The Next Month At The Ford: Episode 2

Layna is up very early, for a Gen who's been traveling: the sun is barely starting to come up, giving just enough light to keep her from tripping over her feet. She doesn't appear inclined to stumble, however, as she explores the back yard of the Sime Center.

Layna finds a relatively level stretch of mowed weeds, and checks it over briefly for sticks, rabbit holes, and other obstructions. She removes two stones, a branch, an old shoe covered with mold, and a thistle, before she is ~~ satisfied ~~. She doesn't seem to be much of a gardener, as the other weeds are left undisturbed.

Layna starts a series of stretching exercises, of increasing vigor and complexity as she warms up. She might be heading for a career as a cultural anthropologist, but her House does require its members to maintain their other skills as well.

Layna finishes her warmup and begins a kata, moving over the slightly irregular ground a bit more carefully than if she were on a proper exercise ground. She's also refraining from giving off the exuberant whoops and yells which usually accompany her workouts, out of deference for her slug-a-bed colleagues.

Gitl opens the door and gawks at the bizarre goings-on in the back yard.

Layna enters a particularly dramatic combination, involving two spinning kicks with a punch or two in between.

Estragen sees her mother staring out the back door and goes over to take a peek.

Gitl applauds slowly, so as not to disturb the maniac.

Layna grins widely at her success, and pauses to bow at her audience.

Gitl: Estragen! Go back in, quick.

Estragen jumps and turns quickly around and goes back to trying to coax the stove to the correct heat for cooking.

Layna: Isn't it a wunnerful morning?

Layna is full of ~~ anticipation ~~ at the thought of getting to work on her thesis at last.

Gitl: A beautiful day, certainly. But you're going to break your neck out there. Then you won't think it's so beautiful.

Layna does a completely gratuitous backflip to celebrate, since there isn't a Dar weaponsmaster around to frown on such levity. She chuckles.

Layna: Not to worry. I'm just doing some of the simple things today. Gotta work the kinks out from the train ride.

Estragen can at least listen to the "grown folk" if she can't see.

Gitl: Well, watch out for the woodchuck hole, or the kinks will be back in for good.

Layna fishes a piece of dead leaf out of her hair.

Layna: It's over there.

Layna points.

Layna: I'm staying to either side of it.

Layna demonstrates in a flashy series of six punches, two blocks, a fall, and three kicks, that take her neatly around the hole.

Estragen slams the stove door over a freshly stoked fire a bit more firmly than is necessary just to close it.

Layna hears the noise in the kitchen, and Gen priorities take over. She goes back to cool-off stretching, in anticipation of breakfast. Layna has a rather healthy appetite, between her age and the vigorous exercise.

Gitl: So, that's better. Come in when you're ready and eat.

Gitl thinks it will be nice to have another Gen to try to feed up. All that physical energy has to come from something. She has a firm, if non-mathematical, grasp of the conservation laws.

Layna skimps a bit on her post-exercise stretches, since there isn't anyone to make her do 50 push-ups to atone for her laxity, and heads ~~ eagerly ~~ for the kitchen.

Bibi wanders into the kitchen and puts her empty tea pot in the sink.

Bibi: Good morning, ladies.

Estragen: Morning, Hajene.

Gitl: There's a strange Gen out there, Bibi, as I'm sure you know. I've invited her in for breakfast. Were you zlinning all that dancing about?

Bibi: Oh, that's Layna, Nattin's new student. She's ambrov Dar. I think they all do that stuff.

Layna: Good morning, Hajene!

Layna is much wider awake than most Gens, at such a Simelike hour of the morning.

Layna: It's a beautiful morning, outside.

Bibi: Yes, it is. I'm really glad to see the last of the snow.

Layna: It did seem like a long winter, waiting to come out here.

Bibi zlins the kettle on the stove. It's far from boiling.

Bibi: Have you decided what your research work will be?

Layna is as obsessed as anyone idiotic enough to forgo the opportunity to have a normal life, in pursuit of a graduate degree.

Layna: Yes, I wanted to track the reactions of a community which is making practical contact with the Tecton for the first time. I thought I was going to have to work with newspapers and other historical resources, since the Center here's been open for a few years. But last night Professor Nattin mentioned a town named Bunnyville, or something like that?

Bibi: Gumgeeville?

Layna: Yes, that was it. He thinks I can get good, current data there.

Bibi: Too bad you missed Hajene Seruffin and his Donor then, but they may stop by here again on their way back in-T.

