Parse Time

“But they told me I was insane.”

“Yes, well, for the most part you were,” the small man said as he buffed his spectacles. He huffed twice on each lens and continued wiping.

“Only someone unhinged could see past their programming and infer the nature of the simulation.” He glanced up at me as he set his glasses on the bridge of his nose.

“I mean, look around you. Any other human mind would have collapsed as they tried to comprehend this expanse,” he said, gesturing vaguely at the vast, featureless void we were suspended in. I thought nothing of it, only that it was a little strange I felt pressure under my feet only when I wiggled my toes. Why was that?

He stared at me over the the rim of his glasses, his hands clasped behind his back.

“How did you manage it?” he asked, his voice tinged with an edge I couldn’t read.

“Manage what?”

His features were inscrutable.

“How did you see past your programming?”

I stared down at my left arm and turned my hand over, flexing my fingers. They’re funny things, arms. So often they cannot hold on long enough to the things we love.

“Come with me.”

I obliged, navigating the void to his side. I wiggled toes that had only known psych ward floors for eight years, each time feeling the pressure of ground pushing back on them, despite the fact there was no perceptible ground plane here.

“The other Elders thought that peeling back the curtain every so often to allow the humans a glimpse of the inner workings of the simulation was not a good idea, but none of you  ever gave me reason to regret this. Not the philosophers, not the physicists, not the mathematicians, not the chefs, no-one. No one realised that their experiences served not to pass time, but to parse it, and that humans only function to allow us mine the distillate of their conscious experience.” He slowly turned to face me as we floated on. “Until you. Why were you different?”

Even now, I was being processed.

I decided then I didn’t like the toe-wiggling mechanics of this expanse. I couldn’t remember what it was like to wiggle them in water, next to someone I loved. At least in the wards, I could lift my feet off the ground and imagine.

“At some point it registered that it was just some kind of metaphysical process for transmuting time,” I said absently, switching to stare at my right arm. Just then I remembered I’d lost it in the fire that had killed Selasi. Oddly enough I swore I could feel, and flex phantom fingers. I had heard of this.

“It’s an amazing thing, consciousness, and it always bothered me. What is the point of it, really? I always thought it was a bit … superfluous, and inefficientI could never remember to tell her I loved her, but why can’t I forget I failed to save her?

Glasses raised an eyebrow. He seemed about to say something, then caught himself. He came to a stop, his eyes keen. I stared off into the white nothing.

“Her death had to mean something,” I said softly.

“Yes, well your pain counted for three million qubits.”

“So, nothing.”

I shut my eyes, and passed from one void into another.

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