The first selfworld summit between Kastakians, Tetratopians, Bywayeans and Zmavlipre.

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, provided their world is currently connected and you leave through their entrance), 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.)

Things which are common knowledge to all delegations:

- The translation protocols are much better at translating things which are common across the cultures present. Certain specific vocabulary used to express niche concepts may not come through clearly – delegations may request translation checks.

- Units default to IRL Earth units with the translation protocols unless you specify that you are referring to "our" units, like "I am 22 of our years old, which would be 88 (standard) years."

- It is known that there are more than four worlds that the cave connects to – it's just that it lets in only four at a time, since it only has four entrances.

- Cables and infrastructure installed by one world intended to transport things (whether physical or energetic e.g. light in fiber optic cables) become disconnected and stop working if the cave does not connect to their world, but which seamlessly reactivate once the cave does connect. Infrastructure installed in the cave which are not intended to transport things work regardless of the installing-world's connection status.

- The cave shifts which worlds are connected to it at an irregular schedule – the gaps between each shift lasting hours to days. It is possible for the same world to remain connected during a shift. It is possible for one world to be refused connection for several shifts in a row. There is no discernable pattern. Before a shift, the cave will glow and make noise like earlier, but only internally and at a lower intensity. Delegations will have about an hour to an hour and a half to leave. There is no physical danger over being present during a shift, but there is the risk that the delegation's homeworld would become disconnected over the shift, leaving them stuck in the cave (or being forced to go to another world) until their world is connected again.

- Translated recordings and transcripts of meeting proceedings (but only recording speech which is said to the whole group, not private or one-on-one conversations) are stored and are sent to all delegations, including those which were not present during that meeting.

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Tetratopia finds itself in the kind-of-overwhelming-break-of-routine of having to meet with aliens. It's especially kind-of-overwhelming since, starting a few hours ago, approximately all of Tetratopia's prediction market infrastructure has been in a complicated panicked freewheel about the aliens, and half of Tetratopia's actually competent people who could have been out correcting them have instead been busy doing the dangerous art of illegible reasoning trying to get a hold of what's going on, and while Tetratopia's ability to predict and act was so impaired several big textnet nodes went down under the weight of all the memes being sent and updated. What a week (lit: few hours)! 

It's a bit early for aliens, they were mostly expecting to meet either some bacteria or nanobots, at the point in time in the future when they had nanobots, and everyone could just beam their utility functions at each other like normal people. (The planet's a bit of a mess, do you mind coming back in a hundred years?)

So, flying with vision uncorrected, Tetratopia sends in its delegation, all humans, clad in the same grey robes with badges listing their username and role. There are some corporate negotiators (the vast gulf between two corporations to be bridged being a pale shadow of the vast gulf between two alien civilisations), some prophecy-fiction and historical-fiction researcher-authors of varying hardnesses (who have thought in detail about modelling and predicting aliens and alternate Tetratopiae), some random schlubs with interesting neurotypes (in case any of them happen to be kind of like the aliens), and various experts in various fields that might come up in the course of negotiations. The selection of delegates leans towards those cleared as confessors, because the aliens are liable to be weird and horrifying somehow, and people who are not distracted nor sacrificing their integrity around weird and horrifying things are valuable here.

Time to begin the podunk cishuman version of beaming each other's utility functions at each other. Does anyone have anything interesting to gift-with-reciprocation-expected? Maybe you could show us your optimal-tileable-something, and we'll show you ours?


The Imperium was initially in a panic over discovering the cave, and, upon investigation, discovering that it had aliens. It was kind of chaotic at first, with the military scrambling to secure a perimeter around it. Fortunately, the cave was in public, unowned land, so there was no legal battle or drama over use-rights. Many, many messages were sent over the telegraph network, and many, many important people in the government rushed to the scene, taking the fastest steam locomotives and dronecars to get there. Once it was discovered that the cave was a very defensible position, military camps were set up near it to prevent any unauthorized entities from entering or leaving. Fortunately, it seemed that the aliens on the other side were seemingly peaceful and were amenable to the idea of a summit!

The Imperium was really unsure about how to handle alien social norms. They didn't know which things would be well received and which would be obnoxious or offensive. At the same time, they wanted to compromise as little as possible on pomp and aesthetics – they, of course, want to show off their own while seeing what the other worlds' are.

The Imperium's delegation decides to arrive with the accompaniment of brass instruments and singing, and they took care to bring drones who can sing. It's going to look like six very tall men being flanked by a dozen and two merely tall men marching, with the soldiers wearing rather impractical looking engraved breastplates – with a spiral symbol dyed red and yellow – and helms, while bearing halberds. 

They look otherwise humanoid, except for the shell-plates on their heads, which resemble the ridges and spikes of seashells, though less pronounced, and the six holes in the back of their clothes (which are absent on the halberd-holding soldiers), from which will emerge forearm-thick tentacles which will extend and retract themselves rhythmically, as though cilia.

The delegates introduce themselves. There are five Legislators attending and the Consul. Each of the Legislators introduces himself and gives a sentence or two about their previous work, then sits down on luxurious looking padded leather chairs that have been placed before the summit started. Each of the five Legislators wear different clothing: some wear shirts and pants, others wear dresses, others wear a sari-looking wrapped garment, although all of them follow the same color scheme of red, yellow, dark blue, and white. A couple of them wear gold jewelry in the form of a necklace or bangles – all of them are wearing signet rings, including the Consul.

