Fennik stands and stretches, discreetly, at the close of the panel discussion. He found it less interesting than he'd hoped, but his attention was diverted by the moderator being introduced as Professor Nattin ambrov Frihill, who has been working at the Hannard's Ford Sime Center.
Nattin did manage to make it to the conference only a day late, neatly missing the banquet, and in plenty of time to host his panel. He thinks that only starving grad student types like Driver like conference banquets.
Fennik hopes to talk to Nattin about Fridda, since he must have met her. He hopes for more information and insight about his daughter.
Nattin intends to go out that evening to a certain very nice little restaurant, with a few of his naztehrhai.
Fennik heads up the aisle towards the front where Nattin and the panelists are chatting with some of the audience. He's trying to be as dignified as usual, despite the fact that half the people he's dodging are not Gens. ~~ calm ~~ excited ~~ nervous ~~ uncertain ~~ calm ~~
Nattin is engaging in a spirited difference of opinion with Vilda ambrov Carre, who is excited enough that her tentacles are waving in emphasis.
Fennik edges past a group of grad students who are excitedly discussing the views of one of the panelists and stumbles over a trin cup someone has carelessly set down next to an end seat.
Driver zlins the elderly Gen stumble, and whirls under low augmentation to grab the man's arm and steady him, before he hurts himself.
Driver: Watch out, there!
Driver is unfortunately speaking in Simelan.
Fennik's ~~ surprise ~~ at losing his balance is rapidly followed by ~~ shock ~~ as a set of tentacles out of nowhere wrap around his upper arm and jerk him upright. He then realizes what happened and is ~~ profoundly embarrassed ~~ at his reaction.
Fennik: [Simelan, with an atrocious accent] Thank you, Tuib.
Driver lets Fennik go when he seems steady on his feet, then cocks his head, analyzing the accent.
Driver: You're welcome. [in Genlan] Be careful where you walk; there's a lot of clutter around here.
Driver is, after all, a Sime, with all the overprotectiveness of Gens that implies.
Fennik eyes the young Sime, with a dignified but pleasant expression on his face, while he continues ~~ embarrassed ~~ and tries to suppress the ~~ creepy feeling ~~ of having had a stranger touch him.
Fennik: Yes, there is.
Fennik realizes that the Sime must be perceiving his emotions and tries to be ~~ calm ~~ and ~~ pleasant ~~ with indifferent success.
Driver backs away a few steps.
Driver: Hey, take it easy.
Fennik flushes with further ~~ embarrassment ~~ at this evidence of nageric body odor.
Nattin notices his student's discomfort, and stages a rescue.
Fennik: [rote Simelan] Please forgive my unintended rudeness. I am from out-T.
Fennik realizes that the young Sime would understand it in Genlan, but it's easier to run off a rote string in a foreign language than say it and try to zlin humble. Besides, he's ~~ flustered ~~.
Nattin: Driver, Professor Ygmie is over there. You might want to ask her about her new book, before she disappears. She's taking the early train this evening.
Nattin switches to Genlan with the effortless ease of someone who's been bilingual all his life.
Nattin: I'm sure my student isn't offended, [takes a quick peek at the nametag on Fennik's jacket] Professor Feenick?
Fennik: Yes, I'm Jon Fennik. I'm very pleased to meet you, Professor Nattin.
Fennik has noted that Householders go by title plus first name.
Nattin takes in the correct pronunciation of "Fennik".
Nattin: Fennik -- are you related to a young Sime named Fridda?
Fennik: Yes, she's my daughter. ~~ pride ~~ confusion ~~ embarrassment ~~ relief ~~ eagerness to talk ~~
Nattin notes nearby Simes edging away, and starts walking for a less crowded part of the room, motioning for Fennik to go with him.
Nattin: It's really unfortunate about her tentacles. You must be worried for her.
Fennik follows. He noticed the Simes backing off too, and adds ~~ humiliated ~~ and ~~ discouraged ~~ to his nageric broadcast.
Nattin decides stronger measures are in order.
Nattin: Professor Fennik, can you do this?
Nattin twists his hands and fingers in a complicated gesture Householders use to signal "more trin tea, please".
