Stranded in Gumgeeville: Episode 10

Vrian sits in his chair, staring at the closed door to the bedroom. He was visibly flinching at the screams that issued from the room earlier, and has been finding the subsequent silence a bit ominous.

Vrian: What's happening, Bart?

Bart: How am I supposed to know?

Vrian: Do you think she's...a Sime, now? ~~ morbid curiosity ~~

Bart: Well, I suppose if she isn't yet, she will be soon.

Bart is trying to act all adult and blase' about the whole thing, but he's really more than a bit nervous and at the same time curious.

Vrian hasn't been Gen long enough to have gotten used to thinking about changeover as "something that happens to kids" rather than "something that might happen to me". He is, however, preadapted to one aspect of being Gen out-Territory.

Bart is still thinking about all the things he's thought and felt about becoming an adult over the past several days, and especially the past several hours.

Vrian: What if something goes wrong? What if she escapes from Hajene and comes for one of us?

Vrian sneaks a look at his father's rifle, which is too far away for either of them to grab in time.

Bart: Don't be silly. How could she escape? You saw how fast he could move when he ran for the bedroom. He hardly touched the floor.

Vrian: ...Yeah. Spooky, wasn't it?

Bart: Yeah. I'd heard Simes could do that, but this guy is so old, and so dignified...

Vrian: I know. He seems almost normal. Well, not normal precisely, but he doesn't strike you as the kind of thing they tell Sime stories about. Coming at you from nowhere, and all.

Bart: It was kind of beautiful the way he moved, so graceful. Gerrhonot looked clumsy in comparison.

Vrian looks at his brother in ~~ disbelief ~~

Vrian: If he came at you like that, you'd never have a chance to duck before he had you. How can you call that beautiful? Eerie, more like. Not human.

Vrian, like most out-Territory Gens, defines "human" as "Gen".

Bart has put his attraction to Seruffin and his Donor potential further down the pondering stack, since he has so much else to think about.

Bart: Hmm. Well, I guess it's like a race horse, it's big, it could run you down and trample you to death, but you know it won't, and it moves so beautifully.

Vrian considers that for a moment.

Vrian: How can you be so sure that you won't get...trampled? We don't know Hajene very well, when it comes right down to it.

Bart: He's a channel. And Dad thinks he's trustworthy too.

Vrian: Dad doesn't know him; never heard of him before a few days ago.

Bart: Besides, can you imagine what would happen if he killed somebody here in Gumgeeville? How long would he last, or Gerrhonot, either. It would be just plain stupid. I just hope there isn't any trouble over him helping Magit.

Vrian: It's just as stupid for other Simes to kill, and they do it anyway. They can't help it. I just have to wonder whether Hajene really can keep himself from killing, no matter what.

Bart: A berserker can't help it, but Hajene has got Gerrhonot to help him. And he knows when he's going to need him well in advance.

Vrian: What if Gerrhonot isn't around for some reason? Accidents happen. Or what if Magit took him? He'd be dangerous then, wouldn't he?

Bart: If Gerrhonot weren't around, the Simes would find someone else for him back home or in New Washington. And you heard Gerrhonot say that Magit couldn't hurt him.

Vrian: How do they do that, anyway? Make a Gen immune to Sime attack?

Bart: I don't know, but wouldn't it be great to be like that? Gerrhonot says that giving transfer feels really good, too.

Vrian shudders.

Vrian: I'm not sure I believe that one, but it'd be worth a lot, not to be killable by Simes.

Bart: Gerrhonot went down that cellar to help Magit. Can you imagine being able to do that without being afraid?

Vrian: I heard that the old Sime fighters were like that. They'd go anywhere to get a Sime. But I think Gerrhonot is different. He likes Hajene. And it's partly because he's a Sime, not in spite of it.

Vrian is introspective enough to understand that there's a difference, if not mature enough to really know what that means.

Bart: Yes. The two of them really like each other. They're really close.

Vrian: But Gerrhonot likes other Simes, too, or he wouldn't have gone after Magit. I just can't figure the guy out.

Bart: He wanted to save her life, and he knew he could do it. I don't think it was just that she was turning Sime. Wouldn't you try to save somebody's life, if you could?

Vrian: Well, yeah. At least if it wasn't suicidal. And I guess it wasn't, for Gerrhonot. It would have been, for either of us.

Bart: Yeah. To him, Simes and Gens and kids are all just people. He can be that way.

Vrian: And Henree would have been taking a huge chance of getting killed.

Bart: It was still early, but he wouldn't have been able to know that.

Vrian: Yeah.

Bart: He would have shot her, or let her die down there, but Gerrhonot and Hajene saved her life.

