Gegg has left Shorsh in the general store to enjoy being warm and dry, while he detours over to the blacksmith's shop.
Bill hurries along the main street of Gumgeeville, hoping to finish his errands early. He'd like to make time today to drop in on his old friend Gegg.
Gegg has a project or two that will require a few parts that are too complicated for him to do by himself.
Bill is worried about Gegg. Between the hints he picked up from Hajene Bibi, and the gossip going around Gumgeeville, it seems Gegg could use a friend about now.
Gegg is glad that the rain has given him an excuse to run errands, and thus temporarily escape from the dilemma of the Sime in his barn.
Bill glances up and sees Gegg heading towards him. He also sees how other passers-by seem to be avoiding Gegg.
Bill: (loudly) Hey, Gegg! How've you been?
Bill intends to make quite clear to all and sundry that he, at least, is not avoiding Gegg.
Gegg's head jerks up, then he makes his way across the street, stepping carefully to avoid as much of the mud as he can.
Gegg: Hello, Bill. How was the fire fighting?
Bill: Has it really been that long since we've talked? Yeah, I guess it has.
Gegg: It's a busy time of year.
Bill: It is, and busier with just Albert to help me. But I should still have made time to drop by.
Gegg: How are your crops, this year?
Bill: Crops are doing okay. Except for my most important crop.
Bill: Mari. But I suppose you've heard.
Gegg: Not in any detail.
Bill: Well, you'd heard that she went to the Ford, looking for work so she could get enough money to go off to school?
Bill: And that she tried donating at the Sime Center, and then wanted to go for Donor training?
Gegg: Yeah. It looked like you were going to lose her to the Simes, even after she turned Gen.
Bill: Did you hear that she screwed up, and injured that channel who was in while Hajene Bibi was off on holiday?
Gegg: She did? How in the world did a bitty thing like your Mari manage to hurt a Sime?
Gegg hadn't known such a thing was possible. He has a lot to learn about Simes, and channels, as should be obvious, by now.
Bill: Apparently... mind you, I don't understand it all, but there's a sort of, well, a sort of feeling that a potential Donor gets around a channel. I've even felt a bit of it myself.
Gegg: Isn't it awful? Like you're being pulled towards the edge of a cliff, and you can't make yourself stop?
Bill: I guess we're not talking about the same feeling. I mean the one where you want to get closer, want to connect somehow.
Bill does a double-take, as the import of Gegg's words sinks in.
Bill: Wait a minute. You mean you're a potential Donor too? That's why you've got a channel in your barn? But they told me that at our age it was too late.
Gegg: I am, or could have been, and it is too late, thank goodness.
Bill is visibly puzzled by Gegg's response.
Bill: You mean, you don't feel.... I don't understand.
Bill studies Gegg's face.
Gegg: I do feel it. And every time I do, all I can think about, all I can feel, is...
Gegg breaks off, closes his eyes, and shudders. His eyes open again, and they look haunted.
Bill: [gently] Hey, if you need some help.... well, I know there's been a lot of gossip, and you maybe feel like you don't have a lot of friends right now ....
Gegg: I dunno if anyone can help me. I've gone and promised my wife something I'm not sure I can deliver on.
Bill: Let me buy you a beer, and you can tell me the whole thing.
Bill: C'mon. Two heads are better than one.
Gegg isn't sure he wants to satisfy Bill's curiosity, but the lure of a free beer is tempting.
Gegg: Well... maybe one beer..
Bill steers Gegg towards Henree's. It should be pretty quiet there at this time of day.
Gegg shortly finds himself seated at a quiet table, with a beer in front of him.
Bill glances around the deserted bar. Henree is at the far end of the counter, polishing glasses.
Bill: So, what's up?
Gegg: Like I said, I'm not sure anyone can help me. Especially not the guy who's come a long, long way to try.
Bill makes an inquisitive noise.
Gegg: Back when I was in the Army, I managed to distinguish myself by becoming the sole survivor of my squad.
Bill: Good for you. How did you manage that?
Gegg: They'd sent us into a swamp after a nest of Simes, and they hadn't quite gotten around to killing me when my screams attracted a rescue.
Bill: Oh. Well, hey, at least you survived.
Gegg: Yeah. I survived. Living proof that someone had goofed on a high level.
Bill: I take it they didn't exactly pin a medal on you?
Gegg: They didn't quite dare to give me a dishonorable discharge for presumed cowardice in the face of the enemy, but I'm not sure a psych discharge was much better.
Bill: It was just their way of saving face. Like you said, someone high up screwed up. Don't take it personally.
