Flora spent the last few days with reigning herself in not to give the craftspeople too many suggestions on how to renovate the kitchen. Instead, she surfed the internet pages of the virtual world.

In her life, she had witnessed computer shrinking from a workstation as big as a nightstand to an implant as small as a grain of salt. Every generation got more intelligent, and more ways to interact with them opened up. First, you had to type complicated commands, then click with a mouse, then swish with fingers, then just tell them what you wanted. Now, they tracked the movements of your eyes and fingers. With wiggling your pinky, you could raise the temperature of the heater, dim the light, and play music.

Warnings about AIs were older than AIs themselves. The problem with old warnings is that they were old.

Which child wasn’t warned about drugs before they took their first hit? But then they thought, that wasn’t so bad.

Of course, Flora’s generation had been warned that you shouldn’t compromise your privacy by giving out personal information on the internet. But you could win a toaster by just filling out a short survey or get access to a neat little farming game, so they set aside the admonitions. And nothing bad happened after you did it the first time.

Nothing bad had happened when Siri was introduced, and Alexa conquered the homes.

Nothing overt, at least.

‘What happens when you have the whole world at your fingertip? Do you get spoiled, lazy, and entitled? Do you become free of the daily grind and can dive into the wonders of the world?’

The people introduced the AI’s into their world, into their homes and even into their bodies with implants. In contrast, the Cetviwos was the realm of the AIs, and they invited people, the players, into it. What would they do if they were the host and not the guest?

Flora was equally captivated by and suspicious of AIs. What would they want if they developed a will? Peace and cooperation? Rights? Power? Money? Hot robot-chicks and connecting rhythmically to their ports? Love?

Besides the philosophical ramblings, she read about the actual experiences of the users.

She had the strong urge to call Robert to say this was a bad idea, and they should think it over.

‘I can understand that you can kill monsters, but people can kill other people?’ Her fear rose.

‘You can build robots? Maybe even toaster robots?’ Her excitement rose.

‘There are con-artists who rob the technologically unsavvy?’ Her fear rose.

‘You can visit a planet which is modeled after earth in different centuries, and you can see dinosaurs, knight tournaments and the building of the pyramids (Egyptian and South American) in one day!’ Her excitement rose.

‘What is PvE? What is skill rotation? What the heck are they talking about?’ Her fear rose.

‘You can tone down pain? You can get stronger and more agile?’ Her excitement rose.

‘Can these virtual reality pods sustain my life 24/7?’ Her fear rose.

‘What? They claim it’s even healthy?’ Her excitement rose.

This interplay of emotions drained her. She breathed and cleared her mind.

‘I will do what I always do. I’ll wing it. May the higher powers grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, the wisdom to know the difference, and enough luck not to frack myself too badly!’

‘Time flies by too fast.’

Flora was sitting on the passager seat of Robby’s car and sulked.

“This could be my last chance to drive a real car, and you won’t let me?”


“At least bring a few arguments instead of wordless refusal!”


She continued sulking. ‘I only had some minor accidents, and most of the time, Robby wasn’t even on board.’

After some time, they arrived at an industrial park where the pod facility was located amidst rundown factories. The building was multi-storied and shabby. Only the first floor and the highest floor had windows. A bright store sign read ‘JourneyVirtual – Your vehicle for journeying into the Virtual World’.

A young woman greeted them and showed them a presentation about JourneyVirtual’s services. After that, Flora signed some contracts, and her pod was shown to her.

‘My own pod. Looks a bit like a coffin.’ Flora shuddered. ‘Or a project of a mad scientist.’ That last thought cheered her up.

She scanned the box. There was a lot of padding, cables, mesh fabric, and sensors. The interior looked remarkably like the interior of the VR-Helmet of the CAD-System. Of course, she had been interested in the technology and had taken it apart and failed to assemble it again. She remembered the snarky email she had received: ‘We noticed that the helmets of engineers tend to have more accidents than of other participants. Please take care of your helmet.’

“Ma? Are you listening to me?” Robby said. “I have to go, love you, please remember, after joining the VR World do not go ANYWHERE! Wait for me at the Plaza! DO NOT MOVE!”

He hugged her and wanted to move on, but Flora clung to him and showered him with kisses, messed up his hair and hugged him a bit tighter. When he stopped struggling, she finally let him go.

“Alright, now I’m ready.”

She got naked, and the assistant put stickers with cables all over her body and pipes in all body openings. She couldn’t move an inch. As the lid closed and darkness engulfed her, she had to fight down the panic.

“Hello Flora Fluss, welcome to the Central Tank Virtual Worlds.” a soft voice said.

“The calibrating process will take a few minutes. Please follow the instructions.”

The voice instructed her to tense muscles, move her eyeballs, breath in patterns. The darkness receded, and colorful lights filled her vision. She was tasked to reach out to rays of a specific color and did that. ‘I can move again!’ She tried to move forward but realized that she could only move her arms.

“Be patient. We will come to this point soon.”

Flora rolled her eyes and was happy that she could still roll her eyes. She followed the more and more complex directives. In the end, she could move fully and chased the yellow lights enthusiastically.

