Bitter 89

Britta wasn’t sure what to say. She wanted to scream and jump up and down like one of those stupid game show contestants when they win the jackpot, but that would probably make her look like a nutcase. Like those game show contestants.

“That’s… that’s a lot of money,” she said.

“Indeed it is,” said Dr Reedy. “We take this very seriously. The potential rewards are huge, so we need you to treat this with absolute seriousness. You can’t talk to anyone about it, you can’t even hint that you’re working with us. To anyone. I realise it may seem over the top, but that’s how important we consider this. The amount of money we’re willing to pay you, reflects that.”

“And after the six weeks?”

“That depends,” said Dr Reedy. “We’ll sit down again and see where we’re at. We may call it a day, or we may want you to continue. You may want to stop or carry on for your own reasons. We will renegotiate the finances at that point, if necessary.”

“So the money could go up?” Britta understood she was involved in something at a very high level of commerce. APE wanted to make something as revolutionary as the smartphone. If they were willing to pay her five thousand a week, they were most likely willing to pay more.

“Yes,” said Dr Reedy. “That’s possible.”

Britta looked at Mum. “You’re fine with this?”

Mum forced a very flat smile. She was obviously struggling with the idea. “If it’s what you want.”

Mum had never been a big fan of video games. She had married a hardcore gamer, though, so it wasn’t like she didn’t understand the attraction. Britta often wondered exactly why she had married Dad when he was so opposite to the corporate mindset she lived by, but there had to be something about bucking convention she admired. At least, Britta assumed it was something like that, and not some bizarre sexual fetish. That was her second guess.

“It’s only for six weeks,” added Dad. “If it affects your school work, or anything else, we’ll pull the plug ourselves, and our decision will be final.”

It felt like Dad was speaking Mum’s words. They’d obviously talked about it already.

Mum put her hand on Britta’s and leaned forward, looking into her eyes. “I’m going to be honest with you, Britta. It’s mainly the money. With that much put away, you can go to university without needing to take out a loan. You’ll graduate without debt and be able to get a great headstart on most people. It’s a big deal, believe me. It was a huge burden for me and I was only able to pay off my loans because I met your Dad. But it was a real struggle before that. If you can avoid that burden, I think it’s worth it.”

Dad had paid off her student loan? Was that why she married him. No. She looked at Dad. Maybe.

“No, sweetheart,” said Mum, a more playful smile on her face now, “that’s not why I married him. There are people who you just can’t be without. You’ll find out what that feels like, one day.” She looked at Dad and her smile dissolved into a frown. “And how infuriating it can be.”

“Okay,” said Britta. “I’ll do it.”

Dr Reedy nodded, like it was the obvious answer, probably because it was. She bent down and brought up another case. This one was brown leather and more like a large satchel. She put it on her lap and pulled out a sheaf of papers. “First, we’ll need all of you to sign this.”

It took half an hour to go through the contract and sign it in several places. Mum and Dad had to sign, too. Their consent was necessary and they could, as Dad had said, pull the plug at any time.

Once that was done, Dr Reedy put it away and picked up the helmet. “Now, we’ll have to fit this and then calibrate the internal measurements. It may take a little time.”

The helmet didn’t look like a slick product you’d buy from a shop. It had a homemade quality to it with lots of things sticking out all over the place. Dr Reedy placed in on Britta’s head and began pulling on straps and adjusting screws. There was a visor across the front that was completely black and covered her eyes so she couldn’t see anything.

“How’s that? Not too tight? How about that? You’ll be wearing it for hours at a time, so best to make sure it’s comfortable. How about now?”

This went on for almost an hour as the helmet slowly closed around her head until she could hardly feel it at all. Finally, it was done. She took it off herself and then put it back on. It was surprisingly light but felt solid and secure once she slipped it on.

“Just be careful with it,” said Dr Reedy. “I know it looks like a science fair project, but it really is very special.” She spoke fondly, with a softness she hadn’t expressed at any other time since Britta had met her. “Plus, no one’s ever going to bother to steal it looking like that.” She smiled smugly, like that was a deliberate part of the design. It may well have been.

Dr Reedy opened the metal case with all the knobs and buttons and blinking lights. “Now for the tricky part.”

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