Pistachio is whistling as he approaches the front gate of the Hannard's Ford Sime Center.
Pistachio is not a big fan of Simes, but he figures it's a good place to get an unbiased view of Hannard's Ford, without getting caught up in small-town boosterism. He at least knows he's not a Sime-phobe, thanks to his experiences in the Gen Army thirty-some years back.
Dolmada, Bibi's rotation Donor, answers the door.
Dolmada: Good afternoon, Mister...?
Pistachio: Pistachio. I'm new in town, and looking for a little advice.
Dolmada is a bit ~~ confused ~~.
Pistachio: Well, I've been living in New Washington for about ten years now, and I heard about this town from a couple of friends of mine who moved here.
Dolmada: I see.
Pistachio: But if I go down to the local businesses and ask, all they'll tell me is either how wonderful the place is, or how awful it is, depending on whether they depend on newcomers more or resent them more.
Pistachio is getting the idea this isn't getting him anywhere.
Pistachio: Anyhow, I thought you folks, being more or less stuck here but not from around here, might be able to give me your point of view.
Dolmada: I'm afraid I'm just as new here as yourself, but Hajene Bibi has been here for several years.
Dolmada is still surprised that any channel could tolerate living out-Territory for so long.
Pistachio: Oh. In that case, could I meet Mr. Bibi?
Dolmada: I'll be glad to fetch her. Please, help yourself to the refreshments in the mean time.
Dolmada gestures towards the well-laden table, then heads for Bibi's office.
Pistachio picks up one of the pastries and eats it. Walking from the train station has given him a bit of an appetite.
Dolmada signals in front of Bibi's office, then opens it, exercising a Donor's right to enter.
Bibi is at her desk, her left hand tentacles tangled in her hair, composing a letter. She's trying to convincingly thank her Controller for upping the selyn pickup schedule while tactfully indicating that it still isn't adequate, since D'zoll upgraded so many of her donors.
Dolmada: We have a visitor. An elderly gentleman, who's apparently confused the Sime Center with the Chamber of Commerce.
Dolmada spreads her hands wide in the Gen variant of the "what can I say?" gesture.
Bibi is ~~ startled ~~ and ~~ puzzled ~~, but gets up anyway.
Bibi: Okay, I'll talk to him.
Bibi debates whether to toss the current draft of her letter into the wastebasket with the others, but leaves it on the desk.
Dolmada follows Bibi back to the reception room, as a good Donor should.
Bibi approaches the reception room with her tentacles retracted, and puts on her usual friendly harmless look.
Pistachio hears Mr. Bibi, presumably, approaching, and turns around, still munching his third pastry. He's rather startled by the pretty young woman he sees.
Pistachio: Oh. Er. Ahem!
Bibi: Hello. I'm Hajene Bibi, the channel here.
Pistachio: Ah. I fear I -- But never mind.
Bibi observes that the Gen seems surprised, but unafraid.
Dolmada sincerely hopes that Pistachio doesn't fear, but takes a step closer to Bibi, just in case.
Pistachio: I was explaining to your Companion here that I wanted to get an outsider's view of Hannard's Ford, as I'm planning to move here.
Bibi: I see.
Bibi thinks going to the Sime Center for such information is unusual for someone out-T. Perhaps this man lived in-T at one time.
Pistachio: But I'm forgetting my manners. My name is Pistachio -- Apricot J. Pistachio. Rather silly, I know; my father had a peculiar taste in names, but I've grown rather proud of it over the years. But where was I?
Pistachio extends his hand, ~~ unafraid ~~.
Bibi also offers her hand, unsure whether he wants to shake hands or brush tentacles.
Pistachio grasps Bibi's hand firmly -- he is only fifty-something, after all.
Bibi can't help zlinning that the man seems to be fairly healthy for his age. She grasps back, but less firmly.
Pistachio: My friends Gole and Fridda Balken have a summer place here, and they speak very highly of the town. But of course they would, wouldn't they? So far all I've seen of it is between here and the railroad station. But I always like to take an unconventional angle on things, so here I am. If, that is, you're not too busy?
Dolmada is glad that this Gen appears to be reasonably calm around Simes.
Bibi: I do have a bit of time, unless a donor arrives of course.
Bibi isn't going to mention that the other interruption would be a changeover. She pours herself a cup of tea and sits.