Vrian: It makes you think, don't it?

Bart has a sudden thought.

Bart: You know what? The selyn that Hajene is using to save her life -- it came from us Mullinses, me and Ma and Dad. So we helped save her life too. I wonder if that will make Ma feel better. She and Virla have been friends since they were kids.

Vrian looks at his brother.

Vrian: I never thought of it that way. It's little strange, isn't it? Even a bit creepy.

Bart: I guess it's like giving blood. Maybe it will save somebody's life that you'll never meet.

Vrian: Yeah. A good thing, a necessary thing, even if it is a little gruesome.

Bart: I guess it is a little creepy, your own blood running in somebody else's veins. But if it was somebody else's running in yours, I guess you'd be glad to be alive, and thankful that somebody donated that blood.

Vrian: Yeah. Do you think that all those Sime across the border are grateful to people like you and Dad, for donating? Or do they just think that you got your money, so what's the fuss?

Bart: I don't know. If Simes really are just people like Gens here are, probably a lot of them just figure it's business, like buying food. I don't think most city people are grateful to farmers.

Vrian: No. If they were, we'd make more money.

Bart: Yeah. So it's a good thing me and Dad are expanding our crops to selyn production, eh?

Bart smiles at his brother.

Vrian smiles back weakly, wondering if he will have the nerve to become the next "field of endeavor" in the family farm.

Vrian: People get used to giving blood, I'm told, so it doesn't bother them at all. Maybe giving selyn is the same?

Vrian sincerely hopes so, anyway.

Bart: Look, don't worry about it too much. Things will work out. We're gonna be a lot better off with just me and Dad donating, so you don't have to. I bet I would have been a lot more nervous about the whole thing when I was your age.

Vrian's pride is stung, and he stiffens with indignation.

Vrian: I ain't too young to do my share. Besides, Hajene says I'm a man now, a full-grown Gen just like you.

Bart: He did say that it would take a while for you to, uh, fill up, since you're just barely starting to be a Gen. So you couldn't donate now if you wanted to.

Vrian: Yeah.

Vrian's feelings are distinctly mixed about that.

Vrian: It might be easier to just get it over with, you know?

Bart: I know what you mean.

Vrian: At least we know Hajene. The channel in Ford is a stranger.

Bart: Well, me and Dad will test him out, see if he's okay. You could ask Hajene to do another sort of test run, like he started to before. That wasn't so bad, was it?

Vrian: Well...he's pretty busy, just now.

Bart: Yeah. I don't think he'd be real pleased if we went in there now for any reason.

Vrian isn't happy about being in the bedroom with Seruffin, and adding a changeover victim doesn't make the prospect more appealing.

Vrian looks at the door again.

Vrian: What's happening in there, anyway? It's been quiet for a long time. And those screams... They sounded like some wild animal.

Bart: I guess Magit panicked when she woke up in there alone and didn't know where she was. You know how girls are.

Vrian: Yeah.

Vrian is, like most adolescent boys, convinced that his courage lies under his heart. Between his legs, to be precise.

Gerrhonot comes out of the bedroom, and closes the door quietly behind him.

Gerrhonot: Hi again, guys.

Vrian leans forward eagerly.

Vrian: What happened?

Gerrhonot: Everything's okay now. The changeover's finished and Magit is sleeping. She had a pretty hard time of it.

Gerrhonot: Can I make some more tea?

Vrian: Sure.

Bart: Sure. Vrian, fill the kettle.

Vrian has been Little Brother all his life, and gets up with a resigned sigh to take care of the chore.

Vrian: Gerrhonot, can I ask you a question?

Gerrhonot: Yes.

Gerrhonot looks at Vrian attentively.

Vrian tries to find a coherent way to summarize his conversation with Bart.

Vrian: How do they make Donors like you so you can't be killed by Simes?

Gerrhonot: Um. We learn how to give transfer to channels. Channels draw more and faster than renSimes, so if you can serve a channel, you can serve a renSime.

Vrian: How do they teach you that? And isn't that kind of thing dangerous, at least at first? Until you get the trick of it?

Vrian is convinced that there has to be a trick.

Gerrhonot: Well, channels have more control than renSimes, and they start us out with experienced channels. But not until they think we can do a good job of it. They can zlin and figure out when we're ready.

Vrian: Oh. Weren't you afraid that they might make a mistake, about how ready you were? Like Hajene made a mistake about how ready Ma was to donate?

Gerrhonot: I dunno. I felt ready, and I really wanted to do it. It worked out great.

Gerrhonot smiles somewhat dreamily. He really enjoys transfer.

Vrian: What if...what if you hadn't been as ready as you thought you were? What would have happened, then?

