Jul 20, 2019 12:07 PM
Tarinda and Page bring a seed of the super-AI Sing to Cloudbank
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Cloudbank is a beautiful place, from a certain perspective. Blue sky and white clouds above, all around, and misty white clouds below.

Here is an island of solidity in the sea of sky. The wind is a steady breeze, the floating island sitting just barely on top of a dense, foggy layer of air. It's not an especially large island, perhaps two hundred feet wide and three hundred long all told, curved slightly like the back of some giant beast.

The sandy soil is thin, and wears straight through to a porous-looking sort of rock in places. There are grasses and weeds and shrubs and a few trees, plus a few small creatures. Some familiar, like the wild onions. Some alien, like the thickets of not-quite-grass with flimsy, transparent, bulging seeds straining upwards against their mooring.

A songbird casually swoops from its nest and catches one of these seeds in its bill, while something with tentacles and a large gas-bag clings to the island at the edge, nibbling on the alien leaves of something reminiscent of mangroves, a three-dimensional web of stems and flaxen roots.

And then someone else arrives.

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The soil is only a few inches deep over most of the island, and is fairly sandy. It's moist, though, so it probably rained in the last day or so.

The rock is actually a collection of roughly cuboid cells with thin walls, though the skin is a bit tougher. When one of the cells is punctured it releases a small amount of smelly gas. On close inspection, some sort of - well, something alien is living inside these little cells, and probably growing them. If she manages to break a chunk of rock away cleanly, it will float up and away.

(The plant she tested doesn't seem to be doing her any harm.)

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When she does get hungry, she eats an onion, spreads onion seeds from a bolted one in case she's here a while, and conducts Page-directed experiments on the rock (the first chunk escapes; the second she catches).

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The experimental results show that the rock is definitely alien life.

The walls are some sort of aerogel type thing. Incredibly light, but brittle and weak to any kind of stress except compression. The cells are mostly full of hyrdogen, which it gets by splitting water. It photosynthesizes but probably has some supplemental source of nutrition. This floating island is probably 95% or more composed of the stuff judging by weight ratios, and there's likely something heavy and solid at the bottom keeping it balanced.

You could probably get reasonably pure hydrogen from sunlight and water if you cultivated the not-a-plant living inside the stone the right way.

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Well, this is gonna be annoying.

She assesses rainwater-catching options.

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Making a floating-stone bowl by finding a nicely-shaped chunk and crushing it down to shape could work. The tree trunks and some of the branches are solid enough to make good bowls or troughs with the help of a sword and knife and effort. The fluffy tassels on those mangrove-things look like they'd hold a lot of water when it rains.

Sunset is approaching.

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She sets out tassels and tastes one, and crushes a stone bowl, leaving the base attached, in case it rains overnight. Then she goes to sleep under a tree.

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The tassels taste disgusting and are only very mildly toxic.

 

The breeze stays steady and warm through the night. It drizzles for a little while, leaving her bowl mostly empty but tassels reasonably moist.

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Well, she needs water. She tries squeezing a tassel into her mouth.

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It barely tastes like anything at all. That will keep her hydrated for now.

 

The mist around the edges of the island has cleared away overnight. She can see... Quite a way down, now. Vast sky below, with a few more specks. Some of them seem to be animals, or swarms of floating plants. Some are clearly other islands.

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It might actually be impossible to get anywhere with the stuff on this island. Sing could probably do it but Sing isn't here, only Page.

She's gotta try anyway. She carefully tests bits of fallen wood to see what they're like, with a view toward making some kind of glider or sail.

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The fallen wood is iffy at best. It's mostly old and brittle. The trees look healthy though. Cutting them and letting the wood dry for a few days would produce good wood. Some of the alien plants have long, flexible, waxy 'leaves' that would make a decent weave.

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She practices weaving.

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Weaving isn't that hard if you have a guide.

Around noon, the wind changes. The air shifts from that steady breeze to a more random pattern - with a lurch, the island is now descending. Also, it's raining.

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She makes sure there are plenty of tassels out in low water-collecting areas and resumes weaving, intermittently munching an onion and a questionable plant.

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The tassels get nice and soaked, and her bowl fills up. The rain brings lots of turbulence and a continuous stiff downdraft of cold air with it.

Her onions are sprouting.

 

...As the rain clears, in the distance what is unmistakably an airship emerges from behind clouds. It has a lift section and a gondola strung underneath, with the outline of windows and a propeller sticking out the back. But it's so far away she can really only see it because of her vision boosts.

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It probably can't see or hear her either but she doesn't actually know how sophisticated its instruments might be. The planet being inhabited at all is great news. She will go to the edge nearest it to yell optimistically. Mostly "HEY" but with enough other words interspersed that she sounds like a person and not a weird bird, though they're unlikely to speak the same langauges.

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It doesn't change course or seem to notice her at all.

Optimistically, the wood-and-cloth construction could be an aesthetic choice. Pessimistically... Well, there's probably no metal available on this floating island. Everywhere else might be the same. Who knows? The small pack of gas-bag critters that landed after the rain and is nibbling on the floating-seed grass probably doesn't.

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Speaking of which, once the airship is out of sight and she leaves off hollering at it, she goes and stabs one of those to taste it.

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Tastes like chicken. Not poisonous, and pretty stringy. It's not as substantial as it looked, though. The foot-and-a-half-long critter bears only about half a pound of meat. Maybe half that again if she eats the organs. Its friends fly to the far edge of the island.

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She doesn't have a good way to preserve it so she eats the entire critter. They seem pretty common so she doesn't feel a need to immediately stab another and scare the rest.

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They're pretty common, yeah.

The island's descent seems to have slowed. Other islands are a lot more common here, as are creatures of the avian and alien types, and floating tangles of plant matter similar to the mangrove-things hanging onto this island's edge.

...Her bowl seems to be drinking the water stored in it. The level has done down much more than evaporation would account for.

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How rude. Good thing the tassels work. She empties some into her mouth and soaks up what's in the bowl.

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Some larger alien creatures are visible in the distance. Huge greenish jellyfish-things, manta ray-shaped creatures, an alien predator that eats the small rays, bulbous things covered in angry red spikes that the big predator shys away from.

One of the islands comes within half a mile of her. It has old ruins on it, the remains of a wooden hut and what look like overgrown fields. It would tempting to glide to it, if her glider were finished and the winds were predictable.

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It isn't, though. She attempts probably vainly to sail to it with her practice weaving.

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The island is indeed too large to yield to such a small sail easily. The attempt proves the quality of the weaving, though - while it's heavier and stiffer than a modern fabric sail would be, it catches the wind nicely.

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