The Next Month At The Ford: Episode 6

Vrian has been unusually quiet since Seruffin's departure, and that has only been exacerbated since his trip to the Ford. He has a lot to think about, as he tries to come to terms with the changes in his life. He's young and adaptable, but the adjustment from 12-year-old kid, four years away from getting his gun, to a Real Man who shares responsibility for the family finances, is quite a lot to handle.

Vrian is inclined to take life seriously at the best of times, but today he doesn't even bother to "accidently" aim the hay he's forking down from the loft at his brother. He even absentmindedly did more than his share of the manure-shoveling earlier, without trying to argue Bart into doing it.

Bart is trying to get the goat kids to drink from a pail. This is very frustrating, since goats are born uncooperative and as a rule refuse to do things even in their own best interests if you try to get them to.

Bart remembers Gerrhonot telling him that his uncle told him to go ahead and try Donor training, because taking care of one channel had to be easier than looking after thirty-five orphan lambs, as Gerrhonot did the summer before he established.

Bart wonders how many goat kids are equivalent to one channel. He thinks about his experience donating to Seruffin, and how strange but how good it felt to be in a transfer contact with him.

Bart, as an experiment, tries to act calm and Donor-like while the kids bleat pitifully, their mother bleats angrily, and goat milk gradually soaks his clothes. He thinks looking after a channel like Seruffin would certainly be a lot less messy, and as well as more dignified.

Vrian brings an armful of hay for the adult goats, and tosses it into the manger, spreading it around so that all the goats can get some.

Vrian: How's it going, Bart? Are they drinking?

Bart: One of them keeps getting the idea, then the other two see it's happy so they push it out of the way and stick their noses in and splash milk all over me. Here, you hang onto the two brown ones and let the black and white one drink its fill.

Vrian: OK.

Bart: Thanks.

Vrian puts down his pitchfork, and jumps into the pen.

Vrian: Here, you. Stop playing and come over here.

Vrian corrals the two slow learners, leaving the class genius free access to the pail.

Bart is glad to see the black and white kid sucking up the milk even as the others bleat frantically as Vrian distracts them, even though it keeps sneezing milk at him.

Bart: There's gotta be a better way of making a living.

Vrian: Well, you could have worked at the pulp mill like dad did, except it closed.

Bart: Yeah. Once I turned sixteen.

Vrian: I'm not convinced that getting spattered with stinking wood pulp is better than getting spattered with nice clean goat milk, though.

Vrian has never considered leaving Gumgeeville in order to find work.

Bart: Yeah, I gotta agree with you there. And on a farm you can at least organize your own work.

Vrian: Yeah. All you gotta worry about is money, and everybody worries about money.

Bart: Well, if you're a farmer, you can worry about the weather, too. Take this late spring, is the ground gonna dry up soon enough that we can get the maize in early enough so it won't get ruined by a fall frost?

Vrian shrugs.

Vrian: Every way to make a living has its disadvantages.

Bart: I guess so.

Vrian: Even if you ran a general store, you'd have to worry about the crops. How else could your customers afford to buy from you?

Bart: Yeah. And if you don't extend credit, they won't buy from you when they do have money.

Bart thinks how relieved his mother is that they can pay off some of their debt at the store.

Vrian: Even the stationmaster lives by the weather, 'cause the trains don't run when the track's snowed in.

Bart: Well, he gets a salary from the railroad, so he gets paid whatever the weather.

Vrian: Yeah. A steady income can sure be important.

Bart: At least we've got a roof now that shouldn't leak even if we get more storms like that last one.

Vrian: Yes. And it wasn't the corn crop that bought the shingles. Or the new horseshoes. Or the parts for the plow. Or...

Bart has been reluctant to discuss donating with Vrian because it seems to get him into that same unresolvable worry cycle every time.

Vrian falls silent, thinking of the other purchase he made in Hannard's Ford: a pretty bit of purple ribbon that is just right to decorate their mother's hat. He didn't pay for the ribbon out of the funds that his father gave him for the trip.

