Nick has some time before his next shift starts, and is spending it, as usual, outside. He isn't in the mood to prune fruit trees, so he's wandered over in the direction of a raspberry hedge, with vague thoughts of picking D'zoll some fruit to tempt his appetite.
Nick likes the raspberry hedge, which is situated next to an isolated stone cottage on the grounds. He can imagine himself away from the bustle of Sat'htine's main buildings.
Toria is picking raspberries on the other side of the hedge. It's more convenient for Gegg to eat his breakfast at the cottage, and Gegg and Sanda enjoy raspberries with their hot gruel. So does Toria, though she wouldn't admit it.
Toria will have Sanda take any excess berries to the refectory in a bit, as her contribution to Sat'htine's domestic economy. It's not much, but it makes her feel less like a freeloader.
Nick reaches the hedge, only to hear the noise of picking on the other side.
Toria jumps up from her bent-over position, scratching her arm slightly. She doesn't know the word, but picks up on the tone of voice and replies in her own language:
Toria: Hello there!
Nick was speaking in Simelan, of course, but switches easily to Genlan.
Nick: Hello. My name is Nick, and I came by for a few berries, before I start work. I hope I'm not disturbing you?
Nick can be 75% as charming as Riyyh when he exerts himself. He can also speak Genlan fluently and with very little accent, which is appealing in itself to a visitor from Genland.
Toria makes a dismissive motion.
Toria: Of course not! My name's Toria, and I'm staying in the stone house temporarily. Goodness knows there are plenty of berries.
Nick chuckles, and moves in to pick, generously helping to fill Toria's basket first.
Toria: Heavens, you don't have to do that!
Toria isn't actually displeased, though.
Toria: My husband is under treatment for extreme Simephobia.
Nick: Simephobia? Is he working with D'zoll?
Toria: Yes, he is.
Nick remembers D'zoll mentioning a Simephobe patient.
Toria: Ordinarily it wouldn't matter, but it seems we're a channel family.
Nick's eyes are drawn to Toria's burgeoning belly.
Nick: I can see why that would create difficulties.
Toria: My husband Gegg was a potential Donor, but he experienced a killmode attack decades ago. He wasn't injured physically, but...
Toria has learned the English version of the jargon, at least.
Toria: ... the experience was traumatic enough to affect him very drastically.
Nick winces at the pictures Toria's brief description brings to mind.
Nick: I should think it would. It's to his credit that he would be willing to seek treatment, after so long.
Toria: Oh dear. Have I given offense?
Nick: Not at all. I hope your husband is making progress towards his goal?
Toria: Well, he's here in-Territory, isn't he.
Toria: That's progress all by itself. And he was able to donate to D'zoll and again to Sectuib Hiram.
Nick: He's been able to work with two different channels? I'd have been impressed if he'd managed to trust even one, that much.
Nick might be a Donor, but he has a far greater gut-level understanding of the feelings of many out-Territory Gens than most Gens who live among Simes.
Toria: [proudly] They all keep saying how extraordinary Gegg is.
Nick: Is he pleased with his progress?
Toria: No, unfortunately. He interprets every setback as a disaster and every gain as just what he should have been able to do all along.
Nick: It's hard to accept that one's personal limits are less than everyone else's.
Toria raises her eyebrows.
Nick looks at Toria's belly.
Nick: It's not just men, either. I expect you're chafing at your own temporary limitations?
Toria: Oh, you mean the pregnancy? After two, I'm fairly used to it, though admittedly it's hard to believe I actually have twins: it feels like about five of them in there.
Nick tries to look ~~ sympathetic ~~.
Nick: Are your children here, too?
Toria: My daughter Sanda is; she'll be returning to the farm with us after the twins are born. My son Mik is at channel school.
Nick: Your son is a channel?
Nick deposits a nice double handful of raspberries in Toria's basket.
Toria: [even more proudly] Yes, he is. In his last letter, he told me that he'd be working in-Territory at first, but he was going to try to qualify for special training in -- Oh, what's the name of it?
Toria: Hardly. Mik's about the least diplomatic teen you'll ever meet.
Nick: I see. But he wants to work in Gen Territory?
Toria: No, I don't think so. I'm afraid Mik was very unhappy outside his home, and he wants to start afresh here. Gegg and I worried about it quite a bit.
Nick: You were afraid he'd run away to the big city when he turned sixteen?
Toria: I was actually more afraid that he wouldn't. In some moods, he had a morbid sense of responsibility, positively morbid.
Nick: So you were afraid that he'd stay, and be miserable?
Nick: Well, he'll certainly get a chance to see more of the world as a channel, although the Tecton isn't any easier to deal with than any other large bureaucracy.
Toria: I'm sure I wouldn't know about that. There aren't any large anythings in Gumgeeville.
Nick: There's a lot to be said for living a life free of official notice.
Toria nods vigorously.
Toria: By the way, your English is really excellent. Are you from out-Territory yourself?
Nick: No, but I did live there for about a decade.
Toria smiles wickedly.
Toria: Where you made a living picking berries?
Nick: Yes, and pruning trees, hoeing potatoes, and anything else that provided a bit of money.
Nick says this in a matter-of-fact manner that belies the now-cleaned Tecton uniform he donned in preparation for his shift with D'zoll.
Toria is now able to recognize uniform insignia, at least in simple cases.
Toria: So you decided to become a Donor later in life, then?
Nick: Well, I decided to work with channels.
Nick is still keeping an open mind about being a Tecton Donor.
Nick: In fact, I've been doing some work with Hajene D'zoll, although I haven't yet met your husband.
Toria: Isn't that the same thing? Or did you belong to a Householding for a while?
Nick: No, I'm not a Householder. But not all channels work for the Tecton; only the respectable ones.
