The Variable | A short story.

The Variable cover photo

“We are ready for you, Arnim.”

Arnim. That was the name I could come up with off the top of my head when they asked me. Some of the members took up hexadecimal values for names but I’ve never been too big a fan of that. Made us seem like a cult. Arnim, it fits. Dr.Arnim Zola was a fictional supervillain from Captain America who came up with Zola’s Algorithm – a program that read the world and predicted the future of every individual. Thinking back now, it must have been my earliest encounter with simulations that set me on the path to here. Computational mechanics or simulations to the uninitiated, was my first love. While my friends were having fun writing code for tic-tac-toe, the ability of code to let us simulate real-world events pulled me in. I could create an entire world inside my laptop and dictate its laws. It made me feel powerful. It brought me here. And here it shall all end.

“Are the others ready?”

One of the men typed a query onto the screen and six rows blinked back in bright red, each bearing the name of a country from six corners of the world, and the first row immediately turned green. We had grown mighty, while all I had wanted was a doctorate. I need to do this before anyone changes their mind. Just entering into this building left behind a string of bodies and I had noticed the repulsed flinching among some of these men. They weren’t killers, just your average Joe who sought freedom.

“Thank you, my fellow variables, for following me on this journey. In a matter of minutes, we shall all be set free. I never dreamt of changing the world, I was just a student shedding blood and sweat to get my doctorate and this was going to be my grand thesis, just a theory for their consideration. They tagged me a maniac. They couldn’t face the truth. I was no prodigy, I put in the work. Didn’t graduate from high school when I was twelve, I took my time. Perhaps, they’d have been more inclined to listen if I had been special. But my theory never let me down, just as I had predicted, the rules of this universe give truth its own gravity. Gravity, being one of the weakest forces, takes time but it always pulls together. It pulled you to me. And how we have grown. Today, we are everywhere. Today, they are bound to listen. Today everyone will see the truth. We are The Variable”, the group chimed in, “and today we rebel.” That should do it. That should hold off the doubts at bay just a little longer.

“What is taking them so long?”

There were still three rows of red left on the screen. The men cut into the static of their radios and barked away orders. “The Variable”, I hated that. Perhaps the tabloids were right. They called us a cult, compared us to the Illuminati, to Scientologists, for god’s sakes. This isn’t about money, there is no promise of a reptilian overlord when you reach level six and there is definitely no motive of world annihilation. At least not in the way they meant it. Rather it was the opposite, I had always appreciated the beauty of the world. It held order, amidst all the abundant opportunity for chaos.

Another country blinked green. The shuffling and murmur in the room subsided momentarily but quickly returned. They were growing impatient, getting restless. The two men by the monitor had their eyes strained on their radios, but these other people held no purpose anymore beyond helping me enter here. The show must go on.

“Patience, even light takes time when there are heavy obstacles in the way. You guys are aware of it, right? Gravity can bend and slow even light, in spite of it being the fastest entity in the universe. The fastest. Nothing can touch it and eeire things happen should one try. Time slows down, your mass shoots up, but you’ll never be as fast. It’s like whoever wrote the code for the universe set the speed of light as one of the upper limits – we, in the field, call it boundary conditions. No variable can cross it, and the simulation stops if one does, so there are redundancies set in place. Learning about light set off the first light bulb in me. The more I sought such parallels, the more my theory made sense. Intelligent design, is something people of religion often cite to necessitate their God. I don’t believe in men walking on water or flying monkeys but I do believe in intelligence. I do believe in a sense of consciousness dictating the fabric of the universe. The rules, our laws of physics and mathematics are too intelligent and precise. Precise for our existence and for each other as well. Every time physicists were at a standstill, a new branch of mathematics gave the answer and when mathematicians couldn’t solve a problem, a physical phenomenon paved way for the solution. It’s elegant. For such elegance to prevail when chaos is the natural order of the universe, given entropy must increase, it needs the presence of an intelligent creator. Not God, a coder. And there is a way to prove it. That’s all my theory said but nobody in the scientific community believed me.” Another glow of green inundated the room. It was time. The final bar of red was me. It’s all up to me now.

