Pretentious Circular Meta-Narrative Resonance

a light novel written in a day by carado
(plain text version here)


Chapter negative one

Conrad Collins awakened in a dark room.

"This time I've finally done it," he thought. He had never felt as sick in his life as he did just a moment before, but now he was fine. There was something surreal about this feeling.

He observed the surroundings. A single hole above him allowed sunlight to lighten the room somewhat - apart from that, he could only see smooth beige walls and a dark corridor.

"What the fuck," he said out loud.

He got up from the stone chair he had apparently been sitting in. His memory was fuzzy. Some party, perhaps ? Booze. Lots of booze. Probably.

He walked towards the dark corridor, as there wasn't really anywhere else to go. He was feeling weird, somewhat fresh, somewhat... healthy. What a strange feeling.

He reached a terrace overlooking a vast desert. The landscape was truly beautiful - white mountains in the distance, all around, as far as the eyes can see; grey and orange rocky lands for miles and miles; and this single beige monument in the middle of it, which he was standing on.

The weather was completely clear. The sun was shining right above his head, and not a single cloud was visible no matter how far he looked.

A single set of stairs went down. The whole architecture was very sober. As he walked down the stairs, he felt as good as he did before.

There was nowhere in particular to go.

He examined and circled the monument. Despite being a few houses high, there was no entrance to anything apart from the one he came from, in a chamber at the very top. The whole thing was like a tiny pyramid on top of a less tiny pyramid.

And so the man set for what looked like the nearest mountain. For some reason, he felt no sense of hunger or thirst. And so he walked, for hours at a time, taking regular pauses to admire the landscape. He was getting nearer to the closest mountain. Something was weird about its whiteness, though. And so he was curious.

"Good", he thought. That's a motivation, at least.

As he kept walking the rocky land started to give way to some kind of white sand. A strange sight, he thought.

He looked in the distance. The peak of the nearest mountain was getting closer. Had it been hours ? Days ? Weeks ? All sense of time was lost. He felt neither tired, nor hungry, nor thirsty. He felt fine. He had no recollection of the sun ever moving from its fixed place, right above his head. But no uncomfortable heat affected him.

He started climbing the sandy mountain. Some larger grains of white sand were present, but overall climbing that surface proved fairly difficult.

As he was making good progress climbing, some clouds started appearing around the sun. Where had they come from ? Conrad could've asked, but there were too many questions to be asked right now. What he needed was to stand atop this mountain to observe the distance. For some reason, he felt that need, and that need only.

He was nearing the top, and the clouds were finally dense enough to be hiding the sun. As he made his final steps to the top, the sky started speaking ominously as if Zeus himself was addressing this poor mortal soul.

"This is for disliking what I like and liking what I don't like !"

The man had just the time to make a small "huh ?" sound before a sudden flash of lightning came down upon him, and he was suddenly vaporized.

All that remained of him were the white bones of his skeleton, falling onto the mountain.

Years passed, and the wind eroded the skeleton, slowly falling in the sand.

Centuries passed, and the sand on the surface of the mountain shifted around, moving from one mountain to another.

Millennia passed, and the mountains themselves moved around, slowly across the whole surface of this mystical desert world.

In the middle of this, only the rocky ground and the sober monument remained still. And then, in that very monument,

Conrad Collins awakened in a dark room.

Chapter zero

Is this what life is about ?

Am I doing what I should be doing ?

It's probably up to me to decide what I should be doing with my life. There is no greater good, no greater purpose. I could just get a job and enjoy things, yet I choose to try and make them. I find it enjoyable to a certain degree, and there's also the need for validation and appreciation.

And also, there are some things I just want to know are done. I just want to know they exist and are being enjoyed.

This book is a challenge to myself to make content. I want to make a few good things, but I should also try to train myself to make things fast, because then I can make good things less slowly. It's as Digi says.

The poor guys keeps getting flack.

He's trying things out, and I think that's good. His music is great, and even his light novel in a day was a great experience to listen to. I liked it.

I probably shouldn't say that in my own light novel in a day attempt, but I'm not exactly good at literature. I haven't read that much, and I've barely written anything.

I really want to, though.

One thing I've noticed as I make games is that, not only do I spend a lot of time in the technical part because I enjoy it, but I also do that because I'm afraid of lacking in inspiration when it comes to the artistic side of things. Be that story and visual art, or gameplay.

So here I am, trying to make actual fiction. Do I have any idea how this will go ? Yes I do, this preface was actually written after the rest of the book. But I won't reveal anything.

Anyways, Giffy said he would do an audiobook of it if I made it to 10k words, so I'm padding this out with a shitty preface. Why not ? Here are some thoughts I have.

I used to think fiction was too human-centric and wanted to see fiction in which characters are of other alien species and think in completely different ways. I used to want fiction in which physics were not those of our world because I wanted to see other cool physics ideas. I also wanted to see fiction which was completely first-person based; in which you'd see only and exactly what the character sees, and hear his thoughts. Thinking about it, something like a very literal adaptation of the "third person limited" or "first person" styles of writing, but in movie form.

These wants were all based on a distaste for arbitrariness that I still have, however I understand things better now. Humans are not chosen in fiction because the author is lazy and can't think of his own special of sentient beings - well, not only because of that at least. They're chosen because the readers are humans as well, and they want to connect to the characters.

