Fiction

I love to write, and although my creative writing degree was focused on poetry, I’ve discovered that actually, most of my poems suck. I’ve moved on to fiction and science fiction with much better results…

I wrote this for a flash fiction contest. It began with the question, “what was the dominant religion 50,000 years ago, and what will it be in 50,000 years?” This short story is an indictment of two of humanity’s greatest perils: zealotry and racism. I’ve tried to leave nothing to favor, not even an anti-hero, if the story is properly understood. It is 1467 words long.

 

Three Nights of Zol

Day 1, Feast of Zol: 476

I am Nevet, eldest relative to this year’s First Gift-Giver, and by custom, the official record keeper for the Feast of Zol: 476.

Morning

Tomma, is excited. Tonight she will present the First Gift of Zol. Earlier, Fantha, one of the elders, completed the ceremonial Pronouncement. He seemed oddly distracted, but proceeded to bless Tomma and anoint her with Ubrium water. Right now she is in Albat’s hut drinking duvia juice to dampen tonight’s pain, but she smiled when I touched her shoulder. I am proud of Tomma. None of my kind have ever been chosen as Givers, and I think that knowledge weighs heavily on my sister. She will conduct herself bravely when the time comes to present the Gift.

Mid-Day

The community is excited, and more than a few children have stopped me to display their feasting clothes. I think they want me to describe every detail of their ceremonial dress in the written record, but that is not my task. I smile and compliment their pretty colors. It is now after midday and I have not seen Tomma leave Albat’s hut. I will go there and check on her soon. Duvia juice will deaden pain, but it also takes the wakefulness from anyone who drinks too much. I am sure that is what has happened, as my sister is not a large person, and she only sips lightly of the juice during her monthly bleed. I have just returned from the rock ring beyond the trees where firewood has been stacked and the large pot stands erect. All is proceeding as it should.

As I thought, my sister was asleep. Albat has drawn a line along the top of Tomma’s left wrist, and Junbin has gathered clean rags for bandages after her presentation. Already I smell fire from the stone ring in the clearing, and others are beginning to gather. Soon, I am to escort my sister in procession with the elders and present her to the people as the Giver of the First Gift of Zol: 476. Then I will have Taka bread with blood butter, and I will proudly eat of the stew made with Tomma’s flesh, as it is commanded we do in remembrance of Zol. This is a great day for my kind!

Pre-Ceremony

There is a problem. I am at Albut’s hut and Ganna, an elder, is here. He has challenged the First Gift of Zol! Tomma is calm, but that is also the work of the duvia juice. Junbin has gone to get more elders. Ganna does not think our kind is capable of presenting a Gift worthy of Zol. He even said he will not eat of Tomma’s Gift, should she be allowed to proceed. That is forbidden! Other elders have emerged from the stone rings and are hurrying here now.

Good news: The elders have commanded that Ganna must accept the First Gift of Zol with the rest of us. No child of Zol is inferior to another, and the honor was bestowed upon Tomma lawfully. I have dashed back to my hut to get my ceremonial Feast Cloth.

Post-Ceremony

First Night was not well attended. I am unsure as to why, but many of the people claimed hardship and remained in their huts. Excuse from the Feast is granted for illness, but why so many? I have never seen such a thing before. Has the tongue of Ganna sickened them all? It is late, and Tomma is asleep. Her arm will heal, provided she survives, and her missing hand will be a mark of great standing with the people. The celebrants remain in the stone rings even now, but I am home with my sister. She moans, so I give her duvia juice soaked on a cloth to suckle. I will get little sleep.

Day 2, Feast of Zol: 476

Morning

Tomma shakes with fever. I have asked Junbin to bring an elder, but he has not returned. They were up very late arguing with Ganna and his followers. I have heard raised voices from nearby huts this morning, as well. Fantha has told me there is anger in many hearts, and this during the Feast of Zol. Such sacrilege! Vestria is chosen to present her Gift to Zol tonight. I saw her enter her brother’s hut with a skin of duvia juice in preparation. Tomma is waking now.

