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?"
"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!"