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Post last updated: Aug 14, 2017 11:05 PM
imperial permissions
okay by comparison Voa and Tapa look like thriving modern democracies
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There are a lot of Amentan countries. Vanda Nossëo representatives are dispatched to all of them. These Elves (two with black hair, one with silver) take a shuttle down from the lightleaper to a country called Calado, and radio ahead to request permission to land at a elegant modern spaceport.

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They get permission. Then it's rescinded. Then they are supposed to submit a statement of their intentions before they can have permission.

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Uh, okay. They are here to introduce themselves to the Calador government, establish lines of communication, make material available about intergalactic consortiums and how to become a member of one, and offer emergency aid if required, particularly if required in relation to the food crisis.

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They should come to this one location over here. They should come to the capital. They should go away.

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...well there are three of them, would it work if one went away and one went to each of those locations?

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No. Sure! Absolutely not. Wait come meet this senator in the Free State of Oahk instead.

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The Free State of Oahk is getting their own emissaries. Is this, like, a bad time, should they come back later.

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They should go away and not come back! They should stay. They can still meet a Calador senator in Oahk can't they?

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...it would be kind of hard to explain to their superiors why they did that instead of meeting the Calador senate in Calado.

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Because the senator asked them to?

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How many senators are there?

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Three hundred. This one is on vacation. He is definitely the one they should be talking to.

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...if they sent three hundred people, one to talk to each senator, would that solve this, uh, complicated problem.

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Nope they should definitely not do that.

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Okay. They will try again in a week.

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No!!!

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They are hoping that in a week whatever disaster is currently impeding ordinary coordination will be resolved and they can receive clearer instructions.

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Someone nips up and scoops their shuttle out of the sky and tows it down.

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Three mildly annoyed Elves write home to notify their superiors that Calado seems to have principled concerns about centralized power. Or something.

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They are escorted out of their shuttle by some greys!

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"Uh, hello."

"I don't think you're really supposed to do that?"

"We could have gotten hurt."

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"Orders," says one of the greys. They are patted down for weapons.

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They're unarmed. "You mean that you're not the person we should take that up with? Who is the person we should take that up with?"

"Why are you touching us?"

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"Checking to see if you've got anything on you before we take you to the senator."

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"...okay."

"Does Calado usually have someone in charge who is currently indisposed or ill or something?"

"I said I think it's a principled objection to centralized power."

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"...there's just senators," says a grey.

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"I'm sure it's a lovely place to live."

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"Eh."

"Weather's nice."

"This way."

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Elves follow.

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Senator! "I apologize for the abrupt escort," she smiles.

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"That was not a very good idea, someone could have been hurt. It's nice to meet you all the same. I'm Mólie."

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"Datna. Were the greys not careful with you?"

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"I mean if you'd been mistaken about how our shuttle was constructed, or about how fragile our species is. Our escort was very friendly."

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"I'm glad to hear it. So what is your interest in Calado?"

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"The interstellar consortium we represent is making contact with every Amentan government to offer food aid, discuss the criteria for membership in our consortium, and set up lines of communication."

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"What form of food aid?"

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"Apparently there was recently a crisis. We'd be happy to provide food and assist with distribution if Calado's citizens are suffering as a result of that crisis."

      "If Calado's citizens are just going hungry more generally, for structural reasons rather than situational ones, we can help with that too but it requires more care to make sure we're not disrupting the local markets and so on."

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"The food markets are functioning fine. We didn't import much from Voa but of course the price of everything's gone up. I can get you someone to talk to in the industry if that's what you need."

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"I think the decision we had reached was to depart for a week and learn more to try to approach Calado in a manner more in keeping with its distaste for centralized authority."

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"Not sure what you mean by that."

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"We were getting contradictory explanations of where to go and who to talk to. We decided that we should leave and come back when we better understood how your government works. This assessment was not changed by our shuttle being dragged out of the sky."

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"How were you planning to learn about it?"

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"Perhaps some of our colleagues in other countries have met some locals who could provide insight and advice."

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"That doesn't seem very charitable, hearing about us secondhand."

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"We did try to come here first."

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"And I invited you down and you said you weren't coming after all."

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"We received a lot of contradictory communications, including some requests to leave."

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"Well, now you're here."

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"With all due respect, it seems uniquely unwise to have our point of communications with Calado be the person within Calado who was willing to attack our shuttle."

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"They didn't hurt you."

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"I don't think they even damaged the shuttle; it's still flyable. It has been nice meeting you."

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"You said you'd be happy to help," says Datna lightly.

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"We're very much looking forward to the opportunity, once we have a little more information."

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"I can answer your questions."

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"May we speak to the other two hundred and ninety nine senators?"

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"You've already noticed what happens if you try to talk to them all at once."

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"May we walk around in Calado and meet people?"

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"With an escort."

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"Whatever for?"

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"Protection."

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"Oh, we're not very concerned about that and we're very concerned an escort might impede seeing things we'd want to see or meeting people we'd consider it important to talk to."

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"Nonetheless."

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"Why don't we head back to our ship, consult with our superiors, and let you know tomorrow whether it seems appropriate to take you up on that."

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"That doesn't sound like the best plan."

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"Oh?"

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"I think you should explain what you came here to explain about your consortium and so on. I can pass it on to the rest of the senators as appropriate."

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The Elves look at each other. 

"I'm sorry, but I don't think we can do that."

"That means 'no'," says one of the others, helpfully. "Not 'talk us into it'. No thank you, we're going to head out now."

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"I don't think so," she says.

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...Elves look at each other.

 

Elves turn and walk towards the door.

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There are greys there.

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Elves attempt to walk past them.

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Greys close ranks.

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"We're leaving," Mólië says. "It was lovely meeting you. Please move."

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"Nope," says a grey.

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"- look, when this comes to the attention of our superiors they're going to be pretty upset, they might arrest involved parties for kidnapping, that would be a little ridiculous."

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"Your superiors aren't authorized to make arrests in Calado."

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An Elf pulls a notepad and pen out of her bag and starts writing something in pretty, loopy Quenya.

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Datna raises an eyebrow and doesn't try to stop her.

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After a few minutes she puts the notepad away. 

 

Elves start singing.

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"..that's very nice but perhaps we could get to the point."

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"We're not going to give you more information because you threatened us," one of the Elves says. 

"That'd be terrible incentives, wow."

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"I have no intention of harming you."

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"Oh, good."

 

Singing.

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"But perhaps you would care to explain who sent you."

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They apparently do not care to.

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Datna persists in asking.

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Datna is ignored. 

 

After about half an hour there is a pop and another Elf is standing there. Golden-haired. 

"Your grace," says Mólie.

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"Can you not. And do you want a ride home?"

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"That sounds lovely."

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"- how did you -"

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"I teleported. Was there some kind of misunderstanding you want to straighten out."

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"They said they wanted to help with food and explain where they came from and I was trying to make that happen."

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"Ah huh. You've been here longer," he says to the Elves, "but what I'm inclined to do is file a strongly worded complaint with their government, demanding extradition -"

      "This is their government. They haven't got a - more governing - government."

"Which is sort of admirable in a way but not if you use it to kidnap people. Demanding extradition of just these people in the room or was anyone else involved -"

     "We didn't see anyone else."

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Datna grinds her teeth slightly.

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He waits a little in case she wants to apologize or something.

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Instead she wants to name another senator as a conspirator.

A grey says, "Um."

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"Yes?"

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"What's going on?"

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He makes a face. "There are aliens. There are lots of aliens. Trillions and trillions of them, in fact. There's - you know I don't actually do this for a living, Mólië -"

               "There is an intergalactic consortium called Vanda Nossëo, of which our nation is a member, which does humanitarian work and mutual aid and defense pacts and things like that, among the species of the universe. We have more than four hundred member planets. We are here to explain all of this and more to Calado, but not to the first person in Calado to kidnap us, that seems like it makes sure the information ends up in the worst possible hands. When you kidnapped us my colleague requested extraction. I - guess his grace was free and wanted to stop by personally -"

"I said not to bother with titles -"

              "I can't just call you your name, my lord!"

"Sure you can."

             "Tyelcormo decided to stop by personally to take us home. And it's very bad form to kidnap people so we need to make it clear to everyone in Calado that even if you don't have laws or whatever, you can't kidnap the citizens and subjects of Vanda Nossëo nations. It won't work and you'll always get in trouble for it. ...Tyelcormo is waiting around in case anyone wants to apologize for kidnapping us - or mention co-conspirators, I guess - or give us information that we'd need about how to handle the situation. Like, I don't know, if sending that letter would spark a civil war or get innocent people killed somehow it'd be appropriate to inform us of that. ...uh, we have lie detection, it's playing right now quieter than your hearing."

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"...playing?" says another grey.

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"I think the details of how it works should probably be among the things we do not tell the kidnappers. Though if someone wants to test it by making a buncha claims, some true and some not, that'd be fine."

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"- what kind of trouble are we in?" asks the first grey.

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"Does Calado in fact not have laws." 

       "I think they might have, like, 'do what important people say' as a law, at least in practice?"

"That's terrible."

       "We shouldn't be judgmental of other cultures."

"No, that's just terrible. Uh, the courts take into account what sentencing is considered appropriate for the species - I assume there are some countries here where kidnapping is against the law -"

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"...it wasn't obviously a kidnapping. To us," says a grey. "Somebody says go get a ship that seems plausibly something else."

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"Yeah she's going to be in more trouble than you," he says, nodding at the senator. "By a lot. What else could it have been exactly."

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"- invasion, spies, arrest -"

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Sigh. "So then they'll probably just make you take the class on illegal orders and maybe encourage you to move somewhere that has laws and lawful procedures."

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"...we can't move, nobody'll swap into Calado."

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 "So, I seriously don't do diplomacy - I breed and fly giant winged firebreathing lizards, that is how much I don't do diplomacy - but there are like two hundred forty Vanda Nossëo member states that accept immigrants and if you'd want to leave you could just make friends in illegal orders class and then go home with them."

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"...okay."

"What about our families -"

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"They can come too? By 'no one will swap into Calado' am I to take it that the other countries on this planet suck less?"

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"...haven't really traveled..."

"We've got a bad reputation but I assume everyone's got problems up close and we just don't have good - PR -"

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Nod. "Okay. Well. Our courts don't want to ruin anyone's life. People need to know that you will regret trying to kidnap and coerce our citizens, but they will take into account that you could not, actually, have known that, and you didn't hurt anyone, so you're almost certainly not going to go to jail. Not talking to you," he adds to the senator, offhandedly. "If you need to reach us for some reason you can write things on any of the pieces of paper on this notepad and we'll see them, okay?" He takes the notepad from one of the other Elves. It has a line of pretty Quenya at the top. He hands it to a grey.

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...grey takes it.

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Elves disappear.

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...well then.

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Meanwhile a different group of three Elves request permission to land in Yvalta.

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Where in Yvalta would they like to land?

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Spaceport, but they plan to make an announcement to the media in a public location and would prefer somewhere where they won't be impeded in reaching one.

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The spaceport is the province of House Ylanta, which would be pleased to welcome them.

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And not impede them talking to everybody? They really do not want to be impeded in that.

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They can go on public television if they like.

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It'll do. They land.

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They are welcomed by solicitous purples who want to know if they need anything and guarded by outward-facing greys and greeted by a blue.

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They're just here to make the announcement and then answer questions! 

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Well, there is a journalism team ready for them over there!

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"Hello! We're citizens of Ambaróna, which is a member nation of a galactic consortium called Vanda Nossëo. The universe has trillions of aliens, and we make contact with alien species based on who is the highest humanitarian priority and who has the best prospects of becoming a new member state. Membership in Vanda Nossëo confers economic and trade benefits, comes with guaranteed security against invasion or violent overthrow, and comes with limited access to some resources that are expensive even by the standards of advanced societies, like terraformed planets, immortality, resurrections, and teleportation.

We're going to present to your government the specific criteria for membership in Vanda Nossëo. But your government can't decide to make you a member state without a free, fair vote of the whole population, one vote per person old enough to write a ballot. So if they decide to go ahead, we'll be publishing information online about what this will mean for you and answering any questions you need answered in order to cast your vote with confidence. 

We're also offering aid to help with short term food and health crises, and we will look into the most tenable prospects for longer-term aid.

