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Generated: Jun 22, 2020 8:31 AM
Post last updated: Jun 22, 2020 8:31 AM
Hold on, what's this
Bruce meets Zoombinis
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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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It's dark, and cold, and damp, and has a cavelike smell.

For the moment, there doesn't seem to be anything much around.

But wait! Is that a very quiet noise, echoing in the distance? Sort of... squeaky?

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He knew MIT had tunnels, but what the unmitigated fuck is this? If he has managed to sleepwalk into the sewer system this is either going to be a hilarious anecdote or a deeply embarrassing obituary. He squints into the darkness and calls out "Hello? Is there anyone else down here?"

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The squeaky noise stops, and there is an amount of very quiet chittering, and then a dim light is visible off to his left. The light grows brighter as a... creature... rounds the corner and rolls into view.

The creature has a round pale blue body, a round bright yellow nose, fluffy dark indigo hair, and its means of locomotion is a pair of thick rugged-looking wheels with heavy treads. There is a small lantern nestled amidst its fluff. It doesn't seem to have any separation between body and head, or limbs other than its wheels, and it is about the size of a basketball.

It pauses, narrows its small dark eyes, and peers into the darkness ahead. When it spots Bruce it hops slightly in place, then leans forward and rolls confidently toward him.

Stopping several feet away on the tunnel floor, it stares up at him and demands, "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

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"I don't know and I'm Bruce Banner. Uh, in the other order. Where am I?" He wants to add "and who are you, are you a space alien" because they sure do look like a space alien or possibly a product of mad science, but apparently they're already ticked at him so better not.

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The creature somehow, without eyebrows or a mouth, still manages to frown.

"You're in a tunnel underneath Zoombini Isle." The creature rolls back and forth slightly, with an attitude of focused contemplation, and then stops and draws themself up into a steady, solid stance.

"Suppose I have three blocks," they say suspiciously. "One is red, one is green, one is blue; one is a circle, one is a triangle, one is a square. The blue block isn't round, the green block isn't square, and neither the circle nor the triangle is red. What colour is each of the shapes?"

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"Well, if the circle and the triangle aren't red then the square must be, and if the blue one isn't round that makes it the triangle, and that means the green one has to be, what was the other one, the circle."

(Bruce is an MIT grad student; this is a pretty normal conversation except for how it doesn't need a whiteboard and there isn't one nearby.)

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The creature relaxes slightly. "Well, you're not a Bloat," they conclude. "I'm Speeba." Another slight back-and-forth roll. "Do you really not have any idea how you got here? If the tunnel is compromised..." They trail off rather than articulate the implications.

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"Yeah, sorry, one minute I was stuck in an evil building and the next I was here. I either fell in a negative space wedgie or did a lot of drugs and walked into a storm drain." He hopes it's the former; he's much more a fan of Star Trek than of Alice in Wonderland. "I don't think anyone knows about you, though. What's a Bloat?"

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"Bloats are a problem," Speeba says cryptically. "And I'd rather not park here chatting about them all day. You can come with us if you're quiet; there should be just about enough room for you on the boat."

They turn around in a smooth practiced maneuver, lean in the direction they came, and call in a carrying undertone, "All clear!"

A parade of round blue creatures emerges from the darkness.

Three more are balancing lanterns on their heads, and all of those are basketball-sized like Speeba; the rest range in size from a little smaller than that all the way down to the tiniest orb, small enough to nestle comfortably in two cupped hands, who has fluffy hair and big sleepy eyes and a red nose and rolls along determinedly on a miniature version of Speeba's wheels. Nose colour, hairstyle, eye shape, and means of locomotion all seem to vary wildly among the population: there are propellers, rollerskates, coiled springs, and bright pink sneakers all visible in the crowd, alongside small eyes like Speeba's, sleepy ones like the littlest creature's, pink sunglasses, red spectacles, and even a few cyclopes.

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Okay so there's an entire family (?) of cute tiny aliens and some sort of menace and he needs to get in a boat. Boat sounds way better than tunnel in terms of becoming less confused about where he is. He says "Okay, thanks," softly enough not to carry much and follows along.

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The creatures guide Bruce along the tunnel. Speeba takes the lead, another lantern-bearer follows a few bodylengths behind, then all the little ones in a big group, and lastly the two remaining lantern-bearers bring up the rear. The journey is quiet, with only the occasional squeak of wheels or chitter of tiny voices.

