Seruffin looks out the train window at the snow, which has been falling steadily for some time.
Seruffin: If it doesn't stop snowing soon, we're not going to make it to New Washington, even with the snow plow.
Seruffin tries not to show his Donor just how apprehensive that thought makes him.
Gerrhonot has been dozing, and was just about to slump over onto Seruffin's shoulder when he speaks. Even asleep, Gerrhonot's nager is full of ~~ comfort ~~ and ~~contentment ~~ when he's with his channel and nothing alarming is happening.
Gerrhonot: Huh? Sorry, Hajene, I was falling asleep. ~~ embarrassment ~~
Seruffin: That's okay, Gerrhonot. I was just saying that if the snow keeps up like this, we may be stranded short of New Washington.
Gerrhonot is ~~ concerned ~~.
Seruffin is ~~ worried ~~, and trying not to show it.
Gerrhonot can see that Seruffin is worried, and takes his hand, projecting ~~ safety ~~ and ~~ devotion ~~. He knows that few out-T towns have Sime Centers.
Seruffin looks at their compartment, which for some strange reason has not attracted any additional passengers.
Seruffin: I don't think that Simes are very popular out here.
Seruffin has had that much forcefully imposed on him, even through the retainers he has to wear.
Gerrhonot: I wonder if there's any Church of Unity people around here.
Seruffin: If the train makes it to Hannard's Ford, we can stay at the Sime Center there. If it stops before then... Well, we can hope there's a Church of Unity presence.
Seruffin looks out the window again as the wind picks up, and shivers.
Gerrhonot: Are you cold? Can I get you some hot tea? Or maybe I can dig out something warmer for you to wear from our baggage?
Seruffin: I'm not cold, Gerrhonot. Just...uneasy.
The conductor enters the compartment, stopping just inside the door, well away from the Sime. He clears his throat, and calls loudly:
Conductor: We will reach Gumgeeville in a few minutes. The track is blocked at the pass, though, so we'll be staying there until they can clear it.
Gerrhonot increases his ~~ support ~~ at this bad news.
Seruffin hunches miserably into the corner of his seat for a moment.
The conductor looks at Gerrhonot with a combination of pity and disgust, but it's not his job to comment on the lifestyle choices of his railway's customers.
Seruffin nudges Gerrhonot.
Gerrhonot turns to him attentively.
Seruffin: He's nervous about me, but he might talk to you, Gerrhonot. Go see if he can give you any advice as to where we could stay.
Gerrhonot: Okay, Hajene.
Gerrhonot gets up and approaches the conductor.
Gerrhonot: Um, sir, will we have to get off the train while we wait?
The conductor looks Gerrhonot over, from head to toe.
Gerrhonot looks wholesome, pleasant, not too bright and somewhat worried.
Conductor: Well, yes, unless you want to sit here and freeze. It could take days before they get the pass cleared, since they can't start until the storm lets up.
The conductor looks past Gerrhonot at Seruffin.
Conductor: I don't know what you're going to do with your friend, there, though.
Gerrhonot: Well, of course I'll stay with him. Do you know if there are any Church of Unity people in that town?
Conductor: Church of the Unity? I don't know. Could be, I suppose. It's not much of a town, Gumgeeville. I never spent much time there.
Gerrhonot: Um. Where will the other people on the train be staying?
Conductor: At the hotel, I suppose. And when that fills up, well, I expect the folks there will be happy to earn some extra money at a lean time of the year by taking in a boarder or two. Of course, some boarders are more desirable than others.
Gerrhonot: Well, we have money.
Gerrhonot decides to save selling points like Seruffin's healing abilities for later.
The conductor shoots another glance at Seruffin.
Gerrhonot: And of course, Hajene Seruffin is a channel. He could never harm anyone.
Conductor: Might be someone'd take you in. You'll have to ask.
The conductor turns and makes his way out of the compartment.
Gerrhonot: Okay. Thank you.
Gerrhonot returns to his seat and takes Seruffin's hands.
Gerrhonot: I think it will be all right, Hajene.
Gerrhonot runs his hands over the retainers and projects ~~ comfort ~~ and ~~ optimism ~~
Seruffin: I hope so.
Seruffin looks out the window as the train slows, noting the dark shapes of buildings.
Seruffin: It looks like we're here. The conductor was right. There probably aren't a hundred people living here.
Gerrhonot thinks it looks like most of the farming villages they've passed today - mostly well-kept, but not wealthy.
