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Generated: Nov 27, 2020 3:46 PM
Post last updated: Nov 27, 2020 3:45 PM
to worlds that never were
Bruce gets dropped in Gallia and is confused
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This was a lousy idea and Bruce is having a lousy time.

"Come explore the Stata Center with us," they said. "Grad students deserve to have fun too," they said. "It's better than anything else you could be doing at 3 AM," they said. Well now he's gotten separated from the group and ended up in a room with, and he has counted several times, seventeen sides and nineteen corners.

He can't tell which door he came in; worse, they're all locked. There's a window, but it doesn't open, and all he can see out of it is a different exterior wall of this same damned building. 

Bruce looks up at the ceiling, or at least at the point where all the walls converge, and his head swims, and he should have gone to sleep a long time ago, and it feels like he's about to fall off the floor into . . . 

There is a series of sense impressions that fail to resolve into a model of the world, and then Bruce is somewhere else.

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"Evoe! Alalai! Alalai! Evoe! Alalalalalalai! Evoe Bacchu-- wait what."

The face of a young, rather pretty Asian man peers at him. 

"...We were trying to thin the walls between worlds," he says. "We weren't expecting someone to show up."

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"I . . . wasn't expecting me to show up either? Where am I, is this still building fucking thirty-two?"

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"It's the Temple of Bacchus--" the Asian man says.

"It's James's dad's study," interrupts a woman, who is shirtless and obviously very drunk.

"It is the Temple of Bacchus," the Asian man, who is apparently named James, insists.

The room is a library, books tastefully purchased with an eye towards color coordination, with a desk and some very comfortable chairs, most of which are presently inhabited by very drunk people. There are six people in the room, half male and half female, of whom James is both the most sober and the most dressed. (Has Bruce ever seen a fully naked woman in real life? Because he's seeing it right now, and she's swigging down a bottle of wine like it's water.) None of the people are what Bruce would parse as white, although several are ambiguously brown; all are dressed (or half-dressed) as if they are cosplaying a Jane Austen novel and had failed to get the memo that women wear dresses. The floor is scattered with many empty bottles of wine. Bruce himself is positioned near what appears to be an altar, with incense burning and a small portion of wine poured in a dish and three statues. One statue is of a pretty, naked man holding a cup of wine with a wreath on his head; one of a pretty naked woman, sans wreath or cup; and one of a fairly ordinary-looking man with a very large erection. The erection was carved with great attention to detail. There are veins. 

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Bruce has not ever seen a fully naked woman before. Gosh. Eyes somewhere else. Is this some kind of frat party, apparently those have costumes sometimes? Or Senior House? Nothing here is particularly implausible except, well, Bruce. Bruce is very implausible and he has no explanation for himself and also he clearly wasn't invited and should leave. "How do I get back to main campus from here?"

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"Main what?" drunk shirtless woman says. She gets bored and decides to start bouncing, with the expected effect on her breasts. 

"Bacchus summoned you," James says. "Because we thinned the veil between worlds."

"I am pretty sure," drunk shirtless woman says, "we just got really wasted."

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These people are so drunk and incompletely clothed that he feels like he's committing some sort of sexual offense just by looking at them. He looks around for something less awkward to look at and settles on his old friend, the floor. "I think I may have sleepwalked, I was somewhere else a moment--what feels like a moment ago. I apologize for crashing your party. Goodbye." He looks around for a door via which to exit, or a window out which to look for landmarks.

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There is no window, but there is a door. 

"Are you a sub?" James asks.

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Is he a what now? Submarine, submarine sandwich, subway system? "I don't know what that means. Or I misheard you. Can you unpack the question?" He's pushing twenty-four hours without sleep and he's got unexplained memory gaps, okay, give him a break and grade his lucidity on a curve.

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"Uh. It seems like a simple question," James says. 

"I think he's a sub," shirtless girl says. 

"Well, he's definitely not a dom," remarks naked girl. "Maybe he's nondynamic."

"I know why Bacchus sent us a sub," shirtless girl remarks, and looks at Bruce in a manner that can only be described as predatory.

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"What's a sub and what's a dom and what's nondynamic? I know what dynamic means but not how a person can be or not be it. And I don't have anything to do with Bacchus, I'm an atheist." And why is that chick staring at him like she has beef with him, he doesn't know her from Eve.

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"We're not fucking him," James says to shirtless girl. 

She pouts. "But why?"

"Because we don't know why he's here," James says. "Bacchus sends us a person from another world and your first reaction is to ravish him? No."

"Bet he'd like it," she says, and gives Bruce another very predatory look. She suddenly gives off the impression of being six inches taller than him despite being slightly shorter. 

"It doesn't matter whether he'd like it," James says, "I'm the leader of this cult--"

"No, you just decided you're the leader--"

"Well, if my dad didn't let us have the study," James says with a decisive air, "we wouldn't have anywhere to meet at all. So I'm in charge."

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"Woah woah woah I'm not fucking any of you, it's stupid AM and I want to go home." Okay, maybe in better circumstances he would want to sleep with that woman but they should both be sober and in good mental condition and ideally have an actual coherent conversation first. He heads for the door; they can finish this argument without him.

Actually, if this is someone's dad's house and not a dorm he could be anywhere, how far did he even sleepwalk. He pulls out his phone and tries to check his location.

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His phone says NO DATA, EMERGENCY CALLS ONLY.

"What's that?" says James, looking at the phone.

"I think," announces Shirtless Woman, "that we are the cult of Bacchus, devoted to sex and drinking, and we can't have sex with each other, so Bacchus has provided."

"You think that because you are drunk," James says. 

"That seems like the best time to know what Bacchus wants from us," says Shirtless Woman with impeccable logic. 

"I want to know what the weird rectangle is," James says.

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"It's. My phone. Is this a Society for Creative Anachronism party? If it is can you please break character long enough to tell me where I am, my phone has no signal."

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James attempts to process this and ends up saying, "What's a phone?" 

Shirtless Woman does not generally bother herself with what subs have to say. "I think we should tie him up, and--"

"The sub and I," James says, "are going to go in the parlor, and we are going to figure out if he is like the prince of India or something, and then if it is a good idea you can come back and we can fuck him." He looks around. "--I can fuck him, and you guys will all be passed out."

If Shirtless Woman were from 21st century Earth, she would say "valid," but as she is from neither of these places instead she takes an affirmative gulp of wine directly from the bottle.

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Going into the parlor with only one drunk person, and that person being one who isn't loudly in favor of tying him up and/or fucking him (!?), sounds like the best of some bad options. Maybe he'll be more willing to break character or explain shit or something if they're alone. "Yeah, parlor sounds good."

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James gestures for him to head in this direction. His body language conveys that he expects to be unquestioningly obeyed. 

The hallway on the way to the parlor is decorated in a style that Bruce would probably think of as Victorian. 

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Oh bugger, he sleepwalked into a rich person's house, didn't he. Bugger. He follows.

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The parlor is also very Victorian in style. 

"So," James says, "what's a phone?"

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"It's a handheld decide which can usually communicate with other devices to do things like tell me where I am, get me arbitrary information as long as it's public, track my to-do list, lots of shit. What year are you pretending it is?"

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"I'm not pretending anything," James says, "but the year it actually is is 2065."

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That! Is not what he expected! He was expecting a smaller number! Possibly this person is under more influences than just alcohol.

"Well, uh, an hour ago it was 2019 and phones had been invented. How do I get to MIT from here?"

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"I don't know what MIT is," James says. "I think you came here from another world, that is why you are dressed in such an outlandish fashion and why you have a strange glowing rectangle."

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"If you're actually telling it like you see it and not LARPing" (or insane or on drugs) "I am going to have to consider that hypothesis. Can I get a map of, let's pessimistically say this planet, and where we are on it?"

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"Of course," James says. "Excuse me."

He returns from the library carrying a book of maps, and opens the book to the third page. "This is what the world looks like."

Europe, Asia, and Africa are in the same locations, but the Americas don't exist; they appear to be a very long chain of islands, like Polynesia.

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Bruce stares at this, then flips through the book. It's all maps, it's all filled in, this is either an actual book of maps made for finding one's way around or a really good fake. Possibly that weirdness earlier was not entirely in his brain. Possibly he is in fact in a parallel universe.

He sits down hard on the nearest sittable piece of furniture. "I am very very lost."

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"It's all right," James says chivalrously, "we'll protect you. Do you need a cup of tea to settle your nerves?"

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"Ooh, yes, caffeine, good plan." Also "we'll protect you" is an odd choice of words, what's he in danger of, oh right unemployment and homelessness fuck. Maybe James can help him get a job or a scholarship or something. "Also would you mind explaining what 'dom' and 'sub' and 'nondynamic' mean?"

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He rings a bell. A man wearing a dress enters. 

"Christopher, could you get us some tea? Thank you," James says.

Chris nods and is far too well-trained to remark on Bruce's outlandish clothes.

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Aaaah rich people, what do. Perhaps he should repeat his earlier question re: word meanings. No, on reflection he's just going to sit here like an exhausted and socially awkward rabbit until caffeine or explanations start happening on their own.

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"Doms and subs and nondynamics are roles," James says. "Do you have different words for roles in your world?"

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"Roles, like, ways people can relate to each other? Like parents or teachers or students or friends or whatever?"

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"No," James says condescendingly, "like roles. You know, your fundamental relationship to power?"

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"Okay, now it sounds like you're talking about Dungeons and Dragons."

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"...your roles are called dragons and dungeons?" James asks. "That's very poetic."

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"No, though a roleplaying game where you could play as either a dungeon or a dragon would be neat--okay, no, we've gone way off the point, never mind that. I don't have a word for my fundamental relationship to power, I don't have any powers anybody else doesn't." If this world actually has a magic system with RPG-style classes that is the coolest thing ever.

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James understood about a tenth of this but he is not going to admit ignorance in front of a sub.

"I guess that means you're a sub," he says, "if you don't have any power."

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Okay, so subs are, like, muggles or something. It's honestly a stroke of luck they speak the same language at all and are even able to communicate enough to be confused about terms. "What kinds of power do the other roles have?"

(Also he's very possibly about to wake up on the floor of the Stata Center, but if he avoids thinking about it maybe he can get some more sleep in first.)

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"Most... kinds?" James says. "Doms run the government and the military and businesses and most religions. We wouldn't want to concern you with such things."

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"Ohhh, so it's a social power thing. I thought it was about, like, inherent abilities."

Was that rude? That was probably rude. He should clarify that he definitely meant something politer than that but he isn't sure what politer thing he might have meant.

"Like, I dunno, some people being able to fly or something." Maybe that will help.

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"People can't fly," James says kindly. "I believe the shock has unsettled your nerves."

Chris returns with Bruce's tea and a tray of little cookies.

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"People can't fly where I came from, either; it was a made-up example. I'll admit to unsettled nerves, though; I've never heard of anyone spontaneously disappearing and appearing somewhere else. Didn't think it was possible."

He sips his tea. Ah, glorious caffeine. He usually goes for cheapo coffee over tea, but he's had Red Bull when nothing else was available and this certainly beats that.

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"Well," James says piously, "all things are possible with the gods."

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"I . . . don't actually know if there are gods or not. There weren't any yesterday. But yesterday there was a continent here," he points at the map, at where North America should be, "so what do I know, maybe there are gods on this planet."

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James looks really confused. 

"...obviously there are gods. Who would protect Anglia if not for the gods?"

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"Countries where I'm from protect themselves with armies. If you don't have those, good for you, the whole setup's a mess but we haven't got anything better." Doubt.jpg that they've actually found a way to not have armies, but he needs a hypothesis space big enough to fit his recent observations, so pretty much anything is on the table at least briefly.

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"The gods protect the armies!" James says devoutly. "When we make the appropriate sacrifices."

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Ah, yes, of course they do. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Probably better than if they all had no armies because they thought the gods were protecting them and then someone invented armies and broke the equilibrium like an egg tossed out a window. Oh, he was probably supposed to respond to that out loud, wasn't he. "Mmm." Nod. Okay, response: check. He drinks a bit more tea. "Tell me more? I'm curious about everything here, I don't know anything about this . . . world, planet, whatever."

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"You're very lucky," James says earnestly. "You landed on Anglia, the most civilized of all countries, heir to the Roman Empire."

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"Ooh, I've heard of the Roman Empire, we had one too. And I'm definitely lucky you speak English. But I have to ask . . . did there used to be a continent here?" He points at the map where he was expecting the Americas.

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"...no," James says. "Why would there be a continent there? --What's English?"

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"My planet has the same continents as this one, except with an extra one here. If you never had one then that's odd, but it's probably better than if you had one and something happened to it. And English is . . . okay, apparently it's not the language we're speaking, it's the language I'm speaking which is bizzarely mutually intelligible with the language you're speaking. What do you call yours?"

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"...Anglian?"

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"Anglia and Anglian instead of England and English makes a fair bit of etymological sense in the history I know about too, actually. People called 'Angles' on the corresponding island. But that's kind of a tangent, we should probably be comparing histories and technology and stuff. What are some recent inventions here?"

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"You've had a long and stressful day," James announces, "you should go to bed."