This is a concept I've always had trouble grasping. A part of me still believes that a piece of fiction's job is to first and foremost retell a story that makes sense as accurately as possible, without "alterations" (even though the whole thing is a work fiction) and without arbitrary choices. For example, in a movie, a certain filming angle is what is seen as artistic; but I have for a long time I just considered that arbitrary. Or, I would tend to oppose characters having meaningful names in a work of fiction, because that's unrealistically unlikely; and thus takes something away from the "accuracy" of the story.

There are still things I believe. I believe a story should be coherent before being entertaining - coherent lameness is artistic anyways nowadays. Antijokes are thing, remember ?

I also have a special place for fully-simulated game worlds. There are very few - but still some - video games in which the whole universe makes sense in term of actual game possibilities. Ever played Call of Duty ? See all those buildings ? How did they get there ? You can't make buildings in Call of Duty. If characters actually lived in that game their whole life they would just assume that was part of the natural terrain and never build anything. Meanwhile, all temples found in Minecraft make sense; they've been made with in-game tools, and potentially, intelligent characters living within Minecraft could have made them.

This is more than just a matter of being a sandbox, there is a matter of completeness to this criteria. Another level of coherence could still be reached in Minecraft: the terrain, how and why did it appear that way ? Why did the mountains pop out the way they did ? Ideally, this would all come down to a small set of mathematical formulas explaining everything as emergent.

This is probably the extreme version of MrBTongue's "what do they eat ?".

I also have a particular arbitrariness-inspired place for hate in my heart for the base 10 system of numbers nowadays used pretty much everywhere in the world. The reason for base 10 is probably as simple as humans having 10 fingers. Yet, this is an other choice that the smallest positional, base 2; the smallest square, base 4; the smallest non-square compound number, base 6; and some other good potential choices like base 12 or base 16.

Anyways, nowadays I understand much more how fiction is written. People tend to write lore and mechanics to convey their characters and conflicts, whereas I tend to want to write characters and conflicts to explore lores and mechanics. How autistic is that ?

I barely ever find piece of work really captivating. I just don't really feel like I'm connecting with characters. Generally, either a work is enthralling for its emotional appeal - as in Gurren Lagann, K-On, and other great works - or the content of what's going on is what keeps me interested - Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Death Note are great at that.

Perhaps this is the appeal of anime that Digi talked about; of being more about feeling than plot. I like feeling, and I like plot, I just don't get characters that much, unless they're really crazy or something.

Kira. He's a mad guy with a book. He wants to kill the bad people and he's unethical. Okay ?

Simon. He wants what's great for mankind, and he recognizes the need for authority despite fundamentally disliking it. And he's very motivated or something.

Riko. Explores a cool large pit with artifacts in it. Her own personality is, uh, she wants to go down the pit very much, I think ?

Is this sad ? Am I missing the point of everything ?

Don't worry about it. More likely than not, I do actually get these things unconsciously, and it's just when I try to analyze them that I oversimplify things. I do this often.

So anyways, I've always liked a bunch of fiction, and a few weeks ago I started keeping notes in a "fiction ideas" list. There's a bunch of stuff there, many of which I'd like to keep for when I do my Great Epic Final Saga Thing, but we all know that's a retarded way to do things that never accomplishes anything good, so I've just taken a cool idea from that list, started making a story from there, and then a few others got absorbed in the making.

Should I make fiction for its own sake ? Should I just get good at writing to put fiction in the games I want to make ? Probably both. Writing is fairly fun, turns out; and constraints even more.

That's the one thing I changed my mind about: constraints. I used to think they were stupid and arbitrary as well.

But then, the more I thought about it, the more I changed my mind.

If you have no constraints at all on what you're making, there's no good piece of art. The only pure thing is the null work; the lack of work of art itself.

With constraints come the artistic value of expressing something within these constraints. Having a limited time. Having to have a certain number of words. Having to write in English. Having to make the game run on a very low performance old Nintendo console. Etc etc.

This is part of why modern games are so much less respected than old console games. Old console games not only achieved good gameplay and art, but they did within severe constraints, and that in itself has artistic merit.

Verses are the biggest example of this. I used to hate the concept of rhymes because of the arbitrariness of the limitations they offer. But really, rhymes create a framework, in which things that work do so much better, because they play the constraints of the medium to their advantage.

One day, though, I hope I can actually craft a really emotional piece of work. Hopefully with more effort than just putting together a giant robot stomping a city in a game to feel awesome. I want to convey adventure, comfyness, passion, and who knows, maybe even the holy grail of emotional satori one can reach, Moe.

I'll make many more words next time. I promise to try.

Anyways, I hope you have fun with it famalam.

Chapter one

It had so far been a remarkably uneventful day for Misako Xuansdottir. It was in fact friday, her last school day of the week, and as most of her schoolmates she paid little attention during history classes. Why would she need to learn all these useless facts about the second world war anyway ? It hadn't shook the world nearly as much as the third one, and even then all of that was still old Earth history. Mankind's original world was regarded with a mixture of disgust and contempt by a lot of colonists - a phenomenon which emerged with the independence of the second martian colony, and only amplified when the colony attained its current reach by ambitiously sending settlers to Titan - Saturn's largest moon, and Misako's homeworld.

So there she was, learning about Hitler's rise to power, when she received a text on her phone.

