Whatever Willow thought that Soleil’s house would be like, it was about ten times bigger than that… The place they were driving up to was huge, no, that was an understatement, it was gigantic.
“Soleil?” Willow blinked, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
Soleil grinned at her. “Don’t be too impressed. This is not just my place. Some of the younger BASE employees live here. My apartment is in the back, looking out over the garden.”
Willow didn’t know how not to be impressed. The place was almost like a castle or something.
“I’d still bet that Willow and my place together would fit five times into your place.” Violet leaned between them, looking at the house in front of them.
“Oh, I’m pretty sure of that. Yeah.” Soleil grinned as the car stopped in front of the front door.
They all got out and Violet grabbed the box with the computer from the back.
“Okay, where to go next? This box is heavy.” She walked up the steps.
“Follow me, we’ll go through the hallway, it’s easier for you.” Soleil started walking in front of them, opening the front door with her palm print and then they stepped into a gigantic hallway.
Willow stopped, staring around. The inside of the building was all white walls and things like that, but while it looked to be all sorts of expensive materials, they also didn’t look like they were real. It was confusing.
“It’s built well, and looks fancy enough, but no, it’s not as expensive as it all looks.” Soleil let out a laugh. “We just thought it looked nicer like this than the concrete that it used to be. When we moved in, it was just bare concrete walls and the bare minimum in the other things that were in here. We designed it mostly to our own tastes. If you turn on the AR in here, it looks much better. But we’re going to do that later, gotta get Violet to my place first. I’ll show you around after that.” Soleil started walking again, and even though Soleil had said that she’d show them more later, Willow turned her AR on anyway and suddenly the whole hallway was filled with trees and flowers and statues and things like that. It was like a rain forest or something.
“Ehhh… Soleil?” Willow frowned.
Soleil looked behind her and let out a laugh. “Yes, this is the summer theme. You should see it in the winter.”
“What are you two talking about?” Violet looked around her, a little confused.
“Turn on your AR.” Willow stepped next to her.
“Can’t, got my hands full.” Violet let out a sigh.
“A moment.” Soleil made a few movements with her hands and then touched next to Violet’s eyes, who gasped.
“Okay. Yes. Impressive.” Violet looked around and almost tripped as they kept following Soleil. “I guess that’s what you get when you put BASE brains in the same house…”
“Yeah, pretty much.” Soleil laughed, then she waved at a guy who pulled his arm back like he was using a bow. “Hi, Micah!”
After he’d let the shot go, he looked up at them. “Hey! Getting the update today?”
“Yep. How are you doing?” They passed him by and even though Willow couldn’t see anything that he was seeing, she could imagine what he was doing, probably trying to defeat some creature.
“Finishing up my daily quest. Got to concentrate, or I’ll miss this one.” He nodded their way. “Good luck on the update!” Then he pulled his arm back again, all bow-like, and let another arrow fly.
They followed the hallway a little longer and then Soleil stopped in front of a door. “And this is my place.” She unlocked the door again with her palm print and then pushed it open, revealing a new hallway, this time in pastel colours, though a little on the darker side of pastel than the colours that Willow had been able to choose from for her own place. This actually looked nice. “Living room is down the hall, way in the back. Rooms here are two extra bedrooms and a few storage places. Upstairs is my bedroom, a bathroom and my office, and a balcony.”
“Definitely bigger than my place.” Violet grinned, putting the box down. “Wow.” She slowly walked down the hallway, and then turned back to Soleil, frowning. “You don’t have any AR here?”
Soleil shrugged a little, smiling. “I like to keep things calm around me, the world is busy enough. I don’t need to bring that into every part of my life.”
Violet nodded as she turned back, opening the door to the living room and Willow looked at Soleil. Violet may not understand the underlaying words of what Soleil was saying, but she did. This was Soleil’s safe place, this is where she went to calm down. The calm may have been forced onto Willow where she lived, but it wasn’t outside what she herself preferred anyway. But this place looked great and like she would love living here too.
If she’d be able to move out of her apartment building…
“Don’t give up hope.” Soleil’s words were soft as she touched Willow’s shoulder. “We may be able to make this happen for you too. Don’t give up.”
She nodded and then they both walked to the living room, a very bright and light living room, and Willow couldn’t help her grin.
She could definitely see herself living here. Definitely!
“No way! I don’t think so!” Violet bashed the buttons on her controller, trying to get her character, Kilik, to move faster, but he wasn’t going to win from Soleil’s Ivy, not this round. Soleil had Violet caught in a corner, Ivy’s whip attack eating away at Kilik’s HP by the second. Slash, slash, slash. It wasn’t fast, but it was steady.
Willow sat back in her bean bag, looking at the decently sized monitor on front of them, which had been a huge size about twenty or thirty years ago, or whenever it had been made, but in comparison to even the simplest of projector screens that they could augment these days, it didn’t compare at all. Soleil had been even more into old-school things than Willow originally thought. She knew that Soleil had been into coding and computers and even old phones, apparently, but she hadn’t had a clue that Soleil had collected consoles from the early ‘00s too, and a TV to go with them.
