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The TV set woke me up. I was lying, snuggling in the comforter the heat wasn't yet turned on, so it was cold, and listened to announcers' chatter. { The heating in Russia is mostly centralized, meaning: one boiler station for a part or even for a whole town/city so the time of turning the heating on in fall or off in spring doesn't depend on the wish of those who lives in houses at all The hot water supply comes from the same source. Now imagine what happens when this boiler station goes down in the middle of the winter for a couple of weeks OOPS. Tons of fun. :-/ } Politics, economics, currency exchange rates Will yesterday's commotion in virtuality make it to the news reports I wonder? Maybe it will, somewhere between the news about a popular singer's arrival and sports, among the rest of the funny things. Television likes to make reports from Deeptown. It's funny for a philistine to watch cartoony landscapes and drawn people. Probably it's good that we're laughed at, if only we weren't feared weren't hated

I raised my head and glanced at the watch scared, they must have been stopped since yesterday. A usual thing, I always forget to wind it. I found the remote control lying by the bed and displayed the time on the TV screen.

7 AM. Good, I won't be late.

The whole body was feeling broken-down, the head was heavy as always after the series of long and frequent dives. A human isn't adapted to virtuality too well. Maybe a year or two will pass and the moment of requital will come to all Deeptown's citizens: some kind of paralysis, blindness, heart attacks. Then Dibenko's name will be dragged through the mud, the companies that made their bets on virtuality will ruin, and serious scientists will report that they foresaw it long time ago and were restlessly warning

We'll see. In any case I'll have a chance to feel the disaster among the first.

Or maybe on the contrary the breakthrough I was dreaming about and Dibenko was waiting for will happen. What I could do yesterday will become possible for everybody. Two worlds merged together: virtuality and reality, just make one step and enter the deep, without any crutches

I rose and made my bed, washed the floor, wiped the dust, then raked all clothes out from the closet and was digging in the pile for five minutes in search for anything decent. It's too hard to take care of your wardrobe if you got used to draw all your clothes, from briefs to tuxedo.

Jeans and sweatshirt. Will do.

Dressed, I walked along the apartment once more glancing at the computer that was working all night long. A line was slowly crawling across the screen: "Lenechka, the deep is waiting!"

Let it wait.

No, my attempts to make an apartment to look any better failed. The chronic chaos of the single's apartment was only enhanced by clean floor and the garbage removed out of sight. Oh well let's appear in complete beauty. If Vika ever dealt with hackers, she won't be scared.

I turned the computer off, and being at the exit already, I remembered that even haven't attempted to get the kitchen into order Oh no, that's enough, this deed isn't for me.

After closing the door hastily, I called the elevator. The plastic button, burned through by a cigarette butt was hardly glowing. It was heavily smoked inside the cabin for some reason.

Not so beautiful as in the deep, sure not.

The elevator dragged me down slowly, past ten floors, past my neighbors of the concrete box whom I didn't know, and even never attempted to know. One can think out other's lives, can sympathize and mock nonexistent people But how hard is it to know them those alive and real ones, to make just a step closer.

What if Vika won't come? What if she changes her mind, feeling the same thing that I did: one cannot merge two worlds?

I imagined myself in the airport a ridiculous figure, a fugitive from the virtual world crawled into the world of alive. The pale untanned mug, clothes that never require ironing, the eyes, red as the druggie's. And then Vika appears, beautiful and slender, fashionably dressed or maybe even worse. A stooping girl in glasses comes out, in baggy dress and the coat of several years ago's fashion

God knows what would be worse

I quietly moaned, almost living through our common shame and mutual disappointment. Elevator doors parted right at this moment and a little girl with a terrier led on a leash stepped back scared.

Oh great, now even kids dash aside

I squeezed past the cheerful dog and dragged myself down along the stairs towards the exit.

Good morning! said the girl quietly behind me.

I forgot how to greet people, didn't I?..

