Seruffin hums to himself as he shows the latest donor back to the waiting room, voucher in hand. He enjoys the time he is scheduled for entran-avoidance work shifts.
Seruffin thinks the business of taking selyn from Gens who've offered to give it, is refreshingly simple compared to maintaining the delicate political balance required to maintain the whole Tecton system.
Gerrhonot is always glad to see his channel enjoying himself.
Seruffin can, for the next few hours, be reasonably sure that no interterritorial crisis will depend on what he does or doesn't do.
Tomaz is sitting in the waiting room, nervously anticipating his first donation.
Tomaz has been sent by his fellow workers at the General Metals mine and smelter in the Cordvain Valley to find out how to get the Tecton to put a Sime Center in their town.
Tomaz corrects that -- his former fellow workers. He has time for the trip to New Washington because he lost his job for trying to organize a union. His objective in getting a Sime Center, apart from the obvious benefits of free medical care and rescuing children in changeover, is the possibility of donation payments as a sort of strike pay to make collective action feasible for the poorly paid workers.
Tomaz feels that he should try donating himself, before trying to get the Tecton in and making commitments on the part of his colleagues. He's never seen a live Sime before in his life, and like most out-T people, has lost friends and relatives to changeover and the Kill. ~~ intense nervousness, strongly repressed ~~
Seruffin is handed the folder of his next client by the triage Third. He notes that the file is very thin, and wonders if this "Tomaz" is the very young Gen sitting next to his mother. He flips the folder open, and raises an interested eyebrow as he scans the information inside.
Seruffin: Well, this is interesting.
Gerrhonot: ~~ inquiry ~~
Seruffin: Our next client has traveled a long way to get here. He's from the Cordvain Valley.
Gerrhonot: That's where Fridda's uncle is from.
Seruffin: Yes, it is.
Gerrhonot wonders whether they know each other.
Seruffin: It's a first donation, so be prepared for complications.
Gerrhonot: Okay, Hajene.
Seruffin raises his voice as he calls:
Seruffin: Mr. Tomaz Hill?
Tomaz rises stiffly to his feet and looks toward Seruffin, his heart pounding.
Tomaz: That's me, sir.
Seruffin is trying to look harmless, although nothing can really hide his innate dignity. He hopes that the combination will be reassuring, in any case.
Seruffin: Welcome. I'm Hajene Seruffin, and this is Sosu Gerrhonot, my Donor.
Tomaz nods, trying to smile, but his teeth are gritted to prevent them from chattering.
Gerrhonot smiles in a friendly and reassuring manner.
Tomaz appreciates the boy's efforts, but he's even more ~~ nervous ~~ now that it's about to happen, although still ~~ determined ~~ to do it.
Seruffin zlins that the "harmless" act hasn't taken effect yet, and decides that the best approach is to get them all out of the crowded waiting room, into some privacy.
Seruffin: If you would come with us, please?
Seruffin smiles in his own, more dignified fashion, and leads the way to an unoccupied donation room. He figures this way, Tomaz can choose how closely he wants to follow. Seruffin doesn't like zlinning Gens who feel crowded.
Tomaz follows, reasonably close. He's not particularly afraid of the channel, he's just very ~~ tense ~~ about the mysterious thing that he's committed himself to let happen.
Seruffin finds himself wondering how Bibi would set a Gen like this at ease. He suspects that her feminine charm would be quite effective, but alas, he lacks the required dimples.
Seruffin settles in behind the desk and motions for Tomaz to sit in front of it, hoping that the physical barrier between them will help the Gen relax.
Seruffin: Please, have a seat.
Tomaz sits and tries to relax, with a little, very marginal success.
Seruffin leans backwards, in a way intended to indicate that he doesn't plan to jump up for a bit. He indicates the folder.
Seruffin: According to this, you've come a long way to get here. What brings you to New Washington?
Seruffin is making the understandable assumption that Tomaz is a tourist, and thinks a brief discussion of some of the high points of Tomaz's visit might be an effective ice breaker.
Tomaz takes a deep breath. He finds it hard to look directly at the channel, so focuses on the desk in front of him.
Tomaz: We want to find out how to get a Sime Center for our town, and I thought I should donate first myself.
