Seruffin has taken some new background reports on aspects of his current treaty-in-the-making to a quiet lounge in the residential quarters for traveling channels and Donors attached to the Capital Sime Center complex.
Seruffin wants Gerrhonot to have uninterrupted sleep, as the constant travel back and forth between Sime and Gen capitals is taking its toll even on the young Gen.
Seruffin's older joints are still a little stiff from the jostling of the train ride, but if that's the worst that the Tecton requires of him, he still figures he's gotten off easier than most.
Hiram pauses in the doorway of the lounge. With Lusinka asleep, and no particular plans for the next few hours, he's feeling a bit at loose ends. He's carrying a bottle of elderberry wine an old acquaintance gave him this afternoon, but he certainly doesn't want to drink alone. He zlins into the room and spots Seruffin.
Seruffin looks up at the impinging nager, and nods courteously to the other channel.
Hiram: Hajene Seruffin! ~~ warmth ~~
Seruffin has a good memory for nagers, but it's been a while since the conference he attended with Bibi.
Seruffin gropes mentally for a moment, then places the channel who is accosting him.
Seruffin: Sectuib Hiram. It's good to see you again.
Hiram: Am I interrupting?
Seruffin: Yes, you are, and thank you for it. I'm just not in the mood to read these reports.
Seruffin smiles ~~ wryly ~~.
Hiram: ~~ humor ~~ Then may I join you?
Hiram holds up the bottle of wine.
Hiram: This might be pleasanter than those reports.
Seruffin: At this point, I admit that just about anything would be.
Hiram: ~~ amusement ~~ At least when I leave home, I can leave most of the paperwork behind. Yours seems to follow you everywhere.
Seruffin: Hazard of the diplomatic trade, I'm afraid.
Hiram rummages in the cupboard above the sink and finds a pair of wine glasses.
Seruffin: What brings you all the way to Capital? If you don't mind my asking.
Hiram: I'm on my way to Gumgeeville, to see how D'zoll is doing with that little project you found for him there.
Seruffin raises an eyebrow.
Seruffin: That's quite a trip to be making. I'd have thought you'd have inflicted it on somebody else.
Hiram seats himself across from Seruffin and opens the wine bottle. He glances incuriously at the white crystals of fruit acid on the underside of the cork, then pours, swirls and sniffs the wine.
Hiram: Hmm. Not bad.
Seruffin accepts the glass Hiram offers and makes his own evaluation.
Seruffin: Very nice. Elderberry, isn't it?
Hiram glances at the label.
Hiram: Yes, and ten years old. It was a gift.
Seruffin takes another sip.
Hiram holds the reddish-brown liquid up to the light and smiles appreciatively.
Seruffin: It's held up well.
Hiram: I'm keeping a close eye on this particular case. Hajene D'zoll is young, promising, but still learning his limits. And anything out-T is so delicate.
Seruffin: Indeed. And Gumgeeville is not used to channels. I believe I was the first who'd ever set foot in the town, and that was only last spring. It wasn't voluntary, believe me.
Hiram: ~~ curiosity ~~ So tell me about the town. What's D'zoll likely to be facing?
Seruffin: Gumgeeville is a fairly typical Gen small farming community, as far as I can tell. Which is to say, Unity has passed it by pretty much completely.
Hiram: I'd gathered as much.
Seruffin: When I arrived, they knew of the the Sime Center at Hannard's Ford, but even the most adventuresome of them had never thought to visit it.
Hiram: It's not that far away, is it?
Seruffin: It's a few stops away by train. There's also a road, but that takes several hours, and in winter it's impassable.
Hiram: So Gumgeeville is quite isolated, then?
Seruffin: Yes. Very inbred, both intellectually and genetically.
Hiram ~~ winces ~~.
Hiram: Genetically? Please, not another Naros!
Seruffin: Not that bad, certainly. Still, most people in town are probably related within three or four generations. The main source of outside influence, as far as I can tell, is the stories brought back by those young men who join the Gen Army.
Hiram: That bad? ~~ dismay ~~
Seruffin: Yes. That aside, most of the Gens living there are decent, hard-working folks, at least by their own standards.
Hiram: And they decently murder their kids in changeover, so routinely they don't even think about the alternative?
