“Wh-what do you mean by war, Master?” Clippy asked nervously.
Requiem chuckled, shaking his head. “Just an expression. If I have any intention of winning this competition, I’ll need weapons.”
“You mean, like a sword or something? The rules seem to state no firearms.”
“No…” Requiem began walking back to the inn that bore his namesake, “Tell me, Clippy…what is the strongest weapon a man can possess?”
“Eh?” Clippy made a strange noise. “Is this like some kind of riddle or something?”
“Knowledge, Clippy,” Requiem sighed. “Knowledge is as sharp as any blade.”
Clippy didn’t respond, but even though her physical manifestation had already disappeared from his sight, he had the feeling she had a clueless look on her face. Ignoring that, he approached the inn and had to slow down and push through a crowd to get inside. At the sight, he almost went back outside to check and see if this was the same place until he saw Ginger running by without even noticing his presence.
The inn was crowded now. There wasn’t a single table without someone sitting at it, and Ginger looked completely desperate as increasingly more people flowed into the inn. Her grandma was sitting behind the counter now taking orders and filling out requests, but it looked like Ginger was responsible for cooking, waiting for the tables, and providing any other anonymous requests.
The third time she passed by, she finally noticed Requiem standing there. She stopped briefly and gave a quick nod.
“I’m sorry. It looks like people started coming to town to watch the tournament. I had no clue it was going to be this busy. You are lucky to already have a room reserved because we’re already booked!”
“Is that so?”
Requiem wasn’t terribly interested in Ginger’s problems. In fact, being busy should be a blessing for a stuttering business like her own. He did have a question for her, but he decided not to waste her time. However, to his surprise, she didn’t immediately walk away. Instead, her face seemed to twist as if she was considering something unpleasant. It was an expression that told Requiem she wanted to say something to him but didn’t know how to word it.
“Do you know where I can find a store to buy robotic parts and electronics? I also need to gain access to the internet.”
“Eh?” The question seemed to catch Ginger off guard, and she made a weird noise. “Oh, that… er… um… I mean, yes. If you go to the other side of the town square, you can find Rudy’s, that’s the parts shop. What is the internet? Is that like the intraweb? This town gets a shit connection, but a few places have access. There is a web café on the other side of town.”
Requiem nodded after receiving the information and then turned to leave.
“W-wait!” Ginger reached out and grabbed Requiem’s arm.
Her other arm was currently holding an empty mug that likely had once held some kind of wheat-based alcohol beverage. Requiem turned back. He knew she had wanted to tell him something, but he didn’t want to waste time trying to tease the information from her. If it was important enough, she should simply tell him. She still held her silence for a few seconds before closing her eyes and muttering something unintelligible under her breath. When she opened them again, it looked like she had made her decision to talk.
“Requiem… um… sir… I know this is wrong of me to ask, but I might need your assistance tonight.”
“I have the banquet tonight. Is there a problem?”
“Eh? Pr-problem!” Ginger’s eyes opened wide and she looked left and right as if this was a conversation that shouldn’t be touching anyone else’s ears. “N-no… no problem. Wait, you… you were invited to the noble’s banquet!? How? No… never mind that. Um… just stop by… late tonight… please. The lobby shuts down at three in the morning, meet me then- “
“Oi… girl, some service!” There was a shout from one of the tables.
This seemed to prompt several other people to start shouting too, and suddenly the bar became quite noisy. Requiem gave her a tight nod.
“I will come.”
Ginger returned a relieved look and a nod of her own before turning and running back to the front desk to pour some more drinks. Requiem went through what he knew about the situation. He wondered if this had anything to do with the sick mother. He really didn’t want to get involved, but Ginger had already proven to be a reliable source of information. At the very least, he could hear her out.
Requiem left the crowded area and began heading to the location that Ginger had indicated. Sure enough, just across the square was a small shop called Rudy’s. At this point, he noticed that Clippy was projecting herself in his vision and walking aside him now. She wore an unpleasant look on her face, and Requiem could only sigh at the prospect that he had picked such a difficult AI to work with.
“What is it?” he finally asked.
“What do you think she wants in those twilight hours?”
“I couldn’t guess. I suspect she wants something involving her mother.”
“Her mother?” Clippy froze. “That’s echii!”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Requiem turned to her and spoke loudly enough that a few people close to him gave him strange looks.
Even though he could hear and see Clippy, no one else did, so it must look like he was talking to himself. However, what Requiem saw was Clippy walking with her head down, her face bright red, and her pointer fingers pushing against each other. She was mumbling something Requiem could only hear because of his better than normal auditory processing power.
“To think… she not only wants to do this and that… she wants to involve her mother as well… They say men like it when they can have the mother and the daughter at the same time…”
Requiem decided to start ignoring what Clippy was saying. He didn’t go so far as to literally mute her voice, but he instead entered the store and focused on buying the parts he needed. As he continued to collect parts, Clippy had finally collected herself and started watching curiously over his shoulder.
