How The Other Half Lives: Episode 19

Bibi hurries through the cold, dark, deserted streets of Hannard's Ford, augmenting slightly, returning to the Sime Center.

Bibi wouldn't have considered leaving the premises for a house call, but Miz Brown was so seriously ill, and had done so much to bring the Tecton to town in the first place. She managed to get the old woman's lungs somewhat cleared, and her fever broke, so most likely she will make it through again.

Virginia has been finding being in the same room with a potential changeover victim, who has not been given a Black Pill and is not restrained, somewhat nerve wracking. She's been trying to convince herself that Cristal knows exactly when Rona will become dangerous, but Cristal's nervousness isn't very reassuring.

Cristal is very ~~ grateful ~~ to detect Bibi's imminent return by the effect on his field.

Cristal: Ah, Bibi will be here in just a moment. We'll all be fine now. ~~ relief ~~

Bibi is surprised to zlin Cristal awake, and Virginia present, as well as an ill child, as she opens the front door to the waiting room.

Bibi: Cristal, Virginia...

Bibi heads straight for the unconscious child on the couch, fumbling with her retainers.

Cristal: Sos ... ah, Miz Virginia brought in the patient about an hour ago, with classical changeover complaints. She put her on the couch there and then she passed out.

Virginia steps aside, unwilling to get too close to the retainer-removal, but stays close enough to watch.

Cristal starts to assist Bibi with the removal, but decides he'll only be in the way this time.

Bibi impatiently extends an arm to Cristal for help with the retainer as she tries to zlin the child.

Bibi: She's not in changeover, but she's definitely ill. She's running quite a fever.

Cristal undoes the retainer ~~ CLANK CLANK ~~, sets it on the floor, and steps around to Bibi's other side.

Virginia experiences a ~~ sinking sensation ~~ .

Virginia: ....She's not in changeover? ~~ oops ~~

Bibi: No, she's still a child.

Cristal: Don't worry, Virginia. Bibi can handle ordinary diseases, even in children.

Bibi: It's more difficult for a channel to treat a child nagerically than an adult, but we can do some things.

Bibi pauses.

Bibi: Virginia, I'm going to do a lateral contact exam. If this will distress you, please go into another room.

Cristal moves to the appropriate position.

Bibi is not just being polite -- Virginia's distress will make it harder for her to zlin a child's faint field.

Cristal: It's entirely routine in Sime Territory.

Virginia: It's not, on this side of the border. As her grandfather is well aware.

Bibi turns her back on Virginia and stretches the retainer-induced cramps out of her tentacles.

Bibi: Cristal...

Bibi gives her Donor a series of instructions in Simelan, requesting he make a special effort to block Virginia's reactions since she seems unwilling to leave the room.

Virginia isn't at all sure what to do, and so she falls back on habit, by deferring to the attending physician, even if said attending is half her age, and tentacled.

Bibi kneels next to the couch and gently takes Rona's arms in her hands.

Cristal moves to the correct place and does the correct thing to create as near to a nageric bubble as he can.

Dr. Tavis is almost jogging as he approaches the Sime Center, despite his age and the darkness. He was roused from sleep by an interested citizen who told him that his granddaughter Rona was being hauled off to the Sime Center by his substitute nurse, Virginia Reel.

Bibi grasps Rona's arms securely with her handling tentacles, then extends her laterals and zlins.

Rona is weak, feverish and asleep, and doesn't respond.

Tavis is pretty sure that the story he was told was incomplete, but Rona is missing, and Virginia wasn't home, either. He therefore has decided to check the Sime Center.

Bibi makes a lip contact, trying to get a better grasp on the child's unresponsive, neuter field. She concentrates, almost wishing she were in need in order to have greater sensitivity.

Tavis is ~~ worried ~~ enough that he doesn't bother to knock, just tries the door and opens it when it proves to be unlocked.

Cristal: [absently] Virginia, could you handle whoever that is, please?

