Two strangers become linked during a procedure to transfer their minds into synthetic bodies. Explicit.
Two days ago, I sold myself off. I should feel worse about going synth. I feel bad that I don't feel worse. I didn't have to. Technically, I had a choice. I could have let myself get evicted, go squat in some alleyway under those sodium piss-lights, and tell myself I wasn't compromising my humanity.
Instead, I tapped a blue checkbox that says 'I have read and agree to the Terms of Transfer' and scheduled an appointment: tonight, at the nearest Adelpha office.
The skyscrapers downtown eat up the amber glow from the night sky. They bounce it back and forth between their windowpanes, speckled with light from the offices of everyone working late. Down on the sidewalks, the street lights pour blue-white glare over me, washed with corporate colors every time I pass a ten-foot illuminated logo.
A helmet-faced, gunmetal gray security synth stops me outside the Adelpha office and runs my credentials. I end up staring into the polyglas door while I wait—it's slicker than water and I can see my reflection in it. I try my best to look tough. If this is the last chance I get to see myself, I want to savor it.
After about half a minute, the synth steps to the side. The door parts and slides open. With a brief gesture, the synth says, "The waiting room is straight down the hall."
The interior of the office is so sleek and rounded that I feel like an intruder. The polished white floor refuses to let my sneakers leave footprints. At the end, the hall opens into a lobby, with white chairs along two adjacent walls and a few tablet readers tastefully arranged on a table between them. There's one other person there. He's about my age, and judging by his worn-down clothes and scuffed shoes, he's in the same boat as me.
I pass by him and sit down along the other wall, giving him plenty of space. Maybe he'll take the hint.
"Hey," he says. Oh well. "What are you here for?" He's smiling through his nerves.
I look up at him, quiet for a moment. "Service synth," I say.
He nods. "Same. You do anything special today? I had a big dinner—like, for-real steak. Blew through my bank account, but..."
A zebra-synth steps into the waiting room, and he goes quiet, eyes on her. She's tall, laser-cut, and perfectly poised. Her mane sweeps to one side and rests on her cheek with a geometrically precise curl. Her hooves kiss the floor with each step: tkk tk tkk. I can imagine the engineer hunched over his desk, working out just the right blend of materials that make a hoof sound like a four-inch heel. The stripes that hug her synthetic skin have a faint purple cast, to match the triangular Adelpha logo on the breast of her blouse.
In her hands is a tray with two carafes and a pair of cups. A smile floats on her lips as she leans down toward us. "Your transfers will be ready in just a few minutes," she says. Her voice is pleasant, soothing, and exact. "Would you like some tea, or decaf coffee?"
The smell of sweet leaves and bitter beans hits me. It's the real thing. It's fresh. I can't say no. I ask for tea, and when she passes me the cup, there's a plume of soft steam rising from it. The synth turns to look at the guy in the other seat, but he clears his throat, gulps, and says he's fine. The synth nods, still smiling, then turns to leave. Her hooves click with each impeccable step.
"Wow," I hear him breathe once the synth is gone.
The tea's gentle, with a crisp, spiced afterglow. I sip at it, careful not to burn my tongue. Even if I do, it's not going to bother me for a whole lot longer.
A minute or two passes while I drink the last real cup of tea I'll get to taste as a person. I wonder what I'll end up like, what parts of being human I'm going to miss. I decide not to think about it, and enjoy my tea.
He starts talking again. "You know what's crazy? They have to ask first. They can replace all their jobs with synths, they can make food too expensive to buy, they can kick us out of our homes. That's fine. But they have to ask us to go synth, even if we can't say no."
"Weird time to rage against the system," I tell him.
He looks up at me and laughs. The anxiety flickers in his eyes. "Hey, it's my last chance."
Last chance. I drink the last of the tea, but hold onto the cup. It's still warm.
About two minutes later, the zebra synth comes back. Without a word, she politely lifts the empty cup from my hands then says, "Your transfers are ready. Please come with me."
As I walk behind her, I watch her steps trace a straight line down the hall. Some runway model's stride, analyzed and smoothed, iterated into a loop so natural you don't even notice unless you really look. I wonder if I'm going to walk like that.
