Virla: So you see, it just makes sense that God intends Simes and Gens to support one another in life. It works out so perfectly that the selyn a Gen produces in one month is what's needed to keep a Sime alive for that month. That couldn't be just a coincidence, after all!
Zinnia nods dutifully.
Aster listens intently.
Zinnia is very glad that her children are too young to turn Sime, thus not requiring her to make such a monthly contribution.
Virla: It's only natural that Gens didn't understand until recently. After all, God couldn't have meant us to be killed. We just had to wait until the unfolding of the Divine Plan brought us the channels of God's grace.
Aster lost both her brothers when one killed the other, and has been having nightmares again since her oldest child turned twelve. She thinks God could have arranged things better long ago, but knows that such thoughts are blasphemy.
Virla: But now that we know the better way to live, it's just unconscionable that people aren't willing to do their parts, to donate, to make sure their children have changeover training, and in the fullness of time to raise up our own channels to do the Lord's work in our own communities. Un-con-scion-able.
Zinnia's smile is a bit weak, as she has so far seen no reason to follow that particular dictate of Virla's new theology.
Aster wonders if it's true that the Geggs' son is going to be a channel, and whether that will be a sign that Virla's views are right.
Zinnia: So you see, you can save your children, even if they do turn Sime, but that requires the commitment to keep them alive, afterwards. The gift of a life entails responsibility, just as bearing a child gives you the responsibility to raise it properly.
Virla: That's exactly right. And if you can't yet keep them at home, then you have to send them away and then support them until they're ready to live on their own, just as you would if they turned Gen.
Aster: Will... will they... the Simes, I mean... will they help a child even if the parents haven't... haven't... given them any stuff yet?
Virla: To begin with, yes. But after they learn what they need to, which is only a few months, then they have to be able to pay their taxes.
Aster is relieved. Probably her children won't turn Simes, they're good, but it's good to know they won't be turned away if worse comes to worst.
Zinnia: Still, it's good to be prepared.
Virla: And you know, not paying your taxes in Simeland is not like not paying here. No taxes, no selyn; no selyn, no survival.
Zinnia: It's expensive, too, didn't you say, Virla?
Aster: They'd let somebody die if they don't pay taxes? Even here, we don't let people starve. They can get charity from the churches.
Aster had been starting to believe that Simes were human after all.
Virla: As you know, they don't seem to have churches in Simeland, except the Church of Unity, and it's pretty small.
Zinnia: The stuff Simes need isn't like food, also. You can always plant a few more potatoes, or water the soup. Simes have to pay for what they need.
Virla: That's right. And even if they do have some kind of charity, it would have to depend on the generosity of us Gens out here.
Zinnia remains silent, well aware that she has not yet been "charitable" in this sense.
Virla: By what I can make out, the number of Gens is almost equal to the number of Simes inside Simeland, but of course there are lots of extra Gens here in New Washington Territory.
Zinnia: That means new Simes from out here must have a family member support them, to keep the balance.
Virla: That's the ideal. But of course some new Simes won't have family, for whatever reason. So it's really a duty for all of us, not just the ones who have close relatives over the border.
Aster: Have you... done it yet, Zinnia?
Zinnia: Well....no. It's such a long trip, all the way to Hannard's Ford.
Virla tilts her head to one side and gives Zinnia the Look.
Zinnia visibly deflates.
Virla: Now you know better than that, sister. There's a little inconvenience in it, yes. But what is that compared to matters of salvation?
Aster wonders about that. She knows that Jed Mullins and his two boys are doing it, and they've got a new roof and some say they're almost out of debt now, and they're the most irreligious family in town.
Zinnia: It's just, well....Stin disapproves of your ideas, and I've got to live with him, don't it?
Zinnia looks ~~ appealingly ~~ at Aster.
Aster: Toria Gegg and her daughter are doing it, and everybody knows she's got good sense. Well, Toria does, that is.
Zinnia: Her husband isn't nearly as ornery as Stin. She can do as she pleases.
Zinnia is more than a little ~~ envious ~~ of Toria's freedom.
Virla: The children of this world are wiser in their time than the children of Light, as the Good Book says.
Aster: Virla, do you think if the Gegg boy becomes a channel, it will be a sign from God?
Virla: Everything is a sign from God, if it sustains faith, Aster. The sun rising every morning is a sign that the world will go on.
Zinnia sees the sunrise mostly as a sign that she has to leave her comfortable bed and start the day's chores.
Virla: But there's no doubt that we could use a channel here. Of course, he'd have to go to Simeland for his training, but having one of our own here -- who knows, maybe with Bart Mullins as his Companion! -- would make everything a lot safer and easier for all.
Virla by no means grasps how bureaucratic the Tecton is nowadays.
