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Generated: Apr 26, 2018 9:39 PM
Post last updated: Nov 21, 2016 9:34 PM
parenting challenges
more lost Epic
Permalink Eye

He spends a week alternately crying and blowing things up. Every Earth day, loyally, he writes a letter to Boots. 

I'm trapped I can't get home I don't know what happened I don't know if it's this universe don't come get me but summon me out please I'm lonely.

He rips that one up, not that it'll interfere with Cam conjuring it.

Sorry for failing to communicate very well. I'm not in any danger. I'll try some safe experiments to figure out what happened. I'll write every day. 

 

I think I leapt twice. By trying to leap with magic while holding the prototype worldleaper. I tried jumping to the intermediary world, but I don't know anything about it and I shouldn't jump at random. I'm being safe. I miss you. I'm sorry. I didn't do it on purpose.

 

This is a big universe. I should go talk to people but I don't wanna. 

 

There's a Bell!

 

And a second after that there is an Epic next to the Bell holding a plastic scale model of the Bell's surroundings. (He is invisible and inaudible.)

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The Bell's surroundings are a field behind a house near a lake. There are horses. Two of the horses have children on them, a girl who looks like an eight-year-old human and a boy who looks like... a child of approximately the same developmental age, who is either a really short human or a normal-sized member of some undiscovered species of small humanoids.

The boy is practically glowing with smug delight. (He finally convinced Grandda to get Nika a horse worthy of the name. Magic is every bit as wonderful as he hoped for, which is good because she was imported from Illyrica at considerable expense. Miles has already caught Grandda making plans for her eventual descendants.)

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Magic is the best horse. With the best name. (Sorry, Miles, Fat Ninny is great but "Fat Ninny" is terrible.) And Magic has convenient gaits that are easy to not fall off during, which is very important. It is worse if Miles falls than if Nika does but it is likelier that Nika fall. Now Nika can wander around Vorkosigan Surleau and see stuff without falling into a ravine! Again! Or having to be carried, which was really getting to be a bit much at her age!

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Neither of them have Bell faces. He goes in closer; he might be able to tell by listening.

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"I wonder how hard it would be to have her around back home? To go into town with. I could just keep her here but I'd rather have her around all the time, she's so great."

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"She is so great," says Miles, glowingly. "I don't know, ask - ask Mama, if she doesn't have a prediction she'll know where to get one."

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He's not very patient or good at guessing. He goes visible.

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That is a winged vaguely haut-looking boy! That's weird and distressing!

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...that is weird and distressing!

He opens his mouth to yell for Grandda, and then realizes that yelling for Grandda is not at all the appropriate response

"Where'd you come from?" he demands of the newcomer, lowering his voice so as not to attract attention.

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"Really far from here I'm lost and I'm looking for the Bell - surroundings of the Bell got here, so it's one of you, or I guess it's possible it's one of the horses -"

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"The bell?"

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"I'm Miles and this is my sister Nika and as far as I know neither of us is a musical instrument. And the horses aren't either."

What does he do, what does he do, Mama didn't come on this trip...

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"Bells aren't musical instruments they're people. There're different universes and they have alternate universe versions of people and this universe has a Bell and it is one of you if the horses are just horses."

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"...and you said 'surroundings of the Bell' and you appeared out of nowhere so - you have targeted teleportation and you aimed that way?"

This is enough to distract him from the looming specter of disaster. If Grandda catches sight of the winged Cetagandan-looking kid there is going to be a problem, but - targeted teleportation!!

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"Yeah, I have a lot of magic - oh, I know how to check who's the Bell - I can read minds!"

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"Well don't do that!"

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"At least not to anybody who hasn't agreed to it," says Miles consideringly.

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"You're the Bell," he tells Nika.

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"Did you read my mind to find out, you have to stop that!"

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"No no of course not, sorry, I just mean, if you tell a bunch of people you can read minds the Bell is the one who has the strongest reaction of 'don't do that', so you're the Bell. I won't actually read minds. That wouldn't be ethical."

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"...so are you from another universe?" she says skeptically.

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"Yep! I am an Elf demon. My name is Epic. Do you need any arbitrary material objects because I can make arbitrary material objects."

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"...I want to tell our parents but I bet if we tell our parents they'll say I shouldn't get a lightflyer and then learn to fly it," says Miles. "...probably couldn't hide it from them anyway though. And we can't let Grandda see you..."

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"Yeah Grandda would be so angry. And they'd be right about the lightflyer!"

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"Why'd your Grandda be angry -"

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"Because you look like - it's complicated," says Miles. "You look like you might be genetically engineered and it sort of doesn't matter if you actually are because I'm not a real mutant and Grandda wouldn't talk to me until I was five. He'd think you were a Cetagandan or something. It'd be bad." He glances at his sister and adds as an aside, "I could so learn to fly a lightflyer, they have lots of safety features, I'd be fine."

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"You don't have anyone to teach you how! Anyway he can teleport maybe we can learn to do that. Can we?"

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"I'm not genetically engineered I'm a Elf demon, we just look like this. Genetic engineering's illegal in Warp but T'Mir thinks that's stupid and our consortium's offering incentives for researchers. And I can teach you to teleport but it'll take me a while to set up, I've never done it before."

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"What other magic do you have?"

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"I can make arbitrary matter, I can heal people, I can do illusions, I can turn into a bird, I don't have the grace spell because I didn't bother reading it but it's on the computer and then I can fix the thing where the Bell is clumsy, I can teleport, I can go invisible and inaudible, I can communicate telepathically, I can sing songs that are magic and teach other people the songs - they're magic for anyone - I can make magic artifacts that let me transfer the other powers. I think that's everything? I might be forgetting something I don't use very much."

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"...heal people, what's that mean exactly," says Miles in a tone that combines mild suspicion, eager fascination, and reluctant hope. "Heal them of what."

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"...not being healthy? It works best on injuries, sort of works on hunger and malnutrition but not much..."

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He sighs. "Probably won't do anything for me, then."

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"- well how hard is it to try - and the fixing the clumsy, how's that work -"

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"The fixing the clumsy I need to read it off my computer which will take all afternoon which is why I haven't done it yet. The healing is just touch-range."

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"...does the healing work on yourself, like, if you gave it to me could I use it when I break my legs..."

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"...yeah but I'll only give it to you if the Bell thinks I should, it's really powerful and we try to be careful who has it."

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"How is a healing spell dangerous?"

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"If someone could reverse-engineer it they could do other stuff. No one's been able to reverse engineer it and it's probably completely impossible but maybe with a crazy supercomputer or something it could be done."

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"...and why do I get to say who you give it to?"

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"Because you're the Bell."

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"Okay," says Miles. "Well, now I really want to try reverse-engineering it, but I'll give my word not to if you think it would be too dangerous, I really want to be able to just heal myself every time I break my bones. Nika, can I have the healing spell?"

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"Of course you can - why is it so important that I'm the Bell -"

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"Uh, specifically for the spells it's because a Bell invented them and she worries about sharing them but she trusts her alts' judgment. In general because Bells make good decisions so I trust them?"

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"I'm eight."

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"I hate it when people don't treat me like a person because I'm still little."

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"...We should introduce you to our mother," says Miles. "I'm just not sure how to do that without Grandda or Sergeant Bothari seeing you - we're lucky they haven't already - invisibility, you can go invisible, can you go invisible for now?"

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Invisible. "Is it just the wings, I could also make the wings invisible and not the rest of me, or I could cut them off but I don't really want to."

