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Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 551

While regular players ran around trying to find goblins to kill, herbs to gather and partaking in all the other normal RPG activities, Dad was playing an altogether different game.

He had found a way to involve himself in the metagame the AI were playing, using subterfuge and sabotage to manoeuvre the players around like chess pieces.

Britta could see why it would appeal to Dad, looking down on his fellow players like pawns in a game they didn’t even know they were in. Access to exclusive content before everyone else was exactly the sort of thing he liked best, second only to letting everyone know he had access to content they didn’t. He’d probably make a video about it.

“You’re going to beat them in the arena?” said Britta. “How? They look a lot tougher than anyone from our side. Are you going to cheat?” She gave N-21 a dubious stare. Were AI allowed to cheat, or was that why Dad had been brought on board?

“We would never cheat!” screeched Dad, like he was an innocent man wrongly accused.

“Rules will be enforced in all cases,” said N-21 somberly.

“Sure,” said Britta. “But enforcing rules and not cheating aren’t the same thing. If you try to trick them into giving up their experience points, they’re just going to find a way to get their own back.”

“It’s fine,” said Dad, in a dismissive way that made it clear he was taking a big risk and banking on a happy ending because good guys always pulled off the impossible in comic books. “We know what we’re doing. All above board and totally kosher. The only ‘trick’ is that it won’t be a contest of muscle or hand to hand combat which is what they’re probably expecting, it’ll be about who can box cleverest. They can jump around as much as they want in their fancy outfits, it’s what they’ve got up here that counts.” He tapped the side of his head with a finger.

Even though what Dad was saying sounded reasonable — it was much harder to find equipment that made you smarter than it was to find equipment that made you stronger — he still had to find someone to beat them. Actually face to face, when the pressure was on

Just because the Chinese team had an advantage in raw combat power, didn’t mean they weren’t also super-smart. And even if they were just average in the brain department, their opponents would be gamers just like them. Where was Dad hoping to find these genius players?

It was all very intriguing, but not her problem.

“You sound very confident,” said Britta. “Good luck.” She opened her status screen to log out. She’d already wasted too much time here.

“No, wait,” said Dad. “You could play an important role—”

She didn’t know what he said after that because she was already home.

It wasn’t that she didn’t think it would be interesting to see how things panned out in the battle for control of New World, she just didn’t want to get dragged into something that would take up all her time. It was very easy to lose track, as she had just now. Britta had meant to log in for twelve minutes, and had ended up in there for over an hour.

She got back to her schoolwork and was quickly immersed in a far less exciting world but also one that was far more relevant to her real life.

Whatever Dad ended up doing with the Chinese team, it wouldn’t have any bearing on how well she did in her exams and it wouldn’t affect which university she ended up going to. This was no time for running around having adventures.

With all the extra help she’d been getting from her tutors, Britta felt a lot more confident in her prospects, and going over her notes felt like a worthwhile way to spend her time. When she did test papers for practice, her scores were close to perfect.

Britta wasn’t sure how long she’d been working away —  several hours, probably — when there was a light knock on her door. She looked up to find Dad peering around the door.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “not gonna try to twist your arm. We’ve got it all in hand.”

“Did the Chinese team sign up, then?” asked Britta.

“Yep. Keen as mustard. Think they’re going to teach us a lesson.”

“Maybe they will,” said Britta.

“Maybe,” said Dad. “But it won’t be as easy as they think. So cocky…” He shook his head.

“I look forward to seeing the video once you upload it.”

“Yes,” said Dad. “Should be worth a watch.” He remained in the doorway.

“Was there something else?” she asked.

“Hmm? Oh, no. Nothing, really.”

“What is it, Dad?”

He stepped inside the room and the laptop turned itself off. “Well, since you ask…”

“I didn’t ask, I just want you to tell me so I can say no.”

“Now, sweetheart, there’s no reason to be like that. I wouldn’t want you to do anything you didn’t want to do.”

“Good,” said Britta. “I’ve got work to do.”

“Of course. Carry on.”

“I can’t until you leave the room.” She indicated the laptop’s black screen.

“Yes, sure, right. There was just one thing I wanted to ask you…”

“Yes, Dad?”

“You’re due to log in when? Forty-eight hours, is it?” He made it sound like he was guessing when he obviously knew.


“Any chance you could be a bit late?”

Britta thought about it. “You want me to log in after forty-eight hours.”

“That’s right.”

“And pretend I just forgot.”


It wasn’t the most demanding thing he could have asked. Some sort of sneaky trick, for sure, but it required her to do very little, which was the important part. What was less appealing was the way he’d blurted it out in front of the laptop. Britta pulled a face and pointed at the laptop.

“No, Dad, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to risk getting fired.”

He looked confused for a moment, and then the penny dropped. “Is the right answer. I was just testing you. Forget I asked.” He winked at her.

“I mean it, Dad. I’m staying well out of it.”

Dad looked at the laptop and then back at Britta. He slowly nodded. “That’s right. You should always strive to be punctual. Not too early, not too late. I’m counting on you to set a good example.” He winked at her again and left the room.

Now she wasn’t sure what he was asking, or if she had agreed to something without realising. Who was she supposed to be setting an example for?

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Afterword from Mooderino
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