Stalking the Wild Gen: Episode 9

Shorsh walks down the muddy main, and pretty much only, street of Gumgeeville, headed to the general store and post office to pick up the mail and something more interesting to eat, if available. He wanted to get away from D'zoll for a while, and suspects the feeling is mutual. Cabin fever is not susceptible to channels' healing techniques, not even those of mind healing specialists.

Donal doesn't recognize the face, but the uniform is unmistakable. This is the man who seduced his son Deniel into donating to a channel.

Donal: Telden, look! There's the guy! The guy who talked our boys into it.

Telden looks in the direction Donal is pointing.

Telden: Don't know who else it could be. There aren't exactly a lot of strangers in Gumgeeville. Going after boys isn't right.

Telden has very firm views on what youngsters owe their elders, which have changed dramatically since he was sixteen.

Donal: Sixteen is still a kid in a lot of ways, no matter what the law says.

Telden: And it's telling, don't you think, that he hasn't gone around asking folks like you and me to do such a thing?

Donal laughs bitterly.

Shorsh continues down the street, glad the sun is out. He nods politely to two men conversing on the other side.

Donal: He knows what kind of answer he'd get. Hey, you! Sime-lover!

Shorsh debates whether to ignore the obviously intended insult or pretend it isn't one.

Donal crosses the street, dodging a wagonload of hay.

Telden follows.

Shorsh: Good afternoon, gentlemen.

Donal: I wouldn't be too sure of that.

Shorsh is very glad D'zoll isn't with him, and hopes he can talk his way out of a confrontation.

Telden: We've been wondering just why you've been trying to seduce our boys into your slimy friend's clutches.

Donal: I'm Deniel's father. Remember Den, the boy you seduced?

Donal doesn't bother to give his own name. Courtesy is for decent people, not scum.

Shorsh: A fine young man.

Donal: He was, until you got your hands on him.

Telden: And your friend did, too.

Donal: More than his hands.

Donal shudders.

Shorsh spreads his hands.

Shorsh: He's still the same man, just a bit wealthier, no?

Donal: On the surface, maybe. But what about his soul?

Shorsh: I can't see how donating would have any effect on it.

Shorsh isn't really clear on what a soul is -- the out-T Gens have a number of conflicting views -- but he doesn't believe that donation affects it.

Donal: You can't? Maybe that's because your own soul has been lost for years.

Telden: Just when did you take up with Simes, anyway?

Shorsh: My mother is Sime. So right from the start, I suppose.

Donal looks at Shorsh with a bit more sympathy.

Telden: That's... tough.

Donal: So you never really had a chance, yourself. They just raised you to it.

Shorsh is willing to accept the sympathy if it cancels out the aggression.

Shorsh: It's definitely in the family.

Donal has never really thought of himself as an evangelist, but this may be a chance to do God's work.

Donal: You probably don't even have a clue what we're talking about, do you?

Shorsh: There seems to be a lot of different opinions about souls in different churches. I'm not sure which ones are popular in Gumgeeville.

Donal: It's not a matter of popularity, it's a matter of truth.

Telden isn't used to hearing such basic religious doctrines discussed as matters of simple opinion, either, although he's had his own doubts at times. He learned a long time ago that it was easier to just make agreeable noises when religion is being discussed.

Donal glances around at the busy street.

Donal: Hey, we're not going to settle this here. Let's go get a mug of tea.

Telden: Sure.

Shorsh: I'm heading for the general store myself.

Donal: Let's go, then.

Telden leads the way to the general store, and before long the three men are settled at a table with a pot of tea and three glasses.

Shorsh is disappointed that none of the goodies for sale looked more appetizing than channel chow.

Telden: Look, what we want to know is, how come you're wandering around trying to talk our kids into taking up your ways, without so much as asking us what we think about it?

Shorsh: Well, you're certainly welcome to donate if you'd like, too. I talked to Ricard because he and I were sitting at the same table at Henree's place.

Telden: Why'd you pick a kid to sit with? Did you figure he'd be easier to talk around?

Shorsh: The saloon was pretty full. He was the only man sitting alone.

Donal: So you thought he'd be more vulnerable, all alone like that?

Shorsh: I couldn't expect to be welcome at a table full of friends, and there were no empty tables.

Shorsh considers.

