Bitter 238

It was early Saturday morning and Britta lay in bed wide awake. Her first thought was to jump into the game and try to make up the time she’d lost, but she was also bursting for the loo.

As eager as she was to get back to New World, she had to be careful not to turn her whole life into a game. She would end up just as much a hostage as Stan.

She went to the bathroom and then washed her face. She quietly crept downstairs and had some toast and a cup of tea. It wasn’t even six yet and the house felt weird and empty. The spell was broken when Dad walked into the kitchen and farted loudly.

“Dad!”

“Sweetheart, it’s nature’s way.” This was his go to excuse for whenever he did something disgusting. “So, what will you be getting up to today?”

He made some tea as she told him her plan to interrogate Dennis for information on the Mayor.

“Dennis, huh?” Dad had been in the post office numerous times, but he had no idea which of the NPCs was Dennis. Up till then, he hadn’t even known they had names.

“What about you?” she asked him. “Where are you up to with your Bruce character?”

“I’ve set up my own private army. We’re operating out of a secret base in a hidden valley and our main focus at the moment is building gliders so we can attack people from the air.”

Britta didn’t really know how to respond to that.

She went up to her room and logged into the game. She took a moment to admire her new outfit and was immensely satisfied with her changes. She tried summoning the shade, just in case the spell was working, but it wasn’t.

The post office was full of NPCs. It was still early enough that most players were probably still in bed.

Dennis was serving behind his counter as usual. “Hello, how can I help you today?”

“Hello, Dennis. How’s your mother?”

She had carefully considered how to get him to talk to her about his relationship with the Mayor. All she could remember from the time she’d seen the two of them speak to each other was a mention of Dennis’ mother and an envelope given to Dennis in a very suspicious manner.

Dennis had clearly been scared and intimidated by the Mayor, and there had been some indication that as well as fearing for himself, it was his mother he was most concerned about.

“She’s very well, thank you. How can I help you today?”

There was no change in his demeanour. No interruption to the plastic smile.

“I’d like to talk to you about the Mayor, Dennis. I think I can help you with your problem.” She had no idea what Dennis’ problem was, or even if he had one, but it was worth a punt. He was bound to need help with something.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

Was that the real Dennis or just a recorded line for when the game couldn’t tell what a player had said? The plastic smile hadn’t wavered and the unblinking eyes didn’t reveal anything.

“What was that?” said Britta in a raised voice. “The Mayor told you to do what?”

She was loud enough for people to stop what they were doing and look over at her. Making NPCs this responsive to their environment was really quite impressive.

“Stop it,” hissed Dennis in an aggressive whisper. “What are you trying to do to me?” He was still smiling, but sweat had formed on his large shiny forehead.

“I need to talk to you,” Britta whispered back. “It’s important.”

His smile seemed to be weakening at the corners, but he valiantly held it in place. “I have a break in ten minutes. Meet me in the alley round back.”

Britta gave him a thumbs up and walked away. As she passed the wanted posters that covered one wall, she stopped to look them over. She was pleased with how that had gone. She was sure Dennis had a lot of useful information for her.

Her eyes scanned the wall and eventually came to rest on a poster that looked a bit newer than the rest. It took a moment for her to realise the picture was of her. It was a photograph, which was absurd—she hadn’t had her picture taken, plus cameras didn’t exist here—and the reward was for 10 copper, which was by far the smallest amount offered. Would anyone even bother for that much?

She was classified as a fugitive and her crime was: Gross public indecency and lewd behaviour. She was outraged. Gross? That was just rude. And she hadn’t acted lewd in any shape or form. She had maybe run away from the law, but that was hardly the crime of the century.

How would she visit Stan in jail, now? She’d be arrested the moment she stepped into the Guard House. Perhaps she should turn herself in and clear it up.

She looked around and then pulled the poster off the wall, quickly folding it and stuffing it into one of her many new pockets. No point tempting someone to bonk her on the head and drag her in for the reward, tiny as it was.

She pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and left the post office. There was a small alleyway that ran down the side of the building which she hadn’t noticed before. Had it always been there, or had they added it once Dennis mentioned it?

It didn’t matter. The important thing was that she had made progress. She slipped into the alley and made her way to the end. There was no sign of Dennis, but there was a door. She tried it, but it was locked.

Ten minutes passed, then twenty. Just as she thought she’d have to go back in and shake him up some more, the door opened. Dennis came out looking anxious. He was tall and skinny and jittery with nerves.

Behind him came an odd assortment of other people, at least six of them. Britta recognised them as the post office staff. There was a little old lady, a dark-skinned elf, a balding man with a face redder than hers… Despite their differences, they all wore a similar expression to Dennis. And they all carried weapons.

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