Ma Mullins knocks on the door to her friend Virla's house, full of decidedly mixed emotions. She isn't at all sure how her news will be received, but Virla has a right to know.
Ma: Virla? Virla, it's me.
Virla: Maree? Come in.
Ma slips inside.
Ma: Oh, Virla. What can I say? I'm so sorry.
Ma hugs her friend tightly.
Virla: It's the Lord's will, I suppose, Maree. We're lucky to be able to keep the children we can.
Ma gives a snort.
Ma: It's plain old genetics, if you ask me. No one's to blame. Not you, and certainly not Magit.
Virla: No indeed. The innocent are made to suffer.
Ma: Not that that makes it any easier, when it's your child. I was so glad when I learned that Bart...I'm being tactless. There's still Vrian, though.
Ma left the house before learning that her younger boy had established.
Virla: Vrian? Is he ... still all right, then?
Ma: He was when I left, and these days, I'd know sooner than most. He and his brother are getting pretty friendly with our...house guest.
Ma knows that Virla would never be desperate enough to take in travelers, even Gen ones, but she refuses to apologize for her poverty.
Virla: Thank God for that, then. You've been spared so far.
Ma: Virla, I think you should know. Magit isn't dead. And there's a good chance that she won't die, either.
Virla: What? What what what? [bursts into tears] Oh my! Oh my!
Ma hugs her friend.
Virla weeps up a storm, slowly subsiding to sobs
Ma: It's not what you think. Your father's not in any danger, and neither is anybody else.
Virla: But how ...? But how ...?
Ma: The Sime's friend went down into the cellar and got her. When I left, the two of them were bringing her back to our house. They can't cure her, but they won't let her kill anybody, either. And she'll be alive, in Sime Territory.
Ma isn't sure, herself, whether it would be easier to have a child die, or know that the child was unreachable, never to be seen again.
Virla begins to weep again, with deeper, diaphragmatic sobs this time.
Ma holds her friend tightly, for what comfort that can offer.
Virla: Never to kill? The Almighty be praised, Maree!
Virla calms down for now.
Virla: Now let's sit down and tell me everything you know.
Ma sits beside her.
Ma: I didn't get all the details, but here's what I know. Jed and the Sime's friend went to the pub to have a beer, about an hour ago. When your father told them he had closed the saloon, because he couldn't go into the cellar, Gerrhonot volunteered to go in after Magit. Not to shoot her, but to help her.
Ma still thinks Gerrhonot is a certifiable lunatic.
Virla: He did? Bless him, then. I did hear that he was a mite ... peculiar.
Ma: He's not very smart, but the Sime seems to think highly of him. More important, he's immune to being killed.
Virla: Do tell! Even a berserker couldn't harm him, then?
Ma: He says not, and I believe him. Would he have gone into a cellar after a changeover if he was lying? Even he isn't that stupid.
Virla: Well, no, I reckon not.
Ma: Anyway, he sent Jed back for some medicines, and asked if he could bring Magit back to our house for changeover.
Virla: And you took her in? I can't ever thank you enough for that, Maree.
Ma: I told you I'd look out for your girl, if anything happened, didn't I? Apparently, it's better for a new Sime to start off with a channel, not a Gen.
Virla: So the Si ... stranger, he's one of those channels?
Ma: Yes, he is. You heard what he did to Jed, I'm sure.
Virla: Well, I did hear something about it, but ....
Ma: It's true. I was there. And he did Bart, and me, too.
Virla: How did you ... feel?
Ma: I was scared silly. He doesn't look any different from any other Sime. But after Jed did it...I did give my word. Thought he'd have more sense.
Ma: I should know better, by now, wouldn't you think?
Virla: But he, the Sime I mean, he didn't hurt you, did he?
Virla: Well, men will be like that, won't they.
Ma: And Jed more than most.
Virla: Every woman thinks that, I believe. Anyhow, did he hurt you, Maree? If he did, he won't last long in this town!
Ma: I've never been so scared in my life, but no, he didn't really hurt me. Only some bruises.
Ma rolls up one sleeve, and shows Virla.
Virla: Oh, from where the tentacles got you? I'm so sorry, Maree.
Ma: Jed demanded to know why, and the Sime said it was because I struggled. He couldn't stop quickly.
Virla: Well, I suppose so. Even Simes are only ---
Virla was about to say "only human" and cut it short.
Ma: Well, he seems normal enough, most of the time. Except for his arms.
Virla: So he's been a well-mannered guest, then?
Virla is too polite to refer openly to the financial aspect either.
Ma: On the whole, yes. Though I'd like it better if he stayed away from my boys.
Virla: But surely he wouldn't dare to ... to do anything, would he? In your own house? After all, he can't outrun a bullet.
