She sets the final compile running, goes upstairs for an orange juice and feels her heart pounding. Dad's still around - she can hear him scraping his gumboots off after a wander in the fields - but she doesn't go and say hi. She wants the next time she sees him to be the big surprise.

She heads down quickly to the basement. It's finished. She types "run" - her hands are shaking. Will it work? Then the Commodore responds and the title screen appears:

Worldbreaker.

She sees a man, 30 years ago, walking in a white coat down a corridor. She sees the tiny pixelated letter in his hand. She knows what he's decided to do.

Let's go back and see, Dad. Let's find that other world.

With a keystroke she changes his mind, gives him his job back, lets his vision of the Network unchain itself and grow -

It develops quite differently, even near the start, with words like ARPANET and FIDO and MUD and TCP/IP gathering speed. There's a buzzing roar in her head as she's pushed forward several impossible decades into another universe.

It hits. Hard. In the shutterbug explosion of a single eye-blink she downloads more information than her brain has ever conceived. She's swimming and tumbling and drowning in it; she feels a billion data calls extending from her like a supernova.

There are connections everywhere, entwined with information and driving it, and games so complex and fantastic and powerful they're on the verge of displacing reality itself.

She tries to find herself but can't. In her place is an older girl, quite different, with strange clothes and thousands of virtual friends, with something eerie and alien about the relationships and structure of her life, and she can't find Dad among it all.

The Network's growing and mating with itself at an exponential rate, hurtling forwards as it becomes a single billion player ultrareality entertainment environment. It's overload, sickly and blinding and intoxicating.

The Singularity envelopes her and bites.

The world breaks above her like a warning bell and she's back, herself, whole, in the basement. She touches her arm and she can feel it. She shuts the Commodore off and sits there in the dark, trying to breathe, trying to think.

What the hell was that?

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The next decision comes slowly. She pushes her chair back, climbs the stairs and heads up to find Dad. Hot chocolate and a hug sounds pretty good right now - there's only one connection that matters in this reality.

She's not going to show him his present just yet. A thought follows her out of the dark, a swirling realization: Maybe another game would be better, something simple, with falling shapes and monsters and just one player. A game you know isn't real.

She's not sure if she just witnessed something or created it.

Colin Rowsell is a New Zealand-based writer. Talk to him on giantmonkeyvirus@gmail.com, and follow him (and Orpheus Corpse) on maantren.blogspot.com.

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