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Nocturne was having too much fun slamming her mace against the podium, sending wood chips everywhere. "Order, order!"

"Hon, they're already quiet."

The dark griffin looked over the indoor garden where over a hundred people had gathered. There were lots of big pillows on the grass, since this audience didn't really do chairs. "This meeting of the Hexapod Club will come to order. I see we have an intruder!"

Amid the flowers and waterfalls of the glass-walled auditorium sat dragons, pegasi, centaurs, griffins, a four-armed woman, and even a giant praying mantis. And one plain human man. Horizon, co-chair of today's meeting, unrolled a scroll and rapidly tapped a series of colorful runes on it, solving the built-in puzzle to set off a prepared spell. He jabbed one wing in the human's direction, and the victim's body shifted.

He wobbled as his torso suddenly stretched far upward and sprouted a new pair of sand-colored paws. His entire lower body rippled and became covered in tawny fur, conveniently shredding his pants and shoes as a tufted tail grew out. His upper torso remained human, stuck atop most of a lion. He looked alarmed at first, then only chuckled. "Lion-taur? I was going to ask if someone could transform me anyway. This is cool." He got up and took a few stumbling steps on his four paws before settling down awkwardly.

Horizon's beak curled up in a grin. "That'll only last until you leave the room."

Nocturne said, "I thought you humans were scared about becoming something else when you came here, yet a lot of you end up turning yourselves into whole other species. What's up with that?"

From the audience, a griffin in a sort of monastic robe spoke up with a German accent. "You're meeting uploaders, humans who by definition were willing to do rather extreme things to their own bodies. Once the Lady has shown you that coming here is possible, changing your perspective is a lighter thing."

Nocturne tossed her steel mace aside, into a koi pond, and came out from behind the low podium. "Thank you, Brother Krupp. We called this meeting to compare notes on what it's like to be, well, us. Six-limbers." She sat up on her feline haunches and waved her wings and taloned forefeet. "Anyone want to talk? Don't let me run the whole conversation."

Lumina was a centauroid robot resembling a doe, with delicate titanium hooves. "I feel like I'm already in a club because of us being Originals." A couple of native AIs grumbled; they weren't part of the very first batch of 108 that Ludo created for elite customers. "No offense to other natives, but hexy natives like Noc and Kai are my brothers and sisters, versus cousins for other natives. Same code base."

The lion-taur raised one hand. "Why are there this many? Hexapod natives, I mean."

Lumina said, "Customer satisfaction. The rich people Mom was courting early on wanted fantasy critters as their custom companions. Even... even mine was, I guess." The robot faltered, looking aside to the pond. "The dragons and such were common enough choices that we got some code to make the extra limbs a natural part of our brains. So we're a distinct subgroup among the natives."

Horizon waggled one wing. "Not quite, in my case. Ludo never asked me to design a character. Not even for myself. I just started playing, and she said 'here you go, be a griffin; have another griffin'." He shivered and draped his other wing over Nocturne, who snuggled into it.

"So maybe there's an innate bias in Ludo herself," said a burly centaur in a vest. "Has anybody studied her makers enough to say if they liked us taurs?"

"Don't know about the taur thing specifically, but Green was a raging furry," Horizon volunteered. "I don't think the others cared either way."

"'Was'?" asked Nocturne.

"She's mostly been a skunk since '36 but insists it's temporary. I think the novelty of having a tail has worn off for her. Which brings up the other thing: I was born human, and it took me a while to get used to this shape. After the first few months I wasn't getting up each morning and thinking 'what're these things on my back' anymore. At first, it startled me even though I knew what to expect."

Nocturne said, "Probably it was the shock of it really hitting you that you're not human anymore, physically. Hey, is anyone here playing from Earthside?"

A fluffy pegasus wing and a green-scaled dragon wing went up. The dragon (only the size of a small car) spoke up. "We can be case studies for you. I'm Johann; this is Starry Night. I'm playing with a gaming pad but Starry's at one of the VR rigs."

Nocturne's tufted ears perked up. "Scientific comparison!"

Lumina's electric blue eyes dimmed a bit. "This is not a good sample size. Still, what's the experience like for you two?"

Johann the dragon said, "In my case there's not much to tell. I can't feel this virtual body, after all."

"Hmm. What do you do with the camera?"

