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East Asian Fantasy Speculative

The scar burned whenever I woke from the dreams.

Every night, it was always the same vision of a sunrise cuddled by the gentle sea of fog that rolled by the towering mountain range in the dawn. My breath hitched as I stood on the cliff, mesmerized by its spectacular view that was raised up to a sky illuminated by a thousand shimmering stars. A mixture of tranquility, solitude, and beauty hidden away in the depths of my mind. Was it real, or just my imagination?

She pressed a hand against my chest, where the scar remained. 

“Take care of it for me,” she said.

Whisper #1: คุณเป็นคนพิเศษครับ (you are special)

“Don’t you feel strange at all?”

I visited the hospital often, whether it was for rehab, to run tests, draw drug levels, or change the dosage of my medication. Over time, I’d made friends with the physical therapists, showing many of them a sketch of the cliff where I stood every night in my dreams. Though I’ve only seen it in the photos of my memory, it was familiar. But why? 

Whisper #2: ตาคุณสวยมากครับ (you have beautiful eyes)

“The donor is just an ordinary person.”

As much as I had inquired about the donor, the nurses and doctors wouldn’t budge. Something about privacy. Fortunately, if you had a lot of money, anything was possible. Eventually, a nurse practitioner close to the family returned with a box.

My chest tightened as she smiled back at me. Her badge—Sujin Supasawat, Volunteer Teacher, Sangthong Conservation Foundation—taunted me as I held it in my hand. I spent a semester in Thailand during a study abroad program, immersed in the culture and learning the language. It was as if my heart was trying to tell me something. Nudging me. But where?

Whisper #3: คิดถึงคุณครับ (I miss you)

I want to know who gave me this miracle.

“Excuse me,” I said towards the man tending to the plants in the garden. “I want to apply to be a volunteer teacher.”

He turned towards me with a scowl on his face. “We’re closed. Can you come back on Monday?”

Clearly, the foundation wasn’t closed if he was working, but I shoved the urge to be rude out of my mind. After all, she gave me a new chance at life, a reset button that most people never pressed. The least I could do was try harder than my first go around, right? I turned away from him, pressing my lips together as I walked to the front gate.

“Hey, young man.”

When I glanced back in his direction, he pushed his eyeglasses up the bridge of his nose.

“Are you in a rush?” he asked.

“No.”

“Can you help me carry this?”

“Sure.”

I bent at the knees, holding the clay pot from the opposite side. The dry plant slumped onto itself, its brown, wilted leaves dangling from the side. We lifted together, and I walked backward as he guided us to a sunny part of the garden.

“Place it over there,” he said. “There you go. Thank you.”

He watered the plant with a garden hose, then offered it to me to wash my hands clean of the dirt. He chuckled, his eyes crinkling as he spoke.

“Sorry to make your hands dirty.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said.

“So, you want to be a teacher?”

“Yes.”

“All right. Come this way.”

Whisper #4: ดูแลตัวเองครับ (take care of yourself)

The desk plate read: Director, Sangthong Conservation Foundation

“Here’s your application form.”

He narrowed his eyes as I filled the blanks.

“Where’d you graduate from?” he asked.

“Right now, I’m studying chemistry. But… I’m taking a break from school at the moment.” I pulled an envelope from my messenger bag, handing it over to him. “Here’s proof of my academic leave.”

His brows wrinkled as he studied the letter. “Hilton. Are you related to—”

“Paris Hilton is my cousin.”

The man scoffed. “Then don’t bother being a volunteer teacher. Your monthly allowance can pay a volunteer teacher for an entire year.”

I fiddled with the white gold Pasha de Cartier watch, concealing it under my palm. “But that’s my family’s money. Not mine.”

He crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back into his chair. “Do you know where you want to be?”

The scar burned underneath my shirt, as if answering the question for me. I pushed through the pain, pulling out the sketch of the mysterious cliff, as well as a photo—a replica of the sketch from my dreams—that was tucked inside Sujin’s journal, handing them over to the director. 

