One day Adrian decided to rebuild the world.
Adrian was always a mender. He was a tinkerer of the discarded, a fiddler of the imperfect, and a fixer of broken things. He spent blissful hours in his workshop, prodding at the source code to adjust the shade of the color green which had gone slightly askew, or to alter a perceived imperfection in the sound of a summer sun shower.
“I want to go back to basics,” said Adrian. “Back to the beginning, to help everyone remember what life was like before the upload. Before we all ended up existing in a series of disjointed worldlets with improbable physics and clashing color schemes.”
Evelyn often grumbled about the time and attention Adrian lavished on his projects, but she was quietly proud of his efforts. She enjoyed it when friends and neighbors gushed about how her simulation was always so perfect, down to the tiniest detail. Still, she found Adrian’s latest undertaking to be a bit much.
“Not that nonsense again,” Evelyn said. “Why would you want to recreate the past? The First Simulation is gone and long forgotten. Its source code crumbled to dust millennia ago. Besides, if it was so great everyone wouldn’t have abandoned it in the first place.”
“Ah, but we were so young back then,” said Adrian, “recently gone post-physical and drunk on our newfound immortality. We lacked the capacity to appreciate what we had. The flaws of the original simulation were exactly what made it perfect. It was, after all, an exact replica of the physical world. It had decay and pain and death. Nasty, primal things — but they gave life meaning and texture. ”
Evelyn let Adrian be. She knew it was useless to argue with him when he got like this. Soon enough Adrian would tire of his latest fancy.
For years, Adrian spent most of his time in the workshop, obsessed with his project. He would talk of little else, and was absent-minded and irritable whenever he had to spend time away from his notes. Adrian unearthed ancient manuals and abandoned databases. He patiently cobbled together the original subroutines, strand by forgotten strand.
To Evelyn’s dismay, their simulation began to fall into disrepair. Adrian paid it no mind. Evelyn could still bully him into addressing major flaws, but their home lost much of its luster.
“I’ve done all I could with the archives,” Adrian declared seven hundred and twenty four years later. “I’m very close, but some parts of the original source code – they are missing.”
“Will you write new code to replace it?” Evelyn asked.
“I can’t. No one can, these days. We don’t remember how. Best we can manage now is putting things together that were written a very long time ago.”
“So that’s it, then?” Evelyn tried very hard to hide her pleasure at the prospect.
“Oh, no,” said Adrian. “The code I need is out there. All the individual simulations were built from bits and pieces of the original source code. The missing parts I need still exist – I just have to find them.”
And find them he did.
Adrian traveled from simulation to simulation, asking friends, then neighbors, then strangers to let him dig through the software upon which their homes were built. Some mocked his ambition and denied him entry. Others pitied him for what they saw as a fool’s errand and turned him away; they feared letting such an unsettled individual mess with the programming of their abodes. But enough respected his perseverance if not his vision to let him examine their software and copy what he wanted.
On the world where tropical islands floated in the air he recovered a formula for generating the trade winds. A strange realm where sounds manifested in living color yielded the code necessary for creating rainbows. Like an enormous jigsaw puzzle, Adrian was fitting it all together.
“I have nearly everything,” he told Evelyn four hundred years later. “The replica of the First Simulation is ready to be compiled, but for one crucial subroutine. It is something that couldn’t be copied, something I couldn’t ask of the others. Once I have it, the simulation can be put together in only a week.”
“Where will you find this last thing?” Evelyn asked.
“It’s right here, a crucial part of our own simulation. Once unraveled, it can’t be put back together again. A permanent, painful sacrifice.”
Evelyn didn’t hesitate. “Whatever it is, take it. You’ve spent over a thousand years building your new world. Whatever part of our home we must give up to let you make it whole, we will find a way to go without.”
“You are right, as always,” said Adrian. Then he broke apart the components that made up Evelyn’s program. He sifted through her data structures and algorithms and fished out the last section of code he needed — the subroutine that would allow him to generate souls.
“A week,” Adrian said to no one in particular. “It will be finally done in a week.” He gathered the pieces of code and went into his workshop, to put all of it together.
On the first day, he created the heavens and the earth.
Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. Over 60 of his short stories have appeared in Nature, InterGalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy’s Edge, Daily Science Fiction, and many other venues. He edits Unidentified Funny Objects, an annual anthology of humorous SF/F. His fiction is linked at www.alexshvartsman.com.
This piece originally appeared in the first issue of Nine magazine and was podcast on Toasted Cake.