Sunday, February 18, 2007

5 Minute Kill

My digital stopwatch ticked down, nearing the ever closing mark. I had less than five minutes to stop the inevitable, or the world would send it self on a chain reaction of destruction.
How do I know this, again?
I remember. He contacted me two weeks ago.
A man told me this would happen, a man who's face I've never seen; a man who I've never met; I man who I don't even know, and yet, I believe every word he says.

I stormed up the staircase into the third floor of the musty apartment building. The corridor was exactly like the previous one, and I had no idea which door the target was in.
I stormed toward the end of the hallway and stopped myself. I tried to catch my breath and frantically make sense of what I knew, and then make a decision.
Suddenly the pay phone behind me rang. I turned around and I ran up to it before it had a chance to stop ringing.

I picked up the receiver.
"Hello?" I was out of breath.
"What happened? Your cell phone is off." It was him, as usual.
"The battery died." I tried to catch my breath.
"I told you to bring a replacement."
"I forgot."
I looked around me at the empty hallway and then down at my watch. The digital counter was ticking down from four minutes.
"What floor is the sniper on?" I asked him.
"He's on the fifth floor in apartment 5F. You know, this is cutting it close."
I looked around and checked my pistol for ammo. The stopwatch was ticking down toward three minutes.
"Roger that, I'm going in," I told him.
"Wait--Remember what I told you."
"...Yeah." I hung up the phone and headed up the next flight of stairs.
Outside, I could hear the crowd cheering as the limousines drove up the street. I entered the fourth floor hallway and made a dash for the next floor. The hallway was dark and there were no windows. I could see the dust floating in the air and the paper peeling of the walls. Every time I ran I kicked up more dust from the old carpet.
Suddenly a middle-aged woman walked out of her apartment and I brushed past her. I reached the next staircase at the end of the hall and pulled myself up onto the fifth floor.


I took a moment to catch my breath. Then I pulled out my pistol from its holster and turned off the safety mechanism. I checked each side of the hallway for the apartment numbers.
5B... 5C...
The noise of the crowd could be heard even louder from up here.
The door was right in front of me and I turned the knob. Unsurprisingly, it was locked. I pulled out my ID card and sliced it into the side of the door, hoping to break the lock open.
It wasn't working. I tried again, and again and I kept shoving it, but it still didn't open.
BEEP BEEP. My watch hit the one minute point. I had 60 seconds left. The seconds ticked away and I had to regain my cool.
The ID card wasn't working. I tried it again and shoved my whole body into the door. I made a slight bang and the door jarred open.

The room was empty. It was run-down, just like the whole building. The air was dusty and the walls were old and rotting away.
40 seconds.
I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins.
I slowly walked forward, looking left and right. He had to be in the bedroom; he had to be. I approached it from the left. I carefully pushed the door open, refraining from any unnecessary sounds.
The bedroom warily revealed itself as I pushed the door foward. Every second that passed I could hear the crowd outside and my watch ticking down.
There he was: a middle-aged man wearing a leather jacket, staring out the window. He had the sniper locked in his hands and he was preparing for the kill. His back was to me and he was completely unaware of my presence. I had to act now.
20 seconds.
I had my gun drawn and ready to fire. I approached him from behind, he still being oblivious to my presence.
"Drop the weapon." I said it as calmly as I could.
The shooter, still with his back to me, didn't move or make a noise.
"Drop the weapon!" I tried to sound as if I meant it.
13 seconds.
"DROP THE WEAPON!" I took two steps forward.
The attacker suddenly turned around and aimed his gun at me.
I fired my gun and the bullet flew out. The room shattered in echoes from the loud noise. The bullet connected to his forehead and the blood splattered against my face and my clothes.

I couldn't breathe. I needed to get used to killing other people.

I tried to rub the blood off my face and jacket. Face down on the floor, the sniper lay dead in front of me.

Beep, beep, beep.
I took a sigh of relief and tried to breathe normally again. It was over-I did it.
I looked out the window at the bright, cloudy day and I could see the UN ambassador exiting his car down on the street. He was greeted by his security guards and the other ambassadors. My eyes took a moment to adjust to the glaring light. It was a long way down. No one would ever know.

Suddenly the phone rang from the entry room. I walked back into the main room and spotted the green phone on a small table. I picked it up.
"Hello?" I answered.
"You hesitated." He always knew where to find me.
"I killed him."
"With five seconds to spare."
"The ambassador's alive. That's all that counts."
"That's right. Maybe I can trust you after all."
"So, who are you? Really?" I asked.
"Another time, another place. But good job on the kill. I'm going to have to wait and see if the history records update."
I stood there in the apartment and took a seat on the chair next to the phone.
He spoke up again. "We did it. The ambassador will finish the peace talks in the next week. You successfully averted the third world war."
I looked across into the bedroom and could see the sniper's body laying on the floor. The window allowed a slight breeze to enter the room. By killing one man, I saved another, who would save millions more.
"You know how hard that is to believe, right?" I said.
"For you, yes. But it doesn't matter now. The world is saved. Good job Mr. Kent."
I looked out across the room and took a deep breath. I didn't feel like a hero.
"So now what do I do now?" I asked.
"You do nothing. Go back to work. You will be a forgotten hero in the history of mankind, but I'm sure you can live with that."
I took a deep breath. "Will I ever talk to you again?"
There was silence. I could hear him thinking.
"Perhaps, if ever the time comes," he said.
"Are you sure you can find a phone?" I asked.



