The Next Month At The Ford: Episode 10

Jess struts up to the gate of the Sime Center with the self-important, elaborate unconcern of a young teenager who's showing off and trying to be cool about it.

Peet and Sal follow behind rather more warily.

Tsotska follows behind them, looking scared, guilty and miserable.

Jess instigated this particular act of adolescent rebellion during an after-school conversation on current events, to wit, the recent death of two friends when one changed over and killed the other. She offered her friends a dare, and after some bullying, they accepted.

Jess: Come on, then. She doesn't bite, you know.

Callie wasn't worried about the channel's teeth.

Sal: Well, go on, then. You're in front.

Jess shrugs, and opens the gate to lead the way down the path. She was not nearly so confident the first time she came here, but her friends don't have to know that, do they?

Bibi is working in her office when she zlins a group of children and a Gen approaching.

Peet: Yeah, we certainly aren't going to push past you!

Jess: Oh, grow up. She's a channel, not a berserker.

Tsotska hopes her parents never find out she's come here, but she has to know. The girl who was killed was her best friend, and she really liked the boy who changed over.

Jess: Channels don't kill, so what's there to be scared of?

Callie almost says "my dad", but thinks better of it at the last moment.

Jess tramps up the stairs, careful not to tiptoe so she won't look cowardly. She opens the door and steps into the reception room, trying to act as if she owns it.

Callie tiptoes after, torn between the desire to run, and the desire to stick close to her friend.

Peet realizes he's being out-couraged by a bunch of girls and forces himself to follow.

Cristal finishes his meal in the dining room and starts to get up.

Callie is ~~ relieved ~~ when the lobby proves to be empty of Simes.

Callie: There's no one here, Jess. They must be closed.

Sal tags along quietly.

Callie: We'd better go.

Callie starts edging back towards the door.

Bibi comes out of her office and heads for the reception area.

Peet decides that it's up to him, no matter how much he doesn't like it.

Peet: Hello the house!

Bibi: Hello, Jess. How are you? Are these your friends?

Jess pastes a bright smile on her face.

Jess: Hi, Hajene Bibi! Yeah, I've brought some friends to meet you.

Bibi: Well, you're all in luck. There's lots of raisin cookies left. Help yourselves.

Jess: Raisin cookies!

Jess's eyes light up at this favorite part of her visits to the Sime Center.

Bibi sits, well away from the cookie table and the path to it.

Sal creeps up on the table, tries her very best not to snatch a cookie, gets one somehow, and retreats.

Tsotska doesn't feel like eating. She hasn't for days. Ever since...

Jess is much less intimidated by Bibi than the others, and so she helps herself to three cookies. She passes one to Callie, who shows no sign of wanting to approach the table.

Callie has been starving for days, for some reason, and doesn't refuse it.

Cristal arrives and surveys the mob of children.

Jess swallows her first mouthful of cookie, and only then remembers her manners.

Jess: Hajene Bibi, these are my friends Callie 'n Peet 'n Sal 'n Tsotska. They want to know if they're Gen yet.

Bibi is glad that only one of the crowd is a Gen, although the emotions she's projecting are pretty negative. This evokes ~~compassion~~ in Bibi.

Sal: Hello, Miz Bibi.

Callie is too scared to actually talk to the Sime, but she nods politely.

Peet: Hello, Hajene.

Peet starts to put his hand out, then jerks it back abruptly.

Tsotska nods.

Bibi: Nice to meet you all. Tsotska, you're a Gen. Congratulations.

Bibi smiles pleasantly.

Tsotska feels ~~ faint ~~.

Tsotska: I am? I'm safe?

Callie is instantly ~~ envious ~~

Bibi: Yes. You've probably been Gen for at least a few months.

Tsotska closes her eyes, arranges her hands appropriately and begins a silent prayer of thanksgiving. She tries to forget that Simes are the children of the Father of Lies, and Bibi may be deceiving her for nefarious purposes. She seems so nice....

Cristal: You won't turn Sime, at any rate. Of course, that does put you more at risk from berserkers.

Bibi is appalled. She thought Cristal was getting better.

Jess hadn't thought about that aspect of being Gen.

