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SOLUTION TO THE GAME
The thick walls of his cell muffled the noise made by the awakening monks. A distant ringing, a shutting of doors, some footfalls along the corridor. Just before going out of his cell, Lucas couldn't resist the impulse coming from his heart: so, he knelt bare-kneed on the cold floor reaching out, under his bed, his right hand to lightly touch an object covered by a piece of coarse fabric with his fingers. That contact filled his heart with a feeling of security. It was still there, it hadn't been a dream....He smiled.
So he could join the others in singing hymns to the Lord.
He was happy in his job; he had abandoned his family, his nobility, his surname and his coat of arms to do it. He didn' t feel rich inside his mansion in the valley as, being a vassal, duties kept him too busy and left him with only a few private moments to read his beloved books. Since he had run away from home to become a humble and anonymous monk, he was allowed to enter the greatest library of the Eastern Christian world, from which he could derive information from innumerable sources of knowledge. His world was inside those pages. His greatest ambition was to discover a divine message in the words of a book. That text would contain all the truths of the universe....
Lately, he had paradoxically looked for the Word of God among numbers. Perhaps he was aware of having a particular talent in that scientific field. Indeed, he easily managed to remember complicated equations. He was unrivaled in mathematics, either in the convent, or in the whole region. Perhaps he was the greatest mathematician of the thirteenth century B.C, but nobody knew it. Unfortunately in his monastery mathematics were unpopular: "everything that had to be calculated had already been calculated," said the aged prior in a loud voice inviting Lucas to focus his attention on the colours of the suits of the saints decorating the pages of the Bible. "But Father," said Lucas one day to the prior, asking him the following question: "Could we deduce a proof of the existence of God from the constant ratio between the diameter of the circle and his radius? 3,14, he stressed, is an unchangeable number in any language all over the world, valid and univocal for the Pope's architects in Rome as for the Persian emperor' s in Babylon."
The prior didn't understand and imposed humbling penances along with three months of complete silence on him. None of this mattered at all to Lucas. Because now he owned a wonderful machine...
A metallic clic, a furtive look towards the door, a little pressure on the cover, a shifting of two zips..."It' s opened, it' s opened at last.... Oh God, my God..."
A button to push, a light and worrying shaking inside the box followed by a sudden buzz, a blink of the eyes to compensate for the bright, dazzling light coming out in the dark of the little cell and then the computer screen was brought on line.
"Tomb Raider XII. Adventures of Lara Croft,"... whispered Lucas every time he opened the small notebook.
Where had it come from?
From the future, he had concluded in the end. There were screws and joints, coloured threads and delicate mechanisms. No, it couldn' t be the devil' s work. He would have built it in another way, still more magically, even more diabolically. It could but be a human manufactured article coming from the future. Why had that machine appeared inside his cell? He was convinced that he would know only if he were able to answer the third question: how was it used?
Lucas had spent every night trying to unravel its mystery, its magic. That machine had a keyboard with all the letters of the alphabet and the ten fundamental numbers engraved. Therefore, it was probably used for writing and calculating. But how was it used?
Then, the night before last, the fifteenth one since the appearence of the notebook, something had happened in Lucas' s life. Pushing the correct sequence he had activated an instruction programme. His quick mind did the rest. A few hours before dawn, he had already learnt about the rudiments of programming. After joining the other monks in glorifying God by singing hymns of praise amid thousands of little flames of candles flickering in the wind and the music of a pedal organ, he understood what to look for with his magic computer.
"I have discovered something unbelievable..." whispered Lucas without raising his eyes from the breviary and continuing to walk in the shade of the arcade. Marcus nodded.
"At last," he thought, "he' s going to open his heart to me. I will know what has been tormenting Lucas for many days."
"Listen, I have discovered that everything has already been written... there is a book that includes all the existing texts of any time, in any language... The hypertext."
"The hypertext? Lucas, don' t talk nonsense! Are you crazy?"
"Maybe,...let me explain myself better. This month I haven' t slept a lot. In my moments of drowsiness, besides praying to Our Lord, I have succeeded in arriving at a solution."
"And what is that?"
"Twenty-six letters. I have the twenty-six letters of the alphabet at my disposal. Let' s suppose we have a white book. On the first page I write the letter A. On the second one the letter B. Then I continue with the other twenty-four pages. On the twenty-seventh page, that is, after the page where I write the letter Z, I go on with the combination of two letters of the alphabet: AB, AC, AD and so on. We suppose that we are able to write something more difficult, that is, to combine all the letters of the alphabet creating words of three, four, five, six letters mixing vowels and consonants in the correct way. On the pages including words made up of four letters, besides meaningless words such as TRAQ or HKIO, we could also make up words such as HOME, ROOM, NAME, BOAT that in our language have a real meaning. Marcus, do you now understand what I mean by that?"
Marcus stopped for a moment looking at his friend' s face.
"Something inexplicable torments him deeply," he thought, observing the excited expression making Lucas' s face red. Being a charitable chistian man, he thought it right to continue talking to him.
"Anagrams, Lucas, they are only some simple anagrams, my friend..."
Lucas tried smiling but he only succeeded in curving his lips into a grimace. He was disappointed with the answer, but he didn' t give up.
"Simple anagrams? Ok, it could be, I grant you that. But if you go on playing this game, if you go to extremes, you will find some surprises. Let' s suppose we add the punctuation, the words with the first capital letter, and we match them. If we continue the reading of our hypertext or Endless Book, sooner or later we' ll undoubtely find a sentence which has sense on one of its pages ... do you agree with me Marcus, or not?"
