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Generated: Jul 25, 2022 8:26 PM
Post last updated: Jul 25, 2022 8:25 PM
Seeking out new worlds
A dragon explores space, finds Amenta.
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The secrets of Delver technology could not resist decryption forever. While the tools they wielded are deeply weird, jealously guarded, and immensely complicated, living beings built the tools that brought aliens to the dragons' first world. The great calamity left ruins aplenty behind, and once grown the Seeker gathered these old tools as their very favorite sort of treasure. Dragons are not intelligent in quite the same way as a No-Tail, but they are far from stupid. They live forever and can be very determined if they set their mind to it.

The Seeker brought all its tools and treasure along with it when the world was evacuated ahead of the Tailless's relentless growth and hunger for resources. It studied under the great elder Darktooth on the new world, studied together with Darktooth (an arrangement not very common with dragons, as they are not particularly social), for a very long time. And eventually, by application of the hard claws of experiment and calculation and theorizing, the universe revealed its workings, cold and precise and mathematical. Creating more and more tools of the highest sophistication, and teaching others of its kind in exchange for wealth, and even spawning offspring and guiding them to adulthood, was all satisfying for a long while, but eventually... He got bored.

And so, the Seeker wondered if the long sleep for the journey between stars was really necessary, and got to work seeing about making it not. He managed it eventually, and built a starship, and went exploring. Stars come in a beautiful variety of kinds, and the worlds around them do too, but very, very few bear any sign of life. They are mostly barren and empty.

...Oh, this one is emitting curious amounts of low-frequency light. Worth investigating. Pushing a starship faster than light requires a touch of magic (at least for now), which he provides.

In the outer solar system of a certain star, well above the plane of the ecliptic, a black sphere the size of a city block appears and has a look around with powerful telescopes.

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It takes four minutes for the planet and the nearest moon to start screaming at it.

Well, if screaming is the word you want to use for radio.

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They have some very keen eyes down there. The low-frequency light is probably communicative, or there'd be no patterns in it and there would be less reason to scream it into the void like so.

...He was hoping to have more than a little bit of time to look around. He knows nothing about whatever lives down there except some things that can be assumed from distant low-resolution images of the surface, namely that there are probably a lot of them.

Now the starship is over there, behind the gas giant, so he can have some time to see if any of that noise was particularly easy to understand.

After half an hour, it leaps back in the same spot as before and beams back the sequences of numbers that was about the only thing he could understand with his RADAR, with some minor variations. Prime numbers, various interesting sequences, addition and subtraction and multiplication and division.

There are dozens of different transmissions doing different things. Where's the one that went with simple numbers? Probably a better place to start understanding than anywhere else.

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The simple numbers came from over there!

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And now it's just out past the further moon. Wow, there sure are an awful lot of them. The whole planet reminds him of some kind of busy anthill.

And now it's descending through the atmosphere towards the island that was sending him primes, emitting '6827' over its RADAR.

And now it's landing slowly, slowly, in the ocean a few dozen miles offshore of a little island. (They live on land; Their power will be more dilute out here. And he likes oceans.) The ship is not quite featureless from up close, slightly oblong and with a few dozen circular ports dotted around it.

He'd like to stretch his wings over an alien sky. That sounds satisfying. So he has a quick flight around for about five minutes before landing on top of his ship and waiting for this busy, busy hive to turn its attention to him.

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It takes another fifteen minutes for a group of boats to approach. They slow down as they get closer.

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...They're tailless. He can see one on the deck of that boat, grey-haired.

They might not be the same ones that cheerfully overran all of nature and forced the dragons off their ancestral homeland, but the similarities are rather striking.

He growls when he realizes this, showing teeth, then retreats inside his ship and sends a blue-white glowing thing out in his stead. It flies towards the closest boat.

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The boats halt. The crew of all the boats all hold very still, waiting for the blue-white glowing thing to do whatever it's going to do.

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It lands in the ocean next to the boat, teeth hidden and limbs held close, floating like it weighs almost nothing, and then very deliberately opens its mouth and makes an almost-purring sort of sound followed by a click, and tilts its head.

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Someone on the boat scrambles with a device and plays the sound back.

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Yes, yes, purr-click. It nods at the person with the device. Purr?

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They also repeat the purr. And say, "Hello."

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"Hello."

...Aha. He sees one of the patterns in the dense buzzing echoing through the air, now.

The projection closes its eyes looking thoughtful for a minute, then plays ten seconds of the clearest unencrypted voice signal radio channel it can hear from here, and tilts its head inquiringly at them again.

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They chatter at each other excitedly: "Is that Bring Home My Beloved -" "Yeah, it's the hook from - maybe it's picking up radio -"

Someone repeats the snippet of song. By singing, not by finding it on the air.

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He has the projection let out a happy trill. Music! It's very weird music, but it is recognizably music.

He sings a short phrase from the middle of the snippet, then makes another new sound. This one is something like 'klirrk'.

Then it asks, "It's, is?"

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Everybody looks at one of the green haired people. Somebody elbows her. "Is," she repeats. "It's. It is."

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Perhaps she is the wisest one here. He runs the feathers on top of the projection's head vibrant green in mimicry. Learning a sound-only language is going to be difficult. Interestingly difficult? Yet to be seen.

"Is that, is'hat? That is, that's? It's the, it's'he? Hook from, hook'rom?" He plays another few seconds from the same radio station. "Klirrk?"

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Some people in the other boats are taking pictures; they take another burst when the feathers change. "You sang the hook from a song," says the green. "He sang the hook from the song too." She points at the green who sang it.

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Pointing strange devices is not very reassuring, but this is a projection. If those turn out to be weapons, he is safe.

"'Is'. You is-" claw-gesture at feathers. "He is-" pointing at a sailor, the feathers run grey. Pointing at the ocean they turn pale blue, "It is?"

He repeats the hook again, and then a whole verse - "It's klirrk!"

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"I am green, he is grey, the ocean is blue."

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The feathers cycle through the rainbow to collect all the color words! Perhaps the no-tails have a way to tell that when they go to a slightly dimmer white they're emitting lot of infrared.

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Nope, they just repeat "white".

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Useful information.

He tries to collect words for 'good' and 'bad' by repeating his happy trill and fluffing up the feathers and giving off a hiss that shows teeth in turns.

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This takes them a little while longer to be confident in, but eventually he gets words for those.

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He solicits a bunch of nouns via pointing, like various boat things and the shiny devices everyone has.

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They will happily name nouns!

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Pocket everythings are good! And they're using radio in complicated ways. Radio seems like one of the cornerstones of local power.

The alien shows lots of curiosity about them. "Pocket everything is radio? Pocket everything is - one two three four five, one one is two, two two is four - is that?"

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"Pocket everythings do have radio. And they can do math. I will you show you a pocket everything doing math." She pulls up her calculator and shows him as she uses it: "One plus one is two. Two plus two is four. Two times two is four. Two times three is six."

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He knows math, the math he can run through very quickly, all the way up to calculus just to confirm vocabulary. "What else does it do?"

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It will also play music from the radio!

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"Good! People are-" gesture for pointing it at her. "Pocket everything have eyes?"

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"Pocket everythings can make pictures!" She can show him one of the pictures somebody's taken of him.

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He copied somebody else's design from long ago to make a beautiful and relatively harmless-looking version of a dragon for his projection, so he has no particular reaction to the picture.

"I have math things. They only do one thing... Pocket everything is-" Some word. (This word defies easy explanation. It's related to 'good', but also its own special category of some sort.)

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"Pocket is -" She indicates her pocket. "Everything is -" She lists all the nouns they've covered and a few more besides with big expansive gestures.

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Nod.

Talking like this is beginning to feel stifling. Using only one and a half senses to communicate (they have thoroughly mediocre noses and can't even smell metal except from very close, and body language only serves to communicate vague intent and mood) is a bit frustrating. He can't think in their babble of sounds, even though he's recording them all. You have to use whatever sounds are ruled to be the truth, with no affordance for arranging them prettily. And the short connecting sounds that draw ideas together are really annoying to keep track of.

The pauses between responses have been getting longer and longer.

"I want a thing. I know what you say. I hear and see, I make song, I remember, I math, I happy or sad... What is word for all these together?"

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"Thinking?" suggests the language-teaching green.

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"Now, I am thinking. I know many words. I go and think so I remember later. I listen, radio."

Without waiting for a response, the shining projection wings into the air and returns to the great black alien starship sitting in the ocean.

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...Okay!

Some of the people transfer between boats; some of the boats leave. Another, slower boat arrives with more people.

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After a few hours running through vocabulary and a nap, a dragon uses his instruments to see if any boats are under the water. He can imagine building such a thing, so it's worth checking before he goes into the water.

It'd surprise him if they have non-metal boats, so metal is what he checks for.

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There exist metal boats under the water - some wrecks, some active vessel - but none very close by.

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So he can nip out and kill something and bring it back for analysis to see if there's any nasty pathogens or weird proteins, and then eat it when it turns out that there aren't any he needs to be worried about. The whole point of new worlds is to experience new things, after all!

Does any of the dense, chaotic radio noise seem to be directed at him at this time?

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Not yet.

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The tailless are probably best left alone until they try to contact him. Let them invite him back out when they're ready - he'll seem less threatening if he waits, so it's only polite. He listens to music and other broadcasts, trying to make sense of the babble, keeping watch for anything that seems directed at him. A thousand glimpses of distant stories.

...Oh, perfect. There is more than one kind of speech. He's not going to try and learn a second one today.

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They do eventually try directing a radio signal at him which says "Will you come back out to talk soon?"

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I will. You were quiet, so I waited. You ask now, so I come.

This time, he doesn't send the projection out - he goes topside himself, a giant being somewhere between the size of a house and a train car - though closer to the latter.

He looks around at the disposition of ships through cameras before heading up, so he can seem aloof and graceful and go directly to wherever they seem to be expecting him.

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The ships are a polite distance from his own, about where they were before. The language green says, "We weren't sure why - your friend? - left, so we weren't sure how long you wanted to be away."

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He holds up a silver rod and makes it speak. "That was me. That was a tool. I was not wanting to be here with no scales between me and you. Talking this way is difficult. Now, I want to do a thinking thing to someone so it is less difficult. I must be here to do it, the tool can't. The thing might be scary, so I ask before. Probably will not hurt much."

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"A thinking thing? Can you say more about that?" says the green cautiously.

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Long pause as he composes an explanation.

"My species has a sense you do not. We think of it like singing to the world on a level that is not sound. We can project this sense to other people and it is the most natural way to speak. Species without this sense can usually still 'hear' it and compose responses. I have never observed the song to harm a being long term."

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"I'll try it," says a person with blue hair.

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The dragon slowly nods and sends out mental feelers towards this blue-haired person.

There are thoughts brushing gently over their mind, coming with faint sensory and emotion impressions attached. Guarded curiosity and deep darkness and the feeling of slaked thirst-

I am here and you are here and I wish to see if we can speak in this way for the words -babble, static, screeching- I do not think that way hello.

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Hello. This might be difficult for me, please excuse any misunderstandings.

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It is difficult but I can understand you. It is good to talk properly - satisfaction, relief - I come here from curiosity and you are frightening you remind me of another species - image of a bearded human man in bronze armor, inextricably coupled with a stink and with anxiety - there were two great wars long ago we left our home planet to seek peace and found it and now I fear bringing war to the Kin again.

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The blue murmurs aloud to the rest of their party. We don't want to start a war. We want peaceful contact with other peoples.

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Some -rare, precious, a friend, mourning- humans wanted peaceful contact. Most did not care to leave our land to us when they could kill us and remove all that was natural and good and live there instead.

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Our people are called Amentans and most of us are agreed on wanting to befriend alien societies.

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I would be glad to be reassured after learning more about you. The pain of the Fleeing runs deep. Right now we know very little about each other. I do not know where to begin explaining.

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What brings you to Amenta?

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I was curious. And I had invented my light-bridge, so I decided some of the Treasure of other stars ought to be mine.

'Treasure' is a weighty and complicated concept, which he tries to express in a sensible way but doesn't really come through in words. Rarity and effort and beauty and worthiness - secrets and achievements and gold and cunning devices. Pocket everythings are Treasure of a sort even though there are many, which makes them a bit less desirable - they are cunning and fascinating and he wants one.

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We'd be happy to bring you your own pocket everything.

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I will enjoy investigating it. What do you wish to trade for it?

Because of course they will want something for it, even if 'something' is 'a favor later'.

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It's a gesture of goodwill, to establish that we're eager to be on friendly terms.

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He is confused. The idea of gifts just... Doesn't make any sense.

Eventually he settles on, So, the price of a pocket everything is listening to you with more consideration for alternate viewpoints than I otherwise would have?

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I suppose you could construe it that way. Is it typical to make all occasions when things change hands explicitly transactional like that?

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When any thing is given, there is always a reason for it. Especially when the thing is Treasure. But it is not Treasure to you, it is as special as a stone, so the cost is small. Wanting me to listen to you and believe you, for actions match words, is a reason that makes sense now that I think about it in those terms.

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All right. Someone will be along with a pocket everything for you soon!

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Slow nod.

My people are called the Draak. We name ourselves for what we like about ourselves and having others accept your name because you have shown them you are worthy of it is a matter of great pride. I am Seeker of New Truths, the Claw that Finds Secrets, Voyager of the Black Sea, Eye that Sees All, Silent Watcher of the Hidden Depths, Scholar of the Ocean, Wise Herald of the Hidden World.

This long and grandiose title comes with strong emotions of pride and curiosity.

'Seeker' will do, in the interest of brevity.

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(The blue's still murmuring to everybody else, and they're taking frantic notes.) It's a pleasure to meet you. Our first names are given to us by our parents, often as much for sound as meaning, and our second names represent what is important to us about our jobs. I'm Kasa Amseli. Amseli means "greeting".

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It must be so confining to have to make sounds to communicate. (He sends pity, then deliberately negates it.) Or perhaps not, since it is in your nature. Sounds can be pleasing - names are sometimes chosen for being a pleasing sound? I like that. It's musical.

I would like to hear what 'Amseli' means to you, if you will tell me.

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I'm trained as a diplomat, and one of the elements of diplomacy I find most compelling is the first exchange of words, with very little content but enormous import, where people acknowledge each other. Greetings.

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(Amusement, admiration) Greetings. I do not fully understand what a diplomat is but there is wisdom in that.

 

There are very few Draak compared to Amentans unless most of your hives/cities are empty.

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No, they're very full. There are about thirteen billion Amentans.

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So very many. The number of Draak... The mental comparisons to busy bees, anthills, and other social insects aren't really deliberate, but his thoughts wander and he sends them idly while he makes an estimate. Perhaps fifty thousand, perhaps less.

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Why so few?

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Many possible reasons. The Fleeing brought only myself and 478 others to a new home. Our numbers were much diminished by the first war even before we left behind our kin who chose to fight the second. We like to keep large territories in close to their natural state and hunt sustainably for food. The time of mating comes infrequently, and many hatchlings are not strong and clever enough to survive their first few years.

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What happens to your hatchlings?

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We teach them for a short time while they are not yet hatched, and leave them a territory to explore and grow in. If they are strong and clever they thrive. If they are not sufficiently worthy, they die. Some Draak will give further advice or save their hatchlings from dangers that could not possibly have been avoided, but others consider that wrong and believe luck and fate has to do with worthiness as well. I disagree. Idiots. What is learned or tested by being crushed by a force beyond your comprehension? Nothing.

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That does explain why you'd have grown slowly from a seed population of a few hundred. We rear our children until they're adults, and usually continue to render assistance if needed later on too.

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Both our ways have produced a species with power and intelligence. Many Draak think that if only the smartest and strongest children survive, Draak as a whole will slowly grow stronger due to small changes in our genetics as some die and children slowly replace us. Some follow a new way like yours, a path of compassion, cooperation, and care. Perhaps they will be stronger and in time all Draak will feel greater compassion to their children.

I have tried both paths - children left in their own territory except for occasional advice, and children guarded and guided each day of their lives. I cannot feel what the followers of compassion feel. I feel pride that my children are wise and strong and satisfaction to spread my good traits to the world so that if I die there will be echoes of me - but no love like less intelligent animals so often feel for their babies.

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We care about our species growing stronger, but achieve it by arranging that the best of us are the ones who have more children at all, not by raising those children without love.

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Interesting. How are worthy ones chosen? How is it enforced? It must be, somehow. Some would decide they wish to have children anyway and then all others would see no reason to obey.

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Both of those vary depending on country.

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The concept of 'country' is difficult to understand. 

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You mentioned your people had fled from a war and implied others had stayed behind, correct? Since we cannot leave our planet, events like that can sometimes lead to groups of people living separately and arranging collective things for their own group, even though we're all on the same world.

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Yes. Some followed Darktooth and fled, most followed Many Times Burned and fought and died. A few followed Great Mother and killed themselves. I do not understand what they could have been hoping to accomplish.

Country is... Collective rules and systems?

The comparisons to beehives are coming out again. Queen, gatherer, warrior, carer. 

A hive of complex minds instead of simple ones?

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A country is an organization, and I suppose our castes have resemblance to the kinds of specializations you're imagining in eusocial animals too.

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I am failing to understand. Each thought reveals new complications. It is fascinating, but tiring. While this is easier than words your mind is strange to me. Frustration.

He draws back the thought contact.

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The blue sits down abruptly and continues relaying what was said to her companions, doing her best to answer their clarifying questions.

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Compassion, they thrive on considering others far more than he does. And they are clearly powerful in some ways, so being friendly is a good idea. So what would a considerate and selfless dragon do here?

He splashes around in the ocean a bit, then comes back and pokes the silver rod some more. "I'm sorry. I did not realize extended song would probably be tiring. I should have taken a break sooner. Are you in pain?"

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"I'm all right," says Amseli. "Thank you very much for speaking to me."

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"Good."

Pause.

"I just decided I want two pocket everythings for if I can't put the first one back together after studying it. If that is not hard."

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"It's not, though the first's already on its way and the second will need a separate trip."

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"Not bad. I want to swim for some time now. Will this be bad?"

