Shorsh opens the barn door and gestures Hiram in.
Hiram zlins around the barn, paying special attention to Petunia and her fragrant brood of piglets.
The piglets rouse at the sound of the door, which often brings the arrival of slops.
Shorsh: There's the mobile unit, Sectuib. Let's leave our baggage there. Would you like a cup of trin?
Shorsh thinks Hiram could stand to take his retainers off and relax for a little while.
Hiram: Yes, please. A nice big cup.
The piglets snort and sniffle cutely at the new arrivals.
Shorsh enters the mobile unit and sets his suitcase down. He lights the burner, pours water into the kettle and sets it to boil.
Hiram pauses before entering the mobile to examine the piglets. They're still young enough to catch an obstetrician's attention.
Hiram: Healthy bunch of youngsters. Too bad they're all doomed.
The piglets crowd against the side of the pen, hoping to be scratched.
Shorsh: They aren't much use except for meat and leather, I suppose.
Hiram rubs each piglet under the chin or behind the ears, checking each one more closely as he does so.
Shorsh: Although they are cute. Sanda says by the time they get to slaughter size, they're not cute at all.
The piglets are generally in good health, growing rapidly, and rather odoriferous.
Hiram: Hmm, one of them seems to have an irregular heartbeat. Probably won't matter for the first year or two... which means it won't matter.
Hiram shrugs and enters the mobile.
Shorsh signals an offer of help with the retainers.
Hiram extends one arm to Shorsh, musing on the parallels between piglets and Pen Gens.
Shorsh: I suppose if Gegg wants to keep it for a breeder, it would matter, but I think he's kept two young females from the last litter.
Hiram: I'll mention it to him, so he doesn't pick that one to breed, then.
Shorsh removes the retainers, examines and gently massages Hiram's arms. ~~ sympathy ~~ support ~~
Hiram sighs in ~~ relief ~~ as Shorsh goes to work on the welts.
Hiram: Ah. Much better.
Hiram extends all his tentacles and wraps them around his Companion's forearms, wiggling, stretching, and gently clenching them.
Hiram: Much, much better. I'm getting too old for traveling out-T.
Shorsh's sympathetic nager warms with the ~~ love and respect ~~ he's had for his Sectuib all his adult life.
Hiram retracts the tentacles and sits back in the tiny, cramped space.
Shorsh puts trin leaves in the teapot and adds the boiling water.
Hiram: Thank you, Naztehr. ~~ gratitude ~~ I don't know how renSimes get along, without Companions to pamper them.
Shorsh: Perhaps the Distect has a point there, eh? ~~ teasing ~~ Would you like to lie down for a bit? I can make up one of the cots.
Hiram: Sitting is fine. This seat is about twenty orders of magnitude more comfortable than that... thing... in the baggage car.
Shorsh: It's too bad the passenger cars were all so full. D'zoll and I tried riding in one on the first leg of our way here, but the frightened and hostile ambient was worse than sitting on crates.
Hiram: I should imagine so. At least we had some solitude.
Shorsh pours two cups of trin and hands one to Hiram.
Shorsh: Sorry, we've run out of honey again.
Hiram: Thank you. Just having something hot and soothing is good. Don't worry about the honey.
Hiram sips meditatively at the tea.
Hiram: ~~ irony ~~ This isn't exactly the Grand Palace Hotel, is it?
Shorsh: It's small, but it's Sime Territory, by treaty.
Shorsh gestures at the sign on the open door.
Hiram takes another sip.
Hiram: I'm considering a slight change in plans, Naztehr.
Shorsh: Yes, Sectuib?
Shorsh is ~~ puzzled ~~ and waits for an explanation.
Hiram: This will depend, of course, on what I zlin of Gegg when I meet him face to face. But do you think, if I avoid mentioning my experience with trauma care, including gut wounds and other fragrant injuries...
Hiram winks broadly.
Hiram: ... and if I trade on being a city slicker with delicate sensibilities, and play on rank a bit, I could get us moved into the house? I understand Mik's bedroom hasn't been rented out or any such. Those piglets are cute, but....
Hiram winces theatrically and holds his large nose.
Shorsh realizes that Hiram really doesn't understand what a very different culture he's visiting. He sips his slightly swine scented trin.