“This is a cliff in a rural village in the Chiang Mai Province. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable that place is?”

I nodded my head, ignoring the lump in my throat. “Yes, I’ve heard about it.”

“That means you’ve lived in a place without water and electricity?”

As I replayed the morning in my head, it probably wasn’t a good idea to wear a Salvatore Ferragamo dress shirt today. “No.”

“Have you ever cooked for yourself?”

“Nope.”

“Ever lived without house staff?”

“Never.”

He pressed his hands together in front of him, inhaling a deep breath. “It’s difficult to onboard a volunteer teacher to a rural village. There are expenses. And other people have to look after you. If you just need a picture to post on social media, I suggest you find another job that is more comfortable.”

I leaned forward, resting my elbows on the desk. Sujin’s heart was trying to tell me something. I was sure of it. Why else would I have the same dream of a cliff in Thailand, replaying repeatedly every night? My chest fluttered unexpectedly. 

There was something in Chiang Mai I needed to find. Something Sujin left behind.

“No,” I protested. “It must be this place only.” I pointed to the photo.

“Then answer me this question: what is the most difficult thing in your life?”

Whisper #5: คุณหล่อครับ (you are handsome)

As the bus bumped up and down over the dirt road leading into Chiang Mai, I pulled Sujin’s journal out of my bag, reading a passage she scribbled a few months earlier:

Finally, I’ve arrived at the village. It may be absurd to believe this, but the tale could be true. If I have a chance, at least I know that I’ve tried. On the last day of the year, I will make a wish on the cliff.

A sudden jolt woke me from my slumber as the bus stopped at the station. I rubbed my eyes, adjusting to the bright summer sun beaming down from above. Terribly overdressed in a striped sweater and khaki pants, my sweaty skin stuck to the fabric like a musty adhesive. The locals shot suspicious glances in my direction, yet another foreigner encroaching on their protected space.

I snapped a selfie, hoping to send it back home to my parents once I settled in the village. No doubt my mother was worried sick, the same wrinkles across her forehead when I left all those years ago to study abroad. 

A man cleared his throat in front of me. Ranger camouflage was tucked into black combat boots, along with a pistol holstered into a leather belt. The only thing more intimidating than his weapon was the scowl he wore on his face.

“You must be Craig Hilton,” he said with a flat voice.

Searing pain radiated from the scar on my chest, spreading through the rest of my body. I winced as I tucked the phone into my pocket, holding my hand out. “Yes. I was told a Ranger Tul would bring me to the village.”

He sighed as he scanned my body, his eyes flickering from my well-groomed hair down to the designer shoes covering my feet. “You won’t last a week.”

Whisper #6: ดิฉัน ชอบคุณมากครับ (I really like you)

I lit the lantern beside my bed, burning my finger. As I rubbed the tender skin, heaviness settled in my body, as I was yet to grow accustomed to rural life: no electricity to charge my phone, no hot water to bathe, and no idea how to build a fire to keep warm through the night. I resolved to read another entry from Sujin’s journal, hoping to glean insight before my first day of class with the students:

For a while, I had to be careful while walking around the house. Finally, with the help of all the villagers, we fixed the wooden flooring of the volunteer teacher’s house. It took all of us to do it, but the kids seemed to have a good time. Pannawat said he would come tomorrow to fix the steps. The children are all so nice. I’m grateful to them for making this house the happiest place to live.

Whisper #7: คุณน่ารักครับ (you are cute)

“Today, I’m going to teach you the alphabet. Repeat after me. Ko kai like chicken.”

The children spoke in unison. “Ko kai like chicken.”

“Very good,” I said with a smile. The next letter is—”

“Kho kai like egg,” they said together with a tone flatter than a sheet of egg roll wrapper.

“Oh. You’ve learned this already?”

Mali, the youngest and most inquisitive student, raised her hand. “Miss Sujin taught us all the letters.”

“You incorrectly switched the letters do cha-da and to pa-tak, Mister Craig,” said Nawatkorn, the outgoing one.

