Bitter 376

Inside the shed it was very cold. Freezing, in fact. Condensed air wafted around Britta’s feet like dry ice.

“Why’s it so cold?”

“They need to keep it from overheating,” said Dad. He was standing next to a chair that was nearly horizontal, like something you’d see in a dentist’s. In the year 2525.

Britta came closer, her arms wrapped around herself. “You could have told me I’d need a coat.”

“Sorry,” said Dad. “Once you log in, it regulates your body temperature so you don’t really notice.”

There was a transparent shield around the head area, which probably acted like the visor on her helmet. It looked like you could flip it up to get in position easier. And there was a panel of buttons on each armrest.

Britta examined them all. There were no labels, but it looked like the driving seat of a starship. No wonder Dad didn’t feel the cold. Pure delight was keeping his internal furnace stoked.

“What are all the buttons for?” she asked.

“Some of them I’m not supposed to touch. Others are for getting the chair comfortable. And these are the important ones.” He indicated a block of red buttons on the left panel. “I can set up the recording and streaming features with these.”

This was the reason this rig was so much more complicated than her helmet. It could record video of what the player did. There were only a few of these rigs, and no footage had emerged yet.

“Who else do you think has one?” Britta asked.

“I don’t know. Top gamers, I would think, if there were any for this game. Possibly popular streamers, if they wanted to reach a big audience. Maybe their own people, so they can keep control of what goes out.”

“What about you?” she said. “What are you planning to put out?”

Dad stroked the leather chair like it was a beloved pet. Possibly a cow he had raised and would one day lovingly take to be slaughtered.

“They put a few restrictions on me. No live streaming, yet. And I have to send them any videos I intend to put out so they can be vetted.”

“They don’t trust you?”

“Probably not, but I don’t think it’s that. They just don’t know what I might do, or what effect it might have. It’s going to be the Wild West out there, for at least a little while. Nobody knows anything. Apart from you.”

“I don’t know anything, either.”

“Sure, but you’re more likely to see it coming first.”

“See what coming?”

“I have no idea. I guess you’ll have to wait until it turns up. It’s like we’re exploring deep space, and your ship is light years out in front of the fleet. Everyone wants to know what you can see, even though they have zero ability to guess what it might be.”

Britta didn’t know what ‘it’ was, but she understood what he meant. Sort of. She felt more like a canary in a coal mine; there so people could feel reassured it was safe.

“What’s your character’s name?” she asked him. He was playing a mage this time around, so that meant a new character name.

“Guildford Underpass.”

“What kind of name is that?” It was a dumb name, even for Dad. She had been through Guildford before. It wasn’t the sort of place you named anything after. Not even the local underpass.

“Don’t you think it sounds like the kind of name a wizard would have?”

Oddly, it kind of did. “I guess. Do you have a pointy hat with stars on it?”

“No, of course not. I’m not a noob. I’m going to be a battle mage. If I survive long enough.”

Mages were extremely squishy, especially early on. Britta could certainly attest to that. But like any class, eventually you would level up. “It’ll just take you longer, won’t it?”

“They’ve introduced some pretty harsh death penalties,” said Dad. “You lose levels if you die.”

“Do you?” This wasn’t good. Britta’s speciality was the early bath. “Where did it say that?”

“In the Level 1 tutorial.”

She was starting at Level 4, so she’d missed any changes in the tutorials. She certainly had no intention of going through all that again.

“Speaking of which,” said Dad, “having a Level 4 player on my side would certainly speed things along.”

“You want me to babysit you?”

“No.” Dad shook his head vigorously. “No, no, of course not. I’m just saying, if you’re in-game, and I’m in-game, we could do the old father-daughter team up.”

“I only do twelve minutes at a time, Dad. We don’t know what might happen if I go longer. I might burst into flames.”

She didn’t think that was true, and she’d already gone over her twelve-minute minimum, but it was fun to tease him with her possible death.

He didn’t look amused. “That won’t happen, Britta.” He only used her name when he was playing the serious Dad. So very rarely.

“I’m going back in,” said Britta. Her teeth were chattering. “Let me know when you’ll be premiering your first movie.”

“Don’t worry, I will. I’m going to make sure it goes viral.”

She had no doubt it would. People would eat it up, even if it was just him wandering around town.

“Oh, and sweetheart, thank you. This is the best gift a daughter could ever give her dad.” He patted the chair.

“Isn’t that meant to be grandkids?” asked Britta.

Dad shrugged. “Meh. That’ll be great, too, but more for your Mum. You’re the kind of child a man dreams of having. Don’t tell your sister I said that.”

Britta left him, not really sure if she should be flattered or offended.

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