2022/11/30

Free Desktop Wallpapers!

Haha, what a great title.

But yes, in fact I’ve been using good ol’ Midjourney to make some wallpapers, and figured out how to get Windows to permute among them as desktop backgrounds on this brand-new Framework laptop I have (I should write a long boring geeky entry about my old Windows laptop breaking and my replacing it with this lovely new thing whose only disadvantage is that I’m still running Windows on it ewww), and I thought I would share them here as the first of the promised (or threatened) posts with tons of images made with Midjourney.

I think I will just do it as a big WordPress Gallery thing? Which means WordPress will I dunno display them in some random layout, but I hope you can still get the actual images at full size by clicking through and rightclick-saving? Or whatever?

2022/11/26

Woot woot!

Graphs from NaNoWriMo, showing a steadish 2,000 words per day from the 1st to the 25th of November.

Kept the ol’ 2,000 words per day pretty constant during NaNoWriMo, except for a couple of days off that I made up for on the next weekend, so I made the goal of 50,000, and not by coincidence the end of the story, right there on the 25th (which was, let’s see, yeah, yesterday!). A nice feeling.

I think I like this year’s rather a lot. The little Midjourney pictures at the start of each Fling (where “Flings” really turned out to be Chapters) was fun, but I think not ultimately transformative; not a big deal. A few plot elements, some important, (the libraries, the plants, the fast sharp ships) came from the images, but without the images something else would I expect have sprung to mind and perhaps carried the same basic ideas, about meaning, and communication, identity and the symbol-grounding problem.

As a reminder; the whole thing can be read in order by clicking on the cover page here, and then clicking the bold link at the bottom of each Fling. I may be going through and fixing a few errors between now and the end of the month (although the relative inconvenience of doing that in WordPress may limit how much I do).

In other news, I’ve been on Twitter less, and on Mastodon / Fediverse more, prompted by the gross antics of the billionaire narcissist, but continuing just because it’s a more interesting place, with (so far?) more interesting and less upsetting communication going on. (It could be argued that given the State of Things, one ought to be upset; but so far I think the argument is flawed.)

I’ve been making tons and tons of images on Midjourney still (getting up near 20,000, the system tells me!) and they are still constantly improving the engine(s), which is very cool. I’ve been posting some of them on PixelFed (roughly, PixelFed is to Instagram as Mastodon is to Twitter), and also still on Twitter (the same ones, mostly). I have enough pictures that I love to fill many, many weblog posts, and I’m sure such posts will appear.

Here’s just one image for now that’s a total favorite; it’s called “Accord”:

A woman with a very long neck in foreground just left of center, looking to our right. Her hair extends fractally into infinity upper left. An infinite line of smaller women in dark clothes, all looking in the same direction, extends from her shoulder to the right, where a tower is dimly present through fog and insects. Two more of the smaller women stand behind her, eyes closed.

Is that amazing, or what? He said modestly.

In the legal domain, there is talk of a class-action suit against Microsoft / GitHub / OpenAI / Copilot, on something like the claim that training an AI on a piece of code requires the appropriate license from the owner of that code (or equivalent, as for public domain code or code you wrote yourself). The possibility of implications for AI art tools like Midjourney, and AI text generators like NovelAI, is clear, although there may also be significant differences. For instance, there seem to be various examples of exact plagiarism by Copilot, whereas as far as I’m aware no such thing exists for say Midjourney or NovelAI.

(There was at least one person persistently spamming Twitter and Reddit with a copy-pasted claim that GPT-3 plagiarizes, pointing at various things on the web that did not actually show, or generally even claim, that. I can’t find them today; perhaps OpenAI’s lawyers sent them a letter. Similarly I’ve been told by one person on Twitter (and at least one other who agreed with them) that for “[a]lmost all pieces I’ve seen thus far, I can point at and name the elements that came from individual artists, and often individual paintings or works”, but when I expressed interest and asked for a concrete example, they said roughly “I’ll get back to you tonight” and then went silent.)

It will be interesting to see what happens with this lawsuit. Somewhat sadly, I think that:

  • The most likely outcome is that they’ll just lose, because Microsoft is rich and individual Open Source contributors, even as a class, aren’t rich,
  • Second most likely, Microsoft will give some symbolic amount of money to something that will benefit some Open Source contributors a little and some lawyers a lot, and there will be no precedent-setting court decision,
  • Less likely, after some long wrangling process, something like the Private Copying Levy might be worked out, which is sort of like that last bullet, but more codified and involving more money, and possibly a precedent that there is a copyright violation at least potentially involved,
  • Even less likely, there would be some kind of opt-out process whereby a creator could indicate they didn’t want their stuff used to train AIs, and makers of AI engines would have to like re-generate their neural nets annually without the opted-art works,
  • And at the bottom, perhaps fairest in some sense but also least likely, a straightforward finding that AI Engine makers, at least ones that make money, really do need the right to copy and/or prepare derivative works of the things they train their engines on. So we’d get engines trained on just public domain works, things out of copyright, things posted under sufficiently permissive licenses, things they explicitly license, and so on. I would be fine with this, myself, but I wouldn’t bet on it happening.

We’ll see!

What else? That’s the main things I can think of. Oh, yeah, Thanksgiving was very nice; the four of us and the little daughter’s SO. We were (I was) especially lazy this year; beyond the HelloFresh pre-planned ingredients that we’ve used the last couple of years, this year we got the pre-planned pre-cooked just-needs-warming version from FreshDirect (ETOOMUCHFRESH). It wasn’t bad! And certainly easy. :) We also bought pre-made apple and pumpkin pies. I resist feeling guilty!!

Also my Windows laptop is broken (I’m not sure why or how; it behaves like a bad storage device, but both the HDD and the SSD seem perfectly readable when stuck into external USB things). Whatever’s wrong with it inside, it’s also vaguely falling apart, with cracked and broken keys, a non-functional direct Ethernet connection (on all connectors somehow), and some other stuff.

So I have an exciting new Framework laptop coming as an early Solstice present! (It’s supposedly in Alaska right now, on the way here in under a week or so.) Inspired, like so many other people, by Cory Doctorow’s glowing review. We’ll see if I am frustrated by the Intel graphics chipset. I’m pretty optimistic, as what I want to run isn’t like the latest AAA game; more like WoW and SecondLife and the GIMP and No Man’s Sky and Satisfactory. I might have to turn the resolution down some at worst I expect.

(In the meantime I’ve been using my phone and this tiny cheap Samsung Chromebook and just not using any of those programs; turns out my life doesn’t depend on any of them! The thing I’m most eager to do is get the GIMP going to work on Part 3 of Klara; in theory I could enable Linux on the Chromebook here and run the GIMP in that, but I rather doubt its CPU is up to it. Just typing this into the WordPress editor is lagging significantly just because I’m also watching YouTube and have a few dozen Chrome tabs open including like Discord and Mastodon and…)

There! :) Thanks for coming, and enjoy.

2022/11/25

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Forty-Six

There are books everywhere; this makes me happy. There is dusty sunlight coming in through the window; this also makes me happy.

Kristen and Steve are here; this is another thing, or a pair of things, that make me happy.

What are things? What is happiness? We both, we all, know the answer to that, even if we can’t construct a theory that accounts perfectly for all such facts. Or all such statements.

We’ve been back for a couple of months now. Whatever that means.

“I like Doc Zane-Tucker, she pays attention.”

“And she brought her cat over.”

Tibbs is curled up dozing on Kristen’s lap. Tibbs is not, at the moment, a shimmering place in the air.

“I think, technically, we’re cat-sitting.”

I think about cat-sitting, and cats sitting. I think about a large rough-skinned being, with a large but normal number of eyes, relaxing on the ground and letting my antennae investigate an interesting rock.

“Do you have any… memories, of having extra legs, or eyes? Or antennae?”

“I’m sure there was some of that.”

“But… remember Alissa and Sonorandelan and Glomorominith?”

“You remember S and G’s entire names? I’m impressed.”

I enjoy impressing Kristen. I’m showing off, and I’m okay with that. And maybe someday I’ll write monographs on what “showing off” and “being okay with a thing” mean.

“But do you remember being them?”

“Do you remember being Kristen or Steve or Colin? We could have sort of swapped around while we were out there; all six or eight of us.”

“Or being together in a virtuality that long could have mushed our souls all together.”

“Ewww, soul-mush.”

Does merging my mind with someone else’s and then separating them again, count as communication? Are there states or properties or thoughts in my mind, sort of copied over from Steve’s, or Kristen’s, or Tibbs’s, that wouldn’t have been there if we hadn’t experienced what we may or may not have experienced?

Counterfactuals are just forms of words. What would have happened if…?

And yet we think that way all the time.

“It’s nice here and all,” Steve says, “but it’s kind of… quiet.”

Kristen hugs him and agrees. “Bored already, babe?” she smiles.

“Not bored, exactly, I just–“

“It’s simpler here,” I venture. Because it is simple here. Simpler than many, many things I remember.

“Simple, is it?” she smiles, and reaches over and touches my arm with a fingertip, and I am pleasantly helpless.

“The cops shut down the desert rig meets,” Steve grumbles.

“So what do you want to do?” I ask, feeling somehow unwilling to settle down with my books just now.

“Well…” Kristen says, taking something out of a pocket. It’s brass and gold, with various dials and wheels. “It looks like there’ll be an Interstice Hawk within hailing distance in about an hour…”

“Mrrreow!”

The End

2022/11/25

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Forty-Five

[urgent electronic beeping]

“Wuh…”

“What’s –“

“Uhh, where…?”

“They’re waking up! Page Doctor Tucker.”

[Crisp efficient sounds, clicks, rustles. The beeping stops.]

“There you go, there you go, it’s all right honey.”

“What happened?”

“They’re awake?”

“Can you talk to Bed One? Is Casey coming?”

“I’m okay, I think.”

“Can you tell me your name, dear?”

“Uhh, Kristen. Kristen Lewis.”

“That’s good!”

“Kristen? We’re back?”

“Hold on honey, can you tell me your name?”

“Steven Romero Diaz, are the others okay?”

“Bed three?”

“Hey honey, are you back with us?”

“Napping. Nice and warm.”

[Light laughter]

“Can you just tell me your name, hon? Then you can nap more.”

“Colin, you nut!”

“Hm, Colin something, Colin Pembly-Bartholemew Colson.”

“Pembly-Bartholemew?”

“He just made that up.”

“Oh, Doctor, here you are! They’re all awake!”

“I see! Have–“

“Whoa, yipes! How long were we, that is—“

“We’ll get to that. Give me your wrist now.”

Time passes. Eventually the three have been weighed, measured, poked at. IVs and catheters and other insults have been removed as gently as possible within the hospital context. Steve’s head has been imaged yet one more time.

“Still nothing in there, eh?” Kristen remarks, and he kisses her. The nurses tutt happily.

After a time, Doctor Zane-Tucker gently clears the room, and sits on a chair among the beds to which the patients have been returned. With their permission, she has her phone recording audio.

“We want to know everything,” Kristen says.

“So do I,” Doctor Zane-Tucker smiles, “but to start with: you have all been unconscious for just about ten weeks–“

“Less than three months?”

“Does that surprise you?”

“So much happened! We spent at least–“

“In the Alpha alone–“

“It was years!”

“One at a time, please! I expect you are all eager to know–“

“I don’t feel any bedsores; have our muscles atrophied?”

“You have been very well cared-for, of course, but also your muscles have maintained an… unusual degree of tone on their own. Every body is different. I would still caution you not to try any sudden movements. No standing until you’ve sat up, and so on. Someone from Physical Therapy will be seeing you later today or tomorrow.”

