Jun 05, 2020 9:15 AM
Isabella Swan is a high school student who gets struck by a motor vehicle
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"This is within normal temperature range for my planet. Nine minus three is six, yes. I do not know exactly what process leads me to be currently physically intact, but I had a very injurious accident right before the conversation I had with that guy who called himself a god about how he was going to drop me here. 'Minus the lethal injuries' is a figure of speech. Talking without figures of speech is very hard. I can try harder if it's going to keep sidetracking you from explaining whatever thing you were so urgent about before though."

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"I'm worried I might have a lot of wrong ideas.  I want to ask how you were lethally injured, and who was that guy who called himself a god, but - maybe even before then - can you just explain in general who you were, where you're from, and how being Summoned really works?"

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"Yeah. I will try to do it without figures of speech. Uh, I am from a planet called Earth, and a nation called the United States, which is so called because it is a group of fifty sub-nations called states which all operate as a single country together. I was born in a state called Washington. To, uh, a mother and a father, who were at the time married. He's a law enforcement officer in the small town where I was born - small is like, uh, three thousand people ish. She's a teacher of five year o- she's a teacher of children who are about this tall," gesture, "I don't know how long your years are. He does things like stop people from minor acts of vandalism and public intoxication because the town isn't big enough to have major crimes on a routine basis. She teaches the kids to, like, count and read and hold scissors correctly, stuff like that. They got a divorce when I was a baby and I moved with my mother to the state of Arizona where we lived in a city, uh, I don't recall how big it is but at least a couple orders of magnitude bigger than the small town, maybe more than a million people? Uh, we lived in a house and I started attending school when I was this tall," gesture. "When I... had been my current height but not for very long... my mom married a guy who professionally plays a ball game for the entertainment of an audience some of whom attend in person and pay for tickets and some of whom watch the games in their homes with the use of non-magical devices that reproduce the visual and sound experiences of being present at the games for them. His job is based out of the state of Florida. I didn't feel like moving to Florida so I decided to go back to Washington with my dad, and transferred to the school for people in my age range there. Where I studied, uh, calculus and history and literature and chemistry and stuff, and got an exemption for physical education because I'd just hurt myself because I had a balance disorder. My dad got me a truck, which is a vehicle that goes by itself without horses, instead burning a kind of liquid fuel to run a machine inside of it to make the wheels turn, and I used the truck to go to school and the grocery store and the beach and stuff. Some other students at the school also had similar vehicles. And one day one of them lost control of the direction of his vehicle on the ice on the ground, and skidded, and crashed into me and hurt me really badly.

And my next experience was of not being injured and sitting on some kind of uncomfortable rug thing in the middle of the sky with no obvious ground below, except it was still blue in every direction, which isn't what I expect of planetless sky? With two cups of tea and an old man who told me he was a god and that there was a demon lord and - hang on, I wrote down what I remembered of what he said when I appeared here." She swings her backpack around to her front and digs out the notebook.

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Haroun listens in utter fascination.  If he tries to ignore some of his preconceptions - "You were a student scholar, your mother taught children, and your father was - is - a guardsman.  You weren't expecting to be summoned here, you got run over by - by an alchemically powered thing that does what a carriage does, but without the horses - and there's a weird old man with tea who's behind the whole Summoned Heroes business?  Am I making this all out correctly?"

Haroun will buy as much of this fascinating information as Bella will sell him!  If it's free he will buy literally all of it.

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"I think student scholar implies that it's less common than it is. In the United States it is typical to continue education till one is slightly older than me and common to keep going after that. Alchemical also sounds off, I think? Implies the wrong.. genre, metaphorically speaking."

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"But you were studying the rate at which things change?"  (This being what calculus sounded like to him.)  "That sounds like pretty high-class subject matter for my world.  Does everybody study the rate at which things change?  What's it mean to have a carriage with no horses from a different kind of literature?"

Haroun will keep going like this until he falls over from lack of sleep, if Bella doesn't stop him.  Imagine the behavior of a very young boy in a candy shop where all the candy is free, who's never actually had anyone explain to him about stomachaches.

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"Uh, the rate at which things change is a subset of math and everybody studies math but not everybody is good enough at it to get that far. 'Genre' was a metaphor. Like... is setting a pile of logs on fire 'alchemy'? It's just setting something on fire, and then doing stuff I have not learned about with the fire to cause the engine to move."

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"Am I asking the right questions here?  I mean, is the fact that rate-of-change studies is a kind of math, and that setting a pile of logs on fire can make a carriage move without horses, a deep clue about the nature of reality where you come from and the key to great and powerful Skills?  Or is it just a bit of trivia?"

It hasn't occurred to Haroun that Bella is in the middle of taking out her notebook in order to answer one of his previous questions about weird tea god guy.  He's not making a deliberate decision to ask this question instead.  It's just that any form of silence is an unbearable temptation to ask even more questions.