We want you to have free and unfiltered communications with us while we learn about your world and open normal diplomatic relations. Towards that end, we are employing a special technology of ours that allows us to get copies of any written messages addressed to us. To write us a message, please write 'Yvalta open channel' at the top of a piece of paper, and then write your message. We'll have a team reviewing these messages and taking them into consideration in making our policy recommendations. Vanda Nossëo member states all have absolute freedom of speech - you can never get in trouble for something you say - and the messages will be fully confidential and not disclosed to anyone here on Amenta without your permission. 

We're making this announcement in every country and in every language, and we were assured that this will reach everyone in Yvalta. If you know of a better way for us to reach anyone in Yvalta who might not get the whole unfiltered message this way, please write 'Yvalta open channel' at the top of a piece of paper and then write your note to us.

Questions?"

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Messages start coming in.

- They don't mean reds, do they?

- Does membership involve freedom of movement?

- What are people without paper supposed to do?

- Reds can't vote, they know that, right?

- Food would be appreciated here and there and that other place.

- What are the preconditions for resurrections?

- What are their population controls like?

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Every person old enough to fill out a ballot gets a vote in votes related to consortium membership.

Membership comes with freedom of movement for purposes of travel and work. Many member states take unlimited immigrants from any other member state, and some of the rest take immigrants with an annual cap. Member states that take immigrants get more limited resources like terraforming and immortality and resurrections. 

You can type it, too. 

Every person old enough to fill out a ballot gets a vote in votes related to consortium membership. 

Food will be delivered to those locations. 

Resurrections are available only to Vanda Nossëo member states. Within those, they're distributed based on a variety of factors and a typical member the size of Yvalta would get a thousand per Amentan year. Persons who are killed unlawfully by a citizen or subject of a Vanda Nossëo member state get resurrected at that citizen's expense, so if any Elf killed a Yvaltan the Yvaltan would get resurrected. 

Most Vanda Nossëo member states do not practice population controls of any kind. In some it's illegal to have children without demonstrating possession of adequate means to care for the child and lots restrict forking. 

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- What's forking?

- No, seriously, reds can't vote. They're not people, do the aliens understand that part? They look like it but they're not.

- Thanks for the food!

- Reds can't have freedom of movement either.

- What if the citizen can't afford it? How expensive is it?

- Why don't they practice population control? That's irresponsible.

- Do they ever take immigrants from non member states?

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Forking is getting a copy of yourself made. This Elf did it, four times, because there were lots of things she wanted to do with her life and she lives somewhere where that's allowed. 

If the reds are unable to fill out their ballots because of not being intelligent enough then those ballots presumably won't get filled out. Only ballots that are filled out will be counted.

Everyone gets freedom of movement. They can offer reds a generous contract where the reds stay in their district in exchange for payments, that's legal. There's one place where the aliens don't want to touch people of a different gender than them and this was allowed after aliens of all relevant genders were bribed into voting in favor.

Resurrections run fairly outrageous prices right now because they're so rare. You can get a payment plan if you don't have that much, or purchase insurance in advance that'll cover accidents. The insurance doesn't cover murder but if you're worried about being bankrupted you should just not commit murder.

Some species don't need population control because their birth rates are right about replacement and Elves don't because their children take a hundred twenty local years to grow up so their growth rate is glacial even though birth rates are reasonably high and some species rarely prefer to have children at all once they invent birth control and some species just have tons of space on their planet or planets and centuries before they will need to worry about that, by which time terraforming will have gotten cheaper.

There are countries that take immigrants from non member states. They're rarer but there are still hundreds. The recommended method is to buy yourself fluency in the language - they have a means of making people fluent in all known languages, it's available for sale or as a membership perk - and then go there for tourism and get some people to vouch for you and convert your visa. Amentans might be a good culture fit with orcs, who also like babies a lot and who have dozens of planets, or Mïr and its protectorates, some of which take non-member immigrants and which have extremely powerful technology that makes everyone there immortal and resurrections there free of charge. Elves take non-member immigrants who are a good cultural fit for Elven societies. They're not sure yet if that describes Amentans.

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- Reds are smart enough to mark ballots they're just not people.

- What if a red did not take the payments and went around befouling the entire universe, it doesn't bear thinking about, if they won't prevent that then they definitely won't be allowed to grant "everyone" in Yvalta freedom of movement and all the actual people will suffer for it.

- How will all this interact with service contracts to Houses?

- How expensive is the language thing?

- What's Mîr? Why don't they share their extremely powerful technology?

- What constitutes a good culture fit for Elves?

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Anyone smart enough to mark a ballot gets a vote. 

They will consult Yvaltan reds about their willingness to sign such a contract and if there's not universal support talk with them about proposed alternative solutions that do not distress everyone.

The aliens are unfamiliar with service contracts to Houses except insofar as they were explained online, which was not fully informative. Among the criteria for Vanda Nossëo membership is good labor rights, it's possible that some contracts will need to be renegotiated to be in compliance should Yvalta seek membership, in particular if they were signed while a party was underage, if there was coercion, if they are not readable to all parties, if they involve punishing terms for breaking the contract, or if their dispute resolution mechanisms don't meet galactic standards.

The language thing is often traded for political reforms short of membership in countries not willing to seek membership. If an agreement like that isn't reached it's expensive but you could get it in exchange for ten percent of a year's future earnings in the place you immigrate to.

Mîr is an empire closely allied with Vanda Nossëo and there are constraints on the reach of their powerful technology but they add new protectorates every month.

Elven societies are extraordinarily high-trust and the people best suited for them have good impulse control, are law-abiding and good neighbors, and make decisions with a lot of consideration for long-term consequences. Elves have a monarchy they're very fond of, which rules mostly through the free cooperation of its citizens. People who think that would suit them can apply by writing their open channel.

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- Reds aren't "anyone" though.

- What counts as coercion? What counts as punishing terms? What are their standards for dispute resolution?

- What would happen if a House seceded from Yvalta, either to pursue membership on its own or to avoid it?

- Political reforms like what? Do they just drop it on everyone in cooperating countries?

- Elves are one of the ones with no population control, right?

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Everything that walks and talks will get a ballot and if the ballot is filled out it will be counted. 

Those sound like details to discuss in talks with Yvalta's government. There are lots of intergalactic corporations with detailed arbitration systems, some of which might be to the liking of Yvalta's workers and Houses.

A new Vanda Nossëo member state would be protected by Vanda Nossëo against retaliation for having seceded from the rest of the country, with as much force as necessary. ...Vanda Nossëo does not lose wars. Recently an enemy put out some stars with inhabited planets in a war and Vanda Nossëo destroyed the enemy, put those planets in orbit around a suitable new star, and resurrected everyone killed in the panic this caused. In the space of twenty minutes. Lots of people join for the defense agreement. Secession to avoid membership could be negotiated in upcoming talks.

Political reforms like improvements to House contracts, maybe, or to the criminal justice system, or to the child credits system. They'd then be able to give it to everyone, yes.

Elves have no population controls.

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- But not reds. They have to have some way to make exceptions.

- How big does a would-be member state have to be?

- Did the people miss their old stars?

- Negotiated in upcoming talks against what background assumptions though.

- What are they thinking they'd approve about the contracts?

- Yvalta does permissions, not credits.

- What's wrong with their criminal justice system?

- The following several thousand people wonder if perhaps they would be good enough neighbors for Elves.

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There is deliberately not a way to make exceptions because if there were, a planet this Elf recently visited would have wanted an exception so women couldn't vote and this one an exception so slaves couldn't vote and this one an exception so homosexuals couldn't vote and this one an exception so members of this hated religion couldn't vote and all of them would have been wrong so you can't have exceptions.

If there were less than a million people for a would-be member state they might encourage them to try becoming a protectorate of an existing one instead. 

Some of them did! Some of them were pleased to have thereby jumped the line on alien prioritization. Some of them are suing Vanda Nossëo for not having executed that enemy much sooner when they suspected he might be a problem. 

Background assumption is that a non-coerced contract is one made where both sides have a tolerable alternative available to them, are fully informed, and are of age and educated in how to read a contract. In addition it's usually not legal to make contracts that are enforceable by demanding specific performance for more than a year or two and it's typically not legal to make contracts with nonmonetary penalties. 

The aliens are concerned their criminal justice system might be biased. Maybe against the reds, who they keep getting told are not people. 

Uh, people who want to live with Elves should specify why specifically Elves and not one of the other societies that take immigrants, and Elf immigration authorities will read their petitions and get back to them shortly.

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- But those exceptions are stupid, maybe except the religion one if it was a really dumb religion, and the red exception is not stupid.

- What is the meaning of "tolerable" here? House contracts mostly last much longer than that.

- Reds don't interact with the justice system.

- They've heard of them and have a way to apply now and not "shortly". Also pretty. And their society sounds soothing.

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None of those people thought their exceptions were stupid. No one ever does. There are no exceptions. 

Uh, there should be another way to not starve and have kids. That is a concerning but not disqualifying fact about House contracts. 

...what happens if someone commits a crime against a red, or if a red commits a crime?

Elf immigration officials are reading their applications. Submitting a way for them to contact you with followup questions is a good idea.

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- Does being able to pick a different House count?

- There aren't any crimes against reds and if reds commit crimes the cops take care of them without bothering a judge.

- Does email count?

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...depends whether they collude or anything.

...so it's legal to torture and murder reds?

Email counts.

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- People are unsure how much they do that.

- ...it's not illegal. You could get got for disruption of services or pollution violations if you were careless though.

- Here are some emails.

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"...that's horrifying," says an Elf at the reds answer. 

        "What do you even have a society for if it's not illegal to murder innocent people?"

"I think maybe Amentans aren't suited to live with Elves if they don't think torture and murder should be illegal."

        "They probably don't all think that. We've said how we do the voting so probably the ones who want to live with us are ones who are all right with the fact Elves think that's horrifying."

"...maybe."

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- Also there aren't even any reds on Elf planets, right?

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No, but if they want to immigrate they will be allowed to and torturing and murdering them will not be allowed.

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- the no torturing and murdering them is one thing but Elves can't just make the entire universe uninhabitable, that would be an atrocity.

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Elves are very eager to find an arrangement that keeps everybody comfortable, but this will probably require some concessions on the part of non-red Amentans, like letting them vote and paying them adequate hazard pay for their contaminating work and treating them as people. They are after all asking red Amentans to make the extraordinary concession of not travelling freely or emigrating, ever, despite the existence of abundant societies that would treat them better. 

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- Is that a threat.

- Are they trying to extort Amenta into doing stuff they want or else the universe gets made uninhabitable forever.

- That's evil, the aliens are evil, aaaaaaaah.

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By Elven standards it is not a threat to say you won't prevent someone else from exercising their legal rights even if it will make other people sad if they do.

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- But the reds don't have those legal rights because like hell is anybody going to vote to be a member state if they have to let them run amok.

Permalink Mark Unread

Maybe all the reds can leave and go live some place that doesn't hate them, and then member state votes can happen with that out of the equation?

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- Will the somewhere else let them CONTAMINATE THE WHOLE UNIVERSE.

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They are sure something can be worked out that is better for everyone than having reds here where it is legal to torture and murder them. Maybe everyone except people who like to torture and murder them, those people are going to be shit out of luck because something is deeply wrong with this species.

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They get a bunch of very impassioned essays against contaminating the universe.

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...they can let every planet vote whether it wants to be a planet for reds or for clean Amentans, and then have thorough magic decontamination for interplanet shuttle services? That good enough?

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...Amentans are not sure they are qualified to come up with magic decontamination, they don't seem to understand.

Permalink Mark Unread

Okay, Amentan-approved decontamination shuttles?

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Which Amentans. Since they seem to be under the delusion that reds are people.

Permalink Mark Unread

Reds seem like they would not be credible authorities on the adequacy of shuttle decontamination. They would pick Amentans who all the Amentans would trust on the subject.

Permalink Mark Unread

...fine.

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh good. Also if Amentans join Vanda Nossëo they can get their very own colony planets made for them from scratch and those will be the least polluted planets imaginable because they'll have been made fresh. Amentans will not end up trapped on this one world.

Permalink Mark Unread

Ooh.

