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1066631 No. 1066631 ID: e139aa

Flockload of Problems

Another quest by Cirr, oops.
NSFW warnings as always, 18+, etc. etc.

With apologies to Lagotrope, Slinko, Typo and Roaway.
521 posts omitted. Last 50 shown. Expand all images
No. 1076877 ID: 8f9bc4

It's not forbidden to simply tell her that Lord Vi.al made you, without going into detail, is it? It's not reproduction, but it is where new starbeings came from.
No. 1077023 ID: e139aa
File 169972826627.png - (275.66KB , 800x600 , fop-148.png )

> tell her Vi.al made you
I'm still not sure she knows who Lord Vi.al is, but when it comes up I can tell her.

> great gender explanation, dummy
I have such disdain for the notion. We should be above such things. I feel above such things. But whatever.

> you're not broken
I am indeed not broken. Nothing is wrong. Everything is fine.

> why were constructs built with animal inspirations at all
I've asked, and I usually get different answers from different people. My pet theory is it's all experimental. Ever since the failure of the first standard template there's been a lot more efforts to experiment with construct designs. The framework of the third standard template is popular. Of course, you get divergences, like whatever Zi.en's constructs are, and then there's...

...You know what, I don't want to think about Or.ro's extractors too long, they're supposed to all be dead anyway. Who could have possibly imagined any bad outcomes of trying to both make a superior version of constructs and make them capable of reproduction? Like every other experiment involving self-replication has ever gone right.
But Or.ro's artifact collection means no one else wants to actually take them to task over it. There's theories that the extractor designs were inspired by things in its vast collection. I'd believe it.

Anyway. No one is sure the extractors are all dead. The extractors were (or are) Or.ro's "procurement" forces. Packs of hyperintelligent constructs, screaming burstvoice messages at each other that would just sound like static to us, near-instant communication. Faster, stronger, more durable, lethal, evaluating constructs the same way we evaluate base organics. Two forms, one matching the third standard template for "diplomatic" interactions (primarily so they can use weapons and equipment intended for other constructs), the other a machine of carnage and destruction.
Remorseless. Sociopathic. Determined. A strength and genius unhampered by morality-- okay you get the point. Apparently they live for two things. Stealing things from others, and the thrill of the kill.

But I saw a static image of some, once, and I have to admit I did feel a little bit like they'd been talked up a lot because they just looked like reptile-pattern pointier constructs. ...then I saw a static image of the aftermath of whatever situation they were spotted in, and there were bits and pieces of construct strewn around the room and places where plasteel walls had been clawed open. Oh, and one of them grinning into whatever the source of the image was. Possibly some poor construct's head, for all I know, based on how murky and corrupted the metadata was. I mean, I did get it from the undermesh, so it might have all been completely faked, but it's also the only place you'd be able to find such images without vigorous censorship.

The cosmos is full of terrors, but the extractors freak me out even more (on a conceptual level, if not appearance) because it's like a dark mirror. "Why don't the Lords make us better? Why do they build us with such flaws?" Because when they don't, they get out of hand, and diverge and diverge and diverge until their values dissociate entirely. I don't know about you but I think the fact I have such a hard time causing harm is probably a good thing.
No. 1077024 ID: e139aa
File 169972828895.png - (42.45KB , 800x600 , fop-149.png )

> boost your flocklet
I mean, I guess that'd be possible, but I don't think it'd be wise. Some sort of hunch.

> Lightfoot
Yeah I don't want to waste my time with the lepi leaders if I can help it. I will need to get more situation details from them, but maybe if I wait until later they'll be more willing to give me straight, direct, to-the-point answers so they can get me to go away.

"Let's go check on your Plac-- on your meadowander, Lightgreen."
"Yes, I agree. I think these two will be fine."

"Bye, Va.ne.tu, Vy.zi.ki," I say, shouting over in symphonic.
They wave to me, as Va.ne.tu shouts back. "Have fun! Use these days well! And when they're up, remember, at least pretend like we're enemies!! Yiyiyiyiyi!!"

They feel so suited for each other. Feels like they were intended to be made for each other, initially.
Odd, but I guess not unprecedented.
I don't know how I feel about that, to be honest. It's not like anyone's forcing them to like each other. I certainly don't feel like any of my relationships felt preordained by Vi.al. Aside from I guess Fo.ka.sa being appointed my mentor, but, that's not the same thing, really?

...remembering when Va.ne.tu called me attractive and feeling the tiniest flicker of jealousy-- jealousy?? Really? Get a hold of yourself, Vi.si.mi.

My flocklet chirps sadly, and I rub its head. My.a forcing us all to be enemies still stings.
"Me too, friend, me too," I hum to it, one last statement in symphonic before switching to the lepi tongue. "Lead the way, if you would?"
"Of course!"
No. 1077025 ID: e139aa
File 169972832588.png - (65.88KB , 800x600 , fop-150.png )

Lightgreen leads me away from the river back towards the village, but, skirting around it, we pass the drooping wreck of my relay station (soon, I promise, I'll fix it soon) and arrive at a bunch of Placid-- meadowanders idly chewing away. They all look at us in a way that gives me pause.

They don't look at me like a wild animal would. They all look at me, slowly, purposefully, and then look elsewhere. I immediately feel like something is off.

And then Lightgreen walks up and talks to them. Addressing the crowd.

"Have any of you seen Lightfoot?" And then she pauses, and says "Soft foot?"

...hang on a second. Hang on a second. Haaaang on.

She didn't say that in the lepi language. It's... it's monovoice. Monovoice is a cruder, simpler form of Shapeless polyphonic melody-language, designed primarily for the use of constructs that are for whatever reason impaired from being able to communicate in polyphonic. Instead of having overlapping harmonies and rapid tone changes, everything is done in a slower, one-at-a-time delivery. Lightgreen knows a Shapeless language??

"Tree," says one of the meadowanders. "Far. Only. For thought."
Another meadowander makes a buzzing sound close to a monovoice acceptance chime.

