After his shift at B&B, Dex rode the train home. Before he even reached the sidewalk in front of Barrett and Brar’s fifty-storey building, he was logged into M City, headed for Three Card Monte’s bar. Monte’s was in a seedy part of Marionette City, the virtual world that was becoming more and more the social hub for most people. Dex liked the virtual neighbourhood; it was dark, a little gloomy and nothing like the rest of Marionette City, with its bright, shiny animations and impossible designs.
Annabelle Lewis was waiting for him when his avatar walked into the bar. Unlike many people, Dex chose his avatar to look pretty similar to that way he looked in the physical world. He didn’t own an antique charcoal three piece suit like the one he wore in M City and he didn’t think you could even buy hats like the one his avatar always had pulled low over his eyes, but otherwise it was just him. Annabelle noticed him arrive and waved from a table in a dark corner of the bar.
Dex knew that her avatar was a pretty faithful representation of her real physical body, too, but he also knew that it hadn’t always been that way. She had visited Dex previously, but on his first trip to see her he’d had quite a surprise when he arrived. He discovered that she had, as she put it, simply had her physical body adjusted to conform to the image she had of herself. Dex wondered if it was really just a coincidence that she’d finally decided to get the work done just before he visited for the first time, but it had never come up in the week he spent in her spacious flat in Nice. He wasn’t sure he ever wanted to have that conversation.
He had to admit that Annabelle was beautiful. She had the same slim body that most people wore, thanks to the powerful engineering in the ubiquitous food bricks and tonics everyone but the very rich and very poor lived off. Dex was impressed with the work she’d had done, but it was her eyes that really drew Dex in to her and they hadn’t changed at all. He wondered how much she had paid some designer for her avatar, since even in M City they danced with the same sense of humour and joie de vivre he saw in the baby blues she wore on the streets. Dex approached the table and found that his day turned around at the sight of Annabelle. He couldn’t help smiling, both with his body and his avatar. He half-watched half-felt himself embrace Annabelle and felt a frisson of revulsion at the strangeness of the virtual experience.
He hoped that his reaction hadn’t been translated into his hug by the complex programming that controlled avatars in the virtual world and reminded himself that he had been getting much better at ignoring those feelings. He pulled back and smiled at Annabelle, who grinned at him. “Nice hat,” she said, her eyes dropping to the dark felt in Dex’s right hand.
“It’s the same one as always, kiddo,” Dex said.
“I know,” Annabelle answered, sitting back down. “It’s still nice.”