Bibi gives Cristal a look.

Cristal, clueless as usual, notices Bibi's distress and increases ~~ support ~~ slightly.

Jess: It does? Well, I guess it would, wouldn't it?

Cristal: Not that a child can't be killed if he or she happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, naturally. But it is unusual.

Peet gulps but is determined to show nothing.

Bibi: Sosu, could you ask Gitl to make us some more tea? I think the urn is empty.

Cristal: Hajene.

Cristal leaves to find Gitl.

Bibi wishes she could think of a more time-consuming errand, then realizes that Gitl has probably left for the day, so Cristal will have to make the tea himself. ~~ relief ~~

Jess: What about me, Hajene? Am I a Gen yet?

Sal: And what about me?

Peet: [forced through stiff lips] And me?

Bibi: The rest of you are still children, as well as I can tell from here.

Callie's face falls with ~~ disappointment ~~

Jess: Are you sure, Hajene?

Jess thinks it isn't fair that Tsotska should be Gen on her first visit, while she's still a kid after half a dozen.

Bibi: Well, I can tell if you've just started with a lateral contact. Would you like me to do that?

Peet: You mean, you, you put the, the, on us?

Bibi smiles.

Bibi: Only if you want me to.

Jess looks at her friends, and decides there's still a chance to show that she's the coolest kid in the group.

Sal: [whispers] You first, Peet.

Bibi: Jess can tell you it doesn't hurt.

Jess: There's nothing to it. See?

Jess saunters towards Bibi in a display of casual ease that's almost real, because she wants to believe it is.

Bibi: Do you want to go into the donation room, or show your friends that it's safe for them too?

Jess doesn't like how the lateral contact feels, but has long since stopped being really afraid of Bibi. She glances over at her friends, who are staring at her with various degrees of amazement.

Tsotska is watching carefully, with mixed emotions.

Jess: Let 'em watch. I don't mind.

Bibi: Good.

Bibi stands and offers her arms to Jess, tentacles retracted.

Jess ever-so casually rolls up her sleeves, then puts her hands in Bibi's.

Bibi slides her hands into position, and extends her handling tentacles, taking a snug grip.

Bibi: Now remember not to move, because you can hurt me.

Callie gives a very audible gasp of alarm.

Peet: She can hurt you, Hajene?

Bibi is glad that Tsotska is well back, and the others are children.

Bibi: Yes, my laterals are very delicate, so I have to trust Jess not to harm me.

Bibi thinks this kind of line works well to disarm the frightened and the mention of trust makes her seem vulnerable and even more harmless.

Callie's arms are indeed well hidden, behind her back.

Peet worries that he won't be able to hold still, and it will be all his fault.

Bibi: Okay, Jess?

Jess: Sure, go ahead, Hajene Bibi.

Jess is ~~ proud ~~ that she can do what her friends are scared to do.

Bibi extends her laterals, and waits for Jess to make a lip contact.

Sal's eyes goggle in total fascination.

Jess leans forward and stands on tiptoe to do so.

Callie whimpers at the sight, hoping that nothing will go wrong. She doesn't want her friend to be killed.

Bibi zlins as thoroughly as she can, and detects no sign of either establishment or changeover. She releases Jess, giving her hand a little squeeze as she does so.

Bibi: Nothing yet, Jess.

Jess manages to restrain the impulse to wipe the goo off her arms as fast as possible. She doesn't think that would present the right impression of a courageous person who isn't at all scared of Simes.

Cristal returns with a fresh pot of trin.

Cristal: No sign of Gitl, but I have the trin here.

Bibi: Oh, good.

Cristal: I trust you aren't taking donations without your Donor, Hajene.

Bibi gives a somewhat forced laugh.

Bibi: Oh, Cristal, don't be silly.

Tsotska is ~~ amazed ~~ at Jess's courage, and how routine it seemed and how harmless it looked.

Peet: I, I think you should take me, I mean check me next, Hajene.

Peet's a worrywart whose anxiety will spike if he has to wait much longer.

Bibi: Would you all like some tea and more cookies first? I'd like to talk to you all a bit.

