Jun 05, 2020 9:27 AM
Isabella Swan is a high school student who gets struck by a motor vehicle
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(It just comes out as 'improvising', more or less.  Haroun's language doesn't have a special evocative idiom for that exact concept.)

"What would your equipment do to tell whether or not I'm made of tiny bits if you had that equipment?"

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"This conversation is really interesting and I would normally be having lots of fun with it... for whatever value of 'normally' would be enabling it to take place under happier circumstances... but I think it's a lot more important that I get acclimated to here than that you get familiar with how it is on Earth, so do you think you can confine yourself to questions that make you better at explaining here, at least for the time being?"

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Oh.

Right.

"I'm sorry.  Um.  What was it that you most urgently wanted to know again?"

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"Uh, you seem to think I can leave craters. I do not have introspective access to my ability to do anything other than, like... physically move my body around better than I used to be able to, plus talk this language with this cut-rate language power. Please tell me what to not do to not leave any craters. If you know."

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Ah, yes.  That.

Um.

Haroun is kind of out of his depth here.

"So, uh, I'm kind of out of my depth here," he says.  Now is a good time to be direct.  "But I can think of an obvious thing for you not to do, and, I mean, the obvious next thing for me to do, is to describe what that thing is.  And if this was a comical play, I'm pretty sure I know what funny thing would happen next.  So just to be clear, if I start describing what not to do, you won't say 'You mean this?' before I finish my sentence and do that thing - right?  I mean, I'm not saying you would.  It's just, this seems like an important time to establish very explicitly that this would be a bad time for that particular comical mistake."

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"If the thing you're about to tell me causes craters is along the lines of 'think about a pink elephant' I cannot guarantee my ability to avoid doing so. If you're about to tell me that it involves reciting, like, an entire sentence, or doing a complicated gesture, or meditating for a while on a magic concept, or something that I would in fact have to try to do, I believe I can restrain myself."

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"Right!  So, uh, I'm not sure the actual concept came across, but what you said is that you don't have rituals-or-incantations-that-operate-Skills, and it sounds more like there's nothing to operate than that you operate them differently instead.  So, here, there's a language that helps instruct things to happen.  Don't ask me who or what we're talking to, or where the language comes from, because I don't know.  There's a lot of loan-words from that language in Lictic, the language we're speaking right now, but the loan-words always include a critical extra bit, which is the element of the special language that says treat this as a quoted string literal instead of executing it as an instruction.  Uh, I hope that came through?  I don't know if you actually have those concepts?  The thing you should not do, unless you're specifically chanting a spell and you know what that spell does, is say anything in that special language without quoting it.  Saying 'quote' in regular language won't do.  You need to say 『』around whatever you're quoting in the special language."

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"『』" says Bella. "...okay. Yeah, I have the concept of strings and - am in some danger of overinterpreting this to be like something we have but I don't think I will accidentally use-not-mention a spell accidentally."

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"And there's this traditional hazing thing you're not supposed to tell novice wizards about so they have to figure it out on their own and learn a valuable lesson, but, uh, in your case that doesn't seem like a tremendously good idea.  So, uh, if your magic ever totally stops working and stays not working, for some unknown reason, try saying 』a few times to see if that fixes it."

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"...pffft. Okay. Uh, I can show you the thing I'm in danger of overinterpreting this to be." She opens up her calculator again. "This is a calculator, it's a machine that does math, but it can also be programmed, and one time as a study exercise slash hedge against ever having an awful headache on the day of a math test I taught myself some of the coding language and programmed in all my geometry formulae and I can probably reverse engineer that -" She opens up the program, skims it. "So I can write, in the programming language which is basically hyperformal English plus a lot of punctuation, 'print HELLO', and then when I run the program the word 'hello' appears on the screen..."

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"You personally made a - a - a whatever-it-is that responds to 『Language』?!!??"

Just when the Summoned Hero starts to sound like an ordinary trainee scholar born to a schoolteacher and a city guard, she drops some casual bit of news that would send elder liches fleeing into the void between planets.

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"I didn't invent calculators! Or the programming language! I just learned a handful of the programming instructions by analyzing a stupid calculator text adventure game somebody gave me and made myself a geometry cheat sheet!"

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"I am so far out of my depth that there are whales giggling at me as I go on sinking."

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"Join the fucking club, whatever your name is!"

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"Haroun.  Haroun Pevers.  You want to give me a pseudonym or title or something?  It's not a good thing if I go around thinking of you as only the Summoned Hero, and maybe accidentally say that out loud at some point."

