Strangers in Strange Lands: Episode 1

Marvin is traveling for what seems the ten thousandth time on the train toward New Washington. He finds the Sime car in this particular train a little bit better than average. At least there are proper seats, not benches or -- worse yet -- boxes.

Marvin's Donor has been lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the train; Marvin, though the motion doesn't actually make him sick any more, is certainly not able to sleep through it.

Marvin instead tries to softly hum the elusive tune that keeps going through his head, but that he isn't able to pin down. There's no need to worry about waking up his Donor, who could probably sleep through a hurricane. Fortunately, he doesn't snore.

Marvin notes abstractedly that the train has stopped, but since he isn't getting off here, doesn't pay much attention.

Ziggar approaches the Sime car, feeling ~~ disgusted ~~and ~~ disgruntled ~~ but expertly smoothes his nager to ~~neutral ~~ before ~~ signaling ~~ at the door and entering. He's a Gen of somewhat weatherbeaten appearance with a bushy beard that's almost completely grey.

Ziggar: G'day. You guys mind if I ride back here with you?

Ziggar speaks Simelan with a native speaker's proficiency.

Marvin does a quick zlin and detects the remnants of the Gen's emotional upset, but sees no problem with having him around.

Marvin: Not a bit. There's plenty of room.

Marvin makes a somewhat incautious arm gesture, but manages not to pinch anything.

Ziggar takes a seat facing Marvin and drops his backpack on the floor.

Marvin: I'm Marvin Gardener of the Selyn Transport Service, and this sleepy lump is my Donor, Renols.

Ziggar: I was about to brush tentacles with you but I see they got you locked up. Will fingers do?

Ziggar offers his hand in greeting.

Marvin reaches out and touches fingers.

Ziggar: I'm Ziggar. First time I been out-T. Hell of a place.

Marvin sighs.

Marvin: It certainly can be. I take it there was some sort of incident in another car?

Ziggar: Well, I was riding up near the front, there, doing just fine. Then some Gens got on with a big bunch of kids. Some kind of school trip or something. So they got all settled in and the Gens got the kids singing some songs. I figured that was good, because I collect songs.

Marvin raises his eyebrow and nods his head.

Ziggar: Some of the songs had real good tunes, too. Good rhythm, catchy stuff. Now my Genlan is pretty good, but they speak it different around here from what I'm used to, so I had a little trouble figuring out the words.

Marvin: Naturally. I'm a native speaker, and even I have some trouble with dialects.

Ziggar: Then when I did figure them out, I couldn't believe what I was hearing! Here they had all these kids singing all this hateful stuff about murdering all the evil Simes. And a lot of those kids were gonna be Simes some day, too.

Marvin winces but manages to keep his field steady. It's nothing new, after all.

Ziggar: Well, one of the Gens come over and asked did I want to sing along with them, and I told him I wouldn't sing those songs even if I knew them.

Marvin sighs again.

Marvin: I sympathize.

Ziggar: Yeah, I can get along with almost anybody, but this guy... well, first he was sorry for me, that I had been a slave to snakes all my life. I tried to tell him it wasn't like that, but he just wasn't interested.

Marvin laughs rather hollowly.

Marvin: [sings] When will they ever learn? When will they e----ver learn?

Ziggar: After a while he decided that I must be some kind of demon myself, and he started ranting at me, that I should redeem myself. I couldn't figure how he meant, maybe shooting some of those poor little kids, for all I know.

Ziggar: Anyhow, I started to get a bit upset myself, and I told him that my parents killed every month, my wife killed once in her life, my children never killed and never will, nor my grandchildren, and hell if I was ever gonna shoot a helpless child in changeover. So us demons had got somewhere in the last forty years, even if he hadn't.

Marvin: [dryly] I can imagine how well he took to you after that.

Ziggar: Yeah. I told him I'd rather ride with decent people like most of the Simes I know than with a murdering lorsh like him. So I come back here.

Ziggar has kept his nager ~~ smooth ~~ and ~~ undisturbing ~~ throughout his tale, just allowing enough emotion in to flavor the telling.

Marvin: Well, there's nothing we can do except try to change the world, one hindbrain at a time. Or wait for the junct Gens, as you might say, to die off. And of course with some of them in charge of kids, that's not going to happen for a long, long time.

Ziggar sighs.

Ziggar: Yeah, I guess so. Glad I was able to bring up my kids without all that hatred. It was real hard for my wife to get over it.

Marvin: I'm a disjunct myself, as it happens, which is the main reason they have me doing this work.

Ziggar: You're one of them mules, right? Must be hard being out here all the time. At least my wife could stay in-T.