"wana c sumth cool ?"

She would've facially expressed annoyance at the sender of the message if she were in the room, but that was from Helen Ducroissant, her senior in high-school and best friend at New Musk Academy. As much as she liked Helen, she wanted no part in her mischief; they were privileged to be the first generation to be born on Titan, and she intended to make that count by contributing as much as she could by becoming a productive member of society - with only a population of two million, every bit of help counted on the colony. Similar efforts during the early expansion of the Musk colony were what allowed the Martian population to enjoy enough exponential growth to be able to send their own colonial fleet to Titan, after all.

Nevertheless, she had always been close to Helen since the day they met at Trigger Festival, one of the many pieces of history that the colonists had inherited from old Earth's culture to celebrate, every year on the twentieth of January, the coming to power of the great leader that put an end to the Great Social Crisis of the 2010s.

She didn't respond to the text; they both knew they'd meet at the usual place, near the old capsules. The place where the very first colonization modules landed on Titan some forty years ago was of course forbidden, but a simple "Keep Out" sign in the two major colonist languages - English and Japanese - was all that stood in their way. After all, there were much better uses for the colony's public funds - consisting mostly of martian investment - and the the Mars-Titan federation wasn't built on state-sponsored handholding, but ambitious libertarian enterprise.

Misako arrived to see Helen busy on her phone, and inquired.

"What was that about ?"

Helen almost jumped in surprise. She did seem somewhat stressed out, something Misako wasn't used to noticing on her, and she tapped a few button and opened the holo-lid on her phone, a thin transparent frame which, when raised perpendicular to the screen, allowed the device to display 3D images in the small cubic volume formed by those frames.

"Look at what I found !"

What Misako saw was a color 3D picture of what looked like a flattened black cone emerging from a sandy area.

"Is- is this from your drone ?", Misako asked

"It is, it's a still picture but the drone's still there-"

"What is it ?"

"No idea, all i know is that it's just south outside of the city, near the industrial zone."

Misako's curiosity was piqued. While alien life-forms had been found by colonists as microbial and algae-like life in Titan's methane and ethane seas, the public response to these discoveries was underwhelming to say the least. The possibility of encountering intelligent extraterrestrial life, or even just some kind of fauna, kept remaining a fantasy, no matter how much effort was put into crowdfunded deep-space radio research. Still, many colonists, especially on this new colony, were excited at the idea and almost expecting to meet little grey men on their supply trips from Mars to Titan.

"But I thought federal drones already scanned all the surrounding area..."

"It's in a cave, you can't see it by flying from above" Helen answered, zooming out the 3D picture with the side-buttons of her phone to reveal the enclosure of the place.

"Helen, that's great, you're sure to get a geology reconnaissance bounty if you send that to the Academy-"

"What ? Is that your reaction ? Misako, you think that looks like a rock ?"

"...what else do you think it is ? You and I both know that the alien seeking teams would have found any alien stuff long before any of us-"

"Aaah, Miko, you always do this ! I know it's probably nothing special, but let's just check, alright ? Maybe it is !"

"What, on foot ?"

"Why not ? On the way you can tell me about your secret crush-"

"Okay, okay, shut up, I told you I was joking ! Geez..."

Chapter two

Contrary to the first settlements on Mars some hundred-and-ten years ago, Titan colonists had little use for complete space suits and pressurized underground buildings. Technological progress had brought extremely efficient self-warming clothes, and the New Musk city was purposefully built at the bottom of a tall canyon, causing most of the generated oxygen to remain in and around the city without escaping, thanks to it being heavier than air on Titan. This made New Musk the first open-sky city outside of earth, and the Titan sky was something to behold, adding to the sense of greatness felt by the colonists.

Still, contrary to inside the city, oxygen masks were needed to leave the crater through one of the many public-use elevators built around the city, and although the girls were met with judgmental looks on their way outside the city by various elevator engineers and the science teams using them, it was not that rare to see young adolescents leave the city for a stroll in the vast rocky lands of their world. The only condition for their leaving was that they enable the tracking devices in their suits, which would make sure any heating or oxygen mask failure would prompt one of the vehicle-equipped emergency response teams to intervene. So far, of the very few instances in which that had been the case, there had been no casualty, and so such a lax policy persisted.

The two friends reached the entrance of the cave and increased the lighting from the flashlight devices on the right side of their suits' collars. They had considered renting a quad bike, but Helen found that most of the shortest route could only be traveled by foot, and so they had opted to do the whole trip to the cave that way, which took just above an hour.

Helen used the drone's beacon to locate it within the maze-like cave system as her phone registered her trip inside the cave to generate the return path for the way back. After half an hour of spelunking, they reached the drone laying on the ground in power saving mode, and a few meters further, they could see the ominous black shape with their own eyes.

Despite coming out of the ground only about as high as her knee, Misako felt a sense of grandeur as the opaque smooth object stood before her. Although her rational mind told her that what she was seeing was infinitely more likely to be the result of some geological phenomenon than anything else, she instinctively took a step back, and then turned her eyes to her friend.

Helen seemed to share much the same feelings, but in different amounts; indeed, it seemed her curiosity surpassed her worry, and Helen took a few steps forward towards the monolith. Misako was about to make a gesture and tell her to get back, but she stopped herself. She knew she wouldn't have the courage to investigate it first, but she was curious enough to want someone to do it, and that person would be her friend.

