A Sec Pair At The Ford: Episode 1

Bibi is having a noon cup of trin with honey in her office at the Hannard's Ford Sime Center. She's the Controller of this little operation, although she's only a Second Order channel. She was selected for the job because of her resourcefulness and out-T origins.

Bibi changed over about 15 years ago, during a class trip to New Washington. Fortunately, the tour had included Embassy Row, so when she realized that night that she was in changeover, she was able to sneak out of the hotel and seek asylum at the Nivet embassy.

Bibi, in addition to her resourcefulness, familiarity with out-T Gen culture and channeling abilities, has a heart-shaped face framed by curling raven tresses, enormous moss-green eyes, honey-colored skin and a much more zaftig figure than most female Simes. She's not at all averse to using her physical appearance to enhance her image of harmlessness and helpfulness, disarming hostile or frightened Gens.

Nattin ambrov Frihill, in contrast, has no such natural advantages. He's a scrawny old man of sixty, with hair that looks perpetually unkempt even when freshly combed, and the ability to make even a freshly pressed dress uniform look rumpled. He is, in fact, frequently mistaken for an absent-minded professor and has some claim to the title, as he does have a reputation in some academic circles.

Nattin's area of study, fortunately for all at the Ford Sime Center, is out-Territory adjustments to the demands placed on it by the First Contract. He's anything but absent-minded in that respect, and views his current position as chief secretary, administrative assistant, and general problem solver as a prime opportunity for field work. He even has a few graduate students working under him, as part of the staff.

Nattin finds, in short, that his current position is very satisfying, even though he misses Frihill. He does enjoy being able to travel, however, without danger of being appropriated by some rich junct for a kill.

Bibi is glad that Nattin is working at her Center. Not only does she like him and find his conversation interesting, but the presence of an older male Gen seems to have helped the community feel more comfortable about the exotic presence of a Sime Center.

Nattin is old enough to think that most practicing channels are barely more than children, but at least Bibi is able to throw light on some of the more obscure Gen customs.

Nattin has been doing field work on the adaptations of the local population to the isolation and hardships of a late winter storm. He also took care of a few piddling errands, like collecting the Center's mail. He has been eagerly awaiting the latest edition of "Journal of Interterritorial Studies" for some time.

Nattin fortunately had already accomplished much of his planned survey of local gossi....er, oral history....before he reached the post office. He's quite ~~ upset ~~ by the time he returns to the Sime Center. He storms into Bibi's office with the mail, waving one magazine energetically.

Bibi looks up, ~~ startled ~~, although once she spots the magazine she realizes that it isn't a practical emergency.

Nattin: Look at this! It's a disgrace, the people who presume to represent the Tecton these days.

Bibi: Oh, dear. What have they done now?

Nattin: That Gaffix doesn't know a thing, and yet he presumes to criticize my conclusions. On what grounds, you may ask, on what grounds?

Bibi: On what grounds?

Nattin: He claims that I can't possibly have accurately observed the reactions of the Gens I interviewed, because I don't have a pair of tentacles! As if he, with his vaunted tentacles, could zlin anything coherent if it wrapped around his scrawny laterals.

Nattin is really quite ~~ offended ~~ at the slight.

Bibi: If you had tentacles you certainly wouldn't have gotten the same reactions!

Nattin: Precisely! And neither did Kilvib, which makes his entire argument spurious, as you can well imagine.

Nattin sinks into a chair, his indignation blunted by Bibi's apparent understanding.

Bibi: Would you like some trin, Nattin?

Nattin: Yes, thank you, my dear. It's been a tiring morning, and I'm an old man.

Bibi gets up to see if the mug on top of the file cabinet is clean. Fortunately, it is. She fills the mug and hands it to Nattin.

Bibi: Here, put some honey in it, too.

Bibi zlins Nattin unobtrusively. He seems fine, and rather invigorated by the opportunity to indulge in intellectual excitement.

Nattin does so, and the ritual successfully distracts him.

Nattin: Oh, there was some other mail for you.

Nattin shoves a small stack of items across Bibi's desk.

Nattin: Most of it looked pretty routine, but there was one item that caught my attention.

Bibi: Hmmm?

Nattin points to a cheap envelope stuffed with what appears to be several sheets of paper.

Bibi leafs through a number of advertisements for things she doesn't want or can't use, a political campaign flyer, and the local eight page newspaper.

Nattin: That's local stationary, made at the paper works in Gumgeeville, or I miss my guess.

Bibi: Gumgeeville... That backward hick town a few stops down the rail line?

Bibi opens the envelope addressed to Controller, Hannard's Ford Sime Center, without a street address or post office box number.

