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Generated: Aug 09, 2022 8:41 PM
Post last updated: Aug 09, 2022 8:40 PM
your stare was holdin'
Cam and Warrior Cats
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Cam catches a summons while he's in the middle of Atriama. He's seen it before, it's fine.

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He's in a forest.  Looks like there was a pretty bad fire here recently.  There's no summoner apparent at eye level, but the flash of orange darting off into some charred undergrowth probably makes him look down.

The circle around him is not very neat, to say the least.  It's in ash, some of it having sort of a watercolor effect against the forest floor where rain didn't wash it away, some of it tracked back on in tiny pawprints.

Also the two, largely-overlapping dialects he just acquired seem to be made up of . . . meows.

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"........hello?" Cam... meows.

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"Er, hello," meows presumably the flash of orange from under the burnt bush, sounding equally confused.

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"Where am I?"

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"In ThunderClan's territory."  The cat emerges.  "I didn't know any Twolegs could talk."

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"That's unfair to parrots," says Cam blandly. "You summoned me, so now I speak your language, is how it works."

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"I what?  - How is that unfair to parrots."

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"I was making a joke. They have two legs and can learn to imitate sounds such as speech. Where I'm from, cats don't talk."

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"Well around here, Twolegs don't talk either."

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"Are you sure they don't just speak a different language?"

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". . . I suppose not.  What did you mean that I summoned you?"

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"It looks like it was an accident, but this arrangement of pawprints and whatnot here appears to constitute a summoning circle, that being a diagram which enables beings like myself to appear in response. Traditionally you would offer to trade me something in exchange for some sort of material object but I'm not wedded to that."

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"I don't even know what sorts of things a Twoleg would want," the cat admits.

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"I usually take media recommendations but you don't seem to be literate so I'm not sure what kinds of media you might have to hand. It's okay, don't worry about it."

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"All right."  The cat gathers his resolve, shifting from a confused demeanor to a confident one.  "I'll escort you to the border, then."

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"What border would that be?"

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"The one with Twolegplace."

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"You have a border with folks you can't communicate with?"

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"I suppose it is a bit different than the kind between Clans."

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"Do the twolegs not want cats around, or what?"

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"We're not kittypets."

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"Ah, I see. Those are a different - culture? Species?"

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"Kittypets live in Twoleg nests and - eat food given to them by Twolegs.  Clan cats live in the wild and take care of themselves and each other."

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"Can you talk to the kittypets?"

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"Of course," he meows.  ". . . There are legends about cats who don't talk but I haven't ever met one."

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Cam finds a cat video with plenty of meowing on his computer and plays it, trying to see if it makes sense now.

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No.  The tom cocks his head at the sound.

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"Okay, apparently the cats where I'm from do not speak this language, if they talk at all."

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"Very disconcerting."

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"I mean, maybe it's just that this cat speaks a different language, I don't know, but I thought I'd check. You guys are organized in 'clans'?"

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"Yes.  I'm the deputy of ThunderClan, and there are also WindClan, ShadowClan, and RiverClan.  And StarClan."

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"...that's it?"

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"Well, there are rogues and loners too."

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"Fair enough. And you have a philosophical objection to being fed."

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"It's against the warrior code."

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"What warrioring do you guys do?"

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"We defend our territory and the cats who live in it."

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"From?"

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The tom looks around at the burnt forest surrounding them.

"Lots of things.  Or, try to."

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"...like forest fires, or...?"

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He dips his head.  "Like forest fires."

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"I am trying to figure out how cats fight forest fires and I got nothing."

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"Poorly," he mews, somewhat mournfully.  "We helped the kits and elders evacuate; I don't know how you'd go about fighting fire."

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"Well, I'd do it with magic, but nonmagical twolegs use water sources, generally speaking, or other things that can smother fire."

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"StarClan did send rain.  I still don't know how living cats would do it.  Squeezing out soaked balls of moss on the flames, if it were a very small one?"

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"...StarClan are dead cats?"

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"They're our warrior ancestors, yes."

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"And by 'they sent rain' you mean 'it rained'?"

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"Yes."

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"I see. Well. - Would you recognize the twolegs' language if you heard a sample of it?"

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"I know a few of their words."

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"Words for what?"

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"'Princess,' 'Smudge,' 'Henry.'  'Rusty.'"

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Cam starts trying words for "Princess", starting with English.

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"Yes, that's it."

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"Okay, cool, that means I'll be able to talk to them, which is weird but convenient. Is there anything having a translator would be useful for?"

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"I would want to talk to some other cats about that first."

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"Sure. Can I meet them too?"

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"Would you swear to stay here and not harm anything while I went and fetched them," he replies after a brief consideration.

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"This'll take how long?"

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"I'd be back well before sunset."

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"...yeah, okay, I'll wait here till sunset at the latest." He makes himself a chair and produces his computer and starts looking through local written material.

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The first thing he checks is in comprehensible English, at a glance.

"Do you swear it," interrupts the cat.

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"Is that special somehow? I don't have a particular specialness associated with it."

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"I already don't want to have to tell my Clanmates I left a talking Twoleg trespassing unescorted in ThunderClan territory, but more than that I wouldn't want to explain that I didn't even get him to swear not to go rampaging through it.  It won't change the minds of cats determined not to trust you but it's better than not."

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"I can swear to it but I do want to be clear this is not a stronger commitment for me than announcing my intention to take it really seriously. I swear I will wait here for you until sunset."

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"That's all I was asking.  It won't be quite that long," he meows, and trots off.

English mostly continues to be English (of the early 2000s variety, even), though he catches a few odd words and constructions here and there before he hears a bell jingling through the forest, somewhere off that way and low to the ground.

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And what might this bell belong to?

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Another cat, apparently!  Cam spots her before she spots him and she startles once she does.

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"Hi?"

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"Hello," she chirps back, sounding remarkably unsurprised.

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"I'm Cam, what's your name?"

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Now she looks surprised.

 

" - Princess.  You can actually talk, not just imitate cat speak?"

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"Yeah, it's a whole thing. Nice to meet you, Princess."

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"Nice to meet you too.  What are you doing just sitting in the forest?"

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"Waiting for somebody. And reading about your local twolegs population."

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"What's reading?"

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"You can invent a marking that signifies a sound, or an idea, and then put lots of them together, and when you look at the signifiers in a row you can figure out what the sequence of meanings or sounds was, and thereby communicate without talking out loud."

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"Wow.

You haven't seen any forest cats around, have you?"

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"I don't know what makes a cat particularly foresty."

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"They live in the forest instead of with housefolk?  Um, they don't have collars; they're usually skinnier; most of them are scary but the ones I'm looking for aren't . . ."

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"Why're you looking for them?"

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"I haven't seen them since the fire and I don't know if they're okay - their names are Cloudpaw and Fireheart - one of them's white and very fluffy and the other one's orange, both toms - "

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"I can't actually identify cat gender on casual inspection."

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"I always thought that when housefolk weren't being helpful it was because they couldn't understand what we were saying to them.  Are you avoiding the question on purpose?"

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"I don't know if the people you're looking for want you to find them, so I don't know whether it would be good of me to help you."

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"They're my kin!  You don't have to tell me where they are - I just want to know if they're alive - "

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"Look, I've been in this world for like two hours, I have never spoken to any cats before today - well, intelligibly to the cat - and I don't want to go around leaking a lot of information without having clarified with anyone if that's okay."

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Princess huffs.  "Okay.  Will you tell them I was looking for them if you do see them, though?"

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"That I am willing to do! You said Cloudpaw and Fireheart?"

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"Yes.  Thank you."  And she jingles off further info the woods.

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Cam goes back to reading. Mostly about cats, in case the local humans know their cats are sapient.

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They don't seem to.

The sun is still quite high in the sky when Cam's summoner (or at the very least a similar-looking cat who seems to expect his presence) approaches, accompanied by a light ginger tabby and a grey cat with a twisted and scarred hind leg.  The three of them take turns opening their mouths as if in silent conversation, then look at Cam expectantly for a moment until the orange one says, " - Oh, you have to talk down here like this or otherwise they can't hear you - greetings, Twoleg."

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"Greetings. What was your name? I don't think you ever introduced yourself."

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"I'm Fireheart, and these are Sandstorm and Cinderpelt.  What was yours?"

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"Cam. If you can't pronounce that I can make something up though. Princess was by and looking for you."

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"Who's Princess?  No I can't pronounce that."

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"Specifically Princess was looking for Fireheart and Cloudpaw, not you. How's 'Bell', my name has a part that means that in my native language."

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"Kittypets have a way of translating Twoleg names; that'd be 'Cam' - she's Cloudpaw's mother, my sister - she was here?  In the forest?  Did she go back to Twolegplace?"

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"She went that way, I don't know what her ultimate destination was."

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"She doesn't know how to navigate the forest safely; we'll have to go find her - come on Sandstorm; Cinderpelt you stay here."  Fireheart takes off in the indicated direction.

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Sandstorm follows, after a pause.

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"Well.  A talking Twoleg," comments the remaining cat, flatly.

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"This is at least as weird for me as it is for you."

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"Fair enough.  What's your story; Fireheart didn't supply a lot of details."

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"I am a magical being Fireheart accidentally summoned and I am trying to orient to this new universe because the universe I'm usually summoned to hasn't got sapient cats to the best of my knowledge."

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"That's still not really a lot of details."

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"What kind of details were you hoping for?"

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"If I had a good answer to that there'd be fewer things I needed to be told about!  But, hm, what sort of magical being are you; what's the place you're usually summoned to like; what's the place you're usually summoned from like; what do you even mean by 'summoning', really; what's it like being a Twoleg?"

