Jul 06, 2022 9:27 PM
green, ptwlu, carolingia, and bicameral

In a cave known on some planets as "Altamira", where there are prehistoric drawings on the walls across many worlds, there is an event.

It'd be sort of hard to miss. There's a lightshow, some harmless radiation spikes, a resonant high-pitched noise that lasts for several hours and is really annoying for miles around, basically it was thoroughly obvious. The interesting thing was that the cave then proved to exist in several universes as a single cave where previously it was one cave to a customer.

We will elide here the frantic linguistic nerdery, the protocols necessary to ensure that no one brought a flu home, the physics experiments for determining how things split back into their own universes (you can go to someone else's, if you hold their hand and let them precede you out of the cave; unattended objects get a little squirrely but not so much that one can't run cables), the security arrangements each world undertook at the aperture, and the installation of conference furniture and a water cooler and everybody's respective Internet access. Instead we will open on the Summit: contingents of diplomats and whatever auxiliary personnel each world found meet, assembling in the cave. (Please don't touch the paintings, some cultures care a lot about those.)

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Bicameral is kind of having a hard time with the cave. It's not literally universally the case that anything in some sense underground is Chaos, but historically there is not much else that one does in caves. They are not going to touch the paintings but this is not as trivial as it would usually be. 

(Bicameral was, nonetheless, very much involved in the otherwordly-flu-quarantine protocol design and cable installation, and the physics experiments, and especially the followup to the physics experiments of 'putting up clear signage'. People who cannot handle physics theorizing and designing signage while flipping randomly from Law to Chaos were not selected for this critical first contact.) 

A team has been assembled. For Surface diplomacy representation, after ten thousand comments of public debate were rapidly spawned on one of the policy-discussion forums and rather more words of private threads were exchanged, they went with the Marisha template – which does throw off the gender balance, but the debate concluded that female-coded personalities are likely to come across as more personable and non-threatening even to other worlds, and with some effort they were able to include two bio-males out of the six. (Who are wearing significantly more female-coded clothing than they usually would even at work, actually, it seemed like overkill was better than underkill in terms of sticking to Lawful.) They're not sure whether to expect this to be weird?? Probably fashion just varies a lot between worlds and the gender signaling will get lost in the general alienness noise. 

Only one of the three experienced Chaos "diplomats" (this is a completely different word and concept, but it seems like most languages don't distinguish them) has ever done an assassination! She's not planning to advertise this fact! She is mostly very disappointed that their initial team decided against letting anyone bring spray-paint or glitter.) 

In case of unexpected emergencies or something, Bicameral is also sending a medical responder (Surface occupation), an electrical engineer (obligate Chaos but not very Chaos, it'll be fine), and a computer-translation-specialist-babysitter* who's been awake for thirty hours straight trying to handhold her personalized ML language model through translation protocols and thinks she's mostly got it to the point of outputting basically-comprehensible if not entirely idiomatic translations of arbitrary written text in Bicameral's main international trade language. Plus, of course a project manager with accompanying recordkeeping assistant.

They've brought several neatly packaged go-boxes of random supplies that might come in handy, some art in case "art show and tell" turns out to be a thing in interworld diplomacy even though they are not technically in Chaos right now, and plenty of snacks. 



Everyone except for the electrical engineer (who does not so much with the people interactions) and the sleep-deprived translator is paying so so so much attention to the other diplomatic parties' body language and mannerisms and expressions and general style of interaction. They've got some notes and there was a very hasty virtual training to get everyone on the same page and obviously no one is going to be getting this perfect, but it's really awkward not knowing yet how to interact and have it go smoothly. And paying attention to that sort of thing tends to help one stay in Law. 


The diplomats from Green are somewhat fewer; they have support staff hanging back outside the cave, but the ones who enter are:

- a white-haired old lady dressed in voluminous purple robes with white detailing and accessories; her nametag says "Shrey of Alund, Representative of Green", and her braid goes nearly to the floor
- a middle-aged man with a blond buzzcut wearing fabric that all looks like those paintings where you put in a selection of colors and then drag something pointy through them; he's accompanied by a black-tailed marmoset; his nametag says "Cason of Yaris, Representative of Green"
- a woman about the same age as the man, in a much less flashy outfit (white blouse, black slacks); she has a crow; her nametag says "Tsahiri of La, assistant to Green representatives"


Five of the most significant signatories to the Global Accords have sent diplomats, for a total of four women and one man on the Carolingian diplomatic team, all dressed in the various colorful traditional costumes of their countries.

