“Don’t you ever wonder what it’s like out there?” I ask my best friend Shelbie. She is sitting across from me. Both of us at a small round table bound by the gates of an outdoor café. As I wait for her to answer, I can’t help but search out some unique feature Shelbie always adorns her Avatar with.
“No, I hear its deplorable,” Shelbie shoots back, just as I pick up her oddity. I didn’t see it at first because she is facing me, but now I see the purple and black tail swishing just beyond her shoulders. “I like that shade of gold you’ve colored your hair with.” Shelby tosses in as if to change the subject.
I feel my cheeks pull with a frown. I am not going to let her change the subject. I look down at my teacup, then back at her from below my eyebrows, also shaded gold this morning. “My parents said things were fine before the pandemic of 2020.”
“Tarra, they told us in school that the world was almost inhabitable before that pandemic.”
“That might be what they tell us, but my parents told me otherwise, and they never lied to me.”
“Where are they now?” Shelbie asks knowingly.
“Died in the pandemic of 2040,” I mumble as I raise my teacup to my thin gold tinted lips.
Shelbie raises her nose as if to say, “Seeee,” then says, “That one wiped out almost a quarter of the population…didn’t it?”
I nod my head, set my teacup on its saucer and look at the street beyond the ornate fence separating the café area from the sidewalk.
The sidewalks team with humans in all shapes and sizes. Each Avatar created by the human it represented, or for those with less imagination, and the resources to do so, created by a professional Avatar sculptor.
Humans with fur, humans with horns, humans with reptilian mouths, teeth gleaming in the sun. Some, like Shelbie sporting tails. Tails were the thing this year. Me, I never liked the look. My thing is the occasional fur coat, mostly feline. Usually with feline eyes to match.
Men seem to dig the feline look.
But today, I am not interested in attracting attention. Just plain ivory skin with a shock of gold for the hair on my head.
Some of the avatars walk with pets. These too are as outrages as their handlers. Bengal tigers, miniature elephants, and across the street, a little princess riding her unicorn. Most of the pets are just code that doesn’t represent the family pet. Another bauble of a society that lives in a virtual world.
The streets team with pollution free traffic. Exotic cars, classic cars, and air cars. I hear it before I see it, a teen on a motorbike, zigzagging through traffic at an impossible speed. In a flash, it passes from my right to my left, merely a blur of blue and chrome.
“He is going to get a ticket in his email box,” Shelbie says flatly.
“This life is so sanitary.” I say in defense of the boy.
“This life is safe.”
“Nothing is real! This café is not real! This table, this cup of tea, you. None of this is real.”
Shelbie’s face takes on a look of surprise, “I am most certainly real!”
I ignore the urge to sip my tea before responding, “The human mound of flesh strapped in a VR console in your little block apartment is real. This,” I wave my hand at her Avatar, “is most certainly not real.”
“Why are you being so mean…so…human?”
I feel my frustration mounting. My parents told me all about life before one pandemic after another forced humans into isolation, there only escape was into the Web.
The skies were blue, the rain was cold, and in those early spring days, how the world would suddenly transform from the grays and tans of late winter to the greens of the approaching summer. The weather was somewhat unpredictable, sometimes making people change plans. Airplanes lanced the sky, taking people to far away destinations. Cars took children to see their grandparents. Trucks delivered goods to the stores.
Now, all that is gone. Shelbie might call this life perfect. But it is too safe, and as I watch her, I become even more irritated by the tail dancing beyond her shoulders.
“This is not how its supposed to be Shelbie. We are not supposed to live our lives as a bunch of ones and zeros!”
“We get to live our lives,” She hisses. “Between pandemics, pollution, and rampant violence, the odds of reaching retirement age was slim to none.”
“You sound like the propaganda the government spews whenever there is unrest in some region of the world.”
“It’s not propaganda! Do your research, go to Wikipedia, it’s all there.”
“I know, if its on the Web, then it must be true.”
“The government doesn’t allow falsehoods to be published on the Web.”
“I don’t care what you say,” in my VR console, I activate a command, and the skin of my Avatar changes from ivory white to a blushing red, my cheeks puff out, and wisps of smoke curl from my ears, “This isn’t how we are supposed to human!”