Fennik thinks this is rather bizarre, but when in Nome... He makes an effort to copy Nattin's gesture, but the result is a not-very-close approximation. ~~ puzzled ~~
Nattin sees the Simes close enough to be affected by Fennik's field relax a little. He also sees that Fennik's gesture is sloppy enough to be mistaken for one used to propose something a great deal more intimate than a refill of one's teacup. He's not particularly concerned about that at the moment, however.
Fennik: I don't think I managed to get that right, did I? ~~ still puzzled ~~
Nattin: Not really, but that's not important, just now. When you find yourself losing control of your emotions like that, find something you don't feel strongly about to focus your attention on. That way, you won't upset all the Simes in zlinning range.
Fennik blushes with ~~ intense embarrassment ~~ at his nageric incompetence, then realizes he's doing it again, tries to control, without much success, absorbs what Nattin just said with renewed ~~ hope ~~ and thinks about the workings of Pistareen's bagpipes. ~~ mild disgust ~~
Nattin casts a glance around, judging the reaction of the nearby Simes.
Nattin: Well, that's better, at least.
Fennik: It's been very difficult. I find I'm constantly embarrassed by the reactions of the Simes to my lack of nageric control.
Nattin: All that does is add one more uncomfortable emotion to the jumble. The trick is to relax and behave normally. You don't normally get upset at every little thing, do you?
Fennik: No, but I don't normally have so many people reacting like I've trodden on their feet, either. ~~ discouraged ~~
Nattin: You'll get the hang of it. I've seen worse cases, before Unity.
Fennik: I hope so. I'll be visiting Fridda tomorrow. I hope I won't upset her. ~~ worried ~~ hopeful ~~
Nattin: You're visiting her? Now, that's interesting. The girl seemed positive that she'd never see you again. What changed your mind?
Fennik: I... I don't believe I really changed my mind at all. She's still my daughter. I still care for her, even if she is Sime. It was so unexpected. She turned sixteen a few days later.
Nattin: You thought she'd established?
Fennik: Yes. I thought she was safe.
Fennik does a double take.
Fennik: She is safe now, even if she is Sime.
Fennik shakes his head at hearing the euphemism "safe" with new ears.
Nattin: Well, yes. She's not going to die of attrition, at any rate.
Fennik: Nor is anyone going to have to shoot her.
Nattin: One would hope not.
Nattin considers shooting Simes to be a sign of uncivilized behavior.
Fennik shudders at the thought of having to shoot his beloved daughter. ~~ imagined horror ~~
Fennik: You must have spoken to her afterwards, when she was in Hannard's Ford?
Nattin makes the "more tea please" gesture again.
Fennik tries to think about the curriculum committee meeting next week to suppress the ~~ anticipation ~~ regret ~~ uncertainty ~~ hope ~~ worry ~~ he's feeling.
Nattin: Well, yes, of course. It was a week or more before we could send her across the border.
Fennik: She... what did she...
Nattin steps to the side, to place his own above-mid-field nager between Fennik and poor Milvan ambrov Imil, who is frail and elderly, and doesn't deserve to be assaulted by an out-Territory menace.
Nattin: What about her, Professor Fennik?
Fennik: I'm so sorry she had to go through what she did. I hope she'll forgive me for letting her down when she needed help most.
Fennik studies the non-pattern in the terrazzo floor, hoping this will dilute his nageric projection.
Nattin: I don't think she blames you. As far as I can tell, she never expected anything different.
Nattin's tone is neutral and matter-of-fact.
Fennik: Had we been in New Washington, I would have taken her to the Sime Center, but I never told her that. I thought she'd established.
Nattin: I really should write up a strong recommendation for the Tecton authorities. It seems that very few people on your side of the border understand that channels are quite happy to examine youngsters and confirm establishment, if that's what's happened. It's so much easier than dealing with the human carnage that results when a changeover catches everyone by surprise.
Fennik: I realize that... but to take her to a Sime Center... It's... not done, well, for people of my class.
Fennik realizes how much his views have changed.
Fennik: Of course, I no longer feel that way about it. I've donated twice now.
Fennik looks at Nattin, wondering if this social scientist can really understand him, his culture and his position in it.
Nattin: You've donated... twice?
Fennik: Yes. To Hajene Seruffin. I assigned the credits to Fridda.
Nattin notes the emphasis on the channel's name.
Nattin: How did you manage to get a busy diplomat like Hajene Seruffin for two months running?
