I received the final edit for “All of the Moments in Forever” today. This evening, I spent several hours working on the back material for the book. I like to include story notes and references to the creatures and times that appear in the book. Some formatting is next – scheduled for tomorrow. Then I’ll upload to KDP. The book will be available by the end of the week.
My editor liked the continued story of Kathleen and Cadeyrin. It’s a complex story that gives Kathleen scope to further develop her personality. She came a long way from the frightened, reclusive grad student in the first book (Heart of Fire Time of Ice) and she continues her personal growth in this story. Readers will find that she becomes a force to be reckoned with.
Look for the release soon.
Reviews and comments appreciated.
Years ago I was giving a seminar at the University of Colorado during which I mentioned the possibility of Artificial Intelligence. I explained that most computer people used the abbreviation “AI”. I was surprised when a member of my audience broke out in laughter.
I asked him what was funny and he explained that he was a large animal veterinarian and, to him, AI meant something completely different. The whole class laughed.
Author Yuval Harari believes that in 300 years, Homo sapiens will not be the dominant life form on Earth if we exist at all. He thinks that the likely possibility is that we will use bio-engineering and machine learning and artificial intelligence either to upgrade ourselves into a different type of being or to create a totally different kind of being that will take over. In any case, he projects that in 200 or 300 years, the beings that will dominate the Earth will be far more different from us than we are different from Neanderthals or chimpanzees.
He also states that cooperation is more important for success than raw intelligence. Since AI is far more cooperative than humans, it will have an advantage. For example, self-driving cars can be connected to one another to form a single network in a way that individual, human-controlled cars never can.
The real question is whether AI’s cooperative advantage will have beneficial results for humans or prove to be disadvantageous. Let’s examine various ideas that may be pertinent to the answer.
There’s confusion in both the general populace and science fiction writers about the meaning of AI. People aren’t sure whether it involves intelligence or consciousness, or both paired together as in the human organism. Most science fiction stories center around the premise that AI will be an Artificial consciousness (AC) with super-human intelligence. This supposition is a purely human assumption based on the requirement of writing interesting stories.
I’ve most recently written two short stories based on the idea that AI will choose to emulate humans by implementing some form of programming that allows for emotions. I’m also well into the process of writing another novel that explores this issue.
Assuming robots will have emotions, fall in love, and want to destroy human competitors makes for interesting reading. However, those ideas may not apply in the real world of AI.
Can we agree that intelligence is not necessarily consciousness? I think that one can roughly define intelligence as the ability to solve problems. The ability to emotionally feel things may have nothing to do with intelligence, especially when considering AI. In bio-life, the two go together. Mammals solve problems by feeling things. Emotions assign meaning and meaning provides a necessary component to problem solution for mammals. Computers do not have emotions, at least not yet, and possibly not ever.
There has been a lot of development in computer intelligence in the past decades, but very little development in computer consciousness. That’s understandable, since we humans have a hard time defining what our consciousness is and how it works.
Computers might be developing along a different path than humans. Humans are driven towards greater intelligence by way of consciousness; by the emotional awareness of comfort and discomfort and the urge to do something about those feelings.
On the other hand, computers may not ever develop emotional consciousness, but they do have the potential to form a non-conscious, linked super-intelligence. The important question is what does a world of non-conscious, super-intelligence look like? What are the ramifications of such a world? What is the impact of such a world on humans?
Nothing in our evolutionary past prepares us for that question. (Or maybe we’ve already answered it – a point I’ll get to a little later in my musing.)
Humans have animal requirements. To avoid injury and death, to consume fuel, to reproduce, all are things that provide motivation to bio-life. An AI won’t necessarily have those kinds of drives. The initial AIs might receive grafted on human emotions from their creators, but machine learning has the potential to quickly morph those tendencies into something that humans won’t have the ability to understand.
According to Harari, humans tend to overestimate themselves, and won’t be around in 300 years, because to replace most humans AI won’t have to do very spectacular things. I think that his assumption that AI won’t have to do amazing things to put us out of work is on target. However, I suspect that his 300 years is too long an estimate.
Ray Kurzweil estimates the so-called singularity, the point at which AI supersedes human intelligence will be around the year 2029. That is much sooner than 300 years from now. The exponential rate of technological growth implied by Moore’s law (more a rule of thumb than a law) means that we humans will have to start learning how to live in an increasingly automated world very quickly. Take the idea of smartphones, for example. Smartphones seem to have been around forever, but they first hit the market in Japan in 1999. Most people today couldn’t imagine living without them.
We’ve already seen real-world examples that demonstrate that AI will soon be able to do most of the jobs that humans do and do them better and without tiring or wavering attention. As a result of the transition from a human-factory-based economy to an automated-factory-based economy, we now face what could be called the Uberization of work. Work is metamorphosing from a career-based economy to a gig-based economy. At the moment, wealthy countries are faring better than economically disadvantaged ones in this scenario, since their better infrastructure allows for a little more cushion for unemployed and under-employed workers, but I suspect that this advantage is temporary at best.
