Sanda hurries to the old Zergis place, a cottage that has been unoccupied since the Zergis family built a better house on the other side of the butternut grove. She and her friends often meet there when they have time to spend together. It's in good shape, and only used when Mr. Zergis's in-laws visit in the summer.
Elnor spots Sanda from her vantage point at the window.
Elnor: She's coming!
Bernia is sitting in the proper, sedate manner on the bench, her eyes gleaming with avid curiosity.
Sanda sees Elnor at the window and waves. She looks happy and excited.
Bernia: Did she find out what the Sime's doing here?
Elnor: How should I know?
Elnor is sometimes less than completely patient with her friend.
Elnor: She's excited about something, though.
Sanda trots up the path, opens the door and comes in.
Sanda: Hi, guys!
Bernia: Did you find out what the Sime's doing here?
Elnor: I heard there were maybe three of them.
Sanda is bursting with news, but isn't going to just let it all out at once.
Bernia: Are they recruiting? Do they want to put a Sime Center in Gumgeeville?
Elnor: Oh, don't talk nonsense, Bernia. In Hannard's Ford, yes, but Gumgeeville?
Sanda: They wouldn't do that from jail, Bernia. There'd be all this official stuff first.
Bernia: Well, that's a relief. Who wants a Sime Center in town?
Sanda: Sheesh. You'd rather be shot?
Elnor: I heard they were in jail because the Sime attacked someone! Is that true, Sanda?
Sanda: No, that's stupid. He could have run away if he had, not just walked right into the jail. They went there on purpose.
Bernia: Why? If they didn't do anything, why didn't they go to the Mullins's? They're Sime Lovers.
Elnor: Or did they have business with the sheriff? Come on, Sanda. Out with it!
Sanda: Well, what was happening is that the Sime is a channel, and that huge guy is his Donor, and the kid he was carrying is in changeover!
Elnor leans forward in ~~ eager anticipation!! ~~
Elnor: A changeover!
Sanda: Yeah! And the channel is gonna save her life, so she doesn't have to kill or be shot!
Bernia's eyes widen in ~~ delighted horror ~~
Bernia: Who was it?
Sanda: Nobody we know. They were on the train, so they got off here when it happened.
Elnor: Why? Seems to me it'd make more sense to stay on until the Ford.
Sanda: I don't know why they didn't go to the Ford. Maybe there wasn't time or something.
Bernia: Why'd he go to the sheriff, then? It's sheriff's job to take care of changeovers, if their parents don't want to, isn't it?
Sanda: Bernia, he didn't want the sheriff to shoot the kid, he wanted to save her. So he needed to go some place where he could take his arm things off.
Elnor: Why didn't he go to the Mullins's? They're more likely to let a Sime take his things off than the sheriff.
Sanda: He probably didn't know about the Mullinses. It's not like everybody in the whole world knows anything about Gumgeeville.
Sanda sighs romantically.
Sanda: You should see this guy. He's really handsome.
Bernia: The Sime?
Sanda has been hit early and hard by puberty, and almost any male who isn't related to her looks handsome.
Bernia has never given any thought to the physical appearance of Simes, except for the forearms.
Sanda: Yeah. he's tall and lean, and has the most beautiful eyes....
Bernia: But the tentacles. You have to admit they're a drawback, as heartthrobs go.
Sanda: Oh, I dunno. They have potential.
Sanda blushes, giggles and generally over reacts to her own outrageously daring utterance.
Elnor: She's got a point, Sanda. I mean, what if he misunderstood when you tried to kiss him? A girl's got to be practical, after all.
Elnor can afford to be practical, since she's got a lot of developing to do before even the most testosterone-impaired adolescent male will find her attractive.
Sanda: Don't be silly. He speaks English as well as we do. Better.
Bernia is a bit ~~ offended ~~
Sanda: Yeah. He sounds educated. Like a teacher.
Sanda has limited experience of intellectuals, growing up in Gumgeeville.
Elnor: An educated Sime?
Sanda: Sure, why not? They have cities and schools and stuff in Simeland too. It says so in that book Mik got from Bart.
Sanda is referring to "What Every New Sime Should Know", the book Bibi loaned Bart. it's about life in-T, for changeovers from out-T. She's been getting a pretty good idea about life in Simeland from her sporadic forays into her brother's room.
Sanda: And channels are like doctors, so they have to be educated, right?
