Sasha’s Pattern, Sonia’s Edge

 In Short Fiction, Stories

I couldn’t shake an image from last night’s dream: Sasha, my younger sister, standing near a candy jar, arms down at her sides while she stared at me with eyes as round as the candies. No sweetness in her gaze, though. Then she opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue. Upon it was a puzzle piece.

I suppressed a shiver and squirmed on the stiff, dark sofa of Kihura Tech’s main lobby. Maybe today’s meeting, a rare new business opportunity, would distract me from attempting to find meaning in the image. I’d learned long ago the futility of dream analysis, but still, it was hard for the mind not to wander into that maze of funhouse mirrors.

I looked around for a suitable diversion. Everything in Kihura Tech’s world headquarters looked shiny and untouchable, from the receptionist’s curved, polished desk to the potted plants’ waxy leaves. Not to mention this hard sofa. Why would this company concern itself with the haptic tech industry and our quest to mimic physical sensations in virtual and augmented worlds? Maybe they craved artificial texture over the real thing here. I sure hoped so, so they’d partner with my company.

I was reaching toward one of the plants to feel if it was real when the vice president of Emerging Technologies stepped out of an elevator. I retracted my arm.

“Ms. Siguenza?” he asked.

I rose and extended my hand. “Please, call me Sonia.”

He shook it. “And please, call me Ben.”

We rode the elevator up and navigated the corridor of cubicles to his office. His wood desk featured wavy designs like puzzle pieces. I squirmed again. He shut the door behind us and motioned me to a guest chair.

“Let me give you a little background about what we hope to do, Sasha.”

That name, the one I heard so often, grated on me. “Actually, it’s Sonia.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Sasha’s your sister, right? That must happen all the time.”

“Yes.” Well, it happened all the time, especially with her working in the same industry, but I wouldn’t say that it must.

He called me Ms. Siguenza for the rest of the meeting. Tactful, yes, but it also spoke volumes about his business approach. He avoided messing up my name again or asking me for a simple reminder; he propped up the formality between us as though it were etiquette rather than a safety net. He continued in generalities about development timelines and trials, referring to Kihura Tech’s stance against brain intrusion only in the vaguest terms. It made me question their commitment to it.

He reminded me of those lobby plants, waxy regardless of whether real or fake. But this time I felt no desire to prod for which one he was. I needed clients who didn’t shy away from uncomfortable information. Comfort with a certain level of discomfort befitted a partner in my line of work, just as it afforded our users a more realistic VR experience.

I cut him off by standing and extending my hand. I used his first name as requested, even though he’d denied me the same courtesy. “Ben, I’m afraid we can’t see eye to eye.”

He blinked at my hand in bewilderment. Slowly, still processing my words, he stood and shook it.

“It was very nice to have met you,” I said.

“Nice to meet you too,” he replied. Whichever one of the Siguenza sisters he thought he’d met. As I reached for the door, he said, “Just like that? I’d heard you were a straight shooter, but—”

I turned with a regretful yet firm smile. “Times are tough in my line of work, too.” With brain intrusion looming, would Raj, my employer, still be around in a few years? “Still, much as we’d love a new contract in the short term, there’s no point running toward a dead-end.”

Ben followed me back to the elevator, took me down to the lobby, and held the elevator door open for me. As soon as I passed through, he mashed the button and didn’t bother with a goodbye as the door slid closed. The receptionist stared as I trekked across the glossy floor and out through the glass doors. Farewell, Kihura Tech.

I predicted that within the week Ben would have his assistant call Sasha to see if she was as picky about her clients as I was. And Sasha would string him along, maybe even take the job and end up running herself deeper into the hole by producing haptic tech for a company so late to the VR space and too stodgy to have a chance. I tried to feel gratitude that at least he’d come to me first. Though, I suspected he’d thought he had the other Siguenza sister from the beginning.

*

Raj shook his head from my office doorway. “Kihura’s lost?”

