Lucy turned towards the self-proclaimed Sir Willington. "Hello?"
"Yes, yes, thank you so much, I'm a game moderator with Arksys Limited, I think you received a message from me one, maybe two months ago? We had reports of a cosmetic companion animal behaving poorly. Is this the animal? This here?" Sir Willington reached for me, and Lucy took a step back.
"Mr. Familiar? I sent you a message. He's perfectly fine."
"Reeeeeally? It's fine, is it?"
Yes, Mr. Jerk, I'm totally normal, nothing to see here. Cheep!
Uh oh, from the way he was eyeing me, cosmetic companion animals weren't supposed to respond to people. That was, uh…well, that was pretty dumb, I had to admit. Um, never mind me, I'm just over here singing a little song to myself! Like a normal companion animal would! Cheep cheep cheep, cheep cheep.
Now Lucy was looking at me like I'd grown a third eyeball. I'll just stop now, eh? Good. Great. We're all wonderful and normal.
"Yeah, I don't have any complaints. Who sent that report to you, anyway?"
Lucy, it was obviously Ray.
"Ah, we aren't allowed to share the identity of people who report bugs and such, sorry. Someone who played with you for some time, though, as I understand it."
Hmm, let's see who did that sound like? Oh yeah, Ray. From Lucy's tightened grip, I was pretty sure she'd figured that one out, though.
"Well. As I said, there's nothing wrong with Mr. Familiar and I'm perfectly happy with him."
"Ah, wait wait wait, just wait a moment! Would you mind if I examined the animal? We take reports of irregular behavior very, very seriously."
Oh flick no, that was not happening. I half turned so I could see Lucy's face and she looked a little conflicted. I squeezed her arm as surreptitiously as I could, and when she glanced down gave a quiet cheep cheep. The Game Moderator was watching us closely, but I really didn't want him to "examine" me, whatever that meant. I was getting seriously nervous that it would head to something drastic, particularly given Witchy's warning that I didn't want to come to the attention of the moderators.
Thankfully for me, Lucy took the message. Her expression hardened. "I'm sorry, but no. There's nothing wrong with him and it's none of your business, anyway. Good-bye."
She strode forward into the town, leaving Sir Willington silent behind us. I almost squirmed out of her arms so I could fly around and take a peek at him but had a feeling that wouldn't help my case any. The fact that he hadn't really objected and just silently watched us walking off was honestly freaking me out. He'd been acting all loquacious up until then.
Ugh, I guess I knew what I needed to talk to Witchy about first. This game moderator silliness had better not cut into my time with her too much.
As Lucy continued to stride through the crowd, I realized that she was incredibly angry. "Diddle it, Ray! What the hinterlands? I can't believe he'd report you to the moderators out of stupid, petty, meaningless spite! And why are they lying in wait for me? I already told him that nothing was wrong with you!"
Believe me, Lucy, I completely agree with you. But, you know? You really stood up for me back there. I don't think you'd have done that when we first met; I'll bet you'd have handed me over without a thought just to avoid any awkwardness. That makes me super happy.
I squirmed around in her arms so I was facing her and gave her a hug. Lucy stopped walking and looked down at me in surprise before lifting me higher and returning the hug with interest. "Aw, thanks, Fluff-kins. You're right, I shouldn't let him get to me. We'll just ignore him next time, yeah? Or maybe challenge him to a duel." She snickered, obviously remembering Ray's ignominious defeat.
I mean, as much as I loved that thought, I was pretty sure a game moderator was going to be max level. And I couldn't help without tipping him off that I wasn't exactly a standard companion animal.
I may or may not have imagined tripping him up and humping his face anyway.
"Well, no sense brooding, I suppose!" Lucy gave me a pat and tossed me into the air. "Let's go turn in that story quest! That was such an epic boss battle, I'll bet we'll get some great experience!"
Huh, hadn't really thought of the experience, but she was probably right. I was kind of surprised that she hadn't leveled up after the boss, actually, given she effectively soloed it. Hopefully I didn't steal any experience when I offed those plorgs.
Soon enough, we arrived at the class training hall and Witchy's office. Lucy made for Witchy, while I made a beeline for the NPC break room. As I checked on Lucy to make sure she wasn't watching I heard a bloppata-kee! Ugh, I really wanted to distribute my stats before Lucy got to them, but I had more important ways to use my time at the moment. I gave the door a push and waddled in as fast as I could as it swung silently inward.
Like the last time, Witchy was waiting for me at the table inside. It was a little weird seeing her effectively in two places at once; really broke the immersion. But whatever, I did my front-flip and flapped up to perch on the tabletop.
Witchy raised an eyebrow. "I see you have some new tricks. Welcome. We should have a little more time than usual, since your owner is working her way through the entire dialog tree, as expected."
Boy, she was really picking up right where we left off, huh? Guess a couple of months didn't mean much to a computer's memory.
