Stranded in Gumgeeville: Episode 6

Henree is sweeping the empty saloon mechanically, his attention obviously elsewhere. He has not yet put the chairs down off the tables, despite it being several hours past his normal opening time.

Henree casts occasional glances towards a heavy door at the back of the bar, which is normally open during business hours, then looks quickly away and goes back to sweeping the floor. His industry is futile, as the floor is already about as clean as it's possible to sweep it.

Jed enters the saloon, with Gerrhonot, for his usual idle afternoon. One reason he's been able to run up the large tab is that he's such an entertaining talker that other patrons stick around drinking to listen to him. He's therefore a bit unsettled to see the saloon deserted and not yet open for business so late in the day.

Henree looks up.

Henree: I'm closed today. And for the next few days, I expect.

Henree looks twice his age.

Jed: What's happened?

Jed looks a lot more serious than usual.

Henree: Can't get into the cellar.

Henree nods towards the door that leads down into the enlarged basement where he does his brewing.

Jed suspects what's going on.

Henree: Not until...well, until.

Jed: Oh, no. Who is it?

Henree: My granddaughter. Magit. Virla brought her by when she got sick. She said she wasn't sure.

Gerrhonot doesn't follow what's going on. He comes from a Church of Unity community, where people send their kids in-T in case they change over.

Henree: I think she was hoping that I'd take care of it. I went to get my gun, but before I got back Magit ran into the cellar.

Gerrhonot: Is somebody sick?

Gerrhonot wonders how to suggest that Seruffin can do healing.

Henree: Can't get her in there...too many hiding places. She'd circle around and kill anyone who tried.

Gerrhonot: Mr. Mullins, what's happening? ~~ alarmed ~~

Jed: Gerrhonot, Henree's granddaughter is in the cellar. She's... turning Sime.

Gerrhonot is ~~ relieved ~~

Gerrhonot: Oh. What stage is she in?

Gerrhonot wants to know whether there's time to bring her to Seruffin, or whether he should bring Seruffin to her.

Henree: She's not on the stage. She's in the cellar. The door's solid, and the lock will hold her.

Gerrhonot: No, what stage of changeover?

Henree: In a few days, she won't be a danger to anyone.

Gerrhonot: ~~~ horror ~~ You're not going to let her die of attrition down there, are you? Hajene Seruffin can serve her -- she'll be okay and not kill anybody ever!

Gerrhonot knew this sort of thing happened out-T, but he's never been near a case of it.

Henree's face hardens.

Jed: He could, you know, Henree. She doesn't have to kill or die.

Henree: Her mother trusted me to do what's right by Magit. Not make her live as a snake.

Gerrhonot: But she didn't know! Please, Mr. Henree, let Hajene Seruffin save her!

Gerrhonot: How long has she been down there?

Henree: Since morning. ~~ grudging ~~

Gerrhonot: She must still be alive. Please Mr. Henree, you don't want to let her die, do you?

Gerrhonot doesn't know whether he should tell him that Simes regard attrition as the most horrible death imaginable.

Henree had actually intended to murder his granddaughter, rather than let her kill, or die in changeover. He wanted to spare his daughter that much.

Henree: Can't see how being a Sime is any better.

Gerrhonot: But Simes are people just like Gens! Just like men and women are all people. Simes don't have to kill any more.

Gerrhonot: Please, we'll take her with us. You can lie to her mother about what happened if you want. Please let me bring Hajene Seruffin here to save her.

Henree hadn't considered lying to his daughter, who he's pretty sure wouldn't be happy about having a living Sime daughter. He wonders if Jed can be trusted to keep his mouth shut. He suspects not.

Gerrhonot is getting really distraught. He's horrified to be trying to argue with a lorsh.

Henree decides to take a chance.

Henree: If you want to take the girl away, and you're crazy enough to go into that cellar after her, I won't stop you.

Gerrhonot: I will.

Henree: But I'm not letting that snake of yours in here. And if she lives, she's your responsibility.

Gerrhonot knows it's best for a renSime to start out on channel's transfer.

Gerrhonot: Mr Mullins, I'll see whether she can be moved. Can I bring her back to your house?

Gerrhonot is worried that Jed will say no, considering Ma Mullins's state of mind.

Henree waits to see if Jed is crazy enough to let a second Sime into his home, this time without rent.