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"It's the wings and you're too - arty looking."

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"Oh. Can't do much about that, I could illusion it but I'm clumsy with them and eventually you'd notice."

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"If your wings were invisible and your ears looked human then people wouldn't panic about you," says Miles. "But they'd still be weird about you looking Cetagandan. Okay, I should go call Mama. Nika, can you stay out here and find out everything about magic and alternate universes while I do that?"

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"Of course!"

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Miles grins.

"Thought so. If someone comes out and wants to know why you're talking to yourself, or talking to a strange Cetagandan-looking kid, blame me," he advises.

And he goes over closer to the house, and carefully disembarks from his horse, and goes inside.

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"So how does all the stuff work and what are all the me like."

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"...that's going to take a really long time it might make more sense to give you a computer and then you can read it. Are you standard humans, is there any reason to worry the computers might not work?"

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"I don't know what the standard is but we're humans. But I was left on a doorstep in a basket so I'm less sure about me. And Miles has a weird medical thing."

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"...then maybe we shouldn't risk it? It's a brain implant so it'd be bad if it didn't work for you. I can check with a basement-dweller -" 

 

He tries. He scowls. "...are you magic?"

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"...no?"

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"...yep, you're magic. Otherwise I could make a non-sapient copy of you to check if chips're safe and I can't."

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"......okay, so how am I magic?"

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"I don't know. But you are. And it's not just that you have magic, I could still conjure you if it were that. ...anyway, can't chance a brain chip."

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"Oh well. ...so how does the stuff work and what are the mes like."

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"Um. So there are a lot of dimensions, all the ones we've found so far are inhabited, some have magic and some don't, sometimes the magic is only people who were born there or conceived there, and sometimes it only works within the dimension or its neighbors, but sometimes it's transmissible. There're a couple ways to travel between worlds. I invented one, and an alternate universe version of me in a different dimension invented another one, and a you invented the third one, and we use those to explore for new worlds and fix them up."

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"Oh cool, are you going to fix this one up now?"

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"Yeah! Well, I was gonna just ask you how to do it because you know more about it since you live here."

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"Probably first you should get unlost so all the mes can help."

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"If I could go home I would have obviously done that."

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"Oh. I thought maybe you just came and found me first, I don't know how your teleportation works."

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"You can only go to worlds that are next to each other and there was an accident and this world isn't next to any of ours."

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"Oh. Are you ever going to be able to get unlost?"

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"Worlds don't have infinite neighbors but I don't have a good way to check them all, some worlds're dangerous to land in. They're probably checking from their end."

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"Dangerous to land in how?"

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"Break my magic, mostly. We've only found one world like that but there could be others."

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"Do you need your magic to live or would you just get stuck?"

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"...probably just stuck but that particular world also squishes people for hubris and I kind of have a lot."

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"Oh, that sounds bad."

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"Yep! Boots did not like it at all and the Valar sent her back there because they are stupid and evil."

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"...I don't know who those people are."

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"Boots is my Bell. The Valar are the stupid evil gods in my home world."

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"...okay, so giving people your magic, how does that work, can you do it with all of it or is some of it the kind where you have to be born somewhere or what?"

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"Some of it's from being an Elf and I can't give you that, some of it's from being a demon and I can't give you that but you could if my peal found us, everything else I can give you but you'd need an eidetic memory."

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"Why?"

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"Because it's just millions and millions of meaningless symbols and you have to memorize them."

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"...wow, I was hoping magic would be more interesting."

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"There're different kinds but Loki's is the most powerful and it doesn't make sense to anyone but her."

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"Are the other kinds interesting?"

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"Wizardry's really cool and makes perfect sense but it probably won't work here because you have to be adjacent to Materia or have a Maia. ...I guess it's possible that the kind of magic thing you are counts for some reason."

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"Counts?"

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"Can be used as a source of mana, which powers Materian wizardry."

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"How do you tell?"

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"I can teach you how to cast a cantrip and you can see if it works for you."

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"Okay!"

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Scroll! Explanation!

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Nnnnnope can't cast it.

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"Yeah, most places aren't adjacent to Materia. Sorry. Boots has a Maia who follows her around so she can always have enough mana, maybe you can get one too once they find us."

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"I think it would be weird if somebody followed me around all the time."

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"I mean, some Maiar are dogs, maybe there's a Maia who'd be a cat like Cricket and then it wouldn't be weird?"

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"Cricket?"

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"Cricket is Iobel's cat, he's a person, Iobel's planet is called Hex and people are born with spirit animals only they can speak to and interact with, and they can physically instantiate them and then do magic."

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"Cool. Okay, how do your spells work, once you've memorized all the stuff?"

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"You just do them. Uh, teleport needs to be to somewhere I've seen but I can make myself a model and that works, healing and birding are touch-range, illusions take some practice and are loosely visual range."

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"I mean how do they work like what exactly happens if you cast them, like, if Miles breaks his leg and heals himself how long does it take and does it hurt -"

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"Instantaneously and no it doesn't hurt."

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"Is the teleport safe or could you land in something?"

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"You can't land in a solid object, you can land in a sun or in vacuum or way underwater or something."

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"How long would it be before we can have these?"

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"Dunno, I'd need to look it up -" 

 

He makes his computer. He looks. "It's about 2000 hours to make an eidetic memory necklace."

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"...wow. Can you do them in batches?"

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"No, we've been trying to find a way to do that for ages, this is also our immortality solution and that one they've got trimmed down a bit but it's still long."

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"Maybe I am a useful kind of magic. But I don't know how to find out, we don't even know where I came from, I'm very mysterious."

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"Oh, that I can probably find out." Surroundings at Nika's birth -

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Some vaguely institutional room with a uterine replicator in.

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Broader surroundings -

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Vaguely institutional building.

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Even broader.

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High-tech human-architecture town?

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"Do you recognize this place?"

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"No."

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Street signs in this town?

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The streets are named things like Oak Drive and Thirteenth Street!

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"Is this world an Earth or is it like Warp where humans settled lots of other places -"

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"Uh, there is an Earth but this isn't it, this is Barrayar."

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"But you speak English - how many planets speak English -"

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"Lots of them, I don't know exactly. Barrayar speaks Russian and French and Greek too."

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Sigh. What's the planet Nika was born on -

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Earth, looks like!

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"You were born on Earth," he says, "I can trace backwards or forwards from there if you want."

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"Let's wait till Miles has gotten Mama. I wanna know more about worlds and mes."

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"Okay! So in the order of how they met up - there's an Earth called Revelation. It has a you called Cam. Around the year 2000 he discovered that it was possible to summon daeva to his world. There're three kinds of daeva - angels, fairies, and demons. Angels change stuff, fairies move stuff, demons make stuff. I'm a demon." Wing-fluff. "He decided that this should be publicly known because there were people dying of hunger and lack of medicine and stuff, so he arranged for it to leak. Someone was mad at him and figured out he'd done it and shot him."

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"...I guess I should have guessed there were boy mes because you weren't sure if it was me or Miles. Did somebody bring him back to life, can you do that -"

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"Yeah we can but I can't do it on my own. Anyway in Revelation when people die if they've never summoned anyone they go to Limbo and if they have summoned anyone they become a daeva and Cam became a demon."

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"Oh, cool."

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"Yeah. So he's a demon for a hundred fifty years, sometimes he gets summons but they don't let him talk because of a rumor demons'll talk you out of your souls, and then he accidentally gets summoned by a kid who doesn't even realize they were drawing a summoning circle, and who isn't from Revelation."

