“Not exactly what I had in mind”
“Perhaps you should re-calibrate”
“Clearly. Hold on”
Marion bent down and dug her fingers into the warm soil. A crisp evening had left a layer of moisture just beneath the surface. She clasped a handful into a fist and stood back up.
‘3, 2, 1’
She cupped and lifted the hand to try and catch a drip, as the rest spilled down her forearm to the ground. It was clean, with a hint of citrus. Residuals were converting dynamically.
“An effectively complete alignment, with a margin or error down to the 19th decimal”
Marion raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just water. You’re good to go”
“Hold on, did you just ‘spare’ me some information?”
“I thought it might interfere with your mood”
“Nicely done! Really putting the I in AI today aren’t you?”
She could sense the effect of her complement, so she doubled down.
“You know you really do make an outstanding companion”
“You’re just saying that”
“No, really! Better every day”
Tim said nothing. Shy. Marion laughed to herself before turning to re-examine her creation. Better. Beautiful. It was coming together. She squinted a little at sunlight pouring over the tiling on the roof. Dark earthy browns became alabaster, grey marble, bamboo greens and deep red petals as she cast her eyes downward looking for adjustments. The second story balcony could still use a little work, the windows on the first needed to be bigger and the garden was a bit off. She closed her eyes.
A cheery voice was meandering its way up the path behind her.
“Isn’t it just” she responded.
The man was about 30 meters away when she turned to get a better look. He stopped just short of the gate and Marion could see he’d brought his own colour with him. Purples and yellows exploded from wildflowers along the path and right up to the gate.
“How are you feeling?” she asked out of genuine curiosity.
“Unexpectedly optimistic today. No obvious reason. Just a sense of …”
“Clarity?” she finished his sentence and then felt a pang of guilt. “Sorry!”
“No you’re right. Clarity. I couldn’t put it better myself” He looked back down the path behind him. “I’m not usually a purple person” he laughed.
“Well you very much are today!”
“So it would seem”
He paused to examine the work in progress. There were no barriers up. Marion could sense everything. He liked the choice in materials. He liked the location. He liked the garden. He returned his gaze. He liked her.
“What do you think?” she asked, knowing the answer.
“It’s beautiful. What made you pick this spot?”
“My great grandparents used to live here”
“Really? Looked a bit different back then I’m guessing”
“Not as much as you might think. Aesthetic has a way of holding its appeal”
“True” he looked around again. The purples around his feet were brightening. “Hope you don’t mind the visit…” he said, dropping down to sample the soil with both hands. “…I just saw the movement over the hill earlier and thought I’d come and say hello”. He took a bite out of an apple and leaned, elbow first, onto a fence post.
“No, not at all. Glad you did. Always good to meet the neighbors. You want to come in? I’m just fixing up the front and then I was going to stop for a drink”
“I wouldn’t want to mess with it. Especially if it’s still a work in progress”
“No no, it’s fine. All pretty clear in my mind now. Please! You’ll be my first house guest”
“Ok, if you’re sure…Tim by the way”
“Tim. My name’s Tim”
Marion let out an audible laugh.
“What?” he said, looking equally amused.
“Nothing. Marion. Come in…” she said, straightening her face.
Tim lifted himself away from the fence and unlatched the gate. The apple was gone and had been replaced by a cap. Well timed as the sun was now in open sky.
“Have you set defaults yet?” he asked as he passed through.
“Not yet, but I’m interested to get some final input. Here, let me share something”
Marion hadn’t shown her composition to anyone. She wasn’t in the habit of sharing. But the moment it was released, she felt a rush of excitement.
“Oh I see what you mean” he smiled, closing his eyes for a moment before looking over at the garden. “Tried re-calibrating I guess?”
“Yeah, just before you arrived. But I think it’s something else. Maybe this stuff knows more than it’s letting on” she kicked up a patch of dirt.
“It often does. Picks up on subconscious, just as much as anything else. What was your design process?”
“Drifting through sims mostly. Followed the synapses of a few frontier artists for inspiration. Fed a bunch of old Earth into it. Tried to see if anything stuck. Fell in love with some European countryside and went from there”
“It was the same for me. Don’t worry. It’ll change plenty over time anyway”
He paused at the personal threshold a few meters out to double check. Marion nodded.
“Perhaps a bit of interference might help” she said hopefully.
“You don’t mind if I relax filters again?”
“No, not at all”
He closed his eyes. The changes started at his feet. First it was the flowers. Then the gate behind him, a darker wood. The gravel on the path became denser, coarser. Odd. He was barefoot. Must enjoy the sensation. The air changed slightly. Warmer. But just a fraction. It had been a long time since Marion had shared space. It felt good.
“I like it” she said approvingly.
His face lit up.
“I think I’ll keep them”
“I’m so glad!” he said. She could sense he genuinely was. “I’ve been out here by myself for a few years now. Not many people around. Not much chance to experiment with syncretics like this”
“They’re all busy carefully connecting, curating and sharing, they forget there’s an actual matter frontier to play in”
Tim nodded and shifted his feet around. “That was me before…” he trailed off.
She noticed a dip. There were barriers all of a sudden. Something being held in local. Though she could hardly criticise. She held everything there. The flowers dimmed and bowed slightly. The air grew cooler.
“Sorry!” he said, after a moment’s reflection. The scene brightened again. “I just…I used to be a relay. You know, every moment consuming and sharing other people’s thoughts. I had to get out”
“I think I understand”
“But this. Here. I’m free to have my own thoughts and make them real”
Marion did understand. In the cities, stations and crowded spaces, there was no room to build. Everything had defaults. Everyone had filters on and barriers up. The net was dense with syncretic thought and creation, but changes to the material were functionally and even necessarily subtle.
