Zenia, Quilo, and Tadashi have invented telepathine: a biotech substance which lets people share live sensory experiences with each other. Their new product radically transforms interpersonal relationships and the concept of selfhood, awakening a collective consciousness within the networked minds of its users. As humanity watches a new form of life rousing in its midst, it’s up to our three friends to prove this revolution is not a threat—and to find out where its potential may lead.

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Chapter 1


Attention is the beginning of devotion.
By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies—all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable.
Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?
Is there a line or sort of bag of which we can say that “inside” that line or interface is “me” and “outside” is the environment or some other person? By what right do we make these distinctions?
O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind! A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries. A whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can. A hidden hermitage where we may study out the troubled book of what we have done and yet may do. An introcosm that is more myself than anything I can find in a mirror. This consciousness that is myself of selves, that is everything, and yet nothing at all—what is it?
As the Internet fades away (in terms of boxes and flickering screens) and becomes more and more transparent implants in your body, then your identification will be total with this global environment. And you will think of yourself as a person with two minds: the individual mind and the collective mind.

“You know how a chameleon can move its eyes separately from each other, but still see through both of them?” I asked.


“That’s kind of what this feels like.”

Quilo giggled. “You’re right, it does.”

I sat cross-legged and reclined against a crooked tree trunk while the boy rolled around in the grass, watching him like one of the chameleon’s eyes in my metaphor. Its other eye? That was him. Because I was experiencing the world from Quilo’s point of view, too: face up close to the lawn with its dewy scent, blades rustling past his ears and tickling his hands. The seventeen-year-old came to a rest on his back, looking at the sky. Through his eyes I could see Spica and Arcturus, along with their neighboring stars, as they played a twinkling game of hide-and-seek with the soft-glowing electree canopy swaying above.

What had started as a bewildering, disorienting, and other-worldly experience just five days prior was now a regular pastime for the two of us; one which we anticipated with delight. We called it “tuning in:” opening up our sensory perceptions to each other in real time through the use of our homemade invention, telepathine. The viscous liquid, inhaled in atomized form, contained a variety of custom-engineered neurotransmitters and wirelessly communicating nanobots designed to weave both of our nervous systems into one sensorium. We’d been gradually expanding our tests over the past few days, and today’s trial session was our longest. By now, our perceptions had been entangled for five hours—a transformative experience which we both still struggled to express in clumsy, abstract words.

Tiny legs skittered across what seemed like my arm. I went to brush them aside but found nothing there. Instead, the little insect was located on Quilo’s arm. After the momentary cross-confusion between our sensations, he gingerly picked the critter off his arm and placed it on a nearby blade of grass, all without ever looking away from the sky. The boy was able to coordinate his activity by utilizing my own eyesight fixated on him.

Quilo’s gaze pivoted down along a tree, following it to the ground where it disappeared behind the little Japanese tea house at the edge of the glade. Then the view swung to the side and focused on a woman’s face—my own. Or rather, a mirror image of the visage I’d grown used to over four decades: brown eyes, a wide round nose and even rounder cheeks, tightly knotted strands of not-quite-black-anymore hair blowing across it in the wind.

The boy’s seagreen eyes locked with mine. We both giggled at the sight of our real selves.

“Still looks backwards,” he said. “Are my nostrils really that crooked?”

“What? No! Your nose looks nice like it always does.”

Another gust whistled past the tea house and rolled across our bodies.

“Come watch the stars again?” Quilo asked, breaking the stare.

I laid down beside the boy and we both let our eyes roam the clear sky in silence. Our combined eyesight, encircled by the meadow’s canopy, made me feel like a gigantic pupil, almost as if Mother Earth herself had grown an eyeball out of her immense body and was peering through us into the endless universe above—trepidatious, enthralled, curious… and a little lonely, for this sensation had never permeated the substance of reality before. It was a unique appearance in its thirteen-billion-year history. No one else had any idea what it felt like. No other soul even knew we were doing this right now—save for one; the genius behind telepathine’s network code.

“Zenia?” Quilo said.


“Do you want to tell Tadashi?”

“I guess we’ve practiced enough for now.” Even though we were both looking at the sky instead of each other, Quilo was still able to perceive my nod through the telepathine link.

