Travel Broadens: Episode 7

Seruffin enters the Bottomless Channel alone, after leaving Bibi dithering in her room. He hopes that Bibi really will join them later, but is aware that she has little interest in food at the moment. He thinks that the delectable odors would tempt even a channel in need to eat, in the complete absence of a Donor.

Seruffin makes his way to the table where D'zoll is waiting.

Seruffin: Hajene Farris, I hope you haven't been waiting long.

D'zoll: Not at all, Hajene Seruffin. My last patient didn't show, or I'd probably be late instead of early. It does smell good here, doesn't it?

Seruffin: Yes. Enough to tempt a channel in hard need. I spend enough time out-Territory that I really appreciate the chance to eat a familiar cuisine.

D'zoll laughs.

D'zoll: And Gens think Simes have no real interest in food. Ha!

Seruffin: It's a matter of quality, not quantity.

D'zoll: I'm glad you agree with me, Hajene.

Seruffin smiles, letting his ~~ good humor ~~ show.

D'zoll consults the menu.

D'zoll: I think I'll have the pot pie. The crust is particularly flaky here.

Seruffin looks at his own menu.

Seruffin: I believe I'll start with the spring salad with the hazelnut oil dressing and dried cranberries. How are the dumplings here? Should I recommend them to Bibi?

D'zoll: I never cared for dumplings, alas, so I can't comment. But I'd say you can't go too far wrong with anything here.

Seruffin: Good. Bibi and I have both been spending a lot of time in Gen Territory lately. It's good for Unity, but hard on the palate. Their chefs often have trouble figuring out how to make a meal that doesn't include animal flesh.

D'zoll: I dare say they go heavy on the dairy, then?

Seruffin: Yes, at least in areas suitable for cattle farming.

D'zoll waves at the waiter, who bustles up and takes the order, only slightly overawed by a Farris and another channel at one table.

Seruffin holds back one of the menus, for Bibi, when she shows up.

D'zoll: So. What can you tell me about this patient of Hajene Bibi's, then? Have you zlinned him yourself?

Seruffin: I haven't had nearly as much contact with him as Bibi, and it was through retainers. Neither of us has had a chance to deep-zlin him, obviously.

D'zoll: Indeed.

Bibi walks towards the restaurant ~~ determined ~~ to stay cool and enjoy herself if possible, although the thought of eating is almost as intimidating as the thought of sitting next to a Farris channel for the length of a meal.

Seruffin: He seemed to be trying very hard to act normally, while everything in him wanted to run away.

D'zoll: That certainly fits the profile, as far as I remember it.

Seruffin: He is unusually openminded about Simes, for an out-Territory Gen from an isolated community. He simply can't function in our presence.

Bibi reminds herself that not only does she have a perfectly adequate Donor lined up for her next transfer, but here in Capital another Donor would be available almost immediately even if her own Donor suddenly dropped dead on the threshold of the transfer room.

D'zoll: Well, if his problems are purely emotional, and not a matter of prejudice as well, that's certainly encouraging.

Seruffin: Well, yes and no. That his reaction to the presence of Simes is so negative, without any prejudice reinforcing them, points to the severity of the problem.

D'zoll: Certainly. But I think you'll agree that it's simpler to treat one problem, however severe, than two? With a dual diagnosis, whatever one does to help the one problem can often exacerbate the other.

Seruffin: Well, yes. However, I hope you enjoy a challenge.

D'zoll: Of course I do.

Bibi pauses in the street outside the restaurant, bravely setting her showfield to ~~ calm ~~ professional ~~ pleasant ~~ over the mix of ~~ intimidated ~~ dreading need ~~ nervous ~~ and ~~ embarrassed about it all ~~ in her personal field.

D'zoll: Hmm. I zlin Hajene Bibi coming toward the restaurant. ~~ satisfaction ~~ Excellent!

Seruffin is ~~ relieved ~~

Seruffin: I'm glad she decided to come, after all.

D'zoll smiles.

