Bitter 87

Britta accepted that her adventures in New World were over. It had been a fun experience, but she recognised just how seductive a fantasy life could be. It was probably for the best she no longer had access to it.

The real world was a bit disappointing by comparison. She couldn’t max out her stats just by pressing a button. She couldn’t change her appearance by rotating through a list of options, or get rich by hunting monsters in a cave. As realistic as the visuals were, the mechanics were nothing like real life.

Of course, being able to manipulate your environment was only attractive when you were the one in control. If other people had all the special abilities and you just had to watch, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. That was more like the life she knew.

Dad, on the other hand, was not so pleased with the outcome of their visit to APE.

“I can’t believe it. I spent over two hundred hours levelling up that character.”

He had been told by Dr Reedy that they would be sending him a replacement pod, which he was happy about, but that he would no longer have access to his old character.

“You weren’t supposed to use that character, were you?” said Mum.

“I wasn’t hurting anybody, was I?” whined Dad. “Now I’m going to have to start from scratch, like some pleb.”

“They could probably sue you for taking the character without permission,” said Mum. “Take back the character and our house and everything we own.”

Dad sat there not saying anything, staring at his dinner, sulking. He knew she was right and he’d been lucky to get off so lightly, but he still wanted to complain to someone.

“It won’t take you that long to level up, will it?” asked Britta. “And they’ll reset everyone before they go live, anyway.”

She had been reading up on the progress of the launch. She couldn’t help browsing the internet for APE-related news, although she tried to not go overboard. Just a general interest. The game wasn’t going to be released at the end of the month, as Dad had said, probably due to the bugs Britta had drawn their attention to. Poor Lewis’ forum post on the insider info she had given him would be dismissed as idle gossip. Sometime towards the end of the year, was the official announcement.

“I know it’s not really a big deal.” He said it like he thought it was a huge deal. “I had some sweet gear on him, though. Such a waste.”

The new pod arrived a few days later. Britta came home from school and heard a loud hum from the living room. When she peeked in, the capsule now stood upright in the corner. It was a different model and looked older. And used.

Dad emerged an hour later, sweaty and grinning. An addict who’d got his hit.

“It’s not as nice as the old one,” said Britta.

“No, it’s a refurbished Type 2. Does the job, that’s the important thing. Come here a minute.”

She followed him back to the living room. He grabbed the handle on the front of the pod and pulled, opening it like a fridge door. Inside, it had padding, so it wasn’t like the bare bones rig back at APE, but it was definitely a downgrade on their last pod.

“Get in,” said Dad. “I want to check something.”

Britta wasn’t sure why he was letting her use the pod—he had made it very clear she wouldn’t be allowed to—but she couldn’t resist jumping in before he changed his mind. She preferred lying down to standing up, but it didn’t really make a difference.

Dad closed the door on her. Everything went black and the familiar point of light came at her.

You are not authorised to use this machine.

The door opened again. “Great,” said Dad. “Just wanted to check it worked properly this time.”

Britta was pissed off but it wouldn’t do any good to get mad at him. She shouldn’t have used the pod in the first place. She only had herself to blame. It was still a mean thing to do to your own daughter.

Britta got out of the pod for the last time. “Have fun, Dad.” She went upstairs to do her homework. Maybe if she got into a really good university and got a well paid job, her life would eventually be as fun as a VRMMO. Probably not.

Later, Mum called her down for dinner, or so she assumed. But there was no dinner on the table. Instead, Dr Reedy was sitting there.

“Ah, hello again, Britta. Lovely to see you.”

“Hi,” said Britta. Had she come to ask some follow up questions? It would be much easier to put the whole thing behind her if people would stop bringing it up all the time.

“I’ve been talking to your parents and we, that is APE, would like to offer you the chance to be part of our testing programme.”

Britta looked at her parents. Mum looked resigned. Dad was nodding furiously.

“Testing what?” asked Britta.

Dr Reedy bent down and put a box on the table. It was white and made out of polystyrene. She lifted up the top half. Inside was a helmet.

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