(4x04) The Birth of Another World: Part 2, Episode 1
The brain-computer interface hardware is remarkably advanced compared to its predecessors that have been thus far reserved for military use, such as the DNI (Direct Neural Interface) technology Xiu is familiar with from the Xianian military forces during the Last World War. This new interface is completely wireless and non-invasive, consisting of a halo-like garment worn on the head that electromagnetically reads and manipulates neurological activity at an unbelievably precise level of detail. Users simply lie down somewhere comfortable, put it on, and will themselves into the virtual world; the halo is able to read that will and begins to override sensorimotor signals to immerse the user in a completely realistic illusion. Disconnecting is likewise merely a matter of willing it.
The halo also monitors the user's general health, feeds small motor inputs into the user to help maintain that health (such as tiny muscle twitches to fight muscle atrophy), and will disconnect the user automatically if there are any dangerous biometric readings. To prevent automatic disconnection, users are suggested to hook up to standard life support equipment used for vegetative or otherwise immobile medical patients, which are similarly simple and generally non-invasive with the level of medical technology available in that era.
With the general software of the world generally complete and the brain-computer interface now in final testing stages, the Pacifica team moves on to hardening the infrastructure that is going to support Virtuality in its full production release. Special dedicated hardware is being distributed throughout the Starbridge Pacifica itself, as well as the other Starbridges around the world, in a system that Joe himself closely supervises, demanding that the system should be so resilient that it could "survive the end of the world".
Finally experiencing a virtual world as though it was truly real, Tom and Xiuying have a number of amazing new experiences, and provide feedback as beta testers that reshapes the nature of the virtual world before it goes live to the public. Xiu is simply loving feeling young and healthy again, and continues to spend most of her time playing in the world as a virtual sandbox.
Working with her hands is even more satisfying when she can really feel things in her virtual hands, and the heft of them in her almost impossibly strong virtual arms. She continues coordinating with other users on grand projects of "physical" art, buildings and structures and so on, still aided by the "magic" system of auxiliary commands.
In addition to that, now that she can really feel how spry and dextrous her virtual body is, she begins to take an interest in performance art, especially dance, taking lessons from other more-experienced users and eventually joining a performance troupe who regularly put on shows in their own theater that she helped them design and build.
Meanwhile, one of the first things that Tom wants to explore is what it feels like to actually inhabit his female avatar. He switches first to a male avatar modeled as closely as possibly after his own body, so that he can compare the sensations of wearing the virtual copy against the real thing that he's already intensely familiar with. He goes out hunting and fighting in it, and is surprised and a little taken aback that he can actually feel pain in his virtual body when injured.
After disconnecting briefly to confirm that his real body is uninjured, he decides instead to seek out something more pleasurable, and finds a female-bodied stranger who is willing to help him give his virtual penis a test drive. He finds that it is every bit as pleasurable as the real thing. Disconnecting again to check, he finds to his relief that his real body shows no signs of reaction to the things he is virtually experiencing. His partner on the other hand is raving about the unbelievable experience of having sex as a woman – as the partner is apparently male in his physical body, and has already jumped at the same opportunity Tom was building up to.
Tom reveals to him that he is interested in trying out the same thing, and asks the partner if he will help him out with that. The partner has not yet tried virtual sex as a man, and is happy to switch roles with Tom. They change out their avatars for gender-swapped ones. "Tamara" wants to get used to the feeling of wearing her female body before jumping straight into having sex in it, so she and her new friend go on something of a date first, wandering around, letting Tamara get used to her new body. The new friend gives her a thorough full body massage when they turn back in, and after some experimentation masturbating, Tamara finally finds out what it's like to have sex as a woman, feeling as though real the intense sensations of body parts he has never had before.
Next: The Birth of Another World: Part 2, Episode 2