Chapter One


Out of Batteries

"Where Are Your Parents, Little Girl?"

She managed to say it without sounding too much like she was reading from the Staff Training Manual, Page 3325, 'How To Reassure Children'. Zado McTsugal was good with children. Well, by Game Over standards, anyway, which meant that she could actually tell children apart from non-children with a ninety per cent success rate. She felt that children warmed to her open face, friendly manner and habit of not publicly being seen dragging customers screaming into deletion chambers. She didn't have the authority to do that yet. She did, however, have the special task of updating the Staff Training Manual section on children, as well as printing brightly coloured pamphlets in broad typeface and simplified language with names like 'Where Is My Cat Now?', 'Jakob's Big Bulk Departure Adventure' and 'Mummy Ran Out Of Continues'. If such a department existed, Zado would be made Head of the Department of Juvenile Relations.

A ninety per cent success rate wasn't THAT bad, considering that Game Over served customers from every species in the Universe. Not every entity was as straightforward as humans when it came to identifying their young. For instance, military androids who had just rolled off the construction line looked the same as military androids who had lived for centuries, only shinier and with more limbs.


"I Am Very Sorry To Hear That." she replied, looking around for a copy of 'Mummy Ran Out Of Continues'. She was forever telling the assistant staff to leave copies in the magazine rack of every waiting room, where children could easily pick them up and read them, but there was never one around when she needed one.

"They were in violation of interplanetary law." came the reply, with all the emotion of an answer machine.


The girl waited, patient but insistent, for a suitable response. Her gaze didn't quite lock Zado's but implied that she had the keys. She looked like a porcelain doll with those round, wide eyes, a deep shade of violet that matched her bright magenta hair, combed into precise straightness and gathered into bunches. Her skin was almost white, in contrast to the black velvet school blazer and skirt she wore. Zado, who was fairly good at placing a person's country, or at least planet, of origin, reckoned her to be a human of North Hydlide. Either that or a new type of android. Androids usually didn't blink, although she might be the sort programmed to blink every few seconds to confuse humans.

"I reported them." she elaborated after a few seconds.

"Well..." Zado felt that she should at least say something decisive, being, as she was, calm, collected and in control of the situation, "Now you're here, we need to take down some details. So if you'd like to follow me..."

"My Game Gear needs six batteries. I am also on my last Continue. I am legally entitled to both."

"You are?" Zado wasn't that good a lawyer, "Well, we can stop by the Continue Shop on the way to my office and I'm sure we can find plenty of batteries."

Seemingly satisfied, the child tagged along behind her as Zado left the busy front reception desk and walked down the corridor leading to the Continue Shop. The child watched everything. Her eyes followed customers and staff as they ran back and forth. She blinked in time to the red lights that ran along the central recesses of the smooth black metal walls in thin strips and flashed lazily on and off, not quite an alarm, more a warning that the same status that had been low or null for millions of years was still the same way. You got used to permanently working under those lighting conditions. It was relaxing after a while. She stared up at the computer terminals. Zado wondered if she could read fast enough to follow the text that scrolled down them like a torrential downpour of LCD red, displaying the names of customers, their locations in the massive facility and how many Continues they had. The child peered into the offices, the waiting rooms, the toilets and, when they reached it, the dark-glass automatic double doors of the Continue Shop.

The door chimed when they walked through. Inside, the shop was functional, with boxes of 1-Ups and Continues in varying amounts and styles stacked neatly in rows on the metal shelves, all branded with the Game Over logo, a red line in a box that represented a HP meter flatlining. A scrolling LCD display underneath the shelf proclaimed 'Green Mushrooms: 3 For The Price of 2, While Stocks Last', with a picture of a mushroom blinking into and out of existence before the first and last character of the sentence. Zado greeted the cashier, a very short, nervous young man with shoulder-length lime green hair and bushy eyebrows. She watched the child browse the shelves as she requested the standard three Continues you were advised to buy every time you lost one, just to be sure. She had found the type of 1-Up that looked like a tiny version of yourself and was playing with it, turning it upside down and trying to make the image appear upside down instead of righting itself.

"Come on. Don't break that." she warned. The child put the box down and followed Zado out of the shop.

Zado's office wasn't too far away, in between the shop and the place where Game Over uniforms were made, cleaned and repaired. It was fairly small and contained little more than a desk with a computer, a printer, a photograph of her home planet and a few boxes of 'Everybody Dies' pamphlets in the corner, waiting to be distributed. She motioned for the child to take a seat, then pulled up the required form on her computer.

