Jed is sitting in the common room at the Hannard's Ford Sime Center, finishing off a slab of zonya. Zonya is a casserole of layers of spinach, other vegetables and cottage cheese between sheets of thin dough, baked in a herbed tomato sauce and covered with melted cheese.
Jed has had a chance to wash up, talk to Bart and send a telegram home: ALL OKAY AXLE BROKE BACK SOON. He's trying not to think about how Ma is going to react to it. He's too tired and there isn't much point in beating himself over the head in advance.
Jed takes his empty plate into the kitchen and returns with a mug of tea. He settles into a comfy armchair and enjoys the quiet after the long day. Layna and Ukoh are upstairs, and he's alone.
Gegg staggers towards the Ford Sime Center, having barely made the train from Gumgeeville. He dropped everything and ran for the station as soon as he got Bibi's telegram that Mik was in changeover.
Gegg was in the hardware store-post office at the time, picking up some nails and a new pot for his wife. He bribed the messenger boy to redeliver the message to Toria, along with the purchases and an additional message that he was going to try to catch the train.
Gegg had already put in a hard day's work building a new fence before running out of nails, and the passenger cars on the train were standing room only. His continual ~~ fretting ~~ hasn't helped, either. He isn't sure what, if anything, he can do about Mik, but he felt that he should at least be there for his son, if only in the next room.
Gegg is panting by the time he climbs the stairs and knocks on the door.
Jed was starting to doze a little, but hears the knock. He doesn't feel right about answering it though. The door's not locked, anyway.
Gegg waits a moment, then impatiently tries the door. He discovers that it's unlocked, and opens it.
Gegg: Anybody there?
Jed gets up at the sound of a familiar voice, looks down the hallway and sees Gegg in the waiting room.
Gegg: ... Jed? What are you doing here?
Jed: Shit, Gegg, it's a long story. C'mon back here.
Gegg follows Jed into the Center.
Gegg: Where is everybody?
Jed: Well, Bibi and Cristal and Bart are downstairs with Mik. I don't know where Nattin is but his students are upstairs. The housekeeper's gone for the day.
Gegg: How is Mik? Is he... okay with what's happening?
Jed: As far as I know. I haven't talked to him but Bart says he's doing okay.
Gegg can't imagine anyone being okay with turning Sime, but at least Mik isn't facing a bullet.
Gegg: Bart's here?
Jed: Yeah, he's been here all week. You know, they're teaching him stuff about Donoring.
Gegg: I heard. But I thought it took a long time to become a Donor. Are they really letting him help with something like this?
Jed: He's just there to watch, and maybe keep Mik company, them being friends and all. Cristal's going to be Mik's Donor. He's the one been teaching Mik about changeover since he came here, you know.
Gegg: Yes. Mik seems to like him all right.
Jed: Bart says he's real good at the job.
Gegg: That's reassuring.
Jed: You want some tea? There's a pot in the kitchen. Food too.
Gegg is suddenly not in as much hurry as he'd thought, to see his son turning Sime.
Gegg: Sure, Jed. I skipped lunch to get the fence built, and then missed dinner because I was on the train.
Jed: I'll get you some stuff then.
Jed goes into the kitchen and returns with another slab of zonya and a mug of tea.
Jed: It's not very warm any more but it's pretty good stuff.
Gegg looks at the zonya a bit ~~ skeptically ~~, but he is a Gen, with the appetite that implies.
Jed puts it on the table and sits across from it.
Gegg sits and takes a bite.
Gegg: Not bad, but it could use a bit of ground meat.
Jed: The Simelanders don't eat meat. Not even the Gens.
Gegg: So Mik told me. He said....
Gegg: ... he said that he was gonna miss his mother's roast rabbit something awful, if...
Gegg angrily scrubs at a tear that is inexplicably trickling down his cheek.
Gegg: Damn it, Jed, what am I gonna do now?
Jed: Your boy is in good hands. He can write to you, same as if he got a job in the city.
Gegg: Yeah, but he could come home from the city, sometimes. I'd be able to see him, not just read letters.
Jed isn't going to suggest that Gegg could visit him in-T. He's not stupid.
Gegg: I was hoping that it wouldn't be too late for me to see him once more. Changeover takes time, right?
Jed: Yes. Bart said a few more hours yet.
Gegg shakes his head.
Gegg: It never rains but it pours. The smith's son is missing, as of this morning. They're still searching for him.
