“They shot our drones down. That’s the bit that just doesn’t sit right.

I guess there’s an argument for using VROs because of the potential for parts to land on us… but maybe I’m wrong on that one. Maybe that was all base code.”

My vision is blurred, shapes but few details. The sound of a boot falling heavily on the table. The speaker puts his feet up.

“The rest of it though, pure VRO action.

I saw a few of them jerk, you know, when the connections were made? It’s a weird thing to see. They’re walking along like normal then they just freeze for a half a second. When the connection is made, they sync with the operator so fast that you can’t see the motion inbetween. They freeze mid step, you blink, then they’re pistol out, baton out, knees bent, starting to run, whatever. Fucking weird.”

A kettle boils at the other end of the room. Faint sounds of traffic. High up?

“I would love to see the code that sifts and matches the scenarios. That would be wild! Maybe soon huh? I have some theories about how it works, but I haven’t tested anything out yet. Never had the hardware, what with the law coming down on the purchase of AI kit. A lot of folks were mightily pissed off when that happened. Mind you, a lot of folks are in prison because of it too, so I’d say they have a right.”

The table creaks. The man gets up and walks to the other side of the room. Pouring water. He raises his voice slightly.

“The sheer processing required to match VROs to real-time encounters must be freaking huge! Unless there’s some whacky optimisation going on at central they must have one hell of a power bill each month.”

Walking back now.

“You’ve got to pull in all the feeds, cross match the local environments for compatibility, sort by best connection, filter out the lowest performers to get the best odds of success, then make the connection and do the hand-off, which I’m assuming involves pinging the court server to obtain clearance. Just the feeds alone must be gigs per second each and there must be tens of thousands…”

He sits back down.

“I like you guys. Honest, I really do. You’re friendly, helpful, capable, heck, half of my friends are like you. These VROs though, they’re fucking mental. I’d honestly prefer it if they’d let base code handle all situations. At least you guys can be reasoned with. But the law’s clear, no AI can get into the kind of shit they let VROs get into.

It blows my mind that somewhere out there, among the millions of gamers, there could be one right now looking at a corridor like the one outside this apartment. Right now, they could be being picked by central as the best fit for the job and within a second could be kicking the door in with those pneumatic legs of yours, intent on putting a bullet in my head.

Blows my mind… Hah!”

He takes a sip of his drink.

“But there’s that moment isn’t there? The jerk, the freeze, the moment of connection. I reckon that’s the weak spot. I’ve got it figured out now. It took a lot of time and nearly got me busted on a number of occasions, but I’ve been keeping an eye on you guys.”

He taps the side of his head, just behind his right eye.

“EM scanning implant. Stealth model. Hard to detect from the outside, and it allows me to see wireless connections as they’re made. Gave me some seriously fucked up dreams for the first couple of weeks, and I still can’t watch TV with both eyes open, but if the plan works it’ll have been worth the inconvenience a hundred times over.

“If I’m right, when your connection to central is re-established, and just as soon as they can find a VRO that’s playing seated, in a room similar enough to this one, you’ll freeze.”

He picks up his cup with both hands.

“Then, you’re mine.”

Seems to be smiling. Hard to tell.

“You see, I have my VR rig right here, and a friend of mine helped me mod it with a VRO chipset, with the config wiped of course, no connection to central.”

He walks round the table. Stood behind me now. He puts his hand on my shoulder.

“I played quite a bit back in the day. Got pretty good too. This game though, this one’s for real.”

He pulls the mesh bag from my head.


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