3B90 > [Okay, and this won't hurt at all?] Trepidation and concern pour generously through your connection, mirroring the way they've been saturating your thoughts.
2CE5 > [No, there's no reason to worry. You'll be under some pretty strong anesthetics, though you'll be pretty disoriented in recovery.] A flash of comfort rides with this message, wrapping around your mind like a warm hug.
You're sitting in the waiting room segment of the Rose Cybernetics Augmentation Lab, an entire subset of the building devoted to fabricating, modifying, and installing cybernetic modifications and enhancements. Though the lab extends several floors down into the basement, the room you find yourself in is just below the massive building's main entrance. Relative to the area it services, the space itself is fairly small. Its walls are lined with more conventional chairs, complemented by several other more vexing pieces of... furniture? Your thoughts wander back to that first visit, and you still aren't quite sure what qualifies as furniture versus art.
2CE5 > [The furniture itself is art! It gives pleasant visual patterns and all of that, and it's ergonomic for the standard and non-standard body shapes of everyone who uses it!]
You need to stop broadcasting your thoughts when they drift like that.
2CE5 > [Aww, but 3B... it's cuuuute!]
The screen adorning your face lights up brighter in a begrudging grin. Sure, it's fun to get teased over your thoughts every once and a while, but you could do with a bit more privacy. 2C always makes it so easy to just share everything, but you find that as you reminisce on the events of yesterday, you've successfully put a stopper on the outpouring of thoughts from your mind into the LinkNet. For the interview, you'd booked an overnight hotel, and though the commute back had been pleasant, you'd felt deflated as you stepped back inside. The warmth of connection, that feeling of presence from the interview felt almost like a high, one you crashed from the moment your faceplate came off.
It's funny how everything seems to make so much more sense than it did yesterday morning. When you got back to that hotel room, you couldn't seem to help but yearn for the feeling of cold glass pressed against your face again, the paradoxical feeling of being seen and hidden all at once. Thinking about the way that data flowed through your mind, uploads and downloads streaming with the simple ease of breathing, you spent the night restless. You missed it all dearly, and you missed 2C, too. It's weird, you think, missing someone so desperately when you'd barely even met, but the whole situation is weird. In the stretch of less than an hour, you'd felt almost as though her soul had become pressed against yours, and in a way that seems almost accurate. The presence of her mind with yours was one of the most enrapturing moments you'd ever shared with another person. This morning, checking out of your hotel was the easiest departure you'd made in your entire life.
Your personal items, wardrobe, and computer were all accounted for when you stepped back through the doors of the Rose Cybernetics Center. At the desk, a new face - or, well, faceplate? - waited cheerily to greet you. They introduced themself as 13A3, and asked you to follow them to your on-campus housing. This benefit, one that didn't actually subtract from the pay Rose Cybernetics had offered, was quite, frankly the reason you'd chosen to pursue employment here specifically. Other firms had been hiring fairly aggressively, but even if the salary wasn't quite as sweet here, you'd always been a fan of the self-contained arcology life, especially if it was already paid for. An elevator had brought you to a floor above the block of office space from your last visit, into the area which seemed to be clearly intended for residential use. When they reached your apartment's door, 13A1 made the equivalent of a smile - the flowers that covered their display blossomed further - and ushered you inside.
Your apartment was a studio; an open kitchenette next to the door, a bathroom in the far corner, and a section of the far wall that seemed to suggest its utility as desk space. Even if it was a fairly small apartment, it was still the largest space you'd ever had to yourself, and you savored it a moment before noticing the furniture. Aside from the lack of a desk, the entire room was full of your things, set exactly as you were planning to have them when you got around to unpacking. 13 giggled and explained that you'd shared your plans for the room last time you were connected to the network. You shrugged, picking up a box from where it had been placed on your bed. It was black and unassuming just like the last one, but a note had been written in silver marker along the top.
You get to actually keep this one! Enjoy~
You broke out in a broad smile and eagerly pressed the contents of the box against your face. The receiver pressed against your neck, and the tug of its electromagnets pulled at your mind with sudden familiarity. Far from that first violent experience, this connection was nothing more than a gentle fall into warm, relaxing water. Data flowed up and down from you again, and before you had time to think you felt 2C's mind pressing into yours. In a quick flurry of communication, she explained that you were cleared to get fitted for a permanent receiver, something far better suited for long-term network synchronization. You still feel excitement at that thought; remaining synchronized for as long as you wish, always able to return to that closeness that you'd never even realized you yearned for until you finally had it. A quick trip back down the elevator and a goodbye to 13A3 later, and you were waiting anxiously for the integration process to be ready.
Returning to the events around you, you relax into the presence of 2C's mind next to yours.
3B90 > [Sure, it's cute, but I need at least some privacy!] You transmit your current emotional state, somewhere between teasing and flirty - quickly seeming to be the default around 2C - alongside that thought.
2CE5 > [That's true, that's true.] The feeling of her thoughts is just as intoxicating as ever, and you can't help but melt into the sensation of her pleasant warmth.
