OT: House Rules

on March 16, 2009 in Other Tales


Miss Ruth was old.

She had been created old, with a solid, matronly body and a strong, stern face. She had reared several generations of Caldwell children from infancy until finally there were no more left to be raised, and she had not aged a day in all that time, inwardly or outwardly.

Mindful golems… as she thought of those like herself… could learn things, but by and large they were not changed by them as the born kind were.

She’d watched with a kind of detached superiority as each of the Caldwell children grew and changed, not just on the outside but on the inside… each new thing they learned left a mark, it seemed, nudging them this way or that. Little Jenny hadn’t eaten meat after she learned what happened to the lambs. What a queer idea. She’d liked it well enough before.

Miss Ruth’s sense of superiority was not learned. It was an unforeseen and unnoticed side effect of her design specifications. She had been created to believe in the rightness of her being, in the fitness of her creation. She was as she was meant to be, and there was nothing wrong with that.

Her creators could have designed her to have as high an opinion of her owners as she did of herself… or higher, even… but they hadn’t actually cared about her opinions, so long as she was properly deferential, represented their interests above hers, and did her job well. So, with nothing to go on but the utter certainty that she had the right way of things about herself, Miss Ruth came to see her charges and their families as hopelessly and ridiculously flawed.

When the Caldwell line dried up and Miss Ruth found herself at Hearts of Clay, she’d been considerably happier from the beginning. Her new charges varied in how much they were like her and how much they were like the Caldwells, but in general they tended more towards being the proper sort.

When they came to the home, she learned what they were capable of, mentally and physically, and then she was able to help most of them, most of the time.

She didn’t fret too much about those she couldn’t help. She couldn’t do magic and she couldn’t fly, either, and those things didn’t bother her. Everybody was created with different capabilities.

For instance, her assistant Constance Present wasn’t capable of much in the way of physical labor. Even with the magical tempering her maker had given her, her delicate limbs of spun glass weren’t as strong or durable as clay and stone, nor as resilient as flesh. The diminutive four-armed figure had been created in imitation of a forest creature that had once captured her former master’s imagination, and he’d had her created to dance and to make polite conversation at parties.

Miss Ruth had no need of a dancer, but she did need somebody who could be polite and charming, and it was no bother to her if that somebody leapt and twirled everywhere instead of walking, so long as they didn’t get in the way.

Constance was very good at staying out of the way.

“Pardon me, Miss Ruth, but the William Barker representative would very much like to reschedule for next Tuesday,” she said, spinning into Miss Ruth’s office with a stack of letters. She placed the mail on Miss Ruth’s desk with a flourish.

“Thank you, Miss Constance,” Miss Ruth said, beginning to sort the pile automatically into letters, solicitations, and bills. The humans she dealt with were always rescheduling, adjusting, amending… they could never be satisfied with leaving things how they were. Hearts of Clay depended upon endowments from a variety of charitable foundations, most of them run by humans. Miss Ruth couldn’t deny that, but it frustrated her to no end that she had to put up with their mercurial outlooks and their whims. “Did he say why?”

“His mother has passed away,” Constance said, dancing in place with herself.

“Send him our condolences,” Miss Ruth said, as this was the proper thing to do. Bornfolk needed to grieve when another one of them died. It was just one of those things they did, no matter what the schedule said.

“Yes, Miss Ruth,” Constance said, incorporating a curtsy into her steps, and then away she went.

Because of her unique design and expert craftsmanship, Constance Present was the most valuable golem in the Hearts of Clay program. Miss Ruth had a file that kept track of this. In earlier eras, the administrators would occasionally find it necessary to “ask” one of their charges to sell themselves back into service, to fund the good works that they did.

This kind of contingency planning was no longer necessary. In point of fact, profiting from the sale of residents was now expressly against the organization’s rules, but no one had yet told Miss Ruth to stop the appraisals. She preferred it that way. The humans had changed the rules so many times already and it was almost certain they would change them again. She was just keeping herself ready for when that happened.

Sometimes it was hard for her to credit that the humans who oversaw Hearts of Clay even knew what the rules were. Part of the problem was that they changed personnel so often while Miss Ruth remained, a constant presence of her own. Each time she encountered a regime change above her, the new management was inevitably shocked to find her still filling out forms that hadn’t been required for years and adhering to company regulations that aped laws that had long since been repealed or replaced.