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"You know what, when you put it that way, being a twoleg is not great! Without the wings and tail I can hardly balance! Hands are marvelous though. I don't have a word in this language for the kind of magical being. Twolegs would say 'demon'. The place I'm from doesn't have anyone who can talk besides demons, and we can all make stuff whenever we want, so it has lots of stuff. Summoning is causing someone to appear in one world from another."

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"How do you know what it's like without your wings and tail," she asks, sitting down and splaying her bad leg out to the side.

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"Oh, I didn't use to have them, I used to be a non-magical twolegs and then I turned into a demon after that."

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"How?"

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"In my world it happens if somebody summons a magical being and then dies! I got murdered, specifically. I have no idea if this will happen to Fireheart."

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"It would be nice to be able to talk to a StarClan cat outside of dreams, if we could summon him from there."

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"I have no reason to expect that to be possible besides proof of concept."

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"Oh.  Would he be able to make things like a Twoleg, if it did work that way?"

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"It would not in and of itself give him either thumbs or engineering skill."

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"Are those why they build their enormous nests and Thunderpaths and things?"

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"Yes. I mean, the enormity of the dwellings is scaled to the size of the occupants, also, but yes."

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"I think they're pretty big even given how tall you all are."

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"Yeah, if it were just a nest and all it was for was sleep a house would be pretty excessive, I'll give you that."

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"What else is it for?"

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"Cooking, elaborate water-based sandbox-and-licking-oneself substitutes, privacy, shelter, storage."

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"Cooking?"

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"Altering food by combining ingredients and applying heat and stuff. Somewhat wasted on the feline palate as far as I am aware."

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"It would be pretty nice to be able to have warm prey even if the warriors had to carry it a long way back to camp in the middle of leaf-bare!"

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"Fair enough. Also I've heard cats like the taste of yeast. But I don't know that you'd benefit from spices or whatever. Maybe I'm wrong."

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"Do you mean like herbs?  Cats definitely benefit from herbs.  Though not really in a tasting way for most of them, I suppose."

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"Do you have medicinal ones or something?"

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"Yes, lots of them.  I'm - ThunderClan's medicine cat, now."

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"Is that a 'good for you' situation or a 'condolences'."

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"Condolences."

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"I'm sorry."

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"Thank you."

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"I know a lot about twolegs medicine but very little about cat medicine."

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"Are you a Twoleg medicine cat?  - A medicine Twoleg."

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"Basically, but my training was pretty focused on using magic in the doctoring process."

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"How does that work?"  She looks rapt.

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"I can make things, which includes medicines but also organs and limbs to replace damaged or missing ones, tissue to heal wounds, and various machinery twolegs have invented to help people get better."

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"With your thumbs and engineering skill?  Are those magic?"

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"They are not, thumbs are these," he waggles them, "some cats actually have them but not usefully opposable, they make us very dextrous, and engineering skill means accumulated expertise at building things, including things with lots of steps because the parts also need to be built."

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"I'm confused about what your magic does, then."

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He appears a chicken nugget in midair and catches it and eats it. "That."

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" - Oh.  That's - astoundingly useful - "

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"It is, I like it a lot."

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"You said it does limbs?"

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"Yeah, if you've got somebody down a paw I can fix that, that doesn't require that much knowledge of cat medicine. Though if they don't want it to hurt I would have to look up some painkillers and dosing."

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She sticks her leggy out real far.  "I got hit by a monster.  And I know how many poppy seeds to take."

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"- okay, for that I would want to actually remove and replace the entire leg, and put you on something other than poppyseeds."

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"Like what?"

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"Lemme look it up." Computer computer. "...apparently lidocaine will work but can be risky in cats, though in a very small localized amount you'd almost certainly be okay. Also this is me assuming that you are like a non-sapient cat of the kind I am familiar with, pharmacologically speaking, which I don't know if I should be certain of..."

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"I was mostly fine on poppy seeds the first time around.  How long would it hurt for, if you're putting a new one back on right away?"

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"Oh, not long at all, but you do have to hold still so I don't miss and have your new leg joined up wrong."

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"Well that's fine; I was afraid it was going to be a quarter-moon.  I really couldn't have done that, leaving ThunderClan without a medicine cat for any length of time."

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"ThunderClan would not be without a medicine cat for any length of time. Do you want me to do this literally now?"

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". . . It should wait at least until Fireheart and Sandstorm return.  Maybe longer."

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"Sure thing."

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"I appreciate the offer, though.  A lot."

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"No problem."

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"Tell me more about Twoleg medicine.  I bet we have a lot to learn from each other."

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"You might have to be more specific."

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"Hmm.  Diseases?  Do Twolegs get greencough?"

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"Yes, and it's not all one disease, it's any bad enough lung infection."

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"What do you treat it with?  We mostly use catmint, which works better than anything else, but we still lose a lot of kits and elders."

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"Different things, you have to treat whatever the underlying effect is. Antibiotics if it's bacterial, antivirals if it's viral."

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"I have no idea what you just said."

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"Most diseases including greencough are caused by living things too small to see, and those come in broad categories, mostly 'bacteria' and 'viruses', and there are different classes of drug that can kill those without doing too much damage to the patient."

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Cinderpelt has LOTS of questions about germ theory, enough to keep busy until the other cats approach.

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Princess is now limping harder than Cinderpelt was on her way over.

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"- whoa, Princess, what happened to you?"

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"I smelt a dog and then I saw it and it was so big and it was tearing apart a bird really violently - " she hops up in Cam's lap " - and it didn't notice me so I ran away as fast as I could and I cut my foot.  And then Fireheart found me and I was so glad that he's alive but I still had to walk all the way back here."  The way she's being careful of one of her front paws is not a way that prevents her from getting a bit of blood on his jeans.

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Is it polite to pet cats in this universe. "Let me have a look at your paw?"

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The main pad and one of her toebeans have a moderate slice through them.

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"Do you mind if I clean this up a bit and then close it with magic? It'll sting a bit but not for long."

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"Okay."

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"I want to watch!" meows Cinderpelt, standing up with her forepaws on Cam's knee, trying to get a good viewing angle and keep her balance.

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"Suit yourself." He applies antiseptic and then pinches the cut closed and fills in the damage with fresh tissue attached on both sides, just a thin layer. "There you go."

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Princess flinches a little but doesn't make any noise while Cam works, then shakes out her paw and stretches it.  "Wow, that's really all better, isn't it.  Thank you!"  She starts purring and rubs her face on him.

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"Aw, you're welcome. Do you like to be petted?"

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"Yes!"  Headbutt; biscuits-making.

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Pet pet pet. "So do dogs definitely not talk or is it like twolegs where for all you know they could have their own language?"

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(Cinderpelt removes herself from Cam's knee and pads over to where Sandstorm is whispering in Fireheart's ear.)

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"I don't know how I would tell!  My housefolk don't have one and I don't see very many of them in more than passing."

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"Maybe a dog can be convinced to complete a summoning circle and then we will know." Scritch scritch.

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prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

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"My turn?" asks Cinderpelt.  To the other Clan cats: "He can fix my leg."

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"In exchange for what," is Sandstorm's first question.

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"...I don't really need anything, since I can make arbitrary material objects. Uh, general goodwill?"

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"He appeared a weird Twoleg prey thing out of nothing!  And he's a medicine cat."

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"What sort of things would you want with our goodwill?"

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"Native guides? More summonses performed, possibly?"

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"I would like to make it clear that we won't consider ourselves bound to do anything in particular if there are things you want from us that you're not mentioning."  She looks to Fireheart.

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"Right.  We aren't agreeing to act wrongly or against ThunderClan's interests by accepting your help."

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"...as I mentioned before, in my culture of origin agreements are not nearly so laden. I am not considering you obligated to anything specific, I just like being helpful and vaguely hope that you will look kindly on opportunities to be helpful back should they arise."

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Fireheart nods.  "ThunderClan will look on you as a friend for this."

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"Great, so how do we want to do this - if it's going to stop hurting immediately then I probably don't even need poppy seeds; they won't be helpful enough to make it worth how long they'll make me sleepy afterwards - "

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"I'm going to give you a very very conservative dose of lidocaine, which will burn for a second but cut the sensation from the leg off temporarily, and then sterilize the surface of the leg with some stuff that shouldn't hurt a bit, and then I'm going to remove it above the point of injury with magic - I'll put a very thin layer of salt water across it, so it will stop being attached - and then immediately make a new healthy leg starting from there. The lidocaine should wear off quickly after that because it will mostly be operating in the removed leg."

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"What if it does end up being poison for our kind of cat?"

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"You don't seem obviously biologically different in any way. I could make a cat-body that didn't have a mind, if you like, and try it on that and see if anything bad happened."

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"Isn't the mind the part that would make us different?"

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"I'm not planning to give you psychoactive drugs. Checking drug reactions on mindless twoleg bodies works fine."

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". . . Okay, if you say so."

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Cam makes a basement dweller Cinderpelt and demonstrates the intended operation, then checks for any of the listed side effects.

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It looks fine.

"What the fuck?" meows Princess, spotting the doppelganger and snapping out of her purrreverie.

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"Uh, I'm showing Cinderpelt how I'd swap out her leg. On this unthinking physical copy."

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She glances over at the forest dweller Cinderpelt, who isn't objecting to this process.  "Oh.  Okay.  Neat."

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"That looks fine to me," declares Cinderpelt, lying down in a similar position to the basement dweller.  "Go ahead."

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"Lidocaine going now, let me know when it stops feeling burny."

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"Now, I suppose?"  She watches her leg.

