Bitter 529

There was a long line of players outside the Institute, all waiting to be let in. They had name tags over their heads, but they were all dressed in very basic clothing that didn’t offer much protection. Britta assumed they were all magic classes who had rushed to the city to sign up for magic school. She could easily imagine it had been the dream of many of them since they first read the Harry Potter books.

At the front was a large wooden door that looked very solid and very closed. There was a sign on the door:

Applications to be submitted in [2] days.

The number two was on a separate board, so it could be changed, presumably.

“Applications for what?” said Britta.

“It can’t be that simple,” said Stan, ignoring her question. “You can’t just get a job in a  shop or whatever.”

“Why not?” said Britta. “You can’t go around looking for people with a giant yellow exclamation mark hanging over their heads. You have to ask.”

Stan shook his head. “Could you even gain XP by working a nine to five?”

“This is the problem with all of you gamers, you only want to play the game a certain way, the same thing over and over, and then you parade around like you’re rockstars. Hit the monster in the back legs a thousand times and you’ll kill it before it aggros. Hide in this corner and the enemy won’t be able to reach you while you chip away at them. Not exactly heroic.”

The people in the queue who had been quietly chatting, stopped to look at Britta. She lowered her raised arms and backed away.

“It’s hardly a fun and entertaining way to experience the game, is it?” said Stan, following her away from the institutes closed doors. “Logging into a game to put on a tabard and dig a ditch for twelve hours a day.”

“I don’t think you’re the best person to ask,” said Britta, “on account of you being a workshy layabout. People play games where you cook burgers or stack boxes or whatever, don’t they? You don’t have to think of it like a job. Think of it more like a spy going undercover. You have to infiltrate the locals without them realising. Roleplayers would love it.”

“Well, yes, they would. Still, how would you even know where to start? There’s no job centre here.”

“How about him?” She pointed at a man selling peanuts out of a cart. He was a thin man with a skin browned from spending so much time outdoors. He was shaking a tray of peanuts over a small fire on top of the cart.

“You think the peanut vendor’s hiring?”

“Won’t know till we ask.” Britta felt oddly confident that she was onto something. It helped that she didn’t really care if she was wrong. “Excuse me, how’s business?”

“One bag, one coin. Extra for honey-coated.” He spoke quickly with a thick accent, but it was hard to say where from. Greek? Middle Eastern?

“I’m looking for work,” said Britta. “Will you give me a job?”

“No. No jobs here. Too much competition.” He nodded down towards the other side of the square where an almost identical cart was serving peanuts to what appeared to be many more customers.

“Have you thought about expanding the menu? Give people more options?”

“I sell peanuts,” said the vendor.

“What about people with peanut allergies?” said Britta. “You would do a lot better if you offered alternatives. Diversify. You’d need more employees, then.”

The vendor had stopped shaking the tray of peanuts and looked at her through a haze of peanut fumes. He didn’t seem very pleased with what he saw. “Are you going to buy anything? You’re blocking my customers.”

There was no one else waiting to be served. Unlike the other vendor.

“Maybe I’ll go ask him,” said Britta. “He looks busy, could probably do with the help.”

“Wait,” said the vendor. “Maybe I could use an assistant. I can’t pay much. Will you work for peanuts?”

Britta smiled. “I’ll think about it and let you know. Thanks.” She hurried away before he put her to work. “See?” she said to Stan, who had been watching from a short distance away.

“That’s because it was you,” he said. “No one else could have got that kind of a reaction from an NPC.“

“You try,” said Britta. She looked around and then pointed at a shop selling cloaks, scarves and hats. “In there.”

Stan shrugged and went up to the bored woman behind a counter. She stood up straight as Stan approached. Britta walked in behind and acted like a browsing customer.

“Greetings, my good woman. I notice your premises are devoid of customers, and I happen to be an exemplary salesman in need of employment. Perhaps we could come to an arrangement that would benefit us both, financially.”

“Out!” bellowed the woman. She had a broom in her hand and chased Stan out, slamming the shop door behind him.

The door opened a few seconds later as Britta exited.

“Told you,” said Stan.

“What was that?” said Britta. “Why were you so obnoxious?”

“Was I? I was going for charming and dapper.”

“You’re supposed to be desperate for work.”

“Oh, right. I’ve never had a job interview, or had a job. Let me try again.”

This time he went into a smaller shop selling lanterns and candles.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said to the old man wearing a leather apron who was the only person inside. “I’m looking for a job. I’m a hard worker, always punctual and I never complain. Do you need anyone to help here?”

The change in Stan’s demeanour was impressive. His shoulders were slumped, his voice was respectful, his eyes were filled with sincerity.

“No work for you here,” said the man. He had white hair and a white moustache, and thick glasses that made his eyes look huge. “Don’t need anyone getting in my way.”

“Of course, sorry to bother you. It’s the wife, you see. Three small ones and another on the way. It’s my own fault, really, but when you find a fine woman next to you in bed every night, well, nature takes its course. Haha. Thank you anyway.”

The man chuckled. “Ah, I know what you mean. Got six of them myself, and a wife who would have liked more. Tell you what, I know Jint the farrier needs help. It’s hot sweaty work with long hours and the smell of horse dung, but it’s honest work.”

“Thank you, I’ll go see him straight away.” Stan left the shop thanking the man profusely.

As soon as they were outside, Stan lost the stoop and the humility. “Oscar-worthy, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” said Britta. “Remind me to never believe a word that comes out of your mouth.”

“This is great,” said Stan. “I think you really might be on—wait what’s this?” He stopped and stared at Britta. It took a few seconds for her to realise he wasn’t looking at her, he was looking at his status screen.

His hands came up and tapped the air in front of him and then his eyes lit up.

“What?” said Britta.

“I just got 5 XP. Five experience points for doing nothing. You were right, you were absolutely right.”

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