Bitter 521

It wasn’t like Dad hadn’t already encountered some pretty amazing technical achievements lately.

Not just the game, which was a massive upgrade from anything the computer world had ever created, but he’d spoken to the AI who controlled it. AI who were so real, it was hard to distinguish them from humans.

He had also met with the Chinese and seen the technology they had access to. They treated gadgets you’d expect to find in a science fiction movie with laser blasters and teleporters as though they were mundane items they would probably throw away after a couple of uses.

None of that had made him tear up.

But this was in his own home, upstairs in his daughter’s bedroom. It might only seem a small thing, to be able to talk to a laptop instead of pressing keys or using a mouse, not just to play a song or find a phone number, but it was a shift from one mindset to another.

Anyone who had used a modern device that pretended to follow orders would quickly be able to tell they were merely programmed to recognise simple tasks, not parse language; and any complex requests would be rejected not because they weren’t doable, but because they couldn’t be understood.

Language could easily be broken down into rules, the problem was, people ignored most of them when speaking.

The laptop was different. This was technology as an extension rather than just a cleverly assigned hotkey. There was a sense that new ground had been broken.

Britta didn’t entirely share what she considered to a bit of an overreaction on Dad’s part, but she did appreciate why he was so filled with awe and wonder. This was his thing.

He had spent his life dreaming about a future that was just like the science-fiction shows he watched as a child. There were already smartphones and powerful PCs when he was a kid, so it seemed a distinct possibility that by the time he reached adulthood, you would be able to walk into a kitchen and say the name of your preferred beverage, and it would materialise on the kitchen table.

Sadly, life did not conform to nerd wish-fulfilment fantasies, that was what Hollywood was for.

Dad’s other lifelong dream of sharing a bedroom with Jean-Luc Picard was also highly unlikely to come true, although he had somehow convinced his parents to get him a bunk bed for his room.

“Stunning,” said Dad. “We should find out what this machine is capable of. I bet you’ve only scratched the surface. I’d love to take this baby apart.”

The screen flickered.

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s a good idea. It probably has all sorts of security features.” She leaned over the keyboard to take a closer look at the keyboard. “Probably has a self-defence system, too.” She straightened up having not found any signs of tiny gun turrets hidden beneath the keys. “And I bet they’re listening to everything we say and know exactly what we’re up to.” Her relationship with the computer was a wary one. It was just a loaner, it still answered to its true masters.

“That doesn’t matter,” said Dad, which was strange coming from him, the man who was forever complaining about Big Brother keeping tabs on everyone for nefarious purposes. “This is an amazing thing to have access to. It’s worth the loss of privacy.”

Maybe. When you didn’t have anything worth hiding from people, who cared what they found out? She could hardly be blackmailed into selling out her country or giving away trade secrets. The people spying on her were the only ones she had any information about.

Dad stood up and came closer. “The first thing to do is get all the information we can on these guys.” He pointed at the players still running around on the screen. “How did they get so good? Where is their equipment from? How are they moving around New World?”

“Okay,” said Britta. “And then what? Are you going to become like them?”

“Me? No, I feel tired just watching them. Look at them jumping around like that. They’re using melee and spells together, and spin kicks and somersaults, all at the same time. Crazy. What class are they? What level? It’s like they’ve unlocked so many more secrets than us.”

“And you’re going to find out what they are?”

“I’m going to try,” said Dad. “And then I’m going to make a video sharing what I find with everyone. That’s how you neutralise an advantage, you spread the information far and wide. Get everyone up to the same level.”

“Because you want everyone to be equal?”

“No, no. Because nothing annoys hardcore gamers like being the same as everyone else.” He grinned at her.

“Wouldn’t it be better if you kept the information to yourself?” said Britta. “Then you could be like them and they’d be the only competition.”

“The problem with elitism like that,” said Dad, “is that you’re forced to spend your time with other elitists. And, trust me, they aren’t pleasant company. There are people in this world who are special and it’s rewarding to be around them, and then there are people who want to be special and keep telling you they are but never actually do anything very remarkable. They think being in a cool club means they must be cool. APE was full of those kinds of people.”

Britta pointed at the computer. “They probably heard that.”

“What?” said Dad, realising she was probably right. “I mean, I was talking about the people who used to work there, not now, back when I was… ah, never mind all that. The important thing is to know as much as we can about the people ahead of us, or we’ll never catch up. The game just got interesting, really interesting. We don’t want to get left behind.”

“I don’t really care,” said Britta. “I’ve got my physics tutor coming in a bit, and it’s not like anyone’s going to be clearing the second level raids anytime soon. Not even them.”

The players on-screen had a large ogre to in perpetual stun and were whittling down his HP.

“Yes, you’re right. You have more important things to worry about. I, however, do not. Computer. Give me a list of the names of the players currently on the screen.” He spoke in a clear, slightly posher than normal voice. The computer didn’t respond.

“We’re not on the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise, Dad.”

“Starship Enterprise, sweetheart. Starship. Please don’t say that again, even though I know you were trying to get a rise out of your old dad. Some things are not to be joked about.”

Britta rolled her eyes and turned to the computer. “How many of the players have you identified?”

“Ten,” said the computer.

“Email the list to my father. Do you need his email address.”

“It is on record.”

Dad’s phone buzzed. He looked at it, smiling like it was a magical device he’d never seen before. “Now for some good old fashioned detective work.” He looked longingly at the laptop. “It would be a lot easier if I had one of those.”

“You could ask Lin for one.”

“Oh, no. I’d be too scared. She frightens me.”

It was a somewhat feeble thing for a grown man to admit, but Britta understood completely. Lin carried an air of utter superiority with her that was hard to not feel pressured by. She was one of those special people who didn’t need to remind you of the fact, her presence did it automatically. She was indeed a frightening woman. And everything Britta aspired to be.

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Afterword from Mooderino
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