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She grew dimly aware of a sound of movement in the trees some distance behind her. Indeed, the noise had gone on some while and been growing louder, but she'd been too absorbed in her half-somnolent ruminations to notice. Unlikely though it was that a large bear had appeared out of the woods with intent to eat her, she conceded it was possible, and so she probably ought to look. With a grunt, she shifted around and beheld an extraterrestrial... The ground trembled at its approach, not in time with its footsteps, but rather as through the thing were growling in a voice so deep only seismographs could hear it plainly. The tentacled hulk moved awkwardly through the trees, but it would none the less be upon her in moments. When it was near her, she addressed it. "Evening," she said, and yawned.
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He inclined his eyestalk to better regard the small human before him. Even after all this time on Earth, the little bipedal bloodbladders still all tended to look alike to him. The ground hummed for a moment as he took a sonograph of her, giving him a flash image of a delicate calcium/phosphorus understructure, wrapped in a flexible form-fitting sack of goo. It was truly miraculous that such an... object could be a conscious being.


The sound of handsawing from Stodt's carpenter's shop. A carpenter's shop. Just beyond these hills stand towers forged molecule by molecule, and others grown living like the crops in the fields, while here she rides a horse-drawn wagon past a carpenter's shop. Sometimes, she loves the simple self-denying anachronism of this place, and other times detests it. She usually feels both at once, and she supposes that is how most people feel about where they were bred. Behind blue sky, the stars sing, call. She wonders if it be piety to shun them.
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Many people were annoyed to learn the Jan practiced religions, and still more were annoyed (or, at the least, surprised) to find that they had religions plural. Atheists were dismayed that these aliens had creeds at all, and religious folk were surprised at the plurality of said creeds. There were also Jan atheists and agnostics of several stripes. So nobody on Earth got their philosophy of life particularly validated or invalidated by the visitors from the stars. Many humans felt cheated by this.


Paul knew what it was. His already awful fear turned to unmitigated horror. A white shape, streaked with stripes of gray, undulated over the snow. It was so big that at first Indira mistook it for one of the famous Martian dust storms. Yet this was solid, a living white form that surged across the wastes, implacable as a glacier. Through the spray of frost, she could finally make out that it resembled a vast ivory caterpillar. The thing named itself and the world drowned in a repetition of the noise she'd heard a moment earlier. It vibrated through her skeleton, through her skull, through her soul: HOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNN
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Did he love her? he wondered. It wasn't the first time he'd wondered this, but there was urgency to it, now. He didn't know what love was. How could he? He believed he knew what Christian love was. He cherished it. To love one another through the love of God. The communication of souls past the barriers of flesh and space. Removal of the masks placed on us by nature. Turning away from the shadows on Plato's cave wall to actually face one another. That kind of love, Paul understood. But the love in the Song of Songs? He could know nothing of that. It was completely specific to the human experience, and the reading of that book only served to remind him how alien, how unknowable these beings were.


Barney had been made as a small child's toy, a tiny talking duck for a rich man's son, back when the full implications of sapient machines were not well understood. He had told the boy stories (and he still enjoyed fiction today). To avoid being deactivated after the child was grown, Barney had fled, and he'd lived in the nooks and crannies of civilization. At ten centimeters tall, he was literally vermin. By the time the Velveteen Act was passed granting rights to conscious robots, he had gone mad. That was well over a century ago. He had recovered by now, and had had a man-sized body built for himself (he'd chosen a visibly mechanical one, rather than an android). He changed his last name periodically, depending on his mood and circumstances, but he kept the name Barney, which the child had given him. For he still loved that child, who had once been his whole world, a child who had long ago died of old age.
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