Aug 15, 2020 4:01 PM
Confusing the hell out of Bruce Banner is too much fun
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This was a lousy idea and Bruce is having a lousy time.

"Come explore the Stata Center with us," they said. "Grad students deserve to have fun too," they said. "It's better than anything else you could be doing at 3 AM," they said. Well now he's gotten separated from the group and ended up in a room with, and he has counted several times, seventeen sides and nineteen corners.

He can't tell which door he came in; worse, they're all locked. There's a window, but it doesn't open, and all he can see out of it is a different exterior wall of this same damned building. 

Bruce looks up at the ceiling, or at least at the point where all the walls converge, and his head swims, and he should have gone to sleep a long time ago, and it feels like he's about to fall off the floor into . . . 

There is a series of sense impressions that fail to resolve into a model of the world, and then Bruce is somewhere else.

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Superficially, this location resembles a forest.

The ground is thickly carpeted with small green growing things in the moss-and-grass genre. There are trees in every direction, fairly sparse in the immediate vicinity but still dense enough on average that there is no line of sight from his current position that makes it to the horizon without hitting a trunk.

However, as forests go, this one is... weirdly regular.

The trunks of the trees are all near-perfectly straight, and while they grow to different heights and have different arrangements of branches, their diameters are unnaturally uniform. They look sort of like their shapes were procedurally generated by a fairly simplistic algorithm and then clothed in perfectly realistic bark and leaves afterward.

The ground is flat. Genuinely flat, geometrically flat, flat like the Cartesian plane, with small variations in the texture of the surface and the height of the ground cover but absolutely no detectable changes in elevation as far as the eye can see.

There are no living creatures visible or audible except for Bruce himself. Nothing is moving, nothing is making noise. The only sound is the gentle rustling of leaves in the wind.

Although there's plenty of stuff growing on the ground, the kind of debris that's usual in forests—twigs, rocks, fallen leaves—is totally absent. The only thing here that isn't a plant is Bruce.

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While Bruce can't actually be sure he isn't still in the Stata Center, it seems pretty likely that he's not. He fights back panic; surely if he got here from campus he can get to campus from here. He takes stock of his surroundings and deems them Extremely Weird. Whoever made this place--and it definitely has the feel of something made and carefully maintained--put in a lot of time and effort for no clear purpose.

He knows if you're lost in the woods with people looking for you you should stay where you are and be easy to find, but with no clue how he got here he doesn't want to bet that anyone's looking. The next best strategy is to walk downhill until you find water, but that's not an option either.

If he's going to start walking, he needs to make sure he doesn't go in circles. He takes out his multitool and starts cutting the bark off a tree, aiming to make a ring around it at eye height.

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The bark comes off fairly easily.

As soon as he completes his ring, the tree makes a gentle creaking noise, sways slightly, and then from just below the ring upwards it—collapses? Vanishes? There's a puff of dust, the bark he detached crumbles into tiny fragments, and from the space formerly occupied by trunk and branches an assortment of little wooden blocks rains down on Bruce, the ground, and the unnaturally smooth stump. Each block is a cylinder, about an inch long and slightly less than an inch in diameter, like a miniature section of trunk, complete with bark on what would have been the outer surface.

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Aaaaaaaaaaaaa what. That is not something that happens in, in the world. Trees don't do that. He doesn't even know how he would rig a tree to do that. The little wood blocks feel real in his hands, he has normal proprioception and that never happens in his dreams, trying to wake up does nothing, but the fact is he remembers feeling about to fall unconscious and now nothing makes sense, so he's definitely super dreaming.

Knowing he's dreaming provides exactly fuck-all useful information about what to do next. Okay, what happens if he cuts another ring into the bark of the dream-tree with his dream-knife a little farther down?

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The next two feet or so of trunk do the same vanishing routine, and now he has one additional cylinder. If he collects them all up and counts them, he'll have twenty-one. The remaining stump is about two feet tall.

Relatedly, if he looks around, he might notice that the trees appear to be laid out on a grid. They're placed semi-randomly within that grid, but there are definitely rows and columns at work here, with each row and each column being about two feet wide and each tree trunk being slightly less than that distance across.

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He puts all the little blocks on top of the stump except two. Of those two, one goes in his pocket and he tries scraping the bark off the other. Also, do any of these trees look climbable?

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The bark Does Not come off the little block. It's as solidly impenetrable as though it was made of glass.

The trees don't, as a rule, have branches low enough to grab from the ground; it might be possible to climb them, but it sure won't be easy.

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A little creature toddles out from behind a nearby tree, walking on tiny pointy feet. It waves a tiny pointy arm in his direction.

{!!hello!!} it says, in a voice like creaking branches and rustling grass and fluttering leaves, which he somehow understands despite the complete lack of recognizable phonemes. {friend!!}

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Bruce puts his knife away when it's clear that trying to cut the tiny wood blocks will only damage it, so it's back in his pocket when the little creature shows up.

