Stranded in Gumgeeville: Episode 5

Jed warmed up his wife's awful leftover cabbage soup and had it ready for his sons when they came in from doing their chores. Cabbage soup is usually better the second day, but this is an exception. He also boiled a half dozen of the eggs they usually sell, as a bit of a treat.

Jed may not be much of a cook, even compared to his wife, but he can boil water.

Jed reassured his boys that their mother was all right, but had had a hard day and was resting.

Vrian, for one, enjoyed the treat, as he is just starting the two-hollow-legs stage of development.

Jed gave them a little talk about the nature of courage, that it means doing what you have to do even if you're scared. He explained that this doesn't include doing things on a dare that you know are stupid.

Jed also talked about making promises, and how important it is to keep them, so that people know your word is good, so it's important never to make a promise that you can't keep.

Vrian wondered at the time whether his father had found out about how exactly Miz Fibern's front door came to be painted bile green. He had given his word, when he accepted the dare, after all.

Jed then launched into a description of how things had been going downhill financially for the family. Even before the mill burned down, the workers were only working part time. The farm isn't big enough to make any real money, just feed them.

Jed got pretty excited when he mentioned that they were practically on a vegetarian diet since to make ends meet they had sold the steer and hogs they had intended to eat.

Vrian is really getting curious now, as he peels an egg.

Bart really regrets the ham and bacon and steaks and all, since he did a lot of the work of raising the animals.

Bart: Dad, if Ma will let me donate, I can bring in money, like you.

Jed: I'm getting around to that, Bart.

Jed then describes how Ma feels the family's indebtedness with great pain. He says that he now knows that Ma is a lot more nervous about Simes than he thought, but still she took one in in order to bring in some money for the family.

Jed mentions Ma's cousin and her arachnophobia in a sympathetic way. He pulls all the threads of the argument together by explaining that Ma is really terrified of Simes, but for her family, she hid her fear and rented the room. What's more, she tried to donate to Seruffin, even though it must have been like sticking her arms in a fire, she was so scared.

Vrian's eyes widen at his father's description.

Jed tells the boys that he's really proud of Ma's courage and devotion to her family and her determination to keep her promise to him.

Vrian: Ma tried to donate, like you did? Is she all right?

Vrian's friend Ivvin told him earlier that day that it was sheer luck that Jed wasn't hurt. He's been suckered by his older brother's "gambling games" often enough to know how fickle chance can be.

Jed: She's all right. The only thing was, in the middle, she suddenly panicked and tried to pull her arms away. One thing I didn't know about channels, is they can't just let go instantly, they have to take a few seconds to. So your Ma got some ugly bruises on her wrists.

Vrian gasps.

Vrian: He hurt her?

Jed: Not really. But she's real embarrassed about it. She's ashamed she couldn't go through with it and make as much money as I did. Especially after she promised she would. And the Sime feels real bad about it too. Your Ma put up such a good front he didn't realize she was so afraid.

Vrian: She didn't make any money?

Jed: She made some, and I told her she was to keep it for herself, because she really earned it, doing something she was so scared to do.

Vrian looks sideways at Bart, checking to see if Big Brother will live up to his earlier boast that he would donate and get himself a gun with the money.

Jed: Now here's what I want you boys to promise.

Bart is glad that his father is finally getting to the point.

Vrian is kind of glad that as a child, he couldn't donate even if he wanted to.

Jed: I don't want you boys to ever tease your Ma about donating, or try to get her to do it, or make her feel bad about what happened. Will you promise that?

Bart: Yeah, sure, dad.

Vrian: Yes, Dad.

Bart saw his dad do it, and he's still sure he can. After all, his mother is a woman.

Jed: Good. I'll hold you to that promise, and I promised your Ma the same thing.

Jed: Now, about Simes and donating and all that, and us men and boys in the family.

Bart watches his father attentively.

