Archive for November 11th, 2022


NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Nineteen

Alissa the storyteller told her own story to her host Sonoraneldan as the second dawn brightened the world outside.

More than she could remember ever feeling back at the rich dark earth, even after a soaking rain, Alissa felt happy and relieved with the coming of light. It was as though a thick choking layer of ignorance and blindness had been peeled from the world, as though her sight had been restored (as, after all, it had) and monsters either fled or revealed to be only an oddly-shaped stem by the side of the path.

In the mellow first dawn, she had opened her eyes to see the interior of the enclosed space, the woody floor and the walls curving up together as they went up, an archway leading outside into further brightness, another archway leading inward into dimness. She had closed her eyes again and enjoyed the peace of the first dawn, letting herself rest until the second dawn and its brightening began.

Her host had come in shortly after, bustling quietly around in the space. She had opened one eye again, watching Sonoraneldan moving around, opening things and closing things, moving things here and there. The space contained a shelf on one wall, small leaves and fragments of larger leaves, small sticks and splinters of larger sticks, here and there in efficient order lined up there and on the other wall. All very well organized, she thought, and closed that eye again.

As the second dawn began, Alissa opened all of her eyes and stretched her limbs and her body joints in pleasure. Sonoraneldan had come in and greeted her, offering some rich seed-meat and a drop of nectar. They had sat together comfortably near the growing brightness from outside, and now Alissa found herself telling her story in some detail, and unrolling her bundle to show the strangely-marked fragments that had started her journey.

She watched the other as she told the story, as she always watched the listener or listeners as she told her stories. Sonoraneldan was a large person, but not as large as she had thought the night before, not as bulky but more spindly, with a wise many-eyed face and six long folding limbs. As she spoke the other sat still and respectful, but more alert, more engaged with the world, than the typical listener back at the rich dark earth, who had generally traveled far to hear the stories, and would sit focused on nothing but the telling.

Now, though, Alissa felt that Sonoraneldan was watching her as they listened just as much as she was watching Sonoraneldan as she spoke.

When she finished, they sat silent for a time, the day entirely risen outside, and the land visible down below their height on the trunk of the tree. Then Sonoraneldan nodded, and stretched long limbs, and spoke.

“Have you brought with you, if I may ask, the contents of this unknown bundle, the flat fragments with their enigmatic marking?”

“I have, yes of course,” Alissa answered, and turned to the bundle that she had clung to through everything that had happened in the long night, opening it and carefully removing the fragment.

“See,” she said, “how the markings are laid over the nectar-channels in the leaf, under some sort of–“

“Indeed,” Sonoraneldan said, interrupting but somehow not rudely, “I see indeed. May I show you something?”

“Oh yes!” Alissa said again, curious as to what this mysterious tree-dweller might want to show her.

Sonoraneldan’s many-eyed head bobbed again, and her host led her through the inward-going archway out of the enclosed space, into another space, this one more cluttered with objects and dimmer with being further from the outside.

“I study materials,” Sonoraerneldan said, which told Alissa not very much at all, but she nodded and dipped her antennae politely.

“And I keep some of them organized here, thus,” her host continued, indicting a puzzling object, or bundle, that Alissa had to study a bit before she understood.

Most of it was a bundle, or really a pile or a stack, of very flat fragments of some kind, all aligned at one edge, and somehow held together at that end, by a tangle or daub of small splinters and something like wax. In between each adjacent pair of flat fragments, Sonoraneldan had inserted one or more small leaves or leaf-buds, and the weight of the entire stack pressed on them and on all of the others, holding the whole cleverly closed, as long as there was no wind.

And here in this inner enclosed place, Alissa realized, the wind would seldom penetrate.

“What do you do with all of these?” she asked, never having seen so many objects so thoroughly organized in one place before.

“I will happily tell you many things on that subject,” Sonoraneldan said, “but first I think you may want to look at these.”

The large person pulled over another pile of the very flat fragments, these not apparently yet stuffed with the collected leaves and leaf-buds that were organized within the other.

“Look carefully at the surface of the flat parchemin.”

“I’m sorry, the what?”

“The parchemin, ah, the flat fragment of matter here.”

Alissa moved her head and eyes closer to the topmost fragment in the pile, and then gasped with all of her spiracles.

“Is it the same marks?” she exclaimed. For there on the surface of the fragment, not dark but still clearly visible, were markings of the same nature as the smaller markings, not the curved shape that had brought to her might scent-trails, but the self-contained and separate small markings, lines and curves one and closed, some that curved entirely back onto themselves, all arranged on this surface in very straight rows, unlike the logical curves of the nectar-channels on any leaf.

“The same, different, I do not know,” Sonoraneldan replied, “but it seems that they are the same character. I have, I admit, never given them much notice, as I am more concerned with the nature of the specimens that I press between the flatnesses of the parchemins. But I have wondered in idle moments how they might have come to be like that, and what could cause such markings, or what the purpose of them could be.”

Alissa went back to the first room, and dragged her bundle and its contents into the inner room, leaving her other bundle (containing food and nectar and other useful items) and the damaged travois where they were.

