This time Britta didn’t reappear in the meadow when she died. Everything was white and two buttons appeared in front of her.
Do you wish to return to the last restore point?
The words appeared over the buttons and were also spoken by a soft, female voice. Britta pressed the Yes button, but she didn’t change locations. Instead, a new message appeared.
Because you died, you are locked out of New World for 24 hours. Please log in when the time has elapsed.
What was the point of asking her if she wanted to log back in if she wasn’t allowed to? The people who designed the game clearly preferred to take three steps whenever one would have sufficed. It was incredibly irritating.
The two buttons were still there. It was idiotic. She pressed No.
Would you like to exit New World?
It was almost like they were trying to piss people off. She pressed Yes.
The whiteness around her faded to black. There was a sharp prick behind her left eye and then the world around her slowly came into focus.
She was in her living room, lying in the pod. The lid had opened but it was still dark. It took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the soft yellow glow of the streetlight filtering in through the window.
Slowly, Britta sat up. She felt sticky. Her nightshirt was soaked with sweat, which was strange. It wasn’t like she had done anything physical. She wasn’t out of breath or even particularly tired. She stood up and stepped out of the pod. Suddenly the world seemed to go all wobbly and she nearly fell over.
At first she thought she was having some kind of seizure—it wouldn’t be surprising to learn the machine had side-effects—but as her sense of balance returned she recognised the feeling as being the same as when she had first entered the game world as a gnome. It had taken her a while to get used to her new body and apparently it also took a moment to get used to her old one. If this was going to happen every time she switched, it would make for a very annoying transition.
Not that it mattered since she didn’t plan on going back anytime soon. Or ever.
Britta made her way back upstairs and once she was back in her bedroom she changed her clothes and got into bed. Dad was still snoring away and no one had noticed her night time adventure. She wondered if he would realise someone had been in the pod when he used it in the morning. There was bound to be some kind of user log detailing who and how long and probably a host of other data. Maybe even a video recording.
Britta didn’t care. He could tell her off if he wanted, although she would prefer swift punishment over a long lecture about respecting other people’s property. She still recalled the two hour rant she’d received when she was five and opened one of his Marvel action figures. Why would a grown man even want a Hulk doll? With thoughts of how dumb boys were, she drifted off to sleep.
When she woke the next morning, Britta felt terrible. Her body ached, her eyelids felt ridiculously heavy and she had a headache. She forced herself out of bed.
Even if she was coming down with something there was no way she could take the day off. There was too much to do with mock exams coming up. The last thing she needed was to screw up her academic record. It wasn’t like she could rely on her looks to get by.
She scowled at herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth. She looked like she was foaming at the mouth. Better-looking than a gnome, though. After a night’s sleep, even one that left her feeling weak and exhausted, she no longer felt depressed and sorry for herself. The hell with everyone.
After showering and getting dressed she felt slightly better and went downstairs. Mum had already left for work, as usual, and Dad was pottering around the kitchen making a mess. There was a bowl of cereal on the table which may have been for him, but Britta sat down and started eating it.
“You don’t look so great,” he said.
“So I’ve heard,” said Britta as she finished off the Weetabix in record time. “Gotta go, don’t want to miss the bus.”
She hurried out before he could say anything else.
“You look awful,” said Rashida. It was starting to feel like everyone thought she was a horrible dog and wanted to make sure she knew it.
“Thanks,” said Britta. Might as well accept it. No one would ever find her attractive, which was even more reason to knuckle down and make sure she could look after herself in her spinsterhood.
“No, I mean it. You’ve got dark rings around your eyes and your skin looks all pasty. Even more than usual. What have you been doing? Self-abuse?”
“Shut up!” They were in the middle of Advanced Maths and Rashida wasn’t one for keeping her voice down. Fortunately, the teacher was talking to someone at the back of the class and everyone else was too busy with their glittering social lives to take any notice.
“What?” said Rashida. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Not a sin.”
“I just had a rough night, okay?” Britta gave Rashida a long stare that clearly indicated to let it go.
Rashida ignored the sign. “Camomile tea, that’s what you should drink before you go to bed. Works wonders. The cup also warms up your fingers.” She waggled her heavy, untrimmed eyebrows.
Before Britta could respond—not that she had a response other than to ask to change seats with someone—the class door opened and a boy stood there. Lewis.