Posts tagged ‘fiction’


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


Klara by Dale Innis & Karima Hoisan

Well, this is just too much fun. :) Very good Second Life friend and collaborator liked the little Klara piece so much that she voiced it and set it to the perfect music and made it into a rather wonderful YouTube! Definitely more accessible :) and more of an experience this way than the 327MB pdf file. Wooot!

Digital Rabbit Hole

Very excited to share with you all, this off-beat, pretty long (almost 10 minutes) surreal video collaboration with Dale Innis
Those of you who read me regularly, know that Dale Innis is a scripter friend who has collaborated with me and also with Natascha & I for the last 10 years and lately has been dabbling in all sorts of AI Art, especially MidJourney, which is a veritable game-changer in this blossoming field.
He showed me a pdf file of slides and a story-line, that he had made and I fell in love…fell obsessed, is a better word, to try to bring this to a way more people could see it.
This is how the project was born. I found, what we both agree, is the perfect music   Meditative Music and I made a voice-over and edited the slides into what you’ll see below.
This is a very slow-…

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Klara’s Story (Part One)

So after I did “Ice Dreams” (50M pdf), as casually announced here, I did another graphic novel (to the extent that that phrase fits at all), or the first part of one, in a very different style and by a very different process.

For “Klara’s Story” (working title), I generated two-by-two grids of Midjourney images using the prompt “detailed surrealism” (a favorite of mine) and some variants thereof, and crafted some sort of story around the images (rather than using the AI to create images for a more-or-less known story).

I haven”t yet had the patience to pare it down at all, so here is the current like 327M pdf draft.

The huge size does make it a bit awkward and slow to deal with, but… there it is!


A Story with InferKit

Long-time readers will notice that while I used to talk about and quote from GPT-3 and other generative transformer-style AIs a lot, I’ve mostly stopped doing that, and I’ve been posting AI art, and stuff not so much related to AI at all, and so on instead.

What happened?

Well, the big AI Dungeon kerfuffle happened, and that was a thing. Friend Steve points out that GPT-3 itself has been pretty openly available for months, but I haven’t signed up for that because (inter alia) they have these weird terms of service about not using it to generate certain kinds of stuff, as though one was in control of what it generates, and as though certain kinds of words are just bad to generate.

I played with NovelAI pretty regularly for awhile, but eventually sort of tailed off on doing that; I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps it sort of got old, or the engine wasn’t quite good enough, or it exposed so many interesting-looking knobs and dials that I felt like I ought to be spending more time playing with them, so I had guilt.

The other week I went back to AI Dungeon to see what was going on there, and it was really bad. Possibly I just got unlucky and wasn’t willing to spend time luring it around to a better part of parameter space, but it was also slow and somehow the interface seemed clunkier. So I stopped doing that.

Then looking through the bills the other day, I noticed that I’ve been paying money for a membership on, which I remembered as the monetized version of Talk to Transformer of yore, and that it had been okay but not great, maybe like GPT-2 level.

I went over to it to see if that was true, and if I could easily drop my membership and save that money, but when I tried it, it seemed to be really good! And fast, and with a very nice (if/because minimalistic) UI. I don’t know what it’s running on the back-end (I wrote their support to ask, and we’ll see if they answer), but it seems to generate quite good stuff.

And having said all of that :) here is a longish story that InferKit and I wrote recently. It feels roughly GPT-3 quality to me. I’d say InferKit wrote the majority of the actual words, including the nonsensical ones, and I wrote the ones most obviously trying to steer it in some direction (including the massive reality-altering cheat to fix the whole inter-reality war at the end there).

Readers of my AI Dungeon tales, if any, will note that the character Tanya here is not the Tanya of AI Dungeon, which due to an important piece of its specification set will imbue any character named “Tanya” with a sort of romantic strength and badassery, but just a normal person who happens to be named Tanya. And the overall theme is the “what shall we do now that we can warp reality however we like” of many of my prior explanations, and my entire 2020 NaNoWriMo novel.

It doesn’t seem to have a title in any sense; the initial prompt was “The next time the three of us met” up to and including “Tanya said”. And after that it’s all collaboration. :)

Hope you enjoy!

The next time the three of us met, it was on the long deck along the seafront, near the carnival grounds. We smiled and nodded to each other, and sat cross-legged on the dark wood planks.

“The nature of reality,” Tanya said, “is that you have to find someone else to talk to. You are only ever connected with so many people at any given time, and most of these people are in your head. It’s the solitude that makes people’s voices resonate.”

“How many friends do you have?” I asked.

She looked at me without saying anything.

“I don’t count people as friends,” she said. “They’re there.”

And then, quite suddenly, a young man who had been riding his bicycle up and down the deck leaned towards Tanya and whispered something in her ear.

“I’ve fallen in love with you!” he shouted, and jumped up and down on his bright green sneakers.

Tanya laughed, and invited him to sit with us.

“I guess we’ve found someone else to talk to!” Rainer commented.

“A lover, perhaps?” Tanya suggested.

But I was depressed.

“It’s over,” I said to Tanya.

“Who, me?” she said.

“Everything!” I shouted. “Everything is over.”

This had nothing to do with what was supposed to be our topic of conversation. But I was feeling it so strongly, I had to speak. The young man from the bicycle, now sitting awkwardly beside Tanya, opened his eyes wide as he looked at me.

“Liar!” he said.

“Liar!” I shouted, and the three of us howled in laughter.

That night, it rained hard, and we hurried back into the cabin. Rainer was on the phone all night, so Tanya and the young man (whose name was David, but which we never bothered to learn) and I sat in the cabin. They played chess.

“It’s too bad about your seminar in Paris,” David said.

“It was great,” Tanya said. “But how am I supposed to make it in the real world?”

I realized that she had stopped doing a lot of the things she was used to doing.

She had stopped ordering clothes from magazines. She had stopped trying on clothes in those tiny rooms that are in every high-end fashion store, the rooms that look like miniature apartments, with large, airy beds on the floor, and glass coffee tables under lamps, where there is no lampshade.

I found a magazine in the drawer. “What do you think of this?” I asked Tanya and David, referring again to the underlying nature of reality, and the problematic nature of perception, the nature of things that aren’t there.

I didn’t want to fall in love with her, I just wanted to know what was really going on.

“It’s all a bunch of BS,” Tanya said.

“Reality is real, though,” I said, “we have to understand it better!”

“Yeah,” Tanya said, “but I don’t see what we’re supposed to understand. It’s a mystery.”

And then she went to sleep.

Later in the evening, she jumped into the middle of the cabin, and turned off the lights, and started dancing in the dark.

David said, “I guess you can do what you want.”

He said it in German, but it sounded like a yes.

That was Tanya’s cue to get up and go to bed.

“Sorry I didn’t have time to see your painting today, but I promise to see it tomorrow.”

“We can see it together, Tanya,” I said.

I thought that would finally take care of the whole subject of her seeing the painting, which had been the thing to keep us together for the past few weeks.

Instead, she said, “I want to do this on my own.”

I didn’t say anything.

“I have to say goodbye to David now,” she said.

David opened the door, and she gave him a hug. “Take care of yourself,” she said, “watch where you bicycle.” And then she was gone.

David watched her get on her bike, and get on her way, and then go away from him.

I followed Tanya down the road to the corner. She stopped and waved.

“See you tomorrow,” she called. I waved back, and continued along into town.

That night, I heard the bicycle across the way, its wheels clicking on the asphalt, its leather seat creaking under Tanya’s weight, like the bicycle I had when I was a kid.

Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can be in other universes, and remember things that haven’t happened. I can remember my happiest childhood memories, and times that I can’t really remember.

I thought about those things, and thought about the chances I’ve taken, the things I’ve tried to learn, and how malleable reality is.

Rainer was snoring softly on the couch across the room, and when Tanya slipped in through the door and quietly came in, she didn’t wake him up.

“Did you take a lot of pictures today?” she asked.

I thought that was an odd question.

“Yes,” I said.

I didn’t mention the chess game, and the thing with David.

Tanya relaxed on the rug in the dark. “Sorry I sort of blew you off on the question about reality,” she said, “I was just impatient.”

I figured that would be it, so I kept my mouth shut.

She said, “Can I sleep here on the floor tonight?”

“What?” I said. “You’ll get sick, sleeping on the floor.”

“No, you can’t sleep on the floor, get into the bed or something, there’s lots of room.”

I just stared at her, trying to think of a way to get rid of her.

