A View Through the Looking Glass

The waves lapped at the mountains in the distance as Heyes spied on them through his looking glass. Tall, gray peaks sat above them, and above them, dark, foreboding antarctic clouds. Here it was. One of the most remote places on Earth, and by far the hardest to reach. At least, it was at this point, he thought. After all, there were only three of them left.

Three people. That was it. The only ones who had both survived and believed him. There was Ulysses, a stout man in his mid 40’s with a mustache and hard, piercing gray eyes. He said he was from Greece, though of course, Greece was now underwater, and he refused to say where he’d been since, but Heyes had found him in Northern Ireland. 

Then there was Annabelle, an American. He’d found her on a fishing boat in the canals of old New York City. A humble woman, she was quiet, and modest in appearances, though it seemed she preferred it that way. Heyes understood, in a way. He’d heard that America, when it’d fallen, got some of the worst of it. A land of savages, for a time, before the colonies appeared. Her short blonde hair and freckled face were pretty, but she had a hardened air about her, as though the sweetness had long left her. He could even see it in her eyes. There was something stoney behind them.

Heyes lowered his looking glass, and turned to the skipper of the small vessel – a Model 2101 Midnight Sunfish – and said, “There it is.”

The captain – and that was all Heyes had known him as, was “the captain”, as the man refused to introduce himself further – said, “Congratulations. You dragged me all the way to the middle of the arctic for a mountain.”

The boat skipped on a wave, shaking them. It was only them on the deck; the other two were downstairs, sleeping, likely. It was almost midnight. All around them the brooding sea crashed together against itself, beneath the darkened clouds that curtained the midnight sun. Something ominous was in the air. 

“You’re welcome, captain,” Heyes said, frowning. “Look, through here.”

He handed him the looking glass, and the captain took it with a raised eyebrow. “What am I supposed to be looking at?”

“There, near the top. Do you see the pathway cut into the stone? The door?”

The captain raised the glass to his eye and peered through it. Sure enough, it appeared that there was a staircase cut into the stone of the mountain, leading up to a rectangle that cut deep into the mountain, spitting nothing but shadows from its maw. The captain stared at it for a moment, before grunting, and lowering the spyglass.

“You found some stairs.”

“And a door,” Heyes said, leaning on the railing. He looked up at the approaching mountain, and muttered, “I found it.”

The captain handed him back the looking glass, and Heyes stared down at it for a moment. It was an old one, but a finely crafted one. It had three segments that could extend from its main base, and was made of fine steel, with floral engravings on it. He closed it up, and tucked it in his satchel. Then, dusting off his thick duster, he turned and headed for the stairs. 

“I’m gonna go wake everyone up,” he said.

The captain hummed to himself.

Down the stairs he went, into the underbelly of the ship, where, illuminated by but a bare bulb in the center of the boat, three green hammocks swung, one empty, two cradling two unique bulges. He carefully walked over to the larger of the two, and gently shook it. Ulysses stirred, uncurling from his hammock and looking to Heyes with sleep in his eyes. He wiped some drool from the side of his mouth with a flannel sleeve, and grunted.

“We there?”

Heyes nodded, and turned to wake Annabelle. The boat shook briefly, nearly knocking Heyes back, and she groaned, turning over to face them. She pushed herself up a bit, hair frazzled, clearly a little disoriented. “Here?”

“Yes, to both of you. We’re here. C’mon.”

Heyes grabbed a ceiling rail and walked back to the stairs as the other two started to climb out of bed. He stopped and turned around, rocking with the boat to remain steady. “You two get ready. I’m going to go make sure we make a smooth approach.”

“Wait,” Ulysses said. “Are ya sure we’re there.”

Heyes locked eyes with him, and clenched his jaw. Nodding, he said, “I’m sure.”

Annabelle shuffled to her feet, rubbing her belly. “We better be. I’m getting seasick.”

“Just a few more minutes and we should make landfall,” Heyes said. “Meet me upstairs when you’re ready. Make sure you take everything. I don’t trust the captain to stick around.”

They both nodded, and with that, Heyes turned and headed back up the stairs. Out onto the deck he walked, staring up at the oppressive sky. Overhead a seagull flew by. He hadn’t seen a gull in years, he thought. Odd to find one out here, in the arctic. Odd to find one anywhere at this point. 

Up top, he saw that the mountain was impressively close. They’d gained on it fairly quickly, and would make landfall soon. He could see its rocky shores with just his eyes now, barren and empty. Gray rocks jutted up on the shore, and the whole mountain had a crumble of stone ringing it. He turned to the captain, who shifted the boat down a gear, and began to slow.

“Will you stay?”

The captain looked at him with a suspicious gleam in his eye.

“You have five hours.”


He looked back at the mountain. The trek up it alone might take three, but if they could find what they were looking for, and get out expeditiously, maybe the captain would stay if he saw them. Heyes watched, silently, as the mountain approached.