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Yeah! Colony planets are usually a bonus for twenty years of membership but these Elves think maybe with Amenta it will work better to give any new member a colony planet up front. Since it's going to require big changes to get membership and the bribe should be commensurate.

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh, are they generally a bribe-based system? (Twenty of whose years, wow.)

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...speaking really loosely? The benefits from signing up are outlandish because they want to incentivize everybody to sign up. You can't, like, bribe a regulatory committee to look the other way or bribe a judge or something, if you could do that then the laws wouldn't be nearly as effective.

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A House writes in that this is private please it would like to guarantee itself entry but would appreciate some security if it looks like the rest of Yvalta is going the other way.

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They email to ask where security can conveniently be accommodated.

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Kind of depends on what form security takes?

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Security will be a person with relevant abilities.

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One person could come to the southwest entrance of this house at a time.

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At that time there is a woman who could pass for Amentan. Purple hair and everything.

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The blue who goes to the door is a little confused about that part.

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"Hi! Should it be a different color, they said purple was the most commonly occurring and I know grey is the one for 'will fight a war' but this is sort of on the down-low, right? I'm Mereth, pleasure to meet you."

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"I was all ready for you to look like an alien but purple is fine. Soyok."

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"I'm human, we look mostly Amentan. This place is pretty."

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"Thank you. Come in."

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In she goes!

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"I have a guest room for you made up over here."

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"Thank you!" 

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He shows her to it. It's nice.

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She sits down happily. "Does anybody need reassurance that y'all are safe - or magic healing, for that matter, I also have magic healing and could do that -"

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"I haven't told anybody we're seceding. We won't have to if the rest of the Houses join up. But if they don't they might be annoyed. I've got about a million and a half people, that cleared the threshold mentioned on TV. I'm not aware of any acute medical issues right now."

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"Good for you. It's a good deal and, like, they'll remember who was on top of making it happen."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Who will, Vanda Nossëo?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What results does that have?"

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"More cool stuff? Like, a lot of the cool stuff really goes out on a trust basis. The things for which there's consistent overwhelming demand, there are rules about how to distribute it. But, like, who gets to be the site of a trial of giving everyone some cool new magic, who gets to be the first portal hub once portals are stable and scalable, all of that is 'who is competent enough to use this well and cares about their people enough to use it for them?'."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh."

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"Is that not how things work in most places? My classes on alien governments mostly covered the other member states - and not even all of them, there are too many..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Things sometimes sort of go on a trust basis internally but I think our 'internally' is smaller."

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Nod. "I'm from Luster, which is a Mîr protectorate - Mîr runs really hard on trust because of how their power source works."

Permalink Mark Unread

"- so you're not even from Vanda Nossëo?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...Luster is also a Vanda Nossëo member state. Usually you aren't both but - uh, how much of a political overview do you actually want."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Some?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are lots of Elf planets. They all sign up for Vanda Nossëo the minute they hear about it, and this is convenient for everyone because Elves are a very trustworthy reliable species and they don't have to be bribed to do what Vanda Nossëo does because it's by design exactly the thing they most want to be doing - Elves are lower psychological variance, too, when I say it's exactly what they want to be doing I mean way more of them than you could get humans agreed on any particular goal. Luster's an Elf planet. It has humans, too, but the Elves rule us.

It's in range of Mîr, and everyone in range of Mîr is a protectorate with more or less independence because Mîr's powers are just really really thorough that way, and an Elf princess of ours is married to the Empress of Mîr, and that was working okay for everyone, and then Luster made contact with Vanda Nossëo and said 'do you mind' and Mîr said 'that looks right up your alley, go have fun' and we got expedited membership 'cuz Elves."

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"...range?"

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"It's complicated. You are way out of range."

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"...okay."

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"Some worlds are adjacent to one another in a way that doesn't have to do with physical distance, and some kinds of power are adjacency-constrained. This - region for adjacency purposes, some people use 'universe' for a region for adjacency purposes and 'multiverse' for the whole thing - is seven jumps from Luster and eight from Mîr. I'm not a, uh, I don't even know if physicists know more than that, but I definitely don't."

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"That explains the Mîr thing I guess."

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"Uh huh. I got my powers from Mîr but I work for Vanda Nossëo, doing internal security stuff."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So what are you going to do exactly if a few neighboring Houses march their security in here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Turn their weapons into modelling clay and put them back where they came from with little sticky notes saying 'please don't try that again'. One time I did 'please don't try that again, they take it out of my bonus if I have to actually hurt anyone' but I got scolded for being threatening."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...uh-huh."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can demonstrate if that'd be reassuring. And anyone doesn't mind their weapons being modelling clay."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why modelling clay?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It happens to be particularly easy with the powers I've got, it communicates 'this totally does not need to get violent but if it does you lose' pretty clearly without being all that threatening..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What other powers do you have?"

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"I've got the standard Mîr suite - healing, minor transmutation, illusions and stuff, I can conjure my weapon, I can change my outfit and appearance around at will - and then I've got the specific thing I wished on, which is that when I'm in a dangerous situation I can suddenly speed up like a thousandfold compared to the rest of the world and I can turn anything I can see into modelling clay and I can move it around. - I was in a car accident. I was trapped and it was horrible. Mîr magic runs on really strong emotions - after I got out I was having nightmares about it and I went through the application for a wish."

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"...huh."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If your House neighbors are likely to launch a missile at us and you haven't got missile-tracking of some kind then you need a precog but for anything short of that you're safe enough."

Permalink Mark Unread

"A precog. Wow. - I was kind of expecting to have to prove somehow that I didn't set this up as some kind of plot."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you want to prove that? Vanda Nossëo kind of runs on - well, they underplay their firepower a bit, right, and if people decide to try to betray them or take them hostage or manipulate them or whatever, the information is more than worth the inconvenience. We try to be not worth plotting against a lot harder than we try to catch plots."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...they underplay their firepower?"

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"Oh yeah."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Damn. All right. I'm not plotting anything, this is just the sort of thing that would've looked like a plot to - the sort of person I'm used to."

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"Scarcity," she says. "And mortality. People are way better to each other when they know that no matter what nothing really bad can actually happen. Like - you can't die now, you understand that? And your kids can't die, and your grandkids, and anyone else you care about - if something happens in the course of getting membership, when we have guaranteed you security, we will put them right back whether you can afford a resurrection or not. Everyone's gonna be safe. And once people get used to that, then they can go 'oh. okay, what else do I care about? And often enough they care about - passing it on, making more people safe. Or making their country prosperous and happy and thriving and a place that people are desperate to immigrate to, or learning things, or inventing them - all this thought and energy and effort that was getting spent on zero-sum games..."

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"Population controls are - really bad for us."

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"Oh?"

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"They're better than constantly slaughtering each other to take each other's land. But they're bad."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Because of the zero-sum games thing?"

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"And they just mean - everybody's feeling horrible a lot of the time. Even if you have fifteen kids you can't arrange for them all to have fifteen kids, nobody can sustain that, so then you have sad kids."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think Amentans want kids more than pretty much anyone."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We always expected aliens would be the same way. Evolution."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Luster humans hadn't even invented birth control yet when Mîr came to say hi. With it people average, like, two. Orcs are like you but they're not evolved, this asshole designed them that way so he'd have more slaves. Some species don't have high investment in their offspring and don't actually care whether they have any - Yeerks literally disintegrate to make their kids and I think are happy enough to not do that -"

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"...wow. Why do they ever, then -"

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"...I think until recently they didn't really get a choice about it, if their superiors said 'I want a million more Yeerks' then, well, you're dead either way, right? But also I guess some are suicidal? Or really want kids of theirs to exist even if they won't get to see them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh."

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"That's not the sense in which Amentans want kids?"

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"I mean, once you have one, you'd die to save them, if you had to, but you wouldn't die to have them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Makes sense. Well, luckily for you all most places don't want kids as much as you and if you end up chewing through disproportionately many colony planets that'll be fine. It's too bad you're not near Mîr, by now they'd have wished on some sort of infinite-space solution for you all."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...uh-huh."

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She raises an eyebrow quizzically.

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"It just sounds a little - fantastical -"

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"I guess. I was born into it, I can't really imagine what it was like for the people who went from a normal life to a - safe and vast and magic one."

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Nod.

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"Am I keeping you from, like, running your House and stuff?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, most of the day to day is delegated and aliens landing is a good excuse to put off anything else."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, cool. I'm not really the best person for explaining stuff but I'm totally happy to."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What else even is there?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Shrug. "People stuff? More magic? The screening for wishes? I'm kind of curious what kind of plot people would suspect this of being, it doesn't seem spectacularly conducive to any plots but I might not have the cultural upbringing to be properly imaginative."

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"How did you decide to come here? How long have you known about us? - uh, you've told me a lot of stuff you didn't say on TV, I could be gathering information or could conceivably have been planning to take you hostage."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Anyone who was sufficient as security against all the other Houses would probably be pretty hard to take hostage. Plus, like, it's Fëanorians running Vanda Nossëo - I guess you wouldn't have known that.

I think we'd added you to a list like ten years ago, you're not high-priority because you wouldn't substantially benefit from any cheap resources and you haven't invented various low-tech ways to destroy yourselves and there'd have been substantial justified resistance to external governance and the reds thing is horrible and hard to fix. You haven't moved up the list much but one of the Elf princes decided to do it anyway, I think because Tapa had a girl he had determined with magic was the girl he wanted to marry. - uh, he can make contact on a whim but that doesn't mean things would get yanked out from under you if he got bored, once it's in motion we always follow through."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...uh, all right. What is your angle on reds exactly?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...on my planet until recently homosexuality was considered disgusting, some places would kill people for it and some just made you - pretend... I've done security on a planet where disabled people were considered disgusting and if you were injured in an accident or in a war then the decent thing to do was to kill yourself and if you didn't do that everyone would just quietly loathe you - I've been to one where they murdered people in all kinds of horrifying ways for being heretics, by which they meant believing a slightly different variant of the local religion - look, everybody hates somebody. It's practically universal that if we land on a planet there'll be people who, to the outside eye, look no better and no worse than all the rest, but who the locals will tell us just need to die. 

So when you say that about reds, we're just kind of like 'okay, listening to those other people would have been a terrible mistake, the correct thing to do was to tell them 'uh, no, you don't have to like them but the law will be enforced for them too' and wait two generations for minds and hearts to change'. 

And maybe that's not true here. But so far you haven't said anything that sounds different than what literally everyone says about the people they hate."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"If you let them go everywhere you'll be - it's - a few planets from scratch is better than what we have now even if everything else is covered in - I'm not sure what you're planning to do about their jobs but you probably have some idea -

- but everybody who looks up at the stars will have to remind themselves that at least the stars themselves are on fire and probably not filthy even if we can't ever go anywhere else because they've been there first or might have been."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...it probably won't help to point out that the other species do, like, use sewage for manure and have people who have handled the dead for thousands of years and stuff and that we won't force the entire universe into conformity with this thing of yours even if we agree to quarantine the reds in particular -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"If someone goes hiking and dies and isn't found they'll eventually disappear into nature and that's fine. Reds are - ambulatory, self-renewing - people who have handled the dead for thousands of years are also a problem -"

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"So are we supposed to go to literally hundreds of millions of worlds where literally hundreds of billions of people who handle the dead for a living and have for thousands of years are living happy joyous lives married to a - banker or a politician or a personal trainer or a engineer - and say 'look, unless we herd you off into hellish little camps or kill you the Amentans, who you have never met, will feel uneasy when they look at the sky' - those planets would rise up as one against us, they'd react the way Amentans would react if we showed up here and started herding all the gay people off to execute because the Valar think they're gross -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The who?"

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Handwave. "Different species. They really hate gay people. It's just an example, the Andalites would want us to get rid of everyone who walks with a limp and the Asgardians think there's something stomach-turning about everyone male who does combat or sports or governance and the Ferengi think it's appalling if you let women own property - we might as well sterilize the multiverse, if we're going to hurt everyone who someone else wants gone -"

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"The reds we - already have contained. If you whisk them away..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It'd be more salient and more upsetting than the fact other planets don't have this concept at all."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes. We didn't really expect everyone would be identical - closer than this, but -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There aren't that many reds. They're totally dwarfed by the number of families whose coroner business says 'In the Family Since 1870' in a wood sign out front. Allowing them to immigrate would barely actually change the background - amount the universe has been touched by things you don't like. But it'd make you think about it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It'd mean that introducing Amenta to the universe made the universe worse."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you were in Mîr we could just have an Amentan wish that everything was not polluted and not pollutable, or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"But we aren't."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh huh. You really don't think people will just, like, get over it, if raised in a society that doesn't treat it like the worst thing in the world? That usually happens. On Earth when they tried letting black and white kids go to the same school all the white kids quit so they wouldn't have to be in a room with the black ones and they could have waxed very eloquent about how much they were suffering but, like, twenty Amentan years later they're horribly embarrassed about the whole thing and no one cares."

