She followed a lower energy thread and found herself sitting in someone's living room, listening to a discussion between a techno-pantheist and someone who held a naturalist opinion.
Megan might have stayed to listen if she hadn't become captivated by a particularly colorful poster in the room. She set a recorder to copy the feed from that living room so she could review it later, and hopped through the wall into a new node. It was a field covered by mounds of multi-colored clay paint, which people were shaping into forts, weapons, and strange animals to ride. The colors were more intense than the physical eye could relay to the brain, as the Plant bypassed the eye's rods and cones, which would have become overstimulated by the vivid landscape.
The space was also filled with delicious scents. Megan saw people eating the clay, so she consumed different colors and found they were desserts- cheesecake, fudge, birthday cake, honeycomb, strawberry taffy, and tapioca pudding. The taste was better than physical food, again because of the plant's ability to directly stimulate the cranial nerves innervating the tongue, bypassing taste buds which more quickly tired. But the virtual food did nothing to sate her hunger or increase her blood sugar, so she took a break from the dive to get a physical snack.
Megan returned to her dive proxy and frolicked through the field. She got hit in the side of her head by a ball of paint as she passed through a paintball fight between two forts. She took refuge in one of the forts and joined their side in the battle, taking bites out of the balls of clay before throwing them. Every once in a while, a thrown ball would explode like a grenade, taking out part of a fort and sending proxies flying in every direction. It was great fun, but she had to be moving on if she was ever going to get to 2501. A few people in the fort had perused Megan's path and decided that she was interesting enough to follow her wake through the stream. Feeling more relaxed and less self-conscious, Megan no longer minded the glomming.
She had been in the spiral long enough that she noticed nodes she had shown interest in before, but had bypassed, again appearing in the distance, off to the sides of her path. She looked at a visualization of her path through the streams of Indra's Net and saw that it actually did resemble a spiral of sorts, but she figured that "spiral" also referred to the way she had been psychologically drawn into the free flowing experience.
She looked through a few of the more exotic nodes nearby before finding a "ghost dance," which was prominent on the Play Floor. It was a somewhat experimental exploration of passive versus active engagement with dance and music. Megan became a pure observer, passively inhabiting her proxy as her ghost danced in sync with the beat of the music. Being a passenger in her own body wasn't too unnatural until she felt vibrations rising up through her chest, then through her throat, and her proxy began singing with the music. It harmonized and improved her natural singing voice, but it still sounded like her.
She tried to struggle against the dance, but her proxy controls were cut off so that she was trapped as long as she inhabited her proxy in that space. Realizing that this was the entire point of the node, she relaxed into the increasingly surreal experience. She was dissociated from her body, yet she closely identified with its every motion. Keeping the tactile sensations from the dancing, she changed her view to be above her body. Megan had always felt weird watching recordings of herself, but this was far weirder. It was both liberating and creepy to watch her body respond to the music just as she would have.
After dancing for a few minutes, the space allowed her some limited control over her proxy, and she started playing with her body like it was a doll. She sent it jumping from one spot to another, sped it up and slowed it down, introduced flourishes to her dance, and changed the timber of her voice. This gave her a fresh, more objective perspective on how she appeared to others. It was like "Megan" was a character, based on a lifetime of inhabiting her physical body, which had been her almost sole proxy to the world until recently. She was starting to see that the personality of "Megan," while it fit her very well, was not the absolute truth of who she was at her core. However useful and well crafted it might have been, it was still a sort of mask.
After a while, her body started to feel tired and her leg muscles burned a little, simulating the usual limits of her physical body. Megan enjoyed it, as it was reminiscent of pushing her limits in jogging, of reaching a point where her body would take over by itself while her mind wandered. At that point, if she paid attention to her body as it went along, she could see that subconscious processes were doing almost everything for her, from adjusting how her feet fell on the ground, to avoiding obstacles, to managing her pace. Her conscious mind only stepped in occasionally, to decide less subtle things like which route to take or to change songs if she was listening to music. In that way, her physical body was as much an autonomous robot as her dancing ghost was.
She turned off her body's tiredness and burning muscles so she could focus on analyzing her style. She continued tweaking her dancing from a distance until she couldn't fully recognize the motion as her own. She became tangentially aware that several people who had glommed onto her were now experiencing her proxy's sensations just as she was. It was like she had been hollowed out and become a shell that anyone could inhabit, but her dissociative state made it so the presence of strangers in her body didn't bother her, or feel like an invasion of her privacy. If anything, she felt just a sliver of responsibility to keep them entertained. The ghost now active in her proxy was based on the aggregate recording of her dancing style, so it was an intimate part of her. But it was only a small part, and something she was willing to offer up for the enjoyment of others.
