Stranded in Gumgeeville: Episode 12

Jed has spent the rest of the afternoon and part of the evening at the saloon, keeping a finger on the pulse of the community, ready to ward off the formation of lynch mobs or other purposeful anti-Sime activity. He's been drinking only very slowly, to be sure he's in good enough form to talk whoever needs it out of whatever he ought not to do.

Gegg has been a bit less circumspect, but is still in surprisingly decent shape, under the circumstances.

Jed feels that the pulse of the community has slowed quite a bit as the alcohol content of the community's blood stream has risen.

Henree has been too busy assisting that endeavor to have time to think, which is probably just as well. His heart isn't quite in the work, however, to the point that he extended Jed's tab to cover his last two beers without argument.

Gegg shakes his head.

Gegg: You're something, Jed. Letting a grown Sime stay in your house was more than most would do, but a changeover? Aren't you worried that she'll get loose, with your wife and kids in reach?

Jed: Well, set a Sime to catch a Sime, eh? I think that channel and his buddy can handle a kid like Magit. That was something, Gerrhonot going down cellar after her.

Gegg: The man's crazier than you, that's for sure.

Jed: Worked out fine.

Gegg: Well, she wasn't dangerous, yet, as it turned out. Even Henree there could've got her, as it turned out.

Jed: True, but he wouldn't know it until he got down there, would he?

Henree grunts, polishing the bar.

Jed: As far as my wife and kids, the Gens among 'em should be safe, 'cause they donated like me.

Gegg: Huh?

Gegg hasn't thought it through that far, and his efforts to do so are suffering from his condition.

Jed: Well, Simes can tell how much you got to suck out, and my family has empty tanks, so they don't look at all tasty to a hungry Sime. Gerrhonot told me that. He said I'd be safe even with a berserker, if there was somebody around who was still full.

Henree: Don't sound like much of a solution, to me, to just make the Sime kill someone else.

Jed: Well, the only ones who are gonna look good to Magit are Gerrhonot and his channel, and that's just how I want it, and they do too.

Henree: Well, I suppose as long as your guests are the targets, that's all right. But what happens next time, when they're gone? And there will be a next time. You know that as well as I do. Even if everyone was empty, the Sime'd just kill whoever was fullest. Maybe more than one person, if there wasn't enough.

Jed: Maybe some parents will have the balls to take their kid to the Ford instead of shooting him. Or maybe they'll just go ahead and murder their child for the good of the community as always.

Jed: I'll tell you two something -- meeting that channel has made a difference in my thinking.

Gegg guffaws into his beer.

Gegg: I'll say.

Jed: Me and the wife talked it over, and we're not gonna shoot Vrian if we can help it. I'm gonna try to get him to the Ford and I don't care who knows it.

Jed really has had a bit too much to drink.

Gegg: You've always been crazier than a rabid skunk, but even you never wanted to be a Sime's lunch before.

Jed: I never made an easier month's pay in a few minutes, either.

Gegg: You know you couldn't depend on getting all the way to Ford before he killed you.

Jed: Well, I'll take my rifle along, and just hope I won't have to use it.

Henree: You sound like you almost want your boy to be Sime.

Jed: I sure as hell don't, but I'd rather he was a Sime who don't kill than a dead one.

Jed wonders if Henree's thinking has changed a bit too, now that his granddaughter is going to be a live, non-killing Sime, instead of a corpse.

Gegg: How'd you know there was enough time? Or did that Sime you took in tell you?

Gegg is a bit ~~ curious ~~ about the matter, since solid information on Simes is hard to get, in Gumgeeville.

Jed: Well, after the excitement dies down a bit back home, me and Vrian are gonna ask that Sime how to tell early, so Vrian can tell me if he thinks anything is happening.

Henree: I heard the Simes can tell really early.

Henree hears a lot of things, as a bartender.

Jed: I suppose they can. I'll ask him.

Henree: Of course, they view it a bit differently than we do. They're probably glad when a kid turns Sime.

Gegg: Well, stands to reason they would, don't it? Who'd want their kid to be lunch?

Jed: Well, if their kid turns Gen, they don't have to worry so much if he can find a good job, he can sell his selyn and live on that. Work his way through school that way, I suppose.

