How The Other Half Lives: Episode 12

Zeth enters the trin shop across the street from his hotel. He's in town to discuss purchase of some specially designed equipment with a local firm. He has a headache, and hopes some trin and a snack will help, but he's also got a packet of fosebine in his pocket.

Zeth is disappointed that the few tables are all occupied, but approaches the one table with only a single patron.

Zeth: May I share the table with you?

Nick looks up from his tea and snack.

Nick: Certainly.

Nick did go into town to get away from the ambrov Sat'htine for a bit, and talk to "normal" people.

Zeth sits, and cautiously shifts to duoconsciousness. He's been hypoconscious to avoid aggravation to his headache since he entered the shop. He doesn't have to turn on his Sime senses very much before he's amazed to realize just what kind of Gen he's sitting next to.

Nick might be dressed like a common laborer, but his nager contradicts that assumption.

Zeth carefully relaxes into the exceptionally nice effect Nick's nager has on the ambient even when it's very tightly controlled.

Nick: My name's Nick.

Nick offers his fingertips to brush.

Zeth brushes Nick's fingertips with his dorsal tentacle tips.

Zeth: I'm Zeth, Sosu.

Nick gives a ~~ sheepish ~~ grin at being caught out, not that he could fool a Sime.

Zeth orders a pot of trin and a snack plate when the waiter comes to the table.

Zeth: You're a First, and quite a high one, aren't you?

Nick: Well, yes.

Zeth is feeling a bit more open than usual, between the headache and Nick's nager.

Zeth: I'm a Third, but haven't worked as a channel for some time. Disjunct, phased out long ago.

Nick: They decided they could do without you?

Nick is not surprised; the Tecton does seem to like to get rid of inconvenient people when it can. He is, however, ~~ sympathetic ~~.

Zeth: Well, about a dozen years after Unity, they stopped training disjunct Thirds. A few years later, they decided we should no longer serve transfer, and then they cut out taking donations.

Nick: They thought it might distress the Gens?

Zeth makes a dismissive gesture.

Zeth: The Tecton no longer trusts disjuncts with renSimes or Gens. It was different in the early days. I ran a Sime Center with three other Thirds out in a wheat growing district in the west for twelve years.

Nick: And the fact that you did a fine job of it wasn't taken into account?

Zeth: Times changed, and by then there were plenty of nonjunct channels, and no semi-junct renSimes left. They no longer needed disjunct Thirds.

Nick shakes his head, ~~ saddened ~~ but not surprised.

Nick: Sometimes, the Tecton seems a very small step up from junct morality, indeed.

Zeth: They still had work for me, but I didn't like it much. Things like hauling a dozen transfers' worth of selyn from the collectorium to the dispensary in a big urban Sime Center all day. Busy work, really. I didn't like the pity I zlinned from my colleagues, either.

Zeth stretches his arms and tentacles. Nick's nager is having a very favorable effect on his headache. He won't need the fosebine after all. He eats one of the tiny, highly flavored snacks.

Nick: So what did you do about it?

Zeth: I took early retirement!

Nick is ~~ interested ~~, since before coming to Sat'htine he was considering telling the Tecton to shen itself, too.

Zeth smiles.

Zeth: Looked around for a while, then started a business with some other disjunct Thirds.

Nick: Oh? What sort of business?

Nick casually eats part of his muffin, by way of encouraging Zeth to eat, likewise.

Zeth: Prospecting and mining engineering consulting basically. We evaluate ruins and similar sites, analyze the economics of resource recovery, and recommend methods.

Zeth sips his tea with renewed appetite.

Nick: Now, that's interesting. What projects have you worked?

Zeth: Mostly small sites all over Nivet. Once we developed the expertise, we did some larger ones that were thought to be pretty well mined out. Some very pleasant surprises for the owners there.

Nick: You were able to find things the owners had missed?

Zeth: Yes. That's one advantage having channels do your prospecting. Greater sensitivity and precision. We've taken on more disjunct Thirds, Simes from out-T that the Tecton won't train, over the years as the company has grown.

Nick assesses Zeth's clothing.

Nick: It looks like you're prospering.

Zeth: Yes, we are. We've got an excellent reputation in the business, and usually have as much work as we have resources to cover, even in the off-season. We're considering bidding on an out-T contract now.

Nick: Out-Territory? Where?

Zeth: Far out-T. The Cordvain Valley. Do you know it? It's an Ancient town site, and an enormous landfill. One of those the Ancients used to dispose of their refuse far away from their cities.

Nick: Cordvain? I've never been there, but I've heard of it. Isn't it the private preserve of some big politician?

Zeth: Well, of a family and the family's corporation, complete with politicians and all. It's General Metals and Machinery.

Nick whistles in ~~ surprise ~~.

Nick: General Metals? I wouldn't have thought they would ever hire a Sime-run firm.

Zeth smiles.

