The Next Month At The Ford: Episode 4

Vrian nudges the Mullins family's tired and irritated plow horse to coax it to walk a little faster.

Vrian has pushed the beast faster than his father would approve of, but he's got more to accomplish in Ford than his parents know, and he'd prefer to keep it that way. He calculates that the time he has saved will let him take care of his own business, early enough in the morning that there shouldn't be too many prying eyes around to notice. He can then openly purchase the necessary parts to repair the broken plow, and still make it back in time for dinner.

Vrian has never before been sent on such an important errand, but his older brother had to help their father repair the roof, which didn't hold up well in the last storm. He's feeling quite grown up, a sensation that he views with mixed emotions.

Vrian hasn't forgotten how the money jingling in his pocket was earned, nor the family excursion to Ford planned for two weeks hence. He has, in fact, been spending a lot of time remembering it, much to his distress. He's decided that Something Has To Be Done, and has settled on a course of action that he hopes will save him from that most dreadful of fates: proven cowardice.

Vrian is realistic enough about himself to accept a certain amount of cowardice, but not if everybody knows about it. Especially his big brother. He isn't afraid that Bart would taunt him about it, or tell the other boys. Bart, he feels sure, would be cloyingly sympathetic, and murmur comforting things about him being too young to take on adult responsibility. Vrian is 12 years old, his face has two new pimples and three almost-visible mustache hairs, and he's far too grown up to accept such an unjust verdict.

Vrian leaves the horse with the blacksmith to get a new set of shoes, since his father's Simephilia has led to a certain tension with the Gumgeeville smith. He knows that most of the stores won't open for a while yet, and so he announces his intention to stretch his legs until the horse is ready and ever-so-casually inquires about the local sights: the town hall, the fairgrounds, the Sime Center, the river, the park with the statue of General Ballis...

Vrian is pleased when the Sime Center is only the second stop on the blacksmith's proposed route, making it less likely that he'll get lost and have to inquire again.

Bibi is sitting in her office, reading a journal article on a changeover complication she has never heard of before. Only three cases have ever been documented, but it sounds awful.

Vrian blithely sets out, and before too much time has passed finds himself outside of a worn old farm house surrounded by a hedge. He looks for the slaughterhouse: check; the gravel pit: check; and finally, the neat sign declaring the house to be the Hannard's Ford Sime Center.

Bibi finds that reading the article is aggravating her need depression, and goes to the kitchen to fetch a fresh pot of tea. She pours herself a cup and looks out her office window.

Vrian squares his shoulders (still rather on the scrawny side, despite the labor he does on the Mullins farm, due to less-than-plentiful nutrition), glances quickly around to make sure that nobody is observing him, and skitters down the path.

Bibi sees the boy approaching, and as he gets closer can zlin that he's established. She smiles, figuring that she'll be able to tell the rather nervous-looking young lad some good news, and goes to the reception area to meet him.

Vrian is less sure that he's doing the right thing, now that he's actually here, but he has inherited a goodly measure of his mother's stubbornness. He pauses on the porch, hand raised to knock, and remembers his father's offer to check out the channel, and make sure that everything is okay, before letting a tentacle touch his children.

Vrian would have preferred to let his father do so, if all else was equal. He's discovering, however, that adult life is full of variables. He nerves himself up to try the door.

Vrian is half ~~ relieved ~~ and half ~~ disappointed ~~ to discover that it isn't locked, even though the Sime Center isn't officially open yet. He steps through, calling "Is anybody there?" in what was intended to be deep, manly tones, but turns out to be more of a shrill squawk.

Bibi remains seated on one of the reception area chairs, tentacles retracted.

Bibi: Hello. Please come in.

Bibi smiles one of her charming dimpled smiles.

Vrian ~~ startles ~~ at the sound, as he hadn't noticed her sitting there. His field isn't high by any means, but it's grown significantly in the past two weeks.

Bibi: I'm Hajene Bibi. Did you come to find out if you're safe? You are. You've established. You're a Gen. Congratulations!

Vrian stares at Bibi for a long moment.

Bibi continues to smile, looking as friendly and harmless as she can manage.

Vrian had somehow envisioned all channels as being grandfatherly, distinguished diplomatic type gentlemen.

Bibi is surprised that the kid isn't reacting to the news in any way.

