Bitter 24

Sister Florence raised her hands and turned her head, her eyes shut tight. The fireball struck her in the stomach and then passed straight through her yellow smock without leaving a mark. There was a bright bloom of orange light behind her.

The nun slowly opened her eyes. She straightened up and looked around.

“I could have sworn… I must be seeing things.” She shook her head and turned her attention to Britta. “Ah, you’re back, B. Anything I can do for ya, now?”

Britta was surprised the nun had remembered her, NPCs didn’t usually have that kind of depth. It was an unnecessary load on the hardware. It was impressive how far the game designers had gone to add a little realism to the game.

“I’m fine, thanks,” said Britta, feeling a bit guilty about almost killing a person who didn’t really exist. She wasn’t sure why the fireball had no effect. Possibly the nun had resisted the spell, or maybe it wasn’t possible to harm her. Characters were sometimes immortal so that they were always there to perform their function.

The status screen was still open and obscured her vision somewhat so she brought her hands together to close it. A message appeared:

Save changes?

She pressed the Yes button. The message disappeared and her hand began glowing red. She turned it over.

You have a message.

She touched her palm and a screen opened in front of her. She read the short message.

“It says I have a parcel waiting for me at the post office. Do you know where that is?”

“Oh, yes, I can tell you all about the best places in town. Would you like to know the location of the post office?”

Sister Florence had reverted to information mode. She stood there, silently waiting with an expectant look on her face.

Britta had expected Yes/No buttons to appear, but they hadn’t.

“Yes?” said Britta, not sure if it would work.

“Excellent,” said Florence, returning to life like a robot whose switch had been flipped back on. “Here you are.” She reached out her hand like she was giving Britta something, but her hand was empty.

“Er, thanks.” Britta waited for something else to happen but Florence just took her hand back and stood there.

A soft glow caught Britta’s attention. It was the map in the top right of her field of vision.

She reached up and touched it, bringing it down in front of her.

There was a building further down the street with a tag that was pulsing. The post office. It wasn’t too far and apparently there was a parcel there with her name on it. She didn’t know who had sent it, but who doesn’t like getting a parcel?

“I’m going to the post office,” said Britta, not really sure why she was telling Florence who was smiling inanely. “See you later.”

Britta left the nun and made her way back outside. The breeze, the smells, the sounds, it all hit her at once and almost overwhelmed her. It was so strange to experience these mundane things like they were brand new. She would probably get used to it in time, but for now she took a deep breath and savoured it.

The street wasn’t as busy as it had been. There were still plenty of people (and things she wasn’t sure were people) but nowhere near as many. Had there been some reason for the large crowd before? Rush hour?

She looked down at the map. It was still open in front of her like she was carrying a model of the town on a tray. The post office wasn’t very far and not difficult to get to, so there was no reason to keep the map open.

“Map close,” she said. The map returned to the top right.

The road, although less crowded, was still very muddy. Rather than wade through all that muck, Britta stuck to the narrow boardwalks that ran along the fronts of the buildings. She passed a couple of other players who she recognised by the tags over their heads. They didn’t even look in her direction; too busy with important quests, no doubt.

The post office was a small building with a large red sign outside. It was noticeably busier than the buildings on either side of it, with people going in and out. The interior was larger than she’d expected, something you could do in a digital world. There were counters and a line in front of each. She spotted half a dozen players by their tags which meant the others were all NPCs. It was all very well wanting to create a realistic town setting, but a bit inconvenient if it made you wait in a queue for no reason. Or it could be that it was possible to hide your tag. Some people would want to sneak around without being noticed. Or seen on a map.

She got behind a large lady in a shiny, satin dress and opened her status screen to see if she could figure out how to turn off her name tag. By the time she reached the counter, she still hadn’t found the appropriate button. Perhaps there was a requirement before she had access to it.

The young man behind the counter smiled at her. “How can I help you today, Miss?”

There was a box at her feet, a step for shorter people, like in the guild. With dwarves and pixies and all the other diminutive classes it made sense that there would be these accommodations.

Britta stepped up. “I think you have a parcel for me. My name’s—” but the boy was already gone.

He returned in a couple of seconds carrying a large parcel wrapped in gold foil with a large red bow on top.

“This is for you,” he said, his eyes twinkling. Literally, light was shining at the corners. “Amazing things could be in here, wonderful things. Who knows? Maybe a legendary weapon or a mount. Or a fabled pet. Just open it and find out.”

He handed over the box like it was the most precious thing in the world, smiling so wide his big white teeth threatened to take over his whole face.

Bit over the top, thought Britta as she took the parcel. She looked at the grinning clerk. Then at the ridiculously over-dressed box. There was definitely something suspect about the package.

“Go on, open it,” insisted the twinkle-eyed boy. “It’s going to be a wonderful surprise.”

Yep, very suspect. Shame she didn’t choose the thief class, she could have checked for traps.

The box was quite light. Britta gave it a rattle—there was definitely something inside. She looked around to see where she could open it. There didn’t seem to be a designated area. Behind her, the queue had disappeared. The boy winked at her, and there was the sound of someone hitting a triangle.

Something odd was going on but Britta couldn’t be bothered with finding out what. She was in a game, who knew what was important and what was some pointless ‘flavour’ some bored game developer had added?

She placed the box back onto the counter and pulled at the bow. The ribbon slid effortlessly off the box. She lifted the lid and tilted the box to look inside.

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