Leto looked like the dog Eterna’s neighbour had selected as her new DigiPet last year. They used to walk up and down the pavement together, the digital animal’s light, fluffy fur flowing somewhat in a non-existent breeze. It was more a display of the lady’s wealth than anything: realistic-looking DigiPets cost an eye-watering sum. Leto was a similar sort of shape and size, albeit a little bigger and leaner, and was almost identical in colour. That was where the similarities ended, however. Alethea’s ‘familiar’ (Eterna had no idea what that was… a family pet?) had a rougher, realer look to her, sporting the natural beauty of the wild.

It was a surprise to hear the wolf talk. Eterna didn’t know animals could talk. Then again, she’d never met a real animal before, so she supposed there was probably quite a lot about them she didn’t know. She nodded politely to Leto’s greeting, her body running on autopilot while her brain jogged to catch up.

At least her shade didn’t seem to be having any difficulty with its processing. It walked in the characteristic, identifiable manner of shades: stiffly, expressionlessly, its head moving slightly from side to side while it scanned the environment. Eterna had a feeling she’d be working through the night to manually update its recognition log. How could it be that there were places which operated such worlds apart from the City? Eterna caught herself mimicking her shade, albeit with much more humanity and feeling. She twisted her body from side to side as they walked, drinking in this world of green and brown and grey around them, her dark eyes keenly extracting the details of every leaf they brushed past. She was distracted by Alethea’s admission of ignorance as to her dremote.

“Never?” She pressed, trying not to sound too dismayed. They didn’t have digital multisensory technology at all? How did they do… anything? She shook her head, trying to process. “If you don’t know of it then it can’t be integral, and if it’s not integral it’s…” Pointless? Probably non-existent? “I’m from Kaldan City,” she clarified, without elaboration. Alethea may not have heard of digital technology, but there couldn’t be a person alive who was unfamiliar with the City.

Kaldan had never seemed so far away before, though. Even when Eterna had taken simcations with the intent to forget about the City’s endless grey skyline, she had never felt as detached from her normal life as she did now, listening to Alethea explain how one could acquire clothes in this strange new world. Perhaps she should design a simcation here, in a digital Shaman world, where wealthy Kaldanites could try out one of these ‘tailors’ for novelty. Eterna just nodded, as if on autopilot, trying to make sense of this assault of new information.

Alethea left her horse tied to a post with a parting whisper in his ear before leading Eterna inside. Eterna tried to follow her lead, applying a tone of stealth to her movements and scuttling after her with no real understanding of why they had to be so sneaky. Shade continued to move in its stiff, robotic manner, since Eterna had never felt the need to apply a stealth module to it. She soon lost track of their twists and turns down winding corridors, stumbling over adverse chambers and slowing only to gawp in wonder at the floor-to-ceiling tapestries spanning entire hallways. Eventually Alethea led her inside a bedroom with fresh, clean, laundered sheets. She opened the doors to a small alcove in which a variety of clothes, the majority blue, hung on racks. Eterna hovered behind her, nibbling her lower lip.

“I like blue,” she reassured her. “My lightmarks are blue.” She twisted her hands together a little. Some of what Alethea’s words had now been processed and Eterna was starting to get a sense of her companion’s kindness and generosity. “Alethea… we’re not friends, we only just met. I need to pay you for this.” She paused. “Although, I suppose… since you don’t have digital technology, you probably don’t have credits either.”

It was starting to make sense why Quixar had elected to send Shaman’s king technology instead of credits. How could he have sent her here without telling her that, or without any means with which to equip herself with the basics she needed – even clothes? Her heart fluttered.

Behind her, her shade lifted its head and focused its eyes for the first time properly since arriving.

“Hi Eterna,” it purred in its neutral, emotionless voice, “I am sensing anxiety from you. Would you like me to play some calming music and open my diary module?”

How embarrassing. Eterna reached up to push her hand through her dark hair, shaking her head emphatically. “Not right now, shade. Set AI Intuition module into sleep mode.”

“Sleeping my AI Intuition module.” Shade replied smoothly, remaining stock still. “If you would like me to anticipate your needs again, please re-activate the module with voice command or your digital remote.”

“Great.” Eterna replied distractedly, tugging at her hair. “Thanks.”
so grey is the face of every mortal
karl S


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