Britta felt calm. She had nothing to worry about. She didn’t have to convince herself of that, she genuinely believed it. She could teleport out of here. Nobody could do anything to her, nobody could touch her.
They came out of the post office’s back door carrying sticks and pipes and knives that may have been letter openers. They didn’t have real weapons—no swords or cudgels—it was all impromptu stuff. But the looks on their faces suggested they were serious about using what they had.
They spread out around her, blocking off her escape. Blocking off any conventional escape.
What occurred to her as she watched the clerks and staff of the post office was that her first thought hadn’t been that this was just a game.
That was her usual way to comfort herself when she found herself in danger. It’s a game, it’s not real, she couldn’t die or even get hurt.
But this time, her first thought was that she could handle this. She had a way out. Her only job was to make this work to her advantage, not worry about herself.
“Sorry,” she said, “can someone tell me what’s going on?”
“He sent you, didn’t he?” said Dennis holding what looked like a broom handle. He wasn’t smiling.
“Don’t play coy,” said the old lady. She held a silver dagger that didn’t look very sharp. “The Mayor sent you.” Her voice had all the qualities you’d expect from a grandma, along with a steely edge you wouldn’t.
“No, no, no,” said Britta, realising they thought she was one of the Mayor’s goons. She hadn’t actually seen any goons working for him, but she assumed he had them. He looked the type who had goons on his payroll. “I don’t work for the Mayor. I’m trying to find out why he framed my friend for murder.”
This news took the post office staff by surprise. They began chatting among themselves, slowly developing into a full-scale squabble.
“Stop,” said the old lady. “This isn’t the place or the time. We only have a few minutes left on our break. Listen, young lady, whatever your business here, we want no part of it. You’re trouble. Your kind always is. Leave young Dennis alone.”
“He’s a good boy,” said another lady, this one younger but very overweight. “Leave him alone.” The rest agreed with the sentiment.
It was hard to tell if this was the game going off-script, or the regular narrative presented in a convincing manner. The whole ‘we don’t like your kind around here’ vibe was so clichéd, she could easily see one of the devs writing the dialogue.
“I’m not here to cause you trouble, you already have more than enough, don’t you?” She looked at Dennis.
He flinched, a pained expression on his face. “What do you know about it?”
“Nothing. I just know the Mayor isn’t a good person. He ruined my friend’s life, he screwed over the dwarves and the kobolds, and I’m sure they aren’t the only ones. I’m going to stop him. If you want to get out from under the heel of his boot, you should help me.”
There was a lot of guesswork and bluff in what she said, but fundamentally it was true. He clearly had these people scared out of their minds. They were standing in an alley holding makeshift weapons ready to do what? Kill her?
What would happen if she provoked them into doing it? Would the game reset? Would they think she was a ghost when she came back the next day, or would they just forget? It was hard to know what this version of the game would do to keep the story going.
“All I want is some information. I need to know how he operates, so I can protect myself. Does he hire people to do his dirty work for him? Does he do it himself? Do you know what happened with the Korlath Mines?”
They were staring at her, not saying anything, occasionally throwing glances at each other. But their weapons weren’t held so high now. They weren’t preparing to attack.
“I can help you,” Britta added, doing her best to get some sort of a reaction. “I can help your mother, too.”
“No, you can’t,” said Dennis very firmly. “No one can.”
“Will you at least let me try? What’s the Mayor’s interest in your mother?”
Dennis looked around for support, or for someone to tell him what to do. He ended his search on the old lady.
“Tell her if you think it’ll do any good,” she said. “Not like you can make things any worse.”
“No,” said Dennis. “Not here.” They all started looking around like they expected ninjas to jump out of the shadows. Which wasn’t an impossibility.
“Where then?” asked Britta.
Dennis lowered the broom handle to his side. “Meet me here this evening. After work.” They all began to file back inside. They looked a bit disappointed. Would they have preferred a fight?
“I finish at six,” said Dennis. “Be here.”
“What about your mother? How does she know the Mayor?”
“You can ask her yourself.” He went in and closed the door.
It was only then that she realised she had no way of telling the time in this world. Was it the same as six o’clock in the real world? In which time zone?
She checked the clock on her screen. It was half-past seven. If it was six her time, she had nearly twelve hours to kill.
She walked out of the alley in a quandary. She hardly noticed the crowd of players until she nearly walked into them. She could tell they were players from their name tags, and the constant griping.
The common theme was: “Why is it closed? It’s never been closed before.”
They were talking about the post office. They must have closed it so they could all go outside in the alley and beat her to a pulp. The doors opened and they were allowed in. Business returned to normal.
But it wasn’t normal. The game had allowed everyone to be inconvenienced because of her. The post office had never closed before. The day never ended, but it would today. Times were changing.