Jess returns to the others, hiding her ~~ disappointment ~~

Sal: [timidly] I'll try the tea, Miz Bibi.

Cristal being the Gen adult serves tea all around. He doesn't think that some people may not like trin tea.

Bibi: Perhaps you'd all like to sit a bit closer?

Jess doesn't like trin, particularly, but she's a polite kid, and murmurs thanks as she takes the cup from Cristal.

Peet sips his tea and finds it better than he expected. Kinda sour-sweet.

Tsotska's finding her appetite again, now that she knows she won't turn into a monster, but she could end up as a victim like her friend.

Callie is clutching her cup, which fortunately isn't delicate. She slides into a seat a safe distance from Bibi.

Bibi: I'm glad you've all found the courage and maturity to come here and meet me. You're all of an age that adulthood could come to you at any time, and I'm sure that you want to do the most responsible things you can about it.

Jess sits significantly closer, just to reinforce the I'm-not-scared effect.

Peet ostentatiously hitches himself closer.

Bibi: I know you've all worried a lot about what might happen to you. I grew up in an area like this one on the far side of New Washington, and I worried as much as any of you.

Callie has been taught since babyhood that the responsible thing to do if you find you're in changeover is to tell your parents, so they can shoot you before you take someone else with you. She isn't sure she would have the nerve to face a bullet, though.

Peet doubts that Hajene Bibi ever worried about anything.

Callie is equally unsure that she's got the nerve to do what Jess did, however.

Bibi: I was very lucky. When I went into changeover, there was a channel there to help me, so I didn't have to ask my parents to shoot me, or risk killing another person.

Bibi: Miz Brown says that God blessed me by making me a channel, so that I could help other children live without killing. I certainly feel blessed, and that's what I've devoted my life to.

Callie finds this religious talk from an evil Sime ~~ confusing ~~

Bibi: I've done that for many young people here at the Ford, some of them your friends and relatives and neighbors.

Tsotska has never thought about channels that way. Can there be Simes who aren't evil?

Bibi: There was a terrible tragedy at the Carpenter farm a few days ago. Two young people died, and their parents will grieve for the rest of their lives.

Tsotska finds a lump rising in her throat again.

Jess: They were our friends, Hajene Bibi.

Sal has fat tears rolling down her small face.

Bibi: Yes. I understand. I lost family and friends the same way. It's a terrible thing for young people to die.

Cristal raises ~~ support ~~ a notch.

Bibi: It's terrible for them, and for everyone who knows and cares about them.

Callie once more confronts the fear that she, too, will become a berserker, and kill someone she loves.

Bibi: Things are changing now, and you are among the first who have the opportunity to prevent these tragedies. You're all the first generation in your families who can grow up knowing that you'll never have to kill another person, or ask someone who loves you to take your life.

Bibi: I can tell you a little bit about changeover, and give you some things to read.

Bibi: I want you to know that you can come here any time of the day or night if you think you might just possibly be going into changeover. I don't care if you're wrong. I don't care if you come here a hundred times before you turn Gen or Sime.

Bibi: I want you to know that I'll always be here to make sure you'll live without killing and be able to make a good life for yourself.

Callie: My parents don't want me to come here, Ha...Hajene.

Bibi: I know. Many parents still feel that way. I'll never tell them you were here if you don't want me to. You should obey your parents, but you have a right to live without killing. Your first act as an adult may be to come here to make sure you have that right.

Peet: I don't really think our parents would approve either, although they aren't as, well, you know, as Callie 'n Tsotska's folks.

Callie: They say the only g-good Sime is a dead one.

Cristal: I'm sure you all can see that that couldn't be true, could it.

Callie looks at Cristal in ~~ total shock ~~. She's done the usual grumbling about parental idiocy, but isn't used to having an adult agree with her.

Jess: He's right, Callie. I mean, they think you don't have to go on the picnic, either.

Callie nods, accepting the logic.

Cristal realizes that he is doing that very un-out-T thing, undermining parental authority.

Callie is relieved that her current act of rebellion will not be reported to her parents, with luck.

Cristal: You have to obey your parents, of course, as long as you're still children. But thoughts are free.

