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A Brinnite walk-in on Byway
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Well, fuck him. Apparently his soul can't sing.


Yeah, that seems like a fundamental issue you should carve out some time to work on. We don't care what else is going on in your life.


". . . Thank you. That was compelling." Xakda is holding off dwelling on it literally any further for time concerns and because part of him is still convinced Minaiyu will vanish when Xakda gets to work.

"You okay with me taking off now?" He should probably try to - accurately sketch out what Minaiyu can expect? No, that's impossible given Minaiyu's vastly displaced state of knowledge, but. Come on, Xakda should say something.

"Er, I work at Sain's hospital in Pyeth, which - Pyeth - is honestly -" he winces, he doesn't think of it like this that often "- sort of a zombie-city, like, 15,000 people, but, like. Has any factories!"


Minaiyu makes a puzzled expression as he feels out the layers of meaning in "zombie-city". It...used to be...a slum-but-with-neutral-to-positive-connotations...and then it died...and its remains are limping along in the form of a largish town?

...oh. Right. It's what always happens, historically, when people live too densely.

"...I'm sorry to hear that," he says quietly. "It...sounds like the problems have settled down now, at least?

--oh, uh, should I stay quiet during the flight? I don't want to distract you while you're busy flying a plane."


Xakda pushes the lever that starts the wheel-power engine, and steers the (two-wheeled) carplane out of the garage. He presses a remote to close it behind him.

"Oh, I'd actually forgotten we can talk during the flight! It'll be really short, though, just, like, ten minutes. But I will have questions."

Xakda pulls more levers, and in his peripheral vision, the wings of the carplane extend, lock, and rotate so the propellers are facing upward.

He holds down a button, and pulls another lever, and the propellers are loud but - once their ears adjust - not hellishly so.

"For example", he says, fighting somewhat to be heard over the blades, "what do you mean, 'the problems have died down'?" 


He flinches when the propellers kick on, but it does overall seem tolerable. The bone conduction and the lip-reading-from-the-inside help with talking.

"Whatever plagues killed the city!" he responds, likewise loudly. "They have subsided, right?"


Xakda runs his pre-takeoff check of all the readings on the dash, all the controls.

"Oh, zombie-city - I mean, like - it's kind of peripheral, its prospects are dead. It lost out to the last few decades of urbanization, but it's still limping along, you know?"


He furrows their brow.

"Why'd you urbanise? I mean, I guess with modern sanitation you probably could actually pull that off without getting yourselves killed or crippled, but why would you want to?"


Pre-takeoff check still underway! It takes an hour*.

"Huh? How else would a society get anything done, if important people couldn't live near each other? Not just for fast and frictionless socialization, but so they could work under the same banners? And so you can have places where someone who is important and ill actually has a helpful range of available on-call medical specialists? For example."

*the Gaha'e version of the English idiomatic 'a second' or 'a moment' is careful to actually err on the side of pessimism.


"Well, towns do have specialties in a lot of cases, but you don't...need to be huge for that? And people can live near enough to each other to be in-person co-workers without being right on top of each other: you don't live right on top of anyone.

It was more of an issue pre-industrial, I think, that's why people kept trying cities enough for it to be so clear in the history books how it always goes horribly, but once you have trains and telegraphs it's not that big a deal? Let alone modern communication networks.

But even if you're doing something that needs in-person...hang on, let me do the math..."

There is a little diamond grid in his mind's eye.

" if, for example, you have a network of Pyeths linked by north-south and east-west trains, that's over six hundred thousand people you can reach in no more than four hops, maybe like an hour.

But if you tried to pile six hundred thousand people all in together, it'd be awful. People aren't built to handle that, not just physically but psychologically. There'd much stuff going on around you, all the time, everywhere you looked. It'd be overwhelming. And the visceral sense that crowding is dangerous doesn't completely go away just because you've invented respirators and disinfectants.

Although, I don't know, I haven't actually seen any of your cities, maybe they're less dense than the word makes it sound."


Xakda is silent for a few moments as they lift off. Then:

". . . Huh. I guess - it sounds theoretically possible? To only have cities as large as Pyeth?" His brain - his partition of the brain that's now both his and Minaiyu's? - keeps coming up with arguments for why it must be infeasible, like that all the transportation would be too expensive, but actually they're bullshit to cover up for how "It just feels wrong! How would you orient yourself? How would you know where the important places were, in the world? How would people know where to look for - achievements to celebrate, personalities to emulate?"

