How The Other Half Lives: Episode 20

Zeth signals at the door of Hajene Seruffin's office in Capital. He has an appointment to discuss issues of working out-T with him.

Zeth has been told that Seruffin not only has a lot of recent experience out-T, but also is knowledgeable about the situation in the Cordvain Valley.

Seruffin sets aside the report he was scanning, hoping for inspiration on the best way to douse a diplomatic brushfire.

Seruffin: Come in!

Zeth opens the door and enters.

Seruffin stands.

Seruffin: Hajene Zeth?

Zeth: Good day, Hajene Seruffin. Thank you for agreeing to see me.

Zeth waits for the higher order channel, and higher status person, to offer to brush tentacles first.

Seruffin: You're very welcome. I'm not sure my sanity could have survived another five pages of this report. ~~ humor ~~

Seruffin offers tentacles in greeting.

Zeth smiles and brushes tentacles, glad that Seruffin has a sense of humor. He's been a bit nervous about dealing with him -- he had a few run-ins with high-order non-Householder channels in the early days.

Seruffin: Please, sit down and make yourself at home. Would you care for some tea?

Seruffin has been spending enough time with Bibi lately that some of her style of hospitality has rubbed off.

Zeth: Thank you. Tea would be appreciated.

Zeth sits in a comfortable chair in front of Seruffin's desk.

Seruffin pours Zeth a cup from the pot that Gerrhonot made before he went out for a walk, then tops off his own.

Zeth takes the cup with a nod and projection of ~~ thanks ~~.

Seruffin: So, how can I be of assistance to you?

Zeth: I'm the chief partner in GeoZlin Consultants. We're considering bidding on a contract to evaluate the salvage potential in some ruins and a landfill deep out-T.

Seruffin: The Cordvain Valley, if my secretary was correct?

Zeth: Yes. I understand you know something about that area in particular?

Seruffin: It's in Senator Tsibola's district. He's generally considered to be strongly anti-Sime, although it appears to be a principled stance, not an emotional one.

Zeth: We're concerned about the difficulties for Simes working out-T, especially in an area that is... relatively backward socially, regarding Unity, that is.

Seruffin: My understanding is that there have been some conflicts between the management of the mining sites and the laborers.

Zeth: I've been communicating mainly with the union there, so I've only really heard one side. They seem to believe that we'd be welcome, but I'm still doubtful. Would we be likely to encounter significant obstruction from the populace, or even be in danger of violence? And would it be possible for us to work outdoors without retainers, under reasonable constraints?

Seruffin: As far as obstruction goes, my understanding is that the union invited the Tecton to send a team to clear the local ruins of berserkers. Apparently, the company-run security force was too busy breaking up union meetings and harassing the organizers. The Tecton team was considered to be on the side of the union by the local populace, which meant they were very popular with the laborers and not welcomed by management.

Zeth: I've also heard that the union was pleased that their members had another source of income, which made them more willing to challenge the company with their demands.

Seruffin: Quite so. To the best of my knowledge, however, there was only one incident involving physical violence.

Zeth: Yes, I've met the Gen who was attacked.

Zeth smiles.

Zeth: The bully boys wouldn't have expected such a competent defense from a woman, especially a pregnant one.

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: I really do pity those Company security types. I doubt any of them had even heard of Householding Dar, or had any idea what sort of training they receive. Of course, I assume your people don't have Dar training?

Zeth: No, we don't, although many of us are Third Order channels and Donors. Of course, that isn't going to help defend us from aggressive Gens!

Seruffin: No, it isn't. You and your people are going to have to be very cautious, if you want to avoid incidents. I would suggest getting in touch with the union leaders as quickly as practical. They should be able to inform you which people are likely to cause trouble, so your people can avoid them.

Zeth: Well, if it isn't possible to arrange a way for us to work without retainers without being in danger of violent death, there's no point in bidding. I'm thinking both from the legal, diplomatic view, and from a more pragmatic one. Can we, for example, post a section of the site as Sime Territory, and will people there recognize and respect it?

