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Friday, July 13, 2018

Microstory 885: Evitable

The thing about programs like this is that you’re not meant to know you’re in a program. They hook you up, and load your consciousness into the servers, while simultaneously temporarily blocking the last day or so of your life. There won’t just be a chunk of time missing, however; you’ll have a blurry sense of being alive during that period of time, but since you don’t remember what happened, your mind fills in the blanks, to explain why you are where you are when the program begins. Most of the time, this doesn’t come up anyway, because people don’t run around rehashing their yesterdays, unless something noteworthy happened, or someone else asks about it. But for me, it doesn’t remember, because I always retain my full memories. The point of these exercises is to behave the way you would in the real world, where your actions have lasting consequences on your and others’ lives. The belief that this is all just as dangerous as anything is generally vital to the purity of the system. I never thought that I needed that, though, because the fact of the matter is that I’ve always believed virtual realities to be nothing less than parallel dimensions of reality. I’ve always cared about what happens to these people, even though they’re so-called non-playable characters. To me, just because they’re programmed to believe they are real, doesn’t mean they aren’t. Hell, we’re all programmed, in one way or the other. I’m not saying we’re living on the thirteenth floor, and just a virtual reality that happened to create its own virtual reality. I’m saying everyone grows up being taught to follow societal norms, or to rebel against those conventions. While we all decide our own morality, those decisions are—every single time—informed by our past experiences, particular our interactions with others. This is just a different form of programming. So when I walked into the mall, knowing that I was part of a simulation, that didn’t mean I didn’t care.

Everything seems normal in the mall. People are browsing the shops and eating in the food court. Kids are playing on the train, and couples are resting their heads on each other’s shoulders. A janitor walks down the promenade pushing a big, gray cart. He’s bobbing his head to his music, causing passersby to smile and dance a little with him. Then he just stops and casually walks away, leaving his cart in the middle of the rotunda. As if on cue, random people from all over the mall assemble upon the cart. Children are widening their eyes, for they’ve seen things like this before. This is a flash mob, and they’re all about to dance. But they don’t. Each of the random people reach into the cart and pulls out a gun. They start spraying bullets all over the place, shouting things like, “Trump for four terms!” and “illegals go home!” And “hashtag-NRA-Lives-Matter!” I take out my sidearm, which my current persona is fully licensed to carry as the head of a private security firm. I start shooting the maniacs in the heads, retargeting as fast as humanly possible, and desperately trying to finish them off before any more innocent people get killed. I do pretty well. Nineteen injured and twelve dead.

The programs starts over, without telling me whether I succeeded in the mission or not. I go right back to where I started at the entrance of the mall. Again, the programmers have tried to wipe my memories, so I won’t have the benefit of forethought, but my brain just doesn’t accept that. Still, in order to preserve this concept, I watch the janitor head for his mark with as much patience as before, determined to not react any earlier than any other agent-in-training would. The murderous flash mob converges on the gun cart again, but when they pull their arms back out with the weapons, they start moving in slow motion. I reach for my hip, ready to end their lives before this gets bad. All the innocents are moving in slow motion too, so it’s not like they have time to escape. I’m the only one with the ability to stop this, but I have to do it right. I look closer, and realize that this is an entirely new set of killers. They didn’t just restart the program, and they didn’t only change the speed of motion. They also changed the characters, which only cements my conviction that these people are no less real than you or me. I couldn’t save the victims in the last round, but I also couldn’t save any of the killers. I only had one choice in that scenario, but this one is markedly different. This time, I can save everybody, and I have a moral obligation to do so. I race towards the crowd of killers. As I pass by a security guard, I steal the taser that she was reaching for. I take out my own taser, and then I just start shocking the shooters in the neck. I return to my memory archives to recreate the scene from before. While the faces are different, and they’re moving at a different speed, they’re still staged in comparable positions, and acting in the same order as before. I can exploit that weakness in the program, and end this all before it starts. I keep tasing the gunmen, one by one, starting with the one I know will shoot first, and working my way down the list. My arms are outstretched, so I can disable two of them at once. By the time the program ends, all of my opponents are incapacitated, affording me the time to disarm them completely, but I never get the chance. The technician releases me from the program, and sits my chair up. I’m sitting in a circle, with all my classmates, who have all presumably been through similar, if not the exact same, thing. They’re disoriented as their full memories come back, and I do my best to fake those symptoms. Our instructor steps forward. “Yours were the worst ratings in the history of the program. You all failed.” She looks directly at me. “Except for you. You will be our only recruit. Congratulations. The rest of you can go get your memories of this organization removed from your minds.”

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