Darrel waits in the dining room of the Hannard's Ford Sime Center for the local channel he is to replace temporarily to get off duty, so he can meet her.
Darrel has heard that the reason the current channel is getting a vacation is that she came a bit too close to attrition thanks to a mixup with Donor scheduling. He does not find this exactly reassuring.
Darrel's traveling Donor has retired to a guest room to recover from the journey. He thinks it's just his luck that he had to travel so far into Wild Gen territory supported by a Donor susceptible to motion sickness. He wonders if it was deliberate on the part of a Controller who's never thought much of him.
Darrel takes comfort in a cup of tea, and hopes he won't have to wait too long.
Bibi comes into the common room, her face smeared and her hair mussed as Cristal heads up the stairs to the second floor.
Bibi: Hello. I'm Bibi.
Bibi smiles in a friendly but somewhat frazzled manner.
Bibi: I'll be back in a minute.
Darrel blinks, looks after Cristal, and offers a ~~ supportive ~~ field to Bibi.
Darrel: I'm Darrel.
Bibi goes into the kitchen, wets a cloth and cleans her face, then washes her hands, smoothes back her hair and returns.
Darrel: Are you all right? ~~ support ~~
Darrel wonders why Bibi's Donor left her in such a condition.
Bibi: Sorry, but the Mason family is always a bit of a... dirty job.
Darrel: A dirty job?
Bibi: Oh, dear.
Bibi sits and pours herself some tea, looking a good deal better now that her face is clean.
Darrel: Forgive me, but you looked like you'd been participating in a wrestling contest.
Bibi: Well, old Miz Mason is getting a bit senile, and she never stops talking. Her daughter, young Miz Mason, is always rather harried, mostly because of her son, Zho. He's a big strong young man, but unfortunately, severely retarded. Doesn't speak, still in diapers, and strong as an ox.
Bibi: The whole family was a charge on the township, but now they have three incomes.
Darrel: He objects to donating?
Bibi: No, but he has a hard time staying still. His mother gives him candy, and he drools a lot.
Darrel: They have three incomes, and you have three lateral-aches?
Bibi: Old Miz Mason isn't too bad, it's just getting her to stop talking and let me work, but she seems to want to tell me her whole life story every time. Young Miz Mason, well she's really middle-aged, would be fine, but she's keeping an eye on Zho so he doesn't wreck the place. His grandmother wouldn't be able to stop him if he did. Hence the candy.
Darrel: I see.
Darrel: Oh. Here, these are for you.
Darrel presents Bibi a packet from their mutual Controller.
Bibi: Ah, thanks.
Bibi's thanks are reflexive. She's not sure she wants to see what the Controller has sent.
Bibi opens the packet and takes out a letter. It states that she's being given a month's rotation in Capital to attend the conference on changeover problems, and will be assigned to work and observe in some specialist wards in Capital.
Darrel waits with some ~~ apprehension ~~ for Bibi to get to his own folder.
Bibi's letter states that Darrel will be her locum tenens, and his Donor will accompany her in-T.
Darrel can tell that this Hajene Bibi is pretty protective of her Sime Center, and is well aware that his official record isn't very encouraging.
Bibi's ~~ happiness ~~ becomes quite evident in the ambient, but she detects Darrel's unease as readily.
Bibi: It would be rude for me to leaf through your file in front of you, don't you think? Maybe you should just tell me the important parts about you.
Darrel: My record isn't exactly spotless.
Bibi makes a consoling tentacle gesture. Whose is? ~~ open minded ~~
Darrel: I spent some time in a hellhole on the Border, over by the coast. Bender Cove.
Bibi nods. She's heard tall tales about that place.
Darrel: They'd just opened a Sime Center in the bad part of town, and it was one disaster after another. The Controller was never around to take care of problems, his Donor was a menace to any Sime in zlinning range, there was a feral Farris channel who ran in and out, making trouble...
Darrel: It finally got to be too much for me, and I broke. I spent some time at Householding Naros, then they put me in official rehabilitation. I was declared cured just in time to be assigned to the Snake River Dam project. And the less said about that mess, the better.
Bibi: ~~ sympathy ~~ It sounds like you've had a really hard time of it.
Darrel: I've been shuttled from place to place ever since, as the Controllers fight over who has to take on such a liability.
Bibi doesn't know whether it's a good sign or not that Darrel is being so open and self-deprecating. She hopes he's well enough over his problems that he can handle things here with Cristal's assistance.
Darrel isn't being open, so much as he knows Bibi is holding his file, so there's no way to hide his past.
Bibi: How do you feel about being sent here?
Darrel: I don't know yet. I wasn't told anything about this place, except that I was going to spend a month here filling in for a channel who's managed to earn a vacation the hard way. Is your lobby prone to disasters? ~~ anxious ~~
Bibi laughs, then remembers Daffodil stalking Vannil, albeit unsuccessfully.
Darrel catches the change of mood.
Darrel: It is?
