Toria climbs the stairs from the basement with Sanda following. She has mixed feelings, to say the least, about her encounter with her son. It's one thing to accept intellectually that Simes are really human, quite another to not merely imagine but actually see her own son as a Sime.
Sanda thought it was weird to see tentacles on her brother's arms, but she'd gotten pretty enthusiastic about the idea of him being a channel over the past few months, and he did look a lot less stressed out than he was before he changed over.
Gegg is pacing the hallway, half wishing that he was down visiting his son with the rest of the family, and half (shamefully) glad that he's at a safe distance. He just hopes that Mik won't take his absence as a personal rejection.
Sanda wishes she had had a chance to really grill Mik about what it feels like and get to examine his tentacles and all, but she wasn't given the opportunity.
Toria is glad, in any case, that she can put the question of Mik and his welfare behind her, at least in a practical sense. From now on, he's the Tecton's problem.
Gegg is feeling ~~ guilty ~~ about his inability to cope with Simes, and is also starting to ~~ worry ~~ about what Toria will say. He did, after all, skip out on the first train to the Ford without consulting his family.
Toria reflects that Gegg is her problem, on the other hand.
Toria and Sanda reach the top of the stairway and spot Gegg's hangdog look.
Gegg looks up.
Gegg: How's Mik doing?
Toria: [coldly] They tell me he'll do fine.
Gegg: How's he taking it?
Toria: How would you think he's taking it?
Gegg: Better than me, I sincerely hope.
Gegg essays a weak smile.
Toria: That goes without saying.
Toria is determined that Gegg find his own clue this time.
Gegg: They did let me see him, before....
Gegg can't make himself say it.
Gegg: Well, before the end. But Bibi said I shouldn't try to see him without her there, and she's been too busy today.
Toria: [dismissively] In any case, Mik's fate is out of our hands now.
Gegg's face twists as he tries to hold back tears.
Toria takes a deep breath and feels her steel-hard facade beginning to dissolve at this sign of genuine feeling from Gegg.
Sanda is amazed, then sympathetic. She's never seen her father cry. He must really love Mik.
Toria, not without trepidation, breaks the habit of many years and stretches out her arms to Gegg.
Gegg's culture's Code Of Male Conduct doesn't allow him to ask for comfort, but offering it to his wife is allowed. He takes Toria in his arms and holds her close, hiding his head in her hair so no one can see the tear trickling down his cheek.
Toria wraps her arms around Gegg's back.
Toria: [murmuring] There, there. It'll be all right. It'll be all right.
Gegg: Toria, he's still our Mik, but we're going to lose him anyway. He's too young to be on his own.
Toria: [still softly] He won't be on his own. You know they'll take good care of him.
Gegg: And if they don't? We won't be able to help him, Toria. Not even the way we could rely on help from our parents, when we left home to marry.
Toria: They will, they will. He's too valuable to them -- to all of us, really.
Gegg: They'll try, I hope, but... accidents happen. Just like they've happened to...
Gegg breaks off, looking at Sanda.
Sanda, for once, has the sense not to start arguing again about the whole thing with Hajene Marvin.
Toria: Oh, silly Gegg... The biggest "accident" that could have happened to him, or to this family, already didn't.
Toria releases her hold on Gegg slightly.
Toria: Let's find a more private place to discuss it, hmmmm? Heaven knows this building is plenty big enough. Sanda, find something to do where you won't cause any trouble, like going to sit with Bernia.
Toria is careful not to actually order Sanda to do so.
Sanda: Um, sure, mom.
Gegg: There are cookies and tea in the reception area. A chocolate cake, too. Maybe you could take some out to Bernia?
Sanda wonders where Bernia is. She said she'd come inside. Somebody must be looking after her already.
Sanda: Hey, great!
Gegg: Toria, why don't we go out into the garden?
Sanda hopes they stay out of sight of the front gate.
Toria: Lead on.
Gegg leads Toria out through the kitchen, unaware that Bernia is in the adjoining pantry. He's not comfortable on the veranda, after his confrontation with Bibi that morning, and so he heads for the bench under the lilacs.
Toria breathes in the scent of roses from the nearby trellis and releases another half-dozen notches of the tension she's been holding for the past several years. She reaches out for Gegg's hand and clasps it firmly.
Gegg takes a good look around, to make sure that none of the Simes among the staff are too nearby, then sits.
Toria sits down too and clasps Gegg's hand with her other hand as well.
Gegg squeezes Toria's hand.
Gegg: It's peaceful here, isn't it?
Toria: [a bit dreamily] Yes, it sure is.
Toria squeezes back.
Toria: Where were we? Oh yes, Sanda's "accident". You know, Gegg, what happened to Sanda, happened the way it did because it was happening here in Genland.
Gegg: And far from a Sime Center, yes.
Toria: But Mik will be going over the border, where everything is planned around the needs of people like him.
Toria: [matter-of-factly] He's going to be safer than he's ever been in Gumgeeville, and that's a fact.
Gegg: Well... I would have thought so, before this morning. The Tecton is a human organization, Toria, and they make mistakes and miscalculations. This time, it's Hajene Bibi who's suffering, but in the future it could as easily be our Mik.
Toria: Only if he comes back here to work, surely? All these troubles are about having Simes in Genland. Of course, we can't help having some these days.
Toria doesn't know exactly how Bibi is supposed to be suffering, but sounding like she knows what she's talking about is usually a better strategy with Gegg than asking questions. Still....
Gegg: Mik grew up on this side of the border. He speaks English, he understands the culture. Who's the Tecton going to pick, when they look for a channel to staff their next Sime Center? I don't think Mik would object, either. Not when his own life was saved by a similar program.
