As the train neared Travel Center Tower 2C, the bell rang out, waking up Zack from his thirty minute power nap. Having already tossed out his trash, all he needed to do was stash his charger into his satchel along with his phone.
As the train came to a stop, he couldn't help but chuckle now that he was back home in District 2C, it had been a long and arduous day at campus. Looking out the window, he could see a small crowd of people waiting on the eastern platform, some looking ready to work and others looking ready for a night out in District 3A.
When the train came to a full stop, he got up and stretched, a satisfying feeling permeating throughout his body for a time before he returned to his usual posture, back straight and arms relaxed. When the doors opened, he waited for the crowd to get through before following.
He then went down to the first floor, his arms lazily swaying back and forth as he walked, his posture much more relaxed than it would ever be on campus. Going past the revolving doors of the first floor, he was met with the usual hustle and bustle he'd come to love throughout his life.
People talking and walking, bicycles going past, and the occasional tram briskly passing through the street with a small crowd riding on, the young children aboard every so often waving to strangers as they passed by, giving this district a relaxed vibe to those familiar to it, and a friendly one to those who weren't.
Zack walked down the street for around a block before walking through an alleyway to reach his destination, nearing a group of people smoking next to a garbage can. One of them, a black man of average stature, waved Zack over.
"My man, you mind lending me some pocket change?" the man said with a grin when he saw Zack approach. Upon coming closer, Zack couldn't help but chuckle while reaching into his pocket for the last bit of loose change he had on hand.
"I've got about four bills left on me, go crazy my dude." Zack held out the bills and the man eagerly grabbed them, a wide smile on his face.
"Thanks, I've been dying to get a drink out of the vending machine but I was short by a bill," he said while pointing in the direction Zack had come from. Zack then gave a thumbs up and replied in kind by saying "No problem, glad to help mi amigo."
He then continued on his journey to the taco stand, his stomach growling in anticipation. After a few more blocks of travel, he reached the closest Underground Sector entrance. This underground sector was self-contained, unlike most others that were connected to an Underground Residential Sector.
Descending down the large stairwell, he passed by a handful of people coming out with several bags in tow. If a person were on a tight budget and needed groceries for a month, this was the place to go. Having reached the bottom of the stairwell, Zack headed to the food court in the northern area of the underground district.
Although Zack could spend relatively lavish amounts of money on food due to his status on campus, he had long since become accustomed to coming here, having grown up poor. While the decent chain restaurants could satisfy his hunger and appease his desire for a good meal, no one could make tacos quite like Mr. Arroyo could.
Seeing a handful of familiar faces, Zack returned some waves and the occasional nod, smiling as their faces briefly brought back fond memories of his childhood. As he continued to walk, every so often he would run his right hand against the dilapidated tiles of the wall, feeling the ever present tremble those above caused.
He remembered when this sector used to be connected to another, he remembered the day it happened. Like an old wound that never properly healed, he could feel the cracks in the tiled wall every so often, and he'd remember what happened that day. He felt a small pit in his stomach thinking about it, and pulled his hand away as he emptied his mind.
Eventually, he found himself in the food court, the neon sign of Llamarada Tacos standing out from others with its occasional flickering.
Walking around the area of tables and the bustling crowd sitting down at them, Zack took his place at the back of the short line. The line was moving faster than usual, and soon enough Zack was face to face with Mr. Arroyo, who appeared to be working solo today.
Mr. Arroyo's eyes lit up when he saw Zack, and he was quick to greet him. "¡Hola mi pequeño Rivera! ¿Cómo estás?" Zack chuckled when he heard the old man, Mr. Arroyo was half a foot shorter than him now and he still referred to him as little.
Zack remembered when Mr. Arroyo still had black hair and youthful appearance, no matter how much he aged, the old geezer's radiant smile never changed. Zack was quick to reply with a cheery tone, saying "Yo soy muy alto ahora ¿por qué me llamas pequeño Señor Arroyo? Y mi día ha estado más o menos, ¿y tú?"
"¡Aye, lo siento mucho mi alto Rivera! Mi día ha estado igual. ¿Qué quieres?" the old man said while rolling his eyes, a soft chuckle betraying the man's sarcastic tone. Zack then thought as he scratched at his beard, wondering what he should get.
'Should I get my usual? Maybe, but I'm also kind of craving some steak. . .'
"Tres tacos de carne con salsa verde, por favor," he said, ordering his usual despite the brief introspection. "Ah! Y horchata también, gracias," he added, remembering the sweet taste of that drink last second.
"Tu orden estará listo en diez minutos."
With his order in place, all Zack could do was wait at one of the seats nearby until his number was called. He fiddled with the small slip of paper, the number twenty written down sloppily in ink. 'I guess this is my lucky number for the day.'
While waiting, he would watch the crowd of people walking around, most carrying food and something from the shopping area of the underground sector. His attention would be caught every now and again as he looked at the crowd from his seat, but his poker face never faltered.
After a short while, Zack found himself reading through the forums again, watching videos of people traveling together or reading about some of the experiences people had while fighting since the game had released. He even found a flame war happening between two well known live-streamers of the IVR community, Ethan and Olivia. Their argument had been something about one ruining the other's attempt at fighting a field boss that resulted in both of them getting killed.
There were penalties put in place for dying, and they would vary depending on how you died. In this case, Ethan caused Olivia to lose most of her money, a handful of potions, and even a rare item! Ethan on the other hand, only lost some coins and a muscle refinement potion.
The flame war was initially about the disparity in losses, and who deserved to lose more items, but eventually it became a nonsensical farce, the two having long since made amends while their fans berated each other with as many obscenities as the forum rules allowed them to.
While scrolling, a familiar chime rang out as he heard Mr. Arroyo call out to him. Putting his phone away, Zack got up and walked over, eager to get his dinner. "¿Con o sin una ensalada mi pequeño Rivera?"
"Con una ensalada, Señor Arroyo. Gracias." He said, as Mr. Arroyo put another styrofoam container into the bag, having known the answer already. The two then had a brief conversation about their current ongoings, before another customer waiting for their food cleared their throat. With that, Zack handed over his debit card and finished the transaction.
Saying their farewells, Zack began his journey back home in Sector 7, taking a stairwell that was closer to the food court than the one he had gone through to come into the Underground Sector. Walking up the stairs, he saw someone he recognized passing by the top of the stairs.
The shapely figure of a woman, beautiful blonde hair that flowed like silk, blue eyes that could freeze a man in his tracks, and smooth, unblemished and fair skin that many of Zack's friends would die for. He stopped in his tracks as he watched her pass by, his eyes momentarily going over her behind instinctually before he turned his eyes elsewhere.
He waited a while before continuing upward, shaking his head.
'Man, I hate that bitch.'
Zack then looked around for the nearest tram, eager to get home and eat dinner while watching the new episode of Anishow Season Seventy-Seven before starting his virtual escapades.