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He pinch-tests a toebean. "Working okay? - basement dwellers don't respond to pain, I can tell it's not having an allergic reaction but I don't know if it's doing its job."

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"I felt that?"

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"...oh dear. Okay. Uh, I can try a higher dose, I can try a sedative, I can make you some poppyseeds, I can try just doing it real fast..."

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"How likely are you to make a mistake doing it fast?"

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"Not particularly, if you hold very still."

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"It twitches sometimes already . . ."  She sighs.  "Probably I should take at least a few poppy seeds.  And a stick to bite on."

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Cam makes some poppy seeds and a stick for her. "Still want to go through with it?"

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She separates a few seeds out and cronches them.  "Yes of course.  Just give me a moment for these to take effect."

It's not very long at all before she takes the stick in her mouth and mews assent around it.

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"Okay. Three, two, one -" Leg goes, leg appears.

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Cinderpelt braces herself, but not in a way where she doesn't hold her leg very still.  Once he's done, she spits out the stick and starts on investigating her new limb.  "Oh, that wasn't bad at all.  Almost didn't have time to hurt."

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"I do my best!" He tosses the discard leg onto the basement dweller. "Okay if I burn these? I won't let it spread."

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Fireheart goes through several very different illegible cat facial expressions in a very short span.  "That's fine," he mews, mildly, when the other two Clan cats look to him.

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Assorted cat parts are instantly immolated; a ring of cold contains the flames.

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Cinderpelt tries standing up, walking, and - if that goes well - running?

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Her new leg should work good as new modulo some lidocaine!

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It's still been half a year since she's been able to move with any speed; she trips and wipes out almost immediately.  But she's right back up, giving it another go, and the same is true after the next two times.

A bit out of breath, she turns back to Cam.  "Thank you.  Again."

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"You're welcome!"

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She yawns and flops down.  "Ugh, wish I hadn't taken those poppy seeds - suppose I don't know whether I would have moved without them . . ."

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Sandstorm licks Cinderpelt's head.  "I recall we were originally going to discuss whether Cam should talk to other Twolegs on our behalf."

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"Oh, would you do that?  I have so many questions for my housefolk and things I want to tell them!"

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"I wouldn't mind! Conveniently humans in this universe seem to speak some of the languages I already know from mine. What do you want to say to them?"

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"Why is Jackie so sad all the time?  She should not cuddle me so that I can't get away even when she is very sad.  I want to visit my kits who live far away, or have them come to see me.  And my other siblings!  There's a type of food I like that they stopped giving me a while back and I don't know why.  They should hang up the birdfeeder again."

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"Well, I don't know how receptive they'll be to all those suggestions but if you show me where you live I can try to convince them that I am a cat whisperer. This might involve proving that I can communicate with you and vice-versa, like me telling you to do stuff that would have been too complicated to train you to do without talking or you reporting to me on stuff that's in another room."

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"I can do that.  Oh, and you can tell them that Cloudpaw is alive!  They probably think he died."

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" - Don't tell the Twolegs about the Clans at least until we've discussed it with more cats.  Please."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...would reporting that Cloudpaw is alive constitute telling them about the Clans?"

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"I think communicating anything from cats to Twolegs has a risk of putting us all in danger, because we don't know why Twolegs do almost any of the things they do which affect Clan cats, and anyone not involved in the decision to let them know about us would be right to be very angry that it was made without them.  Fireheart, why didn't you bring Bluestar here?"

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"Bluestar is . . . occupied," he replies uneasily.

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"Well.  In any case it should wait until after the next Gathering; all Clans should have input in something as big as this."

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"When is the next Gathering?"

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"On the full moon."

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"Well, none of Princess's concerns sounded especially urgent, but it's possible I will want to talk to some Twolegs before that time, depending on what the moon is doing today and how long months are here."

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"Wouldn't it be alright for him to say my things as long as they don't know forest cats exist."

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"I don't see a problem with Cam speaking with other Twolegs in ways that don't draw any attention to us, right, Sandstorm?"

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"I bet he'd be really good at that!  He wouldn't tell me anything at all about you even though I thought you and Cloudpaw had died."  She presses flanks with Fireheart and nuzzles him.

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". . . It seems like your own business who you talk to as long the Clans don't come up," Sandstorm acquiesces to Cam.  "But if you fail to talk around it then, again, every cat in the forest will be correct in their anger towards you."

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"I can understand why you would not want a bunch of twolegs previously unaware that you were people to become apprised of feral cats living in the forest! It seems like that could in fact end badly if it were handled wrong. Uh. Now that I think about it, what do you guys eat."

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"Thank you for taking this seriously.  Prey?"

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"And, uh, how sure are you that prey... is not people."

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"By that do you mean whether they can talk to others of their kind?"

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"Eh, most animals can do that without talking intelligently. But clearly you guys are people in the sense of having politics and medical expertise and names and suchlike, and the twolegs have not evidently noticed, so if songbirds and voles were people..."

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She flicks the tip of her tail but doesn't verbally respond.

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"Unfortunately I don't know how to tell, I didn't get a vole language for free with my summons, but, uh, if it would not be too far beneath your dignity to take food I make for you..."

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(Fireheart is so uncomfortable on multiple levels!  He tries to hide it, and succeeds at only looking so uncomfortable on one level.)

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"Why?"

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"Look, I grew up eating animals, but on my planet the twolegs - who are so far as I know the only sapient species there - have phased out this practice because demons like me can make meat that's just as good, actually better on average, for cheaper, without hurting any animals, and those animals aren't nearly as bright as you! This planet by contrast observably contains some sapiences unbeknownst to some other sapiences, so if you can stand not catching the songbirds and voles while I try to figure out if this is even a concern, it would be a weight off my mind."

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"You keep saying things that don't make sense."

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"...I suppose I've been assuming that you guys are against murder. Are you not?"

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"It's against the warrior code to kill cats under most circumstances . . ."

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"Is it objectionable in any way to kill, say, me? Supposing this were feasible and you happened to feel like it for some reason."

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"That would depend on what the reason was."

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"What reasons would make it unobjectionable?"

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"Well, if you were trying to kill me, for one."

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"Apart from self-defense or the defense of the lives of others, anything?"

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"Probably.  I'm not thinking of a specific one right now."

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"Okay. Well. Because I can make arbitrary material objects including whatever food your hearts may desire, killing prey is not defense of your lives or those of others, because there are other ways to get food, and I don't know how many species on this planet are people and neither do you, so perhaps you could cool it with killing stuff till we know more."

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"It's not my decision."

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"You don't hunt?"

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"Of course I do.  But I do it for the good of the Clan, and so it's not my decision."

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"How long do you think it will take you to figure this out?" asks Fireheart.

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"Uh, don't know. I can probably wrangle a mouse into completing a summoning circle but if that fails that's not conclusive for bluejays. Ideally I would not have to do it that way, especially since it's possible my being summoned here was a fluke of some kind and is not in fact reproducible."

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"What would you trade us if we caught you some live prey for use in determining this?"

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"I wouldn't! I would rather have minimally terrified live prey for this purpose and I don't think you're used to hunting to spec."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How about for introducing you to some of the other Clans?"

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"If there's something you want you can just ask me, making it would take less time than figuring out trade negotiations."

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"Our Clan doesn't need anything more from you.  But if there was something you felt like offering, in trade, for help which we are positioned to provide, then of course it would be foolish not to accept."  He stares at Cam kind of intently.

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"...whatever the cultural significance of this is is kind of lost on me, I'm sorry."

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"Incidentally, you were correct that it would be beneath our dignity - and against the warrior code - to accept food from you."

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"Would you folks like a month's supply of vacuum sealed assorted comestibles - I can figure out how to make it so you can open them - in exchange for an introduction to the other clans?"

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". . . Well, that would be somewhat difficult, given our present relations with some of them, but your offer was generous enough that I'm sure we can improve on you trying to meet them alone."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fireheart, this is - wrong - "

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"There's nothing wrong about making allies, Sandstorm," he meows quietly.  "Especially since you saw what he did to the other Cinderpelt.  And to the real Cinderpelt, for that matter."  (Cinderpelt is still lying down where she flopped, and though her head is up her eyes are closed; she doesn't particularly seem to be following the conversation.)  "This is what's best for the Clan."

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Sandstorm turns to Cam.  "I don't like any of this, but a moon's worth is definitely too much for what you're asking.  Give us a quarter of that at most, and find something else you want after that if you really must."

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"I had actually talked myself down from a year. A principle of trade is that things are often of different values to different parties and everyone wins by making the exchange; there's no objective fair price."

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"A quarter-moon at a time, then."

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"If you want it in installments that's... okay I guess."

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(Sandstorm looks unhappy but doesn't actually object.)

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"ThunderClan thanks you for your generosity."

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"You're welcome. Where do you want the food? And what are everybody's favorites?"

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"We're not taking you to ThunderClan camp," Sandstorm responds immediately.

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"Here is fine; we can carry it back - I like finches and voles - " and he lists a variety of species which he knows particular cats to favor.  "Maybe one of us should try one to make sure it's alright before you make the whole batch."

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"Sure." He makes a sample vole in a package that should open easily once punctured with a claw.

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"What's this around it?"

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"Plastic. Keeps it clean, so it won't rot even if you leave it in there for months."

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"It smells bad."

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"I'm sorry, you probably have a better nose than I do. Does it make the vole taste bad?"

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Fireheart de-plastics the package and nudges Cinderpelt's shoulder with his nose.  "Cinderpelt, try this vole."

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"Mmn?"  She cracks open an eye and after a moment of processing agreeably starts in on it.