Nattin: Yes. At least, I don't know of any other place that would be so lost to good taste as to put a pink elk on stationary.

Bibi: Oh, my!

Seruffin's neat handwriting at the top of the page lists his current affiliation with the World Controller's office as the return address.

Bibi: It's from the Special Envoy of the World Controller. He must have gotten stuck in Gumgeeville when the train couldn't get through the pass.

Nattin: Special Envoy? What's one of those doing writing Ford? Has the World Controller's office finally taken my advice to heart?

Nattin's studies have included a certain amount of theorizing on proper approaches to enforcing Unity in Gen Territory, and he has firm opinions on strategy.

Bibi: Sounds like he's had quite an adventure... His Donor got them a rented room in a house... Shuven! He took donations from all the adult residents -- we've never had anybody in here from Gumgeeville, have we?

Nattin: Well, there was the couple last summer who had been told that we were the local agricultural extensions office.

Bibi: Wow, what a surprise they had!

Bibi snickers.

Nattin: It was quite interesting that the Ford locals would play such a trick on what they consider a pair of hicks.

Nattin, of course, knows what real civilization is like, and Ford ain't it.

Nattin: But no, we haven't had anyone from Gumgeeville who actually wanted to do business with us.

Bibi: I suppose so.... It looks like the poor man spent almost all his money on donation payments, which he hopes to recoup by dumping the selyn on me, if possible.

Nattin: Have you got the spare capacity?

Bibi: Well, if the train heading in-T gets here before he does, I can dump it on Marvin the Mule, who I assume has been having a similar delightful time stuck elsewhere up the line. Then I'll have space for it, I guess. I should have postponed those last few donations, but they were from out of town.

Nattin: Out-Territory, it's best to take the donations while they're available. Turning donors away sends the wrong message.

Bibi: The Envoy's Donor also rescued a child from a locked cellar, and the Envoy served her in First Transfer, so he's bringing her along too.

Nattin: A changeover? He saved a changeover in Gumgeeville, of all unlikely places? And they both were allowed to live afterwards? He must be a very unusual man.

Bibi: Well, he is a high level diplomat. I suppose he can talk his way out of anything. His Donor, too, most likely. After all, between the two of them, they talked their way into a house and stripped all the resident Gens in a day and a half...

Nattin: Huh. I don't suppose he'll be staying here for a while?

Nattin's nager is gleaming with ~~ anticipation ~~

Bibi: Well, the train schedules are so disrupted... maybe.

Nattin: I must have time to talk with him. You know how hard I've been trying to bring my findings to the attention of the Tecton.

Bibi: I bet they could stand to be in a Sime Territory larger than a single room, and away from mobs with rifles for a few days.

Nattin: Yes, and think of the information he can provide on the culture of an isolated Gen town! Why, you could probably write an entire thesis on the dynamics.

Bibi: His Donor, maybe. The poor channel must have spent the whole time stuck in one room.

Nattin wonders if he ought to suggest the Gumgeeville affair and its aftermath as a suitable topic to one of his students.

Nattin: Well, if his Donor did that much running about, then surely an extended rest is appropriate, is it not?

Nattin is almost ~~ pleading ~~

Bibi: Did you hear anything, while you were out, about when the train was coming through here headed to New Washington?

Nattin: The train? They finished clearing the tracks yesterday--that's why the mail finally came through. Normal service should resume tomorrow.

Bibi: I'll certainly invite them to stay here as long as they like, but I assume they're already late for important high level doings in the city.

Nattin: If they haven't missed it entirely.

Nattin rather hopes it's the latter, as that would provide less incentive for the guests to leave before they have been thoroughly interrogated.

Bibi: Do you want to meet them at the station with the cage wagon for the poor kid?

Nattin: I shall certainly go along. The reaction of the Ford residents should be quite enlightening.

Bibi: I wonder how they'll get her on the train without retainers.

Nattin: It's quite likely that the local Gens will be willing to expedite matters, if only to be rid of their unwelcome guests as quickly as possible.

Bibi: I guess I'll have to go too, for such a big shot. I hate wearing retainers in cold weather like this.

Nattin: Surely that isn't necessary. What if there is some emergency here while you are off playing official greeter?

Bibi figures Nattin wants to be absolutely sure of getting Seruffin and Donor to himself for thorough debriefing.

Nattin: You are the only channel hereabouts.

Bibi is a bit concerned that Nattin will take them the long way around and then some, and the channel's tentacles will freeze.

Nattin: You said this Hajene Seruffin actually talked some of the Gumgeeville Gens into donating?

