Bitter 226

Britta ended staying up a lot later than she’d intended. The report to APE, detailing her observations, complaints and occasional grievances, took up eight pages.

She sent it off after reading it back to herself. All things considered, it was a very reasonable assessment of the current state of the game, she told herself. Harsh, but fair.

She got changed for bed, brushed her teeth and lay down. A stream of additional points she’d forgotten to include rushed through her head and she considered getting up and doing a Part 2. She decided against it.

They had enough to be getting on with, and she should save up some stuff for her next report. They were paying for her insights, no point giving them all in one go.

Every time she was about to fall asleep, one more thing would pop into her head and she’d turn on the bedside lamp to write it down. There were so many issues that needed attention, it seemed more and more like the only sensible thing to do would be to not go back into the game until they were sorted out. The whole thing could collapse at any moment.

Of course, Stan was stuck in there, waiting for her to come rescue him. And she fully intended to do that. If she could. But so many issues.

At some point she fell asleep.

She woke the next morning exhausted and groggy. It felt like only a moment ago she’d finally put her head down. She checked her phone to see if Dr Reedy had been in touch, but there was no message. It wasn’t like she expected Dr Reedy to be working through the night to make sure Britta could get back into the game as soon as possible… Well, maybe she had a little.

Dad looked like how she felt—eyes half-closed and mouth barely able to make words. They mumbled to each other over breakfast, and then she left for school.

Britta found herself dozing off during classes. None of her teacher’s said anything. They probably didn’t even notice. Rashida, on the other hand, took great pleasure in jabbing her in the midriff with a sharp finger whenever she propped her head on the heel of her palm and got comfortable.

“Hey! Cut it out.” Britta had narrowly avoided banging her head on her keyboard.

“You won’t learn anything by keeping your eyes closed,” said Rashida.

Britta looked around. Mr Taymor was sitting at his desk, typing away. He spent most of each lesson doing exactly that. He wasn’t a bad teacher. He spent the first half of every class demonstrating something or other, and then set the class work for the last half. So he could type. The general consensus was that he was working on a novel.

The rest of the class were either on their own computers and handheld devices, or talking among themselves. Apart from Lewis, who was on the far side of the room, staring at her.

She checked behind her in case there was someone else he was staring at, but no, it was her. She tried to act like she hadn’t noticed.

“I think Lewis the Loser has his eye on you,” said Rashida. “He wants to make you his.”

“Shut up,” said Britta under her breath. She was too tired to say it any louder.

“He’s making his move!”

Britta’s head spun around to prepare herself for some kind of attack, but Lewis was still in his seat. She turned back to Rashida’s grinning face peering out of her hijab.

“So, you are interested.”

“How does that mean I’m interested?” said Britta. “Anyone would look if you said something like that.”

Rashida didn’t answer. She was looking past Britta while pulling a face. Britta assumed it was another psyche out, but she was doing such a good job of looking appalled, Britta felt obliged to let her have her victory. She had earned it.

Britta turned and realised it wasn’t a put on. Lewis was waving. Once he had her attention, he mimed eating. Lunch together. Him and her. He had his computer open on his lap. It was obvious what he wanted to talk to her about.

Britta didn’t respond, she just turned around. And then wished she hadn’t. Rashida’s face loomed towards her, hungry for information.

“It’s nothing,” said Britta. “It’s about a computer game.”

Rashida paused mid-loom. “Since when do you play computer games?”

“I play. A bit. It’s more my dad. He works in the industry.”

“And Lewis knows your dad?” Rashida made it sound more suspicious than necessary.

“No. He just wants information on a game my dad’s playing. He’s looking for a connection and I’m part of the nerd network, by birth.”

What she’d just said was basically true. Give or take.

Rashida rapidly lost interest as Britta explained what it was her Dad did. She’d never fully understood it herself, but that didn’t stop her from making it sound as dull and complicated as possible. It didn’t take much effort.

At lunchtime, when Lewis found them at their table, Rashida still had the look of someone who suspected something fishy was going on.

“Have you seen this?” asked Lewis. He held up his laptop to show Britta the picture on the screen.

“What is it?” asked Rashida.

“A gaming helmet,” said Britta. “You wear it to play games.” It was a more streamlined version of the helmet she had at home, and it did a lot more than let you play games, but she did her best to make it sound like a silly toy.

“Ugh,” said Rashida. She picked up her tray and walked off.

“It’s coming out at the end of the year, they’re saying. That’s less than two months.”

“Okay,” said Britta. Were they really going to push it out so quickly when there were so many bugs left to fix?

“This is going to replace the pod. Apparently, they’ve already started sending them out to beta testers.”

That was true. In her case, at least. It was hardly something for him to be this excited about.

Lewis sat down across from her and leaned in. “Your dad might get one.”

“I suppose so.”

“You could borrow it.”

Was he expecting her to steal it and bring it to school so everyone could have a go?

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