Bernia huddles against the window of the train, glad that Sanda is occupying the aisle portion of the bench, between Bernia and Toria's eagle eye.
Bernia has managed to keep up some semblance of her normal behavior, but has been finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on school gossip the nearer they get to the Ford. Her arms are aching worse than ever, under her sleeves, and there's a gnawing pain behind her belly button that comes and goes, but mostly comes.
Sanda has been acting normal, too, with the emphasis on "acting".
Toria knows there's something going on she doesn't know about, but is not too worried -- teenage conspiracies are well within her scope.
Sanda is feeling increasingly heroic that she's going to save Bernia's life by getting her to the Ford. She's been developing a series of cover stories just in case: e.g. if Bernia throws up, she'll tell Toria that Bernia is motion sick.
Bernia absentmindedly nods agreement to Sanda's latest revelation, without really hearing it.
Bernia: Sanda, [whispered] it just occurred to me. Turning Sime would mean I'd never go back to our school.
Bernia finds the idea ~~ frightening ~~. Her hands clench into fists -- again -- sending a renewed burst of pain up her arms.
Sanda: Um, yeah. But you'd get to go to school in Simeland and meet a lot of other kids. Um, Sime kids.
Bernia: But Sanda, I don't like Simes. They scare me, with those snakey things on their arms and all.
Sanda is a little nervous about the way Bernia is clenching her fists, after reading Mik's changeover booklets.
Bernia: And they way they can move, faster than a person can really see them coming.
Sanda figures she'll be tactful and not point out that if Bernia changes over she'll be just as fast. And as tentacled.
Sanda: Well, you won't be scared of Hajene Bibi. She's really nice. And she's just gorgeous too. She looks like Hyacinthe in the book.
Bernia: Hyacinthe didn't have tentacles.
Sanda: Well, Hajene Bibi keeps them in except when she's using them, so it's not like she looks weird or anything.
Toria figures that's mostly for the benefit of Gen visitors, and that tentacles would be too useful to keep them in all the time.
Bernia rubs her lower abdomen.
Bernia: This hurts.
Sanda: We're almost there. See that barn painted yellow? It's just outside of town.
Bernia is simultaneously ~~ relieved ~~ and ~~ scared silly ~~.
Bernia is struck by the thought that her childhood will officially end when they get to this Sime Center.
Bernia: Sanda, I'm not ready to be a grownup yet. Especially not a Sime one.
Sanda: Hey, it's not so bad. I'm a grown-up. A Gen one.
Bernia: Yeah, but apart from donating, your life hasn't really changed much. You've still got years before the law considers you a grownup, no matter how much stuff you produce.
Sanda: Well, yeah, but in-T I'd be a real adult.
Sanda braces herself as the train slows coming around the last curve before the station.
Bernia: But you don't have to go into Sime Territory.
Sanda: I wish I could, like Mik will be soon. I bet it's really great there.
Sanda thinks being regarded as a real adult has lots of advantages. The disadvantages are much less apparent.
Bernia shudders miserably.
Bernia: Simes all over the place. It sounds awful.
Sanda: I think it sounds interesting. I hope I can go visit Mik there some time.
Bernia: It's too bad you couldn't be the Sime, if it had to happen to one of us. You'd find it an adventure.
Sanda: Well, it happened to Ukoh, too. I wonder if he'll get to be a blacksmith there too, like his dad wanted him to be.
Bernia: Simes have blacksmiths?
Toria's attention is caught by this remark.
Toria: Of course they do, child. All the jobs we have here, they have there. Only not so many farmers, of course.
Bernia: There wouldn't have to be, right? Simes live on, well, people.
Bernia can't help thinking that before long, she's going to be living off people, as well.
Toria: Well, the Gens have to eat food there as much as here.
Sanda: Simes eat too, just not as much as Gens do.
Bernia: Are there a lot of Gens in Simeland?
Bernia hopes so, it will make the place more homelike.
Sanda: The book says about as many as there are Simes. And lots of kids, too, of course.