And then they reach their secret dock. It seems to be early morning; the freshly risen sun sheds just enough light to clearly illuminate a Speeba-scaled sailboat tied up at the pier. The four biggest creatures set down their lanterns and line up the little ones in neat rows to be counted; once they've verified that they have all twelve, they start herding them onto the boat one by one. Speeba motions for Bruce to hang back until everyone's settled belowdecks, then scoops up two lanterns - another of the big ones grabs the other two - and beckons him along as they hop into the boat and pull up the ramp behind them.

The four biggest creatures, and a few of the smaller ones, get to work preparing the boat for departure. Speeba invites Bruce to take a seat on a wooden crate near the back end of the ship and then leaves him be. Everyone seems much too busy to answer questions.

 

The teeniest imaginable squeak drifts up from the hatch, and the littlest orb emerges, somehow climbing a rope ladder with their little wheels, and creeps quietly up to Bruce.

"What are you?" they ask, in a small piping voice and a surreptitious undertone.

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Bruce was holding out hope that they would come out of the tunnel onto the Charles River and he would see the Citgo Sign and know how to get home, but nope, whatever this is he's still doing it. He sits where he's put and hopes he's not so big as to make the boat hard to maneuver.

Oh gosh. Small orb, small voice, small baby alien. He is not sure he has ever seen anything so adorable in his life. "I'm a human," he says softly. "My name's Bruce. What's your name?"

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"Kwispafa!" The creature bounces gently. "I'm a Zoombini! We're escaping from the eeeevil Bloats!"

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He's probably not going to get a nuanced and accurate explanation of whatever unpleasantness is going on between the Zoombinis and the Bloats from this tiny child and isn't going to try. "Pleased to meet you, Kwispafa! I want to learn all about Zoombinis. What sort of things do Zoombinis do?"

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"We make stuff!" says Kwispafa. "We're so good at making stuff! Bloats are bad at making stuff and that's why they're taking our stuff instead." They deliver this assertion with all the authority of a small child who has heard a thoroughly reasonable explanation for the events of their life. "I helped sew the sails on this boat! Look up there," they lift their small red snoot triumphantly to point it at a part of the sail where the stitching is visibly uneven but still pretty impressive for a softball-sized child with no hands, "that's my corner!"

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"Hey, that's awesome! Making stuff is great. I'm a biologist, which means I learn new things about how people and animals work so people can make new things that nobody's made before. Is sewing your favorite kind of making things?"

Kwispafa is extremely good. He? She? Screw it, they, aliens probably don't even have the same set of genders anyhow, is just super cute and friendly and this whole thing is extremely Star Trek. Or possibly a less-screwed-up version of Gulliver's Travels.

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Kwispafa thinks hard about this question for a few seconds, and then says, "My favourite thing to make is cake."

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"Cake is super good."

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"It is!" Kwispafa is so glad Bruce is aware of this important fact about the world.

The boat gets underway. One of the adults(?) comes by and gently shushes Kwispafa, who proceeds to sit very quietly with the attitude of someone doing the Very Important Job of Not Making Any Noise, and for a few minutes all is quiet except for the sounds of cute round aliens stealthily operating a sailing vessel. They emerge from their hidden cove and sail away from what looks like a moderately large island.

Once the island has faded into the distance, everyone breathes a sigh of relief and Speeba comes over to park by Bruce and Kwispafa. "Whew. So far so good. Hey, stranger, I don't suppose you know anything about the fabled lands of logic?"

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"Not by that name, anyway. I think I'm farther from home than I thought it was possible to get. Have you heard of Earth or the United States?"

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Speeba sighs. "Didn't think so, but it was worth a try. And no, I've never heard of those."

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"Mind telling me where we're going and what you're planning to do when we get there? I'm happy to help if I can; you've been very hospitable." They have, too. He hopes he would have been this friendly if a giant alien had dropped on him while he was in the middle of going someplace.

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"We're going to the fabled lands of logic, of course. Bloats are hopeless at logic puzzles, they'll never be able to follow us - if, that is, the fables are true, and if we can navigate the puzzles well enough to reach a good place to settle."

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"Well, I'm pretty good at puzzles, though I'm not sure what a land of them would look like. I don't know much about living off the land or finding good places to settle but I can learn." He hopes this boat journey will be short enough that he doesn't have to start eating their provisions, which were presumably planned to be enough for the group minus him. For that matter, he hopes he can eat the food on this planet at all. "Made first contact with aliens, starved to death because their amino acids go the other way" is a cooler story than he thought his life would have, but also a shorter and more depressing one.

