How The Other Half Lives: Episode 2

Gegg is sitting on an overturned bucket in a storage shed, helping a crew of Gens husk maize. He has been watching the mechanical maize sheller with a certain amount of ~~ envy ~~, since no one in Gumgeeville could afford such a marvel. He wonders how many pooled donation payments it would take to buy one.

Shorsh is also husking maize, and finding out just how tough his hands aren't.

Gegg is feeling much more useful, now that he's allowed out now and then, even with a nanny.

Kerilau mumbles something obscene under her breath as the maize sheller seizes up again. That's the fifth time today.

Gegg looks up at the swearing, emphasized as it is by the silence of the sheller.

Gegg: Trouble?

Kerilau: Yeah. Shenning thing keeps doing this. It's too old to get replacement parts for, and I don't know how to fix it without them.

Gegg stands up.

Gegg: Mind if I take a look? Maybe I can figure out a patch; we don't exactly have a good supply of spare parts in Gumgeeville.

Gegg has been itching to get his hands on the sheller since he first saw it.

Kerilau waggles an expressive dorsal.

Kerilau: Please do. I'm stumped.

Shorsh watches alertly while continuing to husk, ready to intervene nagerically if necessary. Overall, he's been refraining from affecting the ambient as much as possible.

Gegg hesitates at the sight of the waggling dorsal, then shrugs it off and approaches.

Kerilau zlins the Gen's brief discomfort, but also his much stronger machine-lust.

Gegg: Where exactly is the problem?

Kerilau pops off the cover plate and pokes a ventral tentacle into the stalled gears.

Kerilau: Right here. See this piece, that's worn down? The round thing?

Kerilau's technical Genlan isn't good enough to supply the precise name for the part.

Gegg: It jams?

Kerilau: Over and over again. Shenning thing!

Gegg sticks his own hands (which show the calluses and scars of years of subsistence farming) into the machine, tracing out the bad part, and the parts it interacts with.

Kerilau: It's the... cob? cod? The teeth are worn down. It's simply too old.

Gegg: It's cog.

Kerilau: The cog. They don't make them any more. This machine's older than I am.

Shorsh is pleased at how Gegg is interacting as naturally with the Sime as with a Gen.

Gegg: It's not that bad, really.

Gegg makes a little adjustment or two, bringing the gears closer together. He pulls out some chunks of cob that have caught in the mechanism, too.

Gegg: See this? It's not just that worn part that's making it jam. The cobs aren't feeding in evenly.

Gegg traces the cob-feeding mechanism.

Gegg: Got a hammer?

Kerilau blinks. A Gen using a hammer?

Kerilau: Right here. But, uh...

Gegg: Thanks.

Shorsh watches with interest as the culture clash develops.

Kerilau: Uh, couldn't you just point out where I should hit it?

Gegg: I can manage.

Gegg reaches to take the hammer.

Kerilau pulls back, keeping the tool just out of Gegg's reach.

Gegg blinks.

Kerilau: No, really, it's all right. Just show me.

Gegg: Whatever is the matter?

Kerilau: What do you mean, what's the matter?

Gegg is finding Kerilau's inexplicable hesitation irritating. He tries to rephrase.

Gegg: What is wrong?

Kerilau: The shenning machine is wrong.

Gegg: Right. It's got to feed the cobs straight, or they'll get into the gears again.

Kerilau: So show me what to hit.

Gegg: I can do it.

Kerilau: Just show me. Please.

Shorsh: Kerilau, let Gegg use the hammer. He's got plenty of experience with tools. Go hypoconscious if you're worried.

Kerilau: Are you sure, Sosu?

Shorsh: Yes.

Kerilau is used to obeying Companions, but this is a very odd request.

Gegg finds this exchange ~~ confusing ~~.

Shorsh: Gegg, she's worried that you'll hurt yourself and she'll have to zlin it.

Gegg: Oh. Well, you can prevent that, can't you?