D'zoll: My dear Seruffin -- I may call you that? -- I assure you that wild horses couldn't keep Bibi from a meeting that she thinks is important to the welfare of her patient.

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: You're probably right. However, I do think she's a bit in awe of your expertise.

D'zoll: Perhaps. But I do think that she handled me very well on the conference floor, even when I pushed her a bit. After all, when I'm done with the man, she'll have to take up where I left off. So I had to know.

Seruffin: Yes.

Seruffin frowns at the thought of Bibi handling Gegg.

D'zoll is not used to playing in these rarefied political circles, and wants to make sure he's on Seruffin's good side.

D'zoll: -- You have a concern?

Seruffin: What sort of a result do you think you can obtain, realistically?

D'zoll: ~~ cautious ~~ Realistically, I won't know till I try, I'm afraid. Ancient history aside, this is an unusual case.

Seruffin: Very. And it's been mishandled for over a decade, which can't help matters any.

D'zoll raises his eyebrows.

D'zoll: Mishandled? Or just not handled at all?

Seruffin: It's hard to tell.

D'zoll: ~~ puzzled ~~ I'm not sure I understand. Surely until now he's had no therapy whatsoever?

Seruffin: I may be an old worrywart, but I'm fond of Bibi, and I don't want to leave her with yet another problem donor on her tentacles.

Bibi enters the restaurant and speaks to the maitre d', even though it's obvious from the ambient where the two Firsts are seated. She hesitates in the doorway of the dining room, seeing the two men in intense conversation.

D'zoll: ~~ recognition ~~ Oh, of course not! With that etiology and history, I don't think he should ever donate to anyone but a First. In any event, Bibi doesn't want to break in.

D'zoll makes eye contact with Bibi and makes the gesture and nageric inflection that means "Join us!"

Seruffin adds ~~ welcome ~~

Seruffin: I believe he was almost dishonorably discharged from the Gen military for cowardice, over the issue.

D'zoll snorts.

D'zoll: Sounds like the military, all right. Take your pick, dumb or dumber.

Bibi blushes, helplessly, walks over to the table and sits.

Seruffin hands her a menu.

Bibi: Good evening. I apologize for my lateness.

Seruffin: We are glad you could join us, Bibi. I'm told the dumplings are likely to be exceptional.

Bibi quickly scans the menu. Everything looks appealing, intellectually, but she has no appetite.

Bibi: Perhaps just some of the oleander tea. ~~ faintly nauseated by the cooking odors ~~

Seruffin tries to subtly ease the nausea by offering ~ support ~.

Seruffin: If that's what you wish.

Seruffin gives the waiter the order for tea, and orders a basket of mixed breads for the table. He has learned a thing or two about coaxing a channel in need to eat, from Gerrhonot.

Bibi signals thanks to Seruffin for his support.

D'zoll: Hajene Bibi, I can provide you with a little appetite, if you want. It would be no trouble at all -- at any rate, there's no reason for you to suffer this way.

Bibi: I... It does seem a wasted opportunity, to be here and unable to appreciate the food.

D'zoll: Allow me, then.

D'zoll gently engages Bibi's fields, providing a ~~ smooth stimulation of Bibi's appetite for food ~~. Normally, D'zoll applies this technique to raising intil in renSimes, but it works just as well for other bodily appetites.

Bibi now finds the cooking odors delightfully aromatic instead of nauseating. She smiles.

D'zoll smiles back.

Seruffin ~~ admires ~~ D'zoll's technique.

D'zoll: Ahhhh, that's much better, isn't it.

Bibi: Thank you. Perhaps I will try the dumplings.

Seruffin's training is more in diplomacy than healing, although he has the basics down, of course. He signals the waiter, and passes on the order.

D'zoll sets a small portion of his field to ~~ support Bibi's appetite ~~ and lets the rest of his attention return to the conversation.

D'zoll: I was just asking Seruffin here about the details of your patient's nager, but he deferred to you as the one with the greater experience with him.

Bibi: Yes, Seruffin hasn't had an opportunity to zlin him, except once, briefly, through retainers. What did you want to know?

