Changeovers and Consequences: Episode 8

Bibi gave up trying to sleep several hours ago, and just lay there in the dark trying to get some rest. Some time before dawn she got up, put on her robe and slippers and went downstairs.

Bibi made herself a pot of tea and took it out on the veranda. She's curled up in a chair at the end, wrapped in a crocheted afghan, sipping tea and trying to think positive. She finds it easier to relax outdoors here, well away from any tempting or irritating Gen nagers.

Bibi is calculating how long after her Controller got the telegram she could get a Donor on the train for her, and how long after that the Donor will arrive. She figures the best case won't be too bad, but is trying not to believe in the worst case, which would be unbearably awful.

Gegg is also having a largely sleepless night, as he tries to come to terms with the effective loss of his son.

Gegg was desperate enough to try one of Toria's favorite remedies: warm milk. He didn't notice that it helped, and once he finally got to sleep, in early morning, he found himself waking up a few hours later.

Gegg lies in bed for a few minutes, assessing the situation, then hauls himself to his feet with a groan, puts on a borrowed robe, and stumbles out into the hall. He makes his way down the stairs, then heads towards the back of the Center, in search of the outhouse.

Bibi hears someone moving around inside, and zlins that it's Gegg. Oh, dear.

Gegg moves slowly, telling himself that he's peering into the pre-dawn shadows in search of furniture that he might trip over. He sees no reason to admit, even to himself, that it isn't only inanimate obstacles he's watching for.

Bibi really doesn't want to deal with Gegg in the absence of Cristal, or even Bart, right now. She decides to stay quiet and hopes he won't notice her.

Gegg steps cautiously onto the porch, peering blindly around at the shadows, and steps through the door. He can't see Bibi in the shadows, but his nager ~~ responds ~~ to Bibi's need.

Gegg's response to Sime Need, alas, is not a Donor's.

Bibi maintains a ~~ neutral ~~ showfield that will interact only minimally with Gegg's field, hoping he won't be affected.

Gegg whirls to face the darkened corner of the veranda, flaring ~~ fear ~~ as he feels once more a sensation he's spent most of his adult life trying to forget.

Gegg: Wh-wh-who's there?

Bibi: It's me, Bibi. Don't be alarmed. I'm just sitting here drinking tea.

Gegg's personal preference, in a machismo-free world, would be to bolt down the stairs, and put some distance between himself and the Sime. His society, alas, values "manliness" above prudence, and so he does nothing of the sort.

Bibi would prefer that Gegg bolted well out of zlinning range for her own comfort, but there are other factors to consider.

Gegg forces himself to move a step closer to Bibi, peering through the shadows to try to make her out visually. He finds himself unaccountably sure where she is, and assumes wrongly that he's orienting on her voice.

Gegg: Shouldn't you be sleeping?

Bibi is wearing a pink flannel nightgown and her robe is a pink, white and pale blue print with little rosebuds.

Bibi: Simes don't sleep as much as Gens do. I'm often up before anyone else.

Gegg: Are you all right? You sound... different.

Gegg isn't responding to Bibi's voice at all, but he doesn't have words for what he's feeling.

Bibi: Yes, I'm well. Are you looking for the outhouse? It's straight down the path, behind the lilac hedge there.

Gegg: Er... right. Thank you.

Bibi can zlin Gegg's full bladder. Incidentally, this is not the same lilac hedge that Bibi and Seruffin enjoyed in bloom earlier this summer.

Gegg edges down the stairs sideways, so that he can keep an eye on Bibi. Somehow, she seems more threatening than she ever has before. He then turns and trots briskly down the path, telling himself that he's running towards the outhouse, not away from Bibi, and is therefore perfectly manly.

Bibi goes into the house and brings out another tea cup. She puts the cup and pot on a table near the door and resumes her seat at the far end of the porch.

Gegg finds this reasoning less applicable on his return a few minutes later. He forces himself to walk steadily back towards the porch, as there is no credible reason for him to walk around the Center and enter by the front door to avoid Bibi, much as he would like to.

Bibi, in her stressed condition, falls back on the traditions of her out-T childhood, offering refreshments in any social situation.

Gegg makes himself climb the steps to the veranda, wondering why he is suddenly feeling like he's walking into a trap, of the sort he barely escaped before.

Bibi's heart sinks as she zlins her effect on Gegg, but hopes to make things seem more normal for him.

Bibi: Would you like some peppermint tea? I've put the pot and a cup on the table by the door.

Gegg: Er...

Bibi: If it's too cool for you out here, feel free to take it back inside.

Gegg had been planning a quick escape, but there doesn't seem a polite way to refuse the refreshments.

