Don’t ever do drugs, friend.
Not like I need to tell you, officer, but humor me for a second.
This morning, I was in class with Jeremy. You know, my roommate upstairs. We were in Philosophy 101, and it was the absolute worst. Have you ever taken an introductory philosophy class? For the past six weeks, we’ve listened to this old guy—literally a living fossil on campus—drone on and on about theories of good and evil, God, the existence of hell, the soul, all bullshit that literally makes me want to curl in a ball and cry. Not because it’s hard to understand. It all makes sense. I’ve got an A right now.
But the way this guy presents it? His voice, monotone as a metronome, it just drones on and on about logical inconsistencies in arguments that are easy enough to tear apart just by looking at them. He’s teaching to the dumb freshmen in the front row who still think college will get them somewhere.
Anyway, Jeremy and I were in the back row, messaging back and forth on our pads, essentially just planning our next crawl inside Fantasie Rift. By the way, if you’ve not played Fantasie Rift, you have to try it, it’s a fantastic online RPG, utilizing all the best features of Virtual. As we’re discussing which weapons I’ll bring, and which weapons Jeremy’ll bring, the professor fucking called on us.
“Jeremy, Brendan,” said Professor Fossil, “I imagine whatever you’re furiously typing about on your tablets heavily pertains to the class.”
“Since you’re most likely taking studious notes, why don’t you explain to me Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis?”
This is where we shine. On the spot bullshit. It’s a skill that’s always allowed me to write five page essays in three hours, turning them in minutes before they’re due.
“The simulation hypothesis?” I replied. Believe it or not, I did the reading last night. “Back in 2003, Bostrom postulated that if we ever reach a level of technological progress where it’s possible to simulate a universe, we would do so, and run infinitely many of them. Thus, given the number of simulated universes compared to the actual universe, it’s much more likely that we’re living in a simulated universe.”
Professor Fossil snorted. “Well done. Reads like the wikipedia page. Jeremy, tell me, why is this false?”
I doubted Jeremy had done the reading, given the smoke that billowed from his room last night. But you never know.
“Uh, well, the easiest answer is that such a theory is pretty much non falsifiable,” Jeremy said, though I could tell he was grasping for straws. “If the simulations are sufficiently advanced, then they’re indistinguishable from a real universe. So why would it really matter in the first place if we lived in a simulated universe compared to a non simulated one?”
“It matters a great deal,” our grey haired wizard teacher said. He pointed at the chalkboard, filled with dozens of logical notations I hadn’t bothered to decipher. “And if you’d been paying attention, you would have caught exactly how it is possible to prove the Simulation Theory.”
A few spare chuckles emanated from the class, and I could see Jeremy’s face turn red. The fucker had ridiculed us in front of a bunch of freshmen. Great. Thankfully, he turned away, feigning devotion to teaching the rest of his class.
He doesn’t really care about teaching, you know. I looked up his websites when you were on your way here, and he spends most of his office time promoting his ridiculous books about the immorality of ethical metaphysical gibberish. He’s tenured, so he can do whatever he pleases.
Class ended. Jeremy and I darted straight out of University Hall’s basement and onto the oval. It’s a straight shot across the Oval to the bus stop on College Avenue. Twenty minutes later, we’re both sitting in our bedrooms, hooking into our Virtual systems, ready to enter Fantasie Rift. We’ve both popped twenty or so milligrams of edible synthetic weed, stocked up from the pot shop down the street. This is where the drugs come in, by the way. Seriously, what’s about to happen would have been so much less ridiculous if I hadn’t been tripping at the time. But officer, you must believe me.
My eyes opened inside a tavern. Three seconds later, Jeremy appeared beside me. Well, not Jeremy. In Fantasie Rift, he’s “Sir Edward the Galiant.” And I’m not Brendan. I’m “Wendy the Wonderful.” Yes, I play as a girl, and no, it’s not because I like the armor. Let me keep my gender fluid thoughts to myself.
My character’s full name is Wendy Balizia, actually. I earned “the Wonderful” as a reward in our last guild war. I may have . . . ended a fight through certain powers of seduction. It was wild.