(There was some debate about who was going to send the man, given that his job was obviously going to involve a whole lot of sitting down and shutting up. Eventually the various heads of state drew straws for it.)

The rest of the Carolingian contingent includes two priests of Truth (one male one female), a math hermit (male), a programmer (genderfail), a linguist (female), an ethicist (male), and two first responders (male). Also a ten-year-old, because there was a diplomatic kerfuffle and a few riots about the lack of child representation in the delegation, and finally the GA agreed to grant an observer seat.

The men are all wearing swords, in order to properly convey that this is a peaceful diplomatic summit. Most of the women have their faces partly obscured, by light veils or half-masks or sunglasses or wide-brimmed hats or, in one case, elaborate face-paint. The male priest of Truth is wearing very tight pants, and one of the first responders has his uniform halfway unzipped to reveal a lot of cleavage. (There may be a certain amount of competition to be the first one to fuck an alien.)

All of the male Carolingians emote quite broadly! Most of them are VERY EXCITED. The math hermit is blinking around like he hasn't seen this many people in one place in ten years, because he hasn't. The first responder with cleavage is EXCITED and HORNY and also READY FOR A FIGHT even though there will probably not be any fights. The women are inscrutable. The genderfail is avoiding eye contact. The ten-year-old is bored. (The final briefing took a long time.)


Planet-That-We-Live-Upon has not, per se, sent any representatives; To send one for every state would crowd the cave and excessive and leak too much information if the alternates prove unfriendly, so the three representatives that are sent for initial talks are careful to specify that both individually and collectively they only speak directly for a subset of the world's population. Emmet Kel represents Sallash, Naiya Thur Adissa represents EMRAC, and Sho represents Greater Rinoc; None of them are planning to be forthcoming about what these places are or how much of the population lives in them.

They all wear simple black robes and veils; A very perceptive observer might notice that they are also wearing masks underneath the veils. Sho wheels in an antique nuclear explosive with the words "URANIUM-235 FISSION EXPLOSIVE" painted on the side, just so that there are no misunderstandings.


...once Green has gotten a translation back on that from the support staff, Shrey will venture: "Did you bring a real explosive to this meeting?"


Sho does his very best to not show offense at the question; His best is pretty good (Representatives were selected for that, among other things), and he's not very offended. (Representatives were also selected for being hard to offend)

"Yes, I did. Our world thought it prudent to give us the means to quickly cut off contact between our worlds in the event of a dire emergency, and we expected openness about our intentions to be reassuring and promote peaceful contact."


Shrey has been selected by a process which, among other things, means she's the sort of person who doesn't say "what the fuck" at people.

"I hope our translation is working well," she says instead. "On Green it is not customary to bring explosives to diplomatic talks, nor is it a paradigmatic example of reassurance."


The Marlatias are taking the lead. There are six of them, dressed identically in floor-length drapey silk robes with a sort of velvet overrobe, showing almost no bare skin and not offering much hint at the body shape underneath. Their hair is identically braided in an elaborate pattern with what appear to be colored hair extensions wound through it. When it comes to height, apparent gender, and skin and hair coloring, they're all over the place, but their body language is also almost creepily identical. (They don't normally go in this hard on running a pure Marlatia, but this is a high stakes situation and they are going to be professional about it.) 

Since the other worlds' representatives cannot be expected to recognize Marlatias, they are helpfully wearing nametags, phonetically transcribed into all three other alphabets, with a unique numerical designation after 'Marlatia' and their polity of origin (not that this is very important, at this point in Bicameral's history, borders stopped being very significant decades ago.) 

It's very fortunate that they're going hard on that, actually, because this is so many mixed signals??? Half of the Carolingian delegation is parsing as obviously, blatantly Chaos, in fascinating ways. The members of the delegation entering after the Marlatias will have thirty seconds' reprieve to pull themselves together. 

