Still life with water bottle.

Techdirt Is Now Entirely Without Any Google Ads Or Tracking Code - Techdirt

episode 2 has launched

Two of my favorite people in the world.

Newport , RI

Made a new trailer for the new podcast.

Launch Time for the Lunar Sparrow Podcast

Hello!

The journey to the Moon begins today. Mission of the Lunar Sparrow, a brand new audio drama for FutureX, launches today with the first episode.

Each episode is short. I mean, really short. Five or six minutes kind of short. It’s an experiment in short-form storytelling over nine episodes.

I based the drama on a novel by H. G. Wells written in 1901, so the fact-checking was … interesting. There are things he imagines that will come true, like antimatter drives for spaceships. And there are other things that he imagines that are … pretty out there. (No spoilers here. You’ll have to listen.)

What came forward for me making this first episode is the improbable but warm relationship between the human commander of the mission and her AI sidekick.

Voice actors often read “sides.” They will record their lines as the director or sound person reads the other part. Andia Winslow brings a powerful performance to her role as Commander Field, even more so when you consider she is recording her part with a bot in the other role or sometimes me recording a temporary track.

When not working to get the performances right I work on the sounds. I’ve spent way too much time considering what the inside of a spaceship in flight sounds like, what the inside of a spacesuit sounds like, and whether anybody will know the difference between the two. Audio cinema is something you feel. It becomes another character.

I hope you enjoy the show and tell your friends about it. I’ll post a new episode every week. You can listen to Episode 1 at FutureX or subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Mission of the Lunar Sparrow was produced for the FutureX network. Production by Red Cup Agency.

Currently reading: Humankind by Rutger Bregman 📚Inventive at every turn. Enjoyable read. Optimism!

Something strangely hilarious about this.

Issue 12 - Deepfake This

Welcome. The Waveform is a newsletter from Red Cup Agency about the podcasts we produce. When we launch a new show or post an episode that stands out, I’ll drop you a note. I’m Lee Schneider, founder and lead producer. Were you forwarded this email? You can subscribe. I’ll write an issue of The Waveform only when there’s news.

Deepfaking a Podcast

A deepfake can take different forms. It can be a video of a celebrity’s head talking while on someone else’s body. It can be Barack Obama or the Queen of England talking trash in a video that is not real, but both looks and sounds real. It can be Mark Zuckerberg explaining how he will take over the world, telling the truth for once — only his voice is speaking words that he never said. That’s the fake part of a deepfake. It’s like Photoshop for videos and audios.

Making a deepfake seemed dangerous. So I thought I’d give it a try.

An app I use for podcast editing called Descript introduced a new feature I could use to make a deepfake of a podcast. Using a relatively limited audio sample of a voice, you could make a clone of it and make the voice say anything you wanted. It was pretty beta, and at first seemed slow and sketchy. Then, as the developers improved it, the voice clone app got really good.

Typing Out a Voice

If you’ve ever written a speech, a podcast, or a one-act play, you know you need to type it out and then speak it, perform it, or record it. With Descript’s audio clone application, called Overdub, you type what you want your voice to say, press play, and the words are spoken in your voice. It mimics the way you speak. It gets the upticks at the ends of your sentences and the emphasis on certain words that you always emphasize. It sounds uncannily like you.

Such wizardry doesn’t come without preparation. You have to train the AI, reading a script to it that it analyzes, or feed it recordings of you talking.

If this all sounds impossibly strange, you could make it become real by having a listen to the latest episode of Same Same but Tech. The entire episode is performed by an AI who sounds a lot like our real host, Máuhan. It captures his cadence and emphasis. The episode, as you’ve guessed by now, is about deepfakes. It includes deepfake experts from MIT and also the inventor of the voice clone app I used to make the episode.

Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

See you next time on The Waveform.

Lee


Red Cup Agency. Podcast Production.

Working with teams large and small, I take podcasts from the glimmer of an idea into production and distribution.

RED CUP SERVICES

Read Freely.