“A lost cause,” I muttered as rain pelted the windows. I glanced out at the skyline, a blurry smear of skyscrapers topped with wind turbines.

Raj raised his voice to be heard over the downpour drumming on the glass. “Sonia, you’re killing me. I didn’t hire you to burn bridges.”

“You hired me to create a market where one doesn’t exist yet.”

He ducked his head side to side, as though only partially agreeing. “To build bridges, yes?”

I fiddled with a paperclip.

“It’s just a matter of time before everyone starts penetrating the brain,” he said. “Maybe we should consider it.”

“No way. You promised when you hired me. Besides, Sasha’s company’s holding out too.”

“Kihura Tech shares our same philosophy about wetware, and we won’t find anyone bigger who does.”

“They lack vision. They’d probably be content being an also-ran in the gaming space. We need to be so much more than that. We’re talking security implications, the travel industry …”

He stepped in and gestured, one hand chopping the palm of the other. “Kihura Tech has resources we can only dream of.”

I’d had enough of dreams lately.

He pushed on. “We provide the technology, they build up the market. Try to stay focused. Maybe we can still save this one.”

“He’s probably talking to Sasha as we speak. Besides, I’m not placing the next generation of interactive gaming technology into the hands of a company that wouldn’t accept an electronic signature for my NDA.” Who required paper non-disclosure agreements anymore?

His gaze fell. “They’re trying to rebrand, but some areas are taking longer than others.”

“And in desperation, they turned to us.” No, they turned to Ms. Siguenza; either one would probably do. I tossed the paperclip back on my desk.

“Let’s regroup on this after the holiday.” Raj folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe. “I like this American Thanksgiving concept. I’ve never been into turkey, though. I think I’ll make a chicken. What’re you doing for Thanksgiving?”

“Going to my parents’ place. Stuff my face with green bean casserole and probably fight with my sister over a board game or something.”

“Like, a physical board game?”

“Yeah. We’ve always been really into those.”

He laughed.

“I know, I know,” I said. “You’d think we grew up just on video games. Nope. We weren’t interested. Well, until college.”

His mouth hung open.

I spread my hands innocently. “It’s true. Growing up, our hallway closet was this treasure trove of Chinese checkers, mancala, you name it.” I leaned onto my elbows. “Every Christmas we’d do a jigsaw puzzle. We’d always start with the perimeter, of course, and there was this mad rush to see who could find the corner pieces first. My sister would always take one puzzle piece when no one was around and hide it in her room to make sure she had the last one.” 

Over the years I’d noticed she always picked from the least distinctive pattern, like a stretch of cloudless sky, which she knew we’d work on last. She’d probably been scouting her options while I was busy rooting around for edge pieces.

“So why didn’t you start hiding one too?” 

I gazed out through the rain at the river below. “Putting in the final piece meant more to her.” High up as our offices were, neighboring buildings towered over this one. I scanned the higher windows across from us, suddenly bothered by the thought of others looking down on me. I hated to admit it, but getting called Sasha the other day had probably heightened my competitiveness.

“That must be why you went into this business,” Raj said. “No hiding the pieces to cheat.”

“People find other ways to cheat. They make an art form of it.”

“And we give them the science behind the art.”

“All the more reason to keep the tech out of our brains.”

I thought of the cute indentations in my fingertips from certain game pieces after I moved them across a board. And Sasha’s laughter as I clumsily shuffled cards. I wanted to be at the forefront of the science bringing those details to the virtual gaming world, and not just to beat out industry rivals. I wanted to give people the opportunity for unique, imperfect gameplay with those they couldn’t be physically near, interaction that wasn’t as predetermined as most electronic games thus far. The potential applications extended well beyond gaming, but first, how to evade the ethical mess of brain intrusion?