Henree: Selling Simes your...stuff...isn't a proper job.

Jed: Tide you through hard times, though.

Henree: Well, as long as you don't get into the habit, I suppose. Otherwise, it'd just encourage sloth and indolence.

Jed: Well, why not do both -- work at a job, and double your money selling your stuff. Like having a market garden or some chickens on the side, eh?

Henree: Hmpf. I like to think of my family as something better than my chickens.

Jed thinks that's easy for Henree to say -- his daughters are all married, and he's got this hotel and saloon to run.

Vrian trots towards the saloon, blissfully unaware of the discussion revolving around his potential changeover. He is, in fact, bursting with pride in his new-found adulthood as a Gen.

Vrian had also thought that only Bart would be crazy enough to try to get a changeover victim to Ford. He really ought to know his father better that that, shouldn't he?

Vrian bounds up the stairs and walks right into the sacred Refuge of Grown Men, secure in his right to belong, now. He threads his way towards his father, who is holding up the bar in his accustomed spot.

Vrian: Hey, Dad!

Jed: Hey, Vrian! What are you doing here?

Vrian: Ma says you should come home. It's all over.

Jed thinks Vrian looks full of good news.

Jed: Everything okay?

Vrian: Yeah! Dad, Hajene said I'm a Gen!

Vrian is almost bouncing with the news.

Jed: You are! That's wonderful!

Jed wants to hug his son, but doesn't want to embarrass him.

Jed: Here, son, shake! Congratulations! You hear that, Gegg? Vrian's a Gen now, too.

Vrian gives his father's hand a hearty shake.

Gegg: That's marvelous news!

Gegg shakes hands with Vrian, as well.

Gegg notes that Vrian still looks kind of scrawny and childlike.

Gegg: You're sure? He's still pretty young to be a man, Jed.

Jed: The Simes can tell, Gegg, the Simes can tell. Maybe all of us turned Gen at Vrian's age and never knew it.

Jed remembers his father shooting his sister, and how he spent three years waiting for the same thing to happen to him.

Jed: Gegg, you bring them kids of yours by, if you got any sense.

Gegg: Huh. I was going to talk to my missus about it, but the way she was carrying on about your boarder, I didn't think she'd go for it.

Jed: Well, you can take 'em to the Ford next you go in, I guess.

Gegg is starting to consider that less of an absolute barrier to his bringing the kids by, anyway.

Gegg is struck by a sudden thought.

Gegg: What sort of payment does the Sime want? And what kind of coin does he want to be paid in? I could manage a little cash, but if he wants...something else, well, I don't know.

Jed: He won't charge you anything. When I asked him to check out my boys he just said he was at my service.

Gegg: Huh. Guess he doesn't know the value of what he offers.

Jed: He told me about Bart even before I brought up the subject of donating. I don't think he needs to nickel and dime about things like that.

Gegg: He's rich, huh? What's his family do, anyway?

Jed: Gegg, if a blind man asked you what color his shirt was, would you charge him for an answer?

Gegg: Well, no, but you're not blind, or a cripple.

Jed: I can't tell if my own boys are Gens, but he can just by looking at them. Cripes, I suppose even Magit could tell you now.

Jed: She's okay now, is she Vrian?

Vrian: She's sleeping, Hajene said. He said she could use the rest, so he and Gerrhonot are having their tea in the kitchen.

Jed: And your mother's okay with that, or is that why she wants me home? I better get going anyway, before she accuses me of teaching you bad habits like hanging around this saloon.

Vrian: Don't worry, Ma's taking it pretty well. Or maybe she just doesn't want to look bad in front of Virla.

Jed: Virla's there too? How's she taking it?

Vrian: It's kind of hard to tell. She looks a bit shell-shocked.

Jed: I better get back. Gegg, you tell Henree when he gets back from fueling up those guys in the corner, that his granddaughter's okay, and his daughter's over at my place, okay?

Gegg: Sure, Jed.

Jed: C'mon, Vrian.

Jed heads for the door, walking quite normally, despite all the beer.

Vrian follows his father out of the saloon.

