Henree is behind the bar, drying a tub full of mugs. He can see the rain pouring down through the saloon's dirty window (kept that way deliberately to discourage female patrons, and to make the male ones hard to identify from the outside).
Henree is anticipating some business this afternoon, as his clients won't be able to work in their fields today, and many wives find a husband having a few beers to be the lesser evil, compared to having him underfoot.
Henree finds it comforting that at least some things have stayed the same, during all the upheavals of the past few months.
Jed enters the Gumgeeville saloon, takes off his jacket and hat, shakes the water off them and hangs them on the pegs.
Jed: Hey, Henree. One beer.
Henree somehow isn't surprised that Jed is the first to arrive.
Jed hasn't been in the saloon much lately, even though he's paid off his tab. He's gotten pretty tired of Henree's jabs about donating.
Henree: Hello Jed. One beer, coming up.
Jed comes up and leans against the bar.
Jed: Wet year, eh? Good for the maize, though.
Henree fills a mug expertly to the proper level, and sets it before Jed.
Henree has never lifted a hoe in earnest, but he probably knows more about the local agricultural situation than any single farmer in Gumgeeville.
Jed drinks a little beer, wondering whether Henree is going to start being more civil now that Jed is no longer in his debt.
Henree: Widow Isbet's lower field, on the creek, is going to flood out if it keeps up much longer, though.
Jed: Yeah. She should leave it in pasture, but she won't.
Gegg enters the saloon, ~~ relieved ~~ to have escaped his wife's supervision, at least for a while.
Gegg: Hello, Henree, Jed. Miserable weather, ain't it?
Jed: Wet year, I figure.
Gegg: Well, at least it's a bit different from last year's drought. That's progress, of a sort.
Jed: If it isn't one damn thing it's another.
Henree: If that isn't the truth.
Jed is fairly content to drink beer and swap platitudes.
Henree: Truth to tell, though, things seem to be piling up faster than usual, these days, and I don't mean the weather.
Henree sets a beer in front of Gegg and collects the payment.
Henree: Lots of changes, these past few months. For instance, Gegg there cadged a beer from you, the other day. When did that ever happen, before.
Jed: Used to happen when we both worked at the pulp mill, buying each other beers, eh, Gegg?
Gegg: Yeah. Back when there was work here, outside of farming. That extra cash sure was useful.
Jed: How's Mik doing at the dairy farm?
Gegg: Well enough. Still no sign what he'll be, though.
Jed: Whatever he'll be, he'll be alive. That's something.
Henree looks at Gegg.
Henree: Don't discount that, Gegg.
Jed: Neither of us are going to have to shoot our children. That's worth a lot.
Jed would make some comment about Henree and his grandchildren if he were actively pissed off at him.
Henree: There's more than one way to lose a child, though. Virla's gotten so strange, lately. I can't talk to her. All she wants to talk about is religion, and it isn't any religion her Ma and I taught her, either.
Jed: She is a bit enthusiastic.
Henree: She's touched in the head, is what she is.
Jed: Hasn't converted you yet, eh?
Jed gets in a jab of his own.
Henree: Look, Jed, it's one thing for a guy like you to earn a little extra cash like that. I can even see why Virla would do it--guilt can make a mother do strange things, sometimes.
Henree: But I fancy that I have a more than casual knowledge of Scripture, and I can't recall a single passage regarding how that sort of thing's a religious duty for everyone.
Jed: I haven't been to church since my father shot my sister and the preacher said it was God's punishment on my dad for letting Simes take his selyn in the war. So I'm no authority on scripture.
Jed doesn't think much of a deity that would make children die to punish their parents, anyway.
Henree: Preacher Kabbot was no prize himself; take that from the man who served him his beers. Still, what Virla's been saying makes no sense. There's lots more Gens than Simes, right?
Jed: I suppose so.
Henree: And most of 'em decent people, too, at least most of the time. Right?
Jed shrugs. Who defines decent?
Henree: So if Virla managed to convince every one that she was right, what would the bloody Simes do with all that selyn?
Jed: Hell, I don't know. But judging from what I see around here, it's not very damn likely to happen.
Gegg doesn't conceal his reflexive wince quite quickly enough.
Jed sips his beer.
Jed: Heard anything from your granddaughter?
Henree: She wrote Virla. She's got medical problems they're still trying to figure out, but she's making progress learning their language.
Jed: You should write to her. She might like to hear from her granddad. Do her good.
Henree isn't about to admit that he did so, sneaking the letter into the Hannard's Ford Post Office while he was there to arrange a beer shipment.
Henree: Maybe I will, when she's settled in. She didn't know where they were going to send her next.
Henree: Virla...Virla's been talking crazy, about going into Simeland to see the girl. What do you do, when a woman goes all crazy?
