Changeovers and Consequences: Episode 25

Henree is stacking clean mugs on the shelf above the beer kegs, in preparation for what he hopes will be a profitable evening.

Henree is frankly not sure what to make of the events of the past week or so, and he doesn't even know half of them, despite considering himself well-informed. He is pretty sure he's going to have a thirsty crowd in to discuss them, however, and that's what's most important.

Ralf, naturally, is already there, crowd or not.

Ralf: [articulating carefully] Anoth-er beer. Please.

Henree snags a mug with a practiced twist of his wrist and holds it under the spigot.

Henree: Your crops must be doing well, Ralf.

Ralf: Thass right. I got cash, see?

Ralf shows Henree his cash.

Henree sets the beer down in front of Ralf, deftly relieving his customer of the burden of some of that cash.

Henree: You let me know when you want another one.

Ralf: Yuh.

Ralf resolves to nurse this one.

Nergal comes through the saloon door, still talking with Reverend Kallan, who follows him closely.

Nergal: But I just can't see how you can ...!

Nergal becomes speechless with fury.

Kallan: It's over now, Nergal. There's nothing more anyone can do.

Nergal: [angry, but not shouting] I know that.

Henree assesses Nergal as Potential Trouble, but raises his eyebrow at the sight of Kallan, who isn't a regular customer.

Henree: Evening, Nergal, Reverend. What can I get you?

Kallan: Evening, Henree. Cider for me.

Kallan has an image to keep up.

Nergal: Still got any of that stuff in the keg?

Henree reaches for a mug to fill at the cider barrel. The unfermented stuff. He places the mug on the bar.

Henree: Here you are, Reverend.

Kallan: Thanks.

Kallan pays for the cider and takes the mug.

Henree expertly makes the payment disappear, then reaches for another mug and takes it down to the end of the bar, where a somewhat dusty keg awaits.

Henree fills the mug with his "special", an old family recipe that's an acquired taste.

Ralf: [horrified] That stuff? It tastes like mule piss.

Ralf: [hastily] No offense, Revrun.

Kallan wonders how Ralf knows what mule piss tastes like. He's reputed to drink a lot of strange things when he doesn't have money for beer.

Henree would be very surprised to learn that his "special" would find a ready market at the Hannard's Ford Sime Center, as it is a rather well done porstan that came into his family with an immigrant from Sime Territory.

Nergal: To each his own, Ralf, eh?

Henree sets the mug carefully in front of Nergal.

Henree: There you are, Nergal. One "special".

Nergal pays and begins sipping.

Henree reaches for a rag and begins wiping down the wooden bar.

Henree: How's your wife doing, Nergal?

Nergal blows out his breath.

Nergal: As well as can be expected, Henree. As well as can be expected.

Henree: That's good. It's hard on a mother, to lose a child like that.

Henree hopes Nergal's wife doesn't go crazy like his daughter did.

Ralf: [unexpectedly] Yuh.

Henree: She... she isn't spending time with Virla, is she?

Kallan hopes not. He now dreads talking to Virla. Fortunately, she's stopped attending church.

Nergal: Not that I heard ... and I would hear. Folks tell me their stories, too, Reverend.

Kallan nods. The village smithy is a hotbed of gossip. Of course, the men don't call it gossip. Only women gossip.

Henree: I keep hoping that Virla will regain some sense.

Henree looks apologetically at Kallan.

Kallan nods sympathetically.

Kallan: One hopes so.

Henree: Those ideas of hers... well, I don't know where they came from, and that's the truth.

Kallan: After what happened to her daughter... the poor woman isn't reasonable.

Henree: Well, no woman is reasonable about her child. If she was, the human race would never survive.

Kallan smiles wryly.

Kallan: Indeed.

Henree is glad that Kallan is being reasonable about the disruption that Virla is causing in the religious life of Gumgeeville.

Kallan is not at all happy about the way Virla seems to be proselytizing to so many women. As far as he knows, she hasn't managed to lead any into error, i.e. donating, yet.

Nergal is beginning to get himself under control now, with some help from the "special".

Nergal: The thing is, Reverend Kallan. How can you say that it's just like he was dead? It can't be "just like it", or why do we have them come to us?

