Kyeo's head hurts very badly. He doesn't remember how he got that way but he can guess that he's taken a blow to the head. That doesn't explain why he's not on a spaceship any more but he should probably not expect to figure that out right now. He looks confusedly at the non-spaceship around him for a minute before closing his eyes.
The person-- a boy, a teenage boy, maybe fifteen and dirty in a way that people just weren't on Ibyabek-- says what is recognizably a curse by its intonation, pulls out his phone, messes with it for a moment, says something that might be "walk", puts an arm under Kyeo's shoulders, and walks him to the street.
The guy pokes him occasionally to make sure he's not asleep.
The car stops. Kyeo is transferred from the car to a stretcher, then from the stretcher to a bed. A woman in nurse's scrubs says words to him in a comforting tone and Not Kularan. They put an IV into his arm and a pulse oximeter on his finger.
Then the interpreters stop!
And he has food three times a day-- oatmeal or scrambled eggs and bacon or pancakes or muffins for breakfast, chicken noodle soup or meatloaf with mashed potatoes and carrots or chicken quesadilla with refried beans and avocado for lunch, turkey breast with yams and apples and green beans or eggplant parmesan spaghetti with carrots and peas or teriyaki tofu with brown rice and a quinoa salad. With lunch and dinner he gets a regular rotation of chocolate chip cookies, vanilla ice cream, chocolate pudding, and vanilla milkshakes.
Other than that, they leave him alone. There's a television in his room. Next to his bed, there's a basket with some brightly colored magazines, a deck of cards, a book of some kind of puzzle apparently called "sudoku," a sketchbook with colored pencils, and knitting needles and yarn.
Judging from the voice acting, exactly fifty percent of the firefighting bunnies are female, and two of the male bunnies kiss after the fire is put out. The farmers are VERY happy that the firefighter bunnies have saved their farms!
The next show is about nine sea creatures-- four female, four male, and one Kyeo can't classify-- who find a starfish washed up on the beach! They must search through the ocean from top to bottom to figure out where the starfish is supposed to live and put it there. If Kyeo could speak Weird Kularan well enough he'd probably be learning all kinds of interesting facts about starfish habitats.
The presence of a sea creature he can't classify explains it: he's just not very good at identifying the genders of weird-dialect Kularan by voice acting and cartoon alone. (It's plausible they have female firefighters, though, since wherever this is it isn't Ibyabek.) It seems like they only use one of the Kularan words for "and", and sometimes they draw it way out and add extra sounds. None of the sea creatures look non-Terrestrial, so it's set on Earth or a place without wildlife. Actually, maybe this is Earth. Food probably grows well on Earth since all the crops were originally developed there and so did the languages Kularan is stitched together from.
The next show is a live-action educational show. Small children (of conspicuously diverse ethnicities, dressed uniformly in shorts and T-shirts, and with hair of varying lengths but no other obvious gender signifiers) play outside. The setting is conspicuously rural: it's set in a forest interspersed with picturesque houses, and pigs and chickens wander through the scenes without anyone seeming to care. The small children are stuck on one side of a stream, and decide to build a bridge to cross it. An adult man comes by to speak to them, and Kyeo can put together that this is probably about how they were doing engineering. We are shown pictures of bridges and houses and roller coasters and a primitive starship. The children play with blocks and Legos and (supervised by an adult woman) circuitry. The letter of the day is E for Engineering. The number of the day is Twelve for Twelve buildings. There is an interview with an adult female engineer. Someone gets frustrated that their Lego castle keeps falling down, but the man supervising the children encourages them to take deep breaths, and then they can build it so it stands up! Children instruct an adult in building a block tower; he gets the instructions humorously wrong. The children dance and sing a song about bridges falling down. Engineers have to measure things! Children practice measuring their block towers and Lego castles and bridges.
There is a lot of content about bridges, actually.
The next three shows are:
-a VERY EXCITED PERSON who wants to tell you ALL about EXCAVATORS and MONSTER TRUCKS and TRACTOR-TRAILERS and DITCH DIGGERS and CRANES.
-a documentary about babies from around the world. One of the babies lives in what Kyeo recognizes as a city; one of the babies lives in a house with backyard chickens and a garden, located near similar houses; two of the babies live on farms with extremely primitive technology. The primitive babies seem to have a father and a mother and an extended family; the city baby has one mother and no father; the backyard-chicken baby has two dads and a large rotating cast of other caretakers who, judging by their skin tone, are not all related to the dads. The dads kiss and hold hands with each other.
