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There are moments in life that define a person. Not in any great way. Not by attaching attributes such as kind, smart, or clever. In most cases it’s the day’s events casually leaving behind scars that no amount of frozen terror can wash away.

For Ken, the first defining moment was the day he came home from a field trip in the fourth grade. The events leading up to this would leave their deep scars. For that is how people grow into adults. Childhood has its way and people learn. Or perhaps they don’t.

In any case, this would be a night of many firsts for young Ken.

At nine, Ken believed he knew everything there was to know. He knew the names of all the animals at the aquarium. He knew all the teachers and his friends. He even tied his shoes on his own, which none of his friends did because their shoes never needed tying. The latest shoe models that his father couldn’t afford, but his friend’s parents could, tightened themselves quite nicely. But as stated, Ken believed he knew everything, including how to turn a flaw of poverty into a party trick.

“It’s okay,” he’d say. “I’ve got this. I can do anything.”

On this day after the field trip to the aquarium, his mother hadn’t picked him up like he’d expected. His father never answered the phone or text messages. In the end, Ken traveled home by borrowing four dollars from a friend and taking the city bus. It smelled and the quality of people on the night ride through town made Ken hug his light backpack tightly.

It was their voices. Rough and dirty sounding. They spoke nothing but foul thoughts about people who weren’t around. They shared ways to get even with enemies and warned each other of dark monsters wearing the skin of men who might prey on unwary children.

The bus driver wasn’t kind. He’d simply yelled that Ken ought to get off the bus. Ken, for his part, fled into the darkness that resembled his neighborhood. Somehow night and all the talk of monsters wearing men’s clothing influenced his views. Every corner contained barking dogs shooting out of the darkness to rattle their fences and yip in garbled tones that might have been words if a monster spoke them.

He held up his phone and used it as a flashlight. Unfortunately, his model didn’t have the new batteries which charged by using wireless signals or some other science miracle. It died six blocks from home and Ken found himself without music, without light, and increasingly worried. The dogs were that much worse without a light.

An automatic flood light from a neighbor’s driveway flicked on and scared young Ken. Wind howled through the spaces between houses. Trees waved against the moon. And all Ken could wonder, is why his mother hadn’t picked him up, why his father hadn’t answered the phone, and why those people on the bus spoke of monsters.

On he went. The next-door neighbor’s house almost seemed familiar. A cat yowled and dove through underbrush, making Ken jump, but he got over it and told himself, “I can do anything.” The bushes hung too far into the sidewalk, forcing him to walk on uneven ground. He kept the bag with his digital tablet from school between him and the plants, in case dogs and monsters might burst from them.

They did not. Ken did not know everything, but he was a smart boy. Smart enough to suspect that the worst had yet to come.

He reached the safety of his front door and knocked. He rang the doorbell. He keyed in the code and pressed his thumb against the scanner. The door opened and in Ken went, to the dark house that felt too quiet.

One of the dirty sounding women from the bus haunted his thoughts. “There’s a predator by school,” she’d said. “Just picking up kids.”

Ken’s home was close enough to a school. He naturally worried that the predator, a vague idea for a nine-year-old, might have gotten his family. No signs of dinner, but it was after dark on a weekday. He took off his jacket and pulled off his shoes like he’d been trained. All the while he wondered why the house was so quiet, and if predators were anything like the bad guys in his video games.

The house had three bedrooms upstairs, and everything else one might need downstairs. Their front room consisted of a few decent chairs and a television that cost more than the rest of the room put together. It was the only thing of value.

There, in the arm chair, sat his father. In his hand, a bottle. Liquid splashed around the bottom as his father lifted it to drink straight from the neck. Ken was unsure what the container might hold, but he felt sure he’d seen it earlier that day in the cupboard, mostly full.

“Dad?” he questioned quietly, for fear of mythical predators.

“Get some sleep, Kenny,” his father said.

Ken had lots of questions but the unfocused glare in his father’s eyes stilled them. He remembered that one of their cars, the nicer one, had been missing from the driveway. Bare spots on the walls had once displayed pictures—ones his mother loved. Ken did not understand the appeal of family photos.

“We’ll talk in the morning,” his father said with a lisp.

Ken foolishly dared to ask, “Where’s Mom?”

“Gone,” his father replied in a flat tone. As if that word answered any question Ken might have for the rest of his life. Where was the girl from school? Gone. Where was the paycheck from work? Gone. Where had his youth vanished to? It was gone as well.

