The Next Month At The Ford: Episode 18

Bart takes his plate of food out to the back veranda. Bibi has invited the whole Gumgeeville contingent to have lunch at the Sime Center. He hasn't had such a delicious looking meal in longer than he can remember, but he's still worried about Bibi, who's "resting". He sits at one of the tables and wonders what Vrian did to her.

Vrian is still "in recovery" himself, and is being uncharacteristically quiet as he eats his lunch. He gets up for a refill, and brings his plate back to Bart's table, for the comfort of a Big Brother.

Bart: Good food, eh?

Vrian's change of venue has nothing to do with the fact that Driver finished trimming the bushes along the property's boundary, and switched to a bush close to the veranda railing. Really.

Vrian: Yeah. Great.

Bart: Uh. How did it go?

Vrian winces at the memory.

Vrian: It was...scary. Sitting there, knowing she was draining me, with no way to stop it if anything went wrong...

Vrian's voice rises an octave during this description.

Bart shakes his head. He had hoped that if Vrian could just go through with it, his fears would dissolve, especially after the "dress rehearsal" of two weeks previous.

Bart: You were okay, though. She didn't hurt you. It really wasn't any different from the other time, was it?

Vrian: I didn't feel anything, was different, knowing it was really happening. It felt more dangerous, somehow. Weren't you worried that something might go wrong?

Bart: No. She's really nice. I liked donating to her. And dad said she's okay, too.

Vrian: I've got nothing against her, personally. She tried to be nice about it. And she said she was sorry for tricking me, last time.

Vrian thoughtfully chews a carrot stick.

Bart: That's good.

Bart tries to figure out how to put this.

Bart: Uh, Vrian. Hajene Bibi didn't look too good when she came out of there with you... Did, uh, something happen?

Vrian shakes his head.

Vrian: Maybe she's tired? She looked tired, or maybe cold, afterwards. Cristal helped her.

Bart: What did he do?

Bart is interested in Donor activities these days.

Vrian: He let her grab him for a few minutes. It doesn't make sense, really, if that's why she was so tired in the first place, does it?

Bart: He must have been doing some of that nageric stuff Gerrhonot told us about. To help her.

Vrian: Oh? Well, I guess maybe he was.

Vrian isn't all that interested in the weird stuff Donors do.

Bart wonders whether he should tell Vrian that it was probably his fear and nervousness that put Bibi into a state where she needed that kind of support. He doesn't want Vrian to get upset, but he also doesn't want him to keep hurting channels.

Cristal steps out on the back veranda carrying a heaping plate of food and sits down next to the Mullins boys. He digs in to his food.

Cristal: Are you feeling any better yet, Vrian?

Vrian looks at Cristal, unsure how to deal with this professional Sime-kisser. He thinks Cristal isn't anywhere near as easygoing and non-threatening as Gerrhonot.

Vrian: Yeah. I'm better now.

Cristal: Good, good. It can take time to get used to donation. Time, and practice.

Vrian perks up a bit at that.

Vrian: You think it'll get easier for me?

Cristal: It almost always does, Vrian. Anything that happens to you more than once, except maybe breaking a leg, is going to be easier the next time.

Vrian thinks that if he has to be the human equivalent of a milk goat in order to keep his inheritance in the family long enough for him to inherit it, it would be better to at least be a non-skittish milk goat.

Vrian: Oh. That's good to know.

Cristal: Sure.

Vrian looks at Cristal with some ~~ curiosity ~~

Vrian: Were you afraid of donating, when you started?

Cristal: Not afraid, maybe a little unsure of myself. People who are going to be Donors, you know, the kind who serve channels, usually have a different feeling about it from the start.

Vrian: Oh. Then you don't know it gets easier from personal experience? I mean, for people like me?

Bart feels a little ashamed that he was so critical of his brother. Maybe Vrian's reactions are the normal ones, and it isn't fair to compare them to his own.

Cristal: Not from personal experience, no. But I've seen how general-class donors start out very tense indeed, and when they come back month after month, they go from tense to calm to routine. It's not really hard to tell when people are upset or not, if you make a habit of watching for it.

Vrian: I suppose people who grow up in Simeland don't have that kind of trouble, huh? I mean, being used to Simes, and all.

Cristal: No, by no means. Otherwise everyone in Sime Territory would be a Donor, which is not at all the case. It often takes time to get over the initial fear -- Simes think it's a Gen instinct.