“Think he’s back home from tai chi yet?” the boy asked with his wrinkling brow transcribing itself onto my own forehead.

“Oh, honey!” I laughed. “On a night like this? That man will probably be out until sunrise. C’mon, I bet he’s at the temple.”

We clasped our left arms together, leveraged our weights in a combined motion against the ground, and lifted off it in an elegant, three-quarter swirl. Without missing a beat, we transitioned out of this rising double-helix move into our new, cooperative method of walking: side-by-side, one of us continuously looking ahead and to the left, the other ahead and to the right. Quilo had christened it “panorama-mode,” a name I found quite endearing (and totally spot-on).

“Are you ready to have him tune in with us?” I asked.

“Of course. I really want to find out what omni-vision feels like!” The boy turned his head further to the side to cover more of our environment, but the panorama split in half. He quickly reversed the move.

It felt as though I was present in two bodies at once, looking out from a twin perspective but comprehending the view as one consciousness. And although nothing about the world surrounding us changed, the doubling of sensory phenomena turned formerly banal experiences into numinous miracles. Appreciating a tree trunk’s tactile surface, listening to the chattering insects, or just observing the stars with two pairs of eyes—pleasant pastimes on their own, yes, but in this state of widened, fused-together, double-fidelity awareness it was hard for us to contain our amazement without drawing the attention of passersby.

Something newborn and fragile rose out of the phase transition occurring inside our minds. “My” body suddenly didn’t end at its epidermal border anymore. It stretched out into the world until it encompassed us both in an emergent “I” born from the sum-total of our sensoria. Much like any youngling, it was still a little wobbly; a toddler taking first steps. But every wave of it was irresistible. It submerged us in a sense of self which felt in no way like it suppressed our old identities, but instead built them up and fused them into something superior: “Quenia,” or “Zilo,” or whatever I might’ve called it—as long as its label was more remarkable than Tadashi’s sterile “hyper-awareness of two networked brains.”

A mystery slumbered within this technology, and we wanted to give it a good poke.

“Wind’s picking up just like they predicted,” I said during our stroll. “I bet there’s going to be a real mess to clean up once we’re through the storm.”

“Yeah. Mom says there’s no way we can avoid it anymore. It grew super fast.” Quilo’s mother was a member of the navigation team steering our massive floating city across the ocean, whose extraordinarily warm waters and weakened currents had spawned the strongest typhoon on record. “She’s really glad the city builders thought about spare turbines,” the boy added.

Gusts loosened a handful of fronds on the lanky tropical electrees leaning over the path ahead, and the sudden rustle of their landing startled a hidden stray cat. I picked up one of the fronds as we passed. Quilo kept his eyes on the way forward so I could see through him where we were walking as I inspected the frond. It burned through its residual power current, cells pulsing in a decelerating, ever-dimming turquoise, transitioning from a unified cascade of light into sloppy static.

“What kind is that?” the boy asked with a quick glance at the dying foliage. He’d taken an interest in my job as the city’s chief electro-botanist, and was determined to learn how to identify all the electree varieties in the city.

“You tell me,” I teased him, handing over the frond.

He studied its shapes and structure up close as I monitored the path, which allowed him to hop across a rather large pothole without interrupting his task. He scanned the frond all over, checking each botanical feature I’d taught him two days prior.

“C’mon, you know this!” I said after a while, grinning.

“Roystonea?” he probed, one eye shut and the corner of his mouth scrunched to the side.

Nope. He’d missed the difference in leaf structure which was so obvious to me—but in his defense, I used to make the same mistake.

“I can see why you would think that,” I answered. “But we don’t have any royal palms this side of the neighborhood. Try again, though. You’re close.”

This time he didn’t hesitate. “Nucifera?”

“Nucifera, that’s right. Nucifera ardor—remember? Because it’s an electree. Quite a healthy one, actually.”

“Right.” A little shake of his head.

“Second choice answer. Not bad,” I said, eventually adding, “Y’know, those two species came up on my expert certification test and I blanked. Just couldn’t remember. Totally clueless. I sweat bullets!”

“How did you figure it out?”

“Who says I did?”


“That was the only question I got wrong.”

“Ugh! The same stupid thing happens to me with all the different fullerene molecules.”