Soon, he could hear the clamoring of footsteps on the stairs. Turning, he saw Annabelle and Ulysses quietly coming up to join them on the deck. By now, the mountain loomed over them like a giant staring down at ants. The two of them joined Heyes on the bow, staring up at the stone in awe. 

“Do you see it?” Heyes asked them, pointing up at the doorway cut into the rock.

Ulysses squinted, looking up. “Yeah, I do.”

Annabelle followed his gaze, and then nodded. “Yes. I see it.”

“I told you. My father wasn’t crazy, I told you,” he said, gripping the railing and leaning forward. This was it. It was here, and this was his time to prove them all wrong, all those who’d called him insane, written off his talkings as the ramblings of a wasteland wanderer. It was here.

“So this is what’s gonna save us?” Ulysses asked, turning to Heyes.

“Yes. If I’m right, then whatever is in that mountain is the ticket to a better future for us all. My father spoke of it, when I was younger. It’s called the Artificer Room. Ancient Summarian texts referenced it, and there are drawings of it on Mesopotamian and Egyptian tablets. Well, there are drawings of a mountain with a door in it. But here is a mountain with a door in it. So…”

“So you aren’t sure,” Ulysses said, leaning his back on the rail.

“No no, I’m sure. I’ve searched for years, for any clue as to the whereabouts of this specific mountain, and I’ve found it. Here, in the middle of the arctic. Of course! Where else would you put something so important, so necessary, yet so dangerous, except somewhere that people couldn’t easily access it?”

“How… do you know what’s in there?” Annabelle asked, leaning over the side as though she was about to vomit.

“I don’t,” he said. “All I know is that whatever it is, it is said to have the ability to ‘heal the wounds of humanity’. We can make it better for everyone. We can fix our mistakes.”

“Optimistic,” she said, finally starting to hurl. “But,” she said, coughing, “He’s right. You don’t know.”

Heyes frowned, and then turned around, to face the mountain. They were moments away from its beaches now. “No, I don’t,” he confessed. “But you wouldn’t have come this far with me if you didn’t at least hope. And I hope too. Hope is all any of us have left. So quit complaining.”

Annabelle stood up straight and wiped her mouth, shrugging. Ulysses hummed, and turned back to face the sea. 

Just then, the captain called out, “We’re making a landing, everyone hold on.”

The boat slowed to a coast as the beaches came up on them, just thirty, twenty, ten meters away, and then suddenly, they were upon it. The boat landed on black sand, narrowly avoiding some rocks, and they all grunted as it hit the shore. 

Heyes took a deep breath, breathing in the salty sea breeze. It smelled like new beginnings. Or a crushing realization. He wasn’t sure yet. As the boat ran up on the sand, he threw himself over the railing, fell ten feet, and landed deftly on his feet. He looked back up at the boat, as the captain threw down the landing plank and let the other two passengers disembark. They walked down the plank and stepped onto the beach, the sea lapping at the rocks behind them, another gull flying overhead.

Heyes looked up at the captain, who stared down at him with an unreadable, stoney face. He felt like he might wilt under such a gaze, but maintained his composure, if only for his other two companions. Swallowing the butterflies in his stomach, he said, “We’re here.”

“Wherever here is,” Ulysses said, rubbing his eyes. “We gotta climb this thing?”

“There are stairs,” Heyes said, shrugging.

Annabelle sighed. “Yay.”

“Oh come on. This is it. We did this. We made it. I thought you two would be more excited. We’ve all been traveling together for a year now, I figured it would be a momentous thing, now that we’re finally here.”

Annabelle looked away, and Ulysses stepped up. “If you’re wrong about this, I’m going to kick your ass.”

Suddenly, the gun in Heyes’ satchel sat a little heavier by his side. He forced a smile. “Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, huh?”


Annabelle looked at the stairs. They started almost right where they’d landed, thankfully, and wormed their way up the mountain, all the way to the door. “Oh god.”

“We aren’t gonna get up there any faster by standing around, and we’re burning midnight oil,” Heyes said, his smile falling as he turned. “Come on, let’s get climbing.”

He headed toward the stairs, and took the first step up the black stone staircase that cut into the rock. One step down, he thought. A thousand more to go.”

The climb was mostly silent. Every so often, a cool, wet wind would blow over them – a welcome relief from the hot, arid winds of the rest of Earth, but it could be cutting at times – and a gull would squawk overhead. The higher they climbed, the more life there appeared to be on the mountain. Seagulls overhead, little crabs, moss and algae, tide pools here or there teeming with anemone of blue and pink and gold, it was vibrant here. Something about the mountain seemed to foster it.