- Lisal Gemas Rundis: psychology, therapy, sociology, anthropology, education-and-training.
- Reren Dimas Nilen: astronomy, physics, mechanical-engineering, civil-engineering.
- Neksin Sevren Pecis: singing, curating-and-archiving, history, fiction-writing, law.
- Suksub Perlam Sonmos: mathematics, computing, moral-philosophy, economics, religion, linguistics.
- Cinsal Baten Tenrap: biology, geology, agriculture, chemistry.

Once they sit down, extra people emerge and stand next to each person – two to each – who also seem to be wearing civilian clothes, although theirs are uniform, all wearing a long sleeved red shirt and dark blue vest and pants, with the same six holes in the back, although these people do not do the rhythmic-tentacle-movement. They seem to be their attendants. The soldiers will stand a little further back, with four behind the Consul and two behind everyone else.

The whole ensemble is going to look very coherent and put together, as though a single costume-designer and events-organizer arranged the whole thing. Nothing looks out of place – it's as though they have rehearsed it many times. 

There are going to be about four dozen auxiliary personnel behind them, which are mostly researchers and scholars the Consul and the Legislators have chosen and who have also volunteered to attend, and their accompanying drones, although they have been arranged so as to be as unobtrusive as possible.


The Consul Restem Talset Meden will introduce himself last, saying that he has done work most recently in the military, but previously was a sailor and surveyor for most of his life. He will also explain that he is the leader of the Imperial delegation. He's wearing an extremely elaborate looking red and white robe with large patches of embroidery done in gold thread, and dark blue pants.


The eight representatives from Byway arrive relatively late, although in time for all the other worlds' introductions. They don't seem too surprised by their own lateness, but they do seem embarrassed. They claim a table, and immediately proceed to tape it off into eight equal parts, affording for each representative to store/display what he brought.


The first section contains gorgeously composed diagrams mapping the human brain, and one life-size take-apart sculpture. If you remove the outer halves, all the little innermost nuclei are colored and labeled in tiny, serriffed text. Split the brainstem, and you'll find much the same situation, only the nuclei are much finer and the text really has to dance around to label them all. There's a smaller sculpture that's the same thing but for a human mesodermal cell. There's a stapled booklet giving this representative's resumé/biography. He's the longstanding chief executive of a biotech research firm; it looks like most of his work has nothing to do with neurology (although he won an invention bounty from a cryonics company once, way below his pay grade) but is instead in immune systems research. His company has immensely cheapened the process for making new effective vaccines, partly by commercializing immune system augmentations. The brain mapping stuff is a hobby he does with his cult.

In another booklet, he holds forth briefly on his philosophy, but cuts it short and gives the printed hash of a text file he says makes predictions about what will turn out to be the case at the end of the conference. Under the table are about ten dozen locked boxes (he wanted to err on the side of too many), all free for the taking, all advertised as containing a copy of the plaintext and an explanation of the hash algorithm. As this guy walks around, you can hear about ten dozen keys jingle from inside his clothes. (If you had super-hearing you might be able to tell they were all of different tooth patterns.)


The next square has been visually blocked off with high walls of cardboard on all but the inward-facing side. This won't prevent the other representatives from peeping if they're willing to be really blatantly impolite, but it seems they aren't - at least not so far. If you walk up and look on the inside - which aliens are invited to do! - you will find a giant paperback book that's a walkthrough tutorial map of the inside of this representative's flagship and prototypical fission power plant. Not detailed enough that you could really fleece him even with photocopies to take home, but detailed enough that he really doesn't want some of these other guys having a look at it. There are several questionnaire booklets about the state of the other worlds' power grids, for the alien representatives to fill out at their leisure, in exchange for a booklet of the same questions answered by him about Byway - though of course most of that info could be gleaned from reading the big map book. There's also a booklet on this guy's philosophy, which is very cosmological, very Origin_of_Everything-focused. It seems he's a hobby astronomer with aspirations to visit outer space - which, apparently, no one on Byway has actually done yet, but which he guesses humans on at least one of the other worlds will have, assuming they're all at similar or slightly more advanced power generation tech levels. He's included one of his twelve-year-old sons' diagrams of a hypothetical person-bearing spacecraft, with a note from the representative that "This is actually broadly what I think it will look like! Except -"


The third guy is a neurologist currently serving as consultant to several biotech companies - an unusual arrangement, but you can't ask for exclusivity from people who (led the team that) cured (the most common form of) dementia. That was a couple duodecades ago, but he's kept performing well enough for all these companies that they keep him on. A lot of his advice has gone to fuel the recent boom of anti-aging tech - insofar as there's an expert here on the technical side of Byway's recent prediction_market-endorsed clearance of longevity escape velocity, he's it. His philosophy is largely cognitive_psychology-focused, but he doesn't reveal too much of it. He, too, has questionnaires, these about the different worlds's psychological self-understandings, and boxes - containing more in-depth treatises of his, that he fears might pollute their answers. These aren't locked, though - he just urges the aliens to answer before they read. Maybe strategically, there are way more questionnaires than boxes.


The fourth guy runs the world's highest-valued shipping company. They recently branched out into transportation, which is not going super well, a fact that the guy's pamphlet doesn't sugarcoat. Much more successful has been their duodecade-long expansion into online retail. 


The fifth guy does run an established transportation company, with passenger trains crisscrossing Byway's analogue of South Asia and Oceania, a branch expansion competing with local companies in the equivalent of South America, and even rural trucking services (automobiles don't seem very popular on Byway except for in rural areas, except for fold-up personal airplanes, which are fairly cheap and common.)


The sixth guy mines nuclear fuels, and also metals. The seventh manufactures computer chips. Years ago, each of #6 and #7 originally invented or supervised the people who invented a lot of the current techniques, and each company stays years ahead of its industry to everyone's current estimation. The eighth guy runs a state-of-the-art vertically integrated contract-construction operation.