Ziggar offers some ~~ sympathy ~~ and ~~ fellow feeling ~~

Marvin: Mules, exactly. But I also escort new Simes in-T from the out-T Sime Centers, and that part of the job is very satisfying.

Marvin smiles his patented thousand-dynopter smile.

Ziggar: I guess you see what those poor kids go through all the time, then, even if they don't kill. And you know yourself what it's like.

Marvin: I do, I do. I would say that in the last few years, though, the number of disjuncts is going down. I myself would have been nonjunct if it weren't for incredibly bad luck and bad timing.

Marvin deliberately stifles himself before he tells the story again in four-part harmony.

Ziggar: Yeah? How'd that happen?

Ziggar likes to hear people's life stories.

Marvin: I was almost into Sime Territory, probably technically was in it, and safety, when a stranger came down the road and got a little too close to me.

Marvin: I hunted and killed him -- technically, I drained him, but it comes to the same thing -- woke up junct, and made my way to the nearest in-T town, where the Tecton took charge of me.

Ziggar: Shidoni. Channels change over a lot faster than renSimes, right. You would have made it if you'd been renSime.

Marvin: Exactly. I went through the channel's version of disjunction camp, got my secondary system stretched to the size of a weather balloon, and was assigned to this work.

Ziggar: My wife changed over just after the Unity War. She killed and headed for the border. She went through disjunction with a bunch of in-T renSimes who weren't real pleased at being made to live as perverts instead of killing every month like a normal Sime.

Ziggar: Needless to say, she didn't get a lot of sympathy from either the other kids or most of the staff, bunch of semi-junct channels, mostly.

Marvin: I can see where that could have been really ... ugly.

Ziggar: She was a mess by the time she got out of there. Hated herself, hated her life, hated her future. Of course, I wasn't in much better shape myself. Those first years after Unity, those were desperate times.

Marvin: By all I hear, they were indeed, both in-T and out. As the Gen child of juncts, you couldn't have had it easy yourself.

Ziggar: Don't see how it was any different out-T, but yeah, it was a time of big changes. I established just a couple months after they got a channel at the local Pen. Most Simes figured it wasn't permanent, the channel was there mostly to get them through Gen shortages. There'd been a few of those, some people died of attrition, and there were a couple of Sime kills, so people were glad that was over at least.

Marvin: Sime kills, urgh. Zelerod's Doom in miniature.

Ziggar: A lot of people joined the army just because they heard the army was getting priority for Gens. Or they just took off, figuring it had to be better elsewhere. A lot of them never came back, so maybe it was worse.

Ziggar: The way I found out I'd established was I come down to breakfast and my father and my sister grabbed me and tied me up and threw me in the wagon and took me to the Pen, for the bounty.

Marvin nods.

Ziggar: They were buying Gens then, to fight the black market in kills, as well as taking out any Sime who killed a Gen who wasn't a Pen Gen. Later they just made it a credit against taxes.

Ziggar: So the channel there, a Third Order junct from the army, untied me and threw me in with the cage of Pen Gens they issued him for selyn for the village. Pregnant breeders, most of them.

Marvin thinks someone with this background shouldn't be surprised at what a hell out-T can be.

Ziggar: They had those channels mostly on channel's transfer those days, and I stayed in that Pen with those mindless Pen Gens, as drugged as they were, until the channel came to serve the local guy and took me out. He took me to a training camp for Gens, where they taught us how to live around Simes, and how to stop a Sime before he could kill us.

Ziggar makes a motion suggestive of crushing a Sime's lateral nodes.

Ziggar: See, they needed us Gens to stay in-T for our selyn more than they needed the juncts.

Marvin gains some insight from this into just where the Tecton acquired its ruthless streak.

Ziggar: So I got out of there after a few months with a change of clothes, a blanket and a few days food. Hell if I was gonna go back home and be nothing but a selyn producing animal. I figured I'd head for Capital, see what I could do there.

Ziggar: And on the way I met a Sime woman just out of disjunction camp. We were both miserable. She wanted more than anything to have established, and I wanted more than anything to have changed over.

Marvin: [dryly] Very neat. Very symmetrical.

Ziggar: Yeah, in more ways than one.

Marvin: Really? How so?

Ziggar: Well, I had the income from the donations - nobody was going to hire a Gen them days. So we could live pretty good on that and whatever she could bring in from what work she could find after the selyn taxes

Marvin: Oh, I see. I guess there were a lot of Sime-Gen pairs living together in that situation, those that could overcome their, well, ingrained attitudes about it. But you were an in-T Gen and she was an out-T Sime, so that wasn't such a big problem, eh?

