Virginia and Cristal are in the middle of their regular jogging session.
Virginia, for one, would never have gone outside on such a cold, wet, miserable, late fall day if she didn't have Cristal to motivate her.
Cristal wouldn't have gone running either if it weren't for his Plan.
Virginia steps out briskly as they go down a street not too far from the Sime Center, hoping to finish their course before she gets too chilled. She's looking forward to a nice, hot cup of coffee in her nice, warm kitchen.
Cristal: I just can't get warm on a day like this, no matter what I do.
Virginia: It does make getting back home that much more pleasant. And think of how much more weight we're carrying, these days.
Cristal: There is that.
Virginia gathers herself to leap across a large puddle formed by a clogged drain.
Cristal figures that he can't get any wetter, and just jogs through the puddle regardless.
Virginia clears the puddle, but lands on a glob of mud which was thrown onto the sidewalk by a passing cart.
Cristal laughs hollowly.
Cristal: Away from the juncts and into the Border Patrol, we say in-Territory.
Virginia yelps as her foot goes out from under her, and she lands in the puddle with a muddy splash.
Cristal realizes as soon as he sees Virginia go down just how ill-timed that joke was.
Virginia: Oh, damn. ~~ disgust ~~
Cristal stops and drops to his knees next to Virginia.
Cristal: Are you all right?
Virginia is already sitting in six inches of cold, muddy water, so she takes a moment to test her arms and legs, in a brisk, systematic fashion.
Virginia: Nothing's injured but my dignity, I think.
Virginia gets slowly to her feet, dripping.
Virginia is soaked and muddy from the waist down.
Cristal: All right, if you're sure.
Cristal gets up too and extends his arm just in case it turns out to be needed.
Virginia accepts the help for the first few steps, making sure that there aren't any minor injuries.
Virginia: I'll be a little stiff tomorrow, I expect, but no permanent harm done. I just hope this muck will wash out; my daughter gave me this coat.
Virginia isn't looking forward to the long walk back to her home, in cold, muddy, wet clothing.
Cristal: I hope so too. But perhaps we should stop by the Center just so you can get warmed up and perhaps cleaned up? It's considerably closer.
Virginia is visibly ~~ tempted ~~.
Virginia: I wouldn't want to disrupt your Sime Center...
Cristal: Not at all. We are quite used to people bursting in suddenly with immediate needs, though most of them are changeovers, to be sure.
Virginia: Mud puddles really don't fall under a Sime Center's mission. If you're sure it wouldn't be an imposition?
Virginia is already feeling the ~~ chill ~~ from her wet clothing, and although she's not likely to get hypothermic if she goes directly home, it would be very uncomfortable.
Cristal: I'm quite sure, Virginia. Allow us to do you this service. [confidently]
Virginia: Well, then, thank you for your hospitality. I admit, it's been many years since a young man asked me home. ~~ amusement ~~
Cristal: Well, then it's an offer you can't possibly refuse.
Cristal sets off for the Sime Center by the shortest possible route.
Virginia follows, being much more careful about potentially slippery mud. She's hoping that she can get cleaned up without disrupting things too much -- or attracting too much attention. She's not really dressed for meeting people, at the moment.
Cristal reaches the Sime Center gate and opens it for Virginia, allowing himself to walk at her side up to the front door.
Virginia was hoping to slip quietly in the back entrance, but she can see that the remodeled farm house isn't set up to make that convenient. She looks around at the neat grounds ~~ curiously ~~.
Virginia: This is a well kept property. It looks a little out of place, here by the meat plant.
Cristal: Well, as I understand, the Tecton had to take what property it could get. Not every landowner would sell to "demon Simes".
Virginia: How did the neighbors take your arrival?
Cristal: I hadn't yet started working here at that time. You should ask Hajene Bibi about it.
Virginia takes a cautious look around.
Virginia: There aren't any berserkers here today, are there?
