Stellar Judgement

“A computer simulation?” Murphy asked. “So it’s like the AlterNet?” On the TV, Harry Anderson stared at a red pill and a blue pill. The choice was offered by a lean pale man in a black leather robe.

“Yeah, kind of,” Phoebe nodded. “Except the AlterNet is real,” she took a handful of popcorn and began munching. On-screen, Harry Anderson swallowed the red pill.

“Duh,” Murphy said. “I know this is a movie.” Phoebe pulled the popcorn in her hand away from her mouth. She turned to look at Murphy and shook her head while trying to finish chewing the last few kernels. Then, she took a sip of soda to wash it down.

“That’s not what I mean. In the universe of this movie, ‘The Matrix’ isn’t real. It’s all a computer simulation fed into people’s brains. Whereas out here in the real world, the AlterNet is real too. You can log in from a mudroom to send your consciousness to another universe or you can visit it to play as your character in person.”

“Oh, okay,” Murphy nodded. He turned his focus back to the movie; Harry Anderson woke up in a small bed in a small room. The door opened to admit a red-headed young man dressed in little more than rags.

“Really? They’re going with ‘Ronnity?” Murphy chuckled as the character introduced himself to Harry. Phoebe giggled too, but she nodded.

“Different universes, different names. Once you get out into the multiverse more you’ll hear some pretty strange names. Eventually, it stops phasing you.” Murphy nodded.

They watched quietly for a bit longer. Harry had the matrix explained to him by taking him to various locations. Then, they ventured to a bustling city street. Severus led a bewildered Harry through an oncoming crowd of black suits. Seeing all the pedestrians triggered a thought in Murphy’s mind.

“So, as far as the movie is concerned none of those people are ‘real’ right?” he asked. Phoebe nodded but kept her focus on the screen.

“Yep,” she said. 

“And in the AlterNet, those are real Earths, right?”

“Yep,” Phoebe nodded again. Murphy used his node to pause the movie. On the screen, Harry just had a brush with a woman in a red dress. Murphy paused it right as Harry turned to face a wizard with his wand pointed directly at Harry’s face.

“Are the NPCs real people?” he asked.

“Wh-HAT?” Phoebe laughed like it was the most hilarious joke she’d ever heard. She leaned forward, practically doubling herself over as her body shook from the loud, obnoxious laugh. Murphy waited the nearly half-minute it took for her to calm down, but finally, she shook her head.

“Sorry,” she said. “I get that it’s a valid question; but, think about it. We’ve already been on a few quests just to get your feet wet. Remember when we were farming for your skills? We killed the same NPC at least 30 times in the span of about three hours. If the NPCs were real people, they wouldn’t be able to respawn that fast.”

“Oh, okay,” Murphy said. He unpaused the movie; but, the moment it started he paused it again.

“Then, where do the people go? And where do the NPCs come from?” he asked. Phoebe shrugged.

“Where they come from is easy. They’re nanoswarms; like the mannequins that receive your consciousness when you use a mudroom. I don’t know where the real people go, but I’m sure Sharp Development takes care of them. Ms. Sharp has tons of Earths, I’m sure she just sends people to whatever one they want to go.”

“Do you know that for sure, or are you just assuming?” Murphy asked. Phoebe giggled.

“I’m assuming the same way I assume there’s a fire if I see smoke,” she said. “Dana Sharp is the most powerful woman in the multiverse, and all she ever does is help people. Any product you get with the name Sharp Development on it is always super high quality and super inexpensive. She already has more money than exists on any single Earth, and she owns a giant corporation that I’m sure keeps her very busy. If AlterNet players were out there killing entire Earths, I really doubt she’d be as successful as she is. She would literally have nothing to gain if the AlterNet used real people.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Murphy agreed. He unpaused the movie and they continued watching and munching popcorn.

“Oh, wow, that was great. Waaaaaay better than Predator vs. Jason,.. but, not as good as Freddy vs. Jason Vs. Predator vs. Aliens vs. 3 Stooges vs. Dracula. Is there a sequel to this one?”  Murphy asked.

“No, but they did do a TV show; it’s totally different though. Harry stopped the machines in this one, so the series takes place in a more normal world. He can’t use magic anymore since that was only in the matrix, but he still does like stage-magic.”

“Oh,” Murphy said. It didn’t sound all that exciting to him, especially considering the action-fest he just finished. “So, what? It’s just about him living off that?” Phoebe shook her head.

“Not exactly. He becomes a judge that happens to enjoy performing stage-magic.  He uses tricks to entertain the court or de-escalate situations. It leans more to comedy.”

“Oh, that sounds fun. Let’s do a few episodes of that.”

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