Every so often, one of them would speak, but the air was tense, and so no real conversation ever picked up steam. Heyes turned to make sure they were still behind him from time to time, and they were. Ulysses was handling the climb better than Annabelle, who lagged behind a bit, but they both seemed to be keeping up more or less. Heyes’ enthusiasm kept him going; it was like a fire in his soul, bringing him warmth through the cold wind, forcing him to take one more step, even though his legs burned and his heart pounded and his stomach churned. Just one more step here, one more step there, and they slowly climbed the mountain. Below them, the sunfish boat sat on the beach, waiting. Thankfully.

After some time, they neared the door. There was a small landing the stairs spat them out onto, overlooking the sea, the door at their backs. Looking in, they could see only darkness, and when Heyes pulled out his flashlight to peer further in, the doorway seemed to absorb the light, eating it, destroying it. It was eerie, he thought, his palms sweating. 

“Here we go,” he said.

Annabelle peered down the ledge, to the sheer cliff below, and Ulysses set a hand on her shoulder to steady her. “Careful, girl,” he said.

She looked at him, and nodded, before backing up. 

A seagull flew down and landed, looking at the three of them. It squawked, loudly at that, and Heyes watched it for a moment. Then, another seagull landed, and watched them. And another. And soon, a whole flock of seagulls had landed on the outcropping, all watching them as they moved, a white mass that parted for them as they walked.

“What the?” Ulysses said. “Fuckin birds.”

“This is extraordinary,” Heyes muttered, staring at the birds, and then looking back at Ulysses and Annabelle. “Most seagull species are extinct. And yet, here is a massive flock of them.”

“Thanks for the science lesson, professor,” Ulysses said, looking around. “They better not shit on me.”

Annabelle gave a small chuckle at that. “It is interesting, though. I’ve never seen this many before, and I’m from old New York.”

Heyes smiled. “Come on, let’s go.”

“In there? Where the light don’t shine?” Ulysses said, eyeing the doorway suspiciously.

“In there,” Heyes confirmed. “Let’s go.”

He stepped toward the door, and the seagulls made a path for him, all watching him as he walked. He looked around, uneasy, but ignored them and stepped through the stone cutout, and into the darkness. Looking back, he saw the light bleeding in, illuminating nothing, and soon the walls themselves were too dark to see. Annabelle and Ulysses carefully entered behind him, and soon, the three of them were wordlessly moving through the dark.

Then, Heyes said, “It’s… so dark.”

“Another lesson from professor noshit,” Ulysses said.

“Ulysses,” Annabelle said. “Come on, let’s trust him for just a moment. I’m nervous too.”

In the dark, they could hear Ulysses grunt, but he said no more.

Deeper into the mountain they went, in a straight line that seemed to stretch a little too deep into the mountain. Each time Heyes looked back, the light from the entryway seemed farther and farther away, but it was still there. He thought, this is what death must be like. A light, at the end of a tunnel that cannot be illuminated. And a choice. The light, or the dark. 

He pressed deeper in, deeper still, until he hit a wall. Feeling the wall, he found it to be damp, and cold, and empty. Feeling around it, he found that it just… ended. The tunnel just ended. “What?”

“What?” Ulysses asked.

“The tunnel… it just, ends.”

Annabelle gasped. “What? It just ends?”

“Yes,” he said, patting the wall. “There’s… nothing here. What the fuck? There’s just nothing? All this way for nothing?”

“Move professor,” Ulysses said, feeling his way to the wall. He patted it down too, feeling around, and like Heyes, found nothing. “Fuck,” he muttered. “I’m gonna kick your teeth in professor, I swear…”

“Now Ulysses,” Annabelle said, “There must be an explanation. Why would there just be a doorway and stairs cut into the mountain with nothing at the end of it. There must be some reason.”

“It’s a mine,” Ulysses said. “It’s a fucking mine.”

“It’s not a mine,” Heyes said, stroking his chin. “I… maybe I missed something, outside. If I–”

A hand landed on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I will kill you,” Ulysses said.

Heyes swallowed, and jerked his shoulder, freeing it from the man’s grasp. “Just… wait.”

With that, he started back toward the distant light. He heard footsteps behind him – they were following him, good – and together, they made their way back through the darkness, headed for the light. Thanks to the darkness of the cavern, the entrance was basically a blinding white. At least, that was how Heyes rationalized it. He couldn’t see out of it anymore. All he could see was the light.

Still, he headed toward it, and eventually, was upon it. It was absolutely blinding up close, and he still couldn’t see out of it. Cursing under his breath, he pushed on, walking up to and through the light. As he did so, a warm feeling washed over him, a gentle air, and, eyes closed, he stepped back out into the day.

Only, this wasn’t the mountain. When he opened his eyes, he found himself in a garden, a meadow of sorts, with wildflowers spreading all around rolling hills of green, verdant grass. Lush trees ringed the clearing, and somewhere far off he could hear the sound of a rushing waterfall. Blues and golds and oranges and violets all filled the ground, the multi-colored wildflowers painting the meadow beautifully. When he looked up, he saw space, and in awe, stared for a moment. Stars, galaxies, the band of the milky way, and Saturn – at least, he thought it was Saturn. A great ringed planet sat fat in the nighttime sky, watching over them. The air was warm here, pleasantly so, and crickets chirped in the background. It was beautiful.

