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Apr 05, 2020 12:35 AM
Leareth in Cascadia
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"You know, I don't actually know-- there's a couple things that were important but I don't know whether the most important thing was using, uh, things like cars to help with the farming, or our really good fertilizers and pesticides, or what." 

Lev opens the door of the car with a key and gestures for Leareth to get in. 

:There's a spycam in my car, it's not safe there either. Uh, I don't know how to explain cameras.: He attempts to assemble the concept of a 'camera' and shove it into Leareth's head to see if that works. 

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...Ouch. Lev is surprisingly adept at shaping his thoughts for someone un-Gifted, and now Leareth has a hazy mental image and concept-sense of what a camera is, and also the beginnings of a headache. :We have something similar in my world: he sends. :We use a spell called scrying. It does require a mage, which limits its use:

"Cars for farming?" he says out loud, stepping into the car and sitting. It's quite comfortable. "I see how that would make a difference. Our mages can do very rapid work, including in farming, but we have few relative to the population."

Similar to scrying versus cameras. Leareth has always imagined that a world without magic would be a more egalitarian one, if kings and emperors couldn't draw on retinues of mages, but it's becoming clear now how a mundane tool like a 'camera' could be a powerful aid to an authoritarian government. 

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:Oh, so that works. I should try to send you other concepts maybe.:

"I'm, uh, not sure if this is going to make sense to you," he says, gesturing to the seatbelt, "but you need to take this thing and pull it across your torso and then snap it into this thing right here, because we're going to be going at like forty miles an hour and if the car crashes into something and you don't have a seatbelt you will die. --A mile is a little more than five thousand human feet lined up in a row, an hour is a twenty-fourth of a day."

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Leareth makes a face. :I can shield, you know: He pulls the strange belt across his torso anyway, though, might as well not put any more strain on his shield-talismans than he needs to – they may not be easy to re-power if he drains them. 

He does some mental math. "Assuming our days are the same length, I think one of your hours is not too far from one of our 'candlemarks'. A mile... That is very fast."

A Companion of Valdemar might be able to move that fast, briefly, but there are about a hundred of them in one kingdom of half a million people. Here, they've already passed quite a number of other cars. He decides not to try to explain Companions right now, it's not like it's immediately relevant. 

Leareth leans back and closes his eyes. Probably there's something important that he's forgetting to check, or ask, or plan for, but he isn't sure what and he's tired. Lev seems benevolent enough – and excited about cars and minds and treatises, in a deeply endearing way – and probably won't murder him if he lets his guard down for a couple of minutes. 

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Actually, I had no idea that you could shield, or that shielding is possible. Is it unpleasant to be sent a concept? If it is, I won't unless it's important.

"Cars are very fast! We let our sixteen-year-olds drive them which seems to me like rather poor judgment."

He starts driving! It does not immediately seem to be faster than a horse.

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"We let our sixteen-year-olds have magic powers," Leareth says dryly. "Well, not let exactly, it just happens. I could give you a very long list of problems this has caused." 

:It is not bothersome to be sent concepts: he sends, before realizing this isn't exactly true. :At least, I think it ought not ordinarily be. I am...finding this unusually difficult, for some reason. Perhaps eating something will help: 

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"That sounds terrifying!"

Outside the window, the grass and sky and buildings all begin to blur together. 

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"Sometimes, yes." 

They are moving quite alarmingly quickly now. Leareth tries to count the buildings passing by, estimating numbers. In addition to the strange architecture, there are a lot of them, and many are shockingly tall. 

"What is the total population of your world?" he finally thinks to ask. The real question of 'why is everything here the way it is' feels too complicated to dig into now, especially given the watchers and listeners. 

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"Five billion. --Uh, is that a number you have, I don't actually know how advanced your math is, a billion is a thousand thousand thousands."

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Leareth smiles despite himself. "I am familiar with the quantity 'a billion'. I am less familiar with this number applied to population sizes. The entire known world where I am from does not exceed one hundred million. It is a...challenge and personal project of mine, to at some point reach ten million people in a single land empire."

(He briefly flirts with the idea of siphoning off some of those extravagant-numbered lives into his own world, so as to skip the empire-building step entirely – it would only be one in five hundred! and it isn't as though he would be snatching them away from wonderful lives of flourishing – before concluding that, assuming this is a correct cost tradeoff to make, it's definitely a future plan and not a now plan. Intriguing, though.)

"How much longer until we reach our destination?" he says. They must have traveled miles by now, but hard to estimate how large a single city might be in a world like this. "I can save my more involved questions for when you are not busy driving a car." And, hopefully, for a place without cameras. 

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"Eh, here's good," he says, pulling into a parking lot in front of a building with large cryptic letters on it that spell CPK. "I'm going to introduce you to pizza. --Ten million is pretty small for a country here. Canada is nine million people and Gilead would probably crush them if we invaded, they just can't field a large enough army."

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...Leareth is suddenly very, very curious about how mass-produced devices such as cars and cameras - and the absence of combat mages - might affect military operations.

”Is Gilead considering invading this Canada?” he asks. “Oh, to clarify - we are in Gilead now? What are the neighboring nations?” :And which are allies or enemies: he adds in Mindspeech. :Assuming that is the right question: It’s starting to sink in that local geopolitics might look very different from what he’s used to.

“If you would rather explain ‘pizza’, though,” he adds, “that is also fine with me.”

