Bitter 417

Lin answered Britta’s email with a short message informing her a package would be arriving soon. It was a secure computer that would allow her to access all her character info offline, as requested.

Her other requests weren’t so easily fulfilled, though. They weren’t denied outright, just under consideration. Lin thought the second character Britta wanted would be permitted, but not with her current helmet. From the wording, it seemed others had suggested the same, considering it a useful way to measure Britta’s effect on the game with updated character models.

The direct connection to N-28, however, was not something Lin felt was possible right now. She made it sound like it might be given further consideration at a later date, but that could have been a polite way to say no.

Britta wasn’t too disappointed, that was the one she’d felt was least likely to be granted. It had been more a way to keep things fluid between her and her employer. If she was simply hired to do one job, then as soon as they found an alternative, she would be out. This way, she was identifying herself as a multipurpose tool.

The computer came within an hour of the email. It was hand delivered by the tall driver from before. Lin’s ex. Mum answered the door, and the conversation was short. Britta only got a glimpse of him before the door was closed in his face.

Whatever crime he had committed against Lin, Mum was not ready to offer any olive branches on her behalf.

It was a red laptop. It didn’t come packed in a box with a hundred different foam inserts to keep it protected in transit. It was in a large satchel, ready to go.

There were also no cables or plugs. And no ports or slots to stick things in. Britta put it on her desk and ran her hands over it. It wasn’t metal, but looked too glossy to be regular plastic.

“I think it’s fibreglass,” said Dad.

“Just for show?” Britta liked the way it felt. She wanted to put her cheek against it and slide her face around.

“I don’t know,” said Dad. “Maybe it helps with heat dissipation. Looks like it gets hot. Looks very fancy. Does this mean you’re going to start taking the game seriously again?”

“I am taking it seriously,” said Britta. “I’m making sure I make the most of every twelve minutes I’m logged in.”

“It’s very intense at the moment,” said Dad. “Down at the mines, I mean.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“You’ve got the Imperial Army wanting to take over. The kobolds insisting they’re a private concern. Master Chief negotiating on behalf of the adventurers. And dozens of players itching to get into the lower levels.”

“So it’s a stalemate, then?”

“Yeah, but a very intense stalemate. Perfect time for someone to sneak into the second level while they’re all busy.”

“Good luck,” said Britta.

There was no brand name on the laptop. There was a symbol on the cover, but Britta didn’t recognise it.

There were large vents on either side, making it look like it might take off. Britta flipped it open. It was bigger than her normal laptop, but lighter. There was no On button.

“Lin said it had a fingerprint detector.” She couldn’t see one, though. There was a keyboard and a touchpad to one side.

She placed her fingers on the keys, and the screen lit up.

Fingerprint accepted.

The whole keyboard was fingerprint sensitive?

A bar at the bottom said the battery was at full power.

“How do I recharge it?” said Britta.

“I don’t think you do,” said Dad. “Must be the same as your helmet. Some advanced kind of battery.”

Dad had always insisted the big tech companies had developed far better batteries than the ones they put into their devices. It didn’t make business sense to provide customers with equipment that lasted for years without needing replacement. You didn’t make money from reliability.

But the Huixian Trading Company appeared to have access to a limitless power source that didn’t even need to be plugged in.

The laptop screen showed two icons. One was the New World logo. The other was folder without a title.

Britta put a finger on the touchpad to move the cursor over the New World logo, but tapping it didn’t open the application, and there were no buttons.

“How do I start it?” she said.

“Double tap?” suggested Dad.

“Tried it.” She drummed on the touchpad with two fingers. “Come on, open.”

The screen blinked and the New World logo filled the screen.

“I think it’s voice-activated,” said Dad.

Then the screen went black.

Unauthorised presence detected.

Britta turned around to face Dad, who was standing behind her.

“I think it means you.”

Dad slowly backed away. Then he moved to the side. He pressed himself flat against the closed door, where the laptop couldn’t possibly see him. The black screen remained.

Only when he left the room did the laptop let her see the normal screen.

Character name?

There was a search box. She typed B, and was about to hit return, then deleted it.

“Search for B. Illusionist. Gnome,” she said in answer to the changing questions on the screen.

Her in-game status screen appeared. Everything was there. It took her a couple of minutes to figure out how to navigate between pages. Then she realised she could just ask it to show her what she wanted to see.

“Show skill tree.”

It was all there, the whole of the skill tree. The quirks she’d chosen, and the options available.

“Zoom in.”

She could even read the greyed out ones.

This would be very useful. Whatever her future plans for her character, having this access would make things much more convenient.

Then a thought occurred to her. “Search for Guildford Underpass. Magic User. Human.”

Dad’s status screen appeared.

“Are you looking up my private information?” said Dad through the door.

The screen went black.

Unauthorised presence detected.

When Lin had said this was a secure computer, she hadn’t been kidding.

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