Kallan: His soul is gone. He's no longer your son.

Henree winces at this reminder that Magit, too, is no longer his grandchild.

Kallan: You did your best to raise him, but when the test came to him, well, he failed the test.

Nergal: But he was a good kid otherwise. If he had died -- just died -- he'd be saved, wouldn't he?

Kallan: Yes, if he'd died pure, before the... marks of the soulless emerged.

Henree is aware that Reverend Kallan interprets the "marks of the soulless" as actual tentacles, rather than taking the more strict definition of red streaking, as some do.

Nergal: And if I'd a-taken care of him, then he'd be saved. So it's not just like he was dead. His soul may be gone, but where to?

Kallan: Ah, Nergal.

Kallan sighs deeply.

Kallan: A soul can only exist in a pure body, or leave that body for judgment and eternal life. Once the marks are on the body, the soul perishes.

Henree winces at this gently delivered condemnation of his granddaughter.

Kallan is saddened at the thought of Ukoh, so desperate for life, as his soul perished leaving his body open to demonic possession.

Nergal: So if that's so, should I even be grieving for him? There's nobody left to grieve for, sounds like.

Kallan: You loved him as a child. Grieve for the pure child who is no more.

Ralf finds that despite his attempts to nurse his beer, he's reached the bottom of it again. Maybe he'll have to try some more drastic measures.

Nergal struggles not to cry, successfully.

Ralf: 'Nree. Some of that mule stuff this time, 'kay?

Henree nods, and moves off to draw a mug of "special".

Ralf figures he'll have to make that last if he's not to go visit his namesake.

Nergal finally loses his battle with fury, and pounds the table just once with every bit of his smith-enhanced strength.

Nergal: Damn him, I say! Damn his soul! Damn the both of them!

Henree winces at the noise, barely managing to avoid spilling the "special".

Kallan: Now, Nergal...

Henree delivers it hastily, before he has to refill it.

Kallan had hoped he'd diverted Nergal from his wrath at Jed.

Nergal: What business had that man to interfere! If he couldn't let me do the job, he could have done it himself like a proper man!

Kallan: It was Ukoh's test, not Jed's. When Ukoh went to him, he'd already decided to fail.

Henree: Yeah. Jed's been a Sime-lover, ever since he let that Sime stay in his house. I guess that means he failed his test, right, Reverend?

Kallan: Perhaps his test has yet to come.

Henree hopes, for Jed's sake, that it waits until he's a grandfather, too. Because it'll probably take at least that long for the man to see sense. He doesn't express this opinion, of course. Jed's a very good customer, now that he can afford to pay his tab.

Nergal is still fuming.

Nergal: Never mind his test. Tell me this, Reverend: if a child runs and is shot before, before ... what's with his soul then?

Ralf is sipping the porstan even though he can hardly stand it.

Ralf: [echoes] What then?

Kallan: If his body is still pure, he will be judged, and God may have mercy on him. If not... well, it's like shooting a rabid dog. The soul is gone.

Ralf: [mumbles] Mercy surely.

Henree: So, Reverend, what about that Sime in Hannard's Ford? Or the two who've been through here? Should they have been shot?

Ralf: [loudly, trying to enunciate] The child-ren of this worl are wis-er in their gener-ener-enation than'n child-ren of light. Ain't that so, Rev?

Kallan: Well, the law forbids it, and rightly so. It could bring down another war on us, with many lives lost. The government has chosen to allow a few of them among us, unwisely I think.

Henree: So you support the Unity Treaty? As a lesser evil than the wars we had before?

Kallan: I'm uneasy about parts of it, but it's kept them on their side of the line, and our sons haven't had to die to protect us from them. Someday God may help us free the poor humans trapped in there with them, but now is not the time.

Henree: That one that's been boarding with me don't seem to want to be freed.

Kallan sighs.

Kallan: Raised in error... she'll have a hard path to the truth.

Henree gives a snort.

Henree: From what I heard, she's had it. Not a way I'd care to learn. At least, I heard she's still alive.

Henree is a bit ~~ skeptical ~~, however, and is wondering how long to wait before confiscating the effects Layna left behind.

