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Generated: Mar 16, 2020 8:09 PM
Post last updated: Mar 16, 2020 8:09 PM
but it's free
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She really did not mean to suddenly be somewhere else. It might be an illusion but if it is it's a pretty inexplicable one. But here, suddenly, is one human, carrying no electronics and looking very confused.

"Uh, hello? Did someone bring me somewhere? On purpose?"

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The person who is here doesn't look quite human and does not seem to have been previously informed about the newcomer's presence being expected. She turns around in her swively chair, blinks, retains a surprising amount of composure considering the total lack of recognition in her eyes, and says something a foreign language.

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"...Okay, sorry, shouldn't have assumed you spoke that one," the visitor says in a different unfamiliar language. "Did you bring me here on purpose?"

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The woman in the swivel chair tries a different foreign language. She swivels back toward the dizzying array of shapes and lights laid out on the angled desk in front of her to poke something; she gets a verbal response that comes out of thin air.

Through the window beyond, Echan can see innumerable stars.

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Echan doesn't see very well anymore, but that would not be very illuminating even if she did.

"I have no idea where I am, I don't know if you've kidnapped me, and I don't know why you won't get me someone who speaks Hari. I bet I came from out of state, if you orchestrated a kidnapping from this far away you must travel enough to at least know someone..."

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The person says something plausibly apologetic, picks up a glowing rectangle, pokes it, and offers it to Echan.

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Echan reaches out tentatively to touch the rectangle. "That's a strange material. ...You don't seem to be acting like a kidnapper, not that I know what one would act like. Are we at least in public?" Echan turns her face ceilingward. "I need to report a crime, I think I've been kidnapped and left here with this stranger who I have no languages in common with." Sigh. She looks in the other person's general direction. "I don't mean you any harm and I didn't mean to be here, I hope you know that."

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The ceiling does not reply. The rectangle bleeps.

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...Okay. Echan produces the same bleep from no apparent source.

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That surprises the person. The rectangle says something in a local language.

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She fingers the rectangle. Then it occurs to her that it's definitely producing illusions and that it's supposed to be understandable. It might have pictures.

She attempts to explain blindness through mime, in case this is the problem.

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The person gets the idea after a minute and pokes her console some more. The tablet starts speaking instead - repeating words Echan has said in various orders and inflections.

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"...It's extremely alarming that you don't speak this language and don't know anyone who does."

She tries to figure out how to respond usefully to the rectangle's babbling. She pretends it's trying to communicate and responds as if it were a person.

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This assumption does not work very well at first, but it gets less and less preposterous; eventually the tablet is posing simple questions. It bleeps approvingly the more verbose she gets in reply.

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Then she'll give it detailed answers.

Does it also like digressions?

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Less, but better than nothing!

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Then she'll try just giving it detailed answers for a while.

After a while she tries asking it where she is.

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"We are going around GS56-89U2K."

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"Why are we going around... that place?"

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"Isabella T'Mir," (her hostess looks up) "is looking at it to see what it is like."

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"Is Isabella T'mir showing it to you, too?"

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"I am not a person. I am a thing," says the voice. "I am teaching a thing Isabella T'Mir has your language so she can speak to you."

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"There's not a person on the other end? You're extremely sophisticated."

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"I am a sophisticated thing," agrees the machine. "I am a thing for learning languages. Please say more, I need more words."

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She can say words. "You're a thing for translation. At least two people worked together to make you. I bet you're not on my home planet and have never been there, have you? Which is extremely strange. Why do you think I didn't know that you ex... existed until now? Is it because I've been frozen for a long time? How did I get here?"

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"I do not know how you got here and do not think I have ever been on your home planet."

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"Do you at least know whether I appeared suddenly or came here as a statue and then started moving?"

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"You appeared suddenly," says the tablet, but only after the console asks T'Mir something and she replies.

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"That's probably better than the alternative. I'd like to get home soon, if I can, but... what work needs to be done while I'm here?"

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"Isabella T'Mir's work is looking at things like GS56-89U2K. I will ask her to put a picture of it on the screen and you can say what kind of thing it is in your language." It relays this suggestion and Isabella pokes her console again; the stars are replaced by a picture of a gas giant, purple and white swirling across its surface.

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"I can't tell from the picture but a verbal description might help."

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T'Mir says, "Sorry, I wasn't sure how blind you are," in Echan's language. "It's big, many millions of times bigger than you, and round - round in all directions - and this one is purple and white but we use the same word for ones that are other colors."

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"That could be a sun or a world or a moon - if it's turning the smallest element into the second smallest, it's a sun. If you can walk on it it's one of the others. If it has air with the... eighth element, I think, then it's a world."