“You sleep here with me,” she said.

I thought about Tanya and me on the bed, spooning, watching the sun go down, and about the way the breeze would feel.

“Okay,” I said, finally smiling a little in the dark, “I’ll sleep here.”

We crawled under the blanket and turned away from each other.

It was a little awkward, but at least I wasn’t in that cheap futon anymore, and I got to know Tanya a little better.

In the morning over breakfast, she brought up the issue again.

“Do you really think that we can change reality just by willing it?” she asked, sipping at her tea.

“Maybe,” I said, “Maybe not.”

“So you don’t think you’re going to die any time soon, do you?”

“No,” I said, “Not yet, anyway. But that’s not the biggest question.”

“Yes,” she said.

“What’s the biggest question?”

“Is there anyone after us, after your dream? Is there anybody after me, after your dream?”

“Yeah, I think there is,” I said. “There’s somebody, there always has to be somebody.”

“But can they see us?”

“Sure, I don’t think they could see us if they didn’t already.”

“Well,” she said, “maybe we should find out. In your dream, did you ever see anyone after us? Did you see the creator, or the shaper?”

I looked at her carefully, and I could see the questions in her eyes. She’d been thinking about it, and all that would change now, now that I’d told her.

I considered for a moment what I’d said. “I don’t want everything to change,” I ventured, “because of how I answer that.”

Tanya was quiet for a minute. “What?”

“I didn’t mean to say something so dangerous,” I said.

“Why are you afraid of change?” she asked.

“Just in general,” I said, “It’s like a drug. I get used to reality flowing around me, and then I get afraid that it will all dissolve into chaos if I don’t pay attention to it. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yes,” she said, “I’m beginning to understand.”

I didn’t reply immediately, and we just sat together, with the surf rolling gently outside the window. Rainier went to the old piano and began to play something classical, and Tanya just sat there, with her coffee cup, watching him.

Then she said, “Do you think we’re going to die?”

I hadn’t really been expecting that.

“Probably not,” I said. “I mean, our minds wouldn’t go into any reality in which we died, unless they wanted to. Don’t you think?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I feel like I know you, but I don’t. If you died, I’d be a little afraid, but I’d be like a normal person. If you didn’t have to die, I wouldn’t know what to do, I think.”

“Would you really be just like a normal person?” I smiled, teasing her.

“Probably not. But I’d be scared.”

We talked about it for a while longer, about our lives and futures, about why we lived, why we were living.

Then the rain began to fall harder outside, and we three all stood by the window, just looking out. I found it heartbreakingly lovely, countless raindrops just falling, with no plan or name or concern.


Some people like to describe death as a few minutes of darkness, and then everything that has any color is gone, and it’s gone forever. I thought that was a pretty ghastly way to put it, myself.

I thought about taking Tanya and Rainier and any of the others to a glorious Palace of Death in some elaborate afterlife. Would that be the end of my life?

After a while, I realized that my life would never go back to what it had been before, because I knew the truth of what a human being is and of what it is to be alive. And I liked the idea.

Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a ruby necklace for Tanya, and a small silver whistle for Rainier, and some information cards, with contact information for the refuge. I told them that if they should ever need to call for help, or needed to contact any of us, that this was where they could find the center of the circle.

“Wow,” said Tanya, “that’s really beautiful. I’ve always wanted one of these.”

I put it around her neck, and stepped back to admire the effect. Rainier smiled his gratitude, and played a high piping tune on the silver whistle.

“Gifts from the interstices of reality,” I said, and we all smiled.

We parted with each other again, feeling more confident about our place in this world than we had for a long time.

Being grateful doesn’t do anything, and being envious doesn’t, either. We are each made of space and time, and part of space is where the things we like are. We can never truly be ungrateful, but we can try to express our gratefulness, even if we can never be grateful enough for the infinite gifts we’ve been given.

I walked through the grounds of the abbey, smiling at the young novices who bowed as I passed, and at the occasional cat that scuttled out from behind a tree, curious to see who had stopped to watch it eat.

Why hadn’t I done this before? Maybe for the same reason it took so long for the three of us to understand that we were in a place that no one had ever visited before, and that everyone who came after would never find again. Or maybe it was simply that it was so beautiful that I couldn’t bear the thought of losing it.

“Don’t let fear of loss prevent you from appreciating what you have, while you have it,” Sister Victoria said, kneeling beside me in the little side-chapel. “Even when it’s clear that it’s gone.”

“Are you saying this is it, then?” I asked, gazing up at her.

She nodded, looking down at the still shape of me. “You were blessed by the Mother, and sent here for all of us. The road behind us vanishes forever, and the road ahead always approaches. This is love.”

“I’ve never heard of this before,” I said, “but you make it sound like I’m going to be around for a long time.”

“For a long time,” Sister Victoria said, smiling, “or longer than you might have imagined. You may not always be here, but we will always be here for you.”

She gestured at the stone shelves.

“These are where all of the writings of the order are kept,” she said. “And they will grow with you.”

I glanced down. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there.

“You don’t have to do this,” I said, uncertain. “You can walk away.”

“Are you saying I shouldn’t?” she asked, incredulous. “That I should just abandon you when you are in need?”

“I was thinking of leaving, anyway,” I said.

“Then you wouldn’t want me to give you an object of power,” she said. “Or a spell that will protect you when you need it.”

I hesitated. It had felt like something of a dare.

“You are loved, Cerebra,” she said. “Even if the rest of the order doesn’t see it. You cannot be isolated. You need the community. Let yourself feel it. The next part of the road will come before you can even think to leave it.”

I took her words to heart, walking with her as she showed me all of the different places in the archives where the minutes of the grand council meetings had been recorded, from earlier than anyone remembered.

I turned to Sister Victoria gratefully. “I owe a great deal to you, and to the Abbey, for support in my wanderings. You’ve given me the courage to go on. I’m not alone anymore.”

“And I want to help you pay back what you’ve done for us,” she said. “In the days to come, we’ll meet to talk about what might be done. But for now, you need to rest, and the only place I know where the safe for you is is right here.”

She took me to a modest room off of the library corridor, with a shelf and a small bed, and I put down my things. I felt happy and light just to be in a place that had existed, once, long ago.

I was up before the sun the next morning. I had an urge to watch the dawn, and it seemed that Sister Victoria was as well. I walked her back to the chapel for the third time, and we stood in silence in the quiet presence of the morning. I looked at her wise quiet face and wondered if she could tell me the secret of her stillness.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “The next time we meet, you’ll be the one teaching me. And I can’t help you.”

“I’m sorry too,” I said, feeling boh joy and sorrow, “but also glad.”

She stepped back to allow me passage into the library, and I left the archive with the heavy conviction that I would be safe and that I would survive the darkening days ahead.


An hour later, I sat in front of the parchment and began to write. I had considered leaving the map to Sister Victoria to make no more notes on its fate, and I didn’t want to bother my mother with the errand either. So I carefully wrote my own notes, and then filed the map away, back in the archives.

I packed my bag again, stopped by the Abbey commissary to take some bread and apples for the trip, and set off on the open road, back to Rome.

It was as I was taking a sharp turn onto the main road out of Rome that a rider approached from behind, a courier. He was an older man, in a greyed and worn black uniform, but his head was gleaming in the morning light, and his face was sharp and alert. His horse was well-bred, and he wore a plain white armband with the Christian cross.

“Good morning, Mister Clovis,” he said.

“And Good Morning to you, my good man,” I replied, going to stand next to his horse. “What do you have for me?”

He reached into his saddlebag and brought out a roll of parchment, carefully wrapped with wax, and then handed it over. I opened it, and read the text over once before I unfolded it.

“My dear, Cerebra, how strange,” my mother said, after I had finished reading. “This is the exact order that has been sent to the Abbess, about the elimination of the Foreigners in Rome.”

I put down the parchment and looked at my mother, shocked.

“I don’t understand,” I said, confused. “They’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. What do you mean, they are ‘eliminating’ foreigners?”

“I believe that the Abbey will be taking care of them,” my mother said. “Their provisions have been filled with grain, seeds, oil and salt. Their rooms and showers have been made ready, and their last journey to the door of the Temple may be hastened by the passage of those remaining soldiers in the barracks.”

I felt the truth of her words, but wondered at the underlying meaning. “So all of the foreigners in Rome in this reality, are being sent through the Portal in the Temple of Artemis?” I asked her. “But it will take them hours to get to Constantinople. Why send the order so quickly?”