Gerrhonot: Oh, the channel would have stopped before he could hurt me.

Vrian: How could you be so sure about that?

Gerrhonot: That's how they're trained. And if they hurt a Gen, it hurts them just as bad, too.

Vrian is struck by a thought.

Vrian: Does it hurt a Sime to kill?

Gerrhonot thinks about it, wondering how much to explain.

Gerrhonot: Yes, they feel the whole thing too. It must be horrible. They... don't usually survive very long after, even if they don't suicide. It's not like the junct times any more.

Gerrhonot: Um, kids from out-T who kill at changeover... most of them can live, but they feel bad about it for the rest of their lives.

Vrian: So if you hadn't been ready, it could have killed the channel, too?

Gerrhonot: Oh, the channel wouldn't have killed me, but if he had to abort the transfer it would have hurt him a lot even if I didn't feel anything. Sometimes they can die of it. I guess it takes a lot of courage for them to qualify a Donor, even if it almost always works out.

Vrian: Yeah. I bet they made you study a lot, before taking a risk like that.

Gerrhonot: Some of it is studying from books, but most is working with channels, learning how to interact with them nagerically...

Gerrhonot: [ that last phrase was in Simelan] Um, there aren't words for a lot of it in English.

Gerrhonot smiles.

Gerrhonot: It's not easy to explain in words, even in Simelan, especially for me.

Vrian: What did you learn from the books?

Vrian has a much exaggerated faith in the Gumgeeville librarian's ability to arrange inter-library loans, and has overlooked the language factor as well.

Gerrhonot: Um, some history. And some theory about how it all works. And stuff about how to write reports and fill out forms. And all the regulations and all that. That part is awful.

Vrian blinks.

Gerrhonot adds some more of Seruffin's trin to the teapot, and checks the kettle to see how close it is to boiling.

Vrian: Learning some paperwork was worse than risking your life?

Vrian thought before that Gerrhonot's priorities were warped; now he's sure of it.

Gerrhonot: I wasn't risking my life. But I'm really bad at paperwork. After I had the coughing sickness so bad as a kid I had to learn to talk and read all over again.

Vrian: So they'd already taught you how to do it?

Gerrhonot: Well, I knew the channel wouldn't kill me, and I really wanted to do it, so I figured I wouldn't hurt the channel. Um, I'm pretty stupid but I have real good Donor talent.

Vrian: What's wanting got to do with it? Ma wanted to donate, and she couldn't. Is giving transfer different?

Gerrhonot: Yes. Um..... I wish you could zlin, you'd understand.... Um... I wanted to with everything in me.... I wanted to so much, especially when I was with the channel.... I just....

Vrian looks at Bart.

Vrian: Does that make any sense to you?

Bart is watching and listening to Gerrhonot raptly.

Bart: I think I kind of understand.

Gerrhonot smiles at Bart, with a bit of complicity.

Vrian: Then could you explain it? Because it doesn't make any sense to me.

Bart: Maybe it's like love? Your whole heart has to be in it or it doesn't work.

Bart has had some exposure to the concept of romance.

Vrian gives a pre-romantic snort.

Vrian: Leave Agnis Blorrow out of it, could you? She's got pimples.

Gerrhonot: Yeah, Bart, it's something like that, but it's not the same thing. If you love the channel, that makes it even better, but you can give transfer even to a channel you don't like.

Gerrhonot: Um, I wanted to ask you guys if it's okay for Hajene Seruffin to come out here again without his retainers?

Vrian looks at Bart.

Bart: It's okay with me.

Vrian has already lost this battle once, and gives in, rather than act the coward.

Gerrhonot lifts the boiling kettle and fills the teapot.

Vrian's brother may have Donor talent, but he hasn't yet adopted the in-T attitude that courage is dangerous.

Vrian: Sure, he can come out here. I guess.

Gerrhonot: Okay, good. Thanks, guys.

Gerrhonot goes to the bedroom, signals and enters.

Seruffin looks up.

Gerrhonot: It's okay, Hajene. I've got another pot of trin steeping too.

Seruffin looks tired, and old.

Seruffin: Thank you, Gerrhonot.

Gerrhonot: ~~ comfort ~~ support ~~~

Gerrhonot: I can bring the tea here if you're not up to going out there with those two young Wild Gens. ~~ humour ~~

Seruffin: How are the youngsters taking having a changeover in their bedroom? I hope they're not too upset.

Gerrhonot: I think they're okay. Vrian kept asking me about serving transfer to channels, and Donor training.

Seruffin looks at Gerrhonot sharply.

