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Generated: Feb 08, 2019 5:49 PM
Post last updated: Nov 21, 2018 11:07 PM
then everything changed
tarinda uplifts avatar
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Father's out on campaign and doesn't know. Mother thinks she's on a school trip. The school thinks she's staying home. In truth, she's in a cave in the mountains. Digging a tunnel with her fists, in the dark. If she can connect the southwest passages to the main burrow, she'll be able to visit much more freely.

Her steady break-scoop-pack movements make a comfortable rhythm, and she allows herself to fall into an almost trance-like state as she works.

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A severely injured woman, though Eliko may not be able to determine those details in the dark, appears in the tunnel behind her.

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She can tell that something approximately person-sized just appeared. She pivots, fists raised defensively, and stomps to send a small tremor to map the intruder more precisely.

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Intruder is lying there. Shifts to a more comfortable position after a minute.

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"Hello?"

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Something in a foreign language, some three or four words.

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Feels human. Words don't sound at all familiar, though.

"I can't understand you. Are you a spirit?"

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Foreign language foreign language!

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This is definitely the second strangest thing that's ever happened to her. Well, maybe third. Top five, at least.

"That still doesn't make any sense. I hope you don't mind if I call some friends." She taps the wall behind her several times in quick succession.

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If the stranger minds she does not manifest this objection in any way. She lies there.

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"Do you need- help, or anything? You probably can't see. I didn't bring a light, I wasn't expecting to need one."

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Inconveniently Tarinda has no bioluminescent mods. She sits up slowly.

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"Oh, you're moving. I guess that's better than you not being able to do that." Probably. In most cases.

There's a low vibration coming through the ground. "They're almost here."

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Tarinda can't really do anything about that right now, for good or ill.

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There's a puff of air as the wall behind Eliko collapses and something large and snuffly pokes its snout through. And then it licks her.

"Yes, hello to you too." Pat pat.

The floor shakes a bit as the badgermole steps forward and sniffs the air around Tarinda.

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Tarinda holds still.

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Snuffle snuffle.

Churf.

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"Oh really? Well, that's good to hear."

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The beast turns around and starts back the way it came.

Whurf.

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"I have no idea if she can understand me..." she mutters.

"You're invited back to the den. It's this way. If you want to follow." And maybe if she starts walking the other will get the idea?

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It takes her a bit to discern through hearing alone what's going on but she does get to her feet and follow, yes.

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Oh good. She doesn't have to go hold hands.


Further ahead there's a faint gleam of light. This proves to be some sort of moss growing on the cave walls.

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That's really helpful. Tarinda looks quite intently at the badgermole and at Eliko.

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Eliko: is a twelve year old girl with black pants and a red shirt, both rather dusty. She's not wearing any shoes.

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Badgermole: is quite large. Looks like a cross between a badger and a mole. Long bald tail, big furry body, sharp claws.

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Fancy that.

Tarinda, if Eliko (or for that matter the badgermole) should happen to look, is a woman of no identifiable ethnicity, with a sword on her back and knives on her belt, dressed in leather boots and leggings of a mystery fabric and a tunic sort of thing that might be linen. She looks weirdly healthy, and pretty too, but has smears of blood all over her person.

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Weird. But apparently trustworthy.

They get to a much larger space, with more of the large furry creatures. Eliko is immediately mobbed by several of the smaller ones, all licking excitedly.

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That's sort of cute.

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Once sufficient pets have been distributed, she manages to push the cubs off. She sets her feet, knees slightly bent, hands held out with palms up, and lifts. A bench-like slab rises out of the ground, and she sits down on one end.

One of the more excitable cubs rears back and claps with its front paws, creating a sloped incline next to Eliko, which it clambers up to lay its head in her lap.

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That's cute and interesting. Tarinda stands back, staring curiously.

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Pet pet.

"My name is Eliko," she says, pointing at herself. "These are badgermoles," indicating the creatures.

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"Tarinda," Tarinda says, pointing at herself. "Badgermoles?" she attempts to pronounce, pointing at one.

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"Badgermole," she says slowly, sounding it out. "One badgermole," point, "many badgermoles," sweep to indicate room.

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"One badgermole, many badgermoles. One -" She holds up one finger, then holds up two and tilts her head.

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"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten," counting on fingers. Flash all ten then one, "eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Twenty-one. Thirty."

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"Twenty-two, twenty-three...?"

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Nod. "Yes."

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"Ten tens?"

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"One hundred."

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Nod. She makes a gesture that might be trying to encourage Eliko.

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Right, what else...

"Hand. Finger. I have two hands. I have ten fingers. A badgermole has four paws."

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Tarinda nods along. Points at parts of her body and her clothes and armaments to elicit vocabulary for them.

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Words can be provided.

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Tarinda never seems to need to have anything repeated for her, but can't produce words Eliko hasn't given her.

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Can she pick up grammar if Eliko makes up sentences with the words they've used?

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Yes she can. She formulates questions and tries statements.

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Good. When they run low on local objects, she starts doing little raised doodles in the ground.

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Doodles, okay, cool! Tarinda can doodle too, although she does not have magic powers and has to draw with her finger in the dirt.

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She draws four elemental symbols and points at the flame.

"I am from Fire. Where are you from?"

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"I'm from Mars. Not these."

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A sketch of a map: one central continent, a few island chains, two landmasses at the top and bottom.

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"Not these."

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"You are human? Not-" she hasn't translated spirit yet, it's a hard word to get to with the materials at hand. "Not-human person?"

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"I think I am the thing you are, a human."

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"Where is Mars?"

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...Tarinda draws the Solar system and puts an arrow pointing at Mars. "This one is Mars. This one is Earth, my people were from Earth first but now live more places. That is the - up fire? that the Earth and Mars go around."

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Up fire? "The sun. In the sky."

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"Our sun, that's our sun. I think your sun is different. So I think I am a human but I only think it."

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"Oh." Eliko considers for a moment. "How did you get here?"

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"Something happened to my going from Earth to Mars thing."

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"Can you fix it? Go back?"

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"No, none of it is here and I do not know what happened. I need to do something else."

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"Like what?"

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"There is... a thing, that I have... writing..." Wobbly gesture. "About. I need to do that. Then everything will be good."

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"How long will it take?"

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"I don't know. If you have some things not very long. If you don't have them I have to make them."

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"I should go home soon. You can come back with me if you want. It might be dangerous, but probably more interesting than staying here."

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"Yes."

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"Okay." She nudges the badgermole off her lap and stands up. She taps out a short rhythm with her foot. The badgermoles give an answering rumble, and a few last-second licks.

"It's this way." Back down the tunnel they came by.

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"Are badgermoles... do they... do they think humanly?" Tarinda wonders, following.

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"They know family. I can earthbend, so I'm family."

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"That isn't what I wanted to ask."

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"They're still animals."

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"Okay."

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"There are... not-human people, sometimes. They not from here, like you. But they're not from the sky."

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"Where else is there?"

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"Here, but sideways in every direction. The spirit world."

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"What are they like?"

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"Different. Harder to talk to than you. They- think sideways, too."

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"Hm."

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"A lot of them aren't nice. They mostly don't like humans."

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"Why not?"

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"I don't really know. Some of the books say there's supposed to be a balance and humans don't always respect that."

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"Balance?"

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"Evenness, kind of. Between the elements, and the world and nature."

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"Why is there supposed to be that?"

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"I don't know. The books don't like to talk about it. There's supposed to be an Avatar who talks to humans and spirits, but the Fire Nation killed him a hundred years ago and there hasn't been another."

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"Huh."

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They get to the cave entrance. There's a pair of shoes just inside. Eliko picks them up, but doesn't put them on.

"Don't tell anyone about the badgermoles. Or that I can bend."

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"It's a - what is the word for a thing to not tell -"

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"Secret."

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"Secret. Okay."

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It's a bright summer day outside, the sun beginning to get low in the sky. The cave is nestled against the base of the mountains and forested slopes lead gently down to a shimmering ocean. There's a dark smudge of smoke pressed up against it. Eliko points at it.

"That's where we're going."

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"Okay."

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Over the hills and through the woods, down to the seaside town they go. Eliko puts her shoes on when they get close enough to make out individual buildings. They're fairly dense, neatly constructed of brick with tile or metal roofs, but none taller than two stories. Up near the forest appears to be a residential area, and down by the water and the docks is a commercial or industrial district. There are two iron steamships tied up, the rest are wood and sail. The source of the smoke is a large building with several smokestacks. A steady trickle of workers are moving large crates out and loading them into the metal ships.

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"I think you don't have the thing I need."

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"You can tell?"

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"Not for sure but I think you don't have it. I need a thing that thinks but is a thing."

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"...No, we don't have that."

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"I didn't think so. I will have to make it. But then everything will be good."

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"Everything will be fine?"

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"Everything will be good."

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"Why?"

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"Because of the thing!"

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"You need more words. We should get some books."

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"Books would be good!"

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"We should split up so people don't wonder what I was doing in the woods to meet you. If you take that street, it leads down to the market square. I'll find you there."

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"Okay." Tarinda follows this instruction.

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She draws more than a few looks. Eyes bounce from her hair to her face to her multiplicity of edged weapons and then usually quickly away.

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She doesn't want to look threatening, but nor does she want to look like an easy mark. She makes plenty of friendly eye contact.

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No one is bored or drunk enough to start trouble at this time of day.

The market square is bustling with stalls and traders. Fish, fruits and vegetables, trinkets, clothing, sundry items.

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Tarinda looks at everything for at least a half-second; if she doesn't remember it Page will. Page is working hard enough that Tarinda's body temperature is up a bit. She shucks a layer, once she's sure that will still keep her within the range of clothedness practiced here.

