The High Overlord of Terracon stood at the center of the tri-color desert, where the different sands blend to form new tones, and uttered the pass code once more. He spoke slowly, clearly, for his three earlier attempts had been rebuked.
In the second decade of the 7 Worlds Randall Dohan had programmed a small but significant sub reality called Lopex Minor within Terracon, his world. It was intended as a gift for his wife, a retreat that would evolve through their imaginations. They stood atop the integrating grains all that time ago. She spoke the pass code he bequeathed her, opening the bridge to Lopex Minor.
It was the last time he ever entered there. Juliet Dohan, his lovely wife, contracted one of the mutating plagues and died during Cataclysm. But, not a tear dropped from the eyes of Randall Dohan.
Human emotion always perplexed him. That he felt things could not be denied. His emotional experiences merely lacked the intensity he observed in others. Pain, anger, joy, and the like served as data to be compartmentalized. The loss of his wife pained him, but it did not overwhelm him. His sense of control was too well honed for that to ever happen.
Then, Randall Dohan had his daughter. That’s when his compartments began to crumble.
Even as he stood there, seeking entrance to a sub reality that existed solely to his knowledge, intoning the precise pass code to no effect, his feelings conflicted. Her status in the master database showed her logged on. 13 minutes later, the database alerted him that Lopex Minor had vanished from the site map of Terracon.
His fury at the security breach could only be equaled by his pride in the outrage. At 14, his daughter divined the theft of the sub reality and would soon be ready to surpass him.
“Lower the bridge, Europa,” commanded the High Overlord of Terracon. “I want to talk to you.”
But, she did not yield to his command, though he waited, uncharacteristically.
Her noncompliance drove him to other matters, but he ordered the database to alert him when her status changed. He reentered the Sad Reality seconds after she logged out. There, he found their home devoid of her and all she owned.
Again, he felt alien to the ways of emotion. The only aberration in their recent lives was an inevitable conversation. While it obviously launched this sudden rebellion, he simply could not believe it.
“When was I born, Daddy?” Europa asked the Wednesday prior.
“I know perfectly well I haven’t missed your birthday, Europa,” he replied. “I receive six different alerts reminding me.”
“I would like to spare myself a repeat of the tears and wails of the ones I missed.”
“Forgot,” she clarified. “You forgot the first seven.”
“April 18, 2054,” said Randall Dohan.
“You just checked my profile,” she responded.
“We live in this brilliant time, post-aging. Thereby, we should be post-birthdays, but for our children, so forgive me if I must check your profile. You’ll understand when it’s time.”
“Traditions like birthdays are sweet,” Europa countered. “They make a person feel special and loved.” She paused. “I am, right, Dad? Special and loved?”
“What’s this about, Europa?”
“A discovery,” she hesitated, frowning back tears. “My mother. She died on August 4, 2031.”
Randall Dohan sighed deeply. Dwelling on the past annoyed him.
“She was five months pregnant,” he said, mustering some patience. “The plague that took Juliet had passed to you. The doctors and I kept your development in stasis until the proper immunities could be installed.”
“The immunities were online by 2038,” she said. “Why did you wait, Dad? What am I?”
“You are experiencing a trauma common in children of your circumstance.”
“DELAYED,” Randall Dohan answered, gruffly. “As you delved through history did you see what the 30’s and 40’s were like? The race needed reordering post-Cataclysm. It was not a time for children.”
“So, you were protecting me?” she asked.
“You’re brilliant, Europa. Juliet and I designed you to be. Can’t you extrapolate from the facts you know. I could see the future, then. We had not yet fully integrated with our engineering. While you were in utero, I upgraded what I could and waited for human engineering to finally plateau. That is what you are: the brilliant plateau of human evolution.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks. Randall Dohan attempted to hide his disappointment.
“What I want to know, Dad,” she began very clearly, “is if you love me?”
His lack of emotionality exposed him.
“I am very proud of what we’ve done here,” he stated. “I think your mother would be pleased with our investment.”
Some people just know exactly how to hurt you.
Rendered invisible by refracting camouflage, two behemoths strode beside Randall Dohan.
“This is bullshit.”
“Maintain frequency silence, Phantom 1.”
“Seriously, Kevin, he’s a vet like us. He deserves a chance.”
“It’s Phantom 2, Roger,” said Kevin, while aiming his equally invisible sniper rifle at the last known location of Lexter Adept. “If he was a vet like us he wouldn’t work at a Buckian’s.”
“So, protecting high value douchebags on insurance claims is some noble calling, then?” asked Roger, his own rifle still strapped to his shoulder.
“We all make our choices,” said Kevin, defensively. “Conversation over.”
“Please, you think that poor bastard is hacking our comms?” asked Roger to no answer. “Oh, Phantom 2?” Silence. “Fine. But you need to understand that I will not shoot that man.”
