Nick has an afternoon off, before he can catch his next train on the way to Sat'htine. He could go hang out at the local Sime Center, but despite his Farris-trained nager, he still feels like an intruder among the graduates of real Tecton training camps. He's well aware that in the absence of Farris channels desperate for big-nagered Donors, his ignorance of Tecton protocols can be more of a liability than an asset.
Nick is therefore taking advantage of his free time by returning to his roots. Dressed in the old denims and worn shirt of a common agricultural laborer, he's wandering the less well-to-do part of town, looking for a suitable watering spot.
Nick pauses outside the Gravy Train, which looks like it serves water which has a suitable percentage of ethanol mixed in.
Ziggar finishes his mug of tea and goes back to the front corner of the tavern to perform a relaxed set for the small afternoon crowd. He settles himself and begins a traditional melody about a shepherd watching his sheep and dreaming of his true love.
Nick wanders inside, drawn by the promise of entertainment, feeling much more at home than he has in quite a while.
Arnya, who has been washing mugs behind the bar, turns to zlin as the door opens. Her laterals twitch in their sheaths as the delightfully substantial nager walks in.
Ziggar's song describes the beauty of the mountains, the white clouds drifting by in the warm sunshine. ~~ peace ~~ calm ~~ beauty ~~
Nick's nager is ~~ politely neutral ~~ and ~~ almost Zeor disciplined ~~, and he's not even midfield, but his nager still doesn't match his clothing.
Arnya: Hello, Sosu. Welcome to the Gravy Train. What are you drinking?
Nick surveys the board hanging behind the bar.
Nick: Porstan, to start with, I think. Are there any pretzels to go with it?
Arnya: No, but we've got crackers, peanuts, and stew. The stew's good.
Ziggar continues singing of the golden grasses, the dark conifers, the distant snowcapped peaks, while wondering what a Tecton Donor is doing in a joint like this, dressed like that. Well, he's probably a Third.
Arnya pours a porstan and smiles ~~ encouragingly ~~ .
Nick returns her smile -- and it is 75% Riyyh.
Nick: I'll try the stew, then.
Arnya: Coming right up.
Arnya, whose costume emphasizes what few curves she has, smiles again.
Ziggar's next verses have the shepherd ~~ melancholy ~~ over his solitary state, far from his beloved. ~~ sadness ~~ longing ~~
Arnya: There you go.
Nick carefully keeps his nager contained, so as not to spoil the artistry of Ziggar's performance.
Nick: Thank you.
Arnya places the bowl of stew in front of her new customer and lets her hand rest ~~ casually ~~ on the bar alongside it.
Nick passes over a few coins to cover his tab, plus a generous tip.
Arnya makes the money vanish and smiles yet again.
Arnya: Haven't seen you in here before, Sosu.
Ziggar describes the beauty of the shepherd's absent sweetheart, her spare body, her flowing rich brown hair, her ruby lips, her delicate and graceful tentacles. ~~ yearning ~~
Nick picks up the porstan and sips.
Nick: It's Nick. And I'm just passing through.
Arnya lets a graceful tentacle curl towards the customer, pausing an inch away from the stew bowl.
Nick never has gotten used to having a title; neither Snake nor Arat was in the habit of referring to him as "Sosu".
Arnya: Nick. Good to meet you.
Arnya tilts her head. Her hair isn't rich or flowing, but it is brown.
Nick nods towards the musician.
Nick: He's good. Does he perform here regularly?
Arnya: Only once in a while. He's one of our best, though.
Ziggar proceeds with a verse that lets him display his talents well, in which the shepherd describes his lover's favorable personality traits: her ~~ kindness ~~, her ~~ loving ~~ nature, her ~~ sincerity ~~, her ~~ trueness ~~ of heart, her sense of ~~ humor ~~, her ~~ optimism ~~ even when in need, her ~~ reliable ~~ comfort ~~ for her beloved.
Nick settles back to enjoy the song.
Arnya is doing her best to zlin ~~ kind ~~ , ~~ loving ~~ , and ~~ sincere ~~ . She offers a ~~ comforting ~~ optimistic ~~ and ~~ humorous ~~ smile.
Ziggar hums a chorus, projecting the nager of a true paragon of a lover.
Nick notices that Arnya seems to be hovering very closely.
Arnya lets one dorsal curve towards the masculine arm that rests on the counter, pausing a finger's breadth away.
Nick is feeling very ~~ comfortable ~~ in this lower-class setting.
Ziggar notices that his song seems to be having an exaggerated effect on Arnya and decides to skip the verses in which the shepherd graphically describes the pleasures of making love with his beloved.
Nick takes a bite of the stew.
Nick: This is good. Is that sweetness yams?
