Mr. Familiar

by

EO Tenkey

Quest 5: Mr. Familiar Porks Out

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The next time Lucy logged in, she headed straight back to town to turn in her various quests. Evidently the duffle-bag wasn't joining us? At least Lucy wasn't acting like she needed to stick around and wait for Mr. Tall Dark And Stupid.

Which was fine with me. While Lucy chewed through a few low-level mobs in the forest and then puttered around town, I focused on getting my diddly interface open.

It wasn't going very well. No matter how many times I practiced the swipe, the flicking interface refused to open. Not only that, but I hadn't received a behavior point since I'd started, either.

I admit, a worrisome possibility had occurred to me. When I thought back over the behavior points I'd earned recently, I noticed a common theme: they were mostly earned while doing something that was appropriate for a cosmetic companion animal. Trying to fly, interacting with my owner, seeking out quest rewards…well, I wasn't so sure about that last one. I'd never used cosmetic companion animals because they didn't add anything to the gameplay and cost real money that I could spend on a few packets of ramen instead. Days of food, or a cosmetic fluff-ball? Please, that's an easy choice.

…Possibly my rates of exchange were a little out of whack there. But whatever, the fact remained that cosmetics added nothing important to the game, and I didn't regret avoiding them. Plus—though it pained me to say this now that I was one—the BAO cosmetics all looked pretty stupid. My current pastel, poofy body being a case in point.

I hoped desperately that I was wrong about improved stat gain when performing role-appropriate actions, of course. Acting like a perfect little companion animal sounded mind-numbingly boring, and there was the little problem that I wasn't certain if gaining behavior points that way would actually translate into improved physical ability to open my interface.

First things first: I needed to test my hypothesis, so even while I repetitively swiped the air I tried to brainstorm appropriate cosmetic animal actions.

Flying was certainly a big one. I didn't run with a crowd that was big on cute cosmetics when I was playing the computer game version of BAO, but I didn't recall the few owl-things that I had seen getting dragged around on their face by invisible walls. I couldn't remember seeing them do anything other than fly or perch on things, actually. I doubted I'd get any stats that I cared about from perching (maybe strength if I perched somewhere really difficult for a long time?). But flying was definitely a skill appropriate to my species that I just flat out hadn't gained. Plus I wanted it. If I had to be a stupid cosmetic owl-thingie, I wanted to fly, diddle it.

Other than that, I was drawing a bit of a blank. I hazily recalled cosmetics performing emote-style animations when their owner completed a quest or got a new piece of equipment or leveled up. I'd have to try striking a pose or cheeping or something the next time Lucy leveled, assuming I got any feedback about her levels in the first place.

I think maybe cosmetics would also fetch bling from fallen enemies? I wasn't entirely clear on how I could transport cold, hard cash around without hands or pockets, but hey, video game logic. Guess if I saw any coins around I'd have to try pecking them and see what happened.

These arm exercises were getting me nowhere fast. It looked like Lucy was deeply involved in some byzantine dialog tree with one of her quest givers. I was getting a pretty good idea why she hadn't wanted Ray around for this. I'll bet he'd have pressured her to just turn in the quest and ignore wasting time on the dialog.

One of the few things we could agree on. The early quest givers were just full of really stupid narrative tidbits that didn't matter one jot to the gameplay. After about level 10 or so when you finally have enough oomph to leave the starting area, I remember the dialog got a lot more streamlined. I think whoever wrote the early quests thought people would actually care about the backstory of random NPCs, when obviously everyone only cared about the sweet, sweet experience points they could gain from their dumb fetch quests.

Well, it worked for me. The room for the herbalist Lucy was talking to was nice and wide, so I had plenty of room to try practicing flying. I waddled my way to the far side of the room, turned about-face, and gave my impromptu runway a glare. Alright stubby little wing-things. Don't fail me now!

