Craig has spent the past few days in retreat back at Jon Fennik's country estate, deep in prayer and meditation. His encounter with Brother Marvin at Hannard's Ford shook him rather badly. He had never before been forced to think of Simes as real human beings, with consciences and ethical dilemmas. That alone would have been shock enough. But some of the things Brother Marvin said also made Craig wonder whether he has yet understood all of God's message to him.
Craig has decided to do what he has always done before when unsure: get more facts. He strides up the front steps of Virla's house and knocks at the door.
Virla: Who is it?
Craig: I'm Brother Andrew. I'm looking for a Miz Virla, from the Church of Unity.
Virla has never been identified in this fashion before, and she's impressed. She opens the door.
Virla: Come in, Brother Andrew!
Craig: Thank you, ma'am.
Craig doffs his hat and enters.
Virla takes the hat and puts it on a shelf.
Virla: Do have a seat. Can I get you anything?
Craig: A glass of water would be fine, ma'am. Are you Miz Virla?
Virla: Oh yes, of course, how silly of me.
Virla ducks out, pumps water into a glass, and brings it into the parlor.
Craig: Thank you, ma'am.
Virla: Of course, Brother. And do call me Virla.
Craig takes a sip. The water is good, clear and cold.
Craig: Thank you, Sister Virla.
Virla smiles and blushes a little.
Virla: Well, what can I do for you? You're interested in the Church of Unity, I suppose?
Craig: Yes, Sister. I...
Virla: [sympathetically] Virla. And go on.
Craig has already gotten tired of reciting his whole painful story for each new audience.
Craig: Until quite recently I was a hater of Simes. I thought they were demons in human form, and wanted only to wipe them off the face of the Earth.
Craig: Then, in prayer and meditation, God gave me a new message. Simes, with their ability to zlin beyond lies and deception, are actually God's gift to humankind. They are His way of teaching us that we must, above all, be truthful.
Virla raises her eyebrows. This slant is new to her.
Virla: Tell me more.
Craig: Didn't you ever wonder why a good and all-powerful God would inflict so much misery upon humankind as the Sime mutation has caused over the centuries?
Virla: We don't believe that it was the Sime~Gen mutation that was the mistake. It was fear that was the mistake. Gens' fear of Simes, Simes' fear of attrition and death.
Craig: Fear. Yes, fear causes much harm. Do you want to know what I once most feared, as a businessman dedicated to games of money and power?
Virla: Being seen for what you really were, perhaps?
Virla smiles again to take the sting out of this remark.
Craig: Exactly. Truth.
Craig: And when I went into Sime Territory, in pursuit of power, I encountered Simes who could zlin, from whom I couldn't hide the truth.
Virla nods again.
Virla: So they told you things you didn't want to hear, and it shook you up.
Craig: I came home a broken man, but God used the pain of that experience to teach me something I never would have seen without first being broken.
Virla: That Simes are as human as Gens, and that the two larities do better together than apart.
Craig: And that Simes are not servants of evil, but God's messengers to teach us the importance of Truth.
Virla: Perhaps you're right, Andrew. But you know what?
Virla: Any Gen who could see through that facade of money that you had, could have told you the same thing. One doesn't have to be a Sime to speak truth to power. Most people in our society would have been too intimidated to do so.
Craig: But only a Sime can zlin behind the slick facade to see what the truth is, sometimes.
Virla laughs gently so as not to bruise Andrew's feelings too much.
Virla: I doubt very much that you were as good at that "slick facade" as you thought you were. Only someone who was playing the same game as you -- and busy maintaining his own emotional shield -- would be deceived. But you arranged your life to surround yourself with such people almost all the time. And when "ordinary folks" were around, you ignored them as much as you could, didn't you?
Virla thinks of Andrew in his previous life as an intensified, and male, version of Flora.
Craig squirms uncomfortably. He tries not to hide from the feeling; he's learned that such feelings are often God's way of showing him another painful but necessary Truth.
Virla: [sympathetically] It's all right, Andrew. We all have to awaken to the new life somehow. I had to see my daughter turn Sime and still live before I could be reborn.
Craig eagerly turns from his own story to Virla's.
Craig: Please tell me more, Sister. Brother Marvin said you had a story to tell.
Virla rubs her hands together.
Virla: Very well. My daughter went into changeover and hid herself in the basement of my father's saloon. In time she would have broken out or died of attrition -- a cruel death, as I now know. But by what we call chance, which is another name for a piece of God's plan we don't yet understand, a channel and his Companion were trapped in Gumgeeville by the snow.
Virla watches Andrew's face carefully to try to pick up on his reaction.
Craig thinks he has the pieces of the puzzle together now.
Craig: So Hajene Marvin saved your daughter?
Virla: No, no. His name was Seruffin. The girl Marvin saved was someone else altogether. But how did you meet Marvin, Andrew?
Craig: We met in Hannard's Ford.
Virla: Ah, of course. So then when I saw my daughter, I knew that the Church was wrong, and that her soul was not lost.
Craig: Perhaps that's what it takes for each of us, Sister, a shock to force us to face God's truth. So if it wasn't Brother Marvin, tell me what did happen with your daughter.
Virla: It was a difficult changeover, but Hajene Seruffin and Sosu Gerrhonot did their best, and she's living in Simeland today. I donate every month to support her. They escorted her to the Ford, and I went to see her there one last time before Marvin brought her in-Territory. That's part of his job too.
