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Sep 27, 2023 7:29 AM
A Brinnite walk-in on Byway
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A few notes of Xakda's horror at the idea of eating with one's family did slip through, especially when combined with the way he froze up.'s by no means an unprecedented thing to be horrified by.

Experimentally, Minaiyu prods at the vocabulary.

There is really remarkably little in the way of convergence-related terminology. But Xakda does have a word for "food-convergent pornography". Not any other kinds of convergent pornography. Just that one.


And...they don't have much in the way of terminology, they don't talk about it much, possibly Xakda has spent his whole life assuming that the way he feels about this is just How Things Are...

Lords and Ladies, it is way too fucking late at night for a conversation as awkward as what this one is shaping up to be.

Maybe he should just go to bed now. There's a cot in the observation room. He could leave Xakda to it. Give him some privacy. Figure out later whether Minaiyu even can try the alien food, what with Xakda being right there.

(was Xakda not going to warn him, when they were about to eat together, would have been tasting it alongside him...)

...he's already in too deep on this conversation to just cut it off for the night, isn't he.



(From Xakda's perspective, Minaiyu is making a series of discomforted facial expressions. Partway through, Minaiyu notices that the fridge door is still open and closes it.)


Eventually he has little choice but to forge ahead. He has a feeling it will take rather less than four years to figure out how he could have phrased this better, but on the other hand he has substantially more of Xakda's goodwill now than he did when he was first introducing himself.

"We...didn't have anyone in our household for whom that would be incestuous. If that's what you're thinking of."


" . . . Like there's no one you're related to by blood, or - some other thing - and even if there wasn't, it's - wouldn't it still suck about the same amount?

I'm missing something big here, I think, but I've got no idea what it is, sorry. If it's not important we can talk about it in the morning."


Xakda is missing something big and Minaiyu has a pretty good idea what it is. But Xakda has, thankfully, expressed a willingness to wait.

"...okay, look, uh, tell you the, uh, 'virtual desk environment' there's a cot. How about I go to bed now, and you deal with the eating, and in the morning once we've gotten some rest we can talk about, among other things, whether we're family."

not that them not being family would be enough to make it okay, there is a reason you don't serve food at office parties and it is not just because people would have to take their masks off


"Super valid! I hope the cot is nice!"

That implies that Minaiyu still has to sleep even in the virtual environment, which logically should (?) imply he still has to eat too, but Minaiyu seems to not be in the mood to talk about that and Xakda is a horrible person and it would just be too awkward to press Minaiyu right now, okay.


He nods, giving a weak smile.

"Good night."

And then Xakda is alone.


(He takes off his headset and glasses, sets them on the floor next to the head of the cot, and lies down. The cot is surprisingly comfortable for how it looks; on the other hand, maybe the pseudo-physical manifestation of the abstract concept of Bed should be comfortable.

He'd been wondering, on and off, whether all of the emotional rollercoasters today would make it hard to get to sleep tonight. But exhaustion wins out.)


He eats and goes to sleep in an uneventful, anxious, exhausted daze.

When his alarm (quiet enough not to wake anyone else up through the soundproofing) goes off, he -


- remembers -


"Minaiyu?" Something was up last night, and he wants to ask about it before explaining about meeting his former-coparent Fairgame to acquire their son, a thing he does on this day of their least common workcycle.


Minaiyu wakes from a nightmare about harvesting potatoes by the light of an aurora, and for a disoriented moment he thinks Xakda has come to give him the bad news.

Then he hears the comforting hum of the central air conditioner, and his awareness flows back in. It's okay. They still have time. May or may not be enough time--could be hours, could be decades, who knows--but time, and he may yet get to keep an industrialised way of life.

...also apparently he's fronting again, when did that happen. He guesses he must have metaphorically rolled over in his sleep.

"Good morning," he says, matching Xakda's volume.


"I - got the sense, last night, just before you - signed off - that something I said bothered you - you said -" now he remembers - "that in the morning we could talk about - whether we're family?" <💭>???</💭>


He winces, then looks thoughtful for a few moments.