Gitl: [teasingly] You wish, Hajene.

Layna: Professor Nattin said he was stranded there?

Bibi wonders how much data Nattin managed to extract from the pair before they left.

Bibi: Yes. That last big snowstorm closed the pass with their train on the far side of it from here.

Layna: How did the locals react to having a channel stay in their town?

Bibi: Well, Hajene Seruffin is a diplomat, and his Donor has a very engaging personality, so they did quite well. But the channel spent almost the whole time holed up in a small bedroom in a house.

Layna: They wouldn't let the poor man out?

Bibi: I think he felt it safest to stay out of sight as much as possible.

Gitl: Hajene Seruffin has a lot of respect for other people's feelings. Unlike me.

Bibi smiles at Gitl.

Bibi: But his Donor rescued Magit. Her grandfather tried to shoot her, but she hid in the cellar. They would have left her locked up in there to die of attrition, but Gerrhonot went down and brought her out.

Layna is quite used to the concept of violence and mayhem, but this seems a bit...brutal.

Layna: They did that? When there was a channel in town?

Bibi: Gitl had the courage to bring her son to me - the first child I served in First Transfer here at the Ford.

Layna: That would have been just after you opened?

Gitl: Yes, and a good thing too.

Layna's scholarly instincts are becoming ~~ aroused ~~.

Layna: So you supported the idea of having a Sime Center in your town?

Gitl: What did I know from Sime Centers at the time? I was desperate. My boy had the fever, I heard I could get help for him here, I brought him in.

Layna: So how did you learn you could get help for him here?

Gitl: People talk, but I don't remember just who -- no, wait, I do. It was my neighbor at the time.

Gitl: Anyway, when Franx went off to Sime Territory, I decided to do my bit here -- with Hajene Bibi's cooperation, of course!

Bibi: I was very fortunate to find such a good cook willing to work here!

Layna: You heard from your neighbor? Was she a donor?

Gitl: Not then, maybe later. But I never listened to all that Purity anti-Sime talk. Neither did she.

Layna: Was there a lot of anti-Sime talk?

Gitl: Sure, there always is, but it didn't amount to anything in the way of action. We've never had a [Simelan word] pogrom here.

Bibi zlins that the kettle is about to boil, and goes over to take down the big teapot. She puts it on the work table and adds tea leaves.

Layna was born and bred in the only Householding that wasn't subjected to regular pogroms, so her gut-level understanding isn't quite as strong as most Householders would feel.

Layna: Has there been a decrease in the amount of such talk, as people get used to having the Center here?

Layna looks at Gitl for an answer.

Gitl: Yes, or at least around me, but that might not mean so very much, you know. I think the hard-core anti-Sime bigots, even if they are all talk and no action, are pretty much the same as ever. But I think most folks are "live and let live" now. Of course, there's some of the other kind, too.

Gitl: If it hadn't been for Miz Brown, we wouldn't have a Sime Center, would we, Bibi?

Bibi: She was the real moving force behind it, that's for sure.

Gitl: Of course, I didn't know anything about that part of it at the time.

Bibi: Layna, Miz Brown is 86 years old now, and she decided it was time to stop the murders here. So with her daughters and granddaughters she kept petitioning the Tecton for a Sime Center.

Bibi: When I first arrived here, one of the granddaughters invited me over to Miz Brown's place for tea.

Layna: To her house? That's unusual, isn't it?

Bibi: Oh, most definitely! It was an important statement to the whole town. So I went there, with my Donor.

Layna: She's a prominent citizen, whose example other people are likely to follow?

Bibi looks to Gitl, the native, to explain.

Gitl: She's one of the pillars of the church around here, and you can't get much more prominent than that!

Bibi: As I understand it, Miz Brown promoted the post-Unity doctrine in her church's theology that channels were God's gift, but sinful man had wasted the gift on both sides of the border. So it was time to use that gift here at the Ford.

Gitl: That's pretty much the way most religious folks think in town, those that bother to think at all [snorts]

Layna: How much support has this Miz Brown given the Sime Center? Does she donate, as an example?

Bibi: Let me tell you about that! Here, I'll make the tea and we can take it out into the common room and let these people work. They've heard this one too many times already!

Layna laughs.

Layna: Well, we wouldn't want to bore them, would we?

Bibi pours boiling water into the teapot, picks up two mugs with her tentacles, carries the pot into the common room.

