Changeovers and Consequences: Episode 14

Bart is sitting on the steps of the veranda, drinking a large glass of milk and eating some muffins that Gitl gave him.

Bart is feeling very confused and frustrated by the current situation. He and Mik are getting along great, even though neither has much training, but he's really worried about Bibi.

Nattin steps onto the veranda, hoping for a few minutes of peace and quiet before the next volunteer donor arrives, requiring him to determine whether it's someone Bibi can handle in her current state.

Nattin is finding it increasingly difficult to manage this triage without giving away the reason for it, which would cause unknown troubles on the public relations front.

Bart turns at the sound of the opening door.

Bart: Oh, hi, Professor. Uh, would you like a muffin?

Nattin: Hello, Bart. What are you doing out here?

Bart: Just having a snack, I guess.

Nattin has dealt with enough teenagers to correctly interpret this remark.

Bart looks worried and confused. He wonders if Nattin can help him figure out what to do. Cristal doesn't seem to.

Nattin sits down, reaching for a muffin.

Nattin: You guess? What's on your mind?

Bart: Uh, I guess I'm worried about Hajene Bibi. And... uh... I feel bad because I can't help her more.

Nattin: You're right to worry about Bibi. She's playing a very dangerous game, in hopes that either her Donor or Hajene Seruffin can get through. If she misjudges her stamina, she could die.

Bart is ~~ shocked ~~

Bart: I didn't think it was that bad!

Bart wishes he were high field and that Bibi could take transfer from him.

Nattin: She's two days overdue for transfer. She can get enough selyn for a month through a shunt, but that would leave her in no condition to carry out her duties for the following month. So she's trying to wait as long as she can, without attacking the nearest Gen.

Bart: She wouldn't do that, would she?

Bart imagines Bibi attacking him, and giving her what selyn he has... sacrificially and ecstatically.

Nattin: Every person has a breaking point. Even channels can lose control, if they're provoked past their limits.

Bart: I wish I could serve her. Even if I were trained, I'm only midfield, though.

Nattin looks at Bart ~~ sternly ~~

Nattin: Even if you were high field, Bibi wouldn't let herself touch you, in her current condition. Do you understand why?

Bart: Yes. She'd get in trouble, even if I could do it for her. And I probably can't anyway.

Bart says he can't, but his Donor's talent is convinced that he can, that he was born to do it.

Nattin can't zlin, but Bart's expression is clear enough.

Nattin: Bart, I'm sure that you will be an excellent Donor, in time. However, a channel heading into attrition is not the place to start your career.

Bart: I know.

Bart knows it intellectually, but can't help the way he feels when he's near Bibi, to their mutual discomfort.

Nattin: Do you have any idea what might happen to you, if you tried it?

Bart: Well, I don't have enough selyn for her, so it wouldn't be much of a transfer, even if it worked. And if it didn't work, I'd end up like Layna, or maybe worse. And it would hurt her a lot too. Not just because it was a bad transfer, but because she'd have lost control, to take me.

Nattin nods.

Bart: If she killed me, she'd die too, wouldn't she?

Bart hasn't bothered to get horrified over the long term implications of a channel killing someone out-T, both for the Ford and for Unity. After all, he's not going to do it.

Nattin: Yes. Although because she's a channel, it would be more likely that she would shen herself before you died. Of course, that's an act of desperation. It wouldn't stop you from being injured, probably a lot worse than Layna.

Nattin: Furthermore, you'd quite likely end up with a phobia much like Mr. Gegg's. That could prevent you from ever functioning as a Donor again.

Bart: Professor, I know I shouldn't even be thinking about doing it, but when I'm near her, I... her need... I wish I could control it better, but I just...

Bart puts a hand over where his vriamic node would be if he had one.

Bart: Everything but my common sense wants to do anything to help her... even if I died for it. I know it doesn't make any sense.

Nattin: It makes a great deal of sense, Bart. You have a Donor's instincts, albeit untrained. I've never felt that pull myself, but I've known enough Donors to understand how compelling it can be.

Bart: It's so frustrating. If I could just control the need-to-give, I could help her at least feel a little better. But I can't sustain the control, and it takes all my concentration, so it doesn't do her any good anyway.

Nattin: Bart, Cristal is doing all that can be done for Bibi. You know that.

Bart: Yes, but he's so low field... If only there was a way I could give him my selyn so he could help her better... I know that's stupid.

Nattin: In this instance, where Bibi is so far into hard need, and Cristal can't provide her a transfer, it may actually be helping Bibi that he's so lowfield. At least that way, she doesn't have to guard herself as much against the temptation of taking him.

Bart: The way she has to guard herself against me since I can't control myself.

Nattin: Yes. Don't forget that Cristal is a Donor, too. He feels the same urge to help Bibi that you do, he's just better at using it, instead of letting it use him.

Bart pulls himself back from the edge of tears and looks out over the garden.

Bart: At least I can help Mik some.

