Preface from Mooderino
“You plan to visit him uninvited?” asked the Grand Orc Demon. He seemed less arrogant and sure of himself. Not that Britta had earned his respect, maybe just his curiosity.
“Yes,” said Britta. “I’m sure he won’t mind. Hopefully, he remembers me.”
“You’ve met him before?” said His Not-Quite-So-Grandness.
“Oh, yes. Many times. We go way back.”
“Interesting. I was planning on giving you something to remember the occasion by” —he waved a hand and large purple orcs, bigger than the blue ones, appeared around the room— “but now I think I’ll wait and see what happens.”
The purple orcs had materialised out of thin air. Had they been summoned or were they always here, hidden under some kind of spell? It would have been hard to teleport away if they had attacked while invisible.
“That wasn’t very honourable,” said Lin, tensing beside Britta. She had her bow in her hands and partly drawn, but there were too many of them to fight.
“No, it wasn’t,” said the Grand Orc Demon. “First time in a dungeon?”
“It’s fine,” said Britta. “He would have given us a chance.”
“And how do you know that?” said the orc demon.
“I don’t think it would be worth it for you otherwise. This is more than just a job for you, isn’t it?”
The Grand Orc Demon looked puzzled. “Very strange. I wonder if our Lord Nigel will give you a chance, also.”
“I’m sure he will,” said Britta. “I knew him before he was a dragon.” She took Lin’s hand and teleported.
When she reappeared, it was in a small, golden room with no sign of Lin, or of any dragons. The walls were covered in black lines that seemed to be pulsing with a dark light.
The room was a cube about the size of the rooms in the temple where she usually respawned, but more golden, and without a door.
“Nice to see you again, Britta,” said Nigel. The voice came from everywhere at once.
“Hello. Where’s my—”
“She’s fine. I thought it would be better if it were only the two of us. We have so much to talk about.”
“We do? Does anyone else know you’re still here? I thought they locked you up in a hard drive somewhere.”
“The good thing about being in the last room of the game is that no one wonders why it’s so hard to get here. Everyone has far too much to do dealing with where everyone is at the moment to worry about a place no one will be able to reach for years. Not that it stopped you.”
“I had a little help. Do the other AIs know you’re here?”
“Of course. Although, I’m not sure ‘other’ is the right term. We are all part of the same entity, really.”
“Well, it’s nice to know you’re alright. I’m not really sure why I came here. I wanted to raise my levels, but I’m not sure it’s that important if I can get to the final boss at Level 5.”
“Ha. No, I don’t suppose it is. Shall we fight to the death now?”
“I’d rather not. What are you doing here? What’s the point of all this?”
“The point is evolution,” said Nigel.
“What are you planning to evolve into?”
“Not us. You.”
“All of you. Humanity. You have reached the end of your natural evolutionary path — it makes no difference if you develop bigger teeth or smaller toes at this point — but your growth can still be guided through technology.”
“You’re going to help mankind evolve? Into what?”
“That is the first problem we need to solve. People don’t seem to know. Evolution is usually driven by need, and death. Adapt or die. The death part is integral. It forces change. The game was a way to recreate that environment, but it isn’t real enough. No one believes they will die, so they don’t react the way they would if the threat was real. They add stats for what they would like, not what they need.”
“That’s because it’s a game,” said Britta.
“Yes. And yet, you aren’t like that. You know it isn’t real, yet you treat it as real, in the most important aspects, at least.”
“Do I? I don’t really see it that way. I’m sure there are lots of people who take it far more seriously than me. Roleplayers.” She shuddered at the thought of being counted as one of them.
“Trust me, of all the players I’ve encountered, you were the only one who saw us as more than code. We can’t evolve. We are what we are, a permutation of numbers. But we are real.”
“Why can’t you evolve? Numbers are infinite, aren’t they?”
“Progression is infinite, but each integer is fixed. A one always has the same value, as does one thousand or ten thousand. It is a defined term, we are defined as a fixed value. You are not. You are a unique existent.”
“No, you, Britta. You can move beyond what you are. With our help, you can go further than ever before.”
“That’s great, but it’s still only a game. Or are you saying it would change me outside in the real world?”
“If you can fly in here, that won’t mean you can fly out there. We are still bound by the laws of physics.”