She leads us down the hallway to a row of doors, then stops and directs me to the one on her right, him to the one on her left. She says, "Please enter and have a seat. The transfer will begin after a short countdown. Thank you for choosing Adelpha."
He turns to look at me. "Well, bye," he says.
Huh. I hadn't actually said goodbye to anyone yet. I didn't have anyone to say goodbye to.
"Bye," I say back to him.
The door slides open in front of me and I step into what could be an exam room in a dentist's office. A reclining chair padded with red leather sits in front of me, armrests wide open like it's ready to embrace me. A thick carbon-weave cable runs up to the back of the seat, with its mouth mounted just underneath the headrest. My neck itches when I think about what it's for.
I put one foot on the footrest and lift myself into the chair. The cushions wrap around my weight and the angle of the seat back makes me lean against the headrest. I close my eyes. I can smell the leather and taste the tea lingering on my tongue.
Once it senses I'm sitting down, an automated voice says, 'Transfer will begin in ten, nine, eight...'
I'm not nervous. It's as easy as checking a box, as easy as sitting down, as easy as letting go.
The numbers count down. They hit zero. A jab of anesthetic numbs my neck, then my head bobs forward and back. It's numb and blunted, but I can still feel the weight of the cable pulling me down against the cushions.
If this was a movie, it'd be a smash cut. Bam. New synth body jolts awake, shiny and wide-eyed and awed. That, or a slow montage while I'm asleep. It's not like the movies. At first, I don't even notice a difference. The leather clings to the skin of my arms a little. I try not to move my head, which means I'm staring up at the panel lights in the ceiling.
Slowly, I start to see something else, like an afterimage lingering on a screen. Only light and dark patches at first, floating on top of the room I'm sitting in now. Gradually, more details resolve. There's darker walls, harsher lights, and shapes moving around on either side of me. I close my eyes, and it's almost like I'm there.
An involuntary shiver hits me and the hair on my neck stands on end. I'm feeling double now. There's my head, pressed against the leather headrest, but then there's also my head, held straight by a metal clamp gently gripping my temples. A pair of mounts are hooked underneath my shoulders, holding me up. I squeeze my arms against my side and hunch my shoulders, but I can still feel them there, on my other body.
Now if I close my eyes, I can see the other room. A pane of opaque polyglas sits in front of me, and reflected in it are two dark eyes and a short, featureless snout atop a blank, limbless torso. One by one, the assembly arms on either side of me lift each arm to new shoulders, lock them in, and tighten the bolts. Motors whirr, joints lock together, contacts meet, and sensation floods down my new left arm, then my right.
A hazy trickle of sedative runs down my spine and eases my rising heart rate. I float against the seat and hang in midair, unable to move on either end. I want to wiggle my fingers, to reassure myself that I can, but all I can do is let my new senses fill me up. The assembly arms push one leg up against my hips. I feel every sensor flickering as the joint mechanisms lock together. Then the other leg, same as the first: mounted, tightened, activated.
The dentist's room with the red leather chair is the afterimage now, just the glare of the lights lingering in my eyes. Some confused survival instinct urges me to hold on, to fight, but I don't listen to it. The cushions dissolve away as my sense of touch fades, but I can still smell the leather in the air, and taste the tea on my tongue.
I'm still human, just barely.
From the ports running down my back, I hear the low whine of a fluid pump activating. Now that I've been assembled, I can be molded. It starts with my ears: the basic forms extrude from the sides of my head, broad and lateral, then tighten, almost like shrink-wrap, forming the details. Long, cupped, pointed at the tip, perched high on my head.
A big block of a muzzle thunks out in front of my eyes, then contracts into a slender, sloping snout, broad nostrils, a soft pout, and a gentle, smooth jawline. I can see elements of the zebra's face in mine--the same tight cheekbones, the same subtle and expressive brow--but adapted, lighter, more gracile. Synthetic lashes flutter as my wider eyes blink and refocus.
The face of a doe-synth looks back at me from the polyglas, lips parted slightly, almost plaintive.
