Our first day within Siris Habitat is spent inside our quarters. A short pod ride down from the arcology landing stage, they will provide accommodation as long as we reside here or until we choose to move our lodgings elsewhere. That first day is one of drowsy lassitude. We doze and nap, our sense of time turned low as our bodies are adapted to this place. Swarming nanomachines move through our blood, updating our immune systems, synchronizing our sleep cycles to the local progression of day and night, and otherwise adapting us to the new world we find ourselves within. Just as importantly, they check our bodies and minds for hidden traps and tricks. Contraband dataware, hostile nanomachines, contagious bioweapons, and infiltrator memetech: all this and more is discovered and confiscated, contained, or destroyed by the local immune system. Part of a customs protocol that is older than many civilizations.
As night falls on that first day I wake from artificial slumber, my customs protocol complete, and prepare to go out into the world. The locals have prepared a reception for newly arrived travelers and after bathing and dressing in the formal silks recommended by the local data net, I enter the reception hall with the expectation of an interesting evening. I can see immediately that I will not be disappointed.
The hall is a sea of light and color. Cloudy aerogels drift above the milling crowd, changing shape and color and occasionally raining mild stimulants and short duration contact hallucinogens. Filigliders swirl in complex flocks among the clouds, forming artful and ever-changing patterns before swooping down in twittering clusters to move and hover among the guests, their colors and markings indicating flavor and texture and their twittering songs and pheromonal exudations inviting all around to pluck them out of the air and consume them.
Mobile trays pick their way delicately through the crowd, each supporting an array of drinks and edibles for any who wish to partake.
Beyond the pleasures of food and drink, the chamber is filled with entertainments. Following an impulse tag injected into my sensorium I scan local music channels playing a variety of tunes in a multitude of styles, all carefully designed so that whatever I choose, it will fit comfortably into the overall tone of the evening. I settle on ancient classical, strings and woodwinds, and so accompanied begin to move through the room, taking in the other amusements available. There is certainly no shortage of them.
Here an air-breathing octopoid juggles knives, pans, and whirling foodstuffs in a blur that every few second's passes through searing fire and every few minutes ejects a glittering plate of sizzling delectables that are almost secondary to the artistry creating them. There a master scentweaver mixes the contents of vials, jars, and decanters to produce wondrous smells that are wafted among the admiring onlookers on a tightly controlled breeze. Surrounded by a dozen reclining lounges, a Nocturne is plying eir trade, inducing short but deep periods of sleep in eir audience and filling them with vivid dreams of the surreal and the beautiful. Judging by the applause coming from that part of the room, e is doing a very good job.
I have been at the party for some time when I am approached. A group of us are watching a troupe of Kanuma acrobats dive and spin and leap inside their water bubble, the bubble itself shifting and changing from one complex shape to another as its provolved masters flash their fins, school in tight formation, and use thin-film LEDs painted on their scales to make their bodies glow and sparkle in vivid patterns.
The bubble has just transformed itself into a 10-meter construction of looping and interpenetrating tubes of water, the Kanuma inside streaking through the tubes on different paths and barely missing each other where the channels cross when I feel a permission-to-approach signal in my sensorium. Turning, I find a servitor waiting politely near my elbow. For tonight's festivities it wears the form of a humanoid made of glass, artful rainbows and refractions running though its apparent transparency. It holds a tray on which sits a formal icon of introduction, a complex shape of folded nanoflex, in the Terran Federal style. It seems someone wishes to speak with me.
I reach out and touch the icon while projecting acceptance of its delivery. Immediately it unfolds, a self-animated piece of origami, and presents its message in flowing text along its surface. It seems I have a fan here among the gathering. Someone has followed my travels across the Terragens sphere, always enjoying my posted descriptions, and looking forward to many more. If it is convenient, might I join them here for a private meeting to discuss an opportunity for travel and experience beyond anything I have achieved to date? Please indicate my preference (Y/N).
Briefly, I consider. There is no possibility of harm coming to me here in the angelnetted environs of Siris. And I had already started to think it might be time to end the evening and return to my quarters. At worst I might find myself accosted with an overly adoring fan, or perhaps subjected to an unwelcome sexual advance. Or a welcome one. Regardless, the list of likely possibilities seems short and uniformly easy to retreat from if I so choose. Deciding, I reach out and tap (Y).
Immediately, the icon refolds itself, this time into the shape of a small, humanoid figure, which bows deeply toward me and then turns to point the way that I should go to meet its author. The servitor turns as well and politely requests that I follow it to my meeting.
Making our way across the room, we approach one of several entrances to the enclosed balcony extending out from this level of the tower. Passing through an archway, we enter an extensive space extending for hundreds of meters in each direction, currently enclosed in a bubble of airwall to keep out the night breeze. A group of brightly clad cliffdancers in illuminated costumes is using the airwall as a stage, clinging to the surface of the wall with geckosuits and buckylines. Spinning, leaping, and flying out into space for short periods on collapsible gliders.
Small clusters of tables and chairs are scattered across the space in intimate groupings, and it is to one of these that the servitor leads me. The group waiting for me there is an eclectic one.
Reclining on a section of floor that has reformed for the purpose, a neo-pig regards me with warm, brown eyes, his snout tendrils curled into a smile. Next to em, a Gray sits primly in a lounge chair, eir somewhat severe appearance belied by the large mug of beer in eir hand. Across from the first two individuals, a large male Dog, a Rottweiler if my quick net-search is correct, is relaxing on a cushion he shares with a female cat-splice, tiger if the stripes and coloring are more than temporarily decorative. From their body language I guess they are either mated or lovers. Positioned behind the social circle, but obviously a part of it are two more members of the group, a dolphin floating in a large bubble of water, and a vec, a Faber I think, standing rigidly upright (which means nothing for a being who can hold even the most awkward position for centuries without discomfort). I wonder briefly why e is so far from the Periphery, where the Fabers usually make their homes.
The pig rolls to his feet and greets me warmly, introducing himself as my erstwhile fan followed by introductions to the other members of the group. In short order a comfortable chair has been manifested from the angelnet, a cold drink ordered from the nanoforge in the table, and we settle down to a discussion of the opportunity mentioned in my host's initial introduction.
What follows, the details of our conversation, I have agreed to keep confidential and will not divulge here. Suffice it to say that the proposal I was presented with, the opportunity I was offered, is still ringing in my head as I lie within my chamber, wondering whether to induce sleep or simply get up and walk the glittering night-cycle of the Siris megaplex.
Doubts keeping popping up within my mind. I had not planned to stay aboard Siris when it departs this system a month from now. Embarking on this journey will mean at least several centuries of separation from the bulk of civilization and not a small amount of risk. I could die. I could do worse than die. But the potential! The possibilities! The name that keeps echoing in my head, over and over, again and again:
The Surreal Rash!
By Todd Drashner (2017)
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