing to offer humanity. But some argue that despite their horrendous nature, they have a right to exist. What do you say to those who oppose this project?"

The general’s eyes narrowed and he let out a forced laugh. "They ought to grow up, I say. They said the same about nuclear warfare when that was the new thing. We’re just continuing the same evolution from when we picked up sticks and rocks outside of caves and turned them into slings and spears."

A shiver ran down the spine of the writer, but he fought to stay still. "But we destroyed the Earth with those bombs, didn’t we?" "Not until we had spread elsewhere in the stars, settled on this miserable chunk of rock and other places... not until we could turn ’em into diamonds. Earth was just a dull child’s toy; ready to be tossed aside when we grew up. And so, humanity has grown up... just not all of its members," he said, leering at the reporter.

The young man ignored the insinuation and continued. "What about all of the history and art that was lost in that war? Wasn’t that important? Shouldn’t the pain we feel from that loss be a warning to us now?"

"Useless toys, as I said. Look at the sophisticated tools and technology we use today." The General gestured, signaling the charts and maps to reform. With a slight turn of his hand, the figures began to rotate, displaying new angles and forms. "Would we be where we are if we hadn’t left all of that behind? This weapon is simply the next logical step, the catalyst that will start the next reaction, the next stage in humanity’s growth."

The writer bit his lip in a failing attempt to prevent a scowl. The interview wasn’t headed in a direction that he liked. He decided to change the subject. "So, if I’m allowed to ask... how does it work?"

With a reptilian air, the general grinned, as if he were waiting for such a question. "Certainly you’re allowed. The days of subterfuge and secrecy are long over... those are some of the childish ideas we’ve left behind. Besides, it wouldn’t help the Y’ggurf to know what we are about to do... they won’t have the time to do anything about it," he stated, chuckling at his own joke. Then, he turned to the figures, slowing the rotation to a frozen frame by lifting his hand.

The room dimmed, in contrast to the General’s eyes, which were aglow. "I assume you are probably not familiar with complex mathematics and advanced membrane theory, so I will try to explain some of what you see here," the General smugly began.

"Actually, I have a degree in astrophysical engineering; that’s how I got this assignment."

"Really," the General said, doubtfully. "What in the cosmos are you doing in the media, then, my boy?"

"Astrophysicists don’t get to travel very much." The writer shrugged. "They get stuck inside writing charts like these... I’d rather get out and experience things. So here I am."

The General expressed mild surprise, and began once again. "Well, as you can see, I can fully control the project from here. In fact, we are due to perform the first maneuver in about five minutes. The control in this display is directly linked with a transmitter outside, which in turn links into the temporal-spatial unit. That’s where the reaction takes place. There’s the beauty in this baby... we can fire from here, and hit them anywhere in time or space."

Listening carefully, the writer examined the figures. Something, besides the General’s condescending persona, was bothering him, but he was unable pinpoint the source. Nothing, outside of being perhaps the most unethical plan in the universe to date, appeared to be wrong. Still, he frowned.

"We’ve had the finest minds in this side of the system working on this." The General said, raising his eyebrow at the writer in a suggestive manner. The writer assumed this gesture was supposed to inspire trust, but shuddered inwardly. Trusting this man would be a stretch. "I’ve targeted the mechanism myself... I assure you; it is quite foolproof."

"Even when we nuked the earth, we didn’t kill it. Not only did we save countless minerals, soils, and organisms when we settled these colonies, but we left the planet itself alive. You’ve heard about the studies on the massive explosion of deinococcus bacteria occurring there now, right? Earth and humanity will keep evolving, you see." The General smirked and suppressed a giggle. "But not the Y’ggurf."

The writer felt a wave of nausea rush through his abdomen. As he choked it back, the sensation was replaced with a steadily growing headache. Why did I take this job? With the pain clouding his thoughts, he couldn’t quite remember.

"When I trigger this weapon, they won’t be evolving any longer. We’re going to make a little fold in the fabric of space-time, compressing the part of the universe that contains the entire evolution of their species. This will cause their history to implode... By the time the reaction is complete, their genome will be disassembled, and their planet will be nothing more than a loose disc of gas and dust."

As the minutes passed, the General became more visibly excited, nearly drooling over his charts as he paused to make each adjustment. The sight was similar to watching a junkie preparing to get his fix, the writer noticed, like the desperate souls who flocked to sample the latest drug. It is funny how war and addiction have both followed us this far... through thousands of years of enlightenment, and across thousands of light-years in space. Maybe he’s right, it evolves along with us, he thought, nodding unconsciously.

The General, encouraged by the nod, rubbed his hands together and pressed his knobby fingers to his lips, which had curled upwards across his face in a Cheshire grin. "Exciting, isn’t it? It’s almost time, my boy. Do you have any idea how privileged you are to be present... to watch this happen? Imagine flying along on the Enola Gay... and here you are!"

The writer smiled weakly. "Here I am." Again, he wondered why. Several unseen cameras were trained on the room, of course, recording the moment for posterity. He didn’t need to be there... but, in preparation for the assignment, he begged his editor to allow him the "personal and human" angle to the story. Despite his uneasiness, he felt the General was glad to have him around, just to play before a live audience, if nothing else.

