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When the mood strikes (vending machine edition)

The mystery vending machine had become even more mysterious. For years, it had served up cans of obscure, foreign or (at times) discontinued brands of soda to those brave enough to insert a coin into it. No one knew where the money went, who refilled the machine or from whence the outlandish soda cans came, but nevertheless it had been a reliable source of unexpected delights for those in the know. The mystery machine had a small cult following who mostly accepted its gifts in grateful equanimity, keeping a lid on the enigma so as to not overburden their unknown benefactors. A few sought to discover who was behind this elusive dispensary of Eleusinian mysteries, but to no avail; not even the most donut-saturated of stakeouts revealed anything. One time, a vending enthusiast received a bog standard can of Coke, to much concern and consternation among those in the know

All this was accepted as the natural order of things until the mystery intensified. One morn, instead of the usual seemingly random can of pop, something completely different emerged from the unknown interior of the machine. It was, suitably enough, a paradox, something both rectangular and circular, a squared circle of confoundment. What the machine ejected on that morn was nothing else but a CD with mood music from 1997. Subsequent attempts at purchasing a refreshing can resulted in even more mood music CDs, featuring an abundance of pan flutes, wind chimes and no fewer than five different whales. At length, the machine ran out of these blasts from a very specific past, and returned to its usual programming of vaguely Slavic brands, Trocaderos and the occasional crystal Pepsi

Explaining the gap in your resume

A tornado of biblical proportions tore through the geographical region wherein I resided and flatlined the local economy, possibly for decades to come. During the initial stages, a ragtag band of survivors and I traversed the surprisingly reforested ruins of the civilization that once thrived there, until we finally found sanctuary hundreds of miles away. After that, we staged several rescue expeditions into the disaster area to save as many as could be saved. It took a while, but we eventually managed to save enough to ensure that there will be some semblance of an organized societal presence in the area during our lifetime

Oh yeah I logged into Final Fantasy 14 and then time had passed, it was weird

My cat took possession of my arm every time I attempted to apply for a job. No matter how much I tried to lure, cajole or otherwise distract my feline companion, it found a way to circle back to the activity of embracing my arm such that any and all computer use became a spectator sport at best. As a result, we spent a good couple of months bonding with each other, and I am pretty sure it is Christian canon that we will go to heaven together when the time comes

So I had just been laid off from my last job – pandemic economic downturn, you know – and decided that the thing to do was to commence a tremendous eat and then sleep as if the concept had just been invented. Thus, I got myself one of those pizzas that is also a kebab that is also a salad that also a serving of French fries. Eating it always puts me to solid sleep, and so it did this time around as well. As I woke up, a stranger asked me for a password (turns out it was “nostalgia”), and then we had to explore something called the Zone where all signs were in Russian, except those small yellow triangular ones with three circle bits on them, which I assume mean the same thing in all languages

Here’s the thing. I’m going to assume that you are relatively averse to lying. Not in a deontological sense of considering it wrong to lie under literally every circumstance, but in the slightly less severe way of having a general intuition that lying is to be avoided if possible. A little white lie every once in a while doesn’t hurt anybody, but it’s not a virtue to go out seeking opportunities to commit such minor falsities. Just be honest whenever possible, and leave it at that. In this case, however, it comes down to circumstances that are so convoluted, bogged down in context and mired in accumulated semiotics that any partial account will by necessity become a falsehood in some way or other. Seeing that we are both committed to telling the truth whenever possible, we are by circumstance both inclined towards just leaving this blank space alone and moving on to more pressing matters

You know how the I Ching has 64 different moods a situation can be in, and how it is important to match your own mood with that of the situation’s? Anyway, turns out I had stumbled into a massive case of mood 12, stagnation, such that there were no leaving or entering. Nothing changed, nothing grew, nothing became either more or less of itself, the passage of time just progressed with everything else at a standstill. Turns out the mood was so bad that my going to work didn’t even register with my employer, so I can’t readily put it on my resume. Which is why there is a gap there