Jed: Why shouldn't she travel? She can afford it.
Henree: To Simeland?
Jed has considered the possibility of visiting Bart in Simeland, if he becomes a Donor. He'll be able to afford it too, probably. But that's pretty far in the future.
Gegg has to admit Henree has a point: Virla's nuts.
Jed: Some people in Hannard's Ford went there to visit their Sime relatives. They all came back in working condition.
Jed heard this from Virla himself, the last time they came back from donating.
Gegg: Yeah, but Jed...it's one thing to visit one Sime at a Sime Center. Or even to have one in your second bedroom. In Simeland, there are Simes all over the place, without those manacle things, and most of 'em aren't channels, either.
Jed: Virla knows that. She a grown woman. She can do what she likes.
Henree: Or she will, whatever her father says.
Henree's tone is ~~ sour ~~
Jed has an amusing thought.
Jed: There's probably a bunch of Simes sitting around a saloon like this drinking beer right now talking about how crazy it would be to visit Genland.
Gegg: Somehow, when I picture Simes, I don't think about them sitting around drinking beer.
Jed: Heard anything from that Layna girl lately?
Gegg: Saw her at the market the other day, cornering folks to ask questions.
Jed: You should have seen her face when she found out what was in that plate of fiddler's feast she ate at our place.
Gegg: You'd think that if they sent her out here to study us, they'd have told her a few things.
Jed: Well, I don't suppose she's read any English cookbooks.
Jed snickers. The look on Layna's face really was indescribable.
Gegg: I wonder sometimes what she has read.
Henree: Are they really that ignorant?
Jed: Yeah? What did she do?
Gegg: Oh, she just doesn't seem to have any idea what life's like, out here. You'd think whoever taught her English would have taught her something about the people who speak it.
Jed: Hey, Gegg. You should set her up with Sanda. Your girl never stops talking. It would get Layna off everybody else's back.
Gegg: Now, there's a thought.
Henree: Yeah. It's not as if you have to worry about your girl being corrupted. She never stops talking long enough to listen.
Gegg: Humph. You may be right, at that.
Jed wonders what Henree regards as corruption, since Sanda is a donor now.
Henree has greatly revised his definition of corruption, downwards, to the point where he'll settle for any influence that doesn't result in its victim's leaving town or turning into something unrecognizable.
Jed: Hey, I went up to talk to old Zam Gumgee couple days ago. I'm going to buy that old two row cultivator we saw lying around his yard when we were working on the roads. So we won't have to slave away like Gens on a Genfarm - get the maize and potatoes cultivated and hilled up with the horse instead.
Gegg: You? Buying a cultivator? Henree's right, things sure have changed.
Jed: Well, most of the wooden parts need to be replaced, and it needs some other work, but once I get it I figure I can have it out in the field in a week or so.
Henree: Decided to make sure you can grow more than one crop, then?
Jed refuses to rise to the bait.
Jed: Paid off the friggin horse, get some more use out of him.
Jed raises the ante.
Jed: Get better use out of me and the boys, too. This way Bart can work at the Ford a bit more. Won't need him out there with a hoe as much.
Henree: Jed, what 'cha gonna do when he runs off to the Simes for good?
Jed: Dunno. Maybe go visit him.
Jed sips some beer.
Jed: I always wanted to travel. Stuck in this friggin village my whole life. Even Gegg got out for a while in the army.
Gegg looks down into his beer.
Gegg: That...didn't turn out at all like I'd thought it would. I wish I'd never talked to that recruiter. Now, more than ever.
Gegg seems strangely ~~ emphatic ~~, considering that the events in question occurred two decades before.
Jed looks at Gegg with concern.
Jed: You got out of there pretty fast. I always figured the life didn't suit you. Better to be a farmer and do things your own way.
Gegg: It wasn't the life that didn't suit me. It was the death.
Jed: Shooting Simes?
Gegg: Not that. After what I saw, dead Simes had a certain appeal.
Gegg fortifies himself with another sip of beer.
Jed has been a close friend of Gegg since his childhood, but hasn't seen him in this mood very often. When he came back from the army, he mostly drank and ran wild a lot.
Gegg: Your Sime was a gentleman, and the one at the Ford's civilized enough. The Simes we were chasing were the stuff nightmares are made of.
Gegg is speaking literally. He's something of an expert on nightmares, alas.
Jed: Like them raiders in the stories. Or the Simes my dad fought in the war.
Henree thoughtfully provides Gegg with another beer, as it appears he could use it.
Gegg: Just like that, Jed. In every detail. We were hunting them through the swamp. We couldn't see two feet, but the Simes could tell we were coming a long way off. Ever seen four good buddies picked off one by one, and you didn't even know they were gone until you tripped over their bodies?
