Bitter 360

Britta had expected the new AI to be much less of a person than Nigel. More of an automaton, doing is masters’ bidding. Like a robot butler. N-28 might not have shared Nigel’s meandering approach, but there were some similarities.

They both shared an irreverence for their own existence, for starters. If Britta had discovered she wasn’t a real person, just a bunch of cleverly arranged lines of code, she imagined she’d have some kind of nervous breakdown. But then, that was probably because being human was all she knew.

Nigel and N-28 probably never thought of themselves as living, breathing individuals. She never got the feeling Nigel yearned to be a real boy, and the same seemed to be true of N-28. The idea of existing inside a bag of warm flesh might even be repulsive to them. When she thought about it in that way, it was quite repulsive to her.

She looked down at herself. Ragged clothes and not anything to write home about underneath. She looked up at the corner of her screen. She still had over six minutes to wait.

“While I’ve got you here,” said Britta, “I don’t suppose you could sort out some clothes for me, could you?” She raised her arms and let them flap back down to her sides. “It doesn’t have to be anything magical, just something durable that looks like it was made for someone my size.”

Technically, she was asking him to cheat. Technically, she didn’t care. She was hardly going to use the advantage of a set of matching shirt and pants to dominate New World.

“It’s not really what I’m supposed to do,” said N-28, “but it isn’t an unreasonable request, considering the state you’re in.”

Him agreeing to it made her feel worse. What kind of a state did she look to elicit such immediate bending of the rules? She couldn’t deny it felt nice to receive favourable treatment, though. Even if it was out of pity.

She looked down and her dodgy skirt and baggy jerkin were gone, replaced by a nicely coordinated leather and suede outfit. She even had boots that fit, and didn’t stink. If someone saw her now, they’d assume she was kitted out for hunting or fishing. She felt like summoning Donald, and taking him for a quick spin.

“Thank you. This is really nice.”

“My pleasure,” said N-28. “Was there anything else?”

It didn’t sound like he was being sarcastic, but then, he did possibly have a very dry sense of humour. Or none at all, and a very straightforward manner. She might never see him again after tonight, so if she had something to ask, now would be the time.

But she didn’t have any burning questions. “Yes. That’s it. If you need my help, you know where to find me.”

She had no idea why she said that. What help could she give him? He ran the place, had the power of a god.

“Yes,” said N-28, “I will, if necessary. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

He made it sound like things would have to be in a very bad place for her to be called in.

“I expect you to enjoy your time here undisturbed, though. It would be good if your readings were as stable as possible. Nigel set a very narrow bandwidth for your telemetry.”

Britta wasn’t sure what he meant, but it didn’t seem all that important. As long as the readings were done without any kind of probing or prodding, they were welcome to them.

“Is the town still under construction? Can I have a look outside? ”

“Certainly. But first, you might need some basic equipment.”

“Oh, I have some stuff in my invent…” Her voice faded as he shook his head. “You emptied my inventory?”

“You don’t have an inventory. Nobody does.”

“So how am I supposed to carry things?”

“The same way you always have.” He extended his arm. On the end was a small knapsack, the kind you might see a child taking to school.

“That’s it?” She could maybe get a pair of wellies and a knitted hat in there. “It’s a bit small, isn’t it?”

“Everyone receives one — size appropriate — when they join. But since you bypassed the introductory part of the game, I’ll give you yours now.”

She took it. It was made of rugged leather, with brass buckles. It looked about the right size for her, but it would have to carry everything she found.

“Bigger people have bigger bags, do they?”

“Yes,” said N-28.

“That’s not very fair.”

“No.” He didn’t seem very conflicted about the injustice.

“But then no one will choose to play as one of the smaller races.”

“There are advantages and disadvantages in all cases. It was deemed more realistic, and challenging, to make people more aware of their circumstances. Of course, this is a world of magic. There are ways of carrying items in a less physical sense.”

“So you can find a magic bag or something?”

“Yes. Find. Buy. There are many options.”

Britta got the sense there would be something available in the cash shop to help store away items. It was still a game, after all, and they planned to make money. And you couldn’t argue against the realism angle of it.

She put on the knapsack. It was very light, but then it was also very empty.

“Can I go?”

N-28 raised a finger. “One minute, please.”

She looked at the corner of the screen, where the counter had just passed the one minute mark.

They stood there until it went down to zero.

“Please.” N-28 raised a sweeping hand to indicate she should go ahead. At the same time, the walls around her changed their appearance. The church painted itself into existence once more, pews, stained-glass windows and candles in large iron stands emerging out of nothing.

Large wooden doors materialised at the far end opened, revealing the night sky in all its glory. And New Town, just as she remembered it. Apart from the army of knights on their horses.

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