Not a sentence one usually hears from such a young mind, but I got used to it soon after meeting this one. Tadashi and I couldn’t have made telepathine a reality without Quilo’s out-of-this-world engineering talent. We met him through one of Tadashi’s fellow faculty members at Gnosis university, who introduced him as the world’s youngest applicant for an expert certificate in nanoengineering. The boy designed us an adaptable nanobot which combined the professor’s networking code and my biomolecule into the substance now interfacing with our senses.

Tadashi’s favorite tai chi spot sat a short stroll away in Gnosis, the education district. Our city was composed of many such floating neighborhoods, each an artificial island linked to the others by a layered web of bridges and walkways. Together they formed Opalis, our home which crisscrossed the Pacific. We stopped midway along the bridge between Gnosis and Fora, which overlooked the city’s central harbor and the gold domes of the healthcare district, Karuna. The gusty sea breeze sprayed droplets in our faces from below. Quilo let go of the frond over the railing and we watched it fall into the water, its leaves fully extinguished now. Typhoon Hageshī’s outer thunderstorm bands sat prominently on the eastern horizon, lightning frequently illuminating them from within. Opalis had already made two course-corrections on its journey from Tokyo to the space elevator in Indonesia to avoid the worst of the superstorm’s erratic track. Every last one of the city’s propulsion systems was churning deep below the water line to steer us out of the path of devastation, but forecasts still called for blustery days during our skirt around Hageshī’s center.

“Can you look at that thunderhead with me?” I said, pointing unnecessarily. Quilo’s gaze responded without hesitation.

“See where it forms that towering ledge?”

“Yeah, there!” he replied.

Our two views overlapped and the world crystallized into a high-fidelity sight far beyond the capacities of a single human. Sensory convergences like this one revealed astounding details in our environment; details we’d have never noticed individually. The clouds gained in three-dimensionality and depth. Their lazy convulsion as the shifting air masses reshaping the overall structure became an obvious motion. We took great joy in ‘borrowing’ each other’s eyes in this fashion, always happy to indulge one another.

“It looks like a dog!” Quilo said with just the tiniest hint of puzzle-solving delay.

“Right? Moon’s throwing the perfect shadow.”

Goosebumps prickled across both our bodies in waves.

“Good catch!” he said after a few seconds, taking over the reigns of his eyes again to search for the dropped frond momentarily and, upon noting its disappearance, followed the ripples left behind by departing ship caravans instead.

“Alright, c’mon. I can’t wait. I want to see Tadashi’s face when when we tell him.”

“I want to tell him! I want to tell him!” he yelled, racing down the bridge ahead of me into a sea of luminescent electrees. It was one of many garden parks I designed two decades ago. Their purple, magenta, indigo, and icy blue hues illuminated the surrounding building facades in soft chromatic gradients. We caught stars winking at us through underlit foliage, laugher from a late-night gathering reverberating between student dormitories and lecture halls. A few drones buzzed across the sky, flying slower than usual to account for the buffeting winds aloft.

Our destination, the expansive science quad, was surrounded by a group of curvilinear buildings adorned with huge murals of famous scientists and inventors—worn and in need of repair after yet another round of municipal budget cuts. We goofily said hello to Elion’s and Einstein’s scuffed faces, rounded the corner past Galileo’s cracked chin, and entered the temple grounds through a torii gate near the prominent holosculpt of Earth.

Posed under a pondside jacaranda electree behind the main pagoda, Tadashi quietly hummed to himself in tune with a nearby wind chime. His body flowed through a series of pushing and pulling motions, pivoting on his heels in time to witness our arrival.

“Ah!” he proclaimed, swung his feet together, and bowed with gentle giggles. He embraced Quilo and held my hand. “Beautiful night!”

“It is.” I replied. “Say, have you taught me that move? I don’t recognize it.”

“Teach you right now! ‘Taming the Tiger’—good for back. Wanna join, Q?”

“We wanted to tell you something first.” Quilo said.

“Oh?” Tadashi’s eyebrows rose far above his octagonal pince-nez glasses.

“We started our telepathine test.”

The little old man’s eyes darted back and forth between us, making almost a dozen round trips before he finally asked, “Now?”

We nodded with big grins.

“Was wondering how long you would wait!” Tadashi’s mouth curled into a mischievous smile, blue eyes squinting in curiosity. “What’s it like?”