Bibi: Three of them, it says here.

Nattin: In a day and a half?

Bibi: Oh, and the changeover's mother, the next day. That's four. Remarkable, eh?

Nattin: I'm looking forward to learning how he did it.

Bibi: You're right, I shouldn't spend half the day waiting at the station in case the train is late. You do it. But, please, Nattin, they'll be tired and frazzled and the channel will be miserable in retainers, so bring them back here so they can get settled in as soon as possible.

Nattin is glad that Bibi has decided to be reasonable, and not try to stand between an academic and his research.

Nattin: I will expedite matters as much as possible.

Bibi: I'm sure they'll be better able to provide you with good information once they've had a chance to eat and rest and especially once those shenned retainers are off.

Nattin: Yes. They do tend to make Simes a bit...er...irritable.

Bibi refrains from making analogies about how cold steel feels on the laterals for hour after hour.

Nattin is just a touch ~smug~ that he is exempt from this ordeal.

Bibi: They're only slightly modified from torture devices, Nattin. You know that.

Nattin: Yes. It's really quite interesting, how they have been adapted for political rather than military use.

Bibi: Well, in the cold they're not only painful, they could cause serious physical injury, so try to get Hajene Seruffin back here as fast as possible, okay?

Nattin: Very well, my dear. I doubt he'd be terribly informative until he feels safe, anyway. It must have been quite an ordeal, being trapped in Gen Territory with not even a Sime Center available.

Bibi: You're right. It would take any Sime a while to recover from Gumgeeville.

Nattin: Have you ever been there?

Bibi shivers as she imagines the ambient.

Bibi: No, but I have a vivid imagination. Something like here, but a lot worse, with no safe refuge like this nice Sime Center. Maybe something like the town I grew up in, like it was twenty years ago.

Nattin understands how important it is to have a safe refuge from mob violence. He also understands, probably better than Bibi, just how frail such a refuge can be. Nattin lived through more than one attack by juncts in his youth; some of his fellow Householders weren't so fortunate.

Bibi is thinking more of a place where one can take off one's shedoni-doomed retainers and relax with a nice cup of trin and people who aren't terrified or hostile to Simes.

Nattin: If this Hajene Seruffin was able to talk three of them into donating, they can't be as backward as all that. Unless--you don't suppose he was short of selyn, when the changeover was discovered? And had to exert...undue influence...to collect sufficient selyn? That happened in the Householdings, when new Gens were bought at the auctions, but it could cause unfavorable political reactions today.

Bibi: That would be awfully reckless. He could take a little from his Donor, if he had to. He wouldn't have been traveling without a reasonable amount for emergencies, anyway. It is a bit mysterious though. All three Gens in the house he was staying in....

Nattin: Something unusual must have happened.

Bibi: I'm pretty curious myself.

Nattin: I really must discover how the man did it. In Gumgeeville, of all places!

Bibi: You can interview the kid, too. She's probably the first changeover to survive there since they built the place.

Nattin: At that age, I doubt she appreciates just how fortunate she really is.

Bibi: Sounds like a pretty heroic rescue too. Locked in a cellar, waiting to die of attrition...

Nattin shudders.

Bibi: She must have figured she was going to die. Her grandfather tried to shoot her first.

Nattin: The lorshes.

Bibi: It is hard to forgive them when they had a channel in town. The rest of the time... Well, that's one thing we're here to prevent.

Nattin: Barbarians. Interesting to study, but really.

Bibi: They don't have a choice, Nattin.

Nattin comes from a long line of perverts, himself, and therefore feels himself quite civilized.

Nattin: There is always a choice. It may be difficult, or win you disapproval from your neighbors, but there is a choice.

Bibi: What, die and junct the kid?

Nattin: If one really wanted one's child to survive, yes, that is a choice.

Bibi: You know what happens to kids who kill in First Need. Damn few of them make it in-T, even now, after Unity. They get shot, and a lot of them stand still and let it happen.

Nattin: That, too, is a choice. Not one that's necessarily well-informed, but a choice nonetheless. There are other, less fatal ones as well, these days.

Bibi: Well, now that they've seen a non-junct Sime child of their own, maybe they'll think about better alternatives. I wonder whether we'll see any of those new donors in here next month.

Nattin: Perhaps this Hajene Seruffin will know. If so, if he's discovered a way to reliably win over out-Territory donors, it would be very valuable indeed.

Bibi: Imagine, a big shot like him, here in our little Sime Center. I've gotten used to having the biggest nager in farther than a Farris can zlin.

