Bitter 492

Britta didn’t know how her mana had suddenly replenished, but it had happened once before, and it was when she had encountered the guardvarks.

She had been completely depleted from flying and her forced landing had brought her into contact with the nest of baby guardvarks. After which, her mana was restored. Did guardvarks give off mana? Was that what made them useful for potions?

“Come on,” said Gabba, “hand it over.” She put out her hand and snapped her fingers. “I know you’re heavily reliant on your spells. Without magic, you’re no match for me, are you?” She pulled on the chain that was wrapped around her body like a beauty queen’s sash — Miss Impeding Violence — and it swung free, twirled like a baton in her hands, and then slapped back into place over her other shoulder. “I’d rather not have to get rough with you. I actually quite like you.” Her smile came across as quite friendly, which was odd compared to the level of threat she was exuding from every other part of her body.

In Britta’s experience, when people said the opposite of what they were doing, like telling you how much they appreciated your help while making excuses for why they couldn’t return the favour at the moment, it was done with a degree of involuntary sneering and self-congratulation. Look at me getting away with being a horrible person, and without anyone knowing it. In this case, though, Gabba seemed genuine, which only made it more painful.

“I know you think this is just a game,” said Britta, “and that’s fine, I think you should be allowed to play it however you want, but I can’t think of it in the same way. It just doesn’t work for me.”

“It isn’t real,” said Gabba, a little patronising but not unkind. “Roleplay if you want, but you still have to accept no one will get hurt. There’s no suffering in this world.”

Britta knew that technically what Gabba was saying was true. It was hard for her to explain why it made no difference, mainly because she didn’t really understand it herself.

To be honest, it didn’t make that much sense in the real world. Cute baby animals made people go awww, and then they ate their lamb cutlets with relish. No one wanted animals to suffer for no reason, but most people weren’t vegetarians. And even if they were, animals in nature would continue to eat each other. Finding the idea of eating dead things to be disturbing was a weird hang-up seeing how it was such a central part of life on the planet.

One living thing consumed another to grow. It wasn’t negotiable.

In this world, however, the opposite was true. Consuming and killing were not deadly. Life here was repeatable, growth required no sacrifice, other than a little time editing code. And then debugging it. And then insisting the bugs that were still present were intentional.

Logic inconsistencies aside, though, she still didn’t want to give the baby guardvark to Gabba. The world didn’t define her actions, she did.

“I’ve just seen some weird things here, and… it’s not as simple as you think.”

“Well, that may be true,” said Gabba. “I’m even a little bit jealous, to tell you the truth. You seem to have experienced things the rest of us can only dream of, but that doesn’t change what I want to do for my own spirit of adventure.” She smiled again, refusing to see the world in any other way than her own, as was her right.

Britta sighed. She had no rational reason to insist on keeping the guardvark. It looked up at her with a satisfied grin and big sleepy eyes, and tried to crawl into her jacket. She pulled it out, and in it would go again. It tickled like it was real, but it wasn’t real. Her emotions, however, were the same.

“You’re right,” said Britta. “I rely on my magic and I’m not a match for you in a fight.” She hadn’t seen Gabba in action, but just the way she stood and moved around, like a cat waiting for the mouse to make a mistake, was on a different level to Britta. “But how do you want me to teleport you out of here if I have no mana?”

“What?” said Gabba, her face showing less than complete confidence for once. “Isn’t it a scroll, or something?”

Gabba had information on what Britta could do, but it seemed to be a bit off. That, at least, was some good news. It was annoying to have to deal with someone with all these huge advantages. She realised the irony of such a thought, but in her case, most of her unreasonable abilities were dailies.

“No, it’s a spell,” said Britta. “One that takes quite a lot of MP.”

Britta had her MP back, but Gabba hadn’t noticed that, either. Perhaps she could only use her Detect Unfairly ability once a day, too.

The quickest way out of this predicament would be for Britta to use Teleport herself. The only reason she hadn’t was because she was worried she would need it when the next problem found her. There was always a bigger problem around the next corner.

And, she had an idea of how to deal with Gabba another way.

“Oh,” said Gabba, pulling an embarrassed face. “Silly me. I seem to have outsmarted myself. Never mind, though. We’ll just have to take the long route home. I had been hoping to avoid the people at the entrance but I suppose I have no choice. The guardvark, please.”

Britta nodded and held out the guardvark. It wiggled slightly but looked up at Britta with complete trust. It wasn’t real, she knew that, but it was undeniably cute.

Gabba held open her sack, and Britta dropped the guradvark and its trust into it.

“Good. Thank you,” said Gabba. She put away a dagger Britta hadn’t noticed had been tucked into her hand at an angle so it was hard to see. “You know, there’s a few of us now, with special relationships.”

It took a moment for Britta to figure out she meant relationships with the game AIs.

“We should have a chat about it,” continued Gaba, “when there aren’t so many people around.”

There was no one around, but she was referring to APE. It was best not to discuss these sorts of matters while they were being observed.

“No thanks,” said Britta. “I’m just here to do my own thing.”

Gabba shrugged. “Whatever. See ya round.” She opened the sack again to make sure the critter was still in there, then turned around and ran off.

Britta waited a few seconds and then opened her jacket. The guardvark was fast asleep, unaware of its copy’s fate. 

“Where is your deadbeat mother?” said Britta, scratching the guardvark under its chin. “I’d like to have a word with her.”

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Afterword from Mooderino
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