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"Yeah you probably shouldn't do that. Uh. - is there actually a reason not to use my real name? I'm kind of drawing way more than I'd like to be on fiction for figuring out how to operate here and in some fictional universes real names have spooky powers but I don't know if this is one of them."

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"People having names in 『Language』.  That is a hell of a creepy thought.  I sure can't remember hearing about that ever happening.  Uh, if you're okay telling me your name, I can check by trying to send a bit of 『Light』 your way using your unquoted name as the target."

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"And that wouldn't work on a normal local person's real name?"

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"Not that I'd ever heard of!  Even if you named your baby something unquoted it wouldn't work.  Human beings can't just go around naming things!"

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"My name's Bella."

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"Er.  Um."  Haroun is still rather nervous around the Summoned Hero go figure.  "There's this thing that teachers at my academy do where they yell at people for teaching purposes, which I'm not sure I'd like to do to anyone, let alone you.  At the same time I'm not a teacher myself and I can see how the yelling might serve some kind of purpose and I'm afraid to just leave it out, so, uh, pretend that one of my teachers is yelling at volume level 3 out of 11 about how, if you aren't sure whether something is evaluable, you should always always quote it instead of guessing.  They'd say that if you're worried your name might evaluate, and I didn't do the test yet, say 『Bella』?  Like, I've got a not-safe-to-not-quote mental category, and the word 『Bella』 got put in there so it stays in there until I try casting my next spell.  I realize that I just got through emphasizing I'd never heard of a person's name evaluating to them, but, uh, if it's worth doing the spell-test at all, it's worth being careful about, uh -"

Haroun has no idea where the Summoned Hero falls on the scale of "got this the instant he pointed it out and learned the lesson fully and is just feeling increasingly irate as he goes on speaking" versus "didn't instantly get it and is likely to get herself hurt if he doesn't spell something out because he thought it was obvious".

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"Yeah, that makes sense. Thank you for telling me without hollering about it. My, like, threat model here is mostly that if my name does something then it will do something via you knowing my name and quotes won't save me there but if nouns all by themselves sometimes do stuff, yeah, should've quoted it."

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"It's not so much that uttering one noun would do stuff, but that it'd hang around the next time you started a spell, or maybe said a verb."

Haroun composes his thoughts.  This is, in a sense, a spell designed to go wrong, since 『Bella』 isn't supposed to be a valid expression.  If he was the sort who just memorized incantations, he'd be out of luck right now; but he goes to a proper magic academy where they teach you to know things, not just do them.  More importantly, Professor Nightstar has taught him how to test things.

There's a 『Light』 spell for shining harmless light on a target, to make sure a targeting expression evaluates to what you had in mind.  There's a clause of 『Language』 that's supposed to fail safely if its major subclause is a syntax error.  He has both of those memorized and they fall within the purview of his recitation Skills, as does the act of combining their syntax; the spell isn't going to use much energy at all; this should be safe to do on-the-fly, right?  The alternative is for him to stop the carriage and work things out, which would look less impressive in front of the Summoned Hero.  This should be safe to do on the fly.  Yes.  Definitely.  It's a very straightforward combination.

Haroun carefully pronounces, "manca (1 / 10 :: lutta) >> súlë cálë (1 / 100 :: lutta) <$> ``Bella`` ?: róma".

Bella hears:  "I offer a tenth of an offering of mana to the spirits of light, that they may send radiance of the hundredth part of power toward Bella if-that's-a-thing and otherwise upward."

This language is a terse one; the spell is much shorter than its English translation.  Bella could probably repeat the sounds back exactly, if she felt like doing that using her mysterious language power, while the words are fresh in her mind.  Bella doesn't know how to meaningfully rearrange the words.  If she focuses on terms like 『>>』 she'll find that all her previous programming experience has given her no referent for what this means - it's just not in her current conceptual library.  But she could repeat back the whole sentence, and she understands what the sentence means as a whole.

Also a spark of radiance forms, around the brightness of a 6-watt bulb.  It doesn't look like much in the daylight, but it's clearly visible.  It begins to drift up towards the sky, and lasts maybe five seconds before winking out.

"Your name is meaningless!" Haroun says reassuringly.

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"Yay. How much is 『an offering of mana』? Who are the 『spirits』 you're giving it to? Where does 『mana』 come from?"

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"...did you just understand everything I said."

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