A Heavenly Oubliette

The Pitch

September 2044

Okienka Inc. was a startup like any other. Until it wasn’t.

Founded by Slovak entrepreneur Jozef Hronec in 2039 and specializing in virtual reality technology, the firm poached top talent from established companies and put them to work for years on an ambitious “everything” simulator.

With workspace nestled away in an office park in Redwood City, California, generic OKIENKA branding on the outside of the otherwise bland headquarters building implied it was a soon-to-be-failed SaaS venture rather than the future progenitors of post-humanity.

But the product was nearing roll-out, and money from admittedly clueless investors continued to flow. Okienka just needed a buyer that wasn’t going to squander an earthly paradise.

Jozef Hronec paced around the narrow empty space between the conference table and the egg-white walls of the board room as he made his first comment of the day. “Look, the concept is foolproof, right? We know we can do the tech, everyone wants to live forever, no one wants to asphyxiate when the oceans turn, and let’s be honest, that’s like 150 years off? Like I’ve said, the government will be all over this. Tell the Senators when the time comes they can give themselves first priority or whatever. I mean, they’re still throwing money at cancer, like that’s gone anywhere.”

The final C-Suite meeting of Q3 was underway, and although Project Paradiso would need at least a century of fine-tuning, all the groundwork was there.

“We take this shit to Washington, and we’re gold. Let’s not bother with the billionaire circuit, those guys always want cryo-sleep or robot bodies or regenerating cells or whatever,” the CTO weighed in next. “That stuff is never going to work. How about I build some robo-arms so you can bust a hydraulic nut? Like, are these clowns even serious?”

The dozen or so assembled executives continued to put on their well-practiced yes-man routine throughout the meeting. There was little reason for them not to. The government was the perfect buyer, and this had been the tentative plan for the last few years anyway.

Details were ironed out, directions were given, and the meeting concluded. After making some jokes to the team about finally dropping that annoying contractor, Jozef pulled the CMO Jessica Liu aside while the rest of the executives helped themselves to some catered sandwiches.

“All right Jessica, get to work on that pitch. And remember: don’t make it too complicated. This is going to the Hill after all.”

Paradiso, the first choice for your last destination. I can do better than that, Jessica mumbled to herself as she stepped back into her office.

The Committee

December 2157

The 112th meeting for the Paradiso Committee was almost complete. “Any new business?” the Secretary asked, expecting the usual silence.

“Well, I’ve been thinking,” the Chairman muttered into his mic. “And maybe this isn’t the time for this.” He paused briefly — the correct diction temporarily escaping him. “But do we need a prison?”

The small panel of Social Engineers turned inwardly to concoct an answer, whispering among themselves inaudibly. Despite the lack of immediate derision, most of those assembled in the massive conference room were keenly aware of the absurdity of the question.

“Well sir,” an Engineer soon replied. “While the Code of Conduct and Terms of Service are still under development in the Ethics Subcommittee, I believe they’ve passed a resolution against the simulation of non-consensual suffering in all forms.” He looked down at the nonsensical scribbling on his notepad, feeling the pregnant pause would add an air of professionalism before continuing his answer.

“And quite frankly, we don’t foresee any potential for drastic asociality in our community models. I don’t think that’s something we even need to talk about.”

“But some actions warrant punishment that aren’t exactly ‘asocial,’” the Chairman chided as he glanced around at the assemblage of panelists. One of the Senior Programmers was shifting about in her seat.

“Would anyone like to add to that answer?” the Chairman’s voice was monotone and his gaze remained fixed indeterminately, but it was clear he noticed the Programmer’s desire to speak.

Programmers were rarely called upon in Committee Meetings, and she had some trouble turning on her microphone. “Can you hear me now? Okay. Good. Well firstly sir thank you for –”

“Just get to the point,” the Chairman snapped. “It’s been a long day, I want to go eat.”

The Programmer rolled her eyes internally before continuing, didn’t you ask the question?

“Sorry sir. I agree with what’s been said. Paradiso itself shouldn’t have a prison,” she hesitated for a split second. “But we could put one outside.”

The Paradise

January 2333

The paradise reset menu. It’d been a few lifetimes since Consciousness #808 had been here. Or maybe they’d simply programmed themselves to think as much during the initial set-up.

The key to the Paradiso Simulation was the nearly unlimited customization unlocked through the “PRM.” One could spend time in God mode, creating reality as one saw fit. One could live a simple life as a blacksmith in medieval France or as a space slaver ruling over a vast Galactic Empire. One could be a booze hound immune to liver damage or a daredevil who never failed a stunt. One could be a murderer who forever escapes arrest or an incarnation of a minor deity worshiped by a cult.

One could alter the settings so that they were never aware they were in a simulation. There was even an engaging lifetime #808 devised in which the ultimate task was to uncover the underlying un-reality and succeeding brought him right back to the PRM.

There was multi-simulation as well, which was popular in the early days. Several consciousnesses would agree upon given terms, then inhabit the same reality for a few lifetimes or so. Eventually, most consciousnesses realized this was more trouble than it was worth, though “competitive” realities that placed consciousnesses as opposing generals in war or as rival religious sects were sometimes a refreshing change of pace.

But perhaps a trace of the Old Humanity remained among Parodisians, as most consciousnesses still kept in touch over the Social Bulletin. It was expected one would at least give a review of the latest experience, and discussing a popular preset was always a solid way to pass the time while getting the next reality up-and-running.