Toria, as a small-town type, isn't really aware of the differences between in-T and out-T science and technology.
Bernia winces as the train comes to a halt with a prolonged screech that makes her belly knot up in protest.
Toria: All right, get all your things together, and let's go. Don't get separated from me, and don't leave anything behind, even if you are done with it.
Bernia: Yes, Miz Gegg.
Sanda: Yeah, mom.
Bernia's parents were more successful than the Geggs at browbeating their daughter into unquestioning obedience.
Sanda thinks that in Simeland her mother wouldn't treat her as a child all the time.
Toria leads the way out of the compartment to the door where the steps are set up.
Bernia follows Sanda, hoping that Toria won't notice how sick she feels. She's glad that at least she hasn't started throwing up yet: it's yucky, and hard to hide.
Sanda hopes Hajene Bibi will praise her in front of her mother for saving Bernia so she won't get into trouble again over doing another heroic deed.
Bernia is not at all eager to meet Hajene Bibi, even though Sanda likes her. She's lived her full thirteen years without meeting a Sime face to face, and would gladly continue on that way.
Toria dismounts from the train and heads off for the Sime Center, taking it for granted that the children are following.
Bernia doesn't dare hang back, as she would like to.
Sanda hopes Bernia isn't too sick to keep up, and keeps an eye on her.
Sanda: I bet Mik will be real glad to see us, eh, mom?
Toria: [absently] Of course he will, Sanda.
Sanda: Or zlin us, I guess.
Bernia: It's weird, thinking about your brother being a Sime, Sanda.
Sanda: He's a channel too. That's even better!.
Bernia: I guess channels are pretty important, in Simeland, aren't they?
Sanda: They sure are. Even more important than doctors here. Everybody will call him Hajene and he'll get paid a lot of money, too.
Bernia: Do you think he'll send any of it to you?
Sanda: I guess some, once he gets out of channel school and starts working.
Bernia: Is it much farther?
Toria: No, Bernia, just a little bit further.
Toria points out the Sime Center with one finger.
Bernia is looking more than a little pale, and there are dark circles under her eyes. She looks at the old farmhouse ~~ curiously ~~
Bernia: It looks, well, ... ordinary.
Bernia: I'd heard Simeland buildings were different.
Toria: This is just some ordinary building or other that the Simes bought.
Bernia: I'm surprised they could find someone willing to sell to them.
Toria: All money is the same color, after all.
Bernia: Well, I guess they could send a Gen out to buy it.
Toria: Doubtless. Now Bernia, I know your parents agreed to this trip, but I don't think, knowing Bil and Shel, that they would have agreed to letting you go into the Sime Center, which after all is part of Simeland.
Bernia notes the "Sime Territory" sign posted on the gate.
Bernia shoots a frantic look at Sanda.
Sanda: We can't just leave her out here on the road, mom!
Bernia: There's not even a bench out here.
Toria: [firmly] I'm sure we can get a chair brought out for a few minutes.
Sanda: Aren't we going to see Mik for more than a few minutes?
Toria: That will depend on how he's feeling, Sanda.
Bernia wasn't looking forward to meeting the Simes, but she didn't come all this way to still end up killing someone.
Sanda slaps her own knee.
Sanda: Gee, there's lots of mosquitoes around here.
Bernia rolls her eyes, well aware that mosquitoes won't be swarming until dusk.
Sanda shoots Bernia a look. She's already told her that as soon as Bibi zlins her, she'll know what's happening, so she just has to get within zlinning range.
Toria ignores this daughterly irrelevancy.
Toria: Sanda, stay with Bernia. I'll go inside to get a chair for her.
Sanda wishes Bernia were better at picking up cues.
Sanda: Didn't you say you were getting allergic to mosquito bites, Bernia?
Toria pays no attention to this -- allergic to skeeters indeed! -- and opens the gate to let herself in.
Bernia looks at Sanda.
Bernia: [whispered] I don't think she's going to let me go in, Sanda.
Toria closes the gate and walks up the path to the donor entrance.
Toria: Hello the house!
