The Next Month At The Ford: Episode 5

Bibi is sitting in her office feeling ~~ depressed ~~ about the past few weeks. She knows much of it is due to need, but she feels that she has to figure out some of it eventually.

Bibi is having trouble concentrating on anything, and has just made herself a pot of tea, but isn't sure she feels like drinking it.

Nattin enters with a stack of forms, all requiring Bibi's signature. He is over midfield, himself, although as a GN-1, his nager will never rival Cristal's.

Nattin: Good morning, Hajene.

Bibi: Oh, hi, Nattin. What now?

Nattin: Just some routine paperwork. Supplies, payroll, and Layna's permissions to do research in Gumgeeville, rather than Hannard's Ford. She's quite excited about the project.

Bibi: I wonder if she understands what she's getting into?

Nattin: Of course not, Hajene. If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be research!

Bibi tries hard to smile at the old joke, but doesn't succeed very well.

Bibi: She seems to be more naive about out-T culture than she realizes.

Nattin: Of course she is. She's just starting graduate school. She knows nothing about real field work.

Bibi: Do you think it might be helpful for her to stick around here for a few weeks, improve her English, and get a better feel for life out-T where we can answer her questions and explain things?

Nattin: Well, under ideal circumstances, yes, but it's important for her thesis that she catch the initial reactions of the citizens of Gumgeeville to Hajene Seruffin's stay.

Bibi wonders about that, given the bizarre ideas Layna seemed to have picked up from talking to Virla.

Nattin: She's Gen, so it's not as if she'd be in the kind of danger a Sime would.

Bibi: Well, they aren't likely to harm a woman, either. But they may not understand what she's doing, or why she's come to their village.

Nattin: Oh, that's nothing new. Few people view their own society as being interesting enough to be the subject of scientific research. If she does run in trouble, she's more than capable of defending herself.

Bibi: She is on the payroll here, and is supposed to do her share of the chores and so forth to earn it.

Nattin: Layna won't be able to work while she's in Gumgeeville, of course, but she won't be spending more than a few days at a time there. She can put in more time on the days she's here, just like the others do, when they've got a lull in their research programs.

Bibi: Well, I suppose that's all right then. She can work something out with Driver and Ghan about whether she's doing her share. Is her rail fare coming out of your grant then?

Nattin: Yes, and her hotel and expenses as well. It'll cost more than the others, but it can't be helped.

Nattin shrugs philosophically.

Bibi: Uh, Nattin. I hope she'll use violence as an absolute last resort? Like only if they attack first? I do not want an interTerritorial incident here.

Nattin: Dar is very good at instilling prudence into their members. They'd self-destruct otherwise. I'm actually less worried about Layna getting into trouble unprovoked than I am about some of the others.

Bibi thinks Nattin's intellectual understanding of out-T culture doesn't match her practical or 'native' one.

Bibi: Nattin... when an unescorted young woman comes into a village for no apparent reason and sets up at a hotel.... Do you know what the most likely thing the locals will think is?

Nattin chuckles.

Nattin: If I'm correctly interpreting the expression on your face, I'm sure Layna will be in for some interesting times. Don't worry. I'll speak to her about ways to handle it.

Bibi: Uh... the saloon is a major meeting place, but you do know that a decent woman is expected not to go in there alone. If she does she ipso facto demonstrates that she is not a decent woman.

Nattin: I'll remind her of that, but in the end, I have to let her use her best judgment on how to conduct her research.

Bibi: Maybe she can do something through Virla. It's her father who owns and runs the saloon and hotel.

Bibi is getting a headache thinking about how many ways Layna can innocently cause a riot in Gumgeeville.

Nattin: Perhaps, or she might be able to contact your Mullins family.

Bibi: Yes. Well, okay, I'll sign, but you make sure that she understands she is not to make me regret it, right?

Nattin chuckles.

Nattin: I think it's a bit late for that. Or is something else bothering you?

Bibi: What isn't? Do you want some tea? I've got a fresh pot here.

Nattin: Thank you.

Nattin sits down, disposing himself to listen.

Bibi gets a couple of mugs and the honey and cookies from the bottom drawer of the file cabinet and serves the two of them.

Nattin has had Bibi cry on his shoulder more than once, particularly since Cristal was assigned to her.

Nattin: Is Cristal bothering you again?

Bibi: No, no more than usual. If anything he's being more restrained and proper than ever. I guess Seruffin sort of got through to him a little.

Nattin ~~ approves ~~

Nattin: Then what is it, my dear?

