This is a piece of fiction I have always wanted to write. I have written bits
of it as plots in other stories and bits of interactive fiction. I want the whole
story from beginning to end (???) in one place. That is why
I am setting up this blog. This blog now has an archives. It is
here, but please use the navigation table. Blogs
aren't all that well suited for fiction. Live and learn.
Then get ready to for a wild ride. The place is Columbus, Georgia on the border
of Alabama and along the banks of the Chattahoochee. The time is approximately
a hundred years in the future, but it is possible to lose your way through history,
and history after all is just stories told in a way to help the teller of the tale make
whole the circle of what is happeing to them. So it is with this tale. Scroll
down and read on....
Eileen H. Kramer
To return to
Unfettered Soul's main page pleease click on the link. To return
to the main page at Tacheiru.us please click
on the link.
Chapter 16 -- Three Voices
Now is the hard part. I am glad Frederick has gone home. I am glad I am all alone in the green house that may or may not be green for long. Still out of reflex I close the door between the kitchen and the study. I remember Peter doing this. I remember being in the kitchen when it happened or else being told to stay upstairs. Even assistants can not handle confidential communication.
I print off seven detailed budget sheets for seven of the eight local houses. I already have Mara's materials. She is a separate problem. She was today's problem. She is a small part of a larger problem. I do projections with the numbers and print them out. Scilla and Taffie are doing well with their houses because their stick artist societies subsidize them. They will soon need those subsidies more than ever. Of the other five houses three are slightly over budget. They will not be over budget when this month is over.
There is one way to eliminate the possibility of bribes coming from parents to house managers, and that way begins tomorrow. I will go to Atlanta and make public my restructuring plan. I intend to give back my salary this month and unstick the house. I will take the funds I free up this way and bring all houses on to budget. Then I plan to slash the budgets of the unsubsidized houses twenty percent. I'll slash the subsidized houses so their budgets with subsidy are equal to the unsubsidized houses. The Christian houses and the one educational house each receive funding through a different budget but Christian houses are not attractive to nonChristians and the educational house is a special case. It is highly selective and it will feel the pressure as the entire neighborhood tightens its belt.
With all the houses much poorer, or as poor or as wealthy as internal houses, a bribe will stick out conspicuously. It will make all the houses around it jealous. There will be incentive not to take bribes because they will glow in the dark.
Also with a funding cut, local placements will cease to look attractive. Also we need the money for healthcare. I rest my head in my hands. I feel scaird by what I have planned. I remember myself with a stick in my hands this morning. Now I hold something more powerful. I set the budgets down on the big table and sit in a striped sling back chair. This furniture will be gone tomorrow. I can not live in luxury while I impoverish others even if I did not need a ready source of cash to start my plans.
I close my eyes and I see flames. I open my eyes again. In the half dark room lit only by a computer screen, I think I see Peter. He would not approve. He does not approve. "Why?" he might ask me. "Do you know what you will do to parents....Koie, haven't I taught you anything?
Koie, the first rule is that people need to feel safe. You are trning their world upside down. Parents need to feel their children are some place good and that there is a good future for them. Children represent the future and if you make it uncertain, you upset the parents."
I have no pity on the parents who are greedy and who want trappings. They have forgotten but in time they will remember. I think of the flames again and see an anguished face: Francoise Walker, historian at heart and steward for Mara by trade and necessity. I remember taking a Greyhound in to the snow. Peter told me it was a fool's errand. Still he let me go. He gave me the time to get there and get home and the three days to stay there and comfort my friend who had suffered a death of sorts. Peter could be sweet to those who worked for him.
I watched the sky turn from blue to grey and the ground from green, to brown, to white and grey to match the sky. The trees were black silhouettes. The local bus pulled into Athens, Ohio late in the afternoon. I walked to campus and up into the history department lounge. The wake or the shiva was four days along and showed no signs of stopping; for there could be no burial. I remember Francoise, my model, my exemplar, sitting in a high backed chair, her olive skinned long face, grey with pain.
"There was nothing any of us could do," she told me. Then she made painful carrying on with bsiness small talk. Then she said she would show me. We got on our coats and walked through the blue purple sky. We both smelled the smoke long before we saw the blackened hulk that had been the Bartlow Archives. The Bartlow had housed the largest collection of early twenty-first century records, everything from the MidEast and South Asian wars through the First Five Depressions and their aftermath. Now most of it was gone except for what people mirrored or had extra copies of in basements and private collections.
