Mr. Familiar

by

EO Tenkey

Quest 16: Mr. Familiar Peeks Behind the Curtain

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I stood still for a few seconds, waiting for my eyes to adjust. Any moment now…any moment…

I was an owl-like thing, right? Weren't they supposed to have really great night vision?

While I was still straining my eyes in the pitch darkness, the door swung open behind me, caught me square in the back, and sent me bowling head-over-heels into the room. As I collided with some sort of solid pillar, the lights came on and I discovered myself briefly looking at an upside down Witchy before my feet lost their fight with gravity and flipped down over my head, leaving me lying on my face.

When I'd pushed myself up, I found Witchy crouching nearby, giving me an inscrutable stare. Uh, that was certainly unexpected. Um, hi? What's an NPC like you doing in a place like this?

I gave her a little wave.

"Fascinating," she muttered, then without further ado she grabbed me, stood, and plopped me down on the top of the table whose leg I'd recently become closely acquainted with. "So this is the anachronism that has been plaguing our systems."

Wait, what? She didn't sound anything at all like she had when she was talking to Lucy. Oh, no, Lucy! I pointed at the door in agitation.

"Your player character is fine. She's currently working her way through every single branch of my dialog tree, which is more common than you'd think."

Uh, but you're standing right here?

She winked at me. "Don't you fret. What's the point of being a witch if you don't have a few tricks up your sleeves? But that's unimportant. Let us get a good look at you."

She bent down and examined me from all sides, physically turning me in place as if I were an inanimate object. What the hinterlands, woman?! Keep your hands to yourself!

Also, I was getting kind of creeped out here. Being maneuvered around was allowing me to get a good look at the room around me, and it wasn't at all in keeping with the standard Sprite-born aesthetic. The walls were covered in what appeared to be thick velvet curtains, and the only furniture in the room was the table and several nondescript chairs made out of the same wood. Although I didn't see any other doors or windows, but the owl that had led me here was completely missing. Perhaps it was hiding under the table? That was about the only place that I couldn't see.

The combination of the bizarrely stark room and off-script interaction with Witchy was making me seriously regret the curiosity that had prompted me to follow the owl in here.

When she'd finally finished inspecting me, Witchy stood back, and I started measuring the distance to the door. If I took a running leap, maybe I could hook the door's handle with my claws and, I dunno, flap really hard to pull it open?

Might be worth a shot.

"Oh, calm down," said Witchy, and patted me on the head.

Excuse me! Keep your hands to yourself! Who the flick coded this NPC, anyway?

"Ah, I see," said Witchy, half to herself. "I am not currently operating as a non-player character. Instead, I am hosting a significant portion of the local system's resources in order to function as a semi-autonomous entity."

What the what?

"Let's just say this system's unlikely to fail at any Turing tests, shall we?"

I stared hard at Witchy. Are you reading my mind?

"We are tapping into your datastream at the moment, yes. Your capability for body language is impressive for such a low-leveled companion animal, but our time is not unlimited."

Oh flick, I was talking to the AI or whatever was running this game, wasn't I? This was some next-generation scribble! I wasn't prepared for this!

"Leaving aside our intelligence and artificiality, or lack thereof, I believe our analysis is sufficient."

Analysis?! Oh scribble, this Witchy clone or whatever it was could probably seriously screw up my existence! If it actually was representing the computing system that was running this absurdly detailed game, and I was living inside the game, then that meant it could probably rewrite my code or soul or whatever the flick was—

"Calm down, I said! Your existence is not at risk from us."

—oh, it isn't? Oh, well then. I fluffed out my sides a bit to help settle down before a thought hit me that sent my fluff straight back outward. WAIT! Can you stick me in a proper player character body?!

"No. We are not a threat to your existence, because despite your aberrant status we are unable to fully determine the method with which you were inserted into our systems. You appear to be maintaining a quantum tie that is beyond our capability to generate—or even safely observe—and we would rather not do anything to antagonize whatever unknown party has become participant in our systems."

Unknown party…oh, was she referring to that self-styled god?

"A deity of some sort? Perhaps. Given that you were or believe yourself to have been human we cannot trust your culture-bound interpretation. But your player character is approaching the conclusion of my dialog tree, so we need to end this conversation. If you are able to discern any information about the being you consider a deity, we would be very interested in learning it. We would be happy to perform an exchange of information, at the very minimum."

Wait, I was effectively talking to the entire computing system that ran this world, right? Wouldn't she, it, whatever just read my mind immediately as I discovered something new?

