Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
When they first met, it wasn’t the clumsy exo-rig she was using to navigate the university halls that caught their attention, or the baggy tie-dye jumpsuit her body was hidden inside. It wasn’t the way the students parted around her as the red sea, respectful and yet indifferent to the alloy and carbon fiber elephant in their midst. It was the determination of will that creased her face, in stark contrast to the brilliant tranquility in her eyes.
She was undeniable in the space she took up, and yet still somehow invisible to everyone around her.
They alone, however, were transfixed.
She had to stop in order to not mow them down, and they stood staring at each other for what seemed like eons before either of them spoke.
That was twelve years ago, and they’ve been, quite literally, inseparable ever since.
Her rig allowed her to exact coarse motor control over her body, a body that disowned her before she was old enough to form memories of anything different.
Her mind was exceptional, she’d designed and refined the neural interface and mechanics, evolving it iteration after iteration over years, licensing discoveries to interested parties to fund her own further development. The university was her forever home, her laboratory, her savior, her prison.
She’d never felt anything, not really, not that she could remember. She knew what it felt like to have someone touch her face, or run their fingers through her hair, but she’d never known how it felt to touch someone else, anything else, her nervous system having been disconnected from the neck down since childhood.
They worked on the neural interface together, she directing them, using their hands as she had previously used apprentices and interns. The first implant she installed gave them blinding migraines for weeks, but the second was much gentler and allowed them to control her rig with her, and in time it allowed her, through them, to touch things and feel them with their fingers, feel the grass beneath their bare feet, the sand in-between their toes.
Their interlinked neural interfaces meant they could feel how she felt when she experienced each new thing through them, constructive waves of the joy of discovery compounding the endorphin rush they fueled in each other in a form of gentle feedback loop. It was intoxicating.
They couldn’t be more intimate, more vulnerable, more exposed to each other than they were like this.
Twelve years. They traveled together, newly able and eager to visit places together she’d never dreamed of visiting, places she would never have dared to go.
On the night she felt the end coming, they stayed together, coupled, interlinked, as one until the very end.
She’d pleaded with them to disconnect, fearing, knowing that her death would be their death too, but they were insistent.
When you love someone that deeply, you can’t let them go through something like that alone.
They had experienced everything together, they had to share this one last thing.
Besides, they couldn’t imagine living without her.