Vrian: Really? Then what made you different, if it's an instinct?

Cristal: Some people are born different. Simes have an instinct to strip selyn from Gens, but channels have control of that instinct. Even when they are in need. Most people have an instinct to jump when they hear a loud noise unexpectedly, but there are a few people who automatically tend to freeze in place.

Vrian gets a nasty ~~ suspicion ~~

Vrian: She...isn't in need now, is she?

Cristal: As a matter of fact she isn't, but that's my point -- channels can always take donations, whether they're in need or not.

Vrian is ~~ relieved ~~ to hear that Bibi was not, in fact, close to need.

Vrian: Was....was Hajene Seruffin in need, when he was staying with us?

Cristal: Technically, Simes are "in need" half the time. But he was nowhere near hard need. Anyhow, Seruffin's a First and a diplomat. He has total control of himself -- and most of what goes on around him.

Vrian looks at Cristal with a touch of alarm.

Vrian: What do you mean, he controls most of what goes on around him?

Vrian noted at the time that a lot of strange things were happening, but attributed it to the mere presence of a Sime in his bedroom, rather than to that Sime's manipulations.

Vrian has since, of course, heard Gegg expound on his theory of Sime seduction. He hadn't given it any particular credence, but that was because he couldn't think of a mechanism for such manipulation.

Cristal: Well, when I was behaving inappropriately a while back, he managed to get me to see the error of my ways without putting me down in the process. Which isn't easy. I'm a touchy person by nature.

Vrian: How'd he do that? ~~ curious ~~

Bart is listening to all this, and still wondering what Vrian did to Bibi, and what Cristal did to help her, and whether she's okay or not.

Cristal: Basically, he --- just talked to me. I don't mean he pulled any nageric strings! Diplomats know what to say, when to say it, and how people will take it. As you can probably tell quite easily, I'm no diplomat.

Vrian: Oh. You just mean he's the kind of person people listen to?

Cristal: Yes. And when he suggests you do something -- or not do it --

Cristal blushes.

Cristal: -- you find yourself doing what he says, and it all seems perfectly reasonable, because it is reasonable. It turns out to be you who was being unreasonable. But Simes, even Firsts, can't just think people into doing things.

Vrian: I wonder what he said to Dad? He never thought about donating selyn until Hajene Seruffin was staying with us. Well, not about doing it himself. He used to talk about Grandfather at the first Faith Day, sometimes.

Bart: You know dad did it to make money for us, Vrian. He even said it was his own idea. He figured Hajene Seruffin was a trustworthy man just from talking to him. He's a good judge of character, right?

Vrian: Yeah, except for that traveling huckster who was selling that worthless horse tonic.

Cristal is glad to see Bart is beginning to make some of Cristal's case for him.

Vrian recalls that the tonic in question put the usually greedy horse off his feed for two days, without helping the lame hoof.

Bart: Uh, Sosu, is Hajene Bibi okay now?

Cristal: Absolutely. She'll be out and about as soon as us Gens have finished eating. Channels know they have to eat, but it's something they'd rather not think about, even pre-turnover.

Bart: Uh, Vrian said you were doing something, in the donation room, to help her after she took his donation?

Cristal: Yes. Basically, I gave her a steady calming field, umm, feeling, that she could rest on. Then I had to untangle her energy flows. It's kind of like massage, except you don't do it with your fingers. Simes don't understand how Donors can do that, but we just -- learn how, somehow.

Bart had a discussion with Bibi when he donated, so Cristal knows that both she and Seruffin think Bart has Donor talent.

Cristal: I suspect your brother will be able to do things like that, when he gets his training. That is, if he wants to learn how.

Vrian: I have to say, I can't imagine wanting something like that. But Bart can. Right, Bart?

Bart: Yeah, I can. How did you decide to be a Donor, Sosu?

Cristal: My parents were both Sime, and I found that even as a kid, I could help them feel better when they were depressed because of need. When the channel told me that I had established, he asked me if I'd be interested in Donor training. I went for it.

Bart thinks how strange it must be to have Sime parents.

Bart: Sosu Gerrhonot told us some about Donoring. He really likes it, especially looking after Hajene Seruffin.

Cristal: Yes, the two of them are a very good working team.

Vrian: It's kind of an odd pairing, at least to me. Gerrhonot's not smart, and, well, Hajene is.

