A few minutes later, a Naga slithered over towards my table. It was someone I knew; over it's head floated its name, "Ks'shsa". I had done some work for her a few months ago. Private, sensitive stuff. "Crane, fancy meeting you here."
I nodded to her and motioned for her to sit. "Yeah, business. I didn't expect to see you in the town square; aren't you supposed to be halfway to being a priest of Slither or whatever?"
Ks'shsa shook her head. "Shilath, the Snake Goddess of Ru'ren."
"Yeah, whatever. Mumbo jumbo."
Ks'shsa was a fairly poor player, as in financially. Her skills were good, but she had never felt that greed that gets people like me trying to make the game pay out. As such, her facial expressions were limited, but considering she was a nun or whatever in some snake-cult, you didn't expect much emotion. Instead, she acted like a snake, and made up for the lack of expression with honest playing; straight voice, no synth. It was crackly, but intelligible. "It's strange to see someone in a world like this," she guestured with both hands up, "to be a professed Athiest. In the real world, gods may require faith, but here, the benefits are easily manifested."
"Yeah, yeah. It unlocks special spells, etc." I waved it off. "It also locks you into a code of behavior. You break your god's rules, and *poof* everything is gone. Well, at least all the XP and time you invested in serving the god."
"You don't have a code of behavior that you are 'locked into'?" Ks'shsa also liked playing these sorts of games. I always suspected that her fleshside player was actually a priest, or perhaps a shrink. Always with the booby-trapped questions.
"I didn't say that. But there are no rewards for the way I play the game. Just profits. My code of conduct is that which gets me profits and keeps me entertained."
"Ah, of course, it's a game for you after all."
"Hell yes. Are you telling me it's not for you?"
"It's... everything I do, when at work or at play, is an expression of my faith... it's religious for me."
Figures, so she was a priest.
"Hey you two," another character voiced from the bar. It was Diad'lin; not someone I recognized, but it was a private voice message, our ears only, it had the name attatched. "Cut the OCC please. Some of us are trying to play a game instead of talk about it."
I PVed a snide reply back to him, but decided to turn the topic of conversation back to the game. He didn't have to be a dick about it, but he was right. Much like I didn't wear an oilcloth into Forestshire, you didn't bring fleshside into cyberspace. It was rude and tacky. "Yeah, anyway, why aren't you in Ru'ren slithering around some monastery?"
She shrugged, and flicked her tongue. "I've finished the preliminary training, and now am expected to venture into the world and espouse the goddess. Level 13."
"Very nice, congratulations. It gets very uphill from there."
"So I've heard. So what about you? How's business?"
I shrugged. "I've got my one interesting case, but other than that, things have been quiet."
"Might that have anything to do with your level?"
"You got in-game early on. You established a client base, right? People like Jean-Paul, Faoedwyn, t0t4l, ic3e. What are they all now? Thirties? I think I heard t0t4l actually broke the level 40 barrier and was retiring and starting his own shard in here. And you're what?"
I looked at my feet. "Nineteen."
"That's what I'm saying. All the people that know you, that find you useful, are beyond your help. What can you do that a level 40 can't just march in and take care of? Hell, who'd get on a level 40's bad-side to begin with? Right now, you've got a horde of newbs that's never heard of you, or if they have, they've heard that you're one of the early-adopters and haven't broke l-20. In game, that's a sure sign you're a loser."
"So what? I'm just supposed to go out and NPC kill till my fingers get numb?"
"Well, you could try some of the stock quests. If business is slow, you've got time. Play the game like everyone else."
Like everyone else. In otherwords, don't be a leech. There was a problem with that. I thought the game sucked ass. "I'll consider it."
"That's all I can ask."
Over Ks'shsa's shoulder, I saw my elf enter. As an NPC she didn't get a floating name-bubble to let me know I had seen her before; stock NPCs like her were interchangable. The only ones that got floating name-bubbles were key ones, like the owner of this bar, Lord Mob. But I was fairly sure it was her. It's not like I could regonize her face; level 17 elf NPCs looked alike. But there was costume variation, and this one was dressed the same as my employer. I decided to take a chance and run a finger; "Elf1705513lvl17:Forestshire". And she was way off schedule, well outside the expected bounds of randomness.
And then she looked at me. Not just in my direction, but at me. And her gaze lingered there. There's no way an NPC could have detected my script. Either she was an extremely special mod, pre-alpha test version or something, or she was being hacked and ridden by someone else. "Listen, Ks'shsa, I've gotta get to work."
"I can tell. While you're using all of this downtime, I'd suggest you also rework your scripts; most anti-hack programs red flag them a mile away."
I rolled my eyes. "Even finger?"
"Dammit. Alright, thanks Ks'shsa. Swing by Metro-City at somepoint. Don't be a stranger."
"Come out to Forestshire more often. I'm in a city fleshside, why should I be in one when I'm playing a game?"
I stood up and fired my logscript at my "employer". Whoever was riding her would probably detect it, but hopefully it'd run and dump and I could be out of the bar before anyone else twigged to what was going on.
Then I stopped dead in my tracks. I'd heard of something like this happening but had never seen it. The logscript converts the data into an item, and that item has a weight. In this case, the weight was proportional to the size of the datafile, an attempt by a hacker to keep the script fair. Every character has a max-weight based on their strength. Exceed it, and you start losing movement, all the way down to zero. Everyone in the bar was looking at me. Especially "Elf1705513lvl17:Forestshire", which was uncanny. She started to draw a weapon, a fair response to being scripted in a public place, but unheard of for an NPC. If the hacker were smart, they'd already blocked themselves against further finger scripts, unless they didn't care to have people noticing they were hacking NPCs. I did the only thing I could do; I dropped as much of my equipment as possible. One of the nice things in a situation like this is that the drop is an instant action. I could drop items as fast as I could issue the command to drop them. Which was fast. Off went the leather armor, which was the single heaviest thing I was carrying, followed by my coat. It seemed to be enough to get me under the weight limit. I bolted.
It wasn't quite fast enough; the sword smacked into my back, packing more punch than a level 17 NPC has any right to do. My life meter dropped three quarters right then. That gave me an advantage though; it was a broadsword which required the character to use fighter-stance. To go from fighter-stance to running involved a small, but notable delay. It allowed me to get out the door before she could get another swing in. My pistol was out and I was heading for the Mage Guild Hall on the other side of the street. Normally a non-mage can't get in, but a PI often has to go places where he shouldn't.
Looking behind me, I saw that the elf was out the door, followed by a number of patrons interested in watching a script-kiddie get his comeuppance. Ks'shsa was near the front of the pack. And then, as I kept running everyone stopped. I got a PV from Ks'shsa, "Stop running! Don't attack!"
I obliged, confused for a moment. Ks'shsa had obviously picked up an invisibility spell at some point, and just cast it. Still, if someone had magesight, they'd be able to catch me in a few moments. Instead of running though, I walked. Early on, invisibility was decided to be too powerful, so they added footprints and dustclouds depending on the terrain. On the hard-earth streets of the town, I didn't have to worry about footprints, but running was sure to kick up enough dust for me to be spotted. This had bought me some time, so I didn't have to rush for the first thing that looked good. I went around the side of the Mage Guild, and settled into the woods behind it.
Another PV from Ks'shsa, "She's heading down the street to the weaponsmith, still looking. At some point, you have to tell me what this is about."
I PV'd back, "Yeah, will do. And thanks."