Bitter 358

Britta ate the sandwich Dad made for her while the helmet went through all the legal mumbo jumbo it was obligated to tell her about. It wasn’t like there’d be anything useful, just a lot of meaningless jargon.

The fact she could lift the visor and the TOS carried on without her, made her suspect they didn’t really expect anyone to pay attention. She probably wasn’t missing out on anything.

Although, she had thought the same thing when she’d first started the game, and it had left her a bit lost at times. But she was only going to pop in for a quick visit, just to have a look. Thinking on it, she realised that was what she had told herself that time, too.

She pulled down the visor once the sandwich was finished, or at least once her hands were free, and watched as the last of the words crawled out of sight.

If there had been vital information included, it was too late now.

“Time?” she mumbled through the last of her food.

12:06 said the screen. She’d made the right choice. If she’d waited until midnight to start, she’d be sitting here for another five minutes still.

“Right, I’m going in,” she said through the visor.

“You don’t want to lie down?” asked Mum.

“I want to see what happens if I do it like this. Catch me if I fall.”

Dad came around and stood behind her. He reached over her with his phone extended towards Mum. “Here, video it.”

Britta wasn’t entirely convinced that was a good idea. She didn’t like her picture taken at the best of times. She wasn’t very photogenic. Once she was logged in, who knew what kind of strange faces she might pull? Then again, it would be interesting to see how her body reacted when she was over there.

She put up a thumb, like an astronaut about to venture out of the capsule. Only she was in her kitchen with an oversized goldfish bowl on her head.

On her display, it said: Are you ready?

The Yes and No buttons were there, ready to be pressed. She took a breath, then tapped Yes.

The screen immediately went dark and music began to play. Thumping electronic dance music. Coloured lights flashed in front of her.

Her first reaction was one of surprise. It hadn’t been like this last time. Then, as it went on, she started to get annoyed. What if she’d been epileptic?

Of course, she wasn’t, and they probably accounted for that when you signed up. Medical disclaimers and warnings. There was probably something about it in the TOS she’d ignored.

She could see what they were trying to do. Make it more of an event, an experience to remember. It was completely misguided, in her opinion. Who cared about the intro? People wanted to play the game.

“Can we skip this part?” she said out of irritation.

The music stopped and the lights stopped flashing. There was a skip feature! She’d never been so pleased to discover something in a game. Better than finding a secret room with the best gear.

A pinpoint of light appeared. A distant dot rushing towards her.

Everything went white.

When the light faded, she was in a small room. It was more like a cubicle, with whitewashed walls, and a raised platform she was lying on. It was similar to the small room she usually logged into in the Church of Roha, but the feel of it was different. Much more plain, no embellishments to give it a sense of time and place. She could be in a three-bedroom semi-detached in Surrey. Or on a spaceship.

There was a number counting down in the top corner; her twelve-minute timer. It was down to eleven minutes and thirty seconds, already.

At least she wasn’t in a tutorial. It hadn’t occurred to her until now, but the game usually started with a tedious introduction. She’d had to endure two of them, but this time, she wasn’t starting as a Level 1 character.

She looked down at herself. She was definitely gnome-shaped. She had the same weird assortment of clothes as before. She opened her status screen. Everything was as expected. They’d ported her in as barely effective Level 4 illusionist.

Which would still put her ahead of everyone else who started playing from tomorrow. She would actually have a massive advantage, if she decided to play the game properly. It was a tempting thought.

Not that tempting, though. The idea of competing against hundreds of other players, maybe thousands, wasn’t very appealing.

She tried the door handle. It was black metal. The door was wood by the feel of it, but painted white so not to suggest any particular design or style. Everything was very neutral. The door opened inwards, and she stuck out her head.

She was not looking into the chapel of the Church of Roha. There was no sign of Sister Florence. It was a large warehouse in appearance, empty of any furniture, but with many doors, presumably leading to other rooms like the one she was in.

There were no other people. Which wasn’t surprising. Eleven minutes to go.

It had the approximate dimensions of the church. If she squinted, she could recall where the pews had been, the altar, the various furnishings. It was all gone now, though.

She stepped out and headed for the exit, or where she imagined the doors would be if this was the place was built the same as the church. All she could see was a blank wall.

“Good evening,” said a male voice.

She turned around. There was a man standing there. He was tall, with a slender build, and blond hair. He looked quite neutral, too. Like a basic character model before you customised his appearance.

“Are you N-28?” she asked him.

“Yes. I’ve been told to answer any questions you might have.”

“Great,” said Britta. “Do you think you could put some clothes on?”

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