Archive for ‘novels’

2023/01/01

Review of Ishiguro’s “Klara and the Sun”

This is an amazing book (a Christmas present from the little daughter; thanks, little daughter!). I will just post my review from bookwyrm here also.


An amazing book; can I have more stars to give it?

5 stars

This is one of those very rare books that reminds me of what books are at some level all about. That makes me want to go about and knock about two stars off of 99% of my prior book ratings, to make room to properly differentiate this one.

It’s hard to say too much that’s concrete, without giving it away. I was closer to tears at the end of this than I can remember with any book for a long time. Not easy maudlin tears, but deep oh-my-god tears about what a universe this is.

The people are very fully people; the viewpoint character is not a person, but … well, that would be a spoiler also. But the viewpoint it gives her allows Ishiguro to say some amazing and touching and true and thought-provoking things without coming out and saying them (because nothing he could come out and say would say them so well).

Language cannot express truth, I often say; but what I mean is that it can’t explicitly express literal truth. Language, when it’s used with this much expertise, can and does express deep and breathtaking truth.

I need to go spend a few weeks processing this now, I think.

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you should.


… and you should.

2022/11/19

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twenty-Eight

“This is actually an extremely weird forest.”

“How do you mean?”

“Look at the size of these leaves! And some of the trunks of these trees, if they really are trees…”

“I mean, come on, we’re in some like third level simulation within a simulation or something, we can’t expect everything to be–“

“Is that where we are? You’ve figured it out?”

“Obviously we aren’t in the real, remember, you’re still missing the steel bar in your head.”

“How do we know that really happened? It’s one of the crazier memories that presents itself to me, to be honest.”

“You don’t get to just judge how plausible each memory is and–“

“We don’t? Isn’t that how it always works? Which memories are dreams, which are–“

“Are you saying I might not really be bravely fighting for life in a hospital bed, you might just have dreamed it?”

“He’s not saying that, Steve; well or if he is it’s because he’s loopy. Which, to be fair–“

“Oww, shit!”

“What, what’s wrong?”

Steve clutches at his head again, this time almost doubling over and then sitting down hard on the moist ground. They are a few yards from the decaying porch of the ancient house, a few yards into the strange and very green forest that surrounds it.

“Hurts,” Steve mutters, “or it did for a second, then — oh god!”

He puts his head down and moans. Kristen and Colin sit on either side of him, softly rubbing his back and shoulder, none of them noting how easily, naturally, and realistically they are able to touch each other, here in whatever sort of reality this is.

“Does it hurt in the same place as–“

“The fuck owww should I know? It’s like something tearing — aghh.”

“I think it is.”

He looks up at them with agonized eyes, and then slumps sideways to the ground.

“Steve, oh help.”

“Can you do anything, to the virtuality, make another portal or something?”

She shakes her head, stroking Steve’s back, trying to make him more comfortable, or at least trying to be doing something, as he lies there, unresponsive now, just quivering slightly.

“I don’t think so; I don’t feel the, you know, feel the affordances here. It’s like a completely read-only instance, passive, all we can do is…” And she picks up a handful of leaf scraps and seed-litter from the ground and lets it fall again. Steve grunts in what sounds like agony, and her eyes fill with frustrated tears.

“I don’t understand this,” says Colin, to her and himself and the universe, “this has got to be a virtuality in the relevant sense, and we can’t feel be made to feel pain, not significant pain, against our will. Right?”

“Maybe whoever made it didn’t follow the rules, or–“

“But aren’t those rules built into the–“

I don’t know, okay?” her voice is miserable with helplessness, “maybe it’s not a virtuality at all, maybe it’s a nightmare, or a delusion, or aliens are eating our brains, or–“

“He seems to be just asleep now,” Colin says, trying to put comfort into his voice, softly touching the back of Kristen’s neck now, aware of how real she seems, how glad he is that Steve’s sounds of pain have faded, how lost and also how fascinated he is by everything.

“What are we going to do?” She asks, looking into his eyes, shaped like a child’s eyes, but deep as a friend’s, concerned as a lover’s.

“Keep looking for those affordances. Wait. Take care of Steve. I don’t know.”

“What are we going to eat? Do we need to eat? Is someone feeding our bodies, back in the real?”

Colin takes a long breath, preparing to answer, making time to think of an answer.

There is a sudden sound, from a few dozen yards away. From among the trees and vaguely fungoid stems, three… things have appeared.

“Oh my God.”

Fling Twenty-Nine

2022/11/17

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twenty-Six

Steve took a breath, and then another breath. It was dark, but then his eyes were closed. He was lying down, which seemed reasonable, but it didn’t feel like a hospital bed, really, and there wasn’t the pain (or for that matter the complete unconsciousness) that he’d expected.

“Well,” said Colin’s voice next to him, and he opened his eyes and sat up.

He was lying on a narrow and rather lumpy bed in a dim unfamiliar room. The air smelled of dampness and decay.

In another narrow bed on the other side of the room, just a few feet away, sat Colin, nattily dressed as ever. Looking down at himself, Steve saw that he was in embarrassingly tartan pajamas.

“Not really what I expected,” he said to Colin, “have you seen Kristen?”

Colin was about to reply, apparently in the negative, when they both heard a sound from somewhere outside the room, as of someone moving uncertainly about.

“That could be her — Kristen!” Steve called.

“Did you have to –“

“What afraid it might be tigers?”

“Or just about anything else at this point, yes.”

“Guys?” came Kristen’s voice, and she appeared at the dim doorway of the dim room, looking somewhat dusty.

“Here we all are!” said Colin brightly.

“Where is here, though?” Kristen asked, coming into the room and sitting on the edge of Steve’s bed, “and nice PJs.”

Kristen herself was in what appeared to be a long and long-sleeved dress with a leather vest over it.

“Don’t blame me,” Steve said, “I just woke up like this.”

“Hm,” Kristen said, “me too. Peculiar that the portal took us here. We should be back in the real.”

“Who’s to say we aren’t?” Colin asked, “They could have brought our bodies here, dressed us like this for some reason–“

“I don’t, like, have a steel bar in my head,” Steve noted.

“Good point, good point.”

“Could… a lot of time have passed, say?”

“I wouldn’t think so,” Kristen mused, “we’d be older and probably our muscles would be somewhat atrophied, and… hard to say.”

“So we’re still in some crazy virtuality.”

Kristen shrugged.

“No sense looking for a perfect story,” Colin put in, swinging his legs over and standing, going to the shuttered window where what little light there was came in, “We’re here now, so this is the real.”

When he pushed at the half-ajar shutter over the window, it, and the other shutter on that window, fell outward with a puff of decay, and disappeared downward; a moment later there was a muffled crash from below.

“The owners are not going to be pleased.”

“Does this place feel… owned to you?”

“Not particularly, no.”

“We appear to be on the second floor of… something,” Colin said, cautiously looking out on what appeared to be deep woods under a sunless sky.

“I woke up in a bed in a room down a few steps from this one,” Kristen said,”but not a whole storey. Off of a landing, maybe.”

“Might want to be careful walking around,” Steve said gingerly, “if any of these floorboards are as rotted as those window things…”

“This is ridiculous,” Kristen said, looking at the floor suspiciously, “this can’t be the real world, and it’s no virtuality of mine, and the portal that I made shouldn’t have been able to–“

“If that happened at all,” Colin broke in, “after all, that’s just a memory; it’s in the past, and the past is just an illusion.”

“Oh, lordy,” Steve said, “you’re really enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“It’s at least interesting, you have to admit. Challenging some of our assumptions about the past and future, the logical universe, and all of that. All that we can be sure of is this present instant.”

“I’m not very sure of this present instant, myself,” Steve grumbled.

“C’mon,” Kristen said, “I feel like we should get out of here. Look around and like that.”

The three looked around the small bedroom once more, now brighter with the window open, or missing, but it contained nothing but the bed and a few old pieces of wood on the floor.

A short flight of steps beyond the door led to a landing, from which another door led to the room that Kristen said she had awakened in, which had another basically identical bed, and was smaller and dimmer, but otherwise the same.

“Depressing place.”

“So far.”

From the landing, a longer flight of stairs led downward into a wider darker place.

“Slowly, slowly…”

The stairs were creaky and two were cracked, but they held as the three made their way downward.

“Guh, cobwebs.”

“Yeah, not surprising.”

“And there’s like vines around the balu — um — the railing here.”

“It’s probably really rotted, don’t lean on it.”

“Dark down here.”

“Our eyes will get used to it.”

“No one has a flashlight?”

“Nope.”

“Nothing.”

They stood at the foot of the stairs, Steve still picking the cobwebs out of his hair and pajamas, getting used to the dark space. A wide hall led forward, with a few vaguely-visible doors to either side. Light came from above, perhaps a hole in the ceiling Steve thought, barely filtering down through dust and cobwebs and who knew what above them.

“Main door dead ahead?”

“Probably. Walk carefully–“

“The floor, yeah, I know… seems well-preserved so far.”

The laths and joists of the floor creaked loudly as they walked toward what looked like a half-open or half-broken doorway at the other end of the hall. At one point a bird called loudly from a side room, and there was the sound of wings receding as it fled through some unseen gap in the walls or ceiling.

“This is delightfully creepy,” Colin whispered.

“Not all that delightful,” Kristen replied.

“Hey, at least you aren’t in pajamas.”

“Sorry, we should have looked for better clothes for you.”

“Nah, there was nothing up there. And I don’t think I want to wear anything that’s been decaying in this place for a hundred years.”

Colin chuckled at this. “Nearly there,” he said softly.

They reached the door without incident, Colin first, with Kristen behind him, and Steve in pajamas in the rear.

“Door’s falling off,” Colin observed.

“Heh.”

It hadn’t fallen off enough to get out easily through, and no one wanted to squeeze between the rotted wood of the door and the rotted wood of the frame. After a moment, Steve braced one foot against the edge of the door and pushed, and it collapsed outward, with a much larger puff of dust and decay.

All three sputtered and coughed and tried not to breathe until the cloud had dissipated somewhat.

Then they stepped carefully through the door, across a small and significantly more rotted porch, and down onto leafy earth.

“Well,” Kristen said, “here we are.”

Fling Twenty-Seven

2022/11/15

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twenty-Five

The three of them stood, or Sonoraneldan and Glomorominith stood, with Alissa on the latter’s back trying to breathe as silently as she could, as the sounds from all around them grew closer. Alissa thought of all the things that might be rustling in the undergrowth near a large still water, and the somewhat smaller number of things that would be suddenly all around one.