Cristal keeps his attention focused as Bibi requires.

Tavis bursts into the reception room, and is ~~ shocked and horrified ~~ at the sight of Bibi "attacking" his granddaughter.

Cristal ramps up his attention, but with little hope that he can hold the bubble.

Bibi cringes and breaks the contact at the onslaught of the intruder's intense emotions.

Tavis summons his best surgeon's manner.

Bibi carefully relinquishes the child's arms and leans back against Cristal, trembling.

Tavis: Just what is going on, here?

Cristal wraps himself around Bibi in an attempt to shield her from the Wild Gens.

Virginia ~~ jumps ~~ at the tone.

Virginia: Dr. Tavis!

Virginia is quite aware of how the scene must look: it appears much the same to her. She's also well aware that the happenings are all her fault: even Rona doesn't bear the blame.

Bibi is having trouble organizing a reply, between the nageric shock she's just had and the fact that she hasn't been briefed on who the child is.

Tavis is a surgeon, and he doesn't talk to nurses when there are other, more authoritative officials present.

Cristal tries to keep the ~~ sinking feeling ~~ out of his field, not entirely successfully.

Tavis takes a few long strides towards the couch where his granddaughter lies, apparently unconscious.

Bibi: Good evening, Dr. Tavis. Or perhaps it's good morning by now.

Bibi of course knows to the second what time it is, but is a little flustered.

Cristal assists Bibi to a chair and stands beside her protectively.

Tavis: Just what are you doing to my granddaughter, madam?

Bibi: I was attempting to diagnose her illness. She's not in changeover, but she has a febrile condition with nausea and muscle pain.

Tavis is ~~ relieved ~~ that it wasn't changeover -- he was worried earlier, when Rona didn't seem very hungry at dinner, but assumed that she'd been snacking on fresh bread. He is, however, also professionally ~~ outraged ~~ at the way his grand-parental rights have been usurped.

Bibi is unsurprised at this nageric combination, but is glad she has Cristal there to support her.

Tavis: If she is ill, not becoming Sime, she belongs in my care.

Bibi: Of course, if you prefer.

Cristal holds down his natural resentment of Dr. Tavis's foolish attitude.

Rona rouses slightly and sees her grampa.

Tavis: I will take care of her.

Tavis approaches, carrying his medical bag, which he lugged along by habit.

Rona: ~~ terror ~~ No, grampa! No! Don't make me take the Black Pill!!

Rona screams and tries to hide under the blanket.

Tavis is ~~ distressed ~~ at the thought that Rona is so afraid of him.

Bibi: It's all right, Rona, you aren't turning Sime, you're still a child.

Rona sees... the demon!! and screams again.

Tavis views the Black Pill as a mercy, compared to the agony of attrition or the other methods of butchery used on changeovers.

Rona: No, no, don't kill me like my dad! ~~ more terror ~~

Tavis: Rona, nobody's going to kill you. Not me, and not her.

Tavis is at least reasonably sure of the latter.

Rona believes herself caught between two horrible alternatives, and becomes completely irrational. She screams, weeps and pleads hysterically and incoherently.

Bibi is filled with ~~ compassion ~~ for the desperate child, but her intense emotions are pretty hard to take, even with a child's nager.

Cristal: [softly] Hajene? Are you all right? Do you need me to get you out of this?

Bibi makes an effort to breathe evenly and clutches Cristal's hand, tentacles in, to avoid evoking more fear to pollute the ambient.

Virginia decides that this is a job for a nurse. She approaches the couch, ignoring Tavis and Bibi.

Virginia: Rona, calm down.

Virginia sits down and wraps the girl in a motherly hug.

Virginia: You're going to be fine.

Rona: They're going to kill me! Both of them!

Virginia: Why should they do that? You're not becoming a Sime.

Bibi signals that she's able to take it, but would appreciate more support.

Cristal turns up the support to somewhat short of his maximum.

Rona: He's going to make me take the Black Pill! He's going to kill me! Or else the demon will, like daddy!

