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Generated: Jul 17, 2021 4:36 AM
Post last updated: Jul 27, 2017 4:05 PM
I could show you incredible things
sad Cam in Milliways, with company
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A sewage pipe burst in Sahan Imsel's apartment during the storm. His bedroom is fine, but the kitchen and dining room are a total loss unless he wants to spend more than the furniture's worth on cleaning it. He sends the landlord a succession of angry emails and then heads down to the property manager's office to complain in person, and eventually they get a cleanup crew to dispose of everything and reimburse him for the furniture and put in a work order for the sewage pipe. He has to stay at home until the reds show up, and they don't even have the decency to be on time. He paces. 

 

He opens the closet door and blinks. 

This is not his closet.

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Nope. Bar with an alien in it. Alien is reading and doesn't notice him right away.

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He blinks a couple more times. He checks the time. They should have been here half an hour ago. He drags a shipping box over to serve as a doorstop and he walks into the bar with an alien in it, looking around.

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Alien turns his head when the box is dragged. "...hi."

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" - hi. Uh. I come in peace? Why do you speak my language. That door used to lead to my closet." He has short green hair and is wearing sweatpants and holding a tablet. The shipping box says 'students get free overnight delivery'.

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"Oh, it's a magic door, that wasn't me. The language is also not me and is magic."

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"My society hasn't discovered anything that is usefully called magic. I guess except this." He looks dubiously back at the door.

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"This is new to me too. I got here the same way you did, magic door."

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He checks his doorstop and ventures farther in. 

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It is a bar.

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"The bar is a magical person, communicates by napkin."

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"...hello," he says to the bar. "Nice to meet you - or do I need to write on a napkin -"

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I can hear you, I simply cannot speak. Welcome to Milliways. First drink is free.

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"I shouldn't, I'm waiting on a plumber - I suppose magic bars and aliens should really supersede that - yes, all right. Thank you."

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She produces a beverage. It is purple and frothy.

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He sits down and drinks it. "Do you mind if I take pictures."

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Not at all.

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His frothy purple thing is delicious. He takes pictures. He gets a text notification from the plumber saying they arrived. He debates it and then decides there shouldn't be reds anywhere near magic aliens and ignores the text.

 


"- so," he says conversationally after a little while. "Does your civilization by any chance have faster-than-light travel."

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"Uh, why?"

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"We need more space, and we've got arcologies on the moons and everything and could settle someplace if we could only get there, but no one even knows if it's possible."

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"It is."

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"Awesome. Do you personally happen to know how - or know where we can get papers or blueprints or something -"

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"I don't understand it all myself but I could get you those."

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"If you want something in exchange I'm sure they'll pay whatever."

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"I think the thing I am looking for probably requires magic. I can just give you stuff, it's fine."

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" - well, we're not going to turn you down." He gets a second notification from the red. He writes back.

You were late, I left. Be on time.

"What's the thing you're looking for?"

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"Resurrection."

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"Uh. Condolences."

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"...thanks, but that's not really - it."

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" - do you, like, need somebody who is dead in order to clear your name or something - is this a setup for a movie, I'm going to be so mad if there are secret cameras -"

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"...it's a really long story and there are no cameras of which I am aware."

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"Well. We don't have resurrection. Kind of a good thing, we'd have run out of space long ago if it were widespread so it'd probably end up just a few centuries-old politicians with centuries-old opinions and centuries to get a stronger grip on power."

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"Why are you so crowded?"

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"Were you not, before you got FTL? I guess if you got it really fast - we've got thirteen billion people. We've had population controls for, like, fifty years, when we had five billion? Before that it was wars keeping the population in check. Wars and plagues and starvation and stuff."

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"My original civilization doesn't actually have it. But they colonized some other places in the same solar system."

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"The other planets are too hot or gaseous. We've got the moons, but we can't season them. And  - one more planet would help, but in the sense credits are maybe ten thousand ni cheaper, it doesn't touch the fundamentals of it."

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"Season them?"

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"Cause them to have seasons."

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"Is that important?"

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"Without them our hormones get out of whack and no one's found an adequate artificial substitute."

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"Oh."

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"You don't have that?"

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"No."

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"I guess that'd let you get a little farther before you needed strict population controls, you could build underground and underwater and the poles and the equators and so on."

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"There's not very much of that. People started having fewer children after we invented birth control. - do you have that -"

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"Yep. Free and universal, so's abortion, people just want five, on average."

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"...well yes that would do it."

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"It's hard. My mom's a music teacher and my father's an untenured philology professor and they both worked crazy hours until they were eighteen and could take out a mortgage to afford me."

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"How long are your years?"

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" - I don't have a point of reference - uh, they have 1475 days, a day is -" he checks his pocket everything - "I've been here twenty minutes and a day is fifteen hundred of those."

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Cam does some calculations. "Okay, good to know."

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"We live to forty, we're fertile five to twenty. Only in the spring, if we live somewhere with seasons."

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Cam makes a note of that.

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" - so. The FTL."

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"The FTL. Uh, translation is a local bar effect, I can't just drop stuff on you. I mean I could but less useful. Also I should probably make some effort to be sure all you're going to do with it is have five kids apiece and not, like, prosecute some awful war or whatever."

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"There aren't any wars right now. There was one a year and a half ago but it was - the kind of thing that wouldn't happen if we had planets - Voa poisoned their food exports so their neighbor couldn't get enough food and they annexed a province."

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"...poisoned food exports. That's a weird thing to do."

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"Apparently this one asshole decided to make a point about how the food preparation trade agreements were excessively careful by arranging for every company in Voa to stop complying all at once, they were letting reds touch it, it was a disaster. I have a classmate from Tapa and he was shipping the snacks in his dorm home because the rations weren't enough for his family -"

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"Reds?"

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He makes a face. "The caste that does sewage and garbage and handling the dead."

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"...ah-huh."

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"Everyone's got systems set up to keep them from touching anything," he says reassuringly. "Even Voa, and they reversed the food thing once it turned out to be a fiasco. The rest of us are clean."

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"If aliens have different procedures we'll accommodate, I think there was a lot of wrangling about that back when international trade got important." He shrugs. "I'm not exactly an expert, I'm studying architecture."

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"I'm... not sure you should be expecting contact with a whole alien civilization, here."

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"Well, we also might find aliens with the FTL."

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"Suppose."

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"Since there, like, apparently are some in the first place."

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"The magic door does interworld, not interplanetary, could go either way. I could check, I guess."

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" - you could check whether there are aliens?"

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"Yes."

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"...how?"

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"I'm a magical species and I can make arbitrary material objects including according to parameters that allow the transmission of information between worlds and with no delay."

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" - and here I was thinking FTL was a big deal, wow. That could - that could -"

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"End material scarcity."

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" -yeah."

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Sigh.

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"Is resurrection really the only thing you want? - I guess it, uh, would be, if you can get yourself anything else -"

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"There was a war. With some magic things. I caused - some collateral damage, ending it. I would like to fix it."

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"- that's really admirable but, like, there are lots of people dying because of material scarcity not being ended, you could maybe give yourself credit for being in the black on the whole -"

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"I already am, it doesn't help as much as you might expect. Uh, if you remove your doorstop you can stop time in your world, that happens when the door's closed."

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" - oh. That's useful." 

 

He removes his doorstop. Opens the door again to check it's still his house. "I should learn more before I call the government, in that case. I don't even know how to tell the government without sounding crazy - don't know any blues..."

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"Blues?"

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"- the caste that does governance. And rent-collecting."

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"Castes are an everybody thing, not just an untouchables thing?"

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" - yeah. You don't have castes except clean and unclean?"

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"I have met ten sapient species and yours is the only one that does castes at all."

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" - really. Huh. Well, aliens. Every society on Amenta has the same castes, with a couple careers that are maybe different in different countries."

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"I see."

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"It seems like it'd be hard to do population control without castes but I guess if you don't have to do it at all -"

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"Five of those species don't even reproduce. Three of them do but not at unsustainable rates. I guess orcs might run into your problem eventually."

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"If credits were a straight auction blues would all have five kids and purples mostly couldn't afford any. - the politicians and real estate magnates would get all the credits, and retail and farmers wouldn't get any," he clarifies.

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"Makes sense."

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"If you make the books I could translate them and publish them online and then even if people didn't believe the explanation they'd take a look."

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"I guess you could sit here transcribing things. I'm, uh... If your species routinely goes to war over people with plumber ancestors touching food and you consider this obvious and unembarrassing even when addressing an alien, I'm not... totally sure..."

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" - people were going hungry. Even if you don't understand pollution you can - look at the consequences - and it's not routinely, no one ever did what Voa did before -"

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"Yeah no I get that it looms large in people's minds, I'm not saying whoever tried that shouldn't have watched the situation more carefully, but I want to, you know, watch the situation carefully -" He appears a few things. "- you've got aliens, scads and scads of them, if you think it's obvious and unembarrassing that if someone does something like that you starve and kill people over it -"

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"We might not trade with them if we can't agree on procedures. We don't want to bother aliens, we want somewhere to raise our children -"

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"What if you have so many scads of aliens that all the good planets are taken and you don't like how they handle their landfills?"

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"You said you can make stuff. You could make a planet."

