Bitter 169

“You understand the situation?” said Sir Kenneth, a little more warily.

“Yes. I think so.” Britta stood up.

“I hope you don’t think I’m being too insistent, but he is my son and I don’t want him to suffer any more than he already has.”

He was being more than insistent, he was being downright pushy. Britta wasn’t really sure what he wanted. Some kind of guarantee she wouldn’t try to get Stan kicked out of the game? Dr Reedy had already offered an alternative to that, one Britta considered more than fair. She only played the game three or fours hours in a day, Stan could have the other twenty to do as he pleased.  So why was his father here trying to soften her up?

She didn’t doubt he was worried about his son and wanted to protect him, but his methods felt a little inappropriate. Maybe this was the only way he knew to take care of business. Use everything you could to get the other person to do things your way. The mantra of psychos and captains of industry everywhere.

If she turned him down would he switch his approach? Threaten her? Bribe her? It was probably best not to find out. It wasn’t like she was planning on taking the game away from Stan anyway.

“I’ve already decided to work with him in the game. I’m not sure what else I can do to help him.”

“Of course, no, nothing else. He would never want to be treated as anything other than just another player.”

Then why are you here? thought Britta.

“My only goal was to assure you there is no chance of your personal details getting out into the world. My son’s threats are mostly bluff and bluster. He has… had access to my personal computer and I accidentally left a file unlocked. It won’t happen again. You won’t need to worry about anything like that. Your work with APE is far too important to let something so trivial get in the way. You have my word on it.”

Britta didn’t say anything. She looked at him again. The expensive suit, the polish on the buttons, the heavy gold watch. His face wasn’t aggressive, not demanding or forceful in the way he looked at her. It was very neutral. Almost blank. Controlled.

It was incredibly hard to tell what he was thinking. Was he happy? Sad? Even when he spoke about Stan, the concern was momentary, like a groomed hound run out at a dog show, whisked around the room for the judges to observe, and then back to the kennels.

“So you’re happy to continue working with Dr Reedy?” he asked, half-question, half-suggestion.

“Yes,” said Britta. Hadn’t she already said that?

Maybe she hadn’t. What she had said after losing her temper over Stan’s behaviour was she would think about it. She was giving Stan a chance, but she was still within her rights to walk away.

“Everything’s fine,” she said. “For now.”

She saw a little twitch in the implacable facade.

He wasn’t here on behalf of his son. Did he even care about him? No, that was unfair. Of course he did. He just had other matters to take care of. Stan had said they would never let her just leave the project. She was far too important to them. She might have expected legal arguments and threats of a financial nature, but she would never have guessed they’d target her emotionally.

It did make a kind of sense. She was a little girl. Soft and sensitive. Why not prey on her little girl sensibilities? Good thing she didn’t have any.

“Thank you for coming, though,” said Britta. “I feel better knowing you’re keeping an eye on him, just in case. I mean, I’m sure he wouldn’t do anything really malicious, but sometimes pranks can get out of hand.”

“You can count on me,” said Sir Kenneth rising to his feet. “There won’t be another breach of security, I guarantee it. You can play your game in peace.”

He seemed to be the one who needed reassurance. Making certain she would keep playing was the main thing. A dying son, second. Success at the highest level demanded making sacrifices, mostly at the lowest level.

“If you need anything, have any concerns, please contact me. I’m sure I’ll be able to help.”

Britta nodded and thanked him for coming again. He exchanged a few meaningless pleasantries with Dad and then left.

“Not every day you get a visit from a billionaire,” said Dad.

She put her arms around his neck and hugged him.

“What was that for?”


He was a massive dork and was easily the most tedious man she had ever known (although she didn’t know that many so maybe he wasn’t as high on the list as she imagined—top ten without a doubt, though) but she knew he considered her more important than business deals and the price of shares. More important than anything, except maybe a leaked teaser trailer from Comic Con, and those were always blurry with someone’s head in the way, and the excitement only lasted a few minutes. His role as her father would last forever, like the credits to a Marvel movie (which he always insisted they sit through even though he’d already seen the tag at the end online).

She went upstairs to her room wondering if she’d be able to treat Stan the same way now she knew about his condition. If his father’s intention had been to make her feel sorry for Stan, he had succeeded, although that had nothing to do with his illness.

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