"Let machinery fake my place, who has time to chase. Digital is where it is. Love can always be replaced. Welcome to my consciousness. Welcome to our race. Everything is never quite enough."
Everything (is never quite enough) – Diop, Wasis
The Oceanwalk program begins outside of the water. A slim strip of white sand extending along an unnamed ocean, waves lapping at its wet beach. I started the program naked, unsure what I would need to wear into the water. Fina had assured me that I'd be able to breathe without using equipment, setting up the program for it. And yet still, I had my doubts. It wasn't often I used the water programs.
Just as I was ready to give up on the idea, I saw him. A brief shine of silver, his wings extending as he flew from the water in a curving dive that rivaled the dolphins leaping from the water beside him, he was magnificent.
Holding my breath, I began to enter the water, finding it warm, almost balmy as it slipped over my feet and up my legs. When it rose to my shoulders, I began to take deep breaths, expelling as much air as possible with each exhalation. Another flash of silver, and I grew the courage to dunk my head beneath the water, inhaling.
This was the important part, Fina would be training my body to breathe water, a slightly dangerous undertaking, but considering it was VR, if anything went wrong she'd be able to help me. The only time Fina is programmed to end a journey is if my vital signs change drastically and don't regulate within 60 seconds. She wouldn't have to worry this time; the water eased into my lungs and filtered out again, becoming my breath with a simplicity that was startling.
My eyes were another story, the water blurring images so that I couldn't tell much of what was beneath it with me. Just as I began to panic slightly, Fina answered my unspoken request, fitting my eyes with Optilenses, suddenly making the underwater world crystal clear. In the distance, I saw more flashes of silver, grey forms swimming beside it. I wondered if he'd noticed me within the program yet.
He answered that question as I swam towards him, my human legs and arms insufficient for speed in water that deep. His form blurred momentarily and then became clear, his wings folded along his back, the tips flaring occasionally so as to steer him through the water towards where I was.
A strange sound burst from between his lips, as he got close enough for me to touch him. The translation was instant, words forming within my mind.
"What are you doing here?" The tips of his wings fluttered, keeping him afloat a few feet in front of me.
"Visiting my intended." I said in the Dolphin language and kicked my feet, hoping I didn't appear as graceless as I imagined.
"Intended?" I noticed his skin and hair had a soft silvery sheen over them, even his eyes appearing silver.
"We're matched, I thought to know you."
"Matched." I didn't realize a dolphin could sneer, and yet he managed to make the high-pitched noise become a sneer.
"Yes, you know it." He looked perturbed at that, and I knew I'd hit a sore point with him.
Silence, he didn't respond, the dolphins that had been with him inched closer, one becoming brave enough to bump at my feet. I bent down, floating a hand along its slick skin. It nuzzled at my fingers and then met my eyes.
"Swim with us." It whistled at me.
Heero shook his head, his mouth set in a grim line. But never the less, he did not try to stop me from joining them. I grabbed a hold of the dorsal fin that protruded from the dolphin, inhaling water in a gasp, as it took off deeper into the ocean, the speed terrifying with the tenuous grip I had on it.
"Slow down." I managed to get out, and it did. In a few seconds, I had my legs hooked around it, leaning down to wrap my arms about its neck. Then we were off again, Heero skimming along beside us, his wings unfolding as we gained speed until he was flying, huge flicks of his wings easing him through the water like something sharp and wicked, a silver being of strength and speed.
Then we were ascending towards the surface rapidly, the stroking of his wings becoming all encompassing, monstrously huge as we hit the air, the dolphin surging upwards in an arc. I kept my eyes on Heero, envious of his beauty as he leapt from the water, his wings giving a mighty flap and sending him shooting into the sky, water sluicing off him. A graceful flip and he was heading downward, straight toward us.
Instinctively, I ducked, pulling my head down, a sudden fear of what he might do to me gripping my mind. My fear was not unfounded, as his hands dug into my shoulders, the powerful grip pulling me off the dolphin. I began coughing out the water I'd been breathing, suddenly unable to inhale. In a quick flurry of coughing, I managed to vomit out the rest of the water in my lungs, and then I was clinging for my life as I realized I was at least a mile above the water and the only thing keeping me from plummeting was Heero.