Shorsh: Gegg has been having a great deal of difficulty with sleep. It's a serious detriment to his ability to function. I suspect that a Sime under the same roof will make sleep impossible for him.
Hiram: As I understand it, he hasn't been sleeping anyway, except with drugs. There isn't really a lot to lose in that department.
Shorsh: He hates taking the drugs. He often resists until he's been sleepless most of the night. I don't think he'd be able to take them if you were there. To be oblivious, when there's a Sime so close to him, would be a very disturbing prospect for him.
Hiram: This isn't about the smell of pigs, Sosu.
Shorsh decides to confront the cultural assumptions.
Shorsh: Also, your rank would be meaningless to the Geggs.
Hiram raises an eyebrow.
Hiram: They don't know what "Sectuib" means?
Shorsh: Probably not. But even if they did, they wouldn't think it had any relevance to them. Not in their own home, at least.
Hiram: Haven't you and D'zoll been doing any cultural education while you were here?
Shorsh: On top of the therapy? I think Mr. Gegg is being given as much strangeness as he can take.
Hiram: It is D'zoll's plan to bring the family in-T until after the twins are delivered? And not to lock them into a Pen cell while they're there?
Shorsh: I'm sure they'll respect our customs once they are with us. If we weren't treating a case of Simephobia, we'd no doubt be staying in the house here. If we were both Gens, we could stay at the hotel. But you and D'zoll are Simes, and that's a very different matter.
Hiram is busy reframing his method, while clinging to his goal.
Shorsh: Toria has been as hospitable to us as she can under the circumstances. But a Sime living in the house... it's too much to ask.
Hiram: Forget rank, then. How about if I play on being a sensitive, vulnerable city slicker?
Shorsh: That's not a very good way to evoke respect around here.
Hiram: A channel with a weak stomach?
Shorsh: Sectuib, you'd be putting a burden on them. It would be hard for them to refuse, but it would be intolerable to Gegg for them to agree.
Shorsh hopes he doesn't have to flat out tell Hiram that it's a terrible idea and he should give it up.
Gegg has finished the most immediate tasks in his fields, and is now getting ready to patch some of the drafty holes in the barn walls.
Hiram: His field is low, right now. His body isn't going to respond to my proximity.
Gegg wouldn't normally worry about this, but he does have guests living there, these days.
Hiram: And as for his mind... well, that's what D'zoll has been working on.
Gegg has slept through the night the past two nights, thanks to D'zoll's absence, and is feeling better than he has for some time.
Shorsh: Our relationship with the Geggs has been quite good, considering. If you demand they let you, a Sime, a stranger, live in their house...
Hiram: I zlin someone approaching.
Gegg is trying hard to live in the present moment, so as to get the maximum benefit from his all-too-brief respite from therapy.
Shorsh gets up and stands in the door of the mobile, obstructing the view in and protecting Hiram from the approaching Gen's reaction.
Gegg opens the barn door, carrying hammer and nails.
Shorsh: Good day, Mr. Gegg.
Hiram tries, unsuccessfully, to zlin past his Donor.
Gegg feels his stomach sinking.
Shorsh flattens his field so Hiram can more readily zlin past it. ~~ neutral ~~
Gegg: Hello, Shorsh. You're back early. How'd your meeting go?
Shorsh: It went well. Our Sectuib came back here with me instead of D'zoll.
Gegg is better rested than D'zoll's projection, but the ~~ tension ~~ is definitely there.
Hiram zlins Gegg carefully. There's fear there, but not as bad as Hiram had expected.
Gegg: He did?
Shorsh: This is Hajene Hiram Farris, Sectuib in Sat'htine. Sectuib, Mr. Gegg.
Gegg is not panicking, but he's very ~~ unsettled ~~. He has also not moved any closer to the mobile unit since he spotted Shorsh.
Shorsh wonders if he should tell Hiram to keep his tentacles in and move slowly until Gegg is more comfortable.
Hiram: I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Gegg. I've heard a lot of good things about you. It's very good to meet you at last.
Gegg: Welcome to Gumgeeville, Mr. Sectuib.
Hiram: "Sectuib" is a title, Mr. Gegg. My name is Hiram Farris.
Gegg has the distinct impression he's making a muddle of things, but he can't figure out how.
Hiram very slowly moves up alongside Shorsh, keeping all of his tentacles retracted.
