Yustin leaves the counter at the Moonbean Cafe with a double latte, shoulders bowed under the weight of accumulated knowledge. He searches for a place to sit, and spots his friend Zoubin nodding off at a table across from the new mural.
Athanasia sips at a mochaccino, equally weighted down by the profundity of it all. And by midterms.
Yustin: Wake up, Zoubin! You're never going to get that paper written like that.
Zoubin: The caffeine's just not doing it any more, Yustin.
Athanasia: Let the poor guy alone. He was up all last night studying.
Yustin: Weren't we all?
Yustin sits across from Zoubin, sets down his latte, and plops the accumulated knowledge (and backpack) down on the floor beside his chair.
Yustin: Darned organic chemistry. I swear, that book could crush an armored dormitory roach all by itself.
Zoubin gropes for his lukewarm extra large coffee and nerves himself to take a gulp.
Athanasia: Your dorm has roaches? Ours just has Killer Sime Mice.
Yustin: Lucky. All you have to do is smuggle in a cat or two. Easy enough.
Zoubin: Don't do that. Kill off the mice, and what will eat the roaches? Cats won't. They just play with them.
Zoubin starts to pick up the cup again, but just can't face it.
Yustin takes a sip of his latte, and decides to put off the o-chem for a bit longer, until his brain is suitably caffeinated.
Athanasia: I'm tired of having to keep all my chocolate bars in glass jars, though.
Yustin: Your chocolate bars last long enough to store? ~~ innocent ~~
Athanasia sips meditatively at the brown foamy stuff in her mug.
Athanasia: Mom ships me a case lot at a time, then none for a month. I try to make them last.
Zoubin is an engineering student. The paper he's avoiding writing is for his compulsory humanities elective.
Athanasia: Besides, I don't want to look like that girl in the mural. The one in the lower left corner.
Yustin checks the mural.
Yustin: Yeah, she's a blimp. That one's cool, though.
Yustin points to a wild bandito type in the upper right.
Athanasia: Hey, Zoubin, there's a possibility for you.
Athanasia reads from Zoubin's list of possible essay topics.
Athanasia: "Outlaw Imagery in the Works of Sassinole".
Zoubin: But I'd have to read Sassinole. Boring. I can't believe how turgid that guy is.
Zoubin wishes that there was some classic fiction written by engineers.
Athanasia: So just go with the picture on the wall, and write what it makes you think of.
Zoubin: But then it's my imagery, not Sassinole's.
Athanasia: You engineers don't know how to do arts courses. You don't actually read the stuff, you just make something up.
Yustin: Why'd you take Intro to Lit from that stuffed shirt Fennik, anyway? Hinderson's section is lots more interesting: he does a lot of modern stuff.
Zoubin: I have a math class at the same time. All I could get was Fennik and Intro to Lit. Same for most other electives. They don't give us a lot of free slots, what with all the labs and stuff.
Athanasia: They make you engineers work too hard. How are you supposed to spend your college years learning about life if you work too hard?
Zoubin: I guess we do that when we get out. Or maybe not until we're in management.
Zoubin doesn't think there's all that much to learn about life. It seems pretty straightforward to him.
Yustin: Ah, you need to let your imagination fly, sometimes. Let your hair down, as it were.
Yustin looks ~~ doubtfully ~~ at Zoubin's close-trimmed hair.
Yustin: Athanasia is right. Those humanities professors don't want the same old boring analysis of the same old boring books they've been assigning forever. They want something new, that keeps them awake.
Athanasia: I can't picture anything keeping old Fennik awake.
Zoubin: Well, they don't actually mark them -- their grad students do.
Yustin: So you've got to keep the grad student awake. Even easier. You look at the list, there.
Zoubin turns it around so the other two can read it better.
Yustin runs a finger down the list.
Athanasia: Hmmm. "Technological Imagery in Ancient Adventure Fiction." There's an engineer's topic.
Zoubin: That's Fennik's hobbyhorse. It's risky doing anything with that one.
Yustin: Too close to home for Zoubin, too -- he'd be trying to explain how to build the machines, not what the images mean. "Metaphorical Uses of Eggs in Kirtzen's works" -- forget it.
