The Next Month At The Ford: Episode 9

Jed is sitting in the Gumgeeville saloon, nursing a beer. It's been raining for the past two days, and the land is too wet to work. He's really glad that he's got a decent roof on the house, with all the rain they've been having. Ma used to glare at him when she put out the pails to catch the drips.

Gegg is also seeking refuge from domestic bliss, although in his case, it's his guilty conscience that's at fault, not the roof. He's afraid that if he spends the afternoon bumming around the house, his wife will catch on that he's trying to hide something from her.

Gegg is a brave man, but he knows from hard experience that there are limits to anyone's ability to withstand expert interrogation.

Gegg's fortitude is already hampered by his own inability to justify his actions, to his own satisfaction. He's decided to try fortifying himself in an alternative fashion, hence his trip to the saloon. He collects a beer from Henree, then looks around for suitable company.

Jed waves him over.

Gegg slips into a seat across from Jed.

Gegg: Jed, don't tell me your roof is leaking again? I thought you fixed it. Or is your missus unhappy about something else today?

Jed: Naw, roof is fine. Big relief not to have the old lady hassling me about it. I just got sick of hanging around watching the field I want to put the maize in turn into a swamp. Friggin' weather. First that late snowstorm, then all this friggin' rain.

Gegg: Yeah. If this goes on, we'll lose the apple crop. Bees don't fly in the rain.

Jed: If it isn't one damn thing it's another.

Jed feels better having somebody to complain to in a collegial fashion.

Gegg: What you gonna do, if the maize crop fails?

Gegg is aware of the Mullins family's precarious financial position.

Jed: Well, I was hoping to raise some extra pigs to sell, on the maize, but if it doesn't go, it doesn't go. I suppose I can put in some buckwheat or some friggin' turnips if it's too late to put the maize in. Just as well, maybe. Wife makes maize porridge with lumps that would choke a horse.

Gegg: You don't seem real worried about it. What you gonna do if your crops fail, Jed?

Jed: They won't all fail. We won't starve. Haven't starved yet.

Jed has had a winter of really boring food, but he hasn't starved.

Gegg: You've come awfully close. Living on cabbage over the winter, weren't you?

Jed: We had potatoes, carrots, squash, beans, stuff like that. Boring as hell. No meat, hardly. The hens are laying good now, and all the nanny goats have freshened. So we got milk. I might slaughter a goat kid in a week or two, just to have a taste of meat.

Gegg: Good to hear you're doing so well.

Jed: Yeah, well, it's spring. It took long enough, but now it's finally here.

Gegg: Yeah.

Jed: Nice to have milk on the porridge, and eat my own eggs now and again.

Gegg takes a carefully rationed sip of beer, having promised his wife that he wouldn't have more than two.

Jed has a bit of beer himself.

Gegg: If you're not selling the eggs and meat, you must be planning to sell...something else.

Gegg can't quite bring himself to mention what, as he finds the idea unsettling and vaguely obscene.

Jed: Shit, Gegg, you know me and Bart are going to the Ford to sell our selyn. Maybe Vrian too. So what are you pussyfooting around for?

Gegg: That Sime at the Ford...she ain't exactly like your pet house guest.

Jed: What? Don't tell me you went in and checked the place out, did you?

Gegg forgot for a moment that he's trying to keep it a secret.

Gegg: Shhhh! I don't want the whole world to know.

Gegg's wife would be very happy to know that she's her husband's whole world, no doubt.

Jed: Okay, okay, I'll keep my voice down. So what happened? You say the channel there's a woman?

Jed wonders whether Gegg donated, but doesn't want anyone else to know.

Gegg: Yeah. She's a lot younger than your guest was. And kind of pretty, in a thin sort of way. At least, if you're willing to overlook the tentacles.

Gegg isn't, personally.

Jed can't help but smirk, although he knows he won't get more information if he tries to tease Gegg about Sime seduction and "sexy" tentacles.

Gegg notes Jed's smirk, and glares.

Gegg: I wanted to find out how to tell early, if Mik starts turning Sime. That's all. Okay? ~~ defensive ~~

Jed gets serious.