"Ehm... yes, I do. Certainly, if we were able to write pages and pages of combinations, if we had enough paper and ink and a good deal of patience, sooner or later, in a totally casual way...."
"No, Marcus, it isn' t totally casual but on the contrary it follows a mathematical criterion...."
"Of course, thanks for your correction... in a totally rational way we' ll find a sentence which has sense...."
"Veritas dium perit..."
"What are you saying? Truth breeds hatred? What have the lines of Terence got to do with our discussion?"
"That sentence has not only been written by him. In fact, it is also the mathematical combination that you find on the page number tenmillionthreehundredandseventy-six of the Endless Book, the hypertext...do you understand, Marcus? Even before Terence wrote it on a papyrus, the sentence was already written, it only had to be discovered and shown to the world of men..."
A moment of silence. A few slow footsteps. The shadows of the columns stopped moving.
"So Lucas, if we were able to make up all the possible combinations of letters, words and punctuation, and turn over the pages of the Endless Book, we could read everything has been written!"
"And everything that will be written in the future by man. All the books. All the scientific texts of which we can' t even imagine the existence. History texts telling of a past that still has to happen. Everything is already written and included in the Endless Book. It' s only a matter of having the means of finding them, of reading them, today, when their authors still have to be born..."
"Thank you my Lord! Thank you because we wretched men can' t realise such a thing. No life is so long as to enable men to write the Endless Book: no human mind can read its pages!" said Marcus kneeling on a dusty cobbled paving.
Lucas made some steps and moved away from his friend. He didn' t want him to see his face: he might think that he was possessed and send him to the stake. He quickly shut his breviary and he leaned his forehead against the smooth marble of a shaft. He closed his eyes. Of course, no human mind... but he had the prodigious mind of the Ex Libris Elettra at his complete service.
"But, he wondered with anguish, why me? Now that I know how this wonderful machine works, now that I know what it can give me, there is still the last question that has no answer: why am I the chosen one?"
But in his heart, he was well aware that it was another problem that tormented him and he was ashamed of it...
"A decision to make. Is it necessary to turn over the pages of the hypertext in a sequential way? Certainly not. Even if Ex Libris Elettra succeeded in reading more than a million pages per second, I would spend all my life trying to find a page containing a text having a meaning, capable of holding my interest. It is surely better to continue turning the pages of the Endless Book in a casual way."
"In a completely casual way?"
"No, I could direct my research towards a small sector, saving a lot of time. Maybe towards a specific sector of the Endless Book... He could certainly do it. He had to choose towards which scientific field to direct his research."
"Theology: God's name? No, no..."
"Drugs: the elixir of youth? No..."
"Mathematics: the formulas of the universe? No, no, no..."
A quick breath and then his fingers began to press the keys. He wrote: Tomb Raider XII, the solution to the game.
Throughout the night, throughout that long night the computer screen remained in pause, while the dial lamp indicating the use of the internal storage resources of the machine was continuously flashing. Then, while the sun was rising litting up the sky and the mountains, and the whole monastery coming back to life, after Lucas' s declaration of having a bad cold and not to being able to join the other monks, the answer appeared.
- Turn to your right, take a run-up and jump, catch hold of the overhang. Climb and press the switch.-
Lucas jumped to his feet. "What a fool I am," he said, "I was blocked for all this time at the second level because of a trifle! Of course, I had to turn to the right and jump... It doesn't matter, now I can go on."
"Fairly well, colleague, even if it fell slightly short of my expectations."
"It seems that a computer is not used for real scientific purposes. Don't you think so, Professor?"
"Yes, they use it to play Lara Croft! Incredible, but true. We should have choosen the individuals to whom to send the computers better."
"I don't agree with you. The experiment included the observation of primitive men's behaviour with a computer of the IntelX 3986 model, put at their disposal. By the way, can we gain some advantage from it?"
"I think so. We have sent six computers back in time: the superbatteries have run down in three of them and one is being used to play Tomb Raider. The possessors of the other two computers seem to have difficulty in accepting their presence and consequently they are not using them. Therefore, we have these results:"
"Scotland, Salisbury. The late Neolitic. The priest to whom we sent the computer has used the astronomy programme to plan the construction of Stonehenge;"
"Scandinavia, Gokstad, 789 B.C. The viking chief has used the naval simulation programme for planning the keels of his ships;"
"Nazca, 345 B.C. The king of Paracas has used the topographical design programme to draw the famous geometrical figures on the lowland of his dominion. The fourth computer sent to a French monastery in 1332 is used to play Tomb Raider. We have wasted an opportunity."
"Theoretically what was its purpose? What historical event should it have influenced?"
"Several events such as the planning of the Cathedrals and the Crusades, but fundamentally we had hoped it would be used for the storing of all the miniatures of the monastery.... An earthquake will totally destroy the monastery with its library in 1335. Thousands of unique texts will disappear. We could have had them if that monk had stored them in the computer instead of playing Tomb Raider. Nevermind, the world has gone on even without the aid of that fourth computer..."
"Excuse me Professor, do you think that we have infringed any laws sending those computers back in time? Have we altered history?"
"I don't think so. When I was born I was told about the existence of the Nazca drawings. My father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather knew about them. Perhaps our temporal task was just to try and realize some events. It was written in history that we should carry out this experiment. We have done the right thing. Don't worry."
"By the way, have you ever played Tomb Raider, Professor ?"
"Of course.... "