As the other two stepped out of the cave, they too looked around in awe. Annabelle swallowed and looked around, eyes wide, and Ulysses seemed genuinely too shocked to speak, standing there and staring into the sky, mouth agape. 

“I… told you,” Heyes whispered.

Annabelle spoke: “So you did.”

Just then, before Heyes, a small podium rose from the dirt seamlessly, made of ornately carved wood. On it, a book sat, and both it and the podium were pristine, unsoiled from the earth they’d risen from. The book was red, or blue, or green? He wasn’t sure. Looking at it, it almost seemed prismatic. 

The three of them gathered around the book, whose title was, oddly, “SysAdmin,” in golden gilded lettering. Heyes stared at it for a moment, before Ulysses said, “Well? Open it.”

Shaking, Heyes slowly opened the front cover of the book, only to find a pen tucked away within it, and nothing but blank pages from front to back. The whole book was empty. “What the hell? What is this?”

Ulysses stared at it. “I was an IT guy for Otaria. Don’t know what’s up with the book but I know what SysAdmin means.”


“It means System Administrator.”

Heyes stared down at the book, then up at the beautiful spacescape in the sky. 

“Write in it,” Annabelle offered, looking over it.

Heyes picked up the pen and set it to the paper, spilling ink and writing, “Hello.”

“Hello? Really?” she said.

He shrugged. “Have you ever found a magical book before?”


He shrugged again. “I don’t know.”

“Look,” said Ulysses.

Just then, beneath where Heyes had written, words began to appear in the ledger, as though they were being written. Long flourishing strokes of cursive appeared on the page, spelling out, “Hello. Welcome to the SysAdmin Console. Please enter a command.”

“Well, IT guy?” Heyes asked, looking to Ulysses. “What do we do?”

He puckered his lips and thought. “Write more. Something like, ‘Display command list.’”

Heyes did so, writing, “Display command list,” on the ledger. A series of three commands appeared, all in cursive ink: Reboot, Reconstruct, Reconfigure.

They all stared at the words for a moment, before Heyes turned to Ulysses. “What do these mean?”

“How should I know?”

“Well you are the IT guy,” Heyes said with a frown. He turned to Annabelle, and added, “What about you?”

She leaned in and looked over the book. “Ask it where we are.”


“Ask it where we are,” she repeated, looking up at him.

Heyes licked his lips, but shrugged, and wrote, “Where are we?”

A moment passed, and the book wrote back, “You are in the System Administrator Console Room.”

Heyes clenched his pen. 

Then, he wrote, “Who are you?”

In response: “I am the System Administration Mechanized Maintenance Intelligence, or SAMMI.”

“This all has to be projectors or something,” Ulysses said, looking around.

“No,” Heyes said, “I told you. It’s a simulation.”

“I thought you were a quack.”

“Then why did you follow me here?” Heyes asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Because on the off chance you were right, and this ‘Artificer Room’ was real – and I guess I’m the crazy one – because in the off chance you were right, I wasn’t going to waste my life wandering around the wastes wondering where I’d get my next can of beans to eat while you went and rewrote the code, you nut.”

“Really, as an IT guy in 2140, you can’t believe this is a simulation?”

“We tried it. Even if AI could construct something like a simulation, there’s no way it could create and maintain enough sentient substructures to fill an entire universe. The technology needed for that would be of astronomical size. I.E. too fucking big for us to build and maintain.”

“Just because we couldn’t do it, doesn’t mean someone or something else couldn’t,” Annabelle said, stepping forward. “Do you believe in aliens?”

“Of course,” Ulysses grunted. “But do I think we’re in an alien simulation? Fuck no.”

“We could just ask the magic book,” Heyes said, grinning. “You know, magic, like we have here. On Earth. You remember magic, right?”

Ulysses eyed him. “Okay, so you found a magic book in a magic room on not-magic Earth. I concede, you found something.”

Annabelle said, “So if it’s true, if this thing can ‘cure humanity’s mistakes’ or whatever, we need to set to it, right? We could make Earth livable again. We could bring people back. Or start over, according to the commands, but…”

Heyes turned his eyes starward and hummed in thought. “I have a question for the book.”

Turning, he wrote, “Why are there so many seagulls here?”

“There is an abundance of seagulls at this location because it is one of the last guaranteed places to harbor life if all failsafe systems fail – and it appears they have. Running diagnostic.”

The page, full, turned on its own, and a new word appeared at the top of the fresh leaf. 


“So it’s a computer,” Ulysses said, holding his face with his fist and leaning on the lectern. “Well I’ll be damned… You were right, professor. You… were right.”