Bibi: I'm sure none of your parents wants to shoot you, or be killed by you, or have you kill someone else. Very often, parents change their minds about these things when it's their child's life at stake.

Callie: Mine won't.

Callie is ~~ very sure ~~ of this.

Bibi: You can come here alone, and if you want, we can send someone to tell your parents. But once you're inside the gates, if you're in changeover, nobody can take you away. You're safe here. You have a right to live without killing.

Peet: Umm, Hajene, I know this is important and all, but could you ... ~~ anxiety ~~

Bibi: You want me to check you like I checked Jess?

Peet: Yes, please.

Peet actually gets up and starts to walk toward Bibi before he can have second thoughts about it.

Sal's jaw drops.

Bibi: Okay. Would you like to come to the donation room, for privacy? I can tell better away from the crowd.

Callie is already on her third thoughts, and none of them are reassuring.

Bibi gets up and takes a step towards the donation room.

Callie wonders if Peet will really let the Sime take him away.

Peet: Umm, no, I think, umm, I think better out here like Jess, okay?

Bibi: Okay, fine.

Bibi smiles and offers one hand.

Bibi: You can take my hand, can't you?

Peet: Um, sure.

Peet takes Bibi's hand.

Sal smiles just a little.

Bibi: Good. It feels warm, doesn't it? Simes have a higher body temperature than Gens and children. That's why people say fever is a sign of changeover.

Jess notes smugly that she put on a better show than Peet.

Peet: Yeah, you're warm, it's warm.

Callie is staring, wide-eyed.

Peet blushes.

Bibi offers her other hand.

Peet takes it without saying anything.

Bibi: Good. Now I'll extend my handling tentacles. They're warm too, and dry. I'll just touch you lightly with them first, okay?

Peet nods, jerkily, but doesn't let go.

Bibi extends the tentacles and places them lightly on Peet's arms.

Peet: Hey!

Peet remembers he's supposed to be the boy here.

Peet: Hey, Jess was right. They aren't slimy!

Jess: Well, of course they're not. That's what I said.

Jess has conveniently forgotten how surprised she was the first time she felt Bibi's tentacles.

Peet: Yeah, and I told you that real snakes aren't slimy either, Miz Smarty.

Jess: Hah!

Jess has never verified this by personal experience, has no intention of doing so, and is not about to accept Peet's word for it.

Bibi waits while all this byplay continues, pleased that Peet is showing a lot less anxiety while he argues with Jess.

Peet remembers just who he's holding hands with.

Peet: Umm, sorry, Hajene. ~~ apologetic ~~

Bibi: That's okay. I'll slide my hands onto your wrists now, and hold your arms snugly.

Peet: Okay, fine.

Bibi does so.

Bibi: Good. You're doing very well. A lot of people are really nervous the first time a Sime touches them.

Peet is plenty ~~ nervous ~~ still, but not as much as he expected to be.

Bibi: Now I'll extend my laterals. They are wet, but I wouldn't call them slimy.

Bibi smiles, the smile with all the dimples.

Sal giggles.

Peet braces himself for something icky.

Callie is too caught up in what she's seeing to find anything funny, just now.

Bibi extends her laterals.

Bibi: What do you think Peet? Just warm and wet, like a dog's tongue, or slimy?

Peet thinks about ~~ dog's organs ~~

Callie's previous encounters with tentacles were restricted to the anatomically incorrect illustrations in various church pamphlets, and she isn't sure that it wouldn't have been better to keep it that way.

Peet: Ummm, warm and wet definitely. Umm, Hajene?

Bibi: Yes?

Peet: Can we, can we skip that kissing part? I mean, I'm a boy and you're a, you're a girl, and ... [trails off]

Peet blushes again

Sal emits a faint Bronx cheer.

Bibi: It's not really kissing, even if it looks like it. It's a lip contact, [Simelan term for same].

Bibi: I need to make a fifth contact in order to get full sensitivity.

Peet: Uh umm ummm okay.

Peet waits for Bibi to do whatever-it-is-not-kissing.

Bibi: Just stay as still as you can now.

Bibi offers her lips.

