Bitter 374

Britta was surprised at how quickly Lin had agreed, even suggesting a huge hike in payment without even bothering to negotiate. Britta had wanted to see how important she was to them. How much would they quibble over the finer points? The answer came back loud and clear: not at all. No quibbling. She was the one who got to make the demands. It would take some getting used to.

“How much is that?” said Dad.

Originally, they had paid her £5,000 a week, fixed to a six week period. And they had cut her off with two weeks to go, keeping the last ten grand. That was the money President Wu had given back to her with an apology. He had seemed genuinely embarrassed by the penny-pinching.

The new offer had been twice that; £10,000 a week. A huge amount of money to be sure. Lin had doubled it without a second thought.

“That would be twenty thousand pounds a week,” said Lin. “Approximately a hundred thousand monthly, around a million a year.”

It was a staggering figure.

But then, footballers earned more than that, and the big names got even greater amounts. Admittedly, they had short careers, but it wasn’t like Britta was going to make it to her pension with this job.

As Lin had said, the contract could be terminated at any time, by either side. There was no fixed period, everyone had the same rights to call it off.

Dad let out a low whistle.

“It’s not just about the money,” said Mum.

“It’s a little bit about the money,” said Dad.

“It’s not worth risking her health over,” said Mum.

“Truly,” said Lin, “Britta’s health will be my top priority. And I will hold nothing back from you.”

“Erm,” said Britta. “I was thinking more like a hundred thousand a week.”

Everyone stared at her.

A million a year was certainly a lot of money. But an executive at a big firm made more than that. Plus they got bonuses and an expense account.

“Britta…” said Mum, the amount of money now large enough for even her to start weighing pros against cons. “That’s a lot… I mean, do you even...” She was having a hard time processing it.

“That is good,” said Lin, nodding her head in what looked to Britta to be an approving fashion. “A good figure. I would have asked for something similar, in your position. Any more, and it would start to require approval from the board. And there is an excellent chance they would give you more, but then treat you like a company asset that they owned, and could do with as they pleased. But at this amount, you are equivalent to a mid-level executive.”

Mid-level. It was almost enough to make Britta laugh. The top people probably didn’t even know how much money they had.

“A mid-level executive,” Lin continued, “without any stock options or other privileges, so not a very high-risk investment. I think you have the makings of a fine businesswoman, Britta. You have excellent instincts.”

Britta had just plucked a number out of the air, but maybe that was what good instincts were.

“What’s that?” said Dad. “Over four million a year?” His voice went thin and squeaky at the end.

“I might not make it to a year,” said Britta.

“You understand,” said Dr Reedy, who had been watching quietly, “they will expect you to do as they tell you?”

“I think they would expect that, anyway,” said Britta. “And it’s as unacceptable now as it was before. I don’t take orders.”

Suddenly being worth so much money, even if only hypothetically at this point, made Britta strangely confident. She was the same person, with the same poor understanding of what was going on around her, but in this one area, she was the most valuable person in the world. It was just that the world in question was in a computer.

“No orders,” said Lin. “Occasionally a request, but you have always been very helpful. I see no reason for that relationship to change. Shall we sign the papers?”

“Are you really sure about this?” asked Mum.

Britta could see it was difficult for her to allow Britta to do something that clearly had risks attached to it. This was new technology that hadn’t been fully tested. They thought it had, but then Britta showed up and proved them wrong.

There were any number of problems that could arise, some of them potentially fatal. And Mum didn’t even know about most of them, like what had happened to Stan.

“At the first sign of trouble, I’ll call the whole thing off,” said Britta.

Maybe she was being naive. Maybe APE or Lin or the board of the Huixian Trading Company would step in and insist she carry on, using some pretext or other. It was a definite possibility, despite all the assurances to the contrary. But when would someone like Britta ever get an opportunity like this again? When would anyone?

She glanced at her arms. They weren’t glowing now, and even when they had been, it was just the tips of the hairs, like the ends of a fibre optics cable. It did make her slightly uncomfortable to think about. It wasn’t normal. It could be dangerous. But her instincts, her good instincts, told her not to back out. Not yet.

She was at the centre of something monumental, and she was going to be very rich because of it. Assuming she came out the other side.

“Yes,” said Britta. “I’m ready.”

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