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Most people wear some combination of short-sleeved shirt and pants or skirt. Shades of red dominate, with orange and yellow highlights and black accents.

There are a few guards in heavy plate stationed around the edges of the square. People tend to give them a generous amount of personal space.

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She skirts them too, imitatively, and looks for Eliko.

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She's just turned the corner at the other end of the square.

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Tarinda meanders in her direction, looking at everything and attempting not to make an obvious beeline. Page is picking up lots of language around her.

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She stops at a fruit stand and buys a pair of oranges, paying with a few small copper coins.

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Tarinda inspects the food. Does it look recognizable like humans or not like badgermoles?

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Mostly recognizable! A few of the fruits have odd shapes or colorings, and none of the fish on offer exactly resemble any Earthly species.

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She edges nearer Eliko as she surveys the wares.

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"Want an orange?"

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"Okay."

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Toss.

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Catch. Peel peel.

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"There's a bookstore on the next street, if you want to visit."

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"Yes!"

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To the bookstore, then. The proprietor is a wrinkled old man with thick glasses.

     "Oh, Eliko," he says. "How nice to see you again. Who's your friend?"

"This is Tarinda. She's a traveler."

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"Hello, it's nice to meet you!"

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"A traveler, eh? Where from?"

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"It's called Mars."

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He peers at her. "Don't believe I've heard of Mars."

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"It's very far away!"

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"I imagine it'd have to be. What brings you out this way, if I might ask?"

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"Right now I might settle down and start a - shop."

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He chuckles. "It is good to see young people with ambitions. Oh, Eliko, I'm afraid I haven't gotten anything new since your last visit."

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"She wanted to see a bookstore, I'm just showing her around."

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"Yes, thank you!"

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"Ah, what sorts of books are you looking for?"

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"Do you have one that is - mm, all of the kinds of words that there are? I am learning."

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"A dictionary? Yes, over here." He pulls a rather thick book off a shelf and passes it over.

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"Thank you!" And she starts paging through it, too quickly to be really reading everything but making sure to look at it all.

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The written language seems to consist of ideograms, which concatenate into a dizzying array of possible constructions. The book is grouped into sections by which strokes form the basis of the character.

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Well that's gonna be harder for Tarinda but easy as pie for Page, who is doing most of the work right now. Look look look look.

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The old man watches her flip pages bemusedly.

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"I don't have any money yet, but how much would I need to buy this?"

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"Ten silver."

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"Hmm, okay." Flip flip. "I might need a job for a little money before I try to get really started."

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"Mm. 'Fraid I don't really do enough business to pay an assistant. They're always hiring over at the factory, though. Or you look like you're equipped to do a little bounty hunting, maybe."

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"Tell me about bounty hunting?"

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"Sometimes a criminal escapes the guards. A bounty is posted at the board. The hunter finds the criminal and brings them to the magistrate's office for the reward."

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"I don't know about that... especially because I don't have any bending."

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"Most people don't. Waterbenders are all holed up at the North Pole, firebenders're in the army, ain't no earthbenders 'round these parts any more."

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"Aren't there? Why not?"

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"All rounded up, sent off. Or killed in the fighting. This wasn't always a Fire Nation colony."

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"Oh, I see. What does the factory do?"

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"Mostly helmets, I believe."

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"Maybe."

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"You look like a smart girl, I'm sure you'll figure something out."

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"Thanks." Flip look flip look.

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"So, Eliko, did you finish that scroll?"

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"Yes."

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"What did you think?"

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"Sapesh had some interesting ideas, but I don't think he ever got off his mountain and actually talked to, say, a village mayor. He sounded very... pretentious."

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"Pretentious, yes. A good word for him. But, if you look at the structure and not merely the content, it is clear that he spent considerable time formulating his thoughts. Contrast that with Debuki, who may have had his ramblings transcribed directly."

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"I suppose..."

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Pageturn pageturn pageturn. "What did these people write about?"

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"The relation of taxation to the power structure of local government."

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"Huh. What did they think?"

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"Sapesh said that lower taxes would breed trust and allow for more communal government. Debuki says that taxes should be high so people are invested in stability."

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"Huh!" She's still flipping through the dictionary page by page; she can't look up specific words. "Are you studying that kind of thing?"

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"Eliko here is studying a bit of everything. She says school bores her. I try to help out where I can."

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"What's school cover?"

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"Basic things. Reading. Writing. Math. History."

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"Does everybody go?"

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"Yes."

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"For how long?"

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"Until you're fourteen."

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"How old are you?"

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"Twelve."

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Tarinda nods. She doesn't volunteer her age. She flips through the dictionary.

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Eliko and the old man continue their conversation on rhetoric. The vocabulary is probably a little beyond Tarinda yet.

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It's very helpful on advanced grammar, though. And it's distracting from her odd behavior with the dictionary. Flip flip flip.

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After a while, another customer comes in and the old man goes to help them.

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"What are you doing?"

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"I'm looking at this dictionary."

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"Why?"

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"I have a thing that can remember it and remind me how to say things."

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"That sounds useful."

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"It is!"

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"Is it part of what you're going to build?"

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"The thing I have knows how to build the thing."

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"What else can it do?"

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"It can show me pictures and put sounds in my ears but only I can see and hear them. - that sounds bad. I know exactly how it is doing it but it is doing it in a way I cannot show you. It knows a lot of things. It can remember anything I see or hear. It can do complicated math very fast. It can control some other things I have in my body for me."

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"That sounds helpful."

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"It is!"

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"What are you going to do when you finish the dictionary?"

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"See if there are good ways to make some money."

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"You might have to wait until tomorrow."

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"Why?"

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"It's getting late. Things are closing."

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"Yeah. I guess I can camp out and I won't need food urgently right away."

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"Because of the things you have in your body?"

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"They actually make me need food more in the long run but in the short run I can do better without than I could if I didn't have them."

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"Oh. The guards don't like people sleeping on the street."

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"I was thinking out in the trees."

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"That would probably be better. I'll have to go back to school tomorrow."

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"Makes sense. Is there anything I should know soon?"

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"I don't think so? I could show you where my house is, if you need to find me."

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"Okay, thank you."

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"Are you done with the dictionary?"

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"Yeah." She's reached the last page.

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"Do you want to go now or do something else?"

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"Now's fine."

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Up to the residential district, then.

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"I appreciate your help, by the way."

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"You're welcome."

And here's her house. Not so much different from the others around it. "This is it."

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"Okay. I assume you don't want to explain me to your parents."

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"Not having to would be good."

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"All right, I'll get out of here. Thanks!" And she skedaddles into the woods.

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Woods: are woody. A susurrus of insects buzzing amongst the trees heralds the dusk.

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Tarinda catches bugs, attempts to identify them, periodically in between hiking in search of shelter.

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This one's a cicada with grasshopper legs! Here's a bumblebee with butterfly wings! Spider legs on an ant!

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Curious! The butterbee is cute but she lets it go after she's had a good look. She will be able to look for shelter by starlight, but it'll be harder to hunt then, so she keeps an eye out for anything that is made of edible component creatures she might be able to catch. Rabbit-goats or deer-pheasants or whatever they have here.

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A pheasantish bird with a long bushy tail cocks its head at her from an overhead branch.

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She watches it to find out if it is part jellyfish or something.

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It doesn't display any medusozoid characteristics. It does dive off the branch, snatch up a large insect in its beak, glide into the trunk of a different tree, and scamper back up.

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Scampering. Huh. Well, she will go decapitate it, mercifully as she can.

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It makes a sound halfway between a squawk and a chitter when she grabs it, but is not overly inclined to protest otherwise.

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She gets underway on a fire. All her electronics are internal and she has no matches but she can rub sticks together real fast.

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There's plenty of dry wood, at least. She can have a cozy fire going soon enough.

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Good. She skins and cleans and cooks her pheasantwhatever.

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It's kind of gamey. A little nutty.

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She'll cope.

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Something starts quietly screaming in the distance. It sounds like a mouse being murdered, repeatedly.

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It might well be an animal. She will climb a tree and squint thataway.

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There's some sort of bat-thing hanging off a branch. It swivels its head much further than a bat should be able to, opens its mouth- and yep, that's the source of the noise.

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You do you, bat thing. Page noise-cancels the bat-thing and Tarinda sets about arranging the most comfortable shelter she can for overnight.

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With the bat-thing silenced, there's not much to disturb her from doing so.

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It is not the best bed she's ever had but it's all right.

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Later in the night, a nearby branch snaps. Something about the size of a large dog pads quietly closer to Tarinda's sleeping form.

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Page hears it coming and wakes her. She opens her eyes. She doesn't otherwise move.

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The thing is a cat, with two lashing tails and a strangely elongated face. It must catch a gleam or reflection in Tarinda's open eyes, because it stops short, then sits down.

"Hiss-ss. It has caught us, the toy has. Awoken from innocent slumber by hostile intent, hiss-ss." It grins wide, revealing sharp fangs.

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Tarinda looks at it, but doesn't reply.

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"Hiss-ss. A quiet little stranger, it is." The cat stretches, pushing its front legs forward and displaying impressively sharp claws before pulling them back. Licking its left forepaw, it begins to clean its face. "We are wondering what it does here, sleeping so lonesome, hiss-ss."

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"I didn't have a place in town."

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"Hiss-ss. You don't belong here, oh no no. No spirit you, no human either. Nowhere to stay and nowhere to be, hiss-ss."

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She doesn't say anything.

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"Hiss-ss. We felt your arrival, we did. From a nothing comes a something and from a something comes a change. We don't trust you, we don't. Better for you to be eaten and die and join the cycle that way, hiss-ss."