Vrian realizes he's staring, and blushes.

Vrian: Er, thanks, but I know that. Hajene Seruffin told me, two weeks ago.

Vrian looks around the room.

Vrian: Is he still here?

Vrian sounds a bit plaintive: he's not used to dealing with strangers, at the best of times.

Bibi: Ah, you must be Vrian Mullins, then. Hajene Seruffin and Sosu Gerrhonot have left for New Washington.

Vrian is ~~ disappointed ~~.

Vrian: Oh.

Bibi wonders what Vrian is doing here alone, and so soon. All the approaches she discussed with Seruffin involved his brother and father. She falls back on Gen hospitality.

Bibi: Would you like some tea and cookies?

Vrian is 12 years old, has grown three inches over the winter, and has just finished a two-and-a-half-hour ride.

Vrian: Um, sure. Thanks. But, um, do you have any juice instead?

Bibi: We have fresh milk. How about that?

Vrian debates with himself whether milk is a beverage that a Real Man can admit to drinking in public.

Bibi notes that Vrian doesn't look very well nourished and figures that he's probably always hungry now that he's into a growth spurt.

Vrian isn't sure, but wasn't all that fond of Hajene Seruffin's Sime tea, and milk does go very well with cookies.

Vrian: Milk would be fine, thank you.

Bibi: Follow me, then.

Vrian follows at a polite distance, or maybe a touch more than a polite distance.

Bibi heads back to the common room.

Bibi: Here, have a seat, I'll be right back.

Vrian sits on a comfortable but slightly shabby sofa, and occupies himself in looking around.

Bibi goes into the kitchen, loads a tray with a pitcher of milk, a glass, a plate, cookies, and some of the goodies left from breakfast - muffins, squares of cornbread, biscuits, honey, butter, jam etc.

Bibi: Here you go. I brought you a bit of everything. Help yourself.

Bibi puts the tray on the low table in front of the sofa and sits in a chair opposite.

Vrian's eyes widen in pure Gen greed at the sight of the repast, and he digs in. He had breakfast, of course, but that was a long time ago.

Bibi is using the "motherly" approach she discussed with Seruffin. If she knew how Vrian's mother cooked, she'd realize how unfamiliar it is to him. She sips her tea and enjoys Vrian's healthy enthusiasm for the food.

Vrian is certainly projecting enough unrestrained appetite to make an entran-suffering Farris channel in hard need pick up a carrot and nibble.

Bibi cautiously allows her tentacles to emerge into their natural position.

Vrian works his way quickly through the plate, accustomed as he is to vying with an older brother for any edible treats. He swallows the last mouthful of cornbread, and follows it with a gulp of milk, which leaves a much more substantial mustache than he can yet claim legitimately.

Vrian: Thank you, ma'am. That was delicious.

Bibi: You're welcome. We have a very good cook here.

Vrian notes the extended tentacles, and some of his enthusiasm over the food dims as he remembers why he is there. He has been spending quite a bit of time, lately, thinking about tentacles and other things.

Vrian: My mother does pretty well by us, but she doesn't cook like that.

Vrian is nothing if not ~~ loyal ~~

Bibi: Gitl is a real artist in the kitchen. We're all very happy that she works here.

Vrian's family loyalty is, in fact, part of his current dilemma.

Bibi waits patiently for Vrian to explain why he's here.

Vrian's nager muddies as his thoughts drop back into the circular reasoning that's been making him miserable, and sparked this desperation ploy.

Vrian: Did Hajene Seruffin tell you about what happened with my dad, and my brother?

Bibi: Yes, and your mother, too.

Vrian had really hoped to find Seruffin here, so as not to have to try to explain the whole mess. He's a touch ~ relieved ~ , under the muddle, to learn that he won't have to repeat the whole story. Vrian has been trying hard to forget what happened when his mother tried to donate, with the result that he's been thinking of little else.

Vrian: Well, we haven't been doing so well, since Dad lost his job. The money Hajene gave them for their stuff has made a huge difference.

Bibi nods.

Vrian thinks about the new horse shoes, and the parts for the plow, and the new shingles his father and brother are nailing on the roof, instead of trying to salvage the old ones.

Vrian: We thought we were going to lose the farm, for a while, and we're still in debt. Dad and Bart have decided to come here, when their stuff's grown back. Ma won't; she's too afraid, and Dad's told her that she shouldn't. Women are like that, you know.