Fennik: I went to his office.
Nattin raises an eyebrow.
Nattin: Why did you want to deal with Hajene Seruffin, specifically? Most Gens don't have a strong preference between channels.
Fennik: My brother-in-law, Fridda's uncle, Senator Tsibola, insisted I arrange to get an exemption from donating when I mentioned that I was coming to this conference. We went to the embassy, and ended up speaking with Hajene Seruffin. Of course, I was glad to meet him, since he could tell me about Fridda.
Nattin: I see. And you decided that you'd rather deal with a channel you'd at least met, than a stranger?
Fennik: Yes. There's also the problem of being seen to donate, although my attitudes have changed since then. But the Senator wants Fridda's survival to remain... unadvertised, because of the effect on his political positions.
Nattin: So you're pretending your daughter is dead?
Fennik: No. I'm not.
Nattin finds this a little ~~ confusing ~~
Fennik: But I've agreed not to... publicize her survival.
Nattin: Or the fact that you've donated?
Fennik has been feeling increasingly uncomfortable about all this secrecy.
Fennik: Yes. I won't deny anything, but neither will I volunteer information.
Nattin: What does Fridda think about that?
Fennik: I don't know. I hope she'll be able to appreciate my circumstances. And she's certainly aware of how strong-willed her uncle is.
Nattin: Yes. He insisted on speaking to her through the hedge, I understand, so he could claim that he wasn't fraternizing with Simes, or something of the sort. It struck me as something of a technicality.
Fennik: He must have looked very foolish. He's sworn never to enter Sime Territory, especially a Sime Center. So he stayed outside the hedge.
Nattin: Somehow, I doubt the people to whom he gave that oath would accept that distinction as valid, under the circumstances. Do you?
Fennik: He's the politician. I'm a university professor.
Nattin makes a gesture, conceding the point.
Nattin: There is a difference.
Fennik: Thank goodness.
Nattin: Tell me, do you intend to continue to donate, when you return home?
Fennik: I believe so, yes.
Nattin: Even if Hajene Seruffin is no longer available?
Fennik: Yes. I suppose I can inflict myself on another channel.
Nattin raises an eyebrow.
Nattin: You had a difficult time of it?
Fennik looks and sounds calm and confident, but is projecting ~~ uneasy ~~ squeamish ~~ embarrassed ~~
Fennik: More that he had a difficult time with me, I think. But he said I'd get better with experience.
Nattin: Most people do. That's part of the reason that before Unity, new Gen "recruits" were handled by the Sectuib until they got over their... difficulties.
Fennik: Well, of course, I'm a volunteer. And Hajene Seruffin is very experienced, is he not?
Nattin: Yes, he's experienced enough, although he's more of a diplomat than an expert in donation problems.
Nattin knows that a non-Householding channel like Seruffin would have had little opportunity to learn the techniques the Householdings developed over generations of handling Wild Gens.
Fennik: Professor Nattin, about Fridda's tentacles... as a social scientist... How much of a problem is this going to be for her? Will people regard it as an unsightly or repugnant deformity?
Nattin: It depends partly on how much they heal. Hajene Seruffin seemed to think that there would be some improvement, although he wouldn't venture how much.
Nattin: It's very difficult, though, psychologically, for a Sime to have damaged handling tentacles. It means she can't protect her laterals properly, and so she's more vulnerable to potentially fatal injuries. Even if she can accept the impairment, she'll zlin the reactions of those around her.
Nattin spreads his hands in a gesture that would include spread handling tentacles, if he had handling tentacles to spread.
Nattin: She's a strong young woman, though. She'll learn to live with it.
Fennik feels considerable ~~ sadness ~~ regret ~~ personal failure ~~ discouragement ~~ then realizes he must be projecting these emotions and looks around, adding ~~ guilt ~~ and ~~ embarrassment ~~ to the mix.
Fennik looks at the boring non-pattern of the terrazzo floor and tries to be, not just seem, calm.
Fennik: Hajene Seruffin told me... that she would never be able to grip a Gen well enough to... kill. Do you think that would be a comfort to her?
Nattin catches an irritated glance or two in Fennik's direction.
Nattin: In some ways, yes. Of course, it also means that she'll never be able to grip a channel's tentacles strongly enough to prevent herself from being shenned. Not that a channel would do so intentionally, of course. But that insecurity might cause her trouble, at times.