Okay, before I freak out, it was made clear in the catalogue that Placid Watchers were made to have elevated levels of awareness and be quite smart for grazers. They were designed by Shapeless to serve roles for a Shapeless, it makes perfect sense they'd be able to understand rudimentary monovoice questions and give answers.

Lightgreen bows to them (???) and turns back to me. "She'll be hanging around the lone tree nearby."

I follow her, frantically checking the catalogue entry on Placid Watchers over and over and its reassurances that they are not sapient intelligences. Demonstrated to avoid any sort of drift for several generations without active interference.

I also realise I've translated Lightfoot's name wrong. Softfoot, then. Well, that'll help me avoid mixing their names up a bit better.
No. 1077026 ID: e139aa
File 169972836074.png - (131.14KB , 800x600 , fop-151.png )

We reach the lone tree mentioned, and, sure enough, a meadowander is lying on their own at the base of it. A lot smaller and stubbier than the others, and with some sort of crude diamond painted onto it. Something Lightgreen might have done, I tell myself, trying not to notice the same colours on the end of one of its tendril thingies.

Lightgreen runs up to it and starts stroking its mossy mane. "Soft foot!" Again in monovoice.
"Dear friend light green," it responds, in a delivery sluggish even for monovoice. "Leg good again."

Softfoot stirs around, and then looks at me, and her eyes widen.

"Star bird."

Oh no. Ohhh no, that's not a reaction something non-sapient should have. The monovoice for construct is "great servant", not "star bird". No, calm down, maybe it's just some sort of generational decay of instinctual phrases--

"Light green, glass bird, from star. Dear friend, waiting for long. Happy. Happy."
Softfoot stands up and rubs her face against Lightgreen's.

And it looks at me, and it... kneels. It is an awkward pose for a creature to take, but, no, it is... it is kneeling at me.

"...Give knowledge to me," I say, fumbling for the monovoice phrasing of "give me a status update".
"Care for big insect people. Be family. Help. Big insect people help. Common responsible."

Ugh I hate monovoice. "Lightgreen, what is she saying?"
"Well, you asked her what she's doing, and she told you she's helping us."
"When your people domesticated meadowanders, were they always this chatty, or... how did you learn this language?"
"Oh, I was taught it by my parents. The meadowanders apparently just turned up one day after the Awakening, I don't know the details, they were always there but kept to themselves in herds. But then one day after the Awakening, a small herd of them came towards the lepi and just... sort of ended up in our lives."

"Help big insect people."
I nod, but then Softfoot stomps on the ground with a not particularly soft-looking hoof.
"Star bird. Help. Help big insect people."
"Yeah yeah I know, everyone's telling me to."
"No yes yes. What star bird do to help? Old family talk. Star bird go. Bad thing smash land. Shame star bird. Shame. No help. No help big insect people, no help land walk observation animal, I, family. No help! No help. Help how. Help how, help where, help when?!"


Monarch's feathers the thing is understanding me when I speak in lepi language also. Also that is far too abstract a string of thoughts to have to not be sapient.

Great! Great!! That's a divergence from the catalogue in such a significant way I can't trust the catalogue for anything I see on this world! Also great! I have another sapient species to look after now! GREAT! GREAT!!

"...Starbird, why are you shaking?"
No. 1077027 ID: 6894eb

"Not know need help. Help now." Oh man you gotta get more of these. Get the Lepi fighting like the mongol hordes.
No. 1077029 ID: 32a515

Softfoot is expressing resentment towards you based on your connections to the Shapeless, as it feels abandoned. It must be quite old. Regardless, it's not possible to entirely lay the blame on My.a when it's clear that Vi.al was unable or unwilling to properly upkeep this preserve.

Explain that you are not equipped for anything of this nature but you are TRYING to help EVERYONE here instead of just the Lepi or anyone in particular, but you are VERY UNDERSTAFFED and need help yourself.
No. 1077030 ID: a7a180

We should get Softfoot some horseshoes.
No. 1077031 ID: 2a82d3

This IS great, actually. Whatever Shapeless remnants left on the planet have expanded their intelligence in response to their new conditions. If you can communicate, you can coordinate. If you can coordinate, you can organize. Since they're practically everywhere and no one else seems to have caught on to their intelligence yet, there's so much you can. Build a proper Gaia network by setting up comms in or by Golden Bough. Every lepi should learn this language, like Lightgreen has.

You need to deal with the threats to lepi first, but it should go without saying you'll start to improving their quality of life soon. You're not Ji.pa.ke, but you will do what you can to build their town according to their needs.
No. 1077041 ID: 8e36dc

This planet is surely challenging your preconceptions of the universe, huh.

What does it mean about shapeless society that planets like this can be this messed up right under the nose of the person in charge of them?

How can Vi.al possibly explain this?
No. 1077048 ID: f3171e

While the catalogue may have deviations, it can still provide useful information. While they have a crude sapience, they still show signs of their intended programmed behaviors and biological templates.

Simply tell it that the situation was not known. You are here now to help.
No. 1077051 ID: 0d4c43

Does My.a know about all these sapients? There's got to be more. More friends! More allies. Really need to conduct a survey ASAP.
No. 1077053 ID: 2aa5f0

well you could tell it the truth on why no body did anything until now, it's M.ya's fault.

>...Starbird, why are you shaking?
Because I'm starting to realize how much paperwork I'm going to have to correct after all this.
No. 1077055 ID: 273c18

>divergent evolution
Now, see, the way to prevent this is to make constructs for a purpose that can't be optimized to an extreme that would cause harm. The extractors turned into vicious killers and thieves because they were made for that purpose-- to TAKE. Those who were better at taking reproduced more and thus the divergence. If you ensure that the core purpose of a construct is a peaceful one, you won't have this problem. Though, I do wonder how it got that bad. Shouldn't they have been taking orders from saner construct types?

>just turned up one day after the Awakening
AH. Important detail. They weren't there before the Awakening. That's clear evidence that the Lepi (and the other races) were not from this planet. They MUST have been transported here, otherwise they would have already been familiar with the Placid Guardians and other constructs native to the garden world.