Ziggar: Yeah. To me she was the way people were supposed to be, and I was the same for her. She didn't see me as an animal and I didn't see her as a demon.

Marvin: Exactly. But I note how you say "was". Are you still together?

Marvin suspects Ziggar's wife is dead, but doesn't want to ask directly.

Ziggar: We were together for twenty-seven years, raised four good children, but she's been dead for some time now. Kids are all grown up and settled now, got five grandchildren already, so now I mostly travel and collect songs. Sing 'em too. Get room and board lots of places that way.

Marvin: I can see how that would be a good idea. So you decided to collect some songs in English, too?

Ziggar: My daughter and her husband are out here for a few months, told me to come out and visit them, so I thought I'd have a look at the other kind of territory. I don't think there'd be much call for me to perform though - nobody to appreciate the nageric accompaniment.

Marvin: Well, I'm sorry you had your nose rubbed in the very worst of it.

Ziggar: I expect I'll see plenty of that before I'm home again. You'd think the Unity War was fought for nothing, judging by that lorsh back there. But most people are not too different from back home, except they're all Gens.

Marvin: Or, from their point of view, all human. But you're right, people are people wherever you go.

Ziggar: I did like some of those tunes. I'll think about what other words I can put to them.

Marvin: Sounds good to me. I've heard a song or two with more than one set of words, I think.

Ziggar: Oh, yeah. And the other way around too, same words to more than one tune. Traveling around I hear a lot of that. You pick up any songs out here that you like?

Marvin: I can't say I have, really. I do have a lot of tunes that sort of come into my head, but there aren't any words attached to 'em.

Ziggar: I'd like to hear some of them, if it won't wake up your Donor there.

Marvin: Okay.

Marvin hums a slow dirge (Beethoven's 7th Symphony, second movement): daa-da-da-daa-daa, da-da-daaaa, da-da-da-da-da

Marvin: Kind of too irregular to fit ordinary words to, I guess.

Ziggar: Dunno. Maybe I can do something with it. Not the sort of thing they'd go for in a porstan parlor, though.

Marvin: Not hardly. Most of my tunes seem to be kind of slow like that. Here's a brighter one:

Marvin sings, rather than humming, the "Eroica" theme:

Marvin: Daah-deh-daa-doo-da-de-di-da, doo doh!

Ziggar laughs.

Ziggar: Well, that is a bit livelier. But what gets the audience going is something like this:

She walked through the maize
Leading up to the forest.
Her hair shone like bronze
In the red evening sun.

Ziggar accompanies his singing with a skillful projection of ~~ admiration of beauty ~~ and a tasteful zlin of ~~ sexual attraction ~~

Marvin: [to the same tune]

He waited behind
A convenient tree-stump
Watching her walk
In the hope of some fun.

Ziggar laughs again.

Ziggar: Well, I think I like my words better. That's one of my showpieces. I do a real complex progression of nageric projections with it and everybody loves it, even the Gens. It has some nice language in it: "tentacles like young snakes" and "laterals like hot wet silk", stuff like that.

Marvin bows from the waist.

Marvin: I didn't mean to interrupt. Please do go on -- I'd love to hear and zlin it.

Ziggar: Naw, it works better with a bigger audience. Like some of the real foot-stompers, "A Gen Named Kaali", "Zeor Geckos" and "Plastic Zeor".

Marvin: Yes, the joint nager of a crowd can be quite overwhelming even without porstan. That's something a Sime in a Gen city like New Washington really finds out quickly. I zlin you know just what I mean.

Ziggar: Last winter I was up at the Snake River Dam project, singing at coffeehouses. You mix Simes with a bunch of Gens full of caffeine and you get a shendi-fleckin lively crowd.

Marvin: [clinically] The way you can make your nager match the meanings of the words is very impressive, especially for a general-class donor.

Ziggar: I started learning to use my nager to help my wife, and then I found out I could use it to make money.

Ziggar: See, we always had a few out-T Simes sleeping on our floor, people who didn't have any place to stay while they got settled in to Capital. So I said to my wife, look, you aren't making much working out, let's start a boarding house.

Marvin: Get to meet a lot of different kinds that way, I guess.

Ziggar: So we rented a bigger place, and built some beds and things out of scrap lumber mostly and started selling room and board. And together with the food, they got a Gen convincing them it was delicious and they should eat it up, and if they were cranky with need, they got a Gen convincing them they should stay calm.

