Britta’s promise to pass the invitation on to Dad was enough to get Rick and company to leave her alone for the rest of the day. Nothing happened at lunch and the weird kid with the sign was soon forgotten as just an oddity. Every girl who turned a worried eye towards her locker was both relieved and disappointed. Mostly relieved.
The first thing Britta did when she got home was to put her laptop away. She wrapped it in a towel, put it in a bag and slid it under her bed. She had no proof it was spying on her but she felt better with some sort of barrier around the laptop.
A couple of layers probably made no difference. And if they really wanted to keep tabs on her, they could just park a Chinese satellite over her house and watch her from there. It was a ridiculous thought, but one that was possible, if not very cost effective. Then again, money was no object to these people, not when it came to the future of New World. If things panned out the way everyone seemed to be expecting, the return on investment would be infinite.
After she had made her attempt at procuring some privacy, she went to talk to Dad about Rick.
“I don’t see the problem,” he said. “You need to report this to Dr Reedy immediately. There’s no way we can allow this boy to mess around like this. Not only will it ruin the game, it could be very dangerous.”
Britta was surprised he was being so adamant she needed to turn the boys in.
“But he’s just doing what you would do, isn’t he?”
“Britta!” said Dad, shocked. “I wouldn’t abuse a game like this. Finding a way to get a little advantage in a fight or a quest is one thing, but rewiring the hardware so you can see players’ stats… that’s like wall-hacking or using an aimbot. It’s straight up cheating, sweetheart.”
“Doesn’t that mean I’m cheating?”
“Yes, but that’s different. First, you didn’t do it on purpose, which is important. But more importantly, the company knows and they’ve removed you from the actual game so you can’t use your superior abilities to make life a nightmare for the other players. You can’t grief anyone, not that you would. From what you’ve told me, this Rick boy is going to try to take over the world.”
He made it sound much grander than he would have if he met Rick.
“I don’t think he means to do anything bad. He’s just excited about getting ahead of everyone else. He isn’t the sort of boy who’s ever going to get that chance in real life. If they take the game away from him…”
“Sweetheart, it’s good that you feel like you don’t want to hurt the boy. It shows the kind of person you are, and I’m very proud of you for that, but leaving him out there doing who knows what is going to end up hurting a lot more people in the long run. It’s a tough call to make, I know, but the alternative could end up being even worse.”
Britta understood what Dad was saying and agreed with him. She just wished it didn’t have to be her making the call.
“And you’re assuming the worst,” continued Dad. “You never know, they may actually end up working with him like they did with you. If he’s managed to figure out how to recreate what happened to you, then…”
Britta looked at Dad. “What?”
“No, it’s just that I realised if he really can replicate the accident that led to your character’s abilities, it may mean they no longer require your services.”
“Oh,” said Britta. She hadn’t thought of that. Rick’s ability to hack the cradle might actually not only be useful to APE, it might make her redundant, in both senses of the word. “So, what should I do?”
Dad was pacing back and forth around the kitchen table. “Hold on, hold on, let me think.”
Britt couldn’t help but look up at the ceiling. Was the Chinese satellite eavesdropping on them? Was the laptop listening through the floorboards?
“Here’s what we’ll do,” said Dad. “Tell him I’ll meet him in-game. I’ll talk to him, see what he’s planning. If it’s not a big deal, we can maybe leave him to it.”
“He wants to find me,” said Britta.
“Yes, but I’m sure I can keep him busy with other matters. Does he know about the AI? Sounds like he’s been caught up in the player experience without paying attention to who’s really running the show. In any case, if he is a danger to himself or others, we’ll have no choice but to turn him in. We’ll just have to face the music when the time comes.”
It wasn’t necessarily the best outcome, but it was a relief to have made a decision, especially as it was Dad who would be dealing with it.
If he did get involved with Rick, then she would need a way to avoid him inside the game. Dad would at least know where Rick was, and she would be able to make sure she spent her time somewhere else. It was a big world, she could stay at the other end of it.
When she told Lewis her father had agreed to meet Rick, there was jubilation in his eyes. This was the most important thing in Lewis’ life, and probably the same for the others. It had to be a big deal to bring such disparate people together. It was impressive how a game could change people’s whole outlook on life.
“That’s awesome. This is so epic. We’re like the first people to claim a new planet.”
Britta didn’t think of it like that. The planet already had plenty of people on it, including her. And there was a very good chance that she was about to kick them off.