Afternoon Eddies

Some short fiction, a palate cleanser from this year’s NaNo.  

Pine needles, so many pine needles, poking and sticking and filling the air with a seductive calm musk of forest, of danger, of plants grown legion. Jack winced, using one arm to clear the branch in front of him, the other idly brushing away the needles that probed his pants and the tough skin underneath.

This path was familiar, though overgrown now; in the halcyon days of his youth, his almost daily wild trek through this stretch of forest kept all but the heartiest vegetation at bay.  In the half century since, the nettles and the pines and the small weeds that now constellated the ground had fortified the reclaimed territory, had set barbs and thick branches to stave off intruders.  Jack returned here as to a scene of forgotten glory, each labored step through the brush an achievement, a small mote of progress in his reconnaissance of his boyhood haunt.

A needle jabbed through the knuckle at the base of his thumb, breaching the skin and finding purchase in the soft tissue between bone and ligature.  Jack gasped, feeling the thick pine and pollen dust racing into his nostrils and settling in his chest.

-why have i come here?-

A wind announced its arrival, rustling the tops of the trees before enveloping Jack.  Leaves and dirt rose in its wake, tickling his ankles, the cold, sweet air startling him and breaking the pace of his progress.

It was getting late, the afternoon sun angled too low to counter the chill breeze.  Shadows long and eldritch danced as their progenitor flora swayed to the wind. Jack knew he should go back, to find his aunt; if he came in before sunset, she was apt to bedevil him with a wet kiss on the cheek, and reward him with a cookie.  She used maple syrup in the cookies; they squished under the smallest pressure of his jaw and melted into molasses behind his teeth. Jack could taste them now, could feel the warm, familiar smell rise into his nose from the back of his mouth. Aunt Millie’s cookies.  Aunt Silly, he had called her.

But no, Aunt Silly- Aunt Millie- had died, years ago.  That house had been sold, and with it, any claim Jack and his clan held on the vaguely titled plot of forest.  So why was he here?

The wind intensified.  The pitch of the rustling trees deepened as the tallest trees bowed lower, acknowledging the passage of air and weather.  Clouds poured above, a celestial river of white that gave way to dark gray. Jack felt like an earthbound raft traversing river rapids, hoping the sky above stayed white and fluffy, mentally steering his patch of ground away from the dark, treacherous sprinkling of storm clouds overhead.  

All at once, Jack was wet.  He hadn’t felt the rain fall, but he could hear it, a susurration above and all around him.  It seemed to be everywhere, a thousand points of barbed water dinging and careening off everything in the forest.  He couldn’t see the rain falling, though, and looked around for some visual confirmation of the storm.

The forest aroma intensified, pine and decaying leafs misting around him.  It was a pleasant smell, though somehow sad, even wistful. It was the smell of yesteryear, of careless youth, of seasons changing and passing, rolling forward, always forward, into the next.

Jack put a hand to his hair: it was soaked.  The loud but invisible rain had drenched him.  Above, few white fluffs remained, the sky now overrun with menacing dark leviathans that filtered out the diminishing light of the fast-setting sun.  

At once, brilliant white forks appeared overhead, and three distinct claps shook Jack’s ears and caused him to start.  He closed his eyes, feeling drops of warm water fall from their lids, glancing off his legs. When he opened them, the storm was gone- the sky was clear, it was mid-day, the sun surging warm waves over his wet body.  A bird chirruped somewhere above him. The ground was dry.

-what on earth?-

Three claps, louder than the first, stirred something deep in his breast.  He closed his eyes again, and this time they opened slowly. Jack was prone on his back, his face and hair dripping wet.  Sunlight and shadows swapped places on the ceiling above him as the blackout curtains rustled in the breeze from the window.  Jack felt a pillow under his head, touched his brow. It was damp. Dropping both elbows beside him, he lifted his body a few strained inches, feeling the wet sheets pull away and turn instantly cold as he relaxed back down onto them.  

His hand went to his leg: no pine needles.  No bird sounds. No forest scents, only the antiseptic smell of the humidifier, and the sour, vinegar odor of his own sweat.  Three sudden claps caused him to jump- they were knocks on his door. With considerable effort, Jack sat up, swinging his legs to the floor, feeling the pins and needles ebb and vanish as the blood started to flow.

Jack stood using a hand against the wall for balance as the other swept the curtain aside.  Below, standing just outside his door, were two men in suits. One had brown wavy hair; the other was starting to bald.  Jack knew why they were here. He had long expected them, dreaded them. They were from the army, come to deliver sad and solemn news.  Jack had a premonition about this, knew they would come. He knew what they would say, and how he would react. It was as though he had rehearsed this very moment a dozen times in his mind.  

Jack slowly walked to his closet, pulling out a long robe to cover his sweat-through night clothes.  He closed the closet door and stopped, disconcerted. This was wrong; he wasn’t wearing a robe. It was a white shirt, with a blazer and a loosened tie, as though he had just come home from work, was still making the transition into casual clothing.  The officer had even remarked on his tie, some inane compliment. And- more darkly- it was this tie he would invoke in his passing consideration of suicide, a momentary thought of hanging himself from the ceiling fan. He would never do that- would never even give the thought a proper name- but he remembered the tie, of that he was certain.  

Jack opened the closet again.  There was a white shirt, slightly wrinkled, but serviceable.  He quickly pulled it over his arms, buttoning from the top down, aged fingers made deft by decades of muscle memory.  The tie, though, if only he could remember the correct tie! Jack worried for a moment that his visitors would give up, would leave before he was ready.  

“I’m coming!” he yelled, voice unsteady, in the direction of the window.

Perhaps the tie wasn’t important.  At least, the type of tie. It just had to be a tie, any tie worthy of remarking on.  Jack found one of black and white gingham and pulled it loosely around his neck, knotting it without tightening.  It was perfect.

As he left the bedroom, Jack ticked through all the details of this encounter.  He would open the door, and the younger of the two men would call him sir, would confirm his name.  Then the older man would say that Michael had died, that he was honorable, and use other nice adjectives that Jack would scarcely hear and soon forget.  A rare and frightening tightness would grip his chest, and, searching for any acceptable words to speak, Jack would invite them inside. Karen would make ask who was there from the kitchen, and Jack would tell her to bring waters, that they had two guests.  

Karen would bring the water and a small plate of cookies, still oblivious to the nature of the visit.  She would blanch when she saw them sitting on the sofa, all starched uniform blue with explosions of medals on the breast.  She would shake, spilling one of the waters, they would call her ma’am, she would start to sob before they could say anything else.  

Jack paused on the staircase.

-i should put a hand towel in the den, to clean up the water.-

He turned at the bottom of the stairs, away from the door and towards the inside of the home.  This was wrong. Karen wasn’t here, she had died, not so very long ago. There would be no spilled water, no spilled tears.  Michael had a gravestone in a large cemetery in Virginia; Jack had visited there, had laid flowers on the grave. It was all wrong, it was out of place on the timeline.  Jack was angry as he reached the door and flung it open.

“You’re too late!” he said, pointing an accusing finger at the visitors.  

The two men stiffened up.  Their army uniforms were wrong, too.  They looked like businessmen, in neat white shirts and black suits.  They scarcely even looked like men; Jack would be surprised if they were a day over twenty one.  Their only medals were shiny name tags that Jack had to squint to read. He glanced back and forth between the baby-faced visitors and the incongruous word Elder on the badges.

“Um, good afternoon, sir,” said the taller of the two.  “How are you today?”

Jack opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.  The visitors glanced at one another.

“My name is Elder Brown, and this is Elder Lee.  It’s nice to meet you. What’s your name?”

“I’m Jack,” he said, definitively, extending a proud hand.  Elder Brown took the hand and shook, then passed it to Elder Lee, who did the same.  

“Do you have a few minutes to talk about faith?  We are taking a survey in this neighborhood, and asking some questions about God and our place in the world.  Do you ever think about those things?”

Jack considered it.  He did think about God, all the time, but those were private thoughts, and some part of him knew that his musings were not safe for public airing.  

“Oh, from time to time,” he demurred.

“That’s wonderful!” Elder Brown said, as both visitors broke into wide grins.  “Would you mind if we step inside?”

Jack glanced over his shoulder.  Inside, that’s where they want to come.  To his place, his sanctuary. Of course, he has visitors all the time.  The den is usually immaculate, not one item out of place. In the middle distance, he saw the sofa, covered in balled-up newspaper and dirty clothing.  The coffee table, spackled with used dishes, would need tidying before guests could be admitted. Karen would have his head if he didn’t clean up before having company.  

“My, uh, place isn’t very tidy, I’m afraid,” said Jack.

“Oh, we don’t mind!” Elder Lee cut in.  “The truth is, we’ve been walking for several hours, and it would be good just to get off our feet for a few minutes.”

Unable to think of a counterargument, Jack stood aside, gesturing admission, and the elders crossed his threshold, waiting patiently for him just inside the door.  

“You can, uh, sit over there.  I’ll make space,” Jack pointed towards the sofa, and staggered in its direction.

“We can help with that, if you like,” said Elder Brown.  “Here, let me fetch those dishes for you. Do you want them in the kitchen?”

It was moving too fast for Jack.  The young men- boys, really- flitted to and fro in a whirlwind of activity.  Dishes and refuse were swept up in their wake, re-deposited out of sight. It was over in an instant, and the room looked almost tidy.  

“Would you like a glass of water?” Jack said.  The elders were seated on the sofa now, their eddies of motion evidently spent.  

“Yes, please!” said Elder Lee, with boyish enthusiasm.  

With a nod, Jack retreated to the kitchen, where he searched the cupboards for clean glasses.  He needed to pour the water carefully, and bring it to the den without spilling. He mentally checked through the constituent parts of the task, determined to be more careful this time.  