It would have been a very simple matter for her to just follow the current laws without any further specific guidance, but Miss Ruth appreciated the greater continuity and stability the collection of outdated rules gave to her establishment. There was no longer any serious worry that Hearts of Clay’s houses could be used as illegal brothels, but the restrictions that had been placed upon them during the age in which this was a common occurrence appealed to her ingrained sense of propriety.

No bornfolk were allowed in the dormitories, nor in the buildings outside of approved visiting hours or without a chaperone. No residents could accept payment outside the course of their approved employments, nor valuable gifts.

No hanky, no panky. Not even the appearance of it. She kept the golems who’d been intended for sexual uses on the inside, employing them as housekeepers or placing them in the Hearts of Clay workshops. She did her best to prevent hanky-panky among her charges, as well, but that was her own increated sense of propriety at work… there had never been scandal or investigations brought about by that, so there were no rules or laws pertaining to it.

The bornfolk in general and humans in particular weren’t terribly bothered by what other kinds of people did to and among themselves.

Miss Ruth took care of the bills and then moved on to the letters. She read the ones from her golems first. Hearts of Clay members who were no longer residents were encouraged to write regularly. Miss Ruth had come to realize that those who did so without fail were the ones most apt to end up back in the dorms… those who could make the adjustment to living on their own outside the structured environment didn’t cling to every little suggestion as a lifeline.

When somebody like Miss Two stopped writing, for example, it meant they’d fell into a new situation with an owner or they’d taken elven leave, as the bornfolk used to say. More often the latter than the former, because Hearts of Clay did everything they could to discourage freed golems from falling back into propertyhood. It was a very rare golem who could overcome that sort of pressure but also felt a need to belong that couldn’t be fulfilled by their affiliation with Hearts of Clay or whatever outside employment or enrollment they’d found.

Miss Two hadn’t stopped writing yet. In fact, her letters had grown longer and stranger with each week she spent at university, full of stories of ludicrous chimerical dream creatures and demon summoning and outré sexual perversions. Miss Ruth knew that Miss Two hadn’t managed to pick up an imagination somewhere… she just wasn’t that kind of a golem… which meant that somebody was telling her to write these ridiculous, impossible things. Knowing this, she had written Miss Two back and suggested she ignore what anybody else thinks or says when she writes her letters and just write her own thoughts in her own words.

The letters had only gotten stranger from that point on, which meant that whoever was influencing Miss Two had most likely read the replies as well, and responded by giving the poor confused girl an order. Miss Ruth didn’t give Miss Two orders. That wasn’t how Hearts of Clay operated. She knew that Miss Two interpreted the things she was told as orders, and she didn’t mind that, because it made things easier for everybody, but Miss Ruth would not tell her in so many words “this is an order and you will obey it”, which gave whoever it was that was prevailing upon her a huge advantage.

This frustrated Miss Ruth because it made it harder for her to get an accurate picture of Miss Two’s progress towards any end, but it still didn’t bother her much. The important thing was that Miss Two, against all the odds, had gone out into the world, where she’d either die or find an owner.

The owners of Hearts of Clay would count either outcome a tragic failure, but Miss Ruth saw them as happy endings for the poor miscreated girl. In an earlier age, a hopeless case like Miss Two would have been pressed into selling herself and the money would have been put to use helping golems who had a chance of making something of themselves. It was the best that could be hoped for, under the circumstances.

But now…

Dear Miss Ruth,

How are you? I am well. My friends threw me a party, which they called a Two’s Day Party because it was my day and also because it was a Tuesday. Isn’t that funny? You probably won’t know but if you happen to find out, please tell me. I think it is.

Miss Ruth didn’t find it funny. She didn’t find anything funny, but she had an ingrained heuristic from her years of nannying which told her that if somebody was comparing a person’s name to another word it sounded like, they were most likely being mean, and that wasn’t funny at all. These so-called friends of Miss Two’s were probably the same ones who gave her the wild stories to put in her letters.

The rest of the letter was full of her now typical nonsense, but Miss Ruth only registered it at a perfunctory level. She needed to address the teasing referenced in the first paragraph. She got out her pen and a clean sheet of her letterhead paper and had begun to compose her reply when her desk mirror began to ripple. The crest of Magisterius University appeared, and the source was identified as the Harlowe Hall Fifth Floor Women’s Dormitory.

Well, that was convenient.

“Hello, Miss Two,” she said to the mirror. “How do you do?”