Jed: You never told me about any of this before.
Gegg: No. All I wanted to do was forget it. Not that I could.
Gegg takes a gulp of his new beer, for all the good it's likely to do.
Gegg: That wasn't the worst. Have you ever watched a Sime kill, Jed?
Jed: Hell, no.
Gegg: It's not a pretty sight. Particularly not when you know you're next.
Jed is horrified that his friend went through this, and has kept it inside all these years.
Gegg: Now, I'm willing to grant that some Simes are no worse than some of us. But when Simes go bad, they make the most sadistic Gen you've ever heard of look like an amateur.
Jed thinks Gegg is being pretty open-minded about some Simes at least being no worse than Gens.
Jed: Well, you've made sure your boy won't go bad like that now.
Gegg: Yeah. But I can't do what you do. No matter what Toria wants, I just can't.
Gegg sounds a bit ~~ desperate ~~.
Jed: Shit, Gegg. After what you went through, that's no surprise. I'm amazed you could even walk into that Sime Center, talk to the channel like you did.
Jed tries to think back on what he might have said that would look pretty cruel in retrospect, knowing now about Gegg's experiences.
Gegg: They didn't think much of me, there. That channel and her Gen were polite about it, but she said she wouldn't take my selyn even if I wanted her to. And how can I tell Toria that?
Jed is confused. He can't think of a better reason not to donate than that the channel refuses to do it.
Jed: Well, shit, if Bibi won't do it, you can't do it, so what's Toria got to complain about?
Gegg: But if I tell Toria that, she'll want to know why. And you know how she'll react if she learns that I'm just too chicken.
Jed: She doesn't know what happened to you in the army then, does she?
Gegg: Well...no. What kind of man wants to admit something like that to his woman?
Jed shakes his head.
Gegg: You know how it goes. She'd want to know why I didn't tell her years ago, and she won't want to be told, "Because it never came up".
Jed thinks that Gegg is a genius at painting himself into corners. If it were him... but Jed doesn't get into corners he can't talk his way out of. And he's really glad he isn't married to Toria.
Henree: She'll find out sometime, Gegg.
Jed thinks it's a hell of a lot more likely now than it was half an hour ago.
Gegg: She'll want me to...do something about this. But what can be done, after twenty years? If it hasn't gotten better by now, it's not going to.
Jed knows that Gegg can't just say "No" to his wife.
Jed: Hell if I know. Did you ask Bibi? I mean, you hadn't seen a Sime for twenty years, until the last big snowstorm, right?
Gegg: Yeah. Mostly, she said I was right, about what I was feeling around Simes. That feeling that they were drawing me in.
Jed thought it was pretty weird, and pretty unlikely.
Gegg: Yeah. You should have known that, too, Jed Mullins. Your boy Bart feels the same thing.
Gegg waits to see if Jed will be smart enough to draw the right conclusion.
Jed: What? That Donor talent thing?
Gegg: That's what she said. If I were a kid like Bart, and the whole Army thing hadn't happened, your Sime would've been after me, instead.
Jed is stunned.
Gegg: As it was, it's probably the reason those swamp Simes came after my squad. And... it's why they... did what they did to me, after they killed my buddies.
Jed puts his hand on Gegg's shoulder. He knows his friend has to tell the whole tale, now that the dam has finally burst.
Jed: What happened, Gegg?
Gegg: You know those stories in the pamphlets Preacher Kabbot used to hand out? The ones with those lurid covers we laughed over?
Gegg: Well, I think those Simes that had me read the same pamphlets. And improved on them. And all the time they were...playing with me, I was feeling them, drawing me in to my death...
Henree looks ~~ sick ~~
Jed: You were feeling that... with your Donor talent.
Gegg: Yes. Or that's what Bibi said.
Jed is appalled and wonders what he can do to comfort his friend.
Gegg: To me, well, ever found yourself up at Lookout Point, wondering what it'd be like if you just... stepped over?
Jed takes some bills out of his pocket.
Jed: Give him a double brandy, Henree.
Jed puts his arm around Gegg's shoulders.
Henree pours a generous dose of the good stuff, and sets it in front of Gegg.
Gegg drains it in three gulps, without pausing to appreciate its organoleptic qualities. He feels a bit better for the anesthesia, however.
Jed: Gegg, we been friends our whole lives. Tell me what I can do for you. You want me to talk to Bibi? I'll even talk to Toria if you think it'll do any good.
Jed knows that Toria doesn't think much of him, and is thereby mostly immune to his verbal skills.
Gegg: I just don't know, Jed. I'm still trying to figure out the things Bibi told me. I've spent a long time thinking I was mentally sick, to feel what I did, towards creatures like that.
