The Crossings, as a major galactic transport nexus, was lively at all times of the day. A traveller with a few hours to spare could while those quite comfortably people-watching -- assuming that they were able to avoid being sold a number of unusual items by salespersons who were very good at their jobs. It made for a busy crowd at the best of times, and one of the rules of the universe seemed to be that when you needed to go somewhere, the crowd of people blocking your path was more intense than normal. Or at least that was what Dairine suspected.
Fifteen minutes earlier, Kit had asked her for her help, sounding unusually frustrated. In Dairine's limited experience, she couldn't think of a time she had heard him sound frustrated. Further, she was intrigued as to why he had asked her for help; Nita and Kit had been joined at the hip for as long as they'd had wizardry.
Her interest piqued, she had thrown herself to the Crossings and then, with the aid of Spot, had looked for Kit. He'd been too distracted to give directions, but Spot was on the case and led her through the crowds of shopping bipeds. Dairine was less adept at slipping through a crowd than Spot, causing a few people to grumble in her general direction. She spared a moment to nod an apology, though she wasn't quite sure that nodding meant the same thing to the Xarinthine as it did in her culture. She supposed she'd find out if a Declaration of Insult (Minor) was delivered to her in the next few hours.
"Over here," Spot said, guiding her towards a passageway that Dairine had never noticed before. She brought up her map of the Crossings on her phone. It was a passageway towards the tanks storing the breathable air mix for the methane-based lifeforms who visited a different part of the Crossings.
"Huh," Dairine said, bringing up a protective bubble around her. She had been told that the station wouldn't allow lifeforms to be exposed to an atmosphere toxic to them, but she'd rather not test it. She allowed an hour of air inside the bubble, with a panic button that would send her back to breathable air if she ran short. That done, she started to make her way through the passageway, Spot sticking close to her heels.
The passageway was narrow and low, and Dairine was able to reach up and touch the roof without extending her arm its full length. Fortunately it was well-lit, with a line of blue-white lights embedded into the wall at shoulder height. Dairine followed the length of the corridor, turned the corner and found Kit.
Kit was crouching on the floor next to a closed door, his Edsel antenna resting along his thighs. A keypad was set into the wall just along from the door, and he had his hand resting on the keypad while he frowned at the door, lips pursed in thought. At first, Dairine thought that Kit was leaning on the keypad for balance, but she revised her assessment after a moment. He had the intent posture of someone listening very closely to something, and the frown suggested that what he was hearing didn't make a lot of sense.
"Dai," Dairine said, coming to a stop near Kit. "Is this what's got you all wound up?" She nodded at the keypad.
Kit straightened up, stretching his arms above his head. He then looked at Dairine in puzzlement.
"You're here fast," he commented. "I'm pretty sure you were still at your place when I messaged you earlier."
Dairine shrugged. "Nita's working on her college applications. It was get out before she kicked me out."
Nita and Kit had been a regular fixture at the Callahans' dining table for the last few weeks, and Dairine would often come home to them complaining about their applications and how difficult the questions were to answer. It all seemed bizarre to Dairine, as they were treating it as if the fate of the universe rested on it and she knew that they both had seen what that looked like.
From Kit's grimace, he didn't seem to agree. "Don't remind me," he said with feeling. "I never want to write another essay again."
"Don't you think you two are making a big deal about it?" Dairine asked. "It's just a college application, not the end of the world. You know that, so why get so worked up about it?"
Dairine had expressed these exact sentiments to Nita just as she was leaving to assist Kit. Nita had responded with a sour remark that Dairine would understand when it was her turn, which Dairine strongly doubted.
Kit just shrugged.
"I suppose it's not as bad as facing the Lone Power." He smiled wryly and added, "But you probably should stop saying that to Nita."
Clearly, Nita had been complaining to Kit about Dairine's comments. Dairine longed to know what she had said; Nita had a way with words when she was in a temper.
"What's the problem?" Dairine asked instead. "Isn't it just a stuck door?"
"That's what I thought when Sker'ret asked me to take a look at it," Kit said. "But the more I look at it, the more I think that there's something more to the thing making the door open and close. Something smart. So I thought of you."
