Shorsh is sitting on a box in Gegg's barn, eating some biscuits Sanda gave him.
Shorsh and D'zoll are stopping overnight in Gumgeeville because the train had a mechanical breakdown, and it won't be fixed before morning, what with waiting for parts. They got a local farmer to haul the prefab mobile unit to the Geggs' farm, figuring that this will save the hassle of hauling it back to Gumgeeville from Hannard's Ford, and where else are they going to spend the night?
Petunia snuffles to the limits of her pen and noses up to Shorsh, oinking pleadingly at the biscuits.
Shorsh is taking a break because he's had to do most of the work of setting up the module -- it's too dangerous for D'zoll to do much in retainers.
Shorsh: You should try one of these biscuits, D'zoll. They're much flakier than the ones we get at home. Toria is one out-T Gen who does know how to cook.
Shorsh is unaware that the flakiness is mainly due to the use of lard as shortening, much more effective than vegetable oil in this application. Sanda didn't think of that when she gave him the food.
D'zoll eyes the biscuit doubtfully.
D'zoll: Well, okay.
Shorsh passes one over.
D'zoll nibbles on the biscuit and brightens up noticeably.
Petunia is unaware of the cannibalistic aspect of the biscuits, and probably wouldn't care anyway.
D'zoll: Hmm, this is good. You're right.
Petunia: (pleadingly) Oink! Oink!
Shorsh: Here, have some of these cherry tomatoes, too.
D'zoll makes a face.
D'zoll: I never liked cherry tomatoes. Too sour.
Shorsh rummages around in the basket.
Shorsh: Ah! Jostaberry jam.
D'zoll: Say what?
Shorsh spreads some on his biscuit and offers the jar to his channel.
D'zoll: Is it sour?
Shorsh: I think it's sweet, but your choice. Here, there's some cheese, too.
D'zoll spreads a dab of jam on a crumb of biscuit and eats it.
D'zoll: Hey, this is really good.
Petunia pushes her snout far enough through the bars to nudge Shorsh in the hip.
Shorsh is ignoring the pig and its grunting. Grotesque creatures.
D'zoll: Do you want the rest of the biscuit, or shall we sacrifice it to the beast gods?
Shorsh: Look, don't just "pig out" on jam, eat some biscuits and cheese, too.
Shorsh is ~~ amused ~~ to be able to use the out-T idiom in this context.
D'zoll tries to grump "Oh very well" but is overtaken by a fit of laughter instead.
D'zoll's fit ends, and he spreads some cheese over the rest of the biscuit and nibbles on it.
Shorsh is ~~ hungry ~~ enough to ignore the pig smells, and besides, he's sitting in a breeze from the wide open doors. He has another biscuit with cheese.
Petunia oinks hopefully again.
D'zoll manages to eat most of the biscuit and tosses the rest to Petunia with Sime accuracy.
Petunia enthusiastically snarfs up the biscuit and snuffles around, searching for more.
Shorsh: Toria and her daughter didn't seem at all afraid of you.
D'zoll: Toria's a sensible Gen, and as for Sanda, she has only one emotion toward anything male and younger than her father.
Shorsh laughs, or is that guffaws?
Shorsh: No! She's got the hots for you? ~~ hilarity ~~
D'zoll: Well, not the hots exactly. But definitely the warms, you might say. Liberally soused with romance.
Shorsh: Poor girl.
D'zoll: She looooves it.
Shorsh: And here comes the tall dark stranger. Mysterious, exotic, big in the nose...
D'zoll scrutinizes Shorsh.
D'zoll: True. Your nose is rather large.
Shorsh: But you're the exotic one. She was looking at your arms, not mine.
D'zoll: Okay, okay.
D'zoll whistles the first two lines of "Take Up The Farris Burden"
Shorsh rolls his eyes but harmonizes along.
Petunia winces and moves away, returning to her earlier task of nosing at the gate of the pigpen. She's managed to get it open once or twice before, and is still hopeful of another opportunity.
Shorsh: Good thing Mr. Gegg isn't expected back until tomorrow after we leave. I'm not sure you're in shape to face him after the train trip.
Shorsh rises and brushes off crumbs.
Shorsh: We better get back to work on the mobile unit, so we can put up the sign and you can get those retainers off.
D'zoll: Yes. Yes. Yes yes yes yes.
D'zoll reflects that being a channel has its privileges, but the privilege of doing nothing while others work is not one of his favorites.
