the College Kids…and Ewoma!

I finished up on the John-and-Dogs thread, got briefly distracted into the John-and-the-raid-on-the-PK-facility, and am now firmly ensconced in the second pass through the novel: working the College Kid thread (Hugh, Louisa, Allyson, and Selena) from start to finish.

Two days ago I rewrote the rock climbing accident with Allan (poor Allan – shows up for one chapter, then dies. Not EVERYONE gets a chance to begin again in the off-world colonies!).

Yesterday I rewrote the scene where Hugh is whining about the “defective” spacesuit that failed to stop Allan from killing himself.

Today, though, I got into meaty character stuff. This was fun – after finishing the first draft of the novel last year I felt like I really had distinct personalities for the three college women (they’d started all melded together and only became distinct slowly).

Also, the first appearance of my absolute favorite minor character, Ewoma ( take Heinlein’s Hazel Stone in her early years, and make her a precocious black-African instead of a precocious red-head, and that’s her! And, in a further congruence with Hazel, I’ve got more books planned in this sequence, and we might get a chance to see Ewoma again a few decades down the line.)

Anyway, let’s look at the rewrite:

before:

Hugh, Selena, Allyson, and Louisa sat in Benue River. Hugh couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the death of Allan a few days before, especially not food, but Allyson seemed to process the death differently than he did – she was less emotional, and more intellectual. …and in addition to wanting to figure out what to do next, she also wanted to try some more restaurants for the tourism guide that she was trying to write. She was planning on selling subscriptions to her travel guide blog, and make a bit of money to supplement her trust fund, but she was also thinking about a masters degree in public policy and population management, and knew that the raw authenticity of having been to the little restaurants and stores of the victims of the African Diaspora could do nothing but help her chances at getting into a top program.

“You know, a LOT needs to change about this place – it’s not just the lack of safety precautions that allow innocent people to get killed, there are tons of other problems too.”

Hugh missed Allan, but he had also envied him, and sometimes resented him. Hugh had had a crush on Selena since he’d met her two years ago, and had slowly moved into her circle of friends, helped her with her shopping and moving from apartment to apartment, and more … all to no effect, so far. Seeing that failure, coupled with Allan’s easy, flirty manner with both Selena and Allyson rubbed a raw spot on Hugh, and he was tempted to lash out in the current conversation – pointing out that Allan hadn’t been an “innocent person” – he’d been a show-off athletic jackass, preening for women, doing a stupid stunt in unrated gear. …not to mention that when the clerk had said that there’d be a four hour wait to rent any of the armored suits, it had been Allan who cavalierly answered for all of them, saying that they’d be happy enough with the more fragile suits.

Yes, Allan wasn’t an innocent victim here … he was a huge gaping asshole, and he’d gotten himself killed.

…but Hugh – a bit uncharacteristically, he admitted to himself – realized that pointing out the flaws of a semi-heroically recently dead athletic bad boy with blue eyes and sandy hair probably wasn’t the best way to warm up Selena.

“You’re right, Allyson, putting profits before the safety of human beings is deplorable, but it doesn’t end there!”

All three of the girls turned and looked at him.

“Uhh…there’s also…there’s also … there are no caps on work hours. That neat little open-air hardware store we saw – that place was open every time we went past it, and it was the same guy there behind the counter every time.”

Selena was nodding, and continuing to look at Hugh.

Allyson joined in ” – and worker safety laws! There have none of them here – the workers are helpless – they have to do whatever their bosses tell them.”

Hugh had a flash of insight – he knew that Selena had a soft spot for kids. “That’s not the least of it – there are no child labor laws here. Not only are the regular workers unprotected, but children are worked mercilessly – it’s like the bad old days of the 20th century, when kids were working in coal mines, and car factories, and stuff… I mean, look at that girl behind the counter, she can’t be more than eleven!” Hugh was not only a bit louder than he realized, but his turning in his chair and pointing to the counter ensured that Ewoma behind the counter just a table or two away heard and saw him.

The young girl scowled a bit and shouted “I’m twelve, you know!”

Hugh was a bit abashed, but he had the attention of the girls at the table, and didn’t want to back down – he was always backing down, especially in front of Allan, and he was done with that.

“OK, you’re twelve … but you should be in school, not working!”

“I am in school. And I’m helping run the family business too!”

At this, she wiped her hands on a towel, then walked out from behind the counter.

“Working interferes with your education – and besides, how can you be in school – there are no schools up here?”

“There are too schools up here – there are dozens. I went to one for a little while, but it wasn’t worth the money. All sorts of politics and stuff, and nothing about cooking, or installing electrical equipment, or running a business.”

Hugh felt the conversation slipping away from him, and struggled to get back in control – he didn’t want to lose a debate with a little girl!

“Look, there’s a lot more to education than learning to cook, or learn about doing blue collar monkey jobs like electrical work” – he cursed to himself – he’d said “monkey”, and he had just meant unskilled, but he was sitting surrounded by Nigerian workers, and might they consider the word racist? He hadn’t meant it that way! “I mean, what about art? What about music? What about … uh … philosophy, or politics?”

