How The Other Half Lives: Episode 25

Bibi brings out the tray and sets it on the table between chairs that face the fire.

Bibi: Here we go. The tea should steep, but please help yourself to the goodies.

Bibi withdraws to the chair most distant from Virginia.

Virginia sets her battered coat aside where it won't dirty the furniture too much, and sits in one of the chairs next to the fire -- and the goodies.

Virginia: Thank you very much. These cookies are a real treat.

Bibi: You're welcome. Gitl really spoils us with her baking.

Virginia tries to focus on enjoying what will be a very infrequent treat, in days ahead.

Virginia: I think these are easily as good as what the bakery has.

Cristal returns with a second pair of socks and hands them to Virginia.

Cristal: These should help.

Cristal sits between Bibi and Virginia, though it is not the ideal spot, and establishes ~~ standard light support ~~.

Virginia smiles.

Virginia: You're very kind.

Virginia bends down to unlace her shoes.

Cristal: Bibi, Virginia tells me she won't be getting any more assignments from Dr. Tavis, unfortunately, thanks to the misunderstanding the other day.

Virginia is a little ~~ dismayed ~~ to see how much water has leaked into her left shoe; it doesn't bode well for her chances of making the shoes last the winter.

Bibi: I'm terribly sorry, Virginia. I believe you did the right thing, bringing Rona here, and I'm sorry it's had that consequence for you.

Bibi has noticed the patched sleeves of the coat, and the way the shoes are wearing out, and understands that the loss of income is a serious matter.

Virginia: I can't blame Dr. Tavis for being upset at me, but I do admit that it's more than a little inconvenient.

Virginia warms her fingers on the tea mug.

Bibi: I hadn't spoken to Dr. Tavis before. It wasn't the best of circumstances, but it was something of an opening of contact.

Virginia: I admit, I would never have thought he'd come here, for any reason.

Bibi: Me, neither.

Virginia: I'm glad something good came out of the fiasco, then.

Bibi: I hope he'll consider... now that he's met me, perhaps an alternative to the Black Pill will seem more... will be more acceptable to him.

Cristal: So say we all, I think?

Virginia: Well, he can recommend a course of treatment, but in the end, it's the family's decision.

Bibi: Yes, but perhaps he hasn't been recommending channel's transfer before. I'm sorry that you're paying the price for this... potential advance.

Virginia: Well, I do have my pension, still.

Virginia is trying hard to sound confident, and failing.

Cristal: I have discussed the possibility of donating with Virginia, but of course...

Virginia: I'm not quite comfortable with the idea, I admit.

Bibi: I understand.

Virginia: It's not that I doubt your professional competence. It's just that, well...

Virginia tries to find words to explain and fails, settling for a weak smile. She doesn't, of course, have more than a general idea what donating is, but what little she does know hasn't inspired an overwhelming desire to participate.

Bibi: It's difficult to overcome a life's attitudes and experiences.

Virginia: Yes.

Bibi: It's a simple process, it takes only a few minutes, and the donor doesn't feel the selyn being drawn. The payment is substantial, and of course, the selyn provides a month of life for someone in-T.

Virginia: That spiel doesn't sound much different than the one I've given the occasional potential blood donor, over the years.

Bibi smiles.

Virginia is trying hard to ~~ reserve judgment ~~, despite her cultural prejudices.

Bibi: I suppose it does. Donating selyn doesn't even involve the pain of a needle, and it's much faster than a blood donation. But the gift of life is even more direct and clear.

Bibi figures that the last will appeal to Virginia's vocation as a nurse, while the matter of money just embarrasses her.

Virginia: I'm not proud of it, but I'm a creature of my culture. I'm more comfortable with the idea of a needle stick than a tentacle, truth to tell.

Bibi nods.

Bibi: I understand.

Cristal: I still don't think I could bring myself to let anyone take my blood.

Virginia: Really? And if it was a situation where a patient's life depended on blood which only you could provide? Would you refuse to give it?

Cristal: Well...

Virginia: You see? I get the same gut reaction to the idea of letting a Sime take my selyn.

Bibi smiles. Maybe these two will talk each other, or themselves, out of their respective entrenched attitudes.

