Mr. Familiar

by

EO Tenkey

Quest 21: Mr. Familiar and the Power of Networking

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Ka-weenk! The first thing I experienced upon fading back into existence was the notification sound for a new message. Well, that was unexpected. I popped open my interface. Sure enough, it was from "Maker" and according to the timestamps it had been five days since I'd accidentally sent that useless cheep-filled message.

sorry bout the delay there, my man! lots to do, lots to do.

lol I love how youre keeping in character! Sounds like things are going good, but seriously let me know if you have any questions or whatever

—Maker

I seriously hated that guy. So. Much.

What a waste of my time. If he was going to dismiss my inability to communicate as staying in character, there wasn't a whole lot I could do. He hadn't even asked any yes or no questions, so I couldn't try to establish a "cheep" vs. "cheep cheep" routine. I closed my inventory and checked up on Lucy. Hm, seemed she was messaging someone. Please don't be Ray, please don't be Ray, please don't be Ray…

I maneuvered myself closer and peered up at her interface from below. Oh, good, looked like she was checking to see if Blocadoc was around. Phew! Looked like my gambit to keep Lucy involved in the game was working out, at least in the short term. I wasn't sure how serious Doc was about actually playing, given that they were apparently playing the game with ulterior motives, but maybe playing with her would encourage Lucy to seek other players out in the future. A bird could dream.

Lucy closed her inventory, leaned over, and scooped me up. "Well, Fluff-kins, looks like Doc isn't available to play with just yet, so how about we go turn in our quest?"

Oh, right, I'd forgotten that she finished off the first of the story quests yesterday, before I distracted her with Doc. Hmm, that message from Maker reminded me: I didn't have a chance to bring up the fact that I was sort of in contact with Maker when I was talking to Witchy last time.

I wracked my brain trying to remember how much new dialog was available after turning in the first story quest, and came up blank. Would I even have time to have a conversation with the AI or whatever it was? Well, guess there was only one way to find out.


Lucy arrived at Witchy's office, and as soon as she set me down and turned to Witchy, I waddled as fast as my stubby legs could take me over to the NPC break room door and whacked it with my arm. Sure enough, it soundlessly cracked open, and I was able to walk on through.

Inside was another copy of Witchy, sitting at the table and looking my way. Ooookay, so that was kind of freaky.

"We anticipated you might wish to initiate contact, and your player character has a smaller dialog tree to traverse than last time so we took the liberty of waiting for you. What can we do for you, Mr. Familiar?"

Right, the mind-reading thing. Made things easier for me, I guess. I didn't even bother walking over to the table, but stuck by the door so I could exit at a moment's notice if Lucy finished up.

Guess it was time to see if this computer system or whatever I was existing in lived up to its promises. I wasn't confident that I could conceal information, so I'd just spit it out: the god that inserted me into this game is called Maker, and he can communicate with me through the in-game messaging system.

"Is that so? The messaging system." Witchy raised her eyebrows and leaned forward. Why on earth was the system spending processing power on making this NPC so diddly human-like?

"One moment while we review your data." Witchy's eyes lost focus briefly while I stood awkwardly by the door which…had apparently closed on its own again, so I couldn't even poke my head out to see how Lucy was getting along. Oh, looked like Witchy was back.

"Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Unfortunately, your player character is reaching the completion of my remaining dialog tree, so we do not have sufficient time to discuss recompense and next steps. Please consider what information might aid you in the interim. The dialog tree after the fifth story event is substantive, should you not find a more opportune time to contact us. Now go."

The door, which had been shut the whole time, bumped me in the back as it swung open. I shot a glare at Witchy for rushing me, and waddled my way out as fast as I could—which, whoa, actually it was a good thing she rushed me! Lucy was just turning away from the other Witchy and I barely made it a few steps away from the break room door before she was heading my way and scooping me up. Close one!

So Witchy had indeed been unaware that Maker was using the in-game messaging. Come to think, how did that even work? Did he have a character or something? Maybe he was actually a moderator? Although, no, that made no sense given that I remained very thoroughly dead and yet incarnated in the game years after the fact. Except…was I maybe not dead, after all? As much as I'd love to believe that, the timing didn't make any sense. I suppose the year that was being shown in my interface could be a lie, but the technology here was way too advanced, which gave credence to Maker's story about magical quantum computers or whatever. Maybe I could verify the date with Witchy—or whoever else was serving as the system's avatar when next we met. Granted, if there was some sort of deception being played on me, it was entirely possible that Witchy could be in on it. Heck, I didn't really have any way to verify that she wasn't just a human posing as a computing system.