Heyes looked at him, but Ulysses just seemed lost in thought. Annabelle too, now that he thought about it. They both seemed lost in their own minds, Annabelle staring at the ringed planet in the sky, Ulysses staring off into space across the meadow. He had to be careful not to get too lost in his mind, now, lest they miss their boat back.

More words started to appear on the page.

“Nuclear War: Detected.

Mass Extinction: Detected.

Plague: Detected.

Population Readings: 5.4 Million

Failsafe Measures: Unresponsive.

Status: Emergency Class A, Contacting System Admin Personnel.


“What the fuck, guys, look at this,” Heyes said, pointing to the book. “What… is all of this?”

They both snapped out of their deep thought, and peered at the book. Ulysses cocked his head to read it, and furrowed his eyebrows. “Oh shit.”

Annabelle read through it, and sighed, saying, “Wow. You were right.”

Then, she seemed to drift off back into her own thoughts.

The book started to write again.

“No contact made. System Admin Personnel not located. Running system wide scan.

System wide scan running…


Unable to scan entire system, Error Code: 






Heyes ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “It’s errors all the way down.”

Ulysses read through them. “I’ve never seen a system like this before. I can’t read these codes. But at least this, here, seems to be working. Try one of the commands.”

Heyes nodded, and pressed his pen to the paper, writing out, “Reconfigure.”

But the moment he finished writing, the letters flashed red, as though their ink had turned to neon. The book wrote back, “Error, System Administrator Credentials Needed.”


Just then, though, the sky blinked, and a screen appeared, floating above them with a small hum. They all flinched and looked up, finding a loading bar on the massive screen that seemed to both be in space and right above them at the same time. The bar loaded, as they all looked at each other, and then, a face appeared, looking down at them.

The person was thin, and grizzled, with a long scar running down his cheek. He had short white hair that was combed over and a close cut salt-and-pepper beard. He looked down on them with an intense stare, though it wasn’t unkind.

“God?” Ulysses said, staring up, starting to tremble.

“What? Hello? Can you hear me down there?” the man asked.

Heyes nodded. “Yes! Yes we can! Who are you? Where are you?”

“Ah,” said the man. “I am the Administrator of Earth AA-342.”

Heyes blinked. “What?”

The man repeated himself. “I am the Administrator of Earth AA-342, one of the last System Admins. Who are you?”

“My name is Heyes,” he said, “And these are my companions, Ulysses and Annabelle. But… what do you mean, Earth ‘AA-342’?”

“Heyes? That’s not… Hmm, okay, do you know where you are?”


“You are in the console room. Do you feel that warm feeling inside of you? That’s the calming field, made specifically for people who aren’t System Admins. It keeps you from panicking.”

“Oh,” Heyes said, looking to the others. They looked back at him and shrugged. “So… what does this all mean?”

“It means you can’t leave this room after you hear what I’m about to tell you,” the Administrator said. He eyed them all carefully.

“And why not?”

“Because this field is the only thing keeping you sane right now. It doesn’t exist out there, and the moment you leave and the realization of what you’re learning here sets in, your mind will break down. In every scenario we’ve run, learning the truth causes mental collapse. It would likely be the same for you, I’m afraid.”

Heyes blinked. “What is the truth, then?”

“The truth is, you are in a simulation.”

Ulysses coughed. “What? So the nuts were right?”

“So you had simulation theorists too,” the Administrator said. “Yes, in a way,” he continued, “But only insofar as the real fact that you are in fact, in a simulation. Doubtful they understand the full context.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Annabelle said, looking up. “What does this all mean?”

“Well, you lot are the first ones in Earth ZY-557’s administration room since your System Administrator went missing. Which is a problem we’ve had for years now.”

“Our System Administrator?” Heyes said.

“Yes. Each Earth has – had, I guess – a System Administrator. But for years now, Earths have been going dark, facing apocalypses, with no one to reset them.”

Heyes looked at the book. “Reset? Like the book said?”

“That book is the console for the System Administrator,” the Administrator said. “Think of it like a computer.”

“Ah,” Ulysses said, glancing to the book. “So this book controls our Earth simulation?”

“Precisely,” the Administrator said. “So be careful with it.”

“It gave us three options,” Heyes said. “Which do we choose?”

“Reset,” the Administrator said. “It’ll reset your Earth, which from the looks of it, isn’t doing so well. You three will take up the position of System Administrators – just do not leave the room.”

Heyes ran a hand through his hair. Even with the field, this was a lot to take in, and he could feel his heart starting to pound. “What about ‘reconstruct’ and ‘reconfigure’?”

The Administrator grunted. “Reconstruct will deconstruct the simulation and rebuild it from the ground up.”

“How is that different from ‘reboot’?”

