NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twenty-Four

“If this is a hallucination,” Steve said after a time, “it’s a really uninteresting one.”

“I think it’s kind of interesting,” Colin replied, “it’s very unclear what’s going on.”

“I’m getting really concerned about what’s happening to our bodies back in the real,” Kris said, pragmatically, “and what it means that we’re stuck here.”

“Did we ever have bodies, though?” Colin asked, lying back on the featureless ground.

“Here we go,” Kris sighed.

“Serious, Colin?”

“Think about it,” Colin said, “we remember having bodies, but how reliable is that memory? Reality, such as it is, seems minimal, and apparently malleable. In this present moment–“

“Which is all that exists,” Kris sighed again in a long-suffering way.


“How did we make it light?” Steve wondered, “And can we make the light bigger? Being surrounded by darkness is creepy. And can we make some wall, a ceiling, maybe a sofa and some weed.”

The others laughed or snickered at that last.

“It’s not like we have the virtuality editor tools,” Kristen pointed out.

“Maybe there’s an AI network watching us, though,” Steve said. Then, waving his arms in wide arcs, he called “Let there be light everywhere!” and the darkness around their small dome of light gradually faded and lightened, until they were entirely surrounded by an evenly-lighted infinity, stretching off to an invisible off-white horizon in all directions, between the empty off-white ground and an empty off-white sky.

“Yipes,” Kristen said softly.

“Okay, that’s even creepier,” Steve said, closing his eyes.

“Let there be the great dome of the firmament above!” Colin declaimed, “and let the ground below the firmament be of earth, and let the earth bring forth grasses, and trees, and every natural thing that is pleasant and good to look upon! And, um, not dangerous or anything!”

They all felt a sort of a lurch, and Kristen made an appreciative sound in her throat. Steve opened one eye and saw that they were standing in a clearing in a lush green woods, with a blue sky artistically streaked with cloud overhead.

“If this is my hallucination,” he said, “you’re really interfering with it, guy! On the other hand if this is my hallucination, they you are part of it. So carry on, I suppose.”

“I don’t really… want to do any more of whatever that was,” Colin said, “I need to process it.”

“A virtuality assistant AI network could definitely have handled that,” Kristen said, “the meaning of the words and the defaults to fill in were all pretty obvious.”

“What do words mean, to a piece of software,” Colin said, abstractedly, “What do words mean to anyone? Do you understand me? How did my words, just sounds in the air, bring all this into being around us?”

Steve groaned, and Kristen said, “I know you don’t want a description of how AI networks and virtualities work, Socrates.”

“Everything is slipping away,” the small dapper one said in a soft voice, “how can there be any meaning when reality reacts to words? How can there be… anything, if words and memory are unrelated, if everything changes every second…”

“He’s down bad,” Steve said with concern, “even though I’m the one in a hospital bed, like hanging bravely onto life second by second–“

“I wish we could just duck out the real,” Kristen said, visibly doing the mental twist that usually signed to the network a desire to get back to the real world.

“Could we make a portal?”

“Ooh, good idea!” Kristen said, screwing up her face in concentration. Closed-end virtualities, where the visitor is expected to eventually find the center of the maze, or slay the dragon, or win the race, the kind that Kristen didn’t have much interest in creating, often had exit portals at the end, which would return the triumphant visitor to the real, out of the virtuality, with audiovisual effects appropriate to the theme.

“This is hard without any tools except maybe the AI network,” Kristen said, as the other two watched with interest.

She walked a few steps away from what had been the center of the empty lighted area (and was now a woodland clearing of the same size and shape), moved her arms in an arch, and muttered something under her breath.

Nothing happened at first, and she seemed to become impatient, and more emphatic in her gestures and insistent in her muttering. As she did, the air within the scope of her arms began to glow, and an archway of slightly glittering stones formed over her head, and there was a rough but ready portal before them. For good measure, she and the AI had added a plain red EXIT sign over the center of the archway.

“I’m worried,” Colin said, sitting up on the grass a few feet from the flow of the portal.


“If we go through the portal, how will we know we’re actually in the real world, and not just in another level of whatever hallucination or construct this is?”

“Oh, come on.”

“I’m serious. Although of all of us I guess I shouldn’t be. What’s the difference, after all, between a thing and a perfect simulation of that thing? If we go through the portal and all seems fine, then all will be fine. There is no extra layer of truth underlying what we perceive. Esse, after all, est percipi.”

“Colin,” Kristen said with an air of infinite patience, “it is still easy to tell the real from the virtual. We don’t have the technology to make virtualities that are anything like as detailed or naturalistic as the real.”

She bent down and picked a piece of grass.

“Look at this,” she said, holding it to Colin’s face, and then to the bemused Steve’s, “simple, just a flat piece of greenness with a vague generic smell.”

“So if we go through the portal and everything is realistic–” began Steve.

“– then either we’re back in the real, or someone has developed better technology,” Colin grinned, “perfect!”

“Such. a. brat,” Kristen sighed, “are you coming?”

“What if I’m not supposed to wake up yet?” Steve asked.

“Hm,” Kristen said, “as far as I know, if you’re medically sedated, then when you exit the virtuality you should just sink into that, and get some sleep. But if you’d rather stay in here…”

“No, no, I think leaving is a good idea.”

Colin nodded, and the three of them, not quite arm in arm, walked steadily to the portal, and stepped through.

Fling Twenty-Five

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