“From the outside looking in, everything looked completely ordinary. The problem was being on the inside, looking out.” ― Belle Malory
I was eight minutes late logging into AltLife to meet Jess. “There you are!” she typed as soon as she saw me come in. “I was getting worried. Everything okay?”
“Boyfriend issues,” I typed back. “Why do men always get insecure when you have to be somewhere?”
“LOL, I have no idea. Did you get it straightened out?”
“I guess. He’s been pushing to move in and I’m not ready. Where are you anyway?” I asked, hoping to steer the conversation to less personal subjects.
“At the Steampunk Blues Club,” she replied. “I’ll send a taxi.”
By taxi, she meant a teleport link. Teleport links tell the AltLife servers to stop rendering my avatar’s pixels at my current location and rerender them at another. In this case, at the Steampunk Blues Club. With a loud woosh and pretty swirls of colored light, I was teleported to what looked like an old warehouse with cement walls, grimy windows, and high ceilings crisscrossed with galvanized steel pipes. A bare pine floor covered with scratches and stains completed the decor.
“Hi,” Jessica typed. “Welcome to Steampunk. That’s Shucks up there on the stage with a ponytail and suspenders. Click your media button to hear him.”
A quick click later and the familiar lyrics of “Make You Feel My Love,” sung by a deep, rough voice streamed from my speakers.
“Is that THE Shucks from…”
“Yep, that’s the one,” Jessica replied.
“I really like his voice.”
“Yeah, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Shucks. He’s the real deal.”
“Wow.” We were quiet for a few minutes as we listened to Shucks declare there was nothing he wouldn’t do to make us feel his love. When he’d sung the last note I typed, “Have you seen Dizzy yet?”
“Yeah, he’s up there near the front with Cedary and Busk.”
“I’d sure like to talk to him. I have a few more questions before I file my next piece.”
“Ummmm…well about that Kelly, maybe you should back off on the questions.”
“Back off? What do you mean? I’m filing another piece tomorrow and need to check some of the information he gave me.”
“Well, I was talking to him earlier and he said he and his partners are having second thoughts about talking to the press.”
“The press in general or me in particular?”
“That’s not good,” I typed, feeling my stomach flip flop.
”Well, they've been under a lot of pressure and a lot of reporters have tried to talk to them.”
“I don't think Cedary and Busk understand why he decided to talk to you.”
“Did you tell them you introduced me?”
“Of course, but Cedary and Busk don’t know me like Dizzy does. They seem to think you manipulated me somehow.”
That made me laugh, and I told her so. Jess is one of the most down-to-earth, no-nonsense people I know. Plus she looks the part of a scientist with thick bifocals that make her bright brown eyes look enormous, and a fondness for lab coats, even when she’s not working. True to form, her avatar’s name is “NeuroBio Geek,” and today she was sporting a pale yellow, knee-length coat that made her look like a Lego figurine. She’s not just picky about who she lets into her life, but matter-of-fact about dumping those who don’t pass muster. I’ve no doubt I was thoroughly vetted before she agreed to meet me after Dan made introductions.
“I know, right?” she typed back. “Why don’t you let me teach you how to dance, and then let’s see how the evening goes.”
“Okay,” I reluctantly agreed. I was glad she hadn’t taught me how to use ALTLife’s voice system yet because I didn’t want her to hear the tears in my voice.