Vrian isn't well acquainted with many adult women, but he has it on his father's excellent authority.

Bibi: Some are. Some men are, too.

Vrian: Yeah. The cowards are.

Vrian's nager betrays his ~~ contempt ~~ for cowardice, and his deep-seated ~~ anxiety ~~ that he'll turn out to be one, himself.

Vrian: A real man does what's necessary, no matter what.

Vrian says this rather forlornly.

Bibi sees that things are pretty much as Seruffin described them, though perhaps worse, since Vrian has had more time to worry himself into a knot.

Bibi: Vrian, these things aren't that simple. There are lots of reasons to donate, and lots of reasons not to donate.

Vrian knows of only one...being too chicken.

Vrian: There are? Like what?

Bibi: Well, some people believe that it's wrong to have anything to do with Simes, even to talk to them, or touch them, much less help them stay alive.

Vrian: Yeah. I know some people like that. They're wrong, though.

Bibi: How do you feel about Simes?

Vrian would like to endorse the Mullins family party line, but he notes that Bibi asked about his feelings, not his thoughts. He learned during Seruffin's visit how impossible it is to bluff a Sime.

Vrian: Confused, mostly. I want to do the right thing, with my father and brother, but what if I can't? It's all right for Ma to be scared, but I don't want my brother and father thinking I'm a coward.

Bibi: Not everybody can, even if they want to. It doesn't mean that they're cowards.

Vrian: It means they're too scared, right? And if you're too scared to do something you ought, you're a coward.

Bibi: Are you scared of me?

Bibi can zlin he isn't, really, in this context.

Vrian thinks the question through before answering.

Vrian: Well, not when you're across the table from me, drinking tea. And when I know I won't have extra stuff to take for a while, yet.

Vrian is not all that solid on his nageric science, and doesn't realize that his field is much higher than it was two weeks ago, when Seruffin told him that.

Vrian: But that won't be the case if I come in here with Dad and Bart, you see.

Bibi wonders how to proceed. If she were a Sectuib in one of Nattin's stories, there'd be a number of things she could do that would get her in big trouble as a Tecton channel.

Vrian's serious demeanor doesn't go well with the milk mustache.

Bibi: Vrian, do you have any ideas about things I could do to help you?

Vrian: I dunno. I just don't want to find out I can't do it when my dad and brother are watching.

Vrian's face turns beet red as he imagines the resulting ~~ humiliation ~~ he'd suffer if he had to back down.

Bibi: We usually do donations in a private room, except under unusual circumstances. So your dad and brother wouldn't be there unless you wanted them to be. And since it would be a first donation, we could take as much time as necessary to make you feel comfortable.

Vrian: Even if they weren't in the room, Dad and Bart'd know if it wasn't going well.

Vrian is very ~~ worried ~~ about that possibility--just as worried as that it won't go well, actually.

Bibi: Tell you what -- would you be willing to try something that might help you stop worrying about it?

Vrian perks up with ~~ hope ~~

Vrian: Sure. Is there something?

Bibi: Yes, I think so.

Vrian has been vainly seeking such a remedy for two weeks, now.

Bibi gets up and approaches Vrian. She offers her hand, tentacles retracted.

Bibi: Do you think you can touch my hand?

Vrian looks at it for a moment, uneasily.

Vrian: I guess so.

Bibi: Go ahead.

Vrian's hand twitches, then he gets it under control and extends it to rest on Bibi's.

Vrian: Like that?

Bibi: Sure. Would you like to hold hands? Just like with another Gen? A Gen girl?

Vrian blushes, momentarily distracted from Bibi's Simeness.

Bibi smiles encouragingly.

Vrian hasn't yet managed to get a girl to hold hands with him, and he's not completely convinced that Bart has, either. He realizes that he might actually be able to reach this important milestone before his brother, an intriguing possibility.

Vrian: All right.

Bibi moves her hand into a more natural position for holding hands, as Vrian does the same.

Vrian looks at their joined hands, thinking that somehow, he'd imagined holding hands with a girl would be less nerve-wracking. He will no doubt learn in time that it's just as nerve-wracking with a Gen girl, if not more so.

Vrian feels obliged to say something.

Vrian: You're as hot as Hajene Seruffin.