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are hyposensitives - we consider it a disorder - but there's also hypersensitives and most people are neither."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't mean thinking that sewage isn't gross, other species think that too. I mean the being miserable that some other planet has been walked on by someone who used to be a garbage worker and isn't even a garbage worker anymore. If you didn't raise kids that way, would they really pick it up?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We couldn't go there. No one's upset that we can't go to red districts but we were always hoping once we could colonize planets our population problem would be over."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We could quarantine this universe? The other ones aren't spatially contiguous with this one, it'd mean all of the stars you look at are fine and all of the places colonies could reach are fine, maybe someone can wish up decontaminating shuttles for people who want to go back and forth..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...the stars thing isn't really the point just an example. But maybe that would work."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We don't want you to be miserable. But we - take it really seriously, about everyone having rights and being safe, and if anybody could just veto other people getting rights and being safe then the whole thing crumbles. People'll be so grateful if Amentans can propose a solution that doesn't make you miserable and would generalize acceptably to the next place we go that really hates rape victims or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We don't hate them at random."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The place I'm thinking of that hates rape victims doesn't hate them at random either, they can't afford to have doubts about paternity of children and haven't invented paternity testing and handle it with ridiculous-strength taboos on extramarital sex or putting oneself in a position where someone could have extramarital sex with you. It's not random but it's not something that should keep existing in a good world."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Reds shouldn't exist in a good world. We've wanted to replace them with robots since the concept was invented."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Now you sound like the people from that planet saying 'yeah, we kill rape victims by burying them up to their neck in the ground and having the whole community gather around to throw rocks at them because they shouldn't exist in a good world'. They shouldn't. But the fix isn't to murder the ones who do."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'd suggest not giving them any more permissions but you're probably going to make them immortal."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Also it sounds like Amentans experience childlessness as something akin to torture. Does it really not wear off? Will their great-grandchildren really be just as - whatever it is you think they are - if they've never been anywhere near anyone unclean?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"They are, their families are, anything they touch is."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...would it solve anything if I checked what percentage of the not-red Amentan population has red ancestry because people cheat or abandon their babies in a box on a neighbor's doorstep or whatever? Or would it just freak people out if I'm right and it's kind of a lot of them?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...that would be worse than Savo's disaster and that was terrible and theoretically containable."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I will tell my bosses to declare the answer to that question Very Classified."

Permalink Mark Unread

Soyok nods.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Usually when people realize the definition they're using doesn't actually mesh with their intuitions they retreat to a more pragmatic one. But I guess the retreating can still really suck." Shrug. "I don't suppose it'd be sufficient if you just had personal decontaminating bubbles?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I'm not sure how that would work but maybe it would?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably the way to do that would be to have someone wish for it - wishes give you what you want, if they go through at all, though how they do it varies a bit - and then we could check what exactly the wish was doing and maybe find a less expensive way to do it. - the Empress does all wishes personally, too risky to delegate it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...okay..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...so that's not itself a scalable way to do it but it'd be a good way to figure out what exactly we'd be doing, and then find a scalable way."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is it generally straightforward to find out what magic is doing and then do it another way?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It would be easier to start from, like, a specification of what exactly you'd need the bubbles to do, but it sounds like you don't exactly think about pollution in those terms so, given that, something that we know Amentans will consider adequate is probably the best starting point."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not all things even have procedures to decontaminate them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Without magic, sure. With magic - like the bubble could just replace anything that comes in its range with something identical but made of newly-generated atoms, if it did that would that be sufficient?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...yes."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So it'd be something like that. I bet there's a way to do that with a more scalable kind of magic but I'm not an expert."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nod.

Permalink Mark Unread

"And then Amentans can just go everywhere and be clean and, uh, the being clean is an accommodation we can figure out how best to arrange for you instead of a constraint on other people which will make it wildly more politically palatable."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I mean, it's still horrifying if everywhere else is polluted but it's much more tolerable if it would stop being that way as soon as we got close enough."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And you're not gonna convince tons of aliens to suddenly terrorize their perfectly happy coroners. ...do you think coroners on other planets are also secretly not people or is it just ones here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I suppose if a hyposensitive decided to be a coroner this wouldn't stop them from being a person."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We could actually check with magic if reds are people. There's a form of mental magic called subtle arts, gets used for therapy, it does mind-reading and affect-reading and memory-reading and it can notice things like how you experience emotions and how you encode memories and how your mental processes work. If there were anyone who looked and acted normal but there was no light on inside, they'd be able to tell. 

If I asked you to bet something that mattered to you on what they'd find if they looked at reds..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If I were going to bet on it I'd probably arrange to meet one or something but I'd sooner not."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Fair enough."

Permalink Mark Unread

Sigh. "Is there anything you need? Since you don't look like an alien I can send the servants here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I will not turn down food and a television or local equivalent."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, there's a guest computer, I think it's in the nightstand drawer..." It is. "I'll have a servant bring you something to eat, assuming you can eat local stuff."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, you all seem like humans except brighter hair colors and less sexual dimorphism and the babies thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...what good is sexual dimorphism in a sapient species?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Specialization? I guess? In humans men are taller and stronger and most places they didn't let women study things or be in power until pretty recently. Before was born, but pretty recently in the grand scheme of things."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...huh."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Some places still don't. Women are legally the property of their father until they sell them to their husband. Places that wanna be a member state have to cut that out."

Permalink Mark Unread

Soyok makes a face.

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She grins at him. "It's a hard balance to find between - giving what we've got to everyone who wants it and - insisting that people grow up. It helps that there's just not enough to go around and we do have to prioritize somehow."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's not going to make people - most comfortable - if they - notice that if you had slightly fewer things you'd be insisting on the reds instead of helping us. It's good that you have enough things to do both, if you come up with another way to get their jobs done I don't care what you do with them, but if you didn't..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It would be nice if you were treating them - just the way that was necessary to satisfy your pollution thing. They can't go places, okay. It's legal to torture and murder them - that's not something you need. Where being decent to them actually involves putting this stress on you, okay, that's really hard. But - there's lots of decency to them just lying on the ground for free and no one thinks it's worth the effort to lean over to pick it up."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...it's not literally free."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You could let them have their own courts and jails for people who torture and murder them, if you didn't want to pay for it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They can do what they like if it's other reds. They just can't bother clean folks about it. I don't think that's a very popular way to blow off steam anyway, you do have to shower for five hours afterwards, it'd be more convenient to just pull the petals off flowers or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...okay, it would at least be free to consider it horrifying that people torture and murder reds for no reason, even if it'd take some tiny amount of effort to allow the reds to arrest them for it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"But then we'd be horrified all the time."

Permalink Mark Unread

Sigh. "If we had less resources then I think we'd just take them to another planet, give you robots, and hope that after they'd been gone for a while you were - more palatable allies. If we didn't have resurrection then people might want to, you know, put the torturers and murderers on trial ourselves, so I guess it's a good thing we've got that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It seems - not like the behavior of new friends to try people for things that weren't illegal when they did them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I should probably not get into this. We do have the resources we have, we're not going to hold anyone accountable for atrocities you committed under scarcity, these aren't the kind of conditions that make people their best selves.

But if for some reason we'd had to choose whether to be allies and friends with the reds or the clean Amentans, uh, they're a lot more sympathetic and indescribably less of a diplomatic liability. So. Yeah. If it'd come to that, we wouldn't be friends."

Permalink Mark Unread

Soyok sighs. "I will probably be able to warn you if anyone marches on the property before shots are fired."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Great." She pokes the television.

Permalink Mark Unread

Computer. But it has TV available, domestic and foreign. Soyok leaves her alone.

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She hangs out in the guest room watching television on the computer. 

 

 

Vanda Nossëo sends Calado a complaint about the kidnapping of their emissaries.

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They are sorry! They are not sorry at all. They didn't harm them. They volunteer to have the perpetrators shot.

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They are actually requesting extradition for trial in Vanda Nossëo. They understand that kidnapping is not very illegal in Calado but they take misconduct towards their emissaries very seriously.

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Are they sure they wouldn't rather have them shot? They can have the greys but not the senator. The senator but not the greys. They can't have them at all!

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They are very sure that they're requesting extradition of all involved parties and no shooting at all. Calado need not comply but it'll be a barrier to further diplomatic relations.

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They didn't want further diplomatic relations anyway.

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"What an interesting country."

       "I feel bad for the people."

"Yeah, but what can you do?"

       "Probably a lot of things if we're willing to expend stupid amounts of resources on it."

"...I'm listening."

        

 

Someone asks Elendil about the going price for one-off rings of teleport.

 

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They're pricey, wizards being a bit scarce, why?

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Uh, there's a country of people who would probably mostly choose to leave, but their government can't be negotiated with because it's, uh, really really bad at its job, and it would be great to give them the option of leaving. What share of people can get good enough to make them, and how long does it take?

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Why do they want to do this with rings and not teleporters?

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Going and taking people feels a lot more provocative than just giving them the ability to, if they see fit, leave. Also people will shoot the teleporters, or knock them unconscious and try to figure out their secret, or try taking them hostage, or try taking other people hostage to get favors from them -

"It's possible that all of the people who'd be ordered to do those things would, ah, also rather leave?"

"Oh, I'm sure they would, but if they're not coordinated or if there are just a couple positioning for a spot among those who stay -"

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Well, the rings will be pretty steep, they're not very introductory material. Unless they want them in a few years.

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They will keep it in mind if Calado is still disaster-ing along in a few years. Does anyone from a functioning state have advice on whether it's possible to productively operate in Calado.

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Oh, sure, you just have to learn your way around, it's kind of a political maze.

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The problem is that they cannot learn their way around if they will be kidnapped even flying near the country and there will be zero cooperation with investigating such kidnappings. You kind of need a minimum level of assurance that it's illegal to kidnap you before you can start learning your way around a country.

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Well, yes, aliens are a special case.

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So there's just no real way to productively interact with Calado.

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Not for aliens and directly, probably.

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Fine. 

 

Vanda Nossëo arrests the people who kidnapped their citizens. They do this with invisible teleporters; it is probably very confusing to the targets.

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Well, they were warned. What are they going to do about the baby Datna is holding?

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They will wait until she is not holding a baby.

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She is spending a lot of time with the baby but eventually lets her grandson have it.

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Shortly after that she vanishes.

 

She finds herself inside a very pretty unreasonably spacious prison cell somewhere with just a smidge less gravity than Amenta.

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"Hello?"

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No one answers. There's a door.

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...she goes to the door and tries it.

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Unlocked! There's a big atrium with some people playing table tennis and some watching television. 

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"Excuse me."

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"Hello!" says a brown-haired woman who is playing a board game of some kind. "This is Dasaer Correctional Facility. I'm Janet, I'm on staff here, how can I help you?"

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"...where is the Dasaer Correctional Facility and what are its plans for me?"

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"We're a moon off Odour, star system 3255J, Quadrant 116, your galaxy, and you have a preliminary hearing -" she pokes a computer - "tomorrow morning, 9:00 local time, on three counts of kidnapping."

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"...and what happens in preliminary hearings?"

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"The judge explains the charges to you and appoints you counsel. Then they talk you through things so you can confirm that you've been apprised of your rights, that you find the prison conditions acceptable, and that you're of sound mind and capable of understanding the proceedings."

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"...that I find the conditions acceptable?"

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"If, say, your species can't survive without at least a hundred miles of readily accessible wilderness, or if for religious reasons you need all your food prepared by a certified spiritual practitioner, or if you require a single-sex facility..."

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"..."

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"Obviously if there's anything urgent you can let me know right now, but the hearing will cover it."

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She sighs.