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Bruce's first thought is that this is a bizzare non sequitur and James must be hiding something, then he realizes this is just him being bad at social stuff as usual. "What--oh, I'm keeping you up interrogating you, aren't I? Sorry. We can compare tech trees in the morning?" His last statement comes out as more of a question.

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"Well, you're a sub," James says. "We have to take responsibility for you."

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"That's very nice of you; I hope I would have been this nice to someone who appeared on me out of nowhere. Where should I be sleeping?"

He's a bit confused about how his not wanting power ties into this; presumably if he'd been a senator or something back home he'd he just as lost and in need of kindness now. But whatever motives James has add up to letting a random extremely foreign person crash in his house, so they can't be that bad as motives go.

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James rings a bell and calls a servant to take Bruce to a bedroom, where Bruce will discover that mattress technology has improved substantially in the past two hundred years.

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Well, it'd be a bit of a civilizational embarrassment if it hadn't. Anyway, he's a grad student, he can sleep anyw . . . 

We interrupt this thought process for an important biological function. Bruce Banner will return shortly.

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When Bruce wakes up, he will discover a small bell on the nightstand with which he may summon his own servant.

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He was expecting to discover his dorm room, or possibly the floor of the Stata Center, and spends a brief while being being unnerved and confused again. Then he totally fails to recognize the purpose of the bell, because he is not a person who can summon people and servants only exist in fiction, and instead goes in search of his host and/or food.

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Not long after he starts wandering, he encounters a servant.

"Good morning," the servant says. 

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"Good morning! Do you happen to know whether James is around or when he might have time to talk?"

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"Yes," the servant says. "I can take you to the parlor. Mr. Cavanaugh and a chaperone will be with you shortly."

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"Chaperone?" He asks, then remembers what the word means outside the context of middle school field trips, then is just as quickly confused again because he and James are both dudes. Maybe this world invented prudery but never got around to homophobia, which would be pretty rad of them.

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"Yes. Of course, Mr. Cavanaugh is a gentleman, but we can't have speculation."

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"Of course." When in Rome, or at least in bizzare alternate timeline that also had a Rome.

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Then Bruce will be taken to a parlor, where a matronly woman in her mid-fifties sits playing the piano. 

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That's neat. He sits down somewhere, ideally within the woman's peripheral vision so she doesn't feel snuck up on, and waits and listens to the music.

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And eventually James appears, looking somewhat worse for the wear. 

"My apologies about last night," James says, "you caught us at a very bad time."

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"Now worries, I apologise for intruding. And none of us did any of it on purpose."

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"It's a bit of an unusual situation," James says, "because while the gods... exist... you don't normally expect them to. Uh."

"--Do things," the older woman suggests.

"Well, they do do things," James says. "They send good weather and victory in battle and excellent harvests. Not so much of the... summoning of people from other worlds like in a scientific romance..."

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Bruce nods. "Well, hopefully we'll figure it out at some point." Not that he's holding out much hope of that even if he isn't a Boltzmann brain. "In the meantime, want to compare technologies? I might be able to invent some things faster than you would have otherwise, since I have cheaty future knowledge."

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"Do subs in your world study the scientific arts?" James asks. "In ours, it tends to be a field of study among nondynamics."

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"Well, we don't have a formal distinction between doms and subs, so I don't have stats, but my guess would be that it's pretty uncorrelated? Except to the extent that people who especially want power go into politics or whatever instead. I study biology myself, so that's where I'm most likely to be at all helpful." He had several dreams about variously disastrous failures to reinvent vaccines last night, but hopefully he'll be better at it now that he's any amount more lucid.

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"...how do you have a society that does not distinguish doms and subs at all?" James says. 

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"Well, it's a spectrum, isn't it? Like, some people actively don't want power over anybody, and some people don't care either way, and some people like it, and some people crave it, and every point in between. And we could pick a point on that line and say, okay, here's the category boundary, but we don't really need a category boundary that much. What do you use it for? And is it a bimodal distribution for you?" It occurs to him that he might need to explain what a bimodal distribution is, but if he explains and James already knew he'll sound like a douche, so he doesn't.

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James has a strong sense of propriety and would never admit ignorance in front of a sub.

"We don't wish to scandalize you," the older woman says, "but surely not having a category division makes it harder to form, ah, relationships."

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"Oh, you try to have every relationship be one of each? Or two of the same? I guess I can see the reasoning either way. . . . Uh, sorry, I guess at least one of those hypotheses is scandalous."

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Judging by James's expression Bruce is totally correct!

"Yes," the old woman says. "Only a dominant and a submissive can marry."

 

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"Okay. Sorry for speculating. For a long time my Earth had it so only a man and a woman could marry, because that's the only way to get children."

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"Well, that's a silly way to do things," James says. "What if you don't want children?"

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"It is a silly way to do things; most places have stopped requiring it. But most people are still only interested in the opposite gender. Also we've invented a few different ways to avoid accidentally having children, but it was a problem for a lot of our history."

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"Genders have opposites in your world?" James asks.

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"Uh, it's sort of a shorthand--most people are either men or women and most men are only interested in women and vice versa. I guess calling them opposites is kind of incorrect."

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"Your world is very strange and primitive," James says. "I am glad the gods brought you here so you could learn the right way to be."

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"I don't think think anything I learn here is going to cause my society to divide up into doms and subs, even if I managed to bring the information home and people believed me about it and decided it was a good way to do things. It's just too much of a spectrum; lots of people wouldn't be able to decide which to call themselves."

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"Well," James says, "you can just see which ones can't have children together."

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"Uh? Pretty much any man and any woman can have children if they try. Unless one of them has some kind of health problem that means they can't with anybody."

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...This is kind of above James's paygrade here.

"...Iiiii think he should talk to Elizabeth Maturin," the older woman comments.

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"If your version of humanity has four biological sexes, that's really cool and I'd love to talk to someone about it."

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"No, there are only two sexes," James says. "Male and female. There are three roles."

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"And every combination of those can happen and both are relevant to being able to reproduce?"

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"Yes. --Although it's not proper to discuss sexuality in more detail than this. You're an adult, not a child."

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"Perhaps you could round me off to "space alien" if that makes you more comfortable? --Or we could go back to discussing technological exchange, sorry, my curiosity got ahead of my manners."

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"What's a space alien?"

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"Non-human people from another planet. My universe's humans haven't met anyone from other planets either as far as I know, it's just a concept."

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"Like... cyclopses?" James asks.

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"Uh, the only cyclopses I know about are fictional people from Earth as opposed to fictional people from outer space, but close enough."

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"...I think cyclopses understand what a role is," James says.

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"Well, they're fictional characters, right, so they understand whatever the author wanted them to understand. But I'm real, and from a planet that doesn't have roles, and I don't know anything about anything I haven't had experience with."

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James contemplates this. 

"...It would be better if your society had roles, though," he says. "You can't use sex for roles. What if a woman wants to run for the Assembly?"

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"Then she campaigns and maybe gets elected. Ideally, at least. Some people don't want women in government for stupid reasons, and they don't run as often as you'd think for a bunch of complicated reasons we don't totally understand, but in my country in theory any citizen who's old enough can run for Congress."

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"..............you let subs run for your Assembly?"

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"Well like I said, we don't have that division as clearly. Presumably people who hate having power don't run for elected office because it sounds unpleasant. It certainly does to me." Even if he could somehow get elected despite having zero of the relevant skills, having to have an opinion on every single political issue, with actual serious stakes if he had the wrong one, would be utterly dreadful.

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".........I suppose. But submissives do sometimes behave in an unsubmissive fashion. It wouldn't do to have people take up roles they are not suited for."

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"Things in my world tend to go better when we just let people do things with no criteria other than whether that particular person is good at that particular thing. But it's your government not mine." Uncomfortable shrug.

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"...I'm going to send Maturin a letter," James says decisively. "My apologies for my rudeness-- would you like more tea while you wait?"

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"I'm good on tea, thanks . . . but could I borrow a book, maybe one on recent history?"

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"I'm not sure that we have a recent history," James says. "People are not very interested in recent history, because they were usually alive during it."

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"What, they're not interested in the parts that were happening somewhere they weren't? Huh. Do you have a less-recent history? I could learn a lot from that too."

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"I have a copy of the History of Anglia. It goes up to the 1950s."

It is six volumes long. 

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Then he'll learn as much as he can from the first volume while James writes his letter! "This is great; thank you!" (Probably he would get a better sense of current events and technology by starting with the most recent volume, but the thought of starting a book in the middle itches.)

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Mostly what he learns from the first volume is that the history of this world matches up pretty well to the history of Rome in his timeline, except that way way way more prominent people are women and it's a submissive man who stabs himself in the gut due to the humiliation of being raped. The author is snarking about the fact that everyone agrees Lucretius stabbing himself is virtuous but no one does it today; it probably requires more cultural context than Bruce has to work out whether he thinks there should be more suicide or less valorization of Lucretius. 

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Man, if Bruce is hallucinating he is a way better fiction writer than he gave himself credit for. Also he wishes he had paid more attention to the humanities in school; he doesn't know his own history in anything like this level of detail.

He thinks it's actually pretty reasonable to find someone else's suicide sympathetic without wanting to kill yourself in the same circumstances, but also this particular suicide sounds like it was just tragic and awful.

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And not half an hour later a rather tall woman appears. 

"Good morning, James. You look well, considering."

"Good morning," James says.

"Now, what was so urgent that I had to rush here without delay?"

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"Hello. I'm Bruce Banner. I, um, appeared out of another reality yesterday and have been unintentionally making a nuisance of myself."

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"...That's a somewhat remarkable claim."

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"Yeah, I wouldn't believe me either. James saw me do it, though."

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"James is a very intelligent and credible person whose statements I would never question."

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Bruce looks at James like, come on, back me up here. Or don't and help him figure out what the differences are between consensus reality and his incoherent world model, that works too.

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"Have the gods marked you with some... sign of your crossing over from another world, perhaps?"

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"I've got an implausible device?" He shows her his smartphone. Even turned off it's pretty anachronistic, but he can turn it on briefly and spend some battery on additional evidence if she needs more convincing.

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"...the gods have given you a magical artifact."

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"I remember buying it at a store in my original world, but I suppose I can't actually check." Bruce has read way too many stories about people getting instantiated out of simulations with heads full of fabricated or inconsistent memories. Okay, only like three stories, but that's still enough to creep him out a little. "This thing is going to run out of power soon, but a bunch of the other stuff I remember is potentially useful."

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"...how can you remember something without checking it?"

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"I mean that I can't show you the phone store to prove that I got it where I said I did. Some stuff I can check, like, I know a species of mold that cures certain illnesses, I could theoretically find some and give it to sick mice and if it works then I'll know that at least that much is the same as I remember."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I think Eli would say that that doesn't mean much because you'd expect worlds to be different. --Eli's my nondynamic brother."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, but are worlds are clearly a lot more similar than I'd have expected. We both have weather and humans and some of the same continents and the Roman Empire and stuff. So I think it's worth trying things that were good ideas in my world if they don't seem a priori likely to be bad ideas here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...That's very strange. --I'm sorry, do you mind if I ask a terribly rude question?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Go right ahead. I might refuse to answer but I really doubt I'll be bothered." Questions asked from genuine curiosity are practically never offensive.

Permalink Mark Unread

"James said you're a sub but your body language is all over the place."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sorry for confusing you. It's kind of a confusing situation. My world doesn't have a distinction between doms and subs so I'm sort of neither. Also separately I have unusually hard-to-read body language even to people back home."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...well you'll need to have a role so that anyone understands how to relate to you but I see no reason for you to be a sub. Terribly inconvenient role. I think you should be a nondynamic for now and perhaps you'll decide what to present as later."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Nondynamic sure sounds more accurate, just from the word. But I haven't actually heard the word before; if I'm going to claim to be it, would you mind defining it?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"A nondynamic is a person who is neither submissive nor dominant. They're pretty rare but they turn up every so often. They're usually intellectuals or artists."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, yeah, that sounds basically correct, let's go with that." Weird that it's correlated with certain professions but his physics class last semester had literally no women so who's he to talk.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It seems reasonable enough, anyway, since I'm pretty sure you haven't presented, and in a sense all children are nondynamic. --James, I am going to take him off your hands, thank you."

Permalink Mark Unread

The implication that he's in some sense equivalent to a kid is a bit sketch, but it's better than being expected to support himself immediately so he can't complain. He just nods and makes a "Now what?" sort of face.

Permalink Mark Unread

James and Clarissa make some excruciatingly polite small talk and then they leave.

"...I apologize for your introduction to Anglia," Clarissa says. "It is not the one I would have chosen."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thanks? James was a kind host. How much did he tell you of what we figured out about the differences between our worlds?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Apparently you have a lot of technology, no roles, and something called... America?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yup! America's the country I'm from, it's on a continent this planet doesn't have. I'm hoping we can reinvent some of the technology. It ought to work if our worlds run on the same natural laws."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My brother's going to be so cross."

(Bruce is not sure how he knows this, because it sounds like English to him, but it is very clear to him that the word she's using for 'brother' means 'child' and also 'nondynamic.')

