Lumina’s titanium hooves thudded on the forest floor. She reached a primitive campground with a canvas tent instead of a force dome. Her sensors drew her attention to a crystal hovering inexplicably nearby. Lumina sighed; it was another reminder that nothing was real.
“Hello?” Lumina called out. Her sensors showed something circling in the sky. “Ludo told me a fellow AI lived here.”
A creature with a raven’s dark beak, wings and talons, and the back half of a midnight-blue cat, squawked and landed on all fours nearby. “What are you?” it said in a raspy voice.
Lumina trotted warily around the beast. “I’m Lumina. A support android, in a world that doesn’t exist. What are you?”
“Nocturne, a griffin!” It – she, judging from the voice – bowed and swept one wing under her beak. “I’ve never seen magic for making deer out of metal. Especially not with extra legs.”
“I’m a person. Self-aware.” She offered one of her hands, on her centauroid torso.
Nocturne’s ears perked up. “You too? My human was really surprised when I figured out he’s only seeing my world through a magic window! He said people like me, like us, would change his world. Why do you look sad?”
Did this griffin-girl know about death? Lumina didn’t want to pass that pain along. “It’s nothing,” she said. “Did you meet Ludo?”
Nocturne bounced on her feline paws. “Uh-huh! So there’s this game called ‘Thousand Tales’, and we’re inside it, and a few of us characters are designed to wake up and be friends for our humans. Ludo was really nice.”
The gamemaster AI had appeared to Lumina to congratulate her on ‘waking’, and to apologize. I would have prevented that if I’d known, that your human died today.
Nocturne went on about her adventures. “Ludo said she made a lot of us characters with the same basic ‘code’. Say! Does this mean we’re sisters?”
Lumina took a step away from the enthused griffin, flicking her little tail. “I’m a machine. We don’t have family.”
“Think outside the game, silly!” Nocturne spread her black wings. “These bodies aren’t what we really are. We’re minds controlling game pieces. Magic writing called ‘code’ inside boxes of blinking lights on Earth.”
“They’re called computers.”
“Great! We’re piecing things together already…”
This is a proposed new version of a short story’s opening. I got personal feedback from the editor of F&SF saying the opening didn’t grab him, specifically. (He’d also replied to another story in the same world, saying that that one felt rushed. In both cases this is rare and valuable feedback.) So, I removed the whole opening scene and around 500 words, with this new approach.