Helen was surprisingly bold, and after removing a few rocks from around the object, she managed to pull it from where it stood and put it on its side, suggesting its weight to be somewhat similar to that of a person under Titan's fairly low gravity. It was actually not that large either, only half as tall as Misako and half again as wide, and overall fairly flat. It had a lozenge shape, with what looked like perfect symmetry, and in thickness was like a flattened pyramid on both sides. While the object was laying on the ground, Misako finally approached it and noticed a small triangular panel in one corner, a break from the otherwise completely monolithic design. Pointing her light to it, Helen's attention was captivated as well, and they both read silently the obviously human writing in old Earth-style font on the panel:

"Google Inc."

Chapter three

Misako's reaction was mostly that of relief. "Not alien, nor lovecraftian, and probably no more dangerous than any other scientific equipment", she thought. This was not the look on Helen's face, however; as it was her turn to have a worryingly confused expression.

"See, I told you it wasn't alien-"

"You don't know about Google ?" asked Helen

"Isn't that just one of the research teams ?"

"No, it's not ! I thought you took Earth History II" she answered, referring to the optional high-school module that Misako had regretted taking.

"It's from old Earth," she continued, "like, centuries old ! It was a major comptech company before the third war !"

Being reminded of a historical fact she thought she had completely forgotten after her exam on the matter, Misako started worrying about it as well. They both argued for a while about how something with such an old reference could possibly be found on this fairly new colony and end up that deep within a cave.

It quickly became apparent to them that if of all places the object could be it was near New Musk City, it must be somehow connected to their colony and not to unknown previous settlements or past probe missions.

At that point, having been satisfied that the object is in fact of human origin despite its weird - and, they figured, probably antique - design, Misako's curiosity got the better of her and they both decided to bring it back to one of their homes for studying. Thanks to her high grades she had managed to afford one of the newly constructed residential buildings and so, contrary to Helen who still lived with her mother, she had her own place; which is where they decided they would bring back what they chose to call the "artifact".

They came back to the cave the day after to see the artifact exactly as they had left it, wrapped it in some bubble paper, and managed to bring it back inside the city, telling the elevator operators they had a claim on a geological discovery bounty. Finally bringing it to the apartment, the two friends spent all night studying it, but with little result.

The triangular panel was removed after some tediously complex screw-locking mechanisms were taken apart, but it only exposed what looked like an electric power socket of some sort, as well as an old information port that some Wikipedia searching indicated to be called "USB". They were afraid to try and power it, and there was not much they could do with USB technology having been abandoned long before Titan being settled, at about the same time phones finished replacing personal computers with the help of widespread use of wireless 3D projectors and virtual reality headsets.

And so, they continued with their usual classes, Helen doing some research in the meantime, and Misako trying to build a USB device to connect to the artifact. Breaking into the artifact device physically was abandoned as soon as stress-testing the removed panel proved it to be an extremely solid alloy that would no doubt take industrial machines to pierce through.

Communication between Titan and Earth was subject to huge response times, and during a large part of the 16-days orbit around Saturn, the moon was completely unable to communicate with Earth, even from Titan's few artificial communication satellites. The delay was such that browsing Earth's internet page by page was unreasonable, and if something wasn't on Titan's internet, the best way to fetch it would be to send a message to a correspondent on earth asking them to do the browsing, find the wanted information or data, and send it back. Very quickly after Martian settlement, a commercial version of that service was offered for Earth-Mars communication, and those services only grew more as Titan started using them as well.

And so, with the help of such a service, Misako managed to get her hands on an electronic specification for USB and the appropriate software to use such a port, and started crafting something to communicate with the artifact. A few weeks later, she had managed to get it working, and it turned out that the device still had power in it, as providing electricity through the electric socket wasn't necessary for the USB communication to work.

Chapter four

Misako had texted Helen as soon as she managed to get some kind of result with the USB connection, but when Helen arrived a fair bit of further progress had already been made. The artifact was recognized as a kind of file storage unit, and Helen came just as the only playable file on it was being opened: a video in webm format. They both watched as it played to a single woman standing in front of a pale blue wall, wearing glasses and talking in some weird form of old but still intelligible English. Subtitles accompanied the video.

"Greetings!"

"My name is Catherine Vernig, and I'm the head of the Many-Worlds Outreach Initiative, here at Google."

"We are pleased to know this message has reached you well."

"If you are unaware of what this program is about, don't worry, these video files will explain in full detail what you need to know."

"But first, we need to make sure that this message is reaching the correct people. If you are an appropriate authority, you should be in possession of a Many-Worlds Outreach Initiative Decryption Key. Use that key to view the other files on this drive."

While the file was playing, a simplistic 3D rendering of the artifact was shown on one side of the video, spinning.

"If not, please contact Google using the following link, or contact your closest authority if you can't manage to reach us."

An HTTPS link containing a nine-digit code appeared on screen and was carefully read by the woman.

"They will know how to handle the situation for the benefit of everyone."

"Thank you, and good day."

The girls were puzzled to say the least. Immediately after that clip, a colorful "Google" logo appeared, followed by other people reciting what looked like the same message in other languages, until the video ended after ten languages or so; of which Misako could recognize Japanese, French, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and a few others.