Jed: I've been feeling real bad that I haven't been able to get any real work but odd jobs since the mill burned. A man should be able to support his family.

Bart nods.

Vrian: We do all right, Dad. ~~ loyal ~~

Jed: Now donating didn't bother me any, I didn't feel a thing. So I'm going up to the Ford every month and donate again, so we get some money in.

Vrian's eyes widen.

Vrian: Even after what happened to Ma?

Jed: Like I said, she wasn't really hurt, and only because she panicked.

Vrian: What if the channel at Ford isn't like ours?

Jed: Well, I'll find out when I get there. But if he isn't any good, everybody there will know it, and he won't have any customers, and the Simes will send in somebody better, right?

Bart: Dad, I want to do it too. I'm not afraid of our Sime. And I saw he didn't hurt you. If I'm a Gen, then I'm a man now, so I should bring in some money too.

Jed: Now, I was getting around to that. You're my son, but you're your mother's son too.

Vrian looks at Big Brother, checking for telltale signs of nervousness.

Jed: If it was just up to me, I'd say: Bart's a man now, it's up to him to decide.

Bart thinks 'damn right' and feels really grown up.

Jed: But your mother's entitled to her opinion, too, isn't she? And there's someone else to think of - our Sime, Mr. Hajene.

Bart: Won't he do it?

Vrian tries to decide if Bart looks just a little relieved as he asks that question.

Jed: Well, if you were in Sime Territory, you'd be entitled to make your own decision about that. But here in Gen Territory, until you're sixteen, you have to get my permission and your Ma's.

Jed: And one other thing. Our Sime is feeling really bad about what happened to your Ma, and he said that he won't let you donate until we both tell you what happened, so you can make an informed decision.

Bart: Dad, I still want to do it. Will you give me your permission?

Jed: I will, but you have to talk to your Ma and get her permission. Then I want you to talk to the Sime and ask him any questions you have. He knows a lot more about all this than I do.

Jed: I don't know if she's awake yet, but she should have something to eat. Vrian get them potatoes out of the oven for us.

Jed can bake potatoes, as one of his other few culinary skills.

Vrian reaches for the old apron Ma uses for a hot pad.

Jed: Bart, go see if your Ma's awake, but don't wake her up if she isn't.

Ma emerges from the curtained alcove which passes for the master bedroom.

Ma: I'm awake, Jed.

Jed: Feeling better?

Ma: Some.

Jed: Here, I'll get you some soup and an egg.

Jed gets up and does so.

Ma has rolled her sleeves back down long since, it being rather chilly in the house.

Ma takes a seat at the table.

Ma: Thank you, Jed.

Jed: You're welcome.

Jed strokes her hair and pats her shoulder.

Ma looks haggard, and more stressed than usual.

Vrian looks at his mother, ~~ worried ~~ at the change in her.

Bart looks at his mother's wrists, but they're covered by her sleeves.

Bart: Ma, I'm sorry you're feeling bad. Dad told us what happened.

Ma: Did he? What exactly did he tell you?

Ma is well aware of her husband's tendency to whitewash unpleasant truths.

Bart thinks about what he can say without breaking his promise.

Bart: He said you're a lot more scared of Simes than you let on, but you wanted to help the family so you took our Sime in for the rent.

Ma: Yes, I did. There isn't any other way to earn money, during the winter.

Bart: And he said you promised to donate if he did and you felt you had to keep your promise, even though you were real scared, even after you saw him do it.

Ma: Yes.

Bart: He said it's a lot worse for you than him, it's just the way things are. He said you got real scared in the middle and the Sime couldn't let go of you fast enough and you got your wrists all bruised.

Ma: He's a Sime, Bart. Whatever else he may be, that's never going to change. And Simes don't give up, when they've got a Gen. Not easily, anyway.

Bart thinks this isn't the way his dad put it, and decides to ask the Sime and his Gen partner.

Ma deliberately rolls up one sleeve, revealing a wrist and arm that are purpling nicely. She always did bruise easily.

