Michael is searching for something by illegally sifting through peoples souls. Meanwhile something is happening in the Aether, and even Triad, the composite hive mind being formed from the leaders of the three factions can't stop it. The Mendelian faction are making a move against the Technocracy and the Aetherics are worried about a coming storm. Somehow Michael and his obsession is a part of it. A war is coming from within the Aether itself and only 3 people can stop it.
Michael gasped as he emerged from the Aetheric interface. It was always an exhilarating experience, diving. He'd gotten a specially modified computer from a contact he had among the Aetherics. It's was highly illegal of course, London being a strictly Technocracy controlled zone but he didn't care. This was something he needed and was beyond the petty disputes of the parties.
Still, this dive had been disappointing. The soul he'd dived into hadn't yielded any more answers than all the others that had come before it. Swimming around, immersed in the essence of someones being was an exhilarating experience but for all extensive purposes it was akin to rape, except the victim experienced nothing. That's how he justified it to himself at first though by now he'd long discarded any feelings of guilt. Something was wrong with the world, something important and whatever was missing in him, he knew was elsewhere. someone had the answer, the missing piece, it was just a matter of time.
He wiped his chin, his hand sticky with drool when he drew it back. The interface was fully immersive and left the body behind like a vegetable for the duration of it's operation. As sensation returned he discovered he had wet himself again. He shook his head, he really should invest in a catheter sometime.
Divers were frowned upon by both the Technocracy and the Aetheric parties but Michael guessed it was less about the act of Diving and more about the fact that it required elements of both disciplines. Both groups hated each other with a passion and to even suggest working together was a taboo in and of itself - Diving, a combination of Technocracy technology and Aetheric techniques was anathema. Aetherics, being interested in all things related to the Aether, the field that interconnected all living things and was a separate dimension of pure, living energy itself, had techniques for connecting with the souls, or to use the more technical term, the Aetheric Terminals of living things. With that alone you could examine the well being of people, read their minds or do all sorts of things with them on a spiritual level, however, you couldn't really be them, couldn't experience the truth of their being, so to speak. The Technocracy had technology that worked on a more mechanical level, that could map and interact with the brain and the Aetheric information streams. Combined, you could directly map someone else's Aetheric signature onto your own, essentially diving into their soul and experiencing the 'themness' of what made them who they were.
It was the ultimate violation, but purely a one-way, read-only system. And so, so satisfying.
Cursing his luck at not finding the answers he sought, Michael pulled himself up from his chair and took off his clothes. The intelligent clothing would clean itself easy enough, and would have cleaned him too but Michael was old fashioned and enjoyed the feel of a hot shower. It was good to have something so real and simple after a Dive.
Michael's apartment was large by Technocracy standards in London. Generally, since everything was computerised, automated and full-immersion virtual reality was readily available most people lived in coffin apartments, simple person sized boxes with basic facilities for waste disposal and ordering and retrieving nutrients. Your room could be any size you wanted it to be using VR and so to cope with the massive overcrowding London had experienced for the last fifty years or so, coffin apartments were the norm. Michael however, had managed to maintain for himself a small one bedroom apartment, much like they had pre-Aether - before year zero. He had pulled a couple of strings through various contacts he'd made with other Divers and get a room for much less than it was worth. He didn't care for any of the features though except the shower, that was worth all the risks and deals he'd had to make.
Unlike other Divers, Michael wasn't doing it for the rush. So many Divers he knew were junkies, hopelessly addicted to the experience and admittedly it was incredibly compelling. He would be addicted himself, a vegetable plugged into an illegal computer piggybacking on someone else's life until his own gave out if not for the showers. The reality of them kept him sane, that and the fact that he was searching for something. For Michael the Diving was only a means to an end, a way of finding the answer to a question he didn't know how to ask. All he knew was that something was wrong and that something was missing in himself. He hoped Diving would help him find in others what he himself lacked, though he couldn't define what that was - he just knew he would know it when he found it.