Cristal: No indeed. And there are no ex-berserkers either, as it happens. When we do get a berserker, Hajene Bibi gives transfer and then we have a perfectly normal Sime within a few minutes.
Virginia: I see.
Virginia is still trying to get her mind around the idea of berserkers not being a danger. At least not for long.
Cristal: Then they usually hang around here for a few days until they can be escorted in-Territory by a visiting channel. But as I said, there don't happen to be any today.
Virginia: I'm glad of that. I've seen too many children in changeover. There were always parents who'd bring their children in, hoping against hope that it was just a stomach virus.
Cristal walks to the kitchen, hoping to find Gitl.
Virginia looks around at the decorations, finding them an interesting mix of familiar and strange.
Cristal finds Gitl slaving over a hot stove, as usual.
Cristal: Ah, Gitl. This is my friend Virginia, who took a tumble in a mud puddle.
Gitl is a bit surprised to hear Cristal call anyone "friend", but she nods.
Cristal: Gitl is our cook, and a wonderful cook too. And our housekeeper as well.
Virginia: I'm pleased to meet you.
Virginia is also pleased that Gitl is Gen, but that wouldn't be polite to mention.
Gitl identifies Virginia as an outsider, probably from the city, by her accent and bearing (despite the mud).
Cristal: Perhaps you could show Virginia to the bathroom and provide some towels and something that would fit her out of the clothes closet?
Gitl looks Virginia up and down while attempting not to be too obvious about it.
Gitl: Hmm. Perhaps Ghan could spare something that would fit you, Miz Virginia.
Cristal: I'll leave you to it, then. And thank you.
Cristal returns to the waiting room to wait for Virginia or Bibi, whoever comes first.
Bibi comes up the stairs from the cellar, with a liter jar of tomatoes in one hand and a box of Tecton forms in the other. She puts the jar on the table, brushes possible cobwebs out of her hair with her tentacles and carries the box into the waiting room.
Bibi: Hi, Cristal. Have a good run?
Bibi zlins her Donor to make sure he isn't chilled or otherwise damaged.
Cristal: Yes. I should tell you at once, Virginia came back with me.
Bibi: Where is she?
Cristal: She took a fall in a mud puddle. No damage except to her clothes; I've sent her off with Gitl to get cleaned up.
Bibi: Ah. I wondered where Gitl had got to. I brought some tomatoes up for her.
Bibi puts the box in the file room and returns.
Cristal: Yes. Speaking of which, I should go do the same, though less drastically. If you'll excuse me?
Cristal indicates his muddy running shoes ruefully.
Bibi: Of course. But Cristal....
Cristal: Yes, Hajene?
Bibi: Do you want me to stay out of sight? You can entertain her in the common room. I doubt we'll get many donors on a morning like this.
Cristal thinks about it.
Bibi: I can hide in my office.
Cristal: This really wasn't the entertainment we had planned, more of an emergency visit. You understand her culture better than I do: would she be more embarrassed to meet her hostess or not to meet her? Disregarding for the moment your larity, that is.
Bibi: It's hard to decide what to compare the Sime Center to, out-T. My natural inclination, or inbred cultural reaction, would be to introduce myself, welcome her, and only stick around if she seemed to want me to.
Cristal: Well, then, perhaps you should do that and zlin for her reaction. Hopefully I'll be back here before she is.
Bibi hopes the poor woman isn't some kind of Simephobe. Getting soaked on a day like this is bad enough without getting spooked, too.
Cristal goes off to his room, hoping he won't need a full bath too.
Virginia comes down the stairs, cleaner, drier, and dressed in a odd assortment of mismatched clothes, some of which fit better than others. She's still a bit ~~ chilled ~~, but not nearly as much as she was.
Bibi goes to the doorway, tentacles retracted, and does her small, harmless, charming, feminine act.
Virginia doesn't see Cristal at the bottom of the stairs, and doesn't hear him in the kitchen, so she looks the other way, and spots Bibi.
