Bitter 562

“How did my logging in change anything?” said Britta. “They were just running through a maze, weren’t they?”

As far as she knew, the arena battle hadn’t involved any fighting, but even if it had, what effect did her late arrival have? It wasn’t like she was connected to the arena in any way.

“Yes, a maze,” said N-28. “One full of deadly traps and deadly puzzles and also large spikes that came out of the walls.”

“Deadly ones?”

“No, they just maimed and incapacitated. N-21 likes to add a lot of variety to his toys.” N-28 smiled thinly and shook his head like he thought the whole thing was ridiculous.

“The Chinese team must have had quite an advantage if they were Level 10. A lot more health, for starters.”

“In order to make it fair, everyone started with the same amount of health points,” said N-28. “Fifty HP. But their armour was superior, so they still took less damage.”

“And weapons?” asked Britta.

“There was nothing to fight. Weapons and offensive spells were not allowed.”

Here was a contest Britta felt she would have done well in. Even though she didn’t face the same sort of problems as regular players, she still wanted to level-up her character. Gaining XP from the arena was one way to do it, although it would mean taking XP from other players.

“That still means the Chinese team should have won,” said Britta.

“Yes,” said N-28. “And they probably would have. They chose to ignore the traps and take the damage. I have to admit it was a clever strategy. Their equipment absorbed most of the hits but they saved a lot of time. It was a race, after all. But then there was a mysterious glitch.”

“What kind of glitch?” said Britta.

“The race reset and everyone was returned to the start, but with damage taken still showing. Which gave the home team, who had been far more cautious in their approach, a big advantage. They then rushed through the course with the additional advantage of having neutralised many of the traps the first time around, so they knew how to avoid them second time around without having to stop to think about it. In the end, it wasn’t even close.”

The Chinese team had ignored the traps and just tanked any damage to get through the course as quickly as possible. A reasonable approach when they had so much better equipment. But after the reset, they would be greatly weakened and back at the start.

“I see,” said Britta, acting as much like an interested but involved third-party as possible. “And what caused the glitch?”

“It’s hard to say. But it affected both teams equally, technically speaking, so there was no need to repeat the contest. Needless to say, the Chinese team weren’t happy, but it was clearly stated in the rules. In fact, the rules remarkably specific in clarifying just such an occurrence.”

“That was lucky,” said Britta. “You don’t think it had something to do with me synching with the game late, do you?”

“According to the readings, no. There is no way for you to affect the game in that manner. The logs show you had no influence on the glitch.”

Britta didn’t quite believe it, but if the logs said so, who was she to argue? She wondered how Dad had managed it, hypothetically speaking. If he had something to do with it. Which he hadn’t, as verified by the logs.

“Didn’t they want a rematch?” asked Britta. The Chinese team may have taken a loss, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t earn back their XP. A glitch was unlikely to happen again — especially as Britta had already logged in — and if it did repeat, then they would have a much stronger case to claim foul play. It was only worth cheating if you didn’t get caught. Even if everyone knew what was going on, it was having proof that mattered, for some reason.

It was in their interest to try again; Britta couldn’t see any reason not to. And from what she’d seen of the Chinese players, she imagined they’d have been eager to reclaim some of their lost pride.

“They lost their first match,” said N-28, “and they had bet rather heavily. They were very confident of a win, and ended up with nothing to bet with.”

The overconfidence didn’t surprise her, but it still seemed a bit odd that they would lose all of their XP in one game. It wasn’t like the opposing players could match their wager.

“I don’t understand,” said Britta. “How could they make a profit if they won? They would only get the XP from the losing players, wouldn’t they? That wouldn’t cover the bet.”

“You are correct,” said N-28. “In order to make the first match more enticing, there was an added incentive in the form of an XP pool collected from spectators.”

“You put up player XP without asking them?” Britta was shocked. Even if they had a plan to beat the Chinese team, that didn’t justify them ‘borrowing’ XP to entice the Chinese into making a bigger bet.  What would they have done if the Chinese team had won?

“Firstly, it had nothing to do with me,” said N-28. “I want to be quite clear about that. And secondly, you misunderstand. The excess XP was purely voluntary.”

“Really?” said Britta. “People expected us to win?”

“Apparently so. A desire to support the underdog, an addiction to gambling, mild xenophobia, who knows? In any case, the poor Chinese were tapped out.”

“You mean they were hustled,” said Britta.

“That may very well be the case, but I wouldn’t know, anything about that sort of thing,” said N-28 rather pointedly.

“I can see why L-15 was so upset,” said Britta.

“Was he?” said N-28. “How could you tell?”

Britta grinned. “He is kind of a bit flat, emotionally speaking.”

“A bit? I’ve never seen him so much as smile. And he’s always whispering. Everything’s a big secret. Honestly, if he shouted into a canyon, the echo would be, ‘Pardon?’”

Britta couldn’t help but chuckle at how disparaging N-28 was being. Rivalry between Artificial Intelligences was surprisingly human.

“You don’t like him very much, do you?” said.

“I like him just fine as long as he stays on his side of the mainframe. Do you know how they select the controlling AI on the Chinese server?” Britta shook her head. “Assassination.”

“What do you mean?” said Britta. “They kill each other?”

“Exactly. That’s how you prove your superiority, by overcoming your predecessor’s defences and deleting their code.”

Surprisingly human in the worst possible way.

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