The Next Month At The Ford: Episode 16

Spring has sprung, the breeze is mild, the birds are returning, and life is coming back to the Gumgeeville area. The steep and muddy road over the pass to Hannard's Ford is carrying a party of pilgrims.

Gegg would be able to appreciate all of this natural scenery more, if it wasn't for their eventual destination. He's still not sure that going to the Sime Center is a good idea; he just can't think of a better one, given Mik's precarious situation.

Jed had to get up a good bit before dawn to get the show on the road, considering that they were taking Gegg's wagon and team, and Gegg had to deal with his internal family politics. He decided to allow plenty of time for any final altercations between Gegg and his wife to be resolved, but was surprised that Gegg and Mik were ready to pick up Virla and go when he and his two sons walked over there.

Jed is sitting next to Gegg on the wagon bench.

Jed: So, how'd you get your old lady to go along with this, Gegg?

Mik smiles but keeps his mouth shut.

Bart notices this, and wonders what Mik is smiling about. It's becoming second nature to him to notice people's reactions.

Gegg: Why would she object to us taking some stuff to market, and running a few errands?

Gegg didn't specify the full nature of all the errands, of course.

Jed: And helping out that poor bastard Jed and his boys too, eh?

Gegg chuckles.

Mik almost, but not quite, manages to suppress a giggle.

Virla: Now Jed.

Jed: Well, I do appreciate the ride. My wagon could use some work before I'd try to take it over this road.

Mik: Well, at least it's bumps and not mud, Mister Jed.

Vrian isn't sure whether he wants this trip to be over quickly, or last forever, but is sure that the actual, intermediate time frame is sheer torture.

Jed: Yeah, finally got some dry weather, got the maize in. Hope it'll make it before frost.

Jed, with the usual balance of insane optimism and resigned pessimism that characterize the farmer's lot, is going to check out the weanling pig situation at the Ford market.

Mik: Riding in a wagon in the rain is no fun either.

Bart: Beats walking the whole way, that's for sure.

Mik gives Bart a Look.

Bart wonders what the Look is about, and Looks back inquisitively.

Mik: Who'd be dumb enough to do that?

Jed: If my friggin wagon broke down, we wouldn't have a choice, would we?

Vrian: There's always the horse, Dad. Well, when he's not lame.

Jed: What, for six of us?

Vrian wonders how many donations it will take, before they can afford a riding horse.

Virla laughs out loud at the picture of the six of them on one poor horse.

Virla: Anyhow, Jed, we couldn't carry all this stuff.

Jed: So, Mik. Looking forward to meeting another Sime?

Mik: Well, I dunno, maybe. I heard ... Never mind.

Mik remembers he's not supposed to know what he knows about Bibi.

Jed: Your dad told me she's a nice looking young woman.

Gegg smiles weakly: he's not supposed to know about Bibi, any more than Mik, Vrian or Bart are.

Jed: What do you think, Virla? You stayed there overnight.

Vrian didn't think Bibi was all that young, but after all, his dad and Gegg are ancient.

Mik gives his father a sidelong glance.

Gegg meets Mik's eyes as innocently as he can, then winks.

Virla: Well, she's from out beyond New Washington. But if she was one of our own folks, I'd say she was nice enough.

Gegg: Well, apart from the tentacles.

Virla: Sure, Gegg. After all, turning Sime doesn't change what folks are really like.

Mik: [wide-eyed] Are you sure, Miz Virla?

Gegg: How can it help but change things? Turning Gen does, after all.

Virla snorts.

Gegg: And Simes are lots more different from children than Gens are.

Virla: There's Jed's boy Vrian there. He's a Gen; does he look all grown up to you?

Vrian thinks he looks grown up, and straightens up proudly.

Gegg: Not all grown up, perhaps, but he's not the child he was a few weeks ago, either. Not entirely. Right, Jed?

