Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Salubrious Exchange (II of II)

(As this is one post in two parts, it seems appropriate to point you to the original, here...)

"What name do they call you by, stranger?" the village elder asked.

"People feeling kinda formal tend to call me Captain," the captain of the Salubrious Exchange explained. "People feeling very formal call me by my full name, the Admirably Lawful Expeditious Explorer. But mostly I just go by Alex, for short."

The elder accepted this without comment. "Where do you hail from, stranger?" he asked. "And what do you wish here?"

"I have come a great distance," Alex intoned in a deep voice, "from another earth, far above the dome of the sky. And my sole intent is to trade... with you."

"We are known, then, beyond the dome of the sky?" the village elder asked.

"Nah, not really," Alex admitted. "I just came to trade with whoever. You look like you'll do."

"And what will you offer us?" the village elder asked.

"Plenty," Alex said, gesturing to the bloated shape of the Salubrious Exchange looming over the village. "Off the top of my head... I've got soap, I've got disinfectants, I've got medicines - some quinine, some azlocilin, juust a bit of pethidine, for the laaa-dies. Any of those take your fancy?"

"I have concerns," the village elder said slowly.

"Hit me," Alex said invitingly.

"You are a stranger," the village elder began. "You come offering trade and friendship. I wish to believe in your goodwill. But I fear you may be like the city-folk, who come to us with smiles on their faces and knives held behind their backs. Do you seek to sell us junk and trash? Do you intend to gouge us for inferior goods? These are the concerns which I hold."

"Also, I can't quite figure out what gender you are," the village elder added.

"In the advanced civilizations that travel beyond the dome of the sky, we have evolved beyond gender," Alex said smugly.

"That in no way alleviates my suspicion," the village elder replied.

Alex sighed. "Look. You worry that I'll cheat you. Understandable! Especially since you've been cheated before. But I can prove to you - prove to you - that I only sell items of value. Matter of pride, that," Alex added as an aside.

"Well, prove it," the village elder suggested.

Alex examined the items brought down from the ship. "Maybe soap and medicine aren't the most impressive things. They're useful, sure, but not impressive. So let's pick out some other items. Here - " lifting up a box, opening it and pulling out one of the hafted items within " - monofilament cutter. Excellent for butchering deer, cattle, pigs, what have you - cuts through everything."

"The pigs will not be a concern," the village elder noted.

"I said I was sorry about the pigs!" Alex exclaimed. "Look. See this rock?"

"The one you just lifted from the ground?" the village elder asked. "My eyes are yet well enough to allow me that, yes."

"Here," Alex said. "I take the monofilament cutter, and -"

Two halves of rock clattered to the ground.

"Very impressive," the village elder said.

"Aw, you're just being polite," Alex said. "I've got something better. Ah! Here! How about this pocket-sized fusion-reactor? Guaranteed to last two hundred years, just dump a cup of water in to power it!"

The village elder looked blankly at Alex. "Reactor?"

"Oh, right, right, gotta hook something up," Alex mumbled. "Um... yeah, this should be good."

Alex adjusted a large, wheeled device. The village elder watched. Time passed.

"Sorry," Alex apologized.

Then, pointing at a large hill, Alex struck a dramatic pose. "You know that hill?"

"Certainly," the village elder said. "That is Muhall-Shali, where our younglings go to endure the Rites of Adulthood."

"Um," Alex said, losing the dramatic pose. The machine was readjusted.

"All right!" Alex said. "What about that hill, over there? The one with that weird purple tree on it?"

"That is Ocas-Ocas, where we have bury our dead, as we have done for uncounted generations," the village elder said. "The founder of our tribe is buried under the roots of the great purple tree."

"What do you think about... cremation?" Alex asked.

"We bury our dead," the village elder repeated.

"Oh," Alex said. "What about that hill, over there? The kinda rocky one?"

"What about it?" the village elder asked.

"Anything special about it? Sacred?" Alex asked.

"No," the village elder said. "It's just a hill."

"What's all this about?" he added.

"You'll see," Alex said. "Are you watching the hill?"

"Yes?" the village elder said.

The hill exploded.

"And that is what a fusion reactor can do for you!" Alex exclaimed triumphantly.

"...certainly it will drive our tribe to poverty and ruin to barter for such a device," the village elder said sadly.

"Ah!" Alex exclaimed. "Not so! I'll sell it to you for a song."

"Like, literally," Alex added.

"Why would you do that?" the village elder asked.

"Seems like a good idea!" Alex said cheerfully.

"So... if I sing to you, you will give our tribe these treasures?" the village elder asked hesitantly.

"Ehhh, kinda," Alex said, shrugging. "It's one song, one item; so all the stuff I've brought out here will cost you six or so. More if you want more, naturally. But I won't limit you to song; poems, stories, whatever works. Your culture, y'know, man?"

"Like the story of how Whistler tricked Badger and Goat into eating their own tails?" the village elder suggested.

"Yeah!" Alex said. "Exactly! That'll get you a great big box of nanopolymer cloth, no problem."

"But - why?" the village elder asked again. "Why would you trade us these treasures for mere songs and stories?"

Alex considered. "How best to answer? Um. Do you guys have the aphorism, 'One man's trash is another's treasure?'"

"So, you are trying to sell us trash?" the village elder asked.

"No, no, no," Alex replied quickly. "It's... um.... post-scarcity economics, you know? Look it up."

"That is probably not very useful advice for me," the village elder noted.

"That's because it's not for you," Alex said, looking directly at you. "Thaaat's all, folks!"


("Post-scarcity economics totally means we can break the fourth wall," Alex tells you as an aside.")

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