How The Other Half Lives: Episode 7

Cristal racewalks down the street away from the Sime Center. It's cold and clear, an excellent day for being outside.

Cristal feels a little concerned, as he always does, that a berserker will show up and Bibi will need his help, but he has to remain in shape somehow.

Virginia is lingering by the post office, in hopes that her jogging partner will be able to show today. She finds it much easier to go the full distance in a reasonable time, when there's someone around who'll notice if she cheats.

Cristal too is looking forward to seeing Virginia, especially as he now has a Plan. He zigs this way, then zags that way, and arrives at the post office from the correct direction so he can run in place until he sees Virginia. He sees, however, that this time Virginia is there before him.

Virginia: You made it!

Cristal: Here I am. Shall we go?

Virginia trades jogging in place to jogging down the street, as Cristal falls in beside her.

Cristal picks up the pace a bit and picks up his feet quite a bit, not wanting to appear to merely shuffle.

Virginia: Certainly. We won't have too many nice days like this, before the snows start.

Cristal: No, I suppose not. But when the snow gets packed down we can still run on it, provided it's not ice.

Virginia chuckles.

Virginia: Spoken like a youngster! You'll be more cautious about exercising on ice when you're my age.

Cristal: Well, it's true if I sprain an ankle I don't have to be laid up for a week, or whatever it is. But that's nothing to do with my age.

Virginia: Well, I suppose living at your workplace must have some compensation, although I'm not sure I'd have viewed it as such, when I was working. I always liked being able to get far enough away that I couldn't be paged, no matter how busy things got at the hospital.

Virginia lengthens her stride to clear a hole in the sidewalk.

Cristal: It does have its disadvantages, and most Donors have their own living quarters away from work. The situation's unusual here because we're the only channel/Donor pair available.

Virginia: So you're never off duty? Even when you're not actually working that much?

Cristal: Some times more than others. We don't schedule donors during my off hours, such as they are. But of course emergencies can happen any time, as I'm sure you remember.

Cristal turns the corner, politely taking the outside.

Virginia: Oh, yes. And I did my share of coming in on holidays, and working extra shifts.

Cristal chuckles.

Cristal: Oh yes.

Virginia: Tell me, do you like working in what's pretty much an individual practice, or would you have preferred to work someplace where you can go home at the end of the day, at least some of the time?

Cristal: When I first came here, I would have done anything not to get sent back here after my two-month assignment was up. Now I find I miss it and look forward to coming back when I'm rotated out.

Virginia: I don't understand how you can live with being shipped all over the place at your employer's whim. How can you build a life, like that?

Cristal: Mostly I can't. I have to learn to make what I can of wherever I am. But I can stay here pretty much all I want -- this is considered a ...

Cristal fumbles for the English term.

Cristal: An undesirable assignment. Because of the isolation.

Virginia: I'm surprised they can get anyone to work for them, if that's the way they treat their employees. They at least pay you a hardship bonus, I hope?

Cristal: Yes, they do. Being a Donor isn't just a job, though. It's doing our bit to prevent the collapse of civilization. And not just anyone can do it. It needs genetics as well as training.

Virginia: Genetics? Oh, yes, channels have that nervous system difference you were talking about, right?

Cristal: Yes, but Donors, capital D, do too. In fact, channels and Donors generally come from the same families.

Virginia: Really? Why is that?

Cristal shrugs.

Cristal: We don't understand the details yet, but we've had hundreds of years to observe the fact.

Virginia: It sounds like a situation that could easily result in a medical aristocracy.

Cristal: That's exactly what the Tecton is!

Cristal reflects a bit.

Cristal: To be fair, though, Simes can't really help being influenced in their judgment by the, the,

Cristal fumbles again.

Cristal: By the Sime with the largest influence on the fields.

Virginia's brow furrows.

Virginia: The head agriculturalist?

Cristal: No, I'm sorry. There didn't use to be any way to say these things in English at all. Now there is, but it's jargon you wouldn't know.

Cristal: Channels come in various grades according to how many transfers they can perform and what other procedures they're capable of. Their feelings tend to strongly influence the feelings of other Simes around them. The higher the grade, the more natural authority the channel has, and the Tecton's bureaucracy reflects that.

Cristal hopes he's being clear; it's not easy to think up explanations on the spot, especially while running down the street

Virginia: You've talked about that feeling thing before, but I'm still having a hard time believing it.

Cristal slows up and looks over at Virginia to try to see if he's getting through.

Virginia: I just can't see how a person could stay sane, if they're feeling everybody else's emotions as well as their own all the time.

