He sat down on the bench by the pond, took the bag of white bread from inside the carrier bag he had picked up at Tesco, and began to break it into lumps and throw it to the ducks. There were Mallards, Eider, Coots,and even a few swans. He knew he was beginning to lose track of how long he had been here. He was having to fly under the radar because, well, this wasn’t his home, was it?
There were satellites from his home that were orbiting around, having to perform the same acrobatics as him, but he had certainty that if they had escaped this reboot, that there were others who had escaped it too. And those were the ones that he was going to go after.
‘Hello,’ said the girl who sat down on the bench next to him ‘Mr Bertolt?’
He smiled. ‘Jenny Fred?’
‘Yes. So, you told me you have a lead on a story?’ He liked her – she looked hungry. He knew he was timetabled to meet her at some point in the future, but well, the timeline here wasn’t necessarily anything like the one where he had come from.
She looked at the case by the side of his bench, and she smiled. ‘Nice typewriter.’
He smiled and responded in the affirmative. You had to lead into the truth softly. When the truth was something that upended everything this girl knew; when the truth that might sound like a crazy lie implicated a version of him. He spent his whole life surfing probability waves, how was this any different? Not too much was likely to happen here other than he might not be believed.
‘Things are not what you think they are,’ is probably the sentence that starts a million conspiracy theories. Jenny looked bored and he didn’t blame her. You come out to a park, which probably seemed sketchy in the first place, to meet with some guy that sits there and proceeds to feed the ducks, while doing the conversational equivalent of vague-posting. She tried valiantly to suppress a yawn, and he decided to take the gloves off.
‘Observe the duck on the lake,’ he instructed, reaching for his hack-rig.
No time to play around, he isolated the duck’s code and copy-pasted the code for a hippopotamus into its spatio-temporal index. He looked at her face and observed the dropped jaw.
‘What the fuck? Is that real?’
‘You can touch it, we could take a DNA sample from it.’
‘But how can I know that you didn’t rig this place?’
‘OK, then let me just do something to your hand. It is reversible.’
Her hand cycled through a cubist framework, a Kandinsky iteration, and a glitch art sequence, and there was a sense memory he ran under the jump-cuts to give her some other reference than the purely visual. He could tell that he had convinced her.
‘Who are you?’
‘Wow, you didn’t keep your cover very well. OK, what are you?’
‘Keeping my cover was boring you. I am a Reality Engineer, and the thing that I have here is ahack-rig.’
‘OK, and you’re not the story?’
‘I am not the story. The story is that this is a reality that was created by someone that should have not been allowed to do what they did.’
‘OK, and you have proof?’
‘Of course, why else would I bring you here?’
‘And the purpose of telling everyone that the reality they know is a lie?’
‘To recruit people to my cause, and to rescue reality.’
‘Seems like a leap. I don’t normally report on this kind of thing. People are going to write it off as nonsense and my editors are going to take some convincing.’
‘How much space do you have on your hard-drive?’
‘Too small.’ He pulled a Q-Slice from his pocket – a quantum drive – and handed it to her. ‘Watch it. Have them watch it. you will be convinced, even if other people can’t see it.’
‘OK, and people are going to want to what, do a roll-back? Re-install a previous version of reality?’
‘I’ll take this. I’ll look. I’ll be in touch.’
She got up and walked away from him. He stayed there for a second and he broke up the rest of the bread, threw it onto the pond, and walked away as the ducks went crazy.