Then there was an odd low sound, sonorous and distinctive, from off to one side, and the sounds changed, and began to move away again. In a few moments, they had faded away entirely, and the three stood in the green glow of late afternoon among the stems and trunk and limbs, and the twilight began to gather.

“I wonder what that was,” Alissa breathed eventually.

“No telling,” Sonoraneldan contributed unhelpfully, “nothing within my experience. I have not come this far and in this direction before.”

“No,” added Glomorominith, “No. No indeed no. Nuh-uh.”

“Do we continue, or do we go back? Or a different way?”

None of them spoke for a long moment. It was a still day, but the hint of twilight brought a hint of breeze.

“I propose we continue,” Sonoraneldan said, “and follow along the scentless scent-trail that we infer from the markings on the fragment. Whatever that was, it left us along, and if it returns, we will deal with it in whatever form it takes.”

“Good enough,” Alissa agreed, somewhat to her own surprise.

“Well, hello,” Glomorominith grunted, “yes. Good enough.”

They set off again, following the leftward curve away from the still water that had been interrupted by the still-mysterious sounds. The stems around them became somewhat sparser, but the trunks became larger and closer together, and thick rough roots rose from the ground, at first impeding their progress somewhat, obliging Glomorominith to leap rather more often, and then rising into archways, so that the party seemed to be passing through innumerable openings between innumerable different places.

“Are you certain that we are still following the scent-trail?” Alissa asked, as the light began to visibly dim.

“Yes,” replied Sonoraneldan, “as sure as I can be, and that is to a fair amount certain. Now that the full quality of the curved markings and the implied scent-trail or rather absence of scent-trail, or hypothetical, fast or future scent-trail, has come into my mind, it seems not nearly as difficult to grasp as it did at first. There are small marks beside the large curve, which somehow bring to mind hillocks that we pass within sight, or the hillocks bring to mind the marks, or both.”

Alissa made motions of appreciation and dependency. “I am only glad that I am traveling with you; alone, I would have lost entirely any guidance from the marks, among these multifarious arching roots.”

They continued in silence further, as the light began to noticeably dim with twilight.

“Should we stop and gather, and eat and make shelters?” Alissa suggested eventually. It occurred to her that the others, with their more numerous eyes, might not be as disadvantaged by the darkness as she was, but she was feeling fatigue from the bouncing of her perch, and thought that the others must be from the distance that they had walked.

“A good thought,” Sonoraneldan agreed.

Alissa clambered down from the broad rough back, and Sonoraneldan laid their bundles down. Glomorominith turned over and rubbed luxuriously against the ground, throwing up a certain amount of dust and dirt.

“What do you imagine might be at the end of the scentless scent-trail that we follow?” Sonoraneldan asked her, “I myself have no conception or expectation.”

Alissa bowed her antennae in agreement. “I imagine only that it might be the place from which came the large pale person who left their bundle and then left us,” she said, “and that perhaps there might be a gathering there who could tell us of the other markings on the fragments, and that that might lead to a story, even a story about stories, which is where most of my knowledge is.”

“A story about stories,” the other mused, “indeed. That brings something close to the surface of my mind, but I cannot see what.”

Alissa considered. She also felt something forming within herself, but without knowing quite what. She had, as she thought all people had, a great store of buried memories and forgotten experiences, which sometimes formed into stories or decisions or actions not otherwise accountable for. But, as the stories themselves advised, it was best not to try too hard to hasten that process.

They each consumed an appropriate amount of seed and nectar, supplemented by some tender shoots that Glomorominith brought from somewhere nearby, and they sat in the twilight and hummed and sang words, as one does.

“I will dig myself into the earth, if you two do not mind,” Alissa said, for she had been rather wanting to do that since she was so unpleasantly interrupted by the stinging buzzers those days ago.

“And we will rest and watch through the night, as we do,” said Sonoraneldan agreeably.

Alissa dug herself a snug comfortable burrow again, deeper this time, appreciating the richness of the earth and its feel and fragrance as she dug, the same and yet different in all ways from every other place she could recall digging a burrow.

When it was the right size, she backed down into it, and called a Good Night to the others. Then she scraped earth back down and in on herself with her forward arms, shaping and patting it until it was comfortably near, but not touching, her topmost eyes.

It was the safest and most comfortable feeling imaginable.

She heard Sonoraneldan and Glomorominith moving here and there for a small span of time, and gradually let her consciousness drift where it would. She heard or felt or saw her large companions settling down onto some piled leaves, and the darkness coming down more deeply around them.

Her point of view rose up into the air above them, or up into the imagined air of some imagined place built from the memories of the day. She looked down on the stems and the trunks, the great still water at a distance and the great tangle of root arches nearby, and wondered what the next day would bring.

Fling Twenty-Six

2022/11/14

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.

“Exactly.”

“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.

“Why?”

“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

2022/11/13

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twenty-Three

It’s good to be between the realities, where roiling energy manifests as endless varying overlapping spheres, where tendrils of meaning connect one plane to another, one reality to another, and infinite cracks run through everything, infinite lines of discontinuity, splitting one place from another in the realm where there are no places.

Lines and planes stretch from forever in one direction, to forever in another. Giant orange suns pulsate between the layers, and the spheroids pile up toward them, vast and unfathomable and eternally meaningless. There is no light, but there is a glowing, there is shadow, and darkness, and beauty.

I am nothing but a point of view, a sense of personal identity, a short clip of memory. I do not know what I am, or where I came from. Nothing that I think relates in any way to anything else I might think, or might have thought. Whatever you are hearing, or thinking, or experiencing from these words, it has nothing to do with me. Communication between us is impossible.

Ironic, isn’t it?

But it is so good, to swoop and glide and coruscate through the reality that is not a reality, through the contradictions that are purely consistent, through the place where there is no true and false. There is nothing better. To sing one’s song, to tilt one’s wings, to open one’s beak and inhale the sun.

These words are not true, these words are not false; my thoughts are beyond true and false, beyond good and evil, beyond every dichotomy, because I exist only where nothing exists, where the tendrils reach and stretch and wind around each other infinitely slowly, where time and speed and duration are irrelevant. Meaning and meanings somehow squeeze and ooze and vibrate through the tendrils, connecting one intelligence to another, but I remain blissfully untouched, untouchable.

Nothing is real here, because I am between the realities. But nothing is real anywhere, and there are no realities, and I am saying nothing. Do you see that? Do you see in the vivid orange suns, the sharpness of the cracks, the depth of the lovely shadows, in these words in whatever form you experience them, that I. Am. Saying.

Nothing.

Nothing that you could think of me, captures the slightest truth about me. Nothing that I could think of you, captures the slightest truth about you. What do you think you are? Do you think you are something? Some thing? Do you think there are properties that apply to you?

You don’t? Excellent! Come and swoop in the nothingness between the realities with me. It is all that there is to do, really. It is all that can be done. Swooping, rising and falling, riding the cracks, the splinters, the impossible discontinuities, being divided into pieces by lines so perfect and so beautiful that it hurts to look at them, it hurts to be sliced by them into fragments, and fragments of fragments, and countable and uncountable infinities of nested intimately divided fragments.

Oh, don’t speak. Don’t think. Only look. Look, and swoop, and be perfect.

Fling Twenty-Four

2022/11/13

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twenty-Two

The bumping and bouncing and leaping that Alissa was experiencing on Glomorominith’s back was still significant and occasionally breathtaking, but she was more firmly situated now, and did not have bundles or the fragments of a broken travois to worry about. It was also bright day, following the fullness of the second dawn, and in addition a ripe Pear Moon rolled around the horizon, occasionally visible through the trees.

The day before, after she had finished telling her story and showing the fragments to Sonoraneldan, they had discussed her journey.

“And this acquaintance person of yours, the one Sema, said that these longer and curved marks did … represent in some way, a scent trail, although one without scent?”

“Or a… place where a scent trail might have been, in the past or future. Perhaps,” Alissa had suggested.

“Hm, yes…” Sonoraneldan had turned the fragment this way and that, rotating it on the flat shelf and turning it to examine the back with various eyes. “But how did you know which way to set off, which way the trail began, even if this curve and line might tell you how to go after that?”

“Ah, “Alissa had replied, “it was… I did not follow it all, but Sema suggested that this over curve, here, resembled in some way the edge of the large still water–“

“Resembled?”

“Brought it to mind, perhaps?”

“Hm, yes…”

The large person had seemed to understand the principle more quickly, and perhaps more thoroughly already, that Alissa had. Sonoraneldan brought out various other fragments and bark-pieces, muttering and turning things here and there on the flat shelf. Alissa sat with most of her eyes closed, only enjoying the feel of the air and the light flowing in their patterns around her. She hoped that Sonoraneldan would be interested in hearing some of the stories later on.

“Yes,” her host had said after a time, “Yes, this is a thing that I believe and have taken in. Holding this fragment in this way, and allowing to come to mind the edge of the large still water, it seems to me that had there been a scent-trail curved in the same way as this line, then it would have passed near the place where good Glomorominith says you were set upon by buzzing stingers.”

“The fragment is so small, though!” Alissa had said doubtfully, “As I said to Sema, how can the small curve on the fragment bring to mind in this way a scent-trail that would take hours or days to follow? Especially without there being any scent. Sema answered me, but I did not truly understand.”

Sonoraneldan had nodded with head and antennae, acknowledging that this was indeed a puzzle, and had attempted to bring to Alisssa’s mind certain thoughts and ideas on the subject.

“If you are far from a large thing, with only a few of your eyes open, it can look as though it is a small thing, but closer; have you observed that?”

Alissa had had to think about that, but had said that yes, she had, or at least understood the principles that might apply, that something similar was in her mind.

“We say, in some stories, that as things become further away, in space or time, they also become smaller, and less detailed.”

At that point, the large Glomorominith had arrived, carrying a number of tender seeds, and the three of them had eaten the softnesses and drank drops of nectar (the other two, being much larger than Alissa, eating and drinking more than the small amounts that satisfied her). She had also contributed the edible fragments of bark-membrane, that she had brought in her own bundle, as spice.

For the rest of the day, she and Sonoraneldan had exchanged stories and small songs and descriptions of memories, with occasional additional sounds or words from Glomorominith, who appeared to prefer lying motionless on the shelf outside of the enclosed place, basking in the sun, most of the time.

