Gegg approaches the barn, not even the knowledge of the formidable-looking Sime inside enough to compensate for another lost night of sleep.
Gegg was at least spending much of it discussing the previous day's revelations with Toria, rather than tossing and turning. He is only sure of two things: he wants Toria to get the medical help she needs, and he wants to keep what's left of his family together.
Gegg braces himself, feeling the usual ~~ apprehension ~~ of having to face a Sime, even one who's not his therapist. He supposes he'd better get used to the idea, however, if he's going to be living in Sime Territory.
Shorsh is spending some time this early morning working on his Sectuib's back, which wasn't as able to cope with the thin mattress as D'zoll's.
Hiram glances up as he zlins Gegg's nager approaching the barn.
Gegg opens the door and enters, looking around for Hiram.
Hiram: Thank you, Sosu. That feels much better. [louder] Good morning, Mr. Gegg.
Gegg isn't sure whether it was more unnerving being able to sense where D'zoll was, or not being able to sense where Hiram is until the Sime is way too close for comfort.
Gegg: Good morning. Or it will be, if the breeze picks up a bit.
Gegg falls back on Gen etiquette.
Gegg: Did you sleep well?
Hiram knows the rules of this game.
Hiram: Well enough, thank you. And you?
Hiram doesn't mention his back. Gegg can't zlin the pain, after all.
Gegg covers about half the distance to the mobile's door, a compromise that is too far away for a strictly polite conversational distance, but still closer than he's necessarily comfortable with.
Hiram has spent most of a lifetime at it, but is finally conversant with most of the social rules of Gen culture.
Gegg: Toria and I spent most of the night talking over what you said.
Gegg: I don't want to risk Toria.
Hiram nods again.
Hiram: So she'll be coming in-Territory immediately?
Gegg: It won't be easy, and we'll take some losses, but we'll be ready to go in a week.
Gegg is ~~ apprehensive ~~ about what that will mean, both for the farm and for his family, but losing Toria is unthinkable.
Hiram: You want to travel when she does, then?
Gegg: Yes. She shouldn't have to go off alone.
Gegg doesn't want to stay behind, either, but that would be unmanly to admit.
Hiram: In many ways that would be best. But I'm not sure whether you're ready for the trip yet, Mr. Gegg.
Gegg: I haven't been ready for any of this, really. I'll make it. ~~ intense courage used to cover up equally intense forebodings ~~
Hiram: I'm sure your courage is equal to the trip, Mr. Gegg, but that's not the only thing at issue here. That is why I'm here, after all.
Gegg: What's the difficulty?
Gegg is now also ~~ confused ~~.
Hiram: Mr. Gegg, I am a channel, and like every channel, I have pledged to put my body between humankind and the kill. But further, as Sectuib, I have hundreds of people bound to me, who trust my oath to guard their wellbeing. I can't bring you into my House until I'm convinced that you will pose no threat to my people.
Gegg: Hajene D'zoll said you were his boss.
Hiram: I am his boss, Mr. Gegg. And much more than that, I am his Sectuib.
Gegg: Whatever you might think of people like me, I don't normally go around shooting people.
Hiram: I know you don't.
Hiram decides not to mention that that's exactly what Gegg threatened to do to D'zoll the day he arrived.
Gegg still doesn't see what the problem is.
Shorsh waits to see whether Hiram will need his help in explaining his title to Gegg.
Hiram: I have taken on a duty to you, Mr. Gegg, as I have to every patient of every healer in Sat'htine. But I also have a duty to my House.
Gegg understands duty; it's what's got him to go into the swamp in the first place. He nods.
Hiram: Do you understand what it means to be Sectuib, Mr. Gegg?
Gegg can vaguely recall hearing the word once or twice in school.
Hiram knows Gegg can't really understand. No one can, who's never carried the burden. But Hiram suspects there may be a knowledge gap here which could cause problems if it isn't caught now.
Gegg: It's a title of some sort, right? Like, oh, Mayor, or Senator?
Hiram rubs his eyes with two dorsal tentacles. His back is still distracting him, and he's not sure how to say this.
Hiram: Sosu, can you explain what your Sectuib is to you?
Gegg has taken a step or two closer to the mobile, since Hiram has remained seated, in order to hear over the piglets' squealing.
Hiram can't think how to describe himself in terms Gegg would understand, without sounding like he's bragging.
Shorsh has thought about it.
Shorsh: Before Unity, the Sectuib was the heart of the House. In a small Householding, he might be the only channel, the only Sime who could protect the Gens, and save the Simes from needing to kill to survive. Everyone's life depended on his ability to manage the Householding and keep the surrounding junct Simes from destroying it.
Shorsh thinks it would be impolitic to mention that the Sectuib owned the Gens as chattels, just as he was owner of record of the land and livestock. Other livestock.
