Bitter 584

Britta’s regular Teleport spell should have been enough to get her out of this situation. Even without the upgrade, it worked once a day and would move her to anywhere within seeing distance, to the location of a person she knew, or to a save point. That gave her three options to avoid Rick. None of them were working.

“Don’t run away,” said Rick, “I have an offer for you. You’ll want to hear this.”

Britta moved towards the dean, who had turned around and seemed happy to see Nasty Mc Nice, Rick’s character, walking towards her. She probably thought this would give another crack at convincing Rick to mend his ways.

“Did you turn your pendant back on?” Britta whispered urgently. If the dean quickly turned it off again, Britta still had enough time to get out of here.

“Hmm? Pendant? No.” She pulled the chain out of her robe again. It was still a dull lifeless rock.

If the pendant wasn’t stopping her from teleporting away, then what? She was sure she had made the correct gesture.

“My name’s Nasty — just a name, I’m quite nice really. Nasty McNice.” Rick seemed a bit flustered, more like his real self. Was he nervous? Nervous about meeting her?

“Stay there, don’t come any closer,” said Britta in a deep voice. She didn’t want Rick to recognise her. “We can’t talk here. Too many people,” she added in a very poor Scottish accent.

Rick stopped and looked at the dean. The dean looked a bit hurt at the implication.

“I don’t mean her,” said Britta, her Scottish slipping into Irish, or something close to it. “I mean…” She looked up into the sky. If she could get Rick to think the powers that be were observing them, maybe he would back off. He wouldn’t want to expose himself.

“That’s fine, that’s fine,” said Rick. “I don’t care who’s listening. I just—”

“No, don’t!” said Britta. She was doing her best to impress on him that they were under surveillance and he would be better off leaving her alone.

“Really, it’s fine. I have a way of blocking them temporarily.” He reached into his top and pulled out a pendant much like the dean’s, only bigger and shinier. “We can speak freely for a few minutes. They’ll just think there’s a glitch. Happens all the time.”

How had he got one of those? And why could it stop APE listening and her from doing magic? Wasn’t that a bit too good? Then again, he was hardly one to follow the rules.

If the device could block APE, what about the AI? Either way, she still didn’t want to have this conversation.

What it made Britta realise was that even if she got her Teleport upgraded, that still wouldn’t mean she was safe. There were obviously ways to simply stop her from using magic. And if Rick and the dean had the ability, the AI certainly would, too. L-15 could just turn off her abilities.

How was that fair? Fighter characters wouldn’t be that easily stopped from using their skills. There wasn’t going to be a magical artefact that prevented someone from pulling their sword out of its scabbard.

Even if mages were super-powerful, that didn’t mean it was okay to negate their abilities so easily.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Britta. “If you talk to me, I’ll have to talk to them. I’ve been doing my best to leave you alone — I can turn a blind eye if I don’t spend any time around you — but once we interact, I have to report what I learn. And they won’t be very happy with what you’ve been doing. Sharing helmets between people will get you banned.”

Rick looked shocked. Britta realised she had forgotten to change her voice. Had he recognised her?

“How did you know that?” said Rick.

“It doesn’t matter, how I know, I just know,” she said in something that started out Welsh and ended up Pakistani. “They might not care if you hack your Anderson cradle for personal gain” —actually, they’d probably be delighted and call him in to find out how he’d done it— “but sharing helmets means lost revenue. If people don’t have to buy their own helmets, that’s going to mean lower sales. They won’t stand for you taking money out of their pockets.”

She felt she was making a strong case, not based on the grounds of safety or IP rights, but on the basic principle of business. Dad always said the only thing that made a game company fix a bug was if it was costing them money. Judging by Rick’s expression, he thought the same as Dad.

“Oh. Yes, I suppose you’re right.” He began fiddling with the pendant. “Yes, yes, that wouldn’t look good.”

Her plan was working. She had finally got through to him in a language he understood — Dad’s language.

“By the way, where did you get that pendant?” asked Britta.

“Oh, this?” said Rick. “It’s a rare drop from a bear-owl. You can pick one up in the auction house, though. Easier than trying to hunt one yourself — tiny things fly too fast. It blocks low-level spells including your own, which is a bit of a pain, but I made a few adjustments, introduced a feedback loop, hehe, doubled the gain—”

“So it only stops low-level magic?” said Britta. She turned to the dean. “Is yours the same?”

“Of course. Stage five spells and higher can’t be blocked. That would break the mana system. About my books.”

It felt like that was something important. If it was only low-level spells that could be nullified, Britta just had to get access to high-level ones.

“I really think we should stop with this book-burning business. You’ve made your point—”

“Hold on,” said Britta. “If you’re blocking APE, but she can hear you, doesn’t that mean…”

“Yes,” said N-28, suddenly standing next to the dean. “I can hear you, too.”

“Ah,” said Rick. “I have to go.” He ran out of the alley.

“That was an interesting point you made,” said N-28.

“Yeah? Great. If I level up my Teleport spell will that mean it can’t be blocked?”

“Yes,” said N-28.

“Not even by you?”

There was a pause. “Not even by me. Unless I stopped all magic on the server.”

“Which wouldn’t be good,” said Britta.

“No, it wouldn’t,” said N-28.

Which meant Britta needed to level-up. But not here, where people were struggling to get to Level 2 and 3, somewhere where they were Level 30 and above.

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