Zeth half fills a couple of mugs with freshly brewed trin. His company railcar is jolting over some rough track. He offers a mug to Marvin and sits across from him on a comfortably padded bench.
Zeth: Here you go. Nice to have some company while the Gens are asleep, eh?
Marvin sighs and nods his head.
Marvin: It certainly is. I've spent plenty of time on baggage cars trying to stay interested in my current book.
Zeth: Too bad it's too dark to watch the scenery, the one time you've got a chance.
Marvin: [ruefully] Exactly.
Zeth sips his trin with ~~ pleasure ~~.
Marvin drinks too and echoes the ~~ pleasure ~~ back, a minimal demonstration of Marvin Powers.
Zeth smiles, glad his guest is enjoying the trin.
Marvin: The amazing thing you have here, though, besides the window, is the bed. Beds and trains just aren't something that go together in any of my experiences with either.
Marvin: Not that a bundle of straw disassembled with minimal augmentation is entirely to be scorned either, y'know.
Zeth: I understand these Gens have special cars with little rooms to sleep in. Substantial extra charge, of course.
Marvin: They do. But we Simes don't get to use them, and even if we did, the Tecton budget wouldn't cover it. No, the Sime car is the baggage car, period. With rare exceptions.
Zeth: I guess the kind of people who can pay the extra charge are not likely to be willing to have a Sime in the car with them. But how do you keep your Donors warm in a baggage car?
Zeth's company railcars are insulated and equipped with a small stove, bolted to the floor for safety.
Marvin: [airily] Cuddling, what else? What the Ancients used to call "bundling".
Zeth: I love my wife, but I think she appreciates a bed that's warm without being heated by selyn.
Marvin: Well, that emotional situation's a bit different, eh?
Zeth: We've been together for a very long time.
Marvin: ~~ wistful ~~ As long as I do what I do, that's not likely to be something that happens to me. Though I do have good friends among the settled. Or semi-settled, at least.
Zeth: Harder for a disjunct these days, especially a higher order disjunct.
Marvin waves that off with a complex tentacle gesture.
Marvin: For a mule, disjunct or nonjunct isn't much of a professional difference, really.
Zeth: Do you like working out-T like this, or would you rather be hauling selyn around Nivet?
Marvin: Oh, I definitely prefer out-T work. The trips are longer and the people you meet more interesting. Furthermore, I get to do new Sime escort duty, which is almost always interesting and frequently fun.
Zeth: I suppose it would be.
Zeth shakes his head.
Zeth: Must be hard for the kids, even nonjuncts.
Marvin: It often is. It depends where they come from, of course. Most of these little towns in the sticks, the kids are panicked at the whole idea, even the nonjuncts. There are exceptions, of course, depending on the town's relationship with its Sime Center.
Zeth: When I think what I was like when I first came in-T... I'd hate to be the channel who had to deal with me. Tough little bastard -- twelve years natal, just barely.
Zeth seldom thinks about his childhood any more, but being out-T again has brought back the memories.
Zeth: They almost threatened me, in disjunction camp, if I didn't start showing some remorse, I wasn't going to make it. They might have let me live as a semi-junct, but they weren't going to tell me that.
Zeth: They really needed every channel they could get, in those days, so they worked hard to disjunct me. But I was proud of killing my mother's pimp, a big mean lorsh, and me a scrawny little boy. But I didn't hate anybody else enough to want to kill them, so I was willing to disjunct.
Zeth gestures with his tentacles.
Zeth: First Year is kind of a miracle -- a Sime can change his whole personality, if he wants to.
Marvin: Indeed it is. In my case, it was a matter of not quite making it to the border. I actually drained the man -- a traveler, nobody knew who he was. If I'd been able to last just a little longer -- [English] But them's the breaks.
Zeth: Hard luck, very hard luck.
Marvin: The ones who really have the hard luck, of course, are the ones who aren't anywhere near a Sime Center.
Zeth: Yeah. Out in the Cordvain Valley, they've had a Dar team there for a few months, and they're desperate now to get a permanent Sime Center. The mothers, particularly.
Marvin elevates his eyebrows.
Marvin: That's a long, long, long way out-T, isn't it? I've never been there myself.
Zeth: A long ways the far side of New Washington. But it will be harder than ever for these people to go back to murdering their children now they've seen there's another way. It will cause a lot of bad feeling about the Tecton if they don't get a Sime Center.
Marvin: I can see that. But of course, it's at the end of a very long supply line.
Marvin sees things from a mule's viewpoint first and foremost, of course.
Zeth: Yes. They can use the money from donations, but if even a QN-3 could be stationed there to manage changeovers... that's the important part, really.
Marvin: Unfortunately, the powers that be will think of it in terms of dynopters in versus dynopters out.
Zeth: Having been a minor power-that-was, I understand that thinking. But they require a group of Simes there to zlin salvageable materials, or they'll have to close their entire operation within a year.
Marvin: ~~ sarcastic ~~ A stellar opportunity for that cross-border cooperation our lords and masters are always talking about.