(...oh, of course. Minaiyu had expressed an endorsed desire to eat together, and Xakda, whose society had abandoned him to ignorance, who had lacked any substantial evidence to the contrary, had assumed that that constituted informed consent.

He finds he's not angry at Xakda at all, anymore. He's just sad at what was done to Xakda, or really what wasn't done.)


"...yeah, I guess I phrased that badly, huh. It seemed like the most succinct way of expressing in a way that would be intuitively clear to you why there was a problem, but that's not actually the crux and...I guess it must have actually been very confusing to you, given that a minute prior I'd been talking about eating with family like it was no big deal?

...Xakda, I get the impression no one told you...most people don't have their food and sex wires crossed. It's..." he shrugs "...I don't know, like one percent maybe? Two? Like, it's not rare, but it's not the default. I'm not like that, nobody in my family is.

So when we were making food plans, I assumed you also weren't like that, and that you would warn me--or at minimum find some excuse to bow out--if you were. And then I saw some of how revolted you were by the idea of eating with family, and when I thought to look for it the fact that you had a word for food-ero but not any other kinds of wire-crossed porn was pretty conspicuous, and I kind of had the rug pulled out from under me on what it was we were doing.

I-- I don't blame you, for not warning me. You were doing the best you could with the information you had. It-- it sucks that from the sound of it you were given sex education that wasn't up to the task of actually sex-educating you, and probably it wasn't their fault either because they were given shitty sex education too, up the line. It's...from what I've heard it's a pretty common failure mode for cultures to fall into, for them to be so secretive about sex that they end up collectively overlooking a lot of important information."



"I - let me make this clear, I wasn't trying to engage in a sexual act with you. By your culture's lights it might be true that I made a mistake by not informing you that it'd be slightly weird on a sexual level, like seeing me naked only less extreme, but you'd already seen me naked, just out of, like, necessary circumstance . . . and I assumed that you, like me if I was in your situation, were expecting to have to do lots of stuff on around that level of weirdness, just on account of sharing a body with me, and just wanted to get the process of adjusting over with instead of delaying it and painfully dragging it out, or deciding to diminish your time spent experiencing reality forever."

He finds himself not all that mortified, actually, just scatteredly, ?unendorsedly? incensed, because - there wasn't really an easy-to-jump-to perspective from which he'd done anything wrong. Maybe that's because -

"I think - I don't actually know, for sure sure, but I think most people around here wouldn't eat in front of their family more than, like, twice or three times as readily as they'd be naked in front of their family. It's just not something you do in front of people, and I - my brain is still having trouble reconciling the idea of a society that doesn't do it that way. Maybe from Rekka's perspective, what that is is Gaha'eka having our 'food and sex wires crossed', but - I don't think 'we' think of it like that. If that makes sense.

Also, uh, what's 'sex education'? Your kidshaper when you're 7 isn't usually talking to you about sex, around here."


He cringes back.

"...okay. It-- you make a good point about the nakedness, although also I did look away when you were using the toilet yesterday even if it was kind of too late by then. I-- it-- I still have a lot to learn about local social mores."

(And the way Xakda describes it does kind of sound like a local-social-more. Which does not explain why he has a word for "food-convergent pornography" in particular, but...maybe it's learned? There's some wiggle room for nurture even for something as thoroughly integrated into a soul as a sexuality, and also...well, define "soul".)

"I...I think...even if I'd known I maybe still wouldn't have wanted to do it last night? There...can be value in not dragging stuff out, but...there's more adjusting to do than I could possibly fit into one day, and it-- it's just too much to face when I was already overwhelmed."

Also you were talking about finding a way to give *each other* privacy, maybe we could take *turns* not experiencing reality, he does not quite dare to say. Honestly he maybe doesn't even dare to call Xakda's attention to Minaiyu's overwhelmédness at a time like this (it sounds uncomfortably like digging a hole deeper, like making excuses for himself, like lashing out), but it's too late, he already said it.

"...maybe tonight. I'll think about it."


He's grateful for the change of subject. He thinks. He's not really sure what his emotions are doing right now, except that he wants them to stop doing it.