3B90 > [So, you mentioned that after I get my new receiver I'll be able to share my mind like this with everyone?]
2CE5 > [Yeah, pretty much! It sounds intimidating, but the best way to do it is mesh in slowly.] Her connection wordlessly relays the process by which new connections are established; both sides of the link engage in a three-way SYN/ACK handshake, a fancy way to say that each participant agrees to establish a link with the other.
[It's best to synchronize with folks you've already said hi to, at least. Ease into it, you're probably not ready for more than a couple at a time just yet.] She was right; if you were being honest with yourself, you're barely able to handle the one you share with 2C!
[Yeah, I can be a bit of a handful,] she sends, smugness dripping from her link.
3B90 > [Look, it's a lot is all...] Your thoughts branch and fork in too many ways to concisely share before merging once again.
[It's amazing, but it's... a lot.]
The two of you fall silent, letting understanding wash between yourselves. Even in the last hour, it's been a refreshing experience getting to share such idle comforts between each other like this. It's amazing, knowing that even with her halfway across the building from you, it feels as though you're sitting right by her side. Over the last few hours, it's finally dawned on you that 2C being appointed as your supervisor doesn't really make much sense. As your mind follows that path further along, you come upon another realization.
3B90 > [I'm not distracting you from work, right?] You flash a breath of concern into your words.
2CE5 > [No, don't worry about that! When you're as used to the network as I am, you learn to multitask. Actually, I'm having five different conversations right now!]
You feel a mixture of trepidation and delight at the thought. Sharing a mind like this is more delightful than anything you've experienced before, but it's so much to take in. You're sure it'll come with time, and 2C seems to agree, but the worry lingers. After another moment of silence, a tech whose display shows a gently swaying forest enters the waiting room and - by your best estimation - makes eye (faceplate?) contact with you. A notification pings in your visor, a request to engage with a new communication stream. 2C gently urges you to accept the request, and fades away to make room for a new consciousness on a new endpoint. The feelings, sensations, and overall feel of self that you get from the technician are so different! Your mind recoils from the feeling for a moment, surprised at the unexpected change. You know that everyone thinks differently, but seeing this first hand as new and unexpected patterns swirl through you feels no less surprising. After the momentary shock, you realize that the tech had said something that you completely missed. Apologetic explanatory feelings flow up through your connection, quickly met by a response.
F211 > [Hey, it's alright. The second connection's always a lot to deal with, especially when you have to disconnect from someone you were comfortable with before.] The technician wordlessly introduces himself, and informs you that he'll be integrating your new receiver systems. You're already familiar with the procedure, but he shares its details with you once more, asking for your verbal consent. It feels strange to use your mouth to talk, even after just a day, but you acquiesce. Your voice is weak and breaking, stating that you agree to and fully understand the details of the modification. You'd forgotten how hard it was to get words out in the way you wanted, and that frustration flows back through you for a moment before it's caught by a wave of reassurance from F211.
[That's exactly what I needed, thank you. You're good on 'paperwork', so follow me and we can get started! I know you've been waiting long enough.] A strong breeze blows through the trees of his display, and you think it seems to coincide with a good-natured smile. His initial sensation was so different, but after a moment of acclimation, you like the feeling of his mind almost as much as you enjoy 2C's. It might be the imagery adorning his faceplate, but the feel of him is sharp like the smell of pacific-northwestern pine, sharing that tree's unassuming, gentle strength. He feels surprisingly safe, which, you suppose, is good for someone performing delicate and precise modifications to the composition of your brain.
Your new friend leads you out from the lobby, and down a hallway adorned with sterile white tiling as well as the occasional splash of color painted in polygonal designs along the wall. You broadcast your curiosity over the patterns, feeling F211's response satiate your wonder. The art is intentionally added to ensure that the area's sterile environment remains unique and interesting. Whether it accomplishes this goal, it certainly appears visually interesting. F211 laughs at this thought loudly between your connection, but shows no outward indication of amusement. You're still going to have to get used to how uncanny that is. He guides you to a room at the end of this hallway. Large and circular, this room is ringed by various lights and other mechanical instruments draping from the ceiling, directly above what looks like a reclining chair. The technician invites you to take a seat, and as you do, the chair slowly conforms itself to your shape until it feels as though it was made for you.
F211 > [Everything's set, are you ready to go?]
3B90 > [Ready as I could ever be.] Actually sitting here, your anxiety begins to build. You want this, and it's part of the next step to your work here, but all the same those machines above you look a bit more intimidating than you would like. F211 recognizes your heartrate picking up, and wordlessly asks if it would help to have a hand on your shoulder. You return a wave of gratitude and a flash of green along your screen, and his touch saps away a good deal more of that worry than you expected it to. He sends feelings of reassurance, gently letting you relax. Before you recognize what's happening, he's already counting down from ten, and you feel your voice reflexively mirror the countdown's progress. With each number, you sink lower, deeper, as everything fades into... empty, perfect nothing. Far away, a gas fills your faceplate, letting that nothing surround you until you drift into unconsciousness.