Gegg: And the title carried over, after Unity?
Gegg is starting to get the impression that his assessment of Hiram as a Personage was all too accurate.
Shorsh: Yes, and much of the responsibilities, although they became less onerous. But what also carried over was the love and respect the members have for their Sectuib. He epitomizes the House. He's sort of the patriarch of the family as well as the boss of the corporation.
Gegg tries to get his mind around this concept. He is visualizing something between the mayor of a large town and the leader of a religious denomination, which isn't too far off, actually.
Shorsh is trying to put it into familiar terms for Gegg. He decides to leave out the philosophical stuff about the Virtue, as well as an explanation of how the Sime instinct to defer to the sec makes the Sectuib, who has by definition the biggest nager, the unquestioned leader to the Simes.
Gegg's mouth twitches.
Gegg: I expect you're used to better hospitality than this? [to Hiram]
Hiram: You've given me the best you can provide. That's as much as anyone can ask.
Gegg's ~~ guilt ~~ about the pigs is partially assuaged, although he's well aware that Mik's room is empty, although there is only the one bed.
Shorsh is glad Hiram isn't taking the opportunity to campaign for a bed in the house.
Gegg: So, what is the problem with my going to Simeland with Toria?
Hiram: Do you truly understand the power you have over a Sime?
Gegg was rather under the impression that nearby Simes had power over him.
Hiram: Not just you. Any Gen.
Gegg: Well, I suppose that without Gens, the Simes would die. That's power, of a sort.
Hiram: It's more than that. Do you have any idea why I keep my Companion so close to me when I'm near you? Have you any idea what he does?
Gegg looks at Shorsh, trying to see what, if anything, he's doing.
Gegg: Mostly he just sits there.
Shorsh has been providing ~~ steady reliable support ~~, ready to protect his channel, ever since Gegg entered the barn.
Hiram gives Shorsh an affectionate glance.
Shorsh smiles back.
Hiram: He's doing a lot more than just sitting there. He's keeping me sane and functional, and letting me be in your presence without risk to myself.
Shorsh thinks that wording was unfortunate. He doesn't want Gegg to think that if Shorsh were to go outside to pee, Hiram would go berserk. Although Farrises do have excellence in bladder control as well as all else.
Gegg is finding this conversation more and more ~~ confusing ~~.
Gegg: Without him, you'd go crazy? Why?
Gegg is a lot easier to zlin when he's confused, rather than afraid.
Hiram: I'm a channel. As a channel, I can protect myself to some extent. And beyond that, no matter what you might do to me, I can control myself so that I won't react by harming you. But most Simes have no such defenses. When you feel fear, Mr. Gegg, I feel it too. When you feel anger, I feel anger. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, I feel the pain as you do.
Gegg: I thought what Hajene D'zoll did, by taking my selyn, stopped that?
Gegg certainly hopes so: it would be awful to have gone through that for nothing.
Hiram: It reduces your effect upon me, certainly. It doesn't eliminate it. You have the nager of a potential Donor, Mr. Gegg. Already, just a few days after donating, your field is stronger than the average Gen's field ever gets.
Gegg: So it's only going to work for a day or two?
Gegg doesn't find this revelation reassuring.
Gegg: What happens after that?
Gegg doesn't want to have to go through the donation thing every few days.
Hiram: It helps a lot. But I still feel what you feel. That's why Shorsh is protecting me. As it is, I can tell what you're feeling, but it doesn't overwhelm me.
Gegg: So you're saying, I can't go to Simeland, after all?
Hiram: Gens who are used to living around Simes learn to moderate their emotional projections. It's quick enough to learn, when Simes wince and complain every time they get blasted with annoyance or discomfort.
Gegg: You don't think I can learn that? Or not fast enough?
Hiram: You can learn it. When your fear no longer rises up to overwhelm you at the mere sight of a Sime, you can learn it. The question is whether you've come far enough along that path yet.
Gegg would like to be able to argue that he has, but he is less confident of that than he'd like to be.
Hiram: That's what I'm here to determine, because I can't possibly provide every Sime in Sat'htine with a Companion strong enough to block your field.
Gegg: How far is far enough?
Shorsh figures that Hiram has a reason for stating it this way. After all, he could arrange for one of the younger Companions to accompany Gegg whenever he might be meeting renSimes.
Hiram: That depends on several factors. For example, if you were willing to be closed away in a stone-walled room for most of the day, you could come to Sat'htine any time. Or if you were willing to have someone like Sosu Shorsh close at your side, whenever you go out. Somehow, I don't think you'd be terribly eager to be locked away as if you were in a Pen.