Seruffin: For much of the time, there is no alternative. The train only runs once a day, so it's useless for transporting changeover victims who have the bad luck to mature at the wrong time. For half of the year, the road to Hannard's Ford is completely impassable. Even when it isn't, the travel time is long enough to make a rescue life-threatening for the rescuer.
Hiram: I understand you rescued one changeover. And one of the mules on the route caught another. How did the locals take that?
Seruffin: The girl Gerrhonot and I rescued was a local. Her mother was very glad that she lived; her grandfather was much less so.
Hiram: Would he be a problem for D'zoll?
Seruffin: Not if he has the sense to avoid the saloon. Does he?
Hiram frowns, trying to remember.
Hiram: I think his interim report said he'd had a drink there, and the visit went well.
Seruffin raises an eyebrow.
Seruffin: That surprises me. Henree wouldn't allow me into his place, even to rescue his granddaughter. Gerrhonot had to fetch her out.
Hiram: Hmm. Maybe once he had time to think things over, this Henree discovered you'd softened his armor a little?
Seruffin: Perhaps. Or possibly he's reconciled with his daughter.
Hiram frowns, considering the emotional state of a town discovering for the first time that it need not murder a third of its children.
Hiram: So Gumgeeville has had its way of life cracked wide open. ~~ thoughtful ~~
Seruffin: No. It's more accurate to say they've had a glimpse of a possibility that is largely impractical for them.
Hiram: And I sent D'zoll into that powder keg. ~~ worry ~~
Seruffin: If they haven't lynched him yet, chances are they won't.
Hiram mimes a relief his nager doesn't reflect.
Hiram: How about that other case? The one involving the mule?
Seruffin: She was an outsider, and wealthy, so the Gumgeevillians didn't respond as positively to Hajene Marvin's efforts as they did when I rescued one of their own. The situation was complicated when Hajene Marvin recruited Mr. Gegg's adolescent daughter as an emergency donor.
Hiram: Gegg? The same Gegg who's D'zoll's patient? ~~ alarm ~~
Seruffin: Yes. And then his son developed premonitions of changeover.
Hiram buries his face in his hands, his dorsals twitching nervously about his ears.
Hiram: I sent D'zoll into that.
Seruffin: Mr. Gegg is pretty level-headed. He may have a hard time trusting Simes, after what he's been through, but he's not going to blame D'zoll for what Marvin did, or for his son's changeover.
Hiram zlins ~~ unconvinced ~~.
Seruffin: Not that that will make him easy to work with. He's a genuine Simephobe.
Hiram: Any more bad news for me?
Seruffin: Well, if you're planning to travel out to Gumgeeville, I hope you brought seat cushions.
Hiram: ~~ curiosity ~~
Seruffin: You'll have to ride in the luggage car, on whatever crates and bags are convenient.
Hiram: All these years, and they're still doing that?
Seruffin: Yes. At that, it's easier to cope with the occasional splinter than to spend hours on a moving train, in retainers, surrounded by hostile Gens. By now, the conductors, at least, are somewhat used to channels.
Hiram: I believe I'm going to be making a lot of stopovers.
Seruffin: There really aren't a lot of Sime-friendly options between the border and Hannard's Ford. There's an hour-long stop at Whistle Junction where you can get a bite at the train station cafeteria, if you don't mind paying double.
Hiram: Tell me about Hannard's Ford, then.
Seruffin: Hannard's Ford is considerably larger than Gumgeeville, but still too small to rate a Sime Center in the normal course of things. That it has one is due to the untiring efforts of the matriarch of the Brown clan. I haven't met the lady, but I'm told she rules her family with an iron hand, and that she was able to argue her church into lobbying for a Sime Center there. It didn't hurt that the Ford is a convenient junction of several train lines; a Sime Center there was convenient as a rest stop for mules.
Hiram: ~~ wry amusement ~~ Maybe I should pay a courtesy call on Sosectu Brown.
Seruffin: If you end up staying at the Hannard's Ford Sime Center for any length of time, you might meet her. She was the first Gen to volunteer to donate there, despite being over eighty natal years old.
Hiram is ~~ impressed ~~. Maybe Sat'htine's geriatric specialists could learn a few things from these Gens.
