Jed and Gerrhonot are sitting in the Gumgeeville saloon the afternoon after Magit's changeover and Virla's donation. Jed is making a beer last a long time, and Gerrhonot is drinking soft cider.
Gerrhonot is still kind of worried about Seruffin, but the channel had a fairly good night's sleep on the boys' bed, with Gerrhonot protecting him from Magit's nager on the floor.
Henree is having a slow afternoon, not unusual.
Gerrhonot had to practically be ordered out by Seruffin, who knows young Gens need exercise.
Gegg is one of the few regulars who is not nursing a hangover from the day before. He felt it necessary to stay at least partly sober, to keep his friend Jed out of trouble. Now he's dropped by the saloon to remedy that mistake.
Gegg's eyes widen as he sees Jed and Gerrhonot, and he brings his beer over.
Gegg: Jed! How'd it work out, yesterday? ~~ avid curiosity ~~
Jed: How did what work out? Magit's changeover? I told you that was okay before I left here last night.
Gegg: Yeah, but...do you really have two Simes living with you, now?
Gegg shakes his head in disbelief.
Jed: Once you got one, what difference does one more make?
Jed is awfully logical sometimes. It drives people crazy.
Gegg: You got a point, there. On the other hand, Magit isn't one of them channels.
Jed: No, but she's stuffed to the gills with Mullins family selyn. Good stuff that. Filling.
Gegg shakes his head again.
Gegg: How long is she going to stay?
Jed: Until the train can get through the pass. She'll go to the Ford with my boarders, and the people there will arrange for her to go in-T. She and her ma got all religious about the whole thing last night. It was kind of amusing in a bizarre sort of way.
Henree looks up sharply.
Henree: Virla visited you last night?
Jed: Yeah, Henree.
Henree: I was hoping to spare her the sight of her daughter as a Sime.
Jed: Well, it was her idea. She was real glad to see her too. Like a mother cat finding her one lost kitten, it was.
Henree: Virla has always been afraid of Simes. I wouldn't have thought she'd risk letting a Sime get within grabbing distance, not even her daughter.
Jed: Henree, people have been telling me all my life that you can never tell what a woman will do next. I always thought they were exaggerating.
Gegg hoots in appreciation.
Jed: Your daughter practically threw herself on that poor channel, demanding he take her selyn for her daughter.
Gerrhonot wouldn't have described it quite that way, but it's not far off.
Henree drops the mug he's polishing, and it shatters on the floor.
Jed smiles and sips his beer.
Gegg: Did she really, Jed?
Jed: She did. She didn't even want money for it. She said to put it to Magit's credit in Simeland.
Henree struggles to find the right word.
Henree: I'd never have dreamed that Virla would do such a thing.
Jed: Me neither.
Gegg: It's downright unnatural.
Gegg looks at Gerrhonot accusingly.
Gegg: What is your Sime doing to people, anyway?
Gerrhonot: Um. He took some donations. And he served Magit First Transfer.
Gegg already knew that.
Gegg: And just how is he talking people into letting him do that to them?
Gerrhonot: Um, he isn't.
Gerrhonot looks at Jed.
Jed sips his beer.
Gegg: He's doing something. Everyone who spends any time near him ends up in his clutches. And none of 'em have been Simelovers, in that way, not even Jed here, really. So what's he doing to them?
Gerrhonot: Well, everybody asked him to do it. He even tried to talk Bart out of it. I mean, we didn't expect to do any functionals here, we just got stuck here when the train stopped.
Gegg: Why'd they ask? Jed's crazy; I'd believe he would do it just on a dare. But his wife's never expressed any desire to get close to a Sime. Nor has Virla.
Gerrhonot: Um, Mr. Mullins wanted to make some money, and so did his wife and Bart. Miz Virla wanted to get lowfield so she could be with her daughter.
Gegg: So how come they all suddenly decided to resort to something they never thought of doing before, the instant your Sime got near?
Gerrhonot: Um. I don't know, except maybe they never met a channel before?
Gegg: And what's there about a channel that would convince people to do a thing like that?
Jed continues to sip his beer and listen. Entertainment is scarce in winter.
Gerrhonot: Well, they could see that Hajene Seruffin is a good man, not somebody to be scared of.
Henree: He looks plenty scary to me.
Gerrhonot: He looks scary to you? ~~ amazed ~~~
Henree: Lean and hungry.
Henree was too upset to recognize Seruffin's "hunger" as worry and discomfort from the retainers.
Gerrhonot: Oh, most Simes look skinny compared to Gens. He gets enough to eat. I try to make sure of that.