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"Not at all. Can you tell us when to expect you to want to talk more?"

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"Not more than six hours. Most likely one or two."

 

"It seemed polite to wait for you to ask to speak to me again because this is not my land."

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"There are a lot of us. If any of us have conflicting obligations, we can be rotated out. The scarce resource here is your time," says Amseli.

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"There are very a lot of you yes. I will be back in one hour."

He starts to move to dive, but pauses.

 

"This is not my ocean. It's rude to hunt without permission I have already done that once. I apologize and I want to respect having of land. May I hunt again?"

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"- what animals is it that you want to hunt?"

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"I was foolish to hunt once without knowing enough about the ocean. I brought food and could have eaten it. I was excited. I can show the animal I hunted by thinking?"

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"Yes, please. Some of them are scarce, but others it won't matter even if you take a lot."

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He calls up the memory and gently shares it. It's some kind of large-bodied scavenger fish.

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She describes the fish to the people around her; one of the greys pipes up, "That's a garbage fish, there's no limit on private catch."

Amseli says, "That means it's fine to eat plenty of those."

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"I understand. Good. I want to learn about Amentan animals later. I will be back in an hour."

He swims out past the perimeter of boats a hundred meters down and dives deep after spending a few minutes hunting down another garbage fish. Down until it's pitch black and almost silent, the machinery of the boats muted by the low natural sound of the ocean. A nice, deep ocean is soothing and comforting, almost as good as flying. There's very little that air-breathers could do to him down here... Except for those underwater metal boats that aren't very near here, perhaps.

He's back after fifty minutes, seeming more relaxed if you understand Draak body language. There are so many of them that presumably someone is trying to figure it out. Moving more slowly and sinuously, feathers laid flat, tail curled. He looks at the nearest Amentan where he came up and has his silver rod say, "Hello."

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"Hello," says the nearest Amentan, one of the grey boat crew, slightly taken aback.

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He peers around, looking for any blue hair on this boat.

"I want to talk to Amseli or someone else again but I cannot tell Amentans apart well yet. Especially when swimming. There are very many Amentans here!"

(The simulated speech is very choppy, especially the last word being emphasized like that.)

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This boat doesn't have any blues. "Amseli's that one," says the grey, pointing.

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"Thank you."

Back over toward the boat that has Amseli on it he goes.

There's a gentle, gentle thought-nudge that just says Hello.

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Hello again, says Amseli.

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I'm excited to take apart a pocket everything! When will it arrive? There's a giddy excitement at the thought. Taking something apart and learning how it works is just awesome. But right now I'm sure you have many questions for me. Feel free to ask them. If I don't want to answer I will say so.

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"The first one's here now!" She reaches into a box at her side and offers it to him. "The next one will be here in a few minutes. We'd really like to know more about how you got here, but if it gets very technical probably one of the greens should be the one to receive the explanation firsthand so it doesn't suffer for my translation."

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He takes it carefully into his clawed hands, and starts inspecting it from all sides.

I would be happy to talk to anyone like this if they are willing, unless they are annoying, but the light-bridge is a very, very, very valuable secret. It is a Treasure of the greatest kind. (Burning pride, mixed with greed.) I find it difficult to imagine you can offer me something that is worth sharing it.

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What kinds of things might be worthy of the information?

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I don't know. Right now it would take something I have not imagined. When I learn more, the calculus will change. Perhaps I will be convinced Amentans will be valuable allies against other aliens. I don't know yet, I don't understand you. If it were so, the cost would be payable. We know other aliens than you exist, and they are all mysterious and powerful. You are not the only possible destruction, but one of many. That is why I am even entertaining the option of telling you instead of going home.

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Are the other aliens all hostile?

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Not universally. Not counting Amentans, of those I have contacted directly, three were confusing but benign, one was aggressive and expansionist, one might have been a rogue bioweapon but wasn't truly intelligent, and one might have been aliens or might have been a disease. I have seen evidence of at least five other kinds and suspect many more exist but have much less information about those.

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Is there not enough space to be had for expansion?

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There is... Some space. (He leaks idle frustration. He's trying to work the pocket everything but big claws are not very good for that.) Oldhome is surely a grey wasteland of city-hives by now, like your planet. Newhome had many dangerous animals on it, but none as dangerous as humans. Or us. I have not had the chance to investigate other life-bearing planets, yours is the third.

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Are there many empty lifeless planets? Some of our scientists are interested in learning to put life and air on planets that have none.

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Yes, very many. That would be a vast effort, but perhaps many workers make impossible tasks possible. If I understand castes correctly more detail should be given to someone with green hair?

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Yes, ideally someone with specific background in terraforming prospects.

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Once I understand enough about how this works - a day or two in my lab - I will be willing to share my survey data of twenty barren planets more or less similar to this one. Or more, in exchange for Treasure.

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Is that how many you have, in total, or how many the pocket everything is worth? We will be predictably more interested in some planets than others.

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I have seen more than a thousand barren planets and planned to pick ones according to whatever criteria your people asked for. For example, one had truly beautiful giant diamonds. Mining them was difficult, but worth it. But I don't think you would be interested in that one, since you seek places to expand into.

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Yes, we like diamonds but less than we like living space. One thing we need is a year length similar to this one.

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There are some. They are often very very cold.

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That's a challenge, but one we know something about how to address, while we don't know how to solve the problems caused by incorrect year lengths at all.

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My payment of information will be as you wish. What are those problems?

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We have a biological reaction to the seasons as experienced on our planet, and the state we fall into without it is unpleasant to stay in for very long.

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Interesting. Many species have reactions to the seasons. Draak often hibernate in the winter and the time of mating is in autumn when it comes, which is not every year.

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Ours is every year, in spring, and if there aren't clear signals of other seasons, we get stuck in biological spring.

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Amseli, student of greetings. Were the prime numbers your idea? They were the only thing I could make sense of at first. It was alarming to have been spotted so quickly.

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They weren't my idea; they're an old, common guess for what would be helpful to establish to aliens that we're intelligent. Other people may have been trying other things on the assumption that someone would have prime numbers covered.

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I came here because it seemed easiest to communicate with one who thought beautifully certain and concrete numbers were the first thing to send. A less wise and patient and curious kin might have fled four times by now.

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Four times?

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Once at the radio noise and having been seen quickly. Once when I saw that you have replaced much of nature with cities. Once when you physically resembled the Humans. Once when it became clear you seek more worlds.

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I'm sorry if we've been presenting ourselves alarmingly. We didn't have a way to know what kinds of postures would be inviting.

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I am still here and still talking to you. Most other Draak would probably handle this worse. We don't have diplomats. The closest I have seen to that is animals convinced to carry messages between kin using the song.

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That's interesting, you can use animals as telepathic relays?

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Not quite. We can communicate with animals and get simple ideas across. They will serve us in exchange for food or protection or other things, sometimes, and some can remember messages that they cannot understand. It is polite to either leave or send a Herald into another's territory instead of going in to find them, if they don't come meet you when you call.

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We used to use animals to carry written messages, though without the ability to communicate telepathically with the animals this involved domesticating and training them.

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He tilts his head. I would find it interesting to meet such an animal, but that is far from urgent. I would like you to try to explain countries again.

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There are still some of them around, mostly as pets and history demos. Ah, the island you're near is called Shi Alassei. It's a country, but it's in a subordinate relationship to a larger country, Tapa, which protects it and can override it on some policy matters. So in some ways they differ - for example, Shi Alassei prints official announcements in both their own language and in Tapap, but Tapa only uses Tapap. But in others they're acting as a unit - someone who attacked Shi Alassei would have to deal with the entire Tapai military, not just Shi Alassei's own, and Shi Alassei's greys enter that same military.

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Subordinating to another who is mightier and agreeing to defend each other makes sense, but Tapa is not a person. Tapa is not a hive of eusocial insects, or a mob who listens to the wisdom of en elder, or even a wolf pack... I think my confusion is on the level of - how do countries function, how do they decide what to do, what do they, in fact, do?

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...All of the people in a country - well, most countries, including Tapa - can cast votes to decide who they want to make decisions for the whole country. Then those decisionmakers make and enforce laws over the whole population, negotiate with neighboring countries, and coordinate projects for public good like train systems and healthcare and plumbing.

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That makes some amount of sense. Draak do not have countries. We do have Grand Moots where elders discuss, decide, and then sing the new law to all Draak. Going against the decision of a Grand Moot means violence against you is no longer against tradition, so those who defy the new laws usually die. They are rare, irregular, called in times of crisis or change.

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What kinds of laws have the elders made? Who counts as an elder - everyone above some age? Is anyone particularly supposed to kill Draak who violate the laws, or do most simply have enough enemies who are eager to do it as soon as it's not forbidden?

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You are an elder if you declare yourself one and pass the tests issued by the other elders. Any kin less than a century or two old would probably die in such tests unless they were extraordinarily powerful or lucky. Currently, there are four elders. I am one. The others' short titles are Darktooth the Wise, Guardian of the Great Green, and Architect of Vaults. Usually there are enough who desire your territory or treasure that defying a new law will lead to your death soon enough. Once, Darktooth, the Guardian, and I decided we must personally slay someone who was doing dangerous experiments and refused to stop. We succeeded.

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What are the tests?

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They vary. Personal combat, ordeals of endurance or skill, elaborate riddles, and intellectual challenges are all popular.

It is not so much a matter of greater age making a kin less likely to die - though that is true - but of a younger Draak with fewer achievements and treasure being seen as more impudent and having more to prove if they wish to be an elder. I would fight a young challenger who I had barely heard of with all my cunning weapons, but someone with plenty of experience I would give a complicated problem to solve and see how they handled it. To discourage those who have not proven themselves from wasting our time.

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Treasure keeps coming up, I notice.

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Treasure is the most important thing, second only to preserving your own life. Accumulating treasure is intrinsically pleasing and losing it is deeply unpleasant, especially loss through anything else than a fair challenge. If you do not feel like you have enough treasure, you feel unworthy to exist and everything else in life is less pleasant, even primal pleasures like eating or sleeping or flying or swimming.

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How much is enough?

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It varies. An adult ten years of age without a few hundred shiny trinkets and six more impressive items would feel like they did not have enough. As you grow older you get used to having more treasure than before. Losing most of my treasure would be extremely painful, but it would be tolerable if I had enough shiny things that I could not hold them all at once and could begin accumuating more. But there are many kinds of treasure, some which cannot be touched. Knowledge and secrets and technology are my most beloved treasures.

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That's interesting. Amentans are interested in material security, mostly in the form of money, and some of us like to accumulate objects, or specific kinds of them, but it's not a species-wide interest.

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Money is a concept that most Draak would be very skeptical of. I tried an experiment to get Draak to use money once, with specially prepared plant matter. The results were: If each unit of a currency corresponded to something specific and concrete they could exchange their money for, they would accept it and use it, but nobody wanted a unit of exchange that was meaningless beyond being a unit of exchange, even when led to believe that everyone else wanted it too. I was surprised by that. I was very sure our instinct as to what is treasure was affected by others' opinions, but it doesn't seem to be.

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Currency on Amenta used to be backed by concrete commodities but eventually we did make the switch to fiat, which is useful for many of the functions of markets. I'm surprised that it's so unappealing to Draak.

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I only did that experiment once. Kin are harder to experiment on than animals or things. Maybe money would appeal more generally if it was presented in a different way. It appeals to me, but mostly as a way to get other things.

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A lot of Amentans enjoy getting numerical representations of nothing at all even when it can't be used to get things - like points in games - which I don't think anyone tries to acculturate on purpose the way we deliberately got used to fiat money, so it seems likely to be a species level difference.

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There are many of those. I think we do not talk to each other as much as Amentans do. This conversation feels like it has already gone on a very long time.

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I'm happy to pause any time you'd prefer to break.

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I do not need solitude yet, but I want a new topic. Are there any greens specialized in terraforming techniques who would be willing to communicate this way?

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"Yes, we've gotten ahold of one and he's on his way."

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How long will it be?

I believe this was a shared assumption, but it is wise to state it clearly. It would be extremely irresponsible of me to teach the light-bridge without first calling a Grand Moot, and I will not do that even under threat of destruction.

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He'll be here in about ten minutes.

It wasn't obvious whether you were at liberty to share unilaterally. Are you saying you're unwilling to take steps toward sharing at all, or have I misunderstood?

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I can do what I want. But it would make me shunned and it would not be the best thing for my species to share this secret unilaterally, and I hold some loyalty to the species as a whole.

I am willing to share information that is sufficiently unlikely to invite war to Newhome. This class of information will probably expand as I learn more. I am willing to learn about your kind and discuss the concerns I have and the concerns others will have and the concerns you have, and consider and reconsider and reconsider again.

I am willing to call a Grand Moot to discuss a new way for our species, contact with aliens, sharing of technology, and the future. I think the old way must change. I am less sure how, and look forward to Darktooth's wisdom on that topic.

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We're happy to tell you about ourselves and discuss ways forward.

I wonder if Draak have invented science fiction. It's a kind of story we invent for entertainment purposes; a lot of them are about different ways we imagined aliens might be and what it could be like to meet them.

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I think we have not. Though fiction itself is familiar. I would read some if you think it is relevant. Reading does not come naturally to us, but I do like a challenge. I also want to know your history at some point. History is a predictor of the future.

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I'll ask around for recommendations if you'd like some books to read, fiction and history both.

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Good. 

He waits a moment to see if Amseli has anything else to say.

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I think that's the terraforming green arriving now.

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He still has little experience telling them apart or interpreting much of anything about how they stand or move.

Good! I hope he's smart. Please indicate him to me.

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He's the only green on the boat approaching now.

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He waits for the boat to come closer before sending, Hello, you know about terraforming?

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- yes, that's right! We haven't had a good prospect for attempting it in practice but I know about what we think would work.

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Excitement! Our kinds have studied different things. I'm being careful what I share, but it's still very exciting. I am going to share detailed survey information on twenty barren planets and part of our conversation is to help me decide which ones you would want to know about the most.

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Ideally, we need a planet with year lengths near ours - a half-season longer or as much as a season shorter would probably be good enough - and a molten core so we can use geothermal energy. It would also be convenient to have a way to locally harvest water, since we need a lot of that and it's one of the least efficient things to haul, but it's not a problem if the water is vapor or ice, as long as we can generate enough power.

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The year length is the most important thing? What about planets with extremely long days? Or no days at all? He sends an image of a tidally-locked planet, then of a gas giant moon. Or moons of gas giants that have a correct year but orbit the gas planet much faster?

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Day length is important but not to within the same factor - we're capable of seasoning properly even with lots of artificial light around or on a nocturnal schedule - but tidal locking would not work. The moon it'll depend, I'd need to have a working model of the exact astronomy involved.

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Not many planets are tidally locked but that rules out a few. I think the moon in question is not ideal in other ways.

Second most important, a molten core. Third most important, existence of water. How important is temperature, magnetic field, axial tilt, presence of oxygen, gravity? Would severe seismic or volcanic activity be prohibitive?

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The green gives ranges for all of these things!

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And the dragon eagerly talks about possible terraforming techniques with him! He hasn't studied terraforming specifically but he's good at chemistry and math, and a pretty quick study. The telepathy helps with complex ideas.

Eventually, I know which planets I will tell you about. None are very like here but several are reasonably similar!

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That's great! I'd love to hear all about them and we can start projects to figure out what to do with them if we ever get there.

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I have to get my survey computer to send valid data to the pocket everything - I can't wait to take one apart under a microscope I have single purpose computers only - and then you can have maps and sample analyses and all the rest. I can summarize them now as well?

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Will your survey data be in a format the pocket everything can read, or raw binary...?

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I can send it in raw binary as soon as I build a radio transmitter and understand the file transfer protocol. I was hoping to do something slightly more elegant, that seems ugly.

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And it'd be hard to decode! I'm glad you can improve on that. I would like the summaries too.

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Here are the summaries. The most promising are:

One with a year length that's short, just barely in the 'plausibly seasonable' range, decent geothermal potential, a thick nitrogen and carbon dioxide atmosphere, and very very salty liquid water occasionally present on the surface.

One with a year length a quarter of a season longer than Amenta's, excellent geothermal potential, with no water but a lot of ice asteroids present in the star system.

One with barely any atmosphere and no molten core, but perfectly nice ice caps and a year length almost exactly the same as Amenta's.

Of course, I have looked closely at only a tiny slice of the stars. I have journeyed off and on for only two years. There are almost certainly better candidates out there, yet to be found.

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The green's relaying all this to a yellow assistant, who takes detailed notes. These are much better than anything in our own system!

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Yes, when there are more random options something good is more likely to turn up. Even in the most boring river in the world, there are one or two pebbles pretty enough to be treasure among their million siblings.

Blue are the wise ones. Green are the clever ones. What is yellow for?

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Yellow is for conscientiousness, if that's how you're categorizing them.

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I only got here yesterday and have not received a full explanation of castes yet! I am well aware that fast simple summaries of a complicated subject are often flawed. Draak have castes of a sort, but I think it's fairly different.

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Should I be calling Amseli back into the loop?

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If she is better at explaining castes, perhaps. But first, what is your job name and what does it mean? Job names are good.

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My job name is Satkafintesh. It means a clear view of a distant place.

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I like it. I wonder if you are more like me than Amseli is? ...Thank you for speaking with me.

He turns his head and changes the target of the song.

Amseli. Hello again. Satkafintesh says you will be better at explaining castes. I have observed some of it, but I would like a more direct explanation.

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Of course! Is there any specific question you have or should I just summarize?

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He was disconcerted by me characterizing blues as the wise ones and greens as the clever ones. (Amusement) A summary from your perspective, I think.

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Well, a caste is a little like a supercategory of job. It's hereditary - my children are blue like me, for example. Blue own and manage land, handle the justice system, and represent our people in the government. Greens study and practice the arts, the humanities, and the sciences. Yellows do administrative tasks to keep systems running, a definition which lately includes software. Oranges look after other people - children, the sick, the old, the lonely. Greys protect - soldiers, police - and are also dancers and athletes, when there's nothing to fight. Purples do - everything else. Manufacture, maintenance, agriculture, service work, transport - there are a lot of purples. The things that none of us can come into tolerable contact with are sequestered into the last caste, reds, who are less sensitive to it, and they dispose of the bodies of the dead, handle wastewater when our automatic systems for it fail, and remove garbage from where people live and work.

