Bitter 73

Dad didn’t really have a thing for Stan Lee. That would be weird. He had a thing for Spider-man, of course. He was a boy, so that was normal. But the Stan Lee thing was more of a joke. He always used Mr Lee’s date of birth as his PIN wherever PINs were required.

Britta let go of the padlock and went into the kitchen. It didn’t matter if she knew the combination or not, she wasn’t going to play the game again. Dad was right, it was hard to kick the habit once you were caught. The way she’d spent the whole day fixated on the game and unable to do any work proved it.

It would be better to let go now while she still could. She rooted around in the fridge until she had a pile of stuff, none of which were particularly healthy. She put everything on the kitchen table, stared at it with a displeased expression, and then returned it all to the fridge until she was left with a slab of cheese.

Cheese on toast would do until someone sorted out dinner. It wasn’t all that healthy, either, but once she thought of it that was all her brain would let her consider. It was hard to resist a craving once it started. She turned on the grill and only then realised they’d run out of bread.

Because Mum and Dad had been away for the weekend, no one had done the shopping. They weren’t in danger of starving, but basic things like bread, eggs and milk, were finished.

Britta started getting annoyed, again. Her life was a series of pointless distractions that made everything slightly more tedious. Nothing fun or even mildly interesting seemed to happen to her. It was good that terrible things didn’t happen to her either, but where was the occasional pleasant surprise? It felt like it had been a long time.

That was the thing about the game—it didn’t take pot shots at you while you were in the middle of doing something. You didn’t suddenly catch a cold when you were about to go into a dungeon. A pimple didn’t appear on the end of your nose just before you gave a speech to an army of knights on horseback. You might still mess thing up, but life’s odd ways of souring the milk weren’t included.

Not that virtual life was perfect. There were bugs and glitches you had to deal with, but they were mistakes that someone was trying to fix. Life had no repairmen working on it. This year’s model was the same as last year’s model, no upgrades.

Britta cut off bits of cheese and ate them one by one. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. Then she went upstairs, into Mum and Dad’s bedroom. Dad’s phone was on charge. She picked it up and unlocked it. Same code. Then she scrolled through the contacts until she found the number of the person Dad had called at APE. Someone called Ben.

She copied the number into her own phone and went into her room to compose a text. It wasn’t very long, just an offer to give APE a report on her experiences playing the game, the problems encountered and issues she felt needed to be addressed.

There was a slight hesitation before pressing send, but if things didn’t go well, Dad could just say his toddler had got hold of his phone and mashed a few buttons. If they bought the last story, no reason they wouldn’t but this one.

After she sent it, she intended to do her homework, but she didn’t. She just waited, phone in hand, occasionally looking at the screen.

After about five minutes, she got a reply. It was warm and friendly and told her they would be very interested in hearing her thoughts. An email address was provided.

She turned on her computer and started a new email detailing everything that had happened to her in-game. She left out nothing. It came very easily, flowing out of her. She’d had it pent up inside, and finally she had someone to tell.

She mentioned all the strange things, the weird interactions and bizarre conversations. Nigel the Dragon, Nigel the Gnome, she left nothing out, not even how she died and how she blinded herself. She didn’t know how long it took her to write—a long time for sure—but it was several pages. It felt good to get it all out.

It wasn’t just a play-by-play replay of events, she included many of own thoughts and even some suggestions how to improve things. She was polite, pointed out stuff she’d liked, and praised them for making such a realistic game, but there were also some scathing comments in there. She felt she had been fair.

She didn’t give herself time to fret over the details or how they would be received, she just sent it. Once that was done, her mind cleared and she knew she could get back to doing some work. Before she could get started, though, Mum was calling her down for dinner.

Britta skipped down the stairs and into the dining room where her plate of pasta awaited her. She sat down and began eating. Dad was in a bathrobe, already halfway through his meal.

“I was calling you for five minutes,” said Mum. “What were you doing?”

“Sorry,” said Britta. “Homework. Hey, Dad, did you sell my stuff?”

“Now, Britta, I thought—”

“I just wondered how much you got for it, that’s all.” She sounded quite upbeat because she was.

He swallowed a forkful of pasta. “Don’t know, only just put it up for auction. Probably not very much. I didn’t see any horse when I got there, but he had some nice gear. We’ll see.”

Britta carried on eating. If she ever got back into the game, the money would come in useful. And there was a small chance she wouldn’t have to wait until she was earning her own money. Her report to APE probably contained a lot of stuff they weren’t even aware of. Dad didn’t seem to know, and he used to work for them. She was playing an unpopular race and class, and she had already found a quest that wasn’t working. Her report didn’t just highlight these issues, it made a strong case for letting Britta continue playing. She even added a PS suggesting they send her a pod of her own.

It was unlikely to succeed, but it was definitely a possibility.

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