-why are they here?-

It must be another volley from his daughter.  They were here to convince him to move into a new place, to give up his home.  The nerve of these people, to barge in here and tell him he couldn’t live alone!  They talked over his meek objections. When he spilled the water- just a careless tangling of his feet!- they made much of it, wielding it as proof positive that he needed to leave.  The destination was hazy, but Jack could see through them. They wanted him in a home, not in his home, but a home for people at the end of their days, who couldn’t be trusted to live unsupervised.  It was a second childhood, he remembered thinking, and he was not going softly.

Jack filled each cup only halfway.  This time, he would not spill it, would measure each step slowly, deliberately.  They would see that he can still function, can still do the mundane tasks of life that silently delineate between those worthy of independence, and those whose vitality is spent.  He would show them!

Both cups in hand, Jack began his perilous trek, shuffling his feet just an inch off the floor, finding a stable rhythm.  In twenty strides, he reached the coffee table, and began to lower the cups, feeling the strain in his back as he hunched towards the landing pad.  Elder Brown reached out and intercepted the lander before touchdown, passing one to Elder Lee and snatching the other for himself.

“Thank you,” Elder Lee said.  Jack stood, half-hunched, frozen, slow to realize that his mission had been an unmitigated success.  He smiled and nodded, easing himself upright and rounding the table to the easy chair, into which he sunk majestically.  

“Do you ever think about what comes after?” Elder Brown said, sipping his water.  

Right to the point, then, Jack smirked.  It is time to do battle.

“I think that I stay here.”

The elders exchanged glances.  “I mean, what comes after you leave here?  What comes next?”

“There is no next!” Jack raised his voice.  “I stay here until I die! And I’m not going anywhere else.  I make do just fine on my own.”

Elder Brown looked at Elder Lee again, who shrugged.  An awkward moment passed.

“After we die, I mean,” said Elder Brown.  “Where do we go then?”

Jack thought about this.  Perhaps he had misjudged the situation.  Come to think of it, these boys didn’t look like they came from a nursing home.  Religious folk, then. Come to spread the gospel. Only they were so young. Maybe he should put them in touch with Pastor Abrams, he liked talking about theology.  His sermons always went long, Jack remembered counting the minutes while his stomach rumbled its lunchtime protest.

“I don’t know about that,” Jack said.  “Maybe you’d like to talk to Pastor Abrams, I could introduce you.  He loves talking about heaven and hell. In fact, at his funeral his wife told this story about him getting out of a speeding ticket by telling the officers that he would need to give an extra tithe to make up for the violation of the law.”

Once again, the elders exchanged looks, this time with concern.  

“So, he has passed on?” said Elder Lee.  

Jack stopped, considering.  Yes, that sounded right, he had been at Pastor Abrams’ funeral.  He wouldn’t be available to talk shop with these young people.

“I suppose so,” Jack conceded.

“You live here alone?” Elder Brown ventured.

“I do,” Jack said proudly.  “I have a girl who comes by each week to take care of a few things, since I move more slowly these days.”

The words spilled out of his head before he could catch them.  He had a girl? Who was that? It sounded right, but he couldn’t place her.  Natalia? Tatiana? Something that sounded Russian. When had she last been here?  When was she expected? Jack could never keep it straight. He was seized by worry, that these young people would see his confusion and do something to upset his safety and routine.  

“That’s nice,” said Elder Brown, smiling his acceptance.  “Elder Lee and I are helping people, too, by spreading the good news about Jesus Christ.  Do you believe in Jesus?”

“I do,” said Jack, relieved.

“Wonderful!” Elder Lee clapped his hands.  “Our church believes in spreading Jesus’ teachings, and showing people how faith can transform their lives.  Would you like to join us in a small prayer? Since this is your home, maybe you can say something appropriate, or we can, if you prefer.”

Jack mentally braced against the onslaught of words.  They wanted him to pray? Praying for Jack was not a performative act, it was a silent reflection that belonged in a church.  

“You can go ahead,” Jack said, suspiciously.  

The Elders bowed their heads.  “Our father, who art in Heaven…”

Jack knew this one, tuned out the familiar words, his eyes closed.  He remembered the lilt of the prayer, hearing it echo through the chapel at Karen’s funeral, the sad timbre of the pastor, using the benediction to plead with their maker to treat Karen’s soul with kindness and mercy.  The realization that, when this day of ritual was complete, he would be alone, left by himself for the first time in decades. Imagining waking up in bed, with Karen not there. Tears flooded his eyes and leaked down the deep crevices of his cheeks.  

“Are you okay, Jack?” one of the boys said.  Jack opened his eyes, feeling a rush of water escaping down his face.  

“Yes, uh, I just need a moment.  Excuse me, please.”

Jack stood with considerable effort, and moved towards the staircase.  “I just need to fetch something,” he muttered, using his arms on the railing to propel him upward, towards his bedroom.  Below, the boys sat with their water, watching him with intense interest.

Jack reached the bedroom, and sat on his bed, taking a tissue from the nightstand to his wet face.  He could smell his own sweat on the pillow case beside him. That smell reminded him of deep sleep, of the surreal experience of waking, of the warm embrace of the blankets.  Unthinking, he lifted his legs and tucked them under, feeling the weight and pressure of the comforter on his body. He blew his nose, and then set his head down on the pillow, staring blankly at the ceiling.  

Time must be passing, Jack thought, and there was something he still needed to do today.  It was something to do with Michael, and with Karen, or maybe Pastor Abrams. He searched the ceiling for answers, but the dancing shadows and reflected sunlight held no answers.  The room grew dimmer as his lids half-closed. His body sank into the mattress inch by inch, the soft foam taking his torso into a slow embrace.

A creak on the stairs.  “Are you okay, Jack?”

It was a young voice- one of the boys, the elders.  So they were still here. Jack ran through a checklist of actions needed to see them off properly.  It seemed daunting.

“I’m in bed,” he called down.  “You can see yourself out.”

“Do you need anything?  Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, just a bit tired.  Thank you for the prayer,” Jack said.  Out of his peripheral vision, he saw the face of one of the boys- which one, he could not tell, the name tag concealed by the door frame and too far off to read in any event.  Jack shut his eyes, performing sleep, hoping the youngster would leave him be.

After a moment, he heard a renewed creaking on the banister, and muffled voices from below, followed by the sound of the front door opening and closing again.  

Jack was still dressed in the white shirt and loose tie, but the bed was a comfort, and there would be no harm in taking a nap.  He allowed himself to sink deeper, to begin to drift, his thoughts swirling back to the taste of molasses, his cheek wet with the unwanted kisses of his Aunt Silly.  

-AG

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Published in: on December 10, 2018 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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NaNo: Chapter 29

Chapter 29: …and Wyndos, Too

The first thing Wyndos saw was the ceiling, dark and spackled, the room dimly-lit.  

I must have fallen and hit my head.

Somewhere deep inside their head, a tapering vibration, like the aftershocks of a gong, rattled and ached.  

Yes, a head injury, that must be it.  

Wyndos started to sit up, rubbing their temples.

“You live!” an unfamiliar voice said.

Wyndos blinked several times, and saw a figure taking shape nearby. It was not familiar.  

“For how long-”

The sound of their own voice stopped Wyndos cold.

That’s not my voice!

“Take it easy, Biere, give it a few minutes to wear off.”

Biere?  That’s not my name. Wait, maybe it is my name.  Where the hell am I?

“What happened?” said Biere, or Wyndos, meekly.  

“You just came out of a sim.  It’s okay, only a couple of hours have passed.”

My greatest fears have come to pass.  Or, at least, Wyndos’ greatest fears.

“I still remember…everything.”

“Yes,” said the speaker.  “That will last for a few more minutes, then it will start to fade.  Would you like to debrief?”

“Would I like?  Aren’t they mandatory?”

Laughter.  “No, not for years.  But if this was an interesting experience, perhaps you would like to collect some thoughts for later?  I can turn on the recorder if you like.”

Biere nodded.

I will miss Wyndos.  It was a good life.

“Whenever you’re ready, Biere.  I’m Juko, in case you don’t remember yet, but you will.  You go ahead and talk, and I’ll ask you some questions to help focus your memory.”

“Where to begin?” said Biere, still starting at the sound of their own voice.  “I was born into a world with a highly efficient, highly-developed society. The people worked fewer and fewer days; the amount of labor practically dropped in half during my lifetime.  People spent much of their lives in simulations, where they lived countless lives.”

“Do you remember any of those countless lives you lived?” said Juko.

“No.  I never…I never went through a sim.  Something always…troubled me about them.  Instead, I studied them. I thought about them.  I got involved in shaping them, for many years. I never retired.”

“Was that uncommon?”

“Yes, very.  I had to hide the details of my life from everyone, lest they think I was some sort of sociopath.  There was no work ethic, not really. The only people who stayed working were those in power, because corruption abhors retirement.”

Juko tried to stifle a laugh, unsuccessfully.

“I worked hard, but I managed to find work I enjoyed.  I shaped parts of our world more than anyone knew, but I always did so from the side, never taking the spotlight.  It was an effective way to maintain a low profile.”

“What did you do for fun?” Juko said.

Biere shut their eyes to think, but recall was elusive.

“I liked working with young people, later in my life.  When I was young myself I…well, I don’t recall. I guess that means I never will.  A shame.”

“Do you remember your name?”

“I was called Wyndos.”

“A good name.  Do you know why it was your name?”

Biere thought a moment.  “No, I don’t.”

“Tell me about them, then.  About Wyndos. What do you remember?”

“If you don’t mind, I would rather talk about my studies.  The nature of the simulations fascinated me. I realized, late in life, just in the weeks before my death, in fact, that I was probably on a plane.  Only I didn’t realize if I was an NPC or a visitor from another plane. I also-”

Biere stopped.  

I also realized that this world, too, was nothing more than a plane.  

“Do we know much about the nature of planes?” Biere said.