Nattin pokes his head out the door.
Sanda: Oh, good. That's Mr. Nattin.
Nattin is ~~ relieved ~~ to see that it's not another donor, or worse yet, changeover victim.
Nattin: Miz Gegg. Welcome.
Sanda: Look, Bernia, after we go in, you go tell him what's happening. He'll know what to do, okay?
Bernia: All right.
Toria: Hello, Mr. Nattin. I have my daughter Sanda here with me to see Mik, and one of her friends, but I don't think the other girl should be coming in your gate. You understand.
Bernia thinks that the elderly, very Gen Nattin looks a lot less scary than any Sime would be.
Toria: Could you arrange for a chair out here, or a bench perhaps?
Nattin: Certainly. Given recent events, I'd rather not create a controversy where it's not necessary.
Sanda starts gesturing so Nattin, but not her mother, can see her. She points to Bernia and makes tentacle-like motions around her own arms.
Nattin misunderstands this to mean "My friend wants to see a Sime", and shakes his head.
Toria looks at Nattin inquiringly.
Toria: Something wrong?
Nattin thinks that quite a lot of things have gone wrong in the past few days.
Sanda points to Bernia again and does the hand-clenching thing from the diagram about breakout in the changeover booklet.
Nattin: It's not important. If you and your daughter will come inside, I believe young Mik would like to see you very much. Your husband, as well.
Toria has managed to put Gegg out of her mind until now.
Nattin: I'll send out a chair in a moment.
Toria: Thank you. [turning around] Sanda! Come.
Sanda: Bernia, once you're inside the gate, you're an adult if you're in changeover, so you can do it, right? Just go in.
Sanda stares at her friend, trying to project some assertiveness into her.
Bernia looks scared, but nods.
Sanda: Good. See you soon.
Sanda trots over to the porch and in, following her mother.
Bernia looks after her friend, feeling very much ~~ alone ~~
Nattin escorts Toria and Sanda into the depths of the Sime Center.
Sanda hopes she can tell Nattin about Bernia without her mother hearing.
Bernia waits until the door closes, and counts slowly to fifty. She then slips through the gate and starts making her way around to the back of the Center, using the shrubbery as much as she can to hide herself from prying eyes. She hopes that by going in the back door, she can avoid Toria's eagle eye for long enough to make the bad news official.
Driver is trimming the shrubbery using two pairs of clippers at the same time. Ambidexterity is soooo useful. He has been zlinning the child as she carefully (for a local) hugs the outside fence. He wonders why she doesn't just walk in the front door -- after all, everywhere inside the fence is equally Sime Territory.
Bernia is ~~ frightened ~~ about getting caught by Toria, mission unaccomplished.
Driver: [to himself] Perhaps it's a dare of some sort. If she has to make it all the way around without being caught, that would account for the fear.
Driver spends most of his chore time alone, and has fallen into the habit of talking to himself. He is young enough to hope the girl -- he can make that out clearly enough -- succeeds in her dare, if that's what it is.
Bernia throws a glance at the building, then scampers to the next tree on her route. She pauses to pant a moment, and thinks to look the other direction. She hears the snicking of clippers, and spots a gardener. She starts in ~~ fright ~~
Driver twitches a bit, but attempts to suppress his natural Sime reactions.
Bernia bolts for the rear of the Sime Center, forgetting Toria in the face of this more proximal danger.
Bibi is half-reclining in Cristal's arms on the porch swing as he works to help her recover from the morning's crop of donors, would-be donors, berserkers and bearers of very bad news.
Cristal has probably never attempted anything so difficult under such unpromising conditions. He's attempting to make up in professionalism and enthusiasm for what he currently lacks in nageric power.
Bibi is trying to cooperate, and to at least appear calm and polite, while the Sime in hard need in her wants to fling this useless depleted Gen off the porch, and hunt.
Cristal: ~~ reassurance competence affection ~~
Bibi: Nattin says he sent a telegram to Seruffin too, yesterday.
Cristal raises one eyebrow while keeping his field, what there is of it, rock-steady.