Shorsh maintains a state of ~~ readiness to protect ~~ his channel, in case Gegg panics.
Hiram: Sosu Shorsh has just made a fresh pot of tea. Would you like some?
Gegg gets his first good look at Hiram, and correctly judges him to be considerably more formidable than D'zoll, who was intimidating enough to Gegg.
Hiram zlins Gegg's reaction, and does his best to look as mild-mannered as possible.
Gegg summons ~~ courage ~~, and uses his usual strategy of Sime-management: trying hard to act normal while he's freaking out.
Gegg: Umm, that's very kind of you, Mr. Farris.
Hiram zlins Gegg's reaction, and locks his field down tight to avoid any interaction Gegg might feel.
Shorsh detects Hiram's field change and ~~ approves ~~.
Hiram: Do come in and sit down, please.
Gegg makes himself take a step or two closer to the module, then halts.
Hiram moves slowly away from the door, and just as slowly takes out another cup.
Gegg does not want to be packed into the claustrophobic confines of the module with this strange, and formidable, Sime.
Gegg: There's more room out here.
Shorsh turns and gets some high-fat high-sugar donor biscuits from the cabinet.
Gegg gestures to the strategically placed hay bales which D'zoll and Shorsh have been using as seats.
Hiram: I just got in from a long train ride, Mr. Gegg. I'm not sure I could cope with having to wear retainers again so soon.
Hiram tries to look a bit pitiful.
Gegg: That's all right.
Gegg has learned to tolerate the sight of tentacles, at least somewhat, and the nageric interaction is just as nerve-wracking either way.
Shorsh: Mr. Gegg has been allowing D'zoll to be in his barn without retainers.
Gegg gestures towards the hay bales.
Hiram zlins that Gegg doesn't feel all right about any of this, but his anxiety doesn't seem to have gone up any.
Gegg: All the comforts of home, at least if you're a chicken or a hog.
Hiram: Very well, then, Sosu. Would you please move the sign?
Gegg: No! Look, the neighbors aren't exactly happy about this. There's no point in rubbing their noses in it, is there?
Hiram: ~~ puzzled ~~ I thought Shorsh said you'd been letting Hajene D'zoll out into this area without retainers?
Gegg: Yeah. It's cramped in there.
Gegg gestures towards the mobile unit.
Shorsh: Sectuib, you can detect another Gen approaching and go back into the module before he arrives.
Hiram: Are you trying to tell me D'zoll's been ignoring the retainer laws?
Shorsh: Not exactly ignoring them. Observing them in a less restrictive manner, perhaps.
Shorsh isn't going to get into the long drawn out... discussions... he had about this with D'zoll before conceding, since D'zoll was going to do things his own way, regardless.
Gegg's knowledge of the retainer laws, and how seriously the Tecton takes them, is rather limited.
Hiram: ~~ anger ~~ And you permitted this, Sosu?
Gegg's eyes widen in ~~ alarm ~~, and he retreats a step, at Hiram's show of temper.
Hiram tries to keep his outward manner calm. He doesn't want Gegg to realize Shorsh is being disciplined.
Shorsh: [Simelan] The danger was negligible, and he insisted. But your anger is distressing the patient now.
Hiram: It's all right, Mr. Gegg. You have done nothing wrong. ~~ soothing ~~
Shorsh: Mr. Gegg has been very hospitable to us, under the circumstances.
Hiram: Mr. Gegg has clearly been an excellent and generous host. My concern, Sosu, is with the law. Mr. Gegg, you have to be able to trust a channel. You can't trust us, if we ignore such basic commitments to you as the retainer laws.
Shorsh thinks Hiram is very much taking the wrong tack, telling Gegg not to trust either D'zoll or himself. The argument is probably incomprehensible to the Gen.
Hiram reaches for his retainers and begins putting them on, unassisted. He winces as he pinches a lateral in his efforts.
Shorsh moves to assist him.
Gegg: You don't have to worry about the law, Mr. Farris. Sheriff Obie's hardly going to be doing an inspection of my barn. Especially if he thinks there's a Sime around who might be breaking the law. Not after the pencil episode.
Hiram: The pencil episode?
Hiram is struggling to reestablish some reasonable level of social comfort.
Gegg: Yeah. That channel with the changeover who stole the deputy's pencil to get locked up in the jail.