Jed: Vrian, I am so glad to hear you've established. Did you get to tell your Ma?

Vrian: No, she was busy with Virla. She just told me to get you.

Jed: Yeah, wouldn't be good to let Virla know right now. Your Ma is going to be real happy, too.

Vrian: You know, Dad, it's giving me a whole new way of looking at things, to know I'm a Gen at last.

Jed: Something I want you to know. Your Ma and I decided that I'd take you to Ford if we thought you were turning Sime.

Vrian looks at Jed in surprise.

Vrian: You know, earlier Bart said the same thing. That he'd try to get me to Ford, if I turned Sime.

Jed smiles and puts his arm around Vrian's narrow shoulders.

Vrian: I guess he's changed a bit, too, knowing he's grown.

Jed: Your Ma and I have two good sons, that's for sure. So how has your thinking changed?

Vrian: Well...if I'm a man, now, it means I've got to be responsible for doing my share, right? Not be a freeloader.

Jed: You only have to do as much as you can. You still have some growing to do.

Vrian: Well, there's one thing I can do. Or I will be able to do, in a few weeks. And I'm not sure I can.

Vrian looks troubled. He has, after all, been raised on a standard of manliness that includes total fearlessness and complete lack of consideration for his own feelings.

Jed: You're thinking about donating, eh?

Vrian: Yeah. I really ought to. We need the money, even with what you and Bart will be making. And Ma can't.

Jed: But you don't know if you're up to it?

Vrian: I want to be up to it. But I don't know.

Jed: Look, Vrian, you're a man now, so I can talk to you man to man, right?

Vrian: Yeah, Dad. I guess so.

Vrian braces himself for a lecture on courage and manliness.

Jed: Well, being a man means being able to admit your mistakes. I made a real big mistake when I got your mother to think she had to donate when she wasn't ready to. Anybody who doesn't learn from his mistakes is a fool, and I'm no fool.

Jed: I didn't try to donate until I was almost three times your age. And Bart is three years older than you are. Hell if I'm gonna make you feel you've got to donate before you feel ready to.

Vrian: That's all true, Dad. And I know you won't pressure me. But that doesn't change whether I ought to do it, now that I'm a man.

Vrian isn't interested in the "you're too young" argument, even if it is true.

Vrian: I mean, Ma's older than Bart, so it isn't just age, right?

Jed: You weren't there when your brother donated. Hajene asked him whether he really wanted to donate, or whether he just thought he ought to. I think if he thought Bart was just doing it because he thought he ought to, he wouldn't have agreed to do it.

Vrian hadn't yet considered the possibility that he might have to talk the channel into taking the donation, as well as himself into giving it.

Jed: So it's up to the channel too. You saw how bad the guy looked after what happened to your Ma.

Vrian: Yeah.

Jed: Your Ma fooled him, talked him into doing something he regretted. And they both suffered for it.

Vrian: And that's one more responsibility: what if I think I'm ready, and I'm not?

Jed stops and turns to his son.

Jed: Vrian, I won't pressure you, and neither will Bart nor your Ma. I don't want you to pressure yourself either. I don't want you to donate until you can look me in the eye and tell me that you really want to do it of your own will, and not because you think you ought to.

Vrian: But that's just it. How can I tell? And how can I be sure that I won't change my mind when the Sime has a grip on me, like Ma did? She didn't know.

Jed: First, you got to give yourself time to get used to the idea. Things are moving real fast right now, changing real fast. Do you think that last week I would have imagined that my kids would have turned Gen, and we'd have let a Sime suck out our selyn, and had a changeover going on in your bedroom by now?

Vrian: Well, no.

Jed: You come to the Ford with us, meet the channel, maybe watch us donate. As often as you like. When you can honestly say to yourself that you'd donate even if you didn't get paid for it, and nobody but the channel knew you'd done it, then maybe you're ready.

Vrian is enough his mother's son to realize that Jed himself was far from ready to donate, by his own definition.

Jed: You're a Gen, but here you're still a child, and you can't donate without my permission. And you don't get my permission until you can say that to yourself, and look me in the eye and say that to me.

Vrian: What's the channel at Ford like, anyway?

