Seruffin looks patiently out the train window at the snowdrifts.
Seruffin: I think we're almost there, if Jed's map is at all accurate.
Gerrhonot: Oh, good.
Seruffin knows exactly where they are, of course, but he isn't sure that Ford is exactly where it should be, according to the map.
Seruffin: Magit, how are you doing? A train's motion can be unsettling, at first.
Magit: Umm. Well. I guess I'm all right, Hajene. I never was on the train before, even as a, as a child.
Seruffin: Well, then, this is an adventure for you. I admit, I've spent so much time on trains, wagons, and horses, traveling from place to place, that I often forget to look around myself and enjoy the scenery. It's refreshing to have your perspective.
Seruffin smiles graciously.
Magit: Frankly, Hajene, I wish I had yours. It's a good thing Simes don't eat lunch, isn't it!
Seruffin: Are you feeling a little queasy?
Gerrhonot hopes he'll get a good lunch at the Ford Sime Center.
Seruffin offers a steady, ~~ concerned ~~ field for Magit to lean on.
Gerrhonot hopes whoever cooks there is better at it than Ma Mullins.
Magit: Umm, yes.
Seruffin: A lot of Simes do, at first: too many nagers, moving too rapidly to sort out easily.
Magit: It's not just that. It's sort of like, ummm, rolling down a hill, you know, the way kids do, and then you realize you are rolling too fast? Or like sledding with no brakes.
Seruffin: Yes. Sometimes it helps if you focus your attention on just one person.
Magit tries to pay close attention to Gerrhonot's field.
Seruffin signals to Gerrhonot to support Magit.
Seruffin: That's right.
Gerrhonot: ~~ calm ~~ supportive ~~ steady ~~~
Gerrhonot smiles at Magit.
Magit smiles back weakly.
Seruffin: Have you ever been to Ford before, Magit?
Magit: Once, years ago. When the ice-cream shop opened, Mom took me. ~~ yummmm ~~
Gerrhonot: I like ice cream too. What flavor do you like best?
Magit: Blueberry, definitely.
Gerrhonot: Blueberry's good. I like peach, and maple too.
Seruffin: I've always been partial to peppermint, myself.
Gerrhonot stores that item of information away in case he ever has a chance to use it.
Magit: We don't have peaches around here, I don't think.
Gerrhonot: Something new for you to try this summer in-T, then.
Seruffin's attention shifts to down the track.
Magit: I guess strawberry is about my second favorite.
Seruffin: Magit, I'm afraid you're going to have to give up strawberries. They're poisonous to Simes.
Magit: ~~ shock ~~ Noooo. You're kidding.
Seruffin: I'm afraid I'm not kidding. Eating strawberries would make you very sick, if you survived at all.
Magit: Oh dear. ~~ regret hope ~~ Are there other fruits that only Simes can eat?
Seruffin: Yes, and some mushrooms, as well. Don't worry. There will be plenty of things that you can eat, and a lot of them are quite tasty.
Gerrhonot: There's lots of good stuff we get in Nivet that grows in Gulf, where it's warm. Tangerines, and figs, and pomegranates.
Seruffin: Magit, do you zlin that nageric disturbance up ahead? That must be Ford.
Magit: You mean that thing that looks like the bottom of a bathtub draining out water?
Seruffin: Er....well, I suppose it does, at that.
Seruffin isn't used to trying to describe nageric phenomena in English.
Seruffin: Listen, there's the whistle.
Gerrhonot braces as the train slows.
Seruffin zlins Magit to see if she is apprehensive about leaving their locked compartment, and facing her neighbors outside.
Magit zlins eager for a new adventure (replete teenager mode)
Seruffin is glad, in a way, that Magit hasn't realized just how precarious her survival still is.
Gerrhonot gets up and starts taking the suitcases off the rack.
Seruffin: Gerrhonot, if my note got through, there should be someone meeting us from the Sime Center. Would you please investigate for us?
Gerrhonot: Sure, Hajene.
Seruffin: If they aren't there, we're probably better off staying on the train, rather than trying to walk through Ford in search of the Sime Center.
Magit thinks "And make it snappy" but decides not to say it. She doesn't want to be left on the train.
Seruffin: Come, Magit. Help me get our luggage organized.
