Horvit is, as usual, the first of his own team to arrive. He doesn't work on the assembly line, after all, and so he is is able to leave pretty much when the whistle blows, without fighting for space in the locker room.
Mayer shows up, puts his ball in the return chute, sits down to put on his shoes. He's ready for a quiet game, it's been a long day at the line.
Mayer: Hey, Horvit. How's it going?
Horvit: Hi, Mayer. It's been an interesting few days, that's for sure.
Mayer: I heard a rumor today.
Mayer: The new bosses are going to replace everyone with snak... uh, Simes.
Mayer writes his name on the score card, glancing at Horvit to see if he caught that slip. He's still having a hard time getting used to Simes owning the plant
Cathbad strides in, with the energy of youth. He stops at the counter to rent a pair of shoes, then joins the little group.
Cathbad: They're going to what?
Horvit: Oh, come on, Mayer. How are they gonna do that? They had a hard enough time finding one lousy Sime quality control engineer who was willing to live in Cago.
Mayer: Well, that's why I figured I ask, instead of spreading the rumor further.
Mayer smiles. Horvit can be so earnest
Mayer: Hey Cathbad. Just asking about a rumor I heard.
Horvit: I was telling him that there's no danger that everybody at the plant will be replaced with Simes.
Cathbad kicks off his street shoes and bends to lace up the rented pair.
Cathbad: Can't imagine there's that many Simes would want to live here.
Mayer: Cathbad, when you going to get a real pair of shoes? Do you know what kind of fungus are in those rented things?
Mayer thinks everyone should have their own equipment to really play the game right
Cathbad: Hey, I'm saving up for college. You think I can afford a pair of shoes I only wear one night a week?
Tunx: Hey, he could be trying to play in his work boots. Then we'd all probably get banned. For life.
Tunx takes a sort of perverse glee in the notion.
Mayer checks the scorecard.
Mayer: Everyone sign in or we never get this game started. And then it won't matter if we are banned.
Tunx laughs and goes over to sign in.
Horvit: It'll still be a while. The power was out for a while earlier, so everybody's running late.
Cathbad shrugs. He's only doing this because it's so good to be treated like one of the grown men, not because he loves bowling.
Mayer: Yeah, what was that about? I was way short on my count because of it.
Tunx: Probably someone at the power plant got drunk and pulled the wrong switch.
Cathbad: We should have a back-up generator at the plant.
Mayer: We should have lots of things at the plant
Tunx: We could get a big-ass selyn battery now that we have a Sime on staff.
Cathbad wants all the production bonuses he can get, so he'll be able to afford to start college next semester instead of waiting till next year.
Horvit: She's no channel. She couldn't fill a selyn battery, even if someone was willing to give her the selyn.
Mayer is reminded of that rumor.
Mayer: Horvit, about Simes at the plant. Any more coming in any time soon?
Mayer is maybe more worried about losing his job than he'll let on.
Horvit: If there are, Miz Rozedda doesn't know about them.
Mayer: So what's she like?
Cathbad stops fiddling with his laces and raises his head to listen.
Mayer: Is she like Ratite? Too good to talk to the masses?
Horvit: She's different than old Yerban, you have to agree. Seems friendly enough, most times, though. Although I admit, I'm not used to having my boss knowing when I need to get rid of my coffee.
Mayer: Is she sniffing it? I heard Simes cam smell us through the walls.
Tunx: No, you nit. She senses it with those special Sime senses.
Mayer: I didn't mean anything bad by it.
Cathbad blushes too, for a different reason.
Cathbad: Can they tell when we're thinking about... well, you know.
Cathbad is seventeen and thinks about "you know" a lot.
Horvit: I expect so.
Tunx: Of course they can. That's a feeling, kiddo, not a thought.
Mayer: That's easy. You're young. You're always thinking about it.
Tunx had the opportunity to donate to a young and pretty channel once, and still remembers the nasty look he thinks she gave him.
Mayer laughs. First good laugh since she came to the plant.
Cathbad blushes again. Mayer's right. Too right.
Cathbad: Maybe I should stay away from her, then. I'd been thinking I might...
Cathbad trails off. It was a dumb idea anyway.
Horvit: You do know she's married and has two kids, don't you?
Cathbad blushes again.
Mayer: She doesn't look like she's had two kids.
Mayer thinks about the women in his family, getting plump with child and staying that way.
Mayer: She's in good shape. Skinny but nice.
Cathbad: No, I didn't mean it like that. I mean, old Yerban, you know, every time I had an idea, he just shrugged and told me to run along.