Bibi: Miz Virginia? I'm Hajene Bibi. If you'd like to sit by the fire in the common room, we can offer you some tea and a snack.
Virginia is a little ~~ embarrassed ~~ at meeting Cristal's boss while looking like something the cat dragged in.
Bibi is glad to zlin only embarrassment, quite understandable, and not fear or hostility.
Bibi: Dreadful weather to get soaked in.
Virginia: Cristal was very kind to offer me a chance to get cleaned up. I should have been more careful.
Bibi makes a casual, dismissive gesture, tentacles in.
Bibi: These things happen. I'm glad you've come here to dry out and warm up, rather than go home wet and cold.
Virginia smiles ~~ wryly ~~.
Virginia: I'm a retired nurse. I've seen far too many people suffer through pneumonia because they didn't have the sense not to get chilled. It would be pretty silly to fall victim to that foolishness at this late date.
Bibi smiles back.
Virginia is keeping a greater-than-normal social distance between herself and Bibi; after all, Bibi is the first non-dangerous Sime she's ever met.
Bibi gestures toward the common room, figuring that while Virginia may not want to turn her back on a Sime, walking past Virginia in the narrow hallway may put her too close for the Gen's comfort.
Virginia moves in the indicated direction, steps into the common room, and draws close to the fire, using this as an excuse to maintain distance from Bibi.
Bibi follows her into the common room and turns the opposite way, into the kitchen.
Bibi: Do you prefer peppermint or chamomile tea?
Virginia: Chamomile, please.
Bibi moves the kettle onto the hotter part of the stove.
Virginia sits in a chair close to the fire, holding her hand out to the blaze.
Bibi puts chamomile in the teapot, and arranges goodies on a plate while waiting for the water to return to a boil.
Bibi pours the boiling water into the pot, loads a tray and carries it into the common room.
Bibi: Here we go. Let's let it steep a bit.
Bibi puts the tray on a low table, and sits in the chair on the other side of the fire, figuring it's a "safe" distance from her edgy guest.
Virginia ~~ relaxes ~~ a little when Bibi appears to be staying put for a while.
Virginia: It smells delightful.
Bibi smiles, looking human, harmless and friendly.
Bibi: So you're a retired nurse?
Virginia: Yes. I used to work in the big hospital in Cago. Pediatrics, Emergency, and finally Surgery and Intensive Care.
Bibi: I have medical training, but I don't use it very much, here.
Virginia: I don't suppose you do.
Bibi: I've often felt that if we could combine channel's methods with out-T medical techniques we could save a lot of people on both sides of the border who die now.
Virginia: No doubt you could, in theory. But where would you ever find patients for such a facility? In thirty years of nursing, I never saw a patient who wanted to seek help from Simes... nor did we ever get a patient from your side of the border.
Bibi: In-T, if we could bring the techniques in. Out-T, in the Sime Centers. Most out-T Sime Centers do minor healing, but there's more being done in the larger out-T centers.
Virginia: I've heard that channels are good at diagnosing diseases.
Bibi: Yes. We can detect a great deal, especially the higher rated channels, the most sensitive ones.
Bibi doesn't intend to tell the story of Uncle Tony's nephew's twin heifer calves, although it would be a very good example.
Bibi: Sometimes we can detect things that can best be treated by your methods, that we have no access to.
Cristal comes into the room fully scrubbed and changed.
Cristal: My apologies, ladies. I found I needed to follow Virginia into the bath; just changing clothes didn't cut it.
Virginia: Oh, dear. I didn't think I'd splashed you that badly.
Cristal: Not at all. It was wading through that puddle that did me in, I think. Silly of me, really.
Bibi: I've made some chamomile tea, Cristal. Perhaps that will help warm you up.
Cristal fills the three mugs and sets up two of them for Bibi's taste and his own.
Cristal: Honey, Virginia?
Cristal dopes the third mug as well and serves them, returning to pass around the goodie plate.