Gegg has no objection to being accompanied by Shorsh, but being cooped up inside isn't very appealing. He doesn't find the idea of Toria going to Simeland without him any more appealing, however.
Gegg: Well, no. But a man doesn't leave his wife without support when she's expecting his child.
Hiram: Are you willing to accept whatever constraints I deem necessary, then?
Gegg thinks this sounds rather ~~ ominous~~, but he's never lacked ~~ courage ~~
Gegg: If that's the only way to stay with my wife, yes.
Gegg is ~~ sincere ~~, which is why he's also ~~ sincerely scared ~~ about what that will require.
Hiram: May I deep-zlin you? I'd like to run a few tests.
Gegg isn't sure what's being asked.
Shorsh braces his nager, wrapping Hiram in a protective shield.
Hiram: It would require letting me touch you in the same way as if I were taking your donation, but there would be no selyn flow. It would let me get a detailed reading of your physical condition.
Gegg stiffens with ~~ alarm ~~, fortunately mostly blocked by Shorsh's precautions.
Hiram doesn't bother adding that Gegg's reaction to the procedure is one of the tests.
Hiram: Thank you, Sosu.
Shorsh gives Gegg a serious but encouraging look.
Gegg's mouth opens to protest, but then he recalls what he's just promised.
Gegg: Is that really necessary?
Hiram: In my judgment, it is.
Shorsh is impressed that Gegg can question that calmly. This is real progress.
Hiram: In Sat'htine, my judgment is law. That's another thing you'll have to accept if you are a guest at Sat'htine.
Hiram is deliberately pushing hard. He's impressed at how well Gegg is coping so far.
Gegg is anything but calm, and he's mostly "coping" in the sense that he's not bolting out the door.
Gegg: In other words, I agree to this, or Toria goes alone?
Hiram nods silently.
Gegg: Then... I guess I'll do it.
Gegg notices that his hands are shaking, and clenches his fists to stop it.
Hiram: Relax, Mr. Gegg. Relax. I'm not going to harm you.
Gegg wishes he could convince that "undermind" D'zoll was talking about of that.
Hiram: Although you can't see anything, Shorsh is blanketing me in even deeper calm than he was before, so that no matter how you might react to me, all will be well. When you're ready, come closer until you're near enough to touch me.
Shorsh moves behind Hiram and puts his hands on the channel's shoulders.
Gegg stumbles a few steps closer to the mobile unit, feeling a sort of ~~ unreal, nightmarish pseudo-calm ~~. He hesitates at the door.
Hiram stands, very slowly.
Gegg ~~ braces ~~ himself, as if against an assault.
Hiram: Easy does it. One step at a time.
Gegg is finding it difficult to breathe, as usually happens when he's too close to a Sime. He does manage two more steps, however, which technically take him into the retainer-free zone. Barely.
Hiram: Breathe, Mr. Gegg. Slowly and calmly. Keep breathing. One more step.
Gegg gargles a little as he forces his lungs to expand, and his foot to extend.
Shorsh once again ~~ admires ~~ Gegg's courage and determination.
Hiram: I know you can do it. One more step.
Gegg is trying very hard to convince himself that this isn't going to be as bad as when D'zoll took his selyn, but there are definite similarities. He manages to take the last step into easy grabbing range, mostly by reminding himself that he's been within the not-quite-so-easy grabbing range for some time.
Hiram: That's it. Excellent.
Gegg could describe the current situation lots of ways, but "excellent" wouldn't be one of them.
Hiram: Now, knowing that Shorsh is protecting me from the power that you have over me, when you're ready, put your hands in mine.
Gegg finds facing this formidable, autocratic, largely unknown Sime a lot harder than facing D'zoll, whom he at least had a chance to get to know beforehand.
Hiram: You're doing very well.
Gegg struggles for a full two minutes before he manages to put his hands on Hiram's, and he is still braced to bolt.
Hiram: Very good. Shorsh is wrapping us both in comfort and calm. Now I'm going to slowly extend my handling tentacles.
Hiram does so.
Hiram: They're just like fingers. Only like extra fingers.
Gegg is trembling as the tentacles secure their grip, feeling ~~ trapped ~~.
Shorsh, with the effortless skill of an experienced Farris Companion, shapes the ambient to provide Hiram with the maximum possible support and protection, while enabling him to zlin his patient clearly.
Gegg knows better than most Gens, even Gens who donate regularly, just how inescapable a Sime's grip is.
Hiram: It's all right. No harm will come to you here.
Gegg can feel the Sime-feeling growing, despite his low field, as Shorsh lets more of Hiram's field get through, as he lets Gegg's field get through to Hiram.
Hiram: In a moment I'm going to extend my laterals. They're such tiny, fragile things. If you were to move, you could hurt me. I know you don't want to hurt me. That's why I'm holding you steady, so that all will be well.