'No cities larger than Pyeth' does strike Xakda as the sort of disorienting subversion of a fact of life you didn't realize was conditional, that would be true of a real alien society, that he would never think of himself . . .

"Um, our biggest city has upwards of twenty million people, according to demographers' best estimates. It's most peoples' dream to live somewhere like that, and in that respect I am most people."

They're reaching a height that'd be dizzying if Xakda didn't reach it every day, the house and garage and swingset already scale models set into a finite, rectangular patch of green. Other patches, of slightly different greens, spread out around it.


With effort, Minaiyu refrains from staring around at all the tiny fields and buildings, and instead lets Xakda decide where to look. He really does not want to die in two vehicular accidents in the span of one subjective day.

He lets himself grin, though. Even with the constraint, it's incredible.


A harder-to-read expression passes across their face when he hears about the largest city.

"...twenty million. Wow."

He's struggling to imagine what that would be like, some vast hive teeming with people.

He very nearly asks why Xakda doesn't live in a city, if they're there and it's what he wants, but decides against it. It sounds like it's a sensitive topic; Xakda is going through more than enough stress today already, plus it's probably too distracting a conversation for mid-flight.

besides, what if the conversation convinces Xakda to move to a city, then he'd have to live in a city there would almost certainly be miserable, but it would be a fascinating experience to visit a hyper-dense otherworldly settlement, even if he did end up spending a significant fraction of the trip curled up in a little ball of overwhelmédness--

--actually maybe he shouldn't think about that too hard: that seems like it might lead to dwelling a little too long on all the reasons he ought by rights be curled up in a little ball of overwhelmédness right now, and "curling your pilot's body up into a little ball" is extremely high on the list of things you should not do when trying not to distract them.

"...I'd like to see photographs of that city sometime," he says.


Xakda is functionally oblivious to the peril he is in as a "half-possessed" carplane pilot! It's not that he doesn't know enough to be scared if he let himself think about it, it's that Gaha'eka tend to freeze when terrified, and that's not generally very helpful when you're trying to get anything done as a fully socially atomized mad techno-philosopher in an industrial society. So, the Gaha'eka not among the high cognitive elite who can learn to actually use their visceral terror responses, learn young to almost unconditionally route around them. As the saying goes, "Be appallingly reckless or you'll never do anything."

For example, this morning, Xakda could have called his boss, explained the "possession" situation and that he wouldn't be able to fly himself into work for some indefinite amount of time, and been immediately fired and in a strictly worse situation, because he'd still need to fly to a job. If he'd lived in a city, with lots of available walkable jobs, and been afraid of dying in a carplane accident today, he might have quit his current position to work somewhere walkable while adjusting to Minaiyu. If he'd lived alone out in the country, instead of having made this arrangement with Sinber and all but promised Sinber it'd be great, he might have packed up today and moved somewhere with walkable jobs. But it isn't so.

Xakda probably can get this whole situation with Minaiyu under control enough to make it to work. And if he can't, there isn't much he could have done to salvage what he sees as his life, anyway. So Xakda tries his damnedest, all while cheerfully pretending he's sure.

People from other places might object that Xakda is "abandoning" his children to the possibility of his death, and Sinber to the possible burden of caring for them in his stead. Gaha'eka would be bewildered-appalled at that objection! Xakda necessarily has a higher obligation to the stewardship of his own life than he could possibly have to his childrens' provision (because "you can't do any job dead") and in this case (fairly often, in fact!) it's right for Xakda to tolerate a certain risk to his own life, so how could it not be right for him to also risk his ability to provide for his children? It's just logic.

"I'd love to look up some pictures of Abzu when I get off work," Xakda says. He would!

"By the way, what was your current job? If-you-want-to-say."


Well, with two people trying their damnedest to not die in a carplane accident, they should be able to get through this intact.

(The thought occurred to Minaiyu, though he did not dwell on it as much as he possibly should have (at the time he was vaguely expecting that the commute would be by some normal method, foot or tricycle or train), that he could ask Xakda to take today off. But he's disrupting Xakda's life so much already, and it's clear from how Xakda's acting that he especially highly values the routine of his work schedule, and Minaiyu wants Xakda to have the comforting familiarity of the work shift he was expecting when he went to bed yesterday.)