But on this night, this night that will leave a scar in young Ken’s mind, his father said no words beyond “Go to bed. Go to bed. Go to bed!” The volume of his repeating order increased until the walls rattled, and Ken’s ears throbbed with pain.

He fled to the stairs, stomped up them, and paused as a strange sound came from the front room. Ken’s sock covered feet slowly tip toed down the stairs until he stood right outside the front room. He peeked around the corner.

His father knelt, bent at the waist with hands cupping his face. His body racked with sobs. It was first time Ken could remember seeing a grown man cry. It’s not something he’d ever expected. Nine-year olds should not see their fathers sob.

What followed left a bitter scar. “I’m a worthless man,” his father said. “Just like my dad. We’re all worthless. The curse is real.”

While Ken had told his friends he could do anything, and he would reassure the teachers by saying “I’ve got this,” there were two things he suddenly knew he could never do. First, he could never explain where his mother had gone. Second, he would never know how firmly those words changed the rest of his life.

***

Other events became turning points for Ken. These happenings would also be firsts for him, as many notable things are. After all—second times can be much less interesting.

Between the magical space of being born and becoming an adult there’s school. Near the end of school there is high school. A dreaded place full of drama, classes no one in their right mind enjoys, and perhaps a not so terrible creature known as a girlfriend.

Ken had lucked out and received a not-so-terrible girlfriend. A bit young, a bit foolish, but strangely kind. Her name, like his, was shortened. Liz. Short for Elizabeth. Like Ken, short for Kenneth. They had the eths. They had the chopped names. Even their middle initials were the same, though that’s not important.

What is of note, was Liz’s family. They were also kind, engaging, warm people who made absolutely no sense to a child raised by a single parent. One who’d suffered an absentee mother. One who’d come from a long line of worthless fathers. He felt like a stranger in their warm house. But Liz had proven capable of persuading him. Not that young men needed much persuading from beautiful young women.

What’s more, Liz had a brother. A, as she put it, slightly younger twin brother. His name was Grant. A strange boy who spent time with his nose in books studying words and actually enjoying math. Grant had a dream. His dream walked on two shorter legs and didn’t notice him. Grant’s dream wished to venture to Mars and had no time for boys with their noses in books and heads full of numbers.

Ken had never thought of brothers. They were strange to him. He’d never had siblings at all. His father had, for nine years, remained useless, poor and single. Ken’s destitute father never mattered to Liz, serving as further proof; she was the most awesome girl in the world. They went places together. They ate food together. They even performed the best recreational activity Ken had ever discovered in his life—sex.

Ken eagerly studied this subject in a way history class could never measure up to. Which is perfectly understandable. The war of 1812 means little compared to the sound of a woman mid climax. Dirty words were much more fun than learning about some dull old dead man’s speech from fifty years ago. Ken too had a dream, he had her over and over and over until one day she said these words for the first time.

“I’m pregnant.” Liz tried to smile with the statement, as if to soften the blow. She chewed her lip and glanced everywhere but at Ken.

Ken stared only one place and his mouth hung open.

“Did you hear me?” his shattering dream asked.

While it had been explained in school, at some length, that sex would result in children, this was the first time it had occurred to him that actions have consequences. He remembered the night his mother had left home, and he remembered the declaration of his father.

“I’m a worthless man,” Ken repeated those fateful words. Liz’s family had money. His did not. She had so many things, and he had only himself, an item he believed to be of no value to anyone. Ken tried to explain further, “I’m just like my dad. Our family is worthless. Especially fathers. We’re cursed.”

“What are you saying?” Liz asked in confusion. Tonight, was a first for her as well. She’d never been pregnant by any man, much less told her lover, boyfriend, and at that time, soulmate, they were having a child together.

Ken did what any man from a long line of worthless males might do. His face twisted into every position imaginable. Drool ran down a chin. He wiped his mouth, feeling flushed and dizzy. And he realized the room had grown two sizes too small.

Then he ran. He disregarded the glare of the studious brother who’d never actually achieved his own dream. He ignored the confused and angry shouts of her family. He ran into the darkness of the neighborhood and ignored the breaking glass cries of his dream.

In the darkness, he felt nine again. Lost and stumbling home with no one to turn to but a worthless father. Though home was no longer in the same place, the buses were just as dirty as he remembered. Even the nasty and snide voices of the women in the back were unchanged. The only notable differences were Ken’s size and the lack of bag to hold against himself.