Arnya: It is indeed. And just a touch of honey. It's our best recipe.
Nick: My compliments to the chef.
Arnya isn't sure what it is about this customer. It's more than just his nager. Maybe it's his smile. Or something about his body language. Or maybe just his wallet.
Arnya: I'll tell him.
Arnya leans over the bar.
Ziggar continues with the shepherd ~~ longing ~~ for autumn, when the sheep will be brought down from the mountains, and he will again be with his beloved. ~~ yearning ~~ resignation ~~ sweet melancholy ~~
Arnya: Must be lonely, traveling for the Tecton all the time.
Nick: It's no worse than following the crops.
Ziggar concludes the song with a repeated description of the beauty of the mountains and the loneliness of the shepherd. ~~ peace ~~ calm ~~ beauty ~~
Arnya: That's lonely too. My Ma did that when I was a kid.
Nick: More paperwork, though. There are worse ways to make a living.
Arnya: I suppose there are.
Nick: At least you eat well, in the fields.
Arnya: That we did, though there wasn't a lot of variety.
Nick: Although I suppose that was more important to me than it would be to you.
Arnya: It mattered to me, as a kid.
Arnya enjoys the wink, and tries another smile.
Arnya: But now that I'm older, I find there are other pleasures more important than food.
Ziggar figures he better do something peppier next, and with a lower content of interpersonal emotions, before Arnya embarrasses herself and drives away her customer.
Arnya reflects that it's a while since she's done this, but she isn't going to hand this one off to one of the girls.
Nick: So, are you settled down here, or do you still wander?
Arnya: Been here at the Gravy Train five years. It's nice, not traveling.
Ziggar heads into a marching song from the Unity War, the cleaned up version the Householders sang, not the junct version. ~~ peppy ~~ cheerful ~~ comradely ~~
Nick: Yes. It does get a little tiring, after a while.
Arnya puts one hand behind her back and makes a ~~ rude ~~ gesture at Ziggar, who's undoing the fine mood he created a minute ago.
Ziggar projects a bit of ~~ virtue ~~ and ~~ righteousness ~~ back, blending it into the rest of the virtuous and righteous emotions of the song.
Arnya: So why don't you rest here, even if it's just for an hour?
Nick hums along, so as not to reveal that the only version of that song he knows is the out-Territory version.
Arnya repeats the rude gesture behind her back, and adds the signal for "take a break".
Ziggar reinforces the rhythm by tapping his foot on the floor.
Nick supposes it would be indiscreet for a Tecton Donor, however reluctant, to sing a song about the joys of hunting down and shooting Simes.
Arnya knows the out-T version of the song. Her Ma used to sing it. She leans forward again, thrusting out what little chest she's got.
Nick: I always liked this one.
Arnya: My Ma taught me different words.
Nick: I've heard a couple of versions. Some more suitable for a lady's presence than others.
Arnya: That's okay, love. I'm no lady. Nor was my Ma.
Ziggar barrels into the last few verses, the ones that are rather heavy-handed Tecton propaganda for Unity. His foot-tapping becomes foot-stomping, and his nager relentlessly reinforces the beat and the message. ~~ virtue ~~ solidarity ~~ glorious future ~~ patriotism ~~
Nick's attention starts to lag; he's been subjected to far too much Tecton propaganda, lately.
Arnya lets her voice slip back into the out-T drawl of her childhood.
Arnya: "So y' chase 'em an' y' shoot 'em an' y' dump 'em in the trees..." That's the words I learned.
Nick: I learned it, "y' bring 'em to their knees."
Ziggar comes over to the bar.
Nick's out-T accent is a little different.
Arnya: Close enough.
Nick: Good singing. [to Ziggar]
Arnya grins at Nick again, and behind her back makes shooing motions at Ziggar.
Ziggar: Thank you. Another mug of trin, Arnya.
Arnya: Comin' up, Zig.
Nick: We were just comparing alternative lyrics for that last song. Oh, I'm Nick.
Nick offers his fingertips in the Gen version of the in-T greeting.
Ziggar: Like "fight the Simes and kill their Gens, all the Gens you please"?
Arnya pours out the last of the old pot of trin into Ziggar's mug. If he'd been a customer, she would have made a fresh pot.
Ziggar: I'm Ziggar. Pleased to meet you.
Ziggar brushes finger tips.
Ziggar: Pour out those dregs and make some more, Arnya. I'm not drinking that stuff.
Arnya sighs in ~~ resignation ~~ . She's obviously not going to get any farther with this customer until Ziggar goes back to work.
Arnya: Sure thing, Zig.
Ziggar: The arts always take a beating after a revolution.
Arnya puts the kettle on.
