Jul 17, 2019 1:14 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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"Engines are extremely cool. There are other kinds - it's just that this sort happens to be the best for us. It's relatively light, it doesn't need special fuel, it doesn't need too many metal parts."

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"There's very little metal around, I've noticed."

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"...Yeah? Starglass and wood and floatstone are what the sky gives us. Steel is left over from the ancestors. Knives sharpened again and again until they're slivers. Iron recycled and reforged until it rusts and flakes away to nothing..."

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Tarinda nods.

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Darien goes back to explaining the engine, in more detail this time! The woman in the corner chuckles, then goes back to looking shy and being silent, watching the mechanism and occasionally shoveling plant matter into a bin.

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"Where'd the ancestors get metal?" Tarinda asks, eventually.

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"Ahh, the Earth. Solid ground. They made it from rocks? Or maybe just found it lying around? What a strange place it must have been."

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"Gosh. How'd they get here?"

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"Oh, I like telling this story."

"Do it somewhere else if you're done showing off the engine," the woman complains. 

"Right. Back to the dining room."

 

They go. Darien clears his voice.

"The ancestors were masters of technology - things that seem impossible were casual, even thoughtless, with the right sort of device. What little Lost Technology remains today may as well be magic... But I know the world has rules. Technology, even Lost Technology, is just very clever at exploiting those. There are old books, histories of the wonders of the ancestors. They had machines to travel between the stars. The first time, it takes many years. But the first time, their star-ships carry a star-gate, which cheats distance somehow."

"Then one could fly from Earth to Cloudbank to any number of other worlds in a matter of days. Many ancestors came to Cloudbank, bringing all kinds of ships. They explored, they built homes and workplaces on the islands, they mined the air itself for fuel to power their machines. Even then, they could not make much use of the surface... And then one day the Stargate was destroyed. Nobody is sure, now, if it was an accident or sabotage or what, but Cloudbank cannot make the high technology of the ancestors for lack of metal, and nothing from Earth has come here since. Now, we live our lives as best we can, not thinking about what was lost, for in the end, what can we do about it?"

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"Thank you, that's a fascinating story. Do you know how they say you get from Cloudbank to the Stargate?"

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"The stories say rocket-ships that go higher and faster than anything we can build today. I think the star-gate is like a moon? Orbiting."

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"Gosh. What happened to all the rocket-ships?"

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"Rust, probably. Or crashin'." He shrugs. "This is hundreds of years ago, mind you. It's not like there's a ton of books about it left."

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"People don't copy old books when they wear out?"

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"Books on things like making engines and starglass, or the weather, maybe. Others - folks burn, or drop, or forget about for fifty years and mice eat all the pages."

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"Starglass is this stuff?" She points at a glass component.

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"Yeah. It bends before it breaks. Regular glass just breaks."

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"How's it made?"

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Time for a half-remembered glassmaking lesson!

You can process a certain plant with certain acids and other things into a sort of plastic and mix that plus other obscure things and do a complicated heating and cooling process and you get starglass.

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"Why's it called starglass?"

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He pulls the darkly transparent knife on his belt and holds it up to the reflection on the window, and at just the right angle it reflects rainbow-mottled light, reminiscent of nebulae in space. There are little speckles of impurity in it, reflecting white like stars.

"See that? Like stars. Pretty, ain't it? I'm surprised you've never seen starglass, though. 'S like you were raised by squid or something. Except you've got table manners and know English and so on."

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"Well, my English is differently accented."

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"...Everyone thinks you're an ancestor, or a hunter who ran afoul of some crazy device. You're too pretty."

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"Awww, thanks."

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He sighs. "You're welcome... You want to see the rest of the ship?"

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