Engineer-Artisan Grimes was honest with everyone. Frankly, I always liked his candor. Initially, he didn’t like me. I knew this because on my first day he told me, “I don’t like Student-Apprentices.”
It wasn’t a malicious statement; it was a simple fact. He didn’t like anyone from my class of S-A’s. There had been rumors that he had liked one student a few years ago, but that was exhaust scum, he didn’t like any S-A.
He didn’t want us to get hurt, and he was more than happy to help us learn; he just wasn’t going to be kind or overly friendly when he did it. Most of my class of S-A’s left his training the first cycle. I stayed. Mostly because he was exceptional at his job and he liked doing it, and because, he was, as I said, honest. People don’t like honest people. We all say we want people to be honest, but that’s a lie. We want people to tell us kind lies, and pleasant truths – Grimes just told you the truth. He did it with the complete knowledge that you weren’t going to like him when he finished speaking. And he did it without care for your opinion. He also wanted you to tell him nothing but the truth. He hated flowery language. If you were happy, just say it. If you were upset, be upset. He was so simple and so wise. When you did something wrong, he had no qualms about telling you. Conversely, he also had no issues in showing you how to do something – but only if you asked first. If – by some miracle – you managed to do something to impress him, you earned the praise. He heaped it upon you in waves. I’m kidding. He would look. His bushy, dark eyebrows would raise, he’d frown and then say “Not bad, perhaps you have a brain, and the machines did not unlearn everything you know.” He’d clap you on the shoulder with one of those too-large hands. This would usually cause you to fully fall to the ground, and he’d tell you, “You may sit with me at final rations tonight.” That was the mark of really starting to earn his respect, sitting with him and the other -Artisans.
There were fourteen -Artisans in the settlement. Three Engineer-Artisans, five Teacher-Artisans, two Corporation-Artisans, three Materials-Artisans and the lone Defense-Artisan. The -Artisans were supposed to be the highest levels of their respective field. Usually, they were the oldest and most stubborn in their field. When someone earned the -Artisan title, they gained the freedom to pick amongst the other disciplines, so long as they could defend the use of resources as contributing to the communal good. No one had seen an -Artisan lose their title, but supposedly there were protocols for it.
The -Artisans were not managers or leaders, nor were they in charge of anything beyond their standard senior-level responsibilities – unless they so desired. The Teacher-Artisans usually kept an eye on the Students, looking for talents for Teaching or Corporation. The Corporation-Artisans were equals and were always two. They were meant to adjudicate any conflicts of the community, and to make sure that the dictates of the corporation were observed. The first two C-A’s had been the Captain and Executive Officer, but since arriving at our destination, and the ship had been salvaged for shelter – Captain and Executive Officers were no longer needed. All of this was spelled out in great detail, as part of the corporation’s contract with the settlers; and everyone knew what the plan was, as well as their part in it.
The Materials-Artisans were the most feared of the -Artisans because they controlled how all materials were distributed and reclaimed. The M-As could, at any time, declare any material restricted, and all uses of it must be approved. While this could be useful, such as when the water purification system was broken and strict water rationing was needed, mostly it was frustrating. Sometimes the M-As just didn’t understand how far their reach was, and how bad it could get. Such as the time they thought that restricting stabilized chlorine would help to stop the spread of the ever-present rust. Instead, it just meant that the water-purification teams had to do three times as much work to do their usually mundane jobs. Nobody likes being told they’re wrong, or being corrected. That goes double for the M-As. So now we have the entire settlement up-in-arms for water-purification and the M-As trying to downplay their mistake. They’re not all bad, just sometimes things would be better if there was such a title as Engineer-Materials, but we all can dream. These days the M-As haven’t had a ration on anything in a few months, but with the hot season coming we will likely have a partial water ration, just like last year.
The Defense-Artisan was the police force. Mostly she just keeps the peace. People are willful by nature – at least that’s what the teaching machines taught me. Mostly we have the occasional fight or someone steals something petty, or cheats at a card game. But the laws and punishments are all spelled out in the corporation contract, and as I said; we all know our part in it. She has a small security team that handles scouting and monitoring the walls and such. She can also deputize anyone of security age, fifteen, into temporary service if there is a great need – there has never been a great need.
Anyone with the -Engineer title was expected to be a part of the maintenance division. Usually, this meant keeping water and power running. You usually did this grunt work for a few years. It was reliable work. “Nothing glamorous, but necessary” – that was the unofficial motto among the Apprentice-Engineers. It was possible after a few years to specialize and move into Power or Water proper, and learn a specialization, where you’d get your title Engineer-Power or Engineer-Water or something similar. I was going to try for the rare: Engineer-Security. Designing the shields and defense systems was not something that most of my fellow A-E’s went for so there would be little competition. But even better, the D-A had finally managed to get the C-A’s and the M-A’s to approve two slots for permanent E-S’s. After three years, it was time for me to get my recommendation from Grimes for my trade.
“You want to become a weapon maker?” asked Grimes as he wiped sweat from his brow, not looking back at me.
“Well, not necessarily a weapon maker, but I want to make things that I can be proud of,” I said. Careful not to move the light, even though I really wanted to scratch my neck.
“Are you not happy as -Engineer?” asked Grimes, he stopped and looked down at his hands.