Gegg: Well, he was wearing those thingamies. They're supposed to make Simes safe, aren't they?
Gerrhonot: They're awful. They really hurt him, especially in the cold.
Henree is more concerned with keeping Simes safe, than keeping them comfortable.
Henree: Gegg's got a point. If it was just Jed, that would be one thing. But everybody who's spent time around that Sime has ended up in his clutches. That can't just be a coincidence.
Henree looks at Gerrhonot in an ~~ accusatory ~~ fashion.
Gerrhonot: Well, after Mr. Mullins donated with his family watching, they could see it was okay, so they didn't have to be scared about it.
Henree: So they weren't as scared. That doesn't explain their sudden inspiration to do it themselves. Or my daughter's.
Gerrhonot: Well, it's good money. And your daughter really loves Magit.
Jed: It is good money.
Henree: Virla has plenty of money, and I love Magit, too. But I have no desire to let that Sime get me in his clutches. I expect Virla didn't, either, until she went into your house, Jed.
Henree: So, Mr. Simelover, what did your pet Sime do that changed her outlook so dramatically? And Maree Mullins's, as well?
Jed: Saved her daughter's friggin life? And my wife isn't too happy about me being out of work and us in debt, either.
Henree: Excuses. Rationalization for something else, or it wouldn't happen every time.
Jed refuses to take offense (yet) at the Simelover epithet.
Gerrhonot is getting pretty confused.
Gegg: It is odd.
Gerrhonot: Um. Don't worry, Mr. Gegg, Mr. Henree. We don't have enough money to pay for any more donations. We weren't planning on taking any.
Henree looks relieved.
Gegg doesn't, however.
Gegg: You mean, your channel wasn't even trying to get people to donate? And he...seduced them into doing it anyway?
Gerrhonot: It was Mr. Mullins' idea. He wanted to donate.
Gegg looks at Jed.
Gegg: Think about it, Jed. I know you admired your father, and all, but did you ever even halfway seriously consider going to Ford to give selyn to the channel there?
Jed: Well, I probably should have long since.
Gegg: Maybe, maybe not. That's not what I'm asking. Did you think of selling your selyn as a way to make money, before you were in the same room with that channel for a while?
Jed: Well, all I did was bring them a tray of food and talk to the guy for a couple minutes. I asked him could he tell if my boys were Gens yet, and he said he could. I said I'd ask the wife what she thought and that was it.
Jed: When I was talking to her I got the idea that I could sell my selyn. So after he checked out my boys, I asked him would he pay for it, and he said he would, so I did it.
Gegg: So it only took a few minutes of talking with him, and he'd seduced you? Without even trying, if his friend there is right?
Jed: What's this seduced crap? It was my idea.
Gegg: Was it? Are you sure of that? How come everybody who meets that Sime gets the same idea, then?
Jed: Gegg, what kind of crazy notion have you got hold of now?
Gegg: I don't know, not really. But I can't help wondering what would have happened if I'd brought my kids by. Would I have ended up in the Sime's clutches, too? And would I have thought that it was my own idea?
Jed: Maree did it because she said she would if I did, and she knew how much we needed the money. Bart did it to bring in money and to show he was as much of a man as his dad and granddad.
Jed: Why don't you bring your kids by and see how you feel, then? Gerrhonot says they can't afford to pay you anything, so you're safe from seduction.
Gegg looks at Gerrhonot.
Gegg: What about it? Is that Sime of yours good at attracting Gens? He sure seems to have you enthralled. And is it just him, or do other channels do the same thing?
Gerrhonot: Um. I was assigned to him, but I'm glad I was. I like working for him. He's really good to me. I've worked for other channels that I didn't like very much. But Hajene Seruffin is a really good man. He reminds me a lot of my grandpa.
Gegg: So how's he different from the other Simes?
Gerrhonot: Um. He's just a good man. Like some Gens are good people and some are jerks. Simes are the same way. And we're both First Order and a fairly good match, so we have nageric attraction, too.
Gerrhonot doesn't consider that most of that last was in Simelan, and not likely to be a very effective argument here.
Henree: You're both what?
Gerrhonot: First Order. He's a QN-1 and I'm a TN-1. We're both pretty high First Order too.
Gegg: What does that mean?
Gerrhonot: Um. The Tecton classifies Donors and channels by how, um, strong they are nagerically? How much they can do? And we're both the same level, pretty near the top, except for Farrises and Tigues, I guess. So we're a good match nagerically.
Henree scratches the bald spot that has developed on the top of his head, in recent years.
Henree: Does that mean the Sime's someone important, in Sime Territory?