"Um...'sex education' is an umbrella term for textbooks about different ways sexuality can be, or how reproductive anatomy works, or what to expect from puberty. Giving kids the information they need to understand what's going on in their minds and what will be going on in their bodies. It's normally very text-based, in order to, kind of...let kids approach it on their own terms. I guess that privacy is what separates it from, like, regular psychology and biology textbooks.

I think maybe your education methods are pretty different in general, though. We don't really do...'schools'. It seems like it would...oh this is part of the whole city hyperstimulation thing again, isn't it. If the kidshaper and the students can handle teaching all of the students together at the same time, then it's just efficient. I guess maybe it's kind of like a museum tour, but all the time for everything?"


"- I didn't actually say, did I, if you don't want to ever be here while this thing eats, that sounds great to me. I was only not suggesting that you leave because I - was afraid you wanted to be there.

Or - if you don't want to ever both be here for eating, if you want to switch off."

He painfully refrains from thanking Minaiyu for taking off while he used the toilet, because it's not yet clear whether establishing that he has a strong preference in that direction advantages or disadvantages them both in the long run.

He's still in shorts and T-shirt, unsure whether to change.

"Honestly I think I started shying away from suggesting switch-offs yesterday because I acquired this impression that you either really really didn't want to ever front, or really really wanted to be sure you weren't disturbing me, and I didn't want to - unsettle that.

. . . To be blunt, I want to get used to something more like 50/50 as fast as possible."

Yay, comfier topic!

". . . Huh, we don't have 'textbooks' that I know of. But yeah, schools are for efficiency. Very rich people just hire private kidshapers to work with their kids a couple hours a day, and less expensive wardens to make sure they don't shoot themselves for the rest of it. That's the ideal, but it's, well, pricey. Sinber is working obsessively [unambiguous compliment] around his constraints.

- Er, those constraints don't include doing all the kid-warden-ing himself, though, his apprentices do that.

. . . Do y'all do everything out of books?"

The task of changing clothes is hanging over him like an axe-blade, but it can wait for five minutes, and maybe Minaiyu will notice and propose his own solution in that time.


He's still having some lingering anxiety-and/or-something, but it...helps, kind of a lot, to know Xakda is already thinking what Minaiyu didn't dare bring up and is favourable towards it.

"Like I-- said last night, I'll look away when you need me to. But...I won't always know when you need me to. I...still don't really feel like I have a good sense of where the bounds of propriety are on the eating thing" was Xakda lying when he said that he, too, hoped they made weird fusion cuisines together, is that okay as long as they take turns trying the end products "and it's too soon to say what other bits of cultural quicksand are out there.

...learning to switch would be useful for lots of stuff, I think. When you have time I can talk you through some exercises; it often takes a while for hosts to get the hang of it, maybe don't expect anything big the first day, but generally they can in the end-- although I don't know how it's different without a'd have to still be possible, though, right, otherwise Andor would've been surprised that I could. Maybe some of the stuff about conjoined twins will have relevant tips.


...oh, if we're going to be doing the comparative-anthropology thing we should maybe put a recorder on? Y'all are definitely going to want records, and if any other, uh, personal topics come up during the conversation, we can clip those bits out before we let anyone else listen to it. I'm going to have to learn more about how to operate local computers..."

They absent-mindedly scratch a passing itch on their lower leg, which draws Minaiyu's attention to the fact that these are not the same clothes they were in yesterday. Xakda must have changed into lounging clothes after Minaiyu went to bed.

"...oh, uh--"

<--probably I should let you get your leaving-the-house clothes on first. At least, I think you were planning to leave the house today?>


He bites back the urge to protest that modesty norms when it comes to eating, as with nudity, have lenient exceptions for adults experiencing reasonably extenuating circumstances. There are more pressing things.

"Aaaargh I seriously wish we had time for recorder stuff but - yeah, I'm picking up Prodigy this morning and then - work -" as he did a dozen times yesterday, he considers and then quashes the thought of just quitting and living on savings, somehow, until they have this figured out, it'd embarrass him in front of Sinber "- Prodigy is my six-year-old, he has exactly the personality you'd imagine - or someone from here would imagine - of someone who'd name themselves that. He works, stocks shelves, but isn't completely self-transporting yet."