Ziggar: You know out-T it's mostly women who cook, so my wife knew how to make stuff taste good and she taught me. So I did the cooking and serving and broke up the fights, and she did most of the rest.

Marvin: Wow. Did you get any in-T Gens staying with you as well?

Ziggar: Yeah, after a while, we got a few. It's a good mix, out-T Simes and in-T Gens. Most of the Gens were so timid they stayed at the Tecton hostels, sort of high class Gen farms I figured they were, but some wanted to make more of a life for themselves, like me.

Ziggar: Of course, things are real different now, but in those days... well, most Simes were junct, even if they were only getting a kill or two per year. They were junct in their minds. We'd only take nonjunct and disjunct in our boarding house - they made less trouble for us and it made the Gens feel safer, too.

Marvin: I know what you mean. Not really committed to disjunction, or semi-junction, whatever.

Ziggar: In those first years a lot of the juncts were still hoping they could go back to mostly kills like the good old days.

Marvin: I can understand why. Even if they didn't know what lay ahead of them, they knew the bottom had fallen out of their lives.

Ziggar: Some of them became real semi-juncts. They were still junct in body, but in their minds they weren't. They suffered the worst, and died sooner than the ones who just kept thinking of Gens as animals and enjoyed the few kills they got.

Marvin is thinking "Life is not fair" but is shenned if he'll utter such a cliche to someone who's seen what Ziggar has seen.

Marvin: Say, what you said about out-T Simes staying with you before you opened the boarding house reminded me of a song I heard once, maybe you know it? "Pallet On The Floor?"

Ziggar: Not by that name. How does it go?

Marvin sings to a rollicking tune

Oh, you made me a pallet on the floor
Yes, you made me a pallet on the floor
I had no place to go
You opened up your door
And you [beat] made me a pallet on the floor.

Ziggar: I like it. Hadn't heard it in Simelan. Is it an out-T song?

Marvin: It could be, I really don't know. I've never heard it here. The next verse is something like this, but I may not have the words quite right:

I was broke and so dissatisfied
I was broke and so dissatisfied
I was broke and dissatisfied
And I damn nearly died
But you [beat] made me a pallet on the floor.

Marvin: Sounds like someone who couldn't pay his selyn taxes. So if there's an out-T version, it's probably a bit different. The last verse I know goes:

So do not turn the stranger from your home
So do not turn the stranger from your home
Don't turn us from your home
The day may come when you will roam
Looking for a pallet on the floor.

Ziggar: Good tune. I'll look for more verses. I wonder if it's a Gulf song. Most of what I know is from Nivet, but I picked up some from Norwest last winter. Mostly junct words, old songs, but good tunes.

Marvin: Any that come to mind? [lightly] I promise not to get offended....

Ziggar: Well, there used to be a family in Norwest that pretty much ran things over a big area. They called themselves Audnes, but it turned out a lot of them were Farrises. They had a lot of supporters who tried to drive the Tecton out so they could take over again. I got a few of their songs. Here's one of the worst:

In the fields of Old Othwol
All covered with grain
We lost the true way there
It went down the drain.

We all lost the way there
When the Tecton came in.
Without Tuib Audnes
What a bad fix we're in.

With old Tuib Audnes
We always had kills
He kept us in work
And looked after the bills.

Marvin's jaw drops; he quickly covers it with his hand while waiting to see if there's any more.

Ziggar: Poor quality propaganda, eh?

Marvin: My friend, I thought I knew the depths of depravity to which the junct mentality could sink. But I see I was wrong. "Over the top" would be way too modest for that stinker. That said, I have heard the tune before.

On top of my prokies
All covered with cheese
I lost all my veggies
When somebody sneezed.
Something like that, anyhow. Kids sing that here out-T.

Ziggar: [laughs] Shuven! That's not much better, but at least it isn't junct!

Marvin smiles his sardonic smile.

Ziggar: You up to another Audnes rebellion song? A more convincing one?

Marvin: Definitely, or as they say here, [English] You betcha.

Ziggar: This one is called "Died For Being Sime". They had a different idea of what a Sime was, of course.

My parents died as semi-juncts.
Now isn't that a crime?
And when their kids established
They didn't fetch a dime.

Worked hard on the Audnes farms
For all their lifetimes.
And where was Tuib Audnes then?
He'd died for bein' Sime.

Ziggar: This Tuib Audnes died during one of the uprisings. His son kept working at it, but later on he died in prison. His grandson is still alive -- a Tecton channel. A Farris.

Marvin: Hmm. I know that tune as well. Is there a chorus?

Ziggar: I don't know it. People who were singing it didn't like me hearing them.