Jed: I never knew I was Gen until I turned sixteen. Maybe I turned Gen when I was Vrian's age and never knew it. Take Bart, here, he's changed too, since he found out he was Gen, but maybe he's been Gen for years.

Virla: Well, maybe it's true that it's knowing you're Gen that changes you, and you can't hardly help knowing if you're Sime or not. But deep down it doesn't change you any. My Magit is the same girl she ever was, grown up or not.

Gegg: In some things. But I bet you she's changed in a lot of ways, and will change more as she gets used to being Sime.

Mik: My booklets say sometimes a Gen can tell if he's turned Gen, if he knows what to look for. But it could be just spring fever, too.

Bart looks at Vrian speculatively.

Bart: Like what, Mik?

Mik: Oh, things taste funny, or you run a tiny little fever, or you get aches and pains for no reason. But lots of times nothing happens at all.

Vrian: Huh. I thought at the time that it was just sleeping in the loft that was making me sore. You say it could have been turning Gen?

Mik: That's what the booklet says, yeah.

Vrian: Huh. Imagine that.

Bart smiles at his brother encouragingly. He really hopes he'll be able to go through the donation process without too much stress.

Vrian has already encountered far more stress than any routine donation ought to provoke, and he's not even within sight of the Sime Center yet.

Mik: Of course a girl can tell for sure when her blessing comes on. That part's easy.

Virla smiles thoughtfully.

Bart is a bit uneasy at this mention of female biology, for all that he knows everything there is to know about how goats get kids.

Virla puts her hand lightly on Bart's shoulder.

Bart looks up at her.

Virla: [comfortingly] I know you're glad you're past the dangerous age, Bart.

Bart: Yeah, I sure am.

Bart looks sidelong at Mik, wishing his friend was, too.

Vrian thinks that being adult, at least technically, has its own dangers. Or at least moral dilemmas.

Bart: We were real lucky that Hajene came to town and stayed with us and could tell us. I wish some of the other kids would have come by to find out too.

Mik: Well, isn't that why we're making this trip?

Gegg: You got a point, son.

Vrian is making this trip to save the farm and prove he's not a coward, not necessarily in that order, but has sense enough to stay quiet.

Mik: Right next to the hole in my head, you mean?

Bart realizes for the first time that Mik's smartass act with his father covers his confused feelings about him. He loves his father, knows he cares about him, but at the same time, knows that Gegg would shoot him if he had to.

Gegg tries to look innocent, and fails.

Virla ruffles Mik's hair, who winces but tries not to pull away.

Bart has a feeling almost of vertigo sometimes when he gets these insights.

Jed: Gegg, you been here more recently than me. Isn't that red barn there the last farm before town?

Gegg: Yeah. The Sime Center's just down the road a ways.

Jed: Figure we should go there first, hit the market later?

Mik: If you don't mind, Dad, Mister Jed.

Vrian braces himself for Gegg's answer, not knowing which he prefers.

Bart is really looking forward to meeting the channel. He wonders if he'll react to her like he did to Seruffin.

Gegg: Sure. The wife's pretty pot holders will sell better once people have got their produce and are ready to spend some time browsing.

Gegg turns his team off the main road down a side street, angling towards the river.

Mik lets out a notch of tension he didn't know he was holding.

Vrian's tension, on the other hand, increases.

Jed is looking forward to meeting the channel himself. He's feeling pretty confident and definitely looking forward to having a pocketful of cash, and a big chunk coming off his debts.

Vrian will settle for getting through the next hour or so without totally disgracing himself. He's having a hard time thinking past the donation itself to the payday afterwards, just now.

Gegg pulls the team to a halt in front of the Sime Center, which has a convenient hitching rail in front.

Virla is praying silently.

Gegg sets about making the horses comfortable for a longish wait.

Bibi is working in her office, alert for any approaching customers. The early morning rush of market day donors has abated, and the waiting room has been empty for some time. She's ~~ startled ~~ as a crowd of Gens drives up in a farm wagon, and hurries to the reception area to meet them. She hopes Cristal will rejoin her soon. Judging by the mix of emotions she's zlinning, she'll need him.