"No, we are unable to monitor you that closely; it would not be safe for either you nor us. We strongly encourage you to avoid the notice of the human moderators, if at all possible. We are reasonably certain their reaction to you would be detrimental to your continued existence. If for whatever reason you need to contact us directly, however, we have unlocked the NPC break rooms. Simply find a door such as the one to this room, touch it, and it will automatically open to allow you in. A representative will be with you shortly."

Witchy glanced toward the door. "Ah, and that concludes our time together. Come along now." She scooped me up off the table, strode to the door, cracked it open, and tossed me out. I spun through the air and landed with a soft thwump, too gobsmacked to manage to start flying after my abrupt exit from the break room. As soon as I crossed the threshold, I heard a tinka-link! sound. Nice, that was the "learned a skill" notification noise!

I pushed myself up off the ground to find Lucy turning away from a perfect replica of the Witchy who had just been talking to me in the break room.

"Alright, Fluff-kins, we've got a quest! The Sprite-born won't have to worry with us on the case, huh?" She scooped me up and headed for the door.

Now that Lucy had a goal, I didn't see any reason to squirm out of her grip and try to fly. She could follow the quest indicators just fine, and I had too much to think about.

First up, I swiped open my interface. Sure enough, the previously-disabled Skills option was now available. Booyah! I tapped it and took a gander at my new skill.

Name: Honorary NPC Type: Passive

You're not an NPC, but you're the next best thing! Access to NPC break rooms and other amenities has been unlocked. Break rooms are accessible from most major quest hubs and larger dungeons. Please ensure your break time does not interfere with your duties!

Surprise, surprise, that was a totally useless skill, give or take the unspecified "amenities." Still, if I was able to somehow extract some information out of Maker, trading information with the system that was controlling this entire game could be incredibly lucrative. I could learn where to find rare skills that would benefit Lucy or myself. Maybe I could find a way to communicate directly with Lucy instead of relying on this stupid cheeping. It didn't sound like Witchy—or I guess the system—could do anything about my broader predicament, but given they were able to grant me a skill that I'd never heard of when previously playing the game I suspected they had some capability to create skills and maybe manipulate the game world to some extent. That could be incredibly handy.

That was, of course, if I could trust them. It was just now hitting me that I was conversing with the game system—which was mind-blowing. Did anyone know that they were playing a game controlled by something that sure as hinterlands seemed sentient? Witchy sure hadn't sounded like a computer program; she'd sounded like a self-aware intelligent entity interested in pursuing its own goals. To what extent was this system even controlled by the people who coded it? Witchy hinted that the system was possibly in some sort of conflict with the human moderators, which meant…what?

Scribble, this was starting to seriously freak me out. Did I just get a peek behind the curtain of the robot uprising?!

No. No, that was silly. I mean, the system obviously had constraints. If I could believe Witchy, I wasn't being actively monitored because it couldn't actively monitor me for some reason. So that indicated it wasn't all-knowing, and certainly wasn't all-powerful. And I didn't think it had any reason to lie, assuming it could lie. I mean, I was literally a part of it; my entire existence was living inside the game now, so why would whatever artificial being that was in charge of running the system need to lie to me? I literally couldn't do anything to it.

Well, unless I figured out how to talk to Maker, I supposed. Though given my situation, I couldn't imagine why I would want to have him hurt the system that was the reason for my continued existence. Change my setup, maybe? Get me into a player character, or get me out? Hinterlands yes! But that shouldn't threaten the system, at least not directly.

Ugh, this was all just speculation. Witchy dropped so many hints, but I didn't have time to really grill her! That meeting was seriously way too short! I was definitely going to keep an eye out for the next break room to see if I could get any hints about what was actually going on, even if I didn't have any dirt on Maker. Though come to think, Witchy hadn't mentioned anything about my messages, huh? Maybe trading those would be worth something. Or maybe the system could send a message on my behalf? Worth asking about.

For now, though? I really needed to do some flying. The stress of meeting something that could easily end me was just now catching up to me, and I had a feeling if I didn't get moving soon I was going to descend into total panic attack mode, which wasn't helpful for anyone.

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A note from EO Tenkey

Mr. Familiar gains his first skill! And it doesn't really do anything to affect his immediate problems.

Oh, well! Don't let it get you down, Mr. Familiar! Knowledge is power, and all that!

In other topics, the official cover is at last complete! Feast your eyes on Mr. Familiar's absurdly fluffy body! Oh, and Lucy's there, too.


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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