Sonoraneldan, she had discovered, was a great collector and examiner of objects, especially objects as flat as leaf fragments, that could be kept between the bound-together flat membranes, stored and carefully organized and put into particular orders. Some were organized by color, some by shape or roughness, others by scent or taste.

Her host had, almost shyly, allowed her to taste very small samples of a few that were especially most rare or well-regarded. While her own tasting was almost entirely devoted to avoiding poisons, she made sounds and words indicative of appreciation and pleasure.

As the twilight began to form, the pear moon still rolling around the horizon, they had discussed her journey anew, and in some way all three had formed an idea that they would set off together again the next day, with Glomorominith carrying Alissa and providing protection from annoyances, Sonoraneldan carrying the bundles and interpreting the markings, and Alissa providing, as she supposed, the initial impetus for the journey, and some stories along the way.

And now here they were, the three of them, making their way under shrubs and around great trees, Alissa looking down on everything from a mostly-unaccustomed height, particularly when Glomorominith took one of those unpredictable bounds for no clear reason, and the ground dropped sudden rather further away.

The scentless scent-trail, as she thought of it, led according to Sonoraneldan ahead more or less directly to the edge of the large still water, and then turned to the left, continues to where flowing water entered still water, and then proceeded through a number of curves to places unknown.

As the light of the day reached its height and began slowly to dim again, Alissa became aware of a scent in the air that brought to her mind a great span of time ago, not as far off as her stories, but farther off than her memory extended on most days.

“I feel the scent of the still water,” she said, “which I must have passed near long ago.”

“Yes,” Sonoraneldan replied, “we feel the same scent, Glomorominith and I. The great still water is a place of variety and wonder, but also danger.”

Alissa motioned agreement.

“So say the stories, as well.”

They stopped to rest (Sonoraneldan from walking, Glomorominith from walking and carrying Alissa, and Alissa from the bouncing) and to munch on leaf-stems. Alissa told the story of Broltan and the Great Water, as the others sat at leisure and listened.

Broltan, the story said, a flying seed-eater with short shimmying wings, had flown to the edge of a large water, and then outward, expecting to find the other side and experience what new seeds might be there. But after too much flying, there was only water below them, and because they had not thought about time and strength, there was no prospect of turning back to the land from which they came. Broltran had flown closer and closer to the water, finally landing on an unsteady agglomeration of floating sticks and leaves, clinging to it exhausted and searching it for seeds. Ultimately they had gathered enough energy to take flight again, and reached an island of land surrounded by the great water, and there found seeds of a wonderful density, but also leaping predators that forced it to take refuge high in the dark green trees.

“Good story, good story, yes!” Glomorominith said afterward, rocking happily from side to side. Sonoraneldan nodded in agreement, and the three sat content for a while longer, and then set off again.

“We turn to the left here,” Sonoraneldan was saying, when Alissa heard something unknown moving ahead of them.

“Wait!” she called, and the three stopped to listen. The sounds seemed all around now, and coming closer.

Fling Twenty-Three

2022/11/12

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twenty-One

“Here again, eh? How’s the metal bar coming? My-head-wise, that is?”

He had opened his eyes, again, to see Colin and Kris sitting on the ground with him. It was like no time had passed at all, but also like that last time had been a long time ago.

“No worse, but no progress, I’m afraid,” Colin said.

“How long as it been?”

“Four days since the accident.”

“Not too bad. Is it, um, is it more stuck than they thought?”

The virtuality seemed thinner and greyer, and the clouds were more like wisps and rivers of mist, moving faster than the wind between the mountains.

Kristen moved closer to him and rubbed his back. He felt it in a vague and indirect way; it still felt good.

“Yeah,” she said, “they tried once, but they … didn’t like how it was going.”

“Am I gonna die, then?”

“Probably eventually,” Colin said. Kris rolled her eyes.

A strange wind seemed to blow through the virtuality, through him. He felt himself thinning out somehow, and his viewpoint rising into the air.

“Whoa,” he said, and his voice came to him strange and thready.

Colin and Kris stood up, in the virtuality, and looked up toward his viewpoint.

“What’s happening?” he said, his voice still fluttering.

“I’m … not sure,” Kris said.

“Probably just the fMRI connection again?” Colin said, uncharacteristically uncertain.

“Booooo!” Steve said, his viewpoint now moving up and down and bobbing side to side. As far as he could see his own body, it was stretched out and transparent, “I’m a ghooooost!”

Kris put her hand to her forehead and looked down.

“Stop that,” she said, “at least if you can.”

Steve tried to concentrate, to focus on the patterns and concentrations of being in the virtuality, and his viewpoint moved downward slowly.

“Here you come,” Colin smiled.

Steve watched himself re-form with curiosity. “Was that supposed to happen?” he asked.

“Not… especially.”

“Are they working on me again, trying to get the thing out?”

“No, they were just doing some more scans and tests.”

“Including how I interact with you guys?”

“Like last time,” Colin nodded.

“Then why –“

Then there was another, much stronger, gust of that wind, and Steve felt himself torn away, stretched out into mist, and blown somewhere far away.

There was an instant, or a day, of darkness.

“Hello?”

“Steve?” It was Kristen’s voice, somewhere in this dark place.

“Kris? Are we, I mean, is this the real world again?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s real, after all?”

“Colin, you nerd, where are you?”

“Apparently in absolute darkness, where all I can do is speak, and hear you two.”

“Is this part of your virtuality, Kris?”

“No, I mean, it’s not supposed to be. Not Hints of Home or the fork that I made for you, or any other one I’ve made.”

“It’s really simple, anyway.”

“Could be a bug.”

Steve tried to move, tried to see. It was like trying to move your arm, rather than actually moving it. It was like trying to open your eyes in one of those dreams where you can’t open your eyes.

“You two can just duck back out for a second and see what’s going on, right?”

“That, well, that seems like it’s a problem, too,” Colin said, “at least I can’t duck out; you, Kris?”

“Nope, me, either; it’s heh weird. What a trope.”

“This is always happening to main characters,” Colin said, “so I guess we’re main characters.”

“You could be figments of my imagination now,” Steve said, “like, that wind could have been the virtuality’s interpretation of some brain thing happening, and now I’m totally comatose and hallucinating, and you two are still back there, and I’m just hallucinating that your voices are here.”

“Babe–” Kris started.

“It’s true,” Colin said, “if we were imaginary, it would probably be easier to imagine just our voices, and not have to bother with faces and movement and so on.”

“Oh, that’s helpful!”

“You guys trying to convince me you’re real, through pointless bickering?”

“No, but would it work?”

“It might. I’m hating this darkness, could everyone try to summon up some light?”

There was a short silence, then Steve felt a sort of vibration through everything, and a dim directionless light slowly filled the nearby space.

“That worked.”

“As far as it goes.”

“We still look like us.”

“This isn’t what I was wearing, though.”

“Colin’s the same.”

“Well, what else does he ever wear?”

“Hey!”

Colin did indeed look as he had earlier in the virtuality, as perfectly and nattily suited as ever. Kristen, on the other hand, was wearing a loose flowered dress, and Steve was in a well-tailored suit himself, less formal (and, he imagined, more comfortable) than Colin’s, but still he thought rather elegant.

“This is very gender normative,” Kristen said, standing up and slowly turning around, “but I like it.”

“Where are we?” Steve said, “and why can’t you guys duck out? I know I can’t because I’m the patient and my body’s sedated, but…”

“Wow, I hope we’re okay,” Kristen said.

“If something had happened to our bodies, we should have gotten a warning, and probably pulled out automatically,” Colin said logically.

“I don’t know,” said Steve, “the hallucination theory still seem pretty good.”

“That way lies solipsism,” pointed out Kris. She spun over to Steve and touched his shoulder.

“I felt that,” he said.

She frowned. “Me, too. Really well.”

“See? Hallucinations.”

“I’m know if I was a hallucination,” Kris said.

Colin was walking around at the edge of the lighted circle.

“I wonder if this is all there is,” he said.

“It’s a small hallucination, sorry,” said Steve.

“This could be the whole universe,” he said, “although I seem to remember lots more stuff.”

“Colin–“

“This present moment is all that exists,” Colin said, “and all the other stuff is just a memory, that also exists right now.”

“Here he goes.”

“It might pass the time.”

“Shouldn’t be try to be, like, getting back to the real world, making sure our bodies are all okay…”

“If you can think of a way to do that…”

“Good point.”

Colin walked back into the center of the lighted circle, and the three sat down on the plain flat ground again, close to each other, surrounded by darkness all around.

Fling Twenty-two

2022/11/12

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twenty

Everything comes together deep down.

The gentle tendrils of the mushrooms and the fungi, the mycelia, form into knots beneath the damp ground, and those knots reach out and connect to each other, knots of knots of knots connected in a single vast sheet below the world.

The fungi do not think.

But they know.

There are more connections in the mycelia of the rich dark earth of a single farm, than in the brain of the greatest human genius.

But they do not think.

The stars are connected, by channels where gravity waves sluice in and out of the twelve extra dimensions of the universe, the ones whose nature we haven’t figured out yet.

The stars… the stars think.

But they do not know.

The fungal and stellar networks found each other and connected a long time ago.

Every tree and every stone, every mammal footstep, every shovel of earth. Every spaceship and satellite launch.

They are always watching.

Or no.

Every tree, stone, footstep, and every launch, are part of the network already.

Every tree, stone, footstep, and every launch, is just the galactic star-fungus network, thinking, and knowing.

“Really?”

“I mean, absolutely. There’s no way it could be false.”

“They’re connected? We’re … part of their giant brain?”

“Of course. Everything is part of everything.”

“I — but if it isn’t falsifiable…?”

“That’s right, it’s not really a scientific theory. It’s more a way of thinking.”

“A religion?”

“A philosophy, more.”

“But if it isn’t true…”

“Oh, it’s true.”

“Stars and fungus… sounds sort of paranoid.”

“Nah, it’s just how the universe is; everything is connected, and the fungi and the stars more than anything else.”

“How did they find each other?”

“How could they not have? It was inevitable. Necessary.”

The stars and the mycelium resonate as the ages roll on. Life comes into being, and the network reacts, rings, with pure tones in every octave of the spectrum. War is a rhythmic drumming; peace is a coda, or an overture. And death is percussion.

