Some forty feet above a fishing village, there appears a snappily-dressed young lady with a sword on her back. She tumbles to the ground.
"Your brain is a nest of snakes," Viasarae remarks. "I mean that in the nicest possible way. It's a heap of squirming tangles but if you look closely enough everything does connect up in a logical way."
"It's not going to punish you for helping. I... also don't think it will... reward you for being powerful, or for having particularly tricky tastes to navigate, or the combination... so I guess there's a sense in which the holding out for a good deal could theoretically make sense... except if you think you can get to my world I want you to do that right now so it can send a ton of robots here and I can go home to my girlfriend instead of inventing computers."
"I would love to send you home to your girlfriend and will happily try it as soon as I'm convinced that this doesn't end with my empire in the hands of the kind of beekeeper who doesn't mind crushing the occasional fuzzy friend to get at the honey. Like—not that I'm any better in that sense, really—but I know what to expect from myself, and if I look at my empire and decide I'm not doing a good enough job with it I can fix that, and—I have a responsibility to my people and that doesn't just go away the moment I hand them over to the, uh, 'robots'. Should I be asking what a robot is or will I not understand the answer? And would you be having an easier time with this conversation if I used translation magic?"
"You have translation magic? I didn't know you had translation magic, yes, please, it's actually very tedious to workshop all my dialogue translations with Page and then read it off phonetically."
"Sure, just a minute."
He concentrates for a bit, and then ribbons of golden light dart through the air to connect the three of them, shining brightly for a moment before fading away into nothingness.
"There, that should be better," he says, and the meanings of the words and how they fit together into the sentence are as plainly understandable as if she'd been hearing this language all her life. "You can speak whatever language you like and I still won't know what a robot is but I'll at least have a vague idea of what kind of thing you might mean by it."
"I'll be obliged if you can speak the one we were speaking before so Page - that's my thinking machine, I like to call the general kind 'spirit guides' - can understand you," she says in English. "A robot is a machine that can move around and is directed by a thinking machine and a computer is the part that does the thinking."
"Huh. Okay." He is indeed still speaking the same language. "This is the language of the empire, everybody speaks it, I'm not going to switch to Riverish just to be obnoxious. Anyway, where were we—what did you mean about having particularly tricky tastes to navigate?"
"The torturing people thing. I don't know what Sing usually does about that because I don't wanna torture people."
"I am not really expecting it to be particularly accommodating about that," he says. "I sort of figure that if I want to torture people and there is no one around who wants to be tortured and an incomprehensibly powerful thing wants things to be good for everybody then I am just out of luck and will have to deal with that on my own time. It's—I'm not going to say I'm happy about it but there are, actually, things that are more important than me getting to keep my fucked-up hobbies."
"Well that's... good then. I mean, it may have a great idea, I just don't know what it is."
"If it has a great idea I'll be delighted to find that out but I am not going to count on it."
"Sing does a lot but it doesn't totally supplant everything of importance humans do," she says. "In particular it mostly doesn't talk to people and doesn't take on a lot of traditional roles of government. I'm friends with a Lord of Mars who... I have no idea if you'd get along with but it crossed my mind... and in addition to occasionally kidnapping people as a sort of recreational theatrical hobby so I can duel him about it and stuff, he handles an amount of stuff that people want to feel someone important weighed in on. I don't know if that's the kinda thing you mean though."
"Hmm, I'm not sure I follow—the kind of thing I mean about what? Oh, about feeling less like a bee if I have something to contribute? I'm not sure it is exactly."
"What is, then, what do you do all day in your imperial capacity?"
"In my imperial capacity I mostly... exist as somebody people can go to if something gets screwed up in a way nobody else can fix. I try my best not to touch my government under normal circumstances, it works better that way, but every so often somebody is trading in illegal slaves and using magic to cover it up, or there's a hurricane headed for the coast and I can go untangle it before it flattens a city, or a junior clerk on the useful side of the palace finds evidence that her boss is taking bribes for things he really shouldn't be and she doesn't know who she can trust but she knows enough to realize she can come to me with it and I won't let her get hurt while we're figuring it out..."
"If it were me I'd think think resurrecting people all the time was very useful and unbeeish but then my job is reacclimating frozen people who get brought back to life."
"Yeah, I think so too. I'm not sure I could stand to do it all the time, they take twelve hours apiece to pull together and I am not the sort of person who can work tirelessly at tedious things forever, but—it'd be nice, if people stopped dying and I could bring them back to life without worrying I was signing myself up for an impossible job. I'd probably like to do it a lot."
"I'd say 'Sing'll be so happy' but it won't, it doesn't be happy."
"It doesn't? What does it do?"
"It's not a person or even an animal. It doesn't have experiences. It does stuff, and it wants stuff, but it doesn't feel anything about it."
"...huh. I guess that's a way to be. Strange to think about, but then, so is everything else about Sing."
He idly grabs a piece of fruit from the table and munches on it.
"When you said it wasn't going to reward me for being powerful, what did you mean?"
"I don't actually know what it will do, to be clear. Uh, also I said that before you said it was about it being a responsibility, I think I wouldn't have said that if you'd said that part first, but like, people who were heads of state before Sing did not get special privileges in my world except insofar as their subjects thought having a real live queen or whatever was great and they were going to keep doing it for fun."
"Oh, yeah, that makes sense. No, I—even when I imagine getting the best possible version of this deal, it still involves people getting to leave my empire if they want to, and if that leaves me without much of an empire it's my business to change that by making it a more inviting one. But... yeah. It's about responsibility. And even if I opened up a portal and the whole empire filed through it to go live with the beekeeper, I'd still feel like it was my responsibility to be sure they didn't come to harm there, at least not any worse than they would have if they'd never left. So it's... troubling, not knowing how to be sure of that."
"I mean, I grew up there. I pointed out to Visarae that it's not like Sing couldn't hide something from me if it wanted to, but there would have to be two mistakes in it, not one, for that to happen, because it wouldn't automatically want to hide something just because it wanted to do that thing."