Toria's eyes widen.
Toria: I never knew there were -- unrespectable channels.
Toria's tone implies "Tell me more."
Nick: There have always been a few channels who didn't get along with the Tecton, for one reason or another, and there are always some people who would rather not deal with the authorities every month. It's a precarious way to make a living, but for some, it's well worth it.
Toria: I see. And you were working with a channel who didn't -- play well with others?
Nick: No, she didn't.
Nick doesn't feel it necessary to elaborate.
Toria backs off; she's always interested in people, but she doesn't want to pry -- or be seen as prying.
Toria: Well, all this is very new to me. Until a few months ago, I was just an ordinary New Washington Territory farm wife.
Nick: Somehow, I doubt you were ever "ordinary".
Toria smiles again.
Toria: Oh, I bet you said that to all the farm wives.
Nick: Only those whose husbands were a lot slower than I am.
Toria enjoys flirting with Nick; her attempts to flirt here in Sat'htine have broken on the rock of cross-cultural incomprehension.
Nick's flirting isn't quite up to Narosian standards, but it is bicultural.
Nick: As it is, I'm not sure I ought to dare, with you having such a formidable husband.
Toria: Well, from what I understand, Donors can't really affect other Donors. But he is very good with his shotgun.
Toria winks back.
Toria: So what brings you to Sat'htine?
Toria has finally learned how to say the name of the Householding fairly well.
Nick: I was a problem for the Powers That Be, and they decided to see if Sectuib Hiram could come up with a solution.
Toria: Because of your, umm, unusual background?
Nick: Yes. I'm considered too valuable to discard, but not reliable enough to be trusted.
Nick does have the control of a Farris-trained Donor, and so he sounds only a little bitter.
Toria: That must be terrible for you.
Toria isn't fooled by the Iron Donor act; she's been living around a variant of it for far too long.
Nick: When I agreed to come here, it was by way of giving the Tecton one more chance, before moving back to Gen Territory.
Toria: While of course the Tecton was giving you one more chance before it sends you to... wherever.
Nick: I think they'd like to just put me in storage somewhere, until I could be made Somebody Else's Problem.
Toria: Meaning Sectuib Hiram?
Nick: For now.
Toria nods sympathetically.
Toria: And what's his view on the subject? He was pretty skeptical about treating my husband, as far as I can make out, though he's now a convert.
Nick: I don't think he knows quite what to make of me, but he doesn't seem to be as worried about it as some I've met.
Toria: That sounds encouraging, at least.
Toria smiles again, more tentatively this time because the matter is more immediately serious.
Nick: He's at least agreed to reserve judgment, and I can hardly blame him for being a bit skeptical. I expect he was given a rather one-sided view of the situation by the Controllers who dumped me on him.
Toria: Controllers, ugh. What an awful term. I'd never want to have anyone controlling my life.
Nick: I share your sentiments, which is a large part of the problem. Tell me, what is your opinion of Hiram? Outside of his willingness to help your husband?
Toria: Well, that's a question.
Nick waits to see if the question will engender an answer.
Toria: I've never met anybody who has the kind of power he has. So it's hard for me to tell how much of his, well, stuffed-shirt style is just him, and how much is what he'd have to show to do his job.
Nick nods thoughtfully.
Toria: And sometimes when he drops the, the pompous attitude, he becomes, well, preachy.
Toria: [with a trace of her old waspishness] I never cared for that much.
Nick: A moralist?
Toria: Well, that too. But I meant, he seems to think, just because he believes in something, he thinks you should too.
Nick: So he's not necessarily open to other viewpoints?
Toria chuckles again, rather hollowly.
Toria: I don't think he thinks other viewpoints exist. But on the other hand, D'zoll did bring him around, didn't he.
Nick: So it can be done, with suitable effort?
Toria: I guess so. But again, I have no idea what the pressures on him are, either.
Nick: I suppose he's got to keep up appearances in front of his House. After all, it could get rather unpleasant, if they were displeased with him.
Nick remembers the notorious Rutabaga Riot at Naros, a house known for physical cowardice.
Toria: True. But he was willing to bring a Simephobic Donor-strength nager here, so that says he doesn't lack courage.
Toria's view is that courage is moral courage, period.
Nick: True. So perhaps he'll be willing to find a place for a Donor with unconventional training.
Toria: I do hope so, Nick.
Nick is aware that if Hiram does make a place for Nick, Nick will still have to decide if he can accept a place under Hiram's authority. He has trouble living under a regular Tecton Controller's authority, and isn't sure he could manage to cede even more of his independence to a Sectuib.
Toria of course doesn't understand the full depth of Nick's issues, but she definitely does understand -- thanks to her new insights about Gegg -- what it means to be a square peg in a world of round holes.
Nick deposits a final handful of berries into Toria's basket.
Nick: There you are. Thank you for your insight, Toria.
Toria: And thank you for your berries, Nick -- and your kindness.
Toria sighs and passes the back of her hand across her forehead theatrically.
Toria: I have always depended on the kindness of strangers....
Nick: In a small farming town in Genland? Wherever did you find them?
Toria slaps Nick playfully on the arm, but says nothing.
Nick: Truly, I do hope things work out well for your family.
Toria: [serious] Thank you, Nick. I hope things work out well for you.
Nick bows with formal Gen courtesy, and steps aside for Toria to pass him with the basket of berries.
Toria: Wait here a moment.
Toria disappears into the house briefly and returns with a second basket, this one full of biscuits.
Toria: For you.
Nick: Thank you.
Toria curtsies just as formally and disappears into the house for good.
Nick picks another handful of raspberries to share with D'zoll, places it carefully in the basket alongside the biscuits, and starts back to the main buildings.