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Jan 20, 2022 8:53 AM
dath ilan marian alt in atlas shrugged
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"I think it's terrible too. Things are different, where you're from?" 

Where is she from? Why has she never heard anything about the rest of the world? He has a vague image of some secret country, that hides itself from everyone else and tries to pretend they don't exist, but that doesn't explain how she got here. And she doesn't act like she didn't know anything about the rest of the world, she acts like she knew about a whole world and it was something other than this.

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"...Yeah. Really different. I - we have different - uh, your language doesn't seem to have a good word for the thing I mean, we don't have different states, there's one Civilization and one Governance and one Law but different...specializations, I guess? Because people are different and prefer their cities be different ways, you can't have one way of a city being set up that makes everyone happy. And some industries are centralized to particular areas. But everywhere in the world has private property, because - um, I guess the way I'd put it is that that's a very basic component of a multi-agent-optimal setting, where everyone or at least almost everyone has an incentive to participate in the system because they get something out of it, they can personally expect to capture some of the gains from work they put into building things or inventing things or improving the efficiency of an industry in ways that produce more wealth overall? We - um, obviously there are some people who are poorer than others, that's - sort of inevitable from the premise, right, if people personally capture some of the gains-from-trade from their participation in the system then obviously some people are better at that - but we don't really have places that are a lot poorer than others, and if we did that wouldn't be stable, someone would be able to profit from going there and building a new industry. I think. This really isn't my specialization and it's been a long time since I studied it in school. ...I don't know how I ended up in an entire other world, maybe I'm in the future - or the past, I - only Keepers know our history and so I can't rule out that Civilization went through a stage like this and honestly it does seem like the kind of thing that would be a -" what they don't even have a single concise WORD in this language for 'infohazard', that's terrible and also EXPLAINS A LOT, "- um, a - piece of information that would potentially be dangerous to a lot of people's epistemics or reasoning ability or emotional stability, if they knew it. Anyway I...think possibly if I were less distracted because of the thing where I spent the last few minutes before arriving here putting very high odds on myself permanently ceasing to exist, I would be able to come up with a hypothesis for how and why any of this makes sense, but right now I'm not really managing that." 

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Everyone has an incentive to participate in the system because they get something out of it.

For a moment he looks at her like a man trapped in a collapsed mine-shaft, looking up at a shard of unreachable blue. Then he tears his eyes away to look at the floor, for a moment, before looking back neutrally at her again.

"I'm sorry. Do you want something to eat and drink?"

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Merrin has no idea what part of the things she just said is causing him to make that face! Her top guess is that despite her not having said it out loud, he's drawing the obvious conclusions about the nature of his reality, having the information that she suddenly appeared from thin air after a series of events that should have just led to her ceasing to exist, and that - gah she doesn't remember enough from school to even fully make sense of this, but - generalized structure of realityfluid simulating a world in a way that allows it to suddenly add her to it...? 

Or maybe he's just upset because he's embarrassed by his Governance making what are clearly ill-thought-out decisions, which even despite her utter lack of any specialization in the topic, Merrin is clearly able to notice. 

"Yes, that would be very kind of you. Although it's not urgent, I -" it's probably very meaningless to say she ate an in-flight meal less than an hour ago, her body clearly didn't transition here with its state exactly preserved, "- I'm not desperately hungry or anything." Except for ANSWERS. 

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He disappears to the kitchen for a minute (it's mostly an excuse to get a minute alone) and returns with a roast beef sandwich on a plate and a glass of water. 

"Do you want to--try to contact your family? Or find the part of the world you're from? I don't understand any of this, but I assume you want to go home if you can." Somehow he expects that any familiar thing she looks for will have vanished from the Earth as suddenly as she appeared. She's real, but she's somehow apart from reality.

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She gulps most of the water, and then tentatively tries a bite of the sandwich and finds, somewhat to her surprise, that she is apparently hungry enough to be delighted about food. 

"I - honestly I hadn't gotten that far yet. I mean, yes, obviously, if there's any way to get a message back then I want to do that as soon as possible. Do you have a– probably you don't, you don't seem to have a word for it, but - in dath ilan we have a - global interconnected communication system and information-archive, that's how I would normally send a message. I think that I would be from here," she can point out a spot on the map, it's in the area labeled as the People's State of Canada, "or, well, it's where my parents live, I - sort of move around a lot and I'm traveling half the time anyway." It's more convenient if she can just go where the relevant trainings are based, and she minds it a lot less than the average dath ilani, apparently.

