How The Other Half Lives: Episode 11

Cristal is spending the last of his off time in his room working on the crossword puzzle in the back of Donor magazine. He isn't very good at such puzzles, but they pass the time.

Bibi is in her office, fighting need with trin and paperwork.

Cristal looks up at the clock, closes the magazine with its three remaining clues, and heads downstairs for his shift. He stops by the office to see if Bibi is still there.

Virginia turns down the Sime Center's neat walk, and climbs the steps, a bundle under her arm.

Bibi looks up and puts her pencil in the jar. She's added up the figures three times and gotten three different sums.

Cristal: [deferentially] Hajene?

Bibi: Ready to go back to work, such as it is, Sosu?

Virginia is ~~ not entirely comfortable ~~ going into a Sime Center, but like most out-Territory Gens, she automatically assumes that if she can act within the bounds of normal courtesy, her nervousness officially doesn't exist.

Bibi steps out of her office and immediately zlins Virginia at the door.

Bibi: Ah, your friend Virginia is here.

Cristal has mixed reactions at this, but attempts to keep them out of his field.

Cristal: I do hope things go better this time.

Bibi: Do you want me to stay out of sight?

Cristal: Well, suppose I go and answer the door, and you wait here? After all, she might want to donate. ~~ hopeful skeptical ~~

Bibi: Okay. I'll have another go at those figures.

Bibi gives a slightly strained smile and disappears back into her office.

Cristal goes down the hall, opens the front door, and looks out.

Virginia blinks, and lowers her hand, which was about to open the door.

Virginia: Cristal!

Virginia smiles, genuinely ~~ pleased ~~ to see him.

Cristal: Welcome, Virginia. I'm glad to see you.

Cristal smiles back.

Virginia: I thought I'd return the clothes your boss loaned me, in case some other poor person is clumsy enough to sit down in a puddle.

Cristal: Thanks so much -- but come in, come in.

Cristal steps back and gestures.

Virginia steps through the door, as courtesy demands.

Virginia: I hope I'm not interrupting your day's work.

Cristal: Not at all. Our shift is just beginning; in fact, Hajene Bibi is just finishing up some paperwork in her office.

Virginia: Good, then I'm not disrupting your work. I know when I was working, there was nothing so awkward as having a friend drop by, when I was busy.

Cristal takes the clothes from Virginia.

Cristal: No, no. As soon as the paperwork is wrapped up, we basically sit and wait for a donor to appear.

Cristal has learned not to say "or a berserker."

Cristal stashes the clothes on a chair.

Cristal: But do come in, sit down. Can I get you some tea, or some of this pie? Or on second thought, perhaps just the tea? I think this pie has outlived its usefulness.

Virginia: There's a bag of orange muffins in there, too -- my mother's recipe. Tea would be very nice. It's getting cold.

Cristal roots about in the bag holding the clothes and finds the bag of muffins in it.

Cristal: They smell wonderful, Virginia.

Virginia sits on one of the waiting room chairs.

Cristal hands Virginia the muffins and pours two cups.

Virginia: Mother used to make them for guests, and my sister and I could hardly wait for the company to leave, so we could have the leftovers.

Cristal laughs.

Virginia takes a muffin and accepts a cup of tea.

Peony marches up to the Sime Center door, opens it and comes in.

Cristal is taken by surprise: he subconsciously expected Bibi to warn him, but of course she's still in the office.

Peony is one of Miz Brown's great-granddaughters, and comes by regularly to be checked for signs of changeover or establishment. She really likes the cookies.

Bibi comes into the waiting room and nods to Virginia.

Bibi: Hello, Peony, did you come by to be checked?

Virginia politely fades into the social background, so as not to interfere with the work in progress.

Peony: Yes, Hajene.

Peony eyes the goodies, but knows she won't be offered any until afterwards.

Bibi: Well, come into the donation room with me, then.

Virginia takes another bite of muffin, then reaches for a pamphlet to read while she waits.

Peony eagerly follows Bibi, and closes the door behind them.

Cristal picks up on Bibi's nageric signal to remain behind.

Cristal: Hajene is going to do a lateral contact examination on Peony to see if there's any sign of changeover or establishment. It'll only take a minute or two.

Virginia: I see.

Virginia sets the pamphlet on donating aside, since it appears Cristal isn't involved with this examination.

Virginia: What is a "lateral contact examination"?

Cristal: She holds the child -- or adult, it's the same procedure -- with her handling tentacles, extends her laterals to touch the patient's skin, and uses her senses to look for signs. She can also get both general and specific indications about the patient's health.

Virginia: How specific? I thought Simes could sense emotions?

Cristal: It depends on the channel's level of skill and experience. Bibi is extremely competent, but there are some things that require a First Order channel or even a Farris channel.

Virginia is still trying to figure out how this relates to emotions.

Cristal: First Order channels can, if they concentrate, detect the state of function of individual body cells.

Virginia: Like a microscope? That's... uncanny.

Cristal smiles.

Virginia: Still, I suppose a lot of what I did as a nurse would seem strange to you, if no one does surgery in Simeland.

