? 1998 by Jerry J. Davis
When I walked over to Albert's that fateful day, I noticed
something was different. The house looked much bigger than I
remembered, especially the part where Albert's room was. It
appeared ballooned out, just that one room. Odd that I'd never
noticed it before.
There was a new sports car in the driveway too, a model that
both Albert and I had been drooling over in magazines. A red
Viper. Man, it was hot. It was also very expensive. I wondered who
owned it, because it certainly wasn't anyone in Albert's family.
When I rang the bell, it was Albert who answered. It appeared
he was the only one home. Like myself, Albert is a kind of scrawny
geek-looking teenager, with thick glasses, pimpled face, the
works. Albert wasn't wearing his glasses that day, though, and it
looked like his face had cleared up. As a matter of fact, it
looked like he'd had a nose job. And his build, the way he stood,
he seemed a bit wider, more muscular, like he'd been working out.
Odd, I thought again. I should have noticed the difference when I
saw him the day before.
"Hey, Brad! Boy do I have something to show you," he said.
"Where is everybody?" I asked.
"They're all on a cruise boat heading toward Hawaii. Come on
He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me through the door. As
he pulled me past the dining room toward the stairs, I saw that
there was a huge pile of green twenty-dollar bills stacked on the
table. "Take some, if you want," he said, pausing just for a
moment. "But hurry, I've got to show you what I've been doing."
Not wanting to be greedy, I only took a few. Then a few more.
Then, well, there was so much a handful wouldn't be missed. My
pocket was bulging as I finally followed Albert up the stairs to
His room, I noticed, had been remodeled. There was no denying
it, it was much bigger than it was a few days before. And instead
of just one computer sitting on his desk, he had several
computers, nice new powerful ones.
"Remember I was showing you how I'd converted my Dad's
satellite dish so that I could use it as a radio telescope?"
"Yeah. Did your Dad get mad?"
"No." Albert had a unbelievably huge grin stretched across
his face. "It was the best thing I've ever done in my life."
"I was listening to the background radiation of the universe
night before last, and it struck me. It sounded an awful lot like
a modem carrier wave. Silly me, I went and piped the antenna into
my modem. Well, nothing happened of course. The hertz cycle was
way off. So then I got out this old 4800 baud piece of junk my dad
got from the phone company and I tinkered with it, adjusting here
and there, and guess what happened."
"The background radiation of the universe. Or at least what
everybody thought was the background radiation of the universe.
It's not, it is a carrier wave. I connected with it. I went
"On-line with what?"
"The universe. Reality itself." He tapped a few times on the
keyboard on his old computer. "I can move things around, change
their properties, you name it." He tapped some more. The money I
had stuffed in my pocket was suddenly on the desk. He tapped some
more. It doubled in amount. He tapped more, and now there was
money bulging in every pocket I had. "You see," he said, "reality
is apparently nothing more complicated than a gigantic computer
simulation. What we think of as the cosmos is a simulation running
on some sort of cosmic mainframe computer. That's why when these
guys in Scientific American look at the building blocks of reality
they find nothing at all. Matter is made up of particles that are
made of nothing. Why? Because it's all just information. They're
looking at the building blocks of a program."
"You're telling me that we're nothing but simulations running
on a cosmic computer somewhere?"
"Basically, yes. That's what I believe."
"So, who's running the computer?"
"God, I guess."
"God is the Cosmic Sysop?"
"Yeah, I suppose so."
"Don't you think the Cosmic Sysop is going to be upset to
find you've been playing around with His programming?"
"He hasn't minded so far."
"Maybe because He hasn't noticed yet. If I were you, I'd keep
it small and simple." I looked outside. "That's your car outside?"
"Yeah, want one?"
It was tempting. "No thanks. You can put a pile of cash under
my bed at home, but other than that, I don't think I want to be
part of this."
Albert had an evil grin. "I can change your mind, you know."
I frowned. "That would be a bad idea. How would you ever get
my genuine opinion if you go and change my mind?"
