How The Other Half Lives: Episode 23

Virginia meets Cristal for their jogging session wearing, not the new winter coat she had told him she planned to purchase, but the old one, now neatly patched at the elbows in a fabric that almost matches.

Cristal of course doesn't know one color from another, beyond blue, red, purple, green, and yellow.

Cristal: Hi, Virginia. Glad to see you again.

Virginia can't repair her shoes so easily, of course, but with a lot of waterproofing and some care for where she steps, she hopes to make them last.

Cristal's take on clothes is about on a par with his color sense: he has only two outfits, his uniform and his dress uniform.

Virginia: Cristal, I'm sorry I couldn't make it earlier this week.

Cristal shrugs.

Cristal: I missed you, of course. Is everything all right?

Virginia: Not too bad, considering how conservative Dr. Tavis is.

Virginia sets out in a direction with well-maintained sidewalks, the better to spare her shoes.

Cristal: I... see. He gave you a reprimand, then?

Virginia: Well, not exactly. He gave me a socially acceptable excuse not to work for him any longer.

Cristal is shocked.

Cristal: You've been retired?!

Virginia: Well, I wasn't officially hired in the first place -- I was just filling in now and then, when his regular nurse wanted time off, or there was something that required a surgical nurse. Still, it was very nice to have a little extra to supplement my pension.

Cristal doesn't have to think about pensions for a long time to come, but he understands not being given assignments all too well.

Virginia is frankly ~~ worried ~~ about making ends meet.

Cristal: But that's outrageous. Can't you appeal to his superior?

Virginia: What superior? He doesn't work for a hospital, he has his own practice. And really, considering how drastically I was interfering with his private affairs, uninvited, he has been more than reasonable.

Cristal: But ... but ... but ...

Cristal is no longer shocked, he is outraged.

Virginia sees Cristal's anger, but doesn't understand it.

Virginia: It was unforgivably rude of me to presume to interfere between a child and her family, at such a time.

Cristal: But you were the medically qualified professional at the scene! And you didn't even attempt to treat Rona on your own, you took her to the most qualified person -- the only qualified person -- to diagnose changeover.

Virginia: Cristal, I know that you don't think much of the medical profession out here, but I assure you, Dr. Tavis is more than competent to diagnose changeover, if not quite as early, at least in time to avoid setting a berserker loose.

Cristal waves his hand dismissively.

Cristal: I grant that. But it's far better for a new Sime to be under proper care sooner rather than later, so we have time to do a modicum of training.

Virginia: And there are some kinds of injuries where a surgeon can heal rings around one of your channels.

Cristal snorts skeptically but says nothing to that.

Virginia: Come now, you've admitted that on your side of the border, people die of silly things like appendicitis.

Cristal: If they don't get treatment in time, yes! But that's why we emphasize getting people to care as soon as possible, and not waiting. Which was exactly what you did.

Cristal: [conciliatory] In any case, Virginia, my quarrel's not with you, or even with your Dr. Tavis, rogue though he may be.

Virginia: How is he a rogue, just for believing that the medical decisions regarding the members of his immediate family be left to him, rather than outsiders?

Cristal: No, no. I meant because he operates outside the regular medical delivery system.

Virginia chuckles.

Virginia: No, he doesn't. He's a member in good standing of the New Washington Medical Association. Hannard's Ford isn't large enough to support a hospital, though, or multiple doctors.

Cristal: Ah, I see. Well, Bibi and I are the only Tecton employees here, but we do have a Controller, she's just somewhere else. But I don't suppose you could complain to this Association, from what you say.

Virginia: No, this is a personal matter between me and Dr. Tavis, not a professional dispute.

Cristal nods and looks at Virginia sympathetically.

Virginia: I can't blame Dr. Tavis, but it is going to be inconvenient.

Cristal: Yes, I understand. It can be very difficult to lose the satisfactions of the work.

Virginia would settle for the satisfaction of a new pair of shoes, at the moment: she can feel a cold wetness where the waterproofing is failing.

Cristal: Still, I assume your pension covers all your basic expenses?

Virginia: Well, it covers a lot of them.

Virginia can't help being ~~ worried ~~ about living on such a narrow margin.

Cristal nods again.

Cristal: So in case of something unexpected ...

Virginia winces. She has been trying very hard to convince herself that the unexpected won't happen, while knowing full well that it invariably does.

Cristal realizes he's put his foot in it again. Or all three of his feet.

Cristal: [stiffly] I do apologize for distressing you.

Virginia waves acceptance of the apology.

Virginia: That's all right. Ignoring the truth never yet made it go away.

Cristal: No, but... how did you put it? I shouldn't presume to interfere.

Virginia: What are friends for, but to provide an ear for griping to, and a shoulder to cry on, when necessary?

Cristal is silent for a bit.

Cristal: I suppose so. I don't have so many friends that I can claim to know what they are for and not for.

