Bitter 5

Britta tiptoed into the living room. The sound of her father’s snoring carried through the ceiling, so she knew he wasn’t going to suddenly jump out and catch her, but she still felt like she should make as little noise as possible.

She bumped her way to the pod. It was hard to see with only the streetlight filtering in through the window, so Britta had to use her hands. The inside of the pod was lined with some kind of inflated padding, like bubble wrap. There didn’t seem to be any knobs or buttons. She climbed into it.

If she got caught, she’d be in trouble. Dad wasn’t much of an authoritarian, but there were some things he wouldn’t stand for. Messing with his stuff was top of that list. 

You didn’t play with his toys (collectibles) and you didn’t move his dolls (action figures). And you definitely didn’t use his computer (porn, probably). 

Britta had no problem leaving his stuff alone, for the most part. His obsessions weren’t very exciting or original, just crap from his youth. This one time, though, she intended to try it for herself. Even if she did get caught, what was he going to do? Ground her? Most of his punishments were from his youth, too. Usually from crappy sitcoms. Not exactly the best place to learn parenting skills.

Mum, on the other hand, wouldn’t care. And she’d also be too busy.

Britta slid into the pod and lay on her back. She’d just have a quick go and see what all the fuss was about. Five minutes, tops. She lay there wondering how to start the thing.

She felt around, but other than the padding there was nothing to push or press. Maybe it was voice activated.

“On,” whispered Britta. Nothing happened. If it was voice controlled, it could take her all night to figure out the right commands. She sighed. Why couldn’t things be simple and straightforward for once?

It would probably turn out to be a disappointment, in any case. No point getting excited. She pushed herself up to get out and bumped her head on the top of the pod. There was a click and the lid began to descend. It moved slowly and made a soft humming sound. She hoped it wasn’t loud enough to wake her parents. She also hoped it would open the same way, otherwise she’d be stuck in here all night.

There was another, more solid click as the lid closed and she was in darkness. 

Please keep your eyes open.

Britta opened her eyes wide, even though she couldn’t see a thing. The voice had been soft and feminine (probably chosen by Dad for less than pure reasons) and almost seemed to be inside her head. Hidden speakers in the lining was the obvious explanation.

A white light appeared above her. Not on the inside of the lid, much further away than that. It was a tiny dot moving towards her.

Please keep your eyes open, the voice repeated.

Britta did her best not to blink. The light got closer. And closer. It didn’t seem to get any bigger though and focusing on it made her feel like she was going cross-eyed.

Please keep your eyes open.

She’d only been in the pod five seconds and she was already bored. If this was cutting edge technology they could at least make it a bit faster.

The light was a few centimetres above her when it darted forward, straight into her eye. She felt a tiny prick and then everything went white.

Blue letters appeared in front of her spelling Yes and No. They weren’t like words on a screen, they were more like fireworks hanging in the sky. 

New user. Do you wish to proceed?

She reached out her hand and realised it wasn’t her hand. It felt like her regular hand, but when it came into view, it looked like a prosthetic arm. The sort of arm robots in computer games have. She was in the game.

She pressed the Yes button. She felt the button under her fingers. It was slightly cold and had weight to it as she pushed down. 

Please choose character.

A selection of icons appeared in front of her. Lots of them. They continued off to the left and right. The one directly in front of her had a picture of a man on it. When Britta rested her hand on it, the other icons disappeared and a bunch of new ones appeared, filling her vision. Sex, age, height, hair colour, eye colour… they went on and on. 

Britta had played enough video games to know what this was. She got to design how she would look, from top to toe. She could make herself look as beautiful as she wanted. Big boobs, pretty face, perfect hair. The idea sickened her. Make yourself everything you weren’t in real life. Live the fantasy. Pathetic.

There were two slightly differently coloured buttons at the bottom. A green one that said Accept and a red one that said Return. She pressed the red one and was back at the character selection screen.

She only wanted to have a look at what the game was like and had no intention wasting hours making the ideal game character. She could have just chosen at random but there was something about choosing what you looked like—what you wanted to look like—that made her uncomfortable. She would much rather be something non-human.

The other choices were predictable. Elf, half-orc, dwarf, hobbit, dragonling, fae… Everytime she swiped her hand, the icons moved and new ones appeared. Half of them she’d never even heard of before. No one else probably had either. Made-up nonsense.

There was one that caught her eye. Gnome. Not a garden gnome with a pointy hat and a fishing rod, this one was a small, ugly creature. An oversized nose, horrible teeth, bulging eyes. This was how people saw her in real life, only fitting she should live up to her image.

She selected it and then quickly chose from the other options without paying too much attention. It wasn’t like she’d ever do this again. She okayed everything and when required to make a decision, just chose the first option. It still took forever. 

Eventually, she got to the last screen. 

Would you like to enter New World?

Typical low-effort name. Britta pressed Yes.

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