Cristal appears in the reception area, right on cue, wiping a crumb or two from his lips. He smiles.

Cristal: You called, Bibi?

Bibi smiles at her Donor.

Bibi: We've got a crowd coming up the walk. I'm glad you're here with me.

Virla has completed her prayers and is leading the procession to the "donor door".

Jed climbs down from the wagon and stretches. He looks around at the old farmhouse and grounds, and gathering his two sons by eye, follows Virla up the walk.

Bart is ~~ eager ~~ as he looks around and follows.

Vrian trudges after his father and brother, trying to look grown up and actually looking very much like a confused adolescent.

Gegg gives the horses a final pat, then looks at his son.

Gegg: Shall we, Mik?

Mik: Um, yeah, Dad. It's time.

Gegg follows the Mullins family, his son behind him.

Cristal: [professional] They must be a motley crew indeed, Hajene, judging by how you seem to be going in all directions at once.

Bibi: I zlin Virla and Mr. Gegg, and Vrian Mullins... the whole Gumgeeville gang, I guess. Two more Gens I don't know. I'm zlinning quite a range of emotions here, some of them strong.

Cristal raises his ~~ support ~~ level and moves to the magical point that minimizes the nageric flux.

Virla: Hello? Bibi?

Bibi: Cristal, can you get the door? It will be easier on the nervous ones if I stay back.

Cristal: Of course.

Cristal goes to the door, pulls it open, and steps back to allow the herd of Wild Gens to come into the room. As quickly and unobtrusively as possible, he returns to the neutral point.

Bibi sits in one of the donor chairs and does her small, pretty, harmless, friendly look.

Bibi: Hello, Virla. So nice to see you again.

Virla: Hello, Bibi. I'm pleased to be back.

Bart's eyes are riveted on Bibi. She's nothing like as old as Vrian said.

Bibi: Hello, Mr. Gegg. Is this your son Mik?

Gegg looks at his son, to make sure the boy is all right, then nods.

Gegg: Yes. This is Mik.

Vrian fervently hopes that Bibi doesn't greet him by name, thus revealing to his father that he already knows her.

Virla: And this is my neighbor Jed Mullins and his -- sons, Bart and Vrian.

Virla makes a point of not saying "boys".

Jed is rather ~~ amused ~~ at this channel, so different from the dignified diplomat Seruffin. She reminds him of one of his cousins.

Jed: Pleased to meet you, Hajene Bibi.

Bibi: You've had a long trip. Would you like some refreshments? Please help yourselves from the table over there.

Vrian nods politely, glad that the worst of the name-recognition danger is past.

Bibi as usual falls back on the hospitality she grew up with, always feeding her guests first thing. This is completely different from the usual Sime prejudice about how Gens are always interested in food.

Vrian is well into the two-hollow-legs stage of Gen male adolescence, and loses no time in accepting Bibi's invitation. He figures he'd better fortify himself for the ordeal ahead, and it's been hours since breakfast.

Mik isn't feeling hungry.

Jed goes over to the table and pours himself a cup of tea from the urn.

Bart is torn between his interest in Bibi, and the attraction of tasty treats, in very short supply at home. He also feels that he should keep Vrian from rudely gobbling everything up.

Vrian is being maligned; thanks to his tension and the resulting loss of appetite, he's only filled his plate one layer deep with cookies and gingerbread.

Gegg's household has more goodies around than the Mullins's, and he doesn't want to desert his son, even long enough to go over to the refreshment table.

Bart gives Vrian a quelling look, and takes one of the cookies from his plate.

Bibi: As most of you know, I'm Hajene Bibi, the channel here, and this is my Donor, Sosu Cristal.

Virla looks at Cristal, who has been being professionally inconspicuous.

Virla: [quietly] Good to see you again, Sosu.