Bibi squeezes Vrian's hand in a friendly way.

Bibi: Yes, all Simes are. Let's walk up to the front again. I'll show you the donation room, okay?

Vrian feels an uneasy ~~ twinge ~~ at the proposal, but he's supposed to be grown up, right?

Vrian: Sure.

Vrian isn't sure about anything, except that he doesn't want to be a coward.

Bibi tugs gently on Vrian's hand.

Vrian allows himself to be led.

Bibi proceeds slowly up the hall to the reception area, and opens the door of the donation room. It's pleasant and sunny, and the calico curtains make it homey.

Vrian looks around, and his eyes settle on the strange thing in the room: a really weird piece of furniture against the far wall.

Vrian: What's that?

Vrian points with his free hand.

Bibi: That's the transfer lounge. The donor sits on that end, and the channel sits on this one.

Bibi leads Vrian over to it as she talks, and sits on her end.

Vrian's hand follows Bibi, bringing the rest of him along with it. He finds that he has to bend over awkwardly to stand beside the lounge while Bibi sits, and so he somehow finds himself sitting on the donor's end of the lounge.

Bibi: How are you feeling now, Vrian?

Bibi smiles encouragingly, and squeezes Vrian's hand again.

Vrian: Kind of nervous, actually.

Bibi: That's okay. I'm glad you can tell me that.

Vrian can't help noting how well the lounge places him in easy reach of Bibi's other hand.

Vrian thinks this is a bit different from touching Seruffin's tentacle across the table, with multiple witnesses to make sure nothing happened. He would really like to have his father or brother around to interfere if something bad happens, if it weren't that then they'd know if something bad happened. Vrian is, in short, suffering from ~~ angst ~~ as only a teenager can suffer from it, although it's not the sort of focused terror a true Simephobe would display. He is, after all, more afraid of himself than he is of Bibi.

Bibi: Are you curious about tentacles? Would you like to have a look at mine?

Vrian: I saw Hajene Seruffin's. Even touched one.

Bibi offer her other hand, palm up, tentacles retracted. it's a small harmless looking hand.

Vrian looks at Bibi's proffered hand, then beyond it to the tentacles orifices, which don't look nearly so harmless.

Vrian tells himself not to be a coward, and lifts his free hand to take Bibi's.

Bibi lets her tentacles emerge, but doesn't touch Vrian with them.

Bibi: You can touch them if you like.

Vrian tenses at the sight of the emerging tentacles, and but gamely reaches one finger of his second hand to brush against a dorsal.

Bibi brushes back.

Vrian flinches at the movement, then catches himself.

Bibi: I'm sorry, Vrian, I didn't mean to startle you.

Vrian is ~~ heartily embarrassed ~~

Vrian: They just...I'm sorry.

Bibi: It's all right. It takes most people a while to get used to something as strange as this.

Vrian: They're weird all right. They move like they've got minds of their own.

Bibi: No, it's all my mind doing it. Just like my fingers.

Bibi wiggles her fingers.

Vrian smiles, faintly.

Bibi: I never saw tentacles myself, until my changeover. And I thought they were pretty weird for a while too. I grew up out here too.

Vrian: You did? Where?

Bibi: The other side of New Washington. On a farm near a place called Maple Grove.

Vrian: I haven't heard of it, I'm sorry.

Vrian looks at the tentacles again.

Bibi: It's pretty small, smaller than the Ford, and no railroad.

Vrian: I bet it was a big shock for you, to have tentacles, if you weren't used to them.

Bibi: I was terrified when I went into changeover. But I had the good fortune that it happened when I was on the class trip in New Washington, so I could find a channel to help me. Hers were the first tentacles I'd ever seen. It took a while to get used to, but they're really kind of fun, and useful too.

Vrian: Yeah, I can see that they'd be useful. I mean, beyond their intended use.

Vrian supposes the usefulness of tentacles in taking "stuff" from Gens has never been in doubt.

Bibi: Well, I can carry a bunch of cups even when I have my hands full of plates, which is very handy.

Vrian has been distracted from his angst by Bibi's story, which is all to the good.

Bibi is trying to make herself seem ordinary and familiar.

Vrian: I can see how it would be.

Bibi: I was so glad I turned out to be a channel, so I could help other kids like I'd been.

Bibi looks into Vrian's eyes.