Putting the fragment with its bold dark markings beside the pile of fragments with their (older? paler?) markings, Alissa could make no sense of any of it. Were some of these marks the same, in some way, as some of these? Did this mark appear somewhere else? These marks were arrayed more neatly and in straighter lines than these; why?

“This seems a great… mystery,” she said, shaking her upper body.

“It does,” agreed her host, “it does indeed.”

Fling Twenty


NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Eighteen

Dr. Artemis Zane-Tucker sat working in her personal virtuality, arranging the big books of tables and glossy photos open on her desk, sometimes closing one and returning it to a shelf, sometimes pulling out a new one, at other times closing a book and opening it again on some entirely different content. The photos were mostly black-and-white scenes from a life, from someone’s thoughts and memories, interspersed with similarly monochromatic X-ray and CT scan images. She was judging both the quality of the memories, and their relationship to a particular obviously-damaged area on the scan images.

The small office contained no shelves in the usual sense; when Dr. Zane-Tucker was done with a book, each of which represented a particular data-source, she would close it and then gesture with it in the air in a way vaguely resembling the act of putting a book on a shelf, and the virtuality AI network would recognize the gesture and the book would silently disappear.

Back in what many people still described as the real world, Dr. Zane-Tucker (or, as she would have put it, her body) lay on a comfortable divan of touchless foam, with gracefully-shaped plastic cups over her eyes and a realtime fMRI cap loosely covering her head and connecting her to the virtual. Much of her body was experiencing something very close to sleep, but her brain was actively awake.

The books that the doctor opened and closed and studied and made notes in on this night were mostly related to a difficult case in the local trauma center; some desert hot-rodder had presented with various broken bones, a concussion, and, most interestingly, a penetrating head injury due to a large foreign object in the form of a metal fragment of unknown nature and origin. The patient had been stabilized quickly and effectively, a routine CT scan done, and a cautionary coma induced with neothiopentol. The injury and presence of the object had made it difficult to synchronize an fMRI lace, but some quick and she gathered rather brilliant improvisation by the imaging staff had allowed the patient to be brought more or less normally and consciously into a virtuality for brain-function study.

Now she was going through the records and readings from that study, putting together a baseline picture of the patient’s brain function as stabilized, for use in the operating theater the next day, as the surgical team would attempt to extract the object and any associated foreign matter, and determine more precisely the degree of contusion or laceration, without causing any more additional tissue damage than absolutely necessary. As far as she had seen from the data so far, the patient’s brain function was at normal as could be expected in the circumstances, with no sign of serious or lasting impairment. Even activation paths involving the damaged area were functioning in an apparently normal way.

She hoped in an abstract way that that would continue to be true.

Dr. Zane-Tucker smiled for a moment, thinking how similar she and the patient were at this moment, bodies sleeping in a sleep at least partly induced or assisted by technology, and minds active, or potentially active, in any conceivable artificial reality by virtue of their fMRI laces and attendant AI networks. She got up and walked around her desk, through the vaguely-defined edge of her office, and into the less well-organized back lot of her personal space.

She dictated a shorthand summary of her findings into the air for the AI network to transcribe into her official report, and walked deeper into the woods.

The woods were thick in places, dark, and apparently endless. As she walked deeper, the doctor’s body appeared to thin out, to become transparent and insubstantial, so that she could feel more at one with the illusion (or the reality) here, without the distractions of a simulated body. She thought about the various virtual species, mostly insectoid, that she had worked with the AI network to bring into being in her woods, and how all of it flowed along around her, naturally, without her help or intervention.

The thought was comforting.

She let her awareness travel through the woods, to areas that the AI had not yet filled in, and experienced the slowdown in time that meant that the virtuality was working extra-hard to extend the world further in the direction she was going. She could have whispered or even just emphatically thought instructions to it to alter the general nature of the extensions, or brought out virtual tools to craft with the AI a specific canyon, or tower, or waterfall. But tonight she was content to let it spin out the world as it would, rolling the dice as it were with every meter she proceeded deciding how predictable or surprising the next bit of the world would be. She passed over a small stream, knowing that if she went upstream the ground would rise, and if she went downstream it would fall, perhaps with a pond or a lake, or just a wet place between gentle hills, to receive the flowing water, even if none of that existed just yet.

And when she went out again, to the office or even the real world, she would let all this new area sink back into potentiality; no sense cluttering up permanent storage with bits of woods that could just be rolled out afresh next time she walked this way.

As she often did, she thought of the real world (the “real world”) as being the same way. As you go, the world gets filled in around you, and when you leave again it dissolves into clouds of probability, to reform if and when you return. It was a solipsistic idea, but one that she rather enjoyed.

“We surgeons are supposed to be the self-absorbed ones,” a friend and colleague had laughed when she had shared that thought with him, “but you’ve gone above and beyond there!”

Floating as a disembodied viewpoint through the newly-created but otherwise ancient woods, she remembered that conversation, and her invisible face smiled.

She did hope the young person with the metal intrusion in their skull would be all right. The data looked good so far.

Fling Nineteen