Virginia is a bit ~~ surprised ~~ at this admission; she had been attributing Cristal's awkwardness to cultural differences, not social ineptitude.

Virginia: I knew you were isolated here, but I hadn't realized it was that bad.

Cristal: When I last returned in-Territory, I found that -- that many of the people I know there, I no longer felt in sympathy with, either. I've lost at least some of my unthinking prejudices about "Wild Gens".

Cristal makes the universal quotation-mark gesture.

Virginia: Wild Gens?

Virginia hasn't been exposed to that particular bit of Sime egotism.

Cristal: It's what Gen Territory Gens were called in the old days, before Unity. And still are, although of course people know perfectly well that out-Territory is civilized. As opposed to Pen Gens or Domestic Gens, you see.

Virginia: I see. Is that what you are, a Domestic Gen?

Cristal laughs.

Cristal: In those days I would have been a Giant Killer Gen. Large in field, of course, not in height.

Virginia: What would you have killed?

Cristal: Donors, capital D, do have the capability to kill Simes by selyn movement. Not that it happens nowadays, except by a combination of accident and total disregard of elementary safety. But nothing could be more horrifying to junct Simes than a Gen who could kill them.

Virginia: Didn't like having the tables turned on them, did they?

Cristal chuckles.

Cristal: Exactly. In any case, about the only place I feel truly comfortable nowadays is right here in the Sime Center.

Virginia: It's easy to get stuck in a rut, that way.

Cristal nods ruefully.

Virginia demonstrates how easy by stepping too close to a rut as she crosses a street. She makes a noise of disgust as her foot slips, splashing filthy, cold water from the puddle at the bottom of the rut onto her coat.

Cristal barely suppresses an "Oh, shen!" as the water drenches his leg as well.

Virginia inspects the damage in as clinical a fashion as she can manage.

Virginia: That's going to leave a stain. ~~ frustration ~~ Well, maybe I can hide it with a bit of embroidery.

Cristal: Can't you ... oh. Is your ankle all right?

Virginia: It's fine, and the socks are colorful enough to hide the stain.

Virginia reflects that at least she won't have to go begging to her former boss to get a sprained ankle taken care of.

Cristal: I suppose the new coat you were telling me about is going to be... delayed?

Virginia: Well, yes. For quite a while, actually.

Cristal says nothing for a while.

Cristal: [hesitantly] Would it be... within the responsibilities of a friend to point out that there is an alternative source of... financial assistance available?

Virginia makes a quite natural misinterpretation of this statement.

Virginia: Oh, Cristal, it's kind of you to offer, but I'm not in such dire straits yet that I have to ask my friends for money.

Cristal doesn't know whether to laugh or be mortified; he compromises by smiling.

Cristal: I was actually thinking of you donating selyn, not me donating money.

Virginia turns her head to stare at Cristal, and as a result comes perilously close to tripping again.

Virginia: I admit, that particular "solution" didn't occur to me.

Cristal: It would provide some necessities for you -- and for someone else as well. That sounds like a solution to me.

Virginia: I know it sounds perfectly logical to someone from your background, but it's a bit less straightforward from my perspective.

Virginia is, however, worried enough about her dwindling finances not to reject the notion out of hand.

Cristal: Well, I know that some parts of Hannard's Ford society strongly disapprove of people who donate, but do you actually have any reputation to lose with them at this point? And there are others who strongly approve.

Cristal: In any case, we're both wet, and unless your metabolism is very different from mine, we are both cold. Can I suggest a side trip to get some tea and a change of socks?

Virginia's metabolism is rather older than Cristal's, and she's not as well dressed for the weather. She's also remembering the baked goods she was served, and the current necessity of curtailing her usual weekly treat from the bakery.

Virginia: It's kind of you to offer.

Cristal chuckles.

Cristal: And it would be kind of you to accept. Especially, kind to your feet. I can ask Hajene Bibi to stay in the office if you'll be more comfortable that way.

Virginia: It would be rude of me to banish her from parts of her own home, especially when she can't leave it easily.

Cristal: [bluntly] It's uncomfortable for her to feel your negative emotions, even if you try to suppress them. And I can't interact freely with you if I have to provide support to her. Rudeness doesn't enter into it.

Virginia: Oh, dear. I hadn't realized that I was imposing to such an extent. I do apologize.

Cristal: Not at all. Your emotions are only natural, after all, and there is insulation between the public and private rooms.

Virginia: Well, then, I'll try to be polite, and I won't be put out if your boss decides to stay away.

Cristal: Well then, let's get there and get warm, eh?

Cristal heads off for the Sime Center.

Virginia follows, not quite sure she ought to be doing this.

Bibi zlins Cristal and Virginia approaching as she chats with a young man whose donation she's just taken, in the waiting room.

Bibi is enjoying the donor's happiness. He's told her that his sweetheart has just accepted his proposal of marriage, and he's now detailing their plans for a spring wedding and their future married life.

