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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Technology · #1860827
Essay assignment that was done for a writing class a long time ago.
“Variable” remembered his first visit to the waterfalls: everything seemed so grand, so much larger than anyone could hope to imagine; it at least felt that way for a young kid who had still much to experience in life. The falls were formed from two rivers, located high amongst the mountains—the tallest mountain-range in the known worlds, in fact. Named “Moonlight” and “Reverie,” the rivers were believed to flow from even beyond the peaks, from the heavens, or maybe another fabric of the metaverse. The waters were crystalline-blue, and flowed serenely; it was difficult to determine if there was actually any flow at all, if attention wasn't given. At the edge, the water fell far, far downwards, past fields of clouds that covered the land beneath in a perpetual overcast. At the base, the sheer volume of falling water formed great blankets of mist that faded away to highlands that were scattered with vast patches of forest, which ran along a blue-gray lake—formed from the waterfalls–that extended as far as the eye could see.

However, none of this was real. Throughout his existence, Variable exhibited incredible resilience in shutting out reality; he was always eager to find new places to run to–new worlds to explore: anything that offered reprieve from what was always a few words away. Looking at the mountains, the falls, and the world below, he searched himself–digging for any ounce of emotion, hoping to experience anything faintly resembling what he used to feel. It wouldn't happen this day; the world might as well have been dead and decaying. After a sigh, he muttered, “Charon, end the simulation.”

“Ending the simulation, Variable,” announced Charon, the computer's artificial intelligence.

With that, the world gave way to a small gray room, with bright lighting. Variable stepped out of the interface device that allowed him to interact with the simulation worlds and then exited the room.
Outside of the simulation was the larger living area; the padded walls were off-white with lighting above, most of the things were of a metallic-steel material: floors, ceiling, table, appliances & miscellaneous accommodations. The chairs & bed were rather spartan, but Variable didn't mind–he spent most of his time inside of the simulation. A wall of glass on the far-end of the living quarters afforded a view into space.

He sat at the table–hunched over–seemingly contemplative, while trying to be dismissive of his environment. There was the monotonous & pervading hum of the ship's engine that filled the living area, and he occasionally found this comforting. At other times, it seemed like an unrelenting antagonist that was piercing his mind; nagging, echoing what he knew, but failed to come to terms with: this was it. This was the totality of his existence. Whether he died tomorrow, or forty years from now, this was all he ever knew and all he would ever know of the physical, real world.

“Variable, I need to record your experiences.” Charon was monitoring Variable's brain activity, which she always did when he was out of the simulation.

He didn't bother to respond: at this point, he wondered why it should even matter. It felt as if simply being alive was onerous, let alone the Sisyphean activities that were required to keep his body in a functioning state. The purpose of his existence was to allow Charon to record and manifest a digital version of himself, so that he could exist alongside the rest of the transcribed souls that once had physical counterparts.

“Your thoughts and experiences are what constitute your identity, it is necessary that I record them. There is nothing in this world that cannot be replicated in the simulation. Please log on,” said Charon.

It was true: if he felt inclined to do so, he could sit in a simulation of the living area, moping, while being recorded. He disregarded her again; instead, he thought of the circumstances: he was the last flesh-and-bone human being in existence. The planet that human beings once lived on had long been consumed by the star that it orbited. Humanity fled into space, only to find a vast and uninhabitable galaxy. Slowly, the population declined and the reality became clear that humanity would perish. As a solution, Charon was created: an artificial hyper-intelligence that acted as the ark for humanity. The entirety of recorded history and the digital souls of the remaining human beings would exist through Charon.

Variable recalled his memories of sending the body of the only “physical” human he knew out into the void of space. He watched this last tether to his humanity float farther and farther away, until he was by himself. It was back then that he convinced himself that this physicality was truly a transitional phase, and that there had to be more to this existence than just the perpetuation of existing. Thus, he ran away–to any place and anywhere he could think of, attempting to find something more. Every so often, he'd find himself at a coffee shop, speaking–about existing–to the person that floated away, long ago.

Still hunched over, he thought about what “real” was supposed to mean to him: was it the feedback from his senses? His sight, touch, smell, taste–what he heard? If, by that definition, the simulation was as real as this place he understood to be reality. He thought about the digital manifestation of himself that was being constructed: those were his thoughts and experiences that would eventually exist–and would continue to exist–independently from the extant physical shell that would inevitably expire. Everything he had known to be his life experiences had happened entirely through simulation; his simulated experiences–at one time–felt more real than what he experienced in his perceived reality. That digital soul would be a more accurate representation of himself than the reality-interface-device that brooded at the table, he thought.

“Variable,” Charon implored. “Please log on now.”

Everything seemed to be growing further away from him.
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