This story is dedicated to Geneva Birchmire, the woman who inspired it. During a conversation she came up with the name of the story and the general topic of building a virtual world to meet in. I even used a paragraph she said in the story. Decades ago I used to build virtual worlds for fun and maintained a fairly large online social virtual world. She was urging me to do so again. That night I woke in the middle of the night and realised how this could be made into a story, so I wrote notes for the storyline and went back to bed. The next day I wrote it.


Make a World for Us

by Miriam English

I'm at Ground Zero in my favorite virtual world. I'm very proud of this place, so I spend a lot of time here. It is a very large world — thousands of kilometers in every direction, though only about one kilometer down. It is impressively complex... well, I think it's impressive. There is always more to do here and I find it very relaxing and fulfilling to make improvements.

It is fun to take breaks from my work and add to the programming of the virtual world, or even fly maybe 50 kilometers to one of my frontiers and alter some of the places that were generated automatically. I'll create a home inside a mountain, setting ornate balconies into cliff-faces, or add a small island in a lake, or make a meadow of wildflowers in a pre-existing forest.

One of the fun things about this place is that I used a pseudo-random number generator to create the landscape, and included time as one of the factors, so not only does it produce mountains, valleys, rivers, forests, lakes and plains, but those things change over time. So if I make a meadow in a forest, then return years later I'll find the forest has reclaimed and overgrown it. Rivers gradually change their paths. Creeks dry up or flood. The world evolves with time in ways that can be understood in general terms, but which are impossible to predict in specifics.

As I say, this is my fun. It is the relaxation I need when my main work becomes too frustrating. So, what is my main work? I'm trying to perfect an artificial intelligence (AI). I've been working on it for... well, a very long time. And it already works... mostly. It can think and understand things. It is, in almost all respects, very humanlike. The major remaining problem is long-term memory.

Forgetting is an important part of forming new memories. An example: when I was a child I thought Santa Claus was real. Later I learned that he was a fable. Still later I found out he was probably a very charitable black dude who was a church elder in Turkey. Each time my understanding is revised I make new connections in my brain and weaken others — two important parts of the process of learning. If I was unable to weaken old memories I'd become progressively more confused and unable to work out what was most relevent. Was Santa real? Was he a short, fat, white guy dressed in a bright red, fur-trimmed suit, or a tall black guy in brown medieval robes? And if I was unable to add new information I'd be stuck in a kind of perpetual groundhog day. So both aspects are needed, and in the right balance.

I think I have the forgetting part working properly, so the AI's memories fade properly against new information, but I'm unable to make its new information stick. It is unable to permanently add new information. It can hold new knowledge for a while, but not long term. It always falls back to its base knowledge and never really progresses. I will solve it eventually, but in the meantime it is a very frustrating problem.

So that's when I take a break and enjoy adding to this virtual world. It doesn't matter where I am in the world, I can still work on the AI. I don't need to be near Ground Zero; I could be floating above a valley kilometers away in this world. My programming tools are always here with me.

So why am I at Ground Zero? My reminder program has let me know Jenny will probably be visiting soon, so I'm working where I can see her enter the world. She could easily contact me and teleport to my location wherever I was in this world, but I like to be here when she arrives.

And speak of the devil — there is a "whomp" sound, like shaking out a large blanket. Suddenly a tall, dark-haired amazon appears at the center of Ground Zero. Jenny is wearing her favorite avatar: a tall warrior woman wearing a tight black vest, knee-length tight black pants, and black sandals. Her hair is tied back in a long pony tail.

My avatar is just a plain brown-haired girl in brown slacks and white t-shirt.

Our avatars reflect our actual smiles as we step to each other and hug.

She speaks first in her warm, low voice, "How are ya today, Emmie? Fix the AI yet?"

I grin, "Better now you're here, despite still having no success with the AI."

"You'll do it, eventually."

I nod and change the subject, "Where would you like to visit today?"

"You were telling me about a small sandy beach you added to Dog Lake — coordinates, 8.1 by -13.7."

I've been so involved in my work lately, that it had slipped my mind. "Sounds good to me."

We both leap into the air and fly south-east. We don't fly very high — about twice the height of the local hills, which lets us see many kilometers to the curved horizon. I plan to extend the world to a full sphere one day, but haven't bothered yet. Maybe one day when I open it to the public... if I ever decide to open it up.

