He climbed up the stairs, shoved the key into the door. Wrong key, and as usual that means it’s stuck. Gritted teeth and a bit of wiggling force gets the chunk of metal out, the correct key replacing it with almost surprising ease.
The door swings open. He takes a few steps inside, jams an envelope into his flatmate’s closed door, so that the other will see it when he gets home. That accomplished, he steps into the living room and steps out of his shoes, using each foot to hold the other shoe down in turn. He tosses the other piece of mail, some junk catalog, onto the coffee table, and heads down the hall to his room.
Light goes on, bag taken off, body into chair…personal laptop on. Never mind that he was just on Facebook and Twitter on his work laptop; gotta check all the things. He hadn’t even taken his jacket off.
His phone buzzes.
The young man digs the phone out of his jeans, instinctively pressing the home button. It’s a text message from an unknown number.
“Hello, Jordan. Got a minute?”
He raises his eyebrows, even though there’s no one to see the expression, and picks up the phone, swiping the message to jump into the chat app.
“…sure! Um, who is this?”
“My name’s Evie. I’m a writer. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
About what? is Jordan’s first thought. He blinks. No, most likely there’s a simpler explanation.
“Sorry, I think you have the wrong Jordan. :-)”
“:-) No, I think I’ve got the right one. Jordan ____, yes?”
Okay, this is weird.
“Sorry, have we met?”
“Not yet. I’ve been working on a project regarding your work, and I’d like to get same firsthand quotes and experiences.”
The laptop display went dark, and Jordan looks up. Distracted, apparently. He decides to leave it off.
“What work?” he asks, a part of him hoping it’s about one of his video projects or something.
There’s a pause. Even the little ellipsis icon that meant the other person was typing doesn’t show up. Either this Evie was carefully composing
hertheir messages before even typing them in…or they had set the phone down for a minute and were taking care of something else.
“Your compiler work”, the answer finally comes, shortly followed by “.”. A part of Jordan’s brain registers the “proper” spelling and grammar in their messages, though the tone is fairly casual.
Then his forebrain finishes processing the message, and the automatic reaction comes out in his thumbs. “I can refer you to our Marketing contact, but that’s about all. Although there are some videos from the LLVM conferences. http://llvm.org/devmtg/”
In rapid succession, the phone passes back these messages:
“This is going to be hard to take, but…do you remember that story you were reading yesterday?
“That’s what’s going on. You’re a simulation.”
Jordan stares at the phone for a minute, then closes his eyes. It was too late for this kind of thing.
“…How did you get my number?”
“I don’t actually have it. It’s a patch into the simulation.”
Of course. The young man rolls his eyes.
“I can see you don’t believe me. Your password is currently ‘hunter42’.”
“Fuck!” he says out loud. He swipes at his phone, deleting the message. That’s not something you just leave lying around!
“How did you know that?”
“I set it.”
Jordan considers this. And then what, changed my brain to match? he thinks, but doesn’t ask it. The answer would probably just be “Yes.”
“Look, can you tell me what’s going on?” he sends instead.
“I already did. I’m a writer. I’m doing a narrative piece on historical compilers and languages, and you’re in one of the chapters. I’d like to get some of your thoughts recorded.”
“By Steven Levy.”
“Swift is important enough to make it into one of your chapters?”
Well, that’s kind of depressing, Jordan thinks. They’re not very good at evasion.
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
“Do you want your bank password too?” He can almost hear the sarcasm.
Jordan pauses a moment, then types a new question. “What happens after you’re done?”
“Nothing. The simulation keeps running.”
“So that I can come back and ask more questions later.”
“If it’s a simulation, what’s ‘later’?”
“Well, *you* have to remember who I am, and *I* have to…um, spread things out so you’re not so tired.”
They’re communicating by text. That “pause” was entirely deliberate. It wasn’t just an evasion; “Evie” had lampshaded it too. At the same time, it was also familiar. Friendly. Casual.
…What was the rule about keeping company secrets after you left the company?
Did he eventually leave the company?
Was there a real Jordan ____ at all?
(Was there a real Apple at all?)
There are a lot of things he could ask now.
“I know my life is a simulation now. How, exactly, am I supposed to ‘keep running’?”
“…I’m hoping you’ll realize there’s no practical difference.”
“Humans are not rational agents,” he says, quoting one of his own stories. Then, “‘Hoping’?”
“Can any human being really know another?”
He sat there considering that.
“Are there other people in here?” he types…then deletes it, backspace eating away the letters one by one. He’d never be able to tell the difference between an independent simulation and a, well, NPC.
Which is presumably the sort of conclusion Evie had been hoping he’d come to.
Except that they were, presumably, real. Which meant they’d be a priority in the future. “Future.” Whatever.
Meanwhile, it’s getting late. He starts to put the phone down, then thinks of one last question. A fairly light one, given the circumstances?
“Hey, Evie. What are your pronouns?”
I’ve been working my way through Tor.com’s free anthology of sci-fi/fantasy from 2014. Not every story has been good, but I think most of them have, so I’d definitely recommend downloading it. Last night I got to Jo Walton’s “Sleeper”, which essentially has this premise, and I immediately started thinking about how I would react if I were given this news.
I didn’t know when I started writing how the “interviewer” was going to convince me I was a simulation, but it turns out the easiest way to convince me that I’m not in the reality I think I’m in is to tell me something only I know. (hunter2 reference.) This seems remarkably insecure in “retrospect”, and perhaps I should have demanded more proof, but that’s where the story went today. I’m actually kind of disappointed.
(Note that Evie successfully distracted character-me about “later”. The particular issue that author-me was thinking about was that she’d—yes, “she”; character-me can’t be sure but author-me can—probably just shut off the simulation once she got her answers. She could tell Jordan that she’d wait until he goes to sleep, but I’d have a very hard time falling asleep in such a situation, even though I can know intellectually that there’s nothing to it.)
“What are your pronouns?” was originally going to be Jordan asking for a picture, but as I started writing it it felt weird. There’s not a great association with asking for pictures over the internet, and beyond that I don’t think I’d actually need a picture to be text-only friends with someone. Character-me would probably ask at least once at a later interview, second or third maybe, but he wouldn’t push it if she preferred not to share. Though I did think about him joking that she clearly knew what he looked like.
Stepping back… I’ve never felt particularly comfortable writing myself as a character, both in that I feel like the character-me is a rather poor character and that it just feels awkward on a purely technical level.1 On the flip side, I’ve noticed a lot of my male supporting characters end up being “me, but more of a jerk”. At least, I think they’re more jerks. …I hope I’m not a jerk.
There’s actually one issue in particular about writing in third-person that’s worth talking about more; look for that either tomorrow or later this week.
Part of NaCreSoMo 2015.
Past NaCreSoMo participant Abby had a series of third-person pieces about herself, and those went great. ↩︎