Bitter 227

“No one’s sent anything to my dad,” said Britta. “But even if they did, I doubt he’d let it out of his sight. And it’d probably be set up to only work on him, like the pod.”

The excitement drained out of Lewis as he listened to her ruin his dreams. He had probably concocted some fantasy where he would end up getting to try the game via a series of highly unlikely events.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

He looked so downcast she almost felt sorry for him. There was no point encouraging his delusions, though.

“Don’t you think it could be quite dangerous?” she said. She didn’t want to encourage him, but picking his brain a bit wouldn’t hurt.

“Dangerous? What do you mean?”

“What if the AI controlling the game decided to not let you out.”

Lewis closed his laptop and looked at her like he wasn’t sure if she was ready to enter the science fantasy dimension he inhabited.

“Why wouldn’t it let you out? And are you saying there’s an AI that controls the game? They’ve created a real AI?”

She’d said too much. Or he’d assumed too much from hardly anything. More likely the latter.

“I don’t know. But what if the thing that controls the game went a bit rogue and decided it shouldn’t let people log out.”

Lewis was standing with the laptop under his arm and his bag over his shoulder like he was about to walk away any moment. “I’m sure they have plenty of safety features in place to avoid that sort of thing, if it’s even possible. And why would the game even want to keep the players from logging out.”

“Maybe it’s one of those self-learning AIs but whenever people log out it resets everything, so it can never complete its learning.”

Lewis slipped his bag off his shoulder and sat down. “Okay. I can see that. You’re talking about a death game. The computer will kill you if you try to leave, so the only way out is to finish the game to the highest level. You hundred percent it, and it lets you out.”

“What would you do if that happened?” asked Britta. She didn’t really expect him to have a solution to her problem, but she was sure he had thought about this kind of thing more than she had, and he might have a different perspective. It was the sort of pointless daydreaming boy’s did, in her experience.

There was one time Marisa had asked Dad what he would do in the event of a zombie apocalypse, and he not only had a list of things he rattled off without hesitation, he also went and got a notebook he’d filled with plans and places to go with good resources, which he very happily showed her with full commentary.

“It wouldn’t be like what you see in movies and anime,” said Lewis. “Real games aren’t reliable enough to hold people hostage. The servers need maintenance, the code fails and needs repairing, and mostly, if you leave a bunch of gamers stuck inside a game 24/7, they’re going to find every exploit and cheat there is, and use them to beat the game into the ground. It wouldn’t even be close.”

Clearly, he had spent more time thinking about it then even she’d thought. He was probably right about the exploits, if what she’d witnessed Lord Jim and his party do was anything to go by. They’d found a way to cut through a maze by going outside it. And that was for a low-level dungeon they could have easily beaten the old-fashioned way.

“Don’t you think the game would try to stop the players from cheating?” she asked him.

“Yeah, but it’s very hard to hotfix a death game. You can’t ask everyone to restart their session and log back in. And there’s never been a game that didn’t need to restart their servers at some point. Especially when it’s new. Whatever the AI was up to, it would have to aim to get it done quick.”

What he was saying sounded pretty likely. In movies, computers that gained sentience and then went mad were able to execute their protocols flawlessly. In real life, computers always had to be turned off and on again. It was the classic cure for almost every problem. And like Lewis had said, there were always problems.

If there were people trapped inside when that happened, what would happen to them? Even if the game didn’t intend to hurt anyone, how would it cope with a system failure?

“Britta,” said Lewis quietly and with utter seriousness, “there’s an AI that runs the game, isn’t there?”

“Yes,” said Britta, “his name’s Nigel.”

Lewis frowned. “Very funny.”

Sometimes, the truth was so ridiculous it worked better than lies.

He stood up. “Your dad’s really lucky. He’s like the first man on the moon.” He went off to do whatever boys did.

Britta didn’t see Dad quite in the same light. She didn’t see herself like that, either. Plus, the moon didn’t hide your lunar lander because it didn’t want you to go home. The moon wasn’t lonely. Maybe the game was.

No, that was silly. It had a whole world to keep it company. And it had told her Stan’s confinement was for his own good. The game might actually be keeping him alive. But then what would happen when the servers had to go offline?

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