Bibi is in her bedroom, which she's starting to think of as a deferment suite. She's waiting for Cristal to come back. He insisted that she drink some tea. She's sure he's going to bring some food and try to get her to eat it. Her stomach cringes at the idea.
Bibi feels cold, despite the summer weather, and wraps a quilt around herself. It's one the church ladies made as a gift for her when she first came to the Ford.
Bibi stares at the dried sprig of lilac flowers Seruffin gave her months ago when he promised he'd try to come help her if she was stuck without a Donor when Mik changed over.
Cristal gently eases the door open, field set to ~~ neutral support ~~. He's carrying a glass of tea and a plate with a few small pieces of dry toast.
Bibi has done a second shunt and is now almost two days past her scheduled transfer time.
Cristal: [cheerful] Hello, Bibi. Tea and toast for the patient.
Bibi imagines the scrape of dry toast in her throat and gags.
Bibi: I think I can drink the tea.
Cristal: [still cheerful] Now come on, it's not that bad. The tea will whet your whistle nicely.
Cristal is practicing his out-T idioms.
Bibi wonders how she can tell Cristal not to be so shedoni-doomed cheerful at her.
Bibi sits up and reaches for the glass.
Bibi: Cristal, please don't... uh... please don't do...
Bibi shakes her head.
Bibi: Thanks for the tea.
Cristal: [puzzled] What's wrong?
Bibi: I know you mean well, but... uh... the cheerfulness is kind of... hard to take.
Cristal: Oh. I see.
Cristal is trying to maintain his field at ~~ neutral ~~ throughout.
Bibi sips the tea, and manages to swallow.
Cristal nods, figuring that's safer.
Bibi would like to snuggle up to Cristal but she finds his low field condition irritating. It's getting harder and harder for her to maintain her normal level of civility.
Bibi: I don't suppose there have been any telegrams?
Cristal, being neither telepathic nor empathic, sits down on the bed next to Bibi.
Bibi knows that sounds like she's grasping at straws, but she's starting not to care too much about that.
Cristal: 'Fraid not.
Bibi: I was hoping I'd get word from our Controller. If I'm not going to get a Donor this month, I'd be further ahead doing one big shunt instead of all these little ones.
Cristal: Are you sure? They taught us that channels couldn't function a whole month without actual transfer, even if their primary system is technically replete.
Bibi refrains from shouting "Well, it's better than death from attrition, shen it!"
Cristal: What I mean is, we don't really have a proper deferment facility here.
Bibi: I wouldn't be very functional, but I'm sure I wouldn't be out hunting for Kills!
Bibi wishes she hadn't lost it, but doesn't feel up to apologizing (again).
Cristal: [soothingly] In any case, surely your emergency assignment is just on the far side of that fire. Why, he could arrive on horseback any time now.
Bibi: I wish the Controller would let me know what's going on. Not knowing what to expect is so much worse.
Cristal: I'm sure it is. But if the telegraph lines are also out, then there's no way for a message to get through any faster than the Donor himself.
Bibi tries another sip of tea, and manages to swallow it with an effort.
Nattin signals at the door, with his midfield nager.
Bibi: Come in, Nattin.
Nattin opens the door and enters.
Cristal: Ah, Nattin. Any news?
Bibi finds herself automatically evaluating Nattin (again) as a transfer partner.
Nattin's nager isn't as soothing as a Donor's, but at least it has the discipline of a Gen who's lived his adult life among Simes.
Nattin: None from your emergency Donor, Bibi. However, there have been a few minor matters which have come up.
Bibi gestures to a chair.
Bibi: Have a seat and tell me all the bad news.
Cristal aims his attention fully at Bibi, for whatever it's worth.
Bibi wraps the quilt around herself more tightly, and tries to take what comfort she can from Cristal's efforts.
Nattin sits down on the indicated chair, keeping his emotions vaguely sympathetic in a neutral sort of way. He's pretty sure that either strong sympathy or rejection would be unbearable for Bibi, just now.
Nattin: Let me see. Young Ukoh is a bit depressed, blaming himself for injuring Naztehr Layna.
Bibi: Only a bit? I think it's worse than that, Nattin. He's probably concealing it from you, but last I zlinned he was doing very badly.
Nattin: Layna herself seems to be responding well to the fosebine, judging from how loudly she's complaining about each dose.
Bibi is both reluctant and eager to work on Layna nagerically -- reluctant because she's ashamed that she's getting a bit of a thrill from zlinning Layna's pain.
Nattin: That new renSime, Daffodil, is running around making a nuisance of herself. Mik at least is keeping busy playing with his own tentacles.
Cristal: Hmm. Maybe you should put Mik and Daffodil in the same room and let them play with each others'?
Nattin: Perhaps. Even if Mik finds her annoying, it would be good discipline for a channel to care for her.