Gerrhonot: Um, yeah, most high order channels do the important stuff. Hajene Seruffin was Assistant World Controller until last winter. Now he's Special Envoy of the World Controller. That's why we're going to New Washington. To do diplomatic stuff. I sometimes work with the World Controller. She's really nice.
Gegg's jaw drops.
Gerrhonot drinks some cider, which may be a bit more alcoholic than he thought.
Jed is somewhat boggled, but isn't sure how to react.
Gegg: Did you hear that, Henree? We got ourselves a gen-u-ine, high powered diplomat in town.
Jed: So I've had a high Simeland official and diplomat sleeping in my boys' bed for the past three nights, eating my wife's lousy cooking?
Jed: I guess it was a real honor to be seduced by him, eh, Gegg?
Gegg shakes his head in disbelief.
Gerrhonot realizes he probably shouldn't have been quite so forthcoming.
Gegg: Well, if he's a diplomat, no wonder he's so good at getting past peoples' defenses. I suppose he can't help it. Right? [to Gerrhonot]
Gerrhonot: Can't help what?
Gegg: Getting through peoples' defenses. Making them trust him, even if they've never trusted a Sime before in their lives.
Henree: I bet he's real good at that, isn't he?
Gerrhonot: Um. He's a channel. He'd never hurt anybody. You can trust him like you can trust a good doctor.
Henree: Trust him to do what? Get his tentacles on any Gen who comes near? Make them want to let him do it, too?
Gerrhonot: Um, it's not like he's trying to get people to donate. It's hard taking first donations from out-T Gens. We didn't think we'd be doing anything here but just waiting for the train.
Henree: What's so hard about it?
Henree may not have any intention of letting Seruffin get a tentacle on him, but the subject still has a certain fascination to him.
Gerrhonot: Um, people here don't know how to do it. And they don't know how to control their fields. I can protect Hajene pretty well, but when he's in functional mode, I can't protect him from the person he's working on as much, and they can hurt him.
Henree: What's to do? From what Jed's said, once your Sime gets a grip on you, there isn't much you can do about it. If there were, Maree wouldn't have had such a hard time.
Gerrhonot thinks about the whole situation. He's really sorry he got into this discussion. After all, Henree has demonstrated himself to be a lorsh, who was planning to let his own grandchild die of attrition in changeover.
Gerrhonot thinks he could tell them how to avoid hurting Simes, but they might just use it to hurt Simes on purpose.
Gerrhonot: It's hard to explain.
Henree sets another glass of the cider in front of Gerrhonot by way of a lubricant.
Gerrhonot is feeling flustered and worried that he's gotten himself and his channel into trouble by talking too much, something he thought he wasn't going to do again.
Gerrhonot: Oh, no thanks Mr. Henree. I think it has more alcohol in it than I expected. Could I have a glass of water?
Henree grunts, but supplies the requested drink.
Gegg waits for Gerrhonot to 'fess up.
Gegg has been seriously debating bringing his kids by, in spite of his wife's opposition, but he wants to get this seduction and donation thing straight, first.
Gegg: Go on, tell us.
Gerrhonot: Um, well, in-T the Gens aren't afraid of the Simes, and they all donate from the time they establish, so it's routine for them and for the channels. But here most people are afraid of Simes, and they don't know what to expect so they're nervous.
Gegg: Or scared silly, like Jed here?
Gegg nudges Jed in the ribs.
Gerrhonot looks at Jed.
Gerrhonot: I don't think he was real scared, but he didn't know what it was going to be like, so he was nervous. He just stayed as calm as he could, and it worked out okay.
Jed: You're hearing it from an expert, Gegg.
Jed has another sip of beer.
Gegg rolls his eyes at Jed.
Gerrhonot: Um, what do you want to know, Mr. Gegg?
Henree: I don't see what difference it should make. It's not as if a Gen can get away, once a Sime gets ahold of him.
Gerrhonot: Well, wouldn't you feel bad if you scared somebody?
Gegg: Yeah, but you made it sound more serious than that.
Gerrhonot: It hurts the channel if the Gen is afraid.
Gegg: Hurts him? How?
Gerrhonot: Because he zlins the Gen's fear.
Henree: I'd heard Simes can smell fear in a Gen a mile off, but if it hurts them, why do they come running?
Gerrhonot: Um, junct Simes are like that. But we don't have them any more. It's like an addiction for them. Like Ralf and that other guy yesterday. They drink too much and the alcohol is bad for them but they keep coming back.
Gerrhonot: But if you're not addicted you don't want to drink that much, or paint thinner or whatever they were drinking. If you drank like that it would hurt you.
