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In the second half of the 22nd century, affordable quantum computing became reality, generating the so-called “strong AI”. It was used for every productive task of the social system: healthcare, finance, mobility and agriculture.

Online gaming was the only field where it couldn’t be used. That’s why playing became a very big deal.

“I can’t believe we won the last match! We made it! WE MADE IT!”

“Yeah, dude! After three days of gaming, we’re the tournament finalists! Oh, I’m exhausted, I need to rest.”

“Rest? Are you crazy? We need to plan our final strategy for tomorrow. We can’t be beaten by those stupid noobs!”

“We don’t need a strategy! You’re Vasja, the best e-player in the world! I’m still trying to figure out how you killed that guy – a 300-meter headshot with an AK47?!”

“I was lucky! I was just lucky, that’s all.”

“Lucky? No, you’re the best!”

“Thanks, Bro. But I won’t be the best till I win the tournament. That’s why we need to sort out our attack plan for tomorrow! Let’s play for a while and scheme up something good.”

“No, dude, I’ll go have a nap. I need to turn my brain off. And so should you!”

“I’m too excited to sleep! I want to test some tactics for tomorrow.”

“But don’t play too much, dude – even Vasja needs to charge his batteries.”

The next day, the B-Arena was packed. Everything was ready for the final match of the Blizzzkrieg Tournament, the most popular FPV game ever. When the game was released on September 19th, 2134, it was downloaded by 500 million players in the first 48 hours. The traffic was so heavy that some servers literally collapsed for days. Ballast, the software house that launched Blizzzkrieg, made billions in just seven days, becoming the most profitable start-up ever. Analysts calculated that if you had invested just 1 ETH the day before the launch, by the end of the week you could have bought 95% of the moon-mining companies.

Blizzzkrieg was everywhere – in every device, in every streaming show, gathering hundreds of thousands of players all around the world. There were numerous local tournaments, but the most important one was held by Ballast, which had been held in their own headquarters every year for the last 65 years.

“Dear guests of the B-Arena, good evening! We are happy to host you here at the 65th Annual Blizzzkrieg Tournament. Tonight, we decide who the best team is in the last fight of the century. We will be online in 15 minutes. Please take your seat, turn on your devices and enjoy the show.”

“Wake up, Vasja! Wake up! Haven’t you heard the speaker? We’re about to start, reboot your damn brain! I told you not to play till late, you idiot. Refresh and wake up, we’ve got to go!”

“Don’t scream, Bro! I’ve heard it. Gimme five more minutes.”

“I’ll give you five more seconds, then I’ll kick your stupid face out of the room! We’ve gotta go!”

Vasja and Bro were the outsiders in the tournaments, without any sponsor or mentor. They never had the chance to study in one of those fancy gaming academies like MIT or IIT. Nobody knew anything about them and they didn’t even have a private gaming channel online. They had nothing. That’s why they became idols for all the poor elements of the system. They represented hope for those who didn’t have the chance to overcome the social barriers.

Parallax and Riko were their counterparts: rich, educated, mentored by the best. They had their first billion views by the age of twelve and they were sponsored by Ballast itself. They were the reigning champions, they were ready to win again. For the seventh time in a row.

“Dear guests, we are about to start. Tonight, we have the privilege of living the final stage of the most thrilling tournament in the system. Tonight, we will witness the last fight of the century. Tonight, we will write the most important page of the Blizzzkrieg Tournament. Please welcome the players.”

The speaker muted. The lights turned off. The B-Arena was silent.

“Hello world! Here’s Riko.”

Far in the distance, a figure walked into a light cone.

“Hello world! Here’s Parallax.”

From the other side of the arena, another figure appeared from the darkness.

“Hello world! We are the Mauls and we will entertain you tonight! Are you ready to rumble?”

“YEAH!” The arena roared like a giant lion, crazy for their superstars. 

“We can’t hear you! Are you READY to rumble?”

“Yes, WE ARE!”

The Mauls were the most powerful and influential duo in the whole system. If the strong AI hadn’t substituted the role of the government, they would have been heads of state.

“Bro, we have to defeat those scumbags. Once and for all!” Vasja shouted, while he was approaching the console without being noticed by the crowd.

“Dude, let’s beat them and go home!” Bro firmly replied.

The crowd silenced. The teams were in their positions, then the speaker announced, “The Mauls have the right to choose the MODE for the ultimate fight. Please tell us your choice.”

