Bitter 451

Britta wasn’t really upset, it was more the frustration and general overbearing nature of the game that was getting to her. She also had cramps, which wasn’t helping.

Once the initial explosion of tears subsided, she felt a lot better. Better out than in, as Dad was fond of saying; although usually after expelling gas in the most disgusting manner possible.

She got off the bed, dried her eyes and went to the bathroom. Washing her face was enough to bring her back to a more rational state of mind. It was a game, not her real life. It was just that the similarities were starting to get a bit disturbing.

Britta decided it would be best to take a break. Call it a day and go back in tomorrow. If she felt like it.

All she had wanted to do was have a look around, visit a few interesting places, maybe admire the view. Why couldn’t the game leave her to it?

“It sounds like they’re trying to make you the hero of the story,” said Dad after she told him what had happened.

“But I don’t want to be the hero.”

“Not just you, it probably tries to do that for everyone.” He was sitting in the front room with his feet up, watching football, so his attention was divided while he pretended it wasn’t. Nerds weren’t supposed to like sports, but it was just playing them they objected to. Watching on television was more about stats and figures most of the time, and remembering something that happened twenty years ago in a match that meant absolutely nothing. “It makes everyone feel like they’re the hero of their own story, like they’re in a movie. It’s what everyone dreams of.”

He shifted around on the sofa so he faced her. Talking about his theories on why games did this or that was even more appealing than watching a bunch of grown men run around a field trying to kick an innocent ball.

“In a book or movie, all the interesting things happen to the main character. Wherever they go, boom, actions stations. It’s very convenient, but nobody complains about it because it would just be boring otherwise. If James Bond had a really interesting mission every twenty years or so, and a more normal life as an assassin for Her Majesty in between — you know, paperwork, going to office parties, complaining about how he needs a new gun but there’s no money in the budget — no one would bother to see his movies. The main character becomes the focal point for everything of potential interest that happens, that’s the job, that’s the convention.”

“If you want that kind of life,” said Britta, “that’s fine. But I don’t. I wouldn’t want people watching my every move to see what I do and how badly I mess it up. James Bond has a bunch of writers making sure he stops the bomb with one second to go.”

“Seven seconds to go,” said Dad. “Zero zero seven seconds, to be accurate.”

“There isn’t anyone making sure you win in the game. Dying over and over and coming back until you win isn’t life-like, is it? You’re just tricking yourself into thinking you’re a winner.”

“True,” agreed Dad, turning back to the game. “But it makes things a bit more interesting than wandering around aimlessly. Maybe you could ask them to turn it off for you? It might be on a sliding scale and they just have you pegged as someone who should get as much attention as possible, because they want to keep you happy.”

Britta hadn’t thought of it like that. Did they think they were doing her a favour by having the game pester her at every turn? Hadn’t she made it abundantly clear she wasn’t interested in their attempts to sign her up for a quest?

It was possible, though. Britta couldn’t participate in the regular dungeons and skirmishes, so how else were they going to keep her busy? What they didn’t realise was that she had no interest in any of it.

They could have assumed it was just the kind of quest they were giving her that she didn’t like. Offering her different types, including rearing children, might be their way of trying to establish the sort of thing she was into. She was a girl, so maybe something nurturing? She could imagine a bunch of bearded men in shorts and sandals discussing it.

Maybe she had been unfair on N-28. He might simply be following orders.

“It’s not so bad, is it?” said Mum. She was in the corner armchair reading a book. It was a thick one with a unrealistically painted topless man on the cover. “It’s good practice for you. Learn how to say no. People are always going to try to get you to do things you don’t want to. ‘Come on, Sarah, it’s only an alcopop,’ and the next thing you know you’re naked, riding a police horse through St James Park at two in the morning. What?”

“Something you want to tell us, love?” said Dad.

“It was just an example,” said Mum.

“You said, ‘Come on, Sarah,’” said Britta.

“It’s a very common name. The first one that came to mind, that’s all.”

Britta exchanged a look with Dad.

Mum did have a point, once Britta got past the horrifying image now in her mind. Just hoping the harassment would stop wasn’t going to get her anywhere. It might be a machine she was having problems with, but it was controlled by people, and they could twiddle their knobs and make the game stop being so pushy.

Preferential treatment? Absolutely. If she couldn’t get special dispensation, then who could?

Britta went back upstairs with a fresh determination to put her foot down. She wasn’t going to let herself be bullied into logging in for her obligatory twelve minutes and then logging out again. She would decide how long she wanted to be in New World and how she wished to play.

She lay back down on her bed, only twenty minutes after being sure she wouldn’t do so again until tomorrow. She could call up Lin or contact Dr Reedy, but she didn’t want to have to do that everytime the game acted off with her. She’d deal with it herself. Teeth gritted, she went back in.

She was in the cavern, next to the saving totem, alone. There was no one else there. She made a ball of light and looked around. The mound was a pile of rubble. There was no sign of the guardvark and family.

Subscribe to this content and receive updates directly in your inbox.