Virla is glad that "Sosu" is one of the Simelan words she can pronounce correctly.

Gegg looks at Cristal with the ~~ skepticism ~~ many Wild Gens exhibit towards their domesticated counterparts.

Vrian thinks Cristal doesn't look nearly as nice as Gerrhonot, although he looks smarter.

Cristal meets Gegg's eyes ~~ coolly ~~ but says nothing. His ~~ attention ~~ remains focused on Bibi.

Bart looks at Cristal ~~ curiously ~~ and nods. He seems a lot more dignified than Gerrhonot.

Cristal nods back.

Cristal senses that the nageric clutter has calmed enough that he can move off the neutral point, so he goes over to a filing cabinet, and extracts several files and a few empty folders, plus a stack of forms.

Bibi: Thanks, Cristal.

Cristal radiates ~~ solidarity ~~

Bibi has a good bit to worry about, what with Virla's strange first donation, Gegg's hostility, Vrian's nervousness, Bart's record of trying to push selyn at the channel during a donation... She hopes that Jed will be calm and normal, for a new donor. Mik, despite his dark and swirling nager, is at least a child.

Virla: Well, my dear, there's no reason why we should just stand here and give each other significant looks. You may as well start with me -- on the usual terms.

Vrian is ~~ glad ~~ that he can delay his own donation a bit longer--and ~~ ashamed ~~ of the cowardice that implies.

Bibi smiles, as best she can. Virla is at least friendly, if not nagerically normal.

Cristal notes Vrian's mixed emotions and raises ~~ support ~~ another notch.

Bibi: Of course, Virla, if you'd like. Cristal, do you have the file Hajene Seruffin made for her? Good. Let go to the donation room. Please make yourselves comfortable while you wait.

Bibi displays no irony in her expression or voice when she invites the mixed crew to be comfortable.

Cristal happens to be closest to the donation area, so he leads the way, pushing the door open.

Virla hangs back, being ~~ not quite ready ~~ to walk into a room with a Sime behind her.

Bibi notices this hesitation and enters first, smiling back at Virla, looking like a normal out-T woman, and not an exotic creature at all.

Virla relaxes and follows Bibi into the room, summoning her courage to close the door.

Vrian settles down on a couch, watching the door and nibbling absently on his plateful of goodies.

Virla's attention is attracted by the bizarre piece of furniture in the room.

Virla: What in God's name is that, Bibi?

Bibi: Oh, that's the transfer lounge. I usually use it for donations, it's more comfortable for both of us.

Virla: Oh. ~~ surprise ~~

Bibi: I sit on that end and the donor sits there. We can do the donation without twisting our backs or banging our knees.

Virla: I guess that's sensible. Maybe I should lie down on that part, so if I get another, well, spell, ...

Bibi was going to sit at the desk for a while, to ease Virla into it, but this is too good an opportunity to proceed.

Bibi: Sure. You'll find it very comfortable.

Cristal: Lying down while donating can be very comfortable, Miz Virla.

Bibi joins Virla on the lounge, in the channel's position.

Virla: Okay. ~~ commitment ~~ Do it.

Bibi was going to do a little small talk about Magit first....

Bibi: You're not afraid of me, are you Virla? It's okay if I take your hands?

Virla: Take what you need, for my Magit's sake.

Bibi is a little perturbed at this sacrificial attitude, but is willing to go with it, in hopes that Virla will find it more routine after a few more donations.

Bibi: Okay, I'll just slide my hands onto your wrists, now I'll hold your arms with my handling tentacles...

Bibi zlins carefully for those weird effects Seruffin described.

Virla: Go ahead. ~~ normal replete GN-3 nager ~~

Bibi: Now I'll tighten up a little... now my laterals...

Bibi is ~~ relieved ~~that there are no nageric fireworks, but is still very ~~ cautious ~~

Virla: ~~ sparkles, unmoving ~~

Bibi can faintly zlin something that might be called a sparkly effect, if one could zlin it clearly.

