Saturday, March 27, 2021

Big Papa: The Beyond (Part V)

I realize how odd it is that I feel the need to clear my throat while I’m in a simulation. Sure, my body is still in the real world, and I’m hooked up to an access terminal, but I don’t think that’s it. The Designers must have determined that people won’t accept this world if it’s too perfect. They spent their whole lives having to clear their throats on occasion, and it probably made the early adopters uncomfortable not to. We do enjoy some control over such things. It’s possible to make yourself feel hungry, so that the magnificent food—which can be prepared precisely to one’s personal tastes—actually feels satisfying, but if you’re not into food, you can also just disable that code, and always feel full. I would try to find out if there’s a similar feature for having a lump in my throat because I’m nervous about my speech, but I don’t have time to look into it, because I have to...ya know, give the speech. The Level Tens are sitting patiently in their seats, but that patience will run out unless I prove to them I’m not just wasting their time. Gilbert and Nerakali are sitting in chairs up on the stage with me, right next to Lowell. I didn’t ask them to do that, but seeing as I’m not announcing this year’s hottest new phone, it’s appropriate for me to be one in a group, even if they never speak.
“My name is Ellie Underhill, and it’s important that you understand that the first draft of this speech was written by Abraham Lincoln, and proofread by The Superintendent. I tell you this, not to humanize me, but to illustrate just how amazing the worlds you built are. Abraham Lincoln is here, and I met him, and I’m sure many of you have as well. Some of you may not know who I am, but I’m the one who originally conceived the concept of the afterlife simulation. I didn’t design the levels, and I certainly didn’t code the actual framework, but I do feel responsible for all of you, and for everyone else here. Due to time travel, I’m thousands of years old, and what I’ve learned in that time is that fucking bullshit. Side note: Lincoln did not curse in his draft; I added that line myself. Because I want to be clear that the whole reason I thought of this place is that I don’t think death is fair. We didn’t choose it for ourselves, evolution did. And evolution is not a conscious being, like we are, so what gives it the right to make such an important decision? Evolution is all about survival traits, and humanity can transcend that.
“I won’t try to turn you against Tamerlane Pryce. Whatever opinion you have of him is fine. I wasn’t around before, because the time travel I was telling you about held me up, and by the time I returned, things were complicated with the other designers. I’m here now, though, and I’m ready to listen. If you have any ideas of how to improve the system—improvements that you’re not authorized to make yourself—I want you to feel comfortable coming to me. From what I gather, Pryce kept his office door pretty open, and I plan on doing the same.”
“Is it true that he’s in prison?” calls a voice from the audience. There’s a little bit of commotion in response.
“It’s true, yes,” I say, thinking it’s best to be honest. That doesn’t mean I want to make myself look like the bad guy here, so I continue, “but I did not overthrow him, and put him there. I came at this bureaucratically, and he placed himself in that position all on his own. The creation of the simulation did not come without some unplanned, and irreversible, consequences. My friend died, and I confronted him about it. He didn’t kill her on purpose, but nevertheless, she’s gone, and not even the afterlife could save her. He has decided that showing his regret for those events is what’s best for everyone, and I agreed to step into his shoes so that the program can continue to run smoothly. Thank you for that question. I had a little bit more of the speech, but let’s open the floor to any questions, comments, concerns.”
A man stands up. “Hi, my name is Jabez Carpenter. Voted most improved. I know you by reputation, and I for one, am glad at the change in leadership.” He looks around to gauge his approval rating. “I think we can all agree that Pryce was a dick, and he deserves to rot in the hock for the rest of time. Maybe that’s just me, I dunno.”
Maybe three-fourths of the crowd claps and cheers at this. Many of the rest just don’t seem to feel the need to express themselves, but I do notice a not insignificant number of frowny faces. The great thing about being in here is that I can record everything I see, so I’ll analyze the crowd later, and use AI to make a list of everyone I may need to be worried about. It’s a little dystopian, but I have to protect this place. This is not a democracy, and it never has been. I honestly wouldn’t have built it that way, because people are stupid when they get in a mob, and they can’t be trusted. It sounds really pretty on paper, and it’s a nice thing to strive for, but at the end of the day, the king gets it done. I just have to remember to listen to input.
A woman stands up now, and doesn’t introduce herself, but people take notice immediately, and the room grows silent out of deference to her. “What news of The Beyond?”
I sigh, because I’ve never heard of that. Pryce left many things that I will need to learn, but they’re not organized, because he never planned on stepping down. “I’m afraid—and I hope not to lose your confidence for it, but—I don’t know what that is.”