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"We're all going to be learning things; I know plenty about living off the land on Zoombini Isle, much less in strange faraway places. But it'll be useful to have someone so big along, if you want to join the expedition."

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"I'd be happy to!" It's not as though he has any other commitments he could actually get to from here, and the Zoombinis seem awesome company. Especially if he can actually help out and not just hang around awkwardly.

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"That'll make carrying our supplies much easier!" says Speeba with an expression that manages to approximate a relieved smile despite their lack of any discernible mouth.

Kwispafa interjects, "And I bet you'd make such big cakes!"

...Speeba digests this comment with a thoughtful air. "Eat bigger ones, too, probably," they say thoughtfully. "We should have enough to make it to the point where we're self-sustaining on the other side... we definitely have enough to make it to the shore, at least, when we loaded the boat we prepared for a very long journey."

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"Yeah, I was thinking about that too. Also I'm not sure whether I can eat your food, though the fact that you have something you call cake is . . . wait a second, how do we even speak the same language? Is this English we're speaking?"

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"English? Never heard of it. This is Islish," says Speeba. "Spoken all across the Archipelago."

It sure sounds like English, and feels like English when Bruce speaks it, and in all other ways is not perceptually distinguishable from English.

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"That is. Not the weirdest thing that's happened today but it would definitely have won if it had happened last week. And I have a whole bunch of experiments I want to do now but possibly it should wait until after we figure out the important logistical stuff."

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"Yes, I suppose that is very strange," Speeba agrees. "You're right about the priorities, though. Speaking of which, I'd better get back to running this operation. Kwisp, you can stay up here and chat as long as you're ready to nip back down the hatch as soon as we hit choppy waters."

"Yes, Ammi," Kwispafa says dutifully.

"Good kid. I'll be right there, Caf!" Speeba un-parks and rolls, one might almost say zooms, away.

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"So, do language experiments sound fun to you?"

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"What's a language experiment?"

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"So, as far as I know no human has ever met a Zoombini before, but we can speak the same language, except you call it Islish and I call it English. So I want to find out what else is different and why our languages are so similar when different people came up with them, and the way I want to do that is by doing experiments--trying things where I don't know what's going to happen and learning from what happens."

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Kwispafa bounces a little. "That sounds interesting! What kinds of things do you want to try?"

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Awwwww the tiny cute alien likes experiments, and bounces, that's too adorable.

"Well, first I'd like to see if you can understand me when I'm speaking a different language. For example, this is a sentence in German; can you understand it?"

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Kwispafa shakes their head. Or, well, rotates in place in a very headshake-reminiscent way. "I can't understand that at all!"

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"Okay, so we are actually speaking the same language and not, I dunno, you're telepaths or something. Second question, that head gesture you just did meant no, and this one" he nods "means yes, right?" He has the sudden impulse to see if they have an equivalent of flipping the bird and immediately stomps on it because this is a 100% G-rated science project.

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"Yes!" Kwispafa nod-bounces. It's surprisingly distinct from a happy-bounce, even though they're doing it pretty excitedly.

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These people have such clear body language that he's better at understanding it than he is at human body language. He hopes they don't find him weirdly uncommunicative in comparison.

"Hmm, what next . . . Dialects! Do you have potatoes here? If you do, if you slice them up into sticks and then cook them with oil until the outsides are crispy, what's that called?"

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Happybounce. "Oh, I like potato fries, they're tasty!"

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"They are!" Zoombinis: apparently not British. And thank goodness this world has something at least potentially similar to potatoes and probably no countries mysteriously called France. What other regional dialect variations are there . . . "Do you have a word for the kind of shoes I'm wearing, or are they weird alien shoes?" (He's wearing sneakers.)

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"They look like shoes to me but they're pretty weird," Kwispafa admits. "Makes sense, I guess, you probably have different feet."

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"Yeah, fair, I was mostly wondering if you say 'tennis shoes' or 'sneakers' but now that I say it out loud it seems pretty unlikely you've invented tennis. You're not missing much. How about plural you? If I offered someone cake I would say, 'Would you like some cake?'; if I was offering a group of people cake what would I say then?"

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"Hey guys, I made cake!" says Kwispafa, lowering their voice a little so as not to get anyone's hopes up.