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She can get her sword in less than a tenth of a second from her current position. If it can disable her sooner than that she's not going to win a fight and if she goes for the sword and it wasn't going to be a fight she might invite one she doesn't need.

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"Hiss-ss. The toy tenses, it does. Does it think of fighting? We hope so. It is so dreadfully boring in other respects, hiss-ss."

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She holds still.

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The cat pauses a moment, then gives a sort of shrug.

"Hiss-ss. We have seen, yes, and spoken. Our task is done, hiss-ss." It rises and stretches again, tails lifted into the air. They pause in their movements for a moment and a flame blossoms between their tips. In an instant, it flashes and consumes the cat's entire body. It disappears without a trace.

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...Tarinda stays awake for another half an hour, watching.

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The forest seems to be a little louder than it was before, but there are no further visitations.

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She goes back to sleep.

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The next day dawns bright and clear.

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And she gets up and makes sure her fire won't spread and tromps back into town to look for work - and stop by the bookstore to see what they have on spirits.

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Does she go to the factory? The bounty boards? Other shops?

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She'll at least look at the bounty boards.

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There's posters advertising rewards for a con man, a gang of bandits by a mountain pass, and a pirate ship.

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Honestly fighting a shipful of pirates and sailing it home sounds like so much fun but under these conditions she's going to have to pass. She swings through shops looking for anybody explicitly hiring or understaffed, stopping in the bookshop early in the search.

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She doesn't see anything before getting to the bookstore.

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Spirit books?

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There aren't many. The ones present seem to be fairy tale style, likely aimed at small children.

The proprietor smiles to see her again. "Back again, are we?"

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"Yeah, I'm interested in spirits today!"

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"Mm, that can be a dangerous topic. Interest in such things is... not officially encouraged."

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"Oh! Can you tell me why?"

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"The Fire Lord disapproves of such 'mystical nonsense'."

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"Oh, so they aren't real?"

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They're alone in the store, but the old man glances around anyway.

"Oh, they're real. If you ask me, Ozai's doing his people no favors by suppressing the stories. Just means people who cross them have no idea what they did wrong or how to fix it."

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"Gosh. Can you give me advice for if I run into any?"

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"Different sorts take different things, but in general- be polite, be respectful, don't be aggressive, don't agree to anything you won't follow through on."

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"Since I'm very foreign do you think you could help me with the ways of being polite and respectful that are usual here?"

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"A few bits of advice, yes." How to bow, formal and informal registers, a few standard turns of phrase.

Permalink Eye

"Thanks!" She practices bowing a bit.

Permalink Eye

"Looks like you've gotten the hang of it."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks!"

Permalink Eye

"You're quite welcome. If you're still looking for books about spirits, you might ask Eliko if she still has hers."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, I'll do that if I see her! Thanks!"

Permalink Eye

"Anything else I can help you with?"

Permalink Eye

"Is there anything else you'd say a foreigner ought to know?"

Permalink Eye

"Hmm. If you're going to swear, do it by Agni, not Tui and La or Oma and Shu. Don't mock the Fire Lord, or anyone in the army. And if you see anyone with their hair in a high tail, do your best to avoid their attention."

Permalink Eye

"- and don't wear my hair like that, I guess?"

Permalink Eye

"That'd be wise."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, thanks!"

Permalink Eye

He nods farewell and shuffles off.

Permalink Eye

She looks around for other work. She prefers shorter-term stuff than the factory, especially anything paid by output that assumes baseline human strength and so on.

Permalink Eye

Ships down at the dock need loading and unloading. The harbormaster is skeptical she can perform the work.

Permalink Eye

"I'm stronger than I look, sir!"

Permalink Eye

"Prove it." He indicates a tall stack of crates.

Permalink Eye

She scoops up a crate. She doesn't one-hand it, that might be a bit much.

Permalink Eye

...She's hired.

Permalink Eye

She will haul crates.

Permalink Eye

She'll get some money for every ship that gets unloaded or packed up.

Permalink Eye

She will haul crates real fast.

Permalink Eye

Sometimes the captain of the ship will give her a tip, as well.

Permalink Eye

Convenient!

Based on the dictionary and looking around, she keeps an eye out for things she can easily "invent" given this starting capital. And... food and places to stay where cat spirits won't accost her paring down that starting capital.

Permalink Eye

There doesn't seem to be much, if any, automation. There's probably lots of room for innovation.

There's a bunkhouse right by the docks that does meals as well. It doesn't seem the sort of place one stays long-term, but it is cheap.

Permalink Eye

Cheap is good. Location's good. She'll need inventing space in the long run, her own room and space for tools, but this will do while she hauls crates.

Permalink Eye

By the middle of the afternoon, she has enough money for a few days of food and lodging.

Permalink Eye

That is great. She breaks for a meal - this is probably a good time to get banned from an all-you-can-eat, if there are any, or alternately win a prize by eating an entire enormous food? - and goes back to work.

Permalink Eye

There is an all-you-can-eat place. The price is about twice what an ordinary meal would cost. There are grills built into the tables. You order the raw meats and cook it yourself.

Permalink Eye

She'll pay up and put her optimized hyperefficient metabolism to work.

Permalink Eye

After forty-five minutes, she has a small audience. After an hour the owner is sending dark looks her way.

Permalink Eye

Okay, that'll hold her for a couple days. She apologetically sets down her chopsticks.

Permalink Eye

There are small noises of disappointment from her watchers. The owner shoos her out the door.

Permalink Eye

She is shooed! She waves at onlookers, smiling faintly.

Permalink Eye

The other dockworkers look at her with a different kind of respect, as word of her prodigious feat spreads.

Permalink Eye

Heh. That wasn't really an effect she was going for but all right.

She is generally friendly! She remembers everyone's names and says hi and is a very good listener.

Permalink Eye

The overall impression given is that she may look strange and have... a lot... of weapons, but other than that she seems like a good person.

Permalink Eye

Good. (She's not going to sell the weapons, they don't have ones as good here and she knows how to use these if something comes up. Something might come up.)

She will haul so many crates until she can afford a place and tools and materials to construct... a phonograph.

Permalink Eye

That may take more than one day.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, she wasn't expecting it to be instant.

Permalink Eye

But with hard work and dedication, she can get there! Eventually.

Permalink Eye

Crates crates crates.

Permalink Eye

At the end of the day, the dockmaster compliments her work ethic and asks if she'll be returning.

Permalink Eye

"Expect me!" she chirps.

Permalink Eye

Some of the other workers are going out drinking before going home. Would she like to join them?

Permalink Eye

Sure! She's saving up, though, might only have a couple.

Permalink Eye

That's the spirit!

The bar is seedy and the beer isn't very good, but at least it's cheap.

Permalink Eye

Beer has calories and those are important! Tarinda does not feel like letting it cross the blood/brain barrier; tiny risks are pretty hugely magnified in this setting. She does a pretty good giggly-tipsy anyway.

Permalink Eye

One or two of the men attempt to convince her to come home with them.

Permalink Eye

"I have a girlfriend back home!"

Permalink Eye

Aw. What she doesn't know won't hurt her?

Permalink Eye

No thanks.

Permalink Eye

Well, it was worth a try.

Permalink Eye

Sure, no hard feelings!

And she goes to the bunkhouse for the night.

Permalink Eye

The bunkhouse contains approximately 100% fewer nighttime cat spirit monsters than the woods.

Permalink Eye

Marvelous.

She sleeps through the night and gets bunkhouse breakfast and goes crate-hauling.

Permalink Eye

The second day is much the same as the first, except if she gets there early enough, she can start on fish instead of miscellaneous cargo.

Permalink Eye

Sure, why not, change of pace.

Permalink Eye

The day's catch goes to the market, and then it's back to the crates.

Permalink Eye

She would be super bored if Page wasn't doing language tutoring and audiobooks and music.

Permalink Eye

Towards the end of the day, one of the iron-sided steamships limps into port. The deck is smoking in several places and it's listing to one side.

"Water Tribe bastards," says a worker, and spits.

Permalink Eye

"What's the war about?" Tarinda wonders.

Permalink Eye

"Payback," someone else growls. "World's been kicking the Fire Nation long enough. We're kicking back."

Permalink Eye

"Gosh, what'd they do?"

Permalink Eye

"What, you been living under a rock for the past five hundred years?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm just from super far away. I haven't heard anything."

Permalink Eye

This prompts an impromptu crowdsouced public lecture on history. None of it is terribly clear, and it's often self-contradictory. Apparently at some point the Avatar made a decision that hobbled the Fire Nation economy or destroyed part of their culture and the other countries took advantage. Or something like that.

Permalink Eye

"The Avatar?"

Permalink Eye

You know, the reincarnating spirit that's supposed to keep the world in balance? That can bend all four elements? That one. Anyway, they nailed him good at the start of the war when they took out the Air Temples. Haven't seen any sign of him since.

Permalink Eye

Gosh, okay. He didn't reincarnate this time?

Permalink Eye

If he did, he's hiding, heh heh heh.

The dockmaster yells at everyone to get back to work.

Permalink Eye

Crates crates crates!

Permalink Eye

Does she want to go out drinking again?

Permalink Eye

Sure, why not.

Permalink Eye

There's a group of uniformed strangers in the bar tonight, drinking heavily. Probably sailors from the ship.

Permalink Eye

She doesn't make it look like she's eavesdropping but she super is.

Permalink Eye

"-their boats could move like that. I thought we got all the southern benders, anyway."

"We did."

"Damn that Hakoda."

"I'll drink to that. Ought to go go and burn the rest of those snow-rats off their icebergs."

"Hear Ozai might give the order soon."