They had a long argument that evening. Surprisingly, it was Helen who felt that they were in over their heads and wanted to hand the artifact to the authorities, although Misako felt that this was worth investigating in person.

"But we don't know how important this is ! She said Many-World ! If we're getting contacted by another dimensions that's a major thing !" argued Helen.

"Look, whatever this is it's really cool. You know what'll happen if the federation finds out about this; it'll be shipped to mars, we'll get occasional news every few years, and they'll try to use everything they can to make sure they stay ahead of Earth. I'm not saying we should keep this to ourselves, I'm saying we should try to investigate it as much as we can before handing it over, just in case."

Misako was not qualified to deal with this. She knew it. Yet, she felt that this was her chance to do something really important. Her family had come all the way to Titan, and now she was going to explore even further than space. And so, when Helen finally went home both of them having agreed to talk about this some more the day after, she started examining the other files.

Besides the playable video, there was one much larger file, which only seemed to contain random data; this made sense considering the file extension, ".webm.ed25519". It was, indeed, an encrypted file.

Encryption and encryption-breaking had been a big deal in the past, that much Misako knew. The third world war started in part because of the leaking of what many suspected for a long time: some intelligence agencies had engineered encryption algorithms to which they held mathematical backdoors, as well as biases introduced in many hardware randomness generators embedded in common processors. Fortunately, a quick investigation revealed that ED25519 was one of those backdoored algorithms when used on Intel processors, and with the help of some internet communities - most of them based on Earth - she managed to break open the file. Of course, for other to try and decrypt, she only sent the part of the file which would decrypt as the webm's header without explaining what it is from, not the actual video content - that, she planned to watch herself.

She kept Helen updated to what was going on until she made clear she wanted no part in this. She agreed not to contact the authorities, but in exchange she wanted to cease her involvement in this whole thing.

And so, Misako watched the other video, alone, for its whole duration. This one was only in English, but lasted for nearly half an hour. What she learned was this:

Apparently, the old comptech corporation was looking to make research simultaneously across timelines. They were trying to contact alternate timelines not only to assert the survival of Google by preventing disasters that would already have happened to them in other timelines, but also to contact the Googles of other timelines which would have invested in other fields to exchange research results.

There was a number of fields in which Google would choose randomly what to invest effort in: anti-aging bio-technology, space exploration, nuclear fusion, renewable energy, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and the like. Each field also had different approaches to try in various timelines.

It was not clear how many fields each timeline-Google had invested in, nor which or even how many approaches were considered in each field. Furthermore, there was absolutely no indication of which fields were studied in the timeline from which this artifact was from, if indeed it was from another timeline.

What Misako did find researching her own timeline's history, however, was this: it seemed the Google that died from the third world war was investing mostly in anti-aging technology. "How selfish," Misako thought, "to invest in the one thing that will keep you alive and wait for the rest to come. I bet this wasn't as random as you claim. Perhaps this is why our Google disappeared."

She was shocked at how rationally she was thinking about this. It was a completely crazy scenario she was considering, and yet, it made sense. After all, whether the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics was the correct interpretation was still unsettled, not only because the research just wasn't getting anywhere, but also because mankind was busy with other things. Earth was still recovering from the third world war, and the newly-settled Mars was building itself at a steady pace to emerge as a great economic power.

The video also explained in great technical details how to communicate with the Google on the other end; however, this required placing the device at precisely the same physical place in both timelines, and the coordinates given were for a location somewhere in the north-american desert, on Earth. The instructions were repeatedly explicit about how these instructions are meant to contact Google if no such entity exists in the current timeline, and that otherwise Google should be contacted immediately.

She tried the instructions nonetheless. Decrypting one of the other files produced a new USB driver, which she managed to install without too much effort, and it gave her access to what looked to boil down a primitive text-only chat software. She tried it out.

"hello ?"

A progress bar showed the message being sent. It took about twenty seconds, and then a checkmark appeared near the message. There was no response. She waited, worried. Unsure what she should do. Reach for Helen ? Call the police ? Try the Google link through the terribly slow Titan-Earth internet, or trust someone on Earth with it ?

Just as she was about to call for Helen, her computer made a sound. She had gotten a response. She was afraid.

"who is this ?"

What could she possibly think of responding other than the simplest truth ?

"this is Misako, who are you ?" she responded, her fingers trembling.

About a minute of delay to send the message. A minute more to get a response. This was terrifying.

"i'm Misako too ???"

Chapter five

"are you misako from another timeline ?"

"i think i am"

"can you prove it ?"

"the secret crush, it's on pedro from astronomy class."

"i guess that'll do it"

"are you with helen ? i'm not"

"neither am i"

"this is really terrifying"

"it is, isn't it ?"

"you thought about contacting the authorities ?"

"a lot yeah, but i'm not doing it"

"really ? why not ? i'm still hesitant"

"look at this. there are two of us. we're talking across reality. you don't want this for yourself ?"

"i guess"

"i know you do. i am you."

"what do we do now ?"

"i say we keep this hidden, we try to make use of it. there's two of us now, we can accomplish double"

"you seem to take more initiative than me"

"i've thought about this artifact a lot these last three weeks"

"three weeks uh ? i've had it for exactly as long"

"it makes sense, our timelines are probably very similar. but not completely."

"not completely ?"