The oldest of the students, Pannawat, stood from his chair. “This isn’t as fun as when Miss Sujin taught us.”

Chirawan, the girl sitting next to Mali, raised her hand. “When will Miss Sujin come back to teach us?”

Whisper #8: คิดถึงคุณครับ (I miss you)

I crossed off another day on the paper calendar. Blank squares stared back at me, waiting for lesson plans to fill their white spaces. I flipped through Sujin’s journal, searching for any notes she may have left about what she’d already reviewed with all the children. The last thing I needed was another incident like today. My eyes landed on an entry that sparked an idea:

A military patrol plane flew over the village today. The children stared at the sky with awe, their eyes filled with wonder. It comes by every once in a while, and the kids love it very much. Never able to see the world beyond the village, I wish there was something I could do for them. Pannawat told me he wants to be a pilot when he grows up.

Whisper #9: คุณยิ้มสวยครับ (you have a beautiful smile)

I held up the sheet of paper between my hands in the air. “Alright everyone, we’re going to learn how to fold a paper plane.”

My chest tightened as Ranger Tul walked into the classroom. His boots stomped on the ground, each step intensifying the sting of the scar burning underneath my shirt. Why did it always do that when he was around me?

I pushed through the pain. “Who wants to learn how to fold it?” 

Pannawat’s eyes sparkled, and as he raised his hand, bouncing up and down in his chair, all the other children joined in. I instructed the kids on the steps, first with folding the paper in half, then folding the top corners towards the center, and finishing with folding the wings down. Their smiles infused fresh energy into the room, and when my gaze met his, a flush crept up my neck as Ranger Tul’s lips tugged upward. Had I finally pierced through his steel armor?

Mali raised her finished paper plane. “What do we do with them now?”

I scratched my head, thinking of something to keep their attention. “These are kind birds… protecting your village from…”

Their blank stares sent a tingle down my arms. I had to think of something… and quickly.

I pointed my paper plane at Ranger Tul. “From… the mean Green Giant!”

His eyes widened, as if stunned by the accusation.

“Green Giant!” the children shouted.

“How dare you come here?” I asked him with narrowed eyes. “Everyone, get your big birds and attack the Green Giant!”

Ranger Tul shielded his face with his arms as the children launched their paper planes at him, their laughter filling the air with sizzling crackles of energy. The scar on my chest burned again when Ranger Tul gazed at me with softened eyes and a crooked smile.

Whisper #10: ผมรักคุณครับ (I love you)

I chased my medicine down with a glass of water, then opened Sujin’s journal. The photo bookmarked the last page I had read the night before. Nawatkorn's father was the village elder, and when I’d inquired about the cliff, he provided me with instructions on the path I’d need to take. I crossed another day off the calendar, a fluttering sensation taking flight in my chest as I read the next entry from Sujin:

I’ve learned to appreciate a kind of happiness that no money can buy: making my life meaningful. Yesterday, I had the best sticky rice I've ever tasted! And I used to think that a hard mattress on the floor was impossible to sleep on, but it wasn’t that bad.

Things that need to get fixed: the bookshelf at the school, the holes in the mosquito net, and the weighing scale.

Things that I want to do: I miss eating instant noodles and pork barbecue. And pink milk.

I’m really happy now… I don’t even miss my old apartment in the city. When we feel happy, we feel like home.

Whisper #11: ผมต้องการอยู่กับคุณตลอดไปครับ (I want to be with you forever)

I trekked through the forest as the wind whipped the surrounding trees, the moon as my solitary source of illumination. I cursed myself for forgetting a flashlight, but I was far too deep to turn back now. The sounds of crickets and owls filled the night, adding to the eerie mood that hung in the air. I picked up my strides, hoping I would not get lost on my way to the cliff.

I’ve been waiting for this day since I arrived at the village. My last gift to Sujin for the life she had given me. I thought back to the director’s question: what is the most difficult thing in your life?