Bibi wants to offer a face-saving excuse for escape.

Gegg has never been that sensible, alas, and besides, only wimps plead bad weather and huddle inside.

Gegg: It's not cold. In fact, it's probably going to be a fine morning.

Gegg takes a step or two closer, until he can pour himself a cup of the tea. He can't understand why he's suddenly afraid of (well, more afraid of) the woman who just saved his son's life.

Gegg sees no logical reason to feel ~~ threatened ~~ by Bibi, and so he sits down on the swing, trying to pretend that he doesn't feel threatened at all.

Bibi finds the way Gegg's field keeps reaching for her, intensifying the effect of his fear, very unpleasant, but there doesn't seem to be any way she can block the interaction completely.

Gegg: I didn't have a chance to say it before, but thank you. For keeping my son alive.

Bibi: You're welcome. I'm so glad you made it possible. The world needs every channel it can get. And Mik's a fine young man, with a long rewarding life ahead of him now.

Gegg: Yes. Even if we can't share it with him.

Bibi: You can write, and your wife and daughter can visit him in-T. Perhaps some time he'll be stationed out here and you can visit him then.

Gegg: What's the chances of that, really?

Bibi: Well, it won't be for several years at least. He'll be in full time training for a year and after that he'll be developing his skills for some time. But once he's fully trained, if he wants to work out-T, he should be able to, at least in one of the larger Sime Centers. Few channels want to work out here, so it's not hard to get a placement if you want one.

Gegg: It's a hardship post? Well, I can see that it might be.

Bibi is relieved that Gegg's fear is diminished while he thinks about his son's future.

Gegg: I wouldn't want him to feel he had to take a bad posting just to see his father.

Gegg doesn't say "his coward of a father", but the implication is there.

Bibi: It's hard on people who were raised in-T to adapt to life out here, but for him, as for me, it's going back to the culture we grew up in, helping to prevent the tragedies we saw as children, helping other children not have to fear the future as we did.

Gegg: It might be better for him to just forget Gumgeeville, and live in his new world.

Bibi: It's a decision some make. My family disowned me completely when I changed over. Mik won't have to suffer that.

Gegg: No. No, he won't. Although I suppose Sanda'll get the farm, now. It doesn't make much sense to give it to Mik, like we'd planned, now.

Bibi: You still have many years ahead of you, and next winter you'll have two more children to raise.

Gegg: At least Sanda and Toria will be able to visit Mik, when Toria can travel. I don't suppose...

Gegg's ~~ fear and self-hatred ~~ flare again, mixed with a ~~ bittersweet longing ~~

Gegg: Well, how sure are you that I could never donate?

Bibi: It's possible that you might be able to overcome your Simephobia. You're a man of great courage. Mik was very moved that you rushed here to see him while he was in changeover.

Gegg's hands tighten on his teacup at her words.

Gegg: Overcome? How? I've been trying to overcome it for almost twenty years.

Bibi: There are some techniques, but I'm not trained in applying them. For someone who's suffered what you have, it could be a long difficult process.

Gegg thinks this sounds ~~ ominous ~~

Gegg: What... what kind of techniques?

Bibi: They would teach you to relax, and then expose you to what you fear in small safe doses. For example, give you pictures of Simes to look at, until you can do so and still relax.

Gegg: And then?

Gegg is pretty sure that looking at a few pictures wouldn't do the trick, in itself.

Bibi: Again, I don't know the details, but the next step might be to watch some Simes through a window until you can relax doing that. Other steps might be to be in the same room as Simes without being near them. Eventually, you might be able to relax while holding a Sime's hands, and so forth.

Gegg: That would be difficult, I think. There's something about being close to a Sime that, well, brings it all back.

Bibi: Yes, I understand. But you're not as nervous now as you were when you first sat down here, so you can imagine how it would work. As I said, it can be a slow process.

Gegg: But you said you can't do this?

Bibi: I'm not qualified now, but I can look into how I can learn the techniques, if you think you might be interested. It might be possible to bring an expert out here to talk to you and advise me.

Gegg: I won't lie. If it weren't for Mik, I wouldn't even consider it. But I'd like to be able to hug my son once more.

Bibi: Mr. Gegg, I wish you could feel how much I admire your courage and your devotion to your children.

Bibi is completely sincere. If she weren't in such desperate hard need, there would be tears in her eyes.

Gegg looks towards Bibi again, noticing that he can make out her face now, as the dawn approaches.

Bibi looks ten years older than she usually does. Her face is strained with need. Her pink night clothes and knitted slippers with pompons on the toes might mitigate her appearance, making her look more harmless.

Gegg: Are you sure you're all right? You look hungry. No.

