Bitter 160

Britta pushed up the visor on the helmet and blinked a few times. It took a moment for her body to register her wet clothes and the uncomfortable stickiness around her armpits, but she stayed where she was and stared up at her bedroom ceiling.

It was very quiet. Slowly, sounds from outside the window filtered through to her. A car accelerating, a bird squawking, the neighbour’s dog. They felt alien to her and then familiar and then nothing as they disappeared back into the background.

She lay there thinking for ten minutes or so, wondering what to do. Dr Reedy’s solution did seem to be a reasonable one. If Stan couldn’t enter the game while she was playing, she wouldn’t have to worry about him anymore. He wouldn’t be able to harass her if they were never on the server at the same time.

There was also the matter of him knowing her personal information, but did she really care if he told people her name? Who would be interested? It was more a matter of him hunting her down in real life but he didn’t seem to know a lot about her other than her name.

And if he did turn up on her doorstep, it might even be worth it if she got two million pounds for the inconvenience. She’d have to sell the car first, of course. Where do you sell a car like that? Not on eBay.

Britta sat up and cringed as her t-shirt clung to her. She quickly got up, towelled herself off and changed her clothes. She went downstairs to get something to eat and talk to Dad. He would definitely have a view on the matter and a strong idea of what would be her best course of action. His opinions usually helped her come to a decision, even if it was by convincing her of what not to do.

She walked into the kitchen to find Mum on her own, sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee held up to her mouth but not drinking from it. She was staring out of the window over the kitchen sink, lost in thought. It was only when Britta moved the chair next to her to sit down that she snapped back to the present.

“Oh, you’ve finished playing for the day are you?”

Britta shrugged. “Not sure. Where’s Dad?”

“He’s in his pod.” She popped the P like she was saying a strange alien word. “It’s odd when you’re both off in your game. I know you’re just in the other room, but it feels like I’m the only person left in the world.” She sipped her coffee and pulled a face. “Cold.”

“Sorry,” said Britta.

Mum smiled. “Not your fault. I should have finished drinking it instead of daydreaming.”

“No, I mean for leaving you alone in the world.”

“It’s not like that. Actually, it’s nice to sometimes take a break from normal life. Remind yourself where you are. That’s the attraction of things like your game, isn’t it? Getting to do the things you can’t normally do. I can’t say I would want to run around with a sword chasing orcs, but everyone likes a change now and again, don’t they?”

“What would you do?” asked Britta. “If you could enter a world where all things are possible, even the impossible?”

Mum considered it for a moment. “Well, there are people who have a very clear idea of what they want to do, aren’t there? Climb Everest, go to the moon, you know, an ambition they’ve had since childhood. I’ve never been like that. I think I’m more the kind of person who takes life as it comes and tries to make the best decisions I can. I’m quite boring like that, but I find it satisfying to carefully choose the best return on an investment.”

Britta suppressed an eye roll. Even in her fantasies, Mum was ultra-sensible.

“I saw that,” said Mum. “That’s just how I am in real life, but if I was in a world where it didn’t really matter what I chose, if I couldn’t die or lose all my money, I think I would probably choose the opposite of what common sense told me to do.”

“You would?” said Britta, surprised.

“Hmm. Not because I have any desire to do stupid things, but just to see the results, maybe even succeed against the odds. I think it would be very scary but also very exhilarating. I mean, you could just fly around on a dragon or something, for the novelty factor, I’m sure that would be fun, too. But taking out a loan at a disadvantageous interest rate, opening a business in a marketplace already dominated by a well-established market leader and prising control away from them, oh, well, I imagine that would be quite a rush.”

Britta snapped her mouth shut and didn’t say anything. It had almost been a touching moment where she learned something romantic about her mother’s aspirations and dreams, but it turned out her fantasy world was one where she would own the next Amazon.

Mum sat there looking slightly flushed, staring into space, probably imagining herself sitting in Jeff Bezos chair.

There was something to what she had said though. To do the opposite of what common sense told you, to take risks that were skewed away from the usual bad consequences, was an opportunity you didn’t get in real life. Occasionally you would hear about people who had gone out on a limb, put all their money on black and won, but there were always thousands more who did the same and failed miserably. You didn’t hear much about them because feel bad stories didn’t make the best clickbait.

There was a sound in the hall and Dad strolled into the kitchen. He was wearing nothing but a small pair of swimming trunks.

“It’s definitely much more comfortable with fewer clothes,” he said. “I might try it naked next time.”

Mum looked at him and then at Britta. “It would be nice if there was somewhere you could make all your non-sensible choices and get them out of your system. Save you having to make them in the real world.”

“What does that mean?” said Dad scratching his paunch.

“Nothing. Your daughter wanted to talk to you.”

“Actually,” said Britta. “I’m fine. Just hungry.” She got up and went to the fridge. She should have something to eat and have a shower before going back into the game.

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