Bitter 347

The doorbell rang. Dad moved to go answer it, but Mum cut in front of him. All three of them headed into the hallway, Mum leading the way.

She opened the door to a very tall man in a grey suit.

“Good evening.” He spoke in a heavy baritone that was intimidating. “I’m here to take you—”

“Yes,” said Mum brusquely. “We’ll be out in a moment.” She closed the door on his mildly surprised face. It took a lot more than a deep voice to intimidate her.

“That was a bit rude,” said Dad.

“Was it?” Mum didn’t seem very worried about how she’d acted. “I’m sure his feelings weren’t permanently damaged. Now, why don’t you tell us what it is you expect to get out of all this.”

She crossed her arms and stood with her back to the front door. No one was getting out without her say so.

“I told you,” said Dad, “I’m just testing the waters. See what they’re willing to offer.”

“Yes, but offer for what?” said Mum. “Never mind what they’re willing to give us, what are you willing to give them?”

It was a good question. Everything was moving along so quickly — agreements on phones and drivers on the doorstep — Britta hadn’t had time to consider what Dad was negotiating with. The only thing they wanted was her time, and that was the one thing she had no interest in giving up.

Had he made them think she might be interested if the price was right? And more to the point, was she?

“I haven’t agreed to anything,” said Dad. “No promises, not even any half-promises. I’ve made it very clear right from the start that Britta has decided to bow out of the virtual reality business.”

Mum unfolded her arms and shook her head. “Then why are they still talking to you?”

“Because they’re desperate. They’ll do anything to get their hands on our girl.” He sounded excited by the prospect of selling Britta off for well above her market value.

“Dad, what are you talking about? One minute you’re saying you’ve told them we’re not interested, the next you’ve got dollar signs in your eyes.”

“Pound sterling, sweetheart. Always negotiate in sterling.”

“For God’s sake, John, just tell us what it is you’re planning.”

“Fine, fine. It’s simple. They want to sync up their system to Britta’s biorhythms. Her body is the one Nigel used, and they just need her to get back into the game so they can match it up again.”

Britta wasn’t sure how any of this differed from her own position. They wanted her back in, she wasn’t interested.

“So, what? She only needs to go in once?” asked Mum.

“No, not exactly. That would give them a static reading. They’d need her to go in regularly. Every few days at least, I expect, to make sure they were staying integrated. But they don’t need all of her. Just her brain, her nervous system, her biological processes.”

“What does that mean?” said Mum, sounding horrified.

“No, no, no. I don’t mean they want to cut her up or anything like that. Jesus, this isn’t some freaky science experiment. I mean, they need her readings. Her data.”

“But don’t they already have all that?” asked Britta. “They had access to all my readings every time I logged in, didn’t they.”

“Only while you were there. Once you log out, there’s no live data, only records. It isn’t going to be able to properly replicate what you can give them in a live stream. You have to be there. Or a very precise model of you.”

Dad paused and looked at them, eyebrows arched, smiling like he’d said something clever.

Britta didn’t get it. She looked over at Mum, whose blank face matched her own feelings.

“What are you going on about?” said Britta.

Dad’s shoulders sagged and his head lolled from side to side. “Come on. It’s not that hard to understand, is it? You’ve seen how detailed they can make their computer models.”

“You mean in the game?”

“In the game, in their auditorium, they can create something that looks and acts like a real person. They can do the same to you. A deep scan of your entire nervous system, and they’d have their own Britta. They wouldn’t need you to log in, they could use her to take their measurements from.

“They can do that?” said Mum.

“Yes. I mean, all the current models are more focused on appearances and behaviour, making them look as real as possible. There’s never been a need to calibrate the autonomous functions to any great level of accuracy. But if they took a set of full readings from Britta…”

“Wait, so there’d be another me, walking around in the game? A fake me?”

“No, not exactly. Not a clone, more of a virtual clone.”

Britta didn’t like the idea at all. Even though it would just be a digital copy of her, it felt… icky.

“You want to give them a copy of our daughter?” Mum didn’t sound too keen, either.

“You’re looking at this all wrong. A photo would look exactly like her too, but it isn’t her, is it?”

This did not feel the same. Britta wasn’t sure how to raise her objections properly, but she knew she had them.

Mum stepped away from the door, towards Dad. “You want to give them a replica of our child, down to her central nervous system, so they could do what they want with her. A living, breathing exact duplicate that they own?”

Britta knew Mum could get quite aggressive when she was riled. Sometimes, when Dad was being insensitive, Britta would have to help calm her down. This time, she was willing to back her up.

Dad backed away down the hall. “Now, now, calm down, love. It wouldn’t be her her, would it? It would be her character. It would be a gnome.”

“Wait,” said Britta, her objections suddenly melting away. “What?”

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