“No, it’s not like that. I love being an -Engineer. But I want to do something that nobody else does,” I said.
I paused and said, “I look around and see that everyone works on the power grid, everyone works on the water. Hell, we are down in the sewer. I’m in the sewer with an -Artisan!”
Grimes looked back at me and gruffly said, “There is always pride in doing anything well.”
Grimes was clearly disappointed with me, and I hated that. It had taken years to get to the point that he didn’t openly tell me that he would neither “be helped nor hampered by” my death. Like I said, he was always honest.
“We look everything up on the computer. And then we do what the computer says. We never get to solve a problem in a new way. How many times have we replaced this valve?” I asked, trying to mask my exasperation.
Grimes turned back to the valve, and I could see him attempting to count – his head bobbing as he thought.
“You and I? Thirteen. Me? Sixty-eight,” said Grimes. “We finish number fourteen, then we will talk.”
We finished replacing the valve, as we had fourteen previous times. Then we trudged, half-crouched, back to the hatch. We dropped our tools in the shop, and Grimes nodded in the direction of his office. You have to understand. E-A Grimes isn’t a ‘gruff-but-nice’ guy, he’s just a no-nonsense guy. He’s smart and capable, just not social. He doesn’t share. He isn’t what anyone would ever call “nice.” In the three years that I had worked for Grimes, I had never seen the inside of his office. Not once. His office was adjacent to one of the large workshops. He wiped his hands, tossed the now-soiled rag in the hamper, and he walked to the door of his office. He opened the door and stepped inside, then motioned me in as well. He closed the door behind me and turned on the light.
Grimes had been an -Engineer for decades. He had specialized in as a -Water. He was brilliant with metal-work. He had a sixth-sense about maintenance, and he was all about efficiency. He was a task-master, but he had earned the right to be. His office was filled with an overloaded desk and shelves. As I looked about, I realized that the desk, the shelves, even his desk were all made from some odd material that I didn’t recognize. Grimes stepped past me and gestured to the small stool, made of the same unusual material.
Grimes sat down slowly, wiped his brow on his sleeve and leaned down to untie his boots.
“You said that you want to solve a problem in a new way. What would you have done differently on that valve?” asked Grimes.
“I don’t know. I just think that maybe if we made the valve differently we wouldn’t need to replace it so often,” I said.
Having freed his feet from his boots, he wiggled his, toes and then turned in his chair and steepled his hands and rested his elbows on his desk. It was odd to see him assume such a scholarly pose, but he seemed genuinely interested in my answer.
He once again pointed at the stool and motioned me to sit, which I did.
“So, the valve replacement is annoying you?” he asked.
“No. But, you’ve replaced that valve sixty-eight times,” I started.
“Sixty-nine, now,” he corrected.
“Fine. Sixty-nine times. Don’t you think that maybe we should, I don’t know – design a better valve? Maybe figure out why that valve keeps failing when the other valves don’t fail as often?” I said.
“That valve breaks because it is at the junction point between a four-inch pipe and a three-inch pipe. It has more stress than the others. Of course, it will fail more readily,” he said, but his eyes sparkled.
“I know all of that. But why don’t we ever get to make anything? Why can’t we try a new idea?” I asked.
“Tell me, what do you think of the stool? Of my desk?” he asked, beaming.
I reached out to touch the side of the desk and asked, “What are they made of?”
“That is what I want you to figure out before you decide to become a weapon-maker.”
“And what happens when I find out what it is made of?”
“Then you will choose to be a weapon maker.” he said.
“But, I thought you didn’t want me to be an E-S?” I asked, frustration starting to show in my voice.
“No. I want you to be an -Engineer, to become an -Artisan. What I want is for you to understand why you are making your decision. The machines taught you how to be a part of the settlement, how your actions affected everyone and how you had not been a burden to the community. But, this also means that you have learned that any thought in your head that doesn’t fit the approved mold is wrong. This is wrong thinking. You are good -Engineer. You will make good weapons, you would make good power, you would clean good water. But, in these things you would not find yourself trying to become -Artisan. Find what the stool was made from,” he said.
I sat gobsmacked. Not because of the statement, or the endorsement of my ability. I had spent three years just trying to get this man to think that my death would be worthy of notice, and he had just told me I was a good Engineer. I almost didn’t hear any of the words after that. Had he implied that I might become an -Artisan? How did the stool factor into becoming an -Artisan?
Finally, my mouth remembered that it was supposed to say something, “Ummm,” I started.
Grimes almost laughed. Laughed. I will never forget that moment as long as I live. No one will ever believe me, but he almost laughed.
“You have a few more months before I will give you my recommendation. I will speak with D-A Montero, she will hold a slot for you on my word,” he said. “During that time you will continue repairing valves with me, and you will learn about that stool. I expect questions.”
He looked at me and then motioned me away.
“Don’t you have friends and such with whom you spend your precious evening free time? Don’t you wander the farmlands with them in the evenings? Go. The stool will be there in the morning.”
More than a little confused, I left.
I spent the evening as I usually did. I studied, and I played fives and nines with the other S-As. I told a few of them about the random task and how Grimes had nearly laughed. As predicted, none of them believed me.
Edit (13OCT15) – Here is Part 2!