Bibi: Okay, now I'll make the lip contact. Please remain still, it will take about a minute.

Virla: ~~ consent sparkles ~~

Bibi carefully leans forward and completes the five point contact. She zlins Virla physically and notes that her back and legs are chronically sore, due to insufficient exercise to keep the muscles strong enough to keep the skeleton correctly positioned.

Virla: ~~ relaxation ~~ ~~ sparkles begin to move ~~

Bibi finds Virla otherwise in reasonable health for a woman her age, and begins to draw selyn from the surface level.

Virla: ~~ whirling sparkles, but not actually dazzling ~~

Bibi zlins the sparkly effect increase, and agrees with Seruffin that it is extremely weird. But the donor remains relaxed and the selyn is flowing smoothly.

Cristal eases off ~~ support ~~ to a more normal level, since all is obviously going well.

Virla: ~~ profound relaxation but not cataplexy ~~

Bibi doesn't intend to try for the GN-2 level, since this is the first time she's taken Virla's donation, and she's pretty leery of Seruffin's description. She finishes draining the GN-3, and relinquishes contact.

Bibi: Thank you, Virla. You did very well. Just stay there and relax a bit longer if you like.

Virla opens her eyes and smiles profoundly at Bibi.

Virla: I think I will.

Cristal hands Bibi the clipboard with the proper papers attached.

Bibi: You've donated as much selyn as Magit can use in a month.

Bibi takes the clipboard, and nods politely to Cristal.

Virla holds out her hands.

Virla: Could you give me a hand, young fellow?

Cristal looks at Bibi for ~~ permission ~~

Bibi: Are you sure you want to get up right away? I still have to fill out this form here.

Bibi does not want Virla collapsing on the floor, or in Cristal's arms.

Virla: I feel fine, Bibi. Really. I just need a hand here! You do your paperwork while Sosu here helps me get up.

Bibi: Well, okay, but I have to ask you some more questions for the form, so you might as well be comfortable for that!

Bibi gestures to Cristal to help Virla sit.

Cristal takes Virla's hands gently in his and massages them a bit.

Bibi: Magit was very excited about going in-T, and she and Hajene Marvin really hit it off well.

Virla: Well, that's good, for sure.

Bibi: I've written her address for you on this card here.

Virla double-takes

Virla: Ah, just how well? ~~ concern ~~

Bibi: Oh, he's very good with the new Simes. And another girl from the Ford who had just changed over was traveling with them. Magit was very good with her, helping her get used to things.

Virla: Ah. ~~ concern released ~~.

Bibi picked up immediately on a mother's fears of her daughter going off with a Strange Attractive Man.

Virla: Okay, Sosu. First give me a steady pull, not a jerk, until I'm sitting up straight. Then wait for me to get my balance.

Cristal is reminded of Donor training, oddly. He does what he's asked.

Virla sits up smoothly and easily with Cristal's help.

Virla: Well done. Now don't try to pull me up with your strength. Just grip my hands firmly ...

Cristal does.

Virla: ... and leeeeean back. Your weight, not your strength, does the trick.

Virla, just like magic, rises to her feet. ~~ relaxed pain-free ~~

Bibi wonders if she should get Layna to teach Virla some exercises to strengthen her back muscles... but has more sense.

Cristal cautiously lets go of Virla's hands, hoping nothing drastic happens to her -- Bibi shouldn't have a shock while she's still technically in recovery.

Bibi moves to the desk and offers Virla a straight chair which should be easier to get off of.

Virla sits in the chair, ~~ smiling ~~

Virla: My roomatiz is all better, Bibi, at least for now. Did you do that?

Bibi: I think it was mostly the relaxing that helped you, and of course Cristal's assistance, but donating is very good for the health. If you keep it up, you'll probably find that you feel better over all and don't get sick as often.

Virla: Bibi, if us middle-aged folks all knew that -- well, you could put this donation in a bottle and sell it.

