General-Class Donors: Episode 9

Nattin has gone for a walk, leaving one of his students to handle any donation vouchers that require cashing. He's all too aware that cold weather is coming, and that before long the weather will prevent him from going far. He supposes it's just as well that he finds the company at the Hannard's Ford Sime Center congenial, and there is that paper he's working on.

Nattin sits on a bench in the common, the better to think over his paper. Not to mention the better to delay his return.

Pistachio, having eaten a hearty country breakfast, decides to take a constitutional. The common looks like a fine place for it. He circles the statuary group twice before noticing the conveniently placed bench with the obvious non-local sitting on it. He came here to get away from city people, but perhaps he could use a break from his break, and this guy is obviously not a business or political type.

Pistachio approaches the bench on his third revolution.

Pistachio: Mind if I sit here?

Nattin looks up.

Nattin: Be my guest. There's plenty of room.

Pistachio sits down and relaxes.

Nattin: I'm Nattin. Lovely day, isn't it?

Pistachio: Indeed it is. There's a cold snap coming soon, though, if my knee is telling me the truth.

Nattin: My elbow agrees with your knee, I'm afraid.

Pistachio nods soberly.

Pistachio: Nattin, Nattin, oh yes. Aren't you the, er, accountant at the Sime Center? I'm sure I heard your name mentioned there.

Nattin: I do administrative work at the Sime Center, yes.

Pistachio: I thought so. My name's Pistachio.

Pistachio turns a bit toward Nattin and offers his hand.

Nattin: Pleased to meet you, I'm sure.

Nattin handles the out-T greeting ritual smoothly.

Pistachio nods and smiles vigorously.

Pistachio: I'm here from New Washington, looking for a house for my retirement.

Nattin: Indeed? I admit, I would find Hannard's Ford a bit too quiet for retirement, myself. I'll go back to Frihill, when the time comes.

Pistachio: Your home town, I guess?

Nattin: In a way. Frihill is the Householding to which I'm pledged.

Pistachio: Householdings, yes. I've heard of those. But aren't they like corporations here? I mean, how can you live at one?

Nattin: Economically, they are corporations. But physically, those corporations are based in a home compound, that houses most of the families associated with the House.

Pistachio: Ah. I guess that made sense back in the days when you had to defend yourself against riots.

Nattin: Indeed. It also was vital to be able to grow almost all our own food; it was very hard for a Householding to purchase food from the juncts.

Pistachio's interest is caught.

Pistachio: So you were really a self-sustaining state within the state?

Nattin: Not completely self-sustaining, but as close as we could conveniently come. At least for the essentials. We've been able to relax that policy, since the Tecton took over Nivet Territory.

Pistachio nods.

Pistachio: To be sure. But it must have made for very complicated planning in the old days, even more so than, say, an army camp.

Nattin: It did, but more because we had to have long-term solutions, that worked year round, not just for the duration of a military campaign.

Pistachio: Yes. I've read that the Ancients kept some of their troops in year-round quarters, which must have had the same kinds of problems. I don't know how they managed at harvest-time, for example.

Nattin: One of my colleagues says that the Ancients did their harvests with machines so efficient, they didn't require much harvest help. If that's true, they wouldn't have had to let the soldiers go help with harvest.

Pistachio scratches his head.

Pistachio: Interesting. Your colleague, you say?

Nattin: Yes. I'm a sociology professor, here doing field work.

Pistachio finds Nattin intriguing. For an academic, he certainly isn't longwinded.

Nattin: The administrative work I do at the Sime Center is by way of paying rent for myself and some students.

Pistachio nods yet again.

Pistachio: I'm a retired Army man, though I've been advising various companies on their military and governmental relations for the last few years.

Nattin: Military? It's been quite a while since I met a Gen soldier. Actually, we used to take a great deal of trouble trying to avoid doing so.

Pistachio laughs.

Pistachio: I'll bet. I was only a grunt then, but I suspect that the higher-ups on the Border Patrol could perfectly well distinguish between folks sneaking back to see their kin and unlicensed raiders.

Nattin is ~~ intrigued ~~.

Nattin: Did they routinely let the former pass, while resisting the latter?

Pistachio: As I say, I don't actually have inside information. But I suspect so.

Nattin: Frihill's archaeological excursions weren't so lucky. There were several that I know of that were attacked.