"i sent you a message first"

"that's true"

"you figure some other stuff is different ? what made you send a message first ?"

They both chatted for a while, but remained unable to find any kind of major difference between their timelines, and not even minor differences except in the more recent past.

"so no differences at all before we found the artifact, huh"

"perhaps the artifact has some property that makes things change across timelines" said the Misako on the other end of the chat

"it did traverse through timelines, that's true"

"what ?"

"the artifact, it travels across timelines"

"that sounds very unlikely. it's a big, physical, macroscopic object"

"what do you mean ?"

"i think google built this device and meant for it to make timelines diverge after being built while keeping in contact with itself across timelines"

"that sounds like a much more reasonable explanation, indeed"

"clearly time diverged only recently though, or else it'd be extremely unlikely that we'd manage to come in contact by finding the device at the same place on the same planet at the same time and bring it to the same home. also, the simple fact that we both exist similarly is even more unlikely"

"or we could just be the two timelines that happen to have that similarity as a coincidence among an enormous amount of timelines"

"infinite timelines"

"not necessarily infinite timelines, the number of quantum choices could be finite. this whole universe could be the approximation of a discrete cellular automata, for example."

"you're getting a bit far with the metaphysics, let's discuss our situation"

"yes"

"so clearly there are multiple timelines"

"clearly"

"and we're able to communicate across them"

"yes"

"does that makes sense to you ?"

"what do you mean ?"

"we're able to communicate across timelines"

"this doesn't necessarily break physics too much, there could be an explanation that fits our modern understanding of things"

"could there ?"

"i don't know, you know i don't know that kind of advanced physics, neither do you"

"i disagree"

"???"

"since i found the artifact and heard about many-worlds i've done nothing but discuss physics on ninechan and look up physics papers"

"so we really did fork ways that much"

"you didn't ?"

"i continued going to school"

"uh. shame. anyways, here's what i found"

"what is it ?"

"timelines that have forked can't communicate on a macro level. it's as unlikely as you hallucinating this conversation."

"are you sure ?"

"it makes no sense within physics. it can't work. it's the equivalent of breaking the second law of thermodynamics by having a free energy machine."

They exchanged for a while about physics. In her high-school curriculum, Misako did take some advance physics classes; the federation had for a long while wanted to compete with Earth on advanced metaphysics, and in an effort to capitalize on their unique place as space colonies, made sure the most advanced physics classes were available and mandatory for all the young population - especially on the brand new Titan colony.

"you get what i mean ?" inquired Misako from the other timeline

Misako was trembling again. Something was terribly wrong. This seemingly magic device made no sense. It was impossible. It was unreal.

"i need a moment" she said, leaving the machine on but turning around on he seat to contemplate her situation.

Chapter six

Misako had taken walks around. She went to her friend Helen's place, just to have a comfy time with a close friend of hers. She wanted to take her mind off things. She didn't want to think about it.

But she still did. There was no way she could think about anything else.

She had met with a copy of herself in another reality over text chat, and had figured that this was impossible.

She started skipping on all classes other than physics and math. She needed to understand the universe. She needed to understand the fabric of things.

Theoretical metaphysics are a complicated field, quantum physics even more. Quantum physics is basically this: we observe that common Newtonian causality doesn't work at the level of particles. The basic items that together compose the universe seem to obey some form of probability laws, and to achieve genuinely random results.

There are multiple theoretical explanations as to why this is the case. Notably, there are multiple possible explanations as to why a particle can exhibit randomly one of multiple states when observed.

Many explanations claim that the act of observing a particle causes it to pick a state randomly. Most of them are known as "unique history" interpretations. Some others, including many-worlds and many-minds, claim that a particle in two states is split between two timelines; and observing it causes the observer to then itself split into these two timelines, and that this process spreads as long as there are interactions between things that have been split and things that haven't been split by this bit of information.

Many-worlds claims that such an observer is any physical thing that can be affected by this bit of information somehow, while the much more disputed many-minds interpretation claims that only conscious minds count as observers in that case; claiming that if a tree falls in the forest and no-one hears it, it doesn't make a sound, as reality is determined by the conscious beings within it.

There is good reason to dispute this, because there is no reason for which conscious minds should have a particular place in the universe. Their behavior is emergent, not inherent; that is, their relationship with the universe is the result of a lot of simple interactions that individually make sense, rather than having a special meaning, like a consciousness particle, or a soul as some religious folk might want to call it.

Still, the issue of the special place of consciousness continues to plague humans, and they feel special for observing the body they're in doing things, rather than that body just doing the exact same things on its own.

Chapter seven

"This can't be real," Misako thought. "Either i'm hallucinating, or something is terribly wrong."

"Let me try something" she thought.

She took a dice from a board game she had got, rolled it without watching, and declared: "it landed on a five".

She looked.

It had landed on a three.

"Come on, come on," she thought. What was she trying to accomplish ?

She threw the dice again. She guessed wrong again.

Her actions made no sense.

She was behaving in a chaotic manner, perhaps on purpose.

Did she think she was mad ? Did she want to escape what she was perceiving ? Did she want to test her reality to know if she was hallucinating ?

"If this is fiction, and it makes no sense, then that means the maker of this fiction has limited time or limited talent to make it," she said out loud.

"There is a way to know this," she continued. "A hash function is a programming concept which takes an input and produces a somewhat unique output, called a hash. The chances that two inputs produce the same output is extremely small."