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Bruce laughs delightedly. "That's also a valid way to communicate that! What if I had said 'Would y'all like some cake' or for that matter 'Would youse guys like some cake' or 'Would yinz like some cake'? Like, separate from the actual question of the cake, would you think I was using silly made-up words or reasonable ones?" He feels like he is going to owe this kid a cake at the end of this and if he had any hope of finding a kitchen maybe he would be able to follow through on that.

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"Those all sound pretty silly! I guess I'd say 'you' or 'you guys' instead of those? Are those real words where you're from?"

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"They are, yeah, but only people who live in certain places use them. Are there Zoombinis living in lots of different places and speaking different languages?"

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"I think there's just Zoombini Isle and this boat. And lots of people who aren't Zoombinis speak Islish too. Like the Bloats!"

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"What are the Bloats like? I think I got mistaken for one earlier." Oh void and botheration, if this was a YA novel it would turn out that the Bloats were humans who had come here from Earth to be generically oppressive and that's why the mysterious English. He hopes that is not what's going on and not just because it would be deeply clichéd.

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"They're really big like you and have arms like you but none of them wear glasses," says Kwispafa. "And I think their hair is a different colour. It's sort of pinkish red. I haven't seen one up close though."

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"Huh." Well, if he is in a clichéd YA novel he will have time to deal with it later. "I'm curious about the Bloats, but we can talk about something else if you'd rather."

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"It's okay, I'm not scared!" says Kwispafa. "We're gonna go to the fabled lands of logic and do all the puzzles and find somewhere to live and then my ammi will go back home and tell everyone it's okay and they'll all sneak away to come live with us and there'll be nothing left but a big empty island and if the Bloats want to stomp around and be mean they can yell at the trees!"

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"I hope we find somewhere really nice. What are the fabled lands of logic fabled to be like?"

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"They're supposed to be full of logic puzzles that you have to solve if you want to go places. It sounds like fun!"

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"I guess the people who live there must really like logic puzzles, then."

He's vaguely imagining a continent of colorful aliens who put logic puzzles at the entrances to all of their buildings and nerd-snipe you every time you try to buy groceries, as if Mystery Hunt never stopped and just integrated itself into normal life. It sounds like a very inefficient paradise.

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"Maybe! Or maybe they're really tired of them by now! I guess we'll find out!"

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"Do you know how long it will take to get there?"

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"I know we have to sleep on the boat but I forget how many times. Not a lot though. Maybe just once?"

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"That's a good length of time for a boat trip." Whatever the food situation is, it's going to be better on land.  He looks around at the boat and the hatches and tries to ascertain whether he's likely to be sleeping on deck for lack of space below.

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He is likely to be sleeping on deck for lack of ability to fit through the hatch.

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Well, it would be even weirder if they had somehow been expecting him, and given that they weren't that's hardly a surprise. He'll just have to hope for good weather.

He casts around for another conversation topic. "Want to tell me more about what your life is like? Is Speeba one of your parents?" That's potentially an invalid question, since they could have one parent apiece or reproduce by budding or sprout like plants for all he knows, but he doesn't know how to make small talk at the best of times and right now his hypothesis space is enormous and a mess.

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"Yeah! Speeba is my ammi, and that's my yaya Cafly," they point their snoot at the fluffy bespectacled adult who is currently helping Speeba do something or other with the sails, "and my baba Nawu," the sleepy-eyed spring-borne green-snooted adult who's bouncing gently near the front of the boat, "and my uppi Awoowoo is inside with all the big kids."

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Oh gosh new words! "English doesn't have the words ammi and uppi and baba and yaya so I don't know what the differences are, but that's cool that you've got your family with you."

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"You get your feet from your ammi and your eyes from your baba and your hair from your yaya and your snoot from your uppi!" they explain. "Well, not really, you can be a different way if you want. But you're sposed to look like your parents."

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He's learning alien genetics from actual aliens! Or possibly alien body-modding customs which is also mega neat. "Cool! Humans look like their parents too. Do you start out looking like your parents the way you're supposed to, or do you start out looking a different way and change it to match your parents on purpose?"

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"You start out with the same eyes as your baba and the same feet as your ammi - well, if your ammi has legs you have legs and if your ammi doesn't have legs you don't. But I have to dye my snoot to look like my uppi's. My hair goes floof all by itself though!"