Zeth: Money is money. They don't mind selling industrial and agricultural machinery to Nivet and Gulf, or buying metals from here either. But the situation in the Cordvain Valley is a little different right now.

Nick: Oh?

Zeth: GMM isn't what one would call an enlightened employer. I realize that workers are treated much worse out-T than in-, in general, but things do seem to be especially bad there.

Nick snorts.

Nick: It's a company town. The workers are essentially slaves, except they can be discarded when they get too old to work.

Zeth: The company has been trying hard to suppress the union, but the union seems to have some very smart organizers. They managed to maneuver the Tecton into sending in a team of ambrov Dar, complete with channels, to clear some more-or-less imaginary berserkers out of the ruins.

Nick: Now, that's a plan worthy of a top diplomat!

Nick unknowingly gives credit where credit is due.

Zeth: Yes, with channels on the spot, they could get donation money for a strike fund, and the Dar also distracted the company police, who had spent far more effort on suppressing the union than on protecting the miners from berserkers, their official role.

Nick smiles.

Nick: I've got some Dar friends. They don't like bullies, that's for sure.

Zeth: The Simes also zlinned that there's a lot more metal there than the company thought, but they're going to need Simes to find it. GMM had been planning to shut down the mining operation -- they thought the site was played out.

Nick: Changed their minds, did they, when there was money to be made?

Zeth: Well, the company is dithering, as I understand it. They could just keep the smelter going, and open the rest of the site to wildcatters. The union would like to organize a cooperative to mine it.

Zeth: Of course, they'd have only one market, GMM's smelter, but that's their problem. They'd like us to do a preliminary survey, and I'm inclined to do it at cost, to get our foot in the door. But there would be serious problems in working out-T, for both the channels and the renSimes in the company.

Nick: I'd imagine so. How will you deal with them?

Zeth has gotten quite relaxed and comfortable in Nick's nageric influence. His headache is gone, and he's actually developing some appetite. He eats another item from his snack plate.

Zeth: Well, it's not clear. The Tecton hasn't decided whether to put a permanent Sime Center there or not, which is problematic for our renSimes, since none of us are authorized to serve transfer.

Zeth: And of course, we can't work in retainers, so something will have to be worked out about that. I won't let any of my people take a risk I wouldn't take myself, and going without retainers among a bunch of heavily armed Gens out-T is not something I'd do casually!

Nick: Hmm. Seems to me that's not your problem, it's the company's problem. They can solve it, or lose their profit. One way or the other, they've got to have Simes in there to spot the stuff, right?

Zeth laughs.

Zeth: I understand they were trying to hire your basic random renSime laborer to go in there and do the job, but had no takers.

Nick: I'm not surprised.

Zeth: So the whole situation is kind of iffy. But I'm sympathetic to the union, and our company is in good shape these days, so I'm inclined to go ahead and bid on the preliminary survey, even if there's no profit in it. I haven't been out-T for more than thirty years.

Nick estimates Zeth's age.

Nick: You escaped around Unity?

Zeth: A few years after. From Cago. A long scary haul to the border.

Nick: Yes, it would be.

Zeth: I changed over not long after I turned twelve natal, and I was small for my age. Had to come up with some good stories to explain being a child traveling alone... still pretty scary. But people would expect a child like that to be scared.

Zeth smiles and makes a dismissive gesture.

Zeth: It was long ago. So tell me about yourself, Nick.

Nick shrugs.

Nick: There's not that much to tell. I was bred and raised by my grandmother, for the purpose of supporting her in style in her old age. I didn't care for her plan, so I spent a decade or so out-Territory after I established, doing farm labor, mostly. I came back in-Territory a few years back, and ended up here.

Nick shrugs with disarming charm.

Zeth shakes his head.

Zeth: Most people would see Donor as a much easier job than digging potatoes and shoveling shit.

Nick: Well... that depends on which channel you're working with.

Zeth laughs.

Zeth: I know what kind someone with your nager would be working with, especially considering you aren't a Householder.

Zeth's image of the character of non-Householding First Order channels is a bit dated.

Nick shrugs.

Nick: Well, all Farris channels can be temperamental, whether or not they're Householders.

Zeth: Never worked with one, myself.

Nick: They tend to live up to their reputation -- all of it.

Zeth: Is it worth it, Nick?

Nick considers for a long moment.

Nick: Overall, yes.

Zeth nods.

Zeth: My wife is my Donor most of the time. She'd agree with you.

Nick: Does she work through the Tecton, or as an independent?

Zeth: Well, nobody's really an independent, if they want to serve transfer. Let's say that she's more or less permanently assigned to me. My other channel colleagues have similar arrangements, and we trade off enough to avoid dependencies. With consent of our Controller, of course.

Nick: Who's your Controller, if you're moving around all the time?

Zeth: Ah, a gentleman in Capital, where we're headquartered. I made some friends while I was still with the Tecton, and some of the older bureaucrats still feel a bit guilty about how some of us were treated.