Toria would usually give a waspish reply at this point, but doesn't want to disrupt this moment of harmony they seem to be having.
Toria: Our parents couldn't save us from all our mistakes either.
Gegg: Yes, but our mistakes weren't quite as dangerous. Toria, Bibi gave Mik her Donor, and now they're having trouble getting her another one.
Toria: What kind of trouble, do you know?
Gegg: You know that haze we've been seeing? It's a forest fire, and it's stopped train service between here and Simeland. Even if they find Bibi a Donor, how can he get here?
Toria is pretty shocked by this.
Toria: Umm. On a horse? I guess.
Gegg: It'll cause a big delay, at the least. And Bibi... Toria, I ran into her this morning, when she wasn't guarding herself, and I could feel the selyn-hunger in her. She's going to be desperate, before much longer.
Gegg doesn't have much concept of a channel's control, or that Simes do get used to functioning in need.
Toria: Oh dear. Poor Bibi. ~~ sadness worry ~~
Toria: But honestly, Gegg, that's the sort of thing that could happen to anyone. I mean, a fire, or an avalanche, or something like that. People could be cut off from help.
Gegg: It's still a disaster waiting to happen. Toria, what can Bibi do, if they can't get a Donor to her in time?
Toria is silent for a while.
Toria: Lock herself up, I guess. I don't know.
Gegg looks down at his feet.
Gegg: I guess I feel a sort of responsibility for her, since it was my son who took her Donor.
Toria lets go of Gegg's hand, puts her arm behind his back, and leans her head on his shoulder.
Toria: Silly Gegg. Of course you aren't responsible. ~~ affection ~~
Gegg: I'm not responsible for her, but if things had been different, I might have been.
Toria raises an eyebrow, invisibly to Gegg.
Toria: Really? How?
Gegg: You know channels and Donors run in families? Bibi thinks Mik got his channeling potential from me. And that if things had been different, I could have been a Donor.
Toria's jaw drops.
Toria: Oh, Gegg, I can hardly believe it. You could have been a Donor? You mean with a big D?
Toria makes a leap of intuition.
Toria: And was it, was it that bad time you had in the Army that -- ruined you? For that job?
Gegg: Yes. A Donor has to respond to a Sime's need with sympathy and a desire to help. I respond, but it makes me want to run away. I told you I could feel Bibi's hunger. She's on the edge. And I should have been able to do something about it.
Toria turns herself to straddle the bench and wraps her arms around Gegg again.
Toria: ~~sympathy ~~ Oh, you poor thing. Oh, Gegg. Oh, Gegg, Gegg.
Gegg cuddles for a moment, then makes an admission.
Gegg: Toria, I'm tired of being afraid of Simes. I can't even see my own son now, for fear I'd hurt him.
Toria nods her head and strokes the back of Gegg's neck.
Gegg: Bibi said... she said that there might be something that could be done about it.
Toria makes an interrogative sound into Gegg's shoulder.
Gegg: She said the Simes have ways to work through this kind of problem. Well, it stands to reason, doesn't it? With frightened Gens being such a big annoyance for Simes.
Toria: That would be something Bibi could do? Or would it mean ...
Toria leaves the sentence unfinished.
Gegg: No. It'd have to be an expert. And realistically, well, they're not going to send an expert out here, just for me.
Toria: But how could you ...? I mean, you can't even ... ~~ bewilderment ~~
Gegg: I don't know. But I asked Bibi to look into it. To find out if it's even possible, and what it would involve.
Toria takes several deep breaths and looks in Gegg's eyes.
Gegg: Whatever she finds out, I doubt it'll be easy.
Toria: I'm sure it won't. But if this is what you need to do... I'm with you. I'm with you all the way, Gegg. I mean it.
Gegg: Even if it means my being gone for however long it takes?
Toria: [long pause] Yes. [longer pause] But there's another possibility.
Gegg: There is?
Gegg looks at Toria with ~~ hope ~~
Toria has a hard time getting the word out.
Gegg: You want to come with me, to Simeland?
Toria: "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge."
Gegg: What about the farm? And Sanda? Well, Sanda would probably enjoy the chance to travel.
Toria: We could s-s-sell the farm. And yes, Sanda would be happy to go.
Toria smiles inwardly at the thought of Sanda's excitement.
Gegg gives Toria a squeeze.
Gegg: I don't think we'll have to go that far, Toria. This treatment of theirs can't take forever, and Gumgeeville is our home. We can get one of the cousins to look after the farm for a season or two.
Gegg: It's a lot of trouble to go through, just to be able to interact with Simes comfortably. I mean, most people in Gumgeeville never do that. Am I being selfish, putting the whole family through that kind of upheaval?
Toria resumes something, but not that much, of her old manner.
Toria: Now don't go backing down on me now, Gegg. If you need treatment to get back your self-respect, then treatment you are going to have.
Gegg winces at the implication that he has a notochord instead of a true spine, more from habit than anything else, and nods. He finds it comforting, truth to tell, that Toria is there to keep him from chickening out.
Gegg: Well, first we have to wait until Bibi finds out if it's even possible to arrange it.
Toria: [gruffly] Never fear; I'll see to it that she does.
Gegg shakes his head in ~~ wonder ~~.
Gegg: How did a messed-up guy like me ever luck out enough to win a woman like you, anyway?
Toria answers that one with a kiss, and not a peck, either.
Gegg kisses back enthusiastically, hoping that the two children-to-be Toria is carrying will grow up with a less cowardly father than Mik and Sanda.
Toria holds Gegg close to her, and never mind that they're at a Sime Center. With the roses in bloom, anything seems possible.
Bibi sees them from a window, charmed, unaware of what the Geggs have just decided.