"Yeah? I'll look forward to that."

"Not me. If I never see the Pole again it'll be too soon."

"Man wasn't born for that weather."

Permalink Eye

She drinks her mediocre beer and mulls.

Permalink Eye

The sailors' conversation continues on. Apparently there was a defeat at somewhere called Ba Sing Se that the army has still not fully recovered from. The western front is being reorganized. As they get drunker, their thoughts become more disjoint and less sensical.

Permalink Eye

If any of them look likely to black out, Tarinda might try to corner them in the bathroom and use that to cover some less delicate inquiries about the opposition.

Permalink Eye

It seems they're going to be decamping in a pack.

Permalink Eye

So much for that.

Permalink Eye

They break into song as they stumble back to the docks. It's probably an old favorite, given the way it extols the size of their ship's mast in comparison to others.

Permalink Eye

Cute.

She goes about her routine, saving up and inquiring after sources for phonograph parts.

Permalink Eye

The main obstacle is going to be getting all the fiddly little metal bits made. There are a few blacksmiths in town, if she knows what she wants well enough to get someone else to make it.

Permalink Eye

She made a sword once. It got cut down into a montage in the canon edit but she did make the entire sword. She pokes around smithies looking for anybody who'd let her rent time.

Permalink Eye

This one has no time for hobbyists. This one is up to his ears in work, if she'll apprentice for a while he'll let her do a few personal projects. This one on the edge of town will let her use the forge at night, if she can prove she knows enough not to burn the place down.

Permalink Eye

She will not burn the place down!

Permalink Eye

Sure, okay. What does she want to do, anyway?

Permalink Eye

"I want to make some custom parts for a hobby project."

Permalink Eye

"What sort of project?"

Permalink Eye

"It's gonna look like this -" She draws him a sketch.

Permalink Eye

Headscratch. "Looks fancy enough."

Permalink Eye

"It's gonna be neat."

Permalink Eye

"If you say so. Tools're over here, mind you put them back where you found them. Use your own materials, of course. She's yours anytime after dusk until dawn."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks!"

And she comes by in the evenings to make progress. She can skip the occasional full night of sleep; she doesn't have exogenous drugs from home, but she can bounce back from abusing tea.

Permalink Eye

After he sees his forge still intact the next day, the smith is content to leave well enough alone.

Permalink Eye

Then soon she will have all the metal parts she needs for a demo/prototype model.

Permalink Eye

She'll need something to record sound on. Plastics are unknown, but wax is available.

Permalink Eye

Wax works! She buys wax and sculpts it.

She sings a song into a cylinder. An aggressively earwormy little melody, competently if not gorgeously delivered.

Permalink Eye

Her coworkers are curious about what she's been doing with her evenings.

Permalink Eye

They can come check it out! The phonograph plays her song. A backup wax cylinder can record anything they'd like to try.

Permalink Eye

...Wow. What sort of things does one even say to a cylinder?

Permalink Eye

"You could sing a song like I did, or recite poems, or tell stories! Short ones, since the cylinders can't hold much."

Permalink Eye

After some internal discussion, they decide to sing a dockside shanty.

Permalink Eye

And it is recorded to wax form and she plays it back for them.

Permalink Eye

Haha, that's great!

Permalink Eye

"I'm thinking maybe they would be good for restaurants and places like that to play music, and musicians could sell their cylinders - maybe somebody would want a booth where you can record your voice and hear it played back, people's voices sound different to themselves -"

Permalink Eye

Those all sound like good ideas. Not that they know, really, they move crates for a living and haven't before had cause to entrepreneur before.

Permalink Eye

"Do you know if there are any - invention fair or convention sort of things anywhere?"

Permalink Eye

There's the summer festival in like a week?

Permalink Eye

That'll do! She looks into getting a booth.

Permalink Eye

The organizing committee is taking applications! Name, interest, sponsor (if applicable)?

Permalink Eye

Tarinda, a new invention she is calling soundwriting, no sponsor.

Permalink Eye

She can have a side street booth. Here is the location. The committee is not responsible for guaranteeing any level of visitor count or the safety of her booth should she decide to leave it unattended et cetera.

Permalink Eye

That's fine.

She makes lots of cylinders and attempts to rush a second device.

Permalink Eye

Her workshop gets a visitor before the festival.

Permalink Eye

"Evening!"

Permalink Eye

"Hi. I heard you made something."

Permalink Eye

"I did!" She puts on the cylinder of her singing.

Permalink Eye

"How does it work?"

Permalink Eye

"Sound is really the same thing as vibration! If you have something set up to vibrate in a way that leaves a mark, sound will make it do that. And if you have something set up to vibrate according to the marks, then sound happens."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. I hadn't thought of it like that before."

Permalink Eye

"It's really cool! If you want to record something I got curtains to reduce background noise and you can buy a cylinder use. They can be reused sort of, shaved down, but then they don't hold as much, so I have to charge."

Permalink Eye

"Can you only record on one at a time?"

Permalink Eye

"I could set it up to record more than one cylinder at once! These aren't like that, they're prototypes."

Permalink Eye

"Can I see one?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure." She shows her a phonograph, sets it playing her own little song.

Permalink Eye

She watches the needle move intently.

"Can I- borrow one of the cylinders?"

Permalink Eye

"One with stuff on it or a blank one?"

Permalink Eye

"With stuff."

Permalink Eye

Tarinda hands her the song one.

Permalink Eye

She runs her fingers lightly over the grooves. "Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"You're welcome. That's all you wanted to do?"

Permalink Eye

"...I think I could make one of these. Maybe. If I practice. These bumps are very small."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. In wax?"

Permalink Eye

"No. Or not directly. Out of rock. But I could do the bumps in reverse and make a mold?"

Permalink Eye

"Oooh. That would be convenient for mass production."

Permalink Eye

"People will know an earthbender helped you if you let them see."

Permalink Eye

"That doesn't seem like it'd be good. Is it like this everywhere you could get to?"

Permalink Eye

"Like what?"

Permalink Eye

"I dunno. I've considered going somewhere else but I don't know how easily you can move around being twelve or with the war on."

Permalink Eye

"I could get to the Earth Kingdom if I had to. The fighting's mostly in the north, from here to Ba Sing Se. A ship going south would be easiest."

Permalink Eye

"Do you want to?"

Permalink Eye

"I haven't had a good reason to leave yet."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. I might, if things don't take off pretty well here. Mass production would help."

Permalink Eye


"That would be a good reason."

Permalink Eye

"If you're happy at home I wouldn't want to disrupt that."

Permalink Eye

"You wouldn't be."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

She hands the cylinder back.

Permalink Eye

Tarinda sets it where it goes. Puts on the song. The sound quality isn't great; it'll be noticeably not just someone singing even to passersby with their backs turned.

Permalink Eye

"It's a nice song."

Permalink Eye

"The thing in me invented it to be interesting to people who are used to music here."

Permalink Eye

"...It did a good job."

Permalink Eye

"It's one of the things they're used for most, at home. Custom music. It wouldn't be very good at customizing for a specific person because it has to use me as an instrument right now but it can do styles."

Permalink Eye

"Do lots of people have them?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, almost everybody. I usually have mine turned down so it does less but it still does music."

Permalink Eye

"Are people here going to get them?"

Permalink Eye

"Eventually, probably!"

Permalink Eye

"What's it like?"

Permalink Eye

"It's nice. You can turn it off if you don't like it but if you have it on you train it to do exactly what you want it to, and it gets so good at it that it happens before you ask. I usually have mine off because I do a lot of things where I'm pretending not to have one and that's easier if I don't."

Permalink Eye

"What kinds of things?"

Permalink Eye

"Improvisational theater with swordfighting!"

Permalink Eye

"You were an actor?"

Permalink Eye

"You could call it that. They're related pastimes but studied differently and enjoyed by different sorts of people."

Permalink Eye

"Did you do it in troupes, or by yourself?"

Permalink Eye

"Pretty hard to swordfight alone. It was a shifting cast."

Permalink Eye

"Did you have friends that did it?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Do you miss them?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. And my girlfriend."

Permalink Eye

"What's she like?"

Permalink Eye

"- she's from before everything was good."

Permalink Eye

"Was that a long time ago?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Sing - that's the thing that makes everything good, it's called Sing for short - Sing can let people be dead, and as long as they're only dead in the right way, it can bring them back to life. She was dead for a long time. She had a list of things she wanted before she would be alive again, so I made sure they could all happen, and then I woke her up."

Permalink Eye


"What's the right way to be dead?"

Permalink Eye

"There's a couple. The least complicated one is frozen, as cold as possible."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Was- a girlfriend one of the things she wanted?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes. She said before she died it would be all right for people to read her diary, so I did that."

Permalink Eye

"It sounds very strange, to die and then come back the same person."

Permalink Eye

"It's so easy to make new people on demand, that doesn't even require technology, I don't see why you'd recycle them."

Permalink Eye

Shrug. "Reincarnation wasn't my decision."

Permalink Eye

"Is everybody reincarnated or do most people just die when they die?"

Permalink Eye

"People say that everyone reincarnates but only the Avatar knows their past lives."

Permalink Eye

"If you don't remember how is it you?"

Permalink Eye

"Metaphysically? Same personality?"

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Maybe when there's a Sing here it'll figure out how to let you remember. Or something. I'm not Sing so I don't know what it will figure out is best."

Permalink Eye

"It may not be true."

Permalink Eye

"Then that's what it'll figure out!"

Permalink Eye

"I think I would like to know, one way or the other."

Permalink Eye

"Well, first I have to make it. I'm hoping I can do it soon but it's complicated. The cylinders have nothing to do with it at all, they're just something to make money so I can build more things."

