The idea of playing with Dad did not fill Britta with happy thoughts. Not one bit. She kept her mouth shut, though. No point making a scene while the doctor was here. But after she left…
“It’ll be great,” said Dad, almost giddy. “I can’t wait for the weekend.”
“Yes, well,” said Dr Reedy, “I’m sure you’ll make a lovely team. Before I go, I just want to run through the initialising process one more time.”
It was pretty straightforward. Britta was to keep the metal case, what Dr Reedy called the cradle, closed at all times. There was a socket for the lead to her helmet and a button on top to turn it on and off, and that was it. There was nothing to plug into the mains and it didn’t need to be charged, apparently.
When Britta asked about it, all Dr Reedy would say was that it was proprietary power source she couldn’t talk about. It could have been a small nuclear reactor for all Britta knew.
It was past eleven before Dr Reedy got up to leave. She left her card on the kitchen table. “You can call me anytime, day or night, if you have any kind of concern. This project is a priority for me, and I don’t want you to worry about anything. Trust me, you’re going to do fantastic and provide us with a high volume of data for analysis.”
Dad saw her to the door, chatting away merrily. Mum sat there with Britta, saying nothing. Britta picked up the helmet. It looked cheap and knocked together, but must have been worth thousands, at least. In fact, it could easily be millions if you took into account the development that had gone into shrinking the technology in a full-sized pod into this tiny thing. And now it was hers.
“Well, that went well,” said Dad. “Easiest thirty grand of my life.”
“It’s not you who’ll be getting the money,” said Mum, the edge in her voice still there.
“Of course not, but still…” He put his hands on Britta’s shoulders and shook her so her head waggled from side to side. “We’ll dominate, Butch and Sundance.”
“Dad, I don’t want to team up with you.”
He stopped playing around. “What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you just start a new character? What level are you?”
He had restarted from scratch a few days ago. She had expected him to be behind her still, but he was already two levels ahead.
“Five? How did you get to five so quickly?”
“Ah, you see, I can teach you many things, young grasshopper. Stick with me and you’ll go places.”
“No.” She was adamant. She knew him too well. There were good reasons why she and her sister had stopped playing games with him when they were kids. “I’d rather do this on my own.”
Dad looked a bit miffed. “But why? I can help you.”
“You’re a bad loser, you’re an even worse winner, and you’re an awful teammate. You take all the best items and don’t listen to anyone, ever. Plus—”
“Okay, okay,” said Dad. “I get the message. No need to turn it into a deposition. I just thought you’d like a little help.”
“No, thank you.”
Dad said nothing for a while, he just stood there making Britta uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as she’d be if she agreed to play with him.
“Right, I’ll put this in your room, then.” He picked up the metal case and heaved it up the stairs.
“He’s going to sulk,” said Mum.
“Yes,” agreed Britta. “I won’t play with him.”
“I know. I remember the complaints from you and Marisa when you were just toddlers. I don’t want to have to sit through that again. But he’s no fun when he’s like this.”
Britta felt like telling her that was her problem. She’d married him. But there was no point getting on her bad side, too. In fact, it might work out in her favour if Dad’s bad mood kept Mum distracted. She’d have less time to worry about her decision to let Britta play this game that would definitely affect her schoolwork and take up far more than three or four hours per session. Mum really should have known better. She’d seen how Dad got when playing a game he was into. Britta might not be very much like him in most ways, but in this they were almost twins. Britta intended playing the game hardcore.
“I suppose I better go talk to him.”
Even better. If Mum chose the usual method of cheering him up, Britta might have half an hour when no one was paying any attention to her. A chance for a quick dip into the game while they were busy.
Mum stood up and picked up the helmet from the table. “You can have this back on Saturday.” She walked out with helmet under her arm.