All but the logistics guy, Guy #4, have artful displays illustrating their life's work or intellectual hobby. Every last one offers take-home copies of some form of personal philosophy treatise, making some form of prediction about the conference.


These are the eight most important people on Byway.


Each by each, they realize - variously with terror (Guy #3), utter bafflement (Guy #8), enthusiasm (Guy #2) . . . etc. - that at least two of the other worlds are set up very foreignly.


The first Kastakians into the cave were a boatload of adventurers, of course. Awkwardly inland, on the second day of a planned three day hike, Talaskai and ker crew were gleefully charting it on the map and planning to spend the night there when the portal opened.

Most of Talaskai's crew went back, but Talaskai bravely opted to stay here in case the portal mysteriously closed again. Ke's been here ever since.

Within a couple of weeks, the Initial Exploratory Endeavour had roughly thrown itself together and was back to do linguistics, tech setup, field kitchen and everything required to make a temporary base camp on land and start actually getting things together.

By the time the summit rolls round, there are several distinct factions present:

Talaskai is stubbornly still here, and there are several hopeful parties of adventurers encamped, although access to the cave is now being physically controlled and most of them accept this is for pretty good reasons actually;

A couple of Remember to Eat Brigades have shown up to provide catering and logistics services and hope for some good gossip to fall out; only a couple of them are assigned to in-cave duty and allowed in for good reasons, represented by Junilla of the Secondbreakfasts, whose self-assigned job is to monitor the status of the 'delegates' and bring them snacks, and secondly try to work out what the needs of the aliens are;

The absolute flock of technical personnel and fundamental science types, helping with translation and science and trying to get systems to talk to each other and so forth, as represented by Meliashae from the Alien Translation Endeavour Group;

A rather raucous and fractious hastily assembled Alien Idea Transfer Endeavour Group of everyone who believes themselves to be the most pre-eminent practical researchers that have yet been made aware of the situation, some of which still showing the claw marks of someone having an actual physical tantrum about it; of those who made it into the cave, Jeeee Holdingforth is representing construction and mechanics, Yompam Langhame is representing medicine and biotech, and Thessalia Scribemores is representing philosophy and sociology.

and several Sensible Adults, including Ferek Missiletoe in charge of, in his words, "guarding the fucking gate because we have no idea what happens if one of them gets through here and we are not at home to mister out of context problem"; Jupital Langhame, on point for conversation intervention and trying to look in every direction at once; Jeffinar Findscreech, taking the lead on soothing ruffled feathers; and Tavinter Meddlebasket, mostly sitting back, taking notes, and looking increasingly distressed about everything.

They have not brought very much Stuff - they don't seem to go in for clothing, even, other than utility belts, satchel bags and the occasional blanket - but the Remember To Eat Brigade personnel have deposited a range of portable seats, cushions, perches, and tables with snacks on which they indicate are for everyone; the snacks mostly revolve around dried fish, some with a syrupy sugar coating, and various types of dried seaweed.

The people actually fronting up to the summit area are Talaskai, Jeeee, Yompam, Thessalia, Jupital and Jeffinar. Or they would be, but Yompam has immediately descended on the Byway take-apart sculpture and is enthusiastically describing the surprisingly few differences to Kastakian cranial biology, Jeeee is immediately lost in the walkthrough fission plant tutorial, and Thessalia is eagerly filling in a questionnaire about psychological self-understanding. And Talaskai is eagerly trying to get the successful transportation delegate to tell kem more about the folding aircraft...


Jupital engages with the Teratopian question on trade; of course they have a wide range of standard construction and life saving interventions they wouldn't dream of asking anything for, what kind of reciprocation do the Teratopians expect for their own standard-techniques-and-trades-knowledge, and what do they consider to be representative of their technology level - cutting-edge problems in Kastakian technology are efficiency of electricity generation from solar, reliability of lighter-than-air network repeater stations, refinement and extraction of hydrocarbons and exotic elements useful for electronics manufacture, scaling up of electronics manufacture, weight reduction of computers, specific genetic customisation of medical treatment.

If they'd like to know more about the general Kastakian moral-axioms, unfortunately this is a bizarre situation for them, usually they are extremely keen on freedom of movement and association but the circumstances meant they had to put some limitations in place to avoid tragedy-of-the-commons through overcrowding; otherwise it's just a matter of the golden rule really, be cooperative with other people and they'll be cooperative with you; everything else just falls out of people pursuing whatever interests them most.


Jeffinar fronts up to the Imperium, who seem to be expecting a more formal occasion. Their brass band initially made all the Kastakians wince and try to cover their ears, but they mostly recovered quickly; those who didn't gracefully bowed out of cave duty.

Ke apologises for the mismatch in communication styles and hopes they will bear with them while a compromise solution is hastily deployed. Ke explains that Kastakia's most pressing business here is the business of technology transfer - it's unconscionable in Kastakian society that someone should be forced to reinvent the wheel (this actually translates as a kind of paddle-wheel used for water propulsion) and they see no reason why that wouldn't extend to aliens.

Ke apologises again that the pre-eminent researchers appear to have been caught up in Byway's delightful exhibition, but if the Imperium would like to let kem know what their most pressing technological needs are, there are plenty of technical personnel and note-takers who would be delighted to help. Resources here are a little thin because the cave is inconveniently inland, they've only just managed to haul and install a proper computer system, but a few terminals should be available in here shortly for efficient knowledge transfer.


Ferek glowers suspiciously from just behind the main delegates, glancing occasionally at the guards set up by the portal. Ke is clearly not so happy about the idea of free technological transfer to the unknown aliens, but not enough to actually disrupt Jeffinar's efforts yet.