Pistachio: Well, I've done a bit of investigation of things like house prices and so on and everything there seems to be quite satisfactory, quite satisfactory. I've done rather well for myself, I may say, after retiring from the Army, y'know.
Pistachio sits too, now that his hostess has done so.
Dolmada sits down beside Bibi.
Bibi signals her thanks to her Donor.
Pistachio: A pity they don't pay pensions in land any more, but of course with the rise in prices that wouldn't exactly be practical. I'm sure you can see why!
Bibi nods. Most of the land given to veterans was in sparsely settled areas near the borders, which are now a great deal more desirable real estate than they were before Unity.
Pistachio: But in any event, I wanted to get a feel for the place, especially the locals, which is why I came up here on the train without making any fuss about it, and then I saw the sign at your front gate and I thought "Why not?"
Dolmada pours herself a cup of tea, to reinforce the sociable atmosphere.
Bibi: Well, I've been here five years, and have found the town a very pleasant place. Of course, I spend most of my time here at the Sime Center, so I mainly meet donors and their families.
Pistachio: Naturally, naturally. Surely you hear a good deal, though, with one thing and another? I'm not looking for names, just to get an impression, as I was saying.
Bibi: The town is fairly prosperous, with the good farmland surrounding it, the railroad, the cheese factory and some other industries.
Bibi isn't sure whether to mention the significant capital injected by the Tecton in the form of donation payments, which also reduce the burden on the taxpayers of some of those unable to work.
Pistachio: Are all of your donors long-term residents, or do you handle incomers and summer residents, too?
Bibi: Most of the donors are long term residents, but of course if others wish to donate, they're accepted if they're suitable.
Bibi is increasingly ~~ puzzled ~~ by this interrogation. What does the man want to know?
Pistachio: Naturally, naturally. But what I really want to know about... Well. Have you found that, er, have you met opposition to your, your work here?
Bibi: Many of the people here are very supportive. They had to campaign long and hard to get a Sime Center for a town this size. Others may not have anything to do with us until a family member begins to change over. And of course, there are those opposed to our work, but in general, they just avoid us. There hasn't been significant active opposition.
Dolmada is glad of that much.
Pistachio: Excellent, excellent. I wouldn't want to live somewhere where I'd have to donate under the cloak of darkness, as you might say.
Pistachio: So the town is live-and-let-live when it comes to Sime issues, then, you'd say?
Bibi: I'd say so, although the pro-Sime Center group is perhaps the more vocal. If you were to become a regular donor here, you'd be in very good company.
Pistachio: Ah, excellent, excellent. You see -- but let me tell you about myself first. If you don't mind.
Bibi makes a "go ahead" gesture without using her tentacles. She sips her tea.
Dolmada is rather ~~ curious ~~ about this gentleman.
Pistachio: Ah. Well. My first experience with donation was my first year in the Army, when we all had to donate to keep our Sime allies alive.
Pistachio: You've probably read about it in your history books, I'd think.
Bibi smiles too.
Bibi: Yes, indeed.
Pistachio: Being young, idealistic, and foolish -- but I repeat myself -- I decided to remain in the Army as a career, now that there was little chance I'd be fighting Simes. My mother was from Sime Territory, so that notion never appealed to me much, as you can imagine.
Bibi nods sympathetically.
Pistachio: Unfortunately she died when I was only four of some disease or other, so I didn't learn anything from her, but it did leave me with an unsatisfied curiosity.
Pistachio: Well, I worked hard and did well, and became what they call a mustang. I don't suppose you're familiar with the term?
Bibi shakes her head.
Dolmada: A feral horse, isn't it?
Pistachio: Well, yes. But in the Army, it means an officer promoted from the ranks -- one who started out as a private, that is. Like yours truly. There is, shall we say, a social distinction between us and our brother officers and gentlemen.
Dolmada: I see.
Pistachio: Or I might say, we are gentlemen because we are officers, whereas they are officers because they are gentlemen.
Bibi nods again. She doesn't know much about the sociology of the Gen Army.
Dolmada: A fine distinction.
Pistachio: Quite fine. Indeed, pointed. And the point tends to be pointed at us.
Bibi suspects the point is that donation is not the sort of thing a respectable Army officer does, which explains why this man zlins like a non-donor despite his experience in the war.