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"I'm not leaving this bar till somebody comes by with magic sufficient to put everyone back."

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"Put everyone back?"

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"Interstellar war, collateral damage, resurrection, remember?"

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"Yeah, but - do you even have reason to believe it's possible -"

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"I can put fifty-four million of them back. The remainder are just a different species. I haven't been here long enough to assume it's out of the question and Bar hasn't told me I'm out of luck either."

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"- that's kind of a lot of collateral damage."

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"It was a planet."

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"You've got a lot of nerve, saying maybe we can't be trusted with starships."

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"Yep."

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"You have scarcity-ending magic, you use it to blow up a planet, but you want to tell thirteen billion people you've never met that maybe we're not virtuous enough to have children."

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"I want the books."

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Cam bows his head and hunches his wings over himself and says nothing.

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"Oh, is the difference that you feel bad about it? We worry about pollution and we're not even appropriately sorry, you blow up fucking planets but you feel really sad about it. Tapa kills babies born without a credit, you know. If you're looking for things that are your fault to feel sad about."

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Cam takes a deep breath. It doesn't cut it. He repeats it.

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"Suicide rate in springtime is five times the rest of the year. Supposedly a spring when you're expecting a baby is amazing. But the rest of them -"

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"Do you think," says Cam very quietly, "it's possible someone in the government would be better at reassuring me about how you'd handle meeting aliens."

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"Is the door going to stay."

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"My understanding is that time will pass in your world if you hold it and if you don't let it close with you on the far side it will stay."

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"I have no idea how to get someone from the government to investigate the interdimensional bar in my closet without any proof."

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"Do they have private phone numbers or something?"

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"Probably?"

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"Who do you want to call?"

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" - I don't know. We have a ruling council, I guess, if you want to go straight to the top."

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Cam fumbles around for their numbers and finds a couple and hands Sahan the slips of paper.

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" - okay. I'm going to - think what to say, before I call them."

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"Mm."

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He turns to do that on his tablet.

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Cam looks at what he was reading, finds he cannot quite focus on it, makes himself an ice cream cone instead.

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And eventually he asks Cam if Cam minds helping with a demonstration for the council. "I want to ask them to write something down and then you can get it. To prove it."

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"Yeah, sure. I need to know who wrote it."

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"I'm calling Intal Neli."

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Nod.

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And he makes a phone call. 

      "Hello?"

"Councilor. My name is Sahan Insel and I got this number from a visitor with spying capabilities I want to demonstrate to you now. Do you have pen and paper."

      Pause. " - yes."

"Write down a six-digit number."

 

He looks at Cam.

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Number?

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"877460," Sahan says. "The visitor is an alien, I just figured I should lead with something provable."

      "Where are you?"

Sahan gives an address. "My house. The alien wants to talk with a diplomat or somebody."

      "You are welcome to give him the phone if that would be helpful to him."

Sahan repeats this for Cam.

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"Sure."

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Sahan hands Cam the phone. 

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"Hello."

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"Hello. I'm Intal Neli, I'm on the Anitami governing council. I didn't catch your name."

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"I'm Cam."

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"It's a pleasure to meet you. I am arranging for some people to meet you, is there anything else I can do for you?"

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"I don't need anything, thanks."

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"How did you do the numbers trick? Is there a camera here?"

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"I can make arbitrary material objects. If you'd like to name a material object that is not wherever you are I can make that too."

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"How can you do that?"

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"I'm a magical species. This is also how I got your phone number. Speaking your language isn't me, I'm actually mildly surprised that's working over the phone since it's a property of the location where your citizen found me."

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"He sent us to his apartment."

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"Yes, the magic door is connected to his apartment. It's a weird magic door. Do these phones do pictures? Perhaps he could send you a picture. I have no hope of figuring out how to operate it, I'd get the focal length or something wrong and look like a cryptid."

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"I took pictures already," Sahan says. "If you're done I can send them."

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"He says he took pictures, I'm gonna give back the phone." He gives back the phone.

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He sends pictures. "Are you gonna believe them? When they say no we won't bother aliens promise?"

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"I'm assuming professional diplomats know how to say more well-cited things than 'promise'."

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"But if you already know they're going to say something persuasive what are you expecting to get out of talking to them?"

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"Specifics."

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"Can I start on the books since they're going to be convincing?"

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He sighs and goes back to his tablet.

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Cam reads.

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And after a while he gets a notification there are people at the door and presses a button to let them in and then calls to warn them not to go in the living areas, a pipe burst, the door is in his bedroom. And a few minutes after that four people step through, two with blue hair and two with yellow. They stop to blink in confusion at the bar but not nearly as long as Sahan did. Then they glance at each other and one of the blue women steps forward. "Hi. You must be Cam?"

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"Yeah."

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"I'm Amala Eletan. Uh, where are we exactly -"

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"The place is called Milliways, if you close the door time stops whence you came, I do not own or operate it I just found it same as he did."

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She nods at one of the yellow-haired people, who closes the door. "Thank you for bringing it to our attention."

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"You're welcome."

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"They have FTL," Sahan says. "But he wanted to talk with you about it."

        "We'd be delighted to talk about it!"

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"I can also tell that you have aliens. Many hundreds of kinds of aliens, in your same galaxy alone." He picks up the things he made. "These hold a terabyte each and I conjured up the first written work in each language currently spoken in the galaxy. I'm a little worried about how you will interface with them given your expansionist needs and caste system."

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She nods. "That's a really impressive ability of yours. Is there any chance we can have the works  of these alien species - our archaeologists and linguists and so on will be so thrilled -"

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"I can filter for 'published' but I can't filter for 'willing to share with aliens', I'll want to think about it."

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"Makes sense. So the concern is that there might not be planets available?"

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"There might not be planets available and you are the tenth species I have met and the only one with a species-wide caste system."

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"I'd be happy to answer questions you have about how that works for us."

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"I'm only incidentally curious about how it works for you, I'm curious about how you will expect it to work for aliens who also happen to be sitting on nice planets."

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"Ah. There was a period in Amentan history where societies warred for space. It was an awful time and is remembered particularly unpleasantly in Anitam. No one wants to repeat it, no matter how strange the societies we run across - and we were expecting aliens to be a lot stranger than you, honestly -"

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"Some of them might be."

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"And many of them can be presumed to be more technologically advanced than us, not having gotten FTL from a magic bar long before their physicists thought of it."

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"That's true."

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"It seems likely that there already exists some treaties or rules or agreements discouraging newly spacefaring civilizations from bothering their neighbors - honestly, if there are that many neighbors, the fact no one has said hi itself maybe points to some agreement like that."

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"I was not, however, counting only species with FTL. I was counting everybody."

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"I was assuming the policies about bothering one's neighbors universal enough that they would explain why we've seen no signs of aliens."

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"You don't know that. You don't know why you haven't been visited. And it's possible no one in your galaxy has in fact invented FTL at all. And my version would get you farther than that if you wanted."

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"As long as there are empty planets anywhere we'll go for those."'

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"What if you check five thousand planets and they are all full, are you going to check another five thousand?"

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"We can check five thousand at once. Or perhaps some society has artificial gravity and we can build our own suitable planets. Or perhaps some society will sell land in exchange for vaccinations and computers and help getting the infrastructure base to sustain those. The kind of security one achieves by chaining societies to their home planets doesn't seem like the sustainable kind. We'll go meet our neighbors and figure out something better than that."

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"That's a lot of perhapses. And if you say hi to the neighbors and it turns out that they have weird customs about corpses or fertilize their crops with feces..."

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"- then we probably don't buy their food. It's a practical concern, not a moral one."

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"You had a war over it in recent memory, I'm told."

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"There are trade agreements which ensure reliable access to food for the countries which have to import it. A country secretly stopped abiding by them, leaving their neighbors starving; the neighbors took a province so they could have independent food security and then agreed to peace. If they'd had another means of feeding their people they would have taken it."

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"Aliens are not likely to care about the same things in the same ways and anticipate the same distribution of possible fallout from diplomatic hiccups."

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"We wouldn't expect them to. We will not rely on food from societies that don't care about pollution in the first place."

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...sigh.

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"He blew up a planet," says Sahan from the corner. "But we're not good enough for starships, noooo -"

       She is temporarily speechless. 

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"Sahan, do you think you could give Mashal here an account of what happened, for our records -"

         "Maybe we can go somewhere private for that," says Mashal.

"That would be great." Sigh. "It - sounds like it might be worthwhile for us to learn more about each other before we make high-stakes decisions. I take it they're not even urgent, because of the magic door?"

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"Yeah."

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"How much background do you have about us?"

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"Not that much. Fifteen minutes of conversation."

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"That's hardly enough to decide whether to buy us lunch. Can we table that conversation for now?"

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"If you want lunch I can make you lunch."

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"I suppose you could. ...I had this absurdly delicious seafood plate once, the next time I went to the restaurant it wasn't on the menu, they said it was seasonal, what do you need to know to make things?"

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"More than that. When was this? What was the menu item called, at what restaurant?"

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She checks a scheduling app on her tablet and has a date and location. "I don't remember what it was called, though."

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"Either question suffices." Seafood plate.

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"Ooooh." Smile. 

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"It's pretty handy."

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"It seems it. Can everyone do that, where you're from?"

