The Future According to Marvin: Episode 8

Hrathna storms into the school playground. She looks around, and spots a cluster of the girls from her class.

Reeta and her friend are giggling in a corner of the playground, that being easier than trying to make the boys share the sports equipment -- or the space.

Hrathna hurries over to join her new friends, still fuming over the injustice she's now facing.

Reeta looks up.

Reeta: Hi, Hrathna.

Hrathna: Hi, Reeta. Hi, Dzirba.

Hrathna throws her bookbag to the ground with a look of disgust on her face.

Hrathna: I hate this school.

Reeta: What's the matter? Did the boys start teasing you?

Hrathna: No. It's Mr. Katchem.

Hrathna is referring to the school's science and engineering teacher.

Reeta: Mr. Katchem? He's cute.

Hrathna: He's unfair.

Reeta: Did he grade you down on that quiz?

Hrathna: Huh? Oh, no, it's nothing like that. The quiz was fine.

Hrathna privately thinks the quiz was insultingly easy, but she's already learning that the curriculum is different here.

Dzirba thinks science and technology classes are really boring. She spends them doodling pictures of high fashion dresses she likes to imagine.

Reeta: So what's got you so mad at him?

Hrathna: Well, I went to ask him about joining the Engineering Club. He said I couldn't join because I'm a girl.

Dzirba: Well, you are.

Hrathna: Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?

Dzirba: It's a club for boys who want to be engineers.

Hrathna: Well, I want to be an engineer.

Reeta: They wouldn't want a girl to join them, anyway.

Hrathna: That's what he told me. And he said girls don't get to be engineers. I told him my mom's an engineer, and she's a girl. Er, a woman.

Hrathna finds the imprecision of English frustrating. There's no word for "adult female renSime".

Reeta: Well, your mom's a Sime, right? And you said you're going to be normal. So she's different.

Hrathna: That's what they said back home. "You're going to be Gen, so don't even think about a career like your mother's." I thought it would be better here, because Gens do everything here.

Dzirba: Yeah, they do. But women aren't engineers. That's a man's job.

Reeta: Gens can't be engineers in Simeland?

Hrathna: Well, it's not that they can't. It's more like, no one would hire them. Gens mostly stay home, and cook and clean and raise the kids. A few have easy jobs, jobs that have nothing physical. Like my dad; he's an artist.

Reeta: An artist?

Hrathna: Yeah. He illustrates kids' books.

Hrathna crouches down beside her book bag and rummages inside it.

Hrathna: Here's one of the books he did.

Hrathna pulls out her copy of "Growing Up" (in Simelan, of course) and hands it to the nearest girl, who happens to be Dzirba.

Dzirba flips it open.

Dzirba: Is that Sime language? I can't read it.

Hrathna: Yeah. That's Simelan. This page says, "Once a month, everyone goes to the Sime Center to visit a channel."

Dzirba looks at the picture of a couple in unusual clothes walking up to some kind of public building.

Reeta: That's silly. Everybody doesn't go to a Sime Center, only some people.

Reeta looks over Dzirba's shoulder at the book.

Dzirba: I guess the Gen is going along with the Sime to keep her calm?

Dzirba has heard that Gens can do that to Simes, but has no interest in trying it herself.

Hrathna: No. Well, that too. But it's easiest if the whole family goes at the same time. The Gens go to donate, and the Simes go to get transfer. Of course, some families don't do it that way. Some would rather keep the Sime and the Gen out of phase.

Dzirba studies the picture some more. The Gen man is well-dressed and well-groomed.

Hrathna: But if it's two Simes, they want to stay in phase so they're both post at the same time.

Dzirba: He doesn't look poor. But maybe that's because it's a kids' book.

Hrathna: Why would he be poor?

Reeta: Well, if he can't have a decent job, how could he earn a living?

Hrathna: He donates. And his wife's a Sime; she's probably got a well-paid job. Even a Gen can get work, if he wants. Boring work, usually.

Dzirba: And it's mostly poor people who donate. Here, at least. Or people who have Sime relatives, I guess, if they don't sort of disown them.

Hrathna: Everyone donates, back home. Everyone Gen, that is. Simes can't, of course.

Dzirba: They make them do it?