Bibi: That's what my tentacles are intended for, saving lives.

Vrian: Is that why you work in Gen Territory?

Bibi: Yes. This is what I wanted to do, from the time I changed over.

Vrian thinks Bibi's eyes are kind of pretty, for an old lady's. He has temporarily forgotten, in his distraction, that a Sime has ahold of both of his hands.

Bibi: Would you like me to take your arms in donation position, so you can see what it's like?

Vrian: Umm...

Bibi: We can go very slowly, a bit at a time, okay?

Vrian is a bit ~~ dubious ~~, but can't think of any good reason not to allow it.

Vrian: All right. I guess if I can do that, I should be able to...

Vrian can't quite bring himself to say, "let you suck my life force out, in only two weeks".

Bibi: I'll just go very slowly... First I'll slide my hands onto your wrists...

Vrian watches Bibi's hands as if hypnotized.

Bibi: That's okay, isn't it?

Vrian nods, a bit jerkily.

Vrian: Yeah.

Bibi: Good. You're doing well.

Vrian remembers watching Seruffin take his father, and isn't so sure.

Bibi: Now, I'd like to extend my handling tentacles, and just place them lightly on your skin, is that all right?

Vrian very much wants to be as fearless as his father.

Vrian: Go ahead.

Bibi does so.

Vrian manages not to flinch again, but only because he's holding himself rigid to prevent it. He finds being touched by tentacles a very different thing from touching them himself. Vrian takes after his mother, who's something of a control freak.

Bibi: How did you get here today, Vrian? Did you get a ride with a neighbor or something?

Bibi is using distraction to give Vrian a chance to get used to her touch and relax.

Vrian: I rode the horse in. He needs new shoes before we start plowing, and Dad managed to get into an argument with our smith.

Bibi: Oh, dear. Not about Simes, I hope.

Vrian's tone is distracted, as he looks at the tentacles wrapped around his arms.

Vrian: Yeah.

Vrian tries to twist his arm a bit to see the other side.

Bibi: I suppose a lot of your neighbors have strong opinions about Simes.

Bibi allows Vrian to move freely in her grip.

Vrian: Yup, and they aren't shy about expressing them. I s'pose it's only fair, though, because Dad sure has opinions of his own on the subject.

Bibi smiles (charming, dimpled).

Bibi: Hajene Seruffin was impressed by your father. I'm looking forward to meeting him.

Vrian finishes his inspection and looks up, a little ~~ confused ~~

Vrian: Dad said he couldn't move his arms, when Seruffin had him.

Vrian's tone is half statement, half question. He knows his dad sometimes exaggerates for artistic effect.

Bibi: I'm just holding you lightly. I'll have to tighten up if I have my laterals out, especially if we were doing an actual donation.

Vrian: Oh. Why's that?

Bibi: Laterals are very delicate, and if they're injured it can mean a very prolonged and painful death for the Sime. Also, during a donation, when the selyn is flowing, if the connection breaks suddenly, it can hurt both the channel and the Gen.

Vrian: It sounds awful.

Bibi: The channel can usually arrange things so he protects the Gen by taking all the pain and injury himself.

Vrian: No wonder you want to make sure that they don't slip.

Bibi: Yes. And that's how your mother got bruised. Hajene Seruffin was trying to protect her from worse injury, as well as himself.

Vrian isn't a bureaucrat, but he is a younger brother, and has a passing acquaintance with the concept of "cover your ass".

Bibi: Normally we just hold the donor's arms snugly, like this.

Bibi tightens her grip, snug but not uncomfortable.

Bibi: That's okay, isn't it?

Vrian tries to move his arms again, just a little, and is ~~ uneasy ~~ when Bibi's grip prevents it.

Vrian: It's a little...strange. You're very strong.

Bibi: Yes. I can let go of you if you want, but you're doing so well, I'd like to continue. Is that all right?

Vrian debates whether withdrawing, as he'd sort of like to do, would count as cowardice, and is forced to conclude that it would.

Vrian might not have expected something like this when he decided to scope out the Sime Center thing ahead of time, but a Real Man takes on challenges as they come, with a sneer. He can't quite manage the sneer, but he does manage to say, "Go ahead." He's glad that his brother isn't around to hear his voice squeak, however.

