Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I Am Bad At Expository Dialogue And Deliberate World-Building

"This situation is getting out of hand. So, what do you have to say?*" The speaker in question was a large panda, looking sternly disapproving, or as much so as one can look in sweatpants and a loose t-shirt. Except at important moments, pandas dress for comfort.

"It made less of a mess than the wizard who tried to come in last week on a hovercraft?" The response came from a smaller, younger panda. A particularly clever adolescent panda of our acquaintance.

"Don't be glib," barked a different older panda, dressed in a loose robe of deep blue. "This is the third attempt to get at that robot-wizard in just the last month! The attacks have been going on almost since you brought it here!" By this point, the panda leaned forward from its lounge chair to glare at CAP. They were talking in a circular room, furnished with a few large chairs and large windows with the curtains partially drawn to keep the sunlight from being too bright.

"We did grant it sanctuary," the first panda mentioned soothingly. "People don't usually ask for that without reason to fear for their safety, and we don't grant it expecting there won't be trouble."

"No, your kid here offered sanctuary without consulting any of us. We could have debated the merits of whether it was worth risking war with robots and wizards simultaneously!"

At that point, a fourth panda entered the conversation. This one was dressed formally, which was normal for him. He never relaxed much, though he had loosened his collar and was fanning himself occasionally with a large straw hat. "Which is why we should consider attacking one of them now. These isolated assassination attempts are a sure sign the alliance between the two forces is still tentative. They're assisting each other on a limited scale. Wizards with hovercrafts. Robots being subjected to shrinking potions."

"I don't understand why they didn't just use a shrink ray," mumbled CAP.

"Right. They're sounding out each others trustworthiness," Sweatpants Panda interjected, ignoring the comment on the soundness of the plans.

"That's correct. If they decide they can work together, they may mass for a large-scale attack. Even if we fend it off, there will be casualties, and I don't fancy that outcome."

"And what about the penguins?! You can't imagine they're going to ignore an opportunity to strike while we're distracted!"

"Yes, yes, we're well aware of all that," began the intimidating mother (and council member) panda. "But is adopting an offensive posture, sending out an attack force, going to work any better? We all mostly live here, but robots and wizards are scattered across the world. It isn't as though you can kill everyone in either group in one fell swoop. To do that, we'd have to disperse, and then our home is especially vulnerable to anyone, including the penguins."

Folksy Southern Lawyer Panda nodded at this. "Still, both groups have councils, just like ours. The robots might be able to quickly regroup if we struck there, but the wizards are as fractious and squabbling as a bunch of jaybirds at a feeder."

"But wouldn't there still be wizards who would try to get a Lufonz anyway? They were trying to eliminate robot-wizards for a long time, right?"

Folksy Lawyer-style Panda turned to the youngin'. "Very true, but their being disorganized would help us greatly, I say."

"Maybe," mused the mother panda, "or it'd make them more unpredictable. Either way, I'm not sure we need to be declaring war on anyone. We've generally tried to be reactive with our use of force."

"We are being reactive. They've been attacking us, so we're reacting by hitting back." Sweat Pants Panda had gotten up by this point and was pacing. Not angrily, exactly, but with a nervous energy, unusual in itself.

"Both groups councils deny any connection to the attacks."

"Yes, yes, 'unfortunate, troubled individuals', I know. But you know, and I know, and they know it's all a load of crap."

"We still can't prove it."

"Frankly, I am not certain this decision is one that should be undertaken strictly by the council, even if all members were here. Whether we choose to fight or not, everyone should be allowed to have their say." Folksy Lawyer Panda's expression didn't change, one of studied indifference, like the whole thing was purely academic to him.

Mama Panda nodded. "I'd agree with that. I think it's a bad idea to attack - there's still a chance they'll come to their senses and abandon this - but we ought to at least open the discussion up to more ideas."

Sweat Pants also nodded, albeit grudgingly.

"If I can speak for a moment?" The voice was clipped, with a note of tired resignation in it. The robot-wizard, currently the only known one, stood waiting, metal covering a bit dinged and scuffed in places. Around humans, Lufonz adopted various glamours to pass unnoticed, but the pandas knew what he was, so he saved himself the time and energy.

"As the one they've been trying to kill for decades now, I don't see much chance they'll give up anytime soon. I had thought staying here would dissuade them, but they're even willing to challenge you pandas to get at me. I also appreciate I put the young one here in a bit of a spot by leveraging my expertise to get sanctuary in the first place. Sorry about that, CAP."

The young panda shook its head. "Don't worry about it. You did help, and Wade does that all the time. He just asks for food and hugs in exchange for shooting people."

"Of course. I'm working on something which may enable me to better protect myself, but I need just a little more time. A few weeks, hopefully. If you can shield me until then, I'll take my leave."

Folksy Lawyer Panda watched him closely. "Are you sure? We don't really want to run you off, we do take sanctuary seriously, and don't wish to be inhospitable. This is mostly to decide what to do about the people trying to kill you."

"I understand that, and thank you, but I don't want anyone getting killed over this. If my project works, then I'll be as safe as I can be anywhere, and I won't have to ask others to fight my battles for me. By mid-April, I should be ready."

"If you're sure of this, is there anything we can do to help?"

"No, CAP has been a great help as an assistant and bodyguard, and will hopefully be able to continue in that role going forward?" A note of hope crept into Lufonz' voice at that part.

CAP waved its hand dismissively. "Oh sure, absolutely. You've been a huge help with my studies, so it's no troub -  you said 'mid-April'?"

Confused, Lufonz responded, "Yes, it's March 29th, so mid-to-late April should suffice."

"Oh crud, I have somewhere I need to be in two days! I gotta run!" And with that, CAP dashed out the door, leaving a dust trail behind as it rushed out of the village. It's only outsiders who refer to it as a Citadel. For the pandas, it's just home, and doesn't even appear well defended outwardly, what with the low walls ideal for sitting on, and the squat, short houses (pandas aren't big fans of stairs, though they don't mind ladders).


"Clever Adolescent Panda, just where do you think you're going?"

A shout trailed back, "It's almost April Fools! I'll be back before Monday!"

Mama Panda put her paw to the bridge of her nose and sighed, then turned to Lufonz. "I'm sorry about that."

"No, I understand. His idiot friend is at risk from my old boss. Or a talking blender? I wasn't clear on the details."

"Yes, his idiot friend does have a lot of enemies, somehow. We'll make sure you have protection and some assistants until CAP returns."

* All names and dialogue are translated from this particular panda dialect, which humans can't pronounce anyway. So names and some of the language are actually rough approximations.

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