Rona screams and sobs.

Rona: It was just the sandwich I ate! Don't kill me!!

Virginia: Rona, stop behaving like a toddler and act your age.

Virginia hopes being compared to a toddler will shame Rona into gaining some control.

Rona: You made me come here! You want me to die too! You want the demon to kill me instead of my grampa!

Virginia: Rona, if I'd wanted you dead, I'd have kicked you out of my house, called the night patrol, and by now no doubt I'd be comfortably asleep in my own bed. Now, get control of yourself.

Rona clutches the blanket and sobs more quietly.

Rona: I want to go home. I want my daddy back again. Everything was all right before the demon killed him.

Bibi winces at this all too common out-T tragedy.

Virginia: Rona, life isn't fair.

Rona nods.

Cristal relaxes his attention just a bit, though he's sure that unexpressed emotions are still swirling about the room.

Bibi squeezes Cristal's hand in thanks for his help.

Tavis gives Virginia a short nod, thanking her for her help without offering forgiveness for this fiasco.

Tavis: Rona, what were you thinking, running around town at night, when you're sick?

Rona: I thought I was turning Sime.

Tavis: And so you decided that if you were, it would be a good thing to become another berserker, like the one who killed your father?

Rona: No! I wanted Miz Virginia to tell me if I was just sick, instead of giving me a Black Pill just in case.

Tavis would like to think that he'd have made sure before giving Rona the Pill, but he knows that sometimes even the best physicians make mistakes.

Tavis: And she brought you here.

Rona: She said her friend could tell. The... Sime-lover man.

Rona nods at Cristal.

Bibi decides to apply some standard out-T hospitality, in hopes of defusing the situation.

Bibi: May I offer you all some tea and a bite to eat? We'll all be more comfortable in the common room.

Bibi makes a no-tentacles gesture towards the back of the Sime Center.

Tavis looks at his still-hiccuping granddaughter, still pale with hysteria, and bows to the inevitable.

Tavis: I suppose that would be advisable.

Tavis's tone is not in the least gracious, but then, this Sime had her tentacles all over his granddaughter, without the knowledge or consent of her family.

Bibi leads the way, staying close to Cristal. She lights a few lamps and heads towards the kitchen. She gestures to the common room fireplace.

Bibi: If you could build up the fire, Virginia, Cristal and I will make the tea.

Virginia finds the wood box and collects a few dry sticks.

Bibi is glad to go into the kitchen with her Donor, away from the Wild Gens.

Cristal: Whew! What a misadventure this is! Let me make the tea, Bibi. You sit and recover some more.

Bibi sits and recovers some more, leaning on Cristal's support.

Cristal fills the kettle and puts it on.

Bibi: I'm very glad Virginia brought Rona here.

Cristal: Well, of course it's better than having her murdered.

Bibi: I'm glad she feels that way now. I don't know if she would have before she met you.

Cristal nods soberly as he sets up the glasses on the tray.

Bibi: I wish we could get through to that poor child. She's terrified of me. What will she do if she has changeover symptoms again?

Cristal sighs

Cristal: The best we can.

Virginia: There. It's burning now.

Rona huddles in a chair, still wrapped in the blanket. She thinks it's strange that her grampa is willing to take tea with a demon.

Tavis approaches Rona.

Tavis: Rona, you ought to have trusted me. Or gone to the Simes yourself, if you couldn't. Involving Virginia in a family matter was not polite.

Rona shrugs and shrinks further into the blanket. She isn't quite a teenager, but she's developing some of the symptoms.

Tavis: I'll let you explain your reasoning to your mother.

Rona: She'll get all upset again.

Rona has become very familiar with her mother's extreme reactions to any difficulty since her nervous breakdown after she become a widow.

Tavis: Yes, she will. She's still your mother, though, and she has a right to know.

Rona nods, reluctantly.

Bibi arranges some of Gitl's goodies on a plate and puts it on the tray.