Zeth: If the company decides to continue operations, they may have to push the Tecton for a Sime Center. Right now, they haven't decided.
Marvin: Well, it's not hopeless. Particularly if there's a railhead, as I suppose there must be for a mining operation.
Zeth: Can you imagine that Senator Tsibola asking the Tecton for a Sime Center for his district? He's a real "Sime Menace Threatens Our Nation" type, politically. ~~ amused by the irony ~~
Marvin: Well, this small town I know has a Sime Center basically because one woman -- with about half the town behind her -- pushed for it and wouldn't let up. I don't know whether the Gen government was even involved directly, except to grant permission for a fait accompli.
Zeth: The union up in the valley is all for a Sime Center. They planned to use the donation money as a strike fund, but now that they've learned that the company is planning to shut the place down, they want to form up as a cooperative to mine the site themselves. They'll need some capital, and donation is a good way to get it. They're dirt poor up there, no matter how hard they work. The company owns everything.
Marvin: That makes it tough to use Hannard's Ford as a precedent: it was the property owners -- and taxpayers -- there who were pushing for the Tecton. ~~ sympathy ~~
Marvin: So it's Sarton's Trap, only three-sided: they can't buy the mining rights without capital, and they can't influence the government without the mining rights, and they can't get the capital without the Sime Center.
Zeth shakes his head.
Zeth: You know, everybody thinks the Gens are ahead of us technologically, but the way they're working that site is back in the Lost Ages. Wasteful, inefficient. They're dumping stuff into the smelter furnace for fuel that Frihill would pay for by the gram.
Marvin: ~~ excited ~~ Really? Like what?
Zeth: Well, a lot of the site is clay-capped landfill, and most of it's from the Middle Period. You know, when the Wasters were using everything up and throwing it away, before they started recycling, themselves.
Zeth: Tons of printed matter, some of it in great condition, until they let the air in at it. I went down into one of the pits with some union guys, and they took a pick and pulled out an actual complete bound book. You could read it -- for about five minutes, until it disintegrated. Newspapers... amazing stuff... all going for fuel.
Marvin: Amazing. And, of course, predictable.
Zeth: Of course, most of it is real trash: sheet plastic, paper diapers from our infant ancestors fifty generations back. Construction debris, asphalt, concrete rubble, wood, animal bones, metal and glass food containers... A lot of it we'd reprocess or reuse. Even sell some as antiques.
Marvin thinks about it.
Marvin: Sure. But I do have, in a left-handed kind of way, a connection to someone in the World Controller's office. Maybe a word to the wise will actually help for once.
Zeth wonders how a mule developed such lofty connections.
Marvin: Let's just say I had the privilege of being chewed out by him for a rather major inter-territorial blunder I made once. But I have it on good authority that he kinda likes me anyhow.
Zeth laughs. He finds Marvin rather likeable himself.
Zeth: I spoke with one of those diplomats myself, before I made this trip. I was a bit nervous about him, a Houseless First, but times have changed and he was quite pleasant and helpful.
Marvin gets a gleam in his eye.
Marvin: Seruffin, by any chance?
Zeth: Yes! Is he your connection?
Zeth's eyes twinkle.
Zeth: I bet he does a real good job chewing people out, with a nager like that.
Marvin nods repeatedly.
Marvin: Oh yes. Oh yes yes yes.
Marvin: Not that he actually needs to use his nager. Just with words he makes you feel like a complete fool.
Zeth: He is a good talker.
Zeth gets up, adds a scoop of charcoal to the stove, and refills the trin mugs, more full this time, since the track seems to be in better condition.
Marvin: So did he give you any indication of his views on the Cordvain situation?
Zeth: Oh, he was very diplomatic. Nothing you could pin him down to. But of course, he's not the one to decide whether they get a permanent Sime Center. I mostly wanted to know the legalities of Simes working out there, assuming there's a Sime Center.
Marvin: Of course. Well, I'll be happy to bend Hajene Bibi's ear on the subject -- you didn't meet her, I don't suppose?
Zeth: Hajene Bibi?
Marvin: Our mutual friend. She's the sole channel in that town I mentioned before.
Zeth is still ~~ puzzled ~~ and waits for Marvin to explain.
Marvin: Hannard's Ford is the town that got itself the Sime Center, and Bibi, who's an out-T nonjunct, is the QN-2 who runs it. It's one of the regular stops on my run. She met Seruffin when he was trapped in a nearby town by a snowstorm that shut down the trains. So Bibi and I are close friends, and now Bibi and Seruffin are [English] an item -- so I'll see what I can do.
Zeth laughs and shakes his head. Those high order channels are still mesmerizing all the women with their big nagers.
Zeth: So you want GeoZlin to be a topic of pillow talk for the dignified Hajene Seruffin and his little cupcake.
Marvin gives Zeth the hairy eyeball.
Marvin: Not GeoZlin as such, the Cordvain Valley Sime Center. And Bibi is a cutie, not a cupcake! ~~ mock vehemence ~~
Zeth spreads hands and tentacles. and laughs.