Jed: Sorry, Gegg, sorry. What did she say?

Gegg: There'd probably be time to get to Ford. Just barely. In good weather.

Gegg looks out the window at the steady downpour.

Gegg: If it's raining, it'd depend on getting the train.

Jed: Yeah, those steep slopes on the wagon road are real bad in the rain. Not to mention the mud.

Gegg doesn't bother to say that this would be as much a matter of convincing the stationmaster to permit a changeover on the train, as of the schedule itself.

Gegg: Summer's coming, but still...Jed, my boy's got to be Gen. He's got to.

Gegg is clutching his beer mug hard enough to make his knuckles creak.

Jed puts his hand on his friend's shoulder. He's really really glad that he no longer has that terrible weight on his own mind.

Jed: He probably will be, Gegg.

Gegg: Your Sime, and this other one too, both said those daydreams he has about going Sime are a bad sign.

Jed: Bart told me about that.

Gegg: Jed, what am I gonna do if he turns Sime? If I have to shoot him, because I can't get him to help in time? It's almost worse, knowing that an alternative exists, out of reach.

Jed looks into his beer. What is there to say? Every parent knows that fear.

Jed: Gegg... look, this isn't much... but our Sime said a channel can tell a few days in advance if a kid is going to turn Sime. Mik can go to the Ford with us and get checked out every month. And if he's turned Gen, you'll know right away.

Gegg: They can tell days in advance? I thought it was only detectable after it started.

Jed: For Gens, it is. But Simes can tell earlier, and channels even before that. That's what our Sime said.

Gegg thinks about that.

Gegg: Just how close does a Sime have to get, to tell that far in advance?

Jed: I don't know. The closer the better, I guess.

Gegg: As close as when they, er, take your stuff?

Jed: I don't know. Our Sime was holding Vrian's hands when he figured that he was just starting to turn Gen. He didn't pick it up before, even though they were sitting across the table.

Gegg: So the Sime would have to touch Mik, to be sure?

Jed thinks that if Gegg had taken his repeated invitations to come over and talk to Seruffin, he could have gotten his answers right from the Sime's mouth.

Jed: I don't know, Gegg. I'm no expert.

Gegg: I don't know if Mik would go for something like that, even if he is worried sick that he's going to turn Sime. And I can't pressure him. Hell, I wouldn't let a Sime touch me, myself. How can I ask that of my boy?

Jed: Him and Bart are pretty good friends. And I bet Mik would jump at the chance to go to the Ford with us. He might come around. Bart said Mik wasn't afraid to talk to our Sime.

Gegg: Yeah, but your Sime was wearing his manacles at the time. It's different, when their tentacles are loose.

Jed wonders how much Gegg is projecting his own fears onto his son.

Jed: Well, Bart isn't afraid of channels, so maybe if Mik sees that, he'll be okay.

Gegg: I dunno. That Sime at the Ford was perfectly polite, but I couldn't ever forget that she could have me in a second if she wanted to. Another thing. Whatever it was your Sime had, that made people want to let him touch them...she doesn't seem to have it.

Jed: Gegg, that was your own idea. I never felt anything like that from our Sime, and neither did anybody else in my family. Nor Virla.

Gegg: I did. If he'd had time to work on me...I don't know what I'd've done.

Gegg shudders.

Jed: Well, if she's young and pretty, maybe that's all she needs to turn young men into Sime-kissers.

Gegg: Huh. At least until they're married.

Jed: Yeah. But look, Mik's not a Gen, so she can't hurt him, right?

Gegg looks thoughtful.

Gegg: That's right. She can't, can she?

Jed: Right. And if he is a Gen by then, she can tell without touching him.

Gegg rubs his chin in a contemplative fashion.

Gegg: Yeah. So I guess it wouldn't be too dangerous.

Jed: It wouldn't be dangerous at all.

Gegg: Still, I feel like I oughtta be there. At least at first, just to make sure Mik doesn't get pressured into something he's not ready for.

Jed: You come too, if you like. You can show us how to get there.

