Spring Fever: Episode 9

Vrian is more or less industriously shoveling manure out of the pens in the Gegg barn. He thinks this has one big advantage over doing the same thing at home: he gets paid for it.

Vrian tries to figure out whether that fully makes up for knowing that he's not going to be eating any of the bacon from those pigs that are making the aforementioned excrement. He tops off the wheelbarrow, puts his shovel outside of animal reach, and trundles the wheelbarrow towards the manure pile out by the garden.

Sanda brings a wet mop out of the kitchen and leans it against the wall to dry in the sun. She sees Vrian and waves.

Vrian waves back.

The wheelbarrow exercises the native perversity of its kind and tips over just short of the pile.

Vrian groans in ~~ frustration ~~ and tries to decide whether to shovel the stuff back into the barrow, or just heave it directly on the pile. He mutters under his breath, using a mixture of traditional Gumgeevillian curses and a few Simelan ones he's picked up from Bart.

Sanda would like to invite Vrian in for some lemonade but (1) she's just cleaned the kitchen and by now he's perfumed with pig shit and (2) she knows Vrian won't stop before the job is done, since he's being paid for it.

Vrian is not about to pick up the mess by hand, so he trudges back towards the barn for his shovel.

FlopEar and her fellow gilt, BigNose, stroll out of the barn into the sunshine.

Sanda sees the two gilts escaping and runs toward the barn to head them off.

Sanda: Get back in there, you stupid pigs!

Vrian's swearing gains a bit in volume, as he too converges on the scene. He may not have a Donor's sense of placement, but he knows how to head off a loose animal well enough. He blocks one escape route, leaving Sanda to handle the other.

Sanda blocks BigNose's attempt to gain the garden, full of tasty young vegetables.

Vrian: I'm sorry. I must not have relatched the pen tight enough.

Sanda: These two are too smart. I think they can open the latch if it isn't wedged.

Vrian: Figures. Pigs are pretty smart, even if they do smell.

FlopEar realizes she's not going to get away with it and heads back in.

Vrian closes in on the fugitives, leaving BigNose with little choice but to follow.

Vrian: Go on, pig. You'll get your dinner in a bit, never fear.

Sanda lures the gilts back to their pen with some ears of maize.

Vrian firmly closes the latch behind them.

Sanda tosses the maize into the pen and the two gilts go for it.

Sanda: Looks like that was the last wheelbarrow load.

Vrian inspects the latch closely for tampering.

Vrian: Yes. I save the pigs for last, so I don't have to have the smell on me forever.

Sanda picks up a wooden wedge and pounds it in next to the latch hard enough that the pig noses can't budge it.

Sanda: Come up to the house and wash up. I made some lemonade. We can sit under the apple tree.

Vrian: Thanks, Sanda. I'm thirsty, after all that shoveling.

Sanda knows that it will take more than a quick wash to get the odor off Vrian.

Sanda: I'll pump you some water while you finish off here.

Vrian: I'll only be a minute.

Vrian dutifully takes the shovel and heads back to clean up the mess from the tipped wheelbarrow.

Sanda heads up to the house, fetches a couple of wash buckets and pumps them full.

Vrian finishes pitching the manure, and takes the wheelbarrow and shovel back to their appointed places in the barn. He checks the wedging job on the pigpen one more time, just to be sure, then heads up to the house. He can't help noting that the Gegg house is larger, newer, and better maintained than his own. He consoles himself with the thought that the gap was much, much wider before they took in the channel as a boarder.

Sanda brings out the lemonade and cups and waits for Vrian to wash.

Vrian joins Sanda.

Vrian: Thanks for pumping, Sanda.

Sanda: No problem.

Vrian puts the buckets to vigorous use, removing as much of the mess from his face and hands as practical.

Sanda was kind of hoping that Vrian would take off his shirt to wash. He's really developing muscle this summer, now that he's established.

Vrian hesitates, then unbuttons his shirt a bit ~~ shyly ~~, due to Sanda's presence.

Sanda ostentatiously watches a hawk soaring over the hay field.

Vrian doesn't get lemonade very often, and although it's strongly flavored, a little pig shit goes a long way, when it comes to ruining aesthetic appeal. He takes off the shirt, and vigorously washes his neck and chest. He is indeed developing nicely, over the summer.

Sanda surreptitiously admires Vrian's less childish appearance.

Vrian tries to pretend that Sanda is just another person, like his brother.