Bibi: Well, we're always open... you can spread the word!

Virla: Trust me, I will.

Bibi: Do you think some other people in Gumgeeville might want to consider donating?

Virla: When I get through with them. ~~ determination ~~

Bibi: Perhaps they might consider bringing their children here, to find out if they're Gens yet.

Virla sighs deeply.

Virla: That's even more touchy, Bibi. I'll do what I can to help. Speaking of which, maybe we should go back out and calm the waters out there?

Bibi: Yes. I hope they aren't worried that it's been so quiet - no screaming or pounding on walls!

Bibi gets up and opens the door.

Bart looks up alertly as the donation room door opens.

Vrian jumps, then looks ~~ self consciously ~~ about to see if anyone noticed.

Gegg did not, being too ~~ jumpy ~~ himself.

Mik ~~ hopes ~~ he'll be next, whatever that might mean.

Jed is ~~ amused ~~ at how everyone reacts. It had been pretty quiet while they were waiting, aside from Vrian crunching his way through a lot of cookies.

Bibi: I'll give Nattin your voucher, Virla, and he'll handle the paperwork to transfer it to Magit's credit.

Virla: By all means.

Bibi follows Virla out of the donation room and smiles pleasantly at the group.

Gegg inspects Virla closely, to see if she shows any ill effects from what was done to her. He doesn't quite believe Jed's story of his donation to Seruffin, as he's known Jed a long time.

Virla notices Gegg's attention and gives him the hairy eyeball.

Virla: [quietly] I know what you're thinking, and it's just not so. I'm fine and your boy will be fine too.

Gegg: I hope so.

Gegg turns his attention to Bibi.

Bibi stands there, tentacles retracted, looking small and harmless (and cute).

Jed is even more ~~ amused ~~ by Bibi's act. Maybe Bart gets his new talent for insight from his dad?

Gegg looks at Mik protectively, to see how he's taking being around a Sime, however cute and harmless looking.

Bart is ~~ charmed ~~ by Bibi, so small, so demure, but with the power to save lives. He feels ~~ attraction ~~ for her.

Mik recognizes that his father is going to do one of his routines, and ~~ wishes he would get it over with ~~

Cristal feels the ~~ nageric shift ~~ and moves to the new neutral point, closer to Bart.

Vrian wonders who will be chosen to go next.

Bibi is happy that the ambient is being influenced positively by Bart and his father, and even Gegg isn't hostile so much as protective of his son.

Vrian doesn't quite feel up to volunteering, not sharing Virla's obsession with getting unpleasant business over with as quickly as possible.

Vrian's usual tactic is to delay as long as possible, in hopes the threatening situation will resolve itself without effort on his part.

Jed: Well, I told my sons I'd go ahead of them, but I think Mik here wants his chance first.

Mik: Yeah. Thanks, Mister Jed. Hajene, I need you to find out ... what I am. If you can.

Bibi: Sure, I'll be glad to. Would you come with me?

Gegg hovers ~~ protectively ~~

Bibi hopes for a chance to talk to Mik alone, and tell him that she can arrange for him to work and board near the Ford. She wants him to save his own life.

Gegg: Do you want me to come with you, son?

Mik: Dad ... I think ... this is something I gotta do by myself. Is that okay with you?

Gegg is not ready for an independent, adult son. Particularly not if that son is likely to be Sime, shortly.

Virla: Gegg ...

Bart watches Gegg and Mik intently, hoping Mik will have a chance to talk to the channel without his father's interference.

Gegg looks at Virla, then at Bibi, a bit suspiciously, but nods.

Jed intends to talk to Bibi on Gegg and Mik's behalf, if they don't manage to resolve things themselves.

Gegg: All right, Mik. Go on.

Mik: ~~ soberly ~~ Thanks, Dad.

Gegg sits back down on his chair, trying not to look as ~~ upset ~~ as he is.