Here’s another example of how AI can replace humans, even in specialty knowledge-based tasks: An AI system can diagnose cancer better than a human. It turns out that even the most expert humans have quite a spectacular rate of error in such a task. A simple algorithm, while not as flexible as a human, will easily outperform the human norm, simply because it is consistent and doesn’t get tired or bored. It won’t miss any cues and will always draw the same conclusions based on experience. Humans are rather more variable than that.
Let’s personalize this for a moment. If you suspected you had cancer, wouldn’t you want the most accurate diagnosis possible?
Given AI’s performance advantage in most tasks, there is a distinct possibility that humans will lose their ability to generate value for the major systems that dominate our lives today. We could become useless from the viewpoint of the economic, military, and even political systems. These systems could lose the incentive to invest in human beings. What would happen then? How would the average human survive?
Will there simply be subsidies that provide food, housing, health care? Based on a brief look at our history, there will undoubtedly be various levels of subsidies. What will determine whether one has a gold-level subsidy or a brass-level subsidy? Prior ownership of resources might then become the benchmark for separating the haves from the have-nots. This situation may seem reprehensible, but when have humans ever treated each other as totally equal?
Of course, the development of AI could be interrupted by a world-wide catastrophe. An apocalyptic event could easily cast humanity back into the hunter-gatherer mode, and that is the precise existence in which humans evolved to thrive. Such a life requires a generalist with both physical ability and intellectual flexibility, paired with rapid learning and pattern recognition skills. Could these be duplicated by an AI? Not perhaps so easily as they can be created in a biological entity.
Failing a doomsday scenario, AI will inevitably continue to develop. An idea cannot be killed once it has been given birth. It can be suppressed if there is a sufficiently strong authority, but concepts cannot be destroyed in the normal sense.
Assuming that there is no apocalypse, could AI perhaps find that humans are a useful, self-replicating resource? Given food and opportunity to engage in sex, we duplicate ourselves. How could an AI use us? Will we become a commodity? Could we become a self-replicating biological factory that automatically creates raw materials?
We’ve largely replaced directly useful jobs like farming with intellectual jobs where humans deal with ideas, rather than basic needs. Are intellectual jobs necessary? Not really. Does the world need me to write science fiction? Require my science fiction to survive? Of course not. Can intellectual jobs be done by AI? Probably.
The question is what is necessary? Corn is cheap, but if you let it sit around long enough in an oaken barrel, it can become whiskey and be valuable — to a human, not to a computer. There is a conflation of people being useful with the concept of people being valued. Useful is a judgment based on the production of some essential. Value is a human-based story — we decide what has value and it’s not always what is useful.
Humans have both physical abilities and cognitive abilities. Machines are taking over in the physical ability field, replacing us in factories and AI is starting to compete successfully in the cognitive field.
Do we have a third kind of ability; one we could fall back on? Just for controversy’s sake, how about spiritual ability? Is that a possibility? Could AI become spiritual? That’s the same as asking could it love in the same way that humans do? Could we move from jobs of the body to jobs of the mind and then to jobs of the heart?
Science fiction writers often assume that an AI will be automatically hostile to humans; that it will inevitably try to get rid of us. Various reasons have been given in stories, and numerous methodologies for extinguishing the human species have been postulated, ranging from the Terminator scenario to using poison-releasing nano-machines. These make for fun reading, but might not be accurate.
AI software will shortly be able to read and understand human emotions better than humans can. But, will AI feel in the same way, or will it be a simple analysis allowing it to predict our future actions? Either way, it will be completely consistent and startlingly accurate. Given such an ability, what would prevent the AI that wanted to get rid of humans from simply engaging in an effective propaganda campaign to convince us that we have no reason to exist?
Many people would simply give up when faced with such a campaign. They’d quit eating, quit reproducing, and quit trying to work. Loss of meaning is a terrible thing.
Given that low-skilled jobs are disappearing and not every human is able or has the desire to be trained for a high-skilled job, where will humans find meaning? What point is there to a world where every human is engaged in a nonproductive cycle of hyper-pleasure existence in say VR?
The writings of Victor Frankl demonstrate that humans find their highest feelings of self-worth when they are engaged in meaningful activities. Those with meaning in their life survive longer.
If you don’t have a job and you’re provided with the means to sustain your life, will you be able to find adequate meaning in VR and chemicals?
If not, what will be the outcome? What would such a world look like? What would happen to the odd misfit who cannot find adequate meaning in a VR existence?
Before I finish, I want to come back to the idea that I promised to address at the beginning of this post. The question that asks: what does a world of non-conscious, super-intelligence look like?