Permalink Mark Unread

"She's going to think I'm bananacrackers even more than she already did" gets in a fight with "I need to know what just happened" and gets its ass handed to it. "Hang on, something weird just happened. Weird question, can you tell me the name of the language we're speaking?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...Anglian?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think that might be less similar to English, the language I'm speaking, than I thought. You managed to convey a bunch of connotations on 'brother' that it doesn't usually have in my brain. I'm tempted to ask you a bunch of questions about how many letters 'brother' has and what it rhymes with and what other forms it has to see if I'm actually hearing the sounds you're saying but I suspect this might annoy you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...we should take a cab back to my house and you should talk to my brother."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure thing." He wonders if this is why nobody has commented on his anachronistic speech patterns or if that's just them being polite, and also if they have internal combustion or if this cab is going to be pulled by a horse.

Permalink Mark Unread

Clarissa hails a cab which is, in fact, very much pulled by a horse. 

"Brother has six letters and rhymes with, I don't know, higher?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oooh, the word I'm saying has seven letters. Or maybe you just have the thorn as a letter still. Are the letter sounds "buh", ruh", a generic vowel, "thhh", a different letter acting as a generic vowel, and "ruh" again? --or I can shut up, that's also an option."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fuh, ih, lee, ih, uh, mmmm."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ohhhhhh wow that's a totally different word. Invisible translation effect." Possibly he should not have written off the "there are gods involved" hypothesis so quickly, because that level of seamlessness has to be using a lot of very sophisticated compute on an ongoing basis.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I wonder how many languages sound like your language to you. Could be useful."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oooh, yes! Do you know any other ones? Come to think of it, I can't be sure you didn't just use one. Heh."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That was in Latin. This is in Greek. This is in Gallian. This is in Hindi. That are China."

Permalink Mark Unread

"English English English! Awesome! That last one came through with kind of screwy grammar, I got "that are China", but I understood all of them! Also your level of non-cheating polyglottalism is impressive."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you! I've been trying to learn the languages of everywhere important and all the places we rule. --Sounds like I need to work on my Chinese grammar though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, we don't know that the error wasn't on my end; I'd want to experiment more. What do you do when you're not helping stranded people?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm a member of the Assembly."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, cool. That's your legislative body, right?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Half of it. The Senate is composed of the peerage, the Assembly is chosen by a vote of all the dominant landowners aged at least thirty in the district. --Naturally, the districts haven't changed in five hundred years."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have a similar setup, except our voting age is eighteen and that's the only qualification, and the Senate is elected by state instead of having a peerage. The House of Representatives changes its districts every ten years but I don't know that I'd recommend it, the resulting maps are kind of a mess."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My district eroded into the ocean. No one lives there because it is entirely underwater."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh no, that is a shenanigan. How, uh, how does it do elections?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The lord who owns it selected me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, I guess if you're going to have lords of places that's a decent consolation prize for being a lord of a patch of ocean. Does not having constituents make it easier to do things for the good of the whole country?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, I still have to please the lord, but it's easier to please one person than many, I find."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, I'll bet. And presumably they already agree with you on at least some things or they wouldn't've picked you. What sort of policy issues are people disagreeing on nowadays?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The war with Gallia, tariff policy, patents, monopolies, the poor laws, enclosure..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"There's a war on? I'm sorry to hear it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The mad emperor Cyrus is attempting to take over Europa."

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, that's one side's one-sentence summary, but "That sounds unpleasant. Sorry to say my world still has wars sometimes too."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Eli'll be excited about that. He keeps trying to explain to me that if we have free trade then there won't be any wars anymore because you'd be getting all your material for cannons and ships from the people you're trying to kill."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That definitely helps! Not completely, and some countries are too poor to get the benefit of it, but it helps."

Permalink Mark Unread

"He'll be excited! --He's going to ask you so many questions."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's only fair, I've got dozens for him!" He bounces in his seat a bit in anticipation. Maybe finally someone he can talk comparative tech trees with! Hopefully he isn't too disappointed by all the areas where Bruce's state of knowledge is "I know X is possible but I don't know how to build the tools to build the tools to actually do it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Here's our house. I'll let you two get acquainted."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thanks." Bruce disembarks from the cab, pets the horse, and takes a look around.

Permalink Mark Unread

The horse sniffs and nuzzles him inquisitively for carrots.

Permalink Mark Unread

A guy in brightly colored men's clothing hurries outside.

"So what scam artist did James get taken in by this t-- oh hello."

Permalink Mark Unread

Huh. He looks like Bruce's really clever lab mate Lev, the guy who knows loads of psychology facts despite being a bioengineering major.

"Hello! You'd be . . . I'm sorry, I've forgotten your name already. Clarissa's economist brother? I'm Bruce Banner."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You can call me Mr. Maturin. --Are you not a scam artist or an unreasonably talented scam artist?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not a scam artist, would in fact be unreasonably bad at it. I can understand all your world's languages and I have an implausible device, and I can give detailed descriptions of an alternate history." He is happy to demonstrate any of this.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ooh, let's test it. I'm a purple horse. Chocolate is made of trees. Spiders fall off rocks in Hibernia. There are no teapots in the shoal. What did I say?"

Permalink Mark Unread

He repeats it back as best he can. "I have no idea what languages you said any of it in, though, I hear everything as my native language. Oh hey, what do you hear if I say 'Sprechen sie Deutsch?'"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I hear 'do you speak Germanian?', is that not what you're saying-- stop laughing, Clarissa, you'll spoil it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was asking if you spoke a language with a similar but not identical name to the one I heard back from you just now. What's funny? I bet it's my accent, I learned out of books and don't get much chance to practice with real people."

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, I was talking in a language Clarissa and I made up when we were six. Am talking."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You invented a language that comprehensive when you were six? I'm impressed. Does it make any sense if I say 'I can haz cheezburger?' What about 'all your base are belong to us?'"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...what's a cheeseburger."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, meat and cheese sandwich on a specific kind of bun. I was attempting to deliberately pronounce a misspelling of it but you appear to have gotten the correct pronunciation anyway. Man do I wish I could read lips right now, this has got to be doing something incredibly weird somewhere between your mouth and my brain."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I am going to be so embarrassed if it turns out the gods exist."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Me too, honestly. My world never showed any sign of having any right up until I fell through a hole in reality."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You two are very cute but we should go inside."

(Bruce gets that "cute" is a term used to refer to children, nondynamics, and submissives you're having sex with.)

Permalink Mark Unread

That's a weird package of connotations but English is a glass house. He'll go inside, asking Maturin "Do you have any books on recent discoveries and inventions? Or periodicals?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I could show you the journal of the Imperial Society? It's full of bullshit though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Language."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I thought we decided he's not a sub."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I really could not care less if you swear, when I'm not making an effort I swear horribly. And I would love to see the Journal of the Imperial Society and hear your thoughts on which bits are wrong."

Permalink Mark Unread

They enter a library that looks rather as if a tornado has flown through it. 

"Is that the most important thing? That might not be the most important thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, we should also do more linguistics, but if I can get a sense of what scientific discoveries and technological inventions you've had recently, I might be able to come up with advancements based on what I know from my world. Like, do you have vaccines? They're a way to prevent people from getting a bunch of different illnesses. And I know some of the principles for vehicles that go faster than a horse and can run all day, stuff like that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"See, I think it'll do better if you ask questions! You know what's important! --Yes, we do have a vaccine for smallpox but not for any other conditions."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's really good that you have a vaccine for smallpox and also I should get that as soon as possible, holy shit. In my world they eradicated it and I have no immunity whatsoever." Fuuuuuuck.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You eradicated a disease?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We did! Totally gone, no cases in decades, just a handful of samples in labs. And we eradicated a cattle disease too, and we're so close to getting rid of polio but governments keep fucking it up."

Permalink Mark Unread

Bounce bounce. "By Hercules! That's astonishing."

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh wow alternate universe swearing is adorable. Not the point. "Do you know how I can go about getting vaccinated? I super don't want to die but I also have no idea how hard the vaccine is to get."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Any Jewish doctor will have it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Don't start."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm just saying if the medical system weren't chained to outdated notions of propriety and service to a nonexistent deity--"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You can't say the gods don't exist. They'll hear you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And what? Fail to exist at me?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I would be happy to acquire a vaccine from whichever of a Jewish doctor or your local gods is distributing them more conveniently," he says, with what he thinks is as much diplomacy as can reasonably be expected. "But maybe it would be better schedule-wise to look at that journal first?" So diplomatic. So changing of subject. Incidentally, if there are gods and they did drop him here they arguably owe it to him not to get him killed off immediately.

Permalink Mark Unread

"The priests don't distribute vaccines. It's ungentledomly."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That sentence was linguistically and sociologically fascinating, in that it contained a word I have never heard before composed of morphemes I'm familiar with, indicating a social group I was only peripherally aware existed. Also in my culture priests and medics are very different specialties with very small overlap and a lot of specialist training required for either one."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll leave you to it."

Permalink Mark Unread

Eli brings Bruce to the library and flops in an oversized chair on top of a pile of papers. (Most of the rest of the library is also covered in papers.) "Most priests don't do anything related to medicine, but the priests of Asclepius-- he's the god of medicine-- treat people. Allegedly treat people. Mostly manage to avoid causing active harm to people. Why aren't your gods' priests medics? Don't they promise healing? I really thought all gods would promise healing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So, disclaimer that I'm a bad person to explain this because I don't believe in any of my world's religions and even if I got sent here by some sort of god I have no idea which one, but back home religions do promise healing but nearly everyone still goes to doctors because the ones who go to doctors often get better and the ones who just pray usually don't. You do ever get people refusing medical care for religious reasons, or doing religious stuff instead of seeking treatment, especially in cases where the best treatments we have aren't good enough, but even other religious people usually think those people are taking a bad risk." He's pretty sure both homeopaths and Christian Scientists would be offended by being lumped together like that, but he can only go into so much detail without detouring into endless context for the context.

Permalink Mark Unread

Eli blinks and then he says, "...so your priests don't diagnose conditions and prescribe treatments?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Most of them don't, no. There's a bit of overlap where if your main problem is mental distress and you need someone to talk to you could talk to either a priest or a medical-type person who specializes in being a good person to talk to, but only the latter will diagnose you with something. I think. I haven't actually talked to a religious official in years."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...those priests seem even more useless than our priests!"

(A servant brings in some tea and pastries.)

Permalink Mark Unread

His capacity for diplomacy is very limited and not at all sufficient to keep him from laughing out loud. "Pretty much! They would say they give very useful advice about ethics but I disagree with them about ethics a lot too. And of course the ones from different religions disagree with each other some too."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Priests give advice about ethics? --What's a religion? It's coming through as a word that means 'scrupulous observation of the traditional practices' but there wouldn't be... different versions of that... at least not in the same country."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh, it's actually a word for a set of beliefs about the divine and related practices. Different people believe in different gods, most of them only believe in one god actually, and they all think everyone else is mistaken. And my country's had a whole bunch of waves of immigration, so we actually have lots of different sets of beliefs, and lots of different every other aspect of culture, all piled into the same cities." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh. We have immigration from the colonies, but we generally expect them to acquire Anglian culture, not to... continue to possess whatever savagery they started with. And if there's only one god how do you explain all of those other gods people are worshiping? And are you saying a 'religion' is like... a theology? Or a philosophy?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Bruce is one of those people whose patriotism mostly consists of caring about the first amendment and hating Columbus, but he finds that right at this moment he loves America. "Yeah, the United States is an exception in a bunch of ways. And all the religions assert that each other's gods don't exist, except for a couple who say say they're worshipping the same god but each one claims the others are doing it wrong."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why would people worship gods that don't exist?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Because they believe they do? I guess there are occasionally people who do rituals associated with gods they think don't exist because they like doing rituals or like doing traditional things or because their families are doing it, but mostly people believe their own religions and think everyone else is wrong."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I didn't put that right-- I mean, I'm an atheist, right? So I think 'worshipping gods that don't exist' is a thing everyone does. But if you only believe in your gods then it's like you're an atheist about nearly every God that exists, and then have decided to make an unprincipled exception for one god. That's bizarre."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, no, it's super weird. Mostly it happens because people grow up surrounded by members of the same religion, so they never really think about other ones and it doesn't feel like making an exception to anything." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"In our world even the Jews know that there are lots of gods, their god just only lets them worship the one."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh, yeah, I'm pretty sure the vast majority of my world's Jews are in the 'everyone else is mistaken' camp. Though it's sort of complicated because the most popular religion in my part of the world is sort of an offshoot of Judaism where they assert the Jewish God had a son; I don't know if you mentioned having those."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...Their God had a son? Like Hercules? I haven't heard anything about that. Anyway, even if the Jewish God had a son they wouldn't be allowed to worship him I think."

Permalink Mark Unread

Helpless shrug. "Uh, bit of a grim question, but I wonder if your setup leads to fewer wars. In my world, members of different religions tend to get into wars that are ostensibly about religion but might just be pretexts for conquering more territory and stuff. But I guess if your answer is any more nuanced than 'we basically never have wars, what is wrong with you' I would need stats from my world to make a real comparison."

