Carla had yelled at us about this last time, I recalled, but had never really explained what she meant. She was pretty excitable when she’d gone more than a few hours without blowing something up. Which, to be honest, was understandable – but I wanted to get to the bottom of it this time.
“Alright,” I said, “I’m sure it’s more complicated than ‘alternate versions’. But these are all from different types of universe, and-”
“No they’re not,” Carla said. “There is only the one universe. None of you are from there. You’re all from in here,” she pointed at me and Creepy. “They’re in the middle of it. Everything that happens in here is happening because of them.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“Me too,” Carla snapped. “You think it was easy for me to accept that I didn’t exist and I was an element in – in some kind of simulation? You think it was easy for Carl? Why do you think she’s been screaming into slo-time for the past meaningless-distinction-of-timescales?”
“I’m not a simulation,” Mister C of 9 said confidently.
“Neither am I,” the Drake added, “although if this-” she gestured at herself, “-is just an avatar that my devices have projected into a simulated infosphere, perhaps in that sense I am. Even the ‘me’ that may or may not exist back in my trove may be completely convinced it is real, and yet still not be.”
“I have always found it safest to assume that I’m real,” Winona mused. “If I am a dream within a completely convincing and apparently never-ending dream, then is that not wakefulness?”
We all looked at the elderly gentleman in the giant froofy hat in quiet surprise.
“Well said,” the Drake approved.
“Very philosophical,” Creepy added. “Good lad.”
Winona ignored him. “We had a lot of fairy snuff addicts at the tavern where I grew up,” he confided with a nostalgic smile. “‘Profound Or Just About To Stroke Out’ was a regular game we played with their ramblings.”
“You are, I mean you’re not real or simulations,” Carla said, still glaring at me and Creepy in clear annoyance, like existence itself was our fault. “I knew you’d focus on that. It’s not as simple as us all being parts of a simulation or a dream. We’re all real, because here we are. Within this framework, by definition, we’re real. If you start with the baseline assumption that this is reality and therefore things that exist inside it are real. But there are fragments all over the place, floating through slo-time like pieces of glass. This,” she gestured around her, “is just the biggest cluster of fragments, and we’ve all just floated into it and been pulled into a new formation according to rules of physics too big and strange for us to understand. Christmas was the same, it was a different clump of shards that was trying to find a way to merge with this larger body, but it couldn’t.”
“Damn right it couldn’t,” Creepy said firmly. “We stopped it.”
“Again, yes, but you’re not getting what that means,” Carla said, deceptively patient. “Entropy had already taken us past the point where elements like Christmas could merge with this ‘universe’ anyway. It was unsupportable. This is about the limit,” she gestured again, this time at me and the Creepies, with an added abstract twist to the gesture to encompass the entire nebulous concept of solstice pagan ritual holy whatever.
I looked around. “Well…”
“Well I like this better than Christmas,” Creepy declared. “Christmas is capitalistic and soulless manipulation of the population and doesn’t include five other versions of me.”
“All Hats’ Eve usually has a parade with lots of different versions of you,” Winona said helpfully. “Or – you know, the mythicised you, the Hatboy, Sir Garçon de Chapeau,” he looked at me with a little shrug. “Sorry.”
“Our fault,” I said. Carla audibly ground her teeth. “Apparently it’s all our fault.”
“See, even that is completely true but still doesn’t cover it,” she said, and looked around at the others. “The fragments don’t just come from nowhere. They – we, you – are all pieces of some sort of reality. The reality you’re based on, even if it is long gone by now, was no less real for the fact that some confused variant of it is still happening in their brains,” she pointed at us again.
“Oh, now this is all happening in our brains?” Creepy scoffed.
“The most depressing part about that idea is how much sense it makes,” I admitted. “I mean, I can’t imagine a healthy brain deciding that five more super-sidekicks is a good idea, and this is just the latest in a long line of horrible things that I’ve had to survive. So, what, this is a self-created simulation gone wrong and I have to wake up? Shouldn’t you all be arguing against that, since if I wake up and you’re in my head…” I stopped again.
“Yeah,” Carla said grimly as she saw realisation cross my face. “Since when have the participants in your adventures – particularly at Christmas – argued against ceasing to exist?”