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 "There's a queue to set what's on the big TV but there's a smaller one in your room!" Janet says, returning to the board game she is playing.

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She goes back to her room.

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There's a big monitor and an unfamiliar keyboard, or it does voice commands, and she can browse Dasaer internet and television.

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She pokes around a little.

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Locals look like Amentans with rubber foreheads; planet suffered an ecological disaster a hundred years back and since then they've mostly lived underground and on their moons, which doesn't bother them as much as it bothers Amentans (but they still asked for a massive planet cleanup for their Vanda Nossëo membership perk.) Now the planet's lovely and habitable and they're moving back above ground. There are like six billion of them. Dasaer Correctional Facility holds some people who blew up some buildings trying to prevent the membership vote and a couple people who used ambassadorial jobs as cover for smuggling some prohibited substance. The member planet gets 18,000 resurrections, which they distribute to the citizens who died the youngest, and 7,000 immortality necklaces a year, which they auction. 

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What's the TV like.

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Rubber-forehead alien police procedural! Rubber-forehead alien sports! (Lots of those!) Rubber-forehead alien docudrama! Rubber-forehead alien local news! Rubber-forehead alien presidential debate!

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...she can't understand the language. She watches rubber-forehead-alien sports.

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Eventually someone stops by with a meal! It is an exact replica of a meal served in an upscale Calado restaurant.

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...that's sort of weird but okay. She eats it, if they wanted her harmed they could probably do that without poisoning her food.

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The food is unpoisoned. In the morning Janet knocks on her door.

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Datna groans and gets up. "What?"

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"Someone is here to escort you to your hearing!"

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Datna opens the door.

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Person is yet another species and in a trim unfamiliar uniform. "Ready to go?"

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"If I said I had an urgent hair appointment would you believe me?"

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"...I wouldn't disbelieve you - we get all kinds here - but I would not take you to the hair appointment."

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"I am ready to go unless I'm meant to be offered breakfast first."

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"There's a coffee place at the courthouse." Pop. Now they are in a different building with elaborate alien architecture and lots of people. Person points at the coffee shop. It has a short line. "It's free, one of those weird Elf places."

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"I can't read the menu."

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"Oh, I can get you a wand - wait in line? I'll be back in a sec -"

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"...do you often leave arrestees unsupervised? I can't teleport, but..."

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"And I can teleport to you if you're within a couple trillion lightyears of here. We don't really have a problem with prisoners attempting escape but if you're uncomfortable I of course won't leave."

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"Are any of the other people in line violent criminals?"

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"No, there's a different procedure for those."

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She sighs. "You may go."

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He is back five seconds later with a strange-looking wand. He taps her. Now the sign is perfectly readable. 

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She orders a coffee and a chocolate bread.

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They're free. The teleporter walks her to a courtroom.

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She doesn't make any trouble.

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The judge explains her rights. It's a long list. She has the right to counsel, which will be appointed for her in this hearing; she has the right to refuse to participate in the judicial process, which may adversely affect the outcome of her kidnapping case but will not earn new charges; she has the right to prison conditions in line with intergalactic treaty and with expectations in her native society to the extent those are compatible with public safety; she has the right to refuse to testify under a truth effect, though this will of course affect the credibility of her testimony; she has the right to know the evidence against her and submit questions for her accusers; she has the right to an appeal; she has the right to a clear and straightforward explanation of the law and of the legal process,which the judge duly provides. 

(Kidnapping is the crime of unlawful transportation and confinement of a person against their will;  'unlawful' is met if the kidnapper did not reasonably believe themselves to be acting in their capacity as an officer of the law to carry out an arrest for which they had a lawfully obtained warrant; the penalty for each charge, of which there are three, is between one and six local years' imprisonment. Local years are a quarter of Amentan years.)

The judge wants to know if she understands her rights and whether prison conditions are acceptable and whether she understands the crime she is charged with.

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"I am entitled to issue warrants," she says.

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"Had you issued a warrant for the arrest of the persons you are accused of kidnapping?"

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"My say-so constitutes one."

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"What were they charged with?"

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"Possession of alien technology."

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"Were they informed that they were under arrest?"

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"I think they noticed."

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"Defendant's counsel, I recommend you talk to your client before we add anything to the record."

       "Yes, your honor."

"Do you understand the charges against you?"

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"No. Under what jurisdiction am I charged?"

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"Vanda Nossëo."

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"According to what law am I extradited?"

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"Vanda Nossëo prosecutes certain crimes against its citizens committed anywhere in the universe, barring locations that have negotiated a different arrangement, under Statute 43 of the Third Treaty on galactic operations."

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"The prison is fine as prisons go."

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"Do you have questions for this court."

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"Will my family be notified of or compensated in any way for my disappearance?"

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"You are permitted to write home. Is it conventional in Calado to compensate the families of persons arrested for crimes for the inconveniences associated with their disappearance?"

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"If you arrest someone important."

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The judge looks unimpressed. "You could request that a charitable organization compensate your family for the inconvenience associated with your arrest."

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"How would I do that?"

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"You have internet access in prison. I am sure the prison staff would be happy to assist you."

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Sigh.

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Her court-appointed attorney explains what attorneys do (they help you make your case to the court! their job is to make sure you do as well as you would do with perfect knowledge of the law and ability to advocate for yourself using it! what time would be convenient for her to set up a meeting?)

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"I have no plans."

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"I can accompany you back to prison now if convenient."

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"Fine."

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Her attorney accompanies her back to prison, explains attorney-client privilege, explains how she can file for new representation if she's dissatisfied with present representation. Presents her with all of the evidence in the case - testimony from the Elves under a truth effect, detailed and accurate to the word, with specific claims highlighted and noted as forensically verified.

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"Does it in fact matter that I am empowered at home to issue warrants?"

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"It would matter a lot if you had in this case issued a warrant. Or told them they were under arrest, or told their rescue when he showed up and asked if there was a misunderstanding that they had been arrested - or if the soldiers will be able to testify that you told them to arrest the occupants of the ship, specifically - or if you care to testify under a truth effect that you believed yourself to be issuing and executing a lawful arrest order and that they were going to get to see a judge soon."

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"I don't have to fill out forms or whatever you expect warrants to look like. It wasn't a criminal arrest, is that the only kind of apprehension you allow?"

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"Can you describe the other kinds of arrest and what the process for those looks like?"

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"There are dispersal arrests, collecting people to get them quickly out of an area without the longer process of asking that would make them actually guilty of trespassing. There's security arrests, where someone is apprehended for their own safety or the security of others without a crime necessarily suspected."

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"That sounds very broad."

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"It's intended to be flexible."

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"We can make a case, but ...well, firstly, you said in court today that it was a criminal arrest for possession of alien technology, though I can try to get that thrown out because you hadn't yet spoken with your counsel, and secondly the court is going to be asking itself 'if this case is straightforwardly treated as precedent, what implications does that have for any citizens or subjects of ours with the misfortune to find themselves in Calado' and they will consider 'there are lots of people in Calado empowered to deprive them of their liberties without due process or any process, indefinitely, without even communicating to them that they are under arrest' an undesirable outcome."

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"I didn't say it was criminal."

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"'What were they charged with?' 'Possession of alien technology.'"

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"In context it seemed like the question was about why I arrested them at all."

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"Are you going to be willing to testify under a truth effect?"

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"To what?"

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"They get to ask you questions. I presume they would ask what kind of arrest you conceived yourself to be making at the time, why you didn't inform them they were under arrest, how this would have played out up to and after their deaths if they had not been extracted..."

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"Their deaths?"

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"Elves experience confinement as torturous and die of stress inside a day or so. That's why the law is that we prosecute anywhere in the universe for rape, murder, torture, and kidnapping - because to a substantial body of our citizens, those are all the same degree of crime."

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"I see."

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"So you can anticipate they will ask you how this arrest would have played out without a rescue."

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"What does the truth effect do?"

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"It makes it apparent to listeners when a false claim is made. It doesn't do anything about misleading or irrelevant claims, but questioners are very experienced at operating within it and at framing questions appropriately."

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"It would have been startling and embarrassing and I probably would have assumed the greys had injured them somehow."

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"They used to try to explain it to people, but turns out no one believes them. What was the plan if they didn't die and didn't get rescued?"

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"I was working on convincing them to talk to me."

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"What kind of arrest are you claiming this was, again?"

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"This is the first time you've asked that. Security."

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"Presuming they didn't talk to you -?"

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"I hadn't decided what to do if they couldn't be persuaded."

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"They will certainly ask what the possibilities were."

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"I might have offered them to another senator."

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"An exhaustive list, please."

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"I don't have one."

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"If we ask Calado to comment on whether the arrest was lawful and in accordance with local procedure, will we get an answer supportive of our case -"

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"Depends on who you ask."

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"Who should I ask?"

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She names some other blues.

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"I'll write them."

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"What are you going to say?"

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"That I'm representing you in a legal case which may turn on the question of whether the events describes occurred in the context of a lawful arrest, and that I'm soliciting comment from them as a local expert on the Calador legal system."

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"That will probably do."

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"I am sure the prosecution will do the same thing but maybe they won't know who to ask."

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"They'll probably ask everyone at once and get forty answers."

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"...your country sounds interesting. More context might help me figure out how best to explain it to the judge."

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"Senators and to a lesser extent other political blues have flexible and extensive powers with which to pursue projects intended to help the flourishing of Calado. We can interpret the law pretty broadly and unless other blues decide it is worth a considerable amount of their time to retaliate this is within expected parameters. If what you ask for is an interpretation of the law and no one expects retaliation for giving you an answer, someone will try that answer; if the result is good they get the credit and if it isn't it gets lost in the noise."

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"Okay. Aside from - more filtered statements from your colleagues, is there evidence we should bring to the attention of the court - it'd be really really helpful to have any documentation consistent with this being construed as an arrest at the time -"

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"I'm not sure you'd find the language in the text conversation specific enough, but in context if I tell some greys to bring me some aliens I probably mean to arrest them."

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"We can have them testify, if they'd testify to that."

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"I'm not sure they're very happy with me right now."

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"They'll have their own attorneys advising them on what testimony best serves their interests in the case, but it could be that they're better off stating that they thought they were executing a lawful arrest order. If you'd told them to kill the Elves would that also be legal -"

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"Only if the Elves were behaving violently or trying to escape. ...escape less magically. But I wouldn't have been much questioned if I'd said that happened."

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"See, if some of our people got kidnapped in a country that was formally anarchic, 'there are no local laws against what I did' wouldn't be a defense. So it's going to be helpful to be able to describe to the court something that would still not be permitted even if we decided to permit - the usual operations of the Calador government, so that acknowledging the proceedings of the Calador government doesn't amount to 'anything's legal'."

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"It would not have been legal to kill them unless certain conditions obtained; it simply would have been fairly easy to fraudulently claim those conditions."

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"Were they informed that they'd be killed if they tried to escape?"

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"No. I was trying to keep the entire matter relatively friendly."

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"And it wasn't apparent to you they were in any more distress than anyone would be at having their ship towed down -"

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"They seemed nonchalant. Mildly annoyed."

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"Elves," he mutters with some irritation.

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"Mm?"

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Sigh. "They make very good witnesses. Perfect memories, all agree to the truth effect, all followed whatever their procedures guide said to the T."

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"...okay..."

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"You're going to have very photogenic very sad people testifying to the court that they were traumatized and had no idea what to expect next because no one gave the faintest indication this was an arrest or that there were any legal constraints on their future treatment."

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"They could have asked."

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"Would they have been informed at that point that they'd be killed if they tried to leave?"

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"I would have told them they were not free to go. I wouldn't have ordered them killed, to be clear, I didn't want them dead, it just would have been legal if they'd resisted arrest."

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"How long can you legally hold people when you make a security arrest?"

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"Depends on the security need."

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"Okay. I can also put together a motion for the court to kick this back to Calado for evaluation there, if you expect that to go in your favor - it's not very likely to be approved but it doesn't hurt to try - or technically I could move to have Ambaróna try it but I don't think that looks any better odds-wise."

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"I think I could navigate the matter at home. What is Ambaróna?"

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"The nation of origin of the victims. It wouldn't be that hard to get the case moved there, but it's an Elf country, they're going to be even more inclined to sympathize with Elves who got imprisoned and one of their royals got involved which I am not confident would not influence the court."

