Bitter 223

Dad needed her to explain the skill tree to him twice. He understood how it all worked—quirks and skills and sub-classes—but he still wanted her to repeat it all. Then he peppered her with follow-up questions, most of which she couldn’t answer.

“And Dr Reddy didn’t know anything about it?”

“She sent me this,” said Britta, taking the paper from him, “so she must know something.”

He took it back from her and looked at it again, moving it closer to his face. “But she doesn’t know how your character got hold of it.”

“No. Don’t you have skills you can choose from?”

“Yes. You get to pick from three after the class challenge. Then you get another one every five levels. There’s only a few to choose from. Nothing like this. And no sub-classes. That would be pretty cool, to be able to specialise in a particular sub-class. Pretty cool. What does perspicacity do?”

“I have no idea. I’m not even sure what the word means. Is it a quirk?”

“Yes, look.” He held the paper up for her to see, his finger pointing at a dot in the middle of the page.

Given the chance, he’d probably go through every single one, and she’d give the same answer each time.

“What about ambidextrous?”

“I don’t know. Something to do with using both hands?”

“Sounds like it might give you some kind of dual wielding bonus.” He seemed to have plenty of ideas what they could mean, and even what skills they might be related to, so she had no idea why he kept asking her.

“Maybe. Maybe it makes you a better juggler.”

Dad’s eyes lit up. “Actually, that would be quite a cool sub-class.”

“Juggler? How would that help?”

“I don’t know, but it would be cool, I bet.”

Everything was cool. He kept using that word like a teenager who had only just discovered it. Britta wondered what it would be like to have a grown-up dad who worried about the heating bills and pottered around in the garden.

She had her phone in her hand, still. She printed off another copy of the skill tree as it didn’t look like she’d be getting the first one back. Not without a fight.

“What were your sub-classes again?” he asked her without looking up from the piece of paper.

“Acrobat, Puppet Master and Coward.”

“Right, right. Puppet Master sounds really cool. If you could use it on other characters—oof, you could really troll them. People would be so mad.” His eyes shone with glee. “But… Coward. They wouldn’t give it a name like that if it didn’t have a huge upside. Right?”

That was what she had thought. “Yeah, but it looks like I’m going to be stuck taking Acrobat.” She had already explained her predicament to him.

“Maybe they can get you out of there by switching which altar you’re anchored to, so you respawn in town when you log in.”

“They can do that?”

“Normally, yes. But who knows with your character? The same rules don’t seem to apply to you.”

The printer had stopped making grinding noises and Britta went into Dad’s office to get her copy of the skill tree. Dad followed her in, his eyes still glued to the page; although he managed to avoid bumping into anything thanks to muscle memory.

“I thought it would be useful to have this,” said Britta as she examined the copy in her hand, “but it’s not quite the same without being able to click on things to see what they do. How can they not have this stuff online somewhere so you can look at it? I mean, they should at least have the status screen so you can check your stats and stuff.”

“You could always make your own copy. Just write everything down?”

“How? I can’t bring anything out of the game with me.”

“From memory.”

Britta considered his suggestion. “There’s too much. I don’t think I—”

Dad took the paper from her hand. Why did he need two?

He put them both on his desk, turned one over and picked up a pen. A few seconds later he had drawn out an exact copy of the status screen, with the number fields left blank. He gave it back to Britta, along with the pen.

She filled it in. The numbers were very clear in her memory now that she had everything in front of her. It seemed a bit strange to have access to the most advanced technology in the world and have to rely on a handwritten workaround, but sometimes you had to go lo-fi.

“Thanks, Dad,” she said with her focus still on the hand-drawn status screen, trying to remember any other details.

“Cool, cool,” said Dad, the skill tree back in his hands and up by his face.

They both stood there deep in thought when Britta’s phone rang, Dr Reedy’s name on the screen. She was about to go back into the room to talk to her when she saw the hungry look on Dad’s face. He was desperate for more information even though his character didn’t have access to the skill tree and it would have no effect on his gameplay.

Britta answered the phone and put it on loudspeaker.

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