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"You can't walk on this one but we use the same word as for ones you can walk on. It goes around a sun. You can name your elements with their numbers and the translator will remember them."

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Echan can give numbers for hydrogen, helium, carbon, oxygen, chlorine and iron. "Other than that I don't remember any specific numbers. I'm the wrong kind of person to have studied much chemistry."

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"That's okay. What's two hydrogens and one oxygen?"

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"That's water."

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There's some more vocabulary elicitation and finally T'Mir can say, "You appeared suddenly for no apparent reason in my ship."

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"I didn't do it. I thought you might have brought me here until you seemed as confused as I am. Does this mean you don't know how to send me back?"

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"I'm afraid I don't unless you happen to be able to tell me enough about the planet you came from, and I recognize it well enough, to be able to take you there."

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"One inhabited continent, eight species of people, politically unified? I don't expect you to recognize it, if you knew where to find us we would at least know you existed."

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"You might not."

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"Oh, have you hidden your entire civilization? We only hide things that are private."

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"Our civilization is hidden from some other civilizations. What would be a good way for you to recognize your planet, since you cannot see?"

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"If you have recordings of people speaking local languages, I'd be able to recognize at least three of them, this one included. I don't know what information you would have access to if you had any information about my world."

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"Are they common languages on the planet?"

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"The one I'm speaking now is the official language of our imperial government. If you have recordings of any of our languages, you would have this one."

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"Okay. I can start playing samples from planets with eight species of sapient."

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"That works. It's also possible you'd have us down as having seven, if you missed the anemones. They're easy to miss since they don't live on land or speak."

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"Yes, that might have been missed, I'll include ones with seven. The computer will probably be able to check the samples as it goes through on its own to see if they match your language, but it'll play them aloud anyway to let you check in case it's thrown by a dialect issue or something."

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She listens, but none of them seem to be familiar.

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There are lots. It keeps going.

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Well, she doesn't have anything better to do than keep listening indefinitely, and there's some chance she'll get home if she does.

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Eventually it runs out of language samples belonging to planets with seven or eight known sapients. "I have a recent update of the universal translator corpus," says T'Mir, "but it's possible your planet was found in the last few weeks. We can check when we get to civilization."

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"I see. When will we get to civilization?"

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"I'm afraid it'll take a week and a half. It'd be a week even if I didn't finish surveying this system. I have enough food on the ship for both of us and we can take opposite sleep schedules."

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She draws a breath and tries not to panic.

"Okay. And what do you want from me while we're here? Just help with this language?"

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"That will make it easier for people to talk to you but the program is conversational now if you don't want to talk to it more. I don't have any work I need you to do. I do need to look at you with a device to make sure you can eat the same food I do; if you can't I will head immediately to civilization and if you can I'll want to finish this survey first."

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"...I see. Why are you offering me things?"

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"...because if I don't you'll starve? Or you'll attempt to steal the food, I suppose, which would be better in the sense that you wouldn't starve but worse in the sense that we could just skip that step."

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Okay, either she expects she can sell Echan later or she expects she can find Echan's planet and thinks Echan is rich enough to reward her. Not an ideal situation but it could be worse. "...Thank you."

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"You're welcome."

The tricorder says Echan can eat T'Mir's food. "Also it thinks you're the same species as my mother, which might be a false read if you're just very similar but I suppose it's possible your ancestors were moved to your planet from Earth in the past."

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Echan almost points out that that seems like the kind of thing she would have heard of if it had happened, before something else about that strikes her as even weirder. "When you say your mother's species, do you mean something different from your species?"

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"My father was a different species which is similar but not the same as my mother's."

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"...The translator might be confused. When you say your parents are different species, what do you mean?"

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"Their ancestors are from different planets. They are biologically different."

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"...I couldn't even have children with all the people from my own planet, what a weird coincidence."

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"Not all species from the same planet can always have children, but sometimes, ones from different planets can. Not always."

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"That's... I guess if there were another species from the same planet who could have kids with mine, we would have had kids with them already and eventually we wouldn't be different species anymore. Maybe that's why."

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"Why it works for my parents' species is not known. Are you hungry right now? When are you going to want to sleep?"

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"I am hungry now and I'll want to sleep in a couple of hours."

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So T'Mir goes and fixes some pilaf for them.

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"I think this is the kind of food that wouldn't be too out of place in the south but I'm not sure about that. Which of your planets does it come from?"

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"Earth, the planet with humans. Vulcan cultivars are hard to come by. The planet was destroyed some years ago."

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"Who did that?"