Permalink Mark Unread

"People who worship different pantheons still go to war-- the Anglians worship Mars and Vesta, the Gallians worship Cybele and Mithras. But I think it is mostly political anyway."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess humans are the same everywhere." He casts around for a less depressing subject. "So how about that scientific journal?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...we should do the journal but first Clarissa is going to make a face if I don't tell you how to, like, participate in polite society."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, yes, that's a good idea, please do." Everyone he's met has been very nice about him being a weird discomfiting foreign person but he'd much rather not make anyone uncomfortable in the first place.

Permalink Mark Unread

"So if you present as a nondynamic, that's easy, most rules don't apply to nondynamics because we can't have kids. --Uh, I guess I don't know whether you could have kids with someone because you're not Gallian so probably don't have sex with a female dom without asking her about it first?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I am so not doing anything that could possibly lead to children while I'm stranded on another planet, don't worry." Not like he was doing anything beforehand either.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Most of the rules for interacting with submissives don't apply to nondynamics because we can't have kids so we're not really a threat to their virtue, so you can be alone with them. But don't touch them or kiss them or try to have sex with them, that's very bad, if you do that with a submissive and anyone finds out you will ruin their lives forever."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, easy enough. Actually, when you say don't touch people, does that mean you also don't do, like, handshakes or high-fives or whatever? It shouldn't be hard to avoid that, just want to make sure."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You can dance with them, obviously, and if you know a sub very well you might be able to hold her hand or something. But I wouldn't do that now just to be on the safe side. I don't know what a high five is and you wouldn't shake hands with a submissive anyway, that's a thing doms and nondynamics do with each other."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know how to dance. Will I need to be able to tell doms and submissives and nondynamics apart by looking?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, but if you don't understand the body language you can look at the clothes. Submissives wear brightly colored dresses, dominants wear pants in somber colors, nondynamics wear pants in bright colors."

(It's true, his shirt is bright yellow.)

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, should be easy enough." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I should probably give you an etiquette book but if you're nondynamic everyone is going to expect you to be weird anyway, we're the eccentric natural philosophers and artists and writers. No one will be at all upset if you spend every party in your host's library looking for books you haven't read yet."

Permalink Mark Unread

He laughs. "Your world has better party hosts than mine, then. Not that I'm likely to get invited to any parties any time soon."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You'd be surprised, Clarissa hasn't decided what she wants to do with you yet but she might decide she wants to show off her pet roleless alien."

Permalink Mark Unread

That produces a series of utterly ridiculous mental images that look like a cross between an adults-only Halloween party and a gaming convention; he snickers. "Well, fair enough. What else should I know? Or, no, I should just get an etiquette book instead of taking up your time explaining."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Eh, that's enough etiquette," Eli decides. "We should talk about natural philosophy! You have vaccines, what other discoveries do you have?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Awwww yes, it's infodump time! Antibiotics and antivirals and what prions are and airplanes and the internal combustion engine and rocketry and we landed! On! The Moon!

Permalink Mark Unread

"You landed on the moon!?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We super did! It was really hard but we managed it! And we've got machines that can send us images of places and drill into rocks to see what they're made of and stuff, and we put some of those on Mars."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Your natural philosophers must be so excited!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yup! Though we've actually split natural philosophy up into a lot of different disciplines; there are a lot of people and there's a lot of stuff to learn in any one field, so people tend to specialize."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I mean, so do we in practice, a lot of people only dissect monkeys or play around with lenses."

Permalink Mark Unread

He tries to keep his distaste for the phrase "dissecting monkeys" out of his expression. People have to do medical research somehow. Still, he should definitely invent the IRB at some point. "That makes sense. Specialization is important, even though if I was going to live forever I would definitely want to study everything.

Permalink Mark Unread

"What did you do before? I'm a political economist."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was studying biology! Our lab worked on immune systems; we were studying why old mice are worse than younger nice at fighting off infections. Political economist is, what, seeing how government policy affects the economy?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sort of? It's like studying economy but instead of talking about the household you're talking about countries." 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh neat, that sounds similar to what we call macroeconomics. Unfortunately in my world different macroeconomics theories have gotten attached to political factions, so it's hard to tell whether someone is telling you what the evidence says or just what they wish was true because they like the implications for government policy."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It would be nice if they listened to us," Eli says mournfully. "The Senate thinks the more gold your country has the wealthier you are and they won't pay any attention when we explain that political economy is not at all like household economy."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh dear. Most countries in my world have switched to fiat currency--paper money that isn't backed by anything, it's just valuable because people will sell you stuff for it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...what happens if everyone decides to stop accepting it at once?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Nothing good! But that pretty much only happens when a government decides to try to give itself infinite money by printing a huge pile of it, and governments know that, so they only do it when they're already desperate for other reasons. The advantage is that it lets the amount of money flowing around change to match the amount of actual wealth available, so if you do it properly prices only change slowly."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I wonder if your world has anything about my work. I study the creation of wealth through trade."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's definitely a thing people study! I don't know much about it, but I know that international trade lets countries specialize in different industries and end up with more of every kind of good. There's mathematical models of how much benefit you can get from that but I only know how to draw the tiny two-variable version."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...oh. Um. That's what I'm working on. That thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh cool, I get to meet the guy who discovered gains from trade! I bet you're going to get famous for it if you haven't already."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, I think you're probably going to be the one who invents it now."

(He sounds remarkably cheerful about this.)

Permalink Mark Unread

"It'll probably take both of us to get it to a publishable level of detail; we can both invent it. Which raises the question of whether I should get a legal identity at some point."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We could always say you're a talented nondynamic of the lower classes that Clare decided to sponsor."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you think that'll work I'll take your word for it. In America everyone has a ton of official documents and if you don't have any then various bad things happen whenever you try to interact with society, but maybe you don't have that problem."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess... someone might in theory try to search through every temple and find your birth records?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Man, not having computers is going to take some getting used to."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What's a computer?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably too complicated for me to reinvent, unfortunately. If you get a lot of tiny things that can switch between two states based on what the ones next to them are doing you can set them up to do calculations, and if you add the ability to store information for later and take inputs and do things like 'repeat this set of steps until this condition is met' you can get them to do extremely complicated things like store information on tens of thousands of people in a form you can search in less than a second. And then some other technology that isn't strictly necessary for computers lets them send information to each other from anywhere in the world at hundreds of kilometers a second, so anyone can communicate anything to anyone anywhere anytime. It's traditional at this point in the explanation to add a joke about how people mostly use this to look at pictures of cats, but no, actually it's kind of integral to the fabric of society and we use computers for everything from scheduling appointments to controlling giant machines in factories."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...that sounds fascinating. What sort of things do you use? A steam engine?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"For the giant machinery? All sorts of stuff. Most of it's powered by electricity rather than steam--I could probably reinvent electrical generation if you don't have that yet, actually, it just needs a shi--a whole lot of wire and magnets and, hm, probably best to use windmills, all the other ways of doing it are either really fiddly or have awful side effects."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have discovered the voltaic pile! But it's only really used for scientific purposes."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's still cool! I should write up everything I can remember about generating and storing and using electricity and see if anyone is interested enough to build any of it."

Permalink Mark Unread

Bounce bounce. Questions about physics!!!

Permalink Mark Unread

Answers about physics! Atoms are like this very complicated equation you can use to predict what frequencies of light they'll emit but also they're nonzero like tiny solar systems! Electrons in a circuit do this that and the other thing! The big bang and inflation and redshift! Physics is not quite as cool as biology but it is still extremely cool.

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This is all very exciting!

Eli has forgotten to eat lunch.

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Bruce is, not exactly jet lagged, but thoroughly detached from any sort of routine; he's living moment by moment with only very vague anticipations of the future. He's not going to remember lunch either, especially not when there's science to talk about.

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Food mysteriously appears anyway. 

Thank you, servants. 

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"...so your world just does not have doms and subs at all?"

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People hiring servants is not objectively weirder than working in a building with a janitorial staff but it's still unexpected.

"Not really, no. Some people like being in charge and some people hate it and some people it depends on the context and it's not an axis people categorize themselves on except occasionally when they're talking about who should do what part of a group project or something."

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"...so you probably didn't get sex ed. Or you got your world's... less helpful version."

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"I got enough sex ed to get by with, but what's that got to do with--oh right, only a dom and a sub can have kids because apparently it's a discrete genetic thing that have no equivalent of. I guess I don't know if sex ed is better there or here." Why does the assumption that he's ever going to need to know anything about sex keep coming up? Does he look like a person who can get laid?

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"So the most basic difference between doms, subs, and nondynamics is that doms like hurting people and tying them up and telling them what to do in bed, and subs like being hurt and being tied up and being told what to do, and nondynamics don't like either."

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Bruce momentarily resembles a salmon in both color and ability to speak. "That's, uh, that's--I did not realize that was involved. I think some people on my world do that? But they don't talk about it in public. Usually." (Senior House does not count.)

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"Well, it's rude to talk about it in public, but someone has to explain it to children so they know what they are."

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"Yeah, that makes sense. When most people are neither, even saying which one you are is considered too much information unless you're actively trying to pair off."

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"So if you're nondynamic-- about half of us don't like sex, including me. About half of us like... kissing and touching and so on... without the rest of normal sex."

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"Huh. Okay." He feels a vague moment of disappointment that Eli doesn't like sex; he's probably missing out. Not that there's any reason Bruce should care about that.

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"But sometimes you wind up having to have normal sex anyway with your patron, as the sub. Especially if they're a woman, nondynamics can't have kids and abortions are kind of inconvenient. --Claire won't be interested unless you're interested."

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That's sufficiently the opposite of the norms he's used to that he can't tell if his instinctive thought of nope is coming from his preferences or his professionalism. Also, he's currently talking to her brother. "Er. Noted."

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"...I'd tell her you don't like sex but I think if your world is all nondynamics it can't be that half the population doesn't like sex."

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He really does not feel like going into how he would probably like sex if he had ever had any with his very polite host who continues to bizzarely resemble his labmate. He would rather grade a hundred midterms, actually. "I think most people in my world like sex, yes."

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"...I don't know how your world handles things but I think you should probably get the whole thing straightened out with me, a person who is totally uninterested in sex, before you accidentally offend the wrong person. Or worse flirt with them."

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"Yeah, okay, fair. How do I avoid doing either of those?"

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"Uh, I'm not sure how finding partners... works... in your world? Here you can see whores"-- the term implies "submissive"-- "or take another nondynamic or a dominant as a lover. It's a bit strange to have a dominant lover who's not your patron but not that uncommon."

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"My world also has sex workers, and people date their friends or their co-workers or people they meet in bars."

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"...so that much is the same. Uh, if you want to flirt with a dom you want to look like this"-- he rearranges himself so that he looks smaller and weaker and more vulnerable, and his eyes gaze up at Bruce with adoration-- "if you try something else they won't understand what you're doing. And you want to be all"-- his voice changes-- "'I'm scared, ma'am. You can do whatever you want to me, ma'am. Oh, please don't hurt me. I'll do whatever you want, ma'am. I'm all yours.' Or there's bratting but that's more complicated-- deliberately disobeying orders so that they'll punish you-- some doms are really into that." 

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Oh no, being gazed at with adoration is giving him some sort of emotion even though it is blatantly fake gazing for example purposes and neither of them is even into men. Stop it, brain. No emotions allowed. "Okay, I will avoid doing that."

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"If someone tries that on you you might want to tell them you aren't into sex or you might want to just go along with it. Going along with it's easier."

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"Why would going along with it be easier? I thought sleeping with a submissive would be bad for their reputation and I wasn't supposed to do it?"

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"Sorry, don't sleep with submissives. But if a dom says"-- tall, strong, forceful body language; calm and firm voice; he's less good at this than the other one-- "'you're such a pretty thing. You're mine, you little slut. I'm going to pin you up against the wall and take you and there's nothing you can do about it', it's often easier just to not object." 

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"I see. That's good to know." Is this how women feel all the time? Not that it's going to matter, he reassures himself, because nobody is going to want him.

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"Honorable doms won't, but some people conclude that we all don't like normal sex so it doesn't matter whether we want it in this particular case or not."

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Nod. "Anything other than those two ways of behaving that's considered flirting? I realize that's a really hard question, since pretty much anything can be flirting in the right context."

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"If you're with another nondynamic and they keep making excuses to be alone with you and telling you how great your work is and how insightful you are, they either want to have sex with you or cowrite a monograph."

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"Okay, that's actually adorable." It's kind of awesome how this world has an entire gender of nerds, even if it sucks in some other ways.

 

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"And they stop when you say 'no' and you don't get bruises afterward, so it's a much nicer experience really."

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"I can imagine." And presumably so can Maturin, since he isn't interested and has therefore only had sex with people who don't stop when you say no. Fuck.

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"Whores are probably simplest if you don't mind submissives. Whores like nondynamics, we can't get the girls in a family way and we don't like hurting them."

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"I guess that follows." And he would really rather put off the question indefinitely; he coped with being a virgin his whole life up until now and he can keep coping. "Is seeing whores legal here? It's banned in most places back home."