“That’s democracy I guess” she replied. “Do you want to sit?” She gestured to the garden and a small wooden table, with two chairs.
“Sure…” he started over. “…It’s probably a good thing too. You wouldn’t believe what some people have going on” he continued.
Marion raised an eyebrow. “I might” she shot back with a smile. “So what are you up to out here? What do you do with all that stuff clogging up your memory?”
They reached the table and sat down. The chairs creaked as if aged in the sun. The marble work had taken on a rougher stonier texture. The garden had grown deeper and she could see tomatoes and herbs growing in the previously empty spaces.
“You and the rest of the galaxy” she laughed. “Sorry. That wasn’t meant as a slight”
“No, you’re right. It’s true. Trust me, few know it better”
“So what do you write?”
She took a moment to query the net. “The future? You write about the future?”
“Yeah, in a sense. Some version of it anyway. It’s mostly guesswork”
“Do you mind if I ask what for?”
“Mental health mostly. When I’m worried about something, I try and imagine what will happen. When I’m sad, I imagine things being a little better”
“…and when you’re happy?”
“When I’m happy I just…I don’t know…feel happy I guess”
“So what do you see in the future?”
“Things generally get better”
“You don’t think they’re pretty good now?”
“They can always be better”
“They could be worse too”
“True. They could definitely be worse” he paused. “I think that’s one of the reasons I like it so much. People imagining the future, better or worse, has always helped direct things. Pointing out what might be nice and what to avoid” he leaned back and picked a tomato.
“So what should we avoid?”
“Everything has a cost. My old life for example. We need to be better at dealing with each other, but can lose a bit of ourselves in the process. There’s a balance somewhere. Between individual and collective. Perhaps someplace in the frontier. Perhaps beyond it” he turned to pick another.
“What about you, what brought you out here?”
“Ha! You and…”
“I know” she tried to keep a straight face. “All too well”
“So what about?”
“You’re a historian?”
“In a sense. Not in a very contemporary one”
“Now I’m curious”
“I write books”
It was Tim’s turn to query the net. “Get out! You put ‘pen to paper’?”
“That’s right! Actual physical books. I’ve got a collection”
“They’re replicas, surely. Dynamic matter”
“Nope, originals. Plus the few I’ve added”
“Wow” he was visibly impressed. “I feel bad even calling myself a writer now. You’re the real deal. Mind if I ask why?”
“Have you ever held one?”
“Come with me!” Marion stood up excitedly, launching off both sides of the chair. She started over towards the large old wooden door at the front of the house, now with hints of green as climbers had made their way across the arch. Tim followed.
Inside the entrance was a conspicuously less grandiose room with tattered wooden floorboards, warm light, and off white wallpaper. A staircase with a sculpted and scratched up handrail led upstairs and an assortment of objects littered the floor, adding to the distinctively aged look of the place. Tim could recognize a few, but most were essentially alien. After a few moments Marion called him over
“Here!” she said, kicking aside a spherical model that appeared to be a planetoid. “This one!”. She picked up a large grey block and swiped the surface. A protective layer of matter disintegrated and wafted away. She held it out so he could see. “Take it” she insisted.
Tim looked over the book, grasping it carefully with both hands. “Is this one of yours?” he asked.
“Oh no. Definitely not. But it is one I think you’ll like”
“What’s it about?”
“History” she said plainly.
“Aren’t they all?”
“Yes, in a way. Most choose a specific time period. A specific subject. This one is about a European sea captain who visited Japan” she held out another smaller grey package. “My ones are about life in the early 21st century. Mostly derived from scouring old data. But the one you’re holding is much older”
“About two thousand years. Although the print is about fifteen hundred. See you can see it written on the inside” she opened the cover and pointed to the text in the bottom corner.
“I can’t sense it. It is real!”. Tim looked like a kid who just tasted ice cream for the first time. It was a beautiful sight.
“So why this one?”
“Because it was the first time we know of, that anyone tried to describe not just ‘what’ happened, but ‘why’ and ‘how’ it happened. He was an Arab philosopher that talked about information, distribution and cohesion and how things not only change, but create their own change”
“Thought you’d appreciate it. It describes the rise and fall of civilizations as a product of that back and forth. Onwards and outwards. Always moving and refocusing around some new place or people. Like history pacing forward, struggling for balance and taking one deep breath after another.”
“And here we are on the frontier two thousand years later”
“Exactly. Drawing breath”
Tim held the book for a moment longer, feeling the weight before offering it back.
“No, it’s OK. You can borrow it”
“What good is a book if it’s not being read?”
He sighed, feeling its heft as a burden.
“Don’t worry” she smiled. “Perhaps you can come by tomorrow and bring me one of yours”
“I could just share it now”
“Nah. Bring it over” she smiled again.
The room felt different as Tim walked towards the door. The wallpaper had changed slightly. The window at the top of the staircase caught direct light which illuminated the area where they stood.
“I will…and thank you” he said as he made his way under the low hanging climbers on the arch. “Really good meeting you”
“You too. See you tomorrow!”
Marion leaned up against the door frame as Tim passed through the gate and started down the path, fresh colour in tow. The yellows turned shades of orange, which filtered through the purples and greens. He had the book clutched tightly against his side with both hands.
As he approached the hill she took a few steps back outside into the garden and turned to look at the house. “Looks about right now” she said.
“Are you sure? I’m still detecting significant variations from your initial composition”
“I’m sure” she said. “I like it this way…” she sat down next to the tomatoes.
“…besides, there’s always room for improvement”