The craft store where Anda[A] works is closed for the summer solstice, so A is at the park, sitting on a picnic blanket with A's back to a tree and embroidering geometric designs on one of A's shirts (not the one A is wearing). A was hoping to finish this cuff before sunset, but it's warm and there's a soft breeze blowing and there's really no rush, is there, so once he gets to a good stopping point A folds up the shirt and lies down on the blanket for a nap. What a lovely day it is to be alive.
"You'll have to switch the order if you want to use mail and be on the census and stuff."
"You do it in the other order? Neat. Some Firstplanet cultures still do that but you can generally tell which is which because of the hyphen."
"It used to be the other way but then there was some seamster thing and everyone swapped when I was a kid. We don't really do hyphens." The carpet comes to a stop. Neidura slides off it and the lantern bobs along to stay a convenient distance in front of her.
Anda follows. "You don't do hyphens in your names or like in your whole language? If I try to focus on what actual phonemes you're emitting I totally lose the semantic content so I have no idea if you've said a hyphen yet, sorry."
"I meant in names but my scarf already tripped up on your not-a-pocket, so who knows."
"Do you call them pockets because they fit in a pocket and do arbitrary things?"
"No, it's because they're pockets." Neidura pauses and pats a flat fabric pouch attached at her hip; the lantern moves over to light it. It's intricately embroidered and has a hand-sized slit running vertically down it.
"I'm very curious how that does a set of things that would make it analogous to a handcomp but I recognize that you didn't sign up for the explain technology to aliens job so if you aren't having fun we can skip it. Also everything you have is gorgeous, is that important to the magic or are you just very cool?"
She snorts. "I'm not very cool. You can put stuff in pockets - writing or drawings - and then anyone else who has one can take out the pattern of it."
"Oh, wow, that's cool--does it do audio or video? Is the text searchable, like, if I wanted a document with the word 'hypothetically' in it but didn't care which document could I get some arbitrary ones or do I have to know exactly which document I want?" Are there fabric software engineers. That would be the coolest thing of all time.
"You can do random ones with whatever. They don't move or make sound."
"Huh, neat. Mine would do audio and video except it can't reach Firstplanet from here, but it's still a camera/clock/spreadsheet maker/notepad/calculator/music player/to-do-list with the books and photos and music I happened to already have on it, except it's about to be a paperweight because I'm turning it off to save the battery. Can magic produce electricity?"
"Probably, it does other weather."
Neidura takes the food sack (which is unembroidered) off the carpet and sits down in the grass, extracting a handful of nuts to chew on. The carpet drifts down to rest on the ground.
"If the translation thinks 'electricity' is the same word as 'lightning' then the answer as far as my handcomp goes is probably 'no' for the moment; I would need a very small amount of lightning happening steadily for a long time instead of in flashes. Maybe I should try to invent it or talk to a magicologist or a physicist about it or something; it's very useful."
"Cool," she says through a mouthful of nuts. ". . . If you want a hug the sheep are soft and nice. Just so you know. Whenever."
It's tempting, but Anda would end up regretting it; lanolin is sensorybad.
"I appreciate the sentiment but I think I'm okay. Uh, is there some kind of plan for like, what people in this society do if they end up out of a job with nowhere to live but can probably get to net productive with a bit of help?"
"There probably is but I don't know it. Sorry."
"I'm glad you're helping me and will attempt to be enjoyable to help. Can you explain how your government and society and economy work in general?"
". . . No. - Or, how do you mean?"
"Hmm--how many people live in this group of tents, do they interact much with other groups of tents, how are scarce resources allocated, when there's disagreement how does it get resolved, stuff like that."
"Well for starters, this is a campground, so only me and the sheep live at this group of tents. Everyone else comes in from the city for a weekend or a month or something, and they bring stuff with them and sometimes give it to me, and if there's disagreement sometimes I kick somebody out."
"Ah, okay, that explains a lot. So probably if I want to participate in society I should go to the city? I assume if you wanted an assistant shepherd you'd've hired one already and I don't know anything about sheep."
"Is there a better way to do that than 'wait until the next time a camping party[A] wants to go home and see if A'll give me a ride'? Also how many people have the magic translation things and how expensive was it, possibly my top priority should be trying to learn your language."
"It was a gift and I wouldn't notice if someone else had one on too, but they've got to be pretty common what with all the portals. And I can get you to the city next daylight."