“My baby’s father will never see his kids. He can’t even pay child support,” one snipped. “I’ve got me a new man. A better man.” Then two rough voices congratulated the speaker for finding someone of value.

Wind blew dark trees around, and though Ken now felt sure there were no monsters in the dark, and that predators had nothing to do with the boss at the end of a video game level, he knew he could never tell Liz, “I’ve got this.”

Because he wouldn’t. Ken identified with the father who would never see his kids. He had nothing to offer. He’d never keep a woman. He had no memorable experience with a real family or providing. And like his dad and his dad’s dad, and so on until the beginning time, he would prove worthless in the end.

That night, Ken decided upon many things. Liz would be better without a man whose family had been cursed. Ken would never let himself have another child. He’d do something useful with his life that existed far, far away from other people’s children for fear the family legacy of being a worthless dad would spread in some new form.

And, while he’d cried plenty of times due to pain or being upset, he’d never cried as a man. On the way home, he fought back that human weakness. He understood the sense of helplessness his father had felt when mom left.

Ken swallowed his tears and moved on. At eighteen, he could enroll in the army. There were rumors in school that they could find a use for anyone. Best of all, they would take young Ken, far, far away from his barely conceived child.

It would be hard, he thought, to be a bad father if he simply wasn’t there. Though part of him prayed his child would be a girl, if only to break the family line’s curse.

***

A year later, Ken realized that being absent did not make one good or bad. He’d discovered, throughout the course of his new career in the military, there were many people he wanted to throttle despite the vast gulf of space between their locations. A few months ago Liz would have had her baby, if she’d chosen to keep it. A few months ago he could have seen his child’s face. Then his child would cry and scream, for they’d see exactly how worthless Ken was as a father.

Ken focused on examples of distance and distaste. For instance, he disliked the President, excessively. Not his country. The service had taken care of any possible thoughts of insurrection. He even liked half of the people he’d been training with but detested the other half. Some of the others who’d signed up had dirty foul voices like the women on the buses. These people, he decided, were everywhere. He resolved not to become like them, with coarse disapproving voices that never had anything positive to say.

For his part, he’d been told to be a medic. They said, “If you can’t shoot a gun, you should keep the people who can, alive.”

This consisted of first aid training and carrying large amounts of equipment like a pack mule turned human. To his instructors, it had more to do with aim. Cold compresses and bags of miracle fluid that acted as replacement blood. Needles and thread. Rolls upon rolls of super glue. Not everyone liked the medic in their group, but they did like the man who poured alcohol into their mouths and gave them a few seconds before sterilizing the wounds.

Ken also distrusted the news. They lied, frequently about the state of affairs overseas. He knew, because his platoon knew. He knew because his father knew. Ken found it odd that his father had grown closer after he moved out. For almost a decade they’d been strangers living in the same house, and now they had things in common. Mostly liquor and an inability to keep a woman around due to worthlessness.

Sometime into his military service, Ken experienced a new first. He had to patch a real live human together or the man would die. That man, felt the need to talk in his shaky voice.

“How old are you, Mills?” the short, wounded squad member asked Ken.

Ken smiled, offered the man a swig, and chose not to answer. The man snorted briefly and grimaced as Ken jabbed a needle into his leg.

There was of course, all sorts of training on being delicate, practice stitching, using machinery and modern techniques. He’d done a tour in a hospital but it got cut short when tension rose. The news and the President said the war was over, but his squad and Ken disagreed. They were out there now, doing peacekeeping rounds—it did anything but keep the peace.

Ken had tools. He had devices that wrapped around an arm and stitched wounds together. None of that mattered, the enemy had deployed weaponry to disable anything with electricity within miles, then they shot old fashioned bullets into the housing their squad had been moving through.

“How’s he doing, Mills?” their leader asked.

“Don’t worry. I’ve got this,” Ken said. Being the medic gave his voice a confidence he didn’t feel. Sweat poured down his face and he paused the knitting to wipe it away.

“Which way are we going?” someone else questioned. That was not for Ken to decide. He had never been a decision maker. They spoke, while Ken poked unkindly at the short shaking man.

“Two minutes, Mills. Then we’ll take Bandit out through the side door and head toward base.”

They were too far away. The mechs that should have guarded them were down. Ken couldn’t focus on all the situational updates his squad barked at each other. He was the medic. His job was to patch wounds. “Shooting people,” his instructors had said, “comes second to staying alive. And you cannot be trusted with a gun.”