Kerilau: Cover me, please, Sosu. I can't go behind you (she uses the nageric term for "behind") or I won't be able to zlin what he's fixing.

Shorsh gets up and stands next to Kerilau, providing some very light ~~ support ~~ for the renSime. He's actually glad to take a break. He's definitely developing a few blisters.

Kerilau: [Simelan] Don't hit yourself. Please don't hit yourself.

Shorsh adds a little ~~ comfort ~~ and ~~ confidence ~~ to the ~~ support ~~. Also a touch of ~~ humor ~~.

Gegg snorts at Kerilau's tone; by the code of Gumgeeville, a man doesn't complain about the inevitable small injuries inherent in farm life. He doesn't understand Kerilau's words, of course, but her tone is clear enough.

Kerilau: Show me, please, so I can do it next time.

Gegg takes the hammer, and points to a spot on the hatch.

Gegg: You see where it's bent here? That's pushing the cobs into the gears, which makes that worn one jam. Straighten it out a bit...

Kerilau braces herself.

Gegg gives the errant piece a few good thwacks.

Gegg: ...and the cobs should stay out of the cogs.

Kerilau doesn't relax until Gegg lowers the hammer.

Gegg picks up a cob and tests the feed, then takes the hammer again.

Gegg: Almost....

Kerilau braces again.

Gegg makes another adjustment-by-hammer, tries the ear again, then nods.

Gegg: That should do it.

Kerilau reaches for the hammer.

Kerilau: Thank you.

Gegg surrenders the implement.

Gegg: You're welcome.

Kerilau relaxes.

Kerilau: You're good at this.

Shorsh gently withdraws the support, and pats Kerilau on the shoulder.

Gegg: Fixing stuff? It's a way of life, in Gumgeeville.

Kerilau: I wish I could keep you on my crew. But you're too good; I wouldn't be that lucky. Once you're pledged, I'm sure they'll assign you somewhere else.

Gegg: Pledged?

Shorsh returns to his seat, and his husking, listening to the conversation.

Gegg hasn't heard anything about a pledge, and wonders if Kerilau has mixed up her English vocabulary again.

Kerilau: You are going to stay, aren't you? Now that you're over your... Sime problem?

Gegg: Well, until the new babies can travel, certainly.

Kerilau: You're not going to stay and pledge?

Kerilau radiates disappointment.

Gegg: Stay? I've got a farm to run, and a daughter to see settled. My cousin can't handle my spring planting as well as his own.

Kerilau: But we've got the farm here. There's room for your daughter. And you want your babies to grow up in a good House, don't you? I'm sure Sectuib would be glad to take your pledge. You don't have to go back... out there.

Kerilau had been going to say something much ruder about out-T.

Gegg: My house was good enough for my father and grandfather, and I'd be a poor son if I tossed it all away.

Gegg has a farmer's fierce dedication to his land, however poor.

Kerilau: But they're savages out there. Berserkers and Sime-shooters. We're a good House. You can do well here.

Gegg finds Kerilau's description of his homeland ~~ offensive ~~.

Kerilau: And your babies are going to be channels, right? You wouldn't want to take them out into that.

Kerilau shudders.

Gegg: Have you ever actually lived in Gen Territory?

Kerilau: Why would I want to?

Kerilau waves her tentacles for emphasis.

Gegg takes a step back.

Kerilau: I'd last about five minutes. They'd murder me. They'll murder your babies some day.

Gegg: You might be interested to know that folks there said much the same things to us, before we came here. And with as little reason.

Gegg is far from being a sophisticate, but he's had a bit more cross-border experience than Kerilau.

Kerilau: But...

Kerilau's strong point isn't words. She waves several tentacles helplessly.

Kerilau: We like you. We'd like you to stay. And we have good farmland here. Some of the best.

Kerilau knows that last isn't strictly true, but a House has its pride.

Gegg: It's good land, certainly. But it's not my land.

Kerilau: It will be, if you pledge.