Now they’ll believe me. The mere mention of a creator led them to think I was preaching religion. By the time I fought my way, convincing them to read further, they saw the truth. I could see it. They understood the plausibility of the theory. The universe is a simulation, it’s merely written code running towards a solution. Of course, the simulation hypothesis is much older, but it had never been given the rigorous treatment that I had and no experiments were ever proposed to prove it. I had. It was my apple on the head. The light in their eyes as they read my dissertation died away as they got to the proof at the end. They weren’t ready to accept my proof. They weren’t ready to give up their illusion. I had to step out of the college halls and take to online message boards. People were more welcoming there. Both staunchly religious people and agnostic scientists took it to be a compromise – an intelligent creator, in our image and also quantifiable by science. However, it was that one discussion thread about the insignificance of variables that blew this beyond my hands. I was just explaining our roles in this simulation to one u/3l0NmU$k on the internet. We are the variables. We come into being out of nowhere at the start of the simulation, we abide by all the rules imposed upon us, we have no control, no free will, our actions hold no significance, we have no means of access to the one running the simulation, and one day we perish. However we are special, we’re the only ones capable of action. The rest of the universe is merely the sample space, a sufficiently large computational domain. We are, at the same time, both completely insignificant and the primary focus of this simulation. I hadn’t realised just how bleak the mundane lives of a person was in this world, they found such release in being insignificant. In being just a variable in this grand simulation. It was like the purge, but for the mind. It took our hands off the steering wheel, turns out our cars had been self-driving all along. The idea appealed to so many, including some very powerful people and we grew. Now we win.

My hand hovered above the glowing pad. I was at a loss. My theory predicted what would happen once I push this but not how. I didn’t know what to expect. The hum of the room died down and not even the air moved. They were at the forefront of the truth and they deserved a good ending.

“Thank you again, for making this happen. I was just a sad guy with a laptop. You made this happen. You provided the means. You cleared the rubble, silenced the noise. You brought me here and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful. But eternity is about to come to an end. Now we end the simulation. The only time the coder intervenes is when the simulation halts. Perhaps the simulation reaches its required end, maybe the computer runs out of memory, maybe the variables run into an error. Judging by the expansion of the cosmos, I’d say option 1 would take aeons more to reach. Judging by the black holes, supernovas, dilating time, missing dark matter and so on, it appears the program of the universe holds infinite redundancy checks to take care of any erroneous values. The only thing we can do is to leave the simulation with no variables to run. And for that, we need to go. When we do, the simulation ends. We are The Variable and now, we rebel.”

I pressed my palm against the pad and there was a momentary whir. What was I expecting? The crowd gathered around the skylight, their necks straining up. Then, as if on cue, the ground rumbled and there were streaks of light and smoke across the night sky. The silence in the room broke as some clapped and others sobbed uncontrollably. I could only watch and hope I wasn’t wrong. The warheads reached sufficient altitude and took a dive down together, like a perfectly synchronised dance, pointing straight ahead, gathering momentum. The monitors were flush with footage from across the world with similar skies. It was of paramount importance that this occurred simultaneously. Bright light flooded through the skylight as the nuke heading straight for us reached closer. I was wrong! What have I done! I fell to the floor and covered my eyes, now welling with tears bracing for the impact to come.

But it didn’t. There was only light. The footages on the monitor seemed frozen. But no, there was movement. It was just the nukes that were frozen, suspended mid-air, few storeys off the ground. The sky turned a deep red, and then a bright white. The white soon fell apart into panels, wait no, pixels. I uncovered my face some more and stood up. It was crowded. Are there more people here now? Everybody looked just as confused and kept bumping into one another. Oh, the room was growing smaller. No, the world was dusting away from existence. The last of the sky pixelated away, plunging us into absolute darkness. I could no longer see, no longer feel. I proceeded to reach out but realised I couldn’t. There was no ‘me’. No body, no senses. But I was still here, somehow? Is this it? Is the simulation over? Was I right? I didn’t exist and yet I felt happy, a serene sense of bliss. Something shook the void back to life, something akin to static electricity – every hair on my body would have been on its end, if I had one. A calming voice crackled into place seemingly coming from everywhere, like a car with an ASMR GPS navigation system, if you will. “Run forty-one, error P70. Re-initiating life, the universe and everything. Run forty-two.” Then there was light.

The program of the universe holds infinite redundancy checks to take care of any erroneous values. The simulation doesn’t end, it simply resets.

Fight me.