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The vole would taste normal, to a human who ate voles, but the packaging process was not devised with the feline palate in mind.

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"Tastes kinda Twoleg-y," she declares after a few bites, and stops eating, and closes her eyes again.

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"...I hope that means that many Twoleg-derived meals have touched plastic, and not that it tastes like a Twoleg."

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"It tastes like all their - " she yawns "things smell."

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"I think it smells fine," mews Princess.

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"Well, you would."

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"Plastic is very useful. Is this a serious enough problem that I need to find alternate preservation methods?"

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"It is already going to be very difficult to convince the rest of the Clan to give up hunting, even for a short time."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, I was afraid of that. Hopefully none of the prey are having politics."

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"If you're facing trying to get all Clans to give up hunting forever, I should meet with them before introducing you.  I think this is likely enough to make a difference in how they receive the idea that it will be worth the delay even if prey animals are like cats."

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"I'll defer to you on that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Would you meet me at dawn tomorrow?"

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"Sure. Here?"

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"At the edge of Twolegplace or in Princess's yard would be fine.  If we'll be seeing each other again so soon, I suggest you give us a day's worth of fresh-kill without any Twoleg wrappings, which we can eat all of before it turns to crowfood.  And a few for me to bring as offerings to the other Clans."

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"Sure." He makes an assortment, unwrapped but at least initially free of any spores that will molder them.

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"The other three Clans prefer to eat fish, rabbits, and amphibians and reptiles."

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He can make samples of each. Salmon, bunny, frog.

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"Thank you again.  At dawn."  He touches noses with Princess as a goodbye, and ignores Sandstorm's quietly-sour demeanor, and re-rouses Cinderpelt for their prey-laden walk back to camp.  She leans on him for much of the way, and he tries to focus on the joy of her healing instead of the guilt at the memory of the last time he helped his former apprentice home after a major reconfiguration to her limbs.

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"Is it time to go see my housefolk?" asks Princess excitedly, positioning herself at Cam's feet.

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"As long as that isn't understood to pose too much risk of the clans being discovered!"

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"I think they said it was fine.  Pick me up!"

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Scoop! Scritch scritch. "Which way?"

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She points with her nose rather than stop purring to talk.

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He carries her through the woods to her house.

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"This one!" she says of a fenced-in backyard with a sliding glass door.

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"Okay - I'm going to put on a coat so the wings don't startle people -" He doesn't have to put her down to do this but it does shift his grip a little when sleeves start existing. "And I'm going to go around to the front." He goes around to the front and knocks.

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"Hello?"

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"Hello, sorry to bother you, but your cat found me and wanted me to carry her home."

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"Oh . . kay.  Thanks."  She holds out her arms for Princess.

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He hands her over. "Also she had something she wanted to say to Jackie, are you Jackie?"

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". . . Yes?"

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"- do you want me to demonstrate that I can talk to cats before I pass it on?"

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"I mean I can also talk to cats, here, watch.  Hey Princess, who's a good kitty?"

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"It's me!" she squeaks.

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"Yes, yes, and I can call spirits from the vasty deep, but I mean to say that also I can understand what she says and we can have elaborate conversations."

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"Ah-huh."

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"Like I said, would you like me to prove that."

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"Why not."

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"Suppose you give me a set of complicated instructions that, unlike inquiries as to the goodness of kitties, you would not expect Princess to be able to follow, and I relay them?"

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"Well.

She normally wouldn't ever scratch me.  So that, I guess."

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"...uh, are you sure? I was imagining something more along the lines of, like, bringing you a specific object or something."

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"Yeah."

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Cam sighs, and meows: "Princess, for unclear reasons Jackie has chosen as her means of proof that she would like you to scratch her."

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Jackie snorts.  "At least you're committed to the bit."

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Princess's eyes are enormous.  "But I would never!"

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"Yeah, that's why she picked it, specifically because you would never. I guess you could extend your claws and approach her hand with them and look up at her and see if she nods?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay . . ."  Claws out, paw approach?

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Actually Jackie is trying not to display any body language at all.  She's not even looking at Princess.

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She sheaths her claws and makes a scratching motion without them??  When that provokes no response she extends them a little and moves her paw very gently, definitely not enough to break skin and with barely even enough pressure to leave little white lines.

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"Huh."

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"She said 'but I would never' if you're curious."

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"One second."  She closes the door on him and locks it.

The sound of a landline being dialed and ringing carries through the door, but the content of her brief conversation does not.

The door unlocks and reopens.  "Do you want to come in."

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"Sure."

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"Cool."  She steps aside.  "Couch is over there, have a seat, do you want anything to drink or whatever."

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"I'm good, thanks."

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"Suit yourself."  She sits in an armchair across from Cam.  Princess hops in his lap.  "So, uh.  What did she want to tell me."

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"She wants to see her kits and siblings, you switched catfood and she doesn't know why, she misses the birdfeeder, and, uh, she doesn't know why you're so sad all the time but regardless would not like to be restrained when cuddled."

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"Okay, uh.  Uh.  - Why can you talk to cats?  Actually."

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"Iiiit's complicated but the short answer is that I'm magic."

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"And what's the longer answer?"

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"I am a variety of magical creature that can be summoned by the actions of a mortal, and my being here is a freak occurrence as far as I can tell since normally I get summoned by a different planet's worth of mortals, but gaining new languages in the process is normal, and apparently that includes cat language, which surprises me at least as much as you."

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"Cool.  Is it like - is she as smart as a person, or can you just communicate really well with her but she's still like, a cat."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sort of both, honestly. She is an illiterate and cat-personality-having yet perfectly bright person who also happens to have been acculturated as a pet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well.  Tell her I'm sorry for squishing her.  - Oh my stars was that my thing?  Kind of a lame fucking thing but like, I'll take it; 's better than having a thing that isn't fucking lame . . ."

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"Your thing? - Princess, she's sorry for squishing you." Switching to meows mid-utterance is kind of weird.

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"I'm a September-oh-one person.  Which is also the thing I'm sad about, you can tell her.  - If she understands birthdays?  Do cats have birthdays."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's fine and I love her; she just shouldn't do it anymore."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Princess says it's fine and she loves you, just you shouldn't do it any more. I have been assuming cats are born but admittedly I have not asked? What's the significance of being born September first?"

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She makes kind of an emotionally-overwhelmed face at being told her cat loves her.

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" - Right, you're from a different world or something.  Uh, so around here, the summer solstice person is like, super inclined to do immoral-seeming things for the greater good, and then something literally always goes wrong with that and it ends up just being in fact bad.  And I hugged Princess for emotional regulation even though I knew she didn't like it, because it seemed like being less emotionally regulated would make me more likely to do bad things and I didn't think she was a person."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Your summer solstice is in September?"

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"Sure is."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ours is in June, but I suppose that could just reflect that we had a calendar reform you did not."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What kind of a month name is June.  What are all your months, actually."

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"January February March April May June July August September October November December."

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"You have a month named September but it isn't the seventh one??  Also that's more than we have.  - Unuary Druoary"  (the first 'r' is silent) "Triinary Tetrinary Quintamber Hexumber September October."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I acknowledge that this makes more numerical sense than ours but how long are your years?"

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"Forked aught days."

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"What does forked aught mean?"

Permalink Mark Unread

". . . . . Four zero zero?  What do you even mean."

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"I would pronounce four zero zero 'four hundred'. I did not learn this language magically upon arrival like I did cat language, but rather already knew a strikingly similar language from home."

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"That's . . . weird . . .  Uh, but no, four hundred is base ten, which would make it - " she counts on her fingers, mumbling, "one two four eight sixteen thirty-two sixty-four one twenty-eight - two hundred and fifty-six days."

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"Okay, that is shorter than ours. What base do you use?"

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"Eight, but like, just for time stuff."

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"Fair enough. Is this language called 'English'?"

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"Latin."

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"Hoc est linguam Latinam?"

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"Beg pardon?"

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"We have a language called Latin! Had. It's a dead language. Many modern languages are descended from it though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's - probably not actually weirder than having almost the rest of the language be the same??  How's your Rome doing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It is a perfectly nice city in Italy, the state the central boot-shaped peninsula from which the Empire reigned later turned into. They speak Italian, which is derived from but not identical to Latin."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh.  Uh, we still have ours.  As an Empire."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is this part of it, where we are? Where are we?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, and Britannia.  - Town's called Chelford?  What scale did you want."

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"A map would be ideal, actually. I was trying to do some background reading but I didn't come across such basic mismatches as 'the Roman Empire is alive and well and they call this language Latin' so you can tell I didn't get very far."

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She retrieves and tosses Cam a fridge magnet.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Weird map projection but it looks like the same continents. Britannia's this bit?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes.  Projection?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's what it's called when the spherical surface of the Earth is rendered on a flat surface."

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"Uh.  How to put this - do you ever get called a conspiracy nut or anything back home - "

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"...no. Is your planet flat?"

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"Yes, of course."

Permalink Mark Unread

"There's no of course about it, that's weird! That might be weirder than cats being people and it's definitely weirder than you lacking a June!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"What's yours instead?"

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"A sphere! Like I said!" He hands her a fist-sized globe, with glass oceans.

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"Right, but like, what's it on?"

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"It orbits the sun in accordance with the law of gravity." He finds an animation on his computer and holds it up. "Not to scale."

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"I have too many questions."  She holds the globe back out for him to take.

Permalink Mark Unread

He pockets it. "Do you have a moon? Seasons? I guess you have seasons and solstices, somehow... and why is your birthday important?"

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"We have a moon, and seasons, and birthdays are important because they - determine who you are as a person?  Why wouldn't we have solstices?"