Gerrhonot looks out the window as the train slows, then heads for the exit.
Magit picks up the luggage (hands only) and follows Gerrhonot.
Seruffin reaches to restrain Magit, before she can leave.
Seruffin: We'll wait until Gerrhonot returns to get off the train, Magit.
Magit: Oh. Yeah.
Magit looks at her tentacles and retracts them.
Magit: I guess that's right.
Seruffin: You won't be so restricted, when you reach Sime Territory, Magit.
Gerrhonot is standing at the steps when the train stops, and hops off onto the platform.
Nattin is sitting on the front seat of a cage wagon, frowning at the flow of people getting onto and off of the train.
Gerrhonot looks around. He's wearing a Tecton uniform and hopes the people from the Sime Center will see it.
Nattin: Where are they? If I've given up working on my monograph for nothing, I will have words with Bibi, I assure you.
Driver zlins the huge nager get off the train and yells "Over here, Sosu!"
Nattin follows his student's gaze, and grunts in semi-satisfaction.
Nattin: Better move the wagon closer. We don't want an incident. We'd never be able to move freely around the town, if that happened.
Gerrhonot waves to the driver, and heads back onto the train as soon as he sees that he's been acknowledged. He reenters the compartment.
Magit: There's a black spot about ten meters away, outside the train. Is that another Sime?
Gerrhonot: They're here, Hajene. They're waiting just past the platform.
Gerrhonot picks up a couple of suitcases.
Magit does the same.
Seruffin: Keep your tentacles retracted, Magit. And stay with us.
Gerrhonot: ~~~ calm ~~~ safe ~~~ serious ~~~
Seruffin picks up the last pair of suitcases, and gestures for Magit to stay between him and Gerrhonot.
Gerrhonot heads out, holding the door for the others. Fortunately they're at the end of the car, and don't have to pass other passengers.
Seruffin is, of course, wearing his retainers, although that wouldn't necessarily save him if the locals took offense at Magit's lack of them. He goes out first, jumping to the ground with less than a Sime's usual grace. He is a good diplomat, after all.
Magit jumps down too, teeters, and falls on her butt.
Gerrhonot follows. ~~ calm ~~ comfort ~~ safety ~~
Gerrhonot: Are you okay, Magit?
Seruffin sets his suitcases down, and extends a hand to help Magit up.
Magit takes Seruffin's hand with her hand, still keeping her tentacles firmly retracted.
Seruffin picks up his own suitcases again.
Seruffin: Come, there's the wagon.
Magit grabs her own suitcases and follows, clinging closely to the others.
Gerrhonot envelopes the two Simes with his supportive field as they cross the platform.
Nattin is watching this byplay with the analytical eye of the scholar. True to his calling, he's concentrating more on the responses of the bystanders than on the principals of the scene. He thinks it interesting that few of the Gens on the platform seem to have figured out that there are Simes sharing it with them.
Magit: [sotto voce] Hey, this cloak (zlins Seruffin's clothes) and dagger stuff is getting to be fun.
Seruffin: Magit, it's not a game.
Magit: Okay, okay, Hajene dear. I'll be good. ~~ play-fear ~~
Seruffin wonders if he was ever that blissfully ignorant of the dangers around him, and in fairness has to conclude that statistically speaking, he probably was.
Driver: Quick, Hajene, Sosu, get her in the wagon.
Magit thinks "What, he thinks I can't walk by myself?"
Nattin gives his student an admonitory glance.
Magit doesn't really recall just how she looked, falling down a moment ago.
Nattin: There's no reason to attract attention by hurrying. Put the luggage in the cage; you can sit on it. Since they didn't see fit to put in seating.
Nattin is, of course, going to claim the privileges of age, and not surrender his seat, such as it is.
Gerrhonot opens the side door of the enclosed wagon and shoves his suitcases in.
Seruffin puts his suitcases in the wagon as ordered, and reaches for Magit's.
Seruffin: Here, let me put those in. Up you go, Magit.
Magit hops up rather more deftly this time.
Seruffin is eager to get Magit into the wagon, where she has some legal protection against summary execution. He follows Magit, reaching down to help Gerrhonot.
Gerrhonot climbs in, careful not to put much weight or torque on Seruffin's retainer-encased arm, and closes the door.
