Chapter 1: Allison

Allison Stevens walked into the head office at Network 23. Just twelve two days ago, she had auburn hair with soft ringlets that reached her shoulders and deep blue eyes.

Murray McKenzie had been promoted to Chief Executive a month earlier, following Lauren's retirement. She herself had been promoted to Chief Exec following Cheviot's death from a heart attack five years earlier. It had been she who had chosen Murray finding him more suitable than either Ashwell or Edwards.

She had told him that they had found a new candidate for the job of Head of Research and Development. He hoped this one would be suitable. The last four had not worked out very well. Their last good one had been Bryce and he… or rather she… had left them after her marriage and the birth of her child. She hadn't kept in touch after leaving the network, plus she and her husband had left no forwarding address, so Murray, Edison and Theora had no idea where she and her family might be.

"Good morning, Mr. McKenzie," Allison said pleasantly as she offered her hand. "Allison Stevens."

Murray shook it. "Sit down."

Allison sat, primly making sure her skirt was in its proper place.

"I've looked over your grades from ACS," Murray told her. "They're rather high, though of course not the highest. Those belong to a Becky Martin. So tell me, why should I hire you instead of her?"

"I believe she's recently been hired by Network 49, sir, Allison said simply. "As for why you should hire me at all, I won't say because I'm loyal, hardworking and responsible. Those are qualities of all ACS graduates."

"So, then, why should I hire you?" Murray asked.

Allison slipped on her glasses which she used mainly for reading.

"Take a moment to think about it," she suggested. "Then guess."

Murray touched the vu-phone screen. "Mrs. Carter. Please bring your husband to my office. I have someone here I'd like you to meet."

Theora looked up at Edison. "I wonder who he means."

"We'll find out when we get to his office," Edison remarked as they went to the lift and headed up to the executive level.

Walking into Murray's office, they saw the child who was sitting there.

"Edison Carter and Theora Carter," he said. "This is Allison Stevens, our new Head of Research and Development."

"Nice to meet you, Miss Stevens," Theora said. "I have a daughter named Holly who's about your age."

"Really? How come she didn't go to ACS?"

"Edison and I travel a lot, so we home-schooled her," Theora explained. "But she's still pretty smart. She speaks three languages, English, Japanese and Szechuan Chinese."

"That's pretty smart," Allison admitted. She turned to Edison. "So you're Edison Carter. Mom used to talk a lot about you. She said you were a great friend."

"Used to?"

A sad look came over Allison's face. "She died the year before I went to ACS. There were complications with her third pregnancy and she died shortly after my brother Adam was born. So dad had to raise me, the twins, and Adam alone. He misses her terribly."

"Your mom would've been very proud of you," Edison said, sadness in his voice. "She went to ACS as well."

"Dad said the same thing, but I couldn't find her there."

"She was a boy at the time," Theora explained. "Some wicked men had her changed into a girl to make her marry the son of Ped Xing. But she escaped and after some bad times fell in love with your father, who was the first man her age who was kind to her."

Edison produced a picture of him, Bryce and Theora that Max had salvaged from the Network's securicam files. "Here's us together the year before Bryce left us when she became a girl."

"Wow," Allison said, reaching into her purse. "He looks so different."

She produced a photo and showed it to them. It was of a young woman with smiling eyes and long auburn hair that fell to her waist in soft curls. She was seated on a sofa with twins who appeared to be about three years old. Both were in her lap which was very round and she was cheerfully hugging them as they all smiled for the photo.

"Wow," Edison said. "She looks great."

"It was taken a month before she passed," Allison said. "It was a school day so I wasn't home then. Here's one with me and Mom."

She showed Edison a photo of herself at the age of five. She was riding a carousel in one of the stationary coaches with Bryce sitting beside her, both were laughing in the photo.

"I can't believe it's our Bryce," Theora said with a smile in her voice. "She looks so much happier than she did when she was a boy working here."

"I'm glad she was happy in the end," Edison agreed. "It makes her passing a little easier to accept."

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