Ma: He took selyn from Bart, after Jed said he could. The boy wanted to be like his father.
Virla: So he would, so he would. Boys will be boys, they say.
Ma: I'm just glad that Vrian isn't facing that kind of pressure. Bart's like his father: more courage than sense.
Virla: I always thought that my second was a boy, but of course there wasn't a way to tell.
Ma squeezes Virla's hand.
Ma: It's over. At least you had Magit, for all her childhood.
Virla: You were right good to me then, Maree. I've had troubles in my life and no mistake: my Jorj, my second, now Magit.
Ma: Magit's going to live, Virla. She'll be a Sime, but she'll live.
Virla: Live! Yes, live; live far away, live where I'll never see her again.
Ma: And maybe someday, you'll have a Gen grandchild, after all. It happens, you know. The Simes have Gen children, just like some of ours turn Sime.
Virla: But a grandchild, she wouldn't want to move back here, would she? What's there for a child of Simes here? The town would never accept her.
Ma is unfamiliar with the genetic ratios of larity when one parent is Sime and the other Gen, which is probably just as well, since she wouldn't like the idea of mixed-larity marriages.
Ma: She might still come and visit. Particularly if people become more accepting of Simes, around here.
Virla snorts this time.
Virla: About as likely as snow in June.
Ma: No, really. People were a bit upset when they put a Sime Center in Ford, but that's mostly died down, hasn't it?
Virla: Well, Ford. Anything could happen there. [sniffs]
Ma: True, but there hasn't been nearly as much trouble as they were predicting, has there?
Virla: That's because they're all talk, no action.
Ma: There are even people going in, to earn money giving selyn.
Ma is trying not to think about her husband and son joining their ranks.
Virla: Still, I surely don't want to see the bad times coming back, and if a little Sime money can help our town over hard times, that's a good thing for us all.
Virla knows that it's all very well to run a pub, but farmers have to have cash money to buy their drinks with.
Ma: Well, people could go to Ford for that much, at least when the weather's decent. In situations like this, though, it'd be convenient to have a channel in town, for the winter.
Virla: I reckon you're right. Maybe Magit could be one of those channels, and come to live here after all.
Ma: Don't know. Maybe people would accept her better than a stranger. Our boarder looks prosperous enough, and he didn't quibble when I set his rent at thirty a day.
Virla: Maybe so.
Ma: So it's probably a pretty good profession.
Virla: And paying for Jed and your boy? That's ... impressive.
Ma: And that was just his traveling money. Of course, he might just come from a well-to-do family. He's got education, you can tell that just talking to him.
Virla: Well, city folks can get education, and money too.
Virla: Well, I reckon it's time we got up out of here and went to see my daughter. If you'll come with?
Ma: Sure, Virla. Though I don't know if...well, if it's over yet. Should we pack some of her things, so she won't arrive in Sime Territory without a change of clothes?
Virla: Of course. You always know what to do in a crisis, Maree.
Narrator: Some time passes while the women select and pack clothing, and walk back to the Mullins residence, where our other heroes are still sipping tea at the kitchen table.
Ma pauses as she sees Seruffin's sign attached to her front door, rather than on the door to the boys' bedroom.
Ma: Now, what have the boys been doing?
Virla: I don't know, but if it's a joke it's sure not funny. Do you think ... ?
Ma: I don't think the Sime would let them play with his sign, if it weren't for real. It's a small room for three. They probably wanted to give Magit some space.
Virla: Oooooh. So he could be ... lurking ... right inside there? ~~ titillating fear ~~
Virla is not really afraid, not yet; it's still unreal to her.
Ma would frankly prefer Seruffin to a newly Sime Magit, at this point.
Ma: He might be, I suppose. It'd be legal enough, with the sign there. Only one way to find out, isn't there?
Virla: That's for sure. I, I'm ready, Maree. I want to see my girl for the last time.
Ma: It won't be the last time, Virla. They can't send her to Sime Territory until the trains are running again.
Virla: Well, I know you're right.
Ma opens the door, a bit too firmly.
Ma: Boys, I hope you haven't been up to anything I wouldn't approve of while I was gone.
Gerrhonot turns quickly, sees Ma and a stranger, and jumps up to put himself between them and his channel.
Bart: Everything's okay, Ma. We put the sign on the door so Hajene could come out without his retainers and have tea with us.
Bart hopes his manly assured manner will make up for his sinking feeling that his mother is not going to be at all pleased with this.
Virla: [summoning her courage] Mister, you must be the one who went into the cellar after my daughter. I, I owe you for that.
Seruffin has discreetly retracted his tentacles, and remains seated to appear less threatening.