Hiram: Who? Hajene Marvin?
Hiram has heard quite a bit about Hajene Marvin from Bibi over the last couple of days.
Gegg: Yeah. The one who took advantage of my daughter.
Gegg personally considers this a far greater offense than not wearing retainers. He views the retainer laws with an out-T perspective: it's perfectly legal for a Sime not to wear retainers out-T, after all. The law just refuses to prosecute any Gen who murders such a Sime.
Hiram: Mr. Gegg, I am very sorry about that. To her credit, your daughter saved a life. That still doesn't excuse what Hajene Marvin did. But why did he steal a pencil?
Gegg: The deputy was on duty, and he wouldn't let them have a cell because they hadn't done anything illegal.
Hiram: So he stole a....?
Hiram can't help himself. He bursts into laughter.
Shorsh smiles. He hasn't met Marvin, but from the stories he's an intelligent and creative thinker.
Gegg ~~ startles ~~ at this display of emotional volatility, then steadies.
Hiram sobers again quickly. If the local deputy is that rule-bound, then that's all the more reason not to play fast and loose with the retainer laws.
Hiram picks up the tea tray and brings it out of the mobile, setting it down on a bale of hay. He moves very carefully, not having quite settled into the retainers yet. He pours tea for Gegg and sets it down about a yard away from Gegg on another bale, then tops up his and Shorsh's cups.
Gegg holds his ground with ~~ courage ~~, then gingerly moves to perch on the edge of the bale farthest from Hiram.
Shorsh: Have one of these biscuits with your tea, Mr. Gegg.
Shorsh picks up his own cup and a donor biscuit.
Gegg eyes the offering ~~ dubiously ~~, as he has already been subjected to the Tecton's idea of proper nutrition.
Gegg: No, thanks, Shorsh.
Hiram: I'm afraid travel rations are the best we can offer you at the moment, Mr. Gegg.
Gegg: It's all right, I had lunch before I came down here.
Hiram: ~~ wry ~~ I understand those things are even worse than channel chow.
Shorsh sips his tea. He's very pleased at how well Gegg is coping with finding a strange Sime in his barn.
Hiram is rapidly abandoning his plan to try to embarrass Gegg into offering him better hospitality inside the house.
Gegg takes a sip of his own tea.
Gegg: So, Mr. Farris, what brings you to Gumgeeville?
Hiram: Your situation does, Mr. Gegg, yours and your wife's.
Gegg is a bit ~~ apprehensive ~~ at this bald announcement, as it is all too similar to the way D'zoll blithely announces some new exercise designed to scare him silly.
Hiram: I'm not here to do anything to you, Mr. Gegg. ~~ soothing ~~ But you must understand that sending one of our best channels out here for a month or more represents a substantial commitment of Householding Sat'htine's resources.
Gegg: I've been wondering why you folks did it, frankly.
Gegg's been wondering whether it was a good idea, as well, but it would be rude to say so.
Gegg: I mean, I'm just a farmer in Gumgeeville.
Hiram: Two reasons, Mr. Gegg. One is that Sat'htine is a House dedicated to healing, and Hajene D'zoll is one of the most dedicated and idealistic of our young healers. He persuaded me that your situation was worth his efforts, and that your courage would lead to a successful outcome.
Gegg is not used to thinking of health care in terms of providing it to those who need it, regardless of ability to pay.
Hiram: The other reason is your wife's pregnancy. As a specialist in channel's obstetrics, I know the risks for a non-Donor who bears even just one channel, let alone twins.
Gegg feels a ~~ chill ~~ that has nothing to do with Hiram's tentacles.
Gegg: Toria will be all right, won't she?
Gegg can't imagine a life without Toria around to tell him what to do.
Hiram: I'm here to make sure of that, Mr. Gegg. Hajene D'zoll is pretty sure that at least one of the twins is a channel. He's not sure about the second one. That's one of the things I hope to confirm as soon as I can examine Mrs. Gegg.
Hiram: But even if just one of them is a channel, that still makes it the kind of high-risk pregnancy that demands proper care in Sat'htine's medical center. And therefore, both for your sake and your wife's, we have to get your family ready to travel in-Territory as soon as possible, so you can have the care you require.
Gegg zlins ~~ uncertain ~~.