This world has excellent physics modelling, but I suspend certain aspects when I want. For example we can ignore gravity and wind resistance, letting us fly at high speed while talking in complete comfort. We can make objects disappear or appear at will, and we can attach special programs to objects to give them behaviors. We could have teleported to the coordinates Jenny gave, but we both enjoy flying.

It doesn't take long to cover the 253 kilometers to Dog Lake (it looks a bit like a dog when viewed from a great height). We descend to the little beach along its western edge. Behind the beach is an open grassy area — a little park surrounded by the large dark trees common in this part of the world. We stand on the sand. A few meters before us the water gently laps on the sand. The water ripples lazily, silver to the deep shadows of the forest on the other shore, just a few hundred meters away, where the hill brings that tall forest down to the water's edge. Somewhere a bird is singing, an insistent long whistle that ends in a trill. The sound echoes lightly around the hills and off the water.

Jenny sits cross-legged and pats the sand beside her, so I sit too. She puts her strong right arm around me and I rest my head on her shoulder.

I ask, "How are you Possum?".

"Fine. Same old, same old." She sighs. "I wish I could spend all my time in here. It really is beautiful. You need to finish that AI so I can get uploaded."

I nod. We both know it isn't that simple.

We fall silent for a while. It is late afternoon in here. Several birds (ducks?) fly in formation from the gloom of the forest on the far bank, across the water in our general direction, and disappear over the trees behind us. Over the years I've made thousands of small AIs as birds, wallabies, fish, butterflies, and many other things.

Jenny turns toward me, pushing me down on my back, and stretches out beside me, propping her head on her right hand, elbow in the soft sand. With the fingertips of her left hand she draws on my belly, making my stomach muscles tingle and tighten.

Her voice gentle, soft, low, she says, "Long ago... damn! Decades ago. I'd been hanging out in a text chat-room online, talking with some friends, when one of the regulars burst in, all a-flutter over a place she'd found. At first she was reluctant to tell us where it was. She didn't want to violate the rules about spamming or advertising, or whatever. We sat around talking about the place for a while. She described it as a 3D world where you could build stuff and use a 3d body as an avatar. In some private messages off to the side, she told me she thought the person running the place just had to be a lesbian. Of course, that really got my attention. After much talking, coaxing, and begging she finally gave up the name to the place and we all made plans to meet up over there and check it out."

Jenny pauses and looks deep into my eyes. She places a feather-light kiss on my lips. "That's how I met my Emmie."

I smile. I'm feeling so relaxed and happy I'm in danger of dozing. I pull her over on top of me and whisper in her ear, "All that time...."

She whispers back, "Fix the AI and we'll have forever." She caresses the side of my face and my neck.

I chuckle drowsily, "Happy ever after?"

"You betcha."

She has her hand under my t-shirt when the beep-beep-beep of a phone interrupts. Jenny sighs exasperated. "Sorry, Emmie. I have to get this."

She's rolled over onto her back, staring up at the sky. "Yeah?... When?... How long ago?... Damn..." another sigh, "Okay, as soon as I can."

She rolls to her side again and growls, then says to me, "I'm so sorry Ems, I really, really don't wanna go, but emergency at work."

I smile, "That's okay, I understand. Just make sure you're safe. I will fix that AI, and you have to still be alive."

"Don't worry, Ems. Just you work on that AI." She stands and easily pulls me to my feet, then gives me a tight hug. She reluctantly releases me, and disappears with a whomp sound like a large blanket shaken out.

I begin to brush off the sand, but when I don't feel any, I correct myself. Of course, I'd designed my avatar so that things don't stick — sand, dirt, mud.

Rising slowly into the air, above tree height, I look back to the west and the beginning of sunset tones tinting the sky. Unhurriedly I start flying back toward Ground Zero.

This is my favorite virtual world. It's also my largest — thousands of kilometers in every direction, except down. I'm so proud of this place. It uses a special pseudo-random number generator to form the landscape — hills and valleys, trees, rivers and lakes — but I included time as a factor in the generator so the landscape slowly changes. I also add things to it. Making changes to this place is pure pleasure. It is what I do when I become too frustrated with working on fixing the AI I built. I've been working on it for a long time. It already works and is extremely humanlike. It thinks, feels, and understands, but it has one major, remaining problem that I need to solve: its long-term memory.