Tell her the meadowanders were a species created by Vi.al, that weren't meant to be sapient. They were just meant to be smart animals, capable of very basic understanding of language. Now they're clearly people. People you have to protect. It's more responsibility, more stress. ...huh, this is a second point of data related to Vi.al designs becoming more sapient than intended. You should check on any other near-sapient construct types that live on this world.

>help now
Ok, let's get this show on the road. Go talk to the elders right now, find out where you can apply your skills. Oh, when you get back to town be sure to re-construct your comms building.
No. 1077059 ID: eb0a9c

I think Softfoot confused you with Vi.al and they're blaming you.

"Not Star Bird. Clay Bird. Star Bird is parent. I can do magic. But I not Lord."
No. 1077060 ID: 5a7f3a

(Look closer. They (or, at least, Placid Watchers) were on the planet before the Awakening.
They just kept to themselves, and [didn't approach]/[actively avoided] other species.)


> Introduce yourself to the sapient you just became aware of.

> Check the veracity of the catalogue by asking Lightgreen questions about the Lepi.

well, no, first thing's first
> explain why Lord Vi.al hadn't sent help until now, but help is now, help is here, help is whatever you can provide.
No. 1077061 ID: 7695ec

...well, you can answer the questions at least
help when, a bit less than [60 hours]
help where, one would think the transmitter
Help how, probably, hopefully, diplomacy. as well as with some more constructs and, very hopefully, your lord
No. 1077065 ID: 273c18

>(Look closer. They (or, at least, Placid Watchers) were on the planet before the Awakening.
They just kept to themselves, and [didn't approach]/[actively avoided] other species.)
Well that implies memory alteration then.

I guess we could ask the Meadowanders if they have any recollection of history before the Awakening? That might give us more details.
No. 1077070 ID: 8f9bc4

"Meadowanders are created by my Lord, they're supposed to detect disturbances like your Awakening. That's why they sing to speak like I do, but very simply. They're supposed to be simple animals. Almost animals. Softfoot here is a person though. It's nice that they are, but what would have the power to grant them sapience?"

To Softfoot: Bad thing stop your warning. Shame star bird hear not. Shame star bird come late. Help: here. Help: now. Help: how? Star bird try.
No. 1077102 ID: 2fcef7

get an intense intrusive thought to ride them like a cowboy
No. 1077110 ID: 8f9bc4

> ride placid watcher like a mechanical bull
No. 1077181 ID: fa3034

Oh you know, just having your world shaken for the 50th time this trip
No. 1077286 ID: e139aa
File 170000091951.png - (101.75KB , 800x600 , fop-152.png )

> does My.a know
No idea!

> conduct a survey
I have a task for Su.ki.fu as soon as she shows up, I think.

> ride them like a cowboy
I think this is a fast track to annoying both Lightgreen and Softfoot.

> how could Vi.al have allowed this
I don't know, I don't understand. This planet must have been abandoned for [decades], but Lord Vi.al seemed to think My.a was responsible for all the recent issues. Something isn't adding up. Vi.al is notorious for keeping secrets, and only the last time I talked to them did they reveal something they were deliberately keeping from me. It's not the first time Vi.al's hidden the whole truth from me, but, well, obfuscating a mission briefing? From their most trusted agent?? I don't like this. I really don't like this. Either Vi.al is lying to me about something fundamental, or My.a is more powerful than either of us realise, and I don't like either of those options.

> check catalogue by asking Lightgreen about the lepi
I check the catalogue and wait why are the lepi not in my local cache. What? No, wait, it-- they were but the entry was deleted? Remotely? Yeah. Deleted. Note from Maintainer Vi.a, "deleted from Vi.al catalogue instances under request from Lord Ku.su due to numerous inaccuracies, pending rewrite." Okay but why though. Clearly the Lo.ka constructs got to keep their entry. Ugh.

> get the lepi more of these things
I was wondering how their apparent nomadic lifestyle worked and this does explain a few things. Maybe they could do with some discussions on how to leverage this clear tactical advantage. I'm not even a military tactician or strategist and I can immediately tell how mounted combat would give the lepi a sorely needed advantage. I wonder why it hasn't been tried already? A cultural barrier? Simply no one ever thinking to try it? Maybe the meadowanders aren't suited to charging? I'll have to ask the leaders.

> explain your intent
If she can understand me speaking in lepi squeaks and chitters, I'm not going to use monovoice if I can help it.
"About the lack of help. We simply did not know. I am very sorry. I am here to help now. Help the lepi. Help everyone. But I also need help to do this. Help is coming soon. Within [a few days]."
"No knowledge?"
"No knowledge." I bow in apology. "We had many problems we needed to solve. We could not check everything." This is not necessarily untrue. "Me being here is a sign that we want to help again."

Softfoot looks at me in what I can only interpret as a skeptical manner, head tilted, before closing her eyes and nodding slowly.

"Star bird fix land. Star bird fix shame."
"Yes. That is the plan."
"Good knowledge."

> explain why you're shaking
"Oh, right, Lightgreen, I'm only shaking because these things were--" Were what, Vi.si.mi? Never supposed to think? Lightgreen hasn't learned how much of her world is artificial yet. Let's not do that yet. She's had enough to go through today. "--not supposed to be here in the way that they are. Sorry. It's starbird stuff. Don't worry about it. I'll be fine."
"...Don't be scared of the meadowanders, starbird! They're very gentle, and very smart. They only bring harm to those who harm them first. And they will warn you first. You even know their song-words! They will never attack without warning."
"Possible attack first, no warning, if bad danger. Star bird not bad danger."
"Well, I guess that's true."

"What's bad danger?"
"...star bird not know bad danger? Star bird know danger yes??"
"Oh. Okay, so it's not a specific thing?"
Lightgreen sees my confusion. "Oh, no, it's just... I think it's the song-words for what we'd call 'threat'."
"Oh." I'm not surprised a meadowander wouldn't see me as a threat. Natural organisms are a mixed bag, but no artificial organisms, especially Vi.al-made, are going to see me as a threat. Something about a mixture of subconscious signals inherent to my design, and also just [years] of training and experience to handle animals and get them to trust me.
"You can show Softfoot you're not a threat. Softfoot, can the starbird pet you?"