*

I beat Sasha to our parents’ house for once. Mom and Dad were scurrying between the kitchen and the dining room table with hot dishes and sharp utensils when she knocked, so I opened the door. She and I were young enough for the appearance of crow’s feet around her eyes to alarm me, if just for an instant. Had they been there last Thanksgiving? I cracked a smile at her earrings, little plastic turkey legs.

She stepped inside and pointed at my plastic pendant, a slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream. “Nice.”

“I wore it last year.”

“I know.” She unwound her scarf and dropped it by the mess of shoes. “I complimented it then, too.”

“Did it inspire you to get those?” I pointed at her earrings.

“Maybe.”

As the four of us gorged on turkey, green bean casserole, and deviled eggs, we talked about our favorite movies this year, upcoming vacations, anything but work. After the feast, Sasha and I sat drinking mugs of hot apple cider on the living room couch while Mom boxed up leftover turkey for each of us.

“What should we play this year?” Sasha asked.

I stretched my arms, careful not to spill my drink. “Let’s not get into it for once. Let’s just—veg.” Be together without competition looming over us like a giant card castle, if possible.

“I get it, you’re sick of coming in second.” Her eyes glinted. “It’s okay. We can play something easy. How about Candy Land? No strategy involved.”

I snorted. “I used to let you win at that when we were little. Mom and Dad told me not to, but …” I shrugged.

She scoffed. “You think I care about Candy Land?”

“Also chess, as we got older.”

That one seemed to be too much. Her mouth tightened, and she threw her free hand up, mug shaking precariously in the other one. “Who lets someone win at chess?”

“But it’s been years since I—”

Her eyes turned cold. “Well, you must have really enjoyed having your little laugh at me back then, but guess who’s laughing now? With this Kihura Tech contract—”

“Kihura Tech? They came to me first. I practically tied a shiny red bow on top of them for you. I’m surprised my name didn’t come up at your meetings.” Ben had probably called her Ms. Siguenza the whole time.

She bristled. False victories at chess were one thing, but now I’d given her an occupational hand-me-down. “You’ve got a problem with my project?” she said, voice dangerously low.

I should have backed off, but I pressed on, as sisters do. After all, she’d followed me into the industry. After throwing myself into a world of unfamiliar tech and playing years of catch up against the lifelong gamers, she’d chosen to tag along.

“Let me put it this way. That bird”—I pointed at the containers of leftovers—“isn’t the only turkey I can think of right now.”

She slammed her mug onto her coaster, sloshing apple cider over the glass coffee table. “Thanks for everything, Mom,” she called, glaring at me, “but I’ve got to run. Lots of work, you know. Prototypes don’t test themselves.”

I pointed at her spill. “Aren’t you going to clean that up first?”

“I’m sure you can think of a better way to do it than I ever could.” With that, she stormed to the front door, jammed her shoes on, and didn’t bother looping her scarf. It dangled from her hand as she left.

Mom emerged from the kitchen, frowning at me with a half-dried plate in one hand and a dish towel in the other. “What did you say to her?”

“I was just trying to warn her that her latest job’s a dud.” I took the dish towel from Mom so I could clean up Sasha’s mess.

Mom said nothing, awaiting further explanation.

“I’m just looking out for her,” I said. “I know the industry better than she does. She got all defensive about it. What do you want me to do?”

“Grow up.”

I rolled my eyes and busied myself with the spill. “You’re telling me to grow up? I’m being the responsible one here.” I gestured at the coffee table.

“It’s more than that, Sonia. I don’t care how smart you two are or how well your careers are going, you both need to stop acting like toddlers.” She took a deep breath. “Actually, I do care, honey. I’m really proud of you both, you know I am. I just wish you could learn to be proud of each other.”

I grunted. After I finished cleaning the coffee table, I helped Mom dry the rest of the dishes.

“So, have you fixed the motion sickness yet?” she asked. “I’d like my friends and me to be able to enjoy those games you work so hard on.”

“I wish I could say yes, but it’s hard to pinpoint why VR affects older women differently than most.”