Jed is reluctant to abuse Ma's rather shattered nerves by bringing a berserker into his house.

Jed: Can't you do it yourself, Gerrhonot? I don't think Ma is up to having a berserker under her roof.

Gerrhonot is worried. He knows he can do it, but it's not at all Tecton protocol.

Gerrhonot: Um, Mr. Mullins, I'll go down there. Could you go tell Hajene Seruffin what's happening? Maybe he'll want to send me a message or something.

Jed: Yes, I'll do that for you. You gonna open the cellar door for the boy, Henree?

Henree looks at Gerrhonot.

Gerrhonot looks desperate.

Henree: Dunno. Isn't it immoral to assist with a suicide?

Gerrhonot: What suicide? ~~ confused ~~~

Henree: Your Sime might be tame, but that one in the cellar is like as not to kill you, if you give her a chance.

Gerrhonot: Oh, she can't kill me. I'm really high rated, and more than half-field.

Gerrhonot uses the Simelan terms for high rated and half-field, since there aren't any in Genlan.

Henree: And just what's going to stop her? She's not going to respect your pretty uniform.

Gerrhonot: I can serve her. She's probably a renSime, but even if she's a channel, I can serve really high rated ones.

Gerrhonot doesn't understand why Henree doesn't understand him.

Gerrhonot: Please, Mr. Henree, she could be burning up all her remaining selyn just from being alone and scared down there.

Henree never learned much about the mechanics of the Tecton, a lack which he's never had opportunity or desire to remedy.

Henree: Well, it's your funeral.

Henree moves slowly towards the door, pulling a thick key from his apron pocket.

Gerrhonot: I'll be okay.

Gerrhonot follows Henree.

Henree pauses outside the door for a moment to listen, trying to determine that there isn't a berserker on the other side, yet. He finally decides that it's safe, and unlocks the door.

Gerrhonot: Don't worry. My field will attract her a lot more than yours. You can stand back if you want.

Henree hands Gerrhonot a lantern.

Jed: I'll tell your boss what's happening and come back, Gerrhonot.

Henree: Here. You'll want this.

Gerrhonot: Thank you. Can I have some water, too?

Gerrhonot is reluctant to ask for food, even though he may be down there for a long time.

Henree: There's a hose on the back wall.

Gerrhonot takes the lantern and lights it with a match.

Gerrhonot: Okay, thank you.

Gerrhonot opens the door and starts down the steps.

Henree: If you want out, knock.

Henree shuts the door again, locking it firmly. He doesn't expect to hear a knock.

Jed: I believe he can do it, Henree. He may talk like a dummy, but when it comes to Simes, he knows what he's doing.

Henree: Maybe. Although why he'd want to...what kind of person would study Simes, of all things?

Jed: Well, it takes all kinds, don't it?

Henree: That kind belongs in the nuthouse.

Jed: You just take it easy. I'll go talk to his boss. I'll be back in a while.

Henree nods shortly.

Henree: I'll be here.

Jed leaves, since arguing with Henree will likely make things worse.

Henree reaches for his broom again, absently, his attention on the locked door.

Gerrhonot: Magit? I'm here to help you. ~~ kindness ~~ compassion ~~ repletion ~~~

Magit is huddled in the back corner of the basement, tucked in between two barrels of fermenting homebrew.

Gerrhonot peers around the dark, cluttered cellar, filled with large beer barrels. He hopes Magit doesn't think he's been sent down to murder her. She may not be able to zlin yet.

Magit isn't reassured by Gerrhonot's projection, since the only sort of "help" she knows of for changeover is a bullet.

Magit whimpers.

Gerrhonot: Magit? Where are you? I'll help you so you won't have to kill, or die.

Gerrhonot detects the whimper from somewhere ahead of him.

Gerrhonot: Don't worry. I'm from Simeland. I know how to help kids like you.

Magit finds herself sure, somehow, that the stranger knows where she is hiding.

Gerrhonot advances between the barrels.

Gerrhonot: Don't be afraid. I'll help you.

Gerrhonot keeps up the reassuring and encouraging projection.

Magit: Go away! I'm turning Sime. Didn't they tell you?

Gerrhonot: Yes, that's why I'm here.

Gerrhonot sees Magit and moves towards her.

Magit doesn't feel like moving at all, but she manages to pull herself out of her hiding place and scuttle around a barrel, working away from Gerrhonot's path.

