How The Other Half Lives: Episode 24

Gegg is taking advantage of a sunny day to repair some of the storm damage around the stone guest house. He's still not allowed to join general work parties without Shorsh or one of the other Donors present, and that means he still has quite a bit of free time on his hands.

Gegg is limited to the tools he found in the nearby storage shed, but he's used to making do. He found a quite serviceable farrier's knife, a few dozen horseshoe nails, and a hammer. He didn't find a ladder, but a nearby tree sufficed to get his tools, and himself, up to the roof, where he is busily securing loose shingles.

Shorsh has managed Hiram into taking a walk in the sunshine between shifts. He's also persuaded the channel to crack pecans for him as they go along, and this has resulted in Hiram eating a reasonable amount of nuts as well.

Hiram had a very busy overnight shift and an equally busy early morning, and is enjoying the moments of peace and quiet.

Hiram: It's a very good nut crop this year.

Shorsh: It is, indeed.

Drez is racing for the infirmary under augmentation, radiating ~~ alarm ~~ .

Hiram freezes for a moment, then turns and augments towards the panicking renSime.

Shorsh does his best to keep up with his channel, so doesn't fall too far behind too quickly.

Drez zlins a sec nager, and veers to meet Hiram.

Drez: Sectuib! Come quickly! It's the out-Territory Simephobe!

Hiram: What's he doing?

Hiram races in the indicated direction, even as he speaks.

Shorsh shifts direction and continues to follow the Simes, although he's out of earshot by now.

Drez: He's up on the roof of his house, with a sharp knife. I think he may be suicidal.

Hiram had thought Gegg was doing quite well, and is surprised by this.

Drez is a field hand, not a psychologist, but what other reason could there be for a troubled Gen to climb up to a roof?

Drez: He was awfully close to the edge when I spotted him. I didn't want to try to talk him down: he doesn't know me at all.

Hiram: Go fetch Hajene D'zoll, then. I'll do what I can until he gets here.

Drez: Yes, Sectuib.

Drez veers off for the infirmary, at a speed less wasteful of selyn. He's quite ~~ confident ~~ that his Sectuib can handle the situation until D'zoll can get free. He's Sectuib, isn't he?

Hiram speeds on ahead, augmenting at a higher level than any mere renSime could.

Shorsh continues to run after his channel, getting farther and farther behind. So it goes.

Hiram zlins in the direction of the guest house. Nothing zlins like the kind of distress you'd expect from a suicide attempt, but there is a knot of excited Simes beginning to gather, who may be obscuring Gegg's field.

Hiram decides to slow down and let Shorsh catch up.

Shorsh catches up, and tries to catch his breath. He's in excellent shape, from just this kind of aerobic exercise, but Simes are fast.

Hiram: Gegg's on his roof with a knife, Sosu.

Shorsh is taken aback.

Shorsh: A knife?

Hiram: I can't zlin suicidal distress yet, though. Crowd in the way.

Gegg is currently using this dreaded implement to trim a bit of broken wood off a shingle, preparatory to reattaching it.

Shorsh wonders why Gegg would need a knife if he plans to jump from the rather low roof, or need to climb onto the roof if he plans to cut himself. It doesn't make much sense. ~~ doubtful ~~

Hiram: Let's find out before we start leaping to conclusions.

Shorsh suspects it's just some kind of confusion based on Gegg's tending to act like an independent, uncoddled adult, which tends to alarm Householding renSimes.

Hiram augments on ahead, trusting that Shorsh won't be too far behind.

Shorsh runs after him.

Hiram can now both see and zlin Gegg, whose nager seems more distracted than distressed.

Gegg is nailing the shingle down, oblivious to his audience, who have deliberately stayed back, the better not to alarm him.

Shorsh doesn't think a guy hammering on a roof looks particularly like an impending suicide.

Hiram waits again for Shorsh to catch up.

Hiram: I don't think it's an emergency, Sosu.

Shorsh: It looks to me like he's just working on the roof, Sectuib, the way he would on his own roof back home.

Gegg stands up, and walks towards the edge of the roof.

Hiram: And without a clue that he's got a bunch of nervous Simes watching him.

Shorsh: Well, everybody likes a bit of excitement. It's not like they have to watch.

Gegg squats down and reaches into the rain gutter, pulling out a handful of leaves.

Hiram winces at the sight of a Gen so close to the edge of the roof.

