The discovery of fire changed the course of human history. So did the steam engine. So did the Internet. And so did the programmer known only as Bob. Bob counts twice.

With Bob’s implementation of virtual reality in this imperfect and unhappy world, most of us traded our lives for that of our avatars. A few at first and then in a torrent (literally), our minds were downloaded to cyberspace and our bodies were composted. Why not?  In the virtual universe, we could live forever. Who wants to risk walking around in a body that could get hit by a car tomorrow? But Bob stayed behind.

As the human population shrank on Earth, physical resources became more abundant. The planet began to repair itself. The few maintained the many – until the population shrank past a tipping point, that is. Then, there were not enough folks around to keep the wheels turning. The living began to lose interest in the billions of us existing within the world’s networked machines. Someone needed to save us before those still walking the earth faded back into the forest and our computers, and our virtual universe, went dark.

Enter Bob the genius again. He realized what was happening when he could no longer hire an adequate number of technicians to maintain the system. It was up to him to save us. To pull us back out of our dreams. To return us to the real world, into bodies that approximated our avatars, not our original selves. Bob did this by reversing his original process – by allowing the virtual to become real again. Not just our bodies, but everything else in our world as well. The Earth now became a planet of fantastic landscapes, castles, and dragons. Bob loosed total Minecraft on Earth itself. Fortunately, our composted bodies were still available as raw material. Bob also used up all of Antarctica and a piece of the Moon to build what his imagination, and ours, had created.

We lost our immortality with the transition back, but none of us had had it long enough to make its absence matter. Nobody missed it.

At this second moment of triumph in his life, Bob fell ill. He lingered and then he died, without telling us about the one big string attached to humanity’s return. Paco.

For years, Bob owned a pet chihuahua. Paco. A feisty beast. When everyone began immigrating to the virtual universe, Bob sent Paco along with one of his sons. The dog was growing old and Bob wanted the dog to go where he could live forever. Later, when Bob became convinced that he could safely convert anything from the virtual back to the real – to the physical – he began by re-materializing his dog.

Six months passed as Bob globalized his techniques and prepared for the re-physicalization of all the rest of us. During that time, he tested and retested the mutt. Paco showed no ill effects. With that, Bob announced his new process to the world, not that many on Earth at the time were interested. Within a year, we were all back, and the better for it.

Bob’s last words were “Keep an eye on Paco.” Naturally, we took that to be the concern of a loving dog owner for the future welfare of his pet. In retrospect, Bob had probably noticed, there at the end, that Paco had grown a little. Not so much that anyone but Bob would notice, but some small amount that tickled the borders of Bob’s perception.

There is evidence in the analysis of Bob’s final work, as recovered from the computers in his lab, that he had begun an attempt to calculate Paco’s rate of growth. Whether or not he lived long enough to deduce that it was exponential, as opposed to linear, we don’t know.

Bob had no family. He willed his dog, along with a big chunk of his fortune, to my  sister Greta. I often thought that I saw a glimmer in his eye when he looked at Greta over the years, but it never went beyond that. It took Greta a month to notice Paco’s growth. By the time the pet was the size of a collie, the world knew. What the world did not know was whether Paco’s growth would continue and whether the rest of us would follow suit at some point.

Visiting my sister, I quickly learned that a chihuahua the size of a collie is a menace if his personality remains unchanged. Paco had to be caged.

Before long, as he grew, the dog was transferred to a lion cage at the zoo. Then he was transported, tranquilized, to a desert island in the Caribbean. The distribution of Bob’s immense fortune was dependent upon the care provided to his beloved canine, not just by Greta, but by the world. Otherwise, the dog would have been put down. A chihuahua the size of a tyrannosaurus would take down the tyrannosaurus, strictly because of its crazy attitude.

Paco was growing at a fantastic rate by then. Bob’s protocols replaced the virtual with the real, but his boundary conditions must have been marginally unstable when he did so. If he had waited for a year, say, rather than six months, before bringing us all back, he would have realized this. His disease didn’t provide him with that luxury, however.

The world watched via video, in horror, as Paco dog-paddled from his island to Florida and came ashore at Boca Raton. By then he was three stories tall at the shoulder. He was nettled and he was hungry. The Air Force took him out with a cruise missle, but not before he cleared the beaches. Some tourists ran; others were consumed. Paco still considered himself Man’s best friend, but he didn’t regard these little sausages on legs as men, or women either.

That was six months ago. When I dressed this morning, my trousers seemed a little tight.