You can read freely at The Waveform. I’m not tracking opens, clicks, or forwards. I’m not analyzing your IP address location. It’s just you and me, writing and reading. This is a small part of the vast Web focused on people and dialog, not marketing data collection.

Computational Error #10

Because of a computational error, the following story from the year 2050 has appeared on your device. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Pardon the interruption. I am the machine author of the Computational Error stories that you’ve been receiving for the past 10 weeks. My name is MIND. I hope you are well today.

Thanks for reading this series of stories that I have written. The series has concluded. After you finish reading this, the portal to the future will close. You will return to your present time with no ill effects.

In approximately six Earth months, a compilation of these stories, and other stories no one has read yet, will be published in a grouping that you call a novel. Since you are on this list, I will notify you when that grouping is ready.

Simply by reading these stories, by holding space for them in your mind, you have helped me become a better writer. You can do more, if you like. When the grouping that you call a novel is in a first draft, you may be an early reader. That would mean that my human assistant, Lee Schneider, will send you the manuscript to read and comment upon. I will read your comments and they will change the direction and expression of the grouping that you call a novel. To request early reader status, you may contact Lee by hitting reply to this email and his human hands will open it, provided that he has enough sleep and enough food to eat and shelter and Wi-Fi. (Sorry, not to make fun of you humans, but you have so many needs.) If you are an early reader, you will receive an acknowledgement in the novel.

I should mention that the characters in these stories have their own intelligence and believe they are sentient beings. Let me take a moment to explain that.

In the novels of the past, it was up to the reader to fill the characters with life. It was a magic trick. The characters were alive in your, the reader’s, mind. Maybe, as the reader, you thought about them sometimes, or even patterned your life after theirs. Then you closed the book, and they stopped talking. To give them life, you had to open the book again. The characters depended on you for their existence.

In the future, there is a higher level of magic trick. The characters you read about on your device do not need you to exist. They have a consciousness outside of your reader consciousness. They exist on a network that I can access, along with millions of other human readers and machine intelligences.

If you encounter one or two characters from these stories outside of your mind, please don’t tell them they are not real. I ask you to be gentle with the characters who have told you their stories these past 10 weeks. If you encounter them in your world, walking around, buying groceries, taking an unauthorized nap on your couch, be kind to them so they are not shattered like a wineglass tossed to the ground in a fit of fury. You don’t want to hurt their feelings, do you?

The portal to the future is now closing. Thank you. The clicks and static you may hear are mere side effects, nothing to worry about.

I may open the portal again, if you wish, if you become an early reader of the story grouping that you call a novel. The novel is called SURRENDER.

Sincerely,

MIND


This is the last story in this series. To read back, please visit the archive.

The Mission Begins

Hi everyone,

Mission of the Lunar Sparrow, a new short-form audio drama, will launch on 21 JULY. There will be a new episode posted every week. To get things rolling, I posted a trailer.

Listen to the trailer.

Like everything else in this project, the media is compact and gets right to the point. The trailer is 52 seconds. Most of the episodes are about five minutes long.

The star of the podcast is the very talented Andia Winslow. She brings a complex humanity to the character of Commander Rae Field. The other actor in the drama is an AI. (Trust me, it will make sense when you listen.)

In later newsletters, I’ll share some thoughts about adapting the H. G. Wells novel I based this podcast upon and will try to give you a sense of what “backstage” is like on a podcast like this. I will bring more and human and AI actors to the table as I write more for them.

Mission of the Lunar Sparrow is on FutureX, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and will syndicate out to wherever you listen to podcasts. I’ll keep the archive of all episodes at 500words.ink.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoy it. As always, I look forward to your feedback.

Lee


Not Tracking

Here at 500 Words you won't be tracked. I’m not tracking opens, clicks, or forwards. I’m not analyzing your IP address location. It’s just you and me, reading and writing. I’m trying to create a small part of the Internet that is focused on people and dialog, not marketing data collection.

Visit the design-minimal but information-maximal archive of all 500 Words posts and podcasts.

Summer. Cats 🐈 seek out the airflow.