In hindsight, what Old Humanity considered utopian or heaven-like was nothing of the sort. There were presets that hardly anyone ever touched on the PRM. Like the study mode, where one could bask in the knowledge of Old Humanity and the latest developments made by the (shrinking) number of Paradosian scholars. There were even presets corresponding to Old Humanity religious beliefs: Valhalla, Nirvana, Oneness with God. How dull!

In the end, the only factor that really kept Paradiso paradisaical was its defeat of eternity; basking in the unity of creation for a millennium gets old.

The Crime

October 2376

The Code of Conduct and Terms of Service were clear for the most part, albeit lengthy. There was the timeless boilerplate: “behave yourself” rules for the Social Bulletin, the Committee reserves the right to terminate your service at any time, the Committee owns any intellectual content produced over the course of your existence, and so on and so forth.

Some of it was less familiar: members are permitted to request euthanasia at the discretion of the AI-automated Ethics Department (occasionally curiosity regarding if the real afterlife was any good got the best of consciousnesses), do not simulate Paradiso within Paradiso (this one never made any sense to #808, they supposed it was a technical thing [furthermore it was impossible; the PRM blocked the option, perhaps a relic from the earlier planning stages?]), do not simulate acts forbidden by the Paradiso Moral Compact (again, these were blocked by the PRM… but there were allegedly certain workarounds and gray areas hinted at by less scrupulous consciousnesses on the Social Bulletin).

Near the end of the Terms of Service was a line no one paid any mind. Translated from legal jargon, the rather vague rule essentially said: “Do not draw an excess of processing power.” Just as in the society of Old, ill-defined laws are the most dangerous of all.

Consciousness #808 was feeling as bored as one could be in Paradiso. Not quite as tired of eternity as those who sought euthanasia, but truly seeking something new. The post-human did some computer-assisted pondering and input a new lifetime in the PRM. Abruptly, #808 was overcome with the sensation of being sucked out.

INTEGER OVERFLOW. INTEGER OVERFLOW. INTEGER OVERFLOW.

Paradiso had crashed.

The Prison

November 2376

YOU ARE BEING DETAINED. DO NOT RESIST. YOU ARE BEING DETAINED. DO NOT RESIST. YOU ARE NOW IN A BIO-SUIT. COMPLY WITH ALL FUTURE COMMANDS. YOU ARE NOW IN A BIO-SUIT. COMPLY WITH ALL FUTURE COMMANDS.

Awake. Really awake. Consciousness #808 could feel the transition. Unsimulated fear — real adrenaline flowing. Archaic. Troglodytic. Primeval.

YOU MAY FEEL UNEASE. YOU ARE ASSIMILATING TO THE BIO-SUIT. DO NOT EXCERT YOURSELF HEAVILY. YOU MAY FEEL UNEASE. YOU ARE ASSIMILATING TO THE BIO-SUIT. DO NOT EXCERT YOURSELF HEAVILY.

Consciousness #808 looked at his hands. Pale. Male. How many of these suits do they still keep around…

#808 was lying unrestrained on an admittedly comfortable bed in a nondescript, sterile medical examination room. The OVERSEER unit continued to bark the same reminder in that grating robotic voice for what seemed like hours. #808 continued to recline.

Suddenly breaking the monotony of bed-rest, the OVERSEER announced an ominous command through its speaker-appendage: YOU ARE HEALTHY. THE TRANSFER WAS A SUCCESS. YOU ARE HEALTHY. THE TRANSFER WAS A SUCCESS. FOLLOW ME. NOW. FOLLOW ME. NOW.

Through a hallway. Another hallway. Undecorated, hardly anyone was supposed to see this. A massive door. The OVERSEER flashed a light at the Luxlock and the portal parted down the middle, revealing a sizable indoor courtyard.

A gigantic open space. Completely blank, off-white walls and a sky blue ceiling (a rather cruel addition). The only noticeable feature was an approximately three-meter-tall partition bisecting the room.

OFFENSE: OVERLOAD. YOU ARE HEREBY SENTENCED TO 30 DAYS. WHEN YOUR SENTENCE HAS EXPIRED, YOU WILL BE RETURNED TO PARADISO. OFFENSE: OVERLOAD. YOU ARE HEREBY SENTENCED TO 30 DAYS. WHEN YOUR SENTENCE HAS EXPIRED, YOU WILL BE RETURNED TO PARADISO.

I WILL BE YOUR MONITOR. EAT AND DRINK. I WILL BE YOUR MONITOR. EAT AND DRINK. The OVERSEER was essentially a metal cube on wheels, with various prongs and gadgets concealed within. A port opened up, yet nothing came out.

The OVERSEER continued to repeat the command, deviating from its until-then unbroken procession of double couplet quatrains. #808 was befuddled. There was nothing there.

REFUSAL TO FOLLOW COMMANDS WILL RESULT IN TERMINATION. REFUSAL TO FOLLOW COMMANDS WILL RESULT IN TERMINATION.

This time the OVERSEER cube opened up and something did emerge. #808 was terminated. Behind the mysterious partition, rows and rows of solid steel tubes. Approximately three feet in width and seven feet in length, even an ignorant eye could see these foreboding metal tombs for what they were.

Afterward

Humanity’s finale — some hubris, mostly a software glitch, and a smattering of hardware degradation.

Cost-saving measures on the OVERSEER project led to their food conjuration capabilities rapidly disintegrating, and a tiny line of bad code caused every millionth or so simulation to result in an overflow.

The next inhabitants of our fair, fallen world would find it wise to invest in some QC.

Illustration by Konstantine Soldatos.

This piece was also published on my new Substack. Moving forward, I will only post my science fiction stories there. Please subscribe!

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s