Elnor: I guess so. Although they only are like doctors for Simes, right?
Bernia: So if you were listening to the Sime, what was he saying?
Bernia finds the whole subject of Simes fascinating, in a horrifying sort of way. She wouldn't dream of admitting it, of course.
Sanda: No, they look after Gens too, the book says. They can cure Gens of things that the doctors here can't.
Bernia: Now, that's got to be a fib, Sanda.
Elnor: Yeah. What kinds of disease could a Sime treat better than a real doctor?
Bernia: They're... well, they're Simes, Sanda.
Sanda: Well, it's mostly channels that can do it, but they can make the Gen's body repair broken bones and stuff faster. And stop bleeding and stuff. And the Donors can heal Simes too.
Bernia: Where'd you hear that? Is that what the Sime was telling the sheriff?
Sanda: No, it's in the book. They wouldn't print it if it weren't true. Sheesh. Miz Virla says that the channel at the Ford helped her roomatiz. She's been telling everybody.
Elnor has heard about "The Book" by now, of course.
Bernia has, too, although she remains somewhat skeptical as to its accuracy.
Bernia: So did the sheriff let the Sime take off his arm things?
Sanda: I guess so. He had them off.
Elnor understands the implications at once, like a true gossipmonger.
Elnor: You actually saw him?
Sanda: Sure. Do you think I just asked somebody? I went to the source! I mean, I knew they weren't going to just let me walk in and go talk to him, even if I am a grown up Gen now, so I went around the back.
Elnor: The back? ~~ high excitement ~~
Sanda: Yeah, you know, there's the window of the cell back there.
Bernia: Only you would do something that crazy, Sanda!
Bernia is both ~~ scandalized ~~ and ~~ envious ~~
Sanda: What's crazy about that? He was locked up, wasn't he?
Sanda is ~~ delighted ~~ at how this is helping the build-up of her tale.
Elnor: So that's how you know what he looks like.
Elnor had thought Sanda was just repeating what she heard.
Bernia: Your Dad's not going to be happy, that you were getting that close to a Sime, even if he was locked up.
Elnor: Oh, come on, Bernia. It's not like the Sime could get out, after all.
Sanda: Well, my dad isn't going to know if you don't tell him, is he? I thought I could trust you to keep a secret.
Bernia: Of, course, Sanda! We wouldn't dream of telling anyone!
Elnor: What do you think we are, snitches?
Sanda: Maybe I shouldn't tell you any more if you can't keep it to yourself. A lot more happened, too.
Elnor: We'd never dream of telling your father, Sanda.
Elnor fully intends to tell just a few of their closest friends, of course, just as Sanda herself does.
Sanda: Bart said it would cause a lot of trouble if I told people what happened. Maybe he's right and I should just shut up right here.
Bernia leans forward ~~ eagerly ~~
Bernia: Come on, Sanda. You can't stop there!
Elnor: Yes, give!
Sanda: Well, okay. But keep it secret, right?
Sanda has her audience well hooked and plans to play it for a while.
Bernia: We promise!
Sanda: Okay. So I went around back and called up to the cell window "Hajene, are you in there?" You call channels Hajene, you know, like you call doctors Doctor.
Elnor: Did he answer?
Sanda: He answered and asked who I was, so I told him I'm Sanda Gegg and I'm a Gen, so he'd know I wasn't just some little kid.
Elnor: From what I hear, wouldn't he have known you were a Gen already? Just by sniffing you or something?
Sanda: Not through a stone wall, Elnor.
Elnor concedes the logic of this reply, and the sense (?) of Sanda's act.
Bernia: Did you ask him what he was doing, bringing a changeover to Gumgeeville?
Sanda: Well, I told him that I came by to find out what was happening, with all those stupid rumors.
Elnor: Did he tell you?
Sanda: Well, when he found out I'm Gen he got all excited and started asking me all these questions.
Bernia's eyes widen.
Sanda: I thought it was stupid to just yell back and forth, so I got a couple of old crates and stood on them so I could see in the window. That's how come I know how handsome he is.
Bernia: What do you mean, "when he found out you're a Gen?"
Sanda: Well, I told him I was. Hajene Seruffin told me. He must be really famous because this guy, Hajene Marvin, knew who he was.
Bernia: Yeah, but... why was he so interested?
Sanda: That's the best part.
Sanda is just about hopping with excitement as she anticipates totally amazing and horrifying her friends, and showing what a hero she is.