Bibi wonders if Cristal will have another go at offering to help her with the CDs after their transfer again.

Bibi: I dunno, talking to Seruffin, interacting with him nagerically... I wonder if I've been out-T too long. I mean, I was born out here, but I am a Sime... I wonder if I'm forgetting how to live with Simes.

Nattin looks at Bibi shrewdly.

Nattin: You're worried that you're losing the place you fought so hard to earn, after your changeover?

Bibi: No. It wasn't much of a fight, anyway. It wasn't too hard to adapt to Nivet -- after all, I had a very respected job right out of training.

Nattin: And you've still got that job, only now you're fifteen years more experienced at it, with accomplishments most Seconds never dream of equaling. In truth, the hardest part of adjusting to life back in-T might well be adjusting to the routine nature of it all.

Bibi: I just feel... maybe I should.... I don't know. I mean Simes should live with... interact with other Simes... I don't want to give up the things I'm doing here, but I feel out of touch.

Nattin: You're long overdue for a vacation back home. Perhaps you could request permission to go to a seminar or something, to keep your skills up to date? You can't learn everything from journals.

Bibi: Yes. I think Seruffin made me see that. And things are a lot more settled now, but when they send someone in here while I'm away... I guess I don't trust them not to send in a channel equivalent of Cristal.

Nattin: Seruffin seemed to respect what you've done here. You might ask him to make sure that your replacement possesses the proper attitude. Then again, if you warn your clients ahead of time, and tell them that you'll be back shortly, they should be able to weather even a Cristal for a few weeks.

Bibi: Seruffin's not really in a position to do that without coming down on my management like a ton of bricks. Which isn't going to make them feel all that great about me, is it? I mean, here I am, at the bottom of the hierarchy and the Special Envoy of the World Controller is making sure everything works out for me? He's already planning to tinker with the works on my behalf...

Nattin: Hajene Seruffin is nothing if not diplomatic. I'm sure he'll be discreet.

Bibi: Yeah, but my Controller isn't an idiot, Nattin. Oh well.

Bibi: Did you get a chance to tell Seruffin about your ideas?

Nattin: Yes, I had several conversations with him. He's a very interesting individual.

Bibi's interest perks up.

Bibi: What did you find out about him?

Nattin: One doesn't find many non-Householders of his generation with such a clear perspective on the future.

Nattin notes Bibi's increased interest.

Nattin: You like him, don't you, my dear? And not just professionally.

Bibi blushes.

Bibi: It's probably mostly his nager... that sec attribute... It's really very embarrassing, I just can't keep from throwing myself at him. He's polite, but I really think he's humoring me.

Nattin: He didn't say anything to me, but he's polite. He wouldn't, without your permission. But I think he genuinely does admire what you've done here.

Bibi: I mean, here he is, a top-level Tecton type, with a stratospheric proficiency rating, and I'm just a very ordinary QN-2, a kid from a farm, with not much but a physically attractive body.

Nattin: Don't underestimate yourself. You may have started out as a farm kid, but you're a channel, now.

Bibi: Yes, he does admire what we've accomplished here, that's true.

Bibi reflects that Seruffin started out as a kid from a much poorer farm.

Nattin: And one who's shown that she can handle a difficult Controllership as well as any First. You've made a lot of difficult decisions, and your judgment has always proved sound. That's an important part of the Sectuib's gift, you know. Judgment.

Bibi: Well, it's still embarrassing that I'm more attracted to him than vice versa, and I'm so out of practice in dealing with other channels that I just swoon in his field and make a fool of myself.

Bibi thinks how she had to practically beg Seruffin to engage fields with her and blushes again.

Nattin: His nager is nowhere in zlinning range, now. Do you think, now, that he's worthy of your admiration? Irrespective of his attractive nager?

Bibi: Yes, I suppose so. But we're far from being equals, so even a friendship between us is....

Nattin: Quite possible. After all, you're both channels in good standing, with impressive accomplishments.

Bibi imagines Seruffin introducing her to his colleagues in Capital, and all of them thinking, behind their impenetrable showfields, that he's slumming, and just interested in her body.

Nattin: If it comes down to it, you have more in common, personally and professionally, with Hajene Seruffin than you do with me. And you're closer in age, as well. So there's no particular reason why a friendship between you shouldn't work, if you both desire it.

Bibi: Professionally perhaps, but personally?

Nattin: You'll never find out if you don't try, now, will you?

