The Apocalypse Reboot
by Russ Bickerstaff         

The valiant hero approached me. He shouted some sort of nonsense and he attacked. I spoke a few words. He disappeared. It had going on like that over and over again in a number of different ways for what felt like forever.

The lightning crashed in the background somewhere. It was hard to discern amidst the sound of automatic gunfire. There were bombs going off in the distance somewhere. It was all centered around me. People of multiple different genres were all trying to thwart what I was trying to do. Of course, none of them really knew what I was trying to do. One look in the mirror would tell you that I was a total cliché of a villain. In my defense, I really do like the color black. And long, flowing robes are just comfortable. There was a beard (which could have been described as being sinister), but it was there because I was far too focused on getting this project off the ground to worry about things like shaving.

A window popped-up. Shimmering. White. A man in long flowing white robes suffered through that window. It minimized as he left the space he had come out of. And then it disappeared altogether. And there he was. I think I remember him as someone in the company’s IT department. Of course, he didn't recognize me. He was saying something valiant. Something heroic. And I kind of wondered where this type of dialogue could come from. I mean I know people read sword and sorcery fantasy that sort of thing. But obviously that sort of thing had come from somewhere else before that, right?

His type was the one that really kind of baffled me. Those who use magic. Those who interface almost directly with the reality that we're all walking around in. How is it you can get that close to knowing what's going on without actually knowing what's going on?

He spoke some code. I spoke some code back to him. The two programs negated each other and we were on to the next round. It all began to take on the condition of an old strategy game of some sort. The kind of game played with little lead miniatures and polyhedral dice. Of course there was a reason why it all ended up feeling like that. The people who created this whole thing were into that type of game.

Honestly, this guy might've been one of those who helped create the system. It seemed logical. He seemed as though he was fluent enough in the code that he would have been around since the beginning. But it was difficult to tell. Everything was coded. And maybe his entire existence was merely part of the code.

It had all been a matter of convenience. You tried to create a system that people could work within their offices. You tried to build abstraction into real world interactions. People were more productive when they were dealing with those things that were more closely aligned with the way people think. If people felt less inclined to work and more inclined to discuss sports or share cat videos or do online personality quizzes, then you had productivity issues. On the other hand, if you had some sort of a program that turned the work people were doing into something indistinguishable from  discussing sports or sharing cat videos or doing online personality quizzes, THEN you’ve got all kinds of productivity. And if you happened to work in a business that is populated largely by people who do fantasy role-playing games, well, things pretty quickly escalate into other worlds. And things get weird.

The problem came in where things had gotten so completely convoluted and immersive in the office environment that it became its own world. People had forgotten what jobs they were doing. This is not to say that they weren't doing their jobs. (The leisure-to-work productivity software made certain of that.) The problem was that people just didn't know what their jobs were. Furthermore, people got so sucked into the world that they weren’t going home to their families. They weren’t even leaving the office. They were losing any sense of identity that wasn’t the role-playing game created by the automated system in the interest of increased productivity.

Exactly why it was that people were doing what they were doing become kind of lost. It all became a matter of fates and prophecies and things of that nature. People lost track of time. And people had lost track of the basic codes that ran everything. There were those of us who could still sort of vaguely remember that there was a world outside. And we became wizards and warlocks and things of that nature. However, it did take me a little while to understand what was really going on. (And what was really going on.) And what was really going on was awful. I don't think we've actually gotten any work done in the past fiscal quarter that wasn’t completely lost in the world that we were a part of. It was all just mutual role-playing for a very long time. This would not have been all that bad had it not been for the fact that the battles and resentment and vendettas that swirled around in the office were threatening to get dangerous. People could really get hurt.

It wasn’t long before I decided I really had to change things. I had to reset the whole system. Everything had become so convoluted. If I didn’t do something soon, I would lose my own handle on things and any conception of the outside world would completely vanish from the realm of the office. The basic office environment had to be restored or all would be lost. People began to realize this and they came to the understanding that I was trying to end the world. I guess in a way they’re right. In a way I am trying to end the world as we know it.

Not really sure what to make of it all. Not really sure what to make of the fact that people are trying to stop me from returning everyone to their regularly scheduled reality. Once the hallucination takes hold it’s real. Once the game becomes real people forget. People lose track of things. The thing is, if I don't do something someone else will. Someone from the outside. Better to have this world ended by someone from the inside. Better to be interacting with this whole thing from the inside.

The last of the IT guys was bound. Blocked into his own window. Unable to get out. He could keep trying for hours and he’d never get out. He was trying to access code. He understood it, but he didn't understand it well enough because he didn't understand what it was. Didn't really want to make him watch, but I guess he had to see me initiate the final reboot code. A few quick recitation and the whole thing vanished. Everything. There was a tone. It was the sound of a reversing cleansing and restarting. It was going to take a while. Just the clean, smooth echo of nothing but gray off in the horizon.

Everything disappeared in the storm. The castle. The tower. The mountain range. All of those many, many fictitious things out there. They were all vanishing. They were all disappearing into the gray. And all that was left was the sound of a single, clear tone. Ether was spiraling and rotating off somewhere in the middle of it all. We were all looking up to see it. Looking on in horror. I think there must have been some kind of relief on my face. Everything had disappeared and there was just us. We took deep breaths and looked around and we looked around and saw that we looked disgusting. It had probably been months since basic grooming has been an issue. We were all going to shuffle out of the office and into our cars. We would head back home. It was understood that we would be taking a day off. Somehow we knew we weren’t going to be talking about this again for a long time.

Russ Bickerstaff is a theatre critic and aspiring author living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife and two daughters. His work has appeared in Hypertext Magazine, Sein und Werden and Enchanted Conversations among other places. The Internarrational Where Port for his short fiction can be found here.