Bitter 555

“I have no idea what’s going on,” said Britta. She was confident she sounded convincing since she was speaking the truth. Her knowledge of the actual arena battle and what it entailed was a big fat zero.

“Even though your father is involved?” Dr Reedy was close to the truth but Britta strongly got the impression she was guessing. At least, Britta hoped so.

Britta was nearing the main square and could only see a few people milling around. They looked like NPCs.

“Dad doesn’t tell me anything. And when he does, I usually don’t bother to listen. What kind of contest are they having in the arena?” This was good practise. Lying was a lot easier when you were genuinely interested in what was going on, and being nosey was a good way to get people to stop asking you suspicious questions.

“It’s a maze you have to get through, I believe,” said Dr Reedy. “I’m not completely sure what the rules are. It’s, ah, new, so—”

There was another roar, even louder than the previous one, and then people were streaming out of the arena. They seemed very happy, a huge crowd of players carrying other players on their shoulders.

“I think we won,” said Britta.

Dr Reedy didn’t respond. She was probably busy with whatever had happened in the arena. Britta was quite keen to find out herself, but had no idea who to ask.

As she got closer, she made eye contact with one of the players being held aloft. He didn’t seem all that happy to be raised up and bounced around, but when he saw Britta his whole demeanour changed from uncomfortable and unstable to very, very focused. On Britta.

“You!” he yelled. “Stop. Put me down. Listen to me. Put me down this instant.”

The players name tag said his name was Nasty McNice, which was a terrible name. Britta guessed it was Rick, and he wanted to apprehend her. He would have been the ideal person to ask about what had just happened in the arena, but she was in no mood to deal with him right now.

She had, of course, known this might happen, and she was prepared. As soon as Rick started shouting at her, Britta teleported away.

The world shifted and lurched around her, and then she was back in the Church of Stan Lee. She checked her screen, her twelve minutes were up. She could log out and go back to her life, and no one would know what role she had played in what had just happened, including her.

She was glad Dad had managed to defeat the Chinese players, assuming that was what had happened. She was even glad Rick had been one of the winning players, even if it meant he would now get boosted to a higher level. Hopefully, he wouldn’t use his new skills and abilities to hunt her down. She didn’t want to spend all her time worrying about him popping up and grabbing her in an attempt to involve her in whatever nonsense he had planned. Him and Dad were both a pain in that regard.

Maybe it would be best to lay low for a while, she thought. Do her due diligence and nothing more. She would need to stay away from the city.

Lewis would know everything that had happened. She would ask him tomorrow. She prepared to log out when a voice behind her said, “Hello, there. Might I have a word?”

Britta didn’t recognise the voice, but it made the back of her neck prickle. She slowly turned away from the altar and faced the chapel. Squeezed into the building with her was a dragon.

There was no other word for it.

Not a big lizard like a dinosaur that breathes fire, this was much more snake-like with many short legs, coiled up and barely able to fit in the church.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” Britta was impressed that her voice only shook a little.

“No, we haven’t met,” said the dragon. “I’m L-15.”

The dragon was very well spoken, it’s English was perfect, but there was a trace of an accent. A Chinese one.

“You’re an AI,” said Britta. “Could you take another form? I’d feel just as threatened if you were normal-sized.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to be threatening,” said the dragon. Britta wasn’t entirely convinced.

The dragon’s head came swooping down and changed into a man in a long flowing robe. He had white hair and a long beard, like a wizard.

“Can I help you?” asked Britta.

“I hope so,” said L-15. “I’d like to extend an invitation to you. Come with me and see a whole new world. One very different to this one. I think you might like it.”

What was this? An offer to leave this place behind and join the Chinese server? Was this because of the Chinese team’s defeat. More importantly, were APE aware of this?

“I’m not sure I’m allowed,” said Britta. “I have a contract.”

“Yes, I know. You are the synchronisation agent. You can continue to perform your duties from anywhere within the game world. It doesn’t have to be here.”

Was that true? Were the other servers linked to her, too? That didn’t seem right.

“I should speak to someone before doing anything that might get me in trouble,” said Britta.

“Oh, you’ve already done that,” said L-15. “You cost me a great deal of trouble.” The AI didn’t sound so friendly now. “But I can appreciate a clever plan. Very clever.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Britta. Her screen was open, she just needed to hit the button to log out. Only, she felt reluctant about making any sudden moves.

“Please, I have a lot to show you and not much time. I promise you won’t regret accepting my invitation.” He held out his hand.

Britta thought about it. There was no reason not to see what he wanted to show her. It wasn’t like she couldn’t log out from the game wherever she ended up. And he didn’t seem dangerous. It would be nice to see what the rest of the world looked like and how the other AIs had handled their players.

She took his hand and they both disappeared.

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