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We have something not very much like that. Almost... Subspecies. All Draak can do all things Draak do if they have the skill and desire to.

Sapphire Caste like me are at home in the water. We can breathe in the water. Ruby Caste are at home underground. They are capable of fast tunneling. Emerald Caste are at home in forests and grasslands, the best hunters and flyers. Onyx Caste are nocturnal and secretive. Diamond Caste are extinct. Intercaste hatchlings are always a specific caste and do not have, for example, some Sapphire traits and some Emerald ones - more often the mother's than the father's.

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Those do sound more like subspecies than like castes. We account for caste matrilineally, in cases of crossings, since the traits blend but we don't have a way for someone to be legally two castes; but some countries do it patrilineally, which has more opportunity for mistakes in who the lineal parent is but in the normal case is just as predictive. But most children's parents are the same caste.

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Your caste system seems like a social construct to me. Like countries, or trading circles. Of course, that does not make it any less real. Just because you can't touch or see something doesn't make it not real.

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Yes, it's in that sense a social construct, though we've also effectively been breeding ourselves for caste-relevant aptitudes for generations.

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I am feeling philosophical right now. But perhaps you would not appreciate a long ramble on the nature of belief.

I told you I would speak of other kin's concerns. We live very different lives than you, we want very different lives than you. That much is clear even from how little we have spoken already. I do not like what you have done to your planet... But it is not mine. Many will find developing land which once held unique ecosystems to be offensive and wrong, and value generally leaving ecosystems alone very much. Some will want to protect the ecosystems that remain, or perhaps rebuild them elsewhere.

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What are the things they value about the ecosystems?

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Hmm... Preserving ecosystems exactly in place is not quite the shape of the desire, but it is similar. Ecosystems are not static, anyway.

 

How to best put it in a way a Tailless will understand?

 

We vary, of course, but - Being surrounded by thriving plants and animals creates a pleasant background environment for the sense you do not have. Diversity, the chance to be surprised or discover new things about the plants and animals. The satisfaction of being responsible for and successfully balancing something complex and many-faceted. A well kept territory is Treasure. The idea of self-sufficiency, and being able to hunt and eat as much as one wants without consuming limited resources.

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Hm. We value information about ecosystems, and the things that they can provide materially, including food as well as water and air. And some people do just enjoy existing in wilder parts of the world, of which there are still some.

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There is also... A common belief is... Draak have an appointed role in the world. We were created to be custodians, balancers, and guardians.

This lesson was sung to me long ago: 'You are a true child of Sun and Earth. Draak-Kin are the greatest beings in the world, and all other beasts bow before you, for you are the guardian of balance and order, charged with preserving all of Sun and Earth's beautiful children. Learn the ways of all the good beasts of the land and draw wisdom from them. Destroy that which should be destroyed, do not let rampant consumption or careless imbalance ruin the land. Preserve that which should be preserved, do not let any precious blood-line be extinguished without reason. Seek Treasure and greatness at every turn, but also know balance in your heart.'

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That seems similar in character to some theological philosophies we have, though not in exact content.

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I am not very theological and am perhaps explaining it poorly, but I predict you will face many objections and great anger and fear from the more theological Draak.

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Amseli makes a bit of a face but nods. It's a little tricky to wrap my head around.

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Perhaps I will think of a better way to explain in time. The other largest concern other kin will have with having anything to do with Amentans is fear. There are very, very many of you, and you are terrifyingly good at working together. You have rockets and projectile weapons and use unthinking machines as vast multipliers of your efforts. You have cities smaller than an ordinary territory holding more lives than our entire species. You are in a lot of ways, much bigger than us. Even though we have many kinds of secret weapons to make attacking us a bad idea, that is frightening.

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I can see how it would be intimidating. Draak don't work as well together?

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We do not have countries. We can work together, tirelessly, for an important goal... The evacuation ship was the work of hundreds. But it is irregular and rare.

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How do you agree on what goals are important?

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I have already explained Grand Moots, yes? 

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Yes. Are declarations that something is important binding in the same way as laws?

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There is not much precedent. Elders declaring a thing of importance is not dismissed lightly, but there are no specific consequences to ignoring a call to action except, perhaps, shame. Perhaps there should be. We keep encountering societies that set more rules with more clarity.

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If your way works to muster enough people to complete the projects for which many are needed that seems to be sufficient for you.

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...While he's thinking of countries, he could probably use more examples of how they work, how they play off each other...

What have you told other countries about me and my kind?

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I'm not in charge of filtering our information for international use, but probably less than we know, especially anything we're not sure we understand and might have to walk back later.

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He's a little surprised.

I see. I did not realize you are not necessarily informed about everything your country is doing. I would like to know.

 

I do not want all of my information about Amenta to come from only one country, or only two castes.

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Getting you representatives from more castes won't be hard, especially if you have an idea of what you're looking for from them. I'm sure we can get some other countries to send representatives soon too.

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You seem to be imagining I will stay here. For all that I chose to land in the ocean because you are land-dwellers and thus it is neutral ground away from your most precious places and your center of power, Tapa does seem to have... Claimed me. I resent the implication that I can be controlled.

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We're not going to make any attempt to hold you here. If you'd rather we not fetch diplomats to this location because you're about to move, of course we won't. I can get you a map of who claims what parts of the ocean; some of it, especially much farther away from the continent, is unclaimed altogether, though it's far enough away to introduce substantial delay in getting any personnel or objects you want from anybody.

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...I see. Good. I like Tapa. You, specifically and generally, were understandable. You appear to be handling my presence calmly - there is wisdom in that. I will think about moving to a part of the ocean that nobody claims, but will not do so immediately. Asking other countries to send people here, now, should not be done. I want to learn more first.

...And I want to return to my lab for now. Talking has become stressful.

...And I would still like to know what you have said about me to other countries. I assume you can send that information to the pocket everythings?

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The specific device doesn't receive information; software on it can retrieve information sent to accounts. If you make an e-mail account, we can send you e-mail, but since the pocket everythings were brand new, they didn't come with accounts logged in on them. We can help you with that if you like.

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'E-mail'. 'Software'. Fascinating concepts which I am only glimpsing. Good!

He lingers long enough to get the second pocket everything (to be taken apart), set up an e-mail account (which is a random string of numbers), and find Summary Bank (and be surprised that it's free.) 

Then he goes back to his ship, careful to keep the shiny new devices dry, spends a few minutes admiring the pretty decorations he brought along, and starts poking and prodding the expendable pocket everything. It turns out his ship is impenetrable to wi-fi, but he pokes his head out the top with the intact one every once in a while.

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He receives an e-mail with the contents of all the public alien-related news coming out of Tapa and a note that they can get him secondary sources on request if he wants to know more about the commentary abroad.

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Secondary sources sound interesting, please send one each from a few different countries!

And what kind of things are they saying?

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They are saying that the aliens landed near Shi Alassei, details classified to avoid people mobbing the place, and here are some pictures, and it turns out the first pictures are of some kind of robot and here are pictures of what they believe is the real thing, and there aren't very many of this kind of alien but they know of more kinds, and the alien's telepathic!, and a few factoids about what they've learned about the aliens.

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Hmm, nothing very surprising, they're not sharing all their secrets with everyone else.

He researches robots on Summary Bank to see if they're an accurate description of the projection.

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Robots are mostly conceptual; they have industrial machinery that can do repetitive tasks, but the idea of a robot that can move around in arbitrary environments is not implemented in practice because of terrorist opposition thereto, it seems.

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The projection is not a robot since he has to pay lots of attention to it to make it do anything, but he's not going to go out of his way to explain that. Doesn't seem relevant to diplomacy. And it'd be admitting a weakness.

Ah! So they're not all one eerily-cooperative hive. He notes that for later before getting distracted into a wiki-crawl that starts from a big list of job names.

How do new job names happen? There aren't enough.

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Some people have the same job name, but they can invent new ones using other words in the language. What aren't there enough for?
comes the reply.
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That was a bad phrase. I expected more because there are very many Amentans. I could say that every Draak has a unique job name.

Job names are only so interesting in the abstract, it turns out. Much of the interestingness was in how Amseli and Satkafintesh thought of their job names, the feelings called up by the question and what the choice implied about them.

The pocket everything is being trickier than he expected, which is delightful. It's definitely worth being called 'Treasure', even if there's billions of them. He gets lost in poking away slowly at the task of re-encoding survey data and ignores his emails and the radio for hours and hours, only checking them late in that evening.

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He has an email saying that they've found some good representatives from the castes he hasn't talked to much yet, and another with some more news items (some foreigners agitated that there hasn't been much news suggesting the Tapai have gotten more info out of the alien in the last few hours; opinion pieces on why prime numbers were so appealing and some descriptions of what-all else people were trying; pundits opining on the odds that this means PLANETS; coverage of the conference Tapa has decided to throw on terraforming).

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He is briefly tempted to respond somehow to the more annoying articles, then decides that they're definitely beneath his notice.

Amentans seem very impatient. Draak can easily spend multiple days on one task. I will come out to talk again in twenty minutes.

And there he is.

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They have found two purples, two oranges, a grey besides the boat greys, three yellows, and an extra green.

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The alien would like to know all their job names! And what they think of them! And what they think of the alien, and what their jobs are, and what they think of the Tapai government.

(Probably the Tapai government has found people who like the Tapai government but perhaps this question will be informative anyway.)

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The purples' job names are Skenatshua, which means "last puzzle piece" and was chosen because this purple is a mechanical engineer; and Ahumu, which is onomatopoeia for a noise the vehicles she maintains makes when they run well. The first orange is a doctor whose jobname is just Aktem, "healer", a fairly standard doctor jobname, but the second one is an education consultant who calls herself Noptan, "awakening", because she likes finding ways for school environments to wake up their students to new ideas and opportunities. The nonboat grey is a retired general whose jobname is Kanteko, which is actually a strategy board game she likes which is in turn named after the (given) name of an admiral from hundreds of years ago. The yellows are a software engineer, Amseli's assistant, and a government press correspondent, whose jobnames are respectively: Ikto meaning "sorted" and referring to sorting algorithms, Hehata meaning "invisible" and being a reference to a famous quote about how a good assistant's value is unobtrusive; and Kimahk meaning "scoop" in the journalistic sense. The extra green, a theoretical xenologer, is Itamime, after a fictional character who is an alien and studies other species (including, in said fiction, Amentans).

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Job names are pretty delightful. Noptan's is particularly delightful, and Skenatshua is very good too. He'd be grinning if he were Amentan- Instead his tail swishes back and forth excitedly in the water and the crest feathers fluff up a bit. (Exposed teeth is aggression, to them, he explains to Amseli.)

He wants to have possibly long conversations with all of these people, perhaps even several at once - Except perhaps Hehata since it seems like she might rather not? - and says as much to Amseli along with, I suppose there are fewer reds than other castes, or they are busier, or they are less needed at sea, and that is why there is not one here?

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Hehata doesn't mind! She prefers that her work be invisible; she doesn't herself need to be.

Amseli says, It's not customary to transport reds by sea; boats are confined spaces and need to conserve water for any purpose that sea water can't serve, which would make it especially hard for others to be around reds. They're also much rarer than most castes, about as rare as blues, and unlike blues their skills aren't relevant to first contact.

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They handle disgusting things for you... They are disgusting themselves? He sends polite incomprehension. Strange. But not stranger than not desiring Treasure. You are aliens. Perhaps some other time. Perhaps the projection - shiny robot(?) thing - could be used once I understand Tapap better.

Meanwhile, he has told most of the visitors he'll want to talk to them in a bit, and started barraging Ikto with questions about format encodings! His encoding for the survey images is like so, and the rest of the survey data is something like this, and turning it all into something Amentan systems can display without feeling kludgy or ugly will take some doing, here's what he has so far.

Permalink Mark Unread

Ikto can do his best to figure out how to hack something together, though ideally this kind of project wants a large team and at least a month.

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Oh, that sounds like a challenge. He intends figure it out in a few days, at most. The images he can separate into different channels - a set of red-green-blue is more or less straightforward - and in fact here's a picture of one of those barren planets (emailed), the rest will come later - and different black and white scans for the other light-based data he has should work alright, but this other thing will be more challenging because......

He asks Noptan how young Amentans are taught. Draak don't do anything formal. The closest thing to 'formal education' he has ever heard of is old stories which have a widely-agreed-upon version.

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Noptan's most recent consulting job was for a computer science magnet school for green and yellow four year olds and she can chatter about how their computer lab setup needed updating so all the students could reliably access customized work environments even if they left their laptops at home, and how she had them replace their calculus textbooks to better hew to those students' strengths (they weren't even having them solve the problems by coding!), and so on.

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Yes, everyone is different! His hatchlings all grew wiser differently - this one had no head for math but had a way of seeing alternate perspectives so he did a Socratic Method sort of thing and this one would bite down hard on a challenge with a promised reward so he metaphorically dangled shiny things just out of reach and that one did best exploring more freely so he simply made himself available for the occasional question and that one learned best from long lectures with the chance to ask questions afterward...

(He doesn't love them despite the clear fact that they're alien babies, and his. He finds them fascinating and something to be proud of and something to protect and likes them like one might like a friend, but definitely doesn't feel the way an Amentan would.)

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, that's interesting and lightly creepy but not something they can't work around. Amseli wants to know if the babies have only one parent.

Permalink Mark Unread

Two are necessary to create them, but with very rare exceptions only one will mind them, find a place for them, and teach them in the egg or afterwards. I preferred to do that for all my children, and my partners did not care except for once - we made two, she took the first and I the second.

Permalink Mark Unread

Did you miss the first one?

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A little bit. Not quite the way you mean that word. I would have been greatly agitated if I thought her other creator would do a bad job teaching her, if I thought she would become foolish or die through no fault of her own, but I respect Web of Tunnels greatly and knew this was not true. I wish I could have taught her in her first two years, but since I knew she would be taken care of it was no more than an annoyance. I like that she did well for herself, in a way that I might not have been able to help her do, creating tunnels that deepen and extend the ecosystem in her territory.

Permalink Mark Unread

Why did your other partners want to create children if they weren't interested in rearing them?

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The dance that causes children is a great pleasure, and creating new life with a wealthy or skilled or well-known Draak is something to boast about, and knowing your traits are being spread to the world is... Culturally reassuring. Even if you are destroyed, silenced, your song continues as an echo, a chorus.

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That makes sense. Are you going to have trouble holding your population growth down when there are more of you? Probably at your current level you're not stressing the ecosystem at all, but since that's important to you, later on...

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In the past this was managed by expecting Draak to starve or kill each other for territory when there were too many. Under a new way, I expect such things would be... Discouraged. Still, I do not expect it to be a problem. If it is, we will see the danger looming.

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Amseli nods. In our history we saw it coming, but coordinating a solution was a very difficult time for everyone.

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That sounds like a very relevant story, to the future course of both our species. I want to hear it from you, and read about it.

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You should be warned that the details are very ugly.

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I do not think I will find the same things ugly about history as you do... Our history is sometimes ugly, too. I will keep that in mind. 

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Up until less than half a century ago, nations warred frequently, often under pretexts but really for territory. You can still see lingering poverty in border provinces compared to interior ones, in countries that have both. Everyone wanted more space for their people, because everyone was intolerably crowded; there were some early attempts to restrict births, once birth control was invented, but it wasn't consistently enforced enough and there were always people who preferred to let their own populations explode and spill out against others to take their chances. It was with great difficulty we managed to coordinate internationally on making it a war crime to have non-greys in combat positions, and that at least limited the scope of the fighting.

The emperor of a country known as the Oahk Empire amassed enough of a powerful war machine to threaten anyone and everyone. And he decided to use this to coordinate mass population control. Anyone who didn't meet his standards of population goals and enforcement strictness was steamrolled and the Empire did it for them, in brutal ways that have left tremendous cultural scars on most of the nations of the world. Tapa wasn't conquered, though we did adjust our population scheme to stave off war.

Just a few years later the Emperor was assassinated from within his own empire and the resulting power vacuum prompted his successors to grant autonomy to any political unit with a remotely credible claim on it. They've recovered more or less well depending on how long they were occupied and the decisions of their blues. But we've managed to maintain the one good thing about the Empire's bid for power - well-coordinated agreements to inspect each other's population control habits and crack down on anyone who lets their citizens cheat.

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He takes a minute to parse all that. There's a lot of somewhat unfamiliar concepts in it.

 

 

A history of well-measured population control, of avoiding war crimes or punishing them even when not doing so would be convenient, of countries keeping their deals even in times of difficulty, a new way that you are following now, will be reassuring to my kin. It will certainly help, though I cannot promise more. If it were a full half-century, a longer time than any one of your lives, that would be a clear milestone. It sounds like it has been less, but it is still significant. I certainly want more detail.

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There are some survivors of the events alive, but they were children then and are very old now. What can I expand on for you?

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How is it ensured that all Amentan countries follow the new way? What other agreements between all countries have been made? When was a time when an agreement was breached, and what happened then? And this question may be premature, but would countries allow Draak observers to verify that an agreement between Draak and Amenta is being followed? I believe a more formal thing than a Grand Moot will be needed for such a deal... Premature. I will read more about all of this later for nuance and verification, but you are my guide in an unfamiliar ideaspace.

Permalink Mark Unread

Amseli can tell him about the summits and the conferences at which the major nations decided on grey-only combat and post-imperial population control; she can tell him about breaches of the grey rule in Ereith, in Tuvan, in Tea; sanctions that have not yet blossomed into any wars against population laxity in Shi Cubrio, Tuviri, and Soweto. They do generally handle population monitoring with foreign observers, and Draak observers aren't so different in principle, if they come to a good agreement.

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Yes, that sounds like international cooperation.

...I have just realized something significant. Much of our technology revolves around using the song, our extra sense. For theological reasons, the fact that you cannot use it directly may make Draak in general much less afraid of heavy industry and high population.