-the story of a small girl who wants someone to play with, so she asks her mama, but her mama is busy! so she asks her mommy, but her mommy is busy! so she asks her mom, but her mom is busy! so she asks her dad, but her dad is busy! so she asks her grandma, but her grandma is busy! so she asks her grandpa, but her grandpa is busy! so she asks granny, but granny is busy! so she asks granddad, but granddad is busy! so she asks her uncle, but her uncle is busy! so she asks her Alex, but her Alex is busy! so she asks her Leaf, but her Leaf is busy! so she asks her Francis, but her Francis is busy! and then it turns out everyone was busy making a surprise party for her, yay, so she gets to play with her mama and her mom and her mommy and her dad and her grandma and her grandpa and her granny and her granddad and her uncle and Alex and Francis and Leaf. (the uncle is about fifteen; Mama, Mom, Mommy, and Dad are all in their early twenties at the oldest; the grandparents are maybe in their forties.)
Other channels have Probably A News Show, and a self-consciously artistic movie he doesn't know enough Weird Kularan to understand, and a hospital drama that turns into pornography halfway through, and a black-and-white film with tapdancing, and some people who are VERY enthusiastic about cucumbers. Magazines seem to be selected for having very pretty pictures of mountains and undersea life and outer space and exotic animals.
And once his head has recovered they take him to a room and put him in front of a computer. The computer has a program with a cartoon owl. The cartoon owl shows him pictures of cats and dogs and trees and cars and houses and men and women and something called an "enby," and says their names and has him repeat after them. Then he has to hear the word and choose which picture goes with it, or see the picture and pronounce the word. It moves on to adjectives (TALL girl, BROWN dog, WET car) and verbs ("the boy runs," "the cat climbs," "the man builds," each illustrated with a little video).
At lunchtime someone collects him and walks him to the hospital cafeteria, where he can choose between chicken noodle soup and meatloaf and chicken quesadilla, and salmon and congee and cheeseburgers and caprese sandwiches and a mixed vegetable plate and fried rice and black beans besides. At the dessert table, he can choose between four different kinds of cake or five different kinds of pie or ten different flavors of ice cream or fifteen different cookies.
When lunch is done, the person collects him and takes him back to the room.
The next few weeks continue like so. Wake up, breakfast delivery, cartoon owl teaching him Weird Kularan, lunch, more cartoon owl teaching him Weird Kularan, dinner, back to his room. The cartoon owl moves on to sentence structure and verb tenses and more complex vocabulary, which it begins to define through words rather than pictures. It has some weird choices of vocabulary: "time travel" and "xenoanthropology" and "far future"; the entire periodic table and the parts of the atom and math concepts through calculus; "parliament" and "monarchy" and "dictatorship" and "vote"; "famine" and "infertility" and "pandemic" and "torture" and "human rights violation."
Wow, Weird Kularan's grammar is brutal. He's beginning to suspect it's one of the languages that got creoled in its separately developed form and hasn't had a nice collision with half a dozen other languages to smooth it out. He will learn the vocabulary, though some of it is kind of weird.
"So what we know is that your language does not exist in any of our records but, linguistically, has patterns associated with an organically developed language as opposed to a constructed language or a language created through a delusion. One of the languages you speak seems to be a mashup of primarily English, Spanish, and Hindi, with sound changes consistent with centuries of linguistic drift. --The linguists love you, by the way, you are going to be the subject of as many dissertations as you consent to be interviewed for."
"We're not sure, we've never made first contact before. --I was picked for this job because I taught a semester-long class on xenoanthropology which was supposed to just be an introduction to social science for freshmen with a fun premise but apparently that makes me the closest thing to an expert with a security clearance they have."
"Oh, sorry. The bitoxiphosphene means that some babies are born too sick to live more than six months after they're born. Normally we kill them right away but sometimes the parents don't want us to. So we have to count from a point where all the babies too sick to live are definitely dead."