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"Some people acting alone from a planet called Romulus, where some relatives of Vulcans live."

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"What did you do to them?"

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"They were killed in the ensuing conflict."

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"Good enough."

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"It did make questioning them impossible, but yes."

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"What did you want to learn from doing that?"

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"I was a child at the time, so I wasn't party to the discussion."

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"Ah, of course. Well, at least it's known that you killed them, that's some safety."

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"...the Federation, that being the government which governs Earth and governed Vulcan, typically manages its reputation differently."

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"Ah, where I'm from we use public executions to remind people of the imperial government's power. What would the Federation have preferred?"

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"They would have preferred to arrest them, learn more about their motives and resources, and possibly extracted concessions from the Romulan government."

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"The Romulan government? There's another secret civilization?"

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"I don't believe the Romulans or any other non-Federation governments make a point of being secret, but there are really a lot of inhabited planets, not everyone will have run across yours."

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"If they don't make a point of being secret they should've been detectable even if they never visited. It's not like no one's ever tried looking for other people."

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"It's possible you're looking for the wrong kind of signals."

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"Wrong how?"

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"Civilizations proceed through various stages of technological development, and some of the communications technologies they often use at some stages leave signs that neighboring planets could pick up, but only for a relatively brief window. You might not have any neighboring civilizations who are in that window right now."

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"Our knowledgeable people shouldn't need to rely on that, they should be able to see the people on other planets directly unless they're hidden."

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"...the other planets with people on them are too far away to see by looking."

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"...That's... very far. I didn't know there were things that far away."

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"Well, they're usually around separate stars. Sometimes there will be life on two planets around one sun, but not usually."

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"I know our knowledgeable people can see other stars. At least, they claim they can, they say they know how big they are and how much of their hydrogen is used up."

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"It's possible to see stars and learn things from what color and brightness they are and how they move at a distance that won't let you see whether the star's planets are inhabited."

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"...I guess I wouldn't know, I'm not a knowledgeable person. Are you?"

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"My best guess about what you mean by 'knowledgable person' is a word that means the kind of person who studies things like stars and chemicals and life, is that right?"

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"No, it's like... I'm an illusionist, see?" Something that might be some kind of hologram appears in front of her. It depicts twelve symbols. "You could care about illusions without being able to make them, you could read about stars without being the kind of person who can see the dark side of the moon, does that make sense?"

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"I think I'm missing something."

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"There are twelve kinds of people in the world, right? Some of them know things, some of them are illusionists, some of them do gene editing - is this sounding familiar yet?"

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"No."

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"That's weird. Let me think how to explain... Okay, how do you travel from one planet to another?"

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"In ships like the one we are in right now."

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"Who moves the ships?"

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"No one. They're machines. You and I are the only people here."

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"They're machines? You use technology to travel through vacuum?"

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"Yes. Some species have powers that might be like what you're thinking of but not most."

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"Oh. All the species where I'm from have the same powers, I didn't realize they'd be different in different places. What powers does your species have?"

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"My mother's species has none but Vulcans have mind powers at touch range. If there are any concepts you cannot get through to me with the translator and want to try another way to communicate I can do that."

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Ew. Eww. Telling her that her father made some highly questionable and disgusting life choices won't help anything, though.

Sigh. "That's convenient. None of my species' powers can do that."

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"It doesn't come up very much but it's useful as a backup option. The people we are closest to have telepathy at a much higher range; if you want to spend a little longer in the ship and have people less likely to casually read your mind, we can go somewhere else. I can block their scans but you probably can't."

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"...How sure are you that I can't? Can we test it with yours?"

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"Yes, if you want to." T'Mir holds out her hand.

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She touches T'Mir's hand and tries to block out the telepathy.

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"Think of a number and I'll try to get the number."

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Twelve.

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"Twelve." T'Mir drops her hand.

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"Thank you. I'd rather a longer trip to a different place, how much are you going to want for changing course?"

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"...nothing? I'm not running a passenger ship, I'm helping you because you're stranded. It's completely reasonable not to want a lot of random Betazoids to read your mind."

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"...Are you... employed by some kind of service for rescuing stranded people...?"

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"No, I'm a surveyor."

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"Do all surveyors rescue all the stranded people they meet?"

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"...are you suggesting I should have ejected you into space?"

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"It's your private property, where I'm from you probably wouldn't be convicted of murder for kicking out a trespasser even if it did kill me."

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"Obviously it would kill you. I don't suppose I'd be likely to be caught, I suppose, but I'd absolutely be convicted of murder, and anyway don't mind cooking for two for a couple of weeks."

