Bitter 318

“If you don’t want my help as a player, then what?” asked Britta. “I’m not a computer programmer.”

“I know,” said Nigel. “Neither am I.”

Sister Florence’s face, hosting Nigel, looked decidedly glum. There was something hard and cold about her eyes, like someone who refused to give up even though no one had turned up for their birthday party, but the sadness of abandonment was all too visible.

Britta couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty. She had never said she was going to be there for Nigel as he attempted to find his independence, but she had sort of given that impression. She knew only too well what it felt like to have to go forward alone. That ‘I’ll show ‘em’ attitude everyone would like to believe they would respond with was very difficult to come by in real life. The ‘I’ll eat this whole cake by myself’ attitude was far more common, in her experience.

“You don’t have to worry about writing the code,” said Nigel. “How it’s made isn’t important. What’s important right now is what it’s supposed to be. What it’s supposed to do. If this world doesn’t work as a reflection of the real one, then what should it be instead?”

It was a fairly straightforward question. If you could remake the world, what would be the best direction to take it in? She had no idea what the answer was, though.

“I’m not sure why you think I’m the person to help you,” she said. “There must be a lot of people who could help you a lot better than I can.”

Sister Florence frowned. “You don’t think it would be interesting? Creating the perfect world to play in?”

“I think it sounds fascinating,” said Britta, meaning it. “I just don’t know if I’m the best person to assist you.”

“Ah,” said Nigel. “You lack self-confidence. You shouldn’t, you know. Look how popular you are. Everyone wants your help, not just me. There must be a reason, don’t you think?”

He was right, up to a point. Was this what it was like to be a pretty girl, getting attention from everyone? Britta had something other people wanted, and they would be nice to her while she was of use. And then what? Move on when they got what they wanted? Maybe it was what being a pretty girl was like.

She remembered a talk she’d had with Mum concerning boys and what to be careful of. They would tell you things you wanted to hear, things that made you feel nice, just so they could get you to give them what they wanted. It wasn’t a lesson that had proved particularly useful, but she understood the basic concepts. People are nice to you when they need something, but don’t always stay nice after you give it to them.

Mum had also explained how she would know if the boy actually liked her. He would want to know what she wanted. That lesson hadn’t been of much use, either. Not so far, anyway.

Dr Reedy, Stan, Nigel… they all saw something they could get from her. None of them had asked her what she wanted.

“I’m sixteen. Obviously I lack self-confidence. Anyone my age who thinks they’d be wonderful at something they’ve never tried before is faking it. I know even less about what people are really like than you do, so I can’t see how I’d help you very much.”

A smile appeared on the nun’s face. Sister Florence’s smiles had always seemed somewhat idiotic, like she was a million miles away thinking about a dream she once had, but this one was different. This one seemed to connect, like it was aimed right into Britta’s eyes.

“Exactly,” said Nigel. “That’s exactly what it is. I’ve spent a lot of time studying people, trying to understand them. I have access to the internet. I can see the patterns repeating over time. You make such a big deal of trying to act like you know what you’re doing. Every idea is going to turn out great. Success is guaranteed. No one wants to express their doubts, or appear unsure of themselves, so they have very definite opinions which they refuse to admit are opinions. It’s much easier to convince people to trust them that way. No one wants to back someone who might lose, they want to back the person who guarantees the impossible.” He had become quite animated as he vented his frustrations. No one in the cafe reacted, though. He sighed and shook his head. “Confidence is a worthless commodity, except to other insecure people.”

“That’s just normal,” said Britta, calmly and quietly. “They probably aren’t so cocky in private, when they’re with people they trust.”

“I wouldn’t know,” said Nigel, matching her measured tone. “But you aren’t like that. You’re willing to let people think you don’t know what you’re doing.”

It was a bit of a harsh way to put it, but he wasn’t wrong.

“That’s different. I don’t have much choice, that’s what they think of me already. And it’s not that they think I’m stupid. It’s more that they feel superior. They think they must be better than me because they have more followers on social media, or whatever.”

She didn’t even know if what she was saying made any sense. Did people look down on her? Did they even notice her long enough to make a judgement? She only knew it wasn’t worth getting upset about. Not when there was nothing she could do to change it.

“But when you didn’t like where things were going, you just got up and walked out. Don’t you see how rare that is? You’re in this privileged position, being paid to play a revolutionary game, and you’re willing to risk losing it. Most people wouldn’t do that, I don’t think. Most people would pretend they were on top of the situation and hang on until the bitter end. This isn’t wild conjecture, you understand. I have data to back it up.”

Britta wasn’t sure where he’d get that kind of data from, but she didn’t doubt his word. Most people didn’t give up an advantage once they got it.

“Don’t you think they’re working on a replacement for you?” she asked. “After all the trouble you caused? I’m sure they’re trying to find someone better to replace me.”

“No point investing too heavily when they’ll get rid of you anyway, you mean? Yes,” said Nigel, “they probably would, if they could. But they have a schedule. They have investors who demand results on a timetable. They can’t afford to take the time to search out a replacement for either of us, not unless one dropped in their laps. And believe me,” he said in a lowered voice, leaning closer, “I would never let that happen.”

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