Bitter 266

Britta logged into the game. She exited the small room in the Temple of Roha and looked around for Dad. She didn’t actually know what he looked like as she’d never seen his character in-game.

It wasn’t like he’d be hard to spot since they’d be the only two people playing the game, but she still felt like she should be holding up a sign that said ‘Dad’ like someone waiting at the airport to pick up an arrival.

There was movement on the other side of the temple as a door opened and Dad stepped out. He looked ridiculous.

Or, rather, he looked like a superhero from a comic. Those kinds of costumes appeared fine as a drawing, but seemed completely weird in real life.

He had a cloak with a hood, leather armour in various shades of dark red, gloves with fins growing out of them, and a mask.

The mask was the typical superhero eye-mask that would never disguise your identity from anyone since the whole rest of your face was visible. Britta had never understood how people in those stories failed to recognise close friends and loved ones simply because of some minor facial decorations. Then again, if Clark Kent could manage it with just a pair of glasses, there really wasn’t a need for anyone else to worry about it.

Dad came swaggering over, his cloak flapping about.

“It’s me,” he said in an unnecessarily deep voice. “You’re a gnome.”

“I know. Why are you talking like that?”

“Like what?” he rumbled.

“Like you’re phoning me with your ransom demands.”

“It’s for the effect,” said Dad in his normal voice. “I’m trying to maintain a persona. You’re killing my immersion, sweetheart.”

“Call me B, and I suppose you’re Bruce.”

“That’s right,” he said, back to the movie trailer voice. “Bruce de Bruce, hero of the people.”

“Which people?”

“Oh, whoever’s around. I’m not fussy. Do you want to see my bow?” He took the bow off his shoulder. It didn’t look like a regular bow, it didn’t even look like the one Stan used. This one had a lot more attachments.

“What do all those knobs and things do?”

“It’s very finely tuned to suit my shooting style. I can hit a rabbit at five hundred metres.”

“That’s not very nice,” said Britta. She had always liked rabbits.

“You’re thinking too much like a normie. There are some extremely vicious rabbits in this world. Don’t let your guard down.”

Britta had to fight the urge to roll her eyes. Perhaps that’s where an eye-mask would have come in handy.

“What do you use when you fight close up? Do you have a sword or something?”

She wouldn’t normally care about stuff like that, but it had become more of a professional interest to find out what others used in the course of their adventures. Her own tactics when it came to fighting were still woefully inadequate, she had no illusions about that. Picking up tips from better players was the smart thing to do. Even if the player happened to be Dad.

“If I make the right moves, no one will ever get that close to me.” He twanged the bowstring.

“So you run away?”

“Yes. Although I prefer to say I blend into the shadows…” He stepped backwards into a darker part of the temple. She could still see him very clearly.

“Do you have the book?”

He opened his inventory and the book appeared in his hand. “Are you sure you want to do it in here? Might be against health and safety regulations.”

For a superhero he was very aware of not breaking any rules.

“We could go outside,” said Britta. “There won’t be anyone around this time of night.”

“Okay, let’s go have a look at this night mode, then. Bet it’s blurry at the edges.”

They walked out of the temple. The streets were empty and the sky was still strewn with stars.

“Wow,” said Dad, staring straight up, his mouth hanging slightly open. “That is a technically dense render. The calculations per second to maintain a dynamic image of this size…” He let out a low whistle. “Impressive.”

“I think it’s pretty,” said Britta, deliberately.

Dad gave her a look, but didn’t take the bait. “Right, where should we do this. The alley?”

“No, not that one. I always end up getting attacked down there.” It wasn’t like Freddy was around anymore, but she didn’t want to tempt the game to carry on the tradition. “Probably best to do it outside of town. It might get noisy.”

She definitely didn’t want to attract any attention. If the town guard spotted them, things might get awkward.

They set off down the deserted street, Dad not really looking where he was going as he checked out the night sky some more. “Beautiful.”

She wasn’t sure if he meant the way it looked or the maths behind it. “Shame Mum can’t see it. I think she’d like it.”

“She’d hate it. She’d see it as a reason for you to want to spend more time in here.”

He was right. Mum would only view it through the lens of what it meant for Britta’s preoccupation with the game. The better it was, the less likely she was to want to leave.

“Your mother understands what it means to be a no-life gamer who hundred percents every game. She appreciates the focus and dedication it takes, but she also knows how seductive it can be. She’s the anchor that keeps someone like me from disappearing into the computer world and never come back.”

“Have you told her that?”

“Told her?” said Dad. “That was a quote from my wedding vows.”

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