Bitter 191

It was Friday. Britta woke up and got ready for school, had breakfast and chatted with Dad. Mum had already left for work, as usual, but Britta made a point of texting her to complain about Dad eating the last of the cereal.

She didn’t really care about the cereal (there was another box in the cupboard, as Mum told her when she texted back), but she knew Mum liked being included in the domestic side of family life.

In many ways, the game had taught Britta how to think ahead and make moves that would lay the groundwork for her future benefit. It might have been seen as manipulative by some people—Maybe it was—but it made sense to not leave things to random chance when a little effort could ensure a positive result.

She felt a lot more relaxed at school than she used to. She still didn’t care what the other students thought of her, or that she wasn’t popular. But she no longer felt the need to make a point of acting like it. Wanting others to know you didn’t care was a sign you did care. She knew that, and it would be pretty weird if she really was unaffected by the way people treated her, but she had always tried to minimise the role it played in her life. Now, she genuinely didn’t worry about it. She didn’t have the time.

Her work had suffered a little from her new preoccupation, even though she wouldn’t admit that to anyone. And they’d have a hard time proving it. She was getting the same grades as before, but Britta knew she could do better. If she paid more attention in class and spent more time on the work, there was no doubt she’d be acing every subject. She didn’t care about that, either.

She was a bright girl. Not the smartest ever, but smart enough to realise her game life was more important to her than her real one. And she knew the dangers inherent in that kind of thinking. In the end, it was this world she would have to live in. Probably.

But she was sixteen and this was a small window of opportunity. Who knew what would happen in the future? APE could go bankrupt tomorrow. Or it could lead her to a career in a new industry. It could change the world.

Britta didn’t rush to her bedroom when she got home. She ate and chatted with Dad. He’d been forced to do the shopping and buy extra cereal, orders from Mum. He told her about some dungeon he’d discovered and was the world’s first to enter. She told him that was nice, which annoyed him just as she intended.

When she did go to her room, she sorted out her schoolwork first. She’d done most of it in her lunch and break times. Not having a social life actually helped in that regard.  She had always been a pretty organised person, but the level of discipline she was showing didn’t come from that. Her only focus was getting to the core of what the game was about. She sensed there was something amazing there, but also something very easy to miss. She couldn’t afford distractions and real life problems that might get in her way, especially when a little forward planning could eliminate them before they became an issue.

She showered and got changed. She would probably be in-game for a long time and have to shower again when she logged out, but it was important to look after herself. She was considering doing a class at the gym Dad was a member of but never visited. Running around in a fantasy world did nothing for her real body and she needed to stay healthy.

Once everything on her list was out of the way, she put on the helmet and entered the game.

Stan PMed her before she had a chance to even sit up. She met him in the cafe that had become their regular meeting place. A tavern or inn would probably have been a more appropriate venue for adventurers, but Stan seemed reluctant to take her to those sorts of places, even though they were all very PG-13.

“I’ve been doing some investigating on my own,” he said. He was back in his normal clothes and all business. “The mayor, he’s a pretty shifty character. I go his address and a list of places where he hangs out. You can make an appointment to see him at the Town Hall.”

“I met him once,” said Britta. “In the post office.”

“What would he be doing in the post office?”

Britta shrugged. “Posting a letter.”

“I don’t think he does that himself.”

It had seemed an odd place to see him, she remembered thinking that at the time. “He had something going on with the guy behind the counter. I think he was, you know, not like the other NPCs.”

Stan sat up. “We should talk to him, then.”

“You don’t want to go see the dwarves?”

Stan shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “If it means going back into the mine and getting chased around by dear dead Roman, I’d rather wait until we have a better idea of what this is about. Or a better way to stop him killing us.”

It wasn’t like they didn’t have enough to be getting on with. “What about Gabriel Garbolum? Did you find out anything about him?”

“Only the stuff the main storyline tells you. He’s the crime boss and he has a lot of goons to do his dirty work. The devs never completed the quest, so no one’s ever seen him. I assume he does exist, somewhere.”

“Can’t we get them to finish writing the quest?” asked Britta. It seemed like a reasonable request under the circumstances.

“We can ask, but who knows how long that’ll take? They’re slow, lazy bastards.” He looked around and then at the ceiling. “I know you can hear us, and you know I’m right.”

In Britta’s experience, which was mainly Dad, programmers were obsessive and spent far too much time at the office pulling all-nighters. Although whether that was to do work or play games, she wasn’t sure.

Britta looked around, too, but her focus was more on the people around them. “Have you seen Freddy?”

“No,” said Stan. “Not since he went after that dwarf.”

“The dwarf you sent him after, you mean.”  It suddenly occurred to her Freddy could have got himself killed. Then what? Would he reset and forget everything that had happened? Would he forget who she was?

There was a tinkle as the bell on the door indicated a customer. Freddy walked in. He had a massive bruise over one eye.

“What happened to you?” asked Stan as Freddy took a seat next to Britta.

“I don’t like dwarves,” Freddy mumbled. “I only said I wanted to be his special friend and he hit me.”

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