Shorsh: Of course, I knew he was a man, not a child, or he wouldn't be drinking in the saloon.

Telden: What, you never snuck off to play grown-up when you were a kid?

Telden is ignorant of the abrupt, early, and total elevation of out-T kids to adulthood at changeover and establishment.

Shorsh smiles.

Shorsh: It's hard to get away with when everybody knows you from birth and back several generations.

Shorsh figures that in some ways, a village like Gumgeeville is almost as closed a community as a Householding.

Donal: Just because a boy's had another birthday doesn't mean he has mature judgment yet. You took advantage of Ricard and his friends. Admit it, and maybe we can start getting somewhere.

Shorsh: Sixteen might be a bit young to make a major decision like marriage, but donation isn't in the same league.

Donal: You can say this with authority, when you're not even sure what a soul is?

Shorsh: Millions of Gens in-T donate. You have a number of people in this village donating regularly, including some who aren't legal adults. You know these people -- has donating changed them?

Donal: The soul isn't a visible thing, on the surface. You can't always tell the state of someone's soul just by talking to them.

Shorsh nods, just to be cooperative.

Shorsh: How do you tell the state of someone's soul?

Donal: That's why we have God's Word, and rules to follow. Because otherwise it might not always be clear from the outside.

Shorsh had occasionally wondered how people reconciled the many conflicting views of different sects. He now knows. They don't.

Shorsh: Different groups seem to have different sets of rules to follow. I know some churches believe that donation is a virtuous act, for example the church in Hannard's Ford.

Donal: Some folks have the truth, some don't. But the truth doesn't change depending on whether or not you believe in it.

Telden: Donating does change folks. Look at the Mullins boy. Meets with that other Sime, and decides he wants to leave the farm and go live with Simes.

Shorsh shrugs.

Shorsh: I'm sure lots of your children leave the farm and go to find work elsewhere. Donor is a good job, respected, pays well.

Donal: And my Den. Simes were the last thing on his mind until a couple of days ago. Now all he can talk about is Sime this and Sime that.

Telden: It might not seem like a big deal to you, but that's the sort of thing that breaks up families, a lot faster than a boy deciding to marry the wrong girl. You come around, flashing money in their faces, urging them to defy their parents. Kids that age are easy to impress with superficial things.

Donal: It's seductive. Worse than sex.

Telden: Give them money to buy all the beer they want, and impress the girls, and they don't think too hard about what you're asking them to give up in exchange.

Shorsh: How would you feel if we'd hired them to do some farm work, or to cut firewood for us? Would you want us to pay them fairly for it, or not, just in case they might not spend their earnings wisely? If they'd raised some pigs we wanted to buy, should we pay less than they're worth, in case they waste the money?

Telden: I've got nothing against my boy being paid for honest work. But what's honest about being paid like that to defy their parents?

Shorsh: What we're buying is valuable to us, worth what we pay for it. Your sons are adults now. It's up to them to decide whether to act contrary to your wishes or not.

Donal: And you're not buying pigs. You're buying our boys' souls. There's no amount of money that's worth that.

Shorsh: No, we're not buying souls. We're buying selyn.

Donal: How can you tell, if you admit you don't even know what a soul is?

Shorsh: Many religious people in Hannard's Ford and elsewhere donate selyn every month. Some regard it as a religious obligation.

Donal shrugs.

Shorsh: After all, if donation involves selling your soul, how can you do it every month for your entire adult life?

Donal: If other people want to fall into error, that's their business. My boy is my business.

Shorsh: Then it's between you and him.

Shorsh is tempted to add "as two adults".

Donal: Listen, a soul isn't something you can just drain off a little of, like selyn. A soul is about what kind of person you are.

Shorsh nods cooperatively.

Donal: Den may be sixteen, but he's still young, impressionable, changing. It's still my responsibility to protect him from mistakes that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Listen, don't you try to protect your friends when they're vulnerable, even if they're as old as you are?

Shorsh: Of course.

Donal: Then why can't you understand why I'm trying to protect my son?

Shorsh: I can appreciate that you want the best for him. But now that he's grown, he has the right to take your advice or not, and accept the consequences.

Donal: He's too young. He sees the money, he sees the glamour of strangeness.