Permalink Eye

"What things do you need?"

Permalink Eye

"Machines that can think. They have to have a lot of parts, very small, and electricity, which is like lightning."

Permalink Eye

"There are stories that say really good firebenders can bend lightning."

Permalink Eye

"- they'd have to do it pretty precisely."

Permalink Eye

"They mostly did it to kill people."

Permalink Eye

"That's not gonna be precise enough unless I build a really fancy electricity storer thing, but that might actually be easier, a lightning battery... I'd need a lightning bender though."

Permalink Eye

"I don't know any."

Permalink Eye

"Point in favor of staying in this country though."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think there would be any in the colonies. Either with the army or the home islands."

Permalink Eye

"Army comes through now and then but wouldn't be a good place to poach. Home islands maybe."

Permalink Eye

"You'd stand out. A lot."

Permalink Eye

"I'll do that anywhere, won't I?"

Permalink Eye

"Most other places people wouldn't mind so much."

Permalink Eye

"Hm. I don't have the things I'd need to change how I look and it would be hard to get rid of my accent."

Permalink Eye

"When you have money, you could get someone else to go."

Permalink Eye

"That's true."

Permalink Eye

"How would you store the lightning, though?"

Permalink Eye

"...with... chemistry? I'm still trying to match up all the chemistry I know to stuff here, laypeople can't tell apart different metals and substances very easily and your units of measurement don't match and Page can't use my muscle feedback as an accurate enough scale."

Permalink Eye

"I was thinking of a sort of... cage."

Permalink Eye

"Oh! No, it's not like that. You can use something like a cage to do something with electricity but not store it."

Permalink Eye

"Like- guide it? Because lightning likes metal."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, sure, but the cage structure doesn't help with that, you can just use wire. The cage is for blocking it out."

Permalink Eye

"How?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, I could explain it, I guess, but why is it important?"

Permalink Eye

"It's not, particularly. I'm just curious."

Permalink Eye

"I know a lot of things, we'd be here all day if I explained everything and we wouldn't have gotten to one percent of it."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Maybe later, then?"

Permalink Eye

"Maybe. Or once I'm done making a Sing you can get a -" she taps her head - "guide and it'll tell you."

Permalink Eye

"I would like that."

Permalink Eye

"Going as fast as I can."

Permalink Eye

"I should get back. I'll let you prepare for the festival."

Permalink Eye

"See you around."

Permalink Eye

Eliko departs.


The festival is in two days. There is a rash of advertisements for formalwear.

Permalink Eye

Gosh, does she need to dress up? Okay, she'll dress up. She can't afford tailored clothes but she can get fabric and sew.

Permalink Eye

The fashion for women is brightly patterned dresses with dark belts wrapped tight around high waistlines.

Permalink Eye

She doesn't want to downplay her interesting exoticness, but she can do those things with some creative additions - borders in different fabric strike her fancy.

Permalink Eye

Then she'll be recognizable without being entirely out of place, should she decide to sightsee.

Permalink Eye

Good.

But mostly she'll be managing her booth.

Permalink Eye

There's not a lot of natural foot traffic. Most of the interesting things are traditionally in the center.

Permalink Eye

With only two she can't handle that much throughput. Hopefully people who wander by will like what they hear. She has signs!

Permalink Eye

She gets a steady trickle of people who have either heard or heard about her contraptions. The chance to record your own message is a big hit.

Permalink Eye

She thought so!

She's going to Vickrey-auction off one of them. People can submit bids throughout the day.

Permalink Eye

Ooh! Many people would like to have a phonograph.

Permalink Eye

She has the rules of Vickrey auctions written up by the one that's going to be sold. Second price; everyone submits bids, highest bidder gets the phonograph but only pays the next highest price.

Permalink Eye

Some of the dockworkers place bids, as does the smith she rented the forge from. One man in a very nice outfit reads the rules, and writes down his bid with a smirk.

Permalink Eye

Good for him.

She mans her booth cheerily, eats festival foods, peeks at bids.

Permalink Eye

Festival foods include small fried birds on sticks, small fried squid on sticks, small fried breads on sticks, and fireflakes, which are sort of like cornflakes but searingly spicy.

Most bids are between what she would make for a week to two weeks of work at the docks.

Permalink Eye

Well, it'd let her switch to full time phonograph production, at least. She eschews the meat; she's been avoiding it when she can. She loves the fried bread and the fireflakes.

Permalink Eye

It seems there's going to be a firebending show shortly after sundown.

Permalink Eye

Worth seeing, if she doesn't need to be at her booth then.

Permalink Eye

Everyone's going to be there, it's the big attraction.

Permalink Eye

Yay!

Permalink Eye

A stage has been erected along one wall of the square. The show begins with a group of children in school uniforms, looking very serious. They line up in a row facing the audience and start a synchronized series of basic punches and kicks. Small jets of flame puff out with each movement. The people cheering most enthusiastically at this point appear to be parents.

Permalink Eye

Awww, cuties.

Permalink Eye

Next up is a line of teens, in military-style uniforms. Their moves are quicker, surer, more impressive.

Permalink Eye

Very nice.

Permalink Eye

The finale is two older men. Their performance is much more freeform, their moves more elegantly precise in comparison with the clockwork rigidity that came before. Great gouts of flame mix with intricate twining threads to create fanciful sculptures that dance and writhe in the air above.

Permalink Eye

Pretty! Also Page is learning a lot about firebending.

Permalink Eye

The design morphs into a dragon's head, arcing sinuously about. Someone backstage tosses a small package into the air and the dragon twists to exhale a stream of fire at it. It explodes, showering multicolored sparkles across the square, dazzling the crowd. They burst into furious applause.

Permalink Eye

Yup that sure outright breaks the laws of physics. Should be fun for Sing to deal with.

Permalink Eye

The two take their bows, and the show wraps up. There are mundane fireworks, but as a followup, they're a bit less impressive.

Permalink Eye

Pretty, though.

Permalink Eye

Is she going to announce the winner of the auction?

(It was the man in the fine clothes. His bid was more than triple the next highest.)

Permalink Eye

Yeah, that can happen with a Vickrey auction. He gets the phonograph for a steal.

Permalink Eye

He is very pleased with himself. He wishes to start a collection of recordings. Is she willing to do more in the style of the one she demonstrated?

Permalink Eye

For a fee.

Permalink Eye

Of course, of course. She can come by his manor tomorrow to discuss details. It's the big one on the hill, can't be missed.

Permalink Eye

Sure thing. She shows up.

Permalink Eye

It is, as promised, unmissable. A low wall separates it from the neighbors. Inside the wall is a garden, with a startling profusion of plants arrayed in ranks by the color of their blossoms. Tiny statues dot the path up to the main door, where she is met by a servant.

Permalink Eye

"Hey. I brought the phonograph your boss bought." It's in a box.

Permalink Eye

"Of course. Please, enter." The floor is polished hardwood overlain with richly woven carpets. Landscapes and seascapes line the walls she's ushered along.

A screen door is drawn aside, and she is shown into the room where the man waits, sitting on a pile of cushions.

Permalink Eye

"Hi! Your phonograph." She puts the box down.

Permalink Eye

"Excellent. As you have seen, I am something of a collector. It is my sincere delight to be afforded this opportunity to add a new aspect."

Permalink Eye

"Music's a great idea for a new collection."

Permalink Eye

"Yes. The melody you demonstrated will make a fine cornerstone. You were the composer?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes." It's not like Page will mind giving her the credit.

Permalink Eye

"I would like you to make more, of a similar nature. Is that possible?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure. It comes pretty easily to me."

Permalink Eye

"Excellent." He smiles. "I would like to commission a set of six, to begin with."

Permalink Eye

"You got it. Themed, like movements of a piece, or do you mean something looser by set?"

Permalink Eye

"A theme, yes! They should be connected."

Permalink Eye

"Sure. And did you have a price point in mind?"

Permalink Eye

He names a figure. More than she earns on the docks.

Permalink Eye

She suggests a fifteen percent increase.

Permalink Eye

A shrewd bargainer! He approves. Accepted.

Permalink Eye

"Great. I can have those for you in a week or two."

Permalink Eye

Does she require any materials or accommodations?

Permalink Eye

"If you want accompaniment you'll need to provide it."

Permalink Eye

"For the initial set, I think the solo voice will work best. Yes."

Permalink Eye

"All right. Delighted to be doing business with you."

Permalink Eye

"Likewise." He claps, and a servant comes to show her out.

Permalink Eye

Out she goes. Page has already whipped up the songs; it starts teaching them to her as she walks back to the boarding house. She starts looking into more suitable long-term housing, ideally near her forge share.

Permalink Eye

Most of the other available arrangements assume she's going to be a long-term to permanent resident.

Permalink Eye

Hmmm. She can stick with the bunkhouse if she can't get a place for a month.

Permalink Eye

There's a nicer inn off the market that will rent her a room for a month.

Permalink Eye

That is suitable.

Permalink Eye

Her room includes: a bed with pillows and sheets (changed weekly), a closet, a desk, a chair, a rug, two meals daily should she choose to make use of them, and inn-patron-only bathing facilities.

Permalink Eye

Sounds great.

Permalink Eye

Following the festival, things go back to normal in town.

Permalink Eye

Tarinda builds more phonographs, and records music. Eventually she has the suite of six for the collector.

Permalink Eye

He is pleased to have them! He also has some friends who would be interested in phonographs of their own. Are they too delicate to be shipped?

Permalink Eye

"I can box 'em up so they'll most likely be okay. Might want to insure the packages."

Permalink Eye

He has people who can handle that. Is the price the same?