"What are you doing?" I screamed at him, turning within his grip and wrapping my legs around his waist, burying my face against his shoulder. There was no way I would let him drop me, Fina might not be able to protect me from an impact that harsh.
His voice was calm and soft when he answered, almost too quiet to hear over the rushing of the wind. "You wanted to know me. Well then, learn."
And then the most amazing thing happened. His wings began to grow, becoming no less then they were, the Steelshift alloy stretching until almost translucent. We stopped in midair, and the wings circled over us, bending and twisting like liquid, until, as we dropped, they formed a metallic spherical shape around us. Protection against impact, at least, that's what I hoped they would do.
As we hit the water, the translucent wings wrapping around us, the tip of them formed a sharp point that created no stirring of the water. We submerged, and I realized I was still breathing air, not water. I also became aware of the fact that I still nude and firmly wrapped around an equally naked Fliogan.
"You can let go now." He said, unhooking my legs and trying to pry my arms from around his neck.
"Is it safe to stand on this stuff?"
"Yes, it's stronger than it looks."
"I mean, you're not going to open it up when I stand on it?"
"No, you have my word, I won't harm you."
I took a tentative feel with one foot, finding the texture of the furled wings to be smooth, and oddly warm. Sliding my legs off him completely, I stood up, my arms remaining firmly clasped around his neck. A contract was binding, but he still might try something.
Looking up and meeting his eyes, I realized not only was he taller than I, but that his eyes still had that strange silvery sheen, the Steelshift alloy coating them. Suddenly, I had an idea, and wiggled the fingers of one hand in front of his eyes. He didn't blink, and those peculiar eyes did not follow the wagging of my fingers.
He didn't respond, his mouth turning down in a small grimace of pain.
"You are, aren't you?"
He sighed, still trying to release my other arm from its grip on his shoulder. "Not completely." He said in an exasperated tone of voice.
"The alloy helps you, doesn't it?" I'd heard of such things before, though never had seen something like it.
"Yes, the incubator I was born to malfunctioned, my eyes never fully forming, the Steelshift helps me to see."
"And what do you see?" I asked curiously, finally unwrapping my arm from him and standing on his encircling wings. Though, I remained close to him, unwilling to trust completely.
"I can only see within the VR unit, Fina tells me what is there."
"And outside of VR?"
"Outside of the programs I see nothing, my world remains dark." I knew he was lying.
"Can't you get replacement eyes?"
"No, the Steelshift alloy won't allow for additives."
"You can't merge with them, can you?"
"They tried once, the eyes were rejected within days."
I traced a finger over the smooth skin of one eyelid; the texture was different from my own, harder. "The alloy fills the emptiness." I said softly.
"Yes, I appear to have eyes with it."
"Eyes that can't see."
"You startled me appearing in the Oasis program, no one enters it but for myself, that's why I hit you as I did."
"Are you actually apologizing?"
He looked embarrassed, turning his head away from my gaze. "Of course not."
"Of course not. And what now?"
"Yes, what happens next? I know you're blind, you know I'm your match. But, you hate me, so I don't think this will go far."
"What makes you think I hate you?"
"Well, it's obvious that you don't like me."
"I don't know you."
"So, it's not the same thing?"
"No, you were right in what you said earlier. We should know one another, there's a reason we're matched." He twisted, slowly lowering to sit on his wings, forcing me down too as they folded in on us. He reached across the small space between our bodies, grasping my hand. "Tell me something I would not have learned from your records."
I debated for only a moment, and then I spilled it. "I'm connected illegally to Fina."
He did not gasp or pull back, his hand tightened on my own slightly, and then he nodded. "I thought as much, you're too good at VR to be anything less than attached. What type of connection is it?"
"I've got her memories installed, we share my brain."
"Cortex juxtaposition, we run in tandem."
"That *is* illegal, even on Lavablue 6."
"I know, so, you going to turn me in?"