Reeta shudders.

Reeta: Why don't they move out here, where they don't have to? I mean, didn't that kind of force go out of fashion two hundred years ago?

Dzirba thinks she wouldn't mind donating so much if she can use the money to buy nice clothes.

Hrathna: Why would anyone have to make you? Donating is... well, it's just...

Hrathna searches her imagination for a useful metaphor.

Hrathna: It's like brushing your teeth. It's just something everyone does. Nobody has to make you; you just do it. And if you don't donate, and then you hurt someone with your nager, the fines are much higher.

Reeta: I've never understood why anyone would... I mean, even talking about it is icky. So it's a threat.

Hrathna: It's not icky. And no, it's not a threat. Why would anyone not want to donate?

Hrathna is honestly puzzled.

Dzirba: For the money, like here. My cousin donates to pay her college tuition.

Reeta: Yeah, but not everyone needs the money. At least, not that much.

Reeta gives another shudder: donating may be mysterious and scary, but talking about it is kind of risque.

Hrathna: The money's good, but it's not just the money. It's just... well, if Gens didn't donate, where would the selyn come from?

Reeta: There's always somebody who wants money enough to do something, well, unpleasant. I mean, there are people who hire out to pick up garbage and clean toilets, right?

Hrathna: Donating's not unpleasant. Here, look.

Hrathna flips a few pages ahead in the book.

Dzirba: Ooh. Ick.

Dzirba figures the money would be worth the squick factor, however.

Reeta's eyes bug out at the picture of the Gen from the first page sitting next to a Sime, whose tentacles are firmly wrapped around the bared forearms.

Hrathna: See? "Some Gens feel a slight pleasant tingle where the ronaplin touches them. Most Gens feel nothing at all except the touch of tentacles."

Reeta: Sounds like a big exception to me.

Reeta has never been within touching distance of a tentacle.

Hrathna: Tentacles are... well, the handling tentacles are just like fingers, only smoother. And nice and warm. The laterals...

Hrathna thinks back to her last medical checkup, trying to think how to put the sensation into words.

Dzirba: I guess you'd be used to it, with your mother a Sime. She would have touched you with them a lot.

Dzirba doesn't bother to suppress her shudder. How creepy. She can't imagine her own mother with tentacles. Ick.

Hrathna: Of course. All the time. And her tentacles are... well, just like the rest of her. Warm and strong and smart and caring. Like a mother. And tough when she has to be.

Reeta: Somehow, when I think of tentacles, "motherly" isn't the word that comes to mind.

Hrathna: Well, a channel isn't motherly, of course. Well, some of them are. But mostly they're just businesslike.

Reeta: Dairy farmers milking the herd are businesslike.

Hrathna: What's it like when you go for a medical checkup here? To a doctor instead of a channel, I mean.

Reeta: My doctor's really nice; he keeps a big jar of candy on his desk. Some of it's not fun, of course, but I can't really blame him for that.

Hrathna makes a small interrogative noise.

Reeta: What, they don't vaccinate you in Simeland?

Hrathna: Vaccinate?

Hrathna thought her Genlan was quite good, but this is a word she doesn't know.

Reeta: You know. They inject a vaccine, to keep you from getting some diseases.

Hrathna: Oh, you mean like the pills they give, with vitamins? Or the antibiotics?

Hrathna isn't sure about the word "inject" either, except as it applies to squirting liquid plastic into a mold.

Reeta: Not pills. Needles. And then you don't get mumps, or measles, or whatever

Hrathna: Oh. Now I understand. Yes, they do that sometimes. They always give a dose first, of something to take away the pain.

Reeta: They drug you for that??

Hrathna: A swab of blue liquid against the skin, you know the kind? An an-es-thet-ic.

Hrathna pronounces the Genlan technical term very carefully; she knows there are several other words that sound similar, but mean very different things.

Hrathna: It would be barbaric to stab a person like that, without doing something for the pain.

Hrathna privately thinks needles are barbaric anyway.

Dzirba: It doesn't hurt all that much. And only for a second. Of course, little kids scream and cry, if you don't give them some candy or something after.

Reeta: What sort of pansies do they raise in Simeland? I mean, skinning your knee hurts worse. Do they let you play games outside?