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His hair (her hair? fuck it, their hair) does go floof and it's adorable. "It's neat how many ways to get around without legs you have. Nearly all humans have legs and a small number have wheels, but we're too tall to balance on springs and too heavy to use propellers. As a one-person thing, I mean, we have airplanes that use propellers to fly but they're too big to use instead of wheels or feet."

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"Propellers are neat! My friend Impu tried their sib's propeller on once, but they kept crashing into walls and had to give it back. It's hard to use feet that aren't the right ones for you."

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"Does what kind of feet are easiest run in families, or is it just practice?" It's kind of amazing, he thinks, how many layers of model uncertainty he's currently operating on. Uncertainty about how well Zoombini science reflects reality, uncertainty about how much science this kid knows, uncertainty about how well he's understanding Kwispafa's explanations versus projecting unjustified assumptions he doesn't know he's making, and of course the base layer of uncertainty about whether he's currently having a very weird semi-lucid dream on the floor of the Stata Center.

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"I think it runs in families but I guess maybe it could be practice too!"

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"Do you get them as soon as you're born?"

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Kwispafa considers this question for a few seconds, then says, "I'm not sure! I don't remember hatching."

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"Yeah, I guess if you don't have any little sibs you wouldn't know. Hmm, is there anything you'd like to know about Earth? Or I can keep asking you questions."

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"I like your questions, they're interesting!" But they think for a couple more seconds and then add, "What's it like on Earth? Do you have cake there?"

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"We do have cake! Earth is a lot of different ways in different places, but I live in a really good one. It's a city called Cambridge, and I live with a bunch of people who are all learning all the science we can. I'm mostly learning about how human bodies work so I can discover new ways to make humans healthier."

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Happybounce. "That sounds like a good thing to learn! I like learning things."

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"Learning things is great! What have you been learning lately? Do Zoombinis go to school?"

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"Older kids have school sometimes! I was helping make the boat this week so I learned things about that. Sewing is hard!"

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"Sewing gets easier with practice. Not that I know much more than how to put buttons on things. How do you hold the needle, by the way? I use my hands for stuff like that."

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"Oh!" they say, peering curiously at Bruce's hands. "That's not how we hold things!"

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"Would you mind showing me how you hold things? I'm sure it'll be obvious once I've seen it but I'm having trouble imagining it."

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Kwispafa looks around for loose objects and can't immediately find anything; the grownups are keeping the deck pretty tidy.

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Bruce fishes his student ID out of his pocket and holds it out.

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Kwispafa nudges it, then picks it up. They seem to be holding it with the side of their face; it's hard to describe but looks pretty straightforward to accomplish if your face happens to work like that, which human faces definitely don't. Then they flip it neatly up to the top of their head - "see, and this is how we carry things" - and tip it off again and catch it and hold it out to Bruce.

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"Wow, okay! I can't at all do that, that's neat," Bruce says, taking the card back and pocketing it. He makes a frankly bizzare and ridiculous facial expression trying to do that and confirms that he super cannot.

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Kwispafa giggles at him.

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Bruce giggles at himself. "So what sort of things have Zoombinis invented? Humans have invented a lot of stuff and I'm curious if we got the same things in the same order."

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"Boats! Cake! Potato fries! Wheelbarrows!" says Kwispafa.

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"We have all of those! Do you have cars? Hot air balloons? Microwave ovens? The light bulb?" They clearly have something powering their propellers, so it seems like a decent bet that they have electricity.

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"What's a hot air balloon? What's a microwave oven? I know what a car is, it's a part of a train! And lightbulbs are part of lamps!"

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They have trains! Trains are great. "Hot air balloons are balloons--big bags of cloth--with baskets hanging under them, and you light a fire at the bottom of the balloon, and it heats up the air in the balloon which makes it expand, and that makes the balloonful of air weight less than the air around it so it floats up into the sky! Microwaves are boxes that make an invisible kind of light that heats things up, like how sunlight feels warm but moreso, and you can use them to heat up food."

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"Wooow! I don't think we have those things at all!"

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"My world has a lot of cool things! Most of them use electricity; I'm guessing you have that and the propeller folks use it to turn their propellers but I guess you could be using something else we haven't invented."

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"I don't really know how propellers work," Kwispafa admits. "Lightbulbs use electricity though!"

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He is not going to ask to take apart a propeller and see how it works. He is not going to do that. He is going to say, "I guess I'll have to ask an adult with a propeller at some point. Do you know if you've invented the steam engine? In my world we got that before electricity."

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"Yeah! Trains use those."

