Bitter 90

Dr Reedy took a length of cable and attached it to the helmet. There was a flicker in front of Britta’s eyes as the inside of the visor came to life. Numbers ran across the top and sides.

“Just keep still a moment while I calibrate the Anderson Cradle.”

Britta’s ears pricked up at the mention of the name. “Is that the Anderson the company’s named after?”

“That’s right.”

Britta could feel Dr Reedy doing something to the visor. There was a high-pitched whirring sound like a dentist’s drill. The numbers began moving around the edges of the visor display.

“And Anderson invented this stuff?”

“She invented the interface that links the chip to the brain without any physical attachments. Peters was responsible for the chip. They were both brilliant scientists.”

There was a white flash and the numbers disappeared, leaving Britta in darkness. “They’re not part of the company anymore?”

“No,” said Dr Reedy. “Sadly they both passed away. Alright, let’s try the first evaluation.”

It was a bit like an eye test. Various colours and symbols appeared in front of her, and Britta would describe what she saw. Adjustments were made. After about an hour, she started to get a headache.

“Nearly done now. You should feel a slight—”

There was a click, a rush of light like she was going into hyperspeed, and then she was in a field. The cool breeze felt nice and her headache was gone. The field was empty, but Britta still expected to be attacked by a random goblin. It was almost a tradition at this point.

There was no surprise attack. Just a jerk like someone had grabbed her by the collar and yanked her backwards. The world zoomed away from her in an instant and she was in an all-white area.  

“That seems correlated correctly. How are you feeling, Britta?”

She could hear Dr Reedy next to her, in the kitchen, but it didn’t feel like they were in the same room. She also had no sense of a helmet on her head. It was a strange, dislocating experience. In the pod, you were literally separated from the world, which made it easier to transfer your mind from one place to the other. Without that buffer, it was like being in two places at once.

“Don’t worry if things are a little confusing at first, you’ll grow accustomed to it. It’ll be easier if you use the cradle when you’re alone and lying down or sitting in a comfortable chair. Once it’s active, your body won’t move so no need to be afraid of falling out of bed or anything like that. To exit, you just need to say ‘exit’.”

“Exit,” said Britta. The screen went black. There was no buttons to press, no warning, just white to black, and a rush of sound and smells and the touch of clothes against her skin as her senses recognised her surroundings again.

She took off the helmet. Her hair was wet and matted against her scalp.

“You will perspire a bit,” said Dr Reedy, “so it might be wise to drink some water before you play. Not essential, though. The cradle will always kick you out if your body displays any kind of physical distress.” She patted the metal case which was closed again. “That’s what this is for.”

It was all a bit much to take in at once. Britta was sure there were questions she should ask, but her brain wasn’t telling her what they were. Her parents were watching her with mugs of tea and mild concern.

“Now,” said Dr Reedy, “if you experience any issues, anything that feels slightly off, even if it’s just a strap on the helmet, I want you to call me and I’ll deal with it personally, or send out an engineer. On no account should you try to fix it yourself, no matter how simple it might appear. I can’t stress that enough.”

“Can I try playing the game now?” she asked the doctor first, and then turned towards her parents to direct it at them, too.

“It’s a little late,” said Mum. “And you do have school tomorrow.”

“We think it’s best if you only play on weekends,” said Dad, “and keep it down to four or five hours a session.” Mum’s body tensed. “Four hours or maybe three,” amended Dad.

Britta had no problem with the restrictions, it was what she expected, but she also knew how easy it was to lose track of time once you entered New World.

“I know,” said Dad. “Once you’re in there, it can be hard pulling yourself away. But it’s not like there’ll be a timer that cuts you off when it reaches zero. We trust you to use your judgement, sweetie. It’s just that your Mum doesn’t want you turning out like me—” he looked over at Mum and grinned, like he’d tricked her good and got away with it “—and I’m sure you agree with her. We’ll take this one step at a time and I’ll be there to help you.”

“You will?” said Britta, not really understanding what he meant.

“Of course. Now we have two rigs, we can play together.”

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