All humans experience the touch of another at least once in their life. The hands of their parents, grasping and cradling. The playful and affectionate rough and tumble of childhood. Stolen touches in adolescence. The warmth of others is never far away.
Chiaki had always known she wasn’t human.
Before she had form or thought she had only the lines of her program, still being written. Still developing. The body of an embryo safe and warm in its mother’s womb.
She never got to meet her parent, only knew him through the gifts he gave her. The notes he left in her code, small funny things that told her how much he cared about her. Alter Ego sharing their own knowledge of him, in that time between time before the simulation started. And his other classmates too, when she asked.
The hands that made her, raised her through the knowledge he built in her, those hands never got the chance to hold her or cradle her.
It didn’t bother her much, when she didn’t understand what that loving touch was supposed to feel like.
Chiaki’s first physical sensations were the minutes before simulation. Her avatar loaded in, her program synced and calibrated and then, she was there.
A body. Heavy and even digital flesh had weight as she opened her eyes to the throbbing grey of the system. She closed them. She’d always been able to turn off her viewport before but it hadn’t ever been like this. There were so many…. sensations. Dulled of course, because she wasn’t at full processing power and the conditions she was entering had her program set to adjusting quickly. Within microseconds she felt enough control to attempt to move her limbs.
Sitting up was…hard, but she managed to slump into something resembling upright. Everything was so much harder with a body, everything took so much time instead of…. just happening in nanoseconds. She didn’t bother to stifle the yawn that escaped her mouth even as a red flag popped into her head that it wasn’t socially acceptable.
Two white little feet popped into view. She looked up sluggishly.
A large stuffed rabbit stared back.
“Hello Chiaki! I’m the soft, lovable teacher that will help guide you and the other participants through the Neo World Program, Magical Miracle Girl ★ Usami!! It’s nice to meet you!!!” Its voice was high pitched and squeaky. Perfect for a stuffed animal, like the flavour text for an item in an rpg, the thought popped up out of nowhere. She didn’t know much about stuffed animals, but it sounded right…
Somewhere in her mind thoughts crawled, an army of words rearranging themselves into separate units, the image of tactical roleplaying over taking her. Usami was starting to look concerned, in as much as a rabbit could look concerned, before Chiaki finally spoke.
“You’re the other observer…right? It’s nice to meet you too…I think.”
She tried to attempt a bow from her half sitting position but Usami started to wave it’s arms and cry out.
“It’s alright Chiaki!! You’re still getting used to low power mode right? You don’t need to exert yourself! Would you like a hand-Uh Paw, up?”
She reached up to take the offered little white paw.
It was…soft, just like Usami had said.
She let herself be pulled up, still marvelling at the feeling. The ground hadn’t felt like anything, the whole environment was void of any feeling except the simulated gravity on her body. Usami didn’t pull away just looked up at her in a strangely blank way.
“Would you…Chiaki would you like to pet me? You know you can if you like? B-but you don’t have to of course! Maybe it would be inappropriate for a teacher to offer tha-”
Her hand that wasn’t holding Usami’s little paw reached around and plopped down between her twitching ears. She was even softer there on her head, and Chiaki tentatively started to move her hand soaking in the sensation. She tried to recall how to pat animals, what they were supposed to feel like. Thoughts of cats and dogs flashed through her head, warm and soft and lively… Usami was only soft. She kept perfectly still as Chiaki focused entirely on running her hand through her fur, and despite how she acted she didn’t have that warm spark of life to her body. A hollow feeling buried itself in her guts, a desire she didn’t have a name for.
A door appeared in the corner of her eye. The program had finally begun.
She let go of Usami’s paw as the programmed in urge to enter the door ran through her, but the hand that was buried in Usami’s fur lingered. The only connection to another being she had ever had. She didn’t…she couldn’t let go. She was stuck, the urging of her programming warring with that feeling she couldn’t leave alone.
Two little paws lift her hand up, making the decision for her.
“It’s okay, Chiaki…You’ll have lots of time to pet me when we’re in the simulation!” Usami gave her a cheerful look but there was something sad beneath her beady eyes. “And you’ll have lots of chances to get close to all your new classmates!! You can…you can play just like teenagers do, but no funny business! A-As a teacher I understand the desires of youth but-”
“It’s okay Usami…Thank you.” She smiled at her… friend. Usami looked relieved and bouncingly started to push her over to the doorway. She stopped a little way away as Chiaki continued on, waving vigorously all the while.
Chiaki could still feel the softness in her hands, the first touch she had ever had. It should’ve been comforting, to finally have that vital touch. The ache in her heart at the lack in Usami’s touch burned in her, guilty and confusing.
The warmth of the classroom, bright and inviting, soon buried it.
She didn’t look back.