"Um, and if I can in contact with home then I can get advice and guidance and maybe they could send someone else who's more qualified to figure out what's going wrong here and stop your entire world from de-industrializing which sort of seems like the way things are headed right now. But I - kind of suspect that in a scenario where that were possible or even coherent to posit, I also wouldn't be here."

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"You could send a telegram? I don't think we have the thing you mean, no."

It occurs to him, belatedly, that Merrin might be lying about various things including not knowing how she got here. But that doesn't really make him less confused about it all, and if she was deliberately trying to get information out of him she'd've asked more pointed questions. She hasn't asked anything about Dagny or Taggart Transcontinental yet, and that's the only reason someone would have to try to con him, there's nothing else interesting about him.

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"I guess." Again, she apparently knows the word, but the concept it seems to be associated with is not a familiar one. "That's a...message in text, but transmitted almost-instantly using a similar mechanism to the one for conveying real-time voice conversations around the world? Can you direct it by a person's name or only to a particular place, because my hometown is apparently not on this map." 

The whole thing where she suddenly speaks this strange and honestly rather poorly designed language, with no memory of learning it or any other explanation, is ALSO an unsolved mystery, and one that she's pretty sure must be causally interrelated with the mystery of how she's here at all, and maybe why this world has the properties it does. That...feels like information that should help narrow her hypothesis space, except she doesn't actually know what to infer from it. That...some kind of intelligent goal-oriented force wants her to be here and able to communicate? Her mind wants to protest that this is not how physical laws work but she's still staring in the face of these events having, observably, happened, and trying to just mentally box all of it off as 'mysterious and inexplicable and beyond her understanding' isn't actually going to help

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"You would need an address. And I think--I know this sounds insane, but I think that none of the people or places you know exist. And if you went to where your home town was, it wouldn't be there." 

If she's telling the truth, and he still can't imagine why she wouldn't be, he feels immensely sorry for her. It's like something out of a nightmare, like the tree that was destroyed in the thunderstorm and turned out to have been dying and hollow inside for years, but instead of a tree it was the whole world . . .

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"...No, that doesn't sound insane," Merrin says quietly. "Or, I mean - it would almost be more surprising, right, if - everything about Governance is different here and where my hometown would be is in a People's State and then somehow my hometown existed anyway and had my parents in it. I can't think of any– well, honestly, I don't have a coherent hypothesis for being here at all but being here and also being able to contact my parents with a 'telegram' puts even more constraints on that. I - I don't actually think it's worse than true death, though? It's really weird but I'm...not going to complain about the reason for my continued existence being too weird?" 

She's not really having any feelings about it yet. She's almost certainly going to have a LOT of feelings, at some point, but it seems that knowing what feelings to settle on requires a lot more context and ability-to-predict-anything-in-her-future than she has, yet, and so she mostly just feels numb and unmoored. 

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"Well. If you have to start your life over, New York City is the best place in the world to do it. What's your line of work?"

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"I'm a - specialized medical first responder? That seems to be the closest thing in your language– oh, 'paramedic' is a word? I think it's not quite that," something about the connotation is subtly off, "and I've done hospital work ever, but 'paramedic' is probably closest. I'm very good at it." She says this with no hint of self-consciousness or any sign that modesty would be expected around one's highly trained skills. "I don't know how standards and certifications work here but I expect I could pass the local qualifications with some retraining. Is it a highly-in-demand profession here?" 

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"Most professions are highly in demand here, if you're good at them." Eddie . . . does not really have any advice on retraining or qualifications. He knew he was going to work for Dagny since he was eight and never really considered any other jobs. "Paramedics are employed by hospitals, so maybe just go to a hospital and ask?"

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"Mm. I - this place does seem significantly lower-tech than what I'm used to expecting, which means that probably a lot of my training will be non-applicable but maybe some of what I know that I think of as just the basics would count as novel innovations here, and so I could contribute that way even if I'm really not the person anyone would pick to advise on Governance or economic efficiency." 

Merrin has the uneasy nagging sense that she's - thinking about this on the wrong level of meta, or the wrong degree of zoomed-out, or something, but she's not sure how to fix that and it's very tempting to have a specific plan, and it would be convenient if that were to involve doing something she loves and is good at and has invested most of her life in, rather than something where she scraped through the bare minimum of classes and doesn't remember half of the subtleties anymore because it's not like she's ever revisited her flashcards since then. 

"So - I think it probably makes sense to at least visit a hospital and see what the options are. ...Um. Do you think they would believe me if I said I was from another world and that's why I don't have any of the local training or qualifications. I - that sounds like a complicated conversation." Also it sounds AGONIZINGLY AWKWARD which is not a good reason to try to wiggle out of doing things, she's trained that lesson into herself very hard, being so far off on the right tail of the distribution for Agreeableness has its advantages, and in some ways it's one of the traits that made her well-suited to her line of work, but it has its downsides as well and the temptation to be less than fully honest because telling the full truth will result in people making FACES at her is one of them. 