"Would you mind telling me your name?"


"How old are you, Lunarian?"


"Where are you from?"


"Is this your first visit?"

She nodded.

"And, if I may ask you, how did you... depart?" The most confusing part of her job was the fact that arriving on the Game Over Screen was called departing. Game Over's motto was 'You Say Goodbye, We Say Hello'.

"I dialled 000."

"O... kay." Zado said hesitantly. Not many people even knew about that service. "Now, there's nothing wrong with using our emergency hotline but it is supposed to be for emergencies..."

"It is an emergency. I needed some batteries. I still do not have them." she noted.

Lunarian wrote 'ran out of batteries' under 'cause of death'. It wasn't that uncommon an answer and wouldn't generate questions or paperwork.

"I'll get you your batteries, I promise." she said, "Now, will you wait patiently in my office while I go and fetch them?"

The child nodded. Her attention was on the computer's screensaver, a flatline logo that floated across the screen and bounced off corners. Zado left her to it.

She headed back into the shop. The cashier was on a stepladder when she returned, reaching up for a box on the top shelf. He looked uncertain. Burt was fairly new to the job. He didn't seem the type who would become a Secretary of the Game Over Screen. He didn't fit the image of the all-powerful official who directed the inevitable fate of the Gods and the lowest insects alike, the Grim Reaper with a clipboard. He would probably go on to fulfil a more practical role, like a porter or engineer. It took all sorts of cogs to move the machine that ran the Universe, as Zado's trainer used to say.

"Sorry to bother you. Do you have any Game Gear batteries?" she asked.

"Probably some in the Game Gear. Its under the desk. Who's the kid?"

"A new customer." she said, reaching under the desk and retrieving the machine, "There's something strange about that one. I think I should keep a closer eye on her."

"She hasn't nicked anything. I checked. Always do, with kids."

"Oh, I don't think she's doing anything illegal. I just meant..." she stopped, "That's the thing. She hasn't done anything wrong. Nothing's out of the ordinary with her records. There aren't even any of the usual little blips, you know, wear and tear on the data integrity from being yanked up here. But the way she got up here... the way she talks and acts... it isn't like other children. It isn't even like other customers, full stop. To tell you the truth... she scares me a little.."

"Where's her parents?"

"Deleted." she emptied the batteries out into her hands, "Do these have much charge left in them?"

"Yeah, they're pretty fresh, I don't get caught out. Damn, that's tough, at her age."

"She doesn't seem to care."

"Sounds like a psych case."

"That's a possibility. The computers don't scan them properly. I'll book her in for an evaluation. I think there's something else though." she pocketed the batteries, "I can't quite put my finger on it. Well, I'd better not leave her unsupervised for too long, I guess."

She watched him abandon his footstool and walk out of the shop with his Game Gear. They went in opposite directions, he to wherever Game Gear batteries were replenished, she back to her office.

When she returned, the child was collapsed face first on the floor, unconscious. Her hand still stretched out to make a grab for the Game Gear, which was a few inches away from her, the batteries loosened from their case by the impact and now rolling in every direction. It had the feel of a tiny, quiet apocalypse. Zado paged the medical crew.

Where the child had looked pale before, her complexion was now almost white. Machines supported all her vital functions as she lay on a bed in the medical bay, unmoving, not responding to any stimuli. Zado watched her through the observation window in the next room, along with the medic who monitored the child's vital signs. She had been there for a while now, watching as the child's data integrity almost plummeted into chaos, was snatched back again at the last second, stabilised, wavered, was persuaded to be a little higher, destabilised again and was finally held at a reasonable level. The utter silence and stillness betrayed no sign of the turmoil within the child's deepest structural levels as she struggled to exist. She wondered if the child had known this was happening to her and for how long. Maybe what she had thought was just an odd way of thinking was a profound fear and desperation that a child's way of communicating could not convey.

The medical bay was small and hadn't been used in ten years but it was kept well stocked, both with the most advanced technology and the most skilled medical staff, for a good reason. For a medical problem to still manifest on the Game Over Screen, where 'All Is Well And Nothing Can Be Ill', something highly irregular had gone out of order. Data loss and corruption were the main problems treated in the medical bay, as they targeted the essence of existence at a deeper level than physical matter and as such persisted whether or not the patient was alive or dead. Psychiatric problems also tended to carry over to the other side, if they were a fault of the conscious part of the self, the identity, rather than just the physical brain. There were also some conditions that affected whether the process of death itself happened properly, such as True Undeath or those particularly rare cases of allergy or addiction to Continues. It either wasn't really a medical condition or it was, by definition, a fate worse than death.