I remember asking if the fire had been arson. Francoise said she did not know. Later there was no investigation. Later Francoise and several others in her department traveled around the country trying to rebuild the collection from remnants. Two months ago, the history department at Ohio University was defunded. Francoise says "You can't ever kill off memory. You can't ever forget." Francoise told me after the Bartlow burned that she had always known she wanted to be an historian even before she knew what one was. When she was a small child growing up in Bayminette, Alabama she heard stories from her grandparents who had immigrated from Puerto Rico to pick fruit in Florida, how they got to Alabama to work on a furniture factory, about relatives in New York and how they hated the snow. Francoise knew her family, especially the old people wanted her to go to school and get a good education. Her parents, aunts, and uncles did not care so much. She was not sure why.
I remember Francoise telling me about the world before the Five Depressions. People were talking about designing their children from the genes up. People talked about curing cancer and making diabetes nonlife threatening. Women rarely if ever died in childbirth. I rest my head in my hands. Francoise is more troublesome than Peter.
Sebastien is the most troublesome of all. He did not have to reach into the distant past and no fire could burn down his memories. "When I was chief of my unit, there was a diptheria outbreak," he began. I was fourteen and a new member of his house. I sat around the table with Sebastien and some of his former colleagues who were still colleagues but in a different way, since Sebastien became an Education Division mentor. "I gathered my crew together and explained that we would have to give back salary but if we did, I would move heaven and earth to see that all of them had vaccinations against the plague. I knew there were vaccinations against diptheria and there was no reason we should not have them."
Sebastien's crew agreed to a salary cut and Sebastien paid the right people and everyone got the precious shots. The plague moved through the city but no one in Sebastien's department sickened or died. When there was no work, engineers tutored each other's children because the schools were closed.
"Later on I used the givebacks to get team members' wives prenatal care and contraception. The men did not need to have four or five children to support and place. Then we had female employees. A lot of team leaders would not hire them but I knew there had been female engineers in my mother's and grandmother's time so I said why not.
"Kohana, people need to be safe. People need to know their basic needs are cared for. They need healthcare to ward off plague and mishaps. That is the first part of being safe. They need access to education and jobs that their education qualifies them to do. That is fulfillment. They need food, clothing, shelter, and all of that as well....."
"They need to know that their children are going to good houses and that they have some control in their lives," I answer and I think I am speaking in Peter's voice.
"Yes, but" Sebastien answers. "That is the last thing they need. Until they have the basic needs fulfilled, the rest does not matter. People who are healthy and sure their children have a good future and they have a good future no matter what placement they get are not going to be afraid to have a child placed inside."
I swallow. My throat hurts. I wonder if I can explain that of all the voices, I agree most with Sebastien. What happens when I begin to care for more than those around me. How long will I be able to get away with it? I close my eyes and see flames again. I put the papers away. In the kitchen I set water boiling for tea.
There is a car patiently parked in the driveway. The engineer has red hair fading to grey. He asks what I have been up to. I tell him it was confidential. He nods. He turns on all the lights as he makes the tour. "It will sure be a shame to get rid of all of this," he says.
"The community needs the money for other things," I answer.
"When are you going to unstick the house?" he asks.
"The house has no external coating when it's unstuck."
I nod. The house will stay green on the outside. I will also leave my flag with its nautilus shell. I begin running the wires. The engineer whose name is Owen does not leave me alone and stands with me out in the street. The unsticking goes quickly. There is no sound, but lights come on and people emerge from their homes. Later they gather around the house, but they fear coming inside. I offer them tours. They whisper among themselves in small knots before dispersing. Before going to sleep, I check my accounts on the computer.
I glance around the bare and now dissheveled study. I remember the overstuffed leather and mahogany. I remember Peter. "What now?" he asks. "Going to Atlanta," I tell him. There is no turning back.
The State officials look surprised as I ask them to sign off on my restructuring plan for the neighborhood. "You have more time than this," Tara in her white robe tells me soothingly. I tell her that I don't want to end up like Peter."You're not Peter. He was a special case," she answers.