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"Everyone where I live when I'm at home."

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"It seems like that'd produce a fascinating society. What do people get up to when they don't need to work to live?"

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"Art. Obsessive neighborhood association regulations. Research and writing and analysis. Flying around. Breeding exotic animals. Physics experiments. Social drama."

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"Oooohh. Children? Or does your species do that differently?"

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"My species can't have children."

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"Do you want to?"

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"Some people do."

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"Amentans would not make that trade. Infinite abundance for infertility, I mean."

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"I get that impression."

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"I can say it pretty confidently, blue credits cost more than a luxury apartment two blocks from where you work and a full time personal staff of eight and six vacations a year to anywhere you might want to go and I don't know anyone who had that kind of money and decided not to have the kid."

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"Wow."

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"What are the other species you've encountered?"

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"I'm a demon. There's also humans, angels, fairies, Elves, orcs, Dwarves, Maiar, and Valar. Maiar and Valar might be the same thing."

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"Is there a guide we should read?"

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"There is not."

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She eats her seafood, quietly.

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He resumes his reading. It's on his computer, which is a bit fancier than pocket everythings what with the being controlled by his mind.

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He seems kind of touchy and apparently blew up a planet, she's not going to interrupt. She thanks him for the lunch when she's finished.

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"Anytime."

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"Is there a good time to talk more?"

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"Now is fine, you seemed to be focusing on lunch and I didn't have anything to say."

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"I'm curious about the other species."

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"Angels and fairies are like demons but with different magic. Fairies move stuff, angels change stuff. Humans are like us but they can't do magic to speak of and they can have kids and can die. Elves are taller and prettier and patient and prudish and cyborgs. Orcs are uglier cyborgs and they might give you a run for your money on the children thing but they don't have population controls, at least not yet. Maiar and Valar are psychologically wacky magical beings that only sometimes bother to have bodies; Maiar are less powerful."

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"We didn't have universal population controls until we hit five billion and universal access to contraception for both genders and the birthrate didn't fall and everyone realized we had to do something. It was a rocky transition. Hopefully it'll go more smoothly for them - or are they one of the species with FTL -"

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"They have access to it."

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"Oh good."

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"Mmhm."

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"Is there any chance we could meet them?"

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"It'd be a logistical nightmare."

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"Ah well. Have there been problems with any of these species getting FTL and tearing off to murder others?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No. Elves had it first and Elves are weirdly peaceful. Nobody else has done much with it yet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I should suggest to my people that we put together a package of - media that can manage the language barrier, dance and music and silent movies and so on - for distribution to all these distant aliens."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Elves have the prudish thing, they had some human and daeva - daeva's collective for demons and angels and fairies - media and wound up censoring most of it for having gay people or antisocial conduct or whatever."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh. - wait, gay people? Why gay people? That seems really random."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They have an extremely narrow range of acceptable romantic and sexual conduct and it draws the line around monogamous married couples who could have kids if they felt like it."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Well, okay. I can tell people to look for media that doesn't depict any antisocial behavior or, uh, conduct not between monogamous married couples that could have kids if they felt like it but that might restrict it down to dancing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"By dancers with long and neatly braided or covered hair. Short looks disfigured and loose is obscene."

Permalink Mark Unread

...giggle. "It's a big internet, we probably have something Elves won't mind."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They also just have really high artistic standards but the cream of the crop will probably be fine."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Everybody else can cope with depictions of poor judgment and the occasionally consensually extramarital kiss?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Outside ideological minorities, sure, as far as I know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We have ideological minorities who assign moral importance to monogamy but I can't think of any with an opinion about gay people. I guess there are people who lost their children and resent it?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Lost their children?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Children born without a credit are put up for adoption, in the countries that don't kill them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...you would have serious trouble getting along with Elves."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe they would be willing to give us an alternative."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you don't enforce population controls you get mass starvation. Or endless wars."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How Malthusian."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We'd love to do better. We're working on it from as many angles as we can. It's just not an option with the tools we have at present."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What are you going to do if you meet aliens who find even your better morally atrocious?"

Permalink Mark Unread

" - I don't think we'd be willing to, what, make the gay people divorce? - even for starships. Probably some country would and then let their gay people swap out to some country that wasn't."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What about the reds? Seeing as castes are uncommon, sample size of ten."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If anyone has robots who can do the red jobs we'd be thrilled not to have reds."

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are we assuming they like the reds enough to sanction us over it but not enough to accept red immigrants themselves?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Or don't feel able to accept a population that will reproduce as fast as you're inclined without controls and whose presence might affect where they can go depending on how well you fare in interplanetary diplomacy."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If societies want to sanction us over reds or gays we'll get by fine without universal approval ratings. If starships were conditional on it and there were no prospects of that ever changing - I think most governments would decide to kill the reds and hope it isn't held against their grandchildren."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If we had planets we could just give them one."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Would you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think so. It might depend how expensive it is to terraform them."

Permalink Mark Unread

...sigh.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think people'd find it a bit frustrating to be judged by societies that are beyond scarcity over the tradeoffs we make under conditions of extreme scarcity. Particularly when the judgment accompanies a reluctance to help us get more resources, it feels a bit perverse."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are castes a scarcity thing somehow?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Almost entirely. If we can afford to fund this many university-preparatory schools and this many vocational training programs and we know the heritability of aptitude for university is over ninety-eight percent, it'd be doing our people a ridiculous disservice to throw away that information. Every proposal I've seen for casteless training and preparatory programs costs the government vastly more than what we've got for worse results. ...and if someone let non-greys enlist in the military their neighbors would all panic and there'd probably be a war."

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

" - very strong norms that only greys enlist serve to keep the playing field level without everyone devoting all their resources to war."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...aha."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If we didn't have castes we'd be putting a lot of kids through school that wasn't going to help them or get them a meaningful job and then dropping them on the world with some background in literature and no idea where to find work they enjoy that pays well."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And reds?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Like I said, ideally we give them their own planet and maybe aid until they're self-sufficient. If terraforming each planet costs approximately the GDP of the whole world..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Then you murder them all so your grandchildren have clean hands."

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, then we leave things as they are. If access to new planets requires pleasing some society who objects to the existence of reds and won't themselves take the reds or create somewhere for them to go, that's when there's a problem."

Permalink Mark Unread

...sigh.

Permalink Mark Unread

"There really aren't very many reds."

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are countries that would kill just as many of some other caste if it were for some reason a condition of starships."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That doesn't really help."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You'd get volunteers. One in two hundred chance of death but your grandchildren will not suffer like this any longer - everyone would take that. You're interpreting this as 'we're unusually willing to kill innocent people' when it's instead that we are in much, much more pain than you can imagine."

Permalink Mark Unread

...sigh.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think I'd tell those aliens that what they're doing is - finding people who are being tortured, asking them whether they'd kill someone to escape the torture, and then declaring they aren't worthy of no longer being tortured because they're hypothetically murderers."

Permalink Mark Unread

"There's a difference between 'yes, I would do horrible things to make this stop' and 'yes, Steve, I hate that guy'."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Some Amentan governments would do horrible things for starships. I hope I haven't left you with the impression we want to."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's - really not the level on which I'm observing a problem."

Permalink Mark Unread

Sigh. 

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"I'll probably wind up helping, just - I don't want the tone set to be that all your problems are solved as soon as you have ship blueprints. You have a crowded world and some very awkward social problems to introduce to the neighbors. It's not unheard of for people - I'm thinking of humans in particular, who you seem a lot like, less the obsession with children - it's not unheard of for humans to hear about neighboring humans doing something they can't countenance and invading to make it stop, and that's going to be a smaller gap. The guy I met first mentioned reds and wasn't even - embarrassed, cognizant that an alien would have a different reaction -"

Permalink Mark Unread

...nod. "We'll keep in mind that it could inspire outrage and violence."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You might want to - be underway on getting them their own planet, or whatever else seems like a suitably non-embarrassing acceptable long term solution, before you start trying to claim lots of other real estate."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If people are just as likely to take offense about gay people - are they? - then we should probably anticipate we can't avoid such conflicts just by being consistent about living up to our own moral standards."

Permalink Mark Unread

"- I think errors of permission are less likely to provoke invasions, generally. I wouldn't categorize that as an error but even if you meet someone more violent than Elves who objects it's harder to identify specific people on whose behalf they might be tempted."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are they likely to object to prisons?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Elves would. I don't know much about your neighbors."

Permalink Mark Unread

She does not look super impressed with Elves. "We've got a province trying to do without, if the statistics shake out we could implement that elsewhere. I'd - really rather our social policy not be guided by the presumption our neighbors are itching for moral excuses for conquest but we can be flexibly organized so as to deemphasize or abolish whatever they object to. Unless they all want competing things."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Mmhm."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We wouldn't do that. Slavery was abolished through trade sanctions and immigration arrangements and treaty."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You wouldn't do - what? Demand things of your neighbors?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Start a war with an alien species we didn't fully understand in order to make them conform to what would be moral conduct towards our species."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Good for you."

Permalink Mark Unread

Sigh. "I appreciate the advice."

Permalink Mark Unread

Sigh.

