Randomize (Forward collection)Andy Weir
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2019 by Andy Weir
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Amazon Original Stories, Seattle
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Cover design by Will Staehle
Edwin Rutledge looked out his windows to the sprawling Las Vegas Strip beyond. His office atop the Babylon Hotel and Casino was the definition of opulence. Italian leather couches surrounded a tasteful glass coffee table. Guests had no idea they were sitting in seats worth more than a typical car. But in a city of extreme displays, silent quality appealed to Rutledge more than a neon sign saying I’M IMPORTANT.
Still, some demonstration of status was needed. Mahogany bookshelves and curio cabinets stood on fine Persian rugs. His antique walnut desk backed up against a stunning view of the cityscape.
“Sir,” came his secretary’s voice through the intercom. “The IT person is here.”
He adjusted his diamond cuff links and pressed the intercom button. “Send them in.”
The double doors opened, and an uncomfortable-looking man shuffled in. He looked more like a customer of the casino than an employee. Ill-fitting jeans, a T-shirt with a Star Wars reference on it (or maybe Star Trek—Rutledge could never tell the difference), tennis shoes, and absolutely no effort put into controlling his wild hair.
Rutledge gestured to the leather chair facing his desk. “Have a seat.”
The man nodded awkwardly and sat down. He looked for all the world like a child who had been called to the principal’s office.
“So, Mr. Chen—”
“Nick,” he interrupted.
“Call me Nick.”
“Ah,” said Rutledge. “Mr. Chen, please tell me why my keno lounge is off-line.”
“Okay, so what happened is—”
“The keno lounge makes the Babylon two hundred thousand dollars a day,” Rutledge interrupted.
“And you turned it off. So you, personally, have cost us two hundred thousand dollars today.”
Chen scowled. “No, I saved you millions.”
Rutledge raised an eyebrow.
“Have you heard of quantum computing?”
“I see it on the news from time to time.”
“The past few years have had major advances. Noise reduction is solved, coherence protection is damn near perfect, and long-term state management can keep a qbit safe for months. But today is special. Today, QuanaTech’s new Model 707 hits the market. It’s a total game changer. It’s a 1,024-qbit system, with a 512-qbit long-term memory capability. And we’re talking logical qbits, not just physical—”
“I’m going to stop you right there,” said Rutledge. “None of that has any meaning to me, and it has no bearing on keno.”
Chen balled his fists. “Yes, it does. And I’ve been trying to warn people about it for months. But your stupid upper managers just keep ignoring me. So I used my override passwords to shut everything down.”
“Turn it all back on.”
“Look, I’m trying to protect you. If you want the keno system back on, no problem. I’ll log in from your computer right here and bring you to the main control page. I’ll even tell you what button to click. But you’ll be the one to click it. Not me. I won’t be responsible.”
Rutledge held up a hand. “All right, Mr. Chen. Obviously this is something you’re passionate about. Calm yourself and explain.”
Chen took a frustrated breath and let it out again. “Okay, yeah.”
“Quantum computing is a totally different animal than normal computing,” he began. “It takes advantage of weird quantum physics properties like superposition and entanglement to solve math problems. It’s usually way slower than normal computers at math, but for some problems, it’s exponentially faster.”
Rutledge nodded. Best to let the man say his piece, even if it seemed irrelevant.
“What do you know about random-number generators?” Chen asked.
“My job is to own and run this casino. I’m not arrogant enough to think I can understand every detail of its operation. I hire experts like you to handle specific areas. I expect you to know it.”
“Okay, fair enough. Here’s the thing: There’s no such thing as an actual random-number generator. Computers create pseudorandom numbers.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Pseudorandom numbers are made with a complicated math formula. You plug one number in—called the seed, or the starting point, for the mathematical formula—and you get a sequence of seemingly random numbers out. The formula has exponentiation and remainders and all sorts of other stuff to make it non-reverse-engineerable.”
Rutledge wiped a small blemish off his class ring. “Okay, that makes sense. If you give the generator the same seed, will it give the same sequence of numbers again?”
Chen pointed at him. “Yes, exactly! And that’s the problem.”
“This system has been in place for decades with no issues.”
“The problem is quantum computers. Remember how I said the formula can’t be reversed by knowing the outputs? Well, that’s not quite true. It’s not reversible with traditional CPUs—it would take all of Earth’s computers centuries to check every seed value. But quantum computers use a different approach. They sort of”—he waved his hands around—“try all possible values at once, then collapse to the solution. It’s complicated. Long story short: they’re very good at finding solutions to problems like this.”
“Hmm, I see,” said Rutledge. “If someone were to do this, would they be able to predict the numbers the keno machine creates?”
“Yes,” Chen said. “With the QuanaTech 707 available to consumers now, I had to shut down the keno lounge. Scammers are probably working on random-seed crackers as we speak. It’s only a matter of time.”
