18: Curious Questions
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After the third cat, Ariana said doubtfully, "I don't think I'm really doing anything useful here. I should probably go back to my space and take on a job."

Danika looked back at the cat who still gazed after them, even though it shouldn't be able to see their celestial forms after they deactivated their interaction mode, and then nodded. "I suppose so," she agreed. "But having you here to explain what the 'interact in place' probably meant, since Lin Hao logged out of his character and didn't come back, really was helpful."

"I don't really understand why he's having you go around asking them things like, 'why is the sky blue' though," Ariana complained.

Danika shrugged. "I think he's trying to see if they'll take action to find out? Or maybe he asked some of these questions before and he's looking for changes in their replies?" she suggested.

"Maybe," Ariana agreed uncertainly. "We should probably stop for lunch too, that guy really talked a lot once Devon got him started."

"I hadn't realized how late it is," Danika admitted.

--

When Danika logged out for lunch, Lin Hao still hadn't logged back in. Shinichi was free to text with her though, even though they couldn't talk on the phone because he'd been told not to use his voice before the concert again.

Danika questioned worriedly: "Are you ok?"

He replied instantly: "I'm fine! Are you eating something good?"

She laughed, and changed what she was reaching for. She promised: "I will," and described her breakfast that morning.

Shinichi described the city the band was visiting, and the curious way that antiquated buildings from previous centuries stood alongside modern structures that usually dwarfed them. The most interesting thing to him was that those sites weren't always closed off and turned into historical sites, they were often functioning as active housing for current businesses.

By the time she finished her lunch, her cheerful mood from the beginning of the day had been restored.

--

After she returned to her workspace, Danika turned to her celestial dragon assistant and instructed it, "This time stay hidden, and I'll go as a cat."

"Understood," her assistant replied cheerfully.

Danika changed herself into a cat, although not the same one as ZipZing shifted into, since she could choose any attributes from her work account she went as a grey seal point.

She approached the next cat on the list, a seemingly ordinary calico in a small town to the south of the human capital. The calico ignored her in pretty much the same manner the first three had until she asked, "Why do fish swim?"

The cat turned it's head and glared at her with slitted eyes.

"Okay, it's kind of a silly question, since it's not like they're going to walk around," Danika admitted. "But maybe it means why do they keep swimming instead of just relaxing and floating around?"

"You do not even know what your question asks?" the calico asked with amusement.

Danika blinked. Somehow she didn't think it was a good idea to admit that she was asking a question that someone else had told her to ask. "Someone asked me, but I can't figure out the right answer," she hedged.

"Ask fish," the calico instructed, and closed its eyes to indicate that it was done with the conversation.

There were three more questions, but Danika trotted away instead of asking them. She noted the cat's logical response and that she hadn't asked the last three questions.

Giving the strange little survey to the 20 cats on the list didn't take as long as Danika had expected. The most interesting answers were given by the snow leopard guardian of the western vault.

To why the sky is blue, the leopard replied, "I have decided that perhaps that is the underbelly color of the largest celestial dragon that circles the world beyond the moon."

To why a fish swims, the leopard replied, "It doesn't, it flies." When Danika asked, she explained, "I asked a fish once, and it said that it flies rather than crawling upon the ground. It thought the water was air. It breathes it, so maybe it is to a fish."

--

Once Danika had marked the job complete, her queue was opened back up to the usual job submissions from the system and tech support.

While she worked her way through the next request, which had been generated by the system and was presented as a complaint from the God of Balance, she thought about how the system as a whole would do with Lin Hao's curiosity questions.

Did the system still count as a purely responsive intelligence? The traveling merchant was a fairly integral part of the system, as she understood it, but he wasn't the part that actually created the quests. As soon as she thought that, she started to wonder if that were really true.

After she finished tweaking the seaweed that had been created with the ocean expansion, so that it stopped invading the older sections so successfully, Danika called up an instance of the traveling merchant again.

The traveling merchant smiled cheerfully and asked teasingly, "Are you going to ask me why the sky is blue?"

Danika gazed at him in surprise, and then replied laughingly, "Yes! What's your answer?" She quickly swiped across her menus and made sure her workspace log was turned on.

"It's the color that your eyes see best when the air refracts the sunlight, from above. The sunlight is the same color at sunset, it just travels farther through the air, so the color appears to shift," the merchant explained knowledgeably.

Danika couldn't help but laugh. She understood why the traveling merchant would give a real answer, when the cats seemed to have been left to come up with their own. But the answer he gave seemed incongruous with the world of Living Jade Empire, when compared to those of the snow leopard guardian.

She went ahead and asked the merchant all of the questions, just to be consistent, and then asked him what she'd summoned him for, "Do you create quests for people?"

The merchant hesitated and then answered simply, "Yes."

Danika blinked at him. After a moment she realized that she hadn't clarified anything. "I mean, do you create all of the quests for people within the empire?"

"No," he replied immediately.

"Who creates the other quests?" Danika questioned when he didn't expound upon his answer.

The merchant hesitated again, and then replied, "There are conflicts in the information I have on that subject. I think it is likely that they are being created by Celestial Servants such as yourself."

She regarded him with wide eyes. "That's probably true for many of them," she agreed after a long moment. "The repeatable ones are like that?"

The merchant smiled at her, and waited patiently for her next question. He wouldn't wait so patiently if she were playing as ZipZing and they stood within the empire, but the difference only seemed to emphasize that he really was a reactive NPC.

"Is something bothering you?" he questioned after she was silent for too long.

Danika gave him a wry smile and replied honestly, "I guess I've just been hoping that you were," she hesitated for a moment, searching for words that would contain it besides 'alive', "a person who takes the initiative."

"Most people actually find that annoying in a merchant," the merchant informed her cheerfully.

She nodded, and said, "Yeah, I didn't really mean in the way you do your job." She dismissed him and began the next job in her queue.

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