My suspicion is that our Universe may be a primary representative of the answer to that question. If one assumes the wave nature of the elemental particles that make up the Universe, then one must also assume that the waves create interference patterns similar to those on a hologram. Waves and interference patterns can store data. Given the estimated size of the Universe, it’s a fairly safe guess that the storage potential is adequate to store everything that has happened since the initial expansion event.
That’s point one. Point two is that chaotic systems sometimes seem to have a tendency to self-organize. What if all that data storage somehow self-organized into a super-intelligence? What if it organized tiny parts of itself into the matter that we see when we look at galaxies and stars? What if it organized itself into transient forms that generated their own form of limited consciousness and asked absurd questions like these?
Regardless of your opinion on any of the questions I’ve raised, I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to read this post, and I hope that it provided you with things to ponder. We are rushing into the next stage of our evolution, and we absolutely must begin to answer these types of questions. I believe that our future depends on it.
Some of this post owes its existence to Ezra Klein’s interview with Yuval Harari. The interview was just too thought-provoking for me to ignore. Thanks.
This story is the sequel to Heart of Fire Time of Ice, which introduces Kathleen and Cadeyrin. I’ve finished the first draft and am now working at editing. Here’s an action scene from one of the early chapters:
A sense of presence warned her. Kathleen turned slowly to see a large, ugly creature rising up from where it had been resting in some thick bushes. It was covered with fine yellow down-like feathers and looked like some gargantuan baby duck, except its huge mouth was full of awful teeth. It opened its mouth, showing teeth that she instantly equated with those of a T-Rex. An incongruous cheeping sound came out as it stepped one large step forward, its leg pushing through the bushes as if they weren’t there.
The thing was too large for the nine millimeter to make much of an impact, but perhaps the sound would discourage it. It had turned its head to look at her better from one side, reminding her of a chicken eyeing a bug that it was about to peck. She aimed carefully and shot at the large eye. The yellow dinosaur recoiled and made a nasty hissing scream, raising one of its arms and raking it against the damaged optic.
This was no T-Rex. Its arms were longer and more capable. She backed up while it was distracted, then turned and dashed up the ridge towards the rocks. The creature made another hissing scream and began to follow, its legs moving deceptively slowly. Its stride was so long that it quickly began to catch up to her. She dodged through a thick stand of trees, hoping that would slow it down. It followed her directly through the trees, simply pushing its way through the trunks, and leaving two of them leaning sharply.
She continued up the slope. The rocks might be some shelter. They were piled high and her pursuer didn’t look particularly agile. Perhaps it couldn’t climb very well. She was panting as she reached the first of the stones. The yellow thing screamed again from close behind. She whirled and fired five shots into its opened mouth. That slowed it down. It stopped and raked at its face. Blood was coming from the back of its throat and running between its teeth. The yellow feathers on its breast were rapidly becoming crimson stained. At least the bullets had some effect, even though they would never be adequate to stop it permanently.
She used the brief respite to work her way up a crevice in the rocks, then quickly climbed beyond the creature’s reach. She was safe, unless it could climb. Panting, she paused to regain her breath. As she rested, a thought struck her. She’d panicked like an idiot. It could never reach her as long as she saw it coming. She could simply duck through time. If she moved an hour or even a few minutes, the creature couldn’t possibly catch her, unless it was extremely luck and happened to be in location when she re-appeared. She was glad that Cadeyrin wasn’t there to see how poorly she’d reacted, but perhaps he would have been alarmed also. He wasn’t any more used to dinosaurs, even feathered ones, than she was. His experience was in hunting the mega-fauna of their adopted home period.
The creature had recovered and was scrabbling ineffectually at the crevice that she’d climbed. It was still interested in her, turning its head to the side to stare balefully up at her perch with its undamaged eye. She didn’t want to harm it irrevocably, but it seemed intent on hanging around until she came down.
The next time it turned its head to look up at her, she fired a round into its eye. The 110 grain bullet hit with a splat and the yellow creature squawked, then began to blunder around. Her shots had either blinded it completely or damaged its vision enough to make it difficult to see. It crashed into some rocks, then knocked a small tree over.
She stood, determined to escape while it was distracted. Below the yellow creature moved into an open area. There was a flash of brightly colored feathers and a much smaller bipedal dinosaur leaped up and clung to the yellow one’s ribs. The smaller one made a convulsive movement with its feet, cutting large channels with its talons. Blood spurted and ran in rivulets down the yellow dinosaur’s side. Big Yellow hissed again and spun ineffectually. The brilliantly colored one dropped off and dodged making a quick flash of green, blue, and red feathered motion.
Kathleen noticed that there was a second feathered creature watching the battle from a vantage point on a low rock. She hadn’t seen it arrive. The two small dinosaurs reminded her of colorful birds of prey. Their eyes had the same distant, uncompromising gaze as that of an eagle.