That thought in his mind, he stepped into the shower and let the hot water run steaming rivulets down his skin and through his long, black hair. He wasn't an unattractive man, but then again in a society where bodies could be shaped into almost any form you wished, physical appearance meant almost nothing. Still, his body had no modifications except for the obvious implanted Aetheric Transducer that everyone else had, the wonderous piece of technology that Dr. Johnathan Tetherson had invented. It had changed so many things that they even changed the way dates were calculated to honour it. AD, BC, those terms were past, Christ was obsolete. The creation of the Aetheric Transducer was so much more enlightening. 0 CAT, the year of the Creation of the Aetheric Transducer. Year zero.
Dr. Tetherson had been a genius. Phd's in genetics, biology and cybernetics before he was even thirty, a list of scientific papers a mile long, he was a prodigy but no-one took him seriously because genetics, biology, cybernetics, none of those things really held his attention. What had interested Johnathan Tetherson was the paranormal, the unprovable pseudo-science of ghosts and spirits and the afterlife. Among his peers he was a laughing stock for much of his life, his theories discarded as deluded ramblings. It was widely accepted as a tragedy that such a brilliant man would waste his talents on such fancies.
And then, he made a practical application of his theories. Year zero. Tetherson's theory was simple. All living things were connected, in fact, that connection was a form of energy that underpinned the whole of reality. Ghosts, paranormal activity, it was all a symptom of forces acting on this extra dimension of reality, much like gravity affected the curvature of space-time. He postulated that this dimension, was not tied to the passage of time in the same way as our physical dimensions were and that information could be imprinted onto it. One example of this, he had claimed, was ghosts and cold spots, places where, for some reason, information had been imprinted into this extra dimension and maintained due to it's temporal disparity only to effect the real world due the the same weakened membrane between dimensions that had allowed for the imprinting in the first place. With his knowledge, he sought to prove the existence of this spiritual energy plain, which he called the Aether, by developing a device that could provide a means of directly interacting with it. That device was the Aetheric Transducer. Part organic, part machine, the device was a living organism that's only purpose was to provide a pure, clean soul or gateway to the Aether. The machine part provided a technological interface to this living spirit connection so that he might record measurements. Unfortunately for Tetherson, he failed to make any progress with his research using his device until he built a second one, thinking perhaps the first had been faulty. It was then that the true potential of the technology came to light. He found he could communicate between the Aetheric Transducers instantly, regardless of what distance they were separated and how much information was sent. The implications were astounding and went on to revolutionise the communications industry. With improved communication came improved progress and Tetherson's invention heralded the age of invention and discovery.
And here he was, 134 CAT, thought Michael, living in a world of Tetherson's making. He wondered whether the doctor would approve of his search. Probably not.
Michael stepped out of the shower and dried himself off with a rough, white towel and then through it on the floor, stopping down to pull back on the clothes he'd discarded earlier, the intelligent nano-fabric having cleaned itself perfectly. He was tempted to Dive again, but he was feeling oddly apprehensive, like something was about to happen.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when there was a knock at the door. Panicked, he quickly tidied everything away, making sure that any evidence of the modifications he'd made to his VR rig was well hidden. Another knock came, more assertive than the first and Michael, satisfied he had covered up anything incriminating opened the door.
A grey skinned man, or perhaps a woman, Michael wasn't sure, stood in the doorway. He or her was bald, completely, no eyelashes or eyebrows, and had no lips, just a grill over where their mouth would have been. Their eyes had a glazed look to them like they were in a trance and two thick cables exited from each temple down their neck to somewhere behind them. One of each was transparent and within a viscous black-green fluid could be seen coursing back and forth. Michael gasped as he realised what it was. It was androgynous. It was a Neutral, one of the hands of Triad.
Triad was a mystery. Triad was an enigma. Some said Triad was a tyrant, other a saviour, some a monster, others said Triad was insane, a genius or beyond human understanding. Whatever Triad was, it was necessary. Triad was the name that the hive-mind intelligence formed by the then leaders of each of the three parties had given itself when it had been created back in 33 CAT. Triad was the firewall to the Aether that kept the demons at bay.
And now, Triad had sent a Neutral for him. That almost never happened which meant something was very, very wrong.
The Neutral spoke, it's grill-mouth crackling in monotone. "You must come with us."