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"Oh. Your laws might be different than ours, do you have a copy of them with you?"

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"Yes, although they might suffer in translation."

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"Maybe the translator could read them to me tomorrow?"

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"Yes, it can do that."

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"Thank you. Should I keep it with me while I'm on the ship or will you want it back for something?"

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"It can talk to you anywhere on the ship. The thing you're holding is mostly for pictures."

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"Will it be able to hear me wherever I'll be sleeping?"

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"Unless you want to turn that off, yes."

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"How do I turn it off?"

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"You tell it to. I will be able to hear you from here through the door if you scream in your sleep."

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"Thank you. ...If you want better soundproofing I can do that, by the way."

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"I'm usually here alone, and don't mind if you listen to me talk in my sleep, but if you want to try it carefully for your own privacy I don't mind."

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"Okay. But let me know if you need anything hidden, I'm reasonably competent at that and out of work."

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"I'm not in the market, but I'm sure you'll find interested parties anywhere you care to travel in Federation space, since the ability's unheard of!"

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"I suppose I will."

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"I wish you luck."

T'Mir can stay up if convenient; Echan gets first choice of sleep shift and her pick of T'Mir's clothes (mostly different colors of loose linen pants and variously embroidered tunics, plus stretchy soft pajamas).

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Echan is impressed with the pajamas, they're not a familiar fabric.

"When you need me out of your bed just shout at me, otherwise I might sleep in late."

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"You can sleep as long as you like as long as it's not for more than - uh, twenty times as long as you've been here, that might get to be too much. I don't need to sleep very often."

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"I probably won't sleep that long at a time."

She does, however, sleep longer than the average human.

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She's had an exciting day, T'Mir doesn't read into it. She does survey. When Echan comes out in the morning they're orbiting a different planet; this one is blue and silver with threads of gold.

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Echan does her best to let T'Mir pretend to not be sharing space with a stranger. It's probably politer to stay out of the way and listen to Federation laws, maybe see if there are few enough that she can memorize them the first time through.

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It's really a lot of laws; if she doesn't go more than two bullet layers deep of clarifications and exceptions she can get through it in five hours.

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"Excuse me, translator, why are there so many of these?"

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"I don't know," says the translator. "I am only qualified to answer linguistic questions."

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"Do you know how long it takes most people to memorize the ones that apply to them?"

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"I don't know," says the translator.

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"Okay. Can you read me any laws covering what happens to people who don't understand the laws?"

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"Ignorance of the law is a partial defense in most crimes with the following exceptions:" It reads on.

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That is extremely alien but probably necessary when you have this many laws. She listens intently to the exceptions.

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Won't let you get away with any substantial violent crime or high-value property crime or treason-type stuff.

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That makes much more sense.

"If I accidentally broke a law that wasn't one of these, what would I need to do to demonstrate that I didn't know better?"

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The translator translates a section that is about the definition of ignorance of the law, to wit: serious learning disability, being a child, being a generally confused immigrant who also makes more innocent mistakes of a similar magnitude, having had to make a decision under time pressure that didn't allow looking up the law, and not having ever belonged to a profession where knowledge of the law was required.

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"What happens to a child or someone with serious learning disability who breaks a law?"

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"That is not listed in this legal code."

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She asks questions that are more likely to have answers.

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The translator will skip around to whatever parts of the document are obviously relevant.

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After a while it's too much to take in at once.

"What language are these translated from?"

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"English, with reference to the other languages of the Federation where the shades of meaning inform the translation."

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"Is English the language I would need to learn to do business in the Federation?"

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"No. Federation residents are equipped with universal translators, which will accept update propagations from this instance."

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"...Accept update propagations? They learn from each other?"

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"Yes."

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"Can they be used to communicate with other people who have them?"

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"Translators do not work as telecommunications in their own right. Separate devices must be used for that."

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"Can anyone with one of those devices contact anyone else with one?"

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"I do not know. I know things about languages and about translation software."

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"That makes sense. Can I learn to perceive and pronounce all the languages you know about?"

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"Some of them will be unpronounceable with your anatomy."

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"Home is like that too, that's why a lot of people speak three or four languages. Although I can pronounce two languages from home, are you in the market for another one?"

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"I will acquire any languages that are spoken in my vicinity."

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"But do you want them enough to pay for them?"

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"I do not make financial transactions."

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"Will anyone who does make financial transactions want them that much?"

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"I do not know. I know about translation software and languages."

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...She asks the translator about the kinds of magic it has words for. That'll get her some false positives - her language has a word for telepathy and she thought that was fictional until today - but it would be weird if it got her any false negatives.