Cristal: A channel/Donor team isn't like a team of horses, you know. It's actually good if they have different skills. Gerrhonot is the most honest person I've ever met, and if that's because he's not smart enough to be otherwise, then so be it. As you know, Simes can read feelings, and for a Donor to pretend about his feelings is not only pointless, it can make him unable to work properly.

Vrian: Does that mean Hajene Seruffin isn't honest?

Cristal: By no means! Hajene Seruffin is totally honest. But he knows when to speak and when to be silent. Sometimes Sosu puts his foot in it without meaning to.

Vrian: Isn't that bad, if he's working with a diplomat and all?

Cristal: I suspect not, but I'm not sure. Gerrhonot can say things that Hajene Seruffin wouldn't be able to, because of his official position.

Bart: Maybe like he could beg Mister Henree to let him help Magit. Mister Henree wouldn't talk to a Sime, and Hajene couldn't beg, could he?

Cristal snorts.

Cristal: Certainly not.

Vrian: No, I can't see Hajene begging. Not for anything.

Bart: Gerrhonot said that transfer feels really wonderful. Is it like that for all Donors?

Cristal: All the ones I've ever talked to. It's better than ... well, better than almost everything.

Cristal isn't quite sure how far the out-T taboo on mentioning sex extends, and decides to err on the side of safety for once.

Cristal: When you are around a channel in hard need, you feel -- well, Donors call it the "need to give", which sounds like nonsense to Simes, but it's true. You just want to do anything you can to assuage that feeling the channel has, and then, when a channel draws -- well!

Cristal grins his big grin.

Cristal: It's wonnnnnderful.

Bart: Hajene Seruffin said that when he took my donation I was reacting like a Donor... And Hajene Bibi wanted me to be careful not to react like that.... Umm, they weren't in need, but I had this feeling...

Cristal: Exactly. You've felt it, then. "Selyur nager", it's called in Sime language: the response to a channel's field.

Bart: Like I wanted to be close to them and help them?

Cristal: Right. By doing whatever's necessary, eh?

Vrian had a response to Bibi's "field", or at least her presence, and it was anything but wonderful.

Bart: But I didn't know what it was... except Hajene Bibi said that Hajene Seruffin wrote down that I was trying to push selyn at him?

Vrian's expression reveals his ~~ doubts ~~ as to Cristal's--and his brother's--sanity.

Cristal: That's probably what gave Hajene Seruffin the first clue.

Cristal knows this is not strictly true, but figures it will be easier to understand that way.

Bart: I'd never seen a Sime before... but when he touched my arms, I... It's hard to describe.

Vrian can, at least, agree with that much.

Cristal: The danger is that Simes are awfully dependent on sensing fields, and if you feel like they can rely on you, then they will try to rely on you, even if you don't really know what to do. Which is why it's so important for Donors to be trained, so that they will know how to meet emergencies.

Bart: Yeah. He tried to teach me how to not affect him, the next day, but... I guess there isn't any way to learn things like that without a Sime to help you, right?

Cristal: Hmm, I guess not. I don't really know. I'm not used to thinking about out-Territory -- Genland -- Donors. There really aren't any, at least not trained ones, except in Sime Centers like this one.

Bart: Uh, before Hajene Seruffin told me I was Gen... uh, I hadn't thought too much about what I was going to do when I grew up... uh, because I might not grow up?

Cristal makes a "That's the way it goes" gesture.

Cristal: At least neither of you have that problem any more, eh?

Bart: Yeah. But the farm isn't big enough for me and Vrian both, so one of us is going to have to find something else to do.

Vrian: Yeah. It can't support two families, though. Heck, it can't really support one.

Cristal: I don't really know much about Genland law, but is the farm going to be owned by the two of you equally when your father dies?

Bart: Our dad's still pretty young, Sosu...

Cristal: Oh, sure. I was just looking ahead a bit. So if Bart worked for the Tecton, he'd still be a partner in the farm, then?

Bart: Dad says that if I can find something to do that I like and that pays good, I'll be doing better than anybody in the family for generations. Ma doesn't like Simes much, but I'll be sixteen before winter... Then I can do what I want.

Cristal: Right. I'm not used to thinking of being legally an adult at some fixed age or other.

Vrian: If Bart has a living elsewhere, then Dad would probably leave the farm to me.

Cristal: Oh, so he can do that.

Bart: I guess I'd still be a partner. I can send home money like Gerrhonot does, to make up for not being there to work, and for what I'd be contributing from my donations.