“All right,” I said, “Where are we headed?” I placed my pale hand on the wooden table, and Edward looked around the tavern. That afternoon, it was fairly empty.
“Well, I got a tip earlier today from Reynald about a troll attacking some villagers along the road to Newberry,” Edward said, standing. He rested his left hand on the hilt of his sword. “I think that’s as good a place as any to start.”
I nodded, and we left the tavern. After walking along the road out of town for about five minutes, I could feel the weed start to kick in. If you’ve never taken weed before, especially the synthetic stuff made legal just a few years ago, it starts out light and airy. You feel happy. Then, your body warms, and everything just seems . . . fine. Just fine. Everything’s fine. It depends on the strain, but I often just constantly laugh at anything that moves.
For instance, we were walking down the road, nearing the tip Edward had received about this troll, but as we passed a pond, I saw a frog sitting in the road. It croaked when we were a good five feet away, and the noise spooked me nearly out of my moccasins. It hopped into the grass, and its absurdly rendered, digital gait just made me guffaw uncontrollably. I doubled over, my hands on my knees, just as another adventurer stopped by, seeing me, a petite pale skinned woman, chortling ridiculously.
“What’s so funny, m’lady?” Please, cringe now. It gets worse.
“The frog!” I laughed again. “It smiled at me!”
Edward, feeling the effects of our drug too, cracked his own grin. “Legit, it smiled. Just smiled, croaked, and smiled again.”
Hold on a second officer, I promise this has a point. I know this all sounds absurd, but I’m getting to the point.
“Wow, that sounds so funny!” said this knight in white, shining armor. “And you’re pretty hot, can I join you on your quest to find your frog prince?”
What an abysmal pick up line. I couldn’t contain my giggles, practically spitting in the boy’s face. Yes, Fantasie Rift simulates spit. “You think I’m hot? Oh brother.” I straightened my posture, popped my hip, and placed my hand on my waist. “Come closer.”
Our new friend crept toward me, and out of the corner of my frame of vision, I can see Edward trying hard not to laugh even more. This little man neared my face, and when he was within six inches, I lightly kissed his lips.
“By the way, I’m a dude,” I whispered.
He recoiled, his eyes widening in horror. “What the fuck?”
In an instant, his body disappeared, Fantasie Rift’s censor programs knocking him off the servers for the next thirty minutes. And Edward and I just laughed again, the whole scene augmented by our weed-fueled binge. That little tool, most likely a homophobe, just got screwed by his own idiocy.
So I’ve set the scene for you, officer. You see my state of mind. Now we get to what happened.
We continued down the road, and just a few minutes later, we reached a cliff with a rope bridge crossing a gorge, a troll standing nearby. Well, he more sat, cross-legged against a boulder. Upon our approach, its eyes opened.
“Hello friends!” it said, much friendlier than I expected, but we rolled with it. “I come with a once in a lifetime offer.”
At this point, the synthetic weed had hit the point in its high where my mind mellowed, and the laughing subsided. My mind started to take on a more paranoid perspective, and I started considering all the potential traps before us.
Edward, however, dove straight in.
“I’ll take it,” he said, his arms spreading wide. “What’re you selling?”
The troll snarled, pulling a lumpy bag from its back. “Inside, I have a portal. You see, this world isn’t real. This world isn’t real at all. It’s a simulation.”
I sighed. No shit, you stupid troll. It was now obvious that the troll was a real person, not a non-player character, fucking around with people through baubled tricks. He probably sold weird gems that would blow you up upon activating their supposed magical powers.
“I know what you’re thinking,” it said, “You think, of course Fantasie Rift’s a simulation. But what if I told you it’s a gateway to another world? To the real world? What if I told you the real world is a simulation, too?”
See, in that moment, my mind should have said, “this is all bullshit, we just talked about this in my philosophy class.” But no, our weed-enhanced senses prompted a different response.
“No way, my man,” I said. “Can you show us?”
The troll bared its disgustingly yellow teeth. Pulling out a few golden bracelets I recognized as Virtually approved hyperlinks, it said, “Well if you put these on, I can show you. I’ll show you the real world. The world controlling us.”