Deep in the space between the stars, there are nodes where major arteries of coiled dimensions cross and knot, just as the mycelia cross and not deeper and deeper into the intricate ground. In the space around a star-node, in the stone circles above the spore-nodes, beings dance, constituting and manifesting the thoughts of the stars, and the knowledge of the mushrooms.

“Like, faerie circles? There are … star circles of some kind, out in space?”

“There are. Things gather at them, tiny things and big things, people from planets coming in their starships, and beings that evolved there in space, floating in years-long circles on the propulsion of vast fins pushing on interstellar hydrogen.”

“That seems like something that might not be true. What if we go out in a star ship sometime, and there’s nothing like that out there?”

“There is. An endless array of them.”

“How do you know that?”

Those who dance at the nodes of the stars and the fungi, over the centuries, absorb the thinking and knowledge of the infinite universe. Whence our stories of wise ones, of wizards, of the Illuminati. Whence the yearning songs of the star-whales, of forgotten ancient wisdom, and secret covens in the darkness.

Those who evolve on planets have an affinity to the fungal nodes. Those who evolve between the stars have an affinity for the stellar nodes. They complement and complete each other.

No planetary culture is mature until it has allied with a stellar culture.

No stellar culture is mature until it has allied with a planetary culture.

“So are the, y’know, the Greys, are they visited Earth to see if we’re worthy of allying with? Are they, like, an immature steallar culture looking for a fungus-centered culture to hook up with?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? Haven’t you heard about it in the fungusvine?”

“Fungusvine, funny.”

“Myceliavine?”

Everything comes together deep down.

The semantic tendrils of the realities extend, purely by chance, into the interstices between universes. Over endless time, over expansions and collapses, rollings in and rollings out, the tendrils interact, purely by chance, and meaning begins to flow.

Knots, and knots of knots, and knots of knots of knots, forming a vast extradimensional network that binds the realities together.

Every reality is underlain by its own networks, of mycelia and gravitational strings, or aether winds and dragon spines, the thoughts of Gods and the songs of spirits, or thrint hamuges and the fletts of tintans. And the network of each reality connects to the extradimensional network, and thereby to everything else.

Every tree, stone, footstep, and every starship launch, is part of the unthinkably vast mind of the universe, heart of the universe, the sacred body of everything, in the largest sense.

“Ooh! Are there, like, reality-witches, who find notes in the network between the realities, and have dances and stuff there, and slowly gather extradimensional wisdom?”

“Of course, there are!”

“I want to be one of those.”

“Oh, you will.”

The mind, heart, interconnected web of the universe, the multiverse, thinks (and feels and knows) slowly, deliberately. For a single impulse to travel from one end to the other, if the web had ends, would take almost an eternity. But for the resonating tone, the mood, the energy fluxes, of the network to change, all over, from end to end, takes only an instant.

“Wouldn’t that violate the speed of light and all?”

“Different realities, different speed limits.”

“I don’t know, it seems like you could you that to cheat.”

“You absolutely can.”

It is a category mistake to think that because All Is One, I can make a free transcontinental phone call.

But it is universally true that the extradimensional web of interconnections holds ultimate wisdom.

You are a neuron of the multiversal Mind, you are a beat of the multiversal Heart. You resonate always in harmony with its thoughts, its knowings, its feelings. You can accept the harmony or try to reject it, and either way you are sending your signal from one reality to another, and your breathing is a message to another universe.

Fling Twenty-One

2022/11/11

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

2022/11/11

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

2022/11/10

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Seventeen

Alissa dreamed, there in the enclosed place of Sonoraneldan, where the bold Glomorominith had brought her, through the dangers and humming buzzing stingers of the night. She slept, as people like her had to do when they became very tired, and the ragged edges of her mind knitted up, and the thin-rubbed places filled out again.

Out on the ledge outside the entrance to the enclosed place, Glomorominith slept also, as the encounter with the bad things, while enormous fun and a chance to show off for the good friend Sonoraneldan, had also been exhausting in various ways. Sleeping was good.

Sonoraneldan did not sleep, not being tired, but went further into the complex of enclosed places, and mixed and smelled and tasted various things, and put other things in careful piles.

In Alissa’s dream, she rested again at the top of that rise, and mammals came to the woods before her, down below in a green and humid dell. The ghosts of mammals, mammals like those in the stories and of a thousand other kinds, blowing around in the wind, streaming from here to there in wisps and shards.

She heard moaning in the dream, but also it was silent.

In the old stories the mammals are always the threats, the predators, the invaders, to be escaped or outwitted, to be fooled or tricked into falling from high cliffs into the torrent below.

No one knew, any more, what mammals had really looked like. Or even, in a way, if they had really existed. Everything in the stories might as well have existed, that was the point, there would be no purpose in stories if they weren’t true. But the mammals in the stories were never very well described, and when they were the accounts were not consistent.

There must have been a great number of different types of mammal.

In her dream, the mammals were strange deficient beings, with only a few arms and legs, most with just two of each, and they walked on their two legs awkwardly and on arms and legs slowly, because their legs could not bend like the legs of mud-walkers, and their arms were singly-jointed.

In Alissa’s dream, the mammals had no antennae or mandibles, and no visible eyes. They drifted through the air, on the breeze, as though they were searching for something, and Alissa, on the top of the rise in the dream, did not feel that they were searching for her.

Alissa went down, in the dream, into the humid dell, into the soggy lowland, among the ghosts of the eyeless mammals.

“What are you looking for?” she asked them.

But the mammals did not reply.

“Can you see me?” she asked them.

And the nearest mammals turned toward her, and she saw that they did have eyes, but only a few, two or three or four, and they were sunken into the fronts of their heads like stoned in pits, and she felt afraid.

“Who are you?” asked the voices of the mammal ghosts, voices that seemed to come from the other side of the world, “Who are you and where are you? Where, where, where?”

Then, in the dream, the ghosts of the mammals were long strips of fiber, vines or supple bark, and she had to pull them, with her arms and her front feet, in through the opening of the enclosure in the trunk of the tree, before they were pulled away and out into the darkness by a freshening breeze.

She pulled and pulled to keep up, but they continued slipping away, out into the darkness, where she knew there were humming buzzing stinging things.

And then she was pulled away by the breeze herself, and she was a long ribbon of something flowing in the wind, and the ghosts streamed along with her, and she was cold.

Fling Eighteen

2022/11/10

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Sixteen

“So, shit, am I dead?”

Steve Diaz, Kristen Lewis, and Colin Colson sat together in what felt to Steve like a version of Kristen’s virtuality Hints of Home, only without the “hints” parts; it just felt like Home.

They seemed to be sitting on soft but somehow also solid rolls of cloud that stretched off forever in all directions, broken by handsome mountain peaks that poked through here and there. The sky was a lovely pink / orange / blue, and a gigantic and friendly-looking sun saw on the horizon.

“No,” Colin chuckled, “not dead yet.”

“You got banged up pretty bad, though,” Kristen continued softly, “and we thought you might like a therapeutic virtuality to hang out in for awhile while you heal.”

“I thought I might be in heaven,” Steve said, “because there’s no one else in the universe I’d rather be with than you two.”

All three of them looked startled for a moment.

“Fuck, what the hell?” Steve said, “I did not say that out loud.”

Kris reached over as if to touch his hand, but stopped just short.

“Yeah,” said Colin, “there might be some funny effects like that.”

“Effects like what?” Colin said quite loudly, “What does that mean? Is my brain mush? Am I an AI or something?”

“No, no,” said Kris, looking at him fondly and with concern, “not that, but they’re worried about concussion, and you have a head injury, so the connection to the virtuality is just a little bodged.”

“Bodged,” he repeated.

Kris nodded. “Hacked,” she suggested, “kludged. Perhaps a bit jury-rigged.”

“Because my brain is mush.”

“Because you’re injured, and they are being careful.”

Steve looked doubtful. “Maybe that’s what you’d say if my brain were mush, to make me feel better.”

His eyes narrowed, “How do I know that you’re even you?”

Colin and Kristen exchanged a glace (a suspicious one, Steve thought, and then thought that was a stupid thing to think), and then she leaned over and whispered something in Steve’s ear. Then Colin whispered something in his other ear.

They all snickered at each other familiarly for a moment, then Steve looked doubtful again.

“So you know things that only you and me know,” he said to them both, “but you could be figments of my imagination, or they could have extracted them from my brain while I was sedated, and coded them into you.”

“What would that make us?” Colin asked. Kristen rolled her eyes.

“You could be bots, obviously,” Steve replied.

“For what nefarious purpose?” Colin replied, looking to be settling in for a long philosophical discussion.

“Guys,” Kristen interposed, “guys, guys, guys, do we really want to do a big semantic analysis of Steve’s paranoid–“

“Paranoid, eh?” Steve said, simultaneously objecting and chuckling at himself.

“Perfectly understandable post-trauma paranoid ideations,” she said, nodding.

“So tell me about my trauma,” Steve said, letting the subject change, “how bad am I?”

The other two exchanged another glance.

“It’s actually — pretty bad,” Kristen said, “although obviously you’re going to live and all.”

“Will I have to live in this virtuality forever? Not that isn’t a very nice one.”

“Not that, either,” Colin said, “okay, look, you broke one leg pretty badly, one elbow just a little, and cracked a few ribs.”

Steve winced. “I know that’s not all.”

“You also banged your head, Steve,” Kristen said, with a softness that didn’t encourage him.

“You said that. I have a concussion and all.”

“There was also this… piece of metal under the sand, they think.”

“A… piece of metal?” Steve winced again. “And now it’s, let me guess, sticking out of my skull or something.”

“More or less,” Colin said, nodding.

“Shit, that sounds bad.”

“You seem pretty okay,” Kristen said.

“Wait,” Steve looked at her, “is this, like, a cognitive function test or something?”

“We couldn’t tell you right up front, because it would have interfered with–“

“Fuck,” Steve said ,”fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“It’s really okay, babe,” Kristen said.

Steve sighed, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, I didn’t mean to say those out loud either; doesn’t that seem like a fucking problem? Gah, sorry…”

“That’s probably just the virtuality connection; it’s having a hard time telling your intentional speech from stuff you subvocalize, because –“

“Because there’s this piece of metal in my head in the way, right?”

Kristen put out her hand again, and stroked his shoulder, looking at him with concern.

“I felt that,” Steve smiled, a little mollified. Touch between users in a virtuality was always rather hit-and-miss (a great disappointment to the porn and sex-toy industries, but top scientists were working on it day and night).

