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May 26, 2022 9:32 AM
Vanda Nosseo deals with Sesat
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"We don't stand much on formality of that kind," says Nelen. "But - well -"

"We've been trained," says Cassiel, "to tolerate people from cultures very different from ours, but someone aiming for courtesy might wish to avoid using slave labor around us."

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"I will let people know about that and see how far we can get on it - it'll be easy to have no slaves personally serve you during your stay but I don't believe we can get certainty about anyone's already-made clothing having no components made by slave labor..."

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"A good-faith effort to avoid making it obtrusive will be fine," Nelen assures him.

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They can manage to keep the slaves out of view, at least as long as the delegates are in known locations and not moving around much.

Elu shows them to the palace and passes on this information and announces them and their titles-they-don't-care-much-about to an emergency meeting of the Star-of-Stars and those officials that happened to be on hand and not busy with something more urgent or important than a teleporting diplomatic party.

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"Hello!" Nelen says.

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"Hello indeed," says Sesat's Star-of-Stars. "I have heard that you have come from the stars to speak with us about a project of mutual cooperation and prosperity, as well as, ah, freedom of movement. I extend to you an invitation to make yourselves comfortable - " he gestures at the council table his other officials are sitting at " - and speak with us at length about your mission here."

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They take seats! "We appreciate your hospitality, your grace," says Nelen brightly. "My understanding is that you're currently looking at a likely war brewing with your neighbor Azan, which is complicated because our counterparts are talking to them too; is there anything else going on here that might benefit more straightforwardly from a goodwill gesture from Vanda Nossëo? Disease outbreaks, famines, natural disasters, that kind of thing we can often solve as a goodwill gesture without making any demands of you."

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"Sesat has not seen famine or plague for several years now, but there are always those with minor ailments and I would not dream of forbidding any who come here in peace from offering them healing. Do you have a summary of what Vanda Nossëo might want to consider offering, or some examples of prior agreements with recently contacted polities?"

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"Vanda Nossëo's powers that are limited or gatekept enough to prevent them from being freely distributed include immortality, resurrection, terraforming new planets to spec for people to move onto - these are all available on the free market but they're very expensive if you just buy them, it's more common to arrange a deal as part of membership that you get some number allotted per year. The planet I come from wanted planets, and lots of them -" He looks at the others.

"My species actually mostly wanted the prison system," says Cassiel, "we're really hard to keep contained within our own magic system and were tolerating a fair number of nuisances that couldn't meaningfully be stopped."

"My species isn't joined up with Vanda Nossëo at all," says Zanro, "we're folded in under an allied polity, Mîr, or at least most of us are, I joined up as an individual."

"My planet's mostly taking medical assistance, we have a really high cancer rate as a result of a war that occurred not long before contact," says Natsuko.

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"I can see the appeal of many of those things. I'm curious about your polities' ends of the arrangements, as well; what did Vanda Nossëo want for these things?"

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"Vanda Nossëo wanted to give all the people who lived there access to free migration and trade and communication with the rest of Vanda Nossëo, Partly because the more people who are participating, the wealthier and more robust the whole thing can be, and partly out of humanitarian motives," says Nelen.

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"Ah, humanitarianism. Locally, at least, that concept was invented by one of my predecessors, and is how Sesat brought the wild folk of the countryside into the fold."

Well, the local concept in question is bribing people to move in and work for you, undermining your neighbors' economies by stealing their human capital, and is the incredibly fraught cause of the current war, but it's close enough for a smooth natural-sounding translation. Sesat can't very well win a humanitarian war over who owns which people, and it also can't win a conventional war. Unfortunately, it also isn't in a good position to gently suggest to Vanda Nossëo that they stop escalating what they offer people and save their own government and a lot of other governments a lot of expense in a tug-of-war that just ends with the common people richer and distributed the same way as before, because in fact if they can truly offer people immortality it probably won't end any way short of Sesat's utter annihilation.

And Azan's going to accept their help, because Azan's current king likes humanitarianism, prefers it even to the power and wealth it's supposed to be for.