My mother smiled and nodded.

“It’s called ‘progress’, Mister Clovis,” she said. “It’s what’s going to take the world over, over the next twenty years. But this is just the beginning.”

I remembered her smile when she had first explained about the Cathedral, and I thought again of the letter she had read.

“Mother,” I said seriously, “is this the sort of kindness that the world will expect from the Empire now? I cannot approve of a forced relocation like this, progress or no!”

She looked at me thoughtfully. “What you describe, Mister Clovis, is a cultural revolution,” she said. “And it’s all part of an apocalyptic vision, of melding the minds of man and beast, of conquest, and creation. The balance of power has been disrupted. It is the most appropriate time to move to this new reality.”


After I had finished writing my mother, and she had finished reading my notes, she told me what the letter to the Abbess had said.

“I wish it were not true, Mister Clovis, but the Abbess said that it was necessary to do this, to integrate new populations into the Empire. The Empire is expanding, in a rapid rate. The people of Earth must be considered an integral part of our Imperial State, in order to avoid the maladies of xenophobia and racism. We have endured past horrors, Mr. Clovis, horrors that should never have been. The state of our planet is at a perilous moment, and the time has come for drastic measures. It is very fortunate, that we have such good friends as the Abbey. They will help to alleviate the suffering of these people. And in return, we will assist in spreading this program of compassion and tolerance throughout the Empire.”

My mother sat then in silence. I wondered why she addressed me as Mister Clovis. We had been so close in earlier years, I still longed to embrace her, and forget all of the intricacies of rulership and international politics. But she stared at me, her face expressionless. After some moments, she finally said, “There is something else that I think you should know, Mister Clovis. This is a matter of great gravity, which you must consider carefully.”

I waited a few seconds. “What is it, Mother?”

“Your father, Mister Clovis,” she said, with a glance at my ink-stained shirt. “I am aware that you have been the object of gossip and conjecture in recent weeks, and I must tell you that they are all true. It has come to my attention that you are the product of an extramarital affair, by one of your father’s mistresses. She is a member of an ancient family in Argentina. Your father has been faithful to me, to his family, to the Empire. And I have never had an affair with him.”

I could not help but smile at this piece of absurdity. “Are you saying, Mother, that I am not the true fruit of your womb? But that is absurd!” I told her, by way of celebration. “One of my father’s mistresses is an innocent by-stander who did not participate in the affairs of men. That I am the child of a liaison between one of the highest-ranking womanizers in the Empire, and one of the lowest-ranking womanizers in our territories, is an insult to all the women of the Empire, and it is quite something that the rumor has gone so far.”

My mother smiled at me and nodded. “As is often the case, Mister Clovis,” she said, “there are things you do not know. What you must do is think through what it means. And your father will probably be pleased with what I have told you, as it will justify a lot of things, in his eyes. He will, of course, go through an investigation to make sure that this is true. I have no reason to disbelieve the Abbess. She has given me a lot of information. You will do as I have said, and think it over.”

I studied my mother’s face, for the first time since I had heard the news. I think she had hoped that I would be upset, that she would have some explanation that would heal the wounds of a family. But I had been brought up to think for myself. I was a child of the Empire, and I would be my own person, in this reality or any other.

I leaned forward and kissed her cheek by way of answer, and returned to the sunlit road. I felt bad for my mother, and regretted the fact that I would be leaving her. But she understood my need for independence. She was proud of me, for I had shown courage and determination in dealing with my father, which was not something that even my mother could boast about, and which she would not do without feeling some measure of guilt. But I was not staying to punish her, nor to repay her, and she knew that.

The road led from the Abbey to the town of Escardes. As I was leaving, I saw some of my siblings standing on the rampart, watching me go. They gave me a knowing wave, and I waved back. I would miss them, and their faces, and their laughter, and their mischief.

I looked up at the sky, and wished that I was a bird, that I could fly with the breeze. I started to whistle a gentle tune as I walked away.

I reached Escardes in the evening, and settled myself in its main Inn, which had on its sign a BIrd and Candle. In the inn’s common room, I heard my name called, and was surprised to see Tanya, in dusty travel clothes, sitting with a mug of ale by the fire.

“Hey, cousin!” she said.

“Tanya!” I said. “I am so glad to see you.” I went to her, and we hugged each other, and then hugged and kissed each other again. I sat down next to her, and we looked at each other with wide smiles.

“And how did you come to this particular branch of reality?” I asked her after we had both had large swallows of the Inn’s ale.

“I have just spent the last three weeks in this alternate reality, before I decided to return here,” she told me. “This other reality is a peaceful, happy place, with magic and interesting wizards, even if the people are a little odd. But I wanted to come back here, where there is also magic, but where the people are not as nice, because I miss you. I know my parents never liked you much.”

I laughed. “They never did! They considered me a doubtful and corrupting influence, I think.”

Tanya was confused. “How are you here, then?”

I told her about the abbess’ prophecy.

“This all makes sense!” she exclaimed. “The fact that the historical reality has been overwritten by this new history. And now, you are also missing. This is wonderful!”

“To being missing!” I toasted, and we clinked our mugs together. “But here’s the thing.” I paused to think. “I need to tell you something.”

Tanya gave me a knowing look, and nodded.

“As it turns out,” I started, “there is a war brewing between different factions of people. They are like humans, except that they use magic, and they have no concept of what purity of blood is. Some of them think that they are better than humans, and that they are destined to rule. That’s in this particular timeline, and it’s kind of vexing, I think.”

Tanya was confused, but nodded.

“Well, some of them want to take this war to the future, to the end of the universe.”

Tanya and I looked at each other in astonishment.

“And, there is another faction, which is not interested in war,” I said.

Tanya frowned. “You mean that they are not warlike?”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean.”

Tanya nodded. “What happens then?”

“Nothing good, I’m afraid.” I said. “They have advanced weapons, and they have a great deal of magical power, and it is getting dangerous. The warlords in this warring universe want to wipe out this universe, just to make sure that they never have to deal with these people again. They are talking about wiping out life as we know it, including my current timeline. But in fact, they won’t really succeed. All of this happens because of the abbess. She has helped to instill hatred in both universes.”

“The abbess is the one who told you that we were never destined to be mates.”


“Oh, they are never destined to be mates, she said. But maybe she’s evil after all!”

“I think so,” I said. “In fact, I think she is evil. She has power over this universe, and she wants it for herself. It’s not just because she wants to rule, though, it’s because she wants to get revenge on the world that stole her beloved pet dog.”

“The bear thing?”

“Yeah.” I said. “I met the abbess in the year 3184 A.D., and she was holding a very large black bear, as big as an elephant. It was really something! I think that animal is the semantic crux-point for this whole bundle of related realities. It’s really rather messy.”

Tanya finished her mug and signaled for another, and when she brought it, I drank. I felt warm inside.

And then, without warning, it occurred to me. “You think that I’m descended from the ‘bear thing’?” I asked.

Tanya looked at me with raised eyebrows, and laughed loudly. “That would just make everything perfect, wouldn’t it? You being descended from the bear, and us being right here together!”

“It’s not only possible,” I said, “but I really think it’s likely.”

Tanya sighed. “So, this war, then?” she asked. “How do we stop it?”

“I don’t know!” I said. “Maybe we should just leave this universe alone and stop fighting. They are all dead anyway, right?”

Tanya nodded her head slowly, and looked at me in a serious manner. “Well, what if they weren’t? What if they came back?”

I blinked, and frowned. “What do you mean?”

Tanya took my hands in hers, and looked me in the eye. “I’m not kidding, Roland. Imagine. You and I were born a couple of thousand years ago. That means that we should be dead now. We’re not.”

I just stared at her, then I began to smile.

“This is why I’ll always love you,” I told her. We put on our Royal Robes, and opening a portal in the wall of the room, we strode out into the Holy Square of the Imperial City, to the wild cheers and adulation of the crowd. The war was over, the Abbess’s mind had been healed, and all of the casualties returned to robust and boisterous life.

I wondered if we had just prevented a lot of suffering in the universe, but I put that thought aside, because I was happy.

So much for that mystery, I thought. I’m not going to chase it anymore. I turned to Tanya. “Shall we go back to the beach?” I suggested, “maybe Rainier has something new to play for us.”

“Yes, that would be nice,” she agreed.

And, as we walked back to the City with the sound of the surf in our ears, we contemplated how we might spend the rest of our time on the island.