“What about Steve’s head thing?”

“We were successful in removing the foreign object, and the healing has–“

“Hey, Glomorominith took that out.”

“Oh, darn, I think we left it in the basement–“‘

“Of the old falling-apart house, right!”

“We didn’t really know we were leaving.”

“Do you three have some kind of common–“

Glances are exchanged among the young people.

“Common memories, I’m afraid so. Due to the virtuality? Or whatever?”

“I should probably be separating you, then.”

“Really? So we don’t have a chance to coordinate our stories? Like on cop shows?”

“It’s what I’d do, certainly.”

“But I’m injured, I need my emotional support friends.”

“Your head looks fine from here.” Kristen air-kisses in the direction of the bandaged head. Steve blushes.

But they let themselves be separated, for the moment. Beds are wheeled away.

“It doesn’t feel like a dream. Or at least it didn’t. Now my memory of it all is starting to sort of slide away, like dreams do, y’know.”

“How does your head feel?”

“Not bad, a little muzzy. The… wound has been healing okay?”

“Quite well. The soft matter was all stabilized, and we’re really good at rebuilding bone these days. There’s been no sign of infection, which is a worry in this kind of injury. The tests that were done, um, early on showed normal brain function. You’ll be having more tests tomorrow, but I think the odds are against anything concerning turning up at this point.”

“How long was the, um, artificial coma?”

“The medication was ramped down weeks ago, and you were entirely on your own that way. You just didn’t wake up!”

“Like Kris and Col.”

“Yes.”

“Was it, like, a malfunction in the virtuality caps?”

Doctor Zane-Tucker smiles.

“That’s not exactly my field.”

“Okay,” Steve says, “Oh, hey, do you have some paper and a pen? There’s some stuff I need to write down…”

Colin insisted on getting up and walking before his interview. Now he is sitting in Doctor Zane-Tucker’s private reception area. Comfortable but firm sofa, he notes to himself. Muted colors, soothing. The Doctor’s cellphone still recording.

“And you did attempt to come out of the virtuality, with the ‘ducking-out’ gesture?”

“Periodically, especially in the first few days and months. After a few subjective years, I think we all stopped trying.”

“I see,” she makes a note on her pad. “Can you estimate how much time seemed to have passed?”

“It’s not easy,” he says, “it’s all just memory. Like everything– I don’t know.”

“Things are becoming a bit uncertain?”

“Yeah, I don’t remember how we got to the Alpha. I don’t remember where Kristen got the magic pocketwatch or alethiometer  or portable orrery or whatever that–“

“Mrreow?”

“Oh, hello, cat! How is the cat business?”

“Ah, sorry,” the Doctor says, “get down, Tibbs!”

“Tibbs?”

“Yes, that’s his name. Is that… especially funny?”

“It’s rather a long story. But I guess that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”

Later, Kristen is still lying comfortably in the bed, feeling the present and remembering how everything felt in her memories. Had it all been a virtuality in some way? Are there effects there that she can use in her own worlds? She imagines making a world that feels as vast as the rainbow stripe across the universe of Alpha and Omega.

“I understand your public virtualities have been getting a lot of visitors over these weeks,” the Doctor says when they have been talking for a while.

“Oh, no, are we celebrities? I don’t want to be a celebrity. Not this way, anyway.”

“It will be somewhat unavoidable, I’m afraid; your names and situation did leak to the media despite our best efforts. But the celebrity cycle is short.”

“Small comforts,” Kristen smiles.

“You may find yourselves to be objects of medical interest, longer than public interest. Virtuality researchers will be bidding on your time.”

Kristen laughs. “I Spent Months In The Universal Virtual, by Kristen Lewis, soon to be a major motion picture.”

“Something like that.”

“Do you think that’s what it was, Doctor? That we somehow ended up in some huge AI hallucination?”

“I don’t know, Miss Lewis. That may be a question for the philosophers. I’m concerned only that you three are awake again, and healthy.”

“I appreciate that,” she says, “I really do.”

Fling Forty-Six

2022/11/24

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Forty-Four

“Where is this?” Alissa asked, “I feel as though I had reached the end of all stories.”

The city and the ground and the rising were all far behind them, that and everything that came before it sliding quickly from memory.

“This is everywhere and nowhere. This is wisdom and foolishness, knowledge and unknowing,” said the voice, which Alissa had come to think of as the Voice. The tone of its words was like bright sunlight dazzling the eyes, or the ground dropping away suddenly at one’s feet.

“This is where we are supposed to be,” Glomorominith said, a floating shape of light against the infinite tinted void.

“I am not at all certain of this,” said Sonorandelan, also a floating shape of light, slimmer and lighter, “but I trust you, my lifelong friend.”

They moved through the tops of great trees, and wet leaves slapped playfully against them. They were moons, they were the vast rolling suns, they were rain and clouds and the nectar that runs through the veins. They were night, and dawn, and the rich dark soil.

They lived lives on strange other worlds, finding and losing each other and finding each other again, on sky-scraping mountain ridges and in machine-haunted tunnels under the flame-scarred field where the great starships come and go. They remembered, and forgot, and remembered, and always became once again shapes of light.

“Have we become untethered?” asked Alissa, thinking that it might be good to become untethered, as long as one could someday find the tethers again.

“We are tethered and untethered at once; we exist at the point of potentiality and decision.”

“I feel no desire to make a decision, my friend, I am content to flow where the ages take us.”

“There was something in my mind to do,” Alissa said, “but that was so long ago…”

She began telling a story of time and memory, and how people can leave signs for themselves, to regain lost memories in later ages. Somehow the Voice joined into the story, and contributed images from other worlds, from vast still waters and tumbling voids of joyous emptiness. People of all kinds have told themselves so many stories.

“Is this what the stones are for, in truth?” Sonorandelan wondered aloud.

“The purpose of a thing is what that thing does; the purpose of a person is what that person does,” Glomorominith speculated.

“What are we doing?” Alissa asked.

“What is everything doing? Where is everywhere going?”

After another moment, or an age, they reached a place where three pale people with few arms or eyes lay unmoving: one in a large squared fibrous pile with vines or wires attached to its (probably his, Alissa thought) head, and the other two in smaller piles that had been set up next to the bigger one.

All were wearing, or had had applied, what looked like a slim net of especially tender dark vines on their heads, with more vines or wires leading to a strange shiny arrangement off to one side.

“This one is elegantly designed,” said Alissa.

“I admire the simplicity of the configuration,” Sonorandelan agreed, “It is almost captivating.”

“She exists at this very moment here, and that makes me happy,” said Glomorominith, basking in the everywhere of everything.

They were drifting in the air over the center pile, where a young-looking brown person with only two eyes, but elegant eye-folds, lay peacefully. The third bed held an even smaller person, probably male, wrapped in rich purple fibers. Although the body was childlike in size, there was something adult in the strange flat face, even in sleep.

“There are people in this reality who worry about these three and their sleep,” the Voice said, “their bodies are well cared-for, but their minds are perhaps far away.”

“This one looks familiar,” Glomorominith said, drifting over the smallest sleeper.

“Perceiving this one makes brings a dull pain to my mind,” Sonorandelan said, peering at the various tendrils touching the head of the largest person, the one in the largest pile.

“You know–” began Alissa.

“This thought surprises me,” Sonorandelan broke in, “what has brought to mind the idea that we could–“

“There are three of them, and three of us–“

“We might be unable to come out again. Or their minds may perhaps return, and the owners resent our trespassing.”

“I… don’t think that would happen.”

“What would the experience be, to be them?”

“I don’t know… it… something draws me.”

The Voice remained silent.

Fling Forty-Five

2022/11/24

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Forty-Three

“It feels like all logic and reason and the sequence of events have fled from the world.”

This from Kristen, who might as well have spoken for all of them, or at least all three of the humans.

Colin might have granted that one situation in which communication works more or less as it would in the simplest theory, is when the source and the target both already have, very saliently, the thought or feeling or other property that is being communicated (so to speak). But if the property is already salient everywhere, what if anything has been communicated? Perhaps the transitive-closure knowledge that I know that you know that I know that you know that we both feel that way (and you know it (and I know it…)).

“Are we everywhere at once?”

“No, no, it just turns out that space is also an illusion. There is no everywhere to be; being is not a thing that has a location property, neither finite nor infinite-valued.”

“Be Here Now, man!”

Perception was chaotic but potentially entertaining; sounds and images of all kinds occurring all at once. How these thoughts, or words, were traveling between the four to be reacted to and recorded, will remain a mystery.

“This present moment is all that exists, and equally obviously, this place right here is the only place that exists. Other places are not in this moment, other moments are not in this place.”

“Other moments could be in this space, though; we could go elsewhere and then come back — ooh, ice cream!”

Chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream, strawberry and rhubarb ice cream, banana split ice cream, rose hip ice cream, lemon sherbet, and all the others, in fact. And tables and bowls and spoons and chairs and a stereo playing Mosquito Song by Queens of the StoneAge.

“The further I go, the less I know,” Steve quoted happily.

“Now we are seeing all the things that we might choose to do.”

“Eat ice cream?”

“Is choice an illusion? Do we have free will?”

“Can we write down an account of free will that does not have to pretend that time and space are real?”

“Look, I could be a cave explorer!”

“Remember, stalactites cling tight to the ceiling, and stalagmites might get there in a century.”

“Or is it the other way around? I feel like it might be the other way around.”

The being called Tibbs shimmered with a pulse of high-frequency shimmering. “No,” came the caressing voice, “it is not the other way around. Do not spread memetic toxins!”

“Keep your darn meme complexes to yourself!”

“On that planet there, meme researchers are more highly regarded than everyone else except the pearl-divers. The pearls are deep and gold and foretell the future.”

“This planet has two moons and a debris-ring. The moons are gradually destabilizing the ring, and the planet experiences frequent meteor strikes.”

“That must reduce home values.”

After a moment or a decade, they reached a place where three humans lay asleep: one in a hospital bed with monitors attached to its (probably his, Kristen decided) head, and the other two in comfortable-looking cots that had been set up next to the bigger bed.

All were wearing, or had had applied, what looked like a standard realtime fMRI cap, with wires leading to an especially shiny virtualizing deck.

“She’s pretty,” said Kristen.

“A stunner,” Steve agreed, “I think I’m in love.”

“She exists at this very moment here, and that makes me happy,” said Colin.

They were drifting in the air over the center bed, where a young woman with brown hair and eyes and skin and elegant epicanthic folds lay peacefully. The third bed held a small young human, probably male, in rich purple silk nightclothes. Although the body was childlike in size, there was something adult in the face, even in sleep.

“There are people in this reality who worry about these three and their sleep,” the being Tibbs known as intoned, “their bodies are well cared-for, but their minds are perhaps far away.”

“This one looks familiar,” Colin said, drifting over the smallest sleeper.

“This one makes my head ache,” Steve said, peering at the various devices touching the head of the largest human, the one in the largest bed.

“You know–” began Kristen.

“Wait, really?” Steve broke in, “Are you really thinking that we could–“

“There are three of them, and three of us–“

“We might get stuck. Or they might come back, and get annoyed at our trespassing.”

“I… don’t think that would happen.”

“Do we really want to be them?”

“I don’t know… it feels right? Somehow?”

The being known as Tibbs just shimmered.

