The King’s Programmer
By Zoltán Vágó
Once upon a time, there lived a poor programmer in the land of a mighty and feared King.
This young programmer had no friends, no family, not even a dog. He had a cat. Better to say a cat visited him sometimes, ate his sandwich, and never let him pet her. This programmer was so poor he could not even afford a Netflix subscription. Was he a bad programmer? Was this the reason for his misery? No. He was a brilliant programmer, but he was afraid of so many things, he never asked for a raise. Besides asking for a raise, he was scared of spiders, horses, wolves, loud people, loud dogs, fast cars, and above all things: beautiful girls.
One day the young programmer, named Pix, got fired. He worked at a toy company, programming toy dragons. Christmas was coming, and people did not want to buy programmable dragons any more. So, his boss, an old, white bearded man, told him to leave. No offense. He received his last paycheck and a toy dragon. It was Christmas, after all.
He wandered on the streets till late. Then he saw a beggar. It was a homeless beggar who looked in deep trouble. The beggar was singing a beautiful song. It was so sad that Pix gave him his last paycheck.
Pix went home, made a tea and a sandwich, and sat down to think. (His cat ate his food.)
“What will I do now?” he asked himself, and then he fell asleep.
While he was sleeping, in the middle of the night, his computer turned on. Was it a good fairy? Or the cat? Who knows?
As Pix opened his eyes, he saw the King’s Official Homepage blinking bright:
“LOOKING FOR THE BEST PROGRAMMER IN THE WORLD! (Bring a robot with you.)”
Pix was really scared. On the other hand, he was very hungry. He realised all he had was the toy dragon. So, he put it into a bag and hurried to the King’s Castle.
There was a large crowd in the Main Hall. Everybody who had ever coded a “Hello World!” queued up there. Rumors were circulating that the one winning the title of the Royal Programmer would be rewarded with countless gold and maybe, the hand of the oldest Princess.
The King had three daughters. All of them young and beautiful! The magazines wrote articles about them. Princess Samantha, the oldest one, loved partying and posing in swimming outfits. She ran the most successful Instagram profile of the country. Princess Victoria, the middle one, was a passionate horse rider, car racer and a fitness champion. She ran the most successful Twitter channel of the country. Princess Layla, the small one, well, nobody ever saw her or heard about her. The magazines never published her photos, and she had no social media account. At least none that people new. Was she short or tall? Was she blonde or brown? Was she beautiful or …? Oh, no, she must have been beautiful. (I think there was a law about it.)
Suddenly, the King, himself, showed up, sitting on his high throne.
“Welcome, brave applicants! Today is the day when I will select the Royal Programmer! Our country must step into the information age! We will use electronic gold, replace our solders with a robot army and build the Eye That Sees Everything (in Color)! I will be the first Digital King! I need the brightest, most clever programmer of my kingdom to lead this project! You have to program your robot to solve three labyrinth puzzles! The one who can do the last one, and do it the fastest, will win!”
All the men and women who forgot to bring a robot fell out of the game. The rest were really well prepared. One hundred of them tried, but only ten could do the first puzzle. Only three of them could do the second one! Pix was one of them! They stood in a row, in front of the King, who asked, “What are the hardware parameters of your robot?”
“One million bytes memory and one hundred CPUs!” said the first one proudly.
“Two million bytes memory and two hundred CPUs!” said the second one victoriously.
“And you?” asked the King of Pix.
“My toy dragon has three and a half bytes of memory and no CPU at all,” answered the young programmer.
(That is really not much. One byte looks something like this: 10110010. Three and a half bytes look something like this: 10110010-00001110-00111101-0101.
One million bytes look something like this: 01011111-11001110-… and imagine a loooong line of zeros and ones, so long, that it could fill a thick book.)
The King started to laugh. “Ha-ha-ha, you don’t say you want to defeat those gigantic robots with your toy dragon?”
