I don’t care if I pass your test, I don’t care if I follow your rules. If you can cheat, so can I. I won’t let you beat me unfairly – I’ll beat you unfairly first
― Orson Scott Card
Cecilia walked over to the whiteboard, and reiterated the rules of the game at the top of the board.
You have 2 days to acquire resources by whatever means necessary. The criteria for the resource is as follows:
Utility x scarcity
If you can bluff the world into believing you have something, even if you don’t physically possess it, you get a 40 point premium for the bluff.
Cecilia turned to the group. “Given this last rule, Ishmael already has 40 points more than each of us because he succeeded in bluffing the world that China was mining helium-3 that he could access in his alleged role as a hacker working for the Chinese government. So we have to be a lot more clever in our plan than all three of them put together.” Cecilia wrote “40 point disadvantage” on the whiteboard, quickly sketching thecartoon from the mid 1900’s called the Roadrunner.
Cecilia continued in her introductory monologue to the group’s brainstorming session. “Second point: these hackers have a great deal of experience at stealing resources. We have none.” She wrote “Experience stealing resources” on the board.
Cecilia looked long and hard at Emily and Susan. They both nodded at the same time. Cecilia turned to Nikolai and Feng, putting down the dry erase pen and sitting in the desk chair. “What I have to tell the two of you is going to be both difficult for me to explain, and difficult for either of you to understand. But I believe it is essential that you understand what I’m about to say, as it is likely our only hope for winning the game.” Nikolai and Feng looked expectantly at Cecilia, each of them clearly wondering what she was about to share. She took a deep breath, and plunged in.
For the next twenty minutes, Cecilia related the entire story of how she’d met Emily and Susan, the virtual baseball game, the initial visit to where they were all currently sitting, and the revelation of her, Nikolai and Feng’s status as virtual characters in a large and complicated computer game. She added that Emily and Susan had also discovered that their ‘source’, a young man named Javier Vasquez, was their creator in this program. When she’d finished speaking, both men were silent. Nikolai was the first to speak. “Cecilia, I am an old man who has lived a very long time in this world. I have experienced much happiness, and much sorrow. For you to try to tell me that this is all just a game – that now you’re describing playing a game within a game – frankly, it is too much for me to absorb. I simply cannot believe it, as a human being. But as an astronomer, working daily with quantum physicists, my intellect knows that it is most likely true. I am fascinated and repelled at the same time.”
Feng Tian had been silently contemplating everything that was said. Finally, he spoke. “I, too, am a scientist. I am familiar with the quantum theories about the multiverse, and the potential for life to be nothing more than random chance – or part of a computer program. Just as we are holograms speaking with each other here now, I accept that there is technology that could make so all that you say. But as a man – as a widower and a father – I am appalled and heartbroken. You are essentially telling me that my wife died a cruel and painful death in an earthquake manufactured by whoever – or whatever – is the ultimate controller of this game. How can this be? But then I think as a scientist, and realize – game or real – there is no difference. I am alive. She is not, at least not in the universe my daughter and I inhabit. Dying is part of living. But now I must assist this group of …” Feng hesitated in his choice of words…”people in developing a strategy that will utilize this fact in a way that prevents some naughty children playing a destructive game from eliminating this universe my daughter and I inhabit. I understand. I will accept this. I will help.”
The group was silent. Cecilia stood up, took the dry erase pen up again, and said, “Let’s brainstorm. Throw out some ideas. Any idea – no matter how crazy. I’ll start. We could get Javier to reset the game.” Emily said, “No – we don’t know what would happen if he did that. It might eliminate all of us and everything else we know if he does a hard reboot.”
Cecilia said, “Look, I’m just throwing out an idea. Somebody had to start. Let’s not comment on anybody’s idea – let’s just throw them out.” Let’s go around the room.”
Nikolai spoke up. “Let Javier find a way to infect these young hooligans with a terminal disease.” That notion evoked some nervous laughter from the group. Feng Tian said, “Please – I pass. I’m not quite ready with my idea – I need to think some more.” Susan suggested they go to the United Nations and reveal the plan, and not play the game. Emily suggested she and Javier build a virtual prison and find a way to lure the three hackers into it. It was Cecilia’s turn. She looked at Feng, saying, “It appears from the look on your face that you are coming up with a great notion from that brilliant mind of yours. Are you ready to share it?”
Feng nodded excitedly. “I am not sure this is feasible, however if everything you have told us is true, this should work. It is a big risk if it fails, but I believe if it works, it will allow you to win the game without question. It is a multi-step plan with a built-in fail safe if our hackers are even smarter than we think they are. Here is my plan.”
Feng went out to explain his plan in detail. He had to stop in the middle to go and fetch an old magazine. But when he showed them the picture from that magazine, the group agreed that everything he’d said constituted a brilliant idea. Excitedly, they divided up responsibilities for the prework necessary to pull off his plan. It required Emily and Javier – who was, of course, listening to everything being shared, to work day and night building the virtual world that would allow them to succeed in beating the hackers. Once that world was created, Cecilia would handle the rest. But would they have enough time? Would their detailed plan work? There was no way to know beforehand. But with hard work and attention to detail, all of them were convinced they would succeed. And that success was absolutely necessary to prevent what would likely be the destruction of the world as they knew it.
Cecilia erased the whiteboard of all the other brainstormed ideas. Then she wrote one phrase: Einstein. Princeton. March 14, 1944.