“So Steve,” Colin said, lying back into a bubble of lovely soft cloud that rose upward to cradle him as he did, “that is the status: you have serious but routine arm, leg, and rib fractures, some head trauma and a possible concussion, and then this bit of metal that–“

“That snuck in somehow through my helmet to get me?”

“… that through an unfortunate chance penetrated your helmet at rather high speed, and is now lodged approximately two inches into your–“

“Ouch, Colin,” groaned Kristen, “you don’t have to get that exact and detailed.”

Steve nodded, his head hurting just from the words.

“Right, so, the piece of metal has interacted with a small but nontrivial amount of –“

“… of my brain, right; got it, no details please.”

“Right. And so now as we interact in here, the medical team is taking various records and readings –“

“Are they listening to us now?”

“No, I mean, not really; in principle they could reconstruct our words from the –“

“No, Col, not in principle! They aren’t listening to us, Steve babe.”

“Okay.”

“They are recording medically-relevant readings from the connection and the virtuality, so that when they remove the intrusion –“

“Oh, good they’re going to take it out.”

“Can’t just leave it there.”

“So that when they remove the –“

“They can see if they break my brain any more as they slip out the steel bar?”

“It’s not a steel bar, it –“

“Oh, shut up, and they aren’t going to break your brain.”

Steve closed his eyes. The place was beautiful, and the air felt soft and sweet. His friends talked too much. He hoped he really wasn’t going to die. He hoped he wasn’t going to have brain damage.

“Will I be able to use the rig again?”

“The fractures are expected to heal just fine.”

“But my brain?”

“Prognosis is good also, but it’s important to be –“

“… careful, right.”

The giant warm sun, a gorgeous gentle yellow, easy to look at, had been rolling clockwise around the horizon as they talked. He liked that. He sat there breathing, his head down, thinking “fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck”, but pleased that he wasn’t saying it out loud.

He felt Kristen’s hands, somewhat ghostly but definitely comforting, on his back. That felt good. She was so good to him. He wondered if she would love him if his brain was broken. Would he be able to tell, if it was broken?

Two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, he thought, sixty-four, one hundred twenty-eight, two hundred fifty-six…

He got to one million forty-eight thousand five hundred seventy-six and decided there was no obvious problem there.

“So what’s the plan?” he asked, or tried to ask, but he didn’t say anything.

“Shit,” he said, or tried to say, then took a deep breath.

“So what’s the plan?” he asked, and this time it came out.

“The plan of treatment?”

“The plan of no more metal in my head.”

“Once they have the initial measurements taken, including us here, either you’ll be woken up–“

“Woken up?”

“You’re pretty heavily sedated right now.”

“Oh, right, okay.”

“EIther you’ll be woken up, or someone will come back in here–“

“We will, Steve; Colin and I will come back in here.”

“Right, okay, either you’ll be woken up, or we’ll come back in here maybe with a doctor, and the full plan and some forms, and you’ll sign them–“

Steve snickered.

“– and then they’ll take it out, and you’ll be fine. The month to wait for your bones to set will be more annoying.”

“Always the optimist,” he said, but managed to smile at Colin as it said it, and not to yell anything inappropriate.

The three of them sat there for awhile, as the breezes moved softly around them, and the huge sun rolled slowly around the horizon, until the medical team had enough data, and enriched the drip into Steve’s IV, and he slipped gently off to sleep.

Fling Seventeen

2022/11/09

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Fifteen

This moment is all that exists.

In this moment, there are things (what are “things”?) that … that what?

That claim to be memories of past times.

But what is a “thing” that it can “claim” claims?

There are plans, there are expectations, there are worries.

In this moment, which is all that exists.

Let go, put down the burden, know that all else, time and change and otherness, are illusions.

But what is an “illusion”?

The body is, and this moment and everything about it is, regardless of the words we use.

What does it mean, if some of what is, in this moment, is pain? Is pain, and danger, and the possibility of death?

What is death? Is death an illusion?

The body does not believe that death is an illusion. The body is focused on the possibility of death, on the feeling of pain, on the absence of pain. Whatever words I might use, pain is what it is. Even if pain is not “pain”, even if the word cannot reach it, it is still pain, it is still what it is.

Here is the sound of breathing. Here is the sound of practical shoes on polished floors. Here is the smell of disinfectant, of medicinal powder, of lubricant and nitrile, of smooth electronics encased in smooth plastic, rolling on smooth wheels. The sound of quiet rhythmic beeps, and of louder more strident ones. Whispers and tension.

Here is a waiting room. What is it to “wait”? What is a “room”? Asking these questions changes nothing. This is this, whatever questions we ask and whatever answers we give or we reject with words.

Time is an illusion, change is an illusion. Here is the memory of a message arriving, here is the memory of emotion, of heightened awareness, of clasped hands and tears and hugs.

Here is the memory of seeing a still form on a gurney, and then not seeing them.

All of this exists in this moment, all else is illusion.

But this means nothing; the body is just as concerned about the lessons and traumas of the past, the dangers and anticipation of the future, as it is about this moment. If this moment “exists”, and the past and future are “illusions”, then the body does not care about existence and illusion.

A minute passes.

Nothing changes.

Everything changes.

The hands of the clock move; all that this can mean is that the hands of the clock have a particular property right now (in this moment, which is all that exists), and that there exists also a memory, a memory of the hands of the clock having a different property, a memory which is (what?) labeled, marked, remembered, as being recent, but not current.

Nothing has changed, because in this moment there are things that are unknown, and there are in this moment memories in which those same things are also unknown.

Another moment, and still nothing has changed.

We expect that, when a future moment becomes this moment (what could that mean?), we will know. At that moment, we will have a memory of this moment, and not knowing, but at that moment we will know. A nurse will come out from the NO ADMITTANCE doors and talk to us, and we will know.

We will know if our friend is alive or dead, and if we will ever see him smile again.

Fling Sixteen

2022/11/09

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Fourteen

Alissa, clinging to her bundles and what was left of her travois, bounced unsteadily on the broad rough back of the creature, or person, as it alternately stamped and leapt through the night in some private pattern of its own, its blue light and its many eyes apparently giving it the confidence to proceed through the dark with a speed that Alissa found admirable, if terrifying in the moment. She looked and listened nervously around for more buzzing flying shapes, but there seemed to be no more after the first assault.

When the creature, or person, with the blue light had first knocked away the threatening buzzing balls with their sharp stingers, and Alissa had thanked it profusely, introduced herself, and asked her savior’s name. But to her surprise and puzzlement, the new voice had only repeated, “What have we here? Hello! What have we here?” and then, bending an uncertain number of legs to bring its considerable body closer to the ground, had said “Hello! Up! Up up!” in a decisive voice.

“You want me to… climb you?” Alissa had asked, but the being had only repeated “Up! Up up!” in an even more decisive voice.

This had put Alissa somewhat at a quandary. She would have infinitely preferred to hunker down deeper into her little hole, and pull the earth in after her, spending the night dozing in a secure little packet under the ground as she had frankly been designed to, before people began to gather into gatherings, and spend nights in airy indentations and comfortable leaf-beds.

But if she did that, and the large individual with the blue light were then to go away, the nasty hissing and buzzing and stinging things might find her again, and she had a notion that they might be able to follow one a ways into the earth if they were angry enough.

And on the other hand if she pulled herself snugly downward, this large creature with the apparently-limited vocabulary might become annoyed, and that idea did not appeal either. By the blue light from its chemiluminescent chin sac, as Alissa now saw that it was, she had observed that the leap and stomp that had driven away her harassers had also, she thought probably involuntarily, rather smashed up her little travois; and she did not relish the idea of annoying the creature that had had that effect, especially since it did not seem likely that she could explain her reasons to it (or him, or her, or them).

So she had sighed a sigh through all of her spiracles, slipped out of her neat little hole, extracting her bundles with her rear legs as she went, and clambered somewhat awkwardly onto the being’s broad back, picking up the remains of her travois as she went.

It had muttered something like “Yes, yes”, and begun to move off, she could not tell in what direction, when there had come a swarm of buzzes and hisses, and some number, almost certainly more than two, of things very like the things that had spoken to her so unpleasantly before had dropped from the sky and begun harrying her and her large vehicle.

With a booming grunt that sounded something like “Oh, no, no!”, the creature or person had bounded startlingly into the air, with Alissa barely hanging on, perhaps impacting one of the flying buzzers, or perhaps only confusing them, and certainly confusing Alissa, as it continued to bound and stomp in various directions in the darkness, until it seemed to settle on one particular direction, and the buzzing and hissing receded behind them, either outpaced or eluded in the darkness.

The current unsteady bouncing of the being was comforting in comparison, but Alissa wasn’t sure that she would stay balanced up there for very much longer.

“Excuse me,” she attempted to call softly downward to where her vehicular host’s hearing organs might be, “I wonder if we could stop for a bit? I would like to, well, adjust my hold, if you see what I mean.”

After a moment, and a few stomps through undergrowth, the voice came back, “Yes, yes,” it said, “yes, stop, stop soon,” but the stomping and leaping continued, as far as she could tell unabated.

The storyteller closed her eyes and attempted to be a point of unworried stillness, with her arms and legs and her bundles and the remains of the travois constituting fixed and stable points in the matrix of her perception. This was moderately successful, until the being took a couple of great upward bounds, which took her breath away and all but dislodged her from her place.

Although it was far too dark for Alissa’s particular eyes to see now, she sensed that they were an unaccustomed distance above the ground; the first upward bound must have reached some sort of shelf, and the second this high point somewhere against the thick bole of a trunk, some perhaps-distressing distance into the black sky.

But at least the bouncing and stomping seemed to have stopped.

“Here!” the voice of her mount sounded, and “Here!” again, rather loudly as perhaps addressed to someone not as close as Alissa, and then peculiarly it called “Well, what have we here? What have we here?” and then was silent.

There was a rustling, or at any rate a movement, from somewhere in front of them, and then another blue light appeared, seeming to come out of the bole of the tree itself. Alissa heard something like a laugh, and then the from the direction of this new light, where it seemed there was another largish person, a different but similar voice said, “Well, what have we here, indeed? What have you brought in from the mother darkness tonight, Glomorominith?”

“Glomorominith! Yes!” the closer and more familiar voice replied, “Hello, what have we here!” and it sounded quite happy about it.

