Bitter 356

The drive home was somewhat awkward. Dr Reedy was busy texting on her phone, occasionally looking up to check things were as she’d left them. Which they invariably were.

Mum had a smile on her face, which occasionally dipped into concern when she glanced over at Lin.

Lin stared straight ahead, lips ever so slightly trembling and a determined look in her ever so slightly tearful eyes.

No one spoke.

With the engine making no sound, and the noise of traffic outside, if there was any, kept out by modern materials, the only sound was the very distant murmur of Dad’s voice.

He was up front with the driver, which was probably for the best. Britta would have thought that with the way the car had been built, soundproofed to prevent the VIP passengers being disturbed, that the front part of the car would have been better insulated behind the partition separating it. But she was certain it was Dad’s voice she could hear. She was only able to pick up a few words here and there, and only if she really concentrated, but who else would be giving an oral dissertation on why Aquaman was the worst superhero ever created?

She almost felt like reassuring Lin that whatever crime the driver was guilty of, he was being thoroughly punished for it, in a way that was both cruel and unusual.

The silence, at least in their part of the car, was eventually broken by Dr Reedy. She lowered her phone and looked around the interior, undeniably pleased with herself.

“I’m happy to report everything’s being taken care of from a legal standpoint.” She said it like this was the news everyone had been waiting for.

Britta smiled back politely. “I’ll have to sign something, will I?”

“Yes,” said Dr Reedy. “But that can wait. I just need your verbal agreement to act in good faith. Not to disclose anything that happened tonight, neither confirm or deny anything to anyone, that sort of thing.”

“Okay,” said Britta. “I agree.”

“Excellent.” Dr Reedy raised her phone again and tapped on the screen to play back the conversation they’d just had. “That seems to have recorded fine. Not ironclad, but it will do for the interim. I should have the actual papers by tomorrow. Now, then.”

She put away the phone, and looked around again. Britta wondered if she was still recording.

“When do you want me to start?” asked Britta. “The launch is tomorrow, isn’t it? Should I go in with everyone else? Dad says the servers will probably crash.”

Dr Reedy frowned. “Yes, well, that’s unlikely. We’ve taken special precautions to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Britta wasn’t sure what those precautions were, but she was more that familiar with how often things went smoothly on launch day for a new game. Mostly by the shouts and cries of dismay coming from Dad’s office as he tried to log in.

“But you’re right, we need to discuss these matters. I would like you to log in tonight, just after twelve.” She turned to Mum, who had straightened in her seat at the mention of sending Britta in at midnight. “Just for the twelve minutes, as President Wu said.”

“It’ll be up?” asked Britta.

“Yes. That’s one of the precautions we’ve taken. The system will be up and running, but the cradles won’t be delivered until tomorrow morning. That will give us a chance to make sure everything’s working as intended.”

“But I don’t have a cradle,” said Britta. Her helmet had been taken back.

“That’s fine, I have one for you in the boot.”

Clearly they had been banking on her accepting President Wu’s offer.

“Do you have one for Dad?” Britta asked.

“No. But We’ll get him one, of course. Arranging for a full rig might take a bit longer. I’m not sure it’s the best idea to give him the facility to record his gameplay, though. I foresee some complications, there.”

“President Wu agreed,” said Britta, sensing she was being handled.

“Yes,” said Lin, suddenly speaking, her voice soft and hard at the same time. “You will have the Anderson Cradle installed within twenty-four hours.”

Dr Reedy was taken by surprise at the declaration, but quickly regained her composure.

“Yes, of course. I was just advising caution.” She turned back to Britta. “Don’t let him get carried away. And don’t let him screen footage of you.” She formed a smile that was more like a grimace. “Otherwise, I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Twelve minutes,” said Mum. “That’s all.”

Britta nodded. Despite recent developments, she still had no great desire to get back to playing the game. She was, however, curious to see if New World had changed. Twelve minutes should be more than she needed.

“What about N-28?” asked Britta. “When can I meet him?”

“Yes,” said Dr Reedy, turning to see if Lin was going to say anything on the matter. “We can arrange for you to come in whenever you’re free. This weekend, maybe?”

Lin took out her own phone, which was sleek and oddly-shaped, like a dish with water across its surface. She stared at it like she was looking into a mirror, not saying anything and not using her fingers. Then she put it away.

“I apologise for what happened earlier. It was wrong of me to behave so impulsively, it won’t happen again.” No one said anything, even though they all wanted to ask numerous questions. “N-28 will contact you in the game.”

Dr Reedy arched an eyebrow, but didn’t speak.

“Okay,” said Britta. “Good.” She hadn’t expected it to happen so soon, but why wait? She didn’t really know why she wanted to meet the new AI, but it felt important to at least clear up any idea that he would be the same as Nigel.

Just twelve minutes, and she could go back to her real life.

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