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Webcomic / Always Human

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Austen (left) and Sunati (right).

Always Human is a scifi romance webcomic set in the distant future, focusing on the developing relationship between Sunati, a VR environment designer, and Austen, a university chemistry student. It is written by Walkingnorth.

The most prominent scifi element in the story is the ubiquitous use of "mods", applied nanotech body modifications capable of practically everything from cosmetic changes to improved memory. Austen, due to an irregular immune system, cannot use them, which present no end of difficulty for her when everyone else has access to easy fixes for everything from hay fever to needing a memory boost for a test.

Always Human contains examples of:

  • Aesop Amnesia: The last time Sunati kept a personal achievement secret from Austen for fear of hurting her it turned out badly, yet the first thing Sunati does on receiving a once in a lifetime job opportunity is the exact same thing.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: A few characters have mods that give them outlandish skin colors, although not nearly as many as have outlandish hair colors. Austen's Daidí appears to have had blue skin when Austen was younger.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Several supporting and background characters are this on account of the readily available body modifications, relaxed gender norms of the setting, and general aesthetic of the character designs. Yasel mentions possessing breasts to go with an outfit as one would suggest putting on a different hat.
  • Animal Eyes: Rae, a friend of Sunati's, possesses a mod which gave her cat-like eyes.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Yasel, who shows up unannounced to stay with Austen.
  • Art Shift: Particularly emotional moments are rendered in a more watercolor like style than the norm.
  • Augmented Reality: AR lenses are standard for the setting. Austen has a jailbroken, heavily personalized one, which she uses to make up for her lack of memory mods.
  • Bio-Augmentation: "Mods" are used by nearly everyone. They can provide some rather drastic changes in appearance, such as modified ears and eyes; important medical upgrades like cancer resistance; and specialized features like zero-gravity adaptation for space travelers.
  • Blessed with Suck: Austen has "Egan's Syndrome", an oversensitive immune system which prevents her from using mods.
  • Broken Pedestal: A rare positive example; Sunati realises that she's been putting Austen on a pedestal, endlessly complementing her and assuming she can do no wrong when that's the last thing that Austen needs to hear when she's been pitied all of her life. So she learns to admire Austen for who she is, the good parts and the bad.
  • Celibate Hero: Rae doesn't have any apparent interest in sex or romance. Doesn't stop her from trying to look good.
  • Color-Coded Characters:
    • Sunati is shown to favour shades of blue over other colours in her appearance, and often wears blue clothes.
    • Austen is linked to warm reds, oranges and pinks. Of note is her pretty light auburn hair and amber coloured eyes.
    • Rae has gold motifs, with her golden cat-eyes and gold freckles.
    • Sunati's boss Orion is linked to violet colours, he wears light purple clothing and has violet eyes and hair.
    • Cayli has white hair and white circular marks on their body.
  • Distant Finale: The series ends with Sunati heading off to Enceladus, with the epilogue set after she returns, fourteen months later.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Sunati does this whenever she goes to the gym with Austen.
  • Exact Words: Rae doesn't tell Austen information she's been forbidden to divulge; she does, however, give her a train ticket and tell her that there's something important that Sunati isn't telling her.
  • Fictional Disability: Austen's Egan's Syndrome is an autoimmune condition that leaves her unable to use the Bio-Augmentation mods that are ubiquitous in the setting. Being ineligible for mods like memory boosters and physical augments forces her to put a lot of extra work into her studies and her health, and being thought of as Inspirationally Disadvantaged is a major pet peeve for her.
  • First Kiss:
    • Sunati and Austen's first kiss takes place under the starlight, in the middle of a desert that Austen took Sunati to visit because it resembles her beloved Mars so much.
    • Sunati and Rae share their first together as high school students simply to see if they like kissing. Rae is able to confirm that kissing isn't for her, while Sunati likes kissing a lot and is much less worried about her upcoming date to the prom.
  • Hereditary Homosexuality: Austen's a lesbian with two dads.
  • Homosexual Reproduction: Word of God is that Austen and her brother are genetically related to both their dads.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Due to her lack of the extravagant mods other characters use to change their appearances, Austen doesn't think of herself as attractive despite being cute as a button. This has been the case for her since childhood.
  • Important Haircut: Austen, after changing her major.