She nodded patiently as she wiped a pan lid. “Maybe if you girls worked together on it—”

“Not gonna happen, Mom.”

“Well, just make sure you don’t shut us out as customers. I’d like to be able to dance as well as I did when I was younger. And lift heavy things, even if they’re not really there.”

I shook droplets off a ladle. “You realize the tech I work on would make them feel heavy, right?”

“I don’t see how it’s possible, but I believe you.”

“Yes! That’s kind of how it works.” I turned to her and gestured with the ladle in excitement. Someone like Ben would’ve allowed the details to intimidate him, but not Mom. “See, your brain is going along with something where you lack full information. It’s filling in the blanks about my technology, right? Normally our brains can suppress stimuli that can’t be true and therefore aren’t helpful …”

“Sonia, please—”

I pushed on. “But with the right sound and optics in VR, our brains help fill in certain sensations. Like if there’s a virtual wall between you and another player, and your virtual hand touches it, my tech gives just a tiny bit of feedback. A slight recoil. Your brain turns it into a big sensation, and suddenly it feels very wrong to try to put your hand through that barrier.”

She grinned at me. “Even though it’s not really there, and never was.”

I smiled back with the joy of being understood, no competition required. But after a moment, her comment sank in. Or maybe it was more her expression. Had I secretly wished for Sasha to take the doomed Kihura Tech job? Guilt pressed into my stomach like an oversized marble.

*

The next week, Raj caught me reading an interview with Sasha about the Kihura Tech job.

“Looks like you could use an early Christmas present.” He pulled out a charcoal-colored box about the size and shape of an egg carton and set it on my desk. “Sorry it’s not wrapped.”

I recognized the logo of Sasha’s company on the lid, a squid whose tentacles formed little infinities. “Where did you get this?”

“It fell off the back of a truck.” He winked.

I nudged it away. “Raj, that’s unethical.”

“I’ll bet it’s the sort of thing your sister would do.”

“But not me.”

He raised his eyebrows skeptically. Did he assume that Sasha’s misguided competitiveness ran in my veins too? My heart quickened with worry that he might be right. I glanced at the box, dark gray as the heavy rain clouds dominating the view outside.

I cleared my throat. “Did it ever occur to you that you got your hands on this because she wanted you to? You can’t trust her. I’m her sister, and I can’t trust her.”

“Why not?”

How to summarize an entire childhood of dynamics carried into adulthood? “She tries so hard to come out ahead sometimes, it blinds her to what her true goal’s supposed to be. Remember about the jigsaw puzzles?”

He placed his hands on his hips. “Look, do you want to try this out or not?”

I stared at the box. Was this a final puzzle piece to claim? I reached for it and peeled back the flaps. Inside, nestled among gauze, lay a flexible headband of sensors and wires. An inelegant prototype, to be sure, but a quick skim of the accompanying instructions confirmed the unit was self-contained.

I slid the band over my forehead. Raj flipped a switch on it, and suddenly the conference room became an old-fashioned movie theater. I stood at the front of the main aisle, facing away from the screen. Row after row of shadowy faces flickered in the light, many of them snacking from bags in their laps.

I made to move up the aisle, and before I could feel my legs moving, my whole body lurched into motion. My mind was willing me forward. Popcorn bags and candy boxes rustled. The scents of salt and butter permeated the air. I turned back toward the screen, and my face grew cold. A giant image of Sasha from my dream glared down, mouth wide, sticking out her tongue with the puzzle piece on it.

I jumped back, bumping into someone in an aisle seat. A glimpse inside his popcorn bag revealed puzzle piece upon puzzle piece instead of kernels. I gasped, hand flying to my heart. I felt grains sprinkled across my bust. I looked down and saw cardboard shavings like the dusting at the bottom of a puzzle box. 

