Bitter 199

“So, they arrested you?”

“Yes,” said Stan. “I was quite interested to see where this was headed, so I didn’t make a fuss, but then I noticed a lot of buttons on my status screen were greyed out. Felt like things weren’t going to go my way, all of a sudden. I was being marched off to jail on a trumped-up charge and would probably get twenty years of hard labour with no parole. Decided I should probably think of a way out. Which is why I called you. Any ideas?”

“I don’t think the game can really keep you in here,” said Britta. “Not for twenty years. Someone can just unplug your pod, can’t they? Or Dr Reedy could do it from mission control.”

“I don’t know,” said Stan. “There shouldn’t have been a way for me to get stuck in here in the first place. Which means something went very wrong. And if the game’s keeping me in here on purpose, that’s even more worrying.”

“Why would it do that?” asked Britta.

“I can’t say for sure, but NPCs don’t usually respawn until you die, or you log out. It could be the game doesn’t want Freddy coming back to life. Not yet, at least.”

What Stan was suggesting made a lot of sense to Britta. The problem with New World was it kept resetting. That made it very hard to create a realistic narrative. Characters didn’t get a life story here, it was more of a short loop, endlessly repeating. And if the loop was associated with the person who created it, they would be the key to lengthening it.

“You could try killing yourself.” Britta had used that approach with the dwarf in the mines. She hadn’t wanted to die, but like her logging out earlier, it made for an easy escape route.

“Yes,” said Stan rather hesitantly. “I could. I just have this horrible feeling I might die if I did that.”

“What do you mean?” said Britta, shocked. “You think you’ll die for real?”

“I know it’s unlikely, but if the game really wants to keep me in here, it would need a way to stop me from logging out. Like you said, someone could just pull the plug. So it would have to find a way to stop that from happening.”

“I don’t think the game would put your life at risk, though,” said Britta, not entirely sure that was true.

“It shouldn’t be able to do this.” He raised his manacled hands and waved them around as much as he could. “But it did.”

He did have a point. They didn’t know what the game was doing, or what it was really capable of.

“We need to talk to Dr Reedy,” said Britta, ready to hand over responsibilities to someone else. She’d been fine with investigating the case of the crazy dead dwarf, but now things were getting a bit creepy. She didn’t in all honesty think the game would try to kill them, but knowing that it could was enough to send a shiver down her spine.

Britta looked up at the sky. She could log out and phone Dr Reedy, but she was probably watching. “Dr Reedy?”

There was no reply.

Stan shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I just hope the game hasn’t cut us off from the outside world.”

It hadn’t occurred to Britta that even if she could log out to the white room, it didn’t mean she could exit the game completely. What if she was stuck in here, too?

“Hello, Britta?”

Britta sighed. It was a great relief to finally hear Dr Reedy’s voice.

“Dr Reedy?” Britta looked up into the sky, even though she knew that wasn’t where the voice was coming from. “Do you know what happened?”

“Yes. Sort of. Not exactly.” It was strange hearing the usually very exact doctor being so vague. Clearly, they weren’t sure what was going on, either. “We’ve been doing some tests. This isn’t coming from our end. At least, this wasn’t instigated by anyone here.”

“Is she talking to you?” asked Stan. “I can’t hear her.”

“Yes,” said Britta. “She says they’re looking into it. Dr Reedy? Can you get Stan out?”

There was a pause before Dr Reedy answered. “There's a problem, I’m afraid. It’s something I should probably speak to him on his own about, first.”

“She says there’s a problem, but she wants to talk to you alone about it.”

“Well, she can’t, can she? Tell her I don’t care, she can say it to you.”

“He says—”

“Yes, I heard him,” said Dr Reedy. There was another pause. “Stanley’s in a coma. His body isn’t responding to any attempts to revive him. We know his device is responsible, but the Anderson cradle should have kicked him out of the game. We’re reluctant to turn the machine off while we aren’t sure of the consequences.”

It sounded like Stan’s theory might be right after all. Britta relayed the information to Stan who took the news calmly.

“Interesting.” He smiled. “Very interesting. Seems like this time the game’s playing for keeps.”

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