Bitter 129

Britta went to her room, sat down at her desk, and was instantly bored. She looked at the helmet peeking out from under her bed. Fat lot of use that was.

She turned on her computer and browsed the internet for a few minutes, purposefully avoiding anything to do with APE or VR technology. The game didn’t have to be the most important thing in her life, even though it was more interesting than anything else she had going on and also paid her a small fortune. There should be other things she could do. Things that any normal teenage girl would enjoy.

After a good ten minutes of thinking about it and coming up blank, she moved over to the bed and lay down. The ceiling was no more interesting than the internet. Roughly the same. She pulled the helmet out and rested it on her stomach.

It was an odd-looking thing with wires and sensor pads and bits sticking out. She imagined one day every house would have one of these; probably three or four. She put it on. She knew it wouldn’t work, but it felt comfortable. She lay there with a homemade hat on her head thinking about what a sad person she was becoming when her phone rang.

The name on the screen said Dr Reedy. Britta felt a sudden surge of panic and then calmed herself. There was nothing to get worked up about but it still felt like she’d been called to the Headmaster’s office. She answered the phone.

“Ah, hello, Britta. I thought you might be free to talk, now that you’ve exited the game.”

Britta noticed the slight emphasis Dr Reedy put on the word ‘exited’. Did she think Britta shouldn’t have died?

“I didn’t really have a choice.” Britta tried not to sound too defensive.

“Of course,” said Dr Reedy. “You were severely outmatched in that particular fight. We’re still trying to work out how the dwarf managed to enter the basic dungeon—that shouldn’t have happened. As soon as you left, the entire dungeon closed down and disappeared from our system.”

“How is that possible?” asked Britta.

“I wish I knew. We suspect it’s still there, just hidden, somehow. It really is quite perplexing.”

“Do you think it will come back when if I re-enter?”

“We hope so. There’s a lot more we’d like to see and only you can give us access to it, it would seem. It’s just a shame we’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”

There it was again, the little dig. Maybe Britta was imagining it, but that was twice now.

“You know,” said Britta, emboldened by being annoyed, “the whole twenty-four hour thing seems a bit unnecessary. Couldn’t you make it shorter?”

“We would love to, but it’s actually the hardware. Once the connection to the game is terminated, through death, the system needs that long to refresh. We are working on reducing the time it takes, but, well, it’s complicated.”

“But what about the spell I got, Eternal Healing? That supposedly lets me die and come back immediately. How does that work?”

“Indeed, I very much hope you get a chance to use it so we can see for ourselves. It could provide quite a breakthrough, assuming it works as you think. We have nothing like that in our database. Our kobold shamans have a much more basic repertory of spells. And we’ve never seen one of them cast buffs on a player. It’s giving the story development team all sorts of ideas for new narratives. Which is nice.”

There was a pause. Britta didn’t really know what to say. There wasn’t much to do except wait until tomorrow.

“I just wish I didn’t die so much,” she muttered.

“I’m with you there,” said Dr Reedy, a little too quickly for comfort. They probably did blame her for being so useless at the game and desperately wished someone else had gotten the ability to trigger these odd features. Someone good.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if the dwarf wasn’t unkillable,” said Britta.

“He’s killable,” said Dr Reedy, “it’s just that he’s meant to be fought at a much higher level than where you currently are. What we were thinking, though, was to perhaps give you some anti-dwarf tech.”

“Anti-dwarf tech?” said Britta, sitting up and pressing the phone harder against her ear so as to not miss anything.

“Yes. Nothing fancy. We have armour with specific race bonuses in the game already. You know, +2 against undead, that sort of thing. It wouldn’t be too hard to come up with something that had dwarf-specific resistance. Takes less damage, harder to hit, something along those lines. Wouldn’t change things too much, but might improve your survivability. Maybe a few other items to even the playing field.”

Britta wasn’t sure if ‘survivability’ was a real world, but she’d be happy to put on a Hat of Dwarven Invisibility or a Ring of Half the Damage.

“That would be great,” said Britta. “Will it be ready by tomorrow?”

“I should think so. I’ll get on it, now.”

Dr Reedy hung up and Britta lay back down again, a smile on her lips. Now she’d at least have a fighting chance against the dwarf, even if it was technically cheating. It wasn’t like the game was playing fair.

Britta stared at the ceiling. She looked over at the clock on her bedside table. Only twenty-two hours to go.

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