Cristal is home alone, very unusually. It's after midnight.
Nattin, Driver and Ghan are taking advantage of the clear cold weather and frozen roads, with no accumulated snow, to make a run to the Submissionist colony.
Bibi is off doing nageric therapy on Miz Rose Brown, who's got pneumonia. She doesn't normally do house calls, but this is a special case, and she's told Cristal that in the unlikely event that a berserker shows up before she gets home, he can serve First Transfer.
Cristal looks forward to the notion with mixed feelings at best: single-handed berserker management is not really something he's trained for.
Virginia had her own peaceful evening of reading interrupted, and is hoping that she can just hand over Rona and return to her cozy bed. She does hope that the child will turn out not to be in changeover after all, but in either case, she figures she will have done her duty by the community.
Cristal took a nap earlier and finds himself wakeful now, so he's sitting in the office reading the new issue of Donor magazine. He hasn't found anything relevant to his situation so far, but he is interested in some of the new Sime emergency treatment techniques to be performed by Donors alone.
Rona is stumbling along in Virginia's grip, in a daze of ~~ fear ~~ and ~~ despair ~~, alternating with ~~ denial ~~.
Virginia turns the last corner.
Virginia: Here we are. The Sime Center is that house with the hedge in back. They left a lantern on, so maybe they're not all asleep yet.
Virginia is a bit ~~ relieved ~~ at that.
Rona is ~~ terrified ~~ of seeing a Sime.
Rona: We don't have to go in, do we? He can just come out?
Rona doesn't offer to wait outside. She knows Virginia doesn't trust her not to make a break for it.
Virginia: We'll see. Although frankly, I could use something hot to drink. It's cold out here.
Virginia pulls the reluctant girl up the stairs, glad of the light cast by the lantern. She pounds briskly on the door.
Cristal jumps up from Bibi's chair, ~~ startled ~~. He can't get used to being surprised by things.
Rona's heart pounds with terror. The Sime could be just behind that door.
Cristal walks to the door with a ~~ sinking feeling ~~ that he tries to keep out of his nager. He opens the door.
Rona tugs hard against Virginia's grip, trying to escape. ~~ hysterical fear ~~
Cristal: Can I help -- Virginia! Come in, come in!
Cristal knows Virginia could only be here with a teenager in tow for one reason.
Virginia: Thank you.
Cristal: Welcome to the Sime Center, young lady.
Rona relaxes a little as she realizes that this isn't the Sime, but she's still not keen on going in.
Cristal: What's your name?
Rona stares at Cristal, speechless.
Cristal: No one here is going to do you any harm. But if you stay out there in the cold, you might catch cold. So do come in.
Cristal is rather proud of this English-language pun, and doesn't realize what a dreadful old chestnut it is.
Rona: The... the Sime... the demon.... is it here?
Cristal: [sternly] Hajene Bibi is at Miz Brown's, helping her with her pneumonia.
Cristal knows there's no need to specify which Miz Brown.
Virginia: Thank you, Cristal.
Virginia drags Rona into the Sime Center.
Cristal takes Rona's other arm and assists, though Virginia may well be stronger than he is.
Virginia's arms are capable of lifting adult Gens on and off of beds and bedpans: one scared, scrawny teenager isn't going to give her any trouble.
Rona closes her eyes and doesn't quite fight back.
Virginia: Rona came by my house because she was feeling poorly, and I wasn't able to make a firm diagnosis.
Cristal looks closely at Rona in the lantern light.
Rona: [whispers] It's just this bad sandwich I ate....
Cristal: Well, I can't say definitively either. But at least she'll be safe here, and if it does prove to be changeover, I can manage that alone if need be. There'll be plenty of time for you to go back home in that case.
Virginia is glad of that much, at least.
Rona is ~~ startled ~~. Virginia is going to leave her alone in the Sime's lair with this strange man?
Cristal: Rona, you are not going home, for your own protection as well as other people's.
Virginia: Rona's grandfather is Dr. Tavis, for whom I've done some work, now and then.
Cristal nods slowly.
Cristal: Do you know his, er, attitude to Simes and Sime Centers?
Virginia: I don't believe he's thought about it much, frankly.
Cristal thinks it more likely that Virginia simply doesn't know but doesn't want to say so in front of a patient.
Rona looks at the floor. They're going to get her grampa to come and give her the Black Pill after all.
Cristal: We'll do without him for now, then. He doesn't sound like the sort of person who would lead a lynch mob.
Virginia: Although I expect he's glad enough not to be dispensing so many Black Pills, these days.
