Bitter 170

Britta went to her room and sat down at her computer. Her twenty-four hour lock out was already over, but her normal urge to get back in the game as quickly as possible was tempered by her curiosity about the man who had come to see her.

It wasn’t hard finding articles about him on the net. A quick search turned up numerous reports about his business and private life. He was very rich, had made a fortune in personal computers back when people still had giant blocks of plastic sitting on their desks and used crappy wifi to get connected.

He was part of the connectivity revolution that allowed people to get on the net from anywhere for free. It made him more than just wealthy, it made him a powerful global player.

He had become politically active, heading various government task forces (it wasn’t really clear to Britta what for or if they actually achieved anything) and was outspoken about the environment and the need for more clean fuels. He also owned a solar energy company, coincidentally.

There was nothing very unusual about any of this. He had a yacht, a third wife, a philanthropic foundation. He went to black-tie functions with a lot of unnaturally tanned people.

What was more unusual was the total lack of information about children. Not one mention of Stan or any siblings. Which either meant Stan didn’t exist (pretty far fetched but not impossible) or that Sir Kenneth had the ability to keep things off the internet. Which was possibly even more far fetched.

The other players had seemed to recognise Stan or at least were aware of who he was, including Dr Reedy, but that might have been for all sorts of reasons. Britta would say she knew him if asked, and her only contact with him was as an avatar in a computer game.

Regardless of her concerns, she felt most of what Sir Kenneth had said was true. It would be quite a ridiculous lie to make up. Although that was a strange thing to be thinking when she spent so much of her time in a world that was almost entirely a ridiculous lie.

She decided to put it to one side and continue as though there was no great conspiracy happening. There probably wasn’t. It was far more likely Sir Kenneth had decided to keep his family tragedy private. Like the red-headed stepson he kept locked in the attic. Rich people were odd, that’s all there was to it. And very rich people were the oddest.

Stan himself, though, seemed to be a person she could handle. At least in the game. She would continue to do so, if be it a little more cautiously now that she knew what kind of man his father was. Not that she knew much—just enough to be wary.

Having spent half an hour pottering around the web and finding only harmless PR fluff about Sir Kenneth, Britta bookmarked a number of pages and closed the browser. There were some more avenues she could explore, but celebrity gossip pages were not worth the lowering of IQ, no matter what she might dig up.

In many ways, the best source of information was Stan. Not by asking him directly, that would be too awkward, but just by keeping an eye on him. If he really took after his dad, it would become obvious. In the meantime, there was no reason to not play the game with him. She had to remind herself it was a game.

She put on the helmet and logged back in. Once inside the temple of Roha, she checked her map and found Stan’s icon blinking outside of town, near the mines.

“Hey, did you die?” she asked him over group chat. They were still partied together, and she was still party leader.

“Of course I died. Where have you been?” He sounded a little irritated. A perfectly normal reaction. She preferred it when he wasn’t acting like her best friend.

“I have a life, you know?” she said, hoping it didn’t sound as a big of a lie to him as it did to her. “I have to eat and stuff.”

Stan sighed. “Okay, whatever. Why aren’t you moving?” He could see her on his map just as she could see him.

“I am, I am.” She got off the stone bed and made her way out of the temple. “Did the kobolds kill us?”

“Yes. They beat us to death with pots and pans.”

Britta reached the outskirts of New Town and called Donald. “But why? We were getting on so well, weren’t we?”

“I don’t know. I guess they thought they didn’t need us. Or that we’d turn on them at some point. Which is a reasonable assumption.”

“What does that mean? Were you planning something?”

“Planning? No, of course not. But you never know how these things are going to turn out. Once the dwarf was taken care of, then what? We’re still humans and they’re monsters.”

“Actually, I’m not human,” said Britta.

“Yes you are. An avatar skin doesn’t change that. It’s going to take more than a dangerous dwarf to unite the races. Or did you think you were going to bring peace to this world?”

His words were heavy with sarcasm but his tone was quite playful. He was, for all his whining, having fun.

“No, I didn’t think that,” said Britta tetchily, although she couldn’t really be too upset. She was having fun, too. “But I think I can convince them not to murder us when we’re not looking. They were a lot nicer to me when you weren’t there.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Stan, sounding very insincerely offended. “They killed me second.”

“Obviously they wanted to take care of the biggest threat, first.”

“What? Are you concussed? Clearly they didn’t need you for the plan, but they still needed a decoy. They only attacked me when I tried to save you.”

Britta scoffed. “You tried to save me? When you were blindfolded?”

“I didn’t let them really blindfold me. I’m not an idiot. Oh, wait, you really couldn’t see anything?” He let out a long, disappointed, very irritating sigh. “I can see we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Smug git. Britta was tempted to turn her goat around and go back to town. But she didn’t. She was having too much fun.

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