Privately, Ken agreed. Keeping himself safe would allow him to save others. Dying would cost others, for though they all had some basic form of first-aid training, in theory Ken’s knowledge went beyond the rest of his squads. For instance, he knew Bandit would have a limp for much of his life, assuming they survived.

Truthfully, Ken understood little of the “peacekeeping” activities they ventured out to. They’d trained him on all types of skills, but nothing stuck except for the medical work. They’d told him once he served his tour he could be a doctor. Doctors, Ken knew, were not worthless people. They were valued members of society who had money and something to offer the world at large.

So he sat, prodding Bandit and dreaming of the bright future of value laying on the other side of his enlistment. In went the needle. He believed they had enough time to stick his comrade’s legs, but Ken simply did not know enough. Men burst through the door, their muzzle flashes blinded Ken and he covered his face to get a better view. Ken’s arm moved out of reflex for the gun, but seconds are all it takes for people to die.

The man who’d given orders took rifle fire to the chest, while the rest of their group fired upon the insurrectionists. Later he would be quoted as saying, “Insurrectionists seemed such a strange name. They were hardly older than me. Perhaps we were in their house, but I’ll never know.”

For now, in the wake of loud gun fire, Ken’s other hand felt alien as blood from Bandit covered his skin. He lifted the arm and stared at the crimson tide and wondered what he should do next. Training, he decided, had been worthless. Tonight, he’d had another series of firsts. It was the first time he’d been shot at, and it was the first time he’d seen another man die. The second man who’d taken bullets wasn’t faring well either.

Yet he’d survived. Ken and the others made it home, complete with their commander’s lifeless corpse, because someone had insisted they bring it back if possible. No man, alive or not, would be left behind for the enemy. Bandit, despite the blood and Ken’s butchery, survived.

At debriefing, his leadership chain said all sorts of things not worth hearing. They blamed each other for intel screw-ups for a few minutes before realizing Ken also stood in the room. Field work, they decided, might not be for him yet. He spent the next six months working indoors.

His father, upon learning of the colossal screw-up of the military, had a heart attack. The doctors did not save him. Ken would not find out about this until many weeks later. Later, when he was given leave to return home and take care of the legalities of his father’s passing, Ken realized his father had not been worthless.

The man had been in debt for over a hundred thousand dollars. Further review of scattered papers, bill notices, phone call records and eventually cracking the password on the home computer revealed that his dad had been working to find Ken’s mother, to no success.

***

Ken went on to have a number of first times, even as an adult.

Sometime during his tour of service, he finally got the vasectomy he’d been asking for. He then had his first hooker, paid for by his squad. Shortly after being declared child free, he got his first STD. He then had his first doctor visit about sex the weekend after. He learned to use condoms for the first time.

At twenty-three, freshly discharged from the service and full of hope, he dated a woman. She wanted to make things serious and introduce him to her young son. This relationship ended poorly, and it was the first time Ken’s tires had been slashed. It was not the last.

His first job was as a nurse. He went to college for the first time by taking night classes. Eventually it became obvious that the military’s tale about him becoming a doctor might have been a stretch. As the years marched by, Ken struggled to make a living working in the field he’d believed to be his key to a future of worth.  It was not to be.

At thirty-five, medical advancements in technology pushed Ken out of the hospital and to his first time as an ambulance “care giving assistant.” This job required nothing from him as machinery and robots did all the real work. For the first time, he understood the humiliation of a grown man working in fast food simply to pay the bills.

At thirty-six, roughly three years before this tale begins, he received his first charge for being a bit too drunk and driving. Shortly after he got another, and another until he had his first court mandated rehab. Thereafter he failed that for the first time, and a second, but repeats are hardly as interesting.

Which brings this tale to a more modern time when someone else is having her own series of firsts. Firsts that will send Ken on a journey to face the past he’d been carefully avoiding. Before his story can be explained, her firsts must also be recounted.

***

The last few years had been a roller coaster for the Legate household. Truthfully, they’d been a mess for the world at large, but few felt it with the same level of severity. A little over a decade ago, virtual reality technology had reached a level where people could “dive” into digital worlds. They used this technology to play games, go on vacations, and reunite with family on the other side of the world.

“It hurts,” a woman in the room groaned. Elizabeth Legate, the younger, went by Beth. She lay upon a gurney in a hospital room with a dozen beeping devices. This hospital room was smaller than the large maze-like complexes of years gone by. With technology came a disbursement, causing places like this to become tighter and more compact.

“Childbirth will do that,” her mother, Liz, said.

