Bitter 288

Britta attempted to sell Dad on the idea of helping the Mayor’s wife. She tried to make it sound like a mission that required daring espionage and a battle of wits.

The Mayor was the real opponent, the devious mastermind who ran New Town like his personal fiefdom. His wife was a pawn who could be turned against her husband, providing vital information that would save the town and an untold number of lives.

“She’s the first step in unlocking the triangle.”

“The triangle?” said Dad, sounding as dubious as he looked. “What triangle?”

“The Mayor, the Garbolums and the dwarves. They’re all involved, they all played a part in what happened to the mines.”

“The kobold mines.”

“Yes.”

“Doesn’t that make a square? The kobolds?”

“Um, yes. I suppose so.” She could tell Dad wasn’t keen. If he had been, he wouldn’t be picking apart her pitch, he’d be getting all excited. “Don’t you think the Mayor’s wife could be the key?”

“Seems to me,” said Dad, scratching under his chin, “that what you want me to do is go talk to a bored housewife. I’ve already got one of those at home.”

“Hey!” called out Mum from downstairs. “I heard that.”

Dad pulled a face and closed the door. “How does she do that?” he whispered. “Ears like a bat. Anyway, I don’t mind investigating, see if there’s anything worth pursuing with wifey, I’m not saying there’s no chance. At the same time, she might be some spoiled brat who can’t be bothered to get off her backside. Eats bonbons all day and thinks she deserves better. If it leads somewhere, fine. If it doesn’t, you still owe me an adventure.”

His offer was reasonable and hard to refuse. He’d always been like that, parenting through a series of deals and compromises, clearly establishing what he wanted in return for taking her and Marisa to the movies or letting them stay up late. Gifts were gifts, but everything else was a negotiation.

“Okay,” said Britta. “I’m pretty sure she won’t be like that, though. She’s probably really beautiful and fragile.” That had been the impression Britta had got from Frau Magda.

“Oh, you think so?” said Dad. “Might need to turn on the old charm, eh? Seduce her away from the Mayor.”

A sharp series of knocks rattled the door, startling Dad.

“I don’t know what you two are talking about in there,” said Mum, “but it better not be anything I don’t approve of.”

Mum’s approach to parenting was very different. No negotiating, only demands and ultimatums. Not that she wasn’t open to letting her daughters do what they wanted, it was just that she always seemed to know when there was an attempt to pull a fast one.

“Just discussing game strategy, love,” said Dad through the door. “Nothing you’d be interested in.”

“No seducing anyone,” she shouted back.

“Definitely not,” said Dad. Then he dropped his voice again. “Like the Bionic Woman.”

Britta had no idea who that was or how it related to Mum, but she nodded anyway.

“Why don’t you just do some poking around and see what you can find out,” said Britta, not sure he was the right person for this job after all. “We can decide how to proceed after that.”

Dad nodded. “Yes, yes. Good idea. Okay, I’m going out there, wish me luck.” He opened the door a crack and peeked out. He pulled the door wider once he’d made sure the coast was clear. “If I go missing, call the police.”

“I’m not calling the police on Mum, Dad. She’ll have made it look like an accident, anyway. So we can collect the insurance.”

“Good point. Why do I get the impression this is something the three of you have already discussed?”

Britta shrugged. Dad left, but not before giving her a suspicious look.

She had school tomorrow and needed to sort out her schedule for the following week. She also had the report to write for APE. Once she had everything done, if she had time, she could always pop back into the game and maybe go see the Mayor. Her main priority wasn’t his wife, it was working out how to destroy a magic book without getting herself blown up. She might leave it until tomorrow, or maybe the next day. No need to rush.

Despite the events going on in-game, it was important to stay disciplined and not let her real life responsibilities suffer. Schoolwork, eating properly, getting enough sleep, taking care of her skin… it all mattered just as much as running around trying to exorcise a dead dwarf possessed by a banshee. She was determined to keep things in perspective.

She did all her work, wrote the report, sent a text to Dr Reedy in case she had some information on the question of how long she’d have to wait before being able to log back in after dying, and by then it was time for dinner.

Mum and Dad seemed to have settled their differences and chatted about Marisa’s plans to go on holiday. Britta zoned out for most of it. The only mention of the game was when Mum asked, “No more gaming tonight?” It was as much instruction as question.

“No, not really in the mood,” Britta replied.

After dinner, she went back to her room and took care of her hair and nails. Then she moisturised thoroughly and applied a face mask that never seemed to do very much but she felt it was worth doing for the benefits she couldn’t see, assuming there were some.

She checked her messages, pottered around the web for any news, and waited to peel the mask off so she could scratch her nose.

By ten o’clock she had done every possible thing she could think of. She’d made a deliberate choice not to let the game become her whole life, and she’d proved to herself that it wasn’t. A good night’s sleep and she’d probably have a much better idea of what to do next.

Dwarves, thugs, unhappy wives… it was hard to unravel, like when you leave earbuds in your pocket and the wires get tangled up.

She was pleased with how she was handling it. Not like some game-addict who couldn’t stop themselves.

By eleven o’clock she was staring up at the darkened ceiling, not sleepy at all. Her hand reached down under the bed and grabbed the helmet.

It wasn’t like she was neglecting the rest of her life. She had everything well in hand. Not as though half an hour in-game would ruin her sleep schedule. She put the helmet on and logged in.

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