The taste of cardboard spread across my tongue. I cried out, and moviegoers turned their bleary eyes toward me. I willed my feet to run for the exit, but I tripped and landed hard, burning my forearms against the grimy carpet. I spun around on the floor. My sister, treacherously flickering across the entire wall, leaned closer to the camera. She materialized through the screen. Strangers’ buttery hands pressed me against the sloped center aisle as Sasha bent toward me, puzzle piece in hand. Fingers forced my mouth open. I could taste their salt.

Sasha placed the puzzle piece on my tongue. I inhaled to scream, but the piece flew into my throat and lodged there, choking me. Air smashed against the cardboard tabs and struggled to funnel through the tiny blanks. No oxygen! I couldn’t gag or cough, the piece too tightly wedged in.

Suddenly my office reappeared in a blinding flash. Raj’s hand was pressing my shoulder, his brow furrowed. My eyes watered and my throat burned as though I’d been sobbing—or as though I’d been choked.

“Wow,” he said. “Was it an underwater sim? I’ve heard of people who thought they couldn’t breathe in one of those, it felt so realistic.” He didn’t even ask if I was all right.

I tore the headband off. “It projects signals into the brain.” I massaged my temples. “Or tries to. But my mind must have interfered with the sim, messed it up.” Sasha wouldn’t have dared orchestrate that horror—I hoped—and besides, how could she have known about my nightmare? “We have to keep the tech out of the brain, but then we can’t keep the subconscious brain out of the tech!” I sank into the nearest chair. “We have no market.”

Raj looked from me to the headband. “So, we penetrate the brain.”

He said it so decisively, hastily, he must’ve been looking for an excuse to reach this conclusion. I frowned at the thought and gazed out the window at the bridges spanning the river, their far sides obscured in the winter haze. Had I been hoping for Sasha’s project to fail? If this was the culmination, then so much the better. But more than that, did I want her to fail?

*

When I received an invitation to another meeting at Kihura Tech, it felt more like a summons. Especially given all the paperwork I had to fill out and bring with me. The fact that they wanted my expert opinion on the product they were developing with Sasha’s company ate at me. Did they hope for envy? Sour grapes?

This time Ben led me to a conference room with a rectangular table adorned with the same wavy designs as his hideous desk. He introduced me to their risk manager and one of their attorneys. As I sat and handed over my forms, I eyed the remaining empty chair with a neat pile of handouts waiting in front of it.

Ben shrugged apologetically. “We were going to try do this electronically, you know, show that we’re evolving as a company. But she insisted we all meet in person.”

My heart sank. “She?”

As though on cue, Sasha strode in wearing her favorite gray suit and her strand of pearls from Aunt Anita last Christmas. No kitschy jewelry, of course. She peered at me as she took her seat. “I trust you’ve signed your NDA?”

I gestured at the non-disclosure agreement and other paperwork in front of the attorney. “Yes, and a litany of other paper forms.”

“Good,” she said, pulling out a charcoal box identical to the one Raj had “procured” and setting it on the table. “Our latest prototype. The pinnacle of Kihura Tech’s VR engine with my non-intrusive haptic technology. Care to try it?” she asked coldly.

Ben cleared his throat and shifted in his chair, clearly about to protest, but Sasha leaned forward and slid the box toward me. Ben apparently thought better than to interject now. The other attendees followed his lead. This explained the waiver in my stack of forms. I struggled to keep my hands from shaking as I removed the lid and reached in. Instead of a headband, though, I found two thin, pewter-colored gloves. I pulled them out and studied the sensors glinting all over them in fractal patterns like leaf veins.

Gloves?

My face must’ve revealed enough surprise for Sasha to pick up on it. Her eyes held a squint of triumph without her mouth moving to match it in a smile. I doubted anyone else in the room could’ve spied a change in either one of us.

The gloves looked small, but they stretched easily over my hands.

“Here.” Sasha reached across the table and took my left hand as though to read my palm. Again I tried to steady myself. She rested her fingertips on the center of my hand’s heel. “This is your lifeline,” she said. “You press here to get in. And out. Let us know what you find. Or think you might’ve found.”