Seruffin is ~~ intrigued ~~. He notes the interesting disconnect between the first and second statements.
Seruffin: In the Cordvain Valley? I haven't heard of any inquiries from that area, at least not from the usual sources.
Tomaz: No, this is our idea. Some of us at the smelter, and some miners, too.
Seruffin's ~~ interest ~~ increases.
Seruffin: Really? That's interesting. Most inquiries about new Sime Centers come from city councils. And, as I'm sure you know, from areas that are much more politically liberal than yours.
Seruffin manages not to sound either condescending or critical.
Seruffin: What made you and your colleagues decide to break with your traditions?
Tomaz: Most of us are more liberal than you might think. It's not us putting the PPPs in every time.
Seruffin makes an encouraging noise.
Tomaz is disinclined to spill all the beans, until he understands where Seruffin stands on this business.
Tomaz: We see a Sime Center as the first step towards a better life for everyone in the valley.
Seruffin: It would certainly bring a lot of changes, and not all would be obvious ahead of time.
Tomaz: Yes. We hope so.
Seruffin can zlin that Tomaz is not being forthcoming, but sees no reason to press him.
Seruffin: If you'd like more information on what Sime Centers offer, and how to request one, I'd be happy to ask the receptionist to get you in touch with Sosu Evva.
Tomaz: Thank you, sir, I'd appreciate that.
Tomaz studies Seruffin's face, trying to figure out whether he should tell him more. Thinking about what can be done for the people of the valley pushes his own nervousness aside.
Seruffin: She's on the committee that considers such requests, so she should be able to assist you.
Seruffin: In the mean time, I believe you said you were here today to discover whether you really want a Sime Center, after all?
Seruffin's mouth twitches upwards in an understanding smile.
Tomaz: Well, I can't expect other people to donate if I won't myself, can I? ~~ slightly offended ~~
Tomaz begins to tense up again.
Seruffin: No, if you put it that way, I suppose not. Although I hope you aren't too disappointed. There's not much to it, really.
Seruffin spreads his hands to indicate simplicity, keeping his tentacles sheathed.
Tomaz: I read the booklet while I was waiting. It sounds simple enough, for the Gen at least.
Tomaz now knows that intellectually. He's determined to overcome his emotions, which are not convinced.
Seruffin: Even for the channel, it's easier than a lot of things we have to do. Writing monthly reports, for instance, or keeping our bosses happy.
Seruffin looks too dignified to have a sense of humor, somehow, although he actually has quite an active one.
Tomaz: It said the donor should relax. I don't know how well I can do that, but I'll try my best.
Seruffin: I'm sure you'll do fine. A lot of Gens are nervous when they start donating, but most get over it pretty quickly, when they get some experience.
Tomaz nods again and makes a concerted effort to relax. He takes another deep breath and tries to cooperate with what he's made (almost) inevitable.
Seruffin gestures towards the transfer lounge, remembering the awkward improvisations he had to use when running a makeshift Sime Center from Bart and Vrian's bedroom in Gumgeeville.
Seruffin: If you're ready to start, why don't you have a seat on the lounge, there?
Tomaz sits in the indicated place and rolls up his sleeves. His arms are marked with burn scars from working in the smelter.
Seruffin moves from behind the desk and approaches, careful to move with Genlike slowness.
Tomaz's heart starts to pound, but he keeps his face calm and tries to look relaxed.
Seruffin settles in beside Tomaz, and glances at Gerrhonot to make sure his Donor is ready. He does not want to face another Ma Mullins alone.
Gerrhonot is in position, ~~ ready ~~. He's glad that Seruffin is no longer in need, and that their transfer was excellent as usual.
Seruffin holds his hands where Tomaz can see them.
Seruffin: Have you ever had a chance to see a Sime's tentacles, Mr. Hill?
Tomaz: No, sir.
Tomaz doesn't add "not a live Sime, at any rate".
Seruffin extends one handling tentacle.
Tomaz appears calm, but he can practically feel the adrenaline being squirted into his bloodstream.
Seruffin: As you see, the handling tentacles are just like fingers, just a bit more flexible.
Seruffin doesn't like what he's zlinning.
Seruffin: Softer, too. Want to see for yourself?