Jed enters, with Layna, who isn't walking with her usual athletic ease.

Layna's head isn't pounding as bad as it was, thanks to Seruffin's hard work, but she isn't yet ready to resume her daily workout.

Jed notes the presence of Nergal and the preacher. Oh, shit.

Jed: G'day, Henree.

Henree's head whips around.

Nergal turns slowly and growls -- if he only knew it, very like a junct deprived of his prey.

Henree: Jed! You're back in town at last. We'd begun to think that you were the one that Ukoh attacked.

Henree reflexively starts drawing a beer.

Jed: Naw, friggin horse threw a shoe and I cracked the axle on my friggin wagon on one of them switchbacks. Road's in terrible shape, worst I've ever seen it. Almost busted the other axle coming back.

Henree looks at Layna, inspecting her closely for signs of repentance.

Layna looks sick, but not nearly as cowed as he'd expected.

Nergal: [ominously] You wanna bust something else, you just let me know.

Ralf: Switch back busted.

Ralf has about half finished his porstan.

Ralf: Mercy surely busted children light.

Jed, after that long hard trip and all that shovel work to get the wagon through, is not in the mood to talk himself out of a fight with Nergal, if Nergal is determined to pick one.

Henree puts a beer in front of Jed, hoping to head off any unpleasantness.

Jed thinks it would be a better move to get Layna upstairs and get out of here before a fight starts, but he's hot and tired, and reluctant to face Ma, so the beer is irresistible.

Jed: You want a beer too, Layna? Ever try Henree's special?

Ralf: [in a revelatory tone] Hey, it's ole Jed!

Jed: Hey, Ralf. Sozzled as usual, I see.

Ralf: Thishyur is ole Henree's special. Mule, y'know. Mule ... stuff.

Layna is too tired to parse the political situation, even with her usual lack of tact.

Ralf lifts his mug and waves it about. It's not full enough to actually spill.

Layna: The porstan? I think it's quite good, actually. As good as you can get most places in Sime Territory, anyway.

Henree blinks at hearing the secret name of his secret family recipe. He thinks it sounds a bit different, with Layna's accent.

Henree: How'd you know what my granddad called it?

Bystander: Hey, Henree. Sounds like your "special" is some kinda demon drink!

Henree: It's my grandfather's special recipe, and he wasn't no demon!

Layna: Did he escape from Sime Territory, and bring the recipe with him?

Layna is probably the only person in the room who could ask such a question without meaning it as a deadly insult.

Henree blanches at this innocent airing of his family's dirty linen.

Henree: He was from New Washington. He probably learned to make it there.

Henree ignores the fact that many refugees from across the border sought work in the big cities.

Layna realizes -- too late -- from Henree's reaction that she's put her foot in her mouth again.

Layna: Oh. Well, wherever he learned to make it, it's good. I would like a mug, if you please.

Ralf: M' b'y's in New Wash-ashington. Good b'y, works hard.

Ralf thinks of his children and slurps more porstan.

Jed sometimes wonders where Ralf's boy got the ambition. It sure as hell wasn't from Ralf.

Henree decides that Layna didn't mean offense, as usual, and draws her a mug.

Jed: Both on me, Henree.

Jed puts some money on the bar.

Henree: You kiss a Sime too, while you were away?

Henree takes the cash anyway; money doesn't have a soul, after all.

Ralf suddenly discovers the last straw on his back.

Kallan is surprised that Nergal hasn't exploded at Jed yet. Perhaps he's gaining some perspective on the situation.

Ralf bangs the near-empty mug on the bar and stands up, swaying.

Ralf: I say you all know the story! I say you all know it. You all know the damned story!

Ralf staggers, barely recovers, and sits down again.

Nergal shakes his head.

Nergal: Poor bastard thinks he's the only one.

Nergal glares at Jed.

Nergal: But he ain't.

Jed sips his beer.

Nergal: Jed!

Jed: Yeah, Nergal?

Nergal: Now I like to think I'm a reasonable man. Not too hasty. You think I'm too hasty?

Jed: I don't know, Nergal. Depends.

Nergal: Well, I'm not a hasty man. But I would like to know ... No, I wouldn't either. I know what the hell you thought you were doing. ('Scuse me, Reverend.)