Gegg debates the relative merits of having reinforcements when he has to face the Sime again, against the danger of seeming a coward in Jed's eyes when he fails to give his own "stuff". He then remembers Jed's tale, and how his friend was apparently less fearless than he pretended.

Gegg thinks it might almost be worth facing the Sime again, to see if Jed's performance matches his bluster, this time.

Gegg: I might just do that. Next market day, you say?

Jed: A week from next market day would be about right.

Gegg: I'll have to think of something to sell. Can't let the wife find out.

Jed really doesn't like the way Gegg tiptoes around his wife, but she is Gegg's wife.

Jed is glad he married Ma, someone he can reason with.

Jed: Well, I suppose you could break something and go to the Ford for parts.

Gegg: What does Maree think, about you and your boys selling their stuff to the Simes?

Jed: It's all right with her, as long as she doesn't have to do it. She's not real happy about it, but she knows it doesn't do us any harm.

Gegg: That Sime at Ford--she can't be as experienced as the one that stayed with you. She's not old enough. You think taking stuff is like other things: you get better with experience?

Jed: How good do they have to be? You think you get much better at milking a cow after the first thousand times you do it?

Gegg: No. But I'd want to be a lot surer about it than if I was hiring a man to milk my cows.

Jed: Well, I plan to go first, before I let her touch my boys.

Gegg: Makes sense.

Gegg adds to himself, if you accept the premise that it's sensible to let a Sime drain you.

Layna has finally reached Gumgeeville, in spite of all the bureaucratic delays and training sessions that Professor Nattin and Hajene Bibi threw in her way.

Layna is quite ~~ eager ~~ to get to work on the task of unraveling the influence of Seruffin's visit on the previously untouched-by-the-Tecton culture of the village. She's quite convinced that she's the proper person for the task, given her extensive knowledge of out-Territory Gen culture. She's sure she's read every academic book published on the subject in the past three decades.

Layna bounces off the train, and trots through the rain towards the saloon, where she's been told she can find the innkeeper. Of course, she's dripping wet by the time she enters it. She's also young, vibrantly healthy and athletic, and dressed in clothes that don't quite fit together, according to out-T fashion.

Jed looks up to see a sodden young woman enter the saloon.

Layna trots through the door, looking far too ~~ cheerful ~~ to be mistaken for anyone in the agricultural industry. She goes over to the bar and engages in an earnest conversation with Henree.

Gegg turns his head to follow Jed's look, and frowns in puzzlement.

Gegg: Who's that?

Jed: No idea.

Jed watches the conversation, wondering what an unescorted young woman is doing in the saloon.

Layna arranges for a room, then asks the bartender how she can get ahold of the Mullins family. She has to be back in the Ford in two days, and doesn't see any reason to waste time.

Gegg: Traveler who got off the train a stop too early, you think?

Jed: Dunno. Looks pretty happy for that.

Gegg sees Henree point in their direction.

Layna comes towards them a moment later, smiling in a friendly fashion, and carrying a glass of cider.

Gegg: Whoever she is, looks like Henree's sicced her on us. It's not like him to do that to a pair of married men.

Jed is amused. This looks like it could make a great story so far.

Layna: Hello. I'm Layna ambrov Dar. Which of you is Jed Mullins?

Jed: That's me, Miz Dar. Have a seat. What can I do for you?

Layna sits, leaning forward eagerly, but not seductively.

Layna: Hajene Bibi said you might be able to help me. I'm a graduate student, studying Gen Territory culture under Professor Nattin at Hannard's Ford. We wanted to do some work here in Gumgeeville. See how Hajene Seruffin's visit affected things, and all that.

Jed is somewhat boggled, most of what he's hearing being completely outside his experience, but he prides himself on staying cool.

Layna's eyes glow with eagerness at the prospect of the delightful discoveries that await.

Gegg is more than somewhat boggled, although he does pick up the idea that this has something to do with the Simes.

Jed: Well, if you want culture, you'll find more at the Ford than in this village, and not much there either.

Layna: Oh, that's where you're wrong! There's culture wherever people live together in groups.