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"Yeah, of course. If whores exist it helps dominants remain faithful to their submissives."

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"Because it doesn't count as cheating if you pay for it?" 

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"Well, I mean, it's not good to see a whore if you're married, but dominants have needs and they can't always get it from their own submissives."

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"That's definitely not how my world does it but I can see how people would get there." He doesn't approve, but he can see it.

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"How does your world do it?"

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"Married people are just supposed to not have sex with anyone else ever, in most places. This probably causes problems when one spouse loses their sex drive completely and the other one doesn't, but I don't know if it's more or less total heartbreak and sexually transmitted diseases than your way. There are also people who don't care if their spouses have casual sex or date other people but most people do care and can't choose to stop."

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"I bet we have more venereal disease. I can't imagine a system where more people wind up getting the clap."

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Bruce puts a couple of pieces together, including the meaning of "in a family way". "Wait, does your world not have condoms? I should definitely invent condoms." 

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"Condoms exist but people don't really like using them."

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"You'd think they'd dislike getting the clap even more. But that's people for you."

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"Well, I mean, you have to clean the condom after you use it, and that's a pain."

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"Oh, I see--we have one-use disposable ones but I guess they're more expensive to manufacture here. I don't know if I can reinvent the disposable condom but I might be able to reinvent some stuff that speeds up manufacturing in general."

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"Huh. ...seems like the real limiting factor would be number of sheep."

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Yup, just as he's suspected. Another reason not to try to have sex any time soon.

"Well, that's why the disposable one is its own invention--there's a way to make them out of latex which I think is made of a kind of tree sap, but I don't know how to identify the tree or how to get from the tree sap to something with the right shape and texture."

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"We should probably figure out the simplest things you understand well enough to explain. --Actually, our first step should be you writing up as complete a history of your world as you can manage. --Actually, our first step should be figuring out a way to prove you're not a fake. Not everyone made up a language as a child, even in the Imperial Society."

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"Yeah, I should definitely write down everything I remember before I forget any of it. Proving I'm not a fake . . . my phone doesn't have much battery left, but I guess I could let people disassemble it and see that it couldn't have been made with current technology? We'd want to find someone who's word would be really convincing to do that, though, since I only have the one. Alternately we could try to make a couple simple things with practical applications and then ideally it wouldn't matter where I was from since I would have already demonstrated I have useful ideas."

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"I wouldn't want people to not know that interworld travel is possible! --I will send a letter to Cavendish and have him report at the next Imperial Society meeting."

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"That's true, people might be able to replicate it someday! Maybe while you do that I should get a pencil--or a pen if I need to invent the pencil--and paper and start writing down a giant pile of notes. It'll probably take me a while, especially getting it into some sort of useful order."

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"We have pencils!"

Eli rings a bell which fetches a servant. "Paper and pencils for-- I'm not actually sure I caught your name--"

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"Bruce Banner. Sorry, I always forget to say."

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"For Banner, thank you. And bring us our dinner here, I think I'm going forget to eat again. And if Claire hasn't told someone to do it, make up a bed for Banner please, he'll be staying here indefinitely."

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That sounds like everything. "Thanks." 

And when the pencils and paper arrive Bruce can dive headfirst into writing down everything he can remember thinking about before a couple days ago, starting with the big bang and proceeding from there.

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And Eli starts writing a letter to Cavendish!

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Bruce's entire knowledge of the world is going to take many hours and many sheets of paper to write down. It has topic headings like "chronological summary" and "biology (theory)" "biology (practical) and "biology (list of species)" and "physics (equations)" and "physics (practical)" and "chemistry" and "governments" and "biology (human physiology)" and "food" and "music" and "math (pure)" and "math (applied)" and "religion" and "biology (misc)" and several dozen other things. Also if he sleeps or has a conversation while writing it he might Lose His Place. Hopefully Maturin is okay with having a paper-munching robot in his library; if not he will probably respond to a sharp poke in the head.

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Eli is going to remove the papers and read them once he's done and take notes.

Hopefully Clarissa doesn't mind having two paper-munching robots in her library.

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No, that's pretty much what she expected.

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And eventually, at some hour of the day or night: "I think tha'ss everyth . . ." thunk. Now he is insensate on top of the desk with his right arm wrapped around his head and his left hand dangling next to him like a mistreated grapefruit.

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Unfortunately, Eli had fallen asleep on his papers two hours ago and could not do anything about this.

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In the morning Clarissa finds them.

"...I can't believe someone thought Banner was a sub."

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"Good . . . morning?" He peers out the window, wincing at the head-turning required for this. "Yeah, morning." He looks over Maturin and the snowdrift of papers like a frat boy trying to recall if he made any bad decisions after the sixth beer.

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"I assume those papers are full of exciting philosophical discoveries that will cement my position in the Assembly."

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"I hope so! I don't know everything you've invented so there's got to be a lot of redundant stuff in there, but there's also a lot of stuff you definitely don't have." Including some of what his world calls philosophy, in case anyone wants a collection of otherworldly thought experiments and a history of human rights.

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Clarissa looks through it. 

"...you oppressed women?"

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"We did a lot of stupid shit. I mean stuff. Um, sorry on behalf of my planet."

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"Some of this is not going to work at all. Of course submissives don't need autonomy, they're submissives."

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"They might like it if they tried it. But I haven't actually had a conversation with one, so I dunno."

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"Good thing your debut is next week."

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"Ah, yeah, I should really be studying for that. Er, not studying. You know what I mean. Are there books of advice or should I ask your brother a lot of questions?"

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"Let's see here..." Clarissa digs through the library and pulls out a couple of mostly-unread etiquette books. "These will help. Can you dance?"

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Bruce accepts the books and recalls school "dances" that were just a crowd of people jumping up and down to music so loud he could barely hear himself think even from his hiding place in the bathroom. "I can't, sorry. If you have instructions anywhere I'll practice."

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"We'll say you're from another world and can't dance, it'll make you exotic."

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"Okay." That's a relief; if local dancing is like any other activity requiring physical coordination there is no amount of practice that will take him past "lousy" and a week would barely be long enough to get even that far.

"A debut is basically a party, right? What does it involve besides not-dancing?"

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"People are going to drink and gossip and flirt and joke around. Several people are going to try to steal you away from me, although my hope is that my brother is so charming that you won't let them. You'll meet people and then they'll call on you later, or come to dinner, or go on a promenade with you."

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"By steal me away do you mean, like, try to get me to collaborate on their projects? Should I not collaborate on projects with multiple people, is that rude? Also your brother is awesome."

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"Currently, I'm your patron and you're my client. I will feed you and house you and give you an allowance, and in exchange you'll publish monographs and thank me in the dedication. Having a client who is literally from another world is a major social coup that ought to increase my social status and influence tremendously."

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"I'm glad there's a system for that that I can integrate into and I will definitely write a lot of monographs and thank you in the dedications." He doubts this setup would scale to the level of massive projects his world goes in for, but it beats the pants and the underwear off writing grant proposals every six months.

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"But, you see, other people would like to receive status instead, and so they will steal you away with promises of beautiful country houses and higher allowances. --If you do get tempted by one, bring it to me and I'll see what I can do to match it."

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"Okay. Um, I don't actually know how much you're planning on paying me. Or what the traditional arrangement is for turning inventions into money and how we would split any resulting money." (This is not really less awkward than talking about sex.)

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"--oh, goodness, I'm not going to get involved in trade, don't be absurd."

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"So should I just make everything public and let whoever wants to try to turn a profit on it?" Fine by him, that's probably the most prosocial way to get stuff widely adopted and it's not like any of it is actually his intellectual property.

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"Of course! I'm not in dire financial straits, I don't gamble, and even if I were I'm unmarried and I could simply marry for wealth."

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"I'm glad to hear it. Anything else in there you'd like to ask me about before I start studying etiquette?"

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"About payment-- I don't know that you understand our financial system, so why don't you try buying whatever you want for a bit, and then if you are running up unsustainable debts I will encourage you towards thrift."

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Blink. "I appreciate the trust that implies. Okay." It's a lot more nerve-wracking than having a known budget but he can start with the cheapest things to make demos of and hope he successfully makes the Maturins happy before he needs anything more expensive.

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"Feel free to interrupt me if you have any questions, you are as of right now my most important project."

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And now Bruce can study some etiquette!

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This etiquette will get the heck studied out of it. He makes flashcards for spaced repetition and keeps a written list of questions about important-seeming ambiguities.

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When Eli wakes up he can help explain ambiguities. 

(He keeps getting distracted by asking about how Bruce's society works without any subs or doms.) 

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Bruce takes more notes and answers questions! His society uses gender for some things and other things just get ignored or handled ad-hoc by individual people. "We should really name these Earths, we can't just keep calling them 'here' and 'my world'."

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"We could call yours, I don't know, Contra Naturam. --Did that go through?"

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"It sounded like Latin--against nature? It's a cool pair of words but I feel like whatever the laws of nature are they include multiple worlds and complaining about it won't help. How about the Latin for 'different nature' or something?"

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"No, as in, unnatural sex. Like you guys keep having."

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Startled chuckle. "That's less unaesthetic than complaining about physics, but, look, people there would think people here are having unnatural sex all the time. Let's name it after how we have more continents or something."

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"So we're 'Insula' and you're 'Continentem'?"

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"I like it. It's literally a difference you can see from space and it's really unambiguous which is which." 

It's kind of nuts that he is, totally by accident, in a position to get to name planets. Where by nuts he means awesome.

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"You would presumably know this! Because your planet has been to space!"

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"Yeah. I wish I could show you pictures of my planet from space; they're beautiful."

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"It's really unfair. If someone a month ago had asked me about the Planet of the Nondynamics I'd assume that they'd all be as interested in natural philosophy as I am."

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"Sadly, no. I guess we might be more interested in it than people here if only because there have been more total cool discoveries so far."

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"Assuming we've been civilized for the same amount of time."

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"Ah, no, sorry, I meant the causality going the other way--we've had more time to discover things and having all the discoveries to read about makes people interested in science. Though I don't actually know if there are any milestones both worlds have that are long ago and precisely dated enough to tell if one history is meaningfully ahead of the other. Did you have, hm, are there big pyramids at Giza?"

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"Yes! Yes there are."

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"Cool. The ones in my world were built . . . I don't exactly remember the archaeologists' estimate and I think it had some error bars on it and also building them took a while, but it was within a couple decades of forty-five hundred years ago."

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Eli stands up, rummages around for a book, and reports back, "About thirty-eight hundred years ago."

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"Wow. So either our ancient Egypts were already really different or you've actually had way faster technical progress than us. I would have guessed we have maybe two hundred years of innovations you don't; definitely not seven hundred. Maybe it's because your Roman Empire ended differently."

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"Yeah, it didn't really end so much as... fade, kind of. It's why you have lots of people of African descent in Anglia."

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"Because it was easier to move from place to place for a long time? Neat." He remembers a very silly meme from several years ago in his world; apparently the silly meme person had like 3% of a point.

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"Yeah. Is your world"-- he gestures vaguely-- "are all the Anglian-equivalents pale?"

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Bruce drags a hand over his face. "Okay, so, the history of interactions between people with different skin colors on my world is extremely depressing and I'm embarrassed on behalf of everyone involved, but basically yes, the British Isles do have a very small fraction of people of African descent."

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"What happened?"

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"The pale Europeans got ahead of Africa and the Americas on technology in a couple key places, especially weapons, and went around conquering and killing or enslaving a lot of people. Things have gotten more peaceful the last century or so but there are still a lot of awful aftereffects."

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"We're going to handle things better," Eli says. "We are bringing civilization to the savages."

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"Okay, see, it's not that I have any specific reason to disbelieve you, and I'm sure you're telling the truth as far as you know, but also that's exactly what people in Continentem said right before kidnapping children from their parents and destroying historical records and priceless religious art and things like that."

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"...Really?" Eli says. "That seems like not at all how one would bring civilization to the savages. --I guess if 'kidnapping children from their parents' is a harsh word for 'schools'..."

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"It's a word for schools where you don't get a choice about going and aren't allowed to see your parents."

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"Well, if they have a choice about going, they might not go! And then they would miss out on the benefits of civilization."

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"If the benefits of civilization don't sound attractive enough to interest them, maybe they don't need them that much! You can convince people to get clean water and, and the telegraph or whatever without imposing it on them by force!"

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"Technology is one thing but they'll still have an inferior culture-- ignorant, passive, incapable of adapting to change, unwilling to labor..."

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"That's also what the people who did awful stuff said, more or less. Look, what would you do if people from, I don't know, Antarctica showed up and said you had to abandon your language and your art and your philosophy and everything and adopt theirs? You'd want to look at it and take the parts you liked and reject the parts you didn't, right?"

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"No? I would ignore them because Anglia is no doubt much more civilized than Antarctica."

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"Okay, and what if some Anglians go to civilize somewhere else and the people there say 'no, we're ignoring you'? Will the Anglians do what they would want the Antarctica people to do in that case?"

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"Well, no. But we're right and the Antarcticans are not. I am sure if I met people from the Lost Continent of Atlantis who were more civilized than I and I were taken off to a school I would thank them."