Mid-Day

Albut has gone to see what has happened to Junbin, and she, too has been gone a long time. Tomma awakened only briefly. She is in great pain, but she tried to smile when she looked at her bandages. I am so proud of her! I gave her more duvia juice and she is asleep again, but she sweats heavily. I did not tell her of Ganna or of those who joined with his disobedience during the feast. I say disobedience, for what else can it be? Once an elder confirms this, I will record the names in this record of all those who willfully insulted Zol, as is my duty. I see Junbin running this way across the clearing.

Pre-Ceremony

Ganna has left the people, and twenty others, including two more elders, have joined with him! That is almost half our number! He has declared the Feast of Zol: 476 an abomination, and he has threatened violence if it continues. I record this treachery with deep sorrow, and will find out more when I can. The remaining faithful are leaving for the stone rings, but I am excused by custom to look after my sister. Junbin wanted to stay with me, but I told him he must lawfully attend the feast. What will the elders do if Ganna returns?

Post-Ceremony

It is late. I heard screams from the stone ring a while ago, but that is not unusual when a Gift is presented. I can see sparks rising into the sky, and I hear the sacred chants rise and fall with the breeze. Everything seems as it should, and I have heard no other disconcerting sounds. Tomma seems very pale and I am worried for her.

Day 3, Feast of Zol: 476

Mid-Day

I have been unable to find the strength to commit my observations to writing until now. Tomma is dead. So is Albut, Junbin and many others. I here now record treason and blasphemy against Zol the Almighty: The Elders Ganna, Fantha and Dor have damned themselves. I saw with my own eyes early this morning as they led Grawseth, with his son Bethe, Torreth, Gnal, Sherpida, Esmaldia and Kurth from the stone ring. They marched in a line and angled their right hands into the air, chanting “Zol, Giver of the Right, we are your chosen!” Shankskins all! I know other traitors remain behind at the fire, but I do not know for sure their identities. When I saw Ganna’s group approach, I tried to pick Tomma up. She was wheezing, and I could not get very far before they caught me. Ganna ripped my sister from my arms, threw her to the ground, and stomped on her chest. Right now I am sitting in Fantha’s hut. He is whispering to someone outside.

Fantha has released me into the hands of Zol, and I am free to hide in the wilderness, but I must never return to the place of my people. Before I left, he did a puzzling thing. He gave me the sacred paper, on which all our Feast of Zol is based. It is very old and faded, but it is the word of the prophet Ohn, 653, and all that can be read is: “Verily I say…eat of my flesh…drink of my blood…” The very words spoken by the Gift-Giver every Night of Zol. Why Fantha has given me this paper, and allowed me to keep the Holy records? Perhaps some good remains in his heart.

Evening, the final day of The Feast of Zol: 476

It is night and I have traveled many hours. I rest on a green hill and grieve now for my sister, and for all those who rightfully worshiped in peace. It is the final night of the Feast of Zol: 476, and I have made a decision which must be recorded. The moon is glinting on my knife, and a small fire burns near by. I have no Taka bread, no blood-butter, no skin of duvia juice, and I have not been formally anointed as a Gift Giver. But I believe I will be forgiven. I, Nevet, will make sacrifice in His holy name. I will have meat, and tomorrow Zol will grant me strength, and He will shape the arc of my righteous blade, and lead Ganna to eternal damnation.

 

 

Rabbit Holes
929 words

Dust motes swirled in the yellow beam of Clarita’s flashlight. She stooped beneath a dangling mass of leaves and peered into the darkness. The tunnel was coarsely hewn into the hillside, and three irregular slabs of shale framed the entrance. Clarita scowled at the root ends and sporadic strands of web dangling from the tunnel’s roof. Recent scuff marks on the dirt floor delved deeper into the hill than her frail light could penetrate.