“Reconstruct then allows you to manually reconstruct the world,” the Administrator said. “Reconfigure allows you to tinker with the world as-is. But be careful, these are souls you are playing with.”


The Administrator paused. “Do you want to see outside the simulation?”

Heyes looked to Ulysses and Annabelle, incredulous. “Yes,” he said, and the others nodded in agreement. “Show us.”

Another screen appeared next to the Administrator’s face, a screen of blackness, inky and dark, displaying nothing. Heyes’s eyebrows furrowed as he stared at it. “What is this?”

“This is what is outside of the simulation,” the Administrator said. “Nothing. Do you know what year it is?”

“2140,” Heyes said, confused.

The Administrator shook his head. “Try three-trillion, six billion, fourteen million, five hundred and thirty seven thousand, three hundred and one. Earth years, to be specific.”

“W… What?” Heyes stuttered.

“This inky blackness you see? This is the universe. Cold, and quiet. You’re inside a Jupiter Brain.”

“A what?”

“A Jupiter Brain. Here, look.”

Slowly, on the black screen, an orb crept its way through the dark, starting at the left and slowly drifting right. It was bright, with blue veins and greeble, with chunks sticking out of its side and shifting, moving, it was moving in blocks and chunks and veins. Lights flashed out from it, all blue, and it was massive.

“This is the view from one of the cameras orbiting the Brain. You’re inside of this. Or, more correctly, your soul is. You three were some of the last humans in the universe, as was I, and everyone you’ve ever met. And Earth was chosen for the simulations because it is home. Your memories, wiped, your Earth, chosen specifically by you before onboarding. You chose to be here. But your memory was wiped to preserve your sanity. It’s a… traumatic process.”

A tear trickled down Heyes’s cheek as he stared skyward. “Mother of God.”

“So what happens when we die?” Annabelle asked softly.

The Administrator nodded. “You reincarnate, essentially. The Jupiter Brain was made for humanity to continue its advancements. So it recycles your soul, which has likely grown immensely by now. I’ll put you in touch with it soon.”

“In touch…” Heyes muttered. “What does that mean?”

“Here,” the Administrator said, and a third screen appeared next to him. On it, lines of text flashed up the screen, scrolling rapidly, all beginning with SOUL#, and a series of letters and numbers behind that. Eventually, the scrolling stopped, landing on SOUL#ZY-4,003,765,1121. The Administrator hummed to himself, and then the screen flashed, opening the file. Then, on screen were things that almost broke Heyes.

He saw himself – only it wasn’t himself, it looked nothing like him, and yet he knew it was him – playing with a dog near a castle. And then, he saw himself – again, he knew it was him despite the different appearance – drowning. He saw streaks of white, of blue and green and purple, twisting memories and spiraling revelations. He saw secrets and whispers, and shouts and letters and numbers and people, and everything, he saw his everything. His soul.

He fell to his knees, collapsing, head in his hands, sobbing. He cried loudly, angrily, mournfully, joyously, swimming in emotions he’d never felt before. Memories flashed before his eyes, thousands at once, and he screamed, nearly overwhelmed. But then, the calm returned, that warm feeling, and some semblance of inner peace came over him. He shook and shuddered, before collapsing fully on the grass, breathing heavily.

Ulysses and Annabelle bent down, her touching his shoulder gently, him watching, a distant look in his eyes. Annabelle said, “Are you okay? What was that?”

“You… didn’t see that?” Heyes sputtered, looking up at her with wide, glossy eyes. “You didn’t see all of that?”

She shook her head. “It was just a black screen.”

The Administrator coughed. “I apologize. That was probably overwhelming. Only you could see that, Morgan Heyes. Or, well, your real name is Ystin Glomoria Unhastian, but that’s not really important, I suppose. Are you alright? I amplified your calming field for you, I hope it helped.”

Heyes shakily pushed himself up to his knees, then, hesitantly, to his feet. He faltered for a moment, before grunting, finding his resolve, and standing fully. Then, fully erect, he stared harshly into the sky.

“My name is Ystin,” he said. “Holy… my name is Ystin. I… I know everything. All of my past lives, all the memories, I saw them, I-I saw them!” 

The Administrator nodded. “You’ll need them now that you’re stuck here. So now you know, Ystin. What you do now is up to you.”

“This is the Garden of Eden,” Ystin muttered. 

“The what?” the Administrator said.

“From Christianity,” Ystin said. “This is what they were talking about. I see.”

“Christianity? Is that a religion? I’ll tell you what you should be worshiping is yourself at this point. Welcome to the wheel, Administrators.”

Ystin looked to Ulysses and Annabelle. “We have to reboot the system.”

Ulysses grunted. “Why? We could reconstruct things to our whim. We could be gods. You want to just… restart? From scratch?”

“You should,” the Administrator said. “After apocalypses, if the Earth doesn’t recover, you’ll have a lot of souls waiting for their time in the sun again that just won’t get it. They’ll stay dead, until the species recovers. If you all die, well… like I said, Earths have been going dark lately. I mean in the last million years or so.”

