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Dec 06, 2022 3:16 AM
Vanda Nossëo meets Har
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In a world with lots of magic, there is a planet. Within a rounding error of 1g, sea level atmospheric partial pressure of oxygen about 160 millimeters of mercury, orbiting a G-type star.

The planet at a glance seems to have three continents. One is tropical, overrun with jungle, showing few signs of habitation; a second is half-sunken beneath the southern ice cap, with a small strip of northern coast where it thaws all the way each summer and old-growth forest grows right up to the cliffs overlooking the fjords; and finally, a temperate continent, or perhaps just a large island, dotted with cities.

Some of the cities are bright at night in the manner of human cities, but up north they tend to be dimmer, and shadowed even during the day. The majority of the countryside has been given over to agriculture, a notably small fraction of which is for cereals. Dotting the inhabited continent and parts of the ocean are countless areas that resist scrying; some but not all of them can be seen normally by eye or camera, like the strings of color-changing coins and the things that are not exactly computer screens playing things that are not exactly TV shows. The continent is ringed by islands shrouded in impenetrable mist and shadow; the cities are full of buildings whose windows are always dark no matter that they're otherwise in good repair and dozens of people seem to live in them. Those dozens of people may be predators, possible to mistake at a glance for big cats; they may be hummingbirds; they may be... not quendi, very slightly too short and with eyes set a little too wide and teeth that were never meant for meat. Or they might be four-legged creatures with big eyes in babyish faces and big fluffy tails. Or other things besides those, even, rarely, human.

There are ruins in the solar system. Beneath the ocean of the inhabited planet there are shallows that might once have been continents, things that might once have been cities, and places no one can see into. On the moon there are desiccated bodies, and no sign of any craft that might have brought them there.

Within an hour of any alien craft appearing anywhere in the universe, of course, the imperial government is already trying to scry it.

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The envoy crafts don't resist scrying much for the same reason that every team has someone on it who is willing to be mindread if necessary. The computers don't appear, but the imperial government can see people - mostly human or very humanlike, plus or minus wings or colorful hair or extra height and symmetry, but some that definitely aren't, such as a couple of bird-people and one who is straight up a capybara and a big ol' quadrupedal bug alien.

The ship is very lovely and clean and richly appointed and none of it is illusions.

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Well, that's weirdly normal for aliens. How disappointing, they're not even silicon-based sacks of gas. The imperial knowledge mages get to work trying to identify what kinds of magic the aliens have and figure out whether it's an artistic statement or a materials limitation that they put that much effort into wholly nonmagical decor. One of them starts cataloguing every interaction they can observe between anyone on the ship and the Mysterious Things That Aren't Scryable to narrow down what they might be.

The imperial government considers possible announcements for the public and reconsiders them and alerts its police and the state-level entities that maintain wards important to the empire's hypothetical anti-alien defense strategy. Nothing else visibly happens on their end until an illusion mage takes a quick flight and then the tops of some clouds read HELLO, ALIENS - YOU MAY IDENTIFY YOURSELVES.

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At least some of the aliens seem to be able to make new nonmagical things out of nothing. The Mysterious Things That Aren't Scryable seem to serve the purpose of - books? Maybe illusion video things? People look at them, and some of them don't have to do anything else but their eyes flick around the missing space, and other people have to poke theirs (including everybody with colorful hair, the capybara, some short people with beards, and a ten foot tall blue guy).

The tops of the clouds presently read, under that message, We are peaceful visitors from Vanda Nossëo, a federation of many peoples from many stars!

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The tops of the clouds next read:

THERE IS NO LIFE AROUND OTHER STARS. WE CHECKED.

hi aliens im hanu

THIS IS NOT OUR PREFERRED MEDIUM FOR LONG EXCHANGES DUE TO THE POSSIBILITY OF VANDALISM. CAN YOU ACCEPT DELIVERY OF A PHONE OR SEND ONE YOURSELVES?

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Hi hanu!

We can send phones! Where would be good places to put them?
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Conflicting maps appear pointing them to a spot in the imperial capital and a spot near Hanu's house and yet another spot somewhere on the west coast...

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They have no shortage of phones. Little drones spill out of the shuttlebay and head to all the suggested locations.

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People meet the drones and try to figure out how the alien phones work and whether they'll work from inside illusions that block all light and sound from leaving an area, although that's not terribly urgent since the other end isn't private.

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The drones drop off boxes with phones in them and fly back up to the ship. The phones have pictorial instructions for how to turn them on. They will work in illusions that block light and sound!

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A representative of the imperial government gets their phone working and lets them know that the Hari Empire is interested in peaceful trade and coexistence and has gone to great lengths to ensure that the biologically, culturally and linguistically diverse people of this world could have that with each other.