Gerrhonot: See? All I have is this lantern. I won't hurt you.

Magit miscalculates: she has grown enough in the past six months that her old hide-and-seek pathway behind the barrel is no longer large enough for her. She turns at bay.

Magit: Stay back!

Magit's voice is high and shrill, and very ~~ desperate ~~

Gerrhonot: Why?

Gerrhonot tries to get a look at Magit's arms, but she's wearing long sleeves. It's winter. He crouches down to look less threatening, then sits on the cold, damp earth floor and sets the lantern to one side.

Magit clutches her arms around herself, which doesn't do anything for the stability of her developing new perceptions.

Gerrhonot: I can help you, Magit.

Gerrhonot reaches out his arms, and projects ~~ kindness ~~ compassion ~~ repletion ~~

Magit: Can't you see? I'm a Sime!

Gerrhonot: Not yet, I think. But don't worry, I can help you. You can't hurt me. I know how to help Simes.

Magit isn't, technically, at least by the definition of some out-T Gen denominations, as her tentacles are not ready to break free, but she's definitely on the way.

Gerrhonot: Why don't you come over and sit here with me.

Magit's jaw drops. She had never considered the possibility of a Gen offering a Sime such an invitation.

Gerrhonot: Are you cold? You can share my cloak.

Magit starts shivering as she looks at the cloak. ~~ longing ~~

Gerrhonot: Come on. It's okay.

Gerrhonot has attended many changeovers, but always with a channel who could directly zlin the child's condition and selyn levels. This is going to be a challenge, but there's nobody else to do it.

Gerrhonot: ~~~ safety ~~ comfort ~~~ hope ~~~

Magit takes a cautious step or two towards Gerrhonot, then stops.

Magit: What are you, some kind of Simelover?

Gerrhonot: Um. I guess so.

Gerrhonot isn't sure of the implications of the epithet, but he loves Seruffin like a grandfather, and has certainly had some great experiences in bed with female channels.

Gerrhonot: It's safe. You can come here to me.

Magit is ~~ astonished ~~ at having a stranger blithely admit to being something so terrible that any right-thinking adult would fight anyone who accused him of it.

Gerrhonot: ~~ encouragement ~~

Gerrhonot: My aunt and uncle are Simes, and I love them. They're really good people, sheep ranchers out west. My little sister is staying with them in case she changes over, like I did when I was her age. I guess she's about the same age as you, maybe a little younger.

Magit takes a few steps closer to Gerrhonot.

Gerrhonot: That's it.

Gerrhonot reaches out his hand.

Gerrhonot: You can take my hand.

Magit starts to reach out, then a twinge of pain in her wrist reminds her of what she is becoming. She snatches her hand back before it touches Gerrhonot's, and stuffs it into her mouth for safekeeping.

Gerrhonot: My sister made me this sweater. She knitted it herself. It's her Year's Turning present for me. Do you know how to knit?

Magit is ~~ confused and disoriented ~~,

Gerrhonot: ~~ comfort ~~ kindness ~~ safety ~~ reassurance ~~~

Magit isn't sure what going through changeover ought to be like, but is pretty sure that it doesn't usually include being interrogated on one's skills at handicrafts.

Magit: Yes. But not fancy stuff.

Gerrhonot: My sister really likes knitting. She's kind of hoping she'll be Sime so she can do the really complicated patterns that take a set of tentacles to do.

Magit: I knit a scarf last summer.

Gerrhonot: What color?

Magit: Brown. With some yellow left over from my mother's sweater.

Gerrhonot: Sounds pretty.

Magit comes a little closer, almost into arm's reach.

Gerrhonot: It's cold down here, isn't it?

Magit: Yes.

Gerrhonot: Come sit down and we can share the cloak.

Magit is shivering, despite her fever, and looks at Gerrhonot's cape longingly. She holds a short argument with her conscience, and it loses.

Magit tentatively edges closer, and sits down.

Gerrhonot: Here you go.

Gerrhonot shifts closer and puts his arm and cloak around the child.

Gerrhonot: Let's keep each other warm. It's a pretty good cloak. Heavy wool.

Magit huddles closer, shivering hard now that there is at least a little warmth.

Gerrhonot: You'll be all right, Magit. I'll take care of you.

Magit sniffles into the wool.

Magit: Isn't anything that'll make it right.