Shorsh: Okay, you hold that panel in place while I screw it to the frame.
Gegg guides his mare past the house towards the barn.
Shorsh doesn't like the idea of D'zoll torquing down screws in retainers.
D'zoll supports the panel with his hands, and laments how much better he could do this if he had his tentacles available.
Shorsh begins to methodically attach it.
Gegg is back a day early from his stay at his cousin's farm, thanks to the recent fire, which actually burned down part of the forest they were trying to clear for farmland.
Shorsh hears a horse slowly approaching.
Gegg is ~~ tired ~~, not only from the work, but because he hasn't been sleeping well since he promised Toria to do something about his Simephobia.
D'zoll zlins the approaching Gen.
Gegg sees that the barn door is open, and frowns.
D'zoll: I thought Gegg wasn't expected back, but he's here -- or at least somebody of the right age, sex, and general nageric profile is.
Gegg would have expected better of Vrian or Toria, but Sanda is still young and irresponsible enough to think that chasing after the pigs is amusing. He urges the tired mare to a trot.
Shorsh puts the screwdriver in the toolbox, the screws in the can, and moves close to his channel. ~~ strong reliable protection ~~
D'zoll signals "Thanks."
Gegg knows that Toria and Sanda are away this evening, which means the pigs, if they were to get out, would have all night to lose themselves. He gets off the mare and steps to the door.
D'zoll: [softly] He's worried about something. Take precautions.
Shorsh moves forward, between D'zoll and Gegg, intending to speak first, to avoid startling the Gen.
D'zoll concentrates on Shorsh's field.
Gegg feels a completely unexpected but all too familiar wash of ~~ terror ~~, and quickly steps back, slamming the barn door.
Shorsh turns to see his channel's reaction.
D'zoll is rooted to the spot by the backwash of Gegg's emotions.
Gegg picks up the beam beside the door and drops it into its brackets, barring the door.
D'zoll: It's him. He's terrified.
Gegg feels not only ~~ terrified ~~ but ~~ sickened and grieving ~~ for what he's going to have to do. He thought he had avoided this kind of mess when he sent Mik to Hannard's Ford.
Shorsh: Mr. Gegg? I'm Shorsh Farris. I'm a Gen, a Donor.
Petunia picks this moment to oink loudly, covering Shorsh's words.
Gegg trudges ~~ reluctantly ~~ towards the house, oblivious to anything but the duty which ironclad Gen tradition has assigned to him. He leaves the mare in front of the door.
Shorsh suspects what's happening.
Shorsh: I think he's gone to get his rifle, D'zoll.
Gegg figures there are three possibilities: that there's a changeover in his barn, in which case he's not going to repeat Jed's suicidal stunt.
Shorsh looks around, trying to figure out where his channel will be safest.
D'zoll looks at the barn ceiling, wondering whether he can jump under augmentation and grab the rafter with one hand and hold Shorsh with the other.
Gegg would at least survive that option physically unscathed, probably.
D'zoll concludes that the rafters are too splintery to risk it.
Gegg would have a harder time with option two: a Sime who's already killed, and taken refuge in his barn while trying to escape. He can hardly bear thinking about option three, however: a berserker.
Shorsh: It's the loft or the feed room over there. Which do you think will most reduce your effect on Gegg's perception?
Shorsh knows that asking which will give the channel the best physical protection is just going to start an argument about whom it's more important to protect.
D'zoll: The feed room has a door, at least. I'll try that.
Shorsh: Good. Lie on the floor, too.
Gegg can't leave a Sime in the barn for Toria or Sanda to deal with, however. If nothing else, he's got an advantage in figuring out where a Sime is coming from, and his military experience to draw on.
D'zoll suits his actions to the words, being sure to jam the door shut with a bit of straw scooped up from the floor.
Shorsh rolls up his sleeves. He wishes he'd let his beard grow. Maybe he will now. On second thought, he takes off his shirt entirely, exposing his dense black chest hair. He hopes out-T Gens know that Simes don't grow body or facial hair.
Gegg isn't hunting rabbits for the pot, so he leaves the rifle in place and loads the double-barreled shotgun, instead. He trudges back to the barn, ~~ terrified and reluctant ~~, using ~~ courage ~~ and his overdeveloped sense of duty to make his feet move forward.
Shorsh works through the patterns that lead to ~~ calm ~~ in dire circumstances. He's never been at immediate risk of losing his life before.
