Bitter 517

Britta watched along with everyone else who was standing, sitting or leaning around Lewis. The quality of the picture on the small laptop screen wasn’t like one of Dad’s videos, this was blurry like a copy of a copy. The image from the game should have been the same quality as Dad’s, although the website might be degrading it. Or perhaps they had found a way to make videos without APE’s consent.

Whatever method they’d used, it was clear enough to be able to tell that these players were different to anything Britta had seen so far in the game.

She’d been in enough battles to have seen strong fighters take on various monsters. No one had moved around like these players or engaged monsters in such an impressively brutal manner.

Limbs flew across the screen as the boys watching sucked in their breath and made the sounds boys make when impressed by gore and violence.

“What site is that?” she heard herself say. Normally, she wouldn’t speak up in a group, it would only attract attention and not in a good way. Then again, normally she wouldn’t join a group so brazenly. Since that line had already been crossed, she had decided to go all in.

She was ignored.

“Hey, Lewis! What site?” She spoke louder and firmer, a tone which could easily rile teenage boys into turning on her. But they were too immersed in the fighting, their joyous swears and slaps on the back drowning her out. They were thoroughly entertained by the sight of the death ballet performed in front of them.

Lewis turned and caught sight of Britta, catching the tone if not the question.

“Hey!” he said. “I want to talk to you.” He tried to stand up, but the boy-sounds turned from hoots of pleasure to hoots of derision. He was trying to take their entertainment away.

Realising it would be more trouble than it was worth, he shoved his laptop, which was only slightly larger than a tablet, into the hands of one of the nearest boy and squeezed out of the throng.

Britta backed away as he approached, not wanting to be overheard. She didn’t think he would intentionally reveal anything, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t let something slip by accident.

“Do you know who those people fighting are?” she asked him in a lowered voice.

“That’s what I was going to ask you,” he said, dropping his voice to match hers.

“How would I know?” She said it with surprise, impressing herself with how genuine she sounded. It helped that she still didn’t think of herself as a real gamer, so her first reaction to anything game-related was to assume she had no idea, even when she did.

“They’re awesome.” Lewis had stars in his eyes, the way a girl did when a teenage popstar hit a high note especially for them. “Is this what it’s like in the game for your dad?”

He had at least made an effort to keep his voice down.

“I have no idea. I doubt it. He isn’t really a ‘jump around and kick you in the face’ type of person.”

“He might be, in the game, I mean,” said Lewis.

It was true, the game could transform you into an ass-kicking superhero. It was what made these boys so excited, the idea of being as tough and violent as they were in their dreams. Britta suspected they would be in for a shock if they ever got in the game, though. The fights weren’t as easy as the mystery experts made them look.

“They’ve been releasing these videos on Chinese websites, so I guess they’re Chinese. Doesn’t help I can’t understand anything on the site. I tried translating it using free software, you can get online, but it mostly comes out as nonsense. They don’t think the same as us in different parts of the world.”

Britta was inclined to agree. Her experience with the Chinese people she’d met so far was that they communicated with Westerners by adjusting their natural behaviour so they could be understood. They didn’t act like that towards each other.

Not that she was an expert on such matters. She was even less proficient in the international world of business than she was in the game world. APE and the people in President Wu’s company would probably be aware of this site already — it might even belong to them — but she would like to know for herself exactly what was going on. Were these really Chinese players? Had they been given permission to upload videos like Dad? And if that was the case, why had they been allowed to switch regions?

Britta took out her phone. “What’s the name of the site?” she asked again. She actually had contacts who spoke Chinese.

“I have no idea. I can’t even make sense of the alphabet.”

“Can you send me the name or a screenshot or something?” It was surprisingly hard to communicate something in a really foreign language. She couldn’t even type in the characters.

“Sure. Give me your number.”

As they exchanged details, there was an even louder uproar. Britta assumed someone in the video had done an overhead flip or something, but when she looked over they were all rushing off, leaving Lewis’s laptop behind.

“What’s going on?” said Lewis, grabbing his laptop from the table. Nothing on the screen had changed, although it would be hard to tell with so much Chinese obscuring the action.

“They found him,” said a boy sitting a few chairs down, trying to get his lunch finished as quickly as possible. “The guy with the game. They found out who it is.”

The rumours about someone at school having the game were apparently true. Britta wasn’t sure why everyone had run off, though. What were they going to do? They couldn’t ask him to let them have a go.

“Quick,” said the boy, getting up while still shovelling food into his mouth, “or we’ll miss the fight.”

“What fight?” said Britta. “Why is there going to be a fight?”

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