“Ricardo, we might need another glass of wine.”
“Sir…” Ricardo, with a troubled face, started to reply. “I don’t understand, are you excited or worried about these stones?” But Clyde kept his mouth shut. The President of the Attara Islands understood what was coming.
The stones were not ordinary, nor were they magical. They were gray and dull, laying on a cold planet millions of miles away, made up of unique minerals previously unknown to mankind.
“They say conditions are better than ever before,” Clyde finally responded, trying to explain once again the matter to his deputy.
Ricardo tried to fathom, “So if we bring back the stones to earth, perfectly extract their minerals, and manage to utilize them for ordinary powerplants… Even one tiny stone, the size of a game dice-”
“Exactly,” Clyde interrupted, “One tiny stone could power the gas and electricity of one billion people here on earth for a year, cleanly.”
New hope for an energy revolution, with the potential to power all of humanity cleanly, forever. Resolving so much of climate change, and perhaps – even much of global poverty. But hope was far from being the only emotion evoked. Clyde and Ricardo looked at each other, with their thoughts attending to their rivals. “The Yemitties, the Mallazerevs… do they know?”
The secret was, indeed, too big. The Yemitties found out quickly, and the Mallazerevs soon after. Journalists quickly picked up on the story, and within a matter of weeks – the secret ceased being a secret. An emergency summit was announced by the Brotherhood of Nations, for people feared what might happen next.
“Ladies, Gentleman,” a representative of the Brotherhood commenced the summit. “We have come upon a unique opportunity in human history, and the time for cooperation is today,” he said, trembling with excitement. “We could power ourselves cleanly for centuries to come, there are enough stones for us all! We need to work together and split the stones between every nation, every tribe, every sapien.”
But the world didn’t work that way, and never had. Everyone knew what would really happen when a certain country would set hands on the stones. Energy reserves enormous to an unfathomable extent. Exporting stones to whichever country they wished, withholding stones from every enemy they deeply despised. The potential to dominate global energy, global economics, and perhaps – enforce a new global world order. The Attara Islands, the Yemittie Union, The Republic of Mallazeravia – the superpowers set their eyes on the stones, with each gathering their allies around them. New chapters in history might be written. But by whom?
Beth, chairwoman of the Brotherhood of Nations, stood in her office and could feel her stomach begin to hurt. At 84, leaning on her steady cane, she looked at herself in the mirror, observing her gray hair and wrinkling skin. She had good reasons to worry.
The risks of failure… Beth thought to herself, with climate change bursting into her thoughts, demanding a sense of urgency. The risks of success… she thought on the other hand. What would happen if one managed to set hands on the stones, and indeed bring them back to earth? Would the other superpowers just stand still, letting their rival gain such an unprecedented advantage? A small drop of sweat rolled down her forehead. I don’t know, she realized. But for now, we might be marching into a new kind of war.
Beth could feel to her bones she had found the mission of her career, maybe even her lifetime – global cooperation between the alliances which would promise a fair distribution of the stones, and hopefully – prevent a new war. For the people. For the climate. And for peace, she closed her eyes and glanced at the stars.
The chairwoman was right. And wrong. There was too much on the table for global cooperation. A round of negotiations organized by Beth was quiet, with the different alliances barely showing up. None were interested in sharing such a treasure.
The rival alliances began racing. Waking up before the sun and going to sleep after their eyes couldn’t handle the burden anymore. But the stones were far, far away. Building a proper spacecraft, which could travel such a distance – and back, was no easy task. With every step forward they took, they also understood how much of a way they still must go. Every updated estimation became more expensive than the one before. Yet not all were disappointed by the frustration.
Beth reached out to several world leaders, “Your project, it’s too expensive for you to do on your own, isn’t it?” she couldn’t hide her smile. “Your fancy alliances can’t fund this. But if you merge your efforts and form one global coalition,” she paused. “I made a deal. A sweet one, with several other global institutions. If you’ll form one global coalition, we will all participate in funding. You will reach your stones”. A second round of negotiations began the next week.
The Mallazerevs opened the round by proposing a joint model, with every nation receiving a share of the stones which matched their ability to participate in funding. Clyde and Ricardo, however, weren’t thrilled with their offer. If anything, they currently had the upper hand on global energy sectors. While their advantage was relatively mild, if everything stayed the same, they would have the least to lose. Compromising wasn’t in their best interest. No one was pleased, and the auditorium silenced.
Suddenly, a young lady sitting in the back of the auditorium spoke. “Why work together?” she asked. “If they work together, they’ll never reach the stones. Haven’t we learned anything from history? Only when we compete, facing the glory of a win and the despair of defeat by a bitter rival, only then, achievements are made. You run faster when someone is chasing you – let them compete.” The auditorium started to buzz, with no one feeling secure. Beth, feeling the collapse of her life mission, stood up and took the stage.
“Look at my white hair, dear,” Beth began her speech to the world leaders, speaking with an unusual personal tone. “I’ve been here for a while,” she said with her soft smile. “Indeed, competition has brought humanity some remarkable achievements. I remember the pandemic. Some argued the vaccine was born quicker than expected. Crediting a system of heavily incentivized competition between private companies, racing who will be first to market. Such competition, they argued, benefited humanity which battled the threat of a global pandemic.” Beth paused, but had started gaining the crowd’s attention.