Bart: Okay. I think this little guy is full. You can let go of those two screaming demons now.

Vrian does so, with some relief, as the little creatures aren't easy to hold when they want to play.

Vrian: I guess it isn't so important that we get the corn crop in on time, is it? It isn't our real cash crop, any more.

Bart grabs a kid and sticks its snout into the bucket with one hand, while he holds the fingers of the other in the milk to tempt its tiny brain and braces the bucket with his feet.

Bart: If we get a good yield we can raise up the pigs fatter and get more for them.

Bart looks at Vrian directly.

Bart: The donation money is going to make a big difference in our lives.

Vrian: I know. And...I think I can maybe do it.

Bart is pleased that the kid starts sucking on his fingers and absorbs some milk at the same time.

Vrian: But Bart, have you ever thought that not all channels are like Hajene?

Vrian grabs the third kid before it can knock its fellow out of the way.

Vrian: Wait your turn, and you'll get a lot more to drink.

Bart: Thanks. Umm. I guess there would be young ones and old ones. And some would be women I suppose.

Bart is a little startled to think of female channels and what it would be like to take a transfer contact with one.

Vrian: It's not just that. If Simes are people, some would be more honest than others, right? I mean, about what they're doing.

Bart: I guess. Did you ask anybody at the Ford about the channel there?

Vrian shuffles his feet.

Vrian: Well, no. Not exactly asked. If you know what I mean.

Bart: What happened? Did you hear somebody talking about him?

Bart has gradually lowered his fingers and the kid is drinking milk by itself now.

Vrian is a level-headed boy, and keeps his priorities straight very well, even under emotional duress.

Vrian: Promise you won't tell anyone? Not even Ma and Dad? Especially not Ma and Dad?

Bart wipes his hands on his wet pants and turns to his brother.

Bart: Are you okay, Vrian? What happened?

Vrian shakes his head.

Vrian: Promise first.

Vrian's stubbornness is such that Bart should find most channels easy to get around, in comparison.

Bart is a little worried, but Vrian seemed to be okay when he got back from the Ford, just tired and hungry - quite understandable.

Bart: Well, okay, I promise.

Vrian nods.

Vrian: Well, I know Dad said he wanted to be the one to check the Ford channel out first, to make sure everything was okay. But I was in Ford anyway, and well, I haven't been sleeping too good.

Bart is well aware of this, since the two brothers share a bed. The same bed Seruffin took his donation on.

Vrian: So I thought it might help me stop worrying if I checked things out myself, early.

Bart: Uh huh.

Bart knows it's usually best to let Vrian tell his stories his own way.

Vrian: That way, if I couldn't, I wouldn't embarrass Dad by backing out at the last minute.

Bart: But now you think you can?

Vrian: I think so. I'm just not as certain that it's the right thing to do. At least, not after we've paid off the debts.

Bart is distracted as the third kid, perversely, sticks its head in the bucket and starts drinking as if it had been doing it for weeks, although it's only a few days old.

Vrian shakes his head at the sight.

Bart: Maybe you should tell me the whole story from the beginning.

Vrian: Well, I went into the Sime Center--it's an old farmhouse near the slaughterhouse. I met the channel. Her name is Hajene Bibi. She's kind of pretty, I mean if you don't mind tentacles. She's old, but not as old as Hajene.

Bart listens attentively.

Vrian will always think of Seruffin as "Hajene".

Bart visualizes someone older than his mother, but better preserved.

Vrian: She invited me in, and gave me a second breakfast. It was real good, too: not just porridge.

Bart can't help but perk up and feel the least bit jealous at the mention of good food, for free.

Vrian: She knew who I was. I think Hajene told her all about us. She asked why I was there, and I said I didn't know whether I could donate, and I didn't want to find out I was a coward with the whole family watching.

Bart wonders if Seruffin told her about his Donor potential.

