Lucien hugs Meelia, retreating with her into a private room Keetim sprouts from a building on the outskirts of town. They speak for some time.
Pelape pitches her tent safely outside Keetim's radius since it might at any moment have a nightmare.
Actually that only happens when Keetim sleeps, though the Amentans haven't bothered to ask about this as of yet.
Eventually a young girl enters the building with Meelia, bearing her softest blanket and a promise that she won't let anyone be mean to her friend Meelia in her town.
And Lucien emerges, heading towards Pelape's tent.
"Are you Pelape?"
"Yes, hello - Lucien?"
It's clear from his face he's cried recently.
"I'm not actually sure where to start. Meelia told me her impression of what happened on Amenta and why she did what she did but I think it's more likely than not that she misunderstood some things and a situation ended up escalating rather than being resolved through less ... dramatic routes. You want to say words about the problems Meelia encountered on Amenta?"
Sigh. "Sure. The story the way I heard it - it was a writeup by her host family, this blue couple who live on a farm, who were looking for escorts who wouldn't give her a hard time about it on the way here - is that she found out about the red district existing and went right in. So far so understandable. Took some insisting to get her to leave through the decontamination exit and also for some reason she put her monster through the conveyor for electronics which must have sucked for him. She went back and did it again though this time she didn't fry the mouse. She finally gets all the way home to her hosts and one of them is sitting up to talk to her about it, but it's very late at night and the conversation doesn't go on too long. She leaves her pocket everything there, walks out, gets questioned by their night security, and when he says it doesn't seem like a good idea to wander alone after dark and he's going to go wake up one of the blues, she jumps him, gives him a head injury, dislocates most of the joints in his body, and stashes him in a corner. Disappears. Pocket everythings can share location, but she didn't bring hers, so the only guess anyone has to go on is that she might be in the red district. The reds have all been on their most presentable behavior, so miraculously no one actually blames them for any of this! But nobody wants Meelia hiding among reds or intimidating them into helping her do more crime or anything, so they have all the reds move out to other districts. That's an operation they've pulled off a few times, as towns modernize - start doing without reds for their traditional share of the work - and the share of the population that is red drops, and they weren't planning to do it to that one any time soon but here was a prompting incident, you see. They don't find her. They go on not finding her, I don't know where she was secreted away. A building in the evacuated district catches fire, but they're not ready to contain a fire so they put it out. This is the push somebody, I don't know who, needs, to decide that the place should be decomissioned now that it's already empty. Torched clean, bulldozed, new stuff built on top. They set that up. Meelia climbs over the fire containment barrier with what's left of her hair dyed red. Once the firefighters reason out that it's her somebody tranquilizes her and they bring her to the hospital to get cleaned up and treated."
"Yeah that sure sounds like Meelia and broadly matches up with what she said she did."
Though it wasn't actually the thing he was worried about...
"Um. She had a bunch of rather worrisome concerns about how people were treating reds which she said motivated her decisions. Do you know anything relevant to that?"
"Yeah, most people hate reds beyond all necessary precautions to keep them physically separated. I'm not sure how comprehensive you want me to get?"
"I think I'd like to know more about what that's like for reds and why things aren't better?"
"Okay. Uh, I'm going to start many inferential steps back, let me know if I'm overexplaining.
Neurotypical Amentans have what is called a 'pollution sense'. This isn't a sense per se, but it makes us very concerned with getting, being, and staying clean, and we're very good at tracking what things in our environment have been identified as suspect and what they have contacted in a way that we aren't even about other things that might be relevant to whether we want to touch stuff, like whether it's hot or whether it's got wet paint on it. We think this evolved as a disease avoidance mechanism. Make sense so far?"
"Yeah, I've encountered that before."
"Historical cultures were not all in perfect agreement about what things were polluted and therefore not to be touched if at all avoidable, but no culture totally avoided identifying any such things, and of course, it was not feasible for everyone in a community to avoid all those things. And back then they had not invented running water and their soap wasn't very good either. If someone got polluted worse than they and the people around them believed could be scrubbed off in the nearest river or whatever, they kind of... stayed... that way. Nobody volunteered to do this, nobody wanted their friends or family members to do this, and yet somehow the dead bodies have to be removed from the area and the waste has to be separated from the drinking water. So they found people they didn't care about. Slaves, sometimes, but ultimately as castes emerged and stabilized, a caste. Reds."
"Reds weren't cared about?"
The concept of not caring about someone is bizarre, much less a whole group of people!
"To begin with they weren't a coherent caste - we didn't just start existing with castes, they're an invention. This kind of work needed doing; anyone who didn't have people caring about them and by extension their health and cleanliness was a candidate to get pushed into it one way or another. And no one started caring about them after that, since this only made them less appealing."
"Huh. The idea that their becoming more polluted would make people care about them less is ... sort of alien feeling. If we were aware of people who became polluted we'd care about them more."
"I'm not sure what to chalk that up to. Maybe just less scarcity. Amentans in ancient technological conditions are at serious risk of starving to death any given winter. If they spend effort and attention on people who are not only unable to ever reciprocate but also actively dangerous and unpleasant to be around, when they could be maintaining their access to food and people who might help them with food, that's just not going to work out well for them, and third parties will notice that doesn't work out well and warn everyone they do care about not to follow that strategy."
"That sounds terrible! I think that amaliens would not follow that strategy either in a hypothetical analogous situation, but we'd feel sad about that. I think one of the things that most shook Meelia was realizing that most clean Amentans didn't even feel sad about what they were doing to reds. I ran into a something like that here with how Amentans treated chickens, but the reds thing seems much worse."
"- wow, chickens? Do you care about chickens? I guess that's not that weird but I wasn't specifically expecting it. Uh, I'm not actually aware of much research indicating either way whether it's remotely healthy for Amentans to not eat meat but clean-meat projects are underway anyhow, probably you just want to find a way to back those."
"I've been working on figuring out funding for that and providing more space for chickens here in the meantime. Plan was to also have an amalien scientist help with the clean-meat research once she's done helping to set up sources of income for us."
He's not actually sure that that is going to remain at all a priority compared to reds.
"I think you've sort of explained why things aren't better for reds, but not what it's like for reds on Amenta?"
"Right, so, I'm not one, but I have talked to some online. They're poor. I'm not sure how much that means to you per se. A typical red will have more and higher tech possessions than a randomly selected amalien. They aren't starving. But they're paid inconsistently and poorly for their work and have very limited access to goods and services and they aren't supposed to leave their districts and workplaces without a specific job reason. They mostly manage die of old age like everyone else, but they do have a drastically elevated rate and severity of police violence and disease burden and disability. Most of them pretend to be another caste, typically purple, on the internet, so they can have a broader social life without everyone hating them."
Aaaaah. Meelia was not far off oh no....
Lucien has a bit of a lump in his throat but not too much cause he's focusing.
"Would um... would most of them prefer to be another caste in the rest of their life too?"
"...I guess, if you could do it by magic somehow. It'd be an extremely uphill integration project."
"Askin' cause of knowing how bad the situation is, not for how to fix it. Not focusing on that yet."
"You think it'd be obv-iosly better to them to be a different caste if people treated them like that caste?"
"I'm kind of worried you're going to react to a 'yes' by being like 'oh how convenient, I have a monster that does mind control in my pocket'. But, yeah, I'm not aware of advantages to being red besides I guess high levels of caste solidarity."