Alison sat in the living room, playing with the Virtua-Pet™ that Uncle John had gotten for her birthday. The little dragon sat on her knee looking up with its dark red eyes, waiting for her command. It let out an impatient whine, eager to search for the ball she had thrown.
“Go get it, Ryumyo!”
With a high-pitched roar of excitement, the tiny construct leapt into the air, its tiny wings blurring into motion. The little red dragon flitted from corner to corner, poking its head into every nook and crevice, making growling noises seemingly at random. Alison doubted that real dragons played fetch, but Ryumyo’s programming seemed to gravitate to the game, and he was so cute when he found the ball.
Alison didn’t notice the drone fly into the bedroom, but her little brother’s scream of fear soon grabbed her attention. Her father stomped out of the room holding the dragon by its tail, the little toy trying to twist around to bite his hand.
“Ali, I’ve told you a dozen times to keep this thing away from Jacob! Now we’re going to have to get him settled all over again!”
Tears welled up in the little girl’s eyes. “Sorry, Daddy. I was just playing fetch with him.”
Terrence sighed heavily and dropped the dragon on the sofa, bending over to kiss her on the head. “It’s alright, sweetie. Just play with him out here, ok?” He strode back into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Jacob’s wailing continued, only slightly muffled by the barrier.
Ryumyo looked at her expectantly, but Alison didn’t feel like playing anymore. “Go to sleep”, she told the little construct, and the toy curled up into a ball, shutting down. Alison followed suit, pulling her knees up onto the couch and wrapping her arms around her legs.
She was tired of staying in Uncle John’s house, especially now that K-Bunny wasn’t around to keep her promise to take Alison into the Matrix. She didn’t have any of her toys, couldn’t see her friends, couldn’t even go outside to play. She buried her face in her knees as tears began to roll down her cheeks.
“Now, now. What could possibly make my little empress so upset?”, asked a familiar voice.
“Uncle Nicky!”, said Alison as she looked up, choking on the tears. She paused when she saw the ghostly form of her father’s friend, floating in the middle of the room. “How are you doing that? Are…are you a ghost?”
The astral manifestation laughed, “No, my dear. It’s only magic. I’m just outside and wanted to surprise all of you. I’ve been searching for weeks, ever since I missed your birthday. I felt so bad that I wanted to give you a special surprise. But I couldn’t do that until one of my spirit friends finally found you a few days ago. Where are your mother and father?”
Alison glanced toward the bedroom door. “They’re putting Jacob to bed. Do you want me to get them?”
The apparition shook his head. “That would spoil the fun. I’m just waiting outside. Why don’t you come open the door and we’ll find them together. I’m going to take you on a little trip and they’ll be so surprised…”