Fling Forty-Four

2022/11/23

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Forty-Two

“I see a spiral of green and brown, turning inward and outward forever. I see light and dark, hard and soft, near and far”

“For me it is more of a feeling than a seeing. I see sounds, and I hear all of the endless curving lines; I smell the fragrance of vastnesses.”

“And what have we here? What have we here?”

Alissa, Sonorandelan, and Glomorominith had moved into the center of the clearing just as twilight started to dim the light of the day. Alissa had guided them through a ritual vaguely described in the stories, going from stone to stone, including the one in the burrow under the arranged bark-pile, reciting words, focusing their minds, concentrating themselves in each moment, each carrying a fragment of the fragment of dried armoyse from that burrow.

“And let us sing twilight songs of concentration,” she had suggested, as they completed the circle and then moved into the center.

Many of her friends and neighbors back in the rich dark earth, storytellers though they were, would have laughed or expressed doubts about the solemnity with which they carried out the ceremony, Alissa had thought. But it felt right to her, for whatever reason, and S and G had carried it out with her, entirely without question or frivolity. They had each taken a mouthful of the armoyse leaf and let it sit within their feeding chambers, slowly dissolving.

And then the world had dissolved.

“Do you feel at all ill?” Alissa asked, thinking suddenly of her body, which seemed to be essentially missing.

“Not at all,” Sonorandelan replied, in a voice full of blissful abstraction.

They turned and wheeled in the air, or not in the air but in some colored space full of spirals and impossible fragrances and the sound of the universe singing.

It is odd, she thought to herself, that I have lost my own body, but I can clearly see the bodies of Sonorandelan and Glomorominith swirling around with me, transfigured into beings of wind and light.

“Hello!” said a voice from nowhere, feeling like rainwater running over her mind.

“Hello, hello! Glomorominith!” came the voice of Glomorominith from somewhere.

“It is good to see that sweet confluence being used again,” the booming world-filling voice said from everywhere.

“It is good to have found my way back here,” said the voice of Glomorominith, speaking in a way she had never heard Glomorominith speak before.

“Ah, dear sibling, you are right on time!” And the universe was full of beings, made of beings, every twig and every gust of wind, every place and every thought, a separate individual raising a voice in song, joyously greeting Glomorominith, and with perhaps just a little less delighted recognition also greeting Alissa and Sonorandelan, as they all swirled around and around without moving, in that place of smells and time and stems and stories and songs.

“Is there a meaning in your coming now, my darlings?” the voice, the voices, asked after a moment or a century. “Is there a thing that you need to tell us, or a place that you need to go? All is open, here.”

“It was time,” Glomorominith answered, voice full and booming and gratified, “simply and purely it was time. A map was dispatched and read, there was a rustling in the stems, and we met three beings from another stream.”

“Mystery,” the voices of the universe sang, “mystery and mystery, all is mystery!”

Alissa felt a wave of vertigo pass through her, almost as though her body existed again, but was immediately buoyed up by all of the souls around her. She remembered how simple everything was, how all wisdom has always been contained in everything, how there are no secrets.

“Is there something you would like to do, my friends?” Glomorominith asked, “Now that we have remembered how?”

“For myself, I am utterly content,” Sonorandelan replied, “to be speaking to you in this place.”

Alissa thought, swirling through the densely-packed nothingness. Would she like to hear more stories? To see the earliest stories being played out in the ancient times? To meet the great linguists and inventors of the past?

“I would like to see those grubs again,” she found herself saying, “I was never able to communicate with them properly.”

All communication is perfect, she thought, because all is part of the same whole. But still, I would like to speak to them again. They were interesting.

Fling Forty-Three

2022/11/23

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Forty-One

“Wait, Steveykins, you got thrown in jail?”

“He totally did.”

“Maybe, I don’t know, these people are bizarre. They netted me with all these, like, net-guns, but they were tooting horns and making all these crazy noises, and then they put me in this sort of cell with stretchy rubber walls, and–“

“Ooh, tell them about the fish!”

“Phht, ha; there was like this slot outside of my cell, did I mention there was a kind of barred window in it facing the street? And anyway there was this coin-slot thing on the outside, and people could put coins in it, and these fish would drop on my head.”

“Oh my oh my!”

“But that’s not it, that’s not it; they have Casimir Effect rigs here, and they use them for child’s toys!”

“Were you in jail for stealing from children?’

“No, no, I like had a little accident while trying out a couple, and ended up in some sacred or restricted place or something–“

“You knocked over a bunch of priests or teachers or government officials, I think.”

“Hey, they were all laughing! Or I think it was laughing. Really jolly bunch they have here. But the rigs! They’re small and slick, definitely mass-produced, probably self-tuning, and they had some kind of acceleration controls!”

“I don’t want to be a wet blanket or anything, but if this is just a virtuality, then you were just playing a computer game of rig-riding weren’t–“

“It didn’t feel like that at all, not a bit. And I’m not sure of the whole virtuality theory anymore.”

“Oh, here’s Tibbs back.”

“Wait, one sec; the important thing is that I got a look inside one of them, and did a few little tests, and I have some ideas about how they stabilize and control their acceleration–“

“Yay, you can make us all rich when we get back home!”

“Do I infer that you humans are anticipating returning to your home plenum already?”

“Already? Hasn’t it been, I don’t know, years or centuries? We were on the Alpha alone for at least a decade. Maybe.”

“Well,” the shimmer known as Tibbs replied, “time is not well-defined in the company that you youths have been keeping.”

“Are our bodies alright, back in the real?”

“I would, as you say, go out on a limb here, and state that they are. At least, speaking practically, it seems that you could successfully return to them at any time.”

“Oh!”

“At any time?”

“Now that I have arranged for us to be allowed to access the center, or as it might also be called the surround, of the Interbridge here. That is why we rode the Alpha all that way, after all. Or one of the reasons. To maximize our, or your, options.”

“Wasn’t that a big, you know, universal nexus back at the old house, where we met Alissa and S and G? Why did we have to cross to this other universe and speed along the rainbow bridge for years–“

“Hey, is this Asgard? Is that where those Norse stories come from? Did someone get here back in the day?”

“Wait, don’t distract Tibbs…”

The being known as Tibbs pulsed and shimmered in a way that might have signaled amusement. “I have no opinion to express on the subject of Norse Mythology at this time. And while that was a relatively powerful nexus, from your description, from the way that you proceeded onward from it, it is unlikely that you could have returned to it any more conveniently than you have reached this one.”

“Those were some excellent drugs.”

“I think we’ve lost Colin. Did you find a book in some human language?”

“No, just looking at the pretty pictures until we start off for the next bit of future.”

The group allowed that they could continue the conversation and move toward the nexus at the same time. In the street (something approximating a street), Tibbs obtained for them a conveyance (Steve was disappointed to see that it had wheels rather than anything more interesting), and they slid off toward the center and surround of the city.

More than an hour and less than a day later, Tibbs presented some token or password to something like a guard at one end of an alley, and walking to the other end of it the four of them stood at the edge of a possibly-endless flat brown plain, with the wall of the city stretching possibly-endlessly off to their right and left.

“So if the wall curves forward, this is the center of the city, and if it curves backward, this is the edge of the plain surrounding the city?”

“Something like that.”

“Where is the nexus?”

“Forward, forward!”

Kristen felt reality thickening around them, beneath them, as they walked forward into the plain, with hints of affordances almost presenting themselves to her virtuality-trained senses. The ground under their feet in the direction of gravity was flat and featureless, slightly yielding, high-friction and neither hot nor cold.

“I like this,” Colin said.

“This in general, or this something specific?”

“This in general,” he replied, “this present moment. My current experience, including my recent and more distant memories, and my anticipation of the future.”

Kristen smiled and him and, walking between the men with Tibbs a shimmer in the air a bit ahead, she took both of their hands.

“Wholesome!” Steve grinned.

“Feels right somehow,” she said, and no one objected.

Things began to change as they walked, taking on different forms and aspects, objects coming and going, fragrances washing over them. Things that might have been clouds formed above them, thickened into ropes and pillars, and reached down to touch and meld into the ground to their left and right. A bluely-glowing crescent moon came out from behind the clouds, and the light became rich and silver.

“There’s a star in the dark part of that moon,” Colin noted with a lilt.

“Rookie mistake,” Kristen said, “unless they’re doing it on purpose, ironically.”

“Or there could, you know,” Steve suggested, “just be a star in the dark part of that moon.”

The others agreed that that was entirely possible.

Some amount of time passed again (Colin is thinking that time is an illusion). The ground under their feet seemed to rise, as though they were walking uphill. Tibbs somehow spread out ahead of them, the shimmering area of light expanding and curving around as they walked. Then the humans noticed that they were thinning out and spreading out as well, and a wind came up and they were blown somewhere else entirely.

Fling Forty-Two

2022/11/23

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Forty

The next day, after the brightening of the second dawn, Allisa and her two large companions went to examine the pile of bark fragments that sat where the last stone might be expected to be, and into which the three grubs had disappeared in that prior night.

It was not, they quickly noted, a mere large pile of bark fragments. Rather than lying at random and separate, the fragments were arranged in various lines and rows, aligned with each other in places and at square angles to each other at others. They were also not the usual crumbling fragments or bark or twig that one encountered casually while strolling or gathering good seeds; they seemed, in most places, to be hard and fresh, as though part of a living trunk, although they obviously weren’t.

“A singular pile!” Sonorandelan noted, “Are there such things in any of your stories, storyteller?”

“Indeed there are,” Alissa replied, “although not in those stories that are my particular field of interest. It is said, in some stories, that in past times there were those that produced arrangements of wood and bark, in hopes of creating, so to speak, stems and trunks and indentations of their own, to last for many seasons.”

“Ambitious!”

“For certain,” Alissa said. They were moving slowly into the large hollow place in the center of the pile. It was dark and irregular, and full of unfamiliar fragrances.

“The stories that I know are cautionary tales, advising the listener not to bother, essentially. They are of the same time, I believe, as the stories about making marks on leaves, and how futile that is, and interfering with more essential activities.”

“And yet here we are, guided by markings on a leaf, and looking here and there for items of interest within an intriguing arrangement of wood and bark!”

“Well, yes,” Alissa allowed, “we do seem to be. It occurs to me that we may be… unusual people. Although I would never have thought that I was.”

“I have always known that I was,” Sonorandelan said, “and I expect good Glomorominith is the same, to the extent that mere words could make an impression there.”

“Glomorominith”, noted Glomorominith, whose head and antennae were moving here and there rapidly, in an attitude of searching for something nearby.

“Do you suspect something, friend?” Sonorandelan asked, and at that the person addressed emitted a happy “Yes!” and began moving off deeper into the comparative darkness.

The others followed along, and found themselves descending into a kind of square-edged tunnel or burrow, that led to another hollow place beneath the ground. It smelled more familiar here, Alissa thought, more like earth and plants and less like… arrangements.

“Well!” Glomorominith hummed from up ahead, and she saw a dim greenish light from beyond the large rough form.

Moving to the side and forward in the dim space, with all of her eyes open, Alissa saw another of the stones, standing at the back of the space, against another squared wall of arranged wood and earth, the smaller stones embedded in its surface giving out a subtle leafy-green glow.

“Just as one might have expected,” Sonorandelan said with satisfaction, coming up on the other side.

“And!” Glomorominith exclaimed, “and, and, and!”

With a rustling of antennae, from somewhere nearby in the dimness, there was now produced a sheaf, so to speak, of long thin dry leaves, apparently attached together at one end.

“And here we have the armoyse itself! Saving us a search or a journey back to my collection.”

“Here in this burrow? Has it not gone bad?”