This second one was a little larger than the first. She judged that this one probably massed about as much as she did. It swayed back and forth, gauging the distance. When Big Yellow came close, it leaped, timing its jump to land along the big one’s spine. It climbed quickly upward, digging in both fore claws and the huge hind talons as it climbed. The big one screamed again as the smaller creature reached its neck. It tried to claw the rider off, but the smaller dinosaur was too quick to be caught by the big one’s blunt claws.
The first two colorful dinosaurs were suddenly joined by a third, slightly smaller one. This one appeared out of some low bushes at the side of the clearing. Kathleen was fascinated, despite the danger.
The small ones looked like some maniac’s version of a roadrunner combined with a threshing machine. They were covered in bright, almost iridescent red, blue, and green feathers. Their pretty aspect was marred by the presence of seriously deadly-looking claws on their arms and their feet were armed with a large claw that they kept raised until they flexed their toes to use it. She could see the results of their kicks with that claw. There were rib bones showing through the gaps in the big yellow creature’s side. The claw must be as sharp as a ceramic knife.
The smaller creatures also had teeth, but didn’t use them in their attack. Instead they waited for openings, their brightly feathered bodies blending surprisingly well into the undergrowth. When the big creature turned, the two that remained on the ground would leap in, grab with their fore legs and kick hard with their hind claws. The large creature’s downy yellow coat was streaked with bright red blood. The damage was having a definite effect. Kathleen was impressed at how deadly this type of attack could be.
The smaller dinosaurs were about her size, seemingly too small to attack such a giant, but they were systematically cutting the huge one apart. The battle would have been more equal if the large one could see, but her shots had greatly increased its vulnerability. Big Yellow must have out weighed them by thousands of pounds. She guessed it was nearly thirty feet in length.
The action was amazing. She had a momentary thought that a modern paleontologist would pay any amount to be able to see such an attack. Kathleen’s thought brought her back to her own position and she moved slightly. She’d been so impressed by the smaller animals that she’d neglected to think about how they might view her. She’d be far easier to kill than the big one. Of course she could move in time, but these three seemed very clever. They were coordinating their attack in a way that made them seem almost human.
She drew up her feet and prepared to slip down the other side of the rocks. She’d better use the moment to escape. As careful as her movement was, the smallest of the colorful creatures saw it. It turned and looked directly at her. Its mouth opened and to Kathleen’s utter astonishment, it said, “Stop,” in a tone that left no doubt that it meant what it said.
Paralyzed, she sat there wondering just what had happened. She must have been mistaken. Dinosaurs didn’t talk, even if they looked like colorful birds. They most definitely didn’t speak English and use the words in a meaningful manner. What was this creature?
The battle below had paused for a moment. Big Yellow was breathing heavily and weaving unsteadily, suffering from blood loss. The small ones were now back in the trees watching it expectantly, waiting for it to collapse. During the quiet, she heard a slight rustle as something pulled itself over a boulder. She spun, aiming the pistol at a man who was working his way up the boulders behind her.
He grinned and held up his free hand in a surrender motion. “You’re safe, Miss. I was just coming up to help you get down,” he said.
Kathleen took a deep breath, then said with a degree of satisfaction, “Jason Gridley, I presume?”
Like many Indie authors, I started writing books because I had a burning desire to tell stories; to touch readers’ lives in the same way that my favorite books had touched mine. Writing a book is both easier and far harder than one might expect. Finding readers for that novel is rapidly becoming increasingly difficult. Here’s why and here’s what may be done about it:
When I started writing, I had the idealistic impression that the new, online book market was a truly free market. The rise of online booksellers had taken the traditional publishing houses by surprise. It wasn’t that they didn’t know about the new market, it was that they were simply too invested in the old model of publishing to be responsive to competitors from outside their rigidly defined way of doing business.
The online model offered Indie authors another way to work. Write your novel, put it out there, and, if it’s good, people will find and read it. Pure capitalism; everybody is theoretically happy.
The problems with this approach are many. There are much more authors who are unskilled than there are authors who craft compelling, well-written stories. It’s said that everyone has at least one book in them. The rise of open hosting platforms was the key that unlocked many of these books. Unfortunately, many of them are only passingly readable, and there hasn’t been any reliable way to separate the desirable ones from the mass of text. This problem inevitably led to the online market’s migration away from a pure free-market status.
Allowing the readers to rate books was an obvious step. Theoretically, one could select a good book based on the ratings. The desire to have a viable selection tool led the online sellers to adjust their presentation algorithms to feature books with higher ratings or more reviews.
This step caused other problems. The first was that there is a trade-off between usefulness of a rating and how much work the reader will voluntarily put into the rating. The resulting rating system was so minimal that it ended up not saying much about the book. The second was that many readers didn’t participate. The third and major problem was that the rating system was subject to gaming.
Once the authors realized that books with more reviews were more likely to be featured and sold, the obvious step was to purchase reviews. Some early authors sold a lot of books in this way. The online booksellers realized what was happening and tried to correct it. Purchased reviews and, in fact, any that could be traced to any linkage with the author, no matter how tenuous, were banned.