Driver makes that horse-starting noise.
Nattin turns his head as his student starts turning the wagon around.
Nattin: I'm Professor Nattin ambrov Frihill, on extended sabbatical from the University of West Nivet's Anthropology Department, and this is my student.
Nattin prefers to use his academic title rather than his lowly Tecton one, for obvious reasons of ego.
Gerrhonot waits for Seruffin to make the introductions.
Seruffin raises an eyebrow at the academic title, but he's been to plenty of cocktail parties.
Seruffin: It's an honor, Professor Nattin. I'm Hajene Seruffin, my Donor is Sosu Gerrhonot, and this is Magit.
Magit: Hello, Professor. So you play the piano as well as teach? My mother always says any honest living is a good thing.
Nattin gives Magit a moderately severe look.
Magit zlins Nattin's emotion, doesn't get it, looks blank.
Nattin: What on earth makes you think I'm a musician?
Magit: Oh. Did I put my foot in it again? ~~ embarrassment ~~
Magit isn't about to explain.
Nattin: I am a professor of anthropology. I teach at the University of West Nivet.
Nattin doesn't add "little girl", but it's definitely implied.
Magit: Oh. What's anthropopopolity?
Nattin: The study of human culture.
Gerrhonot is embarrassed both by and for Magit, but keeps his nager ~~ calm ~~
Magit: Well, I guess we learn something new every day. ~~ self-centered ~~
Nattin: I should hope so.
Nattin personally thinks that only one new thing a day is a very modest goal, learning-wise.
Gerrhonot: Hajene, shall I help you take off the retainers?
Seruffin considers a moment.
Seruffin: I should probably wait until we reach the Sime Center. Besides, the wagon is jolting, and I've no desire to bruise a lateral by mistake.
Nattin: It's not far--just around the next corner, Hajene.
Seruffin is glad of that: he never feels completely safe, when traveling through Gen Territory. He's old enough to remember the days when Tecton staff ran very real risks of being lynched if they were trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is well aware that his adventure in Gumgeeville could have gone very sour, very quickly.
Bibi opens the gate of the Sime Center grounds when she sees the wagon coming. The Sime Center is in an old farmhouse with about a quarter hectare of land, surrounded by a rail fence and a cedar hedge. She's a bit nervous about having a high level Tecton type, no doubt with an enormous nager, in her bailiwick, and hopes his ego isn't as big as his nager. The Sime Center is located in a rather undesirable area, with the rail line running behind it, an abattoir next door, and a gravel pit across the road.
Cristal notes that his channel is looking worried, and extends ~~ standard Tecton medium support ~~
Cristal: Tell me what you're worried about, Bibi.
Bibi zlins the wagon and is a bit intimidated by the size of the approaching nagers. She resolves not to act more apologetic than she can help.
Bibi: Oh, well, these big shots... I hope they aren't too snooty about our humble digs.
Cristal is a tall TN-2 with a well-controlled nager and that professional calm all the TN-1s exude, only about an octave lower down.
Cristal: They're coming from Gumgeeville, remember? That channel's probably been in retainers night and day for the past week. Certainly you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Bibi: I hope not.
Cristal laughs, but keeps his field steady.
Cristal: I wasn't serious, Bibi. Anyway, it isn't very likely that he's a changeover or training specialist.
Bibi: Yeah, but what a horrible thought.
Cristal: ~~ sympathy ~~
Bibi really hates retainers, an unfortunate attitude for someone whose career is mainly out-T.
Cristal: Hmm. I spy with my little eye a channel who pinched a lateral, way back when. Hmm?
Bibi: Cristal, imagine wrapping your balls in barbed wire, and walking a few kilometers, okay?
Cristal laughs heartily, and does allow it to color his field this time.
Cristal: You have the strangest imagination, little Sime.
Bibi really hopes that Cristal will be gone next month.
Cristal's laughter is perfectly sincere, not condescending at all. He doesn't understand why a QN-2 should be so self-important.
Bibi resolves again not to let Cristal get to her.
Cristal wonders how Bibi permanently misplaced her sense of humor.
Nattin: Here we are. The Ford Sime Center.