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Sigh.

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"I will file a motion to move it to Calado but I don't expect it to get approved. Are there other questions I can answer for you -"

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"Will it be more or less like this for the duration if I'm sentenced?"

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"Yes. You could request a transfer to a different prison but they vary mostly in aesthetics - they'll all have three meals a day, counselors and work programs available, internet, six visiting hours a day. You're typically expected to meet with a social worker once a week."

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"- how would anyone visit me? What would the social worker do?"

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"Prison social workers tend to ask about plans for release, try to help people spend their time productively if they want to do that, get them mental health services if necessary, help complete court-ordered steps like restitution or classes on ethical conduct. Anyone who wanted to visit you would have to somehow reach the nearest dimensional transit facility. There are no facilities set up in Calado because it has been judged too hazardous to operate in Calado but there are some in progress in some neighboring countries."

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"Which ones?"

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"I'd have to look it up for you." He does. "Ah, yes, Tapa? Does that sound familiar?"

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"...I know the names of all the countries on Amenta, yes."

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"It could have been transliterated poorly enough to be unintelligible or ambiguous. Tapa is going to have a dimensional transit facility with hourly service to Elendil. Elendil has shuttles here... also hourly."

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Nod.

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"There'd be a transfer if you engaged in activity that justified an elevated security prison - getting into fights with other inmates, having guests smuggle in weapons or poison or something, breaking laws online while in prison, threatening witnesses or trying to bribe judges or something - and pregnant people get transferred to a prison that can accommodate them, as do people with unusual health conditions the clinic here can't handle."

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Sigh.

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"Hmm?"

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"How long do the shuttles take, or are they as instant as was my arrest?"

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"They're teleported, yes."

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Nod.

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"I'm going to send you an email with instructions about logging in to a confidential case file where I can keep you updated on what evidence has been entered and what motions have been filed. You'll have to create a password and have the options to add additional levels of security. Anyone asking you for permission to look at your case file, or trying to look over your shoulder at it, or insinuating that it'd be to your advantage to show it to them, will spend the next decade in jail, report them immediately, confidentiality is taken very seriously."

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"All right."

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"Take care, and let me know if you need anything or think of anything."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I assume my Amentan email accounts are not present on this computer, how will I receive your email?"

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"There's one set up under your name." He shows her.

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Nod.

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He leaves.

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She opens up her email account and figures out the interface and goes to see if alien drama is more interesting now she can understand the language.

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In an alien legal drama aliens fight to make their government pay reparations to the recently-resurrected people it massacred a hundred years earlier. Alien police procedural is still on; the alien cops agonize over whether to burn through one of their scarce forensics requests to nail down a murderer who seems to be murdering dying people knowing their insurance will pay their resurrections if they die by murder.

 

The greys similarly find themselves arrested and given a hearing.

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Do they get to stick together or are they split up?

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Separate rooms in the same prison. It's not the one the senator's in.

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They go find each other in fairly short order.

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Their prison has a basketball court in a courtyard. The planet has rings; they're visible in the sky. The prison staffperson is pink-skinned and brown-haired but could otherwise pass for Amentan.

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At least it's not brown-skinned and pink-haired.

...they send one of their number to talk to the staffperson.

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"Hi! I'm Buthux, this is the Mlenot Correctional Facility. Can I help you out?"

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"...I don't know, can you? Is this where we, uh, go to our course on illegal orders the - other alien mentioned -"

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" - uh, so, technically you get a trial. Though if you want to skip that, you or your attorney can tell the judge 'look, I'm from this place where if someone says 'kidnap those aliens!' you haven't got a whole lot of choice about it, can I do a course on illegal orders and move someplace where I won't be given illegal orders and call it even and keep this off my record?' and I can't imagine the judge would turn that down. Is that something you want?"

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"...we have families, we don't want to just disappear on them."

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"Okay. So this afternoon in about an hour you get a hearing, and at that hearing you get a lawyer, and that lawyer's job is to figure out how to get you what you want out of this whole situation - so, make deals with the judge for you, make sure your family can access visitation and sue for easier access to visitation if they're having a hard time getting here, make sure you know what to tell the court. And your lawyer will be able to figure this out with you, okay?"

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"Do we all get our own lawyers?"

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"Yes. So does, uh, the blue lady - sorry, I read the file but I can't pronounce the names - anyway, each of you get a lawyer. Sometimes it happens that, like, what's in your interest is to cut a deal where you testify against someone else in exchange for going home, and the lawyer would not be able to do his job right for both of you."

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"Oh."

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Buthux raises a questioning bushy eyebrow.

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"Where would we move to if we did want to move somewhere?"

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"There are a lot of planets, what's important to you? Weather? Urban? Rural? Locals who look like you? Jobs?"

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"...I don't know what the range is."

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"Well, as far as weather goes, there are places that are all underwater and the locals are octopi. You could get morph and shapeshift into an octopus and go live there but you probably wouldn't want to. There's, like, Jotunheim, which is never much above the freezing point of carbon dioxide - did that translate, that one's fifty-fifty whether it translates -"

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"...uh, it translated but I don't know what the freezing point of carbon dioxide is."

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"Really cold. Uh, there are also nice planets where water is a liquid and it snows in the winter and is sunny in the summer, if that's more your kind of thing."

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"That sounds good. If they have seasons the right length."

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"What's the right length?"

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"...about as long as an Amentan season. I don't know exactly at what point it stops working."

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"...well, you've got internet, you can look up the places that are taking immigrants and sort by length of a year and see if any of the ones that are about right look good."

 

An inmate who is visibly pregnant comes out of her room, waves at the newcomers, and goes over to change the channel on the television.

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Greys blink at her. "What's going to happen to her baby?"

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Buthux looks confused. "Hmmm? Oh, this prison has a maternity ward and a kid's play area."

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"...so she's just going to have the baby in prison?"

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"...yes."

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"...and she's allowed to do that."

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"...yes? It's illegal here to force someone to have an abortion, and there's research suggesting that infants do fine born in custody if their parents are around, medical care is adequate, and the environment is safe and calm."

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The grey goes back to talk to the other greys.

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They are left alone.

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They make up rules for basketball and play.

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After a while someone comes over and explains the actual rules of basketball and wants to join.

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That sounds worse than their game but they'll try and sure.

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And a while after that people show up to escort them to trial.

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They go cooperatively enough.

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Do they understand this long list of rights?

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They will need them explained.

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Lawyers work like this. They'll be able to view evidence from prison like this. They have the right to the following prison conditions plus anything that'd be conventional back home unless it's a threat to public safety. Are the prison conditions okay.

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The basketball court might get boring after a while?

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They can request a transfer if they want. 

 

 

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Or just more balls, they could do other stuff with the space.

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Sure, the judge will see to it that a request gets put in for that.

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"You're being real nice about this."

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"By all accounts it was a fairly civil kidnapping. The rights are universal, though. Do you have any questions for this court?"

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"His grace who rescued the other Elves said we were probably going to take an illegal orders class?"

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"Did you get something like that in your training at home? How to respond if you're unlawfully ordered to shoot an innocent person, things like that?"

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"...sort of?"

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"Vanda Nossëo might have different standards than Calado but I'd be interested in hearing how it works in Calado."

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"Uh, 'this would more likely be your superior making a joke', 'if you get told to do that then if you go to another blue about it instead of doing it they'll protect you'..."

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Nod. "Are you planning to go back to Calado after this is settled?"

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"I'm married. I don't know. Maybe we could all leave."

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"This court would be really happy to see this settled without seeing anyone who just got caught up in the middle of it in jail, but we have an issue with letting people off for a crime and putting them right back in a situation where they might end up doing it again."

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"I mean. I think I'm out of a job now."

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"Why don't you and your lawyer talk about what kind of agreement you want to ask this court for, and I'll see you in a couple days once you've got that worked out. I've known your lawyer a while. She works for you, not for me, and she's good at it. You'll figure something out."

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Nod.

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Lawyer shows him how he can read the evidence. "This is pretty straightforward - you thought you were carrying out a lawful order, your boss should have thought things through a little more - or a lot more - but everything was resolved quickly and peacefully. I want to be careful about saying 'no harm done' because the Elf press will have a field day with that - but privately, you know, no harm done. If you want to go to trial I think we can beat the charges. Or we can ask for a deal that you're happy about and settle it faster with no risk of losing at trial."

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"What would happen if I lost at trial?"

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"You could conceivably get prison time, you'd have a record - there are a few places that won't take immigrants with a criminal record but not many -"

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"...this doesn't count as prison time?"

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" - oh, we distinguish holding people for trial from sentencing people at trial to serve some length of time in prison. You'd actually be allowed to go home pending trial if you lived somewhere with a justice system we had an agreement with, but, uh, current directive is not to send anybody to Calado."

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"It's really complicated in Calado."

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"I don't think they're unwilling to navigate complicated but it has to be the kind of complicated where it's safe to be around while you're learning. Anyway, usually you'd just get picked up for the hearing and then sent home and picked up for the trial, but there's a concern Calado might try to interfere with the arrest officer. I'm sorry."

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"Do my family know where I am? I warned them that something came up at work but I didn't know what else to say."

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"Can you email them? We can get something set up so emails reach them. If they can make it to - uh, Tapa - there's shuttles here, too."

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"They have email, I just didn't realize it'd go."

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"It should be up and if it's not I'll file an emergency petition with the judge, you can't have peoples' families wondering if they're still alive or being treated all right."

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Nod.

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"You want to check that now or come up with a plan first?"

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"I want to know what to tell them."

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"Okay. So one option is to go to the court and say 'look, your issue is with the person who gave this stupid dangerous order, how about we settle this with my client agreeing to an illegal orders class' or, if you like, 'agreeing not to work for a Calador blue with these, uh, expansive privileges', or something in that vein - I'm not really sure what would impose a significant cost on you and what would be pretty acceptable -"

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"...employment options get pretty limited if you don't want to answer to blues. I don't have enough rhythm to dance."

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Nod. "So we don't propose that, we propose something you're all right with. Or, if you'd rather, we instead go to trial and you can testify - under the truth effect if you're comfortable with that - that this is how a legitimate action for public safety reasons would have been carried out and we collect evidence to that effect and you hopefully get acquitted."

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"I'm getting the sense that 'this is how things are in Calado' is not actually a defense?"

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"...not really. It's a character defense - it means you're probably not going to go around towing ships out of the sky and holding their crews prisoner under other circumstances - but the point of section 43 is that everyone know that if they run across one of our people, and they hurt them, there'll be a prosecution. If some tourist accidentally wanders across a border and gets tortured to death the court doesn't want to let the perp off because that country doesn't have a law against torturing aliens, and that's the principle the law is written around. It would matter if they'd been acting threatening, of course, but by the transcripts they were just requesting permission to leave."

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"They seemed sort of implicitly threatening."

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"Oh?"

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"...powerful aliens show up and want to do stuff but won't be specific even after there's only one faction talking to 'em?"

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"In Calado would it be, like, helpful to kidnap someone, so that then they're spared deciding which, uh, faction to speak to?"

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"We didn't hurt 'em. One time my grandpa yanked a new ambassador from someplace into a senator's office when they were confused and the ambassador thanked him later."

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"Was he subsequently prevented from leaving?"

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"I wasn't there."

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"To the Elves it looks like - they've got no evidence this person is even a Senator, they've got no assurances on how any explanation they give will be disseminated or that it'll be represented reasonably accurately, as long as they're being held their captor is actually in a position to claim any number of things about what they've told her... 'I'll consult my superiors about that and get back to you' is a reasonable answer and 'no you won't' is very scary."

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"I don't really care what they do to her, or anything."

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"Could offer to testify that the problems all arose from her non-communication about the nature of the situation and her persistence in not releasing them once it became apparent they were not willing to offer comment, in exchange for charges against her subordinates being dropped?"

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"- huh?"

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"We could offer to have you testify in her trial, in exchange for the court dropping their complaint with you."

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"If that would help, okay."

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"It's an option. If I knew what you consider the best possible outcome here, and what you consider a bad outcome, I could strategize better."

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"It's kind of hard to take everything in, I'm - scattered."

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Nod. "We can talk again tomorrow if that's easier."