Permalink Mark Unread

The other blue-haired one comes back, hands the first one her pocket everything. She reads it.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam waits.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is there anything else we should know?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably. I didn't really prep for this, I'm sorry."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We'd be happy to pick it up in a couple days, if that makes the most sense."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I could read up on your neighbors or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And on whether there are any empty planets to be found, that being relevant to what's next for us."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nod. "I - there's - ugh -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The war in your universe."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's not even it, it's, putting you in closer contact with demons would solve a planet scarcity problem but it would also make it really easy for anybody who wanted to including reds to go anywhere with any material objects they wanted -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You could put us and not reds in contact with demons," says the new woman. 

"We can take lists from them and get them whatever material objects they want regularly," says the one who has been talking to Cam.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It is in fact easy enough to do once you know how that they could guess."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I would expect we could manage security such that they wouldn't have more information than we have at present, but if that's not possible then -" she bites her lip - "what's the range on your FTL?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not applicable."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - then their planet could be really really far away."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And they could summon a demon and get a ship and go wherever they wanted."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We could just not give them child credits," says the new one.

     "No. Planet. Nice planet."

" - okay."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Which is easier if you have demons which mean they can go anywhere they want."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Can we put them on the planet before the existence of demons becomes publicly known?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...and abandon them on a poorly infrastructured rock until the rest of your species learns not to freak out about them, or let demons make them places to go?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"And send supply shipments which they would not need to know were, uh, demon in origin."

Permalink Mark Unread

"At which point you have everything you want out of this interaction and no particular need not to forget about them six months out."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Except reputation with our disapproving neighbors. We might be resentful if they attack us for not allowing sibling marriage or for adopting out unauthorized children but we couldn't even complain if they went to war because we were demonstrably untrustworthy when it was slightly convenient."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I suppose that's practical."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If there turns out to be a shortage of planets I think it'll be worth discussing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Demons can make those."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Are they among the species that'll have. uh, moral complaints with us?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm a demon."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And we very much appreciate your not conquering the country over ethical complaints, but if we're going to be in touch with your societies it'd be good to know if that's typical."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not a typical demon but I don't think any demons who have moral sensibilities will except them for the reds."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My question here is at how much risk we'd be putting our people. So it's not - how they'd feel about it - but whether they'd start a war."

Permalink Mark Unread

.........sigh. "Safely summoning people involves putting restrictions on their behavior so they can't do that unless you fuck up."

Permalink Mark Unread

"In that case it sounds like it'd be great to be in touch with more demons."

Permalink Mark Unread

Ugh. Sigh.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is there anything else I can answer for you-"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Probably but I don't know what to ask and I don't care to leave this bar to go investigate on my own."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We can consult and write something up and you can interrupt us if you think of something?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Better than nothing."

Permalink Mark Unread

Off they go and sit and talk quietly and occasionally take notes.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam quietly researches their planet and their neighbors, by conjuration since they could bypass him entirely if they talked to Bar and he'd sort of rather gatekeep.

Permalink Mark Unread

Their planet: population thirteen billion and a bit, a very low but nonzero growth rate agreed upon by international treaty. At peace, currently. Mostly democracies; there's a smattering of small countries with monarchies. Everyone weights the votes so blues count more and purples less. Reds can vote in six countries, though it looks like usually their ballot arrangements get disrupted or delayed or lost. Almost everybody is creepily authoritarian by Earth standards but not by Elf ones. They all have castes. Blue green yellow orange grey purple red. Intercaste marriage is allowed everywhere except this one place, but it's rare. Out-of-caste work is allowed but can't be more than various small fractions of income over the space of a few months. Two to three percent of people hit their income cap. Some places do two-kids-per-family, some do auctioned credits, some do personally awarded permissions; the justifications for the latter two policies are explicitly eugenicist, plus places that auction credits like the resulting minimal in-caste wealth inequality. 

Anitam has six hundred million people. The capital is Lina; the city the door opens to is a quaint university town of nine million, called Kanah. They've been independent for thirty-six years, before which they were part of some since-defunct empire. They rate poorly on an international corruption index, well on an index of prosperity and social order. They do credits. There are existing social justice movements that favor a minimum wage, giving purples more of the vote, giving universities more money, income redistribution, not executing pregnant women if the prospective adoptive parents will pay the prison costs, letting oranges do sex work, and more regional control of workplace safety regulations.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jesus.

There's a lot of sighing.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Anything we can answer for you?" she asks after some particular sighing.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"The last time I taught a planet summoning," he says, "I made a very particular point of rolling it out everywhere at once and not involving any governments."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - with all due respect that would be a catastrophe here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah-huh."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you want to work with a different government we can send them but you can't - just - there'd be a hundred million people dead the first day -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Because you'd all panic about reds who could go around the world in a second if they summoned a fairy?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"And because at least one person in a million would assassinate a politician given the chance and so every country would lose its entire government just as there's a major pollution crisis and all state secrets would leak to everyone and lots of them include the locations of agents who'd be executed if caught and some of them are more than enough to start a war. But the reds are a major consideration, yes."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Summoning doesn't make it that trivial to assassinate people. You have to find a willing assassin."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Or someone willing to make you a box without asking what's in it and the knowledge of what should be in it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not sure what you're envisioning here; you'd have to have a demon copy something with an innocuous name for that to get anything very dangerous."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Off the top of my head if I wanted to kill someone I would acquire the things I needed at home, leave them in a bag at home, go to a secure facility somewhere, ask for a copy of the shopping bag in my closet, set it and leave before it exploded."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You would have to go through a few demons before you got one who didn't want to know why it was faster to summon a demon than summon a fairy and go home and get it. Also you have to give daeva things to get things and demons are hard to pay."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Because the line to get into this place is an hour long, obviously. How're demons traditionally paid -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"And your demon says 'so give the fairy the keys'. Demons are, obviously, hard to pay. People come up with various intangibles. Alien animals will work for a while, we're not good at animals."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They can go to the theatre - if any of them want kids we could let them adopt. What's a key, my house opens to my fingerprint."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The demons will not be able to take the children home. They will, however, be able to make your finger."

Permalink Mark Unread

"But as long as the fairy can't that's a perfectly good reason not to have summoned one. They could stay here and raise the kids, right?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You'd get some takers. It's a good idea to pay daeva in advance and that would be hard in line for something."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nod. "Do demons want, hmm, sex, massages, therapy, dancing lessons, music lessons, art commissions..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The first is highly traditional, the latter is a great idea, the middle ones might find takers."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Then I bet we'll make it work. What skillsets are involved in summoning safely and effectively?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...you'd want like a whole textbook." Sighhhhhhh.

Permalink Mark Unread

" - just to figure out what caste it is, not to learn how to do it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...based on my reading I guess yellow, if you insist, but you're turning down a lot of the advantages if you don't let random people summon their own."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We can experiment with that on the moon or something, see what the rate of mistakes looks like before we scale up access."

Permalink Mark Unread

"A moon will not meaningfully segregate a badly summoned fairy or demon."

Permalink Mark Unread

"On a colony planet, then. Thank you."

Permalink Mark Unread

Sigh.

Permalink Mark Unread

"What are the primary gains you think we'll miss out on?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There's professional summoners back home and they're fine for one-offs but for long term arrangements you tend to want somebody who the daeva you're bringing in over and over likes and if you're limited to pros you have less flexibility on that. It also increases overhead to do things like start fairy transit systems or demonic food distribution or angelic healing if you have to hire a summoner."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Once we know more we'll definitely want to figure out how to enable that."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nod.

Permalink Mark Unread

"What'd you think of your reading?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Last planet I did this for was not without its problems but it had an - ascendant value set that made the end of material scarcity something very nearly a quick fix for a lot of them. Your issues seem more baked in."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hmm. Can you be more specific?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There were problems of limited class mobility, say, but those were 'means-tested welfare programs' and 'poor education' and 'inadequate transportation logistics' and stuff like that. There were some bad governments, a few people did get assassinated, but there were other places to go. Meanwhile you have it literally illegal to make too much money off a thing that is incorrectly color-coded."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The out-of-caste income cap doesn't affect very many people."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It doesn't make sense to invest much effort into a career you can't make serious money off of which will never let you quit your day job."

Permalink Mark Unread

"True. I expect people could get behind a colony planet with no laws on out-of-caste income."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It was also customary in most developed countries at the time to have one size fits all public education - nominally. There were implementation issues that were substantially ameliorated when I ended material scarcity."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"I don't expect that would benefit Amentans. Better funded schools, absolutely, but there's just not enough time to cover everything at a pace that's also conducive to letting kids be kids. You could do a mediocre job of everything or you could start tracking people for what they're good at."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I suspect there are a lot of advantages to a tracking system but conflating 'what they're good at' with 'what their hair color is correlated with in a hopelessly confounded manner' is not quite the same."

Permalink Mark Unread

"There is almost certainly room for improvements, one-size-fits-all just doesn't strike me as an example of such an improvement."

       "There are rural areas where there's only one school, I'm sure someone's looked at data on outcomes from that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hopelessly confounded," repeats Cam.