Gegg notes that his horse is still patiently waiting in the barnyard, and feels a bit of ~~ disappointment ~~ that the Sime didn't escape out the open hayloft door, steal his mare, and make a run for the Ford.
Gegg checks the shotgun one more time, making sure it's ready for instant action. He knows that against a Sime, he can't afford any mistakes, or his wife will be left to raise the new twins on her own.
Gegg takes a deep breath, bracing himself, then unbars the barn door.
Shorsh: Mr. Gegg! I'm a Gen, a Donor! Don't shoot!
Shorsh stands with his arms raised, forearms visible.
D'zoll braces himself for a disaster.
Gegg may have been sent home from the army in disgrace, but he was actually a pretty decent soldier, and he's spent most autumns since hunting deer in the woods, with most of the male population of the area.
Gegg has the fire discipline not to pull the trigger... quite.
Shorsh: I'm a Gen! Don't shoot! I'm a Gen!
Shorsh hopes Gegg notices that he has the deep voice of an adult man.
Gegg surveys the half-built structure beside his pigpen.
Gegg: Who are you, where's the Sime, and what's that thing?
Gegg nods towards the mobile unit.
Shorsh refrains from collapsing in ~~ intense relief ~~
Gegg's gun is now pointed just to the side of Shorsh, where its aim can be adjusted to point back at Shorsh, or anywhere else, if necessary.
Shorsh: I'm Shorsh Farris ambrov Sat'htine, Mr. Gegg. My channel is in the feed room. That's a mobile unit we've brought with us. Your wife said we could set it up here.
D'zoll does his best to get a grip on Gegg's wildly swinging emotions.
Gegg could have told D'zoll that it's a lost cause, when he's in this state.
Shorsh: It's all right, Mr. Gegg. You're in no danger.
Gegg is, however, feeling some ~~ confusion ~~ along with the rest of his roiling emotions.
Gegg: What in the world are you doing here? Apart from building an addition on my pigpen, that is?
Shorsh: We were on the train to Hannard's Ford, but there was a mechanical problem. We thought we'd bring the unit here, set it up and stay in it tonight, since we'll be coming back here anyway.
Shorsh is feeling a little ~~ faint ~~, and sits. He picks up his shirt and puts it back on.
Gegg has seldom met anyone who can explain so much, while leaving matters more confused with every sentence.
Gegg has a feeling that he's missed something very important, somewhere.
Gegg: You'll be coming back here?
Gegg feels like an idiot, but he can't seem to make any sense of what Shorsh is saying.
Shorsh: Yes. We planned to spend a few days at the Ford, then come back here and begin working with you.
Shorsh begins to realize that he isn't getting through, now that his head is clearing after that intense experience of imminent death by violence.
Shorsh: We were able to get here sooner than we expected. Your wife said she got our letter a few days ago. Perhaps you were already away then? Hajene D'zoll is an expert at treating phobias. We've come here to help you.
Gegg: I've been gone for the past week.
Shorsh: Then you wouldn't have known. Sorry for the confusion. Your wife left you a message, but perhaps you didn't see it when you went to the house...
Gegg had thought the phobia-treating business was safely in the future, and being ambushed by it in his own barn is hardly reassuring.
Gegg: No, I didn't.
D'zoll decides that the ambient has quieted enough for him to come out of the feed room, so he unjams the door with Sime strength but doesn't actually open it.
D'zoll: [loudly] Mr. Gegg?
Gegg jumps, and the muzzle of the gun swings towards the feed room door.
Shorsh: [Simelan] Stay down, D'zoll!
D'zoll: I'm D'zoll. I know you find Simes hard to take, but could I come out now? I'll move slowly.
Shorsh: He's wearing retainers.
D'zoll kicks himself for forgetting this obvious point.
Gegg swallows, then gives a jerky nod.
Gegg: All right.
Gegg points the gun towards the roof.
D'zoll slowly opens the door and walks out with exaggerated slowness, presenting a ~~ out-T Gen ~~ showfield, neither affecting nor affected.
Gegg tenses, but holds his ground with more ~~ courage ~~ than sense. His hand is not far from the trigger, but even that doesn't make him feel safe.
D'zoll: Hello, Mr. Gegg. D'zoll Farris ambrov Sat'htine -- at your service.
Gegg: Pleased to meet you. I think. Now, would somebody please explain to me what's going on?
Gegg is not a genius at the best of times, and he's put in a backbreaking week of labor.