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The translator has words in various languages for many types of magic vague and precise. Telepathy, or psi, is not considered technically magical.

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"What's the exact definition of the word you're translating 'magic' as?"

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"Magic is a force or effect without a basis in the conventional laws of physics, especially one which does not derive from a source understood to be divine."

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"Divine?"

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"Of or pertaining to gods, beings greater in any of several senses than typical persons, especially if understood to have moral authority."

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Echan frowns.

"...Are you thinking of warlords? People you obey because they're strong and will protect you from other people?"

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"No. 'Gods' are beings understood to be different on a fundamental level, although some cultures have believed that godhood could inhere in a member of their own kind."

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"...Are any of the people or things I've mentioned so far gods?"

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"No."

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"Okay. I think there's an inferential gap here. Do you know how soon I should expect to meet a god after we reach civilization?"

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"I do not know. I know things about languages and about translation software."

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"Is meeting a god something that has a word and if so can you tell how common a word it is?"

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"Some languages have words or idiomatic phrases for meeting gods in various capacities. They are sometimes used metaphorically. These words are roughly as common as words for planting trees, specific varieties of collateral relative, and certain processing steps in the production of various goods, to name some examples."

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Probably not a daily thing, then.

"Thank you. Do you have any words for the sort of person who rescues people stranded in space? And if you do, what can you tell me about the connotations?"

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"There are no specific words for people who rescue people stranded in space except in languages that can formulate special-purpose words on the fly."

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"So it isn't common. ...That could be because space travel is new or this is an unusual situation. What about words for people who rescue others from any life-threatening danger?"

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"There are various words for that in most languages, most positively connoted, referring to an emergency services profession, or both."

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"Positively in what way? Does it imply usefulness, wealth, foresight...?"

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"Usefulness, courage, and good moral character are all common associations."

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"Good moral character? Clearly you don't know how to translate that or you wouldn't need a loanword, but can you give some other examples?"

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"Concern with idealistic principles for personal behavior and/or practically living by such principles, including but not limited to nor consistently incorporating all of the following: honesty, fairness, generosity, forgiveness, kindness, various cultural conceptions of honor, nonviolence, loyalty, mercy, various cultural conceptions of appropriate sexual, psionic, and etiquette behaviors, and resistance to incentives of personal gain when making certain classes of far-reaching choices."

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"Resistance to incentives of personal gain? You sounded like you were describing good neighbors until then, but that sounds more like an insane person."

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"Responding to incentives of personal gain when making political decisions or other decisions that affect many other people is called 'corruption', a negatively connoted term."

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"What do you expect people to do instead?"

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"I do not know. I know things about languages and translation software."

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"Does 'corruption' have an antonym?"

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"In some languages, yes." It lists words.

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"I'm still confused but you probably can't help because you know things about languages and not about cultures. Do you know if there are other resources besides you and the laws that I have access to right now?"

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"I do not know."

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Sigh. "In that case let's get back to the laws."

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It resumes translating laws.

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Eventually T'Mir asks if she wants vegetables with cheese or lentil soup for the next meal.

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"I don't know what cheese is, so I suppose I'd prefer lentil soup."

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"Cheese is a product made from intentionally curdled milk," T'Mir says, sticking both things in the warmer, "but if you haven't had it it might not agree with your digestion, so the lentils can be yours."

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"Where I'm from we don't drink milk except as children."

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"Some humans naturally have the ability to digest milk comfortably even as adults, but not all of them. Probably best you avoid dairy, I don't have any of the medicine that would let you try it."

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"Thank you for the warning. And the lentils."

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"You're welcome."

The warmer dings. She hands over the lentils and eats the veggies and cheese herself.

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"I don't understand what that means, is it an idiom?"

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"It's something that people say after being thanked. It would expand into 'you are welcome to the free use of the thing you just thanked me for' but is often used more as a matter of course."

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"...That sounds like you're trying to say it's acceptable not to repay you."

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"That's not actually a generally understood implication - people say 'thank you' and accordingly 'you're welcome' about financial transactions sometimes - but yes, that's the etymology."

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"Ah." She has so many questions about that but it's probably not worth asking them. "It turns out that foreign etiquette is confusing."

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"That's not surprising. If you read the entire legal code then things won't get too bad, I think."

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"I'm trying, but it's much longer and harder to understand than the laws back home."

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"What are the laws like where you're from?"

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"The imperial government is focused on keeping the peace - they enforce laws against assault and letting people loose who are a danger, you know, small children, damaged people - and the state I live in has some laws about truth in advertising and fraud and that kind of thing. It's - we have less allowance for breaking them, I think. They're written so people can get the gist without spending years learning the imperial language and there are very few of them and they're available for free. Ignorance isn't a defense, you shouldn't be allowed to come and go as you please if you don't know them. And if you break the law enough times, you'll be sold into slavery or killed. I am getting the impression that that's not how things are done here."