“It seems to have been expertly dried,” Sonorandelan said, running sensitive antennae over the bundle, “and protected from the elements. I would say that these have been here for a very long time, but still have their scent and I would imagine their taste. And also…”

“Hm?” Alissa prompted.

“And also I would say that a fair bit of this leaf has been broken off very recently. Perhaps our pale acquaintances.”

“Oh, the grubs?”

Sonorandelan’s voice held amusement, “Yes, the grubs or small mammals or whatever they were.”

“Perhaps they knew the old stories as well, and used the armoyse in the circle of stones that first night after we met them.”

“Perhaps they did! Shall we follow their example, and take the remainder of this leaf out to the circle with us from this dark burrow?”

“The stories mostly recommend interacting with the circles in the twilight.”

“We shall, then, indeed we shall; and we will eat and sing until then.”

The three of them went back up the stairs and out of the crumbling old house, without recognizing or touching any of the old books on the shelves, or the odd apparatus off to one side, because these things had no meaning to them. Which was really just as well.

Fling Forty-One

2022/11/22

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Thirty-Nine

Aliens, do you know of that to which I make reference? Laughter!

Well but of course now as the fifth-cleavings say, we are all of us aliens to someone somewhere. And now but as the High Mayor says additionally, all of our wealth and prosperity here in the Interbridge of the Worlds is something that we are owing to those who are here coming from here and there afar and are spending of their time and also of their goods and services here with us.

So I am not here speaking to heap any disrespect on any aliens general or specific, I am not!

But still one would might expect that if an alien is being an alien in a foreign afar land, as is to them the proud Interbridge of the Worlds, they would take at least the trouble and the time and effort to learn the nearby most respectable and easily accessible languages, or to obtain for with themselves a good translator or mental modality engine, and not rather instead wander the streets as some unloosened great animal, with the frightening of the younglings and the general mayhem and tomfoolery!

But again and still and as it ultimately turned out, these particular specific aliens of whom which I speak, were aliens if you can imagine it very like usual friendly people as you and I are, although very odd, and yet even most agreeable and resonant alien people, if you can believe it, even though they had none of the language but only booming strange alien sound symbols and waving around their few thick limbs like crazy persons. And also they did for some time become restrained by the Keepers of the Peace for their dubious ways, which was additionally agreeable and delightful with laughter.

It was on the most recent Middle Week of the Thirteenth Termination of the Great Mayor Remembered Macuffitch, and I was at the time standing in the square by the Overing Melancholy Sermon Room of Odes, watching over a several few of my own family’s second-buddings sliding around the square and with the yelling and shouting and enjoying the smooth whibbling speed of their Speedyboards with the Denormalized Casimir Effect and the Nonlinear Volumetric Swarming and all the modern very fast ways of the playing toys of the few-budded.

And at that moment then these aliens, two of which aliens there were, of which I speak, came ’round the very corner from the direction of the Red Square of Modern Writings of Firanges, into the square by the Overing Melancholy Sermon Room of Odes where I was being with the second-buddings. They were these alien beings large and ungainly aliens with few but inflated limbs and flattish heads like the adorable Pliffish Monsters of the first-budding pictures but only uglier. One of these aliens of which I speak, the rather larger one, set immediately as if startled and fascinated into lumbering ungainly toward the swarm of Speedyboarding seconds, waving with its embarassing appendages and making of noises of which there was no understanding, quite improper and like a huge rolling noorf.

Second-buddings being as they ever are, loud and speedy fast and quite ungovernable until frightened in any way and then like timid prey animals hiding here and there making loud shrill wickering sounds, these that I was watching immediately did that at the approaching of the lumbering alien, and I sprang of course bravely to their comfort and defense, facing the alien with my face and all of my eyes.

The second other and smaller of the awkward aliens made sounds and motions between itself and the larger one, and they were making of sounds and gestures and suchlike also toward myself as well. I being a polite and well-thought-of fourth-flowering myself made back at them gracious and generous words making shift as well as I could and was able, as though the sounds these two aliens of nonsense were making and gesturing were in fact proper or made any sort of sense.

With the amusing but embarrassing motions of the faces and the limbs of the twain of aliens, I came to believe in my beliefs that the large and more ungainly of them was for a fact focused and interested in the Speedyboards of the younglings, if you can believe it. Being naturally of course an accommodating and refined individual I of course persuaded one of the younglings of the second budding, with my gentle skill and admirable cozening, to be allowing of the Speedyboard of which she was engaged in using and holding, to be taken for the smallest of moments, and of that I was demonstrating with of it to the clomping alien.

This most bulging alien, allow me to tell you of it, fell upon the youngling toy Speedyboard with all of the attention of a Mayoral Candidate at the preliminary starting Evaluation Rounds! The alien was turning the toy over, and pressing the toy to the slarmy ground, and with the standing upon it with one alien lumbering foot. Even the alien was falling over clumsily, laughter, to the general joy of all, and the Speedyboard skittering off to the corner of the square where the second-buddings swooped over to from recover it.

Who can tell with aliens, as you know, but it was to me as though this alien was as pleased and delighted and amused as were I and the seconds by its clumsyish antic, and it moved with its higher appendages and made more of the sounds, again with examining and turning and poking with pudgy stubby tendrils at the underside and the service panels of the brightly colorful toy as though it was a fragment of their alien long-lost platelet. It was I say something endearing to see, as though with all of the lumbering and being alien and without proper speech, the being was like a youngling first ascertaining something rare and wonderful for itself.

After nearly enough of this, then, this same larger alien appealed to me myself for as I could discern to be brought another additional Speedyboard, which although in truth my admirable patience and generosity and host-serving to the foreign alien from afar was becoming less ample, I persuaded can you believe it another of the second-buddings to furnish their assigned and associated Speedyboard as well, and then! Well!

This alien, let me tell you now, put down on the slarmy ground one beside the other both of the said Speedyboards, and then with a contortion of its large awkwardness it lowered somehow its own very body down onto the said pair of twain Speedyboards, and with a whooping and much alien sound-making it began whibbling at quite the speed around and around the square. Yes! Just as if it were to be a youngling, even a first- or second-budding itself; yes, unbelievable and hard to believe I know it is!

For an alien who to all seeming had never seen a device of the Speedyboard or the Denormalized Casimir Effect before in all of its alien time, it negotiated at highish speeds around and around the square many times, the other smaller alien in amusing and futile ways producing sounds and imprecatory motinos toward it but without effect. Laughter, I am telling you now!

It then, and here you will strain I know to believe it, adjusted its course in its riding upon the twain Speedyboard toys, and launched itself will you or nil you from the square, purely in a line crossing in front of the Overing Melancholy Sermon Room of Odes, and then up and over the Telian Florcausing in a great leap, and then landing itself in the midst of a consortium of Keepers and Artifers! Such laughter, such very laughter!

Well, and then it was inevitably the coming of the Keepers of the Peace, and the usual hoots and the projecting of nets into the air, the brightish lights and the whoops of the sirens and alarms and the people in the windows of the buildings of the square celebrating and blowing on divers horns and catamaries, and good fun of that stripe. We did supernumerally, myself and upstairs sister, adjourn to the Restrainery after lodging the tired second-buddings with their night-watchers, and there we waved with the friendly and joyful motions at the clomping alien through the crossbars of the comfortable Public Jollity Cell to which it had been assigned, and shouted dutiful insulting names at it, and paid a few dilga to have the fine squirmy fish dropped upon it, and all was good fun until its Time of Jubilation and Recompense was completed.

So yes, for certain! Aliens, you know that of which I speak!

Fling Forty

2022/11/21

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Thirty-Eight

“It seems that your stories have guided us well once again,” Sonorandelan said with a pleased motion as the three of them cleared away some years’ debris and developing soil from the second of the stones.

Finding the first stone had occupied a good portion of the brightening of the day, as they had had only a vague idea of how far from the clearing and the large pile of bark fragments it might be; stories are not in general very precise about distances. Once they found it, they were at least certain that they had the correct stone, as it had smaller brighter stones embedded into it, and patterns somehow marked on it, and those things the stories did describe.

Glomorominith had seemed especially gratified to have discovered the stone, and lay low to the ground for some time, touching it all over with antennae and humming small songs.

“Our friend seems very pleased,” Sonorandelan had remarked with amusement, “I take that as a very encouraging sign.” Alissa felt the same way, although she should not have said in what way she felt specifically encouraged.

Sonorandelan and Alissa had begun contemplating where another stone of the possible meslier circle might be, using hints from the stories about distances and circles, and had just begun searching among the leaves and earth when Glomorominith had sprung excitedly up, and with a variety of “Hello”s and “Yes”s had dug immediately into the tangle of stems nearby, quickly revealing a corner of another stone.

“I credit Glomorominith for this one, more than any story,” Aliisa said. Glomorominith responded with a happy “Glomorominith”, and began examining, or bonding with, this second stone with an air of delight.

“Let us rest from the search for a moment,” Sonorandelan suggested, “as it comes to my mind that Glomorominith will be finding additional ones now at a good pace. Let us now think what stories there might be suggesting actions that we might take, or other things that we might discover, in this same vicinity.”

Alissa happily agreed; she felt that her smaller arms and eyes had been of minimal help in locating and clearing these first two stones, and was glad that she might be able to contribute more again through the stories.

“One more thing that multiple stories of the mesliers tell us,” she said, as they settled down beside Glomorominith, “is that there is a plant or leaf, called in the stories the armoyse or larmoize or other similar names, that the mesliers, or some of them, would consume while using, or gathering or mixing at, the circle of stones.”

“I know of no plant or leaf of that name,” Sonorandelan said thoughtfully.

“Not I,” replied Alissa. “Nor do I know of a plant matching the description that two stories give of larmoize, that it has leaves both large and small, the large darker and round and the small lighter and pointed, with an odor and taste acrid like the acorn.”

“Ah, well!” said Sonoraneldan, “Now that sounds much more familiar. I do know of one such plant, rare but well distributed, and acrid indeed; not something that one would normally regard as a pleasant food.”

“I see! That may be for the best; there are other stories, from more recent times I think, advising strongly against consuming or cultivating the larmoiz.”

“Not all stories should be followed,” Sonorandelan said with a wry gesture, “but we shall see.”

Just then Glomorominith arose suddenly again, and fairly lept to another thicket of stems, which quickly proved to conceal another stone.

“How many stones do your stories tell us, storyteller, to expect to find in this ancient circle?”

Alissa smiled, “At least five,” she said, “and perhaps seven, or nine. Twelve is a number that is also mentioned.”

“Ah, well,” said Sonorandelan, “then we shall see, perhaps tomorrow,” and they returned to the task.

By the gathering of the twilight, they had located and uncovered six stones, set in a circle around the center of the clear spot of earth near the pile of bark fragments. Where a seventh stone might have been, to complete the circle, stood that pile itself. The three grubs, which had burrowed or otherwise vanished into the pile the night before, had not reappeared, and Alissa wondered if they had moved off into some deeper burrow or tunnel under the earth.

Glomorominith showed no eagerness to dig into the bark pile, and as the darkness was beginning to deepen they rested near the center of the circle, having fetched seed bits and nectar from their better-concealed camp. Alissa felt a bit uneasy, just the three of them more or less in the open with the twilight coming, but she also felt some unfamiliar but comforting resonance in the air, or the ground.

As they enjoyed the evening quiet, and exchanged bits of food and drink and song, the stems and branches overhead seemed to part above her, revealing a deep dark sky, in which the tiny pinpricks of the stars shone with a remarkable clarity.