Nattin: This Seruffin may be one of those rare channels who have the Sectuib's gift for winning followers. It would explain his status, as well as his accomplishments.

Bibi: Ah, the Sectuib's gift. Does your Sectuib have it?

Bibi figures status in the Tecton depends more on proficiency rating and skill at political machinations than any Householding mystic powers.

Nattin: Of course. We wouldn't have survived, before Unity, without it.

Bibi, as a Second, has never aspired to Tecton status.

Bibi: Do you think you can recognize it when you .... uh, I almost said zlin it... see it?

Nattin: It sometimes requires a bit of time to see it, in someone from another House, but yes. You can usually tell pretty quickly if a channel is good at joining people together.

Bibi: Let me know if you spot anything. I'd like to learn to identify things like that.

Nattin: You don't find it by looking outward--you find it by looking inward. A channel who'd make a good Sectuib inspires trust in many different kinds of people. That was a critical skill, before Unity.

Bibi rather enjoys it when Nattin gets all Householding-mystical, especially when she doesn't have anything better to do than listen. She's fascinated by the changes Nattin has lived through.

Nattin: A House couldn't survive without taking in new members, and that meant dealing with Simes going through disjunction, and Gens who'd been captured by Raiders and sold at auction.

Bibi: You must have met some of those Gens. What was it like, winning them over?

Nattin shrugs.

Nattin: Well, by the time I met them, they were at least low field. Sectuib had to strip them before turning them loose in the House, of course.

Bibi shivers.

Bibi: Shuven, it's bad enough taking donations from scared volunteers here. Imagine... forcibly stripping an unwilling and terrified Gen....

Bibi shivers again and rubs her arms.

Nattin: Well, she did have a few advantages. Any Gen who survived to be sold at auction had courage, and some degree of self-control. Not in the fashion it's generally though of in Sime Territory, but real, nonetheless. And Sectuib also had a, um, captive audience for her efforts. The Gens were locked up, after all, and she had unlimited time to wait for them to accept her presence.

Bibi: Did some of the Gen members talk to them too?

Nattin: Only her Donor. She was present, anyway, to handle the fields. But Sectuib did most of the talking. Eventually, most of them realized that she didn't have to bore them to death with propaganda, if all she intended to do was kill them.

Bibi smiles.

Bibi: So they donated just so they didn't have to keep hearing it? Maybe that's Seruffin's tactic -- suitable for a high level politician, don't you think?

Nattin: Perhaps. Perhaps some of the Gens actually believed what they were told. Either way, most of them were as suspicious of other Simes as ever, during their first weeks at Frihill.

Bibi: I can understand that. They must have seen horrors, from the time they were captured, until they arrived at Frihill.

Nattin: Yes. Ironically, that usually worked to bind them closer to Sectuib: a Sime, with the power that implied, who would protect Gens. A powerful combination, don't you think?

Nattin is ~~ amused ~~

Nattin: Of course, we didn't let them know exactly how vulnerable Simes are, until they were comfortable with the idea of living with them.

Bibi: Did any of them come back out-T after Unity, either permanently or to visit?

Nattin: A few. Most, though, had lost their families in the same raids that resulted in their capture. The Raiders were efficient.

Bibi: The town I grew up in was too far from the border to ever have raids. But us kids played Raiders and Gens nonetheless. You know what? I always wanted to play the heroic Gen who murdered the Raiders and rescued the other Gens!

Nattin: There were a few who did that. Most of them were actually rogue Donors.

Bibi: Those Giant Killer Gen legends in-T?

Nattin: Yes, some of them. Although many others were simply Householding Gens defending themselves.

Bibi: What did they teach you about defending yourself in those days, Nattin?

Nattin: I learned basic nageric control in First Year. A bit more extensive than what's common nowadays. And a few simple self-defense techniques, as well. Nothing like the Dar use, of course, but enough that I wasn't totally helpless when the juncts came over the walls.

Bibi: What a different world. By the time I changed over, there were no more juncts, no more Pens, no more auctions, no more raids. It was all history book stuff by then.

Bibi looks at Nattin with ~~ admiration ~~~

Nattin: I much prefer it as a history, and not entirely because of my fondness for the subject. Adventure stories are more entertaining to read, than to live.

Bibi: Now we just have to stop the Kill and the murders here out-T. I don't think I'll live to see the end of that.

Nattin: Probably not. On the other hand, I would never have dreamed that I'd see the end of junct society, and the Pens, in my lifetime. So one never knows.

Bibi: I guess all we can do is our bit. Try to get people to bring us their kids in changeover. Try to get people to believe that Simes are as human as Gens. And fill out the forms correctly and on time!

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