Bitter 222

As liberating as it was to be in a world where you could do magic, it was quickly becoming apparent to Britta that her freedoms could be easily taken away.

The game was the one in control, not Dr Reedy and not the devs. So far, it had been a fairly benign ruler of the land, but it could just as easily decide to be more harsh and unforgiving. It certainly had the power to do whatever it wanted.

It could trap people in the game, it could stop her talking to the outside world, and it could make up the rules any way it pleased.

Which was fine as long as things were fun and lighthearted, awarding coins for jumping on mushrooms and clearing levels. But what would happen if it decided to take things more seriously?

It was a concern. There was a line that shouldn’t be crossed and she wasn’t sure the game understood that. She hoped it did. She felt like of all the issues needing to be tested, that was right at the top.

“I want to talk to Dr Reedy,” she said again to the Great Gnome. “If you want this place to feel like a real world, you have to play by the rules, too.”

The gnome didn’t seem put out by her tone. A god might take offence at being spoken to like a child, especially when it was by a child. He continued to smile beatifically and turned over his hand, indicating she should go ahead.

“Dr Reedy?”

“Yes, Britta?” said Dr Reedy after a couple of seconds. “Is everything okay?”

Britta looked at the Great Gnome. “Yes, everything’s fine. How about on your end? Any… technical difficulties?”

“No, nothing of any great importance, just the usual glitches. Why? Has something happened?”

Britta explained the problem with the teleport scroll she didn’t have access to. “I can’t leave here without it.”

“I see,” said Dr Reedy. “I’m sorry, that was a silly oversight.” There was a pause where Britta imagined Dr Reedy glaring at the game coders. It was just a fanciful thought, though. There probably weren’t any coders in the same room as Dr Reedy.

“I might be able to get out using a new spell, but it isn’t really the one I want to take. Could I respec my character after I leave here?”

“Respecs only become available after you reach max level. That’s Level 50.”

Level 50? She was Level 4! It would be years before she got that high. “Oh. That won’t work.”

It wasn’t that big a deal. She could just take the sub-class she didn’t want and make the best of it. Just like the Great Gnome had suggested. She had the uncomfortable feeling she was being herded in a particular direction. Not so much being pushed as little nudges. She didn’t like it.

“No, I don’t think that’s the answer,” said Dr Reedy. “Not to worry. Let me think about it. I’m sure we can find a way to extract you from the gnome village without too big an intervention. Tweaking these little glitches is exactly why we need you.”

Dr Reedy was probably just trying to be nice, but Britta found it unsettling when people threw compliments at her to keep her from getting upset. It made her feel like a performing animal getting treats as part of its training.

“Okay,” said Britta. “I’ll log out until you sort it out. By the way, you know how we spoke about being able to see the status screen when you’re offline? Did anything happen with that?”

It was hard to put pressure on someone while trying to act like it was no big deal. What she really wanted to say was, “Hurry up! It’s important.”

“We’re making excellent progress. Shouldn’t take much longer.”

Britta couldn’t help but smile at the effortlessly vague answer that somehow made it feel like she would get what she asked for, but promised nothing.

“What about the skill tree? Do you have a version of that I could look at? It doesn’t have to be interactive or anything. It’d just be easier if I could look it over at home.”

There was a pause. “I’m not sure I know what you’re referring to,” said Dr Reedy. “What skill tree?”

“You know, the big page of dots. Quirks, or whatever you call them.”

“I’m sorry,” said Dr Reedy. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Britta looked at the Great Gnome again. He was busy staring into the middle distance, a smile on his face like he was imagining something pleasant.

“And sub-classes? Do you know about them?”

“Hmm,” said Dr Reedy. “I believe I saw something about sub-classes in a report. Something we’re considering for the future. Let me talk to the lead designer. Quirks and sub-classes. Anything else?”

“No, that’s it for now.” There was a bunch of other things she’d have liked to talk about—how much control they really had over the game, and why wasn’t the AI under stricter restrictions, for starters—but doing it where the game could hear them didn’t feel like it was a good idea. “Could you call me at home when you know something?”

“Of course. I’ll be in touch.”

Britta turned to the Great Gnome. “I’ll be back later.” He nodded enthusiastically, like he was happy to go along with whatever she wanted. Like he wasn’t one of the most powerful creatures on the planet.

She logged out and woke up on her bed. She lay there for quite a while, considering if the game was worth the risk. Logically, the best thing would be to wait until it wasn’t so unpredictable. But she also felt a very strong urge to go back. There was so much she could do there that just wasn’t possible in the real world.

Her phone made a noise. It wasn’t a call, it was letting her know she’d received an email from Dr Reedy.

It read: Can you confirm this is what you saw?

There was an attachment. She opened it and it looked like the skill tree, but it was hard to make out on the phone screen. She sent it to the printer and then got changed before going to Dad’s office where the printer was kept.

Dad came out as she approached, holding a piece of paper like it was the cure for cancer or the secret to immortality. His eyes were big and his lips quivered.

“Wh… What’s this?”

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