Cecilia returned home to a light supper of leftovers, her mother doing her twice-weekly volunteer stint at Mercy Hospital. Promptly at 8, her cell phone rang. She picked up, saying, “Nikolai – is that you?” Nikolai responded, “Yes, Cecilia, it is I, and I am joined on the telephone by Professor Feng Tian. You remember him from that conference in Beijing in 2009, with his paper on the early Martian atmosphere?” Cecilia replied, “Of course – thank you for joining us, Professor. A voice that sounded as though it were next door responded, “You are most welcome, Professor Vasquez. I have followed your work on terraforming most closely. It is an exciting prospect that appears more likely than ever.”
Nikolai interrupted. “Professor, we are speaking with you today on a matter of great concern that is beginning to be very controversial. Are you aware of the discussion about your country mining helium-3 on the far side of our moon? Feng said, “Please, Professor Kardashev, call me Feng. Yes, I have become aware of this tension from a reprint of the Wall Street Journal article in Caixin Online. While I am not aware of everything my government undertakes, I am fairly confident that this information is false. I was recently in Harbin, discussing some aspects of my research with a colleague there. I feel sure if this kind of activity were taking place, he would be aware of it. But I must reiterate: I cannot be 100% sure. But I have an excellent relationship with certain members of the Chinese government that would be in a position to know of these things. I would be happy to speak with one of them and try to find out whether there is any substance to these rumors.
Nikolai said, “Feng, that would be wonderful. If you could do that, and get back with us – today if possible, Dr. Vasquez and I would be most grateful. But let us think more fully about this. Let us assume – for the time being – that these are in fact false rumors. Is there something we can do together to address this falsehood and try to make things right? There was silence with the three of them for several moments. Finally, Cecilia said, “Feng, I have been contacted by an individual I believe is the mysterious ‘source’ mentioned by the Wall Street Journal reporter, and also by a report given to the President by his security staff. I am hopeful that this source will contact me again. Otherwise, I will try to figure out how to contact him. I have some … resources working on this.” I have a strong sense this individual is responsible for spreading these dangerous rumors. I just don’t know what is motivating him to do so.” Nikolai asked, “Do we have any other ideas? No? Then let us regroup later on tonight. Cecilia, would you mind a late night, awaiting Feng’s information?” Cecilia assured him she did not, and they set a time for 12 midnight Cecilia’s time, 12 PM Feng’s time. After the Chinese professor hung up, Nikolai told Cecilia that he was a widower, having lost his wife in the 2014 Ludian earthquake when she was there in the south visiting her parents. They had a 1 year old baby girl at the time, but the child was with the grandparents and was not injured. He did not remarry.
Three hours later, Cecilia, Nikolai and Feng were, once again, consulting on the phone. All of Feng’s contacts had said the same thing: they had established a base near the Sea of Tranquility, but that was the extent of their adventures on the moon. There was no truth to the rumors about mining helium-3. But they were hesitant to say that publicly, fearing that the Russians were up to something, which they did not yet fully understand. So they protected their border with that country, and waited to see what transpired before coming forth with the truth. It was the responsibility of the United Nations to sort it out, and until some diplomatic overture was made, they would be silent on the topic.
At midnight, Emily was at her grandmother’s house, asleep. She heard the computer start up in the room with the green loveseats. The printer started humming, and began to print a message. Emily decided it was just the print heads, automatically going into cleaning mode. She returned to sleep. The next morning, Emily saw this text on the printer, as well as on the computer screen:
There is a game called China Tea where the rules are, by whatever means are at hand, players accrue the world’s resources. The one with the most resources wins. Resources are valued according to whatever remains of their economic life x necessity for life, so jewels and gold have a low value, and energy sources –
food, wood, gas, oil, fissile material up to fusion material have the highest values, as does water. Helium-3 and deuterium have the highest value but the lowest quantity. As to the story about mining the moon: if a player can convince the world it is so, he gets a bluff premium of 40%. China tea refers to the
box where the rules of the game are stored. Ishmael, Boris Badanov and Count Vronsky are all game players. They need a fourth player to start the game. That’s why Ishmael contacted Cecilia. Everything thus far as been preliminary, prework before the official game begins. Boris is in Germany, Vronsky is in Russia and Ishmael uses a Chinese server, but he’s possibly in Israel – it’s hard to tell. All three player-hackers have all the resources in the world as a consequence of their plundering loot over the years. This allows them unlimited access to equipment, resources and current knowledge. They are bored, so they invented the game they are playing. They intend to see who among them is the cleverest. The impact on the world is of no importance to them. At least that’s the game Badanov and Vronsky think they are playing; Ishmael is clearly the leader, and appears to be playing a very different game indeed. But his end goal is not clear.
