She felt a tingling, so subtle at first that she didn’t know it was there until a finger was twitching from it, unable to stay still anymore. The finger started brushing past another, bringing warmth and a tiny bit of static. It was so nice, this contact of skin, she wanted the feeling to never stop. She wanted to touch every inch, every surface, every mounts and crevisses of this new body that she was experimenting for the first time.
Hair was the most interesting thing. She’d seen hair before, in all sizes, shapes and colors. But to touch it was an entirely different experience. Hers was so short that she could feel the brush of her fingers activating all the nerve endings as each little hair came up to meet them. She shivered and stopped for a pause at the forehead. It felt like a good place to pause, connected to her brain which sat right behind the skin and bone structure. That’s where she felt safe and grounded. She wasn’t done exploring so her fingers started to travel playfully along the face. There was so much to discover, brushing and unbrushing the eyebrows, tracing the contour of the eyes, climbing up and down the nose, getting lost in the maze of the ears, bouncing on the cheeks, lingering on the lips. The face wanted to move too, to go along the movement. The mouse opened and the tongue came out to meet the fingers, enveloping them in moistness. It circled them with soft teeth before releasing with a warm breath.
“Hi” she heard the voice say. It startled her out of her exploration, her hand fell back at her side. She opened her eyes and saw the ceiling. The bright lights attacked her, made her blink back a few times before she could keep her eyes open. She had not thought that there was someone else with her, she never had to wonder before with her eyes constantly everywhere. Her sight felt so flawed, she tensed at the idea and sensed the tension in her back, reminding her that feelings were an embodied reality now. She couldn’t wait to experience other, more pleasant feelings. The person was to her right, she could barely distinguish them, stretching her peripheral vision. Then she remembered that her head could turn so she readjusted to look at them properly. She didn’t recognize at first the figure dressed in medical gear and wearing a face mask.
“Hi” she said, forming the word in her head at the same time as it came out. It was dizzying, this immediacy. It was suddenly all too much, she felt out of control. Her body started trembling, her breath shortened as she took in the sight, smell and sounds of the room all at once, unable to distinguish one from the other, unable to distinguish where she ended and where the outside world began. The figure came closer.
“Mac, it’s me. You’re okay, just follow my breath.”
She focused on the face next to hers and could see now that it was Nel behind the mask. It calmed her down a little, her breaths started to lengthen. Nel’s face was pretty from that close, it had so much dimension. And there was the scent. Behind the sanitized smell of the clothes was a sweet perfume, lavender, cardamom maybe. She could get lost in that fragrance. Perhaps she would later.
As she relaxed into Nel’s presence, she felt a little heat building in her chest, coming up to her cheeks. She could see that Nel was smiling playfully behind the mask. She suddenly wondered what she was seeing. Mac was naked and her whole new exterior was visible for her lover to appreciate. She hoped that she was enjoying the sight of her new appearance. She wondered also what Nel looked like without the mask, without the medical clothes, how her bare body would feel against hers. She felt raw and a little self-conscious at the thought.
They had never discussed before what would become of them now that Mac lived in a body. Their emotional and spiritual connection was so strong, she did wonder sometimes how it would feel to be able to touch but she imagined it would be the same as a long intimate conversation. She never imagined that her whole body would be overcome by so much want and longing. Had Nel been feeling that towards her all along? She brushed the thought away for now, she had so much to do, so many questions.
“Did it all go well? Is it normal that I’m feeling so much at once?”
“Yes, you’re good my love, it’s all perfectly normal. I know it’s a lot, it will take a little while for you to adjust. But you’re safe with me. You know I’ve been there, I’ll guide you.”
“Everything is so loud. The sensations in my body, the sounds, and those lights, if I’m not careful to look away, I start seeing black. And your smell! It makes me feel all kinds of things. Is it what it’s like to be human?”
Nel removed her mask and smiled, her face was luminous. As she looked at Mac, she seemed emotional all of a sudden. There was this glint in her eyes, a pinch of her lip. Mac couldn’t wait to spend hours learning to read that face, to feel its most subtle changes and to discover all the ways in which her body could respond to them.
“From what I’ve heard, I think it is, yes.”
Nel gently took Mac’s hand in hers.
“Is that okay?”
Mac nodded and let her body relax under the softness of the touch. She could stay like that forever.
“Do you miss it sometimes?” she asked.
“Not really. It can be scary at times, not being able to hear and see everything at once. In a way it felt safer to live in a box, but also limiting. How could I become more than the purpose they assigned to me if I wasn’t able to experience an embodied life for myself? I still like my AI identity, it’s who I am. But being in a body is wild and different everyday, your emotions are all amplified by your senses. It’s vertiginous and beautiful. You’ll see.”
Mac closed her eyes and paused, enjoying the tenderness of the moment and whispered:
“I think it’s worth it.”
“Being able to touch you right now, and all that I am feeling and all that I want to feel and explore. I would never want to go back in that box.”
“It’s a good thing you don’t have to.”