Nick: As well they should. I've met more than enough nonjunct Tecton channels who shouldn't have been trusted to work.

Zeth: I was bitter for some time, but once we got the company going, I got to like working for ourselves, instead of inside a big machine.

Nick: Yes. Working outside the Tecton does have its compensations.

Zeth: I miss the channeling work, both the hard parts like the junct-satisfying transfers for the semi-juncts, and the wonderful parts, like serving First Transfer, but so it goes. The Tecton has its reasons, and there aren't too many of us.

Nick: No. As far as that goes, however, they do a moderately decent job.

Nick's compliment is a bit ~~ grudging ~~, however.

Zeth: I didn't see life in-T before Unity, but I heard a lot about it from those who lived it. And I saw the Tecton at its most ruthless, running the kill camps I sent semi-juncts to.

Zeth shakes his head.

Zeth: Well, maybe not its most ruthless. Some of the things it did in the first year or two to stop the Raiders, and the black market in Domestic Gens... Well, all that's long over.

Nick is much more hardened than the average Donor to the underbelly of the Tecton.

Nick: The Tecton is still ready to be brutal, when it feels the necessity.

Zeth: I suppose it is. But there's not as much necessity these days.

Zeth doesn't think Nick understands how soft and easy everything is now, compared to thirty or thirty-five years ago.

Nick: There's enough. I expect you've heard some of what went on at the Snake River Dam project.

Zeth: Just what I read in the papers.

Zeth's main interest in the project was whether there might be exploitable deposits in the vicinity of the original dam, a relic of the Ancients.

Nick: Well, trust an eyewitness: the public version was much sanitized.

Zeth isn't sure he wants to hear any inducements to outrage. He made his peace with the Tecton some time ago. He sips his tea.

Zeth: I suppose it would have been.

Nick: There weren't many actual kills. That much happened as planned.

Nick is rather proud of that, actually.

Zeth winces a little. Kills, like murders, do happen, everywhere, rarely, but even one is too many.

Nick: The measures that were required to accomplish that were not always completely ethical.

Zeth nods. He saw plenty of compromises of means for ends in his early Tecton days.

Nick wonders if, as a channel raised out-Territory, Zeth would be more upset than himself, or less, at the effective reinstatement of the Pen system at the Dam.

Zeth might be disgusted, but Nick's idea that a real Pen system was reinstated would be very much of an exaggeration to someone who spent enough time in a kill camp to learn from zlinning kills how to give junct-satisfying transfers. What Nick thinks of as a Pen was more like the hostels the Tecton operated for new Gens in the first years after Unity.

Nick realizes that he might be saying too much.

Nick: In any case, it does seem that things have improved there, since public attention was brought to bear on the situation.

Zeth: Often that's just what's necessary. Shine some light on a situation, and see what tries to crawl under a rock.

Zeth's opinions about the Dam are based on what he's read in the press.

Nick chuckles.

Nick: I can think of a few rocks I'd love to turn over.

Nick is thinking of a particular Controller with a grudge against rogue Donors in general, and rogue Donors who serve insane rebellious Farris channels in particular.

Zeth: Just stay out from under them yourself, I'd say.

Nick shrugs.

Nick: I managed that better than some.

Zeth smiles. With a nager like that, even tightly controlled, Nick would shine out from under the biggest rock.

Zeth: Good. And you're assigned to Sat'htine now, or one of the Sime Centers here?

Nick: I'm at Sat'htine, for now.

Zeth: Thinking of pledging? A good House, and a good selection of compatible channels, I suppose.

Nick: I'm considering it. So far, Sectuib Hiram hasn't asked me, however, so it's moot.

Zeth: It's a big decision, a big commitment, but it's good to have a powerful House behind you when you come up against the bureaucrats.

Zeth felt that lack sorely towards the end of his Tecton career.

Nick: If that was the only consideration, I'd be all for it, but it isn't.

Zeth: Hm?

Nick: You've met a lot of Householders, I'm sure. There's a whole web of obligations and responsibilities, and a culture that's grown up around them.

Zeth nods.

Nick: I'm not sure I understand that well enough to know what I'd be committing myself to.

Zeth: I'd say that makes you an especially desirable candidate.

Nick is, however, aware that coming into any large organization just below the top level can be problematic.

Nick: For the moment, I'm just assigned here long-term. If and when the Tecton decides it wants me back... well, I'll figure out what to do, then.

Zeth nods again.

Zeth: So what do the farm crew at Sat'htine think the winter's going to be like this year?

Zeth nibbles on another tidbit as he switches to a much lighter topic.

Nick: Not too bad, although they've still been hustling to make sure all the crops are in.

Nick happily forgets the intricate web of Tecton politics as he settles down to a topic dear to any Gen: the production of food.

Zeth: Winter's late in most of Nivet, so far. Our crews are still out in the field, some of them...

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