Bitter 344

Dad listened to Britta’s theory about why Dr Reedy wanted her to go back into the game.

“That’s possible,” he said, thoughtfully nodding. “Very possible.”

“What other reason could there be?” said Britta, finishing her breakfast and looping the strap of her bag over her shoulder. If she wasn’t quick, she would miss the bus.

“Just because we don’t know the reason for Dr Reedy’s sudden interest in you, doesn’t mean you can assume it’s the first thing that comes to mind.”

“But we know the game was synced to me. And that the day-night cycle started after that. Nigel was the only one who managed to get it to work.”

“Hmm,” said Dad. “I suppose if the new AI can’t figure out how to replicate the effect, they might want to try using the old method. But if that was the case…” His voice trailed off.

“I have to go.”

“Wait. I’ll give you a lift.” It was rare for Dad to offer to drive her to school. Traffic was a pain at this time of day, and the route was usually full of roadworks. The bus was quicker during rush hour thanks to the bus lanes.

“It’s alright,” she said. “I think I can—”

“No, it’s fine. Let me just get my slippers.”

“Um, can you put on some trousers, too? And a shirt? I’m not going with you looking like that.”

Dad paused, a disappointed look on his face, but she meant it. Most of the time, she didn’t care what people thought of her, but even she had limits.

Dad rolled his eyes. “Alright, just wait a minute.”

He returned in jogging bottoms and a Hulk t-shirt that was too tight for him. And slippers. It would do.

“If you’re right,” he said as they sat in traffic, “you’ve got them over a barrel.”

“What do you mean?” said Britta, rummaging around in her bag so everything was in the order she would need them for class.

“If the only way they can sync the game is through you, Dr Reedy is going to call again. And she’ll give you whatever you want.”

“They don’t have anything I want,” said Britta. “Do they?”

Dad pulled a face at her. Britta looked around to make sure the people in other cars weren’t watching.

“Money? You don’t think they’ll pay whatever you ask?”

“Oh. Yes. I suppose. But it’s not like people aren’t going to buy their helmets just because there isn’t night in the game yet. They can just put it in the next patch, or whatever.”

“It’s not just the day-night thing. There’s also the excessive sweating. You were the key to that, as well. No, I’m sure they’ll want to get you in for at least a checkup.”

“I don’t want a checkup,” said Britta.

“Not you, the system. They can’t test it without you. Hoo boy. They’re really stuck. You could really squeeze them into a tough spot.”

“Dad, I don’t think that would be entirely ethical.”

“You don’t think they’d do the same to you, if they had the chance?”

“That’s not the point, is it? I don’t want to be like them.”

“Yes. Of course. I was just thinking out loud.” Dad slipped through the traffic lights when they had already turned red. There was too much traffic for it to matter.

“They’ll figure it out eventually,” said Britta. “They probably think it’ll be quicker if they had me to help, that’s all.”

Dad let out a sigh. “You’re right. Although, even if that’s all it is, I doubt they’ll back off very easily. Why take no for an answer when you can pay for a yes?”

She was inclined to agree with him. Even if it only sped things up a little, the people at APE might be willing to ignore what she would prefer, and try to pressure her into doing it their way. It might be a lot easier if she charged them a stupid amount of money, and just got it over with.

They arrived at school at the same time as the bus she would have caught. Students were piling out, swarming all over the pavement. She got out of the car and slammed the door behind her.

“Hey,” said Dad as the window between them lowered. “Let me know if she contacts you again. If it starts getting a bit much, I’ll have a word with them. You’re not allowed to pressure kids. Not unless you made them.”

Britta rolled her eyes and quickly walked into the school, heading for her locker. Around her, she heard people talking about the latest developments with the game. It seemed like the only thing anyone ever talked about anymore.

The big gripe now was that it had emerged you couldn’t make videos of your gameplay. The helmets didn’t allow you to tape or stream what you did in-game. It was hardly a deal-breaker, not for most people, but with the interest in watching other people play video games, it seemed a bit of an oversight. Streaming New World would have been very lucrative, maybe even a career for some people.

Dr Reedy didn’t call again. Britta had expected her to. Like Dad said, they were unlikely to take no for an answer. Assuming she was right about their reasons. But maybe she wasn’t right.

One thing Dad said was definitely true, though. You’d get into all sorts of trouble if you tried to pressure a kid. Which was why they didn’t. They pressured him.

When she got home, there was a truck outside, loading up Dad’s VR rig.

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