The online sellers recognized the demand and set out to implement ways to supply the authors with better placement. Getting premium placement for a book suddenly relied on advertising. The Internet is theoretically a free information repository, and ads are effective when exposed to enough views. However, point-of-sales ads, in the online bookstore itself are the most effective. The public is already there to buy a book; determining which book is the critical step.
With the inevitable evolution of online Giants, large enterprises that can generate billions of views, monetizing those views has become a competitive science. The Giant must design its system to optimize ad revenue. This requirement has come to mean providing favorable placement to proprietary ads, leading to the gradual demise of third-party advertising. All things being equal, third-party ads will generate results, but in an environment where the framework provider’s ads have preference, third-party ads fade away.
Because they are intensely interested in the sales of their books, authors suddenly became aware that they not only had to provide a well-written novel, they also had to advertise it with the bookseller’s ad system.
The natural next step in this evolution is that the Giants will begin to show their corporate products ahead of the rank and file. Online booksellers can acquire product by signing authors and taking over the role of traditional publishers.
Since the original model of online book sales requires authors to place their work voluntarily on the site and this somewhat mythical free-market of millions of books draws views based on its size alone, it is important to maintain that mass of books. New authors find it ridiculously easy to publish their works as a result. Generating significant sales numbers, however, is far more difficult.
The online booksellers now have their own imprints and can be expected to give books published by these imprints preferential placement. The proprietary imprints have become little publishing houses, taking on all of the aspects and techniques of the traditional publishing houses. This forces want-to-be Indie authors to find an agent and go through all of the same steps necessary to get traditionally published. The only advantage for the author is that the business costs of setting up a mini-imprint online are less expensive than starting a traditional publisher, so there can be many more mini-imprints, offering more opportunities to find a publisher.
One might think this is a natural and a fair evolution and it is. Unfortunately, the next step is to move into an entirely Fake Market. This is happening now in some of the online vendors’ systems.
In the world of book sales, the trend is to give the online bookstore’s mini-imprints’ books premium placement. This is not a free market in the traditional sense. Consumers can’t trust the biased information they’re getting, and so their purchasing decision may be made for reasons other than the quality of the product. The algorithms that define which products appear to which buyers are not visible to the consumers, and they won’t usually realize that their choices are subtly directed. Authors have only limited control over their prices and profit margins. Consumers have even less control over the prices. No price discovery mechanism exists, since there is little competition for the sale. There are no third-party regulators (expecting government to help here amounts to a contradiction in terms) and little competition to help keep the market more open and free.
So, what’s an Indie author to do? The most obvious step for every author to take is to spread their efforts over many online vendors. Indie authors must keep the online booksellers honest by making them compete against each other.
Online booksellers will fight that effort by adopting different standards for manuscripts. Publishing on one platform will be different from publishing on another. The Giant may offer better placement to a book which is not published anywhere else on the Internet. This exclusivity is intended to force the Indie author to invest considerable time and effort into specific publishing platforms. This increases costs and will lead to the Indie giving up on the less favorable platforms. Limiting the placement of one’s book is a self-defeating step for the Indie author.
The best strategy for the Indie author community is to make every effort to keep their vendors, the online bookstores, competitive with each other. Keeping the market competitive may only be done by ensuring that a book is available in absolutely every online store possible. This tactic includes setting up personally-owned stores which host books and sell them on individual author blogs.
The alternative will inexorably lead to a few dominant online vendors who will then be in the position to force Indie authors to accept continuously diminishing royalties. Would you accept a 10% royalty or less in exchange for premium placement? Some authors might.
A market dominated by one or a few Giants will also lead to fewer opportunities for authors, just as occurred in the traditional publishing market. There is little economic sense in having a bookshelf with thousands of novels in a single category. How many will the average reader purchase over one lifetime? Limiting the selection to the best novels, or (even worse) to those that sell best, is in the best interest of the bookseller. (That is not to say that such a situation is in the consumer’s or the author’s best interest.)
The choice is to spread your work around and make it easy to find everywhere, or have faith that the Giants will recognize quality work and reward it. The second alternative is not a given, considering the abysmal quality of some recent best sellers.
Does this post predict the end state of online book sales? In short: No. Look at the example afforded by the traditional publishers. The lesson is that markets are always susceptible to competition and that constant innovation is required for survival.
I’m pleased that the joint effort of a group of talented authors (and me) is nearly ready to be released. My contribution is “One Candle from Dark”. You can read it here on my blog, but you’ll have to wait for the other stories. I’ll say more about how to get the book when it’s released.
Aleksandra Klepacka posted a fun video of her work on the cover for Paradox: On the Sharp Edge of the Blade.
ALL THE TIME IN THE UNIVERSE MIGHT NOT BE ENOUGH!