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"Seasons and the moon and solstices all drop out of the orbital mechanics, in my world," he says, gesturing at the solar system. "I don't know how they'd happen with a flat planet. Uh, how do you mean they determine who you are as a person? I too was born in September, if, uh, my September, what does that imply."

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"Well, what date.  - I guess your numbers might not line up either, but."

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"Thirteenth."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, so, wunked five, that'd be - a little odd but mostly even, in terms of ambition and impact - that's across all of your geminis, not just you specifically; there's variance depending on situation - for example I am never going to do anything - an odd month means you're vaguely more inclined to flashy displays than diligence; September specifically means you're more inclined to politics and achieving your goals socially than scientifically - but if course it all depends on the gestalt of the specific day, which I don't happen to have memorized for this one."

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"So about that question you had regarding my planet being a sphere, I have the same question regarding your opinions on the importance of birthdates."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm . . . a little strange in having depression about it?  But like, not even that strange for my geminis, just most of us either grow out of it or commit suicide."  She looks maybe sixteen.

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"Pay attention to meeeeeeee," demands Princess, tragically underpet in the midst of this conversation topic.

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Cam pets Princess. "Princess, do you know if what day somebody's born is very important? Apparently that's what Jackie's sad about but I don't understand it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I suppose it was pretty tiring when I had mine, and then of course there were kits, so it was a pretty exciting day overall.  Is she having a kit?  Why would she be sad about that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"She is not as far as I know having a kit." To Jackie, "Princess does not seem to assign particular importance to birthdays in the astrological sense."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh.  And neither does your whole world?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The serious astrology proponents are only a little more mainstream than the ones who are mistaken about the shape of the planet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So how many people do you have, then, if it's not done by birthdays?"

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"I beg your pardon?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Like, we have - two hundred fifty-six, because that's how many days there are in a year, but if you're not doing it by birthdays then it could be any number."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are you trying to tell me there are two hundred and fifty six human beings in the world, because I think unlike a misplaced September that would have showed up very quickly in my background reading!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, no, sorry - not two fifty-six individuals, just like, shapes people can be?  In a soul sense?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...shapes people can be?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You know, like how - okay, I was born on the summer solstice, and everyone else born on that day has the utilitarianism issue I mentioned, but also we can all sing pretty well but aren't really inclined to make a career of it, and our names almost all have Js and Ds in them, even if you name your kid something different on purpose they'll end up renaming themself something else with those, even absent cultural influence, and we're statistically more likely to have dark curly hair, and commit suicide, and care about the poor and donate to charities - and there's a collection of traits like that for every day of the year, where people born on it are just sort of the same person underneath, put into different circumstances.  How many of those do you have?"

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"We don't have those. People are just individuals. I mean, I'm sure there are curly-haired suicidally-inclined charitably inclined persons named Jedediah or whatever who can sing but there aren't clusters like that - some things correlate, but like, that's there being a general factor of intelligence, things running in families, cultural accretion around various interests and subcultures."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"Oh."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Two hundred and fifty six clusters that specific doesn't sound like enough, even if people are deliberately aiming for some particularly adaptable cluster of birthdates in March or something!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Enough for what?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Enough for a civilization with exciting contents like a Roman Empire and everything else that made this place look like where I grew up to casual inspection!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why not?  Everyone's still different; environment affects a lot.  - And since I'm a solquinox that's like, not very typical; the traits cluster on different axes for different days."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What is a more typical cluster?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, well, everyone born on an even-numbered day tends to be, y'know, pretty normal people, not very ambitious, so there's less variation between the individual days.  And then every odd day is a little less regular, and every other odd day is more than that, with the pattern going up till you hit the first day of odd months - the solquinoxes - and then there's four of us and we're all on about the same level together, but very different from each other.  And these are all on average; there's nothing stopping somebody even-numbered from running for office or anything, just they mostly don't want to.  Does that make sense so far."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess! Do you have some sort of affinity group? Does everybody with the same birthday get together and have a party once in a while? Does it matter enormously if a pair of twins is born around midnight?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It does matter!  I was just going to say that, actually; one of my guardians, Ian, was born on New Year's Eve, which is October, er, thirty-two, in decimal, and his twin's Unuary oh-one, and I was going to use Ian as an example of somebody even.  - I also have a twin, same birthday, but we don't talk anymore."

Permalink Mark Unread

"... I have all the usual curiosities and I'm aware they are intrusive since we've just met but also I don't know which of them might reveal fascinating depth of differences between worlds."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, mind'ja business if you would.  But Ian and Nicolas are on speaking terms and whatnot if you have questions about them.  - And also my other guardian, Jordan, is another gemini of mine, and he'll be home soon enough that probably you can figure some stuff out from him.  Geminis are people who share the same birthday."

Permalink Mark Unread

"All right. Is there any understanding of why things would be this way?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"How do you mean.  Like, philosophically?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Causally. Like, uh, testosterone has personality effects, for example, you can see 'em if you suppress it in a system that makes it or add it to one that doesn't, and we can figure out where in the body and especially the brain the hormone is acting, and speculate on the underlying evolutionary psychology, and it all gets sort of confused when you throw in magic people like me but I at least used to run on fairly explicable biology."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, it's the stars."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And what is it that the stars are doing?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"They like, move around, and where they are affects things."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, but how does the position of the stars come into causal contact with people's personalities in this way."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"What are your stars like.  It sounds like you do still have them?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have them! They, and also the sun, are extremely large balls of high-energy mostly-hydrogen-and-helium."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are they also dead people, in addition to that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, I'm a dead people."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wh . . . y . . .?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I was murdered. But perhaps you mean why are dead people turning into magical beings and we have no idea why that happens."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh.  . . . Well, we as collective denizens of this cylinder might have any idea but I personally don't really beyond the abstractions they teach in school?  I'm not an astrologer.  - Oh man, you guys wouldn't have influenza, would you; that sounds so convenient."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...we have a viral illness that is called influenza."

Permalink Mark Unread

"But presumably not scheduled times of being sick depending on the stars?  What influence is yours referencing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"A mythological one. It does tend to come around once a year during a particular season but not because of the stars."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's not once a year for us; it's different for everybody.  Or every birthday."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, yeah, that's different. Do you also have illnesses that randomly strike or just the scheduled ones?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There're some that are like, transmissible, or caused by other stuff; I don't know of any entirely random ones."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah I don't mean random random I mean infectious and not star-related. When you say stars are dead people what is the... content of this proposition."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Every time someone dies there's a new one?  And they're watching down on us."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...the latter part is understood how."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well if you get high you can join them."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"On drugs or in a space shuttle."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know what a space shuttle is and probably shouldn't rely on any guesses from context that I can come up with."

Permalink Mark Unread

"On drugs or in some kind of vehicle, then. Or on foot, if you can just get to star level by summiting Everest."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess the drug is the vehicle, sort of?  It induces astral projection, which is where most of your soul leaves your body to go up among the stars, and then you're like, there with everybody.  Including all the other high living people, not just the dead ones."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"That's also very weird, so you're aware."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you say so."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What's the drug?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Omnilol?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Never heard of it, so I suppose it could still be ayahusca under a brand name but maybe it's totally different."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It would be pretty fucked up for a brand name to be the primary thing people knew it by, I think."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Would it? That sort of thing happens where I'm from. Kleenex and Crisco and velcro and so on."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know what any of those are."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Facial tissues, shortening, and hook-and-loop fasteners. Respectively."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So not anything very spiritual, really?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I cannot immediately think of any brand names that became genericized and are also about spiritual objects."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, there you go."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess! Is it hard to find specific dead people you want to talk to while you're high?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There kind of . . . aren't . . . specific people . . ."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Oh?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"They're still there, just not very.  Separate."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, that... sucks?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I mean we're all sort of the same people already.  So like yes, it definitely does, but probably less than it would for you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are there two hundred and fifty six blobs of person-star?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's more amorphous than that.  Stars lose their individuality over time; they start out basically the same as living people and over time turn into - little drops of processing power.  Or comparatively little, anyway."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...processing power?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"For like, the one great sapience that they all will eventually make up?  And as an intermediate phase there's yeah, ones grouped by birthday, or a few birthdays in one, or whatever."

Permalink Mark Unread

"........can I have the, the religion for five year olds version of how this all works."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Or do you just want to get high?  - Probably a bad idea; I don't know if it would work the same for people from other worlds and it might not-work dangerously."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'd try it but I'd like to know what I'm looking for. For instance, I'm concerned that more species than just cats might be people and if I can just go look for cats and see if also other things are there, that would be a convenient way to address that, but possibly someone would have noticed if the cats were distinct."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - Yeah, that seems - important.  . . . And therefore I should probably have absolutely nothing to do with it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...not even in the role of, like, native guide?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Historically, being ambitious at all while aware that that might be a bad idea, but thinking it's going to be worth it, has invoked the thing.  Which in my current mindset applies here.  But also, historically, it still only ever applies to actions and decisions that mes make.  So - it seems safe for me to keep telling you widely-known facts, but don't be surprised when I don't really express opinions about what you should do, and don't listen to me if I slip up and say one anyway."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, okay. So what is the general process for taking omnilol, does one need a tripsitter, how long does it last, how is it dosed, should I just read this on Wikipedia."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You could go to the library and check an encyclopedia if you want, though probably it would not tell you that we in this household have some conveniently-dosed gummies.  One for about an hour, increases linearly and safely for up to four.  Though that also affects the deepness of the connection; you wouldn't have any secrets at all after that, which y - which most people don't prefer."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...can you expand on that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, when you die you eventually become One with everyone else, right, and this is just reversibly inducing a shadow of that.  And if you take enough omnilol at once then you basically end up all the way merged, for a while, and since the thingy knows the contents of itself then it knows everything you ever did, and it remembers that even once you're separated again."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...troubling. Perhaps I will recruit someone else to check for cat souls." Pause. "Princess, can you tell me more about Starclan?" he meows. "Jackie's telling me about the twoleg version of that understanding and I'd like another angle on it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fireheart thinks they're real and very important and Cloudpaw doesn't.  I don't know very much about them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you know why Fireheart thinks they're real?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not really."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe I'll ask him tonight." He looks at Jackie. "Princess unfortunately cannot shed more light on the situation."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You c - there's an option to - ugh.  My thing isn't something you can just get around with wink wink nudge nudge phrasing, so just take this as like.  A clarification of what I previously said, and not a suggestion of any particular course of action.  Which is that the troubling thing happens at higher doses and not so much at lower ones.  And the gummies are conveniently dosed but they're also like, divisible, if - if nothing, never mind."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I will consider this if I can't recruit someone less skeeved and less, uh, birthday cursed. I don't need your gummies unless omnilol is itself magic or sentient instead of just being a drug, though, I can make arbitrary material objects."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"What."