Gegg: They broke me, Jed. They didn't even have to work at it, very hard. The Army let me resign, because they were trying to hush the whole incident up. They didn't want to admit they'd recruited a coward. And they couldn't overlook it entirely, when a whole squad heard me screaming.
Henree thoughtfully tops off Gegg's glass with more brandy.
Jed: My dad said everybody's got a breaking point. You had a vulnerable spot nobody knew about, like Ralf and his glass nose. Little tap wouldn't bother you or me, he's bleeding like a stuck pig.
Gegg: That's what Bibi's Gen said, and he may even be right.
Jed: Anybody would be screaming, Simes doing that stuff to them. and it was a lot harder on you. Like being kicked in the balls instead of the butt, for you. Buncha assholes running the army, like the rest of the friggin government.
Gegg: Yeah. Though before you feel too sorry for me, remember that my buddies had it worse. They died horribly. I only thought I would, for an hour or two.
Jed: They died, and it wasn't your fault. But they've been dead for twenty years now, and you're still suffering from it.
Gegg: I'm sure any of them would gladly trade places with me. Though I admit, while it was going on, I was wishing the Simes would go ahead and do it.
Jed is concerned that the booze is making Gegg more rather than less depressed.
Jed: Look, Gegg. You been doing all right. You got two fine children, a good farm, friends, people respect you here. They even respect your wife, and you for putting up with her.
Gegg: Yeah. Plenty of folks worse off than me.
Gegg has long felt that anyone lucky enough to escape from a Sime band alive has no right to complain about any lingering traumas.
Jed: You want me to talk to Bibi next time I'm at the Ford, see if she can come up with something to help you?
Gegg: Sure. I got the impression that she didn't want anything much to do with me, though.
Jed: She's a good woman, cares about people. I'll see what she has to say. You want me to talk to Toria, too?
Gegg considers that for a booze-fogged moment. He realizes dimly that Toria will probably be disappointed in him, if she hears it from his buddy instead of him.
Gegg has been living with Toria's disappointment for almost two decades, however, and on the other side of the equation is the chance to avoid having to tell the story to her personally. Without benefit of booze.
Gegg: Well...if a good opening comes along.
Jed: I'll do it.
Gegg: Jed, what am I gonna do, if Mik turns Sime, like they think he will?
Jed: He's safe now, Gegg. You won't have to shoot him, and he won't kill anybody.
Gegg: I know, and I'm glad of it. But what happens afterwards, when he wants to see me?
Jed: You did okay talking to Bibi, and that Sime in the jail. You can talk to Mik, too.
Gegg: He'll know, Jed. Simes can tell exactly what a Gen is feeling.
Jed: Even if he can tell you're afraid, he can tell you love him, too.
Gegg: Bibi was afraid that I'd hurt her, if I tried to donate to her. What if I hurt Mik, instead?
Jed: Well, hell, you're not going to be donating to him! He's got to go to channel school or something first.
Gegg ~~ brightens ~~ a bit at the reminder.
Gegg: You've got a point, there.
Jed: And those Donors can protect Simes from Gen emotions.
Gegg is fortunately ignorant about the technical difficulties of trying to protect a newly changed over channel with no idea how to use a Donor's field as a shield from a Simephobe packing a Donor-textured nager.
Gegg: You think that'll be enough?
Jed: Yeah, sure. Those guys know what they're doing.
Jed hasn't a clue, and knows it, but he isn't going to tell Gegg something that will make him feel worse at this point.
Jed: Your boy's got a hell of a courageous father, willing to face them channels, to find a way to be sure he's safe if he changes over.
Gegg: That's what that Gen of Bibi's said. Dunno how much he meant it.
Jed: Well, shit, Gegg, I mean it, so if he agrees with me, he's right. And he's got that Donor talent too, so he knows what it'd be like.
Gegg gives a credible imitation of a laugh.
Gegg: Well, maybe between the two of you, you can convince Mik his old Dad isn't as hopeless as his Ma's always assumed.
Jed: Sure. And Bibi, too. She's a real good talker.
Jed: We all got more respect for you than you do for yourself, sometimes, Gegg.
Gegg blinks owlishly as the large quantities of strong liquor finally take full effect.
Jed: Look, you want to come over and sleep some of that off at my place? You can tell Toria you were helping me get the wooden parts ready for the cultivator.
Gegg: Now, that's right friendly of you, Jed.
Gegg gets to his feet, swaying perceptibly.
Jed puts Gegg's arm over his shoulder and supports him to the coat rack.
Henree watches them stagger out the door into the rain, shaking his head. He's always astonished at how often he discovers something new about customers he's been serving all their adult lives.
Henree clears the glasses, then polishes the bar, very thoroughly.