Nick: I wouldn't know -- I'm no artist.
Nick is rather an artist with his nager, but he tends to take that for granted.
Ziggar: I think I've seen you before, Nick. Weren't you at the Snake River Dam last winter?
Nick: Yes, I was. Got out in spring. What about yourself?
Ziggar: Me too. Shendi-fleckin place, but I picked up a lot of new songs, from Norwest, and the Gen Territory up there.
Nick: It was certainly an... interesting... group of people.
Arnya listens avidly as she spoons trin leaves into the teapot.
Ziggar: Sure was. Right from the top down, and including the Tecton staff.
Nick winces at this criticism, although he can hardly protest it, since he agrees.
Ziggar doesn't bother with a tactful "present company excepted". He's finally identified Nick as the Donor of that dangerous madwoman Wise Snake and that Farris channel, the last of the Audneses, who wanted to start his own little kingdom up there.
Arnya: C'mon, Zig. Is that any way to talk to a Tecton staffer who was there?
Ziggar: Arnya, my dear, if you'd been there, you wouldn't bother with tact either.
Arnya: Y'don't insult the customers in my bar.
Ziggar: No problem. I'll just move on, then.
Nick: It's all right, Arnya. He's right.
Ziggar performs in joints like this because he enjoys it. He doesn't rely on the income.
Arnya raises an eyebrow.
Nick: About the only thing that turned out right is that all the renSimes got the selyn they needed.
Ziggar: I suppose so. Must have been a real struggle, in the winter.
Nick: I'm still amazed we pulled it off at all.
Nick isn't going to admit some of the less-than-honorable means by which that occurred.
Arnya decides to stay out of it, since the two men seem to be getting along okay.
Ziggar: You know, I ran into the former Controller and his Donor in New Washington a few months ago. They didn't want to talk about it at all.
Ziggar laughs wryly.
Ziggar: So what are you doing now?
Nick: They're still trying to figure that out. If they don't come up with something I can accept, I can always go back to picking beans.
Ziggar, from what he knows about Donors, suspects this is unlikely. He's never met a former Donor, although he's met a number of dissatisfied ones, notably at the Dam.
Ziggar: Hope you've got a little nest egg socked away then. Picking beans for a living gets harder the older you get.
Nick: I've got a few years before I have to worry about that. Much.
Arnya dumps out Ziggar's old trin and pours him some from the fresh pot. She puts the mug by his elbow.
Ziggar nods his thanks.
Arnya: Anyone with a nager like yours, Nick, is never gonna have to pick beans.
Nick: I did. For ten years, after I established.
Ziggar doubts that Nick wants to work as a gigolo, or if he did, that he'd want Arnya as his agent.
Arnya: You ever find yourself at loose ends, I can team you up with a good shiltpron player.
Nick makes a show of wincing.
Arnya wishes she had the money to support a guy. If she did, she'd make a much more personal offer.
Nick: The last time I sang, even the deaf guy in the corner got out quick. I'm afraid I'll never be the kind of performer that Ziggar, here, is.
Arnya: Oh, sweetheart, it wasn't your voice I was thinkin' of.
Arnya: There's performers, and then there's performers.
Nick: 'Fraid the audience for my performances are a bit limited.
Arnya: I've always thought that was a bit of a shame. The most luscious nagers in town, and only the channels get to really enjoy them.
Nick: Trust me, that sort of enjoyment can be very bad for your health.
Arnya: Maybe. ~~ wistful ~~ Still, sometimes I wish I could find out. But a man like you... it's not just your nager.
Nick winces. He wonders if he's going to spend the rest of his life running away from Riyyh.
Arnya: You've got looks, you've got brains. You've got... dunno what to call it, but even if I couldn't zlin, I'd know you've got it.
Nick: I've got the wrong father. And grandfather. And let's leave it at that.
Ziggar shakes his head. Nick may have all these attractions for Arnya, but what does Arnya have to attract Nick? Sweet fleckin all.
Arnya sighs. She's old enough, she should have known better from the start.
Ziggar: So where are you headed from here? I wouldn't think a town this size would have a Farris channel for you.
Nick: They're sending me to Sat'htine.
Arnya raises an eyebrow. Nick doesn't zlin to be ill.
Nick: I gather they weren't sure what else to do with me.
Arnya decides to nod, keep her mouth shut, and listen.
Ziggar: Ah. A Farris House. Plenty of channels to match you. Well, you could likely do with a nice vacation after the Dam. You know Householdings -- clean, healthy, plenty of good food, everybody normal, maybe too normal.
Nick thinks back to the only Householding he's ever visited: Naros.
Ziggar: I prefer a bit of eccentricity myself. Too many clean, healthy, earnest, virtuous people around gets boring. But you might like a bit of boredom for a change, eh?