Gegg: No. It would be everyone's land, not mine.

Kerilau: Not everyone's. Just Sat'htine. Just family.

Gegg: Your family. But not mine.

Kerilau: Your family too, once you pledge.

Gegg: But I already have a family. And a home. And I miss them. ~~ homesick ~~

Kerilau responds to the emotion, and without thinking reaches out to hug Gegg as if he were really family.

Shorsh alerts, ready to intervene nagerically.

Gegg shies backwards, then catches himself.

Kerilau: Sorry. But you see... you already zlin like family.

Gegg looks at Shorsh ~~ inquiringly ~~.

Gegg: Is that because I've been working with Hajene D'zoll?

Shorsh: She feels comfortable with you, like you belong here. Like someone she's known for some time.

Gegg: Oh.

Gegg feels a bit ~~ awkward ~~. He doesn't feel quite at home, here, and doubts if he ever could.

Shorsh smiles.

Shorsh: Just take it as a compliment to your many virtues.

Gegg: Well, you folks have certainly been hospitable.

Kerilau: ~~ disappointed ~~ We'll really miss you if you go.

Kerilau really can't understand why anyone would want to be anywhere other than Sat'htine.

Gegg: I'm sure you'll manage to keep the maize sheller running.

Kerilau: Yes, but... what about the next time a machine breaks? And what about...

Kerilau hesitates. She's not good at talking about emotions.

Gegg: You've got a whole town's worth of people, here. Surely you have some mechanics?

Kerilau: Yes, but... they're not you.

Gegg: I'm no mechanic.

Kerilau: But you're good at lots of other things too.

Kerilau thinks of another argument.

Kerilau: Besides, if you stay, the channels can fix your shoulder. And your back. And your liver. And, oh, everything.

Gegg: My shoulder healed up pretty good. And my back hardly bothers me at all, these days.

Kerilau: But they could fix it so much better.

Gegg is ~~ confused ~~ at this litany of old injuries, and can't figure what his liver has to do with anything.

Kerilau: And your heart, and the arthritis. You'd live a lot longer.

Gegg looks at Shorsh in ~~ question ~~.

Shorsh: D'zoll and Sectuib would like to do some more medical work with you. As for living longer...

Shorsh shrugs.

Shorsh: Who knows? You're still fairly young for a Gen. And anything could happen.

Shorsh: Kerilau, Gens out-T often live as long as Householding Gens, even though there are few channels there.

Kerilau subsides, feeling outnumbered.

Shorsh: We're all proud of our House, but there are other ways of life, and people who choose them are often just as satisfied with them as you are with Sat'htine.

Kerilau bites her lip and says nothing.

Shorsh wonders if Kerilau is a little infatuated with Gegg -- the attraction of strangeness.

Gegg: I'm not sure I'm suited for a life this side of the border.

Kerilau: My cousin says your wife seems very happy here. And my daughter would be heartbroken if you took Sanda away. Can't you even consider...?

Kerilau zlins that she's defeated. She retracts all her tentacles, hunches her shoulders, and turns away.

Gegg looks at Shorsh, a bit ~~ bewildered ~~ by such a strong reaction from a relative stranger.

Shorsh shrugs, and tosses a few more husked ears of maize in the basket. He picks it up, carries it to the sheller, and dumps it in the hopper.

Shorsh: Let's see how well it's working now, eh, Kerilau?

Shorsh subtly influences the renSime with a little ~~ optimism ~~ and ~~ cheerfulness ~~.

Kerilau reaches for the crank and starts the machine running.

Gegg holds his breath for a moment, watching the cobs feed into the machine.

Kerilau gives an internal shrug. It isn't the first time she's been far more attracted to someone else than they are to her. You'd think at her age she'd have learned.

Kerilau: It's working. It's perfect.

Gegg: Well, it'll probably hold together long enough to get most of this shelled, at least.

Gegg is perhaps better acquainted with the lifespan of improvised repairs.

