Note: To be honest, I'm not even sure exactly where I'm going to take this fic. In a weird way, there's a good chance it will turn out to be a collection of chronological drabbles about these two characters that sort of have a romantic plot. Yes, one is an OC, but hopefully I manage to characterize him well, and in a way that you few readers enjoy (since the only other draw for this story is Clair, and maybe five people want to read about her). As with most of what I write, there's philosophy in here, and just to emphasize how pretentious I am, the title of this fic comes from a particular line in a Sufjan Stevens song. There may be some sexual themes later, and the OC doesn't have the cleanest of mouths, but I don't know if I'm willing to go far enough to raise the rating yet.
Anyway, this is for Sorceress Myst as a thanks for all her advice and encouragement.
He rose from the console and shook the clothes that hung from his thin body free of dust. His eyes blinked hard in the harsh lights of his small home, its holographic projections on the walls flickering in a way that always made his head spin. Staggering, his bare feet thumped dully on the metallic floor as he tried his best to walk.
Two whole days—the longest he'd ever been plugged into Eternal Sphere-and already his real body had begun to fade from neglect. He could feel his skin drawn tight across his ribs. The rotating chute above the dinner table spat out a package of food, which he ate in small bites as if afraid his stomach might reject nutrition like a foreign object. The polished surface of the table beneath his elbows reflected his gaunt and unshaven face, but he didn't bother to look at it. It didn't matter much anymore.
An urgent beep issued from one of the other consoles and he sighed. He had an article to finish, or else their subscribers might begin to drop. The Ministry of Labor didn't consider writing much of an important task, and so someone of his low social class could still post pieces online as a form of mutual entertainment. Only the privileged classes were allowed to do what the Ministry saw as actual work: the production and distribution of goods or non-recreational programming. He supposed the head of the Eternal Sphere project must be someone of great stature to build all that he had: not only the most complex MMORPG developed in the last century, but multiple theme parks dedicated to it as well.
He reached across the table and examined a book with a naked disk wedged between the pages. The book was old; it had to be, now that books had gone out of production for several decades in favor of e-readers. It was a volume left over from his grandmother's collection, and she passed it on to him as soon as he made it to graduate school. A light gold color still highlighted the imprint of the author's name in the cover. It was one of his favorites, but what he really needed was the disk.
Scribbled on the CD's surface in laser pen was the name of some old exploitation film from the age when all social classes with enough money could produce such things. Maybe five of the elite were allowed to work on movies, and they all looked the same: polished, sentimental flicks with enough subtle sex and violence to entertain the masses, but hardly enough to frighten a child. Ratings systems were a thing of the past, because every parent or prude knew what to expect. It struck him as a shame, which is why he wrote for the blog that fought to keep the memory of "true cinema" alive.
But Eternal Sphere was a different matter altogether compared to the bland collection of entertainment and luxuries presented to the lower classes. It had a vague life to it that seemed...unpredictable at times. Characters with breakthrough AI programming looked at him in ways that chilled and intrigued him. It was a nice fantasy—a place where he didn't seem entirely meaningless, because the players like him were the ones who gave these lumps of pseudo-sentient data meaning. Or so he often thought, and the lingering doubt made him want to stay.
He glanced at the Eternal Sphere console as his long legs began to tremble from weakness. Its preview screen showed a dark planet surrounded by multiple moons. He watched it longingly as he turned the disk around in his hands. Maybe the film could wait.