Hrathna: Yes, of course they do. But a child's nager is no problem. An adult Gen tries to avoid pain wherever Simes may be zlinning. It's only polite.

Reeta: That's because it would make the Sime attack and kill them, right?

Hrathna: Of course not! But it would make the Sime very uncomfortable. And it might tempt them to use their attenuators, even at times when they have to be able to zlin something.

Reeta: What would be so critical that they have to zlin? I mean, people here get along just fine without ever zlinning at all.

Ammenia: Oh, come now, Marvin. Sure that far in the future, even kids out-Territory will know enough about zlinning to know it's useful?

Marvin: Well, you may be right at that. It's kinda hard to get all the details right when you are making it up as you go along.

Ammenia nods in ~~ understanding ~~ and gestures for Marvin to continue.

Marvin: Come to think of it, it's not all that plausible that Gens only do easy work, that far in the future. But as the story-teller said, either hear my tale, or kiss my tail.

Ammenia gives Marvin's tail a ~~ speculative ~~ look, but obediently cups her hand to her ear.

Hrathna sighs in exasperation.

Hrathna: Zlinning's good for lots of things. You should know that. But none of this is helping with my problem with Mr. Katchem.

Reeta: Why do you want to hang out doing boring science with the boys, anyway?

Dzirba: Yeah.

Hrathna: Maybe it's boring to you, but it's what I love. And I really don't zlin what gender has to do with it.

Hrathna is actually too young to zlin anything at all, even if she were to be Sime, which she isn't. But it's still an ingrained figure of speech.

Dzirba: Zlin?

Reeta: You don't zlin at all. And you never will, any more than the rest of us. So there.

Hrathna: Well, how would you say it in Genlan, then? I don't... comprehend? ...smell?

Reeta: See.

Hrathna nods.

Hrathna: All right. I don't see what gender has to do with engineering. But Mr. Katchem insists I can't join the club because I'd be the only girl, and for some reason that would be bad.

Reeta: I don't see why. I mean, it's not like the science club boys are like the jocks, always trying to look up a girl's skirt.

Dzirba nods.

Hrathna doesn't know why either gender or larity should matter at all until puberty, but she knows all too well that back home, her future larity already affects far too many things in her life.

Dzirba: Uh, see you in class guys. Zonora is waving me over there by the gate.

Reeta decides that it might be kind of cool to get another look at that book with the pictures. She takes Hrathna aside.

Reeta: Look, if you really need another girl to join with you, I suppose I could go with you to a few meetings. Just until the teacher stops paying so much attention.

Hrathna: Would you? That would be wonderful.

Hrathna thinks it's an elegant solution. She wishes she'd thought of it herself.

Hrathna: I'd be so grateful.

Reeta: All right. Just tell me which days. We'll work out the details.

Hrathna: It's once a week, on Wednesday afternoons right after class.

Hrathna thinks some gesture of gratitude would be appropriate here, but she's not sure what to offer.

Hrathna: If there's anything I can do for you in return...?

Reeta: Well...

Reeta is a little ~~ reluctant ~~ to put herself on a footing where she might be expected to actually visit a house with a Sime.

Reeta: I do think your father's paintings are pretty. Could I borrow that book for a few days?

Hrathna: Certainly. My dad would be honored to know you like his work.

Hrathna closes the book and hands it to Reeta.

Reeta: Thanks.

Reeta stuffs the book hastily into her backpack, where no one else will be able to see it.

Hrathna: In fact, after you've read it, come over to my place some time and meet him. You could see some of his other work.

Reeta: Er... well, maybe after school some time.

Reeta means, while the factory is working, and presumably Hrathna's mother, as well.

Hrathna: That would be good. My folks would be glad to meet you. And if you're curious about Simes, my mom could answer any questions you have.

Reeta: Uh... Maybe some time.

Reeta means by that, "never". She edges away.

Reeta: I got to get to class now; Mrs. Greedan hates it when we're late.

Hrathna: Okay. See you in class, then.

Hrathna smiles and nods, then turns towards the door nearest her locker.

Reeta ducks away quickly, hoping to duck into the privacy of the bathroom to inspect that picture more closely. There can't be people who really let a Sime do that to them, can there?

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