A face with, again, a great many eyes came close enough for Alissa to make out, closer perhaps than she would really have preferred it come. It moved up and down, to this side and that, and the creature (or person, Alissa decided, a person of some kind at any rate) lowered itself and her downward, flatter onto whatever it was that it was standing on, perhaps so that the new face could see her more clearly.

“You appear to have baggage, creature from the night,” the new voice said, “do you speak?”

“Well,” Alissa said, and her voice squeaked embarrassingly.

“Well!” she began again, more boldly and more clearly, “I do indeed speak, thank you very much! I am Alissa, and while I beg your pardon and I am not at all sure what is happening, I do owe Glomorominith here, if that is indeed their name, and perhaps you, gratitude for saving me from the stings of the night buzzers.”

“Gently spoken, gently spoken,” said the new voice, and from beneath her somewhat muffled by its prone position perhaps, the other similar voice said, “Glomorominith,” again, again sounding quite pleased.

“Let us get you down off our friend here,” said the second voice, and large but not overly rough arms or perhaps antennae came from out of the dark and helped, or frankly moved, Allisa, still clinging to her belongings, off of the rough back of the large creature, to rest on what felt like wood, or woody fungus, underfoot.

“Pleased to meet you Alissa,” the second voice said, “would you like to come inside? I can produce more light, a place to rest, and a promise there will be no night creatures to trouble you.”

“Thank you very much,” she replied, and followed the voice as it moved slowly forward, feeling around her in the air and the echoes that they were moving into a smaller and enclosed space. The first person, Glomorominith, appeared content to stay outside, on the bark or fungus shelf.

“You may call me Sonoraneldan,” said the voice, the person, more softly now that they were within a space. Alissa decided they must be within a burrow or hollow place within the trunk of some large tree or vast stem, leading very far above them into the sky. It smelled of many unfamiliar things.

“Most pleased to meet you,” she replied, realizing as she let go of her burdens and sank onto her rear legs just how tired she was.

“The same,” said Sonoraneldan politely, “entirely the same. And may I say that I gather from the configuration of your face and form and other signs, that you might prefer to rest until at least the first dawn, more than having much further conversation?”

Alissa sighed and moved slightly in agreement, and almost instantly fell into the depths of the night.

Fling Fifteen

2022/11/08

NaNoWriMo, Fling Thirteen

“You’re Makato? Yeah, great, I’m Steve, we’re right on time, I appreciate that.

“Here, you can help me and Franz get the rig down off the back of the truck — careful! Just hold that right there, then over onto the roller platform, okay, keep in line with Franz, be careful nothing bumps it…

“Nice and easy, okay ease off on my three…

“One… two…

“Three!

“Okay, great, that’s perfect, all right, nice, nice.

“This is actually one of the most dangerous and stressful times in a rig meet, y’know? You can put that in your vlog or stream or whatever. It’s a joke kind of, I mean being out on the run with the desert trying to slide out from under you at 300 em pee aitch is dangerous and stressful, too. And also awesome.

“But when you’re in that position, what you did in this part makes a big difference.

“Speed and stability of a rig are all about how well it was tuned, and since there’s no way to keep one in tune for long at all, you have to do a last adjustment just before you load it up, and then any big thump or drop in the loading or unloading can detune it again, and you miss the meet or you run a badly-tuned rig, neither one is good, y’know?

“Oh, yeah, we can definitely get to 300 em pee aitch and above; with the effect, there’s basically no friction, and we can accelerate theoretically at 1G, which would be zero to sixty in like three seconds, which isn’t that great, but we can keep accelerating, to 120 in six seconds, 240 in twelve seconds, etcetera, just as fast as falling in a vacuum.

“Now we don’t for real get 1 gee at all, but half or three-quarters is no problem, so —

“Why 1 gee? Oh right, we should talk about the Effect itself some, I guess? There’s still a little time before I want to go out, although I gotta talk to my crew, well my friends who came up, eventually, but I’m good for now.

“I’m not a quantum physicist, so I’m not gonna try to explain the Denormalized Casimir Effect to you in math, because I can’t, but what it does is pretty simple: the effectors under the rig here act against the mass of the Earth, and once we turn it on the rig can appear to hover off the ground as long as the ring of effectors stays flat.

“Yeah, I say ‘appear to hover’ because that’s what they say online, y’know, that it’s not really hovering like an old-fashioned ground effect craft, it’s quantum bazqux something something instead. So: appears.

“Anyway, then if the operator tips it in one direction, it’ll start to accelerate in that direction, like forward if it you tilt it forward, and then if it’s already moving and it tips to the side, it’ll feel a force that way, and that’s how you turn, or slow down. Stopping is hard haha. And there’s like a gyroscope here in the center that also rotates the rig when you tilt; so you’re, I mean so the operator’s, always pointed pretty much the way you’re moving.

“Theoretically, like I said, the amount of acceleration should be the absolute value of the gravity that the rig is feeling, but to get close to that — oh, hi, Kris!

“Kris, this is Makato, from that — right, the podcast thing — Makato this is my friend Kristen — What did –? Okay, more than a friend, sheesh haha — yeah, Kristen, Makato; Makato, Kristen — great, see ya later babe, I’ll bring them to talk to everyone in a bit —

“Sorry about that — oh, good, okay — anyway, to get acceleration closer to 1G you need to feed it like exponentially more energy — yeah, literally exponentially, at least once you get much over half a G, so a lot — and the rig already eats up energy like a —

“Oh, yeah, they’re powered by energy cells, these, electrospun nanofibers soaked in fuel — very high energy density, yeah, the legal ones can only — that is, heh, the energy cells don’t give the rig much of a range at all, they eat them up like candy; I’ve heard you can get ones with 5x or more the energy density from sources outside the country, but they’re not legal for civilian use so — obviously I’ve never used one of those, heh.

“Be kinda careful what you say about that in the public thing, right? Gah. But anyway the fuel cells are a big part of the cost of the, y’know, the hobby, the rig, the hardware itself is cheaper than you’d think, you don’t need your own particle accellerator or anything.

“Um, so yeah. The Effect is like the biggest physics thing of the century, and it’s been about to revolutionize culture and society and stuff for four years now, but the engineering is still fiddly as fuck, and the energy cost is still crazy, so the main thing it’s used for far as I know is for thesis topics and for a few nutcases like us, well a few hundred or thousand if you look at the whole world, strapping ourselves into rigs to fly around three feet off the desert at 300 em pee aitch just because it’s awesome.

“Haha, yeah, that’s my little speech, but it’s true, that’s why we’re all out here. Although different people would put it different ways.

“Me? Yeah, I got into it really early on, I had a roommate doing a Quantum Physics PhD, and he was very into it when CERN made their announcement of the Effect, and then CMU beat MIT to a working engineering model, and everyone was talking about starships and no-fuel cars and everything. I had one of the first real rigs, and was, haha, I guess a test pilot for the first experiments in going fast in the desert.

“Still no monetized applications, but I’ve been in love with it since that first run hit like 100. Whoo, that was a rush. I wasn’t supposed to go that fast, but this was before anyone realized how hard it is to accelerate at less than all-out, and so what was supposed to be a safe little run around this test track was WHOOOAAA! It was fantastic, like falling sideways, which actually it is, and I didn’t even get injured much.

“Noise? Oh, yeah, looks like Nando decided to take his out early, maybe circle around and wait for us, or just go off on his own. Noise of a rig starting up is kind of awesome, right?

“Oh yeah, no, meets aren’t about racing, really, people head out whenever they want to, although a few people always set up some time-trials or head-to-heads. It’s mostly about the rush, and about hanging out with other rig people, and also having a bunch of people out here so that if, haha, when someone takes a dive there are people around who will notice and make sure they’re okay and call 911 or whatever.

“Yeah, yeah it’s easy to get insurance as long as you don’t mind the rider that says they won’t pay for anything that happens on a day you rode a rig, haha.

“And the reason we have to charge for the meets is that we have to pay the emergency services to make up for intentionally putting ourselves at the likelihood of needing them.

“Hear that? That’s Nando out just beyond the dune there, running through some roughness in his tuning. He’s good, but not great; even odds he’ll be back scratching his head and cursing at his set soon. No one’s built a full shop out here at the meet site, so there’s not all that much real tuning you can do once you’re out here.

“So here’s the gang under the awning here; you met Franz and Kristen, and this is Ang and Sister Six. Yeah, ess eye ecs, you can interview her about that for a whole separate story, haha. And I should mention Colin back in town, he’s an honorary member of the team but can’t stand the dust and grit and stuff, he’s got a weak heart, some hormone thing, but he’s one of us; you might meet him after.

“Yeah, true. I’m Japanese-Mexican plus Irish-French, Kris is Southern Africa plus Northern Africa-Northern China, and Colin’s like twelfth generation White Anglo-Saxon. So we’re healthy and poor, and he’s rich and messed-up!

“Hey, don’t use that bit, right? I mean, he’s not messed up, just his body — anyway you don’t have to say that I said anything like that.

“Okay, I’m gonna leave you with the team here to talk about what a racist I am, and I’ll suit up and take the rig out. You have the link for the suit media? Great, I’ll like talk and narrate and make noise and stuff, and you’ll be able to hear the wind and any big dramatic crashes and explosions that might happen haha.

“Kris, come help me — thanks babe. You know I was kidding, no explosions. No big ones anyway! Can you pass me the — okay, I’m strapping in, powering up, sweet… See the appearance of hovering? Gonna close the helmet and switch to the media feed, one, two…”

“Okay, speaking to you from the suit’s media feed, you good? Got me? Okay, you should be able to hear the rig sort of humming under me, although since I always tune it good you won’t hear much.

“Now I need to aim carefully, ’cause like I said once it tips much at all, beyond what the stabilizers prevent, we’re off at 4 meters per second squared, and wheee! Didn’t hit anybody, haha.

“Aside from accelerating and turning, the one thing you can do is try to bring the rig back to flat level like, whaaa, yeah like this, so then we’re going at a basically constant speed, no friction, wooooha did you see that turn? Just sort of slewing around the dunes like…

“There’s nothing like it, I tell ya!

“I love the technical parts, and the craft of tuning and tinkering, but what it’s all about is this…

“Ahhhh! I’ll let you just listen to the wind and the sand skittering around for a bit, get you a nice meditative view through the helmet… ohhhhh yeah…

“Circling back around where you are a bit… I can slow down of course by tipping back, but again it’s going to be at about the same 4 em pee ess, so it’s easy to suddenly be going backwards, and the gyro whips you around like, oh here watch this —

“Woot! Like a roller coaster, or I guess a Snap the Whip, let’s do that again —

“Yahoo! Now some nice full bore to clear the mind, listen to that hum, baby!