Cristal: [puzzled] Black Pills?
Virginia: A less bloody alternative than a rifle.
Cristal: Mmm, I see.
Cristal is rather ~~ shocked ~~ by the abuse of medical knowledge, but it is better than a rifle at that.
Virginia: I wouldn't normally interfere with someone else's family, but the girl did come to me, and I couldn't tell for sure what the matter with her was.
Rona: I don't want to die. It's just stomach flu or the sandwich I ate. Don't tell my grampa to give me the Black Pill.
Cristal: [to both of them] Of course, of course.
Virginia: Her grandfather is rather conservative in how he manages medical matters, and he wouldn't want to endanger the community by waiting long enough to be sure. And if the autopsy didn't confirm it -- well, he'd be devastated.
Cristal mentally dismisses the question of autopsies.
Rona clasps her hands with tears in her eyes, as she continues looking at the floor. Virginia doesn't care about her at all -- just her grampa and the "community".
Virginia has nothing whatsoever against Rona, but he main concern has to be the girl's family, who, after all, will have to live with the consequences of whatever happens. She hopes that either the girl has food poisoning, and can be smuggled back home before anyone learns that she's run away, or that her sometimes-boss Dr. Tavis doesn't learn of her part in Rona's rescue, if it's changeover.
Cristal: You are not going to die today, Rona.
Rona: Tomorrow, then.
Cristal: Not tomorrow either. Certainly not from a bad sandwich or from turning Sime. Now what you must do now is go over to that couch and sit down. If you feel bad, you may lie down.
Rona decides to cooperate for now. She still hasn't figured out where to hide. She wonders if she can get away from this... Sime-lover... more easily than from Virginia.
Rona doesn't normally use foul language like "Sime-lover", but this man actually is one, isn't he? She goes to the couch and sits, wrapping her arms around herself.
Virginia wonders if she should just leave, or whether she should stay to help keep Rona calm. She's still chilled from the walk over, too.
Rona's eyes surreptitiously gauge the distance to the door.
Virginia firmly places herself between Rona and the door, with an ~~ admonitory ~~ look.
Cristal: Virginia, would you be able to stay with me, in case it is something medical?
Cristal looks at her, hoping to communicate that he could use her assistance even if it is changeover -- at least for the first stage or so.
Virginia is a nurse, and can't ethically refuse such a request.
Virginia: I suppose so, at least until Hajene Bibi gets back.
Virginia supposes she'd have had trouble getting to sleep after all this, anyway.
Cristal is ~~ relieved ~~ but keeping his voice steady.
Cristal: Thank you very much.
Rona doesn't know how much protection Virginia will be against a Sime-lover, but she is someone she knows. Sort of.
Cristal is glad Rona is obeying, at least for now.
Cristal: Rona, can you tell me just how you've been feeling?
Cristal knows Virginia could present her symptoms better, but he needs some degree of rapport if he's going to serve her.
Rona: I was sick to my stomach, but now I'm better.
Cristal: [gently] Really better?
Rona: Yes. I don't feel like throwing up any more.
Rona swallows. She's still nauseated, but her stomach has been empty for a good long time now.
Cristal looks at Rona's face and suspects duplicity at best.
Virginia is ~~ skeptical ~~.
Virginia: Rona, he won't be able to decide what's wrong with you, if you aren't honest with him.
Cristal lets that sink in, then goes on to the next question.
Cristal: How do your arms feel?
Rona: They're okay. Just a little sore from all the kneading bread I did today. I was helping Cook make it for the bake sale.
Cristal: May I touch them? I'll be careful.
Rona looks to Virginia.
Virginia moves a little closer.
Rona: Do I have to? I mean, I wasn't properly introduced.
Rona is grasping at straws again.
Cristal: True. Rona, my name is Cristal, and I work here in the Sime Center. I help Hajene Bibi heal people, among other things.
Virginia: Ah. Rona, this is my friend Sosu Cristal. He's the Donor here. Cristal, this is Rona, my associate Dr. Tavis's granddaughter.
Cristal: Virginia can tell you that Donor's work is something like nurse's work.
Rona: But he's a... Sime-lover.
Rona doesn't think somebody like that should be associating with a daughter and granddaughter of doctors.
Virginia: Yes, he is. Isn't it fortunate that he knows enough about Simes to maybe figure out whether you're going to become one?
Rona looks down and mutters.
Rona: It was just that stupid sandwich...
Rona sighs deeply.
Rona: Okay, Mr. Cristal.