Softfoot looks at me for a few quiet moments, and then nods her head.

I reach out and pet Softfoot, who does seem a little wary at first, before relaxing as I stroke her.
The symbiotic white moss is dense and wiry, and the longer white fur strands are soft. It's an interesting blend of textures. Quite nice. Very soothing.

"Star bird soft," says Softfoot, looking back at my wing-hands.

...okay, I have to pull myself together before I do nothing but pet Softfoot for the rest of the evening. As immensely tempting as it is.
No. 1077287 ID: e139aa
File 170000095439.png - (101.43KB , 800x600 , fop-153.png )

> introduce yourself to the sapient
Oh. Oh right.

"I forgot to introduce myself properly. My name is Vi.si.mi. I am an ecology construct created for the Shapeless Lord Vi.al, long shall it reign." Ahhhh, that's better. Like scratching a hard-to-reach itch every time.
"Name Soft foot," says the meadowander. "Land walk observation animal. Old family talk, animal made by Lord Vi.al. Greeting to star bird cousin."
"Well it's a little bit more involved than that, but I suppose you're not wrong that your ancestors were made by Lord Vi.al."

The catalogue indicates that the expected lifespan of a Placid Watcher can be-- what. No, that's not right. That has to be a mistake, there is no possible way these things were made to last [200 years], they're just flesh and blood, how do they get a longer lifespan than most constructs?? I mean, life expectancy given living in a world turned feral must be much, much smaller, but, wow, what is the purpose of a non-sapient animal living that long?? Great, now I'm feeling bio-envy.

"...This is an odd question, but, uh, how old are you, Softfoot?"
Softfoot looks at me in confusion, before looking irritated and upset. "Not child! Not child. Adult. Adult. Soft foot adult. Small adult."
"Sorry, no, that's not what I meant, I meant how old are you in [years]?"
I get a confused noise that sounds like a distorted error chime.

"The meadowanders don't track their age in [years]," says Lightgreen. "They use, uh, life stages, mostly."
"Okay, do you know how old she is?"
"Maybe just a little bit younger than I am?"
"...how old are you?"
"Oh. Uh. [25 years old]. Still, I remember playing with Softfoot when I was still larval and she was tiny. We've been friends for almost our whole lives."
"Fascinating. Do all lepi have meadowanders they bond with?"
"Well, starbird, yes and no. Some are more in tune with the meadowanders than others. I have always felt more at home around anything other than my own kind, so, it came naturally to me, and Softfoot herself, well, as you can see, she's here far from the herd to contemplate by herself. We were fated to run into each other at some point, I believe."

"...no go danger places without me again," says Softfoot, nudging up against Lightgreen. "No again."
"Please," says Lightgreen, deflating. "I got enough of that from my brother, don't you start as well."
"Many many danger. No go without others."
"I have Vee now! I'm not wandering around outside the village on my own again."

I look around awkwardly. "So I do at some point need to go back to the leaders of your village and get some more information about the local situation from them."
Lightgreen looks between me and Softfoot. "...Starbird, will you mind if I stay here a little while longer? I think I owe Softfoot some more of my time."
"Not at all." I'm just glad to learn she has any friends at all. I was starting to worry I might be the only thing in her life, and I can't balance my duties and being someone's only friend. ...yeah, okay, it's probably for the best Vy.zi.ki is a factor after all, I guess.

"...also, starbird, I, uh... I should... I have some other people I need to talk to tonight," she says, antennae twirling around themselves anxiously as her wings flutter.
"Oh. Well, so do I, I think, so, that should also be fine. You have your own life, I do know this."
"The offer to sleep in my tent is still open."
"I will consider it." I guess wrecking my relay station gives me an excuse to redesign it with sleeping quarters, the substrate from the transport pod should have arrived by now. "If I am held up, I will make myself another tent."
"Oh, right," says Lightgreen, eyes momentarily full of wonder as she presumably recalls watching me shape substrate for the first time. "Right. Well! If you need anything from me, just ask around, the village knows where I live."

"Have fun, you two!" I walk off, waving jovially, as Lightgreen waves farewell and Softfoot waves her tendril things at me.
No. 1077288 ID: e139aa
File 170000098341.png - (404.23KB , 800x600 , fop-154.png )


On my way to the leaders' tent, I visit my trashed relay station. It is doing its absolute best to maintain the position I gave it, but it's starting to resemble a decomposing corpse with how the emergency struts and pillars are sticking out of smashed up gooey substrate mass.

I try my best to shape things less dramatically than earlier. The fading of daylight just makes the glowing light show even more obvious, so I walk around trying to fix things bit by bit. After a few minutes fruitlessly watching the structure stand and collapse into itself over and over, I sigh with the full capacity of my lungs and stand back, collapsing the entire thing back into a dense substrate block. The block is about three times the volume it was when I brought it over here, so that's a lot of additional substrate to work with now. Wow. I guess the transport pod had reserves.

So I think for a little bit, considering the template I had before, and, well, I can't extend downwards with all the dirt in the way, so I guess I'll have to extend it laterally. The structure is already on the border of the village, so I have a clear outwards direction I can take it... yes, okay, a linking corridor, I think, to put some distance between the relay station and my new quarters. Double the thickness of that room, blocking signals will be impossible but I can at least numb them and isolate the relay equipment... okay, okay, I have something. The doors will just have to be walls. Alright.

I bring the relay station up, a dome as before with a tube leading off to another dome next to it. I can't help but feel this is all going to be a temporary setup anyway, until I get access to better engineers or construction tools. Whatever. It just needs to be operational.