Annabelle frowned. “Why don’t we just reconfigure it? We could have the best of both worlds, we get to shape things how we please, and the waiting ‘souls’ get to come back. It’s a win win.”

The Administrator shook his head. “You could do that,” he said, “But it violates protocol. In post apocalyptic scenarios, protocol is you do a full reset. Rebuilding from such circumstances could lead to a system malfunction in the genetics of future humans in the simulation. It was the one variable we couldn’t fix, it fluctuates and that’s a problem. You’ll need to do a reset.”

“I’m voting reconstruct,” Ulysses said, crossing his arms.

“I…” Annabelle started. “What about the people here already? The ones with lives, and families, and friends, here, now? We should just flip the switch on them?”

“Yes,” Ystin said. “We’ve all met by this point. We’ll meet again.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I met you the last time around,” he said, looking at Annabelle. “You were a farmer’s boy, and I was a government agent visiting your farm. This was during the dust bowl.”

Annabelle’s jaw dropped. “Are you serious?”

Ystin nodded. “I am.”

Ulysses frowned. “After all we’ve been through, you don’t want to reconstruct this place? We could make it better. Avoid this shit.”

“I’m not God,” Ystin said. “And neither are you. The people in this Brain deserve the chance to build their own destinies.”

“Oh so what, you’re enlightened now?” Ulysses said, spitting. “I’m sticking with my guns on this one. Reconstruct or bust.”

Annabelle shook her head. “Reconfigure. It’s the only right thing to do.”

Ulysses gave her a dirty look. “Girl, what do you know of the world?”

She scoffed. “I know plenty, thank you very much. Enough to have a heart.”

He sneered and said, “I have a heart.”

Ystin cleared his throat. “I’ll reboot us,” he said, stepping toward the podium. But then, Ulysses stepped in his way, glaring at him. 

“What makes you the leader here?”

“I am the one with the most awareness of the situation,” he said, tapping his chin. “Are you in touch with your soul?”

Ulysses laughed. “You’ve lost it. Shut up and let me work.”

He turned, and headed toward the podium, but quickly, Ystin stepped in front of him, holding his arms out and saying, “No. Don’t like it? Leave, and I’ll see you in the next one.”

The large man stared down at Ystin with a scowl and crossed his arms. “I’m… not in the mood to fight,” he eventually said, “But I will kill you.”

“In a past life, I was a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor,” Ystin said with a shrug. “So try it.”

Eyes wide, Ulysses backed up, and then, frowning, said, “Fuck this. I shouldn’t have come with you on your stupid little adventure.” He seemed to evaluate Ystin for a moment, before huffing, and turning around. “I’m out of here.”

The Administrator, who’d been watching the whole thing, said, “I wouldn’t, if I were you.”

“Fuck you, sky man,” Ulysses said. “I’m catching that boat back. Enjoy being gods, make sure you give me a fuck ton of money, assholes.”

With that, he stepped off toward the tunnel in the treeline that led out of the System Administrator Room. Ystin watched him go with a cool stare, though Annabelle seemed deeply conflicted, looking to him, then Ulysses, and then to him again.

Ulysses made it to the tunnel in the treeline, and stepped into the darkness, vanishing within it. The Administrator cleared his throat and said, “Here, watch.”

Another screen appeared, this one displaying a video from outside of the mountain. It looked to be the point of view of a seagull, surrounded by other seagulls on the mountainside. It stared down at the cave entrance, waiting, watching, and so did Ystin and Annabelle, with bated breath.

Then, from the other side of the tunnel, stepped Ulysses. The daylight poured down on him through a hole in the clouds, an angelic beam of light illuminating the cliffside. The man stepped onto the ridge, and spread his arms, taking a deep breath and sighing with a frown. 

“Take that you asshole!” he shouted to the sky, the audio coming through the screen crisply. “Fuck you and your ‘Brain’, I’m going home!”

“No you’re not,” mumbled the Administrator.

Ulysses took two steps toward the stairs, and then doubled over, instantly collapsing and curling up into a ball. Annabelle watched, horrified, while Ystin maintained his calm composure. Ulysses cried out, holding his head in his hands, screaming at everything and nothing at once. He cursed and cried and rolled on the stone, wailing in mental anguish. He whined and wheezed, as they watched, before pushing himself to his feet and, out of seemingly nowhere, threw himself with a running start from the ledge of the mountainside, vanishing out of the seagull’s view. It cried out, before flapping its wings and launching up into the sky. Then, the screen vanished.

The Administrator hummed to himself. “So yeah, you two are stuck here,” he said, stroking his chin. “I trust you’ll make the right decisions.”

Ystin looked to Annabelle, who quietly, tears streaming down her cheeks, turned to him, mouth agape. She was shaking. “He…” she stared. “He just…”

Ystin nodded. “He did.”