Marvin joins in the laugh, then sobers up.
Marvin: In fact, she's been running that Sime Center single-handed for five years, practically without a break, and not with the world's greatest Donors either.
Zeth: It must be rough, living out here all the time, but she does get to do all those First Transfers. When I was running a Sime Center, I used to discipline my channels by not letting them do changeovers.
Marvin: Bad channel! No changeovers!
Marvin: When I made that little blunder I mentioned, they disciplined me by taking me off mule duty and making me sweat the books for a few weeks. ~~ ironic ~~
Zeth: Just what was this little blunder, if you aren't too embarrassed to tell me about it?
Marvin: Um. Well. Yes. I persuaded a minor child to donate to me without her parents' consent so that I could give First Transfer to a changeover. ~~ embarrassment but not as much as he used to have ~~
Zeth is confused by the idea of a child donating, but then realizes Marvin means a child in the out-T sense.
Marvin: Seruffin persuaded me that that threatened the First Contract.
Zeth: I didn't think they were training disjuncts to do donations and transfers any more, not that I agree with the policy.
Marvin: Me? Trained? Naah. I improvised the whole thing, I'm afraid.
Zeth: I assume you improvised successfully, since we aren't back in a state of chronic war with the Gens.
Marvin: Fortunately, yes. The Gen's a regular donor now, and the Sime is studying economics in Capital. She's got family connections out-T -- the Sime, I mean.
Zeth: So overall, a win for Unity?
Marvin: In hindsight, yes. But that's hindsight. It's easy to say something was worth the risk when the risk didn't come to pass. And it's one thing to break the rules, another to fling them down and dance upon them.
Zeth thinks Marvin is either an extremely talented or an incredibly lucky man.
Marvin: -- But here I am telling you all this; what did you put in that trin tea, anyhow?
Zeth: Shall I make a fresh pot, or would you like to sample some apricot brandy my wife picked up in New Washington? It's sweet enough to tempt a Sime, she says.
Marvin: Well, perhaps just a small one.
Marvin uses his tentacles to indicate the size of the small one.
Zeth fetches the brandy and two shot glasses from the cupboard and pours.
Marvin takes one of the glasses from Zeth and holds it up.
Marvin: To the cuties in our lives: may they always keep warm!
Zeth laughs and clinks his glass with Marvin's.
Marvin sips the brandy.
Marvin: Whoo. That's good stuff, and for sure it's sweet enough.
Marvin doesn't drink much, but has enough control to keep the burning sensation from slipping into his showfield.
Zeth has a small taste. It's quite syrupy.
Zeth: Might be good on ice cream. Or yogurt.
Marvin: Ice cream, for sure. What's yogurt?
Zeth: They call it clabber, some places. Out where I learned Simelan, everybody called it yogurt, so I got in the habit.
Marvin: Ah. Yeah. I never cared for it. But maybe this brandy would help at that. Can I break protocol by proposing two toasts in a row, or have you got one?
Zeth: Sure, be my guest.
Marvin raises his glass again, less cheerily this time.
Marvin: To us and those like us. Damn few of us left.
Marvin takes a somewhat larger sip while zlinning for Zeth's reaction.
Zeth: May there be fewer yet. ~~ chagrin and agreement ~~
Marvin: [English] Amen.
Marvin: ~~ elaborately casual ~~ By the way, do you happen to know a fella named Bill, Bill the Berserker?
Zeth: He was after my time, but I know a number of people he's helped.
Marvin nods and drops the subject.
Zeth: My wife's not quite my matchmate, but close. That's helped me a lot.
Marvin: The Tecton's not fussed about you two having a transfer dependency?
Zeth: We're careful not to let it turn into one. We trade off with another pair every few months, just for transfer. But we stay together the rest of the time.
Marvin: Ah. That's clever. ~~ admiration ~~ And since you're both Qualified, it doesn't give your Controller a pain in the Distect.
Zeth: At one time we thought about starting a Householding. A Sectuib can allow transfer dependencies among his members, without the Tecton's approval.
Marvin: But you couldn't get sponsored by an existing House, eh?
Zeth: We never tried very hard. When I was still with the Tecton, most Houses weren't recruiting disjuncts, or much of anybody, really. And afterwards... well, I got used to being more independent. My partners call me the Sectuib in GeoZlin sometimes. It's just a little more than an affectionate joke.
Zeth: The Tecton wouldn't be very happy about a Householding of disjuncts. Who'd serve transfer?
Marvin: True, true. Though perhaps inside the Householding you could relax the rules. Still, if what you've got works, it works. ~~ thoughtful ~~
Zeth: It does work. And when I look at what I've got -- my wife, our grown children, the company, my partners who respect me and are guided by me -- I think: "Not bad for a whore's bastard".
Marvin: And I've got honorable and necessary work, good friends, a life I enjoy, achievements to look back on. Not bad for someone whose original family would have murdered him if they could.
Zeth offers his glass in a toast.
Marvin clinks Zeth's glass with his own in silence.