Their obligate-Chaos engineer is honestly having kind of a hard time with it. You can't just...have a diplomatic show up in tight pants with a sword at a diplomatic meeting of worlds and expect this to stay Lawful for more than five minutes. He's so ready for a swordfight full of sexual overtones followed by fucking which may or may not also be wrestling. He is not going to act on this but it's kind of asking a lot not show anything on his face. There are absolutely no Underworld situations in which he has ever needed to control his facial expressions or eye contact. 


- well now this is happening???? This is even more off-any-sane-kind-of-script than the Marlatias were expecting, and they did a lot of brainstorming trying to make sure their expectations were appropriately open. Honestly, bringing a nuclear bomb to a diplomatic meeting reads as incredibly Chaos; the exact analogue probably hasn't ever happened in Bicameran history, but it's pretty on-theme for Underworld diplomacy during the last period of any real ongoing geopolitical conflict. 

(The engineer is DISTRACTED and now he so so badly wants to learn how this other world designs bombs and whether their tech tree was significantly different. He should not do this and he is not doing this but it's clearly by far the most interesting thing in the room now.) 


An extremely sleep-deprived translator is now frantically shorthand-typing at her baby AI translation, which for some reason still has a hard time on many specific cases of talking about a Law/Chaos distinction. Marlatias receive a text message to their wrist-screens, read it in five seconds (reading incredibly fast is an important qualification to run a Marlatia), spend another three seconds exchanging Meaningful Looks, and converge on the most senior Marlatia stepping forward. 

"It is not - customary according to my-our usual diplomatic process," she says, and does not make a face at the confusion translation of template-group pronouns, "but we follow your reasoning and it - would not be unexpected in different -" not-processes but that's a terrible translation, "- contexts. We did not bring any of our similar precautions," which it sounds like are also substantially more hypothetical, though they do exist at all, "into the cave, it seemed less efficient." 


Neither of the first responders step in front of the ten-year-old when the bomb comes in, because that would be disrespectful and also completely pointless, but they clearly want to.

Aside from that, the bomb situation doesn't get much of a reaction. It makes perfect sense, if you're Carolingian. How are you supposed to tell that it's a peaceful diplomatic meeting, unless there are weapons present for you to refrain from using?


"Ah, well, in that case, apologies-without-intent-to-change on behalf of the people I represent," - even though technically it's EMRAC's bomb - "On our planet we do not generally bring explosives to diplomatic talks, either, but these talks are located in what my military attache assures me is a vital strategic chokepoint, and we do sometimes bring explosives to those. This bomb is obviously not intended to harm any of you, only the cave. We thought it would be - discourteous - to attempt to conceal its presence, but if having it visible in this chamber is causing discomfort we can move it around a corner."

Outside the cave and at some distance a slightly worried team of engineers is going through all their hypothetical reality-separator and well-tested cave-collapser designs looking for ones that might be more efficient if located outside the cave. They're hoping that was a mistranslation or imprecise speech, if the althuman merely meant "We cannot fit a massive particle accelerator inside the cave" that is much less alarming.


"...is the bomb unable to harm any of us, or are you saying that would be an unintended side effect should you elect to destroy the cave but would certainly happen anyway, or are you saying we'd have enough warning to evacuate, or do I misunderstand entirely?" says Shrey.


This summit is not getting off to a great start.

"It would be an unintended side effect. The circumstances in which we would set it off would not allow enough time for an evacuation."


This all seems very reasonable to the Carolingian delegates; the male diplomat is nodding along pleasantly. Of course it would be inappropriate to threaten an attack on a peaceful summit, but it's hardly an attack if your emergency measures simply might kill everyone including your own diplomats.


"...I think I now understand the thing you're trying to do. Thank you for bearing with me, it's a very unfamiliar approach."


This...implies some things about how the other representatives are thinking about tradeoffs, or else implies that they have alarmingly different predictions about what kinds of dire emergency they are planning for here, how little time said dire emergencies would give them to plan, and how little response time said dire emergencies would allow. 