Friday, February 02, 2007


"What if... We were just a simulation in a construct?"

I sat down at my personal desk and logged into my file. The virtual world was up and running again on schedule. I controlled my avatar and sent him to work to make money. He woke up, brushed his teeth, got in his 97' Cadillac and drove down to the city into a parking garage. I made him get out and enter the office building where he signed in for work.
Everyday for him, nine to five, making one-hundred thousand a year.

I watched as the virtual world spun around him and he did his job.

"Mr. Collins, please report to the front desk."
I looked up again, making sure that I just heard what I didn't want to hear.
"Mr. Collins? Front desk please."

I headed out of my cubicle and walked over to the receptionist. There was a tall man in his mid thirties in a business suit standing next to the entrance. He was carrying a briefcase and waiting for someone.

"Mr. Collins, this is the man from department. You're supposed to show him around today?" The receptionist said while working away at her desk.
"Oh, yes, of course. Right this way please," I motioned to the man.
The stout man in the business suit followed me back to my cubicle.
"My name is Victor Collins, I'm just another employee here doing the standard avatar job," I told him.
I'm Kerry Barber, nice to meet you. So how do things work around here?" He asked.
"Well..." I said as I sat back down at my terminal. "We all have our own avatars and are trying to promote them in the virtual world," I answered.
"So... how does that relate to work?" He inquired.
"Some people just think it's fun and games but there's real money to be made. When your avatar gains virtual currency, it's worth almost twice that amount in real life. So you can image how profitable it is to be in the virtual world."
He crossed his arms in amazement. "Really? How is that possible?"
"Apparently, for some people the virtual world is worth more than the real world."
"So you sell things in there?"
"That's right."
I turned around to face my screen and watched my avatar do his job.
He took a seat next to me and leaned over my shoulder. "So what're you doing now?"
"Uh, nothing. My avatar is logged into his work shift, and gaining virtual cash."
My little character was on the screen, sitting at his desk, somehow gaining money.
"Don't you have to do something?" He asked.

"They have their own artificial intelligence that kicks in for basic commands. You know, like, working, eating, that sort of stuff. You have to control them though in where they go, what they do, and when they do it. But they can do the individual operations themselves."
"What happens if you give them nothing to do?" He questioned.
"Well... they automatically try to resort to fulfill their needs. They'll eat, sleep, drink, have fun, that sort of thing."
"And what if you work them to the bone?"
"Ah you can't do that. They need to rest, relax, do different stuff. It's the basic needs for every avatar. Sometimes I give them a break."
"Very interesting."
I took a sip of coffee that was sitting next to my terminal.
The business man looked around at the other cubicles.

"So how deep is this virtual world, really?" He said.
"Well... I would say it's a complete recreation of Earth. It lives like Earth, it looks like Earth, and it acts almost the same way. You can go anywhere, do anything, and it's not like there's any loading screens."

"So it's literally an exact copy of Earth?"

"I guess so. This wouldn't have been possible back in say... 2000. But technology has changed. Ever since they harnessed the ability to store data in a single photon, we can do things never ever dreamed of."

"So how much different is this virtual world from our world?"
"...Not much. It's just that it's fake, and we're in control of it. And... you can make a lot of money in it."

He took a pause. "So then, our world could also be virtual."

"It seems possible from what's capable today. What if the real world was a virtual world, and we're just players in a giant game? You know, like what you're doing. After all, how would we know?"

"Is that a serious question?"

"What's so unbelievable about it? How do you know this isn't a game?"
"Well, for one thing, I make my own choices. I know what I want and what I need. I can stop doing anything or just walk out of this office if I want. It's not like someone's controlling me."

"Maybe we're all just avatars. Maybe your choices are really someone else's choices. Maybe anything you choose is just really your creator doing it for you."

"I know what I am. Nobody's controlling me."

"But what if all your desires and impulses are just artificial intelligence, or the way your creator makes you do something?"
"Are you getting at something?"
"I just thought it was interesting how you controlled a person just like you, doing the same things, except in another world. I can't see why it doesn't apply to our world."
"Because it's ridiculous?"
He started to formulate a question in his mind. "Let's say I was an... 'avatar' in a virtual world. And my job was to inspect private businesses for the government. Today, my creator sends me to the Sy-Tech corporation to inspect it and thus gain virtual money in the process. And part of this inspection is to talk to one of their employees and see how they work in their jobs, which happen to be related to virtual worlds. What's so ridiculous about that?"
I stared into his face and gave my response. "I think your tour is over."
"It was just a question," he conceded.

He stood up and walked toward the exit.
I stared back down at my avatar. I would need to get him out of his office and over to sell real estate soon, or I would be behind for today's quota. But first I had to take care of his needs before he left the office.
I sent him over to the vending machine to get a drink (Thirstiness 10%) and then have a chat with the other employees there (Sociliaztion 25%). His popularity levels rose slightly. I then got him to check his e-mail (Daily Schedule 2%) before he left for the parking lot. He exited the office building and got in his car, then I sent him en route to his destination. His driving skill was 85% so chances of an accident were minimal.

After this deal, that would make my avatar more powerful than 95% of the population and that would make me rich.

I stared away from the screen for a second, with an urge to go buy lunch across the street. Maybe I could have a chat with George on the way out.

No, I'm not an avatar. That's impossible.