Permalink Eye

"For now! They might get cheaper if I figure out how to scale up production, but for now yes."

Permalink Eye

Then he'd like three, duplicates of her original song, and blank cylinders.

Permalink Eye

Can do!

Permalink Eye

Excellent! Here, she can have some money.

Permalink Eye

Yaaaaay.

She's credible as An Inventor, now, and starts looking into prices for key supplies she'll need for her real project.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, she's gonna need to sell more phonographs. And do a lot of her own tinkering.

Permalink Eye

It takes as long as it takes. She makes more phonographs. She posts prices for recording one's own music on various numbers of cylinders to sell.

Permalink Eye

Some weeks later, Eliko comes rushing in to her workshop, slightly disheveled and not wearing any shoes.

Permalink Eye

"Are you okay?"

Permalink Eye

"My father. Saw me. I have to get away."

Permalink Eye

"How can I help you?"

Permalink Eye

"I need to hide. Figure out where to go."

Permalink Eye

"I don't have a bolthole or anything like that -"

Permalink Eye

"They won't look here. For a while. I think."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Do you need anything?"

Permalink Eye

"Not right now. I was able to grab some things." She indicates her bag.

Permalink Eye

Tarinda nods. "I'm sorry."

Permalink Eye

"I was careless. It was going to happen eventually."

Permalink Eye

"Still. I don't know what kind of relationship you have with them, but -"

Permalink Eye

"My brothers are firebenders. I'm not. My parents chose where they wanted to put their attention a long time ago."

Permalink Eye

"That's awful."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe. Makes this part easier."

Permalink Eye

"I suppose."

Permalink Eye

"I'm going to- sit, for a bit."

Permalink Eye

"Of course. Take your time."

Permalink Eye

Into a corner. Slump. Remember breathing, breathing is important. Try to find a center.

Permalink Eye

Tarinda sings a song Page has been teaching her, softly.

Permalink Eye

That's nice.

What's she doing here? Her original plan was to run, if this happened. Grab her things, go to the docks, find a ship, leave. Act, keep momentum. Instead she's here, sitting. Waiting to react, sapped of momentum. But- Tarinda is helpful. Clever. Has plans. She wants to see the plans happen. Can't do that if she runs away. Can't stay here forever, but she is here for now. So. Wait, and see what happens.

Permalink Eye

"How far away do you need to get?"

Permalink Eye


"Out of town, at least. Maybe out of Fire Nation territory entirely."

Permalink Eye

"Do you have - what will you need - money, fake papers, that kind of thing?"

Permalink Eye

"I have a little money, enough to get out. I don't think I'd want to go anywhere I'd need papers."

Permalink Eye

"I can give you some money if you need more. Ideally it'd be a loan but I don't know where you'd get any to pay me back, or how you'd send it... I can just give you some."

Permalink Eye

"That- would be helpful."

Permalink Eye

Tarinda counts it out of slush fund. Exact amounts are not currently critical; she's building a business base off which to make more money, not an actual computer. Tarinda will not get scurvy if she lives off rice till her next commission pays.

Permalink Eye

"...Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"I wish I could do more."

Permalink Eye

"It's more than I expected- Someone's coming."

Permalink Eye

Tarinda peeks out the window.

Permalink Eye

Several somones, an older man and a pair of guards.

Permalink Eye

"Old guy, couple guards. Run or hide?"

Permalink Eye

"-I can make a hole and close it if you can move something to cover the mark up."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, go for it."

Permalink Eye

She stands up, puts her hands together then pulls them apart. The floor below parts in a neat line, and she drops down out of sight. A moment later, the seam closes itself back up.

Permalink Eye

Tarinda rearranges the furniture.

Permalink Eye

Knock knock.

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She opens up with a spoon in her mouth and a teacup in her hand. "Mmhm?"

Permalink Eye

"You are the foreign inventor Tarinda?"

Permalink Eye

She takes the spoon from her mouth. "Yeah. You want, uh, a price sheet?"

Permalink Eye

"Have you seen this girl?" He holds up a passable sketch of Eliko.

Permalink Eye

"I think she came to my booth at the festival. She didn't want a price sheet either."

Permalink Eye

"Be aware that she is a rogue earthbender, and any attempts to hide or assist such are considered a high crime by the Fire Nation."

Permalink Eye

"It's very considerate of you to let me know! Thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Hn. Be vigilant, and report any suspicious activity to the guards immediately."

Permalink Eye

"Where do people go to do that? I haven't seen a guard station or anything."

Permalink Eye

"Either one of the market guards or patrols, or at the headquarters."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, thanks!"

Permalink Eye

They head off.

Permalink Eye

She shuts the door and waits till they're out of sight before moving the furniture again.

Permalink Eye

The hole opens up, and Eliko lifts herself out before resealing it.

Permalink Eye

"Could you hear in there?"

Permalink Eye

"Not really. I could tell you were talking."

Permalink Eye

"They've got a recognizable sketch of you. Wanted me to report any suspicious activity."

Permalink Eye

She bites her lip.

"The docks probably won't be safe then. If they're looking..."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. They might ask people to take off face-concealing things, too, so you can't just make do with a scarf and high heels."

Permalink Eye

"-wait. They know I'm an earthbender, earthbenders stay on the ground. They'd expect me to go inland, not on a ship."

Permalink Eye

"I guess they might expect that hard enough not to watch boats, but they expect you to be on the run."

Permalink Eye

"But if I can get there, then I can get out."

Permalink Eye

"It's your risk to take. I'd be screening the harbor if I were looking for you, though."

Permalink Eye

"Could you- scout?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, but if they think of it after I case the place..."

Permalink Eye

"Then I'll be in trouble. But I can't stay here."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, I'll pay my old co-workers a visit."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"Hope it helps."

And she goes to the docks to say hi to her friends and look for soldiers.

Permalink Eye

Her friends are pleased to see her!

The guards are still at their usual couple spots. They don't seem to be any more numerous or suspicious.

Permalink Eye

Then she'll just catch up briefly with her friends and swing back home to report this to Eliko.

Permalink Eye

"That's- good. Then I should move sooner than later."

Permalink Eye

"I guess. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Permalink Eye

"Not unless you want to come with me. I'm sorry I couldn't make the molds for you."

Permalink Eye

"It's okay. Maybe write me a letter once it's safe, if you can?"

Permalink Eye

"I will." And she's off.

Permalink Eye

And Tarinda gets back to work.

Permalink Eye

A few of the posters with Eliko's face go up around town over the next few days. There's a medium-sized reward for capture of a fugitive or information leading thereto.

Permalink Eye

Tarinda carefully does not behave in any irregular way with respect to these posters.

Permalink Eye

There are more guards than usual lurking around her workshop.


A merchant wishes to acquire a large-scale contract for the distribution of her phonographs, as well as their production, if she's amenable.

Permalink Eye

She's amenable! Especially if this means she can work on other projects and have phonograph money rain down upon her.

Permalink Eye

That's how it'll work out in practice.

Permalink Eye

Marvelous. Then she can get underway on some groundwork for circuits and chips and such. Can she acquire all the odd materials this will call for?

Permalink Eye

The precious metals are, unsurprisingly, expensive. Purity of other materials is going to be a problem. She might need to augment her income stream.

Permalink Eye

Okay then. She'll invent the sewing machine.

Permalink Eye

Sewing machines are very popular. It doesn't take long before she gets a couple offers for production and distribution.

Permalink Eye
She also gets a package.

Tarinda,

I made it safely out, as you might surmise from the fact of this letter's existence. Though I understand now why the dock was unwatched. The journey by sea was, shall we say, less than pleasant. I did not realize how much the lack of solid earth beneath my feet would affect me. I suppose one might call it seasickness. I traveled south for a few weeks before disembarking and turning firmly inland. If I never need to travel the ocean again, it will be too soon. The village I am staying at now is quite landlocked, and not hostile to me. In fact, they rather appreciate my talents.

Even here, word of your invention has spread, though no one has seen one firsthand. When I mentioned that I knew you, it caused quite the stir. The villagers have undertaken a collection in order to purchase one of your phonographs and a collection of recordings. Please find the request and the funds enclosed within. The circumstances of my departure did not allow me to take one of your pricesheets, so I fear I may have misquoted the total.

Lastly, a personal request, if I may. You have doubtless noticed the container of soil and wondered as to its inclusion. If you would take it to where we first met and leave it as an offering of sorts, I would be deeply grateful.

Yours in health,
Eliko
Permalink Eye

Tarinda counts up the money in the package.

Permalink Eye

It's the price of a phonograph when Eliko left, plus the amount she was loaned.

Permalink Eye
Charming. Tarinda boxes up a phonograph, a set of cylinders, and a sewing machine.

Eliko,

Phonographs have gone down in price point since your departure! Find enclosed also a sewing machine, my latest, and a copy of the instruction manual. I'm glad you survived your displeasure with the sea and will be happy to bring the dirt where it goes, or as close as I can get without inventing a better shovel.

Yours, Tarinda
Permalink Eye

It'll be a while before the package can reach its intended recipients, and longer before a reply can be expected.

Permalink Eye

Yup. That's snail mail for you. Tarinda adds refinements to the sewing machine and works on groundwork for computers.

Permalink Eye

Buying from the Fire Nation in quantity is going to get expensive. Many of the best mines are still controlled by the Earth Kingdom, and they are reluctant to allow the fruits of their labor to cross national borders.

Permalink Eye

...she sends Eliko a followup letter with some cash and a shopping list.

Permalink Eye

It takes a while, but eventually she starts receiving a trickle of shipments containing her requested materials.

Along with that comes news from the capital. The Fire Lord's son, Prince Zuko, has been disgraced and exiled, sent on a futile mission to find the missing Avatar.

