Aug 16, 2018 10:25 AM
Seed in barren ground
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Tarinda and Page bring a seed of the super-AI Sing to Cloudbank
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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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"Nope, I'm excited!"

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Off he goes, walking quickly, slightly twitchy. "Fire is thrilling and terrifying and will kill everything if you're not careful but engines are caged fire."

It's not a huge ship. Here's an engine room. A tired looking woman waves shyly at them, standing to the side. The engine is almost entirely made of that same glassy, transparent substance as the knives. Some key components inside are actual metal. A large flywheel spins merrily, guarded by wooden beams.

"We burn floatgrass or anything else organic here, and then this plate gets very warm. Hot air expands, so-" He goes on to explain the workings of a Stirling engine.

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"That's so cool!"

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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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