Pistachio: That's very regrettable. Of course, nowadays we'd just check your permits to dig and your permits to export treasure trove!

Nattin chuckles.

Pistachio joins in.

Nattin: Tell me, when you were growing up, did you ever imagine that the world would change so much in your lifetime?

Pistachio: I had no clue, I assure you. I think the Army may have changed more than any other NWT institution, in fact. Our entire mission changed from border defense to homeland security.

Nattin: What did that do to the perspectives of the average soldier?

Pistachio: Well, we were still fighting Simes, just not foreign Simes. And, of course, we were being used to keep order in rebellious areas as well.

Nattin: So your views of Simes in general remained largely unchanged?

Pistachio: The average grunt's? Probably. Mine, personally? Not at all. I found Unity very inspirational, though I had to keep my attitude under wraps until -- well, yesterday, actually.

Nattin: For me, Unity was the logical extension of everything Frihill and the other Householdings had been striving for over hundreds of years. It was inspiring, to be sure, but mostly in the sense of achieving a substantial step towards a long-sought goal.

Pistachio looks at Nattin knowingly.

Pistachio: But since then, don't you sometimes feel like it's all gone out of control just a bit?

Nattin: Out of control? How so?

Pistachio waves one hand expressively.

Pistachio: It's gotten bigger, faster, than y'all ever expected to see happen.

Nattin: In Sime Territories, yes. In Gen Territory, except in the big cities, or a few exceptions like Hannard's Ford, Unity might as well never have happened.

Pistachio nods soberly again.

Pistachio: Absolutely true, unfortunately. We aren't even having a generational shift like you did: the children are just as anti-Sime as their parents are.

Nattin: Well, some of them are. The presence of a Sime Center in a town does shift that balance a little.

Pistachio: I suppose. But that still means the children must resist their conditioning at what we consider still an early age.

Nattin: From what you said earlier, your own experiences during the Unity War changed your thinking a great deal. What was it that made you reevaluate what you'd been taught about Simes? Was it a gradual process, or a sudden insight?

Pistachio: Sudden, definitely. Specifically, donating and then reflecting on it afterwards. The conditions weren't the best, but the cause was something I came to believe in fervently.

Nattin: So up until you actually donated yourself, you were skeptical of what your colleagues who had donated were telling you?

Pistachio: We didn't have that much chance to discuss it. It was an assembly-line affair, really, and I don't think most of us had much to say. Certainly I heard much less grousing than usual for a week or two. I think we kind of discounted what men from other units said just automatically.

Nattin: You thought they were lying? Or had been deceived?

Pistachio: Naah, we just figured anything they said was more or less bullshit.

Pistachio's officer-and-gentleman facade slips a bit under the pressure of reminiscence with a civilian.

Pistachio: That's the dark side of unit cohesion, which is something the Army does a great deal to encourage. You're either in or you're out, and people who are out -- other than sn..., er, the enemy, of course -- tend to get automatically discounted.

Nattin: So you didn't think that they had actually let a channel take selyn?

Pistachio: We didn't exactly disbelieve it, but we certainly didn't believe it, either. It's hard to explain.

Nattin: Was it, perhaps, that it didn't have any relevance to your own position?

Pistachio: There's a lot of, er, humbug in Army life. It comes at you from all sides: your buddies, your officers, almost anybody. People tell you things to make themselves look big, not because they necessarily care if they're either true or false.

Nattin: So you thought that what you were hearing was somebody's attempt to show that they dared to do something you wouldn't?

Pistachio sticks out his lower lip.

Pistachio: Pretty much.

Nattin: So how did you respond when you were ordered to try the same "dubious stunt"?

Pistachio thinks back.

Pistachio: Curious, apprehensive, and bored, I'd say.

Nattin: Bored?

Pistachio: Except when someone's actually attacking you, the life of a private is about the most boring thing on earth.

Nattin: I see. So however you weren't curious or apprehensive enough to remain interested in the prospect?

Pistachio: Oh no. The boredom is always there, even when you feel something else at the same time. Why, I remember when Top was chewing me out one day, and I was sure I was going to be discharged the next, and still I was excruciatingly bored through the whole thing.

Pistachio smiles just slightly.

Pistachio: It was worth it, though.

Nattin can't imagine choosing a career where boredom is the underlying constant; it's the antithesis of academia.