Ma eyes Seruffin ~~ skeptically ~~, but doesn't want to make a scene in front of Virla, who's been through quite enough today. She settles for giving Bart her patented "we'll discuss it later, young man" Look.
Gerrhonot: Um, it's okay. I knew she couldn't hurt me, and I wanted to help her. She's just real lucky that me and Hajene Seruffin are in town.
Virla: It was the Lord that brought you here, I believe, Mister. --And you too, Tweeb.
Gerrhonot: She's okay now. The changeover is finished. She's sleeping .
Seruffin: She had a hard time, and is very tired, but she'll be all right.
Seruffin sincerely hopes so, anyway, although Magit's rough transfer worries him.
Virla: Can I see her?
Seruffin: It would be best to let her sleep until she wakes up naturally.
Virla: But couldn't I just look in at her?
Virla doesn't have the in-T habit of deferring to channels.
Seruffin: You would wake her up, and right now, she requires her rest.
Seruffin is aware that he lacks the authority he would have in a Sime Center, but is hoping that maternal guilt will accomplish the same thing.
Virla: I understand, Tweeb.
Virla begins to shake visibly, though not sob.
Gerrhonot tries to protect his channel from the no doubt intense emotions of this untrained Wild Gen.
Ma moves protectively close to her friend, inadvertently providing Seruffin with a little more protection.
Seruffin: Your daughter will want to speak with you when she wakes up, I'm sure.
Bart whispers to his brother not to mention that he's established in front of Virla.
Seruffin: But just now, you'd disturb her sleep. Even if you were quiet, you're carrying a lot of selyn, and that means that you can disturb a Sime without meaning to.
Seruffin is frankly glad that all four resident Gens here are low field.
Gerrhonot wonders what Seruffin will do if Virla wants to donate so she can see her daughter. He has some money, but he knows Seruffin is almost flat broke.
Seruffin is used to letting the Tecton accountants take care of donation payments, and has temporarily forgotten that there isn't even a donation voucher form around.
Ma feels the need for some adult reinforcement.
Ma: Vrian, go to the saloon and tell your father he's wanted at home. The troublemakers should have drunk themselves into a stupor by now, anyway.
Ma notes with approval that Vrian, unlike Bart, manages to get his coat completely buttoned before heading out the door, instead of waiting for the first blast of cold air to set him shivering.
Seruffin is doing his best to appear harmless, as he can't help zlinning Virla's misgivings.
Bart would like to offer Virla and his mother a seat and some tea, but it's really Seruffin's tea, and he doesn't know whether either of them would sit at table with a Sime, and there's only one chair and after the earlier discussion he's reluctant to crowd onto the bench with Gerrhonot and Seruffin. ~~~ awkwardness ~~~
Seruffin: Please, join us if you wish. I believe there's still some tea, and you're both chilled.
Bart gets up to free up his chair, and goes to the cabinet for two more cups.
Ma looks at her friend, to see how far Virla is willing to go.
Virla: Thank you. I think I'd feel better if I sat. ~~ gratitude mixed with anxiety ~~
Ma deliberately takes the seat across from Seruffin, leaving the one opposite Gerrhonot for Virla. She takes hospitality, and friendship, very seriously.
Gerrhonot resumes his seat on the bench and moves as close to Seruffin as he can manage. ~~~ strong steady support ~~~ protection ~~~
Bart pours tea for the women, and leans against the stove on Gerrhonot's other side.
Seruffin tries not to lean on Gerrhonot physically, but does so nagerically.
Virla sits and ~~ relaxes ~~ noticeably, even to the Gens.
Virla: Thank you, Bart.
Bart: You're welcome. Uh, it's tea from Simeland. It's kind of different.
Virla: It smells a bit like rose-hip tea. My Ma used to grow roses for tea.
Ma sniffs the brew, then gives a tentative sip.
Seruffin: Trin is a distant relative of roses.
Virla sips the tea, umm, gingerly.
Virla: Why, it's good!
Virla ~~ smiles ~~ wanly
Seruffin smiles in return.
Seruffin: I've always been fond of trin.
Virla: Tweeb? Could I ask you a question, maybe kind of a personal question?
Gerrhonot is glad that Seruffin seems to be doing well.
Seruffin: Of course.. I'll answer if I can.
Virla: My Magit, I was wondering ... Is there any way she could learn to do what you do, maybe come back to live here in Gumgeeville?
Seruffin: You mean, is she a channel?
Virla: Well, I know she's not a channel now! I mean, could she, well, be trained to be a channel? When she goes to Sime Territory? ~~ hope ~~
Seruffin doesn't want to dash Virla's hopes, but like most native Simes, he's never gotten in the habit of lying.
Bart tries to keep his face blank, and waits to see what Seruffin will say. He knows, from talking to Gerrhonot, that channels are born, not made.