Bart: That looks bad, Ma. I'm sorry you got hurt.

Bart: Dad said he's real proud of you showing so much courage and doing something you was so scared of to keep your word and help the family.

Ma: That...wasn't the worst of it.

Bart looks at his mother inquiringly.

Jed puts his hand on Ma's shoulder again.

Ma: The worst was knowing that there was literally nothing I could do if something went wrong, by accident, or on purpose. I was helpless as a newborn kitten.

Vrian's eyes are big at he watches his mother.

Jed: But he did let go of you.

Ma: Eventually. Not before I had a lot of time to wonder about it, though.

Bart thinks about it. He figures his dad donated too, but he didn't feel the same way about it. He knows about how his mother's cousin panics about spiders, he's seen her do it. He figures he can be more like his dad than like his ma. He's a man now.

Bart thinks about how he was a little nervous meeting the Sime for the first time, but he shook hands with him, and nothing bad happened.

Bart: Ma, Dad says I have to have your permission to donate. He says he gives me his permission. I still want to try it.

Ma turns chalk white.

Bart: Will you give me your permission?

Ma: Bart, are you really sure? Think about it. Are you willing to go through what I did, if that's how it turns out? It might, you know. I didn't think it would be that bad, when I decided to try it.

Ma makes sure that Bart gets another good look at her bruises.

Bart: I saw Dad donate. And my grandad did too, in the war. If they can do it, I can do it.

Ma hasn't lived years in an otherwise all-male household without learning to recognize testosterone talking.

Bart thinks the bruises look ugly, but he got worse ones when the horse stepped on his foot.

Ma: Bart, you don't have to prove anything by doing this.

Bart: I'm not trying to prove anything. I want to do it. I'll talk to the Sime first, like dad wants me to, find out anything I need to know, so it works out okay.

Ma: Bart...the Sime may not be able to make it work out okay, even if he wants to. He couldn't do it for me.

Bart: I still want to do it.

Bart thinks he can put up with anything for a couple of minutes.

Ma is wise enough to know when she's wasting her breath.

Ma: Bart, if you're determined to do this, well, I told your dad that I wouldn't forbid it.

Bart: I'm determined, Ma.

Bart sets his jaw in a manly manner.

Bart: I'm ready to do it now.

Ma is reminded of the way the infant Bart would steadfastly refuse to eat mashed peas, preferring carrots.

Jed: Well, let's put some food together for the boarders, and we can take it in. Unless you prefer to go in there by yourself, Bart.

Bart tries to decide whether it would be weak to let his father stay with him.

Ma clutches her bowl of soup, but doesn't raise any further objection.

Ma doesn't get up to expedite matters either, though.

Bart: You come and tell them that you did what you said you would, you and Ma telling me what happened. He might not believe me else.

Bart gets the tray and puts a couple of boiled eggs and baked potatoes on it.

Bart: Vrian, reach me a couple of bowls for soup.

Vrian hurries to the drainboard to get them.

Vrian: Are you really going to let the Sime suck your life out, Bart?

Bart: He's not gonna suck my life out, stupid, just that stuff that grows back every month.

Vrian: Who're you calling stupid?

Vrian hands Bart the bowls.

Bart: You see anybody dead around here?

Bart fills the bowls and puts them on the tray. He adds some cutlery and napkins.

Vrian: Naw,'re really going to do it?

Vrian is trying to decide if his brother is very brave, or very stupid.

Bart: Didn't I say so? But the Sime has to decide too, whether he'll take it.

Jed is amused, and proud, and an assortment of other mixed emotions he can't quite define.

Ma is wishing the Sime had refused to take from her

Bart: After all, he might be full already.

Bart smiles at his brother.

Bart: Don't worry, I'll be okay.

Bart picks up the tray.

Bart: Ready, dad?

Jed: Ready when you are.

