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Oct 18, 2019 7:41 AM
a jean vs. shren alyemi
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"Shara."

     "What is it now?"

"This -- shren alyemi."

     "What about him, Jehan?"

"You're good at explaining things to people."

     "...oh no."

"Explain to him why he should stop being a shren."

     "No. No. Absolutely not."

"...please?"

     "Jehan. I am ninety-two years old. I really do not think this is the time in my life to be taking on a project on the scale of convincing shren alyemi to stop being alyemi."

"That's not how -- you're doing that on purpose."

     "Guilty. Now, the grandkids are visiting this afternoon, so unless you want to be around for that..."

"I'm gone, I'm gone."

 

 

He's back five days later when the news breaks.

The argument this time is much longer.

It might have been more vicious, too -- fifty years ago, would have been -- but they don't tend to do that anymore. Both of them are too painfully aware that any harsh words exchanged might be the last. So it's very quiet, instead, and Shara cries, and Jehan of course doesn't cry but he as good as does.

Afterwards, he writes a very polite letter -- doesn't even address it to "shren alyemi," uses his name -- says he has some questions about the immortality thing, he's sure Mial's very busy but maybe he could make time over lunch to talk?

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...sure, he's free for lunch in a couple days.

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Jehan knows a very nice place, doesn't tend to get dragon clientele, has private rooms for business dinners and so forth. He reserves one, sends the place and time to Mial. (Lunch is, of course, on him.)

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Mial shows up on time.

You wouldn't know it to look at him - either the shrenhood or the immense otherworldly power. His eyes are the same silver as any silver dragon's. He's very short and not at all imposing.

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Jehan is waiting for him, impeccably dressed.

(He's a perfect actor. He doesn't look at all like he'd rather be poking out his own eyes with a rusty pitchfork than having this conversation, or like he'd rather be poking out out Mial's than doing either.)

"You must be Mial. It's an honor to meet you."

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He raises his eyebrows. "I don't hear that one too often."

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"You invented immortality!" And got rid of practically all the shrens, he's not going to say that, tact tact tact, but yes that's a much nicer thought than shren alyemi he's just going to dwell on that one, yes, good.

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"Surprisingly few people have taken me up on it so far. Well, all right, unsurprisingly few. I'll probably get better reception when I have something I can offer to everyone."

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(Smile, Jehan, smile...) "No doubt. Are you making progress on that, then? -- I'm sorry, I'm being appallingly rude, won't you sit?"

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"Trust me, this is not what appallingly rude looks like."

He sits.

"Yes, of course. I'm hardly about to cure shrenhood, invent small-scale immortality that doesn't work right on dragons or vampires, and then stop. Next on the list is a version of this one that scales well enough to cover the population of Elcenia in some sensible timeframe, then putting weather and ecosystems on the bottom of the world so people can live there, and in my off-hours I try to crack the dragonish old age problem but I'm somewhat hampered by not having the faintest clue how dragonish old age works."

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This would be easier if he didn't keep harping on how normal dragons react to him and Jehan could just pretend it was a conversation with literally anyone else in the entire world.

"I suppose at this point that hardly even qualifies as ambitious. Have you got resurrection in the queue somewhere?"

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"Yes, but I don't know yet if it's possible and might not find out for a while, so scalable immortality comes first in case the answer is 'no' or, arguably worse, 'yes but with unforeseen restrictions that aren't clear until a ways into development'. I'm optimistic but disinclined to bet lives on my optimism if I don't have to."

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Oh good technical talk that's nice and objective and emotionally neutral and he can pretend he's reading it out of a book. A book written by somebody who is definitely not a shren.

 

Smile. Nod. "What does development for these things even look like? I'll admit I don't have a very clear mental image."

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"I got my hands on some otherworldly magic with extensive capabilities but an annoyingly hazardous learning curve. Development doesn't look very exciting from the outside - it's just me standing in a warded area on the bottom of the world - but internally I'm doing the extrasensory equivalent of juggling sixty live ferrets just to keep the magic in place while I figure out what I want to do with it. And if you drop one ferret they all explode, hence the location and wards."