Gerrhonot: You're real lucky that we're here in town to help you, you know.

Gerrhonot tries to figure out how to determine how far the changeover has progressed.

Gerrhonot: I guess they didn't teach you anything about changeover. In-T all the kids take changeover classes, so they know what to expect and what to do.

Magit: They have school about being Sime?

Magit hadn't thought it required an education to be murdered.

Gerrhonot: Sure. Every kid wants to be ready for whatever happens. In-T, when a kid changes over or establishes, there's a big party to celebrate that they've grown up.

Magit: A party? For being Sime?

Gerrhonot: Yup. Or a Gen.

Magit can understand why someone would want to celebrate that.

Gerrhonot: And most people celebrate their changeover or establishment day instead of their birthday.

Magit: I won't. What's to celebrate?

Gerrhonot: Being grown up. In-T, as soon as somebody changes over or establishes, they're officially a grown-up. They're not kids any more - they can do what they want. They don't have to wait until they're sixteen, like here.

Gerrhonot: So when you go in-T, you can decide what you want to do.

Magit is, like most adolescents, obsessed with the independence she's not yet able to handle.

Magit: Go in-Territory?

Gerrhonot: Sure. That's where Simes live. They don't let them live out-T, except for a few channels.

Gerrhonot: First, you can go to school for free, to learn Simelan and how people do things in-T, and then learn a trade or whatever you'd like to make a living.

Magit frowns.

Magit: I'd have to go to school?

Magit thinks that doesn't sound like adult freedom, to her.

Gerrhonot: You'll like it. It's not like school here.

Magit: What's different?

Gerrhonot: Everybody there is a grown up, like you'll be in a little while. And all the stuff you learn is interesting and useful. And it's fun meeting all these different people from all over.

Magit thinks that the last part, at least, sounds interesting. She's frequently bemoaned the lack of social opportunities in Gumgeeville.

Gerrhonot: Simes can do all kinds of things Gens and kids can't, and they'll teach you how.

Magit: What kind of things?

Gerrhonot: Well, for one thing, they can zlin.

Magit: What's that?

Gerrhonot: You might be starting to do it already yourself. It's not the same as seeing or feeling, but it's a little like both. Do you notice anything different?

Magit: Well, yes, something's different. My arms hurt, and I feel awful.

Gerrhonot: Can I see your arms?

Magit: What for?

Gerrhonot: To see how far along you are.

Magit looked at them before she escaped to the basement, and didn't like what she saw.

Magit: Oh.

Magit thinks that over for a moment, then holds out one arm.

Gerrhonot: Okay if I roll up your sleeve?

Magit: Well....

Magit looks at Gerrhonot for a moment.

Magit: If you really want to. It's ugly, though.

Gerrhonot: It looks like that during changeover, but afterwards, it's really beautiful.

Gerrhonot takes Magit's hand and gently rolls up her sleeve.

Gerrhonot: See, your tentacles are starting to form. These will be your dorsals, and these will be your ventrals. [gently turning her arm over]

Magit looks at the red streaks running up her scrawny arms, and makes a face.

Magit: They're ugly.

Magit has never seen an adult Sime's tentacles, of course, not even a good picture. Her parents don't consider such materials suitable for children, and they're not exactly widely available, anyway.

Gerrhonot: They're kind of icky looking now, but they're not finished yet. Like a newborn baby is kind of icky looking, but after a while they stop looking so red and scrunched up and look cute.

Magit: I don't want them.

Gerrhonot: Tentacles are really beautiful and useful too.

Magit is frankly ~~ skeptical ~~

Gerrhonot: When I was a kid I kind of hoped I'd be Sime sometimes.

Magit: You did? Why? Didn't you like your family?

Gerrhonot: Sure I did. But I saw how my aunt and uncle could go with less sleep and work harder without getting tired, and zlin stuff, and do things with their tentacles, and I thought it would be really cool. Besides, if I did change over, my family could still come visit me in-T if they wanted to, and they would.

Magit frowns.

Magit: Mine won't.

Gerrhonot: Well, they might change their minds after a while. You can write to them and tell them about what you're doing.

Magit: They'd never go near a Sime.

Gerrhonot: Well, they didn't know any Simes, or have any Simes in the family before, did they?

Magit: Not ones that lived.

Gerrhonot: So you'll be the first. It will take them a while to get used to it, but they probably will.

