Bitter 74

There was no reply email from APE. Britta wasn’t surprised, but she was a little disappointed.

To be fair, if they were going to take her comments seriously, it would take a few days for them to check the stuff she had mentioned in her report. Talk to people further up the chain of command, arrange for a pod to be sent to her… it could take weeks.

It was more likely, however, that they had filed it away and forgotten about it. Realistically speaking, they wouldn’t be interested in the thoughts of one player who had only played the game a couple of times.

Over the next few days, Britta’s life slowly returned to normal. It was a big year for her with GCSEs, and she had mock exams coming up soon. She threw herself into revising and focused on her schoolwork. Dad wandering around in his bathrobe was just part of the background and thoughts about the game receded into her memory. Eventually, she hardly thought about it at all.

Until, that is, she received a phone call from the Chief Research Officer at Anderson Peters Electronics, Dr Gillian Reedy.

“May I call you Britta?”

“Okay,” said Britta. It was Thursday evening and she was in her bedroom. When her phone rang and it said the number had been withheld, she was going to reject the call, but she had decided to risk it on a whim. When the woman on the other end explained who she was, Britta’s mouth went dry and she couldn’t think clearly.

“I have to say, I found your comments about the game interesting.”

“You read my report?” It was a dumb thing to say. Obviously she read it.

“Yes. Very interesting. To be honest, we were quite confused by a lot of it. Many of the things you say you experienced shouldn’t have been possible.”

Britta’s nervousness was overridden by the idea she was being accused of lying. She found her voice. “They did happen. I didn’t make it up.”

“Oh, no, no. Of course, I didn’t mean to suggest you did. It’s the nature of a project like this, on such a huge scale, that we miss things. It isn’t unexpected. I’m just glad you brought it to our attention now. I wanted to thank you, Britta.”

Was that what the phone call was about, a simple thank you? That would be just as disappointing.

“You’re welcome. I did like the game, overall, but it was quite strange. Like, who’s Nigel?” If she wasn’t going to get to play the game again, she could at least get some answers.

“Ah, yes, the elusive Nigel. I’m afraid I have no idea. The secondary personality you described isn’t impossible, but it shouldn’t be there. To tell you the truth, we have no idea how that happened. We went over your video records and I have to say, it made fascinating viewing. We’ve never seen anyone play the game like that before. You’ve got quite a following here.”

Britta wasn’t sure if she was being mocked. Did they all watch her gameplay vids together, laughing at her poor performance? She had never considered that the people at APE would see everything she had done, even though it was obvious they had the ability to do so. It was more that there was no reason to think they would waste their time watching her, in particular. But they had.

“I’m not really a very good player,” said Britta, unable to resist making excuses.

“No, no, you’re actually not bad. You have an unusual approach to the game, which may be why you managed to provoke so many unusual responses from the AI. We think you may be able to help us unlock the next stage in the evolution of this project.”

“You do? How?” Was she being offered a chance to play the game again?

“Can I just check with you, you’re sixteen, correct?”

“Yes,” said Britta.

“Yes, so we’ll need your parents’ permission.”

Permission for what? wondered Britta. She didn’t say anything, just held her breath and waited.

“What we would like is if you could come into our facility here and we could run a few tests.”

“You mean, putting me back into the game?”

“Yes, that’s right. We have a more advanced rig here. It allows us to take more readings, see your progress in real time. Would you be interested in doing that? We would compensate you for your time.”

Britta was definitely interested. “Um, I wouldn’t mind. But my Dad…”

“Ah, yes. I know your father quite well. I’ll speak to him, I don’t think he’ll mind. Thank you, Britta. I’ll be in touch.”

Britta ended the call and sat there, slightly stunned. She had found a way to play the game again, even if it was temporarily. She was excited and happy. It was only then that she wondered how Dr Reedy had got her number. She hadn’t included it in her report.

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