Vrian turns red with embarrassment at this admission of weakness a Real Man wouldn't show.

Bart: That was brave of you, to just come out and tell her that when you had just met her.

Vrian: Well, I did ask if Hajene was there, but she said he and Gerrhonot had already gone to New Washington. Besides, if she was gonna be the one doing it, it made sense to settle things with her, right?

Bart: It sure did, but I still think you were brave to do it.

Vrian's rather scrawny chest puffs out a bit at this praise from Big Brother.

Bart is not just trying to make his brother feel better - to come out and admit something like that to a "kind of pretty" woman takes guts.

Bart: So what did she say?

Vrian has not yet gotten past the tentacle thing enough to notice that Simes have gender also, at least on the gonadal level, where he does most of his thinking on the subject.

Vrian: She said there was something she wanted to try, that should settle the issue once and for all. Well, that's why I was there, so I said okay.

Vrian is, in hindsight, aware that he should have asked a few more questions before agreeing blindly.

Vrian: So she asked me to hold hands with her, just like she was a Gen girl I was dating or something.

Vrian is several years away from interesting any of the local girls, so he has no direct comparable experience.

(There are several lines missing here, where Vrian describes the events with his slant. Vrian's last line was about taking a transfer contact.)

Bart thinks this is a lot like what he suggested Seruffin do to Vrian.

Bart: Did you say she could?

Vrian: Yeah. I mean, I could hardly back out, could I? Not after I'd agreed.

Bart: I guess so. What happened then?

Vrian: She did it, like she said. Real slow, and she kept asking me questions and stuff.

Bart: Were you scared?

Vrian: I don't know how you could be so calm, when Seruffin did it to you, Bart. Those wet ones were like being licked by a hungry panther, wanting to sample its dinner.

Vrian's fists clench at the memory.

Bart: But you didn't panic, did you?

Vrian: No. Not much, anyway.

Bart: I mean, you don't have any bruises or anything, so you must have stayed calm, too, or calm enough.

Vrian: Well, she didn't complain, anyway.

Bart: Sounds like you did like Dad. We know he was scared or at least real nervous, but he stayed calm enough, like you did.

Vrian isn't quite ready to accept that comparison, as he doesn't remember his dad being quite so dismayed.

Vrian: Well, anyway, she said that if I wanted to know what it'd be like, to do it for real, she'd kiss me. For a whole minute, just like she was taking my stuff.

Bart: Did you do it?

Bart is a bit nervous about Vrian claiming Bibi offered to kiss him. Was it a real kiss, or a lip contact? Is she some kind of sex maniac, or is Vrian just telling it in his own words?

Vrian: It seemed like a practical test. I mean, if I couldn't do it that way, I'd know I couldn't do it for real, right?

Bart: So you did it and didn't panic, and it turned out all right. That's great, Vrian.

Vrian: Well, it didn't all turn out right.

Bart: What happened?

Vrian frowns.

Bart is getting pretty concerned. Did this old woman do something... perverted... to his little brother?

Vrian: Well, when she let me go--and it felt like a lot more than just a minute--I asked her if it would really be like that, when she was taking stuff, and not just faking it.

Bart: Well, Dad and I didn't feel anything. What did she say?

Vrian: She said yes, that's exactly how it would feel, and when I didn't believe her, she said I should come up to her office for a moment.

Vrian: You know that ribbon I brought back for Ma?

Bart: Yeah?

Vrian: I didn't pay for it out of the money Dad gave me for the horseshoes and stuff.

Bart: You used the money from your jar?

Bart knows that Vrian's jar, where he keeps the few bits of cash he owns, is as nearly empty as his own.

Vrian: No. Hajene Bibi gave it to me. She'd taken some stuff, and she said she wanted to pay me for it.

Bart: She did? Wow.

Vrian: Bart, she never said anything about taking stuff for real. I didn't even think it was possible for another couple weeks, after what Hajene said.

