Bitter 342

What possible reason could anyone have to spy on her? It seemed ridiculous. And if they had simply followed a trail that Nigel had inadvertently left behind, so what? There was certainly nothing on her computer for them to find. Nigel had seen to that.

If she had been a sixteen year old boy, on the other hand, she would be right to fear what they might come across hidden in some folder inside a folder. It was biologically necessary for them to have horribly incriminating evidence of their true nature close to hand.

But she wasn’t a boy, thankfully. And if someone wanted to have a look on her hard drive, good luck to them.

Still, it made her look at her computer with a wary eye. Even with the camera lens covered up, if they could access her laptop in her own home, where else could they observe her?

She was being paranoid, she knew that. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t right. There was a lot of money riding on this venture, and a lot of powerful people who might not care very much about a young girl’s privacy.

It also suggested that perhaps they were aware that Nigel wasn’t totally uninvolved in New World going forward. She could see that they might want to be careful about loose ends.

Having said all that, it was still ridiculous. She was letting her imagination run away with her. For a moment she thought about telling Dad, but what good would that do? He’d either think she was being hysterical over nothing, or worse, start checking the whole house for bugs. And as for telling Mum, the thought of it made her shudder.

She didn’t fancy being the cause of so much turmoil when it was no more than a passing apprehension. She was just giving herself the jitters.

Britta convinced herself it was nothing and went to bed. With the laptop closed and shoved in a drawer.

She spent the weekend working on her English essay, not really knowing what to write about. How were you supposed to write what you didn’t know without making it sound incompetent?

It wasn’t so much not having any ideas — there were plenty of subjects that she was ignorant about — it was more that she preferred to do work she at least felt was in the general area of what the teacher was looking for.

In this case, she had no clue what that might be. Mr Maxwell had been purposefully vague. Britta hated ‘think for yourself’ assignments most of all. She’d much rather memorise something someone else once wrote, and then present it with small adjustments to fit whatever question was asked in the exam hall. Everyone knew their role, and what was required of them. It made things so much more simple.

Now, she had to think of a deep and meaningful way to express human wisdom. Or something. It only took a quick glance at the news to realise no one had found a practical use for human wisdom in a long time. What good would it do her?

In the end it was easiest to cheat. She wrote about something she did know, quite well, but didn’t really understand. The game. Or, to be more specific, the obsession some people had with it.

She had already written quite a lot on her issues with it, in her weekly reports to APE (no longer required). Her personal access to New World was both unknown and unknowable, thanks to the NDA.

It wasn’t like she was saying she didn’t know how people got addicted to playing games, it was more that she couldn’t quite grasp the need to escape from reality. She had experienced it herself, that wish to be somewhere else.

Life was meant to be precious and sacred. Even the poorest and those suffering the most tried to cling to life. But no one seemed to want to improve it. They preferred to be distracted.

Once she decided on the subject, it came quite easily. Mostly it was questions, but answers also emerged. Well, theories, really. After all the time she’d spent in the game, it turned out she had plenty to say about it.

Her essay, while unlikely to win any awards, made a strong case, she believed, for reassessing what the point of life was. Not the meaning, that was unintelligible, but the point of it all. The ‘why bother?’ part.

It actually made her think about her own reasons for doing the things she felt were important for her future, and reconfirming to herself that her primary goal was to make sure she did well enough in her studies that she would have a lucrative and interesting career. A husband and family were not going to something she would be prioritising.

Despite the limitations she foresaw, she felt quite positive about where she was headed. A desirable future seemed within her reach, as long as she remained focused.

It was a surprise when Dr Reedy called late on Sunday afternoon, but by then Britta had put the whole APE episode into perspective, and accepted it as something no longer worth getting worked up about.

“We would like to offer you the chance to play in the new iteration of the game,” said Dr Reedy, after the pleasantries were over.

Britta had thought she might be calling to apologise about Britta’s prematurely terminated contract. A small oversight that didn’t really bother Britta. She had misspoken rather than misled.

Britta hadn’t expected a chance to get back into the game. Having is suddenly thrust in front of her was both shocking and unnerving.

Did she really want to go back? It had taken over her life, somewhat. Although, this wouldn’t be quite the same. This would just be playing a game. Which made her wonder why they would want her back.

“But Nigel isn’t there anymore, is he?” she said. He was the only reason she had stood out as a player. Nothing else about her or her character had been worth noting.

“No. But knowing how you were able to… interact with the game, we thought it might be prescient to have you do an inspection, just to check the same thing doesn’t happen again.”

Was that a real concern? Didn’t they have it all locked down this time?

Britta didn’t have to think about it very long.

“No, thank you. I think I’d rather not get sucked back in.”

“If it’s the contract, we could make sure it’s very clear what the terms are.”

“No, it’s not that.” She meant it. There was no issue with money. “It was just so incredibly time-consuming, even when I wasn’t in-game.” That was the thing. It had been hard to stop thinking about it when she was in the real world. It took over both sides of reality.

“I see. Well, please let me know if you change your mind.” She actually sounded disappointed.

It made Britta suspicious, more than anything. She was fully aware how sad that was. Maybe one day someone would want her, and she would think, yes, and so you should.

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