I ended up staying with my mom’s friend Jessica; once she found out mom had died she rushed over to get me. Social services were more than happy to deliver me into her custody – I think they thought it better for me to stay with Jessica instead of some stranger.
Jessica was a wonderful woman, but far from what anyone would have called beautiful. At about five and a half feet tall Jessica weighed at least two hundred and fifty pounds. She had a kind, apple-shaped face, bright red lips, and chocolate coloured eyes and hair. Jessica wore a lot of crimson coloured sweaters and black pants; sometimes I wondered if this was all her wardrobe consisted of. Her husband had died of lung cancer two years ago, leaving her alone with her daughter living in a large, four-bedroom home.
Kimberly, Jessica’s teenage daughter, was the opposite of her mother. Five foot seven and weighing in at a scant ninety pounds, she looked as though she could’ve blown away in a stiff wind. At fourteen Kimberly was still discovering herself – she could be found with black hair and dark eye makeup on Monday and dressed in a poodle skirt on Tuesday. I was astounded by the sheer variety of looks that Kimberly could tease out of her hair, makeup, and wardrobe.
Jessica did what she could to comfort me through the days leading up to my mother’s funeral – she did her best to make me feel at home in strange surroundings. She converted her spare bedroom into a room for me, having all of my things moved from my house to hers. Even paying a small fortune having her Internet connection upgraded to handle the massive bandwidth requirement of my Star Commander interface.
No matter what she had done for me, living with Jessica was always destined to fail. Jessica was a constant reminder of how empty my life was now that my mother was gone. She tried her best to make me feel like I belonged in her home, but I was horrified of becoming attached to her. I felt that by making a connection with Jessica I would somehow be betraying my mother’s love. I pushed her away by letting my obsession with Star Commander consume my life. What was once a hobby had become an unhealthy addiction – taking every spare moment of my day to satisfy.
Star Commander was – and remains – the first and only game of its kind; with the advent of total virtual reality, VR, in 2048 game developers were able to reach new heights in the development of their virtual worlds. It was not so much a game as it was a complete alternate universe populated by angst-filled teenagers, loners, and that element of the academic elite that always obsesses themselves with any new and shiny tech.
The game world exists as an exact copy of our universe. The only difference being that FTL – faster than light – travel is both possible and commonplace. There is no ‘point’ to the game beyond the collection, production, and protection of resources. Many people would spend upward of eight hours a day in the game world – flying their spaceships from star system to star system monitoring and maintaining their colonies.
I mentioned earlier that my father had left, but his leaving bears some further explanation – my dad didn’t exactly move back to Africa. During the crash of 2025 Elon Musk had offered to bail out the world’s economy in exchange for total and complete control of Mars. The UN was desperate, the economy was in total free-fall. Millions of Americans, Europeans, and Asians were starving to death. They were forced to agree to Musk’s terms: Musk would continue injecting his vast fortune into the world’s economy – keeping it afloat – until 2050. In exchange, the UN would cede perpetual control of the entire planet of Mars to Musk’s company, SPACE X. By 2045 SPACE X had established a colony of 80,000 people on the surface of Mars. My father was one of the colonists, he decided to join SPACE X in 2050 and departed on the 348th flight to leave the Earth.
I would talk with him on my birthday and over Christmas; we were never very close so I didn’t exactly miss his physical presence. My parents remained married so that my mom could collect my dad’s salary; SPACE X paid a fortune and my dad didn’t need any money while living on Mars. In essence, my dad was able to continue to provide for us as a family while not being anywhere near us. It was a win-win situation for everyone involved. My father could pursue his chosen science without having to feel guilty about his family. My mom could dedicate herself to me.
On the day of my mother’s funeral, I had been up all night playing Star Commander. Jessica had just placed my breakfast outside the door of my interface when the chime of an incoming message startled me. It was rare for me to receive out of game messages. I called up the phone program on one of the monitors in the shuttle I was flying. I was surprised to see my father’s face.