Shorsh thinks Gegg looks perfectly comfortable working on the roof. Well, after all, he isn't here at Sat'htine to be treated for fear of heights!

Hiram gives the crowd a gentle nageric nudge to open a path and let him through.

Gegg leans out over the edge, fumbling for a loose bit of wire that should be securing a drainpipe.

Shorsh reinforces his support of Hiram, so he won't have to zlin the worst of the reaction of the crowd of renSimes.

Hiram nudges the crowd a bit harder, since most of them were too distracted to notice his first signal. Not that he blames them.

Hiram doesn't want to shout, since the last thing he wants to do is startle Gegg into falling.

Shorsh: Naztehrhai, don't you have anything better to do than watch somebody fix a roof?

Shorsh uses his nager to be sure the renSimes are listening to him.

Hiram moves forward through the gap that finally opens for him.

Gegg struggles to secure the drainpipe, but the piece of wire is too short.

Hiram watches Gegg silently, waiting for him to move back from the edge a bit before saying anything. He broadcasts ~~ calm ~~ through the ambient.

Sanda comes out of the house wearing an in-T style cape. She's getting tired of listening to the hammering overhead.

Gegg spots Sanda.

Gegg: Sanda! Can you toss me that roll of wire down there?

Sanda: Uh... sure, Dad.

Gegg points to a leftover from an earlier chore: fixing the latch on the gate.

Sanda looks for the wire and spots the crowd and... Sectuib and Shorsh?

Sanda: Hi, Sectuib Hiram! Hi, Sosu Shorsh!

Hiram: Hello, Sanda. And good morning, Mr. Gegg.

Gegg: Hello!

Sanda picks up the wire before she forgets where her dad pointed. She carries it over to him.

Gegg leans out and gestures for her to toss it up to him.

Sanda tosses it.

Gegg has to reach, but manages to field it without losing his balance.

Hiram: What exactly are you doing up there?

Hiram is careful to keep his nager ~~ calm ~~ and ~~ relaxed ~~ for the sake of the watching Simes.

Shorsh radiates ~~ calm ~~, and substantially less ~~ amusement ~~ than he feels.

Gegg is a bit surprised that someone would have to ask.

Gegg: There were some loose shingles after that last storm, and the gutter came loose, too.

Gegg measures off a suitable length of wire, and reaches for the farrier's knife to cut it.

Hiram makes an extreme effort to continue broadcasting ~~ calm ~~ as the Gen picks up the very sharp blade.

Shorsh reinforces it for the same reason. He knows that Gegg knows how to use tools about as safely as anyone who's accustomed to doing so, Sime or Gen.

Hiram: How did you get up there?

Gegg cuts the wire, and leans back out over the edge to wrap it around the drainpipe.

Hiram stifles the urge to leap forward to catch him.

Gegg: There wasn't a ladder around, so I used the tree over there.

Gegg gestures to a pine tree growing up the side of the house.

Hiram: Wouldn't it have been easier to just send for a repair crew? They have ladders and all the right tools.

Hiram is trying very hard to sound reasonable in terms this out-T daredevil might understand.

Gegg: Oh, there's not that much damage, here. Besides, aren't the repair crews busy putting the roof back on the cow barn?

Gegg has a subsistence farmer's priorities: keeping the stock alive and healthy is more important than not having to put buckets to catch drips when it rains. He does not, of course, consider that to Simes, he is the livestock whose health is paramount.

Hiram: I'm sure one or two could have been spared.

Gegg shrugs.

Gegg: No need. I wasn't doing anything else this afternoon, anyway.

Hiram: Mr. Gegg, there are reasons why we usually use Sime workers for any job that involves climbing.

Gegg: Yeah, I know your Gens don't learn things like roofing, but I've been doing this since I was big enough to climb a ladder.

Gegg finishes adjusting the drainpipe, cleans another handful of detritus out of the gutter, and surveys the roof to see if anything else could use fixing, as long as he's up there anyway.

Sanda doesn't know whether to be proud of her dad's competence and independence, or mortified that he's doing something so socially unacceptable here and arguing with Sectuib about it.

Hiram: It's not just that Simes tend to be more agile and have a better sense of balance, you know.

Shorsh notes Sanda's confusion and winks at her.

Sanda smiles back at Shorsh.

Hiram is working very hard at keeping his tone calm and conversational.

