Bitter 579

Britta stared out of the classroom window and ignored Mr Quarrie going on about integers. It was all stuff she already knew and didn’t need to focus on.

Deciding what needed her focus and what was an unnecessary distraction was one of the things she had gotten a lot better at. Until recently.

It had become harder and harder to put the game out of her mind. She was sticking to her once every forty-eight hours rule for logging in, but she was staying longer once she was in-game, and she was also spending more time thinking about the game when she wasn’t.

L-15, Lin, Rick and even Stan were all demanding her attention. And then there was Lewis. He was as eager as ever to share his enthusiasm with her. As the daughter of the great Guildford Underpass, he saw her as some kind of conduit to the source of all knowledge, or something. It was annoying.

Her only goal was to do her job and collect her pay. That’s what she told herself, and that was how she should conduct herself. It was a waste of time thinking about the game in any other terms. But it wasn’t so easy in practice.

Her encounter with L-15 had worried her. The AI had definitely tried to suck up to her. She had seen how it treated people and she had no illusions that it treated her differently because it found her to be especially worthy. No, it wanted something from her, and it had decided that showing her deference was the way to go about it. Flattery will get you virtually everywhere.

Whatever it was the AI wanted from her, she at least had a little time while it tried to manipulate her. She should put that time to good use. But that meant investing more of her focus on the game. A wise investment?

Perhaps she should ask Lin, but wasn’t that also a risk? Britta liked Lin, but she understood that Lin had people she had to answer to. Even if she didn’t intend to spy on Britta, if asked to provide a report on what they’d been up to, what could she do but comply? President Wu didn’t seem the sort of person who would take no for an answer.

The first thing she needed to do was go to the Institute for Magic and upgrade her Teleport skill to its maximum setting. That would give her the ability to move without restriction anywhere on any server. Completely overpowered and perfect for a quick getaway.

There was a slight problem, though. The Institute was in Shona, and that was also where Rick was based. She really had to do something about that. Perhaps she should just go meet him and get it over with.

Whatever it was he wanted from her, once she’d said no to him maybe he would leave her alone. And if not, maybe she would have to get him kicked out of the game.

Then again, he might be busy doing gamer stuff. She could slip in and out without being noticed if she kept her head down and didn’t attract any attention.

Who was she kidding? The game was bound to dump some ridiculous event in her way just to mess with her. Rick would end up being dragged into it, too.

Why couldn’t N-28 just snap his fingers and give her the skill points she needed? The whole thing was very aggravating.

There was also a lot of talk about the new helmets coming out in a couple of weeks. If the excitement translated into sales — and it seemed more than likely — there would be a flood of new players into the game. Perhaps that would be the best time to go into Shona. With so many people, one small gnome would be hard to keep track of.


Britta turned towards the teacher, who appeared to have been calling her name for some time.


“I’m sure you are,” said Mr Quarrie. “Could you at least face the front and pretend to be paying attention?”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

The improvement in her schoolwork hadn’t gone unnoticed, and the teachers were willing to cut her some slack since they knew she was ahead of the other students, but she still had to be careful not to push her luck. Just like in New World, drawing too much attention was not a good idea. She refocused herself and made it through the rest of the lesson without incident.

She found Lewis in the cafeteria perusing the latest specs on the different helmets about to be released. Rather than just a new budget version, there was a whole range that came in a variety of styles and colours. The big launch was going to be more than a ticket into the game, it was going to separate players from as much money as they could afford. A smart tactic.

It was clear the people running the launch knew what they were doing. This part of the business, the part that didn’t involve AI, was being run smoothly and competently. When it came to making money from video games, people had the edge over machines. 
Or maybe she was being naive, and AI were also controlling this side of the market, too.

“Have you decided which one you’re getting?” she said to the top of Lewis’ head.

He was so engrossed, he didn’t even look up when he answered. “I can only afford the cheapest one. Can’t really even afford that, but I’ve made some arrangements.” His gaze slowly and reluctantly left the screen and moved up to Britta’s face. “What about you? Your Dad going to spring for one?”

“I don’t know,” said Britta. “Maybe.” At this point, it would be impossible for her to claim she hadn’t lied about not owning a helmet already, but she continued to be vague about it.

“You should get in early. It’ll be hard to catch up, otherwise. Unless you’re planning on being a lifestyle player. Open a shop or make potions or something. That what you’re into?”

“Not really. I don’t really want to fight and kill anyone, though.”

Lewis smiled at her, like he was talking to a mentally incapacitated child. “You should be fine, then.”

“I suppose Rick will be happy to get his helmet back full-time.”

“Yeah, I guess,” said Lewis. “Not like he can use it 24/7, anyway. Most of the time he just pops in to make deals with the King.”

“The King? The Empire guy?”

He gave her the patronising smile again. “That’s him. They’re negotiating something or other. Rick’s going to be a very important person in New World. You’re lucky he likes you.” He raised his eyebrows at her. She didn’t know what he meant and she wasn’t going to ask.

But what he said about Rick and the King was interesting. “They’re spending a lot of time together are they?”

Lewis snorted. “Yeah. BFFs.”

If Rick was busy kissing up to the King, now was the perfect time to sneak into Shona. He would be busy in the palace while Britta got herself a diploma in teleporting OP-ness.

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