“It’s a little strange.” I answered.

“Bad? Better to stop?”

“Not bad,” Quilo swiftly replied. “But it’s weird. Takes some getting used to, because it changes something about you.”

Tadashi jiggled his hands. “Tell me more!”

“Well… it feels like I’m inside two bodies,” I answered.

Quilo agreed. “Yeah. Looking out of both at the same time, but driving one.”

“So we’ve had to spend the last few days learning how to… drive together, I guess you could say.”

“Marvelous!” Tadashi contemplated this for a moment, then asked us, “Progress?”

“Lots. We’re getting good at it.” Quilo said.

“Ah! Of course. Brain learning, adapting, integrating. New skill—like riding bike,” the professor said. “Q! Monitor!”

Quilo reached into his jangling backpack and pulled out a tablet aglow with holographic info-threads. Its light patterns represented network traffic between the syntonized nanobot swarms inside our bodies as they exchanged data. Tadashi scrolled through millions of points and checked the occasional pop-up number table until he had the view arranged to his liking. He nodded rapidly. “Synchronization! One awareness, two bodies!”

“So this proves your theory about sensory consciousness, right?”

“Quite! Everything sensed becomes ‘I’.”

“How do you think that’s going to change us?” Quilo asked.

The professor drew colored spheres in the air using the tablet. “Think of water molecule: hydrogen, oxygen, hydrogen. Atoms don’t disappear when combined. Still there. But! Relationship between them creates new behaviors, abilities. New molecular identity grows out of existing atomic ones: I plus I equals I-squared.”

“Could this new identity take over at some point?” I asked.

“Already has. But abstinence enough to revert to solo-mental operation. Telepathine is a tool: use when needed, put away when not.”

He said it so matter-of-factly without feeling its first-hand allure.

“Experience must be interesting,” he added.

“You have no idea!”

“Want to join?” Quilo said as he drew an inhaler out of the backpack between his feet. The little object rocked in his open palm a few times before settling down.

“Delighted to!”

We’d made enough telepathine to fill twelve of those inhalers, but were down to the last pair. Tadashi smiled and took the device from the boy’s hand. With two deep puffs its contents entered his lungs.

“How long?”

“Takes about an hour,” Quilo said. “But it starts to creep up on you before then.”

Tadashi returned the used inhaler with a little grunt, exhaling faint sparkles.

“I’d love to try that pose now, while we wait,” I suggested.

He smiled. “Ah! Observe!”

The chimes hanging in the blooming jacaranda pattered back and forth across two octaves as the wind strengthened during our lesson. Tadashi had been teaching tai chi long before I immigrated to Opalis in my twenties, and we originally met during one of his outdoor classes on Karuna island. Focused, deliberate, and as graceful as a monk, the man explained each of his moves at the same time as he streamed and blended from one to the next. The telepathine link proved a useful tool as we imitated his poses. Each time Quilo or I didn’t line up properly, the combined sensory outline of our bodies turned into a fuzzy field, but the instant feedback allowed us to return to the correct alignment without much delay and fused our two body consciousnesses back into a visceral larger one.

We got the hang of it in no time, and Tadashi let us take a break while he demonstrated another pose. He hesitated while narrating “hugging the tree” with an astonished exhale drawing out the last word of his description. Quilo shot a glance in my direction and I gave a tiny nod in response. Tadashi resumed his performance before either of us could inquire about the man’s condition.

We carried on, and it didn’t take long before I noticed the first subtle changes in my own perception. The tune-in process never announced itself with fanfares or spectacular sensory shifts, it faded in like a slow-rising tide, initially more noise than structure before color apparitions, sonic phantoms, and tactile whispers introduced themselves with a faint luster across my awareness. A third conscious perspective bubbled forth out of nowhere, incongruent with Quilo’s or mine: new stretching and contracting sensations as well as a cool breeze on curiously hairy skin, and nose-pinching eyeglasses drew a thin, dark gray outline in this part of my growing visual field. Sensory coherence increased with each minute; “I” now peered out of three bodies.

The wind chimes worked their way down a frantic glissando as Tadashi’s sensory signals further integrated with my consciousness. Stutters and hesitancies interrupted his usually fluid movements; his eyes twitched a bit and a similar spasm crept up his left leg.

