By Ricardo Victoria
“How the hell did this happen?”
“I don’t know,” Jay replied with a shrug. He was short and chubby and felt like he hadn’t slept in weeks.
“What do you mean you don’t know? This thing didn’t create itself. It is… too complex,” the tall, thin guy said with exasperation. Lou was his name, and he was pointing to a hologram projection. It was a planet, brimming with life, cities, people, animals of different kinds, some vaguely familiar, some brand new to the pair.
“That’s the thing, I don’t remember doing it. Not like that.”
“You were missing for weeks. It’s clear you were busy coding this. What do you mean you don’t remember doing it? Were you consuming again?” The tall guy gave him a disapproving look. He knew addictions were a sore spot in their friendship.
“Is that an affirmation or a question?”
“Both? Look, man. I just know I started coding this so we could have our roleplaying sessions with a holographic projection and save us the hassle of consulting the rulebooks. I just wanted more fluidity in our gaming sessions.”
“And to stifle power gaming,” the tall guy added, smirking slightly.
“Well, yeah. Things have become… unruly to say the least. Starting with you,” Jay replied seriously. While he liked to tinker with the gaming system, he was getting tired of the players’ power gaming – so much so that their story had become an unwieldy mess recently. Especially thanks to Lou’s mean streak.
“And I already apologized for that. Still, I can’t believe you don’t recall coding a perfect simulacrum of our roleplaying setting, down to physics and magic rules, history and the whole set of rulebooks. Heck, you even included a time progression of the family trees of each of our player characters. It has their genetic codes, and are those quantum interactions? Again, how the hell did this happen?” Amazement brimmed in Lou’s voice.
“Look, I’m asking the same question. I just remember I started coding, using as a base an old AI template code I found lying around from our school projects. But it looked different,” Jay offered, although he knew that, even for him, the absent-minded genius was a lame excuse.
“Different how?” Lou asked, intrigued.
“Slightly more complex, like nested matrices recombining themselves all the time as if it were a kaleidoscope. I started pouring the data into the matrices and they replied with more complex data and it started to grow up from there. I just kept working non-stop and the thing kept growing. It was odd.”
“In which sense?”
“I didn’t get hungry, barely thirsty. I was in the zone, man! Then one day I finally fell asleep and, when I woke up, this whole new universe was there, taking up all the memory, processing power, and system energy.”
“Did you try to turn it off?”
“It wasn’t necessary. Before you arrived, the whole block had a blackout.”
“The hologram simulation kept running. I think it is self-sustaining now. If that makes sense.”
“Not really. It shouldn’t be possible. And yet here it is, a whole world, nested in who knows which parallel dimension. All of it based on our roleplaying campaign,” Lou stroked his chin, caressing his badly-trimmed beard. “I wonder, could it include other planets? Other galaxies?”
Jay stood there in silence, avoiding his friend’s gaze. He already knew the answer but he wasn’t sure how. It was as if it had always been inside his head.
“No. Freaking. Way. How many?”
“Haven’t counted yet, or if they are actually real or just detailed real-time renders generated when I get a closer look. But I think there might be close to 200 billion, based on the expansion rate.”
“Expansion rate?” Lou asked intrigued. This was getting better and better.
“The holographic simulation keeps growing as we speak, see? It’s a self-contained expansion. Like a cubic balloon.” Jay touched a few buttons on the panel control and the display zoomed out from the planet and into a vast space, full of stars, galaxies, clusters, peppering the not-so-empty black void.
“This is amazing. But hey, you say it keeps growing, so it just creates things by itself or you can actually create things?”
“I have admin powers, which in this hologram means I can warp reality and create pretty much anything and even go back into its timeline and alter it.” Jay demonstrated, showing how he could rewind the hologram growth. The hologram shrunk in size and then grew back again to its current status.
“What about the future of the timeline?”
“Well, since it is exponentially growing I can’t go further, as it starts splitting into different possible scenarios. Although I do get to choose which scenario plays if I wish it. I can either let it flow naturally or railroad things.”
“Like a wave function collapse?”
