Preparing for Disaster: Episode 6

Cristal holds down the fort at the Hannard's Ford Sime Center while Bibi goes off to dump selyn. Marvin's on a tight schedule this month, and it has to be done in the train's Sime car before the train leaves again.

Cristal therefore is rereading the back issues of Donor and Donor Monthly magazines stockpiled for emergency use in the stove or outhouse. He thinks they really should be used to check erosion in a gully or something. ~~ boredom ~~

Patience is well aware of Bibi's absence, as she passed Bibi going towards the train station a few minutes ago.

Patience has decided to take matters into her own hands, since there hasn't been an announcement of any sort. She believes in discretion, however, and she has her suspicions about what might be going on. She has therefore decided to have a little talk with what passes for Bibi's closest male relative.

Sunnee is tagging along, ~~ eager ~~ to be one of the first to get the scoop.

Patience climbs the stairs to the Sime Center's front porch and walks in.

Sunnee follows, carrying a box of cookies.

Patience: Yoo-hoo! Is anyone in?

Sunnee goes over to the refreshments table and unloads. She hopes people will like her cookies. She didn't have all the ingredients so she made some substitutions and they came out a bit strange.

Patience has brought a fruit bread, nicely sliced.

Cristal comes into the waiting room and sees the two ladies bearing gifts.

Cristal: Ah. Thank you so much. Hajene Bibi is out at present. ~~ awkward ~~

Sunnee: We didn't come to donate, just to deliver cookies.

Patience: Be sure to offer her our greetings. Although, truth be told, I'm glad that we have a chance to talk to you.

Sunnee nods ~~ eagerly ~~.

Cristal raises his eyebrows interrogatively.

Cristal: I am at your disposal, at least for the next fifteen minutes or so. But pray do sit down.

Patience seats herself at an appropriate distance for a good gossip: close enough to reach over and grab Cristal's hand, in other words.

Sunnee settles next to her.

Cristal sits down too.

Patience: Good. You and Hajene Bibi are close, aren't you? Almost like family?

Cristal: Well, I wouldn't say that, no. We work very closely together here, of course. But it's not really personal.

Patience: She does confide in you, doesn't she?

Patience is trying to hide her ~~ disappointment ~~.

Cristal: Well, in professional matters, certainly. And some degree of emotional closeness is necessary between channel and Donor.

Patience could wish for better, but she figures that's probably about as good as she's going to get, unfortunately.

Patience: Well, then, perhaps you can tell us: Is this Hajene Seruffin an honorable man?

Sunnee nods ~~ eagerly ~~. It's great the way Patience comes right to the point!

Patience is using the adjective in the Gen colloquial sense, which has a whole lot of implications that aren't in the dictionary.

Cristal gets his Genlan from the dictionary, alas.

Cristal: [offended] Honorable? Of course! Channels are trustworthy by nature, and no one would appoint a dishonorable person to the Diplomatic Corps. After all, lying would undermine the whole purpose of diplomacy.

Sunnee: Well, they do say that Simes can't lie, anyway.

Cristal: Few people in-Territory bother with lying: it's so easy for Simes to detect.

Patience: Good, then. He likes Bibi a great deal, I gather?

Cristal smiles.

Cristal: Oh, certainly.

Patience: I'm glad to hear that he's going to do right by her. What color has Bibi settled on as her favorite?

Cristal scratches his head, not understanding what these two sentences have to do with one another.

Cristal: Hajene Seruffin has done right by her, if I understand you correctly.

Cristal doesn't, of course.

Cristal: As for her favorite color -- I must confess I don't know.

Patience: Well, what colors does she wear when she's not wearing one of those uniforms?

Cristal throws up his hands.

Cristal: In-T they say that men and Simes never notice colors. I'm afraid I'm no different. Sorry.

Patience tries to figure out a way to extract the necessary information.

Patience: Do you at least know her favorite flower?

Cristal: I know she's very fond of monkshood, especially in salads.

Patience: Monkshood? Isn't that poisonous?

Cristal smiles.

Cristal: Only to Gens. Simes enjoy it as a condiment and nibble.

Patience: That's what, Sunny? Pink to white?

Sunnee: Blue, isn't it? Or there's one kind that's yellow.

Cristal: It sounds to me like it can be any color you like.

Cristal chuckles.

Patience: Monkshood would make a terrible bouquet, though. Roses are much sturdier, as well as traditional. What color rose is her favorite, Sosu Cristal?

Cristal thinks for a while.

Cristal: Yellow, I think. But why?

Patience: Yellow. That's a perfect color for spring. My son married in the spring, and his bride carried yellow roses.

Sunnee: I remember that. It was really beautiful.

Cristal begins to catch on.

Cristal: Surely you don't think that Hajene Bibi and I are getting married? No, no. As I explained, our relationship is professional.

Sunnee snorts.

Sunnee: Not you!

Sunnee looks to Patience to set Cristal straight.

Patience: This Hajene Seruffin is quite a mover and shaker, I've heard? A Very Important Personage?

Cristal: Certainly. He is the Special Envoy of the World Controller.

Patience looks at Sunny with ~~ concern ~~.

Cristal doesn't remember being in any conversation that veers randomly from one topic to another as much as this one.

Cristal: The World Controller is the highest officer in the Tecton government.

Sunnee screws up her face in disgust and whispers "Men!"

Patience: This place is certainly too small to house all his friends, then. We'll have to find volunteers with spare bedrooms. I don't think that will a problem. Do you, Sunny?

Cristal waves his hands about in bewilderment.

Patience: Considering how much Hajene Bibi has done for the community?

Sunnee: Oh, I'd be delighted to put some of them up. Even Simes!