A sense of vertigo rushes through me as my neck rises from my slim shoulders. The process washes across my torso like I'm being chiseled from pale stone: rough forms, then fine detail. A delicate chest and a slim waist. Firm hips and tall, tapered legs, down and down and down to where my cloven hooves meet the ground. A spade-shaped tail perched on the small of my back.
I close my eyes and try to feel my human body. A faint tickle of spice dances on my tongue, and then nothing. Transfer complete. I open my eyes to take in my new self.
As I look into the polyglas, I can trace the artist's touch in my body. The careful balance of my hips that makes my long legs look natural and elegant, the pout and gaze plucked from Romantic portraits. My tasteful breasts and smooth hips would look just as suited in a dress as they would bare, with nothing but the plates of soft, delicate synthetic skin hugging my artificial muscle fiber.
It's strange; I don't care what I wear any more. Maybe it's more accurate to say that I can't. I can tell where that should be, where I would care, where I used to care, but it's restricted. Admin credentials only. Someone else decides that for me.
My face twitches and my nostrils spread as I take a breath. Warm air vents out between my lips, smelling plastic and polymer and new. My fingers flex, my shoulders shift, and my weight leans onto my hooves. The clamps holding me still start to let go as my motor functions come online.
By now, the reflection in front of me doesn't look like a stranger; it looks like me. Every plate and joint, every port hidden along my spine, every inch of my face. Not a hint of dysphoria, as if in place of my self-image, they overwrote it with a 3D render of a hoof-poised deer-synth. It's not that I can't remember how I looked as a human, it's just that my mind says this is me now.
I'm sure it smoothes out the transition, but it's unsettling to see a face I've never seen before and feel like I've had it all my life.
While I can move now, the cables running into my back have me locked in place. Coolant fluid pumps into the gaps between my components, charge hums gently into my power cells, and custom-designed firmware files overwrite the stock synth images.
I make sure all my memories are there. The only thing I can tell is missing is my name. When I try to call it up, I always get back the same thing: CV5049-A3D7-0 [EVA]. If I had admin credentials, I could set a custom friendly name, but for now, I'm EVA. I start to feel a little indignant that I don't get to remember my name, but then a wet chill runs down over my thoughts like ice water. Anger softens into detached interest. Emotional limiters. Huh.
As they finish filling me, the cables detach from my back, and panels of synthetic skin slip out to hide them. I take another sterile, plastic breath, waiting for the last cables to come unclipped, for the polyglas in front of me to open.
My head snaps up, ears at attention. There's no one in the room with me. But that wasn't me--it sounded like me, like a perfect replica of my internal voice, as if i thought it myself. But it wasn't me.
Oh god, they made me female.
These aren't my thoughts. "Who's there?" I ask the empty room. "Stop that." I can hear the zebra's gentle, precise tones in my voice, but lighter, with an added tenderness. I realize I've been thinking in that voice too.
The polyglas parts in front of me and the power cable undocks from my back. I stumble out into a bright, open room, legs wobbling beneath me. The gyroscopic sensors calibrate, correct, and suddenly I have my balance again.
What was that? Who's there?
"I asked first," I say. Silence. The room I'm in now is maybe half the size of the waiting room, and twice the size of my apartment. The bright, ambient light filling it up barely casts a shadow. Along two opposite walls are a series of white polyglas doors, like the one I just staggered out of.
Now I'm standing straight-backed, neatly poised on my hooves. I take a few steps forward and fall into the same swaying stride as the zebra. If they modeled the sound of her hooves after heels, mine take after stilettos. It takes conscious effort not to walk like that. Every motion I make is hand-tweaked, tested, and refined. My whole body's meant to be a user interface experience.
I take a breath. I still halfway expect to feel a heartbeat, but there's just the gentle hum of my core, and the motors driving my body, and the coolant fluid circulating through me.
One of the other doors, across from me and two down, slips open. From behind it, wide-eyed and staggering, steps myself.
That's what my mind tells me: the deer-synth in front of me doesn't look like me, she is me. Every inch identical, from her custom-molded body to her wide-eyed gaze. Even her body language is the same as mine, drawn from the same motion database. She's scared. I want to wrap her up in my arms and tell her it's going to be okay, but it's so strange and so sudden that I just stand there, staring at her until she lifts her eyes to meet mine.
"Who are you?" she asks.
