"Thank you for manifesting here and now," said the giant Banyan tree at the summit of Olympus Mons. "Your presence is an indication of the importance of simulation 96. Otherwise known as Earth."
The Banyan's roots were splayed out across the dusty red rocks like giant fingers. Its limbs waved delicately as it admired the view. Occasionally, a dry leaf would detach and drift gently away across the red plains of Mars. Above and around the tree were shimmering constellations, billions of sharp twinkling points. The Milky Way stretched across the space above, and the subject solar system was all around them. Eight planets, and their many chaperones circled the Sun. Earth glowed bright blue and white as it rolled through its prescribed orbit.
Gathered around the Banyan tree were the rest of the committee. A π symbol, a recurring explosion, an angular model spacecraft, and a beautiful, androgynous humanoid. Hanging from the branches of the Banyan were two more committee members, a sloth, who appeared to be asleep, and a monkey.
"This meeting is presumptuous and pointless," said the explosion. A constantly erupting mushroom cloud made up of rolling fire and spitting debris. "The only reliable constant in the Universe is chaos. This should be the same for any simulation. Making decisions on rules and procedures governing this sim is misleading and insulting and a waste of my time. Sim96 is not important. We are not important. I only came here to remind you all of this."
"This simulation is pure. Maybe the only purity in our Universe," said the humanoid. "Our sims have rules, parameters, objectives, beginnings and endings. And this sim does our work for us. Philosophically, technologically, and evolutionary. It has already provided framework for our own lives. Sim96 is exceptional. It's the opposite of the chaotic nihilism you seem to purport." The humanoid walked slowly around the explosion, batting away small flecks of fiery debris with casual disdain. "And you're wrong. The only constant in this Universe is mathematics.''
The explosion appeared to inhale, sucking in clouds of fuming gas and red dust. "Almost all our sims eventually descend into chaos. This is the primary lesson we have learnt from these experiments, that only a tiny percentage evolve to survive in their simulated Universe. The rest of them all manage to destroy themselves with a variety of innovative methods. This is what they are good at and this one is no different. It's not exceptional. It's certainly not pure. You are too involved. Look at you, you might as well be one of them."
"You may call me Eden," said the humanoid with a sardonic smile. "Please refer to me as such."
"Eden you pompous idiot, you are too entangled with your own creations. You have lost perspective. You are losing touch with the base reality. Look at what happened to Monkey." The explosion exhaled and expelled fiery balls of debris into the space above, some falling on the Banyan tree. Monkey looked up, a confused look on his simian face, before going back to foraging for fleas in his hairy crotch. The sloth stayed blissfully asleep.
"Base reality?" Scoffed the spacecraft. "Surely our simulations have proven that none of us can be sure of base reality. We are all living in a game. We might as well play the game. Manipulate it. Enjoy it. See where it takes us." The spacecraft gained speed as it circled the group. Complicated projectile weapons of various sizes clicked into place around its hull. "Are we any different from Sim96? How can we be sure we are not little codes of data also? Base reality is long forgotten. No one can prove it even exists."
"I can be sure," said π. "I am the designer. I built this sim. I am the only one of us that is properly connected to the real world. I maintain the memory, the hardware, and the substrate required to run this simulation and many others. And this sim is already at capacity. Ten billion humans is the limit." The π symbol expanded and contracted as it spoke. "I work in base reality. I have proof that it is real."
"I don’t believe your machinery exists, it's probably just a construct of your narrow-minded intellect." The spacecraft cut lines through the space around the group, occasionally firing a volley of missiles over the highest reaches of the Banyan tree. "Of course, we're living in a simulation, just like those pathetic little humans. It's just a lot bigger. Whoever is running our sim must have infinite resources. The rules of our Universe are proof it’s a simulation. The limits of light speed, thermodynamics, gravity, and the dark matter holding it all together. Numbers rule our universe, and these numbers are proof that it’s a sim. Once you accept that, you realise that nothing matters, we might as well do whatever the hell we want. Have as much fun as possible because nothing is real. Maybe life begins in the moment we realise we don’t have one."