Jed: I guess Seruffin has more culture than the whole village put together, not that anybody but us got much benefit from it.

Layna laughs.

Layna: I didn't get a chance to meet him, but from what I've heard, that's about right.

Jed: You're from Hannard's Ford?

Layna: No. Well, yes, I just came from there, but my home's in Sommerin.

Jed: Where's that?

Layna: It's a city a bit larger than Hannard's Ford, in Nivet Territory. Householding Dar is on the outskirts.

Jed smiles.

Jed: Hear that, Gegg? A Gen from Simeland.

Gegg is immediately ~~ sympathetic ~~

Gegg: Poor girl. Well, you can make a life for yourself here, if you try.

Layna blinks in ~~ astonishment ~~, and looks hopefully to Jed for a translation.

Jed: Gegg here thinks you're a refugee from the snakes.

Layna: What? Oh, no. I'm just here to study. I'll go back home to finish my degree, when I've done my field work.

Jed: Not much field work around here even when the fields aren't under water. More a forestry area. We had a pulp mill, but it burned down last year.

Layna has to listen closely to follow Jed's English, as despite all her practice she tends to find herself thinking in Simelan.

Layna: What did losing the pulp mill do to the local economy?

Jed: Pretty much shot it to shit, I'd say. How about you, Gegg?

Gegg: Yeah. Not much work to be found, these days. Not steady, anyways.

Layna: So money has been hard to come by?

Jed: It's not too bad for the big farmers, but for little guys like me and Gegg, well, at least we don't starve.

Layna: Is that why you were willin to take in a channel and Donor as boarders, when Hajene Seruffin and Sosu Gerrhonot were trapped by the snowstorm?

Jed winces a little at Layna's directness. Nobody wants to admit that they were pushed to do something like that due to financial desperation.

Jed: It was my wife's idea.

Layna: Your wife's? I was given to understand that she's less comfortable with Simes than the rest of your family?

Jed: They come by, in the middle of a snowstorm. She's got a soft heart, didn't want them to freeze, and figured we could use the cash from renting them a room.

Layna: I see. That was very charitable of her. Would that have been the common response, if they'd asked your neighbors?

Jed: I guess it depends on which neighbor. Gegg's wife here probably would have chased them away with a rifle.

Gegg nods, reddening.

Gegg: She feels strongly about Simes.

Jed: She's not the only one in this town who does, either.

Layna: Really? Is anti-Sime sentiment a big problem, then?

Jed wonders who it's supposed to be a problem for, with no live Simes around.

Layna hasn't quite internalized that small detail, as yet.

Jed: Well, it's not what you'd call a problem. No Simes, no problem, right?

Layna looks a bit ~~ confused ~~

Jed is tempted to point out that Seruffin lived in Gumgeeville longer than any other Sime in the village's history, but thinks it would be a cruel thing to say when Gegg is so worried about his son.

Layna: Well, your children keep going through changeover, don't they? At least, some of them.

Gegg winces visibly, and takes a hefty pull of his beer.

Layna: So you can't ever really avoid the issue, right?

Layna has been taught this from childhood, as a Householding brat.

Jed: Miz Dar, few of our children get all the way through changeover.

Layna feels a bit sick at this casual admission of mass murder, but her studies did inform her that such things went on in Gen Territory, if not that the adults concerned took them so...casually.

Layna: You don't think that's a problem?

Gegg: Less of a problem than it'd be for us if they lived, anyways.

Jed: We raise our kids, put all our love and hope into them, and then it's shoot them or let them kill us. Do you think that's a problem?

Gegg: One funeral is better than two, as my grandfather used to say. Or more, even.

Layna: But there don't have to be any deaths. Well, some, I suppose: things do go wrong in changeover, and even a good channel can't save them all. But not as a matter of course.

Layna looks very young, and very ~~ passionate ~~

Jed sips his beer. If this girl is a student, she has a lot to learn.

Layna does, indeed, have a lot to learn, and she hasn't the faintest idea how much.

Jed: Miz Dar, Gumgeeville doesn't have a good channel, or a lousy one either.