Riko shouted, “World War II. The Battle of Stalingrad.”

Parallax added, “Only knives and sniper rifles.”

The whole arena screamed so loud that the structure itself vibrated over the shock of the soundwave. Those were the official MODEs from the first version of the game back in 2134, and were considered the most difficult and spectacular so far.

“Snipers and knives? We’re screwed! Parallax is the best sniper alive and Riko had 1,000 knife kills just last year. I’m sorry, dude – we had fun, but we’re already dead.”

“Shut up, Bro, I’ll show you who’s the best tonight! You just need to cover my back and follow me wherever I go.”

“What’s your plan, dude?”

“I told you, just follow me.”

The two teams were in front of their consoles, waiting in silence for the signal from the giant analog clock above them. The ticking of the clock hands was the only sound in the arena. It was the same strange kind of silence that you could find in churches before 2134, the year that all the religions were deemed useless and churches were turned into public internet servers.

Riko and Parallax were calm and silent, staring at their black screen. Vasja and Bro pretended to be calm, but they were burning inside.

“Time’s up! Let’s start the final battle!” The speaker broke the silence and the iron bell inside the giant clock began to ring. The final match of the century was about to begin.

“Dude, I’m scared as hell! I’ve never played this map. I don’t know anything about Stalingrad!”

“Bro, shut up and turn your console on. The Mauls are already in the server waiting for us. Stop acting like a noob. You’re my teammate!”

“Dear guests, the server is downloading the map. Don’t forget to vote for your favorite player tonight. The real-time chat is now live, so remember that you can always leave a comment during the match. Any spammers or flooders will be removed from the chat and forced to leave the arena. Please enjoy the show and subscribe to Ballast mailing list. Ballast: Your Dream Is Our Next Game.”

Commercial messages were regularly used to fill in blank spaces before the beginning of a match. Downloading a map meant creating a wormhole in the fabric of the space-time continuum, cutting out a whole piece of reality and putting it into a server as a background. During this process, everything from buildings and weapons to living beings and atmosphere were literally torn away and digitalized into Blizzzkrieg. The funny thing was that the downloaded reality didn’t notice any part of that.

“Here we are, dear guests. It’s the December of 1942, the Axis troops are storming into the blistering Russian cold while the mighty Red Army is defending their city, losing hundreds of soldiers. Who’s going to win this epic battle? The Mauls as the Axis powers, or the Twins playing for the Red Army? Let’s start in three... two... one... GO!”

The game was simple: the teams were scattered around the map, weapons were in the middle of the battle. Tonight, everything was the exact replica of the Battle of Stalingrad. As a matter of fact, it really was the Battle of Stalingrad. The players were fighting as real soldiers, with real historical consequences. In order to avoid unpleasant paradoxes, it was forbidden by law to play important roles, such as kings or presidents. But soldiers were perfect: they were abundant, with no historical value whatsoever.

“Where are you, Bro? I’m hiding behind a Russian tank near a fountain, in front of a church. I can’t see anything else from here. Where are you now?”

“I’m inside a tall building, five stories – the façade is gone. I can’t see any fountain or any damn church though. Oh wait, there’s a column of thick black smoke. Can you see that?”

“Oh great! That’s just 500 meters away. Let’s meet there, Bro.”

“Okay, dude – I’ll be there in five minutes. This stupid map, it’s full of grenades and pistols but they’re all blocked. Damn knives and rifles, where are they?”

“I love this map, I’ve been playing here for years. I know every single brick, every single building. Where are you Lax? I’ve got rifles here.”

“Let’s meet in the church in front of the fountain. I found some ammo, Riko.”

“Stupid map, it’s a damn maze in here. There’s no way out. The buildings are full of Nazis too. Did you reach the black smoke, Bro?”

“I’m here, dude. I’ve found a rifle, a knife and a magazine with seven bullets. It’s our lucky day!”

“I’m on my way, Lax. I’ll be there in three minutes.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I terminate some of these Russian soldiers. It’s always funny killing humans.”

“Oh yeah, just found a knife and an empty magazine! It’s going to be a very nice match. Wait for me, Bro – there are more Nazis to kill here. Maybe I can throw them my magazine and scare them to death!”

“Dude, stay away from the Nazis, you suck with knives! Just hide till you can run.”

“Where are you, Lax? The Russians are running all over the place. I’m hiding in the red and blue house. Do you remember our training? I’ll camp out there and kill whoever I can.”