Athanasia: "Color Symbolism in 'Arapaho' and 'Arapaho III'". What happened to 'Arapaho II'?
Zoubin: I dunno. You're the humanities major.
Zoubin is irritable from fatigue and excess caffeine. He doesn't mean to snap at his friends.
Athanasia frowns, struggling to remember.
Athanasia: Oh yeah, right. Wasn't preserved. All we've got is a partial outline, based on references in III.
Yustin: Here's one: "Modern Relevance of Girtsdown's 'Birth of Fusttown'". Now, that's a promising topic.
Zoubin: Did you ever read that thing? The guy is a real Sime hater. It's disgusting.
Yustin: The book's short, though. You can get through it in a night, skimming.
Zoubin: I already read it. I would have thrown it at the wall if it wasn't from the library. I mean all that religious crap about demons, and the way he loves to describe all the cruel things they do to kids in changeover.
Athanasia: Hey, go easy on the guy. In his day, nobody'd heard of channels and all that.
Yustin: Even easier. So, you write your paper on why it's not relevant to modern times. Only you use phrases like "mirror image" and so on.
Athanasia: Get into the inherent sadism of pre-Unity cultures.
Yustin: Compare it to the modern civilized symbiosis.
Zoubin: Well, Fennik probably believes all that stuff is right. I heard a rumor his daughter changed over and he had somebody shoot her.
Zoubin's sister is a Sime, and finished engineering school in a year and a half. She's got a good job with the Nivet railway and she's two years younger than he is.
Yustin: Yeah, but you're writing for the grad student. Fennik will never see it. If you really want to keep the grad student awake, talk about the difference between the Sime attackers of yesteryear and the civilized channels of today.
Zoubin: I guess.
Athanasia: Hey, play it safe. Write about the wisdom of Girtsdown's insights.
Yustin: But you'd better say that the Simes are a symbol for something -- that's more literary than assuming they're just Simes.
Athanasia: Then hedge it with some stuff about redemptability and maturation.
Yustin: Yeah. That always sounds profound.
Zoubin: Hm. I should take notes.
Zoubin fumbles out a pad and pencil and writes down what he can remember about what his friends suggested.
Zoubin: What would Simes be a symbol for?
Athanasia: Um. Technology? No, anarchy.
Zoubin: Technology? We're ahead of them in most of that. Maybe anarchy back then. Now, wow, they keep track of everything about everybody in Nivet.
Yustin: Technology is too positive for that book. Evil is too obvious. You want something obscure. How about the difficulty of acquiring knowledge? You know, as in "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing"?
Yustin ought to know: his knowledge of organic chemistry isn't as large as it ought to be, and danger to his grade point average is likely to result.
Zoubin: Well, that's obscure all right. I have no idea what you're talking about.
Athanasia: Individualism? Unbridled erotic lust? Get sensual about those curving tentacles.
Athanasia sips at her cooling mug as she searches for more layers of symbolism.
Zoubin: Gimme a break, Ath. Me, write erotica?
Athanasia: Food and hunger, then. Basic survival drives.
Yustin: Yeah. Simes are all about need, in Girtsdown.
Athanasia: Which for a Gen translates to food.
Zoubin: But in the book it's all demons and God's punishment and stuff. They're doing it because they're evil, not because they can't get selyn any other way.
Athanasia thinks about the candy bars back in her room, and wonders if selyn comes in chocolate.
Zoubin: Gluttony? Hey, cool.
Zoubin makes a note.
Athanasia: Lack of self-discipline!
Zoubin: Well, gee, Ath, self-discipline isn't going to do them any good if they can't get selyn from a channel.
Yustin: Yes! There's that greedy land-grabbing cattle baron.
Zoubin: So the cattle baron is like a Sime, but it's land and money he wants, not selyn?
Athanasia: Weave in some stuff about the purity of those ascetic monks who walled themselves into cells and slowly starved themselves to death. For contrast.
Zoubin: They did that? That's crazy.
Athanasia: Then you can talk about how perfect virtue is impossible to living humans...
Zoubin scribbles some more notes.
Athanasia: Hmmm... and make the Sime the metaphor for the necessary flaws in all of us.