Bibi: You're pretty strong yourself - I can feel the muscles in your arms. I think once you get your full growth, fill out, you'll have a very impressive build.

Vrian: Really? Bart can pin me, four times out of five.

Vrian has a sinking suspicion that Big Brother lets him win the remaining 20%, but has never quite been able to bring himself to call Bart on it.

Bibi: And at your age you can pin him one out of five? That's really good. When you catch up to him, I think he's going to regret anything he might have done to you before!

Vrian: Aw, he's okay, for a big brother.

Bibi smiles.

Bibi: I know what you mean. I have a big brother too. We squabbled all the time, but we really cared for each other.

Vrian: Yeah. Do you see each other often?

Bibi: No, I haven't seen him since I changed over.

Vrian: He won't visit you?

Bibi: He's running the farm now, and he can't get away. It's a dairy farm, and the dairy farmer is a slave to his cows. Milking twice a day, every day, with no time off.

Bibi is not telling the whole story, just part of it.

Vrian: Oh. And I suppose you can't visit him, if there isn't a Sime Center there?

Bibi: Well, it's difficult to travel out-T for Simes. And I'm more tied to this Sime Center than he is to his cows. Cows are milked on a timetable, but a child in changeover could come in here at any time,.

Vrian is struck by a thought.

Vrian: Those tentacles of yours might be handy for milking.

Bibi laughs.

Bibi: Oh, you're right! But I never had a chance to try it. I think Simes in-T must use their tentacles to milk.

Vrian: I guess they would.

Bibi: Do you have cows?

Vrian: No, only goats. We had to sell the steer we were fattening, to pay for winter supplies.

Vrian had been looking forward to eating beef all winter, but he's a farm boy, and understands that steers sell for a lot more than goats, which are also made of meat.

Bibi: Goats! Oh my, how often do they figure out how to escape?

Vrian: A lot more often than they used to, before the fence started to go.

Bibi: Goats are a lot smarter than cows, or at least more independent.

Vrian looks down at Bibi's tentacles again, at this reminder of the reason why it's so vitally necessary that he be able to donate, even aside from issues of manliness.

Vrian: Nasty beasts, really, but they breed well, and they're cheaper to keep than a cow.

Bibi: Yes. They can do well on poorer forage.

Vrian hasn't done quite as well on his recent poor forage.

Bibi: Vrian, you've done really well so far, here. Would you like to go ahead and let me make a lateral contact, and then a lip contact, so it's just like a real donation?

Vrian's arms, which had finally relaxed, tense again.

Vrian: Just like you were going to take my selyn?

Bibi: Yes.

Vrian gulps.

Vrian isn't the coward he fears that is, however, and in fact he's inherited a goodly amount of his father's bravado. His voice quavers, however, as he says, "All right." He blushes at this display of weakness, glad that his brother didn't hear it.

Bibi: Good. Now what I'll do is hold the contact for a full minute, so that it will be just like a real donation that way. But I'll tap you arm with my finger, like this, every second, so you can count seconds and know how much longer it will be, okay?

Vrian wonders if his nerve will hold out for a full minute, but he's gone too far to back out, now. He nods jerkily, unwilling to risk another squawk.

Bibi: Good. Now if you want me to stop, you tap my arm. I won't be able to let go of your arms before I retract my laterals, so it will take another second or two. But I promise I'll stop as fast as I can if you want me to.

Vrian nods again, a little ~ relieved ~ to be offered an escape route.

Bibi: Now, I'll touch you with my laterals - they have a selyn-conducting fluid on them that tingles. Most people say it feels weird, but I guarantee it won't hurt. Please remember not to move, because you can hurt me.

Bibi extends her laterals into position.

Vrian hisses at the feeling, his arms twitching in spite of Bibi's caution.

Vrian: That feels having a hungry cougar licking at my arms, testing to see if they're fat enough to be worth biting.

Bibi: Oh dear... not like a friendly dog? or a goat that likes the taste of salt?

Vrian shakes his head.

Bibi: Do you want me to stop?

Bibi knows he won't say yes.

Vrian doesn't trust himself to say anything, at the moment, and so he shakes his head again.

Bibi: Good. Here comes the part that all the men who come in here like - Sime kissing! You're taller than me, so you'll have to bend down and make the lip contact.

Bibi offers her luscious lips.