Cristal: Training, training, training. We also insulate our houses, which gives everybody a break.

Virginia: How can you insulate against a feeling?

Cristal: Stone works. We don't know why that is either.

Virginia: Well, we do say that someone who's unfeeling has a heart of stone...

Cristal laughs and reverts to a walk.

Cristal: Whohoo!

Virginia takes full advantage of the slower pace to try to regain her breath.

Cristal: I never heard that expression before.

Cristal tries to stop laughing and regain his breath too. He pounds his chest.

Cristal: Just call me Stoneheart.

Virginia: Ah, and here I had hopes of seducing you... Just think what my sister would say!

Cristal stops cold and looks at Virginia quizzically.

Cristal: Really?

Virginia realizes that she's miscommunicated again.

Virginia: Cristal, you're a very interesting exercise partner, but you're younger than my son, I expect. You can't be more than, what, twenty-five?

Cristal starts to say he is only eleven, but remembers in time that out-T Gens count in natal years.

Cristal: A little more, but not much. I take it I missed a joke somewhere? My apologies, if so.

Virginia: Out here, the older man -- or woman -- who dates a much younger partner is considered, well, not respectable.

Cristal: Ah, I see. In any case, I assure you there is no question of a sexual relationship between us.

Virginia: Ah. Your inclinations run other ways, then?

Virginia is rather ~~ relieved ~~, as she finds it awkward to sidestep advances from men she genuinely likes, but doesn't desire.

Cristal: They don't -- forgive me if this is inappropriate -- happen to run toward you.

Cristal is a bit embarrassed by having to be so explicit, but he's not good at ordinary social signals even in-Territory, never mind out here.

Virginia: You said you were raised in Simeland -- is it that you prefer Simes?

Cristal: [embarrassed] I can't really be sure. I haven't had so very many sex partners, except of course for assigned female channels, and that hardly counts. I am what I think you people call a, a "dweeb."

Virginia resists the temptation to pat Cristal on the head.

Virginia: You should visit Cago. A young man with any medical training at all is considered a "good catch", there. Why, I've even known surgeons who could get dates, and I can assure you that it wasn't their scintillating conversation that attracted their partners.

Cristal: A matter of money, then? Or status?

Virginia: Both, I'd guess. I never saw it, myself. Of course, I spent more time with some of the surgeons than their wives did. And not in the way you're no doubt thinking, either, young man.

Cristal decides not to respond to that.

Cristal: We have a saying, No channel is a hero to his Donor. Of course there are exceptions.

Virginia: Ah, your channels get temperamental, too?

Cristal: They most certainly do. It's a very difficult job, and it's not like a channel can keep his emotions out of it, either.

Virginia: They tend to use their hapless subordinates as whipping boys? Believe me, I've seen it much too often.

Cristal: [indignant] Certainly not! They can be rude and exploitative, yes. But no channel would or could commit physical violence in that fashion.

Virginia: Physical violence? ~~ confusion ~~

Virginia: Oh, the language thing. No, although it might have meant something of the sort at one time. A "whipping boy" is the person who gets yelled at by the big boss, whenever something goes wrong. Whether or not they have anything to do with the problem.

Cristal: Oh. In that case, yes, so have I. Whips were the weapon used by killer Simes to make their victims frightened and hurt, intensifying the experience of the Kill.

Virginia: Oh, I'd forgotten about that.

Cristal: It really is extraordinary, all language problems aside, how many experiences we have in common.

Cristal resumes walking.

Virginia: People get sick on both sides of the border, you know. And they want someone to do something about it. And someone's got to take care of them while they heal, or die.

Cristal: That's true. But even though our methods are very different, the politics seems to be very much the same. When we have true Unity, I'm sure there will be an immense benefit from sharing knowledge and technology across the border.

Virginia: People are people, both sides of the border, right? Isn't that what you've been telling me? Although I admit, Simes as you describe them are different enough that I'm not sure that truism holds.

Cristal: Oh, Simes are certainly people. Although it took them long enough to admit that Gens were real people.

Virginia: Obviously, if they used to keep Gens as livestock.

Cristal chuckles rather hollowly.

Cristal: We all try not to think about it too much.

Virginia: I'm sure you do. We'd like to forget it on this side of the border, too.

Cristal raises his fist as if he held a glass.

Cristal: Here's to successful forgetting, then.

Virginia: Yes. I just wish the Sime-as-killer problem we have on this side of the border was as easy to dismiss.

Cristal nods soberly.

Virginia's breathing has calmed, and so she moves back to a jog.

Cristal keeps pace with Virginia

Cristal: There's the post office coming up.

