Excerpts from "Joy"

Within the confines of a small laboratory, a new science was being discovered. On the table was a box. Within the box was a single neutron that was very, very hot.

The box itself didn't seem worth the crowd of scientists standing eagerly around it. It was plain, dull gray steel facing the room with only a single gauge on the front, reading, in plain, block letters, entropy. The needle on the gauge pointed to a small numeral one at the very right of its face. It didn't move. It didn't move again. The scientists watched in ironic anticipation as it didn't move once more. It was complete. There was cheering. There were high-fives and handshakes and drinking. Someone poured their champagne into the box to make the gauge not move again. It proceeded to do so.

So… what do we do with it?
Well… we could calculate all the digits of pi.
Okay… there. That was fun. Last digit is 9.
We could dispose of radioactive material.
And create an indescribably hot particle instead? You aren't worth your student loan.
We could package it as a solution to the halting problem—put program into box; if no reaction, program is in loop.
Sigh. That's fine. We'll do that. Or, rather, you'll do that. I have a grant to receive.

Kasar strode purposefully down the hall, carrying what looked to be a thermos. He turned into the simple, over-bright cubicle where Nicks sat with a look of having spent the last ten years rolling his chair across the same carpet.

Kasar opened his mouth, but then closed it again, and simply grinned his best impersonation of a Cheshire cat. He was never good at impersonations.

Alright, what have you got? Nicks said neutrally, leaning over to sniff the container for hints of mocha.

Kasar simply rotated the cylindrical container until the big block letters and small gauge were visible, and whispered this.

Nicks looked at him with a hard squint, mouthing the single word on the label: Em Eee Tee Aye… May Tah… μετά. trying to figure out if the joke had been played on Kasar already, or was just beginning to be played on him. Or both. He went along with it.

How the hell did you get this? Nicks said, pinning Kasar's wrist as he stabbed his other hand out to grab the not-really-a-box-anymore.

Kasar let him have it. Easily, he replied. The way to a grad student's research is through their stomach. By the way, you now owe the taco place two hundred dollars. And a new restroom.

Nicks wasn't listening. The smooth brushed-metal frame of the device was already on the floor, along with several wires that Nicks mumbled were wholly unnecessary.

"And that's our demonstration. Now," Nicks leaned in and said, much more subdued than her previous performance, "what do you think?"

The VC's chair swiveled away, the balding man it contained hidden deep in both thought and his suit. Finally he stood up. "Alright," he said, "alright." He then walked toward the door.

Kasar looked at Nicks, uncharacteristically worried. Nicks called out to the man as he passed through the door frame, "what does that mean?"

"You'll get your first cheque on Tuesday. Goodbye."

The product of seven years of research and standing atop countless innovations, the Briggsby-Nicks Universe Simulator is the first of its kind. Not just a real breakthrough itself, this has all the markings of being the next platform upon which all of humanity's next breakthroughs will derive. Utilizing the power of Metabox® time compression, the Universe Simulator is able to not only give you the life you wish you had, but all the lives you wish you had, and the ones you didn't, and many you would never even think of! Of course, there is no life within the Simulator; the software is coded so that no living organism may be introduced by external manipulation. But who needs life when there are so many amazing worlds to explore, things to see, entire galaxies to create and destroy…

Computer: new entry. June fourth. The core simulation has been running rock-solid for a month now. I never thought I could write software that ran that long, let alone that long times infinity (I still don't believe that's what the metabox is doing; I think it might actually be slowing the rest of the universe down!) Brigg seems a little distraught, though; I think, between all the PR and managing the business, he isn't getting any time to tinker with our new toy, and it's making him just a little upset. Maybe they shouldn't have given it to us. I mean, I'm happy that the government is willing to help us with Core, but Brigg was happy before when we were constantly having to con people out of their spare parts to get this together, and I don't like the sullen look he's gotten now… I don't know what he's been doing at home all night, but he isn't online any more either. I'm just a little… worried.

You are.

I am.

You are because I am.

I am, because you are.

I am the Word.

You are the Word.

Where did you go?