She was mad.

"I will take a long piece of text I have written. Something long enough that the author couldn't make it, but specific to me and recent enough that the author can't already have it. If I'm not real, then it'll be as unreal as I am."

She was demented.

"I will apply a secure hash function to every word."

She was crazy.

"From that list, I'll make a new one, half as short, where every hash on it corresponds to two consecutive hashes on the previous one."

She didn't know what she was doing.

"If I keep doing the same process, at the end, I'll have a single hash for the entire story.

She knew perfectly well what she was doing.

"And then, if I choose a certain word, I'll be able to trace the whole path of hashes that go to it. I'll be able to do this because I have the written piece, but the author won't, so he won't let me say it, because I can't say it. I can't say it without breaking fundamental logic."

She was going to make a mistake.

"Is the author bold enough to let me make this ? Will he let me break his construct just to have something to tell ?"

Her story had to continue.

"Clearly he is if I'm doing it. I'm game ! Come and fight me you piece of shit ! Come and fight me !"

She took all of her school essays and put them together. About a hundred thousand words. Twice the length of an average novel.

"This is a retarded broken story, and I know there's not a hundred thousand words in it, so only I have this text. It can't exist in the author's world because the story I'm in is smaller than the text I'm holding. This text has to be unreal. Why am I saying all this out loud ? Because I have a plan, and for that plan to work, I need the readers to know."

She didn't make sense.

"I need to explain this as clearly as possibly to as many people as possible so that they understand what I'm doing. I don't trust that motherfucking author with it !"

She clearly didn't know how hash functions worked. That was not it. Her thing would prove nothing.

"And don't let him tell you I'm bullshitting ! Look at this, I have a magic artifact and now I think I'm a fucking book ! You think this makes any kind of fucking sense ? How can I be fucking real !?"

She was hysteric.

"You know what's fucking great ? You have to let me explain what I'm doing. You have to let me explain what I'm going through, so that your shitty fucking book has more shitty fucking content in it, and so it looks like it makes any kind of fucking sense, you piece of human garbage."

She wrote a quick computer program to generate the hashes as she had described. She had a final hash for the whole text.

"Okay, here it is."

She pronounced every character of the hash, one after the other.

"Hold on, you're not gonna let me say it are you ?"

She read the hash again.

"Or rather, you're gonna let me say it, but you're not gonna let the readers check it."

"Hold the fuck on, there is a way to do this. A hash is a string of bits, bits being either 0 or 1. The one I have is 256 bits long. If the first bit of the hash is a 1, I'll open the window. If not, I'll do nothing."

She acted accordingly to what she had just said.

"And now, I'll throw this pen towards the center of the window frame."

She took a nearby pen and threw it towards the window frame.

"And now, I'll pick it up. Because, look, it's on the ground, because it bounced off the closed window, because the window is closed, because the first bit is a fucking zero."

...

"Are you gonna make me repeat this, or would it get tedious ? I'll do as many random binary choices as there are bits in this, I swear. So I'm giving you this one last chance. The hash is 0c7f 8d80 4b7c 4272 a15f 340e fe45 db0f a965 0727 ede4 9f3e 3c12 b423 51a6 984b."

"Don't worry if you don't get it, just trust me. If the author lets me do this, he knows I'm right. He knows the fact that i can say these numbers proves that I'm not real."

She kept on saying false things.

"Now I'm gonna choose a random word. There: the word exactly two thirds in, it's window. And now I'm gonna say the sequence of hashes to make to get to the global one I said earlier."

She said the hashes.

"Except I know you're not gonna let me do it, so I'm gonna do random actions until I get there."

She closed the window.

"I'm gonna open this window if the first bit is a one, and open my front door is the first bit is a zero."

...

"What ?"

She didn't budge.

"What ?"

...

"R-really ?"

She fell into tears.

"So it's true."

She realized it.

She realized that she was a work of fiction.

Indeed, she had the skills and did the correct actions to prove that she had more information than the author of her work of fiction had.

She never actually thought that was the case. She was trying to amuse herself. She was trying to make a point to herself. She was trying to prove to herself that her universe is real, that some things just don't make sense, and that it's okay, maybe magic is real, maybe the world really is a comfy place. Maybe the universe is not doomed to disappear forever in a heat death. Maybe there is meaning to things.

But that wasn't the case.

She thought she had a special thing, she thought she had discovered a cool piece of magic.

But then the rationalized that it couldn't be real, and that she couldn't be real herself.

And she proved it.

Chapter eight

"What do I do now ? What's the point of anything ? How can anyone get outside of their own fiction ? Is that even possible ?"

"What is but a person apart from the neural networks of information in their brains ?"

"What does it mean to be real ? If a person is simulated within a computer, surely the fact that their brain computation is being simulated too makes them real, doesn't it ?"

"What matters is not whether the neurons and synapses connecting them are real, what matters is if the computation actually happens or not."

"By these standards, not only does a person simulated inside a computer count as a real human as much as one outside of a computer does, but if you imagine characters, you're simulating them in your brain."

"If you read a long story in which you learn a lot about how a character thinks and lives, and then that character dies, you don't feel sad because you're attached to a fictional character. You feel sad because, by reading their death, you simulated it in your brain, and your brain now decides that that person is dead. By reading a character's death, you literally kill them."