Bibi: The water's about to boil, Cristal.

Bibi can zlin it.

Cristal: Sorry, Bibi.

Cristal takes the kettle off the stove and removes the lid so it can cool just a bit.

Cristal: At least it's not coffee, eh?

Cristal replaces the lid and pours.

Bibi smiles and strokes Cristal's arm with a tentacle.

Bibi: I'm sorry I left you alone with this problem.

Virginia, through the doorway, watches this interaction between Cristal and Bibi with a little amazement: she hadn't viewed physical affection as part of the Donor-channel relationship.

Cristal: It's all right now. Shall we?

Virginia has, to be strictly fair, spent as little time as possible considering the Donor-channel relationship.

Bibi nods.

Cristal picks up the tray, even though Bibi could carry it better, so the other Gens have one less thing to worry about.

Bibi follows him, tentacles in, looking small, harmless, feminine and rather tired.

Cristal enters the common room and serves the tea first to Virginia, next to Dr. Tavis and then to Rona; he places the remaining tea glasses at suitable locations.

Bibi takes a tea glass and sits at a non-threatening distance from the out-T Gens and child.

Bibi: Please, help yourselves to the baked goods. Our cook is a real artist.

Rona enjoys the warmth of the tea glass but has no appetite.

Cristal serves the tray around as well and returns to sit by Bibi and drink his own tea. He hopes he was right to serve the younger female before the older male.

Tavis sips cautiously at the chamomile tea, hoping that Rona will follow his example: she could use the sedative.

Tavis: So, you said Rona isn't in changeover? How sure are you?

Bibi: Oh, I'm completely sure. I can tell at least a day and a half before the first obvious symptoms, and she shows no signs of either changeover or establishment.

Cristal nods supportively.

Tavis looks up sharply.

Tavis: You can tell in advance? How so?

Tavis's colleagues have been searching for a way to tell changeover before there's a risk of generating a berserker.

Bibi: There are certain characteristics of a child's field which change at the onset of changeover. I can detect these with my Sime senses.

Tavis: What sort of changes?

Bibi: A child obtains a supply of selyn at and before birth that lasts him until changeover or establishment. One of the first signs of changeover is an inflection in the rate selyn in consumed. Shortly afterwards, I can detect the adult selyn system beginning to form.

Bibi spreads her hands.

Bibi: Higher rated, more sensitive channels can detect these things somewhat earlier than I can.

Tavis: Is that what you were doing, when I arrived? Looking at Rona's selyn?

Bibi: I could tell as soon as I came into the room that her symptoms weren't due to changeover. But while I was examining her to determine what ails her, I also checked her for early signs of adulthood. She's still a child, and will continue to be one for at least a few more days.

Cristal: Or longer, of course.

Bibi: Indeed. Years, perhaps.

Tavis looks at Rona, to see how she's responding to this information.

Rona isn't absorbing much of it. Demons all lie, don't they? Besides, it's long past her bedtime, and she's exhausted from all this stress and the bout of hysterics.

Bibi: Many children here at the Ford come by periodically so I can check them for signs of changeover or establishment. If they've established, everyone can stop worrying about them turning Sime.

Tavis: There are other ways, at least with a girl, that are a lot more acceptable to Rona's mother.

Bibi: Yes. I understand. But I hope she'll come back here, with your consent, if she shows symptoms suggestive of changeover again.

Tavis: My daughter has strong opinions on the subject of Simes, particularly since her husband was killed by one.

Bibi: I'm very sorry for this tragedy in your family.

Cristal: As am I, Doctor.

Bibi: I was born and raised here in New Washington Territory, and there were similar tragedies in my family and among my neighbors. I've devoted my career to preventing them.

Tavis: Hrumph.

Cristal looks indignantly at Dr. Tavis.

Tavis has trouble seeing a Sime as devoted to anything, but Bibi has managed to invoke automatic social patterns that were ingrained in him in early childhood.

