A Sec Pair At The Ford: Episode 7

Bibi walks into the common room with Seruffin after the Sime Center has closed for the day (barring emergencies, of course). She's glad that Cristal, Gerrhonot and Nattin have just left for Nattin's usual market day evening observation session at the town's main restaurant and pub.

Seruffin is looking forward to enjoying the company of a pretty young woman, even though he's past turnover and unable to do anything about it.

Bibi is also glad that Nattin's students are keeping Magit busy learning Simelan and about life in-T, while they pick her brains for information about out-T culture.

Seruffin has so far managed to avoid the students' clutches: rank does have some privileges, especially in the Tecton.

Bibi: The housekeeper has set up dinner for us in my office. I'll just pick up a few things from the warming oven.

Seruffin: Would an extra pair of tentacles help?

Bibi: Sure. Come with me.

Bibi smiles in ~~ happy anticipation ~~

Seruffin follows Bibi towards the kitchen.

Bibi gets out a tray and takes a pitcher of cream of leek soup and a basket of triticale and caraway rolls from the warming oven.

Seruffin is glad that the meal isn't more substantial.

Seruffin: That smells delicious. I admit, although I appreciated the Mullins's hospitality, I got very tired of cabbage soup. And so did poor Gerrhonot, who had to eat a great deal more of it.

Bibi: We're very fortunate. Our housekeeper is a wonderful cook.

Bibi puts the pitcher and basket on the tray and hands the pot of tea in its tea cosy to Seruffin.

Seruffin takes it, scooping up the two teacups in his handling tentacles.

Bibi gracefully precedes Seruffin through the common room, and down the hall into her office.

Seruffin discreetly enjoys the aesthetics of the rear view.

Bibi puts the pitcher and basket on the low table in front of the settee, which already holds mugs for soup, and a dozen little bowls each with a different vegetable dish - some pickled, some raw, some steamed, some marinated, each seasoned differently. She sits on the settee and smiles at Seruffin.

Seruffin sits next to Bibi, there not being any seating across from her.

Bibi pours a mug of soup and offers it to Seruffin.

Seruffin sets his teapot down on the table and takes the mug.

Seruffin: Thank you. Can I offer you some tea?

Bibi: Not just yet, later perhaps.

Bibi pours a mug of soup for herself, and leans back comfortably.

Seruffin picks up his mug and takes a sip.

Seruffin: Very nice indeed.

Bibi smiles, tucks one leg under her so she faces towards Seruffin and drinks a little soup.

Seruffin: Although I'm not used to so much cream in soup. Is your cook from out-Territory?

Bibi: Yes, she's local. She used to use a lot more butter, as well as heavy cream in her cream soups. This is light, in comparison. You'll have to ask Gerrhonot what was on the menu at the pub in town.

Seruffin: I shall. I expect he'll enjoy having something filling, for a change. It must be a sore trial for our Gens, to have to eat menus suited for Simes.

Bibi: Around here it's more the sore trial for me, trying to get something to eat that's high in fiber and low in fat. Gitl is doing her best for us here. She's getting very good at it.

Bibi gestures to the little dishes of vegetables.

Seruffin selects a piece of raw carrot and nibbles on it.

Seruffin: You don't have many Sime staff, do you?

Bibi takes a piece of daikon marinated in cider vinegar.

Bibi: Just Driver, Nattin's student. It's hard to get visas for renSimes, and it's a hard life for them out here. Driver's studying new changeovers, how out-T kids adapt in the first days after changeover. He's only a few years past changeover himself and helps them a lot.

Seruffin: What sort of mix do you have among the Gens, between local help and in-Territory staff?

Bibi: Well, Nattin does most of the administrative work I don't do myself, and he has two Gen students as well as Driver who are on the Sime Center's payroll part time.

Bibi: As far as local people, I have Gitl, the cook and housekeeper, and her daughter who helps out when we have extra people here. I hire local people on a casual basis for things like fixing the place up, and send the laundry out.