Peter was no special case. From what I can piece together, his crime was quite ordinary. He let houses go mildly over budget for months running. They got their payment in this way and State looked the other way....until or unless...
"How was Peter a special case?" I ask. An air conditioned wind blows the white gossamer curtains in Tara's office. She folds her long fingers like the steeple of a church. "Someone brought a complaint before the Corruption and Investigations Unit," she answers me. I already knew that. I ask who it was and Tara says she does not know. Tara is either lying or keeping an enforced silence. I wonder if that person will raise trouble with me by bringing a bogus claim. I am apt to leave a long line of angry parents in my wake.
I muse over Tara's words. Someone bit the hand that fed them. Someone was willing to give up his/her cut to go after Peter, or maybe it was a disgruntled parent, or house manager on the inside or in the next county or state who lost a child to a local placeent obtained with a bribe. Peter made an enemy. I will be making many enemies. I have a clean record. I tell myself that is the difference between Peter and me. I tell myself I am doing right.
The leaden sky opens up into rain drops. The windshield wipers begin to beat. The highway has little passenger traffic during a rain which must be for the farmers. There is no rain in Columbus, just a heavy mist. That night, I stare into the sullen eyes of house managers. "Why?&qout; asks Scilla after I explain my plan. "The community needs healthcare," I answer. "No more women dying in childbirth. No more children congenitally deaf because the doctor did not bother running the tests. No plagues. For that you can arrange chits and cook your own food. I will help you. We'll organize activities here in the park instead of at the entertainment centers. You are resourceful and strong and talented. You still have good houses." My pep talk yields silence. I doubt I will have better luck with the parents tomorrow.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Saturday, August 16, 2003.
Chapter 15 -- Francoise and Bonner
"You think I've never been inside" laughs Frederick as I put card stock with address cards printed on both sides in the paper cutter. The paper cutter comes down with a nice satisfying kachunk! Frederick sorts the strips and later stacks the cards into small boxes.
"You haven't been where we're going to go," I warn him. "Sui Generis was null status." It still is. Frederick says nothing.
When the cards are cut we leave. We take the car as far as the beaurocratic complex on Macon Road which includes a public library that is always in need of funds. We park in the library's lot and find our way to the portal. We take the gate to the extreme east. The world inside has no sun in the sky. In some places the sky is white or faintly pink or blue or just sort of lit up but without a central bright spot. Rises and sets happen at all points on the horizon so there is day and night. Oddly enough there seem to be stars in the sky.
Beyond the gate, Frederick and I find ourselves in open country where the grass has started to turn summer brown. We follow a warn trail. I tell Frederick this is the school trail. We have two miles to walk, a good deal of it near a railroad embankment.
After walking for forty-five minutes we get to "the store.&quuot;
It must have a name, but as with Mara's house, no one ever uses it. There is cold soda in the store and sometimes mentors hang out there. The council meets in the store's back room because there is no funding out here to build a beaurocratic building. If there is excess funding, the mentors split it or put it into something more useful. Frederick is not sure he wants to go in the store, so we skip it. This time of day we won't find Francoise there.
Instead we cross the railroad tracks and take a flat dirt road to the courtyard. There are actually several courtyards all made up of flat roofed cement buildings that remind me of old run down motels except most are well kept. The courtyard that includes Sui Generis' house has come unstuck. Someone had bills to pay and the council is strict about houses staying on budget.
There are no kids around because this time of day, if they are out, they have roamed a good deal and there is nothing to do. The Aubies (Short for Aurora Borealis) have a swing set because they have enogh young members, girls mostly, to justify it but it is empty right now.
"They're at the rec center swimming," I explain to Frederick. He seems not to hear. I point out the three houses that share the courtyard. "That's Sui Generis," I point to a yellow building. "That's Aurora Borealis." Their building is the color of raspberry sorbet, "and that's Varna" I point to the white building.
"Sui Generis is the newest house. That's my house. Aurora Borealis is the oldest. Varna is in the middle. Out here everyone uses the short names. Aubies, Varnies, and Suies. Aubies like to send their kids to the northeast to go to college. Varnies usually keep them local and Suies send them all over the place or keep them close to home.