Juko smiled kindly.  “Yes, Biere, we do. In fact, you do, as you will soon recall.  I am not surprised in the least that you would even spend your time off fantasizing about the nature of sims.  It’s perfectly, preposterously you.”

“I look forward to learning more about Biere, but for now, I still find myself overwhelmed by a sense of being Wyndos.”

“That’s normal,” Juko said.  “And it will pass. In the meantime, I recommend you tell me everything you do remember about Wyndos, and anyone you wish to remember from your time in the sim.”

Biere shut their eyes, a rush of names and faces washing over them.  Truu, Quarla, Reesh. The antics of Carem and Chein. Vair, the hot-headed youngster, for whom Wyndos had such high hopes.  

None of it was real.  

“Biere, are you crying?” said Juko.

“Just remembering,” said Biere.  

“Well, remember out loud, please, because in a few more minutes, you won’t remember any of this, and you will be kicking yourself for not recording it at all.”

Biere recognized the wisdom of this.  

“I do not know what killed me.  I can assume a heart attack, or an aneurism, or something else fast and clean.  There was no final illness, no long goodbye. I was at a celebration…we had some problem on the sim, something involving Carem…but the details elude me.  I remember that we were celebrating. And laughing, there was so much laughing. Why was I reserved? What kept me from just cutting loose?”

“Regrets serve as lousy markers of memory,” said Juko.    

“Yes, that makes sense,” said Biere.  “Okay, let me see, the positives…I lived in almost complete creature comfort.  I had good food, reliable shelter, and was self-assigned to projects I found rewarding.  I truly believe I made a difference in the world, and that my efforts improved our plane, overall.”

“Was there a specific memory of happiness that you can share?”

Biere laughed.  “There is one, and it wasn’t a happy memory at the time, but looking back, yes, yes it was.  My final trainee, someone named Vair, decided against all my advice to become a sim tech. They were training, and it was going slowly, but Vair was dedicated and was bound to be successful.  In any case, shortly after they started the training, I learned that they were involved in some sim experiments that I found troubling. Tests involving multiple planes, or multiple levels, I don’t know the proper jargon here, but we called it meta-planes where I was.  I was upset, and forbade Vair to continue in that field.

“Naturally, Vair didn’t listen.  They went right on ahead, plugging away and making mistakes, and yet making great strides.  Vair was fearless. I was so damn proud of them. I’m sure they will have a great career after my passing.”

“That’s good, that’s very good to hear!” Juko said.  

“There was another time with Vair, when we were looking into career options, and for the umpteenth time they started asking me questions about myself.  I never liked those questions, always managed to deflect and just smile mysteriously. You would be amazed how effective that is at creating an image of inscrutability!  Anyway, Vair was looking…huh, what were we looking at? It was…no, I’m sorry. No. It’s gone. Damn.”

“That’s okay,” said Juko.  “Tell me about the world. What was something you found especially pleasant about life on the plane?”

“Well, of course, we didn’t know it was a plane.  Actually, that’s not true, at the end, I did know it, and one of my colleagues- it would be a stretch to say one of my friends- named Reesh said something very profound.  They said that even if this world is an illusion, that is no reason to stop our endeavors, because those endeavors have meaning no matter what, and for all we know, there is a greater truth that restores the meaning that onion theory disturbes.”

“Onion theory?”

“Oh, yes, it was…hmm…something to do with the planes.  No, I’m sorry. I think it’s fading for me. Reesh. I remember the name, but can’t recall the face.  Oh, this is bad. It’s leaving me. Wyndos is leaving me.”

“Hush, it’s okay,” said Juko.  “As I told you before, this is completely normal.  I would be concerned if your memories weren’t starting to fray.  It has been almost ten minutes, that’s around when it happens. Let’s stick to something easy, while you can still-”

“I’m not sure that I can go on with this,” said Biere.

“You can.  Or, at least, you can try.  Just one more question, okay?  Tell me something about Wyndos.  About you, who you were. Something fundamental, something that made you, you.”

Biere closed their eyes and shook their head.  

“I was someone important.  At least, I think I was important.  To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember it at all.”

(1459 words)

This marks the end of NaNoWriMo 2018 for me.  Five year’s running, huzzah!  Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.

Published in: on November 29, 2018 at 3:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

NaNo: Chapter 28

Chapter 28: Carem Comes Home

“Well then, so you’re Truu, and in mass, too!” said Carem, tilting a drink in the newcomer’s direction.

“I’m glad you’re home safe,” Truu said.  “And you look so…the same. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference between seeing you here, and seeing you on the test plane.”

“I was going to kill you on the test plane, too,” said Carem.  “You’re lucky you weren’t Vair or Chein, because them, I might not have stopped.”

“I’m sure that sounds like a great idea in your head, Carem,” Chein said, seated across the room.  “But if you were to think through it, you’d realize that ideas like that are why you still haven’t retired.  You kill me, then what? I just go back to the prior plane, and probably leave you in purgatory for another ten million years, or whatever.”

“Hey, go easy,” said Vair, sputtering into their own drink.  “Carem doesn’t remember any of that, do you, old fella?”

“Look, mister smarty pants,” Carem said, “everything I DO remember about that hell is because you people just can’t keep your damned mouths shut.  And Chein, I don’t care what they say, you smell bad in person. This is only, what the third time we’ve seen each other in mass?”

“Fourth,” said Chein.  “You always forget about Buxos’ retirement party.”

“Whatever.  You still smell.”

“We smell the same in the planes,” said Vair.  “Honestly, everything is the same. I don’t know why we even bother with meeting in mass anymore, it’s not like it makes any difference.”

“Because of tradition, and to keep us grounded,” said Wyndos, appearing suddenly in the doorway.  The group fell silent as Wyndos crossed the room and extended a hand formally to Carem. “It is good to have you back, Carem.  We were very worried.”

Carem seemed flustered at the formality.  “I, uh, appreciate everything you did for me, director, er, controller?  Sorry, I don’t know your title.”

“Wyndos suits just fine.”

“Then thank you, Wyndos,” said Carem.

Wyndos nodded.

“Let’s not get too somber in here,” said Chein.  “This is a celebration, after all. Let’s all get some drinks in us while Carem regales us with all the details they don’t remember.”

“I’m in for drinking,” said Vair, glancing self-consciously at Wyndos.

“Something smokey, with a bit of lime,” said Truu.

“Get it yourself,” Carem scoffed.  “I’m having beer.”

Wyndos cleared their throat.  “I do not generally imbibe, though given the circumstance, a sherry would not go amiss, as far as I am concerned.”

The others laughed.

“So tell me this, Wyndos,” said Carem, drops of beer falling from the glass.  “Did we learn anything useful from my misadventure? I mean, I don’t remember it, but it sounds galling.  At least tell me it was productive somehow.”

“Indeed it was, friend,” said Wyndos, clapping Carem on the back firmly.  “In fact, not only was your own misadventure, as you aptly put it, a great discovery in itself, but the efforts to retrieve you from that plane led to further developments that will direct research for years to come.”

“Let me guess,” said Carem, “whatever it was that got done to me, you’re gonna do it to future miscreants as a deterrent.”

“As the chief miscreant I’ve ever met, you’ll be the very first to know,” said Chein.  “Wyndos, don’t spoil the surprise, if so.”

Wyndos smiled.  “Nothing of the sort.  The discoveries were more…esoteric.  They have to do with the relationship between planes, time, tethering, and onion rings.”

“Onion rings?” said Vair.  “That’s a killer idea! Hey, we should have some music in here!”

Almost immediately, a loud bass line materialized, followed by drums and a synthesized melody.

Wyndos grimaced.  “Turn that off, Vair, now is not the time.”  

Vair looked sheepish as the music came to a halt.

“We have so very little time in mass, we should spend it enjoying each other’s company, don’t you think?” Wyndos said.

“I guess,” said Vair, arms folded.

Carem and Chein sat together near the drink dispensary, chatting loudly, while Vair sulked in silence with his drink.  Seeing an opportunity, Truu approached Wyndos.

“Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” said Wyndos.  

“That final instruction you gave me…why was it so important that Carem keep quiet?”

“It has to do with the way planes work,” said Wyndos.  “We all knew that Carem was having a hellish experience, being abandoned and alone for what must have felt like ages.  It certainly was years. However, experience teaches us that those memories, even if the upload subject is self-aware, do not persist across more than one planar jump.”

“I still don’t follow,” said Truu.  “You mean Carem wouldn’t have noticed even if they had spoken?”

“That’s just it,” Wyndos said.  “Carem would not remember being on that third plane regardless, but if they articulated anything about it on the intermediary planes, they would remember what they said, and that would allow the memory of the memory to persist, so to speak.”

Truu thought for a moment, and then shook their head.  “Too complicated for me. I’m but a lowly programmer.”

Wyndos clapped Truu on the back.  “You did a fine job. I appreciate your help.”

“This party is more than enough thanks,” said Truu.  “I’ve never been invited to a mass celebration that wasn’t for a rite.  In fact, the last time I was even out of my habitation was- hey, Wyndos, are you all right?”

Truu had raised their voice, and the others glanced over, concerned.  Wyndos looked perplexed, mouth slightly open, eyes focused off into the distance.

“Hey, Wyndos!” said Vair.  “What’s up?”

“Are you okay, Wyndos?” said Carem, rising and walking over to them.

Wyndos mouth shuddered as though speaking, but no words came out.  

“Somebody help Wyndos sit down before they fall!” said Chein.  

Truu and Carem each jumped to Wyndos’ side, catching their arms and steadying them.

Wyndos’ mouth opened again.  

“I…I…want to…”

“I said sit them down!” Chein shouted.  Carem and Truu each took two heavy steps forward, trying to guide Wyndos to the nearest seat.  Vair sat, frozen, staring with a look of horror.