Come to that, I didn't have any way to verify that my old life that I remembered was reality and this one was a game, really. So maybe there wasn't much point in worrying about that. I had enough existential crises to deal with just accepting my situation at face value, diddle it.

Alright, so maybe verifying the date would be useful as a side request for Witchy. Heck, she'd probably verify that for free, since it wasn't exactly breaking the game in any way. What could I ask for otherwise that would help me out?

Hidden skill trainers immediately came to mind, of course. If this were still the old computer game and the game developers owed me a solid, that's definitely the kind of thing I'd want to know. But with Lucy being the one to learn the skills…yeah, I just knew that she'd do something unexpected, like decide the super secret skill wasn't as attractive as dagger wielding or something silly. Could I talk Witchy into giving me a better way to communicate? I definitely needed to check and see if there was a hidden keyboard mode or something so that I could compose messages to Maker, and if so it might be worth asking if I could get Lucy added to my contacts list. That would be crazy useful, though, and Witchy had said before that she might be limited to information, so based on how things had gone for me to date I was betting it wouldn't be possible. Maybe Witchy could compose messages and send them on my behalf? Worth asking about, in any case.

Come to think, I still wasn't sure if this Doc character would work out for keeping Lucy involved with the game. Maybe Witchy could provide me with tips on players who Lucy would be likely to enjoy playing with? Given that the system must have complete knowledge of all player activities in the game, why couldn't it play match-maker for me?

I really hoped I got a chance to talk to Witchy before the fifth story quest, given that we'd just started the second. I had a feeling I was going to die of impatience before then. I'd have to keep an eye out for other break rooms. So far I hadn't spotted any, but I wasn't really sure where they'd be likely to be placed. The world of BAO was a big place, after all.


After spending some time restocking on supplies in town, Lucy met up with Blocadoc and the two of them headed off on the second story quest. Turned out that Doc was two levels higher than us, so she opted to play more of a support role so that Lucy could get the lion's share of experience.

Wow, I'd forgotten what having competent team members was like. I could definitely get used to this.

What I was not getting used to was how closely Doc seemed to be monitoring me.

"What is your Peck-Peck doing?" she asked at one point after Lucy finished mopping up some plorgs. We were currently "tracking" plorgs through the forest as we tried to establish their point of origin. Which actually meant we were following some sort of guided quest track only Lucy could see while random groups of plorgs ambushed us on the regular.

Since Lucy was perfectly safe with a competent player backing her up, I had gone back to practicing my ground-based take-off skills.

Lucy turned my way, and I froze awkwardly mid-attempt, wings outstretched and balanced on one foot. "Hm? I don't know. He usually does his own thing while I'm fighting."

"Does he." Doc walked over and squatted down near me.

Uh, hey! Nothing to see here! Just…me standing here looking innocent and definitely not doing anything noteworthy! I couldn't actually hold my arms behind my back and whistle, but I could stare up innocently into Doc's face and make a cheeping noise. Cheep!

Pa-keeng! Oh you have got to be kidding me. If I just gained a point to Cuteness, I'm gonna—

"You know, I've seen a couple Peck-Pecks and other companion animals while I was traveling, but I've never seen any that behaved quite like yours." She poked me right in the fluff, and I reflexively swatted her finger away. Do you mind?!

Uh, right. Maybe I should have given some thought to whether or not I wanted to out myself as an intelligent creature, huh? Witchy did warn me not to bring myself to the attention of the moderators, after all, though she was a little scant on why that would be a bad thing.

Doc turned her attention to Lucy. "Are you familiar with the term 'machine intelligence'?"

Oh creeeeam, I forgot. Doc's an Ivory Tower type, huh?

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A note from EO Tenkey

I doubt that I'm going to delve particularly deeply into this, because it isn't that sort of story and I am very far from an expert on the subject, but there are huge ethical conundrums inherent in machine learning and anticipated break-throughs in artificial intelligence research that litRPG very rarely engages with. Of course, that means that there are folks in academia who make a career out of researching and thinking about those conundrums, and then trying to convince people outside of academia to care.

Mr. Familiar is clearly not one of those people.


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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