Bart: She must have known that you were upset about it. What did she say?

Vrian: She said she wanted me to know what it would feel like. All of it.

Bart: So now you know... You don't have anything to worry about, because you know about the whole thing, and that you can do it....

Bart isn't sure what to think about that himself. It was kind of a trick, but it worked. Or did it?

Vrian: Yeah. I can do it. I'm pretty sure of that, anyway. And I think she meant well, but...she should have told me.

Bart: It was kind of a trick.

Bart thinks about it some more.

Bart: Vrian. I'm real impressed that you went there all alone and did something that scared you so much without anybody to be with you in case anything happened. I don't think I could have done something like that when I was your age.

Vrian doesn't need to be reminded, just now, that he's only a kid of twelve. He thinks being a Real Man would have been easier if he hadn't had to do it until he was sixteen, or nearly, like Bart.

Vrian: I dunno if it was a smart thing to do, after all.

Vrian is just as inclined towards recklessness as any young adolescent boy; he just is more inclined to second guess himself, afterwards.

Bart finds himself wanting to defend the channel's methods, instead of sympathizing with his brother's sense of betrayal or humiliation.

Bart: Well, you didn't get hurt, physically at least, and you did find out what you went there to find out...

Vrian looks at his brother with a touch of indignation.

Vrian: You think it was right for her to trick me?

Bart: No. I guess not. But she didn't say she wouldn't take any, did she? And if she hadn't, you'd still think there was something to worry about.

Vrian: Channels aren't supposed to take stuff from Gens who haven't given permission, right? That's why the government trusts them to put their Sime Centers in our towns, right?

Bart: Maybe you did give her permission, without realizing it. From her point of view, I mean.

Vrian: Huh? I never said she could take stuff. Not until two weeks from now, anyway.

Bart: She said she could do something so you wouldn't be worried, would know whether you could donate, right? And you said okay, and she could zlin that you were sincere.

Vrian: Well...yeah, I guess so.

Vrian admits this a bit reluctantly.

Bart: And she kept asking you if it was okay to go ahead, and you kept agreeing, right? I mean, you said she's an old woman, she must have done this zillions of times.

Vrian: Yeah. But she was asking whether she should go ahead with each thing, before she did it. Except she didn't ask about taking stuff.

Bart: She figured since you couldn't feel it, it would have been the same if she did or she didn't except if she didn't you'd think there was something you still had to worry about.

Bart: Gee, you know? Maybe she didn't really take anything, she just said it to make you feel better.

Bart isn't thinking out the implications of that.

Vrian: You think she might have lied? Gerrhonot said Simes don't lie, remember?

Bart worries he might have undone much of the good Bibi did in desensitizing Vrian to the donation experience.

Vrian: That bit about Simes being able to detect lies, so it doesn't do them any good to do it?

Bart: Yeah, I guess so. So maybe she did do it, but you didn't know that until she told you.

Bart figures it will just confuse things to point out that with no other Simes there, Bibi could say whatever she wanted.

Vrian: I think I can let her take my stuff now, so that part of it worked out okay, I guess.

Bart: Yeah. You don't have to keep worrying about it now.

Vrian: I'm glad of that much, cause we both know how much chance we have of keeping the farm without some cash coming in.

Bart: But you kind of feel tricked by how she did it.

Vrian: Yeah. It's too much like the kind of tricks they say Simes are supposed to do, to get their tentacles on a Gen's stuff.

Vrian doesn't bother to specify names, since both brothers are well aware of the views of their less Simephilic neighbors.

Bart: But she didn't take what you had. She just took a little, right? So she did it to help you feel better, not to get your selyn. Well, I guess she'll get it at the end of the month, but you did tell her you wanted to know if you could do it.

Vrian: Yeah. If she'd asked, I'd probably have told her to go ahead.

Vrian isn't completely sure of this, but the whole thing was basically a dare, and a Real Man doesn't back down.

