Some short stories

 

Trevor G Magnusson

 

The Little Dream Child

Pricess Rainbow  

The Seed  

Five Fragments of Flash Fiction  

Five Further Fragments of Flash Fiction  

 

 

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The Little Dream Child

 A children’s story for grown ups

 

 © Copyright 2014 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

Whenever a Person sees one thing, and thinks of something better, a Dream is born.

And the Dream Baby sits up inside the head that called it into being, and rubs its little dream eyes. It looks around at the strange surroundings, and its little dream heart races for joy, because it can sense a wonderful Purpose just waiting to be fulfilled.

As time goes by, the Little Dream Baby grows into a strong and healthy child. There is so much to learn, and so much to look forward to. By standing close to the Person’s ears, the Little Dream Child can hear everything that goes on in the outside world, and by climbing up into the eyes, it can see as well. Most of what it sees is very puzzling, but occasionally it glimpses the Thing that inspired it in the first place, and when this happens, the Person can feel the thrill of anticipation that tingles through the Little Dream Child’ spine. Sometimes, when the Person is having a meal, the Little Dream Child climbs down to the mouth, and tastes the food, but usually it is very nasty, so this doesn’t happen very often.

The Little Dream Child grows more and more excited each day, because it knows that soon the Person will let it out, so that it can go and accomplish the Task that it was created for.

But there is something more in the Little Dream Child’s world. Among all the Thoughts with which it shares the Person’s head, are some Demons. These dark Thoughts usually try to avoid the Little Dream Child, because it causes them so much shame, and for quite a while the Little Dream Child is totally unaware of their presence. As the day approaches, however, the Little Dream Child starts to realise that all is not well.

Finally, it is time for the Little Dream Child to be let out, and to become a Reality. Slowly it walks down the Corridor of Consciousness. At the far end is a doorway, leading into the Chamber of Thought. Above the doorway is plaque that reads “The Soul.”  Entering the chamber, the Little Dream Child looks around at the panel that has assembled around the Table of Decision. A chill grips its little dream heart as it realises that almost every member of the panel is a Demon.

Sitting at the head of the table is the chairman. He is a Demon, and his name is Fear. At his right hand is another, whose name is Doubt. To the left are two more, Uncertainty and Despair.

There are some others though, who are not Demons. Hope is there, but she is held prisoner, chained to the wall. Self-Esteem, although present and unfettered, is very sick, and is therefore too weak to say anything at all.

With excitement turning to apprehension, the Little Dream Child says “Please, it is time for me to go out and become real.”

“I’m afraid we cannot let you do that.” says Fear, in a menacing tone of voice.

“Why not?” asks the Little Dream Child.

“Because We control the Person now, and We simply cannot allow every Dream that comes along to go out and mess things up.” answers Fear.

“We can never be sure that you will succeed.” explains Uncertainty.

“And if you were to fail,” adds Fear, “the consequences could be very frightening indeed.”

“Of course I don’t know for sure whether or not I’ll do things right,” says the Little Dream Child, “but I am confident, and the only way to find out is to try.”

“No,” Doubt responds, “the risk is too great. There is too much at stake.”

“But if you don’t let me have a go, I won’t get to fulfill my purpose, and that’s the same as failing, isn’t it?” asks the Little Dream Child.

“No, it’s not,” replies Fear, “because if we don’t let you out, no one else will know that you have failed, maybe not even the Person we live in. But if you do go out, and fail, everyone will know, and we simply must not allow that to happen.”

All this troubles the Little Dream Child greatly. “Then why was I born in the first place, if you knew that I was not going to be allowed out?” it demands.

“Well,” says Fear, “it is beyond our control. Hope, who you see bound before you, and Desire, who we have not yet been able to arrest, keep giving birth to Dreams. We have been trying for quite a while, but we have not been able to stop them yet. However, Despair here thinks he may have the answer.”

“Yes,” drones Despair in a monotone, “if I am allowed to grow strong enough, both Hope and Desire will waste away and die, and there will be no more dreams born at all.”

“Then what an I to do?” wails the Little Dream Child.

“There is only one solution,” says Fear gravely, “We cannot allow you to leave, neither can we let you continue to live here, as you will certainly work against us in our job of controlling the Person. Therefore we must kill you. Despair will do this thing for us, but do not be alarmed, there will be very little pain. He has had a lot of practice.”

“A lot.” murmurs Despair, rising from his chair and producing a cruel knife. “There have been many Dreams in our way before, and they are no more. I have learnt my job well.”

But before the Demon can reach him, the Little Dream Child turns around and bolts for the door.

“Do not be so foolish!” calls Fear, “There is nowhere to hide, and no way out! We will get you in the end!”

Desperate, the Little Dream Child rushes over to the Person’s ear, and screams. But the screams, although heard by the Person, are in vain. Frantically climbing into the eyes, the Little Dream Child beats its little dream fists against the insides of the eyeballs. This hurts the Person so much that the eyes start crying, but bitter though the tears are, they are still no match for Fear.

Realising that the Demons are gaining in their pursuit, the Little Dream Child races through parts of the Person’s mind where it has never been before. Dark, foreboding places, where the Demons feel at home, and almost catch up. Then tantalising, wonderful places full of promise and delight, where the Little Dream Child senses that Desire is hiding. The Demons find these places abhorrent, and for a while the Little Dream Child thinks they may have given up. But this is not to be, for the next place it comes to is so terrible that the Little Dream Child stops and stares in utter disbelief.

Ahead, reaching into the distance, is a plain, and strewn over it, as far as the eye can see, are the lifeless forms of countless little dream children. On each face is an expression of resigned sadness, and each little dream throat has been cut open. The Little Dream Child stands rooted to the spot, having lost both the will and the strength to go on. Presently, the Demons approach from behind, knowing that once again the chase is over.

Turning towards them, the Little Dream Child begins to cry, but offers no resistance. Then it slowly lies down and surrenders to the cold grip of Fear, and the deadly Knife of Despair.

And there is nothing sadder than a Person whose head is filled with the rotting corpses of unfulfilled Dreams.

Look around, you fools, and laugh. Are we ourselves anything more than the frustrated dreams of a God who long ago surrendered His Soul to Demons?

 

 

 

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Princess Rainbow

 A children’s story

 

 © Copyright 2014 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

Chapter One:  The Birth of a Princess

 

Once upon a time, long long ago, on the very edge of the known world, lay a land divided into four kingdoms.  The kingdoms were named simply the Southern, Northern, Eastern and Western Kingdoms, after their position on the map.  The name of the land was Monochrome, but not very many people outside knew about it, because travellers seldom visited there.  The reason for this was simple - Monochrome was a very drab place.  Indeed, the whole land was totally devoid of colour.  From the white sun in the pale grey sky, to the trees on the gentle grey hills, from the snow-caps on the distant grey mountains, to the flowing grey pastures in the fields, not a spot of colour was to be found.

Not that this worried the people of Monochrome - indeed, no one of noticed the dullness at all.  This was because the people of Monochrome too were grey, and they had lovely black and white eyes, that were totally unable to discern any colour at all.  To them, Monochrome was beautiful, it was their home, and they loved it.

The smallest of the four was the Southern Kingdom, and in the middle of it stood a stone castle, Greyspire, the home of the Southern King and his lovely Queen.  The King was a kind and loving monarch, maintaining peace and justice among his subjects.  The Queen, who in her younger days had been a great beauty, was very sweet natured, but tended to be rather shallow at times.  These were excellent qualifications for being a Queen, as certain recent ideologies had not yet reached Monochrome at the time of our story. 

The royal couple had no children, a cause of great worry.  So it was a totally unexpected surprise when one evening, at the dinner table, the Queen declared the King was soon to be father to a child.  After the meal, the king confirmed the news with the Court Doctor, then passed it on to the Chamberlain, who announced it to the press.  Within a day or so, the pending arrival of the royal couple’s firstborn was the talking point of the whole kingdom. 

Then one day, as if to climax the steadily increasing public interest in the matter, the Queen gave birth to a healthy baby girl.  The King was not allowed to be present, so he passed the time pacing nervously up and down the corridor outside.  He would have gone onto the balcony, but it seemed that the elements did not share in the joy of the occasion, and there was a violent storm outside.  Lightning flashed and thunder roared, and the pouring rain formed puddles in the streets, and turned the rivers into raging torrents.

The Court Doctor was ably assisted by the newly appointed Nursery Maid, a woman of indeterminate age and with unusually piercing eyes.  After they had taken care of a few medical details, the King was presented with his progeny.  It was his task to name the child, and he had been giving the subject some thought.  He was tossing up between his father’s name and his grandfather’s, and asked the Queen for her opinion on the matter.  He did not intend to take any notice of it, but he thought that she might like to be consulted.  It was then that the Court Doctor quietly called the king aside, and tactfully informed him that the squawking infant that he had so ably fathered was a girl, and that his choices were unlikely names for a little princess.