Gerrhonot: Are you feeling warmer now?

Magit: Yes.

Gerrhonot: Good.

Magit has even stopped shivering. She hasn't stopped cuddling, though.

Gerrhonot hopes she's conserving selyn now that she's calm and warm. He's really glad that she's apparently decided to live, and is thinking about the future.

Magit is actually doing her best not to think at all, a skill at which she, like many adolescents, excels.

Gerrhonot: Are you feeling sleepy?

Magit: Yeah. Some.

Gerrhonot: Do you want to take a little nap? We can lie down here together, wrapped up in the cloak, and I'll hold you close to me to keep you warm. How's that?

Magit yawns.

Magit: Okay.

Gerrhonot: Okay, good.

Magit is at some level feeling astonished that she's turning Sime, and seriously thinking of taking a nap.

Gerrhonot lies down and wraps the two of them in the cloak. He holds Magit in his arms and strokes her back.

Magit is, however, starting to respond to Gerrhonot's field, and thus able to put it aside.

Gerrhonot: You'll be all right. I'll take good care of you. ~~ comfort ~~ calm ~~ reassurance ~~~

Jed hurries out of the saloon and back to his house.

Ma Mullins looks up from the chair on which she is sitting, piecing together bits of scrap cloth, in hopes that they will be enough for a coverlet.

Ma: What're you doing home so early, Jed? Did the saloon burn down?

Jed: It's closed today.

Ma: Whatever for? Is Henree sick?

Ma is concerned enough that she actually stops sewing for a moment.

Jed: No, it's his granddaughter, Magit.

Ma: Magit?

Jed hasn't been able to figure out how to broach the whole subject of inviting a Sime in changeover into their house, to add to the mixed-larity menagerie.

Ma looks at Jed with heightened ~~ alertness ~~

Jed: Yeah, you know, Virla's girl.

Ma: Is she ill, or...

Jed decides to be blunt, rather than talk in ellipses.

Jed: She's turning Sime, Ma.

Ma flinches as if hit.

Ma: Oh, poor Virla.

Jed: Henree locked her in the cellar. She got away when he was trying to shoot her.

Ma is rather good friends with Henree's daughter.

Ma: So he's waiting?

Jed: He's waiting. Gerrhonot's down there with her.

Ma: Gerrhonot did what?

Jed: He went down there, to help her. He's not going to let her die if he can help it.

Jed finds himself breathing hard.

Ma: ...Oh.

Ma finds herself the victim of a confused jumble of emotions, from ~~ disbelief ~~ and ~~ disgust at the idea of changeover ~~ to a ~~ faint hope ~~, both for Virla and, perhaps, for herself.

Ma hasn't lost sight of the fact that while Bart is apparently safely Gen, Vrian isn't.

Ma: What can he do for her?

Jed doesn't understand what's happening to him, but all the anger and fear and frustration of a lifetime of watching people shoot children and dreading doing so himself are coming out from where they've been suppressed.

Jed: He's going to give her his stuff, if he can't get her to our Sime, or our Sime to her. His selyn.

Ma: But doesn't his friend in there need it?

Ma is, for once, using the word in its in-Territory, technical sense, if only by accident.

Jed: You should've seen him, Ma. There was no way he was gonna let that girl die. He sent me back here to tell our Sime what's happening. I'm gonna go tell him now.

Jed strides over to the Sime Territory door and knocks.

Ma sets her sewing aside, and follows.

Seruffin winces, wishing that the Gens would learn to use a proper signal.

Seruffin: Come in.

Jed opens the door and enters, leaving it open behind him.

Jed: Me and Gerrhonot went to the saloon, and Henree has his granddaughter locked up in the basement where she ran away when he tried to shoot her.

Seruffin zlins the Gens' agitation and gets to his feet.

Jed: Gerrhonot talked Henree into letting him go down there with her. He sent me back here to tell you.

Seruffin had been looking alarmed at the mention of shooting and Gerrhonot in the same sentence, but relaxes as Jed continues.

Jed is full of ~~ roiling mixed emotions ~~~ and still breathing fast.

Seruffin is a Sime as well as a channel, and he is used to working in-Territory, where no Donor would consider giving transfer to a changeover victim when a channel was available.

Seruffin: How far along is she? Can she be moved?

Seruffin is already reaching for his retainers.