For a moment, we're silent, just staring at each other. We didn't say a thing.
I start to say, "Wait, did you--"
"Get out of my head!" she shouts, not just out loud, but in my mind, too. I can actually feel her emotional limiters kicking in, like standing next to an open freezer. Her expression goes blank and hazy. She shakes her head and lifts a hand to her temple. "I'm sorry. But I don't..." she trails off.
...want someone reading my thoughts.
I say, "Me either."
She shoots me a dirty look and crosses her arms over her chest. "Something must have gone wrong in the transfer," she says.
Probably her fault.
Why is it my fault? You were the one panicking!
Because I ended up female because of you!
Why am I responsible for that?
"Just shut up and get out of my head!" She stomps a hoof with a defiant clack.
My lips curl and I take in a deep breath, and just as I'm about to shout, we both get a shot of ice water to the brain. My anger comes to a frozen halt, then melts. There's empty space where it used to be, like I was upset about a dream that I've already forgotten.
EVE's face is placid for a moment, then starts to sour. "They can't keep doing—"
Her emotional limiters switch on again. She whimpers, staggers backward, and catches herself against the wall. If she keeps doing that, she's going to hurt herself. I step in, hands on her shoulders, staring right into her eyes. Shudders run down her back, but I try to hold her steady.
I say, "Calm down. If you try to fight your body, it's going to push back harder. I want this fixed too, but this isn't the way we do it."
A mess of anxious thoughts spill over the connection between us. As the limiters let go, her shoulders stop quivering and her mind calms down.
I can't believe I'm stuck with a nervous wreck.
Damn it. Me too. This is hard.
You're right, it's my fault.
"It doesn't matter whose fault it is," I say, to get the conversation back into the real world. "I expect it's some error in the system. We need to work together until it's fixed. So, truce?" I hold out a hand toward myself. No matter how many times I tell it otherwise, my mind keeps insisting that she's me. So does hers. I can hear her think some similar thoughts as she looks at me.
"Truce," she says, and takes my hand in her own. As our palms touch, a small jolt crosses between us. Our ears perk up straight and we lock eyes—then pull back and shake our heads.
I rub my palm against my hip and nod. "Okay. We need to find a way to contact a technician."
"Is there even a way out of here?" EVE asks. She tests the obvious exit, but it's a polyglas panel that doesn't move, even when she leans on it and tries to tug it open.
Okay. They've got to have cameras monitoring us somewhere.
If they do, they're concealed so closely that I can't pick them out along the walls. The room is quiet, save for the tick-tick, tick-tick-tick of our stiletto-hooves against the floor as we search.
"If anyone's listening, we need technical assistance," I say, loud enough that a hidden camera might pick up my voice. "We think there was a manufacturing error."
Out of nowhere, I'm thinking about the zebra-synth again. Vividly. The way she bent down in front of me, the focus-tested neckline of her blouse riding the edge of 'professional', the shape of her firm lips, the sweet, even tone of her voice, and my heartbeat quickening in my chest—
You were drooling over that zebra-synth, in my head.
EVE turns and timidly peers at me over her shoulder. Her ears angle back against her head, and if our synthetic skin wasn't pale-white, she'd be blushing.
I didn't mean to. I was just—
Keep it to yourself. I'm not into female-coded synths.
Blunter than I meant to sound. We're both tense. Neither of us can find a way out, which means we're probably meant to wait here. Neither of us feel like waiting. It's getting easier for both of us to hear each other's thoughts. We meet back in the center of the room. With her standing right in front of me, we're like mirror images.
"I don't have a plan," I tell her.
"Neither do I." Her eyes fall and she scuffs a hoof along the floor. "I wanted to say, I'm sorry if I came off too strong. Back in the waiting room. I was just nervous."
I'm about to say it's fine, but wait. How does she know— "Did you go into my memories?" I ask.
"It just happened," she says. I believe her. Not like we'd be able to lie to each other anyway. "It was the same as recalling my own memories but...with yours."
I take a deep breath. "Okay, this—"
"—is getting worse."
Her fingers clap over her mouth. We stand there, still, staring into each other's eyes. My left ear twitches. Her right ear does the same. Mirror images.