Frederick shields his eyes against a nonexistent sun. He makes a noise of letting out held breath. "One thing you can raise out here and raise very well is scholars," I try to drive this home. "There are good schools in Columbus and a few other cities in Alabama and Georgia but it's mainly T-Acc and River Academy. Everyone is on Ed Branch taking before they get out here and all the grownups have been to college often far away and they finished in four years...no college prep...got that."
Frederick groans. "This is home," I tell Frederick. I remember walking down the trail every day to go to school with Francoise. I was a freshman at T-Acc. She was a junior. I was the first Suie at T-Acc. Though Varnies, Aubies, and Suies were rivals, Francoise took me under her wing. She was my mentor.
I wanted to do as she did. She had been in Ohio studying to earn a PhD in history until May of this year when her program was suddenly defunded. It was too late to apply anywhere else though there was talk about it. There were too many students now in search of too few places. There was talk also of Francoise getting license to teach school. Francoise had wanted me to go to grad school. She had laughed at Leadership Seminar. She'd been screwed. There I said it.
Francoise was probably in Varna house trying to make herself useful. I knock on the Varna house door and a small blond frizzy woman scarcely out of her teens answers. She has on a Columbus State sweat shirt. She looks me up and down as I explain our business and then she leads Frederick and me into the kitchen where Francoise is running pieces of raw fish under cold water before putting wrapping them up and putting them in the refrigerator.
"What's that?" asks Frederick surprised at the great amount of raw fish. "Catfish," answers Francoise blandly. If this were Sui Generis it would most likely be tilapia or mahi-mahi. If this were Aurora Borealis there would be no fish for Friday but falafel instead. I remember frying falafel patties with Cordelia. There is no community pantry out here and no standard chit.
"If I don't get the fish in now," explains Francoise, "it doesn't defrost. So how is the barn boss business?" she asks. I tell her it's OK so far. I introduce Frederick and then I ask her if she would like a job as head steward for a house that needs a good chit meister.
Francoise folds her arms even though she is not cold. Her eyes are black and her hair nearly so. She has a long face. She is part Puerto Rican and her parents are from Florida. "Fucking crap," she sighs.
"It's a foot in the door towards a mentorship or an assistantship," I say.
"Like I want such a thing...." Francoise settles herself on to a stool. "I'm one more mouth to feed here and you call the shots," she reminds me which is her way of saying yes. Francoise' pride is not just wounded. It's ripped open red and raw. She goes to get the mentor and make arrangements for Frederick and I to pick her up tonight.
Frederick and I emerge into the bright sunless light. "It's hot here," he complains. "You'll get used to it," I counsel as we head for Sui Generis. In the Sui Generis kitchen the fish is already defrosting for tomorrow. Tonight's dinner is also started in a corner of the stove. It's some kind of ragout with lots of tomato to be served over pasta. I can smell it. I realize I am hungry.
Lacie whips a dish cloth. "That's Iris' project," she tells me. I say I need to speak to Sebastien. Sebastien is tutoriing one of the younger kids and he comes in looking as if he's been down a long tunnel. I blink back at him and then before he can say anything I reach into my wallet and pull out two hundred dollars. "This is for the food for Peter's funeral feast," I explain. I hand it to Sebastien before he can refuse. "I know you have a budget to make," I add.
"You sound like a barn boss," says Sebastien.
"That's what I am now," I answer.
"So what happens next?"
"I may have a preinitiate for your house," I smile. "He'll be swapping places with Francoise at Mara's. His name is Bonner."
Sebastien shakes his head. "I think he has a specialty encouragement on him. If he doesn't fit in, there's a taking in ten days."
"And we all live happily ever after," sighs Sebastien.
"It's the best I can do."
"Be careful, Kohana. You know what happened to Peter."
"He committed suicide."
"Someone exposed him, someone among the people you serve."
"You were right, " Frederick tells me when we get back to the house. He keeps wanting to order lunch. I keep telling him no. I'm broke or will be soon. I have just enough food money to make it to the end of the month and a small personal savings. I am giving my salary back to get one of the houses on track financially. The rest will have to bail themselves out. This community will have to run entirely on budget if I am to serve it right. No one will get the chance to do to me what was done to Peter because I won't play his games. It's that simple.
