Part one of a new story set in Second Life. As promised, I’ll be serialising this over the next couple of weeks, so check back each day for the next part.
I’m indebted to Dizi, my friend of 13 years in SL (exactly 13 years: it was my rez day yesterday and I’ve known her since day one of my SL), for posing as Vicky/Curiosity in the pictures accompanying this story.
Nicholas Harding had quite the crush on his line manager. Victoria Kent was a slim, toned, deeply attractive woman. An inch or so short of what most might consider ‘tall,’ she had straight blonde hair that extended all the way down to the base of her shoulder blades and the posture of a professional dancer. She always wore high heels. She usually wore a dark pantsuit, but in the summer months she often came into work in one piece, high necked dresses of varying dark or pastel colours. Her smooth voice could have made it on the BBC as a newsreader or continuity announcer easily. But it wasn’t these things alone that attracted Nick to her. Vicky was the most organised, the most efficient, the most professional and probably one of the most intelligent people he had ever met. Her mind was as sharp as a brand new razor and her ability to task switch stunned him. As a package, he thought she was just amazing. And totally out of his league.
Nick knew he was nothing much to look at. A slightly dishevelled man in his mid-thirties, the only thing he was an inch and a half just short of was overweight. His shirts were badly ironed and most of them a size too small for him. He left it too long between haircuts. And more than one flight of steps got him out of breath to the extent that it interfered with his ability to talk. Whilst it could be claimed without doubt that he was one of the most skilled database operators in his office, he was in no way management material. He had no enjoyment of – or skill in – telling people what to do. He blushed easily when attention was on him. He found it difficult to switch from a technical task in which he was immersed to the big picture of why that task had to be done.
Nick knew his crush on Vicky was a silly little thing, and he barely admitted its existence even to himself. For the large part he reciprocated the professional respect she showed him and they got on well together as colleagues. But every now and again he would catch some aspect of her movement in the corner of his eye and remark to himself just what a magnificent woman she was. And every now and again when he was in a meeting with her he would notice some close-up aspect of her such as the skin on the back of her hand and wonder what it would be like to hold her in his arms or to undo slowly the long zip in one of those one piece dresses and get to see her naked back gradually revealed to him. Every now and again he would wonder what it might be like to be with someone like her and whether someone like her could ever be attracted to what he held to be his inner being.
The tale I’m about to lay before you began with a meeting. Nick and a couple of his co-workers were in an early morning conference call to India over a database procedure that had to be changed. A function that had been moved overseas six months earlier had turned out to require quite a bit more human decision-making than had previously been understood (a fact that the three people who’d been made redundant by the transfer had tried many times to point out); subsequently, the process was taking quite a bit more rather than quite a bit less time because the workflow ended up getting bottlenecked every time India decided it couldn’t decide something and had to refer the matter back to the UK office. This often happened before the start of UK business hours and by the time the matter had been replied to India had often finished for the day. The objective of the meeting, then, was to identify and categorise as many of these decision points as possible to see if any of them could be dealt with more efficiently. Or something like that. Vicky was not required in the meeting, but she had asked to be reported to on its conclusions. They reached an impasse quite quickly, however, because India essentially didn’t get that there was a problem that needed solving. This needed to be explained to them by someone higher up the management chain. So Nick went to get his boss.
At just gone seven thirty in the morning (one o’clock in the afternoon in Mumbai), the office was empty and quiet. Vicky, of course, was at her desk. They worked in an open plan office, with head-height cubicle dividers. As Nick approached her space, he could hear the familiar high-speed rattle of her touch-typing. He rounded her divider and knocked on the corner of her desk. “Morning Vicky!”
She startled. “Gosh, Nick, you shocked me!” Quickly, she minimised the window she’d been working in on her computer, but not before Nick had had a glimpse of it.
It was a Gmail account. Nothing especially odd about that, of course, but it was a Gmail account in a different name than hers. And Nick had got a look at that name before it disappeared. It was ‘Curiosity Redgrave.’
The name might have sounded just a bit odd to most people and nothing more than that. To Nick, however, it instantly meant something, and it meant something quite remarkable. As a long-term Second Life resident, he recognised the name ‘Redgrave’ as a well-established skin and clothing brand in the metaverse, named after its founder, Emilia Redgrave. Redgrave, then, was a Second Life surname. And that meant that Vicky was a Second Life resident.
