Bitter 433

Britta opened the laptop Lin had given her. There was no On button, it just came on when she lifted the lid. There was also no way to recharge the battery, but it was always fully charged.

As she sat there, she realised something felt different. Not in her body, in her mind. She felt relieved to be out of the game.

That wasn’t how she usually felt. The game world was supposed to be relaxing and carefree. Things might get tense in there when she was running around, but she had never come out with any sense of anxiety about going back in.

If the game was going to not be fun for her anymore, what was the point of playing? Well, she had around a hundred thousand reasons per week to keep logging in, but she had never thought of it as a chore.

The only thing that had really changed was the feeling she was being pushed into doing certain tasks. In an open world game, you were supposed to be able to do whatever you wanted, but the devs obviously provided content they had designed for the players to participate in. They didn’t normally try to coerce players into following a particular path, whether the players wanted to go that way or not. Or maybe they did, and she had never noticed.

She accessed her account and opened up the cash shop. It showed the same items for sale as when she’d been in-game, but now that she was taking her time browsing, she could see there were even more things to spend money on.

The weird costumes and hats were just for show, and she knew there would be people into making themselves stand out, just like there were in real life, but she had little interest in that stuff. She was fine wearing anything as long as it fit her.

A cool mount would be fun, especially if it was fast or could fly, but they were all locked until she got to a higher level. She wondered what Donald would think if she replaced him? Would he care? Was she being mildly deranged even asking?

There were so many cosmetic items, from jewellery to tattoos that changed colours, that the functional stuff was a bit buried.

It was mainly the saving totems that concerned her, but there were also bags. She had overlooked them as mere cosmetics first time around but on closer inspection, she realised they were magic and could hold vastly more than the little knapsack she was currently rocking.

They were also very expensive, but then they did enable you to carry around the contents of a house. The most expensive was £1000, which was a lot, but there were plenty of more expensive designer bags for sale in West End shops. Neither was worth the money, both only existed inside a fantasy world.

It was also possible to click on a type of item and go to a more in-depth catalogue. You could get a £1000 magic bag in a range of shapes and sizes. She could see the fashion world licensing their designs to the game, and then prices would really rocket.

Clicking around, Britta ended up surfing pages and pages of pets, from small balls of floof to larger, more exotic balls of floof. Different species, different colours. They served no purpose other than being cute, but they could be bred and trained to do tricks.

There were bound to be people who spent all their time just raising these critters and never bothering with the adventuring side of the game. Would the game try to force them into doing quests?

She left her computer on — it could stare at her walls if it wanted — and went downstairs. Mum was in the kitchen, emptying the freezer. There was nothing very unusual about that, she often went from spending an entire weekend napping, to running around trying to get a hundred things done. The freezer was supposed to be self-defrosting, but Mum never trusted machines to clean things properly. Dad’s collection of robotic vacuum cleaners more than proved her point.

Dad wasn’t present. Probably still in New World, exploring the lower levels of the mine.

“I want to use some of my money in the game,” Britta said, trying to make it sound casual and no big deal.

Mum instantly stopped what she was doing and gave Britta a penetrating glare. Britta should have known that nothing set alarm bells ringing like a child casually asking to spend money.

“You want to give them back the money they gave you?” Mum asked.

“Hardly,” said Britta. “They’re paying me a hundred grand a week. I’m talking about spending maybe twenty or thirty pounds a month. It’s just little items that make life a bit easier.” That was more or less true. There’d be a larger initial expenditure buying herself the biggest possible magic bag.

“Like paying for shortcuts?” said Mum, slightly judgemental in tone, but nowhere near the level Dad would have used.

“Like taking a taxi instead of the bus.”

“Okay,” said Mum. “If it’s only a few pounds every so often, I’m sure it’ll be fine. I still think it doesn’t make sense to pay them when you work for them. Couldn’t you just ask them to give you what you need?”

Britta knew Mum was making a perfectly reasonable point. As their special employee, using an item or two from the cash shop wasn’t exactly asking for the moon. But something inside her resisted asking for freebies.

“I don’t know. I feel kind of uncomfortable…”

“Britta,” said Mum, “it’s good that you feel you shouldn’t take things you haven’t earned, but this is business. If you don’t make people give you what they owe you, it only encourages them to take advantage of you. Trust me, both sides appreciate it when they come to a proper understanding of where they stand.”

She was right. Britta was acting like a shy girl who didn’t want to cause a fuss. This wasn’t how Lin would act. She wouldn’t even think twice about it. Not because she wanted stuff for free, but because it wasn’t worth more than that to her. And who would disagree? People wanted to make Lin happy more than they wanted her money. Even Britta felt that way. She didn’t want to disturb her with trivial requests, even though that was the only reason she was in the country. Well, one of two reasons.

Britta got her phone and started writing a text. But then she stopped. She had to get used to being the kind of person who spoke up when she wanted something, as distasteful as she found the idea of putting herself out in front. She rang Lin’s number.

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