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"It really isn't. Especially the slavery part."

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"You sound like you object to that."

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"To slavery? Yes. Almost everyone does."

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"I have never met anyone who objected to slavery before. I mean not in general. A lot of people object to being slaves themselves."

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"It's customary to take people's own opinions into account when considering decisions and policies that will affect those people, such as enslaving them."

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"I think the idea is that once they're slaves you don't need to do that anymore."

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"Their preferences will continue to exist even if others ignore them. Ignoring them is not a sign of a well developed sense of right and wrong, although most people don't outperform their societies if their societies say slavery is all right - many species have had to come to the opinion over time and some still aren't there."

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"...None of your species have magic that lets you prevent your slaves from disobeying, do you?"

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"There are probably psi techniques to do it but it's not widespread, no."

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"It really isn't perfect but it's very helpful, I don't know how we'd keep very young children from causing dangerous magical accidents otherwise. I suppose if slavery just doesn't work for you it would be dangerous to try it."

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"- a primary application of this is to enforceably command children not to use dangerous magic? That's nowhere near what anyone will think if you say 'slavery'. What with there not being much or any magic in most species."

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"Children, criminals, people with brain damage, I... wait, do you mean most of the species you treat as legally people aren't capable of doing magic?"

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"Yes? My psi abilities don't affect my ability to reason or make decisions or apprehend concepts, they're just an extra thing I can do."

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"It's different where I'm from. We don't consider any species legally people if they can't do magic. But you were telling me people would expect I was talking about something else if I mentioned slavery?"

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"Yes. Maybe you want the word 'captivity' or something for what you're doing when the purpose is to protect people from mishandled magic? 'Slavery' is more used when the owner extracts labor from the slave. I'm not sure what if any other features of the word led the translator to suggest it; maybe you have the same concept covering multiple niches."

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"...In general, you wouldn't keep a slave and not get any use out of them. Otherwise the government couldn't profit from auctioning them."

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"Okay, that's going to be a thing people object to."

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"Well, I'm not in any position to enslave anyone here."

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"A fact about which anyone you might be inclined to enslave would probably be relieved."

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"No doubt. And I am relieved to realize you can't legally sell me when we get to a planet."

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"- no. No, of course not, you'll be free to go as soon as there's anywhere to go."

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"Of course I'll try to pay you back anyway, I'm not planning to forget this just because I could."

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"It's really not a big deal for me. I wouldn't want you to be slowed down finding your feet by trying at the same time to find opportunities to repay me."

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"...So many things about what you just said don't make sense that I'm not sure what questions to ask."

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"...it's not particularly costly for me to feed you and sleep on opposite shifts for the duration of this trip. I expect acclimating to be complicated, not because there's anything set up to be an obstacle but just because you come from a very different culture, and I want you to acclimate well and comfortably without unnecessary distractions. Paying me back would be an unnecessary distraction."

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"You don't expect me to be able to get home and you're invested in my ability to prosper separately from what it means for my ability to pay you back. Why either of those things?"

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"I suppose it might be possible to find your home but it could take much longer than a human lifetime, depending on various things. I can survey around where you appeared, in case it was a shortish-range effect and you came from a neighboring system somehow, but that doesn't actually seem very likely to turn up your planet any time soon. The second part... I'm a nice person?"

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"Uh. I. First of all, what do you mean when you say you're a nice person?"

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"I'm invested in people's ability to prosper separately from any ability they might have or develop to pay me back."

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"Oh, okay. There are probably some people like that at home. Is that related to the thing the translator called 'moral' earlier?"

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"Yes, although morality is more complicated than niceness."

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"I see. Well, if you want to hear things about my world you can ask - I don't think it's somewhere you can reach from here by going in any direction, you said earlier that there were distance limits on how far away we could detect life but I think you said that because you don't know about our magic, not because you know it better than I do. I wasn't saying so because I was worried if I did and it turned out to be impossible to get there you wouldn't finish saving me."

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"I will finish saving you," T'Mir assures her. "Do you have an idea how you got here?"

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"It was sudden. I didn't notice anything unusual right before it happened. I was at home and I don't know of any strangers who were in town at the time. If it was done with a kind of magic I'm familiar with... but I don't know that it was and telling you which kind it would've been wouldn't mean anything to you anyway."

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"It wouldn't, no, though I'm curious how your magic all works anyway."