Gegg: I was thinking after harvest...
Hiram: You might be able to wait that long, Mr. Gegg. Your wife can't.
Gegg loves Toria very much, and the idea that she might be in danger is an additional source of ~~ anxiety ~~.
Gegg: I do have a cousin who's agreed to look after the animals, but he's got his own crops to get in. I'd have to give him a percentage for his trouble, anyway, and we can't afford that, right now.
Hiram: Are you prepared to let your wife travel in-Territory without you, and catch up with her after harvest?
Gegg: I... don't know.
Gegg hasn't been separated from Toria for more than a day or two since they were married. He normally defers such decisions to her, anyway.
Gegg: We might not be able to afford it.
Gegg's face reddens with ~~ embarrassment ~~ at his poverty.
Hiram: It seems to me that the money you'd be paying your cousin would be more than offset by the money you'd be saving while living as Sat'htine's guests.
Shorsh: The House should pay for your train fare, too, since we're inviting you.
Gegg: I'm no freeloader.
Hiram: An invited guest is not a freeloader. Besides, Sat'htine takes the long view. We hope to be well rewarded for this work, in the end.
Gegg: Rewarded? How?
Gegg is pretty sure the entire resources of the Gegg clan wouldn't be pocket change to D'zoll and Shorsh, much less this even-more-formidable Sime.
Shorsh: What we learn from helping you overcome your Simephobia will be valuable in helping others with the same problem. This will advance true Unity, the main objective of Householdings from the earliest times.
Hiram: Every time another Gen learns to live alongside Simes as fellow human beings, a little more of the wall comes down. And also, again taking the long view, I'm not sure whether you realize, Mr. Gegg, what a valuable resource your family represents to the world.
Gegg: A resource?
Gegg is finding this discussion increasingly ~~ bewildering ~~, which is perhaps a bit of an improvement over ~~ frightening ~~.
Hiram: Channels and Donors, Mr. Gegg. Channels and Donors who aren't related to any of the terribly inbred bloodlines of the Householdings.
Gegg: I'm no Donor. Neither are Toria and Sanda.
Gegg was very relieved when D'zoll told him he'd never be a Donor, in fact.
Hiram: I know you're not a Donor, Mr. Gegg. And given what I know of your case, I don't expect that will change in your lifetime.
Shorsh: But Mik is a channel, and at least one of your twins will be.
Hiram: D'zoll doesn't think your wife has any Donor potential, though she will have to take a certain amount of Donor training in order to survive her pregnancy. I don't know about your daughter Sanda.
Gegg: Sanda's way too young to be deciding what she wants to do with her life.
Gegg bristles with a father's ~~ protective ~~ instincts.
Hiram: Customs differ there, Mr. Gegg. By in-Territory standards she was an adult as soon as she established. But hadn't you already decided, at her age, that you would be a farmer, like your parents?
Gegg: No, I wanted to be a soldier. And look where that got me.
Hiram realizes this conversation isn't moving in a very productive direction.
Hiram: At any rate, Mr. Gegg, future possibilities are for the future. What's important now is your wife's pregnancy. And your son, who is looking forward to a hug from his father.
Gegg: I miss Mik.
Gegg feels the yawning hole in his life that's there any time he lets himself think of his son.
Hiram: You're a good father. Anyone who would put himself through what you've been enduring this past month, for his son's sake, can't be anything but a good and loving father.
Gegg: I guess if it comes to that, we'll go, and let the farm take care of itself. It's not much of a farm, after all.
Gegg is, however, as dedicated to his barren little plot of land as Hiram is to his rich Householding compound.
Hiram smiles gently.
Hiram: It's not just yourself that you underrate, then.
Hiram thinks privately that Gegg is right about the farm. But he knows that's not what Gegg requires to hear.
Gegg's returning smile is more than a little wry.
Gegg: The bank values this place at... well, let's not get into that, just now. Not enough to secure a loan large enough to get one of my kids apprenticed to a trade, anyway.
Gegg already knows that D'zoll and Shorsh have money to burn, and he doubts Hiram is an exception.
Hiram: Mik is already apprenticed to the finest trade in-Territory.
Gegg: Sanda will probably get the farm, such as it is, unless she finds a husband who's got prospects. That only leaves two more kids...