Layna follows Bibi ~~ eagerly ~~

Bibi sets the pot and mugs on the table and sits, gesturing to Layna to have a seat too.

Layna sits down next to Bibi.

Bibi: So! There I was drinking tea with Miz Brown and her granddaughter and my Donor. We progressed rapidly from small talk into what we were hoping the new Sime Center could do.

Layna: What sort of expectations did she have?

Bibi: Like me, she was mainly interested in saving the lives of children in changeover. Collecting selyn, for both of us, was a side issue. We got along chatting quite well, and pretty soon, the granddaughter cleared the table and brought out this roll of paper.

Layna: A roll of paper?

Bibi: Yes. I was mystified too. The two women unrolled it, and spread it out on the table and arranged the sheets and weighed down the corners, and Miz Brown beckoned me over to stand by her. So I went over and I could see that it was a family tree.

Layna: Her family?

Bibi: Yes, starting from her grandparents, through all their descendants to the most recently born infants. Every name, and the birth and death dates were in black ink, but some were crossed out or circled in red ink.

Layna: The Simes?

Bibi: The Simes, who had all been murdered during or shortly after changeover were crossed out, and the Gens they had killed were circled. You may not understand this, but it's a matter of pride out here that children will die before they kill, ask their families to shoot them.

Layna shudders.

Layna: It's barbaric.

Bibi: What's the alternative, Layna?

Layna: Well... I assume you mean, when no channel is close enough to help?

Bibi: Of course.

Bibi waits patiently.

Layna cogitates, and doesn't come up with an answer that she likes.

Layna: I guess there isn't one, or at least not one that doesn't result in a dead Gen, is there?

Bibi: Out here, it always results in a dead Sime, with or without a dead Gen, if there's no channel. The choice the child has is to die, or kill and then die.

Layna: Why don't they at least try to help the Simes who do kill across the border? They wouldn't be a danger to anyone, at least not for a few weeks, after all.

Bibi: Before Unity, helping a Sime across the border would be to cause the deaths of dozens or maybe hundreds of other Gens. For perhaps a thousand years or more it was like that. And people out here didn't know about the monthly need cycle. The few berserkers who stayed around killed more frequently and unpredictably than that. Since Unity....

Layna: But didn't at least rumors of the Householdings leak across the border? The Gens who escaped from Sime Territory would have known about channels, even if they didn't think much of them.

Layna blushes.

Layna: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt. Go on, please.

Bibi: I don't know, Layna. Perhaps Nattin does. If such rumors existed, they were likely just along the border, not this far out-T. I doubt they'd have been believed. And even after Unity, when the soldiers brought home the evidence of their own eyes, it was hard for people to apply to their own lives here.

Layna: Were there a lot of soldiers from Hannard's Ford who fought in the Unity War?

Bibi: I believe there were some, but none still alive that I know of.

Layna is ~~ disappointed ~~

Bibi: It was nearly two generations ago, Layna.

Layna: Less than forty years. Professor Nattin lived through it. In any case, you were telling me about Miz Brown's family tree.

Layna settles back and takes a sip of her tea.

Bibi: Yes. So we looked at it, and I commented at how few names were circled, and I could zlin that she knew I understood that that was something to be proud of. She pointed out the branches of the family that were cut off by the murders and the kills, and then she pointed to the bottom of the chart, the current children.

Layna: The ones who were still at risk?

Bibi: Yes. Mostly her great grandchildren. She said "Am I going to need any more red ink?"

Layna: What was your answer?

Bibi: I said "I'll do everything I can so you won't." She said "I believe you" and picked up her bottle of red ink that was holding down a corner of the chart and threw it into the fireplace where it smashed.

Layna: Did she believe you? What did her family think of that?

Bibi: From what I could zlin through my retainers, she wanted very much to believe me. She was determined to believe me. She turned to my Donor, a man old enough to be my father and said "And you, young man, you make sure she can do it."

Layna: She understood how important a good Donor is to a channel's efficacy? That's unusual, out-Territory, isn't it?

Bibi: I don't know how much she understood, but she knew by then that a channel works with a Gen assistant, in a support role. As for her family, they do what she says, most of them entirely willingly. They're very proud of her.

Layna: So they went along with her decision to trust you to take care of the changeovers?

Bibi: Oh, yes. A number of them had been very active in the effort to get the Sime Center here, and the rest backed them.

Bibi laughs.

Bibi: Just about every living Gen descendant of Miz Brown is a donor here, too.