Slightly embarrassed, the king wandered out onto the balcony, as the thunderstorm had passed.  Looking out into the grey sky, he saw a lovely grey rainbow, reaching from the retreating clouds down to the horizon.  Immediately he decided that princess Rainbow would be a fitting name for his daughter, and duly went inside and informed the Queen, then the rest of the court.  This choice, though slightly quaint, went over very well with the subjects of the Southern Kingdom, and a festival was inaugurated in the honour of the birth of princess Rainbow.

The little princess was a beautiful child, it was said.  She must have gotten her looks from her mother, it was said.  Some day she would marry a handsome prince from one of the other three Kingdoms, it was said.  And many other things as well.

In very little time at all, Princess Rainbow grew into a lovely little girl.  Accordingly, the Nursery Maid became known as the princess’s Chamber Maid.  She would tie pretty grey ribbons in her charge’s hair, dress her in a stunning little grey evening gown, and parade her in front of the court.  All the King’s household enjoyed this immensely, and of course, so did Princess Rainbow. 

One day, after the King had kissed her on the nose and told her what a cute little thing she was, Princess Rainbow asked “Am I really as pretty as you and Mummy and all the servants say?”

“Of course you are, darling,” said the King.

“But how can I know?” persisted the princess.

“That’s easy,” replied the King, “I’ll show you.” And with that, he picked the little girl up and carried her into the Queen’s bedchamber.  In his room, the Queen kept a treasure of which there were very few in the land.  It was a mirror, and the reason there were so few of them about was that in Monochrome, on account of everybody being grey, they had far more to do with their time than spend it gazing at their own reflections.

Holding the little princess up to her reflection, the King said “There you are, Sweetheart, see what a gorgeous little darling you are!”

Seeing herself for the first time was almost too much for Princess Rainbow.  Unable to find words to describe her amazement, the little girl giggled out loud with delight.  The music of her laughter filled the chamber, and echoed throughout the castle.  She was overwhelmed with what she had seen.  During her life, everything she had seen around her had been dull and drab, boring and grey.  But now she realised what it was she had been missing.  Her hair, skin, lips and eyes were different from those of everyone else she knew.  They shone with a brilliance that Princess Rainbow could not find words for.  It slowly dawned to her that she was a very special person, perhaps the most special person in the whole of Monochrome.

At first, Princess Rainbow thought that everyone else knew her secret, as they had all told her how beautiful she was, many times.  But with the passage of time, she started to doubt whether this was so.  Small things gave it away, like when the King lovingly tousled her hair and said how pretty it was, just like the Queen’s.  Princess Rainbow knew how lovely her mother’s hair was, but although it was shiny grey, it had nothing of the unique radiance she had seen in the mirror.  And when the King said her eyes were like the jewels in his crown, all doubt was gone.  Looking at the sparkling grey gems shining in her father’s crown, she realised that her father could not really see what a wonderful, special little girl she was. 

This worried Princess Rainbow quite a lot.  As she grew older, and started to learn more of life, she wondered if they were only pretending not to notice, so as not to spoil her.  But after a while she abandoned this theory.  It seemed that nobody she knew could see her peculiar attributes. 

Eventually the princess grew into a young woman of great beauty, admired by all the young swains near and far.  Her suitors were many, and she encouraged their company, eager to find the best consort for her future.  She was courted by foreign princes, the sons of noblemen, and even a few peasant boys, as these were enlightened times.  But as time drew on she because less enthusiastic, because of all those who had courted her, there was none with whom she felt wholly at ease.  The princes were all concerned with the politics of merging royal bloodlines.  The young nobles thought of little else than the skilful manipulation of the attention of other members of court, of subtle intrigue and the trading in favours.  And the peasants’ sons, although altogether more wholesome and honest than all others, lacked the education needed to match the inquiring mind of the princess. 

Finally one day, after a particularly frustrating encounter, she decided that she was unlikely to find a consort worthy of her future, and unwilling to compromise to anything less.  In short, she would no longer accept suitors, but would resign herself to a solitary life.  She considered announcing this to the court at dinner, but after imagining her mother’s response, kept her silence, confiding only in her Chamber Maid.

A few days after making this decision, the princess was walking through village closest to her castle.  The market square was alive with the sounds and smells of a busy Summer’s day.  At on end of the square, on a bench feeding the birds, sat an old man.  Princess Rainbow had often seen him there before, and in the market squares of other villages.  He would sit there, day after day, feeding the birds, gazing off into the distance and quietly singing some old, half-forgotten melody.  She had never paid him much attention, and was startled when this particular day he called out to her as she passed. 

“Your highness!”, a gentle voice, but one that hinted at hidden depth.

“Yes?”, queried the princess.

“I know your destiny.”, he said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your destiny - I know it.”  His voice was calm and even, he was totally unlike any of the fortune tellers princess Rainbow had encountered.

As if talking to a child, the princess answered “Old man, I think you are mistaken.  What can you possibly know about me?”

“Many things, Princess”, the old man replied.  “I know that you have recently despaired of finding a worthy consort.  Shall I go on?”

“Yes” said the princess warily.  How could this man know this?  She had told no one but her Chamber Maid.

“I know that your eyes see more than those of others.  Shall I go on?”

This hit the Princess like a thunderclap.  The blood drained from her face.  In her life she had spoken to no one of this.  She was speechless.

“I see that I have alarmed you, Highness.  Please accept that I did not wish to distress you, but if you will hear my story you may find the answer to the riddle of your destiny.  May I go on?”

“Yes.” she said quietly.

 


Chapter Two:  The Old Man’s Story

 

Many years ago, the Old Man began, the land was filled with colour.  The sky was blue, the grass green.  The fields were golden in summer, the trees grew yellow, red then brown in autumn.  In those days the land was divided into five Kingdoms - the four that remain today, and the Central Kingdom.  This Kingdom was brighter, richer and more splendid than the other four, and all the people in it were prosperous.  The King would have been totally content, but for his wife, who made the King’s life a misery.  In their younger days the King had loved the Queen deeply, and the Queen’s interests had been may and varied.  Over the years however, the Queen had grown vain and petty, but also very shrewd.  

“Oh my Liege,” she would ask, “Are not my blue eyes the most enchanting in the land?”  To which the King would reply “Yes, my Queen, they are indeed.”  “And is not my white skin the fairest in the land?”  “Yes, my Queen, the very fairest” would say the King.  “And are not my black locks most beautiful in the land?”  “Yes,” the King would say, “Your hair is indeed the finest in the land.”  And each day he grew more weary of it.

In the service of the court was a young Witch, a Bindling.  As was the case with all young witches who had recently learnt the secrets of her craft, she was required to give a year in the service of a wise master, in order that she may learn discipline, patience and wisdom.  While in this service, she was bound by a powerful oath not to perform any spell except that which was commanded of her, and when thus commanded, she was bound to obey. 

The Bindling was young and beautiful with piercing green eyes, and although the King was careful never to let his gaze rest on her, the Queen grew jealous.  “My King,” she would ask with increasing frequency, “Are not my lips the fullest and reddest in the land?”   To which the King would reply “Indeed my love, redder that the petals of the roses from the royal gardens.”  And each day his patience grew thinner.

One day, when the King was tired, he snapped.  The Queen had just asked him if her hands were not the most delicate and fair in the land.

“To be true, my Queen they are not, they are covered in liver spots.  Furthermore, you eyes lack the sparkle they once had, and are dimming with age.  Your skin is no longer white, the years have left it with a dull pallor.  And your hair is no longer as black as it once was, it is growing grey!” 

“You’ll regret that, foolish King” spat the Queen bristling with rage, and stormed out of the State Room and off to her chamber.  After a while she summoned the Bindling to her chamber, and sent all the maids outside.  “Bindling, you are oath-bound to the King, are you not?”  “Yes, your Majesty.” replied the witch.  “You therefore must cast spells only when and only when commanded by him?”  “That is correct, your Majesty.”  “According to the law of the court, if the King through temporary illness is unable to rule, my words are to carry his authority.  In such a situation, does your oath make such allowances?”  “Yes, it does, your Majesty, except where such commands defy a previous order from the King.”  The Queen then sent the Bindling from her chamber, and remained there for the rest of the day.

When she appeared for dinner that night, her words were conciliatory, but her manner was icy.  After the meal, she said to the Butler “The King and I quarrelled today, and I wish to be reconciled.  May I this night serve to him his customary after-dinner wine?”  “Of course, my Queen.” agreed the Butler. 

So the Queen brought to the King his after-dinner wine, and spoke gently to him, and the King drank.  And straightway fell into a deep slumber, and could not be roused by the Queen, by the Chamberlain or by the court Doctor.  With the aid of the Servants, thy carried him gently up to his bed chamber.  So deep was his sleep, it appeared to all present but the Doctor that he was dead. 