Virginia takes a cookie, Genlike.
Virginia: These are delicious.
Cristal: Gitl really is a miracle worker in the kitchen.
Bibi holds her mug in her hands, no tentacles, and ignores the cookies. She's feeling a little ~~ sad ~~ that she can't seem to develop rapport with Virginia, but she knows she's depressed by need, so discounts it.
Cristal breaks off a small piece of one cookie and offers it to Bibi directly ~~ appetite enticement ~~
Bibi takes the piece of cookie, rather than argue.
Cristal: Ahh, that's better. [to Virginia] Simes don't want to eat during half of every month, so we Donors, capital D, have to encourage them a bit. After transfer it's no problem, but when a Sime is in need, it's another story.
Bibi leans on Cristal's nager, in case Virginia panics at the news that Bibi is in need.
Virginia: I... see. ~~ nervous ~~
Virginia hadn't realized that Cristal's boss was in need.
Bibi: I should get back to that report...
Virginia: Oh, dear. I'd hoped I wasn't interrupting you.
Bibi: Writing reports isn't my favorite activity, so interruptions are sometimes very welcome.
Cristal realizes what he's done.
Bibi gets up to leave.
Cristal: Oh dear. Virginia, I assure you, Bibi is quite harmless even when in need. Channels are simply not like ordinary Simes in that respect.
Bibi blushes. She can't help it.
Virginia is ~~ embarrassed ~~ that she's apparently committed a faux pas.
Virginia: I do apologize. You're the first Sime I've ever met, socially at least, and I'm afraid I'm making a muddle of it.
Cristal clutches his head in the throes of ~~ embarrassment ~~, which he can't help spilling into his field at least somewhat.
Bibi: It's all right. Most people out-T are uncomfortable at meeting Simes.
Cristal: [to Bibi] My apologies, Hajene.
Bibi pats Cristal's shoulder.
Bibi: It's all right.
Cristal tries to cheer up but ~~ without much success ~~.
Cristal: Virginia, this isn't going at all the way I hoped. May I escort you back home? We do have some umbrellas here.
Bibi: Virginia, you're welcome to stay as long as you like. Cristal, Ghan can drive her home in the buggy -- she should be back shortly.
Bibi doesn't want Cristal taking the rest of the morning off when she's in need.
Virginia: Please. Stay and finish your tea, at least.
Cristal thinks morosely that this would be a good time to tell a joke to break the ice, if only he (a) knew any jokes and (b) could tell them.
Bibi thinks this is really getting botched, but doesn't know how to salvage the situation.
Cristal offers Bibi ~~ plenty of selyn for you ~~ in hopes that it'll cheer her up enough to make her more social, since making himself social is not very likely.
Bibi: I'll finish the tea. My office is rather chilly, and the fire is very pleasant.
Cristal signals "thank you".
Bibi sits down again.
Cristal decides that it's up to him to manufacture conversation, no matter what.
Virginia feels a little less embarrassed, now that Bibi's not being run off for some unexplained reason.
Cristal: Virginia, I was hoping you could tell Bibi a little bit about your work, or previous work. But then perhaps you were already talking about that when I was scrubbing off the mud? I found some of your stories very interesting.
Virginia: We were discussing the advantage Simes have making a diagnosis.
Virginia: I'm sure it makes treatment easier.
Bibi: It can be very helpful, if we have a treatment for the condition. If not, at least we do no harm -- we don't apply treatments for a condition the patient doesn't have.
Cristal: Virginia tells me they have the same "Do no harm" principle out here that we do. But of course it's easier for out-T doctors to make mistakes.
Virginia: Really? What about cases where the cause is unclear, not because you can't see the damage, but because there's nothing to indicate what's causing it?
Bibi spreads hands, but not tentacles.
Bibi: Well, sometimes a more sensitive channel can zlin more, or perhaps things will become clearer as the disease progresses, but in the meantime, like you, we can only do what seems best for the patient.