Telden: But neither of them has a sense of perspective. They'd jump off a bridge if one of their friends dared them to.

Shorsh is tempted to point out that if they haven't conveyed common sense and responsibility to their sons by the time they're sixteen, it's a little late to blame other people if they don't have any.

Shorsh, after all, had been working at a very demanding and responsible job for several years by the time he was sixteen.

Donal: Listen, we love our boys. It's not a matter of rights, it's a matter of love. I'd rather die than see my boy hurt. If you had to take one of us, I swear before God, I'd rather that you'd taken me.

Telden: They're not bad boys. They'll settle down in a few years, when they have families of their own, at least if they don't destroy themselves first.

Shorsh: Your sons weren't hurt at all. Donation is neither painful nor harmful. In fact, it's good for a Gen's health to donate regularly.

Donal: That's the trouble with sin. Temptation can be so damned attractive. Listen, remember what you were like when you were sixteen. Maybe the law said you were grown up, but weren't you really a kid? Think about how you went with every little fad, or rebelled against rules just because they were rules. Remember?

Shorsh thinks back more than thirty years, when he was a young Farris Companion in the last years of the semijuncts. He was assisting channels in their work as upper administrators making stressful decisions about allocating Pen Gens for kills, and doing clinical work with the desperate and dying.

Shorsh: When I was sixteen I'd been working as a kind of physician for several years. I didn't have time or energy for fads or rebellion.

Donal pictures a youngster handing out cough syrup and bandaging small cuts.

Telden: You worked for a doctor? How did your father manage to set that up for you?

Shorsh: I worked with channels, doing medical and administrative work. I'd been trained as a Donor, and pledged my life and skills to the Tecton. It was my obligation to do so, because I had the innate ability for the work.

Telden: They let you handle the records? A boy of sixteen?

Shorsh: A man of three -- three years after establishment as a Gen.

Donal: But still, a medical receptionist at that age? Wouldn't you have still been in school?

Shorsh: No, I'd completed the academic part. Of course, you always keep learning on the job. I wasn't a receptionist. I worked with the patients. Assisting them in taking transfer, mostly. And easing their deaths.

Donal looks stunned.

Donal: At that age?

Telden: What was your father thinking of, letting you into a situation like that?

Shorsh: He was doing the same kind of work himself.

Telden feels that a young man should learn to face death in the proper way, as an army grunt.

Donal: And he never thought about how young you were?

Telden is also ~~ indignant ~~ at how Shorsh was abused.

Donal figures a boy that age should be able to shoot game and slaughter livestock, but not deal with human suffering.

Donal: You poor kid.

Shorsh: My father established even younger than I did, so he started work even earlier. But things weren't as desperate then as they were later, after Unity. Everyone who could was doing their best to make Unity work.

Shorsh smiles.

Shorsh: My mother, too.

Donal: You never even had a chance at a normal life. You poor kid.

Shorsh: It's been a good life, so far. I like my work, although less of what I do these days is medical.

Telden: What do you do?

Donal's big weakness has always been curiosity. He listens avidly.

Shorsh: For the past two months I've been working with my cousin D'zoll, my partner the channel.

Telden: He's your cousin?

Telden doesn't normally think of Simes having families.

Shorsh: Yes. Among many other cousins, most of them channels or Companions.

Donal: Does that make your family kind of important, over there?

Donal is now thinking "poor little rich kid".

Donal: No wonder you don't understand loving your son.

Shorsh tries to figure out that non-sequitur.

Shorsh: Well, I certainly love my daughters.

Shorsh doesn't add "and their mothers".

Telden: They're grown, I guess, which is why you could come all the way out here?

Shorsh: Yes.

Donal: Happily married?

Shorsh: No, not now. But we certainly had our share of happiness.

Telden: Gumgeeville must be quite a comedown, for a guy who's used to a doctor's life.

Shorsh: Well, I'm not used to living in a barn, but I did grow up in the Householding, which had a substantial farm to feed us all.

Donal: But a doctor's kid wouldn't have been doing the milking?

Shorsh: I never did milking, but I did my share of hoeing and weeding and working in the kitchen.

Shorsh isn't going to explain that renSimes did the milking because the woman in charge of the dairy was adamant that the cows would get upset if they were milked with fingers instead of tentacles.