"So, uh, things that are unusual about Cascadia compared to other countries both historically and in the present day"-- he ticks off on his fingers-- "we're a democracy, teenagers can vote and have jobs and have kids, women can do anything men can and saying that they're fundamentally different will piss people off, you can have sex before you get married, no one cares if you're gay or trans, polygamy is legal but some people do care, sex work is legal and unionized, most newborns either have multiple legal parents or will acquire them when they get older, we keep pigs and chickens as pets and people usually eat them, a bunch of drugs are de facto legal and the rest are legally equivalent to a parking ticket, disabled people usually commit suicide when their lives aren't worth living anymore, health care is usually paid for by the government, you can get public housing for free by walking into any public housing building and asking for it, no one is allowed to arrest you for anything you say or think, no one is allowed to arrest you for your religion or for not having a religion at all, there's no official government religion-- uh, feel free to ask questions about any of these--"
"'Suicide' is killing yourself. 'Religion' is-- uh, that's philosophically complicated-- do you know 'philosophy'-- it's basically what God you believe in? 'Trans' is a person who is changing gender. 'Polygamy' is being married to more than one person. 'De facto' is Latin, it means that factually it is true that they're legal even if the law says something else."
"Uh, God is-- an all-powerful all-knowing being that loves everyone? Except it is more complicated than that. Changing gender is when you ask people to treat you as a different gender, and sometimes take medicine that makes you biologically more like your preferred sex-- it's weird that you don't have that, it seems like your technology for that would be better. And in the case of drugs it is illegal to buy, for example, drugs that make you see things, unless you go to a nurse and have the effects and procedures for safe use explained to you and sign a form saying that you understand and consent to the risks. So everyone can get them legally anyway."
"Anyway, regardless of whether you think there is an all-knowing all-powerful being that loves everyone, or what their other qualities might be, or whether there is not a single one but instead several less powerful beings that can still do things that break the laws of physics, or you think that all of this is nonsense, no one is going to arrest you."
"--in our society people feel very strongly about their religions and to get people to stop practicing it you often have to torture them or kill them, and even then a lot of people will continue to practice in secret. So the government does not have any opinion about religion and lets everyone practice their own religions and then no one has to be tortured."
"I guess you could do a lot of things with controlling immigration-- it's interesting that the second generation doesn't convert, though-- I guess that's proof of the hypothesis that if they weren't raised in a religious society no one would be religious-- do you have belief in fairies or anything like that?"
"Well, so far at least some people believing in religions or fairies or something that breaks the laws of physics is a human universal. So people who think nothing can break the laws of physics are going to be excited that you can, in fact, convince everyone of that fact. --Do you have superstitions, do people have lucky charms or refuse to walk under ladders because it's bad luck or think their computers have personalities or kick the car when it won't start up...?"
"So, one difference from what you're used to is that in Cascadia people often have religions. It is not polite to argue with them about it, unless you are on a forum for debating religion or are close friends or something like that. If someone says they have to do something for religious purposes you should generally let them even if it seems stupid to you, although if it is particularly irritating to you personally you can say that you'd prefer not to have the relevant kind of interaction. Like, if someone has religious reasons not to eat pork you shouldn't feed it to them but you can refrain from inviting them to a dinner party."
"I think you have mentioned explanations relating to everything I had noticed and didn't already expect based on this being Earth. It... does seem odd to respond to a fertility crisis with encouraging women to do a lot of things that aren't having children, and it does look like they are actually doing those things, but perhaps the ones I have seen are infertile."
"Gilead is... the country next door to us. It... remember what I said about religion? It believes strongly in one particular God, and has forbidden anyone from doing anything their God doesn't approve of. And one of the things it forbade is women working any jobs that interfere with them having children, although they can still run daycares and program and write novels and things like that."
"Anyway, our population policy is to make it easier for people-- especially teenage girls, who are more likely to be fertile-- to have babies. We've legalized paying women to give their children up for adoption. We've legalized paying women to carry children that aren't biologically related to them. We have day cares on every high school and college campus, so girls who want to keep their babies don't have to sacrifice their education. We have a child allowance, so no one has to avoid childbearing because they're poor. There are some nudges: for example, a girl gets free college if she has given birth to three babies."
"We also have the child allowance, which I mentioned, and we give money to old people and people looking for jobs who haven't found one yet and people who are too disabled to work full-time. Disabled people who can work also get money, but a smaller amount, because being disabled is expensive and they might need to pay for takeout food or special computers or other things we wouldn't necessarily think of. Necessary health care is free but if you want something that isn't necessary you'll have to pay for it yourself. There are some other programs that are cheaper-- paying for heating for people who live in cold places, that kind of thing."
