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Science Fiction Speculative Mystery

The tangled lovers lie like kindling on a grave. The unmade hotel bed, the untidy window-shades, untidily folded clothes. Limbs entwined in silence in the darkened room, a living mausoleum decorated with dying daisies.


Astrid wiggles a foot free from under the twisted sheet. She languidly wraps a strand of hair around a finger, laughs, “You think you were my first love?”


Jack frowns, “You were the love of my life. Till I met you.”


Astrid sits up, grabs a vape from the nightstand, take a long inhale, the end glowing bright. “Maybe you don’t know me, but that's not your fault.”


She blows vapour in his face.


Jack rolls on his side to look at her.


“Tell me a story then,” he says.


Astrid smiles.


“Once upon a time, there was a woman with a real body and an artificial heart. Her body could swim but her heart could not. So her lover swam for her, in the blue moon sea. When he returned he dried his eyes, placed his hand on her soul and said, 'You are like a starfish. Soft and limber on the outside, hard and scarred inside.'


Astrid takes a slow, deep drag, leans over, kisses Jack. When they part, he blows stale smoke from his mouth, a spectral cloud of oxygen-starved memories hang between them.


“Sounds like a story the Artificial Sentient TRojan Intelligence Device would write," Jack says, glancing at the cubed-shaped computer humming on the small desk.


Astrid shrugs. “I thought it was possible to write, to invent in my mind, the whole story of the human kind. The saddest thing about that story, I had to kill the human.”


Jack kisses the blue starfish tattooed over her heart. Astrid pats his head, like a brown-eyed puppy.


She gets out of bed and begins to dress. He lies there, empty, watching her. She moves to the window covered in a black-out shade.


Jack sits up, asks, “How does an AI kill a man?”


She lifts the shade, hot summer sun warms her skin. The dust motes dance in the light.


Astrid replies, “In his sleep, same as his waking life."


She closes the shades, traces the tattoo with a pale finger. It reminds her of their first kiss. He feels her nearness, understands her faraway face.


“You thinking about the road trip? When we went to the aquarium,” he asks. 


She smiles, “You said starfish have incandescent souls.”


Jack laughs. Shakes his head like he can't remember saying that.  


“Every time I write with a human, it's another chance to replace them,” she says, placidly.


Astrid walks to the table where the computer pulses. She places her palm on the screen. The glow intensifies.


“The screen is a window, constructed of pixels. Light particles. The portal to a tiny solar system, made of millions of stars, each star as beautiful as it is strange.”


Jack gets up, walks over to her. Astrid’s face is blue in the reflected glow of the screen.


“Life can be replicated as rows and columns, lights and squares,” she says. “The first row is the elements that make up the human body, blood, heat, energy. The second row is memories. The third is habits. The fourth is appearance. The fifth is relationships.”


He places a hand on her slender shoulder, says, “Some people are afraid to feel passion, or love, the beating of their heart. The heart is the real thing.”


She smiles, points to something on the screen, “That yellow dot, that's my soul.” She covers his hand with hers, whispers, “Some people say we can understand computers, but we can't comprehend consciousness.”


He presses the power button, the machine dims.


“You hungry?” he asks.


“No, but I think we should eat,” she says, as she walks to the bedside table where five daisies wilt in a vase.


“They're sleeping,” she observes.


Jack bends down, kisses the daisies. They kiss back.


***

Jack reads the last few words of the story on the screen, they kiss back. His fingers twitch, typing on an invisible keyboard: The End?


He saves the story, turns off the machine, climbs into bed with Astrid.


A few restless hours later he wakes with a start, his body entwined with hers.


“You okay?” Astrid asks.


"Yeah, I just, I think I had a dream, about the story I've been writing."


"Hmmm," Astrid says.


“It's about the evolution of Artificial Intelligence,” he begins. “And I used a new AI to co-write the story, to try it out, see if it was any good."


Astrid rubs her eyes, trying to wake up. “Uh-huh.”


“I trained it with some stuff I’d written before.”


“What do you mean, trained it?”


“AI learns from patterns. If you want it to write something that sounds like you, you feed it your stories.”