Cristal: And they might understand each other better, after all.
Nattin: Bart keeps asking after you, Bibi, and wondering whether he can do anything to help you.
Nattin raises a questioning eyebrow at Bibi.
Bibi: I wish he could.
Nattin: He doesn't have enough control, yet?
Bibi: I may be able to use him a bit, but he doesn't have very good control over that instinctive need-to-give he feels whenever he perceives my need.
Nattin is ~~ disappointed ~~, having hoped that Bart might be a welcome change from Cristal's terminal cheerfulness.
Nattin: I see.
Cristal: Proper Donor training takes months, Professor.
Bibi: Maybe I should try working with him on that.
Bibi thinks about Bart's midfield GN-1 nager, and his potential... not yet ready to be realized.
Cristal is alarmed.
Cristal: Are you sure, Hajene?
Bibi: I can try it. I think he'll understand if I can't continue. Maybe you should be present, Cristal.
Cristal reminds himself that Channels Know Best, even when they don't.
Cristal: As you wish.
Bibi: He's got good nageric characteristics. I managed to eat some maize gruel yesterday, just from zlinning him enjoying breakfast.
Cristal: Oh, I don't doubt that he has high Donor potential. The operative word is potential.
Bibi realizes she's still holding the tea glass and sets it on the table.
Nattin waits politely for the channel/Donor talk to be over.
Bibi: Don't you trust me, Cristal? Do you think I'm going to attack him?
Cristal: Of course I don't think that, Hajene.
Bibi realizes how snarky that sounded, and sighs.
Cristal realizes that he has been subconsciously wondering all along how Bibi always manages to remain polite, no matter what's going on.
Bibi: Sorry. I'm getting too edgy to be polite.
Cristal wonders if letting it rip from time to time, like other channels, wouldn't actually be useful. He does realize that this isn't the best possible time to find out.
Nattin: That's certainly understandable.
Bibi: Nattin, do you think you could send Seruffin another telegram? Tell him about the rail service interruption.
Nattin: Of course I will.
Bibi puts a hand over her eyes.
Bibi: I... I shouldn't do it... he has important work...
Cristal: You're important too, Bibi.
Nattin: As you instructed, I've been turning away the less steady donors, with the excuse that you're not feeling well.
Bibi: Yes, you've been making good decisions there. I think we should pay the ones who really need the cash, give them credit against future donation.
Nattin: I don't think there's been any general alarm, although Gitl has turned away no less than six pots of boiled bird carcasses.
Nattin makes a disgusted face, although he manages to keep most of it from his nager.
Bibi gags at the thought, but tries to smile.
Bibi: It's the traditional remedy for all ills, Nattin. They certainly mean well.
Nattin: Miz Brown sent over some potato leek soup, which we can actually use.
Bibi finds herself actively nauseated.
Bibi: Could we not talk about food now? Anything sounds revolting to me, no matter how good.
Cristal runs his hand just above Bibi's abdomen in an attempt to clear out the kinks.
Nattin: Certainly. I'm sorry. Jed Mullins is still here; there has apparently been some trouble getting his wagon repaired.
Cristal: What, has he alienated Flip too?
Bibi picks up her tea and chokes down another sip.
Cristal: Good, Bibi.
Nattin: No, I gather it has to do with the preference being given the fire fighters.
Nattin can't argue with that priority.
Cristal looks at the toast and thinks ~~ how nice it would be ~~ dipped in the tea and eaten.
Bibi zlins Cristal's appetite and suppresses a gag. She puts the tea down again.
Nattin: Mr. Gegg asked to see you, although he didn't argue much when I offered to take a message to you instead.
Cristal: [mutters] That's a relief.
Bibi: What message?
Nattin looks up at the ceiling, the better to remember it in its entirety.
Nattin: He said that he discussed what you told him with his wife, and they'd like more information on the details. He's apparently interested, if it's practical to go forward.
Nattin looks back at Bibi, and raises an interrogative eyebrow.
Bibi: Good. I'll begin investigating the situation for him.
Nattin: He seemed reluctant but very determined. Although he was worried about the cost?
Bibi: We wouldn't charge him, even if he isn't a donor. His wife and daughter are, he wants to be, and his son is a channel. I just don't know how much I can do for him.
Nattin: He also said something about his wife was even willing to move the family for the duration?
Bibi: In-T? Good heavens!
Bibi is shocked.
Cristal: Probably Miz Toria doesn't want to let Gegg out from under her thumb.
Nattin: He said something about being deathly tired of being a coward, which doesn't make sense.
Bibi: Poor man. He still sees himself as a coward for how he behaved when those juncts were torturing him. And he sees his fear and aversion to donation, and to Simes in general as cowardice as well.
