In a city like Adia, anything is legal if you can afford the transaction fees.
Case in point: Xim Techman, age forty-two, former Void designer, widower. Any other night, Xim would be in his apartment, sitting in his only chair, falling asleep to his favorite stream. Tonight he’s in the neon-lit lobby of The Port, taking in everything else.
Across the way, a group of young women celebrate a birthday in a cozy booth. Drinks, whatever passes for food around here. A multicolored vapor that seemed to pulse with the beat of the music. Their chatter drowned out by the world between them and Xim. But the flashing lights of their hair and the flickering patterns of their translucent attire did little to take away from the utter joy on their faces as they streamed and shared and laughed and squealed with glee.
Somewhere to his right, a visor-wearing serverscrubber was doing their best to flirt with the bartender. Something about slipping into a Void later, maybe swap accounts. Nothing permanent, baby. Just wanna walk a mile in your shoes, see where it takes us. Maybe back to yours.
Xim never heard the end of that conversation, on account that he gagged on the bitter blue of nitro nipping at his taste buds long before he even smelled the stuff. Probably someone getting dialed up in a washroom stall. But Xim would later think about the poor, dumb serverscrubber, hoping that maybe they found someone to sync with. It was never much his thing, of course. No, that was more Nary’s idea of a fun night out. They’d log places like this all the time, back in college. They’d have a few drinks, play a few games. She’d watch him dance to the Bleeps and Creeps. He’d ignore the blisteringly foreign sensory input and focus on her smile. No matter the account, no matter the avatar – he always knew her smile. Always knew it was her looking back at him in the pinks and blues of that chilly dance floor, or in the warm darkness of their bedroom.
A hand on his shoulder and a faint voice on his left snapped him out of his rewind. “Xim?”
“Yeah. Sorry,” he apologized without knowing why.
The voice belonged to a shock of pink hair and a long jacket bathed in neon. “January Embers,” she smiled, holding out her hand.
For a moment, Xim thought he might die right there. Then, he didn’t.
“I’m sorry. It’s just,” he started, slowly – noticeably slowly – constructing a lie from the truth without realizing it, “you look exactly like your profile picture.”
She laughed. “Right?”
“Isn’t that a bit hard?”
“Public profile while you’re a, uh…” he struggled, inserting that foot into his mouth one little piggy at a time. “You know.”
A smirk crept across her face. “Nervous?”
She shook her head, ever so slightly. “Don’t be.”
He smiled. “So, is it true you’re full organic?”
“One-hundred,” she beamed. “You?”
“No,” he said, perhaps too quick. His left hand trembled. The left side of his face spasmed. He hoped she hadn’t noticed, but she did.
“Xim,” she said. “If you want to cancel, I–“
He took a breath, then continued his thought. “No, a few upgrades. Couple of replacements and a mod or two.”
A cackle from the girls in the booth across the way cut through the space between them. Someone in or around the washroom demanded someone else hurry the fuck up in there. And the lights strobed between yellows and greens and reds and purples.
“You wanna get out of here?” he asked.
“I’m right where I want to be,” she said. “You?”
He looked at the woman in front of him. “The Sweeps,” by Bleeps and Creeps, began to play. Then, his arm steadied. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I am.”
To be continued…