Bitter 363

Britta swiped her finger across the screen, moving the video back a few seconds. Mum and Dad were still discussing what best to do about the possibility of the game giving Britta fits, but neither seemed very sure of their entrenched position. They were too busy being concerned to worry about what she was doing.

She had rewound the video too far, so had to watch herself on the kitchen table again. She could fast forward it a bit, but then she would overshoot it, and have to keep repeating the process until madness set in. She was well aware of how video on smartphones worked.

It got to the part with her arm. It was only for a second, maybe even less than that.The hairs on her arm glowed, and then Mum moved the camera, focusing on Britta’s helmet, as though the phone had an x-ray function to see her face.

One day phones probably would have that function, and every teenage boy would rejoice.

She watched it again. There were any number of explanations why what she was seeing was nothing to get excited about. A trick of the light, an artefact on the lens. Maybe a reflection off one of Mum’s rings.

Britta looked up, not really knowing what to say to her parents. Should she be scared and point to the screen like she’d seen a ghost in the background. Those movies never got very far with that kind of direct approach. No one wants to believe the ridiculous when there are so many simpler explanations.

“What do you think?” asked Dad.

For once, she wished he’d carried on arguing, and given her more time. What did she think? That she was leaking radiation?

“I don’t think it’s that bad. I didn’t feel anything weird when I was in there. And I’m fine, now.” Why was she reticent to mention it? She’d at least get a second opinion. And a third. But she already knew what they’d say. Better safe than sorry.

“And how was life in New World? Look any different?”

“John, please,” said Mum. “This is not the time for you to grill her about pixels and cut scenes.” She had a knowledge of computer terms that rivalled any nerd’s, and absolutely no idea what any of it meant. “Dr Reedy said she’ll be bringing you papers to sign tomorrow, so we’ll talk to her about it then. And if we do let you carry on — if...” She looked at Dad as though it was him she was warning. “We’ll have to watch you, closely.” Britta had thought the hammer was about to come down, but her reaction was much milder than expected. Whatever Dad had been saying seemed to have calmed her misgivings. Britta wished she’d been listening now.

“Okay,” said Britta. It was a fair stance to take. At least this way they’d see it for themselves. Or not.

“I’m tired,” she said, yawning. She’d never fake-yawned to get away from people before. She felt ridiculously fake doing it. “I think I’ll go to bed.”

“Alright, sweetheart,” said Dad.

She stood up, transferring the helmet from her lap to her hands. “Can you put this somewhere?” She held it out for Dad, who took it and cradled it under his elbow, resting it on his slightly displaced hip. He looked like he was off out on his electric moped. The one Mum had refused to let him buy.

“It was nice, though? Getting back?”

Mum looked at him, but didn’t object to the soft interrogation.

“It was the same, more or less,” said Britta. “Didn’t look any different. Apart from the soldiers.” She yawned again, this time for real.


“Let her go. You can talk about it tomorrow.”

Britta made her way upstairs, and got changed without recalling doing it. She lay down in the dark and felt slightly anxious. She was definitely taking a risk. Even if they had taken precautions, things could go wrong. She should show the video to Dr Reedy, when she came tomorrow. It was probably nothing, but better safe than sorry.

She woke in the middle of the night. She didn’t know what time it was, didn’t turn her head to look at the clock. She raised her arm, expecting it to be glowing in the dark. It wasn’t.

There was a little sweatiness under her chin. Some on her nose. It felt like Dad had left the central heating on. She put out a hand to touch the radiator, but it was cold. The clock said 4:33. She remembered a dream she’d been having. Something to do with Freddy, but she couldn't recall exactly what. It wasn’t a nightmare, though. She slipped back into sleep.

She woke at her normal time and got ready for school. There was a clearer idea of what she wanted in her head, now. For all its oddness, New World was more than a game. It was the chance to travel to an actual new world.

Not just two weeks in Vietnam and claim to be an adventurer, this was an actual alien planet.

Of course, there were plenty of other people doing the same thing, soon to be joined by even more, but she was right at the forefront.

She might never get an opportunity like this again. It was almost guaranteed that she wouldn’t. If she let go of it, because she was worried, or scared, or had a desire to be led around like a child, hand-held, then it would be an incredible waste.

There was a risk, no doubt. It was worth taking.

Dad was downstairs. He looked like he was waiting for her. She quickly went over what had happened when she logged in last night. Other than the army of knights, which she had no further information about, it wasn’t that interesting, she realised as she was telling him.

He nodded and took it all in. “They’re supposed to be sending me a new rig,” he said. That was what Lin had told them. He still had the old one, though. Without video recording. “If I could get pictures of the first day…” He let out a low whistle.

His head was already in New World. The official opening was midday in Europe, eleven o’clock British time. It seemed unlikely they’d have it delivered and set up by then. It seemed unlikely Dad wouldn’t explode with excitement well before.

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