Cristal: Yes, but ... but ...

Cristal hesitates and is lost.

Virginia: But what?

Cristal: But I'm just another self-righteous arrogant in-Territory snob, I guess.

Cristal smiles ruefully.

Virginia spreads her hands in a "what can you do" gesture.

Virginia: You know blood transfusion works, and surgery, too. We've discussed it, often enough. And yet you react as irrationally as if it was -- some random knife fight. Right?

Cristal: It's just that the whole idea of cutting people on purpose -- disturbs me. You can't tell me that your patients don't feel anything!

Virginia: You can't feel anything when you're unconscious.

Cristal: No, but after you wake up?

Cristal shudders.

Virginia: That's what painkillers are for. And it's far better than living with crippling conditions.

Cristal grits his teeth but nods slowly.

Cristal: I'm sure it is. But donation is entirely painless, and there is no possible, as you say, "down side".

Virginia: Not a rational one, perhaps. But I've sat with people who survived being attacked by Simes -- it's rare, but it happens now and then. Their stories were... horrifying.

Virginia shudders at the memory.

Bibi nods. She finds killmode attacks horrifying too. She's out here to prevent them, as well as she can.

Cristal waves that aside as mere emotionalism.

Cristal: Donation has nothing, nothing to do with killmode attacks, which I abhor just as much as you do.

Virginia: Not viewed rationally, perhaps, but there's enough similarity to trigger an irrational response. Just as you respond irrationally to the idea of surgery.

Bibi wonders just how difficult it would be to take Virginia's donation, should she decide to offer it. While she zlinned horror and disgust from her when she mentioned the attack victims' stories, the strength of the emotion was much diluted from what she's zlinned from Gens who have witnessed such attacks, much less those who've nearly, or actually experienced them.

Cristal: Well, maybe. But I notice you're much less nervous about having Bibi here beside you now that you're trying to convince me.

Cristal looks at Bibi for confirmation of this.

Bibi nods, and uses a tentacle gesture as well, interested to see how Virginia will react to it.

Virginia ~~ startles ~~, then catches herself when she sees that Bibi is remaining seated.

Bibi notes that the reaction lacked fear. But Virginia has never displayed real fear of her, just aversion and suspicion.

Virginia: Of course. I'm using logic, and that tends to push aside emotional reactions, at least for a while.

Cristal is beginning to realize that he's out of his class in this argument.

Cristal: Well, look. I'm sure you had to spend some time just watching operations being done before you got to do them -- or help with them, whatever. Right?

Virginia: Well, yes. And truth to tell, I wasn't the only one of my nursing class who lost her breakfast, afterwards.

Cristal: Well, would you be interested in observing donations? Not that there's so much to see, but that's the point.

Virginia: Well... I wouldn't want to disrupt your Sime Center.

Bibi: Cristal, there's the donors' privacy to consider. We can't breach that just to educate Miz Reel.

Cristal: Well of course not. But I'm sure we could get informed consent from at least some, couldn't we?

Bibi: Pardon me, Virginia.

Bibi: [Simelan] Do you really want that nager in the donation room with us? I'm sure Gens can pick up her attitude about donating even without zlinning.

Bibi tells Cristal that what she picks up from Virginia about the process is disgust and aversion, perhaps even contempt for people who do it.

Cristal: [Simelan] I understand, Hajene. But it couldn't be any worse than my own attitude in the early days was.

Bibi: [Simelan] You're a Tecton employee. She's an out-T Gen you're trying to convince to your views.

Bibi doesn't put it as "someone you're trying to win an argument with", although it wouldn't be far off.

Cristal: [Simelan] That distinction wouldn't mean anything to the donors, though.

Bibi: [Simelan] Of course it would. You're doing your job, and you support the idea of donation. She'd be there, gawking and disapproving. Our donors don't deserve that. And it's not as if we desperately need to convince one more Gen to donate.

Cristal is increasingly desperate not to be mistaken at all points.

Cristal: [Simelan] Well, we could demonstrate, just you and me. No privacy issues. And of course just simulated donation, not actual transfer.

Bibi: Sure, no problem.

Bibi says that in English.