Bibi taps Cristal's hand, warning him not to express his indignation in words.

Cristal signals "Under control".

Rona is nodding off, still wrapped in the blanket, a safe distance from the demon, whom her grampa will protect her from.

Tavis sets his tea aside.

Tavis: Well, it's not getting any earlier, and I've patients to see tomorrow. Come, Rona. With luck, your mother will have assumed that I went out on a house call. You can explain your actions to her tomorrow morning.

Cristal: Good night, Rona. Feel better.

Cristal pointedly ignores Dr. Tavis.

Bibi: It was a pleasure meeting you, Dr. Tavis.

Bibi uses the standard polite formula, minus the offer to shake hands.

Tavis nods to Bibi, not willing to commit himself to granting full courtesy to a Sime who doesn't respect parental rights.

Rona gets up and drops the blanket, following her grampa out.

Virginia looks after them, having trouble keeping her eyes open.

Virginia: Well, that could have gone better, but it could have gone a lot worse, too.

Cristal: Amen, as you people say.

Bibi: Yes. If you'd prefer to stay here tonight, Virginia, you're very welcome. Or perhaps Cristal could walk or drive you home.

Cristal nods.

Cristal: Gladly.

Bibi could have offered Cristal's services in driving Dr. Tavis and Rona home, but didn't expect them to be taken up.

Virginia: In that case, Cristal, I'd be glad of the escort. It's dark, and I don't know if my dignity could stand another fall.

Cristal: Of course. I warn you that I'm better at foot escort than at driving the wagon, though.

Virginia: Well, there's really no point in the poor horse missing his night's sleep, too.

Cristal: In that case, allow me.

Cristal helps Virginia on with her winter gear and puts on his own.

Virginia: Thank you.

Virginia is looking and feeling her age.

Cristal escorts Virginia out the door and offers her his arm on the porch stairs.

Virginia takes it.

Cristal: [lightly] Feel free to lean on me. You deserve to.

Virginia: I do hope I'll be able to smooth things over with Dr. Tavis. I have my pension, but that little bit of income when his regular nurse can't work makes a difference.

Cristal: I feel sure you will. After all, based on what you knew at the time you did the right thing at each point. No matter how Rona's mother may feel, Dr. Tavis will surely be rational about it all once he's had time to think about it.

Virginia: Still, it wasn't my place to handle the matter at all: that's the responsibility of the girl's family.

Cristal: She did come to you for help: how could you turn her away?

Virginia: By rights, I ought to have taken the girl straight home to her family. To do otherwise -- well, even those who approve of the outcome will be looking askance at my methods.

Cristal: One of the most difficult things that a Donor has to learn is what's called a Companion's Demand.

Virginia: What's that?

Cristal: Although generally a channel's judgment is superior to a Donor's, there are times -- and no one can say exactly when -- when a Donor will insist that his knowledge or judgment must be followed. Channels are pledged to honor a Demand, but it's not something we do lightly at all; usually only when a channel is endangering herself.

Virginia: If no one can say when you should do such a thing, how can they teach it to you?

Cristal: As I said, it's something we have to learn, as opposed to something we are taught. We do study records of successes and failures, though. Many Donors go through a whole career without ever finding it necessary to make one. I think perhaps tonight you did, though.

Virginia considers this.

Virginia: Perhaps. Or perhaps I was just an unforgivable busybody, intruding into a family affair.

Cristal: But if it had been changeover, you would have saved the girl's life.

Virginia: I didn't know it was changeover. And in fact, it wasn't.

Cristal: Virginia, you didn't know it wasn't, either. Bringing Rona to us was the best and safest thing anyone could have done.

Virginia: I thought so, at the time. I just hope that the consequences don't become too severe, for me, for the girl, or for her family.

Cristal: [seriously] I hope not either. [lightly] If worse comes to the worst, you could always take asylum with us!

Virginia chuckles.

Virginia: If a lynch mob arrives at my door, I promise, I'll be right over.

Cristal laughs.

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