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"What evidence do you have that you're right? And what evidence would you have to see to be convinced another civilization was better? Whatever it is, if it's really good evidence it will be convincing to other people and you won't need violence, you can just tell them information and sell them things."

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"--I'm not sure. We have great literature and art and natural philosophy and ethics and a high level of technological advancement, but I don't want to commit to those being the important things before I've thought about it. And I'm not sure that other civilizations would necessarily be convinced. A child wants to go play Getting Tied Up with their friends, but it's better for them to go to school. Parents don't convince kids that school is important, they just force them to go to school, and later on the children are grateful."

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Bruce liked school as soon as he tried it but he can see the general principle there. "That makes sense, but--there's an asymmetry between parents and children, right? Because parents have been children and know what it's like and children have never been parents, and children genuinely don't know enough to survive without parents. And even then parents still overstep their authority sometimes and do things that harm their children. But with different cultures, there isn't that. All the societies that exist can exist independently because they have been, and there isn't that shared experience where you know what it's like to be someone from another culture. So I don't think the analogy goes as far as it has to. Also, like, I'm not trying to work this out from first principles here. I have the benefit of hindsight; my ancestors did this stuff and now we bitterly regret it."

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"I suppose. It might help to write up what you can remember."

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"I've got a bunch of history stuff in my notepile, let me dig it up and I'll expand on it from there." He starts sorting through the papers until he finds the US History section, which has the most relevant details.

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"Why would you enslave dark-skinned people? That's silly. One thing we won't do is assume people are uncivilized based on their skin tone."

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"Skin tone happened to be correlated with where people lived and how much technology they had. They used skin tone as a marker, but justified it to themselves by claiming Black people were stupid because they hadn't invented as much stuff."

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"Well, obviously once you educate them the savages will be as intelligent as anyone else. Anglians are superior in culture, not by nature."

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"Then wouldn't everyone else be intelligent enough to know whether it's a good idea to adopt your culture or not? And maybe even have come up with some good culture of their own that Anglians might want to emulate?"

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"Raw intelligence isn't all that matters. I am less intelligent than Archimedes but I know more math than he does because I have been educated. Education and culture are the things that matter."

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"Education and culture are super important, I'm not disputing that. I'm not even disputing the possible benefits of, of exporting your culture to other people. I'm just saying that if it's worth doing it's worth doing voluntarily. If you showed Archimedes some new math, you wouldn't need to force him to believe it, he'd be able to see that it was true. And if you showed, I don't know, modern Anglian agricultural techniques to a Greek farmer, he'd be able to see whether they were useful for the land he was cultivating or not. You don't need to force anything on anyone, people can tell what's good when they see it."

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"Not always. A lot of people objected to the smallpox vaccine. Said that smallpox was the natural way of things, or that it was blasphemous against the goddess Variola, or that the vaccine was made from cows and therefore would turn you into a cow. --We didn't, in fact, forcibly inject all of them, but in a country where everyone believes that instead of just some people..."

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"Then--if that situation comes up it's a bad situation and there are only bad options, at least if 'look, we all vaccinated ourselves and we're fine' doesn't work. But--okay, another historical example. A few decades before I was born, my country's government subverted the elections of some foreign countries, turned them from democracies into dictatorships, to stop them from adopting bad economic policies. And that wrecked a lot of stuff and those countries are still suffering from it, maybe even worse than if they had just had the bad economic policies even though they were really bad. If you mess with people's freedom you can break a lot of things that weren't even obviously important. There are a lot of hard choices, but the consequences of forcing people to do things your way are always worse than they look."

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"Hm. I will think about it."

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"Thanks. I'm sorry about dumping this all on you, I know you don't make policy and even your sister doesn't unilaterally decide any of this stuff, I just--don't want to watch the same tragedies happen again if there's anything I can do to stop it. We can talk about something else if you want."

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"You don't ever have to apologize to me for arguing with me about politics."

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"I'm glad to hear it." It's a really admirable trait, he thinks, being able to listen to someone arguing that what your country is trying to do is immoral, and honestly think about it, and not even be resentful afterward.

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Bounce bounce. "Arguing about politics is the best thing in the world."

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"It's cool that you feel that way--honestly it kind of wears me out sometimes. Oh, hey, you're an econ person, do you want the history of communism and what I remember about why it's a bad idea?"

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"Yes! What's a communism?"

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"So, at a glance it looks like the economy is super inefficient, right? There are resources getting devoted to building, hm, boats for rich people and stuff, even though not everyone has enough to eat. Communism is the idea of, what if the government decided what things would be produced, and everyone had an equal share of the output."

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"...then even more of the money would go to boats for rich people, have you seen the government lately."

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This startles a laugh out of him. "Pretty much! But even if you had a government of perfect incorruptible servants of the people, it turns out that an economy is too complicated for any group of people to handle correctly. Too many things that are inputs to other things, too many changes in what people want to buy. So you need prices, as a signal of how much people want things and how expensive they are to make. I can try to rederive the more sophisticated math behind how prices convey information but for all I know you already have it; sorry if I'm repeating stuff you learned as a kid."

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"No, I don't think we have that-- I've been working on some of it, studying corn prices and trade--"

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"Neat! Can I see your notes?"

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Eli passes them over.

(He's halfway to inventing the concept of comparative advantage.)

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"This is really impressive; I would never have thought of this independently." It is a really cool but slightly intimidating bonus of having cheaty future knowledge that he gets to hang out with geniuses who would otherwise not find him at all interesting.

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"Bet you would if you'd spent as much time as I have staring at charts of corn prices."

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"Thanks." (He doubts that a lot but there's no way to test it, is there.) "I might be able to remember enough stuff to help with this, but--I worry it would be sort of like spoiling the ending of a story and I should work on other things I know more about and let you have the satisfaction of doing this thing yourself?"

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Leo bounces. "No no no no no you have to explain it to me so I can work on new things."

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"Alright, spoilers it is!" He can explain production possibilities curves, and with a bit of fiddling and re-deriving remind himself how you combine the ones from multiple countries to get a new one that lets you have strictly more of everything, and take a stab at extending it to n dimensions.

(Eli's curiosity is really excellent. And so reminiscent of his labmate back home and why is this the thing threatening to make him homesick, shut up and focus.) 

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While they're talking Eli puts his head on Bruce's shoulder.

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Bruce is not used to this level of casual contact! He stiffens a bit and then relaxes. If Anglians casually put their heads on people's shoulders to look at the same paper better then that's fine. Good, even. Where was he, oh yes, pros and cons but mostly cons of protective tarrifs. He writes and points at things and if his arm bumps into Eli's arm a couple times well that's how it goes.

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Eli has some questions about the role of tariffs in developing economies and whether Anglia could be said to be a developing economy, relatively speaking!

Perhaps their knees can accidentally bump into each other too.

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HER BROTHER IS RIDICULOUS.

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The question of what it means to be a developing economy for tariff purposes, and whether it's more of an absolute or relative thing, is an interesting question! One of those things that looks like a philosophical question about the meanings of categories except actually it's a question about empirical causes and effects in a funny hat.

Accidental knee-bumps are totally fine. Ridiculous? Who, them?

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And eventually it is time for Bruce's introduction to the Imperial Society!

Getting ready for it involves a bunch of etiquette pop quizzes and being fitted for clothes.

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Quizzes: can do. Hopefully he's as good at implementing the actions as he is at memorizing the words. He has never encountered dress clothes that actually look nice on him but he's never had clothes made to his measurements either; perhaps the advanced and sophisticated culture of Anglia can do what his previous quarter-assed attempts cannot.

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And now he is in his new brightly colored clothes and in a carriage and going off to the Imperial Society meeting!

"Are you nervous?"

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"Some, yeah. I'm sort of--expecting unknown unknowns, you know?"

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Hug?

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Hug. Mental run-through of what to expect. "Were you nervous, at your first one of these?"

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"I was absolutely petrified. Spent the entire time hiding in a corner with my back against the wall convinced everyone would realize I was a moron and I'd get kicked out."

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"Ouch. At least it's not just me." At least he had the option of hiding in a corner. Bruce isn't sure whether he's more worried that people will decide he's a fraud, or decide he's for real and therefore interesting.

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And they pull up to the Imperial Society building!

Outside is an elaborate garden, with many plants that Bruce has never seen before. Inside, there's a library. 

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It's a good thing he knows to expect the library, or he'd be making a beeline for the plants to see if they're labeled and whether they're ones he's heard of or if this world has different ones. He still stares at them one the way in.

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Eli smiles at him. "Next time."

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"Yeah." Deep breath, into the building and the correct room, look around to see who else is here.

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About half the people there are wearing in brightly colored pants and shirts and cravats; the rest are mostly people in darkly colored versions of the same, with some people in dresses. The room also has more pale people than Bruce has ever seen in one room in Anglia.

A man is standing with his back to the wall, eyeing the room with an expression halfway between annoyance and fear.

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Bruce is going to stick close to Eli and not talk until someone interacts with him. According to the etiquette books he's not supposed to speak to anyone until he gets introduced anyway.

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Eli introduces him!

"Mr. Cavendish, may I introduce Banner?"

Mr. Cavendish mumbles something affirmative. 

"Banner, this is Mr. Cavendish, our local chemistry genius, who took a look at your papers and confirmed they were from another world. Mr. Cavendish, you of course know about Bruce."

More vaguely affirmative mumbling. 

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Bruce alternates between making eye contact and staring to the left of Mr. Cavendish's head and says, "Pleased to meet you. What's your work on?"

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Quiet mumble that, if Bruce listens carefully, is probably a deep and insightful question about a piece of biochemistry Bruce hadn't explained as fully as he ought to.

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Bruce replays the mumble in his head a couple times until he's pretty sure he's parsed it right and then answers. He didn't explain it thoroughly because he doesn't remember it completely and also the science isn't totally settled on which of the receptors involved is the important one, but he can say what he remembers of the hypotheses that were getting kicked around and how he'd bet if he had to bet.

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Cavendish continues to mumble questions at him for a good fifteen minutes before becoming silent and disappearing. 

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"I thought this interaction would make you feel socially competent," Eli says. 

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Nod nod. "He had good questions and didn't seem to think I'm insane. It was pretty reassuring." 

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"He liked you. First time I tried to talk to him he made a high pitched squealing noise and ran away."

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"Oh dear. I'm glad I didn't bother him too much." How anyone could want to run away from Eli, who is super nice and the least scary, he doesn't know.

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Eli continues to introduce him to people! This one does botany. This one studies insects. This one writes political philosophy. 

People are generally polite yet skeptical of Bruce's claims to be from another world.

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That is so extremely valid of them! He mostly just listens to people talk about their work, but also tries to provide whatever evidence he can to anyone who seems to want it, even if that's mostly just "a very detailed and consistent story". Hopefully in a few months he'll have enough publications to, if not overcome the massive prior against interdimensional travel, at least make it not the defining feature of his existence.

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Now people are presenting papers!

There was a supernova recently. This species of insect has weird mating behavior. Here's a description of some plants someone found in India. This is what happens when you dissect a cat. Here are some interesting facts about chemical interactions.

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This is the fun part. It's very different from the conferences he's used to--fewer people are testing specific hypotheses or looking for practical applications of things, there's a lot less use of statistics, there's a lot less experimentation in the sense of setting up specific situations to observe as opposed to just finding something interesting and looking at it, and nothing looks like p-hacked garbage that will inevitably fail to replicate. It kind of reminds him of grade school "pick something and do a report on it" projects, except instead of just presenting what they found in the library encyclopedia it's actual new investigation that advances the frontiers of human knowledge. The presentations are informative, and the overall atmosphere is comforting.

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And then it comes time for Cavendish to present!

He mumbles a few token words and then flees the room in horror. 

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Aww, poor guy. And poor audience; Cavendish is brilliant and if he had been able to give a whole presentation Bruce bets it would have been a really good one.

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"You have to give a presentation for your report to show up in the Proceedings of the Imperial Society," Eli explains. "It doesn't have to be a complete one."

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"That makes sense." Is anyone else scheduled to present today?

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A couple more people, doing roughly the same kinds of presentations.

And then the party begins in earnest.

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Parties that come right after presentations are the best kind of party because there's a default conversation topic!

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"Well, hello there."

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Crap, if he's been introduced to this person he's forgotten their name completely. Possibly she has also just met a lot of people and lost track of them. He can hope.

"Hello."

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"I hear the gods brought from another world. One where everyone is nondynamic."

(She's a dom; she's an inch shorter than he is, but she looms.)

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She sure does. It's impressive and nervous-making. 

"Not quite everyone, but the vast majority, yes."

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"Must be"-- she says the words like she's savoring them-- "so terribly boring."

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Shrug. "We seem to get on alright." Darn sociology people. Why couldn't she just ask him chemistry questions he doesn't know the answer to or something.

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"Has Miss Maturin had a chance to show you many of the... amenities... here in Anglia?"

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What does that meeeeaaan help. Presumably it includes museums and stuff and doesn't include visiting a doctor to get inoculated for everything available. "I've mostly just been getting settled in and planning my research. She's been an excellent host though. I mean patron." 