Nattin makes an expansive gesture as if he was the one who'd done the work of driving them there. He is, after all, well used to considering that he deserves credit for his students' accomplishments.
Bibi comes up to the door.
Driver jumps down and opens the cage door. Having a Sime around can be useful.
Bibi: Welcome! I'm Hajene Bibi, the Controller.
Cristal: And I'm Cristal, Hajene Bibi's Good Left Dorsal Tentacle.
Seruffin approaches with a warm smile and a slightly stiff posture, the result of spending far too much time over the past week sitting on improvised and uncomfortable furniture.
Seruffin: Very pleased to meet you. I'm Hajene Seruffin, this is Sosu Gerrhonot, and the young lady is Magit.
Seruffin sees no reason to belabor titles, as he has already provided Bibi with the particulars in his original note.
Magit: Hello. Is this what a Sime Center looks like?
Bibi blushes, despite her resolve.
Bibi: Well, it's what this one looks like.
Cristal: They aren't all going to be the same, you know. [self-importantly] It depends on what we can afford.
Seruffin offers a tentacle-tip in greeting.
Bibi smiles at Seruffin and brushes tentacles.
Bibi: Please, come in. You must be tired. Just leave your luggage for now. It will be brought in for you.
Seruffin: Thank you for your hospitality. It has been a much longer journey than any of us intended.
Bibi leads the way to the front door.
Bibi: You're very welcome.
Seruffin follows at a polite distance, close enough for conversation but not so close as to let his nager crowd Bibi's.
Cristal thinks Bibi is actually handling this better than he had expected.
Seruffin does tend to have that effect on people who are apprehensive about him.
Bibi is rather ~~ relieved ~~ at Seruffin's diplomatic words. Of course, he could be thinking anything, but at least he isn't saying it.
Bibi opens the door and ushers the group in.
Magit whispers to Seruffin, "Why do the strings between them look so different from the ones that connect you and Mister Gerrhonot?"
Bibi: The front part of the building is the Sime Center proper, and we have a staff common room and the kitchen in back. Upstairs are the bedrooms. We'll put the two of you in the back room overlooking the garden, and Magit in her own room.
Bibi leads the group upstairs and opens the door of the back bedroom. It's a large, clean, airy space with several windows.
Bibi: I'll take Magit up to her room on the third floor. Please join us in the common room for trin and food if you like.
Gerrhonot: Thank you, Controller, it's a very nice room.
Bibi: Come, Magit. Up one more flight here.
Magit climbs the stairs two at a time, like a teenaged Sime.
Bibi opens the door to a room with two sets of bunk beds, and some other furniture.
Bibi: You're the only one here now, and you probably won't be staying long. Hajene Marvin will be coming soon, and you'll go in-T with him and his Donor, and perhaps some other new Simes.
Magit: And what happens then, Hajene? I know I have lots of stuff to learn, but I don't really know what it is! I mean, Seruffin, Hajene Seruffin, was helpful and all, but I think it's been a long time since he was a, a new Sime.
Bibi: Yes, I suppose so. And he probably didn't grow up out-T like we did. We can teach you a little Simelan while you're here, and tell you about life in-T. There are some books in English in the bookcase, and some Simelan readers, too.
Magit thinks, "What, more school? I thought it was gonna be on-the-job training"
Bibi: Nattin will probably want to talk to you, and we can all answer your questions.
Magit thinks, "I guess there's no help for it if I'm gonna learn another language."
Magit: This Hajene Marvin you mentioned, he speaks English? ~~ nervous ~~
Bibi: Yes. He's from out-T too, and he travels back and forth picking up selyn and new Simes from all the Sime Centers between here and New Washington.
Cristal is starting to get a teensy bit annoyed at all these incredibly naive questions.
Bibi isn't going to explain that Marvin does this work, being a mule, because he's disjunct and can't work as a regular Tecton channel.
Bibi: He has a lot of good stories. You'll enjoy meeting him.
Magit: Stories are good. I like stories, especially new ones.
Magit may have a great future as a journalist.
Bibi: Good. There are a lot of stories in-T that no one knows out-T.
Cristal: ~~ deference ~~ Shouldn't we return to our other guests?
Bibi: I suppose. Magit, you can rest here if you like, and join us downstairs when you feel like it. Please stay out of the front part of the first floor though, okay?