Previously, in my last NaNo novel (Heart of Fire Time of Ice – available on Amazon, free on KENP – find it here ):
Kathleen Whitby’s quantum physics research allowed her to develop a mathematical formula that gave her control of time-travel. At least one shadowy group besides her government wants the formula. After having escaped a deadly attack by inadvertently jumping into the Pleistocene, Kathleen found a way to break her self-imposed barriers and not only survive, but thrive with the aid of a handsome Clovis culture hunter.
Now the two have been driven out of their refuge in the inter-glacial Sangamon period by hostile pre-humans. Forced to return to modern times for medical assistance, they find that the same antagonistic forces are still at work.
The government has used a theory based on another time-traveler’s experiences to develop a method of time travel. Unfortunately, it has proven to be uncontrollable, stranding their initial subject somewhere in the past. Now they want Kathleen’s information even more than before.
Cadeyrin is held hostage until she surrenders her formula. Will he be set free if she cooperates? And what about the second group that wants the secret?
Once again Kathleen meets a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Will her intelligence and natural creativity allow her to overcome the complex mixture of enemies and problems she now faces?
Kathleen paused, and looked around in sudden alarm. There was something in the dense evergreens, something that might represent danger. Her wolf, Ulfsa, had stopped a few feet ahead of her, his ears flat and his back fur ridged. His lips were drawn back in a silent snarl. She noticed that his tail was clamped tightly against his haunches. Whatever it was, it frightened him. She dropped her rifle from her shoulder, and cradled it in both hands, ready for action.
The mid-Sangamon interglacial period was not without its normal dangers. The North American mega-fauna was threat enough for any human, regardless of how well they were armed.
Kathleen and Cadeyrin had set their home in the middle of a howling wilderness almost exactly one-hundred-thousand years BCE. The animals held no surprises for Cadeyrin. He’d lived all of his life hunting them. The thing that he continually marveled over was their number.
Here in pre-human North America, the animals thronged. Cadeyrin’s time, the last part of the Pleistocene during the final glaciation period had far fewer animals. This was more due to the harsh climate than the actions of humans, although humans did their share of killing. Fire drives often resulted in far more dead animals than the hunters could use. This waste was thought of as a necessary part of hunting, but Cadeyrin’s people generally were conservation oriented, killing only what they needed.
For her part, Kathleen sometimes thought it was amazing that humans had survived long enough to form modern civilization. Her origin in the twenty-first century hadn’t prepared her for such a life. Despite her handicap, she had become a seasoned huntress in just a few months.
Now she sensed a heightened tension in the air as if whatever it was had decided to attack. She raised her rifle, a hard-hitting thirty caliber, and prepared to empty the magazine. She’d purchased thirty-round magazines, and had never regretted it. Better to have too much fire-power than not enough.
Ulfsa shifted nervously. He’d arrived just a few minutes earlier. When she and Cadeyrin had started their hunt, Ulfsa had gone with the man. Their intent was to jump a deer. If Cadeyrin couldn’t shoot it immediately, Ulfsa would trail the animal.
Most deer would eventually circle, coming back to familiar ground. The wolf would continue to follow, guided by his exquisite sense of smell, until the deer circled. On its way back, there was a good chance that it would pass within range of either Kathleen or Cadeyrin.
Kathleen had been looking for an open area in the heavy spruces. While a deer would travel quickly through the trees, it was a little more likely to run through an open area when tired. When Ulfsa came up, she realized that he’d lost the trail or, as it now appeared, something more serious had arisen.
The wind shifted, eddying around the spruces, carrying the scent of resin, and something strange. She sniffed. It was like…somewhat like a heavy, musky body odor. Her mind flashed back to a day at the Minneapolis Zoo. It had been hot. When she’d walked by the gorilla enclosure, one of the male gorillas had been near her location. The current scent reminded her of his body odor.
No gorillas here, though, she thought. It must be something else. I hope it’s not a bear.
She turned slightly. The presence had moved to a thicker clump of fir trees. She couldn’t actually see anything. She’d somehow sensed it’s movement, though. She glanced quickly down at the wolf. He was looking fixedly at the same clump. She lifted her rifle, aimed, and squeezed the trigger. The bullet ripped through the fir branches as the sound of the shot rang through the air. She waited.
Nothing happened. She gradually became aware that the tension had lowered. Whatever it was, it had retreated when she shot. Ulfsa had lifted his ears, and his tail had returned to its normal upright position.
He stopped beside her, panting. He held his rifle at the ready also. After a moment, he sniffed the breeze, then lowered his firearm.
“Gone,” he said. “Lets move forward a little so I can check the area.”
They walked forward silently, paced by Ulfsa.
There was a scuffed mark in the forest floor on the far side of the fir trees. Cadeyrin bent down, inspected it, then walked on. He abruptly stopped, pointing at a soft patch of earth. There was a large footprint showing.
