“Natalie” said the artificially serene, self-contained female voice “it’s time to get up. Remember! The world is your oyster”

“Oh fuck off!” said the young woman as she buried herself deeper into the covers until she grudgingly left in defeat. She wandered, still half anesthetized from sleep, into the small kitchen to make coffee, stroked the smoke-gray cat with the orange eyes while she waited, checked a screen on her wrist. The cat complained and wove itself around her feet. Then she sat by the window with her coffee, leaning her forehead against the window staring at nothing for a while. There were faint fingertip prints on the glass, made visible by the sunlight.

In the evenings she watched the tv until she fell asleep on the couch, the flickering light from the screen projecting mutely onto the walls. Most Friday evenings, the same man would come over, they would fuck, then afterwards they would make plans to do things like visit a museum or go away for the weekend, they both knew they never would. “Oh wouldn’t this be nice, I think I need a getaway” she’d say pulling up quaint cottages overlooking the ocean. “Yeah just let me know, but I can’t do next weekend” they’d not mention it again for a few weeks then have the same conversation again.

“Natalie! Remember, the world is your oyster”.

An uneven ribbon of light between the curtain and the wall, narrowed and widened, the breeze from the slightly open window moving the fabric in small undulations: morning again.

It was comforting to hear a name, to be someone with a name - for a brief while at least. No one had names here, names were luxuries only afforded if one could afford the right protection.

On earth everyone had a name, the number came later, here you got the number sooner and your name was forgotten. Here only avatars had real names, unless you were rich and inhabited the citadel of course. Ironic, really.

Earth wasn’t even a memory for 558 but here at ‘One Fine Day’ - one of the city’s many ‘dejavu’ emporiums: one could experience as many earth lifetimes as one had the coin for. The melancholic comfort of the mundane, the intimacy of voyeurism. It was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in a place built on escape, a place whose very culture and history was built on it.

He mostly chose the same life, sometimes he chose to be and sometimes he chose to watch. Most people had a favorite, a life they visited often, sometimes it seemed more real than anything else, intimate. A life that seemed achingly familiar with a longing for something you never really knew, like waking from a dream, remembering only that it was significant in a way that was unreachable. The way the sunlight highlights the edge of a coffee cup and the half moons of fingernails as they curl around it. These scenes had a sort of ancestral familiarity, a thousand mornings, the stirred memory of a sun you’d never wake up to.

He often found himself reflexively saying something, she never spoke back. Yet there was a sense of parity, a sense of shared loneliness, was that love? These pseudo ancestral experiences are what underpinned the city’s psyche. Hope: the fumes of an old world

The feeling that most things were half-real, reconstructed: nostalgia wasn’t just a subculture, it was the frustrated wish behind almost every endeavor. Things seemed vaguely reminiscent of something, even if it couldn’t be directly referenced, yet there was an anomic and deeply alien character to it, something disconcerting, undefined. Seven generations deep, you still felt it, knew it. It was a place built on the hope that things would get better and the realization that they wouldn’t.

It wasn’t supposed to be better here in the city, it was just an escape, away from earth and a civilization whose culture had become embedded with the self annihilating promises of technologies that finally delivered. Eventually, the people thought that if they could launch themselves out into space far enough, their tech stripped and shielded from their worst creations, they could outrun them, they could make a go of it. Loaded with outdated ai in the form of avatars and artificial personalities for company and cultural preservation, they flung themselves out into the cosmos in a fleet of ships, their ai tasked with naming each star ship after a culturally relevant meme, slogan or brand, they ended up with vessels named things like ‘The Zoloft’, ‘The Ride or Die’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.
* * *

Although he knew instinctively that things were about to get irreconcilably weird and that this may be the last time he’d be here for a long time, there was something else, another reason he had come, something touching the edge of his consciousness like a helium balloon gently nudging against the ceiling in the corner of a room.

On the bookshelf in the bedroom there had always been a cube, each face made up of colored squares, it was a well known earth artifact, you had to twist each section until each face of the cube was made up of the same colored squares. Somehow this was significant.

As the gentle pod concierge unfolded the leaf-like arms wrapped around him and re- enabled the real-ware, as it flickered back online, there was the cube with its intricate patterns, slowly turning in space. He found that as long as the real-ware was on, it was always in his field of vision.

Outside, in the gentle rain, it was night, neon dreams bloomed their tableaus of cityscapes and lights across concrete and glass as though the buildings themselves were dreaming. They were a biomass of single celled organisms, like a network of interconnected organic pixels, a biofilm that flushed luminous, interpolated reconstructions of the city across the surfaces they covered, coordinated like shoals of fish or flocks of birds. The slow graceful cadence forming its very own language: the other worldly hallucinations of a city caught in a dream of another place and another time.

Right then, the pavement next to him vaporized in a burst from a high energy weapon.