Chapter 6

"Can you not be here virtually?" Ava couldn't make eye contact with the digital projection—she wasn't sure she could with a real, live person either, but it was such a stark reminder.

"I can't," Maggie admitted. "But I can get another crisis responder who hasn't uploaded yet to come over. It'll take a few minutes. Can I sit with you until then?"

Decisions were hard. "I guess."

Magnolia sat—settled her virtual projection in at Ava's eye level and above the couch—and looked around the apartment. Her eyes fell on a familiar artwork.

"Wow, is that a vintage Raid Invader poster?"

Ava shifted a little. After a long moment, she nodded. "Yeah. Was my granddad's. It was the preorder promo for the very first game."

"That's awesome. You excited about the new series they're making? Purnadi Hassan is going to be the perfect Durandal!"

"The Thrilladrome arcade's sponsoring a watch party for it after we're all…" She didn't add "in the CloudArk."

There was a sigh and another silence.

Minutes ticked by.

Ava took a deep breath. "It's just scary, you know?"

"It is." Maggie nodded.

"The whole world is going to end, and we're going to hide online."

"It's not on you to save the world." Maggie placed a digital hand on Ava's. The charge particles tingled her skin.

"But the world's going to end. Why can't I just choose to go a little sooner?"

Maggie shrugged. "Because then you'd miss a great Raid Invader series."

"Holding out to watch a new show? That's so…" Ava shook her head. "Dumb."

"So what? Life's dumb." Maggie waved around with the vague suggestion of everything. "It's okay to coast. If you'd get lost without little steppingstones of happiness, then use the stones."

Ava cautioned a look at her virtual companion. "And if you're good," Maggie assured her, "you can save the world next week."