Layna opens her mouth to reply, then stops. She has just realized that for the first time in her life, there isn't any channel on call to help with changeovers, or accidents, or anything else.

Layna doesn't like the idea at all.

Jed: Can you take care of a kid turning Sime, make sure he doesn't kill? I can't. Gegg can't. Nobody in Gumgeeville can.

Layna: Well...changeover takes time. If you catch it early, there's time to get a kid to Hannard's Ford.

Layna remembers the weather story part of Seruffin's stay here.

Layna: In good weather.

Jed: How early can we catch it? How long to get to the Ford? After I met Seruffin, I decided I'd do it for my son if I could, but take my rifle along. But he turned Gen, so I don't have to do it. Nor shoot one of my children, ever. Most people aren't that lucky.

Gegg: I'm not. My boy's still a child, and no telling when he'll grow up. Or what he'll become.

Gegg gives a morose scowl.

Layna realizes that she's said something wrong, but isn't sure what, and more importantly, what will set things right again.

Layna: I'm sorry. That must be hard to live with.

Jed: Finish your beer, Gegg, I've buy you another.

Gegg grunts, not completely appeased, but accepting the comment in the spirit it was offered. He takes a big gulp, and sets his empty mug on the table.

Jed waves his arm to get Henree's attention, and signals him to bring Gegg another of the same.

Gegg: It's been a while since you bought a round, Jed. Not since you lost your job.

Jed: Be a bad thing if I can't buy a friend a beer when he deserves one.

Gegg: Huh. I think you've been putting on airs, now you have some money again.

Gegg is envious, but not quite envious enough to earn his own cash the same way.

Jed: Still in debt, but things should get better now.

Henree comes by to drop off the new beer.

Henree: Glad to hear it, Jed. Maybe you'd care to make another installment on your tab, pretty soon?

Jed: Another two weeks, Henree.

Jed pulls out a bill and hands it over.

Jed: This one's on me.

Henree takes the bill, looking at its crisp newness with some suspicion.

Jed wonders whether he should try to sic Layna on Henree, before she makes Gegg any more miserable with her ignorance and tactlessness.

Henree seldom sees new currency in Gumgeeville, but that's what Seruffin happened to be carrying, since the Tecton's travel office got his travel funds directly from the bank.

Henree: Huh. Somehow, this seems a lot like blood money, to me.

Jed: Not your blood. Take it or leave it.

Henree's scruples don't prevent him from stuffing the bill in his apron pocket, though.

Henree: Suppose it spends as well as any. Enjoy the beer, Gegg.

Henree heads back towards the bar, to take care of two other men who have just arrived.

Layna looks after Henree.

Jed has been wishing that there were a better place to hang out in Gumgeeville than this saloon. He's getting pretty tired of Henree's jabs.

Layna: What did he mean, "blood money"? Doesn't that mean a bounty?

Layna's idiomatic English isn't quite up to date, as her teachers left Gen Territory before Unity.

Jed: I got that money selling my selyn to Seruffin. Henree doesn't like that. You see he took it, though.

Layna hadn't thought to locate a genuine, reactionary, pre-Unity style out-T Gen so quickly.

Layna: Why does he object to your donating? Even if he doesn't want to do it himself, what you do doesn't affect him.

Jed: You go ahead and ask him, Miz Dar. But remember, this is the only hotel in the village.

Layna: You think he'd throw me out if I talked about it with him?

Jed watches Gegg sipping his beer. He looks increasingly miserable.

Jed: Well, you do seem to have a way of making people uncomfortable.

Layna looks disconcerted.

Layna: I don't mean to. Where I grew up, things are very different.

Jed: Yeah, couple generations ago, your people were selling girls like you to be killed. Breeding girls like you as livestock. And they didn't just have to shoot one of their kids, they killed someone every month.

Layna: No, not my people. My family's been Householders forever.

Jed: You're all Simelanders, even if you aren't all of you Simes. So don't look down on us. Look, why don't you leave Gegg and Henree alone for now, and come home with me and have supper with my family.

Layna brightens at the invitation. She had expected to have to work for days or weeks before winning her way into one of the local homes.

