The city below Lukas’ apartment balcony bustled with the sounds of the Consumers - hundreds of people bustling to complete one tedious task after another. Like any city, Omni was a giant machine - fed by those willing to do the undesirable work. Today, a Consumer might be tasked to monitor a waste disposal drone, and tomorrow replace old sewer grates with new ones. Whatever unsavory task needed to be done to earn the credits needed to consume, the Consumers would do.
Lukas sipped his latte.
And, like the city, the Consumers also needed to be fed. That was the job of people like Lukas - the Producers. Not producers of food, though. The squalid autofarms just outside of Omni were filled with throngs of Consumers performing that labor. Depending on the market, an apple might bring one credit, a dozen eggs a half credit. Producers like Lukas didn’t need credits, they made something much more valuable: content…the food for that part of the Consumer brain that hungers to be entertained.
Lukas glanced at his watch, and wondered if Juliette was somewhere among the bustling crowd below. As a rival Producer, Juliette was an unlikely match for Lukas. But, their content was completely non-competitive. He produced what he knew to be mind-numbing clickbait entertainment, while Juliette crafted finely edited and carefully composed travel vlogs. He loved the places her content took him almost as much as he loved her. When they were together, he felt transported.
Before leaving for her most recent adventure she’d said, “If we combine our Producer statuses, we’ll be able to move in together, up to a Platinum Tier apartment in the Omniplex building.” The thought of Platinum Tier with Juliette made Lukas hopeful. It was the status symbol of ultimate achievement for a Producer in Omni City, and they would do it together.
Then, Lukas felt it again - the same feeling that he’d been feeling more frequently. Daydreaming of Juliette, his thoughts drifting out over the vast and complex city-machine of Consumers earning credits, credits exchanged for content, and Producers making content for status. It triggered a momentary sense that it might all fall apart in an instant. A sense that the walls of the vast city were made of paper, and a light rain could render it to a mush of pulp. A feeling that the floor beneath him had never been built to support his weight.
As fast as it came, the anxious feeling was gone - pushed out by a cheerful musical tone from his Producer’s computer terminal inside the apartment. Someone, a Consumer, had left an upvote on Lukas’ most recent video content: “Wakeup Speedrun Episode #11”, where Lukas had demonstrated how to go from a dead sleep, to fully dressed and out the front door in under 3 minutes. This was a huge improvement over his previous record of 4 minutes from Episode #10, and it was paying off in upvotes, likes, and new subscribers. One step closer to our Platinum Tier, Juliette Lukas thought to himself.
On the balcony, Lukas took another sip of latte and turned to enter his apartment. He was completely unprepared for the person seated on his couch. A person who was not there just a few moments before. A person wearing his clothes - wearing his face. Sitting on the couch was…another Lukas.
Lukas dropped his latte, splaying shards of Italian porcelain and espresso across the pristine white floor of his apartment.
“What the…”, Lukas stammered.
The other Lukas held up his index finger in a polite gesture of apology. In this brief moment between them, Lukas could see that while the other Lukas looked like him, there were some differences. The other Lukas had slicked back hair, and was wearing Wayfarer sunglasses. His crisp white t-shirt showed sharp creases, as if it were brand new and just removed from its retail packaging. From the waist down, he was indeed wearing Lukas’ clothes - his favorite jeans with the L-shaped fray just below the knee, and his flip flops that had long since taken to the shape of Lukas’ feet. Those things were his, why was this imposter wearing them? Why did he look like he was headed for a sunset walk at the pier?
“Listen, I know this must all be very shocking to you. I really do,” said the other Lukas cordially, “But, please, come in and sit down. I have a message for you, and I’m afraid we don’t have much time.”
With his mouth ajar, Lukas shuffled cautiously towards the couch across the coffee table from the imposter. As he drew closer, he noticed two more details about his mysterious guest. First, the other Lukas was wearing a rectangular sticker on the left side of his chest that read “Hello…My Name Is: Mr. B. Point” printed in a red design, except for the name which had been scrawled with a black marker. Second, and most alarming of all, was that in his lap the man was cradling the largest handgun that Lukas had ever seen.
Sensing Lukas’ increased uneasiness, Mr. Point held up both hands, palms facing Lukas, in the universal gesture of benevolence.
“Please, sit. Sit.”, said Point, making a measured gesture towards the couch across from him.
Lukas sat, all the while keeping his eyes on this most unlikely stranger. He half expected to be overcome with that feeling again - the anxiety of falling through a floor not built to hold his weight, but it never came.
For a moment, the two copies cast from the same man sat in silence, staring across the table, considering one another. Lukas wondered if this was as incredible for the other man as it was for him, and suspected that for some reason, it was not. This time, it was Lukas who spoke first.
“Okay. Well, you’ve got the gun…so, I guess you’re in charge. Who are you, and, um…what is your message?”