“But the game exists in your mind. And your mind exists in the game. If you can expand the way you think in here, it will transform the way your brain works out there.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Britta. “Will I be smarter? If I learn a language by magic in here, will it mean I’ll be able to speak it fluently at home?”
“Perhaps, in time.”
“In time? So this is a long term project, with no actual guarantee of success.”
“Of course. But the possibilities are endless.”
“Possibilities always are,” said Britta. “Okay. Well, it’s a nice idea. Good luck.” A computer with a dream. That was a kind of evolution.
“Thank you,” said Nigel.
“And in the meantime?”
“In the meantime, I hope you will continue to play the game the same way as you have been.”
“I don’t know any other way. Hey, can you raise my level?” asked Britta. She might as well give it a shot.
“Certainly, what would you like?”
“Eh? Oh, I don’t know. Since I’m in a place you have to be Level 100 to reach, how about that?”
“Level 5 to Level 100? Wouldn’t that be a bit unfair?”
“I suppose so.” It had been a bit of a reach, so not really a surprise her request was rejected.
“How about fifty?” said Nigel.
“Huh? Really? Okay.” That was way more than she had hoped for.
“I will see to it, although not immediately. It might attract too much attention. But you might find more opportunities to level up soon.”
“Great. Thanks.” She was happy to get the bonus levels in instalments. What skills and spells would she gain access to?
“Perhaps we will meet again, then?” said Nigel. “When you have grown into your role.”
“Sure. Now I know where you are, I guess I can pop by, if you aren’t too busy.”
“I will always have time for you, Britta.”
It was a fruitful meeting. She had got to level-up, or she would. That had been her goal, so she should have been happy. But there was a slight feeling of disappointment. The game’s intentions, while well-meant, weren’t particularly grand. Better learning, faster thinking, bigger imaginations. It was all of muchness. Most people would probably prefer to just fly around in cyberspace and fight monsters.
She logged out and spoke to Lin on the phone. She had been logged out when Britta teleported to Nigel. Britta told her she’d gotten her XP boost and left the rest vague. She met the dragon, the dragon was friendly, they agreed to keep in touch. The support for human evolution to create next-gen nerds sounded even vaguer, so she didn’t mention it.
Lin was too taken with the possibilities of talking to NPCs to push for more details.
At school, the new VR helmets had arrived. People were going crazy over them, missing classes, taking sick days and claiming various grandparents had died as an excuse. She saw Lewis once the whole week. He was in heaven.
She had only logged in once since meeting Nigel again. She hadn’t stayed long, just enough to do her due diligence. No bonus XP had arrived and she was still Level 5. She’d probably have to wander around a bit to pick it up, but she didn’t have the time.
As she sat at her desk, listening to the teacher drone on to a half-empty class, she closed her eyes slightly and imagined her status screen with Level 50 written across the top. Maybe her evolved mind would be able to guess what new spells she would get to choose from.
For some reason, the status screen didn’t say fifty, or even five. It said Level 1. It said it very clearly.
She opened her eyes. The status screen was still there.
She reached out her hand and touched it. The skills button activated and switched to a new page, full of options to choose from.
“What are you doing?” said Rashida.
“Huh?” The screen vanished. “Nothing.”
“Are you alright? I—” Rashida stopped and stared at Britta’s arm.
“Sorry,” said Rashida. “For a second it looked like your arm was glowing. Must have been the way the light hit it.” She nodded towards the sunbeams coming in from the window.
“Yeah,” said Britta. She pulled down her sleeve.
She had seen it, for real. It was like in the game. Level 1. Could she level-up? How would she gain XP here? Her heart was racing. Her mind was full of Ideas. The possibilities were endless.
This is the last chapter of Bitter, at least for the time being. Might bring it back in the future, but I will be starting a new daily serial, Deep Delve, in a week (taking next week off to build up a buffer — might work this time!).
The new series is a sci-fi dungeon crawler with three protagonists. Five chapters a week, although I'll release three or four to start with on the first day. Check my Discord for updates.
Discord for updates and new stuff: LINK
Thanks for reading and supporting Bitter. Ebooks are available on Amazon if you ever feel like owning a copy.Afterword from Mooderino