D'zoll asks for a variety of technical parameters.

Bibi answers to the best of her limited ability and experience with Gegg.

Seruffin hopes D'zoll isn't too frustrated by the lesser precision of Bibi's statistics.

D'zoll: Ahhh. That's very helpful; thank you. As I was saying to Seruffin, I think we will simply have to see what we will see. Such cases are very unusual in modern times, you know.

Bibi: I'm afraid they aren't as unusual as one might hope. The Gen army is still reluctant to ask the Tecton to send in a team to capture young juncts -- they often prefer to waste the lives of their own soldiers, sending them in to shoot the Simes.

D'zoll nods

Bibi: Of course, Gens with Donor talent are rare, and soldiers who survive capture by the juncts even rarer.

Seruffin: There's a lot more contact between out-Territory Gens and the Sime Centers, too. Although I suppose a lot of the worst cases stay away.

D'zoll: I should say, it's the very unusual case that we get to see.

Seruffin: How common were such cases, before Unity?

D'zoll laughs deprecatingly.

D'zoll: Rare in fact, though common enough in fiction.

Seruffin: Well, it does make a good story, doesn't it? Still, how were such cases handled?

D'zoll: Indeed. But in plain Simelan, most traumatized Gens never managed to do more than submit. Ahhh. The basic technique is simple: desensitization.

Seruffin is ~~ interested ~~ in an aspect of channeling with which he has relatively little experience.

D'zoll: That is, we apply small but gradually increasing doses of the frightening stimulus.

Seruffin: The idea is to build tolerance?

D'zoll: Eventually, the undermind gets the idea that there's nothing to fear except fear itself. Then it's a matter of watchful waiting until the overmind catches up.

D'zoll: [expansively] Did either of you ever have a dog?

Bibi nods.

Seruffin shakes his head.

D'zoll: Well, training the human undermind can be very much like dog training. An abused dog recovers exactly the same way an abused Gen does -- except that it requires only the first stage, since a dog's overmind is very limited. A human being, however, has to realize that the feared stimulus is no longer fearful.

Seruffin: And a Gen can't zlin that?

D'zoll laughs again.

D'zoll: Believe me, self-deception is not confined to Gens! I once worked with a patient who had a phobia about pigeons. After months of desensitization, she still believed she was frightened even there was no trace of fear in her own nager.

Seruffin shakes his head in ~~ wonder ~~

Bibi wonders if legs are being pulled.

D'zoll: I could demonstrate her fields for her all I wanted, and she agreed that I was projecting fearlessness, but it took another six weeks for her to see her new attitudes.

D'zoll: The human mind is truly an amazing thing, Seruffin. And no, Bibi, these stories are true. ~~ reassurance ~~

Seruffin: Still, I would think that Mr. Gegg's case is a bit different from a phobia about pigeons. For one thing, part of his fear is rational, even if its intensity is unwarranted in some situations.

D'zoll: Of course. It's phobic to fear lizards, but around Rialite they have lizards whose bite is quite toxic. Still, you needn't worry about Mr. Gegg suddenly losing all his caution. We mind-healers don't work arbitrary miracles.

D'zoll: At most, we help to change a rigid, defensive undermind-controlled position into a flexible, overmind-controlled one.

Seruffin: I admit, even from what little I've zlinned of the man, it would be miracle enough if he could manage a simple donation. It's a shame, really. He might have made a good Donor, once.

Bibi: It's not necessary that he become a regular donor. He just wants to be able to converse with his son, to be able to touch him, hug him, without experiencing terror.

D'zoll: Of course, of course.

Bibi: He finds his attraction to Simes, especially to Simes in need, perverted and horrifying.

D'zoll: Well, he and I will explore those feelings and find out if we can't make them a little less compelling so that he'll feel a little safer, then.

Bibi looks up as the waiter delivers the food. Everything looks and smells good. Amazing.

D'zoll: It's something like unwinding a knotted-up clump of string. I find an end and then it's a matter of patient untangling.

