Part of her had wanted to scream, Of course I've got friends, I've got pen-pals in 13 countries and I write them all at least once every two months, but another part of her took control and hit him very hard in the mouth, over and over, until it bled. Michael screamed and cried, and the teachers pulled them apart and called a parent conference. Dad came into school the next afternoon - his first time in town for over a month - and she was terrified he'd be disappointed in her.

[The compile is nearly finished. This game she can't wait to play.]

The conference was nasty. Michael's Father stared horribly and made veiled insults - she gradually realized that Michael's behavior towards her was just an imitation - but Dad ignored them all, listened to the principal with a half smile on his face, then drove her home. On the way back they stopped at BurgerShack and got two MegaDoubleDeckers, and he gave her another hug.

"Dad, honestly, I don't care that we don't have as many games as Michael, or that we don't make silly international datacalls. I just get so angry when I think about things sometimes-"

"I know you do, missy. And I don't think you should ever stop thinking or dreaming or even getting angry, 'cause that's how we change the world. People like Michael and his Father - screw 'em ... 'scuse my honesty."

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Back home he went up to the attic and came down with a tiny parcel wrapped in paper. She unwrapped it to find a box of Commodore disks, some pages of scribbled instructions and a printed title:

SHAMAN - The Mirror Dream Construction Kit.

"I wrote it," he said. "After the Network shut down but before you came along. I wanted ... well, I don't quite know what I wanted."

"Is it a game?" she asked, inspecting the disks.

"In a manner of speaking. A different kind of game. I built it using the things I learned outside computers, all the magic and other crazy ideas ... the next stage of programming, if you will. That's the only copy in the world, and I never used it beyond testing. It's all yours, hon."

As she hurried down to the basement, shouting thanks over her shoulder, it was as though the universe had cracked open a new door. She knew exactly what she was going to do with this.

SHAMAN was crude, difficult and much more complex than anything she'd ever tinkered with ... and it was brilliant. It didn't work like software should; using it was like trying to twist water, or ride some kind of reluctant animal. There were indeed echoes of magic in it, of the meditations and stargazing and midnight wanderings of Dad's inner life. She dove in, figured out the basic building blocks, then set to work on the project that had flowered into her mind when she opened the box.

She combed through some of Dad's old magazines and photos for details, but part of the idea had been that the details weren't important. If she got this right - if it worked the way it should - there would be all the details in the world.

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