Henree looks insulted, out of habit, at the slur on his offerings.
Gerrhonot: I mean somebody like Mr. Mullins who just drinks some beer would get real sick if he drank paint thinner, right?
Gegg: So is that why channels are different? They get hurt when Gens are afraid? And if it hurts them, why does your Sime keep doing it?
Gerrhonot: Well, in-T, the Gens aren't afraid, so it doesn't hurt him.
Gegg: But here, they are. And he's been doing it, anyway.
Gerrhonot: Well, he's supposed to take donations from Gens who ask him to, and serve any Simes who need it. It's his Tecton oath, as a channel. He's also sworn to heal people if they ask him for help.
Gegg: They have to do that? Even if they don't want to?
Gerrhonot: Yes. It's their duty, because they changed over as channels.
Henree: The Tecton must really be desperate for selyn, then. Every bit as much as the old killer Simes were desperate for captives to kill.
Gerrhonot: I guess things were more disorganized back at the time they invented the oath.
Henree: They don't need it as much, these days?
Gerrhonot: There's enough selyn in-T, pretty much, but more never hurts. We were at a big construction project before and they wanted lots of extra so the Simes could augment and get the work done faster.
Henree: Huh. A handy talent.
Gerrhonot: Simes really like augmenting. They'd do it more, just for pleasure, if they could get the extra selyn.
Gegg: Is that why they make channels take it, even if it hurts them?
Gerrhonot: Well, there aren't that many channels out-T, and I guess most of the donations they take are from people who really want to donate, or who have some experience at it. It's too hard to move the selyn in-T, so they really only need enough to serve changeovers, like Magit.
Gegg thinks for a moment.
Gegg: I guess it's an investment in the future, then? The Tecton figures a Gen who's afraid will still come back for more, and be less afraid?
Gerrhonot: The Sime Centers out-T are mostly because of the First Contract. There aren't enough channels to have very many of them, but they can save some of the kids who change over, and keep them from killing.
Gerrhonot: And if people donate, they can see that it doesn't hurt and they can believe that things are okay in-T for both Simes and Gens. And they can meet Simes and see that they're just people like Gens are.
Henree is struck by a thought.
Henree: Do you mean that the Tecton is trying to recruit Gens to move into Sime Territory?
Gerrhonot: Just after Unity they were, but not now. They used to give people money to settle in-T, so there'd be more Gens around who knew how to live independently, to make a good example for kids establishing.
Gerrhonot: They could see that Gens were just like Simes, they could do all kinds of stuff. Before Unity, most Simes in-T didn't believe Gens were human, just like most Gens out-T didn't believe Simes were human.
Henree still doesn't, really. He views Simes as a horrifyingly dangerous combination of the superhuman and subhuman.
Gerrhonot: That's what Unity is about. Well, that's how my church sees it. Simes and Gens are both human.
Henree: Human, maybe. That doesn't mean Simes aren't dangerous.
Gerrhonot: Gens are dangerous too. They all have rifles, right?
Henree: Most do. But that just evens the odds a bit.
Gerrhonot: You people still have to shoot berserkers, but the Simes in-T don't raid any more.
Henree: It's a definite improvement.
Henree is quite willing to concede that much.
Gerrhonot: And like I said before, in-T there are no berserkers so Gens are safer than out-T.
Gegg isn't quite ready to concede this less-than-obvious point.
Gegg: What makes them so safe? Even if there aren't berserkers, any Sime can be provoked. Right?
Gerrhonot: I guess so. You could be provoked to shoot Mr. Henree or Mr. Mullins, but it isn't very likely is it?
Gerrhonot: Simes are really afraid that they could be provoked to kill, so they try not to get into situations like that, or run away if they do. And Gens are careful not to provoke Simes, too.
Gegg: How do they do that?
Gerrhonot: They learn to control their fields. It's not too hard to learn, but you have to have Simes around to tell you if you're doing it right.
Henree: Don't sound like it'd be much use, out here.
Henree is a little disappointed.
Henree: It'd sure be nice to be immune from Sime attack. I don't suppose you'd have any idea what that'd mean to us, here in Gumgeeville.
Gerrhonot: Well, the only Simes you have are kids who've just changed over, and they're in attrition, so they'll do anything for selyn. If you had a channel here, a Sime Center, the kids could go there and the channel could serve them and they wouldn't have to kill.
Henree: Sime Centers don't come for free, lad. The Tecton won't put one in, unless there are enough Gens in the area who are willing to give selyn, to make it worth their while.
