Healing the World: Episode 6

Zoubin relaxes in the Moonbean Cafe with his friends and a mochaccino. Classes have just started up again after the winter break, and he can get away with some free time before the pressure builds up again.

Yustin is still quivering with ~~ disgust ~~, or maybe an overdose of caffeine and sugar.

Yustin: I ask you, who can follow a history lecture at eight in the morning?

Athanasia sits quietly over her huge mug of hot chocolate, with a secret smile on her face.

Athanasia: Hmmm?

Zoubin isn't all that sympathetic, having been required to follow lectures in advanced applied mathematics at 8am.

Yustin: I've got to finish my humanities requirements, and that was the only class that had space. It's the guy with that weird accent, too.

Athanasia knows she was in class this morning, but somehow it doesn't seem terribly relevant right now.

Athanasia: Accent?

Athanasia is remembering a particularly deep, heavily accented voice.

Athanasia: Hmm? What guy with an accent?

Yustin: Yeah. Arnink.

Yustin: Hard to understand, especially when you're short of sleep.

Athanasia: Where's he from?

Yustin: Some place I've never heard of. Arrevan.

Athanasia: Isn't that on the other side of the border?

Yustin: Is it? I guess I should have taken geography instead of history.

Athanasia: Just look at a map occasionally.

Yustin: I hate maps. All those squiggles with mysterious meanings. Worse than o-chem.

Yustin says this with the complacent relish of one who has survived that trauma.

Athanasia: I'm not talking about the high-tech maps the geology students use. I mean just ordinary road maps.

Yustin: I don't trust them.

Athanasia can't, at the moment, remember why she was ever attracted to Yustin. She scowls in exasperation.

Athanasia: What do you mean, you don't trust them?

Yustin: When we were freshmen, how helpful were those little maps they gave us? All the buildings on the map had names, but since none of the actual buildings have names posted on them, what good does that do? A map should refer to something you can verify in the real world, right Zoubin?

Zoubin: Yeah, I guess.

Zoubin has been daydreaming while his friends argue.

Yustin: What good's a blueprint of a house that only details the landscaping that might be put in when the thing's built?

Zoubin: Depends on if you're the landscaper or not.

Yustin: I suppose.

Yustin takes a morbid slurp of his double cappucchino.

Yustin: At least the landscaper wouldn't have six guys giving deliberately wrong directions every time he asked a question.

Yustin snickers.

Yustin: Although it seemed a lot more funny when I saw a couple of guys doing it to this really dweebish transfer student the other day...

Athanasia: Poor Yustin. You really got the runaround, your first week on campus?

Zoubin: So what kind of history class is it, Yustin?

Yustin: Something about trade. He's been going on about economics, anyway.

Athanasia: Don't you remember the course title?

Yustin: I forgot -- I only signed up for the stupid class because my counselor said I had to have a humanities class, and it was the only one on his list that was given this semester and didn't conflict with something else.

Yustin fumbles in his backpack and withdraws a syllabus.

Yustin: Here it is. "Political History of the Northern Continent".

Athanasia: Sounds like it could be interesting. Depending on how it's taught.

Yustin: There speaks the morning person.

Zoubin: Yeah, with a prof from Nivet, it could be cool. Get a different view than from most people.

Yustin: The only course that really interests me at eight in the morning is "Sleeping 101". Although it was a bit more interesting this morning.

Athanasia raises an inquisitive eyebrow.

Athanasia: How so?

Yustin: Arnink was going on about cradles of civilization and so on, and got challenged by a guy who pointed out that some of the places he was talking about were only settled recently, in the last few pushes of the Sime Wars.

Athanasia: What did he say to that?

Yustin: Arnink came back and said he was talking about before that capture, and the kid blew his stack.

Athanasia grins. This really sounds like an interesting class.

Yustin: Apparently he wasn't willing to call anyplace a cradle of civilization if it was Sime Territory at the time.

Athanasia: And how did Arnink handle that?

