Mitchell Robinson hesitantly approached the unmarked, but sturdy looking, door. He knew that behind that door waited the owner of the New York Knicks. Every previous trip he had made to this office had ended very strangely, and he had no reason to believe that this occasion would be any different. He had half a mind to turn around, leave, and forget the whole thing.
Instead, he knocked. A few seconds later, a weak voice called out “come in.” It was so faint that Mitchell wasn’t sure he had heard correctly. He entered the office anyway.
James Dolan wasn’t sitting at his desk like he usually was. Instead, he was lying on the low sofa that was against the wall. At least three, maybe four blankets were swaddling him even though summer had very noticeably arrived in New York. “Mitchell. Come take a seat,” he said, pointing at the unoccupied end of the sofa.
“You cold? Want me to turn down the air conditioning?” Mitchell asked.
“It’s no use,” James rasped. “The chills won’t go away.” He paused to shiver uncontrollably before continuing. “I got it, Mitchell. I got the COVID.”
Mitchell had just sat down, but at this revelation, he jumped back up again. “Man, shouldn’t you be quarantined?”
“I was quarantined until you came in.”
Mitchell had backed up against the far wall, hoping to stay out of range of James’ viral exhalations. “Why’d you want to see me, then? To get me sick too?”
James coughed violently before replying, causing Mitchell to flinch. “It won’t matter if you get sick,” he said, a notion that Mitchell disagreed with. “Because you’re the one who can cure us all.”
Standing there in the office of the Knicks’ owner, Mitchell tried to figure out what the sick man’s meaning was. Maybe James was delirious from his illness. Certainly what he had just said made little sense. In Mitchell’s understanding, a cure for the coronavirus was still a long ways off, even with thousands of smart scientists working on it.
As Mitchell struggled to come up with a response, James pulled out a ratty-looking laptop from underneath his blankets and pushed the power button. “You can use this,” he said, holding it out for a second before the weakness of his arms caused him to lower it back onto his lap. He seemed unperturbed as he sneezed directly onto the laptop’s open screen.
So James wanted him to use the laptop to cure a worldwide pandemic? That was so absurd his brain couldn’t even process it. “What, you want me to google COVID cures on your sneezed-on plague laptop?”
“No! You don’t understand. We’re in the matrix right now,” James said. “But the matrix is only computers. It’s only ones and zeroes, Mitchell. That means we can hack it. The coronavirus – it’s just data. Binary data.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Mitchell said, trying to gently put down James’ wacko ideas without provoking a negative response. Like getting cut from the team. Or traded to the Kings.
James sneezed some more. Mitchell covered his face, knowing that he was breathing in clouds of viral death-particles. “Viruses are just DNA,” the Knicks’ owner went on. “And DNA is data. The science is very clear on that. Atoms are data too. And data is computers.” He said this emphatically as if had made an irrefutable point.
Seeing no way out of this bizarre situation, Mitchell grabbed the laptop with the tips of his fingers and took it to the unused desk. He had to fight the urge to dive out of the way when James began coughing again. A question occurred to him. “If you know how to hack the universe to cure the ‘rona, why don’t you just do it yourself?”
“I’m old and technology has passed me by. I only know the theory. You’re young, Mitchell. You have to write the computer code.”
Mitchell recognized the operating system on the laptop. It was Windows XP. He had used it in elementary school. But he didn’t know the first thing about computer programming. Then again, neither did James. So Mitchell opened up a text file, wrote “CURE CORONAVIRUS” surrounded by a bunch of random 1s and 0s, and saved it to the desktop.
“Please hurry,” James whimpered, withdrawing further into his blankets. “There is so much more I want to accomplish in life. JD and the Straight Shot needs to win a Grammy. The Knicks need to make the playoffs.”
The next part was harder, but after some Googling, Mitchell figured out how to open one of those black-and-white terminal screens that hackers always used in the movies. There he typed “CORONAVIRUS ERADICATED”. “Done,” he said with finality, showing James the screen which the fake confirmation message alongside the file of “computer code”.
“You did it! You hacked the matrix,” James said, a blissful smile on his sick face. “I knew I could count on you.”
“Any time,” Mitchell said as he made a quick exit. He was sure to get sick now. He wondered if he had grounds for a lawsuit. No, he decided. No lawyer would believe him.