Bibi: So maybe he'll come here and help me.
Cristal doesn't think it any too likely, but tries to radiate ~~ optimism ~~ anyway.
Bibi forces a smile of appreciation for Cristal's effort.
Bibi: It's been a hard day, but I'm not even overdue for transfer yet. I'll be okay.
Cristal: ~~ support comfort ~~ Of course you will. All this will work out.
Bibi: Thank you, Cristal. I know you're doing your best for me.
Bibi doesn't say anything about just how little good his best can do, when what she really needs is the presence of a replete Donor to reassure her at an instinctive level that she's safe from impending attrition.
Bibi: Daffodil... I wonder what her parents will do. They've never been in here.
Cristal is glad that Bibi's able to discuss something besides her own need.
Cristal: Short of organizing a pogrom, I don't think there's much they'll be able to do.
Bibi doesn't groan at Cristal's tactless pessimism.
Bibi: I wonder if they'll decide to see her. Some do, after it happens.
Cristal: [soothingly] Maybe so.
Bibi suddenly releases her tentacle contact with Cristal's arms and sits up alertly. She almost, but doesn't, go hyperconscious as she zlins a weak Gen nager laced with fear approaching.
Bernia has made it around the corner of the house, but quickly ducks behind a shrub, peering ~~ anxiously ~~ behind her to see if Driver is in pursuit.
Bibi has no trouble zlinning through bushes. She figures it's another kid sneaking in to find out if she's established and tries to compose herself, tentacles concealed, to be friendly, helpful and Gen-like.
Cristal: ~~ maximum support he's currently capable of ~~
Bibi: Newly established Gen, fear and pain, behind that bush, Cristal.
Bernia hears a murmuring voice, and whirls with a ~~ gasp ~~
Cristal gets up and stands between the bush and Bibi, hoping the nageric balance is still in his favor.
Bibi: It's okay. You can come out. Nobody will harm you here.
Bernia sees Cristal, and Bibi, whose arms are, alas, uncovered.
Bibi: Did you come to find out if you're safe? You are. You're just establishing as a Gen.
Bernia cowers, then steps from behind her shrubbery, ~~ confused ~~
Bernia: But my arms hurt. And my stomach. Just like Sanda's book said.
Cristal moves appropriately to shield Bibi.
Bibi: Did you come here with Sanda? Are you from Gumgeeville then?
Bernia: Yes. I'm Bernia, and Sanda's a friend of mine. We both thought I was in changeover.
Bernia is a little bit in ~~ shock ~~, finding out that it was unnecessary to come to the Ford, after all.
Bibi: It was very courageous of you to come here. No one should take chances with changeover. You did well.
Bernia edges a little bit closer, looking at Bibi closely.
Bernia: I don't think you look that much like Hyacinthe.
Cristal: ~~ confusion ~~
Bibi: Who's Hyacinthe? ~~ puzzled ~~
Bibi looks at least ten years more careworn than she did last week.
Bernia: She's in a book we both like.
Bibi: I see.
Bibi imagines the kind of book, combined with Sanda's reaction to her looks.
Cristal remains confused.
Bibi: Would you like to sit on the porch with us? I can tell you aren't feeling well.
Bibi signals to Cristal to stay very close, although she doesn't expect the girl to panic.
Cristal sits down right next to Bibi again, abandoning his attempts to block Bernia's nager.
Bernia starts at Bibi's deft hand movement, and feels a wet spot spreading in her underwear.
Bibi: I'm Hajene Bibi and this is Sosu Cristal.
Bernia is ~~ mortified ~~ at the thought that she's lost bladder control.
Bernia: Pleased to meet you.
Bernia is more wary than pleased, but she was brought up to show good manners.
Bibi, now that Cristal is no longer blocking Bernia's nager from her, can zlin what's causing the abdominal pain.
Bernia cautiously climbs the steps to the porch and takes a very welcome seat on the seat farthest from the swing.
Bernia: I guess I am sick, then.
Bibi: The reason your stomach hurts is because you're getting the Blessing.
