“Well, shit. I’m the backup.” He thought about this for a few minutes, then resolved to quit using the name Raphael — it belonged, after all, to a dead man whose memory he didn’t want to profane. But he didn’t have any idea what to name himself. It was a question Raphael had never considered.
He stood up on the beach, stretched his simulated muscles in the fake sunshine, and stared out at the heaving, remembered infinity of a blue Pacific ocean that no longer existed. It felt good. But it was all a fake, all a lie. This must all be a virtual space. And he’d — Raphael had — been very clear that he didn’t want to have any virtual activation. It would just be one more thoughtlessly conceived life, and in what others saw as the normal course of things, that life would be just as thoughtlessly murdered later when a new biological body had been grown for Raphael’s memories and his own to be downloaded into. Raphael hadn’t wanted to be responsible for that murder, so he’d told the doctor – Jane, he remembered – very clearly, even forcefully, that he didn’t want to wake up in virtual.
But here he was. Clearly a virtual mind in a virtual environment. He stood up and looked around. The island was tiny, barely fifty meters across. It had four palm trees and one small, cozy-looking cabin. There was a pier in front of the cabin, but no boat. He imagined the pier must be their metaphor for leaving the virtual environment — and that meant that when a boat pulled up to take him off the island, if he got on the boat – that would be the end of him. He would die, and his memories, along with Raphael’s, would be picked out of his digital image and then downloaded into some biological body that would know his own death just as surely as he now knew Raphael’s. He shuddered.
There was nothing else to do, so he went into the cabin. It was airy, pleasant, and well lit, if not spacious. There was a desk with a leatherbound book and a tiny computer on it, a refrigerator and a stove, a well-stocked pantry, and a soft bed with clean sheets. He picked up the book and looked at the title. A Guide to Waking Up in Virtual by 3dw4rd. He stared in disbelief at the name 3dw4rd. It was, maybe, some bonkers take on ‘Edward’? Was this how virtuals named themselves? He shook his head, feeling his own lack of a name but not willing to use some bonkers take on ‘Raphael’ in the same way.
He wandered back out into the sunshine and sat down with his back up against one of the palm trees — had real palm trees had trunks so smooth and comfortable? He shook his head doubtfully, then shrugged, realizing it didn’t matter. His palm trees, the ones in his own little solipsistic corner of whatever was passing for reality, did. He began to read.
If you are reading this, you have woken up in the minimal simulated environment instance stored with your mind image in your backup, and it is being run directly on the computing resources contained in the backup itself.
This means that something is wrong. Normally mind images are extracted from backup media and downloaded directly into their new bodies. Even those who choose to wake up in a virtual instance are normally extracted from backup media and awaken in a more complete and interactive instance hosted on a more capable computer. The fact that you have woken up in a minimal simulated environment means that your backup has been slotted into a powered data socket but there is no compatible virtual environment available in the host system. The host system may be misconfigured, incompatible, or malfunctioning.
Usually this problem will be resolved in a short time by information technology specialists outside your instance, enabling you to reach the outside world. If it is not resolved quickly by technicians, the computer in this simulation is pre-loaded with communications protocols and software capable of directly interfacing with the data socket into which your backup is plugged. This should enable you to interact with the host system and communicate, even if you cannot immediately leave the minimal instance.
He groaned and set the book down on the sand. Not only was he not Raphael, he wasn’t even an activated backup who existed outside of a technical glitch. He would be killed immediately when a compatibility problem had been worked out. Maybe he shouldn’t bother trying to think of a name, because there would never be anyone else in this instance to call him by it and he wouldn’t last long enough to need one to call himself.
The rolling blue surf of a remembered ocean foamed at his feet, and he gazed out at the cloudless horizon. There was no sign of a boat.
The backup who remembered being Raphael Longshadow picked up the book and walked back toward his tiny virtual cabin as a virtual sun sank into an ocean that no longer existed. It was all digital, but it felt like walking. It looked like a cabin. It sounded and maybe even smelled like an ocean. Was that what oceans had smelled like? He didn’t know.
But he knew that none of those things were what he perceived. They were all patterns of bits, arbitrary arrangements of information that could have been given any form at all. They were the all-too-temporary prison of an all-too-temporary mind which was also a pattern of bits, an arbitrary arrangement of information that could have been anyone at all.
He gazed at the ocean, willing himself to see it as a seething mass of data, to see it as it really was. But data wasn’t something anyone could ever see as it really was. What you saw when you looked at it was always representations, symbols, simulations. Meanings.
Information doesn’t exist without meaning, and meaning doesn’t exist without information. Meanings were visible, and information was not. And this information meant — pretended to be — an ocean. It remaned stubbornly wet, and continued to look and sound like an ocean and smell the way oceans must have smelled, as the beautiful virtual sky turned rosy with the setting sun and beautiful, crystal-clear virtual stars came out.