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"...so you don't have to be from Revelation to summon things? Can we summon things here?"

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"It turns out that you can summon things from a world that is adjacent to the world you're summoning from. Except the only worlds adjacent to the daeva realms, as far as we know, are Revelation and Space, and Space had gods who had powerful magic that as a side effect mostly prevented summoning. We aren't sure why Cam went through but probably it was a fluke.

Anyway, Cam lands on a moon where some people are assembling to go off to war, and they're so excited to have a demon because he can make them more lightleapers."

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"Are those the same thing as jump ships or different?"

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"Take exactly five days to get anywhere in the universe, work by pinching space..."

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"...jumpships do wormholes. Anywhere in five days, can you make those?"

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"Yeah."

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"Cool."

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"Being a demon's really cool. Anyway, we call that world Space and it's my alternate universe version in that world who invented it, it took him like four hundred years to figure out."

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"...Space is a weird name for a world."

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"It's because it's an Arda - there are Earths in a lot of places, there are also Ardas in a lot of places - but usually Ardas are single-planet and low-tech and magic, and Space is spread across a couple star systems and high-tech and no magic except the Valar themselves - the gods I mentioned."

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"Huh. Whole worlds with only one planet in them?"

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"...Ardas are kind of unusual that way, their gods personally design them and they don't really get the concept of planets so they just kind of hack one together with magic and put illusion stars in the sky."

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"...that's weird and dumb."

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"Yeah, when your alts from sufficiently advanced societies find Ardas they are not impressed. Anyway, Cam lands on them and they want lightleapers to go fight a war and he isn't sure about helping with the war but he offers to administer a refugee planet? And he goes and makes one really hard to find and takes some people there and then has read enough to decide to help a little with the war so he makes them ships and they go to Endorë, which is where the war is happening."

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"Okay."

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"And the war is really horrible. Some of the people in Space have chips in their brains, so they can be resurrected if they die, and the Enemy is killing them and uploading them off their chips to torture forever."

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"Um why."

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"Because he's evil."

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"He doesn't have like a reason or anything?"

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"He hates the divine plan so he wants to provoke God into intervening."

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"...okay..."

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"Yeah. Anyway. Elves and Valar can swear things, bindingly. Melkor offers Cam a deal where if Cam feeds Valinor into a black hole Melkor'll stop being evil."

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"What's Valinor?"

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"The planet we'd all left from."

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"You were there too?"

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"No, sorry, my alternate universe version."

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"Okay. So did he get everybody off the planet?"

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"No, the condition was that he not warn them at all. He had a way to resurrect the chipped ones."

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"Was that most of them?"

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"The majority, yeah."

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"...and then the evil god stopped being evil."

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"Yup. And the alternate universe version of me figured if there were six dimensions there had to be more and invented interdimensional transit and they went looking for a way to resurrect the rest of them."

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"Did that work?"

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"Yep. Not right away but they got them all back. And killed the evil god even though he was sworn to be good."

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"...like actually good or just not doing evil."

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"Not doing any evil. They had a really really long careful list."

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"Okay."

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"Anyway. They jumped dimensions and they landed in Hex. In Hex people are born with spirit animals, that they can make into real physical animals. And the animals are people. And if you do that you're a spellbinder and you can cast spells, six a day. 

And the first people they met were alternate universe versions of themselves. And that's how we learned they exist."

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"Do you have a spirit animal?"

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"My Hex alt does, yeah. He's really into spirit animal languages, he speaks like thirty and he's trying to figure out where they come from."

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"Why do you say 'I' and 'we' when you mean other people?"

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"I mean, they're alternate universe mes."

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"Does your native language do that or something, use 'I' to mean 'anybody who is a me'?"

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"I don't think so? It'd be Vanda Nossëo deciding that and I think they've been super busy with words for modern technology."

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"Well it's confusing."

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"Sorry. Anyway, the Space set met the Hex set and they asked if spellbinding could resurrect the dead but they couldn't yet, and they used some drugs to enhance memory, got immortality to click, so then the Hex ones, who were humans, wouldn't die. And they jumped again from Space and they landed in Edda and found yet another set of us."

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"How many are there?"

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"Uh, we're not always in sets and some're dead but there're eight of you."

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"Counting me?"

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"Nope, you make nine."

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"How long do you think it'll take them to find us?"

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"Don't have any idea. Most places have a couple hundred neighbors but we're pretty sure less than a thousand."

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"Does it take a long time to check each one?"

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"Jumping's instantaneous but you have to parameterize somehow so you don't land in Materia or a place like that."

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"Because then they'd be stuck too? How'd anybody ever get out of Materia?"

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"Uh, I jumped in and grabbed Boots and took her home, and now we're summoning people out and I'm sure if they have Joy hopping from Warp they'd have someone ready to summon her out but there could be things more dangerous than Materia or Materia could suddenly object to what we're doing..."

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"It can object to things?

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"It objects to lots of things. Like science. And hubris."

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"...can you... ask it why...?"

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"Not that we know of. The me in that world died three times, the last time he wasn't even resurrectable."

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"Oh."

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"Anyway. They'd landed on Loki-"

 

And he tells about Loki and her neighboring Arda! And then he's not clear how Hex found Stork but there's Stork and its neighboring Arda!

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These ones are less horrible!

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Yup! "And they were looking for worlds off Edda and found Shadow and its Melkor ran away and they were trying to chase him down when Cam landed in Materia and met the rest of my family who didn't die. And he wandered around and then found the people who Boots and T'Mir and I were summoning away - "and a very excitable explanation of how that had come to be the case -

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Yay for evacuating the horrible world!

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Yeah. And here's how Gem and Joy found them and then Millennia where everything's horrible and now most of the Elves except not from Telperion because it's too young and Shadow because he's not actually sure quite why are helping fix up all the other random planets.

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"Who names all these worlds?"

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"The Bells, mostly."

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"I should name this one then I guess."

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"Yeah!"

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"Hmmmmmmmm maybe Nexus."

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"What for?"

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"That's what all the wormhole connections form together is a nexus."

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"Wormhole connections?"

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"That's how we get to faraway places is wormholes. They have two ends and you can go from one end to the other instantly."

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"Cool. Either other places don't have those or they haven't discovered them yet."

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"I think we don't know where they come from. Or what makes them go away which they do sometimes."

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"Are they made of matter?"

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"I don't know."

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"What're the most in need of fixing things about this world?"

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"Ummmm people die and there are wars and it takes a long time to go places."

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"Last one's easy, second one might be doable just by going public and then saying if you cause wars I will make sure you lose them, first one's hard. I can do necklaces for that too but necklaces are slow and don't batch, like we discussed."

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"What would count as starting a war?"

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"Dunno, are there grownups around who could help with the wording -"

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"Yeah, I have some grownups."

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"Are they good ones, though?"

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"Yeah, Miles is getting Mama now and she's a very good grownup."

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"Good then she can decide how to phrase it. And we'll figure out what kind of magic you are and maybe that'll help with people dying."

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"Maybe, I hope so."

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"I'll make all you guys necklaces, anyways."

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"These are the ones that do the eidetic memory for the healing spell and stuff?"

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"Well, I'll do those too but I was thinking of the immortality ones."

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"Ooh how immortal do they make you?"

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"Just unaging. Indestructibility's separate."

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"And you can't do that one?"

