When Dex linked out of M City and refocussed on the physical world he felt the worse for wear. He’d gotten used to long hours online and was even starting to feel comfortable in the repurposed closet he used as a home office. When he was online he didn’t need much space — he’d never gotten the hang of moving in a three-D rendered simulation online while still walking around the physical world, so he liked to find a comfortable spot and just sit when he was online. His old apartment was tiny, built for one, and he used the only chair in the place for the job. But now, that was no longer an option.
He stood and shook the kinks out of his body and slid open the door after knocking on it. If Annabelle was home he knew she’d appreciate the brief warning that he was about to reappear in their shared space. Dex stepped into their living room and didn’t see her there or through the open bedroom door, so he deduced that she must be out.
I’m the greatest detective that ever was, he thought to himself and chuckled. The apartment he shared with his partner in crime and life was a palace compared to everywhere else he’d ever lived, but it was still small enough to know immediately if there was anyone else home. There obviously wasn’t.
Dex performed his usual post-online routine: toilet, glass of water, food brick, look out the window. Evening was setting in, the sinking Mediterranean sun casting a luminous glow over Nice. It was beautiful, so beautiful that Dex wondered for what must have been the millionth time why anyone would ever have thought to create a virtual world in the first place.
He breathed deeply of the slightly salty air, remembering that he was profoundly lucky. Only a few years previously he’d lived in a grimy, grey, cell-like apartment, in a grimy, grey city. It had been a grimy, grey existence from which Dex knew he’d escaped due to no real merit on his part. He’d fallen in with a good crowd, was all. Luck had more to do with it than anything else.
It was dreadfully unfair.
He was so caught up in his thoughts that he physically jumped when he heard the soft snick of the lock slide back.
“Hey,” a tired-sounding Annabelle said as she came into the apartment. She looked sweaty and a bit dishevelled and it had been months since she’d changed her hair, but she looked wonderful to Dex. He kept to the other side of the apartment, waiting for her to come to him if she was going to. Ever since Omnitrack determined that all employees had to physically go into their offices to work, Annabelle had been forced to go out into the physical world more days than not. It was, to put it mildly, not her favourite thing to do.
“I just got back myself,” Dex said, keeping himself still. “You need anything? Food?”
Annabelle shook her head and took a few steps into the apartment. She approached Dex, kissed him lightly, then backed away again. There was a time when that would have been far more contact than she could handle after a whole day out in the physical world, but there was also a time when the idea that the two of them would share a home full-time was beyond laughable.
“I’m not hungry. Just beat.” She flopped onto the chaise longue and closed her eyes.
Dex let her sit for a moment, then slipped into the bedroom. He quickly changed into a clean outfit and called from the doorway, “I could use a walk. I’ll get out of your hair for a little while?”
Annabelle murmured something unintelligible that Dex took to be the sound of agreement. Then she said clearly, “Want to meet at Monte’s in a bit? Say half an hour?”
Dex smiled to himself. “You bet, kiddo. See you there.”
Dex quietly left the apartment and spiralled down to the ground floor. He really did want to stretch his legs, but half an hour would be enough. He could take the long way to his favourite bar and link into M City from there. It hardly even seemed odd to him anymore — sitting in a real world bar full of other real world humans, but focussing on a virtual bar to meet the avatar of the woman with whom he shared a home.
It was just modern living.