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are also rural areas with several schools. We have heard of statistics."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's not what I mean."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Anybody who would like to set up their own society and take immigrants will get lots of eager immigrants."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I suppose you do have that going for you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Our politicians are deeply conservative mostly because - there are six hundred million people relying on us, if we fuck up they have nowhere to go, the downside is much worse than the upside is good. The first lesson they teach you in blue school, if you're on a political track, is small-scale and reversible or don't do it at all. And I think that's the right thing to teach anyone responsible for six hundred million people with 'coup' and 'conquest' the only things resembling a stabilizing mechanism there are. But once people have somewhere to go, maybe we can teach our children that lesson third, put some other things first."

Permalink Mark Unread

...sigh. "How did it get to be that everyone uses the same caste system?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Societies with it were dramatically more successful, and outcompeted anyone who didn't."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Can I have a version that takes a whole paragraph?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"This was about seven hundred years ago. The Atapli were a trading civilization living on the coast of what's now Tapa and Voa, and while lots of places had caste systems of some kind they were the most - administratively sophisticated - of the pre-industrial empires and had the most formal caste system. With roughly the modern roles, though green and yellow were much smaller than they are now. They set up cities all along the coast, and the cities grew very wealthy, and they were administered according to the Atapli system, and it was adopted in some cases voluntarily and in some cases at the insistence of the local government. Some trading partners of the Atapli had a green aristocracy, and blues overthrew them with Atapli backing; other places were grey-ruled and found that the royals they wanted to marry their children to were all blue and declared themselves very-pale-blue. All of these societies did unusually well for themselves, compared to societies without a caste system or with a differently organized one, and many of them conquered their neighbors or just expanded and pressed their neighbors back into undesirable lands. It wasn't universal at that point, but it was very widespread, and continued to outcompete alternatives until there weren't any."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It seems possible that aptitudes are more heritable for us than for most species."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Possible. It also occurs to me that getting you summoning means introducing it to your whole universe."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We could certainly be conservative about introducing it to aliens."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They would probably want pretty badly to get it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If aliens showed up with summoning and said to us 'we'll give you planets but not teach you how until we're sure of you' we'd manage."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So you'll just have your yellows summon extras to address their various scarcities."

Permalink Mark Unread

"These are getting to be decisions on a scale we're not equipped to be making, but that has the - small-scale and reversible - advantages."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What about other countries?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"There are countries that probably shouldn't have summoning. This is again - not decisions I'm in a position to make."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well. Is it possible people who are should be here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can recommend the council come and talk with you."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nod.

Permalink Mark Unread

She opens the door and sends an email and then gestures for one of the yellows to come and hold it open and wait. They do that.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam reads.

Permalink Mark Unread

"They're all in Lina, it takes the train about an hour to get here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay. I'm not in a hurry right now."

Permalink Mark Unread

And an hour and a bit later quite a few security guards (grey) walk through the door, look around impassively, and spread around as unobtrusively as uniformed and armed people can be.

 

And then the ruling council of Anitam walks in.

Permalink Mark Unread

There are more people trailing them. Blue and yellow and green.

Permalink Mark Unread

Uh.

Permalink Mark Unread

Quiet blues and yellows and greens who have clearly been instructed to shoo and not bother the alien and who will do that, with varying degrees of reluctance.

Permalink Mark Unread

Uh!!!!!

Permalink Mark Unread

Off the extraneous people go, to explore Milliways a bit and probably listen in and advise.

 

The council sits down at the bar. "Cam, right?" says Intal. "We spoke a bit on the phone earlier. It's nice to meet you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, that's right, hi. Introduce me to extra people -?"

Permalink Mark Unread

He introduces the rest of the council. "And our security and our staff and some researchers."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Who's that?" Cam asks, pointing at Aitim.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...Aitim Neli is our junior director of foreign affairs."

Permalink Mark Unread

Ah-huh. Point at the Fëanor. "Who's that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Intal doesn't know that one. He looks at Aitim. 

"Afen Kisantami studies linguistics and computer science."

Permalink Mark Unread

 


"I think I'm a foreign affair. Aitim, a word?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"How the fuck do you do that," someone says in Aitim's general direction. 

 

Aitim makes the most convincing innocent face in the world. "But of course." He heads over.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam gets off his barstool and walks out of earshot with him.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Nice to meet you. Uh, how the fuck did I do that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is Afen your dad."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - yes."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Apart from the hair you look just like an Elf I recently conducted a war with called Nelyafinwë Maitimo, whose dad looked just like yours."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you happen to have a picture?"

Permalink Mark Unread

He took occasional photos for journaling purposes, he has the whole brood plus Dad in this shot.

Permalink Mark Unread

He stares at it for a few seconds. "My mother is Nertel, my younger brothers are Makel, Telkam, Kantil, Kefin, Amlas, Amel - Makel's possibly the world's most famous singer, paid the credits..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I - didn't meet their mom, I -" He pulls himself together. "- Macalaurë, Tyelcormo, Carnistir, Curufinwë, Amras, Amrod."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - what happened -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"There was a war. It's a long story. How long can you get away with monopolizing me?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The implications of 'arbitrary material objects' didn't escape them, no one's going to defy you on purpose, but we'll be making them nervous if it's longer than a few minutes."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not - I'm not going to hurt anybody. Also there's security here, not the greys there's bar security - time's inconsistent between places if we go somewhere else but no way to guarantee which direction and it's such a long story."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not scared of you. But - you're upset about the reds, you get the council in one place and take aside someone ambitious and competent and too young to have much real power -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I can't quite fill in that blank."

Permalink Mark Unread

'It would be among the less stupid ways to conquer the country if you wanted to. And they would fill in that blank."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I do not want to rule your country I want to stay in this bar until I can find someone magical enough to resurrect a million miniature gods."

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"Sorry we can't be of more help on that front. -well, we can leave people stationed here in case you ever want to go outside or something and don't want to miss someone magic enough to do that."

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"That would actually be helpful."

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"Done. There's no way to access worlds from here beyond waiting for someone to walk in?"

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"Nope, I asked. I really can't obstruct you on getting faster than light travel or summoning, the bar does not have my gatekeeping concerns, I was just letting it look like that to try to set the tone a little."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't have enough information to make strategic decisions right now - the bar gives out books? Under what circumstances would they find this out?"

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"If they get close enough she will offer them drinks and if they ask her questions she will answer them."

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"Does this place have conference rooms or anything."

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"It's got a hotel on top, not really conference-y but you could use it that way."

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"You can do furniture, right? Maybe suggest we relocate, explain how you recognized me so everyone is less nervous, give the greens something to do with some alien art and music and maybe physics papers - do you have a good summoning book in mind -"

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"There's the one I used when I used to teach it."

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"Get three conference rooms, throw books at people, no one down here to ask the bar questions except the security and I can arrange that they not."

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"Yeah, all right."

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"And then after we've talked about summoning and colonization options for a while you can take a break, leave them some reading material, I think I do need more context to be helpful here even if it's a very long story."

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Nod.

He goes up to the bar and appears a napkin on it and the napkin vanishes to be replaced with a key. "I got us conference rooms," he says, holding up the key and pointing stairsward.

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...slightly confused Anitami government goes upstairs.

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It's a whole suite which has conference room furniture in it as soon as they go in. Cam plops down in a backless chair.

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"Aitim didn't mention you two were acquainted," says Intal after a pause.

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"He looks like someone I know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I see."

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"Anyway, I've done some reading up on your neighbors - they have FTL but time in transit does still correlate with distance their way so that may suffice to explain why no one's bothered you, you aren't very close to anyone, but you're in reasonable-if-you-have-a-reason-to-bother distance of a few people -" United Federation of Planets entry requirements, mission statement of the Ferengi, the poetic form of the Klingon anthem (unabridged), etc. etc. etc, "is that enough copies -"

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" - yes. Thank you."

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"You're welcome."

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"Is that what you'd like to start with, then? Making plans for contact with other alien civilizations?"

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"I don't have a specific agenda but apparently the Federation there might knock if you produce a warp signature - warp's the local FTL, the kind I know is different and much less time-efficient for shorter-range trips like that."

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They start looking over Federation charter and so on. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"How does warp work -"

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...Cam conjure-rummages and throws the equations at him.

Permalink Mark Unread

That'll occupy him.

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"What role are you envisioning having in all of this?" asks someone else on the council.

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"I don't want to leave the bar until I've found someone sufficiently magical to resurrect some people. So I'm not going to run around doing legwork for you or anything."

Permalink Mark Unread

"But should we just take it from here or do you want to provide ongoing input -"

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"I'd be happy to consult."

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They have questions about summoning. So many of them.

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He's well-positioned to answer them.

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They glance at Aitim occasionally but he's diligently reading through Federation membership rules.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Lunch?" Cam wonders after a few hours. "Or whatever meal it is for you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That sounds great, thank you."

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He takes requests. The table gets a bit full but there are more rooms.

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They split by caste. The greens are looking at the FTL and the alien cultural and historical stuff and the yellows are looking at summoning books and transcribing things and the blues are poring over the treaties and the organizational charters and debating summoning rollout plans.

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And Cam will go over there in a separate room and make himself a slice of pizza and wait for Aitim to slip away.

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Takes a while. These are after all kind of important conversations. Eventually he steps outside to go get something from one of the other rooms and on the way back meanders into Cam's room. He can blame it on the time dilation. 

"Hi."

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"Hi." He chews dejectedly on his pizza crust. "I hate this story. How long a version do you think you need?"

