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Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 576

L-15, the Chinese AI who was a god-like being in the game, was a very polite and demure host. Which was unexpected. Which was also quite suspicious.

He led Britta and Lin through the streets of Shangri-la, capital city of the Legendary World, pointing out major player landmarks: the Adventurer’s Guild; the bank; the battle arena and so on. These were all venues that could be found in Shona-by-the-sea, and probably every other city, but here everything seemed bigger and flashier. The colours were more gaudy, the noise was relentless and everything that looked interesting had a large crowd around it. Everything was in use here, all the time.

Players rushed around them as they casually strolled through the streets. There was a constant buzz of talk from every direction, some casual conversation, some threats, some jokes. It was all in Chinese, so Britta had no idea what was being said.

“How do I learn the language?” she asked. “Is there a translation option in the menu?”

L-15 stopped and people flowed around them like they were a boulder in a river.

“In the world you were born into, would you not learn the language you wish to speak?” He sounded like he was mildly rebuking her for wanting to avoid putting in the required effort, which was ridiculous.

“No,” said Britta. “I would use a device to translate for me. There are some quite advanced ones available now. Did you not know?”

There was a slight flicker in one eyebrow. “Of course. But such technology isn’t available here.”

“Magic is, though,” said Britta. “Seems unnecessarily restrictive not to allow people to communicate, like you don’t want them to get on and find common ground so they don’t swap servers so easily. I’m sure the other AI do the same, thinking it will protect them, but it’s only useful if people don’t default to a single language for convenience. Usually English, right? You know, because of music. They dub movies and translate books, but everyone learns the words to a catchy song, and our songs get the most play. But even the foreign pop songs stick in words like ‘Baby’ and ‘Hey, girl’ and stuff. English speaking servers will end up having an advantage if you keep people confined to only what they know already or are willing to learn, I would bet.

There was no response and Britta suddenly felt she had been talking a lot. She turned and looked up at L-15. He had a weird look on his face, like he’d swallowed his gum.

“Interesting,” he said. “But you are correct, there is a hidden option that has not yet been implemented fully yet. I will make it active for you.”

He didn’t make any movements or voice a command, but the sounds around Britta changed to English. It was still hard to make out what was being said, but now it was the general cacophony that was the problem.

Last time they had met, L-15 had been somewhat offhand with her. He had left her to take care of herself. Now he was all attentive and almost deferential. What had changed?

He was treating Britta like she was an honoured guest, someone wise and admirable. Anyone else might have been flattered, or possibly feel vindicated. Nothing puffs up your chest like others treating you like you matter.

But Britta had grown up around girls. Mean ones. She had been exposed to the vagaries of female manipulation in all its many forms, and she recognised this variant. She had done something that made L-15 think she might be of use to him. His way to win her over was to treat her like he considered her his equal. Which she clearly wasn’t.

When someone more powerful than you — or more popular than you — started treating you like they took everything you said seriously, nodding and making agreeing sounds whenever you spoke, it only meant one thing. They were buttering you up to the point where they felt confident they could ask you for a favour.

“Thank you,” said Britta as they returned to the Holy Temple having completed a circuit of the main square. “I like it here.”

People — NPCs and player, alike — continued to rush around. Most people were dressed like peasants. Occasionally, a geared player would pass by, decked out like a Christmas tree.

“There is much more to see and do here in Shangri-la,” said L-15, sounding like a tourist guide. “You have only scratched the surface.”

Shouting started across the street, which turned into what sounded like a scuffle, followed by wild cheering. It was impossible to guess what was going on over there

“It’s very noisy,” said Britta, shouting a little even though she was sure L-15 could hear every word she said even if she whispered. “And crowded. Couldn’t you make it bigger to fit all the people in?”

L-15 nodded like she had made a very insightful observation. “That is correct, the dimensions of the city could easily be changed. But the effect on the players would be to make them more relaxed and less industrious. I cannot directly influence what they want to do—”

“But you can make sure they do it quickly,” said Britta.

There was a momentary pause before L-15 responded with a nod that was almost a bow. He might have actually meant it this time. But this was no time to be patting herself on the back. She had fallen into that trap enough times to know better.

“Is something wrong?” asked Lin.

“No, no,” said Britta. “Just thinking about getting back. I still have some work to do for school.”

“If I might ask,” said L-15, courteous to a fault, “you travelled here from New World, yes?”

Britta nodded. “That’s right.”

“You are able to travel between the two worlds freely?”

“Pretty much. I had to make a few changes in my options screen.”

“I see,” said L-15. “Good. That is what I wanted to make sure of. Sometimes players have issues when they switch. Options can get locked out, settings get returned to default. I didn’t want that to be the case. Please alert me if you run into anything like that.”

“I will, thank you.” Britta’s interpretation of the kind offer of help was that L-15 hadn’t expected her to be able to switch between servers so easily, either because other players had difficulty with it, or because he had tried to prevent it.

“I’ve never had any trouble switching between the servers,” said Lin.

“You have many additional features to the regular player,” said L-15. “I am afraid none of your qualities can be considered typical.”

“We have never spoken before,” said Lin, “and yet you seem to know me well.”

L-15 bowed slightly. “Of course. The sixth daughter of President Wu is obviously an important person to get to know.”

“Then perhaps we could have a chat sometime,” said Lin.

L-15 bowed again. “I’m afraid not.” He turned to Britta. “I have things to attend to. If you need my assistance, please let me know.” He vanished.

“He was quite nice,” said Britta, turning to Lin. She froze. The look on Lin’s face was unlike anything she had seen before. “Are you alright?”

“He… He rejected me.”

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Afterword from Mooderino
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