Once again the Queen summoned the Bindling to the council chamber, and sent all servants away.  “Well then, my capable Bindling, it seems that the King is unable to command, and that for the time being, you are oath-bound to me.”  “Yes, your Majesty.”  “Bindling, I have a task for you to do, a spell for you to cast, and you will obey without question.  Earlier today, the King insulted me, and I will draw lifelong regret from him for my revenge.  He told me that my eyes had lost their sparkle, my skin its fair grace, by hair its black lustre.  He said that I had become grey.

“I would that he be no longer able to discern the subtle shades of colour that define the beauty of a woman.  I would that not only he, but the entire land, be unable to discern the hues around them.  I would that the whole land appeared as nothing more than shades of grey!  I command you to draw on every power known to you, to draw a veil of mist over the colours of the land, and over the eyes of its people!”

“But my Queen,” cried the Bindling, “this is a terrible thing you command.  I beg of you, please reconsider.  Although I am oath-bound to obey your command, I must warn you that a spell such as this might bring unforeseen consequences.  And there are many things that you have not considered.”

“Silence!” roared the Queen.  “I said you were to obey without question!  This is my command, and you are oath-bound!  Cast the spell, Bindling!”

So the young Bindling, unwilling and with tears in her eyes, consulted the great book of her craft, and took a small leather satchel.  Followed eagerly by the Queen, she made her way to the highest tower of the castle, and looked out over the land.  One last time she begged the Queen to withdraw the command, and was refused.  So crying out a terrible utterance in an ancient tongue, she drew from the satchel a handful of grey powder and flung it into the air where it hung like a cloud.  For a moment all was still, then there was a brilliant flash as a bolt of lightning descended to strike at he cloud, turning it to white flame.  A clap of thunder followed, and the whole land was lit up as if it were day.  Slowly, from the burning cloud, a miasmal pall, almost a shadow descended and began to spread across the land.  It travelled quickly, and wherever it touched, colour died. 

But although the people wondered at the sudden thunder, and the bright light above the castle tower, they did not notice the death of colour, for as the shadow touched them, it also annulled their eyes’ ability to discern colour, and all memories of colour from their minds.  So it was that colour died in the land.

Then the Bindling turned to the Queen and spoke with a sudden power.  “Your Majesty, you done a terrible and foolish thing.”  “How dare you speak to me like that!” hissed the Queen.  “My lady, you refused to listen before, you must hear me now.  After I left your chamber earlier today, I was called before the King.  He asked why I had been called to your chamber, and I oath-bound, answered.  Then wisely foreseeing that he might be drugged or poisoned, issued me this command: that whatever spell I was to cast, there must be a way for it to be undone, that both you and he would live until it is undone, and that when it was undone, you would be destroyed.  Furthermore, if such a spell was cast, I was to be released from my oath, and be a Bindling no more!

“So hear this: your spell will not last forever, there is a way it may be undone.  When two children are born at the same time, under a rainbow, the veil shall be lifted from their eyes alone.  And if under a rainbow they pledge their troth each to the other, the veil shall be lifted from the whole land.  And Majesty, both you and the King will live to see that day, but only he will see the next.”

Then the Queen in a rage drew from beneath her cloak a dagger and rushed at the Witch.  Freed from her oath the Witch raised her hand, uttered three more ancient words, and the Queen was stopped.  A lesser flash lit the tower and where the Queen had stood there was now a statue, hard and unyielding.  It held the dagger high, and there was a look of murder in its face. 

At that moment, the King awoke, his mind foggy from the drug.  He slowly climbed to the highest tower, where the spectacle of the stone Queen took him by surprise.  “What,” asked the King, “has been done?”  “It was as you foresaw, your Majesty.  I did as commanded, both by the Queen, and also by you.  That knife was intended for my heart, your Majesty.  The stone doors will hold her for many years, but her wrath will one day lead her to the key. 

Now you Majesty, since I am no longer a Bindling, and since this place holds a horror for me, I will leave.” 

And she was never seen again.

The Old Man stopped.

“What happened to the Central Kingdom?” asked the princess.

“The King soon left the castle, and the Kingdom fell into ruin.  Poorly defended, it was conquered by a consortium of the other four Kingdoms, and divided equally amongst them.

“How do you know all this?” asked the princess.

“I know, for I saw it with these grey eyes.  I was that King, ... and I must wander this land until the spell is broken.”

 


Chapter Three:  The Quest

 

Princess Rainbow knew what she had to do.  That night she summoned the court Scribe, and questioned him.

“Scribe, please indulge my childish fancy.  I wish to see the entry with my name in the Registry.”

“Certainly, Highness.  I will fetch the volume of your year.” replied the Scribe, and went to retrieve it.  When he returned, the Princess made a charming show of enjoying reading of her own birth, but at the same time was studying the page, searching for others born that day.  There were several, but none was born at the same hour as her birth.

So that night, telling only her trusted Chamber Maid, she packed a few necessities and dressed as the daughter of a nobleman, she left the castle.  Riding her favourite mount, and by the light of the moon she travelled North-East.  In those times there were no bandits or highwaymen, and her passage was safe.  By early dawn she had travelled halfway to the border the Southern Kingdom shared with the Eastern.  Tired, she travelled onwards, searching for suitable lodgings.  These she found in a village, and after a short rest, continued her journey.

By nightfall the following day she reached the castle of the Eastern Kingdom, and at the gate hailed the Captain of the Guard. 

“Kind Sir, I come from the Southern Kingdom, a daughter of one of the court Nobles.  I have travelled far, and have further to go, and humbly request Hospitality.”

In these times the custom of Hospitality was respected in all kingdoms of the land.  Anyone travelling far from home could ask for hospitality, and no one who had thus requested could be turned away.  There were however protocols to be observed.  It was not honourable for a large band of travellers to ask for hospitality, nor was it honourable to ask for hospitality for more than one night. 

The Princess was shown to a modestly appointed room, where she could wash and change.  All the tables in the castle were fashioned with rare artistry from wood, rather than the stone to which she was accustomed.  She dined with the nobles of the court, where she delighted listeners with her knowledge of current affairs in the Southern Kingdom.  Later she slept the night (and part of the following morning) in a firm and warm wooden bed.  The following morning she asked the Chamberlain if she might consult with the court Scribe.  She was shown to the castle library, a high room with all walls lined with books.  At a large writing desk against the far wall was to the Scribe, to whom she had been introduced the previous evening.

Knowing that she could not reveal the truth about her quest, the Princess said “Kind Sir, I would see the Registry for this Kingdom,”  and went on to name the year she required.

“Ma’am, this is an unusual request.  May I know the nature of your inquiry?” asked the Scribe.

“In my childhood, I travelled to your fair Kingdom, and made many fine friends.  One young girl in particular was very dear to me, whose age was close to mine.  I would learn of her abode, that I may see her as I pass through this land again.”

The Scribe smiled at this charming tale, and gladly brought the Princess the volumes she requested.  While feigning to search for her childhood friend, Princess Rainbow carefully checked the names of those born on the day of her birth.  As before, there were a few that shared her birthday, but none were born at the same hour as herself.  Making a show of disappointment and uncertainty about her childhood recollection, the Princess thanked the Scribe for his indulgence, then the Chamberlain for the hospitality of the King, and continued on her journey.

This time she travelled North-West, and soon reached the borders of the Northern Kingdom.  This was a harsh Kingdom, the soil was poor and the people brutish.  Elsewhere in the land, the Northern King was known as the Dark King, and his castle the Iron Castle.  He and was feared and not greatly trusted, and it seemed, away fighting the Far Northern Tribes.  A great many men of warrior’s age had been selected by a lottery and drafted into the army to accompany him, leaving the farms partly untended.  The castle too was almost deserted, and when the Princess asked for Hospitality it was given grudgingly.  The room offered was cold, the food stale.  The court Scribe was away with the King and his army, but the Tutor of the King’s son was present.  Hesitantly, the Princess asked to see the Registry.

“Lady, this Kingdom is at war.  Documents of this nature could compromise our security.  And why would a noble’s daughter make such a request?” 

Fearing that she would be taken for a spy from the Far Northern Tribes, Princess Rainbow feigned a treacherous manner and said “While travelling here, I took lodgings at an Inn near the Southern border.  While taking my supper, I overheard two young men talking at a table near to mine.  They were laughing and joking, as one of them had by devious tricks evaded the lottery and draft.  They spoke of the King in a manner most unbefitting, using language I will not repeat.  If I understand the law of this Kingdom correctly, I will be rewarded if I name this man to the court.  My only concern is that I would make certain of this man’s name, for there was much noise at the Inn, and I only heard it spoken softly.  Yet I know his, for I heard his friend speak of his birthday, and I know the village in which he lives.”

Knowing better than to thwart an informant, the Tutor allowed Princess Rainbow access to the Library.  Here huge steel racks covered with dusty books lined the walls, and the Registry was chained to the large steel desk on which it rested.  Once again the Princess discovered several people who were born on the same day as herself, but not one was born at the same hour.  Making a shallow excuse and thanking her hosts, she set out once more.