Yustin: I admit, by then I was awake enough to follow even his accent. The guy must have been one of those rich kids from old families -- he spoke like that, anyway. And in the aisle next to him was a case with a Forster camera. Top of the line.

Yustin: Well, Arnink just asked the guy where the knowledge and technology behind that fancy machine of his was developed and preserved from Ancient records.

Athanasia grins. She can see where this is going.

Yustin: Well, the guy is a real camera enthusiast, it's plain to see that. He starts going on about Gribbens and Bov Tildy.

Athanasia doesn't know much about cameras, but nods anyway. She's at least heard of Gribbens cameras.

Yustin: And then Arnink stops him cold by saying the Gribbens Camera Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of some Sime Householding, and Bov Tildy just runs it for them.

Athanasia: How did the guy take that?

Yustin: The kid doesn't believe him, so Arnink has him open up his camera case and read what's inside the lid.

Athanasia: And it said?

Yustin takes a dramatic slurp.

Yustin: The kid couldn't read it. It was written in Simelan, you see.

Athanasia laughs, spilling some of her hot chocolate.

Yustin: I gotta admit, that was worth getting up so early to hear.

Athanasia: Sounds to me like you've got a really good prof. You don't want a guy who's just gonna talk dry facts, names and dates. History's about people and motivations and patterns. History's the juiciest gossip of the past, turned into something printable. You've got to get between the lines, get back to the unprintable bits.

Yustin: I suppose so. I'd like a little less about buying and selling, though.

Athanasia: Like who tricked who into selling too cheap? Who had a shortage of what and started a battle over it?

Yustin: Yeah, but profs aren't supposed to say unprintable things, at least not in introductory survey classes. Anyway, before school overwhelms again, did anybody do anything interesting over the break?

Athanasia smiles reminiscently but says nothing.

Zoubin: I visited my sister in Nivet.

Athanasia: Tell us more.

Yustin: Yeah. What's Simeland like?

Zoubin: It was cool. She's a civil engineer already, even though she's younger than me. Simes can learn four times as fast in their first year after changeover.

Yustin: That's not fair.

Zoubin shrugs. He doesn't think it's fair, either, but it's not like it's anybody's fault.

Athanasia knows anyone who's read the post-Depressionists knows life isn't supposed to be fair.

Zoubin: Most people I met speak some English, but everybody speaks Simelan all the time, in general.

Zoubin would rather not describe the effects of his nager on people and his sister's only marginally successful efforts to give him a crash course in nageric control.

Yustin: Must be hard, not to understand anything much.

Athanasia: What did you do while you were there? What did you see? How did people treat you?

Zoubin: People were good about it, and of course, my sister could interpret for me. Most people could tell I was from out-T. I went in to work with my sister and met the other engineers and saw what they were doing. She's in this group that designs bridges for the railway. That was pretty cool.

Athanasia sips her hot chocolate, listening.

Zoubin: And we went and looked at some bridges and roads and cool buildings and stuff.

Yustin: Were any of them designed by your sister?

Zoubin: No, she's only been working there for a year. It's her first job after graduating.

Yustin: So what was so cool about the buildings?

Zoubin: They're doing things with concrete and stuff, more advanced than what you see here. Different style, too.

Zoubin can't really describe it without getting technical, which he knows will turn his friends off.

Athanasia: Different how?

Zoubin: Well, some of the aesthetics involve how you zlin things in them, but to get the effects they do cool things with cantilevers and stuff.

Athanasia is sorry she asked.

Zoubin: And the thickness of walls and partitions, especially. Different material and stuff.

Athanasia: Do they look much different?

Zoubin: Yeah, they do. Like, if you want people to be close together, like in an apartment building or an office building, you have to take into account that the Simes can zlin people, not just see or hear them.

Yustin: How does that change how you build it?

Zoubin: Well, you have to think about what the space will zlin like, not just acoustics and visual stuff. And you need to think about how fields propagate so people can have privacy and not be distracted by each other.

Zoubin gestures.

Zoubin: But that's architects, not just engineers. You know how architects want to do stuff more for aesthetics than function, sometimes.