She remembered giving birth to Beth almost twenty years ago. The mother found it strange to see her own girl going through the pain. It reminded her of how old she was, and for a moment she realized how her own mother must have felt. Seeing someone she cared for in pain caused an echo of pain. The best drugs in the world might have made it easier, but Beth insisted on facing “reality”.

Beth had spent the last few years highly immersed in virtual worlds, mostly with her long-distance boyfriend. They’d met once in real life and it hadn’t gone well. Life found a way and the result of the one real world night between “Mister Fluffy” and “Thorny” ended up with a baby, who was on their way.

“Nnnngh.” Beth tried to speak but instead groaned. Her bare toes curled, and teeth clenched.

“You should be walking,” a shorter Asian woman said.

More recently, technological advances had reached a point where the dead might be able to continue on as digital constructs. Two such beings, out of the dozen or so who had transitioned in the last few years, stood in a real world room, in a way. One was Beth’s uncle, the slightly younger twin brother. The other was a woman by the name of Xin.

Both were dead, but both projected into the room. There was no good name for life after death as a digital creation. The implication of their existence and legal nuances were constantly in flux as their people argued with humanity.

“Aunt Xin?” Beth asked. “Is it this bad for you?”

“Not yet. I’m not looking forward to labor.” Xin’s belly had barely grown. Either her existence as a virtual construct or her digital genetics kept her tiny despite being six months pregnant herself. Though time on a program’s clock counted differently than in the original world.

“Mom? Tell me”—Beth’s hands balled into fists—“tell me I can do this without him.”

“You can. You’re so much stronger than I was at your age. God it’s a wonder you didn’t—” Beth’s mother stopped and shook her head. “Yes, you can do it. I did.” She paced the room. Her hair had turned into strings from sweat and nervousness. “We should be walking more, right? We should be walking. That’s what I did.”

The only one who showed any sort of calmness was Grant. He shook his head slowly and bit his bottom lip. Information flashed in front of his eyes, displaying data that only Voices like himself, had access to. He worried for his niece. He worried for his slightly older twin sister, but Xin’s pregnancy had wider implications that Grant couldn’t sort alone.

There were rumors in the database left behind by Mother. Mother being the largest artifical intelligence who had brought digital life, to life, in a way. But she had died, and so left behind predictions on what would face her children. Scary ones that made Grant’s heart race more than his niece giving birth. Being here couldn’t stop a looming storm, but not being here would have been worse. So, Grant worked for his future family while trying to be present for his current one.

He wanted to focus on the events happening in front of him but continued to drift away. Every time he’d space out it took a moment to replay the words being said. Even after all this time as a digital body, he still couldn’t stop thinking of himself as he had been before, human.

Xin smiled briefly at her husband and pulled them forward to take a closer look at Beth. Their niece’s hand reached out before the next wave hit. Her contractions were coming closely, a little over a minute apart. It passed through the limbs of her virtual family and clanked against the side table.

A nurse bustled into the room. She shooed at the collective figures.

“The doctor will be in soon. Elizabeth? How’s the pain?”

Beth glared as her eyes rolled. Her mind and body had gone white with agony repeatedly all night and the nurse simply hadn’t helped. Not because she couldn’t. Beth insisted on a natural birth and had regretted the decision. The labor pains had been especially bad. Though Xin, ever pragmatic, might argue that labor was torture for all women.

“Jim should be here,” Beth whimpered. She spoke of the baby’s father, “Mister Fuzzy.” Jim was a silly name to Beth. Liz had dated many men, two of them Jims, and they were both worthless.

“He should. He should,” Liz said while nodding repeatedly. She couldn’t take the pain away. In her mind, even Grant with all his science mumble jumbo powers couldn’t stop nature from performing as it must. Thousands of years of evolution couldn’t be overcome by her brother, whose mind wasn’t even on Earth.

Liz swallowed the annoyance and took in a slow breath of air.

“Not just that stupid fuzzy faced pussy either. Your dad should be here too. Goddammit!” Liz stormed out into the hall as the doctor entered.

Grant stopped spacing out and turned to look between the doorway where his sister had exited, and his niece who lay on the bed sweating from exertion. He had access to endless libraries of information but couldn’t bring himself to reassure his niece. He’d never been good at reassurance.

“We’ll be outside,” Grant said. “Talking to your mother.”

Beth nodded, waved, and whimpered again. The nurse in charge paid no attention to the virtual people as they left the small room.