Nattin: So you found yourself ordered to try this perhaps-apocryphal stunt. Did you expect it to change your perspective on Simes, in a way that the ongoing temporary alliance hadn't?

Pistachio: No, I don't believe so. Another thing about the military life is that all changes -- promotions, demotions, retirement -- come as a complete shock. You always feel like the routine will last forever, right down to the very day.

Nattin: So this was one more surprise change in plans?

Pistachio: A surprise change in me, was what it was. See, I hadn't joined the Army out of idealism, just as a way to better myself. And all of a sudden here I was, an idealist with no way to work on his ideals. Or even talk about them, much.

Nattin: So even after your fellow soldiers had donated, they didn't care to discuss it?

Pistachio: Not much, no.

Nattin: Why not? It was an experience that they all shared, after all.

Pistachio: Well, perhaps that is why. Soldiers don't talk about how it feels to be in danger of death, either.

Pistachio puts on a funny voice.

Pistachio: "Good day, sir. And how was your bowel movement today?"

Nattin chuckles.

Nattin: I suppose not.

Pistachio: But also, most grousing is routine grousing. We grouse about food, officers, things that are always the same. Really different things we don't talk about so much. Every man has to make up his own mind about them.

Nattin: I suppose donating was very different, for you and your fellow soldiers.

Pistachio shrugs.

Pistachio: For all I know, there were plenty who felt as I did. But in the circumstances, they decided to keep their mouths shut.

Nattin: For me, donating selyn is one of those things that is so common that it's taken for granted. All the Gens in Frihill do it every month, just as we eat every day.

Pistachio raises an eyebrow.

Pistachio: So you don't talk about it much, then?

Nattin: Logistically, yes, just as one would arrange any other common task. It only became an issue on the rare occasions when an epidemic or some other unforeseen situation threatened to cause a selyn shortage.

Pistachio: But not your personal feelings about it? After all, people do spend time talking about food, you know, perhaps because different people enjoy different things.

Nattin: Most of the times I discussed my personal feelings about donating with other Gens, rather than with a channel, were in the context of talking with someone who was new to donating, and had reservations. Mostly new Gens from out-Territory brought into the Householding, but sometimes a newly established Gen from the Householding would have difficulties. It sometimes helped them to learn that one can get used to donating.

Pistachio nods throughout.

Nattin: That's why I'm a little surprised that your fellow soldiers weren't discussing it among themselves: every one of them had just donated for the first time.

Pistachio: As I said: military life is different.

Nattin: Different, indeed.

Pistachio: Just to give you an example. When your sergeant says "Get your friggin rifles!", that's a routine situation. But if he says "Get your rifles!", you know there's real trouble coming.

Nattin: Was your reticence perhaps due to a desire to avoid a potential philosophical difference of opinion with the people you were fighting alongside?

Pistachio parses this carefully.

Pistachio: Yes.

Nattin: Did this conspiracy of silence hold throughout the rest of the war? Even after you and your fellow soldiers had to donate a second, and sometimes a third time?

Pistachio: Sure. I doubt I would bring it up even today. In my case it was only once, though. Another old military rule: Never volunteer.

Nattin: Especially for a duty as... exotic... as that?

Pistachio waves off the idea.

Pistachio: For anything.

Nattin: I understand from Hajene Bibi that you have decided to change that attitude, in your retirement. At least as far as donating is concerned?

Pistachio smiles

Pistachio: I'm no longer in the Army. And I haven't been a private for a long time. The officer's perspective is quite different -- but perhaps that's a story for another day?

Nattin: Indeed. I really should be getting back.

Pistachio is suddenly reminded of why he took this walk in the first place.

Pistachio: So should I. It's been a pleasure, and perhaps I'll see you at the Sime Center later today?

Nattin: You still have a voucher to cash in?

Pistachio: I have.

Nattin: Then come by at your leisure, and I'll cash it for you.

Pistachio: I shall, and thank you.

Nattin stands.

Nattin: Until then.

Pistachio shakes Nattin's hand again.

Pistachio: Goodbye, then.

Nattin heads back for the Sime Center, putting Pistachio's revelations into perspective, or rather prospectus: there is a certain call for research proposals on his desk.

Pistachio heads back to his hotel, if not at quick march exactly, at some reasonable approximation of it.

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