Cristal girds up his loins, metaphorically speaking.

Cristal: Virginia, I'd like to invite you to take tea with me at the Sime Center.

Virginia blinks, ~~ startled ~~.

Virginia: At the Sime Center?

Cristal smiles slightly.

Cristal: Well, I live there. And there aren't many other places we could take tea. Of course Hajene Bibi will be there too.

Virginia: Hajene Bibi. The Sime.

Cristal: My channel, yes.

Virginia isn't sure whether that last was intended as a promise of respectability, or a vague threat.

Cristal: [hastily] I wouldn't suggest anything that would harm your reputation. And Hajene Bibi is of course no danger to anyone. But if you don't care to, I will of course understand.

Virginia expects that Cristal hasn't had much contact with the portion of the Hannard's Ford community who don't care for those who fraternize with Simes.

Virginia: You have a cafeteria there, like the hospitals?

Cristal: No, no. We have a local cook, Gitl. Her food is wonderful. And I brew tea pretty well myself. In addition, the donors, small d, often send food for us.

Virginia: Small "d"?

Cristal: Ordinary Gens who donate selyn. In Sime language they're different words, but they both come out "Donor" in English. It's confusing.

Virginia: They both give selyn, don't they?

Cristal: Well, yes. But that's about the only thing in common. And being Gen, obviously. Doesn't the English word "nurse" refer to two different things too?

Virginia smiles.

Virginia: Not really, although it's only used as a title by professionals. I've met my share of very competent amateurs, however.

Cristal: Oh. I learned in English class that it also meant mothers feeding their babies.

Virginia: Suckling, yes. Although that falls under the same principle of caring for the basic physical requirements of others.

Cristal: True. Donors like me take care of channels, so that they can take care of everyone else. Ordinary donors provide selyn that keep renSimes -- Simes who aren't channels -- alive.

Virginia: So it's a prestige thing, to get the title right? Nursing is like that, too, and doctors even more so.

Cristal: Well, it's a functional distinction. If you need a donor, you don't want a Donor, and vice versa.

Cristal chuckles.

Virginia: So you're no use to one of those "renSimes"?

Cristal: Only if the renSime was in attrition and no channel was available. And it's not a good idea. RenSimes do better on channel's transfer, channels need direct Gen transfer from a big-D Donor.

Virginia's stride falters a moment, then steadies.

Cristal: [concerned] Virginia?

Virginia: I admit, I can't imagine what you must go through. Sounds worse than open heart surgery, to me.

Cristal laughs outright.

Cristal: Giving transfer to a channel is more pleasurable than sex. And I do enjoy sex, too.

Cristal looks at Virginia to see if he's put his foot in the cowshit again.

Virginia: I guess genetics really does make a difference, then. I've nursed a few people who were attacked by Simes. They didn't find it pleasurable at all. And most didn't survive more than a few days.

Cristal: Oh, that's entirely different, I assure you! Berserkers have no training and no control. What's more, the emotions involved are pain and fear and brutality, not pleasure and satisfaction.

Virginia: You can train that out of a Sime?

Cristal: Channels can be trained to control themselves. RenSimes are just trained to avoid dangerous situations. A Sime always tries to re-create his first experience as a Sime in each transfer -- or kill.

Virginia: Simes don't like variety?

Cristal: Not in transfer, not usually. But too little variety can also be a problem. If a channel gets fixed on one Gen all the time, a dependency can develop. That's not dangerous in itself, but it can cause problems in scheduling. That's why, for example, I have to rotate back to Simeland every few months.

Virginia: So you can jolt another Sime out of his comfortable rut?

Cristal laughs again.

Cristal: Virginia, you say the most unexpected things. You certainly jolt me out of my rut.

Virginia chuckles.

Virginia: Well, don't trip on the edges, there, when we cross the street.

Cristal: I won't. But you'll think about my proposal?

Virginia: I'll think about it, I promise you.

Cristal stops in front of the post office.

Cristal: Here again tomorrow, then?

Virginia smiles.

Virginia: No, a friend is coming for lunch. Perhaps the day after?

Cristal: Of course. I'll see you then, then.

Cristal extends his hand for a Gen-style handshake.

Virginia shakes hands with the competence of someone who's been using the gesture since childhood.

Cristal: Goodbye!

Cristal turns around and heads off to the Sime Center, smiling. Friends are a good thing, even if they look like Householders and ask questions like trainees.

Virginia goes into the post office to check her mail, reflecting that Cristal is a nice young man, even if he does have a strange profession.

Return to Table of Contents