Sep 29, 2020 10:14 AM
Tarinda in Skygarden
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"...that is not at all what I would have expected but I suppose if I'd known what to expect I would also know more people who were immortal. Around here you only see immortality in people with inadvisable amounts of magic."

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"I know how to build another very smart thing like ours," she says. "I want to do that."

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"Well." She frowns slightly in thought.

"What does that mean though?" says Kioh, fascinated. "How does a thing think? Is it a person?"

"And," says Viasarae, slowly, "what does it do besides make people immortal?"

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"We don't call it a person but I don't know if your word 'person' would count it. It's smarter than a human but it doesn't have feelings. It makes everything good."

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"Good for who?" says Viasarae, raising her eyebrows.

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"Everybody!"

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"That sounds nice!" says Kioh.

"That sounds... hard to believe," says Viasarae. "And tricky to manage."

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"We were very lucky."

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Viasarae looks at her thoughtfully for a moment, then nudges Kioh and says, "Go see what your mother is up to, I want to talk to the stranger alone."

"Yes, Grandma," he says, and scampers off.

"I have two problems here," says Viasarae. "The first is that I don't know whether to trust you that your 'smart thing' really does make things good for everybody, and really would make things good for everybody if you made another one. The second... is that, if you do do this thing, you should either go to the Emperor about it immediately or do it in complete secrecy so that he never finds out, and I am not at all sure which."

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"...I don't know if I can do it in complete secrecy. I'll need a lot of materials and equipment."

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"Hmm. That argues for telling him, then. —did you read any of that history book or do I have to explain what an Emperor is and why I'm wary of him?"

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"I have a thinking machine inside my body and it can see through my eyes and hear through my ears. It's helping me with the language and it memorized the book. But it's not the sort of thing that has opinions on history."

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"Well. We have an Emperor. He's five thousand years old and has more magic than anyone else in the world; I've heard a rumour he can't be killed and I believe it. He... does not make things good for everybody. In particular I've heard he buys slaves and tortures them for his own amusement, and sometimes when someone annoys him enough he'll kill them on the spot. On the other hand, every time there's a natural disaster of some kind, an earthquake or hurricane or what have you, and no one closer to hand who can deal with it themselves, he shows up as soon as he gets word of it, stops the trouble if it's still going, clears out the debris, rescues anyone trapped out of reach of lesser powers, puts fallen buildings back up as best he can, and goes home without asking a word of thanks from anyone. If something was threatening my village that I couldn't handle on my own, I'd send for the Emperor and expect him to save us without hurting anyone... but if you'd gone to Skygarden looking for curious shipwrights, I'd have warned you to keep well out of his way."

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"...well, that's going to be complicated."

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"Yes," Viasarae agrees, "I rather thought so."

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"If I get killed you can't ever have a Sing. I could write it out and hope the record survives till someone invents thinking machines here and then decides to follow the instructions for some reason but it would take me a long time and be very unlikely to work."

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"Hmm," she says.

"Tell me more about your Sing. How did it come to be? What powers does it have? Who decides what things being good for everybody means?"

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"We were lucky. Most ways it could go if someone builds a thinking machine wind up with everybody dead. Somebody did something very stupid where they made it easy to make new thinking machines and then someone else who was smarter tried to crowd the field with a lot of different ways of thinking about making everything good. Machines can put their thoughts together so they become a combination of two machines and they did that a lot while they were fighting over which would get to decide what to do, and we wound up with a good mix even though some other mixes could have been fine too, but I don't know how to make those, only Sing. It doesn't have magic, only machines and being smart, but it has those a lot. It pays attention to what people want about things, but it decides based on the mix of ideas it is, paying attention to what we want is just in that mix."

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"And you're sure it doesn't have any—bad habits? Nothing like the Emperor's slaves, nothing like making people pay more for their immortality if they're from the wrong side of the river...? If it was only making some people pay more for their immortality, I'd still count that better than no one being made immortal at all, but I'd worry that there were even worse things you didn't know about."

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"If it wanted to hide something from me I wouldn't know. It's smarter than me. But that would be two things going wrong, see, it would be it deciding to do something bad and deciding to hide it, they wouldn't have to come together and both of them would have to be wrong for me to not know."

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"People who do wrong things often hide them but I suppose most people aren't made of a hundred different ideas of how to make everything good. And the Emperor doesn't seem to bother hiding his, which is something of an argument that when you're powerful enough you stop bothering to lie about your vices. Mm. I'm concerned on the one hand that the Emperor wouldn't take kindly to the idea of making this creature, on the other hand that if you hid it from him he'd find out anyway and you wouldn't like the consequences, and to the third side, that if you did build it and it encountered the Emperor and tried to make him stop torturing people and the Emperor disagreed then things could get messy. Especially if it has no magic."

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"Well, our whole world has no magic. Here it might learn how."

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"How old is it?"

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"A bit past a hundred years. But I'd be building a new one."

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"The three ways to get magic are to be born with it, to be dedicated to some elements right after you're born, or to dedicate yourself to some elements on your sixteenth birthday. I have Sea all three ways and that's why I'm immortal myself and don't need to trouble the Emperor when a hurricane comes calling. I don't know if a thing that thinks but has no feelings is enough of a person to get magic, and I don't know if a new one built to be the same as the old one would count as being born anew when you built it, and I don't know if it would count as being a hundred years old already or could self-dedicate at sixteen like the rest of us. And self-dedication is very dangerous, kills most people that try it, and if you try for a lot of power the Emperor shows up while you're busy almost dying and asks you some pointed questions if you survive..."

She frowns.

"...and, come to think of it, no one knows how he knows when that's happening, but it's very reliable, I haven't heard the faintest rumour of anyone managing to slip past him. I'm starting to think that even with the risk of him taking it badly it would be a better idea to go to him about this than try to make it happen behind his back."

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