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"Nope, that's a hex. My alt developed it."

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"Well, hopefully they find us before I need that."

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"Yeah. None of you should do dangerous stuff, I can do all of that."

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What an opportune moment for Miles to return.

"I was distracting Grandda but now he's having a nap," he announces. "And I told Sergeant Bothari we're talking to our invisible friend so now he thinks you're imaginary so please don't do anything to contradict that assumption until Mama gets here. Now what'd I miss?"

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"There are eight more of me and they do... lots of things, mostly fix up worlds they find, and they will find us eventually probably but not right away so we will have to do some fixing of this world without them."

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"Da and Mama will help with the world-fixing I bet," says Miles. "But Mama first."

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"Yep, he wanted to know if I had good grownups and I do."

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"We have the best grownups," Miles asserts. "Anyway what else?"

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"There's lots of stuff. Um there's evil gods some of me have to fight but I don't think we have any here it's not that kind of world... oh and I'm magic somehow but we don't know how to find out what kind of magic and he can figure out where I'm from, I was born on Earth but I want to wait to find out how I got here till Mama's here."

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"You're magic?" he says, impressed. "Huh. Am I magic? Is Mama? Is Da?"

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"Didn't check yet, I was thinking it's about how I'm very mysterious, but maybe more people are also magic..."

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"I bet you're not the only person who's magic in the entire universe," he says, thinking it through, "and if you were born on Earth then it's probably a good guess that there are a bunch of magic people there, and Earth is where humans came from in the first place so if some people on Earth are magic then there could be magic people anywhere, it's not like how if there were magic Cetagandans it'd probably be some kind of genetic engineering thing that only the Cetagandans had. Everybody could be magic and not know it."

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"There might also not be a lot, though, most people are not untraceable doorstep basket people so if it's to do with that..."

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"Yeah. It's hard to say when you only know about one magic person. Actually, it'd be a really good idea to check a bunch of Barrayarans for being magic, because if we find any that means it's something that originated on Earth before Barrayar was colonized, there's nowhere else that was isolated for six hundred years so we could tell that easily... how do you check if a person's magic, anyway? And come to think of it, if we check a bunch of Barrayarans and lots of them are magic we should also check a bunch of people who've never been to Barrayar in case it's Barrayar making people magic..."

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"I can just check."

Miles: is magic.

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He's slightly too distracted to properly appreciate this fact.

"How does checking work - does it run out of a resource, or anything - would it be a bad idea to check if everyone we've ever met is magic right now?"

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"No, all my powers are unlimited - well, technically Gem thinks that if I stopped being really happy to be a demon then I might sometimes have trouble making it work but being a demon is totally amazing so that's not likely to happen. I check by trying to make you; if you're magic it won't work."

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"...so if you checked hundreds of people and lots of them weren't magic you'd end up with a big pile of - people?"

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"Not like people people just people-shaped thingies."

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"Still probably not something we want a big pile of behind Grandda's house," he says, and bounces impatiently. "But I want to find out who's magic and why and where it comes from..."

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"I could teleport them away. I'm not really supposed to do that for waste-disposal but space is big."

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"Why aren't you supposed to?"

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"I'm supposed to think about how I'll get rid of things before I make them. Otherwise you get Hell and Hell is tacky."

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"...Hell is tacky?"

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"Yeah. Everyone making stuff all the time and no good way to get rid of it. And it's mostly built on a giant plane of gold."

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"It's just called that," Nika clarifies for Miles.

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"Oh, okay," he says. "Do they not have waste chutes in Hell? I guess if you made, like, a house, it'd be hard to put that down the waste chute..."

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"They used to use lakes of fire and now they use black holes. It's still tacky."

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"...Black holes as giant waste chutes." He contemplates this vision. "Wow."

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"They don't have to be giant, you can make small black holes."

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"If you just wanted a small one I think a waste chute would probably be better, molecular disintegrators are dangerous but I think they're less dangerous than black holes..."

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"Maybe they haven't invented those. There's different stuff different places, like this is the only world with wormholes all over the place."

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"Really? How do the rest of them get between planets, can they all teleport - no you said the teleport was restricted - "

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"Warp has warp engines, Cube has z-space, Space Arda has lightleapers - my alt invented those! - Edda has a bunch of different ways but they're mostly magic - most places don't have FTL yet -"

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"...Is it just me, or is it really weird that all those places have different FTL?"

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"The only one that could have been invented anywhere is lightleapers if I remember right..."

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"Yeah, everything else depends on local physics. And lightleapers have more technological prerequisites - we got them a couple thousand years after electricity, though Elves're also slow so that's a bit misleading on its own."

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"And local physics are different everywhere but people can still travel between worlds without exploding?"

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"Physics doesn't differ, or else our interdimensional transit mechanism somehow filters for worlds with the same physics. The gravitational constant and the speed of light and the charge of an electron and so on are the same everywhere. But, like, Warp has dilithium and no one else does, Cube is adjacent to z-space and Cube's interdimensional travel works everywhere adjacent to z-space, you seem to be the only people with wormholes..." 

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"It's kind of cool being the only people with wormholes, I guess."

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"I named the world Nexus."

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"That's a good name!"

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"I wonder if you have aliens." He checks.

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"It'd be really cool if we had aliens!"

They do not have aliens.

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"...nope. Sorry. No one's sure why some worlds have lots and some don't."

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"Oh well."

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"I wanna find out!" says Miles. "And I wanna learn the magic that made the teleport spell and all that."

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"You can't really learn it, so far only Loki's gotten anywhere and if anyone did it would probably be with a supercomputer not, like, personal ingenuity. But I'll make you the necklaces, once I figure out more things."

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"Thanks," he says. "...I still wanna learn it though."

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"You get all the stuff you need to try it when you get any spell," Nika assures him.

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He brightens. "Oh good!"

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"...if I use the most powerful perception speedup song we have and don't sleep or take breaks I could do one in three weeks. Two in six."

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"Well don't start right now, there might be other stuff you should do first."

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"Yeah, there probably are. Three teleports isn't that much better than one when you guys aren't even indestructible."

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"What part do the necklaces play in this, anyway?"

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"Give you an eidetic memory so you can remember the symbols."

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"Oh, like Uncle Simon?" Pause. "...Nika, do we want to give all these spells to Uncle Simon?"

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"I thought of that but... I don't think if there were a reason not to give Uncle Simon spells we'd know about that."

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"...Da or Mama would know, though, probably. We can ask Mama when she gets here."

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"Yeah."

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"She said she'd be here in two hours but I forgot to check what time it was exactly when she said that..."

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"Well, that's not too long, anyway."

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"Uncle Simon already has an eidetic memory? ...you also don't want to give the spells to people who can themselves give them out, if anyone in this world has telepathy like mine that's another thing to be careful of..."

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"No, there's no telepathy but Uncle Simon who is our uncle not yours has an eidetic memory from a chip in his brain."

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"Huh. Can anyone get the chip, that'd be really useful -"

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"No it didn't work for most people who tried it he was really lucky to be okay after."

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"Ugh. Okay. What else do you want to know before the grownups show up -"

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"There aren't any more of Miles that you know about?"

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"Don't think so and can't check from here. - well, I could make a Maitimo and they'd know but that seems like a bit much, really."

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"...I thought you couldn't make people."

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"Space Elves keep their brains on a computer chip so I can make them. I shouldn't for no good reason, though."