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"Delightful. You seem to have made it through the learning curve with all limbs intact -- should I congratulate you, or your local light?"

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"Me. If it turns out to be easier to scale than the whole immortality package, I might end up handing out my healing magic so lights can get some of what they've been giving everyone else for so long."

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"My congratulations, then."

 

 

"I want to learn."

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"...I'm willing to be convinced but will take some convincing," he says. "If I handed out this kind of power on a casual basis, we'd all drown in exploding ferrets."

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Jehan turns up the charm to maximum. Sincere, reasonable, persuasive, well-meaning...

"You pointed out just now that if you delay research into generalized immortality, you're gambling with people's lives. That's true of a lot of other things -- there's even more where you're gambling with people's suffering -- you'd be irresponsible to hand out the power casually, but equally irresponsible not to parallelize.

"I assume you've already handed it out to at least one person -- no matter how confident you are in your immortality, it would be absurdly foolish not to. But if you haven't, well, you should, and it wouldn't hurt for it to be someone whose sudden and unexpected death would at least mildly peeve the Dragon Council; however you obtained otherworldly powers, one assumes that some other and less well-intentioned person could do the same, and might want to be the only one around with them.

"It sounds like carelessness would be more likely to harm me than anyone else, so I have every incentive to avoid it. I'm not stupid -- that one, at least, I can produce reasonably reliable evidence on, though I assume you're not interested in character testimonials.

"Which leaves active malice, in ways I could make trouble for you. And, frankly, even if I were that way inclined -- which I'm not -- I'd have to be stupid to attempt it. I have no reason to expect that I'll be as competent with your otherworldly powers as you are, and every reason to think you're anomalously gifted with them. I'd be happy to come to an agreement on appropriate uses thereof, and would consider you entirely justified in stopping me by any means necessary if I proceeded to break it.

"If your otherworldly powers happen to feature some way of verifying any of that, I'd be delighted to cooperate with it. Or with anything else that might reassure you, within reason."

He takes a deep breath, and spreads his hands. "...Also, I asked nicely."

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Mial listens thoughtfully as Jehan speaks, and then he is quiet for a moment, absorbing.

 

"Ever met a shren before?" he asks at last.

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(Smile--)

"Not to my knowledge. But so far you seem not to bite."

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"See," he says, "I've met a fair number of dragons in my time, and heard from many more, and yet until today I have never seen one ignore my shrenhood this thoroughly."

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(That, Jehan refrains from pointing out, is because he's never met a dragon who's this good an actor.)

"There hardly seemed to be a polite way to bring it up."

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"It's not just that you didn't bring it up. It's the - the complete non-reaction. It suggests to me that what's going on is not 'you're completely fine about it' but 'you're very, very good at pretending to be completely fine about it', and I'm sure you can see how that hypothesis raises concerns about your trustworthiness."

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This much discussion of the topic is a fascinating acting challenge. Fascinating. He is fascinated. This will definitely prevent him from thinking about any other aspects of the situation. Such as the fact that he is having a conversation, about shrens, with a shren.

 

"Or," he suggests, dryly, "might I propose that while you've interacted with plenty of dragons, I suspect not many dragons have had job interviews with you, and more of them might have managed basic courtesy given that incentive."

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"...no, see," he says, "this isn't what basic courtesy looks like. You're not acting like a dragon who got over it, or even like a dragon trying very very hard to get over it. You're acting like someone who never had a problem at all and doesn't understand why anyone would. And as a native Draconic speaker, that really doesn't scan. So I'm left with 'faking it and overcompensating' as my best hypothesis. Which wouldn't matter in most contexts, but does matter quite a lot when you're making an exquisitely well-tuned pitch for why I should hand you ultimate cosmic power."

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