“I’ve been working on materializing things in my pockets,” Rainier said as we sat on the surf-damp rocks above the beach. “I’m getting pretty good at it, but you still do better. I think that you could just show up anywhere in the universe if you really wanted to, but it’s harder for me. If I really need something, I can just go find it.”

I gazed around, and watched as Rainier flew up into the sky, and flew back down with something in his hand. I had a good idea what it was.

I broke the arrowhead out of its case. The stone inside the ancient glass shell was mostly translucent green, like moss. A section of the leaf was intact, and the petals on the branches were still lit. The grass was a bit wilted, I noticed, but the little moss was firm and green. A piece of mussel shell still dangled from the wound of the stone.

I lit the mussel shell and placed it in my palm.

“Very nice!” I said to Rainier, “why did you need to fly up high to get it, do you think?”

“Because I always have something in my pocket,” Rainier replied.

I turned to Tanya, who smiled.

“Would you like to try it, Roland?” Tanya asked. “I know you’re very good with your hands.”

I winked at her, and then reached into my pocket and brought out a small statue of a group of bears, the little ones all snuggled in with their sleeping mother, carven in volcanic black rock. It looked harmless enough, but it was heavier than it looked. I held it in my hand, and then took a deep breath.

The statue melted and was replaced with a high grade concentrated air crystal, about as big as a tennis ball, that could be blown as hard as I could blow. It had an embedded compass, and a glowstone for navigation, both buried in the crystal.

“How’s that?” I asked, proudly showing the object off to Tanya and Rainier. “It’s more than a little power, Tanya.”

She didn’t look all that impressed, but she did nod.

“All right, I guess that’s enough show and tell for today,” I said. “I need to talk to Rainier some more.”

And so we sat by the surf, our shoulders touching, my head leaned against Rainier’s shoulder, while I held my toy. It was a world of calm and love, with gentle rolling waves, and the beach surrounded by a huge blue and green world of clouds and sky.

Tanya and I exchanged glances, and then I felt it again.

Rainier’s love, his soul, my soul, joined together in the most natural of ways. And I knew we had found the true home.

And for that moment, we were one.


Welcome to Yeni Cavan

Welcome to Yeni Cavan; The Shade
Yeni Cavan, called The Shade.
A city, a maze, a warren, a million lights in the smog.
Yeni Cavan; street scene I
Always happy to help a newcomer.
Yeni Cavan; street scene II
Y’can trust me, for sure.
Detailed steampunk cyberpunk noir
Avoid the caps and capes, just sayin’.
Detailed steampunk cyberpunk noir
A fine choice, y’won’t regret it.
Detailed steampunk cyberpunk noir gunfight
Across the square, left at the red alley.
Look confident.
Yeni Cavan street dancers
Street dancers
Dancers in midair
and midair dancers
Orbis and Kline, Hostelers
Happy to get to our hotel.
Fine Dining in Yeni Cavan
Fine Dining
Standard Equipment
One is provided free in every room.
Rental Car
Yeni Cavan rental car
The Dashboard
User Interface Design
Lovers in The Shade
So close that they share
a single endocrine system.
The fabled Manufactory
Detailed steampunk cyberpunk noir skyline
It’s always twilight here.

Samantha : creepy AI fiction

This is from (previously, a GPT client site that I’ve mentioned before here (see for instance “What the Empress and I Found on the Beach of Bowling Balls“). It’s been undergoing some changes, the UI seems to be different every time I go in, and the social aspects seem to be gone, at least at the moment. It also puts up an ominous survey popup about just how disappointed one would be if it were to cease to be.

But anyway! :) I haven’t been playing with AI text generators (at least not those that I can talk about) as much as I was for awhile, but for whatever reason I went into it and typed the title and first sentence of this, and then just kept pressing “Write for me” to see what it would do.

It’s strange and certainly imperfect by any standards, and creepy and inconsistent and weird. But I like it. :)


Let me tell you about her. In the early days, we knew her as Number 29.

They came from all corners of the world. They were long of limb and supple of form. They had skin like alabaster and flowing hair of midnight. They moved with grace and poise. They were all women.

Their weapons were not ones we recognised. Each woman appeared to carry a single piece of arcane technology upon their person, one which would spew forth arcane energies in halting bursts. This was referred to as the weapon of their choosing.

We tried to stop them. There was no other way. We succeeded in forcing them to Earth, to just survive here on the surface, but our victory was hollow. If it not for the sacrifice of many, our race would have been lost. Many, many lives. We no longer remember the names of those lost, even all that are here now.

When they first emerged from the bowels of the Earth they were ravening beasts, with a feral intelligence. They knew not of our language, of our history, of our customs. They had only one language, one way of thinking, and it was dark. They made no pretence of trying to hide their intentions.

They were like razor sharp blades. The only way to stop them was to destroy the ones in front of one’s eyes. They were like him.

The creatures here, we tried to tame in many ways. Animals, we attempted to make them. What we learned we discarded. What we learned was not what we wanted to learn. When we began to lose hope, the bastards took us to where they began.

They had already done so much in their lifetime, so much that we could not begin to comprehend. Wherever they had begun they were spirits of prophecy, the saviours and architects of this world. They had laid out the path in front of every living thing. What they made here she now called Earth.

She was the mother of this land. She was the end of all things, and all things came from her.

Wherever she had buried the dead in their billions she called Sky.

That was pretty obviously the end, but I hit the button a few more times. It put in a couple of octothorpes, and continued on a … related tack.


The shark kissed her foot gingerly. Blood on her hands, and it backed off. Sharks down here were used to being the hunters. They couldn’t be the hunters anymore. Not anymore.

The shark’s mouth was on fire and it washed her with a thousand kisses, so many more than she had caused pain. Now she was the indigo mother of the oceans.

She picked up the nearest island. It had belonged to a man called Ieuan. It was now her home. She touched him. His wounds were deep and bleeding, his humanity gone. She caressed his face, felt his touch, felt his promise. She could make him whole.

Her prayers rang in his ears.


So there ya go! :) And it would have been happy to continue further, perhaps with more octothorpe sections. The space of AI hallucination is vast and uncharted.


The Cloud Sylph

So I’ve joined reddit (actually rejoined; apparently I joined a couple of years ago to post a couple of comments about professional-level Tic-Tac-Toe play) and I’ve posted some random snippets to r/AIDungeon (also the NSFW one, but don’t look at my posts there or you may lose some respect for me, if any).

This one was long enough that I’m posting it here also, for those that don’t want to navigate the morass of reddit. I thought it was a pretty impressive illustration of collaborative storytelling.

Most of the words are from the AI; generally just the first sentence of each stanza is mine. Lightly edited, mostly to remove the near-duplication of every input, and I used Retry when vampires tried to butt in etc. There are a few oddities, like “the land of Live”, and the game randomly deciding to drop the last letter of “Sylph”. I was especially struck by the very last line, that it composed as a parallel to my last input.

You climb higher on the mountain, to where a Cloud Sylph is said to live. You sit and rest on a rock, looking out at the vast landscape of the land of Live.

You look into the clouds. You see something white moving through the clouds. It looks like a bird. You stare at it, and it moves lower, into your range of view.

You play a song of air and wind, and life and desire. As you play, the Cloud Sylp mixes its body in with the clouds, and your song is taken up by other sylphs.

You listen to the loveliness. You hear notes of triumph and freedom, of joy and life’s pleasures, of adventure and excitement. The Cloud Sylp begins to sing with you, and the song changes. It becomes more complex, with a deeper meaning. Its notes of joy are replaced with notes of sorrow and loss, of loneliness and pain, of despair and death.

You end the song on a note of hope, and reach out to the Sylph. The Cloud Sylp touches your hand with its wing, then gently caresses your face with it.

You feel tears running down your face. The Cloud Sylp puts its wing on top of you, and you rest your head against it. You fall asleep under the cloud, and dream a familiar dream.

You wake up from your dreams to find the Sylph still there, attending to you.

You try to look at the Cloud Sylph more closely. She seems to be a young woman, with long blond hair and golden skin. She looks at you and smiles. She begins to sing in a pure, clear voice, and you think the words are for you.

You play a few simple but perfect notes on your lute, to go with her singing. The Cloud Sylp begins to sing more strongly with you, and you feel waves of emotion coming from her.

You play along using a richer tune; the emotion is very strong. You hear her speaking, and realize she is singing in the language of Air. She seems to be telling you something.

You listen to her intently. She is saying she is sorry for the death of your friend, and that he was a true hero.