This is like...really messy? It's giving more 'convention' rather than 'summit'. This is not how they expected diplomats or delegates to behave. Well...they're aliens, so maybe this is how they do it there? Or maybe there was some confusion across the language barrier. Regardless, it's not like anyone is being hostile – messiness is preferable to violence.

Lisal and Suksub go over to the Tetratopians with their drones and a few of the researchers in the back, with the others following suit, coming with their drones and associated scholars. Reren and Cinsal and their group will go to the Bywayeans, while Consul Restem, Neksin and the rest will stay to talk to Jupital.


Lisal and Suksub et al with Tetratopians

The Tetratopians are actually putting forward a coherent front. This Makes Sense. This they can work with! If they knew that this was going to be more of a convention, then they'd have brought more people. The all-grey uniforms with nametags are certainly A Choice. In Zmavlimu'e, minimalism is the sort of aesthetic people adopt if they're too lazy to put up a more effortful aesthetic, or if their real aesthetic clashes with the popular aesthetic of the city and they don't want to pay higher land taxes. Not that many people consciously choose to adopt minimalism in and for itself. Perhaps Tetratopians eschew fashion and prefer other forms of art or aesthetic expression? One of them did mention 'showing optimal-tileable-somethings'. They're only going to think that and not say them, though – they don't want to imply the aliens are lazy.

Suksub: "Utility functions? Hm, is your species very rational? Do they act like ideal agents? Our species does not. Drones are closer to the mathematical ideal, but they are likewise imperfect, and in any case, I am not a drone. I don't think we can give you a formal mathematical description of what exactly we value, especially since we may drift in value – we price that in by valuing option value higher than what it would be worth instrumentally."

Lisal: "What do you mean by optimal-tileable-something? Do you mean tessellations? Yes, we have examples that can be brought in, although you will have to wait several minutes for us to get samples of our art back from the camp." 

"I am curious about whether or not this is common attire in Tetratopia," Lisal asks innocently. He will also add, "We do not commonly wear these clothes – I prefer my own aesthetic, but we wanted to arrive with a coherent aesthetic. Do Tetratopians feel similarly? It doesn't seem like the other worlds' cultures put much effort into coherence, although it's possible that other cultures from their world might arrive."


Consul Restem and Neksin et al with Kastakians

Consul Restem: "There is no need to apologize: neither you nor your party has harmed us materially. We are just confused. We were expecting a diplomatic summit, where a few people from each world's polities would discuss cultural norms and differences, and then negotiate research and trade agreements, maybe set up immigration or send ambassadors, make arrangements for dispute resolution – that kind of thing. This is looking more like a convention or a research symposium – which we are familiar with! – it is simply not what we expected. This is why we did not bring many..." Restem gestures in the air, "pretty things to show, although we could arrange for some to be brought in. We did, however, bring singers.

We were expecting people to be more guarded, and to not show so much about their world so quickly, excepting that which had to be revealed during first contact to make this summit possible in the first place. However, connection is only possible through openness – friendship is only possible through vulnerability. We are delighted to be given knowledge, and we hope that you accept ours as well.

Do you bestow your knowledge of technology upon us as a gift-which-requires-no-reciprocation-not-even-the-reciprocation-of-expressing-gratutitude*, a gift-which-requires-reciprocation-of-roughly-equal-value-sometime-in-future*, or do you wish to make a formal-transaction-with-exact-valuation-of-items*? We are prepared to move forward in any case."

Neksin: "Inland? So you are an aquatic species? Interesting! I did not guess that from your morphology. Wait...ah! You breathe air, but fly over water and swoop down? Is that accurate?"

Consul Restem: "We are interested in your computer systems! How do you train your computers? Your computers are...stationary and must be installed? Ours can move," and Consul will direct one of his personal drones to his side, who will bow deeply. "This is my computer, Sud."

Restem and Neksin will notice Ferek vaguely looming and observing, but they have very little idea about Kastakian facial expression or body language, and so will just assume that they are some sort of auxiliary person or aide.

They appreciate the food, but they're not sure if it's like...suitable for them to eat, in the sense of it being potentially inadvertently poisonous – the form of it is similar to how seaweed looks like in Zmavlimu'e too. It does smell really good however, and they will happily say that. Neksin directs some of the researchers to bring back samples of the food to be tested to see if it's fine to eat. 

* Two syllable words in Standard Imperial.


Jeffinar with the Imperium

"Yes, that was approximately what we were expecting, but our ideas transfer specialists appear to have decided to get stuck in transferring ideas directly with the Bywayans. Well, we were expecting people to want to get initial techniques-and-technology transfer done as soon as possible, but around that we were expecting discussion of how to successfully communicate, relative values on resources, and how best to reciprocate to avoid resentment.

We'd quite like to bestow our knowledge of technology as a gift which inclines you to be more amenable to sharing your own but does not carry a formal obligation, if that's a concept you're comfortable with?

We're not actually very good fliers - takeoff is a problem - it's thought we were originally cliff-gliders. We prefer to live on water because of the ease of transportation - once you've built a structure on land it's ever so difficult to move it, and you generally have to construct specific roadways for effective transport, we've now got this awful scar-on-the-land from the nearest decently wide river access to our base camp here...

Ah, I see you have pre-electronics computing! It turns out you can build machinery that can perform mathematical operations at a greater speed and reliability than most trained computers, although the very best are still better than most practically sized installations at that - the real strength is that a single mechanical computer can switch more easily between a much larger number of near-simultaneous inputs, so everyone can have a terminal and interact with it at once.