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"Nice, so did the ones in my world for a while. It's too bad I don't get to see your cities and all the cool things you've built. But maybe I'll get to see you build new ones!"

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Happybounce. "We're gonna build new ones in the lands of logic and it's gonna be great!! I wanna help my parents design our house! It's gonna be taller than you!"

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"Is it going to have multiple floors? Do you use ramps to get from one floor to the next?" Sure, those wheels can apparently climb a rope, and isn't that embarrassing when he cannot climb a rope even a little bit, but stairs still don't sound optimal.

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"Sometimes! Sometimes we use ladders or stairs but ramps are easier."

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"Makes sense. Humans go for stairs more than ramps but lots of places have ramps too." He looks off at the horizon; he's no sailor but the weather over thataway looks kind of shit.

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"Are humans better at using stairs than Zoombinis?"

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"Well, I've never seen a Zoombini use stairs, but I would guess that we are? We have long legs so we can have bigger individual steps, and that might let us build them steeper."

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"Ohhh," says Kwispafa in a tone of dawning realization. "Do you all have legs?"

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"The vast majority of us do, yeah. A few people have legs that don't work very well, so they sit in chairs with wheels and get around with ramps and elevators. Do you have elevators or should I explain them?"

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"We have elevators! Having to put your wheels on a chair sounds hard," says Kwispafa. "But maybe it works better that way because you're so tall. If you tried to use my wheels you'd probably fall over!"

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"Oh, I would definitely fall over. And there's not really a good place to attach wheels to a human who can't use their legs that's easier than putting them on a chair. And if you can use your legs sometimes but not all the time it's convenient to have a chair you can get into and out of whenever."

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"That makes sense. I think," Kwispafa says uncertainly. "Wow, that's so different from how Zoombinis work."

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"Different kinds of people existing and being different is the coolest. Are there people in this, uh, reality, other than you and the Bloats? Back home it's just humans."

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"There's different people on the other Isles but I don't know much about them. I think we used to talk to them before the Bloats came and now we don't. And I guess there's whoever lives in the fabled lands of logic but I don't know anything about them."

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"I guess we'll find out!" More kinds of aliens! This is the best ridiculous ongoing hallucination and he should probably be trying to wake up but he doesn't want to, he wants to keep experiencing this as long as it's available.

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"Yeah!"

That weather Bruce saw earlier is getting closer; another of the adults, the one called Cafly if he's been keeping track, comes by to herd Kwispafa belowdecks.

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Bruce looks around for something to hide from potential rain under. Ideally something near the centerline of the deck; he doesn't know enough about how delicately ships are balanced to be sure he won't make it harder to steer if he hangs out on one edge.

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Amid their other preparations for the approaching storm, Speeba and Cafly throw a tarp over him.

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He has a vague mental image of being on a checklist of equipment somewhere and chuckles, then tucks the tarp over and around himself in such a way as to minimize the odds of sitting in a puddle.

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It's up to him whether he wants to try peeking out the front of his bundle to watch the storm. The adults and a couple of the very biggest kids are darting around the boat making adjustments and tying things to other things in a very practiced-looking way.

Then there is a lot of rain, which makes loud noises on his tarp. Some of the rain is going sideways. He was successful at avoiding sitting in a puddle, though!

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He has seen storms before; he prefers watching them through glass windows in sturdy waterproof buildings. Today he will hunker under his tarp and not try anything that night let the rain in. And also sleep; it was late at night in his former time zone and now that the exciting novelty is on pause and there's a lot of white noise his body is remembering that it's actually quite tired.

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Then he will probably sleep right through the storm, and by the time he wakes up, they'll be in sight of land.

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He unfolds himself from the tarp and stretches. This definitely wasn't the most comfortable place he's slept, in fact it's solidly in the bottom ten, but hey, apparently he's still here and not on the floor of the Stata Center! Also, land! He goes to the railing and takes a look at the unfamiliar continent.

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The shoreline looks pretty normal from here, but then, it's barely more than a smudge on the horizon.

As they approach, it... still looks pretty normal. There's a broad sandy beach between rocky cliffs; the boat lands there. The hatch opens, and all the kids climb out, bouncing eagerly as they wait for Nawu and Cafly to finish deploying the ramp.

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Bruce will help deploy the ramp if it's something he can help with; either way he'll wait until everyone else has used it before putting his own weight on it. Not that he expects any problems; like everything else he's seen of Zoombini manufacture, it looks pretty well-made.

