Changeovers and Consequences: Episode 1

Jed is hitching his work horse to his wagon in front of his barn, There's a calf crate in the wagon, containing some straw, a blanket and a drunk, stoned and terrified boy.

Jed finishes his harnessing, checks that he has his hammer and pry bar to open the crate, which he's nailed shut for safety, and that his rifle and ammunition are under the seat. He walks the horse to the gate.

Jed: You just stay calm there, Ukoh. You'll be to the Ford in plenty of time.

Ukoh mutters something. Maybe he heard and understood.

Layna is looking for vict... er, "research subjects" to interrogate. She sees a likely prospect coming out of the Mullins farm.

Layna: Hey, Mr. Mullins! Have you got a moment? I've got some questions I'm trying to look into.

Jed: Well, look who's here. A Sime expert. Just what I'm looking for. Close the gate behind me, will you?

Layna: Sure.

Jed opens the gate, mounts the wagon bench and drives the horse and wagon through.

Layna does so.

Layna: What do you want to know about Simes?

Jed: Hop in, Layna.

Layna does so.

Jed: See what I've got back there?

Jed starts the horse down the road.

Layna looks back at the crate. Her eyes widen.

Layna: A kid?

Jed: Well, either a Sime or a corpse, in a little while.

Jed thinks Ukoh is out of it enough that it's okay to be blunt with Layna.

Jed: The blacksmith's boy, Ukoh. Nergal is always telling me I'm pimping my boys to the Simes, so his boy come to me instead of to his father.

Layna adds 2 and 2.

Layna: You're taking him to the Ford?

Jed looks at Layna in a way that doesn't convey a great deal of respect.

Jed: Yeah. You want to come along? I could use your advice, likely.

Layna: Sure. How far along is he?

Jed: Red marks on his arms, fever. Bart said Seruffin told him if he could see the tentacles under the skin it was too late to make it to the Ford, so I think it's okay. Brought my rifle in case.

Layna nods.

Layna: Sounds like Stage Three. As long as he isn't a channel, there's hours yet.

Jed: I give him some brandy and poppy syrup, to slow him down a bit. Calm him down too. I think he's pretty much asleep now.

Layna: Brandy and poppy? Isn't that a bit... strong?

Jed shrugs.

Jed: I don't want him screaming and breaking out of the crate and coming at me.

Jed actually was overcome with pity at the boy's terror and despair and wanted to do something to alleviate it. He also thought it might slow the process down some.

Layna: Well, yes. I hope it doesn't do something weird to his nerve development, though.

Jed hopes not too. He didn't think of that.

Jed: If he's got hours yet... it should wear off.

Jed drives the wagon through town.

Jed: You want to pick up anything from your room? I guess I can wait a few minutes.

Layna: I've got most of my clothes at the Ford, anyway. My dirty laundry and extra notes will be fine where they are.

Jed: Good.

Jed drives past Henree's saloon and hotel and makes the turn toward the road to the pass.

Layna: Ukoh. I don't recall anyone of that name coming to the Ford. Do you know if he's read any of those pamphlets on changeover?

Jed: Dunno. I don't think so. His dad doesn't think much of us, and much less now we're donating. He's not in the bunch either Vrian or Bart hang out with, as far as i know.

Layna frowns, as the factors keep adding up against a happy resolution.

Layna: Well, the sooner he's in competent tentacles, the better. In the later stages, moving a changeover can have serious consequences.

Jed: I just hope it isn't raining on the other side of the pass. The road's real bad when it gets wet sometimes.

Jed looks up at the sky.

Jed: I don't think it's building up for a thunderstorm.

Layna isn't a farmer, and so doesn't have much of a weather sense.

Layna is a social historian, and not even this kind of adventure can divert her from her profession for long.

Layna: Tell me, Mr. Mullins, how will the boy's father respond, when he learns what you've done?

Jed: Good question. Not much he can do to me. I stopped dealing with him when he told me I was pimping my boys to the Simes. Guy at the Ford is a better smith, anyway. Turns out he donates, too.

Jed doesn't point out that not being able to use the local smith is an incredible inconvenience when a piece of farm machinery needs a smith's talents.

Layna: What of your other neighbors?

Jed shrugs.

Jed: Maybe Virla will figure I'm a hero, eh? Rest of them will figure I'm a fool.

Layna: A fool? Why? For saving a life?

Jed: Risking my life, for a boy who's doomed, or should be.

Layna looks back at the crate.

Layna: He doesn't look like much of a threat, to me. Nor could he be, without plenty of warning.

Jed: Yet. Tell me, do you think a Sime could break out of there? I nailed it shut.

Layna inspects the crate with professional competence.

Layna: A Sime who knew what he was doing, and was in full possession of his faculties, could probably get out of there. A changeover, berserk with need... well, not before you could respond. And there'd be a good chance that he'd fatally injure himself on a splinter.

