Flash Fiction by Conor Barnes
Uninstall And Reinstall
When I download the simulation onto my laptop, I mess it up somehow. I don’t have the right drivers. I have to restart my computer. When it finally works, it’s kind of buggy. Mountains render before the ground under them. The menu for the weather looks nothing like it does in the manual. The load times are atrocious.
The worst thing is that the people, all the digital humans, are kind of buggy. Sometimes they follow my code, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they just die.
I call the company and they try to debug my world. They say to uninstall and reinstall. But I can’t. I already have a billion digital humans.
It’s so awkward to play with I don’t even have fun with it. But I can’t destroy it. So I do the responsible thing. I contact the digital humans. I tell them there’s been a mistake, they have to run it themselves, I’ve got to move on with my life. They don’t appreciate my position at all. They think it’s a joke, I can’t seriously be leaving them. They think it isn’t fair.
They don’t understand their world is buggy. They’ve never known anything else. They don’t know I could have just deleted them like the company told me to. Apparently it happens to lots of people and everybody just uninstalls and reinstalls. My humans have no idea how lucky they have it.
As I am closing my screen, they have thankfully moved on from blaming me. Now they all think they’ve done something wrong. They just can’t agree on what.
Before the labyrinth was built the king could find anything. The city was laid out like a tree from its center and no branch or root was too long to walk, nor too steep. Indeed, each walk was beautiful. Each branch had its cherry bushes, its arching bridges, its sculptures. At first the king’s advisors ordered only barbed wire be installed, but it worked all the same. To reach the center of the city from the outside now required walking the entire length of the city. What travel once took an hour took ten. What once took a day took a hundred.
The king had not been told they were building the labyrinth. He went to find his advisors within it. When he left his palace in the center, he mourned to see the the barbed wire twisting through the dancing grounds.
While he looked for his advisors, the builders improved upon the labyrinth. First they moved the barbed wire atop a simple fence, then they replaced the fence with walls of stone. Now the king could not see the other corridors of the labyrinth, though he could still hear the mobs milling about on the other side. In their confusion they crushed the cherry bushes and fell off the bridges. The king strode through and climbed over and crawled under these mobs. By the time he reached the labyrinth entrance, he was no king at all, merely a man of the mob. He turned to meditate upon what had once been his city.
His advisors soon spilled out of the labyrinth as well, also reduced to men of the mob. They did not recognize the man sleeping on the hill, nor each other, nor the great work they had set in motion. But they were struck by the man’s serenity, as were all who spilled out of the labyrinth. When he woke, they elected him as mayor. The mayor saw the mass of people floating out of the labyrinth like lost animals. He told the men around him to finish the labyrinth: let the end become the beginning.
For a year and a day, all men worked in harmony and extended the labyrinth as a great bridge, folding over itself, leading to the palace at its center. The mayor then began the peregrination, leading all citizens through the endless labyrinth. It shall end only when those glorious walls fall to rubble.
When the multiverse opened up all our superheroes and all our supervillains left to fight on Earth-256. Soon our leaders and most brilliant minds left to vie for positions on Earth-256. Soon everybody was moving to Earth-256. All the fun was there.
I stayed here. I maintained the gardens. When people came to visit, they’d say: Isn’t this nice? Couldn’t we learn a lot from the way of life in this universe? Don’t you remind me of your counterpart in my old Earth? Then they’d go back to Earth-256.
When I knew I was close to death, I called my old family and friends from Earth-256. They brought their counterparts from all the other worlds that had gone to Earth-256. In the end, millions attended my celebration of life. My nurse mother and a few of her thousands of counterparts bore witness to my assisted dying. Thousands of versions of me held my hand and told me they admired that I had the commitment they didn’t. Afterwards, everybody wandered my gardens, taking pictures. Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t there something about them?
Conor Barnes is a Canadian writer living in Halifax. His fiction has been published in the Apple Valley Review, Literally Stories, the Metaworker, and elsewhere. His poetry has been published in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and Puddles of Sky Press.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.