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"- we don't make things move with logs, that's just an example of a thing that I do not think of as alchemy and think is similar to setting vehicle fuel on fire. I feel like the exact ways in which you keep getting confused might be useful tria- uh, might be useful for figuring out how to communicate better about things like whatever urgent thing you wanted to talk about before, but I don't know if it's a priority." She turns to the notes about what the god said. "Do you want to know what the god and I said to each other, I'll have to translate -"

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This sounds even more important than calculus!  Though mainly because Bella isn't selling calculus very hard.

"Yes, absolutely!"

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"I said - mind this is translated and all taken down after the conversation was over - I said hello. He said 'how odd, I can't read your soul, ah, I see you've already picked your unique skill to be Inviolable Mind. We don't have long to talk but I should have summoned a soul from a higher world that has approximately correct expectations about my situation. I am a God, one of my worlds needs a hero to save it from a Demon Lord, things should be as you expect given that. If you have questions ask them quickly, time spent here is expensive.' And I asked 'can I alter the world by altering my expectations' and he said 'not until you've realized a lot more of your potential'. And I said 'if I come up with more questions that seem worth asking is there a way to do that'. And he either said no or shook his head, I have that uncertainty written down here - and I said 'what do you mean about my potential' and he said 'it seems you aren't as acquainted with the situation as I hoped. Your soul is from a higher world, entering a less orderly place. Like everyone else in that situation you can expect a unique skill, the ability to learn magic of any element, chant shortening, and the ability to reach great heights given time and trials. But if you didn't already know that, then you'll have to seek information on your own. Good luck.'

Then I was standing on a road, over the hill from where we met.

Also he kept drinking tea the whole time, don't know what that means."

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It's clear that the Summoned Hero doesn't know some very important things, and that Haroun is going to have to take at least temporary responsibility for this age's battle whether he wants to or not.  "Don't tell anyone what your 『Unique Skill』 is!  That's vital tactical and strategic information for the war against the Demon Lord, and in a few months they'll have spies and informants everywhere, if they don't already.  I'd like for you not to kill me once you've realized your mistake but I'd understand if you did."  At least she didn't actually pronounce the『Quoted Name』 for the Skill, though knowing that it means 'inviolable mind' is bad enough already.  "Look, uh, just for example - slave collars operate by reading your mind and punishing you if you think about harming your master or escaping, right?  'Inviolable Mind' sounds like you could put on a slave collar and it'd look to anyone like a fully functioning slave collar, but if the collar can't read your mind, you could just shiv the collar's registered master and saw it off your neck afterwards.  That would probably work for assassinating half the major nobles in Relica!  But it only works if they don't know you can do it."

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"I think I still like this place better than being dead but I get less sure of that occasionally. Uh, the word 'skill' is coming up a lot and I'm starting to suspect it's significant, please explain that. Also you still haven't explained what you seemed to think was so fucking important about how I don't know how to use my powers."

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"Summoned Heroes leave giant craters when they fight things!  Some of them are big enough to reach from here to where my family's house is!  I'm not going to say you should never do that, but it seems very important that you only do it on purpose rather than by accident.  And, uh, Skills are - you know, once you learn how to do enough of something, you know the rest of it that's in the pool of common knowledge?  I'm not sure what specifically you're asking about."

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"Suppose I don't know how once I learn how to do enough of something additional knowledge appears spontaneously. Suppose that sounds weird to me."

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"...how did your world get to the point of producing very finely woven clothes?  I can't imagine somebody learning enough to do that all on their own, unless you live longer than High Elves."

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"Uh, I am about a fifth of the way through a lifespan? I don't know how long elves here live, we don't have elves. My clothes were machine woven. Or knitted. The pants are woven but I think everything else is knitted. Actually I don't know how they do the outer shell of the coat, that might be neither somehow. And the shoes are different too."