Fennik feels ~~ intense guilt ~~ that he didn't help Fridda find a channel in a way that would not have required her to unintentionally mutilate herself.
Fennik: Show me that hand gesture again?
Nattin signals "more tea".
Nattin: Like that.
Fennik concentrates on the motion and does a somewhat better job of reproducing it, although it still looks rather like an indecent proposal.
Fennik: Thank you.
Nattin: It's not the gesture that's important, it's the way it distracts you to have to concentrate on it. If you put your attention on something which doesn't evoke strong emotions in you, you'll stop annoying the nearby Simes. You can tell when that's happening, you know.
Fennik: Yes, they react like anyone exposed to an unpleasant stimulus.
Nattin: Indeed. So if you watch for that reaction, you'll know when you're projecting.
Fennik: How does anyone discuss anything that's loaded emotionally here? Do they have to go off by themselves, away from any other Simes?
Nattin: Not necessarily, although it's considered polite to do so if you know you're going to be very upset. There are times when it's easier not to be worrying about control. However, when people glare at you every time you slip up, the necessary control becomes a habit pretty quickly.
Fennik: People around me have been remarkably forgiving to a barbarian, it seems.
Fennik doesn't notice that he's been saying "people' when referring specifically to Simes for some time now.
Nattin: You're lowfield. That not only reduces the strength of your projection, it also demonstrates your good intentions.
Fennik gazes about the room, where knots of people of both larities are engaged in collegial conversation.
Janeen is across the room, engaging in conversation that's a tad more than collegial with this really cute fellow grad student she's met.
Feffer: So I'll be sure to look for your poster.
Feffer remembers his manners abruptly.
Feffer: By the way, my name is Feffer. What is yours?
Feffer: Ah. A beautiful name, and so unusual! Or perhaps it is not so unusual, on your side of the Border?
Janeen smiles, showing two rows of white teeth.
Janeen: It's my grandmother's name.
Janeen finds Feffer ~~ attractive ~~
Feffer: Ah. I don't believe I have ever met anyone with that name before, although of course many out-Territory -- no, you say Genland, do you not? -- names are becoming popular with us now.
Janeen: I like Fef--Faffer?
Feffer: Feffer. That too is a Genland name, but I think it was changed when my grandfather came here, because Simes could not pronounce his old name well.
Janeen: Oh, it's sad that your grandfather had to leave his home.
Janeen reaches out a hand in ~~ sympathy ~~
Feffer: It was far far better than being shot, was it not?
Feffer is unsure how to read Janeen's gesture, but he knows how she's feeling, at least.
Janeen: Yes, but still.
Janeen is definitely a "toucher", which caused a little bit of awkwardness early in her relationship with her professor.
Fennik: It's been a very interesting experience coming here, and meeting my in-T colleagues.
Nattin: I'm sure it is. Being limited to one Territory must be very... limiting.
Nattin is of the opinion that out-Territory scholarship is generally inferior to that found in the Householdings.
Fennik: I hope you've seen more of Gen Territory than that little town you're stationed in. Have you visited New Washington?
Nattin: Oh, yes, several times. The first was before Unity, actually.
Fennik: Really? That must have been difficult to arrange.
Fennik thinks crossing the border in either direction must have been difficult.
Nattin: It was a bit complicated, but not all that difficult. My Genlan is good enough to pass, and we didn't exactly inform the authorities on either side of our travel plans. It was easy enough to avoid the Border Patrols with a Sime or two who could zlin them coming. We wanted to do a bit of excavating in the ruins near your capital, you see.
Fennik: You had Simes with you? Wasn't that a terrible risk to them?
Nattin: Yes, but then, one must take risks for one's studies, right?
Fennik is unaware of how sympathetic to Simes he sounds.
Nattin: They all took transfer just before we crossed the border, and we were only gone for three weeks. I and the other Gens on the expedition handled the contact with the locals, buying supplies and that sort of thing.
Fennik: Well, I've never had to risk my life for my research. My chances at tenure a few times, perhaps. Of course, some of my colleagues think I'm risking my life coming to this conference!
Nattin: Well, there you are. As long as we were careful to avoid people as much as practical, we were actually in less danger than we would have been, if we'd been excavating a similar ruin in Sime Territory.