We primarily use them for information storage and retrieval, and encoding communications for radio transmission - that's long-distance information transmission via electromagnetic waves without the need for fixed wires, just floating repeater stations. I believe there are a lot of esoteric scientific uses as well, but trained individual computers are still competitive in those areas - the precision manufacturing to improve them beyond the limits of a brain is still eluding us."

The snacks are really quite high in salt, but otherwise should be broadly nontoxic unless they have specific sensitivities to seafood or iodine.


Consul Restem and Neksil et al with Kastakians

Consul Restem: "Haha, we specifically handpicked researchers and scholars to accompany us who had the self-control not to lunge forward and interrogate the other delegations. We had feared that being too forward would be seen as...aggressive. Or probing for information to use in attack. And yes, we are also very interested in avoiding resentment.

We would consider this a gift of the second type, with us interpreting you as treating the event of us becoming more amenable to technology exchange as equal in value to you as the knowledge you will give us. A better translation of the latter two words I think would be 'informal-transaction' and 'formal-transaction'. Another word for the second type might be 'favor'. We consider only the first type to be 'truly' gifts, since they have no expectation of reciprocation at all. And yes, we accept your offer, since we were already quite interested in sharing our technology with you, although we are unsure as to how useful it might be. The other worlds seem to have better technology than us."

Neksil: "Could we contribute art instead? Transporting things through the cave sounds like an ordeal, though.

Consul Restem: "Fascinating. It is thought that we are descended from marine animals – cephalopods, more specifically, I don't know if you have similar animals in your world – but that we eventually transitioned to live on land. We prefer building on land because things remain solid and static. I definitely see your rationale for preferring to build your structures at sea. You said that they moved – so they are not built on stilts? They float, like boats?

Drone computers will probably be supplanted my machine computers in the future, but not right now. Our computers are large and bulky and take much energy to run. Drone computers can not just compute, but can also remember things for you, schedule tasks, type, write, read aloud, function as librarians, and take stenographic transcripts. Sud is trained in all of those. The multiple-simultaneous-input setup you are describing sounds very useful, though.

Ahh, we have both wired and wireless telegraphy, but it seems like yours has better throughput. We would greatly appreciate knowledge on this front.

I suppose we could tell you about our technology regarding infrastructure on land, such as roads, although it seems that the other worlds are also landdwellers too."

Sadly, it will take a bit for lab results to come back, especially with industrial level tech, so they will refrain from eating the delicious smelling snacks for now.


Jeffinar with the Imperium

"Informal transaction is certainly my preference, yes - although if you hadn't accepted, we'd likely have tried to truly-gift you some things anyway.

Art and cultural products are definitely also welcome! Usually we just transact for those on a personal level because their value is so subjective. I'm sure you have something to offer, though - if only crafts and so on that we'll have forgotten - especially if you live on land, that must have distinctly different challenges.

We do have a wide range of cephalopods! Perhaps you'll be able to contribute to the ongoing debate on whether any of them are relevantly sentient? Generally our cephalopods are highly solitary, although there are a few exceptions, which puts them at a bit of a disadvantage to demonstrate personhood to another species.

Yes, we prefer floating structures where at all possible - generally sufficient counterweighting can cause them to be stationary enough when they need to be. Even if it doesn't in practice move very often at all, the feeling that it could be moved at need really helps the people on board.

I'm not sure whether 'drone' is translating correctly..." Ke looks at the nearest translator. "Meliashae, can you spare a few moments to explain the rationale behind this translation?"


"Sure!" An enthusiastic, slightly duller-feathered individual grins broadly at everyone. "You know how eusocial insects, like ants and bees, have multiple types of individual within the same species? Well, that's how it is with zmavlipre - 'people' - and zmavlire'a - 'drones'. We thought about just taking zmavlire'a as a loan-word, maybe that would have been clearer? A lot of us had trouble pronouncing it though!"


Consul Restem and Neksil et al with Kastakians

Neksin: "Oh yes, handicrafts! I can totally teach those. I can also gift you – this is a true no-reciprocations gift – a drone or two that I have personally trained, who have knowledge in Zmavlire'a handicraft.

Many cephalopods are sentient – the question is whether they're sapient. So far, we have found no other sapient species on our world, other than ourselves, extant or not. To be clear, our ancestry to cephalopods is only the best current hypothesis. We haven't actually found sufficient evidence to treat it as though fact."

Consul Restem: "Mm, that translation is not entirely accurate. The name of our species as a whole is 'Zmavli' or 'remna' – both are acceptable, although I think we will adopt the latter. 'Zmavli' has particular connotations which we do not want to convey in the presence of sapient aliens: the etymology is derived from 'more powerful', which is a reference to how we were able to drive the species that used to be our predators into extinction when we attained to sapience, many dozen gross years ago. 

'Drone' is the word used for drones, such as Sud, whereas 'prenu' is the word used for Keepers, such as myself. The easiest way to distinguish drones from Keepers is by scent...but I am not sure whether you have the biology to perceive that. The other rule of thumb is looking at height: Keepers are taller than drones, though of course remna vary. If you are unsure, it is safer to assume that someone is a Keeper.

How do you reproduce? Given that you do not have drones, presumably you are not eusocial." 


"We might want to wait for the food results before I take delivery of your drones - I don't want to accidentally poison them!

That's approximately the state of our theories on the cephalopods - knowing that they can theoretically evolve into a sapient species is probably going to boost conservation efforts, though, so that is a useful effect. 

We don't have a particularly developed sense of scent, I hope we don't smell too offensive to you!

We're oviparous and they all come out more or less the same, which is to say riotoisly different - it's possible for an egg-layer to raise a self-egg, but it's generally considered an unwisely egotistical thing to do these days, you're never really stranded with radio and if you've set up a family unit to raise your child then you can generally find someone who'll be more than willing to donate gametes. 