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Oh? Why is that?

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There is a belief in an entity called the Onesong, which encompasses the entire universe and can do anything. The idea is that the song gives us a special connection to the Onesong, and if we desire something desperately enough and ask for it with pure and good intentions, anything will become possible.

He feels pretty skeptical about that, but there it is.

Permalink Mark Unread

...all right. So since we lack the ability to attempt to communicate with this entity, we're less threatening.

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Yes. Also, we will always be superior, capable of things you simply are not. We can learn everything you draw power from- Factories, the internet, organization- And you cannot learn song. I do not actually believe that is true, and neither will the other Elders. We will never be as good as Amentans in some areas. But many will believe that, and I predict it will be a calming influence on relations.

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I suppose we can live with that, especially if it's helpful with keeping everything friendly.

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I think it would be unreasonable to expect neither of our peoples to have beliefs that discomfit the other. 

He feels a sudden wave of - Disquiet, disgust. 

Factory farming is depressing. It feels like a perversion of ecosystems. One species, living in poor conditions, never seeing a live plant that they evolved to live with, their lives cold and predetermined. Even domestication is slightly disquieting, but factory farming is much worse.

Permalink Mark Unread

I can see that for a people who hold naturally occurring ecosystems in high regard it would be very startling.

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Startling. Yes. When I first read about it I felt like dropping everything else and going home to try to invent a plant that grows meat so I could then get all of Amenta to use it. That felt like a good use of my time in the moment. Still, I know that learning your way and finding a path to the future is more urgent.

I'm sure I saw only a tiny glimpse of how Amentans feel about pollution when you explained why bringing a red to meet me was infeasible, but it's the same broad category of feeling.

Permalink Mark Unread

A plant that grows meat could in fact be popular enough to at least sharply curtail conventional animal farming, as long as it was economically comparable, but it doesn't seem like the top priority for right now if it would take a while to develop.

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I am at least going to investigate what others have developed in that direction when I return home. Perhaps someone has a project that would readily bend towards that end. I think not all of us will consider ending factory farming a priority, but those who do will be quite motivated.

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You don't think it'll be universally offensive?

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I think it will be universally offensive, or close to it. It will not be universally the top priority.

Permalink Mark Unread

That makes sense.

I've been asked to make inquiries into whether we should be considering you clean - it's not very urgent if not, you aren't touching anyone and the ocean is the sort of place that can clear pollution as long as the quantity isn't overwhelming, we don't panic when a ship is lost with all its crew in a storm - but people would like to know.

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I think I would be clean, but require more information about what causes and spreads and removes pollution to be sure.

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Amseli looks up the formal definition on Summary Bank. Any substance a person's body rejects because it is noxious, as opposed to for other reasons, is a primary pollutant; the corpse of a person is a primary pollutant; reds, even living, are primary pollutants, but you aren't likely to have those back home. People and things that come into contact with primary pollutants are secondarly polluted until thoroughly cleaned.

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He decides not to mention that he keeps feathers from those he defeats in combat, and two of those were dead when plucked.

I have been thoroughly cleaned many times since I came into contact with any corpses of people. Waste decays into nature or is incinerated. In my ship it is sequestered until it can be safely dumped and the vessel is then cleaned with fire. I occasionally autoclave myself to remove chemical residues or dust, it seems like that would be an effective cleaning method. 

Reds are primary pollutants?

Permalink Mark Unread

Autoclaving does the trick. And yes, they've been contacting the other primary pollutants often since long before really effective cleaning was invented.

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That seems inconvenient. Is the purpose of this to remove disease vectors?

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Yes, that's how our pollution sense is understood to have evolved.

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We don't have anything like that. Perhaps because even juveniles with any skill at all can recognize most pathogens with the song and avoid dangerous concentrations of them - with the rare exception, such as the spores of the possible rogue bioweapon I mentioned, Blueblight. But it's something my kind will not have too much difficulty accommodating, I think.

Do the reds suffer from this instinct, if they are the only members of your kind considered inherently disgusting?

Permalink Mark Unread

My understanding is that reds are less sensitive to it. How does telepathy allow you to identify pathogens?

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The song is not just telepathy. It's a sense that happens to detect something other than electromagnetic radiation, or air vibration, or chemicals in the air. What exactly it detects is not very well understood even by the wisest among us. But it is what it is. Everything that is alive and many things that aren't sing. The signs are very faint sometimes, but they are there.

Permalink Mark Unread

That's interesting! Do you have instruments that allow you to detect things you sense that way at greater range or precision, like lenses can for vision?

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Yes! There are ways to trap patterns of song so they can be sensed again later, to detect things at a distance, to create illusions in it. There are ways to channel the action we perform to use telepathy into other effects, from light to stunning prey to healing to changing something's genetics, among others. It is even possible to make things that guide one's thoughts in particular patterns if you 'listen' intently - they are good teaching tools. Many of these are techniques, but my specialty is tools.

Permalink Mark Unread

That's fascinating, I wonder if we can see your song-photographs or if they wouldn't work the way you're able to communicate with us now.

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I suspect not directly, but I can certainly bring one out for a test. Or perhaps I should send as clear a picture as I can from my own memory. I have seen that Amentan minds are shaped differently than Draak ones, and also differently than animal minds, and I have been careful to not be overwhelming. The very first thought I sent to you was more chaotic, looser. Do you remember?

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I do, yes. It's gotten easier over time to talk to you.

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That is because I have been learning how best to sing to Amentan minds. If I try to send you a song-photograph, it will be very much like the first moment, possibly moreso.

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I'm willing to try it.

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It will be interesting. But first, I will fetch one.

He closes his eyes and settles into the ocean instead of moving to go to the ship. And then the shiny robot(?) darts out and floats over, holding a deep red stone the size of a fist in its jaw. The Seeker takes it and the glowy thing collapses into a ball a few feet across and zips back to the ship, and then he opens his eyes again and holds the delivered object out to Amseli.

It's certainly a rather pretty rock...?

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Should I pick it up?

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If you wish. It's not fragile. Try... Contemplating it?

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She picks it up and examines the facets and the way the light hits it.

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To all appearances, it's just a shaped and polished rock, like something you'd find in a store of decorative knickknacks.

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I don't think anything is happening.

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I agree. I suspected as much, but it is good to confirm one's hunches.

Let me know when you are ready and I will try to send you what it sings to me.

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She offers the rock back and adjusts her sitting position. I'm ready.

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And-

Flowing lines of color that aren't quite color. A web of red and brown warmth, an aura of blue wetness. The feeling of being surrounded by vast structures, dwarfed by the world. This is all that remains of a proud animal. A thought, a memory, of defiance so thick you can almost taste it even unto death. By fighting, it shouts its existence to the world. Nothing will pass without tooth and claw being turned against it. With a small body that requires little sustenance it is weaker than the huge things that surround it but it knows that if it fights everything, nothing will find it worth the trouble.

And so: Anger, fury, spite at the world, and pride at its combative and confrontational way. It asked to die fighting a Draak instead of growing slowly quieter and sicker. An end its children would be proud of, an end that shows its instincts and body at their best. A Draak heard this and thought that it was good, and here is the fight whirling tooth and claw and pain and the struggle of two wills and - the animal died, fire in its eyes even at its last breath, and thought that it was a good death.

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What was that?

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That was my best attempt at singing what I see in this small treasure into your mind. I apologize if it was too strange.

I think it is beautiful.

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I mean what were the contents, the - creature -

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Oh. I call it Furyclaw - A species of small predator that lived on Oldhome. Its evolutionary strategy was hunting small herbivores while being fierce and dangerous enough that larger predators would usually find the risk of injury not worth the meal it would be. This is what I remember of it challenging me, stored into hard stone once I learned the technique to do that, so that I could never forget. It's not quite a song-photograph in the sense of recording something exactly as I sensed it... Perhaps it was a bad choice to show you. I wanted to show off one of my favorites.

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I don't know that it was a poor choice, I just needed a little more context. Are they sapient?

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...They're smarter than fish and insects and rodents but not nearly so clever as a Draak?

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It seemed like a pretty complex thing to want - a good death.

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Is it? Many creatures have reasonably complex desires, even if their minds are small. Most creatures do not want simply to eat, avoid being eaten, and reproduce. Furyclaw would not have understood going to a different world and meeting aliens, it could not have added two numbers or done any kind of tactics or strategy or long-term planning... But it understood death, and it had feelings, and it felt the difference between two kinds of death and was more repelled by one of them, and it knew that Draak are mighty and dangerous.

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I've had cats, I know they're more complicated than bacteria... conceptualizing death seems different.

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It certainly feels to me like the animals in my territory have an understanding of things beyond mere senses and reactions. If a living thing is going to conceptualize anything, why not creation and death? Those are the first lessons sung to the egg, the two things all life experiences no matter what it is.

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Are most of the animal species from your world telepathic like you, if less so?

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Much less so, but yes. Almost all animals on Oldhome were telepathic to a greater or lesser extent even without a Draak involved. Very few on Newhome. It would be interesting to see if any Amentan animals are natively telepathic.

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I wouldn't expect it but it would certainly be curious to learn.

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One of my theories is that there was a general evolutionary race for greater intelligence and telepathic ability, facilitated by the existence of telepathy. But my best field has always been physics, not biology.

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Does developing telepathy provide more of an advantage in an environment where other creatures have it?

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I expect so, yes. My other most likely theory is that the entire Oldhome ecosystem, Draak included, was deliberately or accidentally seeded or possibly designed at one point. It is hard to tell. I do not rest my theory solely on the creation myth, there is evidence, which is tedious to explain... Broadly, the fossils seem wrong for life to have developed from single cells.

Permalink Mark Unread

Huh, I'm not green but my understanding is that our fossils do seem that way.

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There is a lot of stuff out there. Would Tapa be interested in learning about the aliens I know of? I assume and encourage you to think I may be biased and make your own determinations later.

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We'd love to hear all about them!

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Humans. They seem a lot like you in many ways... Things there are no words for, impressions. Your love for each other, your complex hierarchies, the creation of vast quantities of tools and strange art... I was much younger and less understanding when I last saw humans. I do not know as much about them as I would like and I do not dare return to Oldhome in case they have devised some way to follow my trail to Newhome. When humans first came, they flew in great starships like mine. The ships deposited colonists and began clearing land and killing Draak. They saw Draak as beasts and pests, something dangerous to be exterminated, and began this project with guns.

When the Draak rose up to fight back in the first war, these lesser ships were mostly destroyed and we began hunting the colonists to eliminate their threat. Then, greater ships came - larger vessels, and in vast numbers. They used weapons that we still do not understand, that seemed to tear apart space itself. A famous Draak invented an incredibly destructive technique or tool to fight back with. It could burn entire forests to cinders in seconds. Very little is known about the course of the first war from that time on and many, many things were destroyed. Only Draak living secretly and remotely escaped destruction, but the human ships left and never returned again, leaving their colonists behind, unable to sustain their technology.

And centuries later, they had pried themselves out of their suffering with tools of bone and stone, then bronze, then steel, and multiplied to tens of millions. That was when we knew they would end us and the second war began. Humans. Aggressive and expansionist.

The Surveyor Orbs. I discovered and analyzed reflective spheres of machinery that were travelling methodically over the planet. They did not respond to any attempt at communication, but I eventually determined that they were searching for some natural resource and sending their results to a distant controller. I was not able to tell what the resource was, or where the controller was, even when I began intercepting their transmissions. Eventually they self-destructed. Surveyors. Confusing but benign.

The Collectors. The aliens I adapted the white projection from sent robots. They busied themselves collecting samples of every species of life on the planet, non-violently. They would 'taste' plant leaves, take small samples of blood or other things from animals, never killing. They also took on the forms of beautiful versions of female humans and Draak and tried to get males to have sex with them. I believe they wished to create new humans and Draak in some far-away place. When I refused and demanded an explanation, the robot seemed to be replaced by an alien who conversed with me, but they refused to explain themselves, only saying that they meant no harm and that I would not understand. Collectors. Confusing and worrying, but ultimately benign.

The Miniscs. A race of insect-sized bodies which formed a gestalt mind capable of complex reasoning and intricate tasks. They landed in a meteorite on Newhome and expanded quietly, building a glittering city in miniature, until the one who is now called Guardian of the Great Green heard their minds singing. They claimed they were sent on a sacred mission, and asked to trade - the Guardian would collect samples of local species and they would create Treasure for her. She accepted, and the Miniscs lived peacefully without reproducing any further. I do not know what ultimately became of them or what their purpose was. Miniscs. Confusing but benign.

The Blueblight. An extremely effective and aggressive parasitic fungus-like species. Even a few cells can cause an infection that kills in days or weeks. Full-grown Blueblight infections have visible minds in the song, but the individual spores do not, making them extremely dangerous. They appear alien and almost mechanical in the song, growing, developing, and releasing spores in ways that seem designed rather than evolved. It would consume many, many kinds of things if left to spread, though it was less good at overcoming plants than animals. I don't know where it came from. Possible rogue bioweapon.

And lastly... I am not actually sure it was an alien or a disease... But some humans became 'infected' with a new pattern of thoughts and actions that significantly altered their personalities, caused them to want to live away from uninfected humans, and caused them to want to kidnap other humans and torture them. Sometimes the tortured humans would become 'infected' as well, or they would die. It was... Disturbing. The humans eventually killed them all.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, that's not the most promising possible group of species to have as neighbors. I think I'm glad we met you first. Draak didn't talk to the humans to explain that they weren't beasts, or this went ignored?

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I don't know. I was not yet created then, and Darktooth the Wise is the only one who remembers the first war firsthand, and he says that it was already too late. They must have realized we were intelligent when we became organized and used weapons against them, but... I simply do not know the history there. You keep better records than Draak do.

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Why are the Draak records sparser?

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Probably because there are far fewer of us, and we live longer, and we are more guarded with our secrets.

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I suppose all those things would push against being very systematic about keeping written accounts.

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I believe Darktooth the Wise was actually the very first Draak to create written records of anything. When I said records, I meant lost art and old tools and so on. The concept has spread a little bit since then.

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Ah, artifacts. Did Darktooth the Wise invent writing?

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Yes. By creating visual shorthand that is reminiscent of certain common thoughts in the song, you could record information on a surface and it would be easy to teach the correspondences to others. Learning to read was a large part of his 'Test of Wisdom'.

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Who took the test?

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I believe a few hundred have taken the Test of Wisdom, and a few dozen have passed. Writing is not common and before I came here I might have said it never will be. Now, I am less sure. I have seen what you do with it.

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It's ideal for one to many communication and asynchronous uses.

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Asynchronous communication will be popular, once it is likely that any given Draak you wish to communicate with can read what you wrote. One to many communication will be useful, critical, in a more organized way of governing the Draak.

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Is such a way likely on the horizon?

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I intend to call a Grand Moot and express my true belief that it is needed. I think Darktooth will agree. I don't know about the other two elders.

Permalink Mark Unread

That sounds prudent. How are the Grand Moots structured?

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When one is called, we choose a recognizable astronomical event - usually phases of the moons - a few months in the future and send heralds to spread the news, to allow people to finish delicate business and travel to the designated place. Everyone who is interested assembles. The Elders announce that a Grand Moot is beginning and describe the purpose of it, then ask if there are any challengers who wish to declare themselves Elders. If there are, tests begin. Traditionally, a test should not take more than a day or two, and often they are much faster.

When there are no more challengers, the Elders discuss the problem in general terms for a while, then usually choose some non-Elders with relevant reputations or perspectives to speak as well. Then, there is a break of one day, for contemplation and rest. When we assemble again, the Elders each propose a solution to the problem the Grand Moot was called for, and we discuss the solutions for a time, again asking some other Draak to speak up. The solutions get changed and compromised during this. Finally, we choose a solution, summarize everything we have considered, and announce the new law.

The last time the Elders disagreed was the second war, and the Fleeing. We decided a while ago that if the Elders could not come to agreement among themselves, all Draak present would vote.

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Voting's a very useful social technology.

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Winning or losing a clear and fair vote and that being the end of it is certainly much better than fighting each other, yes.

I don't think voting for who gets to be an Elder would be a good idea.

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No? Why not?

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Power flows from strength and wisdom. Only the very best should be trusted to lead all of the Draak-Kin.

Perhaps we could invent some lesser positions and vote on those, with the final power of the Elders called in on only the gravest matters. This will be something we will discuss for days or weeks at the Grand Moot.

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You don't think the votes would tend to accrue to the best?

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Perhaps they would, but that is orthogonal to my objection... Here is a better translation of my thought: Challenges and tests are theologically significant, and keeping them as a trapping of power in this form will help us feel like we are growing, rather than being made to change.

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I see.

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That feels like a natural end to the conversation with Amseli. Are the other people they brought out still here? He wants to talk to Skenatshua! Mechanical engineering sounds fascinating! And he's curious what Itamime has to say, too.

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The other people are around! Skenatshua is happy to talk about the elevator project he's working on. Itamime has been following all the transcripts of what Amseli says about her conversations with the Seeker, and is especially enthralled by the tantalizing descriptions of the other kinds of aliens! How long exactly did it take humans to reach various tech milestones from scratch and did they have written records to help them? Did anyone take the Collectors up on their overtures, are there likely more Draak and humans off wherever they're from? Has the Minisc city died out? What makes Blueblight seem designed? Any idea where the memetic virus in humans came from?

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Elevators are interesting! Draak don't really think about traffic very much, it's a new problem to wrap his head around.

The humans he does not know terribly much about. There were actually three subspecies, (Enforcers, Delvers, and Farmers, as they were called, Enforcers forming a sort of blue-grey caste that eventually got overthrown and exterminated) and probably had some written records to work with. They developed religious practices that were obsessed with outer space and trying to call their ships to come aid them. They also had occasional old tools dug up from battle ruins or abandoned settlements to work with - he knows because one of his kids stole one from them and it was a phenomenally useful thing, a sonic mining tool! Clever girl. They went from hunting and gathering to pottery and farming almost immediately, and then had walled farm settlements with domesticated animals and windmills and so on in about three hundred Amentan years. He doesn't really know the details beyond that, sadly.

