sesati expats from do you recall when the war was just a game meet another amenta
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"Like some kind of quantum thing?"

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"No. You would think so, but no. We're in the universe next to yours right now and it's not almost yours but with a minor coincidental divergence. I don't think it has native humans at all."

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"Huh... 'next to'?"

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"I don’t really understand how that part works," says Relu. "Just that some worlds are next to others. There’s one that’s not next to yours that is approximately yours with minor divergences, which is where we got our guesses about your Kyubeys. There’s a different and much younger empress there who says so and - isn’t untrustworthy in a lying way specifically as far as I can tell - and I think it’d be hard to trick some people I’ve met, and I think the Kyubeys admit it now."

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"Is she untrustworthy in... some... other way? What happened to Empress Jun Wu in that world?"

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"There never was one. Empress Isabella Swan, also called Gem, has - well, hasn't, I guess - been through a lot of time loops and practiced the attitude of using people that that encourages. She seems to be an alternate version of Cam Swan, who had good reasons for all of his tens of millions of murders, and Imperatrix Isabella Swan, who helped cover up a wrongful imprisonment and had good reasons for detonating China's entire nuclear arsenal to make the planet less habitable - that’s yet another Earth but with different aliens - and her alts' organization makes a habit of sending envoys and claiming to intend to open peaceful relations before abducting people who haven't even interacted with them for supposed criminal prosecutions for how the foreigners act with each other when they don't even realize the supposed envoys are watching on the grounds that it isn't an act of war to abduct them if they should have had different laws in the first place. Gem personally mostly sticks to open conquest but she supports them - materially, with magic and manpower. And Gem is just... there's no guarantee she'll present herself in a way that isn't misleading, she works with notorious mass murderers and an oathbreaker, her wife is specialized in mind control..."

Relu spreads her hands. "It's a lot. The whole template is a lot."

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"Wow," says Xing Tian, wide-eyed.

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Relu looks kind of amusedly skeptical of this response before getting back into monologuing gravely.

"The thing limiting her conquest is that some kinds of magic only work in a particular world and the worlds that border it - different worlds for different types. Her wish-granter is that kind of magic - it only grants wishes in her 'neighborhood' - but the wishes stay granted if you leave. So, wish for someone to be able to teleport and that person can still teleport, but you can't take the wish-granter and grant new wishes just anywhere. That's sort of similar to the magic that was involved in designing the happiness device - it's a type of thing that can only be invented by magic in a specific group of worlds, but if you invent one, it can be copied a trillion times by robots in a factory. We're interested in selling the plans for it, but let me actually back up and explain what we really want."

She folds her hands in front of her and leans in a little.

"We want the ability to grant the wishes of any of our people who want things strongly enough, any time we want, forever. In Gem's world, the wish-granter actually could do that and the Kyubeys told a lie that it was only girls. But evidence from alternate worlds is weird, so it's... maybe not definitely true that the Kyubeys are lying here... but my instinct is that they are. We're certainly not going to blame the Empress if it doesn't turn out that way. We don't even know enough about the empress's dealings with the Kyubeys to know if it's hers to offer us in the first place; either way, we don't actually mind your people continuing to have access to it. Depending on how much it's being used now, and whether we can get it more efficient with something like time dilation, we might be able to get all the wishes we want without decreasing the number of wishes your people get at all, or even while increasing it. But who knows."

She sighs.

"The Kyubeys would make the trade and that's one reason we brought it up but - not being sure who owned the wish-granter, we decided to go to the Empress instead, because - she's human and we have nothing against her, and if she refers us to the Kyubeys or wants to team up with us to get the wish-granter and split custody, that's fine. If she has it, we're not interested in even tempting the Kyubeys to steal it back. We don't want her to lose out. And, look, the reason we're not instantly sharing the plans for the happiness device is mostly the worry that if we do that, the Kyubeys will learn how it's made and not want to trade, and we need to trade with them because they don't really do... goodwill, or kindness, or fairness, they just kind of pretend. Supposedly they don't actually have any emotions, themselves. I'm not really sure why they do anything without them and it'd be good if your people want to help us double-check the stuff we heard from the Peal - that's Gem and her alts and their friends the mass murderers and oathbreaker - but I really do think this is probably accurate. Anyway."

She stretches slightly and shifts and taps a foot.

