Salix’s mouth hung open. The boy stared aghast at the empty shell of what had been his home. He was going to be in so much trouble when his mother got home. She’d told him on numerous occasions that she’d brought him into this world and could just as easily take him out. Today might be that day.

They lived in a home typical of those built in the last couple decades, and now the bones were exposed to Salix for the first time. It was a large one-story square with a unifying domed ceiling. The only interior walls—physical ones—enclosed the bathroom in one corner. These walls were still required for sanitation, but only because the laws were outdated; the house’s virtual walls could handle contaminants as well as they handled sound and light.

The rest of the space was entirely empty. The other rooms, the furniture, all of their possessions: gone.

It was an accident, but he would be in big trouble anyway. Accident or not, he’d been horseplaying, running through the virtual walls like a ghost. The walls exerted a realistic impression of resistance, but with persistence he’d figured out how to slip through. This was the first time he’d been left home alone—just while his mother ran to the corner store—and he’d used the opportunity to run through the walls like a maniac. It had been great fun, but the system must have overloaded, and all at once the virtuals all shut down. It hadn’t even tumbled about in a voxel avalanche. It all just blinked away.

Salix’s mother walked through the front door and he nearly peed his pants. She took one look around and inhaled deeply, but Salix cut her off before she could speak. “It was an accident! I don’t know what happened. It just turned off for no reason. I’m sorry!” His eyes burned with salty tears.

His mother raised one eyebrow. “It was an accident, or you don’t know what happened? Which is it?” Her tone was more playful than harsh. She cracked a smile, and like magic the home repopulated itself with walls and art and toys. “Did you think it was all gone forever?”

Salix wiped his eyes and nodded. His lower lip quivered.

“You just have to load the last savestate. But don’t play around in the walls anymore! Now give your mother a hug and help with these bags.”

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