Plenty of human men took the Collectors up on it and he doesn't know about it if any Draak did. Humans have a lot more sex than Draak do. The Collectors are super weird, but at least he was able to figure out some of their tech later on. His shiny blue thing is not autonomous but it moves the same way their robots did. He doesn't know what happened to the Minisc city but he has no reason to believe anything bad happened to it. Guardian thinks it's pretty and lets them live in her favorite trove as a decoration.

Blueblight seems designed because of these qualia in the song that Amentans can't feel, and also mature colonies of not-quite-fungus will send each other pulses of light including the originating colony's identity encoded as a number, and information about their current environment and potential targets for colonization including calculations for how much resources would be expended and how likely colonization is to be successful, and even physically detach and move segments of flesh around to spread faster. He has no idea where the memetic virus came from.

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The robots would be really useful to Amentans. Are the Minisc immortal, or just long-lived, that their city's chugging along fine with no new children? Are there more Minisc off somewhere else? Wow, Blueblight's super creepy, may he suggest it to his novelist daughter as a plot element?

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Well, he has to do this complicated thing that's sort of - kind of like virtual reality to pilot the projection and has less than zero idea how to make it work for Amentans, he couldn't figure out the automated controls for the tech at all, just some of the materials and the principles that moved it. Do they really need more heavy industry automating things when they have so much already like trains and assembly lines?

The Minisc seem to manufacture new bodies as needed and attach them to their gestalt-minds. Each gestalt-mind maintains continuity even when all their original wetware is gone. Probably more exist out there, but they're very tight-lipped about it and might not actually know any details.

Blueblight is an actual thing, so he sees nothing wrong with it being used in stories. Especially if the story mentions him as having studied it. Has he got an email address to receive some really creepy photos at?

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Well, a projection would let people safely handle polluted or otherwise dangerous things, even if it didn't technically save any labor.

That makes more sense than them just agreeing to quietly die out!

He does have an email address and here it is.

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He read on Summary Bank that robotics work causes terrorist attacks, doesn't that imply that people don't want robots really?

Here's some photos of towering spires of softly glowing blue fungus snaking all over dead animals and various other things, trailing connecting lines of fiber that move globs of fluid around on them. It's very creepy, but also from the right angle sort of eerily almost-pretty.

He didn't let the captive colonies he studied infect anything alive, but he tried a bunch of things on already-infected areas and throwing them vegetables or whatever. Fire is the best bet for destroying Blueblight, as well as these kinds of toxins, a Draak infected with blueblight and pumped full of this cocktail of poisons survived after a really unpleasant few weeks... You know what, here, have some chemical formulae just in case, Blueblight's nasty.

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Only some Amentans don't want robots, they're just very terrorism-inclined ones. A project that could skip enough steps could roll out the final stage without being vulnerable to terrorism in early development.

Itamime will diligently take all that down!

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Maybe after the Draak figure out their own politics and what to do about Amenta. It'd be much more of a project than his exoplanet data format conversions, anyway, those are a one-off with gear that he knows really well, but turning his one-off shiny tech (that he is actually really proud of and wants to profit from!) into something mass producible seems a lot harder.

How is Kanteko played, Kanteko? Draak don't do strategy games much, riddles seem to take that niche. A round of that might be fun. He expects to lose, having heard of it just now.

He starts giving Hehata a somewhat confusing philosophical ramble about 'hidden worlds' (mostly because 'invisible' reminds him of some philosophical concepts), but catches himself and stops if she expresses any confusion or hesitation.

Do Ahumu or Aktem or Kimahk have any questions for him?

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Kanteko didn't bring a board but can show him the mobile version, which he can if he likes download onto his own everything to play a heavily handicapped game! The mobile version has procedurally generated terrain (in board Kanteko one places terrain tiles in advance according to a slightly randomized algorithm). Unit morale plays heavily into the gameplay - units are promoted or demoted based on various factors, and sometimes the true morale of a unit is hidden from the players till it gets into a fight.

Hehata tries to follow the hidden worlds ramble but isn't sure what the heck he's talking about.

Ahumu would like to know about his spaceship! Aktem wants to know if he thinks Blueblight - or any other Draak diseases - could spread to Amentans, or for that matter vice-versa; Amentans have speculated that even harmless microbes from one planet could be harmful on another. Kimahk effectively wants the story of his life in the hope of publishing highlights as an interest piece.

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The wargame theme feels weird, but it's still a really interesting game. He loses four times, trying four wildly different strategies, then gets better pretty quick.

He's sorry to confuse Hehata. The topic is more green than yellow, her name simply made him think of it - the idea is, how can you tell things you can't physically detect are real? Philosophy. He'll stop.

Unfortunately, many things about his spaceship are secret. He can talk about some of the materials and the general layout without going into any specifics about how it does this or that, though.

Blueblight could almost certainly spread to Amentans and Amentan animals and plants but he's not about to suggest a test, Onesong forbid! He doesn't expect more mundane microbes to cause issues but can't rule it out. It's weird that all three planets he's seen use DNA, as do the Miniscs. He hasn't seen local microbes causing him any problems so far and his foreign microbes probably aren't spreading far in the vicious desert/battlefield that is the ocean microbiome, anyway.

His creators were Darktooth the Wise and Soaring Shadow Over Cold Forests. He grew up in his first few years almost entirely alone. He spends most of his time engineering or reverse-engineering. He studied under Darktooth after the journey to Newhome and discovered many interesting things. He had twenty-seven kids over the last four hundred years, two of which decided to stay on Oldhome and fight the humans and therefore are dead. Too bad, they were promising. He invented FTL, or was the first Draak to figure it out anyway. 

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Kanteko's impressed with his uptake of the game and is happy to play and commentate indefinitely.

Materials and layout are interesting, though not the most interesting.

Aktem certainly wasn't suggesting a test, just wondering if there are precautions they should be taking.

Twenty-seven is a lot! Are most of them alive? What inspired the invention of FTL?

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It's hard to say what precautions might help, but it's unlikely to come up. Blueblight is rare even back home, because when outbreaks get big they burn the entire area to the ground. Symptoms of Blueblight include feeling cold all the time, tiredness and increased appetite, and parts of the body turning blue or seeing blue motes drift across one's vision. It's contagious by fluids early on, but not by air until colonies actually break through the skin.

Twenty one are still alive! Most of them have a kid or two of their own! He's an unusually child-inclined Draak, concerned about the future and all, and he's pretty old. Most are happy with one or two so they aren't the end of their bloodline. He invented FTL because he was bored and wanted to be able to get everyone out if aliens invaded again.

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Are they sure they see the same blue? They suppose they must since he's telepathic.

What makes Draak who aren't that into kids interested in not being the end of their bloodline?

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Yes, it would be Yellowblight if they had a different name for that wavelength of light.

Theology and culture. It is good to create new life, and life in your own image is best, and you don't want your song to end so you make someone to keep singing if you die.

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Do children carry on some kind of legacy-maintenance responsibility?

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Usually not. Some teach their young in particular ways, but we do not expect them to do anything for us, their parents, except exist and be a reflection of us. Of course, I thought Darktooth was great and followed his path of my own accord. That happens sometimes.

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So the "keep singing" thing is sort of abstract.

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Yep. Existing is singing. Most of their cultural and theological concepts connect back to song, and rarely is the song the kind you can hear.

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That makes sense!

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He can produce lots of detail about the particular way each kid was impressive or smart and what they accomplished and how their other parent seemed to shine through in them too.

 

Now that he's thought of it, he asks Amseli about sending music or pictures to everyone. One to many communication. It'd be valuable experience for explaining the merits of the tech to the other elders. (And he wants to show off some of his favorite shinies!)

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Everyone would be delighted to see pictures of his stuff and listen to his music!

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I would appreciate help in choosing a website to do this on. Pictures, perhaps with short messages. Later, music and short videos. Also, I will be ready to start sending part of the exoplanet survey data soon but may need something faster than the pocket everything to do it in a reasonable time. The conversion strains its processer and there is a lot of data.

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Amseli suggests a site called ourPlatform which has multimedia posting options and is commonly used enough not to have weird subcultural connotations. She can also have him brought a more computery computer.

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Good, good. Exoplanet pictures will come soon enough after the computer does. He sort of wants to be at that terraforming conference Tapa is throwing, but that seems logistically challenging and not really his speed anyway. Though, even if he can't go into any buildings, having a look around a city or two in-person would be nice, just for the perspective.

He decided he wants to go visit other countries instead of getting Tapa to bring people from other countries here, but has no idea how to handle figuring out who is actually a government and who is somebody with a governmental-looking account or a radio transmitter if he does a 'why should the alien meet your country next' contest himself. He trusts Tapa enough at this point to take that headache away from him and collect the responses, if they don't mind. His tentative thought was to spend another few days in Tapa while he mostly reads a lot of stuff on the internet, then a day or two each meeting as many other countries as seems reasonable, then back to Tapa for another little while, and then home to start the process of a Grand Moot.

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Tapa would be happy to collect pitches from other countries inviting him to visit on his behalf! What does he imagine he'll be doing on these visits, so the other governments can tailor their suggestions?

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I'll want to talk to their blues with telepathy, and perhaps some members of other castes as well. I want to gather a wider variety of perspectives so that I have a fuller view of the situation on Amenta. The fox and the rabbit tell very different tales.

I also want to assure other countries that I am not particularly beholden to Tapa beyond being grateful you were able to explain Amenta to me calmly and well. -Less relevantly, I also still want to talk to a red at some point. It seems incomplete not to.

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That's going to be very difficult to set up. It might be easiest in, hm, Doet, where they participate in a lot of experiments and there are greens on speaking terms with them?

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I don't have to touch them... But I know little about them, and little about Tapa, in absolute terms. It seems Doet will ascend in my list, then.

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I'm not really clear on what you're hoping to learn from them. Would talking to them on the internet do some of what you have in mind?

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Words are inelegant. That would be better than nothing but I would feel like I was looking at something through thick layers of dusty glass. I don't see why I should speak properly to six castes but not the seventh. It would be like... Studying a tree and ignoring the birds that nest in its branches. Incomplete. Ignoring an important piece of the puzzle. Wrong.

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My guess is Doet will be best placed to find reds for you to talk to and I hope you find what you're looking for there.

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Thank you. I appreciate the efforts you have gone through for me. This would have been much more frustrating with a less competent welcome. If I announce my intent on ourPlatform and say 'send your responses to Tapa', will that be clear enough for other countries?

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It's probably better to be specific enough that a real government can aim its messages more precisely - "send your responses to the Tapai Department of Global Affairs care of your diplomatic team" would work.

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I do not understand bureaucracy, he replies amusedly, Yet, I hope. I will use that phrase. Anything else before I return to my ship for now?

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I don't think anything else is pending right now.

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So he goes and makes an ourPlatform account and emails the handle (SeekerClawVoyagerEyeSilent) to the same address that sent him the first news articles. He follows the instruction to upload a picture of himself, then the first post is a big stained-glass-and-gold sculpture of a tree. The second is a truly enormous diamond, cut flawlessly. More pictures of shiny treasure follow soon after. Each has a short and plain sentence describing how he got it for a caption.

(He's learned that frauds are common on the internet and this looks like one of those. Presumably Tapa is going to make some kind of announcement that the account is legitimate. He waits a few hours, reading some history ebooks.)

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Tapa does make an announcement to that effect! Millions of people from all over the world "approve" and "curate" his pictures. ("Approve" just increments a public number indicating how many approvals the picture has, "curate" mirrors the picture to other subsets of ourPlatform besides just "everything SeekerClawVoyagerEyeSilent has ever posted".)

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And then he puts up a text post with his full grandiose title that says, in very plain but grammatical Tapai, that he is the alien, that he is not giving Amenta any tech yet but will be talking to other aliens about that, that Tapa has been explaining things to him but now he wants to meet other countries to make sure he has a wide perspective, that other countries can explain why they should be met first, or at all, and send the responses to the Tapai Department of Global Affairs care of your diplomatic team.

And some more pictures of shiny things.

And a slideshow of an egg and pictures of a progressively less gangly and featherless baby alien on a backdrop of alien plants! He even has some babyish traits despite the body plan difference - soft and round looking body, big eyes, round face.

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The baby alien pictures are very popular.

Tapa starts forwarding him other countries' invitations about half an hour later. Calado's is subtitled We recommend skipping this one. The country's very disorganized in a way that leads to people taking unilateral dramatic action whenever anything irregular's going on.

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...Well, he can do some reading - they certainly would be a unique perspective, but, uh... It sort of seems like he'd end up needing to kill someone or blow up some boats if he went to Calado. That would be unpleasant. No.

The three biggest countries, at least one equatorial and one southern hemisphere and one non-democracy country, at least one respectable-seeming small country, Doet, and anyone except Calado whose pitch is unique enough, preferences for coastal countries. What do those pitches look like, so he can pick one to go first?

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The three biggest countries are Tapa, Voa, and Cene; the next largest, if he's counting Tapa as been there done that, is Tuviri. Doet's not far from the equator. Baravi's in the southern hemisphere. There are plenty of unremarkable small coastal countries without obvious dire problems. Tuviri is apparently highly isolationist and points out that he won't be able to learn much about them if he doesn't visit. Most of the pitches identify what signal they tried sending him when they spotted him in space, mention some tourist attractions, suggest a bit of ocean he might like to land in (Tuviri's got an inland sea), and list some of their big names who want to talk to him in case he'd care to look up these people's work.

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Tourist attractions don't really interest him unless they're big natural areas, or maybe a sufficiently huge botanical garden.

He'll look up people who other countries specifically mentioned in their applications. If they're being promoted like that they must be impressive somehow, no?

His list tentatively looks like: Tuviri, Doet, Voa, Cene, Baravi, and then two small coastal countries, leaving for Tuviri's inland sea some time tomorrow, travel time will be short. Can Tapa please give those countries his number-string email address? He's starting to realize private, secured communication that doesn't get overwhelmed with noise on this planet is something difficult and best left to the local experts.

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People are mentioning their artists and musicians and xenologers, but also some nongreens - they're downplaying blues, actually, but they scare up accomplished yellow architects and programmers, orange physicians and educational innovators, grey dancers and ship captains, purple engineers and entrepreneurs. Doet says they'd be happy to bring him a red if he wants a red, what exactly would he like to do with it?

Tapa gives out his email address. He gets itinerary suggestions and inquiries from all those countries.

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I want to talk to a red with telepathy because I want to understand each caste. Preferably one who is representative of the red caste. No touching is necessary.

There are so many of these people that he feels - itchy - for learning tidbits of their reputations and nothing more. He knows every single Draak that's worth knowing in his estimation, but that's probably just impossible, here.

He's pretty reluctant to go anywhere very far from his big starship, or land the ship too close to shore, but a few of the itenerary items that are natural areas would work. He plans an arrival place and time with Tuviri and tells everyone else that Tuviri's first, then Doet.

(Meanwhile, he keeps working on the tech compatibility.)

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There is internet kerfuffle about Tuviri being next. What's Tuviri going to do. They don't talk to anybody. Nobody knows what they're like.

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All the more reason to give them a visit, really.

When his more powerful computer arrives near Shi Alassei, he goes out and sends an unverified installer to it from his pocket everything and installs the program and now the laptop is receiving tons and tons of high-res photos of exoplanets which can then be sent wherever Tapa wants them! The photos were easiest, all the other data he collected will have to wait a while longer.

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Tapa is delighted to have exoplanet photos to publish on the Department of Space blog.

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And now it's about time to go. He asks Amseli if there's anything else Tapa wants to say to him in person before he takes off for Tuviri's inland sea.

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We hope you have productive and informative visits! And you're welcome back here any time, or you can email us if you need anything.

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I will.

In that case, he's off to Tuviri, climbing high into the atmosphere with a bright lightshow from the largest circle on the ship, before going horizontal over the planet and coming down gently in the designated place in Tuviri's inland sea.

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Tuviri sends boats. They're of a very different style than Tapai boats and run quietly. "Hello!" says the blue standing at the prow of the lead boat. "Welcome to Tuviri!"

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The alien tilts its head at the lead blue and lifts a silver rod, which says, "Hello. I only know Tapai. I can use telepathy instead if you are willing."

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"Yes, I am," the blue says in thickly accented Tapai.

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And thus,

Hello. I am sorry if I am rude for not learning your language. Languages are difficult and not something I am used to when I can just do this. I am glad to visit Tuviri and look forward to learning what you might tell me.

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It's impressive that you learned one language as quickly as you did; for us it takes much longer. We did not expect you to have already done it fifty times. My Tapap is not very good, but fortunately you can work around that. What I said was 'hello, welcome to Tuviri'.

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I am proud to be known as one of the quickest-minded Draak, and I have computers to help me. But thank you. The request said that a good reason to visit Tuviri is that learning about it would be difficult otherwise - in my experience, things that are difficult to learn are frequently worth learning, so I am very curious how you differ from Tapa and Shi Alassei.

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Our primary difference, I think, is that we do not seek contact with the other nations of our world as an end in itself. While we have enough avenues of communication that we were able to send for you, we do not share our primary Internet with them, swap citizens, or have substantial trade. However, we have any Amentans' interest in learning our place in the universe and learning if there is a way to safely let our people grow.

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I do not speak for all Draak and I'm not sure how much of our discussions Tapa has shared with other countries. We do not have a highly organized government at the moment, and we have been invaded by expansionist aliens once before and are wary, and we must have political discussions among my kind before technology sharing seems like a good idea. But I believe it will be possible to find a deal.

Please tell me if I should stop asking questions. Why does Tuviri isolate itself? Swapping citizens did not come up before, but perhaps I should ask another country about that institution. What is most important about your history and government? What is your job name, and why? ...Does your country traditionally use job names? It seems like some might not.

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Tuviri doesn't use job names. My name is Artanvi Khare Otomor, where Khare Otomor is my personal name and Artanvi is the clan my family belongs to. We see it less as isolating ourselves, and more as seeing isolation as the default - after all, communication between nations requires studying each other's languages, traveling, navigating foreign customs - and having few reasons we need to look abroad for our citizens' needs. Our country was established with its current borders in 3220 out of a group of federated states, and we're a constitutional monarchy as of the signing of the constitution in 3284.