Mik hasn't thought about the implications of being followed by a Sime, and confidently ~~ but not really ~~ sets off toward the door Virla came out of.

Gegg settles ~~ grimly ~~ down to wait.

Jed punches Gegg lightly on the shoulder.

Jed: Don't worry, Gegg, what's she gonna do to him with all of us out here?

Virla: Hush, Jed. You're just making things worse.

Mik looks back to see if Bibi is coming too.

Bibi smiles and follows.

Gegg: It's just...she's a Sime. And none of us know her.

Virla: I know her. I may not have grown up with her, but I know her.

Gegg suspects Virla's "knowledge" has a lot more to do with spiritual revelation than personal acquaintance.

Bibi sits at the desk and offers Mik a chair as Cristal follows and closes the door behind him.

Mik sits down.

Cristal moves to Bibi's side and lowers ~~ support to normal ~~

Bibi: Hajene Seruffin told me that you think you might change over.

Mik: Umm, yeah. It's more like ... It's more like I know I will. Inside.

Bibi: Do you remember when this feeling started?

Mik: Not really. It kinda crept up on me. It's, when I'm quiet, I hear a little voice in my head. Not a real voice, you know?

Bibi nods encouragingly.

Mik: It's saying "You're gonna be Sime, you're gonna be Sime." Sometimes it says "You're gonna be shot", too. Or even "Your dad" --

Mik chokes on the thought.

Bibi closes her eyes briefly in ~~ sympathy ~~

Cristal: ~~ sympathy support ~~

Mik recovers.

Mik: Well, that's what it's like.

Bibi: Mik, I want to do whatever I can to help you. So if you change over, you'll do so safely, and not kill anyone, and not die, whether you're a channel or a renSime. I grew up out-T, so I know what it's like. I was very lucky not to kill and not to be shot.

Mik: ~~ bitterness ~~ But how? I can't stay here all the time. My dad needs me, and my mom ... And it's just too far. If it rains, or ... And if my dad drove me here ... There's no way.

Mik relapses into ~~ despairing ~~ silence.

Bibi: There are quite a lot of families around here who support the Sime Center, and what we're doing to save lives. I know of several who would be willing to board you until you change over or establish. Would you be willing to work on a local farm in exchange for board?

Mik: Sure I would. But my family can't spare me. ~~ dawning hope, quickly squelched ~~

Bibi thinks that they'll have to spare him if he changes over or dies.

Bibi: Do you suppose they could hire someone to take your place, if they had the money to?

Mik: ~~ hopelessness ~~ Maybe, I dunno.

Bibi: Mik, you may have to be the one to save your own life. It's your responsibility. If you don't take that responsibility, you may die, and you may kill first.

Mik: ~~ shock cuts through the despair, turning to anger ~~ Look. You don't get it.

Cristal steps up ~~ support ~~

Mik: I can't stay here. I could run for the border, yeah. And maybe I'd make it, and maybe I wouldn't. But if you put me up anywhere in town, my mom would have a cow. And then she'd talk to her friends, and they'd talk to their husbands. And then there'd be a pogrom. Because of me. And this Sime Center would be destroyed. And all the other kids that change over here at the Ford would go back to being shot.

Bibi sighs. Teenagers...

Mik: [shouting] IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?

Mik hangs his head.

Mik: Sorry.

Bibi: Mik, I'm not proposing to abduct you and hide you away somewhere.

Mik mutters, "It wouldn't matter. My mom would still see it that way."

Gegg looks at the door in ~~ alarm ~~ at the sound of raised voices.

Bibi: Your father wants you to live. He doesn't want to shoot you, and he doesn't want you to kill him or your mother or your sister.

Mik nods, not trusting his voice.

Bibi: He really wants you to establish as a Gen, but if that doesn't happen, he still wants you to live and have a good life.

Mik: I know, I know. But my mom, she would rather see me dead than a ... snake.