Permalink Mark Unread

" - hard to guess without any information about the story. Nelyafinwë Maitimo could explain it to me, if that's easier?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"He's a lightleaper trip away. I guess I could ask one of the people he sent with me, make Larya do it, she wouldn't have all the details though."

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"We know already that a planet was destroyed and fifty million people died but most are resurrectable."

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"Fifty-five. Yeah." Cam takes a deep breath. "So, I'm a demon, I got summoned -"

And he outlines the war.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"My god. Okay. I'm sorry people were rude about it, that was deeply inappropriate."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Really not my focus here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Right, so someone else had better stay on top of it."

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"...I don't really follow."

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"There are a lot of aliens and a lot going on we're not informed about and a lot of very high stakes and we are absolutely accountable for knowing the difference between the casualty-minimizing path to end a war and random mass violence. And accountable for not blurring the lines between those because it's convenient if you feel bad. So if you object to defending yourself, fine, I will still expect my people to behave like there's a difference because it's an important difference."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...okay."

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"Is there anything else I need to know?"

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"Then I remade the stars and planet and most of what was on it and started putting people back and I was halfway done when I found this place."

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Nod. "And we're the first people you've run into here?"

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"Apart from Bar."

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"How long have you been here -"

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"Maybe a day."

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"What do you need from me, besides responsible handling of the rollout in our universe -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That, pretty much. I'd sort of rather you leave with warp and not lightleapers, there's some kind of balance of interplanetary power about and it can handle new entrants with warp but I don't know how five days to literally anywhere would shake it up. Let alone summoning, but that cat's kind of out of the bag."

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"They'd be happy to keep it secret. Sort of our natural impulse with - kinds of power that are equalizing - do aristocracies normally survive gunpowder?"

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"I don't really have a 'normally'. Human ones took a heck of a hit."

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Sigh. "Anyway, 'occasionally planets are very cheaply terraformed and we don't explain why' is a possible medium-term arrangement while we figure out how destabilizing summoning is going to be. Might be necessary anyway - how many demons and fairies and angels are there -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"A few billion each, more all the time - human summoners become them when we die. Don't know about other species."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - huh. That sort of changes the calculus about making it widespread..."

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"Doesn't it just."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - could look up the people we're executing today, see if any of them happen to be perfectly lovely people who it wouldn't be a problem to have as a demon or angel or fairy, figure it out..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You execute many perfectly lovely people?"

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"Someone did a lot of research a year back and concluded that six percent were innocent. I suppose with demons we can get that down to zero. But even the guilty ones there're probably some who wouldn't reoffend - caught up in a bad crowd, did something stupid for the money for a kid..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Y'all are really obsessed with kids. Daeva can't have them, incidentally."

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"Then the ex-Amentan ones will be very sad. Still might think it improves on death - I don't have internet here, can you pull up the public record of executions scheduled today or tomorrow -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Title?"

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He can give the web page.

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And here it is.

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He starts reading through it. "Death penalty's another thing that'll upset our new friends?"

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"Depends on the friends."

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"You're upset." He scrolls down. It's a long list.

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"I'm not personally a fan, no. Humans from my world have an afterlife by default and Elves and orcs are resurrectable - otherwise not so much."

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Nod.

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Sigh.

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"The Anitami moral values in conflict with just stopping it are - justice to the surviving family of the victims, who presumably wouldn't want their loved ones' murderer hung in a society where that wasn't conventional but who do want it as things stand. And swiftness and surety - you don't leave people in a protracted state of doubt over their fate, you have an interview quickly and then you carry out the sentence the next day, you don't torture people with false hope. Plus deterrence, of course. And a - zero-sum view of resources, every rapist and murderer we're feeding and housing in prison is a family that can't have a child this year and a fairly extraordinary expense for the government. That one we can change, and it makes the others tractable, but it doesn't make them easy. If you put it to a straight unweighted vote it'd come down overwhelmingly against abolishing the death penalty."

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Nod.

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"The courts are a mess. Was on my eventual to-do list, but access to demons might solve it sooner. - I'm not sure how clear a picture you have of our society..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't. I've been reading, but some about you and some about the Federation et al. Federation appears to be run on an alternate version of my home planet, that's fun."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is there a you?"

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"I checked records from when I would have been born, no dice."

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Nod. He pulls six case files aside for closer reading. "We don't censor the internet but I might be more informative in some contexts, if there are things you want to know..."

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"The reds thing really bothers me."

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He winces. "It's going to bother everyone, isn't it."

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"Well, the Ferengi seem to have a comparable grade of sexism going on and the Cardassians seem pretty brutal to their occupied territories but having a caste system at all disqualifies you from Federation membership, let alone having a caste that's handled in that way."

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"Which is inconvenient, if the rule for membership was 'stop murdering them, let them emigrate, get them decent medical care' everyone would probably grudgingly get in line but since the bar's somewhere we can't reach no matter what they're going to be less inclined to try. Their own planet is probably the way to go."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Maybe. But you can't just trap them there."

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"There are sixty-five million reds. If they do a growth rate of four-per and they're well supplied it'll be a century before they start needing more space and by then we'll have forgotten to find them gross and it won't be a problem."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't just mean living space, I mean if you leave them on a planet somewhere they may be menaced by Cardassians or found by the Federation and considered based on the rest of the species to be post-warp and invited to join and traipse all over the galaxy."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Does the Elf universe want them. Or your home universe."

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"Transit would be challenging."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Getting them on the ships is going to be a nightmare. Ugh. I - before this happened my long term plan was to convince everyone they can be cleaned with, I don't know, chemotherapy or gene therapy or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Seriously?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes. You can't just make people get over it, they don't."

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"Angels," says Cam.

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" - can do the exhaustive paranoia-satisfying medical procedures?"

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"Probably."

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"Then maybe we can work with that. We'd need a lot of them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are a lot of them, although how many are qualified will depend on how different you are from humans."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Makes sense." Sigh. "I will see if the greens doing research for a proposal like that can adapt it for the existence of magic. I don't suppose an angel can, like, replace every cell in someone's body with the same thing made out of different atoms?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...uh, angels unlike demons have to do their own detail work but it can be on the level of tissue, so I guess they could? I'm guessing, I did demon med school not angel med school."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If they can do that then it's an easy sell. We can also have some standards creep - do it really stringently for a few people, let everyone get used to the idea, then lower the standards once they're accustomed and would feel silly making a fuss now..."

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Nod.

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"Should I go find out whether our people become demons and angels and fairies when they die."

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"Might be relevant."

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"What do I need to have them do."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They have to summon somebody. Then you can try summoning them."

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"And how do you summon somebody."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You draw on the floor. I can do most of it and you can fill it in."

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"The person who fills it in is relevantly the summoner?"

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"Yeah."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay. I'm not going to tell people that we can become daeva if we die just yet, everyone over twenty will kill themselves and then we'll have an immortal indestructible ruling class."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...mm-hm. Uh. If you do become daeva could you just let all the reds summon before you kill them?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"They'd get all the daeva icky."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I left a corpse and appeared de novo in Hell. I no longer have a genome. If it were really important for some reason I could be set on fire and come out okay from that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think I could argue that daeva of reds aren't themselves unclean but the reds would be summoning them, meaning they'd get unclean, and I don't think they'd all be persuadable to set themselves on fire so as not to track pollution back home."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You don't have to touch a daeva to summon them."

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"You have to fill in the circle, right?"

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"Yes, and then the daeva appears in the middle of the circle, which is filled in at the border."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's a real stretch. And would require explaining that people become daeva when they die."

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"I don't see how it's a stretch. You can have most of the circle slid under a wall, if you like."

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"Reds could break the binding, refuse to send the daeva home..."

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"Killing the summoner dismisses their daeva. I mean, this would still be an atrocity, going through everybody like that, but if you do turn into daeva it would be the kind of atrocity where nobody ceases to exist."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Just ceases to be able to have children."

Permalink Mark Unread

"This looms larger for you. Demons can do embryos, if they'd really be treated appropriately after going through this shitshow they could find a surrogate unless that's also really hard for some reason for you."

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"It's good to have in mind as a last resort but it'd be a horribly ugly one. - I should check if it even works. Then if it does we can get deeper into planning."

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Nod.

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"Anything else first?"

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"If turning into daeva works for you it probably works for everybody from your world. That's got - implications."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do we have a population estimate?"

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"There are hundreds of species in your galaxy alone."

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" - so really what we should do is keep my universe paused if the daeva thing does work on us. Until we've got lots more resources."

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"Maybe, yeah."

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"I'd want to bring some more people through here."

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"Anybody I, uh, know?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, if Elves have bizarrely specific sexual preferences I assume Maitimo isn't married to my husband."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If your husband is your half-cousin, they broke up before I arrived and went around radiating drama and trusting Elf heteronormativity goggles to prevent anyone from noticing."

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"'heteronormativity'," he repeats bemusedly. "What a bizarre taboo. Poor gay Elves."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Used to be they could go get a Vala to straighten them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And Maitimo didn't do that? I'd definitely do that - maybe not if the only social problem I needed leverage in order to work on was the homosexuality thing and everything else was great."