Bernia recognizes the undeniable symptoms of Something Big, and prepares to squeal.
Elnor: That you're Gen? Why?
Sanda: Because he had this kid here in changeover, and he didn't have enough selyn to save her life! So he needed my help!
Elnor: Your help?
Bernia: Yeah. Just what kind of help did he want, anyway?
Sanda: What do you think? Sheesh.
Elnor: He wanted your... stuff?
Sanda can't help grinning.
Sanda: Yup! He was just begging me, with those beautiful eyes!
Bernia: Sheesh, Sanda, haven't you got any sense? It's a good thing the Sime was behind bars, or you'd have been flinging yourself into his arms.
Sanda: Well, Bernia, that's just what I did!
Bernia gives a little shriek.
Elnor: Oh, stop it. Sanda said the Sime was locked up, and I doubt the sheriff would let her in.
Sanda: He didn't have to.
Elnor: ...he didn't?
Elnor is gaping openly, now.
Sanda: You know how strong they say Simes are? Well, it's true. He looked at me with those beautiful eyes, and said "Sanda, this girl is going to die unless you help me. It's destiny, you were sent here to save her. Please, I beg of you, trust me and help me save the life of another girl like you."
Bernia: He wanted you to let the girl attack you?
Sanda: No. He just wanted to take some of my selyn to give to her. She was in some kind of special Sime sleep, to hold her over until he could get some for her. He said she couldn't wake up by herself. So it was safe for me.
Bernia: And you believed him? A strange Sime?
Sanda: Well, he's a channel, of course. You can always trust channels. It says so in the book.
Bernia: One day, Sanda Gegg, you're going to go blithely jumping off a cliff, because that book of yours told you to.
Sanda doesn't regard that as worthy of response.
Sanda: Anyhow, I wasn't going to just walk away and let the girl die, and he was begging me for help for her. So I said "Okay, Hajene, I'll do it."
Elnor: You told him you'd let him take your stuff?
Sanda: Sure. You know what he did? He jumped up and grabbed the bars and bent them so I could get through! And he said, "Please, Sanda, jump into my arms, I'll catch you and together we will save a life."
Elnor: You jumped into the Sime's arms? Just like that?
Sanda: Look, even Vrian Mullins donated and you know what a worry wart he is. If he could do it, I figured I could do it better.
Bernia's attention was caught by an earlier statement.
Bernia: If the Sime could bend the bars and let you in... he could have broken out himself. And rampaged through the town!
Bernia shivers with ~~ delicious horror ~~, since the situation seems to be more or less under control.
Sanda: Sure he could. But he asked to be put in the cell. Why would he break out?
Bernia: He wanted an alibi?
Sanda: An alibi for what?
Bernia: Whatever things Simes do. You know.
Bernia has been raised on stories of vague Sime plots.
Sanda: Like save kids' lives so they don't have to get shot?
Elnor: Oh, come on, Bernia. No one would have even known he was there, if he hadn't marched into town. Go on, Sanda.
Sanda: Well, I climbed through the bars and sort of balanced on the windowsill, and looked him in the eye and said "Hajene, I put my life in your hands" and leapt into his arms!
Bernia lets out another little shriek.
Elnor: Did he catch you?
Sanda: He caught me in his arms and held me. I could feel his heart beating fast, and the heat of his body.
Sanda reads trashy magazines whenever she can find them.
Elnor finds this a bit less romantic.
Elnor: Yeah, you said Simes are always running a fever.
Sanda: It's not a fever. They're just naturally hotter than us.
Elnor: So did you see the changeover?
Sanda: No. Anyway, Bart Mullins came in about then.
Bernia: Bart Mullins?
Bernia thinks it's a pity the Mullins family is so poor; Bart could be interesting if he had any prospects.
Elnor: What was he doing in the jail?
Sanda: I guess he wanted to know what was going on too. He started trying to argue with Hajene Marvin.
Elnor: Argue with him? About what?
Sanda: Well, he wanted to give his selyn instead of me. But Hajene told him that he didn't have enough yet, so it had to be me, because the girl was going to die if she didn't get some soon.
Elnor: Why you? Why didn't he ask the sheriff or somebody?
Sanda: Maybe he did and they wouldn't do it. They'd rather see an innocent girl die than give away something they don't even need.
Elnor: So even Bart couldn't help?
