"Well, here you go." said the award presenter. by Charles Gillingham "How long has Dylan been in there?" Lloyd asked. "Since yesterday morning." Julie answered. "Yesterday morning?" Lloyd puzzled for a second over how anyone could possible do that. More than twenty four hours. Did he sleep in there? Where did he relieve himself? With how beautiful and amazing the world was, how could anyone do that? Dylan had been in the Simulator for longer stretches than that. One time he had been in there for three days. Fortunately that was over a winter break. Lloyd had learned to ignore it. He used to delude himself that Dylan was doing something educational, or at least interesting, in there, but by now he had given up on that fantasy. That hadn't been true for many a year. A wave of blasting heat welcomed him as the door slid open. He already knew what he would find inside, long before the smell of brimstone hit him. The last time he had been inside this program, it had singed off his eye brows. The safety protocols had been doubled right then and there. Sitting on a throne made of skulls, gaudily lit by burning lost souls, was President Gaines. He wear a red suit, and two two foot long horns grew out of his head, poking through one of those repulsive MUSWA hats, dull blue in contrast to everything else. Lloyd did all he could not to laugh, but his efforts weren't enough. "I can't believe my son, or anyone for that matter, would want to meet you in person." "Frankly, I don't know why people like you are allowed in my throne room. Bad people, the worst people. I tell you, I haven't met people as bad as you before, very bad people." Gaines said, waving his arms around like he does. "Because of how much your money protects you, I, a regular patriotic citizen of this country, will never be able to say this to you in person. But maybe if I say it here, maybe the universe will somehow get it to you. You're everything that's wrong with the world. You've earned nothing. You stole that last election. But we won't let you steal this next one." Lloyd left the Simulator angry, holding back screams, the sneering face of President Gaines floating in his mind. How could Dylan stand being in the same Simulator as that monster? The real Devil would have been better. It was Julie's idea to have the Simulator installed. And it was a great idea, at first. It was top of the line, ten years ago, only the best for his dear little boy! Lloyd and Dylan canoed down the Amazon quite a few times. Gotten most of the way up Mount Everest. And one time even visited the Moon! Dylan would always want to play out whatever book he was read, from some of his favorite authors, usually science fiction authors, like Robert A. Heinlein or Ray Bradbury. Lloyd would always try to point Dylan towards educational or historic programs, but no matter where they went Dylan would become focused on the same thing. Some little thing would scurry too close, and Dylan would grab it and start to squeeze. Squeeze till it couldn't breath, squeeze till it turned blue and then black. After the first time, Lloyd programmed the Simulator to automatically dissolve the critter. Dylan would cry and pull enough of a fit that that was a good enough excuse to leave the Simulator. After a few times of that, Dylan would stop grabbing little things. But that didn't last long. A few months later, he would be back to it, Julie came around the corner with the telephone receiver in her hand, the cord half wrapped around her arm. "It's the school. His counselor said that Dylan has missed the last two weeks of school." "What!" Lloyd snatched the receiver from his wife's hand "Hello. Yes, this is Mr. Uppendahl. What is this about my son Dylan missing school?" "Oh yes sir, hello, I'm Mr. Darrow." Said Mr. Darrow "Not only has your son Dylan missed the last two weeks of school, but before then we had many reports from other students of his antisocial behavior. He's been telling other students how important the 2nd Amendment is, and how he will defend it if need be. Usually any support of Gaines, either open or suspected, warrants a call home, but I thought I could give your son Dylan a chance to recover on his own. I would have asked for your permission to send him to tolerance classes, of course." "Well thank you." Lloyd said "This is all a big shock to me. I know that my son Dylan has missed a few days, here and there, but not that much. He conjures up Gaines quite often in our Simulator, I held out hope that it was only as a villain for the current program. I'm such a fool. This is all my fault." "Don't blame yourself, sir," Mr. Darrow said "it's been proven over and over just how much Canada has clandestinely influenced our country. Why, just yesterday, I was posing as a younger boy, middle school aged, in an online forum. When someone, obviously posing as a few people, started talking to me about maple syrup. That's their method, to flush out other shills. Well pretty soon they were talking about how often moose attacks can become fatal, and how important guns rights are. You can imagine how quickly that line of thought led to much more radicalizing ideas. If that wasn't radicalizing enough already!" "Oh wow that must have been terrible." Lloyd said. "Very much so, but it was a learning opportunity. I feel that every time I encounter one of those people, I get closer to discovering a way to combat the radicalization. In