Saturday Story: Fountains of Mercy: Part 7

Basil Peilov had wondered why ColLandPlat was interested in her family . . .

 

The next day Karina, Tilde, and Basil met with Ms. Carver. Basil almost ground her teeth as Antoinne Carver alternated between verbally patting the other two women on the head and scolding them, when she wasn’t busily marking things off in her files. She’d started the interview during James’s morning nap, so Basil left him with Bethany and Miriam, once Ms. Carver finished talking to Miriam. The auditor’s manner set Basil’s nerves on edge: it reminded her too much of some of the community assistance facilitators from her days in the slums.

“So, Karina, how is your relationship with your husband?”

“Fine.”

Ms. Carver waited for more details. When none came, she began fishing. “Does he treat you well? Does your living situation meet Company standard?”

“Yes, and yes.” Karina, in her blue coverall and brown kerchief, reminded Basil of one of the women in the ancient “heroic farmer” films from Old Earth. For her part Tildie wore her white kitchen clothes, hinting that she needed to be back at the restaurant as expeditiously as possible. They had four rooms full at the guesthouse and every visitor had requested the three-meal option.

After she finished talking to the other women, Ms. Carver turned to Basil. “Ms. Washington, how does your employer treat you?”

“My husband treats me very well.”

The inspector looked puzzled, scrolled through her files, and complained, “I see no husband listed, Ms. Washington.”

Oh for the love of mud. “Mr. Kossiusco Peilov and I married four years ago this past March. The marriage was registered with the Company and the Congregation Beth Israel.”

More scrolling and a light dawned in Carver’s soft green eyes. “Oh, during the data collection system change-over. You need to resubmit form thirty-four and data set nine to the company personnel offices in ColLandPlat.”

“Really?”

The woman’s head bobbed with a rapid, jerky movement. “Oh yes, otherwise you are in violation of regulation twelve dot nine subsection gamma, ‘Employee-Employer Relations.’ The penalty for improper relations between employee and employer is a five-hundred class alpha hour fine.”

Basil dug the earnings classes out of her memory and wanted to vomit. That would add fifteen years to her indenture. She cleared her throat, hands clenched out of sight of the inspector, working to stay calm as Karina and Tildie stared at the company woman. “How long do we have to turn in the proper forms and dataset access codes?”

“A week. However, if you shift your indenture to industrial from hospitality service, the company will extend the deadline to a month. You see,” Carver began to lecture, “With you engineering background, you really are not doing all you could to reach your potential. Your employer may not be aware, or may not have had time to inform you, that the Company needs more women, especially improved settler women from urban subsistence households, in the sciences and technology enterprises. You could bring a much-need variety of experience and a unique perspective to the division.” Her smothering, earnest tone and eager expression did nothing to rekindle Basil’s interest in returning to engineering.

“Ah, Ms. Carver, you are aware that my educational track is agro-engineering, not industrial,” she began, trying to fend the woman off.

Caver waved a manicured, smooth hand. “Engineering is engineering. Don’t worry, Ms. Washington, the credits you’ve earned out here will transfer no matter what track you resume, be it chemical, electrical, heavy industrial, or astrogation. In fact, if you signed up for space engineering, you get an additional two years to earn out your indenture.”

Translation: it costs so much and so few women make the cut that they lower the standards and extend the service time to keep them in. I know of one woman in all my classes who could do space engineering. Hellfires, only three of the men could handle it! Basil tried again. “When I came here, as the records should show, I could not find any work in either my primary or secondary fields. I trust you see why I am a bit reluctant to shift out of my current employment and take on an indenture extension without a written guarantee that I will have a position. A paid position.” Basil leaned on the word. Everyone knew about the non-paying apprenticeships problem.

“Tut, tut, Ms. Washington have some faith in the Company.” Ms. Carver ran a hand through her pink-tipped, spiky dark-brown hair, fluffing the points. Tildie made a sound that could have been either a critique or a muffled cough. “There’s an engineering refresher program starting at ColLandPlat in two weeks that has some spaces available.”

