(4x03) The Birth of Another World: Part 1, Episode 3
With the Darklight system and the fantastic virtual monsters introduced to the world, a stable balance gradually emerges. Cooperative users from the light side of both Fire and Ice build grand cities, kept from spreading across all the virtual world by the monsters that protect the wilderness, leaving a beautiful countryside scattered with moderately sized and spaced pockets of civilization.
Across that countryside and roaming city to city, users on the dark sides of both Fire and Ice continue to stir up trouble but on average keep each other in check.
With the world itself now fairly stabilized, a special hand-picked group of users who apparently have prior connections to Katia and Joe are brought in to vet that the world is also to their satisfaction.
As fun as the completed virtual world is, absent the brain-computer interface promised as a part of this package, Tom mostly finds Virtuality just another interesting video game, but only one among many, nothing unique. As such, he still struggles with the temptation of undergoing real-life sexual reassignment, beginning to fear that the promised brain-computer interface may never materialize.
Likewise, Xiu is underwhelmed by being ultimately confined to her real body stuck in her home while virtually doing the fun stuff she's doing, and she's not completely sold on it yet either.
It is at least something to do with other people and it has been a big change from the boring passive consumption of media she spent most of her time doing before, but virtual gardening still doesn't feel like really living if she can't crouch in her virtual flowerbed without pain in her back, can't feel the warm soil in her hands, or smell the virtual roses.
While she has been testing, the cancer that took Xiu's leg has spread and costs her an arm as well, earning her yet another new robotic limb. Especially for users like her, who are a not-insignificant fraction of the userbase, an experimental new hardware feature is soon rolled out, where an inconspicuous dongle can tap into the artificial nerve pathways of such prosthetics, and feed sensations from the virtual world into them, allowing users like Xiu to experience a small preview of the full brain-computer interface still under development. Xiu can at last feel the warm virtual soil in at least one hand. It only makes the lack of immersion for all the rest of her body seem more poignant though, and she still considers dropping out of the program, though her granddaughter convinces her to stick it out as the brain-computer interface is clearly on its way, and progress is being made.
Tom meanwhile, hearing about this prosthetic interface, gets the idea that maybe the solution to his conundrum is to buy some kind of easily-swappable prosthetic body parts, to achieve his dream of morphological freedom. He finds that it is available, though ludicrously expensive, and though as a child of old Columbia's wealthy leisure class he could technically afford it, it seems less preferable than the brain-computer interface.
So he holds out for that, as does Xiu, and in due time, not too far in the future, the brain-computer interface is deemed safe for general human testing, and both of them, as well as the special group of special hand-picked super testers, plunge into the virtual world "for real" at last.
Next: The Birth of Another World: Part 2, Episode 1