Permalink Mark Unread

He tosses the sphere model of the Earth he made earlier hand to hand, taps it with his fingernail.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why you already had that on you was one of my too-many-questions."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I didn't, I made it. Kind of right in front of you but perhaps you thought I was very good at sleight of hand. Please do not feel moved to leverage my awesome powers for world optimization, I am already on it and apparently you are under a horrible curse."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's so horrible.  I have absolutely no suggestions for what you should do with this incredible power.  Also it would surprise me a lot if omnilol weren't magic but I don't actually know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are there other things understood to be magic?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, for one, the stars."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Other terrestrial things?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Birthdays in general?  People in general, or at least souls?  Crystals?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Crystals! Do go on about crystals."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They do healing and stuff."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...go on slightly more? Or kick me out and I'll find a library."

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are birthstones associated with each month, and people wear theirs for miscellaneous minor helpfulnesses, like nullifying influenza, and also you can put other kinds in arrays to create resonances for more serious healing.  - I said 'you' but really I mean licensed professionals; it's complicated business.  Oh, and sometimes they use different types of herbs as part of those, too."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh. Okay."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm trying to think of more really basic stuff that it's definitely safe for me to cover - uh, in your video thing it did not seem like you guys were geocentric; we obviously are, and the sun and the moon are the same size and distance away and they're always opposite each other . . ."

(There is, as she says this, something very moon-like visible through the sliding door.  In the daytime.)

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam glances outside. "- then what's that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Polaris."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...what is Polaris, here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's . . . that?  Sorry, that's not helpful - it's a sphere, hovers over the North pole, goes up and down, exudes cold, is why we have seasons?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh wow. Okay."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I still don't really get how you could have seasons without it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The sun hits more or less directly on various parts of the sphere depending on how it tilts in its progress around the sun, and the tilt changes throughout the year. The equator has no seasons because the sunlight is equally direct at all times and the poles have weird seasons because their tilt situation is also unusual. Seasons north of and south of the equator are opposites."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's so weird.  Doesn't that make it hard to keep track of things?  And it's the same with your days and nights, isn't it; half the world is offset from each other all the time - or, wait, it's not even that because it would all be continuous - how does that work, societally - "

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have things called time zones within which it is conventionally the same numerical time, though exact sunrise and sunset may differ by locality within a time zone just as they might depending on whether you're up a mountain or down a valley. There are twenty-four time zones so at any given moment twenty-four times are represented on Earth, modulo greebles."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why twenty-four?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Twenty-four hours in a day."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have, uh, thirty-two."

Permalink Mark Unread

...clock app up on computer. "This timing for seconds look right?"

Permalink Mark Unread

She watches.  "Bit slow, I think."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And is it sixty seconds to a minute sixty minutes to an hour?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No.  Sixty-four, for both."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Gosh. I don't know that any of this timekeeping and astronomy stuff is going to be that relevant - I guess the stars are very relevant - but it's certainly interesting how deeply weird you can make two universes to each other and still both have Roman Empires and have mutually intelligible conversations."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It really is.  - When did Rome turn into whatever other place you said, in your world; maybe we just haven't gotten there yet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"In the like three hundreds or four hundreds, common era, though the Eastern chunk also known as the Byzantine empire persisted a bit longer. ...which is to say after the ostensible birth of Jesus Christ."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

"It's year 785 for us right now.  Not - thirty-something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well in my world it's 2157 so we sure know that doesn't match, is yours also counting from Jesus?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, ours is from the founding of Rome - if it were from Jesus it would be thirty-something, is what I meant."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...is Jesus, uh, around?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes!  Why does he get years numbered after him in your world???"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why do you know who he is if he doesn't seem like a year-numbering sorta guy??"

Permalink Mark Unread

"He's like, moderately famous?  Does activism and philosophy and stuff?  He's a spring equinox guy; they're all kind of like that . . ."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So not a religious leader particularly?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, a spiritual one . . ."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What... is his spiritual teaching like."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Mostly it's about how, like, we're all going to be absorbed into a superconsciousness after we die, so we should attempt to encourage traits in ourselves that it would be good for that to have?  And also set up society so that it's easier for individual people to do this.  And then a whole lot of detailed advice on how he thinks people should go about that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, cool. In my universe Jesus founded a religion called Christianity which remains fairly popular more than two thousand years later despite numerous internal schisms."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow, uh.  Wow.  - There's one of my geminis who does stuff with him."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Is that person's name, by any bizarre interuniversal coincidence, 'Judas'."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah.  Why."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, this isn't, like, especially closer to my heart than the thing where it's possible chickens and field mice are people, but it's possible that by bizarre interuniversal coincidence he is going to get Jesus killed."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

"Awesome.  I'm going to continue to do absolutely nothing about this."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Solid plan! Your curse sounds absolutely awful and I hope it is possible that one day a cure will be discovered or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Statistically I will probably grow out of the part where it feels like every action I could take with effects farther-reaching than the end of my nose would be a horrible utilitarian tradeoff, and then I can just avoid actual utilitarian tradeoffs and it won't hit me.  Or I will die.  So, fine either way, really."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, it's an age-limited curse? Okay. Uh, good luck. Let's see, other ways to reveal hidden differences... I will read aloud the first bits of random Wikipedia pages from when my world was around this apparent tech level, shall I, and you shall stop me if you need to tell me that, actually, penguins are eldritch abominations from the dread realm known as Timbuktu."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not like inherently, just as a trend - penguins are flightless birds that live on Antarctica?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Cool! Coca-Cola, or Coke, is a carbonated soft drink manufactured by The Coca-Cola Company?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Never heard of it."

Permalink Mark Unread

Next article. "Artedidraco is a genus of barbeled plunderfishes native to the - no, I haven't even heard of these, next, next - Roald Dahl was a British novelist, short-story writer, poet, screenwriter, and wartime fighter pilot?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Nope.  - British?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam pokes the relevant island on the fridge magnet.

Permalink Mark Unread

"We're Britannian, here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, so the demonym differs. Plus Roald Dahl was born well after the fall of our Roman Empire. Turgut Polat is a male Turkish table tennis player - wow, it is hard to get anything out of the random article button, I'm just concerned I'll have some massive blindspot if I pick topics on my own -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Even if I were having suggestions - which come to think of it is safe on a scale this small as long as I pay very close attention to the shape of my thoughts - I don't know enough about Wikipedia to come up with any.  Um, we did have kind of a lot of dropped conversation topics - I could give you the five-year-old's version of spirituality; I could tell you more about Ian as an example of somebody even-tempered; I could tell you what the other solquinoxes are like; um, I know you had more questions when we digressed about the twin thing; I don't remember what those were . . ."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The intrusive personal questions I was deliberately not asking? Those? Go ahead and give me the five year old's version of spirituality."

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, there were ones before that, I think, about different things - oh it was whether we have parties, wasn't it, because that made me think about Nicholas too; a bunch of his geminis all run a country together - it varies by birthday and by individual how much they care about and want to interact with each other.  I'm pretty sure we have an old kids' book somewhere on stuff that might be a good introduction; do you want me to go dig it up?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you give me the title I can find it in here, I just need the phrase to search." He waves his computer.

Permalink Mark Unread

"'You Twinkle Above Us?'"

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam hunts down "You Twinkle Above Us" and opens it.

Permalink Mark Unread

When you look up at the night sky, what do you see?  Stars!  Far too many stars to count.  They twinkle above us and watch over everything we do.

The sun is so very bright that stars are difficult to see in the daytime.  But they're still there!  They are always shining down from the shell at the edge of the universe.

Each and every star represents a person who once existed, just like you and me.  Eventually you'll be one too!

When you're a star, what will it be like?  Well, you will start out not too different from how you are now.  You will be you-sized, and like and dislike all the same things you already do.  But you will not have a body, and you will not be down on the surface of the Earth.  You will be way up high in the sky, and you will be just your soul!  Your soul is everything that makes you who you are on the inside.

There will also be a new dot of light in the sky that night, but that type of star is not a new body.  It is a representation of you, like a drawing or a picture.  What's your favorite drawing or picture of yourself?

Off to the side, in smaller text:

(Did you know?  Stars look like little white dots from far away, but up close, you can see they actually have five points, like these!  Can you draw a star?)

There are so very many stars in the sky that you're sure to find another one who fits very well with you.  For most people, it's one of their geminis, but for other people it can be someone else, or a whole group of other stars!  It's different for every single person.