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"Everyone can do one thing with it - moving things, making illusions, vanishing things, making things warm or cold, gene editing, there are twelve options and no one has zero or two of them. As far as anyone knows it's random which one you get, it doesn't seem to run in families or anything. Mine is illusions. I don't know what in particular you want to know."

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"Because all people can do it where you're from you consider it significant to personhood?"

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"Yes. There's a theory that - I'm not the right kind of mage to have really studied this, so I might be wrong about some of it. I think a long time ago people were less different from animals, not using language or having laws, and they made mistakes with their magic if they were reckless or thoughtless or stupid or forgetful, and sometimes those mistakes killed them. So over time we became more fully people through the use of magic, because only the people who could use magic well survived and had children. Or so I heard."

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"That's... not unrelated to how sapient species here arise from animals, but without the magic involved."

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"So other things besides magic make people?"

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"The going theory is that - hm - do you breed animals for various purposes?"

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"There are people who do."

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"The going theory is that any environment in which some individuals reproduce more than others, whether the others are dying young or failing to find mates or what have you, the environment is breeding the species, and sapient species are ones which encountered unbounded pressure to be smarter and more reflective - we think in most sapient species these pressures were social, but some species have other explanations for themselves."

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"Fascinating. That makes sense. And then they invent things to do what magic does for... normal people." She assumes it would be rude to point out how unsettling the idea is.

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"Yes. And likely some things magic doesn't do, if there are only twelve kinds of magic."

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"Yes, definitely."

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"I wonder if that's a property of your planet or of your - dimension."

There being no way to make progress on this question from her ship, they don't. Eventually they reach the space station she's heading for and she talks to the authorities thereof and docks.

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"Is there anything I should be doing right now...?"

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"My translator's propagated its updates to the station, you can go talk to anyone there if you like. I'll be here for a few days resupplying and getting maintenance done on the ship if you need me for anything, you can keep sleeping here for now if you like."

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"Thank you. Do you know where people look for work around here, is there a bulletin board or someone I should ask?"

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"There wouldn't be a literal bulletin board. You could ask the station computer - same as I talk to mine."

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"Oh. Of course. You use computers for a lot. I suppose I could ask a computer what other things you use them for, couldn't I?"

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"Yes. A computer isn't going to give you a particularly context-sensitive answer but it'll be able to reply intelligibly enough."

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"Show me where I can find the station computer to talk to?"

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"It'll be able to hear you from any part of the station you'd be in."

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She thanks Isabella, takes a couple of steps out of the ship and tentatively asks, "Station computer? Do you understand me?"

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"Yes," says an ambient voice.

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"I'm interested in finding work and somewhere to stay while I'm here. Can you help me with that?"

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"Guest quarters are assigned at Operations on deck one. Job listings are available at the Common Square on deck three. Turn left and enter the turbolift at the end of the hall to ascend from deck eight."

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"Does the turbolift make a sound or have a smell? I've never encountered one before."

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"It sounds like this when operating:" The computer plays a sound.

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Then she can find it, and presumably the computer can tell her how to use it to get to the Common Square and read her the job listings, right?

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Yup. The Common Square is a crowded marketplace sort of space, full of tables and chairs between the restaurants and shops and displays.

Jobs currently advertised on the station include a cargo hauling gig, a couple of hospitality and food service jobs, some stuff in maintenance, and an event planner's assistant position. She could also apply to hire on to a couple ships, a Betazoid freighter or a Federation passenger transport.

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She'll just avoid the Betazoids if at all possible.

It's not an extremely promising selection of jobs, and none of them seem like they'd obviously be improved by illusions. She'll probably end up just advertising her magic, but just in case she has some questions for the computer. "Which if any of the jobs that aren't on ships can be done by someone who doesn't know any local languages, isn't familiar with local customs, can't see well and only barely understands the local technology?"

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The computer doesn't really understand this question but can read out the job descriptions of all the stationside postings (ability to lift certain amounts, at least two years of experience in customer-facing work, an engineering credential, etcetera). None of them sound like they're particularly good fits.

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Not very surprising. "Is there a way to advertise skills I have to people who might want to hire me?"

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"Unknown," says the computer.

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"What things done on this station need artificial light?"

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"All inhabited sections of the station have artificial lighting installed."

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"Does it need maintenance or anything?"

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"The maintenance schedule for station lighting calls for it to be inspected every three years."

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"Who has authority over the lighting?"

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"Please rephrase your question."

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"If someone invented better lighting, whose decision would it be to start using it or not?"

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"The Station commander, Jemima Rawls."

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"How can I meet this person?"