I’ve never had to be alone. Never lived without a water supply or electricity. I’ve never had to do anything by myself. I’ve lived a comfortable life… way too comfortable. But I almost died once. And now, I’ve been given another opportunity. It was as if I was born again. So I wanted to use this opportunity to do something for others. Become a better version of myself.

To do one last thing for Sujin.

I gasped upon reaching the top of the cliff. The image from my dreams stole my breath with its spectacular view, a night sky illuminated by a thousand shimmering stars above me. Goosebumps slid along the back of my neck as I gazed upon them, familiar friends who visited me often, no longer just a dream.

“Sujin, thank you for everything. For giving me new life. I’ve done everything you wanted. The children helped me fix that bookshelf and the scale, and I bought a new mosquito net from the market. I’ve filled the volunteer teacher’s house with as much instant noodles and pork barbecue that it can hold. Because of you, I even discovered the heavenly sweetness of pink milk. All that’s left is this one last thing.”

I clutched her journal in my hands, pressing it against my chest as the breeze caressed my cheeks. The stars sparkled from above as I spoke to them.

“This is the last thing I can do for you. To return the favor.”

I pulled out the photo tucked inside the journal. A mirror image of the sketch I created from the memories buried in my mind, where the forest below the gentle sea of fog that rolled by the towering mountain range from afar embraced me. This is where Sujin wanted me to be, speaking to me in my dreams. But why?

The screen on my phone flickered. 12:00 am on New Year’s Day. The scar on my chest blazed as I remembered what she wrote in her journal. 

“But I don’t know what your wish was. So… I wish for your wish to come true.”

I traced the line from my belly up to Sujin’s heart. My heart. Whatever her wish, would I ever erase this guilty feeling? After all I had done, could I ever truly repay her? Was it even enough?

“No one should use their whole life to repay another life.”

I turned to the voice behind me, and Ranger Tul stood there, dressed in a camouflage uniform with furrowed eyebrows. He pointed the flashlight to the ground with the other hand on the pistol secured to his waist. Although he pressed his lips into a firm line, his eyes softened when he looked at me.

“How do you know Sujin?” he asked. 

A single star twinkled above us, hearing my wish and answering from heaven. My heart pounded in my chest as the ranger met my gaze. Somehow, I knew him long before arriving at the village, and he knew me. I gazed back at Tul, the line blurred between Sujin’s whispers and mine, but as warmth radiated through my chest like a flood washing over my body, I discovered what she had been trying to tell me all along. 

April 29, 2022 02:38

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28 comments

Riel Rosehill
10:01 Apr 29, 2022

Let me start with my first reaction... "The scar burned whenever I woke from the dreams." Potter, is that you..? And then I promptly forgot about that when I started reading. I'm going to say it... This is my favourite story from you to date. I love how you put in fun bits like the guy is Paris Hilton's cousin, how do you even throw that in there..! But actually you tapped into a topic I love with the transplant memory/emotion retention (I don't know how to call it but I'm sure you know what I mean) and you really did it justice. This was st...

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J.C. Lovero
11:35 Apr 29, 2022

LOL, you and Zack both referenced Harry Potter in your comments! I'm here for it 😋 😛 😝 Thank you, as always, for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed the story! To be honest, I was super duper struggling with the prompt this week, so when I have those weeks, I pull out a document that has all of my random ideas/thoughts/brain dump/trash that I eventually want to write about. One of them was for an urban fantasy romance where a witch hunter dude kills a witch, and her heart gets transplanted into a guy who ends up inheriting her powers, then said ...

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Riel Rosehill
11:47 Apr 29, 2022

Thanks! OMG we both used old writings this week?! My first two paragraphs are ancient, pulled out of a long forgotten writing folder, LOL. What are the chances. #cheatteam ❤️ PS love that story idea with the witch hunt!