Bibi figures that Nattin just doesn't understand the power of sec, and how it embarrasses her.

Nattin: Why don't you send him a letter, telling him how much you enjoyed his visit?

Bibi: Well, he may be coming back through her any day now. I assume he's still in New Washington.

Nattin sees a great deal; Bibi is far from the first young Sime he's seen swoon over a strong nager.

Nattin: That gives you an excellent excuse for writing, doesn't it? To inquire if he knows whether he'll be coming back through soon?

Bibi: Oh, Nattin, I'd look like a silly teenager.

Nattin thinks that the silly teenager look appears much better on someone Bibi's age, than on a mature gentleman like Seruffin. He expects that if there is sufficient opportunity, he'll get the chance to make the comparison in person.

Bibi: He's so polite, so diplomatic... and I can't read his nager either.

Nattin guffaws.

Nattin: Look at his expression, Bibi. That'll tell you all you want to know.

Bibi: He's really good at managing that too, very good for a Sime.

Nattin: It's not an impossible task, even so. And it might even gain you what you want.

Bibi: Nattin.... I think what I'm missing is intimacy with other Simes. And because he showed up with that incredible nager, I got focused on him, to our mutual embarrassment.

Nattin: I may just be a nosy old man, but I think there's a bit more than just nageric attraction, here.

Bibi rubs her scalp with her tentacles.

Nattin: If not, you would have lost interest in him, once he was outside of zlinning range and likely to remain there for a while.

Bibi: What do you see? From his side? Other than professional admiration for how I've carried forward the Tecton's mission here at the Ford?

Nattin debates how much to disclose, without violating confidences.

Nattin: I don't think he's indifferent to you at all. Quite the contrary. Of course, he is honorable enough not to take unfair advantage. If you want him, you're going to have to convince him that he wouldn't be.

Bibi thinks she tried to, but for all the enjoyment she got out of it, she still wonders whether he was humoring her.

Bibi: It's still hard to know whether he's just humoring me, when he responds.

Nattin: Write to him, Bibi. Get to know him, and let him get to know you, without the nageric factor to obscure the situation. A piece of paper can't convey sec. You can explore the situation as equals, and discover if there's something there that you both want to pursue.

Bibi: Well, I guess I can send him a note, care of the embassy.

Nattin smiles.

Bibi thinks it's really a doomed relationship. How often would they be able to get together anyway?

Nattin: That's my Bibi. You can overcome almost any obstacle, once you decide that it's worth doing.

Bibi: I'm not sure yet it's worth doing. Maybe I should be trying to find a Donor who's a good match, whom I can hope to have out here at the Ford a lot of the time.

Bibi reflects that even though Gerrhonot had an even bigger nager than Seruffin, it was the channel that attracted her, not the Gen.

Bibi: Oh, well. More tea?

Nattin offers his empty cup.

Bibi fills it.

Bibi: Have another cookie, too.

Nattin does so, his breakfast having long since settled.

Nattin knows his Bibi pretty well, and suspects that it wasn't only the question of Seruffin's intentions bothering her.

Bibi wonders if she and Seruffin will both be pre-turnover when he comes back through the Ford, if he stops here at all, and blushes.

Nattin waits patiently for Bibi to get around to mentioning whatever it is. He deduces from the blush that Bibi is still thinking over the Seruffin issue.

Bibi wonders if she would have better control of her autonomic nervous system if she were a First.

Bibi: Did Seruffin talk to you about the people he stayed with in Gumgeeville?

Nattin: The Mullins family?

Bibi: Yes.

Nattin: They sounded like an interesting group. I was hoping that Layna could interview some of them.

Bibi: Did he describe the younger boy, Vrian?

Nattin: He spent more time bemoaning how difficult it would be to recruit his older brother as a Donor. But he did say the younger boy was an interesting case.

Bibi: What did he tell you about him?

Nattin: That he was less prepared for adulthood than an in-Territory child would be at the same natal age.

Bibi: Well, he is rather young, just twelve, and he wouldn't have been expected to consider himself an adult until he reached sixteen without changing over.

Nattin: And, hmm, that he might require special handling if he decides to donate, because he seemed quite upset about what happened to his mother.

Bibi: He was in here this morning.

Nattin's jaw drops.

Nattin: What for? He won't be high field for another two weeks.

Bibi: He wasn't very clear about that. He told me that he was worried that he would be too scared to donate, and he felt he really should. He said it was because they really needed the money, but he was also desperately concerned that if he couldn't it would prove he was a coward, to his everlasting shame before his father and brother.

