Nick is sitting on a bale of hay in the kitchen area of the Sat'htine encampment, eating a bowl of bean soup. He's alternating with bites of barley pilaf. He reflects that the fare, although a bit bland, is nice and hot, and more to the point, filling.
Nick is ruminating on likely shortfalls in their supplies, and the possibilities of locating sufficient quantities of acceptable substitutes. His planning is hindered by not knowing what marketable commodities, besides dried beans, are on hand.
Norrin walks up to Nick carrying a cup of the selfsame soup with Sime herbs.
Norrin: Scuse me, Mr. Reckonage?
Nick: What can I do for you, Norrin?
Norrin gestures to the soup.
Norrin: They said I have to eat this, and it'd help to be near a Gen, but your other Gens, I can't really understand how they talk, y'know?
Nick: Oh, certainly.
Norrin: I mean, don't get me wrong, they're nice and all, but they talk... funny. Y'know?
Nick's Genlan is not only fluent, he's got a reassuringly non-aristocratic accent.
Norrin casts around for another hay bale he can bring up, finds one, snags it, and sits down.
Nick: Most of them haven't spent much time on this side of the border.
Norrin nods and sips his soup.
Norrin: Tastes funny.
Nick: The flavorings are a bit different than you're used to?
Norrin: Umm, yeah. I guess.
Nick: Or is it just that you haven't been eating much, in the past few months?
Norrin: That too. Well, I just haven't been really hungry. Except for sweet stuff, not that mostly I could get any. And especially not after the quake.
Nick: You're going to find that you can't rely on your own appetite to tell you when you ought to eat, any more.
Norrin: Yeah, they told me that too. But if you aren't hungry, why eat? I don't get it.
Nick: It's biology. People get hungry when their bodies want fuel. Simes don't use food as fuel, so they don't often get hungry.
Norrin: Yeah. So I don't eat this, then what?
Nick: On the other hand, Simes still have to eat a small amount of food to replace worn and damaged tissue. If you get hurt, you'll have a bit more appetite while you heal, but mostly, you'll have to think about eating.
Norrin: ~~ annoyed ~~ Okay, okay, but you're not telling me why I should eat. Especially -- this. I don't have any injuries, and it tastes awful.
Nick: You've lost weight since your changeover. Right?
Norrin: So? Running all the time'll do that to ya.
Nick: You're burning off your own muscles, trying to find the raw material to keep yourself going. How long do you think you can afford to do that, before your heart or liver or kidneys give out, and you die?
Nick is perhaps exaggerating a bit, but such things were common among the Freeband Raiders.
Norrin: ~~ taken aback ~~ Huh.
Nick ~~ calmly ~~ takes another bite of pilaf.
Norrin sips the soup again but says nothing. ~~ lack of confidence ~~
Norrin: So look. After you all get through here, and go back to Simeland, what happens to me then?
Nick: You'll go with us to Simeland, and then you'll be sent to a camp that specializes in people in your situation. They'll help you learn how to live as a productive Simeland citizen. Or at least one who earns enough to pay his taxes on time.
Norrin nods; he understands taxes, at least in theory.
Norrin: That means there's jobs in Simeland?
Nick: Yes. What were you going to do for a living, before your changeover?
Norrin: In my neighborhood, nobody did much of anything. Except odd jobs, I guess.
Nick: It's hard to earn enough money to pay for a Sime's worth of selyn every month, on odd jobs. What would you like to do with yourself, if you could learn to do just about anything you wanted?
Norrin looks blank.
Norrin: Idono. Maybe ... Idono.
Nick: Would you like to learn to make things? Furniture, or clothing, or horseshoes? Do you prefer to work outdoors, like a farmer?
Norrin shakes his head.
Nick: If you learn to speak and write Simelan fluently, you could get a job with the government, probably.
Norrin: I can't even read English, mister. Now I'm supposed to learn another whole lingo? Forget about it!
