“Next week is the midterm,” the computer ethics professor Dr. Bevin said. “There is no exam.” He cut off the collective sigh of relief with a sharp gesture. “No, instead you have to break your world.
“All of you have been observing your custom world simulators for eight weeks now, or 20,000 years in-program. Unless you have a world that is already a nuclear wasteland—Jared—I want you to write the inhabitants a message. From you. Ask for suggestions on how to make things better. Write an essay giving the results and what you think the impact of those changes might be.”
There was a stunned silence, then a phalanx of questioning hands. Dr. Bevin dismissed them all. “That’s all. You figure out the rest.”
That night, Ben opened the program and rewound to watch the last four centuries that had progressed during the day. A lot had happened; way more than he could take in. There were 12 billion people now in his little world, spinning through the cosmos that was the class’s shared universe. Some of his classmates wanted to help their people explore and find each other’s planets, except that Dr. Bevin forbade any interference.
It took Ben five minutes of coding to set it up. He hated to do it. It would wreck everything, but in the end, this little world was just a Petri dish, a place to play around with issues in the safety of a computer. He sighed and hit Enter.
* * *
On the planet of Geral, a man named Hyerai was walking home from work when he looked up at the moon. Slowly, lines of fire appeared on its surface, forming into words. He gaped. They said, “HI, I’M BEN. ANY SUGGESTIONS?”