Rutledge stood and walked over to the wet bar behind his desk. “This is an interesting problem. One entirely new to the gambling industry. Can I mix you a drink?”
“Uh, no thanks.”
“Mm.” He never trusted nondrinkers. They either didn’t know how to enjoy life or they were self-righteous. Either way meant they were difficult to work with. He added ice, rum, lime juice, and simple syrup to a shaker. “Do you have a solution?”
“Yes, sir. But it’s expensive.”
He poured the drink into a cocktail glass and took a sip. Nothing like a good daiquiri. A real daiquiri—mixed over ice and served neat, not blended into slush like a 7-Eleven Slurpee. “What’s your plan?”
A twinkle in Chen’s eyes. “We fight quantum with quantum. I need one of those QuanaTechs. I can write software on it to generate random numbers. Genuinely random numbers. Quantum physics is the random-number generator of the universe. They would be completely impervious to pattern reversal because there is no pattern.”
“How much does one of these computers cost?”
Chen drew back a bit. “Three hundred thousand dollars, plus a few expenses to get it set up and running. I know it’s a lot, but—”
> “Is that all?” Rutledge said. “Sure. Let’s do it.”
“Wow!” Chen said. “I mean . . . I didn’t expect you to say yes so fast.”
Rutledge shrugged. “I’d be an idiot to ignore my own IT department.”
“Oh man, this is going to be so cool.” Chen grinned. “I mean—I don’t want to sound unprofessional, but wow! I get to play with my own quantum computer. That’s, like, a dream come true!”
“I’m glad you’re happy. How long until the keno lounge is back online?”
Chen looked up in thought. “I spoke to the people at QuanaTech; they send a person out to help set it up. If we ordered today, and asked for it to be expedited, the computer could be here and basically set up in two days. A random-number generator in quantum logic is incredibly simple to make—I could finish that in an hour. Hardwiring it to the keno system . . . I think three days total ought to do it.”
“Get it done. I’ll give you four hundred thousand for the computer and incidentals. It’ll be in your departmental account by the time you get back to your desk.”
Chen left the office with a smile.
“We fight quantum with quantum.”
Never before had Chen felt such a connection.
The QuanaTech 707’s sleek cylindrical case glistened in the blue mood lighting. In front, a simple monitor and a black keyboard awaited his touch.
Prashant Singh, the representative from QuanaTech, finished inspecting the cabling.
“Okay, we should be ready to power it on,” said Prashant. He looked up at the ceiling. “Kind of a strange room. Were these blue lights always here?”
Chen didn’t take his eyes off the computer. “I installed them yesterday. Cool stuff needs cool lighting.”
“Your staff doesn’t seem very happy,” Prashant said. “I got a lot of dirty looks from them.”
Chen waved off the comment. “I had to move the server racks into the break room to make room for this baby. They’ll get over it.”
“Okay . . .” Prashant pressed the “Power” button. Within three seconds, the screen showed a blinking cursor. No bells. No whistles. Just a keyboard and a console. Exactly the way computers should be.
“Sweet! I want to make a random number.”
Prashant opened the user’s manual, flipped a few pages, and handed it to Chen. “There are several preinstalled programs for testing stuff out. They’re all listed here.”
Chen took the book and squinted at the page. The blue light was amazing but not great to read by. No matter. It wasn’t about utility. It was all about coolness.
He set the manual aside, cracked his knuckles, and walked over to the keyboard. “Okay, here goes!”
>RANDOM BIT RESULT: 1
“Oh my God! Chills!” Chen beamed. “Are we all set up now? Good to go?”
“Almost,” said Prashant. “I still need to install the long-term memory unit.”
“Ah, right. That shit’s amazing. Keeping state for months at a time? You guys are geniuses.”
“Well, not me,” said Prashant. “The geniuses are all back at the office. I’m just the site sales rep. Truth is, I barely understand the physics going on in there. But I do know no other company can offer five nines of coherence protection on memory qbits.”
He opened a plastic case on the floor. Inside was a well-insulated metal box with a few cables attached.
“Did you hear about the Cove Casino?” Chen said. “Just down the street?”
“No, what happened?”
“They lost two million dollars at their keno lounge this morning before they pulled the plug on it. The scammers used small bets, and hundreds of them. There was no way to sort out the cheaters from legitimate players, so the Cove had to pay out on all the tickets. It’s all over the news.”
Prashant frowned. “We don’t condone our products being used for illegal activity.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Chen. “Point is, I was right. The boss totally loves me now for predicting that would happen.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” said Prashant.
“I bet I get a hell of a Christmas bonus this year.”
“If some scammer tries to reverse engineer my system, they’ll get a nasty surprise. True random, motherfuckers!”
“Okay, but remember it’s only as good as the security on this computer itself,” said Prashant. “If this system gets hacked, someone could replace the software with a pseudorandom algorithm on a seed they pick. They’d know all the numbers in advance.”