I take a sandwich and a cup of tea over to the computer and hit the database. Bonner FitzGerald has an aerospace specialty mark from a house in South Dakota. A mark involves a specific mentor. Bonner was old enough to mark and to prevent the mark from taking, his parents put him in Mara's. The mark is a year old now and may or may not work. I bring up a list of aerospace specialty houses. I wonder if I could convince an in state house to have a look at Bonner. With his mark, they will probably choose to honor the mark even if it is a year old. There is a military style aerospace house in Pensacola, Florida. It's out of state and not so far away. I print off the number and then call the other house, the one in South Dakota.
A gentleman called the Colonel comes on the other line. I introduce myself and ask after a time how he feels about Bonner's mark. The Colonel has a few choice words for Bonner's parents. I explain that Bonner lives in Georgia and has lost a year of schooling. The Colonel grunts. I also explain that Bonner's parents are dead set against him going to South Dakota. I then ask the Colonel if he will transfer his mark to the house in Pensacola.
"What are his parents giving you for all this?" asks the Colonel. "Nothing," I reply truthfully. "I'm swapping the boy for a steward. The house his parents put him in is in incredible default. The steward will bring kitchen expenses under control. I picked Bonner because he needs a placement that goes with his mark." The Coloen laughs but in the end he agrees to the transfer.
I then have to talk to Bonner's mother who makes sad noises as I explain Mara's dire financial straits and the house in Pensacola which is only a four hour drive away. She has the option of keeping Bonner or letting him move to an internal house. He'll get a good education so he can pursue a career in aerospace engineering with Sui Generis and he'll go back to River Academy. If she keeps him, he'll go through the taking and I'll give him a letter of introduction to the house in Pensacola and he'll see if he fits there.
"You're doing a lot for me," says Bonner's mother. "I have no way to pay you back."
"It's my job," I answer. A few minutes later she agrees to take Bonner and I prepare the letter and a copy of his profile. I go to help fetch Bonner and take him to his mother's. He is sad to leave and a little scaird. He is a shy kid with olive skin, longish black hair, and thick glasses. He wants to be an engineer because he can not be a pilot. He has an odd unhappy habit of sucking on his lips. He reads the introduction letter and asks if it is for real. Frederick helps pack his stuff and then we get it in the car and Bonner afterwards. To my relief, he does not cry. We deposit him at his mother's and she nearly weeps all over us. I'll explain to Sebastien that Bonner's mother is keeping him. I'm glad she took him back.
It is late afternoon now and we take the car through the autogate and drive all the way back to the Courtyard to get Francoise. We have the back seat of the car down but it will take two trips to transport her trunk, and her bedroom decorations. Francoise is determined to be comfortable at Mara's and I can't blame her. Mara does not make her fat pastey smile as she greets her new steward. Francoise heads straight for the kitchen to make her first inventory. Frederick and I bow out before the fireworks explode.
"Where do we go now?" asks a stunned and tired Frederick.
"Your parents house."
"I'm not dumping you. I have a favor to ask your father."
"What kind of favor?"
"I need the services of an engineer who can do a home inspection."
Frederick chews on this as we pull up to his parents' porch. Aaron and Roxanne have soft music on. Roxanne says I look tired and asks if I've had dinner. I say no. She offers me some quiche. It has bits of ham in it but I'm too hungry to care. She asks how my day went and I say I'm here on business.
"What sort of business?"
"I need a structural engineer to look at the barn boss house. I want to unstick it and I want to make sure it doesn't come crashing down unstuck. I can't have a house crashing down around my head can I?"
"But you just stuck the house?" asks Aaron.
I nod and then I explain that four local houses are over budget. One is over budget severely. I also want to reduce budget levels to those for interior houses. I want the extra money to go to health care and education. Roxanne nods. Aaron sucks his lips.
"Why?" asks Roxanne.
"A child lost her hearing to meningitis when she was two, and when I first became Peter's assistant, a woman died in childbirth. If she had better medical care...."';
"You can't rewrite the past," pleads Roxanne.
"Yes, but I can keep us from repeating it's mistakes," I answer. Aaron grunts approvingly and stares at me....really hard. "Did Sebastien teach you this."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Monday, August 04, 2003.
"I taught myself," I say. "I guess I'll find you that engineer," Aaron smiles. "I'd hate to be a CEO. The poor CEO's such as we have here, are going to be shitting bricks when they have to deal with you."