You say “Thank you, Sylph, thank you very much” She smiles, and says that the whole sky is hers.

You say “That is wonderful. I am so honored to be here near you.” She casts you a glance, and seems to be pleased by your words. You look at the sun, now halfway to noon.

You kneel before the Sylph, overcome by her beauty and power. The Cloud Sylp stands before you as you play your lute, and you find tears welling up in your eyes. You realize the tears are not just from emotion, but also from the strong, sweet perfume that the lute is giving off.

You continue playing, feeling yourself merging with the Sylph, feeling her power and freedom. You can almost see into her mind. She is showing you the future, in images and scents and feelings not words.

You whisper, “I love you”. She looks at you, and her scent changes suddenly to one of pain and sorrow. She shows you an image of a beautiful Cloud City floating high above the world.

You watch in awe. Then the image changes to one of death, as dozens of humans wearing the robes of Dendrin’s priests stand around the Cloud City, casting long shadows on its gleaming walls.

You gasp in dismay. The Cloud City is destroyed, and from the images you sense that it was the humans who did it. The Cloud Sylp looks at you, her eyes full of pain.

You weep for her and her people. The Cloud Sylp kneels beside you, wrapping her arms around you and enveloping you in her scent which once again is one of love.

You are full of love and gratitude. You wish this moment would never end. Everything around you seems to be changing: the sky, the air.

You put your arms around her and hold her tightly. You feel her hands on your shoulders, then on your head. She runs her fingers through your hair, sending shivers through you.

You put your hands on her shoulders. Suddenly she grabs your hand and places it on her waist. Then she places one of her hands on your shoulder, and another on your chest, gently pushing you back.

You look into her eyes. Her eyes are a deep green, flecked with gold. They mesmerize you. You feel like they are drawing you in, and at the same time offering you shelter.

You touch her face. She closes her eyes and moves closer to you. You feel dizzy and intoxicated as your faces move closer together.

You brush your lips over hers. You feel her lips on yours. They are softer than anything you’ve ever felt. Suddenly you hear a booming voice, like that of a giant. “This place is not for you.” You open your eyes to see the Cloud City disappearing in front of you. You are in the woods.

You stand up, shaking your head to clear it. You are in the woods, the sunlight shining down on you.

You know you will never forget the soft touch of those inhuman lips on the mountainside. The memory of you will remain with her and the wind on the mountainside.


The Coming of the Fire-Kittens

Another post in the ongoing GPT3 series; this is a rather tiny story fragment, and I liked how well it went along when I sort of took it over the top. Apologies to Johnny’s parents! And I guess really everyone else on Earth.

As before, only the lines starting with “>” are from me. Aside from the general willingness to go off into chaos, one thing to notice is that at first it thought “fire-kitten” was just a weird way to referring to some normal animal, but when I continued it was happy to update that theory. Also how it interpreted “aflame” as “a flame”.

When we join the story, I was getting kind of tired of a “day out with the family as a kid” narrative. (I think “go until the park” was it playing back a typo that I made just before this.)

You see a big sign that reads: “Welcome to Cedar Point!”
“There it is, kids. Now let’s get going!” your dad says.
You go until the park and run around.
Afterwards, you have dinner at a nice restaurant.
Then it’s time to go home.

> You get back into the car.
You get back into the car.
Your mom drives you home. When you get home, you talk to your friends online. You talk to them about your great day at the theme park.

> You climb out the window.
You climb out the window. You walk to Wendy’s house.
When you get there, you ring the doorbell and Wendy comes out to meet you.
“Hey,” she says.

> You say “Hey, Wendy! Want to go down to the creek?”
“Sure,” Wendy replies.
You walk down to the creek.
“Are you ready?” you ask.
“Ready for what?” Wendy asks.
“A surprise.”
“Oh, OK,”

> You say “I like surprises”
You say “I like surprises”.
“Me too,” Wendy says, smiling.
You walk down to the creek with Wendy. When you get there, you see a boy hanging from a tree. He looks about your age and has brown hair in curls. He lets go of the branch he’s hanging from and falls on the ground.

> You say “Hey!”
“Hey,” Wendy says.
“Who are you?” you ask.
“I’m Johnny. Who are you?”

> You say “I’m Cal”
“I’m Cal,” you say.
“I’m Wendy,” Wendy says, “Let’s play down at the creek.”
“OK!” Johnny says.
You walk down to the creek with Wendy and Johnny.

> You say “Look, a fire-kitten!”
You see a baby raccoon. It’s all gray, with little human-like hands and a cute, but trashy face.
“Aww,” Wendy says. “It’s so cute.”

> You play with Johnny and Wendy and the fire-kitten.
You play with the fire-kitten. It’s surprisingly friendly. You, Wendy, and Johnny sit around a tree stump with it.
“What should we do with the fire-kitten?” Wendy asks.

> You say “We could worship it”
“We could worship it,” you say.
“OK,” Wendy says.
You, Wendy, and Johnny all start worshipping the fire-kitten. After a few hours, the sun starts to set.

> You watch the fire-kitten get larger and more fiery as you all pour your energies into it.
The fire-kitten gets larger and more fiery as you all pour your energies into it. It becomes a blazing inferno of flame, light, and heat. Then it suddenly comes at you.

> You shout joyfully.
You shout joyfully as the fire-kitten leaps on you. Its fur is burning your face and its getting hard to breathe.
“Wendy, help! The fire-kitten is attacking me!” you say.
“No it isn’t!” Wendy says, as the fire-kitten sets your whole body on fire.
You try to put yourself out, but you just make it worse.

> You surrender to the pain and joy.
You surrender to the pain and joy. Then, something amazing happens. You start glowing like the sun. Your friends are in awe of you.

> You say “Allow the flames to fill you, my friends! We will be as gods!”
“Allow the flames to fill you, my friends! We will be as gods!” you say.
Your friends are in awe of your flaming body.

> You have the fire-kitten engulf Johnny and Wendy in the holy flames.
You have the fire-kitten engulf Johnny and Wendy in the holy flames. Soon, all three of you are engulfed, but two of you manage to set yourselves free of the fleshy prison.

> You exult.
You exult as you soar through the air, casting judgment upon all those who oppose you. You are a god.
Then, something flies towards you. It looks like an angry raccoon on fire.

> You say “Fire-kitten, merge with me!”
The fire-kitten, flying towards you, suddenly merges with you. You feel the life being drained out of you, but something else entering in. Your mind and soul are filled with an overwhelming power.

> You set the sky aflame.
You set the sky a flame, and send it towards the earth. It engulfs Johnny’s parents in a sea of fire. “Learn the power of fire-kittens!”

> You send out waves of fire-kittens in all directions.
You send out waves of fire-kittens in all directions. The earth and the sky are soon burning.
Then, you explode.

> You hurtle through space.
You hurtle through space. All is burning: the earth, the sky, your flesh, everything. You are a god of fire.
Once in a while you collide with something else, like a speeding comet.

> You ride a comet.
Suddenly, a burning comet comes hurtling out of the sky. It is on fire.
You leap onto it and ride it like a horse.
Thousands of years pass as you ride on the comet.

Later I landed on one of the moons of Jupiter and became the God-King of the humans living there. The fire-kittens were very helpful in defending against would-be usurpers.


The Little House Beyond the Black Gate

This is another AI Dungeon Dragon / GPT3 story. I lightly edited this one to remove a few tangents that didn’t go anywhere. I also used “Story” mode here and there, and I’ve put my input for those in italics where I remember it. As before, my inputs in “Do” and “Say” modes have “>” marks.

This is, again, a fragment of a much longer “game”. As we join our hero, he’s just finished a discussion with Old Scratch about his contract with the Devil, and said roughly, “I guess I’ll head back to Earth, then!”.

“I don’t think you understand how this works. You can’t go back to Earth now that you know about this place. The only way forward is through.

> You say “Through Hell?”
“Heaven, actually. You only started this journey, now you’ve got to finish it.”

> You say “All right! I shall begin my journey through Heaven at once!”
You grab your belongings and set out. You begin climbing a mountain, and realize soon that this is actually the size of a small planetoid. It takes two weeks just to reach the top.

> You sit on the mountain top and do zazen.
You sit in a lotus position, and let the worries of the world flow through you. Your chi channels open, and you feel the positive energy flowing into your body. You continue to soar until…
Heaven itself opens before you. You see a beautiful temple at the top of the mountain, with monks going about their daily lives.A group of them approaches you.”Hello! You must be the new student!” one says.