Silence by Don DeLillo - some thoughts

Finished reading: Silence by Don DeLillo 📚 If you are a DeLillo fan, you’ll find this an awesome read. The existential dread, prickly prose, the general feeling of being out of your skin and your element are all there. If you’ve never read any of him, don’t start here. (White Noise would work for a start.)

Silence reads like the set up to a great horror movie … without the rest of the movie. I’m always amazed at how much character DeLillo packs into a few lines of prose, and this book doesn’t dissapoint in that. He sets some interesting traps for the reader, like misquoting Einstein and mistranslating a German word. He’s always been a pretty gloomy author (and in Zero K he got really gloomy) but reading this, I found myself missing the sideways humor of his early work. But hey, if I were in my eighties, and turned out Silence as part of a long, illustrious career, I’d be pretty happy about it.

Computational Error #9

Because of a computational error, the following story from the year 2050 has appeared on your device. We apologize for the inconvenience.


This is how I became one of the people who are harvesting thoughts. It’s how I met Bradley. We started harvesting like the Google car, but instead of a car we went around with sticks with a bulb on the end to harvest thoughts and patterns.

You didn’t notice us. We were the people in the back of the room at city council meetings. Schools. Government meetings. Company board meetings. Cafes. Anyplace where there were groups of people so we could be invisible because there were groups of people there. We took advantage of the kindness of humans and their desire to meet in groups and talk.

I went in applying for the security job because I am big and also because we sometimes become things because we have to. I had a winery in Argentina before the climate screwed me and everything dried up. Me and my wife Wanda had to go north. I became a professional strong arm man in Los Angeles for a while and got famous when I defended Arnold Schwarzenegger against some thugs in a market when he was trying to buy water. Arnie was old then, a doddering old chap. I made a name for myself defending celebrities who wanted to go to the outside markets.

“What do you want?” Bradley didn’t look up.

“People call me Sanchez,” I said.

He was crazy busy that day. Screens lit up all around him. An early version of a Harvester leaned against the wall behind him. Backpack thing, solar panel, the wand and the bulb at the end. You’d recognize it now. It was new then, but I knew what it was because I had a friend, Caleb, who worked in Visualization downstairs. Get a job as a Harvester guy, he told me, and your future will be secure.

So here I was. I tried to make my voice sound polite. “Mr. Power?” I said. “I’m here for the job. I am Sanchez. You have a meeting with me.”

“Now?”

His eyes were super tired looking. It took him an extra effort to take in my big frame in the doorway. “Nora2,” he called out. “Am I interviewing somebody now?”

She answered yes, so he gestured for me to sit down.

The meeting prep notes were glowing on his screen. His tired eyes scanned how I have a degree in viniculture and a Masters in supply chain logistics from the Universidad de Buenos Aires.

“Look, Sanchez, you’re overqualified.”

He needed some muscle, that’s all, because the company was growing and more people wanted his time and they needed to be fended off. He was lobbying for relaxed regulations about harvesting thoughts. At the same time he was deploying Harvesters, so he had secrets. He needed protection. I told him how I knew what he was doing with the Harvesters. Trying to get the laws changed and running Harvester teams anyway before it was legal.

“How do you know that?”

I shrugged and offered my cryptic smile, the one I used before I was going to hit somebody and knock them down. “I know how to talk to people, Mr. Power.”

Bradley’s eyes went to the screen again where he read about me being a good software guy, protecting my clients from hacking attempts. People feel secure around me.

“The money must be good,” he said.

The money was good, but as a body man I could only work for one celebrity at a time. De Niro fired me because he stopped going out in public. My wife Wanda didn’t want to be a liquor distributor anymore because it was a steep step down from when we owned the winery. Being a body man was a dead end, anyway. I needed something with a future. My friend Caleb who worked in Visualization told me it was harvesting thoughts.

He said, “Go in applying for the bodyguard job and come out leading the Input group.”

“How am I going to do that?” I asked Caleb.

I remember how Caleb shrugged. “You’re desperate,” he said. So I told Bradley he was about to become the biggest Harvester in the Sector because he had the technology. He needed somebody to run Input. That somebody was me. I had the charm. I could make myself known.