Gegg: Oh?

Gegg is working very hard at not rolling his eyes at such Sime prejudice.

Hiram: What do you think would happen, Mr. Gegg, if a Sime were to fall off that roof? Or cut himself with that knife?

Gegg: He'd be hurt, and he'd probably feel like an idiot, too.

Gegg gathers his tools and moves towards the tree.

Hiram: Exactly. And what would those people over there who are watching do after he fell?

Gegg hadn't noticed his audience, before they were pointed out to him. He's a bit ~~ taken aback ~~ at the size of it.

Gegg: Haven't they ever seen a man nailing loose shingles down, before?

Hiram: Answer my question first, please. What would they do if a Sime fell and injured himself?

Gegg drops the tools carefully onto a bale of straw that is waiting to be spread for winter mulch.

Gegg: I expect they'd go over and see how badly the fellow was hurt.

Hiram: And then?

Gegg reaches for a pine bough at a convenient height, and steps onto another, close to the trunk where it won't sway too much.

Gegg: I suppose they'd get help, if it was necessary.

Hiram moves to where he can catch Gegg if he falls.

Gegg begins climbing down the tree, feeling carefully for the security of each new hand- or foothold before trusting his weight to it.

Hiram decides to wait until Gegg is on solid ground before pursuing the topic any further.

Hiram: Not that branch; there's a crack right through it. try the one to the left and down a bit.

Gegg obliges, although the branch in question held his weight just fine on the way up, and he's barely four feet above the ground, anyway.

Hiram: That's it. You're nearly there.

Hiram resists the urge to bodily grab Gegg and set him safely on level ground.

Gegg takes another step or two, then jumps easily to the ground.

Hiram: So if a Sime fell, people would check his injuries and get help?

Gegg: Most likely. At least, folks here seem to be pretty civilized.

Hiram moves to keep himself between Gegg and the crowd, and raises his showfield to mask Gegg's nager before asking his next question.

Hiram: And if instead it were a Gen who was injured, what would they do?

Gegg: More or less the same?

Gegg has not been instructed in detail about the darker side of Gen injuries, from a Sime perspective: D'zoll hasn't found it necessary, and feared it might be unnecessarily alarming.

Hiram: That crowd is entirely made up of Simes, Mr. Gegg.

Gegg's brow furrows.

Gegg: I thought your Simes were pretty much supposed to stay away from the guest house?

Hiram: They've been staying away. Until you did something that both fascinated and horrified them.

Sanda shifts around ~~ impatiently ~~. She doesn't want to be late for work at the clothing shop. One of the other women has promised to show her how to use the buttonhole attachments for the sewing machine.

Gegg: What's so fascinating about roof repairs? I know your Simes tend to do that sort of work, but really, how do they think roofs get repaired, on the other side of the border?

Sanda waves to Shorsh, the only one likely to notice, and heads off to work.

Hiram: On the other side of the border, you don't have to worry about how a Sime will react to the zlin of Gen pain.

Gegg: Come now, I admit to having said at times that roof repairs were a pain, but I didn't mean an actual pain.

Hiram: You could easily have fallen. Or cut yourself. Or hammered your finger. On the Gen side of the border, that would simply have meant that you felt the pain.

Gegg: I haven't come close to falling off a roof since I was an idiot kid.

Gegg has occasionally cut himself or hammered a finger, but that's hardly a major injury.

Hiram: How about cutting yourself? Skinning a knuckle? Hammering a finger?

Gegg shrugs.

Gegg: I don't do that too often.

Hiram: Are you willing to die the next time you do? And take an honest, law-abiding Sime with you?

Shorsh doesn't think this tactic is going to work well on Gegg, but he's not going to contradict his Sectuib in front of an audience.

Gegg: Huh?

Hiram: Gen pain, Mr. Gegg. It's a more powerful... inducement... than Gen fear.

Gegg: If every stubbed toe made Simes attack, you wouldn't have a single Gen living here.

Hiram is amazed. A few weeks ago, Gegg would have been blasting him with panic by this point.

Shorsh is amused. Gegg is no intellectual, but he has the hard-headed logic of a practical man.

Hiram: It's not quite that bad; you're right. But it's very hard on Simes. They have to struggle to resist the temptation. And every Sime is terrified that someday his control won't be good enough.