Jed: I left Maree a note. Well, maybe she got back late from picking berries.
Gegg: A note? About what?
Gegg's blood sugar level is rising as he eats, arousing normal curiosity.
Jed: I brought Ukoh here. He turned Sime.
Gegg: His father's not gonna be happy about your interference, you know.
Gegg has no great love for the Gumgeeville smith, but still patronizes him.
Jed: Well, if he hadn't kept going on about what a Sime lover I am his boy wouldn't have thought of coming to me.
Gegg: Probably not. So you got the kid here in time?
Jed: Well, not quite, but it turned out okay. You wouldn't believe that road. Must have had a lot more thunderstorms this side of the pass. Washouts and mudslides on every friggin switchback.
Jed uses a typical diversionary tactic.
Jed: I broke the friggin axle on my friggin wagon too. Ma's gonna be furious. And the damn horse threw a shoe.
Gegg has been Jed's drinking buddy far too long to fall for the ploy.
Gegg: What do you mean, you didn't make it in time???
Jed: Took us five hours to get to the White Lake turnoff, so Layna took care of the boy.
Gegg: She took care of him? How? She's not a Donor, right?
Jed: Well, I guess she's not much of one, but Bibi says she'll be okay in a few days.
Gegg is, as has been mentioned, familiar with Jed-speak.
Gegg: You mean she's not okay, now?
Jed: She's got a bad headache, but Bibi gave her some medicine for it and told her to rest.
Gegg: A headache? Like the one Stanton got when Vilmar shot the changeover who was killing him?
Jed: Yeah, I guess so.
Gegg: Better than being dead, that's for sure.
Jed: They'll both be all right, Bibi said.
Jed is basing this on what Bibi told Layna and Ukoh. He knows nothing about the implications for Ukoh's future.
Jed: Look, do me a favor and don't tell anybody in Gumgeeville about Layna, okay?
Gegg looks ~~ uncomfortable ~~
Gegg: I dunno about that, Jed. It seems to me people have a right to know what happened.
Jed: Just tell them that Ukoh's a Sime and he didn't kill anybody and he's okay. It'll all come out soon enough, but it'll keep Ma from murdering me right off.
Gegg: She's gonna be pretty angry, that you took such a risk.
Jed: I had my rifle with me, and I would have used it. I offered it to Layna too, but she wouldn't take it. I had Ukoh nailed up in the calf crate. He wasn't getting out of there until we let him out.
Gegg: So why did you let him out to hurt her?
Jed: She figured she could get here on the horse with him in time, and if she didn't, she said she knew how to stop a Sime before he could kill her. She could have stopped him from hurting her, but she wanted to try to give him a chance to live.
Gegg: I expect she got a bit more than she bargained for. Berserkers, they're not like your friends Seruffin and Bibi. They're more like the ones who captured me.
Jed: I suppose. But she figured she knew what she was doing, and she told me a Sime couldn't kill her, and she was right, more or less. She feels like shit for a few days but the boy lives. I guess she figures it's a reasonable trade-off.
Gegg: Or she figured that, before she made it.
Jed: According to what Nattin told me, she's going to be in a lot of trouble for trying it.
Gegg: She's lucky she wasn't killed, in my mind. It's not a minor thing, to be attacked by a Sime.
Jed: Yeah, hell if I would take a chance like that. But she said she had training to do it.
Gegg: And... Mik's going to be just as dangerous, to everyone but Bibi and her Donor.
Jed: Mik's in good hands, Gegg. Bibi's looked after plenty of changeovers, and Cristal is going to outshine the whole damn town when it comes time for Mik. He won't be thinking of anybody else.
Gegg: Yeah. I guess Toria and I did the right thing, for Mik, after all.
Jed: You sure did. Think what you'd be doing now if he were still at home.
Gegg: I was beginning to wonder, when so much time went by and nothing happened.
Jed: Something had to happen, one way or another, soon enough.
Gegg: Yeah. But I was hoping it wouldn't be this, in spite of everything.
Jed: Yeah, I know what you mean.
Gegg: At least your boy will be making a free choice, if he goes to live in Simeland. Mik would've been quite content to take over the farm after me, I expect.
Jed: Well, you know Sanda's safe. And Toria's expecting now.
Gegg: Yeah. That helps, a little bit, but still. Mik's my firstborn, Jed.
Jed: You've done everything a father could for his son. You've given him life twice, you know. He'd be dead if you hadn't brought him here.