Virginia is trying politely not to be too curious about this heated discussion she can't understand.

Virginia: Err...?

Cristal: Hajene Bibi was pointing out to me that there are privacy issues with letting you observe donation. But that doesn't apply to just Bibi and me demonstrating, and she's agreed to do it -- if you're agreeable, of course.

Virginia: Demonstrate?

Virginia's voice is ~~ uncertain ~~.

Bibi: Cristal will play the role of a donor, and we'll demonstrate how a donation goes. You can observe it from whatever distance you find comfortable, and ask questions as we go along.

Virginia's ~~ curiosity ~~ wars with her ~~ aversion ~~.

Bibi: There won't be any selyn movement, but from your point of view it will look just like a donation. Of course I normally tailor it to the individual, and how he reacts as I go along.

Cristal: Hajene, I think you should give me the first-time-donor routine, only without the paperwork. Virginia is already quite familiar with that part.

Virginia has just finished giving Cristal a hard time for responding emotionally to a situation, instead of rationally.

Bibi smiles.

Virginia smiles too, if somewhat weakly.

Virginia: That's true enough. All right, go ahead.

Bibi: We have a special couch in the donation room, designed to be more comfortable for both donor and channel, but we can use the sofa here.

Bibi moves to the sofa, and gestures to Cristal to join her.

Cristal gets up and does his best semi-reluctant first-time donor.

Bibi: You've read our booklets, haven't you, Virginia? I usually go over that material since many of our donors have difficulty absorbing information from print.

Virginia: Yes, I've seen them. The hospital I used to work at had a few.

Virginia had a little difficulty absorbing the information, but it had nothing to do with basic literacy, just lack of context.

Bibi: I offer my hands to the donor, and he indicates his consent to the donation by taking them.

Bibi offers her hands to Cristal.

Bibi: Of course, a donor can withdraw his consent at any time, and I'll stop the donation as soon as I can. If there is selyn flowing, it will take me a few seconds, but otherwise I'll stop immediately if the donor requests.

Virginia nods, finding this ethic ~~ reassuring ~~.

Bibi: Next I move my hands onto the donor's wrists, then extend my handling tentacles and loosely hold the donor's arms.

Bibi does so slowly, zlinning for Virginia's reaction.

Virginia gasps at the sight, but doesn't back away.

Bibi waits for Virginia's reaction to subside.

Cristal: At this point I actually couldn't pull away without Bibi letting me, but of course I don't know that. Not that she would stop me.

Cristal demonstrates by withdrawing his arms and then repositioning them.

Cristal: If she had tightened up the tentacles, my arms would have been immobilized. But of course she wouldn't.

Bibi: In the next step, I do tighten my hold. If a donor moves while my lateral tentacles are in contact, he could injure me, possibly seriously, or even fatally. But I will release a donor if necessary or desirable, as soon as I can protect my laterals.

Virginia: I see. Natural restraints?

Cristal: Exactly.

Virginia: Very effective ones, I understand.

Bibi: But if the donor doesn't struggle he won't be aware of how securely I'm holding his arms. Of course, if he does struggle, I'll release him immediately, as soon as I can break lateral contact.

Virginia: I've seen some spectacular bruises, although that was the least of the damage.

Bibi: In an attack, the Sime wouldn't want to, or indeed be able to break his hold. Hence the bruises. If I were to bruise a donor, I'd certainly not be doing my job well!

Virginia smiles again.

Virginia: I suppose that would cut down on the number of repeat customers.

Bibi: And of course, a donor has no reason to struggle, or be bruised.

Bibi pauses.

Bibi: Now, I trust Cristal with my life, and he knows very well how vulnerable I am with my laterals extended, but most donors don't understand this, so I tighten my hold thus:

Bibi demonstrates.

Bibi: Now it's safe for me to extend my laterals. Please feel free to come closer if you like.

Virginia takes a step closer at this prompting. She views the glistening appendages with a touch of ~~ revulsion ~~

Bibi: Unlike my handling tentacles, my laterals are moist with ronaplin, a selyn-conducting secretion. Some people feel a mild tingling sensation at the contact. It may feel a little strange, but it's not painful.

