Jul 20, 2019 12:11 PM
Tarinda and Page bring a seed of the super-AI Sing to Cloudbank
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Cloudbank is a beautiful place, from a certain perspective. Blue sky and white clouds above, all around, and misty white clouds below.

Here is an island of solidity in the sea of sky. The wind is a steady breeze, the floating island sitting just barely on top of a dense, foggy layer of air. It's not an especially large island, perhaps two hundred feet wide and three hundred long all told, curved slightly like the back of some giant beast.

The sandy soil is thin, and wears straight through to a porous-looking sort of rock in places. There are grasses and weeds and shrubs and a few trees, plus a few small creatures. Some familiar, like the wild onions. Some alien, like the thickets of not-quite-grass with flimsy, transparent, bulging seeds straining upwards against their mooring.

A songbird casually swoops from its nest and catches one of these seeds in its bill, while something with tentacles and a large gas-bag clings to the island at the edge, nibbling on the alien leaves of something reminiscent of mangroves, a three-dimensional web of stems and flaxen roots.

And then someone else arrives.

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"Yes they are. If you have sugar you can make meringues out of 'em."

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"Oh? Haven't heard of those. Sugar is tad pricey, but I do like new recipes."

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"You separate out the whites, beat them really really hard in a clean bowl, and then add in the finest sugar you can get, and then bake them low and slow till they're all dry."

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"Ooh. That sounds like it'll make a pure white dessert, as fine as any cake. I'm gonna write that down and try it first chance I get."

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"And a pinch of salt. And you can flavor them, too, you could put crumbled nuts on top before you bake them or whatever you like."

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"It will be a day of food experimentation. The best kind of day." She writes all that down.

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"Glad I could help."

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"More than with potatoes, you mean? Yeah, glad you could help!"

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"Are you headed anywhere specific or do you just sail around till you see someplace?"

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"Don't think so. Navigation is tricky at best, to hear Flint tell it. We mostly don't go to the same places twice."

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"Makes sense." Peel peel peel.

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"Iiii think it's time to go start the broth. Much faster with a helper! You won't wither for lack of attention if I go to the pantry for a few minutes, will ya?"

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"No, I'll be all right, although it's really so nice to have someone to talk to again!"

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"I can definitely talk. Talking is a thing I can do. A service I can perform. Along with cooking, another thing I can do. Listening too! I'm pretty good at cooking, talking, listening..."

She babbles all the way into the pantry.

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"Wanna tell me the story of your life?"

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"Why not? What level of detail d'you want? 'My ma was a sailmaker and my pa copied books, I had two little brothers' or 'and then I wanted to go to see a play with Helen but she got all dramatic and threw her shoe at Kenny and we all got kicked out, and that's how I spent my 16th summer', or what?"

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"I am totally up for the second one if that would be fun for you!"

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"I don't think I can remember something interesting from every season. The shoe thing really sticks out 'cause it was the most trouble I'd ever been in. How do you put your life into a story anyway? I'm gonna remember things all out of order!"

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"That's fine too! I'm just so curious about everything."

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Rem comes back out of the pantry carrying miscellaneous ingredients and a big clay pot. "Okay, how about... I didn't get into cooking until I was 18 and my folks said 'learn one of our trades, get another job, or get out of our house'. So I tried a bunch of jobs that were on offer and hated cooking the least, and read books about cooking and did experiments and before long I didn't just not hate cooking, I actually liked it. Spent a few years doing that, just living life, but then the whole, uh, psycho boyfriend episode happened."

She pauses the story to fill the pot with water. "I was pretty tense when I met Captain Flint while looking to buy some peppers, saw the slop his crew were eating, and spent five solid minutes critiquing it. Flint said 'like you can do better' and I took it as the challenge that it was, you should have seen his tone, and I whipped up a three-course meal over the next hour. Flint said 'you could almost open a restaurant in my ship' and I thought, hey, why not? Said bye to my folks, packed my things, and that's how I got aboard the Tricky Ray."

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"Do you miss your family?"

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"...Yeah. A bit. That's the sailor's lot, though."

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"If you ran into their town again would you stay on the ship or on the town?"

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She pauses and rubs her forehead. "...I actually don't know. I'd have to see how I felt about it then. I've accepted that I'll probably never see them again, but I like to think they're happy. My brother - the older one, Andrew - probably married Fara and had two kids by now."

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"I guess there's nothing like a - mail system?"

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