Bitter 281

“I thought you made a good point,” said Britta. “He almost agreed with you.”

“No chance,” said Dad as he eased the car through the security gate and onto the main road. “People like that have no interest in following other people’s idea, even if they’re right. Being obstinate is part of what gets you to those kinds of positions in the first place.”

At first, Clark had listened attentively to what Dad had to say, not interrupting or offering an opposing view on the matter of how best to raise children, but as soon as Dad had said his piece, Clark had pounced.

Britt had been quite taken aback by how aggressive he became considering how gently Dad had made his point, and how composed Clark had seemed.

“Thank you,” he’d said with bitingly precise enunciation. “I’m sure your experience raising your own children has been very revealing and filled you with sage advice for other parents not quite so perceptive as yourself, but I am not raising a child, I am in the process of developing an integrated neural network that will quite possibly change the way we view the world. While I appreciate the good intentions you no doubt hold, this is neither the time nor place to express your views. I’m quite capable of choosing my own procedures for assessing and enacting my role as supervisor of this project, and considering how far we’ve come, I think it’s safe to say I know what I’m doing far better than an outside observer with a limited pool of information to draw from. The matter may have hit an uncomfortable juncture, but I assure you it isn’t the first, nor will it probably be the last. We will deal with it as we do all problems, and retain control in a systematic, non-emotional manner that requires rigorous scientific analysis, not kisses and cuddles.”

It wasn’t so much his rejection of Dad’s suggestion, it was more the way he spoke down to him that upset Britta. He was in a position of greater authority, but he was also the host. And he wasn’t just obstinate, he was downright rude.

“I was very proud of you, sweetheart,” said Dad.

“Why?” said Britta, staring out of the window as they drove past the chainlink fence that ran around the facility. It had spiky wiring on top; not quite barbwire, but close. “Because I stood up for you?”

“No, not that. I mean, yes, that was sweet of you, but what impressed me was that you saw where you had leverage over him, and you used it flawlessly.” He chortled to himself. “The poor man, he didn’t know what hit him.”

Britta hadn’t actually considered very much at all, and certainly had no thoughts about leverage when she decided to speak her mind. She was just angry.

“You have every right to do what you want,” she’d said, surprising everyone by speaking up just when the tension had reached what had seemed like its peak. “This is your company. But there’s no way you can claim to have things under any kind of control. Your AI, which you built and deserve every credit for, isn’t listening to you. And after spending only a little time in your company, I can see why. The only reason your project still has contact with Nigel is because of me. And that’s because you’ve made mistakes you’re refusing to admit. He’s more than a neural network, but if you think you know how best to handle this juncture you can always cancel my contract and prove you know better than everyone else.”

She had shot her mouth off without thinking, speaking very fast and very energetically, waving her hands around and keeping Clark pinned in place with a fearsome glare. He had reacted by looking utterly stunned, both by her verbal assault and also by her ultimatum.

“Now, please, let’s not fight,” Harman had said, trying to placate things, but not really having anything to offer to appease either side.

“Fine,” Clark said to Harman, “if you all think you have such a solid grasp of the situation, you deal with this. I wash my hands of the whole affair. Good luck to you.” He turned and stormed away.

It had only been then that Britta realised he hadn’t been bullying Dad at all. His reaction had been defensive, perhaps an overreaction to being picked on and singled out for criticism. She recognised the behaviour, a little late, as the kind boys displayed when the group turned on them and they ran away before they burst into tears.

She’d felt horribly guilty. She knew he was in the wrong, but that wasn’t the point. She’d ganged up on him when he already felt he was being victimised by everyone, even though it was only a few words from Dad and a lack of words from his ‘friends’ that had made him feel isolated.

Things had quickly fallen apart once Clark had gone. An awkward silence descended and no one new quite what to say. Harman stammered his way to a polite request for them to call it a day. They had Britta’s readings to examine and could let her know the results later. They were thanked and Dr Reedy showed them out while Harman hurried away to check on his partner.

“You don’t think we were a bit too hard on him, do you?” asked Britta.

Dad stared straight ahead, thinking. “Perhaps. He took it to heart a bit. You get that when someone goes all in on a weak position. But there’s really no other way to get through to them. I mean, he doesn’t have to do it my way, but he has to stop doing it the way he’s been approaching it. You heard how they talked to each other down there. He’s got possibly the greatest scientific invention of this century in the basement, and he’s having temper tantrums. That can’t be the correct approach.”

Britta was sure he was right. She was also sure Dr Reedy would agree. She was the only one who seemed in a good mood as she escorted them out.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to smooth everything over,” she’d said as they got back in the car.

“I’m sorry,” was the only thing Britta could think to offer.

“No, no. Sometimes these things need to be said. Better than bottling it up and giving yourself an ulcer.”

And then they were driving out without having addressed numerous things they had come all the way out here to deal with.

“They could just kick me out of the game altogether,” said Britta. As ready as she was to walk away, it wasn’t a pleasant thing to consider. She still had a lot to do.

“Possible, but highly unlikely,” said Dad. “They need you too much. It’s when they don’t need you anymore that you should start to worry.” It started raining. He turned on the wipers and the screen smeared so neither of them could see the road. “Great, a premature death, just what I need. Now I’ll never get to play the game again.” He pushed on the stick and water sprayed onto the screen, not helping visibility at all.

“That’s what you’d regret most if you died?” said Britta.

“What? No, of course not. Don’t tell your mother.”

The screen was clear again and they carried on living.

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