War and Peace: Chapter 42.1

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Chapter 42.1

Donald's voice was wood on a rasp from talking all day fueled only by beer.

A lot of things James had been puzzling over had been explained, such as the revolutionary advance in technology that was Shattered Land. The game seemed so far beyond human means because it hadn't been created by humans. Donald had created an AI, and the AI had created Shattered Land.

No—Donald had created building blocks, but you couldn't say he had created the AI any more than you could say that parents created adult human beings. Parents brought a baby into the world, but the baby grew up.

James stared at the grain of the booth's hardwood table; though it tracked generally in one direction, it had loops and whorls, swirling back on itself time and again.

He had known Donald Marsh for almost as long as he had been alive, and the Donald across from him today seemed to be telling the truth. Why did it still feel like something was missing?

Maybe just because the whole thing was so fucking crazy. All those years, James had believed he was the one working hard while Donald was playing around, getting rich just from the good fortune of having been born a genius. In reality, his friend had been a slave to money and crushing responsibility as much as James had ever been.

Donald was the first to break the ruminative silence. "So, now ya know. What you gonna do?" He drained the last of what had to be his seventh or eighth pint, then set the glass heavily on the table.

"Do?"

"Yeah. You ain't gonna go home and pretend like you heard nothin. So, what?"

"Now that the secret is out, what are you going to do?"

"I asked first." Donald drummed his fingers on the table. "Show me yours, I'll show you mine. Not in a gay way." A hint of his usual grin surfaced.

"What do you want me to do?" James asked.

"Want? Hell if I know." Donald drummed harder. "I wanna never gotten involved with these bastards. But even DE-16 can't build me a damn time machine."

"That's why you wanted someone to figure it all out?"

"Guess so." Donald shrugged. "It'd take more balls than I've got to blow the whistle on myself."

Blackmail kept Donald toeing the line. If someone else brought everything into the open, through a believable investigation showing that Donald hadn't spilled the beans, there would be no benefit to harming Donald's friends or family. James couldn't be the one to do it, having no credentials in the industry and no plausible means of investigation. But what if August Evans and Imran Muhammad came forward with the evidence?

The implications were unfathomable. This wasn't some Wall Street white-collar fraud. This was executive branches of government with black ops authorization all the way to the top, and the enemy was essentially in a position of control over the entire flow of information on the internet. How would they get the word out even if they wanted to?

"I need to think about it. And consult." James picked up his beer, taking a huge gulp. Just how many had he polished off? More than he could ever remember having, but nowhere near enough. "Now, you. What will you do?"

"Nothin." Donald leaned back, eyes tracking the lazy spin of the ceiling fan over their table. "The longer I do nothin, the longer life just keeps on, business as usual." He chuckled, a vacant sound with no hint of humor in it. "For me at least. Every government and bank that goes to hell screws up a fuck-ton of lives. But nobody can care about everything in the whole damn world." He ran his hands over his face and then left them there, leaning his elbows on the table. "Least, I can't."

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