Bitter 470

The shade’s attitude was perplexing. He clearly didn’t want to be down here, but that was no reason to abandon Britta when she needed him. There was no imminent threat bearing down on them.

It also made things very awkward for Britta. She had worried that giving these people a more accurate idea of what was going on, rather than the vague half-truths she usually relied on, would have freaked them out, or possibly just made them think she was a liar.

They had actually responded very well, but the shade doing a runner might make them think she had no control over matters. It certainly made her think it.

“Where’s he gone?” asked MrKappa. “Recon?”

“Maybe,” said Britta, falling back on her more reliable half-truths.

“That was amazing,” said Owen. “The way he talked, it was just like a real person.”

“Imagine what else we’ll find down here,” said MrKappa.

They seemed excited and happy to be part of this, but things weren’t going as smoothly as she’d hoped, or at all. How was she going to find Dad without the shade’s help?

“Hey,” said Gabba, “are you sure it’s okay to tell us all this stuff? Aren’t you meant to keep us regular folk in the dark?”

Technically, Gabba was correct. Britta had signed an NDA forbidding her from sharing any information about APE and what they were really up to; not that she was entirely sure what they were really up to.

“It’s fine,” said Britta. “I’m only giving you very basic information so we can handle whatever we find here. I’m just being practical.”

That wasn’t the reason Britta had revealed so much to them. The idea of yet another group of people who would eventually turn on her had got to her. She wanted to try a different approach, and with APE unable to see what was going down here, it seemed like the perfect time to try the up front and direct method. And technically speaking, it was the shade who brought up the presence of the AI.

The ‘regular folk’ had reacted quite well, it was the shade who had let her down. For once, it would be nice if everyone pulled in the same direction. Maybe that was what she needed to understand. It wasn’t just about getting people on your side, it was getting them to work as a team. How did you do that?

“Are you okay?” said Gabba.

“I’m fine,” said Britta. Gabba looked like she didn’t believe Britta at all, which was a reasonable stance to take. “No, really.” She created a ball of light to make it easier to see where they were, although it didn’t help with where they were supposed to go.

“Ooh, that’s neat,” said Owen. The group fell into silence as they waited for Britta to tell them what to do, and Britta tried to think of something to tell them.

“So,” said MrKappa, “is the tall guy coming back?”

“I’m not sure,” said Britta. “He doesn’t usually run off like that. Something upset him.”

“Don’t worry,” said Gabba. “I think it’s a feature of the game to keep throwing curveballs at us. If things went according to plan all the time, it would be too easy. You should have seen the trouble I had with my poison recipes. There’s this crazy NPC I have to deal with who is just a huge pain in the neck. She never gives a straight answer to anything. But it makes it all the more satisfying when I eventually get what I want.”

“Is she an alchemist?” asked Britta.

Gabba reacted with mild surprise. “You know her?”

“I don’t know if it’s the same person but I wouldn’t take any quests to assassinate other alchemists from her.”

“Okay,” said Gabba.

Britta let out a sigh. It felt like all she was doing was trying to impress these people so she wouldn’t feel so useless. The truth was, she resented having to be here, ordered to go see what the problem was like a plumber sent to find what was blocking the drains. She was tired of being told what to do, whether by the game or by the game’s makers. Wanting to tell everyone about what was really going on in the game was her way of throwing her toy out of the pram, and it was a silly and childish way to behave. Maybe she wanted them to fire her and sue her for breach of contract.

No, she definitely didn’t want them to do that.

“I don’t think he’s going to help us,” said Britta. “Sorry, it’s like that when you deal with this side of the game. Everyone has their own way of doing things, even the NPCs and monsters.”

“No, no,” said MrKappa, “don’t worry about it. This is great. I’d take this over run-of-the-mill hack and slash any day. I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. And you needn’t worry about me telling anyone else.”

“Yeah,” said Owen. “Me too. I won’t tell anyone, either. We should form our own guild, like a secret club, and make it a rule we aren’t allowed to tell anyone about anything, like in that movie.”

“Fight Club,” said MrKappa.

“No.” Owen straightened his helmet and then made some strange movements with his hands ending with them crossed over his chest. “Power Rangers.”

“Same thing,” said MrKappa.

“I guess we should keep moving, then,” said Gabba.

There was only one direction to go in, so there wasn’t really another option. “Okay,” said Britta.

The group set off with Britta leading the way. She didn’t feel comfortable being the leader, but she had wanted to be in a better position to control her destiny, so here she was.

People could tell when you were keeping something from them, and it made them not trust you. Even if it wasn’t anything bad, it was enough to set you at odds with each other.

She had more knowledge of what the game was really like than anyone. She had shown she could handle the different AIs she’d encountered and her way of dealing with the game’s unexpected behaviour was far in advance of even the people who had built it. She wasn’t just going to reluctantly take charge, she was going to believe she was the best person for the job. And if these people ended up turning on her, then at least she would know the problem was her.

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