Bitter is switching to a 5 days a week schedule, Mon-Fri.

Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 462

The city was so close, a few more minutes, half-an-hour at the most, and she would be there. But it wasn’t really a surprise to Britta that something would try to prevent her reaching her goal.

“What do you mean?” Britta kept flying towards the capital. Just because there was a problem didn’t mean it was her problem.

“Your father and five others went into the next level of the mines yesterday,” said Dr Reedy.

“I know,” said Britta. “I watched some of the livestream.” In her rush to get to her objective, Britta had all but forgotten about Dad’s expedition into the unknown when she woke this morning. It had been quite dull when she stopped watching last night.

“The livestream, yes, we lost the feed a few hours ago. We haven’t been able to contact him or any of the others.”

Britta slowed down but kept drifting forwards, the butterfly wings on her back flapping in long beats. “But you can see them on your screens, can’t you?”

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“You lost them?”

“We lost contact with them,” said Dr Reedy. “We’re receiving data from their Anderson cradles, so we know they’re fine, a hundred percent nothing to worry about, but we don’t know why we can’t observe them in-game.”

Britta came to a stop, hovering over a meadow. “So, everyone’s okay?”

“Absolutely. Their readings are within normal parameters. As you can imagine, the watching millions were rather perturbed when their screens went dark, but most of them consider it to be some kind of stunt for dramatic purposes. There’s quite a lot of activity on the forums.”

“Doesn’t that mean N-28 did something?” Britta had encountered the game’s AI keeping things from its creators before. “Have you asked him?”

There was a long pause. “We can’t get in contact with N-28, either.”

Britta looked towards the city. She could make out its towers and domed roofs looking like an Arabian city out of a fairytale. There were probably urchins running around a marketplace trying to steal fruit, and bearded guards trying to catch them. A song and dance routine was no doubt imminent.

“What do you want me to do?” asked Britta. “It doesn’t sound like there’s anything really wrong, just a glitch somewhere.”

“Yes, of course. This isn’t an emergency by any means, more of a precaution.” There was a slight edge to Dr Reedy’s voice, an attempt to sound calm and casual by force, like a hostage telling you everything’s fine with a gun held to their head. “This sort of thing shouldn’t happen — we have fail safes in place. When the fail safes fail, it is rather… disturbing. That’s why I thought you would be the ideal person to look into it without having to shut things down. As a precaution. Not an emergency”

“Aren’t you going to send in some of your guys?” asked Britta.

APE had the personnel and the equipment to do as they pleased in the game. If all they wanted was for someone to go check up on Dad and his team, they could easily do so with a couple of their own.

“We could,” said Dr Reedy, “but if it is N-28 who has done this for some reason, we would rather not disrupt whatever the plan is. It may be that the blackout is necessary, for reasons we aren’t aware of, and you’ve always had a special relationship with the game. If anyone can confirm things are going according to plan without interfering, it would be you.”

It was a strange mix of faith and doubt she seemed to have in N-28. They had handed management of the world over to the AI, but had put restrictions on what he could do. Apparently, they hadn’t learned their lesson from last time. Or maybe they had, and they wanted to let things get slightly out of their control.

Whatever it was they were trying to do, Britta was sure they had a plug they could pull if things went totally Skynet. She hoped so, anyway.

“You want me to go into the mines and see if everything’s alright.”

“Yes, that’s it. You don’t even need to tell us what the plan is — I’m assuming there’s a reason we’ve been cut out of the loop — I just want confirmation all is well. As a precaution.”

From what Dr Reedy had said, it really didn’t sound like an emergency, despite how nervous she was acting. It wasn’t like they were trapped by a cave-in and couldn’t get out with water rising. If they had been, sending Britta would hardly be of much help. N-28 had blocked the signal for some reason, that was all. And APE was willing to accept that decision as probably necessary. Probably, but still worth sending someone to check.

If it had been anyone else, some random players, Britta might have tried to get out of it. But it was Dad, and as unlikely as it was, he could be in trouble. Real trouble. Even with all the assurances and calm, rational talk, both she and Dr Reedy knew the damage that was possible if the AI really went rogue. Putting your mind into the hands of a computer programme was not a risk-free proposition. Computers acted up for no reason, sometimes. What had happened to Stan could happen to others.

“I don’t want to make this an official request of you as an employee,” said Dr Reedy. “I’d much rather we handle it quietly, before it becomes an issue.”

There was also that. She worked for them. If they wanted her to go inspect the mine, she didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

“I understand,” said Britta. “I’ll go have a look.”

“Thank you, Britta. I’d appreciate it.”

Britta took a last look at the city in the distance, sighed, and then floated down to the ground. She took out the saving totem from her backpack and planted it in the ground.

It wasn’t the worst detour. She could log into the altar in the mines, find out what had happened, and then come back here. She wouldn’t be able to fly again until tomorrow, though. At least Teleport was available — a quick getaway might be called for.

The saving totem deployed, Britta logged out. If she was going to have to abandon her plans and save Dad, she was going to use the bathroom first.

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