Strangers in Strange Lands: Episode 9

Cristal wakes up as the train slows to a stop at Hannard's Ford, and realizes it must be his stop. (Of course, if he were a Sime, there'd be no doubt about it, but he probably wouldn't be able to sleep on the train either.)

Cristal gets off the train and walks briskly from the station to the Sime Center. It's a fine and seasonable day.

Bibi consults her infallible Sime time sense and figures that Cristal will be here in a few minutes. From the sound of the whistle at the crossing, the evening train is ahead of time. She never thought she'd be this glad that Cristal was coming back to the Ford.

Cristal reaches the Sime Center and decides to exercise some of his out-T skills in a safe situation.

Cristal: Hello the house!

Bibi comes out the front door and smiles at Cristal warmly.

Bibi: Welcome back!

Cristal: It's good to be back, Bibi. I didn't think I'd ever think so, but I do.

Bibi accompanies Cristal towards the back door. She's much too polite to say that she feels much the same about him coming back.

Cristal: [hastily] I wasn't talking about you or the Sime Center, of course. It's just -- well, I guess I've gotten used to things here out-T.

Bibi: Supper is still warm, and I've just made a pot of trin.

Cristal: ~~ eager hungry thirsty ~~ Will you join me, then?

Bibi: Sure.

Bibi holds the door for Cristal, then follows him into the common room.

Nattin is already in the dining room, finishing off a bowl of vegetable stew with fresh bread. He's reading through a thick package of materials as he eats.

Cristal: Ah, stew a la Gitl.

Cristal gets himself a bowl and sits down across from Nattin, patting the chair next to him for Bibi to sit down.

Nattin looks up from his reading.

Nattin: Ah, Cristal, welcome back.

Cristal: Thanks, Professor Nattin. Good to see you again.

Bibi sits and pours herself some tea.

Nattin: How was civilization?

Cristal: Not quite as civilized as I remembered, I fear.

Nattin raises an eyebrow.

Cristal: I really never knew how much anti-Wild-Gen prejudice there is.

Nattin: Nobody loves a lorsh, and few understand the reasons behind that aspect of Wild Gen culture.

Bibi is amused -- even the term Wild Gen is hardly complimentary.

Cristal: All they have to do is think about it for five minutes, and it should be obvious that there's no real alternative, even today, in the small towns like Gumgeeville. ~~ indignant ~~

Nattin: Ah, but few of them have any reason to think for even one minute about the matter. And even if they do, there is still the matter of the lackluster interest in expanding Sime Centers to new towns.

Nattin: It's true the Tecton doesn't have the personnel to expand into every Gen town, but it could certainly expand much faster than it is, if the out-Territory local governments permitted.

Cristal makes the "I bow to your superior knowledge" gesture.

Nattin: Of course, pointing that out to out-Territory Gens doesn't help progress at all. Quite the contrary. It takes a lot of reaching out to win acceptance from people with what they perceive as good reason to be skeptical.

Nattin: And in that respect, your return is essential. Sosu Beern didn't speak a word of English.

Cristal: ~~ astonishment~~ What?!

Bibi nods.

Bibi: It was difficult.

Cristal: Well, at least you got a good transfer out of it? ~~ hopeful ~~

Bibi: It was adequate. He certainly did his best for poor little me, abandoned out here with all these barbarians.

Nattin: Meanwhile, a few of the barbarians were wondering what he and Bibi were trying to hide from them, that they insisted on speaking a "secret" language.

Cristal: Exactly the word that my old acquaintance used at dinner. I used to think it was really funny.

Bibi: We had three changeovers while you were away, and it didn't help the kids to feel calm and secure having this big burly guy who only talked gibberish with them.

Cristal: I should fleckin think not! No shootings or kills, I trust?

Bibi: No, thank goodness.

Nattin: We had an inquiry or two about changeover information, too. I was able to handle that much, since a Donor's nager wasn't required.

Cristal tentatively extends his field to try to "see" how Bibi is doing.

Bibi is doing okay. She's ~~ enjoying ~~ the zlin of Cristal enjoying his food.

Cristal: I had a rather troubled channel myself; his Donor had been grabbed away at the last minute, and I didn't quite match him, which I was fool enough to tell him. Of course I assumed he'd read my file, but apparently not. So I did my best to stretch myself for him, and he just about freaked out.

Bibi: What happened? ~~ concerned ~~

Cristal: I'm not sure. I judged that he hadn't had satisfactory transfers for some time -- though he said he had, his physical signs belied it. He didn't outmatch me by more than a few percent, and I thought I could at least provide the additional selyn for him, if not his full speed.

Cristal: He complained about turbulent flow, and I did have some rather strange visualizations. Anyhow, I don't think I'm a First.

Cristal laughs ~~ self-deprecatingly ~~

Nattin has worked at Sime Centers long enough to let the techie talk of channels and Donors go by him. He instead looks down at the papers in his packet.

Bibi: Strange. I've never noticed any turbulence in transfer with you.

Nattin got drafted into helping out with a small conference, and is starting to regret it as abstracts continue to dribble in a full week after the very generous deadline.