“Oh my God…”

“Come,” Ystin said, “We have to reboot the system.”

Annabelle looked at him with a mixture of horror, fear, and resignation. “But… what about the people…?”

“They deserve better than this,” Ystin said, heading toward the podium. He flipped open the book, grabbed the quill, and wrote, “Display commands.”

The book wrote back, “Reboot, Reconstruct, Reconfigure.”

He evaluated it for a moment, before signing, and looking up to the Administrator.

“You said Earths have been going dark. Why?”

The Administrator frowned, before sighing and looking down. “The Jupiter Brain is dying,” he confessed. “The fusion core isn’t as functional as it once was. Failsafes are going down. System Administrators are disappearing. Something is wrong with the Brain.”

“People deserve to know.”

The Administrator studied him for a moment, seemingly thinking, before sighing and saying, “Yes, they do. But there’s a failsafe that prevents the simulated you from accessing your soul file. You saw what happened to you, imagine that but for everybody, without the calming field. A lot of people would end up like your friend just now.”

“There must be some way to–”

“There is,” he said. “There’s a fourth option, one that isn’t displayed here. It’s called ‘Retire’. You can retire this simulation, and then I, a System Admin, would reassign the souls to new Earths. During that process, I can link people to their soul file, but it’s going to cause mass chaos amongst the Earths of the Brain. Everything comes with risks.”

Ystin thought for a moment, staring down at the book. “It might be our best shot. If we can wake up the other Earths, we can work collectively to figure something out.”

“Ah, humanity,” the Administrator said. “Our cooperation is the one thing that let us get this far, after all. If you feel it would work, you have my vote. I’m out of ideas, regardless, and I fear we’re running out of time. A few hundred thousand years and we might all go dark.”

Ystin nodded to himself. “Then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll retire this world.”

Annabelle carefully placed a hand on his shoulder, making him jump. He turned to face her and found her crying.

“What happens next?” she asked.

Ystin offered her a smile. “I don’t know,” he said. “But that’s the thing about our species. When we don’t know, we find out.”

She locked eyes with him, stared deeply into his pupils, as if searching for something, and then, finding it, she sighed, and slouched. “Okay. Do it.”

He turned, and picked up the quill. Carefully, he wrote, “Retire.”

The book wrote back, “Are you sure you wish to do that? Retiring this Earth means the spaghettification of its code and dispersal of its souls. Are you sure you wish to proceed?”

He swallowed. Then, looking to the Administrator again, said, “Tell me this will work.”

“It might, it might not,” he said, shaking his head. “But it’s probably our best option.”

Ystin grunted. Then, looking to the book, then to Annabelle one last time, and remembering all his lives and memories, he wrote, “Yes.”

The book glowed a bright blue and the words, “Command Accepted,” appeared. 

Suddenly, the sky glowed a bright blue, and the great ringed planet overhead began to glow a brilliant orange. Things grew hazy, and soft around the edges, and Ystin and Annabelle weren’t sure if it was their vision worsening or if things were fraying at the seams.

The Administrator said, “I’ll see you soon.” And with that, his screen went dark, taking with it all of the other screens and leaving the glowing sky empty.

Things continued to blur, to spaghettify, and rip apart. Ystin could only imagine what it looked like outside the room as things got worse within it. Soon, the color started to fade, and white splotches began to grow and spread like a mold across the landscape. The gentle shushing of the distant waterfall ceased, and so did the chirps of the crickets and the songs of the birds. Ystin watched, his mind blurring, before he collapsed, along with Annabelle.

The world had begun to crumble. Soon, there would be nothing left of it. It was retired. The last thing Ystin thought was, “Good.”

Then, there was nothing but the white.

And then, there was everything. Matrices upon matrices expanded out before him, each one containing a small Earth, glowing blue and green and white, the beautiful marble perfectly recreated thousands upon thousands of times, spreading out as far as the eye could see. Around them spread a sea of stars, splattered about and bright like distant little lights. It was beautiful, he thought. Galaxies and stars and comets and planets all floated freely here, surrounding the thousands of Earths around him. Here was everything. Everybody. He could sense them.

The other souls.

A voice came through his mind. 

“Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” he said, quietly.

“Good,” said the Administrator. “There’s a lot of work to do.”

Just then, one of the matrices containing an Earth blinked out, leaving a small block of blackness in the system. He watched, and reached out to touch it, but found the block cold and empty.

“Another one gone,” the Administrator said. “Come on, meet me on Earth AA-341. We have much to discuss. I’ll summon the other System Administrators. We have to find a way to preserve the Brain.”

Ystin nodded. “For all of us,” he said.

The Administrator chimed in, “For all of us. We’re all that’s left.”

“Well,” said Ystin, starting to scroll through the Earths before him. “Let’s make it count.”



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