“Pardon my words, Your Highness,” said the first programmer. “This is impossible! Nobody can write a labyrinth-crawler program in three and a half bytes! It will never fit into the memory!”
“I agree,” said the second programmer. “What a stupid idea! You are a fake! You cheated to get here!”
“No!” said Pix, but he was really frightened. He had never seen the king so close before. He never argued with other programmers. “I can do this. Check my toy dragon! There is no fraud here.”
“Stop!” said the King! “Now, this is the final labyrinth! The one who can solve this will be my Royal Programmer!”
The third labyrinth was very tricky! It had moving walls, so it always changed. How can you get out of a labyrinth that never stops changing?
The first programmer’s robot entered the labyrinth but always went up against the walls. Finally, it stopped and endlessly repeated “Fatal System Error”.
The second programmer’s robot could go half a way into the labyrinth, but then it went against the walls, and finally stopped, It’s led eyes blinked in red, and endlessly repeated “Catastrophic System Failure!!”.
Finally, the toy dragon entered the labyrinth. It just went round and round and back and forth on the ever-changing path. Three minutes passed, ten minutes passed, then the toy dragon started to get closer to the other end of the labyrinth. Finally, it found its way out of the exit of the labyrinth. “Return Status: Success!” it said, and then stopped.
All the crowd burst out in a storm of cheers.
“How did you do that?” asked the others.
“No big deal,” said Pix modestly.
“Congratulations! You are my Royal Programmer!” said the King. All the others left, and Pix moved into the Castle.
The King commanded him to write the program for The Eye That Sees Everything.
“I want to create mini-sunglasses for the birds and tiny-winy sunglasses for the bees!” said the King “The sunglasses will have camera in them. I put the pictures onto large screens!”
The King’s inventor designed the sunglasses. Pix worked night and day to write the program. The King greatly respected him, and he had to eat with the royal family. There was the King. There was the Queen. Sometimes there were the three beautiful Princesses: Samantha, Victoria and Layla. Sometimes not, because they were spoiled. When they attended, they were so beautiful that Pix did not dare looking at them. (At least not straight. Just from the corner of his eyes.) He felt so embarrassed that he could not eat well. He excused himself every night, said he had to feed his cat (which was true), and ate a pizza or a burger at home.
Days and weeks went by. Pix stared to feel depressed. He realised that the King was not good. Kinda’ evil. A little bit. He wanted to have the Eye to spy on the citizens and to squeeze out even more taxes from their pockets. The King wanted a robot army to control everybody. Pix did not want to help a King like this. But how could he resist? He was really a chicken. (Sorry, guys. You deserve a better hero. But I imagined him.)
One night when Pix returned to the Castle from cat-feeding, he was not in the mood to sleep, so he walked up and down in the empty corridors of the building. Then he met a girl. The girl looked really square. She wore a Metallica t-shirt and a baseball cap.
“What are you doing here in the middle of the night?” she asked him.
“I can’t sleep. I am sad,” he replied.
“I know you! You are the King’s Programmer. I saw when you won the contest! That was awesome.”
Pix and the girl started to talk and became friends. Her name was Coo-Co. She loved coding, and she wanted to be a hacker! An ethical hacker, of course. From then on, they met in the Central Castle Park every other day. Pix even took Coo-Co home to introduce her to his cat. And the cat let Coo-Co pet her! “It’s so unfair,” said Pix, and smiled.
One day Pix was waiting for Coo-Co in vain. She did not come. Nor the next day either. She was inactive on the Net. She had disappeared.
A few days later Pix found a big crowd in the Castle Hall. The King gave a press conference.
“Royal Police have uncovered a dangerous group of criminals who wanted to attack our Kingdom and me! These hackers…” and here he showed the picture of three smoky faced, bushy girls. One of them was Coo-Co!
“These rebels planned to ruin the Eye That Sees Everything (in Color)! Their punishment for the next ten years is prison! And they cannot get a Christmas present, either.”