Layna: She has that much influence? What did she do, order them to donate? Or did she just shame them into it?

Bibi: Miz Brown herself was the first! She told me that she'd come by the Sime Center first thing the next morning, to be the first donor at the Ford, and she did!

Bibi: I think I was more nervous than she was - I'd never zlinned a Gen over eighty, much less taken a donation from one! But she has a will of iron, and was determined to stay calm, and it went off well despite the half dozen family members she had there to witness it, and who all donated too. They'd had plenty of time to work themselves up to it, and they had their new religious doctrine behind them as well.

Layna: It still sounds like an exhausting morning.

Bibi: It sure was, for all of us.

Layna: Don't Firsts usually deal with the first donations? Especially when the donor isn't used to Simes?

Bibi: Well, I'm the only channel here, so I do it. There aren't that many Firsts, Layna, and they mostly work in the bigger cities both in and out-T.

Layna is used to the idea of first donations being taken by the Sectuib.

Layna: Still....weren't you afraid that one of them would panic?

Bibi: It's always a risk. But very few Simephobes are going to come in here and volunteer, and I'm pretty good at helping people feel comfortable about donating. I was really glad I had such a good Donor that month, and having an older Gen man here helped the donors feel more comfortable too.

Layna: Well, I suppose that's true, about the Simephobes. Are there a lot of them, out here?

Bibi: I don't know, Layna. I have to spend almost all my time here, in case someone comes in late in changeover, so I only meet the people who want to meet me. There certainly are people who have reason for Simephobia - they've been attacked, or witnessed attacks, or lost family members to the kill.

Layna: It's ironic. They'd be much safer from Sime attack, if they'd only donate regularly.

Bibi: Well, the risk of being killed out here is considerably greater than it is in-T, but still, it's not a major cause of death. This society has adapted to that risk. As an anthropology student, you'll come to understand that. Children are raised to believe that to become Sime is a death sentence, and it's better to die without killing. A kill shames the family for generations. Now we're offering them an alternative, and most of them can take it.

Layna: Why would they not take it?

Bibi: Well, first, ignorance - not everyone knows or understands what a channel can do. The Tecton lost a unique opportunity because they weren't able to put many Sime Centers out-T right after Unity, when the returning soldiers could vouch for them.

Bibi: Another reason is that in adapting to the terrible necessity to murder their own children, people out-T have developed religious beliefs that make it impossible for them to believe that life as even a nonjunct Sime is worth living. Fortunately, the most extreme religious groups don't have many members or much influence here.

Layna: Isn't that one of the things that the Tecton looks for, when placing a new Sime Center?

Bibi: Yes. There were a number of unfortunate incidents before the Tecton came to understand the importance of religion to many people out-T.

Layna: I've heard that in some places, parents refuse to let their children be helped by a channel. And that the children agree, even if that means they'll die.

Bibi: Yes. It still happens around here.

Layna: I can understand a child in changeover choosing death without killing over death after killing. But why choose death over life without killing?

Bibi: They believe that to be a Sime is a fate worse than death.

Layna: Why? I could understand thinking that if one had to live junct, but why should it matter, otherwise?

Bibi: You were raised to see Simes as being just as human as Gens, just as you were raised to see men as just as human as women. Try to imagine if there were another kind of creature, an inhuman monster, a demon in the distorted shape of a human being, with no conscience, perhaps no real mind... would it be better to die than to become that?

Layna: Well, yes, but Simes hardly lose their minds at changeover!

Bibi: These people have never met a Sime, except the very rare berserker.

Layna: They read newspapers, don't they? Surely there's enough coverage of events in-Territory to disprove the mindlessness hypothesis?

Bibi sighs.

Bibi: Where I grew up, the Church of the Purity wasn't very strong. Changeover was something nobody talked about much, at least not to children, other than making sure they understood their duty.

Bibi: Still, there wasn't much information about life in-T, and nobody thought or spoke about it much, or not that I ever heard as a child. We learned about Unity in school, and celebrated the victory of our brave soldiers over the evil Simes, how we forced them to stop raiding.

Layna: They didn't tell you that it was a cooperative effort? Between both in- and out-Territory militaries, and the Householdings as well?

Bibi: The schoolbooks were fairly vague. If they mentioned the Householdings it may have only been in connection with the One Good Sime, Klyd Farris.

