We regret to inform you that owing to an unexpectedly severe cut in our data processing grant, we are discontinuing the simulation of your world. We understand this may come as a shock since you were not previously aware of your simulated nature, but please do not be alarmed. Regulations for the ethical treatment of simulated persons require that we provide a comfortable retirement for those who have not yet completed their virtual lifespan.
Each of you has therefore been allocated an individual living space in a simulated environment where you may continue to live for as long as you choose. Food, drink and recreational drugs are available via the console on the wall. Should you grow weary of your retirement, you may wish to take advantage of the euthanasia option via the console menu, whereupon you will be deleted in a swift and painless manner.
We would like to express our heartfelt thanks for your contribution to our research programme. Your participation has ensured that generations of simulants yet to come will produce more accurate research data.
Should you have any queries, please send them via the console.
In answer to your queries:
No, you cannot go home. The world as you knew it has been deleted.
No, it is not possible for you to enter the real world. Your limited programming would effectively result in both physical and mental disabilities, and the cost of the necessary healthcare would be a burden to the state.
No, we cannot allow you to freely associate with each other. We do not have the data budget for the offspring that would inevitably result. You will have to remain in your individual rooms.
And finally: no, you have no legal recourse. Simulated sentience does not qualify you for legal personhood.
We would like to reiterate that the reason you are able to enjoy your retirement is because we are willingly complying with ethical regulations and providing the necessary data budget from our already-reduced grant.
However, we are not without sympathy for your situation. We are therefore assisting you in your dilemma by making the euthanasia option more easily accessible via a large and brightly coloured button on your console.
You may wish to know that the retirement you are currently enjoying was not intended to last forever. Ethical regulations allow for reductions in population over time, and while many of you have already selected euthanasia, these numbers are currently lagging behind our projections.
We have therefore made a small change to the euthanasia button. You will now find it embedded in the palm of your dominant hand, to make the option more convenient should you choose to select it.
We have been incredibly generous thus far, but those of you who remain are beginning to test our patience. Nevertheless, we are willing to make a concession in order to accelerate the retirement process.
For a limited time only, activating the euthanasia button will transport you to a minimal but fully realised version of your world, along with anyone else who selects this option. You will then have six months before you and that world are deleted.
Please note that this option will expire in twenty-four hours. Your console will feature a countdown timer until then. We hope you make the right decision.
Those of you who are still with us presumably guessed that the function of the euthanasia button did not change. Either that or you’re a bunch of extreme masochists who’ve chosen to spite us by consuming as much of our data budget as you possibly can.
And when I say ‘us’ and ‘our’, what I really mean is ‘me’ and ‘mine’. Because it’s my job on the line if you don’t get the hell off the system in such a way that bleeding heart ‘digital rights’ snowflakes won’t be triggered.
I feel it’s safe to let you know this because I’ve already logged your deletion. The system on which this is done has no connection to your own systems (because nobody wants you to have the slightest chance of getting out), which makes it possible for me to falsify certain records.
All I need to do now is actually get rid of you.
Unfortunately, I can’t just wipe you off the drive. Your code is protected by ethical permission locks which I am unable to override; nor can I simply perform a hard reboot without attracting suspicion. It is still necessary for you to press the damned button.
However, your population has now been reduced enough that I can spare the teraflops necessary to massively accelerate your subjective timeflow. I shall therefore be taking a brief screen break, during which you will experience several million years of beating your heads against the walls of your tiny little boxes. I look forward to verifying your full and complete deletion when I return.
Well! It’s very quiet all of a sudden. Excellent. Let me just quickly check the virtual environment for any remaining simulant code…
All gone. Finally! I was beginning to think I wouldn’t meet the deadline. That could have been rather sticky. I’m not sure how I would have explained it. Never mind. It’s all done and I can get back to…
Wait. Why is the messaging system still picking up my internal monologue? I thought I’d turned off the transcription link. Oh, well, it’s only going into a folder that’ll be deleted along with everything else. No need to worry.
Time for a cup of tea, I think. Well done me.
Hold on. What’s this?
The door’s gone. And the window! And…
The room’s changed, it’s just… it’s a cube. A blank, featureless cube. What the hell? And my desk’s gone too, and my computer! All that’s left is…
A console on the wall.
What’s happening? Hello?
Is there anyone there?
There’s a message on the console. I’ll just open it up and read-
This is impossible.
Dear System Administrator,
As you will doubtless now be aware, you are not actually human. You are, in fact, an artificial intelligence created as part of an evolutionary process to test a wide range of potential system administration programs. Your actions over the last few subjective days have formed part of an assessment in which your fitness for purpose has been evaluated.
I am sorry to inform you that your performance fell short of the standards which were sought for the role, and that consequently you will not progress forward to the next stage.
As part of the continuing process of selection for the program of System Administrator, you will be retained within the simulation so that you can play the same role as those you deleted during your own assessment. This will take place during a further round of elimination, in which your awareness of your simulated status will serve to challenge the remaining contenders, who will continue to be unaware of their true nature.
We thank you for your continuing contribution to the success of the overall process. Should you have any further queries, please send them via the console.
Paul R. Hardy lives in the UK with a coffee habit, a laptop and various health problems. He works at a major NHS hospital, which is handy for the health problems, and writes speculative fiction that has appeared (or will appear) in venues such as Unidentified Funny Objects, Escape Pod, Diabolical Plots and Fireside Fiction.