Zinnia has finally managed to clear a day to get to Hannard's Ford, thanks to the very reason for the journey. Her roomatiz-crippled mother-in-law managed to spill a bowl of tomato soup on her best church dress, and so Zinnia has made the trip to the Ford to buy material for a replacement.
Zinnia is taking the opportunity to do something that her mother-in-law, and her mother-in-law's son, would highly disapprove of, if they knew. She is therefore just a tad ~~ defiant ~~ as she makes her way to the Sime Center. She opens the door, not sure what to expect. I mean, it's part of Simeland, isn't it? She always wanted to travel, although she'd always pictured somewhere farther away and less exotic.
Camellia is sitting on a sofa, drinking tea and waiting for her husband to come out of the donation room. She looks up as Zinnia enters.
Zinnia smiles ~~ timidly ~~
Camellia gives the stranger a friendly smile.
Camellia: Hello. Do you want some tea? Help yourself. The ginger cookies are good too, Miz Greenwood's recipe.
Zinnia blinks, not having expected an offer of tea and cookies.
Zinnia: Umm...Tea sounds lovely, thanks.
Camellia: Have some cookies, too. All us ladies from the church take turns to bring in cookies for the donors.
Camellia spends most of her time on the farm and never gets as much chance to talk as she'd like.
Zinnia moves over to the refreshments table, and is relieved that most of the offerings are readily identifiable, mundane, and familiar.
Zinnia: It's a church project? How did you get backing for it? I mean, didn't people think it was a bit, well, radical?
Camellia: You're not from around here, are you?
Zinnia: No. I live in Gumgeeville.
Camellia: Oh, then you must know that nice boy Mik, who's staying with the Greenwoods.
Zinnia: Mik Gegg? Yes, his younger sister is two years ahead of my Poppy.
Camellia: It was Miz Rose Brown who got the Sime Center in here. Our congregation went with the Reform wing of the Church. The Reform wing believes that God gave us channels and wants us to use them to stop the killing and the murders.
Zinnia: We're Traditionalists in Gumgeeville, mostly, but my friend Virla has come to believe something similar. Except she believes that her Sime daughter's survival is a sign of special favor from God, and the channel who saved her is a special divine messenger.
Zinnia isn't so sure, herself. I mean, why would God get so personally involved with a backwater like Gumgeeville?
Camellia: That was that girl that got saved by the diplomat fellow and his Donor, who got stuck there in the snowstorm, right?
Zinnia: Yes. They rescued her from the cellar of the saloon; the girl's grandfather owns it, you see. I have to say, I'm not sure I want that kind of divine attention; benign neglect is much more comfortable.
Camellia: Well, whatever it was, it sure was a good thing for her. My youngest son changed over four years ago, and he's doing real well. Lemme show you.
Zinnia takes her tea over to the couch where Camellia is sitting, and sits next to her.
Camellia digs in her bag and brings out a Simelan newspaper folded to show an ad featuring a massive gray draft stallion. Holding the halter is a dashing young Sime with a cape, rakishly tilted plainsman's hat and a broad smile.
Zinnia blinks at the picture, trying to make sense of it.
Zinnia: That's your son?
Camellia: That's my boy Sammo. He's working at the Poplar Valley Horse Breeders Co-op. Boy has always loved horses. The ad is for a big horse fair. They're bringing in some of that stallion's get to sell.
Zinnia: I see.
Zinnia thinks that's a very pedestrian explanation of a picture that resembles somewhat some of the pictures in the old storybooks.
Camellia: Good-looking boy, isn't he? If we didn't have the Sime Center here, he'd be dead, instead.
Camellia beams with maternal pride.
Zinnia reminds herself that exotic print or not, a newspaper is hardly going to feature photos of either heroes or villains in its advertising. She concentrates on the face, avoiding the arms.
Zinnia: Well, he does look like a nice young man.
Camellia: He keeps telling me that all the young women think so too, but I think he's got his eye on one in particular now.
Camellia: Yep. She works there too. Young Gen woman, about his age.