Uh, it's impolite to speculate on whether any given individual is an egg-layer or not, it's the kind of thing you only tell people it's relevant to."


Some farmer was the first one to see the cave glow, and whatnot, on Byway. He attempted to investigate himself, and came back spooked out of his mind. Almost no one actually believed him when he said he'd spotted aliens in there, some of whom were apparently-sapient birds and people with cephalapod tentacles growing out of their backs, but a couple of desperate reporters did show up. When the aliens did show themselves, the reporters got spooked, and very quickly the situation with the cave was generally known around the planet - at least, by the important people. Known, and eventually, believed. Everybody got out of the way of everybody more important than them until only the most important people were left. Those people hired linguist-tutors, go-betweens, people to set up Net connections down in the cave (ten cable-bundles of which now trail from the cave entrance to the Byway table) and people to secure the cave entrance against crazies - all of the eight deferring to the most important among them (the nuclear power guy, Guy #2) in the event of disagreement. They communicated with the aliens at various degrees of arm's-length, arranging the 'summit'; Guy #2 was one of those in closest contact.

Thus did the Bywayeans arrive various degrees of prepared, for what turned out to be - whatever this is.

That person seems to be speaking on behalf of the giant intimidating surely-redundant group that represents the only other human presence in the room. (They're all wearing the same clothes, which Guy #3 finds spooky as superstition - he's doing his best not to look too often at the Zmavlipre.) They ask the room generally (Why! Who are you talking to, thinks Guy #4) if anyone has something they'd like to trade for implicit expectation of reciprocation (Guys #2, #4, #7, and #8 light up, but Guy #5 - also distracted by the beginning conversation with Talaskai - blanches at the word implicit) including any optimal-tileable-somethings. Guy #2 presses the button for the speaker he's mic'ed to. "I have a couple tessellation-based ideas!" he gushes. Guy #6, who awkwardly started talking into his loudspeaker at the same time as #2, picks back up: "My company has some internal materials we've treated to tile at the molecular level in stronger configurations than the usual, if that's what you mean?"

Guy #3, who is much more comfortable with sapient lizard-birds than whatever the Zmavlipre and Tetratopians are doing, tries really hard not to peep Thelassalia's questionnaire. Instead he eavesdrops on #1-and-Yompam, and #2-and-Jeeee.

Guy #1 wants to know what the similarities in neurology are!! Birds on Byway have something analagous to a neocortex but not quite anatomically the same, the neopallium. The Kastakians seem more lizard-y than living Byway birds, though? Do they have a cortex-analog? What about - his voice hushes - some circuit in that cortex-analog that's thought to have closed around the time in their evolution that they became sapient, do they have that? He rattles off average human body weights, brain weights, neuron counts - are the Kastakians heavier or lighter, he can't even tell. What about their brains? Their neuron counts. (Guy #3 interjects, still trying to distract himself from Thelassalia: 'Particularly nasty or common endogenous neurological diseases?')

Guy #2 is just about vibrating out of his mortal container about Kastakian floating architecture. He explains to Jeeee, who is closest, that 'seasteading' is a common venture and a commoner dream for dissatisfied dreamers on Byway, especially young people, but most serious people titter about how it isn't practical on the scales the dreamers dream of scaling it to. How big are the structures generally? Do they tilt perceptibly to the people on them? How does one get materials in place to start building one? Would it work for a land-oriented civilization? And of course how is it all powered? He'd be happy to answer any of Jeeee's questions in exchange for this - even a few quasi-trade_secrets, if they can move somewhere the others can't hear.

Guy #5 explains personal fold-out airplanes to Talaskai cheerfully, with both paper diagrams and animations on his Net-connected screen. They've gotten them down to a size that can dock on these little cheap, layered, fully covered complexes atop apartment building roofs, or rural garages if you go for that sort of thing. They're usually driven by dual propellers, on the wings, which rotate to provide vertical takeoff and landing, and fold out in two parts, like a seagull's, for storage. The wings are longish when they fully lock (this is done in a special loading area of the garage complexes.) They're currently fueled by combustion, although of course everyone who thinks he's someone has a "better idea" for how to fuel them. Guy #5 rolls his eyes. Guy #5 will get what's coming to him, Guy #4 thinks.

Guy #7 will start roaming up and down the Byway table (scrupulously averting his gaze from the others' trade secrets - mostly) to see if any Kastakians seem particularly interested in talking about infotech? Particularly hardware and signal relaying. Do they have a worldwide Net? What do they use for transistors?

Most of the Bywayeans seem kind of hesitant about the Zmavlipre. No one rushes out to meet them, although they smile in what they think the scary (hivemind????? worries everyone but #4, who has the worst imagination) aliens will recognize as a welcoming way. How will Reren and Cinsal approach?


Yompam and Byway talk Brains

Yes, Kastakians likely branched off from lizards relatively recently, and still have a number of lizard features! They do have a much more developed cortex than any related animal, though, yes, look here at your model where the sensorimotor clusters are, that is rather more dominant in Kastakian brain architecture, although possibly rather more devoted to sight and lacking a large scent specialised area?

They do not have that exact thing but that sure looks like this coordination mechanism which they loosely attribute reflective consciousness to?

Neuron count is... not something they've thought about very accurately guessing! They know about parts of the brain mostly from aggressively swapping notes on brain injury cases and detailed autopsies, they haven't got a way to scan or stimulate parts of a live brain, you can put electrodes on some animal brains but when you try to do anything like that to a Kastakian it tends to have a side effect of uncontrollable screaming, which despite the specific prior consent of some of the subjects has been too disturbing to everyone involved to really yield any interesting results. Any kind of non-intrusive brain scanning device would be really interesting.

