I removed my cyberhead, and the illusion was broken at once. As the visor came away, the grassy fields of Senta dissolved, to be replaced by the grimy, forbidding buildings of Dogon, my home town. The artificial scents of daisies and mown grass were swept away, to be replaced by the stench of burning fuel, hot tarmac and body odour.
Those moments were always the worst: the abrupt change from Senta, with its clean atmosphere, holoscreens and avatars - to a depressingly dull, average town devoid of colour or interest.
I slipped a sovereign into the slot on the booth, placed the cyberhead and the gloves on the shelf and stepped out through the open door, which closed automatically behind me. The booth then sank smoothly into the pavement, leaving nothing but a control panel at hip height at the edge of the road.
I hated the city life, with its floating levs hovering over the roads; the people, pushing and pressing in on all sides; the heat, radiating from the tarmac, constantly pressing on you until your body was screaming for air conditioning; the droids, plonking around and pretending they could feel human emotions.
But Senta let me escape. I didn't care that the entire world was synthetic. Merely the creation of some clever computers, and yet my only refuge from the world my parents had foisted on me. I could dress up in whatever I wanted, call up a holoscreen to send a text with a click of my fingers, immediately get rid of annoying spots and change my hairstyle at the touch of a holoscreen.
Then there were the Environments - the grassy field where everyone socialised; the Bowling Alley; the three Theme Parks where you rode towering rollercoasters that were at least twice as tall as any building in Dogon; nightclubs, cinemas and the rest, all generated perfectly in 3D. I had heard of the old Sims games - how cool the Ancients must have thought themselves to control their avatars with buttons, watch them on stupid 2D televisions and make them talk in Gobbledegook. Senta was better - I could actually live the life of my avatar, inside this totally different world.
Senta had never given me cause for thought before. It had all seemed so natural, until I had spoken to the dark-skinned boy. How had he managed to view my profile without my permission? Was he an Admin? Or was he a Watcher, a member of the criminal organisation that was rumoured to be working under Senta's skin, seeking out people to fit its needs?
I decided I didn't care very much. I ignored my watch, which was bleating that I should get home before curfew. Instead, I looked around for another Senta booth, the booths that had now become rarer than red telephone boxes, because nobody used them anymore. I couldn't wait to be back in the body of my old avatar, and explore the abandoned world of Delta Slang.
And the only people there would be me and Resonance. An entire world to ourselves.