Jed: A splinter, eh? Well, I got my rifle under the seat here, just in case.

Jed's tough and detached facade cracks.

Jed: God, Layna, I hope I don't have to shoot him.

Layna is used to the idea of weapons, unlike most Householders, but guns are outside her experience. She thinks they are cold and menacing, unlike a friendly knife or whip.

Layna: There's time.

Jed: Yeah. My big problem is gonna be calming Ma down when I get back. She and Vrian are out picking berries. I left a note.

Jed knows how much good a note will do. His powers of persuasion work best interactively.

Layna: Tell me, Mr. Mullins. Why are you willing to risk your life and your marriage, for a cause that few, if any, of your neighbors would take up?

Layna doesn't disagree with the necessity, but is curious about what led Jed to see it.

Jed: I'll talk Maree around. And I'm not really risking my life. I got him nailed up in there, and slowed down with brandy and poppy syrup, and I've got my rifle. Plus I've got you as my advisor and a second pair of eyes.

Jed does a pretty good job of not answering the question.

Layna: Still, it's something that none of your neighbors would have done, I expect. Why are you different?

Jed: I know more now. That kid can live a decent life. He came to me. He wants to live and he doesn't want to kill. I wasn't gonna tell him to go home and tell his father to shoot him. Or let him go off and hide and then come out and kill somebody.

Jed remembers the look Ukoh gave him when he came back from the house with his rifle. He had to convince the boy that the rifle was "just in case" and "so he wouldn't have to worry about killing anybody", not that Jed intended to shoot him once he was caged and helpless.

Layna: Admirable, logical reasons. However, people don't usually defy their wife and neighbors, and risk their lives, for logic alone. This is important to you, quite apart from the kid deserving to live. Why?

Jed: That boy put his life in my hands. I could have talked him into that crate and then shot him, or took him home to be shot. I could see in his face that that's what he was thinking when I brought out my rifle.

Jed: If I shot him, except in self-defense, that would be murder. My neighbors don't think so, but I do. I decided I wouldn't shoot my son, before I knew he'd established, and I'm not shooting anybody else's child if I don't have to either.

Layna: There's a difference between refusing to commit murder, and going to extraordinary lengths to prevent anyone else from committing what is considered justifiable homicide, here.

Jed: Tell me, Layna, what would you do in my place?

Layna: I'd do the same. But I grew up in Sime Territory, and I know how to defend myself from Sime attack.

Jed: Good thing I got you here, then.

Layna hasn't, fortunately, ever had to put her knowledge to the test, and isn't sure she'd be able to make herself crush the laterals of a changeover victim.

Ukoh rolls over and whimpers.

Jed: It's okay, Ukoh, we're heading up towards the pass now. We got plenty of time. You'll be all right.

Jed doesn't think Ukoh can understand him, but hopes the tone of voice will help him feel safer.

Jed: You want to check on him?

Layna: All right.

Layna climbs back onto the wagon bed and peers through the slats, trying to get a good look at Ukoh's arms.

Jed: Talk to him. He might like to hear a woman's voice, accent or no.

Ukoh's face is pale and streaked with tears. He's curled in a fetal ball with his arms crossed over his chest.

Layna: Ukoh, can you hear me?

Ukoh: Mmm.

Layna tries to project a ~~ calming ~~ field, out of reflex.

Ukoh opens his eyes a little, but they aren't tracking very well.

Layna then reconsiders, and tries for ~~ alertness ~~, figuring that at least this will show whether he's responding to fields yet, and is therefore progressing to Stage Four.

Layna: Let me see your arms a minute, okay?

Ukoh: Who you?

Layna: I'm Layna ambrov Dar. I'm from Sime Territory, and I was visiting Gumgeeville as part of my education.

Ukoh: Sime?

Layna: No, I'm Gen. There are a lot of Gens in Sime Territory, you know.

Ukoh: Turning Sime.

Ukoh tries to focus on Layna's face.

Ukoh: Don't shoot me.

Layna: Don't worry. Guns aren't my weapon of choice. In fact, I've never fired one.

Layna is deadly with her hands, and pretty darn good with a knife, but doesn't think Ukoh would find that reassuring, just now.

Jed: She's from Simeland, Ukoh. She knows all about turning Sime, so she's gonna help us. Don't worry. You let her see your arms so she can tell how you're doing.

Layna: That's right. A lot of my family are Sime, including my mother and my sister. Let me take a look, now.

Ukoh shifts position with effort and lets one arm flop onto the blanket in front of her.

Layna looks at it carefully, trying to estimate how much development has gone forward.

Layna: Ukoh, look at me. Do I look strange?

Ukoh, if he were capable of coherent thought, would say everything looks strange when you're too drunk for your eyes to track and too dopey to interpret what you see.