Vrian makes as if to tag after them. He thinks his brother is crazy, but what little brother wouldn't jump at the chance to see his elder brother make an idiot of himself?

Jed: You stay here with your mother, Vrian.

Vrian pouts.

Vrian: But Dad...

Bart wants to say: yeah, this is man's business, but has more sense.

Jed: You'll get a chance to talk to our Sime later.

Bart: Let's go, Dad.

Bart and Jed march off to Sime Territory, armed with potatoes, eggs and some really dangerous cabbage soup.

Ma looks after them with haunted eyes. She actually found it easier to face the Sime herself, than to see her boy marching blithely into his clutches. Now that she knows what it's like.

Jed knocks on the door.

Seruffin looks up.

Gerrhonot: I'll get it, Hajene.

Gerrhonot gets up and opens the door.

Gerrhonot: Hi, Mr. Mullins, Bart.

Seruffin remains seated on the bed, so as to appear less threatening.

Bart: We brought you your supper.

Bart hands the tray to Gerrhonot.

Bart: Can we come in and talk?

Gerrhonot looks to Seruffin.

Seruffin: Certainly.

Gerrhonot stands back as the two men march in.

Seruffin hides his own apprehension under his usual facade of dignity.

Gerrhonot sits next to Seruffin, the tray on his lap. ~~~ support ~~~

Seruffin isn't looking forward to discussing his failure again, with his victim's son this time, but there doesn't seem to be any reasonable way to avoid it.

Bart: My dad said you told him that you wouldn't take my ... stuff... unless he told me what happened with my Ma today, and she told me her side of it too.

Seruffin zlins both visitors closely, to gage their mood.

Seruffin: Yes, I did. You have a right to know.

Bart: He told us, and then my Ma told us. And I still want to do it. ~~~ determined ~~~

Bart is a little nervous, but not afraid of the Sime. He's more nervous that he's doing the talking and trying to look like a real man.

Jed is ~~ proud ~~ of his son's calm manly manner.

Seruffin: Are you sure?

Gerrhonot is somewhat ~~ concerned ~~ and watches Seruffin closely for cues.

Seruffin: Or do you just think that you ought to want to? Because your father did it?

Bart: I think I can do it, like my dad and grandad. But I want to talk to you first.

Seruffin: Certainly. What would you like to know?

Seruffin would really like to just hide behind Gerrhonot's nager, but he doesn't dare miss out on any nageric details, if he's going to have to take the kid's field down.

Bart: What happened to Ma -- she was real scared. But my dad wasn't scared and he was okay.

Bart: I'm not scared of you. My dad just had his dad's stories, but I saw him do it, and he was okay.

Seruffin remembers being concerned about entran, upon first learning that he was stranded out-Territory, far from a Sime Center.

Bart: So I should be okay, right?

Seruffin zlins Bart closely.

Seruffin: You're right. You're not afraid of me...much.

Bart is feeling ~~ nervous ~~ but no real fear.

Bart: My dad thinks you're a trustworthy man, despite what happened. I think he can tell, so I think I can trust you too.

Seruffin: Trust can help a great deal, although sometimes, like with your mother, it's not enough. It's not always possible for me to tell, ahead of time, when someone is likely to have problems.

Bart: I believe you wouldn't have hurt my mother if you could help it. I know she was scared, but she wasn't really hurt bad.

Seruffin: You're right, I wouldn't have. And yet I hurt her, anyway. As little as I could, it's true, but I still hurt her. And frightened her even worse.

Bart: I still think I can do it. And I want to try.

Seruffin zlins Bart once again, but finds nothing to justify an outright refusal.

Jed is watching and listening, proud of his son. He thinks Seruffin is being very honorable about the whole thing, too.

Bart: Will you take my donation?

Seruffin: Very well, we can try it. It's all right if you change your mind, though. At least, up to the point that's possible.

Bart: Just tell me what to do.

Bart rolls up his sleeves.