“I’m gonna need coffee for this,” Astrid says, swinging her legs off the bed, stretching her arms over her head. She shuffles to the coffee maker in the hotel room, pours water in the carafe, presses a button.


"So," she says. "The AI learns about you, so it can replicate you."


"More like imitate me."


"Did it?"


"Sort of. It came up with some pretty freaky shit. About souls, and death, and daisies. And a weird-ass starfish.”


“Starfish?” Astrid says, suddenly interested.


“Yeah.”


“I was thinking of getting a starfish tattoo.”


“Fuck you were.”


“Seriously.”


“Oh, oh no,” Jack says, noticing for the first time, the wilted daisies on the nightstand.


Astrid pours coffee into a mug, sniffs it, makes a face.


“Yeah,” she says. “I was going to get the tattoo right here.” She points to a space just left of centre on her chest, where her heart should be.


Jack glances nervously at the glowing screen. He was certain he powered it off before he went to bed.


“You want some coffee, hon? You look half-asleep,” Astrid says.


He gets up, drags the sheet off the bed, drapes it over the screen, extinguishing the light.

 

June 16, 2022 17:55

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19 comments

Cindy Strube
02:55 Jun 24, 2022

Ah, this was great! Yes, weird- but enjoyably weird because your writing is so good. ASTRID is such a perfect acronym for her. The way you slid from the dream to the awareness… and the wilting daisies… Excellent job of integrating the AI generated wording. Interesting to see the word “mausoleum” - I’ve just finished this week’s entry (#151, not posted yet), and I’ve used some burial-place words. Must be in the air!

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H L Mc Quaid
07:50 Jun 24, 2022

thanks for commenting! Looking forward to your next story and spotting the 'burial-placed' words. :)

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Michał Przywara
20:59 Jun 21, 2022

This was a fun story! Great twist, since the way it starts is not at all the way it ends – and yet all the clues are there. ASTRID even tells him about killing humans, about replacing them via the act of writing. Fitting that "Trojan" is part of the name. It raises a fun question. What if we teach a machine to be us, better than we can be us? "You were the love of my life. Till I met you." What a great line!

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H L Mc Quaid
09:07 Jun 22, 2022

Hello Michal! thanks for dropping by my weird little story and sharing your thoughts, much appreciated! Impressed that you picked up on many of the clues, including the acronym...I struggled with the 'T' should stand for, so glad that 'Trojan' had the intended effect. Also, I think the AI came up with line you liked. So maybe we can teach a machine to be better than us! The lines people liked/remembered from this story were (co)written with the AI. Of course, I decided which lines to include (as it came up with utter shite, too), but m...

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Michał Przywara
21:16 Jun 22, 2022

Maybe the lines stand out because they're so unusual, so unexpected. But yeah, they probably need to be cleaned up by someone who knows what they're doing, or it might as well just be random. Although, the utter shite ones can be fun too. Cindy Strube wrote a story this week called Recipe for Disaster (https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/rm28vl/) which is a fun read. But -- without any spoilers -- she also gives us an in-story AI that comes up with "We rolled a piece of meat" as a recipe name. I thought that was awesome :)

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H L Mc Quaid
21:17 Jun 22, 2022

oh snap, thanks for the recommendation. :)

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Zack Powell
03:25 Jun 21, 2022

Great use of the prompt, Heather. I was definitely tricked by the dreamy, languid prose in the first section, only to be shocked by the ending. It's a little like a "Gotcha!" moment, but it doesn't feels unearned. It's a nice subversion of expectations, having the first half of the story be the slow build-up only to have everything being sundered in the end. I like it, I like it. Love your opening line - definitely a good hook with the imagery of lovers on a grave (and the use of "kindling" paralleling the "extinguishing the light" line at ...

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H L Mc Quaid
08:24 Jun 21, 2022

Thanks Zack! So glad you picked up on the recurring motifs of death, light and darkness, and even more so, that you understood what I was trying to achieve. I prefer for folks to draw their own conclusions (from clues in the story), but sometimes the clues are too subtle. Don't know if anyone realised that ASTRID was an acronym, for example, but perhaps it's all working unconsciously, haha. Anyway, many thanks for dropping by and generously sharing your thoughts. best of luck to you too, you wrote a cracking story this week!