I took off waddling as fast as I could, which…wasn't very fast, admittedly. Whatever! I was going to fly, diddle it! I furiously pumped my arms up and down, leaning forward so far that I was worried I'd start rolling like an overly fuzzy hamster ball any moment. But then I felt it! My body was moving slightly upward! Yes, take that planet! You can take your gravity well and stuff—

Bloppata-kee! I was expecting maybe a behavior point, but whoa, a level up?! In my surprise, I pumped my arms extra hard, veered off course, ricocheted off the leg of a stool standing near the counter, spun full circle and slammed face first into the far wall. I stuck there for a moment, and then flopped backward onto my back, from where I could see Lucy checking her interface. It was kind of hard to read from my angle on the floor, but I could see that she was level four.

Ah, so I did receive feedback when Lucy leveled up. She must have turned in the brimweed as the final part of the dialog tree. I pumped an arm lethargically upward. Woo!

Pa-keeng! Hammer you, game. Ugh. That sure seemed to corroborate my suspicions about what earned me easy behavior points, since I'd just arguably emoted upon Lucy's level-up. I'd have to test it a bit further, of course, but—

"What are you doing there, silly-puss?" Lucy leaned down and scooped me up into the crook of her arm. Oh thank goodness, we weren't revisiting stuffing me into her brassiere like a bit of spare change. "Think I can handle that area we were exploring yesterday solo? I think so, too! We didn't have any trouble on our way back to town, did we?"

And off we went.


Well, it was official. Watching other people grind experience points was suuuuuuper boring. Lucy hadn't been kidding about sticking around the area we'd been exploring the previous day: she'd been offing lushes for over an hour now, just wandering around in the same little stretch of forest, and I hadn't any luck grinding out my own stats through behavior points. I'd tried, though. Oh lordy I'd tried. I was lucky my body was digital, because my arm would have been killing me by now if this were the real world. Well. I guess it was my real world. The previous real world? The non-quantum world? Whatever.

I hadn't even been able to test out my hypothesis about whether I could pick up items, because the lushes—a common low-level plant mob that spawned all over South Yorba and looked sort of like an overlarge, multicolor mushroom with little legs and fangs under their mushroom cap—tended to pop when they died instead of dropping any sort of loot. I vaguely recalled that they tended to drop currency, but that must have been routed straight to Lucy's inventory. I suppose in a game where you're really moving around—or at least feel like you're really moving around, since I'm not sure how the whole full-body virtual reality thing actually works—it would be incredibly annoying to need to go hunting through the undergrowth for coins.

Fortunately, I'd noticed that when she didn't have a specific goal in mind Lucy tended to wander in the direction that I was, so I'd been positioning myself near where the trees started looking more ominous in hopes of attracting something that was actually level appropriate. And maybe wouldn't pop in a cloud of spores.

When Lucy had started her most recent battle against free-range lushes, I'd worked my way around and was now loitering near the edge of my range with my back up against the most ominous-looking tree we'd encountered yet. It was a real work of art, assuming the artist liked working with driftwood and charcoal and had a penchant for bonsai. I honestly was pretty sure it was bugging out, because it was several levels of creepy higher than anything in the surrounding forest. Guess even quantum computers can mess up, though.

While I waited, I watched Lucy. She'd surprised me when the first lush rushed her, because she pulled out a sword instead of the ice wand I'd seen her wielding the other day. It looked like starter equipment; probably the only melee weapon her range-and-magic-focused race was granted upon character creation. She was swinging it about with a will, though, and at this level of enemies it did the trick, so whatever. The downside of her sticking to melee attacks, though, was that I still had no idea what skills she was packing. Not that there were that many options for a level four Sprite-born, but I was still curious. I could do with more things to think about because, hey! That was about all I was capable of doing.

Okay, cutting that train of thought straight off! I'd only been alive—reincarnated—digitized—whatever—for a handful of hours at this point, so no defeatist thoughts allowed! I swiped my arm through the air a few times to distract myself. No behavior points, and no interface, but I'd get there. I kept up the swiping motion while I watched Lucy hammer a lush into the ground.

She really was hammering, too. Uh, Lucy? You know that if you use the sharp side of the sword, you'll get a lot more done?

Oh well. The thing's measly health points gave up the ghost at last and it poofed into spores under the flat of her blade. She paused for a moment to check her inventory, then looked around for me.

That was my cue! I stopped swiping my arm through the air like a broken robot, and started waddling around the Misplaced Tree of Doom. Yep, and here she came following after! Such an obedient Sprite-born! If I had a treat, I'd totally give it to her for good behavior.