Memories of the movie theater swarmed me as my right thumb hovered over the lifeline, ready to activate it. I glanced around the table. So many eyes on me. At least these were real, unlike the moviegoers’. I inhaled and pushed the button. An indigo glow spread outward from my wrists, tracing my forearms like opera gloves and continuing on, encasing my body without constricting me. I may as well have been stepping into a fog. As harmless as the light seemed, when it rose toward my chin, my pulse quickened.

Next thing I knew, I was standing in a forest. A breeze ruffled the branches, raising goosebumps on my arms. I set my foot on a tree root and rocked it back and forth, the bump pressing against the bottom of my shoe. Such collaboration among the senses! I spied something off-white in the dirt among fallen leaves and scraps of twigs. It looked like a shard of eggshell. I started bending to pick it up until I realized what it was: a puzzle piece. I froze. It was an edge, to be exact.

My right thumb shot over to my left hand and hovered over my lifeline. Maybe Sasha had arranged for an unwitting Raj to find that headband version after all. I waited for the taste of cardboard to coat my mouth, but none came. Only the earthy tang of pine from the air’s scent, another haptic victory.

I exhaled and scooped up the piece. Dry specks of dirt clung to its otherwise plain front, and on the back the cardboard was peeling apart in one corner. Yes. This was the grittiness I craved for virtual worlds. The imperfection. In the center of the back of the piece, Sasha’s sloppy handwriting read, “Mission complete.” I smiled. My fingers closed around the treasure, and I pressed my lifeline to exit.

The forest faded as the indigo light retreated back into the gloves. I slid them off wordlessly.

“Did you find anything?” Sasha asked, leaning forward in her chair.

I peered at her, wondering how much she had planted into that creepy headband version of her tech. “A puzzle piece.”

She sank back, looking relieved. “I put that in there for you.”

I blinked at her.

She turned to the risk manager and attorney, but I got the sense she meant her words for me. “All the issues we encountered with the previous design resulted from trying to project the sensations directly into the brain. We found the subconscious has a way of fumbling into unpredictable and occasionally emotionally charged territory for our test subjects. So we took a different direction and found a way to produce the sensations on our outer receptors. It’s perfectly safe.” She faced me. “Isn’t it?”

The others turned toward me. For so long Raj’s company had prided itself on non-invasiveness, on absolute security against our industry’s pressures to penetrate the brain. And now Sasha had found a way to simulate immersion and interaction—without invasion. Before, I used to wonder if I was a fool for resisting the supposed logical next step in virtual reality, but now I knew I was a fool for not seeing how right I had been, if a little too short-sighted. Once again, Sasha had squirreled away the final puzzle piece. The professional in me tensed up with panic and outrage, that competitiveness stacking up again.

“Ms. Siguenza,” Ben started. He cleared his throat. “Sonia. We’ve had our reservations about whether to proceed with trials on this model after our first prototype’s—challenges. We’d like to defer to your tenure in this industry.”

A whopping two years more than Sasha.

Ben folded his hands on the table, leaning onto his elbows. “Do you see a viable product here, Sonia?”

Perhaps I held the edge after all. Pride slid in front of my other emotions, eclipsing them. But I realized it wasn’t self-pride. My sister had made a virtual VR bodysuit! She stood on the cusp of revolutionizing our industry and others while preventing motion sickness and keeping people out of our brains. And I trusted she had no part in Raj finding that headband; she’d rather hide away a failure.

I pressed my lips together and exhaled. I looked Ben in the eye. “Based on what I know about your company and this industry, your only hope to compete in the VR space is to leapfrog the major players by some miracle.” I picked up one of the gloves, turning it over tenderly. “This is your disruptive miracle. First-mover advantage in a box. You’d be a fool not to invest.”

*

On my way out of the Kihura Tech lobby, I caught Sasha heading alone to where her ride waited.

“Hey,” I called to her. She turned around, hand pausing on the door handle. “I’m really proud of you,” I said.