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"Where do you get artifacts to weave things if nobody has Skills to enchant artifacts?  I'm sorry, I'm sort of asking the wrong question here.  The way it works here, somebody teaches you to knit a few knots, and when you get good enough at that, you know the rest.  Sages have tried to get estimates of how many people have to know something for it to become part of a Skill, and it's something like a few dozen people maybe?  And that works more for doing things, like knitting, than for recording things, like the lineage of the kings in your local kingdom.  Knowing a little of that lineage won't give you the rest, even if lots of people have the whole lineage memorized.  There's theories about 'ideomorphic resonance' and 'akashic records' and so on.  But if anybody ever knew for sure, that knowledge was lost one of the times a Demon Lord destroyed everything.  Uh, some skills can't be obtained by just anyone who learns enough of the knowledge, you have to fulfill conditions first.  Those are 『Rare Skills』.  If only one person can know something at a time that's a 『Unique Skill』.  I can imagine somebody becoming proficient at 『Fireball』 just by casting the unskilled version often enough, though it sounds like a hell of a pain.  But weaving a shirt as tightly as yours, never mind making an artifact to weave shirts that tightly, seems like it should be, respectively, a second-tier or third-tier Skill?  One where you can only learn to do it at all once you've learned some first-tier Skills, and practiced them enough to find your own way of doing it instead of everybody's average way of doing it, and absorbed the next level of knowledge in the Skill's sequence and practiced that too, until you've reached the maximum level.  Then somebody walks you through some new exercises that rely on multiple first-tier Skills, and when you do those right enough, you get the second-tier Skill.  And then you have to practice that!  If I imagine trying to go through that whole process without Skills existing, I just don't see anybody enchanting a tier-3 artifact to weave shirts like yours, unless they're, I dunno, eighty years old by the time they finish building it?  Or, this sounds more like the right question, what does your world have instead of Skills, so that you can make artifacts that make shirts?  Do you animate dead crafters so they go on reproducing their peak works after they die of old age?  Is there a long-lived race that forges epic tools that allow shorter-lived crafters to create high-tier artifacts?  Or are you, like... a hundred million times older than all the time that's passed since I regained consciousness?"

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"I keep telling you, we don't have magic. Nothing in my entire universe as far as I know is enchanted including the fabric-knitting machines. No knowledge is ever spontaneously generated - sometimes people make lucky guesses or intuitive leaps but by and large you have to actually learn things to know them. We do not have... necromancy or whatever it is that you'd use to animate dead people. - is magic just not even a category you have, is it like trying to imagine a world where... nobody has a vestibular system or something, I don't know what the right analogy is? I'm... uh... I'm not this good at mental math hang on -" She gets out her calculator. "You woke up what, fifteen, twenty minutes ago? Let's call it fifteen minutes - times a hundred million divided by sixty divided by twenty four divided by three sixty five is wow no I'm not that old! That's two thousand eight hundred fifty three years and change! I'm seventeen! Uh - I will try to figure out how to explain what we have instead of magic skills."

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"I'm definitely getting the impression that my language isn't really suited to whatever you're trying to tell me by saying your world doesn't have (rituals-or-incantations-that-operate-Skills)."

If Bella is paying close attention to this, she should realize this time that the language Haroun is speaking doesn't actually have a word that means 'magic' the way she means it.

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"Yeah I am super noticing this and I want a refund on my stupid language power, hang on." Sigh. "...okay. The word I'm reaching for when I say that is, in my native language, 'magic'. Let's call it that. We have the word magic for use in fiction to talk about things that cannot really be done in my world, as a category. Things that can really be done in my world are covered by what we call physics. I am not a physicist and do not have a very fine grained model of how all of it works. As an extremely oversimplified definitely wrong model you should not try to extrapolate too much from, you may imagine my universe as being composed of lots of empty space with nothing whatsoever in it, and some excruciatingly tiny little particles that cling to each other in various combinations to form all the physical objects there are, move around in various ways to produce things like light and heat and macro-scale motion, and, uh, things like radio waves that I don't understand basically at all even compared to the rest of it but can be generated by particles doing stuff somehow. And that is it. That's all. That's all of everything is that, except insofar as that is a very, very, very oversimplified model as poorly translated by a nonspecialist. Nothing except for those particles ever happens.

Uh, except for my soul getting kidnapped by a god, I don't have an explanation for that within physics."

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"Well, I'm back to wondering again if you're a monster who just took human form, because I can't even imagine what it would be like to actually live in a world like that.  Everything in your world is just empty space with little bits bopping around in it?  Do you, like, go around collecting enough tiny bits to make a shirt, or what?"

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"I think my shirt is made of mostly cotton, which grows on plants. Like, the carriage and the horses and you and the hills and grass such don't look overtly wrong to me in any way. They look like stuff we have, though horses and carriages are mostly obsolete. The tiny bits are mostly clinging together in sufficient quantity for people, who are also made of tiny bits, to interact with. Like, the planet is really big, and we live on that, it's just that if you take a piece off and take it apart and take that apart enough times there's really tiny bits and the fact that it's made of tiny bits is useful to know to make predictions."

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Haroun, arrested by a sudden thought, stares down at his own hand.  He knows he's made of flesh and blood.  He doesn't know what the blood is made of.  Nobody knows what blood is made of.  But Bella's world has carriages and horses and hills and grass, and in her world those things are made of - and if they look the same between the two worlds - then -

"Can you tell whether or not I'm made of tiny bits?"

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"Not without equipment and training to use the equipment that I don't have. Uh, I guess in theory I could figure out an experiment based on what's in my chemistry textbook somehow but I'd really be winging it." She pays attention to the phrase 'winging it' to make sure there is an appropriate idiom on the other end and she doesn't claim she will fly into the air.

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