He stood in the doorway to my office wearing an overweight avatar, complete with sweat patches under the arms. I could almost smell him. I'll never understand why some people can't bring themselves to recreate themselves in an manner at least broadly approaching pleasant; then again, some folk get their aesthetic kicks from all sorts of unlikely directions. And at least this was a variation on the herculean lumps of meat that were the normal representation of manhood to visit, either to outline to me in stumbling words their suspicions of virtual infidelity or to communicate to me with fists an unhappiness at my exposure of their own. Rotherham Higgs-Boson sat down in the chair opposite – I could almost hear the sigh – and I removed my feet from the desk and put down my paper with its concealed copy of 'Avatar Housewives' inside. “What can I do for you, Mr. Higgs-Boson?” I asked him.
“This is very hard for me, Mr Luck,” he began, apparently pun unintentional, “You see, I'm a particle physisist.”
“Working in Rotherham, by any chance?” I enquired, always keen to impress upon new clients my astonishing powers of deduction at the earliest opportunity.
“Living in Rotherham,” he replied flatly. “I work at the University of Sheffield, but that's unimportant. The point is, I'm not given to any sort of belief in the paranormal or any other such nonsense.” Whilst he spilled his angst across my desk, its woodwork already soaked in the despair of so many others before him, I did a quick image search on particle physisists at Sheffield; I got quite a few different hits, but about a quarter of them were women and of those remaining only one resembled Higgs-Boson and resembled him to a tee. Professor Richard Byrne. The likeness between the picture on the research interests page and the avatar sitting across from me was quite remarkable. His technical ability, then, far outstripped his powers of imagination – or, at least, that was what I was meant to think. I made a note of that.
“But what's a scientist to do when confronted with the evidence of his own eyes?” Higgs-Boson continued. “Books moved from their shelves in the morning. Papers tipped onto the floor. The television turned on. And now this!”
“If you're talking about things that go bump in your real life night then I should remind you that I'm a metaverse investigator,” I told him carefully. “Real life stuff is out of my jurisdiction. In any case, it sounds more like you should be consulting a priest rather than a detective.”
“You don't understand, Mr Luck,” he told me. “This spirit... this poltergeist... it was one thing when it was just messing about with my physical stuff... but now it's somehow managed to find its way into the metaverse.”
“Tell me more,” I said, mentally ticking the 'loony' box on the case notes for this one.
“It started happening last week. My metaverse partner asked me why I was logging on so late at night and not responding to her IMs. The times she gave me all corresponded to times when I was asleep in bed! At about the same time, all the moving of physical objects in my house just stopped. Then, two days ago, I logged on to find my avatar looking like this!” He passed me a picture. Whilst it rezzed, I wondered what was the more improbable detail of this insane story – the notion that a spirit could log into the metaverse or the possibility that an avatar like Higgs-Boson could somehow attract a partner. Then the self-portrait blurred into focus: a demur brunette dressed in stockings, lace panties and a tattoo that looked like someone had written the complete works of Harold Robbins across her taught pale skin in black crayon.
“I need you to track this person down, Mr. Luck,” Higgs-Boson told me, sending me his friendship whilst he spoke, including location and object editing rights. “Find out what she wants. I can't talk to her myself. I don't know. Maybe I can set up an alternate account for her. Surely some sort of peaceful co-existance is possible?”
A pre-empt. It had to be. Naughty Richard had had his sexy late-night alter-ego discovered by his girlfriend and this was the ludicrous story he'd concocted to try to cover his tracks. Approaching me was pressumably part of his attempt to convince her of his integrity. It never ceases to amaze me the sort of nonsense the exposed adulterer can dream up and honestly think believable. But I accepted the friendship – plus my normal downpayment (multiplied a few times by my 'bollocks factor') – and told him I'd try to make contact that evening. Seven hours passed and finally I saw him log off. Then another hour and nothing. Then another twenty minutes. Finally, at ten to two in the morning local time, the little blue box announced his reappearance on the grid. I waited five minutes and teleported over to his location.
There she was, all skin and lust. She was lying on her side on a cheap sex bed in an even cheaper motel, her arm drapped across her naked hip and her gaze upon my face from the moment I materialised. “Hey there, Richard,” I said in IM, wondering what reaction the use of his RL name would evoke. For an age, I watched the message that s/he was typing something in reply.
Finally, the message, “Take me” appeared.
“That's an awful lot of typing for just two words,” I told her. “Ain't deception a cognitive bitch?” Another wait; even longer, this time. Finally, she replied with, “Small keys. Hard.”
And then again, “Take me.”
So Rotherham Higgs-Boson became the most non-verbal fuck I ever had. No better way to get to know someone, I of course reasoned. But, in fact, I learned nothing at all. The next day, I waited for the male version to show up, but waited in vain. Just before his usual log-off time, I checked the internet again to see if I could find out more about the real life driver of this psychopath.
“Particle physisist killed in motorway accident,” the news item read. In several local publications. On the way to work that morning, apparently. So that was that. Case closed. But enough Lindens banked to cover three months' rent or a night out at Zeta's lapdance bar (the latter being unquestionably the more likely expenditure), so all in all not a waste of time in the slightest.
Or so I thought. Until ten to two in the morning, when the blue box announced a login. And did so every subsequent day at the same time until I cancelled the friendship. Some cases are better left uninvestigated.
© 2011 Huckleberry Hax