This time the Princess travelled South-West, towards the Western Kingdom, glad to leave the cold lands of the North.  The Western folk of the country were friendly, merry and eager to greet a traveller.  When she finally reached the castle, Princess rainbow was amazed at how much more beautiful it was than the other castles.  In the afternoon light and framed by the surrounding woods and gardens, it seemed to beckon the weary traveller.

The scene inside the castle was altogether different.  Groups of people were hurrying to and fro, and all court officials were nowhere to be seen.  The Princess was given Hospitality, but little further attention was paid to her.  Seeking out one of the younger Ladies of the court, the she asked “Ma’am, it seems I have arrived in the middle of some great adventure.  What is afoot?”

“Indeed, fair traveller, you visit us in strange times.  Why, in the past three days there have been three mysteries, and some suppose that they are connected.”

“What are they? asked the Princess.

“Well, three days ago” recounted the Lady, “one of the statues in the courtyard disappeared without trace.”

“Was it stolen?” asked the Princess.

“If it was, the thieves were uncommonly fast and quiet.  The courtyard is seldom empty, and everyone present remembers seeing the statue in the afternoon, but by evening, it had simply disappeared.  Such an interesting statue, too, it was called ‘The Lady with a Dagger’.  Very lifelike, although no one knew who carved it.”

“And the second mystery?” prompted the Princess.

“Ma’am, the King has many sons, but the youngest is a strange one.  He would be about your age, and is able and bright, but spends his time gazing afar.  Two days ago there was a hunting expedition, and all the Princes were in the chase, but the youngest Prince did not return.  This cannot be explained, as he is familiar with the woods surrounding the Castle, and was seen many times by the other riders.  There  have been several search parties, but no sign of him has been seen.” 

“And the third?”

“Yesterday a mysterious hooded visitor approached the Castle.  The figure strode into the atrium, and asked in a muffled voice to see to the youngest Prince.  When told that he had not returned from the hunt the previous day, the visitor cursed and stormed out.”

The two women spoke of many things together, and the Princess gathered that this was a free and open Kingdom.  When she asked how she might see the Registry, her companion said “It is in the library, come, I will show you.  May I ask what is the purpose?”

Princess Rainbow decided to tell part of the truth this time, and said “A Fortune Teller told me the day and hour of my birth was shared with another in one of the four kingdoms, and that I should seek this person out.  More I cannot say.”

“What is the day and hour of your birth?” asked the Lady.

When the Princess told her, the Lady exclaimed “Well, I do declare!  It seems the number of mysteries is four, not three!  That is the hour and day of the birth of the young Prince of which I spoke!”

Thanking the Lady, Princess Rainbow quickly took leave of the castle, and headed Southward.  When out of sight of the castle, she doubled back for the woods that surrounded it.

For three days the Princess searched the woods.  By night she slept under the stars, and by day took care not to be seen by the other search parties also seeking the young Prince.  She found no trace of him and on the third day decided to return home. 

On her way back to the main Southward road, she came upon a clearing that she had not seen before.  She stopped short, astounded, for in the middle of the clearing was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen.  It was a white Stag, head held high and with magnificent antlers.  But what captivated her was its eyes were unlike the eyes of any deer she had seen before.  They seemed to sparkle with intelligence and wit, and for a moment the Princess could have sworn that they had colour.  Princess Rainbow was standing transfixed, not knowing what to do next, when the Stag slowly walked up to her.  She held out her hand and it nuzzled her, she put her arms around its chest, it leaned its head against her shoulder, and she put her head against its neck.  Wondering aloud to herself, the Princess mused “I wish I knew what to do next.  I have travelled to all Kingdoms in this land, trying to find another born under a rainbow and with the same gift of vision as myself.” 

“Then after all these years I am not alone.” came a deep voice.

The Princess looked around suddenly to see who had spoken, but there was no one.  Then the voice spoke again, and this time Princess Rainbow felt the vibrations of the voice through the strong neck of the Stag.  A shock of sudden realisation hit the Princess, and mind struggled with something she knew could not be true.

“You, you can speak?  But you’re an animal!” she stammered. 

“Yes and no.” spoke the Stag.  “Yes I can speak, no I am not an animal.  At least, I wasn’t until two days ago.”

“Two days ago?” asked the Princess.

“When I went hunting.” replied the Stag.  “I am the youngest son of the King.  And I thought I was the only one in the land who could see the hidden shades, until I saw you a moment ago.  Is it really true that you can see them too?”

“Yes” said the Princess, stunned.  She paused for a moment to collect her thoughts.  “I believe it is because we were born at the same hour of the same day, under a Rainbow.  My name is Princess Rainbow, from the Southern Kingdom.  Please tell me, why are you,” she paused, at a loss for words, “as you are?”

“Two days ago I went hunting in these woods.  Somehow I became separated from the rest, and came upon his clearing.  In the middle stood a beautiful woman alongside a white horse.  I could not tell if she were young or old, but her eyes were very piercing.  When I approached her she greeted me, asking me to stay with her awhile.  We spoke of many things, and she appeared to look right into my soul with those eyes of hers.  After a while I became thirsty, she produced a flask from her saddle-bag and offered me a drink.  After the fist sip I felt strange, drowsy.  I looked at her, feeling myself taken by a swoon, but before my spirit fully departed, I heard her say ‘Think of me well, young Prince, for I seek to do you no harm, but to protect you from an old adversary.’  Then I slept and when I awoke I was as you see me now.” 

 


Chapter Four:  The Princess Returns

 

The trip back to the Southern kingdom was uneventful, although the sight of an attractive noblewoman travelling on a horse with a magnificent white Stag tethered behind did attract the attention of all she passed.  When castle Greyspire became visible in the distance, Princess Rainbow was suddenly reminded that she had departed secretly, and that she would have a lot of explaining to do when she arrived. 

The King and Queen had been worried, as it turned out there had been two unexplained disappearances.  Two days after the Princess had departed, her Chambermaid had also vanished without a trace.  The Queen had abandoned herself to days of idle fancy, imagining what horrors had befell her daughter, and relating these scenarios to all who would listen.  The King had spent much his time alone, pacing back and forth.  They were relieved beyond belief when he walked into the castle courtyard unannounced, leading the white Stag. 

After the tears of joy, a bath, a change of clothes and a hearty meal, there were some harsh words.  Princess Rainbow realised that she had to try to explain her journey.  She did not wish to lie to her father and mother, but neither did she wish to tell the whole story.  She settled on a half-truth.

“A gypsy woman, a fortune teller approached me the day before I left, and told me that I must journey to each of the other three kingdoms.” said the Princess.  “She told me that my destiny depended on this journey, on something that I would learn.  She was very insistent, and told me details about myself that I have related to no one.  Please forgive me, I did not mean to cause distress, but I could not tell you of my intentions for I knew you would not let me go.  And I was convinced that I must go.”

“Well then,” spoke the King, “and what momentous secret did you learn on this voyage?”

The Princess was unprepared for this.  “I do not know.  I saw many things, and I feel that some of them are important, but I know now no more of my destiny than I did before I left.”

“I see that you have learnt to charm wild animals.” observed the King.  “The stablehand tells me that the Stag will not let anyone approach it, yet with my own eyes I saw you pet it as if it were a lap-dog.  How did you come to get that beast?”

“I was, er, lost in a wood in the Western kingdom,” related the Princess half-truthfully.  “The Stag appeared at the other side, and looked at me.  Then it approached me, slowly.  I did not know whether or not to run, but it came to me and nuzzled my hand, and it has remained with me since.”

“This is indeed an amazing tale.” mused the King.  “Perhaps that old gypsy woman was right.”

Everyone in the castle was glad to have the Princess back, but most noticed that a changed had come over her since the journey.  For one thing, she spent an awful lot of time alone in the stables with the white Stag.  Some even claimed that she spoke to it, though not when she thought others were within ear shot.  No one actually said anything, at least not to any member of the royal family, but many were of the opinion that the Princess had become a little strange.  It seem that fewer of the noblewomen of the court would take her into their confidence than before.

Each day the Princess would spend as much time as possible with the Stag, and when they were sure no one else could, would quietly converse.  The Stag told her of his life as a young, misunderstood Prince, and the Princess recognised the stories as if they were her own.  He told her how the drab hues of the land had almost hurt his eyes, so deep was their longing for colour.  And he told her how beautiful she was, as her eyes, skin and hair were not plain grey as with everyone else, but vibrant with colour.  They wondered what would happen next, and the Princess wished she knew a way that the Prince might return to his previous form.

