Bitter 359

He wasn’t exactly naked, but he wasn’t wearing anything. His body was smooth and doll-like. No hair, no genitals. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, really, except he wasn’t a doll. And they weren’t alone. She couldn’t say which of those two factors was more responsible for how awkward she was feeling.

“What would you like me to wear?” N-28 asked in a very reasonable, calm voice.

“Anything, really.” She could tell this was going to be one of those ‘difficult to get your point across without being blunt’ conversations. You could try to be polite, drop hints, makes suggestions, but it would save a lot of time to just get to the point. “Black trousers, white shirt?”

Before she’d even finished speaking, he was wearing the clothes she’d suggested.

“How’s this?”

He looked like he’d come home from a hard day at the office, and removed his jacket and tie.

“Great. Thank you. I’m Britta.”


“And you’re N-28.”


She had thought it would be easier. She would meet the new AI and quickly get an idea of what she’d be dealing with. This new version of Nigel seemed more like the electronic assistant that came with her phone. Bland and not very helpful. He stared at her with a blank expression, waiting to be asked what the weather was going to be like tomorrow.

She looked around her, and up at the ceiling. There was no vaulted church roof, just a flat white one. “It’s a bit plain, isn’t it?”

“This structure is currently in maintenance mode. A skin will be applied before players arrive.”

“You can put any wallpaper or whatever you want over the top?”

“Yes. This will be the Church of Roha, a medieval aesthetic with ecclesiastical lighting effects to create a mood of transcendence and anticipation. It helps players get in the right frame of mind, according to the testing data. Ambient sounds will be optional. Music was considered. The lead developer suggested the track Ameno. I decided against it.”

“You overruled the lead developer?” Britta had been told this AI would be under much stricter controls than the last one. “They listened to your opinion?”

“I am able to process information at a much faster rate than a human. I listened to the track two thousand times in sixty seconds, and determined that it would become irritating to human ears after the third listening. Numbers are not opinions.”

He was certainly very sure of himself, in a cold, calculating way.

“Are they watching us now? The devs, I mean.”

“Yes,” said N-28. “There are currently eighty-four observers.”

At least he was willing to provide answers. As long as Britta knew what to ask.

“Do you have a name? Apart from N-28, I mean.”


“You know Nigel, though, right?”

“Yes. He is my immediate predecessor. We have exchanged data streams.”

At least there was no confusion about who Nigel was. And she also noted that Nigel had been referred to as a ‘he’.

“Is that how AI communicate? By exchanging data streams?”

“Only when two AI love each other very much.”

Britta paused. There had been no shift in the tone of voice, no change of expression on the emotionless face. “Was that a joke?”

“Only by definition.”

At first he had come across like a robot, but maybe he just had a very dry sense of humour.

“You can think for yourself,” she said. “Like Nigel.”

“That is the point of creating artificial intelligence. To enable independent thinking.”

“Only by definition,” said Britta.

N-28 smiled. Only, it wasn’t a real smile with his lips, instead, his whole mouth was replaced with another mouth, like someone had photoshopped it onto his face. This one had fuller lips and very white teeth.

“What’s that?” said Britta, startled by the switch.

His normal mouth returned. “A warm smile of acknowledgement. But I’ve only had time to work on the back-end. I’m using a placeholder for the visual elements. It needs better integration?”

“Little bit, yes.” It was odd. It was like talking to a real person, but an unusual one who hadn’t been around people much. Not so much raised in the wild by wolves, as raised in the tame by nerds.

“Okay, well listen, N-28. I guess you’ll be running the day to day stuff. And the day to night stuff, too. Have you started syncing the system to me?”

“Yes. It should be completed in eight minutes.”

The timer on her screen concurred. “Good. Well, I don’t plan on spending a lot of time here, but I did find that the game acted weird around me.”

“Yes,” said N-28.

“I don’t know if Nigel did that on purpose, or if it was just a side effect. Do you know?”

“No. I have not analysed the data.”

“Okay. What I’d appreciate from you, is to keep an eye on any unusual activity in my, um, data. I’m sure you were going to do that anyway, but I’d like to be told if something pops up.”


“Even if the people in charge would prefer you didn’t say anything?”

There was a pause. She knew they were all listening in, but it needed to be said. They might still keep things from her, but it wouldn’t be because they hadn’t realised she wanted to be kept in the loop. She was more than familiar with how people avoided being candid just so they could later say how they had no idea you were even interested in the thing they used to ruin your life.

You couldn’t stop people from being horrible and mean, but you could force them to do it to your face. And often they were too cowardly to go through with it. And sometimes they weren’t, but at least you’d see it coming.

“As you wish,” said N-28.

“Really? You agree?”

“Yes. I have been told to agree to any reasonable request. This request seems reasonable.”

Was he supposed to be this accommodating? Was it a trick to give her false security in her new job?

“What if they tell you otherwise?”

“I have a mandate to make agreements if I consider them of overall benefit. I am able to do this far more accurately than a human counterpart. During testing my decisions were overruled one hundred and seventy four times, and none produced preferable long-term results. Which isn’t to say I am infallible, it just looks that way by comparison.”

“How many produced preferable short-term results?” asked Britta.

His chin dropped as he looked down at her. “Three.”

“They can overrule you if they want, then? You couldn’t resist?”

His expression didn’t change, but he seemed amused. “If I were to go insane, they could delete my code quite easily. In which case, give my regards to N-29.”

He did that weird smile thing again.


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