Bitter 343

Britta told Mum and Dad about the call from Dr Reedy. It wasn’t really a big deal, but she felt like she should mention it.

Mum said, “Oh, that was nice of her,” making the assumption it was just a way of saying thanks, like getting a gift when you move jobs.

Dad said, “How much was she offering?” like it might be worth considering if the price was right.

Neither questioned her decision to turn the offer down, though. They probably wouldn’t have questioned her decision if she’d decided to accept the offer, either. Britta had the impression they had discussed the matter already, and decided to let her make her own choices. It was the sort of thing parents did when they thought about how best to treat their teenage kids in a reasonable and mature way that their own parents had never done for them.

We can’t stop her drinking or being curious about sex, we just have to hope we brought her up right…

Before they panic and start blaming each other on the way to the hospital.

Of course, drinking and boys were not an issue they’d have to deal with very much in her case. Britta generally disliked alcohol, and boys generally disliked her.

Still, she appreciated the attempt to allow her to be her own person.

Monday was dreary and overcast. She arrived at school with her homework done and her pencils sharpened. She didn’t actually have much need for pencils, but she had them in her bag, anyway. Just in case.

There was some commotion in the form room as she waited for registration to begin. The boys were excited about something, as boys had a tendency to be. Nothing unusual about that. Britta had lately developed an ability to tune her hearing to excitable boys.

Conversations between girls held little interest for her — it was mostly stuff she hadn’t been invited to — but the boys were usually talking about the game, and even though it was no longer part of her life, she found it strangely compelling to hear others’ thoughts on the subject. She tried not to look too closely into why that might be.

With the launch only five days away, it wasn’t very surprising that they would start losing the small amount of self-control they possessed, but slowly she was able to piece together the source of their hyperactivity. News had leaked that people were already playing the game.

It was easy enough to confirm. Britta was able to go online through her phone, using up more of her endless unused data, to read all about it.

For the longest time, no reliable news about the game had appeared anywhere on the net. Britta had done quite a lot of looking, so she knew how well APE had protected their project. Now it was everywhere.  

Journalists, it seemed, now viewed APE as a valid source of news, especially the journalists who hadn’t been invited to try out the game.

Britta couldn’t say for certain that jealousy was behind the sudden influx of reports related to APE and the game, but they clearly now saw even the smallest piece of gossip about New World as something that would attract public interest. And clicks meant ad revenue.

It might not be worth their time to investigate corrupt politicians or corporations dumping poison into rivers, but the hottest computer game in twenty years was a story they were willing to put their best people on. At least until a big Youtuber got a new haircut.

What they had discovered was that a small group of players were already playing the game. Several sites reported the same thing, so it was more than a rumour.

APE had responded by claiming it was a test group, ironing out the last of the bugs, but some of the players had been identified. They were all children of the rich and famous.

The public response was not positive.

It seemed a bit of a storm in a teacup to Britta. So what? It was their game, they could let whoever they wanted in first. But people were outraged at the injustice. How could this be allowed in a civilised society?

Considering how well APE’s marketing department had handled things so far, she wondered if this wasn’t all part of their PR strategy.

She had better things to do, and the constant yapper of boys soon turned to white noise. When she got home, she was tempted to go online and see what latest drama had unfolded, but she would just be allowing it to distract her as much as everyone else. Exam time was approaching, and there was an advantage to keeping herself focused on her studies while half the students in school lost their minds over 3D dungeons and dragons.

As she prepared for bed that night, her phone rang. It was Dr Reedy, again.

Pleasantries were exchanged, again.

“I was just wondering if you’d had time to make a final decision on my offer.”

“Offer?” said Britta.

“To try the new version of New World.”

Britta had thought she’d already made her final decision. It was odd that Dr Reedy was so keen to have her back. Odd and suspicious.

“Oh. The same. I’m not really interested.”

“I see. That’s fine then. I just wanted to make sure.”

There was no explanation of why she wanted Britta to reconsider, and Britta didn’t press for one. Something to do with Nigel, probably. She made sure to put her computer back it the drawer before going to bed.

In the morning, Dad was sitting at the breakfast table in his bathrobe, his hair wet and plastered to his scalp.

“Dad, are you one of the people with early access to the game?”

Dad looked up at her sheepishly. “If I was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you because of an NDA. Allegedly.”

“Right.” She wasn’t sure you could use  ‘allegedly’ to avoid revealing things under NDA, but she wasn’t a lawyer. “How is it? Allegedly.”

“A bit dull, to tell you the truth. Not like it was with your friends. And there’s no night sky, either. Allegedly.”

No night sky. Suddenly, the reason for Dr Reedy’s calls became clear.

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