Elnor is a practical girl, for her age, but that doesn't mean much when there's something that romantic to drool over.
Sanda: No, he went to the Ford last week and donated, so his hadn't grown back yet. I was the only one who would do it, and Hajene was just desperate, and I had given my word, so it was a matter of Honor. I told him I wasn't afraid, he should go ahead and do it, so he did.
Elnor: Just like that?
Elnor seems to recall that her uncle said that bartender Henree said according to Jed there was more to it than that.
Sanda: Yup. I offered him my arms, put my life in his ... uhhh... tentacles... we kissed....
Bernia squeals, loudly.
Bernia: Ugh! Tentacles all over you. It must have been awful! ~~ sympathy ~~
Sanda: It was beautiful, Bernia. I, Sanda Gegg, saved the life of a girl like you or Elnor, with my life essence, given to this channel, Hajene Marvin.
Sanda feels very noble. She thinks this will be an even better way to tell the story than emphasizing how handsome and desperate for her touch Marvin was.
Elnor: Yeah, Bernia. It's like... when Hyacinthe gave up being the mistress of Nabalonah Manor, to marry the traveling juggler.
Sanda read that novel too. It was just wonderful.
Elnor is overlooking for the present that Sanda hasn't given up anything. Well, except for the right to leave her room for the next year or two, if her father finds out.
Elnor: What did those tentacles feel like? Were they slimy?
Sanda: The handling tentacles aren't but the other ones are kind of moist. Not really slimy or anything.
Elnor: Was it scary? Knowing that if the Sime made a mistake, you'd get hurt?
Sanda: Channels don't make mistakes. They train them so they don't.
Sanda read that in Mik's book.
Bernia: My father says everybody makes mistakes, sometimes.
Sanda: Besides, even if I got hurt a little, the other girl would have died, so it would have been a reasonable trade.
Elnor is ~~ awed ~~ by this casual attitude.
Sanda: I mean, like look what mothers go through to have babies, right?
Elnor: They say being burned by a Sime hurts worse than anything else, ever. Even if you survive it. Like being burned alive, or something.
Sanda: Well, you've heard plenty of women screaming for hours just to have a smelly little kid, right?
Sanda doesn't have all the parts of shifting from child to woman thinking sorted out yet.
Sanda: And Gens in-T all donate every month. They wouldn't do it if it were really dangerous, right?
Bernia: But they're brainwashed, everybody knows that. Why else would they let Simes keep them like cattle?
Sanda rolls her eyes.
Sanda: They don't keep them like cattle any more, Bernia. They're citizens just like Simes. They vote and pay taxes and stuff like that too.
Elnor: But they all have to let Simes take their stuff every month, right? Whether they want to or not. At least, that's what I heard their laws say.
Sanda: Well, the book says they want to, and besides they get... paid for it....
Sanda realizes that she missed out on that part.
Elnor: Did the Sime pay you? How much?
Sanda: Well, with that poor girl dying right there in front of me, I wasn't going to demand payment on the spot.
Elnor: Well, yeah, but won't he be leaving soon? The other Sime didn't stay long.
Sanda: Well, if I don't get a chance to see him, I'm sure he'll send me the money. I mean, he's a Tecton channel, he's an honorable man.
Elnor: What if he doesn't? It's not like you can march into the Sime Center at the Ford and demand payment. Your dad would kill you, for one thing.
Sanda: Elnor, I didn't do it for the money. I did it because it was the right thing to do. If it was you lying on that cot in the jail, how would you feel about somebody who was more concerned about money than your life? Anyhow, he'll probably be in town for a while. If you have any sense you'll go ask him if you're Gen yet, so you can stop worrying about it if you are. You, too, Bernia.
Bernia: Oh, I couldn't! I'd be too scared.
Sanda: All he has to do is look at you. That's all Hajene Seruffin had to do to tell me I was Gen. My dad would never have let him touch me.
Elnor: Sanda... I don't think he's changed his mind. If he finds out, he's gonna be furious.
Sanda: Well, he won't find out if you don't tell him. And besides, I'm grown up now, so I can do what I want with my selyn. And it was morally right, even a moral obligation, to save that girl's life. I bet Miz Virla would agree.
Bernia: We won't talk, but... Will Bart Mullins keep quiet?
Sanda: He tried to get me to promise not to tell anybody, so I don't think he will either.
