Dex was finally starting to get used to the quality of the sunlight in Nice — it had a bright yellow tint, compared to the greasy grey glow that had squirted through his windows back in Namerica. In comparison, it had been more an absence of darkness than anything Dex would call real illumination. And here the sunlight was actually hot, the climate appreciably changing from winter to summer and back again. This afternoon, still a cool spring day, the light that came through his window was strong enough to wake him on its own, before his system got to the task. At least, it seemed to Dex that the Mediterranean sun was what pulled him away from his dream of the Pacific and into the bed he was sharing with Annabelle.
He rolled over and looked her face, unlined and beautiful, pale in the morning sunlight, scrunched into her pillow. Her gold hair fanned out on the pillow, framing her face. He smiled, savouring the seconds he’d have to watch her sleep before her own enhanced mind woke her according to the instructions she’d have programmed the day before. He carefully moved his body slightly away from hers, knowing that it still took her a moment or two to remember that she wasn’t alone. He heard her take a deep inward breath and smiled as her eyes fluttered open. She focussed and saw him, flinching back into her side of the bed only slightly, then breaking into a smile.
“Good morning, Mister Fish,” she said, moving her body slightly closer to Dex and allowing him to pull her toward him.
“Good morning yourself,” he said, lightly kissing the top of her head. “That was a pretty nice little holiday we had there, wasn’t it?”
Annabelle smiled. “I can’t believe that there is anywhere on Earth that is really so beautiful,” she said. “And those whales…”
“I had no idea, either,” Dex said. “I wonder what it would have been like to really see that, with real eyes…” He felt Annabelle stiffen slightly, then relax into his arms again. There was a time, not long before, when he would have apologized for being insensitive, for reminding his lover and best friend that her preference for living in a simulation of the world was as opposite to Dex’s own desire for physical presence as possible. But since he had moved from Namerica to Europa and into a tiny independent apartment only a short train ride from Annabelle’s top-tier employee housing, they had begun to accept each other’s differences a little more. Which was why Dex found himself luxuriating in Annabelle’s expensive sheets at half past two in the afternoon.
Annabelle lay in his arms for a moment longer, then stretched and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She stood and walked to the small lav off the bedroom. Dex silently watched her go, wanting to follow her, to soap her body in the minute of hot water she was entitled to and then wand her hair as the blower dried them off. He wanted to be next to her, touching her silken skin, smelling the sweet fragrance of her. He never wanted to leave. But he knew that he was lucky to get the time with her he did and knew when to leave her alone, when to give her space to herself. And he was smart enough to know that the little time with her he got in the physical world was so much better than not getting to be with her at all. So he lay in the bed, enjoying the softness of her linens, waiting for her to be done with the shower.
Dex heard the water stop and the blower kick in and took that as his cue to get up. He would get cleaned up back at his own apartment, using his own water ration rather than making Annabelle share or pay for an extra shot. He walked over to the wall separating the bedroom from the lav and opened up Annabelle’s double size autoclave. He pulled out yesterday’s clothes, now clean, and got dressed. Now that he no longer worked for one of the firms, he no longer was issued a uniform that he’d wear most of time. Not exactly the king of sartorial splendour, Dex’s casual wardrobe had never been particularly stellar. When he’d arrived in Nice, Annabelle had decided that Dex ought to look at least as good in the physical world as his avatar did in Marionette City, the global virtual world where they spent most of their time, so she’d forced him to go shopping.