Ukoh: Uh?

Layna sighs.

Layna: Never mind. Just go back to sleep. It's a long trip, yet.

Layna makes her way back to the front of the wagon, shaking her head.

Layna: He's too drugged to answer the questions that would tell me how he's progressing, just now.

Jed: I didn't give him all that much, and on an empty stomach -- should start wearing off in a little while.

Layna settles back on the wagon seat, as much as practical, given the ruts.

Layna: Tell me, Mr. Mullins, have you seen a changeover before?

Jed: Not the whole thing, no.

Layna cocks her head with ~~ interest ~~.

Layna: Part of one, then?

Jed: First part. Before my dad shot her. Well, after my dad shot her, I guess. I saw her arms after she was dead.

Layna: Who was she?

Jed: My sister.

Jed chokes a little on the words.

Layna's face displays a very human ~~ compassion and sympathy ~~ along with her ever-present ~~ curiosity ~~.

Layna: Did you have other brothers and sisters?

Jed: No, just the two of us. Would have been a third, but she was stillborn and my Ma died afterwards. My sister tried to be a mother to me.

Layna: It must have hit you hard to lose her, then.

Jed: Yeah. Hit my father hard too. He kind of gave up after that. Drank a lot.

Layna wonders if this was the start of Jed's overfondness for beer.

Jed never drinks hard liquor, unlike his father. Beer isn't the same thing.

Layna: What did the rest of your family think about it? Or do you have other relatives?

Jed: No, by then there was nobody else close. I guess my closest relative is Gegg. He's my second cousin.

Jed sighs and leans forward over the reins.

Layna: He's the one who was attacked while serving in the Army?

Jed: Yeah, he's got his problems. Hope things turn out okay with his son. You know Mik, right?

Layna: Yes, I do.

Jed: See, my great grandfather was a rich man, for around here. He had a lot of good land, and the Mullins name was something to be proud of. My grandfather inherited the farm.

Layna remembers the marginal status of the current Mullins homestead.

Layna: What happened to it?

Jed: Well, he had two sons, my father and my uncle. My uncle changed over and killed him.

Layna: So your father inherited the entire estate?

Jed: Well, he was a little boy when it happened. So his mother tried to keep things going, but she had no sense about it. She ended up selling most of the land. People took advantage of her, so she didn't get as much as she should. My father was determined he'd buy it all back when he grew up.

Layna: But he didn't? What was it? Bad weather? Low prices for crops?

Jed: He didn't have enough land by then. He'd got married too, and had his wife and mother to support. And then my sister was born. So he figured he'd join the army, fight in the war, and get some money that way.

Layna: That's how he ended up participating in the first Faith Day?

Jed: Yeah. He shot a lot of Simes before that, though. Killer Simes.

Layna: Raiding bands and such?

Jed: Whoever they told him to shoot. Whoever was coming at him to kill Gens, or capture them to kill later.

Jed: But he could see that the channels were trying to make a way for things to work better for everybody, and he thought things would change on this side of the border too.

Layna: What I'm curious about is why they didn't, most places? Why did so many of the soldiers like your father, who fought alongside Simes and knew what channels were, just... go home and live as if it had never happened?

Jed: I don't know either. They got a Sime Center at the Ford now. That's something. But now I see what a big disappointment it was to my dad. He wouldn't have known what to do to make it any different. He didn't have much education, no more than I have.

Jed: So he just lived his life, like most people, and hoped his children wouldn't turn Sime.

Layna: And then your sister did?

Jed: Yeah. And after that, he just gave up on everything. We kept the farm going as best we could, what there was of it, but we never got ahead. He got drunk every night, a quiet drunk, never got loud or angry, just quiet and sad.

Jed: One night I came down to get a drink of water, and he was sitting there in the dark, and he told me he was never going to shoot another Sime. Scared the shit out of me.

Layna: You were afraid that he'd be put in a situation where he'd choose to be killed, rather than defend himself?

Jed: I was afraid that if I started turning Sime he wouldn't... take care of me. I'd have to go ask the sheriff to do it.

Layna: You felt that your father should have murdered you himself, if it came to that?

Layna finds the whole out-T etiquette of murdering changeovers bizarre.

Layna: Even though it would probably be harder on him, than on the sheriff?

Jed: I hoped I'd have the courage to tell him I was turning Sime, so he could make sure I didn't kill. I figured it would be a lot harder to go tell the sheriff that.

Layna considers this explanation for a moment, then nods.

Layna: I can see that.

Jed laughs ruefully.

Jed: I guess it never occurred to me that it would be easier for him to let someone else shoot me. I don't know. Maybe it wouldn't be easier. He'd lose a lot of respect if he did that. Self-respect, too.

Layna: Because he forced someone else to deal with his problem?