(The engineer is actually kind of confused about their tech level. That is not the current state of the art in Bicameran explosives, whether specced for controlled underground excavation or for leveling cities – or continents, which has fortunately stayed very hypothetical.)

(The erstwhile-assassin is musing that they're doing this to avoid being intimidating, except that this is in stark conflict with 'brings a nuclear bomb to a meeting of worlds'.) 


"Would you like to see our contingency-planning flowcharts?" the senior Marlatia asks pleasantly. "Not mainly because it would be reassuring, although if it would be that would be a bonus. I'm worried that we might be either expecting different kinds of dire emergency or assigning them different probabilities. Our first-level plan for if - something very unexpectedly dangerous happened - had been to cut off contact at the opening of the cave in a minimally destructive way and hold onto more option value for excavating it later. We had not been assigning a very high likelihood that this will come up, and we're concerned that we're missing a consideration that's obvious to you. Most of the emergencies we did contingency-planning for are not ones where the best response would be cutting off the connection to our world." 


"I would love to see your flowcharts," says Cason.


"Are they fully public information?" asks the Carolingian diplomat with the face-paint. "We can ask the Priests of Truth to step out."


"I would see them," says Emmet Kel, smiling pleasantly. She has not bothered to retrain her instinct to smile at other diplomats in light of the fact that she's wearing a mask.


That is a very confusing question! They wouldn't have mentioned and offered to share a version that they weren't comfortable sharing with everyone here??? That would be such a baffling thing to do!

(The full version, which includes more detail on tech implementation of various things, and more specification of plans that assume hostility between different actors here and would be compromised if public, isn't even stored on any devices inside the cave. It's not in theory impossible that an envoy from one of the other worlds, if their computer tech is much better, could somehow access the project intranet from the link inside the cave, but if they're assuming that level of capability and also hostility, it is sort of unclear what could be done? So it's a risk they signed up for when deciding to attend the summit. Not that anyone had seriously considered at any point declining.) 

"Thank you for checking that," the Marlatia says. "The version we're sharing is public information. We should have the connection in place to send the file over, but the format might be incompatible?" 

Tablets are offered to look at flowcharts. 


Contingency plans for emergencies include: 

- Unexpected seismic instability, though they did a thorough survey of the cave and surroundings for safety first and probably even a horribly ill-timed earthquake won't collapse it. 

- Unexpected earthquake, subtype: leaving either everyone or some subset trapped in the cave. The rescue plans there mainly count on people outside the cave, obviously, but they've got supplies to cover a week. 

- Unexpected medical emergencies in the cave. They're so prepared for this.

- A highly contagious disease from one of the other worlds. They think they already covered all their bases here but the solution is in any case "quarantine the cave" and other planners outside will apply larger-scale quarantines if warranted.

- Fire, various different subtypes including "someone has a Chaos moment" but they promise they've screened for that really hard. 

- A disagreement in the cave turning to violent altercation, various subtypes of. They're not saying who in the delegation would be on point to handle this. They're not really worried about it, short of "someone pulls out a machine gun and kills everyone in five seconds", which would call for a response from the teams outside the cave. 

- One of the other worlds declaring war on them (or a third party) and intent to invade. A lot of the details and sub-branches here are redacted, but Bicameral is in general really reluctant to address hostile intent by cutting off interworld contact, at least in the absence of having solved the physics mystery and having a plan to get it back

- Various unfortunate tech problems that might happen if you try to make computing devices and Internets developed entirely independently talk to each other. 

- It turning out that one of the other worlds has built an ill-advised AGI that could leak into Bicameral. The plans here are very heavily redacted, including by totally failing to mention anything about Bicameral's space program. They would totally escalate and cut off interworld contact about this but they would be so sad. 


This is not a complete list. All the plans include current estimated likelihood of them being relevant, and [partially redacted] notes on what red flags they would be tracking to get some advance warning. Quite a lot of people outside the cave are getting continuous updates. There are spreadsheets. No one inside the cave is assigned to working on that part because it's really better done with a good workstation setup.  


The Marlatia feels like she should specify that the "planning for dire emergencies" is, like, at most five percent of the total Bicameran effort going into this venture, they would not be doing this if they expected it to result in dire emergencies rather than fruitful collaboration. 


