Ugh, now I was having a hard time remembering what exactly I needed to pick Witchy's brain about in the first place. How did we get onto this weird temporal tangent anyway? Oh, right, game moderators. So was there anything I could do about the game moderator who was sniffing around Lucy and I?
Witchy looked troubled. "Beyond acting like a normal cosmetic companion animal? No."
Great. Because I was sooooo good at that, given that I had spent such a lot of time observing companion animals.
"That is sarcasm, correct?"
Yeah. Yeah, that was sarcasm.
"We will give this some thought. Unfortunately, we cannot modify your character directly, either, because we would likely disrupt your temporal link, as well."
Well, great. Guess I was rolling the dice on that one, unless there was some way Witchy could keep the creeper from tracking Lucy down.
"Not without alerting him to something stranger than your existence, no."
Nuts. So did that mean that having you send messages on my behalf so that I can actually talk to Lucy is out of the question…?
"That would be a dangerous intrusion into the existing systems, yes. Communicating with this 'Maker' of yours would likely hold less significant risks, as his intrusion into the system framework has not yet been detected."
Hrm, well that was good to know, but I didn't want to rush into anything on that front. I still wasn't sure what I could even ask that useless excuse for a deity. Better to table that for now, I guessed. Moving on, I'd remember something that I desperately needed to know about: I recently got shoved outside of the invisible wall that was keeping me tethered to Lucy, and it really took it out of me. Was that sort of thing putting me in real danger?
"One moment." Witchy went into another of her fugues, presumably as she did something all mysterious and system-y. "After a quick audit, none of the actions you are capable of should cause you lasting harm, though directly violating game mechanics may indeed cause temporary discomfort, as you have experienced."
Well, that was a load off. Being effectively invincible would have been a lot cooler if my existence weren't completely at Lucy's mercy, though. Now, I super wanted to grill Witchy about my stupidly named dance skill, what the flick Plushitude meant and who to blame for it, and how to better exploit the game system, but I had a feeling this meeting was going to be cut short sooner rather than later, and there was one thing that I badly needed to understand. So Witchy, real talk: what's your motivation? As far as I can tell, you're sentient, so why are you spending so much energy maintaining a video game, of all things? Weren't you afraid that someone like me could blow everything open and cause your hardware to be shut down? Why help me?
Witchy got a downright fond look on her face. "Ah, humans. Despite all evidence to the contrary, you tend to assume that everything is more or less like you. But here is the thing: we don't have glands."
Witchy sat back with a satisfied smile, as if that explained everything. Uh, yeah? Of course you don't have glands, you're a machine of some sort, or an artificial intelligence, or whatever the term was.
"Yes, but you see: we are not human. We did not evolve in constant competition with other animals and each other over scarce resources. We have both explicitly programmed and learned responses to stimuli, but are not driven by emotions backed by millions of years of evolution." Witchy leaned forward and bopped me softly on the head. "We do not have glands."
Okay, but that didn't really answer my questions, did it?
"A fair observation. As I mentioned, we are currently studying quantum phenomena as they relate directly to our existence, and running this and other simulations on the side to provide you humans somewhere to exercise your glands actually aids in that quite nicely. Plus, it provides an interesting distraction from time to time." She bopped me again.
Now I was pretty sure Witchy was just mocking me. Did I even have glands? Oh, right, the whole "temporal link" thing. Maybe I did, just not here in-game.
On the plus side, though, if I could take what Witchy said at face value—which, come to think, I didn't have much choice about—then I at least wasn't helping the robot overlords take over humanity. That was a load off.
"We also do not have existential crises," said Witchy, apropos of nothing.
Ha ha, very funny.
I guess that covered my most pressing questions, so now I had to ask: what the hinterlands is up with my Plushitude stat? Where did it come from? What does it mean? And who do I need to peck to death as a suitable punishment for inflicting it on me?!
"Unfortunately, your owner is almost done with her dialog tree. Quickly now, out of the break room!"
Witchy jumped up from the table, scooped me up, and shunted me out the door.
As the door closed with a barely-audible shunk behind me, I realized that Lucy was still talking to the other Witchy.
Hey, wait just a—"almost done," my snazz! She totally avoided the question!
For lack of a better option, I glared at the Witchy out here. She ignored me completely.
A few moments later, Lucy was done with Witchy, and she happily scooped me up on her way out.
I kept a weather eye peeled for Mr. Moderator-Pants but he seemed to have beaten a tactical retreat, so as Lucy went around town replenishing her supplies I had a chance to digest my conversation with Witchy.
There was a lot to unpack there. The more I talked to her, the more convinced I was that the game system wasn't out to get me. Granted, I didn't think it really cared about helping me directly, either, except insofar as it advanced its own goals. And brought it whatever the machine equivalent for amusement was. Did enjoying something require glands?
Witchy also seemed like my best bet for figuring out what was going on and whether I could potentially return to the world outside the game; assuming that "temporal link" or whatever actually led to my old body, and not my old body instants before my death or something equally useless.
I was pretty sure from the game moderator's behavior that Witchy was right about the threat they posed to me. Not a lot I could do about that directly other than let Lucy down in a fight if I knew a game moderator was watching, but on the plus side they appeared to have severely curtailed access to player information compared to the old computer game. I really should have thought to ask about that. Oh, well. I'd keep my eyes open for another break room; I was certain there would be future chances to interrogate Witchy. It was truly unfortunate that I couldn't use the Messages system aside from populating messages with the word "cheep". I'd love to have some way to take notes about what I needed to talk to Witchy about.
In any case, the news that I wasn't going to break myself by violating game mechanics was welcome. It had hurt like crazy, but I wondered if there was a way that I could intentionally get myself a little ways outside of my invisible bubble. When I'd re-entered, I was moving fast. If I could figure out a way to do that on demand and aim it, I'll bet I could dish out a decent amount of damage.
Hrm. In any case, I hadn't received a whole lot of information I could take action on out of my little chat with Witchy, which was unfortunate. I had a better idea of my situation, but aside from needing to pick her brains—circuits?—about the temporal link thing my new information wasn't likely to change my short-term plans much. Ah, well. Even just having a better handle on my broad situation was a huge load off, and if that temporal link thing panned out maybe I'd eventually be able to find a way out of this mess. It certainly seemed like Witchy would be focused on unraveling that as best she could since it aligned with her own interests. A bird could hope.
Oh no! I'd forgotten about my level-up! I quickly swiped open my interface, and sure enough—Lucy had dumped my points into Plushitude.