Other than Dad disappearing into the pod every morning and emerging the following evening, life continued as normal. Relatively.
He didn’t say what he was doing in there, didn’t have war stories to tell, gave no indication what the game was like. Britta didn’t press him on the matter because she wasn’t particularly interested. She had a desktop computer in her room and occasionally played games on it to pass the time. They were of limited interest.
She could see how people got obsessed with them, but only in the way you could get obsessed with scrunching up sheets of paper and lobbing them into a bin on the other side of the room. Mindless, repetitive actions soothed people who had nothing better to do. Video games were another version of catching a ball in a cup.
Her Dad had bought every games machine ever made. She had played them since she was a toddler, and found them boring. The prettier the graphics, the more on rails they tended to be. They gave you the illusion of choice, but in reality they were tightly scripted and led you by the nose from here to there. Find a key, open a door, fight a monster with terrible AI, get a reward. Repeat.
“Look at Mr Scumbag over there,” whispered Rashida in third period geography. “He’s using his phone.”
Rashida was referring to Nick Newman who was sitting in his chair sideways with his back against the wall. He had his phone out, which wasn’t allowed, but the teacher pretended not to notice notice. Nick was one of those kids who could get away with whatever they wanted.
“He wants people to think he’s cool because he’s texting during class,” said Rashida, “but really he just wants to look at his reflection in the phone screen. Prat.”
Rashida, for all her serious religious beliefs, had a potty mouth and a very low opinion of just about everyone. Being judgmental when God was on your side seemed almost like a prerequisite.
“Maybe he’s texting dick pics to someone.” Britta was quite judgemental herself, but she always sounded like she was defending people when she was talking to Rashida, even when she wasn’t.
“More like receiving dick pics,” said Rashida. “Closeted homosexual. You don’t dye your hair that colour if you’re straight.”
Nick had platinum white hair which was clearly dyed but Britta wasn’t sure that made him gay. A bit of a ponce, maybe.
By the end of the lesson, Rashida had fabricated a whole fantasy life for Nick involving rentboys and sugar-daddies. Her repressed social life meant she had an overactive imagination when it came to what she thought other people were doing in the free time denied to her. It was never surfing the web and going to the movies. Depravity was on everyone’s itinerary, as far as she was concerned.
“Check out Lewis the Loser,” said Rashida out of the side of her mouth as they packed up their bags.
Britta looked over in the corner where Lewis sat, another unpopular kid but a proper one with no friends at all. He was focused on his phone, which was an older, uncool model no one else would be seen dead with.
“Yeah?” said Britta, not seeing anything special.
“He’s watching smut on his phone. See how his hands are moving about in his pocket? He’s jerking it.”
The idea a boy would masturbate in class amused Britta. It should have disgusted her, and if it were true it probably would, but the sheer audacity of doing it so publicly was actually funny.
“Hey, Lewis,” Britta called over. “Are you watching porn on your phone?”
He looked up, his face registering shock. “What? No!” His face reddened.
Britta liked the reaction. It made him look guilty, which would only fluster him more. “You shouldn’t do that with your hand then.”
He immediately yanked his hand out of his pocket. There were only a few people left in class, but they all laughed.
Lewis got up and stuffed everything into his bag and stormed towards the door, then stopped and turned to face Britta.
He was a tall, skinny boy with a zitty face. He towered over Britta, but it didn’t intimidate her. He shoved his phone in her face. It was the APE website. He had been drooling over the unobtainable—not all that different from porn.
“You know, girls who make fun of boys do it for attention,” he said, stammering. “Because they’re gagging for it and can’t think how else to get noticed.”
It was a valiant attempt at trying to turn the tables on her, but he had no chance.
“Where did you read that? Rapist.com?”
Lewis’ face went from red to purple.
“Screw you, Britta.” He practically ran out of the room.
“That was a bit harsh,” said Rashida with her hand covering her mouth to stifle her giggles.
If Rashida thought she had gone too far she probably shouldn’t have said it, but it was only playful teasing. It wasn’t like she meant it.