Bitter 159

Britta held the cloak to her chest. It was warm and comforting, although the fur collar tickled her nose. The material was like thick velvet, the nap changing from rough to smooth as her fingers brushed across its surface. Realer than the real thing.

“Thank you, for getting my cloak back. I appreciate it, even if you went a bit psycho to do it.”

Stan grinned. “A little bit of psycho isn’t always a bad thing.”

“If it was only a little bit, you’d be right. I don’t trust you, Stan. I think you’d be okay as long as it suited you, but as soon as you wanted things your own way, you’d try to take over.”

“You know,” said Stan as he put his bow over his shoulder and picked up the items left behind on the floor by the dead party, “trust is overrated. Everyone will eventually betray you. That’s just life. People’s priorities change. People change. Nobody has ever been a hundred percent reliable. I’d put myself at twenty five percent, tops. And that’s on a good day.”

“You’re not much of a salesman, are you?”

“Nope. Don’t need to be when you’ve got what people want.” He raised his eyebrows suggestively.

“Please don’t do that.”

Stan made a serious face. “Sorry.” It was more sarcastic than apologetic, but it was still quite friendly. Killing all those people seemed to have relaxed him, which in itself was worrying.

“If I can’t trust you, why should I team up with you? Isn’t that just stupid? Deep down, I think you’re a bad person.”

Stan laughed. “Yes, I suppose that’s fair. But you’re missing the point. You don’t need to trust me if you can control me, and in here you can. In the real world you’d be right. You should run in the opposite direction as fast as your legs can carry you. The real world is a horribly unfair place where someone like me has all the advantages. I can make people do things they don’t want to and thank me for it. Lord Jim was right, I was born lucky. I can get away with being a complete dick, and I do. It’s great. But there’s a limit to what I can achieve in the real world because the real world has limitations. It’s boring, Britta. Very, very boring.”

“And running around in here bullying people is fun?”

“No. Well, yes, but that’s not what’s so special about this world. Look around.” He raised his arms and presented the world to her. “Looks just like the real thing, doesn’t it? That’s the least interesting thing about it. We don’t need a replica of the real thing, even one with dragons and elves, we have the potential for something so much better. Without the restrictions. No death. No laws of physics. Choose how you look, how strong you are, how fast you move. Everything the universe tells you is just the way it is, isn’t. Not here. You’re only limited by your imagination.”

Britta looked around. It was like a pleasant summer’s day. Wind blowing gently, the sun bright and warm. It was very much like the real thing. Familiar. But he was right, it could be more than that. She was only just starting to see that.

“Unfortunately,” continued Stan, “the imaginations of the people involved has been quite limited. They at least allowed for magic, a way for us to stretch and pull on the fabric of reality, but that’s only a small first step. They’ve created life. Or at least I think they have. Maybe a confused child, maybe a god. Who knows? But you’re the one who it contacted. You want to know why you can trust me? You’re the only one worth being loyal to in this world, Britta.”

The more he spoke, the more important and special she felt. She knew it was a dangerous thing to revel in. She had got carried away with the warmth and friendship Lord Jim’s crew had shown her, and that hadn’t turned out well for her. Thanks to Stan, it hadn’t turned out well for them either, but that was no reason to make the same mistake again.

It was a nice feeling though, to be considered worth being loyal to.

“Britta?” said Dr Reedy. “I think I’ve come up with a solution to our problem.”

“Yes?” said Britta, glad to have been distracted from her thoughts before she made a decision she might regret. Maybe it would be best to let Dr Reedy sort this out.

“Did you speak to my father?” asked Stan, as calm and unflustered as ever.

“I did. He agreed that you have acted in a very inappropriate manner, and he will deal with you personally. But as regards New World, it’s been decided that we’ll ensure that Stanley is removed from the game when you are online. As soon as you log in, he will be logged out and blocked from entering until you log out.”

Stan rolled his eyes and shook his head, but didn’t say anything else. Britta considered it a reasonable compromise.

“What about my personal information?”

“Yes,” said Dr Reedy. “Sir Kenneth assured me it was only a very small amount of your file Stanley had access to. He asked me to apologise about that and assure you any and all private details will remain confidential, and if by chance that isn’t the case, he’s put up Stanley’s car as a bond. Ownership will transfer to you if your identity is released into the public domain.”

“What?” said Stan loudly.

“I believe the car is currently worth two and a half million pounds.”

Britta had no idea what a two and a half million pound car looked like or that one even existed. She looked at Stan having a minor epileptic fit and wondered where he drove around in it. Not down to the shops to grab some milk.

“It’s worth more than that,” Stan managed to wheeze out through his laboured breathing. “The old man really knows how to twist the knife.”

“I hope that will be acceptable, Britta. We’ll log him out immediately and you can carry on in peace.”

“Wait, wait,” said Stan. “Aren’t you jumping to conclusions, Dr Reedy? Maybe she doesn’t want to carry on playing solo. Britta?”

Britta looked at him, flushed and eyes manic. He was clearly unstable. But he had proved to be quite useful. She took a deep breath.

“I’d like to talk to my parents first.”

“Parents?” said Stan. “How old are you?”

Britta logged out.

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