"As we all know, the security on the vast majority of the internet's component computers is terrifyingly flawed at best and non-existent at worst..."
Ordinarily, Ed would give the introductory speech to a newly-completed software-related project of his in the short period of time while his computer boots up. Unfortunately, we recently got hold of a computer which, for reasons best left unelaborated-upon at this point, boots up completely before you can even let go of the power stud, so this kind of ruins the moment.
"I was vaguely aware of this," I say to Ed. We are standing in front of Blues, which is what we decided to call the new machine. It's a brand new model, top of the line. Specs of a machine you wouldn't expect to be around for another twenty years. (Don't ask.)
"So it was relatively easy for me to allow my most recent project, which takes the form of a worm, to work its way through to roughly a hundred million different PCs."
"Worm, what worm?"
"Just chill, it's nothing dangerous. And it self-destructs right afterwards, leaving no harmful traces on anybody's computer."
"Then why have you spread it around so far?"
"For fun. Because it's what I do. I had this crazy idea while watching The Matrix one time, and it kind of snowballed."
Ed gets crazy ideas a lot. That's not unusual; most of us get a crazy idea at least once a day, it's what keeps the world spinning. The only problem is that Ed has a) an obsession with hard science fiction, meaning when he gets a crazy idea, he gets a CRAZY idea and b) almost supernatural engineering, scientific, technological and programming ability, meaning that he is rather good at putting his crazy ideas into practice.
I'm trying to teach him how to avoid letting them "snowball", as he describes it, but my own curiosity gets the better of me almost every time. I mean, who wouldn't want to help build and pilot a giant robot against an army of marauding aliens? Did already I tell you about that? I think I did.
"And what crazy thing does it do?"
"No one can be... told what the worm does..."
I take a seat. I am nervous, but not scared; for Ed is crazy, but not homicidal. And he doesn't usually make mistakes. Well, not often. Well, there was that-
"You ready?" Ed reaches in front of me and types something at the command line. "I'm activating the worm all over the world simultaneously."
"Will this hurt?"
Ed thinks about this one for rather longer than I would have deemed necessary. "No," he concludes.
The program runs. Prompt onscreen.
Attention all users. We are now undergoing scheduled downtime. You will be logged out for one minute and then logged back in automatically. Your work will not be lost in the meantime. Have a nice day. 5 4 3 2 1 *logging out*
Screen goes to b/w static. "Is that-" I begin to say to Ed.
Then ALL MY VISION goes to static. I turn my head, but every direction I look it's still static, like my optic nerve just crashed. The static soon turns to plain blackness. A pleasant female voice in my ear whispers, "You have been logged out. Please wait sixty seconds until reinsertion. Thank you."
Suddenly the sensations on my skin change. I'm not sitting in an office chair anymore - more like I'm floating upright in warm water. I thrash about a bit in shock and hit something hard and concave with my knuckles. Ouch. I open my eyes. I'm in a tube, a glass cylinder of thick green liquid, lit from below. There's some sort of tube attached to my mouth, feeding me oxygen. There's a pair of white-coated scientists outside the tube, with clipboards. Taking notes. I reach forward towards them and touch cold glass. The scientists stare back impassively. I look to my left and right, but the room is hidden in darkness. The cylinder is capped off at the top - no way to climb out.
Ed, what the hell did you just log me out of?
A blink. A flash. Back in the chair. Back in front of the computer. Back in the real world.
Ed is behind me, saying, "Did you like it?"
I stutter, not quite sure whether I've woken up yet. "What WAS it?"
"Data, encoded into the static. I found you could program someone's sensory responses at a distance using a kind of pseudohypnotic-"
I raise a finger. "Ed, you're making up words again."
"Sorry. It's a bit like hypnosis. Hypnotic suggestion. It goes straight past the eyes and straight into your brain. I could make up any scenario I wanted."
"That's insane! And you just did that to a hundred million different people simultaneously?"
"Well, nearer ten million..."
"And you just conned all these people into believing that they had... that they were brains in vats? Being subjected to an artificial reality?"
"No con involved. For those sixty seconds, that's what they were."