Hiram: I probably will be staying at Hannard's Ford. I gave D'zoll the smallest of our mobile units. So tell me about the Sime Center there.
Hiram refills both wine glasses.
Seruffin: It's an old farm house surrounded by industrial buildings. The closest is an animal-slaughtering plant, I believe.
Hiram: ~~ distaste ~~
Seruffin: Bibi is the only channel permanently assigned there, although mules traveling through make overnight stops. Because of that, Bibi has been a virtual prisoner, because she doesn't dare leave the Center unattended.
Hiram eyes Seruffin ~~ speculatively ~~.
Hiram: You seem to know her quite well.
Seruffin: She is well worth knowing.
Seruffin doesn't offer to elaborate further.
Seruffin: The elderly Miz Brown and her family are prominent enough that there is little active hostility towards Center personnel.
Hiram: Quite a different culture from Gumgeeville, then.
Seruffin: Indeed. Although the majority of the residents still have no meaningful contact with the Sime Center.
Hiram: But they tolerate it. That's the necessary first step.
Hiram mulls over the conversation so far, then returns to a point of potential interest.
Hiram: You say Gumgeeville has a small, inbred gene pool.
Seruffin: Not inbred enough to show a high incidence of disease, as far as I could zlin, but most inhabitants are related to some degree.
Hiram: And since you opened it up, this little town has produced a channel and at least one potential Donor. Two, if you count D'zoll's patient.
Seruffin: Yes. Although I'm skeptical that Gegg would want to be a Donor, even if he could be brought that far.
Hiram: I'm thinking of the gene pool here, not so much Gegg as an individual.
Seruffin: We know that there are two closely related families that have produced Donors or channels. That wouldn't be excessive, even for a Householding.
Hiram: Sat'htine is one of the older Houses. Our channel lines have gotten a bit inbred. Oh, nothing like Naros. But, well...
Seruffin knows Householders have actively bred for channels and Donors.
Seruffin: New blood is always welcome?
Seruffin: Be very careful how you try to recruit it. I would hate to have Gumgeeville spawn an Incident.
Hiram smiles ~~ wryly ~~.
Hiram: That's one of the reasons I'm following up with D'zoll personally. Of course, I'm also shopping around elsewhere, while I'm on the road.
Seruffin: Have you come up with any interesting prospects?
Hiram: Not yet... though I did dodge one prospect that would have been far too interesting.
Hiram: I walked into the Controller's office this morning, thinking about the fact that Sat'htine could use a few new Donor trainees with a special interest in healing work. The ideal candidate would be intelligent, a hard worker, unspoiled...
Seruffin: We should all be so lucky.
Seruffin has had to settle for unspoiled and hard working, with low intelligence, and still considers himself fortunate to have Gerrhonot.
Hiram: Yes. Well, I'll settle for less than the ideal. But not that Naros bunch that our mutual friend is trying to offload.
Seruffin: Narosians can be a trial.
Hiram: I've agreed to take one. Not young, not unspoiled, but at least not Naros-trained. Just Naros-bred.
Seruffin knows that Riyyh sowed his wild oats far and wide.
Hiram: Name of Nick Reckage. Heard anything of him?
Seruffin: Nick? Yes, I know him.
Hiram: Jaklin didn't tell me much.
Seruffin: He's surprisingly good, although his training was decidedly unconventional. He's also allergic to paperwork.
Hiram chuckles at Seruffin's comment about paperwork.
Seruffin: He's a rogue.
Hiram: A rogue?
Hiram sighs theatrically.
Seruffin: I understand that he actually did attend a Tecton-approved Donor training program. For about two weeks, after which he ran away to Gen Territory and spent the next decade as a common laborer.
Hiram: Better tell me the rest of the bad news. I'd better know what I've gotten into.
Seruffin: He eventually ended up in the clutches of a rogue channel, the daughter of the last Audnes. She spent some time at Zeor, but by the time they met, she had even left the Tecton.
Hiram places his wrist behind his wineglass and zlins the selyn patterns refracting through the liquid.
Seruffin: She trained him, after a fashion, but she used a lot of her own signals and procedures.
Hiram: So he has developed his potential, but he's going to require retraining from the ground up?
Seruffin: There are also gaps in his training that a more conventional program would have covered. Unfortunately, Nick is a superb improviser, and it's often hard to judge when he knows what he's doing, and when he's winging it.