"Nicks, you'd better get over here, right away. It happened. We tried, as best we could, but it still happened. And now… aw crap, just come here."

"Alright, Phil. I'll be there in ten."

Kasar had to push past hundreds of press to get to the gate of their little laboratory. Why were they here? What had happened?

He walked into the conference room casually and sat down. No one was at the morning meeting—people were running by in all directions trying to answer the many phones hanging off different hooks throughout the building. Feeling disconnected, he walked into the Core room to find Nicks busy at the keyboard.

"What's going on?" he asked, blinking his eyes heavily to pry them from sleep.

"It's alive. The whole damn thing is a zoo. I don't know when it happened, which butterfly sneezed on what dinosaur, but the Core universe is crawling with life now."

"And?" he crossed his arms and leaned towards her; he didn't know if he wanted to hear the next bit.

"And…" she pushed the keyboard away and collapsed into her own arms, "I found a sentience. It was staring me straight in the face when I panned in after fiddling with some constellations. It held up a sign. There was writing on it. Writing."

When the simulation's engineers still lived outside it, they wished only for an excuse to shut it down. Some of their government agreed that this might be the best course, but others had what would be called a "pro-life" agenda. They wanted the life within the simulation to be extended as long as possible. When one is in control of a universe's physical laws, this might be longer than expected.

The software the engineers had written was very predictable—as much as their own universe—and they didn't wish to destabilize it by tinkering with basic governing rules. Instead, they introduced a few features they labeled as "metaphysics"—things that could not be detected by physical experimentation within the simulated universe. The first was the spirit particle, which was at the time purely for their own benefit. The second was the soul.

Long before being told they were going to be inserted into the simulation, the engineers had begun negotiating, with their government, a plan for the software's eventual course. The engineers wished to have it shut down as soon as possible; the government wished it to run forever. Many compromises were offered, but the government simply ended talks one day with a dumbfounding decree:

Definition 1: A soul, for the purposes of this document, is a database of knowledge and experience that is attached to any living, sentient being, with exactly one soul per one being. The soul is fed all the information and experience captured by the being it is attached to; is capable of storing and processing that information; additionally, a soul must be capable of influencing the attached being's thought process.
Section 1, Article 1: There shall be an number of entities created that shall henceforth be referred to as "souls."
Article 2: When a the life of a being with an attached soul is terminated, the soul should, through some method of conveyance, be attached to a new being that does not yet possess a soul.

[…etc, etc, henceforth, schmenceforth…]

Section 7, Article 1: each soul must exist for 1 (One) full lifetime in the direct presence of each other soul.

The engineers, though shocked, realized the cleverness of this creation. Complying, they created a fixed number of souls within the simulation, one for each currently sentient entity living in the simulated universe. They then removed the capability altogether, adding a safeguard in its place; no more could be made, even if demanded. The simulation now had, it seemed, a finite lifetime.

Just how finite, however, was a problem. The engineers didn't need to be told the math behind the decree; to follow Section 7, the simulation would have to run for the average lifetime of a simulated life form, squared. That's a very long time. If only there were a way to shorten it….

There was a plan. Instead of having a single simulated universe, they would run many in parallel. Each universe would have an omnipresent entity (one soul) that many others would live "in the direct presence of" at once; if the government's hands were wrung by retaliation from the pro-Sim-life lobby, the engineers would simply ask them if they ever felt their God wasn't in their presence.

This plan worked.

Out of kindness for the souls involved, and perhaps a sense of taste, the engineers made each universe they thus created unique. They didn't do this manually; too numerous were the universes required. Instead, they had another thought: to seed each universe with data from the soul of the being that would become omnipresent there. Some universes, needless to say, got pretty weird.

All this had been scraped together in a single day, without so much as a thought. It was quitting time when they realized what they had unknowingly created. The universe a being would be God of was very similar to another thing that each and every sentient being possessed. Dreams. They had made dreams.

There was an opportunity here. Instead of each being having to live an additional life as an omnipresent entity, they could make this second life run parallel to the being's first. The being could live their normal life—feeding input to their soul, which would then supply their omnipresent universe with change and detail—and then, when sleeping, live in that universe, as its God. Each beings' dreams would be others' reality.