“Where have the mammals gone, I wonder?” She mused, turning all of her eyes upward.

“Where did they come from, and where are they going? What scent-trails do they follow?”

A bit of breeze swirled through between and among them, carrying something dark and rich from the pile of bark, something light and complex from the great still water farther off.

“And what will we find tomorrow, dear storyteller?” Sonorandelan continued, “Perhaps we will consume the armoyse here in the circle of stones, and enter into one of the old stories.”

Alissa hummed a tune in response, a tune that brought to her mind the long depths of time, the mystery of memory, the sweetness of nectar in the afternoon.

Glomorominith, in a very flat repose, spread out upon the ground, joined in the humming in a lower register, and Sonorandelan rubbed two legs together, and their sounds joined with the other sounds of the gathering night.

Fling Thirty-Nine

2022/11/21

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Thirty-Seven

There are books everywhere; this makes me happy. There is diffuse moonlight coming in through the windows; this also makes me happy.

Essentially none of the books here are in any of the very few languages that I can read. This also makes me happy, in a way. There is so much to know already, this only emphasizes the point. And some of them have really interesting illustrations.

The books fill the shelves, and lie in piles on the floor. I walk from place to place, and sometimes sit on something that may be a chair. It’s just like home.

As the being known as Tibbs negotiates with the locals to get us access to the zone containing the confluence, and Steve and Kristen wander the city like happy tourists (well, that is not a simile, really; they wander the city as happy tourists), I have drifted here, which feels entirely natural.

And now, having communicated the above to my hypothetical reader without becoming distracted (except for that one parenthetical about simile versus plain description), I can calmly note that these things may not be “books” in the obvious sense, that moonlight coming in through the windows is a phenomenon that quantum physics can just barely explain, and for that matter that “makes me happy” is enough to keep a phalanx (a committee, a department, a specialty) of psychology and anthropology scholars occupied for a very long time.

And that time is an illusion.

I’ve always been able to separate language from thoughts about language, to separate thoughts about reality from meta-thoughts about thoughts. At least in public. At least when talking to other people.

But I think I’m better at it now, even when I’m in private, just talking to myself, or writing for you, dear cherished hypothetical reader (cherished, inter alia, for your hypothetically inexhaustible interest and patience).

Ironically (so much to learn about irony!), I credit much of this improvement to long discussions (how long? how does the flow of time go in the cabin of an impossibly fast sharp vehicle, speeding twinnedly from one end to another of a infinite rainbow band?) with an arguably non-existent being called Tibbs, and an enigmatic pilot called Alpha, after her ship.

(Why do we use the female pronoun toward the pilot Alpha? Why does she speak English? Or how do we communicate with her if she does not? Is the intricate shiny blackish plastic or metal construct at the front of her head a helmet, or her face? Is the rest of her a uniform, flight suit, or her own body, or some of each, or entirely both? Would it have been rude to ask?)

Tibbs and Alpha, I feel, are kindred spirits, my kindred, beings blessed or cursed with a tendency to look through everything and try to see the other side, even knowing there is finally no other side, to overthink, to overthink the notion of overthinking. But they have, perhaps, had longer to get used to it.

The being Tibbs claims to be millions of years old, while also claiming to have slept for most of that time. The Pilot Alpha suggests, by implying (how? what words or gestures did she actually use?) that questions of her origin are meaningless, that she has always existed, or has at least existed for so long that information about her coming-to-be is no longer available in the universe, having been lost to entropy long since.

(At what level is entropy real? Time is an illusion; so is entropy a statement about memory? A statement about what we remember, compared to what we experience right now and anticipate, right now, about the future? Or should we only talk about entropy after we have thoroughly acknowledged that time is an illusion, but gone on to speak about it as though it were real anyway, with only a vague notion, an incomplete explanation, of why that is okay?)

Here is a thought about the illusory nature of the past and future: given that this present moment is all that exists, then all that exists outside of memory and anticipation, is this one breath, this one side of this one room containing these shelves and piles (never enough shelves!) of books, or the appearance of books.

Everything else, the long / short / timeless journey aboard the fast sharpness Alpha, the anticipation felt while listening to the sound of something like wind just before meeting Tibbs for the first time, Kristen’s palm against my cheek in that other library, the glittering brass something that she received from the Mixing, the fine hairs at the back of her neck, all of that is only (“only”?) memory. Does that mean that it is no more important, no more valid, no more real, than anything else purely mental? No more significant than a wondrous pile of multi-colored giant ants made of cheese, singing hypnotic songs, that I have just this moment imagined, and now remember as a thing I first thought of a few moments ago?

This seems… this seems wrong. (See how the ellipsis these, if you are experiencing these words in a context in which there was one, adds a certain feel of spoken language, and perhaps therefore conveys some nuance of emotion that otherwise would be missing? That is communication, in a complicated and non-obvious form.)

Here is a hypothesis put forward I think by the being Tibbs, as it (he? she? they? they never expressed a preference that I can recall) as they moved slowly and in apparent indifference toward gravity around the front of the cabin of the Alpha: Some of the things, people, situations, events, in memory are especially significant (valid, important, “real”) because they changed me. Others, while equally (what?) wonderful themselves, like the pile of cheese-ants, did not have as much impact, or the same kind of impact.

If we could work out a good theory of what it means for an object or event (or, most likely, an experience) to change a person, given that time is an illusion, then this seems promising.

The Pilot Alpha seemed in some way amused by my desire, or my project, to develop a systematic justification for (something like) dividing the world (dividing memory) into “real” things and “imagined” things, with the former being more important or more valid (or, as the being Tibbs suggested, more cool) than the latter. Amused in a slightly condescending way, perhaps, which is fine for a possibly-eternal being, but which (equally validly) I am personally rather sensitive to, given my own developmental history.

The being Tibbs, however, was not accurate in referring to my just-subsequent behavior as “a snit”.

The moonlight coming through the windows (however that might be occurring) is diffuse because it comes through the visually-thick atmosphere of this world, or this area of this world. It seems implausible that we can breathe the atmosphere without danger; is this evidence that we are in a virtuality? Is it reasonable that I nearly wrote “a mere virtuality”? Was that because “mere” would have had a meaning there that I would have been expressing? (What is it to “express” a “meaning”?) Or only because “mere virtuality” is a phrase that occurs in my memory in (remembered) situations with (for instance) similar emotional tone? What is emotional tone?

I anticipate that the being Tibbs will return to this long library room within a certain amount of time, most likely with some information to convey (what is it to “convey” some “information”?) about our continuing travels (why are we travelling? what is “travel”?). I anticipate that (the humans) Kristen and Steve will return to this long library room within a certain amount of time, most likely exchanging cute little looks and possibly holding hands, possibly having acquired some odd or ordinary souvenir in the bazaars of the city (but is this a city? does it have bazaars? what counts as a bazaar?).

And I look forward to whatever follows.

Fling Thirty-Eight

2022/11/20

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Thirty-Six

The cabin of the unthinkably-fast sharpness that is called Alpha is not a roomy place. But there is, at least at the time we are describing, room for the Pilot (also known as Alpha, like her ship), the Presence known as Tibbs (a being with no well-defined size or shape, being primarily a shimmering in the aether, and therefore not requiring much space), and the three young humans Colin (sitting next to the pilot, in what might be a co-pilot’s seat if there was a co-pilot, which there has never been), Kristen, and Steve (the latter two lying side by side supine in the rear of the cabin, looking upward through the transparent canopy at the impossibly pure colors rushing infinitely by, and talking now and then in low tones).

“So if the universes are connected by tendrils,” Colin is saying to the Pilot Alpha, “and we can use the tendrils to pass between universes–“

“Some can,” the Pilot says, her voice coming from somewhere amidst the shiny intricate surfaces of her face or helmet, “we in the Alpha and Omega do not pass to other universes, we only skim into the interstices when we can, for speed.”

“But some can, others can. And that is the difficulty!”

“The difficulty?” the Pilot echoes politely. She has not had passengers, not up here in the cabin at any rate, for a good two thousand years, and although she hopes they will not be with her long, she is rather enjoying the novelty at the moment.

“Yes,” replies Colin, “if the universes are possible worlds, or alternative realities, but we can travel from one to another, well, so — take this universe, say, and imagine that someone arrives in it along the tendrils, from a connected universe.”

“As you four did.”

“Um, yes, however that worked, if that’s what happened. But then! As soon as someone arrives in this universe from elsewhere, there must be another universe, identical to this one up until that point, where they did not arrive, where they changed their mind at the last moment, or simply ceased to exist just before arriving.”

“People do not simply cease to exist,” the pilot says, and small lights within her helmet or her head flash on and off, possibly with amusement, “not everything conceivable is possible.”

“Sure, okay,” Colin responds, enthusiasm undampened, “but it must be possible that they didn’t arrive, so there is a universe where they arrived, and one where they didn’t. There is even an interstice where they passed through from one universe to the other, and then another possible version of the interstice where they turned back half-way. So the interstices themselves are universes, or parts of universes, and have alternates. The entire set of universes, channels, and interstices that I am able to reach, are a single universe, which must exist in an infinite number of alternates, in each of which I make different choices, have different experiences.”

“If I understand you,” Tibbs says, shimmering from where the canopy meets the control panel, “you want separate universes to count as separate only if the two cannot interact in any way. So no being can touch more than one, because otherwise they would themselves link together all the universes that they touch, and they would collapse into one.”

“That way of seeing it matches the mathematics as well,” Pilot Alpha agrees, “at least some mathematics that I could show you. It is not strictly correct to say that the universes are connected through tendrils passing through the interstices; we should say rather that the universe, this universe, consists of innumerable planes or realms, connected through tendrils passing through interstices.”

“Right, right!” says Colin, “exactly what I’m saying. All of these universes, or things that we call universes, are just one universe in fact. The unthinkably huge number of other universes are, by definition, out of our reach. We can conceptualize or model them, some tiny fraction of them, but we can never touch or change them. When the mycelia and gravity channels connect the planets and stars, and the reality tendrils connect the … the planes, as you said, they bind them all into one, causally, into one transitive closure.”

“God, he’s so Colin,” Kristen laughs quietly into Steve’s ear, and he pulls her a little closer as they watch the colors of time speeding past.

“He always is,” Steve says softly back, and lightly bites her ear.

Beside Alpha, and sometimes briefly coming into view as Steve and Kristen gaze upward, the sharpness Omega speeds in parallel. When they’d first met the Pilot Alpha after emerging from that last portal, they had asked about Omega sitting in the other service cradle, and its presumable pilot; but Alpha had only shaken her head, and hinted darkly that those were questions whose answers they did not want to receive. Their one glance at the being in the Omega’s cabin had been unsettling at best.

“Are you happy, babe?” Steve asks Kristen now, and immediately regrets it.

“How could I not be? This is amazing. The most sophisticated virtuality ever, or some crazy quest through the true nature of reality, or something,” she says. She turns and looks at him, wondering what’s in his mind. “And with the best boyfriend ever.”

He blushes.

Now Tibbs and Colin and the Pilot are discussing their most promising route from the next service stop (in a day? a week? a year?) to the multiple confluence that Tibbs insists they should find for unstated but interesting reasons. She wonders how long it will take to get there, and what time is about here, anyway.

“I do worry about our bodies, and our friends and parents, back in the real. If this isn’t the real. Or… you know?”

Steve nods. “I know, me too. But here we are.”

“Here we are.”

