Strangers in Strange Lands: Episode 7

Fennik is at his desk in his handsome office in one of elegant old stone buildings of New Washington University. He's getting tired of reading third year essays on the development of industrial motifs in twentieth century literature

Fennik finishes an essay that looks surprisingly like one he read last year and shoves the pile aside. He unlocks a desk drawer and takes out a file folder.

Fennik leafs through the folder and pulls out an announcement of an upcoming conference on Ancient literature and culture to take place in Nivet.

Fennik notices that Professor Farfel, from Eastern, will be there, pushing his ridiculous theory about romance and violence as the two prime archetypes of the Late Ancient period. He's surprised the old fart would consider visiting Simeland.

Fennik is somewhat smug about knowing what 'ambrov' in a name means, like this Professor Nattin ambrov Frihill, moderator of one of the panel discussions.

Fennik gets a slightly creepy feeling thinking about how many of the participants will be Simes, but bolsters his confidence with an assortment of noble platitudes about the universality of scholarship, and that both larities are the heirs of the Ancient world.

Fennik isn't sure how serious he is about going in-T, but he's finding the idea more interesting all the time.

Janeen bounces down the hall towards her major professor's office. She might be only a lowly grad student and teaching assistant, but she knows more about how to enjoy life than Fennik will ever know.

Janeen's bubbly personality is perhaps an odd match for Fennik, but her father is a younger son of a distant cousin, so her place was more or less assured.

Janeen was instructed to "bring the rest of the papers by as soon as you've finished the initial grading, the sooner the better", so she doesn't bother to knock, she simply bounces in with her usual good cheer.

Janeen: Hi, Professor Fennik. I've got the rest of the papers graded, here they... what's that?

Janeen's eyes are on the announcement.

Fennik grits his teeth at his student's excessive familiarity. She should wait to be invited in.

Fennik: Just another conference announcement.

Fennik casually slips it back into the folder, and drops the folder into the drawer.

Janeen: In Arreven? Neat!

Janeen speaks with considerable ~~ enthusiasm ~~

Fennik is surprised, not only that the student can read so rapidly upside down, but that she'd recognize the name.

Janeen: Don't they have a nice segment of the Ancient ruins there excavated? and some even restored?

Fennik: I believe so. Are you interested in archaeology?

Janeen: It depends on the era, really. The Arreven ruins are supposed to be one of the best known examples of late Ancient architecture, though.

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: The Degenerate Phase, I've heard it called. All that ugly concrete.

Janeen: No, really. My cousin's husband's friend saw them once, and he said they were spectacular.

Fennik: Hmm.

Fennik reaches for the papers Janeen is holding.

Janeen: And really, how can you understand how people thought, if you don't know how they lived?

Fennik: They tell us what was truly important to them in their literature.

Janeen hands over the papers.

Janeen: These are pretty much the same as the rest, but Jerwyn actually came up with an idea or two that were almost original.

Fennik: Original?

Fennik refrains from snorting. You can't expect originality from undergraduates.

Janeen: Yes, very. I don't say plausible, or even possible. But original, yes.

Janeen shrugs innocently.

Fennik has assigned this essay topic many times and would be astounded to find anything truly original to say about it.

Fennik leafs through the stack, looking for Jerwyn's paper.

Fennik: What does he have to say?

Janeen: It's not quite clear. It seems to deal with the uses of the color purple as a tool for character development, or growing mushrooms. I'm not sure which.

Fennik looks at Janeen, wondering if she's trying to pull his leg, or making a joke, or on drugs.

Fennik: Well, I'll be sure to read his contribution very carefully, then.

Janeen figures the paper is enough of a joke, all by itself.

Fennik places the pile of essays next to the ones he's currently working on.

Janeen: So are you going to present the material you've developed on transportation metaphors at Arreven?

Fennik: No. The deadline for paper submission is long past.

Janeen: Oh. A poster, then?

Fennik: Posters are for grad students and other novice scholars.

Fennik only submits to the best journals and conferences.

Janeen grins widely.

Janeen: Well, I'd be happy to present the preliminary material we've worked up, for a chance to see those ruins.

Fennik blinks.

Janeen has been in grad school long enough to know that travel funds aren't awarded unless one makes a presentation.

Fennik: You do realize that Arreven is in Nivet?

Janeen: Yeah, across the river from Niddlevale. That's how my cousin's husband's friend ended up there--he wanted to rent a cheaper warehouse than he could find in Niddlevale.

Fennik wonders whether he can justify a trip to Nivet to his colleagues by his obligation to induct a promising grad student into academic tribal customs in the form of The Conference and The Poster. He figures Janeen is widely regarded as requiring more reining in of her enthusiasms than most, strengthening his obligation.

Janeen doesn't appear fazed by the thought of such professional responsibilities, but then, she wasn't fazed by the thought of grad school, either, which shows how good her judgment is.

Fennik also realizes that he would have to ditch her somehow in order to slip off to the nearby First Year camp where Fridda is undergoing her orientation to in-T life.

Fennik: You do realize that you'd have to let a Sime take a donation from you in order to cross the border. What would your parents think of that?

Janeen: Ah, well, as to that...

Janeen shrugs.

Janeen: They haven't objected so far.

Fennik is startled. He didn't think that Janeen would... She seems like a decent girl, not... Well, grad student stipends aren't exactly generous, but still...

Janeen sees Fennik's disquiet.

Fennik: I'm sorry. I didn't realize your financial situation was that difficult.

Fennik has a queasy feeling partway between sympathy and disgust.