“We don’t either,” the woman explains. She’s not as perturbed about my ignorance as I would have thought. “He’s been teasing its release for the last three hundred or so years, claiming that it’s the next logical step in our species’ development. Species, I believe, refers to dead people, rather than humans in general. He says it’s really exciting.”
I look over to my people. Nerakali shrugs, while Boyce shakes his head. Lowell doesn’t bother showing me he doesn’t know, because he couldn’t. I look back to the audience. “I will look into this for you, and if I can give you more information about it, we will schedule another meeting to discuss. I would like to know, however, is this privileged information, or does everyone in the simulation know about it?”
“Level Nine and above,” the woman replies. “Not even the Architects have heard of it. This is strictly confidential.”
“I appreciate the information,” I say. “Anything else?”
No one has anything, so I close the meeting, and people begin to disperse. I turn to my people. “Pryce is a genius, but the most disorganized person I know. His notes are a mess, and some of it is in code. Could you help me figure out what this beyond is? I’m worried it’s some kind of true death program.”
“It’s not,” comes a voice from behind me. I turn to find a teenage-looking girl standing there, like a student who’s too afraid to ask her question for the whole class to hear.
“You know what it is?”
“Pryce chose me as a world-builder for it. I’m actually the last he appointed before he went into hock, which is why I never got a chance to actually go.”
I look around, paranoid. “Let’s go to my office.”
We teleport to my office, which I chose to place in Gilbert’s special anti-spying section of the simulation that he calls Purple Space. I feel the safest here. The five of us sit around a table to discuss this mysterious new thing. “First off, what’s your name?”
“Aldona, sir. Aldona Calligaris.”
“Please don’t call me sir. We’re equals here.”
Aldona looks at her own gray clothes, and at my rainbow outfit. “Okay.”
I smile, not wanting to make it any more awkward. “What can you tell me?”
“I went through orientation, but never made the jump over, which is good, because I’m the only one capable of telling you about it. Contrary to what you’ve been told thus far, you and your friends are not the first Level Elevens. I don’t have an exact count, but from what I gather, a couple dozen others have been resurrected.”
“Where did they go?” I question.
Aldona continues, “apparently another universe?”
“Wait,” I stop her. “This is important, is it another universe, or another reality?”
“He called it a universe. He also called it a brane.”
I nod. An alternate reality is created when someone goes back in time and changes something about history. Sometimes, the traveler is in a loop, and can’t change anything, but is only fulfilling a predestiny. If they can change something, then the new timeline will replace the old one. There are a few concurrent timelines, which exemplify the true definition of an alternate reality, but the terms are mostly interchangeable. Another brane, however, is something completely different. It has different worlds, and different people, and a completely different history. It may even have different physical laws, and unrecognizable evolution. Any similarities between any two branes are either coincidental, or deliberately generated by whoever created the brane, if it even was created; most of them form naturally. Perhaps the most important difference is that time moves separately in a separate brane. When you exit one, and go to another, unless you have some control over navigation, there’s no telling where in the timeline you’ll end up. There’s no connection between when it is for you in one versus the other. Basic time travel is dangerous enough, but this adds a whole new level of complexity.
“What is he doing with this other brane?” Nerakali asks. When I knew her when she was alive, she decidedly had no experience with other branes, but that was a hell of a long time ago from her perspective. I don’t know what she knows now.
“It’s our future home; a physical universe, where we can start new lives. Once everyone is resurrected, that’s where they’ll go. Supposedly. The best of the best world-builders are promoted, so we can use our skills to terraform actual planets in a non-virtual environment. Once we leave, all memory of our existence is wiped from everyone else’s minds. Even if someone learns of the Beyond, Pryce has always just erased their memories. It’s the only time he will manipulate someone’s agency.”
“How would he get to this other brane?” I ask, not necessarily expecting anyone to be able to answer. “That’s not something just anyone can do. The Superintendent can count on his fingers how many different methods of bulk travel there are. Most people will need a third hand to keep counting, but no more than that.”
“That I don’t know,” Aldona says, needlessly apologetically. “I only know I was meant to meet someone named Hogarth Pudeyonavic once I was resurrected, but I never got to use my whitecard, so...” Yep, Hogarth is one of the ways to travel the bulkverse. It’s time to unplug, so I can find her.

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