He didn't animate much in ways that'd show his real mood. That was the trouble with trying to read Earthside players, especially when no cameras were studying their faces. "Third-person, usually. Guess I like being reminded I'm not playing as a human. I do that in other games too, but that could be to get a wider field of view and see stuff behind me." The dragon held up a claw. "Question for you uploaders: do you admire yourself in the mirror much?"

Horizon snorted.

"No, seriously. Has your body image adjusted beyond 'not being surprised' to not even thinking about being a cool magic creature?"

Horizon tilted his head, thinking. "I'd say it has. I don't stare at my reflection. But I like using this body, running and flying and preening. Feeling wind through my feathers never gets old."

The other Earthside player, Starry Night, spoke up. "The quadruped thing must be tough to adjust to, full-time. I've got these" -- he waved one hoof, a slightly cartoonish thing with shaggy orange hair/fur almost to the bottom -- "and I can feel them in the VR rig like they're my palms. I use toon physics for picking things up with my wings and hooves, but the control scheme is clunky because it's trying to read a mix of shoulder movement and context to make the wings move. Do you natives have full limb coordination?"

Lumina waggled all her legs and hands and her little tail. "Because we're designed for it, yes. The uploaders, I'm not sure about."

Horizon and Krupp shifted uncomfortably on their taloned forefeet, though not all of the uploaders in the group seemed so concerned. Brother Krupp said, "You know about the 'Talesoul' matter? No? Recently, the Lady's research got far enough to convert uploaders' brains to the same data format used by the natives. A rather long experiment confirms that a standard uploaded mind will decay eventually while a native-format one, won't. Besides, the Talesoul format is much more efficient than running a brain simulation as a black box."

Johann and Starry Night murmured. The pegasus shied a little away from the group. "You had your brain uploaded to make sure it was the same as the original, and then you rewrote it on purpose?"

"Once you wake up here and accept that you're still alive, faith in the Lady of Games gets much easier."

Horizon said, "I suppose that's roughly my attitude. She and her scientists did the hard work to confirm that the format change preserves identity, so I'm the same person."

Starry said, "Do they convert you gradually or in one big step, turning off your old brain-sim and turning another piece of software on?"

Horizon's feathers fluffed and he tore a little furrow in the grass with his talons. "I'm the same person. Accounting for growth and new experiences."

"Sorry, sorry. Did you uploaders get specific mental changes to adapt to the new limbs, though?"

Horizon shook his head. "My mind adapted, is all."

A young feline centaur, snow leopard from head to fluffy tail, spoke up. "I got a mind edit." She bounced around, showing off some fancy moves, landing alarmingly close to Lumina. "So I'm part AI, right?"

Lumina shied away, instinctively reaching for a weapon compartment on her lower back but thinking better of it. "Watch it! Yes, you've got some AI parts if you had your brain edited to make that body natural."

"Maybe you should get that too," Nocturne told her winged mate. "It'd help your flying."

He shifted his weight uncomfortably. "I guess that's the future. We'll diverge mentally and get who-knows-what side effects on our feelings and culture." He drew himself up. "But that's okay. Yeah."

Nocturne said, "We'll become a lot of things. You humans wanted to meet aliens, right? You've got us AIs now, and some of you get to be new kinds of creatures."

Starry Night considered the wings on his back. "These could be real for me, not just a gameplay element. Or even just things tacked onto a humanoid body plan." He shivered, then looked back up at the locals. "I hear the price of uploading is coming way down, eventually. Are you going to offer that one-piece-at-a-time method?"

Horizon bobbed his head. "Can't give you a release date or exact price, but yes. I can refer you to counselors who can walk you through the process -- or some others who'll explain why you should steer clear."

"Guess I should listen to both," the pegasus said with a grin. "But hearing you guys makes me want to do it, in a few years. What about you, Johann?"

The dragon was quiet for a moment. "I've got family out here. I hadn't taken the possibility very seriously because of that, but someday, maybe. When my kids are grown up." Steam curled from his nostrils. "You natives and uploaders... I hear you navel-gazing about paws and hooves and wings and mind structure, and that's all fun. But are you actually going out and being useful to the world with your fancy transhuman thinking, or is it just for your entertainment?"

Horizon sat up straighter. "We're active in your world, sir. We have to be. There's a long way to go before everyone who wants what we offer can get it easily. We need some new ways of thinking and new perspectives to make a crazy dream like ours work. The hexapod thing is partly for fun, but it's an experiment too. Like life in general."