The Star-of-Stars does not make a face like he's just bitten a lemon because, most importantly, he has better self-control than that, and secondarily, he's one of those people who like biting lemons.

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"I'm glad it's not a completely foreign concept, your... starriness," says Nelen politely.

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He snorts. "That's a new one, I like it. So - I was curious about Mîr, and its relationship to all of this."

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"There are three larger polities making up the broad category sometimes called 'the peal' for obscure pun reasons," says Zanro.

"If you want I can explain the pun, I speak the language," says Cassiel.

Zanro continues, "They're Vanda Nossëo, Mîr, and Elendil. All three are operated by some combination of Elves -" Tarwë raises a hand - "and a particular personality type that is frequently repeated throughout various universes, called 'Bells'. The distinctions between them are mostly bureaucratic, they exchange personnel and assistance all the time, all their leaders are personal friends, but Elendil is local to a particular universe which has many more inhabited planets than most of them, Mîr is local to a particular neighborhood of universes in which a particular magic system they depend on works well, and Vanda Nossëo is more of a catchall; there are also smaller setups that maintain strong relationships with those three but for one reason or another find it more expedient to keep their governing structure smaller. That said, if enough people on this planet preferred Mîr or Elendil to Vanda Nossëo for some reason and really wanted to belong to them instead, we can in fact just move your entire solar system, that's not very difficult."

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One of the officials in the meeting slightly less selected for ability to keep a straight face than the Star-of-Stars reacts visibly to that last incredibly threatening claim.

"What sort of personality is required to be a Bell?" asks the Star-of-Stars, pondering how to become one.

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"I think Tarwë's the only one of us who's met one in person -" says Nelen.

"Well, sort of in person, sort of met," Tarwë says. "One of them helped my people with a war against an evil god. They're generally - brilliant, skilled at whatever high-leverage occupations made sense in their environments, ruthlessly altruistic and committed. For some reason they're all unusually clumsy, till they get magic help for it. Most of them have matching parents too, but Loki doesn't, or Kib, presumably because they're respectively adopted and from a world where humans don't conventionally reproduce. I hear they're sarcastic, though the one I met wasn't exactly cracking jokes at the time."

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...That is a scarily good description of Azan he, other than the brilliance, which, well, it's hard to say.

If they're going to maybe recognize the king of Azan as a good Bell candidate, he'll have to throw some of his own brilliant people in high-leverage occupations at them. People who can plausibly act ruthlessly altruistic and committed, and can be sarcastic to save their lives and their country.

"That sounds like a sort of person I might be able to find around here."

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"- oh, you don't have one on this planet," says Nelen. "We check that sort of thing before we make contact - if you had a Bell, we would have noticed with magic, and we'd be talking to them about how to approach things here, instead of this more generic strategy."

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"...How do you check that?"

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"There's a species called 'demons' - uh, our translation magic often translates that in a way that makes it sound like they're malicious, they're not especially, we can tweak the translation if it's inopportune here - related to Cassiel's species, 'angels'. Demons can conjure arbitrary material objects, and they can do it according to specific criteria, like a particular book title by a particular author. Or a particular 'template' - like 'Bells' - in a particular world."

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"So, what, all of our sarcastic altruists are magically confirmed to be stupid or uncommitted or not in high-leverage careers?"

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"- no, not at all. Bells have the traits listed," says Nelen, "but having those traits doesn't make someone a Bell. It's okay, you don't need any for anything in particular, it's just a shortcut to us having a local contact we can trust immediately to be both broadly values-aligned and have an eye on the right subjects."

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"Suppose I still take it as a set of criteria for people to introduce you to, since it sounds like you do want to meet locals who have those traits?"

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"If you have bright altruists who want to talk to us, of course we'd be happy to meet them, but we'll meet anyone who would like to see us. One thing we often do at this stage of a contact is we set up one or more little booths where we sell things from the wider multiverse, often in exchange for stories, true or not, from the locals."

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