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"Surely you can't be working all the time. Everyone needs some... relaxation." She says "relaxation" in much the same way that someone else might say "knife murder."

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"Mhm." 

Man, he really thought he was getting used to this event and/or universe and not going to be constantly scared of people all night but nope, here he is with his lizard brain convinced that this perfectly normal human being is going to turn out to be an axe murderer. Chill out, lizard brain, nobody is actually an axe murderer, you're just unreasonably terrified of minor social awkwardness. (He doesn't find himself very convincing.)

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"Perhaps you and I should go out sometime and... relax."

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"Could be fun," he says noncommittally. Possibly he is going to be Very Busy With Research until he gets a bit more used to Dom body language and a bit less scared of everything unfamiliar.

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She smiles in a predatory fashion.

"If Miss Maturin is going to neglect you so I just don't think she deserves to keep you. Don't you agree?"

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"Sorry, what--I didn't mean to imply she had done anything wrong? She's been awesome. Everyone here has been very nice." Gaaaah he's probably fucking up this interaction six different ways and he's lost sight of Maturin.

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"Oh, but I'm sure you don't always want people to be nice."

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"Um. Yes, I do? Maybe I don't understand what you mean. Sorry?" He really wants to make up some excuse for why he needs to be on the other side of the room right now, but he can't come up with anything and also he feels unaccountably nervous about turning his back on her.

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She reaches out and flicks imaginary lint off his shoulder. It hurts. "Isn't it... exciting... when people aren't nice?"

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He flinches at the unexpected contact and then feels deeply embarrassed about it. "I kind of prefer unexciting actually. I'm a very boring person except for randomly ending up on another planet." Was that vaguely on topic? At this point he's pretty sure she's internally laughing at him so whatever.

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"Come with me." It's an order in a voice that does not tolerate disagreement.

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"Okay." Oh no, what does she want. He hopes he finds out before he manages to annoy her any more than he already has, he thinks as he follows her to wherever she turns out to be going.

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Apparently she wants to take him to her carriage. 

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Oh crap, if they leave for too long then Maturin is going to want to go home and not be able to find him. And then how is Bruce going to get home afterwards. How did they handle this sort of thing before telephones? The dom whose name Bruce really wishes he knew does not look like she wants him to ask questions and he cannot scrape up the nerve to do so. Maturin is going to be so justifiably pissed at him later.

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"Home," she says to her horsewoman, and then she presses Bruce against the seat of the carriage and kisses him. 

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?!?!????

Bruce responds in the manner of a brick wall and internally reevaluates everything from the last several minutes as having actually been flirting the whole time. He really had not expected his first time flirting with someone to be totally unintentional or to lead to a kiss and definitely not both, and while he would have expected to be terrified he would also have expected to enjoy it more.

Maturin warned him about this, he remembers. He's supposed to go along with it and not make a fuss. He hopes being completely frozen counts as doing that.

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"I'm going to have fun with you," Harriet says, tracing his cheek. "I like it when they're scared."

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Gulp. Deer-in-headlights face. Is that better or worse than her disliking him being scared? That's a dumb question but it's better than thinking about what's about to happen.

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"Do you like sex, Banner? Or are you one of the ones who... tolerates it?" She keeps tracing little circles along his cheek.

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"I don't know."

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"Let's find out," she says, and slaps him.

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He flinches back and inhales sharply, and fights the urge to flinch prematurely from the expectation that she's about to do it again.

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"Well, don't you have a lovely face." Slap.

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His lizard brain is going "I knew it I knew it" but that doesn't actually make him flinch less or have any more idea how to respond.

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"What do you think," she says conversationally, "should I leave a bruise? Should I mark up Clarissa's little toy?"

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Bruce has never really known what to say to rhetorical questions even when they aren't being asked that maliciously. He knows he ought to give up on speech as communication and say whatever is most placating but he doesn't know what this sort of person finds placating so the truth is really all he's got.

"I'd rather you didn't but I know I can't stop you."

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"Good boy," Harriet says approvingly, and slaps him again.

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Yay truth, apparently? He's just going to sit here and listen to his heart pound. The fear and the accumulating pain in his face are making it hard to wander off into his own head they way he normally would when waiting for something unpleasant to be over. But that's probably a good thing, in an awful way; it's not safe to stop being aware of his surroundings even if he doesn't know what to do with that awareness.

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And they arrive at Harriet's house!

She clearly expects him to follow her. 

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He does that, with serious trepidation both about what's going to happen to him and about what the Maturins are going to think of him for it.

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She leads him into the bedroom, closes the door, and then throws him onto the bed.

"Men are so inconvenient."

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"Um? Sorry?" He's never been thrown somewhere before; her strength would be impressive if it wasn't terrifying.

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"The problem with nondynamic men," she says, "is that if I terrify them their pricks won't stand up and I won't get my pleasure."

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Bruce has not the first idea what to do with this statement. Even if he sincerely wanted to get an erection right now he's not sure he could pull it off, and all he sincerely wants is to be somewhere else.

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Harriet smiles and kisses him firmly. 

She's a very good kisser.

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She's good enough that Bruce can tell she's good despite never having been kissed before. He's suddenly very aware that there's a very fit woman literally in his face and he has no idea what to do with this information.

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She laughs. "Let's get you out of those things, shall we?"

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Gulp. He'll just hold very still and let her undress him, unless she seems to want him to help. 

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She does not! She strips him and then watches him like a butcher considering a cut of meat. 

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He shares many features with a cut of meat, such as motionlessness and having blood, and also has additional features, such as worrying that this evening is going to end with his corpse getting dumped in a river.

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She gets between his legs and takes Bruce into her mouth. 

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?!?!? !

Somehow in spite of everything else going on this is a pleasant sensation. Bruce gets an erection and also the urge to throw up.

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Harriet has quite a lot of practice in sucking dick. She does it dominantly, almost violently; there's a general air that she sure does have the most sensitive part of Bruce's anatomy in her mouth and while she is not at the present moment biting down this could change at any time. 

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Bruce is terrified and aroused and alternating between "frozen" and "twitching randomly". He wants to pull away; he wants to thrust into her mouth; he wants the ground to open up and swallow him.

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Harriet makes a pleased whimpery noise, pulls off, kisses him again, and takes his hand and puts it on her clit.

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dhsfafdjflglsh what do (that's a very unexpected collection of textures) she probably wants him to do something and he needs to figure it out before she gets impatient. He tries moving his fingers kind of randomly.

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She sighs, says "incompetent boy," grabs his hand roughly, and moves it in the way she wants.

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He flinches again, possibly at being grabbed and possibly at being called incompetent, and does as he's told.

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She shudders and whimpers under his fingers.

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This is the point where a movie protagonist would take advantage of her distraction to jump out a window or something, but Bruce is entirely too chicken and also doesn't know what the next step after jumping naked out of a window in an unfamiliar neighborhood is, so he just keeps going in the hope that if he makes her happy enough she'll let him leave afterwards. 

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Eventually she feels satisfied and reaches between his legs. 

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And here he had been doing so well at forgetting he was attached to a human body.

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She jerks him off roughly and skillfully until he's hard again, then gets on top and guides him inside her.

"Good boy."

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There's probably a context in which this sensation would be amazing instead of terrifying and overwhelming. There's probably a context in which being called a good boy would make him feel happy and proud instead of disgusting. Maybe.

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She wraps a hand around his throat. "Did anyone see you leave, I wonder."

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Okay yup this is the part where she kills him. He could say someone saw them but she knows he'd want to say that either way. She's not pressing down (yet) but he still can't breathe.

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She laughs in delight and begins to move fast.

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He might be about to have an orgasm and he might be about to have a heart attack and the only good thing about this situation is that one way or another it physically cannot last forever.

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She pins Bruce's wrists to the bed and kisses him and keeps moving.

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Bruce convulses like he's being electrocuted and makes a muffled noise between teeth clamped down on his tongue.

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"Good boy. Can you finish for me?"

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The mention of finishing is enough to get him almost on the edge, and he doesn't want any of this but his body sure seems to, and he needs to do what she says and then maybe this can be over. He simultaneously tries to come and tries to prevent himself from coming, and succeeds at the former and also loses all ability to have experiences or form memories for probably a couple seconds.

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"Good boy," she says. "My driver will take you home."

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Oh yay he's not gonna get murdered after all. He mumbles "Okay thank bye", realizes he just said thanks and hates himself about it, fumbles his clothes back on and gets out.

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When he gets home, Eli looks up from what he was doing. "You disappeared."

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He had the entire drive home to dwell on the awkwardness and try to come up with an explanation and it was way too long for the former and not long enough for the latter. "Sorry, I--there was this dom who--insisted I leave with her, and, I didn't know how to tell anyone where I was going and Ihopeyou'renotpissedatme."

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"...why would I be mad at you. Do you need a hug."

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Now that he's somewhere familiar again, Bruce can feel the adrenaline draining out of him and leaving him with the shakes. "I, yes, a hug would be, um, good. And also a shower."

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"What's a shower."

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"It's what we have back home instead of baths, the point is I feel disgusting. . . . Possibly I will still feel disgusting after a bath."

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Well, now he can be hugged. 

"I'm sorry about." Vague gesture.

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"You didn't do anything wrong. It would have been worse if you hadn't warned me."

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"Doms are like that. Why do we let them run the country."

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Weak chuckle. "Probably a coordination problem. Everything bad is either a coordination problem or thermodynamics."

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"Well, they're physically stronger than us and they're close to a hundred percent of the people who ever want to be in charge of anything, that probably does a lot. Let's get a servant to draw you a bath." 

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"Yeah, that too. Bath sounds good." He needed the hug too much to say anything about it but he's pretty sure he still smells like sex and he really needs to not.

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And in a few minutes Bruce is deposited in a warm bath.

Eli hovers anxiously around the door.

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Bruce scrubs himself until he's bright red all over and the gross feeling is replaced by nice clean raw-skin pain, and is surprised by how much he appreciates the hovering. Apparently the lesson his lizard brain has decided to learn from this is that losing track of Eli and ending up alone leads to Bad Things.

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"...are you going to need someone to stay with you tonight?"

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Oh crap, he's being obvious about it. That's pathetic, stop that. "You don't need to? I mean, I get that you have important things to be doing." Oh crap, he probably wasn't offering to stay himself, he was just suggesting asking a servant or something and now Bruce is even more obviously pathetic. 

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"I'm your friend. I like you."

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Bruce blinks in surprise and attempts a smile. "You're a really good friend."

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"I don't mean to insult your past friends but this seems like pretty ordinary friendship to me."

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"Well, I appreciate it anyway. Um. Would you mind turning around for a second?" Bruce wants out of this bathtub, and it seems ridiculous to care about Eli seeing him naked given the rest of tonight but also he doesn't want to be looked at even more than usual.

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"Sure." He turns around and closes his eyes for good measure.

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The Bruce can hurry through getting toweled off and dressed, feeling marginally more functional and marginally less like he's viewing the world through a periscope. "Alright, I'm decent." Tiny hysterical giggle.

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Bruce sounds like he should be hugged, and then not fully unhugged until they are in bed together.

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That is such a good plan. Bruce tries to remind himself that he's safe, everything is fine, and hugs Eli back and does his best to resist the urge to cling to him like he's a rock in a storm.

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Regardless of Bruce's good intentions once they get into bed Eli is going to cling to him.

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Then Bruce will absolutely not have the self-control not to cling right back. He wants to go to sleep and wake up on the morning of the symposium and have this all have been a particularly vivid and meandering pre-exam nightmare.

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It is not!

However, he does wake up to a peacefully asleep Eli who makes protesting noises when Bruce tries to pull away.

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Bruce instinctively stills and takes a moment to catch up to where he is and what's going on, and then relaxes back into the bed. He has stuff he should be doing, research and drawing blueprints for things and maybe also breakfast, but all of those sound like they involve being fully conscious and not being hugged, so maybe he just won't for a while.

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Eli gradually transitions from an unconscious Eli who makes protesting noises about Bruce moving away to a conscious Eli who makes protesting noises about Bruce moving away.

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Eli's hair is fluffy and also right there but Bruce is not going to pet Eli's head while he's mostly asleep, that would be super creepy, what even, brain. He will murmur "G'd morning" when Eli seems awake enough to hear it.

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"Good morning." Eli flops his head directly on Bruce's chest. "Don't wanna move."

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"Big mood. . . . I wonder how that translated."

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"Large emotion?"

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"Huh. Bit overly literal. I meant I don't wanna move either."

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"The miraculous translation effect is apparently not that good at slang. --We could just. Not move."

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"We will eventually have to eat. But not yet." 

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"That is what servants are for."

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"Heh." That is Decadent and Ridiculous but it's not objectively that much more decadent than the concept of delivery pizza, so whatever. . . . Possibly he needs to invent pizza. 

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"Cuddling is good. Why were we not previously cuddling."

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"Probably because I am very socially awkward."

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"I guess this is maybe insensitive to your previous suffering."

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"If it is, you should make up for it by cuddling me, oh wait you already are."