Seruffin: Vrian? I would have expected that from Bart, but Vrian has no trace of Donor's talent that I can zlin.

Gerrhonot thinks back to the series of questions, using the practice he had at the Dam.

Gerrhonot: Well, he wanted to know how I got trained so I can't be killed, and wasn't I afraid that the first channel I served would kill me, and stuff like that.

Seruffin's confusion clears.

Seruffin: Oh.

Gerrhonot: ~~ ?? ~~

Seruffin: I expect he's just feeling a bit vulnerable, now that he's a Gen, and wants some practical advice on how to stay safe around Simes.

Gerrhonot: Gee, I wish he'd asked that. I could have told him something more useful.

Gerrhonot: Hajene, you don't look well. Can I do anything for you?

Seruffin looks at the sleeping Magit.

Seruffin: I think I'd like to get out of here for a while. If I can impose on you to run interference?

Gerrhonot isn't sure what that involves. ~~ ?? ~~~

Seruffin: While I admire young Vrian's courage, I've had enough exposure to wildly fluctuating fields for one day.

Seruffin stands, stretching carefully. His back creaks.

Seruffin: I'm getting old, Gerrhonot. I don't have the stamina that I once did.

Gerrhonot: ~~ love ~~ comfort ~~ admiration ~~ devotion ~~~

Seruffin leans on Gerrhonot's field for a moment, then starts for the door.

Gerrhonot stays close, providing ~~ strong steady support ~~ as the two approach the table.

Vrian gives a weak smile, glad that Bart is closer to Seruffin.

Bart: Hi, Hajene.

Vrian looks at Seruffin, thinking that he'd never have believed such an old man could move so quickly, if he hadn't seen it himself.

Seruffin: Hello, Bart, Vrian.

Bart quickly dumps and rinses Seruffin and Gerrhonot's tea mugs at the sink.

Seruffin settles onto the bench across from Bart. He's technically out of recovery from the changeover, but he still feels like something the kitten dragged in but couldn't quite finish.

Gerrhonot slides onto the bench close to Seruffin.

Gerrhonot: Do you two want some more of this trin?

Vrian: No, thanks.

Bart: I'd like some.

Gerrhonot pours trin for three. He moves as close as he can to Seruffin, puts an arm around him and envelops him in his field. ~~ comfort ~~ strength ~~ steadiness ~~

Bart: Are you all right, Hajene? Can I offer you anything else? Some bread and jam?

Bart is a bit perturbed at how Seruffin looks, and wants to do something for him.

Vrian watches this display with amazement, mixed with the unease of anyone whose world is being challenged.

Bart: ~~ compassion ~~~

Seruffin: No, thank you, Bart. I'll be well enough, when Gerrhonot is finished with me.

Bart is unaware how his behaviour looks to his brother. He's not entirely aware of it himself.

Bart looks at Gerrhonot, wondering what he's doing that isn't finished yet.

Seruffin: He's an excellent Donor.

Gerrhonot lets his ~~ happiness ~~ color his field.

Seruffin didn't have an ulterior motive in giving the compliment, but he's quite willing to enjoy the results.

Seruffin could use a little happiness, after the rough transfer with Magit.

Bart: Uh, what is he doing for you?

Bart is a little ~~ embarrassed ~~ in case it's a personal question, and drinks some tea.

Seruffin: I'm tired from helping Magit, and my selyn field is wobbling a bit because of it. Gerrhonot is making his selyn field stay very calm and steady, and that helps me recover much faster.

Seruffin knows that his explanation is so oversimplified as to be incorrect, but he doesn't have the energy to come up with a better one, just now.

Seruffin sips his tea.

Seruffin: That's a large part of what a Donor does: adjust his field to steady his channel's.

Bart wonders how to do things like that, and whether he might be doing something without realizing it.

Bart: Uh... am I... uh... are me and Vrian doing anything to make it better or worse for you? I mean, without realizing it?

Gerrhonot sips his tea, glad that his channel is here to answer questions that are hard to answer in words.

Bart: ~~ curiosity ~~ concern ~~ desire to help ~~~

Seruffin zlins the two brothers thoughtfully.

Seruffin: Gerrhonot's field is much stronger than either of yours, so you're not having much effect on me, at the moment. If he weren't here, though, your desire to help me would be comforting, while your brother's nervousness would make me tense, as well. I could minimize the effect by being aware that it was his feeling, not mine, but I couldn't block it entirely.

Vrian flushes with ~~ shame ~~, and mumbles an apology.

Bart tries to understand this. ~~ fascinated ~~

Bart: So when you ... read .. emotions, you do it by feeling them yourself? So if people have painful emotions it hurts you? But you're like a doctor -- you heal sick people so you have to feel their pain too? ~~ compassion ~~ awe ~~

Seruffin: Yes. That's why Donors like Gerrhonot are so important. No channel can stay sane without a good Donor.