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"Valinor was very nice in many ways. We didn't really talk about it, I don't know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Right, sorry. Okay, I'm going to go get this man to summon and then wait until he's dead and then we'll have an answer and can plan from there."

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"What's he in for?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Punched someone in a bar fight he didn't start. She hit a corner badly when she fell, died."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow."

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"- I'm not sure what part of that is surprising."

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"It's not exactly surprising, just..." Sigh.

Permalink Mark Unread

" - it seems really important to have a very exact model of your ethics and I still only have a vague one. Being specific about what you are sighing about is really helpful."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My home planet also used to have the death penalty, I wouldn't be surprised if that were the sort of thing they used it for in some places even during my lifetime, it was a long time ago and now people don't even eat meat that used to be an animal let alone execute people."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How long?"

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"I died a little over a hundred and fifty years ago."

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"That's a while." Sigh. "Nice to think it'll get there eventually, though."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Abolishing the death penalty did not take that entire time. Also my years are your seasons in length."

Permalink Mark Unread

"There are countries that just have the death penalty for desertion and treason - and pollution violations - and who'd abolish it pretty expeditiously if they heard the aliens really wanted. Anitam just isn't one of them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And pollution violations, of course."

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"Everybody kills reds more-or-less when they feel like it, that's for clean castes who commit pollution violations."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ugh."

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"Yeah."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You were listing who you wanted to bring in -"

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"If we're sitting here for years until we can safely transform my whole universe I want Kan and his sister and my parents and siblings and Makel's serious girlfriend and her daughter and if it's going to be more than two years the lesbian couple Kan and I were going to raise children with. And a couple people on my policy staff."

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"Are they going to want people too?"

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"I was going to pick staff who wouldn't. Our prospective co-parents will but they'll be persuadable."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, the place'll hold them and the bar takes counterfeit."

Permalink Mark Unread

"After long enough Telkam and Kantil'll be unhappy without kids also but I think not for four, five years."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They can always step out if they prefer."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah. Does this place have seasons -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"The backyard looks vaguely like Scotland. I don't know if it has seasons or how long they take if so."

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"I can ask on my way out."

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"Bar'll know."

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He stands up. "Thank you."

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"You're welcome."

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He stops at the bar on the way out. "Excuse me? I was wondering if Milliways has seasons."

Permalink Mark Unread

Although the weather in the outdoors and the indoor lighting conditions will not reflect them, Amentan visitors will find that you continue through your seasonal cycle unobstructed.

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"Oh good. Thank you." And he opens the door and asks someone on security to hold it and steps through and emails appropriate parties and gets on a train and talks his way into a prison cell.

The man is purple, jumpy, briefly hopeful when the door opens. Aitim explains that they want a volunteer for a dangerous experiment, there's no stay of execution on offer but if it works it could allow getting in contact with aliens. The man agrees. 

He finishes the circle as directed.

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Fairy! "Hiya."

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Man jumps. "Uh. Hi." He looks at Aitim.

    "Thank you," Aitim says. "That's what we needed. You can send them home."

"Uh - okay -" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"You don't want anything? Damn, I am having no luck this week. Say, what language is this?"

Permalink Mark Unread

" - A-Anitami." Scared glance at Aitim. "What if I want something, what then -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, whaddaya got?"

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" - it's all forfeit -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I don't work for free."

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Gulp. Nod. 

 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Send her home."

      He closes his eyes and concentrates.

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And the fairy vanishes.

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He slumps quietly back into the wall. 

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"Thank you," he says, and leaves.

Permalink Mark Unread

Milliways is where he left it.

Permalink Mark Unread

He asks the guard to hold the door until they hear otherwise. He drops by Cam's. "He summoned a fairy. Execution's scheduled for an hour - will you let me know right away -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That'll be an hour relative to people holding the door, not necessarily us. I can keep checking." Check.

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Sigh.

Permalink Mark Unread

"What?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I hope he's all right."

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"Yeah." Check.

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Eventually: there is an execution. 

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Is there a daeva?

Permalink Mark Unread

No.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm sorry."

Permalink Mark Unread

Nod. Sigh. "So there aren't going to be enough daeva to have the role in my world that they have in yours."

Permalink Mark Unread

"No. You'd probably wreck infrastructure back home even trying. Occasional stuff sure."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If it's by species. If it's by universe of origin - people born in the right ones are in the clear - maybe it's worth having Amentans in a source universe for daeva, so eventually there are enough of them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Have to get them there, but maybe."

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"Can't they go through here?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"My door goes to New Valinor."

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"And people who die there don't become daeva?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know yet. I'd be really surprised if the cyborgs or the Ainur did. Dwarves and the local humans maybe."

Permalink Mark Unread

"But not likely, given that we don't."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah."

Permalink Mark Unread

"So. Your home universe, and even then it might just be humans - naturally-occurring daeva are all humanlike?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah. And there are only humans in Limbo."

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"Okay." Sigh. "So we keep summoning secret, use it for terraforming planets but not things smaller-scale than that..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You could justify sending reds through angels as a one time thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah. And pause time often enough that it's not a strain on angel access elsewhere, probably."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you can keep the door, yeah."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We would be idiots to lose the door. And we season here all right."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh good."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I should head back and see how long I've been gone."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Be my guest."

The rest of the Amentans have experienced nine seconds.

Permalink Mark Unread

Convenient. He gets back to looking at treaties.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cam can supply more at need.

Permalink Mark Unread

What's the best route to having defensive alliances with some heavyweights but not joining any federations with ridiculous rules about caste systems?

Permalink Mark Unread

The Federation has some provision for alliance without membership, although they will probably be bugged about maybe seeing about membership. Almost nobody will deal with un-unified planets, except in a very cursory capacity. The Ferengi will though.

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's obnoxious -"

     "Does it have to be actually unified or just able to present a united front on treaty-relevant stuff -"

Permalink Mark Unread

Unclear! Possibly just the latter.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, they're more than capable of worldwide binding treaties, but it seems silly to reshuffle their entire governance to convenience the aliens. ...colony planets will have a unified government. Maybe two hundred colony planets can join the Federation and then change the rule about castes.

Permalink Mark Unread

Federation membership is by species! Exceptions are rare.

Permalink Mark Unread

...wait, so if they have other planets which do not have a caste system and do qualify for membership, they'll be disqualified by virtue of Amenta existing?

Permalink Mark Unread

Or they'd have to apply for an exception, ideally as a bloc.

Permalink Mark Unread

Amentans think the Federation is really dumb but they do kind of need a powerful ally and the other candidates look less trustworthy. ...maybe if they are the only ones with summoning they don't need a powerful ally.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You can't lean too heavily on summoning, especially with your population skyrocketing. Aren't enough daeva."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We're not expecting regular use, just - you need fewer than a dozen daeva on-planet for an attempted invasion to fail."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And then all your neighbors are real curious."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And probably some are inclined to ally with us whether we have a single species-wide casteless government or not."

Permalink Mark Unread

"And then they want to know how it works and then it's out of control."

Permalink Mark Unread

"With all due respect this is more our specialty than yours. It is in fact entirely possible to use technology or magic in self-defense without teaching it to your neighbors."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Daeva're immortal. You aren't. Forgive my lack of faith in your long-term planning."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's forgiven," she says coolly. "I don't think pursuing an alliance with any of the described candidates serves our people."

Some nods.

Permalink Mark Unread

Sigh.

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"I think a technically-casteless colony planet is a good element of relations with our neighbors but it's apparent that compliance with their terms would be as a first-order effect highly detrimental and that we won't have meaningful protection in the long term without full compliance."

       "The ban on genetic engineering is ridiculous -"

"Yes, I do not think we should comply with that."

       "How do you think you'd pull off a technically-casteless colony planet -"

"Robots instead of reds, no income cap, anyone can enroll their children in any school but people'll want their kids to go where they'll succeed. Everything else is custom, not law, they can't outlaw customs. And if the winner of Anitam's Voice is yellow and dyes his hair green and has a singing career, the social fabric will survive."

       "- once we've got several colony planets, sure."

       "Are we presuming someone's got robots -"

"Someone's got robots or we can develop them ourselves, here, where they won't cause trouble. And I think you can use an angel to clean a red but the details are all too green for me, I'm going to take them to some greens I know with relevant medical and theological expertise."

       " - clean one -"

"If you replaced all of the cells making up a red with clean ones you should have a clean red."

      "Angels can do that?"

Aitim touches his hand to his hair. "This presumes the feasibility from the medical and theological side. Politically, it protects us from well-intentioned intervention by horrified neighbors -"

      "Unless they intervene anyway over genetic engineering -"

"If they're going to be tempted we had better have otherwise fantastic PR. The reds play badly to everyone who isn't us, face it and fix it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"People do seem to go around not meeting Federation requirements without this being an invitation to attack, but the more you can tick off the more trade you open up."

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"We can't really trade with anyone who doesn't care about pollution -"

      "Might be fine, it's not like they handle sewage -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Even for territory or whatever, stuff they wouldn't necessarily have handled."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The rule against contact with pre-warp civilizations seems silly but it's not a hill I'm willing to die on."

       "We can have straight elections for a world government that isn't empowered to actually do anything."

"Ooooh, we can have a clean red in the world government, point people at it if they worry about reds."