"How is she doing now?" asked Zado. She could not really tell what the numbers and wavy lines on the monitors meant. They were all low or zero, but then, so was everything else on the Game Over Screen. High numbers only occurred in the same places as antimatter explosions. The last cluster of neutron stars had taken forever to shift.

"The signals are very weak but stable. I think she'll pull through but she's going to be very vulnerable to magnetic fields and viruses and she'll probably be a dailyist for the rest of her life. We may even have to have her permanently wired up to something."


"Mrs. McTsugal, you may be asked to provide evidence in a court of law. Computer Defiency Syndrome is only fatal if access is withheld significantly over the danger period. This child is severely dependent on computer access, much more than your classical GDS case. She was almost derezzed. This is a deletory offense."

"Then I'm fairly confident that the people responsible have already been deleted."

"You're saying you know what happened here?"

"The kid didn't die of GDS. She arrived here of her own will seconds before collapsing. Phoned 000. Said she grassed her parents to Security for something and they were deleted."

"If they did this, they'd have been convicted and deleted already and they deserve it. GDS cases make me sick. Its a lousy way to die." the medic told her, "You start derezzing at the same time as you physically die. You lose connections to the main computers as well. You'll probably need to get her to a psych ward once she regains consciousness. If she does."

Zado took another glance at the child. The wires suited her. She looked like she slotted nicely into the gap. There was something serene about watching people with so little substance to them. Small numbers were easy to work with, zeroes easier. She could see now, how the red lights were sort of relaxing.

"I think she'll pull through." she said.

Then there was a knock on the door. Zado went to answer it. As she saw who was on the other side of the door, her composure changed to one as hard, smooth and unyielding as the dark glass that the Game Over building was mostly made of and as impersonally lethal as the antimatter that mostly fuelled it.

"Director!" the medic dropped the clipboard he was holding and saluted.

The Director had just walked in to the room. The Director herself, the woman in charge of the Game Over Screen, the highest authority in the Universe not directly held by a control system's AI, was now standing in the doorway, glancing at them with an expression that demanded to know what they were doing. She could delete them on a whim. She probably would delete them if there was even a slight reason for her to do so. It would mean as little to her as cleaning a spot of dirt on the wall. Zado felt a lump rising in her throat.

"Doctor Yossarian. Secretary McTsugal." she said impassively, "There is no need for alarm. I am investigating a fault."

"A fault in the Med Bay, D... Director?" the medic managed to speak up, "Everything's w... working perfectly well. There's been a rather serious case today, ma'am, I would have noticed a fault."

"Its not a fault with the medical technology." she walked briskly past him and examined his computer. Zado was beginning to feel dizzy. It was a struggle to breathe, her throat felt so tight, and to remember to breathe, rather than waiting in dread. The Director logged into the system as root and performed a few operations that Zado tried not to pay close attention to, just in case she found out something she could be deleted for knowing.

"I need to speak to you in my office." she said a few minutes later. Zado almost blacked out. She held onto a rail on the wall to support herself. She saw that the medic was less frightened and more confused and tried to convince herself that he was showing a courage that she could be inspired by, not just a lack of experience in dealing with the management.

"I can't leave the patient unsupervised." he said, "Could I just take a minute to contact another medic?"

"If it is someone who hasn't been in the medical bay in the last twenty four hours."

The medic looked confused but obeyed the order. Though small, the medical team wasn't so small to ever run out of auxiliary staff. It didn't take long for the replacement medic to arrive. Zado hoped as they walked down the corridor towards the Director's office that it wouldn't be a permanent replacement.

It was a long walk. The Director's office was in another district entirely on the next floor up. Apart from being darker due to the whim of the control system in charge of the lighting and less busy due to the general habit among the staff of avoiding it like the Diana Virus, there was little to tell it apart from any other corridor. Inside her office, the Director kept it even darker. Zado could see only the red flashing outline of an intimidatingly large black desk, a wall-sized Game Over logo behind it and a small back door leading to a room that Zado identified by the low-pitched, quiet hum as a deletion chamber. Unusually, her computer's display wasn't turned on.

