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May 21, 2022 3:10 PM
Vanda Nosseo deals with Sesat
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In a world without magic of its own, there is a planet (1g, sea level atmospheric partial pressure of oxygen 160 millimeters of mercury, orbital period an awkward rounding error away from 365 days...) populated with something pretty close to the lineup of animals that show up on Earths and similar worlds. Including humans.

The humans have bronze and mostly don't have steel. The majority of them live in small states, often monarchies, usually with human rights records slightly better than that of nineteenth century Belgium. There are a couple of republics, and a number of people who aren't organized into states at all.

A couple of the states seem, by the troop movements, to be either on the brink of war or in the early stages of one. They both have writing - they share a language, in fact - and the one to the east has a statue in the capital with an engraved caption explaining how it commemorates the unification of Sesat. Both countries have large numbers of people with apparently deliberately inflicted scars; to the east, facial tattoos and scars from whips; to the west, they seem to go in for deliberately cutting tendons.

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Well, good thing Vanda Nossëo is here.

Nelen Utopia (jobname selected as one of the more pronounceable foreign language renderings of the concept) has only been a municipal level integration director before; this is his first time heading up a state-level effort. He's nervous, but these people are reductionist and no-magic and anyway if people like him didn't agree to take on responsibilities everything would be going at Elf pace and that would be worse for almost everyone alive on this planet today.

He calls an all-hands aboard the giant Elf-spec lightleaper the planetary team has parked in orbit, goes over the plan and the contingencies and the emergency procedures, and takes his subteam of five down to the capital. There's him, Nelen Utopia - shorter than the locals, long vermilion hair with one streak of gold dyed in at the temple and kept back in a ponytail. There's an angel, Cassiel, ex-human but with quartz-pink feathers and a rose-gold halo. There's an orc, Zanro, a bit of a weirdo who is trying a stint as a VN ambassador for personal development reasons. There's an Earthling from Cube who took the wizardry course in Elendil, Natsuko. There's a Space Elf, Tarwë, who recently joined up as his youngest daughter's grown and moved away. (He has the augmented reality thing that makes Zanro look okay to him.)

Nelen makes them all confirm out loud that they're ready, and he teleports them down into the capital of his assigned state.

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The capital is... a solid effort for a dense preindustrial civilization with no magic and lots of distractions, mostly planned in advance to be relatively less difficult to keep clean-ish and parts of it designed with aesthetics in mind. It only smells a little. Within the walled city there are some statues, a small park, a medium-size palace, and some people who are shocked and afraid to see people teleporting in. Within a minute they're being quizzed by soldiers on who they are and what they're doing here.

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"Hello!" says Nelen, shaking only a little bit. "We're peaceful ambassadors from a polity based around another star far away, Vanda Nossëo!"

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The soldiers relax very slightly.

"Well, then," says one of them, almost entirely succeeding at sounding like this is a normal and unremarkable occurrence, "Sesat welcomes you - someone send word to the Star-of-Stars while I handle this - Sesat welcomes you and would like to know what brings you all the way from your faraway star."

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"Vanda Nossëo's mission is to explore the inhabited worlds, establish trade and free movement and the flow of information between them, and improve the standard of living for all sapient beings," says Nelen.

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"That sounds like a worthwhile project that Sesat would be happy to help with under better circumstances. I don't speak for our Star-of-Stars but I expect His Beneficence would be delighted to host you for a while, and discuss what we can do for one another, and unfortunately I expect Sesat won't be able to commit resources to anything else until we've dealt with a situation on our border."

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"That's okay, we come with our own resources and don't want to take any of yours," Nelen assures them. "Can you tell us more about the situation on the border?"

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"To my understanding - which may not be accurate but since you're asking me, sirs, and His Excellency hasn't sent anyone yet, I'll do my best - a serf ran away and tried to hide in the area around the border where people don't live, and people went looking, and all of them ended up over the border. Azan, our neighbor, construed it as an act of war and can't be talked down from that."

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"I'm sorry to hear that. Vanda Nossëo membership comes with defensive support, if that's the sort of thing that might help."

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"I expect we can handle it on our own, but it's likely to delay us in working with you on your project if we have to. What can you tell me about Vanda Nossëo membership?"

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"It has to be voted on - a strict majority of your population has to vote to join, with everyone entitled to a vote, we can automatically detect duplicates if that's a concern. You can negotiate for different joining bonuses, people have different needs, but defensive support comes standard."

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"I see. I - don't see, actually, I have several questions about that. First of all, what are the obligations of member states?"

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"Member states have to allow emigration - you can restrict immigration, if you want, but letting people leave is required - and there are minimum laws against murder, rape, and torture. Uh, I should also mention that if anyone gets murdered, raped, or tortured as a result of our presence we claim a limited jurisdiction over that if your handling doesn't seem to cover the case. Sometimes Vanda Nossëo has broader standards of "everyone" than other cultures."

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"We already have laws against all three of those, and depending on the details of the case the perpetrators may be enslaved, which is our highest penalty."

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"Enslavement is covered by the emigration clause," says Nelen delicately. "And is not functionally possible for member states without very unusual circumstances."

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"Well, it wouldn't be up to me to decide what to do about that," but if they have to deal with two of Azan, one of which can teleport, that's going to really suck. "I admire that you came all the way from a star to ask us this, but I'm not confident our Star-of-Stars will want to seek membership."

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"That's understandable. You should be aware that there are similar Vanda Nossëo teams visiting the other states on this planet."

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Oh for fuck's sake. Of fucking course there are. Well, in a couple of minutes, the Star-of-Stars will send someone to make it not his problem anymore, except insofar as there's going to be another war and his cousin's going to lose all her slaves and probably have to sell all the family land, so, maybe slightly still his problem.

"Of course. Most people do want to be on good terms with all their neighbors, not just one."

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"Is this a good place for us to wait for whoever you sent to fetch a representative for us to talk to?"

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"We might as well get out of the street and take a seat in the park, don't worry about admission this time, I'll deal with that." He gestures for them to follow him through the park gate, a few feet away. "By the way, I'm very curious about the reasoning behind your, uh, goals here."

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"Ours as individuals or Vanda Nossëo's as an organization?"

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"I meant the second but either's fine."

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"Vanda Nossëo is rich and has magic and technology that is phenomenally advanced. I'd bet you can't think of anything that Vanda Nossëo doesn't have in some form, although you might surprise me. What do you think Sesat would do if it suddenly got that way?"

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"Accept immigrants from everywhere in the world until we ran out of space, then use our phenomenal wealth and the fact that everywhere else was getting less dense to see if there was any price at which our neighbors could be convinced to peacefully transfer sovereignty over some of their land, then accept more immigrants. Probably plant more flowers. Give some of it to the poor, maybe, if it wasn't their fault they got that way - is that what you're doing here?"

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"Sort of. But with a really broad concept of fault. It's not anyone's fault that they belong to a species that isn't innately good with money - some are - or that they had a childhood that didn't prepare them well for being productive adults, or that they have disabilities, even disabilities that look kind of like personality traits. Vanda Nossëo is kind of going: okay, let's skip trying to figure out whose fault any of this poverty is. Let's just get so rich we can fix it all."

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