D'zoll: As Shorsh was explaining, we were setting up the treatment room. We expected to be finished and gone before you returned. I guess it didn't quite work out -- I'm sorry.
Gegg: I could have used some warning you were coming, that's for sure. I thought I had a berserker in the barn. Or maybe an ex-berserker, and a dead wife.
D'zoll looks at Gegg sympathetically.
D'zoll: Fortunately for everyone, that wasn't the case.
Petunia, who has been nosing at the latch of the pigpen's gate for some time now, finally gets it open. She shoves the gate wide and makes a run for the open barn door.
D'zoll: I think you're losing a pig.
Gegg: Wha...oh, damn.
D'zoll had heroic Farris notions of an augmented leap over Gegg and wrestling the pig to the ground, but fortunately he remembers the shotgun in time.
Gegg is, fortunately, still more or less standing in the door, so he is able to block it in time.
Petunia crashes into Gegg with a loud thud.
D'zoll winces as Gegg's Donor-class nager radiates ~~ oofff ~~
Shorsh gets up slowly and carefully and goes to D'zoll. ~~ protection ~~ support ~~
Gegg reaches for the door with his free hand and shuts it firmly.
Petunia snuffles hopefully at Gegg's pocket.
Gegg: Go on, Petunia. You know it's not dinner time, yet.
Shorsh is ~~ amused ~~ at the pig's name. But then petunias smell a bit rank, too.
Gegg pushes Petunia's snout away from the pocket before she chews it open to get at the apple core he was saving for the horse. He figures that the horse, unlike Petunia, has earned a treat.
Petunia goes to D'zoll and begins nuzzling enthusiastically at him.
Shorsh: Looks like you've made one out-T friend already.
Petunia weighs considerably more than the average Sime and seems likely to knock D'zoll over in her enthusiasm.
Gegg: Just shoo her into the pen, and lock the gate.
Gegg would ordinarily have done this himself, but that would involve getting closer to D'zoll, which he is not quite ready to do.
Petunia sniffs curiously at the faint scent of ronaplin on the channel's retainer.
Shorsh goes over to the pen and opens the gate wider.
Shorsh: Shoo her in, D'zoll.
Petunia tries to push her snout between D'zoll's wrist and the metal of the retainer.
D'zoll feels foolish, but decides to try it.
D'zoll: Shoo, Petunia, shoo!
Petunia oinks and holds her ground, still snuffling.
D'zoll tries to induce homesickness in Petunia.
D'zoll: Shoo, shoo!
Petunia tries to climb into D'zoll's nonexistent lap.
D'zoll: [sternly] Pig, this will not do. Into your pen at once!
Gegg's own nager flares with ~~ alarm ~~ as D'zoll drops his Gen showfield.
D'zoll quickly resumes his showfield.
D'zoll: Sorry about that.
D'zoll isn't used to having to watch his field so closely around Gens.
Petunia: (plaintively) Oink?
Gegg: What was that?
D'zoll points at the pen.
D'zoll: I was trying to induce Petunia to want to go into the pen, using my field. She seems to like me. Perhaps I should go in the pen myself and then climb out?
Gegg: It's easy to see you don't know pigs. She's probably after that grain in your hair. Dump it in her trough, and she'll go in quickly enough.
Gegg wonders ~~ uneasily ~~ if the junct Simes of old used the same sort of tricks to get Gens into their own Pens.
Petunia nuzzles the Sime again and tries to climb his front.
D'zoll obeys Gegg's instructions.
Petunia follows D'zoll into the pen and begins investigating the few bits of grain in her trough.
Shorsh closes the gate, studies the latch, and sets it firmly.
Petunia: Oink! Oink!
D'zoll climbs out and shakes himself off.
Petunia may be only a pig, but she's smart enough to know when she's been tricked.
Petunia: (sadly) Oink.
D'zoll sympathizes with Petunia, but he's glad it's over -- for the moment.
Shorsh: We don't have pigs back home. Just cows and horses.
Gegg: She'll be more inclined to stay put when she's got piglets to look after. Shouldn't be much longer.
D'zoll zlins Petunia quickly.
D'zoll: Five, six, seven, eight, nine piglets, I make it.
Gegg: Nine? That's three more than last year.
D'zoll: Well, I don't have too much experience examining pigs, but I think that's correct. Have you been feeding her more or something?
Gegg is a farmer, and so he automatically starts weighing the delectable taste of bacon against the profit from the sale of the piglets.