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"Oh is that how all those people got put back - you didn't say -"

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"Yeah someone figured out it should work in principle and then secretly got it working."

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"...Which people got put back?"

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"Uh, one of my alts was fighting an evil god and he had to destroy a planet but he could put most of the people back because they were Space Elves."

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"...oh," says Miles, contemplating this revelation. "...Okay."

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"He's still really sad about it a lot. Even though it was the right thing. Boots was sad too - and she felt bad because she wasn't sure what to think when there was a prophecy I'd kill a lot of people, and it turns out under the right circumstances she'd kill even more people - we got lucky, we don't have to hurt anyone. Ever."

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"Good!" says Miles. "I don't want to have to hurt anyone ever, I want to learn all the magic and fix all the everything."

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Bounce bounce. "...I don't think you're an Andi alt or a Thor alt, those are the other Bell siblings, but you might be I guess?" Check check - "nope."

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"I'm adopted," says Nika.

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"So's Loki, the one whose sister is Thor - and we don't know how adoptedness affects it -"

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"Affects... what?"

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"The alts thing. It doesn't make much sense."

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"It kinda doesn't."

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"If all those universes don't have any of me then that's their loss," asserts Miles.

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"I have an alt who wanted to wish to understand how it worked but Gem is being really careful with the wish thing."

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"It sounds like a really important wish thing!"

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There is a sound in the distance. Miles tilts his head to listen.

"Mama's here!" he says, and indeed there is a glimpse of a flying vehicle visible before it lands on the other side of the house.

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"Ooh -" And she turns Magic around to trot thataway, since Grandda is taking a nap anyhow.

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He flaps along!

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Miles lags behind a little since he did not get back on his horse.

A tall woman with red hair emerges from the flying vehicle.

"Hello, Nika. Hello, Miles. What's the surprise?"

"This is Epic and he's from another universe and he can fly and turn invisible and teleport and make arbitrary material objects and we want to make the world better and you should help!"

...The tall woman blinks. "Well, that's certainly surprising."

"I did say."

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"Also there is secretly magic here and I am it and so is Miles and there are alternate universe mes who invent things and fight evil gods and stuff."

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"Well, inventing things and fighting evil gods seem like reasonable things to do with your time if there are evil gods around to be fought. How do you tell that someone is magic? Do you know anything else about the magic?"

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"You should turn visible again," Nika says in not quite Epic's direction, "Grandda's not looking - uh, the making things only works on things that are not magic so if he can't make something that means it's magic - I know lots about it we've been talking about it for hours -"

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Visible again! "Hi! I can make anything that is made out of atoms and I cannot make Nika or Miles so they are not which is weird."

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"...If Nika and Miles are not made out of atoms they're made out of a very convincing facsimile," she says. "Hello, Epic. I'm Cordelia. It's nice to meet you."

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"Nice to meet you too can I have a hug."

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"Yes, of course," she says, holding out her arms.

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Then she will have an armful of small demon. "I'm stuck and I can't go home."

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Hug.

"I'm very sorry to hear that," she says. "You're welcome to stay with us as long as you need."

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"I don't need stuff but I need a Bell around to talk me out of doing stupid things. And hugs are nice."

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"I'm a Bell. Apparently."

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"Good thing you have a lot of practice at that."

"Mama!" says Miles indignantly.

Cordelia smiles. "Anyway. I would be very happy to help you improve the galaxy with your magical powers."

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Flap flap. "Good! I can cure death but only one person at a time and I can't resurrect anyone until my family finds me, I can do pretty much all other stuff. I was saying to Nika that I might be able to stop all the wars just by telling everyone that I am here and that if anyone starts a war I will help the other side win it but sometimes wars are more complicated than that."

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"Yes, sometimes they are," Cordelia agrees. "I think it would be a good idea to start with something other than war. Do you have technological advances from other universes that our engineers could look at?"

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"Yeah probably. It won't be a strict improvement but it'd surprise me if we haven't got anything you don't - and there's lightleapers for sure -"

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"They go anywhere in exactly five days!"

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"That will be very useful."

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"It's probably not exactly five of your days. But yeah."

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"Every planet in the galaxy has a different day length, so we use Earth's as a standard when we need one. But even something that could go anywhere in exactly ten standard days would - change a lot about how the galaxy worked, and more for the better than otherwise."

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"Goody. Much easier to give out than the teleport."

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"The teleport needs eidetic memory and there's a safe way to do that but it takes weeks per person."

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"And you should find out if there's a reason we shouldn't give it to Uncle Simon," says Miles.

"What sorts of reasons might there be? I expect he would use it very responsibly."

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"I don't think there is one I just think if there was I wouldn't know."

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"I would know," says Cordelia. "And I'll make sure of it, and then you can give the teleport to Simon."

"And I want it but mostly because there's a healing spell too and I could use it on myself," says Miles.

"...How good is this healing spell?"

"Dunno exactly."

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"Really really good. Why?"

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"I'm wondering if it could help Miles to have it used on him even before he gets a copy."

"I dunno but I don't think so."

"Do you think it's worth trying?"

"...yeah maybe."

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Tap!

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Miles wobbles and almost falls over before his mother catches him. "Huh!" he says. "I dunno what that did but it was good!" He smiles at Epic. "Thanks!"

"We'll find out the details next time you see the doctor," says Cordelia.

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"Thanks!" Nika says to Epic.

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"Sure! I'll read the grace one for you, sorry I never got to it..."

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"It's okay, I can get around on Magic." She pats her horse.

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"Most of my alts can ride, I guess I should learn."

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"Uh Grandda might get hard to avoid if you tried."

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"Yes," says Cordelia.

"Grandda started liking me when I came to ride his horses but I'm not sure it works if you're not his grandson," says Miles.

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"I can cut off the wings. And style my hair to cover my ears, I guess."

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"...cut them? Anyway you'd still be too pretty."

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"They don't have nerves. I'm not going to make myself uglier."

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Miles considers. "...if it turns out your magic made me normal I bet he'll like you no matter how pretty you are," he says.

Cordelia half-successfully conceals a wince. "That's probably true."

"Is Mama magic?"

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He tries.

 

No she is not because here is a basement dweller.

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...she blinks disconcertedly at it.

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"That's weirder than I thought it would be."

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"Yeah," says Miles, unnerved.

"What... is it?" asks Cordelia.

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"Demons can't make minds. That's mostly a good thing because most demons are nice but if they could make people then some would probably make people to be mean to and it's not like Hell has a government to stop them. So if a demon tries to make a person it comes out like this. I can throw it into the sun if you want."

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"...I would like to be very sure it doesn't have a mind before I authorize throwing it into the sun - are there any studies you can cite...?"

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"Uh, we tried like a gazillion things to wake them up and the only one that works is a wished-on power? ...if you try to do a fetus before five weeks it develops normally, after that it doesn't, does that count?"

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She considers.

"What I'm afraid of is that they might have thoughts and internal experiences that they are unable to act on."

"Oh, Epic can read minds," says Miles, "he'd probably notice - you'd notice, right?"

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"Uh, sure - are you okay with me trying to read a basement-dweller of you's mind - there's not going to be anything there but on principle -"

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"Yes, certainly."

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He tries.

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It is in fact the case that basement dwellers have no minds.

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"Yeah, nothing."

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"Then yes, please throw it into the sun where it can no longer unnerve my children."

"It's not that bad," says Miles. "...okay it is a little."

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"It is weird please get rid of it."

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Pop pop now it's gone.