Kastakians are definitely lighter - presumably no wings means no hollow flight bones? Every limb bone being solid must really take the hard work out of fixing limb fractures.

Diseases or disorders? Most people get migraines after extended periods of stress and sometimes those progress to a full disorder with early retirement, a lot of people are missing or get noise in random pieces of the perceptual system - most regularly balance, hearing difficulties and tinnitus, touch problems like intrusive paraesthesia - often they don't even realise until someone describes the thing they're missing in a way they understand. Aging is also hard on the neurological system, losing odd parts of memory or speech formation or getting much stranger perceptual problems are common in the older Kastakian.

Actual communicable diseases, not so much, although obviously normal respiratory or fecal-oral communicable diseases can have neurological sequalae, especially if they get at the vascular system; there have historically been a few outbreaks of prion diseases, those are thought to have been wiped out and unlikely to resurge now that everyone knows to avoid eating nervous system tissue. (Obviously some people still do this just because they can, but not as a routine enough practice that it causes outbreaks.)


Jeeee and Byway talk Boats

Retirement communities can be huge! Some endeavour-group ships are also really quite big. Current designs get a bit unwieldy at about five thousand good sized berths plus work areas, at that size you basically have something that corners like a raft without a paddle and you shouldn't take it anywhere that might get storms.

Even the largest vessels absolutely do sway, being on land for so long is quite unpleasant because there's this anticipation-of-movement that is never really fulfilled and just gets more and more sensitive, it's especially hard to sleep - one of the base camp teams has set up a set of automatically swinging hammocks to try to make this a little better.

Materials are very difficult, yes - it used to be practical to build from shore-wood, and then from seaweed-fibre-and-fish-glue composite, but modern designs require a really considerable quantity of metals, so on-land mining camps are much more prevalent than they used to be and it's quite common to do rotational work in them as a youngster if you want to build credit quickly. It's possible to do some seabed mining and seawater refining, but mostly that's only worthwhile for particularly rare elements like gold and rare earths.

Wind power is still very popular, both the very traditional 'stick a sail structure on for propulsion' and the more modern 'stick up the largest wind turbines you can get away with without ruining your vessel's balance' approaches. Solar power is an exciting new field which can be used for heating, and that heating can obviously also be used for electrical generation like any heat source, but it seems like there should be a way to do it more efficiently and there's a lot of experimentation in that area.

And, yes, oil and gas. Generally not animal-source oil these days, even a little bit of wind power and a smallish battery is generally enough to power much better lighting, but for base load power, there's nothing else that has the power-to-weight ratio. There was a considerable increase in respiratory complications when it was first discovered as a fuel source, but mostly airflow baffles to ensure that fumes go away from the ship is a solved problem now, at least on the larger vessels that have more than a backup generator.

Wider environmental complications from changing the carbon balance have mostly been addressed with aggressive tree-planting, just slightly further inland than the food forest areas, but it's by no means a closed debate.

That's why ke's so interested in this fission idea, see - it looks like it has an extremely good power to weight ratio without producing toxic fumes, which would be extremely useful for hospital and retirement communities especially, who are large enough to run one safely and currently have to burn a lot of fuel for manoeuvring out of the way of inclement weather.

If they're used to land-based foods they will absolutely want to turn over considerable quantities of theirshoreline to mostly-self-sustaining food production, which might be prohibitive if they're currently inhabiting those shorelines with fixed settlements? Not having a land-oriented civilisation, it's hard to spot what the problems would be.

Jeeee is very confused about the idea that one would stop other people overhearing the interesting bits - doesn't kis tutor want to increase their personal value-perception to these people, is it that this is particularly uncertain information and they're worried about being embarrassed later? - but is very happy to follow the alien's lead if it means ke gets More Information. Ke is filling a considerable quantity of paper notebook with scrawled notes using a set of gel pens.


Talaskai and Byway talk Planes

Talaskai is clearly less deeply technically knowledgeable (and much younger) than Jeeee; ke knows how to perform a wide range of boat maintenance tasks but most of this plane stuff is going straight over kis head - which is what ke desperately wants to do, ke wants to fly over everyone's head in one of these amazing folding plane things!

They run on a fraction of mineral oil, right? People can build a retirement community bigger than one of those landing spots, so should be able to build specialised landing platform ships... this is going to be the best idea ever and everyone is going to love it.

What's wrong with combustion? If they're using all the land then maybe they can't plant enough trees? But surely that means they're not using all the sea, so they can seed some really huge seaweed floats which should do the same job?


Meliashae and Byway talk Infotech

Meliashae can talk infotech, in between being called over to debug translation issues!

Ke is extremely excited that Byway has transistors. Kastakians have been trying to invent something better than vacuum tubes for a while, without much success. Germanium sounds like a total nightmare to get hold of and facilities for silicon purification look extremely difficult, but fortunately they no longer have to struggle alone, which is fantastic.

Ke suspects they're accordingly not interested in Kastakian hardware design apart from for historical reasons, but is very happy to walk them through anything they would like to know - ke's a infomatics specialist by main-reputational-area, linguistics has previously been more of a hobby. In particular, if they have fixed settlements, they might not have invented floating and airborne repeater platforms, or all of the same encoding schemes to ensure data traffic travelled long distances to uncertain destinations with minimal losses, or the clever storage compression algorithms to keep text data small enough to store an awful lot of it, with various speed/compression tradeoffs?

