Building Cities
Jerumal helps his little boys build a city out of blocks.
2010-04-29
"Your mother is better at this," Jerumal said in frustration as the stack of blocks Kivegei was working on fell before his enthusiastic hands.

Kivegei looked up at him with wide eyes. He was younger by nearly two years, but twice as serious as his laughing older brother, Amanel. "Mumma's gone," he said, clearly concerned by this.

All three of them were sitting together in a field of blocks, stacking together a city of wooden shapes.

"Isn't this like what she's doing right now?" Amanel asked, stacking a series of sloppy blocks together to make what he'd dubbed a restaurant.

"On a much, much larger scale," Jerumal affirmed with a nod. "With buildings larger than our museum, and big schools and a theatre house three times the size as the one here."

"Don't have theatre!" Kivegei wailed in alarm, looking around at the haphazard city and the dwindling pile of unused blocks.

His face threatened tears, and Jerumal quickly intervened. "We can put one in over there," he offered. "Or we can say that building is the theatre."

"That's the licensing office," Amanel said in horror. "You can't get rid of that. And the school goes there."

Kivegei sniffled. "No school. Don't want school!" He'd recently decided that school was the newest worst thing in the world - not even bedtime could compare - and Amanel's excitement about going to first form in a few months was not shared.

"Well," Jerumal offered. "Maybe our city only has street troupes and doesn't need a theatre building. Like the one we saw in Tifanaro, do you remember?" It had been a year ago - he wasn't sure that Kivegei was old enough to remember, and regretted bringing it up almost as soon as he said it.

Kivegei knit his brow in thought, clearly struggling to remember, but Amanel crowed, "I remember! They had puppets on strings! And danced standing up on sticks! I got to have iced sweet reed and stay up until late."

That Amanel remembered, and Kivegei could not, caused immediate distress. Jerumal, desperate to stave off more tears, immediately stood up and clapped his hands. "You know what hungry city builders need?" he asked cheerfully.

Amanel, unmoved by his brother's tears, was happy to leap up and ask, "What? What?"

Kivegei remained sitting, and knocked over another building for good measure.

"Well, anomalies don't get snacks," Jerumal tried to tease him. "They fill up on the buildings they knock over!"

It was the wrong choice; Kivegei burst into immediate tears. "Anolomanies are... are... gunna eat Mumma!"

"Never should have read those letters out loud," Jerumal muttered to himself. Denel was finishing another required class under Emeroma at the City of Lights, and wrote frequent letters back, describing the labor shortages they were having due to the superstitious fears of the recent, unexplained rash of accidents. The letters themselves had been written simply enough for the boys to understand, and skipped over the less savory details that Jerumal already knew from the news publications. He'd felt it was important, socially, for the boys to get a sense of their mother's voice while she was gone, and didn't think it was beneficial to their development to keep the events from them entirely. Now, he was second-guessing that decision, and had a flash of anger at Denel, that she would be so frequently away from their family and force him to explain these things. This was a mother's role in the vast majority of the cultures he studied, and women tended to be much better at it.

"Anomalies aren't going to eat her," he said, scooping Kivegei into his arms and rubbing his back comfortingly. For a moment he thought the boy would struggle and move into a full, foot-kicking temper tantrum, but instead, Kivegei rested his tousled blond head on Jerumal's shoulder, still sobbing weakly. Jerumal's anger dissipated immediately, even as he registered it as a classic paternal response.

Amanel reached up to pat Kivegei's leg reassuringly. "Mumma will be home soon," he said, and Jerumal ruffled his dark hair in appreciation. "She said they were doing experiments to figure out what the ana- alanom- the things were, and that when they could find out how to see them, they could stop them. Because you can do that with science."

Jerumal bit his lip around a denial of that - the boys were too young to understand the subtleties of a discussion of the unknown in science and the social requirement of things that cause fear.

...

He was still thinking about the idea later, though, after he had left the boys with their child-care-licensed housekeeper for a meeting with his mentor.

In every culture he had ever studied, there was fear of the unknown. It worked its way into the language, into the religion, and played a cautionary role. One culture even supposed that the reason for the Upheaval was that the Ancients had not feared anything. Fear was ubiquitous. Necessary.

When Dramanar was ushered up, the Science Leader immediately said, "Denel's still studying at the City of Lights and the boys are worried."

Jerumal smiled. The council member's ability to make such accurate 'guesses' was legendary, and came from decades of studying facial expressions, psychology, cultural history, language and current events, as well as a personal interest in Jerumal's family. It made him an invaluable ally and a dangerous enemy, and Jerumal was grateful to have him as the former. "Yes," he agreed with a sigh. "It's hard to explain to boys their age that there are things we don't understand."

"It's hard to explain that to adults," Dramanar added with a soft chuckle. "Especially when we don't want to believe it." He settled back into the chair by the window and accepted the glass of water that the service guild apprentice brought him.

"She'll be back by the tenend," Jerumal said, waving his own glass to the sidetable. "They'll find something else to be afraid of, then."

"We all do," Dramanar rumbled, deep in his barrel-shaped chest. He handed Jerumal a protective paper sleeve folded around a modest stack of thick pages as the apprentice left the room. "Here's your next item of fear."

Jerumal folded the sleeve back and rifled through the top few pages. Astonishment washed over him. "These are applications for the council!"

Dramanar smiled - a slow, sly smile that hinted at more depth than his mild face usually did.

Jerumal felt the classic symptoms of shock and cataloged them with the part of his brain that still could: cold fingers, hot flush, some trembling in the limbs. "I haven't finished my requirements for Science Leader," he said. Disbelief, denial.

Dramanar made a wave of his fingers that seemed casual in a way that no gesture ever was with him. "You're done with those requirements when I say you are, as your mentor."

Jerumal laughed - euphoria! - and sat gingerly down into the chair opposite Dramanar, flipping reverently through the papers. It would take him a full tenday just to get through these justification forms. References, essays... this looked worse than exams for Science Master had been.

"You've got a lot of trust in me," he said, and he knew that Dramanar would understand the unspoken gratitude that colored his words.

"I do," Dramanar agreed. "Your wife may build cities, but you can build civilizations..."


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