Dec 06, 2022 2:03 AM
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"...I don't know. Amentans - my species - usually have a sense for it, or something like a sense. But reds have much less of it, and we're always polluted. So I don't know what it feels like to become that way. You might not have an experience about it at all."

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"Okay. So, that's a really vague word, and I'm not sure if it's like... if you drink water that's contaminated with sewage, that's slightly poisonous and you might get sick but you might also not get sick but even if you don't get sick from it no one really likes drinking contaminated water - but if a thousand people do it and a thousand people don't do it you start noticing trends, are there trends in what happens if lots of people touch you?"

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"A lot of people don't touch us. They go to great lengths to make sure. We touch each other and that seems fine."

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"I'm tempted to stash you somewhere and get you some orphans and see how they do compared to ones you didn't adopt but that seems like a big investment and I don't actually know what I can get out of you yet."

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His eyes go very big. "Orphans?"

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"New humans are created when two existing humans have sex, and come into being as small approximately helpless creatures called babies. It's possible for them to be created by accident by humans who make bad decisions and can't afford to raise them, and it's also possible for their caretakers to die or become disabled while they're too young to take care of themselves. When this happens, they can be taken to a central repository where they're provided food and shelter until someone else comes along who has the ability and inclination to care for them."

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"- and people do that so rarely that there are still orphans around at any given time?"

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"If I didn't avoid having sex with men and didn't get lucky with breastfeeding keeping me from getting pregnant again, I could have, what, thirty kids? More if I had twins. Admittedly I don't think people who don't restrain themselves at all usually live that long, partly because having children can kill you by itself. It takes about five years for them to even start earning their keep and if you want them to be any good at anything complicated as adults you need to instead send them to school so they keep not being productive for another five or even ten years, by the end of which time they basically eat like adults. And the kids in orphanages are disproportionately ones who were born wrong in the first place, or were neglected for a year or two before getting dropped off - or worse, they're older kids who did have good families and never stop comparing everyone else to their saintly deceased mothers. Rich people who want kids are more interested in making their own, when they can. And then they have a chance of dying in the attempt, too, just like everyone else. So... yeah, people don't adopt them all, it'd be very weird if they did."

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"...I will adopt some kids if this would be - useful to you."

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"I will let you know if I decide committing to buy food for them and also you seems like a good idea. I am more likely to decide this if you, uh, ever at any point tell me how you make yourself useful if no one can touch you."

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"It seems possible... that on this planet... it is not actually a problem if things come into contact with me?" he says tentatively.

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"You haven't even explained why it was a problem in the first place!"

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"Amentans care a lot about it. They think it evolved because of disease risk. But they keep caring about it when there isn't a disease risk. If you don't... then maybe it isn't a problem, for you."

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"And you... used to be a disease risk? And stopped? Is that it?"

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"We handle things that are disease risks, as a caste."

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"Ohhh, okay. Now, see, if you'd led with 'I clean the horse manure off the street so people don't like being around me' I would have known what you meant. Do you happen to be good at anything else or is that the kind of job I should be finding you?"

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"- I don't personally do that, I handle customer service and sometimes drive when the regular drivers are out sick."

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"What exactly does that entail?"

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"I answer emails and sometimes voice calls from clients from whom my business collects garbage, and I drive a garbage truck when the people who normally do that are unavailable."

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"...What are emails?"

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"- they are letters sent as information alone without physical paper having to make the trip," he says slowly.

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"Do you know how to make them yourself or just answer other people's?"

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"I can send them but... it requires devices that I don't know how to make."

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"...And it's not going to be useful to ask 'do you know anything useful that we don't' because of course the answer's going to be yes but you don't know which things yet."

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"I suspect maybe what I know is mostly things about devices that you may not have. Do you have... plumbing? Cars? - you mentioned horse dung and that sounds like perhaps you don't have cars."

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