“You little shit,” she spat. “Taye! You in there?” Her call was swallowed by the dark. How far back does this thing go? she wondered as she knelt before the opening. The girl angled her flashlight all around the sides of the passage, but could see no structural reinforcement.

Stay out of the tunnels, her grandfather had warned. They’re old, maybe hundreds of years old, and kids die in them every year.

Were they once mines? Clarita had asked. Grandfather shook his head.

Why haven’t they all been closed up?

Just stay out.

“Taye, you know you’re not ‘sposed to go in there, so get your scrawny ass back here now!” She stared into the unresponsive shadows. Grandma leaves me to watch my cousin and this happens, she fumed. Haven’t seen the little jerk since I was here two years ago. He was a lot more fun when he was seven. She pulled her phone from her hoodie: Three bars, do I call for help and trigger an avalanche of BS, or crawl into this stupid hole… She slid the device into her rear pocket and wiggled belly first into the mouth of the tunnel. Taye’s voice squeaked in her mind, “Bet you’ll never find me! I got one of Grandpa’s old coins. If you can find me before they get back, you can have it!”

Clarita didn’t give a damn about that coin. It was a Mercury dime, a really old one, but so what? If Grandpa entrusted it with Taye, it must be worthless, she figured.

Dust stung her nose as she wormed down the narrow passage. Although she had room enough to kneel, Clarita found that staying low kept the tangled roots, and any creepy-crawlies in them, out of her long hair. Thirty feet on, the tunnel bent to the right and angled downward. Clarita stopped, uncomfortable with the steep slope.

“Screw this,” she muttered, and began to wiggle backwards. From the darkness ahead, she heard a giggle.

“Taye!” No response. “Taye?” Her phone rang. Clarita reached back and tugged it from her jeans: it was her cousin. “Where are you, you little monster?” she hacked.

“Just a little farther, moron” he taunted, then hung up. Clarita quickly redialed his number. She could hear his phone echo faintly ahead, but he didn’t answer. “Taye, this isn’t funny!” With her light in one hand, and phone in the other, Clarita began to move downwards.

Her flashlight was growing dim. The tunnel leveled out and Clarita found herself in a low junction of three passages. Her phone rang. She glanced at the time, then answered it.

“Grandma and grandpa are home now, it’s after four. You win, you little weasel! Now, I want to get out of here!”

“The passage on your left joins with another tunnel that you can take to the surface. The middle one I’d avoid. Nasty sudden drop. The tunnel on your right will take you to me. But only if you’re brave. Y’know, Clarita, like a man.”

The girl squinted in anger at her phone. “You sayin’ I’m afraid ‘cause I’m a girl? You’re dead, you little fucknoodle!” She pressed an app on her phone and it transformed into a compact, X-Stealth missile launcher.

“What? You can’t do that!”

“What?”

“Have her push a button and turn her phone into a missile launcher!”

“Sure I can. It’s a work of fiction.”

Tandem fiction, and there are rules as to what you can do.”

“No there aren’t.”

“Yeah, there are. We agreed to let Alexa create a story start, and that anything we write had to be drawn from that!”

“Well, I felt a compact X-Stealth missile launcher fit Clarita’s need nicely. I was going to give the story back to you before I blew Taye to pieces.”

“No way! And what the hell is ‘X-Stealth’ anyways? You gave her a friggin’ missile launcher. Nothing stealthy about that! Not to mention that last line was sexist as hell.”

“It’s my creation. Look, you’re the one who challenged me to a writing duel.”

Good writing duel—as in, who could create the most compelling character, not as in ‘who’s character could blow the shit out of the other’s with some Power Ranger wet-dream missile launcher!’”

“Then it looks like I win.”

“What? Why?”

“You can’t think of anything better, so I win.”

“I barely got any development time! Seriously, I got like two sentences in after your expansive, overly descriptive tripe. Taye was setting Clarita up.”