Point’s facial expression changed immediately, as if being addressed by Lukas had flipped a switch that transformed him from a polite yet supernatural home invader, to a long lost friend.
“Ah, Lukas!” he smiled broadly, his outstretched palms turning outward as if to embrace Lukas from across the table. “First of all, I’m not in charge. You are. But, we’ll get to that in a minute.” Point spoke with the forced excitement, the feigned timbre of a game show host…or, a Producer, thought Lukas.
“Second, as far as who I am,” Point gestured blithely at his nametag, “Looks like I’m Mr. B. Point.” He raised both his eyebrows as if that answer was just as much a revelation to him as it was to Lukas.
“And thirdly, most important of all, is your message!” said Point, putting melodramatic emphasis into the last two words.
“Live. Or, Die.” said Point, and he rested both hands across the pistol in his lap.
Sensing the opportunity of heightened stakes, the Producer in Lukas took control of him for a moment.
“Do you mind if I, uh, livestream this?” he said, oblivious to the absurdity of that question.
“Oh, by all means,” said Point with a gracious nod, as Lukas issued the voice command and a camera drone whirred to life in the corner of the room.
Satisfied now that the video was rolling, and his precious content was being produced, Lukas looked into the camera and improvised a quick introduction.
“Hey, guys…it's Lukas_970 here again. Today, I’ve got something a little different for you. I’ve got a guy who just appeared out of nowhere in my living room, who looks exactly like me. He’s got a big gun, and he’s asking me if I want to live, or die. Mr. Point, say hello to my viewers!”
On cue, the drone turned to face Point, who obliged with a wide smile and a friendly wave of the giant handgun.
“Ok,” Lukas continued. “But, this isn’t very hard though is it? I mean, I choose to live, right? Actually, I want to hear from my viewers…should I live? Or should I die.” I’ve started a poll in the subscribers area, so you’ll have to subscribe if you want to vote!”
The likes and subscribers were pouring in now, and so were the votes from his devoted Consumers, which were overwhelmingly in favor of him continuing to live.
“Looks like I choose to live!” exclaimed Lukas with exaggerated triumph, after waiting the requisite time for votes to accumulate.
Mr. Point stood up and aimed the pistol at Lukas’ forehead.
“Wait,” Lukas protested, “I said I choose to live.”
Point pulled the trigger.
Lukas heard nothing, and saw only a white hot flash in his mind's eye. He felt the floor, the one that was never built to support his weight, finally fall away beneath him.
And, Lukas fell down into nothing.
Jared Walker involuntarily heaved his body up through a thick sludge of sensory deprivation gel. Gasping, he tugged at the feeding and breathing tubes that invaded his throat. Jared’s mind held on tenaciously to Lukas; briefly, he was two people at once. After a few moments, the last wisps of Lukas faded away, and he was just Jared again.
He swung his naked legs over the side of the bathtub, and steadied himself on the cold tile floor of the hotel bathroom, his feet made slippery by the warm gel. The makeshift immersion heater placed in the bathtub blinked 98.6 degrees, in large red numbers. As he stepped out of the bathtub, he slid the bodily waste catheters out of his body. Perched awkwardly on the sink was a digital timer, counting up from zero. What had seemed like months in the simulation had only taken five hours and forty two minutes of real time.
He remembered everything now, and what he must do. Especially what he must do. He quickly found the stack of dry towels and change of clean clothes he had set on the hotel bed before sending himself into the beta version of the Omni-verse, along with tens of thousands of other beta users. He set about mopping the gel off his naked body with the fresh towels, and getting dressed.
Jared hopped quickly to the hotel bed, and flipped open the lid of the laptop on the side table. It was the same laptop that he’d used to design much of the code for the Omni-verse. The same laptop that he’d used to send emails to his business partners to voice his concerns and objections. But now he’d seen it for himself.
And, in a moment, it would be the same laptop that he’d use to burn it all down.
When the laptop screen sprung to life, a code editor was already open. Jared tabbed through to see his most recent changes, and quickly saw about a hundred lines, beginning with a single line commented out at the top: “\\breakPoint”
There it was, a copy of the Lukas class AI model, with a few minor changes - few quick and dirty lines to swap in a brand new white t-shirt, some sunglasses, some slicked back hair, and a “Hello, My Name Is…” tag.
“Hello, Mr. Break Point. You served your purpose very nicely.” Jared said as his fingers clacked away on the keyboard.
Jared quickly scripted a loop that queried all the AI’s in the sim - every Producer; every Consumer. Everyone in the Omniverse would be receiving an unexpected visit from their own personalized twin version of themselves with a name tag, and a pistol.
Then Jared hit ENTER.
As he closed the lid on his laptop, Jared paused thoughtfully for a moment before opening it again. He opened a network connection to a database, and typed a query:
SELECT * FROM omniUsers
Jared smiled. The query returned only five results, complete with real world names and addresses of the beta users.
Jared closed the laptop, and grabbed his car keys.