Bitter 570

“You really think that’s a good idea?” said Mum. “From what you’ve said, it seems like this L-15 person intends to use whatever method is the most convenient to get what they want. Do morals even figure into their programming?”

After not having said very much so far, Britta was a little taken aback by Mum’s sudden forthrightness. Clearly, she had been paying attention. Her questions were all on point.

“They are bound by certain limitations,” said Lin, “but it’s hard to define morality for people, let alone a computer. In a world where death is a temporary state, and objects are infinitely reproducible, how do you teach someone not to kill or steal?”

“That is terrifying,” said Mum. “Please tell me these AIs won’t be allowed to operate in this world. I can only imagine the harm they would do in the name of progress.”

Mum sounded like Dad when he talked about the future of mankind under an evil robot overlord, which he did quite regularly.

“I agree,” said Lin. “It would be extremely dangerous, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t make it happen.” She sighed. “I’m sorry, I don’t have the kind of influence or power to stop these things from happening. If it’s any consolation, it’s still some way off before there’s any chance of it becoming a reality.”

Mum put down her chopsticks and looked like she’d lost her appetite. Then a new selection of dishes arrived and she picked them up again.

“So the idea is to let the AI fight it out so that they push the limits of what’s possible to their extreme, and we discover something new and amazing that the normal human brain would never be able to think of?” asked Britta.

“I suppose that’s one way of looking at it,” said Lin. “I don’t know where we’ll end up, but I’m sure you can see the possibilities. The greatest advancements come at times of war.”

“The greatest casualties, too,” said Mum.

“Very true,” said Lin.

Britta looked around the restaurant again. She noticed the driver sitting at one of the tables, partly hidden in shadows even though the place was ablaze with lights, alone with a single plate of boiled potatoes. Even if he was on some kind of special diet, potatoes weren’t considered that healthy. Maybe they weren’t potatoes.

“Why am I really here?” Britta said.

Lin stopped delicately dipping a tiny dumpling in sauce and looked up at Britta through large brown eyes. “You think I have an ulterior motive?”

“No, I think you have one motive,” said Britta, “I just don’t know what it is.”

Lin sat back, straightening her back and looking even more regal than before. She was Britta’s idea of a princess made real. It was almost laughable that Britta aspired to be more like her. She would need to change everything about herself to get anywhere close, probably twice over.

“The truth is, I believe you are more important than anyone has realised. They are aware that you are special, but only up to a point. You are still a player, just one who has slipped in through a specific opening, and they believe they only need to find that same opening to be able to follow you.”

“And you don’t think that’s true?” asked Britta.

“No. I think you can make openings wherever you choose. That is the thing that’s special about you. You.”

Britta wasn’t sure if she should take that as a compliment or not. Wasn’t it another way of saying it had nothing to do with her, it was just a passive effect she wasn’t really controlling? Like a pretty girl who was born beautiful, and got everything she wanted without even trying because of it.

Only, Britta wasn’t beautiful, and she didn’t get what she wanted. People were just waiting to see what use to them she could be.

But then, didn’t pretty girls have the same problem?

“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do,” said Britta. “The more aware people become of me, the more they’re going to want to take control of what I can do.” She could see herself being dragged off to be tested on. She’d already felt that kind of interest when she’d met with President Wu. His daughter probably wasn’t all that different. “What do you think I should do?”

“I think,” said Lin, “that you’re very smart. You can see the potential for attracting the wrong kind of attention, and you’ve kept a low profile, as far as you’ve been able. I suspect you plan to leave the game as soon as you find yourself in a position you aren’t comfortable with.”

“Isn’t that what anyone would do?” asked Mum.

“No,” said Lin. “Most people in Britta situation would cling on and try to make a deal that benefited them. They would, of course, be tricked into thinking that’s what they had achieved, while being stripped of all control over their own actions.” She began eating again as though what she’d just said wasn’t a horrifying representation of the world.

“I’m not going to let that happen,” said Britta. She didn’t really know how she’d be able to live up to those words, but she felt saying them out loud was the first step.

“I believe you,” said Lin. “But I think it will be hard, assuming things continue the way they are going. You could just reduce your activity in the game to the bare minimum and hope events proceed in a manner that leaves you as a minor anomaly no one really has time to investigate, but I doubt that will be possible now that the AI themselves have expressed an interest in you.”

“They’ll force me to play?”

“They’ll… do something. And I don’t think that’s anything to be too worried about. You have proved yourself more than capable of standing toe to toe with them. What you need to be careful of is having to fight on too many fronts at once. You need someone to watch your back. Allies.”

“You want me to make friends?” Now she really was asking too much.

“At least one or two. Which is why I’d like you to consider forming a party. With me.”

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