Seruffin holds the tentacle still, in convenient touching distance.
Tomaz continues to force himself to act calm and reaches out to touch the tentacle.
Seruffin is ~~ cautiously pleased ~~ with this response.
Tomaz finds the texture of the tentacle not unpleasant, but is too ~~ tense ~~ to enjoy the novel experience.
Seruffin: Well done.
Seruffin turns his palms up in invitation.
Seruffin: Put your hands on mine when you're ready to continue.
Tomaz suppresses his reaction to another surge of adrenaline and puts his hands in Seruffin's, his heart going through another cycle of slow hard beats.
Seruffin lets his hands cup, folding gently around Tomaz's, then slides them down to grip the Gen's wrists lightly.
Seruffin: I'm going to let my handling tentacles extend, now. All right?
Tomaz: Yes, sir.
Tomaz finds Seruffin's hands to be comfortingly warm, strangely enough. Perhaps the adrenaline supply is exhausted. Now that the process is starting, he finds he can relax a bit.
Seruffin uses the increased level of contact to zlin for a relatively scar-free area upon which to set his laterals.
Seruffin: Very good. I'm going to tighten my grip a bit before making lateral contact, just to make sure they don't slip and hurt me. They feel a bit moist, but that's just the selyn conductor.
Tomaz nods, starts to brace himself, then purposely relaxes as much as he can.
Seruffin suits actions to words, having to reseat his right outer lateral when one scar proves a bit deeper than he thought.
Seruffin: You're doing very well indeed, Mr. Hill.
Seruffin's praise is given with the genuine plausibility which has made him a successful diplomat. He pauses for a moment to allow Tomaz to adjust to what is, after all, a completely new sensation for him.
Tomaz wonders about that. Simes are supposed to be able to read minds. He knows he's nothing like relaxed, but maybe you don't have to be all that relaxed after all. He feels a bit of ~~ relief ~~ and finds himself able to relax a little more.
Seruffin: It'll take me about a minute to do this, all told. I'll only be taking selyn from the very shallow, surface levels, so you won't feel anything happening at all. Just stay as relaxed as you can, although I'd rather you didn't actually fall asleep.
Tomaz nods, and suppresses the tendency to brace himself yet again. Now is the time, it's inevitable, he's arranged for this to happen. He tries to give in and drop all resistance.
Seruffin feels the attempt at relaxation, and leans forward to make lip contact before another blast of adrenaline can abuse the Gen's heart.
Tomaz closes his eyes. The channel's lips are hard, dry and hot. He doesn't feel anything but the faint tingling of the laterals on the skin of his arms. It's happening, and nothing is happening. He relaxes further.
Seruffin zlins deeply, noting a few more burn scars here and there, dry skin from the baking heat of the smelter, and a noticeable but not medically serious degree of metal damage in the liver.
Seruffin also notes the signs of childhood malnutrition that he used to zlin in Pen Gens, a few broken bones, now healed, and some bruising as if Tomaz recently had a bad fall from a horse.
Seruffin zlins nothing to indicate that a donation would not be in Tomaz's best interests, however, and sets to work gleaning the selyn from the GN-3 level.
Seruffin finishes, with Tomaz still calm enough that he takes a moment to set the bruises to healing a bit faster before relinquishing lip contact.
Tomaz opens his eyes as Seruffin breaks contact.
Seruffin: Well done. Hold still a moment more, if you would.
Seruffin retracts his laterals carefully, before letting his handling tentacles loosen.
Tomaz feels ~~ faint ~~ with ~~ relief ~~.
Seruffin then retracts his handling tentacles, and releases his grip on Tomaz's wrists.
Tomaz finds that he can relax quite a lot, now.
Tomaz smiles back.
Tomaz: That wasn't so bad. I didn't feel you doing it.
Seruffin: Most Gens don't feel anything, during a routine donation.
Tomaz notices that his bruised ribs are not as painful.
Seruffin: Frankly, I've got my suspicions that many find it boring, but are too polite to say so...
Tomaz: Well, I wasn't bored.
Seruffin: There's one part that nobody finds boring. Gerrhonot, would you bring over a voucher slip?
Tomaz wonders if the channel did something to fix his ribs, too. He's heard they can do healing.