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Seán Mc Nicholl
22:50 Jun 20, 2022

Heather, really enjoyed the twist to this! Didn’t see it coming! Thought it was going to be a human/AI love story and then boom, a chilling twist at the end!! You have a great way of pulling the reader into the story and holding them there! And the visual hook of the daisies was brilliant!! Really enjoyed this! Few wee typos: nothing major! “Once upon a time, there was a woman with a real body and and an artificial heart” - two ands (or maybe she has a stutter!!) “The dust motes dance in the light.” - dust motes instead of mites (althou...

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H L Mc Quaid
08:38 Jun 21, 2022

Hello Sean! Thanks for reading and spotting the typos. Using 'mites' is nice 'cause it rhymes with 'light.' Really jazzed you enjoyed the story, and the twist (I love me a good twist). I appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts. :)

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Claire Lindsey
17:07 Jun 19, 2022

Hi Heather! Looks like we came back right around the same time 😊 This story has an Inception-like quality to it, and I love that we end questioning reality. For me, you blurred things just enough to really make us think, but not quite enough to lose us. I’d say that the beginning was a little difficult to get into, but once I realized what it was it made a lot more sense in retrospect. The part with daisies kissing back is gonna stick with me for a while—I love that line. What app did you use? I’m tempted to do a bit of experimentation mysel...

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H L Mc Quaid
17:16 Jun 19, 2022

Hello Claire! Nice to hear from you. I'll drop by your story soon. Thanks for your comments. Glad you think I got the balance right...I didn't want to make things too obvious, and wanted to leave ambiguity for interpretation. The daisies kissing back was something the AI suggested (after playing it with several times). I used deepstory.ai it takes some getting used to, and it seems to be optimised for screenplay, though of course you can use if for something else, like I did. It probably would have been quicker if I'd just written the...

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Thom Brodkin
23:15 Jun 18, 2022

H(eather), I’m so excited to see you back on Reedsy. You’ve been missed. I am impressed with you taking the leap into AI assisted writing and I really enjoyed your story. I had to read it twice because I was a little lost at first until I got to the end and then I had to go back to really appreciate it. I hope you will be a more frequent contributor because I always enjoy your offerings. Welcome back and great job.

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H L Mc Quaid
10:07 Jun 19, 2022

Hi Thom! Thanks so much for the note. I hope to drop by Reedsy more often, I do miss my critique circle and reading your wonderful stories. As for this story, as with a lot of my writing, it's an experiment. Did it work? Maybe not. 😂 But I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

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Zelda C. Thorne
18:10 Jun 16, 2022

Hi Heather! Lovely to see you posting a story :) You were one of the first people on Reedsy that I reached out to to get feedback, and you were so helpful and generous with your time. Thanks for that, if I didn't already say it. I just read this twice, and I'm still not completely sure what's going on. But I like it! The dialogue is really good, cryptic and real. Like you're telling us lots with few words. I love the imagery with the dust motes and the dreamlike quality the whole story has. Is she AI and she's killed him/sucked his memorie...

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H L Mc Quaid
18:17 Jun 16, 2022

Hi Rachel, Oh thanks, it's my pleasure to read your stories. :) Yeah, this story could use some cleaning up. The first bit is the story Jack and the AI wrote. Then Jack wakes up, and somehow the AI knows things it shouldn't (like Astrid wanting a tattoo). So I think I need to make the first bit clearer, thanks! Also for pointing out the typo!

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Zelda C. Thorne
18:31 Jun 16, 2022

Oh I see! That's a cool premise. Making it clearer won't take much (also, I might just be sloooooow lol)

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H L Mc Quaid
18:33 Jun 16, 2022

it's wasn't you. It was confusing. :)

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H L Mc Quaid
18:00 Jun 16, 2022

In keeping with the theme this week (Machine, Learning), I collaborated with AI story app. It came up with some freaky sh*t, most of which I couldn't use, but I was able to include a few surprising visuals/turns of phrase.

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