Layna: Why, thank you, Mr. Mullins. I'd be delighted.

Jed wants to get this walking caltrop away from Gegg, and he figures Ma's cooking is punishment enough for anyone. Ma can throw some more water in the soup.

Jed: Talk to you tomorrow, Gegg. Sorry you're feeling worse.

Gegg waves farewell, not trusting himself to speak.

Jed swigs the last of his beer and goes over to the pegs by the door to get his coat and hat.

Layna gets to her feet ~~ eagerly ~~. She also dons her rain gear, which unlike her street clothes isn't newly purchased for the occasion of her field work. Her rain gear is in fact an in-Territory style cape, in blue-green and grey, with the Dar crest on the chest.

Bart has spent the afternoon moving things around Miz Toozer's cellar in case it floods again, under the old lady's close supervision, and constant stream of complaints. He now knows exactly what Miz Toozer thinks of her son-in-law, in considerable detail. He slaughtered a pig a few days ago, and gave his mother-in-law a roast, half the liver and both kidneys.

Bart thinks that's pretty reasonable, but Miz Toozer thinks her son-in-law is somehow trying to insult her, with her daughter's collusion.

Bart got paid a bit of money for his work, and Miz Toozer threw in the liver and kidneys and a chunk of fat to fry them with, claiming that if she tried to eat them she'd choke with outrage.

Bart is looking forward to having some concentrated animal protein for the first time in a long time, and his mouth waters as he imagines the offal fried with burning onions to a shoe leather consistency in his mother's culinary style.

Jed leads the way through the soggy streets, such as they are, and the pair soon arrive at the Mullins house. Jed removes his coat and hat on the porch and shakes some of the water off them before opening the door and entering.

Layna politely follows her host's example, although the fine wool of her Dar cape sheds water better than Jed's threadbare old coat.

Jed: Hey, Ma. Brought a dinner guest. Throw some more water in the pot.

Ma is busy frying up a storm in the kitchen, sending the odor of burning onions through the house. She looks up from her frying.

Jed's eyes start to water slightly as he peers through the thin blue mist of pyrolized lard around the stove.

Ma: A guest? Well, I suppose the dinner'll stretch.

Layna's nose wrinkles at the strange smell emanating from the pan. Onions are part of it, but what's the rest?

Jed's mouth waters at the thought of eating meat, even if, from the urinary smell, it's kidneys. And the bitter smell of burning liver...

Ma looks at Layna curiously.

Ma: Who is she?

Jed: Picked her up in the saloon.

Ma reaches with the spatula to poke at the boiling potatoes on the other burner. She looks more sharply at her guest.

Ma: What was a young thing like that doing there?

Jed: This is Maree, my wife. You'll have to explain yourself yourself.

Layna smiles with the accidental charm of the young.

Layna: I'm Layna ambrov Dar. I'm studying for a degree in cultural anthropology...

Layna realizes the last two words came out in Simelan.

Layna: Well, I'm studying how societies work.

Jed: Ma, is your sister still with those old biddies in the Ladies' Charitable Society?

Ma thinks that either this kid is an even weirder guest than Hajene Seruffin, or she's a runaway who's come up with a much more creative story than usual.

Ma: Yes.

Jed: Of course, they mostly sit around and drink tea and gossip, not work, but maybe you could talk to her.

Layna beams.

Layna: That would be marvelous.

Jed looks at Ma past Layna and shrugs. Anything to keep her away from Gegg.

Ma: Well, if you want talk, Clara's the one to go to, that's for sure.

Jed: Boys still out in the barn?

Ma's comment has a bit of sour grapes to it: her little sister managed to marry a successful businessman, or at least what passes for one in Gumgeeville.

Ma: Yes.

Layna edges closer to the stove, peering through the smoke at the skillet.

Bart pushes open the door, a basket of eggs in one hand and a bucket of goat milk in the other.

Bart: Hi, Dad. Home early?

Bart stops abruptly when he sees the stranger. He looks at his dad inquiringly.

Layna's studies of mammalian anatomy have been more focused on places where kicks and punches have the most effect, without reference to what takes place underneath.