Bibi is very pleased at how comfortable the young man is with her -- he's only been donating a few months. He started when it became plain to him that his future wife's entire family had very strong feelings about the responsibility of every Gen to donate

Cristal opens the door and is ~~ surprised ~~ to find Bibi with a donor.

Cristal: Hajene?

Bibi: Hi, Cristal. Guess what? Angelica Brown has agreed to marry Zhems Mason!

Cristal steps up to Zhems, whom he now belatedly recognizes, and offers his hand out-T style.

Cristal: Congratulations!

Virginia follows Cristal inside, hoping that she's not interrupting the Sime Center's business.

Bibi nods to Virginia.

Zhems smiles widely and helplessly, and shakes hands with Cristal.

Zhems: I'm the luckiest man in the world, Sosu. ~~ euphoria ~~

Cristal elevates his eyebrows.

Cristal: Hmm. An interesting way to look at getting married -- I wouldn't think luck had much to do with it.

Zhems is too zonked by happiness to bother being puzzled by that.

Virginia hangs back, not wishing to intrude on a private conversation.

Cristal: In any case, this is my friend Virginia, Zhems.

Zhems nods to Virginia, then to the other two and heads out the door, a wide smile plastered across his face.

Cristal: Well, I suppose there's no use saying anything to him. Zhems came here just to tell you that?

Bibi: No, he donated too.

Cristal: Oh dear. I wish you had waited for me, Hajene.

Bibi: He's quite relaxed with me these days. And in the state he's in, nothing could upset him.

Bibi smiles, showing her dimples, a bit zonked herself on all that happiness.

Cristal: Well, I suppose that's true.

Cristal isn't really put out; he can see Bibi is just fine.

Cristal: [Simelan] Nevertheless, there could have been some unexpected nageric effect. He's only been donating for three months, after all.

Bibi: [Simelan] Yes, but it worked. I didn't expect trouble, or I would have waited for you, or asked him to come back.

Bibi is usually willing to take donations unassisted when she's pre-turnover, and the donors are trustworthy and stable. Well, maybe she couldn't count on the last, in this case.

Virginia ~~ hesitates ~~, vaguely ~~ embarrassed ~~ by being present for what is obviously a private conversation.

Virginia: Is everything all right?

Cristal: I was concerned at Hajene Bibi taking a donation without me here. Of course, it's her prerogative to do so.

Virginia: Why would that be a problem?

Virginia's interest in donation isn't quite as theoretical as it has been, on previous discussions.

Cristal: Channels are committed to the principle that no matter what, donors never suffer harm. If anything should go wrong -- unlikely in this case, I admit -- it would be Bibi who would bear the consequences. With me present, any such can be minimized or eliminated.

Virginia looks at Bibi.

Virginia: I had no idea your profession was so dangerous.

Bibi: Oh, it's rare for a channel to be injured that way, but that's partly because we have Donors to protect us.

Bibi strokes Cristal's forearm appreciatively.

Virginia: So when Cristal is gone...?

Cristal: The risk to her is increased, yes.

Bibi: Well, I use my judgment whether it's safe to take a donation unassisted.

Virginia: And your judgment and Cristal's don't necessarily coincide?

Cristal nods and tentatively extends ~~ support ~~.

Bibi: In this case, the young man hasn't been donating long, so it was perhaps riskier than Cristal is comfortable with. My safety is his responsibility.

Virginia looks at Cristal.

Virginia: I see that channels and surgeons have similar tendencies to overreach themselves.

Cristal partly suppresses a chuckle.

Cristal: I told you our jobs were very similar the first time we ran together, if I remember.

Virginia: Yes. Although I was usually more concerned with the physical safety of the patients, not the surgeons.

Bibi smiles, with dimples.

Bibi: That is a difference, isn't it?

Virginia: Indeed.

Bibi: Let's go back to the common room, so you can warm up and have some tea and a bite to eat.

Cristal: Thanks, yes. We need them. Oh, and let me find some socks.

Virginia blushes.

Virginia: I had a difference of opinion with another puddle. I really must learn to be more careful where I step.

Virginia is actually ~~ worried ~~ about that necessity, because if she can't manage it, her shoes won't last the winter.

Bibi: The streets are pretty bad this time of year.

Bibi knows this less from personal experience than from all the complaints she hears.

Bibi: Come.

Bibi heads back toward the common room, wondering what Virginia is worrying about. It doesn't seem to be proximity to a Sime this time.

Cristal goes to his room, changes into clean uniform trousers and socks, and puts on some slippers.

Virginia follows Bibi, although not too closely.

Bibi is pleased that the kettle is full of nearly boiling water. She mends the fire in the cookstove, prepares a plate of goodies, and fills the teapot when the water boils.

Virginia draws closer to the common room's fire, removing her coat. She looks at the stain at the bottom: it doesn't look any more removable, and it's spread.

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