Donal: All that, plus studying medicine? When did you get to eat and sleep?

Donal is still picturing an abused kid.

Shorsh laughs.

Shorsh: Well, once I established, I was sent to a school for training selyn workers. It was a pretty intensive course, but they did let us eat and sleep when necessary.

Shorsh went to Rialite, of course.

Donal is finally making sense of all the things he's been taught about evangelizing the whole person, and about loving the sinner while hating the sin. He realizes a lifetime of emotional abuse and neglect can't be cured in a day. He's also glad he and his boy are just farmers.

Donal: It must have been quite a life.

Shorsh: It has been. I like my work, and I'm glad I have the talent to do it.

Telden: What sort of talent is that? The ability to tolerate Simes?

Shorsh: The ability to work with channels, interact with them nagerically to assist them in their work.

Donal: I suspect you don't mean what a farmer would by the word "work."

Shorsh: More like what a doctor would mean by "work", perhaps.

Donal: So why is a doctor seducing our boys? Isn't a doctor supposed to help people?

Telden: And why does it take a Gen like you to help your cousin... do what he did to our boys? You're supposed to keep them from chickening out?

Shorsh: No, mostly I keep them from hurting him.

Donal: Isn't that backwards?

Shorsh: No, not at all. A channel can't harm a Gen, taking a donation.

Donal: You mean physically.

Shorsh: Or nagerically.

Shorsh doesn't think of "theologically" or "spiritually", despite the earlier part of the conversation.

Donal: So how can a Gen hurt a Sime?

Shorsh sighs.

Shorsh: You know that a Sime can zlin... perceive the emotions of another person?

Donal: Yeah. Can't really picture it, but yeah.

Shorsh: Well, the same way a really bright light or loud sound can hurt your eyes or ears, a Gen's strong emotions or abrupt emotional change can hurt a Sime. A channel is much more sensitive than a renSime, so he's more easily injured.

Donal: So you're... an earplug?

Shorsh laughs.

Shorsh: Well, I can manage things so the channel can perceive what he needs to, but not get injured by it. And if he does get injured, I can treat him for it.

Donal: How does that work? I mean, what exactly do you do?

Donal's curiosity is getting the better of him again.

Shorsh: There aren't words for it in English.

Donal: Could you show us some day?

Shorsh: What, are you volunteering to donate now?

Donal: What? No. Certainly not. I was just... curious.

Donal is sweating at how nearly he walked into that trap.

Donal: Could a person just... watch?

Shorsh: What I do is mostly perceptible only to Simes, but of course if I healed a wound on a Sime before your eyes, you could see it. You could watch a donation, but you'd have to take our word for it that we weren't faking it, right?

Donal is picturing creating a wounded Sime for Shorsh to work on.

Donal: I'd be pretty surprised just to see someone willing to touch a Sime.

Donal realizes evangelism is a long slow process.

Shorsh shrugs.

Donal: Hey, I've got to get back home right now... but would you like to get together again for tea?

Telden looks at Donal with some ~~ surprise ~~.

Shorsh: Perhaps. But we won't be here too much longer.

Shorsh is glad the situation seems to be defused, and neither he nor his channel are likely to get shot, nor Gegg's barn to be burnt. And perhaps Donal will get over his son's action, too.

Donal: Tomorrow? Day after?

Shorsh: Let's see what happens.

Shorsh doesn't want to spend his free time talking religion or educating the reluctant.

Donal: Okay. Maybe I'll drop by. I've got some hand tools of Gegg's that I ought to return.

Shorsh nods. He wonders if D'zoll is bored enough to do demos for the locals.

Telden: Bet he'll be glad to see them again.

Telden has loaned Donal tools in the past, and had to agitate to get them back.

Donal: Yeah.

Telden stands.

Telden: My Nance will be wondering where I am.

Donal: See you later then. Telden, can I hitch a ride home?

Telden: Sure. The mule won't mind. Much.

Shorsh: Good afternoon, gentlemen.

Telden nods, still not completely ready to forgive Shorsh for helping to seduce his son into donating.

Shorsh wonders whether the entran-reducing donations are worth the hassle of dealing with the parents of the donors for D'zoll. Oh well, he needs a challenge.

Donal figures he has a month now, to work on his son. He may only have a few days to save Shorsh's soul.

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