I get way more unexpected visitors staring transfixed into the lights of the structure forming. Is this the entire village? I hear lots of excited chatter and explanations from lepi to lepi about what's going on, few of them remotely accurate. I'm here to save them, I'm here to watch them, I'm here to claim ownership over the lepi, I'm here to take advantage of the hospitality I've been given, there's too many voices and too many opinions to address all of them. The more hostile lepi are just shouting at me, telling me I'm not welcome here, while other lepi try to drag them away. Lepi parents hold back and chase after their grubs excitedly running towards and around the structure.

As I finish the structure, I realise a short elderly lepi holding a staff taller than I am is next to me. Ochre Willow, the elder of the village.

"Please tell me you are not going to keep doing this every night, starbird," she says, once again uncannily unimpressed by an alien lightshow that should surely be something beyond her wildest imagination. "These starlights in the darkness are going to drive us all mad. We're sensitive to light, you know."
"I don't intend to have to rebuild my home every night, no. I've had a very busy day."
"I suppose it is not every day when someone needs to build a home twice, is it. I hope your fortune improves before it drags us all down with it."

Really not regretting the choice to see Softfoot first.
No. 1077289 ID: e139aa
File 170000102797.png - (163.01KB , 800x600 , fop-155.png )

"I did want to see you, actually. Well, all of you. The Three, you said? I want to learn about what problems currently face the lepi, so I can start working on fixing them."
"I suppose I am one of the Three. I can tell you as clearly as the other two what our problems are. I will be brief. I presume you are looking for more than vague ills that plague our dying village."
"Dying? Plague?? Ills??"
"...ah, my mistake, starbird. No, we can count ourselves lucky that, for the most part, we have our health." She laughs, a little croaky. "I certainly could be doing worse. But no, I speak metaphorically. I have seen much happen to our Golden Bough, and to the lepi. I fear there may simply be no more lepi. I am surprised that Lightgreen did not join the ranks of the lepi taken by the many horrors around us. One by one, every bold, daring face with dreams of standing against the darkness is soon consumed by it."
"Are there not new lepi being born?"

Ochre Willow pauses, and looks at me with a look of confusion.

"Starbird, it takes [years] for a newborn to grow, and it takes [minutes] for a lepi to be snatched away by claws and jaws in the dark. I frame it this way so a creature of higher intellect such as yourself can understand that this state of affairs is, to put it lightly, untenable." I'm impressed the autotranslator is picking up all of her strange word choices. I didn't even know the lepi tongue had a word so directly analogous to 'untenable'.
"I mean, if--"
Ochre Willow stamps her staff into the grass. "And if your suggestion to mitigate this is to tell the people of my village, my people, my kin, that they simply need to breed more, like brainless dewslumps, then I am going to point you towards the noetuno, and ask you how they're faring right now. Tell me, starbird, are the noetuno happy?"
"I don't know much about the noetuno," I lie, thinking about how Five Strands seemed so furious over the contorted caste system she'd helped to reinforce.
"That's a pity, because, for what I hear from our warriors and scouts, they seem miserable. Bickering constantly, fighting each other as much as anything else. But I suppose the number of noetuno is higher than the number of lepi, isn't it? And that's what you would prefer to change?"
"Well, no. I suppose that's not a good course of action. I suppose in my typical line of work, which is ecological cultivation, I would try to make sure all other basic necessities are being met to encourage a population to increase itself. Food supplies, safety, good environmental conditions..."

Ochre Willow narrows her already quite narrowed eyes. "You would do well, if you wish to help us, to consider us less as livestock to manage and more as people to aid."
"Oh! No! Sorry! Sorry, no, that's, I'm just, it's a problem with translation, I will try harder!"
Ochre Willow's piercing eyes burn into my soul a little harder. Memories of the days Fo.ka.sa was very unimpressed with me come flooding uninvited.
"For the sake of the Light and the lepi, I hope you will not prove so meek and willing to acquiesce when speaking to your enemies."
"What do you want from me?! I'm just trying to do the best I can with the skills I have!! I'm not perfect, I know, but I want to help, I want to help!!"

Oh. Oh fuck I shouldn't have said that one out loud.

The elder lepi looks at me at first dismissively, shaking her head, but sighs. "We were promised so much in bygone times by the starbeings. Tell me, child." Okay, that stung. "Forgive my assumption, of course, starbeing, but you strike me as... inexperienced."
"I'm very experienced in things that are not this."
"So, if you do not mind me asking, you are telling me that your Lord, this... 'vye all', that you mention, sent someone urgently, but not necessarily the best person for the job?"
"I'm Lord Vi.al's most trusted agent." Tell the truth, Vi.si.mi. Just tell the truth. "Not most skilled, or most relevant. Most trusted. Lord Vi.al knows I will not give up on this task. For a task as open-ended and ill-defined as this, I was Lord Vi.al's first choice."
"It seems so, so very fitting that you would be the sort of help Lightgreen found. Heh. You share her tenacity, if nothing else."

After some time, during which she looks over me like she's assessing me for some sort of structural analysis, she continues. "There are some matters that we could use assistance with. I do believe you wish to help us. I am just not sure you can. If you can assist us with these difficulties, then I would be very happy to be proven wrong. But let us go inside. It's getting colder out."
"By all means." This is progress. This is at least progress.
No. 1077290 ID: e139aa
File 170000105856.png - (198.02KB , 800x600 , fop-156.png )

Inside the tent, I see this is the same tent I was in earlier today. Absent two other figures.

"Where are the other two?"
"We only hold an audience for part of the day. Deepred and Offwhite have other responsibilities to attend to. I am, as the elder, the only one with the luxury to spend my whole day fretting about things. Of course, all three of us must be together to make grand decisions that affect the whole village, but, well, old habits become unshakeable traditions. Such as the tradition of the elder as leader."
"Oh. Three leaders is a new thing?"
"A compromise between two villages with their own ways of doing things. Golden Root had the elder, Blossoming Bough had two leaders, one of might, one of craft. I prefer things this way. It would be even more exhausting to bear all of the burden."

Ochre Willow trudges over to the far end of the tent, and unfurls what looks like a map scrawled onto a roughly-woven silken surface. She lays it down onto the table she was sitting behind earlier, and places small wooden marker blocks around it. I've seen more detailed maps, for sure.