Jed: Shirked his responsibility to his own.

Layna: Did he change, once you were old enough that it was clear you were Gen?

Jed: He never lost his sadness, and he kept drinking. I named Bart after my sister. Her name was Barta. I thought that might make him feel better. It's against custom here to name a child after one who's turned Sime, but I did it anyway.

Layna: Did your wife object to your breaking that tradition? She doesn't share your opinions about Simes, I understand.

Jed: Well, her family didn't think much of me or my father, and they didn't want her to marry me, and wouldn't have much to do with her afterwards. So she didn't want to name our son after anybody on her side.

Jed: So she went along with it. She liked my father, and he liked her. But it didn't help, to name Bart that. One time he was holding the baby and tears started coming down his face. He looked at me but didn't say anything.

Layna: He was afraid Bart would also be Sime?

Jed: I figure he was hoping I wouldn't have to shoot my firstborn like he had to. But look how it's working now. Bart's going to be a Donor, likely, and he'll be helping see that other men don't have to shoot their children. I think my father would be happy about that, proud of his grandson.

Layna: I expect he would.

Jed: He couldn't do anything to bring in the new way he saw when he was in the army, but Bart can. I guess I am, too.

Jed gestures toward the back of the wagon.

Layna chuckles.

Layna: Speaking of him...

Jed: You want to check on the boy again? We're in the pass now, level stretch here.

Layna gets up to check Ukoh once more, trying to determine if the drugs have worn off enough to get meaningful answers to the standard diagnostic questions.

Ukoh is snoring gently, his now swollen arms stretched in front of him.

Layna: You know, this is one of those rare times I wish I had tentacles. If I could zlin, I'd know how he was doing.

Jed: Yeah? I guess so.

Layna: Well, he's still sleeping, and I suppose that's as good as anything for him, just now.

Jed: He seems to be breathing all right.

Jed is judging by the snores, which are regular and unforced.

Layna: He's not in a coma, at least. That would probably be fatal.

Jed: Can you tell anything by looking at him?

Layna: He's not close to breakout, yet. The tentacles aren't moving in their sheaths, and the sheaths aren't filling with fluids. That's about all I can tell, for now.

Jed: Good. We got a ways to go, and the road just gets worse for quite a distance here.

Layna takes the hint and returns to her seat.

Jed: I guess it's a lot different in Simeland, when a kid turns Sime. They must be happy about it.

Layna: Yes, usually, although some parents don't want to face having their kids grow up.

Jed: Here, too. Virla sure wasn't ready for Magit to grow up and leave home.

Layna: Well, on the other side of the border, changeover doesn't mean a son or daughter has to leave home immediately. On the other hand, any Sime or Gen is automatically an adult, with the rights and responsibilities that implies.

Jed: When I look at what some sixteen-year-olds do, it's hard to imagine what kind of stupid moves a twelve-year-old could make, out on his own.

Layna: Well, one thing I've noticed is that kids here grow up slower. I think it's because they know they won't be treated as an adult until they're past sixteen, so they have no reason to be ready at twelve.

Jed thinks that over as he carefully guides the horse to the left around a pothole.

Layna: When you know that you'll be on your own, legally at least, as soon as you change over or establish, whenever that happens to be... well, you take care to be ready.

Jed: Interesting thought. Simes and Gens both, eh?

Layna: Of course.

Jed: Well, I guess the Gens get the donation payments and don't have to pay the selyn taxes so they don't starve at least. Probably the families would want to keep them home, since they could bring in some money, right?

Layna: It works out that way pretty often. However, new Gens can be quite irritating to nearby Simes, until they learn to control their nagers.

Jed laughs.

Jed: I guess they can just stay home and continue irritating their parents like most teenagers until they learn better.

Jed imagines, not very accurately, what it would be like to be a Sime and have Sanda bouncing all over the place.

Layna: It's a little more serious than that. An uncontrolled Gen nager can seriously injure a Sime, or trigger the Sime's desire to attack the nearest Gen. And all with the best intentions of the Gen in question.

Jed: So how do they learn not to do that?

Layna: Practice. It doesn't take long to learn, when every Sime in zlinning distance complains when you get it wrong.

Layna speaks from personal experience.

Jed: I guess Bart's learning that stuff now.

Layna: Yes, he is.

Jed: He really likes it. He's at the Ford now. I wonder what he's going to think we when haul in Ukoh in the calf crate?

Layna: That his father is a soft touch?

Jed smiles.

Jed: Well, maybe. He'll likely be worried about what his Ma is going to do to me when I get home.

Layna: You could always stop by the chocolate shop on Arden Street and get a bribe.

Jed: Get it thrown at my head, most likely. No, I'll talk her around. I always do.

Layna figures Jed knows his wife better than she does, and astonishingly, this actually curbs her impulse to provide further advice.

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