Gegg is fortunately a farmer, so he doesn't expect ever to make ends meet.
Hiram: At least one of whom seems likely to be a channel.
Gegg: So Bibi and D'zoll say. ~~ glum ~~
Gegg is no Householder, to see that as a blessing. He pulls himself together.
Gegg: Anyway, I'd better get back to the house; I've got harness to repair before Toria gets back.
Gegg has made an executive decision to put off weather-proofing the barn until another day.
Hiram: Mr. Gegg, Shorsh and I have had an exhausting trip. We could use a few hours' rest. After that, I'd like to meet the rest of your family and discuss the next step.
Gegg: All right. Maybe after dinner?
Gegg, Gen-like, thinks of time in terms of meals.
Shorsh: That would be fine.
Gegg sets down his teacup.
Gegg: Thanks for the tea. I'll see you after dinner, then.
Shorsh isn't looking forward to his dinner of ration bars and raw vegetables.
Hiram: See you then. Uh, Mr. Gegg?
Gegg pauses in the act of getting up.
Hiram: Would you care to sell me something from your kitchen, more palatable for poor Sosu Shorsh than those biscuits of ours?
Gegg is bit ~~ embarrassed ~~ at this implication that his hospitality has been lacking.
Gegg: Sure. I'll send Sanda down with a plate.
Hiram: Thank you very much. We'll see you later, then.
Gegg leaves the barn, ~~ relieved ~~ as he shuts the door separating him from the new Sime.
Shorsh gathers the tea cups and picks up the tray. He hopes the promised plate won't contain any identifiable animal components.
Shorsh: Let's go back inside so you can take the retainers off again.
Hiram: Gladly, Sosu.
Hiram leads the way back into the mobile, augmenting a little to clear the fog.
Shorsh: Mr. Gegg did very well, unexpectedly confronted with a strange Sime.
Shorsh sets the tray down on the counter and helps Hiram with the retainers.
Hiram: He did. I'm not sure that was one of my best performances, though.
Shorsh: There are a lot of cultural differences which aren't obvious until you get to know the people here better. An isolated rural area like this is quite different from what I'd seen when I worked in Cago.
Hiram: Yes. They're very different from city Gens, even out-T city Gens. I think I'm a little more inclined to be forgiving of D'zoll, now I've got a better idea of what he's been up against.
Shorsh: So what did you zlin?
Hiram: Not as much as I'd like to. I was trying not to engage his field too much, until he's had a chance to get used to me. As a first approximation, he's pretty much what D'zoll led me to expect. You've got to admire a man who's willing to put himself through so much for his family's sake.
Shorsh: He's a remarkable man. I hope overcoming his Simephobia will help him overcome his feelings of inferiority.
Hiram: Or vice versa. I think that's where I can contribute the most right now, just to help him feel better about himself.
Hiram: What's the matter, Sosu?
Shorsh: He told us about what happened to him, with the juncts. It's amazing he's even sane after that. Hellish for any Gen, but for one with Donor talent!
Hiram: As you said, a remarkable man.
Shorsh: He's long felt that there's something perverted in him, because of his Donor's reaction to the Simes who were torturing him. It's undercut his faith in himself.
Shorsh shakes his head.
Shorsh: I truly can't imagine how I would have reacted, had I had the same background and the same experience.
Hiram: He's sturdy. But so are you, Sosu. Gens amaze me, sometimes. All of you are so sturdy.
Shorsh: Except the ones that are so easily killed.
Shorsh has had some nightmares of his own about Gegg's experiences.
Hiram: ~~ sorrow ~~ Indeed.
Hiram searches for something to lighten the mood.
Shorsh: Despite that horror, and how it warped his self-image, Gegg has made a good life for himself here. He's liked and respected. He broke with custom to do his best for his son, and now he wants to change himself. Perhaps Gens are sturdy, as you say, Sectuib.
Hiram: You'd have to be. Otherwise, how do any of you endure those shenning donor biscuits? ~~ gentle teasing ~~
Shorsh: With Farris fortitude, Sectuib. ~~ twinkles ~~
Hiram relaxes into Shorsh's field.
Hiram: I don't need fortitude. I've got a good Companion.
Shorsh: Are you sure you don't want to lie down? ~~ kindness ~~ respect ~~
Hiram: Not if I can help it. Not on that mattress!