Over the course of the intervening cycles, moving from February to March, Hawthorne had gotten a remarkably small amount of work done. Aside from exercising for a day every cycle, his schedule had been dominated by recreational reading, movie viewing, and serials. Of particular interest to him, of course, were documentaries on topics he hadn’t really looked into much, like wild animals, strange human cultures, and even the occasional urban legend. T.I.A.’s access to a great many speakers proved to be wonderfully useful for such things, though their impossibly durable design did result in some audio quality loss compared to the electronics Hawthorne remembered back on Earth. He found it easier and easier to simply stop using his brain.
This Braincation even extended to his dreams, where his mind drifted more towards relaxing and soothing things rather than the constant concerns towards their future that had been his companion most of the journey. He even started requesting that they watch things and listen to music while he worked out, the emotional manipulation of media proving quite useful in motivating his body in ways he’d never really given the chance. T.I.A. seemed very pleased with how much he was taking to heart his efforts to relax, and considering his bio-signs, he seemed to be doing a fine job of reversing a lot of the stress-related effects he’d been accumulating over the prior year of his life.
He did find things to think about though. He seemed particularly amused by observations made about various movies and the times they were produced. In the post-government revolution era that immediately preceded the Cataclysm, there were a great many remakes of old movies from prior centuries that glorified revolutions, corporations, and the wellbeing and ‘divinity’ of ‘the people’. Doubtlessly, the quality of these movies showed a passion for the projects that was uncommon in prior decades, though he was still early in his analysis of such things. He wasn’t sure how much of a habit he’d make of enjoying such things, but the added breadth of experiences were expanding his intellectual horizons rather than rotting them as he’d previously worried.
T.I.A. seemed to be enjoying herself quite a bit as she watched these things with Hawthorne. She’d even provided them with new furniture to enjoy it from, in the form of a couch. It was sturdy enough to handle the weight of her android, but she tended to avoid using it for such times considering how noisy it could be. Hawthorne was very curious how it was she’d made such a thing, only for her to reveal that she’d merely recycled the materials from some of his more damaged clothing of the prior year, as well as some of his old bedding. He was somewhat concerned about what seemed like a waste of resources, but she assured him she could easily recycle the remaining stores easily enough to keep him comfortable for the entire journey, and longer if needed.
T.I.A. had noticed a curious instance though, as during one of Hawthorne’s workout sessions, he had banged his elbow against one of the bars he’d been using to grip onto earlier. Considering the level of volume of the impact, she was surprised to observe him rather quietly rub at his elbow without nearly the level of discomfort he typically should have had from such a thing. Upon asking about his apparent lack of pain, Hawthorne laughed and shrugged, suggesting that it was probably due to adrenaline from the workout. It was a probable enough explanation, but it was something she found abnormal.
As of Cycle 86, T.I.A. was eagerly anticipating Hawthorne’s birthday. She’d completed his gifts several cycles prior, and had waited the extra century to give it to him. He would biologically be 38 this cycle, even if his cryogenic age was 2927. The first two days of the cycle, March 13th and 14th were taken up with more of the norm, with both of them enjoying some episodes of revered television series from the early 21st century. On Saturday, March 15th, 4955, however, she had things set up quite a bit differently.
She had prepared her VE with lots of different simulations. A big white room expanded off into the distance, and various three-meter cubes were arranged about the space, with labels on the floor. One such cube was a cube of water, labeled appropriately, and it was flanked by both a ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ cube. Dozens of other cubes existed, seemingly to demonstrate different sensations, while a set of pedestals held several weights marked from 10 to 50kg. They were simple demonstrations, but she was pretty pleased with them.
A knock on Hawthorne’s bedroom door indicated that T.I.A.’s android was waiting to come in. She’d detected Hawthorne had awakened and was eager to give him his gift. “Come in!” Hawthorne shouted, sitting up on his bed and swinging his legs off the side. He was wearing some simple pajamas in a pale blue color as he watched T.I.A. come inside. He didn’t have his contacts on yet, of course, but the android wasn’t something he couldn’t handle. He smiled up at her, rubbing his eyes as she approached, curious about the black, folded up thing in her hands. It looked suspiciously like his gloves. “Good Morning, Tia.”
She knew he couldn’t see her expression, but she smiled anyway as she extended her hands out and handed him his gift. “Happy Birthday, Hawthorne! I’ve been working on this for a long time, so I hope you enjoy it. I’ve even prepared something to demonstrate how it works.” She waved a hand behind her at his bedroom door.
He unfolded what turned out to be a full-body suit, with intelligently placed buttons and clasps to allow for easy removal. He raised an eyebrow at how carefully she’d shaped it to his body though. If it were inflated it would be a pretty accurate representation of his body, down to the genitals, which he was apparently supposed to fit into it. “This is… underwear then?” She nodded back at him, having imagined he’d wear the bodysuit under his usual clothing. “Alright, well, I’ll need a few minutes to wash up and get dressed then.”
