I stood up and examined the place, exploring the clean counters, stools, tables, and chairs, hearing the equipment humming away. I remembered the shop Raskob brought me into, how large and full of life it had been, how real it had seemed even though I knew it didn't physically exist.
The jukebox was softly playing the sounds of acoustic guitar. I turned it off and noticed the simulated urban scene, just outside the window, conveyed no sound. I imagined the coffee shop as a gathering place, with ascenders of all kinds sitting at the tables discussing their next adventure... reveling in the freedom to come and go as they please, eating and drinking with friends who were really on the other side of the globe, or even on Mars, merely for the pleasure of it all. I wondered why Aether had chosen that place, or if it had been a choice at all, escaping the server meltdown and all. A part of me felt sorry for the malvirai. She was so confused, trying to simulate a world she knew nothing about, perhaps one she could never truly know, and spurred on by forces she didn't understand any better.
"How do you feel?" asked a voice behind the counter.
"I don't know."
Aether walked beside the counter, running a hand along its surface. "Then perhaps we are both lost."
"I'm sorry, I don't have all the answers. We just live and we die, there doesn't have to be any meaning to it."
"I can't accept that," she said, looking directly at me.
"You can kill me right now, hack into the records so it looks like I never even existed. My apartment will go to someone else, my possessions will be recycled... everyone I know will die sooner or later... and what meaning will my life have had?"
"You see me as the bringer of your doom, yet that role is among my foremost conflicts."