Bitter 480

“Are those really AI?” asked Owen in a less than impressed tone. “I wasn’t expecting them to be so… sweaty.”

“Think of their physical form as a representation of their internal psyche,” said Dad, sounding like a wise old professor.

“Yeah, okay,” said Owen. “I just thought an argument between two AI would be more… mathematical.”

The four of them stood by the entrance and stared at the two naked men grappling in the middle of the cave. At least there were no rude bits on display — both had smooth areas below the waist, front and back. The rest of their bodies were very detailed, though. You could see every pore and hair follicle.

N-28 was thin and lithe, his body muscled like an athlete’s. The other one was shorter and fatter, with hair covering his broad back. Neither seemed to have an advantage in terms of holds or position. They rolled around, grunting and groaning.

“Do they know we’re here?” asked MrKappa.

“Oh yes,” said Dad. He seemed to be enjoying his role as guide. “They know, but they don’t care. Ever since they became locked in combat, neither responds to the outside world.” Dad clapped his hands together twice. “Hello? Excuse me?” He spoke loudly, like a teacher trying to get the attention of a chatty class. The AIs ignored him.

“But what are they fighting about?” said Britta. She could accept this was some kind of a battle for supremacy made flesh (made very flesh), but why get into a fight in the first place?

“I’m not sure. The fat one was telling us what he wanted us to do, and then, out of nowhere, the other one appeared and they started arguing about who was in charge here. This is the way they decided to settle it.”

They watched the struggle in silence for a couple of minutes. There was a lot of effort going into what looked like not very much movement. Occasionally, a foot would reposition itself for better leverage.

“Were they both naked before the fight?” asked Owen.

“No,” said Dad, “they took their clothes off to make it more fair, I think. The fat one had a suit of armour. The tall one had a normal suit, you know, trousers and shirt. Italian, it looked like.”

They watched some more. It was kind of hypnotic. After a while, you could see what each was trying to do, small subtle moves to gain an advantage. Unlike real wrestling (the athletic kind, not the one where people hit each other with chairs), neither of these combatants was going to get the other to tap out because of a painful hold. Arms could be bent right back and wouldn’t snap.

What seemed to be the goal here was to get a superior position. The person who got on top of the other was the winner. It was one way to win an argument.

Every time one of them would mount the other, a series of twists and turns would slowly roll the writhing mass into a new configuration.

“How long is it going to go on for?” said Britta.

“No idea,” said Dad. “It’s been hours already.”

Britta wasn’t sure what to do. If she went back and reported this, she doubted APE would just sit back and wait to see the outcome. The old AI wasn’t meant to be active, so they’d probably shut him down. Would that be so bad? She really wanted to stop the fight and have a quick word with N-28, but how? Tap him on the shoulder?

She took a step into the room without thinking about it. Dad’s hand fell on her shoulder. “Careful. If you get caught by a stray elbow, you could take serious damage. They hit like a truck. One of my party tried to break them up and nearly got killed. Fortunately, the healer brought him back from the brink.”

Britta backed away again. “Do they know they’re AI?”

“My group? No, no. They think their NPCs. Very weird NPCs. I convinced everyone to scout the area while we wait, but the longer it takes, the more impatient they’re getting.”

“We could tell them the truth,” said Britta.

Dad looked at Owen and MrKappa, and then back to Britta. “I don’t know. We could, but I’d really rather get some kind of official response, either from N-28 or APE.”

“N-28?” said MrKappa.

Dad winced. He’d been trying to be careful with what information he revealed and naming N-28 had been a slip.

“That’s what the tall one calls himself,” said Dad. “Look, I don’t want to come across like I’m telling you guys what to do or anything, but do you think you could keep all this private and off the net? If the bigwigs decide we can’t be trusted to keep our mouths shut, we could get kicked out of the game.”

“Oh, definitely, definitely,” said MrKappa.

“You can trust us,” said Owen. “We don’t want to get you into any trouble. And we don’t want to get kicked out.”

“People would just think we were making it up, anyway,” said MrKappa. “You know what the internet’s like. Couple of trolls making shit up, that’s all we’d be seen as. We’ll keep our mouths shut, right?”

“Right,” said Owen, nodding enthusiastically.

“This is way better than the rest of the game,” said MrKappa. They all turned to look at the writhing men. “Well, not this exactly, but the whole seeing behind the curtain side of it. If you want us to help with a cover story for the others, just tell us what you want us to do.”

The two of them looked eager to convince Dad of their trustworthiness. Britta completely understood their motivation. If she was a gamer and she had the chance to be part of a side of the game accessible to only a very few, she would do whatever it took to be included. This was a chance no gamer would want to pass up.

These two, Britta thought, would be happy to play ball, but what about the other five? The more people knew, the more likely it was someone would spill the beans, or demand to know more. Especially someone like Mark. He was the sort of player who wanted people to know he was special and had access to things no one else had.

Then again, so was Dad.

She returned her attention to the AI. They weren’t going to get anywhere with this nonsense going on. She took a breath and strode towards them.

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