T.I.A. nodded and excused herself from his room, and wandered around the next room, moving the room itself around to allow her to put her hand into the various cubes, particularly enjoying the tickly sensation of the ‘feather’ cube or the wonderful softness of the ‘pillow’ cube. She was eager to see what he thought about her gift, hoping he didn’t mind how form-fitting it was. It took a good half an hour, but as that door slid open she turned and smiled brightly at Hawthorne as he stepped in.
His hair, which had gotten somewhat long at this point, was hidden away under the cap of the suit, leaving only his face uncovered. Considering that he had clothes on over the suit, this cap ended up being the most visible part besides his hands. He had a simple set of pants, his lab coat, and undershirt on, opting to allow the bodysuit to act as underwear for the moment. He looked a little uncomfortable, but smiled nonetheless. “Thank you so much Tia, I’m sure you put a lot of work into this. I’m a little surprised at how accurate some of the measurements are, though!”
She blushed a bit, nodding. “I cheated a bit with that. I used thermal cameras to get your shape under your clothes.” She cleared her throat for effect, and approached him, holding out her arms. “Hug?”
He blinked a bit, smirking as she asked for permission, though he understood why. It’d be their closest hug yet, after all, and as he embraced the smaller android he laughed at the strange sensation of feeling her soft body and clothes against what turned out to be his bare skin. “You are not simulating my clothes at all, are you? That feels so strange.” He shook his head, amused at the feeling as he stepped back and looked down at her.
She laughed back, embarrassed. “If I made your regular clothes like this, I wouldn’t be able to do very good sensory simulations, trust me. Come on, try all of these samples I set up for you.” She took his hand and brought him over to various cubes first, stepping aside to let him try them out.
He looked up at the big cube of water, and nodded, stepping into it with his hands extended out in front of him. He blinked as he felt the cool water swirling around his hands and arms, and as he stepped fully into it he felt weirdly buoyant, like his body were slowly floating up despite not actually moving much. When he spoke, bubbles appeared in front of his face as he spoke to T.I.A. “How is it that I feel buoyant?” He moved his arms about, water swirling around his limbs and his body feeling the resistance of the water.
T.I.A. was smiling proudly, watching him try out the water cube, though she did have to concentrate a bit to make sure it simulated properly. “Easy! The suit squeezes and pulls on your body in simple ways to simulate the feeling and gently restrict your movement. I need to fine-tune it a bit, but I think with your help I can get the sensations feeling quite accurate.”
He nodded, then stepped out of the cube, blinking as he felt the water running off of him in sheets, then droplets, making him feel a fair bit cooler. He watched T.I.A. visibly strain as she simulated all the water and temperatures, smiling at how much effort she was going through. He moved over to the ‘hot’ cube, and sighed out happily as the water quickly evaporated off of him and the suit warmed up around him. “This is very elaborate. It all feels very close to reality.” He stepped out of the hot cube, briefly stepped into the cold cube to cool back off, and started checking out all of the others.
He found himself hugging and sighing as he encountered the pillow cube, laughing as he walked through the feather cube and was tickled all over briefly, and getting fascinated as he got partly stuck in the ‘oobleck’ cube, having to move more slowly to extricate himself from it, as it got harder to move the more force he used in it. It was an eerily accurate simulation of a non-newtonian fluid. Thankfully he’d only put his hand into it. “Feeling the weight and pull on my body like that is almost too real to believe. Incredible.”
She nodded and led him over to the series of weights, which he wasted no time in reaching out to pick up. One after another he hefted them into the air, humming and moving it around, feeling the way the suit altered his center of gravity and pulled on his body to simulate the weight. It wasn’t perfect, but it was damn impressive, and more importantly it was very immersive.
“So, did you utilize any technology from Earth to design this, or was it all your own?” He looked back at her, curious, wondering how long it would take to get used to feeling all of T.I.A.’s various simulations. He was especially interested in sitting on the grass in Clapham Common and feeling a tree against his back.
She nodded back at his question, smiling. “Not too much, of course. They had suits like this back on Earth, but I had to adapt the design to my Virtual Environment, which was made much easier thanks to the data I gathered from you using the gloves I made for you for so long. Being able to simulate weight and other things like that is my own design though. It’s still a little difficult for me to handle simulating multiple bodies and how their environments affect them, but it’s easier if I localize the the more complicated parts to the immediate vicinity of the body involved.” She squirmed a bit, eager to see what he thought.
