Bitter 346

Britta worried that Dad had blown a fuse. He was too calm about everything. Even if it didn’t matter to him that they were trying to bully his daughter, he should at least have been mourning the loss of the best game ever invented.

But he seemed fine. Delighted, even.

It occurred to her that maybe he was so upset about it, he had withdrawn into himself, into a place of deep denial. A place where he believed he could take on a multi-million-pound company, and win.

Admittedly, it wasn’t one of those evil American corporations you saw in movies, the type who had a firm of professional assassins on retainer, ready to take out the competition. No, this was a British firm, who did things the British way, with regular tea-breaks.

Dad might be going at it single-handed, but the worst he would get was ignored. She hoped.

Over the next couple of days, she heard him on the phone, being polite, but refusing whatever he was being offered. Britta received phone calls, which she rejected, and emails, which she didn’t open.   

Anything on an electronic device felt like it was trying to worm its way into her presence. She felt as though clicking anything sent by APE was giving them a way to spy on her.

It was a silly thought. They didn’t need her permission. If they wanted to access her devices, they probably could. Just like Nigel had. She did feel it was prudent to warn Dad, though. She might not have anything incriminating on her computer or phone, but Dad might get caught out if he didn’t take steps.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said when she brought it up.

“You don’t think they’d do something like that?”

“I’m sure they would. But they won’t find anything. When you’ve been married as long as I have, you learn to keep your hard drives spotless. I barely have anything on mine. Nothing I wouldn’t want your Mum to see, in any case.” He leaned closer to whisper, even though Mum wasn’t in the room. “She knows all my passwords. Thinks I don’t know, but I know.”

He leaned back and waggled his eyebrows. How was knowing she had his passwords something to be pleased about?

“I suppose they’ll stop bothering us once the game goes live,” said Britta.

Dad scoffed. “I seriously doubt it. Now’s when things get interesting. They’ve tried badgering and cajoling. I expect the next move will be to start throwing things at us for free.”

“Why would they do that?”

“Try to win us over, act of goodwill, you know, butter us up and make us feel we owe them something. I wouldn’t be surprised if my pod suddenly turned up soon, all better.”

It seemed a strange tactic to go from trying to make a deal, to giving in and just handing over stuff without receiving anything in return. She couldn’t see anything they did making her grateful enough to suddenly change her mind.

There really wasn’t anything about the game she was excited about, anymore.

On Thursday, as Dad had predicted, they brought his pod back. It looked like the same men in the same truck, but it was hard to be sure. They carried the various segments into the living room as Britta prepared to go to school. Perhaps the pieces had been sitting in the back of the truck all this time.

Dad had made no concessions, just politely refused them on the phone. She wasn’t even sure who he was talking to. Probably not Dr Reedy — she had to have work to do with the launch only a day away.

“I can do that,” said Dad on the phone. “Yes, let me talk to my daughter first.” He looked over at her and nodded. Then he gave her a thumbs up. Whatever he was negotiating, it was going well. Which was slightly annoying since Britta wasn’t interested in any deal of any kind. She wanted to be left alone. The way APE had handled things only convinced her of that more.

Dad, however, was finding his new role as master manipulator to be very engaging. This was what happened when he had his normal distractions removed. He started playing games in the real world.

“I’ve convinced them to let us speak directly to the people in charge.”

“Clark and Harman?” said Britta.

“No. I mean the people really in charge. They’re in town for the launch. They’re sending a car for us. They were reluctant, but I gave them no choice.”

“You convinced them, did you?” asked Mum. She was standing over by the window.

“Yes. They were still trying to pretend everything was going smoothly, but they’re clearly panicking. Ready to fold and give us what we want.”

“Which is what?” asked Britta. Despite herself, she was curious to know what it was Dad had been trying to arrange all this time.

“If you convinced them,” said Mum, “why is it that the car they sent is already here, and has been parked outside for the last hour?”

“What?” said Dad. “No, that’s not…” He was at the window, peering out. “Oh, yes. That’s them. I guess they anticipated my demands.”

He didn’t sound so sure of himself now.

“Or,” said Mum, “they got you to ask what they wanted you to ask, and made it look like it was your idea.”

Dad looked at her, then stared out of the window again.

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