In a dull future made bright only by finding love, Last Chance Services offers respite in the form of virtual relationships. Today, Finn will enter the simulation once more to ask his lovely Jennifer an important question, only to find that the real world hasn’t forsaken him yet.
The Perfect Place to Meet Your Soulmate
by Gabriel Merithew
It was 6 am and people were already lined up down the street. LCS (Last Chance Services) would open in an hour, but demand had skyrocketed lately so it was best to get there early and brave the freezing temperatures. Finn pulled his three layers of jackets tighter around him. All three jackets were oversized, thin, and heavily worn from years of use so they now had to work together as a team to keep the wind out. It still wasn’t enough. His teeth chattered and he shook from head to toe. But this was a good morning. He’d been the one to start the line outside LCS at 5 am, which meant he’d be the first to get jacked in.
A nearly bald man who didn’t appear ready to admit it judging by his combover, unlocked the doors at exactly 7 am. By this time the line nearly stretched out of sight around the bend, but Finn felt no shame in getting to go inside first. He’d waited for the longest time after all. The nearly bald man instructed everyone to remain in a single file line as they entered. The lobby was dry and stuffy, and so hot that he wondered why the lady behind the front desk wasn’t sweating, though maybe the temperature change made the effects more dramatic. Any skin that had been exposed to the frigid storm outside now began to tingle uncomfortably and Finn slowly regained feeling in his lips. He walked forward eagerly and swiped his membership card at the front desk. After he did so, the front desk lady informed him politely that he’d be occupying Pod 12 and reminded him that the connection would be severed after an hour. Finn thanked her, stowed his membership card back in the pocket of his outer jacket, and made his way down the hall to Pod 12.
His heart beginning to race, Finn entered his Pod, then closed and locked the door. The next hour would be the happiest of his day, until tomorrow when he’d hopefully get another hour in a Pod… If he could convince his boss to let him go an hour early like today. He had a smile on his face as he turned around and assessed the familiar environment that was beginning to feel like home. The inside of the pod was shaped like the inside of an igloo and the floor and domed walls and ceiling were backlit with white light. On the dome above, the animated LCS logo twirled slowly and periodically shifted between reds, purples, and blues. But the most striking object in the Pod was a giant LCS Immersion Lounge that hung down from the top of the dome.
Finn’s hour countdown wouldn’t start until he entered his simulation, but if he remained inactive on the LCS server for more than 15 minutes once his membership card had been swiped, he’d be given a sizable time penalty. But that wouldn’t be an issue. Moving as fast as he could, Finn removed his three jackets and stripped off his remaining clothes until he stood there completely naked, then he grabbed the one-size-fits-all LCS Sensation 2.0 full bodysuit from its hook on the wall and hastily clambered into it, his still-numb fingers making the front zipper difficult to pull.
Once he was all suited up, Finn paused for a minute and took a deep breath. He’d been seeing Jennifer for about a month now, but he still got nervous every time right before he jacked in, and today he was more nervous than ever because today would be the day he’d finally tell her he loved her. Once he’d finished with a little self-pep-talk, Finn climbed into the Immersion Lounge and grabbed the accompanying headset from its case under the armrest, and put it on. He was greeted again by the LCS logo and a sign-in screen. The Sensation 2.0 registered his every movement, and just by typing on thin air in front of him in the virtual sign-in he was typing on a keyboard, and he felt each key as if it were actually there in the physical world. But Finn had had enough of the physical world and it was time to get back to the real one, and after he’d entered his information and hit enter, it phased into existence around him.
“Hey…, Jennifer.” Finn gently touched her shoulder. “I’m back.”
Jennifer opened her eyes and rolled over in bed, blinking the sleep away. She smiled up at Finn who stood at the bedside and held a tray with breakfast on it. “Well, what do we have here? Come here, you!” Jennifer grabbed Finn’s tie and pulled him in for a kiss.
“Happy Birthday, babe!” Finn said, setting down the breakfast tray down on the luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets. “You’ll have to wait until later for birthday cake, but what about birthday PANcakes?”