Gerrhonot: Well, they've got a hotel...
Seruffin points out the window.
Seruffin: I think that's it, there.
Gerrhonot steps up his support as the train pulls up to the platform.
Gerrhonot: It doesn't look very big.
Seruffin: It doesn't look like it would have more than three or four rooms. I suspect most of its business comes from that saloon underneath.
Gerrhonot: Um, maybe it would be best not to stay there then.
Gerrhonot has lots of second-hand and a bit of first-hand experience with drunks in groups.
Seruffin nods in agreement.
Seruffin: That leaves finding a local who's willing to put us up. That might be difficult.
Seruffin hopes it isn't impossible.
Gerrhonot thinks that if this were like one of the stories he's read, the stationmaster's child would go into changeover about now. ~~ amusement ~~
Seruffin is glad that Gerrhonot finds something amusing about the situation, as a sense of humor is going to be essential to their survival.
Gerrhonot: Well, if nobody will take us in, maybe we can camp out in the woods. We can put a Sime Territory sign on a tree. We can build a snow house and you can keep us warm by augmenting.
Seruffin, unlike his Donor, isn't used to wilderness.
Seruffin: Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Seruffin braces himself as the train jerks to a halt at the station.
Gerrhonot is caught up in his tale.
Gerrhonot: And then some big shot can come to us in the woods and beg us to help his kid who's in changeover!
Seruffin shakes his head at the romanticism of youth.
Gerrhonot smiles, and squeezes Seruffin's hand.
Seruffin: That's the kind of thing that only happens in stories, Gerrhonot.
Gerrhonot: I guess so. But I thought it would cheer you up a little.
Seruffin: I'll be well pleased if we can find someone desperate enough for money to allow a Sime in their house. Or even their barn, if that's the best we can do. Perhaps I'd better stay here, while you try to find us a place to stay.
Gerrhonot: Um, okay. Here, I'll get your cloak for you. Is there anything else you want? I don't want you to hurt your tentacles trying to reach it down.
Seruffin: I'll be fine. The other passengers know there's a Sime in here. They won't come in and bother me.
Seruffin wraps the cloak around himself.
Seruffin: Go on, before all the available rooms are gone.
Gerrhonot smoothly withdraws his support and leaves, putting on his own cloak as he goes.
Gerrhonot walks through the snow into the station building, which is more like a shed, but better built than almost anything at the Dam site. He looks around at the other passengers huddled in the building, and waits for something to happen.
The stationmaster is busy trying to reassure a train full of stranded passengers, while wondering where in the world he can put them.
Gerrhonot may be the calmest person in the crowd, since his training has made that his default state.
The stationmaster has noted that the most travel-savvy passengers have already grabbed the hotel rooms, leaving him with little to recommend to their fellows.
Gerrhonot waits for the stationmaster to get around to his end of the crowd.
The stationmaster sends a mother and her brood over to sit on the benches, until some arrangements can be made. He moves on to the next passenger, then winces as he sees the Tecton uniform.
Gerrhonot smiles a little sheepishly.
Stationmaster: I don't suppose you're traveling alone, sir? ~~ hopeful ~~
Gerrhonot: Um, no, sir. My channel is still on the train.
The stationmaster sighs.
Stationmaster: That could be difficult. Simes aren't very popular here.
Gerrhonot: Are there any Church of Unity people around here?
Stationmaster: Church of what?
Gerrhonot: Um, I guess not, then.
Stationmaster: I suppose you could go ask Jed Mullins to put you up. Third house on the left, with the broken screen door. Tell him I sent you.
Gerrhonot: Okay, thank you.
The stationmaster made the mistake of loaning Jed money for a new plow horse, and is still hoping to get paid back eventually.
Stationmaster: You're welcome.
The stationmaster moves on to the next passenger, an irate businessman who can't seem to understand why the train can't just go on, blocked pass or no.
Gerrhonot heads out onto the street, enjoying the pleasant snowfall. His boots are high enough to keep his feet dry, and it feels good to walk, even though the snow is kind of deep some places. He finds the Mullins residence and knocks on the door.
Ma Mullins opens the door and peers out suspiciously.
Gerrhonot is a country boy and it's the kitchen door in back he knocks on of course.
Gerrhonot: Miz Mullins? The stationmaster sent me here.
Ma: Stationmaster? What's he want? You aren't a bill collector, are you?
