Edward Kenning sat quietly in his chair and waited for his show to be over. One of the advantages of his skin and headset was total recall. It gave you the ability to actually re-experience things that happened in MetaCafé. If it was a great experience, you could relive it a thousand times, if you wanted to. Each time would be just as vibrant in your mind; what you felt, what you saw, what you tasted, what you heard was all there; fresh as the first time. It could be a dangerous activity because you might not want to stop being there.
When the show was over, he took off his skin and headset. He was surprisingly fit. He stretched. His body relaxed back down from its of state mega-awareness. But she had not vanished from in back of his eyes. He was tempted to put his skin and headset back on, but he didn’t. His body wanted to run. His body wanted to shed the excess of sensation that Edward had allowed to build inside. He went into his private gym and ran on the no impact device that created the feeling that he was running on air, that he could fly. An hour later, he stopped to drink, shower and eat.
She would come back again, and he couldn’t wait. He knew her. They had melded. He could feel her inside of him. He could still feel her arms around his legs. He could still taste that orgasmic kiss. It was a blissful reverie, because he knew he would see her again. He felt the urge to return to her, even when he was alone. He wondered if the meld had transferred into her new body. He could not know unless he asked her, unless she was had maintained the meld.
The voice he had installed on his communication device was hers. She didn’t know it. It was a little secret that he kept to himself. Her voice said, “We have a high priority message with attachment from Beyond Multiple Lives.”
Edward sat back down to watch and read and listen. Her voice began to read to him. “As we have discussed previously, the interspecies injection research is continuing and we are reaching out to you to ascertain your level of continued interest.”
Edward smiled. It was a dimpled smile that showed the experienced lines on his face. The message continued in her voice. “Our challenges are currently two-fold. Injection into a creature in captivity has proven to create a mental depression. Release into an uncontrolled environment is still considered too dangerous to the client. We have yet to meet the challenges of consciousness degradation.”
This was the migration process that translated interspecies injection into a form that humans could understand. After some of the first tests, recipients exhibited a reluctance to return to human form. This phenomenon was named migratory disfunction.
The message continued. Quite cheerfully, Roselynne’s voice said, “You qualify for acceptance into the program. You have reached and exceeded the minimum length of stay in your current body. We need to hear from you within the next twelve months in order to maintain your level of interested recipient.
He had applied for the program after she left her second life. Now she was back in his life, but for how long?
Dolphins lived an average of forty years. They were still atop the ocean’s food chain, if you didn’t count people. It was the species that Edward was considering.
He laughed as he pictured himself telling Roselynne that he was considering becoming a dolphin.
Roselynne had not removed her skin and headset. She was reexperiencing her old body and memories from her second life. Did she like her second life body more than her current one? That might be. He loved everything about that body, except for the illnesses that accompanied it. She had felt both betrayed and redeemed by it. She had met him in it. She had fallen in love with him in it. He worshipped it in a way that she knew was unlikely to ever be found again.
She slipped out of her skin and felt that stiffness. In her new body, she could run again and not be winded and not feel weakened by the exertion. She remembered when he had her run wearing a stimulation girdle. Running and orgasming simultaneously had been one of the most intense sexual experiences of her life. While she was running and being stimulated, he was whispering in her ear.
The next day, her chirpy British voice announced that there was a call from Lew.
“Hi,” she said with a genuine smile.
“Would you like to go for a walk?” asked Lew.
The walk had become a sort of code for him saying that he wanted to see her. That he needed her. It was exciting. Roselynne looked down at the sweat stains on her shirt. She had gotten up early and gone for another run. “I just need about 30 minutes to get cleaned up,” said Roselynne.
“I’ll see you then,” said Lew.
Before she showered, she packed her skin and headset back neatly into her closet. She felt a pang as she closed the closet door. She looked over at Laurie. “We’re all going out,” she said.
Laurie wagged her tail and was excited. Roselynne smiled and said, “I’m excited too.”