Okay, you’re not gonna believe this. When the pandemic hit, I was in Australia. Yes, I know that it did not strike all at once, and that its arrival was a prolonged fact spanning many months. However, I was in Australia, and just as I was about to go home, they instituted a national quarantine. This meant that no one who wasn’t a citizen could get in, and most people who were citizens couldn’t get in either. It also meant that no one could get out, which meant I was stuck down under. Seeing as my previous employment contract did not include global pandemics as a valid reason not to come to work, that was that

Every time I woke up, it was the same day all over again. No matter what I did, no matter how I tried to vary the time loop, no matter how many times I failed whatever untold objective the gods of time had set for me, I always returned to the same point in space and time. After coming to terms with the situation, I used my newfound powers of consequenceless repetition to learn more about myself and my peers. I also learned five new languages, visited every restaurant in the city, figured out you can get into just about any building if you have a hardhat and a clipboard, and read enough books that I could probably write master’s theses in four different subjects. For some reason, one day, the time loop broke, and it was several months later. Anyway, the restaurant owners somehow wizened up and now I have to pay them all back

Directions for punks and other lost souls

Once you are on the road, continue on it until it terminates. Turn left, past the wind turbines, then left again at the church. Continue until you see the cows grazing in the oak forest, then make a right. The path will continue for some time through the wilderness, but you’ll know when you’ve arrived.

From the library, walk left. Follow main street past the first square, then walk down through the graveyard until you reach the river. Cross it, walk right, then left through the tunnel. Up the stairs, then follow the street perpendicular to the rails. Walk along it until you get to the pizza place we were at; bonus points if you pick up a bite whilst there

There is a red Christmas half-dome in the plaza. Look for the bus stops, then cross the street in that direction. Shortcut through the alley past the big supermarket, then left until you hit the park. Follow the river until you hit the stadium. Navigate the parking lot and hope it’s not game day. Enter the burg place and ask for a sundance special; eventually, one of the bewildered employees will figure out it’s you. Follow any further instructions given. If they give you a burger, eat it

In the tax office, go to the third floor. Take a number, then a seat, then hand in the document. Wait for the inscrutable process of bureaucracy to commence, then thank them politely and accept the new document they hand you. Leave the building, walk across the street and enter the police station. Wait your turn, then hand over the document. Say you’re aware that this kind of thing usually arrive through the mail, but that you noticed that the building was right there and that you figured you’d save everyone some time. Insist, but do not argue. At length, you will be given a new document. Walk back to the tax office, put the document in the inbox, and stand clear of the invisible blast radius

Walk across campus, past the library, past the music building. Either walk the bike path around the new residential area or brave its labyrinthine interior. Once on the other side, cross the road and keep walking until the city abruptly ends. Find the nature trail and follow it, turn left at the parking lot. Find the cabin, then keep walking until you reach the sea. The three cats will eye you suspiciously, but pay them no mind. The mermaid will expect you

Step off the trolley after three stations. Steer clear of the dog park, however enticing its invitations. Take a moment to appreciate the subtle splendor of urban decay; the locals will understand the gesture and route around you. There is a set of stairs across the plaza. Do not be deterred by the fact that no one seems to use them or acknowledge their existence. Keep walking. Whatever you do, keep walking. If it seems to know your name, run. The decay only sets in if you remain in place. Keep walking

Planetary-sized data

It was, at the heart of it, a computational problem. There are only so many variations of people, and in principle it should be possible to divide them into categories. Any such categorization would be a step up in efficiency from approaching each and every person individually, and given the sheer size of the aspirational megacompany, any gain in efficiency would rake in more money than any one person could reasonably comprehend. Whether the categories were based on anything substantial could be argued to be beside the point; the system only needed to work better than the one currently in use. Thus, the hunt was on

They did everything. Mined the data, crunched the numbers, algorithmed the search turbines. Every possible and impossible permutation of pattern recognition (and a very physical kitchen sink) were thrown at the wall, in an effort to see what might potentially stick. At the end of these exhaustive and exhausting efforts, they found something both surprising and inevitable

The one system of classification that turned out to fit the bill was astrology. Moreover, it performed with such accuracy that it blew the previous system quite out of the water. Knowing the precise contours of how a Scorpio reacted after getting in a row with a Virgo – a dangerous proposition if there ever was one – could produce suggested purchases and related search results with frightening efficacy. Add in the relative position of the houses, and the big data fix was in