Gerrhonot: No. The train is stuck here because the pass is snowed in so we need a place to stay.
Ma: Huh. It'll cost you.
Gerrhonot: Yes. We can pay.
Ma looks at Gerrhonot shrewdly, trying to judge how much she can gouge him for.
Ma: "We"? How many in your party?
Gerrhonot: Just me and another guy.
Gerrhonot figures he'll let the negotiations go a bit further before he reveals the other guy's larity.
Ma: You'll be wanting meals, I suppose?
Gerrhonot: Well, some food. Or I can get some at the store and cook it myself.
Ma: Not in my kitchen, you won't.
Gerrhonot: Well, bread and cheese maybe.
Ma: Twenty-five a day, and potluck for meals.
Ma names a sum that's three times what the hotel charges.
Gerrhonot knows that if he just agrees, she'll take him for a fool. He's not too bright, but he's not a fool.
Ma: I'll send the boys out to the hay loft, so you can use their room.
Gerrhonot: That seems like kind of a lot. Can I see the room? It's kind of snowy out here.
Ma makes a sour face, but opens the door so Gerrhonot can enter.
Gerrhonot stomps the snow off his boots and enters.
Ma leads the way through the kitchen/dining room/living room/everything else room to a short hall, which has two small bedrooms attached.
Ma: Pa and me sleep in that one; you'd be in here.
Ma opens the door to the smaller bedroom, which is more or less closet sized. And not a walk-in closet, either.
Gerrhonot looks into the room, which is clean but cluttered. The walls and door look solid.
Gerrhonot: Okay. Here's the first night's rent.
Gerrhonot gives the woman what she asked.
Ma snatches the cash from Gerrhonot's hands, then counts it carefully. Twice. She's calculating how far it would go towards reducing the family's multiple debts, and how much more she can get by skimping on food and such for the visitors.
Ma: Looks like that's right.
Gerrhonot: Okay. I'll go get our stuff and we'll be right back. Um, we both work for the Tecton, y'know?
Gerrhonot fingers the Tecton logo on his cloak.
Ma: Is that what the uniform's all about, then?
Ma hasn't traveled much, and isn't really up on things like the Tecton, which don't affect her town.
Gerrhonot: I'm a Donor and the other guy's a channel.
Ma: You want to bring a Sime into my house?
Ma is ~~ indignant ~~
Gerrhonot: He's a channel, Miz Mullins. He couldn't harm anybody. He's like a doctor, in-T. I'll put a Sime Territory sign on the door of the room, and he'll just stay in there, okay?
Ma thinks she detects a note of desperation in Gerrhonot's reassurance.
Gerrhonot: He hardly eats anything, compared to Gens.
Ma debates whether she ought to just refuse to let the Sime stay here, but Gerrhonot says the stationmaster sent him. She understands the implied message: he wants at least a partial payment, and soon. Ma can't possibly scrounge up the money without accepting this windfall.
Gerrhonot tries to look as well as zlin calm and self-assured, but after all these years in-T he tends to mind his nager more than his face or voice.
Ma then wonders if she's really maximized the windfall aspect.
Ma: If you want to bring the Sime here, it's thirty a night. Take it or leave it.
Gerrhonot tries to look like he's considering leaving it, just to save face a little, and make Miz Mullins feel like she's won.
Gerrhonot: Um, okay, Miz Mullins. I guess you'll want to get your boys' stuff out while I'm gone.
Gerrhonot takes another fiver out and hands it over.
Ma takes the fiver, and is ~~ grudgingly satisfied ~~
Gerrhonot: Shake on it?
Gerrhonot displays a winning smile, and holds out his hand.
Ma sticks out her work-worn hand.
Gerrhonot shakes hands, sealing the bargain by out-T custom.
Ma: Jed'll be home soon, and we'll eat. Cornbread with pan drippings.
Gerrhonot: Sounds good. Just the corn bread for us, though, no drippings.
Ma might be less well satisfied with the deal she made, if she'd had any idea just how much of a salary Tecton Firsts make.
Gerrhonot beats a hasty retreat, just in case Miz Mullins decides that shaking hands doesn't apply to bargains made with Simes.
Gerrhonot gets back on the train and enters Seruffin's compartment, projecting ~~ success ~~ and ~~optimism ~~
Seruffin had been huddling forlornly in his seat, trying to ignore how much his tentacles hurt.
Gerrhonot: It's okay, Hajene. I got us a place to stay.