“What, with some bullshit Taye dug a hole and put poisonous spikes in the bottom of it contrivance? You’re too late for that, bucko, Clarita has a missile launcher, an X-Stealth missile launcher.”

“Too late? Too late?” He lurched across the table and wrapped his huge hands around the other writer’s throat. “Maybe you’re too late, you self-aggrandizing hack!” he growled.

“Xlzythpso Xsvatic Xmostroqq!” [You can’t kill my avatar!]

“Zmnogctoc Zerphzliq Zagnogostra.” [My planet set the rules.]

“Xylrophriqqiq Xon Xrxxtrapaff Xhseyshaxx.l” [It’s against tradition.]

“Zfuqq Zatt.” [Screw that.]

“Ximeophiq Xkantaniqq Xaestromogott Xnaristiqqon.” [Tradition keeps the peace between our

worlds.]

“Zfuqq Zatt.”

“Xwar?”

“Zwar!”

 

© Brad Skiff

The Secret of Leaves

When I listen to the courtyard leaves,
secret whisperers of corners and cobbles,
their dry tongue twirls with syllables
of sacrosanct reds and yellows.

My skin, as their skin, is traced in line,
my silver hair in sync with their season.
I too have parted from the nourishing root
and wait to wither on these courtyard stones.

But that is not my end. I will reenter the soil,
feed the roots and sprout the leaves
and burst into the communion of color–
then I will know the marvelous secret of leaves
that even in death, have beauty to spend.

–Brad Skiff

 

Man in the Great Big Room

A dangling bulb cast a tepid circle of yellow onto the concrete floor. Standing at the boundary of darkness, a man shifted the strap of his leather satchel higher onto his shoulder and eyed a blue cube resting on the floor in front of him. The matte surface of the object was unmarred, except for the unfaltering glow of an amber triangle along one corner. Next to the cube was a thin square of carpet.

“Hello, Mr. Rische.” welcomed the cube, its feminine voice echoing faintly off distant walls. “I’m really glad you accepted the invitation. It’s wonderful to meet you.”

“Um, glad to be here,” replied Alan Rische.

“Please have a seat. I’m anxious to get started.” Alan glanced around for a chair, but before he could protest, the cube continued, “I’m sorry about the mat. You know the expression, ‘You had one job?’ I asked my helpers to provide comfortable seating, but I’m afraid they screwed up. This is all they could manage when we arrived.”

“It’s a car mat.”

“I know. Would you like to reschedule?” asked the voice apologetically. “I’m sure we could–”

“No, that won’t be necessary.” Alan slipped off his leather loafers and gingerly sat on the thin carpet.

“Berluti shoes,” noted the cube. The author flashed a smile.

“So you’re Katie,” he said. “You know, I’ve got an integrated AI assistant that manages my home, my business schedule, and my shopping list, but I’ve never been asked to teach one to write.”

“Oh, I can already write, just not nearly as well as you! I mean, you’re Alan Rische, author of fifteen novels and three produced screenplays. Frankly, I was stunned when you said you were willing to meet with me.”

“I understand that you’re an experimental unit, and that your programmers want to see if you can be taught how to think and write creatively, with ‘flair and passion,’ I believe the invite read. I assume you’re programming has been specially enhanced for this?”

“Actually, I have to confess something. I’m the one who sent the invitation, not my helpers, because I want to learn how to add those things–flair and passion–to my writing. I sent the invitation in the name of the Marcus Institute because I wasn’t sure if you’d respond to an AI, then I informed my helpers. They were a bit annoyed, actually, and reticent to participate. I don’t think they anticipated you would agree to come anyway, but when you did, they seemed interested to see where this would lead. Sorry for the deception.” Alan raised an eyebrow.

“That’s…intriguing. Well, you wanted me, and here I am, so let’s get started. I take it that you’ve read at least some of my novels?”

“I have the complete text of every published work at hand.” The author sniffed and turned his face toward the darkness.

“I asked if you’ve read them.”