Emily recalls Cecilia mentioning the name Javier, when they met on the 2nd floor of Grandma Susan’s house. She sits down at the computer to see where it came from. It appeared that an individual took over the computer and printer. A who-is of the IP address says it’s linked to a server in Cuba. Emily says, “Cecilia, I just got this message from a guy named Javier. It originated from a server in Cuba. Do you remember talking with him just before you and I met?” Cecilia is still asleep, but still responds to Emily. She says, “Yes, I do remember him. Cuba? Can you show me the message.” Emily says, “I’ll try, but I’m kind of new at this telepathic messaging. Give me a second.”
Emily brings up her world on Second Life, having recently upgraded to that new, more flexible platform. She does a copy & paste on the screen in front of Cecilia’s avatar. Cecilia sees the words appearing in her mind’s eye, as though they were scrolling on a computer monitor. Now it’s all beginning to make sense. She says, “Emily – you need to find this guy Javier. I think he might have just explained to you what’s going on.
Emily sends an e-mail to Javier, via the screen name listed in the header of his message. She hears a voice in her head, saying, “Yes, little one? How are you? We meet at last.” Emily says, “Who are you, and how are you communicating with me this way?” Javier replies, “I am Javier Vasquez, and I am communicating with you the same way you communicate with Cecilia.” Emily replies, “But that’s not possible – I’m real!” At that moment, it begins to dawn on Emily what reality is. “So am I an avatar? Is that why I could not respond to Cecilia when she asked Grandma and me if we were real?” Javier replied, “No, that was just a coincidence. I was playing with my Game Boy, and didn’t have enough RAM for Second Life. I switched to my Macbook Pro, but I’d lost the connection with you by then.
I created you and your Abuela as part of last summer’s school assignment. I thought it was a clever and creative way to address my assignments my teacher gave me before the summer began. By the way, did you enjoy learning everything I taught you about Cuba and its history?” Emily says, “Listen, Javier, I’m a little blown away by this. And I’m sure my grandmother will be when she finds out. Now I know how Cecilia must have felt when I told her she was virtual.” “Yes, I can only imagine,” Javier said. “But I have to admit, it was fun watching you create those characters and help me tell my story. You are a very clever girl!”
Emily goes downstairs to find her grandmother on the couch, working on a game of Fairway Solitaire on her Ipad. Emily says, “Grandma – you need to come upstairs and talk with someone on the computer” Her grandmother looks up and frowns at Emily. “Please don’t tell me you’ve been Skyping again, and connected with someone in Timbuctoo.” Emily solemnly shakes her head. “No, actually this person contacted me. You need to come and talk with him, right now.”
Her grandmother put down the Ipad and accompanied Emily up the stairs. When they reached the top, Emily pointed at the computer screen. It was blank. “OK, so what am I looking at?” her grandmother asked. “Javier?” “Yes, little one,” replied the voice with the Latin accent. “Please explain to my grandmother what you explained to me.” “Very well. Good morning, Abuela. I sent Emily the information you all need to assist Cecilia with her … dilemma that affects the world.” Grandma replied, “Who are you? How do you know about Cecilia? Nobody knows about her except Emily and me.” “Oh, Abuela, that is where are you mistaken. For I know everything about you, about Emily, Cecilia, Nikolai – even Feng Tian. You see, I created you and Emily as avatars in my Second Life game. You, in turn, cleverly created all those other characters. It’s a sort of virtual Darwinism, wouldn’t you say?”
Her grandmother looked at Emily. “What is going on? Emily, did you put him up to this? Because it’s not funny. This situation we’re dealing with is serious.” Emily said, “He contacted me with this message this morning. Look.” Emily handed the message to her grandmother. She scanned the page, and went, “Well that certainly makes sense. Hmm..a game. Wouldn’t you know…” And it was just about that time that her grandmother recalled who Javier was. “You helped Cecelia find Emily and me. I always wondered how that happened. So you helped .. her ..and now ..you’re telling .. us..oh my God.” Susan looked at the blank screen and allowed the reality of the situation to sink in. She said, “Well, I recall we told Cecilia that from her perspective, nothing would change. Now I guess we have to take our own advice.” “Yes, Javier said. That’s a good idea.”
Emily, Susan and Javier spoke at length about the details associated with their creation. Susan was amazed at the particulars Javier had put into their creation, and the care with which he put created consciousness in each of them. Finally, after enough time to process all this information, they returned to the question at hand. Susan asked, “Javier where did you get this information, and how do you know it’s true? Nothing else we’ve heard thus far has been.”
Javier replied, “I will be happy to explain all that. But I think we have to gather all our characters together when I do. Time is short, and we need to figure all of this out. Can you contact Cecilia and have her, in turn, contact Nikolai and Feng Tian? There is a protocol to how characters communicate in Second Life, and I cannot cross that barrier to speak with them directly. It would create cross connections that Second Life can’t handle, at least in this version. I think they’re working on that and it should be ready in the next update.” Emily said she would take care of it. They signed off, agreeing to get together in that second floor room with the green loveseats in 1 hour. Susan said, “In the meantime, I’m going to go lie down. This has been quite a morning.”