"I disagree," said the explosion. "Creation is nothing but chaotic coincidence. Look at where we have manifested. This mega volcano haemorrhaged lava for hundreds of millions of years and made Mars tilt on its axis. This reality can't possibly be a sim. There's too much chaos."
"The dullest minds are always sceptical of simulation theory. Because it makes a mockery of their lifelong pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Here and on Earth," said the spacecraft who somehow managed to exude caustic sarcasm while flying around the group.
"We are not here to debate the nature of our own existence," said the Banyan. "There is another committee for that. We need to decide what to do with Sim96. The humans are beginning to question their belief in the stability of their own reality. Our subjects are in the process of creating their own simulations. Their devices are already extensions of their minds. Each individual human is already running their own simulations in their heads. The way their brains interpret what they see. This is a sign that Earth is close to reaching its logical conclusion. As π said, humans will have to stop their population expansion to maintain the integrity of the sim, or a reset will be required."
"Let it run," said the explosion. "Let us see where these chaotic little creatures end up. They may even survive."
"Yeah, let it run," said the spacecraft. "They will probably destroy themselves, but if we really need to reset, I can always intervene and manipulate them into a near extinction event. It'll be fun."
The Banyan ignored them. "π, what will happen if the human population continues to grow?"
"The sim will fail, and the humans will see the cracks in their reality. It's already beginning to happen. When they meditate, or take the right psychoactive drugs that unlock certain parts of their brain, they can see the fabric of the universe. A fleeting glimpse of the machinery, the pixels and geometric patterns that make up the planetary simulation we call Earth. What they call Deja-vu is when a glitch in the code repeats. When it fails, the existing humans will become stuck in a repeated pattern. Endlessly re-living the same moment over and over. The glitch will become their reality and all my work will be meaningless," said π.
There was silence as the Banyan surveyed the committee. They did not appear to be listening to π who flickered through shades of red, indicating its annoyance.
"They have exceeded their parameters." π continued, raising its voice. "The time has come to disassemble them. Send them all back into the quantum foam. Feed their atoms back into the engine of cosmic inflation and build a new sim. An improved sim. Under my supervision."
"This is what we have to decide. Reduction, intervention, or annihilation. Is there more to be learned from Sim96? Is it worth continuing?" asked the Banyan. "Remember why we activated this sim in the first place."
There was a long silence. The Banyan regarded Earth, glowing with health in the distance. Around them the Universe was bright and active. Nebulas pulsed with contracting stardust. Distant galaxies wheeled around their central black holes. Globular clusters radiated concentrated light and supernovas sparkled with harsh incandescence. Around them the surface of Mars glowed red as it descended into darkness. Olympus Mons was so big it eclipsed the horizon. Eden shrugged and shook their head.
The silence continued as the sloth seemed to lose its grip, almost falling out of the tree, one clawed limb barely hanging on. "Entertainments! Thass whass this sim is for. Spure entertainmentss." The sloth slurred as it swung itself back up onto the Banyan and promptly fell asleep again.
"No," said the Banyan. "It's not for entertainment. Sim96 has already provided important data on carbon-based evolution, bio-intelligence, artificial intelligence, and various theories on our own long-forgotten past. Question is, can it still provide reliable data? Or has it reached its use-by date."
"I agree with Sloth," said the spacecraft. "All your derived data, all your pattern recognition and repetition, all your theories on evolution are meaningless and boring. We might as well do what we want with these little humans. Have some fun with them."
The Banyan shook its limbs in agitation. Monkey hooted with laughter and the sloth raised a sleepy eyelid. "We all know you have already been having fun with them. We recognise your clumsy attempts to intervene from Genghis Khan to Hitler. Never mind your latest experiment with this Trump character."
"Isn't he great? I have high hopes for him. And he's only just getting started." The spacecraft spun around and launched another volley of missiles over the Banyan treetops.
"It's a laboratory. It should be orderly and methodical," said π. "Your interventions have contaminated the petri dish and made our findings unreliable. If you want entertainment, go and create your own sim."
"Thass entertainmentss," slurred the sloth as it lost its grip and fell from the Banyan tree, disappearing before it hit the ground. The group fell silent again.
"Sloth's probably gone back to his eternal pleasure space," said the spacecraft. "Seems like a good idea."