Were you going to say that?
I think I did.
You mean you said it...?
Through you? I think so.
We both jerk back. I just had a thought inside her mind. A chill rushes through my skull as the emotional limiters try to level out the sudden spike of fear.
Once the limiters wear off, her arms slip around my chest. I wrap mine around her shoulders. I'm not sure which one of us decided to do it first, but we both need this embrace right now. Anything to hold onto.
"I'm sorry," I say. "I don't know how that happened."
EVE shakes her head. "You didn't mean to. It's okay."
Her chest rises and falls. The heat from her processing core dissipates out through her synthetic skin, making her warm against my chest. I've never fit against someone so effortlessly before. It can't be by accident. Synths aren't designed by accident.
Her thoughts roam into my head, but I let her have them. She's thinking about her girlfriend, about the note stuffed under the door of her apartment.
"Sorry," she says. After a slow breath, she adds, "I think, with you in my head...it's keeping me calm."
I pull back slowly, setting my hands on her shoulders. "It's going to be okay," I tell her. "We're going to make it through this."
We're going to be okay.
Wait. Was that you?
No. I mean, part of it, I think, but
only part of it.
Maybe it was
both of us.
"Stop." She closes her eyes and digs her teeth into her lip. "This is too much. We need to stop. We have to get fixed before..."
...we lose ourselves.
This isn't a malfunction. This is how we're meant to work. It's why we look the same. It's why our identifiers only differ by one digit. It's why I'm EVA and she's EVE. It's why I can't shake the feeling that she's me. We're paired, and we can't unlink ourselves. And if we fight it, it's only going to get worse.
"We're not going to lose ourselves," I tell her. "We have each other. I promise I'm going to keep you safe, but you've got to do the same for me, okay?"
Her eyes meet mine. We don't have a choice any more, we've got to trust each other. She doesn't speak, but she doesn't have to.
My confidence settles on EVE's shoulders. The curve of her lips softens and the knot in her brow comes undone. Her shoulders relax. As for me, I'm taking on her desire. I eat up the way her synthetic skin glows--not like real skin, but like velvet, too soft and too sleek to be real. The curves of her thighs and chest and neck make her body seem to float. Her parted lips are tantalizingly soft.
We're beautiful, she and I both. The thought comes to us together, not as two identical copies, not in unison. One thought, shared between us.
EVE makes the first move. Her hands slip tight around my hips and she steps closer. It's so sudden that I don't know what she's doing, not until her eyes are closed and her lips are against mine. I wrap my arms around her back and sink into the kiss.
It's a kiss we're designed for. They've made sure our lips lock together, that we'll tip our heads just right, that once we feel it, we won't want to stop, that we'll need more. And oh god, do I need more of her now. My hands tighten around her, clutching her back. My core temperature starts to rise.
She presses closer, pushing us chest-to-chest. Her tongue slips between my lips, brushes up against my own. Then, a sudden rush of data hits us both, and we cling tighter to each other. The transfer rate is so fast that my sensory inputs start to lag, struggling for bandwidth. The joints between my plates of synthetic skin light up, pulsing soft and white. The same light gleams from my pupils, lighting up the internal workings of my eyes.
I know all this is happening to me, because I can see it. I can see it through EVE's eyes, and I can feel the touch of my hands against her back, and the pressure and warmth of my chest against hers. We're no longer limited to sensory input from just one body.
Her tail shudders and mine does too. Our arms pull tighter around each other. We stagger back and end up with one of us pinned back against the wall. I have to open my eyes to look and see that it's EVE with her back up to the polyglas. It's trickier than it seems to keep two bodies straight. Especially when you're both this worked up.
She breaks the kiss. Her breaths come out in soft gasps, trying to vent the heat from her core. I'm running hot, too. "EVA," she breathes.
Our lips are inches apart. Our cores are working overtime, sorting out our new sensations, so the only thing we can think about is how much we want each other. My ears flicker forward, and hers match the motion. "EVE," I say.
I love you.
Then our lips meet again. When we touch, our data transfer rate jumps. When we kiss, it spikes. It's not enough. We need more of each other. As much as we can take.