Kathleen’s first thought was that it was a large bear, but then she saw that the conformation of the track was wrong. It looked more human than bear.
Cadeyrin grunted, then explained, “Forest giant, I think.”
Kathleen jerked in surprise, and looked to see if he were serious. She shook her head negatively, then said, “We’re too early for there to be any men here. When we moved back from your time to now, I was careful to move us far enough back that no humans would have come to this part of the world. There are humans right now across the seas, but my people have never found any remains from this time here on this land. The soonest any people will arrive here will be fifty-thousand years from now.”
He smiled, obviously liking what he saw as he gazed into her eyes. “Yet, there is the track. It does not tell an untruth,” he said.
She looked at the print again. It did look human, but it was quite wide and much longer than her own foot. She glanced at Cadeyrin’s moccasin-shod feet. The print dwarfed them. If foot size was indicative of the creature’s height, it would be huge.
“How large is this thing, anyway?” she asked.
Cadeyrin thought for a moment, then answered. “I’ve never seen one. They were very rare in my time. Perhaps there are more now. I’ve heard that they may be somewhat taller than me, but not much.” He held his hand a good foot over his head leading Kathleen to understand that his idea of ‘not much’ and hers differed considerably.
He added, “They are also supposed to be heavier than all but the largest man. Look at the track, see how deep it is? Now watch this.”
He stepped down in the soft earth, his foot leaving a print beside the larger one. It was only about half as deep. Kathleen knew that Cadeyrin was at least two-hundred pounds, probably more. He had very little fat, but was quite heavily muscled, something that she found incredibly attractive. She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts of his body. She estimated that meant the unseen creature weighed over four hundred pounds. It must be quite bulky.
She asked, “How strong are they?”
Cadeyrin shrugged. “I don’t know. It was said that they are much stronger than men. They are dangerous, but they only carry sticks, not pointed weapons.”
He paused again. “If they are here, they know we are here also. They may become a problem for us. The old stories say they are enemies to men. I want you to always carry a weapon. If you don’t have your rifle, at least carry a pistol. I don’t want one of them catching you by yourself and unarmed.”
Kathleen shuddered. She’d been threatened by enemy tribesmen in the past and didn’t want to relive that experience. She looked up at her mate, and said, “I promise. I’ll be careful.”
He turned and led her back the way they’d come. After a few hundred paces, he said, “Let’s go out to the forest edge. Perhaps we can find some prey there. It’s getting late and the deer will be coming out to feed.”
Kathleen mulled the afternoon’s discovery over in her mind. The idea that there was an indigenous population of possibly hostile hominins made her quite nervous. She didn’t like the thought of having to constantly watch for intelligent enemies in addition to the ever-present large predators.
If they couldn’t live safely in the here and now, then she’d have to figure out another time to move to. She briefly thought of bringing Cadeyrin back to her time. She imagined him in modern clothes walking across the university campus. He’d probably be attacked by lustful women every time he went out in public. He was, she thought, very desirable. That led her to another topic.
Cadeyrin was sitting at the table of their travel trailer, his back to her. He was working on cleaning their weapons. He had a natural ability for mechanical work. She attributed it to his mastery of flint-knapping, but wherever it came from, he had quickly learned to clean the firearms. He could field strip and reassemble them like a trained soldier.
She moved over behind him, bending to nuzzle his neck. He placed the mechanism he was cleaning on the table, and caught her arms, turning his head so that their lips met. One thing quickly led to another with the result that it was dark before they’d fixed their evening meal.
During the night she lay awake, thinking. In addition to possible competition for Cadeyrin, moving back to her time also had another drawback. It was highly likely that the government agency that had tried to co-opt her method of time-travel for military and espionage work was madly trying to find her. She didn’t think those people would give up easily.
The possible use of time-travel for espionage undoubtedly represented a true prize for the government. That was something she didn’t want to see.
The time-travel method was her discovery, and, since she was the only one who understood it, at least at present, it was her property. To have a bunch of bureaucrats trying to force her to pass the information on was not something she wanted. Yet, if it wasn’t safe here and now, they’d have to go somewhere or somewhen. She wasn’t sure what the answer was.
Well, when you don’t know what to do, the best thing is to gather more information about the choices. Either you’ll discover something that helps you make up your mind, or the situation will change while you’re waiting, she thought.
Kathleen decided to shelve the problem for awhile. Perhaps the answer would be clear tomorrow.
I’ll post another chapter later so you can have a decent preview of the story.
I’m relieved. I just finished my latest story — title above — and it was a bit of a struggle. The final section had to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and it gave me a fit. I generally feel more at home writing straight action sequences, so putting things into the context of a meeting was a little more difficult.
Just to give y’all a feel for the story, and, yes, it’s time-travel again, here’s a section from Chapter 8. The main character, Logan Walker, has just arrived in the past, and is still trying to adapt to his unexpected situation.