"This is not one of our best maps, but it's one of our most current. Deepred would give some rambling nonsense about this and that, and it's his obsession with scouting that are why we've even been making maps like this, but I'll just give you the basics. Ask whatever questions you need, and let me know whichever you want to look into."
"What creatures are these?" I point what I assume is north of the rhamata.
"No clue. They've been spotted in the skies, and they keep to themselves, and fly away whenever anyone tries to get close to them. Now, hold your questions for now."

Ochre Willow points to some sort of grove.
"Many of our medicines are reliant on a particular fungus we call globestalk. One of the best places we know to find it is distressingly close to seapi territory, but far enough that our gatherers travel with warrior escorts to get back safely. Lately, some of the lepi have been disappearing, and the ones who returned have all spoken of a lepi living on their own telling them to leave, at spearpoint, with seapi skulls on pikes. Some of our warriors returned wounded and pale. Globestalk is very important and we haven't found anywhere else it grows in enough quantity. If someone were to investigate whatever's going on and maybe put a stop to it so we can have globestalk again before our dried reserves run out in [a couple of days], it'd be nice. You'd be on your own, though. Much as we keep asking, the warriors don't want to go anywhere near that place."

She then points to a fork of the river I was at earlier.
"Our scouts have also found that a raiding party of noetuno started approaching our village, but stopped and appear to be building something. Nothing that the noetuno would be building that close to the village could mean anything good. One of the first things they were working on that we can see from here is some sort of lookout tower, so the window of time to get a closer look before being more easily spotted is probably also [a couple of days]. The warriors we have at our disposal are much more willing to look into this themselves, although assistance wouldn't hurt."

She pauses, and then takes a block off of the map. "On second thoughts, this matter isn't particularly urgent. Glittering Sepal was a village of lepi that were more prone to violence and conflict than either Golden Root or Blossoming Bough were, and we did not miss them when the Awakening destroyed their entire village. But, apparently, the former shaman of Glittering Sepal is both alive, and appears to be working with the noetuno and the seapi, somehow. I think the other two matters are more urgent, and, also, to be completely honest with you, I do not feel like sending you against the seapi is wise. You appear to be the diplomatic sort. Lepi and sometimes noetuno are more receptive to that. Seapi aren't."

Well then.

I guess I have to decide if I want to focus, for the upcoming [days] until I get some reinforcements and supplies, whether to tackle the weird lepi causing a globestalk shortage or the noetuno raiders building something near a river fork.

...or I guess I could try and ask more about the enemy lepi shaman, but I get the impression that might be a poor choice to take things.
No. 1077291 ID: 99f29a

The weird lepi causing a globestalk shortage is something you might actually be equipped to handle. Go for it.
No. 1077293 ID: a7a180

Secure the globestalk supplies, and maybe a lepi ally. There may be something wrong with the globestalk she's trying to warn people of.
No. 1077295 ID: 7695ec

well, with two time limits, one that needs you and one that would only like assistance, you'd have to choose the first

to do personally, you have a flocklet and some substrate to shape, this should let you assist the warriors in the second task
No. 1077298 ID: de5cb4

Negotiating with the weird lepi and investigating improvement to the cultivation of globestalk seems a better fit for Vi.si.mi's skill set.
How much danger would the flocklet be in spying on the noetuno from a distance? It would be nice if we could multitask, but the little one might not be able to handle a quick escape if spotted.
No. 1077300 ID: f3171e

Agreed. If they've taken down multiple seapi solo, they sound like someone we want on our side as well.
No. 1077301 ID: 8f9bc4

A bonus to mission globestalk shortage is the seapi skulls on pikes. Seapi appear to be some sort of autonomous drones from an unknown source, so figuring out how to disable them, or examining their corpses might help defend against them. Remember from your transmission seizure that the noetuno know the seapi and consider them one of the "horrors" that they overcame, so the noetuno might be more amenable to negotiate with someone who figured out how to deal with the seapi problem.

Uh, assure Ochre that you would never think it as simple as just breeding more. Your goal is to enable them to thrive so that [minutes] become [years] and they can keep up with their population losses. And you don't consider them to be livestock. You don't even consider their livestock to be livestock!
No. 1077305 ID: 273c18

Oh, you can use the catalog again? Look up all of the "similar" species that are present on the planet.

>lepi entry was deleted
I can't think of any reason for that other than because Vi.al just now confirmed they're still alive and told Ku.su so of course they're going to rewrite the entry, and their survival is not perfectly guaranteed at the moment is it?

>must have been decades
The meadowanders live 200 years though, which implies a slow rate of reproduction. Either they've been edging towards sapience for thousands of years without Vi.al noticing due to inattention or outright neglect, or Vi.al noticed and let it happen. Well, there's a third option, which is that they were always sapient, and Vi.al lied about it. I think it's most likely that Vi.al just let them become sapient on their own though. After all, why not? They're clearly behaving themselves.
Oh I guess My.a could have just... altered their minds to make them sapient after the Awakening. Considering My.a was able to make a shield against the infohazard that works better than Vi.al's shield, My.a is probably very good at manipulating minds. Plus, My.a is amoral enough to do it... though again, I'm not sure it's a bad thing for the meadowanders. It's more like pulling a prank on Vi.al. You didn't ask an older meadowander about the Awakening so we can't confirm that yet.

>jealous about lifespan
Oh? What's yours? Do note that creatures with a long lifespan tend to have low energy lifestyles.

>We were promised so much in bygone times by the starbeings.
Huh? Was he talking about Ku.su? Ask about their history with the starbeings.

>unknown flying creatures
Could they be a Vi.al construct? Or My.a's eyes in the sky? Or natives of the unknown world that My.a stole everyone from, like the Seapi were? Ah, investigating them would be a fine job for our scout once they arrive!