Jed: I don't know. She's been down there since this morning. Henree says he won't let a Sime into his saloon.

Seruffin frowns.

Seruffin: That could be...difficult. Gerrhonot can help her through changeover, but it really would be best for the girl if she gets First Transfer from me, not from a Gen. Otherwise, she'll spend the rest of her life wanting something she can't have.

Jed: Gerrhonot said you'd likely have a message for him. What do you want me to say?

Seruffin looks from Jed to Ma, and back to Jed.

Seruffin: That depends on you. If the girl can be moved, will you allow Gerrhonot to bring her here, so that I can help her?

Jed looks down.

Jed: I've already made one bad mistake in my family about Simes. I don't want to make another one.

Jed turns to his wife.

Ma pales.

Jed: Ma, can I bring Magit here? You can go stay with your sister if you can't bear it. Or you can just say no.

Ma doesn't want a second Sime in her house, but she does care a great deal for her friend Virla, and she has known Magit all the girl's life.

Ma: I told Virla, when she was so sick with her second, that no matter what, I'd always see her little girl was taken care of.

Jed winces a little, since 'taken care of' is a common euphemism for shooting a child before breakout.

Ma: If Magit's likely to live, she ought to have the best chance we can give her.

Jed: I don't want you to suffer more than you have to. Do you want to go to your sister, or maybe go talk to Virla while this goes on?

Jed turns to Seruffin.

Jed: How long does it take? Around here, we murder them as soon as we can. ~~ angry ~~ ~~ bitter ~~~

Seruffin: For a renSime, two or three days. That's counting from the onset, though, and the early symptoms can be hidden. If the girl's parents recognized the changeover this morning, she could break out today.

Jed turns again and hugs Ma.

Jed: Too much is happening at once for both of us, isn't it, Ma?

Ma hugs Jed back.

Ma: Yes. It's not all bad, I guess, but...I think I'll go visit Virla. She ought to know.

Jed: Okay, good. I'll send one of the boys later to let you know how it's going.

Ma: Yes.

Jed: It's awful cold out. Dress warm.

Ma: I will. You make sure the stew gets stirred, or it'll burn.

Jed: I'll do that.

Ma turns and goes to put her sewing away.

Seruffin looks at Ma, then Jed.

Seruffin: Your wife is a remarkable woman.

Jed: She is that. I'm damned lucky I talked her into marrying me.

Seruffin wonders briefly just how long that took Jed.

Jed: What do you want me to tell Gerrhonot? Do you want to come with me? You'd have to stay outside the saloon, though. I could try talking Henree into letting you in, but it would be a real feat of endurance.

Seruffin picks up the satchel that contains medications, from the luggage stacked in a corner.

Seruffin: Give this to Gerrhonot; he may require them.

Jed: I'll do that.

Seruffin: And tell him that if the girl can be moved, he should bring her back here.

Jed: Yes. And if not?

Seruffin: Then he'll have to cope as best he can, unless you can talk Henree into allowing me to go to them. I'll be along when I'm finished here.

Jed: If you leave after the wife, can you stir the friggin' stew? Shit, I'll put it on the back burner. Never mind.

Seruffin chuckles.

Jed takes the satchel, puts on his boots and coat, shoves the friggin' stew onto the back burner and leaves.

Jed pounds on the door of the saloon, which is now locked.

Jed: It's Jed, Henree, let me in.

Jed: Heard anything from downstairs? I've brought some stuff for Gerrhonot.

Henree: It's been pretty quiet down there.

Jed: Look, the channel says to bring the girl back to my place if she can be moved. It's warm and clean there. If she can't be moved, he really wants you to let him go down there and help her.

Henree eyes Jed dubiously.

Henree: Well, if your friend can take her out, so I can open again, that's fine with me.

Jed is a bit ~~disgusted ~~ at the way Henree is regarding his own flesh and blood as a nuisance like a skunk in the cellar, but recognizes that he's under a lot of stress.

Henree is saying what is "proper", to some extent: underneath it is an undercurrent of hope. He doesn't quite voice it, though. Not in front of a witness who likes to tell stories.

Jed: Well, open the damn cellar door, and we'll see what's happening. Or give me the key and I'll do it.

Henree grunts, and leads the way. He fumbles with the lock, then pulls open the door.

Henree: There you are.

Jed: Thanks, Henree.