Sal thinks her brother is being a little slow, even if she can't believe he's in a Sime's clutches and not fighting.

Peet is still waiting for Bibi to make the next move.

Bibi realizes what she just said and makes the contact herself, keeping her lips hard and un-luscious. She zlins Peet to the best of her sensitivity, and detects no sign of changeover or establishment.

Peet is aware of how Sime-warm the lips are, and how this certainly isn't what he expected -- whatever that was.

Bibi relinquishes the contact.

Bibi: Sorry, Peet, you're still a child.

Callie is immediately ~~ sympathetic ~~ that after all that, Peet didn't get anything for his trouble.

Bibi: Come back any time you like, and I'll be glad to check you again.

Callie: far in advance can you tell, Hajene? If it's changeover, I mean?

Bibi: I should be able to tell about a day and a half before the "fever" starts, maybe a little better than that in some cases.

Callie: Oh.

Callie thinks that over. She was hoping that she'd be Gen, and thus able to stop worrying entirely.

Sal raises her hand like she's in school.

Bibi: Yes, Sal?

Sal tries to talk out loud, fails, and waves Bibi over to herself.

Bibi goes over, trying not to pass too closely to Callie, who is clearly not comfortable with her.

Cristal moves to the new neutral-field point.

Callie leans away from Bibi ~~ uneasily ~~, but doesn't bolt.

Sal: [whispers] Could I go with you in there? I don't want them to watch me.

Bibi: Sure, no problem.

Sal forces herself to stand up and go towards the donation room. Her legs are a bit wobbly.

Bibi: The rest of you help yourselves to more cookies and tea while I check Sal.

Jess takes full advantage of the offer to snag another cookie or two.

Cristal follows Sal into the donation room.

Bibi enters and closes the door.

Peet figures he's earned some more cookies too.

Bibi: How are you feeling, Sal? You look a little wobbly.

Sal: I'm nervous and I don't want everybody looking at me, just you, Miz Bibi.

Bibi often asks Gens about things she can zlin. Sal zlins nervous and weak and a bit scared.

Sal hardly even notices that Cristal is there, which is as it should be.

Bibi: Here, have a seat.

Bibi gestures to the appropriate end of the transfer lounge.

Sal sits ~~ gratefully ~~ on that weird-looking piece of furniture.

Bibi: You're not afraid of me, are you?

Bibi sits and offers one hand.

Sal: Y..y..yes. ~~ timidity nervousness ~~

Sal: [blurts] I mean we don't believe all Simes are bad like Callie's folks do but everybody knows they're dangerous.

Bibi: It's true that a berserker is dangerous, and out here that's the only kind of Sime most people have ever seen.

Peet, back in the main room, is eating more cookies and hoping nothing bad is happening where he can't see.

Tsotska is still absorbing the relief at being safely established, but finds herself eating and enjoying the cookies a lot more than she expected.

Bibi: Are you curious about tentacles? Would you like to see mine?

Sal nods.

Callie is in a ~~ funk ~~ as she thinks over her options, none of which are particularly appealing.

Bibi offers her hand in that subliminally harmless palm up position, and extends the ventrals.

Bibi: You can touch them if you like.

Sal reaches out to touch the left ventral with her right hand, and is a bit ~~ surprised ~~ when it loops round her finger playfully.

Sal: Hey, I didn't know you could do that.

Bibi: Oh, tentacles are very handy. We can do a lot with them, just like extra fingers, or extra hands.

Bibi demonstrates the flexibility of her ventrals, without touching Sal.

Peet Worrywart is starting to ~~ worry ~~ again.

Sal: Cool.

Bibi: It took me a bit to get used to having them, but I like them very much.

Sal is beginning to ~~ relax ~~ a little bit.

Bibi: Do you think you can take my hand now, Sal?

Sal: I guess so.

Sal does.

Bibi: Good. And the other one?

Sal: Okay. After all, if Peet the Sweet can do it, so can I. I guess.

Sal takes Bibi's other hand.

Sal: The long tentacles next, huh?

Bibi: Yes. Shall I?

Sal: Okay, Miz.