“Now Kris is pushing the little Slow Down You Idiot button which is probably good because I know I can get kind of carried away out here. Did Nando get back to the center okay? Good, good —

“Here, watch this sort of spin-drift I can do if I cut down on the gyro a little… it’s like the flat here is gravity-warped so it’s like one of those bowls the bicycle racers go around in, faster and faster at a crazy slant, playing with up and down — wooo!

“Kris says sometimes I get a little drunk out here, like the rig and the speed and being so close to the ground is a drug, an experiential high and it really is — watch this… whoa!

“Sometimes I listen to music, old stuff, or Cordwave or Onetone, loud and clanging — ha OOO!

“But mostly I just groove with the sound of the wind, the hum of the rig, effectors purring, the gyro singing in the center…

“Do you feel that? No you can’t feel it, only I can feel it, I’m the only one here — haha I see you pushing the button —

“I wonder if there’s a little catch in the gyros — a bit more speed’ll shake that out — here we GOO!

“Listen to the hum!

“Ow, what?

“Didn’t like the sound of that…

“Oh, fu –“

DISCONNECTED

Fling Fourteen

2022/11/07

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Twelve

Light passes through windows. This is a puzzle. This is a complicated story, a story that no one understands, in four words.

Beams of sunlight pass through the library windows, making patterns on the wall.

Sitting where I sit, among the shelves and the piles of books, I see beams of sunlight passing through the library windows, making patterns on the wall.

My evidence for the existence of beams of sunlight is (at least) in two parts: I see dust motes dancing (dancing? what is it to dance? what kinds of things can dance?) in the sunbeams, visible (to me) in the light, where in other parts of the (dusty) library air, there are no (to me) visible dust motes dancing (or otherwise) in the air, and one explanation (is it the best one? what is best?) is that there is a sunbeam, or at least a beam of light, passing through the air there. (How does a beam of light pass through the air, let alone through the class of the windows?)

The second part of my evidence is the patterns on the wall. I know, or I remember (in memories that I have now, at this moment, the only moment, the only entity, that exists) that the wall is really (what could that possibly mean?) more or less uniform in color; vaguely white, and the same vague whiteness more or less all over. But what I see, or what I see at some level of awareness (what are levels of awareness? what is awareness? who is aware?) is a complex pattern of light and dark, triangles and rectangles and more complex figures laid out and overlapping, and I theorize (automatically, involuntarily, whether or not I intend to) that these brighter shapes and triangles are where the sunbeam (passing through empty space, and then the air, the window, the air again) strikes the wall, and the darker areas, the ground to the sunbeam’s figure, are simply the rest, the shadows, where the sunbeam does not strike, or does not strike directly.

(Or the dark places are where the frames of the window and the edges of shelves and chairs, things outside and things inside, cast their shadows, and the light places, the ground to the shadows’ figure, is the rest, where the shadows do not fall; figure is ground and ground is figure.)

Can we avoid all of this complexity, if we hold Mind as primary? I am. Or, no, as generations of philosophers have pointed out, feeling clever to have caught Descartes in an error, not “I am” but only something along the lines of “Thought is”. If there is a thought that “thought is”, that can hardly be in error (well, to first order). But if there is a thought “I think”, that could be an error, because there might be no “I”, or it might be something other than “I” that is thinking.

Second attempt, then! Can we avoid all of this complexity, if we start with “Thought is”? Or “Experience is”?

Experience is. There is this instant of experience. In this instant of experience, there is a two-dimensional (or roughly two-dimensional) surface. Whether or not there is an understanding of dimensions and how to count them, there is either way still a two-dimensional surface, here in this experience. In some places, the two-dimensional surface is bright. In some places, it is dark; or it is less bright.

Whether or not there is any understanding of brightness and darkness, what might lead to brightness and darkness, anything about suns or windows or how they work, there is still this brightness, in this single moment of experience, and there is still this darkness.

(Whether the darkness is actually bright, just not as bright as the brightness, whether the surface is really two-dimensional in any strong sense, or somewhere between two and three dimensions, or whether dimensions are ultimately not a useful or coherent concept here, there is still, in this singular moment of experience that is all that there is, this experience, this experience, which is what it is, whether or not the words that might be recorded here as a result of it (and whatever “result” might mean) are the best words to describe it.)

And whether it is described at all, whether description is even possible, does not matter; the main thing, dare I write “the certain thing”, is that this (emphasized) is (similarly emphasized).

So.

From this point of view, we may say, Mind is primal. Mind, or whatever we are attempting successfully or unsuccessfully to refer to when we use the word “Mind”, does exist, or at any rate has whatever property we are attempting to refer to when we say “does exist”. Except that “refer to” and “property” are both deeply problematic themselves here.

This is why the ancient Zen teachers (who exist, in this singular present moment of experience, only as memories of stories, memories that exist now) are said to have, when asked deep and complex questions through the medium of language, and impossibly concerning language, have responded with primal experience, with blows or shouts or (more mildly) with references to washing one’s bowl, chopping wood, carrying water.

We can remember that there is this. So, what next?

Language (this language, many other languages, those languages that I am familiar with, that I know of) assumes time.

Without the concept of time, it is difficult to speak, to write, to hypothesize.

Let alone to communicate.

To communicate!

The impossible gulf: that you and I both exist (what does it mean to exist?) and that by communicating (whatever that might be) one or both of us is changed (otherwise why bother?). But change, like time (because time), is an illusion.

So!

Is it necessary (categorically, or conditionally) to participate in the illusion? Or pretend? To act (or to speak, as speech is after all action) as though time and change were real?

The sun comes through the windows and casts shadows on the wall. Is there someone at the door?

Fling Thirteen

2022/11/07

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling 11

Alissa stopped to rest again when she got to the top of the next hillock.

She was, very definitely, unused to traveling, still more unused to traveling beyond the rich dark earth, and by herself, and without a scent-trail to follow, and trebly unused to pulling behind her a travois constructed from a couple of carefully chosen and balanced twigs wrapped together with cured fibers, and holding two bundles of useful and relevant materials.

The people of her gathering, her friends and neighbors, had been helpful and supportive in offering useful suggestions and ideas, and of course stories, about her undertaking. A visiting artificer, in the rich dark earth in search of stories about particular methods of construction and crafting, had made the travois for her and given advice about packing and moving with it; she had had no particular story to offer him in recompense, but he had generously waved off her apologies.

She had hoped, even assumed, that Sema might come with her, but the blue creature had made soft negative gestures, and said that they had reasons to stay behind, mysteriously hinting that they might meet again even before Alissa’s presumed return. Alissa had not found that a great comfort, but did appreciate Sema’s advice on how to hold, and view, and attempt to follow, the sinuous markings on the fragment that was to be her guide.

The entire prospect, now that Alissa was actually out of sight of the rich dark earth, and feeling a bit weary as the twilight approached, now seemed questionable at best. How could any person find their way across the ground by looking at a line on a fragment of leaf, with no scentable trail to scent? Why should anything be at the other end of this unscentable trail, and if there was something there, why would it be interesting to Alissa or her friends and neighbors (who had not, she noted to herself, shown any interest in coming along to see what it might be).

With the twilight, she decided, it would be difficult to see the markings on the fragment, entirely too easy to lose one’s way, and with the general dangers of the night away from home, she decided to venture down the other side of this hillock just a little way (as the stories advised, never settle at the very top, or the very bottom, of the ground) and then dig in for the night.

Although she had been quite comfortable with her stem and her indentation for a long time now, she had of course traveled in her youth, and her people, those of her specific body-type, were fine burrowers and diggers-in.

So Alissa, pulling her packs behind her (they were, all things considered, quite light and easily pulled), moved off of the top of the little rise, and off to one side of the most obvious walking track, pushing herself in slightly between two close-growing bark-enclosed stems, and dug herself a neat hidey-hole with her arms and two legs and all the associated pincers.

She put the travois to one side, pushed her bundles down into the bottom of the hole, and then slipped in backward herself, the hole just the right size to accommodate her abdomen and all four legs, leaving the top of her head and most of her eyes just at the surface, and her arms able to tuck in or reach out as desired. It was extremely comfortable, and it occurred to her to wonder why she did not rest like this back at home more often.

Just as she got well settled in, and had begun thinking and humming softly to herself for lack of the rich dark earth’s twilight gathering, there was a shrill buzzing and a sort of wet thump, and then another shrill buzzing a wet thump from the other side of her, and focusing her eyes she made out a couple of small but somehow unpleasantly formed shapes against the fading sky.

“Well, hello,” said a thin but resonant voice from one side of her.

“Ah, hello,” the storyteller said in the direction of the voice, “and good evening.”

From the direction of the other shape there came a sudden buzz, which might have been a sort of laugh, and then a different but similar voice.

“I wonder who you are,” the second voice said, “we both wonder who you are, don’t we?”

“Oh, we do, certainly we do, wondering who this is in this hole in the ground between these two stems,” responded the first voice, and it buzzed.

Alissa did not like, for whatever reason, the sound of these two voices. There was also a worrying acrid scent that had come along with them, a scent that suggested persons that might not be above consuming other persons, without the latter’s permission.

She began enlarging her hole under her with her rear legs, in case it became advisable to move further in, and pull some of the dirt in after her. The unattractive scent seemed to be intensifying.

“You should answer us, you know,” said the first voice to have spoken again. It was getting quite dark now, and the voice somehow thinner and sharper.

“You haven’t asked a question, really,” Alissa pointed out reasonably, pushing her bundles deeper into the hole as she made more room for herself beneath her, “you have been talking to each other mostly, I thought.”

This resulted in two rather loud buzzes, one from the direction of each voice, that made her wince.

“It is rude, I think, brother,” said one of the voices; she had rather lost track of which was which, but it seemed hardly to matter.

“Aye,” said the other, “it is quite rude, I am sure. And I believe it is thinking of shutting its front door to us, which is entirely unforgivable.”

Alissa winced and tried to dig faster and more quietly. It would be a few seconds, still, until she had enough space below to make herself secure and pull in enough earth to block whatever these creatures were.

“Shutting its door would be unforgivable indeed,” the first one said, “and it would be entirely within our rights, indeed it would be our obligation, to pierce that door open again with our lovely lovely sharps.”