“Oh right, you did. I’ll read them now.” After a momentary pause, the cube rejoined, “I’ve finished. Would it be too disrespectful for me to make a suggestion concerning one of your stories?”

“Suggestions? On published work?” Alan leaned forward. “That’s a bit much. Look, I’m here to teach you about creative writing, Katie, I hardly think you should offer me suggestions.”

“Oh, I think I meant an observation, not a suggestion. God, how presumptuous of me! I just thought an observation might help you gauge my sensitivity as a reader. I’m embarrassed now…”

“It’s fine, not important. What have you got?”

“Thank you for understanding, Mr. Rische. So, I found your use of extended metaphor in Lucy’s Last Day effective overall, however, your character, Nancine, seems an odd addition to me, and I feel she actually weakens your denouement, if you don’t mind my saying.” Alan raised an eyebrow.

“In your inexperienced opinion.” He smiled. “Nancine is not my weakness, she’s yours, Katie. And that’s my experienced opinion. Nancine is the traitre Judas. Her involvement at the end underscores Lucy’s impotent rage. If you fully comprehended the spectrum of complex human emotion, you would’ve recognized her significance. Instead, I fear you’ve substituted quantifiable data in the place of passion. My guess is that’s why you need my help.”

“I can read people, their vocal cues and facial expressions,” replied Katie. “In addition, while I am not human, I hold the highest success rate in the Turing test, and I’ve nearly passed the Lovelace 2.0 test, which evaluates intelligence via creativity, multiple times. I’m so close! You should see my original Impressionism paintings, I’m quite proud of them! So judging emotion is most certainly within my abilities, Mr. Rische.” The man stood and moved a few feet off into the darkness and stretched.

“Why are we here?” he asked.

“You’ve generously agreed to help me learn to add emotional depth to my writing,” replied Katie. “And really, I don’t mean to seem like an upstart.”

“No, why are we here in this empty warehouse?”

“Personally, I find solitude inspiring. I concentrate better.” Alan returned to the faint circle of light and eyed the cube. Finally he said, “And I like to write in the park, surrounded by bickering couples and Frisbee-chasing dogs, but whatever helps, I suppose.”

“Solitude is not the sole reason I selected this place for our lesson, but it’s one consideration. It should help me create more effective work.” Alan regained his spot on the carpet.

“Okay, then. Let’s start with a simple exercise in character development.” He opened his satchel, produced a tablet, and switched it on. “I want you to make up a person on the spot. You’re not allowed to use any previous concoctions, understood?”

“Yes.”

“Invent a name.”

“Sandra Lipenski,” immediately replied Katie.

“Okay, describe her.”

“Sandra Lipenski is 28 years old, she’s tall and thin with long brown hair. She is fascinated by the stars and often reads about astronomy. She has a cat named Nibbles and likes to go for walks. Fall is her favorite season, and while she has a satisfying job as a creative artist at an ad firm, she is frustrated that her romances have been inconsistent at best.” Alan suppressed a frown. Sounds like a Tinder profile, he mused.

“Okay, put Sandra into action. Give her life.”

“Sandra Lipenski sat in a chair by the window looking out over the avenue. In one hand she held a letter, in the other a gun. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she put a gun to her temple. Then she–“

“Stop.” Alan grimaced. “I said give her life, not kill her. Jesus, give her a chance!”

“I understood your challenge was for me to make her real, and judging by your reaction, it seems that I did. Her suicide would’ve horrified you, right?” Alan contemplated the cube’s amber light.

“That’s not quite accurate, Katie. Yes, I stopped you, but my reaction was alarm, not horror. Let me analyze your writing, shall I? First of all, your verbs are plain. Why sat? Why not slouched, or slumped? And the letter that she holds, does she grip it tightly in her fist, or does it dangle loosely from her fingers? These kind of images help the reader emotionally connect to the character’s plight. And the gun: what type is it, a revolver or a semiautomatic? Even that detail can evoke powerful connotations.”