Bart: Maybe when we go in, when you talk to her again, you should tell her that you think she tricked you and you don't like it.

Vrian thinks about that.

Vrian: I don't want her mad at me. Not when she's taking my stuff.

Vrian isn't aware that his own anger is more likely to be a problem, as he has no idea how to control it. He thinks of donation in terms of stuff being taken from him, rather than him giving it. Vrian isn't cursed with a Donor's potential, after all, and he's recently learned that his cooperation isn't necessary for the process.

Bart: Well, maybe after, then. Maybe she'll explain to you why she did it, or maybe she'll apologize.

Vrian: That's a good idea, Bart. Maybe I will.

Bart: You do it, Vrian. Face her like a man.

Vrian: She does owe me an explanation.

Bart slaps Vrian's shoulder in a manly way, but not too hard.

Bart: She does.

Vrian feels considerably better about the situation.

Vrian: Bart, do you think she's more typical of channels, or Hajene?

Bart: I don't know. I mean, Gerrhonot says that channel is something you're born with, like red hair. So they'd be all kinds of people.

Vrian: He seemed to think Hajene was pretty special, the way he hovered over him.

Bart: He said that he and Hajene are right up near the top, the way they classify them. The top channels are the most sensitive ones. They can zlin more, but they can be hurt more easily. But he really cares about him, personally.

Bart gets a strange thrill of warmth and protectiveness, thinking about looking after a channel.

Vrian: Why do you think Gerrhonot likes him so much? He's a nice guy, and all, but still, looking after a Sime is kind of a weird job to have, don't you think?

Bart: Well, Gerrhonot isn't very smart, he told us that himself. And Hajene is kind to him and looks after him too, and lets him know he's appreciated. You know how stupid people get picked on. And Donors help channels with their work, so it's a job like being an assistant to a doctor or a lawyer or something like that.

Vrian: That's an important job.

Bart won't describe the feeling of attraction he had to Seruffin himself, since his potential Donor talent is still a secret, and he doesn't understand his feelings himself.

Vrian: But isn't it weird, to look after a Sime like that? I mean, Simes used to drag Gens around with collars and chains, right? And buy and sell them like livestock? Even apart from killing them? I mean before the war.

Vrian: But Gerrhonot acted sometimes as if the war had never been fought, and he was Hajene's property.

Bart: Well, channels are different from ordinary Simes. The kind of work they do they have to have a Gen help them. A Gen with a special talent.

Vrian: A talent for not getting killed, right?

Bart: I don't think he acted like property. I think he acted more like Hajene was his grandfather, or something, and needed his help.

Vrian: You wouldn't hover over a grandfather like that unless he was doddering and senile. And Hajene's neither.

Bart: No, it's more than that. Remember when we were sitting at the table after Hajene gave Magit transfer? He looked so tired and ill, and he said Gerrhonot was doing something to help him recover.

Vrian: Yeah. I remember. He just sat there, though.

Bart: Well, he was doing something, even if we couldn't perceive it. He was doing something that Seruffin could zlin.

Bart: I was watching them after that, and I think I could tell from how Gerrhonot was standing or moving, the expression on his face, when he was doing things to help Hajene.

Vrian: You could?

Vrian is amazed, and a tad skeptical as well.

Bart: Well, I don't know if I was right, but I think I could sometimes.

Vrian: He just seemed to be hanging around, to me.

Bart: Like when Ma and Virla came in, he got up and stood between them and Hajene. He was protecting him from their emotions in case they were emotions that could hurt him.

Vrian: Or maybe he just thought there'd be less trouble if they couldn't see Hajene's tentacles?

Bart: Well, he did keep them in, you saw that.

Vrian: Yeah. He's real polite, that way.

Bart: He's a diplomat, for the Nivet government. That's why they were going to New Washington.

Vrian: I guess he really is important, then, isn't he? I mean, I don't think any of our diplomats have ever come through Gumgeeville. Well, except on a moving train.