       "You should pronoun the clean reds," Aitim says, "the aliens will find that weird."

Permalink Mark Unread

"A bit, yes."

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"We can keep genetic engineering projects quiet, at least. Freedom of religion - I'm confused about what they even mean by that -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you have such a thing as religions?"

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" - the word is translating but I think there must be a significant difference in connotation."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I suppose. On Earth the history of religion involves a lot of people doing unpleasant things to try to win converts to theirs. Norms against it arose. I'm not sure what if any contribution the other members may have had."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...we can ban them from buying billboards if it makes the aliens happy."

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"I wouldn't expect billboards to be the thing, just legal requirements or substantial coercion."

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"That one's not a problem, then. Rule of law, yes, all right, gender equality - gender equality - do they mean the numbers have to come out even, I think statistically there are slightly more men -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, no, they mean some people, instead of having a caste system, have a gender system where the genders are treated differently, usually to somebody's detriment. Ferengi fail that one hard, apparently."

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"- might make sense if there were aptitude differences. Amentans there aren't, but I'd feel bad for some poor species with, say, as much sexual dimorphism as some birds have -"

      "Anyway, we qualify for that one."

"Yes we do."

     "Why do they not mandate consistent and humane population control -"

"Because they don't want kids enough for it to be important -"

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"And everyone they're dealing with at all has warp."

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"I really don't like that one. If we meet another species like us -"

        "We trade with them, yes."

        "There's another kind of FTL, right? The kind Elves have?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes."

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"So, before we have a warp signature and are under scrutiny, we find some nearby uninhabited stars and put planets at the right distance and terraform them and arrange for them to be competently administered. We have a species-wide government whose job it is to call for and host conferences at which binding agreements are negotiated among the federated states of our species-wide government. We - look into magic options for the reds. We keep daeva a very closely held secret. Some astronomers will be baffled if every nearby star just turns out to have a perfectly habitable planet but they won't leap to interdimensional magic.

We don't mention lightleapers have no range limit; they're slower than warp at short distances. We announce warp as an upgrade to the tech. And now our neighbors can meet us and find an established interstellar civilization."

        "Uh huh."

        "If one of the red options work."

"If they don't then we have a problem, yes. With this much magic there's got to be something."

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"Having lightleapers in the picture at all will destabilize things like crazy if you do get into some kind of conflict."

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"Only if anyone learns they don't have a range limit."

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"Even having them in reserve means you can take risks you wouldn't otherwise."

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"We're not really risk-taking by nature or nurture."

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"And we still have them in our back pocket if we never use them," someone else says, "because we have Milliways in our back pocket. Building an institution that's responsible with potentially destabilizing power seems superior to throwing out all the power."

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"I suppose."

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"How hard are lightleapers to develop, how long before someone stumbles on them anyway -"

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"I don't really know. I got there after they were invented."

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They set to discussing allocation of authority over terraforming projects. They seem to plan on giving many other countries a colony planet and then having some open for immigrants from the countries they don't think can handle one competently. One will be legally casteless, presuming robots can be developed.

Permalink Mark Unread

Could be worse.

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They're pretty pleased with themselves. Someone wants to get a couple reds to see if angeling them works; Aitim bites his lip consideringly and then starts offering suggestions on how to evaluate whether this works. After a few minutes of discussion she asks Cam how to summon an angel.

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"I can do most of the circle for you and you can fill it in and let someone else do the talking till you're ready to agree on a task and payment. Learning to do it properly is more time-consuming. Do you want a medical angel? Do you want me to look over a mindless Amentan body and see if you're humanlike enough that the expertise would transfer?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That sounds like a good start."

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"I will go do an exam. You probably don't want to supervise, mindless bodies are disconcerting."

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She evinces no desire to supervise.

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"Let me know if you need me to buy you hotel rooms or make you dinner or something."

And he goes to poke and prod an Amentan basement dweller for a while.

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Someone stops by.

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"Hey."

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"Hi. Wow, that's disconcerting. I suppose it's probably good you can't do people. You okay?"

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"...I'm fine? Why do you ask?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Aliens with dubious moral sensibilities have overrun the magic bar where you're waiting on resurrection to save a million civilian casualties of a horrifying war with an evil god and now they're trying to get your help for mass nonconsensual magic chemotherapy so they can pretend their sanitation workers aren't gross. And apparently we have disconcerting Elf lookalikes. It sounds stressful."

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"It's kind of stressful but it's a change of pace from round-the-clock Elf resurrection, so there's that - is there a reason you're minding my stress levels, I'm not going to suddenly snap -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Aitim says you are the most stable miserable person he has ever met. I asked if you were doing okay without any high-stakes secret motives at all - though don't tell him that, he likes to think he'll rub off on me eventually. Should I cease interrupting? I got the sense time here is - determinedly doing its own thing - but I'd be happy to leave you in peace."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Time is doing that. If you want to watch me determine how many ribs your species has be my guest."

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"I'd'a been a paramedic if I was orange." He sits down.

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"You lot might decide I was orange, all told. Mom was a kindergarten teacher. I taught summoning, after that was a thing you could do. Then I died and among other things went to med school. Also picked up miscellaneous engineering and the violin, though."

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"It's matrilineal some places. Not Anitam. They'll be more condescending if you start identifying as orange, though."

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"I don't identify as a caste, that seems like a foolish thing to do."

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"Just a bit. My cousins do it but I don't think they'd really contest 'foolish' as a description."

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Snort. "What's your name, is it like 'Findekáno' but with bits chopped off each end?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Kan. So yes, I guess, but quite a few bits."

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Nod.

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He raises an eyebrow but observes quietly.

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Cam is carefully documenting his inspection of the systems of his basement dweller, which at this point he is no longer bothering to keep alive, so he can turn the results over to a medical angel.

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He is reading through terse summaries of planet plans and annotating with an approximately even mix of feedback and comments which will force Aitim to practice keeping a straight face.

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Eventually Cam is all done. He bags the basement dweller. "Should I self-immolate, since I just touched what is arguably a dead body?"

Permalink Mark Unread

" - uh, you just have to take a shower."

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"Do I just have to take a shower or do I have to take a special, ritual shower."

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" - okay, you have to take a special ritual shower. I guess having never set myself on fire I can't say which is more hassle but setting oneself on fire sure sounds like more hassle in several different respects."

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"I'll heal. How long do special ritual showers take?"

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"Like five hours."

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Cam makes himself a little ceramic plate to stand on and goes up in flames; a layer of cool air shields Kan. He appears red but not blistered, and even that heals; and then he has pants again. "Five hours," he says. "Do you know how many dead Elves I can restore to life in five hours? Ugh."

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"I have no idea how many dead Elves you can restore to life in five hours - wait, why can you restore dead Elves to life at all -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"They're cyborgs. I don't have to make minds, just bodies around chips."

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"What a universe. Multiverse. Aitim has a bunch of questions for you -" he reads off his pocket everything - "will Bar comply with bringing reds here for test - if so, can have them walking around afterwards, have everyone get used to it before we go back. What's the status of: robots that can do red work. Non-Milliways interdimensional transit. Explanations for the dopplegangers thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Bar forbids violence in the main bar area, so you will have to find cooperative reds. I am not aware of robots that can completely replace them in all their jobs but you could automate away a lot of it on tech from my world - maybe if you can get chip installations you could have people pilot articulated chassis without having to get near. Nonexistent except summoning. Your guess is as good as mine but it's probably worth asking Bar."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is there other tech from your world or our neighbors we should borrow as a quality of life thing?"

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"Chip installations are pretty good but rely on demons unless you want the invasive kind of brain surgery and you can't scale that up forever. I haven't had a chance to do an exhaustive comparison..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you give me something to work from that sounds like so much fun and I'd love to do it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I actually think Bar would be better for that but it might be good to not let on generally that she can do books."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - ah huh. I will find some pretext to shoo our security. Or else get a list of books from her and have you make them."

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"Get the list on a napkin accompanying a beverage," he suggests.

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"Uh huh."

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"She can accept requests delivered in napkin form too."

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"I'll be careful. - don't tell that, about the bar, to anyone who isn't blue, even if they're trustworthy."

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"...why is the line you're drawing 'blue'."

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"You tell some yellow, and then later it comes out that they knew, and someone's annoyed with them over that or some other reason, well, they knowingly withheld critical intelligence from their government on behalf of a foreign party, that's a treason charge if the right people are in a sufficiently bad mood. Blue it wouldn't stick."

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"Ah."

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"Better not to put people in that position."

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"Fortunately there is enough corruption to protect you and Aitim."

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"I think half the reason he hasn't done anything about that is that he anticipated he might need it. But this wouldn't even require pulling any strings, we're expected to make judgment calls like 'trust with Cam is more valuable than access right now to books through other sources'."

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"Gotcha."

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"Wish we had a nicer place to show off." Sigh. "Can I have some napkins to write notes to Bar -"

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Barstyle napkins. Sharpie.

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And he writes down a list of requests and goes downstairs.

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Bar is.

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Napkin asks if she would mind offering a napkin with book suggestions in place of actual books, and if not can he have books from worlds in his universe with FTL, describing their consumer technology over the last ten or twenty years, and also books about robotics describing robots that can replace all menial jobs.