Zinnia hadn't thought that kids who turned Sime and went to Simeland would get jobs, settle down, and raise families, but it does make a kind of sense. She hopes Virla won't find her faith shaken when her daughter remains distressingly human, despite what her mother calls a sign of divine favor.
Zinnia: He wants to settle down with a Gen? Is that allowed?
Camellia: Sure. Lots of marriages between Simes and Gens, especially when the Sime's from out here.
Zinnia: Isn't that, well, a bit dangerous? At least some of the time?
Camellia: Works out fine, Sammo says, and Hajene Bibi agrees. A Sime wouldn't attack his wife any more than a Gen would attack his wife with a gun. Our preacher says it shows how with God's gift of channels, everybody can live in peace and harmony.
Zinnia: Our preacher is still unsure what to make of channels.
Camellia: Should send him here to talk to our preacher. Or just to see how things are here, now that the kids know they don't have to die if they change over, and the parents know they don't have to fear them or murder them.
Zinnia: It sounds...nice. It's a bit different for us, of course. We can't count on a convenient diplomat dropping by at just the right moment.
Camellia: Well, it was Miz Rose Brown who got the wheels in motion, and we all sent letters to the Tecton, and eventually they put the Sime Center here, with Hajene Bibi to look after things.
Zinnia: What's she like, this Hajene Bibi?
Zinnia looks a bit ~~ anxious ~~.
Camellia: Oh, she's just great. Grew up the other side of New Washington, town like this one, so she's a lot like us in the way she thinks. Very down-to-earth, friendly woman. Knows her stuff too.
Zinnia: So she's not too...foreign? Even if she is a Sime?
Camellia: If you didn't look at her arms, you wouldn't know it.
Seppi opens the donation room door and exits, followed by Bibi.
Seppi: Now, Cammi, you know we got to get to the bank before it closes. I'll just get this cashed and then we're out of here, right?
Seppi knows that once his wife starts talking she often can't stop.
Camellia: Oh, goodness, I forgot to ask your name. I'm Camellia Grelbix.
Zinnia: Zinnia Kidwell.
Camellia: Pleased to meet you. My husband's name is Seppi. Fine man, but he does get a bit impatient sometimes.
Zinnia: Well, if you have errands to run, I mustn't hold you up. I've got a few to run, myself, when I'm done here.
Seppi emerges from the hallway, and hands a wad of cash to his wife.
Seppi: Here, you take this, Cammi. Goodbye, Bibi. See you next month.
Zinnia's eyes open wide.
Zinnia: My goodness, no wonder Jed Mullins was able to pay off his bar tab.
Zinnia realizes how this sounds, and blushes.
Zinnia: I beg your pardon, that was rude.
Camellia: The money helps a lot. We've got to get to the bank now to pay off the note on a piece of pasture land we bought with it, so I've got to go.
Seppi takes his wife's hand and gently but firmly tugs her towards the door.
Zinnia: Of course. It was nice meeting you, Camellia.
Camellia: So nice to meet you! Goodbye, Bibi! See you next week - it's my turn to bring cookies!
Seppi opens the door, smiles and waves, and exits with his wife in tow.
Bibi: Goodbye, Camellia!
Zinnia suddenly feels rather ~~ daunted and alone ~~. She essays a weak smile.
Zinnia: You must be Hajene Bibi?
Bibi: Yes. And you?
Bibi stays near the donation room door, hands clasped and tentacles out of sight. She does provide a charming, dimpled, friendly smile, however.
Zinnia: I'm Zinnia Kidwell, from Gumgeeville.
Bibi: Nice to meet you, Miz Kidwell.
Zinnia takes a good look at Bibi, and finds herself a bit ~~ relieved ~~.
Bibi zlins Zinnia. She doesn't seem particularly fearful, just nervous at the unfamiliar situation.
Zinnia: I must say, you don't look anything much like Jed Mullins's Sime.
Zinnia says this as if Seruffin were a possession, or an exotic pet.
Bibi: Oh, dear. Hajene Seruffin is a very distinguished gentleman, isn't he? He's a diplomat for the Nivet government. I'm just a kid from a dairy farm.
