Dr Reedy walked around the cafeteria, talking into her phone and occasionally stopping to use all her energy to shout at the person on the other end.
Britta watched her while finishing her food, speeding up as Dr Reedy came back to the table. Britta finished her last forkful just as the doctor sat down.
“Sorry about that. A few issues with your pod.”
“They haven’t broken it, have they?” said Dad with a playful laugh. His smile withered under Dr Reedy’s cold stare.
“No. Not exactly. They’ve taken it apart trying to find any anomalous parts, but everything seems to be in order. If it is the pod that allowed Britta to experience these unusual aspects of New World, they may have prevented anyone else from repeating it.” She tapped her chin with the phone. “I’ve ordered them to put it back together. I received some pushback on that. You know what Steve’s like.”
Dad nodded. “He probably wanted to have the motherboards destroyed and the casing turned into scrap.”
“Not far off. Afraid it would ‘infect the mainframe’.” They exchanged eyerolls, friends again.
“Do you still want me to create a new character?” asked Britta.
“Yes, yes, definitely,” said Dr Reedy. “We’re just speculating about the pod. Might not be related at all. You know, you have a very unusual playing style, not at all the approach of our QA team. It could just be the way you play the game that takes you to strange places we didn’t know were there. It’s the nature of a self-replicating module structure.”
Britta could have asked what the hell she was talking about, but she doubted it would make any difference, so she just nodded politely.
They returned to the top floor and Britta climbed into the rig once more.
“Just follow the instructions and create whatever character takes your fancy. We just want to see if you have the same experience as last time. You mentioned in your report how you conversed with the dragon, see if you can do that again.”
“Okay, I’ll try,” said Britta, wanting her to hurry up and shut the door.
The door slid closed and Britta waited for the light.
She opened her eyes and found herself in the white room.
New user. Do you wish to proceed?
It was like the first time, words hanging in the air before her. She pressed the Yes button.
Please choose character.
More buttons appeared and opened up even more options when she placed her hand on them. She didn’t have to be an ugly little gnome anymore. She didn’t have to be an illusionist either. But what should she choose? There were so many options, it left her unable to decide.
“You should try a balanced fighter,” said Dad’s voice. “It’s probably best for a beginner.”
“I’m not a beginner, Dad.” She had been thinking of selecting a fighter class, but now that he’d suggested it, she felt less inclined.
She was wasting time. At this rate she would still be choosing what colour hair by the time they’d have to leave. She would pick a strong, male barbarian and hit everything with a big club.
She named him Lewis the Loser and made him as big as possible.
Once she’d made up her mind, it didn’t take long to go through the process. She didn’t really care about eye colour or hairstyle. She had a number of special moves she could use that all sounded impressive and made her feel more powerful just reading about them. One was a spinning attack for when she was surrounded. Another did double damage for every hit she landed—how could that not be ridiculously unfair in a fight? She took it.
She focused on strength and any ability that added to her damage output. She didn’t seem to have many defensive options, but she wouldn’t need them.
She got to the last screen.
Would you like to enter New World?
There wasn’t a button.
“Okay, I’m ready,” she said.
“That was very quick,” said Dad. “Are you sure you don’t—”
“I’m ready, let’s do this.” She wanted to dive in, this time without so many disadvantages.
“Alright, Britta,” said Dr Reedy. “Here we go.”
A surge of excitement went through her. There was a drop and then Britta was in an open field. She looked around. There was no one else there.
“Where’s the dragon?”
“Should be in front of you,” said Dr Reedy.
Britta stepped forward. She felt big and heavy. And very slow.
There was a rustle in the grass ahead of her and a dragon popped up. It was about the size of a labrador.