When you find them, you will no longer be just yourself and you-sized.  You will turn into one star cloud, together, like pouring lemondade and orange juice together into a pitcher.  There's twice as much to drink, and the pitcher has everything that made lemonade the way lemonade is and everything that made orange juice the way orange juice is, but it's something entirely new!

This same thing will happen again and again and again and again and again.  Someday you will be as big as you can possibly be, and all the other stars will be part of the same cloud with you!

(Some medium-sized star clouds find a size they like and stay like that for a very long time.  They are very unusual!  We think that someday they will probably join up with the biggest one, too, but that day may be very far away.)

We know all this because grownups and big kids can go up with the stars, and talk to them.  What will you say to the stars once you're old enough?  What do you hope they will say to you?

Some people are scared to be stars.  They want to be the size they are forever.  Other people are excited!  They want to grow up and become a part of something bigger.

How do you feel about becoming a star?  What do you think it will be like when you twinkle above us?

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Gosh. - why is it little kids shouldn't have omnilol?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think it's technically legal starting at age eight, which is still pretty little.  Uh, for one they're gonna be meeting a bunch of strangers in a way that's hard to supervise or control, and there's not really a way to remove them from the situation before it wears off if things go poorly, and also some of the strangers are - just massive; it's pretty overwhelming even when you're used to it, and if you do too much of it regardless of age you can end up kind of - spacey - "

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay. You can't track down specific people and tell the kids to just go find Grandma?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Recently-dead people are the main reason it's legal that young, but stars merge up pretty quickly and then things get more complicated."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do they explain why merging is appealing?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't think it is, necessarily?  It doesn't really seem like they have a choice.  'Twinkle' is, you know, the little kid version; she's trying to introduce things without freaking them out too hard.  - Or I mean, plenty of people find appeal in becoming part of a superintelligence and stuff, just, probably most of them would wait longer than a week or a month after dying to start on that given the option."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...any clues why the clusters that stay one size do that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Incredible force of will?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fair enough. How talkative are the stars? Like, would it be weird if they'd never mentioned to anyone that there are cats up there?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It does seem pretty weird, yeah."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I guess it's possible cats haven't been people very long. Hey Princess, do you have an idea of how many generations cats have been people? Like, were your great grandparents definitely also people."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know what you mean by that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm wondering if cats were just animals for a while, who might, like, communicate some basic things with each other, but not to the point of having politics and a complex language and stuff, and then relatively recently became smarter, or if cats in this world have been very smart for a long time. I guess related questions might be whether any other related species are smarter than the ones where I'm from, or at least as close as other apes are to humans, like African wildcats or something..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My mother talked, and I think her mother talked too.  I don't think I would know farther back than that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe I should go to a shelter or something and find a really old cat." To Jackie, "Is there a pound or whatever around here? I want to talk to some elderly cats about whether their grandparents talked."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably.  I could check the phone book."

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are elders in ThunderClan!  And maybe they all would know more since they can see their family all the time, not just when they're kits."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's also worth trying!" he tells Princess. "How old do you mean when you say elder?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know.  I only know that they have a separate den and aren't warriors anymore and the warriors and apprentices have to catch food for them before they themselves can eat."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh. Well, I can try them too, perhaps."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"You haven't really been paying enough attention to me.  I'm used to when housefolk just talk to each other for a long time without me being able to understand it but I didn't think that would happen today.  I still have all of my questions."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sorry, it's pretty hard to juggle conversations where not everybody speaks one language! What were your questions again?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The food and the birdfeeder and whether I can visit my family and I still don't know why Jackie is sad.  And is Nicholas coming over?  I love Nicholas.  He gives me the very best treats out of anyone."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Princess would like to know about the food and the birdfeeder and her family and also what should I tell her about why you're sad? Also she wants to know if Nicholas is coming over."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Right, uh - I think the only times we switched her food were from kitten to adult food and then while she was pregnant we had her on something else - we can probably buy a new birdfeeder if birds aren't people or she isn't going to kill them?  I think Nicholas probably isn't coming over today, why is she - oh, is it just because she heard his name, okay.  Uh.  I have no idea how to explain my thing to a cat.  I'll ask Ian about a way to visit her family."

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam relays this.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay.  Is there a way I could talk to my housefolk when you're not here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I could maybe make you a big board with pictures on it and you could touch them with your paw to mean certain things?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes please."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What kinds of things should be on it? Jackie, I'm going to make Princess a picture board so she can communicate when I'm not here, any suggestions for what to put on it?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hmmmmmm . . ."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably less on the concrete nouns, since I should be able add those later myself without too much trouble, and more on the abstract concepts?  Like time stuff and some less-charadesable verbs and question words and stuff."

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam starts a list with the question words. "I have no idea how cats keep time... Princess, how do cats keep time?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There's dawn and breakfast and when-Jackie-leaves and when-Ian-and-Jordan-leave and noon and when-Jackie-gets-home and when-Ian-gets-home and when-Jordan-gets-home and my supper and the housefolks' supper and dusk and bedtime and midnight.  And sometimes there are days when they don't leave, or leave at different times, two of them in a row after every six, and sometimes they leave again in the evenings.  I think probably the Clan cats do it differently."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...hm. Uh, Jackie, Princess can't actually tell time except by dawn and dusk and when people leave and come home, what time words did you have in mind? What verbs?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"She definitely knows enough to start shouting at us like eight minutes before her s-u-p-p-e-r.  Not that I know how to translate that into anything useful.  Uh, can she do numbers - 'four days from now' - or 'next month', 'last spring', stuff like that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam adds numbers to the list, and seasons, and a moon, and starts attaching clipart, murmuring explanations to Princess of each proposed item.

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Princess understands numbers up through nine and can sort of get the gist of higher ones, even though she's not familiar with them as individual concepts as opposed to 'a lot'.  "Why are there so many squiggles for eight?  That doesn't seem like it should sound like that at all."

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"- uh, eight in particular is spelled weird, a lot of spelling in... this language... is pretty unintuitive till you're more used to it. There's a homophone spelled like -" He brings up a popover and writes "ate" in it. "Like that, which is pronounced the same."

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"Why is it like that?  That sounds very confusing."

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"It is! It takes young humans a while to learn to read. It could be worse, though, Chinese is worse." He dismisses the popover window and resumes clip-arting words.

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Over the course of this it becomes clear that Princess is faster than a young human at learning to read.  Much faster.

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"Jackie," says Cam after a while, "your cat is becoming literate on a scale of hours, just, uh, so you're aware, we might dispense with the pictures and have her type instead."

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"Okay.  Uh.  'Becoming', and not 'already was', you think?"

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"That is what it seems like." Cam turns on an introductory English literacy program and then after a moment's thought adjusts his display settings for limited color vision.

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"Why did you do that thing just now?"

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"This is designed to help people learn to read! If you keep picking it up this fast we don't need to do the picture board at all, you can just write things, I can make you something that'll work with paws. Can you see it all okay?"

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"No, there's less colors now."

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"...I guess maybe cats here have full color vision." He switches it back.

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Princess works her way through the program with relative diligence and without further complaint.

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Do local information sources think cats are colorblind?

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Yeah.

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...as of when?

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First discovered in the 690s, widely acknowledged to be the case into modern day.

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Okay but when was it most recently replicated.

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Earlier this year!

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...huh. "Princess, do you think you can see more colors than other cats?"

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"Hmmmmmm.  I don't remember any cat ever calling something a color that I thought it wasn't?"

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"Or saying two different-looking colors were the same? Huh."

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"Not that I can think of."

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"...okay. I should definitely go to a shelter and talk to a wider variety of cats," Cam concludes. "Because as recently as last year scientists were under the impression cats saw only a couple colors."

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"This next autumn will be my third.  Or, the later part of it will be."

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"Thanks, that helps." He has a notes file going. "Jackie, do you know where I can find a pet shelter?"

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She tosses Cam a yellow pages with the spine cracked open to a listing which she has circled.

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"Wow, vintage." He notes the address and consults a map.

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It's thataway, maybe a 15-minute drive.

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"Cool. Are motorcycles a thing here?"

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"Yeah."

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"Cool. I'll set Princess up with typing first." Does his first hardware guess work for her?

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As long as the keys are big enough that she can poke specific ones on the first try!

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It's a touchscreen, but it can be a big touchscreen that accepts clusters of toebeans as a single input. Some daeva are very weird shapes.

When she is all set, Cam goes out, appears a motorcycle, and speeds off to the shelter.

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"Hi, good afternoon, what can I do for you?" asks the person behind the front desk.

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"Hi! I'd like to meet some cats, can I do that?"

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"You absolutely can!  Come on back."

In the back there are cats in cages with beds and toys.  Most of the cats are grouped up but some of them are kept alone; there are little handwritten info cards with little glossy photo printouts for each of them.  Some look up at Cam and the staffer when they walk in; others ignore them.  Also there are a bunch of dogs over there and a room with two birds and a handful of pocket pets over there.

"Feel free to look around; I'll be over here if you have any questions or want to take anybody over to meet them outside of their cage."

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"Thanks!"

And when she is slightly out of earshot and might not be quite as confused about Cam meowing extensively: "Hello there everybody, I can talk!"

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The staffer smiles to herself but doesn't, apparently, feel the need to comment.

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Some of the cats who were ignoring Cam now look at him intently.  Others remain steadfast.


"What the fuck," asks an incongruously small kitten.

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"I am a magical creature from another universe with language acquisition powers, and I can talk."

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"That's weird.  You're weird."