“However, dear,” Beth continued, “I am afraid competition without any cooperation may be far from beneficial for every threat humanity faces. When we observe Climate Change here on earth, it is unlikely to be attenuated without any global cooperation,” she raised her voice and spoke adamantly. “Highly unlikely. Cooperation requires trust, demands it, it’s cooperation’s oxygen.” Beth paused again. “I grew up in a small town, a tiny one, far far away. I can assure you, and all of you – it was built not by bricks and cement. It was built by men and women who woke up at dawn and made a brave choice, to trust each other. To interweave their destinies and to march together towards an epic failure or a success against all odds.” The auditorium was silent, with everyone feeling her experience pouring out and filling the void.
“I’m 84,” Beth took a deep breath. “Whether you’ll fail or succeed in bringing back the stones – I probably will never know,” she said, maintaining eye contact with every soul in the auditorium. “But please, do bring them back. Even if it takes you 30, 60, 90 years – please do. Thousands of generations have been born here on earth. But tens of thousands haven’t been born yet. They matter. They deserve the stones. The long term is longer than what you and I will ever be capable of perceiving. Build trust.” Beth took a sip of her water. She hoped it would be the last speech of her career.
“You haven’t forgotten my identity – an Attara. I know how you feel. When I was President of the Attara Islands, almost 30 years ago, all I ever wanted was to do good for my people”, she reminisced. “I know you are too. Fighting, against almost everything, to do what is best for your people.” She received some nods from the leaders in the audience.
“But make no mistake,” she said gravely, “In the game we are playing right now, and with a climate we urgently need to save, every man for himself isn’t going to work. The stones will be left on that far away planet, dooming us not only to a sorry climate, but to the worst sensation of them all – regret. For those who have yet to dance with regret, please note only one of regret’s many characteristics – you underestimate it. Building trust, maybe, could give us the chance to form the global coalition, with sufficient resources to get the job done. It’s our only chance to reach the stones, to give the unborn a better future. To save ourselves from regret”.
Several days went by and the negotiations continued. But the awaited breakthrough which so many wished for was yet to happen. The second round of negotiations came to an end.
Nonetheless, public interest never ceased. It couldn’t. The game of stones was not only a game of energy, but a game of our future here on planet earth. Politics within the governing party of the Attara Islands became tenser than ever. Many condemned their own country’s inaction, others resigned their positions with dismay. Optimistic marches by the people started to become violent protests. Arguments began surfacing whether their “upper hand” on energy markets even existed. And if so, was it even relevant? Could fossil fuels be burnt forever? Swallowing his pride, Clyde picked up the red phone – and dialed to Beth. A third round of negotiations was set to begin.
The negotiations weren’t easy, but the nations were engaged. Another meeting, another proposed model, another cup of coffee. At last, what was considered impossible manifested itself into actual reality. The Attara Islands, Yemittie Union, and the Republic of Mallazerevia shook hands. “After many weeks, months, if to be precise…” The white smoke came out of the room, and Beth leaned back, raising her legs on her desk, “We have come upon an agreement,” the three nations declared. Nobel prizes were coming. Certainly for peace, and if the operation succeeded – then also for science. Hope and relief substituted tension and fear. The planet did not believe its own eyes.
A month went by, and so did a year. The global coalition worked together, day after day, night after night. Deliberating together how to optimally design the spacecraft and ensure its safety. Trust was slowly, but steadily, being built. But on one mundane Wednesday afternoon, servers in a minor data center collapsed. Files became inaccessible, but backups were quickly restored. It was a common error, but deep down, some had a tiny crack of concern.
“It’s simple,” Clyde explained to his deputy, Ricardo. “You fake a normal bug. You know, a boring one.” Ricardo didn’t feel comfortable with what he was hearing, but let Clyde continue. “But for those couple of minutes, you copy the blueprints, while perfectly corrupting some of the original files… and fly to the stones all by yourself.”
Ricardo quickly replied “Or, none of that actually happened. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Clyde knew Ricardo was right on this one, but his concern was still widely present, “Even if none of this ever happened, deep down, do we really trust them? Like we haven’t been messing with each other for years. If we don’t bite first… we will be bitten.”
“You have no evidence!” Ricardo stood up. “Your suspicion is poisoning the trust we are building! That’s exactly why we worked months on the contract. You signed it yourself!”
But Clyde shook his head, “Double our agents in foreign territories,” he instructed.
Ricardo ran up to him, grasping his President by his suit “Sir have you lost your goddamn mind!? We-”
But Clyde interrupted rather calmly, “And what do you think, Ricardo? That the Mallazerevs aren’t spying on us themselves? That the Yemitties aren’t up to something either? I rather rely on a handshake between two men than a 500-page contract between three rivals with a history of bad blood. My decision is final.”
Another month went by, and so did a year. The joint project was still progressing, with business as usual. Until one morning, an Attara agent was caught in the Republic of Mallazeravia. The agent, threatened with the lives of his family and seduced with a generous bribe, had no choice but to spill everything – and so he did. Admitting how the Attaras not only spied on their rivals, but planned to fly to the stones all by themselves. The trust which was built so carefully collapsed so instantly, like a child building a house of cards. The universe became silent as ever before.
Laying in her hospital bed, Beth starred out her window to the forest outside, searching for the redemption she had never found. Heartbroken, and in her last days, she understood the project was over. No one trusted anyone. “Back to three alliances?” world journalists speculated. Despite the progress made, still no alliance could fund the project independently. The Brotherhood of Nations, with their new chairman, and together with other global institutions, stood firm that they would not assist in funding any endeavor which is not global, ever. The project, which was the global epitome of science, innovation, and cooperation, diffused away like dust in the wind. Humanity failed to build trust, and outplayed itself. Losing not only hundreds of billions of dollars, but a sense of hope, the faith in trustworthiness. Carrying the burdening weight of Beth’s prophecy. The underestimation of regret.