Magit: Sure, Hajene. We don't want me to frighten the horses, do we? [Grins]
Bibi smiles back.
Bibi: Good. Do you know how to shake hands like a Sime?
Cristal is concerned that all go smoothly; he purely detests conflict of any sort.
Bibi: We just brush our handling tentacles over each other.
Magit, having seen Seruffin and Bibi, cautiously extends one tentacle; the rest stay retracted.
Bibi puts out her hand to demonstrate.
Magit touches Bibi's tentacle with her own and is startled by the ~~ buzzing ~~ she zlins.
Bibi: There's a lot to learn, but you'll enjoy learning it. First Year is wonderful. All Simes remember how much they enjoyed it. I'll see you later, okay?
Magit: Okay, Hajene. ~~ gratitude relief ~~
Magit's tentacles emerge.
Magit: It's been real!
Bibi smiles and leaves. She floats down the stairs with effortless Sime grace.
Seruffin has meanwhile succeeded in locating the common room, along with a very hungry Gerrhonot. He settles into one of the comfortably worn chairs, glad that he is finally ~~ safe ~~ after their interrupted journey.
Gerrhonot sits in an adjacent chair, very glad that his channel can finally relax.
Bibi enters the room.
Seruffin looks up.
Seruffin: Is young Magit settling in well?
Bibi: I think so. I invited her to come down if and when she feels like it. If she doesn't show up in time for dinner, I'll go and check on her.
Seruffin: I admit that I'm glad to leave her to your expert care. I lack the energy to keep up with First Year Simes, these days.
Seruffin smiles ruefully.
Seruffin: The...somewhat confined quarters we had to share didn't help.
Bibi: I'll build up the fire. Cristal, there should be some sandwiches and stuff in the kitchen, if you could make a pot of trin and bring it all in?
Bibi: I guess new Simes are one of my specialties.
Cristal: Certainly, Hajene. Hajene Seruffin, our Bibi is really excellent with the new Simes.
Bibi: It must have been very difficult, getting stuck in a backward village like Gumgeeville. Nattin will want to hear all about it.
Bibi pokes the fire and adds more wood, using the bellows to get it going.
Seruffin: It had its hardships, but I believe that the incident will work out to the Tecton's advantage. If nothing else, you will probably be getting some new donors from Gumgeeville.
Bibi: That's encouraging. I hope I get some children in changeover, too.
Cristal: It's about time those lunkheads got a clue.
Bibi refrains from rolling her eyes.
Seruffin looks at Cristal with some ~~ severity ~~
Seruffin: It is possible, but the distance is great enough to make bringing a changeover here risky for the parents.
Cristal: Pardon me, Hajene Seruffin. But I do get so frustrated with attitudes in these small out-T towns.
Gerrhonot wishes that Cristal would go get the food and trin. He's hungry. He hasn't eaten anything truly edible for some time. He would also like his channel to eat something.
Seruffin: Sosu Cristal, if you wish to change the behavior of the local society, you would be well advised to view them with more respect and empathy.
Bibi listens with ~~ pleasure ~~. Seruffin's words are music to her ears.
Cristal: Of course you're right, Hajene. I think I hear the pot boiling.
Cristal goes out again, returns quickly with trin pot and four cups.
Bibi: Thank you, Sosu.
Seruffin views the tray with pleasure, while making a mental note to discuss Cristal's attitude with Bibi.
Cristal: Trin, everyone?
Seruffin: Thank you, Sosu.
Gerrhonot: Yes, please. ~~ hungry ~~~
Seruffin: As I was saying, Hajene Bibi, there is likely to be at least a few Gens from Gumgeeville coming to donate.
Bibi: ~~ attentive ~~~
Seruffin: Jed Mullins, our host, for sure, and his son Bart as well.
Cristal: That's very good news, Hajene.
Seruffin: Remind me to start proper files on them for you. I didn't happen to bring the proper forms with me. I wasn't expecting to be running an impromptu Sime Center out of a closet. ~~ rueful ~~
Cristal: Perhaps I would understand the people in Gumgeeville better if I knew more about your experiences there, Hajene.
Seruffin looks at Cristal, then shrugs.
Seruffin: Why not?