Pistachio: But when I retired, I found that my connections were useful to me, and I have done quite well advising, hrm, advising certain large Gen corporations. As such, and in order to keep up my social position as a retired colonel, I've found it necessary to stay away from Sime Centers and everything they signify.
Pistachio sighs meditatively.
Pistachio: But you know, underneath it all, underneath it all, I find I am still the same idealistic and foolish youth I was then. The ideals, hmm, the ideals of Unity still, shall I say, inspire me. And so when it seemed to me that I had made enough money, and it was time to retire a second time, that I should make sure that I could return, return to donation you understand, without, without having to undergo the rural version, as you might say, of the prejudices (I will not shrink from the word) of respectable New Washington society.
Dolmada tries to parse this last sentence.
Bibi smiles charmingly, with dimples.
Pistachio: Now perhaps I could achieve this by moving to Sime Territory, but I fear that a complete change of culture would be rather excessive, indeed insalubrious, at my time of life.
Bibi: Many of the leading citizens of Hannard's Ford are regular donors.
Pistachio: Eh? Hmm? Ah, excellent. Of course, a leading citizen of Hannard's Ford would be by no means comparable to a leading citizen of New Washington -- but that, I say, that is precisely the point.
Bibi displays her dimples again.
Pistachio: By the way, and don't hesitate to deflect me, am I right in supposing that you yourself were born in Gen Territory?
Bibi: Yes, I was. I had the good fortune to be visiting New Washington when I changed over.
Pistachio: Ah, how wonderful for you! ~~ happiness empathy ~~
Bibi: And now I have the good fortune to be able to help other young people safely through changeover.
Pistachio: I do remember now, from what little I saw of them, which of course as a private was not very much, that Simes are noted for, er, directness of speech. A thing which, also, I find most refreshing after years and years of military courtesy, so called, and corporate, er, ...
Pistachio finds himself at a loss for a word at once sufficiently emphatic and sufficiently polite to use to a lady.
Dolmada: I can see you are a true consultant, Mister Pistachio. You seem very... eloquent.
Pistachio laughs outright.
Pistachio: I suppose I have been being paid to talk by the hour for a bit too long, haven't I?
Bibi laughs, charmingly. It's the only laugh she's got. Her eyes sparkle, ditto.
Pistachio: Of course I can hardly expect an answer to that. But in any event, it sounds to me as if, other things being suitable -- and they do seem to be -- that this town would be a fine place for me, and indeed, this would be a good place to begin. ~~ resolution determination ~~
Pistachio: So, Miz Bibi, will you accept my donation today?
Bibi: Of course. Come with me.
Bibi heads for the door to the donation room in the corner.
Bibi: I think our facilities are more comfortable than the ones at your first donation!
Pistachio: I'm sure they will be! That was in a tent, a leaky tent, on a rainy day, the fifth consecutive rainy day as I recall.
Dolmada: The history books don't mention details like that.
Pistachio: The channel's Companion asked me rather sharply whether I could refrain from jumping so much, and I explained to him (I don't think the channel had much English) that I could hardly help it, since I jumped every time another drip fell on me from the roof. But once the donation began I was so fascinated with the process that the drips didn't bother me much any more. ~~ reminiscent fascination ~~
Bibi smiles again, sits at the desk and takes out a folder with a set of forms.
Dolmada: There is one drawback to donating in civilized surroundings, I'm afraid. Paperwork.
Pistachio: Donation I suppose is much like everything else, as far as paperwork is concerned, although in the tent, I am glad to say... No, you are quite right. To business, to business.
Bibi invites Pistachio to sit with a gesture, and moves quickly through the forms, heading him off whenever he tries to digress.
Pistachio answers all the questions easily and ~~ unconstrained ~~ emotionally.
Dolmada takes special note of Bibi's technique, since one of the other channels on her rotation tends to be a bit long-winded himself.
Bibi: We have a booklet on donation here. Perhaps you'd like to refresh your memory?
Bibi offers the booklet.
Pistachio waves it away.
Pistachio: No need, no need. I remember the essentials. Bare my arms ...
Pistachio rolls up his sleeves
Pistachio: ...hold still, and wait.
Dolmada deduces that the Faith Day donations were not only taken in primitive conditions, but the channels were apparently too rushed to take their time.