Yustin: Say that the Simes in the book are symbolic of the greed in all of us, and the methods used to dispose of Simes are symbolic of the ways ordinary humans overcome moral flaws -- that lets you bring in the religious stuff.
Zoubin: Where do I find out about those guys who starved to death?
Yustin: The library? ~~ dubious ~~
Zoubin: What do I look up?
Zoubin is writing notes as he talks.
Athanasia: They were called -- this is how I happen to know about them -- they were called Athanasians.
Zoubin: That's weird, Ath. Uh, your parents aren't into weird religious stuff, are they?
Yustin: Relatives of yours?
Athanasia: That's not why I was named, though. I was named for Aunt Athy. Actually, I think it was great grandma who was into the weird stuff. She always looked a bit odd in the family portrait. Too prim to be true, if you know what I mean.
Yustin: That kind often has a deep, dark secret. What was hers?
Zoubin figures at least she didn't starve herself to death before she gave birth to Athanasia's grandparent.
Athanasia: You think mama would tell that kind of thing to her precious darling little baby girl? Even assuming she knows?
Yustin: There's no convenient old diaries in the basement, detailing her wild doings?
Athanasia: Don't I wish! No, the whole family moved around every year or two for a decade, just before Unity. Hardly kept a thing.
Yustin: I remember, one day I got bored and read my grandfather's old diary. He was such a stick-in-the-mud, I'd never have known otherwise that he was in the town lockup four or five times for drunk-and-disorderly conduct, when he was our age. And there was the time he played hookey from school on a dare to explore some ruins, and found a dead Sime.
Athanasia: A dead Sime? Yuck!
Yustin: If it were a live Sime, he probably wouldn't have lived long enough to write about it in his journal, right?
Zoubin, as far as he knows, has a much less colorful family tree. His dad is an engineer. Both his grandfathers were engineers.
Athanasia: There was a rumor that grandpa had helped his kid brother escape to the Simes, and that's why the family moved so much. I don't know.
Yustin: He didn't try to find his brother after Unity?
Athanasia: Like I said, it's just a rumor. But think, if it were true, and if great-grandma went nutty trying to atone for the blot on the family honor...
Athanasia: Why would he want to go and prove the rumor's true? He's still living in back-then, socially.
Athanasia: Or maybe he still turned into just one more dead Sime, like the one your grandpa found.
Athanasia tries to imagine her great-uncle, dead at fourteen in a swamp somewhere. Then she tries not to imagine it.
Yustin is unaware, as are most Gen citizens of New Washington Territory, that all junct Simes who changed over more than a year pre-Unity died within a decade of the Tecton takeover, and most sooner than that.
Zoubin shakes his head.
Zoubin: Everything's so much better now, as far as Simes go.
Zoubin's parents sent their kids to changeover classes, so his sister's changeover and move to Nivet were far less stressful than that of most out-T Simes.
Yustin sips at his latte, looking up at the mural on the wall.
Yustin: Have you two ever thought about what you'd ask some of the people on that wall, if they really were sitting at a table near you?
Athanasia realizes the brown sludge in the bottom of her mug has gotten cold.
Athanasia: Whether they could loan me enough money for a hot chocolate. I'd pay them back tomorrow.
Yustin: You've got Klyd Farris at the next table, and you'd hit him up for spare change? And you call yourself a humanities major!
Athanasia decides men are just too thick.
Yustin is a science geek type, and lacks the sophistication of ice-breaking conversational gambits.
Athanasia: No, I'm hitting you up for spare change. As for what I'd ask Klyd... lend me the money, and then I'll tell you.
Zoubin looks at the mural drowsily. Now that he's settled on a topic for his paper, and has some ideas from his friends, he's feeling more relaxed.
Yustin: Oh, all right. Get me another double latte at the same time, will you?
Yustin passes over some cash.
Yustin: Now, give.
Athanasia: Thanks. Back in a minute, and then I'll tell you.
Athanasia takes her time about sashaying over to the counter, trying to build the suspense.
Yustin enjoys the sashaying, even as he's frustrated by having to wait.
Yustin: I don't think I'll every understand girls, Zoubin. How about you?
Zoubin: They're basically just like guys, but they talk different. It's confusing some times, but it's just the way they talk.