Vrian is a little relieved at the possibility of a parental veto, even though it also denies his new-found adulthood.

Jed: I've got no idea. We'll find out. And if we don't think he's trustworthy like our Sime, I don't know if me or Bart are going to give him our selyn either.

Vrian: How'll you know?

Jed: I'll look him in the eye, Vrian. Don't you think your old Dad is a judge of character?

Vrian: Well, mostly. But that's the kind of thing you want to be very, very sure of. And it's not just character. It's skill, as well. There's got to be channels that are better than others.

Jed: How do you feel about talking to our Sime? Maybe he can answer some of these questions for you from his point of view.

Vrian: I did, some.

Jed: Yeah?

Vrian: That was when he told me I was Gen. And that it'll take a while for me to make enough selyn to be worth taking.

Jed: Uh-huh.

Vrian is of two minds as to whether that's a good thing: he doesn't have to face a decision right away, but on the other hand, he has to wait.

Vrian: He'll be gone by then, won't he? I wish...well, it'd probably be easier with a Sime I know.

Jed: Well, if you come into the Ford with us a few times, you'll get to know the channel there. But I think it would be a good thing for you to talk things over with our Sime.

Vrian gets a thoughtful look.

Jed: I know you're having a hard time with this. It's kind of a first taste of what a man runs into time after time. Hard decisions, that's a man's life.

Vrian really isn't looking forward to that, although it makes him feel very grown up.

Vrian: It's not just the money, you know. I've been thinking. Hajene couldn't have helped Magit if you and Bart, and Ma, hadn't have given him your selyn to do it with. I mean, Simes take from Gens because they can't make the stuff themselves, right?

Jed: That's a good thought. You're right.

Vrian: The Tecton's all about keeping Simes from killing Gens, right?

Jed: I guess so.

Vrian: But they can't do it, if enough Gens don't give selyn, right?

Jed hadn't really thought out where the selyn went until Seruffin mentioned it to Bart, and it hadn't occurred to him that his selyn would be given to Magit.

Jed: True.

Vrian: That means the whole First Contract depends on Gens doing their part. All of them who can, anyway.

Jed: Well, I don't think a few out-T Gens make much difference overall. There are a lot of Gens in Sime Territory, too, and Gerrhonot says they all donate. But if there weren't enough, we'd be back where we were before the Unity War.

Vrian: I don't think that the Gens in Sime Territory can be enough, Dad. Or the Tecton wouldn't be putting Sime Centers in towns like Ford, just in hopes of getting a little more.

Jed: Well, I think they're doing it to try to save all those kids we shoot every year, too. To them, those kids are still people when they turn Sime, and I'm sure it looks like murder to them. As bad as Simes killing Gens looks to us.

Vrian: Well, yeah. But still. Look at Hajene. Ma fooled him, true enough, but he had to have known that she was nervous. For that matter, he probably knew you were, too. He doesn't strike me as the type to take unnecessary risks. Which means that he felt getting your selyn was worth the risk that you'd panic, the way Ma did.

Jed: You've got a point there. And you've got another good point, about what they do with the selyn they collect. How often does a man get a chance to know he's helped save a life?

Vrian: It's more than that, Dad. If they need it that bad, isn't it my responsibility to donate, so they'll have it? Even if I am scared?

Jed wonders where his son got this exaggerated sense of duty.

Jed: Vrian, I'm real proud of you, that you're thinking all this through, all the implications. You're thinking about your responsibilities to people you'll never meet, and that's something few people do. Your grandfather was like that, and that's why he went to war.

Jed figures that the pay a soldier gets had a fair bit to do with it. The Mullins farm wasn't any more productive in those days than now, and the pulp mill hadn't been built when he and his sister were young.

Vrian: He was there at the first Faith Day, wasn't he?

Jed: Well, he wasn't in the battle, but he was there. Like I told you, he'd busted his leg.

Vrian: Did he wonder if he ought to donate? Or what it'd be like?

Jed: Well, they didn't give them soldiers any choice. I don't really know what he thought or felt, all I know is the story he told me. He said they lined them all up, and the channels went down the ranks, taking from every man. He said he was real nervous at first, but he had to stay out there in the cold, and wait and wait for his turn.