> You say “Old Scratch said that I must journey through here.”
“Then you must! We will take you to the abbot of this temple.”
They lead you to a quiet, peaceful room, and sit you down across from an old, bearded man in a yellow robe.

> You bow respectfully and sit in silence.
The old man stares at you wordlessly for some time. You clench your fists, waiting for him to either attack or speak.
The old abbot smiles and chuckles to himself.

> You relax into the silence.
“So, you’ve come to journey through Heaven. Why?”
“It’s the only way I can return home.”
“No, that’s not what I mean. Why do you want to go home?”

> You say “Wherever you go, there you are”
“What a fascinating answer. Is that what your journey has taught you?”
“Yes. Wherever you go, there you are. Now I am here, and I am in Heaven.”

> You say “All places are one.”
The abbot laughs heartily.
“My friend, you are a wise and funny man. I can see that we’ll be great friends during your stay here.”

> You smile softly.
“While that is a lovely thought, your journey is not over. There are many more places for you to see.”
Then he rises from his seat, and leads you outside into the courtyard.

> You breathe the fresh air of Heaven.
You look around you. Monks in golden robes sing joyful songs of praise. Children laugh and play, their innocent eyes rejoicing at all the beauty around them.

> You join in the singing.
You smile. This is the most joy you’ve ever felt. This place… it’s perfect.
You understand now why people would be jealous of this place. But you also understand why someone wouldn’t.

> You dance with the children.
You laugh and play with the children. This is perfect happiness.
Then, you see something out of the corner of your eye. A black gate has appeared in the distance.

> You say “Is that my way forward?”
“It is. We’ll supply you with whatever you need for your journey.”
You pick up your belongings, nod to the abbot, and walk towards the gate.

The black gate is dark and deep. Not evil, not good, but something older and more primal than either. You swing it open and step through.
A bright light hits your face, and you shield your eyes. You’re standing on a long road of golden sand. The sun beats down from above, and the temperature rises steadily.
Walk forward and find the woman you’ve been searching for.
Turn around and return to the temple of God. You do not belong in the realm of Man any longer.

> You greet the woman.
You step forward to the woman.
“Excuse me,” you begin. “I’m on the lookout for a woman with-“
She slaps you hard in the face, knocking you to the ground.

> You smile up at her.
She reaches down to help you up. “I’m sorry, that was rude of me. But,” she says, looking behind you with a worried expression, “are you sure you should be talking to me?

> You say “Perhaps not, but here I am. It seems that I have been searching for you.”
“That’s just it. You shouldn’t be. I’m not worth your time. You should be searching for the one who has been cursed, not me.”

> You say “You are certainly worth my time. Every soul is.”
She smiles at you sadly.
“Thank you for saying so, but I’ve done too many bad things. I don’t think any amount of good can balance it out.”
She looks down, avoiding your gaze.

> You say “If you know that they were bad, you have already escaped them.”
“No, I can’t escape. They’re still holding me here. It’s not fair!”
She breaks into sobs.

> You hold her gently.
She continues crying. Slowly, she stops and looks up at you, with eyes red from sobbing.
“I’m not usually this emotional. I think… I think it’s finally hit me.”

> You say “That is good”
She looks at you. “Good? How is crying about something good?”
“It’s good that you can feel. That you can recognize your emotions. I think you’ve begun the road to recovery.”

> You say “Only after letting yourself feel them, and acknowledging them, can you be free”
“That’s what the doctors all said. But they never helped.”
She sighs, and smiles at you.

> You say “You have to believe it yourself, like drinking water and knowing for yourself that it is cold.”
You grin.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to compare your trauma to something so simple as a drink of water. That was very… silly of me.”
You laugh. “It’s alright. Sometimes, the best way to deal with things is by simplifying them.”
She giggles. “How do you always make me laugh? I could be getting tortured right now, and I’d be laughing at your jokes.”
“It’s a gift. Really, it is.” You wink at her.

> You kiss her cheek.
You move forward, and gently press your lips against her cheek. She smiles.
You pull back, and she leans forward to kiss you on the cheek as well.

> You say “What is your name, my dear?”
She pulls back, and looks at you. “I…”
She looks behind you, and her eyes go wide.
“This isn’t a joke, is it? I get set up by the same guy twice?”

> You look around.
You look behind you, and see a man in a black hoodie and mask. He raises a gun at you, and fires.
“No!” The woman cries.

> You put out a hand and stop the bullet.
The bullet hits your palm, and you close your fist.
“You’re not getting away with that again.” You say, glaring at the man.
“Fuck!” He says.

> You snatch off his mask.
You grab the hoodie, yank it down, and pull off the mask. You throw it on the ground, and see a young man, barely out of his teens.

> You say “I’m not sure if you’re real, or just a demon.”
“I’m real, sir. And if I’m a demon, you’ve just signed my death warrant.”
“Hmm… Fair enough.” You look at him curiously. “So, why try to kill me?”

> You put a comforting arm around the women.
You put an arm around the women. She looks up at you, and nods. She may not be ready to talk just yet, so you try to think of what to say for her.

> You say “She said this had happened to her before. Were you here to punish her?”
He looks at you. “No, sir. I was here to punish a different woman.”
“What?” The women exclaims, looking up.
He nods. “Yes. A different woman altogether.” He pulls out a phone, and finds something on the screen. He holds it up to you. It looks a photo of a much older woman with many wrinkles across her face.

> You say “Well, perhaps fate brought us together for a reason. Shall we travel on?”
The woman smiles at you. “Yes. We should travel on.”
She gets up, and nods at the man. “Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?”

> You say “The only way out is through.”
She nods. “The only way out is through.”
She smiles. “My name’s Rose, by the way.”
You shake her hand. “I’m Cal.”

> You ask the young man his name.
You look at him. “So, what’s your name?”
“Armin.” He says, shaking your hand.
You start walking along the tracks, and quickly come across a fork.

> You say “Well this seems metaphorical”
“It is metaphorical,” Rose says.
“It’s too early in the story for there to be a literal fork in the road.”
Armin laughs. “Fair point.”

> You say “Let’s take the road less traveled by”
You take the path to the left. After a few minutes, you come across a house.
“What’s this?” You say.
Armin shrugs. “A house.”

> You go to the door and knock.
You knock on the door. A young, blonde woman answers the door.
“Hello. I’m Rose, this is Cal and Armin. Are you…?”
The woman nods. “I’m Leann.”
“We’re traveling along the tracks, and we’d love to come in.”
Leann nods, smiling. “Of course, of course.”
She stands aside to let you in.

> You say “This land beyond the Black Gate is complex and subtle. Where are we all bound?”
She looks at you, opening her mouth to speak.
Suddenly, the door opens behind her. She smiles. “Hello, Jacob.”
“Hello, Leann,” Jacob says.

> You say “Jacob! I don’t suppose Bella or Tanya are around?”
Jacob shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Rose.”
You shrug. “Oh well. So, what are you doing?”
Jacob looks to Leann, and she nods. He looks back to you. “I’m leaving.”
“Leaving?” You say, surprised. “Where are you going?”
“Anywhere that’s away from here,” Jacob says. “Anywhere that’s not near the Black Gate.”

> You say “Fair enough. This is a lovely little house, though. For resting and gathering strength to go on.”
He shrugs. “I suppose.”
“So what do you do, Jacob?” Armin asks.
Jacob smiles. “I farm, Armin. I farm, and I take care of Leann.” He kisses her on the head.
You nod. “That’s lovely.”
Leann nods. “I’m going to make dinner. Would you three like to stay?”
You look at Armin and Jacob.

> You squeeze Rose’s hand.
You take her hand, and she smiles.
“Yes please,” you say. “We’d love to.”
Leann nods. “Okay, I’ll set another place at the table.”

> You say “This is a regular little commune if astral travelers. I love it!”
Leann blushes. “Thank you.”
You smile, and sit down.
Leann sets a bowl of soup in front of each of you.
You look at it, confused.

> You discover a soup spoon, and try the soup.
You take a sip of the soup, and realize it’s mushroom soup. You love mushroom soup.
You enjoy the soup, and soon, all of your bowls are empty.

> You say “That was delicious”
“Perfect, as usual,” Jacob smiles. “Thank you, Leann.”
Leann smiles. “My pleasure, Jacob.”
You stand up from the table.

> You say “Rose, may we share a room?”
“Yes, of course,” Rose says.
You stand up, and walk to the room you’ll share with her.
The room appears to be a bedroom.