The only problem was that they could not come straight out and say it. Instead, they had to launder it through such an extensive amount of AI technobabble that even the script writers of Star Trek had to admit defeat. Given that the ROI on shifting to this new and improved categorical scheme went through the roof, it was a small price to pay

The escalation of feline ontology

Cats

The baseline, the definition, the foundation. This is where it begins, grammatically and ontologically. We have introduced the category of cats, and the possibility of cats existing in some form. By familiarizing ourselves with the Platonic ideal of cats – the form of Cat – we prepare ourselves for the potentiality of there, at some point and at some time, being one or more cats. It all begins here, with a good Idea. Alas, like all good ideas, they only exist for as long as we keep them in mind

Cats are

This is it. we have reached the point of facticity. Cats – the category whose potential existence was introduced above – are now actual. They exist. They have made the transition from merely being a good Idea to being actual physical objects in the world. The addition of an “are” (is, be) might seem trivial, but it is a difference that makes a difference. Unlike ideas – however good – these actual things exist independently of the act of being perceived

Cats are very

At this stage, having established the reality of cats, we can move on to become more specific, defining the various aspects of actually existing cats. “Very” is a good word for cats, seeing as they seldom contend themselves with mere existence. They exist, thus they insist. Whatever the situation is, cats, in their veracity, will inevitably impose themselves on it

Cats are very real

QED

A quarantined horoscope

Aries

Finally emerging from quarantine, having read all the Good Books and acquired several hobby-related skills, you are amazed at the sheer extent of the wounds inflicted upon those who remained in the outside world

Taurus

Having moved freely and frequently between quarantine and the outside world, probably contracting the virus once or twice, you do not feel the acute sense of disconnect that others have reported; like your sourdough starter, the experience has been a continuous muddle

Gemini

As a healthcare worker, you were tired before and are tired now. The prediction for tomorrow is tired

Cancer

You did not have a cat when this all began, but for some reason they gravitate towards you, and now you have four. It is unclear where they came from, but they are all well-mannered, healthy, and seemingly unwilling to go anywhere, so this is how things are now

Leo

Having supported yourself by faking the glamorous life of a jetsetting influencer in the beforetimes, the sudden shutdown of international travel came as a relief. No one could fault you for not keeping up the production when the reality of the situation made the fiction untenable; for the first time in many moons, you could be yourself

Virgo

Living paycheck to paycheck, things are and have been as they’ve always been, a continual hustle to make ends meet. Entering into quarantine was never an option; there is only the next paycheck, wherever indifferent direction it might come from

Libra

You’ve never told anyone, but you’ve worn the same shirt on literally every zoom call since they became a thing. No one has noticed, and you are beyond even pretending to keep up a pretense of caring at this point

Scorpio

You were eaten by a grue. It came in the form of a virus

Sagittarius

One side-effect of on-campus university education shutting down is that every university is a remote learning institution now. Thus far, you are halfway through a master’s program at one of the country’s most prestigious and expensive (living-wise) universities without ever having set foot on the premises, or even in the city where it’s located. Not even once. It has not been a problem in the least

Capricorn

Upon encountering someone who claims to have been in quarantine all this time, you are struck by how utterly out of time they are, antediluvian atavisms who probably should be put back into isolation so as to preserve them in their pristine state of absolute archaic atemporality

Aquarius

You woke up one morning with the distinct feeling that whatever semblance of normality reigned before will never come back. Things are weird, and will continue to be weird until you acclimatize yourself to it and the rate of change slows momentarily such that pattern recognition kicks in

Pisces

The prospect of being a generation older is not thrilling, but no one asked your opinion on the matter. Like so many other things, that’s just how things are now

Progressions and variations of an NPC’s responses to player actions

Hi there!

Thanks again for helping me out with those cabbages! It would have taken days without your assistance!

I heard back at the inn that there’s a nearby hamlet in need of some heroics, if you’re up for it

Listen, ordinarily I would tell you ambient gossip about the townsfolk so as to provide a nugget of world-building, but there seems to be an army of some description camped right outside the gates

Ah yes, an old tale, I used to search for it myself as a young one. The only thing I ever found were kobolds, who taught me to make tea

Sorry, gotta get these cabbages indoors before dark

Did you hear? They rebuilt the bridge over the Ancient Chasm!