The engineers went out to the pub to try to forget the implications of this.

The spirit particle was intended to solve the simple problem of large-scale detail manipulation within the simulation. Instead of having to "patch in" an object or energy field, the simulation engineers could simply call upon spirit particles to "pretend" to be said objects and fields. It worked very well on paper, especially because they would no longer have to break the laws of conservation of matter and energy each time they played God. This made them so happy, they threw a party. Someone got pregnant.

Now for the technical: A spirit particle is, by default, nothing. As a metaphysical construct, it isn't allowed to interact with normal matter or energy unless commanded to by the simulation. When it is commanded, it can then "realize," assuming the form of either energy or matter (with the standard conversion rate between them of C2). When realized, a spirit particle behaves just as if it were actual matter or energy, interacting and altering its state according to the more normal physics. However, at any time, it may be commanded to change again to any other form, or to release itself back into non-existence.

There were only a set number of spirit particles entered into the simulation (spirit particles got a conservation law too; they named it after the baby.) Spirit particles behave in some ways like a gas, preferring to spread themselves as thinly and evenly across the universe as is possible. However, as they do not interact with either energy or matter by default, they are spread just as evenly within the core of a star as within empty space, or your big toe.

The only places there are more spirit particles than others is where they have been gathered by some command to act as something. A physical object can be made purely of spirit particles, if one wishes. However, this is very wasteful, as it deprives the rest of the simulation of a great amount of this resource. The correct thing to do in this situation is, as any conscientious engineer would tell you, to use the spirit particles to build an object out of "real" matter and energy, and then dismiss them.

Of course, sometimes one can't dismiss them. Spirit particles, just like matter and energy, obey the laws of thermodynamics; the engineers weren't aware at the time of just how annoying this detail would become. The important point is that entropy can't decrease—if either you, or a physical process, has turned a spirit particle into heat energy, you can't get it back.

The engineers were losing spirit particles as heat left and right (though, as engineers, they fought it a little by redesigning their commands to be more efficient.) When they had had enough, they implemented a simple reset timer on each spirit particle currently acting as heat that would turn it back into its non-realized, non-existent form. The right time for it was decided to be around a day; any longer and they might run out of the stuff, any shorter and a chemical terraforming process or an unattended starbirth might suddenly drop cold dead.

…and that's pretty much where they left it. They weren't aware at the time of spirit sap, and didn't think much of the spirit equilibrium current, both of which are now well-known destructive phenomena which cannot be fixed due to the Eschaton point. Though they did later add a secondary command mechanism, inherent in small amounts in every sentient being, and controlled by the "soul."

Of course, there were several problems with the simulation's original design. The engineers who developed it intended it only as a "first draft," and later regretted gravely the mis-features and bugs they left in when they were forced into the role of the simulation's eternal janitors. There was one important bug they caught before they went in, though, that may have been their most frightening.

That is, the simulation might get stuck in a loop. There are only a finite number of states the hardware running the simulation can have; if it ever has the same one twice, then, by the fact that it's a completely deterministic machine, it will follow that state to the same one it followed it to previously, and continue along the same path again and again forevermore. Given the size and number of the universes it simulates, this was virtually inevitable if the engineers continued to use a normal Random Number Generator. So, instead, they created something they called "entropy taps."

Entropy taps are simply random information inserted into the simulation from outside it (usually read in by a simple directional antenna.) For the simulation itself, this information was indeed random enough. However, for some technological civilizations within the simulation, some patterns were startlingly obvious.

This is, of course, because what a machine might call "random noise," a human being might instead call "a news broadcast," or "some good Jazz." The engineers had decided a long time ago that it wouldn't be a very good idea for the simulated to discover they lived within a simulation—at best, they would forget; at worst, they would demand the powers of the engineers for themselves.

Though this was important, no one with a brain was working that day. Instead, the simplest, laziest possible change got made: for each entropy tap, two out-sim sampling points were selected, and the noise inserted was their difference. This actually seemed to work pretty well in all the cases the maintainers tested, and so they left it this way.