Bitter 328

“It’ll never work,” said Stan.

“Why not?” asked Britta.

“If you target players for a certain kind of gameplay, they’ll avoid it. There’s always another way.” Stan leaned back and looked up at the starry sky. “Amazing.”

It was night-time. Britta had left the church and gone directly to the guardhouse to talk to Stan. If anyone would know how a devious, selfish degenerate would react to Nigel’s plan, it would be a devious, selfish degenerate.

“They don’t usually let us have visitors at night. Actually, I don’t think they ever have.” He lowered his gaze, and then looked around the yard. There were no other prisoners, just a few guards standing around the perimeter. “How did you convince them to let you see me so late?”

“I got special permission,” said Britta. She hadn’t told him the full reason for her visit, she had just had him dragged out of bed to answer her questions. Which he had been happy to do.

“I heard,” said Stan, “that you were a wanted gnome. For lewd behaviour. I’m not even sure what that means, and I don’t really want to know. I’m surprised nobody’s arrested you.” He looked around again, this time trying to indicate to the guards that they might want to check who they’d let in the place. He was only conveying it with his eyebrows, though.

“It was a misunderstanding,” said Britta. “I sorted it out.”

To be more accurate, Nigel had sorted it out. When it came to abuse of power, no one came close to matching him.

“Clearly,” said Stan. He jangled his manacles. “Any chance you could do the same for me?”

He looked different. Bigger, like he’d been working out. Which was what people did in prison, so not that surprising. He also had a lot of tattoos. Both arms were covered in them. Also what people did when they were in prison, or a football team.

“So you don’t think a game where the people who want to cheat and exploit and get as overpowered as possible is a good idea?”

“Of course not,” said Stan. “People like that don’t want to fight against their peers. They want to pick off the weaklings and noobs. I mean, that’s my understanding of those kinds of players.”

“They want things to be as unfair as possible, in their favour. That’s what they want, right?”

Stan smiled. “That’s what I hear. What’s this sudden interest in game developing? I thought you were on the trail of Freddy’s killer.”

The reminder of Freddy’s untimely demise caused a pang of guilt. She had never avenged his death, even though she had vowed to. It wasn’t like it was a real murder, but the lack of closure was unsettling. She would have to ask Nigel about it. Maybe even get him to bring Freddy back.

“I’m still working on it. I just needed to check with you. I don’t think it would work, either, but I wanted a second opinion.”

“This isn’t some new direction Dr Reedy’s told you about, is it?” He eyed her suspiciously. “You know something, don’t you?”

“It’s nothing,” said Britta. “Just a crazy idea someone suggested. It’ll make things too messy, and like you said, if players get punished for a particular strategy, they’ll avoid it.”

“Unless,” said Stan, “they have some kind of inducement to play that way. If it was worth it, then I can see players going ham, even if it meant being attacked by every other player on the server. I mean, as long as you were powerful enough, it might even be fun. I’d build myself some kind of huge defensive structure and fill it with recruits to fight people off.”

“Like a guild?”

“No, not players. You couldn’t trust them not to turn on you. It would have to be NPCs. Surround yourself with impossible to get through… actually, a maze would be best, full of traps and things like that.”

“So, a dungeon?” said Britta.

Stan laughed. “I guess it would be. And I’d be the final boss. But, you would need to give me a really good reason to put myself in that position. What could possibly be that important?”

Britta had no idea. Something you would need to lock yourself away to accomplish, and which would entice other players to try and break your door down to get to you before you could do it. Did Nigel have an answer to that?

“I don’t think you’re explaining it very well,” said one of the guards who had wandered closer. He sat down on the bench next to Britta.

Stan looked at him, and then back at Britta. “Friend of yours?”

Britta sighed. “Sort of. This is Nigel. He sort of runs this place.”

“You don’t mean the guardhouse, do you?”

Britta shook her head.

“Nigel, Nigel. I feel like I’ve heard that name before.” Stan’s eyes widened. “You’re the AI?”

The guard leaned across the table. “You have some very interesting ideas. I think we should talk.”

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