“What about my children? I have one age three and a four-month-old, both of whom will need care while I am in class.”

Carver’s eyes popped open, then returned to their usual size. “Oh, if you can’t leave them here, the Company has a list of households that would be glad to take them on, provided their genetics meet the minimum standard for out-crossing.”

Now it was Karina’s turn to make a choking sound, and Basil began to see red, literally. A pink haze clouded her vision and she wanted to claw Carver’s smirk off her face. Right. You want me to abandon my family and go deeper into debt so the Company managers can point to me as the ‘woman from the sub-sett.’ No. She took a deep breath, then another, to make certain her voice didn’t wobble or sound weak.

“Thank you for the offer and information, Ms. Carver. However, I am sorry to inform you but I believe another portion of your files is not up-to-date. You see, this morning I began a veterinary-science degree track with a focus on mammalian and avian genetics and obstetrics. The program ties in well with my previous training, and I already have sufficient experience to bypass half the laboratory hour requirements. Andrew McIlroy, the regional veterinary supervisor, signed off on my track this morning.” She kept her voice smooth and apologetic, trying to pretend that she really was sorry.

“Did your employer require you to do this? If so, I’ll file a blocking motion and shift your indenture to the chemistry department immediately.” Carver began calling up pages on her tablet.

“No, Ms. Carver. I’d been considering it for some time, and my, ahem, ‘employer’ has granted me additional study hours in order to pursue my educational goals. The local veterinary support staff strongly encouraged my interest, because of the Company’s need for primary animal-care specialists both in this district and at the Agricultural Heritage Center in the next district east.” And because the vet techs hate getting up at midnight to rotate a breech lamb out in the pasture, but that’s beside the point.

Ms. Carver looked crushed, but entered the appropriate data. “When you finish, contact the district employment manager about genetics research positions, Ms. Washington. Veterinary science is an excellent initial step toward employment in the commercial genetic development programs.”

“I’ll be sure to do that.”

A light hand tapped on the door, and it opened a touch. “Mom Baa, James finished his bottle and I can’t find the spare. And Mom Tildie, Gomer says she needs you to confirm the grocery order for the guesthouse.”

“If you will excuse me,” Tildie said, getting up and easing to the door. “I’ll just look at her order file and I’ll be right back.”

“There is no spare bottle. Bring him here, please.” Bethany handed James, his carrier, and a modesty shawl into the room. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. We’ve got power so I’m doing a diaper and whites load.” With that she rushed off before anyone could suggest a different chore.

Ms. Carver watched with wide-eyed fascination as Basil opened her blouse, got James settled, and draped him so he could nurse under cover. “You don’t use a crèche or synth-milk?”

Karina answered for Basil. “No, Ms. Carver. We’re a considerable distance away away from the closest full crèche, and you may not have heard, but the last two major impurity recalls were for synth-milk. Susannah, Tildie, and I take infant health very seriously, and we’re reluctant to use synth-milk until there are more consistent, high-quality supplies.”

Ms. Carver scrolled through her files again. “Ah, speaking of standards, I need to look at the guesthouse and restaurant, in case my colleague has missed something.”

Karina stood up. “Certainly, Ms. Carver. I’ll show you the way, since Susannah is otherwise occupied.”

The inspector nodded and packed up most of her digital boxes and documents. “Remember, Ms. Washington, contact the employment representative as soon as you finish your certification track, so we can slot you into the genetic engineering department training program.”

“Yes, Ms. Carver. Thank you.” The rabbi’s wife will serve pork chops in cream sauce at the next bar mitzva before that happens.

The next day she and Kos re-sent the marriage forms, along with a tart note from their rabbi about the company’s failure to honor the rights of religious minorities as per its charter from the Planetary Union, down to the sub-paragraph. “Since all rabbis study the Law, most of them also learn other laws,” Kos explained. “Plus he has to know all the forms for the marriage and burial paperwork.” Acknowledgment of their legal relationship arrived the next day, nullifying Ms. Carver’s threat.