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" . . . I think people who didn't see you appear out of thin air might decide you were insane. You should probably just say you don't have any papers; they might assume you're running from something in your past but there's plenty of people doing that, these days."

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"...Yeah. Okay." 

It is, very belatedly, occurring to Merrin that this stranger from another world with bafflingly dysfunctional Governance may not, in fact, have incentives to be especially honest with her. So far, based on just her initial impressions and huge gaps in all the background context, she likes him - he seems like someone who's earnestly trying, and - somehow who's genuinely bothered by the disastereconomics around here, in a way that's not not akin to the way it makes her feel. She's inclined to feel sympathetic, because of that. 

Also, it's not like she has any idea what she would do in the scenario where he was maliciously lying to her, except 'go talk to other people as well to triangulate', which he's literally advising her to do. 

"What, um, sort of papers would I usually have, if I were from here? What are they for?" She's pretty sure that 'papers' is metonymy for something more than just 'arbitrary pieces of paper with facts about herself on them', which to be fair she also doesn't have but could in theory put together in a couple of hours. 

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"A birth certificate, tax records, school records, anything to prove you are who you say you are. There are people who don't have them for good reasons, though, because they weren't born in a hospital or their town lost its records."

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"O....kay." Merrin thinks she probably has more questions but she isn't, at this point, sure what they are, and maybe what she actually needs is some time alone to finish all of her barely-started thoughts before she can put together questions any more coherent than 'what????'. "Anyway. I maintain a lot of Exception Handling certificates because my comparative advantage in this work is sort of unusual, but I guess you may not know all the protocols here and I'd be better off asking someone at a hospital?" 

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"I'm not sure what the equivalent of an Exception Handling certificate is, here, sorry. If you can ride in an ambulance and stop injured people from dying there are definitely jobs doing that."

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...What. Okay, it absolutely can't be the case that they don't have an equivalent, and you would THINK that it would be much less useful if normal people didn't know even the basics and that that would be obvious to everyone, but - maybe it's just the language, again, and she's grasping for the wrong set of terms, and it's not like he had any more warning of what aspects of Civilization outside his usual specialization he ought to brush up on before this unexpected meeting. Merrin really wishes she'd had some sort of warning and preparation; she hates doing things without preparation, improvising is fine but that's different, it's not - having to unpack all her thoughts on philosophically confusing questions in real time, which is a position she would absolutely never choose to put herself in, she knows her strengths and weaknesses and the limitations of her intelligence and this is NOT an area she's well placed for– 

 

– and, of course, whining about how inconvenient it is - even if she keeps the whining entirely internal - is not going to accomplish anything. Except for maybe making her approach this with more helplessness and less agency than it calls for. She should stop that. ...Well, she should mentally reward herself for noticing it, first, that's a step forward in itself and she knows she's overwhelmed and running hard into the limits of what her mind can track and it also won't help to internally criticize herself for failure modes that are a predictable consequence of facts she already knew about herself and that don't even indicate having prioritized anything wrong in the past because this was absolutely not predictable. 

"I mean, yeah, I have training relevant to that. My training is more relevant to - um, large scale disasters natural or otherwise? I...am guessing that since your world seems to be a lot earlier in industrializing and also, um, your Governance seems to have different priorities from what I'd expect, that you - might have more industrial accidents and such? Like, explosions in factories, that kind of thing?" Merrin has never, ever responded to an actual explosion-in-a-factory situation, because someone would have to get a lot of things wrong for that to be a possibility, but of course there are protocols for it anyway and of course she is one of the people who would likely be called in for it. "And I have training in emergency cryonic suspension - I mean, that's pretty standard, but knowing the backup options for situations where you don't have the usual equipment or medical backup available is less standard and I've got that too." 

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"Responding to explosions in factories is definitely important. Hospitals do it, and also a lot of factories will have a doctor on staff for faster response and to handle anything minor. I don't know what emergency cryonic suspension is, but that doesn't mean much, I don't know a lot about medicine beyond what to do if someone sprains their ankle or something." And the last time he had to use any of it was when he and Dagny and Fransisco were kids testing their limits by the river.