Cristal: Okay. I'm going to press very lightly on certain places on your arm to see if, well, let me know right away if you feel any pain, even a little.
Rona holds out her arm, which is covered with the sleeves of her heavy wool coat, a thick sweater and a blouse.
Cristal: Oh. You'll need to take at least the coat off, please.
Rona does so, reluctantly.
Virginia moves closer to watch: knowing how to test for changeover is a useful skill, for a nurse.
Cristal starts by palpating a neutral point just to check how sensitive Rona is -- or claims to be. The sweater doesn't interfere much, as he has plenty of finger strength.
Rona doesn't react, except by stiffening a little as soon as Cristal touches her.
Cristal: Please try to relax. It's the most important thing you can do right now. If you like, close your eyes and pretend I'm your grandfather giving you a regular checkup.
Rona: It was my dad who used to give me checkups.
Rona's voice wavers and tears fill her eyes again.
Cristal: [gently] What happened to him?
Rona: A demon killed him last summer. A Sime.
Cristal: I'm very sorry for your loss, Rona
Cristal palpates a point where the developing selyn transport nerves are exposed -- if they are developing.
Rona's arm is a bit sore there, but she doesn't react. It's just a sore muscle from kneading bread.
Cristal notes the almost-concealed flinch.
Cristal: Rona, I can't help you if you don't tell me what you are feeling.
Rona: I told you, my muscles are a little stiff from kneading all that bread.
Cristal: I'm sure your father had something to say to you when you tried to tell him what your diagnosis was.
Rona stiffens again at Cristal's tactless reference to her dead father, and wishes she could pull her arm away and just go away and hide somewhere.
Cristal moves on to another point. He finds Rona's reaction not formally conclusive, but he strongly suspects it's not changeover. Still....
Cristal: So far so good, Rona. Now the other arm.
Rona allows Cristal to take her other arm.
Cristal palpates corresponding points on the other arm, plus some more.
Cristal: Well, I can't be sure. I don't think it's changeover, but I can't make a definite diagnosis until more time has passed.
Rona is tempted to say "I told you so", but has learned that satisfying though it may be, that particular phrase is heavy artillery.
Virginia is ~~ concerned ~~.
Virginia: How much more time?
Virginia had hoped for a swift and definitive answer.
Cristal: Hours at least, I'd say. I think it very unlikely that Bibi will be with Miz Brown that long. Unless, of course, we get a new symptom definitely inconsistent with changeover -- and with Horvath's Syndrome.
Virginia: Horvath's Syndrome? What's that?
Cristal doesn't know how to explain without giving away too much.
Cristal: Horvath found that some patients ... gain things ... from having symptoms. Of something.
Cristal looks hopefully at Virginia.
Virginia's eyes widen as she understands. She's met her share of hypochondriacs.
Virginia: Well, we'll have to see.
Rona doesn't understand what they're talking about, and knows that they are talking over her head on purpose. She'd be more resentful if she weren't so tired.
Virginia: In the mean time, if we've hours to wait, a cup of tea would be welcome. It was a cold walk across town.
Cristal tosses his hands up in the air.
Cristal: Of course. Where are my manners?
Cristal gets up, gets a couple of blankets from the closet, and hands one to Virginia and one to Rona.
Cristal: Don't even think about going anywhere, Rona.
Cristal goes off to make tea.
Virginia helps cover Rona, and sits down on the couch, to make sure Rona doesn't try to go anywhere.
Rona lies down. She's suddenly very weak and sleepy, and loses consciousness quickly.
Virginia watches her charge ~~ uneasily ~~, trying not to dwell on the fact that she might be sitting next to a berserker-to-be.
Cristal returns with three glasses of tea, wishing briefly he had tentacles to carry them in.
Cristal: Here you are, Virginia, and here -- Oh dear. Is she unconscious, or just asleep?
Virginia: She just lay down.
Cristal hands one glass to Virginia and puts down the other two.
Cristal: She looks one or the other to me. Would you mind assessing her for me? There is no risk at present.
Virginia decides that Cristal's word is good. She decides, more to the point, that Cristal actually does know enough to make that call as an informed opinion.
Virginia: All right.
Virginia performs a quick, businesslike assessment by out-T medical standards.
Virginia looks up at Cristal, ~~ alarmed ~~.
Virginia: I can't wake her. That isn't good, is it?
Cristal: No, it certainly is not. I think we'd better go get either Bibi or your Dr. Tavis.
Virginia blanches, unable to decide which alternative is worse.