Cristal: Probably so.

Virginia takes another sip of her tea.

Virginia: Ah, that tastes good.

Cristal: I'm glad you like it. We import it from Simeland, but of course our food is all local.

Cristal looks around at the closed door.

Cristal: I wonder what's keeping them.

Peony comes out of the donation room, putting her coat on. She heads straight for the refreshments table, puts several cookies in her pocket and goes right out the front door, ignoring Virginia and Cristal.

Cristal: Goodbye, Peony.

Peony: Bye, Sosu!

Bibi comes back into the waiting room, more slowly.

Cristal extends ~~ medium support ~~ and ~~ concern ~~ and ~~ plenty of selyn ~~.

Bibi: Nothing yet. She's been trying to get one of her schoolmates to come here with her, with no luck so far.

Cristal sighs.

Cristal: Well, let's hope she's more successful another day.

Bibi: Yes. Good afternoon, Virginia. Are you enjoying the tea?

Bibi can zlin she is.

Virginia: Yes, Hajene Bibi. I'm a little dehydrated, I expect. I gave blood this morning, and I didn't make a point of drinking enough afterwards.

Virginia really does know better, but she had things to do.

Bibi: Was someone injured?

Bibi goes to pour herself some tea, carefully staying a polite distance from Virginia.

Virginia: Yes. A fool fell off his horse, and required surgery to put his scalp back on. We both have the same rare blood type.

Bibi: I see.

Bibi takes her tea to a chair outside of Virginia's discomfort range.

Cristal is interested despite himself.

Cristal: What did you do, sew him up with a needle and thread?

Virginia: Well, suture isn't quite thread, but that's essentially right.

Cristal's eyes widen.

Cristal: Now that's a case we'd treat by repositioning the skin and then stimulating the cells to multiply.

Virginia: That sounds very labor-intensive. And how do you replace blood?

Cristal looks at Bibi.

Bibi: We don't do transfusions in-T. I think that's one technology that could be very valuable for us, for our Gens at least. As far as I know, no one has experimented with blood transfusions for Simes, or between Simes and Gens.

Virginia: Would it make a difference? Isn't blood still blood?

Bibi: I don't know. It worked for the Ancients, and for Gens. It might work for Simes as well, or between Simes and Gens.

Virginia: It does seem strange that nobody's done the experiment.

Bibi: Puncturing someone with a needle is a disturbing notion for most Simes. And Simes heal very fast, so they often can survive injuries and blood loss that would be the death of a Gen, especially if they can get treatment by a channel.

Virginia: Why is a needle prick such a disturbing notion for Simes? Don't Simes sew?

Cristal laughs.

Cristal: Until Unity, Simes would never trust Gens with sharp instruments, not even pocket knives. Some are still very doubtful of the idea.

Bibi: We can zlin, sense, the damage the needle causes. To cause injury, even minor injury like that, affects us at a physiological level. Of course, because a Sime's selyn system is so different from a Gen's, even a very minor wound like that can be very disturbing.

Virginia: The damage a needle causes? It's not even particularly uncomfortable. Unless a skinned knee or stubbed toe is a major injury for a Sime?

Cristal: No, by no means. It's the idea of causing physical injury that upsets Simes. They tend to see injurying any Gen, no matter how trivially, as one step back toward the Kill.

Cristal shrugs.

Cristal: Absurd, of course.

Virginia: Absurd, indeed. Carried to its logical conclusion, everyone in Simeland would be going around in rags, too afraid to repair their clothing.

Bibi: I think it would be a good thing to have Gen practitioners performing these interventions on Gen patients in-T, at least in cases where channels' methods are inadequate.

Virginia: I don't see how you manage to practice medicine without intravenous lines. How do you get liquids and drugs into an unconscious patient?

Bibi: We can affect the patient's level of consciousness, so he can take fluids by mouth in most cases.

Cristal nods.

Bibi: Badly injured Simes can enter a special state in which they need no nourishment, but can heal rapidly.

Virginia: A hibernation of sorts?

Bibi: Something like that. A very deep healing sleep.

Virginia: It sounds very close to a coma. Isn't that dangerous?

Bibi: It's a natural state for Simes, and it's very effective.

Virginia: I guess there's a lot more differences between Simes and Gens than the obvious ones, then.

Cristal: Oh yes.

Bibi smiles.

Bibi: We're all human, though.

Virginia: But you have two types of medical science, one for Sime patients and one for Gens?

Cristal: We take into account the differences between the sexes, too, but that doesn't mean we have different medical sciences for men and for women.

Bibi: We use nageric methods for both larities. But of course many drugs have different effects on Simes and Gens. There are even some foods that one larity finds nutritious, that are poisonous to the other.

Cristal: We had to discourage our donors from leaving us strawberry shortcake, for instance.

Virginia puts a hand over her mouth in ~~ alarm ~~.

Bibi tries not to let Virginia see the effects of that on her need-sensitized nerves.

Virginia: Simes can eat oranges and cranberries, can't they?