fact that's why I'm calling you right now. I would like to visit your home, I would like talk to your son Dylan. I'm confident I can bring him about to the right side of history." The minutes waiting for Mr. Darrow were painful. Lloyd knew a lot more than just his son's fate was on the line. The fate of the whole world exists in all of us. What if Dylan couldn't be saved? Was that even possible? A knock at the door. The robot maid went to answer it. His clanking wheels roared in the pregnant silence. Mr. Darrow entered the home solemnly, taking care in taking off his rain trenched overcoat. "Remember how bad it smelt before self-driving electric cars?" A common greeting when first entering a new home, but a truism never the less. He wasted no time: "Where is Dylan?" The doors of the Simulator slide open, to a prefect facsimile of Mr. Darrow's office. A cassette tape recorder was slowly spinning on the top of his desk. "I don't remember leaving that running..." "No matter how realistic this might seem, it's not real, we're still in the Simulator. It might be detailed, but it's no where near as detailed as it might be if we were using a newer model Simulator. These old models can make light and heat, and a few solid objects, but that's about it." Lloyd reminded them. "This is realistic enough for me." Julie said. "Well, we had better go looking for," Mr. Darrow was interrupted by several loud explosions, followed by cluttered screaming. In order to investigate, the group bust out the door of Mr. Darrow's office. They found a deserted hallway, with blowing heaps of papers and long streaking stains on the floor. Blood. Reaching long down the hall, as far as they could see. More explosions. "That was from the direction of the library. Hurry!" Mr. Darrow informed they. When they reached the library doors, they found them difficult to open. All three pushed as hard as they could, finally they managed to get it open, only to discover a body was holding them shut. More screams. More explosions. Blood everywhere, dripping for tables and books, computer monitors and the card catalog. Out in the center of the library, in the middle of half a dozen over turned tables, was Dylan, laughing and swinging around a massive HKB 4045 assault rifle, sending bullets at random places and people in the room. "That's impossible, guns have been illegal for ten years. There is absolutely no way Dylan could have acquired one. This must be a projection of the Simulator." Mr. Darrow said. Lloyd look right into Mr. Darrow's eyes. "No, this simulator isn't advanced enough to make something like that. Any solid object created in here could only move so fast. I've thrown rocks so fast they dematerialized." Mr. Darrow could barely finish his nod when his head burst into a million pieces. His head detonated, much like the IEDs used by defenders of those nations that have had to withstand the imperialism of America, America has no right to interfere in the affairs of other countries, sovereign nations that are entitled to make their own destiny, besides America doesn't understand or respect those cultures, they shouldn't be trying to change those people's way of life, and every US soldier that dies over there deserves it because they are monsters. Deafened by the shoot, Lloyd could still hear Julie screaming behind him. He grabbed her by the arm, and launched both of them behind a near by book shelf. A spray of bullets followed them. As they dove down, bullets caused an entire row of books to fall, a cascade of novels and almanacs starting at one side and moving to the other. One particularly heavy volume caught Julie on the back of her head. She was out cold. Lloyd tried waking her, but couldn't, though she was still breathing. Dylan came around the corner, standing at the end of the aisle. He raised his gun and leveled it at Lloyd. "No son, noooooo. I know this isn't you. Gaines caused this. You were my prefect little boy. My son. You couldn't do this. You wouldn't do this. That monster did it. I'm glad I got you this Simulator. Maybe it could have taught you how to avoid this. I love you son. I hate Gaines. Why did he have to do this? Son, don't do this. We can hide what happened to Mr. Darrow. There is still hope for you. There is always hope. For everyone." Dylan just looked at him, with a small little smirk. "MAKE UNITED STATES WORK AGAIN!" he screamed, before he pulled the trigger. It was too late to save Dylan, but is it too late to save us? John clapped, a wild applause that he sustained til his hands hurt. He loved it. He couldn't write that good, that brilliantly. It was sure to win at the Vernes. Even better, it will change the world, make this planet a lot better to live on. "This is sure to win at the Vernes. Better, it will change the world, make this planet a little better to live on." John actually said this out loud. He was laughing and crying tears of joy as he left the Simulator. This was it, his big break. He was so glad that he asked the Simulator to write him a story that would win him a Verne. He walked over to the wall mounted printer, and gleefully asked for this story to be printed out. He would collate and mail it out right away, the prize deadline was just a week off. Express air mail would certainly be quick enough to get it there. He could already feel the pats on his back, and the cool cannon-shaped metal of the Verne cradled in his arms.