“Are you starting to sense us?” I asked.

“Y—yes,” he stammered, teetering to one side. “Which of these are my legs?” Quilo rushed over to steady the man.

I remembered the sensation; kind of felt it again, too. Tadashi’s brain didn’t know what to do with all the new information flooding into his perception—information at once familiar and strange, like multiple out-of-body experiences overlapping one another and competing for attention, each claiming to be his own. A week ago, Quilo and I had to figure it out by ourselves. The professor, on the other hand, could benefit from the insights we gathered during those early, bumbling trials.

“There are a few acclimation exercises we figured out that make it easier.”

Tadashi opened his mouth to say something, but became stuck in that position. Eventually he closed it again, and merely nodded.

“Unless you’re uncomfortable and need to stop,” I added.

He had to readjust his glasses after a vigorous head-shake. “No. Stay.”

“I’m going to walk towards you,” I told him. “It’s going to feel weird; like you’re the one walking. Just focus on staying upright. And try to pay attention to which signals are coming from your own body, and which ones are coming from ours.”

“Yeah,” Quilo said. “Just hyper-focus and hold still.”

Separating out one point of view like this had helped us tremendously during our first tests. Quilo kept his hands on Tadashi’s arm as I approached the two, my gaze fixed on the old man’s eyes. He blinked rarely, concentrating with all his might on the new experience. I watched myself through his and Quilo’s senses as I closed in on the two of them. Their vision overlaid on top of mine, their ears picking up additional sounds—ruffling grass and a nearby frog burping in tandem with the wind chimes. Tadashi’s gaze didn’t waver from my face, again obscured behind my dense hair as the wind pushed past us. Our three sensory streams swirled through each other, drifting into and out of sync every so often before blurring back into noise-distorted perceptions.

Minutes passed without a spoken word as the boy and I took turns in our strange little choreography performance for the professor, whose leg-twitches were finally subsiding. I grasped his shoulders after yet another walk-towards-you exercise, smiling and raising my eyebrows inquisitively. Tadashi squeezed his eyes shut, held still for a moment, then opened them again.

“How about now?” Quilo asked. “Is it starting to make sense?”

The old man blinked a few more times. His hand reached out to grasp at objects only to penetrate empty space. With each discovery of this newfound mental experience he uttered a small grunt of understanding. “Better…” he whispered.

“Keep on listening to the environment with each sense,” I encouraged him. “You’re doing great.”

Quilo pulled a small container of lemoncherries from his backpack. “Let’s try these,” he said as he plucked a few off their stems and began eating them. With no perceptible delay, the nanobots in Quilo’s body read his nerve signals, encoded the sensory experience, and wirelessly flashed a copy of it to our bodies. Tadashi smacked his lips as Quilo’s taste perception blossomed inside our mouths. He broke out in laughter.

“Tangy!” Tadashi said, and accepted an offer to try some lemoncherries himself. Interestingly, the old man’s taste buds emphasized the fruit’s cherry origins a lot more than did the boy’s.

“Whoa,” Quilo said, “didn’t expect that. I like the way you taste them, too!”

“Zenia!” Tadashi handed over the bunch of fruit. “Try!”

I never turn down fresh lemoncherries.

Both of my companions gasped in response to the flavors I experienced. “Ooh! Such deep spice!” Tadashi fawned.

Quilo nodded. “It’s amazing how we taste things in different ways!”

“Okay, everyone together now,” I said and proceeded to hand out the last few plump lemoncherries.

“Turbocharge!” Quilo said with a hop.

“On three!”

Cool and zesty liquid burst from the ruptured fruit pods in our mouths, causing a flavor avalanche to tear across our tongues: Quilo’s sour citrus highs, Tadashi’s deep berry tones, and the peppery sparkle generated by my taste buds flowed into each other like three rivers in a delta, a unique combination of flavors only possible through our shared sensory experiences. We gasped, giggled, oohed and ahhed in tandem like little children.

The lemoncherries faded all too quickly from our immediate awareness and left us wanting more.