There have been repeated attempts at a truly worldwide Net but what they've got at the moment is more like a huge-scale mesh network? It's designed for people to come in and out of range of various repeater stations and deliver data when it can. Obviously the primary use is for techniques-and-technologies sharing, but art and personal correspondence are also extremely popular uses, and produce an awful lot of data constantly moving around the system looking for whoever wants it.


Thessalia and Byway talk Sharing

Thessalia triumphantly finishes the questionnaire, and immediately asks to subscribe to the data once it's collated and any results that follow.


To Tetratopia, the Imperium dresses like they're having fun, a very high-budget renfaire performance, a magicalgirl troupe with costumes from the same mascot. Since those are inspired by actual historical organisations, the Imperium, too, is walking around looking like it's an organisation. How wonderful! Tetratopia gets the impression that the Imperium is handling this summit globally, presenting one face, which Makes Sense.

Tetratopia <> Imperium:

There's a conclusion one could draw about the Imperium, from how their translates-badly-"drones" are closer to optimal agents than them. Fortunately this is ruled out by how there are Tetratopian observers at the summit. Whew.

Delegate A: "Our species also does not act like optimal-agents, though we expect more advanced species to be able to choose to, when meeting with others, as to not lose. We similarly don't yet have a utility function; we do have a civilisational performance metric, that we use to judge how well we're doing, though this is known to be incomplete, qualitative, time-varying, etc.. But insofar as this meeting works, it will be because it's kind of like the thing optimal-agents do, and other civilisations might have different and in-some-aspects better ways of kind-of doing that, so on the macro-scale we want to frame things with that goal. We think here it's going to look like trades and preliminary agreements."

Not so whew as to not need some clarification: "Also, as a translation check, what is a drone?"

B: "Optimal-tileable-somethings are the best versions of things, that can be repeated in many different places, as an ideal rather than a rule. For example, there might be some, uh," - what example would be recognisable, aha, the Imperium pointed out the coherent clothing aesthetic - "best known type of clothing, for a specific circumstance, and that would be the optimal-tilable-that-circumstance-clothing. This is common attire on Tetratopia, an example of optimal-tileable inside-or-outside-in-temperate-climates clothing. I prefer it, other people have different tastes, and for the sake of the summit we picked a single point in clothes-space." 


Reren and Cinsal with Byway Guy#3 and Guy#5

The Bywayean group is going to look really weird??? In that...they're kind of not a group. The Kastakian group is messy, but not in a way that seems deliberate – it gives the impression of being a hastily made plan, or of this being only an initial diplomatic group and the 'real' diplomats will come later – whereas the Bywayeans have legibly divided their table into eight parts and one of them has even put up walls to ostensibly block the other ones from seeing it??? And the other ones are kind of looming to try to observe the hidden bits but indirectly??? If they wanted to keep secrets, that's fine, but in that case they should simply have refrained from bringing in their display then. Why be willing to show what you made to literal aliens but not show it to members of your own species and culture?

It's fine if certain people distrust certain others in society and want to hide things from them – they can just choose to distance themselves from each other – but like...this is a diplomatic summit. You want to present One Face. Not just because of aesthetic coherence being beautiful, but because of what it signifies: 'Even if push comes to shove, we will cooperate with one another. We will not defect. Cephalopods together strong.' This is the opposite of that.

Reren and Cinsal will push away the massive confusion and culture shock and appear calm and unperturbed: everyone who works in government has had impassivity training. Not a requirement; it's just a very very good idea. They do notice the Bywayeans smile at them, and they do interpret it as friendly, but they're not sure whether that's what the Bywayeans are intending to convey. They smile back, though – their drones do not, and remain stone-faced.

Okay, well, there are eight people there, but presumably one of them would step up to talk to them? Like, a leader or a final-backstop or an executive or a president of the group. They'll stand there for a minute before realizing It Does Not Work Like That. They will try to speak with people who don't seem busy.

Cinsal will speak with Guy#3 who is trying to eavesdrop on Guy#1 and 2, while Reren will speak to Guy#6. They'll ask whether they have names: the Imperium and the Kastakians introduced themselves, while the Tetratopians have nametags. Or do you have a different mechanism to distinguish individuals from one another? The Imperials are most definitely not going to assume they're a hivemind or similar – this is not how a hivemind would behave.

Cinsal and Guy#3

"What is dementia? Also, what is aging? ...ah! Your species senesces! Remna do not. I am happy that you have attained to such technology so as to have overcome your pitiful state. We likewise had to contend with the ancestral environment in our species' youth, namely, we drove the species that used to be our predators into extinction when we attained to sapience. This must be a crowning achievement for yours!

I'm surprised that all of you seem to have personal philosophies which are so legible you have written them down. Is this common in your culture? I don't think my values are that legible to me that I could write a manifesto about it, at least, not without lots of effort."

Cinsal wants to Contribute to Science, but also dislikes The Sensation of Being Made Legible. He will ask whether it's possible to answer the questionnaire but refrain from answering certain questions if he doesn't feel like it, or whether that would render the datum useless.

Reren and Guy#6

"We know that it's possible to harvest energy from fission in theory – our latest models of particle physics and radioactivity predict it to be true. However, we haven't been able to figure out a reactor or power plant schema for it just yet. We mostly rely on geothermal and hydropower. Solar is also in the 'theoretically possible but practically not' stage. We have coal and oil power, but it produces noxious fumes and is highly unpleasant – any such power plants must be placed far far away from any settlements, and even then the people that manage them are still at risk for pollution lawsuits. We are keen to trade for help and schematics for fission power, or to be directed to anyone who could help us in this regard."

Both Cinsal and Reren will ask the respective people they're talking to whether they're the leader of the delegation, and if not, ask who and where they are.

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