Jul 20, 2019 12:08 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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"That's fine too! I'm just so curious about everything."

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Rem comes back out of the pantry carrying miscellaneous ingredients and a big clay pot. "Okay, how about... I didn't get into cooking until I was 18 and my folks said 'learn one of our trades, get another job, or get out of our house'. So I tried a bunch of jobs that were on offer and hated cooking the least, and read books about cooking and did experiments and before long I didn't just not hate cooking, I actually liked it. Spent a few years doing that, just living life, but then the whole, uh, psycho boyfriend episode happened."

She pauses the story to fill the pot with water. "I was pretty tense when I met Captain Flint while looking to buy some peppers, saw the slop his crew were eating, and spent five solid minutes critiquing it. Flint said 'like you can do better' and I took it as the challenge that it was, you should have seen his tone, and I whipped up a three-course meal over the next hour. Flint said 'you could almost open a restaurant in my ship' and I thought, hey, why not? Said bye to my folks, packed my things, and that's how I got aboard the Tricky Ray."

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"Do you miss your family?"

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"...Yeah. A bit. That's the sailor's lot, though."

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"If you ran into their town again would you stay on the ship or on the town?"

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She pauses and rubs her forehead. "...I actually don't know. I'd have to see how I felt about it then. I've accepted that I'll probably never see them again, but I like to think they're happy. My brother - the older one, Andrew - probably married Fara and had two kids by now."

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"I guess there's nothing like a - mail system?"

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"Not really? Well, dockhands and couriers ferry stuff around inside big towns. How would anyone get a letter where it's supposed to go between towns when you can't reliably find a particular town?"

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"If you had enough paper, and the letters weren't private, you could have them copied a bunch of times and sent around from everywhere they reached."

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"...I don't think that would work but I can't actually point to a reason I think it wouldn't work."

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"There'd be no way to tell people that a letter was where it needed to be and it could stop, so maybe it would work better for news than correspondence."

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"I guess so! If anyone wants a certain bit of news spread far and wide for some reason."

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"Does news usually spread by word of mouth or do people not have much idea what's going on in the rest of the world?"

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"You hear that someone saw pirates or a bladesquid or a nasty storm forming in the area once in a while. Sometimes what you hear is even true. Some of the bigger towns have newspapers, but they don't tend to get taken between towns."

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"Huh. Does everyone talk about the same?"

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"Uh... Northerners have - what's the word - a dialect. 'Halle friend, plessen to meet you.' That sort of thing?"

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"Ooh, huh. And they don't tend to - blow south?"

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"Sometimes. I've met two northerners and a southerner. North life is pretty different from equatorial life, to hear them tell it. They have different weather every season, and things are even sparser."

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"Sounds rough."

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"Yeah, but that's life. Most folks get by okay in the end."

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"I suppose."

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Quiet cooking for a little while, then. Rem will start humming if the silence goes on for long.

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Tarinda doesn't mind. She peels potatoes. Between tunes, she asks, "Is there likely to be a good time for me to get a tour of the whole ship? When the weather's calmed down, maybe?"

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"If Captain Flint likes you, probably! Everyone'll be in the galley at dinnertime. Or I could show you some of it in - say five minutes, after I finish this - if you like."

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"I can wait, I just want to develop a sense of the place."

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