Stoni had no memory of succeeding at anything significant, but she doubted she'd ever experienced a success so hollow. After struggling the whole way to Star Town, all she had to show for it was more paperwork. At least this time she didn't have to explain why she'd failed. Not failing was its own reward.
I have to focus on the bright side. I made a step forward, instead of a step back. Hopefully the player I helped back to town will give me a good rating when they next log in.
Earning enough high ratings would earn Stoni the attention of a slightly higher calibre of players. If she continued to succeed, she could become a valued employee.
Kanda said that was possible, but I'm not sure I can trust that. We're a bunch of hazy ghost beings locked away in a featureless room. I get the feeling that we're only valued as a source of revenue. Am I the only one who feels this way? The other ghosts seem to be eerily compliant. Are they too mentally broken, or are we all being compliant to protect ourselves? Has everyone else accepted that this situation is normal and right? What's really going on here?
Much was wrong about this situation. The 'employees' in Cube Farm 3 seemed to only exist to perform VIVID missions. There was no allowance for any social interaction. Stoni didn't actually remember social interaction, but she knew it was important.
And what about sleep? And food? Do we not need those, because we're ghosts? What does that actually mean? What is a ghost and how did I become one? What was the ghost cache?
There were no answers, only empty holes. Trying to find meaning in her memories was like looking for pictures in a plate of multicoloured pasta.
I have to keep going, so I can find the answers. I must find the answers before I do anything drastic. It's possible my hopes and fears are irrational and I might ruin a good situation for all of us. Or I could ruin our chances at escape or improving our lives by acting too soon. I feel like I've seen this sort of dilemma in some sort of entertainment. Just keep working, improving and learning. Don't freak out and don't stand out.
While engaged in these musings, Stoni had mindlessly filled out her mission report. There was essentially nothing to report, but the form had spaces for a lot of nothing. The next mission started after a few minutes of bored waiting. It was almost the same as the first, barring a minor detail.
"Who names these places?" Stoni muttered through the mouth of Olice Nevaki. "At least I'm reasonably tall this time."
Rabbit Flats was similar to Rabbit Hills, except flatter and to the east of Star Town. Unfortunately it was also wetter in many places, to the point of being boggy. This made it both difficult and unpleasant to navigate.
"This is more like Rabbit Swamp than Rabbit Flats," Stoni made Olice say out loud. She rather liked Olice's voice. It had a pleasant lilt to it.
It's odd that I'm picking up accents from the characters I'm playing, but I'm getting some of their memories too, so that seems consistent.
With great effort, Olice cleared the waterlogged part of the flats without drowning in a puddle. Her rather nice chequered dress had been splattered with mud and her long red hair had slipped out of its ponytail. "I have a feeling I'm not getting a great rating for this job," she said, after spitting out a leaf.
"Ahh, that makes it all worth it! Although... being better at walking through mud isn't going to be any use for the rest of the mission. I hope."
"Who said that? Oh, hey there!" said a voice off to her left.
She turned and saw a figure in formerly shining armour. He was a tall man with a long dagger in his left hand and a large black sack in the other. The pain and confusion from her right eye briefly flared. Upon a second look, she noticed blood on the dagger and many small lumps in the bag. "Hunting rabbits?"
"Yeah, newbie quest stuff. It's not at all fun but I need the money and it's alright for skill training. You?"
"Oh, I'm just headed back to town. Um..."
"Huh? Oh, are you one of those ghosts?" He sounded more curious than anything else.
"Yeah. Have you ever used one?"
"Nah, that all seems like a way of getting money out of people who can't plan their time properly. I make sure I'm going to be in a reasonably safe place when my time's up."
Ghosts were discouraged from talking to players, unless making a sales pitch. "We offer more than just return services. We have the best prices for extra skill training, and we have a fast travel option to do boring travel during your waketime. And return services can be good insurance just in case you get delayed or interrupted. You wouldn't want to lose all those rabbit carcasses you fought for because an emergency pulled you out of VIVID, would you? And that suit of metal armour can't have been cheap."
The man shrugged. "It was a gift from a friend who invited me to try out RoR. Just some old stuff he didn't need anymore."
"Well if you lose it you're not gonna find anything that good for a long time." Stoni had no idea whether that was correct, but it seemed reasonable. "It's worth a lot more than the price of a ghost returning you to safety, even one with more experience than me."
"You're new to this?"
"Yeah, this is my second real mission. I should get a move on, actually. Hey, if you do sign up, say Stoni referred you and you'll get a five percent discount off your first month. That's Stoni ending in an i, no e."
"Stoni with an i, got it. Thanks, I'll let you get back to your... ghosting." He looked like he wanted to ask a lot more questions, but knew he wouldn't get answers. "Good luck."
"No such thing," she said with a wry grin. She wasn't sure where that response came from. It just seemed like the thing to say.
"Heh, you're right. I don't need luck when I've got this armour."
"Take good care of it," she said over her shoulder. "Water and rabbit blood aren't great for durability." She didn't know for a fact that durability mattered in VIVID, but it seemed likely given the general level of detail. It made sense, based on some nonspecific, inaccessible memories.
The player didn't respond. The only further sound from him was a rather dubious splash. Chasing rabbits between muddy puddles while wearing heavy armour was not a great idea. Stoni hoped to avoid such indignities.
I better not be put into that character next, or I just might quit. So far I've only been given female characters, so I might be safe. Switching bodies and memories like this is weird enough without that added complication.
She swiftly put those thoughts and the muddy Rabbit Flats behind her, thanks to Olice's long legs. The dampness was unpleasant, but this was much more agreeable than being Nina had been. She found the road going west to Star Town and quickly hit her stride. Her vision issues were still a nuisance and her left arm still got in the way, but she'd learned to overcome much of those difficulties while running already, and the techniques transferred over to this new character with small adjustments.