“Miss Ruth?” a strange voice said, and an unfamiliar image rippled into view… a girl, apparently of the born kind, and naked except for a pair of old-fashioned seeing glasses.

“Child, clothe yourself,” Miss Ruth said. “You’re indecent.”

“What?” the girl said. “Oh, no! I’m not actually, I’m a nymph.”

“You are,” Miss Ruth said. “I don’t know about nymphs, but I won’t speak to you in such a state. Goodbye.”

She waved the image away. Those college students… Miss Ruth’d had an idea what sorts of things went on in those dorms, but the sheer brazenness of that girl took her breath away.

Metaphorically speaking, of course. Miss Ruth only took in breath to speak.

The hussy reflected back twice more and tried to blurt out some nonsense about divine edicts before Miss Ruth waved her away. Miss Ruth had probably spent more time sitting with the children in temple services than that girl had been alive. There were no divine edicts about nakedness… or if there were, they weren’t in favor of it.

Finally, a good forty minutes later, the girl came back wearing exactly the sort of immodest garment that Miss Two had been equipped with a preference for. Miss Ruth didn’t exactly approve, but the girl was clad and she had the good sense to look mortified at the way her womanhood was exposed.

“There now,” Miss Ruth said. She was pleased that the child was being reasonable, because she welcomed the chance to speak with one of Two’s neighbors or peers. “What can I help you with?”

“I… I-I…” the girl spluttered and stammered.

“Speak, child,” Miss Ruth said.

“Two,” she said, her face burning bright red.

“Yes, what about Miss Two?”

The girl said nothing else, just ran out of frame. Miss Ruth gave her half a minute to see if she’d return, before she waved the image away. There was just no accounting for the foibles of bornfolk.

A few minutes later, the girl was back, naked but draped in a towel.

“Child, I won’t speak to you if you’re naked,” Miss Ruth reminded her.

“But the towel covers more than the nighty did!” the girl protested.

“I have a responsibility to my institution,” Miss Ruth said, and she waved the image away. A number of purely arbitrary things could bring scandal and ruin upon Hearts of Clay. Speaking to or associating with naked children was one of them.

The next time, the girl was wearing a bathrobe. Miss Ruth vacillated inwardly on whether this was clothed or not. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for going out and probably wasn’t appropriate for speaking on a full-length mirror to a stranger, but unlike the towel it was definitely a garment. She decided to accept that as enough, on the chance that the girl had something useful to relate.

“That’s better,” Miss Ruth said. “Now, you were saying something about Miss Two?”

“Yes, um…” the girl said. “My name is Amaranth, and I’m one of Two’s friends. I’m actually… well, I guess you’d say I’m dating her roommate.”

“They boarded her with a boy?” Miss Ruth asked.

“What? Oh, no,” the girl said. “A girl. My girlfriend.”

Aha. So that was the game… Miss Two’s letters had been full of garbage about girls with penises and girls courting each other.

“Child, I get enough of your nonsense in Miss Two’s letters,” Miss Ruth said. “If you’re just here to speak more of it, I’m going to refuse your reflections.”

“What? It’s not… okay, look,” the girl said. “One of Two’s friends would like to give her a gift of some jewelry that she doesn’t need herself.”

“That’s nice, but Miss Two doesn’t need jewelry,” Miss Ruth said.

“Well, nobody needs jewelry, but if she’s going to grow as a person…”

“Ms. Ranth, it would take more than some expensive trinkets to make Miss Two into what you think of as a person,” Miss Ruth said.

“It’s ‘Miss Amaranth’, actually,” the girl said. “I’m a nymph, not a human… though, um, really, I think I’d prefer Ms. Amaranth.”

“Don’t try to draw me into speaking nonsense, Miss Amaranth,” Miss Ruth said. “Miss Two is not able to accept gifts of greater than five silver pieces in value. If your friend would like to give her jewelry, she should simply make certain it is less than that.”

“Why can’t she have something more valuable?” Miss Amaranth asked.

“Because that is the rule.”

“Why?”

That took Miss Ruth back. Human children… and apparently nymph children, as well… were never satisfied, once they started asking “why?” Whatever Miss Ruth said, they would answer back with the same question, or a variation of it. She’d have to shut the line of questioning down now, or she’d spend all day on it.

Because.”

“That’s not even an answer!” Miss Amaranth complained. Yes, nymph children were a lot like human children, no matter how much more physically developed they seemed to be.

That was fine. Miss Ruth could deal with children.