Megan left a copy of her proxy dancing on the floor and entered the stream again. Her self-consciousness had faded away entirely, as if she had left "Megan" behind on the dance floor. She had been assuming that everyone perceived her as she perceived herself, but now realized that even her own self-perception was not so clearly defined. Instead of picking threads based on how she thought she should, she started flowing with the stream, moving toward the sensations that appealed to her and turning away from the ones that didn't. It didn't matter where she went, because everything was interesting, and she could leave the instant she had become saturated with a node.
There was no way to lose her path in Indra's Net, so Megan was free to lose herself.
Several people were still glommed onto her, passively following her trail. She felt utterly exposed to the spiral, but also invincible. The mask which she normally wore for the rest of the world had been lost somewhere along the way, or perhaps she had just become comfortable wearing it as a mask, and not identifying with it as the ultimate truth about who she was. Her layers stripping away, Megan could become anything she wanted, if only for a time. But she was growing tired, as she had been diving for two hours. So she decided to visit one more node and then accelerate to join the others at 2501. She picked the weirdest one immediately available to her, labeled with an intriguing pun: "Sex Is A Human Rite."
The node was a giant pool composed entirely of amorphous proxies. It was the ultimate snuggle party, with sexual aspects for those so inclined. Megan had heard of this type of space before and didn't hesitate in diving into it. There was no sight or sound native to the space, only touch, though Megan continued grooving to Carrier l0st's music. Her proxy felt expansive, but not stretched out in an uncomfortable way. She melted into the pool and was delighted by the snug warmth that embraced her.
She no longer had a distinct body, as the usual limits of her skin seemed to disintegrate. The experience was somehow more comfortable than her own skin. It was all the best parts of being in a jacuzzi, but more relaxing as there was nothing for her to do but slosh around and snuggle within what was essentially one huge proxy composited from the extended shared forms of hundreds of people. Any given area of her proxy was shared by multiple other people, as comfort dictated. In the flesh pool, comfort was supreme.
She splashed herself about and felt the numerous other people surrounding her splash back and snuggle up next to her. She moved around as quickly as she could and was reassured that she couldn't hurt or annoy anyone. Everything was smooth and soft and every surface was lubricated in just the right way. She relaxed even more and felt her remaining sense of her own body breaking down and dissolving. There was beauty in the breakdown. Her body lazily spread through the pool, snuggling within the flesh of countless others. It was almost as if most of her body was being gently massaged by dozens of hands. There was a sublime sensuality to it, combined with a feeling of peace and belonging. This was a space where all were accepted without question or even unique identities, as normal methods of discrete communication were entirely absent. No proxy in the pool could talk, had a face, or could even communicate nonverbally in any significant way. You were simply part of the pool. All were equal there.
Megan's proxy didn't have its sexual elements active, so she was missing out on the sex aspect of the pool. The deeply sensual experience was enough for her. She relaxed the restrictions on her space and felt someone slip "inside" her proxy. It was a strange sensation. It was like they were wriggling around inside her skin, or perhaps like they were mutually embracing each other, with maximum skin contact between them, both front to front and back to back. Megan playfully wrestled with the other diver. It was slippery and kind of fun, and not as creepy as she would have expected, despite knowing that the other person was probably getting sexual pleasure from it.
She considered making her erogenous zones active, but decided to leave that for another time. She left the node and examined it using one of the space's visualization tools that helped her get a feel for how people were having sex in the space. Megan looked out over the sea of flesh. Individual proxies were not clearly defined, but she could now make out the movement and rough outline of hundreds of interlocking tentacles, protusions, orifices, mouths, and such, and could see that many proxies were fitted inside each other. They flowed back and forth and around and through each other's proxies, sharing proxy spaces and their related sensations freely with each other. There was a great deal of rhythmic thrusting and other motion that she could only imagine as sexual. Tentacles seemed very popular. They wrapped around and snaked through large areas, what had to be multiple people's proxies at the same time. People were pouring themselves into each other, filling up and mixing with each other's proxies.
It was a mass of pure sex. It was truly anonymous, completely comfortable, and utterly easy.