Jed shrugs again.

Jed: Yeah, brought us a supper guest.

Layna does not immediately recognize the contents of the pan as animal flesh.

Jed: Miz Dar, this is my elder son, Bart.

Layna looks at Bart, and likes what she sees.

Bart stands there in his muddy boots, bucket and basket in hand, and feels rustic and stupid.

Layna: I'm pleased to meet you, Bart. But please, call me Layna. Dar is my Householding, not my family name.

Bart: Uh.

Bart kicks himself mentally.

Bart: Hello, Miz.. uh... hello, Layna.

Bart would like to sink through the floor, but he's had enough of cellars for one day.

Bart: Uh, I gotta strain the milk....

Ma looks dubiously at their guest, but forebears to comment.

Layna's eyes go to the pail.

Layna: Do you have cows?

Bart: Uh, no, goats.

Bart sets the bucket and basket down and takes off his muddy boots revealing socks expertly darned in imperfectly matching color. He hangs up his jacket and takes the milk and eggs into the kitchen area.

Layna looks towards Ma's frying pan again, then edges towards Jed in an effort at discretion.

Layna: Um...excuse me, but what is that she's cooking?

Jed: I think it's gonna be fiddler's feast.

Jed doesn't think to explain that this dish is chopped boiled potatoes and the offal traditionally given to musicians who perform at harvest festivals, fried with onions in lard.

Layna: Fiddler's feast? That's an interesting name.

Jed: Fiddler's feast tonight, Ma?

Ma: Yes. I'll boil a few eggs, as well, so there'll be plenty.

Jed: Sounds good. Come sit down Layna, I'll see if there's any tea warm.

Bart: I got the stuff from Miz Toozer, Dad. She threw it in as a bonus, said I did a good job.

Layna's eyes brighten at the thought of tea.

Bart: There's some tea in the pot.

Layna is going to be sadly disappointed when it doesn't turn out to be trin, of course.

Bart gets a couple of chipped cups down and pours heavily stewed chamomile tea into them.

Jed sits, gestures to Layna to take a seat and sips some of the tea.

Layna accepts a cup and lifts it to her face, then pauses.

Layna: What kind of tea is this?

Jed: Chamomile, isn't it?

Ma: Yes.

Layna takes a cautious sip.

Layna: It's...interesting. I'm more used to trin.

Layna sounds a bit apologetic, as she takes a second sip.

Bart strains the goat milk and packs away the eggs wondering who Layna really is and what this is all about. She's from in-T, isn't she?

Bart: We had some trin a couple weeks ago. It was pretty good stuff.

Layna chuckles.

Layna: I expect it was, if it came from Hajene Seruffin's private stock. Not all trin is that good, by any means.

Bart: You know Hajene Seruffin?

Layna: No, I've never met him, but he is a First Order channel, and a diplomat. And from what I've heard, a very cultured person.

Jed: Sure talks like one. Make good money, do they, these channels?

Layna: Of course. Channels are among the most highly paid professionals, in Sime Territory.

Jed: Hear that, Ma? We probably could have charged him more for the room.

Bart blushes. It sounds so crude to talk about Seruffin that way.

Layna: Well, maybe. On the other hand, if you had, he wouldn't have been able to pay you for your donations. At least, my professor says that Hajene Seruffin had to take out more travel money in Hannard's Ford.

Jed: How about Donors? Gerrhonot get paid like that too?

Layna: Of course Donors get paid well. The channels can't work without them, after all.

Jed catches Bart's eye, and winks.

Bart is a bit startled, but he figures his dad is telling him that he remembers Bart could have the talent to be a Donor and doesn't disapprove. He smiles back.

Jed has been working through things for two weeks now, and knows that one of his boys is going to have to leave the farm. If Bart can make a good living doing work he likes, he'll be the first one in the Mullins family in living memory.

Ma's mouth sets in a hard line at the byplay. She has long since reached the same conclusions as her husband with regards to the carrying capacity of the farm, but doesn't see why she should lose her eldest to the Simes in the process.

Bart: So you're from Simeland.. uh, Nivet, Layna?