Marvin: Yeah, I can see that. Anyhow, it's a kid's courting song out-T, at least where I was brought up. There's lots of verses, but I only remember one or two:

I wish I was an apple
A-hanging on a tree
And every time my sweetheart passed
She'd take a bite of me.
There are a few extra notes, but it's pretty much the same tune, eh?

Ziggar: Kind of funny that these guys would get the tune from an out-T song, and a cheerful one like that, too. I'll try to get more verses to that one while I'm out here.

Marvin: The chorus goes:

Get along home, Sindi, Sindi,
Get along home, Sindi, Sindi,
Get along home, Sindi, Sindi,
I'll marry you some day.
That's why I was asking about the chorus to this Audnes version.

Ziggar: Huh. Well, maybe someday I'll find the chorus for the Norwest version.

Marvin: I suspect if we put all the tunes on both sides of the border together, we'd find many or most of 'em are known on both sides. After all, there have been border crossers for centuries -- it stands to reason they'd bring their good tunes with 'em, even if the words got lost.

Ziggar: Yeah. Like that story about the soldiers at the end of the Siege of Shen all singing their own words to "Sime and Gen Forever". I got some Gen versions of Simelan songs last winter. Lot of out-T Gens on the project.

Ziggar: You know "Knock On The Door" where the parent takes the kid who just established to the border, and years later there's a knock on the door, and it's the Sime grandchild? They sing it the other way around out-T.

Marvin: Huh. I didn't know there was an in-T version; I grew up with the out-T one.

Ziggar: Yeah, the translation is pretty close, and both of 'em scan.

Marvin: Cool. It's anyone's guess, I guess, which one is really the original.

Ziggar: Dunno. Lots of Simes took their Gen kids to the border, but mostly the Sime kids of Gens ran for their lives. Hard to imagine sending your kid in-T where he'd kill and kill and kill. So maybe it was wishful thinking on the part of the Simes that inspired that song. You grew up out here, what do you think?

Marvin: Good point. I never thought of it that way. So I guess the version I learned can't predate Unity, and is a translation of the Simelan one.

Ziggar: I suppose the Genlan version is a little ambiguous about how much help the new Sime had to escape, so it could well be wishful thinking for the Gen, that a child was lost to changeover, but a Gen grandchild will return as a replacement.

Marvin is caught up short by this.

Marvin: "I suppose"? You haven't collected the English version, then?

Ziggar: Do you remember it? Will you sing it for me?

Marvin: Sure.

Marvin sings it.

Ziggar: Sounds like the parent knows the child has crossed the border, but doesn't say how he knows.

Marvin: I see what you mean.

Ziggar: The Simelan version is more explicit.

Ziggar sings the song in Simelan, with skillful and artistic nageric accompaniment.

Ziggar: See? It's explicit: "took my child". Despite the law, too.

Marvin: No doubt about it. It's a pretty impressive translation job, then.

Ziggar: Must have been smoothed out over many years and many singers.

Marvin: I guess so. Most of the out-T songs I know are children's songs, and I've forgotten most parts of them. But here's one that's more serious, that I actually learned in-T from another disjunct at a, well, a meeting I went to:

Marvin sings "Hard Times Come Again No More" for Ziggar as best he remembers it, which is pretty accurate.

Ziggar: Good song. Good lyrics, too. I wonder whether I can put it into Simelan and keep that... ambient... it's got. I got lots of time to work on these things, now I'm retired.

Marvin: That would be very tough, but it's sure worth trying. I guess you telling me your story made me think of it.

Ziggar: Those were hard times, but you know, we had hopes. And those things we hoped for pretty much came true.

Marvin nods.

Ziggar: For my kids, well, it wasn't the kind of agony we went through, not knowing whether we'd change over or establish, but for my grandkids, or their kids, maybe it really won't matter much in their lives whether they're Sime or Gen.

Marvin: I think you're quite right, in-T. But most of the world, and most of the people in it, are in Gen Territory. And that's where the real work will have to be done. One hindbrain at a time, as I said before.

Ziggar: I think the hard part for me out here is going to be talking to the children. I know they can have good lives as Simes in-T, but they're not going to survive changeover out here, except for a few lucky ones, and a few who kill.

Marvin: Yes. And the further the train takes you toward New Washington, the lower the chances of survival will be. In the capital itself, there are Sime Centers, but there are also a lot more children.

Ziggar: I'm going to some town called Clear Springs. Other side of New Washington somewhere. They've got a college but no Sime Center.

Marvin: Huh. Never heard of it. I hope you pick up some good stuff there, though.

Ziggar: Yeah. I hope so.

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