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Interesting. Some Draak are like that - the Onyx subspecies are very private and secretive, preferring to keep to themselves. You have been stable in this system for a long time by your standards. That's promising. I find job names fascinating, but now I am curious how the clans work. I would like to read the constitution as well, or learn basically anything you might want to tell me about Tuviri! Of course, I will answer questions too.

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Clans are a group of interrelated families. Most people in Tuviri marry within a clan; sometimes an entire family will change clans or if large enough break off into a new one, based on family politics. Clans collectively purchase credits to distribute amongst their members according to their own internal rules, as our method of population control. I am not sure if there is a good hand-translation of our constitution into Tapap. Should we be optimistic about the possibility of a faster than light space program with opportunities to settle other worlds?

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It seems reasonably likely, depending on how much my kin decide they can trust Amenta in general and how much Amentan countries are willing to pay. I am optimistic. But I cannot promise anything. Much depends on how my people react to the news that I have found aliens, and what I learn in my time here - we remember a devastating lost war against aliens who seem quite similar to you.

...A program where Draak ships carry Amentans to other planets without revealing the method would be easier than agreeing to share the technology fully, now that I think of the option. For in its current form, it requires a skilled Draak onboard to provide the music to use the light-bridge. I understand if Amentan countries would be uncomfortable relying on Draak forever, but as an interim step to help my kin trust Amentans it may have merit.

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That program might suit us more than it would most; I expect many countries would want to maintain sovereignty over their colonies, and we would expect them to self-govern as soon as possible, so the threat of lost contact would loom less.

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That is an admirable attitude. Self-reliance and independence is good. As to the constitution, if I listen to radio transmissions and read text in your language I can learn it eventually, or if a good or bad Tapap version is found I can read that, and either way I will understand that there may be inaccuracy or loss of nuance. The constitution, or histories, or other things, are windows into what Tuviri considers important.

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There is certainly at least a machine translated version. He speaks to his assistant, who pulls it up on her everything.

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Can the everything Tapa gave me receive it somehow? So your assistant does not have to scroll through it for me or anything so inconvenient for her.

(Or tedious to read right now, or difficult to go back and refer to later.)

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We have a different electronics standard, but we would be happy to offer you this local device. Assistant has it ready, sends the constitution to it, and hands it over.

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Thank you! 

Same principles, different implementation! Excellent. He starts reading the beginning of the constitution while asking Khare Otomor, I want to learn all about everything, but important matters come first. Can you describe what international treaties Tuviri has complied with, and how? Those will be of greatest interest to us in determining how much to trust Amentan countries, I believe.

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We're signatories to the war crime and population control treaties, and have kept nonagression pacts with all the major power blocs. We allow foreign inspection to assess the first two the same way everyone else does.

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He keeps peppering the blue with questions for a while, occasionally asking if he has any questions or anything in particular to cover. (Oh, and: This seems like a pretty nice inland sea, he likes it!)

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It's a lovely inland sea! They use it for intranational shipping and fishing.

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The Seeker has Fishing Opinions, apparently. They aren't overfishing, right? And, Some Draak may wish to live in Amenta's oceans, arctic, or equator regions, eventually.

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They aren't overfishing, they carefully regulate it and farm a lot of the fish. That doesn't sound infeasible.

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That's very reassuring, good ocean management.

I think 'eventually' may end up being a while, but we will see. When I go home, I should be able to return after a month or two with more news.

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How long of a while?

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Until we are ready to work out deals with Amenta? We can probably begin real negotiations after a season, perhaps less. No promises. Until I trust that nothing disastrous would happen if I let some young kin work out a deal and find a place here? Two seasons, perhaps much longer.

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What sorts of deals might they want to arrange?

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Territory, art, gold and silver and gems, hunting and fishing rights, tutors, perhaps things I have not thought of, in exchange for whatever skills they might have. I worry that some young kin would not be interested in understanding Amentan laws, or in following them.

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That would present a challenge.

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And is the reason I intend to have such applicants tested thoroughly.

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How would you test for that?

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I am not yet sure. Making them learn to read would be the start. Asking questions about whether a situation is legal. Exercises of memory. Giving them a pointless command that they must follow none the less for a month. Perhaps I should collaborate with countries to develop the test.

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That would be an interesting exercise. What kinds of skills might they bring?

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Pardon me if I ramble, I will let my mind wander to answer this...

Sapphires like me could inspect or place underwater equipment or explore the deep oceans. Perhaps we could manage seafloor farms. Rubies might tunnel faster than tunneling machines, and have an instinct for ground stability. Emeralds do not have any special abilities relevant to Amenta, I think... Many Draak will be skilled at learning things about animal and plant behavior and keeping an ecosystem, delicate or not, managed. Consulting on agriculture or aquaculture, perhaps. We find factory farming offensive and may wish to discourage it or create meat-bearing plants, but fish and mollusk rearing is not nearly so bad and could be made more pleasing for the fish and more productive at once with some effort, I think. And ordinary farms might benefit this way too - I am not yet sure. 

Using our tools, which can do various things, too many to describe briefly. We could talk to people no longer capable of speech, or translate thoughts. We can sing calmness or stunned confusion into the minds of others if needed. We can be very, very durable, and immune to heat and cold. We are strong and capable of flight - we could work with sea rescue, wilderness rescue, and emergency response. We could verify the sterility of clean rooms or watch for intruders over a wide area or assist with pest control by identifying infestations. We can breathe fire - usually as a weapon but perhaps it has other uses, or novelty value. We could tell telepathic multimedia stories. We can analyze objects with the song for internal flaws or to learn about them.

The True Song of Healing restores every animal it has been tried on to good health, working most efficiently on wounds but sufficing for many kinds of disease and even beating back aging for a time, but it is very, very difficult. Lesser songs of healing exist as well. The skill of Enkindling genetically modifies animals and plants in a variety of ways, and usually grants them magical powers and unaging natures, though I count the masters of it at only eighteen. Some of us are skilled artists who can take stone or wood or gold and turn it into something beautiful, then sell the result for yet more materials.

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Most of those abilities would be very valuable indeed.

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Good. I think I will write that up, as well as much of what I told Tapa, so I can tell governments about it without explaining in person repeatedly. Amentans seem to do much of your best work in writing, anyway.

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It makes it easier for a lot of people to make sure we all have common knowledge.

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I do wonder just how much your systems are influenced by your nature, how you think and feel, and how much they are by the fact that there are very many of you who need to work together and cannot possibly talk to everyone else in existence. It's probably impossible to tell for sure.

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If there are enough places to put colonies, it's likely some of them will be very small, at least to start.

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I have explored for some few years and found no planets that bear life except yours and my own, though I found some exoplanets that would make good targets for terraforming projects. But that exploration was leisurely, by one person, using experimental equipment, focusing on discovery in general rather than discovery of habitable planets in particular. Who can say for sure what the future holds?

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We'd certainly dedicate a lot of manpower to the project.

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If you have better ways than I do of identifying likely stars from a great distance - which seems likely with how quickly my ship was detected upon arriving - a list of stars to investigate would speed my own exploration and I could bring promising candidates to the attention of Amenta.

Permalink Mark Unread

We do have such lists and expect other countries do as well. I think we'd want a firm agreement in place about what to do with the results of such a joint project.

Permalink Mark Unread

It seems there is much that must wait. I do not wish to take any irreversible unilateral action on behalf of my entire species.

Permalink Mark Unread

You must clear your own explorations at home?

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Before making binding deals of any kind or trade more substantial than the exchange of gifts - pocket everythings and internet access for limited exoplanet data - which you may have trouble accessing due to the different electronic standard now that I think of it- Before that, I must call a Grand Moot, a political meeting of my entire species, and we must form a true government and policies on alien contact. We have not needed either thing before now.

Permalink Mark Unread

I see, I was imagining that we could treat with you directly and you could go on your own to check exoplanets without involving the entire species. My apologies.

Permalink Mark Unread

I could do that. Perhaps I even would if I were a slightly different person and there was Treasure to be gained. But it would not be wise. No apology is needed.

Permalink Mark Unread

Some of our people have asked if there is any way for Amentans to visit your world in small numbers, just for the experience, not to settle there.

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Not on my first trip back. I don't have any space designed for Amentan habitation and I could not guarantee anyone's safety. There is also the concern that you could locate our planet by the arrangement of the stars, and my kin might wish to keep that secret. Later, perhaps.

Permalink Mark Unread

The atmosphere might be dangerous? Are you using an apparatus to breathe here?

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I meant there's no space on board my ship for Amentans. I think the atmosphere of Newhome is similar enough to be safe. There's slightly less pressure at sea level, and a bit less oxygen by percentage, and more carbon dioxide - but I am not having trouble breathing here.

Permalink Mark Unread

We can tolerate variance in all those parameters, but it is reasonable that you wouldn't have come expecting to bring back guests.

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Perhaps I will try to expand the ship for my next return. It needs a name. I'm thinking... The Wing of Change.

Permalink Mark Unread

That's a lovely name.

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Thank you. I think naming ships will be popular. We name our favorite shiny treasures. It's simply never come up for ships before. I considered and rejected Eye of Blue and Speeding Feather. Many, many things will change soon. And I hope for that to be a good thing.

Permalink Mark Unread

We hope so too. This could be the most important change ever to befall Amenta.

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Things always change sooner or later. To change is to live. Just because the last major change was an awful war...

I have enjoyed our conversation, Artanvi Khare Otomor. But I think it will be best for me to visit the other countries I wish to visit relatively quickly, then return home, rather than lingering overmuch. So that I might return sooner.

Permalink Mark Unread

You are welcome back at any time. Your Tuviri pocket everything can send messages to mine directly, we took the liberty of adding to the contact list, though it will not work very far from Turivi.

Permalink Mark Unread

Good... I think I would like to fly over an Amentan city at least once before I leave, so that I can show it to my kin. Do you think Tuviri is a good place for that, or shall I look elsewhere?

Permalink Mark Unread

If you'll give me a few minutes I can alert a seaside city so they won't be alarmed.

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Slow nod, as he cuts off the thought-contact.

He dives under the water and goes back to the ship, then retrieves two other metal rods, one dark green and one gold, leaves the silver one behind, then back out to the boat.

Permalink Mark Unread

After a few minutes the blue speaks in his mediocre Tapap: "If you go that way, there is a city. They are ready to be flown."

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"Thank you. I will be brief, and I will not land."

Those are some real big wings. It seems sort of implausible for them to lift such a large body out of the water, but up and up he goes, trailing sea spray. Higher and higher - he knows how high the highest buildings here are - and over towards the city.

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The city has a different architectural style from other places he's seen pictures of; it's mostly silvery metals and glass, with rills of decoration in abstract colors streaking or twirling along the sides of the skyscrapers. The trains are principally aboveground and elevated, some of them running through gaps in buildings, and some of the less trafficked, pedestrian-only streets have grass growing on them. There's a huge marina poking out into the sea beside the even larger cargo harbor, and boats are coming and going.

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The other pictures he's seen were tiny, laptop-sized at most. The proper ones he got in orbit and on descent were better but still distant and from a strange angle.

This is a proper view. It's a lot prettier than he expected. Built like a hive, yes, tall towers divided into little closed-off cells. Far too enclosed and crowded. Very few plants. But there's design here, and intricacy, and shininess (which is really not the most important thing but leaves the rest of it feeling a bit more impressive). Seeing it firsthand, with the song intact, is a different experience.

They remind him of the Minisc, trains like arteries, thousands and thousands and thousands of lives that look like tiny, muddled motes from up here. Dots of color, hair. Purple, he imagines another Ahumu working on the trains. Orange, that clever Noptan, teaching someone something. A grey jogging - they probably like a different game than Kanteko.

So many. So, so, so many. Fear of their obvious trajectory, the endless multiplying, and residual worn-down hate of the humans churn in his gut, but these people are people. He likes most of the ones he's actually talked to. Animals can live and die without much greater purpose. They almost never have any kind of personality or aspiration beyond their basic natures, and it's good to keep the balance, but there's no spark of creativity in them. They can only surprise you so many times.

...He passes over the marina and heads towards the thickest, tallest part of the city.

Permalink Mark Unread

It's full of office buildings and skyscrapers. Some people are gazing at him in wonder out the windows, jostling little children to look.

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Yes, of course they should be doing that, a small part of him thinks. Mostly, he's thinking about his old friend the Artist from so long ago, and worrying.

They love their children and want to have more and more, even at the cost of overrunning other things. The news articles were anxious and hopeful. Most of the people he talked to held it in the back of their minds to a greater or lesser degree - does this mean NEW PLANETS, the greatest possible joy? What if the alien doesn't want to help us?

Compassion is not a totally alien feeling to Draak. Just not necessarily a default, and one not automatically aimed at young kin. And yet, giving Amentans exactly what they want is a problem, long-term. Factory farming, unsustainable growth, and he has a bad feeling about the red caste. He's looking forward to visiting Doet and hopefully understanding.

Countless hopeful, wondering faces. Over the skyscrapers he goes, twisting his wings to bank left and right gently. He looks to the horizon to see how far the hive/city goes.

Permalink Mark Unread

The city's perched over a river that empties into the sea. The main metropolis is miles on a side, and smaller cities with shorter skyscrapers surround it on all non-sea sides and continue along the coast, while the non-sea-adjacent land gives way to smaller towns and farms after a while.

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Too big. Too unnatural. Hive built upon hive. They could probably kill him here if they really tried, even with all his might and tools.

He turns widely and goes back to his ship, landing with a splash in the ocean.

Permalink Mark Unread

The boat has backed off a ways from the ship, so it is only gently bobbled by the wave.

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The city is beautiful, for a city. I don't think Draak will be very comfortable in urban areas.

Perhaps I should learn a radio frequency and destination to direct messages to Tuviri, if the everything might not work everywhere, for when I eventually return.

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They can sure provide him with specs for that.

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He tells the blue he'll be taking off in a few hours, goes back to his ship, types up everything substantial he's told either Tapa or Tuviri for emailing to various countries, takes a short nap, and pokes around the Tuviri internet for a little while if he can.

And then he's off towards Doet's rendezvous spot with another light show for takeoff, high high into the sky before travelling sideways. He emails the writeup out once he has signal again.

Permalink Mark Unread

He can access Tuviri Internet with his Tuviri everything. There are lots of pictures of his flight over the city up.

Doet greets him with one blue, a bunch of greens, and a red they are towing in a plastic bucket-type thing behind their boat.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Hello" speaks his trusty silver rod in Tapap. "Perhaps I should speak to the red first so they can go home. That looks not comfortable."

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"- I'm sorry," says one of the greens in reasonably competent Tapap, "we didn't bring a separate boat to tow it home on a different schedule. If that's a problem we can probably get one, though."

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Rather than try and articulate something into Tapap, he thinks at the translator green, Hello. Can you understand me? I'm not sure if it's a problem.

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Yes, I can understand you. I think the red will be fine.

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'Fine' is not 'comfortable'. I was imagining a plastic-covered section of boat... Perhaps this was the best you could arrange on short notice. Very well. Thank you, and whoever else helped, for arranging it - it would have been terribly incomplete to visit and not see a red the entire time, I think. I don't imagine they know Tapap...?

Permalink Mark Unread

I don't think so, no. Reds don't usually pick up second languages.

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What language do they even speak in Doet, he wonders? There are far too many of them to learn in a week.

...I have been asking before using telepathy at first because it can be overwhelming. He tells the green, I think I am used enough to Amentan minds now that it's not strictly necessary.

He swims a bit closer to the bucket and looks at the red. Hello. Can you understand me?

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The red nods, wide-eyed.

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I have spoken to some of each caste, except red. I want to understand all of Amenta's people, not just some of them.

They see you as disgusting, they separate you from them for their own comfort, they seem to disregard you almost entirely. That's concerning to me, and seems unpleasant.

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...It's because we're polluted, offers the red.

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I read about pollution, but I don't feel it. I don't truly understand it yet, I think. It seems... Silly.

 

The overall impression I get is that the average Amentan - needs reds, but they don't like you. That's unstable. Imbalanced. Imbalance is dangerous. Does that sound about right?

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- I don't know very much about the opinions of average Amentans.

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Neither do I. It seems obvious, but I could be wrong. You are all strange to me. I don't want to break things by accident, by not understanding. I wish I understood reds, but you are nervous. If you don't want to talk to me, perhaps they should have chosen someone else.

Permalink Mark Unread

Reds are pretty nervous around strangers as a caste, I think. I volunteered.

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Thank you for volunteering. I am learning a difficult truth here, and that's important. I was told using the internet would be better, but words are difficult and not what I am used to. More than one set of them? Perhaps I will learn them properly in a season or two. I can't even send the projection, which would be easy to clean to anyone's satisfaction, because I can only use telepathy in person!

Permalink Mark Unread

That sounds really frustrating.

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Something rubs him the wrong way about that. Not quite a lie, but something like it.

It seems like you don't actually want to talk to me. Understandable, if so. I will not impose myself on those who want privacy. I will leave you in peace. Before I do, have you any questions for me, about me or my kin?

Permalink Mark Unread

I wasn't expecting to get the chance to ask questions, sorry.

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Why would anyone not ask questions? -No, no, plenty of people aren't as curious as he is. But still... Nervous, noncommittal. And he never refuted that first claim, though he was careful not to accept it either. Seeker could almost imagine doing that sort of thing while cowering before an elder he did not know how to avoid giving offense to. He could have demanded a straight answer, but he is not rude. People have their secrets and it's better to steal them with cleverness than threats.

Concerning indeed. And now, with a contused head-tilt, the alien is no longer telepathy-ing at that poor red. He thinks for a few moments, then looks back towards the green he first spoke to.

I don't think continuing my conversation with him would be productive, but no matter. Instead, what questions do you have for me - and should I speak to your blue instead of you?

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Talking to me is fine! says the green. We'd like to know if there's much chance of access to travel ultimately coming in a form that small countries can't unilaterally use, so we can get started on forming a coalition now.