He's getting pretty hungry, but he isn't going to mention food until someone else does or he thinks he's about to fall over. He really hopes Zoombinis don't go a week between meals or something.

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Fortunately for him, the very next thing they do is unpack a lot of food - they solicit his help for this, since he has several times the carrying capacity of an adult Zoombini - and throw a big party on the beach.

Zoombini cuisine is mostly pretty recognizable; even items he can't specifically place still belong to fairly obvious categories, like 'bread'.

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That's bizzare, but he's not going to look a gift weirdness in the mouth. He is however going to put some of it in his mouth. Specifically, the stuff that looks like bread and fruit and vegetables; he has no idea whether Zoombinis do factory farming but even if they don't the idea of eating meat is still weird.

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The bread and fruit and vegetables are all delicious.

"Sorry we didn't feed you earlier," Speeba comments. "That storm had terrible timing. Still, though, things are looking good so far. Want to help scout, or stay behind with the kids?"

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The kids are great but his comparative advantage is probably in scouting and he wants to see more of this planet. "Those both sound fun but I want to help scout."

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"Right, come with me then." They turn to the other adults. "Who's going where?"

"I think you two can handle the scouting," says one of the three; the other two nod. "It'll take all three of us just to keep up with twelve kids," the first one jokes.

"Sure," says Speeba. "Have fun. Bruce, this way." And they roll off up the slope of the beach, getting surprisingly good traction in the sand.

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Bruce follows happily, getting a bit of sand in his sneakers but nothing he can't whack out of them later.

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The beach slopes up and up and up and the sand gives way to grass and then to scrubby underbrush and then they're on a level with the tops of the cliffs they landed at the foot of and there's a broad expanse of sparsely forested ground ahead. Speeba rolls up to the base of a tree and examines it dubiously.

"Not quite the same as at home," they conclude. "I know there's some pine trees where you can eat the bark but I'm not confident this is one of them. We can experiment if it comes to that, though." They back up and roll around the tree to continue moving inland.

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"Huh. If there are kinds of tree bark humans can eat I don't know about them, but I probably wouldn't either way. Want me to try climbing one of these and see what I can see from the top, or just keep going?"

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"—oh, that's a good idea, yes, do that."

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Up the tree he goes! He can't quite get all the way to the top because the top few branches won't support his weight, but the canopy is sparse enough that he can get a decent view from a couple meters down. What is there to see around here?

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Up ahead there seems to be a prominent bridge across a deep ravine. It looks a little sketchy but should definitely support the weight of a Zoombini no problem.

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Bruce disembarks exits the tree and reports this. "I don't know if I can get across, but if we grab some ropes from the ship we should be able to rig something as a backup."

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"Good thinking," says Speeba. "Let's go report back."

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"Sounds good." Hike hike hike. This time he is careful not to get sand in his shoes.

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Back down by the boat, the kids are settled around a small campfire while one adult entertains them with stories and the other two organize heaps of cargo into tidy stacks. Speeba makes their report to one of those two, while the other takes Bruce aside and asks him to heft some things and walk around with them to get a sense of his comfortable carrying capacity.

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By Zoombini standards, he can carry some pretty heavy loads, and if they can rig up some sort of harness or backpack or pullable sledge he can carry even more. He has never been The Strong One in a group before and it is bizzare and kind of nice (much like everything else in the last eighteen hours or so).

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Zoombinis are clever enough inventors that if he describes the concept of a backpack and is willing to put up with being climbed on a bit by industrious little orbs with measuring tapes, he'll have a sturdy pack to carry things in within a couple of hours, and they'll manage to make it comfortable to wear around indefinitely after a couple more, with a longish break for dinner in between. By this point, though, the sun is waning and it is declared to be bedtime for small Zoombinis, with the plan being that tomorrow they'll pack everything up and head up the slope to check out those bridges.

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Collectively reinventing the backpack is so much fun! Hopefully it pays off in time saved later. He eats as little dinner as he thinks he can get by on, since they haven't figured out food yet, and falls asleep excited for the next day.

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The next day dawns bright and cheerful, and the Zoombinis serve a light breakfast and then gather their cargo and roll and skate and trek and flutter their way up the slope with Bruce and Speeba in the lead. The six biggest kids are very excited to harness themselves behind two of the grownups and help pull the supply wagon.

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This is the cutest and most exciting hike he has ever been on. Between his memory and Speeba's, they find the ravine again without much trouble.