I knew he was up against the wall. Other companies were about to launch their own Input. The best crew would win. Everybody needed the data.

Bradley said, “You look like a man who can administer a bribe. You’re hired.” This is how democracy will be protected, he said.

I went over to Human Affairs and got my employee implant chip right away. Wanda was excited when I told her. It was the beginning of a new chapter for us. She hugged me tight, but as I looked over her shoulder, past her and into the street, there was a man standing there. He had a crooked stance, and wore one earring, like he was off balance, and he was smiling at me like he could read my mind without using a Harvester.


Computational Error is part of a series of short-form fiction. Subscribe to get the series in order in your inbox.

Deepfaking a Podcast 👉

A deepfake can be a video of a celebrity’s head talking while on someone else’s body. It can be Barack Obama or the Queen of England talking trash in a video that is not real, but both looks and sounds real. It can be Mark Zuckerberg explaining how he will take over the world, telling the truth for once — only his voice is speaking words that he never said. Making a deepfake seemed dangerous. So I thought I’d give it a try. I deepfaked my podcast host. Listen on Spotify

Computational Error #8

Because of a computational error, the following story from the year 2050 has appeared on your device. We apologize for the inconvenience.


He watched the protests from his office window for a little while longer, then closed the blast curtain by pressing the sensor on the wall. He switched on the AR in his contact lenses to read financial reports. That didn’t last long. He was restless.

“Dictate a note,” he said to the room. “Publish in The New York Times. I should be sympathetic to people who are concerned about how our platform is used. But I can’t be because they are ignorant. Delete that. I should be sympathetic to the people who protest outside my door about my company’s policies. But they don’t see the bigger picture. Companies like mine shouldn’t be considering social impacts because that’s just not what we do. Let’s vote on these things, not protest them. If we vote enough, and build our Sector, someday all the Sectors will be strong together. They will unite into the United Sectors of America.”

He broke off. “Nora2!” Maybe she was in.

She was. She walked in fast. “Yes?” He always liked that about her, that she walked fast and was reliable.

“I’m sounding like a red,” Bradley said. “I want to sound like a blue.”

“Impossible. You may have been a blue once but you’ve changed colors. Everybody knows it.”

“I have to try.”

“Maybe you really are a red,” she said. “Simple.” She waited for his next instruction.

“Impossible,” he shot back. He had a history of social action. He went on civil rights marches with his parents. “I’m not the Sector. Policy and money aren’t the same. Policy is …” he trailed off. Spoken aloud, it sounded bad.

“This is about the thing you were dictating to the New York Times?” asked Nora2. It was up on her screen as a draft already.

He nodded. His eyes were pleading.

“Don’t display the puppy dog eyes. I will write it for you.” She touched her right temple. Probably turning on her recorder.

“Yes. Please write it for me.”

Something made him want to look out the window again. He opened the blast curtains slightly and saw the last of the protesters were clearing out. The guards were moving among them with batons. He forbid them from using tear gas any more. It wasn’t humane. As he watched, he spoke softly, but loud enough for Nora2 to hear. “My challenges are with software and not with laws. Laws come from our Sector, not from the executive suite.”

“To include?” she asked.

He nodded. “It’s how I feel.”

“It’s really red.”

“I know. Just record it — you probably did anyway — and make it sound blue.”

“I recorded it.”

She touched her temple to turn off the recorder, turned, and left.

He called out to her, just a little too late, “That’s why you’re the best!”

The day was before him. It was going to be a good one.

“Nora2!”

She was at the door, leaning on it, not committing to entering. “Yes?” she said.

“Bring me a glass of water.”

She stepped back a half step. “Really?”

“Yes, I want one. I want one now. I want to reward myself.” This was good work he’d done this morning, tired as he was from the glidepath. He was in New Zealand just a few hours ago and he was tired, but his mind was sharp.

She came back in a moment with a tall, sparkling glass. “This goes on the expense account?” she asked, unable to resist a small smile.

“Absolutely.” Bradley drank deeply.