Two days later, Roselynne was back in her skin and headset. She wandered in an hour before his show was supposed to begin. Ed was there as she knew he would be. He was alone. Roselynne smiled. He wasn’t always alone. He was recording his backup tape introductions. The songs, themselves, could just be slotted in, but his audience expected him to produce a theme.
She used to help him produce themes for the shows. That was when she learned how he created extended metaphors as part of the musical themes of his shows. She loved metaphors because they kept opening up new possibilities; they kept surprising her.
“Hi,” said Roselynne.
Edward turned to her with a huge smile of delight on his face. She felt his smile ripple through her like liquid.
“May I sit with you?” asked Roselynne. She knew that she could, and she also knew her asking thrilled him. It was who she was and why she did it.
Edward Kenning took his bag from off the chair next to him, the chair closest to him, and said, “I’m happy to see you.”
She walked over slowly, letting his eyes drink her in and then she sat, hands folded, looking at his DJ board, sitting up straight, their knees almost touching.
Edward said, “You really look well in your body. Do you feel good about it? Have there been any problems?”
When he spoke, she raised her eyes to his. For a second, she bathed in the shared gaze. “Thank you, E.” It was her pet name for him. “Everything is fine. No injection problems so far. But there were none at this point last time either. So, just keeping my fingers crossed, I guess, and enjoying while I can.”
“Good,” he grinned and then he said, “That’s great.”
“How are you?” she said.
“Oh, you know me, crazy as always.”
“You aren’t crazy,” she said softly, feeling that tenderness that he aroused in her again.
“OK,” he almost blushed for her in his self-deprecating way. “Profoundly different,” he laughed. “Will you accept that?”
Roselynne thought, that made sense. He was really different. A kind of different that reached deep in her and grew.
“I’ve been thinking about dolphins.”
“Dolphins?” said Roselynne. She felt herself grinning. “Why have you been thinking about dolphins?”
He met her eyes. Current was open between them. “I’m thinking of becoming one.”
Roselynne’s mouth dropped open. She didn’t even swim and he was thinking of becoming a dolphin? Even in 2059, it was an absurd idea. She even almost giggled as she heard herself say, “Why would you want to become a dolphin?”
Edward laughed with her. There was delight in his eyes at her reaction to the possibility. He knew what she was feeling. “When you got this new body, Lynne, did you keep your meld with me.?”
“I did,” said Roselynne. “I told you about your voice last time.”
“The voice is only part of it,” said Edward softly.
Roselynne felt tears. “I know.”
Then he did what he did. He pivoted back. He wanted to make her smile. “Dolphins are highly intelligent, social and polygamous. They have sex for the passion and magic of it.”
Roselynne laughed. “Of course, you would love that!”
“And they form unique bonds that transcend their pod socialization.”
His face was serious now and she felt very close to him. Roselynne said, “I would be sad if you became a dolphin. I would never see you.”
“I’m not at all sure that I am going to do it. I’m really not. It’s a radical decision. But Lynne?” he paused. “There is a new meld. A stronger one. You could visit and be there with me anytime you wanted. I don’t know what it would be like. I don’t know if I would be the same, but I believe that I would still want you there with me, or at least able to visit when you wanted.”
Roselynne felt overwhelmed. That was impossible. Then she had a thought that started in her brain and made its way to her eyes. He noticed its flicker and said, “What is it?”
“Would it go both ways?”
Edward nodded. “Yes, of course. Actually, it might be lifesaver for my humanity. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“What do you mean?” she didn’t quite understand.
“If doing this became too much, visiting you, for me, would be like time in a safe harbor.”
Roselynne laughed hard. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”
Then it was time for his show to begin. Roselynne looked up and saw people coming in. “Time to work,” she said and squeezed the top of his knee softly.
“Are you staying?” he asked.
Roselynne smiled. “For a little while. I’m pretty tired.”
That night, Roselynne did something that she had not done since this new life began. She slept in her skin. There was no headset, but all of the sensations were there.
She drifted off into a dream. She was going up and down on a seesaw, but the person she was riding with kept changing. There was delight in the changes; there was confusion in the changes.
When she woke, she peeled off her skin and showered, quietly.
