Standards and Conventions

And so Jason began a new life in Gyeeds.

Now that he had a home and a guardian, his greatest obstacle to living comfortably in this brave new world was language. Thusly, the very day after he arrived in Gyeeds, he began taking lessons in Common. Each day, he woke up promptly at eight-o'-clock, ate a bland breakfast, did his morning hygienic duties, and was escorted by Roland to a special school for learning Common.

There, with twenty other students of various ages (none of whom knew English or Common), he spent six hours studying the language. Their teacher was Lylan Flametamer, a young woman of great linguistic talent. She could, she informed the class with some pride as soon as everybody could understand her, speak twenty languages fluently, and countless more to at least some degree. Her English was sorely lacking from a grammatical perspective, but her accent was better than Roland's.

Common, oppressively foreign as it initially was to Jason's eyes and ears, turned out to be a very learnable language. It was carefully constructed to be more or less perfect: concise, logical, and versatile. Spelling was entirely phonetic; in fact, each Common character stood for exactly one sound. For every given idea there were myriad ways to express it, each with a different nuance. Learning Common also entailed learning Roots, a virtual language designed solely to serve as a basis for Common words, much like English words are sometimes directly constructed out of Greek or Latin ones. Jason first thought that this was surely unnecessary, but he found that it made creating and understanding neologisms a lot easier.

Once he'd had a taste of the language, Jason was unsurprised to find that many other facets of Gyeedian life were heavily standardized, as well. Time was measured in hours and minutes, just like Earth's, but days officially began and ended at dawn, not midnight, and everybody used 24-hour time. There were eight days of the week (five in which most people worked and three in which they didn't) that were named after, of all things, eight familiar chemical elements: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, lead, iron, gold, and silver. There were no months; dates were typically given in day-week-year format. A year was officially composed of 45 weeks, plus however much time was needed for the planet to get back to its starting position, the vernal equinox—this "in-between" period was treated as being in week zero. Finally, year zero was set at the estimated date in which the people of one of the IDC's oldest civilizations invented writing.

"It's enough to make you think that the Gyeedians never had a religion." commented Jason. His Common was tolerably good by now, but still worse than Roland's English, so they stuck to the latter language when speaking to each other.

"Don't be ridiculous." said Roland. "Atheism is a growing trend, sure, but seventy percent of Gyeedians still follow one religion or another."

"Then why is it that no shred of traditional beliefs remains in the way the calendar's set up? Americans are reluctant enough to use 'BCE' instead of 'BC', never mind a whole 'nother calendar."

"True, once upon a time we did use a religious calendar. But we very much wanted to join the IDC, and switching calendars was part of the bargain. We joined forty-two years ago, but the IDC is sixty years old, so they had already developed a lot of standards by the time we came in. To be honest, people found it a lot harder to switch from decimal to hexadecimal than to change calendars."

At any rate, Jason kept a Gregorian calendar in his room, for nostalgia if nothing else. He'd been snatched from the face of dear Mother Earth by the dragon on Sunday, September 21st, 2003—Hydrogen, 24, 5624, as the IDC would have it. For the sake of sanity, I'll give most dates in their Gregorian form, all numerals in decimal, and when people speak of, for instance, "four thousand ninety-sixes of houses", I'll round it off to "thousands of houses".

Meanwhile, Jason had to get used to the city itself. It was so big that it comfortably contained over 1.6 billion people, with enough room left over for several large bodies of water, a great many parks, and even a mountain or two. Its success had hardly been spontaneous, though. It first emerged as one of the area's greatest cities about 2,500 years ago—no wonder, since the location was excellent. It was a temperate, fertile area crisscrossed by rivers, on the northern coast of a large continent. Early on, it evolved from a simple farming community into the center of trade and culture on the continent. It became the capital of a larger nation, and for millennia was perpetually changing hands as conquerors fought over it bitterly. Although it suffered countless sieges, successful and otherwise, it was never severely damaged. Its owners, both current and hopeful, were careful to preserve it.

Gyeeds was the greatest city on the planet, but its neighbors were never quite as prosperous. Eventually, in 1501 CE, the Gyeedians declared their independence from the country. The result was a conflict best described as a mix of the American Revolutionary and Trojan Wars, though it resolved much more quickly than either. When Gyeeds's former fatherland was unable to penetrate the city's great defenses, it threatened to stop all shipments of food into the city. Gyeeds, in turn, threatened to destroy itself if it was thus provoked, which was exactly what its attackers didn't want. And so the Gyeedians won. Over the following five centuries, they prospered more and more, while the surrounding lands splintered and the people fought amongst themselves. A wave of immigration into Gyeeds, made easier by its strict policies of ethnic and religious tolerance, caused the city to swell, and by the year 2000 its residents made up a quarter of the planet's population. The city was, of course, still wholly dependent on imports of food and raw materials, but should the rest of the planet collapse, there were still many other verses that were eager to trade with one of the multiverse's richest cities.