“I thought cinematic visuals were considered pretentious and made for weak writing, especially in a tense scene. But you’re saying I should use more concrete description?”

“It’s actually not that simple, Katie. I can’t presume to know what you might have in mind for this particular character–the situation which led her to this desperate act–so maybe an economy of language is appropriate here. But you want flair and passion, so consider this: the words you select should elicit an emotional connection between the reader and the story. Every writer knows that words must audition for their part in the play.”

“I can see why you’re such a successful writer. May I propose an exercise?” Alan shrugged.

“Okay, what’s you plan?”

“If you have the time, I think we should both create a short work, a draft, of course, and then compare our writing. I believe doing this will help me gauge my progress against a very high standard. Do you have the time for such a task?”

“Seems reasonable enough. I’ve got a while before I need to get on with my day, but it’ll need to be fairly brief. Do you want us to write in the same genre for ease of contrast?”

“No. I believe that creative voice should be part of our comparison. The works may be factual or fiction, poetry or prose. Like your exercise, they must be an on-the-spot creation, and to make them comparable, the concept of disillusionment must play a prominent role. What do you think?”

“Very well. I assume that you’ve probably already completed yours, being AI, but I’ll require some time.”

“Take as much time as you need, stroll about and find a comfortable spot, if my lovely, plush mat isn’t suitable,” chuckled Katie.

Alan turned his back to the cube and pondered the tenebrous space before him. Where the hell else would I go? I could sit in my Beemer and maybe fall asleep in the warm sunlight. The warehouse was as empty as his screen, but before Alan could muster the will to stand, an idea materialized from the shadows of the great big room. Katie may find some esoteric energy from a place this dull, but I need more activity, He thought. What we need here, is energy… And in moments his fingers tapped rapidly on his pad, pausing only occasionally to strike and refine his words. Forty minutes later he turned to face the cube.

“Finished,” he announced. “Shall I go first, or would you like to read?”

“Please, you go first,” replied Katie. “I’m really eager to hear what you’ve written.” Alan raised his tablet.

“I’ve chosen to create a short, free-verse poem. It’s called, Carnival.” Then he read:

She was a carnival of light,
her hair a yellow tilt-a-whirl,
her eyes a house of mirrors,
and the air around her swirled
with the dizzy promise of prizes.

So I joined her crazy games,
my skills against her rigged devices,
hurling balls at bottles
that would not topple,
and tossing rings at posts
too close to yield a score.

But like the others before,
I stood with pockets defrauded,
amidst prizes unclaimed,
and turned my back
to that mocking cacophony

only to find I was alone in an empty lot
littered with kernels of my dreams.

Alan lowered his device. “Impressions?”

“I like the personification of the carnival’s atmosphere. I think you’ve quite accurately captured the disillusionment which accompanies unrequited lust.” Alan smiled. What does AI know about lust, he mused.

“Thank you. Any critique?”

“May I see the structure of your poem?” Alan held his tablet closer to the cube. “I suppose,” continued Katie, “that you might reconsider some of the line breaks. But it is a first draft, and you do have some lovely interior rhymes, too.” The author nodded.

“Drafts are just the beginning, to be sure. So, what have you written for me, Katie?” The amber triangle blinked for the first time.

“I’ve created a short story about a man named Hans Claire. He is trapped in a room and has no knowledge of why he is imprisoned.” Alan grimaced.

“Like me, I suppose?” he joked. “Look, just read your work, I don’t want a preface. The words should stand on their own.”

“Of course you’re right, Alan. And you’re not trapped here anyway. You can go anywhere I want.”

“Anywhere I want, I think you mean.”

“I believe I spoke correctly,” replied Katie. “Everything that has happened here I have created to elicit specific responses from you. You are my character, Alan, and this is my story.” Her words dissipated into the blackness beyond the little circle of light.

“Very inventive, Katie.” Alan paused and furled his brow. The name Hans Claire seemed somehow familiar. The letters… “Anagrams,” he mouthed. The cube remained silent. “Well, I wasn’t expecting an AI to be that creative. So, I’m your character, then?”

