Bitter 95

Britta woke the next morning at 6 AM. It was Saturday and the house was very quiet. She lay in bed, pale sunlight creeping in past the curtains, feeling a mixture of heavy-limbed and light-headed. Her body wanted to stay where it was, her mind wanted to get going.

She had no idea if the game was back online. No point getting up if it wasn’t, but her computer was all the way over on the other side of the room, so she reached for her phone.

It was only after she looked up the APE website that she remembered she didn’t have access. She’d used Dad’s log in to peruse the site last night, and she hadn’t asked Dr Reedy to get her registered. It was Saturday, so there was a good chance it wouldn’t get done until Monday, even if she asked now.

There was an easier way to check if the game was working, of course. The helmet was on the bedside table right next to her.

She reached under the bed and turned the VR cradle on. She put on the helmet and waited. After a few seconds, the same maintenance message appeared.

She took the helmet off, but now she was too awake to go back to sleep. It was annoying but there was nothing she could do about it. She got out of bed again and went downstairs. Dad’s snores whistled her an accompaniment.

The kitchen was oddly still and cold. She padded around in bare feet, putting cereal in a bowl with milk, and then made her way to the living room. With Dad’s VR pod now standing in a corner, the room felt more like a normal living space, rather than a room in a funeral home where you could view a casket.

There were over a hundred channels on the television and Britta found herself rapidly jumping from one to the next. Dad was right about one thing, there wasn’t much originality. Lots of the channels were running very similar shows. Quite a few had the same show.

One channel had Friends on all day and were treating it like a special event. Cookery programmes were everywhere, and then there were extra cooking-only channels. And of course, the American cop shows. Handsome men and women looking at clues from every angle until they suddenly realised the special guest actor in the episode was the murderer. Every time they stopped at a cliffhanger for an advert, Britta changed channels and never went back.

It was strangely hypnotic but incredibly dull at the same time. She could easily sit there for a few hours, flicking around, but it wouldn’t be fun. She’d much rather have her own adventure and solve her own mysteries, even if there wasn’t a car chase or a supermodel District Attorney to spice things up.

She took her empty bowl back to the kitchen and opened the back door into the garden. It was a bit stiff and she worried about making too much noise as she shoved it open, but no one complained.

Outside, it was pleasantly warm in the sunlight, and shiveringly cold in the shade. Britta took a few deep breaths and watched birds zip from trees in one garden to trees in another.

Despite its accuracy, the game couldn’t quite match this. Reality, when you stopped to actually take it in, was more than 4K or 8K. It was all the Ks.

Sure, she could fly on gryphons or ride around on a temperamental goat, but there was no real achievement in doing so, any more than getting all As in a dream. She knew that, and yet...

Britta went inside and closed the door and went upstairs. She lay on her bed and then reached over and put the helmet on again. She switched it on and kept her hands by her head to take it off as soon as the message came up.

Welcome to New World.

It was back online! A surge of relief ran through her body. She felt ashamed that she was so easily swayed away from reality by this pretend version, but it didn’t matter. The feeling of excitement was so much more intense, it swamped the first one and made it hardly noticeable.

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