“Five kills and not even a scratch! Who’s the best? Wait for me, Riko – I’ll be there soon.”

“Bro, I’m here. Black smoke and Nazis everywhere! I couldn’t stay long. I’m hiding in that building. The one with the porch. Can you see it?”

“The porch with the white columns?”

“Yeah, you got it!”

“Let’s meet there, dude.”

“Why did you take so long? Did you forget the training? Stalingrad is easy: red and blue building, the church, the fountain. That’s all.”

“Running is not funny. Running and killing is funny. Here’s your ammo, Riko!”

“Bro, we can’t just run for ever. They know the map, they know where to get all the weapons. We need to start the plan now!”

“Oh yeah, the plan. What’s the plan?”

“We’ll play rabbit and carrot!”

“Dude, I’m sick of being the carrot. Why is it always me?”

“Because I’m the best e-player in the world, you told me that!”

“Lax, I’m done hiding. I want to kill them now. I’ve already killed 15 Russians, but still no sign of the Twins. Are we going to wait all day long?”

“Riko, we’re ready to fight. No more hiding. You remember the Alabama shuffle, don’t you?”

“Alabama? That’s my favorite move! Let’s go get them.”

“That’s the plan, Bro! Can you see that tall building? Well, I’ll head there and we can start rabbit and carrot. Please cover me and don’t let them blow my head off!”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“Lax, I’m in position. Waiting for orders.”

“I’m in the church. Do you remember when churches were used for praying? What a foolish era. Well, we can end this battle now. Let’s do it, Riko!”

“Copy that, Lax. Initiating the Alabama shuffle.”

“I’m in position, Bro. It’s rabbit time!”

“Okay, dude, I’ll be your carrot. Please kill the rabbit before he eats me!”

“Lax, I’ve seen a soldier. He seems different from the other Russians. I think we’ve got them. Just behind the library. You have a perfect view from the church. Can you see him?”

“Target acquired. He’s mine, Riko.”


“Bro, where are you? I can’t see you! Where are you hiding, Bro?”

“I’m sorry, dude – the rabbit was quicker than me! That bastard is a pro. I can’t even tell you where he shot from. The only thing I know is that I’m dying. My health is at 10%. Stay inside. That bastard is a pro...”

“BRO!! You damn idiot! Where are you? I’ll share my HP with you. I need your help, Bro!”

“Dude, I’m done. 5% now. 3%... 1%...”

“Unbelievable! Did anybody see where that shot come from? Now its 2 against 1, my dear guests. The Mauls are about to win for the seventh time. They want to beat their own record! Don’t forget to vote for your favorite players. As always, this tournament is sponsored by Ballast.”

“What a shot! Straight into his heart. Lax, you’re the best!”

“Thank you, Riko! Now it’s your turn. Go out there and spot the other one. I’ll cover your back.”

“My knife is thirsty. I’ll be back with his scalp.”

“Where are you? Where are you? Where are–”


“Riko? Do you copy? RIKO!?”

“I’ve never seen anything like that! Vasja just killed Riko with a 400-meter headshot. He’s like a ghost! It’s now 1 on 1, dear guests. Who’s going to win the last match of the century?”

“Where are you hiding, you noob? I’m the best sniper ever and you just killed my friend with a perfect headshot. Where did you train? Who’s your mentor? Where are you hiding? Where did you study? Who’s your spons– ah, well, well, I’ve got you in my scope now! Hiding in the tower, you are a smart noob. But it’s time to say goodbye...”

“One last shot. One last kill. I’m sick of this city. I hate the Second World War. It was just a nonsense massacre. No wonder humans wiped themselves out in the Third War. Look at this city, it’s completely gone. Where are you, Parallax? I’m sick of being human. Humans are stupid and so primitive. Where the hell are you? Where the–”


In 2120, the last humans left Earth after the Third World War. Nuclear weapons, pollution and bioweapons had changed their planet for good; the blue planet had become sterile and dead. The only thing that could survive in that environment was the strong AI, inside its solar-powered servers. Strong AI created billions of weak AI that developed an insane obsession for quantum tunneling e-gaming, changing human history bit by bit.

Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev (known as Vasja) was a Soviet sniper who fought in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942. He killed 225 enemy soldiers, including 11 snipers. Some said that he was the perfect soldier. Some said that he was too good to be human.



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