Fling Thirty-Seven

2022/11/20

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Thirty-Five

As the twilight began to deepen, the middle-sized grub, the one that had some ability to speak, had indicated, with gestures and a voice that Alissa thought held fatigue in its rough halting tones, that they would be burrowing into the large pile of bark fragments at the rear of the clearing, to spend the night. She replied, as best she could given the creature’s limitations, that that was a very sensible idea. The three pale creatures, or people as Alissa tried to think of them, had slowly turned away and vanished into the darkness of one of the holes in the dank-looking pile.

“Such very odd people,” she said to Sonorandelan and Glomorominith when they had returned to their own shelter, concealed cautiously among a thick growth of stems, and now made comfortable with layers of supple leaves.

“Indeed! You are generous, I think, to grant them that title, my friend.”

“They did have the gift of speech.”

“To some small degree.”

“Yes, well. Their voices are so slow and deep and odd. Perhaps they have their own language, which they use among themselves, communicating by groans and booms.”

“Their own language! Groans and booms! A novel thought, dear storyteller.”

“There is a story about that.”

“I am gratified to hear that.”

So Alissa told the others, as they all settled down in the twilight to eat tender seeds and shoots that Glomorominith produced from somewhere, the story of the invention of language.

In ancient days, the story says, there was no language; all people were as infants or aphids, thoughtlessly eating and mating and dying, huddling away from the rain, devoured by predators and mammals, each generation discovering the same few facts about the world and expiring to no purpose.

Then the ants (in different versions of the story, Alissa noted softly, different peoples are described as beginning the process, but the ants are commonly named), who were by brute nature gregarious and able to lay and follow fine scent-trails by instinct, began to signal to each other with abstract gestures, and even with sounds. Other peoples observed the ants and tried to copy them, most without success, and the ants became more efficient and successful with the seasons, as their speech became refined and symbolic; certain gestures or sounds would be made in certain circumstances, and other sounds or gestures made in return, depending on the individual’s mind.

In time every people developed their own ways of signaling with motion and gesture and speech, and between the peoples all was confusion, and even war. It was a dark time, now mostly forgotten.

Then the meslieres, certain individuals from each of the peoples, who gathered at certain times and places for reasons forgotten in the mists of time, had begun to communicate between each other, each sharing the motions and speech of their own people, and learning those of the others, and taking them back to burrow and hive, to earthen gathering and hollow trunk, and this had opened up the hearts of the world.

Before long, all peoples spoke the same language, and the meanings of motions and gestures, as adapted to each shape of mandible and antenna, were universally known. Each generation taught language to the next, and knowledge could finally be passed down rather than re-invented with each cohort. And gatherings of storytellers and teachers spread through the Cuer da Verai, to ensure that language and wisdom would last from season to season, and the people would be bound together.

Alissa finished the story and fell silent, and the others, who had been listening happily and intently as listeners should, settled deeper into the leaves to allow the silence to linger.

“That is an excellent story,” Sonorandelan finally said, and the others motioned in agreement. “It draws me to wonder if my own small efforts in the classification and study of certain leaves, could also be shared from generation to generation. I have thought, over the seasons, if everything that I do has been done before, by some other person in some other trunk or hive.”

“I know few stories involving the types of leaves,” Alissa said, “it does not really strike me as a topic that lends itself to storytelling.”

“True,” Sonorandelan nodded, “but it comes to my mind that there might be ways to pass the work from generation to generation, other than the stories of the storytellers.”

“What sort of ways?” Alissa asked in surprise.

“I am not certain”, the other replied, “it has only come into my mind.”

“I wonder why only one of the grubs seemed to know language at all. Could they be from some small people that somehow or for some reason kept their own language in the time of the ancients, and learned only a little of the world’s?”

“Perhaps they have come from a great distance, where there are more grubs, and even the language is different.”

Alissa found the idea unpleasant.

“I can barely imagine a whole gathering of slow soft grubs, groaning and booming at each other! Could they even survive a heavy rain?”

“A good question! Perhaps that is why we have never encountered them before. Are they known to your stories?”

“Not to any story that comes to my mind; they resemble grubs but are not grubs, resemble larvae but are not larvae, resemble mammals in some ways but are not overall, I do not think, the legendary mammals.”

“What of these mesliers? I very much like the sound of that, those who gather and mix and share knowledge.”

“They are in many stories! It is said that they gather at certain times, at special places, where stones are set in circles and songs and ceremonies are carried out, and stories told from before there were storytellers.”

“Stones set in circles, you say? This brings something to my mind,” Sonoraneldan said thoughtfully.

“Stones, yes, circles, yes,” said Glomorominith from under a couple of leaves, “What have we here?”

“At the second dawn,” Sonoraneldan said with an eager but contented tone, “perhaps we will see what stones and what circles we can find nearby.”

Fling Thirty-Six

2022/11/20

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Thirty-Four

Welcome, traveler. It gratifies me that you have found this place, and this volume, however long it may have been since I sat down to write it. The longer the more gratifying, in fact; I flatter myself that my little work may have effects for some modest time beyond my own existence in this plane.

I have built this comfortable house, as a repository for this and my other volumes of writing, at the confluence of many channels on multiple levels of reality. This may not have much meaning to you, but again I flatter myself with the notion that at least some of my readers, some of those that reach this place and this page through the layers of time and space that make up the universes, will come already possessing some knowledge of these matters, however esoteric. These places have always drawn certain people; it may be that you are one of them.

And if not already conversant, you may find this knowledge in the other volumes that I have stored in this snug cellar, such as my The Degrees Of Reality, and my Notes On Those Who Gather.

In brief, this house is constructed over a great intersection of this world’s leys, lines of semantic or immanent energy leading through the flesh of the ground, which correspond to major trunks in the great mycelial network that underlies the world. It is a truism that every world which is host to life, inevitably has such an underlying network, uniting each part into the unavoidable whole, and that individual lives on each world are influenced, to whatever degree, by the form of that network and the energies that through it course.

Further, this world itself, the world called by the ancients Cuer da Verai, lies at the center of a vast confluence of star-channels, those connections weakly guessed at by the first astrologers, and centuries later confirmed by Les Physiciennes and their gravity-wave telescopes and gauge field equations. So the delicate hyphae tendrils of the holy saprophytes carry thought through the mycelia to the earth node, the earth node resonates with the stellar node, and truth flows onward to every world and star beyond, touching every life between and within.

Do you begin to understand, traveler? To comprehend this place, cet tere, that you have reached? I wonder, as I sit and pen these words, whether it is more likely that you have come knowingly seeking that which you have found, or if you have wandered here by chance, and if so whether you will be able to appreciate your good fortune. The more I have come to understand these matters, the more I have come to believe that whoever and whatever you are, reading these words, your presence here has meaning beyond coincidence or meaningless chance. Perhaps others have been drawn here as well; I am gratified in contemplating the meetings that may occur here, between les meslieres, those who gather.

I must ask you to follow me through one more gateway of wisdom. You are in the circuit of a great joining of the earthly and stellar webs; now, know that you are also in the circuit of those still greater webs that join one reality to another, one universe to other universes, one possibility to all else that has been, that is, and that may yet be. As the hyphae connect in the great fungal network, and les vrilles d’étoiles span the vastnesses between the stars, so each reality extends tendrils, threads of existence, into the interstices, across the dimensions, between the realities, and those threads twine and connect in the great infinitum rete universale that finally links every smallest thought of the humblest creature on the most distant planetoid in the emptiest universe, to the heart of the greatest Empress in the most glorious city in all the realities.

And in such a place, which I have journeyed and studied so long to find, what enterprises, what stories, what contes gaiantes, might not begin, or end?

Next, to the house itself. I have built it in this place using means of my own, and linked it to the universal flow of time; the means are of no concern. But if you find the house in disarray, or seemingly touched by the years, avail yourself of the apparatus in the lowest level of the cellars, and it may be restored to good order without trouble. I expect that the nature of the location and its good virtues will make neglect a rare thing, but still I take precautions. I would have it that this house of mine might outlast anything else in this universe that has come from my hand.

Another thing that you must know. Although the interstices between the realities do not exist, outside of the infinitum rete of connecting tendrils that pass through them, they are despite the fact inhabited. How a place, a reaume, may be inhabited when it does not exist, is a subtle topic for which I refer you once again to my modest volume The Degrees Of Reality. But for our purposes here, you need only know this as a brute fact, and know additionally that these inhabitants include a variety of being yclept Interstice Hawks. Like terrestrial hawks, les oisel de proie dez champs ancienz, the Interstice Hawks are fast and wild, cutting through the non-existence of their realm as our hawks cut through the air, glorious and mad.

You may not ride an Interstice Hawk, the notion is itself an oxymoron. But with the aid of certain esoteric formulae and procedures, for which I refer you to my Notes On Those Who Gather, their comings and goings may at times be predicted, and the bold practitioner may synchronize hier own energies with that of the Hawk, and in this wise gain knowledge, and travel to realms, hitherto unimagined in the wildest dreams of humankind. This is my final gift to you in this brief page, traveler, and I bid you use it with the greatest care. I myself have flown with the Interstice Hawks perhaps a dozen times, and after each flight I found myself not only wiser, but changed. Perhaps only a fool or a foux would attempt it, but who is to say what is foolishness, and what is wisdom, when we stand at the edge of so many secrets?

Fling Thirty-Five

2022/11/20

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Thirty-Three

Partial transcript, Kristen Lewis, prepared remarks, rough draft

So hi, I’m Kristen, Kristen Lewis, age, height, weight, eye color, blood type, bla bla bla. I live on Onondaga Nation land.

Apparently I’m the one that remembers this part the best; a subjective time differential like we had while we were stuck in the virtual messes with the memory, it turns out. Who knew?

I’m the most virtual one of us, I guess; Colin’s too in love with his physical books, and Steve gets too much of a rush from the actual risk of actual death, which I understand in a way but is also crazy. Give me the safe creativity of a virtuality, I say. Well, safe, heh heh yeah.

Steve and I are a thing, if that matters; he’s an idiot in a lot of ways, but he’s also kind of adorable and really sweet. Colin is too, in his way, and we were also a thing, back in school. He thinks we broke up because of his whole neoteny issue, and that I thought it was too strange to be with someone that looked like a nine-year-old kid, and that was probably part of it, although it was pretty hot, too (and I’m going to have to do a lot of editing on this aren’t I?) but also he just lives so completely in his books and in his head, and sometimes two people can be perfectly fine and just not be compatible in that way. I still love him like a brother, a hot little pervy brother, even (edit edit edit).

And just like Colin is always going off into long asides about the limitations of language and the illusory nature of the past and future, I’m going off in a long aside about relationships and is that gender-normative or what?

So anyway. The way I remember it, just as we were noticing that the giant bugs had left (as we thought of Alissa and S and G at the time, and for sure I’m not going to try to pronounce those two names), there was another sudden noise and they were back. I know there’s like a whole committee studying why the bugs move so fast, or we move so slowly around them or whatever. I think it’s just because insects move fast, but then also insects can’t possibly be that big, or people that small, because of the square-cube law, so good luck to that committee.

Anyway, when they came back, they were carrying some big flexible leaves wrapped around some pieces of paper. They sort of flashed around in front of us, putting a couple of the pieces of paper down closer to us, and then flashing most of the way back to their side of the clearing again. From sort-of talking to them later, I’m guessing they were trying to move slowly so as not to frighten us furry little monsters or whatever they thought we were, but it was still just about blindingly fast.

Steve wondered if it was some kind of present or offering, and Colin of course went carefully forward to look at the papers. For someone who’s always on about how this present moment is all that exists, which is a fine Buddhist saying, but he takes it way too far, Colin is also always trying to relate everything now to everything else, and to find explanations for things in terms of other things.