Kallan hopes this isn't going to get violent, but Nergal has a right to speak his piece to Jed.

Nergal: What I want to know is, just what did you think gave you the right to get my boy in this jam?

Henree watches the smith with a ~~ wary ~~ eye on the man's bulging muscles, and with due ~~ concern ~~ for the integrity of his establishment.

Jed: He's a man, now, Nergal. He can make his own decisions.

Ralf: Jam. Damn jam. Jam damn.

Nergal: [roars] He ain't a man! He ain't anything now!

Jed: Nothing to get upset about then, is there?

Ralf gets up again, staggers over to Nergal, and roars back.

Ralf: It wasn't my damn fault, the damn jam! You got that straight?

Nergal ignores Ralf.

Nergal: [more quietly] Tell you what, Jed. Suppose I went to your house and burned it all up. Nothing left. Would you hear me say there wasn't any damn thing to get upset about? Would you?

Jed: I didn't have anything to do with Ukoh turning Sime.

Nergal feels the force of this, but isn't about to retreat.

Nergal: You had the last clear chance to take care of him, though, and you knew it.

Bystander: Hey, it's Ralf, the jammin' guy. Ralf the Jalf, I mean Ram the Jam.

Jed: He didn't want me to, and I didn't want to. If that's what he wanted, he could have gone to you. I would have if I'd had to, but I didn't.

Ralf: I tell you, it wasn't my fault the rif-ifle jammed. You all know the story!

Layna takes a swallow of porstan, in hopes of clearing her head so that she can follow the conversation.

Ralf puts his head down on his arms and begins to sob, openly and loudly.

Layna has a feeling that there are a lot of clues to the Gumgeeville mindset being offered, if only she was in good enough shape to keep track of them.

Ralf: I hadda do it, I hadda do it [sobs], I hadda bust his back with a shovel [sobs], I hadda. [further words lost in a volley of weeping]

Layna gives Ralf a look of ~~ pity ~~

Layna has a better idea, now, why an untrained Gen might choose to murder a changeover victim.

Nergal is doing his best to ignore all this, but has to wait till the volume diminishes.

Nergal: [to Jed] It didn't matter what you wanted. You knew where your duty lay. Or at least you could have not interfered.

Jed: My duty was to keep him from killing, and I did that. I could have told him to go home, and he might have gone to you. Or he might have waited until it was too late.

Nergal: He still wasn't your ...

Nergal's jaw locks with anger and grief together, before he can get out the final word.

Ralf: [still sobbing, but more quietly] You all know the story. You do.

Bystander: [openly jeering at Ralf's unmanned condition] Yeah, yeah, Ralf. We all do.

Jed: Ralf's younger boy is dead. My sister is dead. But Ukoh is still alive, not a killer, still your son if you want him to be.

Nergal shuts his eyes tightly; he'd put his hands over his ears if he dared.

Henree understands the temptation, and wonders if this is Nergal's Test.

Kallan: Now, Jed, Ukoh's body may be alive, but his soul is gone. Without a soul, he's no longer human. He's nobody's son now.

Jed: I never saw a soul, but I think I know a human when I talk to one, whatever his arms look like.

Layna: What do you think he is? A donkey?

Kallan: He's a Sime.

Kallan states the obvious.

Layna: Yes? If Simes aren't human, how come so many of their kids are Gen? And how come when a Sime marries a Gen, the kids are half and half?

Kallan: Their bodies can make children, and some of them grow up to be human by God's will. The soul comes from God to every child.

Layna starts to shake her head skeptically, then reconsiders.

Layna: How do you know it's there in the first place, much less that it's gone?

Kallan offers a little basic theology.

Kallan: God gives every human infant a soul, no matter who the parents are.

Layna: You can see this soul? What does it look like? And how can you tell it's gone in Simes?

Kallan: No, you can't see it, but it's there. As for Simes... well, the few of us who've seen berserkers... it's clear that they're no longer human.

Ralf: Thassa fack.

Layna: So a soul is something you have only as long as you have self-control? Seems to me that would eliminate a lot of Gens from having one, too.