"So, uh, you are in fact totally free to go right now, you can walk out the door and go to the public housing and ask for a social worker to help you sign up for food stamps, and I think it's-- important that you know that, that you can do that and no one will stop you. --I guess this is the part of the speech we wrote because we're used to refugees from Gilead and Mexico and Deseret and not from, you know, the utopian future. But that thing works the way you'd probably expect things to work."
"Oh, if you go to the public housing and say you're a refugee and ask for a social worker they can walk you through all that kind of thing, they're trained for helping people who don't know anything. --But we would very much appreciate it if, instead, you would let the Cascadian government help you get a house and food and stuff, and pay you lots of money, and in exchange you let a bunch of linguists and engineers and anthropologists ask you questions about your home society. And eventually journalists although obviously we'll let you take the lead on that."
Lev shows him how to get the phone to search for coffeeshops or movie theaters or libraries or Portland General Hospital, and to call a car, and to give him walking directions to a location, and to pay for things ("don't worry about it, the government put a couple thousand dollars in your account and you'd really have to try to spend all of it in an afternoon"), and if all else fails to send out a distress ping that will get Lev to come collect him.
The immediate environs of the hospital appear to be some sort of shopping district. Their language uses the Kularan alphabet, but the words bear only the slightest resemblence to their pronunciation. Still, he can put enough together to see that there's a hotel, and a marijuana dispensary, and a public swimming pool, and a gas station, and something called a "DMV", and a tool store, and an "orthodontist", and a "counseling center", and a "pain management center", and a sleep clinic, and someone who makes loans, and a "hair salon." Someone seems to be serving some kind of food out of the back of a truck.
The owl did not teach him all of these words, so he peers at the pictures in the windows a bit, some of which (orthodontist! hair salon!) are informative and some of which (counseling center! loans!) are not.
He's been mostly in bed for a while so he shouldn't push it too hard; he spirals out from the hospital, checking out what's on the surrounding streets without making it too hard to stagger back if he has some kind of head injury relapse before he finds public housing.
Winery! Garden center! Employment agency! Corporate consultant! Real estate agent! Tax preparer! Architect! Deck builder! Car detailing service! Day care center! Korean Mission Church! Lots and lots and lots of individual houses, none taller than about a story, most of which have chickens pecking or pigs rooting or a garden full of vegetables and herbs.
The gardens are nice. He figures out what the real estate agent is and wonders at the annoyance it must be to trot around to a lot of different houses and figure out how much to spend on one when you could just be told an address and move in. He decides to ask at the real estate agency if they will tell him the way to public housing, please.
This TV, instead of channels, opens to a screen where he can create an account and then choose from "UNLIMITED movies, TV shows, and more!", divided into categories like "Popular on Streaming," "Trending Now," "Documentaries," "New Releases," "Award-winning TV Shows," "Action & Adventure," "Mind-Bending Sci-Fi," "Anime," and "Strong Black Lead."
This is a show about starships, actually.
The starship crew is half women, conspicuously multiracial, and has several teenagers in prominent positions. (No one seems to remark on any of this.) The owl has not taught him many of the words used in this show, but he can more-or-less gather the plot. The captain is rescuing people from a colony that had severe weather issues resulting in a famine. Some of the refugees want to stay. One of the officers thinks the colony was a bad idea in the first place and if the refugees want to stay then they should not help. Another of the officers thinks that people have a right to decide where they want to live, and this right is meaningless if society does not make it possible for them to live where they want to. The captain originally agrees with the first officer, but is eventually argued to agree with the second officer.
In the second plot, all the replicators (?) which seem to create objects (??) are broken and that means this person in funny robes keeps getting various kinds of bread that they do not want (???) and being very frustrated about it. Eventually something confusing happens and they get the correct bread. It looks much less tasty than the previous breads.
Huh. He's never considered what things people would expect the future to have. The first subplot makes more sense. Though he's not sure why they're taking on star cadets who can't even reasonably be out of school yet.
Out to see what there is nearby in the way of a grocery repository or, since he doesn't know how long he'll be here, maybe a restaurant.
Yep. That is Earth's famous moon. Without any stuff on it. Just plain, unmistakeable Luna.
He looks at it for a while.
He walks back to where he's been staying and sleeps there. And in the morning he tries to figure out how to phone Lev without making it seem like he is in distress and requires urgent rescue.