Seruffin: Have you had any trouble getting people to agree to work in a Sime Center?

Bibi: So far, so good. The Tecton sent Gens out to buy the building and get it into shape initially with local labor. Gitl's son was the first child I served in First Transfer here, and she was willing to be hired right after. She's a widow and needs an income.

Seruffin: Have her neighbors given her any trouble over it?

Bibi takes one of the tiny warm rolls and offers the basket to Seruffin.

Bibi: Nothing she couldn't stand up to, especially after I served her son. There's not too much overt hostility to the Sime Center or the Tecton wouldn't have put one here.

Seruffin: There have been times, especially right after Unity, when the Tecton badly misjudged the tolerance of Gen communities towards a local Sime Center, with disastrous results.

Seruffin waves the rolls away, and thoughtfully takes another sip of his soup.

Bibi: There was quite a big drive from the church ladies to get it here, and few people in the area would be willing to stand up to Miz Brown. She's an amazing woman. She's 86 years old and rules four generations of her family with a will of iron.

Seruffin smiles.

Seruffin: I've known a few matriarchs like that.

Bibi: They're very rare in-T. So few older Simes. It seemed very strange to me, after I changed over, that no one but Householders was over forty. And even in rural areas, people generally weren't related to each other, or even knew their grandparents.

Bibi: Out here, when two people meet for the first time, they usually spend the first part of the conversation figuring out what links of blood or marriage connect them. In-T, it's pretty much only the Householdings that have that kind of continuity.

Seruffin: Yes. Even before Unity, there were very few old Simes living in the junct communities. And most of them were among the very rich. Ordinary people were doing well to stay together for two generations.

Bibi is curious about Seruffin's background, but is reluctant to ask, in case it brings up unpleasant or embarrassing memories of a childhood in junct society. She sips her soup, nibbles her roll, and has a small slice of dill pickled cucumber.

Seruffin has long since come to terms with his past, and sees no point in blaming juncts for being what they had to be, to survive.

Bibi: It's strange to think that in-T, before Unity, I'd be an old woman at fifteen years past changeover. Probably long dead, actually, since I'm a channel.

Seruffin leaves that to the Householders, a number of whom seem to feel that having ten generations of non-killers in their family tree makes them superior.

Bibi shivers a little, puts down her mug and roll, and touches one of Seruffin's tentacles with one of her own.

Bibi: I suppose you were as worried about establishing as I was of changing over. ~~ sympathy ~~ curiosity ~~

Seruffin: Actually, I wasn't nearly as concerned as a lot of children.

Bibi's nager shows her ~~ interest ~~ and ~~ curiosity ~~.

Seruffin: I was such a scrawny kid that nobody seriously thought I'd establish, and we lived on a fairly isolated farm. My mother got the land cheap, because the previous owner couldn't pay his Pen taxes. She was a harness maker, and between that and what gardening my brother and I did, we ate reasonably well.

Bibi: Was she a channel?

Seruffin: No, she wasn't. It was my father who was the channel. It killed him when I was hardly more than a toddler.

Bibi: And your brother?

Seruffin: He was a renSime, too. He was older than me, so he was too old to disjunct at Unity.

Bibi: ~~ sorrow ~~ sympathy ~~~

Bibi: I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought up such a painful topic.

Seruffin: He lived as long and well as he could. What else can any of us do? I still miss him, but it was many years ago, and much of the pain has faded. These days, I can remember the good times we had together. Even after Unity, he had years of a reasonably good life, before he got too sick.

Bibi strokes Seruffin's hand with a tentacle, and offers ~~ comfort ~~.

Seruffin: He was the one who came up with the Grand Plan, if either of us had established.

Seruffin winks.

Bibi smiles. ~~ curious ~~

Seruffin: Mother was fairly conventional, for a junct, and she couldn't afford not to sell a child who established. It had nothing to do with whether or not she loved us: she did.