Gerrhonot: You could take your kids to the Ford, if they trusted you to tell you they were in changeover early enough.
Gerrhonot: The Church of Unity used to put Gens who could serve transfer in out-T towns to save the kids in changeover, but they don't any more. That's how my uncle got First Transfer.
Gegg: Your uncle's a Sime?
Gerrhonot: Yeah. I stayed with him and my aunt for a couple of years in case I changed over. My sister is staying with them now.
Gerrhonot: I bet you guys could get a Sime Center here if you really wanted one, because you're on the rail line.
Jed returns from watering the snowdrifts.
Jed: Youse guys solved all the problems of the world yet?
Gegg: I dunno. Your friend here says we could maybe get a Sime Center in Gumgeeville, on account of the train station. He must have some of his Sime friend's talent, because it makes an odd kind of sense.
Henree nods, reluctantly.
Jed: What, you want some Sime in here seducing you with those sexy tentacles?
Henree: No! But...it'd be nice not to have to carry a gun all the time.
Jed: You want a Sime Center here, you get Virla to campaign for it.
Gegg: Just how many people would have to agree to support a Sime Center with selyn, to get the Tecton to put one in, anyway?
Gerrhonot: I don't know. You should talk to Hajene Seruffin.
Gegg: You must have some idea. Will just a few people do, or do they want a certain percentage?
Jed: What have you been telling these guys, Gerrhonot? Before I went out to piss, Gegg was willing to spend the next four years watching his kids, ready to shoot 'em, rather than let your Sime look at 'em, and now he wants a Sime Center here?
Gegg: I ain't said I want one. I'm just pickin' the man's brain about how they decide where to put 'em, that's all.
Gerrhonot wishes he had more brain to pick.
Jed: Well, why don't you come by, bring your kids, talk to the Sime, and see if you can resist that seduction whatchamacallit.
Jed shakes his head.
Jed: Gegg, I never thought you had such a crazy imagination.
Gegg: It's a fact, ain't it, that everyone who's spent time with the Sime has..er, suffered a change of heart where donating is concerned. Now, Gerrhonot here says it ain't deliberate, but I still like to know what I'm getting into.
Jed: Look, I told you what my family did and why. I told you what Virla did and why. We all had pretty simple practical reasons. Gerrhonot told you they don't have the cash to pay for any more selyn. We Mullinses have got it all. But you're still afraid that some spooky magic power is gonna make you lust for tentacles if you dare look at this poor guy.
Jed shakes his head again.
Jed: Where do you get these ideas? I always thought you were pretty level-headed.
Gegg: It's just not natural.
Jed: Well, according to Gerrhonot, in-T it is. When in Nome, do like the Nomen, eh?
Gegg: Huh. And I guess your house is all Sime Territory, these days? My eldest saw the sign on the front door.
Jed: Look, if you're worried about that, I'll put the sign on the bedroom door, and the Simes in the bedroom when you come over, so you won't have to enter Sime Territory and corrupt yourself, okay? I just can't believe what a big deal you're making of the whole thing.
Gegg: Aw, hell, Jed. I suppose if your missus can stand it, with the way she feels about Simes, I can stand it, too.
Gegg is wondering if he'll end up becoming a Noman, in spite of himself. He doesn't find the idea as upsetting as it seemed earlier, and that really unsettles him.
Jed's beer consumption starts talking.
Jed: And the rest of this friggin village. You'd think people would be lined up to find out whether they can stop being afraid of their kids, but no, they're all too friggin scared.
Gegg wonders what it would/will be like, to have a Sime's tentacles reaching for him.
Jed: My father wasn't afraid to go out and fight real killer Simes, and look at the rest of youse. Afraid to meet a Sime who's more cultured than the whole friggin town put together.
Gegg wonders if he could stand his ground, like Jed did, or whether his native caution would prove that he doesn't come from the Mullins's mold.
Gerrhonot is getting a bit worried at the way Jed is talking, and hopes Gegg won't take offense and start a fight, verbal or otherwise.
Gerrhonot: Um, Mr. Mullins, I'd like to get back. Do you want to come with me?
Jed: Yeah, sure. Couple of Simelovers like us, gotta stick together, right? You come by with your kids if you got the nerve, eh, Gegg? Sime might say boo and scare you to death.
Gerrhonot heads towards the door, hoping Jed will follow.
Gegg: Aw, go stick your head in a snow drift, Jed.
Jed follows Gerrhonot, not walking as straight as he usually does.
Gegg turns determinedly back to his beer, so that no one will see how uncertain he is.
Henree, who suspects, wonders whether Gegg will be the next person to fall into the Sime's clutches.