Prologue

Barcade, Los Angeles/Highland Park

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“You’re staggering all over the place like a trapped window fly” she greeted me outside the haven with a big smile and open arms for an impending embrace.  The triple vision of her wasn’t wrong.  With muted thoughts I got out a walrus “hello”.   She appeared on a tilted axis, and in my unsteadiness, seemed to sink into the ground and reset to sink again in a dizzying loop.  I aimed my body towards her middle triplet. She caught me in a hug.  “Oh Wara” she said graciously.

“Hey what’s the improvement in mood about? I like it” I hear another woman’s voice broadcasting in my ear; my ex-wife’s voice.  She needed me to sober her up for the drive home, a service I deemed better than the alternative.  She was really drunk tonight. 

Talking to the woman in front of me “Your looking foxy my friendly foxy foxes.”

“You’re giving an emergency lift home right now to Bridget” she said knowingly.  This wasn’t the first time I’d traded my sobriety for her impatience.  God Ginny was a quick one I thought in slow motion.

Just like that my ex tells me “All set, thanks buddyboy” before severing the connection and taking back her slur.  I straightened back up with a feeling of reverse vertigo.  That transition is still a little to abrupt I noted.   Something to bring up at the next adjustment.  I felt my body and mind returning to normal.  

The shroud had morphed everything into a sunny parking lot of a bar along a fairly busy and pre-hip street.  Dumpsters, stacks of kegs behind chain link, exterior conduit and mechanical piping, and a giant glass window that says in yellow LED neon, “BARCADE”

“Like your destination” I said, greeting her with a grin and a kiss. “Lets go in hot stuff” she said dropping her arm around my waist and pulling me through the front door.

We were surrounded with vintage video game cabinets and the accompanying sounds of the electromechanical arcade boxes.  

“Yeah, I saw the ad on my lunch break.  It stared up at me from the trash actually.  It was on one of those take out wrapper campaigns. Looked fun.”  She brushed her forearm back towards herself and crinkled her brow in the cutest ways while looking at me.  She finally arched one eyebrow up seductively said “check it out” and brushed her finger towards me, extending her arm, laughing as I grabbed it to give her a pull closer.

In my vision https://youtu.be/nMvtkj01-9c flashed and I seamlessly motioned it to file till later.

“I’m just excited you’re a gamer, three of my favorite things in one place.  Beer and games.”

“And the third?” Virginia cut me off.

“and you, of course, come on!”  I say slapping her backside.  I walked her over to a cab with the heading ‘Joust’ “Prepare to get fucked. “  I taunted.

Barcade was full of exciting options, but the action was stalled as we needed to transfer our Femto into physical gold coins. You then dropped one into a slot in the front of the machine for a play credit.  It was archaic ritual and charm; an homage to a time gone by.  It was fun to have to physically move when you die and plug the hungry machine again and again.  I felt rich compared to the childhood feeling of running out of tokens.  I fumbled the procedure and lost a token.  I could picture a younger me on hands and knees looking for dropped change, searching under every nook and cranny.    

“I get to leave dropped pieces that roll under or in-between the machines, for some poor boy to find.” I told Ginny while digging for a new coin.

“Yeah?” Virginia said smiling while tilting her head to the side in a way that reminded me of how a beloved dog does the same thing when they are trying to figure out infinitely optimistic possibilities of what you could be saying.

“The reward for the willing, who go that extra length for one more chance to beat Zangeif.”

“We’ll have to load the StreetFighter 2 experience once we Bloodlink. I want to experience that raw excitement you’re gonna have eating dinner in stretchy leg Dualism’s stage with Vega playing cocktail hour on the piano.”

I didn’t need point out that Vega would have to remove his claws in order to entertain like that, I was just impressed she picked the scene with elephants…that she even remembered the game so vividly.

“Oh hell ya, you see, this is why I love you.  And uh, I’m going to be raising the happiness average through the roof”

  Daytona USA, golden axe, and some unknown Japanese game later we were ready for a seat.  Pinball machine flashed enticingly as we passed to belly up to the bar.

“This place is rad, what year is it simulating?”  said Virginny

I focused in on the glowing info tag “2021, California…”

She was processing a cherry sour and I was enjoying a pilsner.

Lifting my glass “May your gold be full of alloy”

“May your gold be full of alloy” she repeated as we locked eyes over a sip.

“Let’s go to the back where we can play music and talk” she suggested.

Merge had introduced an algorithm that sensed those in hearing proximity of your broadcasting playlists.  It would analyze the likes from the other users and play overlapping interests.  My more adventurous setting was closer to a shuffle from all in the vicinity pool.  I quite enjoyed seeing the effects on the music with various other characters input.  I set the volume to low. With my sight, I changed the criterion from volume (receiving input from those within listening distance) to a static eight meter radius of myself.  Strangers have a way of introducing some great new music after all. 

“So how’s this going to work?  Your ex and my ex may as well be in different realities.  I can’t imagine them meeting organically?   Maybe we should talk to them ourselves.” She began.  “Set up a not so blind date.”  She meant for each of us talk with our own ex.

We had had this discussion before, she was covering old ground, but we hadn’t decided what to do.

“I think it may be best, at least for me, to not interrupt the safe distance I’ve been able to establish, despite the bloodlink.  And I’m not sure we need to get a professional involved just yet…”

It was starting to get late.

“I got a per diem gig they are sneaking in before the transition.  I’ll have plenty of time to come up with something.” I said with a half hug to her cute, deflated profile.

“Well, I’ve got to meet Amber now.  We are working out today “she said abandoning the dilemma for the time being and sitting up straight.

“You mean you’re paying someone else to work you out” I teased. We both stood up.

“Hey, you could use giving your mind a shut down from time to time! And if your body gets toned in the meantime, I’d say it’s a win win” 

“Just tell them not to overdo it this time.”

We hugged, then she called for a cab on the gridline.

Merge was playing a Jazz standard from the 28th century that reinforced being open to unknown music.  It was the perfect neo LA Noir type soundtrack as I watched her walk to the approaching taxi.

“Supposedly, LA was notorious for traffic, let’s hope you escape that part” I shouted to her.

“Watch me” she said, leaving the shroud, and blew me a kiss goodbye as she ducked into a hovering car with HUB credential markings, tethered magnetically to the grid.  

“You’re my favorite gamer in all of L4” she shouted before accelerating toward her destination.

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