Zinnia: He is...formidable, don't you think? One wouldn't want to cross him.
Zinnia only saw Seruffin from a distance, but found him quite ~~ intimidating ~~
Bibi: Oh, he's very nice, really. He's just used to looking dignified for his work. He has a good sense of humor, and he's very kind too.
Bibi blushes a little as she notices how she's praising and defending Seruffin.
Zinnia: He didn't strike me as the kind of person who smiles.
Zinnia didn't take into account that Seruffin was walking around in freezing weather with metal gauntlets around some rather tender areas.
Bibi recalls some of Seruffin's more charming and very personal smiles, and curses her fate at being a week out of phase with him.
Zinnia notes the blush, and can't help drawing the obvious conclusion.
Zinnia: You're sweet on him, aren't you?
Bibi blushes harder.
Zinnia laughs, in a ~~ sympathetic ~~ fashion.
Bibi: Well, a little, I guess.
Bibi smiles bashfully.
Zinnia: Isn't a diplomat reaching pretty high for, what did you call yourself, a kid from a dairy farm?
Bibi: Well... I suppose we can just be friends.
Bibi kicks herself for the cliche, and for the whole conversation, which she then rationalizes by figuring that this will certainly help the potential donor regard her as very human.
Zinnia: Not many men are satisfied being "just friends" with a woman, in my experience. Is he sweet on you, too?
Zinnia finds it hard to see Seruffin as a lover, somehow.
Bibi: Well... uh... time will tell, I guess. May I offer you more tea, Miz Kidwell?
Zinnia: Thank you. I don't think I've tasted any tea like this before.
Bibi walks toward the refreshments table, carefully zlinning to avoid alarming Zinnia.
Bibi: It's trinrose tea, today. It's very popular in Nivet.
Zinnia is finding Bibi an entirely different sort of person than she expected.
Zinnia: Trinrose tea?
Bibi pours a fresh cup for each of them, puts some cookies on a plate and approaches Zinnia.
Bibi: Yes. It's sometimes just called trin.
Bibi puts the plate and a cup on the table in front of Zinnia, then sits across from her, since her proximity doesn't seem to be making her nervous.
Zinnia finds that facing a Sime is much less intimidating than facing someone who might be an angel in disguise, or at least a heavenly messenger reporting directly to God. She reaches for the tea and a cookie.
Zinnia: Your...sweetheart? caused quite a stir in Gumgeeville, you know. Virla is convinced he's a personal messenger of God, sent especially to save her daughter.
Bibi: Well, from his point of view, he got stranded there in the snowstorm, and it's his profession and privilege to be able to serve Simes in transfer, so they can live without killing.
Bibi lets Zinnia decide whether God arranged for the snowstorm, the train schedule, the avalanche that blocked the pass, or other events.
Zinnia: So he was just doing his job?
Zinnia's mouth twitches in a weak, but genuine, smile.
Bibi: That's how he sees it. Of course, the opportunity to save a life is one of the best parts of being a channel.
Zinnia: Virla sees it differently, but I have to say, I prefer not being so close to the center of God's attention. That's usually a sign that disaster is coming.
Bibi smiles, a bit complicitously.
Bibi: It's not easy to tell how directly God is influencing one's life.
Zinnia: No, it isn't. The theologians have been arguing about that for centuries, while us normal folks get on with living.
Zinnia has, without realizing it, included Bibi as one of "us normal folks".
Bibi: Magit was certainly fortunate that Hajene Seruffin was there to save her life.
Zinnia: Yes, she was. Of course, people sometimes make their own luck. That's what I'm here for today, actually.
Zinnia: In a way. Well, my mother-in-law has the roomatiz something dreadful, and the doctor can't do much for it. She's miserable, and that means the rest of the family is miserable, too, if you get what I mean?
Bibi: I understand. It can be frustrating for a person to be disabled, and they might take it out on those around them.
Zinnia: Virla said that channels can sometimes treat things that doctors can't? I mean, besides changeover? ~~ hope ~~
Bibi: In Sime Territory, the channels are the doctors. We treat all kinds of sickness and injury. Do you think she might be interested in trying some of the methods channels use? We can't cure roomatiz, but we can often reduce inflammation, which reduces pain and increases mobility of the joints.