Albert's grin faded. "I didn't think of that." After a moment
his smile brightened again. "Hey, let's get a bunch of naked high
school cheerleaders in here and have a party!"
"Sounds like you've done this before."
"It was one of the first things I did." He showed me a whole
wastepaper basket full of used condoms. While I was gaping at
that, the girls arrived.
My resolve to remain uninvolved didn't last long at all. The
next day found me sitting right beside him in the Viper cruising
down the Interstate at a steady 170 MPH, beer bottles in hand,
large cigars in mouth. I was grinning from ear to ear. Life was
good, and I was no longer a virgin. Not only was I no longer a
virgin, I was no longer a virgin a dozen times over. The beer,
which was not really a taste I was used to, seemed to taste better
with every progressive bottle I drained.
Albert didn't seem to be as content as I was. He was
searching for a highway patrol car, but in vain. "If we had tried
this last week, we would have been pulled over within minutes," he
said, brooding. "Now look at us. Are they all on vacation or
"Maybe the variable you used was too broad. Maybe no trouble
will come our way at all."
He shook his head. "No, this is just dumb luck."
Finally we spotted a black and white on the opposite side of
the freeway. It had pulled over a big old Lincoln Continental, and
the officer was writing out a ticket. Albert skidded to a stop,
rumbled the Viper across the dirt meridian, and zoomed right up to
the officer. He threw a beer bottle at the man, yelling, "You big
dumb fuck! Come and do your job!" He tromped down on the Viper's
throttle and sent it squealing down the lane. The acceleration was
unreal, throwing my head back and pressing me deep into the plush
leather seat. The cop dashed over to his car, leaped in, and took
off in pursuit.
Albert was laughing hysterically. "I can't believe I did
that! Can you believe I did that? I'm so afraid of authority
I, too, was afraid of authority figures. I wasn't finding it
so hysterically funny.
"You big dumb fuck!" Albert yelled again, laughing. "You big
We were chased into town, where Albert slowed. The highway
patrol car was right on our tail, separated by mere inches. He
looked really mad. "Pull over!" he shouted over his PA speaker.
Albert sent the Viper rumbling down an off ramp and came to a
stop right in the middle of an intersection, stopping all the
traffic. He was still laughing hysterically.
"Move your car out of the intersection!" the officer's
amplified voice said. "Pull over to the side."
Albert flipped him off.
The officer opened his car door and came after us with his
gun drawn. "Get out of the car, now! You're under arrest!"
Albert nudged me, and we both pulled out our new cards. The
cards had our names and pictures, and had the large, bold letters
that read: ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY.
The officer immediately holstered his gun, but he still
looked angry as hell. "I'll have to run these through!" he said,
collecting the cards. "Could you please move out of the
"No," Albert said, puffed up and being as arrogant as he
Shaking his head, the officer returned to his car. The cars
around us honked, backed up, honked more, and made their way
around us. After a while the officer came back, still angry, and
handed us our cards back. "I don't care if you have total immunity
or not, you shouldn't abuse it like this."
"Or what?" Albert shouted. "Go back to your car, public
servant. You can't do a damn thing to us!"
"You know, somebody just might snap, shoot you, then claim
temporary insanity," the officer told us. He looked like he was
seriously contemplating it.
"Bite me!" Albert laughed, throwing the car into gear. The
officer watched us leave with a horrible, glowering expression.
We rode for a while in silence, and then I said, "I don't
think we had to be so ... extreme."
"Yes, we did," Albert said. "There's a big difference between
creating a few cards and an authorization in a database somewhere,
and changing all of society so that it accepts the card." He
grinned, very pleased with himself. "It worked perfectly."
I had to admit that it did.
"This has vast implications," Albert said. He was very, very
pleased with himself.
During the next couple of weeks we indulged in an insane
excess of total wish fulfillment. A lot of it was pretty nasty,
and much of the nasty stuff had a lot to do with famous actresses
and models. It didn't make me feel good afterwards -- I felt like
I was using people, manipulating them without any regard for them.