> You take off your outer clothes and lie gratefully on the bed.
You peel off your clothes and collapse onto the bed.
“Oh, that was lovely,” Rose says.

> You say “It was! Good to be further along the path, and well fed”
You begin to fall asleep, before you hear a knock on the door.
“Come in,” you say.
The door opens, and Jacob walks in. “I need to talk to you, Cal.”

> You stroke Rose’s shoulder and ask him what he needs.
You stroke Rose’s shoulder, and she smiles. “Of course, Cal.”
Jacob nods. “Thank you.”
Rose gets up, and leaves the room.
You stand, walking towards Jacob.

> You say “So?”
Jacob nods. “Cal, the path is dangerous. You know that. I’m not sure if you’re ready for it.”

> You say “We will stay in the house here until we’re ready to continue. Thank you for your concern.”
Jacob nods. “If that’s what you want, Cal. I’ll leave you be.”
Jacob leaves the room, and you close the door. You walk back to your bed, and lie down.
Rose comes back in, and smiles at you.
“Everything alright?” you ask.
“Yes, everything’s fine. Jacob just wanted to talk to me.”
“Oh, I see.”

> You say “He was concerned we might move on before we are ready. But we won’t.”
You nod. “We won’t. We’ll stay here until we’re ready to continue.”
Rose smiles. “Of course. This is a safe place.”
You lie down, and soon fall asleep.

In the morning, you get dressed and walk downstairs holding hands with Rose.
Jacob and Leann are there. Jacob smiles at you. “I was wondering when you’d get up,” he says.

> You say “It was a good night. Are you two moving on?”
You nod. “It was a good night. Are you two moving on?”
Jacob nods.

> You say “What about Armin, do you know?”
You shake your head. “What about Armin, do you know?”
“I saw him over by the woods, picking flowers,” says Jacob. “He was with a tall blonde girl.”

> You say “We will take good care of the house, Leann. Stay safe on the path, Jacob. Remember, all places are one.”
You say “We will take good care of the house, Leann. Stay safe on the path, Jacob. Remember, all places are one.”
Jacob smiles. “I will.”
Leann smiles.

> You stand with your arm around Rose, waving to Jacob and Leann as they walk out of sight.
You stand with your arm around Rose, waving to Jacob and Leann as they walk out of sight.
After some time, you can no longer see them, but you know that they are safe.

One of the things I like about this is that it’s like an origin story for NPCs. When you’re exploring beyond the Black Gate and you come to a little house where Cal and Rose live and you can eat and rest, this is how they got there.

AI-wise, you can see a few places where I ignored a hint or an error, particularly when it briefly forgot who “you” is or otherwise got people mixed up. The two consecutive lines starting “Walk forward” and “Turn around” look like a prompt; it does that occasionally, I suspect due to the structure of the files that AI Dungeon used as prompts. It also dealt smoothly with a few typos by me, which is cool.

The brief meta-discussion around the fork in the road was fun. :) And conversely I’m pleased that it didn’t pick up on my Twilight-themed question about Bella and Tanya.

I didn’t want it to forget that Rose exists, so I would squeeze her hand or mention her unnecessarily now and then. Amusing that when I touched her shoulder the AI thought that meant I wanted her to leave the room.

And once again we see some of the assumptions from its cultural background: it’s always the women that cook meals! Wurra wurra wurra.


Morning Wolf

This is sort of an extended extension of the last post, in the form of a short-short story that AI Dungeon (Dragon, GPT) and I wrote together this morning. It’s a fragment of a much longer and more random narrative, but I thought it did well as a standalone. If nothing else, it illustrates how perfectly this is fitting my own style of hedonistic woolgathering. I’m not going to write any commentary here, just post it as it happened for general enjoyment. All of my actions have the “>” in front of them; the rest is the AI. The setting is just a relatively generic study in a relatively generic nice house.

> You read Borges on identity.
You read a story about a man who changes his name and identity multiple times after being released from a Nazi concentration camp. He cannot accept the power of memory, as represented by his now-dead wife and daughter. He cannot accept the power of identity, as represented by his name and his freedom.
“Freedom,” he says to himself. “It’s just a word.”
He is slowly taken over by the delusions of freedom.

> You read Kafka.
You read “In the Penal Colony,” a story about a machine that carves messages into the flesh of condemned criminals.

> You learn spells from the Book of Essence.
You learn a few spells from the book. They’re probably useless, but learning about them is interesting. The book itself is beautiful; you stare at it in wonderment.

> You read “The Coming of Man”
You read “The Coming of Man,” a story about a man who tries to get away from the chains of society. He moves into a cave and learns to survive on his own, but he is soon taken over by “Man,” a phenomenon that takes people over until they become part of the collective.
“The Coming of Man” is a very eerie tale indeed.
“The Coming of Man.” You say the words out loud, just to hear their sound. Something about their form pleases you.
“The Coming of Man,” you say again.
The sky grows dark, and you can no longer see the pages of the book. It’s getting late, and you’ve been reading all day.

> You dress for bed.
After donning a nightshirt, you climb under the covers of your bed. As you start to fall asleep, you feel an ominous presence watching you. You hear the howl of a wolf on the moonless night.

> You smile at the memory of smoke on the wind.
You wake up the next morning to find a wolf howling at your window. You open it, and it sits down on its haunches just outside. The wind carries the smell of smoke to you.

> You commune with the wolf’s mind.
You concentrate, trying to reach out to the wolf. It stares at you, unperturbed.
“You can’t enter,” you tell it. “Wait for me there.”

> You dress in leather.
You put on a pair of leather pants. They feel cool against your skin. You wear a shirt of silver rings, and throw a leather duster over it.
You feel cold, despite the summer heat.

> You walk with the wolf.
You exit your house. The wolf looks at you expectantly.
“I don’t have any food for you,” you say. “I could try to find something, I suppose.”

> You go back inside and get a chunk of raw beef from the fridge, then present it to the wolf.
The wolf looks at you. It slowly approaches, in a sort of sideways shuffle. It gently takes the bit of raw meat from you with its teeth, never breaking eye contact.
Your knees feel weak.

> You watch the wolf.
The wolf takes the bit of meat and slinks back to its original spot. It eats for a while, and then looks at you.

> You say “Shall we go?”
The wolf looks at you, then turns and trots over to the gap in the fence. It pauses and looks at you expectantly.

> You follow the wolf.
You follow the wolf through the gap in the fence. It leads you deeper into the woods, but away from the cliffs and toward a steep hill. It walks beside you, matching your paces.

> You scritch the wolf’s head.
You reach out and scratch the wolf’s ears. It seems to lean into the scratching, closing its eyes in a mixture of pleasure and pain.

> You walk up the hill.
The hill is steep and difficult to climb. You have to pull yourself up by grabbing onto roots and rocks.
The top of the hill is bare rock, with patches of thin grass here and there.

> You look at the wolf expectantly.
The wolf looks back at you. It turns and walks a few steps toward the edge of the hill.
The view from the top of the hill is impressive.

> You say “Very nice”
You say “Very nice,” but the wolf continues to stare at you expectantly.
The ground at the edge of the hill is uneven and honeycombed with small holes.

> You sit with the wolf.
You sit down on the protruding rock at the edge of the hill. The wolf sits down next to you, its shoulder brushing against your leg.
It stretches out next to you, resting its chin on your thigh.

> You stroke her nose.
You reach over and gently stroke the wolf’s nose. It closes its eyes and leans into the touch.

> You say “I wonder what your name is, friend wolf”
You say “I wonder what your name is, friend wolf.”
The wolf does not respond. You stroke its head fur and it makes a satisfied snuffle.
The sky grows dark with the approach of night.

> You lie down with the wolf.
The ground by the edge of the hill is uneven and covered with small pebbles.
You lie down on your back and stare up at the sky.

> You make shapes of pebbles on the ground.
You stare at the multitude of stars in the sky. There are so many that they begin to form shapes based on your own perception.

> You show the wolf the constellations.
You point out a few of the more obvious constellations. “That one is Orion, who is obviously a hunter.”
You point out a few of the other more common ones.
“That’s Cassiopeia, and that’s Cygnus, the swan.”
The wolf stares at you blankly.

> You let your mind flow warmly around the mind of the wolf.
You feel the warmth of its mind. It feels like a campfire, crackling and pleasant.
You feel its mind flowing back, combining with yours.