Nattin looks ~~ interested ~~

Nattin: Out-Territory culture does place a very different emphasis on courage, it's true. And they define it differently, too, although I've never been really sure I understood the differences. And figuring out how they are applied to actions...

Nattin shrugs.

Nattin: So the young man was basically here on a self-inflicted dare, to test his courage?

Bibi: I guess you could put it that way. His father had sent him to town to get their work horse shod, and pick up some other things. But coming to the Sime Center was his own idea.

Nattin: What happened? How did he act?

Nattin is in full professor mode, tenacious in pursuit of knowledge.

Bibi: He wasn't really afraid of me, and was fairly willing to talk frankly about the problem.

Nattin: It is a problem, then? Seruffin wasn't sure whether it would turn into one or not.

Bibi: I took him back to the common room and brought out a big tray of food for him. He's at that "always hungry" stage, and I don't think he gets as much to eat as he'd like at home.

Nattin is far enough away from his own adolescence to chuckle.

Bibi: Yes, it's a problem. I thought at first I'd solved the problem for him, but now I wonder if I've made it worse.

Nattin: You don't usually second guess yourself, Bibi. What happened?

Bibi sighs.

Bibi: Well, I think I was too focused on solving the immediate problem of enabling him to donate, but how can anyone solve adolescent angst?

Nattin: You misjudged his problem?

Bibi: So while he was eating, we chatted a bit. He seemed to be so open with me, but so worried about this whole looking like a coward thing...

Nattin: At that age, humiliation can seem worse than death. As one grows older, one learns through experience that it only feels that way.

Bibi can't help but refer that back to her attitudes about Seruffin. Oh, well.

Bibi: So I asked him if he'd like to try something that might help him not have to worry about it. I didn't give any details, and he eagerly agreed. So I figured that I had "consent for therapy".

Nattin: Most channels would agree with that analysis. Do you think that Vrian would disagree?

Bibi: I doubt he thought about that at all.

Bibi: So I eased him into it, we held hands "like two Gens", and we walked to the donation room like that, and sat on the transfer lounge.

Nattin: How did he take it?

Bibi: He went along with it. I could practically read his mind: "Would it be cowardly not to do this? Would a real man do that?"

Nattin chuckles.

Nattin: Well, if that's how he viewed it, I doubt he'd think of complaining, no matter what you did to him.

Bibi: So I went very slowly, let him relax at each stage as he got used to it, distracted him talking about various things... Finally worked up to a sort of trial donation -- a transfer grip held for a full minute. I told him to tap my arm if he wanted me to break off, and I tapped his arm every second so he could count.

Nattin: And before he knew it, he was discovering that it's not half as terrible as he thought?

Bibi laughs wryly.

Nattin has been donating for so many decades that he's forgotten any nervousness he might once have had.

Bibi: I think he was so focused on what he looked like, or what someone else would think of him, that he wasn't really thinking deeply about what I was doing.

Nattin: If he was nervous about donating, that's probably just as well. Did he tap you?

Bibi: No, he didn't. But when I released him, he crossed his arms over his chest and panted like he'd run here.

Nattin: So you think he'd managed to control his fear? At least while you maintained the contact?

Bibi: All the time, his emotions were nervousness, not real fear. And he could talk to me like he trusted me, despite what I was doing. But he still wasn't convinced. He told me his father and brother had said they didn't feel the draw, but I could tell he didn't believe that was possible. So I asked him how he'd know the difference.

Nattin: He couldn't exactly ask the nearest Sime, could he?

Bibi: Well, he said that he'd know because I'd tell him, and yes, I would be the nearest Sime, wouldn't I?

Nattin: He must be a bright lad, to have caught on so quickly that Simes are poor liars.

Bibi: I doubt that was it. He just couldn't think of anything better, and he knew it was an awfully weak answer. So I offered my hand again, and hand in hand we went to my office. I gave him a bit of money and he asked what it was for.

Nattin: ...Oh, shen. You took a bit of selyn from him?

Nattin is distinctly ~~ worried ~~

Bibi: Just three dynopters. I could have lied to him about it, but as you say, Simes are poor liars.

Nattin: How did he take the news?

Bibi: Shock and amazement were his predominant emotions. From what he said, I realized that he thought it wasn't possible to draw from him until he had a full field at the end of four weeks. But there was an undertone of relief, and unfortunately one of betrayal.

Nattin winces.

Bibi: Yeah.

