Bitter 182

It wasn’t exactly a coffee shop, but you could tell the person who designed it had spent a lot of time in Starbucks or some similar hot beverage outlet. There was a big glass window with ‘Sonny’s’ painted across it.

Was glass a common and easy to get hold of item in the Middle Ages? Did they have the technology to make a single piece that covered an entire storefront? Britta could imagine the nerd rage at any anachronism in a clearly eurocentric medieval setting. No zips, no sunglasses, no baseball hats with your guild’s name across the front.

Nerds, of course, always found something to complain about. They were desperate to preserve their immersion at all costs, but mainly by writing lengthy posts on Reddit. But you couldn’t really ruin the immersive quality of this world. You didn’t have to make yourself believe anything, you were actually here.

The window really was that big and looked out on the street as people (and other things) walked past. She doubted peasants in olden times spent hours kicking back, people-watching. This wasn’t a specific idea of fantasy from a book or fairytale, this was the combined efforts of a bunch of computer programmers to make something they thought was cool. With corporate sponsorship. There was probably a Sonny’s in every town in New World.

“It’s a bit hot,” said Freddy as he placed a tankard of steaming liquid on the roughly hewn wooden table. The indoor decor was primitive and functional. Solid tables and poorly crafted chairs and stools. They were the sort of thing you could find in any pre-industrial period of history and any vegetarian cafe.

“Thank you.” Britta sipped the drink. It was sweet and fruity. Not coffee, more like hot fruit squash. No alcohol, as far as she could tell.

She realised she hadn’t tried eating and drinking since going virtual. It felt completely real. The liquid in her mouth, in her throat, all the way to her stomach, was no different to the real thing. The smell, the heat of it on her nose as she tipped the mug, it all fit perfectly with her idea of what ‘drinking’ was. She was looking forward to eating something.

She looked around at the people, all NPCs going through their preprogrammed motions. There was probably a whole social side to this game she was unaware of. People logging in to meet up and hang out. Pubs and taverns, maybe even nightclubs. You could live a whole life in here, as long as you didn’t mind not having genitals.

“The food will be ready in a bit,” said Freddy, flustered and talking too much. “They’re good here. My cousin owns it. He’s my dad’s brother's kid. He’s not really a kid though, he’s a lot older than me.”

Freddy stopped talking and stared into his drink. He was the biggest person in here and she was the smallest. They made an odd couple. Not that they were a couple. This was just part of the game.

“Your dad, he’s an important man.”

“Yeah, very. I’m going to work for him, one day.”

“Don’t you work for him already?”

“Yeah. Of course. But I mean in the main part of the organisation. Once I show him I can handle myself, be my own man, he’s going to bring me in and give me my own crew to do heists and scams and dodgy deals. Like he does.”

There was a sad, wistful quality to the way Freddy talked about working for his dad. Britta got the impression there was no job waiting for him in the organisation. He was stuck mugging people in alleys because he’d already been deemed not the right material for the family business.

Even though the business in question was killing and stealing, she felt herself rooting for the sub-par bully to make it, impress the old man and get his shot at running a completely illegal and unsavoury gambling den or extortion racket.

“What about the mayor? He’s important, too.”

Freddy scowled. “Yeah. Him and my dad don’t really get on. They’re what you call business rivals.”

He didn’t make it sound like it was a cops versus robbers sort of rivalry. More like they were competitors in the same field.

“They don’t get into fights, do they?” asked Britta.

“No, there’s a truce. The mayor calls the shots right now. Not because he’s better than my dad,” Freddy quickly assured her. “He just has some stuff on him.”

“What sort of stuff?”

Freddy shrugged. “They don’t tell me things like that. Whatever it is, Dad says we have to play along for now. Well, that’s what I heard some of the other boys say.”

She got the feeling Freddy wasn’t part of the inner circle and probably never would be.

“What if you got hold of whatever it is the mayor has on your dad? He’d have you working in the head office then, wouldn’t he?”

Freddy grinned. “Yeah. I’d be his right-hand man instead of that sneaky little shit, Michael.”

“Is Michael your little brother?” asked Britta.

“Yes,” said Freddy, surprised. “How did you know that?”

“Just a guess. And your name’s really Freddy?”

"No, that’s my street name. My real name’s Alfredo. I’ve never liked it.”

Nerds. They couldn’t help themselves.

But there was definitely something worth looking into here. She knew there was an official side quest to do with the mayor and illegal goings on, but she had no interest in that. The version the game was running would be far more fun, and hopefully have fewer dwarfs involved.

Instead of running around a mine trying to find treasure, she could work her way up in organised crime. Maybe she’d have to whack a few people, but Freddy could handle that side of things.

“So what do you think? We help your dad, and he makes us part of his organisation. All we got to do is to find out what the mayor’s holding over your dad’s head.”

Freddy's grin faded. “But I don’t know. And even if I did, what could we do? Steal it?”

“Yes,” said Britta.

“Oh, yeah. We could steal it.”

Making your own side quests didn’t come with convenient conversation boxes with ready-made answers to choose from. There was still a lot to work out, but it was a start.

“First, we’ll make…” She noticed Freddy wasn’t looking at her anymore. He was scowling over her shoulder.

She turned around. Stan was standing with his face pressed up against the glass window, scowling right back.

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