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"I'm not sure that'll help. Before his grace showed up to rescue the other Elves I just wanted my paycheck and my permissions and to go home, right, but..."

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"But now there are lots of places you could emigrate to if you'd rather, and this big confusing system that doesn't run at all like Calado..."

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"Yeah. And like, most people don't try to get out of Calado but that's because it's all by swap, it's really hard to find anyone who'll move there. Rich retirees, sometimes, if they like hot weather."

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"You could take the illegal orders class some other place, get a free translation effect from the court so you can manage in the class, see if you like that place?"

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"Maybe."

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"Can your family get to Tapa? It seems like it might help to talk it over with them."

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"They could visit. They can't immigrate."

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"They could catch the shuttle from there to here. It's two transfers - if you'd like I could have someone meet them at the shuttleport in Tapa to make sure they get here with minimal confusion..."

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"That might help."

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"Okay. Are there more questions I can answer -"

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"Who would be meeting them, when, I need to be able to put that in the email."

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"A social worker associated with the prison here, I can send a picture, and it might work better for them to set a time."

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"Okay."

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"I'm sorry. I know this is unreasonable and confusing."

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"Not your fault."

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Lawyer sets her up with a social worker who can make visitation more straightforward.

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And she emails her family and they say when they can make it to a Tapai station.

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There is an alien there who matches the picture. She waves.

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Husband and kid bustle over to her.

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"Hi! I'm so glad you could make it. Mireo's lawyer's been grumbling about filing a hardship complaint, family's not supposed to have more than an hour's commute for visitation and with some species we're obliged to keep the commute under twenty minutes - could make the case Amentans ought to be one of those species..." She shows them the correct shuttle.

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"...what does species have to do with it?" asks the kid, who is four. They get on.

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"Well, the prison conditions that are considered adequate vary a great deal by species - some need open water, say, or space to fly in. For some species regular contact with family dramatically reduces recidivism and the stress of an arrest, and for some, doesn't matter so much as long as they can email. Or some species, like Elves, just aren't structured so an hour's commute is inconvenient. The court's overarching job is to have a prison environment that is accessible, safe, and comfortable for anyone, but the details depend on circumstances. Mireo's lawyer would argue that we're not meeting our own standards for Amentan prisoners unless their families have a very short commute."

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"We could have gotten to a lot of parts of Calado in twenty minutes."

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The shuttle jumps. It's now in Elendil. She gestures for them to disembark and board one for Vanda Nossëo. "I think there are logistical issues with having a shuttleport in Calado right now, the court might just rule you get your own teleporter to take you there directly."

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"Wow."

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"There are a couple on retainer for that purpose. Expensive, but we don't take our own standards very seriously if we're not willing to spend money to make them happen." Vanda Nossëo - Elendil shuttles run every five minutes. They board one. 

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The husband and kid are kind of gawking at all the everything.

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The shuttle ports are set up like train stations except without the rails; the shuttles just teleport in and out. Lots of the people going back and forth look like Amentans with the wrong hair color; some are Elves; some are more alien aliens, with four or six legs or tentacle eyes. The shuttle jumps again. 


"Okay, last shuttle, Vanda Nossëo to the prison," she says cheerfully, as they arrive in a very very large astonishingly beautiful shuttle station.

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"I guess it wouldn't be that much worse than learning a subway," says husband dubiously.

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"I can get you the language thing so you can at least read the signs." Down an escalator. "And keep you company for a few more trips, if the courts deny a direct teleporter."

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"Thanks."

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They board the last shuttle. "Elendil is the biggest transit point in your galaxy," she says, "and Vanda Nossëo has direct jumps to every member planet at least hourly, so this is the way to get anywhere in the consortium."

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"How do the shuttles go?" asks the kid.

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"They have a teleporter in the front cabin who moves them. It's a good job if you want to be able to teleport - you agree to move the shuttles and if you pass all the screening they'll agree to have you teleport-enabled."

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"What caste is it?" the kid asks.

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"...we don't have castes."

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"...well, we do."

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"...well I don't think the shuttle companies would refuse to hire someone who was the wrong Amentan caste for the job, since they'll hire aliens without any caste at all. What sorts of jobs does your caste do?"

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"Dancing and security and boating and sports and stuff."

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"There are security teleporter jobs - transporting prisoners to and from hearings is a teleporter job, arresting officers can teleport so they can move someone to a cell without endangering anybody - if you wanted to teleport and wanted something more like what you'd do at home." The last shuttle jumps. They're on a pretty ringed planet, next to an ocean.

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Ooh, rings.

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And she walks them to the prison, which is right by the shuttleport for the convenience of visitors. The prison has a scanner for them to walk through that checks for dangerous magic things. Visitors wear a visitor badge.

 

Pregnant lady and her husband are hanging out in the main room looking at onesies on their computer. He's wearing a visitor badge. 

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Husband and kid put on their badges and double-take at the pregnant lady.

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And they can have six hours of visitation!

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They visit. They want to know what the pregnant lady did.

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She was part of a sect opposed to galactic membership which assassinated several politicians over it!

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Why didn't they want to be members?

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Their religion opposes birth control and the Vanda Nossëo health clinics offer it.

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That seems incredibly dangerous, the opposing birth control.

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...dangerous?

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...because then there will be lots of babies, all out of control.

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...yes, people in that religion do have lots of kids. It's still a fairly minority religion because the retention rate is pretty low. They'll intervene if someone has more children than they can provide for, of course.

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"But they're just allowed to have all the kids they want?"

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"...yes?"

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"...on our planet letting people do that violates like all the international treaties."

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"Oh. There aren't treaties about population size here, just about standards of living and things. If someone's population were growing so fast they were all starving and couldn't survive without ongoing external aid then there'd be an intervention for that population in particular but most places are doing just fine without rules so there's not much need to add them."

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"Don't they run out of room?"

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"Oh, not really - people emigrate, found new planets and things."

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Grey family looks at each other.

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"We've gotten forty new colony planets off the ground since we joined!" says someone else cheerily. "Every idiot with a grand idea about how to run society was like 'I will found a planet that is Run Perfectly' and then they petitioned and if their grand idea was actually a lawful, safe place, whether it was a good idea or not, the petition usually went through so now we've got a place where the workers own the means of production and a place that's all tiny islands with Dunbar's number of people and a planet for the anarcho-capitalists and a planet for the orthodox Aratothalians and a planet where the whole place is under that truth effect the courts use and a planet that's mostly people resurrected from the 2200s..."

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"...anybody can start a planet and there are only forty?"

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"Long waitlist, you need a lot of magic to make one and it's a kind of magic in short supply. You get bumped up the waitlist if there are more people signed up to live on your planet once it exists. I think Mîr has thousands, because Mîr can make them faster."

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"How does anyone decide where to go?"

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"You know, read about the laws and visit and decide where seems like a nice place to live. Or there's tons of reviews and debate on the internet, or you go where all your neighbors are going..."

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"Don't essential services on the previous planets get disrupted by mass emigration?"

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"If there were some place so bad that lots of its citizens would leave if they could I don't think it'd make it as far as being a member planet. Member planets are nice, it's the law, they've got to have good schools and good healthcare and reliable internet and transportation and just, consistently-enforced laws and freedom of speech and so on - and lots of people would rather fix their home than find a new one... I can't think of anywhere where tons of people left as soon as they were allowed -"

"I think there were a couple? But they were things like 'these ethnic groups hated each other, one of them left', usually without all that much economic integration to start with."

"It's legal to have a six-month emigration process so you can fill in gaps in services. Fayytr has a yearlong process, that one's getting challenged in court."

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Huh.

Eventually the husband and kid go home.

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Teleporting Elves make food deliveries in Yvalta.

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One of them is accosted by an orange who runs his way, falls into a kneel, skids on his knees toward him, and clutches at his robe. "I will do anything you want if I can bring my wife away from here and have a baby," he says.

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...Elf is startled. "...uh. Okay. Where's your wife -"

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"She's at the clinic."

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"...are you going to get in trouble for - please stand up, I promise it'll be okay - are you going to get in trouble for asking this -"

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"Only if you don't take us."

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"Right now?"

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"Now would be good."

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"...okay. Let's go get your wife, then - please stand up -"

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He stands up and brushes himself off and sets off clinicward, looking over his shoulder sometimes to make sure the Elf is still there.

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The Elf is still there! Looking very concerned!

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The man goes and pulls his wife out of the clinic. She is also orange and limps.

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"...hi. Do you want to, uh, come back to Ambaróna with me and I'll get you both citizenship - and you can have as many children as you want -"

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She makes a confused whimpering noise and clings to her husband's arm but nods.

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Pop pop pop they're in an absurdly spacious sixteenth-floor studio apartment that looks out on a stunning streetful of Elves. This Elf looks very confused and distressed. "Uh. Here we are. I've got, um, a couple more hours of deliveries, are you going to be okay here until I'm done with work for the day - I'll land outside my apartment and knock, I won't teleport in on you -"

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Nod nod.

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"There's - food in the kitchen, I think it should all be fine for Amentans, you can have whatever you need, we don't have population controls here - are you okay -"

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"Thank you."

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"- of course."

Distressed Elf vanishes.

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The oranges look around a little in the apartment, politely noninvasive.

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It's neat and spacious and has lots of tasteful artwork and an alien piano and a balcony. Their chosen Elf seems to live alone. The kitchen is well-stocked with unfamiliar fruits and vegetables and breads and a plate of cookies.

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...they take a little fruit and bread.

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They are strange but definitely still fruit and bread.

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And then they curl up on the couch and cuddle and calm down.

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There's a knock on the door a couple hours later.

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Mr. Orange gets it.

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It's their Elf. "Hi. I'm done with work. Is it a good time for me to come in?"

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"Yes, of course." He steps aside, bows a little.

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"...I'm not anybody important. If you were confused about that. I can get you citizenship and the kids won't be a problem but I'm not - uh, if we had a caste system my hair would be purple I think, I do deliveries."

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"One kid. She's nineteen," murmurs Mr. Orange.

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"- okay. I - Eru." He shakes his head. "Uh, my name is Andúnar, it's very nice to meet you."

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"I'm Lynt and she's Vae."

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"Do you want to see a doctor about the limp?"

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"She is a doctor, it's not something we can fix..."

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"We might be able to, though, we have magic."

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"- yes please."

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"- okay, I'm going to call someone with the healing spell to drop by, that might be easier than taking you out and about right now." He wrinkles his brow slightly. "They'll be here in a minute. So she's - a doctor - and what do you do -"

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"Addiction counseling."

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Nod. "And what do you guys need - a place to stay, I'll look into that, citizenship's pretty easy as long as you stay out of trouble - I guess there are prenatal supplements and things and Elf ones might not be good enough..." There's a knock on the door.

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Oranges look up.

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He opens it. It's another Elf. 

"Hi!" says the new Elf. "I have healing. I touch you and it should fix injuries or illness. Would you like me to do that?"

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"Yes please," says Mr. Orange, pointing at Mrs. Orange.

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Elf taps her.

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She straightens out her leg and beams.

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Elf beams back. "That everything?"

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"Yes, thank you so much," she says.

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"Of course." Out he goes.

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Oranges cuddle back up.

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" - I'm actually thinking maybe you could go to Afterlife. You'd have a little bit longer to conceive and it's - very the opposite of Yvalta."

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"...Afterlife?"

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"It's another planet near here, it has - a time effect where everything happens about a tenth as fast, so I'm pretty sure it'd continue to be spring longer for Amentans. You don't have to, I'm just trying to think what'll - work best - stress isn't good for babies -"

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"We'll go anywhere," says Mr. Orange.

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" - yeah, let's do that. Also a place to live will be cheaper - do you want a city or the countryside -"

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"Where is there work -"

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"I'll pay your expenses, Elves hold that people shouldn't work when they have little children because it's good for them to spend the time with the children."

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Mrs. Orange sniffs.

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He wavers uncertainly. "If you really love your work you don't have to quit or anything, just - it seems like finding a new job in a new country while you're pregnant would be hard and scary and it doesn't have to be."

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"We don't really love our work," says Mr. Orange, "it just, we would have done anything and you don't want us to do anything -"

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"It's such a big universe," he says unhappily, "there are so many people and we want to give this to everybody but we can't do it fast enough."

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Oranges cling to each other.