All at once, Wyndos’ body stiffened, catching Carem and Truu off balance, and Wyndos fell flat onto their back.  From somewhere deep in the chest, a sharp and loud intake of breath came, sounding like a gasp. Then Wyndos was still.  

“Oh my god, somebody call for help,” said Vair.

“Raise the head a few inches, use your clothing if you have to,” said Chein.  “And for god sake, give them some space!”

“Hang in there,” Carem said, speaking directly into Wyndos’ frozen face.  “We’ll get you some help. You’re going to be okay.”

But Wyndos was gone.  

(1129 words)

Published in: on November 29, 2018 at 2:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

NaNo: Chapter 27

Chapter 27: Truu Takes a Dive

Chein looks tired, Truu thought, scrutinizing the face on the screen.  Tired, and a bit defeated.

It wasn’t the first time Truu had been a part of a large conference call, nor would it be the last, they thought, sadly.  Of the four participants, Chein was the only familiar face, and most of the conversation was about topics Truu found utterly irrelevant to the special assignment as Truu understood it.

“…but given the results from yesterday,” one of the participants- the information screen identified the speaker as Wyndos- said, “I believe we need actual uploads on each plane, each tethered to the prior plane through comms.”

“That’s where you come in, Truu,” said Chein.  “Were you able to fashion the comm device we discussed?”

“Yes,” said Truu, starting slightly at the sound of their own name.  “This device should allow you to communicate through up to five monitors, where each one only communicates with one or two others.  There will be about a half-second delay, but that can’t be worked out of the system without a lot more work.”

“This is perfect for our purposes,” said Chein.  “Wyndos, do you think this will suffice?

“In all likelihood, yes,” said Wyndos.  “So Chein, walk me through the order of operations for today.”

“We preserved the test plane that was used in the, uh, problematic experiment,” said Chein.  “My intention is to utilize the recruit you found for the time-lapse test and station them there.  Then Vair will descent, first to the test plane, and then to the second plane. From there, we hope to make contact with Carem, and manually bring them back up.”

Wyndos was thoughtful for a moment.

“I see two problems with your plan, and one matter in need of clarification,” said Wyndos, slowly articulating each word.  “First, we no longer have the services of my recruit. That was not a reassigned worker, but a retiree by whom I was owed a favor.  That currency has now been spent.”

“Damn,” said Chein, “I wish you had told me that.  I could have arranged for somebody else. We still can, it will just delay things a couple of hours. Wyndos, any chance you can do the first-level upload yourself?”

“No,” said Wyndos.  “I do not traverse the sim planes.”

“At all?” said Chein.  “Like, ever?”

“I can go,” said Truu.  

Now why did I say that?  

The others all looked at Truu through the screen.  

“I mean, if you want.  I’m already here.”

Please say no.

“Have you ever gone into a test plane before?” said Chein.

“Well, no-”

Chein turned to Wyndos.  “I’d rather get somebody experienced.  It’s worth the extra time.”

“I defer to your expertise,” said Wyndos.  “We shall reconvene in two hours, which will give me an opportunity-”

“No!”

The exclamation came from the third person on the link, who had not yet spoken.  Truu noted the name Vair.

Wyndos looked surprised, but stopped speaking.

“We need to go now!” said Vair.  “Don’t you understand? We have no idea how long Carem has been trapped in there.  Two hours is about the length of a regular sim, right?”

Chein slowly nodded.

“That means Carem could be stuck in there, stuck in NOTHING, for an entire lifetime over the next two hours.  This has been too long already. We need to go now!”

What the hell happened in there? Truu thought.

Wyndos rubbed the side of their head.  “When we did the time-lapse test, that recruit had no prior test plane training.  I trust the role will not involve any specialized skills?”

“No,” said Chein, tentatively.  “But still, something this important-”

“Vair raises a valid point.  Our understand about how relative time works is limited, but from what little we do know, it is highly likely that Carem is experiencing time at a much slower pace than we are.”

“Carem won’t even remember it when we extract though, right?” said Chein.  “That’s something else we know with virtual certainty.”

“True,” said Wyndos.  “Which brings us to the value judgment: do we have a moral obligation to reduce suffering, even if we know that suffering will be entirely forgotten?  For myriad reasons, I posit that we do owe such a duty.”

Chein straightened up in the chair.  “But does that duty trump the duty to bring Carem back safely at all?  I mean, if an additional two hours would broaden the chances of a safe return, doesn’t that outweigh the discomfort that may be added during whatever that amount of time feels like to Carem?”

“The broadening to which you refer is tentative and minor at best,” said Wyndos, “and is more than offset by the increased peril of permanent damage to Carem from extended exposure to the void of the empty test plane.”

“If you two don’t mind,” said Vair, “let’s have the ethics debate after we’ve gotten Carem safely home.  I’m ready to go, like, now.”

“If that’s okay with you, Wyndos, then I can get started,” said Chein.

Wyndos raised a hand.  “If you will recall, I reported two problems and one concern.  We have addressed but one. I do not approve of having Vair descend beneath the first test plane, under any circumstances.”

“What? Why?” said Vair.

“That will complicate things,” said Chein.  “Unless you’re willing to take one for the team, Wyndos.”

“As I said, I do not traverse the planes,” said Wyndos.  

“Why not?  I mean, everybody goes into sims.  And test planes aren’t really THAT different from-”

“I do not enter any planes, test or otherwise.  I never have, and never will,” said Wyndos.

Chein and Vair looked at Wyndos in disbelief.

“Okay, then…” said Chein.  “I guess the only option that leaves is for Truu to go to the second level.  I still have my reservations- no offense, Truu.”

“None taken.”

“But if you’re insisting on going immediately, without recruiting more help-”

“And I am!” said Vair.

“Then the only things we can do,” continued Chein, “is to have Vair on the first level, and send Truu to the second.  Am I missing anything, Wyndos?”

“Yes,” said Wyndos, “and this is my concern.  It is vitally important that the comms be opened and tested at each intermediary step.  You will upload, then do a comm check. Then upload further, and then comm check. Only when comm checks have been verified to my satisfaction will the exercise proceed.”

“Understood,” said Vair and Truu, at the same time.

“Okay, so, Truu and Vair, get ready for your first uploads,” said Chein.  “Let’s see if we can bring my wayward partner home.”

(1106 words)

Published in: on November 29, 2018 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

NaNo: Chapter 26

Chapter 26: Reesh Finds Resolve

“If you didn’t contact me just when you did, I was going to be crawling up your ass like a cheap pair of synthetic trousers,” said Reesh, the moment Wyndos’ face appeared.

“Nice to see you, as well.”

Look at that damned smile.  How can Wyndos be so irritatingly serene?  

“Well, let’s have it,” Reesh said.  “What’s the latest on the missing tech?”

“We are finalizing a plan for Carem’s extraction,” Wyndos said.  “In the meantime, this misadventure into multiple planes has uncovered some perplexing aspects of the very nature of planes themselves.”

“Found a silver lining, have you?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“Well,” said Reesh, “lay it on me, then.”

Wyndos leaned slightly forward, speaking slowly.

“One of the more interesting paradoxes we experience as we design, test, and then deploy sim planes is the relationship between perceived time, and actual time.  As any person who has traversed the sim planes will tell you, their experiences seem to last decades, but they return to find that only a small space of time has elapsed.”

“Yes,” Reesh said, “I’ve often wondered about that.”

“Most simply accept it as a picadillo of the sim.  What most do not know is that when we test new planes, and bring in technicians who are self-aware and wired for comms, they experience no such discrepancy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Five minutes on the plane, for instance, is precisely five minutes in the world,” said Wyndos.  “Something about the test planes is different, or at least, that’s what we thought.”

“My understanding was that the self-awareness was the problem,” said Reesh.  “That’s why we had the disaster back, when was it, twenty six years ago?”

“It was twenty-eight, and our understanding of what happened there has remained a mystery,” Wyndos said.  “Even at the time, we knew that the issue was related to the sim tech. The underlying problem was a very high instance of clients returning prior to forming any memories of their time, which was presumed to mean infant mortality.  The disaster resulted from sending in a self-aware sim tech with comms to investigate. That caused what was referred to at the time as a planar prison, where clients were not returning within the expected temporal parameters.”

“Yes, they were stuck, that’s what I remember reading.”

“It’s one thing to read about it in a book: imagine being there.  It lasted two days, and during that time, nobody knew if the clients were going to return at all.”

“Wait, Wyndos, you were there?”

Wyndos took a deep breath.  “Yes. Those were hard hours.  Some demanded we terminate the plane immediately, but others believed that could harm the clients then in upload.  In the end, we took the risk, and ended the plane. The clients were unharmed.”

“Did they ever find out what caused the early returns?”

“It remains a mystery,” Wyndos said.

“So self-awareness was the key?”

“We thought so, for many years, but could not replicate the problem in any tests.  In fact, on certain occasions, we have sent self-aware testers onto our active planes, but with no adverse effects.  It remained a mystery. However, today’s experiments may have provided the answer.”

“I’m all ears,” said Reesh.

“I will spare you many details, and focus on two twin iterations of our test.  In the first, a tech went into a meta-plane self-aware, but without any communication to the plane above them.  They experienced several hours of time, though only one minute elapsed. In the second, a self-aware tech was sent to the meta-plane with full comms, and they experienced one minute of time in one minute.  So, you see, it appears to be the tethering that synched the passage of time between planes.”

“That IS interesting,” Reesh said.  “Do you suppose it is the actual tether, or the capability of tethering?”

“Can you clarify your question?” said Wyndos.

“I mean, suppose a tech had a fully-operational comm unit, but never engaged it.  Would its very presence ensure the synchronized passage of time?”

Yikes, I’m beginning to talk like Wyndos.  I suppose their dialect is infectious.

“That is an interesting question, and one we will be sure to investigate once the current crisis has passed.  In the meantime, have you given any more thought to the onion problem we discussed previously?”