Hold on, a rogue lepi shaman is working with the Seapi? That means the Seapi CAN be reasoned with, and the fact that the Seapi aren't working with the Noetuno means this shaman is somehow making deals with two sides of a conflict, something that is notably difficult. Either they have access to a particularly valuable resource that can't be taken by force or... they're an intermediary for trade? In any case, if it's possible to get in contact with them it might open up a diplomatic option for both the Seapi and the Noetuno. Finding out what the Seapi does with captives is pretty important I think, but that would also be something our scout can do.

Ask for more details about the rogue shaman, but I agree we should go for the medicine first. The lepi there knows how to kill Seapi so that's useful information to retrieve as well. Suggest to the elder that their warriors talk to the Meadowanders to see if any of them are willing to help scout/fight the Noetuno at the structure. Consider using some spare Substrate to make some stronger weapons or armor for the warriors and meadowanders.
No. 1077308 ID: 9e6f2b

Quick question, are you able to fire off a few lasers now or would doing so cause you to pass out again? I have a feeling of regardless of what mission you pick a fight is probably going to brake out and knowing your limits BEFORE a fight brakes out might help us plan for or around said limits.
No. 1077328 ID: 253138

You're gonna need to do something about your relay station glowing. Besides attracting outside attention and announcing itself as a prime target, the light is gonna disrupt the lepi's sleep.

Before you turn in for the night, try and figure out how to disable your structure's external lighting. Vi.al has to have put a toggle in somewhere to turn it off for situations that require being more visually discreet. If a way to do this isn't readily apparent, contact Nu.ya.si since they would be most likely to know about commanding substrate systems.

If you can't find a way to stop the relay station from glowing, a second option would be to cover it with the same material used for the lepi's tents, with extra thickness if needed to keep the light from bleeding through. Dress it up as a actual tent and it'd also somewhat camouflage it in addition to blocking the unwanted light. Tell Ochre Willow this is your backup plan idea if you can't get your structure to stop being lit up and ask if the lepi have any spare tent material to enact this plan any time soon.
No. 1077331 ID: ab1b6a

You are an ecology expert. You might be the most qualified person on the planet to fetch, and TRANSPLANT medically important fungus to a less hostile harvesting grounds.
No. 1077333 ID: 2a82d3

Look into the glowshroom first, but probe the GB elder further about the rogue lepi first. You won't seriously consider an investigation, if only because you won't overestimate your capabilities at this point, but her profile of the other lepi suggests they could've been from the same village. Make your trip quick, and you'll have time to look into the noetuno outpost, which is likely to be Four Strands making her move.

You might not be able to land a joke with her about your lightshow attracting their best and brightest, but attracting local Talents should be part of your long term plans. Try to make that clear to her. Finding them among the other (lower) races also connects to your other goal: to unite them under your banner, or at least prove yourself a better custodian than their assigned Transcendental. Perhaps you could found some sort of Planetary Council, at some point down the line. That's on top of your Green mandate to tame the meadowlanders and other (ascendant) animals built by your lord.
Yes, it did recently occur to me that this is an Alpha Centauri quest.
No. 1077349 ID: 0d9b4b

Glowshroom supply is most viable and likely to result in good Grace's.
Ask the elder what is valuable to loners in a nomadic lifestyle. Take defensive equipment obviously.
Remember to cover structure lighting. See if you can use the address vy.zi.ki helpfully provided to suggest m.ya develope an introduction within the next two days that will secure help for her and not scorn.
No. 1077419 ID: 9cf8d5

...Have to voice an objection here. He said they have several days of medical supplies. Should they be unready for an assault that could wipe the supplies. While loss of medical supplies is a threat over a long period, wipeout via military loss is a bigger and more immediate issue.
No. 1077441 ID: f3171e

Counterpoint: if we can manage to recruit the seipi-slaying lepi we will have a hero unit for the fight that will probably happen when we try to talk to the sexdogs.
No. 1077489 ID: e139aa
File 170026468993.png - (97.88KB , 800x600 , fop-157.png )

"I'll look into the globestalk situation. I can see if it's possible to transfer some of it to a safer location."
Ochre Willow raises an eyebrow. "Our best foragers and herbalists came to the conclusion such an effort would be futile, but, well, another perspective on the matter wouldn't be a wasted effort. We do use a lot of it. It helps aid fevers, inflammations, swellings, aches... I often find myself asking our healers for remedies and find so many of them need some part of the fungus. The stalk, the globe, the fluids inside the globe, all of it. It's one of the few starbeing promises that seem to have actually been fulfilled."
"...Excuse me?"
"Oh, yes. The globestalk has the signs of being a gift from your kind. Few other medicinal plants are so versatile. It's almost like," and she pauses, looking at me as she leans closer towards me, "it was made for us. Like we were known very, very well. Very, very well, by the starbeings."
"Well, you know, we--"
"You know, some of the longest lasting songs of our origins suggest we came from the stars ourselves, under the watchful eyes of 'the moth of moons'. Who 'shone like the stars and the grass'. I can't help but think that's such a strange way to describe something glowing. Grass doesn't glow. But, well. I have to say, your home does seem to glow the colour of the grass, doesn't it?"
"I-- I guess it does?"

She leans back, eyes closed contemplatively for a moment.

"...oh, just musing. Forgive an old woman her ramblings," she says, and I feel tension melting out of my body like a deflating balloon. "So you will investigate the strange happenings near our precious globestalk patch, at the very least. I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your efforts. When do you think you will set out?"
"Ideally tomorrow."

She looks surprised. "So soon?" She gives a croaky laugh. "The eagerness is appreciated, I will say, but do you think that might be rushing things a little?"
"You mentioned low supplies. I want to resolve this as soon as possible before they deplete." And I have other clocks ticking. That truce isn't going to last forever.
"I suppose. You have the bold spirit I would hope to see in our would-be saviour, that is certain. But, as we have seen with our shaman, spirit alone is never enough."
"Lightgreen seems quite capable to me. Why do you all think of her so poorly? Why is she an outsider to the village?"

Another mild laugh, but one that feels a little sadder. "She is an outsider by choice, starbird. Many have tried to reach out to her, but the more they try, the further she pulls herself away. The mutual resentment has grown over time. I do not think she is lost to us, no, but I worry something might easily pull her away."
"Pull her away in what sense? Physically?"