Bibi: Well, we haven't had a disaster there since we opened, except for the time we ran out of Miz Zorged's raisin cookies and the donors had to make do with Miz Hwibl's much inferior ones. Miz Hwibl was furious when some of the comments got back to her.
Bibi smiles again.
Bibi: No, it's usually very peaceful here. Most of the community either supports us or is indifferent.
Darrel: ~~ relief ~~ You don't have any First Order channels assigned here, do you?
Bibi: No, I'm the only channel assigned here. It's really a very small operation.
Darrel: Good, good. Not that I have anything against Firsts, but they have Donors, you see.
Bibi begins to get a ~~ cold chill ~~ which she conceals behind her showfield. Just how weird is this guy?
Bibi: Yes, they do.
Darrel: There was a First Order Donor at Bender Cove. Alea Farris. Have you any idea what it zlins like, when a Gen like that loses control and slaps you?
Bibi: It sounds awful. Uh, we have had the occasional First stop here briefly to pick up some of our selyn on their way back in-T, but never a Farris, so far.
Darrel: Well, that's something. ~~ relief ~~
Bibi: And, uh, perhaps you heard that we had a young man change over as a channel here and I assigned my Donor to him?
Darrel: Yes. And then your replacement Donor couldn't get through. It must have been awful. ~~ sympathy ~~
Bibi: A First stationed in New Washington came out here to serve me in transfer. But his Donor is a very nice young man, very well controlled, very pleasant to be with. Oh! You said you were at the Snake River Dam? You must know them then, Hajene Seruffin and Sosu Gerrhonot?
Darrel: I saw them, now and then. Seruffin's the one who blew the whistle on what was going on there, wasn't he?
Bibi: Yes, I believe he was. We haven't talked about it.
Darrel: Well, who would talk about a place like that, if there was something else to discuss?
Bibi: There is that.
Darrel: So, tell me about the Sime Center here. How did it come to be here, so far from the border? What are the people like?
Bibi: Well, the moving force behind it is Miz Rose Brown, a woman of eighty-six years.
Darrel: Eighty-six? ~~ disbelief ~~
Bibi: Oh, yes. There are quite a few old people here, many who donate too, although few as old as she is. Nivet will be like that too, in another fifty years, you know.
Darrel: I suppose so. So the elders of the town support the Center?
Bibi: Some do. Miz Brown backed a new doctrine in her church that says channels are God's gift, wasted on both sides of the border before Unity, and she decided it was time to get a channel here and stop the murders and the kills.
Bibi: She's a very determined woman, and she got her daughters and granddaughters and others to work on the Tecton and get a Sime Center here.
Darrel: So most of the supporters are her relatives?
Bibi: At first, but many other people got involved, mostly women. What mother wants her child shot? So within her church, almost everyone donates now, and many other people have come here for the first time bringing a child in changeover.
Darrel: It sounds like what Unity was supposed to be all about. ~~ wistful ~~
Bibi: It's not perfect. There are still murders, and still kills.
Darrel: Are there any particular problems I should know about?
Bibi: I won't be leaving for several days, and you'll have Cristal to fill you in. Few of the Donors have ever met another channel, much less donated to one, so it may be confusing for them. Uh, I don't know how familiar you are with out-T culture?
Darrel: Well, some. I've never lived out here, but I did have a pen pal from Gen Territory, growing up.
Bibi: People may feel differently about a male channel instead of a female one.
Darrel: Really? Why should they?
Bibi wonders how she can summarize the differences in the relationships between the sexes, much more important out- than in-T.
Bibi: People somehow see women as... less dangerous? Uh. It's very difficult to put into words.
Bibi wishes Nattin were here to deliver a lecture, but he's already left for his conference.
Darrel: From what I've read, I would have thought that having tentacles would be more important than your sex?
Bibi: It should, and of course, for most it does. But the donors have accepted me as a person like themselves, so the dichotomy between the sexes has come to the fore again. Uh... some may feel squeamish about making a lip contact with a male channel, for one thing.
Darrel: I've heard they don't distinguish between lip contact and kissing?
Bibi: Right. A lip contact is a kind of kiss for them -- it has sexual connotation. Not something most would consider doing with a stranger, and for the men especially not with another man.
Darrel: Are any of them likely to refuse to donate to me?
Bibi: Some might. Or when they hear about you, they may just not come in. Or men might not approve of their wives or daughters donating to you.
Bibi: They, of course, surreptitiously enjoy "kissing" me. The technical term in anthropology is "double standard". So please don't take it personally.
Darrel: Well, I suppose if they don't want to donate for one month, it won't be the problem it would be in Sime Territory, right?
Bibi: Yes. No Simes here, no problem. If you want to put off taking first donations until I come back, that's fine too. It can be very difficult for an out-T Gen, and it may be easier for them if it's to a channel that everyone knows.
Darrel: I'll give them that option, certainly, although I've found that a timid Gen who's finally nerved himself up to donate usually wants to do it as soon as possible.