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I don't have a clear picture of what access to travel will end up looking like yet. I'll know more when I return. I don't see a reason small countries in particular would be disadvantaged, though it will likely be expensive, however the politics are decided.

Permalink Mark Unread

Expensive in what kind of resources?

Permalink Mark Unread

Things that Draak will want. Land, gold and silver and gems, art. Access to travel is overwhelmingly likely to at first be limited to any Draak willing to pilot ships for Amentans. Such a thing will be much faster and easier for the Draak, politically, than revealing the secret enough for Amentan FTL technology programs to begin. Also, I am the inventor of the FTL method and I plan to profit very much from it.

Permalink Mark Unread

That makes sense. It'll probably be wise for small countries to go in together, then.

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I think so, yes. Also worthy of note is that I have discovered no other habitable planets, and few terraforming candidates, in my explorations so far which have lasted several years before I found Amenta. A more focused search with more than one ship may turn up habitable planets empty of residents, but again the political details are unclear.

Permalink Mark Unread

We can parallelize the search a lot, if we can build ships for it.

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Yes. But once Amentans are building starships, the Draak have a powerful neighbor species that will always, always, need more land. We were driven from our home planet by such a species. Thus, the political difficulty.

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We have some prospect of being able to cut down the urgency of growing by finding a way to make our springs milder through genetic engineering or something like that, and then we'd be stable.

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Some of us are noted for skill in modifying life. I think I will try to convince one of them to come with me when I return in a month or two.

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That'd be really interesting!

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Yes. I plan to visit more countries to gather a wider perspective, but briefly. That is why I wished to speak to a red, for Tapa brought members of all other castes to converse with me.

What would you say is the most unique or interesting thing about Doet? What would be missing from my view of Amenta if I left this very moment, having spoken at length only to representatives from Tapa and Tuviri?

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I think the thing we're most known for internationally is the increased prominence of greens. I guess you wouldn't have talked to anyone on the Voan child model if you left now? Unless Tuviri uses it and I just don't know because I don't know anything about Tuviri. Or the permissions model but the permissions model is awful.

Permalink Mark Unread

I don't know what model Tuviri uses either - I was there very briefly. I plan to visit Voa as well, and a few others besides. 

Permissions model? Ah, is that why I was warned away from Calado?

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There's others, I don't think most of them would be that bad of an idea. Calado's just the worst of the bunch.

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I admit that restrictions on reproducing is a foreign concept. I would not have children I expected to die because they couldn't find a territory or enough food, but there is no law about it among the Draak. I certainly understand why Amenta needs the system, but it remains strange. Two each seems stable, at least, but auctions or permissions models appeal more - the greatest among you will pass on their traits more often.

Permalink Mark Unread

That's the idea behind permissions, but in practice it distorts the economy and the culture crazily.

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I don't understand economies and societies well enough to predict how, but I can certainly see that it would do that, yes. Are there many permissions system countries? Calado. I recall the Empire of Oahk used the system as well.

Permalink Mark Unread

The modern Free State of Oahk does too. Yvalta. Some places do combination systems, which I think aren't as bad.

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I will have to learn more about this later, it seems important. But for now I may well leave Doet soon with thanks for your welcome. I do not mean to privilege Tapa overmuch, having spent most of my time here talking to them alone, but I feel more need to return home each hour.

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Don't let us keep you! Thanks for swinging by.

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And so he radios ahead to Voa and goes there!

(And emails a little miscellaneous non-picture-based exoplanet data to Tapa, with a note saying the rest probably has to wait until he comes back again and asking if they're sharing the exoplanet data with all the other countries because pocket everythings aren't really a Tapa-only product, are they?)

Permalink Mark Unread

Tapa's reply says they haven't distributed the data yet, and his pocket everything will say Made In Tapa on the back of the case in fine print if he looks, but if he'd like they can distribute it once it's been rendered into maximally useful form.

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He finds it a little hard to believe that all the foundation of work and years of development into computing-in-general that led to the current state of the art in pocket everythings came just from Tapa. It should probably be distributed more widely since electronics are an all-Amenta advancement, not just a Tapai one, and he might take it into his head to do that himself if they won't.

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They'll be happy to!

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Good. On to Voa!

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Voa's coastal bits are northerly and cold. He's greeted by a party of two blues, three greens, and a yellow. "Welcome!" a blue says in Tapap. "I'm Asonde be-Lorkea de-Nivo."

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The cold means he'll burn a little more energy, that's all, not enough to be a food concern or anything (though he idly wonders what arctic fish would taste like).

Hello. I have been going by Seeker. I am glad to meet a representative of Voa, though I am moving quickly now and will return home soon since I cannot make commitments for my whole species and they do not even yet know Amenta exists.

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Conservatism in such a substantial matter seems advisable. We're glad you chose to stop here despite your hurry and will eagerly await your return. We've brought you a gift. It's a little golden sculpture of a semi-abstract creature which looks sort of like him. The gold should be able to tolerate being underwater as necessary.

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He inspects it carefully. Very pretty, a bit small, not exceptional, but gold is gold, and it's the first real glittering treasure he has gleaned from Amenta - he wasn't really trying to gain the physical kind of treasure, admittedly. Then again, gold is gold.

Yes, if I were less wise I would perhaps have promised a starship to the country that could produce for me the most gold. Which would be a terrible idea in multiple interesting ways. Thank you. This is good. Gifts are not given so casually among the Draak, but as the first golden Treasure brought from Amenta, perhaps it will help convince my kin that a relationship with its people will be good. I will be sure to mention that it is Voan as appropriate. If there is an appropriate favor I can show in return, name it.

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We don't know how you'd measure appropriateness. All we want is room for our people to breathe more easily.

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That is beyond my remit to grant this day. I can only offer my hope that it will be possible, and the assurance that I will have a much clearer picture of this hope a season from now.

I would like to learn what you think is unique and good about Voa. I know you do not use auctions like many others, granting permission for two children to each person, and I think this seems a likely source of stability.

Permalink Mark Unread

We do think it adds stability. People in Voa don't grow up anxious about their ability to compete just so they can have their share of the next generation. We think it lowers our crime rate and our suicide rate.

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Suicide? What possible reason...

I have only seen or even heard of Draak killing themselves once in all my life! It was at the Grand Moot at the beginning of the second war against Humans, when our slow decline and extinction seemed likely or inevitable. There is nothing but oblivion after death! Out of twenty thousand and more, when destruction loomed near, three destroyed themselves... And they seemed to think they were accomplishing some kind of magic in doing so!

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- Amentans do not usually die by suicide but it does happen, and it happens in Voa less often because fewer people must cope with the prospect of living childless.

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The suffering in spring is truly so bad? I read that it is painful, but to kill oneself? That it drives people to end their own lives, end the chance of ever making it better, often enough to have a name for it, to track it, compare it against other countries and think it good to reduce? Of course it is good to reduce.

I could imagine seeking a good death, if you were going to die anyway. To die gloriously and be remembered, to win something for your kin, to accomplish something for others in death... But for no other reason than to end suffering?

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...I believe in one form or another that's the usual reason, though it's not always specifically spring-related.

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Even when the venom of a Great Spinefish swum through my blood, burning with agony and making me wonder if I would perish from the damage or if it would ever end, I would not have wished for death!

He exhales sharply, producing a little puff of fire, then seems to calm down a bit.

This is a difference in our kinds. There have been many. Many! There will be more. Is it usually spring-related?

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The yellow murmurs to the blue, who says, The rate roughly doubles in spring, globally.

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I do not understand. I'm not sure I want to understand. I know not the kind of mind that would willingly end itself, though I know some animals that would face certain painful death for a hope of saving their young.

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Some people say that another advantage of Voan allocation is that we don't select for desperation for children, even though we also cut off some avenues to select against it.

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Perhaps this is wise. Perhaps not. It is clear I don't understand Amentans. A green from Doet said that you seek to change yourselves, to choose milder springs. The changing of the self is one of the highest arts of the Draak, and the art of Enkindling can bring change in other creatures. I am going to try to convince an expert in Enkindling to come to Amenta and see if such a thing might be possible.

Permalink Mark Unread

I'm sure such an experiment would be able to find volunteers.

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If it would bring a new and better balance to your species, the Draak that achieved it would be hailed as one of the greatest of all time. Such a thing would reduce much suffering, and were the Amentan need to expand lessened it would greatly reassure the kin that assisting your expansion will not lead to our own inevitable destruction.

I hope the Onesong allows such a thing, if it exists. I hope that it will be possible.

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The Onesong?

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The Onesong is... A theological concept. An entity that encompasses, or is, the entire universe and all life within it. I am not very theological, but harmony within the Onesong is something seen as worthy and good. The idea of a greater whole, balanced and complete, is... Soothing.

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I see, at least in general terms.

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I am still disturbed and agitated by suicide. I will store this, he indicates their gift, And swim for a few minutes, and calm down, and we can discuss further when I return.

He vanishes into the cold sea without waiting for a confirmation.

He's back a bit over five minutes later.

Hello again. I am unsure if there is much else to discuss. Though I would listen to anything you think is important about Voa for a while longer.

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One point of national pride is the extent to which we've recovered from the Oahk Empire's occupation.

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The feathers on his head fluff up a bit.

Interesting. I know only a limited explanation of the time of Oahk's strength. How have you recovered, what have you recovered from?

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There were a lot of deaths, a lot of suffering - most of our blues were killed, they rolled in during spring and there were a lot of forced abortions, they made serious efforts to suppress our language and traditional culture - but rather than going with the strategy that protected Tapa or using any wholly or partially permissions-based system we went back to our way of two children per family, rather than continuing on with our partially syncretized culture we prioritized restoring Voan ways and words, and we met the rest of the world as our own nation on our own terms.

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Abortions... Destruction of an egg before it's hatched is a painful thing. Probably not as painful as Amentans find a forced abortion, but at least I can sympathize. We don't feel much love for our children once they're hatched and growing, but in the egg... They never even have a chance.

So Voa as a whole sought to restore its identity, to rise out of suffering unique and yourselves instead of becoming what the conqueror wished? The Voa of old is surely gone, for change is in everything and the occupation will never again not-have-happened, but if your people wished to become a certain kind of Voa, and succeeded, that is admirable.

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We did. Not everything is the same - we're a democracy now, for example - but the important things we restored.

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I can only read Tapap so far but if there are any books you would recommend to me about this I would be interested in them. I'm also interested in how exactly the governments I am speaking to are set up, but I've been researching on the internet for that, mostly.

Permalink Mark Unread

They can recommend a number of good Voan histories and civics texts, some of which have probably been translated into Tapap.

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Cities discomfit me. Too crowded, too loud. Forest of steel and glass. Many, many eyes. Knowing cities will be important to knowing Amenta but most Draak won't like them much, I think. Though perhaps I should get over my hesitation and visit some more comprehensively than simply flying overhead.

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They're not designed for people your size, but we'd be happy to invite you to a Voan city if that interests you. Most Amentans like living in cities. There are things it's only efficient to have when many people are near them.

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I think not. The idea makes my wings itch. There are good reasons to like cities if you are Amentan, and good reasons not to if you are a Draak.

...Perhaps younger Draak would enjoy cities, for the density of opportunity if nothing else. We never quite stop growing, and I am rather old. Recently-adult Draak could fit into train cars and through doors if they tried.

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I'd want to consult a train engineer about whether that would affect weight distribution detrimentally, but we'd be happy to receive young Draak tourists.

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I've discussed this concern with Tuviri briefly, but many of my kin will not be as calm and respectful as I. I would want to screen any Draak who wished to visit Amentan countries and have a plan for what to do if there is any kind of incident.

Permalink Mark Unread

Very sensible. Should this, too, wait for the Moot?

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Yes. We are used to having very few laws, and I think we will find laws we do not see the reason for very frustrating, if that might help you plan for such things.

 

He chats for a while longer and hops to a few more countries - Cene, some equatorial smaller countries, a brief stop back to Tapa who welcomed him first. He wouldn't mind hopping around forever but he'll need to think about fuel after enough of it, plus the Moot will come along rather slowly so it's better to start that sooner.

He reads things on the internet and posts some more pictures of treasure, and some wordless alien music full of slow low notes and some kind of string instrument, and another set of baby pictures. He declares the remainder of his exoplanet data, orbital periods and chemical compositions and so on, 'good enough' when he manages to bludgeon it into a giant spreadsheet, and sends it to Tapa. He tells all the governments who have emailed him and announces his OurPlatform account that he'll be back in less than a season, possibly as little as a month.

And then the alien is gone.

 

 

When he comes back five months later a good ways past the moons, the ship transmits a steady signal identifying it as the Wing of Change, declares an approach vector, and starts talking to individual countries via radio. The Wing of Change would like an appropriately neutral patch of ocean, coastline, or ground to land on where many countries can send representatives without interfering with each other much, please, who can offer that?

Permalink Mark Unread

There's a little island out over there with an international research station on it, suggests Tapa; it's nominally Tapai territory but generally the research station handles itself and has scientists from all over.

Permalink Mark Unread

What do the other countries he actually visited think of this research island?

Permalink Mark Unread

Some of them have other candidate places (Voan lunar territory, this bit of tropics) but nobody strenuously objects to the island.

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Research island looks good, Tapa, but can the local ecosystem deal with a bunch of visitors?

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Tapa has taken the liberty of compiling a list of fish they don't mind if they eat lots of!

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They brought along plenty of food for three Draak for a month, after which they will return to attend the Grand Moot, the concern is more for lots of boats puttering around and feet trampling the island's plants and so on.

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The island isn't normally very high-traffic but it isn't in a particularly ecologically interesting area, there aren't any life forms endemic to that island that they know of (and the island is full of greens so they'd probably know).

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Probably a manageable concern then. They'll be landing a mile offshore shortly.

(And the fish will still be good, thank you.)

The ship is suddenly on a suborbital trajectory that will take it on a nice low arc to the designated island. It settles into the water a lot lower than last time.

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The welcoming party is Amseli and some foreign blues and some greens all standing on the shore waiting for them!

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The Seeker settles placidly into the beach, followed by two others who circle in the air over the sea. One appears to be another Sapphire, but much smaller than Seeker, indeed possibly small enough to fit on a train car. The other is probably an Emerald, going by the green coloration, though she has plenty of pockets of color here and there.

Hello, Amseli. I bring with me today my child who has named herself She Who Flows Through Life Like The River Touching Many Things And Nourishing Where She Goes, Flexible And Resilient Like Water. Or, River. I also bring an Enkindler of noted skill who may be able to investigate whether the altering of Amentans to encourage mild springs through Enkindling is feasible. Her chosen name is Creator Of Flourishing, Rising From Solid Earth Into The Bloom Of Beautiful Color, Whose Eye For Beauty Is Matched By The Skill To Create It. Bloom.

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We are delighted to meet you all! says Amseli, relaying this information to her assistant. Should we start finding volunteers for an experiment into milder springs?

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That is a question for Bloom. I warn you that she is less...

He trails off. 

...Less skilled and less motivated to become skilled in singing to Amentan minds. There will be fewer words and more feelings.

He looks towards the green figure in the sky and sings at them with an intensity that everyone present feels as a light brush of feeling despite it not being directed at them, and the pair start descending towards the beach.

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I'll try to cope with that. Will she be able to understand me?

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I will assist, if needed.

The green one lands first, very gently, and pauses to straighten out their feathers before approaching the Amentans. Indeed every 'word' seems to come with a rush of feeling or a sensory impression behind it. The sendings at least come as sensible wholes instead of running together into one confused mass.

Hello, tailless one. Amentan. Amseli. I am Bloom. (Anxiety, a footnote of her trust in Seeker) I am told you wish your natures were altered. (This is an understandable feeling and Bloom sympathizes!) Seeker says you desire to Create Life painfully much in Spring. (Hesitation) No. That you desire to have created life recently. (Good, she corrected her error)

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That's the part many of us want to change, yes.

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Seasonal Changes are often difficult to shift. (And she would know!) However, Enhancements or Dullings of things are easier. (Thankfully; Hibernating for a long time was awful but a short time is OK) Also to note: Enkindling of an individual to alter what exists already is Relatively Straightforward, but changing their underlying Essence (The thing that is passed on to children) Is far more uncertain.

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That will affect how well it can scale if it's not hereditary and few people can perform the procedure.

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It seems your kind (The green-headed ones? Something about color...) Has some knowledge of manipulating Essence. I have been told that Enkindling Amentans to have weaker springs would be Good in your minds (Pointless suffering is nobody's friend). A service worthy of Treasure even if it does not 'scale'. So I will Try.

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Yes, we know some things about genetic engineering. Maybe our greens will be able to copy what's done for other people.

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If it were so I would have no right to complain. (She is unsure if she would want to complain.) Seeker's concern is for the whole of the Onesong (and all that is good and right) But if I succeed it will be an unambiguous help. To begin, I must study a variety of Amentans, doing a variety of things, of a variety of ages. (More and more faces appear, hair a rainbow of color) One must see many facets to view the whole beautiful Truth! (The view zooms out and the heads turn into a field of flowers.) 

...It would help if it were Spring.

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It will be spring in the southern hemisphere soon. Doing what kind of a variety of things?

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I don't know. What do you eat? How do you exercise? What do you fill your days with? How do the thousand subtle things I think may be relevant shift from day to night to day as these things change? Many, many things affect the flow of Essence, often in subtle and non-obvious ways. I can't put it into words. I must Know a being's kind before even conservative Enkindling is wise, lest their new and poorly understood nature lead them to ruin instead of harmony.

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Maybe it will make sense for you to spend some time in a city in the southern hemisphere.

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I want to do that if that city will feed me and help arrange my study and not bother me very much otherwise.

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I think that should be possible to arrange! If you'd like more details, our southern hemisphere representatives here today are - And she introduces them.

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Hello, southern hemisphere representatives. She wants to stare at Amentans in one of your cities.

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Every single one of the representatives names a suggested city!

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I have no way to distinguish between those! I can only be in one place.

Tail-thump.

...Show me the prettiest garden or the best natural area. Or both. I will choose the one that pleases me best unless wise Seeker advises otherwise.

