“Ross! Ross dear, come get your soup!” came the demure, timid voice of a twenty year old girl from the kitchen. It was Ross’s newest nanny, Miss Emily, and her efforts were in vain. Even if her frail voice wouldn’t be lost in the mammoth expanse of the Bronski residence, which it surely would have between the kitchen and the boy’s personal playroom down the hall, he was only there physically anyway.
Ross’s body may have been sitting on the floor in the middle of the room’s sprawling burgundy plush Berber carpet, but his mind was swimming deep beneath the ocean waves in a virtual reality induced world known as Inky Shadows, designed for kids. His VR helmet looked too heavy for his 4 year old head, and as he bobbed it from side to side to the music it looked like he was struggling to hold it upright.
Where does a baby octopus play
Where no sun or moon will light the way
Come on down and be the who knows
What lies below in Inky Shadows
It was amazing just how much time Ross spent in that virtual world, but it wasn’t entirely surprising. The grey walls and cavernous expanse of his mother Stella’s luxury condo with its disgustingly expensive, cold and sterile decor simply couldn’t compare to the lush colors and cozy nooks of Inky Shadows. Add to that a collection of cute creatures that sing songs and go on adventures and you’ve got the ultimate escape for a lonely boy seeking a connection. And that was certainly Ross.
It was 2104 and four years into parenting, Stella had had about a week’s worth of contact with her son in the last three months. On paper she was an excellent parent. Ross’s every need was swiftly met, just not necessarily directly by her. It wasn’t intentional, but ultimately Stella had only one love in life: her career. She didn’t hate staying home with him for the first year of his life, but the glow of new motherhood soon gave way to the gnawing ambition to get back in the office. It was a great time to be in business if you were in a position of influence, after all. The One World Government became a stronger conglomerate every year, and only those businesses who were savvy enough to take early advantage of lucrative contracts would survive. Stella was not about to be left out in the cold. To be fair, all of her efforts at work were with Ross’s best interests in mind, but none of that mattered down in Inky Shadows.
Heels clacked loudly down the hall as the dutiful nanny brought Ross his lunch of Lil’ Ninja soup made with tiny pasta throwing stars shrouded in darkness by a bean curd miso broth. After she brought him back from his underwater paradise to join her on earth, she knelt next to him and talked while he ate. Emily was the third in what was to be a long list of nannies, and the most talkative thus far. The thing was, she had such a timid voice it was easy to tune her out when she went on a ramble. She was a slight girl with meek, mousy features. Everything about her was as thin as her voice.
After going on for about ten minutes straight about everything from the guy she was dating to the gift she bought her dad for his birthday to OMG you’ll never believe what happened to her sister… there was a momentary lull. Ross looked up at her as though she hadn’t said a word and asked “Miss Emily, are you my friend?” It was the first time Ross ever asked someone this question, but far from the last. In fact, years later he would be faced with this very question in much more dire circumstances. He would find himself in situations where his very life hinged on the answer. But today that answer would come easy. Emily flashed a toothy smile and no sooner than saying “of course” was off on another bout of constant talking.
For his part, Ross’s father Donald was around when he could be. For the first few years of Ross’s life he and Stella’s relationship was at its peak. They saw each other whenever they could escape from work, and the coming of a child reinvigorated their passion in the bedroom. Stella had even abandoned her side pieces for him. For the time being she was content to give herself to Donald alone, helping to cement the belief in her mind that he was actually Ross’s father. This assuaged any residual guilt she would have had for knowing it was possible he was not. That was a dark secret to be kept to herself for many years.