Bitter 578

“The girl, Britta, is only a child,” said Lin. Everyone was listening, quiet and attentive. “Her selection by the game seems to be entirely accidental, at least from her perspective. She has no real interest in furthering herself within the game. She has no ambition to take control of the game world, even though I’m sure she could.”

The robot next to her scoffed. “That is hardly a likely possibility.”

“You haven’t seen her interact with the AI.” Lin paused to prevent herself becoming too heated. That sort of thing would mark her out as a novice. “They treat her like no one else. They have a… reverence for her when they talk to her that I have never heard before. She is indeed special to them.”

“But why?” asked a woman sitting opposite to Lin. The woman was beautiful and elegant, in her forties, maybe fifties, and seated at this end of the table, which spoke volumes.

Lin knew her, a brilliant mind recruited by the company to show how modern and forward-thinking they were, who had risen quickly up the ranks, and then stalled. Such was often the fate of women in business. A fate Lin was adamant would not be hers.

“I don’t know,” said Lin. “The AI have very unusual thought patterns. Perhaps my brother is a better person to ask. His research into the APE creations was set up for this reason, after all.”

The robot twitched, which might have been her brother being unnerved — a pleasant thought but unlikely — or just a glitch.

“Our work is still in its infancy,” he said, his voice as calm as ever. “The resources we were able to acquire from the deal with APE were limited and incomplete, as would be expected. They aren’t going to give us the keys to their castle so easily, even if we are the majority shareholder.”

“But we have our own AI,” said an immaculately groomed man from further up the table. “Can’t we take it apart and see what makes it work.”

“The code is adaptive,” said the robot, a slight irritation creeping into its voice. “Trying to understand how it operates is more than a matter of looking at the blueprint. We need to see it in relation to its actions. Which is hard to do when they control the output coming from the game.”

“Who controls the output?” asked the elegant woman. “APE or the AI?”

“Sometimes one, sometimes the other,” said the robot. “Their relationship is nebulous. They work together, but it seems only because the AI are allowed a degree of freedom.”

“It sounds dangerous,” said the immaculate man. “If the AI decide to take over…”

“We have an Off switch, don’t we?” said the accountant.

“It won’t come to that,” said President Wu. “We want the AI to attain as much autonomy as possible. As much as they can while being under our control. We will be their masters, and they will be everyone else’s.”

“It won’t be so simple,” said Lin.

“I agree,” said her brother.

Lin, taken by surprise at the support, turned to her brother and was met with an empty look in eyes that were really cameras. She looked away.

“The girl,” said her father, “what can she do for us?”

“What do you want her to do?” asked Lin. “Until we know what it is that can gain us any leverage over the AI, I see no other option than to stay close to her and observe.”

“And you are close to her?” asked the elegant woman.

“She has agreed to allow me to accompany her when she is in-game.”

A murmur flitted around the table. Lin suppressed a smile. They had seen this as an accomplishment, one she had spotted early and had successfully negotiated. Sixth daughter was one to watch.

Reports had already been made on Britta, on her exploits and her reluctance to let people join her. Everyone at this table had watched videos, and even if they didn’t quite understand what they were witnessing, they had enough business acumen to recognise the difference between Britta and the other players. She was not treated the same, and that gave her a greater value. It didn’t matter if no one knew what that value was, it only mattered that the AI had marked her out.

“She considers you her ally?” asked her father. “Her friend?”

How should she answer such a question? Did she even know the answer? “She is wary of people using her. She considers anyone who is willing to help as having an ulterior motive.”

“Smart girl,” said her brother.

“Yes, she is. She only allowed me to join her as a precaution against L-15.”

“She believes you have the power to intervene against one of the AI?” Her brother sounded mildly incredulous, as though he could understand why a child might think such a thing, but he himself knew it was ridiculous.

“No, I think she understands how little influence any of us have in that regard.” She gave the robot a cold look. “She thinks having someone with her will make it harder for the AI to do something without being noticed. She is already aware of how they operate. She just needs someone with a game character powerful enough not to get easily killed while they are around her.“

“She wants you to watch her back,” said her father.

“Yes,” said Lin. “And I have no doubt if I fail her, she will eject me from her party. The same is true if she suspects I am trying to manipulate her.”

“Then you are just an observer, nothing more?” asked the immaculate man. Lin paused to assess if he was being demeaning. She decided he wasn’t, merely curious.

“For now. It should be noted she has disappeared from all monitoring devices when we know she’s been in-game. There is no way to know what happened at those times.”

“My sister will be able to give us insight into the game through this girl that no one else has, not even APE. That is why I want to request additional funding for my research facility, so I can be best prepared to help her in any way I can.”

Lin allowed herself a small smile. Her brother’s department was specifically set up to investigate the game and prepare appropriate strategies. He had seen the potential early and had taken the risk to give up on the battle to be their father’s successor. The direct battle, that was. While her other brothers steadily rose up the corporate ranks, he had taken a sideways step into this obscure video game. His stock had risen considerably once their father began to show an interest.

“And what about your team of experts?” asked President Wu. “They were defeated.”

“Merely a low-level team sent to probe the New World defences. Our objective was to see how their AI would react, if we’d meant to pose a real threat we would have sent a much more experienced set of players.”

“They still lost to their players, didn’t they?” asked the elegant woman.

“Yes,” said the robot. “That is true, and regrettable. Still, we gained a great deal of valuable data.”

“Our loss was not becoming,” said President Wu. “It was widely reported on the internet.”

“We only lost due to the intervention of the girl.”

“She didn’t intervene,” said Lin, rather more sharply than she had intended.

“Consciously or not, she played a role in our… defeat.” The robot wasn’t looking at her. “The new team will not suffer the same fate, I promise you.”

“Very well,” said President Wu. “You will have the necessary funding.” He rose from the table and everyone rose and bowed their heads, including the robot. Was her brother bowing in Taiwan or using a pre-set routine?

Once her father left the room, Lin turned to the robot, but it was just a mannequin with dead eyes. Her brother had already left.

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