Kallan: It's not that simple, Layna. All of us sometimes lose our tempers, or otherwise lose control of our behavior, but we still have souls.

Kallan eyes Ralf, a prime example of loss of self-control.

Layna: If that's so, then the similar temporary loss of control during First Need shouldn't make much difference.

Jed sips his beer, not expecting much from this conversation.

Ralf is no longer sobbing; he tries to make himself unnoticeable, with no success.

Kallan: But Simes never stop losing control and killing. They enjoy it. They don't want to stop. And if they are stopped, they die. A human can overcome his faults, but a Sime never can.

Layna: My parents are Sime, Reverend Kallan. They've never killed anyone. Nor do they go berserk every month. Most Simes in Sime Territory have never killed, these days. All the killing takes place out here.

Kallan shrugs and smiles gently.

Kallan: So you say. But we've seen berserkers here, and we've seen what happens when they escape. This is Sime nature. You can chain up a mountain cat so he can't tear out your throat, but once he's off the chain...

Kallan turns up his hand. Q.E.D.

Nergal: You tell it, Reverend!

Layna: Well, it's the nature of a Sime who isn't allowed any other option, yes. But if your Sime children have no choice but to kill you, isn't that your fault for not providing them one?

Kallan: What's the value of the continued life of the soulless husk? Better to die pure and go to God.

Nergal: Isn't that just what you tried to do, anyhow? And look at you! You can hardly walk without help.

Layna: Yes, look at me. I'm alive, and so your son doesn't have to grow up knowing that he killed someone.

Nergal: But ain't it true that just a little bit worse and you woulda died?

Nergal is forcing himself not to think about the other half of that idea.

Kallan: God was merciful to you. No doubt he had you survive for a purpose. Perhaps to learn more of his truth.

Kallan's tone is gentle and kindly.

Layna looks at Nergal.

Layna: I was in no danger of dying, as long as I kept my head and stopped your son before he hurt me too badly. I let it go on a bit long, perhaps, but that's hardly Ukoh's fault. I'd never actually had a chance to try that, before.

Nergal: [immediately] Lady, he ain't my son!

Layna: And of course, he's your son. Who else sired him, and raised him? If that doesn't make him your son, what does?

Kallan: He who was Ukoh, Nergal's son, is gone now. Without a soul, he's no longer human. He's worse than dead, because we don't have the comfort of knowing he's with God.

Layna: Nonsense. He's still Ukoh. He hasn't turned into some homicidal monster. If you don't believe me, go talk to him. He could use a visitor.

Ralf: [mutters into his empty porstan glass] Worsendead.

Layna: Oh, and you might take along that model ship he was working on. He said his sister can have the one he finished.

Kallan shakes his head.

Kallan: Layna, I don't think you understand how cruel you are to say these things. Nergal has suffered greatly. To give him false hopes is cruel.

Nergal: Now just a minute, Rev. If -- he -- wants the ship, no reason he shouldn't get it. For sure no one else will work on it.

Layna is not completely clueless, and is able to correctly interpret this as a softening of Nergal's stance.

Layna: That will mean a great deal to him, Mr. Nergal. He misses you all very much.

Jed keeps his straight face down near his mug. This is turning out better than he expected.

Ralf looks up and tries to smile at Layna.

Ralf: Misshamush.

Kallan makes a hand gesture discounting the significance of toys when a soul has been lost.

Nergal: [growls] Anything to get that junk outa the house.

Layna: Umm... and he said he was sorry for not milking the cow, but he was afraid that if he waited, he might not be able to make it to the Mullins house. He didn't want to be overcome where he might kill someone.

Layna is taking a few liberties in interpretation, but Ukoh did mention not milking the cow.

Kallan gives these revelations the correct interpretation.

Kallan: He decided to fail his test, even though he knew the killer Sime nature would come upon him once his soul was lost.

Ralf: But Rev!

Layna: Ukoh decided to live, if he could live without harming anyone else. He'll never be berserk with need again, living in Sime Territory, so he'll never be a danger to anyone. That's not an irresponsible failure, as I see it.

Ralf: Hey Revrun!

Layna: That's the action of a boy who's learned to take personal responsibility for his actions.