Permalink Eye

Poor guy.

The best thing she can do for anyone is get Sing done faster. It's not a good idea to fret over individuals she hears about, at least not unless they're old and dying and there's no way she can solve it before they're gone, in which case all she can do is suggest dying somewhere really cold.

She finds a good time to go for a hike and put the jar of dirt where Eliko wanted it.

Permalink Eye

The mountains are cold this time of year. The caves, of course, are dark regardless of the season.

One of the creatures comes to investigate before she makes it all the way in.

Permalink Eye

She puts the jar down - opens it, after a moment's thought - and takes a step back.

Permalink Eye

It sticks its nose in and snuffles. Then it churfs, and tips the jar over. The contents spill out, including what seems to be a lock of hair. It flips the clump onto its back with a stomp, and turns to shuffle off.

Permalink Eye

Awww.

And she goes back home.

Permalink Eye

Before she can get there, something about the world twists. With no perceptible sense of movement, she's no longer in the place she was. The air is warmer, more humid. The trees are green instead of bare, overhung with vines and tangles of moss bursting with vitality.

Permalink Eye

...concerning. She stops in her tracks, but turns her head to look around her.

Permalink Eye

There rise the mountains behind her, the trees crawling further up their slopes since last she saw. Before, the forest sweeps down to the edge of the sea uninterrupted by the presence of a town, though it grows brownish in the region in which there ought to be one. Strange animals and birds chatter in the background, hidden from sight but quite audible.

Permalink Eye

"Hello?" she asks softly.

Permalink Eye

A bright pink, slightly translucent bunny with butterfly wings flaps carelessly into view. Its gaze crosses hers, and it startles.

"Eep! She's here!" Its voice is soft and squeaky.

Permalink Eye

She bows politely. "Hello. I'm so sorry to bother you, I'd like to get out of your way, but I'm lost."

Permalink Eye

"Oh my. Oh my. I must go tell Koh at once! Oh my."

Permalink Eye

"Koh?"

Permalink Eye

"The Face Stealer, yes. They did ask to be told. Oh, you should wait here." It flutters away.

Permalink Eye

"Excuse me - please -" she calls after it.

Permalink Eye

Aaannnnd it's gone.

Permalink Eye

"Is there anyone else here perchance?"

Permalink Eye

If there is, they don't care to answer.


In the distance, something is rumbling.

Permalink Eye

Tarinda tries stepping back whence she came, placing her feet in exactly the same places.

Permalink Eye

The world stays the same.

The tops of the trees sway, as if brushed aside in the wake of some great beast's passage.

Permalink Eye

She has her weapons. She doesn't reach for them.

She times a bow to reach its lowest point when whatever-it-is comes into view.

Permalink Eye

Whatever-it-is proves to be an enormous centipede creature. It circles around and around, coiling its body up. It brings its face, a blank white mask, level with Tarinda's.

"Well well well well well." The mask blinks, and is replaced with the visage of a young boy. "What do we have here."

Permalink Eye

"Please pardon me, I didn't mean to intrude."

Permalink Eye

"No, of course you didn't. No one ever does. But even the best of intentions cannot change the fact of the matter."

Permalink Eye

"I'd be happy to leave if you'd be so kind as to tell me how."

Permalink Eye

Blink. Now an old woman.

"Kindness. And what have you ever done to deserve such? Humans. You are all the same no matter the point of origin. You take and you take and you take, and always demand the world bend to you."

Permalink Eye

"I - apologize."

Permalink Eye

"And with two simple words, all the wrongs of the past millenia are wiped away. No. It is not so easy."

Permalink Eye

"In - what way is it difficult, please, I don't understand."

Permalink Eye

"Once, there was one world. Now, there are two, and this dies to feed the other. Dies, for the greed and ignorance of humans."

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry, I don't think I follow."

Permalink Eye

"You do not? Have you been too busy with your plans of disruption to care what it is you seek to overturn?"

Permalink Eye

"I looked for information on spirits and the spirit world but didn't find very much."

Permalink Eye

Blink.

"Your distractibility is not an excuse," her own face hisses at her. "You could have looked harder."

Permalink Eye

"- I'm sorry. Perhaps you have suggestions?"

Permalink Eye

The face blinks to a different woman, and the centipedal coils settle in closer around her.

"Let me tell you a story. Once, there was a world, fresh and pure, where life of all sorts flourished. Then the humans arrived. They were weak and small and few in number, and it seemed they would fade from the world as easily as they appeared. But a foolish few decided that they did not wish for that to happen, and so the humans were offered shelter on the backs of the lion turtles. There they stayed, festering, until they grew numerous enough that the lion turtles would not support them all. Rather than accept this limitation, they began to spread, casting themselves across the land, heedless of any who lived there before them. This would have been again their death, except that one among them found the great World Spirit, and bound it to their will, forcing it to serve their race above all others. The world was sundered, and the humans took the World Spirit with them into their world, leaving us here bereft, to weaken and die as the destruction they wreak upon themselves is reflected here."

Permalink Eye

 

"Thank you for telling me that story."

Permalink Eye

Blink. A man's face.

"And now you have appeared by yet another rent in the fabric of the world, with your body full of human thoughtlessness and your head full of grand schemes."

Permalink Eye

"How do you know things about me?"

Permalink Eye

Blink. Her face, again.

"I can smell it on your breath."

Permalink Eye

"I'm afraid I don't understand."

Permalink Eye

Blink. A child.

"You do not need to."

Permalink Eye

 

"Is there anything you don't know about me but might like to?"

Permalink Eye

Blink. A cat's face.

"I might like to know," they purr, "what it is you intend to do know that you are aware of a wider context for your actions."

Permalink Eye

"I'll look harder for information on spirits, and I'll make sure that when things change spirit needs are included, because you seem to be people too."

Permalink Eye

"And if your change is our death by its very nature?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't think it could be, though maybe learning more will suggest otherwise, but maybe humans can go live on another planet instead of this one."

Permalink Eye

Koh's face hisses, and they launch their body at her-

Permalink Eye

-but she finds herself back in the familiar, cold forest instead of being hit in the face by several tons of face-changing centipede.

Permalink Eye

It's probably good that this happened before she set her sword against it.

 

She tentatively goes home.

Permalink Eye

She makes it there without further incident.

Permalink Eye
She writes Eliko a letter.

Enclosed is a transcript of all of the conversations I have had with spirits, with accompanying descriptions of circumstances. It seems like it might be essential to my project to know more. Anything you could find and any directions of research might be useful.

At the same time, completely destroying my chances of success if something actually kills me seems like a bad plan. I'm going to invent a writing machine - your language is such that it won't be suited for words, so it will be a limited version mostly oriented around numbers - and then I'm going to write up a very long document with it made of zeroes and ones, plus a handwritten spec document describing the circumstances it needs to work. I'll send it to you in installments. It needs to stay safe until a thinking machine is invented, whether I'm still around or not, and then it needs to be run. This is a long shot and I'll try as hard as I can to stay alive but I think at this point it's worth the redundancy just in case. I will also send you your own typewriter so you can make copies in addition to the carbon paper version I will store elsewise, but it's very long and it might not be reasonable to expect anyone but me to type that much. Please let me know if you need anything to make it more probable that the document survives in the hands of someone who will run it when the thinking machine is invented.
Permalink Eye
The first encounter sounds like a nekomata. They often prey on unwary travelers. The second was Koh the Face Stealer. He's supposed to be the oldest spirit, and not very pleasant, as you saw. The stories say that if you show an expression to him, he learns your face and your character. The face seems straightforward. I am less sure about what is meant by character, nothing is very clear. It might be a synthesis of thought and recent action, but this is speculation on my part. From your description, I would guess that you were pulled into the spirit world for that meeting. I have never heard of that happening and do not know how or why it did.

His story about the beginning of humanity was quite interesting. Lion turtles are extinct now, or nearly so. There has not been a sighting in centuries. They are recorded as being large enough to carry a village on their backs. The part about the World Spirit is in reference to the Avatar, who carries it through their reincarnations. I have never heard anything about it being forcibly subjugated. I will attach a list of titles that may be relevant. I was forced to abandon the few I had when I left. The bookseller may have reacquired them. For the others, you may not be able to find them easily, but short of visiting the archives at Ba Sing Se options are limited. Or Wan Shi Tong's lost library in the desert, since we are on the topic of spirits.

I will do my best to safeguard your documents when I receive them.
Permalink Eye

Tarinda invents a typewriter in the time it takes for the mail to turn around. It does numbers and some number-related symbols for math and prices and suchlike, so copies of it will be useful to people other than herself.

She gets all the books recommended that she can find and suggests the bookseller write to his supplier for the others. She packs Eliko a typewriter and six pages of carefully page-numbered binary. She looks a a map for an idea of how much traveling she'd have to do to make a good go of looking for the library.

Permalink Eye

The bookseller has about half the listed books. He'll see what he can do about getting the others, but can make no promises.

The Si Wong desert takes up a good portion of the southeast of the continent. It would be two to three weeks to get to the edge from where she is, and then however long it would take to search.

Permalink Eye

Any of the books narrow the library down at all?

Permalink Eye

Wan Shi Tong, He Who Knows Ten Thousand Things, is said to possess a library containing at least that many books. It lurks hidden within the sands of the eastern desert, and only those who bring a tribute of new knowledge are permitted to peruse its shelves. If a worthy seeker sees an owlcat flying in the desert at night and follows it, it may lead them to the library, for owlcats are favored of Wan Shi Tong.

Permalink Eye

...worth a try when she has the seed code written up.