Nick: Well, unless you decide on a diplomatic career, not being able to read English won't hurt your chances. You've got to learn to speak Simelan, anyway. It's not much harder to learn to read and write it, too. You'll find it very easy to learn new things, for your first year or so as a Sime.
Norrin: No kidding. Well, I guess that makes it easy. What about this rescue work you guys are doing here? Could I learn that? Maybe finding folks who're lost?
Nick: You can help out here at the camp -- there's a great deal that will have to be done, to make sure that everybody has food, and dry clothing, and clean bedding.
Norrin: Well, sure. Anybody can do that, even kids like me, huh?
Nick: It's not very romantic work, but it's very necessary. You, personally, will end up saving quite a few lives that way.
Nick: The top channels like Kat can save people with nasty injuries, but more people will probably die here from lack of hot food and dry socks.
Norrin nods slowly.
Norrin: I guess so.
Nick: If you pay attention, you'll find that you pick up a lot of Simelan as you go.
Nick has some more soup, subtly encouraging Norrin's ~~ appetite ~~.
Norrin takes his first decent-sized mouthful of soup and smiles.
Norrin: Hey, maybe I'm getting used to this slop. Where's Miz Farris, anyhow?
Nick: She's trying to figure out what supplies we have, and what we're going to have to do without.
Norrin: How come you don't have the stuff you need? I mean, I know you guys had to come here unexpectedly and all, but whyn't you have the kinds of stuff you need?
Nick: When we left Sat'htine, we were supposed to be going on a practice exercise, not to a real disaster site. As a test, they took some of our supplies, to see how we would cope. Of course, in a real disaster, even if you bring everything you can think of, you'll run short of something before long. The rest of the supplies we should have had will be arriving shortly -- I hope. Until then, we'll have to make do.
Norrin: "Make do". That's something we, umm, I know how to do, all right. My mom used to --
Norrin stops abruptly.
Nick: Your mom was good at finding ways to get along with what she had?
Nick offers a little ~~ encouragement ~~.
Norrin: Yeah. And my dad does that too. But of course it's harder now.
Nick: How did your family come through the earthquake? Have you been able to find out?
Norrin: Nah. I haven't heard anything, and you guys won't let me go back to see. Of course it wouldn't be too safe either, now that I'm not supposed to run fast any more.
Nick: No, it wouldn't be safe. Our renSimes who do search and rescue will be going out with six armed escorts.
Norrin's eyes widen.
Nick hopes the escorts won't start shooting their charges.
Norrin: I guess I couldn't do that part without your training? ~~ hopeful ~~
Nick: No, it wouldn't be advisable.
Norrin recognizes this as the way less-hostile authority says "Forget it".
Nick: You've no doubt discovered that it can be hard to maintain control, around people who are afraid or in pain?
Norrin: ~~ puzzled ~~ Control of what?
Norrin has been running away from people like that.
Nick: Control of yourself. You don't want to attack someone by accident, do you?
Norrin: Hell no. This is the first safe place I ever been in my life, except home. But I haven't felt, well, need since I been here. Is that because of something Miz Farris did to me? ~~ suspicious ~~
Nick: Of course. She gave you selyn. Until you've used up half of it, you won't be feeling need. If you don't waste a lot of selyn, that should be in about two weeks.
Norrin: But I used to feel it all the time until now.
Nick: Even right after you killed?
Norrin tries to think back; it all seems very dreamlike now.
Norrin: Maybe not right after. But you know, it was all do it and run like hell.
Nick: When you ran, you were going very fast, right? Faster than any Gen could run.
Norrin: Um, yeah. That's why they couldn't catch me, y'know? They say Simes are faster than a speeding bullet, but I made sure nobody saw me, so I didn't have to find out.
Nick: For your information, Simes can't outrun a bullet. That's why Gens carry guns for protection. But you were running fast enough to burn a lot of selyn. Enough that you felt need a lot sooner than you should have.
Norrin: Yeah, I get it. So now that I'm not doing that, I don't get needy so quick.