Kallan: It was only by God's grace that you survived his attack... Yes, Ralf?

Ralf: [carefully] How can he have a killer Sime nature if he didn't kill? Tell me that, huh.

Kallan: He tried to kill Layna, but God rescued her. He would still kill, given the opportunity.

Ralf: [mumbling again] Huh, izzatso.

Layna: He tried to take the selyn he needed, and that I knowingly offered. He has no more interest in killing random people than you do. Less, apparently.

Kallan: Layna, I've seen a berserker. He had no idea what he was doing, no concept that you were offering him anything. Had you refused he would have taken it anyway, driven by killer Sime nature.

Nergal nods vigorously.

Nergal: That's the way they are.

Kallan: They're not human, Layna. They are without conscience. And when they go to kill, they are without mind.

Layna: Reverend Kallan, do you understand that these days, Simes only go berserk in First Need? And that given any chance of doing so, they ensure that no one gets harmed by their need for selyn?

Kallan: I know that the Simes control each other, over the border. They've learned that they can't all kill whenever they please because there aren't enough victims. Humans don't make good livestock, and our army has made it unprofitable for them to raid.

Layna: It's always better for everyone to learn to live together without slaughtering one another. Across the border, it doesn't matter what your children become. They're still your children, and you don't have murder them. Or disown them.

Nergal: [indignantly] Well, around here, missy, our children are our human children, period. And we don't murder anyone, any more than we "murder" our livestock.

Kallan: The Simes control the humans there as well, and no doubt many, like you, believe them. But still, Simes have no souls. To kill a berserker is to kill a predator, or a rabid dog. A danger to human life.

Layna: And a Sime who isn't a berserker? And who isn't a danger to anyone? Like Hajene Seruffin, or Hajene Marvin? Or Ukoh and Magit, once they had First Transfer?

Kallan: We must bow to the law that allows a few Simes among us. But the berserkers -- they are our own children. We must send them to God, if we can, before it's too late for them.

Layna: Even if your Sime children are as harmless as the Simes your laws protect? Even if they prefer to live, without endangering anyone?

Kallan: Ukoh and Magit failed the test. Their souls are gone. They are no longer human, no longer part of our community nor our families.

Layna: No, you've exiled them for something that's no fault of their own. Although at least Magit has her mother's support in her new life.

Kallan sighs.

Kallan: Virla... her mind has been affected by her tragedy. She must find her own way back to the truth.

Kallan's efforts to help her do so have been entirely futile, and noisy, too.

Layna: Did it ever occur to you that the truth might not be quite what you've been taught? I've known quite a few Simes, but none of them have been the murderous monsters you describe.

Kallan: They have no souls, Layna, even if they aren't trying to kill you all the time.

Ralf: Murderderderous monsers.

Nergal: Like I said, we ain't the murderers. Your Simes are.

Layna: If Simes have no souls, I can only conclude that a soul has nothing to do with a person's ability to be a moral person, a loving parent, and a productive citizen. So what use is it, anyway?

Nergal: Everybody knows that. Without a soul, you can't see God's Face after you die.

Kallan shakes his head again and gives a kindly smile.

Kallan: Someday God may lead you to the truth, Layna. He's already shown you his kindness by saving you from a berserker. He must have something planned for you. This world is only an anteroom to the next. Only the soul can pass through that gate.

Layna: So that's why you shoot your own children? So that some part of you can go traveling in some other world after you die? I'm sorry, but that doesn't make any sense to me.

Nergal: No, no. We shoot 'em to keep them safe, safe from the demon nature. If they die pure, they stay human.

Layna: I don't know, putting someone to death seems a rather extreme way to keep him safe. It reminds me too much of that guy who's on trial in New Washington. You know the one -- he strangled two girlfriends?

Jed decides to speak up.

Jed: Remember, Layna. One funeral is better than two.

Layna: No funeral is infinitely better. And that's what Mr. Nergal has.

Kallan: Raised by soulless Simes you see only matters of this world, where we spend only a short time. The next world is for eternity.

Layna shrugs.

Layna: I've read parts of your scriptures, and I'm sorry, but they aren't convincing to anyone who doesn't assume beforehand that they're true.