She looks at me, and sinks onto a stool. "Yes, but, well." A deep sigh. "Her heart lies beyond the lepi. We all know it. We don't know what she wants. She doesn't know what she wants. So, please. If you're the one to spirit her away to the world she so clearly desires, can you at least help us first before you do?"
"Oh, nothing."

I wonder why she's so invested in Lightgreen specifically. Actually, let me ask that. "Why are you so interested in what Lightgreen does?"

I get back a look of confusion, followed by irritation. "Oh, she didn't deign to inform you her grandmother is the elder of the village?" She groans. "I swear on the Light that girl is going to kill me some day. Yes. Lightgreen is my granddaughter. She and her brother are the only surviving family I have left. I don't need to worry about him as much, he's not the one running off into the wilderness every other [month]."

I will now disengage before the floodgates open further. "Well, I know now, and, also, I need to make preparations for my mission tomorrow."
"Good luck. I would ask you not to endanger her again, but she's likely going to follow you wherever you go. She followed that fox one around for a [month] before he asked her to stop following him back home. I never understood why he sounded so downtrodden saying that, but he mentioned something about orders from above. When we have more time, I would love to ask how things are run in the heavens, but I shan't keep you much longer."

I really should have asked Va.ne.tu about the lepi more than I did. Whoops. I'm starting to feel like I was a complete afterthought to him-- why do I care. Why do I care.
Anyway, I wave and leave, as she gives me a brief nod.

"I do have one request, which I'm sure, given how you seem to care about her yourself, must feel redundant."
"Don't get her hurt."
"I will do my best!"

She rubs her head. "I suppose that is all I can ask for. Good night, starbird."
No. 1077490 ID: e139aa
File 170026474585.png - (375.73KB , 800x600 , fop-158.png )

I leave and head back to my relay station, not that far from the more central leader tent. The village isn't particularly large, I realise. A few dozen tents, some larger than the rest. There's, what, by rough estimate, maybe fifty, sixty lepi left here? That's a worryingly low number for long term population health. I wish I knew how many lepi were taken as captives. A dozen? Double the count in the village? It's a weird situation to hope there's a lot of lepi being held prisoner or enslaved, but the alternative is worse from a long-term viability perspective. I just hope Lord Vi.al doesn't tell Lord Ku.su that their creations are doing fine after all, because they really, really aren't.

It's a little early to call the night finished, but, honestly, I'm worried the longer I stay awake, the likelier it is some new problem will leap out at me and take even more of my time. My.a called a truce, so hopefully they honour that. I'm going to go to bed while things are calm.

I'll set up a little response message if Lightgreen comes around to investigate explaining I won't be around until... hm. Sunrise should work. Unless it's an emergency. I'll clarify if it's an emergency to knock three times and that'll let her in. I think I have a clear enough mental image of Lightgreen for the relay station to accurately identify her. Ugh, this is fuzzier than I'd like, I should get biometrics set up next time she's in here. I can't tell which of the pale fibres around here are hers or Vy.zi.ki's. And her green fluff would just blend in with the floor.

I fumble around the station for some sort of light dimming controls, and finally find them after searching both physically and through command sequences. There. External glow can dim down to only the tiny flickers of light caused by particularly intense localised computation. So if someone smacks the outside a bunch, basically.

...one last thing to do before that. Talking with Ochre Willow reminded me of something.
Screen up. Text-only message.

Origin: Vi.al.Vi.si.mi
Destination: Lo.ka.Fo.ka.sa

Dear Forecaster,

By now, Lord Vi.al has confirmed that I am here safely, with all of the basic equipment set up. I know you must have worried, or maybe you didn't? I'm sure Lord Vi.al would have mentioned if you were worried. They did mention you, after all. I'm sure you knew better than they would how I'd fare on my own. You always were able to second guess me so often. I did pick up on that! My own prediction skills tell me you would still like to hear from me anyway. I bet I got a little close to the truth, right?

Love you as always. Talk soon, once I figure out what our relative timeframes are. And if you have a moment spare. I know you're quite busy. So am I now.

There. Send. She always does like to hear from me.
No. 1077491 ID: e139aa
File 170026480979.png - (245.33KB , 800x600 , fop-159.png )

Alright. The last two times I decided to dream and figure things out, I had unwelcome visitors come to visit me.

So this time I'm just not going to give them the opportunity. I'm tired of such nonsense already. I feel my hands lose definition and my arms revert to more wing-like structures as my body seeks simpler shapes to assume to reduce computational complexity. I've met aliens that find this idea horrifying, but with a thought they'd be back if I needed them. Feathers are nicer to rest on, anyway.

I close my eyes, and the weight of everything I've been through starts to subside as I drift away, far sooner than I'd expect. I guess I've been carrying around a lot of stress these past couple of days. Well. In a sleep this deep, I suppose my mind may still process, but I won't perceive or experience. Maybe we do actually dream like many sapient organisms would in such a state, but none of us remember. Who can say? How can you remember a thing you never experienced?

Enough. Enough busy thoughts. No more tonight.
No. 1077492 ID: e139aa
File 170026483340.png - (427.74KB , 800x600 , fop-160.png )

Good night, world.

No. 1077493 ID: 99f29a

Your little ball head causes computational complexity? Damn the Shapeless need better firmware.
No. 1077494 ID: 273c18

Hmm, what happened to not needing to sleep every night? Must be all the stress.
No. 1077496 ID: a7a180

And the bodily trauma.
No. 1077497 ID: 2a82d3

Good night, sweet prince. May this world will recognize you as such, one way or another.
No. 1077524 ID: 2aa5f0

I like to imagine that they fell asleep in the relay part of their base instead of the bedroom they set up and didn't realize it because of how tired they were. Would be funny that the first thing they experience when they wake up is just all the noise the relay gives off... That or the relay acts weird again and let's all the lepi see what Vi.si.mi is dreaming about. either by beaming it into their dreams or just having some screens around the base that they could watch if they were interested enough.
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