Seruffin: Legally, if the people controlling an area agree, and a guard is posted, the retainer laws can be waived. You have appropriate signage?

Zeth: Not yet, but we should be able to obtain it. Who would provide the guard?

Seruffin: As a practical matter, the guard must be Gen, and fluent in the local dialect. Your Gens will have enough to do, keeping your Simes stable. I'd make sure that your bid specified that the union provide suitable people. All they have to do is warn any passers by that there is a legally unretainered Sime in the area. It's something that a convalescent could do.

Zeth nods and makes a note.

Seruffin: On the diplomatic front, the most important principle is to do your best to make sure that all Gens in the area know when and where they are likely to run into you. It's when people get surprised that incidents happen.

Zeth: Indeed. As engineers, we like to avoid surprises.

Zeth smiles.

Zeth: Except, of course, when we can surprise our clients with good news about the potential of their properties.

Seruffin: It probably won't be an issue while you work, but your people won't always be working.

Zeth: We'd be careful who we'd send out on a project like that. Mature, stable people, fluent in Genlan, with some experience of out-T culture, as much as possible.

Seruffin: Since you can't ask your Simes to stay locked up any time they're not working, you'll have to work out where they can spend their leisure time. If there are two bars in town, for instance, select the one that is most friendly, at least at first, and leave the other one strictly alone. That gives any townsfolk who don't want to be in the same room as a Sime a safe refuge. The same goes with any other amenity: make sure that those who wish to avoid you know ahead of time exactly where you'll be.

Zeth: I believe I can trust my people to use common sense. They can drink beer at home, if there's a risk of provoking hostility. And we'd be sending older people, some of them women, not likely to get into bar fights.

Zeth doesn't feel the need to point out the self-control one can expect from a former Tecton channel or Donor, disjunct or otherwise.

Seruffin: I'm sure your people have plenty of common sense. The problem is, those people in town who are likely to object to your presence might not. The more your people are seen around town, the more you'll aggravate the hard-core opposition... and the sooner those who are merely unsure about you will become comfortable with your presence.

Zeth: I'll be sure they understand that.

Seruffin: It's a delicate balance. As a practical matter, your Gens will probably be the ones to make the decision as to how much you can interact with the local people.

Zeth: Yes. Always our Gens to protect and advise us. And as we discover economic opportunities for the miners on the site, our popularity will likely increase.

Seruffin: Indeed. However, your Gens will also have to be cautious at first.

Zeth: Hajene, one thing I haven't been able to discover is how long the Dar team will remain on the site, and whether a Sime Center will succeed it. Aside from the valuable information about conditions and the introductions to the community we can get from the Dar, without a Tecton channel we won't be able to employ renSimes there. None of our channels are authorized to serve transfer.

Seruffin sighs.

Seruffin: As far as I have heard, neither decision has been made yet. I realize that's not much help.

Zeth nods.

Zeth: Well, they can't expect to employ Simes on the site without a Sime Center. We could do the survey with just our channel/Donor teams, but they'll need a Sime Center if they hope to have Simes there for the day-to-day work.

Seruffin: If you decide to bid, I'd inform the proper Tecton authorities, and as many other Tecton authorities as you think would put in a word for you. That might tip the balance in favor of a Sime Center. Also, make sure that you mention the necessity for a Sime Center when you submit your bid. Requests from the town involved are very influential in such decisions.

Zeth: As I understand it, withdrawing channels would be a significant hardship for the local people, who've come to count on donation income to improve their lives. And forcing them to go back to shooting their children, after they've had an alternative...

Seruffin: Yes. However, it's a remote area, and not one that the Tecton has been actively trying to develop.

Zeth: I suppose transporting selyn that distance isn't very economical.

