(4x01) The Birth of Another World: Part 1, Episode 1
High atop the World Ring at the height of human civilization, Murdock and Annabelle, or as they now remember their old names Thomas and Sue, are undergoing a kind of technological hypno-regression under the care of a doctor who looks just like Metis. The treatment is to help them recover from a psychological condition induced by overuse of a virtual reality platform called Virtuality, wherein the users become lost in the virtual world and detached from their sense of self and reality. This doctor who looks like Metis is helping them to recover their buried memories and regain a grip on reality and their own identities.
In Sue's recovered memories, she is Xiuying, an elderly great-grandmother, currently living in northern Auei after immigrating there from her homeland of Xiania, which she fled as a young woman shorly after the Last World War and the founding of the Internation. She has lead a long and fruitful life since then, struggling to find new footing in Auei, marrying and having children, then doting after her grandchildren, and now even their children. For decades, her family has been her whole life. Though medical technology has advanced human lifespans greatly over the past few centuries, she is nearing the current limits of it, and her dear husband has sadly already departed. She herself is literally on her last leg, the first one having been replaced by a robotic prosthetic already. Thanks to medical advances like that, she is still able to lead a largely independent life, and what dependencies she does have are easily met by her robot helper. But, though she can get about for day to day life well enough, and the robot leg is tough as nails, the rest of her organic body grows increasingly frail, and she finds herself spending more and more time stuck at home unable to safely go out and enjoy the rapidly advancing world with her family, instead only watching recordings of their adventures after the fact.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in the former United States of Columbia, a young Tom is facing a different problem. Tom is a rather asocial person who actually prefers to spend most of his free time physically idle at home, experiencing the world through his screens, and exploring the virtual worlds of video games, getting most of his mental interaction through that medium. His physical interaction, including his sexual needs, are largely met through a collection of non-sapient human-form robots, one anatomically male, one anatomically female, and one mixing the anatomies of both to Tom's tastes, as Tom is pansexual and pangender. Not only is he sexually interested in people of all sexes, but he enjoys taking on all gender roles and presentations himself. Tom often presents in his games with a female avatar, usually under the pseudonym of Tamara, and he wishes he could just as easily switch on an anatomically female body in reality.
High atop the Starbridge Pacifica, the space elevator capital of the fledgling united world government called the Internation, a mysterious and powerful man going by the name Joe Peters directs his subordinate Katia Natali to begin assembling a team for a new project: to pioneer an advanced brain-computer interface, through which people will be able to interact with an immersive virtual world as though they were physically present in it, completely indistinguishable from reality.
Medical technology continues to advance at an accelerating pace, and in a generation or so it's expected that people Xiuying's age will be as able-bodied as they were in their prime, but at the rate she's going she won't live long enough to see it. However, cryonic technology has already proven itself reliable, and Xiu plans to make use of it before the end comes, to be awoken in some future when she can be restored to her full health. With her deteriorating quality of life nowadays, she is considering just throwing in the towel and going into cryonic suspension now. She and her family engage in much hand-wringing over whether or not she should, given that she still has plenty of years left alive without it, but that they are likely to be lived only vicariously through others, while she herself sits idle at home.
Meanwhile, as Tom is also fond of the male body he was born with, he is not sure if he wants to actually transition his sex to female, and be like that all the time, forever. Medical technology being what it is in that age, to actually transition would be completely safe and extremely effective, eventually rendering his body to a state indistinguishable from someone born female. But Tom's hesitancy is about the permanence, or at least the cost of transition both in terms of time and money leaving him practically stuck in one form or another. Even if it is possible to slowly and expensively transition back again should he change his mind later, Tom is just not sure if it's worth it, given that he thinks he probably will want to transition back again at some point or another, even if that in turn ends up being only temporary itself. Still, spending some time as female, even temporarily and at great expense, seems extremely tempting in comparison to the prospect of just staying male as he was born forever. He dreams of a world where "morphological freedom" is as fast and cheap in "meatspace" as it is in the cyberspace he prefers to inhabit.
Lucky for Tom and Xiuying both, Katia has assembled her team and begun development of what will save the both of them from their respective dilemmas. The new platform is called Virtuality. As the virtual world itself reaches a useable state of development, with the brain-computer interface to it not far behind, Katia and her team at Pacifica put out a worldwide call for early beta testers.
Tom, on the cutting edge of virtual-world news as such things are basically his entire life, hears about this immediately and applies right away, excited that being able to experience a virtual world as though physically incarnate in his avatar therein would not only be a thrilling experience unto itself, but would afford him an indistinguishable facsimile of the "meatspace morphological freedom" he has been pining for.
Xiu, on the other hand, has to be told about the project by her granddaughter, and convinced that it may be a better alternative to the cryonics she is increasingly leaning toward, as it will allow her to experience life in a young and healthy virtual body right now, without having skip over decades of her family's life, missing her great-grandson's formative years. Convinced that it is at least worth a shot, and that cryonics can always wait, Xiu applies just under the deadline.
Soon thereafter, the accepted testers are contacted and welcomed to the program: Xiu is in, and Tom is too. They put their respective plans for cryonics or sexual reassignment on hold, and eagerly await the chance to see what it's like to live in a virtual world. Katia reports to Joe that the project is well under way. He thanks her, dismisses her, and when alone again, speaks to a woman's voice in his mind that harshly criticizes the futility of the project, against which Joe protests that it will work, that both of them will be saved, that she will be set free at last, and he will finally be free of her.
Next: The Birth of Another World: Part 1, Episode 2