Sanda is filling out a bit herself, as well as growing taller. Or anyway, she hopes she is.

Vrian might have better luck if he wasn't at the age where females count as an alien species.

Sanda has a long way to go to get a figure like Bibi's.

Vrian has, however, recently discovered that they are a very interesting species to watch.

Sanda experimentally stands in a way that would show off her charms if she had any yet.

Vrian hadn't really considered Sanda as much more than a nuisance, but today he can see some interesting almost-bulges on her chest.

Sanda notices Vrian noticing and blushes.

Vrian makes the mistake of allowing himself to think about what those bulges might be, and has to bend over the bucket quickly to hide the evidence. He splashes more cold water on his face and chest, there being no cold shower handy.

Vrian: Umm... any word on your brother yet?

Sanda: No, nothing yet. Hajene Bibi said she'd send us a telegram.

Vrian: After all that trouble, he's still not sure?

Sanda: He feels really sure, but it hasn't happened yet.

Vrian: Huh. Sort of like my brother Bart becoming a Donor.

Sanda: I guess. Did he like working at the Sime Center last month?

Vrian: Yeah, he did. He's even learned some of their language. I guess he'll need it, if he goes and lives in Simeland.

Sanda: You learned some too, didn't you? Or maybe only to talk to pigs.

Vrian: Well, a few words. A lot of them are very good for pigs.

Vrian blushes.

Sanda: What did you yell at them?

Vrian: Umm, I think [rattles off a phrase] means something like "person who eats like livestock". It seemed appropriate.

Vrian is unaware that the "livestock" implied by the insult are Pen Gens.

Sanda: Not much of an insult, for a pig, but they don't know Simelan.

Vrian: Yup. It's wasting your time to swear at 'em, really, but then, they don't mind, either.

Sanda laughs.

Vrian thinks that Sanda is actually kinda cute, when she's laughing.

Sanda: Those two gilts have already heard all the English insults my dad knows, I think. They've gotten out more than once and gotten into things.

Vrian: Pigs are like that. Goats are even worse, though. Not as smart, but twice as inventive.

Sanda: Yeah, I bet.

Sanda leads the way over to the bench under the apple tree, and pours the lemonade.

Sanda: Here you go.

Vrian accepts a glass ~~ eagerly ~~

Vrian: Thanks, Sanda. We don't drink lemonade very often, at my place.

Sanda: My mom got the lemons at the Ford when we went in to donate. She figured we deserved a treat. She's real happy about the money we're making.

Vrian frowns, a little ~~ envious ~~ at the Gegg's relative prosperity. His own family has made great strides towards reducing their debt and taking care of the most urgent repairs and maintenance, but they still don't have cash to spare for luxuries like lemons.

Vrian: Yeah, it's good money, though I'm still not making nearly as much as my dad.

Sanda hopes her mother won't be too pissed off that she used up a whole lemon on herself and Vrian.

Sanda: I made more money when I donated to Hajene Bibi than the first time with Hajene Marvin, and she says I'll keep making more money every time for a while. So I guess it takes time for kids like us.

Vrian: Hajene Bibi says it's because I can't relax.

Sanda: I really like her. She's so nice and she's really beautiful.

Vrian hasn't yet seen beyond the tentacles.

Sanda sighs, wondering whether she would have had a less chunky figure if she'd changed over.

Vrian: Yeah. I guess a Sime man would find her really pretty, even if she is skinny.

Vrian has an out-T ideal of Gen-type beauty.

Sanda noticed that while Bibi closely resembled Hyacinthe, Mistress of Nabaloneh Manor, Cristal did not at all resemble the hunk who was clasping her to his manly chest in the cover illustration. Hajene Marvin wasn't a hunk, but he was handsome in a tall, lean sort of way. With beautiful eyes, too.

Sanda: Why do you think you can't relax more?

Vrian shuffles his feet.

Vrian: Well, I just can't forget what she's doing to me. It's kind of, well, gruesome, if you let yourself think about it.

Sanda: Really?

Vrian: Yeah. I mean, Simes live on Gens like a parasite, really.

Sanda: I dunno. They do pay us, like city people pay farmers for food.

Vrian: Yeah, they're civilized about it these days, but that doesn't change their basic biology. I sell 'em my stuff every month because we really need the money, but I try my best not to think about what they're going to do with my... contribution.