It looked as though any attempt at sexual activity instantly resulted in the relevant parts of your proxy being paired with compatible parts of other proxies. There was no way of telling who you were having sex with, much less the number of people you were actively engaged with. Functionally, you could be "kissing" one person, penetrating another, being penetrated by yet another, while others kissed or caressed every other part of you.
Megan jumped back in for a moment, made her mouth's senses accessible, and started trying to "kiss" around her. It was strange, since there wasn't exactly the same definite feedback she normally would have received from the presence of a mouth, but she soon felt herself making out with someone. She didn't like how they kissed, so she turned away and was making out with someone new. Their mouths came together and their two tongues merged and split and intertwined in ways that made it impossible to tell one mouth from another, as the two proxies shared much of the same mouth space. The kiss tasted of strawberries, a flavor that Megan's SIS preferences had introduced for her. The kissing stopped the moment she was no longer actively engaging with it, and her mouth returned to the fuzziness of the pool.
Megan checked the info for the node. Stimulation of anything sexual, including having orifices of any kind penetrated, required active engagement by all parties, so no one could force anything on a person in the pool who wasn't enthusiastically responding to it.
She came out of the pool and swam downstream in the spiral toward the meeting place. She noted that the flesh pool experience was being actively shared by many proxies in the spiral stream, which experienced the snug belonging throughout the abstract flow, even if many of the proxies surrounding them weren't aware they were being snuggled with.
She realized that the flesh pool node had only appeared when she was ready for it, after she had participated in other, somewhat related nodes. There were algorithms that helped guide people through these sorts of experiences, but she had gravitated to more and more ethereal nodes as she went along, naturally losing her inhibitions along the way. She felt a little proud of her increasing boldness.
Her absorption in the flesh pool had drawn all sorts of fascinating new threads to her. Now unashamed of her presence in the spiral, she was amazed by the entire spectrum of experience spreading out before her, beckoning her to become absorbed into every part of it. The endless possibilities of Indra's Net had become more and more compelling to her as she was drawn through the spiral and as she responded more and more openly and honestly to the possibilities which were most attractive to her.
She had quickly developed a sense of kinship with her fellow divers. Their very proxies, after all, served as the medium to the nodes she had enjoyed. Each person's proxy reflected all of the nodes they were experiencing or had experienced, sharing their personal tastes with the general flow. Megan could only peripherally perceive most of the vast amounts of content they linked to. It was exciting to know that she could turn in any direction and find threads leading to spaces she would never have encountered on her own, and might never encounter again- scenes of beauty, madness, erotica, and horror.
She had no idea how many hundreds or thousands of people she had shared spaces with and influenced by her simple presence and preferences. She was overcome by the sense of connection she had to all of the people whose names she would never know. And yet they didn't feel like anonymous strangers, since they were sharing so much with each other. But it was time to meet with her friends. Megan noted a mod that turned the stream into a water slide. She activated it and had a blast as she experienced constant acceleration taking her faster and faster down the ultimate water slide, looping around and around, all the way to 2501.
Megan splashed down deep into 2501's crystal clear ocean. She jumped out of the water and hovered over the waves. It was the best virtual aquarium she had ever seen. It had filters to fill it with sea life from the modern era, as well as from any desired prehistoric period. Megan flew over the water, dragging her feet just under the waves. She felt gentle pressure guiding her to shore, and there she found Sam's group sitting in lounge chairs on the beach, along with thousands of others.
Megan flew to one of the seats and started sunbathing. Virtual sunbathing, while healthier than physical sunbathing, was one of the things that virtuality couldn't quite capture.
Megan was still listening to Carrier l0st. T tuned into her feeds and nodded in approval to the music. He traced her dive back through the spiral.
Sam gave T a wary look.
The group exchanged recordings of interesting experiences they had encountered in their dives. T linked the group to a high energy dance floor where everything was made of fire, as well as a recording of a Hyper Grind game he had just won. Keen linked to an excellent and remarkably fancy restaurant. Sam showed off her adventures as she attempted to understand the culture of a weird "space colony" that was in its 3rd year of experimental development. Mike shared an educational rpg node that taught basic chemistry and physics through its magic combat system. Pawn brought up a node designed to simulate sensory hallucinations to amplified drugged states and T took a sample of it before diving into the ocean to catch a ride holding onto the fin of a 40 foot megalodon.
And there was much fun had at the beach.
Coming soon - Part 2! Episode 09: Community - A visit to the party that never ends.