Seruffin: I was naturally quite concerned when we learned that the train was stuck in a town that didn't have a Sime Center. Gerrhonot asked the stationmaster where we might stay, and we ended up at the Mullins's house.
Gerrhonot: Mr. Mullins owed the stationmaster some money, so he wanted to get paid out of the rent they'd charge us.
Seruffin: Jed Mullins is recently unemployed, and his family was desperate enough to allow us to stay, when offered a suitably enhanced compensation.
Seruffin: It turned out that Jed's father was in the Gen Army, and donated during the first Faith Day. Jed was curious as to whether his father's story was accurate, and so he decided to donate that evening.
Seruffin: His wife had apparently made a bargain with her husband: that she would if he did. However, not wanting an audience, she waited until the following day to approach me, when her husband had taken Gerrhonot to see the local sights.
Seruffin: It...didn't work out well at all.
Gerrhonot steps up his support for this part of the story.
Seruffin still feels ~~ guilty ~~ about the incident.
Seruffin: Maree Mullins is a very determined, and very brave woman. She is also, unfortunately, a Simephobe.
Bibi: ~~ sympathy ~~ concern ~~~
Cristal: ~~ support ~~
Seruffin: I got out as quickly as I could when she panicked, but she was left with a very visible set of tentacle bruises.
Bibi closes her eyes briefly. ~~ sinking feeling ~~ sympathy ~~
Seruffin: Her husband was rather upset, but he accepted my explanation.
Bibi: Were you all right, Hajene?
Seruffin: I wasn't injured, except in my professional pride.
Bibi wonders if she should have said that. After all, Seruffin is high rated and has many more years of experience than she does.
Seruffin: However, Jed decided that it was best for his oldest son if the boy donated right away, rather than having all the time until the snow cleared to think about it. I insisted that young Bart be told what happened to his mother, in detail, but he still wished to try donating, so I took his field down that evening.
Bibi wonders how difficult that was.
Cristal: If you don't mind, Hajene, what was the community response to the, er, incident?
Seruffin: Gerrhonot could tell you better than I; he was much more free to move about the community.
Gerrhonot: Um. Mr. Mullins is a good talker. People say they think he's crazy but they listen to what he says and believe him. He's a smart man.
Seruffin: You should keep an eye on young Bart Mullins, Hajene. I think he may have the talent to be a decent Donor, if he decided to use it.
Bibi: Really? That's great.
Cristal thinks Gerrhonot has a pretty good accent for someone who obviously still hasn't mastered Simelan.
Bibi: What level do you think he might reach?
Seruffin: It is hard to estimate. It will depend to some extent on how much time it takes him to decide to become a Donor at all. If he does. It would mean permanent separation from his family, you know.
Bibi: Yes, although they could visit him in-T. Well, I suppose his mother couldn't.
Cristal: That's a difficult thing. ~~ pensive ~~
Seruffin: The next day, young Magit changed over, and the Mullins family allowed us to care for her in their home.
Bibi: ~~ surprise ~~~
Seruffin: The girl's mother, Virla, donated to support her daughter. At the moment, I believe only Jed Mullins and the older son, Bart, are committed to continue donating. It is possible that at some point the younger son Vrian will also decide to give it a try. He'll require careful handing, if so, however.
Bibi: How so?
Seruffin: He was more shaken by his mother's misadventure than he wishes to acknowledge, I think.
Bibi: I see.
Seruffin: He has courage, and as much good sense as any youngster his age. Bring him along slowly, and he should do well enough.
Cristal mutters something unintelligible about "self-hating out-T Gens"
Bibi smiles, showing her awfully charming dimples.
Seruffin: That is the essentials of our story. I expect the details can wait for later?
Bibi: Of course. All the forms are in the oak cabinet in the front office. Fill them out at your convenience and I'll be delighted to read them and discuss them with you if you like.
Bibi wonders whether she can get some details out of Seruffin. He makes it all sound so easy, but then he's a very high First.
Gerrhonot is ~~ tactfully hungry ~~.
Bibi: Cristal, were you not able to find the sandwiches? I can get them....
Cristal: Forgive me, Hajene. Hajene Seruffin's story was so interesting, I quite forgot about them.
Cristal exits again.
Gerrhonot is ~~ relieved ~~.