“You should find him,” Xin whispered quietly as they exited. Her lips moved but no one in the physical world would be able to hear what she said. “Not just for Beth. Your sister too.”

Grant stayed quiet. His mind whirred with thoughts going in circles until finally he shook his head.

“It would be good for both of them,” Xin said. “Reunion is either closure—or will make their family stronger.” Xin wasn’t exactly a Voice, not like Grant. The power of a Voice was granted by the currently existing Voices, similar to the legends of Greek gods of uplifting heroes to their ranks. But she had her own gift—knowing what road to take. In the digital world, her name was Hecate, who watched over crossroads.

Not simply between decisions, but between life as mortal, and life as a digital continuation. She’d been the first. She’d cared for her husband upon his deathbed. She’d struggled to help him cross over and over.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Grant responded. “I know exactly where Kenneth is. I know what he’s been doing, who he’s been with. I know everything about him. The man hasn’t changed much. He was a shitty father and would be a crappier grandfather.”

Grant knew, objectively, he was biased. As a digital being, he could replay the night Ken had fled into the darkness. He could relive it in full detail, complete with sweaty palms and a lump in his throat. The idea that the man his sister so loved could up and vanish had made Grant sick. If he dared bring up the full memory he’d be hurling into a digital toilet at high speeds.

Xin would not be discouraged. “Then find him. A girl should not be without her father. Even if he is a bad one. She should at least know. To raise her son to be a good boy.” In this, Xin spoke not simply for her in-law, but for herself as well.

Grant’s face tightened, and he rubbed the back of his head with a free hand. Xin had always been the one to ask Grant to go outside of his comfort zone. She’d been the one to push him into plane rides to nowhere and on carnival Ferris wheels. She’d been the one who wanted to explore Mars as a colonist. He’d followed, because that’s what love meant to him.

Xin had been the first to die and the first to come back as a digital continuation. She would be the first self-aware person to cross over and give birth. That, as we’d said, worried Grant immensely.

He opted out of worrying about the future. It would be possible for him to help his niece and perhaps make his wife feel better as well.

“Well, I know you can’t scare me off that easily,” Grant said. He put a hand on her belly and felt for signs of movement. There were none, but he wanted to be the first to notice. Even if being digital had skewed their perspectives. Never mind that they didn’t have real bodies. “And if you think I should really get Ken back in their lives, I will. Even if I have to drag him kicking and screaming.”

All that happened in the space between Beth’s room and the seats at the end of the hallway, as time moved differently for Grant and Xin. There the soon-to-be grandmother paced uneasily. Her clothes an unkempt mess but she’d taken a moment to brush her hair and held a small cup of water.

“How is she?” Beth’s mother asked.

Grant didn’t answer the question. It had only been a minute or two since they’d left the room. Nothing alarming had happened or changed but Grant kept an eye on the hospital’s readings. Digital beings found it all too easy to get into places they shouldn’t.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” Xin answered.

Liz glared at her sister-in-law. They’d grown closer, but Liz still harbored a bit of resentment. Grant and Xin’s courtship had been long and drawn out. Though if she thought about it too hard, Liz sometimes realized she was jealous of her brother’s successful love life. He would die for Xin. He had died for Xin. Liz didn’t have that and at night, at two in the morning, the realization hurt.

Grant turned, gave his wife a kiss, and walked away.

“Where are you going?” Xin asked, though she already suspected.

“To get the ball rolling,” he answered. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He’d been multitasking, moving his attention between the virtual world and the digital one. To complete this goal, he’d need to venture into the game world. Tools existed there that he and the Voices used to manipulate events. They couldn’t violate Mother’s primary mandate, in that humans made the final choice, but they could help nudge a person’s decision.

Grant’s form faded. Beth’s cry of pain echoed out of the small hospital room and the remaining women stared at each other. Liz closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

Xin, as always, remained confident in her actions. “Don’t worry. Gee will be around in case something happens. He watches over her information, and so are some other Voices. They’ll do anything they need to.”

Xin’s statement did not reassure Liz at all. Once again Liz thought that she’d never really liked Xin. It didn’t help that her image faded between rooms. It served as reminder that the woman, and her twin brother, were closer to ghosts than real people.

But they were family, and that was more than Ken had in his corner of the world. Grant aimed to solve his sister’s late-night loneliness, his niece’s lack of a father, and perhaps enact a bit of justifiable revenge in the process.

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Alkanyseus @Alkanyseus ago

Yup, nice to read your works again.