"Lockdown." said the Director, snapping her fingers as she reclined in her high-backed leather swivel chair. There was a beep and a red symbol of a padlock appeared next to the doors and the space where the display should be. "We are now under the highest security screening. We can talk safely. What we are about to discuss does not leave the room under any circumstances. Understand?"

They both nodded. Zado didn't want access to the information but she suspected she would be granted it whether she liked it or not.

"Someone just gained unauthorised access to my terminal." she continued, looking at the medic, "I traced the signal back to the medical bay."


"Nothing was damaged, fortunately. Some files were read. Nothing containing too sensitive information but there are certain groups of people I wouldn't like knowing even that much. I'm sure you understand how dangerous it could be if someone hacked my terminal again and gained access to, say, the bulk deletion functions, or my communication link to the control systems."

"I thought nobody could hack you!" said the medic.

"So did I." said the Director, "Certainly, nobody but me has legitimate access to the codes to gain that information. It was either a hacker or a virus."

"Are we suspects?" asked Zado.

"Everyone who was in the medical bay or was accessing the medical bay computer systems within that twenty four hour time period is a suspect, McTsugal. And yes, it is a deletory offense to hack my terminal."

Zado swallowed and tried to stop her heartbeat sounding so loud. "I was just visiting the patient. She was my customer when she collapsed at my desk."

"I'm really too busy to hack your terminal. The patient's been in critical condition all day." said the medic.

"And you've noticed absolutely no irregular behaviour in your systems?"

"It is possible that, if it was happening at the level required to hack your terminal, it went completely over both our heads. The medical team wouldn't have been running the computers at that high an access level, we only need to get access to the medical records and the controls for the life-support machines." said the medic.

"But what in the medical bay would have hacked your system without your realising it?"

He shrugged, "A trojan from somewhere else? We're protected against such things, ma'am, but not at a level that could have hacked your terminal."

The computer beeped. The Director took the lock off and looked down at her display.

"Director?" asked Zado.

"Its happening again." she said, "Yossarian, page the medical bay now, I need to know who is in there and everything that is happening in exact detail."

He obeyed, "Ma'am, there's no-one in there! The replacement hasn't arrived yet!"

"Is the patient okay?" asked Zado.

"The condition of your customer isn't what I'm worried about right now, McTsugal, its your responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of your..." said the Director, "Wait... this signal isn't coming from your system to mine at all. Its going from my terminal to the medical bay!"

"You're hacking me, ma'am?"

"My computer is hacking you. I gave it no such orders. It has full authority to override my control but it rarely does so. What is happening in there that my computer finds so interesting, Doctor?" she glanced at him, "So interesting that it doesn't even want to share it with me?"

"Um..." the medic, "I don't know. I doubt it wants to share it with me either. Why don't you ask it?"

"Maybe I should." she glanced at her computer, "It appears that it knows a lot more than any of my staff about what happens in this facility. Your patient is regaining consciousness, by the way. I will allow you to attend to her. I am convinced that you do not pose a security risk. For now."

Life returned to normal for Zado after that. If there were any more security issues in the medical bay, Zado was not involved and was never asked to speak to the Director about it again. Lunarian was stable after regaining consciousness far earlier than expected, although she would always need to use a computer intensively for several hours a day in order to stay alive. Zado checked up on her from time to time but eventually, as was the way of things on the Game Over Screen, she disappeared or was forgotten about, just one particularly unusual customer in a long stream of customers who were all uniquely peculiar. Staff on the Game Over Screen rarely remembered individual customers. When you worked for a service that dealt with everyone in the entire Universe who ever died, the personal approach simply didn't work. There were problems apart from customers to worry about as well. How was she supposed to earn a promotion, rise up the ranks, stuck as she was in a department that didn't formally exist and therefore had no hierarchy and no real place in the structure of Game Over that would tell her where she could sideways-promote to? Ought she ask for a payrise? Who would she ask? The Director? She wasn't that brave.

The overall situation of the Game Over Screen was changing, too. This in itself was a worry. Game Over did not change. The Haldorce days were over. Once, there was a Universe-spanning network of buildings like Game Over, a majestic spider's-web of darkened glass and solid antimatter arranged across a dimension that was outside time and space but could touch every point in the Universe. Game Over was in the centre, the Origin point, the place where everything was dragged in once it fell to zero. Game Over was a cog in a wider machine that ran like clockwork would run if it had root access to the fabric of time itself. Now there was only Game Over and a few nodes here and there, many of which had been pulled into the outer Universe. The Haldorce race was dying out too. There had been a time when Game Over was entirely staffed by Haldorce. Now it was only 75% Haldorce. Zado herself was only half Haldorce and had been born on a planet, not in the realm of the Haldorce.