Yustin: No, it's more. They can get away with being confusing. No one thinks twice about it.
Zoubin yawns, politely covering his gape.
Zoubin: In Nivet, it's different, my sister says. They divide things up more by Gens and Simes instead of male and female. Like she's an engineer now, and nobody thinks it's odd, not like around here.
Yustin: Sounds strange to me.
Yustin has a hard enough time getting the rules for young middle-class New Washington Territory Gen men straight; he's hopeless if you throw in any variations.
Athanasia returns with a much smoother gait, not wanting to spill the drinks.
Athanasia: Here's your change, Yustin.
Athanasia slides the coins directly into Yustin's pocket, giving him a deliberate little caress that she hopes he'll pick up on.
Yustin takes the latte and buries his nose in the glass for a long, invigorating sip. He's a nerd, and therefore fails to pick up on Athanasia's hint.
Athanasia suppresses a sigh. Men can be so dense.
Yustin: So, give. What would you ask Klyd Farris if he were sitting at the next table?
Athanasia: I'd ask him...
Athanasia pauses and waits for the silent drum roll.
Athanasia: I'd ask him, if you knew at the time you signed the First Contract, about all that was going to happen in the next few years...
Yustin: What in particular?
Athanasia: Hugh and Rior, the Secret Pens, all of that.
Zoubin tries to stay politely awake, but it isn't easy.
Athanasia: If you'd known about all of that, what would you have done differently? Do you think there's anything you could have done, to change things?
Yustin thinks this is a typically complicated, humanities-major girl answer to a straightforward question.
Yustin: I'd ask him why it took so long for the Householdings to take over and stop the juncts killing.
Yustin: What would you ask, Zoubin?
Zoubin jerks awake.
Yustin: What would you ask Klyd Farris, if you could?
Zoubin: Right now I'd ask him if the channels have anything to keep a Gen awake once the caffeine stops working.
Zoubin yawns again.
Zoubin: I think I'm going to have to get my lab partner to do most of the work this afternoon. I'm not safe around machinery.
Yustin: You should get some sleep, so you can write your paper, now that we've got it planned out.
Athanasia: Can't you skip out of lab?
Athanasia pictures labs as being just like lectures, with dozens of students in a huge room.
Zoubin: I can't afford to miss it, and it's not fair sticking my partner with the whole thing. I'll take a nap after, then have supper and work on the paper.
Zoubin shuffles his papers together.
Zoubin: I really appreciate you guys helping me with that.
Athanasia: Sure you'll wake up for supper? Want one of us to come get you?
Yustin: We could go to that new sandwich place south of campus. I hear it's good.
Zoubin: Uh, okay. But it'll have to be fast, I don't have enough time to do everything and sleep and eat too.
Athanasia: Sandwiches should be quick.
Zoubin: Yeah. And the walk will be good for me.
Yustin: Wake you up.
Athanasia: Fresh air. Exercise.
Yustin: All those healthful things that we don't have enough time for, any more.
Zoubin yawns again, and packs his stuff away in his backpack. He grabs his cold coffee, nerves himself, and chugs it, shuddering.
Yustin: Which is why we sit in gloomy old coffee shops drinking stuff that should be available by prescription only.
Zoubin: I got to get moving or I'll be late for the lab and the other guys will get all the good equipment.
Athanasia: Yeah. What time do you want Yustin to come wake you?
Athanasia could offer to wake him herself, but sneaking into the men's dorm really is a hassle.
Zoubin: Oh, whenever.
Athanasia: Six? Seven?
Athanasia figures two choices are about all Zoubin can cope with right now.
Zoubin: Yeah. Gotta go. See you guys later.
Zoubin shoulders his backpack and departs.
Athanasia: Boy, is he a wreck. Should I start that paper for him?
Yustin: I'll splash some water on his face around six, and we'll be by your place by six thirty. You can decide when you see how functional he is. The paper isn't due until day after tomorrow, so there's time.
Athanasia: Okay, see you tonight, then.
Athanasia doesn't try to sashay as she leaves. It's too hard to do with a backpack on.
Yustin watches anyway, then gives a martyred sigh and pulls out his o-chem textbook. He much prefers his ethanol unreacted with hydrogen halides, thank you very much.