“You know,” I said while wrapping my hair in a bandanna and sizing up my friends’ spirit of adventure, “the leeward orchards in Nutrio are just about ready for another harvest…”

Tadashi, supported by myself and Quilo flanking him on either side with our arms interlocked, led us out of the temple grounds and towards Nutrio, one of the garden islands on the city’s perimeter. We practiced our sense-focusing skill as we trotted down alleys and plazas, converging our attention beams on single objects—the full moon overhead, bioluminescent arteries on an electree leaf, humming air conditioner platoons—always marveling at the fullness of the environment. A blanket of chrysanthemums outside an apartment complex held our attention for a bit as we admired their dewy scent and regarded each petal and peduncle interacting with the soft glow of the trees and moonlight around us.

“Imagine a hundred people using telepathine!” Tadashi kept shaking his head as he marveled at our new consciousness.

We then switched the strategy, walked closely together as a tight cell, and looked out from this position, spreading our sensory cones wide like three flashlights in search of treasure. This omni-sensory configuration obliterated the old sense of direction for us, and Quilo immediately chased after new words to describe it. He conjured a handful of new terms and expressions in an attempt to grab hold of what we were experiencing.

“Like, how else can you describe this to someone who hasn’t done it?” he asked after blurting out another new portmanteau.

“Description questionable,” Tadashi said, adding, “Too close to consciousness for abstraction.”

“Maybe we’re better off leaving it in the realm of experience,” I said. “You know? Show instead of tell.”

We passed a public restroom, and Tadashi excused himself to make use of it. Quilo fiddled with the nanobot controller to isolate our swarms. From the beginning, it had been routine for us to permanently blend out certain parts of our body, but occasionally we preferred a complete temporary detachment from the network for more privacy—“be-right-back mode,” another one of Quilo’s coined terms.

The boy continued his word experiments while we waited, too distracted by his thoughts to pay any attention to the sensory solitude we were experiencing. Perhaps it was no problem for him, but I felt boxed in and cut off, disconcertingly unaware of my surroundings without the multi-body feedback. I tried to compensate with active scans, turning my head frequently like a careful animal surveying the land for predators. Nothing could shake the feeling of this stalking void.

I tapped Quilo’s shoulder and pointed at the tablet in his lap, which he handed over. The holographic representation of our bot swarms had changed from a dense arterial cloud into three sequestered blobs. Status messages scrolled past in the lower right corner, next to a flashing “Low Network Integrity” warning.

“Where’s the switch that re-weaves our swarms?” I asked.

He pointed at the alert. “It’s the setting over here. But Tadashi isn’t done yet. We should wait for him first.”

“No, I thought we could just link ours back together, and then join up with him when he’s back.”

“Oh,” Quilo said, taking the tablet back. “I don’t think he programmed that in. It’s either everyone or no one.”

He looked around with the same kind of urgency as I had just a few moments ago, as if he couldn’t quite keep track of the environment.

“Kind of eerie,” he said.

“You really notice it missing, don’t you?”

Tadashi returned within the minute. Quilo asked the professor if he was ready before he’d even closed the door behind him; the boy’s finger hovered just millimeters away from the activator switch on the tablet. It made contact instantly after Tadashi answered with a flowing “after you” gesture. The digital dam holding our bot swarms back from one another vanished, and data strands flickered to life on the tablet’s display. Blindfolds dropped from my awareness as we phased back into co-presence. Every sense unfolded into multiple dimensions like a kitten stretching out in a sunbeam. The warp and weft of our three bodies tightened into a single perceptual tapestry once more. I sighed with relief and satisfaction.

“Ah!” Tadashi said. “Concurrent awareness. Figured it would be fascinating—did not expect it to be so excellent.”

“Let’s go!” Quilo shouted as he ran ahead. “I’m hungry!”

My hand grabbed Tadashi’s and we hurried to catch up with the boy.

I was back. The real I, the big I, the self of selves—not just the incomplete fragment. And I liked it.

We were joined together again, trotting through Nutrio’s entrance gate as a hexapetal molecule, when we encountered an old woman. She faced away from us, bent over, filling two cloth bags with fresh-picked moonflowers from a vine climbing the nearest silo. Our unusual gallop must have startled her. The bag toppled over and flung a cascade of white petals across her feet as she spun around. Quilo had been leading the trot and came to a stop first, with myself and Tadashi bumping into him; our little group had to take a second to steady itself from the sudden change in momentum.