Nick forced his eyes away from her screen so that she wouldn’t see that he’d been looking at it and tried to focus his thoughts back onto the matter of the conference call. It wasn’t easy. Vicky! A Secondlifer! This was a huge insight into the intimate world of a person who ordinarily kept her private life a very closed book. Vicky Kent a Secondlifer! Nick couldn’t wait to get home so that he could log on and take a look at her profile. His mind was full of questions. What did she look like in SL? What did she spend her time inworld doing? Did she have a business? Did she have a partner? Did she own land? Was she a builder? Did she have a Flickr account? Did she have a blog? It was all that Nick could do to stumble through an incoherent explanation of the difficulty they were having with Mumbai, blushing intensely as he did so. For the rest of the day his mind was hopelessly distracted.
Vicky Kent a Secondlifer. Who would have thought it? As he walked home that evening, Nick basked in the glow of having stumbled across someone’s well-hidden secret. Oh, how his colleagues would have loved to know what he knew. Vicky Kent a Secondlifer. But much as he enjoyed cashing in on any exclusive gossip he came by as much as the next man, Nick had no intention of telling them. They wouldn’t have appreciated this knowledge anything like as much as he did because none of them – at least so far as he knew – were Secondlifers themselves. He was. And he had no intention of telling them that he was a Secondlifer as the basis for his appreciation of the bigness of the information that she was too. No. And anyway, Vicky was a fellow SL resident. He and she had something in common. They were both part of the same community. For that reason alone, he would not betray her.
He wondered if he’d tell her that he knew eventually. Probably not, because then he’d have to own up to having known this about her and not said something straight away. It might look like he’d been spying on her, even though his reading of that name off her screen had been quite involuntary. ‘Redgrave’ had extra special meaning to him on top of the association most Secondlifers had with it: one of his very first friends in SL had also had that surname, and she had died of cancer a few years into his SL. He contemplated letting this fact slip one day in her company so that she could say, “Oh, you’re a resident in SL? So am I!” From that moment onwards, he fantasized, they would share a special bond in the office that no other colleague would know about or understand. Perhaps they’d make private jokes to each other from time to time that incorporated SL terminology, like commenting to each other in a crowded room just how ‘laggy’ it was. Nick had always wanted an SL friend in real life, someone who knew and understood what it was like to be active in the virtual world. There had been a time, once, when Second Life was often talked about on the TV and radio; even though people were embarrassed back then also to admit they were part of that scene, everyone thought in the back of their minds that it was inevitably the beginning of something much bigger. Back in those days when someone he knew scoffed at the very idea of a ‘second’ life he would put on what he thought was his best wise smile and assure them that they wouldn’t be talking like that in five to ten years’ time. And what had happened since then? The gradual sliding of the metaverse into the very periphery of everyday online activity was something he still couldn’t understand. He didn’t get why people didn’t get SL. It angered him that this activity was still a part of his life that he had to hide when talking to people in the real world about his life outside of working hours.
It had to be the same for Vicky, he thought. It had to. Why else would she have minimised that Gmail screen as quickly as she did? Wouldn’t she relish the chance to have a friend in real life she could chat to about virtual world worries, someone whose eyes wouldn’t glaze over and who could be relied upon not to later bring up the fact of her membership when there was an audience around and the potential for laughs? Perhaps the two of them might go out to lunch together from time-to-time: nothing romantic; just a couple of colleagues grabbing an occasional catch-up sandwich and a coffee from the point of view of everyone else in the office. His colleagues might become a little confused over time about how it was that such an unlikely friendship could have evolved. They would probably be jealous. Nick liked the idea of his colleagues being jealous of him. He smiled.
But then he frowned. Get real, you idiot, he told himself. She’d never voluntarily tell me about her SL. No accidental slip on my part is ever going to make her surrender that information about herself. To do so, he realised, would constitute a change in the power difference between them. For all her professional respect and courtesy, anyone who worked with Vicky was in no doubt whatsoever of the difference in rank between them. And even the people at the same level as her – and most probably the people above her too – knew that work and pleasure were two things which most definitely did not mix for Victoria Kent. No. If he ever did let the fact of his SL residency ‘accidentally’ slip then she would most likely just pretend that she’d heard nothing at all. There was no way in hell that someone like her would ever be any sort of special buddy to someone like him. She might well be a fellow resident of SL, but she was never going to mix of her own accord with one of the little people.
Want to read another story by me set in SL? I’ve also serialised ‘The man who had an affair with his wife’ – the first part is here (scroll down past the text on NaNoWriMo to get to it).