Seruffin: But we owed money on the farm, and her leather work never brought in much more than was required to pay her own Pen taxes. She was always worried about how she could pay the Pen taxes for even one of her children. And like any Sime of her generation, she valued a Sime child more than a Gen one.

Seruffin: I can't blame her, any more than I suspect you blame your own family for valuing their Gen children more, as a matter of practicality?

Bibi: Of course. But a Sime child has no resale value out-T.

Seruffin: On the other hand, a Gen child poses no physical danger to a Sime family.

Seruffin: In any case, my brother and I were pretty sure what would happen if either of us established. The previous owner of the farm had kept a few cows, and there was a spring house on the property. It was dilapidated, but the door still shut. Mother had always used it as a sort of punishment cell. When we were outrageously naughty, we'd have to spend time locked inside. It saved her from supervising our punishment, and let her spend the time on the work required to keep us all going. The place would have been an equally good cell to hold a newly established Gen, though, until a profitable sale could be arranged.

Bibi tries to conceal the ~~ mild nausea ~~ she feels at the idea of selling one's own child as a Kill, imprisoning him while you look for the best price.

Seruffin: Bibi, it was a matter of survival, for my mother and her family. As such, it was no worse, really, than what Gens did to their Sime children. And still do, many places.

Bibi: How would you have rescued each other?

Seruffin: The spring house was misnamed; it actually had a creek running through it. There had been enough flooding that the bank was undercut, and with some careful enlarging, we were able to make a hole large enough to escape through. It involved getting soaking wet, of course, but that was a minor consideration, under the circumstances. There were a few summer days when we actually picked fights with each other, so that we'd be locked in the shed, and could cool off.

Seruffin grins in remembrance.

Seruffin: Mother had built her shop well insulated, you see, so as long as we were quiet, she wouldn't know we had slipped out and were hiding out at the swimming hole. We couldn't do it too often, of course, but it was a lot of fun.

Bibi: Were you near enough to the border to have a chance?

Seruffin: Not really, but there was a Householding not too far away. It wasn't much of a place, and it was wiped out the year of Unity, but it was a goal of sorts. Not that either of us had any intention of staying there, but Householders often traveled with Gens, and we thought it ought to be possible to work our way close enough to the border to have a chance.

Bibi: To cross the border to the other side of the mirror - where Gens are people and Simes are monsters.

Seruffin: Yes. It was better, in our minds, than living with perverts. You must understand: popular understanding had the Householders doing things a lot worse than just refusing to kill. And since they kept to themselves, we had no chance to learn differently.

Bibi: It sounds like you had a good childhood, nonetheless.

Seruffin: Yes. We didn't know any children who weren't facing the possibility of becoming Gen in a junct Sime society, and so we didn't feel unduly oppressed by it.

Bibi: And of course, it couldn't happen to you, but if it did, there was the Grand Plan.

Bibi smiles.

Seruffin: Looking back on it, I can see that our Grand Plan was full of holes, and had only a small chance of ultimate success. However, it was enough to keep us from worrying too much about establishment, and to that extent, it was a smashing success.

Bibi: Yes. ~~ understanding ~~ warmth ~~~

Seruffin: Did you have a Grand Plan, Bibi?

Bibi: Something of one.

Bibi: Here out-T... well there are a lot fewer kills than you might expect. Children are raised to see heroism in dying without killing if you turn Sime, as well as the practical view that you'll die anyway, so it's better not to kill first. It's a terrible stigma on a family, if a child kills before he's shot, and vastly worse if he escapes and kills more than once, and family is so important here.

Seruffin: Did you plan to let yourself be murdered, if you went into changeover, Bibi?

Bibi: Oh, yes, for years. I wanted to do the right thing. My uncle was probably a channel. He killed my grandmother and my aunt in First Need, and then shot himself. He was something of an object lesson, or a cautionary tale to all of my grandmother's descendants. But I believed I'd establish. I had to believe that.

