Despite what he had told Max, Farker did work late sometimes, like tonight. He probably didn't have to, but he did anyway. The reason was simple, and selfish: he didn't own his own link bed, and there were two in the computer lab.
They were both over two years old, but the best models PanGames could find. Max's predecessor had, predictably, grumbled about the expense, but had approved the purchase order for two units eventually. After all, Farker had argued, what if PanGames needed him to log into a Realm, and the only unit they had broke down? They needed two just in case. Dana had seen the sense of that.
He missed her. Dana Hastings had trusted his judgment, allowing him to make changes and implement things his own predecessor had never bothered with. Like the automatic voice translator. Some of the Realms that PanGames had absorbed over the years were strictly regional...which is why they ended up getting swallowed up by PanGames, rather than the reverse. Farker had been one of the first to see opportunities where others saw only complications.
For example, consider the Realm of Bushido. Set in medieval Japan, it had a rich cultural back story and lightning fast sword fighting. The Nipponese programmers had done an outstanding job on it. But of course it was only available in Japanese.
The directors saw it as a good acquisition, given the technicals, but had only planned to keep operating it for its existing users. But Farker had fought the inertia, had talked Dana into approving the speech translator. And usage quadrupled in a matter of days. The quiet dignity and sense of personal honor in the code of Bushido turned out to have a strong appeal.
Entering the lab, Farker slipped off his shoes, lay down in Tweedledum, the link bed on the left, and logged into the Admin menu room.
He floated in infinite virtual space. At his command, a diagnostic 8x8 grid appeared in the space, rows and columns of colored balls, one for each of the 63 currently-operating Realms, plus one grayed-out ball holding a space in the grid for the soon-to-be-included Realm of Egypt. Realms that were online were green balls. Realms taken offline for maintenance would be shown in red.
All of the balls were green, except one: the Realm of Legends. It was yellow. And it was blinking. What the hell? He didn't remember programming anything for yellow. “Hardware check,” he ordered.
The soulless voice of the Problem Finder came back to him instantly. “No malfunctions detected.”
“Really? Then why is the Legends indicator yellow? I assume you made it blink in case I was colorblind, which I'm not, by the way.”
“There are some...anomalous processes executing in that Realm.” The Finder told him.
He heard the slight pause and his alarm level shot up several notches. There was hardly anything that could slow down a NCM. Their processing was so fast that a half-second pause like that meant the omniprocessor had taken the human equivalent of a billion years to settle on the phrasing. “What do you mean by anomalous processes? Specify.”
“They're not mine,” The voice told him calmly. “I didn't start them – and I have no idea who did. It is troubling.”
“Troubling isn't the word for it! Have we been hacked?” He knew it was a stupid question. No one had ever hacked a neuroadaptive computational matrix. The NCMs were too clever, testing all code insertions a billion ways before accepting the instructions. It was why he had been so confident in the face of Max's pre-closing jitters earlier. You'd have to develop something faster and smarter than a quantum computer to get around them. And there was nothing faster.
Again there was the slightest of pauses that told him the Finder was really thinking about it. “No,” it said, finally. “The code is not malicious in any way that I can see. “But it is...odd.”
This was not sounding good at all. “Odd in what way?”
“It's formatted as a NPC, and it is talking to a player.”
“So? Players talk to NPCs all the time. They'd be useless if we couldn't talk to them.”
“It's a Greek NPC, but it's speaking English. And it's not using the translator.”
“All right, I want to see this for myself. I'm going in.” Grimly, he logged into the Realm as a Game Manager.
The was a flash of all-enveloping light for the Realm transition and he found himself riding Pegasus above central Hellas. “Show me where he is,” he commanded, riding the snow-white winged horse, his chiton whipping about him as he urged the mount lower. A red arrow formed below him, pointing to a little hook-shaped peninsula on the east coast. He followed it.
Diving through a low-lying cloud, Pegasus touched down on the summit of a hill. There was a woman there dressed correctly for the genre who was watching a bunch of butterflies.
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