Gegg's eyes widen with ~~ alarm ~~

Gegg: You feel hungry.

Gegg tries very, very hard not to remember the last time he felt that sort of hunger.

Bibi: I'm sorry, Mr. Gegg, your field is interacting with mine. That's why you feel that alarm and fear.

Gegg: Interacting with...

Gegg puts two and two together.

Gegg: Mik took your Donor. That means you're still in need, doesn't it? And there isn't another Donor, is there?

Bibi: My Controller will be sending someone here. He should arrive soon.

Gegg is sitting ~~ tensely ~~, having learned the hard way that he can't outrun a Sime.

Bibi cringes internally, now that Gegg is radiating his fear at her at the original intensity.

Gegg: If you told him when Mik went into changeover... that's at least a couple of days of travel, even if the new Donor left immediately.

Bibi: Yes, but I'm not due for transfer for some time yet, and there are techniques I can use to hold off my need for transfer for weeks if necessary.

Bibi sees no point in specifying 'some time yet' as 'half a day', nor describing what kind of non-working condition she'll be in after even a week on shunts.

Gegg: For weeks? I thought Simes died in a week or so, after they go into need?

Bibi: Yes, but channels have a secondary system, and our Donors can help us access the selyn there for our own use.

Bibi is surprised that she can speak so calmly, but as long as Gegg is asking questions and listening, he isn't blasting her with fear, so she's being positively reinforced.

Gegg: You have enough selyn to last for weeks, already?

Bibi: Yes, from the donors.

Gegg: But you have to get it from them first, right?

Gegg can't control a frisson of ~~ fear ~~ at the mention of that particular process.

Gegg: While you're... like that.

Bibi, to her alarm, and for the first time in her life, finds a Gen's fear very slightly attractive. She's appalled.

Bibi: Don't worry, I don't have to frighten anyone. I've got quite a lot in store already, and should I require more, I can draw from Nattin and Ghan, experienced donors who understand the situation.

Bibi forces a smile.

Gegg: They would let you...? While you're....?

Bibi: Of course. A Tecton channel can always be trusted. And they're my friends, too. They care about me.

Gegg: Everybody has a breaking point. Even a Tecton channel must.

Bibi: Yes, but I won't reach it. My Donor will be here soon enough, and Cristal can help me use the selyn I have in my secondary. So I won't end up in the kind of dire straits you imagine.

Gegg: I hope not.

Gegg is ~~ completely sincere ~~

Gegg: It would be a poor reward for what you did for Mik.

Bibi manages a more natural smile this time.

Bibi: The possibility of this sort of situation is one of the reasons most channels don't want to work out-T, especially in a very small Sime Center like this one.

Gegg: I can see that.

Bibi: But channels are so very rare, so very precious, that this sort of situation is very unusual.

Gegg can think of a few other reasons why the Tecton might want to make sure that their channels got Donors on time, but doesn't see any point in enumerating them.

Bibi: Don't worry. Things will work out. The important thing is that Mik had an excellent First Transfer, and none of us have to worry about his changeover any more.

Gegg: I suppose.

Gegg would gladly have been left wondering if Mik would go into changeover, rather than have to face the fact that he has, in actuality gone through it.

Bibi is surprised that she can generate such Pollyannaish talk despite the way the back of her brain is muttering "do something, do something, do something".

Gegg: It'll take some getting used to, not having him here.

Bibi: Yes.

Gegg: Even while he was here, not in Gumgeeville, I knew he was still in reach.

Bibi: It was good for him, the way you kept visiting him. He really appreciated that.

Gegg: Now... I couldn't even get past the border to see him. At least, if they really do make you donate first? ~~ anxiety ~~

Bibi: Mr. Gegg, you'd make a lot of people very uncomfortable if you were to go in-T without donating.

Gegg: And more than uncomfortable, for some of them?

Bibi: Most Simes would avoid you. They'd leave as soon as they zlinned your fear.

Bibi smiles.

Bibi: You'd always get a seat on the trolley.

Gegg isn't sure he could make himself get onto a trolley that had any appreciable number of Simes on it.

Gegg smiles weakly.

Bibi figures that any trolley Gegg got onto highfield would rapidly have no Simes at all on it. His Donor-talented nager has a lot more punch than the average Gen's.

Gegg: So unless I do this treatment of yours, I'd better stay on this side of the border, so I don't completely disrupt the economy of Simeland?

Bibi: Yes, I think that would be best for all concerned.

Gegg: What you said... It makes me wish there were some way to, well, just get it over with.

Bibi wonders if it would be worthwhile to take a bit of a risk, strike while the iron is hot... Can she trust her judgment in this condition?