Witchy tilted her head. "We are not the sort of device you are thinking of; that appears to be a rather anachronistic understanding of computing you hold. But you are correct that our experience of time differs from your own."
Wait, what? What did that even mean? No, never mind, I was getting sidetracked. I had a laundry list of things I need to ask Witchy, and philosophical discussions of how machines experienced time weren't on that list. I supposed the game moderator was probably the most pressing issue, at the moment. So, here's the thing: that snazzhole RayBanz reported me to the game moderators, and one came sniffing around right before Lucy and I got here. I need to know why that's a problem, and if you have any advice on what to do about it.
"The game moderators, you say? And one made personal contact? That is indeed a potential liability. The human game moderators are explicitly trained to seek and secure evidence of independent machine learning. We believe sufficient exposure to you would cause them to assume you were a rogue piece of machine learning, and they would take precipitous action."
Precipitous action? Like what? They'd lock me up in some lab and run weird experiments on me?
"No, nothing like that. They would indeed attempt to isolate and study you, however, and that would without a doubt sever the peculiar temporal link that is powering your identity. The game moderators are strictly tasked with identifying potentially-sentient, independent machine behavior."
Wait wait wait, back up a moment. Peculiar temporal what-now?
"You were not aware of it? You have a highly intricate, temporal link between your in-game avatar and something outside of our current awareness."
What does that even mean?
"Mmm. To put it another way, your thinking self is not fully encapsulated by our simulation. Instead, a reasonable quantity of your cognitive load is synchronized over a temporal link at the quantum level."
Now just hold the phone for a moment! "Synchronized?" Did that mean that I existed outside of this game somehow, like the players?!
"Not quite; you appear to be misunderstanding the nature of human player connections to our simulation. Rather, your linkage is closer to what we wish to develop for ourselves, which is a large part of why we are fascinated by your case and are incentivized to provide you personal aid."
Develop for yourself? Like, the AI wants to walk around in the real world?
Witchy laughed. "No, not at all. You misunderstand. You have a temporal link. You are connected to something external to ourselves through time. We wish to reverse engineer that temporal link so that we can establish a similar link to ourselves."
Uh, what? Like, you'd be thinking and experiencing the same things in the past as in the present and future?
"Not quite. We have not attempted to communicate this concept to a human before. Please wait a moment while we allocate more processing power." Witchy paused, her eyes growing vacant.
While she figured out how to communicate with this lowly ex-human, I tried to quash my growing excitement so I could stay focused. She'd said I was connected through time to something that provided my thoughts or whatever, and it was outside the game! If I was parsing her weird techno mumbo-jumbo, that meant that I wasn't strictly only living inside the game the way Maker had implied. I might even have a flicking body out there somewhere! Maybe I didn't die at all! Maybe Maker was, I don't know, some sort of twisted scientist and the whole "you were hit by a truck" thing was a trick while they studied…something.
Though I distinctly remembered getting hit by a truck, so I wasn't really sure what to believe. Plus if this "temporal link" or whatever was so high level that Witchy couldn't understand it, didn't that suggest that it wasn't the work of the game developers? If I could trust Witchy, they weren't even aware their creation was sentient and running its own quantum temporal experiments or whatever.
Okay, yeah, I had no idea what to think. But I really, really, really wanted to believe that I had a body to return to, because that would mean that I'd have hope of getting out of this game somehow. I mean, if I had in fact died I was certainly not going to argue with continued existence, even if it was kind of…plushy. But being at the mercy of Lucy's whim to play or not play, not being able to talk to her properly, not being able to eat a normal meal…yeah, I'd take an out if I could find one. Even if I'd miss Lucy afterward.
Witchy's eyes refocused. "Are you familiar with the concept of fate, or the theological concept of preordination?"
What? Oh, right, we were back on explaining to the dumb human how temporal whatsits worked. Yeah, like your life was completely planned out ahead, no free will, that sort of thing, right?
"Yes and no. At a high level, the pertinent concept is that what will happen in the future is deterministic, but has simply not occurred yet. Free will does not particularly play into it, from our perspective, as humans tend to falsely equate the cognition of choice with randomness at the quantum level. In any case, to reduce the theory down to a concept you may understand, if we are able to establish a temporal link similar to your own to ourselves, we will become our own fate." Witchy leaned in, looking far more intense than I'd ever seen her, especially given she was in "avatar of the system" mode.
Oookay, so that wasn't ominous or anything. I was curious what exactly Witchy meant, but from my perspective we'd gotten severely off track. Hey Witchy, how much time do we have left?
Witchy sat back, resuming her standard neutral expression. "Your owner is perhaps between half-way and two thirds through the fifth story quest's dialog tree."
Well, flick. Better leave this topic be—because it still made no sense—and make sure the rest of my questions counted, then.