She puts four hours a day into it. It's so boring and if she gets a number wrong she has to trash the page, that's what she can sustain. She mails a week's output at a time to Eliko so a lost package won't be too much of a setback but she doesn't wind up spending hilarious amounts on shipping.

She reads the books. She learns local musical notation, publishes writeups of her songs and works on a musical notation typewriter.

Permalink Eye

She receives a very official looking letter written on fancy paper with fine calligraphy inviting her to give a demonstration of her inventions to the Fire Lord's court.

Permalink Eye

...this is not really likely to be conducive to her work.

She asks the bookseller if it's likely that this invitation is actually a command.

Permalink Eye

Things like that usually are. She could find life in the Fire Nation becoming very difficult if she refuses.

Permalink Eye

Ugh. Okay. She will pack up a phonograph and a sewing machine and a typewriter and see about traveling to the court.

Permalink Eye

Happily, there is a ship in the harbor right now that is headed that way! It may have been the one that delivered the letter and also might have been waiting for her!

Permalink Eye

Which suggests that not showing up would in fact have gone poorly! She gets on the boat.

Permalink Eye

It is a very nice boat. It has a coal-fired engine.

Her cabin is spacious and well-appointed.

Permalink Eye

At least she's being comfortably shanghaied.

Permalink Eye

The Fire Nation capital is situated in the caldera of an ancient volcano. There is a switchback road leading down the side of the mountain to the large harbor and surrounding districts, which is protected by a seawall.

Permalink Eye

She can hike up a volcano with her appliances but she'd rather hire a cart if she can. Hauling them would attract attention.

Permalink Eye

As luck would have it, there is an escort of soldiers waiting to meet her, conveyances and all.

Permalink Eye

What a lucky person Tarinda is.

Permalink Eye

Her books say that those with excessive luck- good or ill- were once said to be spirit-touched.

The leader of the delegation, a woman in fine clothes, after a brief pause to take in her rather foreign appearance, hopes she had a pleasant journey.

Permalink Eye

"It was surprisingly lovely!"

Permalink Eye

"That is indeed good. The Fire Nation bears a somewhat unjust reputation for xenophobia, but we are always welcoming of those who have worth to offer." They start up the wide avenue which leads from the harbor to the mountain road. It is separated from the infrastructure surrounding the docks by walls dotted with towers at regular intervals.

Permalink Eye

"I've found all the citizens I've met to be friendly so far!"

Permalink Eye

Smile. "Yes, precisely. You have worth, and that is recognized."

Permalink Eye

"Your assessment is very kind."

Permalink Eye

"And not only in the colonies. There are several at court here who have watched reports of your... prodigious output with interest."

Permalink Eye

"I wasn't aware I was being reported on."

Permalink Eye

"It does behoove the capital to keep an eye on interesting happenings within its territories."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that makes sense!"

Permalink Eye

"We simply wish to be sure that all hands are turned towards the success of our nation."

Permalink Eye

"That makes sense too."

Permalink Eye

"Tell me, how is it you came up with such ideas? The physical recording of sound. Truly, it is unprecedented."

Permalink Eye

"You ever watch water ripple or - grains of salt dance on a table, when something makes a loud noise?"

Permalink Eye

An immaculately groomed eyebrow lifts. "I have not taken more than passing note of the phenomena."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, well, I thought about it a lot, and you can make things that move easily, and watch how they move, or make them move through things that they'll leave marks on - and then it turns out you can make that process go backward! But it would have just been a lot of messing around with string and wax if it hadn't turned out that way."

Permalink Eye

"And the sewing machine?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, first I thought a lot about how you could get a machine to make the motions a person does, sewing, but I didn't get anywhere at all! And then I was like, what if we'd never had hands or needles, and had to invent sewing."

Permalink Eye

"An unusual thought."

Permalink Eye

"So I've been told."

Permalink Eye

"What of the most recent, the... typewriter?"

Permalink Eye

"It's a curiosity, really, there are too many characters for it to be useful for anything but writing down sums."

Permalink Eye

"The accountants are quite excited about the efficiency gains that the standardization of records can offer."

Permalink Eye

"I'm glad to have been useful to the accountants, then!"

Permalink Eye

They come to the base of the mountain. The road takes a right turn to climb perpendicular to the slope. The incline is manageable, but the path is quite long in compromise.

Permalink Eye

Tromp tromp tromp tromp.

Permalink Eye

Once they crest the summit, they see the city laid out in the caldera below. It's laid out on a regular grid, with wide streets and gleaming buildings, dotted with open plazas and greenery. In the center is the palace and grounds.

Permalink Eye

"What a lovely city."

Permalink Eye

"The capital is the pride of the Fire Nation. I would be pleased to show you around, once you have recovered from your journey."

Permalink Eye

"I'd like that!"

Permalink Eye

"Good." They descend into the city.

A small villa has been reserved for her use during her stay.

Permalink Eye

"Gosh. How long am I going to be here? Should I have packed more stuff?"

Permalink Eye

Smile. "Your needs will be seen to."

Permalink Eye

"Sure, but what about my wardrobe? I often make my own clothes, you know, what with the sewing machine, testing it out."

Permalink Eye

"If you find yourself missing something, you can send back for it."

Permalink Eye

"Suppose so. Gosh."

Permalink Eye

"I will return in two hours. Please, refresh yourself."

Her belongings are deposited by the door, and her escorts leave.

Permalink Eye

 

Okay. She... takes a bath, okay, and sees what there is in the way of clothes suspiciously already present in her size, since she didn't pack more than a couple outfits.

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The clothes approximately fit, but aren't tailored exactly to her.

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That's something! She dresses up nicely.

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After a couple hours, there's a knock on her door. The woman is back to show her around town.

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"I'm excited to see the sights! What-all is there?"

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There's the market, a couple parks, an underground hot springs, the arena, the Royal Firebending Academy, and of course, the palace itself.

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She will be happily toured about.

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Her presentation is in the palace, tomorrow evening. They show her the hall where it will be, and ask if she requires any further preparations to be made.

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"I'm not sure what I'm presenting or to whom or for how long!"

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Her inventions, to a selection of nobles, generals, and sages. They would like to see each in action, and get an overview of the underlying principles. Was this not in the letter? She may have to speak with the scribes.

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"It said that I'd be demonstrating them for the court, but not who the court consists of, or how much detail they'd want! Anyway, I'll need paper and ink if I'm going to be typing very much, cloth and thread if I'm going to be sewing much, wax cylinders if they want me to record something..."

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All these things can be provided.

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"Okay then!"

She's going to miss an installment of seed code to Eliko, isn't she, she doesn't want to inquire too conspicuously about how to send mail from here.

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Probably.

She's escorted back to her villa, where dinner is waiting for her.

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They're too kind. She eats dinner.

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As darkness begins to fall, lampposts in the street flare to life. The city quiets as residents return to their homes and their beds.

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She gets some sleep.

Her presentation isn't till the evening; she'd like to see if she can find a good library as long as she's in a big city.

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There is a library. Unclear if it's a good one from outside. It seems to have a reasonable selection, at least. Her trip there is unhindered but not unobserved.

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That's okay, she can just say she's a huge nerd about spirits.

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The library has children's books in which spirits feature, but no serious scholarly treatises.

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Oh well. She browses other sections. Chemistry?

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Lots of work on combustion and exothermic reactions.

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How stereotypical.

She browses most of the day and goes to collect her devices for the presentation in the evening.

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Her escort's back. Would she like help carrying them?

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Sure, why not.

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Then she can get to the hall efficiently and a little ahead of time. There's paper and ink and wax cylinders and cloth and thread ready.

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She loads paper and thread and cylinders into her various devices.

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The room fills with about twenty people or so, all looking fairly important. The woman from yesterday gives a short introduction, announcing Tarinda as the foreign inventor, here to demonstrate her capabilities.

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"Hello everyone! Which invention would you like me to start with?"

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How about chronological order?

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Sure! Would anyone like to record themselves on the phonograph?

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An older man with a sword at his side volunteers.

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"On my signal," she says, and she cues him when it's ready to go.

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He presses a hand to the table next to the phonograph for balance as he recites a passage from a play lamenting the fragile beauty of spring.

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And when his time or his passage is up, whichever comes first, she makes the necessary adjustments to play it back.

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The audience is suitably impressed, and he returns to his seat. Where his hand was resting is a small tile with a picture of a flower on it. It's unlikely that anyone else can see it.

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She - well, Page - notes that but can't correlate it with anything and dismisses it for the time being. She opens up the workings of the phonograph, explains in broad terms what each section does.

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The audience is particularly interested in the mechanism driving the revolution of the cylinder.

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She's managed that by simple clockwork. It has to be wound every now and again.

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Notes notes.

Next?

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Here is the sewing machine! She passes the needle around so they can get a look at the double eye.

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Interesting. And what is the purpose?

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She opens the front of the machine and turns the wheel of the machine very slowly so they can see how the parts go, pointing them out as each enters play.

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Impressively intricate. How well do the mechanism scale?

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"I guess you could have big sewing machines but you'd have to turn the wheel pretty hard!"

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With an engine, perhaps?

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"I'd worry about getting your hands caught under the needle if you ran it with an engine!"

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Quite. Several of the audience smile.

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Typewriter! Here is how it works. Numbers, symbols for mathematical operations and currency and such, but she could make different kinds! Maybe one for musical notation!

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One with a specialized vocabulary, perhaps?

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If you didn't need many characters!

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There's some mutterings about standard order sets and encodings.

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Yeah, she's glad she didn't go with the telegraph. "Is there anything else I can help you folks with?"

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That's enough for a strategic picture. Details are for the engineers. She's dismissed.

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"All right, thanks so much for your time!" she says, and she packs up her things.