Bibi offers her hand, palm down, to Gegg. It's well out of his reach. He'll have to get up to touch it.

Bibi: Do you think you can touch my hand, Mr. Gegg?

Gegg has learned, through hard experience, that he can force himself to do a lot of things that scare him silly, although the one time he tried to make himself donate proved an exception. He surveys the situation, noting that Bibi's tentacles are retracted under the pink bathrobe.

Gegg recalls what Bibi said about the treatment for Simephobia being a slow, gradual process, and decides that she's testing him to see if he can skip the first few steps.

Gegg thinks about the time this could save him, if it could lessen the number of trips to the Ford he'd have to schedule somehow. He translates this into a shorter time until he can see Mik again, and resolves to prove, for once in his life, that he isn't quite a chicken as his Army superiors believed.

Bibi stays very still, hoping this will work out. Gegg's determination is outweighing his fear.

Gegg puts his tea down, slopping a little over the rim as his hand shakes. He scoots to the other side of the porch swing, closer to Bibi. He finds that his response to her Simeness is stronger, this close to her, and fights the impulse to retreat.

Gegg inspects Bibi's offered hand once more, but there are still no tentacles in sight. He tries very hard to convince himself that it wouldn't be any different than touching a Gen's hand.

Gegg has been lying to himself on the subject of Simes for almost two decades, and he's gotten pretty good at it with such practice.

Gegg tries to swallow, but his mouth is dry. His hand reaches slowly towards Bibi's, or at least its somewhat erratic course has that general direction.

Bibi holds her hand still, and tries not to show any reaction to the emotional turmoil Gegg is projecting at her.

Gegg can hear his own heart beating madly, as his hand gets closer. His hand stops a foot away from Bibi's, shaking as it attempts to respond to wildly conflicting signals. His borrowed night wear is soaked with sweat, despite the cool morning.

Gegg sees himself being forced by his ~~ fear ~~ (or cowardice) to back down once again, and in a fit of ~~ anger ~~ at his own failings, momentarily gets conscious control of his hand back. He makes it reach out and rest lightly on Bibi's.

Bibi: Thank you. For showing you trust me.

Gegg's body is painfully tense, as the rest of him is trying to leap away. He's feeling a great many things, but ~~ trust ~~ isn't one of them.

Bibi is immensely relieved that Gegg managed it. She withdraws her hand.

Gegg scoots back to the far end of the porch swing with undignified haste. He's breathing hard, and shaking with reaction.

Gegg: You... you're welcome.

Gegg's voice is a harsh croak.

Bibi wishes intensely that there was some way she could comfort Gegg nagerically.

Gegg is wishing that it was a year ago, when his son was still a child, and the Sime Center was just a building in Hannard's Ford that he'd never considered approaching. He's well aware that Mik would be dead, if he hadn't made it to the Sime Center, but it was sure simpler to function in a basically Sime-free world.

Bibi hears Gitl moving around in the kitchen, firing up the stove and starting breakfast.

Jed comes down the stairs and heads for the back door on his way to the outhouse. He's ~~ surprised ~~ to see Gegg, looking rather gray, when he opens the veranda door.

Gegg's head jerks around, almost quickly enough to give him whiplash, then he ~~ relaxes ~~ a bit as he sees it's only Jed.

Jed: Hey, Gegg, up early, eh? Good morning, Hajene Bibi.

Bibi: Good morning, Mr.Mullins.

Gegg: Jed. Good morning.

Jed studies his friend and wonders whether something else has happened, or he's just distressed over his son.

Gegg is still breathing hard, as if he's been exercising, and his shirt is damp with fear-sweat. His voice was a bit unsteady, as well.

Bibi gets up slowly and carefully.

Bibi: I better go back in and get dressed, gentlemen.

Gegg tenses at Bibi's movement, which brings her nager closer to his, but stays seated.

Bibi heads for the door, skirting the railing, staying as far from Gegg as possible and moving with Gen-like slowness.

Bibi: Breakfast should be ready in less than an hour.

Jed: Bart says the food here is great, Gegg.

Jed is still studying Gegg, wondering if just being on the veranda with Bibi was this stressful, and if so, why Gegg stayed there.

Bibi: Yes, Gitl's a wonderful cook. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Gegg finds himself leaning away from Bibi, and tries to cover with a pretense of interest in food.

Gegg: The leftovers last night were all right.

Bibi goes into the common room, and away from her guests resumes the fast and effortless gait of the Sime as she goes up the stairs to her room.

Jed: You okay, Gegg?

Gegg ~~ relaxes ~~ at last, as the feeling of ~~ Sime hunger ~~ fades from his perception.

Gegg: Yeah. I'll live.

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