"No, if I did, I'd be turning in myself."
"You mean you... " But I already knew the answer; Fina was his eyes outside of the VR programs.
"Yes, I'm connected the same way."
"Maybe that's why they matched us."
"Perhaps, it is odd that we not only chose names, but the same names for them."
"That we're both connected illegally to them."
"And that they didn't tell either you nor I that the perfect mate existed in reality."
"Fina didn't tell you either?"
"Not until after I questioned her."
Suddenly I remembered, I remembered having met Heero once before, briefly, 2 years earlier. "That's what that was."
"I thought it was a glitch in the program, it's not often you see a Fliogan at an old fashioned Earth type library. You were checking on me, weren't you?"
"No, that was after I asked Fina to create a mate for me, I thought you were merely the creation, until you spoke as you did. When I exited the program, I began questioning Fina, and she told me you were real, and living on Zephlid 7."
I could remember the odd conversation I'd held with what I'd thought was just another VR glitch. He'd asked for directions to the classics section of the library, and I'd told him to find it himself and that I was busy. Usually a program would not respond as either of us had. But I'd thought nothing of it at the time.
"Why didn't you try again?"
"I thought if I waited, perhaps you would find me."
"Confirmation, you didn't believe the match."
"I did not, but now, I think I'm forced to."
His back straightened suddenly, eyes moving restlessly. "Shinalp, I have to leave."
"Wait, meet me again?"
"The Oasis program, journey 1."
"Later then, I must go, they're calling for me."
"Fina, end program."
I lay for a long time inside the VR module, forcing my breathing back to normal.
"Mr. Maxwell, are you all right?"
"Yes Fina, I think so."
"Mr. Yuy has sent a message via realtime call."
"Yes Mr. Maxwell. Would you like to watch it now?"
Slowly I eased out of the module, sitting on the edge of it. The screen embedded in the wall across from me lit up, Heero's face filling it before he backed up enough so that I could see the rest of him, the black bodysuit he wore fitted oddly over his wings. He bowed his head slightly, as if he knew what I was thinking.
"I'll accept this match, for now." He said, and then image darkened.
"Yes Mr. Maxwell."
"I think he likes me." I said, grinning up at the blank screen.
Transpod: A dimensional traveling device. The transpod will transport human mass within any area that contains another transpod. The time taken for each journey will always be exactly 10 nanoseconds, as time is folded as well as matter to create no ripple within the dimensions.
Slosta: A drink created from organic matter grown on Jilad, the Slosta is filled with nutrients that heighten awareness and energize.
CR chips: Two microchips implanted behind the ears, the connectors that allow a direct linkage to the VR modules.
Shinalp: A form of cursing, Shinalp is somewhat akin to saying "shit" or "ah shit"
Kajacrap: The Kaja is a life form located on the planet Neskin, a large beast known to produce huge amounts of feces. The phrase kajacrap is akin to saying "Bullshit"
Fliogan Warriors: The Fliogan is a race that attaches metallic wings to their young while they are still being formed within the incubators. The wings are partially organic, fusing with the young so as to become part of their bodies. This warrior race is known to be extremely high tech, and very vicious, most normal humans will not go near them, as they are known to kill without reason. Very little is known of the Fliogan or their ways.
Feed Tubes: Connectors that feed information and nutrients to any life form connected to any long-term device.
Lavablue 6: The planet on which the society of Fliogan reside at this time.
Levels: Technological knowledge is rated by level; most societies only have an average of 30 levels. The common level of most humans is 5, techmaster levels tend to be higher and in the upper ranges.
Steelshift: 1 of over a million different charted elements, Steelshift is partially organic, allowing it to be integrated with human DNA, testing is still in experimental stages, most distinguished users of this element are the Fliogan.
Slipshot Diskwings: A style of wing known to be common among the Fliogan, Slipshot defines the integration of movable parts, Diskwing is the style of the small circular patterns of metal that form the wings of Fliogan.
Contract: A contract is a more binding way to say, "Promise or swear?"
Optilenses: Cyber optic lenses, which can be used during a VR program only.