All eyes in the Moonshot were glued to the array of flatscreens hanging above the bar. Normally the displays would show what beers were on tap and how much of each draught was left in the kegs behind the wall, but for this special occasion, the bartender had switched the video feeds to IARPA’s secure stream from the first challenge site.
It had been hours since the official end of the challenge, and everyone was wondering—some louder and more drunk than others—what was taking the judges so long to evaluate and score each team’s build. The trash talking back and forth between DevLok and Watchover employees had threatened to escalate several times, but in each instance a physical altercation was avoided either by a third party stepping in—usually the bartender, sometimes Pseudo—or because someone noticed the Code Overload reporter, Watanabe, poking his nose into the fray. Even though both companies’ respective heads had long since departed the Moonshot, they would quickly get wind of anything that got livestreamed on the internet.
Nobody wanted to lose the challenge, but nobody wanted to lose their job even more.
Finally, less than half an hour before the bartender would legally need to stop serving alcohol, the screens flickered and stopped playing the slideshow of requirements for the first challenge. Emilio had done his best to ignore the slides, but he couldn’t completely suppress the hard-wired human need to pay attention to moving lights. He thought he might have most of the slides memorized at this point.
Several people began shouting and whooping at the “please stand by” signs that now glowed above the bar below IARPA MARSAITT logos. Everyone moved forward to get into position for when there would actually be something to see.
Tama looked around, didn’t see Cameron, and was about to ask someone if they’d seen them when the wunderkind themself shuffled in from outside, their cheeks red from the cold. What had they been doing outside? They didn’t smoke. Tama waved them over to where the Watchover team was clustered.
“You’re just in time,” Tama said. “You got a drink?”
Cameron looked around at all the other developers holding pint glasses with varying levels and colors of liquids. “Do I need one?”
“You’re going to want one for toasting, when we find out just how much we dominated,” Tama said, directing the last line at the nearest DevLok programmer.
Emilio raised an eyebrow at Tama, then turned to the dark-skinned woman who had just pushed her way up to the bar. “Did you hear something just now, Noor? Kind of like an annoying buzzing sound?”
Noor shook her head, and Tama noticed her cheeks were also pretty rosy. Interesting. “I’m not getting in the middle of this pissing contest, Emilio.”
“It’s a building contest,” Emilio said, waving up at the screens. “And may the best robot win.”
“Robotsss,” Tama hissed, throwing an arm around Cameron. “Plural. Strength in numbers. Isn’t that right, Cameron?”
“I am very uncomfortable right now,” Cameron deadpanned.
“Sorry.” Tama withdrew his arm.
“I’ll get my own drink, thanks.” Cameron moved away, but their eyes kept cutting back to the bar—and Noor, if Tama wasn’t mistaken.
Another loud murmur rustled through the crowd as the flatscreens changed again, the MARSAITT logo dissolving into a blank grid with obscure column headings. Murmurs became words as the assembled coders attempted to decode the abbreviations and acronyms.
“ESP? The fuck is that?” someone slurred. “We looking for psychic powers now?”
“Electrostatic particles,” someone else shouted back. “Martian dust, man. Sticks to everything. IARPA said they were going to simulate it in the challenge, see how well our bots dealt with it.”
“Thought we just had to keep our build from falling over in the wind.”
“Mars barely has any atmosphere,” said another voice, and the implied you idiot was clear in the speaker’s tone. “Wind’s not the problem. Reduced visibility and sunlight is.”
“No solar power, no line of sight,” came yet another voice. “That’s why our bots needed to be able to make decisions based on limited input signals—”
“That’s right! Fully autonomous!” Two raised hands met in a loud high-five at the end of the bar.
“Your mom’s fully autonomous!”
When the grid began filling with numbers, Tama forgot about watching Cameron to see if they were, in fact, trying to get closer to...