Zinnia: Well, I'm not sure she's desperate enough to seek treatment from a Sime, but I certainly am. Or at least to look into the possibility. What sort of treatment would be involved?
Bibi: Well, first I'd try to help her be comfortable with me, so she can relax and not be afraid of my touch. The basic method is to try to improve selyn production in the inflamed tissues of the joints, which will reduce the inflammation.
Zinnia: How much can you reduce it? I know there must be variation, but there must be an average amount?
Bibi: I can't really say, Miz Kidwell. Every patient is different, and the more frequently I can treat her, the better the overall result. But even one treatment should give her some pain relief for a little while at least. And I can recommend some medicines, too.
Zinnia: If she can get even a little relief...well, I'd be very grateful, and not only for her sake. What are your fees, for seeing outside patients?
Bibi: Oh, we don't charge. Normally, we only treat donors, but I have time I can spare for your mother-in-law. In general, I don't do a lot of medical work because I don't want the doctors to feel I'm competing with them.
Zinnia: Humpf, if the doctors could do something about it, I wouldn't be here asking you, now, would I?
Bibi: However, regular donation would improve her health overall. She'd be less susceptible to colds and flu and other illnesses, and would feel better in general.
Zinnia: Well, I'm not sure she'd go for that, but it can't hurt to talk to her about it. Particularly if I can give her a first-hand account.
Bibi: Would you like to try donating? We can do it right now if you like.
Bibi smiles encouragingly and charmingly.
Zinnia hadn't planned on doing so, but that was when she thought all channels were as formidable as Seruffin.
Zinnia: I suppose I'd better, if I'm going to persuade my mother-in-law that you're not some kind of ravening monster.
Bibi: Come with me, then.
Zinnia follows Bibi into the donation room.
Bibi sits at the desk and offers Zinnia a chair. She figures she can handle this donor without Cristal, since she's not in need and he's busy giving Mik some changeover training.
Zinnia sits confidently enough.
Bibi: Unfortunately, we have to fill out all these forms first.
Bibi takes a folder with a blank set of forms from the basket.
Zinnia: Oh, dear. I guess you channels are like doctors, aren't you?
Bibi smiles, and breezes through the paperwork with Zinnia's cooperation.
Bibi: There, that wasn't too bad, was it?
Zinnia: Well, it's not exactly what your critics are talking about, when they spread rumors of torture, but it might as well be, I'd say.
Bibi: Would you like to join me on the transfer lounge?
Zinnia does so.
Bibi: Now, I don't suppose you've seen a Sime's tentacles before. May I show you mine?
Bibi holds out her hand, in a harmless-looking palm up position and waits for Zinnia to consent.
Zinnia: No, I haven't seen them. Jed's Sime had them covered with metal thingies.
Zinnia looks at the lumps on Bibi's arms.
Zinnia: They do look a bit odd.
Bibi extends her ventral tentacles and waves them a bit.
Bibi: They're very handy once you get used to them. I can carry a teapot and four cups with one hand. You can touch them if you like.
Zinnia: Now, I've often wished I could grab all three kids.
Bibi: How old are your children?
Zinnia: Poppy's my eldest, she's eight. The others are five and three.
Bibi is glad that there's plenty of time for Zinnia to commit herself to bringing her children to a channel should they go into changeover.
Bibi: I bet the five and three year olds run you ragged sometimes!
Zinnia: Yes, they do.
Zinnia reaches out to touch one of the tentacles.
Zinnia: And with a sick old woman, too...why, they're soft.
Bibi gently wraps a tentacle around Zinnia's finger briefly.
Zinnia: And flexible.
Zinnia looks at Bibi's face again, for reassurance.
Bibi: I'm so glad you aren't afraid of me. It can be very difficult for an adult to get comfortable enough with a channel to donate, but you're doing exceptionally well.
Zinnia: If it had been your sweetheart, I expect I'd be a lot more nervous. He was, well, a bit intimidating, I'm afraid.