Dairine smiled. It had been an uncomfortable realisation that she was no longer the hotshot wizard that moved planets. It had been an even more uncomfortable realisation that Nita was widely seen as the rising star of their generation. She wasn't sure how to feel about that. It was flattering, therefore, that Nita's partner would think of Dairine when faced with a new problem.
"I suppose I can take a look," she said, trying to sound casual. "Spot? Wanna create a connection between us, little guy?"
Spot walked out from behind her, his sleek black casing reflecting the blue light overhead. He looked like he belonged on Tron, and Dairine hid her grin behind her hand. Spot had been going through some issues lately that were like an AI adolescence, and she didn't want to upset him. His legs folded underneath him at the halfway point between Kit and Dairine, and he emitted a soft hum.
"Here we go," Dairine said for Kit's benefit, then initialised the wizardry that turned Spot into a server hub between herself and other intelligences.
It had been some time since Dairine had used this side of her wizardry, as it had fallen by the wayside in favour of her learning to handle stars. She felt a little rusty and uncoordinated as she reached out and connected to Spot-as-server, fumbling towards the other intelligence like it was her first time using a computer. It was embarrassing, but the quicksilver way of thinking came back to her after a moment.
Hello? she said. Can you hear me?
There was no response, but Dairine knew there was someone there. She waited ten seconds and said Hellooo?
… what … ? came back finally. Dairine got the impression instead that the consciousness were only half-listening to her, concentrating on something that they considered to be more important. I'll be done in a minute.
What it was doing was not clear. The door remained shut.
Dairine waited seventy-five seconds, almost an eternity in this space, before asking, Done what in a minute?
Her only response was a martyred sigh. There was something else there too, now that she was listening for it, a jaunty electronic song that seemed strangely familiar. Dairine was certain that she had heard it numerous times before.
Are you ignoring me? We aren't going away.
She wasn't sure that they were ignoring her. That didn't seem right. The emotion she mostly felt was intense concentration rather than annoyance, and the song really bugged her. She had definitely heard it before, and recently as well.
Spot, where have I heard that song before?
The answer came back immediately. That app on your phone. The one you play when going to school.
Dairine couldn't believe it. She had recently installed onto her phone a number of mobile games to play while going from place to place when she couldn't teleport. The games had done more than that, and she had received a few detentions over the last few weeks for playing with her phone under her desk in boring classes. Her current favourite for playing on the bus was one where you guided a postal officer around the world while fighting off monsters by tapping in time with the songs on her phone.
Seriously? And Nita and Dad said playing MelodyKnight would never come in handy.
The satisfaction of a mystery solved made the waiting marginally more tolerable, and gave Dairine time to think about what to do next. If the intelligence on the other end was sophisticated enough to find enjoyment in a mobile phone game, it must be intelligent enough to find the thought of opening and closing a maintenance door stultifyingly dull.
Spot, can you pull this guy's gaming history? I want to see what else it's been doing.
Spot sent the data across and Dairine blinked. It was apparently running several billion accounts at once. She had wondered why there was an upswing of popularity for this particular game on the station and now she knew that it was just one person. She did some quick mental arithmetic on the processing power necessary to run that many accounts, and the numbers were mind-boggling. It was a good thing that the AI occupied its time by playing games rather than playing God, because it could do some serious damage to the station otherwise.
It was a bored AI that had somehow managed to avoid the perils of near-absolute power, using it instead to play video games rather than hurt others. She could work with that.
The tune cut off and then the voice said Fine. Are you happy now? I'm listening.
MelodyKnight, huh? Good game.
It's okay, I guess. How come you're talking to me like this? Aren't you slowlife like everyone else?
Dairine grinned. She definitely could work with a curious nascent AI who longed to be spoken to like she was speaking to them now. She'd have to be careful with how she handled this next part, but she had been working with AI ethics for a while now. She knew how this was done.
I am slowlife, she agreed easily. She waited a moment, let the suspense build, before adding, But there are other quicklife species out there.
The intelligence scoffed. Like what, the Mobiles? They're not real. Wizard quicklife species? That's just a rumor on a forum. If they were real, where are they?