Requiem picked out a variety of tools from a soldering iron to a pack of screwdrivers. This store seemed to be exactly what he was looking for. It was a parts store in the fullest, including buckets of screws, scrap metal, and circuit boards harvested from innumerable sources. He’d have to praise Ginger when he had a chance. He might take her up on whatever assistance she requested of him.
“Why are you grabbing all that junk?” Clippy asked.
“It’s not junk, it is supplies. I can use this stuff to build something. I’m going to be doing some building before the banquet.”
At this point, Requiem wasn’t moving his mouth. He was conveying the words directly to Clippy. It was a tricky thing to remember, and he still didn’t have the program he wrote free from bugs. It seemed like emotional outbursts could override the programming and cause him to speak out loud. He didn’t think it was odd for people to suddenly speak something on their mind out loud, but as long as he kept his cool when speaking to Clippy, it wouldn’t be a problem.
“It looks like junk.” Clippy twisted her mouth at a jumble of wires Requiem was searching through.
Would it be so bad to alter her personality routines just a little? Requiem fought with that question while he took the remaining stuff over to the counter and paid. In the end, he decided not to. He didn’t know what part of her programming allowed her adaptability, and he couldn’t risk breaking her.
The cost of the “junk” that the retailer bundled up was nearly 300 credits. He wouldn’t have much to keep on going much longer. He took the bag and started heading out, following the directions to this internet café. He had to ask for directions two more times before finally making it there.
“It’s 30 credits an hour.” The man behind the counter droned.
“30 credits!” Requiem wasn’t able to restrain his outburst.
He felt like this body’s outbursts was getting harder and harder to control, but in all fairness, 30 credits an hour was a lot more than he thought it would be. Just 2.5 hours of use was already more than a night’s stay at the inn with food!
“Hey, getting intraweb signal this far from the Arc is tough. You won’t find better intraweb anywhere in this colony!”
Requiem decided not to get into a fight. The man had a large gut belly and looked terribly out of shape. He feared the man would have a coronary if he got into a fight with him. Instead, he paid the fee and received a card key. To his surprise, the café was more like a private room. Requiem decided not to question why intraweb access included a private room. He also didn’t ask why his shoes slightly stuck to the floor as he walked. Some things were better off unasked.
“So, what’s the plan, Master?” Clippy spoke up.
She didn’t create a physical presence, but given the quarters were fairly tight, Requiem didn’t mind.
“This is how we’re going to get information.” Requiem gestured to the computer in front of him.
In truth, it looked incredibly dated. It had a screen, for starters. The computer console he found Clippy in aside, Requiem couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a computer that didn’t directly link into someone’s visual cortex. He also didn’t remember the last personal computer that required keyboard instructions and a mouse. It felt like an absolute dinosaur, even for Requiem.
“Oh? So Master is going to connect to the intraweb and get some information?”
“No…” Requiem laughed. “You are.”
Requiem began typing on the computer. He brought up a command module and began entering in fresh code.
“I told you before; I don’t network. I’m going to widen up the bandwidth a bit, then set you up to download. They don’t let AI’s network in this world, but I should be able to put up a work around so that you can download information. After that, you’ll be a bit more useful to me.”
“Hey!” Clippy let out a hurt noise. “CLIPI is plenty useful!”
“I need information, Clippy, maps, names, locations, definitions, how-to guides… I need to know about the world we live in.”
“Muu… it’s not like I don’t understand, but CLIPI doesn’t know what would be useful to Master. What should CLIPI download?”
“Eh!?” Clippy let out a strangled noise. “E-everything?”
“That’s right. By the time we’re done, you’ll have the collective knowledge of the entire intraweb.”
“It’s too big! I don’t think it can fit in my programming…”
“You’re using my neural pathways. I should be able to expand and make it fit.”
“O-okay,” Clippy’s voice was really low and docile. “As long as Master is gentle.”
“Clippy… we’re talking about memory…”
Requiem frowned at the thought of Clippy’s eccentric behavior. He still didn’t know exactly what to make of her. However, if her programming survived the download, she’d at least be useful as a reference guide. Requiem pulled out her programming and inserted it into the computer. After typing for another minute and starting a newly written program, her voice suddenly came out over the loudspeakers.
“Oh, I can no longer feel master…” her voice sounded depressed.
“You should be able to access the intraweb now. Start pulling the data.”
“What do I start with?”
“Books, maps, encyclopedias, anything that looks useful. Just start at A and move from there.”
“Ah… this will take a really long time, Master!”
“I know, but information is power, and in the next few hours, we’ll have access to all of it.”
“Master… what are you going to do in the meantime?”
“Me? I’m going to start making my arsenal.”
As Clippy continued to download book after book, Requiem began pulling apart technology and modifying it. She watched him through the webcam as she worked, letting the downloading take on a passive role as she watched him pull apart pieces and reassemble them into new forms.
The day continued as Clippy filled her data banks with information. Suddenly, something in the data stream caught her interest and she started looking through some of the stuff she had downloaded. Before long, she was just as busy as Requiem was.