"I was a medical apprentice. Planning to spec into paramedics, but at my current level of training I'd be worse-than-useless at situations that fast-paced and high-stakes, so for now I'm more generally gaining knowledge and picking up speed."


Xakda rrrrrrrotates the wings aaaaand suddenly it's quieter and they're flying forward! Away from the sun - west - toward some hillier, cleaner, less frequently interrupted farmland.

"Whoa, just, like, a generalist medical apprentice? Did you live in a real ghost town or something, where they were so small and isolated they could only afford one apprentice tech for everything? Or - it must just be common for everything to be smaller, if cities are so small. Wizards, dicks, sorry, this is so impossible and I'm still kind of convinced you'll disappear once I try to prove to anyone you exist, how small was the hospital you worked at?"


"Well, we're not, like, completely isolated, but we are on the coast. So we don't have much in the way of centralised specialties, because there isn't anyone to our east so we're not a good location for it.

My primary affiliation was a local medical centre which was, like, maybe thirty people depending on how you count. I also did stuff with the big hospital two hops to the west; in the long run I'd probably be working mostly with them, paramedic patients tend to need the bigger facility, but potentially still helping out at the local place when they needed someone., it wasn't like I was planning to become a cardiologist or something? Lots of stuff comes in handy in paramedics. Even stuff that isn't directly applicable still helps you get used to, like..." he almost gestures, but stops himself "...working with patients, interpreting complicated medical situations, knowing which drugs do what so you can factor it in when some later paramedic patient is on them, etcetera."


Xakda notices Minaiyu keep having to abort gestures and cringes sympathetically (hopefully completely internally to Xakda's mind, where Minaiyu can't notice and get reasonably offended at someone cringing in sympathy.)

"When I land, I'll peace out for a few minutes in the parking garage and let you try puppetting this thing, if you expect that be helpful rather than detrimental.

Thirty people? Then even assuming three constant eight-hour shifts there can't have been a guarantee of more than ten at a time . . . what could they possibly do with that? There are medical consultants without huge staffs but not treatment hospitals, not when you could possibly at any time have more than one critical patient. And consultants usually don't hire any subordinate employees - what would you need them for? I think Sain has about three hundred, admittedly only an order of magnitude, but it feels like an important one. Also - did I hear that right, cardi-ologist? Like, someone who - specializes in just the heart?"


Minaiyu feels a little sad that Xakda has already stopped thinking of his body as something that belongs to him. Well, it's for the best.

"Oh, I meant thirty at a time.

But also...maybe we're more like your consultants than your hospitals, just sharing a facility and a clerical staff and whatnot? At the local centre we mostly just handle the routine or otherwise non-urgent stuff. Vaccinations, monitoring chronic problems, some screenings, advising people on whether to see specialists--and yeah, there were heart specialists--stuff like that. Critical cases go to the big hospital: it's only about twenty-five kilometres, you can get there pretty fast in an ambulance.

That's why hospital apprentices usually start out at local centres: you have enough to deal with as it is just getting your feet under you, throwing you straight into all the everything of a critical-care hospital would just overwhelm you--"

He stops, looking thoughtful.

"...maybe y'all don't need that, the same way y'all like living in cities?

As for after landing...well, it would be nice to take a look around. I don't want to keep you too long, though: I know you have a schedule to keep, places to be and things to do..."

(He's not actively juggling as many other thoughts this time, plus the effort involved in 'letting Xakda fly the plane without interference' is making the issue more salient.)

" I going to have to pretend I'm not here, so that your co-workers don't think you're delirious?"


How incredibly rude of Minaiyu to make Xakda think about that bridge, which he has valiantly not been thinking about, before he has to cross it!

"I'll have to tell them at some point." Will he? ". . . I probably won't get fired if I seem twitchy, as long as I can do my job. I mostly don't need steady hands" thank wizards, he's assisted a surgeon before and this would have made that job incredibly dicey "I mostly just query patients verbally and do low-stakes noninvasive tests. There is the blood draw component but that only ever lasts a few seconds, I'm really practiced at it, and the worst that will happen if I fuck up and tear a vein is that I get fired, not that the patient dies or gets new permanent issues."


(. . . Your language has words for both 'sanitation' and 'iatrogenic'?









"So I don't think I'll have to tell them today."

. . . That wasn't Minaiyu's question. Xakda cringes internally.