Nick: That's right. That's important to remember, since from now on, you're going to have to pay for the selyn you use. That money will go to support the Gen who donates the selyn, and the channel who passes it on to you.
Norrin: Man. I wonder if I wasn't better off on the run, y'know? You guys make being a Demon Sime so hella complicated!
Nick: It is complicated, because our Simes aren't demonic. They're regular people who happen to have tentacles... and regular life is complicated.
Norrin: Our life was regular and not so complicated. Go to the shareout once a week, pump water every day, look for work if the weather wasn't too bad. And in the winter, look for bits of blackstone to keep the stove working.
Nick: That's a good life. There's no reason you can't make one for yourself that's just as peaceful. Or, if you want more excitement, you can study to be part of a rescue team like this one. Or join the police or the fire fighters.
Norrin: The police? Huh. Where I came from, the cops wouldn't come into our neighborhood in less than a squad.
Nick: It's a lot harder to be a thief, in Sime Territory.
Norrin: ~~ indignant ~~ Now don't you go there, Mister Reckonage. The Radds were never no thieves. Maybe old Fred would separate folks from their money in a friendly game of skill...
Norrin is quoting his father about his grandfather.
Norrin: But we wouldn't stoop so low as take what wasn't ours.
Nick: That's commendable.
Nick raises an eyebrow.
Nick: I don't suppose you know anyone else around here who likes a "friendly game of skill"?
Norrin: Most everybody, I'd say. Even us kids would play -- but only with matches. We couldn't get cards, see.
Nick: Some time soon, I'd like you to show me the local games. And the skill involved, of course. It might be important for me to be able to win -- or lose -- a game.
Norrin: Okay, mister. I can do that. But I thought you folks had money!
Nick: We do have money. But the supplies we require might not be for sale. Or there might be people who would be more willing to do business with us, if they thought they were fleecing us.
Norrin nods, understanding.
Norrin: Some folks just aren't happy if they aren't cheating you, that's true.
Nick: Or sometimes there are people who could really use some help, but are too proud to accept it. If it's winnings, it's not charity.
Norrin openly ~~ admires ~~ this cleverness.
Nick: How willing do you think the people around here will be to accept help from Simes?
Norrin waves hands and tentacles in a Gen-style gesture of ignorance.
Norrin: Some will, some won't. You ask me, most will -- this quake is about as bad as anything could get. Worse than flood or fire, for sure.
Nick: What sort of help would they be willing to accept? Just food, water and blankets? Or perhaps medical care from a channel?
Norrin shakes his head.
Norrin: We don't see doctors round here. No way to tell what folks will think. All you can do is try, hey?
Nick: I'm concerned about how people will react, when they learn that a channel can't help them much without touching them.
Norrin: Try and see.
Nick: I'm also concerned about finding enough Gens who are willing to donate selyn to support our Simes.
Norrin: Well, I'd do it, but ...
Norrin looks at his tentacles.
Nick: You're not qualified, I'm afraid.
Nick: The challenge for us is to find enough qualified individuals who are also willing.
Norrin: Hell. Round 'em up and tell 'em those who don't give their stuff, don't get this fine bean soup.
Norrin finishes the soup, which is now stone cold.
Nick: We may be able to do that, depending on food supplies. Or to find something else that people want badly enough.
Norrin: Food, clothes, a roof over their heads. They'll do it. I think that's not something you gotta worry about.
Nick: If we could provide all those things, yes. We don't have a whole lot of extra food and clothing, and we don't have a solid roof to offer, as you see.
Norrin: Whatever. At least it's not on fire.
Nick: Yet. We're going to have to be very careful about our fires.
Nick looks up as Kat emerges from the storage area.
Nick: It looks like my lunch break is over. I'll talk to you later about those games, okay?
Norrin: Yeah. Catch ya later, Mister Reckonage.
Norrin is glad to think he can actually help at something besides gofering.
Nick decides that the Norrin problem is under control for now, and turns his attention to the supply problem, which is likely to become critical before long.