“Yes, I have,” said Reesh, “and I agree with you.  It seems entirely implausible that we are the outermost layer of the onion, given the infinite possible layers under or over us.”

Wyndos nodded gravely.  “I wondered if that would be your reaction.  If that is the case, then a fortiori, this world, everything we know, is just an illusion, designed for purposes we cannot begin to comprehend.”

“Fascinating concept, isn’t it?”

“Deeply troubling,” said Wyndos, frowning.  

“Not necessarily,” said Reesh.

“By all means, please share an alternative interpretation.”

“It’s not so much an interpretation,” Reesh said, “as an outlook.  So what if we are on a lower plane? Why should that matter to us?”

“Why should it matter?” Wyndos scoffed. “It means that nothing we do here is of any consequence at all!  Our lives, our dreams, our goals, our designs, they all come to nothing! We could be turned off, just cease to exist, at any time.” Wyndos was speaking rapidly.  “All these years of building a society, tweaking it, making it run more efficiently, increasing our standard of living, all of it for what? For nothing!”

“Who cares?” said Reesh.  “If what you surmise is true, what impact does that have, really, on our lives?  At best, it means we will one day wake up to a new world, a world in which no time at all has passed, in which our lives here are just a vivid, troubled dream.  At worst, we are NPCs, just creations meant to amuse and sustain the world for some other meaningless purpose.”

“The lack of meaning is what I can’t accept,” said Wyndos.  “The idea of slaving away for the amusement of some higher power-”

“Who are, themselves, almost equally certain to be in the same spot as we are!  That miniscule chance that we are the outer layer, so to speak, would apply equally to the layer above us, wouldn’t it?  We aren’t really living our lives in service to some higher plane of being; we are illusions serving illusions.”

“The idea of being characters on a page-”

“But who’s to say it’s even an onion?” said Reesh.  “We understand so little about how these planes function, and how they interact.  You said yourself, just today we learned something so fundamental it will drastically alter our understanding of what a simulation even means.  So maybe it’s not an onion, maybe it’s one of those snakes eating its own tail, you know, that long word-”

“Ouroboros,” said Wyndos.   

“Yes, that.  Maybe there is no outer plane, and the nature of existence is just a series of interdependent planes of existence, none greater than the next, and if you go up or down in the same direction for long enough, you wind up right back where you started.”

Wyndos had nothing to say to that, and brooded thoughtfully.

“Is there some flaw in my analysis?” said Reesh.

“None that I perceive,” Wyndos said, the passion gone.  “So, if that’s the case, how do we proceed?”

“What do you mean, ‘how do we proceed?’  We proceed just as we always have, striving and working and fighting and doing our best to be happy, to bring happiness to others.  These questions are about the very fabric of reality, something we plainly don’t understand, and will never fully control. So why let those revelations interfere with our lives?”

“There is some wisdom in that,” said Wyndos, nodding.  “Forgive me, I seem to be lost in self-reflection.”

“If I managed to catch you in a vulnerable moment, Wyndos, it would be a shame to let it go to waste,” said Reesh.  “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself? You seem like you have a long and interesting history.”

Wyndos smiled at that.  “Perhaps another time. Maybe one day I will write my memoirs, and you and everyone else who is curious can pore through the details of my life.”

“I would very much enjoy reading that,” said Reesh.  “But for now, keep working on getting that tech back.”

Wyndos nodded as the link went dark.

(1408 words)

Published in: on November 28, 2018 at 3:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

NaNo: Chapter 25

Chapter 25: Quarla Does Time

In a perfect world, Quarla thought, I would be spending this afternoon taking a nice, long nap.  

From the hallway, Quarla could hear Mensa’s footsteps, coming from the kitchen.

“So, how long did they say this would take?” said Mensa, dropping in and placing a kiss on the top of Quarla’s head.

“Just today, probably, a couple hours.  I dunno, this whole things seems a little rushed together.”

“I still don’t understand who this Wyndos person is.”

“Me either,” said Quarla.  “I tried looking them up after we disconnected, and there was barely anything.  I just get the sense that they’re important.”

“Yeah, well, anybody who did for us what Wyndos did is okay in my book,” Mensa said.  “Maybe they’re in the leadership or something, though you’d think that information would be available.”

Quarla called forth the information console and pulled up the leadership list.  “It is, and Wyndos isn’t on it. Nobody from our commission hearing is, in fact.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.  These days, disciplinary has got to be a bum assignment.”

“Why’s that?” said Quarla.

“Too little crime.”

Quarla nodded.  “Well, all I really know at this point is that Wyndos needs someone for an important project, it will only take a few hours, and it’s, like, now.  So I figure they’re just calling in a favor, after the way I got treated at the hearing.”

“Yeah, well, Wyndos certainly did play the hero in that story,” said Mensa.  “Without them, you’d still be walking the streets, or diving, or whatever bullshit they had in store for you.”

The link board illuminated, and Quarla clicked to accept.  Wyndos’ face appeared.

“Hello Quarla…and Mensa.  Good to see you two together in mass.”

“Thanks, Wyndos,” said Mensa, leaning towards Quarla’s mic.  “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Mensa.  However, due to the nature of this particular assignment, I must ask you to kindly give Quarla the room.”

Quarla and Mensa exchanged a look, both shrugged, and then Mensa left the room with a wave at Wyndos.

“Something super-secret then?” said Quarla.

“Nothing of the sort.  Just…sensitive. I need your help on troubleshooting a sim issue, and I fear there was a detail I omitted from our earlier discussion.”

Ah, here comes the rub, Quarla thought.

“You see, when you asked how long this assignment would take,” Wyndos said, “I responded ‘just a few hours’ based on our temporal experience.  However, due to the nature of what we are exploring today, your perception of time may render it somewhat…longer.”

“You mean, like a sim?” said Quarla.  

“Precisely.”

“I just did a sim earlier today, and to be honest, I’m really not ready to live an entire life just to troubleshoot some issue or other.”

“Oh,” said Wyndos, “nothing of the sort, I assure you.  What I mean to say is, while this may only take a couple of hours of your time here, you may experience it to be more like a dozen hours or so, because of the sim.”

“Oh, okay, that’s not so bad,” said Quarla.  “Just tell me what I need to do.”

“I am going to patch in Vair, who will be the controller of this experiment.  One moment, please.”

Quarla saw Wyndos fiddling with the controls, and then another face appeared in the monitor.  

“Quarla, this is Vair.  Vair, Quarla.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Vair.

Quarla nodded.

Oh wow, they look like a kid!  Either this kid is a prodigy of some sort, or I’m really getting older.

“Quarla,” said Wyndos, “I am going to upload you to a test plane.  It won’t be like anything you have ever experienced before, in that you will be fully self-aware, and the plane itself will be extremely basic.  You will see nothing but a console, and I ask that you do not touch it yet.”

“Okay,” said Quarla, “I’m ready when you are.”

“Vair, please proceed.”

Quarla watched the world evaporate, and lost consciousness.  

The first new sensation Quarla felt was a discomfort in their back, as the cushy seat had been replaced by a hard floor.  Sitting up and blinking back vision, Quarla took a look around.

Wow, there really is nothing here!  It’s just walls…like a bedroom without a bed.  Ah, there’s the console. Don’t touch it!

“Quarla, can you hear me?” said Vair.

“Yes.”

“Good.  Now I want to run a quick test with you.  Go over to the console: there’s a timer on the screen.  Tell me when you’re there.”

Quarla approached the console.  It was a primitive screen, the type used by coders in ages long past.  On it, a series of scrolling numbers marked the time.

“Okay, I see it.  It says 15:32:16 but it’s constantly rolling forward.”

“Good.  Okay, on my mark, I want you to count out ten seconds with the help of the clock, and say ‘done’ when ten seconds have passed, okay?”

“Sure thing.”

“Ready…and…mark!”

Quarla watched the digits scrolling up until precisely ten seconds had passed.

“Done!”

“Good,” said Vair.  “That was ten seconds by my count, too.”

“Seems like a pretty simple test,” said Quarla.

“That was just the control,” said Vair.  “Now for the fun stuff. The console in front of you has one button, and I need you to push it, but only once.”

“Okay,” said Quarla, pushing the button.  The numbers on the screen disappeared, replaced by a new screen displaying a single word.  “It says ‘initiate.’”

“Good,” said Vair. “When you press that button again, it is going to upload you to a different plane.  As soon as you come to, I want you to start counting. You won’t have a timer this time, so try to keep as steady a counting rhythm as you can.”

This is getting weird, Quarla thought.  

“Uh, okay.  How long is this going to be?”

“Probably just a minute, but what’s important isn’t how long it is, it’s how long it seems.”

“I don’t follow,” Quarla said.  

“I just mean, you need to tell me how long you THINK it’s been, regardless of how long it actually takes.”

“Okay, I guess,” said Quarla.

There was a moment of silence.  

“You still there?” Quarla said.

“Yeah, sorry, uh, go ahead and click the button again, and don’t forget to count!” said Vair.

Quarla pushed the button, and the world went black.  

Once again, Quarla found themselves on the ground, as though waking from a deep sleep.  Shaking their head side to side, they then remembered the instructions and started to count aloud.

“One, two, three, four,” said Quarla, “can you hear me?”

There was no response.

“Eight, nine, ten, eleven,”

As the numbers ticked by, Quarla took a look around the plane.  It was precisely the same as the first plane, but without a console.  The walls were only ten feet or so apart, and while counting, Quarla decided to measure them.  

“Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine,”

I think it’s ten feet long, but the other dimension seems a bit shorter.  Maybe ten by eight? What a basic plane! This must be how they test out new features.  I wonder what could be so important that they’d have Wyndos contact me for help.

The thought of Wyndos led Quarla back to speculating on this strange person, who seemed to have outsized influence on the commission.  Their thoughts kept returning to that moment when, amidst a debate about Quarla’s fate, Wyndos had shown the other commissioners something that immediately shut the discussion down.  

