Britta spent the rest of the school day distracted. Normally, she would be completely focused on the teacher and the lesson. She would be the one to raise her hand and ask questions while everyone else stared out of a window or rested their chin on the heel of a palm.
A couple of teachers even gave her questioning glances when she didn’t pester them for extra details about when they had to have homework in by and what the next lesson would cover.
She couldn’t help it. Her mind was filled with thoughts on the game. She wanted to talk to someone about it, someone who wasn’t Dad. He would be too dismissive of everything she asked or refuse to tell her because of the NDA. He seemed to treat the NDA as his new religion.
He insisted he couldn’t reveal company secrets to her as though she was some kind of industrial spy, in the pay of Microsoft. She didn’t know if Dad thinking she would blab to all her friends was flattering, him assuming she had friends to blab to, or sad, that he knew so little about her life.
Of course, she preferred him to be ignorant of her social standing. The last thing she needed was an arm around her shoulder and trite words of encouragement. She shuddered at the thought.
No, she definitely didn’t want that.
What she wanted was someone to talk to about the stupid game, that was all.
“What’s wrong with you?” said Rashida as they packed up after an English lesson Britta had no recollection of. “You’ve been all moony since lunch. Is it love?”
“No,” said Britta, too despondent to even be annoyed. “Just feel a bit flat today. Don’t you ever wish your life was more… interesting?”
Rashida scratched at the stud in the side of her nose. It was odd; if Britta asked for something like that, Mum would freak. Only one step away from a tattoo on her lower back. But Rashida, whose religion was stricter than life in the military, had had one since she was thirteen and her parents didn’t mind at all. To them, it was no different than an earring or any other harmless piece of jewellery.
“No,” said Rashida. “Life is better when things are calm and relaxed. You can get more done.” She spoke with utter certainty.
Britta had been of a similar mindset, until recently. Now, she knew how it felt to explore a brand new world, and without the worry of horrible things happening. Horrible things did still happen, but you didn’t worry about them. Not as much, anyway.
It didn’t matter. Her life in New World was done; a short vacation. She had to get her head back into this game. But it was hard.
She sat at the bus stop, surrounded by other kids milling about, scrolling through her phone. She had 2GB of data she could use every month that she never did. Today, she was about to hit her limit because she had been surfing for information on the game and APE.
The first bus to arrive was already almost full and she sat there watching everyone trying to pile in. She could wait for the next one. She wasn’t in the mood for playing sardines. When she looked back, her phone told her time was up. She closed it and looked up again. Lewis was standing there, staring at her. Right at her.
Her first thought was he was mad about something. His face was twisted into a strange grimace. She was sure she hadn’t done anything to piss him off. Not recently, anyway. She looked away. He came towards her, she could feel him approaching.
“How did you know?” he demanded.
She looked back at him, already feeling irritated by whatever had got him so worked up. “Know what?”
“New World. You said that’s what it was called, but no one knew until a few hours ago when it was leaked. But you knew.” He had a very serious, determined look on his face.
“Kind of a general name, isn’t it? Could just be a coincidence.”
“No. I get it now. I kept thinking you were interested in me, or something. It was weird. But it’s the game, isn’t it? Do you have a pod?”
She sat under the bus shelter trying to decide what she should say. She didn’t want to say she’d been in the game. He was bursting at the seams as it was.
“My Dad used to work for APE. They gave him a pod.”
The NDA said not to talk about what was in the game. They couldn’t expect people to deny the pod existed. And she hadn’t signed anything, so it was just stating a fact.
“You have one? In your house?”
“My Dad does. I don’t.”
Lewis sat down next to her, bumping shoulders with her as he pulled his little laptop out of his bag. He flipped it open and showed her the screen. “Does it look like this?”
There was a detailed diagram on a website with numbers and arrows everywhere, like something you’d find with a piece of furniture from Ikea. It was bullet-shaped, upright like it was about to take off, and it had wheels.
“Not really. It’s more of a rectangle and it lies on the floor, kind of like a metal coffin. And it doesn’t have wheels.”
Lewis eyes grew wide as he listened with rapt attention. “Have you tried it?”
“I’m not allowed.” She wasn’t lying, but she wasn’t being honest either. “It’s specially calibrated for each user. Plus, there’s an NDA, so you can’t talk about it. My Dad won’t even tell me what it’s like in New World.”
“But he told you it was called New World.”
“He lets things slip sometimes.” She could see it would be tricky keeping up the charade, but it was still quite nice to talk about it, even if only indirectly. “Supposed to be going into a wider release at the end of the month.”
Lewis gasped. “Open beta?”
Had she said too much? “I don’t know. I’m not sure. Don’t say anything to anyone.”
Lewis nodded slowly. Then he began furiously typing on the keyboard.