Kallan: They are God's word, Layna. Of course they are true.

Layna: There are so many inaccuracies in what they say about matters of this world, how can they be considered authoritative in matters where you can't independently verify them?

Ralf: Authorititatatitive

Nergal: Ralf! Shuddup already.

Kallan: Over the centuries some details may have been muddied by fallible man, but God still speaks the truth through his book and in the human heart.

Layna: It's not just a few details here and there, Reverend. When I read what that book has to say about Simes, I can't recognize a single real Sime that I've ever met. It's wrong about Sime anatomy, Sime customs, Sime senses...

Kallan: Some is not meant to be understood literally, but rather metaphorically.

Nergal: What's that mean, Reverend?

Kallan: Well, when you say someone has a golden necklace, you mean it's made of gold, but when you say someone has golden hair, you don't mean her hair is made of gold wire -- you mean it's the color of gold, and perhaps shines like gold in the sunlight. The necklace is literally golden, but the hair is metaphorically golden.

Nergal thinks this is a pretty good explanation for him.

Nergal: Gotcha, Reverend.

Layna: It's still a matter of credibility. If a person tells me that all men in Gumgeeville shave their heads and paint their faces purple, I can assume that she's never been here and nothing else she says about Gumgeeville is worth listening to. What am I supposed to believe about your scriptures, when they maintain that Sime tentacles are slimy and they can read minds?

Kallan: Aren't the tentacles of a berserker slimy with their birth fluids? Aren't the killing tentacles always wet? Aren't the tentacles the mark of the soulless, thus repugnant as any slimy thing?

Ralf: Slimy things.

Nergal: Ralf! Shut up. I don't wanna hear from you any more tonight.

Nergal stands up and walks over to Ralf in an attempt to keep him quiet.

Kallan: As for reading minds, they can hunt us by our fear, by the light of our souls....

Ralf knows, even in his condition, that he's no match for a smith.

Kallan breaks off. He hopes Nergal won't commit violence on Ralf, that poor broken man. He's never recovered from what he had to do to protect himself from his son.

Layna: Babies are also wet at birth, but people don't generally consider infants slimy. I've never found tentacles particularly repugnant, and zlinning is hardly mind reading.

Kallan: When the book says tentacles are slimy, it's both literally and metaphorically true.

Nergal leaves Ralf, now that he seems sufficiently intimidated, and goes over to the bar.

Layna: It's not literally true at all, of any Sime more than half an hour or so past breakout.

Kallan: A Sime who has just lost his soul. And the killing tentacles are wet in every Sime.

Nergal: Henree, I'm off home -- I've had about enough of this tonight.

Henree: Sure, Nergal. Give your wife my best.

Nergal brings out a carefully folded wad of money and peels several off the inside.

Nergal: A round for everyone and one for yourself. Good night, all.

Kallan: Good night, Nergal. I'll come see your family tomorrow.

Nergal leaves the bar sadly but with immense determination.

Layna: Can a Sime who's never killed, and never will kill, be properly said to have "killing tentacles"?

Kallan: Layna, Nergal needs sympathy for his loss, not all this quibbling. You don't seem to understand that.

Henree starts passing out more beers, or cider, in Kallan's case.

Layna: Nergal doesn't have to lose his son. Ukoh is alive and well, he's no danger to any Gen now, and he misses his father terribly.

Kallan shakes his head.

Ralf waves off Henree's beer.

Kallan: He's no longer human. He has no soul.

Ralf: Nofferme, thanks. Dawana drink nomore.

Layna: Ukoh is the same person he was before his changeover. If his father can find the courage to accept that, he won't have to mourn his son, any more than Mr. Gegg is mourning Mik.

Henree passes Jed a beer, reflecting that things look so simple, to the young.

Kallan doesn't know what to do about Gegg. With the best intentions he set his son up to have almost no choice but to fail his test. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Kallan: Poor Mik. Another soul lost.

Layna: Lucky Mik, whose father loved him enough to ensure that he would have a long life and a clear conscience.

Kallan: Perhaps some day you'll see that Gegg's love for his son led him to do him the worst cruelty imaginable, deprive him of eternal life with God.

Kallan stands.

