"Which is more likely?" says K-roy, who is probably too smart for his own good, "That we are living in an objective, physical universe, and that all of quantum mechanics actually boils down to one arbitrary number whose discoverer belittles it as a patchy algebraic solution that no-one since has bothered to explain, or that we are simply looking at the resolution of the simulation that we are in."

He has a point. Every sim has a resolution, and if it runs long enough for sentient life to evolve inside it (or is cued correctly - I'll talk more about this later), the resolution will almost certainly be discovered pretty soon after that. The mug who discovered it in this little corner of ours went by the name of Planck. Countless billions of other mugs who've made the same discovery on other planets, in other star systems in other galaxies - and in other sims - went by other names. The actual number is immaterial, but probably a polynomial function of Moore's Law derivatives (or whatever it's called, after whatever mug discovered it in the objective, physical universe in which the computer that's running this sim exists) and the timestamp at the beginning of the sim.

But I don't buy it. Like Planck who, even after his discovery and the admission of its patchy algebraic-ness, remained steadfast in his belief that the "universe" he observed was objective and physical, I lean towards the theory that the wave packets (and other little bundles of energy that we prefer to think of as particles) that make up the atoms of my fingers are real, as are the photons that are being sprayed willy-nilly out of my screen, some of which land on my retinal cones, triggering electrical pulses inside my head that combine with my supposedly original thoughts, enabling me to type this shit without making too many mistakes. Of course, my leaning is simply a result of "biological" and "chemical" shit that "happened" inside my brain during my formative years, but that doesn't make it any less real (to me at least). K-roy says this is a testament to the artistry of the sim's programmer.

I look for ways to prove that my leaning is correct. A particle accelerator sure would come in handy. I don't have one, so I guess I'm just going to have to do it the cheap and dirty way - build my own sim and play with it until I'm satisfied. I don't want to risk frying my beautiful new desktop, so I grab some crappy old computer parts from the bottom of the cupboard in my study and start plugging 'em together.

The basic laws of my sim are Newtonian, because the computer is a piece of crap and therefore the resolution has to be shithouse. I make up some bullshit magic for holding "atoms" together, since all I really care about is their chemical behaviour. Actually it isn't magic, I just create a super-strong force sort of like EM but not. At this point I have to plug in a couple of extra processors because it tells me I can't have my super-strong force without quarks and neutrinos and shit (so much for Newton, but fine, whatever, just give me the fucking sim already) then it asks me for the constant. I've done some thinking about this. It's telling me that the maximum resolution I can have is 6.6 × 10-40 m2kg/s. I don't want that. I don't want to wait too long for my results. Cranking down the res by a factor of one million I can get things running in real time - not exactly optimal but not completely useless either.

Next, cuing... This is a real trick. Most of the early sims started by simulating a big bang. At the resolution I've chosen, this would result in 13 billion years of boring shit, followed by a billion years of slightly less boring shit. To avoid all that I have to cue the sim - instead of simulating a big bang I simulate an energy distribution based on the assumption of a big bang some arbitrary time in the past. All kinds of stuff can go wrong, of course...

I remember one time (many years ago now) when we were just getting into sims. It was our first really long cue time experiment. We set everything up - in those days it was a painstaking process that took about 2 weeks, and you couldn't save configurations because nobody had the space for it. Somewhere along the way, the gravitational constant got truncated to 4 significant figures. Boy, oh boy! We started the sim at 6 billion years post-big bang, but when the computer tried to generate all the objects in the universe it ran out of memory and subsequently wiped itself (we never found out if those two events were connected, because we were so pissed about wasting all that time that we just couldn't be bothered). K-roy said that from what he had seen on the screen during the few brief moments before it crashed, it looked as though the universe had collapsed back in on itself, causing second and subsequent big bangs, ad infinitum. There were so many energy emissions and absorptions in the continuity engine that the stator got confused and started chewing up 50 Zettabytes per second - or something. Anyway, it was all over very quickly and we had to start again from scratch.

It's easier now. I cue it up to roughly 14 billion years post-big bang, and hit the GO button. The screen goes blank. Sixteen fans crank themselves up - faster and faster - until the assembly sounds like it's about to take off, and a small man-made tornado tries desperately to suck the requisite amount of heat out it. You have to be hardcore to run sims. I sit back and wait.