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Eventually Eli says "probably we should go do work. To get your mind off things."

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"Yeah. Yeah. Let's go invent things and be awesome." He sounds like he's trying to convince himself, but he does exit the bed.

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Eli has some questions about vaccines!

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Bruce has some answers! He asked about current innoculation technology when they went to the doctor to get him some level of smallpox immunity, and he knows the difference between dead and live-attenuated vaccines though not which one works best for which disease in some cases, and he has a vague idea of how to culture a virus in an egg and a much better idea of how to make that process less dangerous. Though that last thing may need some revision given the lack of plastic.

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"Do you have any idea how to make plastic?"

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I know you start with oil and I know what the eventual molecule needs to look like and that peroxide is involved as a catalyst . . . . Might need to talk to someone who makes lamp oil or something. Do you know how expensive oil is right now? On the one hand there are fewer uses for it; on the other hand there's less reason to mine it."

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"Mining? Mostly we get it by killing whales."

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"Ugh, that's right. Unfortunately I know even less about oil mining so I can't really do anything about that. I think it will be easier to get vaccines without plastic than to invent plastic first; it'll just mean boiling a lot of things."

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"Hello, boys," Clarissa says. (The term she uses means 'subs or children,' says the helpful connotation module in Bruce's brain.) "Now that we've announced you to the world, I would like to get a head start on two hundred years of moral progress."

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"I would also like that." He's nervous about the responsibility involved, but he's got to try and having a politician interested in the project can only help. "Do you have specific questions, or should I just suggest a bunch of things, or . . .?"

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"I am concerned about things I don't know that I don't know. Like, if there was something very wrong about how we built houses or something..."

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Nod. "So, usually, when a society realizes it's made a moral mistake, it's because there was some group of beings whose preferences and welfare they weren't taking into account. People from different cultures, or children, or animals, or people who don't have much money, and so on."

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"Slaves. --We're working on that."

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"Good. Slavery is always a bad idea. Also, republics are the most stable form of government and everyone who wants to vote should be able to vote, the extra stability from not having a group of people with no voice is very worth it even if they're uninformed voters."

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"That's going to be unpopular. --I assume we should prioritize slavery abolition because it is already wildly unpopular? And is an excellent propaganda victory against Emperor Cyrus, who hasn't even banned the slave trade yet."

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"I don't know enough about politics to know how multiple unpopular ideas interact with each other, but that does sound plausible. Um. Also, this might be unpopular or impossible, but not having a war against Emperor Cyrus would be nice. But you probably already know that. Unfortunately the 21st century has not figured out a reliable way to stop having wars."

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"Well, if we don't have a war against him he will take over all of Europa and have a war with us regardless."

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"Yeah, that figures. I still don't understand what makes people want to do that sort of thing but empirically some of them do. In both worlds."

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"He's a powerhungry dictator who wants to rule the world, I don't know that it's that hard to explain."

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"I just meant why are some people power-hungry dictators and other people not. Anyway, back to things I can say anything useful about. Um, as farming practices get more efficient it's awfully easy for them to turn into basically torturing the animals and also cutting corners on health and safety, but other than subsidizing plant consumption and taxing meat I'm not sure how to prevent that."

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"It's going to be difficult to persuade the lower classes that they should go without meat, if they can get it more than a few times a year."

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Well, there are a million definitely-not-evil things he can try to invent first. Maybe he can take tofu mainstream somehow. "I'll think about that one more. Has Eli already told you about our conversation about trying to civilize people?"

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"We are... not supposed to try to spread Anglian civilization to the savages."

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"Unless they give some indication that they want it. Spreading culture by selling things, or publishing books that get popular, or just interacting normally and exchanging ideas is fine; it's using violence and the threat of violence to spread culture that's a problem."

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"Have you considered that maybe the problem is that your civilization was bad and Anglian civilization is more superior?"

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"Most civilizations have been bad in one or more ways. If Anglian civilization is objectively the best one then everyone will adopt it without anyone having to force them. And maybe Anglian civilization will turn out to be better in a lot of ways but also there will be some things that are better in other cultures and everyone will adopt the bits they like from everyone else and converge on something really awesome. The important thing is that everyone decides how to live for themselves rather than the people with the most weapons deciding for everyone."

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"Well, we don't want the people with the most weapons to decide for everyone, then the Gallians would take over."

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"Right. And if it would be bad for the Gallians to conquer you it would be bad for you to conquer other people."

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"...I am really not sure that follows. Can you describe what the typical bad consequences of colonialism are?"

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Why did the universe pick a white guy who isn't even a historian for this. "Uh, lots of violent deaths when people resist getting colonized, people governing people from a very different culture and doing it badly because they don't understand the people they're supposed to be helping, knowledge being lost when everyone who knows is killed or prevented from passing it on to their children, widespread unemployment and despair, the destruction of important social institutions such that places collapse into anarchy the minute the colonizers stop being able to hold them together. Plus stuff like theft of natural resources and people straight up enslaving each other which colonizers could theoretically choose to refrain from but on practice there's always someone who tries it. Also being violently subjugated tends to make you hate the people doing it, so colonized people end up rejecting even really good innovations they would have happily adopted if they'd had a choice from the start."

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"Hm. Has anyone tried something else? Educational programs? Vaccination campaigns? I don't know, sending priests?" 

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"Educational programs work if the people have enough food and time and so on and think the things being taught are useful. Vaccination campaigns are great but they work a lot better if the country doing them has a reputation for trustworthiness; lots of people don't want a stranger sticking a needle in them unless they're sure it's legit. Most of the examples involving priests that I can remember ended in a bunch of murder but maybe if you get some very non-murderous priests. Though even then there's a risk the priests get murdered by someone else."

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"Why would someone murder a priest? Are they Jews?"

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Wow what the fuck, not gonna poke that can of worms right this minute. "Obviously people shouldn't murder priests unless I guess if the priests murdered someone else first, but sometimes priests will try to make it illegal for other people to practice their own religions, or convert a bunch of people who then start causing trouble for the people who didn't convert, or something. Also I'm not clear what you're envisioning the priests being for; is the idea to persuade people to practice your religion and if so what do you hope to gain from that?"

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"Well, they're more likely to get the blessings of the gods if they worship the gods in the way they like best."

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"Hush."

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Bruce's face goes through several seconds of internal struggle, including literally biting his tongue at one point, and then he says, "I am so extremely tempted to suggest that I run a scientific study of that."

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"You can't do a scientific study of the gods."

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"Because they don't exist!"

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"Well, something punted me between universes, but it didn't exactly leave a business card, so I don't even know if it was a person let alone any specific one."

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"...that's true but it seems very unlikely that whatever-it-is once turned into a golden shower and impregnated a submissive."

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"If any entities actually want the facts about themselves to be common knowledge, they can always show up and tell me. Or someone else. Or make the clouds spell out words. Or anything else that isn't sneaking around and hiding."

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"I guess what we can learn from the strange entities is that they want you to gain the benefits of Anglian civilization." (He's joking.) "We should really figure out more about how to get people to cross worlds."

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"We really should! There are so many inventions to trade!" And he wants a hot shower and the food he's used to and not to have his inadequate knowledge of history be all this world has to learn from and not to be abducted by terrifying doms.

"I wonder what would happen if James and those other people did the exact same thing again. There was some weird stuff on my end before I showed up, too, but I don't know how to replicate that from here."

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"We could always get them to try again."

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"Probably the worst that will happen is nothing. Well, nothing and then being annoyed about having their time wasted, but unless anyone knows anything else about this sort of thing it's the best lead I've got."

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"So you two can work on that and I will work on persuading my fellow assembly members that we should take more steps about slavery and not attempt to conquer all of Gallia's colonies."

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"That seems good. And I'll work on inventing more vaccines and electricity and publish some stuff on statistics, in case it doesn't work." 

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They go to see James!

James sulks about revealing the secret rituals of the cult of Bacchus. 

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"You mean your excuse for getting drunk with other doms."

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"Is there also another reason they're secret? If the gods are in fact hiding that's the sort of thing it would be good to know." He doesn't super want to get struck by lightning for prying into things man was not meant to know or whatever, but nobody else has been that he knows about, and he's not going to stop prying into things without a good reason.

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"People like mystery religions."

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"That's fair; knowing secrets nobody else does is neat. Can you do the ritual again anyway? Being able to go back and forth between worlds would be really important." 

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"Fine, okay," James says. "We'll see if anything happens."

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"Thank you so much!"

And while he waits to hear back on that, he can get some wire and magnets and start making a demonstration-sized electrical generator!

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Bruce is SO SMART.

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Bruce has Cheaty Future Knowledge! Which Eli will also have very shortly if he holds still long enough to get infodumped at.

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He is allowed to think Bruce is smart anyway.

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And Bruce is allowed to think Eli is smart right back! Also he'd like Eli's advice on writing up the "discovery" and a description of its potential uses for publication. Has Insula already come up with a convention for positive versus negative electric charge?

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Does it seem like Eli is the sort of person who would know this!

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He might know where besides Maturin's library to look for it! Bruce remembers (barely) a time before the internet, but not a time before casual instantaneous communication between any two scientists and a new encyclopedia edition every year.

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They can figure it out, anyway.

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And a few days later they get a letter from James instructing them to PICK UP their new multiversal traveler.

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OM(literal?)G it worked it worked repeatable interworld travel! 

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Shit they just kidnapped somebody. They should go pick them up so Bruce can apologize.

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James has summoned a very very thin man in an asylum uniform with a general aura of misery.

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"Hello. How much did James explain to you about what's going on?"

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"Apparently I have been transported into a different world. I wish this were more of a surprise than it actually is."

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"It's not? Has this happened to you before? Also, I'm sorry for grabbing you away from whatever you were doing; I honestly didn't expect it to work but that's really no excuse."

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"I was in a mental asylum so I imagine-- whenever this is-- is going to be an improvement." He looks around. "Nineteenth century?"

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Bruce has no idea what the polite response to "I was in a mental asylum" is in any of the three applicable contexts. Instead he says, "The tech level here matches that of the nineteenth century in the timeline I'm from, but they count the years differently here. You look like you're also a human from an Earth; we should compare histories and also maps of the world because apparently you can get humans in timelines with different continents."

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"I am in fact from an Earth." What Bruce wants is a reassuringly easy thing to fulfill and also very fun. Also this is possibly a hallucination but it is a much more pleasant one than his actual life so he's going with it. "If you get me paper I can sketch a world map."

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It has definitely occurred to Bruce that whatever Lev was in the hospital for might have given him reason to be in even worse Cartesian Doubt than Bruce had been in, but "I appreciate your responsiveness to the untrustworthy sensory inputs I'm sending you" is definitely not the polite thing to say. He finds some writing materials and tries to think of a way to explain the language thing.

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Lev's world map has all of the correct continents. Many, many more countries are labeled "the British Empire" than Bruce is used to; Russia is labeled "the USSR", and several other Eastern European countries are named things like "Transcaucasia" and "Yugoslavia"; Thailand is labeled "Siam"; Iran is labeled "Persia" and the Middle East has several other unusual country names, with no Israel.

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"Looks like we've got the same geology underneath but different borders . . . if I knew more history I could say whether this is consistent with a past date on my Earth but I don't, so you could be from mine or a third one. What year is it for you and do you count from the early Catholic church's best guess at the birth year of Jesus or something else?"

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"1934, and yes we do." He hesitates.

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Bruce is having too much fun to notice any hesitation. "2019 for me. Hmm, how to check if our histories are the same . . . we both write down a bunch of major events and their years?"

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"Napoleonic Wars are 1803 to 1815? American Civil War from 1861 to 1865? On The Origin of Species in 1859? Periodic table in 1869? Moons of Mars in 1877? World War I from 1914 to 1918? Stock market crash in 1929?"

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"Mars has moons?!"

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"It does! Two of them, Phobos and Deimos. And I don't actually remember the dates of the Napoleonic wars off the top of my head but everything else there matches. Hmm . . . Invention of the telephone in 1876? American independence July 4th, 1776? Battle of Hastings in 1066? Do I know any historical events in years that don't end in 6? Uh, Columbus landed in North America in 1492?"

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"Check, check, check, and check, and the moons match up too." He pauses for a moment then says, "if you are going to perform a ritual to summon Gol-Goroth please don't, it's a much less good idea than it seems."

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"I don't know who that is and I'm not planning on inciting any more summoning rituals until I have a way better idea what's going on and how to get people back home. Are you saying you have prior interdimensional summoning experience, because that would be amazing."

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Internal screaming.

"...yes and it was not what I would call the most pleasant experience."

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"I'm sorry." Bruce should hurry up and invent the IRB so there'll be something stopping him from doing any more stupid unethical shit For Science.

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"This one doesn't have any horrifying mouth monsters so it's looking like an improvement so far. --Alternately, I have finally had a complete psychotic break, but to be honest this is also an improvement on the asylum."

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"No horrifying mouth monsters on this plane that I know about. . . . I can't provide evidence that your sense data are reliable because anything I did would just be more sense data, but having them be coherent and consistent for several days worked pretty well for me. Do you want to help us advance the state of science here, conditional on here existing?"