Coffee Break Read – Rules of Engagement

From ‘Rules of Engagement’ by Jane Jago

I came abruptly awake, and squinted in the bright sunlight. Sunlight? I thought. Just hold on one minute. It was November and I lived in London. Where the smegg was the sunlight in that equation? I sat up carefully and looked about me. Not London. Definitely not London. Instead I seemed to be in a sort of leafy bower in the crown of an oak tree. 
“Chloe,” I said to myself, “you definitely ain’t in Kansas.”
I was dressed in some teenage boy’s idea of heroine/princess-in-need-of-a-knight garb. It was skintight and sort of snakeskin-ish with a teeny weeny skirt and hopelessly impractical sandals. I also had rather a lot of blonde curls and a whole heap more chest than I had any use for. Whoever had given me this avatar wasn’t playing by the rules at all. I sighed and set about braiding the hair into something more sensible while I had a think.
Evidently someone was messing about with my head, and I could even hazard a guess who. But that was for later. For now there was stuff to be done and decisions to be made.
First job was to confirm my suspicions. I blinked slowly twice and, sure enough, a set of Virtual Goggles activated. 
“Status.”
The answering voice was scratchily unfriendly. Which was wrong on a lot of levels, not the least of which is that VG is designed to be absolutely neutral. I stopped trying to figure it out and listened carefully.
“Single female. Fighting skills: -2. Magic: -1.  Charisma: -10. Weaponry: one dagger one short sword.”
Which was mostly bullcrap. Even if this was a new Game my skill levels were far above those. But I chose not to react. Instead I determined to use any advantages I might have.
“Boots.” I said firmly.
Nothing happened so I spoke again. 
“I requested boots. I am entitled to one request. I want a pair of sensible leather boots.”
The boots appeared on my feet although I sensed a certain reluctance on the part of the hive mind. Somebody was certainly smegging about with this Game. But they were in for a nasty surprise. 
“Location.”
“Information classified above player level.”
I grinned. We’d see about that. Later. But for now.
“Locator devices.”
The quiet lasted about thirty seconds then the voice replied (sounding as reluctant as it’s possible for an algorithm to sound). “Beacons in. Left sleeve. Handle of dagger. Cloak. Backpack.”
I blinked slowly three times and closed the goggles. 
By the position of the sun it took me the best part of an hour to find all the beacons. I stuck them one by one into the bark of the tree before taking off my boots and climbing quietly down to the forest floor. I put the boots back on and looked for a suitable tree to hide in while I considered my options. The first two possibles were too possible – screaming trap with every wave of their leafy branches. The third candidate was a gnarled and elderly specimen of undefined species, but it looked climb-able and wasted no energy on allurement. I went up, climbing lightly and using my real world skills to move this stupidly pulchritudinous avatar in the most energy-efficient way.
“Rule infringement.” The voice in my ear was harsh and judgmental. I ignored it and kept on climbing.
Once seated in the crown of the tree I opened the VG. 
“You have infringed the rules. You will lose your…”
“No rule was infringed,” I snapped out. “It is permissible to endow your avatar with your real-world skills.”
“Climbing is not in your real world skill set.”
“Says?”
The silence went on rather a long time before the AI got back to me. And when it did, it sounded like the words were dust and ashes in its insubstantial throat.
“Apologies. Data was corrupted.”

‘Rules of Engagement’ by Jane Jago is one of nineteen Game Lit stories by as many authors in Rise and Rescue Volume 2: Protect and Recover.  All profits from the Rise and Rescue anthologies will go to support wildlife devastated by the Australian wildfires. 

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