I also came to the conclusion that if I could get anything I
wanted with no effort, then everything felt worthless. Disposable.
Albert seemed to like it this way, he enjoyed the disposable
aspect of everything.
"Look," I told him one Monday. "Let's do something real with
your terminal. Let's make some changes that are worth making."
"Stop those wars in Eurasia and Africa. Give some plentiful
food source to India. Make life better for everyone, not just us."
"I always figured you for a Democrat," Albert said. "You're
right, though. Let's do something about the common lowlife scum."
We watched CNN for a while, getting a good idea of where all
the trouble spots were, and then Albert isolated the areas and
adjusted parameters so that everyone there just lost their will to
fight. That night all the news programs were buzzing with special
reports on how truce talks were going on everywhere. Some people
who were interviewed thanked God that people were finally coming
to their senses; others called for investigations and alerts,
insisting something evil was going on. The next day, however,
while Albert was working on getting more food to the starving, we
learned wars had broken out in different areas. Albert stopped
those, and did some poking around. "Arms dealers are really vile
and ruthless people," he said at one point. "Did you know they
cause most of the small wars?"
"No, they really arrange them, set them up. I'm going to
delete them from the program."
"Delete them!" I was very alarmed.
"Yep." He tapped on the keys, peering at the screen. "Done.
Arms dealers are gone. All guns everywhere are disappearing into
rusty balls of harmless junk."
The next day there were new arms dealers, and plastic guns
were being produced in mass quantities. Albert was only slightly
miffed. "Figures. This stuff happens naturally. There's no point
in trying to curb it, it's part of the program." He did change
parameters so that plastic guns had a tendency to explode,
however, which forced the arms industries to divert their energies
back to research instead of production.
"Look at this," he said late one afternoon. "Look what
happens when you give the starving a limitless food supply."
"What?" His computer screen didn't make any sense to me. Then
again, it never did.
"There's a soaring increase in reproduction. That's all we
need, another eight billion people." He thought about it a moment,
then started tapping on the keyboard. "Time for an attitude
change. Everyone everywhere will think sex is repulsive without
"Hey, dammit. You did it to me too." I had felt the sudden
attitude change myself. "Don't go changing me."
"I already have. Several times."
"Way back when I first showed you what I was doing, you
didn't want to be in a room full of naked cheerleaders. Then you
didn't want to go joy-riding in the Viper. You've had fun since,
I stared at him in disbelief.
"Whatever." I was angry, but I was also afraid. He could
delete me or change me around any time he wanted. I had to watch
my step. "I guess it hasn't hurt me any."
"I wouldn't hurt you! You're my best friend, my only friend."
He turned back to the computer. "I'll always make sure you're well
taken care of."
"You know what our problem is?" he asked one day while we
were out on our favorite yacht. "I can transport anything anywhere
except myself. In order to do it, I've got to be at the terminal.
I've thought about creating a portable terminal, but that could be
dangerous, because what happens if it drops carrier and we're out
of control? So I thought to myself, why don't I play around with
the laws of physics and create some inter-dimensional doorways?
That way we can always have a quick way back to the terminal when
we need it, and we could go anywhere we want."
Play around with the laws of physics? I struggled to sit up,
but I was too drunk. "I have serious doubts about that," I said to
Albert. "I think that would be extraordinarily dangerous." It took
me several tries to get the word "extraordinarily" out.
"You're messing with the programming of reality!"
"We've been doing it for a month now. So what?"
"We've been doing just little things, Albert. What you're
talking about is a major change."
"So Somebody might notice."
"I mean Somebody Big."
"I've come to the conclusion that there is no Cosmic Sysop.
There was one at one time, but there's no sign of Him now. He's
either dead, or gone off somewhere else. This system is in
self-run mode and has been for eons." He stood up and pulled his
Bermuda shorts up over his belly button. "If anyone is the Cosmic
Sysop right now, it's me."
"You're calling yourself God?"