He detected the anxiety on her face, and smiled brightly back at her, causing him to move in and scoop her up into a hug. He had to pull her away from her android to properly pull her up off her feet, but he was able to enjoy the sensation of his suit simulating her weight as he picked her small body up. “I absolutely love it, Tia. This is the best gift I think I’ve ever had. Thank you so much.”
T.I.A. mirrored his happy smile, moving her head against his chest and hugging him tightly, much more able to physically connect to him now with a suit like this. There were limitations of course, but she wasn’t especially worried about such things.
He hummed a bit, setting her down, thinking. “You know, though, it’s missing some things. It can’t stimulate the sense of smell or taste.” He smirked, teasing her and leaning down to kiss her forehead. Of course, he couldn’t feel that, but gathering her into the light hug to do it first felt nice.
She puffed up her cheeks in annoyance as he criticized her, even if he was joking. “I don’t even have a sense of smell or taste, you know that! I have no idea if I’ll ever be able to simulate something like that.” She pulled back from the hug, though she did blush a bit and rub a few fingers against the spot he’d kissed her forehead.
“Of course, I’m just teasing. Honestly, once we get you down to simulating molecules, you’ll probably be able to simulate taste and scent receptors. I don’t know if you’ll get any sensation out of that without some input, nor can I really see much use for it, but it’s not an impossibility.”
T.I.A. pouted and nodded a bit. “Well, Jessica sometimes talked about how much she enjoyed how Clint smelled after a day of working in the fields and such… It sounded nice…” She bit her lip, wondering if it was as stimulating and arousing as she’d claimed. Surely there was more to do with their genetic compatibility than the actual scent of his work on him, but there was so much nuance she was missing there that she could only speculate.
Hawthorne hummed, curious. “Huh, Tia only ever complained about how I smelled like machines and grease. She wouldn’t let me near her without a shower.” He laughed softly, shaking his head. “I don’t imagine they have much in the way of deodorant or floral soaps in the Phoenix Clan, now that I think about it. They probably had some soaps, but scented things were probably very different from my day.” The idea that they’d use what few flowering plants, or perhaps parts of mushrooms, to scent themselves was a strange one. Was Jessica turned on by Clint smelling like sweat, dirt, manure, or some combination thereof? He regretted not having access to her anymore.
T.I.A. chose that moment to swap out her VE, bringing them back to her imagined idea of the Phoenix Clan. Hawthorne took the time to wander about, feeling the way heat sank into his skin from the humid, hot weather. A gentle breeze blew on him occasionally, causing him to let out a sigh. He felt some mud squish between his toes despite standing in shoes on steel in the ship, and found the contrasts to be very interesting. Cleaning his feet with some water felt very refreshing, and getting misted upon in the greenhouses also felt nice. He spent much of the rest of the day just exploring T.I.A.’s various simulations and trying out touching and sitting and laying in all manner of situations.
She was a little curious as to why he wasn’t messing with the people too much. She had originally suspected he might want to try getting intimate with someone at some point, but she wasn’t about to push the issue. It was so fun watching him get accustomed to his new way of interacting with her mind that she could hardly stand it. It was also providing her with much better information on his vitals, temperatures, pulse, and the like.
“You know what, Tia? This suit would actually be really useful as an interface for a robot like your android. I think I should build a robot for me that I can use this suit to control remotely, allowing both of us to utilize them for working on the Lubar-Masis and whatnot. It could make it easier for me to render repairs on the ship without risking my physical body in any way. We’d have to keep it from giving me the sensation of the incredible cold in space, but it would probably be very useful.”
T.I.A. blinked, eyes wide at that idea. “That sounds like a great idea! There’s not actually that much value in me having my android on the ship most of the time. I’d probably want to build some sort of housing for them to work within though so they don’t fly off into space by accident or if I have to make any maneuvers with the comet and ship.”
He nodded softly, considering the idea. “I don’t know how practical it would be to scale up this kind of technology to allow hundreds of people to use it, maybe in a less elaborate fashion to allow people to work remotely. It could allow relatively soft people to construct things with their hands without overly straining them. Of course, there’s also the possible benefits of utilizing such things for Virtual Reality environments, like some manner of telepresence. That would probably require some kind of quantum communication to be really useful though.”
T.I.A. gasped softly at the idea, wondering with wide eyes. “You’re suggesting some manner of virtual world that people can engage with others in in real-time regardless of distances. That would be incredibly useful if it were possible! Imagine being able to share a room virtually in real time with people on Earth while you’re on a colony on Alpha Centauri. That would be so much more impressive than anything Earth’s internet was capable of.”
Hawthorne shrugged, smiling. “That’s assuming quantum-entangled particles would remain entangled after more than one use. If they could be reused indefinitely, you could absolutely use them as something of an internet pipeline between planets and spacecraft. It would be incredibly difficult to deliver both sides of the communication device, but once installed that sort of instantaneous sharing of information and virtual spaces would be child’s play by comparison.”
