Jul 17, 2019 12:33 AM
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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"I'm sure we can oblige our unexpected guest."

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"Thanks!"

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"You will have seen the deck, the corridors, and Rem's domain. Any burning questions so far?"

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"Mostly asked Rem things that occurred to me."

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Flint nods. "I intend to deliver you to the first sizable town we encounter without any conditions. I would want to discuss a work schedule or some other trade if you desire to stay aboard longer."

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"How big is sizeable?"

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"A judgement call. But let's say... Ten thousand souls. Most towns in the lower altitudes, our intended destination, are at least that large."

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"Huh, how big is the biggest town you've ever seen?"

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"A tangled maze of interconnected islands, a teeming hive almost one hundred thousand strong. Almura. It was a fascinating place. I do not wish to return - that stop was not very profitable."

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"No? Why not?"

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"They were self-sufficient and had a surprising variety of restaurants. Rem's handiwork did not fascinate and draw attention as it usually does, and our cargo of rapidly-spoiling food sold poorly." He grimaces. "We made some profit trading hard goods, but the usually reliable trade between farming altitudes and craft altitudes failed us that time."

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"It seems like it might be dangerous to be a not-farming altitude. What if nobody ran into you for too long?"

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He shrugs. "I suppose you either do something clever or starve."

"Dry food stores," Rem interjects, "Rice keeps, beans keep. And rationing. And if things got really bad people would start scattering."

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"I guess. If they have ships to scatter on. Or do you mean something else?"

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"You can cut a chunk of the town loose and throw away most of your stuff, and go up so you get more sunlight that way. My ma said her grandma lived on a place that had to do that."

Everyone's food is disappearing rapidly.

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Tarinda's food is no exception. "And they have enough space to get crops going if they didn't before?"

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"That would be difficult, yeah. It definitely sounded like a bad time all around. But trade ships like Flint's, here, are pretty common, so it doesn't happen that much I think?"

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"That's good then."

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"Yyyep."

Captain Flint is staring at her a bit, amused. "Education is rather spotty out in the wide blue sky, isn't it?"

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"I'm sure there's loads of things you'd call common sense I never learned."

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"I'm sure." That eyebrow quirk surely says he suspects some kind of shenanigans, but he's not going to press it. Not now, anyway.

Most of the table is finished by now. "Thank you once again for the delightful meal, Rem. Now, second shift, great job today. Third shift, you're up. Should be smooth sailing. Wake me if it's not, as always." 

The group starts dispersing with a chorus of 'aye, sir's.

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"How do the shifts work?"

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"There are three. Eight hours each, with some fudging to account for meals and breaks and days off. If you wish to do work for me we could discuss it in more detail later. For now, I am going to sleep."

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"Sleep well!"

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Darien grins at her as the room empties. "To the engine room? Engines are kind of incredible, have you ever seen one working?"

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