Gegg: I wouldn't, except they were right. Bill, I can barely tolerate being in the same room with a Sime, even briefly. Not even my son.
Bill: Oh... so why do you have one in your barn?
Gegg is wondering that, himself.
Gegg: When Mik changed over... I told Bibi that I wished I could stop being afraid long enough to see my son again.
Bill nods encouragingly.
Gegg: She said there were ways, in Simeland. Channels who can help with that sort of thing. Well, stands to reason there would be: you know how Simes hate it when people aren't calm around them.
Bill: So they sent this channel because he's an expert on that?
Gegg: Yeah. And so far, I've been too chicken to let him get anywhere near me. ~~ shame ~~
Bill sets down his mug with a thump.
Bill: You're no chicken, Gegg.
Gegg: The guy traveled a long way, at my request, especially to help me, and now I'm too scared to let him do anything for me? Not exactly the actions of a hero, you have to admit.
Bill: Listen to me. You're no chicken. How long have we known each other? Since we were both toddlers. I've seen you stand up to the schoolyard bully... for me, when I was the only kid that hadn't had his growth spurt yet. I've seen you pull livestock out of a burning building. I've seen you face a drunk with a knife. You're no chicken.
Gegg: Except when it comes to Simes. Even Simes that are harmless. Even Simes that only want to help me.
Bill: Hey, you remember when I was about five, and my kid sister got stung by a bunch of wasps?
Bill: Well... this isn't something I tell people, but for years after that I was deathly afraid of anything yellow and black striped, even a bumblebee. If one gets close, I want to scream and flail at it and run. Sometimes it's almost more than I can manage to just freeze until it goes.
Bill: I've never been stung. But here I am, a grown man, terrified of something smaller than my fingertip. Does that make me a coward?
Gegg: It doesn't stop you from working your fields, and that's what counts. Me... I can't bear to be in the same room with my own son, and I have to let my wife and daughter donate to bring in the extra money we need. Bibi said I'm just too scared to donate.
Bill: Lots of people don't donate. That's not a problem. Being scared of Mik... that's a problem. That's why the channel is here?
Gegg: Yeah. He's an expert in treating diseased minds.
Bill: And now the medicine tastes so bad you can't swallow it?
Gegg: I get shaky any time he's close enough for me to feel. And I was waking Toria up several times a night, with my nightmares. Even my... guests... noticed.
Bill traces patterns in the bit of spilled beer on the table.
Gegg: They gave me some drugs. Sime drugs, to make me sleep.
Gegg, like most Gen children, was raised on stories of all-powerful, Gen-subduing Sime drugs.
Bill: And that just makes it worse, right? You wonder what they'll do to you in your sleep.
Gegg: I wasn't too worried about the sleeping pills, at least, not yet. Not with Toria sleeping beside me.
Bill: She's tougher than any Sime.
Gegg: But... what happens when the Sime gets impatient, and wants to start doing his job?
Bill looks thoughtful.
Bill: You said my thing with bees never stopped me from working the fields. Well, it did for years. Any time I saw a bee I'd freeze up, stop breathing, and almost pass out.
Bill takes a deep breath. It isn't easy talking about this stuff.
Bill: Then my Allie went and caught some bumblebees, and suffocated them in a glass jar. She put the jar beside the bed, on my side.
Gegg: Bet you didn't sleep too well that night?
Bill: I slept on the living room floor for four days. Then I got up the nerve to pick up the jar and move it out.
Bill: She put it back, and the next time it only took me two days.
Gegg tries to picture himself sleeping with a Sime in the room, and hopes D'zoll doesn't have any such plans.
Bill: When I got so I could move the jar as soon as she put it there, she put the dead bees on a saucer... no jar.
Bill: And then it was a jar of live bees, with air holes in the lid so they could breathe.
Gegg: From what Bibi told me, they treat my kind of problem in a similar fashion, in Simeland.
Bill: So maybe that's what they're doing here. Put the Sime in the barn... you talk to him through the door. Then open the door and talk through it. And so on. Tiny steps.
Gegg: I can talk to him, a bit. But every time he gets close, I start feeling him. Sime hunger. And there I am, a tempting morsel walking in front of a hungry wolf.
Bill: You know, rationally, he's not going to harm you?
Gegg: I'm sure he'd try hard not to. And he's supposed to be a big expert on this sort of problem. But how can he treat me, if I can't let him get close enough to do it?
Bill: You haven't moved out of the house yet? You have actually gotten close enough to talk to him?
Gegg: Yeah. The feeling only gets intolerable when I'm within fifteen or twenty feet of him.