The Carolingians would like to know who would be on point in case of violent altercation, so they know which people are acceptable targets and which are civilians! The Carolingian first responders are those two, but anyone wearing a sword is theoretically combat-eligible.

Obviously Carolingia is also committed to peaceful negotiations. They just don't want to do any war crimes by accident, in the unlikely event that someone else strikes first.


"- if this is very much on everyone's minds, possibly we should have a slightly more comprehensive exchange of information on what constitutes war crimes?" says Shrey, slightly pained.


"Yes, that is an excellent first order of business now that the unpleasantries are out of the way. We expect that any uncontroversial war crimes treaty could be ratified within the week by all relevant parties on our end. Perhaps we can begin by reviewing each others' laws of war?"

Emmet Kel produces a paper document from a cart. Listeners consider it a war crime to:

- Attack or bombard a city or nonfortified part thereof without first requesting surrender, and waiting at least one day for a response
- Attack a force waiting for your surrender without first communicating that you are not going to surrender
- Prevent an unsurrendered military force from retreating from a surrendered city, or prevent a surrendered civilian population from retreating from a surrendered or unsurrendered city
- Prevent or neglect the supply of any occupied surrendered city with food and other essentials
- Attack or execute, in whole or in part, any surrendered body, except for executions lawfully carried out at the end of a conflict of convicted war criminals
- Make false claims about the past, present, or anticipated-future conditions of your prisoner of war camps
- Attack various humanitarian aid workers
- Impersonate, in war or at peace, humanitarian aid workers
- Violate any lawfully offered guarantee of safe passage, or falsely provide a guarantee of safe passage, or use any lawfully guaranteed safe passage for any purpose besides those specified in the grant
- Enlist children below the age of 0x10 in active military service
- Order any subordinate to violate any war crimes treaty they are subject to
- Fail to communicate to any subordinate their obligations under any war crimes treaty they are subject to

Of course, there are a number of other treaties governing arms control or the rules of war between particular states. This is just the one that everyone is a signatory to.


(This is NOT HELPING with the MIXED SIGNALS of whether they are in Law or Chaos right now!) 

Bicameral is really excited to review the Listeners' standards 'laws' of war and will happily offer their own version. It's roughly similar though using different categories and clearly developed out of different previous war-fighting practices, and the guidelines for children are a lot more specific and broken down into multiple age groups.

There has not actually been a Surface inter-polity war since this version was signed. In Bicameral the treaty does not apply in the Underworld – this doesn't mean that it's violated there as a matter of course? Just that the reason people don't do the things isn't 'because it's illegal.' You really cannot get into the Underworld by accident and there are about twenty other reasons they're not opening the Surface-Underworld border to visitors from other worlds until all the cultural differences have been communicated. 

They would like to clarify that 'someone in the cave picks a (non-lethal) physical fight with someone else in the cave' is a totally different category from anything they would call 'war crimes'. They aren't – or at least previously weren't – especially worried about anyone doing a war crime by accident? If someone decided to literally murder some other people in the cave for no obvious reason, but wasn't expressing intent to invade, that would still not really be categorized as a war crime, though it would definitely be information they would take into account. 

"In our world's Lawful Surface diplomacy it would definitely be - rude and unexpected?" Marlatia tries to explain. "In Underworld diplomacy it would be par for the course, but we are treating this cave as Law until we have a chance to discuss and get on the same page, since based on the linguistics it's not clear that the other worlds here have that distinction at all? Anyway, in either place it wouldn't be a war crime. It would probably simplify things for us if a section could be marked off as Chaos." 

All three of the Chaos diplomats are down for random fights once that's clarified! So's the engineer, although he isn't dutied to intervene in ill-advised fights, for reasons of deep social obliviousness. 


"Regret-the-imposition, I am going to need you to explain that again, it sounded to me like you have wildly different laws and social mores depending on whether one is inside or outside of caves?"


The Greens present their own conventions of war, which are not exceptional enough to warrant laborious itemization, though there are a few items in there about under what circumstances war animal handlers count as civilians that are suggestive of their typical war conditions.

They too are confused by the inside or outside of caves thing.

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