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Everybody looks up pictures on their pocket everythings and holds them up.

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She picks one and looks at Seeker. Seeker nods in assent. There. Annoying decision out of the way.

She will want enough open space to take off from and to visit the garden and probably other things. She makes no promises but the chosen country will surely be first to see the fruit of her learning, if it fruits.

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Open space can be arranged!

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Seeker- Flying south would probably take a while. And I don't want to leave my Trove with you.

Yes, I will carry you there in the ship. Perhaps tomorrow. They must prepare a worthy place for you.

 

He speaks to the chosen southern country representative about scheduling the trip and what kind of place Bloom would like. (A big warehouse or something would probably be fine, if it's near enough the nice garden). Once they have a place set up, she can go there.

Bloom will wish to stay during and after the Draak political meeting, the Grand Moot. We have not yet decided what shape our relations with Amenta will take, but Bloom and three Elders consider the risk of some misunderstanding and incident acceptable. However, I want to discuss expectations if any incidents occur.

She knows not to kill or steal or spread pollution, but there are many smaller laws, what seems to us like far too many to keep track of, and she would become very annoyed to frequently run afoul of them. A liason who is prepared to minimize such difficulty, by suggesting alternate things to do or by gaining special permission or by other means, would perhaps be a good idea.

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We can get her a chaperone for that, yes, says the representative.

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Good. I think she will have fun and be productive.

He turns to Amseli. 

We have begun a ship construction program of sorts, but the Wing of Change remains the only starship, for now.

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Of sorts?

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I told many others that ships will be valuable soon and taught some of them how to build frames and some FTL design considerations. There will be more vessels with star-bridges sooner or later, even if the Grand Moot does not decide to encourage construction even more.

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Do they also know how to find us?

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No. Nor do they know exactly how to build star-bridges yet. That secret waits until after the Grand Moot.

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I see. Thank you.

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Would you like to meet River?

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We'd love to!

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Hello!! River shouts, after ceasing to annoy a crab, I am River, always seeking to touch new things! I have practiced this song much and it would be Disappointing if it were difficult to understand!

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I think I'm understanding you all right! Welcome to Amenta, says Amseli.

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I feel welcomed! Good! Seeker says that you are like those that drove us from Old Home. That's his concern. He's old and grumpy. I don't remember that place! Never been there. You're exciting, not scary.

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You're exciting for us, too!

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 You're exciting because there's a whole new world to see. Like that crab! And the boats! Why are we exciting?

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You're new to us, and we're all very excited that you might bring us a way to see even more worlds!

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The black ocean is wide. I can't help with that even if my creator is the one who bridged it. I'm here because I'm excitable and he doesn't think I'll kill anyone!

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Well, even though Seeker's the one who might be able to do the thing we're most hoping for, we've been hoping for aliens in general for a long time and you're still an alien in general.

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Makes sense! Why cover yourself with cloth things? Doesn't it scratch? How come Amentans can barely smell? Thumbs seem useful even though I like claws better. How did the internet start?

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We cover ourselves with cloth things for warmth and decoration, and most fabric doesn't scratch. We might not smell as well as you do but don't usually need to use smell to navigate. Thumbs are really useful. The internet's development had a lot of steps and I don't know them all, would you like someone to look up an article on it for you?

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Decoration is good. Too much slows you down though. Just look at Bloom! So careful not to scratch a claw or bend a feather! She's very pretty, though. Warmth makes sense... Aha! You see better. I can't see tiny details like words without a lens, especially from far away.

Maybe later, I don't know what I even want to know, yet!

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Maybe with some lenses you'll want to read a lot of the internet to learn more!

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Or just making the words bigger? Lenses are pretty breakable. And I can only read Elder Darktooth's sigils now. But it sounds like the internet has lots of interesting stuff and it will probably be worth the effort!

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Devices with larger print exist too, but I don't know how large you need it.

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Try one and see! Thats how you find out!

Seeker said Tapa and maybe Voa and maybe Tuviri seemed like the best places to go when I'm here, and you're from Tapa right?

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Yes, I am!

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So I could go to Tapa for a week or two until it's time to go home for the Moot. Or is this already Tapa? A city in Tapa.

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This island belongs to Tapa but isn't a central example.

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My Treasure is the things I have experienced. I can't pay for this. I don't know what you would want from me except to make a good impression on my father.

The relationship doesn't seem important, just relevant - one can expect River and Seeker to be similar, and for the latter to care if the former flourishes or dies.

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We generally let people visit Tapa to look around even if we don't want to make good impressions on their families. If you want anything very expensive or complicated, we might want to talk that over.

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People pay to talk to interesting people sometimes! If I end up wanting expensive things could try that.

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That would work! I bet a lot of people would love to chat with you.

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River flaps her wings once, shedding excitement into the air.

Talking to people is one of the best things about wandering! Few people want to talk to a barely-flying-one without much Treasure you can touch. Luckily, I'm good at running away.

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- what does that have to do with running away?

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I wander. I got good at running away, so I don't get hurt when people find me in their territory!

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That sounds stressful.

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It makes sense to chase away someone you find in your territory. They could be hunting your animals or trying to steal your Treasure, and it's yours. So I'm not upset when it happens. I don't hunt in claimed territories much and only little things and I usually leave a few shiny things if I have some as an apology so nobody actually hates me.

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Well, you'll have a chaperone along when you visit a city, so it'll be easy to avoid accidentally wandering onto private property, and the streets are for everyone to walk on.

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What if I want to climb a tree or go somewhere faster than you walk or there's something interesting on private property or-

Seeker clacks his teeth sharply. River shivers all over.

Okay okay chaperone.

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If the chaperone's too slow for you, maybe you can ask them to get a bicycle.

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I'll behave, I promised I would if I came here and I get to see a new planet so it's worth it even if I'm far more Water than Earth.

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More Water than Earth?

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Ooh! He didn't explain the Four? They're the four most important aspects of the Onesong! And people will sing 'oh, Seeker has great Air but could use some more Fire'. Fire is strength and drive and ambition and decisive ferocity. Water is empathy and understanding and flexibility and change. Earth is patience and endurance and calmness and certainty. Air is philosophy and thoughtfulness and freedom and insight.

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I see, that reminds me of some philosophies that are popular in parts of Amenta.

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I think every Draak mostly agrees on the Four and what they mean! And it makes perfect sense to all of us if I say that Bloom is strong in Earth, for example.

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I don't think we have anything like it that's universally understood.

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There's a lot more of you and you can't sense the song like us. But maybe if there's any Draak left on Oldhome maybe they'll have come to a different understanding of the Onesong by now.

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That seems plausible, that tends to let things diverge if there's a way for them to do that.

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Yeah.

...I think I want to learn about your music! The sound kind, not the other kind.

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We have lots of it, it's a very rich subject! Do you want to hear some now?

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Yeah! I think you'll get it from the internet!

The vague mental image of the internet she leaks into the song is of reaching into an ocean and pulling random things out.

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I will, in fact! She puts on some light instrumental stuff that won't make it hard for her assistant to hear her murmured commentary.

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She listens, very still, for a good thirty seconds. Then,

I want to sing along.

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This song doesn't have words, but it does have a tune one could hum, or perhaps you have something else in mind?

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Well, there's humming of a sort. A sound almost like something an animal might make, except purer and clearer, properly musical.

There's also images unfolding into the closest-by minds, telling a wordless story of cheerful wandering matched to the music. Plants and animals and landscape features drift into focus and then out, one at a time.

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- you could also charge admission to concerts like that, if you wished.

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As River claps her forepaws together in excitement, Bloom interjects, I could do better than that, but I will not bother. My only true passion is Essence and Enkindling.

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Even if you both wanted to do nothing but give concerts all day you could fill spaces doing it, Amseli assures them.

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Shouting is exhausting, but it also sounds fun! Let's do it!

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I'll have my assistant get a hall booked for you! What hours do you have in mind?

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I might run out of ideas after... An hour? And I'd get brain-tired and need a break to run around or something. Measuring time in stony blocks is strange.

Oh I don't know how far I can send to Amentans and have it still be clear, what's the hall like?

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Halls vary in size, we can get you a round one with seating in all directions for efficiency and one that's sized about right for whatever that range turns out to be. One hour per... day?

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Days make sense. Yours are about the same even though the year is really long. Hours don't. I guess I'll have to try singing for an hour and see how I feel after that.

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I'm sure they can make it clear in the marketing that the performance may not last the whole hour.

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The first one should be free since neither of us know what to expect! ...Well I guess whoever owns the hall has to be traded something?

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They do, and also charging money for something is one good way to decide who gets in at all, since there will be limited space.

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Oh right there's ridiculously many of you. I bet cities are loud.

Money can be turned into shiny things, yes? So I should get some. I should get... Half!

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I'm not sure what standard rates are, I've never thrown a concert, but I bet we can finagle you at least half!

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I won't complain about more but I don't trust too-complicated deals. Make things harder than they need to be. At least half.

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I'll let them know.

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Young one, while Stone and other materials can muffle your song, you can generate an estimate of your range by walking away while maintaining it.

River does that! It's about eighty feet if she's not really shouting until it gets muddled and indistinct.

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I'm sure there are theaters that radius which would love to have you.

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But not right now? Tomorrow maybe?

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Oh, of course not right now. Tomorrow will be fine.

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Good. I want to listen to lots of music and pick things to play and find a story to tell. Good songs are stories, if I will sing for such a long time I have to have a story.

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There are a lot of kinds! Amseli's assistant whispers to her. My assistant suggests that there's a program that is designed to help figure out people's musical tastes which would expose you to many genres.

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Sure! Just show me how. Computers are strange.

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The assistant offers her a pocket everything (they brought a few new ones to the meeting) and gets the app for her.

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Claws prove to be bad at using touchscreens. She has to hold her 'fingers' awkwardly to allow the fleshy underside a ways down from the sharp point to touch the screen.

Seeker managed it, somehow, so she can't let that stop her from using the pocket everything!

...She cracks the screen.

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They get her a new one and somebody gives her their stylus.

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She attempts to learn the stylus. This is somewhat less awkward than claws.

Sorry! Our tools have buttons and ridges recessed into things mostly. And we don't have as many of them. Seeker makes things you can Sing to, it's kind of amazing!

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We've got a lot of tools, and if enough Draak come by the planet I'm sure someone will invent specialty accommodations for your appendages for them.

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I don't think you could use my grabstick either! It grabs things from far away. And I can charge it back up with fire. I traded a weird fossil I found for it, it was a good deal since I couldn't carry around a big fossil forever.

(She gravitates towards string instruments and complicated percussion sequences in the music-taste app.)

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Do you need to be telepathic to use it?

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Nope but your fingers are too short and soft to aim it right I think.

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That makes sense. Could we make one that was shaped differently?

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Probably! But I didn't make it. I'm not really a making-things kind of Draak. Because if you make things, they have to be perfect or it's infuriating and you want to break the thing you made, and I'm bad at perfect.

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Is that how all Draak feel about making things that aren't just right?

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I think so. It probably varies. Stuff you found or traded for being not perfect is fine, though.

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If we knew the principles of the stick I'm sure we wouldn't mind going through a few prototypes to get it right.

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If you want it maybe I'll sell it! Seeker didn't tell me not to.

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We can see what people will bid for it! Maybe they can figure out how it works. I think they'd like instructions on how to make it even better, though.

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Like I said, I didn't make it. Copper Flame made it. But I'll show it to you!

River produces her grabstick by flying back to Seeker's ship (which lets her in) and returning with it worn around her neck on a black cord. It turns out to be a very fancy motorized extendable baton with a grabber on the end, not a telekinesis device.

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That is less impressive than any of the Amentans present were hoping, but they can announce on the internet that it might be for sale anyway, people have bought weirder things.

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(Bloom is not quite entirely silent about her amusement.)

I don't have anything really fancy. You'd have to ask Seeker for things like that. And I don't think I want to sell my grabstick after all unless it'd get a LOT of money.

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It might be a lot, but it's also fine if you don't want to sell it. We don't necessarily know what seems fancy to you, and vice-versa!

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Pocket everythings are very fancy, the internet is very fancy. Seeker makes these things that trap a Song of Healing inside them! You press the top down and it heals the closest animals some. There's shakesticks that pulverize stone but leave metal and gems unharmed. There's things that let non-Sapphires breathe underwater or let anyone breathe bad air for a while. There's hot and cold machines. I don't think those are as fancy, but they're good. There's trained insects that'll clean your cave. There's special lights that help plants grow better. There's probably other things I'm not thinking of right away.

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Some of those we have things that might be similar. The healing object sounds amazing, though. And maybe the insects, depending on whether they're good at the parts of cleaning that matter to us and aren't themselves aversive.

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Bloom! River calls, and then sends her a rapid summary.

 

I know of the Song-Traps, Amseli. The mechanism is subtle. The trapped Song is not as potent as what was put into it, and it is lost when opened. But they can be used again and again, music suspended in nothingness to be loosed when needed. A useful instrument indeed.

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Depending on how quickly and how well it works on Amentans I could see it being very useful to emergency response or to convalescence.

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I am capable of the least form of the Song of Healing. It has noticeable effects only over the course of most of a day. Greater forms are much more dramatic. It would be interesting to make the experiment.

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It won't be hard to find volunteers.

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I will wait for my southern hosts to arrange it.

Bloom is very patient, River says. Maybe a bit too patient.

You need more Earth in you, child. It does not do for a great and noble member of the Kin, the bearers of great power and responsibility from Sun and Earth, to rush around so.

Knowing what you want and going and getting it is greatness, too!

Then challenge others more often, instead of fleeing for another territory dropping tribute behind you at the first sign of opposition, like some manner of herbivore.

RUDE!

Bloom flicks her tail. If you criticize my way, I will criticize yours.

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The Amentans aren't quite sure what to say about this exchange.

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Anyway what else should we talk about?

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Has the Moot been scheduled? wonders Amseli.

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It starts in thirty-seven days! Our days. Thirty-six of yours. People have been talking endlessly about aliens, it's exciting.

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We agree! I don't suppose there's any way to send people to attend it?

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The ship doesn't belong to me, you have to ask Seeker. I bet someone'd try to kill whoever went there though. You're Tailless.

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Well, that sounds like we shouldn't try, then.

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Well, if an Elder says you're not to be harmed, fewer people would try. Maybe even nobody. And the Elders are pretty good at protecting things. You'd scare people a whole lot just by being tailless aliens on our planet though.

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We wouldn't want to frighten anyone. Are tails specifically important?

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They do a lot of body language. But everyone called the humans 'tailless' or 'no-tails'. It means 'scary and dangerous and bad' now.

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I see.

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I'm kind of scared just talking to you! But that's never stopped me before.

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Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable?

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Can't think of anything. Oh, wait. Don't touch me without warning and don't surround me on all sides.

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- should we tell the people booking your theater not to get you one that has seating in the round?

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I don't know! Being too surrounded makes me nervous. If there's a way I could run away or enough space to get into the air if I wanted to it'd be fine.

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There are open-air theaters.

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That sounds a lot better than one that's all closed up! I didn't even know those were a thing!

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We like roofs for most purposes so if it rains we don't get wet, and to keep away bugs and windblown dirt.

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Rain is nice, and bugs and dirt aren't that bad. Tail-swish. Every animal's different though. I see a tree, useless except for taking wood from. Squirrels and birds see a food source and a home. I don't think non-Sapphires even like rain.

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Rain won't really hurt us, but it can affect how we regulate temperature and makes a lot of our tools break, like pocket everythings.

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I will be scared in a city, all walls and roofs. But it'll be fine. I'm scared a lot and I'll get to smell and see and hear and maybe taste lots of new things.

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You shouldn't need to go indoors at all if you don't want to. I think you're small enough to take off on a wide street.

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We'll see!

I should bring the meat we packed into the ship when it's time to go to a city. I bet Seeker could go months without eating anything if he had to but I'd better not try that.

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Do you think you'd like to try Amentan food? There is some here.

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Sure!

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Is it only meat you like?

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We can eat a few kinds of plants but mostly they just taste interesting sometimes and aren't actually filling. I'll taste anything though!

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A tasting menu is soon cobbled together out of things they have handy on the research island.

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Most of these things don't taste like things Draak can eat, but the seasonings are interesting and good. It's a little weird that they mostly eat muscle-flesh and not the rest of animals too.

Salty things are yummy. Protein-heavy non-meat foods are more edible than starchy ones. Fried things are yummy! Draak can taste sugar but it's unappealing - not bad, just meh. Dairy is BAD.

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These responses mostly make sense for predominantly-carnivores except they're surprised by the negative reaction to cheese.

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It tastes... Already half-eaten. I would eat cheese before starving but it's not tasty at all.

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It's a substance our subset of animal produces to feed babies.

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Animals on Newhome do that sometimes. Eggstuff would be gross, too.

It's pretty weird. We have things like crabs and fish and insects too. Yours are different but the same kind of thing.

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Maybe there are only so many ways for animals to be, even though it seems like there should be more variety.

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Or maybe some aliens put plants and bacteria on every planet a billion years ago! Figuring out why is an Air kind of thing, though. I'd rather learn what is, not how and why it is.

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Both things seem worth knowing, and specializing makes plenty of sense.

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Specialization happens but not in a caste kind of way. Also, people say the best Draak is strong in all four.

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Maybe that's more efficient for you because you mostly don't live in groups.

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I have no idea really! I'm good at talking to animals and figuring out what plants like. If I had a territory it'd be the best territory. Diverse and flourishing! But I don't want to settle down anywhere yet.

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Plants like things?

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Plants like having the right soil nutrients and water and amount of shade and pollinators and things like that.

Permalink Mark Unread

They're healthier if they have those things, but liking?

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Headtilt. Ye-es? A dry plant is just kind of sad and painful, and they go all scrambled when something eats part of them unless it's a fruit that's meant to be eaten. They're not smart, not even like insects, but they like things.

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How curious.

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It's weird that you don't think so! Everything alive likes things a tiny tiny bit, even bacteria.

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Maybe we're just using the concepts differently.

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This seems important. How am I different from a fish or a stalk of seaweed? I'm bigger and smarter and I eat different things, but those