Athanasia: Aesthetics can be very important. People have to live in those buildings, after all.

Zoubin: Yeah, but something that looks nice to the viewer can be hell to live or work in. Like Zivel Hall here -- it's really grand looking, but you can hardly hear the lecturer -- the acoustics are awful.

Yustin: Yeah.

Zoubin: Even after they retrofitted all that burlap sort of padding stuff on the walls.

Yustin: Now, that's ugly.

Zoubin: Yeah. They could have picked a less ugly color for it, at least.

Yustin: You gotta admit the new library is great, though.

Athanasia nods agreement, to both.

Athanasia: What did you see besides bridges and buildings and stuff, Zoubin?

Zoubin: We went skating in the park. That was fun, but you should see some of the stunts the Simes can do on the ice. They're so light and fast and graceful.

Athanasia: I've heard they've got a whole performance art form that's all done with fancy skating. Jumps and spins and stuff.

Zoubin: And then there was this big company Year's Turning party. Wow.

Zoubin laughs.

Yustin: They really celebrate the holiday there?

Zoubin: Oh, yeah. As much as here. Maybe more. My sister explained to me that the reason all the big shots were hanging around me at the buffet was that older Simes really appreciate being around young Gens who are still growing and have big appetites.

Zoubin doesn't add "and don't know how to control their nagers".

Athanasia grins.

Athanasia: They piggyback on your appetite?

Zoubin: It helps them enjoy the food more.

Yustin: Did you get any of them to promise you a job?

Zoubin: Well, no, of course not. I won't graduate for a while yet, and I don't speak their language.

Zoubin also thinks Nivet is a great place to visit but he wouldn't want to live there.

Athanasia: Is it true that women are in management as often as men are?

Zoubin: I think so. At least in my sister's company. And in technical jobs like engineer, too. Simes and Gens both.

Yustin: So why do they hire Gens, if all their architecture has to zlin right?

Zoubin: Well, it has to look right, too, but especially it has to not fall down. That's the most important part for bridges and stuff.

Yustin: Well, yes, I can see that.

Zoubin: I mean, like here, even people who aren't blind can design ugly but functional stuff. Just look around campus. So just being able to zlin doesn't make you an artist at design.

Athanasia: Is there something about schools that brings out the ugly side of an architect? Or is it just that they always go with the lowest bidder?

Zoubin: I think it's the lowest bid principle. Depends on whether the university has money or not, when they put out the tender.

Athanasia: Now you see, Yustin? There's an example of how economics and trade have a real effect in people's lives.

Yustin is already scribbling notes.

Yustin: Keep going: I've got a paper to write on the economics part of the course.

Zoubin: Like Zivel Hall. The Zivels gave them all this money to build it, and they got beautiful but non-functional. But the engineering lab complex, the government gave them some money because they figured we need more engineers, and they built as much as they could of concrete blockhouses with it.

Yustin: Seems like a waste of a blank check, to me.

Zoubin: It wasn't a blank check. They said the engineering school had to turn out twice as many engineers per year, and this was the money they gave them for it. I guess they figured they could plant trees around them, and after a while nobody could see how ugly they are.

Athanasia: So the trick, if this were an essay topic, would be to find out what politics happened behind the scenes, that they didn't go for aesthetics as well as function.

Yustin: So how easy is it to get both? I mean, if it's a trade-off, you just go for a balance of benefit and cost, and go for what you afford.

Athanasia: I think it's a male thing. And maybe an administrator thing. To think that big solid blocks look impressive.

Zoubin: It's always a trade off. Like if they said to the Zivels, we'll build you a great big ugly place, the Zivels wouldn't want their name on it, and wouldn't give the money. So Zivel Hall looks good, with all that fancy brickwork and tiles, and the Zivels are proud of it, and they don't care that it sounds like a locomotive shed when somebody is trying to give a lecture inside.

Yustin: So do they do any better at getting nice buildings that are useful than we do?

Zoubin: In Nivet? I think it's probably about the same as here. Some ugly-but-functional, some pretty but not as functional as they might be, and some dumps and some jewels.