Gegg: Not really. I bred her to a different boar, though.
D'zoll: Ah. That sounds reasonable.
D'zoll has no idea whether it's reasonable or not, but it sounds reasonable.
Shorsh: We should get the unit set up, while there's still light...
Gegg: What is that thing for, again?
Shorsh: A place for us to stay, while we're here. It's nagerically insulated.
D'zoll: Also a place for treatment, when we're ready for that.
Gegg would really rather not think about arcane "treatments" involving this strange Sime, and a room beside his pigpen. He therefore in typical fashion tries to force himself to confront the subject head on.
Gegg: Bibi never was able to tell me much about how you people treat cowardice.
D'zoll: [sharply] We don't. We treat irrational fear. Mr. Gegg, you are not a coward.
Gegg takes an involuntary, ~~ startled ~~ hop backwards at the sharpness of D'zoll's tone, hitting the barn door.
D'zoll: [more conciliatory] A coward wouldn't be able to hold a shotgun on us -- or stand here and have a peaceful conversation about pig breeding.
Shorsh: To come in here, expecting a berserker... a coward couldn't do that.
Gegg notes that his guest is overlooking a few matters -- like the kind of damage a shotgun can do, even to a charging Sime, and that the conversation in question took place over the length of the barn.
Gegg: You think I'd have done that if I had any choice at all? The only thing more dangerous than going after a berserker is leaving one to go after you.
Gegg had that concept drilled into him at boot camp.
D'zoll: True. But cowards don't make judgments like that. They just scream and run.
Gegg: And die. I learned the hard way that I can't outrun a Sime.
D'zoll: Neither can my partner Shorsh over there. But if he didn't want me to, I could never lay a finger -- or a tentacle -- on him.
Gegg finds himself involuntarily remembering the last moments of several of his squad mates, and shudders.
D'zoll: Ah. You were remembering something?
Gegg: Some friends of mine, in the Army. They didn't have your partner's advantages.
D'zoll: [sadly] That's true. Someday perhaps all Gens will, but not yet.
Gegg: Maybe. Just now, though, my horse could use some attention. I'll leave you to build your shed.
Gegg nods to Shorsh, and lets himself (and his shotgun) out of the barn, closing the door behind him.
D'zoll: Okay, okay, chew me out now.
Shorsh: For what? You didn't get shot. I didn't get shot. What's the problem?
D'zoll clicks his tongue.
D'zoll: You remind me of that comedy routine with the drunk.
D'zoll: [slurs] I don' have a drinking problem! I drink, I geddrunk, I fall down -- no problem!
Shorsh: Well, neither of us ended up in the Memorial with a martyr's mark against our names. So far so good.
D'zoll: If you say so.
Shorsh purposely lets his control slip a little to display how ~~ shaky ~~ he still feels.
D'zoll: But I thought we had an agreement, you and I -- at least a tacit one.
Shorsh: ~~ inquiry ~~
D'zoll: Not to engage in Iron Farris stuff. At least when alone.
D'zoll walks over to Shorsh and offers a hug.
Shorsh accepts ~~ gratefully ~~, despite the pig snot on his channel's clothes.
D'zoll: Ahh, that's better.
Shorsh: I've never felt that close to sudden death before.
D'zoll: [teasing] Yeah, that's the trouble with you Farris Gens -- you always feel safe in-T, no matter what.
D'zoll: So that's our patient. What a piece of work he is.
Shorsh: What are your thoughts about him?
D'zoll: Well, he seems to respond well to straight talk, at least as far as I can tell on a limited acquaintance. But the circumstances weren't ideal for zlinning, what with the distance, your proximity, and that gun of his.
D'zoll has an idea about the gun that for the moment he keeps to himself.
D'zoll: Physically, though, he's certainly been through a lot. I did notice a number of minor fractures badly healed, and some precancerous spots on his skin. But I wasn't paying too much attention to all that.
Shorsh: Wait until you can do a lateral contact exam, eh? ~~ humor ~~
D'zoll: That's why we've got the drugs -- eh?
Shorsh shakes his head.
D'zoll: I'm more concerned about the lack of sleep. I suspect he's having recrudescent nightmares as he considers what it's going to take -- in his fantasy, anyway -- to solve his problem.
Shorsh: Let's see how long it will take to get him to willingly consent to the drugs.
D'zoll nods soberly.
D'zoll: That is indeed the question.