Shorsh watches the golden kernels pour from the chute into the bin and feels carefully suppressed ~~ love ~~ and ~~ pride ~~ for his home, his naztehrhai and all their works.

Kerilau: If it lasts out this season, we can order a replacement for next year.

Gegg is a little ~~ surprised ~~ for a moment, until he remembers how wealthy Sat'htine must be, to have such buildings and farms.

Gegg: I guess you can, at that.

Shorsh examines his blistered hands, and goes back to husking. D'zoll will fix his hands and tease him about his Iron Farris act. A happy thought. He smiles.

Kerilau: If you're... if you're really going back, I'll talk to Brinda about letting this machine go as soon as the new one comes in. You could probably keep it going a lot of years, out there.

Gegg is genuinely ~~ touched ~~.

Gegg: You'd do that? A machine like this could make life easier for a lot of people, in Gumgeeville.

Kerilau: We'd only be selling it at scrap metal prices, otherwise. And you've contributed a lot, here.

Kerilau still doesn't understand why Gegg would want to go back out-T. But she'd like to know he's doing well, wherever he is.

Gegg is contemplating how having a maize-shelling machine will improve his status among his fellow Gumgeevillians, which will no doubt have suffered greatly due to his recent adventures.

Shorsh: You might have to modify it a bit, Gegg. Try cranking it yourself.

Gegg reaches out and pulls the crank. He has developed a bit more muscle than the average pampered Householding Gen.

Gegg: It's a bit stiff, but there are ways around that.

Shorsh nods.

Gegg gives the crank another turn or two.

Gegg: This would be very useful, indeed.

Kerilau: I'll talk to Brinda first thing tomorrow, then. Best case, she'll let you have it outright. Worst case, she'll let it go at scrap price.

Gegg runs an experienced eye over the machine, estimating the scrap price.

Gegg: I'd have to take up a collection to make scrap price, but Jed Mullins and my cousin would contribute.

Kerilau raises an eyebrow.

Kerilau: Now that you can donate, I would have thought you'd be rich, even out-T.

Gegg: It helps, but I've got a kid, and two more on the way, and there's the loan on the farm...

Gegg shrugs; everybody in Gumgeeville has such responsibilities.

Kerilau: I've never been outside a House. I don't understand how anyone lives with all that. Having to worry about money, having to do everything on your own. It seems so unnatural.

Gegg: How does anyone live with obligations? By fulfilling them.

Kerilau: Life is so much simpler when you know where you belong, and you know how to do the things you have to.

Gegg: Yes. Travel is confusing.

Kerilau: I'd never want to live anywhere but here. Maybe that's why I can't understand why you want to. But maybe you can't understand why I like it here.

Gegg: Of course I do. It's your home. Why should you want to leave it, any more than I'd want to leave my own home?

Kerilau sighs. That just about sums up their similarities... and the gulf between the two of them.

Kerilau: Let's get this maize done. It's almost end of shift.

Gegg: There's not too much more.

Gegg moves back to his bucket, and sets an example.

Kerilau: Sosu, your fingers are pretty bad. Don't you bother with the rest; we'll manage.

Kerilau was a bit awed at having a Companion husking maize for her, anyway, and is just as happy to have an excuse to let him stop.

Shorsh: Oh, well, I'll just help you finish.

Gegg looks with ~~ surprise ~~ at Shorsh's hands.

Shorsh wiggles his blistered fingers at Gegg.

Shorsh: Soft life, Companion, eh?

Gegg shakes his head.

Gegg: Yeah. Never an honest day's work. They should make you live next to a pig sty for a month, don't you think?

Gegg winks.

Shorsh smiles.

Shorsh: Good old Petunia. D'zoll or one of the other channels will fix me up, no problem.

Gegg: And no doubt scold you all the while?

Gegg has spent enough time around channels to have seen the drill.

Shorsh: You got it. We take turns scolding each other.

Gegg thinks that this sounds a lot like his marriage to Toria.

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