Bibi: It was pretty irrelevant to us kids. We knew we had the choice to die or kill then die. We could never run for the border and it would be wrong to live after killing anyway. Most of us believed changeover couldn't happen to us, or tried to believe that.

Layna: Nobody knew about disjunction?

Bibi: I don't know. I certainly didn't. But I believed it would be wrong to live after killing, and I didn't believe I would want to either. We had the cautionary tale in my own family, of my uncle who killed twice in First Need, and then shot himself. A poor second to dying without killing, but a correct choice.

Layna shudders.

Bibi: Forgive me, Layna, I'm coming into need and the depression shows. More tea?

Layna holds out her cup.

Bibi refills Layna's cup and her own.

Layna: If I'm going to do my thesis work out here, I have to understand how these people view Simes, and channels. ~~ determination ~~

Bibi: Yes, you do. You can talk to some of the donors, but don't interrogate them. Make friends and let them tell you their stories their own way, in their own time.

Layna: I wanted to focus on the social changes that happen when a Gen town first encounters channels. Professor Nattin suggested going to Gumgeeville.

Bibi: Well, he's your supervisor. I'd recommend you not go alone. Perhaps Ghan will go with you.

Layna: Why? Is it dangerous?

Bibi: No, but people will be less confused if there are two of you. A young woman traveling alone is viewed with some suspicion out here. Magit's mother may come to visit her here in a few days. You could talk to her a bit, too.

Layna: She's the one who refused to shoot her daughter?

Bibi: Well, no, it wasn't quite like that. She took her daughter to her father, for his opinion on whether it was changeover or not. He said it was changeover, and while he went to get his rifle, Magit hid in the cellar. They both expected her to die of attrition down there in a day or so.

Layna's eyes widen.

Bibi: But after Magit was rescued and served in First Need by Hajene Seruffin, her mother was able to accept her as a Sime. Now she's very supportive of her. Strange, eh?

Layna: Very. Although I suppose it's unlikely that she knew just how horrible a death her daughter would have had, in that cellar?

Bibi sips her tea, aware of how need is darkening her view of the world.

Bibi: Out of sight, out of mind.

Layna: That's....

Layna tries to find an appropriate word, and fails, making do instead with a descriptive wave of the hand not holding her teacup.

Layna: But there must be something different about Magit's mother, if she was able to accept her daughter after changeover. If I can figure out what it is, maybe it'll be easier to bring it out in others.

Bibi: I hope you'll be very careful around her and Magit. I don't know her, or why she had such a powerful reversal of feelings, or was able to reject her upbringing or whatever happened. But it may be something quite fragile, quite easily disrupted, and both of them could be very badly hurt.

Layna's natural exuberance has been shaken by the conversation, and she replies soberly.

Layna: I'll be careful.

Bibi: Perhaps, like Ghan and Driver, you can help me a little with the changeovers, talk to the kids about life in-T if they come in at an early stage, and help them adapt afterwards. Eventually, you may be able to help reassure the parents.

Layna: Do you have a lot of parents bring their children in?

Bibi: More every year. Sometimes Nattin goes out and informs them, if the kids came in on their own.

Layna: How do they take the news?

Bibi: Some still want nothing to do with the child, some are desperate to know what happened and come back here with him. You'll have to talk to him about it.

Layna: I will.

Bibi: It's a lot for you to absorb, this cultural immersion. I hope you can learn to see the world the way people out here see it, how they've had to live with the possibility of their children killing them, that they might have to murder their children. I hope you can sympathize with them and the terrible compromises they've had to make, and how the world is changing for them, and how they can dare to accept the changes.

Bibi: You and Nattin are Householders, but Ghan and Driver are grandchildren of juncts. Their grandparents lived in a mirror-image world of the one out here, in some ways.

Layna: Yes, and it was just as brutal.

Bibi: More so in-T, where everyone killed every month, but the role of the parent, knowing a third of your children would die, and die badly, was much the same. In Gumgeeville, people have never had a choice, and don't really have one now.

Layna: It's too far to travel, with a child in changeover?

Bibi: They believe so, and they may be right. But most of them have never considered it.

Layna: It's too strange and new a thing?

Bibi: Too hard to believe, perhaps. And again, many probably believe that to be Sime is a fate worse than death. And most probably just don't want to think about the possibility of their child changing over.

Bibi sips her tea, feeling ~~gloomier ~~. It would be nice to have Cristal around to support her a little, annoying though he usually is. Well, he'll be down for breakfast soon.

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