"Thanks, I'll - change, then, and - 

I can leave early-ish again tonight, and we'll have more time tonight than last night, to sort everything out and practice switching, and stuff, I keep forgetting.

Then after that - my three-day-break starts tomorrow."


<...I'm guessing sound would be okay for clothes-changing, just as long as I don't look, right?>

He turns around to face the back wall. (The cot is neatly made, and come to think of it the headset and glasses are back on his head. Nice of them.)

<We could talk about educational systems on break, maybe. Does your laptop have a recording function?

...what, he's stocking shelves at six? Is he, like, helping out around a family shop or something? I mean, I've stocked shelves too, but I was fifteen.

Oh, did kind of say y'all's impulse control grows in faster, didn't you. I guess that would lead to different norms about what tasks are suitable at what ages.>

Even if merely "possessing impulse control" still seems like it should lead to a six-year-old with a job having the vibe of...

...well, something an apartment-dwelling kid would resort to.

He is not going to express concern until he has a better understanding of what makes these people tick.


<...oh this is going to involve more awkward introductions, isn't it.>

He sighs.

<Well, no way out but through.

...maybe in the long run it will turn out for the best that y'all's electrical grid was geomagnetic-storm-naive, even if I'm worried about whether we'll fix it in time. It sure does seem to have helped my case.>


He almost asks what Xakda's workcycle is so that he can know what to expect, but if they're aiming to "get used to something more like 50/50 as fast as possible", Xakda's schedule is about to go through some upheaval anyway. It's unpleasant, but in time they'll get through that awkwardness too.


(Yeah, the part of Xakda's brain yelling at him not to quit his job and the part yelling at him to give Minaiyu more agency haven't exactly learned each other's names and numbers yet. It be like that sometimes.)


(If Gaha'eka knew jack squat about certain other locations in the multiverse, they'd quickly learn to think of themselves as 'efficient, not coherent'.)


"Well, it's -"

"here, actually, I flipped on a recording device, it won't be inconvenient to do little recordings at work now that you mention it, I just - keep postponing things for a more perfect time, and I should stop doing that.

It's bewildering to me that you were still living with your parents - more bewildering than it originally was that you ate in front of them! It's a different kind of bewildering? 'Eating in front of people on a regular basis' isn't . . . quite within the distribution of expected subcultures around here but I could see it happening? 'Living with your parents past twenty as an abled person in an industrialized, civilized society' more makes me feel like . . . like that's a violation of game theory or something. I do not understand at all. Around here fourteen is basically unheard of, average is around nine.

. . . I'm done changing, by the way, thanks!"


"Probably it's downstream of y'all living alone in general?" he says aloud.

[Someone expecting to hear Xakda could easily mistake Minaiyu for him. But for future listeners of the recording, people who know to look for it, it's actually not that hard to tell their voices apart. They use the vocal apparatus somewhat differently.]

"If neither the parent nor the kid likes cohabiting with people, it makes sense for them to want to keep the length to a minimum.

And seem to...move around kind of a lot anyway? Which I guess makes leaving home a smaller deal. Like, you casually mentioned you weren't planning to stay in this house long-term, and...when you were talking about how you ended up here in the first place it sounded like you got kicked out of your previous home through no fault of your own, and that that was basically just an annoyance to you? Whereas abrupt nonconsensual moving would be somewhere in the range of 'major problem' to 'outright trauma', for us.

I mean, lots of people do move out when they grow up, I'm not unusual for staying but my brother's not unusual for leaving. There's...kind of a window, I guess? When you're starting to seriously think about what you want your adult life to be like but you're not yet confident of the answers, it's easier and more appealing to change things around while you experiment.

