Bitter 287

Britta went up to her room and turned on her computer. She checked her phone while she waited. There were no messages, no missed calls.

She had thought Dr Reedy might have tried to get in touch. Things had got a little awkward last time they met, but that was mainly to do with her two bosses. She had seemed more or less the same. Cold, emotionless, focused. The woman was frighteningly consistent. Britta imagined her home filled with computer screens, keeping her abreast of the latest developments at APE.

Which was why Britta had expected a call as soon as she exited the game. Being able to override the mandatory twenty-four-hour lockout was a major change. Britta had checked the numbers and it was a little over twelve hours after she’d died that she’d been able to go back in.

That could mean she was under a lesser restriction, or that she could have gone back in straightaway, had she been aware that it was possible. Dr Reedy would want to know the answer to that as much as Britta.

But there was no attempt at contact. Britta could have called, but she felt hesitant to bother her. Perhaps there was some fallout from the earlier meeting. Or some other business had come up.

In truth, she suspected the most likely response from Dr Reedy would be that she didn’t know how or why Britta was able to circumvent the lockout. She would look into it, talk to the tech guys, get back to her. The usual.

Was it worth calling her just to hear what she already knew? She could send a text and leave it at that. In fact, she could write her weekly report and mention it there.

It was odd how reluctant she was to make the call and speak to Dr Reedy directly. There was a sense that the people at APE weren’t really on her side. They weren’t working together, she was working for them. As a tool. The same as Nigel.

She also knew she was overthinking it. Of course they were treating her as a tool. She was a kid who happened to have access they didn’t, nothing more. She wasn’t an expert, she knew a lot less than any of them. Her only real advantage was being able to interact with the game.

Even with this new wrinkle, the most obvious way for Britta to understand how the death mechanic worked was to kill herself. Go in-game, suicide, see how long before it would let her back in. She didn’t need Dr Reedy’s help to find out. Dr Reedy would probably suggest the same thing herself.

Maybe that was why Britta didn’t want to ring her. She didn’t want to kill herself. As much as it was a meaningless act, it still felt wrong.

She was having similar doubts about how to deal with the Mayor’s wife. She knew she’d made a mistake in rejecting the quest. Mum was right, it was a very obvious way to find out more about the Mayor and what he was up to.

But if this had happened in real life, if she was considering befriending someone just so she could pump them for information, she’d feel pretty scummy about herself. She certainly wouldn’t like someone to treat her like that.

It was, she supposed, a bit like being an undercover cop, pretending to be part of a criminal organisation to bring down the big boss. If she thought of it in those terms, it was almost a noble objective. But really, she knew it wasn’t anything so glamorous. She would be using an unhappy person to get what she needed.

Which would be fine if this was a game and the people were merely artificial constructs. And that was the thing she needed to decide. Was she going to treat it like a game where things like dying and using people were no big deal? Or was she going to try to approach it like a place that mattered, and use it to make herself a stronger person for real?

Because she could use a little self-improvement. As much as she had coped with the unpleasantness in her life, it had still left her unprepared for a lot of the things she would face once she left school. How to deal with people, how to handle those who made life difficult for her, how to make friends…

Taking the quest and seeing where it led her seemed like the right choice, now. But was it too late? If she turned up at the Mayor’s residence and told Frau Magda she’d changed her mind, would the screen pop up again?

“Hey,” said Dad from the door. “You going back in?”

It took her a moment to realise he meant going back into the game. The strange thing was that she had no compulsion to do so. Normally, she was always thinking about her next chance to go back in. Not now, though.

“I don’t really feel like it,” she said.

“Oh, okay.” He seemed a little disappointed. “Don’t forget you owe me an adventure. I wouldn’t mind seeing this crazy dwarf everyone’s been talking about.”

She had actually forgotten. The deal was to take him with her next time she went into a dungeon or on some quest. She wasn’t really looking forward to it. He had proved himself a decent enough teammate, but he was still her dad, and it made her a bit self-conscious when he was around.

But a deal was a deal.

“Why do you think we were the only ones to die when the book blew up?” she asked him.

He stepped into the room and leaned against the door, always ready to share his theories. He always had a bunch ready to go. “Hard to say. Maybe because I was soulbound to the book. That would explain why I bought it, but not you… You probably have special rules your character follows.”

“So, if I destroy my book…?”

Dad shrugged. “I don’t know. Only one way to find out.”

Yep. That was the problem. Or, only one way that they knew of. The Mayor had indicated he knew how to do it safely, but he couldn’t be trusted. She could talk to his wife and see if she knew anything, but she wasn’t sure she trusted her own motives. Although, she didn’t necessarily have to do everything herself.

Stan had been able to interact with the game on a similar level as her once she’d brought him in. And Diana had taken a quest that had been initially offered to her. Why not Dad?

“Actually, there is a quest you can help me with.”

“Really? Great! Just let me know where and when.” The look of excitement on his face faded into one of suspicion. “Wait, this isn’t going to be a boring mission with loads of dialogue trees, is it?”

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