Dairine didn't miss the hopeful note in the AI's voice.
A very long way from here, she said. But you've met someone who knows them. I do. I'm their mother.
The AI was silent for ten seconds, and then said warily, I thought you were just a myth.
Nope. I'm real.
And the the Mobiles are real too?
Course they are. You should meet them - they're great. Dairine didn't bother to keep the pride out of her voice.
I can't. I'm stuck here.
That can be fixed. The other guy, Kit? He can build you a second station for you to use, and then we can download an instance of you onto that station.
Can you do that?
Sure. Dairine said blithely, deciding to tell Kit later that she had volunteered him to build a robot as quickly as possible. But we should probably test that first.
This was the part that Dairine was less confident about. She knew that the best way to start an intervention was to establish common ground, and that meant mobile gaming. She also knew that she would have to establish as quickly as possible the idea that quicklife and slowlife could co-exist quite peacefully, modern media's views to the contrary, and that there were merits of cooperation.
There weren't many mobile games that required co-op play. There was only one that Dairine could think of that required its players to interact with what slowlife considered the 'outside world'. It helped that Dairine was an avid player of it as well, and so could keep a watchful eye on what the AI was doing once they unleashed it on the world.
Well … she said, trying to sound casual, You know about the Pokémon Go raids that take place here every day, right?
Yeah. I can't play, though. Then, Wait, you can't mean…
Dairine wasn't quite sure what it had decided she was going to do, but figured she would work that out later. Now was the time to close the deal.
Leave it with Kit and I and we'll see what we can do. You'll have to wait, because we're not as fast as you -- and that galled to say, given that once she was able to create quicklife -- but we'll think of something.
Another silence, this one thoughtful. I suppose I can wait a little while.
In the meantime, would you mind opening the door when asked? You can fit in MelodyKnight around opening and closing the door.
All right. But don't take too long getting me something else to do. I don't want to be just opening doors for the rest of my life.
Don't worry. We'll be back soon.
Dairine opened her eyes to the door opening.
"Success?" Kit asked as he helped Dairine to her feet.
"You could say that," Dairine said. "Also our AI needs to play Pokémon Go."
"The AI needs to play Pokémon Go," Kit echoed, clearly dubious. "Why is that?"
"It needs to get out and socialise with other lifeforms. Pokémon Go will teach it about teamwork and respect for your fellow players." She shrugged. "Also, it's bored and it's a fun game."
"How is it going to play?" Kit asked reasonably. "You need to be able to walk around to visit the PokéStops and hatch your eggs."
Dairine looked at Kit with new interest. She had not expected Kit to be familiar with the game at all. Nita hadn't joined the Pokémon Go craze, even after Dairine had explained how it was working to reduce entropy, and had been dismissing it as almost like a cult.
"Team Valor?" she asked, and Kit grinned.
"Team Instinct. Which if I build a robot for this guy, he'll be joining."
"Please," said Dairine, a proud member of Team Mystic. Then the second half of his sentence caught up with her. "How hard would it be to build a robot?"
"Pretty hard," Kit said casually. "Especially given the changing environmental elements for the different parts of the Crossings, let alone if it wants to travel off-world. But I need something to do around college essays."
"Well, I can help," Dairine said quickly. "It'll go faster with a team, right?"
"Yeah, it would." Kit stood up and brushed dust from his pants. Dairine tried not to smirk. Her forcefields didn't let in dust, which was a major achievement as dust could get in anywhere. "Let's go back to Earth and start designing this robot. The sooner the better, right?"
"Yeah," Dairine said. "I pretty much promised we'd get it done immediately."
"I knew it," Kit sighed.
Three weeks later, at a midday Crossings raid for Pokémon Go, the usual attendees met a new player. He was tall, bulky and shy, but fielded several 100% IV Pokémon. By the following week he had a Pokémon in each of the Crossings' gyms and maintained them fiercely. Some people suspected cheating.
Dairine knew better. She sent the link to the Crossings' discord server to Kit with a smiley face, and made a mental note to go back there next week and challenge the AI for the gym. After all, she had an AI to provide ethics counselling to, and she'd learned that it was better to sneak that in around more entertaining activities.