Please note that I have turned comments off for a few days. The reason is that I’m going to be posting excerpts thick and fast so I can reach a ‘conclusion’ of sorts by Nov. 30. As such, I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to keep commenting on each and every excerpt! I’ll turn comments back on for the last post in the series, so until then please read, and hopefully enjoy!
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Miira floated in great, sweeping circles, captive to the music that would not be denied.
“It’s the Emperor Waltz,” she thought as she let the music have its way with her.
She had always loved the Emporer. It made her think of beautiful, senuous people in sumptuous surroundings from a bygone era. But there were no other people here with her now; it was just her and Gem. She could feel the strength of his arm around her waist as he whirled her round and round.
“Gem…” she murmured.
She wanted to see his face but she knew if she looked up, the dance would stop so she just snuggled closer as the stars slowly faded and an explosion of light took their place.. Durai was so beautiful!
“Gem! Look!” she cried. But when she turned there was no-one there….
Miira sat bolt upright, her eyes staring into the dark as an almost unbearable longing ripped the dream to shreds.
“Lights on!” she cried as she scrubbed at her eyes with her knuckles.
She had not thought of Gem’s last, pain-filled days in a decade, but now his gaunt face filled her vision and no matter how much she scrubbed she could not dislodge the image. Throwing back the covers, she swung her legs out of bed and stood up, needing the physicality of movement to banish the ache in her chest. But as she took her first steps across the thick, silky rug she came to a sudden halt, stunned by what she saw.
This was not her room! She had never seen a space so opulent. There was gold everywhere. Gilt cornices winked at her from the ceiling, vying with colourful frescoes of woodland nymphs and satyrs for her attention. The walls too were gold, a softer, antique gold, flecked with emerald… It was like something out of the Palace of Versailles!
Turning in a slow circle, Miira stared in wonder at the delicate armchairs arranged in clusters around small, ornate tables. The room was massive! It was easily as large as the bedroom and loungeroom of Durai combined! And the bed! Any bed should have looked small in such a large room, yet this one was so big it almost made the room feel cosy. Twice the size of her own king-sized bed, the deep mattress was flanked by four carved posts that looked like tree-trunks growing up out of the floor. Overhead, a lush, blood-red velvet canopy flowed into matching curtains.
Where in god’s name was she?
And then Miira’s circling finally brought her to the massive, antique wardrobes that filled one entire wall of the room. Each one was of mahogany and the vines carved into the wood seemed to pulse with life as the light danced off their edges. But it was the doors that transfixed her. Long mirrors nestled within the carvings, and reflected in their bright surfaces was a girl in a long white night gown. The silken folds shimmered as she ran her hands over her flat stomach and slender hips. Straight, dark hair cascaded over her shoulders, hiding and revealing firm young breasts…
Could it be? Could the girl in the mirror be her? The way she used to be?
Step by step, Miira advanced on the nearest mirror until her ragged breath etched a circle of haze on the cold glass. Reaching up she flicked her hair over her shoulders and stared as the girl in the mirror did the same, her eyes filled with hope and a terrible fear. Were they both still dreaming? Or was this… Innerscape at last?
Miira did not know how long she stood there, comparing the youthful image in the mirror with the parts of her body she could see directly, but it must have been a while because she eventually became aware of feeling cold. She had never been able to sleep in a warm room and the heat of her dream had dissipated long ago.
Reaching out with cold fingers she opened the wardrobe and gasped when she saw row upon row of magnificent ball gowns hanging on old fashioned hangers.
…beautiful but not very useful…
Rubbing the goosebumps on her arms she moved to the second wardrobe and flung the door open. This one contained elegant suits and coats for all occasions. The third contained shoes of all descriptions, all in her size… and beautiful slippers!
Reaching inside, Miira grabbed a pair of fluffy white slippers with a low heel and put them on. She was tempted to explore the contents of the hat-boxes lined up on the shelf above, but decided they could wait until she was warmer. The last wardrobe finally yielded the prize she had been searching for : a whole range of dressing gowns hung from hangers on one side of the wardrobe, while on the other, nightgowns and silken underwear filled the shelves.