Bart is not conscious that he's describing, all too accurately, the state of the farm. It consumes more money than it produces.

Vrian: But Bart...I don't think Dad meant for you to run off and join the Simes.

Cristal: A Donor isn't ever going to feel fulfilled living his whole life among Gens only. At least, I know I couldn't.

Bart: [to Vrian] Dad says if I don't like it, I can come home, but even if I do that, it will be an adventure, and I might find something else I like.

Vrian: You always did want to see the world, didn't you?

Bart: Well, yeah, before I settle down, I guess. Dad did too, but he didn't get to.

Vrian likes adventure as much as the next boy, but isn't about to risk losing the farm to get it.

Cristal: Better than having to go to war, like, er, your grandfather.

Bart: Uh, did you want to be a Donor all along?

Cristal: As soon as I found out I could be one, yeah. But before that, I had -- well, a variety of ambitions. Like most young people, I think. I get the feeling that you have a bunch of other questions, Bart.

Bart: Yeah. I do. I guess I should talk to Hajene Bibi more, too.

Cristal: Yes, you should. I can tell you what it feels like to be a Donor, but only a channel can tell you about yourself as a Donor.

Bart kind of wishes Vrian weren't there, so he could ask Cristal some more embarrassing questions.

Vrian thinks he might be able to fit in a few more of those cheese buns, and gets up with his plate to find out.

Cristal gives Bart an inquiring look.

Bart: Uh, Sosu, uh... Hajene Bibi's a woman and you're a man... uh, does that... uh... make a difference from like two men like Hajene Seruffin and Gerrhonot?

Bart blushes intensely.

Cristal blushes as well.

Cristal: It can. But it doesn't have to. In actual transfer, sexual feeling is kind of shut off. But afterwards, it, well, bounces back. That doesn't mean that channels and Donors are lovers. In fact, it's discouraged.

Bart: Uh... the way I felt uh... attracted to Hajene Seruffin and Hajene Bibi... it's kind of confusing... and uh... Hajene Bibi is so nice and she's uh... really beautiful...

Bart blushes again.

Cristal: Attraction in transfer and attraction in sex are two different things. And of course, channels are only interested in people of the other sex. Exactly why, nobody knows.

Bart blushes more deeply and looks down.

Cristal figures he's overstepped a taboo, but doesn't know what it is.

Bart: Uh... I guess that's okay then...

Cristal: Bart, it's perfectly all right to feel whatever you feel. If you want to help Seruffin, or Bibi, or are sexually attracted to Bibi, they will know it. So you might as well not bother trying to hide it from anyone, especially from yourself.

Bart hadn't thought about that aspect of it. Oh, dear.

Cristal: Feelings are what they are, neither good nor bad. No one will ever blame you for how you feel, only for how you act or don't act on your feelings. As long as you do what's required of you, you'll be fine.

Bart: But, doesn't it upset them... if uh... somebody is attracted to them... and they don't feel the same way?

Cristal: Well, of course that sort of thing can upset anybody. But people in-Territory don't go around trying to hurt people's feelings over it. If they did, all the Simes in the area would be upset too. Within the Tecton, arrangements can be made, if necessary.

Bart: It sounds so complicated, when people know what you're feeling...

Cristal: It's really just good manners. It becomes automatic after a while, like not losing your temper. Or going around with a headache instead of getting treatment for it.

Bart: Uh, Hajene Bibi says if dad doesn't need me on the farm some time I can come here for a few days and learn more about stuff?

Cristal: Yes, absolutely. Your capacity to learn things is greater now than it will ever be again, and that shouldn't be wasted. I know your people don't normally know when they establish, but it's absolutely criminal how your society just wastes that ability to learn.

Bart: I guess I need to learn Simelan if I'm going in-T...

Cristal: I could teach you a bit of Simelan now, if you like. Even if you decide not to be a Donor after all, learning languages is always useful.

Cristal doesn't think there's a chance in a million Bart won't want Donor training.

Bart: Okay. But we're leaving here after lunch. Can you give me some stuff to read?

Cristal: Umm, sure. There must be a textbook or two around here somewhere. I'll ask Bibi.

Bart: Okay, thanks.

Cristal goes back into the Sime Center to try to find Bibi and ask about elementary Simelan textbooks in English.

Bart thinks that a career as a Donor seems much more real now.

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