"The other reason we're offering is because we want to give you - your planet, all your magical girls - the device. We want you all to have infinite magic. We just can't hand it to the Kyubeys for free. So the thing we're offering here? It doesn't cost us anything. We're offering it in exchange for somehow bringing about circumstances where it won't make us worse off to give it to you. We're flexible. We want you to have infinite magic, we want us to have infinite magic, we don't want Earth to be destroyed by the Kyubeys harvesting despair - actually, I can break down us wanting infinite magic a little farther. We left our home because of the Peal. We just got on spaceships and left, and we can't ever go back unless we're powerful enough to be safe, and everyone who wanted to take their chances back home is still there or maybe not still there. So if the Empress wants to make some kind of counter-offer, or explain something, we're interested."

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"Wow. That's a lot," says Xing Tian, breaking eye contact to look at Katme. "Organizing my thoughts out loud just a little bit... doesn't having infinite magic sound a little dangerous? It sounds like that's the same kind of thing you just ran away from."

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"It is literally the thing we just ran away from. And we're not taking it away from Gem and her people, we're not even trying to, even though they - they don't just hate us as people, they hate honor, they hate families and the idea of people sharing their powers with their communities instead of staying in Gem's orbit. We're not in the business of telling people, 'well, I don't really care that you'll someday turn into a despair monster, I want you to be small and afraid.' But yes, it does sound dangerous."

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"But you think you might get along better with our Empress and be able to share the wish thing?"

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"Probably. You don't think so?"

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"I don't know if I've ever heard of two great powers sharing something so important before. Even if it started working, wouldn't it be very dangerous to let your interests diverge?"

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"Probably. I'm sure there'll need to be a treaty and I expect everyone will want to use lie-detection about it. I think it will help that we don't care very much about Earth - if the Empress wants to run things differently than how we run things on our ships, we're not going to start a fight about that. And I doubt she could have held power for so long without being wise and careful, and if she wants to expand beyond Earth there's Mars right there. And at some point I expect Vanda Nossëo's scouts will probably show up, and they'll make demands about how the Empress is allowed to choose people to grant wishes to, and if she can't share with us then she probably can't share with them."

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"Do you know what rules they will make demands about?"

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"I don't know because they don't follow some kind of internal logic that makes sense to me - they object to adults they haven't vetted getting the ability to conjure arbitrary material objects, but not to just any random people giving that ability to their unborn children that they raise wherever and however they please, for instance - and even whatever their policies are, they... they don't seem to lie about them on purpose, but you know how it would be annoying and like a lie to say, 'oh, you walked here, why didn't you take a plane?' if there was no airport and you knew it?"

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"So I can guess, but my guesses aren't going to be great - they won't want anyone to be able to teleport if that person has ever done violence of any kind including in self-defense - instead of self-defense you're supposed to let the Peal defend you if they so choose. They're willing to very graciously make exceptions if, say, it would be a convenient way to destabilize a regime they don't like and you can convince them you've left your horrible barbarian past behind, but doing violence in self-defense is terribly objectionable. They also want... the fact of their own vetting, I think? Just on principle and for the ability to cut you off later, I think they don't really feel comfortable unless they have absolute power over every world they know about. Uh, and not all of it is that stupid - there are these people who keep taking prisoners, torturing their prisoners, staging fake escapes complete with having actors and illusions to make them think they've made it all the way home and are talking to their family, and then torturing them some more, and rewarding the prisoners if they get so jaded that they skip straight to assuming it's a trick and doing something that would really suck if it weren't a trick, like murdering their families, and then eventually releasing a few of them. This has come up several times and they don't want anyone to give any magic to anyone who's done that or to alternate universe versions of anyone who's done that, but I would be pretty surprised if that turned out to be a sticking point."

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"That's come up several times? Why in the world?"

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"I know, right? It's like how there's more than one Earth, there are a few copies of this one planet called Arda and they've all got copies of this one guy named Melkor who's really into that and Melkor always hires this guy named Sauron to help. Also Melkor is a god, so that was a real problem before the Peal was powerful enough to murder gods."

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"Well, I don't think the Empress will want to let anyone like that teleport for sure."

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"You can wish them dead. I don't know the exact wording that's worked in the past and they got someone personally affected to make the wish. Even if everything falls apart between us, I hope you make sure the Empress knows that."

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Xing Tian writes it down very seriously.

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"The basic principle by which the happiness device works was developed on an Arda - probably on most of the Ardas, actually. That's not particularly relevant to anything but I'm trying to give you more rather than less information."

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"Yes, thank you, I don't know which things will matter but anything might."

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