Reconciling this was going to be difficult. The easy choice was to run away or charge into one of what seemed to be her two options. She needed to learn more about melding.
When she and Edward had melded, she felt his strength first. She felt him when she forced herself to eat. She felt it when she forced herself to do the breathing exercises that he promised her over and over would work. Maybe that wasn’t when it first happened. Maybe it was when they spoke and his voice entered her. The way they could talk, maybe that was when. But the real hard maybe was that maybe it was when they fucked.
It was like they couldn’t stop doing that. It was like they wanted it more and more, each and every time it happened. It was when he started making her feel good about herself and her sexual desires. Roselynne felt herself flush. That’s when she’d first felt it.
Roselynne contacted Multiple Lives and asked for a few moments with someone who was expert in melding. Some hours later, a screen as large as one of her walls, that contained 3D capacity, was projected in front of her. She spoke to Dr. Abagail Whitesmith. She a smallish woman with soft red hair and an easy way. They each drank tea as they spoke.
Roselynne relaxed and said honestly, “I know that I wanted to be as close to him as I possibly could get when we melded. But we are at a crossroads now and I’m unsure about whether I want this meld removed, deepened, or somehow changed. It’s past time that I learn more about what this is inside of me.” She kind of smiled, she kind of laughed and looked sad all at once. She felt all of these things simultaneously.
Abagail gave a long moment for the impact of Roselynne’s words to settle in the air. A moment when a client sometimes added an additional thought, or a desire. Then she said, “Lets start with what melding is. It is a serious ritual, particularly in the Multiple Lives Program. Neural transmitters are synced. People experience each other on the level of synapse. A joining, like a wedding, but deeper. As that meld strengthened, parts of them flowed, like electricity, into each other. A meld is not a static implant of some kind. It grows. It weaves its way into the core of you.”
Roselynne was stunned. She almost stammered. “How can something like that be taken out of you?”
Dr. Whitesmith gave an inwardly reflective sigh and said, “It can’t but the memory of its source can. We can make it so that you no longer remember the source and will naturally incorporate what you’ve gained from the meld, and will likely keep gaining from it. But you’ll forget that person you melded with.”
Roselynne gasped, “Totally?”
“Won’t that leave a hole in me?”
Abagail smiled softly. “You know the saying, ‘Nature abhors a vacuum.’?”
Dr. Whitesmith continued, “Something else will fill you. We don’t know exactly what, but we can trace it in retrospect.”
It took Roselynne a few minutes to speak. Several times she seemed about to, and then when she had no words, it passed.
“What are your feelings on, we call it erasure now instead of removal?” asked Abagail.
“My first thought is that I would bleed out,” said Roselynne. Her laugh held no mirth.
Dr. Whitesmith smiled warmly. “That won’t happen.”
“I don’t want him erased,” said Roselynn resolutely. “It sounds too cruel.” Then another though occurred. “Would he forget me too?”
“No,” said Abagail, “he would not.”
Now she was crying again, but she was British and grabbed hold of that mast. She stopped herself and asked. “What are the next generation of melds like?”
Abagail Whitesmith’s face lit up. She had been one of the pioneers in this field. “They allow for shared presence. They add that dimension. In your case, your meld is how old?”
“Your connections have grown passed the point where you would feel anything different. There might be added clarity. There would be shared presence.”
Roselynn nodded. The tears had dried on her face because she refused to wipe them. She flashed on E kissing them away.
“Is it possible to have a meld with more than one person?”
“It is, but those are group melds. You would have to include the person with whom you had already melded.” When Dr. Whitesmith talked about policy her intonation became more professional.
“Is the more I can help you with today, Roselynne?”
“I can’t think of anything right now but can we talk again if I need to?”
“I’ve sent my contact information. Someone will always get back to you within a day on the chance that I am unavailable, but I am pretty available to my people.”
“Am I your people?”
Dr. Abagail Whitesmith smiled and said warmly, “I facilitated your initial meld.”
Roselynne said excitedly, “Then you know him?”
“Not really. I read the notes in your file after you called, and saw that I had done it.”