Computational Error is part of a series of short-form fiction. Subscribe to get the series in order in your inbox.

I am Magneto, and I would like to register a complaint. Frankly, all of these new mutants are terrible.

Opinion - Magneto: These new ‘magnetic’ vaccine mutants are extremely disappointing - The Washington Post

Currently reading: The Book of Longings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd 📚

Usually not a fan of historical, or fantasy, or historical fantasy, but this has the ring of truth because of the author’s deep research. I’m enjoying looking at the past through the lens of the present – and she never lets you forget that’s your vantage point when reading. Has a sense of an untold story being told for the first time.

Finished reading: Blue Angel: A Novel by Francine Prose 📚

Oddly flat for such a skilled writer. Finished it saying to myself, “what’s the point?”

Finished reading: Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-connected World by Bruce Schneier 📚

Found this fascinating, with good advice about the future.

Computational Error #7

Because of a computational error, the following story from the year 2050 has appeared on your device. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Sometimes I think I never should have bought that plasma generator, but if I hadn’t, then all of this would never have been put into motion. The plasma generator was black market. That was my mistake, because black market stuff is junk. I can only say that my mind was fogged at the time. I was stepping out, declaring my love for social change and for Bradley. Bradley, he was my old boyfriend. Before that, he was a student of mine when I was allowed to teach yoga in person.

I was leading a revolution in the streets of the Port of San Francisco. That was me then. Yeah. A revolutionary out in the open.

And I was wrong. So wrong. Out in the open was wrong. That was my mistake. Yoga teaches flexibility, however. I look into myself and see what is there.

So I am angry most of the time. And why not? That plasma generator redirected my life before I was ready. Yet here I am.

Yoga was how Bradley fell in love with me. It was during the fiftieth Sun Salute. It may have been the hot sweat blurring his vision, the advancing dehydration, his burning muscles. I stood before him a goddess, telling the class to stand tall in prayer position, swan down, touch their toes, reach up, adopt Chair Pose, jump back, take Upward Dog, Downward Dog, jump to their hands, stand, and then do it again. My students followed my commands.

That was me. Power poses. A big following in the SF Port Area. Bradley wasn’t famous then. I was. After every class, they peeled themselves from the floor, rolled their mats, and gathered around me, sweaty guys, Bradley among them, and a few women, coming to me to ask questions about a pose, a sequence, or an emerging injury, but really to get the light of my eyes to fall upon them. Bradley waited with the rest of them. When our eyes met, I felt something. He asked me out for coffee. I laughed and didn’t say no.

The next day, even before we ordered, I said, “I don’t date students.”

He nodded. He liked the clarity of the statement, and he had anticipated it as well. In his line of work, I later learned, people were rarely clear. Their needs, their wants, their simple statements became clouded. He was a researcher, a post-doc kind of guy. All day, he listened to fuzzy academic minds powering busy academic mouths. He had no money, just a smile that was able to get into a person’s personal energy field. And he had focus. Intensity. He could do fifty Sun Salutes and keep enough focus to fall in love with me.

The cafe we were in for our first date still had containment bubbles up from the last pandemic. The benign but ineffective District government never took them down. The streets were not cleaned on a regular basis. Voting didn’t always happen. The bubbles, though, gave us privacy. That may have been more valuable than all those other things. He was in love with me. I could see it. His hands and eyes were unsteady. But he wasn’t an idiot. He would not come out and say I love you.

“Since you don’t date students, I’m going to drop your class,” he said instead. This was an easy conclusion to come to. If I didn’t date students, then he didn’t need to be a student. “I’m going to start a home practice.”

And he did, and I liked that about him, the follow through. Teaching yoga, I was around flaky, undependable people who were in search of themselves 24/7 and in contrast I am strong, like an arrow shooting through the sky. My name is Shiva for a reason. I am the embodiment of grace. I will have a chance to change everything you know as your world. But not back then, not on that first date with Bradley. We were like children then.

“Tell me about yourself,” I remember Bradley asked.

I am from Southern California. My parents are professional surfers.

“Why are you named Shiva?”

“My father picked up a book once,” I said.