Vrian: So if he'd had a choice, he wouldn't have done it?

Jed: I don't know. I know things were real bad then. They didn't have any food, and the Simes... well most of the Simes those days were experienced killers, they'd kill a Gen every month.

Vrian shudders.

Jed: So he knew what would happen if they didn't have selyn -- he'd fought killer Simes. He'd seen them kill. And he knew that it would give him some protection from them to donate.

Vrian: It must've been bad, fighting with allies who'd just as soon turn on you.

Jed: He was ordered to donate, but he knew it was his duty as a man, to save lives. The lives of those killer Simes, and the lives of the Gens they'd kill if they didn't get the selyn from the channels.

Jed: Those were terrible times, but your grandfather was a real good man. It was men like him that made the times we've got now. In his time, the Simes used to raid. Kill as many as they could and haul the rest back to Simeland to be killed too. Nobody knows how many they raised up in Simeland, just to kill.

Vrian: It hasn't changed, not really. Not in essence. The Simes still need selyn, it's just the way they take it that's different.

Jed: It sure has changed.

Jed: Look, we sold that steer and them pigs, right? Instead, somebody could have murdered us and burned the house and stole them animals. Would that be the same thing?

Vrian: No. But, Dad. What do you think would happen, if there weren't enough Gens who were willing to give selyn?

Jed: I think some terrible times could come back, but it's not likely. You talk to our Sime about it. I think he's old enough that he can remember the times before Unity. He was probably a kid then, but maybe he can tell you.

Jed: But the Simes have sense too - why do you think they pay so much for selyn?

Vrian: How else would they get people to give it? I mean, some might, just because they want to help out, but not enough.

Jed: Right, so they pay for it. And they pay enough that enough people will do it. If they weren't getting enough, they'd have to pay more, to tempt more people to do it. If I could make more money raising pigs, I'd raise more pigs, wouldn't I?

Vrian: Well, yeah.

Jed: If I could have got more money some place else than that friggin pulp mill, I'd go work there.

Vrian: Even if it meant leaving the farm?

Vrian is suddenly worried.

Jed: Well, no, not if I didn't have to. I could get more money in the city, but I couldn't raise our food like I can here. And I'd have to pay rent. So we're better off here.

Vrian is ~~ relieved ~~

Jed: Especially now. Even if I can't get more work for a while, I can sell my selyn crop to the Simes, and do a good deed for the world and for Unity, and get good money, too.

Vrian wishes he was as confident that he could do the same. He was, after all, raised on the idea that keeping the farm going was the first priority for the family.

Vrian: A man ought to be able to do what's right, right? Otherwise, he's no man at all.

Jed is getting a bit frustrated trying to figure out what to say that will let Vrian feel good about himself whether he ever manages to donate or not.

Jed: Not everybody can do everything. It would be great if I could make the kind of money Henree makes, or Virla's husband before he died, or the lawyer, or some of the farmers around here with lots of good land. But all I can do is my best. Well, I can try to do my best, I don't always manage it.

Vrian: It's all so confusing.

Jed: It sure is. And you got plenty of time to think about it, too. If that Sime hadn't shown up on our doorstep you'd have had another four years to think about being grown up. So you take as much time as you want to figure things out. Your brother's doing the same thing too, I bet.

Vrian: Another four years to worry about turning Sime, you mean.

Jed: You're lucky, you won't have to worry about that. But I mean four years to think about growing up and taking on a man's responsibilities.

Vrian, like most kids his age, is impatient to grow up, in essence as well as fact.

Vrian: Dad, what would have happened if Grandfather had been like Ma?

Jed: I don't know. I suppose he might have hurt one of them channels pretty bad, maybe worse than our Sime got hurt.

Vrian: He didn't look hurt. He looked guilty.

Jed: It's his job, his life, to help people. To protect Gens by giving selyn to Simes. And here he made a bad decision and hurt a Gen. How do you suppose he felt? Don't you suppose he was hurt inside?

Vrian: Ma was the one who was hurt. Although I think maybe that was easier than what the Sime felt.

Vrian has enough of a conscience to understand how unpleasant guilt can be.

