Britta went downstairs and found Mum and Dad watching TV in the sitting room. They were draped across each other while watching some game show that required people to answer trivia questions.
“Kuala Lumpur,” said Dad.
“Jakarta,” said Mum.
“Is it Jakarta?” said the woman on TV, who looked like she cut her own hair.
“Yes! Although I would have accepted Kuala Lumpur,” said the comedian presenter. “Funny story about Jakarta…”
Britta realised she was from a family of swots. There was no escaping it. Even Marisa was one, although she’d managed to parlay it into a career in journalism. That, at least, was kind of cool.
“What’s for dinner?” she asked.
“Oh, hello, love,” said Mum. “There should be some spag bol in the kitchen. Just heat it up.” She snuggled deeper into Dad’s armpit.
“What you been up to then?” asked Dad. “Bit of a pain them throwing us out of the game, huh?”
“I didn’t get thrown out.”
Dad pushed Mum away so she nearly fell off the sofa, and turned to face Britta. “What do you mean? You were in there during the test?”
Hadn’t they even checked on her in the last few hours? She liked her personal space, but they could at least pretend to be interested in their own child, so she could push away like any normal teenager. She was doomed to a life of being well-adjusted and alone.
“It wasn’t a test. It was the game-changing to accommodate me.”
“Amazing,” said Dad. “An entire shift in the global configuration just for my daughter.”
Dad thinking she was cool was the final nail in any hope she had for a normal social life. Game over.
“I had a dinner date with the Mayor, so the game had to make it evening.”
“Dinner date?” said Mum, her voice deepening to a growl. “What kind of dinner date?”
“We just ate, Mum. And talked about magic books.”
“Magic books?” said Dad, even more intensely than Mum. “What kind of magic books?”
Britta explained what the Mayor had told her about destroying the grimoire and the potential after-effects. Dad asked numerous questions, marvelling at the level of depth Britta had access to. It was nothing like the game he experienced.
“Wow. Never thought about destroying a book after using it. They just go blank after you read them. Everyone just throws them away.”
Mum shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“I don’t suppose you have any spare skill books lying about, do you?” Britta asked him. The game didn’t like it when Dr Reedy helped her, but maybe it wouldn’t feel the same way if it was Dad.
“As it happens, I do. Picked one up the… Hold on. You don’t want to set it on fire, do you?”
“It’s for science, Dad.”
“No, no, no. They aren’t easy to come by, you know? I had to climb up a mountain and fight a giant eagle to get it.”
“Avid readers, are they?” asked Mum. “It’s just a game, John. Give your daughter the book.”
“Just a game?” Dad’s eyes narrowed. “Sometimes I wonder if you know me at all.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I know you far too well,” replied Mum.
“To think, my own family are happy to burn books like the Nazis.” He shook his head. “Have you never read Fahrenheit 451?”
“Yes, Dad, I have. It’s got nothing to do with the Nazis.”
Dad nodded thoughtfully. “I’ve always meant to get round to reading it. Supposed to be very good.”
“It’s alright. Can I have the book, Dad?”
“What? It’s soulbound. You can’t give them away, only the person who picks it up can use it. Stops people abusing the system and buying up hundreds of skill points. I couldn’t give it to her even if I wanted to, which I obviously would.”
Britta wasn’t so sure he would, but it didn’t matter. She had another thought.
“Hey, Dad, you know how you’re always asking to play with me?”
Dad’s eyes lit up. “Really? Wait, what are you smiling about? I know that look. Your mother has one just like it, and it’s never good.”
Why test it on herself? Dad would make the perfect guinea pig. Let him use the book so he got the skill point, then destroy the book and see if the point disappeared. And best of all, no risk to herself. Perfect.
She told him what she wanted him to do.
“What if it only works on you? You’re the special one.”
“You’re right, if nothing happens it doesn’t prove anything. But if it does work, that means it works on everyone. That’s worth checking.”
Dad folded his arms and sat back on the sofa. “Bloody waste is what it is. I was looking forward to that extra point in agility.” Then his mood suddenly changed. “Actually, it’s fine. I’ll help you.”
“Yep. And in return, you can help me.”
“Help you how?” said Britta, already regretting whatever he was about to say.
“You can bring your old Dad along on one of your adventures.” He smiled, very pleased with himself. “Let your daughter take you to work day.”