Bill: So he starts twenty feet away. Then fifteen feet. Then ten. If he's good at his job he'll push you right to the edge of where you'd panic, but not quite over that edge. Or if you do panic, he'll back off and try it again from farther away. If he's good at his job, he'll be very patient. And he's expecting you to react just the way you have been, so he's okay with that.
Gegg: I hope so, because all I've managed to do so far, is keep my poor wife awake with my thrashing around at night.
Bill: Toria's not a very patient woman, is she?
Gegg: With a sick animal, or a child, she is. A man's supposed to have learned some self-control.
Bill: Don't let her push you. If she's never had anything that terrified her like that, then she just can't understand. Anyone who's had the same sort of thing would never condemn you, because they know.
Gegg: She won't wait forever. Nor should she.
Bill: She won't have to. Because you're not a coward, and you're not going to give up. You're going to push this thing back at the edges, one little bit at a time. You've always been more stubborn than I am. You can do it.
Gegg: Maybe. I hope so, anyway.
Bill: I know so.
Bill hesitates, then reaches into his pocket. As if revealing a great and secret treasure, he pulls out a small stoppered glass jar.
Bill: It's taken me seventeen years, my friend. But hell, nowadays I keep bees, you know that.
Gegg looks at the dead bee in the jar.
Bill unstoppers the jar, shakes out the bee into his hand, and cups it briefly before dropping it back into the jar.
Bill: You can do it.
Gegg: It's been almost that long since the Swamp Simes broke me into a crawling, whimpering wreck. They didn't even have to try very hard to do it, either. I had a few bruises, but they hardly touched me.
Bill: I was never stung at all. That's not the point. You experienced something that terrified you.
Gegg: Yeah. That hunger, drawing me in towards the stinking, diseased creature that intended to kill me...
Bill: His hunger? Or yours?
Gegg: Bibi told me it was my reaction that I felt. And if that isn't perverse, to be drawn to the thing that intended to torture and kill me, I don't know what is.
Bill is beginning to understand the problem more clearly.
Bill: So you felt a normal Donor-type reaction? The same thing that makes Mari and Bart want to run off and train as Donors. The same thing that makes me wish I wasn't too old to.
Gegg is clutching his half-empty beer glass so tightly that his knuckles are whitening.
Bill: Only you felt it towards those scum instead of towards civilized Simes. Because to your guts, a Sime is a Sime is a Sime.
Gegg: That's about the size of it, yeah. Bibi said it made them want to play with me, rather then kill me like they did my buddies.
Bill: And something that should have been good and beautiful and happy got all twisted up with ugliness for you?
Gegg: Maybe. I can't ever feel that feeling without remembering just how quickly a Sime can attack and kill. Or not kill. I can't ever forget that even the most civilized Sime needs selyn, and that I'm a potential source of it.
Bill: And... all that horror, but there's still enough of a Donor in you that you're pulled to it?
Gegg: Yeah. At least to the extent that I know they're seeing me... that way. They can't help it, any more than I can.
Bill: It's a natural thing, for a Donor to be pulled to a Sime. Mari's told me.
Gegg: There's nothing natural about the way I feel around Simes. At least, not unless Reverend Kallen has the right of it, and Simes are the embodiment of damnation.
Gegg would rather not accept that, since it means Mik is damned.
Bill: No, it's natural. It got all twisted up by the way you were tortured, but it's natural. And Simes come in good and bad, just like Gens.
Gegg: There may be good Simes and bad Simes, but there's no such thing as a Sime that doesn't run on selyn.
Bill: But there are Simes that would die, rather than hurt you to get it.
Gegg: I know. But they don't feel any different than the others.
Bill: We all have ugly impulses. It's all a matter of whether we act on them.
Gegg: Me, I'm just an ordinary guy whose body plays tricks on him.
Gegg finishes his beer, and sets the mug down.
Gegg: I'd better finish my errands before my guest gets tired of waiting for me. I left him to Miz Mertell's tender mercies.
Bill: He's your channel's Donor, right?
Gegg: Yeah, he is. Shorsh.
Gegg thinks that sounds more like a name for a dog than a person.
Bill: Talk to him about this stuff. About all of this stuff. I think he'll be able to help.
Gegg: Maybe. I hope something will, eventually.
Gegg: Thank you for the beer, and the encouragement.
Bill: Hey, what are friends for?
Gegg nods, claps Bill on the shoulder, then pulls his slicker back into position, and heads back out into the rain.
Bill stuffs his bottled bee back into his pocket and nods to Henree before wrapping his jacket around him. He leaves the bar, lost in thought. If this channel can help Gegg with his kind of bumblebee, surely he'll be able to help Mari with hers.
Bill exits into the rain, whistling.