They were currently playing a fighting game called Soulcalibur and eating pizza. Soleil had just won from Willow and was kicking Violet’s ass too. It was a little unfair, as Willow didn’t have much experience with old console controllers, her only sort of ‘old’ stuff she used was that she loved to use a keyboard layout that looked like those actual keyboards they had in the ‘20s but that was about it. Most people either voiced the chats that they often used or used more modern keyboard layouts which had more to do with how the person themselves typed than how keyboards used to look. But no, she didn’t have enough experience playing on console controllers and Soleil obviously had a lot of experience.
The BASE system was currently downloading and then starting the install of the update, and they couldn’t access the BASE platform at the moment, since their system could be more vulnerable for attacks during the update and it was taking a lot of power to perform the update. So, instead, they were gaming and eating, spending their time together having fun.
“Yes!” Soleil pumped her fist into the air. “I won.”
Violet glared her way. “You have no shame, do you? Defeating poor little us?”
Soleil grinned at Violet. “No. No, shame at all.” Then she looked to the rest of the house. “At least I can win from you guys. Some of the others in the building… Their reflexes aren’t as fun to play against. They always win from me.”
Willow sat up a little, grabbing a new slice of pizza. “You do this often? Go offline and just play old games?”
Soleil shrugged with one shoulder. “Not really offline, we tend to stay online, but yeah, we regularly get together to play old games. When you work with cutting edge software and such, sometimes it’s just fun to do this. Sit together and play something simpler. Something that isn’t ‘fully immersive’.” She leaned back, her eyes going from side to side and then she let out a slow breath. “Update is getting close to reboot for me.” Then she grinned at them. “If it doesn’t take too long, we may be able to join Micah in Shades of the Spirit World. If he’s not off to work yet.” She stood up, stretching. “Anyone want something to drink?”
“Fizzy stuff?” Willow looked back to the kitchen.
Soleil let out a short laugh. “You’ve tried strawberry, lime, lemon, blue something, kiwi… More?”
In her head, Willow ticked them all off. She’d tried five different drinks already, so that sounded about right. “That leaves…?”
Soleil opened the fridge, one of the rows was filled with fizzy drinks, some new brand that sent a whole load of trays to the BASE headquarters to let the employees try them, and apparently Soleil had gotten a whole tray with all six flavours in them and had put them in her fridge. “We’ve got blackberry left.”
“Sounds good.” Willow grinned. She was ready to try anything tonight, she felt bold. Although, it would probably exhaust her, as it always did when she felt like this.
Soleil looked at Violet. “You?”
“Same as her.” Violet grinned. “Though that blue something wasn’t my fav.”
Soleil grinned and grabbed two cans of blackberry and then grabbed herself a bottle of some coconut drink, which seemed to be her go-to. Then she sat down, handing them their drinks. “To an evening filled with cool things, hopefully.” She raised her bottle.
“I can drink to that.” Violet raised her can and Willow did the same.
Then a row of text floated in front of Willow.
*The system needs to reboot to apply the update.*
Her heart started beating louder and she put the drink down. She knew this wasn’t something to be scared of, the system would simply reboot and while she’d be locked out of the BASE system for only a little while, it suddenly felt a lot bigger than that.
“Reboot?” Violet reached out to her, taking her hand.
“We’re here. And it only takes a few moments of darkness. We’re right here by your side.” Violet squeezed her hand and Willow leaned back in the beanbag.
When the BASE unit shut down, it would disconnect from all her senses for a few moments, which could relax her muscles for a few moments too. It shouldn’t be scary, but right now, it did feel it.
She focused on the message in front of her. ‘Yes.’
The world around her went dark and she could feel the jolt go through her body as she lost and regained control. Then, as she blinked a couple of times, she saw again, the sounds around her louder, the lights brighter, everything so much more intense.
She took a couple of deep breaths, trying to regain her composure. The BASE unit was now turned off, and she hadn’t realised how much she’d already been messing with the systems, how much she’d been muting the settings.
“Willow?” Violet came closer. “You okay?”
Willow nodded. “I’m good. I think.”
Violet smiled and then let out a short breath. “It seems I’m up too.” She leaned back in her own beanbag, closing her eyes.
It seemed like something flickered in front of Willow’s eyes for a moment, and then the lights and sounds were lower again.
*BASE has been rebooted and is still updating.*
*Please wait until the update is finished before changing any settings.*
She looked at Soleil, who was smiling at her. “I’m about to go up next. Any changes yet?”
Willow shook her head. “Nothing much, back to normal for now.”
Soleil nodded. “What I’ve heard, it’ll be much better for you. But, of course, nobody is the same, so it can feel different for you.”
Violet sat up again, looking around. “I never realised how different this could be.” She let out a laugh. “Well, at least I now know what people in the old days would feel like.”
“I prefer BASE.” Willow smiled too. “It was a bit too much for me.”
Violet nodded. “Yeah. I get that. Now, to wait for the rest of the update.”
“And the download of the game.” Willow grabbed her can of blackberry fizzy and took a sip. It didn’t feel any different yet, but that didn’t mean much for now. She was looking forward to trying out the new settings, probably more even than trying out the new game.
But they were both important to her. They were both interesting.