The other facilities that Game Over worked with weren't always friendly. In fact, they were mostly not friendly at all. Their biggest rival was the Completion Screen. There was a fight over some small matter, usually a customer in the wrong place, almost every single day. Zado hated Completion. They believed they were doing people a bigger favour than Game Over even though they helped less people in matters that were mostly less urgent. They had a better reputation than Game Over among the general public just because they had shiny white walls and hardly ever had to delete anyone. It wasn't even as if they didn't cause problems. Making a mistake with the process of Completion was just as bad as Game Over. At least the victims of a fault in Game Over's computers had the mercy of suddenly and decisively not existing, rather than, say, being trapped in a bad ending.

Nobody had heard from the High Score Table in several decades.

She was working in the Soul Train depot when she saw the girl again, six months later. Lunarian sat on a bench, swinging her legs, half concentrating on her Game Gear, half watching a train pull in to the station. Children were always fascinated by the Soul Trains so Zado was often asked to go and see if there were any hanging around there who hadn't been registered. The 'trains', actually just long range teleport tubes that could have gotten away with looking like moving platforms on a series of neon light rings like their smaller cousins, looked like steam trains with glossy black paintwork and silver outlines, the flatline logo embossed on the side of the coaches in silver. They were actually the second most sophisticated and regularly updated technology on the Game Over Screen apart from the bulk deletion machines. Running on fifteen teramagnade antimatter engines, their chassis made of dark dark-glass that could withstand the sheer deletory vacuum of the void that separated Game Over from the rest of the Universe, spiralling outward from the origin of the map, the zero of zeroes, the middle of nowhere, like undulant mechanical serpents, fitted with long range teleport drives and gauss cluster cannons, they were designed to do the near impossible job of conveying dead people to the Screen who were too far away to directly teleport or who insisted on having too strong force barriers between them and the rest of the Universe. They also regularly updated their background music to suit the current style on planets where the sentient life forms celebrated, rather than mourned, the dead. The guards got nice hats too. A mix of vintage ultra-style and absolute reliability, they were popular with everyone, not only children, although children were generally less inhibited and weren't embarrassed about liking trains.

Zado walked up to the child, keeping one eye on the customers alighting from the train. Lunarian glanced up at the Secretary, pausing her Game Gear.

"You're here again?" What is it this time, thought Zado, your granny turned out to be an illegal immigrant?

"I haven't left yet."

"What, since I last saw you?" the child nodded, looking a little bored, "But that was six months ago!"

"Six months, fifteen days, three hours and forty two minutes."

"Is there a problem? Can't you go back to your planet?"

"There's no reason to go back there." she said in her usual flat monotone, "I have everything I need here. My batteries never run out. The doctor says its safe to go back and I'll be taken to a place where there are computers but I want to be where I know there are enough computers for me. And I can go where I want here. I don't need to go back to school because I can learn things here and anyway, the teacher won't find out, she'll never find me here among all these people and such a big building!"

"Listen, Lunarian." Zado sighed, sitting on the bench next to her, "You're a mortal. A person with a life still left to lead, a future, a destiny to fulfil. Whatever was supposed to happen to you in your life, it won't happen as long as you're up here. It'll be over before it began."

"You can't make me leave. I haven't done anything wrong, to make you throw me out." she said, "I can stay here as long as I want. You can't get me deleted for it, either."

"Nobody's threatening to delete you." replied the Secretary, "I just don't want you to get bored one day and decide to go home, only to find everything's already over and there's been a bad ending because you weren't there to trigger any of the events that were supposed to happen. The people at Completion will yell at me for that, you know. And you will get bored up here, Lunarian. You come from a planet, with an atmosphere, with time that passes and living things that grow. Planets are beautiful. I came from a planet, too."