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"Thank you," says Cordelia.

"Let's not make hundreds of those to check who's magic and who isn't," says Miles.

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"Is there another way to check?"

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"I don't know if making small models' work -" does he get anything if he tries to make a small Nika -

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Nope!

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And a small Cordelia presumably goes fine?

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Yup!

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"Okay I can do small people to check."

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"So then I want to check a bunch of people from different planets and find out who's magic and who isn't - when we only knew Nika I thought probably it was either something from Earth because we found out she's from Earth or it was something from Barrayar that got her when she came here, so I wanted to check a bunch of people from Barrayar and a bunch of people not from Barrayar because if it started on Earth and it's all over Barrayar then we know it started before the Time of Isolation and if it started on Barrayar then it'd be all over Barrayar but not all over the rest of the galaxy," says Miles in a rush.

"Very scientifically rigorous of you," says Cordelia approvingly. Miles beams.

"Oh and you're here now so we can figure out more things about where Nika came from! Let's do that!"

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"I need something to specify people - doesn't have to be names but more than 'a bunch of people from Barrayar' -"

Permalink Eye

"I was recently reading census data, actually, I can name a few local towns whose population I know precisely - if I said 'Rosedale, population fifty-eight' could you try to conjure them all without having to specify them to the level of the individual?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah - 'the whole population of Rosedale' works, don't even need numbers, though they'll help with figuring out what percentage of people are magic -"

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"Yes, that's what I was thinking - it wouldn't be much use if I named a village and you conjured a hundred people and we didn't know whether that was all of them or half or ninety-eight percent. Well, what happens when you try to conjure miniature versions of the whole population of Rosedale?"

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He tries it.

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The whole population of Rosedale is apparently magic.

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"Uh, all magic."

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"...Greywood, two hundred and five..."

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He tries that one.

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No small people appear.

"...Can you stop in the middle if they start piling up outrageously? If so, Salair, three hundred thousand—"

Everyone from Salair is also magic.

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"This might be a magic planet."

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"Running with that hypothesis, if you try to conjure the entire population of Vorbarr Sultana, capital of Barrayar, we will end up with a small pile of ambassadors and diplomatic staff and possibly a handful of immigrants. Let's find out."

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He tries it.

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A small pile of models. Cordelia examines them. "Ambassador, diplomatic staff, not sure, another ambassador... I would say that about ninety percent of these people are definitely not from Barrayar, and the rest are at minimum plausibly not."

"But Nika's not from Barrayar and she's magic," Miles points out.

"Yes, and that's interesting too... can you verify that Nika was magic before she arrived on this planet?"

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He tries to make a small Nika the minute she was born.

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She was a magic baby.

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"Hmm. Are Nika's biological parents magic?"

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He tries that.

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Yup! Or nonexistent, can't technically rule that out.

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"Magic." And he shows her the models he made of where Nika was born - "don't know what that thing is -"

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"That's a uterine replicator."

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"...oh, that's really good, also kind of a big problem - I should write my peal about it -" Note for them! In one of the Hex idiolects, just in case there are other demons conjuring Cam's mail.

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"Why's it a problem?"

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"Demons can't make people but I bet we can make those. And make those with five-week-old embryos in them."

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"And doing that with mindless person-copies wouldn't have worked?" guesses Cordelia.

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"Yeah, they don't carry the baby to term. Dunno why."

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"Interesting. Well. Nika, would you like to find out more about where you came from and what proportion of your ancestors are magical?"

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"Yeah."

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Grandparents? Great grandparents?

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He can get one grandparent, three great ones...

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He shows this to everyone. "So it's not that everybody's magic, but it looks like if you have a magic parent you're magic. So far, at least - small sample -"

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"I wonder why I got doorstepped."

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"I can freeze-frame it but that doesn't do much when you can't get the actual people -" with Maiar you don't get anything if you're going for them but you can get their body when they have one, can he get a plastic Nika-body that way -

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Yes actually!

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"Okay so it might be that if I'm aiming a bit differently I can freeze-frame normally -" Trying like that, was anyone in the room when she was born -

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Yup, there's a doctor-looking person.

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...complete written works of that person pull anything up?

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Yup, here's some stuff.

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"Spy on that guy or keep freezeframing-"

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"Hmm... keep freezeframing; I think I want to find out who removed her from that building and spy on them."

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Scale model of the area and the bodies currently occupied by the magical people, thirty second increments -

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The doctor decants baby Nika and does various medical things and swaddles her up and gives her to some woman who carries her off and she spends four days in a perfectly ordinary house and then someone else comes and gets her and puts her on a ship -

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"That the person we want to spy on?"

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"Yes, let's try them."

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Person accompanies her on the ship and travels to Barrayar and gives her to that pregnant lady where Uncle Simon's trail went cold and leaves.

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"What else can we find out about these people? Are all of them magic?"

Permalink Eye

He checks that. "Yep. I can get their complete written works and we can read those."

Permalink Eye

"You can't just read everything somebody's written!"

Permalink Eye

"Well, how do you want to do it?"

Permalink Eye

"Can you make - less than that - how much can you filter -"

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"Some, but 'published works' won't do it for baby-napping conspirators -"

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"Correspondence?"

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"I can do it by format?"

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Nika names plausible secure comm formats that conspirators might favor.

Lots of results!

Permalink Eye

"Do you have a local file format you want me to make these in so you can read through them too -"

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"We don't have a computer here..."

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"I can make one I just need to know what kind."

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"Maybe we should be not here, actually, since Grandda could wake up whenever..."

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"Yes," says Cordelia, "let's be somewhere else. How best do I specify a place for you to teleport to...?"

Permalink Eye

"Sending me a mental image is fastest."

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"Hmm. Miles, I know how much you want to be a part of this, but Sergeant Bothari will worry if you vanish from his sight and he will also worry if we introduce him to Epic. Can you go and tell him to take you home?"

Miles sighs. "Yeah, okay." He goes over to the house.

With that taken care of, Cordelia attempts to send a mental image of the quiet little library at Vorkosigan House.

Permalink Eye

"Got it. Nika, are you coming?"

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"Um, Mama, do you think Bothari will wonder where I've gotten to -"

Permalink Eye

"I think Miles will tell him that I showed up and took you home with me."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, then yeah, I'm coming."

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Pop!

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"And now - "

She has a suggested format for a data disk they can put in a reader.

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He is a demon and can totally make the information on that data disk. "Wow, your computers are big."

Permalink Eye

"Are yours smaller? How do they encrypt their contents?"

Let's find out what these people have been saying to each other.

Permalink Eye

"Wired to your brain patterns. Normal encryption doesn't work very well with demons."

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"I want one but we don't know if it works on my kind of magic person."

There's a lot of irrelevant stuff in there (conspirator orders delivery Escobaran cuisine, conspirator dutifully writes to grandmother, conspirator sends regrets in response to invitation to birthday party, conspirator volunteers to host the change ringing enthusiasts' convention next year) but when sufficiently picked through, apparently Nika was an orphaned dragon and the dragon conspiracy wanted to put some dragons on Barrayar and (quite responsibly, of course) did so with some dragon babies going spare.

Permalink Eye

 

"Apparently," she says to Nika, "you're an orphaned dragon."

Permalink Eye

 

"Well, that is less awkward than being a not orphaned dragon."

Permalink Eye

"True." She reads a little more. "And there are two other orphaned dragons on this planet - I haven't yet found out why the dragons wanted to bequeath their orphans to Barrayar, or where they put the other two..."