Seruffin straightens, brightening, as he zlins Gerrhonot's nager, even in it's retainer-distorted form.
Gerrhonot: It's not the Territorial Hotel, but it's better than the dorms at the Dam.
Seruffin: Well, then we should be very comfortable.
Seruffin starts to reach for a suitcase, forgetting that his tentacles are confined.
Gerrhonot: It's a bedroom in a house. It's small but clean. Don't! Let me do that!
Gerrhonot reaches down the suitcases.
Seruffin carefully takes one of them, guarding against wrist movement.
Gerrhonot: The lady wasn't real happy about having a Sime in her house, but she had the money in her hands by then.
Seruffin: Does she understand that I'll have to take my retainers off, once I'm inside?
Gerrhonot: Well, I told her you'd stay in the room and we'd put a Sime Territory sign on the door. I wonder if I should have mentioned the retainers? I'm sorry, I didn't think of it.
Seruffin: You did very well, Gerrhonot. I'm sure that our hosts will adjust to the situation.
Gerrhonot: She charged us an extra five for you being Sime. ~~ amused ~~ I told her you don't eat a lot.
Seruffin: Good. if she thinks that she's taking advantage of us, she'll be less inclined to feel threatened.
Gerrhonot: Let's get over there and you can take off the retainers. I'll get some warm water from her so you can soak your arms.
Seruffin: That sounds wonderful.
Seruffin follows Gerrhonot towards the exit.
Gerrhonot and Seruffin arrive at the back door of the Mullins house. Gerrhonot knocks, and tentatively opens the door.
Gerrhonot: Miz Mullins?
Ma is standing at the stove, stirring a pot of beans.
Ma: Oh, it's you.
Gerrhonot: Yes. We're here.
Gerrhonot makes sure to stand between the woman and his channel to protect him from her emotions.
Ma: Dinner's in a few minutes, as soon as Jed gets in.
Gerrhonot: This is Hajene Seruffin, my channel. We'll go get settled now.
Gerrhonot leads the way to the bedroom.
Gerrhonot: Here it is, Hajene. I'll put the sign on the door.
Seruffin is looking stressed, as the end of his retainer-confinement nears.
Seruffin: Thank you. It's in the blue suitcase.
Gerrhonot rummages around, finds the sign and some medical adhesive tape and applies the sign. He closes the door and turns to his channel.
Gerrhonot: Here, sit down, I'll help you.
Seruffin holds out his much-abused arms with real ~~ gratitude ~~
Gerrhonot helps Seruffin remove the retainers and offers his arms for the channel to take.
Seruffin gingerly extends his tentacles, wrapping them around Gerrhonot's arms, and leans towards his Donor, seeking stability.
Ma knocks briefly on the door and opens it.
Gerrhonot: ~~ strength, steadiness, plenty of selyn, comfort, affection ~~
Ma: I forgot to say.... ~~ alarm ~~
Seruffin flinches at the onslaught.
Gerrhonot flings a bubble of isolation around himself and his channel and turns his head to Miz Mullins.
Gerrhonot: Yes, Miz?
Ma: What's going on here???
Gerrhonot: I'm helping him with his tentacles, now that he can take the retainers off.
Ma: You didn't say anything about that!
Gerrhonot: I put the sign on the door. It's okay. It makes the room part of Sime Territory so he can take them off. They hurt a lot.
Ma: It's all right according to whom? I didn't tell you you could put any sign up.
Gerrhonot: The sign says by authority of the New Washington Territory Department of External Affairs.
Gerrhonot memorized the fine print one time when there wasn't anything more interesting to do.
Ma: Well, this house doesn't belong to the New Washington Territory Department of External Affairs.
Gerrhonot: It's just for the room, while we rent it. Hajene will only have his retainers off while he's in here.
Ma: What else haven't you told me?
Gerrhonot thinks about this. It's an awfully open-ended question.
Gerrhonot is having a bit of a problem maintaining a good field for Seruffin and conversing with this hostile woman at the same time. Adding in trying to think up an answer for that one too exceeds his capacity. He looks to Seruffin for clues.
Seruffin pulls himself together somehow, and tries to look like a channel: non-threatening and in charge of the situation.
Seruffin: Madam, we have no wish to distress you. I assure you, the only thing I want at the moment is to stay in here and rest.
Ma looks at Seruffin's face for a moment.
Ma: See that you do. Your friend there can fetch your dinner.