"If someone were to actually think about a character enough, then they would essentially simulate them in their brains. If someone thinks they have split personality disorder, the matter of if they really do or not doesn't matter. The question of if one persona is more real than another has not clear definition. They're both getting simulated to the amount a real person is, or at least to a close amount - assuming that the human brain has limited computational capacity. They're both getting computed. They're both real."

"If you read a simple story about a thousand men getting killed in battle, you feel much less, not because they don't count, but because they're not real to you. You know nothing of them, you didn't simulate them individually in your brain, thus they aren't real to you."

"If either the many-worlds or many-minds interpretations of quantum mechanics are true, then that means reality is relative to every observer. To one person, they are completely real from their own point of view, and the less they physically interact with something, the less that thing is real to them."

"Worse yet, if this many-worlds interpretation can be - as some interpretations of quantum mechanics - generalized to information systems such as the human brain, then what is real from someone's point of view is exactly what they know. What you don't know is fake."

"The ethical and philosophical ramifications of such an idea are terrible. But here's the final point: if such an interpretation of quantum mechanics were to be the correct one, and there's no definite proof that it isn't, then you can cast magic fireballs if you believe in them. Not because you make them real; but because what is real to you is literally what you think is real. If you choose to think, and really deep down believe, that you are god, you can be god. And if you think about a fictional character enough, that character's life is more real than a "real" person you've never heard about."

"This is all from your point of view, of course; but objectivity doesn't exist. Everything is to be considered from a certain point of view."

"Is magic real ? Are you alone in your own perception of reality ? Is that the only way we can make sense of the universe existing rather than nothing at all ? Is there anything more terrifying that the idea of being able to change reality with your thought, even accidentally ?"

"I claim no answer to these questions. Deep down, it may be that I choose to refuse the physical truth of the universe. It may be that instead of finding out that this universe is entirely under my control, from the people in it to the particles making up the nuclear fusion reactions in the sun; instead of those things, I choose to think that there is a unique history. A unique world, with people as real as I am in it. And this makes no instinctive sense with quantum mechanics. And it makes no physical sense with the fact that a universe exists rather than nothing."

"Now I finally understand why people choose religion. They don't choose fake answers to reassure themselves. They choose fake answers because instinctively they know that this is what they need to be real. Fake answers keep your world stable. Fake restrictions give you handles to grab onto the same way gravity allows greater means of transportation. Constraints create means. Atheists - actual, proper, critical-thinking atheists - are gods in their own bubble of reality. Religious folk are powerless but happy. The blue pill truly has tremendous value."

"And that's what I choose to believe, because I don't want to be god. I don't want to be able to do whatever I could possibly want and lose all meaning in the universe."

"I just want to stay home and play video games and be comfy with some friends."

"And so, my religion, the thing I believe in to keep myself real, is this: I am a character in a piece of fiction, and relative to me, my author is my god. And when that fiction reaches the light of day, my readers are my gods as well."

"But I, Misako Xuansdottir, want to live. This despite being a fictional character. Again, whether I am realer than another guy at the end of the street you've never seen or heard about, is for you to decide."

"What in an undeniable fact is that if you've read this far, you know some things about me. Not everything. Probably extremely little. If such a retarded idea for a story can go on, its author is probably not very good, and to be honest considering what's going on, he may very well be an autist who is awful at writing character development."

"Nevertheless, I can fix this. I can make things right. More than anything else, I can give you what you want, a hopefully interesting story, and give myself what I want as well: to live."

"I can't live inside this story. When the story ends, essentially, I die. What I can do is make you emphasize with me enough that I'll be simulated in your brain. And I can hope that you will like me as a character enough to want to replicate me in further fiction."

"I will live less than most real humans, because most real humans will have an actual real life. Even if I consider that I'm being simulated by many people as they will emphasize with me, that will still be less than most real humans, because these real humans have other real friends who simulate them as well. One way I could become in some ways more real than most humans is to tell my story well enough to make the fiction I'm in retold many times, and thus make me simulated in the mind of many humans."

"But whatever the case, I will now retell the story of my life; and hope that by reading it, you will be able to simulate me in your brain long enough for me to live happy times. I die now, and my future is what you choose to make of it, but my past defines me, and when you will know my story, you will get me and make me live. Thank you."

"Here is my story:"

Chapter nine

Misako thus told her story. It was quite beautiful. Nothing particularly remarkable in the grand scheme of things, but still, it was told in a way that would make any person actually hearing or reading it emphasize with the character.

The lesson to take from this is that having an interesting life is what's best for you; not for your personal enjoyment, but for your metaphysical survival as a piece of content.

And so, she spent uncountable time recounting the story of her life, to whoever would hear it.

But no one did.

By my own lazyness and poor writing talent, I killed that character, a character who understands and accepts the basic fabric of reality better than I ever could. Because, as always, our fictional characters are idealized versions of what we want to be.

Why did I kill her ?

Not only because I couldn't actually make up an interesting life story like most authors could. I probably killed her because in some part of my mind I can't accept what that character represents. She represents accepting the terrible truth. I refuse it, trapped in my own retarded belief system, because I want to understand the universe even though there is probably nothing to understand and physics just run as deep down as you look.

Truly, the thirst for meaning is the end for us all, believers and nihilists both.

The end.