“Well…,” Julia grinned down at her 11-year-old son. She found him waiting in the kitchen as soon as she walked in the door. “…what does the birthday boy want for dinner? Are we going out or staying in?” She walked over to the table to hug her son.
“Staying in!” he said. “Pizza’s already on the way, my treat.”
“Your treat? Kiddo, don’t you know how birthdays work yet? I’m supposed to give you something.” The brown-haired boy shook his head; his bowl-cut wobbled with the movement.
“Not this year,” he said with more than a hint of pride. Julia looked at him, then sat down at the table. She intended to go change out of her work clothes first, but it looked like he had something on his mind.
“What makes this year different?” she asked. Eddie smiled brighter than she’d ever seen him smile before; his chest puffed out as he wiggled in his seat. He dug around in his jeans pocket and pulled out a bronze key that Julia didn’t recognize. “This,” Eddie said. He placed the key on the table and slid it toward Julia.
“What’s this?” She lifted it from the table and looked it over. She quickly decided it was someone’s house key.
“Our new house!” Eddie couldn’t contain his excitement anymore as he revealed the secret. “Wanna see it? It has a giant yard!”
“What?” Julia asked. She gently placed the key down on the table as if she were afraid to break it. “What makes you think we have a new house?” she asked.
“Because I bought it!”
“Where did you get the money for a house?”
“I saved it up all year! You said I could get a job and save money.”
“Doing what?” Julia asked; she was completely caught off guard by the confession. “I said you could get a job, I didn’t know you had one. Your grades have been fine in school and you’re always home in the evenings, when do you even work?”
“At night. After dinner, before bed. I steal motorcycles, that’s the best money maker. And I put a crew together so I don’t have to do the work myself,” Eddie said. Julia made several sputtering sounds as she tried to process the fact that her son was apparently building a criminal empire.
“Eddie, honey,… You know stealing is wrong right?” Julia asked. The boy laughed.
“Of course I know that. Stealing is wrong here, but not in the AlterNet,” he replied.
“The Alter.. Net? That game I gave you for your birthday last year?” Eddie nodded. “A game… you’ve been stealing motorcycles in a game!?” Relief flooded Julia. Of course her boy wasn’t a villain. She’d heard some games had real money trading and decided that’s where he got the money for the pizza.
“I’m really good at my crew are too, you’re gonna love them,” Eddie grinned.
“I’m sure I will,” Julia said. In her mind she imagined a group of nerdy kids sitting in front of computer screens. As her mind wandered she spotted the house key again. She’d been so distracted by her budding crime boss that she forgot about the house.
“The house you bought.. is that in the game too?”
“It has to be because I bought it with AlterNet coins. But I picked out a different, safer server. Anyway, they’re here with the pizza,” Eddie said. Before Julia could ask what he meant, a tall black portal appeared in the kitchen. One by one, leather-clad, tattoo-sporting street thugs walked out of the portal. Five in all with the last one carrying three pizza boxes.
“Mom, say hi to Eddie’s Crew,” Eddie said. The group waved timidly at Julia. Julia fainted and fell forward on the table.