“Why is it always in the last place you look…” Miira grumbled as she grabbed a white velvet dressing gown and wrapped it around her shivering body. Warm once more, she turned from the wardrobes and advanced on the heavy, brocade drapes that hid the windows. At least she hoped they hid windows.
At some point in the last half an hour, Miira had accepted she was not dreaming and that this really was Innerscape but… a part of her still could not believe any digital world could feel this real. Everywhere she looked, everything she touched, even the sensations of her own body felt the way they should feel. Not once had she felt that moment of dislocation when reality and expectation clashed. It all fit.
The only thing that did not fit was herself. She could remember looking this young and healthy, but it had been so long since she had felt anything but old and sick, she was constantly surprising herself.
How long had it been since she had last walked on her own two feet? It felt like forever, and it had been even longer since she had been able to-…
Stopping a few feet from the curtains, Miira bent her knees and jumped. She did not magically reach the ceiling or bound across the room in one balletic swoop, she simply jumped about a foot in the air, landing with a most unsylph-like thump. Even gravity felt right.
… but nothing hurts…
That in itself felt strange. The implants had kept the worst of the pain at bay but they could never mask it completely. Now, though, she felt nothing. No, it was more than that. She not only did not feel any pain, she felt positively well, as if her very blood was bubbling with energy. She had never been a runner, but now she felt as if she could jog for miles if she wanted to…
Shaking her head in bemusement, Miira continued on towards the curtains. She could have ordered the room AI to open them for her, but she wanted to feel the physical sensation of doing it for herself. It had been so long since she had been able to do anything for herself.
“Oh my god…” she breathed as she pulled the curtains apart.
She had guessed she must be in the Ritz. That memory had returned soon after the initial shock of her surroundings dissipated, but Dr Wu had not mentioned that the Ritz would be located in the heart of Paris!
For their honeymoon, Emmi had sent Miira and Gem to Paris and they had never forgotten how spectacular the cathedral of Notre Dame looked at sunset. Now Miira knew the ancient church looked just as stunning at dawn!
Blindly reaching for the ornate door handles, Miira pushed the french doors open, letting in a flood of cold air and the sounds of a city waking up.
“How in god’s name could they reproduce a whole city?” she wondered as she stepped out onto her own, private balcony and walked towards the stone balustrade.
The Ritz was apparently located on the Right Bank because only a few low rise buildings separated it from the small island on which the cathedral stood. The Seine flowed around Île de la Cité with serene indifference as the dawn bathed everything in shades of gold and warm pink.
A shiver made Miira realise that if she intended to see more of this wonderful new world she would have to dress more appropriately. She could not die of cold in Innerscape, but she could and did feel unpleasantly cold.
Hurrying back inside, Miira closed the french doors and was half way back to the wardrobes when she suddenly realised she wanted to pee. The sensation was so familiar, and yet so unexpected, she stumbled to a halt as she focused on this new surprise.
Emily had told her she would experience all normal bodily functions, but somehow she had not expected peeing to be one of them. Or moving her bowels either. Now, as she changed direction towards one of the two doors leading out of her room, she was not sure that she wanted quite so much reality. Was she going to have to experience having a period as well?
For once, the first door Miira tried was the right one and led her into another sumptuous space tiled completely in black marble. The small swimming pool sized bath tub was made of black marble as well. Only the hand basin, the toilet and the bidet were of white porcelain. A roll of pure white… toilet paper?… was attached to the wall next to the toilet by an ornate gold holder.
“Oh this is too much,” Miira thought as she hiked her nightie up and sat on the toilet. The sensation of relief was so pleasant she yelped in outrage when the very modern toilet functions kicked in. Clearly the toilet paper was just for show-…
“Miira? Good morning!”
