Eleven years ago, this month, a boy of seven years found Geneforge while going through a list of games being distributed by WildTangent's Gateway Games. He spend a few hours on it, walked off the Crumbling Docks, got bored, and moved on to something else.
Years passed. The boy turned twelve, and entered the seventh grade. Life was calm; there were friends, adventures, books to read and things to learn. He met a girl named Dorothea - barely. Time passed as it did in small towns in California: somehow rapidly while never really moving at all.
The boy's parents pulled him from school in December of that year. They packed away the family library of seven thousand books and two dozen classical symphonies on cassette. They dismantled his bed and folded away his clothes. There were tears. "Where are we going?" he asked. No one answered, being too busy taping a young lifetime of memories into boxes.
The family relocated to Paniqui, Tarlac, a trade hub at the crossroads between farming towns in the provincial Philippines. The boy's grandfather was in poor health and needed someone to see to him. The boy's mother spend her days tending to the house and her father. The boy's father quietly disappeared, leaving nothing behind but a few silent, private tears from those he abandoned.
The boy grew up very quickly in the vacuum his father left. He learned his way about the rice fields and the muddy market streets and the hammer-and-nails construction sites. He tin-roofed houses for a day's pay and helped sell the fruit from his grandfather's small orchard. Through it all, he kept one personal treasure: a 4GB pocket drive with nothing on it.
A friend of his mother's owned a place with computers, and charged 10 peso an hour for their use. Half because he was a friend. One day, he passed a 100 peso bill over the counter and said "I'll be here for a while." They smiled at him, understanding. The boy sat down at a computer and remembered how a keyboard worked. He breathed deeply and closed his eyes, trying to remember a time before every day was working with his head down and there were no dreams.
The memory came to him silently, without commotion, of a quiet, crumbling dock and the need to find the truth of a story. Furtively, the boy found the game and stole it away to his pocket drive. He reopened the story he had abandoned, and disappeared into it.
Years passed, again, as they do, and have, and will. The boy integrated into work, church, and town. When no one needed him, he slipped off to be alone with the story he had stolen. He met Ellrah, and then visited his tomb. He spoke with Khyryk, then Moseh, then Astoria. His grandfather remarried, and proudly claimed not to need a hand about the house anymore. His parents met again and reconciled their disputes, agreeing to relocate back to California.
It was four years ago. The boy registered himself with the local school district and showed up for the first day of the tenth grade. The weeks that followed were a series of nasty shocks. He was surrounded by children who laughed at each other and themselves, who had never worked a day, who had never feared the inevitability of the next day's hunger. They invited him to "be himself," while themselves not holding a single conception of what being an active part of the world was. He spent his days in class and his nights remembering two years of struggle, beginning to wonder if any of it had been real.
Senior year of high school began. He was invited, exhorted to apply to colleges. A shy individual named Thea tugged at his memory from the back of the English classroom, but he couldn't place them, quite. He sank deep into himself, hating his classmates. They were soft hands and dreaming eyes, hopeful voices that rung with bright pride as they spoke of how they could change the world. The boy knew better. They boy had known the world and fought it and he knew it would not change.
The summer after high school. The boy came of age and took a new name as a young woman. River, she called herself. Thea went to a small college in New England. River's other friends scattered to schools throughout California. River got a quiet job in a restaurant. She passed the time at work putting stories together in her head, remembering sometimes how she had kept her family safe, but remembering more often the game she had played, and how in it she had fought for a truth that the world tried to hide from her.
August 2015. Thea called. Called in the middle of the workday. River stepped out back to take it, drying her hands hastily on a towel. "I need you," they said. "I think I've always needed you."
What story follows can probably be guessed. River spent half a year saving what she could. She told her father she'd be moving out, chasing a dream to Massachusetts. "Is this about a girl?" Father asked. "Yes," she said, looking him in the eye, holding her fear at bay. He grinned and nodded proudly. "Don't f*ck this up, son," he said. She told her mother she'd be moving out, chasing a dream to Massachusetts. "All right," Mother said. "Don't let anyone get in your way. You know how to fight."
River is a few weeks away from moving. Everything is fear of the unknown, fear like a familiar blanket that has been missing since last she brought home dinner for a small, broken family. And this morning, she remembered something for perhaps the last time. She remembered the time she spent chasing hidden truths, buried within the sterile corridors of Shaping halls, hidden behind self-sealing blast doors.
And then she waved to the forums, and told them her story, in the hopes that someone would understand. She breathed deeply and waited for a reply.
-- In a word, my thanks to Spiderweb. For giving me the tail end of a childhood that would otherwise have been cut short. For giving me stories to tell myself while I stumbled through classes, bleary from getting up at six to catch the bus to classes that everyone else got up at seven-thirty for. For giving me Greta and Miranda, Litalia and Ghaldring, as archetypes. For teaching me the basics of ethics. For everything.