Any reasons available?

Permalink Eye

The conspirators seem to think this will result on Barrayar having a lot of dragons eventually and this is important for sphinx-related reasons (boo hiss).

Permalink Eye

"The dragons are... engaged in some sort of surreptitious conflict with the sphinxes? And - hm - they expect dragon orphans on Barrayar to result in a booming local dragon population."

Permalink Eye

"It looked like if you had a magic parent you were magic. So it'd rise to most of the population pretty fast if there's intermixing and people have a lot of kids -"

Permalink Eye

"Only if dragons automatically have dragon kids not whatever else kind of magic kids, though, if there's kinds, sphinxes sound magic."

Permalink Eye

"Sphinxes do sound magic... is there any way for you to conjure accurate representations of what mythical species someone is in particular?"

Permalink Eye

Uh, current physical bodies of dragons in this room at this moment?

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Nika. Human shaped.

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"Yep, I can filter for that, looks like."

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"Hmm - but could you go through lists of people we have already determined are magic and find out what kind of mythical creature they are, without necessarily knowing in advance what the list of options is? It might not just be dragons and sphinxes."

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"I could probably sort into 'dragons' 'sphinxes' or 'neither', but I'd need categories to sort the 'neithers' further."

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"And I don't know what other sorts of mythical creatures there are or even if being magic and being a mythical creature are equivalent. There might be other ways to be magic. Well - try 'dragons on Barrayar' and stop if you produce more than ten, and the same with sphinxes?"

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There are three dragons on Barrayar - Nika and two blond kids her age - and no sphinxes. "Is there a natural category including dragons and sphinxes that also has other members? 'Earth mythology' or something?"

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"Yeah, Earth mythology would cover that."

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"What else is there Earth mythology about?"

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"Fairies?"

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Fairies on Barrayar, then in this dimension, slow so he can stop if there're tons - "None of those."

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"Unicorns?"

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He tries for that!

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Barrayar has those!

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He stops the conjuring because Barrayar has quite a few of those wow. "Okay, unicorns exist."

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"Cool," says the resident eight year old girl.

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He doesn't have enough familiarity with Earth mythology to even know what unicorns look like when they don't look like these plastic Barrayarans here.

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"Other mythical creatures... griffins, pegasi? Mermaids, selkies?"

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Pegasi yes but not on Barrayar, griffins yes but not on Barrayar, merfolk yes including on Barrayar, selkies yup not on Barrayar - "wow."

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"I wonder why people don't mostly know about this, magic things are all over the place."

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"It seems like it's very hard to find out by accident - Miles has been through every conceivable medical test and no one has ever discovered that he's a unicorn-or-merfolk-or-neither..."

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"Obviously there is magic. But some people know, I don't know why they'd keep it so secret..."

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"Also this is just a recurring mystery about Earths but - all of the other ones have the same mythology and none of them have the actual things -"

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"None of them have any mythological things?"

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"Aurum has vampires and Wish has magical girls and Revelation has angels and demons and fairies, but none of them have this kind of magic, we'd have noticed when we were resurrecting people."

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"Weird."

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"The conflict between the dragons and the sphinxes does seem to be a very secret one, but I'm not sure whether that's cause or effect of mythical creatures being secret in general."

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"I bet we can find an explanation if we look through enough stuff."

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"Can you get all the books a person has read, in case some of these dragons ever read books about dragons?"

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"Nope. I can get the complete written works of your universe and search for references to dragons and sphinxes but you have a big universe, I'd need somewhere to put a really big computer and it'd still take a long time."

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"Books published by dragons, narrowed down further by planet and date of publication if necessary?" she suggests after a moment's thought.

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"That I can do. Same sort of data disk?"

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She nods.

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Now she has the complete published works of dragonkind. They take up several data disks.

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"Simon will be overjoyed," she murmurs to herself. (Simon will also be understatedly terrified but she chooses not to share that part.)

Time to read things - "do you two want to divide up the reading since there are multiple disks?"

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"Yeah."

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Here's a reader, there's a reader, what have the dragons been publishing?

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All kinds of random things, apparently dragons are just as likely as anyone else to write books on flying kites and baking pies and piloting jumpships and coming of age during the colonization of Escobar and octopuses. They even write fantasy books with dragons in them. Nika is the first to find a relevant work, and it refers to others, and soon they have a reasonably clear overview:

Dragons (sphinxes griffins etc.) are almost all turned human by a spell that originates with (traditionally) a magical medallion or (these days) a magical tattoo, and then passes on without either accessory to one's descendants. If you have a medallion/tattoo you can shapeshift; if you don't you're whatever shape you were when you were born. Some species have species magic. Dragons and sphinxes have the best species magic; antimagic at close near-touch range for dragons, fairly arbitrary high-oomph powers for sphinxes but if they don't think through all their own detail work they pass out. Some species can't do the medallion thing and have to live in hidden enclaves. Sphinxes and dragons don't like each other and have sort of divvied up the nexus. Barrayar was Isolated for the Time when most of this happened, but e.g. Beta Colony is considered a sphinx planet.

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"I'm interested in finding out more about how these various magical powers work."

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"There's probably a book on that somewhere."

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There is! There are! Also there are books on runecasting which anybody can learn to do.

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....oooh. "Let's learn magic then we can read more."

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"It says it takes years."

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"So?"

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"We might wanna read more before we get sidetracked into that?"

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"I bet it won't take us years. Is it a question of amount of material you have to learn or building up magic stamina or -"

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"Amount of material, there's lots of runes - I can cheat with my antimagic but you can't -"

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"I have an eidetic memory, though."

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"Then you can memorize thousands of runes in less than a year, but it looks like the principles of spell composition might be a little more elusive."

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"I can memorize thousands of runes this afternoon, accelerated. - I guess we should at least do enough reading to get the best spell composition book."

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"I guess, but then we can't learn it all together because we don't have eidetic memories yet!"

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"You said you can cheat because of being a dragon, right?"

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"Yeah, kind of, I can make it so only the parts of a spell I mean go through and that means I can have extra in that I'm not careful about and antimagic it away," she says, frowning at the book that informed her of this, "but it isn't as good that way."

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"It might be that this magic system can do eidetic memory, faster than making all of you necklaces which'll take forever."

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"...okay, maybe."

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"We could look at the sphinxes' magic publications to see if they have anything to add," she says. "—Oh, this is interesting. The Emperor of Cetaganda is a dragon."

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"...are they a dragon planet?" asks Nika, disconcerted.

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"Hard to say from this book alone... and if we're going to spy extensively on the Cetagandan Empire I should really call Simon."

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"Yeah. I wonder if he secretly knows?"

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"I very much doubt that."

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"Do you suppose you should call him right now or should we read more stuff?"

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"If we call him, perhaps he'll help us read the stuff."

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"Makes sense."

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"Who's Simon, is he the king or president or whatever here -"

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"No, that's Emperor Gregor. Uncle Simon runs Imperial Security."

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"Is the emperor good at emperoring?"

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"Well he will be later but for now Da's regent, Gregor's not old enough."

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"Would resurrection mess up your succession a whole lot because the peal'll find us eventually and they have resurrection."

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"I have some practice helping Barrayar adapt to things and I would be happy to consult with them on how to introduce resurrection in a minimally disruptive way."

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Nod nod. 

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"Gregor is great, he should probably be emperor when he's grown up assuming he is still great then."