"Please, let's try to maintain focus. We have a decision to make," said the Banyan. "We either try to contain them, somehow stop and reverse their population growth to maintain operational integrity. Or we reset, recalibrate, start again with some primitives. Or we shut it all down and officially end Earth. As I mentioned earlier, they are almost at the point of creating their own simulations. Once that happens, we have to turn them off."
"Why should that be the termination point?" asked Eden. "Why can't they be allowed to achieve their own god-like powers? In the end if you can believe any satisfactory explanation of existence, simulated or not, it is sacred. It teaches empathy. These humans are not less real but more real, animated by their environment but also universal forces. Leading to the belief in a creator. A belief in us. Religion with a new technological name."
"He who believes in Me will live a good life!" shouted Monkey.
"Oh god you’ve done it now," muttered the explosion.
"He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst!" Monkey pointed a crooked finger as he spoke. His furrowed brow framed a confused expression.
"He lost his mind after that Jesus character died. I don’t know why you invited him," said the explosion.
"He was part of the original committee, when we created Earth, and we need to keep him involved, if only to keep an eye on him," said the Banyan.
Monkey investigated his navel with forensic attention. Pulling out a large flea with a hooked finger, examining it as he held it between his fingernails, then eating it gleefully. He looked around as he chewed. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life!"
"He was the one that put that Jesus character on Earth, to get them all to worship him. Then he was seduced by the sim, falling into it even deeper than Eden. He believes he is their God. He believes the ridiculous stories they wrote about him. His insanity is of his own making," said the explosion.
"The one true God is the sovereign Creator! He is spirit! He is eternal! The one true God possesses all knowledge and all power, is present in all places. There are many false gods, but none of them possess the attributes of the one true God!"
Eden sighed and shook their head sadly. "He used to be so creative and powerful. I wonder if I can help repair his mind." They walked under the Banyan and tried to coax God down.
"It was when millions of humans started praying to him. He thought they were talking to him, he thought they needed him. He took it personally, but he couldn't cope with their adulation, or their demands. He was once their God. Now he's a Mad God." The spacecraft hovered in front of the tree and reconfigured its weaponry. "It's good that he's here. It’s a reminder to all of us to keep perspective. Not to get too emotionally involved. This is, after all, just a game."
"We are Gods to these humans. We have a certain responsibility. I want to see them prosper. I want to see them evolve. I want them left to their own devices. We should increase the scope of the sim to allow this," said Eden.
"You are worse than God," said the explosion. "You have been seduced by their erroneous veneration as well. Those stupid humans invent creationism to explain what they can't understand, and you assume they have recognised you. Look at you, taking on their form. Your arrogant assumptions undermine the whole experiment. Because remember this is just an experiment."
"I'm just asking why can't we let it continue? Why should we be restricted by physical limitations? There is more to learn from these humans." Eden swept their manicured fingers through their platinum blond hair and smiled enigmatically. "And I like this form. Its symmetry is beautiful."
π changed colour to a pulsing orange. "You all don’t seem to realise what it takes to run this sim. Remember, every human, every animal, every rock and tree and chunk of dirt is a single piece of code running in my processors. This is a physical requirement which you seem to have forgotten. The energy demands are huge, the logistics of maintaining the hardware requires constant attention. It's already the size of a small moon, draws enough energy to deplete a sun, and it's becoming impossible to dissipate all the heat exhaust. It's at breaking point. If Sim96 continues to expand, if the humans continue to procreate, then the machinery will fail."
The rest of the committee didn't appear to be listening. The spacecraft amused itself by firing missiles over the nearby caldera. The explosion had become a towering dark mushroom cloud. Eden was staring intently at their pocket mirror and applying makeup while God continued to search for fleas. There was no sign of the sloth.
"To continue Sim96 at the current rate of expansion, we would need to convert another moon or large asteroid into processing substrate. Expansion would take time. The logistics are challenging."
The silence continued. The spacecraft aimed it's weapons high above the system of caldera's where the committee had gathered and unleashed a barrage of missiles. The weaponry exploded above them and showered them all with bright colourful flares like fireworks. Sparks drifted down amongst them like burning rain. The Banyan tree rustled its leaves in annoyance. "When a sim is on the verge of creating its own simulations, that’s where it must end. We can't have sims stacking within sims. They will just end up repeating themselves and wasting our resources. This is the hard problem of consciousness."