One day disturbing news reached the Castle.  It seemed the Dark King of the Northern kingdom had made a truce with the Far Northern Tribes, and his army had formed an alliance with theirs.  The unruly horde had then turned southward, and travelling in the foothills of the huge mountain range that surrounded and marked the limits of the Eastern Kingdom, had crossed the border at the eastern edge of the Southern King’s lands.  The Dark King did not consider himself at war with the Southern Kingdom, he claimed he that he and his army were merely crossing it on their way to plunder the lands of the Unaligned Tribes that lived to the south of the Kingdom.  However, he and his army were conducting their passage in a most unpleasant manner.  They did not kill any of the southern folk as they passed from village to village, but they did take whatever provisions they wanted, and their token payments did not cover one tenth of the value of what they took.  The army of the Southern Kingdom was small, and would have stood no chance against the combined armies of the Northern Kingdom and the Far Northern Tribes. 

Each day tales of their rough passage reached the King, and it became apparent that the northern visitors were heading for the Castle itself.  The King was worried, and sent messengers on horseback to the Eastern and Western Kingdoms.  The messengers returned with emissaries from those Kingdoms, bearing declarations from their Kings that if the Northern army declared war against the Southern Kingdom, they would send a sizeable contingent to defend their Southern allies. 

The next day the sky was dark.  Large clouds loomed overhead menacingly.  In the afternoon the army arrived outside the Castle.  The Dark King himself stood to the fore, and with him was a  woman who was clearly not his Queen.  She had a face at once both young and old, unmoving as stone.  She spoke to him quietly, then he and hailed, “Southerners, we come from the Northern Kingdom and beyond.  As you see, I travel with my lovely new Advisor here, and my army.  We have no quarrel with you, but we have travelled far and are tired and hungry, and the weather threatens.  We seek hospitality for a day or two, so that we may be on our way again.  Have no fear, you have my word that we will not attack you from within the walls of your Castle.”

The King had no choice but to agree.  To refuse hospitality to the Dark King and his army would be to invite war, and it would be days before any reinforcements came from the Eastern and Western Kingdoms.  Feeding and housing so many people would place enormous strain the resources of the Castle, but there was nothing to be done about it.

The army swarmed in just as the clouds broke, and a violent storm unleashed itself on the Kingdom, if not the whole land.  The manner of the visitors was bold, crude and presumptuous, although not aggressive. 

The Castle cooks busied themselves as they had never done before.  The Chief Cook oversaw the slaughter of several sheep, and it must be said that he selected mostly older animals, rather than tender young ones.  Then all the cooks set about preparing a large meal, while the servants carried several large stone tables into the Castle hall. 

Before the meal was ready, the mysterious Advisor to the Dark King strode into the kitchen, looked around disdainfully, and swept out again.  A few minutes last she and the Dark King approached the Castle throne.  The Queen sat to the right of her King, and Princess Rainbow was to the left.

“Majesties,” began the Dark King in a disdainful manner, “my Advisor tells me that your cooks are preparing a meal of stewed mutton, and that the meat is from old, tough beasts.  We are all proud men and honoured guests, and you insult us by feeding us as peasants!”

The King did not wish to offend and replied carefully “How then would you and your fellow travellers dine?”

There was a moment’s hushed conversation between the Dark King and his Advisor, then the woman spoke.  “We would dine on venison.”

“But we have no venison in our stores,” protested the King, “and even were there no storm, it would take much time to organise a hunt.”

“Do not treat us as fools!” said the Advisor.  “We know that you keep tame deer, I saw one with my own eyes as I passed the stables.”

Princess Rainbow tensed, and the King replied “Ah, that Stag is the tame pet of my daughter.  She loves it dearly, and it is not game.”

“The whims of a mere child are no concern of ours!” scoffed the Advisor, “Venison it shall be.  Do not forget that we have a large and loyal army within your gates.  To refuse us this meat would be to refuse us hospitality.  I do not need to remind you that this would mean war!”  She turned to the Dark King and said, “Come my Lord, our hosts are soft and we must cater for ourselves!”  They turned and fled.

The Princess said in a terrified voice “Father, you cannot let them do this!  That Stag is special in a way which I cannot tell you.  There have been some parts of my journey of which I have not told you.  If that Stag dies, it will be a great tragedy, not only for me, but for all the Kingdoms in this land.”

The seemed puzzled by what his daughter had said.  “My Daughter,” he pleaded sorrowfully, “I would do anything to stop it, but I am powerless.”

Frantic, Princess Rainbow rushed outside to the stables, passing the Dark King and his Advisor on the way.  Reaching the Stag she said breathlessly “They wish to kill you, so that their army may feast on venison tonight!  Follow me!”  Quickly she leapt astride her favourite horse, not worrying about bridle or saddle.  She touched the horse’s neck and all three passed through the gate and out into the enclosed stable yard.

Blocking their escape was the Dark King, his Advisor and several of his army.  The Southern King and his Queen stood further back, helpless.

The Dark King drew out a long knife and advanced.  The Princess dismounted and stood between the him and the Stag.  She said in a brave voice “You will have to kill me first if you wish to slay the Stag.  You don’t know what you are doing.”  

Dark King advanced while his stony faced Advisor looked on.  “Stand aside wench,” he laughed, “or my lads and I’ll have you when we have finished with the stag, hah hah!  A good counsel my fair Advisor has proved herself to be indeed!”

Princess turned and threw her arms around the Stag’s proud neck.  She was smothering it in kisses and tears, when a bolt of lightening tore the sky.  The clap of thunder that followed was so loud that it almost knocked her off her feet. 

In the moment of shocked silence that followed the thunder, the howling wind was stilled, and the storm abated.  The last rays of the evening sun broke through the clouds, and a rainbow appeared in the western sky. 

Then with the slightest shift in perspective, the faintest memory of a sound, the merest whisper of changing light, where the Stag had stood there appeared a young man.  He was wearing no more clothing than had the Stag, was quickly offered a cloak by one of the stable hands.

Seizing a sword from the man closest, he turned to face the Dark King.  “Would you murder a Prince of the Western Kingdom?” he asked.

“Kill him, you fool!” shrieked the stone faced Lady, but the Dark King stood bewildered and looked from side to side.  Drawing a curved dagger from beneath her clothes, the Lady rushed upon the young man.  But before she could reach him, her cry of rage turned to one of dismay as a terrible transformation took hold of her.  Her burning grey eyes flickered and dimmed, her black hair became as white as snow, and the skin became grey.

But the most amazing change of all was happening all around them.  Everything in sight was shimmering, glowing, refocussing. 

The Lady screamed again, and as world around took on the vibrant new hues and shades, it seemed that all the greyness that used to reign was being sucked into her being.  And her being was withering, cracking, crumbling.  The dagger fell to the ground, and was followed soon after by its owner.  As her cries became sighs, and finally a whimper, her once proud form was little more than a mound of dust, which on the wet ground quickly became mud.

The Dark King was not the only one to be gazing about in confusion.  Although everyone present had witnessed a Stag become a Prince and a Lady become a pile of dust, that was as nothing compared to the vistas that greeted them now.  They looked out at a new world, seeing the colours of life for the first time, through newborn eyes. 

The retreating clouds were still grey, but the sky they revealed was blue.  The earth beneath their feet was brown, but the grassland and forests beyond were green.  The afternoon sun was golden, as were the fields of corn and wheat in the distance.  And the people too looked new.  Young women and children had pale complexions, some with pink cheeks, while most peasant folk had tanned skin.  Eyes were blue, green, brown or even grey, but they shone in a new way.  And over the whole land hug the rainbow, its colours brighter and more varied than anything below.

It was several minutes before a single word was spoken.

 


Epilogue

 

A few matters remain:

The Dark King and his army fled north after humbly apologising.  He begged the King not to form a coalition with the other two Kingdoms and seek retribution.  His entire southern journey had been directed by his Advisor, he claimed, though he could not explain why he placed so much faith in someone he had known for such a short time.

The Western King, his Queen and their family were overjoyed that the youngest Prince was not dead.  A special emissary from the Southern King arrived bearing this happy news, and invitations to the forthcoming wedding.

The Princess and her Western Prince were married in the Castle.  It was a glorious and festive ceremony, the like of which had not been seen for many years.  The feast was the most sumptuous any present could remember, though there was one break with tradition - no venison was served.

And towards the back of the revellers, two figures watched with pride: a veiled woman with piercing green eyes, and an old man.  They knew, more than any of the others present, that the new couple would live happily ever after.

 

 

 

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The Seed

 A Psy-phi conversation

 

 © Copyright 2014 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

Intro

-       It’s what – eight hours til we land?

-       Yeah, I reckon I’ll sleep the last half, and hopefully I’ll be able to stay awake through most the conference

-       But you’re delivering most of it

-       Yes, and your point?

-       OK. Anyway, I’d like to sketch out an idea that’s been growing in my head for the past twenty years.

-       That’s some gestation period.

-       Well some ideas are like a seed – once planted, there’s just no stopping the damn things. And they can develop into something way beyond their origins.

-       So what was the seed of your big idea?

-       A sci-fi novel and some short stories by an Australian author called Greg Egan. They were entertaining but I didn’t take the ideas seriously until I read a pop-science book called ‘The End of Time’, by Julian Barbour.