Bibi: Channel's methods... although we use drugs too, we mostly work by encouraging the patient's body to repair the damage. Sometimes that can work fairly generically, on a range of ailments. It's most effective in healing wounds and other injuries, although we can often alleviate the symptoms of conditions we can't effectively treat.
Virginia is ~~ interested ~~.
Virginia: How do you "encourage" healing?
Bibi: It's something channels do with their secondary systems. We create nageric influences that the patient's selyn system responds to. Since the selyn system pervades the entire body, stimulating the selyn system in a particular part revitalizes that part and enhances healing. But it doesn't work for everything.
Cristal: Cancer, for example. A channel can help with the pain, but that's about all.
Virginia: If a cancer is caught early enough, a good surgeon can cut it right out before it spreads, more times than not.
Bibi: We don't have surgery in-T. It could save a lot of lives, but we don't have it.
Cristal: I should think not! Who would be willing to cut into a patient? No Sime could possibly do it, and no Gen could risk such a thing with a Sime.
Virginia: I've never understood that. If you can see exactly what's wrong, I'd think it would be that much easier to do surgery.
Cristal: It's the pain. Simes, even channels, can be severely damaged by exposure to Gen pain. And even if we could prevent the Gen from feeling the pain, the destruction of tissue registers on a Sime's system as a shriek.
Bibi: Well, Gens could operate on Gens, if we could bring in the technology, and people could accept it. And the two systems could work together -- a channel could find the cancer at an early curable stage.
Cristal: [grudgingly] Yes, I suppose so. But we -- our whole culture -- is all about trusting channels with our health. I don't think I could possibly trust anyone to slice me open.
Bibi: No? Not even to save your life?
Virginia: What? You'd rather die of something easily curable, like appendicitis?
Virginia names a disease which, while rare in Sime Territory, is almost invariably fatal.
Cristal: Well, no, I suppose not. But it would be extremely difficult for me to go along with any such -- butchery. Forgive my bluntness, Virginia.
Virginia: Surgery's bloody, of course. But it works. Well, a lot of the time.
Bibi: Channel's methods would work as well on surgical wounds as on others. Especially infected wounds.
Virginia: Don't you have drugs for that, too?
Bibi: We have drugs against infections, but they don't speed wound healing in themselves. And they don't work against every infection, either.
Virginia: It's certainly true that the longer an incision takes to close properly, the greater the chances of infection.
Cristal: Yes, that's quite true. But surgery could only benefit Gens in any case. Cutting through living Sime tissue would subject the surgeon to selyn burns.
Bibi: Cristal, don't you think it's worthwhile to save Gen lives, even if the same methods don't work on Simes?
Cristal: Of course I do. But putting my own feelings one way or another aside, you know as well as I do that QN-1s control the Tecton's medical delivery systems, and they aren't going to be interested in anything that sounds like such a horror to them.
Cristal: Sorry, Virginia. "QN-1" is Tecton jargon for a channel with the highest rating.
Virginia: It sounds like it'll be a while before you start that cross-border clinic, then.
Bibi forces a smile.
Bibi: And I doubt your hospital in Cago is petitioning the Tecton for some resident channels as diagnosticians.
Virginia: No, they're not. And frankly, I doubt many patients would permit a channel to diagnose them, or believe the diagnosis once they had it.
Bibi: Well, perhaps some day, when people can overcome their prejudices...
Virginia: Starting with us?
Virginia makes a gesture to indicate her own nervousness about Bibi, and Cristal's revulsion at the thought of surgery.
Bibi smiles, with dimples.
Bibi: Perhaps with Cristal.
Virginia: Do you have an appendix you want to get rid of, Cristal? Or perhaps a gall bladder or kidney?
Cristal: [primly] No thank you. I intend to keep all the parts I was born with.
Cristal: [with a twinkle] Whereas I suspect you're already getting over your nervousness around Simes.
Virginia: Well... maybe.