"Do all the Twolegs talk or just you?"

"What's magic?  What's universe? What's acquisition?"

"Why are you here."

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"They all talk, just not your language. Magic is things that, hm, behave in a way you wouldn't expect from looking at them, even looking very very closely. Universe is a whole spatially contiguous place, really really big. Acquisition is getting. I'm here to meet more cats and ask questions!"

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"Wait, what's language?  And spatially and contiguous.  - Never mind, I know what spatially is."

"Mom.  Mom.  Mom.  Moooom.  Mom."

"I'm sleeping, darling."

"Come over here, Twoleg, I want to smell you."

"I want to EAT you."

"You're not big enough."

"I'm bigger than you!"

"You still can't eat a whole Twoleg.  It's enormous."

"Fuck off, yes I could."

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"Language is the correspondence of sounds to meanings." Cam lets the one who wants to smell him sniff his hand.

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Sniff sniff.  "Hmmmmmmm okay fine.  What were your questions."

"What's contiguous!"

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"Contiguous is all next to each other. My world isn't contiguous with here because there's no part of it that's next to any part of this one. I'm wondering if I could get you to look at some colors and tell me how well you can see them? And also I want to know if all your parents and grandparents and all the other cats you've met can talk."

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"My mom cannot talk because she is SLEEPING.  Show me the colors."

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Colors! Are any of these cats colorblind at all.

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All of the awake cats who are willing to talk to him have the human range of color vision.

. . . Some of the cats are awake and seem interested in him but aren't using words about it.

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"Hey, do those cats talk?"

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"They are SO QUIET.  Mom tells me I should be that quiet."

"Sometimes they make noises but I haven't learned any new vocabulary from them, ever."

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"What kind of noises?"

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"Like 'mrrp?' and 'a!' and 'prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr'."

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"...huh.

All of you who talk, did your parents talk too?"

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There's a chorus of yeahs and one "Not mine."

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Cam focuses on "not mine" cat. "Can you tell me about your parents?"

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"What about 'em?"

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"About how they didn't talk? Was that weird for you? How did you learn?"

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"Wasn't really.  I just picked it up one day."

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"When you were how old?"

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"Maybe five seasons."

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"...huh. Just kind of all of a sudden? Any idea why then?"

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"Not really."

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...omnilol is in gummies, Starclan is in dreams... hm. "Did you, like, eat anything weird, or have an odd dream...?"

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"Don't remember."

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"Hm. Did you learn it, like picking up new vocabulary only from the beginning, or did it just sort of click for you?"

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"Second one."

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"Huh. Can any of you guys read?"

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"What is read?"

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"Interpret visible symbols as meanings."

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"Hmmm.  No," says vocabulary kitten.

"YES," says the one who wanted to eat Cam.  "I can read everything."

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"Really? What's this say?" He pulls an index card from his pocket and holds it up. It says "SOME CATS ARE PEOPLE".

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"I don't want to tell you."

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He turns the card around and now it says "READ THIS AND GET A CHICKEN LIVER".

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"I still don't want to tell you!"

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Card in pocket again.

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One of the sleeping cats yawns awake. "What is wrong with this one?" he wonders, looking at Cam critically.

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"He TALKS.  It's weird."

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"That IS weird." He looks more closely at Cam. "Why do you talk?"

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"It's actually very common, we just don't do it by meowing usually! Why do you talk?"

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"I went on a very strange catnip trip."

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"Really."

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"Really."

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"Excuse me, uh," what is the correct address here, Ma'am or Miss or some weird Latin thing - "uh, can I take out the colorpoint cat?"

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"Yeah, I can get him out for you if you really want," she sighs, rolling down her sleeves.  "And it's Ivy, if you need something to call me by; what's your name?  Or is it just Mr. Some Cats Are People, was that a nametag."

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"...ah. I'm Cam. It was not a nametag."

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"Yeah, normally they stick on your shirt instead of you having to hold them up for people to look at, silly me.  Or was that cat in particular not a people; I hear only some are."

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"That one was, but he was lying about being able to read."

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"What are you saying?"

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"She didn't know any cats were people! Also she's gonna take you out of your cage."

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"I do not like my cage."

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"What's he saying."

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"He wanted to know what we were saying and I told him and he says he doesn't like his cage."

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"Understandable, honestly.  Don't suppose you could ask him not to try and scratch me."

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"Sure. She'd like you not to scratch her, can you do that?"

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"Well, she could let me jump out by myself."

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"He would like to jump out by himself, he says."

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"Yeah, okay."  She opens the door to the colorpoint's cage and then the one to a small room with a large interior window, a few chairs, and blankets and pet toys strewn on the floor.

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He leaps out and does not scratch her. He trots right up to Cam and rubs against his leg. "I think it is very commendable of you to talk," he remarks.

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"Wow, he really likes you.  Uh, you can take pretty much as long as you want in here unless somebody else comes in or you hit on closing time, and honestly maybe even then because I sure do have some questions and that gets you some leeway."

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"Thanks!"

He sits down and the colorpoint cat leaps into his lap and purrs.

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Ivy shuts the door and busies herself with cleaning on the other side of the window.

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Cam hangs out with the cat for a while - the cat does not presently have a name he likes and accepts the suggestion of "Cricket", which is easily translatable into cat.

"Can I take this one with me?" he asks Ivy. Cricket is draped over his shoulder.

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"I'd be glad if you did, to be honest.  Did you have like a pamphlet about this whole thing or do I have to come up with specific questions."

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"I don't have a pamphlet. The short version is that I'm a magical being from another universe with magical language acquisition abilities and today they gave me cat language, which was very startling for me as I'm sure it is for you, but on inspection of the shelter population only some and possibly only a very small number of cats are people, which at least reduces the odds I need to worry about other animals also being people."

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"Huh.  I didn't guess the magical being part but I'm not actually very surprised about the cats - everyone who works here is like, 'oh, that's just how cats are' when they meow in really clear conversational patterns or whatever, but it really really isn't."

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"I can point out the ones who talked to me and which ones they said don't talk, though that won't divvy up anybody who was asleep and not remarked on -" Point point point.

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"Thanks.  I . . . don't really know what I should do about this except, uh, keep treating them as well as I'm able to given resource constraints?  And I guess lie on some parts of your adoption form for you if you're from another universe - do you have a place to take this cat to and supplies and stuff; I am gonna have to put my foot down on that one even if I would fudge everything else - "

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"I do not strictly speaking have a residence; it's not a priority for me because I don't need to sleep. I can make arbitrary material objects including whatever Cricket's little heart desires though I would appreciate the 101 on feline nutrition in case he desires more chicken livers or whatever than are good for him."

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"Have a pamphlet.  He does need to sleep; do you have a plan for that."

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"For situations where I can't carry him around I'll probably eventually make myself a - hm, not a space station, considering, but like a little house out in the woods, I just haven't gotten around to it yet."

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"Okay great.  I'd like a demonstration of the making stuff, if you don't mind."  She primly slides a clipboard with printouts of suggested item donations across the counter.

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"Ha, all right, where do you want the stuff?"

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"Dry storage is back this way - " lead lead flourishy gesture.

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He reads through the list and appears plenty of everything in neatly organized bins.

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"Wow, okay.  Not that I didn't believe you; it would've been kind of weird if all the other stuff made sense but you were lying about this one thing, but.  Wow."

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"It's pretty swell! Anything else?"

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"Lemme think about it while I get going on your paperwork . . ."  And she starts filling out a form with Cricket's deadname on it.  "Don't suppose you've already picked up a silver piece somewhere; obviously I'm willing to waive that but I don't, uh, actually know how to without it being really obviously suspicious - "

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"...I have not already picked up a silver piece. Are they magic or are you just concerned about counterfeiting?"

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"Just counterfeiting."

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"Would you like to buy anything off me for a silver piece?"

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"Oh, yeah that works - I guess I could just do movies - "  She lists off eleven titles, with some consideration, and slides a coin across the table, then back over to her side and deposits it in a cash register.  "I might still try and think of other stuff if you're just giving it away, but for now that puts us about square."

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"What format is in vogue here and now for movies?"

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"Magnestrip.  - Or, flatdisk if you're asking in general but I don't have a player for those yet.  . . . Can I have a flatdisk player."

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"Name a model."

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"I don't know any.  - I guess you could make a catalog or whatever too but let's get through this first - um, I'm just going to put down that he was already neutered; please be responsible about any kittens . . ."

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"I will give him The Talk."

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"Okay good."  She ticks a checkbox.  "Do other universes do birthdays differently and if so have you by chance already found a plausible correspondence I could write down."

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"Our dates of birth have negligible correlation with character traits. I was born on what is in my universe called September thirteenth, though it's in the autumn, there, and I don't know if that's locally plausible for my personality."

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"That's so weird!  I'll just put down something even, then."

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"If I seem even to you then by all means."

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"Oh, not especially, just it's the least suspicious at a glance.  But if you'd had something already it would have been more likely to stand up to any suspicion that ends up existing."

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"What are September thirteenths supposed to be like?"

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"Uh, so first of all don't go around saying 'thirteenth' for day numbers; nobody does that.  But that'd be . . . the second Fivesday; there was one of those in my grade growing up, nice kid - uh, not odd enough that you have to worry about them too much; she was good at presenting group projects but occasionally slacked off on the prep work, not that I can really complain about that; kinda sporty."

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"Well that's not me at all."

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"Then don't use your real birthday as your fake birthday I guess!"

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"What fake birthday am I being assigned?"

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"Triinary twoct-six sound good?"

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"It sounds bizarre, because I'm not accustomed to octal, but sure!"