“Oh, I’ve got that covered,” said Chen. “This baby is air-walled. It’s not connected to the casino network, has no access to the internet, and can’t take incoming communications in any way. It’ll have a hardwired connection to the keno machine. And I won’t even implement a request-response system. It’ll just feed a set of keno numbers across every fifteen minutes. That way there’s literally no information entering the 707 in any way. You can’t hack what you can’t talk to.”
“Most company fraud cases are inside jobs.” Prashant glanced out the door to see if the other IT employees had heard him say it.
“Not a problem. This server room is a vault, and only I have the key.” Chen patted his pocket. “And the security system texts me whenever the door opens. So even if someone did get my key or make a copy, I’d know as soon as they got into the room. I’d have armed guards here in under a minute.”
Prashant wrangled the cables of the memory unit. “That does sound solid, but remember a system is only as secure as the humans who operate it.”
“I’ve been in IT for seventeen years,” said Chen. “Believe me—I know that.”
Prashant plugged the last cable in. He typed a few diagnostic commands into the system, then nodded approvingly at the output. “Okay, the memory’s online, and the system all looks good.”
Chen stroked the monitor. “Okay, time to do some quantum coding! Daddy’s keno baby needs its numbers!”
“Have fun,” said Prashant. “I’m in town until tomorrow morning. Call me if you have any problems. In the meantime, can you recommend a good restaurant in the area?”
“Are you kidding?” Chen said. “You think you’re buying your own dinner tonight? Oh, hell no. Go up to the high-rollers club. Your name’s on the list. Get yourself anything you want, on us.”
“Wow. Thanks,” said Prashant. “Give me a call if you run into any problems.”
“Will do!” said Chen.
Prashant left the server room with a smile.
Yesterday . . .
Sumi packed her husband’s suitcase. His trip to Las Vegas would be a whirlwind. An afternoon flight there, setting up a computer for the Babylon Casino the same day, and then a morning flight back the next day. Many wives would worry about their husbands going to Sin City by themselves, but Prashant had always been a loyal and devoted man.
Technically he would need only one change of clothes, but his carry-on had more space, so why not include some backups? She packed three immaculately ironed and folded white shirts, along with two pairs of black slacks. She added two blue ties and threw in a red one just for fun. He looked so handsome with a red tie on, but he always wore blue. Ah well. She put a ziplock bag full of homemade pedas on top—a little snack for his hotel stay—then zipped up the case.
She walked to the kitchenette, where Prashant dined on the rice and dal she’d made for him earlier. “Do you have enough yogurt?” she asked.
“Yes, thank you,” he said. “This is delicious!”
“There’s kheer for dessert, so save some room.”
“Mmm,” he said.
She sat at the table across from him. They almost never ate at the same time—she’d grown up in India, where dinnertime was 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., and he’d grown up in the US. Still, the arranged marriage was very successful. She couldn’t imagine herself with any other man.
“Are you n
ervous?” she asked.
He set his fork down. “To be honest: yes. This all seems very dangerous. Las Vegas is . . . well . . . the people there can be very threatening.”
“It’s up to you. We can just do nothing if you want.”
“No, I want to do it.” He gestured around to the apartment in general. “This isn’t what I want for us. For you. A ridiculously expensive one-bedroom hovel in a questionable part of Oakland? People who work in Silicon Valley can’t afford to live in it. It’s absurd.”
“I have no complaints,” she said.
“You deserve more. And we are trying to have a baby. We need more room. And for that, we need more money. But still, if we get caught, we could spend a long time in jail—”
“That won’t happen,” she said.
“We haven’t really had a chance to go over how this whole thing works. Can you be certain we won’t be caught?”
“No. But in the absence of evidence, why would anyone suspect us?” She stood from the table and walked to her work area in the tiny living room. Her QuanaTech 707 hummed gently. A cursor blinked on the monitor, awaiting instructions. Two long-term storage units sat connected to the computer.
He craned his neck to watch her. “How hard is this to set up?”
“It’s trivial.” She executed a program on the console. In less than a second, it was done. “That’s it. Every qbit on my storage unit is now entangled with a qbit on the unit you’re taking to the Babylon.”
“You’re sure there’s no way they’ll know the qbits are entangled?”
“It’s physically impossible to know if a qbit is entangled.”
“And how exactly does entanglement let us cheat at keno? This quantum stuff has always confused me.”
Sumi’s parents had done their best. Her absurdly high intelligence had been clear as soon as she learned how to speak. They’d put her in the best schools for gifted children, but she still found them dull. They went deeply into debt to hire tutors just to keep up with how fast she learned.
Soon she would be able to repay them. And build the life she and Prashant wanted. The American dream.
Her parents knew they’d never find her a man as smart as she was. So they focused on “smart enough not to be left behind.” Prashant was brilliant in his own ways. It was a wonderful match.