"It's like holidays."
"Yes. Holidays. They used to mean the opposite of what they mean now. Almost the exact opposite."
"What do you mean?"
"Hey, is this edible?"
"I don't know. Bite it and see."
"But it just moved."
"It just moved? What, under its own power?"
"I think so."
"Well now, there's a thing. Evolve from a real predator like our friend Ziller and the instinctive answer's probably yes, but -- "
"What's this about holidays?"
"Ziller was -- "
" -- What he was saying. Opposite meaning. Once, holidays meant the time when you went away."
"Yes, I remember hearing that. Primitive stuff. Age of Scarcity."
"People had to do all the work and create wealth for themselves and society and so they couldn't afford to take very much time off. So they worked for, say, half the day, most days of the year and then had an allocation of days they could take off, having saved up enough exchange collateral -- "
"Money. Technical term."
" -- in the meantime. So they took the time off and they went away."
"Excuse me, are you edible?"
"Are you really talking to your food?"
"I don't know. I don't know if it is food."
"In very primitive societies there wasn't even that; they got only a few days off each year!"
"But I thought primitive societies could be quite -- "
"Primitive industrial, he meant. Take no notice. Will you stop poking that? You'll bruise it."
"But can you eat it?"
"You can eat anything you can get into your mouth and swallow."
"You know what I mean."
"Ask, you idiot!"
"I just did."
"Not it! Grief, what are you glanding? Should you be out? Where's your minder, terminal, whatever?"
"Well, I didn't want to just -- "
"Oh, I see. Did they all go away at once?"
"How could they? Things would stop working if they all did nothing at the same time."
"Oh, of course."
"But sometimes they had days when a sort of skeleton crew operated infrastructure. Otherwise, they staggered their time off. Varies from place to place and time to time, as you might expect."
"Whereas nowadays what we call holidays, or core time, is when you all stay home, because otherwise there'd be no period when you could all meet up. You wouldn't know who your neighbors were."
"Actually, I'm not sure that I do."
"Because we're just so flighty."
"One big holiday."
"In the old sense."
"Itchy feet, itchy paws, itchy flippers, itchy barbels -- "
"Hub, can I eat this?"
" -- itchy gas sacs, itchy ribs, itchy wings, itchy pads -- "
"Okay, I think we get the idea."
" -- itchy grippers, itchy slime cusps, itchy motile envelopes -- "
"Will you shut up?"
"Hub? Come in? Hub? Shit, my terminal's not working. Or Hub's not answering."
"Maybe it's on holiday."
" -- itchy swim bladders, itchy muscle frills, itchy -- mmph! What? Was there something stuck in my teeth?"
"Yes, your foot."
"I think that's where we kicked off."
"Hub? Hub? Wow, this has never happened to me before..."
"Hmm?" His name had been spoken. Kabe discovered that he must have gone into one of those strange, trance-like states he sometimes experienced at gatherings like this, when the conversation -- or rather when several conversations at once -- went zinging to and fro in a dizzying, alienly human sort of way and seemed to wash over him so that he found it difficult to follow who was saying what to whom and why.
Copyright © 2000 by Iain M. Banks
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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