The sound of Emily’s voice was slightly muffled and Miira was suddenly very glad she had closed the bathroom door behind her. It was odd how quickly self consciousness could return. Emily had seen her stark naked and at her worst, but somehow being seen now, in this new, lovely body, made Miira feel embarrassed.
“Coming!” she called as she hurriedly washed her hands and ran her fingers through her hair – another old habit. “I’m sorry, I was just-…”
Two steps into her grand bedroom, Miira stopped in astonishment. She had been expecting to see Emily in her nurse’s uniform but the slim, elegant woman who stood in the centre of her room looked nothing like the motherly nurse she had come to know and like. This woman looked at least ten years younger, and quite beautiful. Her hair was still blond but now it gleamed like spun silk, framing a perfectly made up face with bright red lips.
The only part of Emily that was still exactly as Miira remembered was her cleavage, except that now it was displayed to advantage in a chic, low-cut dress that matched the blue of her eyes.
“Ah, there you are,” the new, improved Emily said with a smile as she came over and gave Miira a perfumed hug.
As the nurse stepped back to get a better look at her patient, Miira studied her with equal intensity.
“You like?” Emily asked, as she twirled in a full circle.
“You look lovely Emily,” Miira replied automatically. Her attention though was rivetted on her nurse’s face. Emily was smiling with pleasure and a soft pink blush coloured her cheeks but there was something not quite right about her.
“I have to say you look lovely too,” Emily said. “I’m so glad you didn’t choose to look like some holo star!”
Miira just smiled as she looked away. She had had the option of looking like any thing or anyone in the world, but she had chosen to remain as herself. The only concession to vanity she had made was to ask that she be younger. She had been 29 when she married Gem and so she had chosen to return to that age. The many holos they had had taken of the wedding had made this relatively easy for the Innerscape artists to do. Now, looking at Emily’s secret self, she almost wished she had kept her true age as well. The new Emily was very beautiful but there was also something terribly sad and brittle about her. And the body she had chosen revealed how unhappy she must be with her true self, the one she had to live with day after day.
“I wonder what choosing to be 29 says about me?” Miira thought as she turned towards the wardrobe. “Come help me choose something to wear!”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Emily laughed as she followed Miira to the wardrobes. “We’re taking you out for your first breakfast soon, so you should choose something gorgeous and chic!”
The mention of breakfast triggered a hollow feeling in Miira’s stomach and she experienced another odd moment of dislocation as she recognized the feeling as hunger. She hadn’t eaten any solid food in two years and even before then, the cancer had stolen her taste for food. Now, for the first time in ages she felt as if she could eat a horse!
“Can I get fat in Innerscape?” she asked as she held a bright red outfit against her body.
“Oh, I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” Emily replied, her tone a little awkward.
“So the answer is no,” Miira thought. The Innerscape AI could probably make cosmetic changes with ease but changing her body shape would be too hard. Did that mean she wouldn’t age either?
“What do you think Emily,” she asked, holding up two outfits. “The red or the green?”
“The red,” Emily said without any hesitation. “You have the colouring for it now. I mean…”
Miira pretended not to notice the nurse’s slight slip as she put the green outfit back and arranged the red one on the bed. “I’m just going to have a quick shower. Be back in few minutes.”
“Would you like me to order some tea or coffee?” Emily asked as Miira headed towards the bathroom.
“Please!” Miira called back as she closed the bathroom door behind her. Dropping her dressing gown and nightie onto a chair, she stepped into the shower cubicle and stared at her reflection in the marble until steam rose around her, obscuring everything.
The warmth of the water and the massaging action of the jets soothed the butterflies in her stomach but the sense of unease caused by Emily’s gaffe lingered.
It was not that Miira minded being reminded of her old life, far from it. The thing that upset her was the speed at which she had come to accept her new, younger self. She was proud of her years. Without them she would not be the person she was. Yet in less than an hour, she was taking on the persona of a much younger woman. Clearly the process of integration would be trickier than she had imagined.