He knew it as she put the coffee mug in front of him. She pierced deep into his eyes and stirred a little too slowly. He smiled, trying to look as innocent as possible. How could she know? She couldn’t. It was impossible. The authentication system was fully biometric. There was no way anyone could look into his account and see what he’d been up to. Not even his wife.
‘How was it?’
‘How was what?’
‘Who is she?’
‘Who is who?’
‘Where did you go with her?’
Images of a faraway sandy beach flashed before his eyes. The warm breeze, the gentle waves crashing against their feet and the soft sand between their toes. The blood red sunrise, the gentle warmth as the rays hit their naked bodies. Running hand in hand, falling into the cool surf and making love. It happened in his dream and there was no way she could know.
‘Was it a colleague? An actual person or an avatar? I can understand an avatar, but if she’s a genuine person, if you went there with somebody else… Was it somebody real?’
‘I’ve been here all along. I work from home, I was in bed with you, sleeping. What are you talking about?’
‘How do you explain this?’ She projected a receipt onto the kitchen wall.
In Your Dreams, it said. It was a rental service, much like the old movie streaming services they used to have. They marketed it as a sleeping aid. You could rent dreams before going to bed and be guaranteed a good sleep. Their holiday sceneries were popular. You fell asleep and found yourself on a beach or in a forest, on a mountain top or on a boat, sailing the oceans. Every week, they added new scenes. ‘It’s a receipt from In Your Dreams. You use it as well.’
‘This.’ She pointed at a subitem. Away Together. ‘Who were you with?’
He hadn’t thought of it showing up on the receipt. It was innocent enough; you rented a dream and invited others to join. ‘I thought it would be a good idea if we went away for a night. I bought it for you.’
‘You woke me up. You were moaning and groaning and you were fully aroused. You weren’t counting pigeons on a square in Rome. You were with someone and you had sex.’
What could he say? They’d been married over 20 years. He had never cheated on her. He wasn’t even sure if this qualified as cheating. Surely, dreaming with somebody wasn’t a crime? Yes, he had invited a young female colleague to join his dream, and yes, they had run together in the sand and made love on the beach. They’d been all alone, because that’s how it works in those dreams. Nobody saw them, nobody knew, they hadn’t met in reality. ‘I don’t know what I look like when I sleep, but I was asleep in my own bed. How can I be cheating on you?’
It didn’t help. She stormed out, shouting something about staying with her mother and that she wanted a divorce. She’d been threatening with it for a while now, and it looked like she meant it this time. It was a dream, goddamn it, he thought to himself. A dream. Nothing more.
As the front door slammed shut, he poured himself another cup of coffee and looked out onto the street. It was quiet. It was always quiet. Nobody went outside these days. Life happened in a virtual reality, in a chair with a headset on. You sat down, put that thing on your head and were instantly at work, in the supermarket or wherever you wanted to be. The supermarket was especially convenient. There were no other people, and the products you normally bought were lined up at the front. You just touched them and they were in your basket, then delivered to your house within ten minutes. The gym was good too; they put you in a beautiful location and the algorithm fooled your brain into burning calories as you virtually ran, swam or climbed. The latest addition, sharing your experiences was great, as you could invite people to come along. What was the harm in that?
He finished his coffee and sat down in his work chair, leaned backwards and put on the headset and goggles. He was in his office and so was she. She looked at him and smiled. ‘Thanks for last night.’ She kissed him passionately, and he felt her body push against his. She looked into his eyes. ‘I have this report you need to look at. You know where to find me.’ She smiled and left the office.
This story is the fifth installment in the Moments series