Vrian wrestles with the conflicting instincts of larity and gender. He realizes, however, that the minute Bibi mentioned won't start until he does as she asks. He therefore bends down, a bit stiffly, until his lips are in the general vicinity of Bibi's.

Bibi reaches up a little to make the contact. She makes her lips a bit softer and more appealing than she would normally do in a donation. She zlins Vrian carefully. He's in good health, only slightly undernourished, but having established, he's starting a real growth spurt along with beginning puberty.

Vrian doesn't notice Bibi's lusciousness, as his attention is suddenly preoccupied by the thought that she has Got Him.

Bibi uses her perfect Sime time sense to tap Vrian's arm once per second... 20 .. 21 .. 22..

Vrian tries to count the taps, but keeps losing track. Surely it's been at least 50?

Bibi thinks Vrian is doing very well. He's pretty nervous, but nobody could legitimately call him a Simephobe. 35... 36... 37 ...

Vrian fights the instinctive urge to pull away, telling himself that it wouldn't work, anyway.

Bibi decides to go ahead with the last bit of her plan... 49... 50... 51...

Vrian has forgotten, for the moment, that Bibi isn't supposed to be taking his selyn, and that she's agreed to let him go if he taps her.

Bibi carefully collects three dynopters, an insignificant amount of selyn. 58.. 59.. 60... She breaks the lip contact, and withdraws her laterals. She releases her grip on Vrian's arms and leans back, smiling at him.

Vrian is panting with relief, as he leans back and away from Bibi. He clutches his arms to his chest protectively.

Vrian: That was scary, and you weren't even really doing it.

Vrian's fertile imagination is quite capable of filling in that missing detail, however.

Bibi: You did very well. You were nervous, but you stayed still, very steady.

Vrian wonders if there's a difference between "steady" and "too scared to move".

Bibi: A coward couldn't have done that. So now you know that you aren't one.

Vrian: I was scared.

Bibi: Yes, but you controlled your fear, and did what you were afraid to do, and did it well.

Bibi is doing her best to pump up Vrian's ego.

Bibi: Isn't that what courage is?

Vrian: Well, sort of. I guess.

Vrian has always believed that courage is all about not being scared in the first place, but he's also been taught that it's rude to contradict an adult.

Bibi: If you weren't scared, it wouldn't have taken any courage to do it.

Vrian thinks about that for a moment, and nods tentative agreement.

Vrian: I dunno if I could do it for real, though.

Bibi: What do you think would be different?

Vrian: Dad said he didn't feel anything much, and so did Bart.

Vrian is kind of ~~ skeptical ~~ of this assertion, however.

Vrian: Even if that's true, though, I'd know you really were doing it. For real.

Bibi: Do you think so? How would you know?

Vrian: Well...

Vrian tries to come up with a coherent answer, and fails.

Vrian: Because you said you would?

Vrian is aware that this is a rather weak effort.

Bibi: Come to my office -- I've got something for you.

Bibi gets up and offers her hand to Vrian.

Vrian hesitates less than he did the first time Bibi offered a hand, before putting his hand on hers.

Bibi leads the way to her office, lets go of Vrian's hand and digs around in her top desk drawer. She offers Vrian some coins.

Vrian looks at them.

Vrian: What's that for? ~~ confused ~~

Vrian wonders if she's offering him lunch money, or something.

Bibi: I took just a little selyn, so that you'd have the full experience. So now I'm paying you for it.

Vrian's eyes widen.

Vrian: You took selyn from me??

Bibi: Just a bit.

Vrian: But....Hajene Seruffin said there wouldn't be enough to take until the end of the month!

Bibi: You'll have enough for a full donation in two weeks.

Vrian: Oh.

Vrian's nager is a confused muddle of ~~ shock and amazement ~~ , with undertones of ~ betrayal ~ and ~ relief ~

Vrian: And it won't feel any different, when you're taking it all?

Bibi: Right. You wanted to know whether you could do it, and now you know.

Vrian isn't sure how he feels about Bibi's methods, but he has to admit she's proved her point.

Bibi might have made a good Sectuib back in the bad old days. A lot of them were Seconds.

Bibi: You'll have a long ride back to Gumgeeville. Let me pack you up a lunch. And Vrian, if you want, I won't tell anyone you came here today, okay?

Vrian: Good. Dad'd be furious.

Bibi smiles.

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