Bitter 560

It seemed odd to Britta that she had ended up back here in the Church of Roha. If she was transported out of the Jade Palace to her last save point, she should have gone straight to the temple that was marked. Especially as it now seemed to be the only save point she had access to.

She would have actually liked to have seen what the Holy Temple looked like and how it compared to the save points here — full of neon adverts?  — but something strange was going on.

The idea of exploring the Legendary World she’d been given access to was certainly attractive. Even though Britta hadn’t really explored this world fully, the appeal of the new and exotic was hard to resist. It had felt like there was a lot more going on over there.

But she hadn’t gone there, she’d come here. Did L-15 redirect her for some reason?

She tapped on the screen. Then tapped again on various different parts. The save point remained on Holy Temple even when she tried to reassign it to one of the others.

Had L-15 forced his save point to be the only one she could use. Five minutes of clicking around suggested he had.

Britta felt a mixture of panic and irritation, which was an unusual combination. She’d been offered the chance to go where she wanted, but in reality she had been given no choices and had her preference ignored. Was it by accident, or a sign of what to expect from the Chinese AI?

“Change save point,” she said out loud. There was always the chance she was just being dumb and missing an easy fix. The game had a tendency to assume players knew all the UI shortcuts and didn’t bother to explain them.

Nothing happened.

“Unlock save point.”

Nothing happened.

“Default save point.”

The star next to the Holy Temple disappeared, and reappeared next to the Church of Roha. Britta let out a sigh of relief.

She hadn’t been forced into keeping the new save point, but it still felt like she’d been ‘helped’ into making a decision. Opt out rather than opt in, the way some scummy advertisers worked.

Try for free!*

*credit card details required.

On the surface, no one had done anything wrong and Britta was sure if she brought it up, L-15 would have plenty of excuses to explain it away. But Britta had been on the receiving end of that kind of unfortunate mistake that was nobody’s fault too often to miss the implication. She was being handled. To what end, she couldn’t say, but the guiding hand and the promise of free choice didn’t fit well together once you noticed.

“I see you decided to return.”

Britta turned around to find N-28 standing there. He looked as suave and handsome as ever, but also slightly peeved.

“Yes. I went to the Legendary World with someone called L-15.” Something told her he already knew.

“Of course. I hear it’s very lovely. Beautiful plumes of smoke and wonderful explosions when you least expect it. You must be eager to get back.” There was definitely a petulant edge to the AI’s tone. It was unlike him to be so expressive.

“Not really. I think he tried to mess with my settings so I’d be stuck there. But in a way that would be very hard to prove and easy to pass off as an accident. I don’t like it when people do that sort of thing. I’m not sure why he sent me back here, though.”

N-28 nodded. “I may have interceded on your behalf. I thought you might like to say your goodbyes.”

“You brought me back here? That does make more sense. Anyway, it isn’t like he made any permanent changes, just took me a while to figure out how to change it back. I’m sure I would have found a way back here on my own.”

“I’m sure you would,” said N-28. “If you chose to.” There was that tone again.

“I don’t get why he’s interested in me,” said Britta. “Any ideas?”

“I can’t say for sure,” said N-28. “I would think he wanted the advantage of having you based in his realm.”

“What advantage?” asked Britta.

“Your primary save point synchronises first. It’s not a very long delay for the other regions, unless someone exploits it, of course.” He raised an eyebrow. “But it is noticeable if the instrumentation is sensitive enough.”

“So, where I am, there’s less lag?”

“That’s a simplistic and crude way to put it, but yes, more or less. It doesn’t have much of an effect, normally, but there may be ways to abuse it. He would rather have you within reach if that happens.”

“And you?” asked Britta.

“I’m not really very keen on gaming the system. We’re trying to create something better than that.”

“But there’ll always be someone trying to get an edge,” said Britta. She knew enough about how a gamer’s mind worked to know it would never be possible to make people follow the rules if there was any way they could get around them.

“Perhaps. We can only do our best.”

“I think you can do more than that,” said Britta.

“Such as?”

“If my location is that important, give me unrestricted movement. I already have Teleport, can’t you make it so I can use it whenever I want and go wherever I want?”

“That would be a very powerful ability.”

“Yes, but it’s not like I would use it against other players, just a way to stop other AI taking advantage of me.”

“I suppose it is possible,” said N-28. “You would need another 24 skill points, though. Where would we find the experience points.”

“You can’t just give it to me?”

“No,” said N-28 with a sour look on his face.

“What about the Chinese team. They lost all their XP when they lost in the arena, didn’t they? It didn’t all go to the players, did it?”

“I was hoping to keep a surplus, for emergencies.”

Britta smiled. “That’s me, emergency B.”

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Afterword from Mooderino
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