Jun 28, 2022 5:36 PM
vanda nosseo in velgarth shortly after the Cataclysm
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"Oh. That's good then." The girl stares at her feet. "S'just, one of the horse-riding-people is probably my dad and I don't want him to die even if he's a bad person." 

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"We will almost certainly not wind up having to kill your dad. If you want, maybe one day you can find out which one he is and see what he's like when he has more choices."

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Shrug. "I dunno what he looks like and my ma probably wouldn't remember either. Just, Lionstar says it's always bad when people - or other things that are like people - die. And–" 

A frown of intense concentration. 

"...And he says that when you don't have enough or know enough to save everyone then sometimes you need to do math about what saves the most people, but - that's not because it's okay, it's never okay, s'just - it's because we have to try to make the world where we can save everyone. 'Cause no one's going to do it if we don't. Only -" and she's clearly trying not to cry, now, "- only now you're here? And maybe you do know enough and have enough to save everyone." 

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This is one of the most agonizing conversations Lionstar has ever listened in on, and their alien visitors are going to have so many questions - some of them about Lionstar specifically which is terrifying - but what she's saying isn't false, and it feels as though it would be a betrayal of everything he's tried to teach these people who he claimed as his own, if he tells her to stop - 

 

- he's never had to tell any of his people that sometimes a thing is true and yet you aren't allowed to say it. That's...one of the few mercies of living so close to the edge. No space left for pretty lies. 

 

Lionstar is going to slip quietly away, and go pace the outskirts of his tiny city, because at least that way he won't be tempted to intervene. 

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"Lionstar's right," Natsuko says. "Anyway, if you do want to find your dad, we can do it without knowing what he looks like, but if you don't, that's also fine."

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"Wow! How do you do it if you don't know what he looks like?" 

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"Most kinds of people - and animals and plants - are made of little tiny blobs, called cells, and each one of those cells has even tinier little pieces in it called DNA, which tell it how to help make the whole thing - you, or a tree, or a fish. And you have different ones from a tree or a fish, but you also have different ones from other humans! Unless you have an identical twin. If you have an identical twin theirs are the same. And you get yours from your parents, some of both of theirs mixed up. We can check who matches you and how much, and figure out how they might be related. Although this would only happen if your dad agreed to let us check."

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This gets the attention of all the other kids who had been hanging back! 

"How do you know that? Do you have people with tinyblobSight?" 

     "How does the dee-enn-ayy tell the tiny blobs to do things? Is it like a book? Can tiny blobs even read?" 

"I had a twin when I was born but he died." (This little boy is rapidly shushed.) 

     "Do all the things made of tiny blobs have two parents or is it just people? 'Cause I don't know how trees could have parents -" 

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"There's probably someone who can just see the tiny blobs by looking, but mostly we use machines that can magnify a picture of something to see what it looks like when it's really little. The way the DNA tells the tiny blobs what to do is complicated - I can still tell you, but it might not make a lot of sense... I'm sorry about your twin... Some things made of tiny blobs have only one parent, or more than two, but trees often do have two. The pollen comes from one, and the flower comes from the other, and that together makes a seed."

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"Ohhhhhhh!" says one little boy, whose father runs the local apothecary and grows lots of herbs in their backyard, and who has therefore overheard many discussions over the nuances of gardening. "So - the pollen goes in the flower and then the flower makes some tiny baby trees out of the two kinds of tiny blobs, and puts them in seeds?" Widening eyes. "So that's what Lionstar meant!"

     "What about lizards?" a little girl asks. "They lay eggs! With shells! I dunno how the second kind of blobs could get in!" 

"Is that why my daddy sticks his wee-wee in my mommy? So he can put his tiny blobs where they make a baby with her tiny blobs?" says a little boy, who has grown up sharing a single-room house with his entire family and sees no reason not to talk about this in front of strangers. 

 

The twelve-year-old girl who was speaking before rolls her eyes at the younger kids being silly. "Wow. Could we buy one of those machines from you? I - all I have to trade is my spare dress and my ragdoll, but I'm good at cleaning and mending clothes and I can copy books in a fair hand?" 

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"If you guys join Vanda Nossëo you will get some money every so often just for being citizens," says Natsuko. "Then if you want a microscope you can buy one with your own money. Lizard eggs are soft before they get laid! They have to grow, and while they grow they're soft, and then they harden at the last minute. And - yes, that's how most humans make babies."

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"They're soft? Whooooooa! - Ooh I know where the lizard nest is, I'm gonna go see if the mommy lizards are laying eggs yet so I can see if they're soft!" (The little girl announcing this runs off immediately.)

     "How does it even work for the eggs to be soft when they're laid and then get hard after? Where does the hard come from?" 

"Are snakes like lizards? I saw two snakes all rolling in a ball once and I thought they were fighting so I should stop them but Lionstar said they were probably making babies and I shouldn't bother them -" 

     "What's 'money'?" (Asked by a boy who looks maybe four years old.) 

 

Yet again, the older girl interrupts. "What do you mean by 'join Vanda Nossëo'? Is it hard to do that? What do you need us to do?" 

