Bitter 463

Britta felt a lot better once she’d washed up and brushed her teeth. There was no need to get carried away, things weren’t in disaster mode. Not an emergency, just a precaution.

It was a quiet Sunday morning, the back garden outside her window was its usual untroubled self, the shed with Dad in it showed no signs of being anything other than a shed. Britta got changed and went downstairs to grab something to eat.

There was a persistent little voice in the back of her mind telling her to quickly get back into the game to find Dad, but she was ignoring it. She wasn’t going to allow the game to call the shots. Even if there was something untoward going on, a five-minute delay wouldn’t make a difference, while Britta making sure she was in the right frame of mind, would.

Mum was in the kitchen, sitting at the table with the laptop open in front of her. She had a furrowed brow and a downturned mouth.

“Morning,” said Britta.

Mum looked up with a slightly startled expression. “Britta, you’re here.”

It was an odd thing to say. Where else would she be?

“Yeah. Are you okay?”

A smile broke out on Mum’s face, the kind parents throw at kids when they don’t want them to worry. Once you knew that was what they were doing, its only effect was to set alarm bells ringing.

“Mum, have you been up all night?”

“Mmm? Oh, no, I mean, only a little. I was watching your father. Well, I was watching what he was doing, I didn’t actually see him. He’s behind the camera.”

She meant she’d been watching the livestream, which also meant she saw it go down. Britta moved behind her. The laptop screen was black. The total views for the stream since it had gone live was over twelve million. The current number of viewers was over eight hundred thousand — nearly a million people were watching a blank screen.

“They cut the feed,” said Britta. “Dad’s doing something the game doesn’t want people to see.”

“The people at APE?” asked Mum, looking over her shoulder at Britta.

“No, the game. It cut the feed without telling the people at APE.”

Mum’s fake smile faltered. “The computer people don’t know why Dad stopped broadcasting?”

“No. They’ve asked me to go and find out what happened to him.”

Mum’s smile suddenly became much more genuine. “They have? You’re going to find your father?”

“Yes. I bet he’ll be pleased.”

“Oh, I’m sure he will,” said Mum, completely ignoring Britta’s sarcasm. “Oh, I feel much better now. If they’re sending you, then that’ll be fine.” She looked relieved.

Britta experienced an odd sensation. It wasn’t anything she could put her finger on, but Mum’s confidence in Britta’s ability to sort out whatever had gone wrong was strangely uplifting.

Her parents had always been supportive and generally positive about what Britta was capable of, but in the way most parents were. If she wanted to do something, they told her there was no reason why she couldn’t.

This was the first time Britta had felt like Mum believed Britta was something beyond merely capable of doing something. She was being treated like someone who was the ideal candidate rather than just a potential one. It made her feel taller, like when you remember to straighten your back when you’re walking.

“Were you watching when the stream went down?” Britta asked. “Did anything happen?.”

“Oh, yes, lots. It was very tense, very atmospheric. They all had the feeling they were being watched by something. I couldn’t tear my eyes away.”

“Did they see anything? Any creatures?”

“No, not actually see… but they were getting close. They all kept saying it.”

“Getting close to what?”

“They didn’t say.”

It sounded like absolutely nothing had happened. How had millions of viewers kept watching all night? It was amazing the power not wanting to miss out had. And then to have the livestream shutdown must have been very frustrating. Forums all across the internet must have exploded.

“What was the last thing you saw before the stream stopped?” Britta asked Mum.

“They were in a tunnel, your father said something about a strange smell, then their torches went out and you could hear everyone panicking, and that was it. Your father’s been the star of the show, you know? Even though you can’t see him, he’s the one making the others laugh and keeping them calm whenever they hear a disturbing sound.” She sounded impressed, which she really was when it came to Dad’s antics.

“They heard sounds?” asked Britta.

“In the distance. Howling.”

Britta told herself it could be anything. The wind blowing through a tunnel.

“So nothing really happened, and then the lights went out?”

“That’s right.” Mum stood up and took a breath. “Let me know when you find him. I’m going to take a shower.”

Mum’s faith in her made Britta slightly anxious. She wasn’t used to being relied on for things. What if she wasn’t up to it? She knew she was being insecure over nothing, and that it was normal for people to doubt themselves when they were the centre of attention, especially if they weren’t used to it, but getting used to it was what Britta wanted. She wanted to be able to go into a real life high- pressure situation, knowing she could handle it. And the only way to do that was to first take on situations without knowing.

Britta ate some toast and drank a glass of juice. She went back upstairs. She could hear Mum humming in the shower, her concerns for Dad alleviated. She went to her room and put the helmet on — Britta to the rescue.

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