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"Let me know when you want to go. Uh, if you'd like anything from home, I should do that first, so we don't have to make lots of trips."

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"Oh - we weren't expecting to have a chance to pack -"

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"I mean, I don't know if we're going to be in trouble with your country or anything, but if not I can take you back there and you can pack. Why didn't they - why didn't they let you - if the rule is that people get kids when they contribute and - doctors and counselors are important -"

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"It was a - series of complicated - mistakes," he says, "you probably don't want the whole story -"

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" - I kind of do but it's really not my business - you're clear on that I'm not going to take this away, right, you're here now and have the right to have your child and nothing can change that..."

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Oranges blink at hm.

Mr. Orange says, "She got out of medical school when she was seven and went on an eight year service track with our House to get a permission at fifteen and eligible to re-up and be set for another at nineteen, but shortly before spring four years ago we were audited to see if we'd be fit parents and I'd taken a patient's stash and hadn't turned it in yet and they found it and disqualified her and it took a year and a half to appeal and she was allowed to start over but it was too late for an eight year track to get anywhere, so she switched to an independent clinic with better hours and money but no permissions and we started trying to switch Houses, and we found one with accelerated double tracks for couples and were on one of those but the head of House died and the successor lost some important political mess with the other blues and didn't have as many permissions to hand out and voided our contracts and we've been trying to find anything else and people keep telling me to divorce her and find someone else because I'm younger but -"

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"...that's. Not how the law works in other places. Just so you know."

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"We know other countries are different. We tried to swap somewhere but no one would take it."

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Nod. "Okay. Why don't - why don't we go back so you can pack and I'll check if anyone's sold the house on Afterlife that my family would sort of have a claim to and buy a new one if that one's taken and then you'll be all set."

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"Thank you."

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He takes them back.

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She's scolded for leaving work and making her co-worker finish a procedure by herself and scurries home with her husband rather than talk to anyone from the clinic. They pack.

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He checks whether anyone has laid claim to the house in Afterlife that corresponds to the one in Tirion his family vacated in going off to war. No one has. He takes them there. It's in a little town on a bright clear mountain lake. Fifteen thousand people and a cobblestone street and a train station. 

The house is spacious and exquisitely pretty and for some reason not dusty at all even though no one has been here in years.

"Will this do?"

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"It's so beautiful," breathes Mrs. Orange.

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"Thank you. I - I never lived here exactly but this house was built to replace the one I grew up in, which was destroyed in the war. It's all yours. Oh -" tap tap. "For the language. Afterlife doesn't have many laws, just - be a good neighbor, pretty much - but they censor violent or sexual or distressing content on the internet. It's obnoxious - you won't get in trouble for anything but they might delete, like, crime novels, if you try writing online crime novels. And Elves don't have a nudity taboo but we have a thing about loose hair, we usually braid it."

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"...we don't write novels..."

Mr. Orange starts braiding his hair; Mrs. Orange's is very short.

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"Then you'll be fine. I just wanted to make sure you knew everything so it's not surprising. And so you don't, like notice how bland all the journalism is and wonder what they're hiding - they're not, this is just a very bland place." Giggle.

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"Thank you."

"Is it only fiction, should we - not talk about where we came from -"

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"I think you should talk as much as you want about where you came from. Maybe not to children."

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Nod.

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"I'm going to tell the neighbors you're here and recovering from a stressful time and they will probably arrange to bring you meals while you get your feet under you, is that all right?"

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"That would be so lovely - thank you -"

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"Of course. I - I'm really glad you asked me."

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Mr. Orange smiles tentatively.

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Smile. "I'll stop by in a week to make sure you're settled in okay?"

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"Thank you so much."

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"Of course. - oh, the grocery store is just down the street, just walk along it until you see a sign that says 'grocery', and you can just tell them you can't pay right now, they won't care."

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"They won't?"

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"Not at all. I mean, they might know more than me about what kind of programs there are these days to help with that and they might sign you up for one of those, but they'd never want someone to have an empty pantry just because they didn't have money, they'll be so glad you went and got food."

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"All right. And you've done - something about the language?"

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"You'll be able to read and speak it now. Any language anywhere, actually."

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"Is this going to affect how the baby learns language?"

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"I'd have to check the manual -" He frowns. "Uh, apparently it's not recommended to do to a child under, ah, Amentan two or so, but he or she will hear you in your native language by default and should learn it fine - you'd want to switch it off if you were teaching your child to read in Quenya or something like that."

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Nod.

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"- oh, you can write me if you need anything, I have a notepad -" It has his name at the top, c/o Ambaróna open channel - "It gets forwarded to me about thirty-five minutes past the hour, usually." He gives them the notepad.

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"Thank you."

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"Take care."

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Oranges go in the house.

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Neighbors bring meals.

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They are thanked profusely!

(And when the meals slow down they get to work on making a baby.)

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Greys' defense attorneys stop by again to ask them if they've had a bit more time to process their options.

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One of them has picked a place she wants to move to. Others are narrowing it down.

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That one can have a deal where she agrees that it's not good to kidnap people, promises that she is removing herself from the environment in which the whole mess occurred, and gets the whole thing dropped.

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Sweet.

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The blue case goes to court. Her attorney has lined up a selection of Calador blues agreeing that this is totally part of the legitimate and reasonable operations of their legal system. The prosecution observes that, had the Elves been notified that they had been arrested, they would have had expectations about how they could be treated and how long they could legally be held, and that there were a lot of opportunities to suggest that was what was going on, none of which were taken. The prosecution observes that this would, if the Elves hadn't had writing materials around, be a negligent murder case, and that taking people into custody involves assuming a degree of responsibility for their wellbeing and maintenance which no one in Calado displayed. 

The Elves testify very compellingly that they were concerned these terrifying strangers who were holding them prisoner without an explanation might, once it became clear they wouldn't cooperate, escalate from vague threats, and that any hint they'd been arrested as part of the operations of a functional legal system under which they had rights would have been very reassuring. They are asked if they think the Senator intended them to feel assured they had rights and would be released even if they declined to answer questions. They say very charitably that they do not really think so.

The prosecution further and very irritably observes that if the court accepts the legal theory proposed by the defense and finds this to have been a lawful arrest in the absence of any tangible evidence that anyone involved thought of it as an arrest or communicated as much or intended to release the defendants once the safety concern was mitigated, then the court will be finding that Calado's senators can never under any circumstances be guilty of kidnapping people.

Does Datna want to testify.

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Will it help?

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"Can you say under the truth effect that at the time you were thinking of it as an arrest for public safety reasons? Or that you intended to arrange their safe release even if they didn't answer questions? Or that any implication they might come to harm if they didn't cooperate was definitely unintended -"

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"The last thing, probably. I'm not sure about the first."

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" - then probably no, but if you're convicted you can testify to the last thing at sentencing and they won't be allowed to ask about the first because it wouldn't be sentencing-relevant."

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She sighs and follows her lawyer's advice. This justice system is weird.

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This justice system thinks she kidnapped three of their citizens and should spend five (local) years in prison for it, reevaluation after two for good behavior and making restitution and progress at understanding why it's wrong to kidnap people.

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Ugh.

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The justice system doesn't especially care how she feels about this. 

 

 

The Vanda Nossëo representatives in Rivik are having a really hard time communicating the 'if they can fill out a ballot they get to do that' thing.

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"But they can't, because they can't have any ballots, because they're red," explains their liaison patiently.

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"No, see, they get a ballot, and then if being red impedes filling it out somehow then it doesn't get filled out."

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"I think there's something you're not understanding. These are reds, they're untouchable, and they don't vote."

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"...look, if you don't want membership then you don't have to have any votes at all, but if you are having any votes, the procedure for votes is that ballots are made accessible online and in person everywhere and then every ballot that gets filled out counts except for duplicates filled out by the same person."

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"Reds aren't people, they're garbage."

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"I carefully phrased that explanation of our rules in a way that obviates that debate entirely."

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"Do you want us to carefully place ballots in crematoriums, too?"

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"Sure! And in zoos and accessible to any computers you have which might be intelligent. Anything capable of filling out a ballot will be counted, and the other ones can be made out of something biodegradeable so they don't cause clutter."

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"...I'm not sure if you understand the point of voting or if you just heard of the idea somewhere and thought it sounded fun."

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"The point of this approach to voting is that it bypasses questions of who deserves a voice and says that every voice we can hear will be considered and that we'll try really hard to be listening everywhere."

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"Why do you throw out duplicates, then?"

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"It's, like, 'we'll hear every voice we can' doesn't imply 'and if you shout you get more weight'."

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"Suppose we were hive minds or something, that makes more sense than letting reds vote."

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"There is a procedure for hive minds."

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"- well, now I'm curious."

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"It was negotiated with an Edda species, it kicks in only if individual subentities don't parse as a person to a subtle artist but the entity as a whole displays communicative intelligence."

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"...right. Anyway, we can't have reds voting. The zoos thing we can maybe do."

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" - it's easier to argue for distributing ballots in zoos in case your monkeys are intelligent than distributing them to reds, who are intelligent?"

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"Monkeys aren't unclean. Untidy maybe but not polluted."

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"I see."

 

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"I don't think we'll be able to work with you if you want reds to vote. This isn't, you understand, anything to do with how we think they'd vote - there aren't enough of them to sway much - it's just the principle."

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"It seems to be a very strongly held principle." Sigh. 

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"You have special cases for a lot of things, I'm frankly appalled this isn't one."

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"It would, historically speaking, usually have been a mistake to carve out exceptions for beings capable of casting a ballot who people felt should not be permitted to do so."

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"All the other cases you mentioned were ridiculous and I vaguely wonder if they were made up."

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"I'd be delighted to take you around so you could talk to locals about them."

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"Maybe when I have a vacation coming up."

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"All right. Thanks for your time."

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"Let us know if you change your mind about letting the garbage vote."

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Sigh.

 

 

They discuss it later. "It's - possible that this isn't actually what the reds would prefer? Like, we don't want to be in the position of taking a stance for their sake that hurts them - we could ask them, if they overwhelmingly prefer membership without voting rights or something that I can imagine a court carving out an exception for -"

"...I guess..."

          " - you're allowed to visit them, right, if you wear the plastic covers and do the shower afterwards -"

"Yeah, you are."

         "So we could go ask."

Elves venture into a Rivikni red district.

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Reds are scared and go into their homes.

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All of them?

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Two of them were in a hearse and are hiding in that instead.

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...okay. They sit down next to a building and sing quietly and wait to see if any reds get less nervous.

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Not for a long time.

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They've Elves. And also don't have any work to do here if this doesn't get resolved. After a really long time one of them will arrange someone to teleport in and drop them food. They eat the food and keep waiting.

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After four hours the hearse ones get out and make a break for it, heading for the nearest apartment building.

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"We're scaring them."

     "Yeah."

"If they wanted to talk they could have written into the channel."

    "Not if they thought something bad would happen to them."

"If they thought something bad would happen if they wrote something we could read they're not going to just talk to us."

    "Maybe not today or this week but - I don't want to just write this country off as a stupid backwater that hates reds more than they want kids until -"

"Yeah, sure, we can stay. They'll probably get less scared over time. I'll ask about regular food deliveries." She does that.

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After six hours some cops come in to the neighborhood.

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"Hello."

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"Hey. What are you doing here?"

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"Observing. Someone suggested we explain to a court that there should be an exception to the rules that would let them vote and you need firsthand information to make an argument like that."

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Cops confer briefly amongst themselves, then the same one says, "You need to clear out, they're not showing up to work."

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"...we could do invisible? So we don't interfere with that but don't have to give up on getting this country a colony planet entirely."

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"You can come back after we've told them to show up to their jobs, we want you out of here altogether for now."

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"Why? People interacting with them is exactly the kind of thing we'll need to take to the court."

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"You're the ones who scared 'em. Shoo."

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"Okay!" They stand up. "It's really important none of them get hurt  - I'm sure you know that, but just in case - if there's violence against a population while we're here and which we could be said to be even tangentially involved in, it gets escalated like crazy and suddenly there are two thousand galactic observers and sixteen thousand journalists and felony murder charges for everyone and their relatives - I know you obviously wouldn't hurt people over not going to work, that doesn't even get them to work any faster, it just bears mentioning because it'd be such a catastrophe if it came up."