Gerrhonot hands Seruffin the pad of vouchers and a pen.
Seruffin fills out the voucher, using English script, rather than Simelan. He tears off the completed top sheet and hands it to Tomaz.
Seruffin: There you are.
Tomaz takes the slip and reads it. ~~ surprise ~~ relief ~~ tentative hope ~~
Tomaz: Sir, would most people get that much for a donation?
Seruffin finds this question interesting, particularly in combination with that particular mix of emotions.
Seruffin: Probably not quite as much, the first time they tried it. You were able to relax more than average, and so I was able to glean more selyn.
Seruffin doesn't want to get into the differences in ability between a First and the Seconds or Thirds who would be sent to operate a small out-T Sime Center.
Seruffin: On the other hand, selyn capacity rises each time a Gen donates. You will earn more the next time you donate, and most Gens could expect to earn as much as you did today within a few months.
Tomaz finds this encouraging. He knows he wasn't very relaxed at all, yet the voucher is for more than he made as a smelter worker.
Seruffin zlins to see if he has succeeded in answering the question Tomaz wanted answered.
Seruffin: Of course, those are average figures, and people are seldom completely average.
Tomaz figures this is okay, because he's interested in an average over many people. He also considers that some families will have more donors than workers.
Seruffin: There are some Gens who simply can't donate, for various reasons.
Tomaz looks at Seruffin ~~ inquiringly ~~
Seruffin: Some Gens are too afraid of Simes to be able to donate comfortably. A good channel could probably manage to get at least some selyn from such a donor if there were an emergency, but normally such Gens would be turned away.
Tomaz figures that any adult should be able to overcome personal fears for a higher cause, but his concept of 'overcoming fear' is quite different from a Sime's.
Seruffin is, perhaps, defining "emergency" somewhat differently than Tomaz would.
Seruffin: Illness and physical injury can also disqualify a donor, as can being under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Tomaz: Some I know could get the courage to do it from a bottle.
Tomaz: Sir, if we asked for a Sime Center, how long would it take to get one?
Seruffin: First, you would have to convince the Tecton that there is sufficient community enthusiasm for the project to support a Sime Center.
Seruffin: The Tecton can't afford to maintain a Sime Center that doesn't collect enough donations to support itself, and too, channels become ill if they don't work enough.
Seruffin: Usually, it's the local government that asks for a Sime Center to be put in. I see from your file, however, that you aren't the mayor of your town.
Tomaz: If we have to get the mayor to do it, it won't get done. Would the signatures of people promising to donate do it? If we got enough signatures?
Seruffin: Possibly. I'm not on the committee that decides such matters, but...possibly. You'd have a stronger chance if more than one of the people on your list had actually donated before.
Tomaz: Could you send some people out? Just for a day or two, to take donations?
Seruffin: The Tecton doesn't usually send channels to places that don't have a Sime Center. Among other things, the laws require that we wear retainers while in Gen Territory.
Tomaz: ~~ frustration ~~ disappointment ~~
Seruffin: The most frequent exceptions come when the Tecton is invited to give a presentation of some sort. I recall one time when I gave a talk on how to avoid triggering a Sime to attack at the Army base in Castle Rock.
Gerrhonot looks to Seruffin with ~~ admiration ~~ for his heroism in giving a talk in an ambient like that.
Seruffin thinks Gerrhonot's admiration is misplaced: he tried hard to get out of it, but at that time he was the lowest-ranked First in the area, and his Controller didn't like him.
Seruffin: Of course, such a visiting channel would not be expecting to run what amounts to a mobile Sime Center.
Tomaz: So it could take a long time, and even then we might not get it.
Tomaz is becoming ~~ impatient ~~ with all these vague generalities, but it doesn't show on his face or in his body language.
Seruffin: If you can manage to demonstrate that the interest you express is widespread, it wouldn't take that long. I believe that the committee which reviews proposed new Sime Centers meets in a few weeks. And once the decision is made, a channel could be sent out as soon as there is a designated building.
Tomaz: Sir, can you tell me specifically what we can do to get that decision made in our favor?
Seruffin: Get your signatures collected, and have as many as can make the journey come here to donate. The Tecton is more responsive to the wishes of current donors than prospective ones. If you can get a channel out to Cordvain valley, all the better. Although he or she probably won't be carrying enough cash to allow you to redeem your vouchers immediately.