Edward reached right for one of the gold bracelets, and so did I. My paranoia fired like crazy, but my desire to witness what this troll peddled fired on all cylinders, too.
We touched the gold, and in an instant, our perspectives warped out of Fantasie Rift into a dark, voided chamber. The troll disappeared, and I could see a rough representation of myself in a shimmering mirror.
“Jeremy, you there?” I called into the blackness.
“I’m here!” he replied. “This is trippy as hell.”
“Yeah . . .”
“Welcome to the shadow realm!” a voice shouted, sounding eerily like that of the troll. “You are now in a place that can see into the eyes of those who control our universe. You’ve broken through the simulation. Just step up to the closest mirror, and all will be revealed to you.”
Of course, the weed willed my body forward. I placed my palm on the mirror, and in an instant, a billion lights flash all around me. I couldn’t make sense of a damn thing. At this point, I’d been in Virtual for long enough that my mind had forgotten that I could just power the thing off whenever I wanted. So a few seconds later, the images flashing around my mind coalesced into cognizable images. To my disgust, I now realized what was going on. And this is what you’re here for, Officer.
The troll had fucking trolled me, and he’d started streaming ridiculous amounts of porn straight into my Virtual system. I closed my eyes—my actual eyes—trying to fight the weed fugue dominating my brain. I sighed. I ripped the goggles off my face, stepped off my omni-directional tread, and rushed to the computer actually running the programs. Pulling out a keyboard, I typed, trying to track the origin of all the data.
“Jeremy!” I yelled, hoping he could hear me in the next room over. “Log out!”
“But it’s so ridiculously amazing!” he yelled, clearly lost in a stupor.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I said, “but you don’t know whether any of it’s illegal. Don’t get caught with any of that shit on your computer!”
I had another plan in mind, though. I was going to figure out who this fucking troll was, and troll him right back. My fingers raced across my keyboard, pausing only when I needed my mouse to switch to another screen. I found the origin of the datastream—this fucker hadn’t even used a proxy. He was right here in Columbus, streaming from somewhere on campus. I created a flash image of the entire sequence, called 911, and now I’m here. With you.
* * *
She’s staring across the kitchen table at me, a smug look on her face. “You intend me to believe this story?”
“Yeah, of course.” I sigh. “Why wouldn’t you?”
“It sounds like a cover for accidentally downloading a bunch of shit that you didn’t mean to download,” she says, “and you panicked.”
I throw my hands in the air. “That’s ridiculous. Look, just assess my computer, okay?”
“Sure. We’ll see.” So we head upstairs to my room, and she takes a look at the files on my screen. I don’t understand everything she’s doing, but she’s the Virtual crimes expert, not me. After she does her thing, we head back downstairs.
“Believe it or not,” she says, “I think you’re right. I’ll still need to interview your roommate, but I downloaded the report from Virtual’s security interface. Someone hacked you using a laced hyperlink.” She leans back in her chair. “And I got an ID.”
No way. She actually identified the troll. She waves your hands in the air, pulling up what I figure is an invisible projection in augmented reality. “Any chance I can see, in case it’s someone I know?” I ask. “Maybe someone specific targeted us. From one of my classes or something. I don’t know.” That idiot Derek always likes to mess with us, especially when we play video games with him.
“You have a Lens?” she asks.
I tap my forehead, and streams of data appear throughout the room. “Indeed I do!”
She nods, sending me a security permission. I accept it. An image appears above my kitchen table.
“Well holy fuck,” I say.
Professor Fossil stares at us, a shit-eating grin on his face.
So seriously, don’t do drugs. I mean, let’s be real, I’m probably going to use synthetic weed just a few more times, because it’s a hell of a trip. Just make sure that when you use, you don’t let your ridiculous philosophy professor download viruses straight onto your computer, breaking your entire Virtual system. What. A. Troll.
“Simulating the Senses of Trolls is C. D. Tavenor’s first story published in any market. He writes science fiction and fantasy, in addition to his other insane hobby: designing board games! If you enjoyed this story, check out C. D. Tavenor’s other work at http://www.twodoctorsmedia.com. Watch out for his upcoming novel, The First of Their Kind, in early Spring.”