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"Wow, kiddos, this is a lot of questions. How about questions about animals go to Tarwë and I'll take questions about Vanda Nossëo?" Natsuko laughs. "Tarwë's the really tall one. Vanda Nossëo is a bunch of people all clubbed up together to work on the project of making life better for everyone! You can join if everyone votes and most people in your group want to. Money is - hm - do you have games where you try to win pebbles or something? - well, anyway, most people use money to trade for stuff, and then the people they trade with can use their money to trade for more stuff. Money's not useful by itself, but it's useful when everyone knows you can use it to buy stuff, because it lets you avoid situations where people want something and don't have anything the other person wants."

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(Several of the children run over to the very tall alien to ask questions about plants!) 

 

The others look expectantly at Tsashi, the twelve-year-old girl, who is also acknowledged to be - well, not the smartest, maybe, Parshat is better at math and that's why he's the one Lionstar is teaching how to design houses to build, and someday bridges and towers - but among the kids, Tsashi is the wisest one, and the one who always listens to everything Lionstar has to say.

 

Tsashi nods along and, for a long moment, has no idea what to say. 

After a few moments, she straightens her shoulders. "How - did you end up even being able to club together like that? I– so Lionstar says it seems like it should be easy, to find other people who want to make life better for everyone, but actually it's really hard and - if you try you'll mostly find people who say the right words but don't mean it." 

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(Lionstar would probably object to this characterization, if he had any way of knowing it, which he doesn't, because he is now pacing around the perimeter of his tiny city.)

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"Yup. We're cheating," says Natsuko. "In all the worlds and all the people in them - some of them repeat. I'm from a world that repeats, and there's two more Natsukos from other versions of the same world, not on all the versions of that world but on some if you look in the right place there I am. And some people can repeat even in worlds that don't. So most of the people in charge of Vanda Nossëo and our closest allies are repeating people, who we can trust almost anywhere we find them. But also a lot of people want to help and just need to know how - that's people like me and my team, and we got lots of training and practice before we got a job like this one."

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....Tsashi is going to have to sit down and think about that for a minute.

(Lionstar always said it was okay to stop and think, if you thought you had all the information but couldn't put it together yet to figure out what was true - as long as no one was going to immediately die and no time-sensitive opportunities would be lost...) 

 

 

 

The other kids are happy to jump in, though! 

 

"What do you mean people repeat? Is it like having a twin except they're born on another planet?"

     "Another universe, silly, they already said that was the word for places you can't get except with magic -"

"Where are the other yous? Can we meet them?" 

     "Are there lots of copies of me too?" 

"- Probably not, you aren't interesting."

     "Hey!"

"....There might be lots of repeats of Lionstar? He's - I think he would've tried to do the thing you're doing if he could have..." 

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"The other mes are also named Tanaka Natsuko! We don't hang out often enough to have decided on nicknames to tell us apart. One of them works for Mîr, which is like Vanda Nossëo except it's structured a little differently and it's only in a specific world neighborhoods, and one lives in a world called Eclipse and that one has kids and she's staying home with them. There are copies of lots of people who aren't especially interesting - we're less likely to go looking for them, because it can be a little tricky to find them in worlds that aren't repeated, I don't even know if there are more of me on worlds that aren't Earths. There might be more of you, or of Lionstar, or your parents, or anybody else from here, but this world doesn't have any others like it at least so far so they'd be hard to find."

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This mostly gets puzzled or thoughtful or confused looks. 

Tsashi steps forward again. "...So - being a repeat of someone else who's in another world is one way you can trust someone? But - is there a different way? That you can check if a person is someone you should trust?"

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"Sure. My team all did a lot of training and passed a lot of tests to come here."

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...That doesn't answer Tsashi's actual question, which is 'do you have a way to trust Lionstar even though he's done bad things' -

 

- but asking that any more directly would involve telling the powerful aliens that Lionstar, the person who traveled halfway around the world to try to help her family, has done bad things. So she doesn't. She stares at her feet and tries not to make it too obvious that she's deliberately not-answering a question because it's about something upsetting. 

(It's kind of obvious.) 

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"Trust is complicated," says Natsuko after a silence. "There's usually some limit to what conditions you can trust people in, and what you can trust them to do. I'd trust my sister to take care of a dog but not to keep a secret. I'd trust my alts - those are the copies of me in other worlds - to keep a secret, but not to take care of a dog, I happen to be bad at that sort of thing."

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There's a longish pause. 

 

"Do you have dogs where you're from?" a boy of about nine asks eventually. "- My pa used to have a dog. But he got sick, and - we didn't have enough extra food for him anyway - and Lionstar said it'd be kinder to kill him rather than letting him die slowly. So now we don't have any dogs. But I like dogs a lot! If you know someone who has a dog that has puppies...."

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"Most places with humans have dogs! I think maybe all of them but I'm not positive," says Natsuko. "Once things are safer and stabler here you should go ahead and ask your parents if it would be a good idea for you to get a new dog."

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"Do you have cows too?" another kid asks? 

     "What about horses?" 

"I have a pet rat! My ma said rats are nasty but Lashi isn't nasty at all! I can go get him if you want to see -" 

     "- Are things going to be safer here? If that's really true then I want to make my pretend castle. Lionstar said I shouldn't before, because we weren't safe and the bandits would break it anyway, and it was more important to help my da make shoes but I hate shoes -"

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