Seruffin: I don't envy you, working intensely with a high-field Gen who's afraid of you. I find it hard enough to deal with hostile diplomats, even through retainers.

D'zoll: It's a matter of learning to separate your personal feelings from your patient's feelings. That's really what mind-healer training is about: you go through the process yourself, so that you can understand your patients from the inside, as it were.

Bibi: Still, to zlin someone else's suffering can be... distressing, especially when you know you are causing it, and not intentionally.

Bibi regrets having spoken up, and examines her soup. The broth has tiny dumplings floating in it, together with potato leaves and thin slices of daffodil bulb.

D'zoll: There is suffering in the process of recovery. Sometimes it can be like ~~ damps the ambient ~~ having to re-break a bone that has healed incorrectly so that it can heal straight.

Seruffin spears a radicchio leaf on his fork and tastes it. ~~ yumm ~~

Bibi: Well, he's certainly suffering now, and has been for many years, believing himself to be a coward in a culture that despises the cowardly.

Seruffin: I think that may bother him more than his fear of Simes, actually. After all, most of the other Gens in Gumgeeville fear Simes to some extent.

Bibi: Until we told him, he had no idea that he had Donor talent, and that that would have made his experience a great deal more horrible than it would have been for another Gen.

D'zoll: ~~ gently ~~ His emotions are the product of his experience, and as such not to be condemned, but only changed.

Bibi: Certainly. It's ironic that we can see him as a very courageous man, who repeatedly faced his greatest fear to save his son, but he still sees himself as a coward.

D'zoll's pot pie has finally cooled enough to be safe to eat, so he starts working his way through the chunks of carrot, cauliflower, peppers, and potato.

Bibi samples a dumpling, which has exotic jequirity beans in it instead of the usual castor beans. It's really remarkably good, especially the crunchy morning glory seeds in the filling.

Seruffin: Courage is commendable, but a Simephobe can be dangerous around renSimes. Have you given any thought as to how to manage the time Mr. Gegg isn't in therapy?

D'zoll: [smiling a little] I think we must ask for an amnesty in that particular direction. After all, we can't expose all our secrets to you, can we? What would become of our mystique then?

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: I do think you'll enjoy Mr. Gegg's wife. She's a very sensible woman.

Bibi smiles.

D'zoll: Tell me about her. We often treat families just as much as individuals.

Bibi: Perhaps Hajene Farris can interpret her unusual reaction to draw?

D'zoll: ~~ curiosity ~~

Seruffin: Her nager goes clear and still with first lateral contact.

Seruffin adds some numbers, more precise than Bibi's on Toria's husband.

Seruffin: Her reaction speed increased, as well. I've never zlinned anything quite like it.

D'zoll: Ahhh. That may indeed be significant. I shall have to watch them interacting nagerically.

Bibi: She's a very assertive individual. This is much less common in women out-T than here.

D'zoll: I see.

Bibi: She had no difficulty in donating, nor did their daughter, who made her first donation under unusual circumstances.

D'zoll: The plot thickens, eh? Next you'll be telling me they come from Nabaloneh Manor.

D'zoll's eyes twinkle.

Seruffin: She broke into the town jail to donate to a mule who was tending a changeover in the cell.

D'zoll: Yup, sounds like it.

Bibi: Her parents were furious, but it provided an opening for Seruffin to convince Miz Gegg to let us arrange for their son to live close to the Sime Center, since he was having channel premonitions.

D'zoll finishes his pie and gestures "Check!"

Seruffin: Allow me.

Seruffin reaches for his wallet.

D'zoll shapes his field to convey "I'll get you for that!" to Seruffin while hiding it from Bibi, who probably has no patience with such rituals.

Seruffin inspects the bill briefly, before leaving sufficient currency to cover the food and a generous tip, worthy of the excellent cuisine and service.

Bibi would have asked for a Gen bag for her leftovers, but they would poison a Gen.

Seruffin winks at D'zoll, figuring that dumping a Gen like Gegg on the poor man is hardship enough.

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