Read on for an extract from THIS IS NOT A GAME, the prophetic thriller from Walter Jon Williams. (US/ UK /AUS).
This Is Not a Mastermind
Plush dolls of Pinky and the Brain overhung Charlie’s monitor, their bottoms fixed in place with Velcro tabs, toes dangling over the video screen. Pinky’s face was set in an expression of befuddled surprise, and the Brain looked out at the world with red-rimmed, calculating eyes.
“What are we going to do tonight, Brain?” Charlie asked.
Pickups caught his words; software analyzed and recognized his speech; and the big plasma screen winked on. The Brain’s jutting, intent face took on a sinister, underlit cast.
“What we do every night, Pinky,” said the computer in the Brain’s voice.
Welcome, Charlie, to your lair.
Hydraulics hissed as Charlie dropped into his chair. Ice rang as he dropped his glass of Mexican Coke into the cup holder. He touched the screen with his finger, paged through menus, and checked his email.
Dagmar hadn’t sent him her resignation, or a message that gibbered with insanity, so that was good. The previous day she had hosted a game in Bangalore, the game that had been broadcast on live feed to ten or twelve million people, a wild success.
The Bangalore thing had turned out wicked cool.
Wicked cool was what Charlie lived for.
He sipped his Coke as he looked at more email, dictated brief replies, and confirmed a meeting for the next day. Then he minimized his email program.
“Turtle Farm,” he said.
The reference was to a facility on Grand Cayman Island, where he kept one of his bank accounts. The two words were unlikely to be uttered accidentally in combination, and therefore served not only as a cue to the software but as a kind of password.
A secure screen popped up. Charlie leaned forward and typed in his password by hand — for the crucial stuff, he preferred as little software interface as possible — and then reached for his Coke as his account balance came up on the screen.
Four point three billion dollars.
Charlie’s heart gave a sideways lurch in his chest. He was suddenly aware of the whisper of the ventilation duct, the sound of a semitruck on the highway outside the office building, the texture of the fine leather upholstery against his bare forearm. He looked at the number again, counting the zeros.
Four point three billion.
He stared at the screen and spoke aloud into the silence.
“This,” he said, “must stop.”