Like a staring contest between unsure animals, neither the woman nor we had an immediate reaction to this unexpected encounter. Everyone froze. Quilo was the only one of us looking directly at the stranger until Tadashi turned his head to observe her, too. I watched the woman through their eyes. She began to reach for the spilled bag, but didn’t dare look away from us.

“Hello, Kikue!” Tadashi said. “Swimming in the morning?”

She smiled. “Oh, excuse me, I didn’t see you behind the boy, professor T. Yes, bright and early. And you?”

“Of course!” he said, and introduced us to Mrs. Kikue Sugimoto. Quilo and I cleaned up the scattered petals while the two of them chatted. “These are the moonflowers I told you about the other day,” she said.

Tadashi held open the bag as we filled it. “Oh!” he said, “Only bloom one night?”

“Yes, they’re a rare sight. My daughter makes perfume out of these. Have to harvest them before they wilt!”

She kept raving about the perfume, and before I knew it, she’d sold me on a bottle. I was just about to hand her a payment chip when I said, “Y’know, I planted that vine.”

“That was you?”

“This whole lane, actually. It was one of my first assignments when the city hired me as assistant botanist. Had them put that bench there, too.”

“Oh, darling, why am I making you pay me?” She rejected the chip. “I’ll set a bottle aside for you. Come to the shop once this storm passes and I’ll show you what else my daughter makes.”

Mrs. Sugimoto thanked us for refilling her bags, and we soon parted ways. Once out of earshot, I said, “I can’t wait for the three of us to tune in and try it out!”

“Why stop at three?” Tadashi asked. “Invite Kikue! She’s fun. Tells hilarious jokes!”

“You’re ready to bring in more people?”

“Are you?” he said, challenging me with that mischievous grin.

“Too bad we don’t have enough telepathine left over for more rounds.”

“I can make more nanobots when the minifacturing labs reopen,” Quilo said. “They’re closed down right now because of Hageshī, like the rest of the city.”

“Storm days will pass. Always do,” Tadashi said. “Need time to improve code, anyway—terrible network efficiency right now! Will be worth the wait.”

Our experiment ended after a quick feast in the orchard around three in the morning, in the fading moonglow. The professor tapped on the networking tablet a few times and reconfigured our nanobot swarms for termination. Holo-projections flipped from from green to red. Instantly, a massive object inflated inside me, pushing its way from the core of my body to its surface and lifting a layer of skin right off. My two companions’ forms dissolved out of perception, the influx of every extrasensory pinprick across my anatomy evaporating like a light bulb burning out with a crack and prickle. Reality drained down to a limited, single human point of view again for the first time in eight hours. The sensory vacuum barreled in like closing curtains from all sides and imploded upon me. Meta-sight replaced itself with nothingness, acting as blinders on what usually was my normal visual periphery. Sounds which had so much depth and clarity flattened into drab, one-dimensional noises that sat against my skull with quiet pressure. Even the scents of the environment lost every hint of direction. Finally, the last connections between our bodies dropped away, bottling up my consciousness in a container now far too small. I’d been a blind person granted temporary eyesight, only to have it plucked out of my experience at the press of a button.

We said our goodbyes and repeatedly affirmed our mutual satisfaction with the experience we’d shared. Tadashi gave us a big hug. “Thank you!” he repeated. “Impossible without you!”

My walk home paled in comparison to the night’s shared miraculous experiences, and not just because the moon had set. The taste of expanded awareness left behind an urgent desire to claw it back by any means upon its loss, like a heartbroken spirit yearning for a bygone lover; a bee that can’t find its way back to the hive. Indeed, I had lost a vast part of something that had become me. Or maybe I had become it; the boundaries seemed superficial at best and only appeared when I tried to think about the experience instead of just feeling it.

Over the next few days, Opalis skimmed its way around the worst parts of the typhoon, heaving up and down with the waves as the storm battered down on us. I spent most of my time indoors, tending to the electrees around the city’s parks and cleaning up debris during lulls in the weather. Each night, with pregnant raindrops pelting against my windows and Hageshī’s growling winds forming the soundtrack, I descended into bizarre dreams full of fractal eyes and mouths, spinning ears and flexing hands recursively zooming past me and lobtailing into various scales of magnitude before finally diving back into unending coastlines of color and texture.

I couldn’t wait to tune back in.

-- End of preview --
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