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"We're gonna have resurrection a long time before he's grown up unless magic people grow up faster than normal humans and I'm assuming if they did someone would have noticed."

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"Yeah, someone would've noticed that. Da's a good regent though."

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Nod nod. Conjuring for books on runecasting.

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"I'll call Simon."

She goes to the comconsole.

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"Cordelia! To what do I owe the pleasure?"

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"Do you have a few hours to spare? I've found something you might like to have a look at. Nothing I'd characterize as an emergency, exactly. More of an urgent opportunity."

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"It's not like you to be so cryptic," he observes.

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"Trust me, you'll understand when you get here."

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"Consider me intrigued. I'll see you in a few minutes."

He ends the call.

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He finds a satisfactory book about runecasting and when the Bell's Uncle Simon arrives he is flopped on the couch, wings spread, reading it on his computer.

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"Simon, this is Epic. He can create arbitrary material objects including format conversions - although not decryptions - of any data ever recorded. We've just been discovering, among other interesting facts, that the Emperor of Cetaganda is secretly a magical dragon."

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"And so am I!" says Nika. "And also there are alternate universe version of me and he knows eight of them and he came and found me because of that."

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Simon almost speaks this time, and then instead just. Looks at Cordelia.

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"I invite you to think of a suitably conclusive example to conjure."

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"What information is required to identify an item for conjuration...?"

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"Uh, pretty much anything that uniquely identifies it. Also I can't decrypt but if it has ever been accessed unencrypted I can get that."

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He gets an abstracted look for a fraction of a second, then suggests, "The last three memos I wrote before coming here?"

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"Format?"

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"Oh, why not ink on vellum."

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Here they are!!

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He takes the three pages. He reads them. He folds them up and puts them in his pocket.

"All right," he says, "you clearly do have the abilities Cordelia described. Now, what have you found out about where Nika came from, and what have you found out about the Emperor of Cetaganda?"

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"Uh, lots of people in this world are magic, and there're different kinds, and dragons are one, and they planted Nika and a couple other people in Barrayar so it'd be a dragon planet - if a parent is magic and the other's human all the kids are magic and the same kind of thing, and they thought Barrayar was all human. The Emperor of Cetaganda is a dragon and I shouldn't spy on enemy governments unless Nika thinks I should."

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"I would like to know if there is any connection between the Emperor of Cetaganda and Nika's presence on this planet. I can content myself with that if you'd rather not look any farther."

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"It didn't look like it, I was born on Earth and one of the other orphan dragons was from Jackson's Whole and the other was from Vervain."

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"Cordelia, anything to contribute?"

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"The dragons as a whole do seem to be a faction, but Cetaganda doesn't seem to be affiliated with that faction. We'd need to look closer to find out more."

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"It's not like I categorically won't spy on governments but if Nika'd been dropped on them I'd be there right now so you should think about what you'd want me to do if I were."

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"Understood. I am genuinely more interested in the apparent conspiracy that contributed Nika to the Vorkosigan family than in spying on the Cetagandans. Have we discovered the identities of the other orphan dragons?"

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"No, not yet. What would you do with them?"

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"I would remember the information in case it became relevant later."

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...Nika is not sure if this is a complete answer.

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Then he has no comment on the names of the mystery dragons!

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"I can imagine lots of situations where it would be useful to know who the other two were," says Cordelia. "For example, if the opposing sphinx faction discovered what the dragons were up to and tried to kidnap you, we would already know who else we needed to protect, so we wouldn't need to take any time to find out."

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"I suppose," allows Nika. "I think some people would not like their children to turn out to be dragons suddenly though. So we shouldn't tell whoever has them. Even if they're things too probably because people are dumb."

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"Yes, I agree. Unless for some reason we happened to know that those people in particular were the sort of people who would be okay with children who were suddenly dragons."

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"I should aim narrower than 'complete written works' for the other dragons, is there something they'd have written that'd definitely have their names -"

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"Does it have to be stuff they've written or can it just be about them, like adoption certificates?"

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"That'd work!" Adoption certificates of dragons on Barrayar -

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Rosette Lili Allard, adopted by Hélène and Richard Allard a few days before Nika's own certificate's date; clean bill of genetic health; address in the largest city in Vorkalloner's District; attested foundling, good faith effort made to find natural parents.

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Stefanos Aristede Michel, adopted by two presumably loving illegible scribbles the day after Nika; no gene scan on record; address in a heavily poor, heavily Greek region of the southern continent; attested foundling.

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And of course Nika Madeline Vorkosigan's very own adoption certificate with her very own adoptive parents. (The rather heroic effort to find her natural parents and/or conspirators is noted as "good faith", of course.)

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"And now we know," says Cordelia. "Should we discuss the question of whether to equip Simon with magical powers?"

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"...Yes, let's."

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"There's some powers you need an eidetic memory to have," says Nika. "Epic can make magic things that do that but it takes weeks even if he doesn't sleep. ...Can you actually not sleep or was that a figure of speech."

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"I don't have to sleep. But yeah, I could do it if I worked nonstop for three weeks sidereal which is ten weeks subjective at the top acceleration and it wouldn't be very interesting either, and if runecasting can do it at all it'll be faster."

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"And therefore it would potentially be convenient to give me the magical powers since I already have an eidetic memory? What specific kind of eidetic memory is required? Mine is visual and auditory."

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"There're a lot of spell symbols and you have to keep them all straight I actually don't know if that'd do it or if you'd have to watch them scroll in front of you every time or something weird like that."

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"Are there potential unpleasant accidents if my memory isn't up to the challenge?"

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"No, if you don't have all the symbols exactly nothing'd happen."

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"Then I suppose I am willing to try it, if the magical powers are useful - what are they?"

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"We're not just giving them out to anyone who might find a use for them. If Nika thinks it's important then you can have them. But, uh, I can teleport with a range of anywhere in this dimension or any of its neighbors and can take any things smaller than a planet with me, I can heal people - touch-range - turn them into birds - also touch-range - go invisible and inaudible or make things invisible and inaudible, do illusions, fix Nika being clumsy once I read that one which I never got around to..."

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"Who exactly is 'we'?"

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"Epic was stranded here in a transportation accident, and is currently the only available representative of the group," says Cordelia.

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"It's mostly alternate universe versions of my dad's kingdom and Bells."

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"I'm a Bell."

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"I'm unfortunately too busy to make good use of most of those, but if the supply of touch-range healing magic is that short, expanding it seems like a very high priority indeed. If it's any good. I assume it is?"

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"It did something positive for Miles. We haven't yet found out exactly what. Instead of getting the spells yourself, you could help us research magic so that we can attempt to uncover or design an eidetic memory spell that takes less than several weeks to produce, and then we can distribute touch-range healing to as many trustworthy people as we like."

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"I would like you to find out exactly what it did for Miles. But yes, all right, let's research magic."

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"I'll have to beg his forgiveness if I send him to the doctor instead of including him in the research when he gets here."

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"Also the doctor should maybe not know about magic and how else would you explain it?"

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"Some doctor will have to be told about magic in order for us to find out what the healing spell did for Miles, and Miles's doctors will have to be told something if it turns out that what the healing spell did for Miles was make him entirely healthy. I'm sure I can find some sort of reasonable solution."

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"What was wrong with him?"

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"He has, or perhaps had, extremely fragile bones because of something that happened while I was pregnant with him. It's also why he's unusually small for his age."

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"Yeah, it would probably have fixed that."

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"We'll see."