 

The “lazy days of summer” flew by for Basil and her family. With only half the machines in full working order, and another quarter partly functional at best, everyone worked harder than ever to get less done, or so it seemed. Basil studied, spun, watched the children, and traveled to other farms and met neighboring animal owners with the veterinarian and his visiting aids, learning how to spot problems and how to treat minor ills before they became major. She decided that she liked delivering babies and hated giving pills to pigs. “I don’t understand,” she complained one evening on the way back to Crownpoint. “They can and do eat anything, but they insist on spitting out the tiniest pill. How can they tell?” And why not just give the nasty beasts a shot or use a liquid drench? Oh, she knew the medical reason why, but it seemed silly. We’ve been reworking animal genetics for hundreds of years, and yet we can’t breed a horse that doesn’t colic or a pig that’s parasite proof. But attempts to do so had removed the essence of horse-ness and pig-ness, ending the experiments. Although Basil thought a more sheep-like pig held a lot of appeal. I’m so glad Kos doesn’t raise pigs, even if they are recyclers and we could sell them as long as we don’t eat them ourselves. Pigs know too much. And no one has ever been eaten by his own sheep, either: trampled, kicked, and butted, but never eaten.

By the fall and the passing of the High Holy Days, Basil and her family also knew more than they wanted to. The company sent out a full security bulletin on all channels after a second round of massive riots burned through Delhi II and the agricultural settlements surrounding the city proper. “The labor managers bought thousands of people from the same back-water, filthy, non-functional places, dropped them here, expecting them to become happy factory shift workers and farm laborers in a week or two. And then the managers and administrators are surprised when the newcomers get mad,” Kos said, shaking his head as he read the bulletin. “Especially if you have ideology differences as great as these seem to be. The Company should have known better.”

“That sounds strange, Kos,” Basil ventured, rocking from foot to foot and trying to get James to burp. His colic made her days interesting and her nights short. “Unless there’s an environmental event of some kind, the company’s not supposed to relocate people out of their traditional life-ways.”

He shrugged. “Apparently they did, and the results are ugly. You can read the details for yourself, Baa. Most of the bulletin is about industrial indentures and labor conditions, so it doesn’t apply to us.”

Basil read it and stared at the screen when she finished. Delhi II had suffered the worst riots, but to the west of the Triangle Mountains, the sector of Franklin also experienced uprisings and urban destruction. In response, the lead administrator of Franklin, Raymond Marcel, with the support of François De Champ from the Company, had turned guns on rioting sub-sett residents without trying non-harmful pacification tools first. Real guns, using lethal force, something Basil could not recall ever happening unless an actual invasion was underway. “I don’t like this,” she whispered.

Neither did Tildie, as it turned out. The day before her final certification exam, Basil helped Tildie in the restaurant kitchen, making bread. Rather than using the kneading machine, Tildie dragged out the heavy bread board and set to work with a will, punching, flipping, turning, and beating the large batch of dough into a soft, rounded mass. Basil couldn’t miss the ferocity Tildie turned on the bread. “Is there a problem?”

“Yes.” Whump, turn, fold, whump, the older woman walloped the creamy tan dough. “You read the security bulletin?”

“Yes. Just the egg whites, or do you want the whole egg blended?”

“Whole egg. Using lethal force without trying other things first is a bad precedent. Others will use it as an excuse to be stupid.”

Basil thought about it as she watched the eggs beat. At Tildie’s signal she carried the loaf pans over and after Tildie shaped the loaves, Basil brushed egg over the top to give them a nice color. Part of her wanted to argue with Tildie, but another part of her remembered the security people in their gray and silver masks marching through her slum on Deepak’s Planet.

“Are you ready for the test?” Tildie asked as they put the first loaves into the oven.

“I don’t feel ready, but everyone and the computer says that I am.”

Tildie smiled and hugged Basils’ shoulders. “Then you’re ready. If you feel like you know it all,” she made a whistling sound and mimicked something falling off a cliff. “Surprise! Splat.”

 

Two days before the harvest push began, Basil passed her tests with almost perfect marks and a glowing recommendation from the district veterinarian.

(C) Alma T. C. Boykin 2014, 2016 All Rights Reserved.

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