Nattin: It's fortunate for Mik that you're here. He really needs a Donor with him, and Cristal can't leave Bibi.

Bart: Yes. It feels good being with him, and he's high field so I can't tempt him, and I guess I'm low enough field that I can't hurt him.

Bart laughs ruefully.

Bart: I'm almost talking Simelan here and last winter I'd never even seen a Sime.

Nattin: It's a good way for you to get used to working with a channel.

Bart: It's good I can't hurt him, at least. Or I hope I can't.

Nattin: I don't think you will hurt him accidentally. And it's good practice for Mik, to learn to work with a Donor.

Bart: I hope we don't teach each other any bad habits. I'm trying not to do anything that I don't already know about.

Nattin: Good. What's most important, though, is just to get Mik used to being influenced by a Donor's field. That way he'll be able to let Cristal help him if he gets into trouble.

Bart: I'm pretty clumsy at it, but Mik is helping me figure out how to do it better.

Nattin: I expect the two of you will find ways to work together soon enough.

Bart laughs again.

Bart: It's pretty funny, really, him and me trying to tell each other what to do in mixed Simelan and English, when you compare it to how smoothly Cristal and Hajene Bibi, or Hajene Seruffin and Gerrhonot work together, doing real things.

Nattin chuckles dryly.

Nattin: Well, as you pointed out, you've both had your whole world changed drastically. I can certainly understand the feeling. When I was a child, no one would have imagined that there would be peace with Gen Territory, and an end to the wholesale slaughter of Gens for selyn.

Bart nods, although pre-Unity times in Simeland are not real to him. It's all history book stuff. Unimaginable.

Nattin: I spend the first twenty years of my adult life as the legal property of my Sectuib, with exactly the same rights as your father's horse, as far as my government was concerned.

Bart: I read about that. But they didn't really treat you like that in the Householding, did they?

Nattin: No, Householdings allowed Gen members the same rights that the Simes enjoyed, as much as that was practical.

Bart: But you had to stay inside the walls.

Nattin: For the most part, yes. And any contact with non-Householding society had to be done through Sime intermediaries. Have you any idea how complicated it is to carry on an academic career, when your findings must be presented by your students, and you can have no personal contact with many of your more influential colleagues?

Bart has no idea. He knows zip about the academic life.

Bart: It must have been hard.

Nattin: And I believe Zeor's legal team was headed by a Gen at one point, a brilliant man who could never argue a case before a judge. Did you know that traditionally, Householders didn't have personal property? It all belonged to the Householding.

Bart: The history book at school said everything belonged to the Sectuib. Like the Gens did.

Bart's history book gave only a brief and none-too-accurate description of the Householdings in connection with explaining Klyd Farris's title and authority.

Nattin: Yes, but not in the sense of private property. The Sectuib "owned" all property in his or her persona as Head of the Householding. In other words, the property belonged to the office, not the person. It couldn't be inherited, for instance, but was passed to the next Sectuib, even if they were no relation to each other.

Nattin: Do you know why the Householdings had such an arrangement, even for the Simes?

Bart: No.

Nattin: It was because legally, Gens couldn't own property; we were property. Since we couldn't change that, our Simes accepted the same limitations. It was a compromise, one of many.

Bart tries to imagine pure communism. People must have owned their own shoes, right? Or at least unofficially.

Bart: A lot of people out here don't believe things have changed that much. They say that the Simes still keep the Gens like cattle, for their selyn, but it's like they milk them instead of slaughter them for meat. Some people believe the Simes still kill too, at least sometimes.

Nattin: Bart, a Gen out here is in far more danger of being killed than a Gen citizen of Sime Territory.

Bart is a little startled, but it does make sense.

Bart: Yeah, I guess so. In-T everybody can go to a Sime Center early in changeover. No berserkers.

Nattin: Indeed. As far as that other accusation goes, there's a bit of truth to it, although much less today than just after Unity.

Bart is startled again.

Bart: A bit of truth?

Nattin: Yes. You see, the non-Householding Simes were willing to give up killing Gens, or at least resigned to it. After all, they could see that the Pen system couldn't provide enough Gens for them to keep on killing one every month.

Nattin: On the other hand, they weren't at all ready to accept Gens as real people. No more than most of your neighbors are willing to accept Sime neighbors.

Nattin: You can imagine the fuss, if Driver wanted to move into Gumgeeville?

Bart laughs.

Bart: Most of them were terrified of Hajene Seruffin.

Nattin: Yes. And he's an experienced diplomat, well practiced in making people feel comfortable around him. It may surprise you to know that in some ways, the junct Simes were just as afraid of Gens as your neighbors out here are of Simes.

Bart is really surprised, this time.

Bart: Why?

Nattin: There are two reasons. First, if they accepted that Gens were their equals, they'd have to accept that they were murderers. Murder is considered just as immoral in Sime Territory as it is here, you know.

Bart nods.