Seruffin: You didn't know when you'd change over, before it started?

Bibi finds herself breathing hard.

Bibi: I started thinking I'd change over about a half year before it happened. I thought at first that it was because one of my cousins had recently been shot in changeover... but the feeling got stronger instead of fading.

Seruffin offers ~~ comfort ~~

Seruffin: So you began looking for help?

Bibi: So... well, there were history books and such that told us something about Unity, and that Simes in-T didn't kill any more... But we were far from the border... but then I hatched my Grand Plan.

Bibi: There wasn't anyone I could tell about my premonitions, but I felt I'd change over by summer, and in the spring there was the graduating class's trip to New Washington. So I thought once I got there, I could find an embassy of a Sime Territory and ask for help. Asylum, I guess.

Bibi smiles at Seruffin.

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: That must have given them a shock, if I know my diplomatic types.

Bibi: But I cut it close, very close. I went into changeover the night we arrived. So I sneaked out of the hotel and walked to the Nivet Embassy, which we'd seen on the way in, a sort of mini-tour that included Embassy Row.

Bibi: Creeping through the streets ... I'd never been in anything larger than a small town before... terrified that I'd be found and shot... that it would be too late and I'd kill... vomiting my guts out...

Seruffin: And, I suspect, never wavering one instant from your goal. I take it that you hadn't seen the New Washington Sime Center?

Bibi: Sime Center? What's a Sime Center?

Seruffin: You hadn't heard of Sime Centers?

Bibi: No, not that there were any out-T. I thought I was a political refugee. I just wanted to live, and not kill.

Bibi: I got to the embassy after midnight. The guard was an in-T Gen, and I was afraid to tell him I was in changeover.

Seruffin: What did he make of your request for asylum, then?

Bibi: He must have thought I was nuts, but then he realized the way I was holding my arms... and I guess the clincher was when I turned away and tried to vomit in the street.

Seruffin: Yes, that would be indicative, to anyone familiar with the symptoms of changeover.

Bibi: So he let me in, and there I was, in changeover, surrounded by all these Simelan speakers, Sime and Gen, and then all these diplomats, high rated channels and Donors most of them.... Scared and determined.

Seruffin: I'm surprised that you were able to muster anything as coherent as determination, with such an ambient.

Seruffin ~~ admires ~~ the fortitude this implies.

Bibi: I was clinging to it like I was drowning, or freezing to death, the one thing to keep in front of my mind, that I wasn't going to kill, I was going to find people to save me.

Seruffin: And there they were, running around talking to each other, instead?

Seruffin knows his colleagues well.

Bibi: I hadn't a clue what I was zlinning, or that I was zlinning. I knew very little about changeover at all, except the fever, the vomiting and the red streaks on the arms. You're supposed to make sure you get shot before it goes much further, you see.

Seruffin: I see.

Bibi starts to shiver but pulls herself together.

Seruffin finds the concept of a child deliberately committing suicide nauseating, but keeps it from his showfield.

Bibi: A lot of what happened afterwards is kind of a blur, but I got a heck of a First Transfer from a Donor who outmatched me.

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: You remember the important part, then.

Bibi: I try to give it to all the children in First Need.

Bibi reaches tentatively for Seruffin's hand.

Seruffin: Did you have a hard time adjusting to life as a Sime?

Seruffin takes Bibi's hand, squeezing it once for comfort.

Bibi: It was a pretty clean break. My family didn't want any contact, so I just went through to the other side of the mirror and started a new life.

Bibi: I wish I had a copy of the note they sent to the hotel, to the teachers who were running the class trip. What wonderful language they must have used!

Seruffin: And how long did it take you, to forgive yourself for being alive still?

Bibi: Being alive wasn't a problem. If I'd killed -- well, I couldn't have lived. It was a miracle, to be a channel -- the chance to help other kids like I'd been.