Normally that kind of testing-things-out starts at fifteen, going until your early twenties although some people come to a conclusion sooner. You work at least one job so you can get a taste for what it's like operating in the formal economy, you shadow people at a bunch of different jobs with an eye to whether you want to apprentice with them, you maybe move in with distant family or friends or temporary housing for a while if you suspect you might like it better living in a different climate or in a town with a different specialty or on a farm, if there aren't any substantially younger kids in your household you probably help somebody with childcare and see what that's like.

People back home...occasionally leave their birth households sooner, but not...if everything's going well. say 'in an industrialised society'. I wonder whether it's relevant somehow that our industrialisation was artificially kickstarted, if there's, like, more lingering subsistence-farmer influence on our culture or something."


". . . but how - how would you know, if you - before you - you have to try everything, or you won't have the faintest -

- maybe it is the subsistence-farmer thing. Did Amestyl - no, Amethyst Brightpath - was he frustrated about, like, cultural innovations he couldn't fully translate, that everyone from Rekka just assumed were arbitrary local customs from his home? Because, like - that's horrible! Sorry, I shouldn't assume - but it sounded like people are pressured into picking what they'll do for the rest of their life having barely feinted at trying anything! Don't y'all, even, switch jobs, as adults?"


"Uh, sometimes, occasionally even willingly, but--

--I feel like our cultural pressure is actually towards trying new things, I was just thinking that maybe y'all had developed an even stronger pressure towards it. 'How confident you need to be in advance that you're not going to like something before you just don't try it' is complicated and controversial, but like, we're intellectually aware that human psychology...or at least our weighted way too far towards exploitation over exploration and that you have to consciously compensate for that at least somewhat. y'all just completely not have the emotion of familiarity-comfort, at all, about anything. I feel like that's a pretty basic emotion-- uh, no offense, it is so hard for me to wrap my mind around what that would be like, it's so fundamental. It's hard to believe that culture alone can do that: maybe there's some sort of founder-effect-like thing going on--

--the thing that comes to mind is that maybe it's a purposeful bottleneck, that you're an isolated and forgotten colony world and so your founding population was heavily filtered for being the sort of person who would willingly move to another planet, but maybe that's wildly off-base."

He sighs. "Y'all would do so much better at being walk-ins than we do, like psychologically."


"What, you mean, like, a colony from somewhere else in the multiverse?"

Unthinkingly, he starts pacing.

"As far as we can tell, humans definitely evolved from life native to this planet - our close cousins are here and everything. Rekka is like that, too, right?

Or did you mean, the current population of humans fanned out from an old, multiversally-unusual colony bottleneck in our world history?

Are we really that unusual? Are all the worlds with hayi, that you usually get walk-ins from, are they . . . neurotypical by Rekkan standards? Or at least more so than us?"

He stops himself.

"Also, are you okay with continuing this out in the house if I go out and caffeinate and gather my stuff?"


"I was thinking within your universe, although for all I know I suppose it could be possible to physically travel between universes and we just haven't the faintest idea how. But it sounds like you have fossils and stuff, so that's probably not it. And yeah, Rekka has fossils and stuff too.

...oh, right, you have multiple continents here, maybe that could lead to a within-planet colony bottleneck if something happened to the people on the original continent. Although that might still be a thing you would have seen in the archaeological evidence if it had happened.

...I'm not sure how much we would have noticed if we were psychologically atypical for the rest of the multiverse, given how the whole brain-compatibility thing filters for walk-ins who are similar to us. And how it filters for low-tech-level people, people who were unable to medically prevent themselves from dying or at least arrange for a same-world host: if you live in a tiny farming village and rarely talk to anyone else, your information on what people in your world overall are like isn't that great. Like, both that you don't have that much information and that it might not be very accurate. And while I'd be surprised if culture stretches far enough to create a whole population of neophiles, it does stretch somewhat far.


Yeah, out in the house sounds fine, as long as that won't wake anyone.

--oh, um, could you show me how to pause the recorder? Come to think of it, I do have a private heads-up I want to give you."


"Oh, yeah, here -" he demonstrates recorder-pausing.

". . . What kind of variation do you see, then, among the small villages you get walk-ins from? Does it seem wider than the Rekkan variation understood to have happened on Rekka by Rekkan anthropologists, even if you assume it's all culture?"

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