Nattin: The other reason was even more frightening to them. If Gens were people, with the right of self-determination, how was a reliable selyn supply to be maintained? What was to prevent new Gens from simply going across the Border, leaving the Simes to die of attrition?

Bart: I never thought of that. After Unity, why didn't all the new Gens, not the Pen Gens, but the kids with Sime parents who established, why didn't they go out-T? I mean, their parents would have sold them before, so they wouldn't feel obligated, would they? I mean, to stay, for them?

Nattin: Mik's father would have shot him, if he'd gone through changeover a year ago. As he well might have, you know. That hasn't stopped Mik from feeling an obligation towards his parents, has it?

Bart thinks about this.

Bart: Well, his father let him live here at the Ford, so he'd be near the Sime Center. If he'd had to escape from him, like Ukoh did, I don't think he'd feel the same.

Nattin: You might be surprised how much Ukoh would be willing to forgive, to stay a part of his family.

Bart: I don't think it would do him any good. His dad is a real Sime hater, a religious one, you know? He probably figures Ukoh is worse than dead, much worse.

Nattin: Yes, I know. In any case, the ordinary citizens of Sime Territory were left with a dilemma: how to ensure that enough of their Gen children stayed to ensure a steady selyn supply. They couldn't forbid them the right to emigrate, because they were technically free citizens.

Bart: What did they do?

Nattin: Well, they gave Gens the full rights of citizens, and offered incentives to people who employed them. Even so, there weren't many outside the Householdings who were willing to hire a Gen. So they offered a bribe to the Gens directly.

Nattin: You're familiar with it: the standard donation payment. At the time, it was set high enough to allow a Gen to survive on it indefinitely, although that's slipped a bit since.

Bart: But it must have been dangerous in those days for the Gens.

Nattin: It was, although not as much as you might think. All the Simes had had a very unpleasant reminder of just what happens to a town of Simes when the selyn runs out. Like Bibi, but everyone that desperate, not just one person.

Bart is pulled back to the present by mention of Bibi, and it shows on his face.

Nattin: The Tecton could move selyn, but as our current dilemma shows, transportation can break down. Most Sime towns made it a point to curb any behavior by their Sime citizens that might encourage the local Gens to leave. Especially after the Wargbotten affair.

Bart wonders what that was, and looks questioningly at Nattin.

Nattin: Wargbotten was a Sime from a prominent family, and he didn't see why Gens shouldn't be kept decently out of sight in a Pen, even if they weren't being killed any more.

Nattin: He and his followers took to harassing the Gens in their town, and they succeeded in convincing many of them to leave. They thought they'd won a great victory, until a heavy rainstorm washed out a critical bridge.

Nattin: Seven Simes died of attrition before the Tecton could get more selyn through, and Wargbotten's neighbors ran him and his friends out of town.

Bart winces at the thought of Simes dying of attrition.

Bart: None of them tried to get at any of the Gens? They died instead?

Nattin: Yes. Not all of them voluntarily.

Nattin: You see, by that point, all the remaining Gens were lowfield, and they had sought shelter in the Sime Center, out of easy reach. When no Gens are available, Simes will turn on each other. So, when the selyn ran out, the Simes in hard need were locked up.

Bart: Couldn't the channels... spread it out more evenly? Just give each Sime enough to keep him going until more selyn came in? Sort of like Bibi is doing now?

Nattin: No, that only works with channels.

Bart: It all seems so precarious.

Nattin: It is. That's why the Tecton spread the word about the incident as far as possible, and why so many Sime towns responded by making sure that Gens would feel safe enough to stay.

Nattin: If we were at an in-Territory Sime Center, Bart, there would have been other Donors and channels around, and Bibi would have had a transfer of some sort two days ago.

Bart: I can feel... it's like I can feel how desperate she must be, inside. I mean, I know I can't, but I just.. when I'm near her...

Bart shakes his head in frustration and exasperation, that he can't describe it, and he can't do anything.

Nattin: Yes. I can't feel it as you do, but I'm concerned. However, Bibi hasn't reached her limit, yet. With luck, a solution will be found before she's in danger of breaking.

Bart: She's still taking donations...

Nattin: Yes, from Gens she can trust not to trigger her instinct to attack. She'll require that selyn, if she has to resort to a full shunt.

Nattin expects that if it comes to that, Bibi will ask him for an early donation, as well.

Nattin doesn't mention this to Bart, however, as Bibi could not safely accept such a donation from the young Donor-to-be.

Bart: You're not telling people why. Do you think some will figure it out? I mean they know Mik's a channel. The Greenwoods were in to see him -- they're really happy about it.

Nattin: With luck, our neighbors will never have to know the full details. If someone does inquire, I will just say that the Tecton is working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. Which is only the truth.

Bart: Have you heard anything? Have there been any telegrams?

Nattin looks out over the garden.

Nattin: No. Nothing yet. ~~ grim ~~

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