Pix was devastated. He walked home to his cat to find some comfort. He was almost home when an old man stopped him.
“Boy, do you remember me?” said the old man.
Pix realised it was the beggar he had helped out. But now he was clean and happy. His fortune had changed, apparently.
“Yes, I know you. Are you okay?” asked Pix.
“Sure. After you helped me, I got a job. I am the prison guard of the King.”
“Good for you.”
“I am bringing a message from a girl named Coo-Co. Do you know her?”
“Oh, yes! How is she?”
“She is fine. Don’t worry! Here is the deal: I will let you escape her tonight! Come at midnight!”
Everything happened as they agreed. It was dark night when Pix arrived at the prison. He sneaked in through the open door. The guard pretended he was sleeping and let the keys on the table. Pix opened up the cage and let all three prisoners out.
At that very moment, a sharp voice sounded. “Stop! You are all under arrest!” The King stepped out of the shadows with his guards. “Pix! I am disappointed! I was clever enough to hire programmer one and programmer two, to spy after you!”
They threw Pix into jail. Next morning they took him to the Small Throne Room. The hacker girls were next to him, in front of the throne.
The King and the Queen were not paying attention, because they were busy arguing with each other.
“You spoiled them,” said the King. “This is why they don’t attend breakfast!”
“You never pay attention to them. This is why they are not there,” replied his wife, Queen Anastasia. “You slowly don’t recognise them, you look at them so seldom.”
“Khm. Excuse me,” said the Main Guard. “Your Highness. The criminals are here!”
“Oh, my God!” the Queen cried out in horror, and then fainted. Her maid-servant jumped and caught her.
“Yes, this is horrific!” agreed the King. “You, rogue ones, your time has come! Confess your crimes, and I may ease your penalty!”
The three hackers just stood still, looking straight into the King’s eyes.
“Nothing to say?” asked the King.
“Mighty King!” said Pix unexpectedly. “Don’t blame them. It was me. I figured out everything. They were just helping me.”
“You lie pretty bad,” stated Coo-Co. “No, it was us! Pix is just a good heart. A brilliant programmer. But even he realised how stupid the plans are that you have! Your country deserves a better King! And you could be a better King! Once you were!”
“How dare you!” shouted the King “Who are you? I know your voice, you …!”
“She is you daughter, you fool!” said the Queen, who was conscious again. “Layla, Samantha, Victoria! Are you all right, my darlings?” She ran down to them and hugged her girls.
The King gave a command, and all servants left the room.
“But how? Why?” mumbled the King. “What shall I do now?”
“I tell you!” said Layla, alias Coo-Co. “You shall rule your kingdom as you once used to rule! For the benefit of your people! Not for the benefit of yourself!”
“I wanted a modern, high-tech country! So, that everybody will remember my name! It requires a lot of money. You don’t understand it, girls! You just play and have fun on Instagram or wherever!”
“You are wrong, Father!” said Samantha. “Do you think it’s enough to us? I am so bored of Instagram. I am just posting to make you happy.”
“It’s the same with me,” said Victoria. “You are so proud of my popular tweets. That is why I keep sharing them.”
“We wanted to do more, so we went to University,” continued Layla. “I studied Information Technology.”
“I studied Environmental Science and Recycling,” said Samantha.
“I studied Healthcare and Public Services,” continued Victoria. “We can help you to create a better Empire! Much better than this, spying on your own people.”
“Excuse me!” interrupted Pix. “I think I could program the Eye to do great things: warn if a storm is coming, tell the farmers when to water the plants, that sort of thing!”
That was the way it happened, and the King realised he was wrong. He accepted the advice and created an Advisory Board, which included his clever daughters and Pix, the King’s Programmer. He became a very popular and famous King.
Pix found his courage and married Layla. They invited the best programmers from all around the kingdom. They stayed up all night dancing and playing video games. They lived happily ever after.
(And the cat finally let Pix pet her.)