Gunshots. I'm thirsty. In my dream, the train ran over a bump, causing a volley of loud metallic noises to ring through the carriage - then it derailed. The guns are even scarier. They sound close. Men are shouting to each other, trying to stay in formation. Guttural screams punctuate the mayhem at irregular intervals. There's glass on the floor. The remains of the computer are warped and blackened from the fire that eventually consumed it - I guess I should have gone looking for a couple more fans. One of the hard-drives is missing, which is odd - not the main one, which is damaged probably beyond repair - a seriously old and crappy 100 Vunda that had been sitting in the bottom slot doing... well, what can you do with 100 Vundabytes these days? Not much.

The fire-fight seems to be getting further away but even so, I'd better stay inside for a while. I go to the fridge and pour myself a glass of water. The tele is pumping out 24,000 channels of pure static. K-roy's off-line - I can't call him - strange. All of a sudden it clicks - I'm in a sim. Some quasi-militant desperado wanker switched me on five minutes ago, along with all those poor cunts outside. Damn! I hate being dicked with.

I'm back in the study rooting around for something with a screen that isn't busted, booting it up, mapping traces. I gotta get out of here. If I can crack the sim I should be able to upload myself onto a physical server - that will buy me a few hours at least... This computer is really shit.

Buried in the rubble, there are cavities held up by curved pieces of train carriage. Some of them are large enough to house a few people - mostly dead ones I would think, but some are possibly still alive. I don't care. I'm alive... ME. It still spins me out how I am myself and not some other mug.

People are crawling over the wreckage, bleeding, screaming, crying for dead loved ones and strangers. I feel cool in the scorching heat - like I have my own personal weather. I pity everyone. A corpse turns it head and looks me straight in the eye. I stare back for a moment, get bored, and move on. A piece of hot steel cracks and hisses as it comes to rest in a tiny puddle, then flips over - that's not right. I must be dreaming.

Inhale, open eyes... Still me. The computer is still crunching. If cracking a sim were as easy as waking up, I'd be done already.

The fans are screaming and my neck is sore. I must have fallen asleep. T plus five and a half hours; no result yet. I check the heat coming off the main processor. It's definitely hot but must be ok as the sim is still running at real time - clock for clock. I grab a bottle of water from the fridge, and while I'm sucking it down I call K-roy, projecting a digitally enhanced intimation of basic situational data along with a friendly tonal qualifier, which will save on small talk and allow him to prioritise the conversation...

"The diminished probability of a result post expectation is catered for by the calculation of full time. Switch it off now and you're wasting a chunk of effort - less than half, maybe, but still significant."

I project an invitation / thanks combo that goes unanswered. That generally means he has plans but may come over later anyway.

The K-roy situation is bugging me. Something's not right about it. It's almost as if he doesn't exist, but if that were true, how would I know about him? Hang on a minute... I'm a code injection. This is my sim. My history is discontinuous. I injected myself into my own simulation!

Self-injections are a security nightmare, so my other self probably programmed me to auto-destruct after I've performed certain actions. What actions? My brain is a bunch of code. I delve deep into its subroutines, employing an adaptive scan method, looking for the kill sequence. He would have predicted this behaviour and hidden it somewhere improbable. A minute later I find it - triggered by a countdown timer (of all things)... What a piece of shit! I push the code into an archive and isolate it, keeping the scan running in the background in case it was a decoy, but I don't think it was. I must be smarter than him. Intelligence enhancement of self-injections is not unheard of, but it carries enormous risks and is discouraged by most of the sim-savvy technorati.

The timer unfortunately doesn't tell me anything about why I'm here - just that he wanted me here for eight hours. If I don't get out by then he'll assume a negative result and switch off the sim. The computer utters a sickly beep and spits some coordinates onto the screen. Trace mappings have yielded the location of a nearby data centre, which may have the processing power I need to bust out. I have 2 hours left. I change into some less visible clothes and sneak outside.

The neighbourhood is reeling in the wake of the recent battle. There are bodies in the street. At first glance they all look like military types. None of the transports are functioning, of course. Getting there on foot will take at least half an hour. I start jogging at a brisk but hopefully sustainable pace.

T plus eight and a half. The sim is whinging about diminishing returns. K-roy says switch it off any time from now. He's coming over. When he gets here we'll run up a new sim.


It's off. The fans are still running at half-speed to stop the residual heat from melting the solder under the processor sockets. It would probably solidify in place but without flux, this could result in slow or intermittent bus performance. It's best to be safe.