Seruffin wonders in passing if that was part of Arat's problem: too many years without a Donor.

Bart is ~~ confused ~~and ~~ appalled ~~ that Simes, whom he'd always thought of as much tougher and stronger and more powerful than Gens are actually so fragile and helpless, so easily hurt by them. ~~ intensified compassion and desire to help ~~~

Seruffin leans a little harder on Gerrhonot, just in case.

Bart: I... didn't know... it was like that for you...

Seruffin: Bart, your desire to help me is very soothing. But you shouldn't project that around Simes until you know how to follow through on it.

Bart: ~~~ complete confusion ~~~ I'm... projecting? How do I stop?

Seruffin: Focus your attention on something else. Your brother, or your tea.

Bart picks up his tea cup and turns to look at Vrian.

Vrian looks bewildered, embarrassed, and confused.

Bart looks at his tea then swallows a gulp of it. ~~ still confused ~~ How to not think of something?

Vrian, being (barely) Gen, is not affected by the confusion Bart is projecting at him, although he has plenty of his own.

Seruffin: That's it. Well done.

Bart turns back. ~~ confused gratitude ~~~

Gerrhonot lets a bit of ~~ amusement ~~ color his ~~ strong, steady, comforting ~~ field.

Bart: This is really weird.

Seruffin leans on Gerrhonot's field, and reinforces the lesson.

Seruffin: As long as your attention isn't focused directly on a Sime, your feelings won't impose unduly. Although when you're low field, your field isn't strong enough to provoke a Sime, even if you wanted to.

Bart: But if I'm talking to you.... uh.... I shouldn't look at you? ~~ confused ~~~

Seruffin: Certainly. But you can do that, while thinking about your teacup, can't you? Try it.

Seruffin wouldn't normally throw that sort of challenge at a lowfield GN-3, but Bart's potential really should be evaluated, and it might be useful, with Magit living in the same house.

Bart: Uh... like if I listen to the fire while I talk to you?

Seruffin: Yes.

Bart looks down and focuses on the faint sound of the fire in the cookstove, then looks up at Seruffin and Gerrhonot. His face screws up as he tries to maintain a divided attention.

Seruffin: Your ability to affect a Sime's field--to make him or her feel what you're feeling--increases strongly when your attention is on the Sime. Donors like Gerrhonot do that on purpose, when they're working with a channel; he's doing it now, as a matter of fact.

Gerrhonot smiles at Bart.

Seruffin: But it can be dangerous until you've learned how to control it, and not just to you. You could hurt the Sime you're trying to help, badly.

Seruffin hopes that this will be a sufficient warning to discourage Bart from experimenting, while not being as discouraging as "you could get yourself killed" might be.

Seruffin is a channel, after all, and Donors are always in short supply.

Bart: I'm sorry if I hurt you before. ~~ contrition ~~ tea cups ~~ fire noises ~~~

Bart's attention wobbles around trying not to focus on Seruffin or his feelings about him.

Seruffin: You didn't. Gerrhonot is very good at preventing other Gens from disturbing me. But if you're thinking about spending much time around Simes, you should be aware of how you can affect them. Most Simes aren't channels, and there won't necessarily always be a Donor around.

Bart: The Gens in-T, they all know how to do this?

Seruffin: Yes, although most Gens aren't as good at it as a Donor must be. Still, you learn quickly, when all the Simes around you object when you do it wrong. Most learn the basics within a few weeks of establishment, before they're really high field for the first time. It's considered just...good manners.

Bart: I just realized... it must have been a real risk for you to take my mother's donation without Gerrhonot there, and to go out to the saloon alone to try to help Magit.... ~~ admiration ~~~ Gerrhonot's sweater ~~

Seruffin: It was risky, but I believed that the risk was outweighed by the benefits. In the case of your mother, unfortunately, I was wrong.

Gerrhonot steps up his ~~ comfort ~~ projection.

Bart turns to his brother, wondering how he's taking all this.

Seruffin strokes a grateful, if surreptitious, tentacle across Gerrhonot's arm.

Gerrhonot adds a bit of ~~ happiness ~~ and ~~ admiration ~~ to his nager.

Vrian is now facing the unpleasant probability that he's rude, as well as cowardly. He's not used to being either, and thinks that this growing up thing is a lot harder than it's made out to be.

Bart sees how uncomfortable his brother is feeling, and wishes he could tell him something comforting or encouraging. Too bad it doesn't work to just think that and concentrate on him.

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