Good morning, I replied, smiling belatedly and ran outside.

For some reason I'm sure that Unfortunate wouldn't forget to say that, he would even also pat the dog on the neck and the dog would plop on its back, pleased.

I had enough money now, I could even take a taxi to the airport proudly but I didn't want to hurry. I feared that wait, oh how I feared it I had a couple of hamburgers for breakfast by some kiosk, warmed up ones but obviously not fresh made. I wanted beer but under the seller's condescending look I dared for soda only.

The bus to the airport was almost empty. Some sleepy company with huge trunks, girls with a very bright make-up according to the latest fashion. I stood in the back of the bus watching the belt of the road crawling away.

Maybe I shouldn't go

It was a quarter before ten when the bus stopped at the airport. I crawled out with an optimism of the one condemned to execution, stood under the drizzling rain for some time before entering the building.

Maybe the weather is too bad for flights

It was warm and noisy in the airport. The kids, excited by the flight ahead were running around their parents, the 'shuttle merchants' were gloomily dragging their packs along, the line of lightly dressed people was forming for registration for some Southbound flight. { 'Shuttle merchants' a kind of tiny business, common to Russia. They travel to China, Turkey or some other country, buy the goods from wholesalers or on local markets (usually these are dirt cheap clothes of crappy quality), and *personally* take those back to Russia (by a charter flight when several merchants hire a plane or just by a regular passenger flight). Then the goods are either sold (personally again) on some retail (flea-kind) market or are resold to smaller merchants (yeah, there are even smaller ones!) } I studied the flight info on the display there were no delayed arrivals.

Maybe Vika didn't come

Four planes have landed during last half an hour. Vika could have come from Tashkent, Riga, Khabarovsk or Moscow And if she set the time with reserve, then all Russia is at her disposal and almost all of the abroad.

I lagged to the info booth, several people was standing there but neither woman looked like Vika to me, I felt that from the very first sight.

All faces are so much different, so many homely, tired and worried ones. It's not so in the deep, and to no purpose possibly

I leaned against the wall and waited. Half an hour is my usual indulgence to women's unreliability But I'll make an exception for Vika, will wait for an hour. Or two. I'll stick to this wall until militia unglues me.

So good would it be to have a good notebook now, with radio modem, to run the deep program, to dive, to search through all airline companies' files

I closed my eyes.

The deep was lying before me.

The black velvet, the bottomless precipice, pierced by colorful threads. The tiny sphere of the Earth that tried a new apparel on. The deep was waiting, I could see sparks of the planes leaving and landing, whirlpools of information processed by computers, I saw a distant Deeptown's buildings. Just to reach out and I'll be there, I don't need machines anymore.

Somebody nearby, right in the airport, was entering the deep using his notebook. I stood behind his back for a moment and looked with his eyes.

This is my world.

The generous and boundless, noisy and slovenly, the human one. It'll become better, will change with us, we just need to believe in this, not to wander in labyrinths when the exit is near, not to fall in love with reflections when alive people are by our side. And possibly the next visitor to the deep won't become the only Unfortunate who can't shoot at the people.

I exited the Net, the figures have changed on electronic wall clock: ten sharp.

And where's the red rose?

It was the most dreadful to turn and to look at Vika, harder than all feats in the virtual world

She was exactly the one I was drawing, the one that smiled to me from the screen every morning. The one that lived in my dreams.

Just her hair are a little lighter and the haircut is a bit shorter, and her eyes don't laugh they are scared just like mine are now. But this is my Vika, the girl in jeans and light jacket, with the bag over her shoulder.

We both lived in our real bodies in the deep. The best mask in the world is your own face.

This rose is still being grown, I say.

Vika relaxes a little.

I feared that you'll promise me to draw it.

Oh no, I whisper, Enough of drawn flowers

I take her hand, we'll stand here like this for a second, looking into each other's eyes.

Before we go home.

| Labyrinth of reflections |