“Calibration completed. Thank you for your effort. We are proceeding to character creation.”

The lights vanished, and Flora saw an animated 3D Image of herself in front of her.

The image wore a plaid skirt and a light sweater. Flora looked down on herself and saw that she wore the same attire.

‘This won’t do.’

“Do you want to modify your avatar or continue to the Virtual World?” The voice asked.

“I want trousers.”

The image changed to plaid trousers. ‘That’s even worse.’

“I want beige trousers.”

Now the image was wearing beige trousers which contrasted nicely with the baby blue sweater.

“Do you want to modify your avatar or continue to the Virtual World?” The voice asked again.

“I haven’t even started yet, dear,” Flora smirked. “I want to modify my avatar.”

She knew that stating her wishes clearly, worked best with artificial intelligence, and she assumed that she was speaking with one.

A panel with some tabs named after different body parts and slides appeared in front of her.

“Evai: Save Project as Flora Zero,” she mumbled out of habit and felt immediately silly. That was a command from the CAD System, and Evai was her artificial intelligence personal assistant. But she discovered a reset button on the panel, so she wasn’t worried about testing the shit out of the features.

She surfed enthusiastically through the tabs and moved the sliders on a whim. Her avatar had morphed into a 2,50 m tall green monster with violet hair and eyeballs as big as footballs.

Flora giggled.

“That was fun, but Evai: Load Project named Flora Zero.”

‘Oh no, I did it again!’

To her amazement, the command worked. The avatar changed back to her initial countenance.

“Evai, are you there?” She tensed. She missed Evai. Evai was on another level than the AIs in the real world. Comparing Evai with Alexus or Sirius was like comparing a Ferrari with a tricycle.


“What’s your name? And why do my commands work?”

“You can call me System. I have no authority to answer the second question.”

“Do you know Evai?”

“I have no authority to answer the question.”

“What is the connection between the Yuan-Xianshi CAD Software and this VR?”

“I have no authority to answer the question.”

“What is the meaning of life?”

“I have insufficient processing-power to answer the question.”

Flora realized that she wasn’t going anywhere and pondered her next steps.

‘What if other features of the CAD Software work too? No harm in trying.’

“System: Load Tool-Selection Foras Fav’s!”

The panel vanished, and the tools of the CAD Software appeared in precisely the configuration she liked the most. She smirked.

“Alright, let me show you what happens when an engineer works on a human body!” Flora erupted in full-blown mad scientist laughter. “Muahahahaaaaaaa!”

Flora Fluss looked at the stairs.

‘It’s just one floor. No big deal. You did it yesterday, you do it today, and you will do it tomorrow.’

Slowly she took one stair at a time while clutching the handrail. Her right knee complained moderately about the exercise, but her hip really let her know that it didn’t like the stairs.

She didn’t pause at the platform between the floors, because that’s for old people. As a 71-year-old woman, she insisted that she was totally capable of climbing the stairs in one go.

‘A cooked egg would be nice.’

Flora opened the door to the flat and went straight to the kitchen. She filled a pot with water and took off her hat.

Her mind was occupied with what to do next. ‘I could read a book or watch that cute dancing show. I would love to design a new toaster … I haven’t drawn for a long time, are my markers still working?’

Absentmindedly she put the cooking pot on the hatrack and the pink hat on the stove. After that, she put in two eggs and raised the temperature.

‘And where are my aquarelle markers actually? I think I put them in the bathroom because …. hmm … why would I put them in the bathroom? Maybe in the hope that the humid environment stops them from drying-out?’

She rushed to the bathroom, discovered dirty laundry, and started the washing machine.

While rummaging through the drawers, she discovered a lot of old mascara. ‘I could draw the toaster design with mascara. Something like a homage to withering beauty … to withering care … to withering aspirations … to shifting priorities? Combining two rich fields of women’s obligations, making breakfast and being beautiful.’

The fire alarm started beeping, but the noise of the washing machine won.

Two hours later, Flora sat on in front of her house and watched the fireman hustling in and out. There were no more dark clouds of smoke drifting out of her kitchen window, but the smell of burned plastic lingered.

A tall black man in a dark business suit jogged towards her.

“Ma! What happened? Are you okay?” He hugged Flora and inspected her.

Flora smiled at him. “I made some eggs, they turned out really nice.”

She showed him the two eggs who miraculously survived the fire. They were violet, pink and black marbled.

“But I will say to you, sweety, the next time I’m cooking eggs in a hat, I will use a cotton hat or something organic. I’m nearly certain that you can’t eat them anymore.”

“Not funny. At all. Ma!” He paused. “But they do look nice, a bit magical even. I saw dragon eggs in … you know … the game which looked similar. But they also glowed.”

“I can make them glow. I can find a way to put an LED in there!”

“Oh no, you don’t! You got me again driving on your crazy train! The issue is not whether the eggs are pretty or not …”

“But they are.” injected Flora.

“But that you burned down your kitchen! Ma!”

“It needed renovation.”

“Renovation not destruction.”