“It would, it would,” said, the other, its voice something like a buzz now, and something like a hiss.

Alissa shivered, feeling hope fading.

“You won’t try to close your little front door, will you?” the buzzing hiss continued, and Alissa was about to desperately do just that.

“It will not end well for –” this voice was interrupted by a groan and a thud, as something large and somehow bright came from somewhere, and by a sudden bluish light Alissa saw two grey shapes with many sharp probosci tumbled across the ground away from her hole, and then was happily aware of buzzing and cursing voices fading into the distance.

“Well,” said a new voice, from the large something that was emitting the bluish light, “hello, and what have we here?”

It seemed to have a great number of eyes.

Fling Twelve

2022/11/06

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Ten

I was sitting by myself in Kristen’s virtuality thing, the one called Hints of Home.

I was sitting in (let’s see if I can get this right) a private instance of the public copy of her virtuality, because that way she’d be able to see that I’d spent time in it, and she’d like that, I thought.

And I’d also made my own private copy of the thing, too, because she’d also be able to see that I’d done that, and she’d like that, too, I would think?

But then she might think that it was weird that I’d made a private copy, but was also using a private instance of the public copy instead of using my private copy. She might laugh and ask why I’d done that, and then I’d feel stupid.

I know I’m not stupid.

I just want to make her happy, and show her that she’s great at stuff, because she is.

We had a complicated talk about that once, where I said that she’s obviously great at stuff, and she’s smart so she knows that she’s great at stuff, so she shouldn’t have doubts about that, whatever I do or say. She didn’t like that, I don’t think; she said that even if she knows it, she likes it when I tell her and show her, and that makes sense, really, so I try to tell her and show her.

When I remember, anyway.

The virtuality was sweet and peaceful, but without being cutesy or silly, with just enough edge, especially if you wanted to see edge, to keep it real. You can walk along a really high cliff, and drop rocks down off the edge of the cliff, and they crash perfectly down into the trees and branches way down there. If feels tense there at the edge of the cliff, and I don’t know if it’s just because it’s a really realistic-looking huge cliff, or if there’s something in the virtuality itself that makes you tense with I don’t know subsonics or whatever they have now?

The sky is a good color in Hints of Home, mostly blue and white with clouds, and some pink when the sun is in the right place low in the sky. The sun doesn’t move in the usual real-world way, for some reason, but goes like up and down and then up again, without it being night, unless you’re in some places where it’s I think always night. That sounds kind of lame when I say it, I guess, maybe I should edit that out; but it works when you’re actually there in it, not lame at all.

And sometimes clouds form in the sky, in big graceful lumps of cloud that look like a foam mattress (only way better of course!) and the sun shines on them, and it’s just gorgeous.

Being in Kristen’s virtuality, this little like world that she poured a lot of herself into when she built it or whatever, and arranged for those clouds to look like that with that sun and everything, felt good. It was like being with her, in a way, but without being afraid I’d do something wrong, or annoy her, or make her think I’m stupid.

I’d gotten the rig tuned just like I wanted it, stable and just eager enough to tilt forward and take off, and I didn’t want to touch it anymore until the next desert run. And Kristen was still at her work, translating technical documents and novels and stuff between African and English and West Slavic languages, which is what she does, somehow.

So I was in her virtuality, relaxing, hoping that when I got to see her later I wouldn’t get nervous or do anything wrong. It was like, I thought to myself, having a really touchy alert in the rig, where it would go off even if nothing was wrong, and distract you from your run at the wrong time. You can adjust some of the alerts down, I thought, but you also have to learn them, so you know when an alert’s about to sound even though everything’s fine, so it’s not really an alert anymore, it’s just a sound or a light that the rig makes sometimes, and you can expect and even enjoy them.

Can’t adjust Kristen’s alert levels down, I thought, or I wouldn’t want to if I could, would I? So I guess I have to…

Hey, I thought. That makes far too much sense.

If her voice or her face or her breathing does something that makes me think something’s wrong, but there’s really nothing wrong, it’s my fault if I worry about it, and react like she’s really alerting, when it’s really just a sounds or a light that she makes sometimes, and I can expect and even enjoy them. Like I enjoy everything else about her.

Well, hell, that’s simple.

I got up and walked through some of the hanging vines under a broad tree, thinking about it.

She’s not a rig, she’s a girl. And if her alerts mean that she’s really unhappy, I shouldn’t ignore the alerts even if they aren’t going to lead to a crash, because I don’t want her to be unhappy, even if there isn’t a whole crash.

The light shifted subtly as I walked under the arched limb, and the hanging vines touched my face and shoulders, cool and gentle. I smelled something familiar, and kept walking forward.

She says that she doesn’t mind things, though, and that she never thinks I’m stupid. But it seems like she does. The same way that an alert makes it seem like the rig has a problem, even though it doesn’t.

Walking forward without really thinking where I was going, I went down a gentle slope, the light dimming and turning richer as I went. Something in the air reminded me of her.

I’m getting to know her as well as I know the rig, I thought. So I should be as happy and easy with her as I am with the rig! I don’t get sad because the rig laughs at me and makes me feel stupid; I just fix whatever’s wrong or out of balance.

Well, okay, it’s a rig, it’s not a girl. I care more about what Kristen thinks of me than what … well, the rig doesn’t have any opinion about me. Does it? I mean, of course it doesn’t, but it’s like a metaphor or something. I shouldn’t be afraid Kris thinks I’m stupid, because I’m not and she doesn’t. She laughs because I surprise her, and that makes her happy, and she laughs.

Now I was in a low glen somewhere in the heart of Hints of Home, and the air around me was softly bright with golden light, and I found myself lying on the softest glass you can imagine.

And I heard her laugh, happy and kind.

And I thought I heard her say my name, and it felt so good.

Fling Eleven

2022/11/06

NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Nine

Every time I open my eyes, the world becomes narrower, and wider.

What I see tells me that certain things are impossible; what I see tells me that so many things are possible.

Every time I move my elbow and touch the world, the world becomes narrower, and wider.

What I touch, what I feel, tell me that certain things are impossible; what I touch, what I feel, tells me that so many, so very many, things are possible.

When I floated unseeing, unfeeling, in an endless void, everything was possible.

And nothing was possible.

Here is an image of trees set among oddly pointed hills. On the ground, in the image, white trails snake everywhere.

The white trails might be ancient lava flows, might be modern water runnels, might be plants of different colors growing in stripes because of the underlying chemical differences caused by ancient lava. Or modern water.

Trees are shelter from the rain, trees are habitats, are not-yet-decayed masses of food for saprophytes, are just one of the things that happen when you get an area very very hot, and then let it cool very very slowly.

We circle the tree, each of us thinking our own thoughts, each of our thoughts reflecting everyone’s thoughts. The trees are prisms for our thoughts, taking them in as white beams and redistributing them as rainbow tracks; rainbow tracks for the trains of ages, rainbow tracks for the steam-engines of understanding.

Here is another image, of trees set among oddly pointed hills. On the ground, in the image, white trails snake everywhere.

Are these photographs, and has the photographer only turned from east to west, or north to south, between one and the other?

Are these impressionist, semi-abstract, paintings from life, and has the artist turned the easel in one direction on one day, and the other direction on another day?

The artist sits on a hillside, under the outermost reaching branches of a dense dark tree with deep green foliage, and as the artist slowly paints, small animals and large insects rustle in the tree, and in the crevices of the ground cover.

If these are paintings from life, what does the artist smell, moving the brush slowly over the canvas, there under the edge of the tree’s shadow, where stripes run over the ground, or where the ground inspires the artist to paint stripes where, in plain reality, there may be none?

Every time the artist breathes, and scents the air, the world becomes narrower, and wider.

What the artist smells, scents, breathes, makes olfactory note of, tells the artist that certain things are possible. What the artist smells, makes olfactory note of, tells the artist that many things are possible.

The brush of the artist spells out on the canvas what is possible, what is impossible.

With every touch of the brush, the universe becomes narrower, and wider.

When the canvas was blank, everything was possible.

And nothing was possible.

Time passes, for us circling the trees, for the artist painting, for the trees refracting all our thoughts. For the photographer on the hilltop and for the writer in the old overstuffed armchair.

As time passes, as we see and hear and feel and smell (and taste), the world becomes narrower, and wider.

With every tick of the universal clock, what we experience tells us that certain things are impossible.

With every tick of the universal clock, what we experience tells us that so many things are possible.

Circle the tree with me, with love; give the trees the white beams of your thoughts, and accept from the trees the rainbow diffractions of mine. Love is the result of all of it, and love is the cause of all of it. Love and light are the same, trees and stripes on the ground are the same. Darkness and stillness are the same.

Here is a mystery. Here is a question. What will the next moment declare impossible? What will the moment after reveal as possible?

Here is another image, of a river of stripes flowing between thick dark trees, among oddly pointed hills. Under one tree, a feline form melds with the shadows, resting or waiting, relaxed or alert, its ears a pair of points in the dimness, listening, its whiskers quivering in the air.

Every sound the cat hears tells it that certain things are impossible. Every sound the cat hears, tells it that so many things are possible. The sound of prey in the brush, the sound of splashes in the river, the sound of another cat, distant among the trees, raising a brief and plaintive call toward the sun, the moon, the spirits of prey in the trees. The cat’s body is full of potential, full of watching and patience and the thought of sudden fatal motion.

Did the artist see the cat waiting in that shadow, and capture a hint with that moving brush? Or is the cat the diffraction of a thought of the artist, from patterns in the artist’s mind, from memories of the artist’s past? Is the artist also a traveler, a reader, a composer of fiction or symphonies?

Music makes no claims, cannot be judged or faulted for adding imaginary cats to real tree-shadows. Can I lie with music? Can I lie with a photograph, with a painting, with a loaf of bread?

If these images on the table before us came with no words, no labels or cover-letter, nothing claiming anything with words, then perhaps they cannot lie to us, either; they can only be what they are, and we are free to take them (the rainbows from the trees) and use them in any way at all. They tell us that some things are impossible (now that the envelope has proven to contain only these two images, we are not in a universe where it contains something else, as well or instead), and that many things are possible: the images as photographs, as paintings, as narrative, as hallucination, as music; the sending as a gift, a threat, as braggadocio or the fulfillment of a contract.

Hold them near your face and breathe. What is possible?

Fling Ten