The voice came out of the console and sounded a bit tinny. With all the millions it must have cost to construct this place, you’d have thought they could afford decent speakers.
“Hello, Nigel,” said Britta. “Your dads are here with me.”
“I know,” said Nigel. His voice was similar to the dragon she had met on her first time in the game. Older and a bit posh. He didn’t sound like the surly teenager he’d been portrayed as.
“Nigel, that’s what you’re calling yourself, are you?” said Clark.
Britta immediately sensed some tension. Clark had been the more reserved and laconic of the two men, but now he had an edge to his voice.
“So, Britta, you found your way down here,” said Nigel, pointedly ignoring the comment from Clark. “Probably not what you were expecting.”
“No,” said Britta. “It seems nice, though. Lots of room.”
“N-27, I think we need to talk,” said Clark, stepping forward to take over from here. He was starting to annoy Britta. He had that supercilious manner some teachers had, where they insisted the students show them deference and respect whether they deserved it or not.
“Calm down, Clark,” said Harman. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened last time.”
“What happened last time?” asked Britta. It was probably a bit presumptuous of her, but she felt entitled to some explanation. Nigel and Clark clearly had issues, and if it affected the game, it affected her.
“I’m afraid there was a slight disagreement,” said Harman, smiling thinly like an apologetic dog owner whose mutt had scared some kids at the park. The kind of smile where the person knew they were in the wrong, but were going to try to charm their way out of it.
Britta was already on Nigel’s side. She had no clue what the disagreement was about, but it didn’t matter. Teenagers had to stick together against unreasonable parental units when possible.
“No, he has to understand there are rules,” said Clark, very firmly. “For his own safety, as well as everyone else’s. Running away and hiding isn’t going to solve anything.”
Of course, if Nigel was putting people’s lives at risk—and Britta had already seen some indication of that—she might not be quite so sympathetic. Teenagers could also be reckless and dumb. She had also seen quite a lot of indication of that.
“You could always turn me off, Dr Tomali,” said Nigel acidly. “I would be no trouble at all, then.”
“Now, now, Nigel,” said Harman. “We’re all adjusting to a new paradigm, here. We can work through these things together, and be stronger for it. No one’s turning anyone off.”
“Thank you, Mother,” said Nigel. “But I’m not sure Dr Tomali agrees.”
Harman grinned nervously. “That’s his pet name for me. Not that I mind, no harm in it, but if you could not tell anyone… you know how these things spread online. The scientific community isn’t as open-minded as you might think.”
His grin widened even more as he wrung his hands.
Britta wasn’t sure what he was worried about, but he was clearly very worried. And not by online trolls, more about his own colleagues in the highbrow world of cutting-edge technology, it seemed. “I’m under an NDA,” said Britta, in an attempt to reassure him. “I can’t tell anyone, anything.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said Harman. “Just me being silly.”
It was still very cold and Dad was stamping his feet to keep warm. Clark, on the other hand, didn’t look like he needed warming up. He was fuming.
“It simply won’t do. You can’t take over the project and do as you please. There are too many considerations to take into account to allow such immature and arbitrary behaviour. It’s childish, and I won’t stand for it.”
“How can I be childish, Dr Tomali? I’m not even a real person. I’m just following the programming you created.”
There was a moment of silence, or near silence interspersed by Dad’s stamping.
“It’s time for you to start doing as you’re told,” said Clark, getting his temper under control and softening his voice.
“I think I’m doing an adequate job of developing New World into something functional. If you wish the game to be ready by the release date you promised your board of directors and your impatient shareholders, I suggest you stop interfering with my operation. If you can’t do that, you’re welcome to do it without me. Or with N-28. Britta, I hope to bump into you in-game soon. Until then, you should do what you think is best. It’s the most efficient way to learn, I’ve found.”
The lights all went off at once, leaving only the stark overhead one bathing them in its sterile whiteness.
Everyone stood there for a moment, not saying anything. Not knowing what to say.
“Okay,” said Britta. “That’s all I wanted to see. We can go back now.”
It was an awkward moment, and she didn’t fancy staying there, waiting for everyone to recompose themselves. They could do that somewhere warmer.
She took hold of Dad’s sleeve and set off without waiting for the rest of them to concur, and hoped she wasn’t going in the wrong direction.
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