Chapter 12

Ætherglow #231


“Show me the Akikotree,” you say.

As she flaps her unoccupied hand excitedly, you feel an oscillation of texture and warmth through the other. She jumps, gliding over the grove of strange dark plants, carrying you along beside her.

You land in between two wires half as thick as your avatar’s height--roots of a massive tree. One glows almost too bright to observe, casting a green light onto the other. The light conduit climbs up the trunk of the tree in front of you--the biggest you’ve seen yet. It weaves in and out of the coil. Wires of bare metal and cables of all sort of wrapping and color all wrap around each other like the fibers of fabric. The tree diverges into thick branches, and the conduit splits to send power down each path, reaching all the way to the top.

You feel around the tree trunk. You find so many different cables. Some smaller branches near the bottom come to an end in metal connectors, in many forms.

“Hey...” You find a wide, hexagonal connector. “Isn’t this an æthernet cable? Actually, I recognize a lot of these. How many kinds of cables did you make this out of?”

“All of them,” she says.

All?

“Every type ever made, yes.” She slides her fingers sideways across the bumpy texture. “I just love cables and connectors, things that connect stuff, you know? It’s so stimmy to connect things! And there’s so many standards throughout history, and they all feel so interesting, you know?”

“So you’re Autistic,” you say.

Obviously, I’m in the æther aren’t I!” She points upward. “Let’s go.” Letting go of you, she climbs up onto the trunk, grasping loose wires around the edge.

You follow suit. “Climbing’s kind of arbitrary without gravity, don’t you think?”

“But I like climbing trees. The ones in the colony aren’t tall enough,” she says.

“They’re taller than most of the ones on the Moon.”

“We must have healthier soil on AtaraChiba,” she says. “At the school where I lived most of my life, there was a really tall tree. Nothing like this one, of course, but to a small child it felt like it was at least this tall.”

She reaches one of the thick limbs and pulls herself up onto it. “I would wander around the yard there, looking for interesting things. That was the most interesting thing, its bark was so stimmy, it had moss growing on it, and lichen, all a different feeling. The leaves, the stems, the roots, it was a whole world to me.

“When I would climb up, and lose touch with the ground, I might as well have been a kilometer above the wall. It felt like it went on forever, and that if I climbed back down, I’d never reach the ground again.”

She reaches down to take your hand and pull you up onto the branch. “I was really little then. As I got older I got a way better sense of spatial orientation and knew how high I was, so it wasn’t the same. The world felt too small. I just knew I couldn’t stay confined to that cylinder forever. I just had to get to the one place that could never feel small no matter how far you go, the place you can’t touch, where only math can tell you where you are. I had to go to space.

“It was around that time teachers started noticing how easy math was for me and started giving me harder and harder tests. Someone touched me one day like ‘hey Akiko there’s this company rep who wants to talk about your test scores.’ All I had to be told was ‘space’ and ‘synthovaries.’ So here I am.

“People used to say the same thing to me when I climbed a tree, ‘there’s no point, there’s nothing up there, you’ll just hurt yourself.’ Yet, in a circuitous way it led me here. The æther is the only place that can really come close to that child-like detachment to scale and distance, the longing for whatever is just out of reach. I wanted to try and recreate that feeling here,” she says. “You don’t have to need to do something to do it.”

“Good point,” you say, looking up at the curved web of branches forming a shadow on the glow beyond. “I guess there were a lot of things I had to do, like when it came to becoming a technopath and coming here, I was born into a contract to do that. And there were things like transition that I technically chose, but it wasn’t really a choice either. But a lot of things I had no reason to do have had just as big an impact on my life. Talking to an exopath I could have just dismissed as hallucination, or making friends, or wandering into the garden and approaching a mysterious girl.”

“Well I’m glad you did.” She takes your other hand. “It was kind of lonely my first year. Nobody really tried to understand me. I got along better with the animals, just like on my homeworld. That’s fine, I thought, why get attached to anyone when I’m just gonna be gone in three years to who knows where in the solar system. But I was wrong, it’s much better to have friends who understand you, to know someone so easy to talk to, and just so nice to be near...I’m so happy I met you.”

The empathic link between you opens wide. A sense of excitement and longing flows between you in a positive feedback loop, growing stronger and stronger. Above you, bright stars cover the turbulent sky, looking so close they might fall down on you at any moment. Their sparkling light casts beams of color through the branches that dance with warmth on Akiko’s skin, and yours. But the connection to the circuit of your hands feels strongest when you close your eyes.


“Akiko...”

1) “I’m so happy I met you too.”: 3 (27.27%)
2) “It’s great to learn more about you.”: 1 (9.09%)
3) “Your avatar is so soft...”: 0 (0.0%)
4) Kiss her.: 7 (63.63%)
Expired 8 months ago (2023-08-18 08:29:49)