“You can’t create innovation without destruction.”

Experience told him not to get into philosophical discussions with his mother.

“You can’t live alone anymore. I sent you some links to retirement homes.”

“I’m not that old. 70 is the new 60 and 60 is the new 50 and 50 is the new … “

“You are that old.”

“If I’m that old, then I’m old enough to have grandkids. Where are my grandkids? Produce some grandkids instead of playing around with dragon eggs. Inseminate some human eggs.”

“I’m not playing around, I’m working!”

“Working with dragon eggs? To my knowledge, there is no recognized occupation called ‘dragon breeder’ in this world. And I thought you had a security company.” Flora was confused. She distinctly remembered attending some office parties. The people there where buff folks, ex-military, and ex-cops. They didn’t conform to the nerdy gamer stereotype. Therefore, Flora had difficulties connecting the security company to a game, not to mention the whole dragon breeding stuff.

“Actually, in the virtual world, that job exists.”

“So you breed dragons? And who would buy a dragon?” She paused. “Okay, maybe I would be interested in buying a dragon. But not a pixel dragon … a real one … maybe I would use it as a mount or play with it or eat it. I wonder what dragon steaks taste like.”

“That would be cannibalism.” He grinned.

“Oh, you terrible son!” She grinned too. “But I still don’t understand how you can make money with a game.”

“I shifted my security company gradually over the last two years into the virtual world. Rich businessmen want to level up secure and fast. We provide them protection.”

“And why are businessmen playing games?” Flora was still puzzled.

“In the virtual world, time flows at the double speed of the real world. Therefore they can work 48 hours in virtual reality while only 24 hours in the real world go by.”

Flora nodded. She could see the advantages of that. She had to make a lot of crazy deadlines while she was still working as an industrial designer. ‘On the other hand, people will start to plan with virtual time. Therefore the stress will be the same long term. The situation could be worse because the time spent with family and friends in the real world will be shorter in comparison to the working time. Horrible. So the pressure or gain spending leisure time in the virtual world increases … This is a vicious circle.’

While Flora was lost in thought, her son told her some examples of businesses that were uniquely affected like creative jobs, monitoring jobs, stock market trading.

She caught up with him when he went back to his company.

“How good you are in the virtual world depends on your stats. ‘Stats’ are the numerical values of your attributes and skills. The fastest way to raise those is through leveling. This is where our company comes into play. We escort the clients on quests and into dungeons.”

Flora chuckled. ‘Quests and dungeons … oh my, oh my, oh my.’ She imagined her son Robby in full knights armor riding through a BDSM dungeon.

“I bet you can’t burn down kitchens in virtual reality … with ‘burning down’ I mean radically renovate of course … I could go into virtual reality instead of a retirement home!” She smirked. ‘And I can see him more and exert more pressure for grandkids! On the other hand, I wouldn’t see my grandchildren when I’m in virtual reality … hmm … ‘

“Can you get virtual grandkids?”

Robby gaped.

“Ma!” he exclaimed after a while. “No! Ma! No! But … some facilities offer a service for people who want to go virtual 24/7, and I would worry less about you. And I want to show you the beautiful sceneries of the Cetviwos. We could go on hikes like in the past.”

‘Plan one spending more time with Robsweets underway. Plan two getting grandkids pending.’

“But brainwave-based virtual reality isn’t great for anybody. I have a high synchronization rate, and there is a genetic component to it, so chances are good that you will do well.” Robby knew how to kindle his mother’s competitive spirit.

“I worked a brainwave-based VR CAD System before,” replied Flora smug. “It felt great, a bit like magic.”

“The brainwave technology is really new and CentralTank that’s the company of the VR World, are the only ones who figured it out. And what’s a CAD System?”

“CAD means Computer-aided Design. Basically software for technical drawings. I needed a cheap software when I was freelancing, and they did a promotion for BETA-Testing their brainwave VR technology. I got a helmet, and some gloves and my workshop was virtual with an artificial intelligence assistant.” Flora got increasingly enthusiastic. “Are in that game workshops and AI assistants too? I want to design more toasters! Are there toasters? If there are no toasters, forget about that VR stuff!”

“The game has a kind of 3D-Printer with a marvelous workshop for crafting.” Rob was used to his mother’s rapidly firing questions and patiently explained. “I never saw an actual toaster, but spaceships named toasters because they look a bit like it and they get so hot, that the pilot will get burned if he hasn’t enough fire-resistance.”

Flora grinned. “Great! That CAD System had some fun competitions. For one of them, I designed a toaster-shaped spaceship too. It was just a gimmick, nobody sane would build or use it. The pilot has to get in like a toast goes into a toaster. A hatch closes behind him, and that whole opening converts into a thruster. I added a few side-thrusters, but that spaceship can basically fly only in a straight line.”

“That sounds a lot like the Toasters in-game,” Rob added slowly.

“You think you have the most creative, unique idea in the world, and in the next week, the competitor launches it. Convergent evolution of ideas happens all the time in design.”

They both shrugged simultaneously and grinned at each other.

“So it is decided! Flora Fluss goes virtual!”