Was it credentials?

Quarla suddenly realized that the counting had stopped.

Shit!  Where was I?  A hundred and twelve, a hundred and thirteen, a hundred and fourteen.  

No longer counting out loud, Quarla paced the room.  Time passed monotonously.

Nine hundred and thirty one, nine thirty-two, nine-thirty three.

Crossing into four digits, Quarla sat, then tried to recline, but found it difficult to get comfortable.  

This wasn’t a minute, that’s for sure.

Minutes passed, followed by hours.  Sometime around eight thousand, Quarla stopped counting.  

This is hell.  How long am I going to be in here?  

Finally, exhaustion overcame Quarla, and they laid down on the flat, uncomfortable ground, and went to sleep.

Quarla woke up to the sound of Wyndos’ voice.

“Quarla, can you hear me?”

“Wha- yes.  YES! Thank god.  Get me out of here!”

“You’re out of the second plane, Quarla,” Wyndos said.  “Tell us what you experienced.”

“It was so long!” Quarla’s voice was shaking.  “I tried counting but, after like fifteen thousand or so, I lost track. I must have fallen asleep.”

In the corner, Quarla saw the terminal, suddenly reassured that this was, in fact, the original plane.  

“Hold on a moment,” Wyndos said, and the line went silent.  

Several seconds passed before Vair’s voice came through.

“I’m sorry about that, Quarla.  It sounds like you were there for a long time.  On our end, that was about one minute.”

Quarla opened their mouth to speak, and then closed it again.  

Wyndos’ voice came through.  “Vair, it’s time for you to enter the test plane.”

Vair is coming in too?  This is about to get interesting.

Movement caught Quarla’s eye, and turning around, they saw Vair lying prone on the ground, rubbing their head as though having just fallen to the ground.

“Hey, you okay,” said Quarla.

“Yeah,” Vair’s voice sounded groggy.  “Just gimme a minute.”

As Quarla watched, Vair rolled onto their side and slowly stood, wobbling rather than walking towards the console.  

“Okay,” Vair said.  “Now I’m going to send you back into the other plane.”

“What?  No!” said Quarla.  “I’m not going back in there!  That was hell!”

“From what you’re telling us, you really only spent a few hours, right?” said Vair.  “So it isn’t all that bad. C’mon, we need to find this out, it’s important.”

“What am I supposed to do there?  This is NOT what I signed up for,” said Quarla.

“I’m sorry, but we need to do this, for Carem!” said Vair.

“Who’s Carem?” Quarla said.

“Quarla,” Wyndos’ voice broke in through the comm.  “We need you to do this. It’s the last thing, I promise.  And yes, it may take hours again, but you won’t be alone: you will be able to communicate with Vair.”

“And if the time goes long, I can entertain you or something,” said Vair, “I could even extract you early if you want.”

Not leaving me a lot of options here, folks.  

Quarla sighed.  “Fine. Let’s just get this over with.”

With a nod, Vair flipped a switch, and Quarla’s world went dark once again.

So here we are, Quarla thought, back in the nothingness.  

“Can you actually hear me, or was that just a trick?” Quarla said.

“I can hear you,” said Vair.  

“And Wyndos?”

“Nope, sorry, it doesn’t work that way,” Vair said.  “Wyndos can’t hear you, but I can communicate with them if you need me to.”

“I don’t really understand any of this,” said Quarla.  “And about this time thing, how could it be that-”

The world went dark.

When Quarla opened their eyes, Vair was looming above.

“Wakey, wakey,” Vair said.  

“What just happened?” said Quarla.

“You have returned,” said Wyndos.  “Once again, it was one minute by our reckoning.  How long was that for you?”

“About that.  Hell, maybe shorter,” said Quarla. “Can I come back up now?”

“In a moment,” said Wyndos.  “Vair, ask some questions about the second plane, in case we lose that information making the jump.”

“Oh, right.  Yeah, Quarla, um, do you remember anything from the second plane just now?”

“Yeah, I mean, I remember checking my comm with you, and then asking about Wyndos, as you telling me that I couldn’t speak to Wyndos for some reason, but you could.”

“What about the first time you were in the second plane?  When it lasted a long time.”

“I remember counting,” said Quarla, “counting up over fifteen thousand, and then falling asleep, and waking up back here.”

“Okay, good,” said Vair.  “Wyndos, anything else?”

“That is sufficient,” said Wyndos.  “I am going to bring you both back now.”

For the final time, Quarla lost consciousness, and woke to the familiar sensation of the office chair.

“How are you both feeling?” said Wyndos.  Quarla looked at the screen, and saw Wyndos’ inscrutable face, accompanied by Vair, who was evidently just coming to.

“I’m okay,” said Quarla.

“Yeah,” said Vair.

“Quarla, I have some questions about your time in the plane.  Do you remember being in the second plane?”

“Yeah, I…huh.  No, actually, I remember talking about it, but I don’t remember actually being there.”

“The first time you were on the second plane, do you remember how long it took?”

I remember saying it was a long time, but…not actually being there.  It’s not fading, it’s just…gone.

“No, not at all. I think it was a long time, but that’s only cause I remember saying to Vair that it had been a long time after I returned.”

“Fascinating,” said Wyndos.  “I greatly appreciate your work today, Quarla.  You may not remember, but it was a difficult task.  I cannot give you time credit, as you are retired. Is there any service I can render in recompense?”

“No,” said Quarla.  “I figure I owed you from before.  Just…don’t come to me next time you need a guinea pig, okay?”

Wyndos nodded.  

(2248 words)

Published in: on November 27, 2018 at 7:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

NaNo: Chapter 24

Chapter 24: Wyndos Makes a Plan

Wyndos felt a rushing sensation throughout their body, waiting for the link to Chein to re-open.  

I told Vair to steer clear of this project, but that advice evidently went unheeded.  And now, lost somewhere among the planes, where is Vair now? Are they even aware of that advice?  Does memory penetrate that deeply?

The blame and resentment was a cover; Wyndos was scared for Vair, and was painfully self-aware of the misdirected anger at the young charge.  

I’ve had dozens and dozens of mentees, but you were my favorite.  Irreverent, independent, and capable. It would not surprise me to see you in leadership one day.  Assuming, of course, that we get you back with your mind intact.

After what seemed like ages, the link opened, and Chein appeared.

“Chein, this is Wyndos.  Tell me everything.”

“Hi Wyndos, it’s been a busy morning,” said Chein.  “I’m assembling a special team to get us some extraction options, and it should be ready within a day or two.”

“What was the name of the missing tech?”

Wyndos involuntarily took and held a deep breath, arms shuddering.

“Carem, my main co-tech.”

Oh thank god.

“I see,” Wyndos tried not to betray any relief.  “Walk me through the circumstances of the disappearance.”

“Okay, well, it was supposed to be a further investigation of the multi-plane jumps.  We already knew that beyond one level, we had no comms, and returnees had no memories of the later stage.  So we wanted to test whether that was true of all jumps of greater than one plane, or if perhaps it alternated, like an odd number is fine, but not an even number.  So we set up a test.”

“Please describe the test.”

“Carem and my trainee, Vair, went to experimental plane one.  Vair installed what was supposed to be a clone of the upload station I designed onto plane two for Carem to use, and then waited while Carem descended to level two, and then level three.”

“From ‘supposed to be’ I am assuming there was a problem with the clone?”

“That’s correct.  You see, Vair had made a correct clone of the upload functions, but not the auto-extraction functions, so when Carem made the leap from level two to level three, we lost them completely.”

“Lost how?”

“No comms, no data, and no set time for extraction.  In other words, we have no idea how long Carem will be stuck in that plane.”

Wyndos thought for a moment.  “Forgive me if this is an ill-educated question, but when we upload people into planes in the ordinary course, they return within the space of an hour, regardless of how long their subjective experience on the plane lasted, correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“So in this case, I would expect Carem to return just as quickly, even if the unfortunate programming error caused their experience to be substantially longer than anticipated.”

“Yes,” said Chein, “I thought that too.  The truth is, we don’t know much about how time works when we cross multiple levels.  It’s entirely possible that if we were on level two, Carem’s absence would only last a brief time, as you said.  But we are three levels removed from wherever Carem is now, and we haven’t done any research whatsoever on time effects over multiple levels, or meta-planes, if you will.”

“That seems to be an important piece of datum.  I will arrange for a standalone test on that today,” said Wyndos.

“That would be helpful!  Just find out if the time elapsed and time experienced holds true over multiple levels, but don’t forget to also test if having an observer on the intermediate level affects the outcome.”

Wyndos nodded. “I would like to borrow Vair for this assignment.”

“Of course.  That will be good.  Vair needs something constructive to focus on, instead of just self-flagellating about the screw up.  When would you like to reconvene?” said Chein.

“In six hours.  I know that is beyond your scheduled time, Chein, but I trust you will permit us to make some scheduling accommodations given-”

“Of course,” Chein interrupted.  “Carem is my friend. I’ll do whatever it takes, and we can figure out the details after they’re back.”

“Very good,” said Wyndos, ending the link.

At least it wasn’t Vair, Wyndos thought.  Still, we need a plan to solve this.  I’m not sure why the time issue was not more fully explored.  We can fix that now. Vair will be glad to help, as it puts the focus on a planning issue, rather than the failure of the clone.  Still, I need another set of hands, so to speak, someone I can trust, to do the actual upload. I do not want to place Vair at risk.

No names immediately came to mind.  

Should I be updating Reesh about this?  It would be best to avoid another angry confrontation on that front.  Perhaps I will provide an update after today’s tests, so that Reesh can feel as though they are at the cutting edge of our efforts.

Though the plan was only half-formed, Wyndos decided to get moving, and opened a link to Vair.

“Hi Wyndos,” said Vair, eyes puffy. “I guess you’ve heard about what happened?”

