Bitter 139

People began disappearing as they logged out. First a few at a time, then whole groups vanished. There was some muttering as people complained about the forced closure, but most players seemed relieved things had been interrupted before they got out of hand, including Britta.

The devs would have to do something or she’d just be faced with Stan again after the servers restarted, assuming they really did have to close them down.

Stan stood there glaring at her as she opened her status screen to log herself out. All the invites to join parties had gone from her screen except for the first one from Lord Jim. She opened it to reject the offer.

“Are you going to report him?” asked Lord Jim.

Britta looked up at him and then around to see who was left. Stan had gone, probably fuming and planning how to force her to do what he wanted. She didn’t think he was the type to give in very easily.

“Yes,” said Britta. She intended to speak to Dr Reedy as soon as possible.

Her hand was flashing. The message was also from Lord Jim, a friend request.

“If you need any witnesses, you can contact me. I’ll back you up.”

She assumed the whole thing would be recorded but if Stan’s father really was an important person at APE, recordings could get ‘accidentally’ erased. Having someone to corroborate her version of events might not be a bad idea.

“Thanks.” She accepted the friend request. “Hopefully they’ll just tell him to cut it out and—”

The world went white as she was kicked out of the game.

She opened her eyes and took off the helmet. Her room felt small and oppressive, like she was in a cell. It took a moment for the feeling to pass. She went to her window and opened it, and took in long breaths. Her clothes were soaked in sweat, even more so than usual, and the breeze made her shiver.

She got changed and went to the bathroom. Then she went downstairs where Dad was on the phone with Mum sitting next to him. They both looked up as she entered the kitchen.

“She’s here now,” said Dad. He offered the phone to Britta.


“Britta? Dr Reedy. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” said Britta. “Did they tell you what happened?”

“Yes, yes, I’m at the facility now. I’m very sorry you had to go through that, it was completely inappropriate and steps will be taken.” She sounded quite cross, which pleased Britta. For once, the advantage was hers. Or at least, she hoped so.

“Who’s his father?” asked Britta. “Does he work at APE?”

There was an uncomfortable pause. “He’s on the board of directors.”

“So he’s quite important?”

Another pause. “Yes, but I’m sure he’ll understand this sort of behaviour is unacceptable. I’m going to speak to him now. Once I’ve cleared things up, I’ll call you back and we’ll go from there.”

She gave Britta a few more reassurances that the matter would be swiftly resolved and then hung up. Britta gave the phone back to Dad.

“So,” said Dad, “what happened?”

Britta recounted her encounter with Stan and his goons, downplaying some of the more threatening behaviour in case Mum decided to forbid her to play the game anymore. Other than that, she gave a fairly accurate telling of Stan’s demands and how he’d brought his whole army to the argument.

Dad nodded thoughtfully as Britta told the story. It didn’t take very long, not much had happened other than some posturing, but she felt quite exhausted by the time she finished.

“That’s interesting,” said Dad. “Very interesting. So he summoned the troops did he? That was quite a bold move.”

He seemed lost deep in thought.

“Interesting? He should be thrown out of the game,” insisted Mum. “What kind of person gets that carried away with a game?”

Britta exchanged a look with Dad. They both knew that kind of person was far from rare and easily triggered. People who treated video games like they were more important than real life had existed well before games actually looked like real life.

“I doubt he’s going to back off,” said Dad. “They’ll probably have a word with him. I doubt he’ll listen though.”

“But Dr Reedy said…” Britta also understood how unlikely it was Stan would leave it just because he was told to, but she still held out some hope. Perhaps Dr Reedy would prevail. She was the one in charge, after all. “I mean, if she tells the board of directors this guy’s interfering in her work, they’ll have to do something about it, even if he is was one of their sons.

Dad shrugged. “Maybe.” He didn’t sound very convinced.

Dr Reedy called back about an hour later.

“We’ll be coming back online in a few minutes. You shouldn’t have any more trouble with that young man.”

“Did you speak to his father?”

“Yes, I explained the situation. He said he’d take care of it.”

“So he’ll leave me alone.”

“His father said he’d take care of it.”

It all sounded a bit vague, but she’d have to see for herself once she got back in. She ended the call and rose from the kitchen table.

“Are you sure about this?” said Mum. She had her arms wrapped around herself, concern etched into her face.

“It’ll be fine, Mum,” said Britta. “I’m sure Dr Reedy will be watching. I’ll be careful and if he turns up again—”

“No,” said Dad. He stood up and put his hand up to stop Britta leaving. “I don’t want you to go back in.”

“Dad!” complained Britta in her most whiney voice. “I’ll be fine.”

“I know you will. But first I need to talk to some people. Wait here.”

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