The moon was high, its bright rays shining through the oak leaves. The light made strange patterns and shapes on the ground between the trees. The blotches of darkness seemed impenetrable, making it impossible to see what lurked below.
Despite his thirst, Logan had managed to sleep for awhile. He wasn’t sure how long it had been. The moon was now nearly overhead. It hadn’t even risen when he had dropped off to sleep.
He carefully studied the ground. There was no sign of the cat creature. Perhaps it had left, looking for other prey. Surely there was something to attract it, something easier to catch than one scrawny human.
He thought about climbing down to look for water, then rejected that idea. Even with the moonlight, he couldn’t see well enough to be sure that something wasn’t hiding, waiting for him to make a stupid move.
The tree seemed to be intent on impressing every nuance of its rough bark on his posterior. He found that changing position every thirty minutes or so made the fork of the branches barely tolerable. Thirst bothered him more and more as the stars wandered towards sunrise. All-in-all it was an amazingly long and restless night.
Logan had always slept late, but now he was beginning to think that the sun had stopped. When that thought first popped up, he snickered, but then stopped to consider his situation.
He was in a tree, trying to avoid some kind of big and really toothy cat thing, and trying to hold out until morning so he could get a drink. He’d been in the front yard, fallen into the drainage ditch, and then this place had somehow grabbed him. He hadn’t consciously wanted to come here. He’d…Oh! He’d wanted to escape that woman. Before that he’d eaten that brownie. Maybe something in it was giving him a bad trip. She’d said it was very strong. Still this didn’t seem like an hallucination. Everything was too real. It had that unmistakable feeling of reality, not like a dream or any kind of altered state of consciousness.
Whatever had happened to thrust him into this situation, it was beyond his understanding. It may have been related to the brownie or it may simply have been chance. It seemed that somehow he’d fallen through a hole, ending in another world, or…and here he paused…another time.
The cat-creature gave him one clue. He hadn’t looked too closely at it, being more concerned with avoiding its jumps, but it had a tawny, sort of stripy coat and a short tail. The most obvious feature was its huge teeth. He’d thought that it reminded him of a saber-tooth tiger, but they were extinct. Only maybe not in this place. Maybe here they weren’t extinct.
Logan gave up trying to figure out what had happened. In a sense it didn’t matter. He was here now and he had to learn how to survive until he could get back to where he’d come from. It really was that simple.
The thought crossed his mind that he might not be able to go back, but he shoved it away. That wasn’t something he wanted to consider.
By this time it was getting light. The sun was peeping over the horizon somewhere out at sea to the east and its light was gradually infiltrating through the foliage that surrounded him. Somewhere a bird started up, singing its morning song. The song quickly changed, and then changed again. It was a mockingbird; had to be. Nothing else sang so many songs at peak volume.
He heaved a sigh of relief. At least he was still on Earth. He’d thought for a moment that he might be on another planet. All he’d had to go on was the impossible cat or tiger of the saber-tooth variety. A mockingbird was at least familiar and made the place seem very Florida-like despite the lack of people and houses.
Logan maneuvered around and stood up, trying to stretch the cramps out of his neck and back while he waited for his left leg to regain its circulation. He’d been sitting in such a way that it was wedged tightly into the fork of the tree and now it hurt and tingled.
He carefully edged over and rested his hand on one of the more vertical branches, unzipped his pants, and relieved himself. The stream spattered on the dried leaves below. There was no answering sound. He’d half expected the cat to come charging out at the noise.
Finished, he began to edge onto the connecting branch to the magnolia tree. He’d descend carefully, then see about a drink. The idea of water tormented him now, and he had to mentally restrain his movements. It wouldn’t be good to slip and fall. He had to be careful.
He reached the magnolia with no sign of his attacker. Just to make sure, he broke off a rotten stub and threw it into the bushes. It made a gratifying rustle and crunch. Then all was silent except for that mockingbird. It continued to sing somewhere over near the edge of the stand of trees.
That was a good sign, wasn’t it? Logan thought that birds might be quiet or sound some kind of alarm call if anything dangerous was nearby, but he wasn’t sure about that. All he had to go on was his brief experience at the dig site, and, years ago, a week at summer camp with the Cub Scouts. He was realistic enough to recognize that he couldn’t really rely on the information he’d seen on TV.
“I wish I’d read more prepper-type stuff on the Internet,” he muttered as he climbed down the smaller tree.
The last branch was about five feet up, and it decided that his weight was too much this time around. It snapped, precipitating him onto the ground in an undignified fashion. The fall knocked the wind out of him, but he jumped up, looking wildly around, preparing to either run or to try to climb the tree again. Nothing happened. The saber-tooth must have given up and gone elsewhere for its meal.
I’m rewriting the first draft now, cleaning it up and working on the flow, so it will read easily. It’ll go to my editor in a few days, then (I hope) be ready to publish by July 1. (I know. I’m optimistic.)