Seruffin: It isn't. And while the Tecton is willing to carry some losing ventures, there is also the risk to the mules who will have to go out there and collect the selyn. Traveling is always more dangerous than staying safely in a Sime Center.

Seruffin is perhaps a bit unusual for a working First in his willingness to consider the convenience of mules.

Zeth: Yet the people did ask the Tecton for help, and some help was provided.

Zeth isn't going to offer to take a few donations, nor is he going to mention his intention to serve First Transfer if a nonjunct channel isn't available.

Seruffin: Yes. So, you can build on the precedent. If you will have enough Simes with you to use up a significant percentage of the selyn that is collected locally, that is also a strong argument: fewer trips for the mule.

Zeth: Well, we're consultants. Our teams are generally fairly small, and of mixed larity, so we wouldn't make much difference to the local selyn balance. But it's something to bear in mind, should the union want to hire more Simes.

Seruffin: The most important thing is to keep bringing the matter to the attention of the authorities at frequent intervals, so they don't keep putting it off in favor of a more urgent problem.

Zeth smiles.

Zeth: It sounds like things haven't changed much since I was one of those authorities.

Seruffin: No, the Tecton's grown a bit larger, and these days it doesn't have to be quite so ruthless, but it's still much the same. Too few people, trying to do too much work, and somehow managing to pull it off. Most of the time.

Zeth: Certainly things are a lot further from the edge of disaster than they were thirty or even twenty-five years ago.

Zeth can see that he's only a few years younger than Seruffin, if that much. Even in the remote rural Sime Center he managed, he never quite ran out of selyn, and although he and his staff had to work very long hours on some occasions, they always made it through.

Seruffin: Well, as long as things go according to plan. Unfortunately, they don't, always.

Seruffin is now able to view his stay in Gumgeeville with ~~ good humor ~~, although he was a great deal more concerned at the time.

Zeth: I'll probably being going out to the Cordvain Valley for a brief look around before we prepare a bid. I'll go with my Donor and another pair. I haven't been out-T since my First Year. It will be an interesting experience, after all this time.

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: Be careful to watch the weather. Believe me, you don't want to find yourself trapped in the wrong town.

Seruffin displays the sort of ~~ sincerity ~~ that comes from personal experience.

Zeth: Oh, we'll take one of the company railcars. They're equipped with living quarters as well as work space and equipment storage. I wouldn't expect to be welcome at the local hotel.

Zeth plans to bring along a keg of porstan and some other in-T treats for the Dar team, too.

Seruffin smiles.

Seruffin: You're already much better equipped than the average Tecton channel, then. Believe me, it's not any fun trying to find lodging in a strange Gen town on short notice.

Zeth: I would imagine not!

Seruffin: I had to send my Donor out to find lodging for us last spring, when a snowstorm blocked the train in the small Gen town of Gumgeeville. They barely knew what a Donor was, and they weren't at all happy about having a channel stay.

Zeth: She convinced the hotel to let you in? Or bribed them perhaps?

Zeth has no doubts about the resourcefulness of Donors looking after their channels.

Seruffin: Gerrhonot is a young man, and he's not capable of deceit. We were fortunate, however, in that he thought to ask the station master, who had made the mistake of loaning money to a less-than-prosperous farmer. I gather he was trying to provide the means for his loan to be repaid. The farmer's wife took the hint, and charged us an outrageous sum to stay locked in an oversized closet where her boys usually slept.

Zeth: They locked you in? ~~ appalled ~~

Seruffin: Maree Mullins was not at all comfortable around Simes. Under the circumstances, I made sure that I stayed in the room as much as possible, when she was home. Her husband and the elder son were much more sociable. They ended up donating, which made the ambient much easier.

Zeth nods with ~~ vicarious relief ~~.

Seruffin: It was still a very long couple of weeks, before the snow cleared and we could move on to the Sime Center in Hannard's Ford.

Zeth: I can imagine -- or perhaps I can't!

