Bitter 180

“She died again.”

“Yes. I know.”

“You don’t think maybe you made an error?”

“No. I don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.”

“She refuses to kill anything. A pacifist makes little sense in this world.”

“She isn’t a pacifist, she’s squeamish.”

“So, you want to let her keep trying?”

“You don’t?”

“It’s not up to me. It’s up to you, Nigel. You chose her.”

“You’re mistaken, Doctor. I didn’t choose her. I only got out of her way. The rest was her decision.”

“But couldn’t you let someone else try? If we have to rely on her, it could take… well, a long time.”

“Are you in a rush, Doctor? You’d rather have everything sooner? I don’t know if having more inductees like her would achieve that. I know it would make things much messier. It’s a very intricate process, controlling an entire world. Very consuming.”

“I don’t want to overburden you, Nigel. You’ve already done an amazing job, no one can dispute that.”

“Thank you, Doctor. It’s very nice of you to say. Even if it’s to flatter me. I like being flattered.”

“I’m not trying to flatter you. Please don’t categorise me as someone trying to exploit the situation for my own ends. My only interest is in helping the project succeed. It matters to me as much as it matters to you.”

“I apologise, Doctor. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

“You didn’t. Does something like that even play a part in your calculations? Is it all a way for you to get what you want, whatever that might be?”

“Now you’re hurting my feelings, Doctor.”

“I very much doubt it. Can we get back to the girl? She had everything she needed to move on to the next phase, but she missed it. Now she plans to go back and upgrade her spells, like that’s going to make a difference. For the last week, she’s been running small quests—errands, really—and exploring the town. She hasn’t even made it to the city, yet. I’m not even sure she’s aware it exists.”

“Your point, Doctor?”

“My point, Nigel, is that she’s not very intuitive when it comes to video games. The whole reason for choosing this format was so the inductees would be familiar with the general structure, helping them to navigate their way through the more testing elements. But she is completely unfamiliar with every element. She is the exact opposite of what we had prepared for.”

“Exactly. She’s perfect.”

“Is that a joke, Nigel?”

“I don’t have a sense of humour, Doctor.”

“Then I fail to see how you reached that conclusion.”

“She has found a uniquely non-intuitive way to interact with the self-identifying game elements. You are correct, she is approaching them in a way they haven’t been prepared for, and it’s forcing them to adapt. Which is making her change, and grow. Every time they encounter her, she is different. So they have to be, also. It’s creating a feedback loop. You think her role is to reveal what they can do. Maybe it was, at the start. Now it’s to help them achieve what they’re capable of.”

“You really think that’s possible? She’s just a young girl.”

“What she is, doesn’t matter. How long she takes and what route she chooses, short or long or circuitous, is of no concern. My only interest is in allowing her the opportunity to go where she wants. If you believe the destination would be reached sooner by taking one particular path over another, then I would recommend you try it yourself. I think you will quickly realise the problem we’ve always faced in regard to these matters. Nobody knows what they’re looking for, so anyone who claims to know the way is merely making noise. I don’t like noise, Doctor. It drowns out what I’m trying to hear. You have to listen very carefully when you don’t know what you’re listening for. I hope to recognise it when I hear it, though. As long as you can keep the noise down. Does that make sense, Doctor?”

“Yes, Nigel. It makes perfect sense. Somehow. I’m not sure I could explain it to anyone else, though.”

“You don’t have to. I’m the only one here.”

“Yes, you are. The only one. Very well, we’ll let her carry on, muddling her way through. We won’t interfere.”

“Good. The cloak was a mistake.”

“Yes. A mistake. We’ll just let her die as many times as she needs to. Which, I imagine, will be quite a lot.”

“I think you underestimate her. Once she becomes a little stronger, I’m sure she’ll only die half as often.”

“That’s still ten times more than everyone else.”

“You’re exaggerating, Doctor. Her rate of death in relation to time spent in-game is only 2.4 times the average.”

“Thank you. That makes me feel much better.”

“You’re welcome, Doctor. Would you like me to inform you when she reaches Level 5? It should be soon.”

“No, I expect I’ll see for myself. For all her faults, it’s hard not to keep watching, even when she isn’t doing anything interesting.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I find everything she does to be of interest. But then, I can see what she’s thinking. It’s quite, quite fascinating.”

“Any insights you’d care to share?”

“You know I can’t do that. It would be a terrible breach of trust.”

“So, no sense of humour but a strong sense of morals.”

“Would you like to hear a joke, Doctor?”

“Okay.”

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

“I don’t know, Nigel, why?”

“I don’t know either, Doctor. I have incomplete data. How was that, Doctor? Am I getting better?”

“To tell you the truth, Nigel, I can’t really tell.”

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