Bibi: Come join me over here where we can be more comfortable.
Bibi moves to the transfer lounge.
Pistachio looks at the oddball piece of furniture.
Pistachio: Very well. That's certainly an improvement since my time!
Pistachio sits on it.
Bibi: Yes. It's much easier on the back.
Bibi offers her hands and signals Dolmada for extra vigilance and support, since things have been going too well so far, and anything could happen next.
Dolmada obliges, moving closer and adjusting her nager.
Bibi: Take my hands when you're ready, Colonel.
Pistachio takes Bibi's hands gently, having apparently gotten the idea that Bibi doesn't like her hands squeezed firmly.
Pistachio: Eh? Oh, not "Colonel", surely. My friends call me Pistachio, or by, well, "Pistachio" will do.
Bibi starts her usual first-time-donor patter, zlinning carefully to make sure she isn't going too fast.
Bibi: I'll just slide my hands into position... extend my handling tentacles... hold your arms securely... now my laterals....
Dolmada watches carefully for any sign of resistance, discomfort, or fear.
Pistachio seems entirely calm and unflustered.
Bibi: Now the lip contact.
Pistachio: Of course. ~~ anticipation ~~ Go ahead.
Bibi leans forward and offers her lips. Pistachio is much taller than she is, so she waits for him to bend down to meet her.
Pistachio realizes that this part of the proceedings has changed since his day, and not being one to disoblige a lady, presses his lips against hers.
Bibi zlins him carefully, not detecting any health problems. She begins to draw, and drains the GN-3 level without any difficulties. She expects it will be easy to upgrade him in future.
Pistachio attempts to observe the process, but is rather distracted by Bibi's, er, charms. He's not surprised that he doesn't feel anything from the donation, but on the other hand is surprised by the ~~ sexual arousal ~~ he feels.
Bibi breaks the lip contact, smiles (charmingly) at the donor, and dismantles the tentacle contacts.
Bibi: There you go. You did very well.
Pistachio: Er, ah, thank you. So did you.
Pistachio is far too much the gentleman to say anything, of course.
Bibi was unsurprised at his reaction, and as is customary out-T, deals with it by acting as if she doesn't notice it.
Bibi: I'll write up your voucher for you.
Bibi returns to the desk, preparing the voucher as she recovers from the functional.
Dolmada: The currency has changed since the last time you donated -- a sack of corn meal, wasn't it?
Pistachio laughs again, putting his reactions firmly aside.
Pistachio: The chief currency at that time was not being shot out of hand for mutiny.
Dolmada: Did they really threaten to shoot you?
Pistachio: Not as such. But an order is an order, and we all knew what the consequences of insubordination might be.
Bibi offers the voucher.
Bibi: Here you go. Dolmada can show you where to cash it. You'll probably be able to donate more selyn at future donations.
Pistachio: Oh, good heavens, I certainly don't need it. Donate it, ha!
Pistachio: Donate the money to some worthy cause or other. I'm sure there are plenty.
Bibi: You'll have to do that yourself. We have regulations we have to follow, too!
Dolmada: Were there any of your fellow soldiers who refused anyway?
Pistachio: As far as I know, young woman -- I never did get your name -- no, nobody refused.
Dolmada: It's Dolmada.
Pistachio: Pleased to meet you, or rather to have met you, Dolmada. No, nobody refused. Or nobody I knew about.
Pistachio: Isn't there a general fund of some sort, for Simes who can't pay their taxes for one reason or another?
Bibi: People often direct their donations to a particular Sime, but I believe there may be a general fund of some sort. Nattin should be able to help you. He handles these matters.
Bibi is glad that Nattin seems to actually enjoy knowing all the intricacies of the accounting system, perhaps from his viewpoint as an anthropologist.
Dolmada: I believe he's out, just now, but if you can return tomorrow, he'd be glad to help you. Fair warning, though. If his students learn you were present for the first Faith Day, they'll insist on interrogating you.
Pistachio: In that case, I'll stay in town tonight and see your Mr. Nattin in the morning.
Bibi: Thank you for donating, Mister Pistachio. You've given a Sime a month of life.
Pistachio smiles ~~ warmly ~~.
Pistachio: Pistachio. Just Pistachio.
Bibi smiles back, full dimple mode.
Bibi: Pistachio, then.