Sanda: I guess it depends on how you look at it. Like that first time for me, I could see that poor girl Fridda there, she was so sick and helpless, she was going to die unless I helped her. Simes really need us. If Gens won't help them, they can't live.

Vrian: Weren't you scared? I mean, changeovers are only sick and helpless until their tentacles break out. After that, they're deadly.

Sanda: Well, Hajene Marvin was there, and he said she wouldn't wake up by herself. He put her into a special kind of sleep to hold her until he got some selyn for her.

Vrian: I dunno. Seems to me Simes are like regular people in one thing: they can make mistakes. Hajene Seruffin made one, with my mother.

Sanda: Yeah, I guess so. What does your mother think about the rest of you donating, and Bart wanting to be a Donor?

Vrian: She can't object to us donating, not when we need the money so bad and there's no work to be had.

Sanda: I'm kind of worried about about the other kids in our class. I mean, we're Gens, so more of them are going to be Simes, right?

Vrian considers.

Vrian: I don't think it works that way. It's like breeding for heifers instead of bull calves. Each new calf has the same chance of being a heifer, no matter what the other calves in the herd turned out to be.

Sanda is dubious. She thinks it's a Monty Hall problem, while Vrian apparently has an intuitive grasp of statistics.

Sanda: Well, some of them are going to change over, and they're going to be... shot. Just like we would have been.

Vrian doesn't know a thing about statistics, but his family would be a lot wealthier if their goat herd had produced a few daughters among the sons.

Vrian: Yeah.

Sanda: I mean, who's going to take them to the Ford, like your dad would have done for you, or my dad did for Mik, since Hajene Seruffin was here?

Vrian: No one, most of the time. And if they try to make a run for it alone, chances are they'll either die before they get there, or survive... and kill someone using the trail. I don't know about you, but I always planned to tell my father if I started to turn Sime. I'd rather have had him shoot me than live by killing someone else. Maybe even someone in my own family.

Sanda: Yeah, me too. But I tried to believe it just wouldn't happen, that I'd be Gen. We're real lucky that we know. Otherwise we'd still be worrying years from now.

Vrian: Yeah. Although I guess you'd have been sure pretty soon, anyway.

Sanda: Yeah, girls are luckier that way.

Vrian is a bit ~~ envious ~~ of this advantage, never having actually experienced it.

Sanda: I still worry about the other kids. I mean, nobody here has changed over since Magit, so it's like it's going to happen any time. Now we know they don't have to kill or die, but everybody is just ignoring it.

Vrian: Sanda, we don't have a Sime Center here, and there's no way that every kid at risk could live at the Ford, even if they wanted to.

Sanda: Yeah, but in this weather, their parents could get them to the Ford in plenty of time. And kids could just go there and get checked out so they can stop worrying if they're Gens. But they won't.

Vrian: I think Magit's mother is a bit strange, but she's right in this: without a channel in Gumgeeville, nothing much has changed for most people. A channel at the Ford is much less useful.

Sanda: Well, people won't even get what use out of that they can. They just pretend nothing has changed in a thousand years. The Ford Sime Center has been there five years. How many kids got shot who didn't have to be in five years? How much money could your dad have been making the past five years?

Vrian: Aw, Sanda, you know Gumgeeville. It takes a lot more than five years for most people here to decide to paint their house a different color.

Sanda: But this is life and death, and they're just ignoring it all.

Vrian: Well, it's life and death mostly for the kids. And really only for the third of them that turn Sime. That's, what, how many? A dozen or so? And only half of those could be saved, at best, because the other half of the year the pass is snowed shut and the trains are running regularly.

Sanda: How would you feel about it if you were still at risk to change over? Would you still think it doesn't matter much if it was you?

Vrian: That's one way to look at it. Here's another: Should everybody change their entire way of life for six people who may or may not be savable? Without thinking it through? Yeah, I was worried sick that I'd turn Sime, even after I'd met Hajene Seruffin. But that was my problem, and to some extent my dad's, since he'd have had to send me off if I'd turned Sime.

Sanda is pretty disgusted that Vrian seems to think that since it's not a problem for him any more, it's not worth doing anything about it.

Vrian: At any one time, there aren't all that many families in Gumgeeville with someone at risk. The interests of the other families aren't necessarily the same.

Sanda: You think your family would have just gone on as usual if your dad had to shoot you? Just forget you and pretend you were never born?