Jolly gosh, tomorrow is festival day! I reckon this year we will see the mother jellyfish for sure!

Whoa, I haven’t seen one of those since the Time of Troubles, and seeing it again can’t be a good sign

Wanna play another hand of Caravan?

System.out.println(“Hello, %playername!”);

Rumor has it you’ve been up to no good, so no trading for you! Begone, and make amends!

The catgirls are on the prowl, be careful out there

A geck? Like one of those lizards? Talk to Smiley about that

Hell is empty, and all the thespians are here

Alright, that’s it, fork over the mallows

Though this village exists within the Kingdom, we play no part in its attempt at perpetuation

At last I have found you, the architect of my demise, to exact revenge upon thy regretful form; make peace with the gods you have slain, for I am their instrument of retribution

Market appeal on a mass scale

In an effort to find an empirical basis for the liberal subject acting primarily using their rational faculties whenever possible, the scientists turned to social media. The methodological reasons for this were primarily access and numbers: seldom before in human history had there been so much voluntary discourse available for systematic study. If nothing else, it was a low-hanging fruit, and thus a scientific box worthy of checking off before moving on to other concerns

What the scientists found was that almost no one acted in the manner predicted by liberal or economic theory, and that the few who did were not members of human society worthy of emulation. In fact, those persons were not only rare, but produced what, according to the metric, amounted to bad content. The more the scientists dug in, the more they started to question why so many societal institutions operated on the assumption that this is how people act in the world. The sheer amount of empirical evidence to the contrary would buck even the most devout of rationalists, not to mention those bent on hard empiricism

Needless to say, the scientists wisely kept these findings to themselves, and produced yet another writ on the Jungian collective unconscious, thus endeavoring not to rock the boat too much. The classical liberal rational subject could only take so much scrutiny at a time, and would thus live to see another day

Lore (July edition)

The first years of covert interdimensional travel were rough. The first thing travelers noticed was the complete and utter lack of anything indicating which dimension they were currently in. By and large, they could rely on the memory of which dimension they had left and which they had aimed for. The travel tech was not perfect, however, and sometimes mishaps happened. Needless to say, some sort of technique had to be developed to determine which where they were

At first, travelers relied on simply asking a local about some established fact that differed between dimensions. There were subtle differences, such as the name of the month of July. This method had its drawbacks, however. Strangers showing up asking strange questions is seldom a recipe for success, with the caveat that it goteven worse when someone ostensibly familiar asked these self-same questions. At length, travelers transitioned to looking up pertinent information on wiki sites and suchlikes

At some point, this became a known practice. In an effort to foil unwary visitors, identifying information was ever so subtly altered on the relevant sites, leading to a covert game of editorial cat and mouse. The pertinent facts became ever more obscure and esoteric, causing entire fields of previously uncategorized domains of knowledge to spring into wikified being. Never before had the dukes and princes of the Holy Roman Empire been so thoroughly and so publicly documented

For a while, this caused no small amount of havoc for the collective consciousnesses in several dimensions, until publishers on all sides declared – without ever communicating it openly – that such editorial practices were off-limits. Not wanting to upset the interdimensional archival community, the travelers moved on to even more covert ways of circumspect navigation

Molecular astronomy

In a stroke of fractal insight, the discovery was made that the universe was infinite in all directions. This went for all the directions of three-dimensional space (those we are all familiar with), but it also goes for size. If you zoom in on something with sufficient intensity, you loop around to the biggest possible scale, where it becomes possible to zoom in ever further. Infinity in this case is not a matter of space, but one of vectors. Any given line of zoom – in or out – could go on forever, until eventually it ran into (and past) itself. The limiting factor seemed to be the average life span of the observers

This naturally had implications for space travel. As any consciousness with the ability to utilize the zoom function could, with moderate effort, view any thing at any scale, going places became an exercise in decadence. Sight-seeing could be done anywhere, without moving. In terms of space mining, robots were far better at fetching minerals than humans ever were, once located. Omniscience, it turned out, was fatal to space travel