“Yes, Vair, I’m so sorry to hear about Carem.”

“It was all my fault,” Vair said, palms upturned.  “I just didn’t think about how the sim would end, and I should have!  I decided to just copy the parts of the program I thought were relevant, and totally forgot about the exit strategy.  And now, who knows where Carem is? Probably in the dark, alone, and scared!”

“Do you suppose that agonizing over it will bring Carem back?” said Wyndos, calmly.

Vair sniffed loudly.  “No.”

“Well, then let’s figure out something constructive we can do.  As it happens, I need your help with something directly related to our recovery efforts.  Are you willing to help me?”

“Of course!” said Vair.

“Good.  This may require a little bit of time beyond your usual assigned hours, but rest assured that we will compensate you for the time you spend.”

“I don’t care about that, at all.  I’ll do whatever it takes,” said Vair, indignantly.

“I appreciate your passion, but ask that you temper it.  We can’t have any mistakes in this new research.”

“Okay, I understand,” Vair said.  “So, what’s the assignment?”

“We are going to run a test on time perception over multiple levels.  I will need you to quickly program one of the upload stations, just like the one you created for Carem.”

“Ugh, does it have to be that?”

“It does, Vair.  You are the only person aside from Chein who I trust to create them, and Chein is otherwise occupied.  Will this be a problem?”

“No, Wyndos, no problem.  I can do it. When do you need it?”

“An hour, if possible.”

“Oh, wow!  Yeah, let me get right to it,” said Vair.

“Contact me as soon as it is completed,” said Wyndos, ending the link.

Now, to find a guinea pig.  No specialized skills needed, just somebody willing.  Maybe somebody who owes me a favor…

All at once, a thought occurred to Wyndos.  

They’re retired, loyal to me, and used to difficult work.  Yes, this will be perfect!

Smiling, Wyndos opened a link.

(1221 words)

Published in: on November 27, 2018 at 3:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

NaNo: Chapter 23

Chapter 23: Truu Gets Conscripted

Truu woke up with a start, the vivid dream evaporating and fading from memory.

I was asleep, but someone was in my bed with me.

Turning over, with momentary surprise, Truu saw Rasha, still fast asleep and lightly snoring.

It’s only been a week, and it still feels unreal somehow.

It had been a roller coaster of strong emotions for Truu, and having Rasha here seemed like a fitting reward. At first, there had been the pitch for doubling, and the onerous demand for a promotion before it would be approved.

The anger and indignance of that requirement gave way to hard work, and the ultimate triumph of getting the promotion, and getting Rasha’s consent to move in together.

That elation had quickly passed, when it became clear that the credit would be going not to Truu, but to the official who had negotiated the titanium trade, and who likely had no real use for the credit they were stealing from Truu. For two days after that news, Truu could hardly eat, much less work.

That was hell, Truu thought, and I hope to god I never have to go through anything like that again.

Then, on the third day, a message came in from control: the credit had been reassigned, and Truu had achieved promotion. It came like a beam of light into a darkened room, startling and brightening Truu’s world. Indeed, it seemed an inexplicable reversal of fortune. Truu had no idea the role that Wyndos had played in getting Reesh to cede the overwhelming credit from the titanium deal.

Since then, life had been a whirlwind. The doubling had been approved, and of course, Truu’s hours had been cut yet again. The newfound free time was largely spent getting comfortable with dual living, a less and less common life choice that came with great exhilaration, but also great challenges.

Truu sat up in bed and looked around the room. The accommodations were substantially larger, a trade-off for having a shared bedroom. The bathroom was bigger too, and included a bathing tub in addition to the standard-issue shower.

The only unshared spaces were the offices, as each of them would have the option to pursue their jobs and interests individually. Truu also learned that each office came with a small cot concealed against the wall, a nod to the possibility that either of them might sometimes need sanctuary from their shared sleeping quarters.

Today was a workday, only the second since they had moved in together. Careful not to disturb Rasha, Truu got out of bed, took a short shower, and grabbed a bite to eat from the refrigerator, only afterwards moving into the office to boot up the comms and check the day’s assignments.

A yellow flashing light indicated a priority message, which Truu opened with a mix of curiosity and concern.

‘Please report to sim tech Chein for a special assignment, which is high priority and will require special protocols. Any extra time required will be subject to full offsets and merit reductions.’

Truu read the message a second time. This was only the second time Truu had ever received a special assignment. These were referred to as bandaids, as they typically had nothing to do with the assignees abilities, but reflected a labor shortage for an important task.

The last time, over a year ago, Truu had been asked to draw up a training program for new resource techs, an assignment that had taken two weeks of five-day labor, the equivalent to a dire punishment.  

The upside had been a three week vacation, as the controller had made good on the promise of recompense.

So, this might be a bunch of hours I wasn’t expecting, but at least the payoff will be nice.

Settling into the chair, Truu opened a link to Chein, the sim tech.

“Hi, you must be Truu,” Chein said.

“I was told to contact you for a special assignment.”

“Yep, congratulations, or condolences, depending on your outlook. We have an interesting one for you.”

“Let me guess: somebody fouled up and we are patching a need the planners should have foreseen?”

Chein laughed. “I see you’ve been through specials before. But actually, no, this isn’t one of those. We have an unusual situation and are bringing in some of our top coders from across different industries to bail us out in sim tech.”

“Sounds interesting. How can I help?” Truu said.

“Okay, well, first thing’s first. This is a project that requires some…discretion. You’re going to be read in on a project that is not publicly known. And we will expect you to keep it that way, even from your friends.”

Well now I’m interested.

“Sure,” said Truu.

“I see on your profile that you live in a double. I need to emphasize, you can’t share the details of this with your partner. Is that going to create any problems for you?  Because if so, we can recruit somebody else.”

Truu glanced at the door, in the direction where Rasha was likely still sleeping.

“No, that won’t be an issue. So I’m intrigued; what’s this all about?”

Chein straightened up in their chair. “The bottom line is that we lost a tech in one of our test sims, and we need some help creating the tools to get them back.”

“You lost somebody?  How can that even happen?”

“That part isn’t important. It was an error. Our focus is on the fix, so to speak.”

“Okay,” said Truu, “roger that. Tell me what I can do to help.”

“That’s the spirit,” Chein said, smiling. “What I need you to do is design a comm system in five parts. The idea had to be that each unit will only get its message out to either one or two of the other units, but we need the message to reach all five of them.”

“Wait, walk me through that again.”

“Okay,” said Chein, “it’s like this: imagine five people, each holding a comm unit.”

“Okay.”

“Now person one speaks into the comm, but only person two’s unit can hear the message. Person two repeats the message, and only one and three can hear it. Then person three repeats the message, and only two and four can hear it.  Make sense so far?”

“Yeah, I think so.  Basically you’re saying only adjacent nodes on the network have comms.”

“Precisely,” said Chein.  “So that’s what I need your help to fix.”

“So ideally, I want any person on the line to be able to say something once, and the message gets repeated- once- in each other comm unit.  Make sense?”

“It does.  Hmm, this is actually a pretty intriguing puzzle.”

“Great.  You have hours today and tomorrow, right?  Plan on spending them both on this project.  If we don’t have a solution by then, we can talk about whether to use extra time.  You’ll be compensated, of course.”

“Hey, let me ask you something.  Why is this classified?” said Truu.  “It sounds pretty run-of-the-mill to me.”

“So far, I’m sure it does,” said Chein, “but depending on what complications we run into, we may need to read you in a little further to the underlying project.  At that point, you’ll see why. For now, though, just focus on the task at hand. I have to go- lots of moving pieces to coordinate this morning.”

“Roger that.  Glad to help,” said Truu.

As the link disconnected, Truu puzzled over the nature of that ‘underlying project.’  

It could be related to secret communications, which would explain why they need this tool.  That would make sense: if they want to restrict the comms’ reach but patch in multiple people, this is exactly what they’d need.  It’s just weird that they would commission a special assignment for it…and that whole cover story about losing someone in a sim.  That’s not typical, surely they wouldn’t be making that part up. Are the sim comms down?

With a brisk shake of the head and the wrists, Truu put aside these speculations, and opened a coding page, to begin tackling the technical side of the problem head-on.  

(1362 words)

Published in: on November 27, 2018 at 3:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

NaNo: Interlude

Intermezzo: Carem Passes the Time

“I have a great idea for how we can use this place,” Carem said, to nobody in particular.  “We should totally revise the disciplinary rules: if somebody screws up royally, just send them here for a year or so.  That’ll fix ‘em.”

Carem looked around at the small plane, still empty.

“Unless they go crazy first, of course.”

With no clocks, no watch, and no windows to the outside world, Carem truly had no idea how long it had been since the upload.  The plane resembled a jail cell in almost every way: eight by ten feet, no way to leave, and nothing whatsoever to do.

Except, perhaps, to talk to oneself.

“The first thing I’m going to do, when they get me out of here, is to kill Vair.  I don’t know how, but I’m certain they’re the culprit behind this. Leaving me in here for months?  Has it been months? It feels like months.”

The lighting was too bright, the source of the light not apparent.  

For Carem, the biggest worry wasn’t the apparent abandonment; it was the non-existent memory of what this assignment was supposed to entail.

I remember Vair’s voice, and being in a test plane, and Vair saying I was about to go deeper.  Fiddling with a console. So…Vair must have been on a different plane? Yes, because that’s how sims work.  But what plane is Vair on? Did I used to know? And what are we testing here?

Carem banged their head against the ground, not too hard, but enough to feel a painful percussing on the temple.  

I must have a life back there, but I can’t remember it.  I can’t remember anything except the test plane. Did they scrub my memory?  

“I swear to god, if you wiped my memory for a test without telling me, there is gonna be hell to pay!”

The words died without an echo, leaving only silence.

Carem sat.  It was something to do.  Sitting, standing, lying down.  The three possible activities.