Gerrhonot steps up his ~~ support ~~ and the ~~ confidence ~~ he feels in his channel.

Seruffin: Come on over here and lie down. That should help you relax.

Seruffin think it will also help him minimize the damage if Bart does panic and start struggling, as the bed will help to limit his movement. He does not want another set of bruises to his credit.

Bart is a little ~~ confused ~~ by this, since his father donated without having to lie down, but he complies.

Bart: Like this?

Seruffin: Yes.

Bart gets comfortable. Well, as comfortable as he can get, under the circumstances.

Seruffin offers his hands, tentacles retracted.

Bart reaches out and takes Seruffin's hands. They're hot and dry, but somehow it feels good to do it. ~~ calm ~~ ~~ anticipation ~~~ He looks into Seruffin's eyes.

Seruffin: Is there anything you want to know, before I start?

Bart thinks about it.

Bart: Just tell me what you think I should know, to do this right.

Bart feels surprisingly ~~ calm ~~ and really believes that Seruffin is worthy of ~~ trust ~~.

Jed is even prouder of the way Bart is acting so calm and adult.

Seruffin can't for the life of him figure out why the kid is so trusting, but he learned long ago not to zlin a gift Donor too closely.

Gerrhonot steps up his ~~ support ~~~.

Seruffin: If you can stay calm and relaxed, I'll be able to work much faster. Tension increases your resistance to selyn flow. Too much resistance, and I'll have to stop to avoid hurting you, like I did with your mother.

Bart: I feel calm. [wonderingly]

Seruffin: I know.

Seruffin hopes it will last.

Bart smiles at the channel.

Seruffin tests Bart's resolution by letting his handling tentacles emerge, to wrap loosely around the kid's arms.

Bart is ~~ surprised ~~ that this ~~ feels good ~~~ too.

Seruffin firms up his hold.

Seruffin: Ready to try a lateral contact?

Bart: Yes.

Seruffin: They're covered with selyn conductors, remember? It'll tingle a bit.

Bart: Okay.

Seruffin lets his laterals slide into place.

Bart has a peculiar feeling of ... connectedness... with the channel. He wants to be closer to him.... he wants to do something for him.... ~~~ confused tentative affection? ~~~

Seruffin: Relax, Bart. Let me do the work, all right?

Seruffin leans a bit on Gerrhonot.

Bart: All right. ~~~ relaxed anticipation of ?? ~~~

Seruffin: I'm going to start, now. If you get scared, I'll stop as soon as I can, but that won't be instantaneously. All right?

Bart: Yes, I feel fine, go ahead...

Bart feels very strange, but also very good.

Seruffin leans down to make lip contact.

Bart: ~~~ confused need-to-give ~~~~

Seruffin zlins Bart thoroughly, then neatly starts to glean the selyn in the GN-3 level, wary of Bart's involuntary response.

Bart wants to give the channel something but doesn't know how. He feels himself trying to figure it out.

Seruffin knows better than to trust need-to-give in a general-class donor, and firmly maintains control of the selyn flow.

Bart fumbles around internally and feels himself able to push something.... He feels ~~ strange ~~ very good ~~ confused ~~ frustrated ~~~

Bart tries to push selyn against Seruffin's resistance.

Seruffin blocks the effort, long enough to snatch the last of the GN-3 level, then breaks off the lip contact.

Seruffin: Bart, you did that very well.

Bart: I feel... like there should be more to it... are you finished?

Seruffin makes a mental note to leave a warning for the channel in Ford to be wary of any attempt Bart might make to snatch control.

Bart looks into Seruffin's eyes, wonderingly. He doesn't want to let go of him.

Seruffin: Yes, I'm finished. And there is more, but you're not ready for it. And you may well choose never to be ready.

Bart waits for a further explanation..

Seruffin: You were trying to respond to the selyn draw the way a professional Donor like Gerrhonot here would.

Bart looks at Gerrhonot.

Gerrhonot smiles happily.