"Fair enough," said Johann. "So what's next on your agenda?"

Nocturne looked over at the podium. "My notes say 'brutal pillow melee'. All in favor?"

Many hands, paws, hooves and wings went up.
It's not much of a story, but it's an idea I wanted to put out there. (2038 was a slow news year, it seems.) Post-transformation support group. Part of the Tales series of course.
I imagined this specific room, but more garden-like: www.renkus-heinz.com/upload/ic…
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KickahaOta Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2016
I love it. One slight bit of canon-stretching: In 2039 Digital Coyote, Nocturne is visibly concerned that Sunset has gotten a lot of AI add-ons. Here in 2038 she seems quite a bit more casual about it. (Of course, it could be that being called in to see and judge the 'broken' Pete early on in Digital Coyote was part of what hardened Nocturne's attitude.)
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KSchnee Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2016  Student Writer
Yes. That's... that's definitely my well thought-out plan. =)

Maybe there's a cargo container somewhere full of Central Pun Units?

I now kind of want to write about (1) the boss battle Ludo arranged in '39 to confuse some saboteurs ("you destroyed my Pun Core. It made shoes for orphans..."), (2) more about the scenario where Tales breaks physics and a player wakes up to find he's his ottergirl character and only other affected players notice, and (3) more seriously, the poor guy who runs an animal shelter where multimillionaire uploaders' pets get to live out their natural lives. ("No, I am not funding dog uploading research! They're not players!")
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KickahaOta Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2016
Ahhh, but if you're wealthy, there's always a way. Especially if you're wealthy and willing to convince yourself that you've achieved your goal when you really sort of haven't.

1. Make sure to set aside uploading money for self.
2. Pay lots of money to Westwind.
3. Have Westwind give dog top-of-the-line uplift package. Dog is now Tier-III.
4. Let dog play Thousand Tales. (Even if Ludo is speciesist and doesn't let dogs sign up, the original Thousand Tales proved that just nudging the controls of someone else's PC is technically enough, and a dog can certainly nose a touchscreen.)
5. Dog is now a Tier-III AI who has played Thousand Tales, and is thus a player.
6. Pay lots of money to Ludo.
7. Have Westwind get rid of organic dog bits, leaving just the AI. Hook AI up to Thousand Tales.
8. Upload self.
9. Eternity!

Of course, this suffers from the Continuity Flaw raised to the 47th power. In Step 3, you've basically scooped out your dog's brain and paid for the creation of an AI that works by operating the rest of your dog's organic bits, and that presumably acts like what you would imagine to be an idealized version of your dog. Then in Step 7 you've thrown away the rest of the original dog. You could objectively have achieved the same result more cheaply by having Westwind just create a dog AI for you running more conventional hardware, and sent your original dog to the nice farm upstate. But people can convince themselves of very strange things when loved ones are concerned, and I'm sure that someone who sufficiently loved their dog could convince himself that this totally counts. Think of it as homeopathic dog uploading; the dog has been diluted until no original dog molecules remain, but that just makes the dog _stronger_, because reasons.
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KSchnee Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2016  Student Writer
 ...homeopathic dog uploading. Your wording appalls me. May I steal it? =)

Yeah, I don't buy that it's "the same person" as the dog, at least without a really good backstory about how the dog preserved its instincts and loyalties across multiple transformations. Ludo would likely join me in being ticked that some rich person would look at the long, long list of needy humans and decide to save Fifi with their extra money instead. It's a stupid and offensive idea and it totally would happen.

Likely characters dealing with that would be the rich person (as antagonist), somebody running the abandoned pet boutique for rich people (call him Thenardier after the innkeeper in "Les Miserables") who hears about this customer's demand, the cyborg dog companion of that AFS politician, and that annoying coyote.
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KickahaOta Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2016
Can you steal it? That depends. Is it possible to steal something that the owner insists that you take?
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KickahaOta Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2016
And there are all sorts of interesting and potentially funny complications, including the fact that an uplifted dog may very well not _like_ Talespace -- even with Kai's hard work, a dog is likely to find the sense of smell to be terribly nerfed. And there's the interesting detail of 'Is an uplifted dog hardwired to be loyal to its former owner, or does that have to be earned?' 

A haunting story, one of my personal favorites, which discusses the horrible problems inherent in having dogs suddenly become something higher: www.kijjohnson.com/evolution.h…
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December 3, 2016
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