A sigh came over their link.
“Neither will the client by the look of it,” Kevin bemoaned.
“Cute. Very cute.”
“Roger, sweetheart, please. You know I hate it when you work yourself up like this. Let’s finish the job and I’ll take you-“
“No more bribes, Kevin. I’m out of the insurance game. This is it, love.”
“How exactly do you think we’ll be able to survive on one income?” asked Kevin.
“There are other ways to make a living, love,” said Roger.
“I said how, Roger, when this is the only skill set you have?”
With that, Phantom 2 established frequency silence. He wished he hadn’t. The chance to apologize felt distant and agonizing. Kevin focused on the Mall’s grand frippery, praying this would end soon. He would see an extractionist in the morning, allowing the death of Lexter Adept to haunt him for a mere few hours.
Separate beacons blinked for the attention of Europa Dohan. First there was a message in her Inbox, displaying the name of its sender, Randall Dohan, first yellow, then blue. Thoughts of her father usually begat an examination of their disappointing child/parent dynamic. An easily indulged distraction, but the consistent flicker of a node on her Friendfeed obfuscated the urge.
Lex, brilliant Lexter, remained vital in the Sad Reality. He was safe, but that condition would be fleeting while his assailant lingered. How a man who strived to be inconsequential could inspire an armed rebuke was a titillating mystery. It probably pertained to some slight, pre-Cataclysm. Survivors of the hard times all carried grudges, though shootings had grown less popular as extracting memories became the vogue.
It was a sad irony when the memory of an infraction was only held by the side with the gun. That was not the case here. Lexter Adept’s head contained all the sins and virtues of his long life. The story of this wrong would be the price she would demand for saving his life.
An equitable and nonviolent conclusion could certainly be reached. No matter how far humans evolved, a need always had a price, even the need to kill. That was her father’s philosophy; he was often accurate when reporting piteousness.
It was best that this concluded. She stirred, hacking the camera cloud to assess her safety and see the face of old vengeance.
She found him standing at the edge of the 4th floor food court, weapon in hand.
He held the posture of a god, calm, unmoved by entreaties, waiting to bestow the final act of his orchestrations. It was time for his daughter to leave her hiding place and confront him. The scenario demanded it. He heard her scuffling, but the eyes of Randall Dohan remained fixed upon the last known location of Lexter Adept.
“NO!” she shouted as she escaped the confines of her shelter, stood, and charged her father. “You can’t.”
“There’s nothing to it, really,” he replied, absently. “You just pull the trigger. The bullets do the rest. I saw testimonials that said Smart-but-not-so-smart fire ruins the experience. I disagree. This is all quite stimulating.”
She charged past the empty tables.
“He’s of the game. He helped shape it.”
“Yes…the mighty Paladin,” he nodded.
“He’s essential. Like us,” she exclaimed, getting closer, so much closer.
“Oh, Europa, there’s no one like us. We’re royalty.” Randall Dohan smiled.
It struck her in the chest, the sudden force raising her off the barely tarnished, scuff resistant floor. Organics and inorganics cracked loudly as gravity returned her shoulder to that surface. Real, natural pain flooded her mind for a brief instant, then everything began
Like insects struggling in amber, data crawled through all the portals and windows in her field of vision. Mentally, she reached for icons, but her concentration dissipated before the action could be committed. But, it was not just her media; her limbs and muscles were in betrayal, as well. The only thing functioning in real time was the window that displayed her eyesight.
Visions of her father filled that window. He knelt over her, reached, and cradled her head in his left hand.
“Did it hurt her?” he asked the empty air to his left side, then paused as if listening to an explanation. “Good,” he said, satisfied.
With a tenderness she did not recognize, he moved her chin toward her chest so she could see the device fastened there.
A long, metallic latticework connected a large central disk to four smaller saucers. The threads and fibers of her clothing withered around this disruption to their template. A panic should have risen. She should have felt fear, but so many chemical reactions and bioelectrical responses were interfaced with the machines. And the machines were currently compromised.
“Magnetics and modulation. You can call it parental control,” said Randall Dohan. “Some data will be lost, but I’m certain a smart girl like you backed up her personality.”
He rose before her, letting go of her head. But it did not drop. Unseen hands cradled her head, angling it to see both her father and the last known whereabouts of Lexter Adept.
“I want you to consider this an educational opportunity,” said Randall Dohan as his eyes returned to the grand frippery. “You see…it’s this, Europa. I designed an heir not a combatant, yet you insist on defying me. It’s problematic that you believe you live in a world of infinite choices. Sadly, that powerful misconception will cost your friend his life. You were bred for a purpose, and you will serve it. He’ll be our human sacrifice.”
The left side of Randall Dohan’s mouth twitched in something like a grin.
“Isn’t that exciting?”