Janeen: It was that awful roommate of mine, last year. The Conditional Purist?

Fennik: Your roommate?

Janeen: She had firm ideas about what the Ancients were, and being a theology major, she didn't see why the opinions of someone who was actually familiar with some Ancient literature should matter.

Janeen: That was bad enough, but she was a horrible snoop, as well. Every time I wrote a paper that had anything which contradicted Conditional Purist theology, she invited in all her friends for a prayer meeting on my behalf.

Janeen: Have you ever tried to write a paper with six people singing hymns outside your door, at the top of their lungs?

Fennik: I'd think the other students in the building would object as well.

Janeen: It didn't make us popular, although many were sympathetic when I explained.

Janeen: The only way I was finally able to make her leave me alone was to convince her that I was a lost cause, spiritually speaking. Donating did the trick. In fact, she was so worried that my spiritual stain would prove contagious that she moved out.

Janeen: It was a lot quieter after that, and the donation payment nicely covered her half of the rent. So it all worked out very well, you see.

Janeen grins in a friendly fashion.

Fennik thinks Janeen must have been desperate, but figures donating would doubtless not be as unpleasant as the equally morally abhorrent (and financially rewarding) tactic of prostitution, from the CP point of view.

Fennik: And you've... continued to donate?

Fennik denies to himself that he has a prurient interest, and after all, the student seems very comfortable talking about it.

Janeen: Yeah. After that disaster, I wasn't very enthusiastic about finding another roommate. It's much pleasanter to have the place all to myself, such as it is.

Fennik would like to hear more about donating, but isn't sure how to encourage her without sounding like he has too much interest in it.

Fennik: I see.

Janeen: It impresses some of the guys, too. The kind who like adventure.

Fennik: Really?

Fennik thinks a girl might be impressed by a boy's machismo in donating, but a decent young man would think a young woman who did something like that except out of dire financial necessity as... well...

Janeen: Yeah. I had a guy from the Wilderness Exploration Club floored by it, last Saturday night. He goes hiking for miles through ruins and wilderness that sometimes contains real berserkers, and he was impressed that I catch the cross-town bus to see a channel.

Janeen shakes her head in wonder.

Fennik: Aren't you concerned that such people might... think less of you for donating?

Janeen: Well, some do, I guess. But mostly, it's a way to get rid of the ones I'm not interested in. I even got rid of the door-to-door evangelists, by taping a donation receipt to my door.

Janeen winks.

Fennik isn't sure whether to be more appalled that Janeen donates or that she is so willing to admit it, but then suddenly jerks himself back to his new reality -- it's Gens like Janeen who are keeping Fridda alive.

Fennik: It's... altruistic of you to help Simes you don't even know this way.

Janeen: Well, I have to admit, I probably wouldn't have started doing it, if I hadn't been desperate to stop the prayer meetings. But it's a good feeling, to know it helps someone.

Fennik: I suppose that compensates for doing something so unpleasant.

Janeen: Oh, it's not so bad, once you get used to it.

Fennik's arms twitch slightly, as he imagines those slimy tentacles... slimy tentacles like his dear Fridda now has...

Janeen: And most of the channels I've met are almost painfully polite about it.

Fennik wonders whether it might not be easier to just go ahead and donate than to try to get an exemption if he goes in-T, especially if he can arrange that nobody knows he did it.

Janeen: I suppose they can't afford to drive off the customers. I mean, there are still a lot of people who get upset at the sight of a tentacle, much less the feel.

Fennik has a sudden urge to tell Janeen about Fridda, which he represses as a sign of emotional instability. Going through a change of long-held views is slow, painful and confusing.

Janeen: The weird thing is, some of them actually support the idea of donating, as long as it's somebody else doing it.

Janeen is still young enough to find that contradictory.

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: Most people are glad we have a good army, but they wouldn't want to be soldiers themselves.

Janeen: Well, that's different. Soldiering is a skill, and a specialized one. Donating doesn't require anything but a reasonably healthy body. Well, and a skilled channel, but that's not the same thing.

Fennik is becoming surprisingly comfortable with the idea of donating, but when he imagines the grotty details, it still seems demeaning. He's also inhibited by thoughts of what his colleagues might think of him, and especially the reactions of his brother-in-law, Ruthven Tsibola.

Fennik: So you think you might like to present a poster at this conference?

Janeen grins ~~ eagerly ~~

Janeen: Sure. That translation I've been working on has given me some ideas about how the Ancients viewed certain aspects of technology. It's a bit rough, still, but I think it can be polished up by then.

Fennik takes the announcement out of the file folder and offers it to Janeen.

Fennik: Have a look at this, and give me a draft of your poster before the weekend. I'll look into funding.

Janeen takes the packet.

Fennik: I don't suppose you speak Simelan, but it's a border town, so that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Janeen: Gee, thanks, Professor Fennik. I'll get it written as soon as I finish my afternoon class. I don't know more than a dozen or so Simelan words, but there are translating dictionaries.

Janeen says this in blithe ignorance of the sadistic twists of Simelan syntax.

Fennik: It should be a broadening experience for you, to meet some of our colleagues from other territories.

Janeen: Do they have a tour of the ruins as part of the conference?

Fennik: I don't know. It should be in there.

Janeen: I wouldn't want to miss out on a chance to see them.

Fennik: I'm sure it can be arranged.

Janeen: Thank you, Professor Fennik! It's going to be a great trip!

Fennik smiles, waves her off, and goes back to his pile of essays.

Janeen bounces out of the office, eager to get back to her own desk, in a room shared with six other grad students, and read through the package.

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