Bibi slides her hands into position nd wraps her tentacles lightly around Sal's arms.

Sal: Huh. It's okay.

Bibi: You're doing even better than your brother.

Sal: If he can, I can! ~~ sibling superiority ~~

Bibi: For sure!

Callie looks at the door to the donation room ~~ uneasily ~~

Callie: They're taking a long time in there. Do you think... something's happened?

Sal laughs outright.

Peet: Naah. I know that laugh. Sal's okay.

Bibi: Now I'll just tighten up a little. Are you ready for the laterals?

Sal: The wet ones? I guess.

Bibi: Yup.

Sal: Do it.

Bibi positions her laterals.

Sal: Umm, I mean, "Yes, Miz."

Bibi laughs.

Sal is beginning to feel like this is a game, and it's okay to be ~~ scared ~~ during a game.

Bibi: That's okay. Now the lip contact?

Sal: Right.

Sal leans forward and puckers up; she doesn't know just how it isn't a kiss.

Bibi makes the lip contact and zlins carefully. Is there something? She strains to detect Sal's selyn levels, and whether there's a very slight gradient? Not sure...

Peet is ~~ reassured ~~ by the laughter, but ~~ not entirely ~~.

Bibi breaks the lip contact and asks Cristal in Simelan to do a particular thing that will help her get a more accurate reading.

Cristal does the particular thing with his field.

Bibi: Once more Sal, I'm trying to get a better assessment.

Sal: Okay. That wasn't so bad.

Bibi resumes the contact and zlins harder... yes, there is a very slight indication of a falling field. Selyn is being consumed at a minute rate.

Bibi concentrates harder and can faintly zlin the outline of a renSime's selyn system beginning to organize itself.

Bibi breaks the lip contact, retracts her laterals but retains her hold on Sal's arms.

Sal: Well, didja get it this time?

Bibi: Yes, Sal. I have some news for you.

Sal figures she's Gen and has an ~~ anticipatory thrill ~~.

Bibi never knows how a child will react to the news, or the best way to break it. It's one thing that is so much easier in-T.

Bibi: Sal, you're about to grow up.

Sal radiates ~~ I knew it! ~~ and thinks "So much for big brother there!"

Bibi: You're safe. Cristal and I will take care of you, and everything will work out well.

Sal: ~~ sudden sinking feeling ~~ Safe?

Bibi: Yes. No one will harm you here, and I'll make sure you won't harm anyone else.

Sal: ~~ oh no! oh no! ~~ incipient panic ~~ You mean?

Bibi: Yes, you're in the very earliest stage of changeover. You're going to be a Sime when you finish growing up.

Sal: ~~ full-blown panic ~~ No! No! I'm a good girl, a good girl!

Sal tries to break free from Bibi's grip with all the fervor of a Choice Kill.

Bibi: Sure you are. And you'll soon be a good young woman.

Callie turns sheet white at the yell.

Bibi retains her hold on the child, without bruising her.

Callie: Something's wrong with Sal!

Peet's ~~ worry ~~ spikes, dominating the ambient in the room (though there's no one there to zlin it).

Peet: [shouting] Sal! Sal! You okay?

Bibi releases Sal's arms and quickly hugs her before she can escape.

Bibi: It's all right, Sal. You're safe.

Sal collapses into ~~ full-blown weeping ~~

Tsotska's heart starts to pound. How could she have let herself be lured into this den of evil? She runs out of the building and towards the road, pausing to throw up the food she was foolish enough to take from a Sime.

Callie is too scared to run.

Peet runs to the room door, tries to open it, finds it is locked, begins to pound on it.

Peet feels ~~ pain ~~ in his fist, which he is ignoring.

Sal: Make them stop! Please make them stop.

Bibi: It's all right, it's all right. Cristal, get the door, let them know what's happening, calm them down.

Callie: They're hurting her!

Cristal unlocks the door and opens it, intercepting Peet in mid-blow.

Bibi wishes she could count on Cristal to do half as competent a job at that as he does at nageric tasks.

Cristal easily overpowers Peet and drags him away from the door, slamming it behind him.

Cristal: Now calm down.

Jess: What's wrong?