Bibi: I reassured him that it wouldn't feel any different when I took a full donation.

Nattin: Did he find that reassuring? Enough so to overlook your method of demonstrating it?

Bibi: We'd already had a discussion about courage. I think I convinced him that he'd shown courage by going through with it despite being scared, and he hadn't tapped out although he knew he could. I had pointed out that if he weren't scared, it wouldn't have taken any courage to do it.

Bibi: I wish I'd realized that he didn't think I could draw selyn from him. I promised not to tell anyone he'd been in.

Nattin: Did he make the same promise?

Bibi: No, I didn't ask him to. It's a long ride back to Gumgeeville, with nothing to do but think....

Nattin: If he tells his story to the wrong person, there could be real trouble.

Bibi: I realize that. It's one of the things that's worrying me. Of course, it's my word against his whether I lied about drawing selyn, and by in-T rules, he gave consent as an adult to me doing it.

Bibi: But this is out-T, and he's a child here.

Bibi: I suppose I should just have fed him, reassured him, and sent him on his way. And refused to take his donation in two weeks if he showed up in the same state. But he was so sincere, I wanted to help him.

Nattin: You did the right thing for Vrian. If he was as nervous as you say, he might well have been unable to donate, with two more weeks to dread it. Whether it was the right thing for you, and for the Tecton, remains to be seen.

Bibi: A proper Tecton channel would have been thinking about ease of selyn collection as a priority. It's all your fault, Nattin. You've been corrupting me with those Sectuib and Wild Gen stories.

Bibi smiles wryly.

Bibi: I suppose Driver and I can take refuge in Miz Brown's basement when they come after me with the torches and pitchforks.

Nattin: They'd certainly never dare storm her house.

Bibi: Can't you just imagine her out on the porch telling them to put out those torches and behave?

Nattin: Seriously, I think there's at least a chance that Vrian will be too embarrassed to tell anyone what happened to him. He did seem to be trying to keep his visit a secret, from what you said. And if he is upset enough to seek advice....who would he tell? His father or brother are the most likely possibilities, I'd think.

Bibi: The two people he least wants to know about his possible cowardice. But there is his SImephobic mother.

Nattin: Oh. I'd forgotten about her. She'd have no reason to try to calm her son down, and make him understand that he wasn't harmed, would she?

Bibi: He didn't seem terribly distressed when he left, just very thoughtful and somewhat confused and uncertain. He seemed like a very honest boy. And I did give him a chance to stop at every opportunity.

Nattin: If he really didn't believe that you could take any selyn from him, he might conclude that you suckered him under false pretenses.

Bibi: He may conclude that I just told him I did it, to make him feel better.

Bibi thinks again that it's too bad Gens can't zlin.

Bibi: But at any rate, I guess I'm either a liar or a deceitful insidious Sime.

Nattin is ~~ worried ~~

Bibi doesn't need to zlin any more of that.

Nattin's worry fades somewhat as his mind starts worrying away on the problem.

Nattin: What's really required is a way to contact the young man, and reassure him, before he has time to spread his story. Correct?

Bibi: Well, to do it without making things worse, which would be very easy to do. Make things worse, I mean.

Nattin: You can hardly make an unobtrusive visit to Gumgeeville, but there is someone who can.

Nattin nods towards the desk, where his stack of forms sits.

Nattin: Layna intended to contact the Mullins family anyway. Would you like me to ask her to sound the boy out a bit?

Bibi: I don't know, Nattin. I did tell Vrian that I wouldn't tell anyone about his visit. And I really don't think Layna understands out-T culture well enough not to blow it. After all, if he wasn't here, he wouldn't have ever met me, right?

Nattin: She should at least be able to figure out his general attitude towards you. If I brief Layna on Seruffin's findings and recommendations regarding the boy, but not on his visit here, that should still give her enough background to conduct a basic interview. And her very ignorance will demonstrate your trustworthiness in keeping the entire incident confidential.

Nattin doesn't count Bibi's telling him the whole story as a breach of confidentiality, for some odd reason. He has kept a lot of secrets in his time, after all.

Bibi: I guess that would work.

Nattin reaches out to pat Bibi's hand reassuringly.

Nattin: Save your worrying for when we discover that there actually is a problem, Bibi.

Bibi: I suppose. Thanks for listening, Nattin.

Nattin: Any time, Bibi.

Nattin pats Bibi's hand once more, then takes his leave.

Bibi pulls the pile of papers over, and starts reading and signing them.

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