Seruffin: I'm afraid that's impossible. Channels are Simes who happen to have a secondary selyn system. Your daughter has only the usual one.
Virla: So you have to be born to be a channel? I never rightly understood that.
Seruffin: Yes. A channel's secondary system gives us the control to take selyn safely from any Gen, and give that selyn to Simes like your daughter, who can't control how fast they take it.
Virla: And that's why they ... kill? Because they have to have it fast?
Seruffin: Yes, if there is no channel or trained Donor around who can provide selyn safely at high speeds.
Virla: That would be like Mister ... Mister, I didn't get your name.
Gerrhonot: I'm Gerrhonot, Miz Virla.
Seruffin: And I'm Hajene Seruffin.
Virla: So you're one of those that's born to give it fast, then?
Gerrhonot: Um, it's part talent and part training, I guess.
Virla: Well, the Lord didn't intend us all to be just the same.
Seruffin is slightly ~ wary ~ of that answer, as he knows that many Gen religions don't approve of Simes.
Bart thinks about the idea of being born to be a Donor, and finds it very attractive.
Virla: But I guess, if my only daughter was born to be a S-S-Sime, then, then, why, I don't guess she could have done better than to meet up with you folks. ~~ courage ~~
Ma is rather glad that she appears to have no talent for Donoring at all.
Seruffin: We are very glad that we happened to be here in Gumgeeville, and that we were able to reach her in time.
Gerrhonot: She's really lucky, Miz Virla. We're only here because the train got stuck.
Virla: There's no such thing as "luck", Mister. It's all the will of the Almighty. But I know you meant it kindly.
Gerrhonot: My family are all Church of Unity. We believe that God wants Simes and Gens to get along and help each other.
Ma is of the personal opinion that fortune tends to smile on those who plan ahead for all possible contingencies, but has never been able to convince Virla of that.
Virla: Well, I suppose you folks would believe that, wouldn't you. You may be right at that.
Seruffin: Certainly the wars were to no one's advantage.
Virla: You got that right, Hajene.
Virla: So how long will it be before my Magit has to ... kill again?
Seruffin: She won't ever kill, now. But she will require more selyn, in a month.
Virla: I can pay for it, if she needs it.
Seruffin is rather short of cash, just now.
Virla: I know you pay us, Gens, for our selyn, so I guess you Simes have to do the paying? I mean, my Magit shouldn't have to want, even over there in Sime Territory.
Seruffin: Yes, Simes must pay selyn taxes. The Tecton does provide new Simes from out-Territory with some credit, while they adjust to their situation and learn a trade. But she will have to pay for the selyn she uses, eventually. All Simes must do so, just as Gens must pay for their food.
Virla: Well, can I send money with her? I packed clothes for her already ~~ pride mixed with embarrassment ~~
Seruffin: Certainly. It can be changed at the border for our currency.
Virla: Well then. ~~ pride overcomes embarrassment ~~ You'll see that she learns what she needs to know, and a good trade, then?
Virla thinks it's odd that in Sime Territory women learn trades, but after all, they're different.
Virla: My Magit's always been a good girl, and never no mind to what some in this town'll say of her.
Gerrhonot wonders how his channel will get out from under the assumption that Seruffin will take personal charge of Magit.
Seruffin: The Tecton has an extensive program designed to help immigrants become useful citizens. I'm sure Magit will do well. And if you wish to help her with her selyn taxes, the Tecton also allows Gens who donate to forgo payment, and credit the selyn to a Sime family member or friend.
Virla: ~~ alarm at the thought of donating ~~
Virla: The Tecton, that's your gummint?
Seruffin: It's the organization of channels and professional Donors like Gerrhonot, who are responsible for seeing that all our Simes have the selyn they need, so they don't have to kill.
Virla: Well, I'll send money, then. At least for now. ~~ businesslike ~~ I suppose I can do it through the channel at Ford?
Seruffin: There will be an accountant who can help you at the Sime Center, if your bank can't manage.
Virla: That'll be fine, I'm sure.
Gerrhonot is relieved that Seruffin isn't going to take a first donation from another Wild Gen after his stressful day.
Gerrhonot: Miz Virla, Magit is going to be real happy when she wakes up. She thought that her family wouldn't want to have anything to do with her once she changed over.
Gerrhonot: You can write to each other, and maybe go in-T some time and visit her.
Virla: Oh, no. If I'd a wanted that, I'd a shot her myself. I'm not Church of the Purity. ~~ superiority ~~
Gerrhonot finds that very confusing. Virla didn't shoot Magit, but handed her over to her grandfather to be shot or to die slowly and horribly of attrition.
Ma looks up at the sound of boots clattering on the porch.
Ma: That must be Jed.