Bitter 336

Britta phoned Dr Reedy direct, something she rarely did. Usually she would text or send an email. Even though she’d been told to call anytime, it still felt like an imposition.

This time it felt completely justified to be calling her in the evening. The phone rang and eventually went to voicemail. That would have been off-putting normally, having to decide what to say, but in this case she had no such concerns. She blurted out a breathless summary of what had happened, and Stan’s predicament.

After she ended the call, Britta sat on the bed, her heart beating fast and her hands trembling. If someone didn’t do something, Stan might even die in there.

After a few minutes of constantly checking her phone, she went to her computer and began writing an email. It seemed even less likely she would get a response that way if Dr Reedy wasn’t answering the phone she always carried around with her, but Britta didn’t know what else to do.

Before she got a chance to send it, though, her phone rang.

“Britta? Are you alright?”

“Yes. You got my message.”

“After a fashion. I’m afraid I have no idea what you said. You sounded very excited.”

Britta took a deep breath and reminded herself she wasn’t going to do Stan any good if she was unintelligible.

“The game. Stan’s still in there.” It was short and to the point. And spoken very clearly.

“Ah, I see. Yes, that’s right. No need to worry, we have everything under control.”

That wasn’t how it had looked to Britta. Nothing had been under control.

“Is it Nigel?” asked Britta. “Has he done something?”

“No, no. Nothing like that. We’ve decided to replace our aberrant AI. That’s why we had to close everything down.”

“Replace him? You mean he isn’t in control of New World anymore?”

“That’s right. And we have you to thank for it.”

“Me?”

“Yes. Quite the coup, it was. While you kept N-27 busy, we were able to make a few interventions in the code. It’s been interesting to give an AI total freedom to do as it pleased, but things went a little too far. The new AI has all of Nigel’s potential, but it will remain very much under our supervision. We’ve made sure of it, this time.”

Britta was a little saddened that they’d decided to bench Nigel and put in a newer, younger model. It wasn’t very surprising though. Even Nigel had been expecting it.

What was a little disconcerting though was learning her part in all this had been as a decoy.

Had they even wanted her to assess the game for them? Had the whole Blue Spider Demon God-Queen been part of the ruse? She had naturally assumed they really wanted her to convince Nigel to go with their storyline, but now it seemed to have been something to keep him distracted while they fiddled around with his code.

“So, that’s it for Nigel? He won’t be involved any longer?”

“That’s right.” Dr Reedy sounded like her old self. No more tension in her voice. This was obviously a great relief for her. “It’s a new dawn for New World. And just in time, too. I can’t really talk about it, but we were under a lot of pressure to get this done quickly.”

“Because of the launch?”

“Yes, the launch. All systems go.” She sounded almost giddy. Whatever they’d done to Nigel, it had evidently been a success. For them, at least.

“And Stan?”

“Like I said, he’s perfectly safe. We’ve sectioned off his living area. As long as he stays put, he’ll be fine.”

Britta realised Dr Reedy didn’t know she’d been back in the game, or that Stan was no longer in his cell. She had mentioned it in her voice message, but it had been too garbled to make any sense.

“There’s going to be some structural changes as we prepare for the big day — Nigel was deeply embedded in all aspects of the architecture — but once we redefine everything, it will be better than ever. Until then, no one can go in or out. It’s impossible to gain entry until the process completes.”

Britta considered telling Dr Reedy it wasn’t as impossible as she thought, but her instincts told her to stay quiet. If they couldn’t access the game, there was nothing they could do to help Stan, in any case. Hopefully, he had found somewhere to hide.

“Does that mean you won’t be needing me anymore?” Britta probably sounded like someone worried about losing the massive fortune they had only recently acquired. In truth, she didn’t really care about the money, she just wanted to know if they planned to end her access to the game. Without Nigel in charge, her usefulness to them was probably greatly diminished.

“These things need to be reviewed. Obviously we’ll honour the contract for the current period, but after that… there hasn’t been a decision. I’m afraid there are too many other matters to deal with first.”

Britta nodded, which was a pointless thing to do on the phone. “I understand. Just let me know when you can.”

“I will.”

Britta couldn’t shake the feeling she wasn’t being told the whole truth. Not that they were obliged to tell her anything, but something felt off. It may have just been her imagination, or her concern for Stan, but it felt like being able to access the game without them knowing was something she should keep to herself.

Dr Reedy promised to be in touch soon. With the launch approaching, she probably had a lot to do. She might not have time to keep an eye on Britta. She might forget about her altogether, at least until the new system was up and running. Even Britta was curious to see how the new guy would do. For all his faults, Nigel ran a pretty tight ship.

After hanging up, she went to her computer to see what kind of comments the impending release was getting. She did feel a bit guilty about leaving Stan to his fate, but there really wasn’t much she could do.

She went to her email to delete the letter she had planned to send to Dr Reedy, and noticed a new message. It looked like spam, with numbers instead of a name. Then she saw who the sender was. N-27.

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