Hiram: But he's probably going to be entirely unwilling to be treated like a raw recruit just past establishment.
Seruffin: Nor should he be. He's got far more practical experience than most Tecton Donors of his age.
Hiram: Practical experience where?
Hiram is rapidly revising upwards the resource cost of his foolish promise to Jaklin.
Seruffin: Among other things, he was the ranking Donor at the Snake River Dam project over most of its duration, bearing primary responsibility for both Farris channels at the site. Both of whom could be considered especially difficult, I might add, even for Farris channels.
Hiram raises an ~~ ironic ~~ eyebrow at this comment about Farrises.
Hiram: You spent some time at Snake River Dam, didn't you? I remember something in the news.
Seruffin: Yes. The conditions there were pretty horrendous.
Hiram: ~~ curiosity ~~
Seruffin: The place became a magnet for the dispossessed and unemployed from both Territories. There were all the problems you'd expect from people living in overcrowded conditions, without proper shelter or food. In addition to the industrial accidents, brawls, hangovers, and so on.
Hiram: ~~ sympathy ~~ A breeding ground for nightmares.
Seruffin: Yes. And the whole thing was being ruled over by two very powerful channels of questionable sanity.
Hiram: The Farrises you mentioned?
Hiram: Anybody I know?
Seruffin: Arat Audnes-Farris, the last scion of the Audnes Rebellion in Norwest Territory. He was a District Controller in Capital for a while.
Seruffin: He is also disjunct. His daughter Snake had an unfortunate changeover and ended up addicted to pain, although she's technically nonjunct.
Hiram's nager goes ~~ expressionless ~~ .
Hiram: Arat I've met. His daughter, I didn't know about.
Seruffin: Neither did he, until a year or two ago. She was raised in the slums of Bender Cove.
Hiram: Bender Cove....
Hiram is searching his memory. He's heard the name before, but can't remember why.
Seruffin: It's a Border town, on the ocean. Fishing is the main industry; they sell the meat to the Gens.
Hiram: Simes fish? ~~ incredulity ~~
Seruffin: Yes. It's a living, of sorts, and there aren't many ways to earn one's taxes, there.
Hiram shudders at the thought of zlinning the fish suffocating by the thousands as they're pulled from the water.
Hiram: It must be a... junct-like... culture.
Seruffin: It's certainly devoid of most of the amenities of civilization. Or so I'm told; I've never been there, myself.
Hiram: I certainly wouldn't want to.
Hiram pours out the last of the wine. He's already had far more to drink than he's used to.
Seruffin: Let's hope the Tecton in its infinite wisdom refrains from sending us there, then.
Hiram looks at the other channel with ~~ respect and sympathy ~~.
Hiram: My friend, why do we do it?
Seruffin: If we don't, who will? And it does have to be done.
Hiram is still musing.
Hiram: In some ways I never had a choice. I knew I was in line to be Sectuib before I was old enough to pronounce the title. By the time I knew what it meant, I was already in office. But you. You could have avoided the hardest tasks. Any time in the last twenty years, you could have pulled back and gotten a nice quiet Sime Center somewhere to run.
Seruffin: I was a Houseless nobody, the child of juncts. It's only fairly recently that I've gained the standing to have some choice in my assignments.
Seruffin's voice is not accusatory, even though the attitudes of Householder Controllers towards "Houseless" underlings is well known.
Hiram: And you still choose the hardest ones.
Seruffin: Someone has to do it. And I have enough arrogance to assume that I do it better than most.
Hiram smiles at Seruffin's last remark.
Hiram: You could be letting someone else do it. By any objective measure, you've done your share. You're one of the least arrogant channels I've met.
Seruffin refrains from making the obvious response that Hiram's world, by necessity, is composed largely of Farris channels with the obligatory large noses and larger egos.
Hiram: My friend, you're a better human being than this sprawling mess we call the Tecton deserves. ~~ respect ~~
Hiram stares into the last bit of wine in his glass.
Seruffin lifts his glass in acknowledgment of the compliment.
Hiram raises his glass.
Hiram: To duty, my friend. And honor. And doing our best.
Seruffin clinks his glass against Hiram's, and drains it.