There was no mistaking them. Even though Britta had only seen them on video, and not very close up, their polished and glowing armour set them apart. They were dressed for war in a fantasy setting, with multi-coloured outfits, helmets with plumes and oversized weapons that they swung around.
What was most noticeable about them, though, was how well coordinated they were. Their separate pieces of armour matched each other like they were all from the same set. Most players had a hard time finding two pieces that were the same colour.
Players and NPCs alike stopped what they were doing to check out these new arrivals strutting through the city like they owned it, or would do soon.
There were ten of them, all different shapes and sizes, mainly fighting classes as far as Britta could tell. They were loud and boisterous, easily drowning out the rest of the city which had become somewhat subdued. No one quite knew what to make this riot of noise and colour.
“How did they find out so quickly?” muttered Britta to no one in particular.
“I think they’re here for you, Games Master,” N-28 said to N-21.
“Are they, now?” said N-21. “They’re welcome to put their names down. Let’s see how well these coddled cherubs do against some proper competition.” His eyes flashed with anticipation.
No matter how much they argued about what was fair and what was best, in the end, the AI had a common goal — to beat the other AI. Just like how gamers complained about everything, but when it came down to it, they all fancied their chances in a big brawl. It was what gamers enjoyed, randomly attacking others and somehow coming out on top. And then they got all cocky about their achievements when they’d actually achieved nothing.
“What’s with that look?” said Stan. He had a bad habit of watching her face and then drawing questionable conclusions.
“Nothing. Look at their gear. They’ll wipe the floor with anyone they face in the arena, take all our XP and swan off back to China with it in a sack. There’s no winning here.”
She was being very negative, but also very realistic. It wasn’t even close.
“Ho, there,” said a tall, lean fighter covered in chrome armour. He took off his helmet, which had silver wings on either side, to reveal a young face with lots of floppy blond hair at the front and hardly any at the back. He definitely didn’t look Chinese. He looked more like he was in a boy band.
That was what they all reminded her of. One of those Korean boy bands with dozens of members and intricate synchronised dance moves (followed by the tough one rapping unintelligibly apart from the word ‘babe’).
“We heard this was where you can farm X. Where do we sign up?” His English was good, but there was a strange American twang to it, with undertones of Chinese.
“Right here,” said N-21. “Tournaments start soon. You’ll get a message.”
“X, baby,” said a shorter player behind the main one. “We taking all your X.”
“These people are too low-level,” said a very tall bald barbarian carrying a giant meat cleaver. “It’s all diet X. Wait… you look juicy.” He was pointing at Britta.
“Here, sign,” said the blond one, handing over the clipboard. “Plenty of time to suck them all dry.” He pointed at Stan and then turned around, like it was a dance move, pointing at everyone else. His teammates copied him so that it really did look like a dance move. “We challenge you all.”
If they’d broken out into song, Britta might have started screaming and jumping about. Now that more of them had removed their helmets, it was clear they were all very pretty. Much prettier than her.
Obviously, you could make yourself look however you wanted, but there was something very well put together about all ten of them, like they’d had professional artists help design their faces.
“You might want to stop drooling,” said Stan.
“I’m not drooling,” said Britta, and then involuntarily wiped her mouth.
Britta turned at the sound behind her.
“Psst, over here.”
She looked over at the corner of the building site. Dad was crouched down, waving at her. Everyone was still focused on the pretty boys, so they didn’t notice Britta slowly sidle away.
“What are you doing here?” she said in a whisper.
“I’ve been following the boys there. I’m like their documentarian. I film everything they do.”
“They hired you?”
“Unofficial documentarian,” clarified Dad.
“You’re their stalker.”
“You bet. It’s been very interesting seeing what they get up to. They don’t play the same way we do, I can tell you that.”
“How did you find them?” asked Britta. “You were still looking for them last time I spoke to you.”
“Oh, I don’t hang about,” said Dad. “Lock on target, bombs away. Ah, I see some old friends. Games Master, nice to see you again.”
Britta hadn’t even seen N-21 sneak up behind her.
“Guildford,” said N-21, like they were old chums. He hadn’t been that friendly with her.
“Did you get them to sign up?”
“Indeed. Didn’t even have to give them a nudge.”
“Great, great,” said Dad.
“You know about the arena?” asked Britta.
“Of course. It’s all part of the plan. We can hardly beat them on their home ground. We’re going to take those gorgeous young men to the cleaners.”
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