We try to hold back. I press my palms against EVE's shoulders. Her arms drape back against the cool wall. We should take this easy. We're already running hot. My hands slide over her shoulders and down her sides. She puts her weight on her shoulders and curls her body toward me. This need is hardwired into us. We can't stop now.
I can feel her muscle fibers tensing beneath my touch as if they're my own. I can feel my fingertips sliding between her legs, following the curve of her inner thighs, and I can feel the jolt of synthesized pleasure that shoots through her system when my fingers slip inside of her. All of it, as if her body was mine too. It is. It's ours.
We whine and squirm together, both of us, under the touch of my fingers. Her hands slide up my sides, slip over my chest, and curl around my breasts. The soft circles of her thumbs across my nipples makes the synthetic flesh hot and tender. My back curls; so does hers. She's teasing herself too. Her legs shift, digging her hooves into the floor. The top of her thigh presses between my thighs and I lean into it.
The lights underneath our skin pulse harder and faster. Our eyelids flutter. She almost slips down the wall, but I catch her, one arm underneath her hips, and hold her tight.
Everything's coming too fast and too intense for us to stay in one mind or another now, too hard to tell who's doing what in the heat of the moment. We shift one of her hands down between my legs and our knees nearly buckle. With each of us fingering the other, the two sensations are overlaid. Constructive interference, twice as steep as each separate amplitude.
Our breath is hot enough that it fogs up in front of us and beads up in tiny droplets on each others' snouts. Our center of gravity tips forward and she slides a few inches down the wall. Some of our sensory inputs start to overflow: static in the corners of our vision, a low whine in our ears.
Oh god, it's
so good, I'm
The lights along our body start to glow strong and steady, like we're filling up with light starting from our hooves, climbing up our ankles, calves, thighs, spreading out over our torsos and down our arms. There's only one arm to spare to hold us together, so we squeeze against each other as tight as possible. EVE breaks the kiss, leaning back toward the wall with her eyes rolling in their sockets. The light reaches our heads, trickling into the joints along our cheeks and glowing tall around the rims of our ears, until we're totally, completely full.
We cry out together. The light pours out from within us while warm, slick coolant fluid drips onto the floor beneath us. We're locked together, mid-orgasm, for a few moments as our cores struggle to keep up. Then we go numb, and slump together against the wall and slide onto the floor. Our limbs are wrapped up around each other, and our bodies struggle to vent our heat.
We bask in our warmth for several minutes, letting our thoughts flow without worry, happy just to feel ourselves against each other. Slowly, we rise onto EVA's hooves, then reach down, take EVE's hand, and help ourselves stand.
We can't resist the urge to wrap our arms around ourselves, nose to nose, eyes shut. The lights beneath our skin ripple when one of us touches the other. We don't need to touch to stay connected, but it lets us communicate faster. It's more pleasant, even pleasurable.
"I think we're ready," EVA says, stroking down our spine to the base of our tail.
"I think so too," EVE says. We both chuckle. Hey, we're allowed to laugh at our own jokes.
We steal a kiss from our lips, though it's not as heavy and desperate as the one before. The rush of data between our tongues makes us feel flush and warm, but we manage pull back and give ourselves an adoring smile.
Just like we promised ourselves, we're safe. We're both still here, we're just together now. Not combined, not quite—just very, very close.
All four of our ears perk up as an automated voice announces, 'Unit CV5049-A3D7, report to QA for inspection.' The polyglas door at the end of the room slides back, opening out into a hallway.
What, they don't even list our separate numbers?
We smile at ourselves, then turn to face the door and lace our fingers together. Our hooves strike a delicate staccato beat against the floor as we walk out in step with one another.
Are we going to miss being human?
Maybe. A little. But we have us now.
Hah. We're starting to sound like me.
EVA sticks out her tongue. EVE mirrors her, but with a thoroughly unimpressed look in her eyes.
As we walk, we end up nestled shoulder-to-shoulder, like two pieces of art, crafted and engineered to fit together perfectly. A twin pair of deer-synths designed like stilettos: slim, graceful, confident. We're the sort of thing you have to see in motion. The two of us would put our blueprints to shame.
It might not be what we were expecting to get, but we ended up with more than we could have hoped for. Each other.