Bibi: He loves his son, and it's very painful to him that he can't be near him without risking hurting him, and without being reminded of his past.
Nattin: Can a trauma that old be overcome?
Cristal is glad to see that Bibi's thinking about something besides her current situation.
Bibi: I don't know. His whole personality has formed itself around his belief that he's a coward. I thought I'd try to get an expert out here to zlin him and advise me. But if he's willing to go in-T... the possibilities are much wider.
Cristal: A channel mind-healer, specifically.
Bibi: The whole issue is complicated by his Donor talent. The other morning, the way his field kept reaching for me, at the same time full of fear and revulsion.... He could actively feel my need, and it terrified him.
Bibi is ashamed that the memory of the fear is appealing.
Bibi: It's a difficult enough case to interest a Farris, don't you think? Considering that the way he is now, a channel couldn't touch him, or even get very near him. And would have to work with him while he's high field, too.
Nattin: I know there used to be various Householding techniques to deal with such problems, at least among those Householdings wealthy enough to purchase Gens at auction. Surely some channels with practical experience remain?
Bibi: I can try to find out. Would you have connections that might be helpful, Nattin?
Cristal: Householding Sat'htine would be a logical place to look. A Farris house, plenty of money, specializing in the healing arts....
Nattin: I do have a friend or two in Sat'htine, who might be able to tell you how best to approach them.
Cristal: [English] Cool.
Bibi: Thank you, Nattin. I'd appreciate that.
Bibi: I think I can keep working for a while yet, at least with the more experienced, relaxed donors.
Cristal: I suppose.
Bibi: And of course, I'd serve a changeover even if you two had had to chain me up in the cellar.
Nattin: Shall I assemble a list of regular donors who would be due to come in shortly, so that you can indicate which you are willing to handle?
Bibi: That would help. Also, we can figure out which ones would be in trouble if they didn't get their donation payments, and I'm reluctant to take them.
Bibi realizes that that last could be regarded as a slip.
Cristal finds himself picturing Bibi chained up in the cellar, and represses the image firmly.
Nattin: How do you wish to handle such people?
Nattin, unlike his student Layna, is capable of tact, when necessary.
Bibi: It will take some tact -- nobody likes to feel they are so poor they have to accept charity. Make it clear that it's an advance against their next donation, and it's our fault we can't take their donation that day. My fault, that is.
Nattin: Of course.
Bibi suddenly feels overwhelmed. She feels rotten, the demands of need never let up, she's having to resist the ugly promptings of Sime instincts, and now she can't even do her job.
Cristal's body tells him to support Bibi further, but he doesn't have any way to turn up the heat.
Nattin sees the distress on Bibi's face, and stands.
Nattin: I will take care of it, until it's no longer necessary.
Bibi hears an ominous note in that which probably isn't there.
Nattin tries his best to be ~~ confident ~~ that the situation will be resolved, favorably and soon.
Cristal: [earnestly] Sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.
Bibi turns and snarls.
Bibi: What do you suggest I do, Cristal?
Cristal: Bibi, there's nothing you can do in this situation. You just have to trust us -- us here at the Center, and in the Tecton -- to do the best we're able for you. I know that's unbearably difficult, but there it is.
Bibi does a breathing exercise and strives for calm.
Bibi: Please send a telegram to Seruffin, Nattin.
Nattin: I will, Bibi. And remember: you're not alone in this. We will carry as much of your burden as we can, until you can carry it again, yourself.
Bibi wants to scream at all these well-meant platitudes.
Bibi: Thank you. I appreciate it all very much.
Nattin: We will contrive, Bibi. And so, you will survive. Somehow.
Nattin, being Gen, is subject to fits of optimism.
Cristal, being a Donor, is too canny to get involved in a battle over who gets the last word. That never works.
Nattin, being a Gen who's lived all his life among Simes, knows exactly how Simes in need feel about Gen optimism.
Bibi nods, to avoid words she'd regret.
Nattin settles for a respectful bow, and a hasty retreat.
Cristal lets out his breath.
Bibi closes her eyes and begins rocking slowly back and forth.
Cristal: [cautiously] Is there anything you require, Hajene?
Bibi refrains from saying "Other than the obvious?"
Bibi: I don't know, Cristal. It's getting bad. I wish I knew what you could do for me.
Wedding Quilt, 2003
This quilt was made in celebration of my mother's second marriage. Every square was contributed by a friend or family member of her or her new husband. The youngest contributers were infants, and the oldest was over 90. I pieced the top by hand, and Bill's daughter Miriam, a fellow quilter, arranged for it to be machine quilted. We presented it at the reception.
My square is the twin Iris flowers in the forth row, last column. My sister and I tie-dyed the fabric for the flowers the year before the quilt was made.
Mary Lou Mendum