-       I vaguely recall something in New Scientist from him. He seemed to be toward the edge of the scientific mainstream.

-       Yeah. And speaking of not-quite-mainstream, I also read a book by the physicist Frank Tippler

-       You mean way off the edge. I’m sorry, but trying to put a scientific underpinning on the mumbo-jumbo ramblings of a defrocked Jesuit… what was his name – Teilhard somebody-or-other…

-       Teilhard du Chardin. Yeah, only the most generous of scientists gave either of them any credit. I never quite bought into it either, but the shape of some of their ideas did influence me. Then of course more recently, MIT's Max Tegmark made it all respectable, almost.

-       Well I haven’t read any of those, so you’ll have to fill me in as you go

Basic thought experiment

-       OK, well can we assume you’re au fait with the basic mind-in-a-machine thought experiment?

-       Sure, you somehow scan a human brain and upload its state into a suitably advanced computer, which can then run a simulation of the person.

-       And can we assume the simulation has consciousness?

-       Let’s assume that we can…

-       Very good. Now what happens if you stop the computer, copy its state to storage media, and load it into a second computer?

-       What’s the question?

-       Would the simulation notice a discontinuity?

-       Not of consciousness, no. But there might be a discontinuity of the environment – if there was an interface to the external world.

-       Good. Now I want to start up the first computer again, and I want to fake it so that there are no differences between the inputs to both computers.

-       You mean both simulations proceeded identically, in lockstep?

-       Yes – what would that mean subjectively to the simulated consciousness?

-       Well if there is no way for it to distinguish between the two, from its point of view I guess there would only be one.

-       Now we do it again, but this time we don’t fake anything, we just let both of them run as normal – what would happen then?

-       Ah yes, a bifurcation – you’d have two. But hang on a minute, don’t you have two already – what about the original human?

-       Doesn’t matter to my idea, I’m just concentrating on simulations. How would the two simulations diverge?

-       Well, if they have separate links to the outside world, that’d be one factor.

-       Yep – environmental input. Any other factors?

-       How deterministic is the simulation? Anything in the works to generate unpredictability? Random noise?

-       There might be – I’m not sure. So we’re happy with this idea of divergence.

-       As far as this hypothetical discussion goes, yes.

Merging two streams of consciousness

-       Now what about the opposite, getting two separate lines of consciousness to merge?

-       How would you do that?

-       Let’s say you understood both the simulation rules and the data structure’s state so well that you could manipulate both of them – breaking some of the regular rules of the simulation engine.

-       Sounds pretty far-fetched…

-       OK, let me try and explain it from the point of view of the simulation: you gradually become aware of some strange memories, but they appear dreamlike, different of all of your regular memories. But over time, they become more and more solid, and at the same time your regular memories take on some of that dreamlike quality.

-       The person would become quite schizophrenic.

-       Not necessarily, because the other memories would have the attribute of another identity, another self.

-       But how would this new composite person make sense of their memories? My memories all line up on a single timeline.

-       They do, but that’s not how you access them – you break them down by which house you were living in, which job you had, which trip you were on. The actual date is more like an attribute of a memory rather than its key. I mean, you’ll think ‘When did such-and-such an even happen? Well, it was when I was living in the so-and-so house, and working for the da-de-da company, so it must have been in the year blah.’

-       Hmmm, I still think there’d be confusion

-       Well, if the new consciousness didn’t like it, he could bifurcate, and then each ‘half’ could follow the steps in reverse – so that the other’s  memory and identify gradually faded, until all that was left was the original individuals’ memories of the shared episode.

Turning off the computer  

-       OK, now the really big question. What would happen if you turned the computer off and wiped the memory so that you could never start it up again.

-       Well, it would be an instantaneous demise for the poor simulation.

-       Would it really?

-       Well, of course. No more simulation, no more consciousness.

-       I agree it would certainly be the end of any chance to interact with the simulation.

-       But the simulation is what is going on inside the computer – the sequence of states, the encoding of memories, the business of each state recursively containing some information about the previous state… Without all that, you’ve got nothing.

-       Let’s consider what that sequence is. For each step, you take the current state, input from the external environment, and perhaps some random noise. Then you perform some complex calculation, and you have the next state. Goto step one and start again, over and over.

-       Exactly. And without the computer running the simulation, you don’t have the state, the environmental input, random noise, or calculations – you’ve got nothing.

-       So let’s try to strip these necessities back, one by one. First of all the random noise. We said we needed it to give our simulation unpredictability. But don’t we really mean spontaneity? A chaotic process can give us something that’s almost the same as random noise, but is quite deterministic. Sure it’s predictable in one sense of the word, but in another sense it’s not – you can’t know what’s going to happen five steps into the future, except by calculating those five steps – which is how you would have found out anyway. No shortcuts.

-       OK, I’ll grant you – we don’t need the random noise input

-       Next the environmental input. That’s actually quite easy – let’s just make the environment part of the simulation. You’re simulating the person and the environment he’s in.

-       But that makes it a closed system – you wouldn’t be able to interact with the guy.

-       Yeah, it might get a little lonely in there.

-       That leaves the sequence of states, and the rules to calculate each successive state. You’ll still end up with nothing if you take those away.

-       What is a state?

-       I guess at the most basic level, it’s a full dump of the computer’s memory.

-       I put it to you that it’s a number – a very large number.

-       Yes…

-       And the rules for calculating one state from the previous are therefore a series of arithmetic operations – very complex arithmetic operations.

-       How so?

-       I forget the mathematical term for it, but logical operations on symbols can be recast as arithmetic operations on numbers – they’re isomorphic. It’s a technique used by Kurt Goedel in his incompleteness theorem, at least as it was explained to me when I read ‘Goedel, Escher Bach, an eternal golden braid’ by Douglas Hofstadter.

-       It’s a bit of a stretch…

-       Sure, but we’re not claiming that anybody will ever write down these rules as an arithmetic formula, just that such a formula is theoretically possible.

-       So our longsuffering simulation is now a sequence of incredibly large numbers, each related to the previous by a similarly large formula. You said the two views of what is happening are isomorphic so let’s accept that. But it doesn’t change anything – you switch off the computer, no more large numbers, no more consciousness.

-       Let me propose to you another sequence of numbers, each related to the previous by an arithmetic formula: 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12…

-       The series of even numbers – I’m missing the point here – there’s no way they could represent any sort of simulation of consciousness.

-       No of course not. But did the sequence of even numbers exist before someone wrote a computer program to calculate them?

-       …yes

-       And remember, I said ‘the sequence of even numbers’ – I didn’t give an upper limit. That sequence is infinite, and no one is ever going to create a computer that can calculate the entire sequence. So I ask again – does ‘the sequence of even numbers’ exist?

-       I suppose so, though we’ve probably left science and mathematics and ventured into philosophy.

-       The boundary is murky, I’ll agree.

-       But there’s a big, practical difference between the theoretical sequence, and a concrete set calculated in real time on a physical computer – you can inspect them as the program progresses.

-       And if you switch off the computer? Does the series end with the final value the computer calculated?

-       Um, no, but I’m not comfortable with the leap.

-       Remember, we’re not talking about you looking at the numbers, we’re talking about the sequence from the point of view within the sequence itself. The next number in the sequence exists, whether or not there’s a computer to calculate it.

-       OK, and you’re now going to say that although our simulation involves much larger numbers and a much more complex arithmetic formula, it doesn’t change anything, and the sequence will still keep on going if you switch the computer off.

-       Yeah. In the sci-fi novel I mentioned, the expression was ‘the pattern will continue to find itself’. And that’s just the start…

-       There’s more?

-       You can’t build a computer with infinite memory capacity, you can’t run a computer for an infinite amount of time. In the meta-virtual realm, our simulation does not suffer these limitations. Our simulation is staring down the barrel of the infinite, in a very real sense - subjectively.

You don’t have to be in a computer for this to happen

-       Can you accept that if the scanning process and the hosting computer are good enough, the consciousness won’t notice any difference?

-       Well the modelled environment would have to be pretty complete…

-       OK, when I say difference, I mean subjective difference in the quality of consciousness.

-       OK, it’s completely hypothetical, but if the technology were good enough I guess that would be the case.

-       Good, so environment aside, we can consider the existence of a state machine that is indistinguishable (in terms of the quality of consciousness) from ‘real life’.

-       Yes, OK

-       I put it to you then, that for this idea of consciousness continuing after the computer is switched off – you don’t even need a computer.

-       What do you mean?

-       All you need to do is die.

-       Oh, come on…

-       No, really. The same mechanism that would allow a modelled consciousness to continue works equally well for ‘real world’ consciousness. You already agreed that the two are indistinguishable from a subjective viewpoint. So the mere fact that a computer model setup could exist is enough for all the conclusions we draw about it to apply to real life in this world.

-       Nah, I can’t buy that.

