“Are the plants too green?” Virt asked, glancing at the purple fern on his station.
“That’s what the bosses want,” Rezel said, sinking his twelve digits into his station’s data tubes.
Virt had a to-do list longer than his third trunk, but all he could do was study the subjects of the simulation they were working on.
“Who came up with this design?” Virt asked. Two arms, two legs, and tiny digits that could barely be called poseable.
“We launch in a few cycles. I wouldn’t worry.”
“Do you think you can help me with this?” Virt asked.
Rezel stopped his assigned task, fixing a bug that caused birds to crash into clear windows, and slid to Virt’s station. “You’re trying to make the free will feature work?”
“Every test I run has the humans figuring out they’re in a simulation.” He had been working on free will bug for more than three cycles.
“That’s not fun.”
“Whose brilliant idea was it to give humans free will?” Everything in the simulation was designed and planned—it made little sense to Virt to add such unpredictability. “I’d rather work with birds.”
“They aren’t as easy as you’d think. Flying is hard to code.”
“They don’t build particle accelerators that crash the operating system.”
“Wait a few billion cycles,” Rezel said. “The evolution algorithm does some crazy shit—these used to be giant lizards. It’s fun jumping in and watching it play out.”
Virt had worked on dozens of simulations, but this was the most advanced ever created. It was an entire universe designed down to the planck.
“I’ve never joined one of the simulations,” Virt said.
“You’re missing out,” Rezel said. “Last sub-cycle, I loaded into a sim where I was a sentient cloud. There wasn’t enough gravity to pull me together. It was euphoric.”
“Sounds great.” Virt shifted his facial flap to the side, indicating sarcasm. These simulations were for research, providing insight into how life might evolve given different parameters. He had no interest in make-believe. “At least those clouds don’t spend their entire existence questioning who made them.”
“So the humans are too curious?” Rezel asked.
“Opposite,” Virt said. “Our answers are too perfect.”
Rezel flattened his flap in confusion.
“Look here.” Virt pointed at his screen with a long, gray digit. “After humans develop atomic energy, they start analyzing more of the program’s subsystems. They ask why and start testing their own theories—”
“Which leads them to realize—”
“That they’re living in a simulation themselves.”
Rezel rubbed his frontal lobe with both sets of digits. “It’s not intelligence. It’s just logic.”
“That’s the problem when you give free will to software with casual reasoning skills.”
“Should we make them dumber?” Rezel asked. “That might delay their quantum age by a few hundred cycles.”
“I tested that. It doesn’t take long after basic computing until they’re building their own sims.” Virt paused. “It makes you wonder if we aren’t in a simulation ourselves.”
Rezel shrugged his trunks. “That can’t be. We owe our existence to the Optor Sisem that created us.”
Virt wasn’t as religious but decided against arguing. Instead, it gave him an idea. “We need another reason for existence.”
Virt slotted into his data tubes, identifying the code to change.
“What reason?” Rezel asked.
Not just one, Virt thought. “Gods. Doubts. Gut feelings. Humans can be intelligent, but with a disposition toward alternative theories for their existence. This way, even when some suspect they’re in a simulation, most won’t believe them.”
“You’re neutering them.”
“I’m expanding the scope of the simulation.” Virt coded a preliminary set of calculations. “Look, if we reduce their logic basis by fifteen percent, it will extend the efficiency of the program overall. They’ll lack accurate recall, saving memory, misidentify optical traits not present in visuals, saving graphics, and fail to switch between disparate tasks efficiently, saving processing power.”
“It’ll be a wonder if they can invent mathematics before starving.” Rezel checked Virt’s calculations. “With these updates, we could increase the universe size and speed of information.”
“Let humans see more stuff,” Virt said enthusiastically, his trunks vibrating. “More distractions. A big universe will make them think there’s something out there besides us software engineers.”
Virt let the trial simulation run. It used a fraction of the CPU, though the results were only around seventy percent accurate. It was the best way to assess new features.
“Do you think these humans could really build their own simulations?” Rezel asked while they waited for the compiling to complete.
“I suppose. It would have to be fractionally as powerful as ours.” The idea concerned Virt, considering the limitations of their own software.
“We could charge them server costs.”
The trial run ended.
“It worked,” Virt said. His vocal glands lacked their usual enthusiasm when a trial proved successful.
“You’ve got a lot of gods to design,” Rezel said.
“I’ll let the humans do that.” Virt sunk his digits deep into the data tubes. “It’ll be an ingrained need to fill in the gaps in knowledge, but without answering their questions.”
“Brilliant.” Rezel checked the time. “Shit, I’m way behind.” He slid back to his station. “What was I working on? Something with birds?”
“Windows?” Virt asked.
“Eh, I’ll move to the next bug in the queue,” Rezel said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”