Virginia watches the moist appendages slither over Cristal's arms with growing ~~ nausea ~~. Her attempts to view the demonstration clinically are failing as the reality of what is being demonstrated sinks in.

Bibi doesn't much enjoy the nausea, but forges on.

Cristal finds himself raising his ~~ support ~~ level without knowing quite why, as often happens when Wild Gens are around.

Bibi: Next the donor and I make a lip contact for about a minute. I examine him for medical problems using my Sime senses, and then draw the selyn. The donor doesn't feel either of these things.

Cristal: [brightly] Yup, don't feel a thing.

Bibi smiles at Cristal's effort at a joke.

Bibi: I'll just touch lips with him so you can see the whole process. Because I'm so short, the donor usually has to bend down a bit for this fifth contact.

Bibi offers her lips.

Cristal presses his lips against Bibi's.

Virginia loses her battle for control of her stomach at the sight, and looks wildly around for something easily cleaned, settling on a wastebasket.

Bibi breaks the contact and drops hypoconscious.

Cristal: [turning his head] And that's all there is -- Virginia, are you all right?

Cristal keeps his field focused on Bibi.

Bibi isn't zlinning.

Bibi: I'll get you some water.

Bibi heads for the kitchen.

Cristal follows Bibi, in accordance with in-T mores.

Virginia finally manages to stop heaving, and looks around for something with which to wipe her face. She notes that her two hosts have left her, and can't blame them. She's ~~ heartily embarrassed ~~ at her reaction.

Bibi fills a glass, and wets a towel.

Bibi: [Simelan] Here, Cristal, I think she'd rather deal with you right now than with me.

Cristal takes the glass and the towel out to Virginia and hands them to her.

Cristal: [sympathetic] I'm so sorry.

Virginia: Thank you. So am I. I haven't overreacted so badly since the first time I watched surgery.

Virginia takes the towel and scrubs her mouth, then rinses her mouth out.

Bibi is impressed at how far Cristal has come in his attitudes toward out-T Gens, or toward people who aren't selyn workers, in general.

Virginia supposes that the comparison isn't so far off, at that: surgery and donation both involve people having things done to them that in another context would be considered aggravated assault with homicidal intent.

Cristal takes the towel, glass and wastebasket back to the kitchen and washes them out.

Cristal: Are you all right, Bibi? I couldn't sense ...

Cristal trails off.

Bibi: [Simelan] Yes, no problem. I zlinned the nausea, but didn't expect it to suddenly get that extreme. I did drop hypoconscious.

Bibi returns to the common room and Virginia.

Bibi: I'm terribly sorry I distressed you so badly.

Virginia: It's not your fault. I guess I wasn't as ready to see that as I thought I was.

Bibi: Perhaps you will be some day. However, you're still welcome here as a guest, even if you don't become a donor.

Virginia: Thank you. I hope Cristal doesn't take this personally. It must seem like such a simple little thing, to him.

Cristal reappears after hanging the towel up and putting the glass in the dish drainer.

Cristal: [cheery again] There we go. All dealt with.

Virginia: I am sorry. I had no idea I'd react that strongly.

Bibi: These things happen. We all surprise ourselves sometimes.

Bibi doesn't mention that that kind of surprise in a Gen can do a channel a fair bit of damage.

Virginia: Well, I think that as things stand, I'd better start looking for some other way out of my difficulty. Perhaps I can get some work over the winter holidays as a clerk. Or just maybe Dr. Tavis will discover that I'm too convenient to set aside.

Bibi hopes so, but the doctor did, after all, get along for many years without an assistant with Virginia's skills.

Virginia: I guess I'm too old a dog to master a new trick, after all.

Cristal wants to say "Oh, I'm sure you can get used to it", but decides it's a bad idea.

Bibi: Don't give up on yourself. Miz Brown first donated when she was over eighty years old. Even if you don't donate, you can certainly continue to learn new skills.

Bibi wishes it would do some good to project a little ~~ optimism ~~ at the Gen.

Virginia: I hope so, since my old skills aren't in demand, just now.

Cristal: This too shall pass.

Virginia: Yes. The one thing one can depend on is that the world changes.

Return to Table of Contents