Vrian: They'd have mourned and gone on with their lives, just as folks have been doing for generations. I like to think that they'd have missed me enough to remember me now and then, but they'd have survived.

Sanda: Do you think you could just raise up your kids and shoot them and go on with your life as if nothing had happened, when you could have saved them?

Vrian: Yes, just like I'd go on living if my kid died of pneumonia or drowned in the river. People are good at surviving, Sanda. You don't die of a broken heart.

Sanda: If your kid was drowning in the river, would you throw him a rope? Or just let him drown and figure you'd get over it?

Vrian: If I had a rope with me, of course I'd throw it. If I didn't, though, and the water was too dangerous to swim in... well, I'd have to think about what would happen to my other kids, if they didn't have a daddy to support them.

Sanda is getting mad. Vrian is acting like he's 100 years old, or religious or something.

Vrian is a lot less than 100 years old, and barely even nominally religious, but he spends a lot of time thinking things through. From both sides, while Sanda barely sees one side of the question.

Sanda: I think if we can save people's lives we should do it. Whether it's helping kids get to a channel when they're turning Sime, or donating to help other Simes stay alive.

Vrian: If helping one person don't mean harming another, certainly. It's just that it's not always easy to tell who might be hurt, when you do something.

Sanda: Mr. Gerrhonot said we could probably get a Sime Center here, but nobody is doing anything about it. And in good weather people could take their kids to the Ford.

Vrian: A Sime Center isn't just about saving changeover victims, Sanda. There are a lot of other things that go along with it, and not all of them are good for a town. For instance, they tend to bring in a lot of strangers from out of town. And a lot of government oversight, from the Sime government and our own. A town loses a lot of privacy, when that happens. So do families, if you think about it.

Sanda: A Sime Center brings a lot of money into a town, so it's even good for people who don't donate. And as for privacy... well, some of the things going on here, it would be better if they were out in the open.

Vrian: Maybe. Maybe not. We all know Hullda is uglier than a toad, but would anybody be better off if we shouted it from the rooftops?

Sanda: Well, I think it would be a good thing if we knew what happened to all that money that was supposed to be spent on new schoolbooks. It didn't all go to fixing the leak in the roof.

Vrian: No, it didn't, but that was about the time the pulp mill closed. I bet with so many people out of work, and not paying taxes on their salaries, the money had to be spent to make up the shortfall. No one got rich off of it, that's for sure.

Sanda: And I bet you believe the mill just burned down by itself. It had nothing to do with the money it was losing and the insurance on it.

Vrian: I don't know how the mill burned down, although if the insurance company paid, they must have believed that the fire was accidental. Or at least that there wasn't any practical way to prove otherwise.

Sanda: Well, you can just say "things have always been like this and they can never get any better" or you can try to change them for the better. I'd rather try to make things better.

Sanda has a good bit more of her mother than her father in her.

Vrian: So would I. But if you change things all at once, you don't have time to think through the consequences. Take things slowly, and you can spot your mistakes before too much damage is done. Even if it's just giving folks a chance to get used to an idea before you shove it down their throats.

Sanda snorts.

Sanda: While our friends die, you mean. After all, you're safe, so they don't matter.

Vrian: Sanda, some of our friends are going to die, and would even if we had a Sime Center in Gumgeeville. Especially the ones from very religious families, who believe Simes are evil. For that matter, don't you think that Ammad would choose to be shot, rather than live as a Sime?

Sanda: Probably. He's too ignorant to know any different.

Vrian: Bart says that a lot of rescued changeovers end up killing themselves within a year, when they can't learn to live as Simes.

Sanda: Well, maybe the ones who killed would, but not the rest.

Vrian: Even the others, sometimes.

Sanda: Well, even Gens here kill themselves sometimes. Or they just stop being careful with their lives if they don't want to live.

Sanda knows that since suicide is shameful, people avoid appearing to have committed suicide.

Vrian: Let's just say that it happens a lot more often to new Simes from Gen Territory than you'd expect.

Sanda shrugs. She's tired of arguing with Vrian. She knows she can't convince him to see another way.

Sanda: Do you want some more lemonade?

Vrian: Yes, please. It's really good.

Sanda refills Vrian's glass, giving him the sugar slurry on the bottom of the pitcher. She wonders whether it was worth the talking to she's going to get from her mother.

Vrian sneaks another shy look at Sanda's chest, deciding that yes, there's definitely something there that wasn't there six months ago. He finds the idea rather scary, and just as exciting.

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