“Are you sure about this?” said MrKappa.
“She’s the only other person we can ask,” said Britta. “She can only say no.”
MrKappa looked at Owen, who shrugged. The three of them were in a small huddle with their screens open. Gabba was still in their group chat. She had gone off on her own, but she was still a member of their party.
“I don’t suppose it would hurt to ask,” said Owen. “I mean, if we all have a deadly one-hit dagger, I don’t suppose she can do us any real harm. You don’t want me to talk to her, do you?”
“No, no,” said MrKappa. “That won’t be necessary. She’ll do it.” They looked at Britta expectantly.
Britta’s first reaction was to say, “Why me?” but she knew the answer to that already. It was obviously going to have to be her, she was the boss. And really, what was the worst that could happen? Gabba telling her to get lost? It wasn’t like she would do anything to them, she had her own business to take care of, whatever that was.
“You really need ten people?” said Britta to N-21, who was waiting patiently with N-28. At least they weren’t arguing.
“Have you got someone, then?” asked Dad, butting into their circle. “Only, I’d like to get this decided sooner rather than later. My spell won’t last much longer, and then the rest of my party will probably be back and want to know what’s going on.”
“Yes, fine,” said Britta. “We’re going to invite our other party member. She’s somewhere down here.”
“There were four of you, were there?”
“Five, actually,” said Owen. He snapped his mouth shut when the other two gave him sharp looks. “What? We’ve got nothing to hide, have we? We didn’t kill him.”
“Oh, she killed him?” said Dad. He was always quick to pick up on stuff like this. Try to give him a hint about something in the real world, and he’d react with a blank expression. Suggest a dubious play in a game, and he’d be bang on your wavelength immediately.
“It’s not like that,” said Britta. “It was a completely reasonable thing to do, under the circumstances.” Dad was waiting for further details, but Britta wasn’t really in the mood to explain what had happened with James. “I’ll just ask her. She’ll probably say no.”
Britta hit the name in group chat. “Hello? Gabba, can you hear me?”
They waited. There was no answer.
“Is she ignoring us?” asked Owen.
“Maybe she’s dead,” said MrKappa. “No, wait, it would say, wouldn’t it? Scratch that, she’s just ignoring us.”
After all that contemplating if this was the right thing to do, she wasn’t even going to bother to respond. Britta actually felt a bit relieved. It would have been an awkward conversation, of that there was no doubt. She tried again, but there was just silence. Gabba was definitely still connected, and alive. Her name was right there in the group.
“Sorry,” said Britta to N-21. “Can’t get through to her. You don’t know where she is, do you?”
N-21 shook his head. “I’m afraid my influence is limited to this area.” He turned to N-28.
“My resources are a bit tied up at the moment,” said N-28, “trying to save your hide. Not that you appreciate it.”
“It’ll have to be nine people,” said Britta before they got into it again. “It won’t make that much of a difference, will it?”
N-21 looked disappointed. “I suppose it’s better than nothing.”
“You see?” said N-28. “No appreciation.”
“We’ll have to tell the others you’re an NPC,” said Britta to N-21. She was getting good at interrupting just before things got heated. “Can you act like a basic quest-giver?”
“Of course,” said N-21. “You don’t have to tell me how to dumb it down. I’ve had plenty of practice.” He gave N-28 a sly look, which received an eye-roll in return.
N-21 grinned and then spread out his arms. His clothes transformed into simple robes. He looked like a merchant or low-level noble. “Call me Games Master, here to challenge you with my games. Fun for everyone, and for one, a prize beyond measure.”
“We’ll need a prize, too,” said Dad. “To motivate the others.” Like he didn’t plan to win it for himself.
“Not unlocking the passive,” said N-28. “They won’t go for that when I tell them we’re actually going through with this.”
“You’re going to tell APE?” said Britta.
“Of course. We can’t keep this a secret. I’ll tell them I found an old routine that was still running. I tried to end it without it affecting the rest of the game, but the easiest method was to allow it to run its course. If I say it was your idea, I’m sure they’ll be fine with it.”
“My idea?” said Britta. It sounded very much like she was being set up to take the blame when things went horribly wrong.
“Well, it sort of is,” said Dad. “Don’t worry, it’s just a bit of fun, right?”
“Right,” said N-21.
“And the reward?” Dad wasn’t one to let anyone forget about that.
“How about a couple of attribute points?” said N-21 to N-28.
N-28 sighed. “One attribute point.”
It was a reasonable prize. Normally you would only get to raise your attributes when you levelled up, or if you found a rare book.
“Okay,” said Britta. “I suppose you better go get the rest of your party.”
Dad brought up his own screen to talk to his party.
“Remember,” said N-28, “they’ll be watching as soon as I bring the barrier down. Watch what you say, please.”
Owen and MrKappa nodded, delighted to be participating. Britta felt less sure about being here. She would have much rather gone back to her journey. Now that she knew Dad was safe, there was really no reason to be here. One extra attribute point didn’t really mean much to her. But, she was part of this and she would see it through. Maybe she would just prick herself with her own dagger and be the first casualty.
“Hey, where are you? Answer me, damn it.”
At first, Britta thought it was Dad speaking, but he was in the middle of a conversation, his words not right in her ear like the voice. Owen and MrKappa were looking at her, they had heard it, too.
She looked down at her screen. There was an extra name in group chat. James.
“You better answer me right now, or… or… so help me...” He sounded upset.
“Hey,” said Britta to N-21. “I think we’ve got a tenth player after all.”