Jed: Well, there's no way to know. But if you want to donate to help Simes, you think about how you could hurt a Sime by trying if you're not ready.

Jed is getting a bit cranky and impatient as the beer starts to wear off.

Jed: You're a good boy, a good young man now, you want to do the right thing, and I'm proud of you for it.

Vrian might be technically an adult now, but he's young enough to soak up parental pride.

Jed: But you don't have to make all your decisions right now. You've got plenty of time to think things through carefully.

Vrian: Are you really, Dad?

Jed stops again and faces Vrian, putting his hands on his shoulders.

Jed: I'm proud of you. You've turned out better than I had any right to expect. I'm proud of you and your brother and your Ma is too. You're both fine young men and I just can't tell you how glad I am that you're both Gens.

Vrian's thin chest expands against his patched, second-hand flannel shirt.

Jed: If I'd had to shoot one of you I'd have shot myself next.

Jed hugs his son tightly, out in the cold and dark where there's nobody to be embarrassed in front of.

Vrian hugs back, glad of the darkness. He isn't quite ready to leave all of his childhood behind, after all.

Jed: I love you both and I can't tell you how glad I am that you'll both live.

Vrian wonders if Virla will feel the same way about Magit, or whether she'll end up wishing that her daughter was really dead, after all, instead of impossibly far away.

Vrian: I love you too, Dad.

Jed: Good, I'm glad.

Jed: Oh, Vrian, your Ma is going to be so happy, so relieved, when you tell her you're a Gen too. I hope by the time you and Bart have kids, and they get to be of that age, you two won't have to go through what we did, watching you and waiting, and hoping and dreading.

Jed finds himself crying, and tries to stop.

Vrian: To do that....there'd have to be a Sime Center here in Gumgeeville.

Jed: Or a better road to the Ford!

Vrian chuckles.

Vrian: Now, that might be possible.

Jed: Or maybe you'll have some faster horses.

Vrian: Could hardly be slower, now, could they?

Jed: Well, he's a plow horse, not a race horse.

Vrian: Yeah. Can't blame him if he's not a runner, now, can we?

Jed: He's a good horse, a willing worker. Just like us, he can't be good at everything. I think it's time to give him a little oats every night, get him in shape for spring planting. Gotta be a thaw soon.

Vrian: Oats are expensive, Dad.

Vrian keeps coming to the same conclusion: the family needs the money he'd make by donating.

Jed: The laborer is worthy of his hire, and his hire is in oats. We still got some from last year, should last us through planting. Then he'll be eating all that fresh grass and shitting like a goose. He won't need as much grain then, and the winter wheat will be ready to cut.

Vrian: Got a ways to go before that happens, Dad. Snow's got to thaw first.

Jed: Hey, it's almost equinox, snow can't last. What do you think, should we expand the garden, maybe try to sell more truck crops? If we're going in to the Ford anyway, might as well sell at the market there.

Vrian: If we can afford good seed, it'd be worth it.

Jed: You want to take charge of some of that?

Vrian: Sure, Dad.

Jed: You think about what you'd like to raise, and we'll talk about it. Bart, too.

Vrian: Okay. It's time we started taking responsibility for some of the farm.

Jed: You two have been doing good work taking care of the animals. If we're expanding the garden, we'll have more stuff for pigs, so maybe we can raise some extras this year, sell some and eat some.

Vrian: Yeah.

Vrian is feeling very grown up, just now.

Jed: Maybe set a few more hens on eggs, raise up some pullets to sell, or expand the laying flock.

Jed is getting heavily into the kind of insane optimism every farmer needs to keep going.

Vrian: We'll have to see what Ma says.

Jed: We sure will. It's her farm too.

Vrian starts up the steps to the house.

Jed notices the sign on the door.

Vrian follows his father's gaze.

Jed: What the .... [laughs]. They're taking over, one farm at a time!

Vrian: We moved it out here, so Hajene could have his tea at the table. And so Magit could sleep.

Vrian is a bit ~~ defensive ~~

Jed gives his son a manly swat on the back, carefully adjusted to avoid knocking him over.

Jed: Well, let's go have our supper in Sime Territory then. I always wanted to travel!

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