Bitter 419

Britta tried to have a conversation with her new laptop; in French and English. She decided it wasn’t an AI in disguise. She wasn’t a hundred percent sure, though.

It could definitely communicate with her, but only in the way you would expect of an inanimate electronic device. It was voice activated, so it wasn’t surprising it could ask basic prompts.

It was more than that, though. There was something weird about it, she could feel it. Of course, she could also be imagining it. This was a next-generation machine, probably several generations ahead of what was on the market. That didn’t mean it was sentient. Probably.

She stared into the screen, like she might be able to see a face on the other side.

There was no camera for her to cover up. There was no Off button to press, or plug to pull out of the wall. It made her uncomfortable. She didn’t like getting changed in front of it.

She closed the lid and put the laptop back in the satchel it had come in, and slid it under her bed. But then she had visions of it sprouting mechanical legs, and wandering around while she was asleep. That was even freakier than it spying on her.

In all likelihood, it probably wasn’t anything more than a very expensive computer. Everything she did on it was most likely recorded and sent back to its true owners, but that was to be expected. She was the one who had requested it, and it wasn’t like she didn’t know what kind of people she was dealing with.

She hung the satchel on the hook on the back of her door. It would be tricky to climb off there without at least making some noise. She put her bathrobe over it. If it had infrared vision, there wasn’t much she could do about it. Maybe she could feed it microchips and make friends.

The idea amused her enough to release some of the tension. She had spent the last few days meeting each of her new tutors and planning her future lessons with them. Once she returned to school, her calendar would be very full. Every evening, a different subject.

She was looking forward to it, but at the same time, she was feeling overwhelmed. What she needed was a break.

And the best way to do that was to spend the weekend not thinking about school and schoolwork at all. She would go into the game, as she had to in any case, and leave New Town. Or Quosada, as it was called now.

The mines and the struggle for experience points were not things that need concern her. She would go on a trip. A holiday. The weather was guaranteed to be lovely.

She decided to log in Saturday morning. Her last few visits had all been at night, and since the game was synced to her, it had been night in the game, too.

She wanted to be in the sun. Her bedroom window had only shown her rain clouds for the last week.

The church was as quiet as ever when she woke on the rock-hard bed. She had been remaining here for twelve minutes, and then logging back out. This time she got up and went to the door.

The chapel was surprisingly busy. A lot of people probably wanted to play on the weekend, so it shouldn’t really have been that surprising, but Britta was used to being here alone.

She wandered out without anyone paying any attention to her. People were making plans about where to go first and what they were going to do. They were sitting in the church pews, standing around chatting, checking their bags and showing each other what equipment they had with them. They were armed with swords and daggers, but they didn’t look like they were off to fight or kill. They looked more like they were about to head off on a hike. Maybe some rambling. There was an air of fun about them.

Britta felt a little jealous. It wasn’t the people or their conversations she envied, it was the atmosphere. The sense of excitement when friends met up.

There wasn’t much point in brooding over it. This feeling was nothing new for her.

She made her way out of the church, into the main street. It was bright and sunny, and she instantly felt the cloud over her dissipate under the fake sun’s glare. She had the whole day ahead of her, and she could do anything, go anywhere.

“You. I know you.”

Britta turned around as a slender girl exited the church. She was an elf, judging by her ears.

“I knew it was you.”

Britta didn’t recognise her, but that wasn’t surprising. Everyone had new characters. The voice did sound familiar, though. She couldn’t quite place it, but chances were it wasn’t someone she’d want to talk to.

“Mes excuses. Je vous connais?”

The elf looked confused. Those extra French lessons were paying off already.

“Sorry. I thought you were someone else.”

Britta smiled, shrugged in as Gallic a fashion as possible, and was about to turn around, when three more people appeared behind the elf.

“Oh my god,” said a portly priest. “It’s her.”

Pardonnez-moi, je dois y aller.” Britta turned to go, but a hand grabbed her by the shoulder.

“Je ne pense pas,” said a deep voice. She recognised it without having to turn around. Lord Jim, or whatever he was calling himself now. “Vous venez avec nous, ma petite dame. Nous sommes sur le point d'avoir une bonne conversation sur le bon vieux temps.”

His French was a lot better than hers, and he spoke so fast it was hard to catch all of it.

Another group came out of the church, bumping into these people standing inconsiderately in the doorway. There was some sorting out, some apologising.

Lord Jim repositioned his grip to make sure Britta couldn’t get away. “Now enough of this French nonsense. You owe us. But we’ll be the ones paying you back.”

Britta stared at him, from across the street. She had managed to cast Magic Mirror, and then slip away with the crowd. Her size came in handy for that sort of thing. She could do with a spell to change her appearance — perhaps when she levelled up. In any case, it wouldn’t do to hang around for when the spell ended, and Lord Jim found himself berating thin air.

She was standing outside the Adventurer’s Guild, so she went in.

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