Seruffin: That means that you may have the potential to become a Donor, if that's what you want to do. It's not the easiest kind of life, but it can be rewarding.

Bart: ~~ confused ~~ I... uh... What should I do to find out? If I can do it?

Jed is pretty ~~ confused ~~~ too. This is turning out to be one hell of a day.

Seruffin: Talk to Gerrhonot about what he does. All of it, the boring parts as well as the exciting ones.

Bart: Okay. Can I get up now?

Seruffin: Oh. Certainly.

Seruffin smiles, and lets go of Bart.

Bart: I feel strange, like I want to be near you.

Bart sits up and swings his legs over the side of the bed.

Seruffin: I know. That's part of what makes a good Donor. Properly controlled, it lets a Donor help his channel. Until you know how to control it, though, you shouldn't follow that instinct when you're around Simes.

Bart feels himself fumbling around inside somehow... ~~~ affection? ~~~ support? ~~~~

Bart: You're the only Sime I've ever met.

Seruffin moves to put Gerrhonot between them. He's glad that Bart is now lowfield, and thus relatively unable to affect his own field. Seruffin likes Gen support as much as any channel, but only when the Gen has some idea what he's doing, and how to avoid doing the wrong thing.

Gerrhonot puts his arm around Seruffin. and watches carefully for further cues.

Seruffin: If you decide to study to become a Donor, you'll be working with a lot of different channels. And you'll be earning a great deal more than what you would get from simply donating once a month.

Seruffin counts out the appropriate amount from the rapidly-dwindling supply of travel cash. He hadn't counted on having to fund an improvised Sime Center when he made his plans, after all. He hopes he has enough left to pay the rent until the pass can be cleared. He's pretty sure that the local bank won't accept his signature as a guarantee, which means the closest source of cash is Ford.

Gerrhonot notices the depleted cash supply and wonders if Seruffin would have qualified Bart GN-2 or -1 if it wouldn't have bankrupted them.

Seruffin hands the money to Bart.

Bart: Thank you, uh, Hajene.

Seruffin: Thank you, Bart. You gave almost enough selyn to support a renSime for a month.

Bart is ~~ startled ~~ then ~~ warmed ~~ by the idea.

Bart: I... was just thinking about the money when I decided to do it... to help the family...

Seruffin: It helps a lot of people, Bart. And a lot of them you'll never meet.

Jed has been watching the conversation with a very confused mixture of emotions. He's extremely proud of how adult his son is acting, and very relieved that the donation went off so well. He's also more than a little alarmed at the idea of his son going away to Simeland to work for Simes.

Jed thinks the two of them shouldn't mention it to Ma until they figure out how to do it without alarming her. Besides, it's too early for Bart to decide.

Bart smiles at Seruffin and reaches tentatively to take his hand.

Seruffin reaches around Gerrhonot to shake hands with Bart, Gen style.

Bart: I have to think about all this. I have a lot to learn before I can decide what to do.

Seruffin: Yes, you do.

Bart looks down at his hand holding Seruffin's.

Bart: I guess I should let you eat your supper.

Bart releases Seruffin's hand.

Bart: You, too, Gerrhonot. We have to talk.

Seruffin: Yes, Gerrhonot is hungry.

Gerrhonot: Sure, Bart. I'd like to talk to you.

Bart: Good. Well, good night...

Seruffin: Good night, Bart. And to you, Mr. Mullins.

Jed: Yes, good night to the two of yez.

Jed puts his arm around his son's shoulders.

Jed: I'm real proud of you, Bart. But let's not say anything to Ma until we've had a chance to talk it over, about you working for the Simes, that is.

Seruffin is glad to see that Jed, at least, is inclined to take a sensible approach.

Bart: Okay, dad.

Bart and his father exit.

Bart: Uh.... I want to give all the money to Ma for the family. I ... don't think I want to get a rifle just yet.

Jed: I think that's a good decision, son.

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