Bernia: The Blessing?
Bernia thinks it feels more like a curse, just now.
Bibi: Yes. We have a nice Gen lady working here. She has a daughter about your age. Her name is Miz Gitl. We can ask her to help you, show you what to do, okay?
Bernia: ... Okay.
Bibi: I don't know why your arms hurt. Have you been doing something to strain them lately?
Bernia: Not really. Unless it was knitting?
Bibi: Were you doing more knitting than usual?
Bernia: I couldn't sleep last night, thinking about Ukoh. So I knitted on my comforter.
Bernia thinks it provided scant comfort.
Bibi: That's a lot of knitting. Ukoh is all right, you know. He's a Sime now, but he didn't kill anybody and he never will. He'll go to Nivet, and have a life much like the one he'd have had if he'd turned Gen and stayed here.
Bibi isn't going to say anything about just how near a thing it was that Ukoh didn't kill.
Bernia: Ukoh's dad isn't going to be happy about what Mr. Mullins did.
Bibi: Do you think he'd be happier if Ukoh killed somebody, or if he'd had to shoot him?
Bernia: Well, he wouldn't want his son to kill, but he's awful traditional. Now Ukoh has tentacles, he's, well, damned.
Cristal: What a very unfortunate attitude.
Bibi: Not all churches believe that way. Many people at the Ford here believe that God gave us channels to prevent killing, and a Sime who doesn't kill is no more damned than a Gen.
Bernia: Maybe. But Ukoh's church believes that a child dies human, if he dies before the tentacles come out. Afterwards, he can't be buried on church grounds, or be mourned, or anything.
Cristal, hearing this, finds much of his old prejudice against out-T reviving, but he says nothing further.
Bibi: Ukoh is a man now, and an adult can choose which beliefs make sense to him. He can find a church that will regard him as human, and respect him for trying his best to live a good life.
Bernia can't imagine a church that would accept a Sime as a member.
Cristal: Perhaps that Church of Unity that Sosu Gerrhonot's family belongs to.
Bernia: Do you really think that Ukoh's dad is gonna be happy that his son can now join some fringe church with strange doctrines?
Bibi: I hope he'll someday come to be happy that his son is alive and living a good life, even though he's Sime. I hope he'll be glad that he didn't take that life away from him.
Cristal: Most people in Sime Territory aren't religious at all.
Bernia: Well, it stands to reason, doesn't it?
Bernia has been raised to believe that the function of religion is to wipe out the spiritual taints that bring Simeness. She can't see any reason for Simes to worry about that.
Cristal: Why do you say that?
Cristal knows it's a long-standing mystery exactly why Sime cultures are so generally free of supernaturalism.
Bernia: Churches are supposed to protect us from Simes, of course.
Cristal chuckles softly.
Cristal: If so, they don't seem to be very effective at it. Or I never heard that religious families had less than one Sime child out of three!
Bernia: No, that's not true. They have fewer Simes, if the children believe.
Bernia's definition of "Sime" doesn't include changeover victims shot before breakout.
Cristal: [patronizingly] Well, I won't argue with you, especially when you're not feeling well.
Bibi: Cristal, will you take Bernia inside and introduce her to Gitl? I can hear her in the kitchen now.
Cristal is a little reluctant to leave Bibi -- who knows who or what may appear from the shrubbery next? -- but decides to obey.
Cristal: Of course. If you'll follow me, Bernia?
Bernia stands and follows Cristal into the Sime Center, edging sideways to keep Bibi in sight, just in case.
Bibi has a sudden dark thought about how millions of newly established girls like Bernia were used up as kills until so very recently, and is appalled at the waste. They could have produced selyn for decades. She waits tensely for Cristal's return.
Cristal introduces Bernia to Gitl, and explains what she needs in typically explicit in-T language, leaving them both shocked (and him as oblivious as ever).
Cristal returns to Bibi's side in the swing and wraps his arms around her ~~ comfort safety ~~
Bibi snuggles close, thinking "my Gen, replete or not".