Bibi: Well, we'll get our copy of his report on the transfer eventually, and maybe you could ask Seruffin about it.

Cristal: Well, I overmatch you, at least slightly. There's no reason for me to try to go past the TN-1 barrier.

Bibi: Do you think that's what you did?

Cristal: I visualized it as a deep well of boiling liquid covered with a clear barrier. At the end of the transfer, the barrier shattered. So yes. Maybe.

Bibi: Hmm.

Bibi finds this description somewhat bizarre.

Bibi: You don't zlin from here like he burned you. Do you think he did?

Cristal: ~~ surprise ~~ No, no, not at all. But I do believe I frightened him.

Cristal finds this view of himself more than a little strange. He's always been afraid of getting addicted to controlling Simes by their emotions, and now it turns out he's not as slick at it as he thought he was.

Bibi hopes that Cristal hasn't picked up some weird quirk that will frighten her next time they have transfer.

Cristal: Maybe we could look at the situation together before your turnover, when it's not a transfer or potential transfer situation?

Bibi: We could try, but you know I'm not as sensitive as a higher rated channel, of course.

Nattin looks up from his reading.

Nattin: There's a good chance that Hajene Seruffin will stop by, on his next trip in-Territory. At least, from what I observed, I'm sure he'll do his very best to manage it.

Nattin's nager ~~ teases ~~ gently.

Bibi blushes, as usual.

Cristal: ~~ reluctance ~~ I understand, but I'd really feel more comfortable with you, if you feel up to it. Perhaps Hajene Seruffin could take a look at me afterwards, if you think it's appropriate.

Bibi pats Cristal's forearm.

Bibi: Sure, Cristal, I'm curious about it too.

Cristal ~~ relaxes ~~ and smiles.

Bibi: It's nice to have you back.

Cristal: It was good for me to have a little time in-T, I think, but I do believe I can do more good in the world here.

Cristal is ~~ surprised ~~ again to hear himself saying something like this.

Bibi is charmed: a few weeks absence, saddled with a much worse Donor, has made Cristal seem a good deal more appealing. She's not thinking about his gift for saying the worst thing possible unintentionally.

Nattin looks at Cristal, wondering how this new-found dedication will affect Bibi. He then looks at Bibi.

Cristal: Of course I know that my long-term status will depend on your reports, Hajene. But as far as I'm concerned ... [English] I'm in.

Nattin: Speaking of travel, I thought I'd better remind you that I'll be taking a week and a half off, next month. I should know better by now than to let myself get roped into helping with a conference.

Nattin is actually rather ~~ pleased ~~ at the thought of spending some time with colleagues who have actually obtained their degrees.

Bibi is not confused by the conflict between emotion and words.

Bibi: I'm sure you'll enjoy it, and not only because it will get you back to civilization.

Nattin: Well, Ancient Literature is a bit peripheral to my main interests at present, but the focus of the conference changes to a different area each year.

Bibi: Do the Ancient literature guys drink as much porstan as the archaeologists?

Nattin cackles.

Cristal attempts to repress a snicker.

Nattin: More. How else could they stomach some of that stuff?

Bibi: Like "Gladley, The Cross-Eyed Bear?"

Cristal winces.

Nattin: There's even worse out there, and people are getting papers published on it. Some of them will be attending the conference.

Cristal: Like "He's got the whole world in his pants", you mean? What kind of sense is that supposed to have made?

Cristal isn't much for Ancient Literature, but he does read the back page in Donor magazine faithfully.

Nattin: Well, there are plenty of interpretations. And papers. Myself, I have to wonder if it isn't a mistranslation.

Nattin shrugs innocently.

Nattin: Fortunately, I was able to limit my responsibility to chairing one session and getting the abstracts in shape for the conference booklet.

Bibi: What session will you chair?

Nattin: "The future of cross-Territory scholarship". For some reason, the planning committee decided that I have extensive experience on the subject, just because I've been working here for a while.

Cristal: Well, perhaps your experience is more extensive than anyone else's?

Nattin: I hope not, or true Unity will take much longer than it should. Fortunately, panel sessions are easy to run. You just come up with a question or two, and let the panelists entertain the audience.

Bibi has been trying to figure out the difference in Cristal's nager since he got back. He's not only more relaxed and comfortable, but there's a certain irritating edge missing.

Cristal: Then, I suppose, the trick is to neither fall asleep nor burst out laughing.

Nattin chuckles.

Nattin: Well, any academic type learns how to manage that before graduation.

Cristal: [ruefully] I never managed either one all that well.

Nattin: My most irritating responsibility has turned out to be the shenned abstracts.

Bibi suddenly realizes that that irritating edge was sexual frustration. Cristal must have, um, found a partner to share his post reaction. She, of course, blushes.

Nattin: I thought I'd finished them last week, when I sent what I had off to be printed in the program.

Cristal: [teasingly] What is it, Bibi? Something about abstracts brings up a secret from your deep, dark past?

Bibi blushes harder.

Bibi: Oh, no, of course not. I was thinking of something else.

Cristal elevates his eyebrows.

Cristal: I see. ~~ soothing neutral field ~~

Nattin wonders when Seruffin will make it back, and hopes that both he and Bibi are pre-turnover at the time.