Tomaz is ~~ disgusted ~~. It's clear that this guy has no idea how much it costs to come to New Washington, nor what happens to someone who misses a few days of work.
Seruffin: The committee is looking for sites that can be developed into a Sime Center with minimal effort. Locating a suitable house or other building which could be used as a Sime Center would factor in your favor, as well.
Tomaz: Thank you. I'd like to talk to that Sosu Evva you mentioned too.
Tomaz speaks calmly and politely and his face is bland.
Seruffin isn't fooled, being able to zlin.
Seruffin: Is there a particular reason for your urgency, Mr. Hill?
Tomaz considers what to say.
Tomaz: Things are bad for us and getting worse. If we could count on donation payments, we stand a chance of doing something about them.
Seruffin looks ~~ sympathetic ~~. He suspects that the "we" involved isn't just Tomaz's family.
Seruffin: Your community requires an influx of cash, and soon?
Tomaz: We don't have years to wait. The sooner the better.
Seruffin is in no doubt as to Tomaz's sincerity, or his desperation.
Seruffin: The Tecton has been known to move quickly, when it wants to. Perhaps if you explained your difficulty in more detail, I might be able to suggest an approach?
Tomaz studies Seruffin and wonders how far he can trust him. He's clearly not a working man, more of a professional or intellectual. He sure talks like an intellectual. But then, he's a foreigner.
Tomaz is ~~ dubious ~~ about such people. They tend to come from and sympathize with the upper classes. He wonders whether he'd have any better luck with this Sosu Evva.
Tomaz: The Cordvain Valley pretty much belongs to General Metals. They own the land, the mines, the smelter. If you've got a job, it's with them. Whatever happens there, happens the way they want it. Some of us want to change that.
Seruffin: Change it how?
Tomaz: People are living pretty much hand to mouth, and most are deep in debt to the company store. If we had some other income, we could afford to strike for better conditions.
Tomaz: The company is letting things run down. There's more accidents that wouldn't have happened if they kept up the safety standards and didn't make us cut corners. Anybody doesn't like things, they're out, with maybe a few goons to give them a few good kicks in the slats on the way out.
Tomaz stares at Seruffin challenging him to understand the world he lives in.
Seruffin does, at least closely enough to get the gist.
Tomaz: A few houses have caught fire, when somebody who lived there started talking union a bit too clearly.
Seruffin: So you and your colleagues wish to use donation payments to support yourselves while you attempt to...reason...with General Metals?
Tomaz: That's one use for the money.
Seruffin: And others?
Tomaz: Some would like to get out of debt and get out of the valley. Go somewhere else and have a better life.
Seruffin: Are there enough of those that the company would be hard pressed to maintain its operations if they did so?
Tomaz: If conditions were better, they might stay. Right now, they don't have much hope. If they left, the company might have to improve things to keep the rest of us.
Seruffin rubs his chin thoughtfully.
Tomaz: And another thing the Tecton can do for us.
Seruffin raises an inquiring eyebrow.
Tomaz: Company's got a little private army. It's supposed to be there to protect the miners from berserkers in the ruins, but it's really to keep the rest of us in line. If there were no berserkers, they wouldn't have that excuse.
Seruffin: So you want the Tecton to remove the berserkers from these ruins?
Tomaz: If there are any. We'd rather they looked after our kids so they don't become berserkers. We don't like shooting them any more than you'd like to shoot your own child.
Seruffin: Of course you don't. And I believe that might provide you with a faster solution.
Tomaz had been regretting his outburst, but reacts to Seruffin's statement with ~~ interest ~~ and ~~ hope ~~.
Gerrhonot is ~~ delighted ~~ that his channel has, again, come up with a way to help someone with a serious problem.
Seruffin: The Tecton does send teams out, on the request of a community, to handle groups of berserkers who menace that community. I take it that the existence of this menace is too well documented for General Metals to deny? That to keep their army, they must argue that the danger is substantial?
Tomaz: The captain of the force would tell you the ruins are full of killer Simes.
Seruffin: Simes which they have, by their own testimony, been unable to control?