Peet continues to struggle.

Jess isn't as scared as the others, but she still wants to know.

Cristal: [very loudly but calmly] Everything is fine. Everything is fine.

Bibi continues to try to soothe Sal. She wishes she could do something nageric to help her. She knows how hard it is for her.

Cristal: [still loud/calm] Now I will tell you what's going on, but not if you continue to behave this way. It's undisciplined, it's undignified, and it's unsuitable.

Callie: If everything's fine, why's Sal crying?

Cristal: She panicked for just a moment but she will be fine.

Peet is somewhat intimidated by adults who use big words.

Cristal: Now Peet, I need you to be grown up for a moment. I know you are still a child in one sense, but this is a time when you must be responsible.

Peet finds himself resonating to this speech, which sounds like what he thinks his father would say if he had one living.

Sal's weeping begins to subside, to be replaced by ~~ resignation despair ~~

Callie's father is very much alive, and much more given to bad temper than any Donor could ever be.

Cristal: Your duty at this time is to go home and inform your parents...

Peet interrupts, "M'father's dead."

Bibi strokes Sal's back and rocks her, continuing to murmur soothing and encouraging words.

Cristal: [bobbles, then recovers] Inform your mother, then, that your sister is at the Sime Center and must remain there.

Cristal gives Peet a significant look.

Cristal: Nothing further will happen today, but Sal must remain here.

Callie: She's a Sime????

Cristal: ~~ focuses his attention on Peet as if he were a channel experiencing a deathshock ~~

Cristal: Do you understand, Peet?

Callie: But she hasn't been feeling sick!

Peet feels the iron enter into his soul.

Peet: Yes, sir!

Jess is staring at Cristal, stunned by the news.

Jess has a sinking suspicion that her bravery won't be the focus of the child gossip, now.

Cristal makes a dramatic gesture with his arm.

Cristal: Then go home at once.

Peet goggles at himself, but turns on his heel and marches -- there is no other word -- out the door, being careful to close it behind him.

Callie stares after Peet, looking shell-shocked.

Jess does too, looking much subdued.

Cristal: [somewhat more gently] Yes, Callie, Sal is going to become a Sime, but almost certainly not until tomorrow. Hajene Bibi will serve her -- give her what she needs -- and she will harm no one, and no one will harm her.

Callie: She didn't have any of the signs! She was feeling fine.

Cristal: That's true. But channels can tell even before "the signs", as you call them.

Callie starts crying.

Cristal: ~~ sympathy ~~

Callie had only agreed to this insane stunt because she thought that they'd learn that they were Gens, and didn't have to worry any longer.

Cristal opens his arms and offers a hug.

Callie is now facing stern parental punishment when the whole story gets out--which it will, now--and it's all for nothing.

Callie accepts the offer and sniffles on Cristal's shoulder for a few moments.

Cristal discovers that treating pre-Gens like channels has its own rewards ~~ surprise sympathy compassion ~~

Callie wouldn't normally dream of getting that close to a stranger and a Simelover, but it isn't exactly a normal situation.

Jess watches for a moment, then gets up and comes over to pat Callie's shoulder.

Cristal gently strokes Callie's hair.

Jess: It's okay, Callie. At least Sal won't die, now. That's something.

Callie sniffles harder.

Sal: Miz Bibi, would it be -- be safe for me to see my friends? I don't feel any different, you know?

Bibi: Sure, no problem. Here, let me get you a handkerchief first.

Bibi gets up, takes one from the cabinet and hands it to Sal.

Cristal slips into ~~ deep Donor relaxation ~~ mode

Callie is, of course, oblivious to the nageric pyrotechnics, but a shoulder is a shoulder.

Bibi: Your mother and brother can come here and be with you through most of it, too, and everyone can visit you afterwards. Only if you want, of course. You're an adult now, here in Sime Territory.

Jess is debating how best to spread the news, as she pats Callie's back. She has the advantage of not having to face parental wrath simply for being in the Sime Center.

Sal cleans herself up a bit and runs her fingers through her hair.

Bibi smiles at her.

Bibi: I'm so glad you came here today, Sal. Everything will go well.

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