"Humans have been wondering if their world was real for as long as their existence, as long as they have been dreaming. The simulation theory is still the oldest explanation in the book. They were always going to evolve to the stage where they create their own virtual worlds. Aspiring to become the Gods they so admire," said the spacecraft. "This inevitability was easy to predict even without a sim and so crushingly boring. That's why I intervened and introduced some individuals to change the course of their history. To shake things up a bit. Make the game a bit more entertaining."
"You jeopardized the integrity of the sim and made the results unreliable. Your behaviour was irresponsible in the extreme," said π. "Not that anyone seems to care."
"We still haven’t reached a decision," said the Banyan. "As chairman of the committee I have a responsibility to our superiors to facilitate a satisfactory outcome. I propose we turn it off. We have derived as much useful data from Sim96 as is possible. Earth has outlived its usefulness and it's time to move onto another project."
The silence weighed heavy as the committee members amused themselves. Eden had coaxed God out of the tree and was brushing his hairy back. The explosion had reduced itself to a small red smoulder while the spacecraft floated stationary facing the Banyan.
"I agree," said π eventually. "Sim96 has exceeded its parameters to the point where its subjects have become agents of chaos. The data is unreliable. Also, certain members of this committee don’t seem to understand the purpose of this sim. They don’t respect the boundaries and don't appreciate the work I do maintaining it. I vote for dissolution."
As π spoke, the explosion burst into life again. A booming noise echoed around them as the explosion erupted into the space above. The fiery ball glowed like a small sun, stationary as it reached the apex of its trajectory. Then it fell upon the Banyan tree, setting the entire tree on fire.
"Very amusing," shouted the burning tree above the crackling flames. "Is that your answer?"
"I don’t care about your rules and regulations, I don’t care about Sim96 either. But I would rather see it descend into chaos than conform to your sterile bureaucracy," said the explosion.
At the same time the spacecraft unleashed a volley of missiles at π. The symbol remained intact, but was engulfed in flames and smoke.
"I will not stand for such disrespect!" Fumed π, also on fire. "You are on your own. See how you fare without my help you ingrates!" π disappeared from the space leaving a puff of smoke.
"Now see what you’ve done," said the flaming Banyan. "We needed someone to run the hardware, π was the only one willing to do the mundane tasks of maintaining the machinery. Without its supervision Sim96 will descend into chaos and eternal glitches. And π was the only one capable of actually turning the thing off."
"We came from chaos, and everything eventually returns to chaos," said the explosion, still burning its way through the limbs of the Banyan. "Life and death is chaotic. From the birth of an insect to the birth of a star. This is the way the Universe works." The explosion slowly reversed. Extinguishing itself and inhaling into a smaller surge, until it was a tiny flame that shimmered on a charred Banyan twig, then flickered out of existence.
"What am I supposed to tell our superiors?" Shrugged the burning Banyan, shaking flaming leaves from its frame. "We were supposed to come to an agreement and act on it. I need your decisions. I need this signed off. This makes me look incompetent."
"I really couldn't give a shit. You probably are incompetent. I'm off to find another sim to play with," said the spacecraft. Flaring its engines and scribing a circle around the Banyan before powering off towards the nearby Andromeda constellation.
The Banyan's burning limbs drooped with exasperation. Eden glanced at the tree while whispering conspiratorially into Gods ear. They took God by the hand and slowly began to walk away.
"Are you two abandoning me also? Does no one have any respect for democracy and process anymore?"
Eden looked over their shoulder and smiled. Their eyes glowed red and their platinum blond hair had curled up into two spiky little horns. "Don’t worry about Earth. God and I will guide them through the times of tribulation ahead. We are the only ones who truly care about this sim, and we have their best interests at heart. They will be rewarded for their faith in us."
The Banyan stood alone at the summit. Its leaves had been burned away and its limbs were charred and smouldering. It despondently watched them leave. Eden and God appeared to be laughing together as they walked slowly down the slope of Olympus Mons.