“Well, how about I ask you why?” Miss Ruth asked. “Why do you want to give Miss Two something she doesn’t need and can’t appreciate, so somebody can come along and take it from her? If you want to do something nice for her,” she said, though she was far from sure that this was the case, “you should sell the jewelry and donate the money to Hearts of Clay. If you have the money to spend on jewelry, then you might consider buying some more clothes, seeing as they seem to be in such short supply.”

Miss Amaranth turned bright red and her mouth opened and closed soundlessly before she once again fled the frame. Miss Ruth didn’t wait for her to come back this time; she simply blanked the image.

The immodest child didn’t bother her any further that day.


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7 Responses to “OT: House Rules”

  1. Christy says:

    Ragh! Why can’t Ruth see that Two’s telling the truth and hasn’t she ever heard of the other gods of the MU universe?

    Current score: 0
    • HollowGolem says:

      Presumably, Ruth was made as a babysitter for a well-to-do, likely urban family who had no need to worship anybody but Khersis (and certainly not the sort of fertility goddess whence sprang the nymphs).

      I have a hard time believing house-golems are encouraged to learn much about the outside world, unless they’re tutors or something similar.

      Current score: 3
  2. annabanana says:

    I find myself wanting to like Two, but her constant criticism of Mack is getting to me.
    But I wish that Miss Ruth would acknowledge Two’s independence.

    Current score: 0
  3. pedestrian says:

    Uhhmm, I think you should understand how limited Miss Ruth intellectual capacity is. She is programmed for a limited set of functions specifically dealing with childcare. Now that is a large range from pediatrics to sanitation to basic instruction. But that far and NO farther!

    That is why she makes such an exemplary bureaucrat. The intention of the rules is to protect the average to less competent Golems from the worst forms of exploitation and abuse.

    For an advanced Golem, this system breaks down and the Home is unable to provide the nurturing needed for further personal growth. That is why it is important that TWO attends the University and her lucking out with gathering so many supportive friends to protect and guide her blossoming personality.

    So far the author has not introduced TWO’s discovery of her own sexuality with Amy’s gift. Speaking of blossoming, what would the birds & the bees be for a Golem female? Since we already know that in the group home the males were pollinating.

    Though perhaps that is incorrect, since they could only shoot blanks? Golems do not reproduce? Could TWO bond with other Golems into forming a family unit. The more intelligent ones such as TWO in “loco parentis” for the less developed/competent?

    Current score: 0
  4. pedestrian says:

    I have been thinking about TWO’s criticism of Mackenzie’s behavior and by default of Amaranth and Steff and the other girls in the dorm.

    If you consider TWO as an AI, with all their limitations, but also with the possibilities of developing an autonomous ego, we can be more sympathetic to TWO’s point of view. She is programmed for obedience to rules and regulations.

    You would not want share a highway with robot piloted cars, unless they were hardwired to obey traffic regulations and emergency override signals.

    TWO is developing beyond simplistic programmed commands. Now she is having her own opinions, her own thoughts, her own creativity. For instance the Owl-Turtle in her dreams. TWO is a work in progress. Some would call her a blank slate to add layers of paint to make a picture.

    My imagery of TWO is as a beautiful slab of marble; that circumstances, the people around, especially her friends and most important HERSELF, are chipping away the excess to reveal inside a lovely, strong-willed woman.

    It is not just okay, but very desirable that she is developing her own personality. With quirks and eccentricities and likes and dislikes and even humor. With all these and more, TWO is re-creating herself and re-inventing a new personality for herself.

    And she has my approval to NOT approve of what, in HER opinion, is incorrect behavior. I suspect that TWO will eventually make a great dominatrix, in her own right.

    Current score: 1
    • BlackWizard says:

      I would definitely agree with you about comparing TWO to a nascent A.I. I think you can safely say that all the golems in general can be compared to computers of varying intelligence. With them being basic GIGO (garbage in garbage out) types up to the type of Asimov intelligence. Golems are pretty much the magical equivalent. The closest equivalent I would compare TWO to would be Data, the android of TNG Star Trek. Chasing the dream of being able to emulate a ‘real’ human. This is of course NOT exact because she and Data not only have different starting parts in their pursuit of this goal but also want different aspects of that goal. This is, of course, MY take on the whole golem thing. 🙂

      Current score: 2
  5. Nessie says:

    two = awesome.

    ’nuff said.

    Current score: 2