Cathbad bites his lip. Even though it wasn't what he meant, his body's responding to the idea. He is seventeen, after all.
Tunx slaps Cathbad on the back in a comradely fashion.
Tunx: Don't worry, kid. It'll pass. About the time you're six feet under, I'd say.
Mayer: Hey Cath. You want to throw a couple of practice balls?
Cathbad flinches at the word "balls" before he has time to process the rest of the sentence.
Mayer grins. He sees Cathbad's reaction.
Cathbad: Er, uh, um, uh, yeah. Warm up for the game.
Cathbad is feeling entirely too warm already.
Horvit chuckles, from the perspective of an additional almost-ten years.
Mayer takes pity on the boy.
Mayer: Why don't you get us some drinks?
Mayer hands Cathbad some cash.
Mayer: Get something for yourself.
Cathbad: Sure. Thanks. Everybody want their usual?
Horvit: Sure, if you're getting it.
Mayer: No problem.
Mayer figures he can make up for the rumor and the "slip" earlier.
Cathbad nods and makes his escape.
Mayer: Hey, Horvit, so what is going on at work? Anything you can tell?
Horvit: Well, Miz Rozedda is trying to figure out why the lines have been turning out so many defective units.
Mayer: She's going to blame us?
Mayer is sure he's on the block now.
Mayer: You can only do so much with what we have!
Horvit: Dunno yet. I think most of the problem is in the lines themselves.
Mayer realizes Horvit isn't blaming the line workers.
Mayer: Oh, okay.
Cathbad returns with the drinks. He's gotten himself a coffee rather than a soda, even though he hates coffee, because he wants to seem more grown up.
Cathbad: Here you go, guys.
Horvit: Thanks, Cathbad.
Cathbad hands Mayer his change.
Horvit takes a cup and sips.
Horvit: Mostly, Miz Rozedda's a lot more particular than Yerban. And, well, if you're ever tempted to pull a fast one on her, don't.
Mayer takes the change, pockets it. He doesn't need to count it. Cathbad's an all right guy.
Horvit's face turns a little red.
Horvit: Take it from me, that's a bad idea.
Mayer: I always do a good job.
Mayer bristles a little
Tunx: Sure it's a bad idea. One thing everyone knows about Simes, they can tell when you're lying. Or do you mean a different kind of fast one?
Horvit: Well, just... even if it isn't a lie, a half truth isn't going to fly with her, either. Voice of experience.
Cathbad opens his mouth to ask, then shuts it. Horvit is kinda his boss, after all.
Mayer hears a story here.
Mayer: Do tell.
Mayer is older and not one to rest on his laurels.
Horvit: Oh, it wasn't much. I took a shortcut I probably shouldn't have, and got caught.
Tunx: Uh-huh. Story, story, story!
Horvit probably wouldn't have been, if he was either lowfield, had some nageric control, or wasn't assuming that a Sime could practically read minds.
Mayer: You sure she didn't just read your face. You've always been an open book. Probably why you won't make upper management.
Horvit: Hey, I used to do the same trick with Yerban, and he never caught on.
Mayer: Well, maybe I just know you better. We've been bowling together awhile now.
Horvit: It's usually the new face that's easiest to fool, though.
Tunx: But what was the shortcut, Horv? You know we won't tell.
Mayer looks at Cathbad.
Mayer: Either will Cath, will you young man.
Cathbad draws himself up to his full gangly height.
Cathbad: Of course not.
Horvit: Oh, I just read the phenolics test five minutes early, that's all, so I could go to lunch on time.
Tunx: Thus risking a nasty set of latent defects. Naughty, naughty!
Tunx wiggles his finger at both culprits impartially.
Tunx is making this up, but hey, there are no Simes here to catch him at it.
Mayer: If the equipment wasn't so old, it wouldn't make as big a difference.
Tunx: So which is worse, the old equipment or the new stuff?
Tunx only works on old equipment, and is genuinely curious.
Mayer: I've read the new stuff has doodads galore that help.
Mayer wants to work with some of those doodads.
Cathbad: A lot of the old equipment could be made better, though, without spending a lot of money.
Horvit: Well, maybe the new management will be more willing to change things. If only to make their mark on company history.
Cathbad: For example, on line 14, at the packaging end, if you just raised up the crate about six inches, and maybe tilted it a bit on some kind of stand, you could pack a lot faster and not get a backache. I told Yerban that and he just ignored me. Like I was some dumb kid or something.
