Bitter 552

Britta had no intention of doing Dad the ‘little’ favour he had requested. Or hadn’t requested.

There was no way she was going to jeopardise her very well-paying job to give him some kind of advantage in a fight.

That was what she assumed this was all about, although how her being a few minutes late for her regular check-in was going to change anything, she had no idea. She didn’t think Dad had much of an idea what would happen, either. She might end up crashing the whole game, and that wouldn’t look good, even if they believed it was an accident.

Part of her did think it would be a cool thing to do, if a bit risky. Like going into a casino with a plan to rob them blind without them ever figuring out how you did it. Britta could imagine Lin being in her position and making it look easy.

“Sorry I’m late, traffic was murder.”

Lin would not only have a perfectly reasonable excuse for being late to log in, she would have a hundred other methods to beat the Chinese team. Assuming she wasn’t already working with them.

Britta went to school the next day with other things on her mind. Dad’s request was a minor distraction and she saw no reason to waste any more time thinking about it. That was until she sat down in her first class for the day, Lewis came and sat next to her, barely able to remain in the seat.

“Have you heard about the Games Palace? It’s a battle arena where you can win XP off other players.”

“What are you talking about?” said Britta, playing dumb and offering as little encouragement as possible.

“There’s a new game mode in New World. Apparently, the big Chinese team everyone’s been talking about is taking on all-comers.” He leaned closer and dropped his voice. “You know, the team your Dad’s been posting those videos of.”

“Oh,” said Britta. “Right. Aren’t they like super good or something?”

“They’re awesome,” said Lewis. “They have the best gear, they’re incredibly skilled fighters, and they’re much higher level than anyone else in the game. Level 10, I think.”

That was far higher than where Britta was. The Chinese AI was probably very supportive and helpful, unlike the stingy AI she was stuck with who didn’t like to give a single XP away unless you earned it in triplicate.

“If you can beat them, you get their XP. All of it.”

“Sounds great,” said Britta. “Only, no one’s going to be able to beat them, are they? Not if they’re Level 10.”

“Sure, sure, it sounds impossible, but the arena is supposed to be where you need more than just brute strength and magic to win.” Lewis was getting even more excited now. So much so that the other kids in class were turning to look. Britta didn’t want people to link her with the game, but they were both whispering now, so the rest of the class were probably making even more worrying assumptions.

Still, Lewis seemed to know a lot about it.

“What is it you do in the arena?” she asked him.

“I have no idea,” said Lewis. “But I can’t wait to find out. You can go watch the matches.”

“How can you go with the one helmet between four of you?” whispered Britta.

“Only one of us can actually go to the arena, of course,” said Lewis. “The rest will have to watch the feed.”

“The feed?” said Britta. “What feed?”

“Rick,” said Lewis. “He’s got the whole set-up.”

“What do you mean?”

“You should see his room,” said Lewis. “Decked out like a starship, it is. He’s got all this crazy expensive equipment. I know, I thought he’d be living in some hovel, too.”

“I never thought—”

“But it’s amazing. His dad’s some kind of a big deal, proper loaded. Divorced Rick’s mum, when Rick was a baby, went off and started a new family. Rick’s pretty smart, though. You know how guilty divorced dad’s try to buy their kids off with money and presents? Rick’s turned that into an art form. Got his dad eating out of his hand, buys him whatever he wants. Probably thinks it’s his fault his kid turned out so weird.”

“So, he’s emotionally blackmailing his own father?”

“Yes, brilliant, isn’t it? Serve him right for abandoning his family.”

Britta didn’t see quite like that, but at the same time, she couldn’t really hold it against Rick for being pragmatic and taking what he could get, especially if his dad was loaded anyway.

“And he’s found a way to send pictures out from the game?”

“Yeah, pretty stable, too. Get a bit of buffering every now and again, but it’s basically broadcast in real time. Tiny delay. Almost entirely lag-free in the city, though, and that’s where the arena is.”

“And Rick’s going to go spectate for all of you, is he?”

“Nope. He’s going to try to get selected for the fight. They’re running prelims to see who gets to take on the Chinese guys in teams of ten. He reckons he’s got a pretty good shot. I don’t know how he thinks he can do it — he’s Level 3 — but if he says he’s got a decent chance, I believe him.”

If Rick was going to be there, Britta was even more glad she had decided to give the whole thing a miss. He was still on the look-out for the mysterious gnome wizard and her plan was to stay as far from him as possible.

Was this part of Dad’s plan? It didn’t seem likely. Trying to find a champion by running an open audition would just reveal the best of what was available, and she’d seen what that looked like. It wouldn’t do much good against a team of Level 10 players.

From what she knew about Dad, she would have to assume the big open call was a diversion while the real plan was happening in the background.

She was just as curious as Lewis to see what was going to happen in the arena, though. It was a shame they weren’t broadcasting it live. Clearly, the technology was there to make it possible. If Rick could do it, so could APE. Maybe she could suggest it to someone.

No, no, she was getting too involved. It had nothing to do with her. She’d be fine learning the result from Dad later. She would do much better to stay out of it.

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