Bitter 66

Britta sat at the kitchen table while Mum bustled around the electric kettle making tea.

“It was such a beautiful hotel, not that we saw much of it, but it really does help to take a break, get your balance back. I feel ten years younger.” She was rambling which was unusual for her. She was usually the calm, strict one who did the telling off and handed out the punishments.

Dad paced up and down with his phone out. He had a very serious expression on his face, which was equally unusual. It was like they had swapped bodies.

“I can’t understand how this happened. They must have noticed the unauthorised login. You should have been booted out immediately. I have to talk to someone before they think it was a deliberate attempt to compromise the system. What were you thinking, Britta? Why did you do it when you knew you weren’t allowed?”

“I was just bored, Dad. I didn’t break anything. I wanted to see what it was like, that’s all.”

Britta knew she was in trouble. Dad never got this stressed about anything, but it wasn’t like she’d done anything bad. She’d hardly got anywhere in the game. And the one time she had got herself some decent loot, she’d been pulled out before she could collect it.

The thought of all that stuff lying out in the open weighed heavier on her mind than her Dad’s anger. She knew it was dumb since she would never get a chance to go back into the game, but all those items she could have sold were now waiting for some random passerby to pick up, unearned. It was highly infuriating. She had half a mind to ask Dad if she could nip back in for a second and put them in her inventory. She decided the request probably wouldn’t go down well.

“What level did you get to?” asked Dad.

“Huh?” said Britta, still thinking about the lost items which had now taken on the status of legendary loot in her imagination. “Oh, three.”

“So you haven’t done any quests, yet?”

“No. Well, I got a mount. And I sort of almost did a class quest but it wasn’t finished.”

“You didn’t finish it?”

“No, I mean the quest wasn’t available. They hadn’t finished writing it.”

Dad put a hand over his face. “You triggered an incomplete. They definitely noticed that.” He lowered his hand and his face was more sad than angry. “Did you make a bug report?”

“I don’t know how,” said Britta.

“What do you mean, you don’t know how? It’s automatic at the end of every session. You get the survey you have to fill out.”

Britta didn’t know what he was talking about. “I never filled out any surveys. Everything was a Yes or No button, the rest was trying not to die.”

“You died? How many times.”

“Oh.” Britta counted them off in her head. “Two or three times.”

“Which is it?” He was being more stern than she’d ever seen him. He took gaming seriously.

“Three.” There was no point lying.

Dad stopped pacing and stared into the middle distance. Britta realised he was calculating how long they were away and the amount of time she would have had in-game if she’d been locked out for seventy-two hours. The maths wasn’t going to add up.

“Britta, was this the first time you used the pod?”

“No. I tried it before, just for a little bit.”

Dad sat down and slumped forward to rest his head on the table. Mum put a mug of tea next to his ear.

“Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” she said. “She just tried it out. No harm done, is there?”

“You don’t understand,” Dad said into the tabletop. “These machines are specifically calibrated to a single user. She should never have been able to access the system. Something very wrong must have happened.” He sat up and looked at the phone still in his hand. “I have to call someone.”

“It’s Sunday,” said Britta. “Won’t they all be at home?”

Dad gave her a look. “Britta, these people operate in a completely different world to you and me. In their world, there is no Sunday.”

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