Bitter 131

Britta skipped down the stairs and rushed into the kitchen. Both parents stopped talking and stared at her.

Britta came to an abrupt stop. “What?”

“Did something happen?” said Mum. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” said Britta, a little confused by her reception. “What are you talking about? Why would anything be wrong?”

Mum relaxed and shook her head. “No reason, I'm just not used to you looking so eager to see us.”

The characterisation, Britta felt, was a tad unfair. Not that it wasn’t true, but when was any teenager ever happy to see their parents? “I just wanted a word with Dad now that he’s out of the game.”

“The eagerness is for me?” said Dad. “How wonderful.”

“Don’t worry,” said Britta, “it’s wearing off.”

Dad grinned at her. He was in a bathrobe, his hair wet and stuck to his head, and a towel in his hand. He’d obviously been out of the game long enough to take a shower. “What can I do for you, sweet child of mine?”

Britta scanned the notes in her hand, trying to decide what to ask him first.

“By the way,” said Dad before she could speak, “you’ve created quite a stir in the game.”

She looked up from the page. “I have?”

“Oh yeah. It’s all anyone can talk about. The mysterious new dungeon and the psycho dwarf. They’re calling him Jason. Unkillable and relentless. Of course, that’s the people who believe the story. Quite a few think it’s all lies and humbug, especially the ones who’ve been in the dungeon to check. Nobody’s reported finding anything other than the regular dungeon mobs. No sign of Jason.”

Britta wasn’t particularly surprised. “Did you try?”

Dad had the towel over his head drying his hair with two hands. He peeked his head out, his thinning hair standing on end. “I did. The queues were ridiculous.”

“The queues? For the epic dungeon?”

“No. Well, they were always ridiculous. The basic dungeon, the mines, the line’s even longer than the epic one. You’ve made it the hot destination for adventurers of all levels below ten. Everyone wants to check out the rumours, see the crazy monster for themselves. They’re doing it over and over in case it’s a rare spawn. And then there’s the guilds. The big ones are trying to monopolise the dungeons in case there’s some legendary loot to be had. A lot of argy-bargy going on.” He shook his head. “You’ve really got the place going crazy.”

He made it sound quite exciting, everyone running around trying to hunt down the elusive dwarf. Just a shame they’d never find Jason without her.

“Did you get inside the mines?” she asked Dad. Even with a long wait, she couldn’t imagine him not getting in line for the new ride everyone was talking about.

“Yep, thought I might as well, even though obviously you have to be there for the weird stuff to happen. Everything was as expected. Very easy, nothing out of the ordinary, just a few kobolds and simple puzzles. My reward for completing the dungeon was a pair of common leather gauntlets I’ll never use.”

“Can I have them?” said Britta.

Dad paused his hairdrying to give her a rueful look. “Class dependent. You really need to sort out your equipment, Britta. You should have seen some of the twinked out players running a level one dungeon like it was end game content.”

“Twinked out?” said Britta, not sure what the term meant.

“That’s when a high-level player with money creates an alt character and buys lots of expensive items for them so they’re heavily over-geared for the low-level mobs they’ll be facing.”

“So, cheating,” said Britta.

“Only morally,” said Dad.

Mum rolled her eyes. “Only morally. That’s good, then.”

“Come on, it’s just a game,” said Dad. He looked at the paper still in Britta’s hand. “Anyway, you wanted to ask me something?”

Britta looked down at her list. “Oh, yes. When you were at APE, did you work on the game mechanics at all?”

“Not really. My team’s focus was on hardware development.”

“The helmet?”

“No, no, none of the fancy stuff. Mainframes. Hardcore stuff. We did the heavy lifting.”

Britta wasn’t sure what that meant, but she’d bet there was no actual lifting involved. “So you don’t know anything about how New World was set up, or any of the in-game features, why they’re there, like the twenty-four hour lockout?”

“Nope. Not my area. I can tell you all about the spiral core processors. It’s very interesting, actually, but I’m not supposed to talk to anyone about it, patent pending. Then again, you’re also under the same NDA, so perhaps I can share a few of the specs with you. They’re quite impressive.” Now it was his turn to look eager.

“Mum isn’t under the NDA,” said Britta. “You can’t say anything in front of her.”

“Thank Christ,” said Mum.

“We can talk in the other room,” said Dad.

“No thanks,” said Britta. She checked the notes again, looking for anything Dad might know about. Even if his work had been in an unrelated area, he’d still played the game a lot longer than her.

“My own family,” said Dad, ruefully, “uninterested in the revolutionary work I’ve done in optimising stabilisation fields in augmented virtual reality and deep wave simulations. You won’t be able to ignore my achievements when I bring home a Nobel Prize.”

“Mm?” said Mum. “Did you say something, dear?”

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