"This place is kind of beautiful, too." said Lunarian, looking pointedly at the train and, behind it, the endless void that was visible through the glass when the barrier rippled to admit the train as it departed. It was absolute nothingness. Not just a lack of anything, some kind of grey plane devoid of life, but a kind of thing called nothingness in its own right, a thing that spilled out and overwrote everything in its path, the ink that expunged mistakes, deep and dark and heavy as a maelstrom of antimatter. Maybe a living thing, the oldest thing, whose heart pulsed in time to the system clock of the control computer of the Universe. Tiny rainbow jewels twinkled in the black – a species of jellyfish, the hardiest beings in the Universe, who had somehow adapted to survive here and feed off the Game Over Screen's waste products. They were the stars in the night sky that was always the dead of night, the bottom of the night, the dawn of life. "And its so big. You couldn't really get bored of this place. It'd take you a million years."

"You'd have that long to live, if you didn't leave here." said Zado, "Between you and me, I think the Director must be pushing eight hundred thousand... don't point at people. Its rude."

"But this is important!" she protested, "Are you looking for people who have run out of continues?"

"Well, yes, but still..."

"That man! There! See? He's trying to sneak away!" she pointed to the larger of what looked like a family of anthropomorphic armadillos in yellow t-shirts.

"Um..." Zado looked around at a terminal, paused it and narrowed the search down to those who had just left the train.

"Catch them! Quick!"

Sure enough, the entries showed faults and the red text was flashing more enthusiastically than normal. It was also beeping. She called security on her pager.

"So..." began Zado. The girl had now lost interest in the train and the family and was playing Tetris, "Have you always been able to read this fast?"

"I didn't read it off the terminal."

"What do you mean, Lunarian?" Security had arrived, a six-strong team, dressed in gauss refractor armour and wielding Gauss Rifles that could delete on impact at the highest setting. The armadillo-man bolted for it and the security team chased him out of the door. "What do you mean, not off the terminal?"

"I know lots of things. I'm good at finding them out."

"Things like interplanetary law?" said Zado, "You're one clever kid. Very resourceful."

"I'm not doing anything you can delete me for!" she cried out, half afraid, half indignant.

"Hey, nobody's threatening to delete you. I just want to know..." She was interrupted by loud shouting and the low whine of a Gauss Rifle firing. The pendulum of organised chaos that was Game Over had swung from 'order' to 'chaos'. "I just want to know what's been happening because nobody's seen you for a while and there were a lot of problems when you regained consciousness, you know, there were rumours..."

"Lots of people have seen me, they just haven't taken any notice, or chased me off, or I didn't approach them." she said, "I don't remember anything of when I was unconscious. Only that the machines were all around me and kept me alive."

"Which machines, Lunarian?"

After that, the security team started to yell at her and she had to leave to register the customer. Registering customers with no Continues was easy. Their fate was simple and already decided. That customer was deleted ten minutes later. She was supposed to be looking out specifically for juvenile customers but if something cropped up, like someone running out of Continues, the staff all had to be on the alert and help out where they could. When she looked around, Lunarian was gone. Zado asked the security guards if they had seen her but none of them were looking at her or interested in her at all. They said to ignore the weird kid, she was always there, she hardly ever spoke to anyone or really did anything much. Nobody saw where she came from or went to – maybe she was always on the move, never really belonging anywhere – and she never did anything that would make the guards want to investigate her. In fact she was very deliberate about not doing anything illegal at all. She did odd things sometimes, like reporting people who were marked for deletion, taking great care not to be caught. She knew everything before it happened and never found herself in the same place as an accident. She had no Continues and never left the Game Over Screen.

Maybe it came down to the batteries, thought Zado. Maybe, in the end, she just wanted a supply of batteries that wouldn't dry up. She was like a cat, living a life that crossed somewhere between absolute freedom, the off-the-grid freedom of a virtual non-entity, a lost number, and ultimate profound dependence. Or maybe, like everyone in the Universe, she was just absolutely terrified of deletion, except that she knew enough about it to know that the threat of it was everywhere

Whatever the case, Zado never saw the child again, or rather, like everyone else, she saw the child all the time but grew not to think of her presence too deeply. She went back to sitting in her office or patrolling the trains, worrying about the collapse of Haldorcedom and the future of the Universe that it had spawned, trying to somehow earn a promotion without earning the double-edged antimatter bomb that was the interest of the Director.

Lunarian herself did not forget about Zado. She never forgot anything. She explored and mapped half the Game Over Screen, knew all the routines of the staff and access codes to several of the Staff Only districts, found out information about Game Over policy and law.

She had little else to do – and needed nothing else – until she was twenty-one years old.