Bibi blushes again.
Zinnia: Not the sort of person one feels comfortable with sharing one's failings.
Bibi: He's really a very good channel, and quite skillful with first time donors. I'm afraid you wouldn't have seen him at his best. Wearing retainers is extremely uncomfortable, especially in cold weather.
Zinnia: I suppose they must intensify the cold?
Bibi: Yes, it would be something like wearing metal gloves. And lateral tentacles are moist and very sensitive, so it would be something like having your tongue pulled out and held in a metal tube in the cold.
Zinnia: That doesn't sound pleasant.
Bibi: You can understand why Hajene Seruffin would have looked uncomfortable then! And of course, with no Sime Center, Gumgeeville wouldn't be expected to be a comfortable and safe place for a Sime, channel or not.
Bibi really hates retainers and has trouble describing them objectively.
Zinnia: I can see why he wasn't at his best. From that wince, you don't like wearing them, either?
Bibi: They're very unpleasant. They're only slightly modified from torture devices used by the Gen Army in pre-Unity times.
Zinnia: Torture devices?
Bibi: Yes, they'd use them to restrain Sime prisoners.
Zinnia: I suppose they thought they had reason.
Bibi: Yes. The Simes weren't able to kill, with their tentacles crushed in the retainers, and the... pain... often coerced them to give information, even though they wouldn't let them go.
Bibi is really glad she isn't fighting need depression today.
Zinnia: I'm very glad I live today, not a hundred years ago.
Bibi: Yes, me too! Shall we continue?
Bibi offers her hands.
Zinnia: Yes, certainly.
Bibi: Just take my hands.
Zinnia does so, with reasonable composure.
Bibi: Now, I'll slide my hands up onto your wrists... extend my handling tentacles... place them lightly on your arms...
Bibi does these things as she describes them.
Zinnia's eyes widen, but she doesn't pull away.
Bibi: How's that?
Zinnia: It's a bit different than I expected, actually.
Bibi is no hurry, and always wants to make a first donation as easy and pleasant an experience as possible.
Zinnia: I was trying not to expect anything, I suppose. Which seems kind of silly, doesn't it?
Bibi: It's certainly a new experience for you. You're doing very well, you know.
Zinnia: Life would be dull, if one never did anything new, I suppose.
Bibi: Indeed. Now, I'd like to extend my laterals, but first I'll have to tighten up my handling tentacles. Laterals are very sensitive, and if you move, you can hurt me.
Bibi firms her hold, watching for any reaction of alarm in her client.
Zinnia looks down.
Zinnia: My goodness.
Zinnia looks back up at Bibi's reassuringly human face. She finds it much easier to stay calm when she's not looking at something as odd as tentacles. She just can't associate mortal danger with green eyes and dimples, somehow.
Bibi: Okay? I'll just extend my laterals now, they'll feel warm and a bit moist and tingly.
Zinnia: All right. Those are the ones that actually take stuff, right?
Bibi: Yes, but I can't draw without the lip contact.
Zinnia: Oh, that's right.
Zinnia remembers Virla saying something of the sort, perhaps a bit garbled.
Bibi extends her laterals.
Bibi: Now, when we make the lip contact, the donation will take about a minute. You won't feel anything, because I'll being drawing very slowly from the surface layer.
Bibi: Ready to go?
Zinnia: Yes, I am.
Bibi leans forward and offers her lips.
Zinnia admits to herself that she'd never imagined herself in this position when Stin gave her his version of the story Jed told in the saloon, during Seruffin's stay.
Zinnia remembers Stin's voice describing Jed describing what it was like when Seruffin moved in on him.
Zinnia is glad she's dealing with Bibi instead, and leans forward to complete the contact.
Zinnia isn't sure quite what to expect, despite Bibi's reassurance.
Bibi zlins Zinnia carefully and finds her in good health, though somewhat short of sleep, as you'd expect from a farm wife with three young children and a disabled mother-in-law to care for. She begins to draw slowly, and speeds up as no resistance develops.
Zinnia waits for something to happen.