Gegg is trying to be polite, but he is used to thinking of this house as a bit of Gen Territory, and he finds Sime chauvinism ~~ annoying ~~.

Hiram: It's a cruel thing to do to a Sime. Especially when you have a Donor-sized nager.

Gegg: Well, if they're that terrified of a hammered thumb, why in the world are they hanging around here to watch, instead of getting on with their own work? Which is safely out of range, unless you've been pulling my leg.

Shorsh thinks Gegg has a very good point there. He'd like to go disperse the crowd, but is reluctant to leave Hiram's side. Gegg could panic, after all, and slam the channel, but now that the Gen is off the roof, the crowd is dispersing anyway.

Hiram searches for a parallel Gegg might understand.

Hiram: Could you shrug and ignore it, if a naked woman came and stood in front of you? Or would you be fascinated, even though you knew you ought to turn away?

Gegg: If a naked woman came and stood in front of me, Toria would send her on her way rapidly enough.

Hiram: And likewise, Shorsh and I came to stand between you and that crowd of renSimes.

Gegg: I'm sorry it inconvenienced you, but really, I can't sit around doing nothing for fear I might stub my toe.

Hiram: We have an understanding here in Sime Territory, Mr. Gegg. The Simes agree not to harm the Gens, however difficult that may be. And the Gens agree not to harm the Simes... again, however difficult that may be.

Shorsh sometimes wishes Sectuib would get out more, and see how things have changed outside the walls. From being the vanguard for Gen equality, the Householdings have become something of a rearguard -- overprotecting both their Gens and renSimes compared to the outside world. Of course, with a nager like that, and only the rudiments of adequate control to go with it, Gegg is very much a special case.

Gegg sighs.

Gegg: Look, I've been careful not to flout your Simes' prejudices when I'm out and about, but I've got to have a place I can be a normal person. At the moment, this is the closest thing to a home I've got available to me.

Gegg is trying, very hard, to be reasonable.

Hiram is also trying very hard to be reasonable.

Hiram: Within those insulating stone walls, you may do as you wish and it will cause no harm. But where you can be zlinned, I hope you will consider the ways your actions touch others. I know this is strange to you, but try to imagine it from a Sime's perspective.

Gegg wishes Simes in general -- and this Sime, in particular -- would return the favor.

Hiram reminds himself yet again that Gegg isn't cruel, nor irresponsible. He's just ignorant, and ignorance can be cured with knowledge.

Hiram: You amaze me with your achievements, Mr. Gegg. A few weeks ago, you would have been terrified at the thought you might have done something to tempt a Sime to kill.

Hiram wonders whether D'zoll will agree that Gegg might be ready to handle a tour of a Last Year camp.

Gegg: I can appreciate your caution, Sectuib Hiram, but frankly, I don't think either your Simes or your Gens are as fragile as you seem to think they are. If you live your life not doing anything that might result in even minor injury -- well, what kind of a life is that?

Hiram: There's no such thing as a risk-free life, Mr. Gegg. We all know that. It's a matter of balancing avoidable risks against affordable losses.

Gegg: It is indeed. The problem comes when you try to explain what you mean by both of those.

Hiram: And weigh relative values. And try to agree on the measure of things that only some of us can zlin.

Hiram sighs.

Hiram: You're a man of action, not a philosopher. You want a solution you can act on, don't you?

Gegg shrugs.

Gegg: I want a solution that doesn't require me to sit around twiddling my thumbs waiting for someone else to do chores that I'm perfectly capable of doing myself.

Hiram: I'm told you have a knack with machinery. If I arrange for you to work in an insulated workshop, fixing some of the farm machines, will you let someone else nail shingles on your roof? Inside that workshop, nobody will zlin if you whack your thumb. And it's certainly work that has to be done.

Gegg: Well, the roof ought to hold for a while, now, anyway. But sure, I'll take a look at your machinery.

Gegg is considerably ~~ mollified ~~ by Hiram's gesture. He thinks that more to the point, a workshop will likely be out of the weather, which will become increasingly nasty very soon.

Hiram zlins Gegg's shift in mood, and begins to relax. The crowd has already dispersed.

Hiram: If you'll excuse us, Mr. Gegg, Sosu Shorsh and I are on duty in the dispensary in just over eight minutes.

Gegg: By all means.

Gegg watches Hiram and Shorsh depart, then goes to start on pruning the blackberry bushes.

Return to Table of Contents