Roselynne seemed a little disappointed. “Thank you so much,” said Roselynne.
“There is one other question that I have?”
“Yes?” Abagail had closed her notepad.
“Is it possible to fall in love with someone you haven’t melded with?”
“People have been falling in love for a very long time, long before there were melds.”
“While the person is melded to someone else?” Roselynne was pressing.
“Love seems to find a way, doesn’t it?” said Abagail.
“I don’t know,” said Roselynne. That sounded like a saying on a greeting card.
Days went by. She spoke to Lew and he wasn’t snarky about it, but she felt that his attitude was questioning why Edward’s name was coming up again.
“I was wondering if you would talk to him,” said Roselynne.
“The bloke is comin’ back here?” asked Lew is his Scouse accent.
“I was hoping we could all talk,” said Roselynne feeling uneasy now. “Maybe we could go where he is?”
“To America?” he asked, with a definite lack of enthusiasm.
“To the Meta Cafe,” said Roselynne quietly. “I think the two of you would like each other.”
Lew shook his shaved head. “That’s his world, not mine.”
If she thought about it before she said it, she probably would not have, but she did. “It was my world too.”
He didn’t answer for a long time. “If he was here, I would meet him for you. Can’t say I am anxious to meet up with that particular American.”
Roselynne felt her temperature rising. There was his voice. “My greatest fear is that you try to be pleasing that you lose sight of what you really want.”
“That particular American is important to me,” she said. There was that strength again. That self-confidence.
Lew tried to be accommodating. “Couldn’t we do a regular call in the regular world?”
Roselynne smiled. He didn’t like Meta. She could understand that. Lots of people didn’t like it. But he was going to do it for her. It warmed her heart.
The call was fairly easy to arrange. She shot Edward a message and his response was almost immediate. It read: Just tell me when.
Lew ran his hand over the top of his almost perfectly smooth scalp. “I’d like to take a shower and shave, Rosey.”
She messaged back asking if they could do it in an hour. Edward’s answer was yes.
While Lew showered, Roselynne stood in front of her capture mirror. She was only wearing one of Lew’s t-shirts. That wouldn’t be fair. She changed into her jeans and one of her own shirts. She was nervous. It had been a long time she had seen Edward outside of Meta. She wondered if he had changed. She wondered if his hair was still halfway down his back.
In world, they had spent a huge amount of time naked. It the regular world, she had adopted Lew’s phrasing for it and other things. It came as the result of their time together. It was Lew’s influence on her. In the regular world, Edward was shy about showing his body, which was tall and lean.
Lew came out of her bathroom, dressed with his freshly shaved head glistening from the pure Aloe moisturizing agent that he used the three times a week that he shaved his head. She hoped his head didn’t glow from it during the call.
The natural place to sit was on her couch. She wondered about that. If she sat next to him on the couch, he would take her hand or put his arm around her. That wouldn’t be fair. She pulled her rocking chair next to the couch and sat in it. Lew sat on the part of the couch closest to her.
The call started to go through. Edward was nervous. He heard the facsimile of her voice say, “You have a call from Roselynne.”
Edward said, “Full screen.” In an instant there they were, sitting in her flat. He caught a glimpse of Laurie, curled up on her dog bed like a disinterested spectator. He saw the vase that he had bought for her on the mantle and next to it he recognized the covers of three of his books, standing up on an angle that leaned against the vase.
Roselynne saw that little had changed about his study. There was art everywhere. The furniture was classical an old. Edward was sitting in his fan-back Chippendale antique chair. Next to him was his guitar, upright in its holder. She was nervous. This could be very good or very bad. It was too late to change her mind now.
“Hello Lew, hi Roselynne.” Edward smiled. His hair was even longer. It spread out over his shoulders and hung down beyond them.
“Hi E,” said Roselynne.
Lew wasn’t saying anything. He nodded a hello. Roselynne looked at him and he said, “Nice to meet you,” in his clipped Scouse tones.
Edward grinned for them. “We aren’t going to divide her up like a conquered country, are we?”
Roselynne laughed. Lew smiled. He said, “that’s a Martin, right?”