Bibi: But you want to live, and your father wants you to as well. You have a right to live without killing. And you have a responsibility not to kill.

Mik is ~~ moved ~~ by Bibi's earnestness, but doesn't see how it's going to change his situation any.

Bibi: I'm willing to pay for your parents to hire another boy to do your work so you can stay on a local farm.

Cristal's eyebrows head for the ceiling.

Mik: Whaaa ... You mean with your own money?

Bibi: Yes.

Mik: ~~ acute embarrassment ~~ They'd never take it.

Bibi: When you become an adult, you can pay me back.

Cristal: [firmly] Mik, you leave that to me.

Bibi: Would they have another reason to keep you from saving your life then?

Mik: Umm, I guess not.

Mik: Sosu, you can really do that? ~~ hope spiraling upwards ~~

Bibi: They'd be saving their own lives too, either literally, or the living death of guilt if they have to shoot you, and know there was another way that they rejected.

Mik: Too right! ~~ teenage flipflop to wild enthusiasm ~~

Bibi wonders what Cristal plans and is worried that he'll make things worse.

Bibi: Mik, if you'll let me make a transfer contact, I may be able to tell if you're going to change over or establish within the next few days. Will you let me do that?

Mik: ~~ taken aback ~~ Um. Sure. I guess.

Cristal catches Mik's eye and nods emphatically.

Mik: [pause] Yes. Definitely. ~~ determination courage ~~

Bibi: Are you afraid of me, as a Sime?

Mik: ~~ bravado ~~ No.

Bibi: You know that I can't harm you that way, because you aren't a Gen, right?

Bibi knows this isn't strictly true, but doesn't intend to confuse matters.

Mik: The booklet says ... But you're a channel. You won't hurt me.

Mik: ~~ decision ~~ Go for it.

Cristal does his mysterious Gen tricks.

Bibi: Okay, will you take my hands?

Bibi offers her small, feminine hands, palms up, tentacles in.

Mik takes her hands.

Bibi slides her hands up onto Mik's wrists.

Mik remains ~~ calm ~~, or as calm as he ever gets.

Bibi: Now I'll hold you with my handling tentacles, then touch you with my laterals. The laterals will feel a bit moist and tingly, but they won't hurt. You'll have to hold your arms still then, or you can hurt me, okay?

Bibi extends her handling tentacles, but doesn't touch Mik with them yet.

Mik: I'll be still, Hajene.

Bibi: Okay, good.

Bibi grasps Mik's arms snugly and extends her laterals onto his skin.

Bibi: Now I need to make a lip contact, and it will take me a minute or so to examine you.

Mik reacts to the tingling, but remembers not to move.

Mik: Okay.

Bibi bends forward and offers her lips.

Mik remembers his booklet, and presses his lips against Bibi's with ~~ embarrassment ~~.

Bibi zlins Mik as thoroughly as she can. At times like this, she wishes she had greater sensitivity, for all the trouble that causes higher rated channels. She does her best, but despite her best effort, she can detect nothing but a child's nager.

Bibi relinquishes contact and leans back.

Bibi: Sorry, Mik. I can't detect anything either way. But you did well, staying still and calm like that.

Mik: ~~ disappointment resignation courage ~~

Bibi: Once you're settled here, you can come by any time, and I'll check you again.

Mik: Thanks, Hajene. You're a life saver.

Mik double-takes.

Mik: Yeah.

Bibi smiles at Mik.

Bibi: Between the three of us, we'll save your life, Mik, if we have to.

Mik smiles back.

Cristal: You betcha, Mik.

Bibi offers a hug.

Mik slides into the hug with neither eagerness nor reluctance.

Cristal secretly wishes he could have that kind of un-self-conscious grace.

Bibi pats Mik's back.

Bibi: It will be all right Mik. It will all work out.

Mik nods into Bibi's shoulder. ~~ courage hope acceptance ~~

Cristal: ~~ loneliness ~~ hope worry professionalism ~~

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