She squirmed a bit, blushing a little at a thought. “I wonder what kinds of computers we’d need to produce the simulations I’ve been making on that kind of scale. I realize my version isn’t as efficient as a purpose-built machine would be, seeing as mine is a sense of imagination simulated within a simulated mind, but it still probably requires quite a lot of computing power.”
Hawthorne shrugged, smiling. “Perhaps, but it is much more intuitive to construct things in your VE compared to those computers. It would have taken so much more time for me to build the plans for the Phoenix Clan caravan or your android if I had to use proper design software.” He nodded, remembering how long it took to design and assemble the Ark itself, and all the man-hours that had to be employed. He could only imagine how much effort the Phoenix Clan had to expend to actually build their caravan.
T.I.A. raised a hand, curiously. “Do you think the hardware designs we got from Earth after we left will be better in the long run? They use so many less rare resources than our equipment did. It’s almost like a totally different branch of technology, despite that they used it to run the same kinds of software we did.” She hummed, wondering what a synthetic mind like her own would look like with the steel-and-glass heavy retro-style equipment that was common on Earth before the Cataclysm. They’d even largely swapped to different kinds of plastics, making recycling electronics a great deal more practical.
“Hard to say. Rare materials can allow for much more specialized and powerful components and materials. Losing access to those things forced Earth to compensate by increasing the quality of more mundane components to the point where they’d basically caught up to our level of technology by the time the Cataclysm occurred. Their focuses were not entirely different, very entertainment-oriented. They also recycled old hardware and people ended up modifying their old hardware to continue supporting modern software. I imagine those sorts of niche jobs did a lot to help people get work as automation became more of an issue. I think I recall some low-priority news fluff pieces regarding small businesses keeping retro tech alive and whatnot.” Hawthorne found himself wondering, having been very impressed with how technology regressed and rebounded in their wake.
T.I.A. laughed a bit, shaking her head. “I’m just worried what I would be like if you’d had worse technology to work with, or the pre-Cataclysm stuff that was about as good. Maybe I would have been completely different.”
Frowning back at her a moment, Hawthorne warned. “Hey, don’t laugh. We’re probably going to have to use just that technology if we’re going to revive Megan Clark. I was actually thinking that we could work on that on the Lubar Masis with the remote control robots. That way we could have access to her without having to worry about her turning on us. She wouldn’t have any control over the equipment on the comet except for herself, so we could acclimate and teach her how to live in her new situation.”
T.I.A. blinked, a bit of a chill running through her. Having Megan living on the comet certainly sounded safe, but it was still unsettling. “Well, at least I’d have someone to talk to while you’re in stasis. Maybe all I’ve learned about interacting with humans could help me teach her.” She wondered quietly, amused with the idea that she might help a former human become more human.
Hawthorne shrugged, smiling. “Just remember, she lived with humans longer than you or I did. It’s also hard to say what’s even left of her, or if she starts growing she’ll even be the same person she was. That’s why I want to make sure we isolate her, since there’s no telling how sane she’ll be. Ideally, if she ends up being cooperative and helpful, I’d like to task her with preparing Alpha Centauri for us. She could end up being hugely important to humanity. It’s just a matter of what it’ll take to motivate her. I imagine keeping a backup copy of her mind will be enough to keep her from being too fearful for her existence.”
Having been listening quietly, T.I.A. nodded in response, adding a final thought to the idea. “Perhaps having a backup copy of both of us wouldn’t be the worst idea either.” She squirmed a bit, embarrassed. She had no idea how hard it would be to make a safety backup of herself on that scale.
Tapping his foot, Hawthorne nodded, wondering how to best go about such thing. “Well, the only technology I know of that can do that for a human ruins the brain in the process. The best backup we have for me, is you, honestly. You’ve got observations of me for a whole year, and that will only get better every year we go ahead. You’d be able to simulate me to a very believable degree, if you had to. Unless I’m already going to die, I think I’ll avoid risking destroying myself to make a copy. It wouldn’t hurt to look into better, less destructive technologies, but that kind of innovation is much more likely to take place after we have our colonies established. Risking my life and health like that is probably not worth risking the mission.”
T.I.A. nodded, letting out a little sigh. “Just don’t go dying or anything then. I don’t wanna just talk to a simulation of you for the rest of the journey. Still, it might be worth building that simulation to help with problem solving and whatnot.”
Hawthorne visibly shuddered a bit at that idea. “I don’t know how comfortable I am with the idea that you’d have a copy of me running around when I’m not around. It reminds me weirdly enough of an old superstition regarding photos stealing the souls of those being pictured.”
T.I.A. pouted a bit, digging her toes into the ground a bit. “I promise I’ll take care of it…”