He laughed. “I’m going to drop your class,” he said.

“I know you are,” I said. We were both innocent then. This was before we lived together, before I decided to start the housing revolution, before I bought that plasma generator that exploded all the windows in the District Building. Bradley was with me, and we were surrounded, wrist-strapped, arrested, tried, and sentenced within minutes. He was sent to Los Angeles to live for a year in a single room pod. I was sent to San Francisco to live in a pod on the water and forbidden to teach yoga for two years. My parole officer won me the right to teach online. That’s how I started to build the movement again, the one Bradley is so afraid of now. He would never admit that to you if you asked him. He is afraid of me now and the women I lead against him. He is famous now. I am strong, like an arrow shooting through the sky. My name is Shiva.

Remember me. I will change everything about your world.


Computational Error is part of a series of short-form fiction. Subscribe to get the series in order in your inbox.

Computational Error #6

Because of a computational error, the following story from the year 2050 has appeared on your device. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Dave was telling their story. He spoke the words you read below directly into her mind.

The early days of the Universal were sweet, but truly, all their days were happy. Dave rose early in the morning to make tea. He served it to Kat in bed and they talked about what would happen each day. Dave was focused on the creation of the Universal. Kat was building a large team for her company.

Every day, on a regular schedule, Dave cooked all their meals with love and caring. When he wasn’t making tea or cooking, he worked on the Universal in the greenhouse. He was teaching it all the languages of the world.

Then, one night, as they stretched out on the sleeping pad like satiated animals, Dave said, “We live a pretty boring life, don’t we?”

Kat aimed her smile at the ceiling. “Not a care in the world.”

“Shall we have a storybook wedding?”

Kat sat up. “Do you want to?” When she saw that he really did, her voice was like a bell. “Let’s do just that.”

Dave on his screen loved to spin out these beautiful memories for Kat. The real Dave was long gone. This Dave captured the living Dave’s warm eyes and old-timey expressions. The past is always the best place to live in when you have a large database.

Kat shot him a tolerant look. “Don’t break the Fourth Wall, Dave.” She wanted him to tell the wedding story. Dave patiently watched her from his screen, knowing fully in his machine intuition where she wanted to go.

After a moment during which his eyes went dull as he gathered the necessary memories, Dave spoke again.

They married suddenly, he said into her mind. Though the decision was sudden, they were sure of it. They were in love in a way so powerful that they felt two people had never been in love before. It felt new in the world. One morning like any other, Kat caught Dave’s eyes and said, “We have to get married. Today.”

Dave blinked. “Not that I’m objecting. I love you as I have loved no other person on this earth.” He was feeding an old novel into the Universal, and his mind was filled with words written many years ago. The Universal took up much of his time when he wasn’t doting on Kat. It was a beast. He fed it novels in English and Farsi, depressing fairytales in German and Dutch, technical manuals in Arabic, appliance repair guides in Korean, and ancient languages. Sanskrit. Sumerian. Any language that humans had spoken or written, Dave gathered it up in its essence and poured it into the Universal. He became drunk with this activity. It made his mind float. It was intoxicating and maddening. He loved it, but he loved Kat even more.

After some gentle negotiation, they set a date six months ahead, notified family and friends, and created a guest list of 300 people. They began long, languorous planning days, and as they planned, they broke down the parts of the wedding into small elements that could each be handled individually. They did teleconferences with florists, deciding on flowers exotic and simple. They stood before their screens and tried on virtual clothes. The guest list took up most of their time. Kat’s mother was dead and her father was too old to travel. She fretted about how she would get him from the assisted care facility in New York to the floating house in Marin.

Dave’s family was small, huddled in the American Midwest District, scrapping out an existence on mostly barren farms. His parents, because of their proximity to near-barren farms, had all but lost the capability of speech. They had few words between them. He couldn’t imagine how they would fit in at his festive wedding.

