Bitter 485

James was upset. Even though he was demanding answers over group chat, every time Britta tried to respond, he talked over her like she wasn’t there. Some people were like that, though. They were more interested in letting people know they were angry than actually getting anyone to do something about it. Sometimes, you just needed to vent. Or, in James’ case, kill the person responsible.

“Where are you?” There was no need to shout, the group chat picked up the quietest whisper, but James was far too incensed to speak at any other volume apart from full. “The rest of you better not be protecting her.”

James wanted to speak to Gabba. Gabba had stabbed James in the foot. It had been an unprovoked attack, more or less, and had proved to be lethal. She had claimed the poison would prevent James returning to the game for six hours, but it had been nowhere near that long. A couple of hours at most. Britta wasn’t sure if James had found a way around the lock-out, or if Gabba had been lying, but he was definitely back.

“James, hello? Can you hear me?” Britta was trying her best to stay calm and be patient. She was tempted to leave him to his griping and kick him from the group. She was the leader, so she had the power to do it.

He would end up wandering around on his own, and good luck to him.

But she had decided to take a more mature approach to the snivelling little git. She would tell him about the battle royale, the prize up for grabs, and let his natural greed and avarice do the rest. If there was one thing she was sure he would put personal grudges aside for, it was personal gain.

“James, can you stop talking for five seconds?” Being sarcastic wasn’t really the best approach with someone frothing at the mouth, but she was beginning to lose her temper. Her usual method of dealing with unreasonable people was to walk away and leave them to it. Which meant when she was forced to confront them, her tolerance wasn’t very high. She just didn’t have much experience dealing with idiots.

“What? What do you want?” shouted James.

“I want to invite you to a new game mode we’ve found. Are you interested?”

“New game mode? What do you mean? Where are you?”

As expected, once he had calmed down enough to listen, he was more than willing to let bygones be bygones if there was a chance at winning some loot. Britta gave him a rough idea of what they had to do, and it was immediately clear that he fancied his chances. She expected he would cheat, but that was okay. So would everyone else, probably.

Dad called his party in, and the AI explained the rules. He called himself Games Master and spoke in a slightly detached manner, like a recording. He appeared to be an NPC whose only job was to introduce the players to this mini-game, and the players readily accepted him in the role.

James turned up towards the end of Games Master’s briefing, demanding to know what was going on and generally irritating everyone with his attitude. Previously, when she had first met him as Lord Jim, he had put on a pleasant act, the nice guy willing to help noobies, but he wasn’t bothering with that these days. He was here to kill or be killed, and he was smugly certain it would be the former rather than the latter.

The AI began to go through the rules again for James’ benefit, much to the consternation of the others, but at least it meant James was too busy listening to aggravate everyone.

The rules were somewhat vague, but everyone was too eager to get started to really care. The basics were simple enough — you had a knife, one clean hit was enough to knock your opponent out of the game.

They were all experienced enough to know they would figure out the rest as they played. The chance to gain an additional attribute point was enough to get them eager to start, unprepared and uninformed. If they’d known about the original reward, they probably would have fainted on the spot.

Dad had helpfully covered up the part of the tablet that revealed the original prize, and the rest wasn’t legible anyway. The players tried asking Games Master questions, but he deflected them just like an NPC would.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you rephrase the question?”

Dad, Owen and MrKappa stood to one side, smirking. Knowing a secret and not bragging about it went against every gamer instinct they had. Britta had to send glares in their direction to stop them making the others suspicious. Fortunately, they were too worked up to notice. There was a tangible air of excitement in the small cavern.

Even James had settled down once he understood this was a unique opportunity that no one else in the game was getting a chance at.

“Where is she?” he said to Britta, his mood a lot more controlled. He was ready for battle.

“Gabba? She went off on her own just after she attacked you. We haven’t seen her.”

“She isn’t answering on chat,” said MrKappa. He was playing along, eager to have James here so they could get started. Both he and Owen had been acting like they were pleased to see him, and that they had no idea why Gabba had done what she’d done. It was easy enough to make out like she was some unpredictable crazy person because it wasn’t that far from the truth.

When they were finally ready, Games Master stepped to one side, and the tablet shimmered and disappeared to reveal a doorway. The gateway into the arena was black with tiny pinpoints of light like stars, which made it look like some kind of galactic portal. It was impressive enough of an effect to draw some oohs and ahs.

There were ten players, of which six had no idea what this was really about, but they didn’t care. Even Mark — Master Chief — was too excited to say anything to Britta. He just gave her a nod and lined up, ready to deploy.

Games Master sent them through one by one, telling them the game would start as soon as they were all in. Supposedly, the game could cater for up to a thousand people at a time, which would make this part of it a bit tedious. She assumed there’d be a lot more gateways.

Britta was the last to go in. N-21 had a glimmer in his eye and a small smile on his lips. “Thank you for indulging me. You won’t regret it.”

Britta wasn’t sure what to say, so she just smiled and walked through.

There was a moment of darkness, and then she was in a tunnel. Stone walls, torches lighting the way — a typical RPG setting. There was a knife in her hand.

She considered stabbing herself in the foot, Gabba-style, and going off to do her own thing. Ten people were just what N-21 had wanted to start the game, there was nothing in the rules about taking an early bath. She had no interest in the contest or the prize and she didn’t want to waste time here. Her true goal was getting to the capital city.

She decided she would just have a look to see if this version of BR had anything to mark it out from all the others. Just a quick look.

There are now 9 players left.

The message appeared at the top of her vision. Someone had already been killed.

There are now 8 players left.

Actually, this might not take that long, after all.

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