Cristal: Oh yes, no problem there.

Cristal increases his support level slightly.

Virginia is ~~ relieved ~~.

Virginia: I didn't think that some common foods might be poisonous to Simes.

Bibi: If you travel in-T, Virginia, be sure to order from the Gen menu!

Bibi doesn't point out that there are no Sime menus out-T.

Virginia: I'll be sure to ask for one.

Virginia is assuming that in Simeland, the Sime menu is the standard one. She has a lot to learn about the relative appetites, and therefore restaurant patronage, of Simes and Gens.

Bibi: Most restaurants will give you one, or you'll find the items marked as suitable for one or both larities.

Virginia: Not that a menu written in Simelan would be any help to me. ~~ amusement ~~

Cristal: That's true, that's true. But in border towns it's not uncommon to find signs and menus and such in English too.

Bibi sips her tea, and cautiously extends her tentacles around the cup, ready for a reaction from Virginia.

Virginia looks at Bibi's extended tentacles with a mixture of ~~ unease and professional curiosity ~~.

Cristal raises his support level again, this time to ~~ strong support ~~ with ~~ it'll all be over soon ~~.

Bibi is feeling better about Virginia. The curiosity is a very positive sign.

Bibi: Would you like to examine my tentacles? I don't suppose you've ever had a chance to see them on a live Sime before.

Virginia flushes with ~~ embarrassment ~~ .

Virginia: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to stare.

Bibi: It's all right. I'd like to give you the opportunity to indulge your curiosity.

Virginia: I admit, the only Sime tentacles I've seen were, well, either not fully developed or otherwise nonfunctional.

Bibi nods and offers her free arm, tentacles retracted.

Virginia looks at Bibi's arm with ~~ professional interest ~~, sublimating both her nervousness and her embarrassment as she tries to figure out how the muscles are inserting.

Cristal holds the fields as steady as he can, and hopes Virginia isn't startled by anything.

Bibi rotates her forearm, displaying the tentacle sheaths.

Bibi: I can extend them individually...

Bibi extends a ventral.

Bibi: Or all together.

Bibi extends the rest of the handling tentacles.

Virginia draws back a little, watching the movement much as she would watch a potentially venomous snake.

Bibi: I keep the laterals sheathed, except when I'm performing a channeling or healing function, or trying to zlin something at a distance, or taking transfer.

Bibi retracts the handling tentacles, except for one ventral.

Virginia: They all look a lot smaller than the pictures in the medical texts.

Cristal: I suspect those pictures show new Simes exclusively.

Virginia: They get swollen during changeover?

Bibi: That too. The tentacles are full size at breakout, but the young Sime still has a lot of growing to do. Just as babies have large heads, and have to grow to match them.

Virginia: I see.

Virginia inspects the tentacle again.

Bibi: You can touch it if you like.

Virginia: I wouldn't want to inconvenience you... ~~ doubtful ~~

Cristal remains prudently silent.

Bibi: It's all right.

Virginia decides that if it's safe for a channel like Bibi to actually take selyn from random Gens, there's not much danger in touching a tentacle.

Virginia still isn't comfortable with the idea, but as a nurse, she's dealt with plenty of nauseating messes. She has therefore long since given up on "it's gross and/or disgusting" as an excuse.

Virginia reaches out to brush Bibi's tentacle with one finger. She's a bit ~~ surprised ~~.

Virginia: It's soft.

Bibi: Yes. And not slimy.

Cristal smiles.

Virginia: It appears my old medical texts were a bit off, there, too.

Cristal: It's a widespread, almost universal belief here in Genland.

Virginia: There's nothing with more staying power than an old textbook. I suppose it costs too much to update them properly.

Cristal: I suppose most of our books were written just after Unity, so they're pretty new. Of course, a lot of the information in them goes back centuries through the Householdings.

Bibi nods.

Virginia: Well, I expect when the first editions of my textbooks were written, there was no way to verify much of the material on Simes. At least, not if the author wanted to live to collect his royalty checks.

Cristal: So they just made it up, at least the details, you think?

Virginia: Well, they did the best they could, consulting authorities who themselves probably didn't know as much as they thought they did.

Bibi: They would have had dead Simes, both local changeovers, and Raiders, to examine, too.

Cristal shrugs.

Virginia: What was left of them. A bullet can make a nasty mess.

Bibi shifts her tea cup to her other hand, using her tentacles naturally.

Virginia draws back a little, but doesn't comment, and her nager displays more unease than real nervousness or fear.

Cristal: [softly] They're just like fingers, you know.

Virginia: No. They're not fingers, at all.

Cristal: Functionally, I meant.

Virginia looks at the tentacles again.

Virginia: Not entirely. Although I suppose you might as well get some use out of them the other twenty-seven days.

Bibi smiles, dimples on.

Bibi: You should see a Sime knit!

Bibi is secretly working on a pair of warm woollen socks for Cristal, as a Year's Turning present.

Cristal: Very fast and efficient with six or even ten needles.

Virginia: Now, that would be useful.

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