The caliginous moment came, and with a single sweep of the General’s hand, it was over. There was no flourish, no fanfare. The General and the writer stood watching silently in a unanimous, breathless pause; feeling the weight in their chests of some powerful, yet invisible force. Neither moved, until the writer lifted his finger, pointed to a group of numbers, which hung still in the air. "You made a mistake," he said.

The General looked at him, unblinking. "What? There’s no way... I told you this was foolproof."

"Take a look, over here. You miscalculated the ratio between the fourth and seventh spatial-dimensional grids by a factor of three." The writer pulled back his finger to scratch his forehead. The General stood with his mouth gaping open. "Factor in the fractal exponents in the scale... might cause... well... um..." The writer struggled with the words, focusing on an inexpressible image, dark and vast, yet solid in his mind. His stomach turning, he looked at the General. "There are no windows in here... can you show me an image of what is outside?"

Scowling, the General turned to the display and made several gestures of adjustment. The pixels of the charts swirled apart and reformed into a sphere. Spheres such as this were common, found in office buildings, amusement parks and on street corners. Used for maps, security, and entertainment, the spheres showed a 3-dimensional live image, cast on and within a globe. Except, rather than showing the wobbly trees, titanium skyscrapers and the starry, moonlit landscape outside, this globe was blank. Shaken, the General’s face turned to a pale, yellowish hue, and his wrinkles deepened. "It’s gone," he said.

"The projection equipment?" the writer asked, timidly lying, knowing the sphere was not in error.

"No... The universe," the General answered, looking about the bleak, dusk-colored room. The writer, following his gaze, became abruptly aware of the paucity of his surroundings. Drab and sparsely furnished, the office seemed to be an afterthought. The room only contained a few cushioned chairs, a small sofa, and a grayish, plastic adjustable table; nothing more. The fuscous walls, which he knew must disguise an array of equipment, were barren of any artwork or embellishment, leaving an occupant little choice but to study the display, that ominously blank sphere.

"The universe," the writer whispered to himself, no longer concerned with keeping up appearances. "We did it... humans finally destroyed the whole fucking universe." He paused, puzzled. "Wait... so... if the universe is gone... then how are we here?" Without waiting for the General, he answered himself. "We aren’t... Well, we aren’t where we were before. We are the only where that exists anymore." The writer sat down on the sofa and clutched his head, feeling his headache was larger than the bubble universe they now found themselves trapped inside.

"We did it...," the General repeated, muttering, "We are all that is..." Suddenly, he spun around, bringing the color back into his face. A sort of maniacal convulsion crept over him, and he began to laugh, quivering with each guffawing breath. "I did it... I finally won the last battle! And as a reward..." He paused, chuckling, and slapped the writer on the back with glee. "As a reward, they made me God."

The writer looked at him with horror. Oh no, he thought. First this freak destroys everything, everyone I ever loved or would love, and this sonofabitch wants to play Zeus!? Angrily, he bit his lip and weighed his options. I can’t stay here... I can’t stay and let him be God or ruler of anything. He turned and looked at the door. If there’s a vacuum out there... or just the end of all time and space... if I let it in, then we’ll be gone with everyone else. He looked back at the general, who looked alive with thirst and power. No way, he concluded. "This ends here," he said loudly.

The General stared in genuine surprise as the writer leapt from the couch to the door. "Wait!" He cried, "You can’t! I always wanted to be the biggest and now..." His face tightened, causing his jaundiced eyes to sink beneath his wrinkled brow. At the same time, his voice rose to the pitch of whining child. "You can’t!" he began, but the sound of the door flying open and striking the wall cut his plea short.

Then the door began to swirl and dissolve, very much like the General’s charts. The vanishing door was followed by the writer, who dissipated wearing a satisfied smile. The General tried to shout after him, but the air also began to dissolve, cutting his breath. He looked down at his skin and watched cells disappearing one by one, protein by protein, molecule by molecule. Helplessly, he looked away.

And so, the last image seen by the last mind, before it disassembled, was of the blank sphere, hanging in what was once midair. "Was there even a beginning?" was all it was able to wonder before the end.

i-b0c54806063d1948685bc5c6d1c52997-repost.jpgA previous draft of this story was posted on in early February, 2006. For those of you who noticed a lack of the usual image with this post: I’ll try to come up with a good accompanying photo to add after the fact... the one on the old post wasn’t very fitting.


More like this

This is an alternative ending that came to me as I read your last few paragraphs. It would come in place of the last little paragraph.

Each and every member of the Y'ggurf species witnessed it. It was the day all their prophets had foretold. The stars of the sky faded away. The firmament folded in like a scroll of darkness. A frosty darkness came down on them. And then a new light appeared in heaven. For a while it looked like the sky had become a uniformly pale silver bubble. Then innumerable little swirling lights appeared, leaving dark spaces between them and started dancing and forming into ever-changing patterns. A nice warmth enveloped them and their hearts were filled with bliss. The day had come. Y'hurr had sacrificed himself in heaven to defeat R'ggro for all times.