Chapter 9

Ætherglow #163


2254-08-12

Leonov Park is in the oldest sector of Korolev City. This module was one of the first permanent structures built on Lunar spaceside, nearly 2000 months ago, a sign helpfully tells you as you step off of your train.

The dome is smaller than most of the newer structures. Its thermal regulation is noticeably less efficient with less water mass flowing through it. Luckily you came dressed for the brutal daytime heat, in a lightweight skirt and crop top, in shades of blue. You try to tune the LEDs in your synthovaries to match, but it only ever shows up as red, shining through layers of human flesh. Maybe you could get piercings around there to better match your avatar, you think.

Looking around, you shield your eyes from the bright white Sun above you. You mentally check the weather forecast. Radiation is green today, low solar activity, and the shielding system is reporting 98% capacity, so it will handle it fine. Still, you’ve always been taught to avoid direct sunlight, especially in older city modules.

You find shade in an unlikely place--a tree, taller than any tree on TLA or any you’ve ever seen. It’s growing in a wide pit of regolith, surrounded by a fence lined with signs in all major Lunar languages--Inhalation Hazard: please do not disturb the ground.

It doesn’t look like the tree likes it much more than you would. Its shape is warped and twisted, many of its branches are bare, and its leaves have a reddish tint to them. You don’t know how normal that is, but it’s a bit more distorted looking than the trees you know at TLA.

You check the time. 2254-08-12 11:59:50. Almost meeting time.

“Hey.” Synth is right in front of you, as if you blinked and they were here.

“Suppression echoes, classic Synth,” you say.

They’re wearing the black vest and tight black pants with reflective blue accents that they had when you first met, and reflective sunglasses made up of one horizontal bar over their eyes.

“So welcome to Leonov Park, not much to see. Here’s our tree.” They approach the other major feature of the park, a metal statue of someone in a primitive space suit. “This is Alexei Leonov, he was some Old Earth space explorer, I don’t know, history isn’t my specialty.”

“No, blowing things up is,” you say.

“Hey, don’t dismiss the Evocation School. You might be good at it for all you know.”

“I guess I have to decide before next year, but I haven’t given it much thought,” you say.

“It’ll come to you, don’t worry,” they say. “So did you end up inviting anyone else?”

“Not with me. But she’s nearby, in case I end up in real danger,” you say.

“Sensible...” Synth says. “Well let’s go back to my place.”

“Alright.”

You follow them out of the park and through an adjoining street tube to a large complex. Its construction looks very old too. Many of the wall panels are detached or rusted through. You can tell how, because the humidity in this module is tangible, and it’s clinging all over your skin, making it seem even hotter here.

You walk past a building that looks completely abandoned, with its windows broken out and its doors removed. The next building is halfway intact, and Synth scans their hand over the door sensor to let you in. A narrow hallway leads to a narrow stairway--the housing complex extends underground too.

In the hall they lead you to, no sunlight reaches. Half of the lights shine dimly on the bare metal walls of the hallway. It’s nice and cool here. But something about the space feels so unreal. You realize what it is, you can’t pick up the city’s wireless signals from this underground hallway, making the scene entirely too real.

“Here we are.” They scan their hand at a door near the end of the dim corridor. The door opens, and Synth is standing there on the other side to greet you.

“What--” You look beside you where they were, and nothing is there. You swipe at the empty air with your hand. “You weren’t even there.”

“It’s hot outside,” Synth says. “Well come on in.”

The apartment barely bigger than your bedroom alone. You feel the touch of the æther once more as you pick up a transmitter inside.

“Aydan?!” You hear another familiar voice and turn to the corner of the room, where you see an enby sitting on the bed there. Your eyes recognize their pattern of blue LED piercings before your brain even resolves their signal.

“Whoa, Trisha?!” you say.

“Lexi currently, but close enough.” The Electrical System jumps up to their feet. “This is your friend, Synth?”


“Wait, you two know each other?” Synth says.

1) “We uh, met recently at the defense expo.”: 0 (0.0%)
2) “We met...in battle! It was some corpo bullshit.”: 2 (50.0%)
3) “Ohh, so I made out with your partner system.”: 0 (0.0%)
4) Stay awkwardly quiet and let Lexi answer.: 2 (50.0%)
Expired 12 months ago (2023-04-23 11:50:35)