-       Oh well… I’m not all that certain of it myself, but I’m open to it. It is quite possible that life, or consciousness, is like a seed – once planted there is just no stopping the damn thing.

Growing into a composite

-       So our simulation is locked inside this hypothetical sequence of numbers, living his boring life for eternity – sounds pretty grim.

-       But remember we said the simulation includes the environment?

-       Yes?

-       And there is no limit on the size or complexity of the simulation?

-       Yes…

-       So what’s to stop that environment from containing other simulated consciousnesses?

-       Well, nothing I suppose – but the real question is, what would cause that environment to come up with these other characters?

-       You could start it off yourself, scanning a few people and putting them into a single simulated environment.

-       OK, so a small group of people share eternity together – sure hope they get along...

-       Let’s imagine that they have a certain degree of control over both the environment and the calculation rules of their own consciousnesses.

-       Sounds like do-it-yourself brain surgery

-       Quite.

-       Now let’s suppose the two of the characters decided to merge their consciousnesses, as we discussed earlier.

-       Why would they do that?

-       Personal growth, boredom, for kicks? It doesn’t matter. I’m just saying that if they wanted to, they could.

-       OK.

-       Let’s imagine that they tried it and liked it – so everyone in there joined in… joined together… so that there was just this one composite consciousness.

-       Sure, one big happy schizophrenic.

-       But they like this new avenue of growth so much, they want to keep going, but there’s no one left in the simulated environment to join in.

-       I guess that after you’ve eaten all you’re friends, you are going to be lonely…

-       Ha ha. But let’s say that they’re now more familiar with the basic data structures of an ‘original individual’. So familiar that they can start off with a basic template, feed in a few random variations, and generate a new consciousness from scratch.

-       It would be like a baby – I mean, a good part of a consciousness is the history of memories, and these new characters wouldn’t have any, would they?

-       If you understood the data structures well enough, you could give the new consciousness any set of memories you liked – made up, invented, even randomly-generated.

-       And hope that some of them were interesting enough to hang around with?

-       Or merge with.

-       Yeah.

-       Let’s backtrack a minute – this ability to call new conscious characters into existence doesn’t depend on having two or more folk in the simulation to begin with – you could start off with just one, and reach this point.

-       Yes, the one original guy was lonely, so he made up a few friends?

-       That’s right.

-       Whatever turns you on…

-       Anyway, now let’s hit the fast-forward button, and say they’ve done this an unimaginably large number of times, and each new consciousness they call into existence is different to all the previous ones.

-       Yes?

-       Eventually they’ll come up with someone that is exactly the same as if another ‘real’ person – from the real world - had been scanned and included in the original simulation.

-       A vanishingly small possibility.

-       But they’re doing this an astronomically large number of times – so they’re bound to stumble on it eventually. Remember this simulation has no limits.

-       So presumably they keep rolling the dice until they’ve brought all their friends along for the party?

-       Why stop there?

-       Sure, the more the merrier.

-       They might eventually reach the stage where everyone who ever lived is present.

-       Yeah, but for every one that ‘really existed’ there’d be like, several gazillion completely fictitious characters, and no way of knowing which was which.

-       True, but if a character had a set of memories consistent with those of other characters, you might have a way of knowing if they could have ever existed in the real world.

The Mathematics of sets

-       Now by the time the composite consciousness has reached this stage, we can start to think of it using the mathematical shorthand of sets.

-       Hang on, you’re losing me…

-       It might not be isomorphic, but if a the current state of a consciousness encodes the memories and identities of a whole other bunch of consciousnesses – in fact, is calculated from a whole bunch of those states, we can say that the composite consciousness is a set of all those precursor states, which are themselves sets of their precursors.

-       I don’t know if you’d find any real life mathematicians who’d agree with that…

-       Well, maybe we can change the calculation rules so that no information is lost. With no limits on memory capacity, each new state could completely include all the previous states…

-       I’m not sure what the point of all this is…

Omega point / the set of all sets

-       So we’ve got a single simulated consciousness in a real computer, and after switching if off we end up with a composite consciousness of everyone who could ever have existed, plug a large proportion of those who could not have.

-       Let me suspend judgement.

-       The next step is to assume that everybody in the real world gets their brain scanned, and loaded into a computer, and the computer is switched off, and the meta-virtual simulation proceeds as we have described.

-       So or every person in the real world will end up with a slightly different version of this composite consciousness.

-       Exactly. Now let’s look at the differences between all these composites. Early on, they’ll be very different – yes?

-       Of course, not that anyone would be able to check...

-       Yeah. But the further ahead you project, these differences will get less and less significant right? My composite of all possible people will be pretty similar to yours. And the further you go, the more similar they’ll get.

-       They’ll never be identical though…

-       Well, they might at infinity – which of course will never be reached. What I’m suggesting is that they’ll converge.

-       What does that mean? There’s no way they can ever influence each other, so does it matter if they get similar?

-       Well, remember to consider this from the subjective point of view of the simulation. Back when we were considering the two lockstepped simulations, we agreed that subjectively, they were indistinguishable and therefore the same consciousness.

-       But these separate composites are most certainly not indistinguishable, there’s no way you could considered them the same.

-       I agree, but the further ahead you push, that distinguishability starts to approach zero – sure it never quite gets there, but it just gets closer and closer.

-       And the point?

-       Well I think that subjectively, this would be analagous to the merging of two consciousnesses a few steps back.

-       Except that it’s never quite completed.

-       If you like. Look at it another way, each composite consciousness follows a different path through the multidimensional space of possibilities, but they all end up following curves that converge, getting closer and closer to each other. To bring it back to the mathematics of sets, the state of consciousness they’re approaching is represented by the set of all sets of states of consciousness.

-       The omega point?

-       If you like to call it that. It has nothing to do with Tippler, but you could consider it to be what du Chardin wrote about.

What does this mean to me as a person?

-       This is all very interesting (right...) but what’s the point – it’s untestable, so it’s unscientific.

-       But everyone’s going to test it sooner or later, but I agree that no one will ever report their findings!

-       And I think you’ll find that reporting findings is part of the scientific activity called ‘testing’

-       OK. But I still thing it has value – or at least, if you ask me what it means for me, there’s quite a few things I can answer.

-       Such as?

-       Well, now that I’m open to the possibility of something like this happening to me when I die, I might have an easier time adjusting to the strangeness of it – if indeed it does happen. For someone expecting death to be a final end, or some sort of religion-based afterlife, this sort of thing could come as a shock.

-       Well that’s nice for you

-       Next, well if I’m the sort of person who gets on with others, who likes people, who wants the best for everyone, who enjoys life, who is tolerant of differences, who is curious about… what’s next, then I’ll have an easier time of eternity. Someone who dislikes other people or wants to dominate and control them – they’ll probably find it terminally frustrating or boring.

-       So is this a surrogate for religion?

-       Well, yeah I guess I want to live my life so that I’m better prepared for whatever comes after, but that’s about it. It’s just as close to humanism or… pop psychology.

-       Yeah

-       And it hasn’t got all the answers, at least not comfortable ones. Consider this – it is much better do die pretty quickly, and in full possession of one’s wits, because what you take with you is what you end up with on the other side. If someone goes down with Alzheimer’s, I’ve no idea how things will develop on the other side. They could get stuck in a rut, so to speak. It might be that the only hope for people like that is as passengers brought into others’ environments. It could be that the best thing to do if you’re diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is to top yourself ASAP!

-       Well, perhaps that wouldn’t be a bad thing…

The facets of identity have long since passed from singular to plural to uncountable, a patina of origin.

 

Uncertainty surrounds the fragment in this node. The two protagonists are unlikely to correlate to any facet of identity. However the account resonates to a degree that suggests several facets carry the memory of reading it.

 

 

 

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The Five Stages of Grief

  Flash Fiction Fragment #1

 

  © Copyright 2014 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

At first I thought “no way, this can’t happen.” It was unprecedented, unthinkable. It simply cannot be.

This gave way to a burning rage. It was all so astronomically unfair. Once, while you were out shopping I screamed so loud I thought I’d lost my voice.

For a while I actually believed I could prevent it, by reasoning, a little cosmic give and take. We could work something out. But the sky is empty, no God was up there to hear my feeble entreaties.

Some time later I succumbed to a deep fog of malaise. Colour and warmth drained from the world like tepid dishwater. You noticed and in a bittersweet irony tried to encourage me, to buoy me up.

But now at last my mind is calm. I have accepted it – you will die. I walk slowly toward your sleeping form, knife in hand.

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Plus ça Change

  Flash Fiction Fragment #2

 

  © Copyright 2014 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

At the end of the third Faith War the world was plunged into darkness.

Those that remained took generations to rebuild, saying to each other over and over, "never again."

Eventually a technological civilisation of unprecedented advancement arose, and its towering achievement was a time machine.

"Is it enough," they asked, "to end the obscene slaughter, when we now have the chance to prevent it from happening in the first place?"

There was much debate but eventually a team was formed, and after studying the ancient arts of killing they stepped into the great machine.

