Posts tagged ‘virtuality’


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


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


NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Eight

“So are you and Steve okay?”

“Yeah, why wouldn’t we be?”

Colin Colson and Kristen Lewis sat in Colin’s sunny dusty library room on a warm Saturday afternoon, talking lazily.

“Well, not to reveal anything said in confidence, but I understand there was something about a virtuality that you sent him, and his reaction –“

Kristen’s laugh interrupted Colin and he smiled.

“That was nothing,” she said, “and he apologized nicely and everything. He’s not really an idiot, he’s just a guy and all.”

The sun shone through the big windows onto the rugs, the piled books. Kristen and Colin sat in a pair of overstuffed old chairs, just out of the sunbeam.

“I think you frighten him,” Colin suggested. He was, as always, in a comfortable suit perfectly tailored to his small body. His idiopathic childhood growth hormone deficiency had given him the approximate proportions of a nine-year-old boy (“an exceedingly handsome one, obviously”), and his trust fund and his own writing had given him the means to dress those proportions immaculately.

“Because of my brilliance and beauty?” she asked with a matching smile.

“Of course,” Colin replied, “as you well know.”

These two had been lovers briefly and experimentally in school, something that Steve knew and tried not to remember very often. She had not been able to get over the oddness of his size in their intimacy, and he had sensed that without resentment. Now they were good friends, and when Colin felt the need for erotic physical contact, his trust fund and his writing were able to supply that as well, via a few open-minded professionals with whom he had excellent arrangements.

“I suppose I’m oversensitive,” Kristen suggested.

“I don’t think so; you are who you are, and if you didn’t frighten him a little, he wouldn’t like you as much.”

She smiled again at that; she smiled often in Colin’s presence. He had a wry wisdom, she thought, that accepted reality as it was, without rancor or unnecessary judgement.

“Do you want to see the virtuality, too?”

“Was it Hints of Home?”

The girl nodded, pleased.

“I saw it on your feed,” he said, “and spent an hour inside. It’s … lovely. The signposts are so subtle.”

“The tools we have these days are amazing,” she said, “you should really try it.”

“I will hold to my old-fashioned linear words, thank you very much,” he replied, adding a stuffy timbre to his voice, “the virtual is entirely too huge for me.”

She nodded. This was a conversation that they had had more than once before. The world’s artists were divided roughly in half, it seemed, between those who fully embraced the new creative universe of AI-assisted fully-immersive digital universe-building, and those who continued to work with words and images in the old-fashioned way (not counting the occasional spell-checker or digital white-balance adjustment).

And, he reflected, between those crafters who had fully launched into the virtual and digital, and those like Steve who preferred to construct physical rigs with which one could risk one’s physical life by speeding through the physical desert at ridiculous speeds.

“I wonder if it was partly because he doesn’t really grok the virtual, still,” Kristen said, her thoughts apparently paralleling his own, as they sometimes did, “and because I sent him the link while he was deep into tuning a rig.”

“Cognitive dissonance,” Colin replied, nodding. He himself, although he was a loyalist of linear text in his own writing, greatly enjoyed modern media as well as a consumer, and found Kristen’s virtualities, small intricate worlds of their own with mysterious and subtly-delivered themes, invariably rewarding.

“But he always remembers to be complimentary, eventually,” she smiled, and he saw in the abstraction of her eyes that she was thinking fond thoughts of his large awkward friend Steve, which made him glad.

In the part of him that always watched himself, he wondered if what he had seen was really there. Did Kristen’s brown eyes defocus, the exact configuration of the whites revealing that they were no longer both pointing at some specific point in the room? Did the light in the room (the photons bouncing here and there in law-like but complex ways) carry enough evidence of that to his own eyes that his brain could justifiably (so much to know about justification!) conclude that her eyes were indeed defocused? And then did he know her well enough (what does it mean to know someone? what is “someone else”?) to justifiably conclude that if her eyes were defocused in this present moment (the only moment that exists), it meant in context that she was thinking of Steve (who is “Steve” when he is not here)?

There was probably something else in her face, some fond expression on her cheeks and her lips, the corners of her eyes, that was providing him subconscious additional evidence that she was thinking fondly of someone, and, he thought, there was perhaps a lack of subtle clues of tension that would have suggested she was thinking fondly of anyone other than Steve. Because his brain (rightly or wrongly) assumed that if she was thinking fondly of anyone other than Steve (or Colin) in Colin’s presence, she would be tense?

He realized that he’d drifted several removes from reality, and that Kristen was standing now, her back in the sun, looking over the books on one of the shelves (never enough shelves!).

“Ach,” she said, “I love Giannina Braschi. But she is so dense, I feel like I should spend a whole day on every paragraph.”

Colin nodded.

“And that is how I feel about trying to write in the virtual; if I can spin off every interesting potential from every thought, the shortest of short pieces would be a billion words.”

“And that isn’t true of plain text?” Kristen laughed, landing an unavoidable blow.

“But I can’t do it there, no one expects it, text encourages linearity; word-building encourages sprawl, differentiation, spreading out along infinitely many branches at every moment. The Many Worlds universe!”

“One merely has to be disciplined,” she said, coming to perch on the arm of his chair.

He smiled up at her, and she put out one brown hand and stroked his hair.

“Don’t do that,” he said, but he moved his head to press against her palm, like a happy kitten.

This present moment is all that exists, he thought, and it is possible to enjoy a girl’s hand on his head without understanding anything about it. What is touch? What are hands? What is love and what is loyalty? Which atoms belong to his hair, and which to Kristen’s palm? Was this fluttering in his chest pleasure, or sorrow, or both? What is discipline, what is fear? Why, in this moment, did she choose to sit there, did she choose to touch him? In this moment, every past moment exists only as a memory, in this moment. What makes a memory true, what makes a memory false?

She touched the back of her hand to his cheek for an instant, and then returned to her own chair.

“And how is it with you?” she asked, looking warmly over at him, “What are you writing now?”

Fling Nine


NaPoWriMo 17

Walking Cross-Country

He says he’s writing a computer program
to simulate
walking cross-country
in an unknown place.

Where you might follow a brook upstream
and be surprised by
a forest lake
sparkling in the sun,

And follow a path around it
to a ramshackle house
at the end of a dirt road
where a woman with dark hair and soft eyes
opens the door
and smiles a welcome.

And I say that that sounds cool,
and I also say,
that the real world has surprises like that, too,
and even soft-eyed women,
and he should maybe go for real walks sometimes.

He turns to me,
like he’s about to say something,
but then he just shakes his head
and goes back to the keyboard.