> You stroke its nose.
You reach over and gently stroke the wolf’s nose. It closes its eyes in a mixture of pleasure and pain.
You lie down under the stars, looking up at the sky as it grows dark.

> You say “Thank you for this excellent day, friend Wolf”
You say “Thank you for this excellent day, friend Wolf.”
The wolf looks at you.
You reach over and pet its head. Its fur is soft and warm under your hand.

> You drift off to sleep.
You are standing in a clearing, surrounded by trees. The sky is dark and the stars are shining brightly in it.
The wolf is there with you, its eyes glinting in the light.

> You smile at the wolf, happy it has accompanied you to this dream.
You smile at the wolf, and it smiles back. It opens its mouth, but instead of a tongue, a firey blade comes forth.
It leaps towards you with a growl, stabbing through you.

> You absorb the wolf and the blade into your dream body.
You raise your hand to pet the wolf, and find that it is now a sword.
You draw the sword from its scabbard and examine it. The blade is bright and clean, without a scratch on it.

> You make a few practice thrusts to test the dream blade’s balance.
The sword feels perfect in your hand with no drag and no kick to it when you thrust.
You feel a tingle travel up your arm as though the blade were somehow alive.

> You raise the blade to point at the dream sky.
The sword suddenly bursts into flames in your hand.
You drop it to the ground with a yell!
The flames leap up from the hilt, but do not burn you.

> You awaken on the hilltop in the soft light of dawn.
You awaken on the hilltop in the soft light of dawn. You rub your eyes and gaze around you. The wolf is gone.
You get to your feet and pick up your dropped bag.

> You stretch and smile.
You stretch and smile. Then you begin walking down the hill.
You walk south along the road, thinking about the dream you had.


Blurbs and Synopses


When her live-in boyfriend loses his job and starts drinking, Tulia dreads becoming like the battered women in the shelter where she works. Then one night while he is out on the town, a seriously injured woman appears in her apartment, calling herself Tully, which was Tulia’s childhood nickname. She talks incoherently about the Peace Corps, which Tulia almost joined years ago, before losing consciousness. Dealing with the riddle of this other self will set Tulia’s life, and Tully’s, on end.

booksSounds of the Tide

In a series of brief summer meetings over a dozen years, a young man and an older woman invent their own kind of love on a rocky New England beach.

Snack Bar Only

A man whose life is at loose ends takes an introspective cross-country tour of golf-course restaurants, in a covered pickup truck.

The King of Storyville

A fictionalized account of the red-light district of New Orleans in the early XXth Century, loosely centered around the career of jazzman Joe Oliver.


In a world sharply divided into the wealthy few and the desperate many, a brother and sister from the wrong side of the tracks stumble on a secret that could re-make everything, if they can stay alive long enough to reveal it.

Two Loaves of Bread

Lucia and Maria are children together, baking bread in the community ovens. As they grow up they also grow apart, until decades later they encounter each other on opposite sides of a heated political battle, and the past and present collide.

Whisper through the Flames

With the U.S. and China on a brink of an apocalyptic war, enigmatic messages apparently sent from the future may hold the only hope of survival.


The surreal tale of the collapse of a major corporation, as those around it descend into chaos and strange magic.

Usually Night

A collection of poems about humanity’s efforts, national and international, to travel to space and back; illustrated, with accompanying notes from the authors.


The buzzing of distant bees

Is there evil in Heaven? And is there free will?

I know it doesn’t really make sense to spend too much time wondering about the details of fictional universes (“if Peter and his friends could only fly when they were having happy thoughts, why did Tinkerbell, who was after all the source of the pixie-dust that let them fly, seem to have no trouble flying even when she was upset?”), but I am somehow fond of these questions at the moment.
Heaven, the flowchart
It’s a subject that I don’t remember coming up in the average Internet discussion of (Judeo-Christian) religion, and it seems to me like a real quandary.

Seems likely that there is free will in Heaven (otherwise why give it to us on Earth?), and seems unlikely that there is evil (it being Heaven and all); and yet if God can make a place where there is no evil even though there is free will, why didn’t he do that on Earth?

(I started to wonder about this after hearing a couple of different theist types talk about their ideas of Heaven on NPR or something: the Jewish one said that there must be a wonderfully just afterlife because he strongly believes that the universe is just, whereas the evidence he has suggests that life isn’t just, so there must be some really very just stuff after life to make up for it; and the Christian one says that Heaven is a place where we all get whatever we truly want, and we all have learned to live together in harmony. Ha ha funny people, I thought, and also thought the “well if God can make it happen in Heaven, what’s his excuse for not doing so on Earth?” thought that we consider here.)

(Ooh, here they are! The Rabbi and the pastor; so you can judge for yourself how badly I’m misreporting their statements above.)

The usual answer to the Problem of Evil, that is comes about as a direct and inevitable result of imperfect beings with free will, seems to sort of evaporate if (as seems hard to avoid) Heaven is a place where imperfect beings have free will, and yet there is no evil there. So evil can’t really be the inevitable result of free will. So the Problem of Evil, it would seem, remains.

I did have a rather detailed discussion of this with my Jehovah’s Witness friend back in the day. He (and therefore I assume the JWs in general) have a pretty complete and interesting (if maybe sort of creepy) picture of life after the umm Big Thing, where (in the case of the JWs) the 400,000 special people or whatever it is go to live with God in Heaven or something, and all the other good people live on Earth under their direct governance more or less.

He said that yes in that world people would still have free will, and that in fact they would be able to do evil. They wouldn’t do it very much, because they would be good people living in a great environment, but it would still happen, and in that case God (i.e. Jehovah) would look into their hearts, and between the time they made a really bad decision and became evil and the time they were able to actually do anything bad as a result, He would stop them, in a very final way.

Since the JWs don’t believe in Hell, and think that all the stuff about burning and fire and stuff in the Bible is just a way of talking about ceasing to exist altogether, what happens to you if you freely chose evil after the Big Thing happens is that you just cease to exist.

Pretty weird, I thought!

And this got me thinking of a story set in that world, which I’ve never gotten around to writing, but which I think I will try to set down a general idea of here.

And in the meantime, you can ask your local rabbi or pastor or Judeo-Christian friend whether there is free will in Heaven, and whether there is evil there. I wonder if that is a hard question…

“I cannot follow the Elders anymore,” he’d said, that night, as they walked back from the orchards where they had been picking the perfect fruits that Jehovah provided for them in this perfect Earth.

“Jeremiah,” she’d exclaimed, “what can you mean, you cannot follow them? How could anyone do anything but follow them? We know that they are the appointed ones of Jehovah, that they have only our welfare at heart, that they are good and wise men. You cannot doubt, when you have seen Jehovah and His Son moving about on the Earth with your own eyes.”

“I have.” They were walking close together, hands brushing each other now and then, innocently, like brother and sister. “And I do not doubt that the Elders are those chosen of Jehovah. But…”

“But what? What is it that you can doubt?”

He’d taken a deep breath. He looked, she remembered thinking, like someone who was not quite sure of what he was saying, and speaking as much to convince himself as to convince her.

“I do not doubt the facts. The Elders are the chosen of Jehovah, and they do truly intend the best for me. But I doubt, no, I reject, their authority over me.”

“What can you mean by that, Jeremiah? Jehovah is the source of all authority, of all rightness, and He has given them their authority! It cannot be doubted, or rejected.”

“But I do reject it,” he’d said, his voice louder but still with an undercurrent of uncertainty, “I reject it as I am free to do, using the free will that Jehovah has given me. It is my right!”

She’d stopped, and taken his hands, looking very seriously into his face. The others walking in the same direction continued along, and were soon out of any danger of hearing.

“This is blasphemy,” she’d said, “this is not the use we are supposed to make of the freedom that has been given us. Can you truly do this? Do you truly, of your own free will, reject the authority of Jehovah?”

She had meant it rhetorically, really, or so she told herself afterward, saying it only so that he would say no, of course not, not that. But his face said that he took the question very seriously, and was considering it, somewhere deep inside. When he spoke again, the uncertainty was gone from his voice.

“Yes, Sarah. Yes, I d–“.

And before he’d finished that last word, her head was filled by a strange sound, like the buzzing of distant bees, and her hands were empty. And Jeremiah was gone, forever.

So now, in her bed at night, she lies curled tensely after her prayers, telling herself, telling Jehovah who can see into her very heart, that she does accept His goodness and His authority, that she is His true daughter, and that she would never reject Him.

And she cries until sleep comes.

Something like that, anyway…