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Generated: Apr 22, 2020 8:38 AM
Post last updated: Apr 22, 2020 8:38 AM
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 at 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 get 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 six 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!