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Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 571

“When you say you want to party with me,” said Britta, “what exactly would we do?”

“Whatever you want,” said Lin. “I don’t expect you to change the way you play the game, it would just mean I would be there to watch your back, and to make sure none of the AI used their power… unfairly.”

Britta didn’t know what to make of Lin’s offer to party-up. It was completely unexpected and she wasn’t even sure what being in a party with Lin entailed. They would travel around together having adventures?

“That does sound like it might be a good idea,” said Mum. “What do you think, Britta?”

Britta took a moment to eat something so she had a moment to think. Did she need a companion? She had managed alright so far on her own. Fighting monsters and crawling through dungeons weren’t the sorts of activities she spent much of her time on. And even when she did, other people tended to be more of a hindrance than a help.

Lin wasn’t a normal player, though. She wasn’t going to try and cheat Britta out of loot or compete against her to claim special items. She also had a lot of influence on the people running the game.

On the surface, it was a perfectly reasonable idea. The problem Britta currently faced wasn’t from players or monsters, it was the game’s AIs trying to use her to their own personal ends.

Up until now, they had more or less ignored her and did as they pleased, but things had changed recently. Britta’s effect on the game had become more pronounced, and therefore more noticeable. If they started to think of her as a component of the game they could use to their advantage, it would make things much more difficult for her.

It would be hard to pop in and out of the game if they considered her a tool.

If Lin’s presence encouraged them to leave her alone, that could only be a good thing.

“But aren’t you too busy?” said Britta.

“No, it’s fine,” said Lin. “It’s not like you spend every waking moment in-game. I can arrange my schedule to match yours, as long as you give me a little prior notice before you plan to log in.”

Lin was right, Britta didn’t spend a lot of time in the game. In fact, she had gone out of her way to keep her playing time at a minimum.

“Sometimes, though, I do end up spending a few hours in there. Would you be able to stay with me? You don’t have anywhere you need to go?”

She was making it sound like Lin had to be a hopeless shut-in to be making such an offer, which clearly wasn’t the case, but it was hard to imagine why she would want to spend so much time following Britta around.

It wasn’t like Britta’s time in New World had been a wild ride full of excitement and cinematic escapades. In fact, the thought of having someone along to witness how dull her ‘escapades’ were made her feel mildly uncomfortable.

“I have all the time I need to do whatever I want,” said Lin. She didn’t make it sound like she was lonely or desperate for something to do. On the contrary, she somehow managed to reduce all activities to the same level of importance. The only thing that differentiated them was whether she felt inclined to grace them with her presence.

“And you’d be my bodyguard?”

“No, no,” said Lin. “I don’t think you need my help like that.”

“But didn’t you say your game character was immortal?”

“No, not immortal. I can’t be killed or harmed, and I have some special powers that make me rather formidable in a fight, but I wouldn’t say I was immortal.”

It sounded like she was close to it, but there was no point arguing over semantics. Not when the immortal was on your side.

“What class are you? A fighter?”

“Yes,” said Lin like she wasn’t really. “A fencer. And an archer. And a healer.”

“A fighter-ranger-cleric? You’re three classes?” Britta had never heard of that before. Dual class characters were quite common, but triple class? “And you think you’d be allowed to party with me? Wouldn’t it be a bit unfair?”

“Under normal circumstances, I would say yes, but the beauty of this situation is that you are already not allowed to participate in the game as a normal player, just as I am not. You are probably the only person I could party up with, other than members of my family.” She pulled a sour face. “And I wouldn’t want to do that.”

On the surface, it seemed a very small adjustment that could have lots of benefits. It wasn’t like Britta would be losing anything, not even her privacy. The people at APE already watched everything she did, and Lin had seen most of the videos. She knew what she’d be getting herself into.

Lin had the additional advantage of being familiar with both servers, and her knowledge of the Legendary World in particular could prove to be very helpful.

But, there was something about her offer, how casual she was being about it, that seemed a little off. Was she really that bored?

“I can assure you I have no interest in trying to guide you in any particular direction. You would be the one to make all the decisions.”

“Oh, yes,” said Britta. “I didn’t think anything like that.”

Britta was well aware of her tendency to assume the worst in, especially when people were trying to be helpful. Her general lack of trust had always proved well-founded, but Lin had no reason to lie.

And yet, the nagging feeling was hard to ignore.

Britta decided she wouldn’t ignore it, she would just bury it. No point letting Lin know how she felt. It would be rude and awkward. No, she would just be wary, but in a subtle way.

“You’re suspicious,” said Lin.

“Who, me? Why would I—I mean no, of course not. I was just, um, you know, thinking how lucky I was that you would want to hang out with me. I’m not usually very lucky, at all. If ever, so...”

Lin just stared at her, not believing a word. But not in a mean way, more like a slightly amused lioness waiting for her dinner to stop twitching.

“Britta!” said Mum, her tone carrying a mild rebuke. “There’s no need to jump to any unnecessary conclusions. Lin’s just trying to help.”

Britta wasn’t being told off for her suspicions being baseless, it was more to do with manners. It wasn’t proper to accuse your host of being underhanded and sneaky at the dinner table, especially when they were paying the bill

“Sorry,” said Britta. “I didn’t mean…”

“It’s perfectly fine,” said Lin, smiling kindly. “You are absolutely correct to question my motives. Very sensible. You have no way of knowing if I am truly trying to help you, or if I’m working towards some ulterior motive. And to be honest with you,” she leaned across the table towards Britta, “I do see this as a way for me to advance my own agenda.”

Britta was shocked. Had Lin just admitted she was using her?

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Afterword from Mooderino
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