“I can learn those someday – right now, I’m helping my family run a restaurant, and some day I’m going to run my own company!”

“But there’s so much more to life than that – you shouldn’t HAVE to be oppressed by the economic system into needing to work, or run a company. You should have time to think your thoughts, to learn to appreciate the finer things … and then, maybe, someday, you can get a good job. You could be anything you want to be – an economic forecaster! a labor attorney – anything!”

“I don’t want to do any of those things. I want to work with my family in this restaurant, and then I want to own my own business, maybe when I’m 16.”

Hugh hadn’t really thought through his argument, but it spilled out of him naturally, as if he’d rehearsed it a hundred times. Again, he could feel the eyes of all three girls on him, and swelled as he realized what a good job he was doing.

“Look, that’s … that’s false consciousness. You only think you want those things because you haven’t been taught any better. You’re being exploited here, you’re being trained for a life of drudgery, among proletarians, and the entire economy that you think you’re a part of is just being manipulated by a few rich folks – tax scofflaws from the US and Europe, mostly – who are building a private little walled kingdom for themselves up here, cutting themselves off from the real mix of humanity, and their responsibilities back home. This is all just a capitalist theme park, and all of you” – here, he swept his arm around the room, to take in all of the off duty mechanics, the miners in their coveralls, the rice merchants and the cable riggers – “are just dupes ; you’re just pawns in the capitalists’ game. You’re working here with out legal protections, you’re trading your labor for false promises from criminals and traitors … where do you think this is going to end?”

The room had grown quiet.

A chair pushed back behind him.

Hugh turned.

“Do you think that I’m a monkey worker, you?”

Hugh looked at the angry young man in military surplus fatigue pants and a grease stained hoodie.

“No, no – I only mean that – that – with better educational opportunities, you could do anything you want to do. All of you!”

“I am doing what I want to do. I used to be bulldozer driver, until there was a carbon ration construction moratorium. Now I’m working for myself, up here, installing dust-proof bearing shields on dozers, and welding on six-ex ballast racks. What do you and your damn government want me to do? Go back to waiting for the carbon ration to end and cash welfare checks until then?”

A few more chairs pushed back around them.

Selena pulled on his sleeve. “Hugh, I think we should go.”

after:

Hugh, Selena, Allyson, and Louisa sat around the restaurant table.

Allyson fingered the menu dubiously and looked up.

Louisa caught her eye. “Yes, it’s plastic. No, it’s not organic. Get over it.”

Louisa looked around the table “You know, I’ve been thinking – the travel guide idea is weak. Now that the travel ban has passed, writing anything about how to get here – or what to do once you’re here – could be considered an offense under the contributory racketeering information doctrine.”

Allyson put down her plastic menu with distaste. “Hugh’s mom could work something out for us.”

Selena spoke up. “I think the bigger problem is that the Cowen Guide already does a good job of rating the restaurants…and it’s free.”

Allyson’s nostrils flared, but she waved the objection away as inconsequential. “You know, a LOT needs to change about this place – it’s not just the lack of safety precautions that allow innocent people to get killed, there are tons of other problems too. I think we can ALL agree on the dangers of this wild west environment…right, Hugh?”

Hugh heard his name and looked up. He hadn’t been following the conversation. In fact, he hadn’t been following much of anything since the death of Allan two days ago, especially not food, but Allyson seemed to process the death differently than he did – she was less emotional, and more intellectual.

“Huh?”

“I was saying that Allan’s death proves just how corrupt these expats are…and we should switch our focus to something more serious – working for change.”

“Uh…sure. Yeah. That sounds good.”

Hugh missed Allan, but he had also envied him… and sometimes resented him. Hugh had had a crush on Selena for two years now. He’d slowly moved into her circle of friends, helped her with her shopping moving into a new apartment … to no effect. Allan had started hanging with the crowd not three months ago…and his flirty manner with both Selena and Allyson …and their evident enjoyment of it …rubbed a raw spot on Hugh. The guy had been a jock asshole, and his show-off climbing in that spacesuit had led to his own death.

…but this jock asshole had been their friend, and he was dead now. Dead. Hugh had looked at his cracked faceplate himself.

Someone needed to pay for that.

…and, he tried not to admit to himself, maybe taking a more active, angry role would help him with Selena.

He’d been holding his glass mid-air for a long moment and suddenly slammed it down, resolved. The women dropped silent and Hugh spoke. “They killed Allan. They killed him by putting profits before people…and that’s…we’ve… we’re going to change that!”

The women looked at him expectantly. He flustered a bit at being the center of attention but pushed on.

“Uhh…there’s also…there’s also … there are no caps on work hours. That open-air scooter repair place we walked past every day on the way to the airlock? The same guy was there at his work bench, morning, noon and night.”

Louisa was nodding.

Allyson joined in ” – and worker safety laws! There have none of them here – the workers are helpless – they have to do whatever their bosses tell them.”