Gegg doesn't feel steady, for some reason.
Hiram extends his laterals, letting them come to rest against the cool, trembling Gen skin.
Gegg's arms jerk in reflexive protest at the feel of the ronaplin. He does manage not to scream this time, however, which is progress of a sort.
Hiram: It's okay. It's okay. Now, in a moment I'm going to make lip contact, and hold it for just a few seconds.
Shorsh adds some ~~ reassurance ~~ and ~~ confident strength ~~ to his projection, hoping it will help Hiram cope with the emotions he's being hammered with.
Gegg closes his eyes for a moment, to shut out the sight of the tentacles wrapped around his arms, then opens them and nods shortly. He is, alas, pretty much immune to Shorsh's projection. More's the pity.
Hiram makes lip contact and waits for Gegg's reaction before beginning to zlin.
Gegg feels Hiram's field grabbing onto his own, and once again his courage breaks down. He twists, trying to get away from the intolerable mixture of Simephobic ~~ terror ~~ and proto-Donor ~~ response ~~.
Shorsh maintains his ~~ steady strong support ~~ despite the pity he feels for Gegg's suffering.
Hiram opens wide for a split second, trying to get as much information as he can, then breaks lip and lateral contact as quickly as possible.
Gegg gasps as the nageric linkage is severed, regaining at least enough control to stop struggling. It doesn't seem to be doing any good, anyway.
Hiram lets Gegg go, and collapses into Shorsh's support.
Gegg staggers backwards, until he fetches up against the door frame of the mobile.
Shorsh intensifies the ~~ soothing ~~ component of his projection.
Hiram: [gasping] Thank you, Sosu. Mr. Gegg, are you all right?
Gegg is still trying to figure that out.
Hiram drops into a chair.
Gegg is, however, aware of one ~~ shameful ~~ truth.
Gegg: I broke again. Just like last time.
Gegg feels ~~ defeated ~~.
Hiram shakes his head.
Hiram: No, Mr. Gegg. You didn't break. I pushed you too hard. The fault is mine. If you had broken, you'd be outside the barn by now.
Gegg would definitely be outside the barn by now, if he'd been able to pull loose from Hiram's grip.
Hiram: You're still here, Mr. Gegg. You're still here. That's an achievement.
Gegg wonders if this is a prelude to telling him he's going to have to remain here, in Gumgeeville, while Toria goes off to Simeland. He's pretty sure there's no way he could appeal such a decision, once made.
Hiram: You've done amazingly well. I'm sorry about those bruises. But somehow I suspect you wouldn't want me to offer to heal them for you right now.
Gegg: Not if it would take, well, more of... that.
Gegg doesn't have a word for nageric interaction, which isn't surprising, as there isn't one in English.
Hiram: It would. But they should fade in a day or two.
Hiram: Mr. Gegg, I confess to being... somewhat fatigued after that. Shall we call it a day for now? Perhaps this evening we can talk -- just talk -- about some of the practical details of your journey to Sat'htine.
Gegg is ~~ relieved ~~ at this tacit consent to his traveling with Toria.
Gegg: All right. Toria will want to hear about that, anyway.
Hiram: We'll see you both this evening, then.
Shorsh figures he won't have much difficulty getting Hiram to lie down and rest, especially if he offers to join him and work on him nagerically. He hopes Hiram will have a greater appreciation of what D'zoll has accomplished, after this experience.
Gegg makes his escape, wondering if there will ever be a day when a Sime -- Mik, for instance -- can touch him without evoking the terror.
Shorsh: Let's lie down together Sectuib. I'd like to work on you a bit after that.
Hiram drops the Iron Farris act as soon as Gegg is out of the barn.
Hiram: Yes. Yes, Sosu. My back feels as if a dozen Shaeldor kids have been using my muscles for knot-tying practice.
Shorsh smiles. It's obvious that his sore back is the least of his pains at this point. ~~ comfort ~~
Hiram: I'm getting too old for wrangling Wild Gens, Sosu.
Shorsh: Come, let's lie down then.
Hiram: Do you want the bad news now, or later?
Shorsh: Now, if you're up to it.
Hiram drops onto the bed as soon as Shorsh has unfolded it.
Shorsh lies next to him and enfolds him in his arms and nager.
Hiram: I'm going to have to zlin him again. There was something. I just barely got a glimpse of it. Zlinned like an old burn scar.
Shorsh: It can wait until his treatment has progressed further, no?
Hiram: Probably. Sosu?
Shorsh: Yes, Sectuib?
Hiram: Before you get too comfortable, could you close the door? Virla's supposed to show up this morning, and I don't think I could deal with her right now.
Shorsh laughs, gets up, closes the door and returns.
Hiram: Thank you, Sosu.