Chapter 12

Ætherglow #230

“I didn’t know texture could be so...bright,” you say.

She lifts up your hand and pulls herself closer to you across the hallucinatory ground. “You have a lot to learn about touch, Aydan.” She opens up your fingers, sliding hers through the spaces in between. The interface nodes on your surface arms relay every subtle detail. You feel the æthereal softness of her avatar at every point of touch.

She lays your hand down over where her heart would be, if this was a true body. Even the æthereal fabric of her avatar dress feels an order of magnitude softer than any fabric you’ve ever touched on the surface, not unlike how every color you see here is more vibrant than anything your eyes could ever perceive. The electrical signal neutralizes the barriers of skin and flesh and provides a clean signal to your nerves. Through the illusory fabric a warmth flows into you, in waves matching the heartbeat of the garden.

She lets go and sets her hand down on your chest in the same spot, completing a circle between you. “I can feel that,” you say, “like it was my own skin, right through the fabric...”

“Because you don’t have skin. Or clothes. Or anything, it’s just the shape of your avatar. Merely an illusion, even if a really cute one...”

“Right...of course.”

“It took me at least this long to really understand that too.”

“It’s like there’s a DC circuit cycling between us,” you say.

“The æther amplifies all senses you have,” she says. “Touch is the greatest of senses. Most people don’t understand that. The æther can help you feel it.”

Lost in the tactile circuit, you lose focus on your vision. The colors around you all start to bleed together and drift like water flowing through the colony glass. You feel a light touch on the back of your hand--Akiko’s other hand.

“It was the earliest sense to evolve, the most primal we have. Its perception network permeates our bodies. We feel its input at all times. In a filesystem like this, a touch is enough to bring something into existence. Sadly, on the surface it has a hard limit on range. If you want a technopath training contract the company will want to make you at least have vision or hearing. Even though electronic communication networks are neither, they’re their own sense. But try getting normies to comprehend that.”

“They could never,” you say.

“But the æther doesn’t have that limitation.” She picks up your hand again and guides it to point toward something, with her own fingers interlocking yours from behind. “Feel that?”

You can, somehow. It’s one of the plants surrounding you, but definitely out of your avatar’s reach. Its rough texture is as clear as the ones you touched earlier. “Yeah. Like it’s right in my hand.”

“There is no space here, we don’t have that empty barrier,” she says. “Understanding the æther is a process of unlearning all the ways your brain plays tricks on you.” She lets go of your hand and slides back a step away from you. Your visual sense refocuses as your brain falls back into its default orientation.

“Don’t let go...” you say.

“I didn’t.” As she raises her hand, you realize you can still feel its touch on yours, no less vibrant than before.

“Through the æther, touch can connect from worlds apart,” she says. “Remember that.”

“I don’t think I could forget this ætherwalk.”

“Come on.” She takes you hand again. Despite her having proven that to be an arbitrary, pointless gesture, you still feel a calmness when your avatars are in contact. It’s something like the most surface-level version of what you felt when you were synchronized.

“Where do you want to go next? I could show you the tree I grew.” She directs your hand to point toward the tallest structure here in Akiko’s æthergrove, even one of the taller trees in the whole garden. You can feel it from here, a twisted, curved structure of coiled wires and cables. “I’ve been working on it for over a year, it’s kind of a personal project,” she says.

“Or I could show you the ætherpool.” She turns your hand downward toward some unseen place that feels like cold water. “The wellspring of potential that flows into all the constructs here. It’s pretty impressive.”

Where do you want to go?

1) “Show me the ætherpool.”: 1 (10.0%)
2) “Show me the Akikotree.”: 9 (90.0%)
Expired 8 months ago (2023-08-16 07:03:35)