Aliens! Adorable aliens! He waves back at the being, slowly, not wanting to startle them. "Hello! It's good to meet you." Hopefully they understand him as well as he understands them.

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{you found wood!} It points a tiny arm at the tree stump. {pick up wood, make thing!}

There's something slightly odd about how the concepts of 'pick up' and 'make' come through, like the words don't quite fit right around the underlying ideas.

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Yup, that's typical dream logic communication. He should probably make sure not to do anything that would be really stupid if he wasn't dreaming, like, uh, trusting a strange alien who might or might not be actually friendly, but on the other hand if they're not friendly he doesn't want to piss them off and does want to establish communication. He picks up one of the little wood pieces from the tree stump, wondering if dream logic is about to tell him how to "make thing".

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When he reaches for the wood pieces, all of them stand up and lean toward his hand like iron filings reacting to a magnet. The one he's specifically reaching for starts hopping up and down, in tiny two-millimeter jumps, and leaps into his hand as soon as he gets close.

And now, when he's holding a piece of wood, he can sort of... 'read' something in it, similarly to how he can 'hear' meaningful communication in the adorable alien's plant noises. It's kind of like a list of... recipes? Except that each 'recipe' consists of an 'ingredients list' that's blurred out except for the part that says {1/? wood}, and a 'title' that's also blurred out, and it seems like the recipes get farther out of focus as their ingredients lists deviate farther from the {1 wood} he can currently access, so that as they reach three or more separate ingredients it gets to the point where he can barely tell they're there at all.

There's a few different things he can make with {1 wood} alone, though. If he focuses on one of those, the invisible not-text seems to 'brighten', like he's highlighting an option in a computer menu, and there's a sense of how he might activate it to produce the output of the recipe.

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Oooh, neat! What things can he make with {1 wood}?

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Well, if he tries an arbitrary one, he gets...

...a tiny fencepost?

And now - he can still access the recipe list, sort of, but it's all blurred out because he is no longer holding any ingredients.

{you made fence!} congratulates the alien. {you can put fence on ground!}

And indeed, if he holds the tiny fencepost and looks around, he can 'see' a sort of visibly-invisible preview of what it might look like scaled up to a four-foot height and standing in any particular grid square he focuses on, and he can activate that preview the same way he activated the recipe.

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Yeah, sure, he'll place his tiny fence-segment and watch it turn into a human-scale but very horizontally short fence-segment. Then he'll grab another wood-cube and see what else he can . . . no, wait, he's been ignoring the person in front of him in favor of science again, and that's rude. "Thanks for your help! My name is Bruce; what's your name?"

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{i am forest spirit! i help!!} It waves excitedly. {is good to meet bruce!}

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"It's good to meet you too, Forest Spirit! What other ingredients can I get? Is grass an ingredient?" He reaches down and picks a handful of grass.

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Grass does not provide him with any recipes.

{you can get dirt!} says the forest spirit. {you can get rock! you can get ore! you can get more wood! and different wood! and things from monsters! careful though. monsters are dangerous.}

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Monsters, huh? Yeah, he's definitely going to assume those can kill him in real life until proven otherwise. "What are monsters like? How does one avoid them? Um, sorry for asking so many questions, this is all very confusing."

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{is okay! i like helping!} the spirit assures him. {monsters are many different. forest is safest place, has only green slimes and night monsters. slimes only hurt you if you touch them, so is mostly safe. night monsters scary, but can't open doors, so build house first, will be okay.}

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"Build a house, huh? Okay." He scoops up a bunch more wood to see if building an all-woood house is an option.

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Probably there are things he can build with a bunch of wood other than the fence.

In fact there are several such things!

There are 5 things he can create for 1 wood each,
and 3 things he can create for 1 wood each with a slightly different format in their recipe entries that might indicate they belong to a different category,
and the fence for 1 wood,
and three more things for 1 wood each that seem to be in the same format as the fence,
and two things for variable quantities of wood (minimum 3) which seem to otherwise have the fence format,
and a thing for 4 wood that's mostly in the fence format but not quite.

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Bruce has a sudden desperate need for paper and pencil, and no way to get them. Unless, as seems plausible given the implausible context, he can assemble them out of wood. He tries the four wood thing first, then the two variable things at three each.

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The four wood thing turns out to be a {Crafting Table}, and the two variable things turn out to be a {door} and a {wide door}. The recipe list now shows each of these entries with its name attached.

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Having the recipes labeled once he's tried them is a lot more convenient than the alternative! This dream (drug trip? psychotic break?) is weirdly coherent for what it is. Also, the name "crafting table" suggests it will help with the recipes somehow. He puts it down while keeping the doors tiny, then stands next to it and puts his hands on it to see if that does anything, while asking the forest spirit, "What other ingredients do I need for a house?"

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