Virla: So yes, I'd see a channel changing over in Gumgeeville as a great opportunity for the true meaning of the Word to be apparent to all.
Aster has heard that Bart wants to go to Simeland. She wonders if it's just teenage rebellion, or if God is moving him.
Zinnia is struck by a thought.
Zinnia: Didn't I hear that channels need more stuff than ordinary Simes?
Virla: That's a fact. They need it more and faster both, and only some Gens are able to serve their need. But there are enough of those Gens born -- another bit of evidence that what the Tecton does is God's plan.
Zinnia: So, if Mik Gegg becomes a channel, will Bart Mullins be the one to contribute what he needs, rather than his family?
Virla: He could be. Channels and their donors come in different, well, sizes. They have to be matched up by another channel.
Zinnia is ~~ interested ~~ in this revelation.
Zinnia: What happens if they don't match well enough?
Virla: I don't rightly know. Trouble, I guess. But channels are supposed to be good at that kind of matching, and everyone gets lots of training first.
Aster: Virla... what's it like... doing it?
Zinnia has wondered this, herself.
Virla: Well, it's like holding hands and pressing your lips to someone else's, but it's nothing like a kiss. Other than that, most people don't feel anything, they tell me. I felt kind of limp and floppy, but that's supposed to be very unusual.
Zinnia: Limp and, er, floppy?
Aster: I heard Maree Mullins got her arms all bruised up.
Virla: That's because she struggled and Hajene Seruffin didn't expect it, and I think he might have been having a bad day that day anyhow.
Aster doesn't find this talk of 'bad days' to be very encouraging.
Virla: Anyhow, channels can heal black and blue spots as easy as pie.
Zinnia: They can?
Virla: Yes, that's another thing. There's a lot fewer diseases in Simeland than we have here, especially the little ones like colds and the long-lasting ones like roomatiz.
Zinnia: Roomatiz? They can help roomatiz?
Virla: Ab-so-lutely. Not a cure, you understand. But yes.
Zinnia's elderly mother-in-law has been more and more crippled by that affliction, which has made Zinnia's life miserable as well, since the woman lives with her family.
Zinnia: What do they charge for that sort of medicating?
Virla: Nothing, 'slong as you donate. Another thing about channels is, if they don't work, they get sick.
Zinnia: Virla, Stin's mother has roomatiz bad, but there's no way she'd let a Sime take her stuff. Do you think they'd help her, if I paid for it with my stuff?
Virla: Probably, Zinnia. I don't guess such an elderly lady could be expected to change her ways at her time of life.
Zinnia: How do they treat roomatiz in Simeland, anyway?
Zinnia knows her mother-in-law will ask.
Zinnia: They got a better kind of willow bark? I've heard Simes are good at drugs.
Virla: That's true, they are. But no, channels mostly heal by touch. Except for them, it really works, every time!
Zinnia: I dunno. Stin's mom is pretty set in her ways. I'm not sure she'd let a Sime touch her, not even to help the roomatiz.
Virla: Well, it can't hurt to try her on it.
Zinnia: Not unless...d'you think the channel could keep her tentacles in?
Virla: Well, I can't rightly say. I don't want y'all to think I know everything there is to know about Simes, especially this kind of stuff. But what I know is that things are the way they were meant to be.
Aster: Your Magit... she's been writing to you, has she? What... what's she like now?
Virla takes a deep breath; this is the first question that really hits home.
Virla: I think she's just the same as she was when I saw her last. It's exciting for her there, new friends, new things to see and do and learn. Do I think she still has her soul? Yes, for sure.
Zinnia: Has being Sime changed her?
Virla: I think it's more that she's had to grow up fast, and that's changed her.
Aster: Are you really going to go to Simeland to visit her?
Virla: Yes, I am.
Zinnia: You're a brave woman, Virla.
Virla: I'm strong in my faith, that's all.
Zinnia: Yes, but....Magit is your daughter, but Simeland is full of other Simes. Even if most are good people, there's a few bad apples in every barrel.
Virla: Why, so there are here in Gumgeeville, Zinnia. As the Book says, though I walk through the valley of the shadow, I shall fear no evil, for He is with me.
Zinnia: I wish I had your faith, Virla. I try, but somehow the doubts just keep coming.
Virla: Faith isn't the lack of doubt, Zinnia. It's not letting doubt and fear rule your life. It's going on with what you believe, whatever it takes.
Zinnia thinks over that definition for a moment.
Zinnia: Maybe I need to do some praying, then, Virla. See what God has to say about my own life. Maybe I can clarify what I ought to do.
Virla: I can't say no to that, Zinnia.
Aster wonders whether prayer will show her what's best for her own children.
Zinnia: It might be I need to take a trip to Hannard's Ford myself, soon.
Virla: So it might.