Nick: I'd prefer to be bored someplace I know, but that's probably too much to expect. I just hope these Householders aren't too regimented.
Ziggar: There is that, I suppose.
Arnya: I suspect you're out of luck there.
Nick: Well, we'll see.
Ziggar: Well, a man can put up with anything that doesn't kill him, right?
Nick can put up with a lot of long hours and exacting nageric discipline; half a day of paperwork, on the other hand, is likely to send him screaming out the door.
Nick: I suppose.
Ziggar: And who knows, you might meet up with some good people there, maybe a nice female channel who matches you.
Nick: I'm not ready to settle down.
Nick figures he can at least escape the usual Tecton pressure to reproduce: his genes aren't in short supply, after all. Quite the contrary.
Ziggar: You don't have to settle down. They certainly can't make you join them!
Ziggar is a one-woman man, himself, but realizes most men, especially young ones, aren't.
Arnya: I thought everybody wanted to join a House if they could. Security, and all that. ~~ puzzled ~~
Nick: Security, but not freedom.
Arnya has had her fill of freedom. Every time she's been free, she's been cold, wet, and tired. Or hot, dry, and tired. She much prefers being tied to one address.
Ziggar: There's some of us would rather make it on our own, or with our partner and our family, like me.
Nick: I'm not as fond of family as you, apparently, but once I thought I had a partner. ~~ wistful ~~
Nick: It didn't work out. It was good at first, though.
Arnya offers her sympathetic professional smile.
Nick shakes himself, and picks his porstan back up.
Ziggar: You might find a good partner some day. You got time.
Ziggar grew up in a culture where thirty years was a long lifespan, and now it looks like most people will make twice that or more.
Arnya: There's a world full of nice young ladies out there.
Arnya knows better, now, than to offer herself as one of them.
Nick: I know. Perhaps I'll even be able to free enough time to meet some of them.
Ziggar: Or even some good strong women, with brains and character.
Ziggar doesn't think much of "nice young ladies" as life partners.
Nick: I've never been to Sat'htine -- I'm hoping to make a fresh start.
Ziggar: Sounds good. Think positive.
Nick: I'll drink to that.
Nick holds up his porstan mug in salute.
Ziggar holds up his trin mug in reply.
Ziggar: After all, how could any place be worse than the Dam?
Nick taps mugs, and takes the obligatory sip to seal the toast.
Arnya eyes the low fluid level in Nick's mug and pours him another.
Nick: Thanks, Arnya.
Arnya: Y'r welcome.
Nick: Tell me, what got you to settle down.
Ziggar sips his trin. It's rather weak.
Arnya: I still had my looks. They had room for another girl at the Potted Peasant, down the street. Saved my tips. Stayed out of trouble. Managed a shift. Then this place came up for sale. Just hard work and luck, I guess.
Nick: Not too many people ever work their way up to owning their own place. You deserve a lot of credit.
Ziggar nods ~~ agreement ~~.
Arnya: Most of the girls I started out with, they could have done it. But they didn't think ahead. Spent it as fast as it came in. You have to think ahead, that's all. And you have to want it bad enough.
Arnya: What do you want, Nick? Want bad enough to work for?
Nick: I don't know. I thought I did, for a while, but it didn't turn out well. I'm still trying to figure out where to go from here.
Arnya nods encouragingly.
Nick: Besides to Sat'htine, I mean.
Arnya: Well, then, try it backwards. What do you want to avoid?
Nick: Being trapped into making a decision before I'm ready, I suppose.
Arnya: Know yourself. That's what the Ancients said. First step to anything.
Nick: And the second step is, know your friends.
Arnya: Yeah. And make sure one of them is right there.
Arnya taps Nick's shirt front with one dorsal tentacle.
Nick catches the tentacle and gives it an admonitory squeeze.
Arnya: Oh, sorry. 'S okay. I'm still pre-turnover.
Nick: And the third step is, don't waste your free time brooding about what might go wrong. Especially not when you've got some new acquaintances to meet. There's time enough to brood on company time.
Ziggar holds up his mug again in toast.
Ziggar: Like I said. Think positive.
Arnya nods and moves off down the bar to serve another customer.
Nick looks at Ziggar.
Nick: I've got to be going, soon. How about a song to send me on my way? Do you know "The Green Fields of Shen"?
Ziggar: I do. I'll sing it for you.
Ziggar gets up.
Ziggar: Good luck to you, Nick, but remember, mostly you have to make your own luck.
Nick: I will... I hope. The best to you.
Nick sits back on his stool to finish his second porstan and listen to the music.
Ziggar returns to his place, and begins to sing.