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J.C. Lovero
12:15 Apr 29, 2022

Mmmm yes... I love witches/vampires/werewolves etc... very Vampire Diaries. I'm hoping to get to that universe eventually. But, I need to finish my current project! Have a good weekend Ri Ri! #cheatteam

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Zack Powell
04:22 Apr 29, 2022

I told Riel that the prompt she responded to was one of the two most challenging of this rotation, only rivaled by the prompt YOU responded to. So I commend you both for playing on Expert Mode this week. I'm predicting this prompt to be the one that yields the fewest stories overall, so double kudos to you. #10pointstoGryffindor It's nice, having finished this story, to go back and read the Whisper lines together to construct a little mini-tale. I like them as a framing device for the narrative, as they hold more emotional weight than simpl...

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J.C. Lovero
11:27 Apr 29, 2022

Hi Zack, my pen pal! Thanks for stopping by to chat. Always a pleasure. Fun fact, we took a quiz at work to find out which Harry Potter house we belonged to. I tested out to Ravenclaw and the infographic matched my personality type (INFJ). Sooooo.... #houseravenclaw. Link is here if you ever need a distraction: https://www.reddit.com/r/harrypotter/comments/qupk2b/hogwarts_houses_and_the_myer_briggs_personality/ Anyway, thanks for your (as always) positive comments. I was a little worried that the whispers would be confusing, so no worries ...

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Zack Powell
06:56 Apr 30, 2022

I could definitely see you as a Ravenclaw! I'm only one letter away from you (INFP), which I would've assumed to be Ravenclaw too, but nope! I'M the Gryffindor. I'm glad that you kept the translations adjacent to the whispers because I'll be honest: I gloss over author's notes at the end because I'm lazy af, LOL. Plus it's nice for those ignorant people (read: me) who didn't know that Thai characters looked like this and might've assumed them to be something else. Side note: You had a comment a few months ago along those same lines of "shor...

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Riel Rosehill
10:25 Apr 30, 2022

So obviously I had to do this test as soon as I saw this (so fun!) :D Turns out I'm an INFP too! (I thought I was Slytherin... I was, according the pottermore quiz when I took it years ago!) Oh well. But remember me saying we're the same person? Confirmed. Side note: oh I'm so glad too that those translations stayed!!

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J.C. Lovero
12:24 Apr 30, 2022

YES! More fuel for the Ri Ri and Zaddy ship. #getintoit #gryffindor4life #ririandzaddy So yea, you Gryffindors can go sit on those gilded thrones while I tuck myself away somewhere in the forests of Chiang Mai 😛 😝 😜 🤪

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Riel Rosehill
19:30 Apr 30, 2022

Surely we need the Ravenclaw as the voice of reason..! 😬😬

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J.C. Lovero
12:57 Apr 30, 2022

"Side note: You had a comment a few months ago along those same lines of "short stories are a great way to experiment with styles/formats," so I wanna belatedly thank you for inspiring, like, 3/4 of my recent Reedsy stories." There's that INFP Gryffindor coming out. 😆 😅 😂 🤣 Now that I know this, you make so much more sense to me LOL. Thanks for the compliment (virtual hug)

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11:53 May 07, 2022

It's a lovely story, J.C.! I really enjoyed reading about Craig's journey to fulfil Sujin's last wish. I like how well you played with her speaking to Craig's heart via a transplant heart. I'm looking forward to more of your stories!

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J.C. Lovero
12:12 May 07, 2022

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Sonia! Truly appreciate it.

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Alex Sultan
13:09 May 04, 2022

I really liked the concept for this one - very unique, and having the whispers break scenes was great. I think Craig's character was very well written. The one scene with the interview where he hid his watch, talking about family money, then listing off how he doesn't fit the role stood out to me. It was a nice way to set up his character. I also liked a lot of the small details you wrote that brought the story to life. Like Pannawat wanting to be a pilot, then getting excited over paper airplanes. Craig hitting the lantern, and burning his...

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J.C. Lovero
22:38 May 04, 2022

Hi Alex! Thanks for the kind feedback. Glad you liked how I characterized Craig - I was hoping his transformation would show in the narrative. I've been wanting to do a story set in eastern Asia, and this prompt seemed like the one to do it. I'm honored it's in your list of faves! As always, looking forward to your next story, friend!

