In the Shadow of the Fire

Posted on July 29, 2004 by Jenna

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“The world will end in seven days.”

Mr. Collins puts his hands, palms down and flat, on the table. “We have all seen it. There is a fire in the sky, and it will consume everything. It remains only for us to decide what we shall do about it.”

“Do we want to try to make an alpha release?”

That’s one of the programmers. Mr. Collins doesn’t know his name, and now that the world is ending, he probably never will. He feels no curiosity on this matter, only a dim and distant disinterest. He looks to Ms. Jenkins.

“We can’t do it,” Ms. Jenkins says. “I’m not even sure we can get the bloody thing to compile in a week. Much less produce a quasi-functional game.” She scowls. “Compounding the problem, if we don’t allocate them at least six hours, the release engineers will whine.”

The release engineers, in the back of the room, hang their heads. It’s true. They would.

“Then we have no choice,” Mr. Brom says. “We’re going to have to reconceive our product.”

Mr. Collins’ voice is icy. “We have seven days, Mr. Brom.”

“Precisely,” Mr. Brom says. “Product release is no longer an option. We must instead strive for a catchy project plan and an IPO.”

Mr. Collins’ eyebrows have drawn together. Ms. Jenkins is frowning. But Mr. Brom continues.

“This converts our liability into an advantage,” he explains. “When it comes to innovative ideas that we’ll never actually release, the sky is the limit.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Ms. Jenkins snaps. Then she hesitates.

Mr. Brom senses weakness. He strikes. “For example,” he says, “I believe that at one point you felt our game should include a comprehensive and accurate simulation of the 20th century global economy.” He tilts his head to one side. “It is no longer impractical, Ms. Jenkins.”

Ms. Jenkins is gnawing on the back of her knuckle. “It won’t sell,” she says. “It’s the kind of thing that needs a demo.”

“Then think more grandly,” he says.

Mr. Black has been quiet. But now he speaks up. “We could simulate theology. We could capture in our game the workings of the mind of God.”

Ms. Jenkins’ eyes brighten. “It could generate a modern economy as derivative dynamic content!”

“The mind of God could fill our game’s world with numberless billions of people,” says Mr. Black. “We could call it an ‘infinite complexity engine.'”

Mr. Collins leans back. His fingers steeple.

“And there’d be intrigues among the angels,” Ms. Jenkins says. “Perhaps even a violent revolution!”

“Naturally they wouldn’t want to serve the users,” Mr. Brom says. “Not even if God commanded it.”

“It’d be like Left Behind meets EverQuest!”

“With a smite menu!”

Mr. Collins clears his throat. The room goes silent.

“Don’t you think,” he says, softly, “that this would speak a bit too on-the-nose to the fears of a humanity with seven days to live?”

“Ah,” says Mr. Brom.

“We need to branch away from games,” Mr. Collins says. “We need to innovate in new directions entirely.”

Ms. Jenkins licks her lips. She thinks.

“Theology is acceptable,” Mr. Collins says. “But our venture capitalists would no doubt consider apocalyptic memes … insensitive.”

“The Transubstantiatron,” Ms. Jenkins says.

Mr. Collins raises an eyebrow.

“Let us theorize,” she says, “that the process by which the sacramental wine becomes the blood of the lamb is a process of quantum entanglement.”

One of the engineers has an openly skeptical look. Mr. Collins meets his eyes. The engineer blushes and looks down. “It’s wrong,” the engineer mumbles. “But they couldn’t disprove it in a week.”

“Then,” Ms. Jenkins says, “it would be possible to use the Mass to pass vast quantities of data through time and space. Our revolutionary product would essentially …”

She looks at Mr. Black, and mouths, “Number?” to him. He mouths, “Four.”

“Quadruple,” she says. “It would essentially quadruple the bandwidth available to today’s power users.”

Mr. Collins rubs under his nose. “That’s not bad,” he says.

“Oh!” says Mr. Brom.

“Oh?” Ms. Jenkins says, sharply.

“Well,” Mr. Brom says, “it occurs to me that computers are free of attachment and desire. If we could use this to … synthesize Nirvana, we’d be able to create miracles at will.”

Ms. Jenkins scowls. “I suppose,” she admits. “But didn’t the Buddha forbid his followers to use miracles? Why would a software bodhisattva be any more lenient?”

“Are you saying,” Mr. Brom says, “that your excellent technical staff couldn’t program some kind of behavioral constraints into this …”

“Power Bodhisattva,” Mr. Black supplies.

“This Power Bodhisattva?”

Ms. Jenkins considers. Then, grudgingly, she smiles. “An IPO for an obedient electronic Buddha would be compelling.”

One of the hardware technicians looks up. “We could, um,” she says, “we could, um.”

Mr. Collins looks at her. She flushes and goes quiet. He gestures to her, trying to shake words free, and then carefully looks away.

“Well, in Wicca,” she says, “we believe that everything you do comes back to you three times. Couldn’t we harness that to make … some sort of energy source?”

“Or, more generally,” Mr. Brom says, “some kind of Karma Engine! Imagine all the lives, all the hopes, all the good and bad karma that will be instantly extinguished when the apocalypse comes. Surely, we can channel that karma to perform some last defiant gesture. Like writing the contents of the Library of Congress onto the Crab Nebula.”

“Restrain yourself, Mr. Brom,” Mr. Collins says, sharply. “Our business plan must not include concrete milestones that precede the fiery death of humanity.”

“Ah,” says Mr. Brom, cut short. “You have a point, of course, sir.”

“Digital Hell money,” says Ms. Jenkins.


“Who will burn money for the people who die?” she asks. “Who will send us all money, in Hell, so that we may bribe the demons who torment us?”

“There’s not enough Hell money in all the world,” Mr. Collins says.

“But there is,” Ms. Jenkins says. “That’s our product. Not a game. A conversion rate. We will officially convert the digital Monopoly money of the established massively multiplayer online roleplaying game economies into Hell money, which is instantly deleted and forwarded to the coffers of Hell. We won’t have to print it, which means we can manufacture massive quantities to meet the demand.”

Mr. Collins leans back. He closes his eyes. He is deep in thought.

Ten minutes pass.

He opens his eyes. Mr. Collins leans forward again.

“And what is our business plan?” he asks.

“We do it for free,” she says. “To establish branding and make users familiar with our products.”

Mr. Collins looks at Mr. Brom.

“We can do it, sir. I can have the business plan ready in two days and the IPO in five.”

“Make it so,” Mr. Collins says.

Five days pass.

Their IPO is a smashing success.

Two more days pass.

Fire eats the world.