Jed: Gerrhonot? It's Jed. [calls]

Gerrhonot was dozing along with his charge.

Gerrhonot: Mr. Mullins? Did Hajene Seruffin give you a message?

Jed: He gave me this bag of stuff and told me to tell you to bring Magit over to our place if she can be moved.

Gerrhonot: Um, she's sleeping right now, but I'll wake her up. She's okay. She can come home with us. Just wait up there, okay?

Jed: Henree, if you don't want to see this, you just go in back or something.

Henree grunts, but stands his ground.

Gerrhonot is lying on the cold damp floor holding a scrawny, sleeping changeover 'victim'.

Henree doesn't want to look a coward in front of a Sime-kisser like Jed, and besides, Magit is his granddaughter.

Gerrhonot strokes Magit's back. ~~~ alert ~~ calm ~~ safe ~~~

Gerrhonot: Magit? Wake up now, Magit.

Magit opens her eyes.

Magit: Huh?

Gerrhonot: It's all right, Magit. We're going to take you to Mr. Mullins's house, where it's warmer and Hajene Seruffin, my channel, is going to help you too.

Magit's eyes widen.

Magit: The Sime?

Gerrhonot: Yes, the channel.

Magit has, of course, heard all about Jed's "guest". She's a little ~~ alarmed ~~ at the thought of meeting a Sime in person.

Magit hasn't been thinking of herself as a Sime for very long.

Gerrhonot: He's a real good channel, and a real good man, too. I really like him. He's brought lots of kids through changeover. We'll both take real good care of you, Magit.

Gerrhonot hugs Magit.

Magit: Well, I suppose it's all right.

Gerrhonot: You're safe. Everything will be all right. Do you think you can get up now?

Magit untangles herself from Gerrhonot's cape, and manages to stand. She's swaying a bit with the effort, though.

Gerrhonot gets up and puts his arm and cloak around the girl.

Gerrhonot: Just take your time.

Gerrhonot picks up the lantern.

Magit allows herself to be led towards the door.

Gerrhonot: Up the stairs now. I'll go behind to catch you if you stumble.

Gerrhonot: Mr. Mullins, is Magit's coat up there?

Magit climbs laboriously up the stairs, then stops as Gerrhonot calls.

Jed looks at Henree.

Magit: Is my grandfather up there?

Gerrhonot: I think so.

Henree shakes his head.

Henree: She can use my coat. That's big enough to keep her warm.

Henree's coat is lined with fleece, and made out of thick-woven wool.

Gerrhonot: Your grandfather wants you to be safe, Magit, see? Come on.

Magit makes it up the last few steps, and stumbles uncertainly out into the saloon above.

Gerrhonot leads the way, in case Magit is afraid it's a trick to get her out to shoot her.

Henree has fetched his prized coat. He brings it to within about six feet of his granddaughter, then balks.

Henree: Here, moppet. Put this on.

Henree tosses the coat in Magit's direction.

Gerrhonot picks up the coat and helps Magit into it. It's ankle-length on her.

Magit huddles inside it, looking very waif-like and pathetic, not like a killer Sime at all.

Gerrhonot: Thank you, Mr. Henree. It's a real good coat.

Henree snorts in his patented crotchety fashion.

Gerrhonot: Mr. Mullins, maybe you didn't know it, but because you donated, you're safe around even berserkers, when there's somebody higher field around, like me and Mr. Henree.

Gerrhonot didn't think that out carefully enough before he said it.

Henree didn't need to know that. Really.

Gerrhonot: Come on, Magit. If you can't walk, I can carry you for a bit.

Henree has spent his entire adult life knowing that he's Sime bait, if he doesn't get the Simes first, and old habits die hard.

Jed reaches out his hand.

Henree looks at his granddaughter, who doesn't look that different, with the coat covering her red, swollen arms.

Jed: Come on, Magit, I'll help carry you too, if you need it.

Henree: Be good, Magpie.

Jed is finding putting up a good front not as hard as he expected, after Gerrhonot's reassurance.

Henree turns abruptly, and goes behind the bar, where he starts furiously polishing the already clean steins. He has to blink hard to catch a last glimpse of his granddaughter, reflected in the bar mirror.

Jed and Gerrhonot walk slowly to the door with Magit swamped by the big coat between them.

Jed opens the door, and the trio exit into the bright afternoon, in a suitably symbolic manner.

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