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Well. That's concerning! It's not the most concerning thing she's heard, when the category includes things like 'it's inexplicably become popular for entire states to ban the concept of having an economy', but it's a different flavor of concerning and it's one that's much more centrally in a domain she can assess, and -

- hmm, now that she actually considers the question, this man doesn't come across as...all that smart? Which is weird, right, it's confusing, most people are smarter than her and certainly it's a significant minority of people who are enough - how to put it, just - noticeably-lower-on -verbal-adroitness? - that she's capable of picking up on it. Though he doesn't act like someone who finds existing in Civilization on a day-to-day basis to often be overwhelming outside of his specific areas of advanced training, which is honestly how Merrin feels sometimes even now - he didn't hesitate at all to rattle off the list of 'paperwork' she would need to navigate their Civilization locally - he reads as competent to her, just from his manner, and that's part of why the verbal-fluency bit didn't flag to her much sooner - maybe she's totally wrong about that, maybe it's just the local language, which is really terrible, maybe their schooling is terrible somehow, that would explain some things too... Also this is, as usual, a slightly frustrating topic to be mulling on and she doesn't actually have enough signal yet in all the noise to draw more than the most tentative of conclusions and so it's not unreasonable to set it aside for now. 

...Come to think of it, her initial confusion-and-concern could well be a language issue as well, she's...now noticing that the phrase she used apparently isn't idiomatic, in English, there are words that exist and sort of roughly map over but now that she's paying closer attention she can tell that it's not quite holding together. And 'exception' 'handling' is also not a standard phrase, she thinks, the words exist for a literal translation but if she stares at it the connotations aren't right at all... 

She's STILL feeling as though she's failing to look at things from the right vantage point, or something, but in her defense that's cognitively challenging at the best of times, in a completely novel no-prior-context situation like this - it's the reason she doesn't really enjoy the sort of serial novel that's about aliens or something equally weird and also has PUZZLES for the reader to solve between installments - and on top of that she's trying to express herself in a foreign language that she only speaks because it was inexplicably implanted in her brain, and it's also much easier to do as a collaborative-ideas-bouncing-discussion and her native guide here is as far as she can tell a lovely person but he's really not stepping up and helping her out with the cognitive load there. 

She is...going to fall back on the motion of confusion-resolving that does come naturally to her, which is 'breaking the confusing thing down into smaller more concrete pieces until she can narrow down what she isn't following'. 

"...Sorry, I - think I'm forgetting that this is a different language and I need to account for that and can't expect that just picking the closest words that jump to mind is going to work because there are probably a lot of deeper, um, cultural differences - semantic differences, or maybe I mean etymological - sorry I don't actually know anything about how languages work. Anyway, I think I'm probably trying to say things as overly literal translations from Baseline and that's confusing you. Exception Handling is...the systems and policies you have for events like factories exploding, except I think that's not a good analogy here because it's usually for serious catastrophic events that don't really ever happen, but they could and obviously Civilization needs to be prepared for lots of individually-very-unlikely possibilities because when you include all of them the likelihood adds up higher. I, um, meteor strikes that aren't detected in time by your orbital monitoring might be a better example? ...At least I hope your world doesn't just get hit by meteors all the time although I guess that would explain some of why you seem to have less excess-production-capacity than we do?" 

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"We don't really have policies for things that almost never happen. That sounds like a good thing to have, but we barely have enough people to handle the things that are already happening. We don't get hit by meteors all the time but we also don't have any way to detect that or prevent it, just every few years or so you hear about someone getting a hole in his roof. It's not a big enough problem that anyone really thinks about it much. Industrial accidents are much worse. It's not that we haven't invented safety precautions--our switchyards are safe, Rearden's mills are safe, Dannager's mines are safe. But some people don't take precautions, and then when people die they say they can't help it!" His voice flares up in sudden anger and then cuts off, like a candle in a gust of wind

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...Merrin is a dath ilani with some highly specific training and so she is not going to lose control of herself and start crying in front of this man from another world who is CLEARLY under massive amounts of stress which she sees no choice but to keep poking at. 

She sort of wants to offer him a hug, or give him a reassuring pat on the shoulder, or something, but she has no existing templates for what their relationship is right now (he's not a patient, or a patient's family, he's not exactly a colleague either, he's certainly not a child...) and this language, terrible as it is, doesn't seem to have ANY syllables-efficient way to ASK. 

"I'm...sorry," she manages, after a few moments of making sure that she is, in fact, under control of herself. "I - definitely need to ask - someone else if you don't know - whether you have the...freezing people's brains to preserve them as individuals so you can revive them once that technology exists?"

Whyyyyyyyyyyy does that take SO MANY WORDS to convey. Also the verb 'to die' in their language seems to be...ambiguous...is it talking about True Death or just suspension - 

 

 

(It's not really ambiguous. Merrin can already guess, in a quietly screaming corner of herself, how this man is going to answer her question.)

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