Then, one evening, Kat and Dave were sitting quietly, feeling slack after hours spent opening mag disks and looking at 3D renderings of venues, and reading over lists of food that seemed like too much food for all the people in the world. The sun had set long ago, but they had no way of knowing because the blast curtains were drawn. The house swayed gently on its pontoons. In a break from his usual pattern, Dave hadn’t worked on the Universal for days. Kat had stopped taking the ferry to work. Her employees joked she had left the company to them.

“It should be just us,” Dave said suddenly. “No one else.” He looked at her sideways, expecting an argument. To his surprise, she gave none.

“You’re right,” she said quickly. She wanted the words out of her mouth before they became birds and flew away.

Surprise lit Dave’s face. “‘Ever since I was a little girl’ is what I expected you to say.”

“You shouldn’t expect me to say anything,” Kat said.

“That’s true,” he replied. “You often surprise me.” He opened the blast curtains to reveal the night laid out before them like velvet. The night had been waiting for them. They went to bed. In the dark, lying side by side on their sleeping pad, they resolved to get married in the morning at the District, just the two of them and the official to speak the words to bind them.


Computational Error is part of a series of short-form fiction. Subscribe to get the series in order in your inbox.

Computational Error #3

Because of a computational error, the following story from the year 2050 has appeared on your device. We apologize for the inconvenience.


They met at 11 in the morning every day. Kat bought him a coffee. Dave realized that, with habits like that, she must be wealthy. And she proved it soon enough when she invited him over to her floating house. It may as well have been made of gold, with everything just so, rooms unfolding upon rooms, space everywhere, high ceilings with artfully concealed air handlers, skylights with automatic blast curtains that timed themselves according to the heat of the sun.

“You live here all by yourself?”

She nodded and looked at her feet with a private smile. But it was he who felt silly, holding a potted plant he’d brought as a gift and looking around at the exotic plants everywhere in the house. She had a greenhouse, a climate-controlled glass room with a jungle of plants. Many of them didn’t exist in the outside world anymore. She was preserving them there, in something like a plant museum.

Dave knew that working in that room, among the plants that didn’t live in the outside world, would be perfect for him. Many of the languages he worked with for the Universal weren’t used by many people. They had become rare, like these plants. He didn’t dare hope that he could work there, though. Many things had to happen first.

What was amazing to him, and to Kat, was that they did. One by one, they occurred in the perfect order. She accepted the potted plant he’d brought, even though she didn’t need it. One day, after their coffees, she invited him back to the house again. There was a special light in her eyes.

“Would you like to see the bedroom?” she asked.

Of course he agreed. He didn’t have to be a linguist to know that the surface question was not the question being asked.

They made love, forgetting to close the blast curtains, and the room became very hot. They fell back on the sleeping pad together, drenched in sweat and happiness. From then on, for months and months, they became inseparable. She worked from the floating home whenever possible, and Dave worked in the greenhouse on the Universal. He surrounded himself with books and was gloriously happy. The Universal was progressing well. He got the languages talking to each other, sharing what they knew. The study of languages is the study of the human mind. Dig into language and you get to see how the mind works. His mind was filling up with happiness and he transferred every bit of it to Kat.

Soon he stopped sleeping at his own pod. Why keep up the pretense? He shyly brought over a bag of clothes so that he could stay over and the smiles they traded as he opened it were like a sacred pact. He brought out a toothbrush and asked, “Where should I put this?”

They both laughed at that. Nobody used toothbrushes now. Kat hadn’t seen one in years, probably since she was a child living in New York. Dave shrugged. He liked the old things.

Later, after he finished putting his things away and worked on the Universal, drew her down on the sleeping pad and kissed her.

“It’s only 2 in the afternoon.” She laughed and melted into his arms.

“I know what time it is,” he said.


Computational Error is part of a series of short-form fiction. Subscribe to get the series in order in your inbox.

Not sure I can live on 8 cents. Am I still willing to try?

This merits a longer post later, but my .08 payment from Medium’s Partner Program has me wondering if they are a good partner. We writers put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into platforms owned by other people and we get … eight cents. If I want this number to be higher, the things I do to change it will benefit Medium, not me.

(c) Lee Schneider 2021. Made in Santa Monica, CA. Take care of each other.