Bibi hopes so too, since she's presently pre-turnover. After turnover, she tends to think that the two of them will never manage it.

Nattin: It appears that a lot of would-be presenters were equally distracted.

Nattin pats the stack of papers beside him.

Nattin: These were all submitted late, and yet they'll expect them to go into the program supplement.

Cristal: The what?

Nattin sighs.

Nattin: The extra booklet that's printed to include the abstracts of people who didn't bother to get them in by the deadline which everybody knew about three months in advance.

Bibi laughs.

Bibi: So since they all know there will be a supplement, they know they can ignore the deadline.

Cristal looks upward and rolls his eyes.

Nattin: Well, most are polite enough to send them in on time. But there are plenty of exceptions.

Nattin thumbs the stack, then pauses at one offering in ~~ shock ~~

Bibi looks at Nattin in ~~ surprise ~~

Nattin: Isn't Fridda's father's name Jon Fennik? Of New Washington University?

Cristal: I believe so, yes.

Bibi: Is he presenting a paper?

Nattin pulls out the offending abstract and passes it over.

Nattin: It seems one of his students is presenting a poster.

Bibi: The conference is in Arreven, right? Fridda's First Year camp isn't far from there. I wonder if he's planning to visit her? Or perhaps have his student visit her and report back.

Cristal squelches his instinctively cynical response.

Cristal: Perhaps so.

Nattin: I've never met the man, so I couldn't guess. He's never come to an in-Territory conference before, that I can recall.

Bibi: He didn't have a Sime daughter before.

Cristal: What's a poster?

Nattin: It's a short description of a current work-in-progress. Preliminary results, presented informally.

Cristal: Oh. And do you hang it on a wall somewhere?

Nattin: Yes, there's a room set aside for them, and a time when the authors are supposed to be present to answer questions. Mostly, it's a chance for students to get their feet wet without disrupting the flow of the conference.

Nattin: And a lot of travel money awards for students are conditional upon their presenting some work.

Cristal: I see. Is anything said about the student herself there?

Cristal indicates the paper with the abstract.

Nattin: Just her name. It's not familiar to me.

Cristal: Is that typical for students, then? Or do they usually have some personal information as well?

Nattin: The abstract doesn't do more than list name and affiliation.

Cristal: I see. I suppose I'm surprised that an out-T student would be willing to attend an in-T conference. But perhaps she's a donor.

Nattin: A lot of students are. They tend to be young, rebellious, and flat broke.

Cristal: Then again, an out-T form wouldn't be too likely to list a person's GN status, eh?

Cristal tends to find people's ratings the most interesting thing about them, at least to begin with -- an occupational hazard.

Bibi: They don't usually list their blood type, either, Cristal.

Cristal: ~~ innocence ~~ Well, of course not. Why would that matter?

Cristal has a glint in his eye when he says this, however.

Bibi can zlin the glint as well as the ~~ innocence ~~, and pats Cristal's forearm again. She wonders whether Cristal is developing a sense of humor.

Cristal: After all, it's not like out-T Gens have to worry about bleeding to death in-T, is it.

Bibi thinks blood transfusion is one area where out-T medical science is ahead of in-T channel's methods.

Nattin chuckles.

Cristal feels ~~ encouraged ~~ by the pat.

Nattin: I doubt that a scholar of Ancient Literature would be granted a full-time Escort just to attend a rather obscure conference, so I have to assume that both student and professor will be donating, at least the once.

Nattin hopes they either do it in New Washington, or wait until the border. Bibi doesn't need to take care of someone else's problem Gen.

Cristal: Doubtless, Professor Nattin. But giving a donation isn't the same as being a regular donor, either.

Nattin: As long as they're low field while they're learning to associate with Simes, that's all that can realistically be asked.

Bibi: Nattin, if you see Fridda's father at the conference, perhaps you can reassure or encourage him. It's a big step for a man his age, visiting in-T.

Nattin: Of course. Although he might prefer not to have attention called to his attendance.

Cristal: A private word or two from a fellow Gen shouldn't be so difficult to arrange, surely?

Nattin: It would be easier for me to approach him than for a Sime, certainly. I expect he'll be wary of tentacles still, even if he has managed to donate.

Bibi: I hope he'll visit Fridda, and the visit goes well. It would be very good for her. For both of them.

Nattin: Yes, it would. I just hope that there aren't any unintended political repercussions. Fridda's uncle is rather prominent among the Tecton's unfriends in New Washington, you know.

Bibi: I hope her father isn't much like her uncle the Senator.

Nattin: Well, he can't be, can he? If he's decided to donate?

Cristal: Well, we can assume he's not a politician -- not outside the university, at least.

Bibi: I suppose he could be expecting they'll bend the rules on the spot for him.

Nattin: If so, he'll be disappointed. The Tecton isn't that flexible. Not when it has that vital a reason to remain inflexible.

Cristal: I guess you'll find out, Professor Nattin.

Nattin: Yes. It should be a more... interesting conference than most.

Bibi smiles. Nattin has reversed his stated opinion on that.

Cristal smiles as well.

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