“You’re amazing, you know that?” Jennifer picked up a piece of sliced pineapple and popped it into her mouth, then smiled coyly. “But I’m not really hungry yet. I wonder if there’s anything we could do to work up an appetite. Give me a second, okay?”
Jennifer got up and disappeared into the bathroom to emerge a few minutes later washed up and fully naked. “Come here.” She said, beckoning Finn forward.
Through the Sensation 2.0, Finn could feel exactly how smooth and soft her skin was, pressed up tightly against him as they embraced. The mouthpiece attached to the virtual reality visor noticed its cue and lowered as Finn and Jennifer locked lips. The physical world melted away and for the next three minutes, as they made love, Finn forgot all about his real body back alone in Pod 12.
“I think I love you, Jennifer,” Finn said, once he had successfully completed his part of the activity. “You’re perfect.”
“Oh, babe!” Jennifer hugged him again and pressed her lips against his, then said happily, “I love you too!”
Waiting until the absolute last second before his hour was up, Finn kissed Jennifer goodbye and promised to return the next day. Once the connection severed and he was left staring at the LCS logo under which simply read GOODBYE, he pulled off the headset and climbed out of the Immersion Lounge, then stripped off the Sensation 2.0 suit, which luckily would be thoroughly cleaned before the next person put it on. Finn shuddered to think what the cleaning staff must have to put up with on a daily basis.
Once fully dressed again in his own clothes, Finn exited his pod with his three jackets draped over one arm. The last hour had been amazing, but now that he was back in this reality, a hollow bittersweet sadness was bearing down on him. He didn’t want to wait another 23 hours before he could return to Jennifer. Shoulders hunched, he made his way down the hallway, and as he walked he caught snippets of conversations and a lot of erotic moaning. This didn’t help his mood, because not only did the thought of his recent escapade in a very frequently used bodysuit disgust him after the fact, but he was also jealous that the people he could hear were still enjoying their simulations while he was stuck out here in a much less desirable reality.
“Hey,” Finn heard a voice behind him say. “You dropped this.”
A woman who’d just exited her pod was holding one of his jackets that must have slipped off the stack on his arm. “Huh? Oh, thanks.” Finn said.
“No problem. Hey, how was your hour?” She asked.
“Um, fine I guess.”
“I’d say it was a bit more than fine.” She said slyly.
Finn’s heart sank. “You heard me?”
“I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop either. You’re just really loud.” She was laughing but in a good-natured way. She didn’t seem to be making fun of him, just making a statement.
“Oh, God…” Finn’s face turned bright red and he smiled, thoroughly embarrassed. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay,” She was still smiling humorously as she stepped with her arm outstretched. “I’m Geneva.”
Finn shook her hand. “Finn.” He said in response.
“Nice to meet you, Finn!” When Geneva let go of his hand, she looked around and sighed. “Pretty depressing in here, isn’t it? We’re pathetic.”
Finn looked at her curiously. “Why do you say that?”
“Oh come on.” Geneva began, her smile vanishing completely. “We can’t find a date in this reality, so we give up the search and pay to spend an hour every day in a different one. I gotta say… I’m a bit ashamed every time I walk through that fucking door. But, I’m addicted, and so are you.”
“I’m not addicted,” Finn said defensively, frowning and suddenly wondering why he was having this wildly uncomfortable conversation.
“Oh yes you are. Believe me, I heard exactly how addicted you are. But again, not judging.”
“Well, it was nice to meet you.” Finn turned to leave, his tone suddenly cold as ice.
“That’s just it! We just met in the most terrible place two people could possibly meet, but what if it isn’t? What if this is the perfectly ideal place to meet your soulmate? Two lonely people who have to pay to spend an hour fucking a personalized AI. It’s horrible! The absolute worst situation.” Geneva paused for a second and looked Finn up and down. He was staring back at her with an unreadable expression on his face. “Okay, granted, I don’t particularly like you yet, but maybe I will! And I have a feeling you don’t like me all that much either, but maybe you will! So on that note, I say we go on a date tonight, and who knows? Maybe tomorrow we won’t have a reason to walk through that door.”