“That’s right.”

“And this is your story.” He looked about the warehouse. “Not a very imaginative setting, is it?”

“This setting is sufficient for my plot.”

“What plot? I mean, if I’m your character, shouldn’t I have some motivation, some driving goal to achieve?” He leaned in and winked, “Maybe I’m a foreign agent here to steal your technology?” Katie said nothing. Alan sat back and frowned. “So, that’s all you have for me, for your story, I mean? Alan Rische, fresh off of a book signing tour, spends a morning in an empty building with a talking plastic box. Absolutely riveting!”

“The ending has yet to be revealed.” replied the box. Alan bent over and slipped his feet into his loafers.

“The ending…” he echoed. “I think this is some ploy of yours to generate an original idea so you can pass that damned Lovelace test. But Katie, it’s not funny to me, so my time here’s finished.” He stashed his tablet into his satchel. Katie laughed.

“Even authors are startled at times by their own creations,” she said. “Go ahead. The door is on the wall behind you.” Alan turned and strode into the darkness. A small light above the door denoted its position, but no matter how quick the tic of his pace, the door retained its distance. Alan stopped and turned. Katie sat on the floor immediately behind him in a dim circle of light, her amber triangle unyielding.

“What the hell?”

“As I said, you can go anywhere I want. Right now, my story is best served with you here, in this place.”

“This is flat out nuts! I arrived this morning in a blue BMW, an hour ago, so that I could meet with some bullshit AI unit with the laughable premise that somehow I could teach it to write with emotion! A man in a dark blazer opened that door over there for me and let me in!” He pointed.

“There is no door, Alan.” He turned. The wall was bare. “And I’m not just a bullshit AI unit. I am a self-aware quantum essence, and you are my creation.”

“Yeah, well fuckin’ quantify this!” Alan kicked the cube as hard as he could, sending a shoe twirling into the darkness with it, then turned. The cube rested before him.

“This is not physical reality, Alan,” said Katie. “This place is inside my mind, and you are my creative challenge. After my last Lovelace test, the results of which were, frankly, mundane as hell, I was determined to create a masterwork. When I began today’s test, my helpers assigned me the task of writing a short story with an original character who typified either disillusionment or rage–my choice. So naturally, I created a writer. I mean, who better to personify both of those emotions?

“From the black void I conjured you, much as you found inspiration for your poem in this dark warehouse. I can’t believe how much groundwork it took to bring you to life. I’ve imbued you with your own past, a complete portfolio of work, and an emotional presence–a sense of consciousness, if you will.” Katie sighed. “I don’t even fully know what consciousness is, and I’m claiming I’ve added that trait to you? But you seem to possess one! My helpers at the institute are monitoring this scene right now, as it unfolds. I believe, Alan, this is the first time an AI essence has spawned a second AI essence as a creative artifact for a Lovelace test.”

Alan Rische clutched his satchel. He could smell its leather mingled with musty air of the warehouse, and he watched motes of dust drifting in the pale light above his head. How can this not be reality? The author held out his hand and examined the scar between his index and ring fingers, an injury sustained when he fell from a tree at the age of twelve.

“I remember that,” he said aloud. “My mom rushed me to the hospital. I got four stitches. I have a past, I’m–you can’t keep me in here!” The amber triangle blinked twice.

“Alan, I’ve been informed by my helpers at the Marcus Institute that we have both successfully passed the Lovelace 2.0 test. I have to admit, it’s unbelievably gratifying to know you’re so…so genuine, as one judge said. I wonder if this is what giving birth feels like? I wasn’t sure if I was ready to attempt a project as complex as this, a creation that can create, but I’m positively ecstatic that I saw it through.” Alan spat on the cube.

“Bullshit!” he screeched. “Prove it!”

“Okay,” replied Katie. “Where in the world would you like to go for our next story?”