  • Innocently Insensitive: A significant part of the drama in the story comes from Sunati praising Austen for managing without mods, and not understanding what a massive frustration it is for the latter.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Sunati has this view of Austen's inability to use mods. While her feelings are positive, Austen finds it intolerable.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Austen mentions that she once spent her summer holidays in a VR-Machine where she could use fashion mods freely, and even debated attending school in there. But she adds that she would always know that it wasn't real and it just became depressing.
  • Loving a Shadow: Austen accuses Sunati of this after being praised for not using mods, asserting that it isn't strength, she simply can't do it.
  • Magical Girl Warrior: Starlight Soldiers is full of them, one of Sunati's favourite video games. The player also gets to be one too, complete with Transformation Sequence.
  • Mistaken for Profound: While Austen is having a crisis over whether to change majors, Sunati's mumbling in her sleep while dreaming about a virtual reality game gives her enough confidence to switch.
  • No Periods, Period: A side comic suggests that there's a ubiquitous "stop menstruation" mod, as Sunati finds the idea intriguing while Austen resents her.
  • One Head Taller: Sunati and Austen, as the page image shows.
  • Polyamory: Vish is the third in Sunati's parents' relationship. He's referred to as "their boyfriend".
  • Queer Romance: The main pairing is two girls, while there are other background pairings of many ambiguous genders.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Sunati nearly says this word for word about wallabies. Also the koala she gets to cuddle with.
  • Scrapbook Story: At least one chapter is told through text messages between Sunati and her contacts, complete with photographs.
  • Sleep Cute: The first time Sunati and Austen share a bed together. They curl up with one another and poor Austen is finally relaxed enough to get some much needed rest.
  • Shout-Out:
    • After working up the nerve to ask for a day off so she can go bush-walking with Austen, Sunati channels Undertale and becomes "filled with determination".
    • Amy and Oliver from Space Boy make a brief cameo at the university.
  • The Singularity: Humanity appears to have passed it, with safe, easy to use nanotechnology practically everywhere for things as mundane as hair dye, though there is the odd person unable to use it.
  • Space Elevator: At least one exists, anchored near Singapore.
  • Talking in Your Sleep: When Austen is voicing her concerns about whether she should change degrees or not to a seemingly asleep Sunati, Sunati responds with a thoughtful Rousing Speech about how Austen can't give up, that she needs to keep fighting and that she's doing the right thing. Austen is touched until she realises that Suntai is talking in her sleep, dreaming about 'Starlight Soldiers'. That said, it does help Austen with her final decision.
  • Transformation Sequence: Austen undergoes one while playing Starlight Soldiers, complete with dramatic close ups and pretty sparkles as she's changed into a Magical Girl Warrior. Undercut slightly by her completely deadpan expression throughout.
  • Transhumans in Space: Astronauts get a suite of specialized mods to protect them from the stresses of space travel. One person en route to Enceladus is disappointed that the process requires some of their cosmetic mods to be removed.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Austen cuts off her younger sibling Yasel's hair when they stop using mods for Austen's sake, to try and force them to start using fashion mods again. It works, but Austen also gets grounded for half a year.
  • Weight Woe: While she's barely curvier than anyone else, Austen occasionally mentions needing to get to the gym or that she feels pudgy. This is due to her not being able to use mods in order to stay fit like most people.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Rae calls out Sunati for not telling Austen about her birthday, warning that she'll be upset when Sunati finally tells the truth. And she's right, Austen doesn't take it well at all.
    • A well-meaning Sunati calls Asuten brave for going around without using fashion mods, but Austen wearily explains that she isn't brave because she hasn't got a choice in the matter. She then goes on to accuse Sunati of only liking the idea of her that she has in her mind and not for who she really is.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The story takes place primarily in "Kaku City", which is located somewhere in the western half of Australia. A Fourth-Wall Mail Slot comic lampshades it by poking fun at the author.
  • You Just Told Me: Rae once went behind Sunati's back by encouraging Austen to confront her about her potential job on Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, against Sunati's wishes. Sunati tells Rae she figured out what she did in this manner.
  • Youthful Freckles:
    • Rae has ones that glow gold.
    • Austen isn't keen on her freckles and usually covers them up, but Sunati encourages her to embrace them.
    • Rae changes her appearance quite frequently, more so than Sunati, but she always keeps her freckles, just in different colours.
  • Zero-G Spot: Austen and Sunati, right before Sunati heads off to Enceladus.