"Sorry, yeah, but I would appreciate it hugely if you would - play really-dead - at first.

. . . Actually, would you rather have a chance to look around in the parking garage - there's almost always a whole big stretch of parking garage where I don't see anyone who knows me and would notice anything weird - or that I run in right away and use my buffer minutes to slip a notice explaining this in my boss's mailbox before my shift? That might cut down on your time having to act like you don't exist later. 100% your call, though."


In the distance, Pyeth sparkles, concrete and steel and glass. It's only a few miles across, small enough that individual five-story buildings still stick awkwardly out of its profile, but even so - the way it's heaped upon itself, high and smooth and circular - is not suggestive of carefree, wind-scattered accumulation, but of gravity. A few roads spiderweb outward. Dozens - hundreds? - of specks cut straight lines through the space above-and-around it, like giant, peculiarly bullheaded wasps.


Only fifteen thousand people and they're still kind of crammed in together. What is it with these people?


...why is it 100% his call when he barely knows anything about this world.

(His memories flicker through a few of the nastier testimonies on record. The Tashayan word for "demon", in the sense of "demonic possession", is loaned from Rezbeki; all three of the people who had lived in Rezbek at one point or another were fervently in agreement that you do not want to end up in Rezbek.)

also it's way too soon to not do things that Xakda would appreciate hugely, they're stuck together and he desperately needs Xakda's goodwill

...although to be fair, while he doesn't know all that much about how the locals think of this, he does have the advantage of having read the textbooks...

"In the medium term I should be able to learn how to not have control of--" your "--the body, so if you think it's best not to tell them--and you know them a lot better than I do--that should get easier with time.

...maybe what we should do with those few minutes is neither of those things, and instead I'll try some of the exercises for that: it can take weeks or months of practice but sometimes it clicks right away. I might end up knocking myself unconscious, but..." he looks a bit dubious " sounds like there aren't a whole lot of critical moments in the course of your duties where me waking up disoriented at exactly the wrong time would be terrible?"


Embarrassing that Xakda could not think of the apparently-right answer himself!

"Sure, makes sense.

After thinking about it, though, I can't see a good-enough reason why I shouldn't slip a note to my boss about you as soon as I do have the opportunity. Unforeseeable awkward events like this are exactly why the mailbox exists."

Pyeth is getting closer.


Xakda wasn't trained for this!

It's...probably overall a good sign that Xakda is merely torn on whether to tell his boss rather than treating it as a firmly bad idea. Probably nobody will try to exorcise him.

(Although Minaiyu does kind of wonder whether the note would be more believable a week from now, when if he were a symptom of delirium the connection between Xakda's brain and soul would have snapped under the strain by then. At least by the same token, if they do end up hospitalised over this it won't be for very long.

But it would still suck to get Xakda hospitalised over this.)



Xakda is an . . . abrupt pilot. He spots the garage, gets it underneath him, sets the wings back into vertical position, and does not waste time dropping.


Boxy concrete buildings with gaping windows, and others faced almost entirely by dark-shining glass and ribbed with steel, rise toward the carplane, reaching full size - crowded, cheerful, reflective, straight, and proud. Minaiyu may notice the names of businesses, if he notices them at all, inscribed or posted above their facades in matter-of-fact, prim little serif script - helpful signposts for those who are looking for signposts, not advertisements to weary the eyes of those who aren't. There is little in the way of unnecessary color and decorative flourish. Pyeth speaks for itself, of course it should speak for itself; if there is anything unusual about this, Pyeth doesn't know so.

. . . Minaiyu may catch a glimpse, from above, of a half-obscured green park, with trees and a pond and a swingset and a REALLY TALL insanely realistic humanoid statue, painted in full stunning color, wearing jeans and a T-shirt and holding a shovel - and is that another REALLY TALL statue, yep, looks like another one!


On the roof of the parking garage, there's a red arrow, pointing to a larger-than-carplane-size gap in the side of the building's third-and-topmost floor. Xakda drops and levels with the gap. More red arrows spiral down toward an entrance in the 2nd floor, offset by a turn around the building. Peering inside and seeing that the inside of the top floor is mainly empty (and with a gray plane descending on him from above), Xakda gooses the turn.

Not only is his body used to the repeated acceleration, no one has ever told him that goosing is a thing, let alone a bad one, before.

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