Bart: Well, in Nivet he's important. And he didn't come here on purpose, no matter what Virla says. But even though he's a big wheel, he was very polite and respectful with us, and we're nobodies.

Vrian: Well, it wasn't as if anyone else in town is poor enough to take in a Sime boarder, and even Simes would have frozen outside during that season. He couldn't afford to offend us.

Bart: Yeah, but I doubt he lives like we do the rest of the time. He probably has a nice house and stuff.

Vrian: Well, a diplomat would, wouldn't he?

Bart: Yeah, it's hard to imagine him living on a poor farm like us.

Vrian: Do you think Gerrhonot has a house, too? Or does he live with Hajene?

Bart: I don't know. I suppose he'd prefer to live with Hajene.

Vrian: Yeah. They seem almost married.

Bart: Or like members of a family. I wonder what it's like when the Donor isn't... is more normal mentally?

Vrian ponders the question.

Vrian: Well, there wasn't a Donor around when I talked to Hajene Bibi, so I can't say.

Bart wonders what it's like when the channel and Donor are of opposite sex. Do they... ummm....

Vrian: Maybe Hajene Bibi's Donor will be around when we go there to let her take our stuff.

Bart: Yeah. I guess she'd be around when the channel is working. The place wasn't really open when you were there, was it? Like there weren't people sitting around waiting or anything.

Vrian: No. I pushed the horse over the pass, so I'd be there before there was anyone around to see me.

Bart: Gee, Vrian, you know you shouldn't do that. What if he goes lame? We'd be screwed with planting season coming up.

Vrian: I was careful. I only trotted him when the path was smooth.

Bart: Well, okay. Just don't do it again, right?

Vrian looks a bit defensive.

Vrian: I won't. But I had to know, and I couldn't figure out any other way to find out.

Bart: You did okay. It worked out all right. But it was a risk, with the horse. That blacksmith did a good job shoeing him though. Better than that jerk Nergal.

Bart definitely takes his father's side against the local smith.

Vrian: Yeah. The horse is fine, and even if he had gone lame....well, like I said earlier, we're the cash crop, these days. And a farmer has to put first priority on how much the cash crop is gonna bring in, right?

Bart: Vrian, we've still got our lives to live, as men. We're not going to just farm ourselves for selyn. It's something to get through hard times, and to make our lives even better in good times. But we've still got to do real work to have self-respect.

Vrian: Yeah. But we gotta know how much the selyn is going to bring in, don't we? So we can plan?

Bart: Well, Dad and I made about the same amount of money, so I guess you will too.

Vrian: I guess.

Bart: I wonder if Virla will go donate again.

Vrian: I dunno. She did it the first time to see Magit, and they'll send her to Sime Territory soon, won't they?

Bart: Yeah, if they haven't already. But she's got all these religious ideas going about Magit and channels and God and stuff now. Wouldn't it be funny if she got all those church ladies going to the Ford to donate with her? Miz Toozer and all them?

Vrian: Miz Toozer'd never kiss a Sime.

Vrian grunts and staggers as one of the goat kids butts him on the leg, then reaches down to pet it absently.

Bart: Well, I wouldn't have thought Virla would either.

Vrian: Magit is her daughter.

Bart: Or that Dad would or that you or I would.

Vrian thinks that he hasn't actually donated yet. Not on purpose, anyway.

Bart: No, I think things are changing. This village is such a backwater, they're changing here late, but they're changing. Us Mullins men are the vanguard, eh?

Bart smiles at Vrian and slaps his arm.

Vrian grins back.

Vrian: That's us, starting the fashion.

Bart: Marching at the head of the parade.

Vrian turns his head at an impatient clanging sound.

Vrian: Isn't that the lunch bell?

Vrian takes a strong interest in his boring meals of cabbage, these days.

Bart: My stomach thinks so. Let's go eat. I'll just rinse out the bucket on the way.

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