Tunx: Well, yeah. But what about those persistent safety problems we've been having since the Wizard left? You and I know our brothers and sisters aren't taking off work just for the fun of it.
Mayer has a daring idea. He not used to thinking like this.
Mayer: Maybe we should invite Rozedda to bowl. Then we can talk to her about this stuff.
Mayer: Also get her to know us. Let her know we'd like to make changes.
Tunx: Only if we don't mind be shown up by a person with super-strength and probably super-accuracy too.
Mayer: Now Tunx, you know it's only a friendly game. If we want to keep our jobs, hell keep this plant running, we need to do something more than just pass rumors around.
Mayer is getting worked up.
Mayer: You know this plant is on its next to last legs.
Tunx: How many legs does it have? It's been on them since I started here. But go on, don't mind me.
Mayer: Well, some legs are longer than others.
Mayer turns to Horvit.
Mayer: Do you think she'd like to bowl?
Horvit: I dunno. When I told her where I was going tonight, she asked me what bowling was. I don't think they do it in Simeland.
Cathbad: I'd never bowled the first time you guys invited me, but I picked it up real quick. It's not hard to learn. Just hard to get good.
Mayer: And good is really never the deal. It's the company. And if we get Rozedda into our company, she's going to more willing to see things our way. Like not replacing us.
Mayer is still a little worried about that rumor.
Cathbad fidgets awkwardly.
Cathbad: Still, I'm not sure I could get comfortable around a Sime.
Mayer pokes Cathbad lightly.
Mayer: You think she wants to "kiss" you?
Mayer grins broadly
Cathbad blushes again.
Mayer: Oh I'm kidding boy. Horvit says she's not a channel. But she is pretty.
Cathbad: No, it's not that. It's just, the only Sime I ever met up close was the one on our class tour of the Sime Center, when I was ten. He was... cold.
Horvit: Cold? Bored, more likely.
Cathbad: It was like he really hated having us there. And really hated us asking questions.
Cathbad has always been full of questions. Usually awkward ones.
Tunx: He probably found all that adolescent emotion a real pain, rings or no rings.
Horvit: Questions? What were you asking him, anyway?
Cathbad: Oh, I don't remember now. Something about how various things worked, why they do things the particular way they do. Ordinary questions, you know.
Horvit: What, you wanted to know if tentacle goo really is a good lubricant for other purposes, or something like that?
Cathbad blushes again.
Mayer: Cath, you're going to have to toughen up a bit, you gonna hang with us.
Cathbad: I didn't even know to think about stuff like that, back then. I was ten, for God's sake.
Cathbad is all too aware that his cool tough guy image was ruined the very first day he worked at the plant. The first hour, in fact.
Mayer slams Cathbad on the back.
Mayer: You're a good one, you know. You're doing just fine.
Cathbad almost goes face down in his coffee under the slap.
Tunx: Easy, easy, old man. He'll grow out of it soon enough.
Horvit: So tell us, Tunx. Are channels generally cold? Seeing as how you're an expert, and all.
Tunx: No, generally they're just plain professional. Kinda like Miss Pawl, if you want to know.
Tunx refers to the company nurse.
Cathbad has only been to Miss Pawl twice, both times for small stuff.
Cathbad: You mean kinda impersonal. Like you're just another machine on the line.
Horvit: Or another vegetable in the food bin.
Tunx: Well, sort of. But they do talk to you kinda soothingly the whole time, so you'll stay calm.
Cathbad: Like nice tame cattle? Or sheep?
Mayer: Be nice
Cathbad is a city kid and knows livestock only in the abstract.
Tunx: Yeah, sort of.
Horvit: It's not as if they want to scare people off, after all.
Cathbad: Well, they sure put me off, with that class trip. Not scared, exactly. Just not interested.
Mayer: It's like any bunch of people. Some are going to be better at the people-thing and some ain't.
Horvit isn't very good at the people-thing, machines being much more interesting, so he has no grounds for complaint.
Horvit: Yeah. Hey, looks like our lane has opened up.
Mayer: About time.
Cathbad pushes aside his barely touched coffee and stands.
Mayer glances at Cathbad's laces.
Mayer: You better retie those. They're loose.
Mayer chalks his hands
Mayer: If no one minds, I'll go first.
Cathbad crouches to refasten his shoes.
Cathbad: Go right ahead.
Mayer sets up three steps from the foul line, sights down the lane, and ...
Mayer: Damn gutter ball. I sat around too long. All stiff. Who's next?