Craig: Difficult? Brother Marvin said something about injured tentacles.
Virla: No, I think you must have misunderstood. My Magit's tentacles are perfectly healthy.
Craig frowns, puzzled.
Craig: So that must have been the other girl, then? The one Brother Marvin saved?
Virla: I suppose so. But does it really matter so much? From what I've heard, she's doing fine too: studying in Simeland Capital, no less.
Craig: You knew this other girl too, then?
Craig has forgotten that in a community this size, everyone knows everyone.
Virla: Not really. She was one of the summer people, living over towards Onteh in one of those fancy houses.
Craig still suspects nothing.
Craig: Brother Marvin seemed quite distressed about her, and still unsure whether he had done the right thing.
Virla: Well, of course it's the right thing to save lives, Andrew. I can't imagine what Marvin had to be troubled about.
Craig: He said he had risked all of Unity, by breaking some channel's rule when he saved her. I didn't fully understand it myself. That's why I was curious; I thought you might know something of his story that would help me understand.
Virla: No, I don't know Marvin's story all that well.
Craig: Please, tell me what little you do know. I feel that God's grace is being shown to us somehow, that two young girls would have been saved here in so short a time. I'm trying to understand God's plan.
Virla: Well, you know that you have to be sixteen to donate. Marvin persuaded Sanda Gegg, who's only thirteen. But of course it was an emergency: he needed the selyn to save Fridda.
Craig feels like he's just been hit by a bolt of God's lightning.
Craig: Fridda? Fridda Fennik?
Virla: Why, yes. Do you know her, too?
Craig: Yes! She's my...
Craig pauses, trying to figure out the exact word for the relationship.
Virla thinks she knows.
Craig: Her mother was my... distant cousin. I know her father quite well.
Virla's emotional balloon collapses.
Craig: I... he let us think she'd died... I accused him... but I never really thought...
Craig realizes he's babbling and shuts up.
Virla puts her left hand on Craig's right hand.
Virla: [softly] Andrew, it's all right. Really. Your cousin is safe and well, which is what matters. Everything else is just the past.
Craig: But it was the change in Jon and Ruthven's attitudes that sent me on that trip, that started the whole thing.
Craig: [with dawning comprehension] You said it a few minutes ago, Sister. Chance is what we name the parts of God's plan that we don't understand yet.
Craig: Fridda's changeover was what started the whole chain of events that led me to start hearing God's message.
Craig is almost bouncing in his chair with excitement.
Virla: Go on.
Craig: Tell me, Sister Virla. Tell me all of it. Every little detail. Fridda's story. And Magit's. There's something in all of this that I need to learn.
Virla: Well, all right. But only if you calm down first!
Craig takes a deep breath, and lets it out slowly. He then realizes that his bladder is up to its usual tricks.
Craig: Uh, Sister Virla? May I be excused for a minute?
Virla: Certainly. It's out back.
Craig: Thank you.
Craig runs all the way to the outhouse, thus burning off some of the physical energy of his excitement. He arrives just in time, takes care of the necessary, and returns to the house at a more sedate pace.
Virla reflects on what an interesting person Brother Andrew is, now that he's been knocked off his high horse.
Craig is much calmer now that he's had a few minutes to get used to the information about Fridda.
Craig: So tell me, please, Sister Virla. I want to understand all of what happened here with the two girls. And anything else you think might be relevant.
Virla: Well, I will. But I'd like to hear something about you too, you know. Sharp dealings and theology can't have been everything in your life, can they?
Craig is eager to oblige Virla in anything she wants right now, so she'll be willing to tell him as much as possible.
Craig: Until recently, even theology didn't have much place in my life. I was a businessman, full time. I ate, breathed, and slept power deals. That was my life. That was all of it. That, and the usual shallow pleasures... good brandy, good food, an occasional concert.
Virla: I wouldn't call either food or music a shallow pleasure, Andrew. Those also are the gifts of the Divine, you know.
Craig: Maybe. But they don't seem so important now. And even at the time, they didn't seem like much compared to the excitement of a tense negotiation, the thrill of a good business deal. The rush of power when your opponent gives in.
Craig is embarrassed by his past now, but still remembers the thrill of that rush.
Virla chuckles a little.
Virla: Andrew, you should get married!
Craig: I've never felt the urge to.
Virla: All that excitement sounds to me like you were, you were looking for love in all the wrong places.
Craig: I never thought of marriage as being about love.
Virla: Oh yes. Or at least it can be. My husband and I would never have agreed about religion, but we still loved each other.
Virla: Of course that was a long time ago.
Craig: Where I come from, marriage is just another business deal, between families. And a social convenience. The only marriage I saw up close was my own parents', and it... wasn't inspiring.
Virla takes Andrew's hand again.
Virla: But if there's anything our experiences should have taught us, it's that the way things used to be, doesn't have to be the way they will be.
Craig tries not to tense up or pull his hand away.
Craig: I've never... I haven't... I wouldn't know how to begin such a project.
Virla: Follow your heart, Andrew.
Craig: My heart says I should be out there preaching God's word. And a traveling preacher shouldn't be dragging a family around behind him.
Virla: The right woman wouldn't need to be dragged, would she?
Craig wonders whether Virla.... Sister Virla... is leading up to anything.
Virla smiles as mysteriously as she can manage, and lets Andrew go on wondering.