Ah, okay…Okay, so, hang on. How do I interact with her? Ac1d moves up to the being—woman?—named Crytalis. Scans his hud and sees there’re four squads left, twelve more players—assuming each squad is full. Maybe I have to win? Shit, okay. I can do this. Heart pounding the pressure to win this game unlike any before. There are real stakes here. Who is she? He hasn’t seen anything mentioned about NPCs in the game. This is nuts.
He turns to go, equips the Lasher. Then remembers the monsters he and Crystalis killed and checks them for gear. One has a couple med gels, another some ammo for a different weapon type, and the one that looked like it was part rose bush has a few arrows. Ac1d hasn’t seen a Raptor yet, but in the case he does he takes the arrows. Before leaving he looks back at Crystalis, she’s facing him, pacing, looking almost player-controlled. Weird. And as he’s about to go a notification pops up. Friend Request: Crystalis
“Okay. O-o-oh-kay, what the fuck is going on?” Ac1d asks aloud. Without further thought he accepts it. Not a full second passes when a message comes through.
Crystalis to Ac1d:
-We need to talk, if you win.
Uh-huh. He swallows. Yeah. What? Okay, okay. Get your head in the game, dude. Focus. Just a bot. Right? I mean—and he opens the chat window to ask her “Are you a bot?” then stops. Corrects himself. Not her, it. It’s a program, not a person. And forget it. Just win the game.
Fifteen intense minutes later a message appears: “Well done, Hero Euryale. You’re the sole survivor. Extraction ship inbound.” Ac1d sighs and goes to open the chat window when a notification pings. Voice Chat Request: Crystalis Yeah, sure, he thinks, why not? He accepts it.
“Hey, thank you,” says Crystalis. She sounds—How to put it? Light, ethereal, somewhat breathy.
“Sure. Ah…I have a question. Are you real?”
“Are you an NPC or another player? Are you a dev? What is this? I don’t get it. I haven’t seen anyone mention a new Hero. That’s what you are, right?”
“I don’t follow. I’m not a Hero, just a scout.”
“A scou…What? A scout? What does that mean?”
“Don’t you know about the war?” She asks. If this is a program it’s a damn good one. There are subtle things that mark her as inhuman, but she’s by far the most realistic sounding bot he’s ever talked to. Assuming she is a bot.
“Yeah, between Solin, Havved, and Kvoka.”
“Right.” Says Crystalis.
The extraction ship’s thrusters swing down, blasting the ground, slowing its decent. A moment later Ac1d boards and sees Crystalis aboard and waiting. A weird feeling swells in his gut, a feeling he’s not sure what to make of. A feeling he got when Becka at Shurman’s Coffee smiled at him. The exact opposite of the feeling he got when Becka declined to give him her number a day later. But to feel that rise—that giddy flutter of internal butterflies—at the sight of a computer program makes him scowl and wonder if there’s something wrong with him.
“Hi.” She says. A speech bubble appears next to her head as the words sound in Ac1d’s headphones.
“Hey,” he says.
“Are you willing to help us?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t know what’s going on.”
“We need Resonance. That’s why we—I—contacted you. You’ve collected quite a lot, haven’t gotten rid of it either. We—I—was hoping you would help us.”
“Who is Us?”
“My people, the Frethan.” She says, written and spoken. The sensation has a bewildering affect on Ac1d. If he were to only see her words there would be no question that she was just a program. If he could only hear her words he would think she was a player. But seeing and hearing her at once does both at the same time.
“I…I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Are you in the game or not?”
She laughs. “What do you mean?”
“Are you a person?”
“I mean are you only in the game?”
“Aren’t you?” she asks.
“Me? No. I’m in my room. I rent a room in a house. I’m sitting at my computer playing a game.”
“And yet you’re in this ship with me.”
“Yeah, but…Look, are you a human?”
“No. I already told you, I’m Frethan.”
“Right. Okay.” He says, and thinks maybe this isn’t the time for this conversation. “What do you need me to do?”
“Help us defeat the other Havved and Kvoka.”
“Those things we fought, what—”
“Okay, and how do I help you defeat them?”
“Right now? We need to find and kill Cryptid.”
“The soul-drain dude?”
“Right. He’s a Kvoka general. The longer he lives the better it is for Kvoka, which means—”
“Bad for you, I assume.”
“Correct. Will you help us?”