Seruffin: I sincerely hope that you will never be in a similar position, but you would be safest to plan ahead on the assumption that something of the sort could happen.

Zeth smiles.

Zeth: More redundancy in the living arrangements in our railcar, then.

Seruffin: Don't forget heat. We could have stayed in the train's baggage car, but Gerrhonot would have frozen to death.

Zeth: Well, we have stoves in our railcars. I suppose we could run out of fuel, but the Gens can buy or collect wood for us.

Seruffin: You might also ensure you're well stocked with food. Contrary to popular opinion on our side of the border, not all out-Territory Gens can cook. Maree Mullins, for instance, specialized in a watery, overcooked cabbage soup.

Zeth is pre-turnover, so the thought is not inordinately repulsive.

Seruffin: It was bad enough for me, but poor Gerrhonot was desperate. He's still growing.

Zeth smiles, thinking of the appetites of growing Gens. No wonder the juncts thought of full grown Gens as "giants". The Gens they knew and killed were barely adolescent and usually half-starved.

Seruffin: At least the Mullins family was too poor to afford meat.

Zeth: I suppose the exorbitant rent and the donation payments would have made a big difference for them.

Seruffin: It did. It will make even more difference once Bart, the older son, starts sending some of his Donor's salary home.

Zeth is ~~ startled ~~.

Zeth: You recruited a Donor trainee there?

Seruffin: Well, he took several months to make his mind up, and the channel at Hannard's Ford certainly deserves some of the credit, but yes.

Zeth: Remarkable. Of course the genes are out there, but certainly few Gens with the potential ever have the opportunity to realize it, or act on it.

Seruffin: There are interesting genetics in some of these isolated Gen towns, where no new people have settled for generations.

Zeth: I've never met a Donor from out-T.

Seruffin: There are some. More these days, I expect, than there were when you were working for the Tecton.

Zeth: Yes. At the time I retired, the Tecton had only a dozen or so out-T Sime Centers, so there wouldn't have been much opportunity for Gens to discover their talent.

Seruffin: It's a mixed blessing, for such Gens. Their friends and families frequently can't understand why they would choose such a profession, and the opportunities for a Donor to travel out-T on a family visit are limited.

Zeth: But to have the talent, and not know it... and never have the opportunity to use it... Well, I suppose any who go in for training must be highly motivated, perhaps very talented.

Seruffin: Yes. The ones who are miserable away from Simes, right from the start.

Zeth: Well, it wasn't so easy for Donors here in the early days of Unity, either. Of course, most Gens were rejected by their families just for establishing, but those who became Giant Killer Gens -- the families didn't know what to think.

Seruffin: The families weren't much more accepting of children who became working channels.

Zeth: Well, I'm from out-T, and changing over was probably the worst thing a child could do there. Especially if he killed, and even more if he escaped. Channel or no, a monster.

Seruffin: Yes. You became the worst nightmare. It's a problem that can only be resolved gradually.

Zeth: Still too few channels to do much for anyone out there.

Zeth isn't going to point out the waste of his own abilities, or those of the other junct Thirds who continue to escape to Nivet.

Seruffin: Yes. And still too many towns that would rather not even let them try.

Zeth: Well, I suppose I'll be seeing one that has had a taste of what the Tecton can do for it.

Seruffin: Yes. That's why it's important, in my not-so-humble opinion, that a Sime presence continue in the Cordvain Valley.

Zeth: That's up to the Tecton now, not GeoZlin.

Seruffin: Most of all, it depends on the residents of the Cordvain Valley, and whether they feel that it would be desirable to keep you -- and the Tecton -- around.

Zeth: Indeed. But money talks, on both sides of the border. If they have to have Simes around to have a livelihood, they'll have to learn to tolerate us.

Seruffin: If it worked for the Mullins family, chances are it can work for the miners, too.

Zeth sets his tea mug on the desk.

Zeth: Thank you for your time, Hajene. You've given me some things to think about.

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