Bibi: That's true. Use your best judgment.
Bibi spreads her hands and tentacles and shrugs.
Darrel: It's a small town; I expect that any potential donors will know exactly who's taking the donations long before they get in the door. Are there any particular problem donors I should be aware of, outside of your Masons?
Bibi: None too difficult, although it helps to know a bit about their backgrounds. I've documented everything in as much detail as I could in their files.
Darrel: I will certainly read your notes before putting a tentacle tip on your donors.
Bibi looks Darrel in the eye.
Bibi: Some of the donors have gone through traumas you can't imagine in-T. They've lost relatives to the murders and the kills. Some have witnessed kills. A few have been attacked themselves.
Bibi spreads her tentacles again, and extends her laterals slightly.
Bibi: Yet they are willing to put themselves in my tentacles...
Darrel: You have donors volunteering, who were actually attacked? ~~ respect ~~
Bibi: A few. None who experienced draw -- the berserker was shot while stalking them, or before achieving an effective grip.
Darrel shudders. He has a very active imagination, although he wishes he didn't at times like this.
Darrel: Besides donations and the occasional changeover, do you get any other clients?
Bibi: I do a little medical work, mostly for people who can't afford the doctor, or who have conditions that aren't effectively treated by physicians. Of course, there usually isn't much I can do for them either, except ameliorate the symptoms a bit.
Darrel: What sort of cases are they?
Bibi: Arthritis. Degenerative disk disease and similar back problems. I sometimes heal minor wounds for donors, too, especially infected wounds. Of course, I detect pregnancies very early as well.
Darrel: Well, I can handle that sort of thing, if your patients are willing.
Bibi: Yes. The other thing I do -- a lot of children come here, both openly and by sneaking in after dark. Sometimes they think they are in changeover, but most often they want to know whether they are "safe" yet. That's a euphemism for establishment.
Bibi: I do my best to convince them that they are always welcome, even if it's a false alarm.
Darrel: I see. Has there been any trouble over that, from their parents?
Bibi: I often have to promise the children that I won't tell their parents. Darrel, growing up in-T you can't imagine what it's like for a child to fear that at any time the people who love him best might shoot him dead. And there are good reasons for the child to concur that they ought to do so.
Darrel: No, I can't imagine that. I was worried that I'd establish, of course, but all that would've meant was disappointing my parents.
Bibi: It would be wonderful if it could be that way out here, but it's much more like junct times in-T, at least for children.
Darrel: It's a wonder any of them become sane adults.
Bibi: People are very resilient. But it can be hell for a parent, raising a child he may have to murder.
Bibi sighs again.
Darrel: Well, I'll do my best to look after your people while you're gone. I envy you. Not many channels can manage a vacation.
Bibi: Well, they'll be keeping me busy, both at the conference and in the changeover wards.
Bibi's smile fades.
Bibi: I don't suppose you have experience with with kids in changeover who have no preparation for it, and have dreaded it ever since they learned it could happen to them?
Darrel: Well, a few, in Bender Cove. And some at the Snake River Dam, although at least those kids had parents who were flexible enough on the issue to emigrate, even if it mostly was under duress.
Bibi: That's good. Uh...
Bibi debates whether she should reveal some non-standard practices to the benefit of her community or not.
Darrel raises an eyebrow.
Bibi: Darrel, it sometimes makes a big difference if you influence the child nagerically... a lot more strongly than the Tecton normally approves of. A lot of these kids... lose the will to live. If you can override that to get them through the changeover, they often do very well. If you don't... they may die.
Bibi examines her tentacles.
Bibi: It's an ethical choice, something you'll have to consider for yourself.
Darrel: Does your Donor approve of this?
Darrel really, really doesn't need a witness blabbing on him, if he does something non-Tecton approved.
Bibi: His attitudes have ... changed since he's been working here.
Darrel: Hardship posts do that.
Bibi: I think he's come to understand the people out here much better than he did at first.
Darrel: I see. What's he like to work with? Any foibles I should know about?
Bibi: He's excellent technically, really remarkable for a Second, but he sometimes... doesn't perceive a social or psychological situation as... accurately as one might wish.
Bibi isn't going to come right out and say that Cristal sometimes says the most disastrously wrong thing, often with the best of intentions.
Bibi: Well, yes, that too. But I believe he is improving, as he comes to understand the people out here better.
Darrel: Well, I look forward to meeting him.
Bibi: I'm sure he's looking forward to meeting you.
Bibi leans forward and taps Darrel lightly on the back of the hand with a tentacle tip.
Bibi: He can give a very good transfer, and he can do a lot for a channel nagerically.
Darrel: That will be a nice change. My last Donor was a bit... distractable.
Bibi: And the one you brought with you?
Darrel: She's all right, apart from the motion sickness.
Bibi: Uh... good.
Bibi turns her head as she hears the front door open and zlins two high field Gens entering the waiting area.
Bibi: Ah. More business. Come, I'll introduce you to some locals.