Hugh had a flash of insight – Selena had a soft spot for kids. “That’s not the least of it – there are no child labor laws here. I mean, look at that girl behind the counter, she can’t be more than eleven!” Hugh was not only a bit louder than he realized, but his turning in his chair and pointing to the counter ensured that Ewoma behind the counter just a table or two away heard and saw him.

The young girl scowled a bit and shouted from a half dozen meters away “I’m twelve, you know!”

Hugh was a bit abashed, but he had the attention of the women at the table, and didn’t want to back down. He’d spent his entire life backing down, especially in front of Allan. He was done with that.

He shouted back “OK, you’re twelve … but you should be in school, not working!”

“I am in school. And I’m helping run the family business too!”

At this, she wiped her hands on a towel, then walked out from behind the counter to confront them at the table.

Hugh pressed on “Working interferes with education – and – wait, how can you be in school? – there are no schools up here.”

Ewoma put her hands on her hips. “There are too schools up here – there are dozens. I went to one for a little while, but it wasn’t worth the money. It was all talk about politics and stuff, and nothing about cooking, or electrical equipment, or running a business.”

Hugh felt the conversation slipping away from him, and struggled to get back in control – the women were watching and he couldn’t lose a debate with a little girl!

He turned more fully in his seat to face the girl. “Look, there’s a lot more to education than learning to cook, or learn about doing blue collar monkey jobs like electrical work” – he cursed to himself – he’d said “monkey”, and he had just meant unskilled, but he was sitting surrounded by Nigerian workers, and might they consider the word racist? He hadn’t meant it that way! “I mean, what about art? What about music? What about … uh … philosophy, or politics?” He looked around. The women at the table were paying attention! He turned back to the serving girl. “There’s a reason that you can’t trust independent schools to give you a good education!” he finished triumphantly.

“I can learn those later, if I want to. Right now, I’m helping my family run a restaurant, and I’m learning stuff so that some day I’m going to run my own company!”

Hugh shook his head sadly. “There’s so much more to life than economics. What good is knowing how to run a business if you don’t read Proust or, uh, appreciate Solzstin’s scatter drawings? In a decent system you’d have time to study that – you shouldn’t be oppressed by the economic system into needing to work, or run a company. You should have time to think your thoughts, to learn to appreciate the finer things … and then, maybe, someday, you can get a good job. You could be anything you want to be – an economic forecaster, a labor attorney, you can run for office. …you can do anything you want!”

Ewoma had been getting steadily more skeptical as Hugh’s monologue went on. She crossed her arms. “I don’t want to do any of those things. I want to work with my family in this restaurant, and then I want to own my own business.”

Hugh hadn’t really thought through his argument, but it spilled out of him naturally, as if he’d rehearsed it a hundred times. Again, he could feel the eyes of all three women on him. He realized with pride what a good job he was doing of presenting the reasonable, educated, INTELLIGENT side of the argument.

“Look, that’s … that’s false consciousness. You only think you want those things because you haven’t been taught any better. You’re being exploited here, you’re being trained for a life of drudgery among proletarians. The the entire economy that you think you’re a part of here on the moon is just being manipulated by a few rich folks. Tax scofflaws who are building a private little walled kingdom for themselves, cutting themselves off from the real mix of humanity and their responsibilities back home. This is just a capitalist theme park, and all of you” – here, he swept his arm around the room, to take in all of the off duty mechanics, the miners in their coveralls, the rice merchants and the cable riggers – “are just dupes ; you’re just pawns in the capitalists’ game. You’re working here without legal protections, you’re trading your labor for false promises from criminals and traitors … where do you think this is going to end?”

The room had grown quiet.

A chair pushed back behind him.

Hugh turned.

“Do you think that I’m a monkey worker, you?”

Hugh looked at the angry young man in military surplus fatigue pants and an axle-grease-stained work jacket.

Suddenly Hugh’s pride collapsed. Shit. The guy looked tough…but worse than the implied physical threat was the dawning realization that he – a person of privilege – had inadvertently given insult.

“No, no – I only mean that – that – with better educational opportunities, you could do anything you want to do.” He again swept his arm to include the room, and spoke loud enough to be heard by everyone. “All of you!” He cursed as his voice cracked. He was feeling overly warm. Shit, shit, shit. This was all going so right just a minute ago, and now – fuck.

The laborer spoke down at Hugh. “I’m doing what I want to do. I used to be a bulldozer driver, until the carbon law. Now I’m here. I work for myself. I install bearing shields and I weld six-ex ballast racks. What do you and your damn government want me to do? Go back to the queue, wait for new carbon permits to be issued? I don’t get them anyway – they all go to friends of the abentu. …you know nothing about that, huh, smart guy? You ever try to do work yourself, huh?”

A few more chairs pushed back around them.

Selena pulled on his sleeve. “Hugh, I think we should go.”

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One Response to the College Kids…and Ewoma!

  1. Gus says:

    At first, I was thinking I was fine with the old way, since I like narrative, but the dialogue really does help with the characterization, most particularly Hugh’s. 🙂

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