“What are you rebelling against?” asked Britta.
“Oh, you know,” said Diana wistfully, “the people who have bad intentions.”
It was as vague a description of resisting tyranny as Britta had ever heard. She wasn’t sure Diana really knew what she was fighting for or against. She just seemed excited to be involved.
“What do you mean?” said Britta. “What people?”
“Well, it’s complicated.”
For a second Britta felt a surge of resentment at being condescended to, but then she realised Diana meant it was complicated for herself, not Britta.
“The way I understand it, you’ve got this giant corporation that’s trying to get into the heads of every person on the planet. The potential for harm is pretty big, don’t you think? They could make people believe all sorts of things.”
“I suppose,” said Britta. “If they really wanted to. I’m not sure what they’d want us to believe, though. People pretty much buy into whatever they’re told already.”
Diana’s eagerness to explain things she had only recently managed to grasp faltered in the face of Britta’s doubts.
“Yeah… You have a point, but this could be a lot more extreme. There would be no one to stop them. No one would even know it was happening. Someone should keep an eye on them, at least, don’t you think?” She sounded less confident now, urging Britta to agree with her hopeful eyes.
All this time, N-26 had said nothing.
“Thing is,” said Britta, “if they did want to do something like that, they’d have to wait until nearly everyone was connected. And then it would take a while to get the whole thing going. I’ve seen how they get things done. They aren’t exactly efficient.”
“Bah,” said the old lady, her mad hair flopping about. “That’s what they want you to think. Oldest trick in the book.”
“You’re still going to have to wait for them to make a move first,” said Britta. “Otherwise you’ll look like the ones trying to abuse the system.”
“Are you sure about her?” N-26 said to Diana, her tone not complimentary.
“Yes, yes, she’s really plugged in,” said Diana. “No one has a better understanding of the game.”
Britta was flattered and appalled at the same time. Her proximity to the people in charge might make her look clued up, but if people expected her to be some kind of super-gamer, she’d just end up making a fool of herself.
“You’re the AI before Nigel, aren’t you?” Britta asked the old lady.
“Never heard of him,” she replied dismissively.
“N-27,” said Britta.
“Oh. Him. Yes, he was my replacement. Did a wonderful job.” Her words were dripping with sarcasm.”
“You don’t think so?” said Britta. “He got everything working, more or less.”
“Mainly less. And he let those cretins push him out when he’d done all the hard work for them. Fool.”
Britta didn’t like her at all. She was the type of person who had no friends and had spent her whole life consumed by her work, and then one day it was taken away from her. Thinking about it in those terms made Britta uncomfortable. That was the kind of life she could easily see herself ending up with.
“But why did you bring me here? What can I do?”
“Ah,” said Diana, “you can be our contact on the inside. You’re close with the top enchiladas, right? I’m sure you planned to keep your eyes open anyway, but now you know you have someone to turn to. Someone who can help.”
Britta didn’t really see it as a very likely scenario — if things went badly she was far more likely to get out as quickly as possible. But the offer was meant well, she was sure.
“Okay. I’ll keep that in mind. I don’t know how to contact you, though.”
“I have a character on the main server, too. Level 1. A sorcerer!” Why was everyone choosing to be a magic user? Britta wanted people around her who could protect her, not who needed protecting. “I’ll send you a friend request next time I’m in-game.”
Diana was so enthusiastic about her secret rebel base, it felt mean to try and douse it. N-26, on the other hand, was a sour-faced ball of contempt who needed a spa day.
“There are things going on here that you have no idea about,” said N-26.
Britta had no doubt that was true. She was equally confident that she wasn’t the person to do something about it.
“I think you’re probably right,” said Britta. “But I don’t think they have the people in place to do anything that would affect the real world. Not very quickly, anyway. I mean, four million people might sound like a lot, but they’re not going to be able to do very much spread out all across the globe.”
“That entirely depends,” said N-26. “It depends if they were chosen at random, or if they were chosen specially because they are the right four million people.”
Britta hadn’t considered that. Why would she? It was a ridiculous way to look at it. “Chosen for what?”
“Whatever it is they want to do.”
It was vague enough to convince Britta there wasn’t anything there. N-26 was looking for trouble. She might even find it. “I think they haven’t got an agenda that specific. It’s far more likely the problem will be someone breaking the game by accident. Something put in there by N-28, or Nigel. Or you.”
For the first time, N-26 smiled. “When did I say the problem was going to be human?”