Économique (Friday, 2011 September 2)

September 2, 2011

I sighed for not the first time and leaned my head against the bulkhead. I was (finally) in the Chameleon back to the Mission after wrangling my way through a knot of Zhenae loaders. I told myself the economics equivalent of fairy tales about how things were going to change on this planet — supply curves and behavioral change therapy on a planetary scale. Unions. Labor markets. Social Darwinism. Yeah right. Lara 2 was sitting across from me and she was giving me a look that I was afraid I knew how to interpret.

It was Medical Week and we ourselves were traveling in a clump to get back to the Mission. I leaned into Jamie a little bit, drawing a little bit of strength from the physical contact. Capital City was partly swampy with a 40% chance of exasperation. I was beginning, not for the first time, to tire of this planet. We were here to make a difference, but differences were in short supply. My current M.O. was to imagine the changes that might, somehow, make themselves.

The Chameleon clunked into operation — the whine and clunk, whine and clunk, of servos gripping their way up the mountainside. Suddenly the noises stopped and the Chameleon went dark. We were stopped, maybe an engine failure. The emergency lights came back on and the sound of clumping commenced — Zhenae clambering around the Chameleon to debug. I needed a drink.

"Whew!" Lara 2 said cheerily. "A break. My stomach is doing flip-flops!"

"It’s probably glueworms. Have I told you about my glueworm? I named him Fred. I talk to him sometimes." I stared out the window, but there was nothing to see but flat mountain face. "I was going to name him Joseph for a while, but somehow I decided to go with Fred. Probably the glueworm talking. I kept meaning to get it checked out but never had the time. You know, one more inconvenience I’d take care of when school calmed down. That’s why I’m glad to be here for Medical." I tried to smile but I didn’t really remember how. Instead I sketched a Zhenae gesture of gratitude, tried to make my shoulders emote the way a Zhenae’s tentacles would.

Lara 2 smiled uneasily, her hands posed on her abdomen. Silence descended again inside. A few minutes passed. Zhenae voices could be heard swearing expressively. The engine coughed and banged, then started up again. Clumping noises took the driver back to the cockpit, and we started moving again. Government subsidies? Executive powers? Planned economies? Yeah right.

So I turned up at the bar. Morgan and company were just leaving to see what nightlife was available here on the hill. Lara 1 was getting another beer, so I got one too.

"How are you doing, Sandiego?" Lara 1 asked.

"Focus-soft-vanilla," I said in Sumglish. She nodded, but I tried to translate anyway: "Concentrating on trying not to look like I’m concentrating on getting by. I’ve suffered worse. You?"

"Glad to be away from post. You know I haven’t even been in Capital City yet? I mean, I’ve passed through but never really seen it."

"You’re not missing much. You’ve seen it, it looks like skitter droppings. And the Zhenae here will outright harass you. Keep a thick skin."

"Yeah." She looked up at the sky. "Not to be rude or anything, but I prefer Grace’s Action. Everything’s much more calm and orderly."

"You can outright say it: this place sucks. No offense taken."

"It does." She smiled into her beer. "Do you spend a lot of time here?"

"Only when necessary."

"Well, it’s necessary now. You’re doing fine, by the way." Which was a relief: I didn’t look like I was barely keeping it together. She rose. "I better keep an eye on Morgan."

"Go with God," I said. I watched her walk away, then finished my beer. I was doing fine. Better all the time, in fact. I rested my head in my hands, took a deep breath, relished in the fact that I was alone. No one to pretend for. Lara 1 had left half of her beer on the table so I did the responsible thing and finished that too. I started to let my spinal chord unknot and leaned back into my chair. I could let my body go, let show what I was feeling, for a few minutes. And I was feeling fine. Lara 1 had said so. Of course, I was alone now, but that was fine. Alone was great.

I was just about to start feeling sorry for myself when Jamie came out. She saw I was alone at a table and half-fell into the chair opposite me.

"Sandiego? Can I ask you a question?" Jamie said.

"Sure, what’s up?"

"How broad do you think our mandate is?"

"Well, I mean, doctrine being that God’s will is progress and the improvement of many, I think we could say that our mandate is to do that which hastens or encourages the tendency of Creation’s upwards movement. Obviously we have different programs and different focuses –"

"No, Sandiego, I mean," she looked at me. Iron underscored her eyes. There was ferocity in her pose, and she almost wasn’t even looking at me. Her knuckles were white. This wasn’t like Jamie. To be honest, I quailed. "How broad. Do you think. Our mandate is? You know, on this planet?"

Then I realized what she must have been saying, or rather what she wasn’t saying. "Good Lord," I breathed. "I think you might be a genius."

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