Seruffin: Have you had any contact with your family since?

Seruffin knows that often parents who reject Sime children reconsider later, or siblings dare what their parents won't.

Bibi: Every few years, I write home. The last time, my brother answered. He thinks once my father dies, my mother may be willing to contact me again.

Seruffin: I wasn't nearly as pleased, when I discovered I was a channel.

Seruffin: My family had accepted the idea of using channels, when they didn't qualify for a real kill, but they still thought of them as perverts.

Seruffin: And who wants to be a pervert?

Bibi smiles.

Bibi: Talk to Nattin some time - he's proud to come from a long line of perverts!

Seruffin: Most Householders are--often to excess, in my opinion.

Bibi smiles more widely.

Bibi: It must have been an embarrassment.

Seruffin: I wasn't happy about it, for several years. In fact, it wasn't until I was able to help ease my family's deaths that I really accepted it.

Bibi strokes Seruffin's hand with her tentacles. ~~ comfort ~~~

Seruffin: There were so many sick juncts towards the end, and there was so little that could really be done for them, that it was very difficult for the semijuncts to get even such help as a good channel could offer.

Bibi: It must have been difficult to keep them near you -- the Tecton wouldn't let a First stay out in a remote district like yours. How did you manage for First Transfer?

Seruffin: My mother was a practical woman. We were following the army by then, refurbishing harness for Sime and beast. They kept it mobilized for several years, you know, to enforce the Tecton's decrees.

Seruffin: The only way to keep the guards from rioting as well, or from stealing kills from the Pen they were supposed to be guarding, was to ensure that they were getting the best transfers possible. It was a cruel but practical decision, and I benefited from it: there was a First Order Donor available when I went into changeover. Afterwards, I was hardly given the chance to say goodbye to my mother and brother, before they sent me off for training.

Bibi: Desperate times.

Seruffin: Yes. The Tecton was as despotic and ruthless as any Raider chief, during those years. If it hadn't been, none of us would be alive now to tell the tale. The juncts weren't told that they were going to die, you know.

Bibi: Yes... Nattin's told me a bit about those times...

Bibi wonders what kind of channeling work Seruffin did, but is reluctant to ask.

Seruffin makes a dismissive gesture with two tentacles.

Seruffin: He's a Householder, and a Gen at that. He wouldn't have been allowed close to desperate juncts. And once they started to sicken, well, the juncts weren't stupid. They knew they had to kill, or die. And unlike you, most of them didn't see anything morally wrong with killing Gens.

Bibi: Were you... involved.... with the Secret Pens?

Seruffin: Every channel of my generation was, at least somewhat. After my brother's death, however, I was able to leave that behind me. My mother had died two years before.

Bibi: I'm sorry... you had to do those terrible, necessary things. ~~ admiration ~~ comfort ~~

Seruffin: Bibi, I'm no hero. I did more than some, and a great deal less than many others.

Bibi moves closer and offers engagement with her field.

Seruffin: It was necessary work, and a lot of it wasn't pleasant, but I wasn't the person making the bold decisions, the kind that saves the world. All of that was done by the Householders. They didn't trust those of us who were "Houseless" with responsible positions, in those days. It was felt that we'd take advantage of any authority we were given to favor our own junct relatives. Once the semi-juncts were dead, we gradually began to be given more responsibility, and that is how I ended up where I am today.

Bibi thinks about the suave diplomat she welcomed yesterday, the congenial high rated channel who enjoyed working in her little Sime Center today, and the man with the terrible past she's met tonight.

Bibi: May I pour you some tea?

Seruffin is all three at once, which can be confusing.

Seruffin: Thank you, Bibi. I'd like that very much.

Bibi pours tea for two, and offers a cup to Seruffin.

Bibi: ~~ affection ~~ admiration ~~ comfort ~~

Seruffin takes it, with a gentlemanly smile of thanks.

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