Kallan: I have choir practice shortly. May God continue to watch over you, my daughter, and grant you wisdom and truth.

Ralf: Gubbye, Rev. Shee you tomorrow, I gesh.

Kallan: Goodbye, Ralf. Regards to your wife.

Ralf: Regards to my wife too, Rev.

Kallan leaves the saloon.

Layna looks after him, shaking her head.

Layna: I don't think I'll ever be able to understand his viewpoint.

Jed laughs.

Jed: I don't think so either, Layna.

Ralf: [carefully again] He can't unner-under-stand you neither, Simeland lady.

Layna: I have a strong urge to haul him off to Hannard's Ford and introduce him to Bibi.

Jed snorts.

Jed: Now that would be something.

Layna takes a last swallow of her porstan.

Layna: Well, maybe someday. Right now, I ought to start packing my things.

Jed: Yeah, and get a good night's rest, too.

Ralf: G'd ide...

Layna puts the empty mug back on the bar.

Jed wonders whether he can hold off the worst of the... discussion... with Ma by inviting Layna home for supper, but figures that would be weak.

Ralf collapses on the floor, rolls over on his back, and begins to snore -- blubberingly.

Layna winces at the noise.

Ralf's snoring increases to thunderous.

Layna: Henree, I'm going back home for a while, for a rest cure. I'll be leaving tomorrow.

Henree wonders how restful the poor kid is going to find Simeland, now that she's been attacked by a Sime. He watches her make her way to the stairs, shaking his head.

Henree: Now, there's a confused girl.

Jed: You think so?

Henree: If I were her, I'd want to go as far away from Simes as possible, right now. Instead, she's going where there's more of them.

Jed: She made up her mind a long time ago about Simes and not even Ukoh is going to change it for her.

Henree: It's a pity. She doesn't seem like a bad sort, even if she is naive and a bit excitable.

Jed: Not much worse could happen to her now, eh? She stood up to a berserker and except for a hell of a headache, did just fine. I sure as hell wouldn't have tried it.

Henree: Who would? Maybe that crazy simpleton who was traveling with that Sime you took in, but he doesn't know any better, from the looks of things.

Jed isn't going to mention that Bart may be up to it by this time next year, or even sooner.

Jed sighs.

Jed: At least I didn't have much trouble talking Nergal out of beating the shit out of me. Good job the preacher was here.

Henree: He's a dedicated man, or he'd never have tried to talk sense into young Layna.

Henree looks at Ralf in ~~ resignation ~~

Henree: I don't suppose you'd mind letting Ralf's wife know where he is, on your way home? I'll send him home when he wakes up.

Jed: Yeah, poor old Ralf. Sure.

Henree: He did what he had to do, and God will reward him for it, but I can't help wondering if he wouldn't have been better off letting his son kill him.

Jed: For all the life he has now, he might be better off dead, you figure?

Ralf, fortunately for him, snores right through this speculation.

Henree: What's he done ever since, but try to drink himself to death?

Jed: Some reward for "passing his test".

Henree: It puts money in my pocket, but yeah. He deserves better.

Jed: Poor bastard. At least me and Gegg won't go that way.

Henree: I'm not sure Gegg's not as crazy as Ralf. Is he really going to visit Simeland?

Jed: I think he'll do it.

Henree: Does he really think they can stop him being a coward? How? By scaring it out of him?

Jed: I have no idea.

Henree: Does he? Or is just jumping at a wild promise?

Jed: I don't know. But those channels are serious people. I don't think they're going to make any promises they don't think they can keep. But he's no coward, Henree, never think that. He's a real brave man even if he doesn't believe it himself.

Henree shudders.

Henree: I wouldn't just... hand myself over to an unknown Sime that way, on a vague promise.

Jed: Hey, you should meet Hajene Bibi. Pretty young woman, dimples, about this tall. Talks like the girl next door. Might turn you into a Sime kisser, too.

Henree: Better not let your wife hear you talking like that, or she might change her mind about the extra income.

Jed: Yeah, Henree. I better go face her. Give the poor horse some oats and let him roll in the grass too.

Jed drains his mug and rises.

Henree looks after Jed, wondering when life got so complicated.

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