Tomaz: A few people they regard as troublemakers have disappeared, and they'll tell you they were killed by Simes.
Seruffin: Have these disappearances increased with the rising desperation, by any chance?
Tomaz: You might see that pattern.
Seruffin: Then perhaps a small subterfuge could allow you to use your captains own strategy against him.
Tomaz leans forward slightly. ~~ interest ~~
Seruffin: You should petition Vidella Nirdial of the Office of Special Services at the Tecton Embassy for assistance in dealing with this berserker menace. I can assist you in getting an appointment, if you wish.
Tomaz: I would appreciate that very much, sir. ~~ eagerness ~~ hope ~~ Can I... level with her the way I am with you?
Seruffin: She is Sime, so you won't be able to get an actual lie past her, although the full story might not convince her.
Seruffin: I would suggest explaining that the community leaders have attributed a number of recent deaths to berserkers in the ruins, which the local forces seem unable to stem. Ask for a response team to clear them out. I happen to know that one finished up a job recently, and is ready for reassignment.
Tomaz: That team would include channels, who would be willing to take donations?
Seruffin: Yes. Most of the the actual team members will be Sime, and the work they do involves a great deal of augmentation, which uses up selyn at a much higher rate than normal. In fact, it would help make your case if you say that the local Gens are desperate enough about the situation that they have pledged to donate to support the effort.
Tomaz: I see. And five disappearances in the past two years will convince them that there are berserkers in the ruins? ~~ skeptical ~~
Tomaz may not know a lot about Simes, but he knows that even one berserker would have made dozens of kills in that time.
Seruffin: The Office of Special Services is in the business of providing the Tecton with good publicity, among other things. If there isn't a more urgent request already waiting--and as far as I know, there isn't--they should be willing to send in a team simply because the community desires it, at least for the few months it will take to make sure that the fears are groundless, if they prove to be so.
Tomaz gives Seruffin a somewhat complicitous smile.
Tomaz: I appreciate your assistance very much, sir.
Tomaz is not looking forward to dealing with high level bureaucrats of either larity, but resolved before he left the valley to do his best.
Seruffin: You're welcome. I'm sorry I couldn't provide you with the Sime Center you really want immediately, but if you are able to build up a solid group of donors, you have a good chance of getting one in the near future.
Tomaz lets the ~~ hope ~~ he feels he can bring back to his colleagues outweigh the dread he feels about moving in the alien circles of urban bureaucracies.
Tomaz stands and offers his hand. He'll write a letter tonight, explaining what he's learned.
Seruffin is, fortunately, a diplomat, and shakes hands smoothly.
Seruffin: It's been a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Hill. If you stay in the waiting room after you collect your donation payment, I'll write down the information on who you should see.
Tomaz: Thank you very much, sir.
Tomaz nods and exits.
Gerrhonot smiles at Seruffin. ~~ admiration ~~
Seruffin looks after Tomaz, with a ~~ rueful ~~ expression on his face.
Seruffin: I hope I haven't just done something very rash.
Gerrhonot: ~~ inquiry ~~
Seruffin: If my strategy works, it will give the Tecton a toehold in an area it's never been able to penetrate before. It might break some of the political power that the more conservative Gens have used to block the Tecton, in this and other matters.
Seruffin: Or...if the situation blows up, as it could, with an armed force facing an unarmed mob, the Tecton could be blamed for the damage. With some justification, I might add.
Gerrhonot is now ~~ worried ~~. He offers ~~ comfort ~~ and ~~ confidence ~~ to his channel. He's really averse to violence in any form.
Seruffin: On the other hand, two dozen Dar renSimes are enough to give any knowledgeable person pause, before starting a free for all.
Gerrhonot: Or Dar Gens, even.
Gerrhonot wonders how Sedel and Sylma are getting along these days.
Seruffin: They may be sufficient to provide a neutral, enforcible authority, and give both sides an excuse to back away from actual violence.
Gerrhonot: I think that man really cares about his people. He's good at not showing his feelings much, though.
Seruffin: He does care. There is the question of how he defines "his people", though, and whether he has chosen a viable way to help them.
Gerrhonot sometimes wishes he could understand complicated things like this, but since he can't, he's glad that there are good people like Seruffin who are smart enough to.