Jed can't bear to say that Gegg would have had to shoot Mik. He's still too close to all those years of dreading having to shoot his own sons.
Gegg: It's not enough, though. I couldn't give him the life we both wanted for him. Now he's got to start over, as an exile in a foreign land where he doesn't even speak the language.
Gegg doesn't know about the accelerated learning of First Year.
Jed: He's alive when he could be dead. He's still your son, just grown up a little sooner. You did the best any father could for him. He's a man now, and on his own. He'll do fine. You brought him up right.
Gegg: Yeah. I brought him up right. It was earlier on, that I failed him. At least, if your Sime friends are right, and you're born Sime or Gen, even if you can't tell until later.
Jed: Shit, Gegg, don't be stupid. It's not like it's anything you could do any different. And if you're going to come up with notions like that, blame Toria. He's her son too.
Gegg: Yeah, but I've always been the fuck-up.
Jed rolls his eyes.
Jed: What are you going to take the blame for next? The pulp mill burning down? All the damn rain we've been having? My friggin horse throwing a shoe?
Gegg: Well... no.
Gegg: Although if the seven of us hadn't gone hunting 'possums that weekend, there might have been enough people to save the mill.
Gegg is only half serious.
Jed has been trying to make allowances for Gegg's present circumstances, but it's getting harder and harder to contain his exasperation.
Jed: Look, why don't you get them senators off the hook by confessing that it was you ran that big kickback scam with the military appropriations? Or tell the preacher it was you offended God and that's why church roof is leaking.
Gegg looks surprised for a moment, then ~~ relaxes ~~ a bit.
Gegg: Well, I won't do that last. He might want me to fix it, and I've already run out of nails once repairing the damn fence.
Jed: Yeah, save your nails.
Jed doesn't think much of the preacher or the church.
Gegg is only lukewarm towards religion, himself, but always figured it was good for the kids.
Jed: Vrian says your pigs are real escape artists. They bust the fence?
Gegg: Yeah. Again. That sow just won't stay put.
Jed: Not with that nice juicy stand of maize you got growing.
Gegg: I might just keep one of the shoats, and donate her to the church picnic.
Jed snorts, but says nothing.
Jed: I should get a couple shoats from you soon. Raise them and sell one. Have a good supply of meat this winter.
Gegg: Sure, Jed. Just send Vrian over to pick a pair out.
Gegg's response is a bit absentminded, as he looks towards the kitchen and the door leading down to the cellar.
Gegg: You think they'll let me have some time with Mik, before the... the end? How soon would I start to bug a changeover, anyway?
Jed: Hell if I know. We can ask when somebody comes up. All the tea they drink here, somebody will have to soon enough. Or we could go down and ask.
Gegg is ~~ nervous ~~ about the thought of deliberately going into a cellar with a changeover, and ~~ ashamed ~~ of his cowardice.
Jed: You want me to go? They don't know you're here yet.
Gegg's fundamental problem has never been cowardice, however.
Gegg: He's my kid. What kind of father would I be if I send my drinking buddy to find out how he's doing?
Gegg squares his shoulder.
Gegg: I'll go with you.
Gegg's voice isn't as firm as he would like, so he starts walking towards the kitchen.
Jed gets up and joins him.
Gegg's hand rattles the knob as he opens the door that leads down the steep stairs to the cellar. He thought Gerrhonot was insane for going down into the saloon's cellar after Magit, and here he is doing the same thing.
Bart opens the door of the changeover room and walks towards the stairs. He's headed to the kitchen to make a pot of tea for the group.
Gegg starts at the sound.
Gegg: Who's there?
Gegg peers into the dimness.
Bart: Uh, it's me, Bart.
Gegg ~~ relaxes ~~ just a bit.
Gegg: How's Mik doing?
Bart doesn't recognize Gegg's voice out of context, but comes closer and sees him.
Bart: Oh. Hi, Mr. Gegg. He's doing fine. I'm just coming up to make some more tea.
Gegg: Is he... well... changed a lot, yet?
Gegg doesn't quite have the nerve to say "turning into a ravening monster".
Bart doesn't know how to answer that. Bibi says the changeover is progressing normally, and Mik seems okay to him.
Bart: Uh, his tentacles are starting to develop a little, but he's okay.
Gegg swallows hard at the mention of tentacles.
Gegg: Can... can I talk to him?
Bart: Uh. I'll ask Hajene Bibi, okay?
Bart turns and vanishes back into the cellar.