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He glances around for drones and doesn't see any. :It should be safe to talk openly now. This conversation is strange enough everyone will assume we're playing a game.:

Lev walks through the doors; they slide open automatically when he walks through. He steals a napkin from a podium near the doors, takes a pen out of his pocket, sits on a bench, and sketches a map of America. "This is the continent we're on, it's called North America," he says, adding a compass rose. He draws a line partway up. "This is Canada." Line separating the east from the west. "This is Gilead. Mexico is here, Deseret is here, Cascadia is here. We're in Boston, which is here." He adds a dot on the Eastern coast, far away from any of the neighboring nations. "Gilead is going to invade Canada at some point, but probably in twenty years or so. Their population is falling and the average age of their residents is rising, so the longer we wait the easier they will be to invade." 

 

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Maps. Good. Leareth already feels more oriented.

“...Why is their population falling? Are there difficulties with their farming practices?” A pause. “What would be the goal of this invasion - further territory, or something else?” One might say that twenty years out is a long time for planning a future attack, but Leareth is hardly one to talk.

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"...Some of the technologies we used to make all the things you've seen so far put a substance called bitoxiphosphene into the air, which destroys the female reproductive system. Women can't have babies, or they miscarry, or they have babies and the babies die, and it all gets worse as they age. Canada wants women to get an education and get married before they have children, so many women don't start having kids until they're 27, and at that point they're lucky to have one that survives its first month out of the womb."

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Oh. Oh. An important piece of context that Leareth would really have preferred to know sooner. His mind churns ahead, trying to chain through the implications - what would that mean, what would it do...

Well, if this Canada is the exception, he can guess. “This is why your government is...the way that it is? How long has this been the situation?”

Leareth realizes he knows little of the rate of development in this society; over two thousand years, he’s seen a dozen empires rise and fall, with very different rates of change-over-time. The Haighlei, for example, are...better not spoken of. 

“How does the timing compare to, oh, when your cars and cameras were first built?” he adds.

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A waitress takes them to a table; they sit down. She leaves them two pieces of paper covered with a strange transparent substance Leareth has never seen before.

"The fertility crisis started in earnest about a hundred years ago; the previous government was overthrown when I was a baby, about thirty years ago. In the past Deseret, Cascadia, this bit of Mexico" (he draws a dashed line) "and this bit of Canada" (he draws a dashed line around a bit at the very top) "were all part of a single country also called America. Cars were built about fifty years before the fertility crisis got off the ground, cameras-- I don't know how old cameras are-- video cameras that can watch you can't be more than sixty or seventy years old."

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Leareth starts to ask more about video cameras, and then stops.

"Could I write some notes on the other side of this?" he asks, touching the napkin. It's occurred to him that even if whatever strange phenomenon lets him and Lev understand one another with no difficulty extends to writing, it almost certainly can't handle of his personal ciphers. He badly needs to make a list; they're finally in a safe place to speak and it's time to dive into the really important questions. The ones leading up to 'what would it take, exactly, to fix the things wrong with your world'. 

Not that he's committed to that path, he doesn't have ten years to spare much less a century, but he might as well check for easy solutions.  

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"You can have your own," Lev says, and hands him a stack of napkins from the side of the table.

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Leareth works on making notes for a few minutes. He covers several napkins. 

"I wished to prioritize my questions," he says finally. "I have a better order now for the important ones. First, however, how do we actually obtain food?" He hasn't quite been able to glimpse the answer in Lev's surface thoughts. "Also – this is not an important question – how does this pen work? The ink is already inside?" 

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A waitress comes by and leaves them glasses of water. Lev says, "we'll have two coffees, white corn guacamole, a pear and gorgonzola pizza, and a mushroom pepperoni sausage pizza." She writes it down and leaves, and he says "like that."

"I don't know how pens work in detail, but the ink is inside, yeah. One exploded on me once."

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Leareth winces. "Exploded? Did it harm you?" He sets aside the pen just in case, even though it shouldn't be able to get through his shields, and takes a sip from his glass. Water is a good idea. 

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"Nope. Just ruined my shirt. So what's your first question?"

(If Leareth is still watching Lev's mind, he might notice the half-formed thought that Leareth is handsome and has a very interesting way of approaching things, and then a no slamming down on it.)

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(Leareth is only half paying attention; he catches the 'interesting approach', and the warmth, and is momentarily pleased, but he's mostly focused on his questions list.)

"I am trying to understand your metaphysics," he says. "You lack magic, but you have – one God? Many gods? It was not entirely clear. Also, demons were mentioned. I wish to know more of your current scholarly understanding of these phenomena." He smiles slightly. "I understand if it is not complete. My own research, in my homeworld, has been a very long and arduous process." 

:There is a part I am not sure we ought to discuss out loud, even here: he adds, keeping his mindvoice very neutral. :Your God or gods – what is Their relationship to your government, and to the Eyes you have spoken of? Do They...participate...in the current order of things?: 

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"One God," Lev says, "made up of three Persons. Uh, it's best not to try to understand how that works, any explanation that makes sense is a heresy, we just assume that the inner workings of the all-powerful all-knowing being who created the universe are kind of mysterious. Angels and demons are both kinds of spirits-- angels are the spirits that obeyed God, while demons are the spirits that disobeyed him."

:God intervenes in the world regularly but doesn't really play a role in governance except by, like, answering people's prayers for wisdom and guidance.:

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