"Well, I'm not the Creator, but we could easily argue I'm now
the Caretaker." He was silent for a moment. I think he was waiting
to see if I would argue with him. I didn't. That is, I didn't
That night after we returned from the coast, Albert went
right up stairs and began reworking the laws of physics. Putting
loopholes in them, actually, to allow him to open the dimensional
doorways. Apparently this was a lot more complicated than any of
the other tinkering he'd been doing, because he was at it for over
"Brad, it's ready," he said. It was just after noon on
Tuesday. He hadn't showered at all, and his hair was sticking out
every which way. "I opened the first doorway -- it's between my
room and yours."
"Cool." I followed him up the stairs and into his room. There
was a new door in his room, and through it I could see my room
over at my house. "Whoa," I said. I had to admit I was very
"Go ahead," Albert said. "Step on through."
"Are you sure?" I asked. "Have you tested it yet?"
"No. You're testing it."
"Don't worry. If anything happens to you, I can undo it. Go
on, step through."
Shrugging, I walked through the doorway into my room.
Something happened when I did -- the light changed suddenly. It
was like it went from a sunny day outside to sudden gloomy
overcast. There was also a long, low thudding sound, like that of
an enormous base drum, that seemed to echo through the whole
house. I knew immediately something bad had happened. Turning
around, I found Albert's doorway had disappeared.
I ran through the house and out the front door, then nearly
fell over in shock. The sky had gone insane. There were dozens of
moons, a ring of fire, and patches of night and day like a crazy
quilt. The horizon was uneven and bizarre. In one direction it
seemed to stretch away into infinity, and in the other direction
it was much too close, as if the Earth were only a fraction of
it's usual size.
Cars on the road were all stopped, the drivers missing.
I jogged all the way to Albert's house, and found it was only
half there. It looked as if a huge chunk had been cut out of the
house, and that missing chunk included Albert's room. I yelled out
his name several times, but I really didn't expect to hear a
reply. There was no one in sight anywhere.
I wandered for a while, feeling lost. The Earth as well as
the sky had become a crazy patch quilt, as I found whole sections
of town had been replaced by fields, by rivers that ran from
nowhere to nowhere, and blocks of buildings that looked like they
belonged in Europe. It was all empty of people. It was empty of
all living things, period, except for a cat which stood on a board
fence and stared at me. I walked over and petted it for a moment,
and it purred, meowed, then abruptly jumped down and ran away.
It took a while, but I managed to find my way back home. The
cat followed me. It ran right in the house and searched around,
looking for food. Finding none it stood at my feet and meowed. I
couldn't find any food, either, as the food pantry was replaced by
part of a tree and the refrigerator door seemed welded shut.
Unlike the cat, I wasn't very hungry. I let it outside and then
went into my room, lied down on my bed and tried to take a nap.
I yawned twice and fell dead asleep.
When I awoke it was sunny outside, and birds were singing.
The cat was outside my window, meowing. I stared outside, seeing a
normal world, seeing people in their cars driving and kids playing
on the sidewalk. Alright, I thought. Albert fixed things.
I took a leisurely walk in the warm afternoon sunlight over
to where Albert's house once stood. In the house's place was a
vacant lot. The street still held the skid marks from Albert
sliding the Viper up into his driveway, but the Viper and the
driveway were gone. Walking up to where the garage had been, I
found the Viper's keys in the dirt.
A suspicious neighbor looked on as I poked around the lot.
"Where'd Albert's house go?" I asked her.
"Who's Albert?" she asked.
"The guy who lived in the house that was here."
"There's never been a house there."
I nodded. Apparently Albert had not fixed things. Apparently
Albert had crashed reality, and the Cosmic Sysop had reset the
program and terminated Albert's account.
Back home, I found my parents had left a message on the
answering machine saying they were coming home from the vacation
Albert had sent them on. I looked in my wallet and found I still
had the license to do anything, but doubted if it was good
anymore. There was still a pile of cash under my bed, so I grabbed
some of it to go buy some cat food and a litter box.
It appeared the cat was there to stay.
[Oh man, that was awful! Get me out of here!]