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L. Maddison
07:15 May 01, 2022

I have these mixed feelings of mournfulness and hope after reading this. The nurturing of the plant at the outset is an apt metaphor for the heart transplant and the theme of growth. I like the presentation of the Ranger character, his sternness and softness give him depth.

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J.C. Lovero
12:25 May 01, 2022

Hi L., Thanks for reading the story and giving me feedback! There are definitely a mixture of emotions packed throughout. Glad you picked up on the plant metaphor. Happy you liked Tul's characterization!

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Daniel R. Hayes
06:23 Apr 30, 2022

Hi J.C. This was a fantastic story. I'm really impressed with they way you write these stories. Especially in this one where you use a different language: คุณน่ารักครับ I think this tale will stick with me for a while and I said to myself: "This is a sign of a great writer." You are a very talented writer. Keep up the great work, and I hope to dig into your archives soon!! :)

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J.C. Lovero
12:19 Apr 30, 2022

Hi Daniel, Thank you for taking a moment to read and comment! Always appreciate feedback, especially coming from one of the seasoned Reedsy authors. My 2022 goal is to write a short story for every week (only missed one week at the turn of the new year), so here's to more writing! 😁 😆 😅

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Daniel R. Hayes
16:21 Apr 30, 2022

That is an inspiring goal. When I first started, I did that. On a few rare occasions I would write 2 or 3 when I had the ideas fresh in my mind. That's where some of my best characters and tales were born. I still try to write at least one a week, but while writing a novel I find it to be a great challenge to keep up with everything. I think it's a balancing act all the while dealing with regular life things... I wish you all the best and I see a lot of talent for storytelling and there are no limits to what you can achieve!! :)

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J.C. Lovero
16:26 Apr 30, 2022

Can't wait to learn more about your novel!

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Daniel R. Hayes
19:30 Apr 30, 2022

Thanks J.C. The novel is a collection of short horror stories tied together with an overall narrative called "Tales from Mr. Macabre," and I'm spending a lot of time right now editing. I'm looking into some artists to do the cover, so I hope to can have it out in the next few months, fingers crossed... lol ;)

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Michał Przywara
21:15 Apr 29, 2022

This was a great use of the prompt! I've seen similar ideas before, where the transplanted organ comes from a serial killer or something and that leads to all sorts of violent shenanigans, so from my POV this is a nice twist. But the underlying story is one of growth. The protagonist realizes the value of the gift he received, both in the physical heart and in the second chance at life it represents. That he was previously rich and carefree underlines this transformation, as he understands that it's meaning which matters in life. I like th...

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J.C. Lovero
13:06 Apr 30, 2022

Hi Michał! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. Though I've only interacted with you a couple of times on here, I really appreciate your feedback. Always very thoughtful and eloquent. Reminds me of a couple of folks on here I keep up with 😍 🥰 I've also seen stories of transplanted organs going super dark, but I wanted something lighter after last week's story LOL. In my day job, I work in health care and saw transplant patients in the formative years of my career. The idea of something coming with the donated organ into a new host a...

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Michał Przywara
16:55 May 01, 2022

Well, I hope you do explore that further someday, because you're right, it's a fascinating topic and there's so much that can be done with it. Hell, the whole idea of transplants even being a thing is mind boggling. A couple hundred years ago it would have been sci-fi or witchcraft. Ship of Theseus interests me because it puts a name on something I've been pondering for a long time. It's a riveting idea -- what defines a "thing"? How much can we alter it without changing its nature? In my mind, this extends from the ship to Theseus himself....

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10:30 Apr 29, 2022

This is wonderful. I- just, yes. This entire story. I love it.

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J.C. Lovero
11:27 Apr 29, 2022

Thank you for reading, as always! Hope you are well.

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11:32 Apr 29, 2022

Of course. Today's a new start, so hopefully. I hope you're doing good as well, have a good day!

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