Her arm dropped, and her fingers flexed and clenched. “Thanks.”

“Of course, I’m not sure any of you should trust my opinion after I turned this place down first.”

She placed a hand on her hip and shrugged. “Your hunch was right about a lot of things. They’ve been a nightmare to work with. Half the time Ben calls me Sonia.” She rolled her eyes.

I laughed.

“Your decision made sense at the time,” she said. “You have new information now. I’m sure you’ll make a rational choice.” She winked, then turned and got into the car.

Maybe the wall she and I had built between us in our professional lives wasn’t really there at all. Maybe I could push through it, suppress the feedback that my brain had grown accustomed to blindly accepting. For now, though, I turned to mentally drafting my letter of resignation. Raj would balk, of course, but he couldn’t change the fact that I was playing by the rules. No point running toward a dead-end. Maybe Sasha and I could play on the same team for a change.

 

Katherine Quevedo was born and raised just outside of Portland, Oregon, where she works as an analysis manager and lives with her husband and two sons.  Her fiction has appeared in Factor Four Magazine, Myriad Lands Vol. 2: Beyond the Edge, and Triangulation: Appetites and is forthcoming in War on Christmas.  She holds an MBA and degrees in English and Business Economics.  When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching movies, singing, playing old-school video games, belly dancing, and making spreadsheets.

 

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Creator Spotlight:
Katherine Quevedo
Author of “Sasha’s Pattern, Sonia’s Edge”

1) What inspired you to write this story?

I thought it would be fun to write about childhood sibling rivalry playing out into adulthood.  I reminisced about the puzzles and board games my sisters and I grew up playing. My eldest sister’s a whiz at Clue, and my middle sister takes after one of our grandmas in being unbeatable at Chinese checkers—and yes, one of them used to hide a puzzle piece to save it for the last!  I should point out, though, my sisters and I are way more supportive of each other than competitive. I can’t say the same of my characters.

The next wave of inspiration came when I was walking on a wooded trail and found a lone puzzle piece, plain white, lying in the dirt.  As I wondered how it came to be there, I imagined the scene as a VR sim and got the idea to tie it into this story. But my experience with VR was pretty much limited to playing Dactyl Nightmare a few times as a teenager.  It made quite an impression on me, but I needed more research. Then I hit the jackpot at Westercon 69 when I attended a session about VR. Panelist Sean Robinson, in particular, provided tons of great details that I furiously scribbled in my notebook.  Thank you, Sean!

2) What do you hope readers take from this story?

I hope to provide food for thought about our complicated relationships with technology and with each other.  We’ve already started down the path of immersive virtual worlds, so how do we progress in a way that’s healthy for our species and the physical world?  And how do we preserve and honor the connections that have gotten us this far? Also, I think it’s fair to say that ambition necessitates sacrifice, and not all sacrifice is created equal.  So, where does familial obligation fit into that?

3) To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this story/poem has been through?

“Sasha’s Pattern, Sonia’s Edge” is kind of an outlier for me.  My other story publications thus far have taken me an average of seven and a half years to sell from the time I first send them out, with a combined total of 55 rejections!  I guess I’m a testament to persistence and self-improvement. Always keep busy writing new stories, reading and studying the craft, then applying your learning from those processes by tweaking your drafts between submissions.  It’s an amazing feeling to open up a draft of something you wrote long ago and suddenly see the adjustments you can make to strengthen it. That’s a sure sign of your commitment and growth.

Also, when they say “Don’t self-reject,” take it to heart.  “Sasha’s Pattern” had such a different path to publication than my other stories because I was too afraid to send it out.  I worried about the liberties I’d taken with some of the science. I completed the draft, sat on it for two years before sending it out, and it got rejected.  Over the next almost year I polished it up sporadically, so by the time the theme fit at Apparition Lit, I was confident enough to submit it.  But imagine if I hadn’t taken that risk.

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