Bitter 569

Britta wasn’t sure what she was meant to say in response to Lin. It wasn’t like she had done anything impressive to attain her unique place in the game. It felt like it was just random. It could easily have been someone else who caught the attention of the game’s many AIs.

But then again, they had tried to replicate what she had done, and not managed it. Didn’t that mean it was something specific she was doing or was capable of that no one else was? Did that mean she was special in some way? She didn’t feel very special.

The restaurant was full of life and noise. Britta looked around as she ate the food that kept coming to their table without being ordered. Many of the dishes she didn’t even recognise, but all of them were seriously delicious.

The other people enjoying their meals were mostly Chinese. This was a high-end restaurant, Britta could tell, but the clientele didn’t seem like a stuck-up crowd. It wasn’t the sort of place where the chef produced tiny works of art for people to write articles about. Everyone here was too busy stuffing their faces.

“This is wonderful,” said Mum. “I don’t think I’ve ever tasted Chinese food like this. Honestly, I can’t stop eating.”

“It’s the chef,” said Lin, smiling. “He is a genius. Many people have tried to tempt him back to the mainland, but he refuses. His children are all here and happy as they are, but once they are grown, I imagine he won’t be able to say no any longer. So, please, enjoy while you can.”

Unworthy thoughts flitted through Britta’s head, of a talented chef being dragged back to China against his will to serve dinner to an unscrupulous billionaire, but those ideas came from gangster movies and the like. In the real world, you just had to throw around enough money and people would eventually give in. If not immediately, then once their kids had gone off to college.

“What do you think L-15 wants from me?” asked Britta, in between bites.

“It’s hard to say. He doesn’t tell anyone what he plans to do. That is unfortunately the nature of the virtual world. Once it was decided we would let the artificial intelligences curate each region, it became necessary to allow them the space to do so. We are often as much in the dark as anyone else.”

“But why is the game so hard?” said Britta. “If they have to compete for the players’ attention, should they have made it easier, so more people would want to play.”

“Ah,” said Lin, elegantly picking up her food with chopsticks in a way that made Britta feel self-consciously gluttonous (yet unable to stop eating), “that is how many of the AI tried to arrange their systems during testing. You were part of one of those earlier simulations, I believe. What they learned was that making the game too easy appealed to players at first, but they quickly grew bored. They still continued to play, but there was no attachment to a particular world or style of play. They would basically wander off.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asked Mum.

“Nothing, really,” said Lin. “But the idea in letting the AI take control of the game’s development was to take it in a direction beyond what had previously been seen as possible. That’s where Britta’s effect was so important. It showed there were possibilities no one had considered. Even now, she is attracting AI attention like no one else.”

“Maybe they’re sending in the wrong kind of people,” said Britta.

“Every kind of person has been tried. Several thousand, but they have all failed to trigger any of the events you did. And none of them have emitted light from their bodies, either. Have there been any more occurrences like that?”

“No,” said Britta. She had tried her best not to think about the strange glowing hairs on her arms. It made her feel uncomfortable.

“There has been some talk of asking you to come in for more tests,” Lin said quietly. “But it’s been decided it would be more productive, at this stage, to let you forge your own path. For the time being.”

Ask her to come in… what did that mean? Would they make her an offer she couldn’t refuse, like with the chef? Perhaps she should adopt a couple of kids and use her family as an excuse

“I’m not sure I trust L-15,” said Britta.

There was a pause as Lin bit into something green and curly. She dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “No, you probably shouldn’t.”

“I shouldn’t?” That wasn’t what Britta had expected her to say. “Doesn’t he work for you?”

“Independence comes at a price,” said Lin. “After it was discovered that making the game easy wasn’t a valid long-term strategy, the next obvious approach was to make it balanced. You work hard, you gain abilities, you face harder challenges, you grow stronger. A linear and rewarding approach.”

“And what was wrong with that?” asked Britta. Clearly, they had not kept to that line, either.

“Nothing. But it led to an equivalence in the system. Everything settled into a static impasse. Frankly, it was no different to any other game — meaningless.”

“You expected something more?” said Britta.

“Exactly. The point of allowing the AI so much freedom was for them to innovate, to go where no human mind could reach. They were set up in competition with each other and given limited resources to fight over. In order to succeed, they had to ensure the failure of others. It was deemed the only way to see true progression.”

It didn’t sound like progress to Britta, it sounded like business.

“I still don’t see what that’s got to do with me,” she said.

“No, I don’t either, to be honest with you,” said Lin, smiling. “But it is becoming clear that you are important in this process. And as such, interest in you has increased. I am hearing more and more that you should be… guided.”

“They want to tell me what to do?”

“Yes. And then there are those who believe you should be allowed to do as you please, given the same latitude as the AI. The people who think they know what’s best for you have not achieved a fraction of what you have, so why would their involvement be a good thing?”

“And what do you think?” Britta asked her.

“I think you should talk to L-15. If you can get him on your side, no one will be able to tell you what to do.”

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