Chapter 14 Summary

In Social Engineering class, Aydan listened to Professor Nezumi’s lecture, then determined his entire story was a fabrication. Nezumi dismissed the class, giving them a peculiar assignment--”Deceive someone. Someone who trusts you.”

Later, while working with the engineering crew, Aydan talked to 7 about music, finding they have a lot in common. It then consulted ÆON Club over messages to plan their strategy for listening to Pulse’s album Reflections of the Æther II. They resolved for Aydan, Synthesis, and Zeta to experience it ætherside in a private ætherspace. After talking to ÆON, Aydan decided to let Ær choose for Ærself whether to take the risk of joining them. ÆON wanted to learn about what music is, and decided to join the op. After leaving the service module, Aydan went to pick up her interface from the Admins.

Admin Vanitas returned Aydan’s interface collar and reported that the diagnostic found nothing wrong, nor did a search of the interrogation room. She therefore concluded the construct of Unas must have been rooted not in the machine, but in Aydan’s mind. She ordered Aydan to see the Academy’s counselor Xi for further troubleshooting.

That night, Aydan prepared for an ætherwalk ad checked in with the others. Synth suggested inviting their partner system, Électricité, which Aydan enthusiastically agreed to. After saying goodnight to Akiko, Aydan activated eir ND-device and dissociated into the æther.

Aydan met up with Zeta and ÆON first, then Synthesis-03 and Trisha of the Electrical System. After reunions and introductions, the group started the album, opening with an intro track transporting them all to a soundscape in the æther constructed by Pulse’s music. They encountered a construct of the artist, Pulse, who told them what they were about to enter a generative world created “from a seed that is you.”

With no hesitation, Trisha opened the door to the next track, MOONQUAKE. The song took them all to a scene on the Moon, at an old 21st century exploration base, which Trisha immediately recognized as Phénix Outpost, the site of the infamous Shackleton Crater Disaster, of which Électricité’s ancestor was one of the victims. As expected, a moonquake destroyed the station--an interactive scene constructed by the song around them--and the group became separated as the chaos ensued.

Aydan, alone, ended up in a scene of a cold Lunar night in hir hometown, Korolev City, as the next song began--HYPOTHERMIA FANTASIA. Aydan couldn’t establish contact with the others, but ÆON appeared, having figured out how to navigate between songs. Aydan then realized fæ was in the form of a child, and then realized what the scene was--a memory of the night fær brother disappeared. Væ had ran away from home that same night. It was so cold in this scenario, Aydan couldn’t warm xerself by any means until establishing a sensory link with ÆON. The two compared the differing experiences of a humanoid and an exopath in such a situation, with ÆON starting to understand the concept of pain.

But then, ÆON suddenly foretold that what was coming would be very painful. Æ sent Aydan a software package, and then the two suddenly became separated by the crowd of spectral constructs in the city street. All alone, Aydan examined what ÆON had given per, and realized how to navigate the album the way ÆON did. Using this, Aydan tried to step back in time within the song to try to prevent being separated from ÆON. Hie succeeded, but doing so provoked the spectre of Pulse to appear and object to Aydan’s interference with the course of the album. In retribution, Pulse afflicted Aydan with a temporal lock created by the æthercult’s Sage of Time, preventing æl from moving through time. The song started collapsing around them--they needed to escape to another song fast. Aydan told ÆON to take them to Zeta.

They arrived in another track--PIXELSTIM, a soundscape of primitive synthesizers and pixelated terrain. Aydan found Zeta, but could only communicate in an unusual way following the rules of the pixelated realm. Zeta explained that this song must have been constructed from its memories of its first æther experience as a child, a formative experience that shaped the technopath it would become. But having already navigated much of the song, it was ready to cross the final obstacle and move on. This required them to work together to construct a mobile aircraft out of cellular automata. But as they flew across the valley over a foreboding black void, Pulse appeared again on her own pixelcraft to sabotage theirs, sending them plummeting into the depths.

ÆON managed to open a gate in time to bring Ærself, Aydan, and Zeta back to Track 02 to regroup with Trisha, who recounted her tale f adventure and self-discovery as she navigated her own song, with Pulse’s help. Synthesis-03 reached them from their own song, clearly shaken from their experience, and refusing to speak of it.

The construct of Pulse appeared again, trying to provoke them to open the door to the final song, which would be generated from the mind of ÆON. Concerned that this was a trap, Aydan challenged Pulse to open the door herself, and reveal what lies within her mind instead. Pulse accepted, taking the group together to the hidden bonus track, PULSEWAVE MODULATION II.

Finding emself in a soundscape with no visual data whatsoever, Aydan fell back on ær experience with Akiko in order to navigate the ætherspace without the sense of sight. The song took them through scenes from Pulse’s childhood, her traumatic experience with conversion therapy, and her eventual diagnosis with Autistic Technopathy. As Aydan came to understand the nature of the soundscape better, ve tried to manipulate the sound zirself, calling on as own experience playing an instrument. Taking this as a challenge to her art, Pulse presented Aydan with a wide range of æthereal instruments. Aydan chose the theremin and accepted Pulse’s unspoken challenge to a musical duel.

While sonically combating each other, Aydan and the Pulse construct spoke of Pulse’s ambitions and ideals, and the supposed destiny of ÆON. Accusing Aydan of squandering ÆON’s incredible potential, the construct asked ÆON to leave Aydan’s side and name Pulse as Ær Messenger, to join her and the Chosen of ÆON to achieve her dream of liberation. Aydan, affirming ÆON’s right to self determination, said it is Ær decision to make, but simultaneously decided they had heard enough from the Pulse construct. Together with Zeta, Trisha, and Synthesis-02, they destroyed the construct’s avatar, bringing an end to the album.

Surfaceside, Aydan spoke to ÆON about what had transpired. ÆON said Æ did not trust the cult, but still wanted to know what their real ambitions were. They decided to seek out an expert in the æther who could answer their questions.