Sanda listened to Bart's arguments with at least half an ear, but Elnor and Bernia are her friends and they were waiting for her news, so they're an exception, right?
Elnor: Will he tell his dad? Jed Mullins doesn't always keep quiet, when he's had a few beers. And your dad's his friend.
Sanda: It's like that poem about Ofteh Inteh -- you have to do the right thing, no matter what the cost, it's your obligation as a Gen.
Elnor: Umm... I kinda think maybe Ofteh Inteh had something else in mind.
Sanda didn't notice, when they studied the poem in school, that its basic sentiments were clearly pre-Unity in nature.
Sanda: Look, Elnor, if it were Bernia in changeover, and you could give your selyn to a channel and save her life, or else she'd die, what would you do?
Elnor gives the question serious consideration, using the full wisdom of her twelve years.
Sanda: Or your sister, or Ukoh Nergal.
Sanda hits below the belt, naming a boy she knows Elnor is sweet on.
Elnor: I dunno, Sanda. I wouldn't want Bernia to die, but I don't know if I'd let a Sime get his tentacles on me, for anything.
Elnor's hormones, as previously mentioned, aren't in quite such a turmoil as Sanda's.
Elnor: It was real brave of you to do it, Sanda.
Bernia: Yeah. Crazy, maybe, but brave.
Elnor: Sanda... what if your dad does find out? Somehow?
Sanda: Well, whatever he does to me, I saved that girl's life. Nothing can take that away. ~~ heroic martyred nobility ~~
Bernia: Well, unless they shoot her on the way to the train.
Sanda: They got Magit out of here okay, so they can probably do it again.
Elnor: Well, maybe. I expect a lot more people know about this new Sime. And from what you said, she's not one of ours, like Magit is.
Sanda: A lot of people knew about Magit, too. I mean, Mr. Henree closed the saloon while she was hiding in the cellar, and her mother told everybody it was God's miracle, and they didn't get out of here for days after because the trains weren't running.
Elnor: Yes. But Magit is Mr. Henree's granddaughter, and Miz Virla's daughter. This new Sime's a stranger, right? People won't feel about her the way they did about Magit.
Bernia: Yeah. And the channel in the jail's a stranger, too. The other one had been living with the Mullins's for days.
Elnor: Sanda, tell us. Did you do this because of your brother?
Elnor has, of course, been informed in excruciating detail about Mik Gegg's possible impending changeover.
Sanda: Well, if I hadn't read his stuff I don't know if I would have. But I did meet Hajene Seruffin, and the Mullinses and Miz Virla all donated and they were okay. So it's not like it was just a rumor. And yeah, I mean, my brother can be an incredible pain sometimes, but I hope if he ever needs help like that girl did.. somebody.. will be there...
Sanda tries not to cry.
Bernia: Yeah, but it wasn't Hajene Seruffin you were kissing. It was some strange Sime.
Sanda: It doesn't matter, Bernia. You just don't understand. How can you let someone die when just doing a little thing like that can save them?
Elnor: When you put it like that, it makes sense. But if it had been me... I wouldn't have been able to let the Sime touch me. Not for anything.
Elnor: Although... if you brother does turn Sime, I'm glad there are people like the Mullinses who can do it.
Sanda: Elnor, there's fourteen kids in our class. We've been together since we started. We're all twelve and thirteen now. In four years, how many of us are going to still be alive?
Elnor: Statistically... eight or nine.
Bernia shudders at the reminder.
Bernia: But we're good. Well, mostly.
Sanda: It's just wrong. Nobody has to shoot kids. The kids don't have to kill. They can be Simes and still be okay.
Elnor: Well, you don't have to worry about it any more, Sanda. You're already Gen. And Bernia and me are as big as you. Almost. So we'll probably be Gen, too.
Sanda is getting frustrated.
Sanda: You could go find out if you're already Gen, but you won't.
Elnor: I haven't got the Blessing, yet. I'm still a child.
Sanda: I haven't got the Blessing yet either. Mom says probably soon, but I know I'm Gen.
Elnor: Even your book said the Blessing comes just after, right?
Sanda: It says usually in half a year.
Elnor thinks about that.
Elnor: Well... maybe it would be better not to wait for it, then. Even if it means meeting a Sime face to face.
Sanda: I left the crates under the window.
Elnor: What did you say the guy's name was, again?
Sanda: Hajene Marvin. He really is handsome.
Bernia is ~~ listening avidly ~~