My dad was a powerful man. He stood about 6’4’’, a perfect example of his South African decent – shining white teeth, blue eyes, and blond hair. He was the kind of man that most women – and some men – would go out of their way to meet.
I was glad that I looked more like my South African father than my Scottish mother. I was quickly maturing into a small, slightly darker, version of my dad.
“Hey, Ryan. How are you?” My dad is notoriously unpredictable. I could tell something wasn’t right — a childhood spent predicting his emotional outbursts had made me a professional at reading his emotions. My mother and I would avoid spending much time with him, his unpredictable nature was too much for either of us to handle. He was usually absorbed in his work, but the time he did spend at home with us had helped me develop an acute understanding of his emotional particularities. An undefinable quirk in his bearing that day made me feel he was about to have another of his outbursts.
Something inside me broke for the hundredth time since mom had died. I started to cry. “It’s mom’s funeral today. I miss her so much.” Maybe I was trying to distract him, maybe I was upset that he hadn’t called much since she’d died. I don’t know – all I know is that the feeling of his impending outburst disappeared.
“Ryan, it’s going to be okay. I have a plan.” My dad’s attempt at a comforting smile was disturbing – he looked like a caricature of someone who cared. “You’re going to come and live with me on Mars.”
“What?” I was too startled to react appropriately. “How?”
“I’ve received special permission for you to come join…”
I interrupted him, sobbing: “I don’t want to move to Mars. Why didn’t you ask me first?” I was wavering on the verge of hysterics.
The trip to Mars was no small undertaking. While space faring technology had become quite advanced and the trip was no longer as dangerous as it once was. It was still a long 260-day slog through the solar system. Not to mention the legal difficulty of getting SPACE X’s permission to return to earth – everyone knew that a trip to Mars was essentially one-way.
“I have everything arranged…”
“Does no one care what I think about this? This is my life we’re talking about! I’m not a trade-ship that everyone can pass around from one buyer to another! Why did mom have to die? Why is this happening? What did I do to deserve this?” I burst out of my interface and into my bedroom. Falling face first on the bed, I broke down completely.
The call from my father auto-transferred onto the screen above my bed. “Ryan!” He shouted, finally losing his feigned self-control. “I don’t have time for this. You’re coming to Mars. There is no further discussion required on this matter. You have been booked for the next transfer, end of discussion.” The chime of my father hanging up the call didn’t surprise me – he was the kind of man that had a hard time dealing with dissent. Once he made up his mind, there was no arguing with him. He must’ve felt quite bad to even bother with the pretense of sympathy; it simply wasn’t in his nature.
Jessica, having listened to the call, came back into my room and sat down beside me on the bed. “I will fight him Ryan. I can assume your guardianship and you can stay.” She rubbed my back.
“What’s the point?” I asked. Wiping the tears from my face and rolling over toward her. My voice dripping with bitter venom, I said: “It makes no difference, here or there. At least there I can find somewhere no one will bug me.”
Jessica was obviously hurt. “Wait, Ryan,” she called after me as I hurled myself out of the bed, rushed down the stairs, out the door, and into the street. I needed to be away from everyone. I needed to think.
I ran to the end of the block, turned left toward the ravine, and ran until I was sure that no one was following. I stopped when I reached the river – everyone called it a river, but it was a bare trickle of water dribbling over the rocky floor of the ravine. I sat down on a fallen tree by the bank and, with my head in my hands, wept. I wept all the tears that had been building up since the day Mr. Zook pulled me from my classroom. I wept at the loss of everything that could’ve been, everything that should’ve been. Without my mother I was alone, well and truly alone.
When it was done. When there were no more tears left to cry, I stood up and prepared for the rest of my life. From now on I would depend on myself. Jessica was a wonderful woman, but she could never replace my mother – I wasn’t going to live my life pretending that everything was okay. Mars would give me the freedom I’ve always desired; freedom from people. With my mother gone there was no one left for me – at least my dad would leave me alone. It was better to leave now than let Jessica fight a battle against my father. I didn’t want to stay.