“Exactly,” Jay agreed. “I am the ultimate observer of this… err… universe.”
“So you are basically a god for this… shall we call it universe?”
“Yes,” Jay was embarrassed. The last thing that came to his mind was to believe himself a god of any kind, even if his worshippers were tiny holograms. “Although I did grant you moderator powers too. You can do pretty much everything but the wave function collapse and the timeline alteration.”
“Really? Why?” Lou sounded surprised.
“You are my best friend,” Jay replied sheepishly. “I thought it would be helpful to have someone I trust to work on this. Try it.”
“This goes beyond our gaming sessions. This is the achievement of an aeon. Think of the possibilities. We could invite others and charge them for having their avatars inside the universe, having a second life.”
“I’m not sure I want to do that.”
“Well, it is growing naturally. I’m keeping my interaction to the minimum, aside from the actions of my characters. It is a delicate balance and, every time I interact directly, it breaks down. I mean I can get beautiful things like space dragons, or sink a whole civilization into the sea. So I try to nudge things here and there little by little, but letting the whole thing evolve on its own.”
“Where is the fun in that?”
“Here is the powergamer talking,” Jay said, tired. He had the same arguments with Lou time and time again when it came to any of his inventions. Jay was the creative wizard, always creating new things just for fun, to see if it was possible. Like that energy system that worked with just a voice command. On the other hand, Lou was the one always trying to seize the commercial opportunities of such inventions, never stopping to ask if they were actually safe or sound.
“Sorry, it is that… this is amazing,” Lou apologized, before noticing something. He pointed to a text chat box appearing on the right side of the hologram. “Wait a second. What are these messages?”
“The text ones?”
“Yes. I thought this was an isolated system.”
“It is. The messages come from inside the game. From the creatures inside it.”
“Not like, they are actually prayers. They keep asking me for better crops, for better hunts, to kill their enemies, to save their families, that kind of stuff. Most of the petitions can be solved by them if they actually cared to put some effort on it. The system allows it. I find it boring really to answer each prayer.”
“So you just reply to the ones that actually need your intervention and the rest are solved on their own.”
“Yes. I keep the miracles as they call them to the minimum. Reading them all make me feel weird.”
“Weird as in unworthy of the praises or weird as a physical illness?”
“The second. It is strange, but they make me feel lighter here, less real. As if…”
“You were being summoned into the game?”
“Yes, how do you know?”
“Because I’m feeling the same. Apparently, someone is summoning the moderator seeing as the admin is not replying. Man, this dude is basically swimming in blood to get my attention.” Lou pointed, his legs trembling. The tiny supplicant had made quite a mess with a massive sacrifice.
“Some of the supplicants can be a bit extreme in their methods,” Jay replied, his head feeling heavy.
“I’m not feeling well.”
“Neither do I.”
Jay felt his mind getting scrambled. Lou dropped to the floor next to him, while he was trying to remain standing. A buzzing noise rang inside his head, increasing in intensity. He was bleeding profusely from his nose. Soon, his whole world turned to black and he felt into a deep slumber.
“Where are we?” Jay asked when he woke up. Lou was next to him. Both were in an empty valley, with a few patches of green splotched over the place. The sky was intensely blue. More vibrant than any color Jay had seen before. A few clouds floated peacefully away, carried by the wind, while the sun shone brightly.
“I think we are inside the hologram.”
“How can that be?” Jay wondered. He was at a loss. Lou was right, both of them were inside his creation. How they knew that he wasn’t sure. But, inside, he could feel that it was true. He also felt a strange wave of energy inside he never felt before. He was still trying to come to terms with the idea when, out of the blue, Lou flicked his hands and a purple light came from them. In an empty space, from the ground, a structure made of jagged black onyx grew to gargantuan proportions in front of them. It was vaguely reminiscent of the temples back home.
“The power of prayer, I guess,” Lou explained, trying to come with a rationale. He then pointed to the black onyx structure in front of them. “Did I just create a whole temple?”
“How did you do that?” Jay asked, still slightly dazed.