Layna: Yes. Householding Dar is in Sommerin.

Bart: Uh, that's like a Householding like Zeor?

Bart learned about Klyd Farris and Unity in school, and that's the only context he has for Householdings.

Layna smiles at Bart.

Layna: Yes, it is. Only instead of cloth mills, Dar makes a living hiring out our members as guards.

Bart learned that the Sectuib owns all the Gens and takes their selyn for the Simes, and keeps them locked up inside the walls so the Simes can't kill them. It sounded pretty awful at the time.

Layna: Our specialty is hand to hand combat, you see.

Bart: And what do the women and Gens do?

Layna: The same as the men, of course. A mixed force of Simes and Gens can almost always win against a force that's one or the other, if they know what they're doing. And we do!

Layna winks at Bart.

Layna doesn't exactly look like a deadly warrior; she looks like a pert, healthy teenager.

Bart doesn't know quite what to think of that information, or the wink. It sounds kind of scary.

Jed: My Dad saw some of that mixed force fighting in the Unity War. From a safe distance, he said.

Layna: A safe distance?

Jed: Well, he wasn't going to do any hand to hand fighting with Simes, that's for sure. He fought with his rifle.

Layna nods knowledgably.

Layna: It takes time to adjust tactics.

Jed: How would you take on an attacking Sime?

Layna: It depends on why the Sime was attacking me.

Jed: To kill you.

Bart hears an edge in his father's voice.

Layna: If there were other Simes around, I'd just flip him towards them and let them restrain him. That way no one would be hurt--much.

Jed: And if it was just you?

Layna: If I was alone--well, there are several things I could try, some deadly and some not.

Jed: If that Sime needed your selyn? Or he was gonna die?

Layna thinks about that for a moment.

Layna: If I was lowfield, there wouldn't be anything I could do. If I was high field, though...I might try to give the Sime a transfer.

Layna is of an age to be rebellious.

Jed: Think you'd survive?

Layna: Yes, one way or the other.

Jed is surprised.

Jed: A Sime can't kill you?

Layna: I'm not a Donor, but most Simes aren't channels, either. And if things went wrong, and I was being hurt, there are ways to stop a transfer. The Sime might even survive it.

Layna: I hope I never have to do that, though.

Jed slaps his hand loudly on the table.

Jed: Gegg hopes he won't have to shoot his son, either.

Ma shoots Jed a sharp glance.

Jed: He's been hoping that for sixteen years, since his wife was carrying him.

Ma: Nothing's happened to the boy, has it?

Jed: No, he's fine. Miz Dar here was real curious about what kind of man would shoot his own child, there in the saloon.

Ma: Huh.

Ma's look at Layna is less welcoming than formerly.

Layna feels compelled to explain.

Layna: I could murder a Sime who attacked me for selyn. But because I don't want to actually do it, I take steps to make it unlikely. Your friend doesn't want to shoot his son, if he goes through changeover; that much was clear. But all he's doing is hoping that his son establishes, rather than changing the situation so that it won't matter if his son does end up a Sime. Or at least, that's what he seemed to be saying.

Layna is intrigued by the apparent contradiction.

Jed: We've got more of a chance now than we did a few years ago. Gegg and I have been talking about what we can do. You get any good ideas, you tell me, and I'll talk to him about it. I don't want you bothering him.

Bart is confused and appalled by the discussion. He wonders what happened in the saloon, and what his father is planning. He hopes he'll talk to him about it.

Layna: The obvious long-term solution is to get a channel here in Gumgeeville, since it isn't always possible to get to Hannard's Ford in time.

Jed: Gumgeeville and thousands of other villages. You got thousands of spare channels in Simeland?

Layna: Not in Sime Territory, but I expect there are plenty of channels going through changeover on this side of the border. If they're not murdered first, that is.. Which is an interesting contradiction, isn't it?

Layna spreads her hands in admission that she doesn't have all the answers.

Jed restrains his temper. That word "interesting" grates on his nerves. He thinks that if Layna wants to understand out-T culture, she's going to have to try to feel it, not just look at it.

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