Chapter Forty-Eight

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We work through the night—the core team of me, Paul, Graham, Prisha, and Jared. Minosh keeps nosing around my cube border so I finally drag him fully into the fold too, giving him a small bytecoding optimization job that won't realistically move the needle with our twenty-two billion year problem, but should keep his jittery mind occupied.

We tell the rest of the engineers to sleep, and sleep they do, collapsing on cots like cans into supermarket plastic. All the window-dressing requirements of Blackquest 40 have been met. We're just banging on that core engine, doing anything and everything to get all possible value-pairs preloaded so our botlets can beat the simulator ad infinitum.

Elite has begun packing up. Facilitators meticulously cleanse common areas of printouts relevant to Blackquest 40, and begin tearing down doomsday timers. (They're kind enough to leave one up right outside my cubicle.) Katya walks past toting a stack of fat binders, which I take as copies of that business plan for a theoretical private space flight company.

The suits must've gotten their busywork done.

We, on the other hand, are fighting it. Prisha gets hung up trimming the flat file of superfluous decimal places, her slender finger quivering with over-effort on the mouse. Jared removes extra spaces from his botlet code—which he ought to know every compiler does automatically.

I'm no better. As my upper eyelids crave their lower friends, I lash after any wisp of computational efficiency—bloated array structures, redundant logic forks. I jump at algorithm imperfections like some deranged kid at whack-a-mole, my efforts becoming more superstition than solution.

At four a.m., the stink of desperation thick in our nostrils, Paul stands.

"Everybody stop," he says. "Let's work smart. Let's think how we can be strategic."

I can't look away from my screen, which has become a tractor beam seeking my brain by way of eye sockets.

"You're in the throes of McGriddle withdrawal," I say. "There's no time for strategic."

Paul—after a brief gasp at the mention of his breakfast monstrosity of choice—says there's always time for strategic. "Think: where is the bottleneck? Where is the payoff for optimization large, where is it negligible?"

He adds some quick profiling scaffolding to the code, then folds his shlumpy arms and awaits the results.

It's dawning on me gradually, like baby chicks poking through eggshell, that Paul is right. We're flailing. All initiatives are not created equal, and if we're going to pull off this miracle, we should be prioritizing. I wrest my eyes free of my screen to watch Paul's.

The profiler returns in another minute:


Elite Simulator 0.003 percent

Local Processes 99.997 percent

Our face swivel and meet.

"My machine's the bottleneck." I grip the side of my laptop screen—knowing therein lies the delay, I want to rattle it or wrench it or turn it upside-down and shake water out. "The sim time's nothing."

Paul says, "We need to run it on a faster box."

"Yeah," I agree, but deflate as soon as I think it through. "If we have a faster one."

His cheeks fill as both our eyes fall to my laptop, whose chassis still features the chip-maker's dual fireball stickers near the palm rest.

The principal software architect—show horse that she/he is—naturally gets the baddest computer in the company. There might be a few speedier options in the server room, but not any speedier than 30 or 40 percent.

We need orders of magnitude.

The doomsday timer reads 1:04:39. An hour and change.

"Could we..." Paul starts.

"...distribute the job across machines?" I say, but realize immediately the benefits—ten or fifteen X computing power—aren't worth the effort of coding all that linkage.

"...or tap resources in the cloud?" he says.

"Data blockade," I remind him.

Prisha, Jared, and Minosh are watching our volleys like spectators at the U.S. Open. Five people in a cubicle, even a luxurious oversize model like mine, can be claustrophobic. Our tight quarters feel all the more oppressive for what we've just discovered: that the agonizingly slow dicing of zeros and ones that dooms us is happening right here, among the very air we're circulating about.

We'd all been imagining the simulator was the time hog—that the simulator took however long it took, and all we could do was work around the edges.

Jared yawns, spreading his halitosis-rich maw. "Too bad we didn't know about this six months ago. Could've beefed up the hardware."

His mouth closes to its signature schadenfreudic smirk. Bright hate seizes me...before I get an idea. A simple idea, really. It consists of two words. Two syllables. It's been a cruel joke in the hallways of Codewise Solutions, but not anymore.

Oh, yes. Oh this is too perfect.

Jared, trollish by nature and constitutionally averse to others' good cheer, narrows his eyes and asks what there is to smile about.

"The thing is," I say, "We already did."

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