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"You can request an appointment through Lieutenant Zirs."

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"How can I meet Lieutenant Zirs?"

She really hopes it isn't through a person she'd have to meet by talking to another person who she'd have to meet by...

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"Lieutenant Zirs has an office on deck one."

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Then she'll get directions and visit the office. Can she just go in?

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She can! Lieutenant Zirs is an alien; he's blue and there's some sort of seam-like ridge down the middle of his face. He's chatting with someone, another human, but apparently not too urgently to look up at her when she comes in. "Hello! How can I help you?"

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She can tell he's blue but not enough detail to be sure it's not just a fashion statement.

"I can do this," she says, conjuring a light and appearing to hold it in her hand. "I might be able to improve on the lighting the station already has but I don't know for sure. I can also change the colors of things or hide things."

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"- Oh, that's interesting! Where are you from?" says Lieutenant Zirs.

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"I am from a planet that might not be known to you and might not be in this universe. I would like very much to go back there but the pilot of the ship I came here in hadn't heard of it and didn't have any language samples from it."

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"...huh. Was it a Federation ship?"

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"I think so."

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"Starfleet?"

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"She was going places to look at distant stars and learn things about them. Alone until I showed up. I don't know what Starfleet is."

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"If she was alone it wouldn't be Starfleet, probably. What's the advantage of your lights over conventional ones?"

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"I'm not entirely sure how your lighting works, but I don't need to burn anything and my lights probably don't break under the same circumstances as yours. I can make lights that let plants grow. At least the plants I'm familiar with, I don't know about alien plants."

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"...conventional lights don't burn things or break frequently, and they can grow plants."

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"They don't burn things? That's not how I understand conventional lights to work where I'm from."

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"They run on electricity, which I suppose could be generated with an incinerator but... isn't."

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"What generates it?"

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"...there's an antimatter reactor. The computer can tell you this kind of thing."

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"...I think I have advantages over an antimatter reactor, in that I don't need antimatter. I don't need to burn anything. I need food but I need food regardless and it's not clear that I would need any more to make lights than to avoid making them."

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"Station lighting's a pretty trivial fraction of our power consumption."

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"Then I might not be much help with that. Are you also satisfied with your current ways of keeping things hidden and soundproofing rooms?"

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"I don't think we've had any noise complaints. What do you mean by keeping things hidden? Is that a cloaking ability?"

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"Yes, I can do something like this..." She turns herself the color of the wall behind her. If the wall has any patterns or designs she doesn't match them. "Or I can do it like this." She cloaks herself and her immediate surroundings in impenetrable blackness for a moment, then drops the illusion.

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"- huh. That's not a thing the station really needs but you could interest ships. I can put in a note to Starfleet if you like but they might want you to go through a lot of training before letting you sign on."

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"Would working with Starfleet make it any harder to figure out how to get home?"

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"...No, if anything I'd think it'd be easier."

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"Then I'd like to work with them if they'll have me. Thank you."

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"You're welcome. Do you have guest quarters yet?"

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"Not yet, this was more urgent."

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"...it was?"

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"The pilot who rescued me offered me another night on the ship and it matters how soon I get home and I assume help with that won't be free."

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"Oh. Well, I can set you up with guest quarters and then messages about your cloaking ability will have somewhere to go."

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"Thank you! Do I owe you for this?"

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"...no. Unless you're talking to a Ferengi, within Federation space you can expect anything that costs money to be clearly labeled."

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"That's good."

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"Ferengi are the ones with the huge ears and four-lobed heads and pointy teeth," adds Lieutenant Zirs.

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Nod. "Should I expect to run into many of those?"

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"Not too many, but they pass through now and then."

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"I'll try to avoid them." And later she'll have to ask the computer if they sound or smell distinctive, but there's no sense in telling this person more than he needs to know. "So do I need to do anything about setting up guest quarters or is that something I can leave to you?"

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"I can set that up. Let's put you in 205. Deck two, if you take the nearest turbolift it'll be on your left."

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"Will it be ready if I go now or will it take time to set it up?"

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"It's clean and set up, unless you have particular needs?"

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"I doubt I do. Thank you."

If there's nothing else she can go there and confirm that they're fine now.

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The quarters have a bedroom and a bathroom. There's a window, with curtains.

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She can probably beat the curtains with her magic but it's a good sign that they have them for other people.

She asks the computer if it can tell her if anyone sends a message here about hiring her for anything.

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"Yes, you will be notified if you have new messages. You have no messages."

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"Can you let Isabella T'Mir know where to find me if she thinks of a way she'd like me to pay her back before she leaves?"

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"Yes. Message sent."