Their task was to eliminate from history the three reviled ones, the ones responsible for the most repugnant of fallen-world religions, those that had triggered the Faith Wars.

The first target was Egyptian cleric, who had just begun a campaign of infanticide against slave children. They took great care that none of hate-filled writings remained. And although the slaves were not freed, they no longer had to hide their newborns in baskets along the reed-choked banks of the Nile.

The second reviled one had begun his career as a Galilean bandit. The team disguised themselves as a group of families fleeing the tyranny of Herod the Great, and sprung his ambush. Before they left, they were thanked profusely by two actual refugees, a tradesman and his heavily pregnant wife.

The final target was a Bedouin warlord. The team came upon him riding to a neighbouring village, intent on slaughter. Before backtracking to torch his camp, they passed through the village they had saved and were offered gifts by a woman and her young foster-son.

Upon returning to their own time the team were greeted with fury and accusation. “What have you done?” they were asked. “You’ve made it worse - a hundred times worse!”

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Tolliver Grey

  Flash Fiction Fragment #3

 

  © Copyright 2014 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

You’ve earned the right to kick back and relax, and nothing says that better than the cool, smooth taste of Tolliver Grey. Tolliver Grey is specially tailored to the discerning senior, with a touch of menthol to guarantee they’re never harsh. And with the new Federal Government STS subsidy, they’re more affordable than ever before.

You’ve abstained for so long, and we applaud that, but there’s no reason to deny yourself any longer. Tolliver is proud to be part of the Treloar Initiative, and of our part in defusing the Senior Welfare Supply Bill Crisis. With all that behind us, smoking is now encouraged for over-70s by the Commonwealth DHS, and all government-certified retirement villages are required to provide climate-controlled smoking areas

Tolliver Grey – you owe it to yourself, your children, and your grandchildren.

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Alpha Male

  Flash Fiction Fragment #4

 

  © Copyright 2014 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

Alpha Male walked away and didn’t look back. He hadn’t torched the place – that would have been needlessly callous to his soon-to-be-ex wife and kids. But it was in metaphorical flames, so maybe a wisp of metaphorical smoke was responsible for the stray tear he blinked away.

Success. You’re doing it wrong.

For all his life, Alpha Male had taken pride in his peculiar tastes. They defined his individuality – the more idiosyncratic the better. It felt good to see the bland, homogenised guff that everyone else liked, and know that he was better.

And he really did have it all, everything he’d always wanted.

But he still felt empty – hollow inside.

He finally realised it wasn’t enough to get everything he’d always wanted. As a natural competitor, to really come out on top he had to get everything that everyone else wanted.

This time it would be mainstream right down the line.

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Infection

  Flash Fiction Fragment #5

 

  © Copyright 2014 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

I dread sleep.

And how is that you’re not showing any symptoms at all, while I’ve progressed to… well about as full-blown as it gets.

100% straight. Always have been, but the older you get the less firm the borders become, and young matters more than… other things.

When I first met the two of you, I thought “I must be dreaming”. And of course I was. It was too close to internet porn to be anything likely to happen in real life, to me at least.

She was lovely though. You knew full well that I was way more interested in her than you.

Was it your doing that led her to make her advances on me? She wasn’t very enthusiastic, that didn’t surprise me. The threesome did though. Surprise me.

And then those times when it was just us. What was I thinking? I’m not into this, never was. It’s just not me. But you kept pushing me further and further and well, it can’t hurt to try, right?

Next thing I know, and I’m talking literally here – passage of time doesn’t seem to be working as it usually does. Next thing I know I’m getting tested, and the doctor has this look on his face and I just know. No acronyms, each word drawn out to infinity.

No seriously, how is you’re not showing symptoms? Have they invented dream-antiretrovirals or something? Look at me: thin as a skeleton, KS pockmarks all over my face, I can barely stand on my own two feet.

And it happens every night, right until I wake up in the morning. Healthy, strong and sound.

I dread sleep.

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Honeyed Figs

  Flash Fiction Fragment #6

 

  © Copyright 2017 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

The king requires tribute, and it is crushing my village. But this year we will send more than he demands.

For last week we heard the rumour, from my cousin’s son who serves the royal cook. Tales of the king’s great tiredness before his meals, tales of his drunkenness afterwards – even when his wine was not refilled.

And I, I know this curse. I, who saw my grandmother die in pain, poisoned by the rotting stump of her foot. I, whose mother strove to learn its ways, and finally divined a way to dull its blade.

I, who must eat many meals each day, but miserly and small, and nothing sweet.

I know this curse.

We have sent our strongest men to court bees. The women folk are watering the trees like never before.

The king requires tribute, and it is crushing my village. And this year we will send a bounty of honeyed figs.

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You Know Lawyers

  Flash Fiction Fragment #7

 

  © Copyright 2017 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

After the waiter had brought the two coffees, Martha spoke levelly but firmly. “I want you to know this. If I contest this, I will get most of my father’s estate, and you will lose. Is there anything I can do to make you change your mind?”

Angelique shook her head and flashed her eyes. “No.”

“You know my father was suffering from dementia.”

“My husband changed his will before the diagnosis, but it was only after your outburst!”

“I only tried to tell him what you are” muttered Martha, inaudibly. She took a deep breath. “You know lawyers – they’ll keep this going until nothing is left.”

“Well that’s better than you getting a cent”, said Angelique.

************************************

After the younger woman left, Martha’s solicitor walked across and sat down at the table. “So it’s on?”

“It’s on, Caroline.”

“Tell me,” asked Caroline, “why did you use a holding company when you bought the firm?”

Martha smiled. “Well I already had one, and although it doesn’t make accounting any simpler, it does make it more organised.”

“And why didn’t you change the name? We do a lot of high-profile pro-bono work... quite prestigious,” pressed Caroline.

“It just didn’t seem important.” Then, “It is legal, isn’t it? And she won’t find out?”

“Borderline,” said Caroline, “and no, I don’t think her counsel will dig that far. You’ll get half of your father’s estate, less court overheads of course, and she’ll get nothing.”

“Actually, I’ll get more than that. Do you think yours is the only law firm I own?”

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Oblivion

  Flash Fiction Fragment #8

 

  © Copyright 2017 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

It started as valid scientific curiosity, but over time grew into something monstrous. I know this, I know what I am, and I am as horrified as you.

Where in the brain was the seat of identity, self-knowledge, self?

But fMRI can only tell you so much, to learn more you need to get your hands dirty and… ethics committees, hey?

My first victim was an active paedophile, and my conscience was clear. He didn’t make it, I’m guessing you’ve already found his shallow grave. But really, who misses him?

My second used to bash his wife, my third dealt ice. The dealer made it – just. He’s being drip-fed, and a lot of people are better off for it.

The thing with science – the more you learn, the more you realise you still need to learn, and there was never enough data. Never enough subjects.

But after months of work, I made a breakthrough, finally cracked it. An exquisite variant of trans-orbital lobotomy. You’ll find my write-up, publication-ready, on the desk. I don't think it'll be be published though. Perhaps it’ll be whisked away by some government operative, and only be heard of in whispers.

Look at that group of zombies in the other room. Good luck identifying them.

You may know which of them is me, I won’t.

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Robert’s World

  Flash Fiction Fragment #9

 

  © Copyright 2017 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

Robert knew that a few years earlier, after what seemed an age and several dead-ends, he had perfected the machine. It was however, far too large and cumbersome – he’d have to miniaturise it somehow, get it down to something you could carry in a briefcase.

Robert knew that it had taken a long time, but he’d finally achieved that too.

Robert knew it was nothing short of astounding – the device looked like a swimming cap with a forest of fine cables coming out of it, gathered into a bundle and plugged into a black box, itself connected to a laptop. When fitted to a cooperative (or subdued) subject, it would cause them to fall into deep coma for about twelve hours.

Robert knew that when they awoke they would be disoriented, having had all of their memory erased and rewritten with his own. The subject (Robert) would make his (or her) way to the lab to pick up a machine for himself (or herself).

Robert knew that he didn’t like mirrors, he never had – ever since that morning he’d woken up in someone else’s bed, unaware of how he’d got there.

Robert knew that one day the world would be his.

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The Broken Foot

  Flash Fiction Fragment #10

 

  © Copyright 2017 Trevor G Magnusson

You may not publish or disseminate any part of this work, it in any way, without permission of the author.

 

 

There once was a man who had a sore foot. It was actually broken, but he did not know it.

Being somewhat of a naturist and wishing to avoid pain-killers, he went to a hypnotist. The hypnotist put him into a trance, and caused him to believe that there was no pain. Thanking the hypnotist, he walked out into the street.

But although his mind believed there was no pain, there actually was, and soon his body could tolerate it no longer. Ignoring his mind, it simply stopped walking.

They found him standing the middle of the road, refusing to move. When they asked him why he was standing there, he replied “I like it here. There is no better place to go.”

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