He said “It’s got writing on it,” or something like that, and we all went forward, keeping an eye on the bugs (Alissa and S and G as it would be more polite to call them). The pieces of paper were pretty large, but also seemed like they’d been torn or broken off of something larger. It’s possible that they were really big leaves that had been treated somehow, that’s what Steve thinks, but they looked like paper. Functionally.

Part of it looked like a map, hand-drawn and scrawly, showing a path through some blobs that might be hills, a big blob that might be water or a lake, and some squiggles that might be other things. There was writing on the map and lines of writing on the other parts of that sheet of paper, and writing that was even older and more smudged on the other piece.

We all frowned at the papers for a minute, and I noticed that some of it made sense as some dialect of Old French or something else in that general family, and I could sort of almost read it from knowing some modern and medieval French. I happily shoved the boys out of the way. The writing in the bigger blob on the map said I think Lack which is Old French for “lake”, so that worked.

The longer text said something like, and remember about the time differential and memory, so this isn’t at all exact, but something like “I am the last, now, and my time is short. I will send [some crazy name] to the [some place] with the map and this letter, to leave with the storytellers, as a last gesture to what was. They may do what they please [something like that anyway]. I have kept the faith here out of some vestige of honor, but the idea of bringing up a successor is still repugnant to me, and I do not regret that there is no time. If you follow this map, and you find the [something] beneath the [something], the consequences [results?] are what they are, and nothing owing to me [that is, don’t come crying to me about it]. I know that most likely this will never be seen by any [something, maybe eyes] that are capable of reading it, as reading is another thing that has been lost in this fallen world [that was a great phrase, and sounded amazing in the dialect; I’m working on a virtuality build around it, so cool] but in sending it out, I have completed my final duty, and may go to [some place, maybe a metaphor for death, or who knows] with a clear conscience.”

There was other stuff, but as far as I remember it, or remember figuring out at the time, it was older and smudger and made even less sense out of context; to-do lists or household accounts or something, full of nouns that I couldn’t work out.

While I was reading the stuff, and it took a lot longer to work out than I’m saying here, not having a working phone or anything and having to rely on my memory, excellent as that is, Colin and Steve kept an eye on the — on Alissa and S and G, who seemed to be, they told me later, interested or excited that I seemed to be reading the map and the letter. It turned out that they couldn’t read them, of course, so the writer of the letter was right about that, and that reading itself was a crazy concept to them, and even figuring out what a map was had been a big intellectual breakthrough. (Apparently having more than two eyes actually makes some things harder, or at least less natural, which is a pretty amazing thought.)

We thought we might try communicating to the — to Alissa and S and G in writing, but we didn’t really have anything to write on or write with, and that was a good thing as it turned out, since they wouldn’t have been able to read it. Colin was going cutely mad, wanting to look for a basement in the ruined house that we came out of, because of the letter talking about the something au-dessous the something, but also wanting to try to talk to the bugs.

I tried just waving my arms and saying “Allo, Allo, Bonjour” and I don’t remember just what else in their direction, and that’s what eventually worked, she said modestly, once I tried it in a really high and fast voice.

So that’s that part, I’ll stop for a bit because my mouth is dry and everything, back soon. Don’t forget to Like and Subscribe, haha I’m a riot.

Fling Thirty-Four

2022/11/19

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Thirty-Two

“We’re all on the same side here, are we not? The health and well-being of the three young people should be–“

“Of course, of course. But we are also each responsible to the institutions that we represent, to ensure that–“

“That there is no cause for anyone to–“

“No lawsuits, that?”

“That also, of course; but primarily to ensure that each party is doing its proper part.”

“Carrying out its responsibilities, as I–“

“Can we get the medical situation clarified, at least? Dr. Zane-Tucker?”

“Certainly. As you know, Steven Diaz presented on–“

“Was brought in by ambulance from the–“

“Yes, we know all of that, but what is the current–“

“Very good, your packets have the latest update right there. Physiologically he and the other two–“

“Colin Colson and the Lewis girl–“

“Kristen Lewis, if you please, yes, they are all in good health–“

“They have all been in comas since–“

“Can we let Doctor Tucker speak, please!”

“Zane-Tucker, please. Thank you, yes, all three patients are in good health, physiologically. Their brain functions are also normal, as you can see in figure–“

“Normal except for–“

“Please!”

“Sorry.”

“As you know, Mr. Diaz was put into a routine induced coma due to undetermined brain trauma from a penetrating head injury incurred while racing in the desert.”

“Those d-mned racing rigs should be illegal, they’re–“.

“Yes, well. Initial attempts to remove the foreign object faced complications due to excessive bleeding, but ultimately the team was successful in–“

“Successful? We know that the piece of steel in his head just vanished overnight, after the others were already–“

“Mr. Mbanku, with respect–“

“Are you still denying it? Can the hospital produce it, then?”

“The fact that the object was misplaced–“

“Misplaced? Is that really your story?”

“We need to discuss the health of the–“

“Why are these two other children–“

“They are not children, the patients are all fully adults.”

“Why are they still unconscious? Is this experimental apparatus–“

“It is not experimental, it has been approved for evaluation in–“

“For evaluation, right, it’s some first-draft experimental brain-lace–“

“People, please!”

“The situation is unusual, as we all acknowledge, but the patients are all in good health, and there is every reason to think that they will return to consciousness without–“

“Every reason to think, meaning what exactly? Has this happened before?”

“If you’ll turn to page three in your packet, you’ll find–“

“It has?”

“In very similar circumstances, in fact, yes. As the case-study describes, two college students in São Paulo spent nearly a year in–“

“That wasn’t this experimental therapeutic–“

“Exactly, that was with an earlier and more primitive device, with fewer safeguards, so in this case we can certainly expect that–“

“And they were okay?”

“They were somewhat disappointed to come out, in fact, as described in–“

“That wasn’t in some rushed emergency situation, though, it was–“

“It was a malfunction in the limiting circuit of their virtuality induction networks, yes. Whereas in this case the apparatus is in perfect working order. Only the sudden unexpected changes in Mr. Diaz’s EEG led the hospital to–“

“To basically trap the other two kids in–“

“Again, Mr. Mbanku, the patients are all adults, and–“

“Why can’t the hospital bring them out again? What is the problem? Is that not a malfunction?”

“Not at all, not at all. As you can see in the specification documents in your packets on pages–“

“But surely the hospital should have had procedures in place for the possibility of something like this. Why were the other two allowed into virtuality with the patient at all, when they were just visitors? Were they fully aware of the–“

“Mr. Colson and Miss Lewis were fully informed of the situation, and there are copies of the signed consent forms–“

“No one reads those when their friend is–“

“In any case, there is no reason to think that any harm–“

“It had better not, that’s all I’m saying. It had just better not.”

Fling Thirty-Three

2022/11/19

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Thirty-One

Let’s say, or stipulate, that there are three people. We can, for the moment, uncontroversially differentiate between people (and even agree as to what a person is) in common situations (and even in relatively uncommon situations like the present one), and we can have at least small integers (again, for the moment), so: three people.

People have, again uncontroversially, or by convention, names (shorthand for various audible and visible forms and other things, forming rough equivalence classes), like “Steve”, and “Colin”, and “Kristen”. So, we stipulate that there are three people, named Steve, and Colin, and Kristen.

They have been through a lot lately. In some sense. They have experienced a number of things; and no, experience can obviously not be divided into countable things in any principled way, this is an idiom.

I am coming to realize, and you don’t need to wonder about who I am at the moment (time is an illusion) that these are all idioms. Everything, anything, I say, and everything, anything, you say, is an idiom, an approximation, a set of sounds (or visible forms, or other things that are grouped, as with names, into rough equivalence classes) that, well, that when they occur as part of your experience, bring to mind certain things (bring to mind, a good phrase, a good idiom, I think).

You may of course think of me as Colin. Colin’s notebooks are full of things like this. Colin is the smaller of the three people we are considering; he has an idiopathic childhood growth hormone deficiency (or perhaps an insensitivity rather than a deficiency, or some of each; even in the sciences these terms are at best approximations, idioms), which makes him small; being small gives him a certain perspective on the world.

Not one he would have necessarily chosen, but here we are.

(“Here we are” is also an idiom, but in another sense it manages to be true, because it is a tautology; as long as we exists, and are somewhere, here we are. Here we are!)

Steve is the largest of the three people, as they all approach the marker at the edge of the slope that leads down to the cavern. Steve’s head still hurts, because of a correlation between his head, in the reality we are describing, and the head of someone also called Steve (perhaps the same person, this is one of those edge cases), the latter head having recently (and perhaps still, simultaneity is very much an illusion) encountered a significant penetrating foreign object, resulting in a certain amount of trauma to the enclosed brain.

He seems pretty much okay at the moment, however.

The middle-sized person of the three, the one in the other peak from the other two in at least one bimodal distribution that people care too much about, is, let us say, Kristen. Named Kristen, as Colin is named Colin and Steve is named Steve. She is a little apart from them at the moment, looking with a dubious expression (do you know what a dubious expression is? Could you produce one ad hoc?) at the other two as they approach the marker.

When is this, you might ask, or where is this?

“This place is a little crazy.”

“That’s not unusual.”

“I don’t really like the look of that statue.”

“The marker.”

“It’s a statue, it’s representational. I think it has some affordances, but they aren’t well labeled.”

“You mean you could do… virtuality things to it?”

“I could try to do something. It might or might not cause something to happen.”

Do you appreciate how well they communicate with each other? They all know that communication, in its simplest form, is impossible. And yet they do it well; they have been practicing for a long time.

(So much to know about all of those things! What makes an act of communication good? Is good the same as effective? Can effectiveness be defined independent of any particular goal, or at least a utility function over some set of salient situations? What counts as practice? These questions are fundamental, yet at the same time, requiring answers to them yields language impossible. This is territory that we have covered before. And that is a good honest metaphor.)

The ease of their communication is a great relief to Steve, in particular. Being constantly in new and confusing situations make communication especially straightforward, because there are obvious things to communicate about: What is that? How many are there? Do you hear that? Does that look dangerous?

Before these interesting times started, Steve was finding straightforward communication with Kristen in particular somewhat difficult. That has not been a problem lately.

“Why exactly are we here, again?”

“It’s not at all clear to me. Should I try to… turn the statue on? Or whatever it is?”

“We could just go down into the like cavern place there.”

“I don’t really want to, somehow. It doesn’t look welcoming.”

“Do you think it could be dangerous to … afford the affordance?”

Kristen smiles at that.

“You don’t afford an affordance. When a thing offers an affordance, you can choose to use it, or not.”

“Use it for what?”

“A good affordance makes that clear. Sadly, this is not a good affordance. It’s like a Push Here button that doesn’t say what will happen if you do.”

“Go ahead, it’ll be interesting. Or not.”

Kristen nods, half-closes her eyes, and uses the marker.

From somewhere ahead of them, there is a loud echoing groan, or creak. Perhaps a sound like some ancient door opening for the first time in a very long time. (Time is an illusion; whether a door is open or closed is just a convention; whether a particular assemblage of matter is or is not a door, is not well-defined. It’s good to remember these things, I think. Colin thinks so, at least.)

“Something’s coming?”

“Doesn’t sound like footsteps or anything.”

“More like a slowly approaching whooshing.”

“Wind, sort of.”