I could try counting again.  How far was it last time? Thirty eight thousand?  

Instead, Carem started thinking of every detail from the time of the upload.  Being on the test plane, all alone, the voice of Vair in their ear. Seeing a console, pushing a button, and then darkness.  Waking up to intense light, waiting for it to fade. Calling out Vair’s name, hearing nothing.

It took only moments for Carem to acclimate to this plane: there was nothing here.  No mnemonics, no structures. Nothing. Carem sat, waiting for the sim to end, but the end didn’t come.  

“I thought you were tricking me, or punishing me,” Carem said.  “I thought you were playing a practical joke. Hell, maybe you were, but instead of a few minutes it wound up being months.  I’ll fucking strangle you when I get out of here.”

Carem tried to visualize doing just that, but found it impossible to conjure Vair’s face.  

I must have met them in person at some point.  I know about links. I remember being around other people, but maybe…maybe not.  Maybe it’s only ever been me.

“How come I remember who I am, and all about the world, but nothing…real?  It’s like something I read in a book once, or maybe a dream. That’s it, a dream.  A hazy, made-up dream.”

Carem remembered, too, a different sensation, a different series of thoughts they had only experienced in the first minutes after arriving here, on this unknown plane.  Rich memories of consoles and research, of routines, of a different life. It started clear but dissipated in moments, floating out of their mind and into the ether of this plane.

I remember remembering, but I don’t remember what.  How’s that for a conundrum?

All at once, Carem stood up and screamed as loud as they could, then fell down, exhausted.  

“Maybe I should just off myself.  That’s how it works, right? You can get out of a plane by just dying.  But then, what if that’s delusional?” Tears started to leak out of Carem’s eyes.  “Help me, please,” they said, softly.

(693 words)

Published in: on November 27, 2018 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

NaNo: Chapter 22

Chapter 22: Reesh Asks Questions

Reesh glanced at the time.

Twenty more minutes.

Steering their attention back to reading messages, Reesh thought about Wyndos.

It was not a new topic of personal speculation.  Just this afternoon, on no less than three occasions, Reesh tried to piece out the enigma.  There was so little they knew about Wyndos, so little anyone seemed to know.

Wyndos was old when I started in this job, was old when we first met.  Every week, it seems, I learn something else about them. Every important development, Wyndos is there.  

Earlier in the day, a link came in from one of the sim tech controllers.  They had a problem, and couldn’t reach Wyndos. Or, at least, they didn’t think it was important enough to bother Wyndos during their time off, an important distinction.  One could always find Wyndos in a real emergency.

“We lost a tech during one of the meta-plane experiments,” the controller had said.  “Wyndos knew we were doing this test today, but it looks like their main link is off, and I wanted to report this up the chain right away.”

“”You did the right thing,” Reesh said.  “And I will make sure your message is received by Wyndos right away.  Since I am not as up on this particular line of inquiry, perhaps you can give me a brief summary.”

“Well, we have been doing meta-plane test runs for the last few weeks, and we’ve encountered some serious limitations when going through more than one plane.  Last time I discussed it with Wyndos, we had just learned that it affected comms and memory retention, even for a self-aware upload.”

“As in, we couldn’t communicate or remember things if a double-jump was made?” Reesh said.

“Exactly.  So in order to refine that finding, we arranged for a triple jump, but there was a programming snafu and we can’t get the tech back.”

“What kind of a snafu?”

“The automatic extraction timer was not set.  So the tech is three levels down, so to speak, but we don’t entirely know how to get them back to us.”

“How long ago did this happen?”

“About three hours,” said the controller.  “Sorry for the delay. I wanted to confirm the problem with Chein, our tech running this experiment, and learn as much as I can, since Wyndos tends to ask very probing questions.”

“No doubt about that.  I will discuss this with Wyndos and you will hear back from one of us shortly,” Reesh said.

So Wyndos has been intimately involved in this, and didn’t share any of the findings at our last meeting.  Why? Was it the need to be absolutely sure first, to make more progress before giving a report?

Reesh didn’t think that explanation was likely.  Wyndos had been so focused on the meta-plane research the first time they discussed it.  Surely that hadn’t vanished overnight.

There must be something Wyndos doesn’t want us to know, Reesh thought.  And that is what I find most concerning.  

Reesh glanced at the clock again.  Just two minutes. It was almost time.

Wyndos had indeed been unavailable when the controller reached out; it was the day they taught classes, for what reason, Reesh really had no idea.  Wyndos could have retired aeons ago, and deciding to continue work beyond retirement eligibility was a rarity in most fields.

Though, strangely, not in ours.  I guess it’s true what they say, power can create its own rewards.  But for Wyndos, it has been decades, just from my own first-hand experience.  

The clock crossed the hour line. Reesh saw Wyndos’ link become available, and initiated.

“Reesh, hello, I just finished my class.”

“Yes, I know.  I need to discuss the meta-planes with you.”

“Oh?” said Wyndos, inscrutibly.  “Has there been a new development?”

“Yes, or rather, a new problem.  Why didn’t you tell me that the experiments have been proceeding apace?”

“It is still too early to know,” said Wyndos.  “I will of course give you a full report when we-”

“You told me and Covum that nothing had yet been learned, but that wasn’t entirely true, was it?  We know, for instance, that our comms don’t work on meta-planes, and that memories don’t return. Why would you keep that from us?”

“I can assure you, Reesh, there was no intention to deprive you-”

“But you knew, didn’t you?  And you failed to report it!”

Wyndos was silent for a long moment.  “If I may ask, how did this come to your attention?”

“I received a control call.  They wanted to speak to you, since you have evidently been intimately involved in the details of this research.  But you were in your class, so they called me instead. And before you say anything, yes, I did cover for you, I pretended I was aware of your involvement.”

Wyndos nodded.  “There will be fewer questions that way.”

“I want you to level with me,” Reesh said.  “What have we learned that is so sensitive you won’t even share it with me and Covum?”

“This may be hard to explain,” said Wyndos, “but it isn’t anything about the experiments themselves that I find troubling.  It is their implication. And that is the burden from which I have shielded you and Covum, rightly or wrongly. The experiments thus far have taught us very little, but the implications are weighty.  It was my intention to gather more information to either support or defeat my theories before burdening anyone else with them.”

“Well, speaking just for myself, I really don’t need your protection.  In fact, I resent it,” said Reesh. “We are supposed to be working together.”

“Supposed by whom?” Wyndos said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Reesh.

“Forget it.  You’re right, I should not make those decisions on your behalf.  It was selfish of me. I recognized quite early on that the meta-plane raises disturbing possibilities related to our own world, and I thought I was doing you a kindness by keeping those worries to myself, especially when they are based on so little actual data.”

“This is moving day, then,” said Reesh, “time to unpack all of those theories and let me take a look at them.”

Wyndos sighed.  “As you wish. What would you like to know?”

I’m actually surprised he’s acquiescing, Reesh thought.

“Let’s start with the biggest question.  You said that there are some disturbing possibilities.  Can you explain that?”

“Very well,” said Wyndos.  “We know that we can create sim planes, and that they are entirely believable to those who venture onto them.  We also know that, when appropriate, we can send techs in self-aware to make adjustments or collect information.”

Reesh nodded.

“When we stumbled upon the idea of a meta-plane, it appeared to be nothing more than the natural extension of our research.  Planes will design their own planes, which in time will establish planes of their own. You can envision it as an onion, each level nesting beneath the former, as far down as we care to make it.”

“So you think we will arrive at the core, like that’s some singularity or something?  I’m sorry, I’m just not following your logic here. Where is the problem?”

“The problem,” Wyndos said, “has nothing to do with the layers below us, which I assume could proceed ad infinitum.  The problem, if I may extend my onion metaphor, lies above.”

Wyndos raised their eyebrows meaningfully.

“I still don’t understand,” said Reesh.

“What if we are not the outermost layer of the onion?”

Reesh stopped and considered that.  

I’ve thought about this before; how do we know that we aren’t just somebody else’s plane, the result of some simulation.  How do we know that our existence is real, and not the creation of some intelligent being trying to entertain, to experiment, to create for the sake of creating.

How do we know what’s behind our own fourth wall?

Reesh turned to look directly at us, eyes searching.

“How does this experiment make that possibility any more or less remote?” said Reesh.

“I don’t believe the experiment has given us any definite answers, just clues.  We lose the ability to remain self-aware over multiple levels. We lose the ability to communicate with levels not immediately adjacent to us, in either direction.  That leaves us with two possibilities,” Wyndos said. “Either we happen to be the first ones to discovery this type of creation, or we are not. And given the possibility of infinite levels, it is infinitely more likely that we are not the outermost layer.”

“Is there any way we can test this?” said Reesh.  “I mean, I see the possibility you’re driving at, but is there anything we can do on our end to investigate up, rather than down?”

“It remains my utmost hope that there is,” said Wyndos.  “In the meantime, all we can do is follow the science, keep asking questions, and learn to the limit our our ability how the levels of the planes interact.  That is why I did not disclose this to you and Covum yet: I have questions, but few answers, and my working theory is not uplifting.”

“Well, please resist that instinct next time.  You aren’t doing me any favors by shielding me from the issues of the day.”

“I understand, and I truly apologize,” said Wyndos.  “Regarding the controller call you received, was there an update of which I need to be aware?”

“I should say so,” Reesh said.  “They lost a tech.”

“Oh?”  A look of alarm crossed Wyndos’ face.

“Yes, there was a meta-plane experiment with an additional layer, and they can’t get the tech back.”

“Do you know the name of the missing tech?”

“I don’t,” said Reesh.  “But the tech running the experiment is named Chein.”

“My god,” said Wyndos.  “I need to go. Poor Vair!”

The link disconnected.  

(1645 words)

Published in: on November 25, 2018 at 6:25 pm  Leave a Comment