Feffer extends the tips of his ventral tentacles and brushes them against the inside of Janeen's wrist.
Janeen takes that as a cue to take Feffer's hand.
Feffer: Thank you. The quality of your sympathy is very ... pleasant. But really, it was a most long time ago!
Janeen: I'm very glad I didn't have to leave my family. Well, I did, to go to school, but you know what I mean.
Feffer: Ah. Here in Sime Territory, no one leaves home until they want to do so. Or almost no one. It must be most difficult, not to know whether you must run.
Janeen: Yes, it is.
Feffer: For that you have my sympathy.
Feffer decides it's time, and wraps all his handling tentacles around Janeen's wrist.
Janeen smiles up at Feffer once more, squeezing his hand.
Janeen: Thank you.
Janeen has donated often enough (and had enough guys try to get friendly with her) that this doesn't scare her.
Feffer: The thanks are mine. --Is that right? I am not used to talking much in English, really, except in school.
Janeen decides that tentacles on a guy are a bit kinky, but interesting.
Janeen: You speak it very well. Have you been studying it long?
Feffer sighs theatrically.
Feffer: All my life, it seems! English is such a difficult language, especially to speak well! Easy things are easy to say, but other things are so difficult! Especially to talk about feelings. I think perhaps that you Gens developed English to help you hide your feelings.
Janeen: Oh, some things are the same, in any language.
Janeen moves a little closer, and reaches up with her free hand to trace Feffer's lips.
Feffer: [happily] Mmmmmm. That gives me great pleasure.
Feffer traces Janeen's lips in turn with a dorsal tentacle of his free hand.
Feffer: Your lips are very soft. I enjoy touching them.
Feffer realizes that Janeen can neither zlin him nor pick up on his emotions through training, so he figures he'd better be explicit about it.
Janeen knows a cue when she hears one. She nibbles gently at the tentacle.
Feffer's breathing and heart rate threaten to go through the roof. He reflects that all those stories he'd heard all his life about out-T women are not a bit true!
Fennik: I suppose we've both seen astonishing changes, you more than I, I'm sure. When I look around now, it's hard to imagine what it must have been like here when you were a young man.
Nattin: Well, to begin with, if we'd been in this particular room, we'd probably have been killed long since.
Fennik thinks that deserves a chuckle, but isn't able to be so casual about mentions of the Kill. It makes him ~~ uneasy ~~ and his mood darkens as he scans the room again for evidence of post-Unity interlarital amity.
Janeen has always ~~ enjoyed ~~ the effect she has on men, at least if they're more or less her own age. She stops nibbling and smiles up at Feffer, leaning towards him.
Feffer uses just a touch of his Sime strength to pull Janeen to him. He holds Janeen close with his arms, uses his tentacles to hold her head, and kisses her first gently, then with more passion.
Fennik's eye is caught by a sudden movement. ~~ shock ~~ It can't be... ~~ relief ~~ No, it's just two young people kissing. A Sime boy and a Gen girl... ~~ shock ~~ It's Janeen!
Janeen returns the kiss with some ~~ enthusiasm ~~ of her own, then breaks it. They are, after all, in a professional conference.
Feffer: Perhaps you don't know how erotic that is, what you were doing with my tentacle? Because I assure you that it is!
Fennik is immediately ~~ intensely embarrassed ~~. His ~~ embarrassment ~~ increases as he realizes that he wouldn't be as embarrassed if she were kissing a Gen boy.
Fennik is oblivious to the turned heads of most of the Simes within quite a few meters radius.
Nattin looks at Fennik with some ~~ concern ~~
Nattin: Is something wrong, Professor Fennik?
Fennik turns towards Nattin thinking about how to do the "more tea" gesture transposing left and right hands.
Fennik: No, I don't believe so.
Nattin wonders for a moment just why Fennik is suddenly calling for a medic, then realizes that he isn't.
Nattin signals "never mind" to the room, just in case some overzealous person calls for the nearest channel.
Fennik wonders what emotions Nattin is losing control of.
Nattin: Are you sure?
Fennik: Yes. Nothing wrong.
Fennik is not looking forward to confronting his student about her unprofessional conduct in front of people who may be reviewing her papers or interviewing her for an academic position.