There is indeed a bit of wind, or movement in whatever acts as air in the particular colorful and abstract place they find themselves. (Have you read any of the philosophical literature on, for instance, the difference between water and H2O? It’s surprisingly complex. No one knows if water is (always, necessarily) H2O; even that simple a question eludes us.) But more importantly from the wind, the three gradually become aware of a Presence appearing in the large dim mouth of the cavern at the bottom of the slope before them, and then proceeding up the slope toward them.

“Well, there’s something,” Steve notes.

“It is indeed. Probably.”

The Presence, which is perceptible mostly as a sort of shimmering in the air, an opaque shimmering really, that takes the light passing through it and tangles and perturbs it enough that it is quite certain that there is something there, without giving much of an idea of what it is.

The Presence stops a bit in front of them, and emits a loud high-pitched shrieking sound.

The three people (Kristen, Steve, and Colin) put their hands to there ears.

“Um, hello?” says Kristen.

The Presence makes more sounds, not as loud or as high-pitched. They seem to, possibly, contain some syllables. (That is a metaphor, more or less: sounds and syllables are at different semantic levels. But you know, to the extent that it matters, what I mean.)

“Sounds sort of Italian,” Steve comments.

“Hello!” the Presence says, in an odd warbling voice

“Hi!” says Kristen with relief.

“Have you summoned me?” the voice asks, becoming less odd and less warbling, quite androgynous, perhaps a bit alluring.

“That was me, probably,” Kristen says, “I used the statue there.”

“The marker,” Colin notes.

“The Figure of the Ancient One has stood there undisturbed for a million years,” the Presence intones, “while I slept.”

“Sorry to have awakened you,” Kristen says politely.

“Was it called that even a million years ago?” Colin asks, “the Ancient One?”

Kristen pokes Colin with her elbow at this point, which has a meaning at least as definite as any word on this page that you are reading (if you are reading a page, and otherwise you know what I mean). Steve, the largest of the three, smiles despite himself.

“I am grateful to you,” says the Presence, its form settling toward the smooth slightly-yielding ground, as though it is sitting down or otherwise making itself comfortable, “it is good to be awake.”

“Are you the Ancient One?” Colin asks.

“I suppose,” the Presence says, “but you may call me Tibbs.”

“Tibbs?”

“Yes,” the Presence says, “Tibbs.”

Each of the three humans is, independently, quietly proud not to have laughed at this point.

“Why have you summoned me?” the Presence, Tibbs, then inquires. As anyone in a similar position might.

“Do you want to come with us?” Kristen asked, getting directly to the point.

“Come with you where?”

“Wherever it is that we are going. To become one of our number.”

“Our party, so to speak.”

“You suggest that I ally myself with you,” Tibbs says here, with an understandable hint of incredulity, “knowing nothing more about you, than that you have summoned me by invoking the Figure of the Ancient One?”

“It would be on a strictly Provisional basis,” Colin says.

“You could, like, change your mind at any time.”

“You are a puzzling trio of creatures,” Tibbs remarks.

“A lot happens in a million years,” Colin notes.

“If I were to join your… party, what would we be doing, and where would we be going, to begin with?”

“Well,” replies Kristen, consulting an intricate golden-brass device hanging from her belt, “there will be an Interstice Hawk passing within hailing distance in a little while.”

A ripple seemed to go through Tibb’s basically-invisible body.

“I would be delighted to join you,” said the alluring androgynous ancient voice, “just delighted.”

Fling Thirty-Two

2022/11/19

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Thirty

“Holy shit.”

“Holy goddam fcking shit.”

“What the hell.”

“How do they move so fast?”

“Giant goddam insects or whatever.”

“Just a virtuality I keep telling myself.”

“God I feel weird.”

“Just relax Stevie-o, how’s the noggin?”

“Are the bugs going to eat us?”

“Just a virtuality, not real.”

“Goddam pain was real.”

“All better now?”

“Aches like fuck, but not pain like before. What’s that thing?”

“Well…”

“It’s not, I mean, it looks like, but…”

“Like what?”

“It looks like that big brown bug over there, um, pulled it out of your head.”

“Wait, not the–“

“Obviously not, but it looks a lot like–“

“Just a virtual copy of–“

“Oh, so wait–“

“Maybe this is some kind of crazy therapeutic build, and–“

“They manifested surgery as a huge brown beetle or something?”

“They aren’t beetles, more like mantisses.”

“Way too round for mantisses!”

“So many eyes, ighh.”

“Hey, the brown one just, well, healed you or something.”

“This is an insane virtuality, you should sue.”

“Any affordances show up, Kris?”

The three humans, still rather dazed by the lightning onslaught and retreat of the insects (beetles, possibly, or mantisses, although the small one in the back looks completely different, Colin notices), have backed off to the edge of the old porch steps, to get at least symbolically farther from all those eyes, mandibles, antennae, and what-have-you.

“Still nothing,” she replies, “should we try to duck out again?”

“I’ve been doing that,” Colin says, closing his eyes and moving his head yet again, “no effect.”

“Should we try to… talk to them?” Steve wonders. He tilts his head thoughtfully and waves an arm in the direction of the three giant insects.

“Phhht!” Kristen hisses, pulling his arm down again, “do we really want to get their attention?”

“I do,” Colin says, “they’re really interesting-looking.”

“You’ve seen weirder things than that in a dozen instances,” she points out.

“True. This is sort of… different though, eh?”

“How’s your head now, Steve?”

Steve leans against her, closing his eyes.

“Mammoth headache,” he says, “but nothing like it was. I guess I passed out?”

She nodds and strokes his head and back. “We were worried.”

“This really doesn’t feel like a virtuality.”

“What else could it be? Probably some fancy ad-tech thing, you know how fast things are changing these days.”

“But why are we trapped in here, if it’s just to fix Steve’s–“

“Maybe something happened while they were monitoring us in here, and they had to do emergency life-saving–“

“Life saving insect dispatch!”

“Yeah, whatever, but anyway they had to lock down the instance while they did it, even though we were in here, and the bugs are just how the concepts happened to manifest…”

“Hey, they left!”

“What?”

“Heh!”

“Did you see them go? Where are they?”

“Nope, there was just this noise again and foop, no more bugs.”

They all look around, from there by the steps of the slowly-collapsing house.

“If that’s what the insects around here are like,” Steve says, “I guess I’m glad we didn’t run into whatever left all those cobwebs inside.”

“Oh, don’t even!”

Fling Thirty-One

2022/11/19

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twenty-Nine

They had reached the place that Sonoraneldan said was the same, in some way, as the end of the scentless scent-trail, not long after full dawn the next day, after a quiet night that Alissa had spent snug and happy in her burrowed space in the earth, and Sonoraneldan and Glomorominith had spent in doing whatever they did.

There had been nothing obviously different about the spot, and Sonoraneldan had explained that because the fragment with the curved markings was so much smaller than the ground (or something like that), the destination of their journey could be anywhere within a small walk away from there; so they had begun to spiral outward among the thinning root-arches, enjoying the air and looking for anything noteworthy.

It was Sonoraneldan who first saw the strange mammal-like creatures.

There were three of them, sitting or standing on the ground near a large and peculiar pile of bark fragments. They appeared soft and rather limp, but in general shape and eyelessness were much like the mammal ghosts in Alissa’s dreams.

“I wonder what those things are,” Sonoraneldan said, pointing with head and antennae.

“Those things!” Glomorominith said in an agreeable way.

The three travelers stopped a little ways from the creatures, sizing them up. They seemed unaware that they were being observed for some time, until two of them looked over and then slowly rose up on their rear limbs.

“They seem to move very slowly,” Alissa observed, “perhaps they are injured.”

“The one in the center seems sessile,” Sonoraneldan added.

Alissa moved in agreement. As they watched, the two standing mammals made various slow and uncertain movements, to no obvious purpose.

“In the center,” Glomorominith said, “what have we here? We here?”

“What is it, my friend?” Sonoraneldan asked softly, “Do you note something?”

Alissa stayed a bit behind as her larger companions moved toward the dithering pale creatures.

“Be careful,” she breathed, “they look harmless, but if they are mammals–“

“Hm, could these be the legendary mammals?” Sonoraneldan mused in a humorous tone, “perhaps they have grown less formidable over the ages.”

As the travelers approached them more closely, Alissa realized that the mammals, if that was what they were, were not only slower than the ones she recalled from her dreams, but also smaller. The two standing ones, that were still only making slow pointless motions, were not even as tall as Alissa with all four of her legs on the ground. She felt rather sorry for them, especially as they dithered over the unmoving, and perhaps slightly larger, one on the ground between them.

Sonoraneldan and Alissa watched those two back slowly away, their odd faces (and were those eyes, down in the disquieting pair of pits in each face?) contorting peculiarly. In the meantime, Glomorominith went up close to the motionless one, and touched its head lightly with antennae, seemingly very interested in something about the still form.

This seemed to excite the other two into nearly-rapid motion. One reversed course and began to walk toward Glomorominith and the unresponsive one, reaching out with its upper two legs, or arms. (How simple they are, Aliisa thought to herself; two arms and two legs, perhaps, at most two eyes, no antennae but only a sort of fuzz of tendrils atop their modest and unambitious heads. If these are mammals, then the legends did indeed exaggerate, or they are very changed. Perhaps, she thought, they are mammal grubs, or larvae.)

Glomorominith continued the gentle stroking and examination of the grub on the ground, and the nearer of the other two continued approaching; the third seemed torn, making ponderous motions both toward and away from its bolder, or more excited, companion.

As it seemed that the nearer grub might reach with its arms and interfere with Glomorominith’s examination, Sonoraneldan reached out an antenna and blocked its way. It made awkward attempts to evade the obstruction, but Sonoraneldan easily fended them off, pushing the no-doubt frustrated creature gently backwards.

Then “Oho,” Glomorominith intoned, in a very pleased voice, “look what have we here, hello, hello,” and pulled from some interstice a long sliver of something like stone. Placing it, whatever it was, on the ground beside the unmoving grub, the big person then turned and walked with a hint of swagger back to their former position, a few strides further from the possible mammals, and Alissa and Sonoraneldan followed.

“What was that thing?” Alissa asked, not sure which of them she was asking, “What just happened?”

Sonoraneldan made a sound of pleased amusement. “Glomorominith can be a most surprising person, excellent at finding food, but all sorts of other things as well. Knowing what is needed at any given moment is at least as valuable a skill as many others I could name.”

“As valuable as categorizing leaves, or telling stories about stories?” Alissa laughed. And the other two burbled agreement.

In the meantime, the three grubs had been moving slowly about in some leisurely excitement. The one on the ground was beginning to sit up, rubbing its head with a forward hand. The other two clomped awkwardly over to it, and lowered themselves to the ground again on either side.

“It moves!” Alissa noted, “Did Glomorominith heal it in some way?”

“Oho!” Glomorominith replied, and Sonoraneldan made an amused gesture.

“Removed that bit of stone like a splinter from the mammal’s craw, perhaps.”

“Very generous to return the splinter like that,” Alissa mused, “not the kind of thing one sees every day.”

“No covetousness, now.”

“There is a word I have not heard in many whiles,” Alissa smiled.

The grubs had now turned toward the three travelers. Alissa tried to discern from their stances, motions, and odd soft faces what might be happening in their minds, but could only speculate.

“Are they perhaps being slowly grateful?” she wondered.

“Very hard to say,” Sonoraneldan replied, “With creatures so different from us, even with a different experience of time, as it were, how could that question be answered?”

Alissa moved in agreement, and continued watching the mysterious creatures, waiting for them to do something interesting.

Fling Thirty