Edward looked at his guitar, “Sure is. I can play something for you if you like.”
Lew was yet to play for Roselynne although he did tell her that he played guitar.
“Maybe another time,” said Roselynne. She did not think she could stand to hear Edward play and sing for her right now. She thought about all the nights when she was almost too sick to sit up that he had sang and played her to sleep.
Lew said, “What kind of music do you fancy?”
“Mostly things I’ve written,” said Edward. His knowledge of music was encyclopedic but now was not the time.
Roselynne thought music might be the key to get the talking. “E does music shows in the Meta Café.”
“Never been there,” said Lew.
“I have cut back. I’ve only been doing two shows a week, on Friday and Saturday nights, but that might change.”
Lew said, “I work on those nights.”
Edward nodded. There was an awkward silence. Roselynne tried to fill it.
“Have you been writing anything lately?”
Edward looked at her with those hazel green eyes and said, “Not since you left.”
The words came like a jolt.
Roselynne said, “You’ll get back to it when there is a story to be told.”
“We’ll see,” said Edward. “You’re a cook, right Lew?”
“Food is my game,” said Lew.
“E lives on fish,” said Roselynne giggling.
Lew said, “Eh, the mercury fucks it over here. We serve a fish and chips dish for the old timers, but not much else.”
Edward was older than Lew, although because of Multiple lives, age truly had become unimportant. This wasn’t a catastrophe but she had hoped for more. She didn’t know what she expected. She wanted to see how she felt, and how she felt was nervous and self-conscious.
Then her chirpy voice announced that there was a call waiting from her mum. Roselynne looked at the time. She had been too nervous to remember. This was the time for her mom’s regular call. “I have a call E, it’s from my mom. What should I do?”
Lew stiffened. The question had not been directed at him.
“You should talk to your mom,” said Edward. “Don’t let a call from your mother go unanswered. We can speak another time.”
And then he was gone. The screen went black and the logo of her mother’s call waiting appeared in the middle of the screen. Maybe she had accomplished nothing, but maybe this had been good.
He looked sad. He wasn’t writing. Why did she feel responsible?
After the call, there were weeks with no word. Roselynne and Lew put the question of Edward somewhere on a back burner. He didn’t ask a lot of questions and she really wasn’t excited about trying to explain their relationship. For Lew it was a story of her past, not something for him to concern himself about.
For Roselynne, it was something she really didn’t need to talk about with him anymore. She had assuaged her guilt at having him in her head. She never told Lew about the meld with Edward; he really didn’t need to know about that.
One day while she was rubbing Laurie’s belly on her bed, the chirpy voice announced, “You have a message from Edward.”
Roselynn froze, her hand on Laurie’s belly. After a few seconds Laurie began moving her fore-paws, urging Roselynne to continue with her rubbing. Roselynne got off the bed. She didn’t want to get a message from Edward in the bed she was now sharing with Lew.
Tentatively, she said, “Play message.”
It was a video message and there he was. He was on their island, a little place in the middle of nothing with sand, blue water, a palm tree and a fire.
“I’ve decided to enter the program for inter-species transfusion. They have arranged a trial period for me in Meta, so that I can decide if I wish to do a complete injection. So, I really won’t be able to message you but I have arranged to swim around this island with some regularity. I think I would get a message if you left it here.”
Roselynne did not leave a message. There wasn’t really much she could say. She asked herself what she could possibly say to him. Should she say watch out for nets and killer sharks? Briefly, she wondered what kind of dolphin he had become.
Roselynne and Lew were on a holiday at Cardigan Bay in Wales. He loved long walks and she loved them because he did. They were walking hand in hand when Lew said, “Look out there, dolphins!”
Roselynne stopped walking and stared at the pod of dolphins as they swam off the coast. She found herself walking towards the water, she was wearing a blue and yellow swimsuit. It was a one piece with a blue background and yellow flowers, which she thought showed off her curves.
Like magic, in the instant, Roselynne knew that she could swim. She splashed into the water without her old fears and said, “Thank you Edward.”