On top of the abrupt change between Jason's suburban hometown and his new, very thoroughly urban, surroundings, Gyeedian culture was not quite the same as that of the American Midwest. For one thing, Gyeedians in general valued cleanliness and neatness, but cared little for aesthetics, a quirk that appealed to Jason's pragmatic side. He was less pleased when he learned that prostitution was legal.

"I mean, come on!" he complained to Roland. "Isn't that pushing it?"

"What's the problem? Perhaps things are different back in the Land of the 'Free', but I certainly hope you don't take United States law as the Word of God."

"Of course I don't; I'm agnostic. But still. It's dirty! It's disgusting! It's detestable! It's downright dehumanizing!"

Roland smiled a little. "We'll see how you feel about that come puberty."

Jason glared at him. "Given, I'll change. But I doubt I'll go mad."

Speaking of sexual taboos, or rather, the lack thereof, Jason was quite relieved to find that his fears of Roland being a child molester were unfounded. By virtue of the politician's celebrity, a vast amount of information on him was readily available on Gyeeds's internet. He had no criminal record, and everything he'd told Jason was apparently true, up to and including his divorce and subsequent romantic disillusionment.

Still, Roland was by no means an adequate replacement for Jason's family. Back on Earth, he had a mother, father, and older sister. He'd shared bonds of love as well as blood with all of them. I have not dwelt upon them much, nor how Jason missed them, but I do so only in order to spare you. Do not think that he found the parting easy, or got over it quickly, for it tormented him countless times, when the hustle and bustle of the day were over and he lay in bed staring at the ceiling.

In his free time, he distracted himself from his preteen angst through recreation. One of Gyeeds's more unusual national pastimes was "Rogue", a computer game. Apparently, this was another thing that had long existed on Earth but Jason had never noticed. The player's objective in a game of "Rogue" was to retrieve a legendary magical artifact called the Amulet of Yendor from the deepest level of a hundred-floor underground dungeon and bring it back to surface. Along the way, the player had to battle monsters ranging from trolls to electric eels to skeletal dragons, while avoiding traps that could skewer a hapless adventurer on iron spikes or turn them into a frog. The fact that the dungeon was randomly generated, and that saved games were deleted as soon as they were restored, didn't make things any easier. It was a terribly difficult game, so difficult that although Roland had been a devout player for years, he'd never gotten close to winning. As for Jason, he was inevitably slaughtered by a pack of soldier ants every time he played.

"So," said Roland to Jason one evening, "we've lived together for a while now—about seven weeks, correct?"

"Get to the point, Roland."

"Fine, fine." he said, grinning. "Tomorrow, I'm going to attend an Earth convention, and I was wondering if you would accompany me."

"Hm. What would it be like?"

"We're renting a space not too far from here. Basically, it's a way to socialize with other scholars of Earth. Everybody will be dressed in the traditional garb of one Terran civilization or another, and attempting to speak Terran languages. I and a few other people will make speeches, there will be refreshments and activities, and that's about it. The whole thing should take about five hours, tops, and we can always leave early if you want to."

"Sounds kinda fun, actually. But wouldn't I get mobbed? I mean, it's the information age and everything. Surely the whole multiverse knows about how you adopted me by now. And I suppose they'd all kill to meet a real live Terran."

"Your fears are justified, but it won't be quite that bad. You see, I'm in a fairly powerful and prestigious position in a government that's responsible for over a billion people, but I would attract much less attention on a stroll through this city than Dick Cheney would visiting one of the least populous suburbs in your country. It's because of Gyeedian culture. We just don't worship famous people like the Terran West does; we believe that they deserve a reasonable amount of privacy. There aren't any paparazzi in Gyeeds, because there simply isn't any demand for their product."

"So I'd get stared at, but not harassed much?"

"Exactly. There won't be any dragons there to carry you off."

"Good to hear!" said Jason, laughing. "I'll be happy to come."

<However much Gyeedians may value cleanliness and privacy,> thought Jason, <they don't seem to venerate peace and quiet nearly so much.>

The convention was two hours in, and the hall was packed with people talking and shouting in a mishmash of languages, some easily recognizable to the boy's ears, some not. Although nobody had done anything patently offensive to Jason—not yet, at least—they were quite fascinated with him. Many of the attendees had shown up just to meet him. All those people shoving to get a peek at him and addressing him in Common, English, and Zazaki was beginning to take its toll on his sanity, and his hearing. He decided to find Roland and get out of there before his eardrums imploded.

As he doggedly burrowed his way through the crowd, he suddenly felt intensely cold. A moment later, he fell to the floor and blacked out.