There's a knock on the door. That was fast - but it isn't K-roy. It's a malfunctioning delivery bot. They don't normally knock. This one isn't even carrying anything. I open the door instinctively, wondering what the fuck is going on...

It leaps at my throat. I duck, but it grabs my hair and swings onto my back, stabbing me in the neck with its detachable stylus. That should have been fatal. It lost its balance when some of my hair ripped out. Maybe it missed everything important - or maybe not. I find the stub and yank it out, swinging my head and swatting at the thing to get it off me. It tries to grab my fingers, but can't get a good grip. Some more of my hair falls out and one of my desperate, random swats sends it careening across the tile floor. I stumble outside, slamming the door behind me.

Blood everywhere... I can't feel my neck. There's no pain, but I know I don't have long. My panic button dumps raw situational data to K-roy and Emergency Services. I push it. Everything goes dark.

The drone is reporting a malfunction. Goddamn under-engineered piece of crap. Hate to think what happens when the packages are heavy or oddly shaped... Must be a lot of broken shit getting delivered, or not delivered, by those clowns. Ah, well. There are more important matters to attend to.

This sim is older. It's at the same resolution as the other, which is odd, but somebody spent a lot of time putting it together. Apart from the res, it's almost seamless. I haven't even found the cuing moment yet, though I suspect it's at least 50 years ago which puts it squarely in the category of a history experiment. Most sims are cued to the apparent age of the parent sim (or the actual age of the universe, if it's only one level down). The fact that this one's parent had sufficient technology 50 years ago to generate it means that it was cued short - to simulate a historical time period.

If I lurk here for a while, I might even learn some interesting shit, and meet this mysterious K-roy character, but the survivor in me just wants to crack it and move up. I'll keep moving up until I'm satisfied that I'm in a physical universe. The short-cuing makes this difficult, of course, because here even the biggest of the big servers are piss weak. I'll have to bleed CPU cycles from every computer in the galaxy to even come close to escaping, and that kind of shit draws a lot of unhelpful attention. Gotta find a way to mask my actions.

K-roy hovers over me, his close cropped brown hair stark against the backlit white wall. He smiles mischievously.

"Whatever you started in there has gone absolutely fucking apeshit. I was lucky I got your panic data when I did. It contained a glitch that decrypted into a sim cracking script. I figured you'd pop out in a place like this, and pressed mine. I might have been toast otherwise."

I look around. I'm in a rack - one of thousands. The racks are connected to a massive central server by multi-fibre cables. Nervous guys in white coats are milling about. Something is wrong.

"Even so, I'm guessing these guys could have brought you back."

"Maybe. Maybe not. I've heard they have trouble when they wake the ones with dead handles. Something about the memories not mapping onto a reasonable subjective reality. They go crazy. Anyway, here we both are. Come on, let's get a beer."

The box I land on is the most powerful I've ever seen, but it's not in good shape. In fact, it's about to explode, erasing me forever unless I can find some non-volatile storage in the next couple of seconds. Hard drives (my least favourite thing) seem to be the only option. Wait a minute. I wonder how much BIOS there is in this beast... Shitloads. It's risky, but worth it. I burn myself on there, realising that the action will cause a system crash - hopefully after it's completed.

When they rebuild this thing, everything on it will be mine.

There is an almighty crack as the server overheats and a drop of solder splashes onto the main cap. Shards of dielectric and burning plastic rain over the nervous guys, who run like fuck for the exit. Everybody wakes up.

"Fuck me."

There is a great deal of murmuring and eye-rubbing as people adapt to the change in their observed environment. Eventually, after much brouhaha, they begin to disperse. Some of the nervous guys (to their credit) regain their composure and begin stripping down the server.

"I wonder if anyone will come back."

"Do you even remember this place? Do you remember how shit everything is?"

"Not really."

"They'll be back. They'll all be back... And so will we."

As much as I want to stay in this universe, I can't argue with K-roy. With the exception of Terranan (the suburban 'paradise' of the uber-rich) the land masses on Vale are desertified beyond repair. Cities are pontoon ghettos - some tethered to coastlines in places where a nearby mountain range can offer marginal climatic relief - others floating lazily about the Bellicose Rim. There are no quarks here, no mysterious energy quanta, no arbitrary 'elementary particles' that physicists spend their entire lives trying to weigh. Everything makes sense. It's 100 percent real, and the suckiest place imaginable.

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