“I just thought it. Want to try it?” Lou offered. His voice sounded filled with excitement. And something else.
“Wow!” Jay exclaimed, surprised at the display of power. Then, he pointed to a piece of barren land and, with a flick of his hand, created a whole forest, critters included.
“We are inside the game, but we retain admin and mod powers. We are basically gods in this universe!” Lou yelled to the skies, making the ground tremble. Jay felt the power emanating from his friend and it was starting to clash with his own.
“We should be looking for a way to go back home.”
“Why? It’s not like someone is waiting for us. Here we are gods, we can do what I want,” Lou licked his lips.
“What you want?” Jay was confused.
“What we want,” Lou corrected himself, but with a tone that left Jay unconvinced.
“You sound different,” Jay said, looking at Lou with concern.
“I sound like someone who has achieved true potential,” Lou countered.
“I’m starting to regret giving you mod powers,” Jay said, pinching the bridge of his nose. This was giving him a migraine. And it reflected on the environment, as clouds brimming with thunder rolled across the horizon.
“Aww, don’t be a spoilsport. It will be fun. Remember our one-on-one game?”
“Not as fondly as you,” Jay sighed. Lou had a competitive streak that bordered on the mean.
“What do you say we restart it here, right now? Like the gods we are,” Lou declared, raising his fist. There was something odd in his eyes. Something that worried Jay.
“I don’t like the idea. These beings are independent of that game. There are rules for that,” Jay said with a tremor in his voice.
“Rules schmules. Let’s have fun,” Lou suggested with a smile that was more menacing than friendly. It sent shivers down Jay’s spine, but he decided to stand up to his friend.
“I can’t let you do that,” Jay said. With a flick of his hands, blue energy surged from the environment, enveloping Lou. Jay could see the source code of this reality and was trying to reprogram it, stifling as much as he could the mod rights he had foolishly granted to Lou.
“You can’t stop me, the mod rights are permanent. You encoded them into the very source code of the universe. It seems that you are stuck with me, Jay,” Lou replied, waving away the energy that Jay unleashed upon him.
“That may be the case, Lou, but it doesn’t mean I won’t try to rein you in until we can get back home,” Jay said. He was getting tired of his friend. He loved him, but at times Lou could be a handful to anyone. No wonder he had few friends back home. Correction, not friends, just acquaintances that barely tolerated him.
“Have fun trying that. Meanwhile, I will be busy creating a few new creatures. I like the idea of a seven-headed dragon. See ya, Jay.” Lou said, before walking away, while a shroud of black smoke circled him.
“Wait, Lou! No!” Jay exclaimed to no avail. Before he could do anything, Lou vanished with the wind, leaving a whiff of brimstone behind. Jay shook his head. Lou certainly had a knack for dramatics. And that would become clearer during the following days. “He is gone. I guess I’d better start looking for a way home. But first I will create something to deal with Lou’s ideas.”
Jay grabbed some dirt from the ground and started modeling.
“Good thing I took those sculpting lessons. Now, let’s breathe some life into these messengers. I will need all the help I can to keep the creatures safe and get us out of here.” He paused for a second. “And now I’m talking to myself. Great!”
Jay breathed upon his creations, seven beings of different gender and even different species. All had wings and held fiery swords.
“Almighty Father?” the first creature said, bowing before him, followed by the other six. Jay could only roll his eyes. This was not what he had in mind.
“This is gonna be a long stay,” Jay muttered, resigned. He sighed and made a signal for the creatures to follow him. Moving around was easy for him now, as if he were everywhere and nowhere at the same time. He could hear and feel everything, down to the quantum level. Despite being a hologram, it was highly realistic for him now, way too real. Jay feared the whole experience had started to rewrite his own reality to bind him forever to this place. His only hope was that the whole system wouldn’t implode or suffer from entropic degradation before he could get himself and Lou out of there. And the key, he suspected, lay in their avatars, their “children”.
“Let’s go and find that son of mine,” he ordered.
Creating a whole new reality and getting stuck inside it wasn’t as amusing at it first seemed.