Bitter 132

Britta ignored whatever it was Dad was going on about and did her best to avoid looking in his direction as his bathrobe threatened to flap open at any moment.

“Is there a way to access your status screen and inventory and all that stuff when you’re offline?” she asked.

“No, not that I know. That would be useful, though.”

“What about the one day ban when you die?” said Britta. “Do you know why the hardware needs that long to refresh?”

Dad pulled a slightly confused face. “Refresh? What do you mean, refresh?”

“I don’t know.” Britta shrugged. “That’s what Dr Reedy said. The hardware needed that long to ‘refresh’. You worked on the hardware, right?”

“Yes, but there’s no refreshing that takes that long. Not as far as I know. And I know quite a lot.”

“Okay,” said Britta, putting a mark in her notes. Another one to ask Dr Reedy about.

“Hey,” said Dad, “I did spend three years working on those mainframes. I think I would have been aware of something as major as a twenty-four hour enforced reboot, even if it was of one of the minor systems.”

Did that mean Dr Reedy had lied to her? It was possible, but not at all clear why she would do that. It seemed more likely Dad just didn’t know as much as she’d hoped. “Perhaps it’s the software?”

Dad tilted his head to one side. “I suppose. I always thought it was just to make the players take the game more seriously. Stop them death-spamming.”

“It’s not a big deal,” said Britta, not wanting to get Dad worked up about it. “I was just wondering if there was a way around it.”

“Because you die so often?” said Dad.

“Yes, Dad,” said Britta drily, “for exactly that reason.”

“Was that really necessary, John?” said Mum.

“What?” said Dad. “I wasn’t being mean, I was trying to help?” There were eyerolls all around. “I was!”

“It’s okay, Dad.” Britta turned around and headed back to her room. Would it be alright to call Dr Reedy now, or would that be too pushy? It was the weekend and Dr Reedy might have a packed social calendar. Or she could be a massive nerd who was all about the work. Britta knew the most reasonable thing would be to wait until Monday but she didn’t have anything else to do for the rest of the day.

“Hey,” said Dad, “next time you go in the mines, if you need someone to watch your back…”

It took Britta a second to realise he was volunteering himself. “That’s okay, I’d rather do it alone.”

Dad’s face fell. “Oh. Sure. It’s just that it’s quite hard to get in there with all the guilds camping the entrance. You should consider joining one.”

Britta stopped at the stairs and walked back. “Are you in a guild?”

“Of course,” said Dad. “Symphony X. We’re not the biggest, but we’re probably third or fourth. Definitely top five. Top ten.”

“Do you refer to yourselves as X-Men?” she asked.

Dad hesitated slightly, which spoke volumes. “Some of us do,” he said a bit sheepishly. “I’m sure I could get you in.”

“No, thanks,” said Britta. She’d had more than enough experience joining clubs to know what that was like. “Which is the biggest guild?”

“Hyperbowl. Do you want to join them? It’s quite hard to get in. They only take people who are fully geared and they make you PvP with one of their top players to make sure you’ve got what it takes.”

He said it like he had tried, and failed. “No, I just want to know who to avoid. You haven’t told anyone I’m the cause of the dungeon going all squiffy, have you?”

“Of course not,” said Dad. “I take my NDA responsibilities seriously. They’d definitely let you join if they knew, though.”

“And make my life hell if I refused. And even if I did join one, then the others would be pissed off with me. I don’t want anyone to know.”

Dad raised his hand like he was swearing an oath. “You can trust me.”

“It’s the other hand,” said Mum.

“Oh, yes.” Dad quickly switched to his right hand. “Not a word to anyone.”

Britta went upstairs and sat down on her bed. She looked at the clock. Eighteen hours to go.

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