Yustin: Are the Sime Centers any prettier?

Athanasia: Do Simes have a different aesthetic sense? More curves, like tentacles, maybe?

Zoubin: Sime Centers, it depends. It's not like I saw many of them. A lot are basic and functional, but some are in pre-Unity buildings that are really nice. Of course, the main one here in New Washington, next to the Nivet Embassy, is a showpiece.

Athanasia: I guess, right after Unity they had to build a lot of them in a big hurry.

Zoubin: Yeah, or just stick them in buildings they already had, good or bad. Then they replaced the bad ones and kept the nice ones.

Zoubin doesn't realize that some of the 'jewels' were former private Gendealer facilities catering to the upper classes.

Athanasia: My pen pal said a lot of the Tecton buildings are converted Pens. I didn't think he meant the actual Sime centers, though.

Yustin: Yeah. Who'd want to go donate in a place they used to kill people?

Zoubin: I guess they might have been. Like the Tecton took them over and there was one in every town already. They would have been in a hurry to get them set up. Then they could replace them afterwards.

Athanasia: Except the trouble with "afterwards" is that there's always something more urgent to do with the money.

Zoubin shrugs.

Yustin: Like pay us donors?

Athanasia: Hey, that seems pretty urgent to me.

Zoubin: Well, I was only there for a week. I'm no expert on how they'd set their priorities, after what's needed for basic survival. Like right after Unity, they were probably getting most of the selyn from Pen Gens anyway.

Athanasia: But not any more. Without at least some selyn from Gen territory, they'd starve.

Yustin: So where'd you hear that, anyway? This pen pal of yours?

Athanasia blushes.

Athanasia: Uh, yeah.

Athanasia tries to hide her reaction in another sip of lukewarm hot chocolate.

Yustin finds this response ~~ interesting ~~

Yustin: Who is she, anyway? Or is it he?

Athanasia: His name's Hrannen. He's been writing to me to improve his written English. And he...

Athanasia realizes she's almost said too much.

Yustin: Yes....?

Yustin dearly loves current juicy gossip, even if that of bygone times strikes him as dull.

Athanasia: He wanted to improve his spoken English, too. So he came visiting, over the break.

Yustin: A visitor from across the border? What was he like?

Athanasia: He's...

Athanasia doesn't want to say, "really cute." Last term she was actively trying to get Yustin's attention, and she doesn't want to hurt his feelings now if by any chance she succeeded.

Athanasia: He's about our age. He's Gen. He's studying history and economics. He... well, we spent a lot of time talking over the holidays.

Yustin is slightly ~~ jealous ~~, but he wasn't too serious about Athanasia, even when she was making a play for him. He's also cognizant of the looming economics paper he must write.

Yustin: So, what did he have to say about his studies?

Yustin checks to make sure that his pencil is available to take notes, if any good ideas are dropped.

Athanasia: Um, we really didn't talk very much about school.

Athanasia blushes again.

Yustin: Ah. Poetry and roses?

Athanasia tries to look indignant.

Athanasia: Comparative cultures. Different customs and expectations.

Yustin: But I thought you said earlier that that is history and economics?

Athanasia: Well, yeah. In a sense.

Athanasia is glad to be able to steer the conversation onto safer ground.

Yustin: I smell a logical contradiction. Also a fresh tray of scones at the counter. Shall we fortify ourselves before pursuing this discussion?

Athanasia glances at her watch.

Athanasia: Actually, I've got a class in a few minutes.

Athanasia has, in fact, half an hour until her next class, too. But she doesn't want to follow this topic any further until she has some idea how Yustin might take it.

Yustin: More scones for me. I've got another half hour before my lab.

Athanasia: Well, then, I'll... I'll see you later.

Yustin: Sure. C'mon, Zoubin. Those scones smell well designed, to me.

Zoubin laughs.

Zoubin: Yeah, they do.

Athanasia gulps the last of her hot chocolate, grabs her books, and heads for the door.

Yustin looks after her.

Yustin: That must've been some vacation she had.

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