We ambled through the trees for a bit. One of the perks of Banny-Man not being around—of which there were many—was that Lucy did her best to match her stride to mine. Well, calling what I did a stride was a misnomer along the same lines as calling a log cabin a skyscraper. But she was pausing a lot to look around for enemies or something, and letting me catch up instead of having the invisible barrier drag me around. I appreciated it.

At long last, I heard a growl, and rejoiced. We'd run into something other than a lush! The fact that it bowled me over as it rushed toward Lucy was a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm, but eh.

When I at last extricated myself from the bush I'd rolled into—curse this roly-poly body!—I discovered Lucy fighting a gribblin.

Gribblins were effectively the goblins of Born Again Online. Actual goblins were out, of course—the closest thing available was the player race of Goblin-borns—but gribblins fulfilled the same stereotypical niche. Like most other gribblins, this one looked like a hunched over, hairy human child crossed with a rat. Gribblins didn't have tails, but their faces were very ratty: long snout, brown hair all over, and ears that were several times too large for a human. They were about as smart and even-tempered as a feral rat, too, though they did use basic tools. Oddly enough, giant rats and gribblins never showed up in the same areas, although due to similarities in their models there was speculation the two were somehow linked.

In any case, as I'd expected Lucy defeated the gribblin handily. "I did it! Yes! That's awesome!" She started doing a little happy dance. Uh, yeah, of course you did it. It was one gribblin. You could probably have soloed that thing two levels ago, even with an Intellect/Agility character. Lady had serious self-esteem issues.

In any case, this was my chance! I waddled forward and stopped next to the fallen gribblin. Boy, they were ugly little things, weren't they? Not that it looked very little to me since even a child-sized arm, like the one outstretched and covered in nasty-looking hair near me, was almost as tall as my body. I gave it a suspicious look, and with no better ideas pecked it.

Flick me! That was nasty! I could taste the gribblin! Hack hack cough hack! Okay, I actually couldn't make those noises.

Cheep cheep cheep cheep!

But I was thinking them, diddle it! Seriously that was incredibly—

Sa-woop! Wait, what? I didn't recognize that sound. What did it—whoa!

As the gribblin corpse in front of me dissolved away with a similar animation to a player logging out, the ground lurched away from me slightly. Did I—did I just grow?

Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. I whipped around to find Lucy finishing up her happy dance with a quick check of her stat sheet. Yes, yes, you probably gained a whole five experience points from that heroic defeat of a gribblin. Now come on, there's more like him in the woods! Cheep!

"Huh, where did the gribblin go? Guess it must not have had any loot. Oh, you're ready to press on? Okay, I can play for a bit longer."

Pa-keeng! Yes, yes, stat increases are nice and all, but that's probably just a point to Intellect since I "successfully communicated" with her. Not the stat I care about.

Thankfully, she got the message, and we were shortly ambushed by a pack of three gribblins. Lucy was looking a bit worse for wear after the battle, but I pecked the ever-flicking scribble out of those corpses. They were just as nasty as the first, but three Sa-woops! later I'd confirmed it: I was growing physically larger.

The rest of the play session flew by, right up until I got Lucy ambushed and killed by a pack of six gribblins and she logged out in a huff.

As my consciousness faded I reflected on the fact that I maybe shouldn't have kept heading deeper into the forest after every battle once we encountered gribblins. Also, those things taste incredibly nasty.

I can't wait to peck a few more of them. I may be a stupid little pink puffball, but looks like I can at least correct one of those adjectives. Come get some, gribblins!

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A note from EO Tenkey

Fun fact! There's no eating in Born Again Online. While meals were a thing in the computer game, they discovered early on that "eating" food in the game could actually depress the feeling of hunger, which led to unhealthy behavior; so they stripped them out. The individual who was largely responsible for programming and training the taste algorithms was subsequently head-hunted by another company and is currently making a mint implementing experimental designer "virtual meals" that his employer is hoping to establish as a new niche in full dive simulations.

Lucky for Mr. Familiar, there's always gribblins, though!


About the author

EO Tenkey

Bio: Read all the things. Write all the things. Sleep? What's that? Does it taste good with chips?

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