Hanu wants to trade information about Har for information about other worlds and also wants to know specifically whether the Solar Lord is right about the conspiracy to hide nineteen extra types of magic and - someone interrupts to say that there is basically no chance they work for the Solar Lord and actually they should be trading science facts because this is a science phone -

Someone representing an astronomy hobbyist group would like to know what they might trade for an explanation of how it is that they could miss Vanda Nossëo's current existence and entire evolutionary history.

Someone wants to know if the aliens would like to do an interview for South Coast News And Weather.

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There are different people on the other end of each phone.

"We're interested in peaceful trade and coexistence too! We'd like to extend an invitation to join Vanda Nossëo, but even if that won't work for you, we're happy to facilitate free trade and free migration and cultural exchange between Har and hundreds of other worlds."

"We don't actually know how many types of magic your world has! Or who the Solar Lord is."

"The stars we're from are in other universes, which are places that can't be reached by traversing intervening space."

They'd love to do an interview for the South Coast News And Weather.

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"The Hari Empire has historically extended such invitations to many polities. It has historically been our way, to have many states within the empire whose laws and customs vary, as long as they allow their people to leave, and to vote, and accept a minimal set of laws we insist on to keep the peace - that they must not do things to other people's bodies or possessions without permission, that they must keep their word, a full list can be provided to you and we can compare ours to yours. Har has always sought the stability of political union, but not at the cost of our people's freedom and independence."

"Well, what'll you tell us if we tell you?"

"...Excuse me, are you telling me we could be invaded by arbitrary aliens at any time?"

They should consider sending someone to this place at this time for an interview, if it works out that they can come visit, or else they can work something else out over the phone.

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"That sounds pretty similar to our situation! Membership in Vanda Nossëo requires free emigration policy, laws against rape, torture, and murder, and a vote of a majority of the entire population in favor. Local polities almost invariably add more requirements but the details vary. We also have some neighbor states who either couldn't implement those minima or prefer to operate separately for bureaucratic reasons, and we still trade with them and allow their people to move to Vanda Nossëo."

"I don't know what you want to know! That's one of the thing we're here for! How about you tell us what you want to know - besides those things that I already said we don't know - and in exchange for that I'll answer the ones I can?"

"In principle, that's not impossible, but if there were a polity of scale comparable to ours running around invading people we'd probably have a problem with them sooner or later even if they didn't attack Vanda Nossëo members."

They would be happy to send somebody down then! Any requests on what kind of somebody?

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"Your people may visit as soon as they've read our laws, and our people may leave if you'll have them and they want to go. I can read our imperial laws to you over this phone if that's the most convenient way to arrange for your people to know them."

"We want to know how you make phones!" "And what other worlds are like and what you want and what it's like to be aliens. We have twelve kinds of magic, unless the Solar Lord is right and it's thirty one, but nobody else believes that. And the Solar Lord says he's king of the sun and moon and I think he's probably allowed to be as long as he pays taxes but he doesn't live there because nobody lives there."

"Well, that's good. And nothing I've seen so far has made me think we couldn't win a war if one happened. - I notice you skipped straight to answering my question and I'm not sure if the implication was that we're going question for question or what."

They'd like somebody who can understand and pronounce Ilan and ideally also someone who looks alien in a way that'd be hard to do by layering illusions over a caralendar actor. ...And they have to have read or heard Anavel Sani's state laws and be willing to follow them while they're there.

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"Can you tell us where we could find a copy of your laws written in physical form? Illusions are also fine but we'd have to send a drone to pick it up."

"These phones were made by an onboard object-conjuration team member but their design and non-magical manufacture are really complicated and honestly I don't know much about it personally! I'm going to send you some pictures of other worlds, you can poke through them if you touch the blue part of the phone's screen - there you go -" There are pictures of planets from the sky, cities from the air, people partying and traveling and hawking various goods in a dozen settings. "We found some bodies on the moon but nobody alive, that's for sure."

"I'm in the habit of answering questions in situations like this, it's part of my job. Do you want me to ask you more questions?"

"All our people are using translation magic that will make them sound like they're speaking Ilan to people whose native language is Ilan. I'm not sure how easy it is for you to do illusions that would add, say, wings...? We're working on getting a copy of the imperial laws, where can we find the state laws?"

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"Sure, they're normally free at any government building but I can get a copy and set it someplace outdoors if that's easier for the drone. They should also be scryable," and the imperial representative can explain where to scry them.