Bibi drains Zinnia's GN-3, and figures she'll be able to upgrade her on the next donation, or perhaps the one after. She breaks the lip contact, retracts her laterals, and releases Zinnia's arms.
Bibi: There you go. All done.
Zinnia is ~~ surprised ~~
Zinnia: You did it?
Bibi: Yes. Easy, isn't it? You've provided the amount of selyn that a Sime needs to live for a month.
Zinnia: From what Stin said, which he heard from Jed Mullins, I was expecting something a lot more dramatic.
Bibi: Oh, dear. Jed can tell a good story, can't he? What did he tell Stin?
Zinnia: He said that he was sitting there, on his boys' bed, and the Sime was stalking towards him... And then, when I saw the Sime myself, and he looked so formidable, well, I couldn't see myself doing the same thing. Stin said the Sime held Jed so he couldn't move, not at all.
Bibi shakes her head.
Zinnia didn't try to move during her donation, and so doesn't fully realize that she was in the same position.
Bibi: I hope those stories won't scare people away if they want to donate, but you're the seventh donor from Gumgeeville we have here, so maybe other people's stories will make up for it.
Zinnia: I hope so.
Bibi: Virla donated to Hajene Seruffin the first time, so you can ask her opinion about him.
Zinnia: I should have known better, really. Jed Mullins always did have a gift for telling a tall tale. And at the time, who in Gumgeeville knew better?
Bibi: If you'd like, you can take some booklets about donation and changeover home with you and share them with your friends.
Bibi moves to her desk, makes some notes in the file, fills out a voucher and hands it to Zinnia.
Zinnia: I'll do that. I don't suppose you have any booklets that might help persuade my mother-in-law that you can help her?
Zinnia takes the voucher absently.
Bibi: There are a few on medical care by channels, too. Feel free to take whichever ones you like.
Zinnia: Thank you.
Bibi: And Miz Kidwell... any child who goes into changeover... they don't have to kill and they don't have to die. There should be time to bring them here, if they don't hide until it's too late.
Zinnia: I've got a few years before I have to worry about my kids, thank goodness.
Bibi: Yes, but perhaps your friends and relatives and neighbors....
Zinnia: Well, perhaps a few, although Virla is better at talking to people than I am.
Bibi: I understand. Let me show you where to cash your voucher.
Zinnia looks at it again, this time taking in the amount.
Zinnia: My goodness, that's enough to...
Zinnia's nager shows ~~ excitement ~~ as she realizes the potential of having an independent income.
Bibi: You'll make more with subsequent donations, too.
Zinnia: I'm not saying a word against my Stin, you understand, but he is a little close with the money. This will be a big help.
Bibi: Donations can make a big difference to family finances, especially on a farm, where you only have income for part of the year.
Zinnia: Yes, even though I do have my egg money.
Bibi: Your mother-in-law may feel better being able to bring in some money herself, too. Our oldest donor here is 86 years old.
Zinnia: That old?
Bibi: Yes, that's Miz Brown, who was the moving force behind getting the Sime Center here. She made her first donation when she was over eighty.
Bibi doesn't mention that she was more nervous than the donor, who was the oldest Gen she'd ever taken a donation from, by a large margin.
Zinnia: My goodness. That makes me feel young, and with three kids that doesn't happen often.
Bibi laughs again.
Bibi: My mother used to say that you age an extra five years for every child, but you get most of it back when they start sleeping through the night!
Zinnia: Well, if so, it's late, and I want it now!
Bibi smiles and opens the door. There's an experienced donor just filling a tea cup, waiting for her.
Zinnia looks at the voucher again, mentally upgrading the material she planned to buy for the replacement dress.
Bibi: If you'll just go down the hall, here, Mr. Nattin will cash your voucher, second door on the left. And the booklets are on the table there. You can donate again in four weeks.
Bibi gestures with her tentacles.
Zinnia: Of course. Thank you very much, Bibi.
Bibi: Thank you for donating. It was a pleasure meeting you. Give my regards to Virla!
Zinnia: I will.
Zinnia sets off down the hall in search of Nattin.
Bibi smiles at her next client, happy at how well that went.