Regardless of how they get them, the imperial laws read, in Hari:

The Hari Empire commands all free people who live within Har's borders and partake in Har's society, to

pay taxes which are explained in the Appendix of Current Imperial Taxes,

not change, touch, or put magic on the body of any free person unless that person allows it,

not kill any free person unless that person allows it,

not take away any free person's possession unless that person allows it,

not change or put magic on the possession of any free person unless that person allows it,

not release and make free any slave, unless a reasonable person could expect that slave to understand and follow these laws,

keep all contracts which they chose to make at a time when they were not being threatened with battery, murder, or something these laws forbid,

stay out of areas owned by any free person unless that person allows it,

not lie to a judge or police officer while in court for the purpose of determining any person's guilt or innocence in any criminal case,

not prevent any free person from entering any public place whose owner has not chosen to restrict entry into it,

not force any free person to leave any place whose owner consents for that person to be there.

Additional exceptions may exist for some law enforcement officers; for more information on this, see the Appendix on Law Enforcement. For more information on property, ownership, and state and municipal laws, see the Appendix on Property and Possession, and the Official List of States of the Hari Empire. For sentencing guidelines, see the Appendix on Sentencing. For more information on the Hari Empire and who can speak for it, see the Appendix on Elections. For information on the benefits of society, see the Official List of Current Imperial Public Works. For more information about opting out, see So You Never Want To See Another Person Again: A Guide To Private Island Life. Remember to also read the laws of the state and city you live in!

"Oh, cool - I know a story about the bodies on the moon - wait, what do you mean about conjuration, we can totally make things with magic..."

"Yeah! Why is that your job? Who's paying you to do it? Is physics different in any worlds you know of?"

"...Uh, what happens if someone whose native language isn't Ilan tries to capture an illusion of exactly what one of your representatives said?"

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They're gonna read all the appendices to see if they need to pay taxes, how their posessions will be adjudicated, and also all the other things just out of curiosity.

"I don't know if your magic could make phones or not! Our kind used the design of the phone, once it had been invented, to make real phones."

"Vanda Nossëo pays me to do envoy tasks and part of that is making ourselves clear and easy to understand for anyone who's curious about us! There are some worlds with different physics, like a couple where the world is flat and goes on forever instead of there being stars and planets. What are all you guys's names? What were you doing before we showed up today?"

"The illusion will probably also have the Allspeak property but we haven't tested that interaction since your magic system is new to us. We have some people who can learn languages very quickly but not in time for the proposed interview schedule unless we call in someone who isn't assigned to this ship, and those people aren't necessarily going to be interested. Alternately, we could borrow someone who speaks Ilan, and take them to a different universe with some useful magic, and have them do some of the magic to let one of our people know all the languages they speak, as well as they speak them."

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Depending on where they set up shop they could end up owing state sales tax. The states they'd realistically operate in have strict truth-in-advertising laws, not all the same, and laws against replacing matter with vacuum. There's a bunch of interesting precedent on what kinds of things can be considered property, and whether they are by default thus considered. (The states they're at all likely to want to operate in are Har, Erhau, Meiu, Westgarden, East Anemone Bay, South Anemone Bay, Ethornak, Ehima, Rasa, Cloudbreak, and Anavel Sani. That's not even half the states in existence but, for example, I Don't Like The Other States, population: one, full text of state laws: stay away or I will hurt you until you wish you were never born, probably doesn't want to entertain a diplomatic delegation.)

Hanu et al and the astronomy club will all keep talking at length with Vanda Nossëo's representatives.

South Coast News and Weather can put out an ad for people who want to get involved in an alien magic experiment to teach people languages by magic. This might go better with more detailed information on the specific magic in question.

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The way it works is that there's some species that can be summoned from a couple of specific worlds from their homes, so they'd dismiss one back to their home, and then have a Hari citizen go to one of those worlds and summon them, and then dismiss them right back (the first thing involves pressing a button, the second thing involves concentrating for about a minute).

One thing they often do in new places is set up stores where they will exchange goods of theirs for stories, anecdotes, songs, and similar cultural trivia. How would sales tax apply in those cases?

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South Coast News and Weather puts up their ad. There are some people interested in going to another world and pushing a button, sure.

There are several different precedents for how barter relates to taxes in different areas. Each of them individually makes sense.

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Cool. They don't mind paying taxes when they operate in those states.

They would like to send someone down to collect a button-pusher, okay?

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They can do that. Would-be button-pusher is some kind of hummingbird but generally handles heavy loads with magic and does not expect to be impaired in pushing even a very large button.

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Some kind of hummingbird is informed that it is typically the case that people born outside worlds where summoning occurs are not affected by performing a summon, but their species and world have not been tested, and the thing that happens to summoners from the relevant worlds is that they become a summonable being upon their death, is that okay?

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"What kind of summonable being?"

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"A demon, an angel, or a fairy; which seems to depend on your personality. All three are indestructible; demons can conjure material objects, angels can change them, and fairies can move them."

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