Sunnee figures she can point out to her husband that they don't eat much.

Cristal: All his friends? Why would his friends ...

Cristal clutches his forehead in ~~ sudden enlightenment ~~.

Cristal: Why on Earth would you think that Hajene Seruffin and Hajene Bibi...

Patience: Well, you said he was an honorable man!

Cristal: Honorable? Honorable? Of course he is!

Patience: What honorable man wouldn't make his sweetheart an honest woman?

Cristal: He would never... No, the idea is absurd. Hajene Seruffin has to travel extensively, both as a First Order channel and as Special Envoy. He couldn't possibly settle down.

Sunnee: Well, Miz Carpenter's husband is always traveling selling dry goods, and that works out.

Cristal picks up on Patience's remark.

Cristal: Are you calling Hajene Bibi dishonest? I can't believe I'm hearing these things.

Sunnee: Well, not dishonest. But it did look rather... unconventional. Right, Patience?

Patience: Indeed. And what kind of future can she look forward to, if he's not willing to commit himself?

Sunnee: She is getting a bit old, too.

Cristal: Fifteen is hardly old for a Sime. She should have decades of productive work before her.

Patience: She's got to start her family soon, or she won't be young enough to enjoy them.

Sunnee: Or keep up with them.

Cristal: Ladies, ladies.... I feel you are operating on a great many misconceptions here. Please allow me to explain. First of all, it is extremely rare for First Order channels to marry at all, because they are constantly on the move. Even Second Order workers like Bibi and myself don't usually marry. That does not mean we don't have children.

Sunnee gasps.

Cristal: If Bibi is a bit old for her first child, it's because of her work here at the Ford. It would be impossible for her to do her work here single-handed and care for a child, don't you agree?

Patience: She'd have to hire a nanny, but she could afford that, I expect.

Sunnee: After all, she does work right here, like a farmer's wife works on the farm and raises her children.

Cristal: The fact that she and Hajene Seruffin have been able to have an intimate relationship at all is a stroke of good fortune for both of them.

Sunnee gasps again. He just comes out and admits it. She looks to Patience, appalled that Cristal would just go ahead and blacken dear Bibi's reputation like that.

Sunnee: Patience....

Cristal: Between the unfortunate necessities of Sime, er, sexuality, and the fact that they have entirely unrelated assignments -- well, I can tell you, such things are rare. Fortunately, they have made one another very happy. And I don't see how anyone could disapprove of that!

Patience: You don't?

Sunnee is at a loss.

Cristal sighs.

Cristal: Happiness is rare at any time. Who wouldn't applaud it?

Sunnee: But...

Patience: Surely you can see what a bad example this Hajene Seruffin is setting for the community?

Sunnee nods vigorously.

Patience: If my boy Tuttle had had such an example in front of him, I'd still be waiting for my first grandchild!

Cristal: We don't expect your people to follow our customs. Why should they? Your rules for sex and marriage have grown up to suit the needs of an all-Gen community, after all.

Sunnee: But... that's how it's supposed to be!

Patience: How can you have a community, without families?

Cristal: Of course there are plenty of families in Sime Territory. Most Simes and Gens are not selyn workers, after all. People who find themselves compatible often move in together and raise children, either their own or other people's. But we need to make sure the channel and Donor genes are passed to the next generation, so we take measures to make sure that happens.

Sunnee: People just give their children away?

Cristal: Of course they do! We don't sell our children, not since Unity anyway.

Sunnee: But...

Sunnee, like any mother, has occasionally wished she could shove her offspring off on somebody else, but she was never really serious about it.

Cristal: But not everyone is suited for child-raising just because they have superior genetics.

Cristal thinks a bit.

Cristal: I can see that with all of you sexually interested every day, it may be necessary for your society to restrain those desires very strongly.

Sunnee gasps again. The things he says!

Cristal: Particularly if you have to raise any children that result yourselves.

Patience: You mean people in Simeland just have children any old time, with whatever man is convenient, with no thought to the consequences?

Sunnee: And then give them away?

Cristal: Of course not. Women are of course very interested in having children by superior men whenever possible. But such men aren't necessarily better as long-term partners. And most children are raised by their mothers, married or unmarried.

Patience shakes her head in ~~ pity ~~.

Sunnee is speechless with culture shock.

Patience: No wonder poor Bibi hasn't started a family. If men in Simeland aren't generally the marrying type... she wasn't raised like that. She knows a child needs a family.

Sunnee nods, relieved. Bibi is so nice, it's hard to think of her as a loose woman like that.

Patience: The poor woman is probably waiting for a man to show honorable intentions, and she'll wait in vain, if what you say is true.

Cristal: On the contrary, I'd say most Simeland men do marry at one time or another during their lives. And while it's certainly important for children to grow up with men around, almost all women do have male friends, after all.

Patience: Male friends who provide the worst sort of example, especially to little boys.

Cristal shakes his head in disbelief.

Patience: It's hard enough to teach a lad that if he wants a girl, he's got to commit to raising her children with her.

Sunnee: Patience, maybe Sosu Cristal was raised like that, so it seems normal to him.

Cristal: Ah, I think I see. Here, women are socially restricted from most jobs, so without male support they can't make a living. That isn't true in-Territory, where women can do almost any job. I would say I come from a typical family, except that it tends to run to Simes more than usual, and my parents were quite surprised when I established as a Gen.

Patience: And how can anyone raise a child or three while earning a living for all of them?

Cristal: My mother used to say that one person can't do two jobs well, but two people can do three jobs well if they support one another. Not that my mother disapproved of women raising children alone; I rather think she felt sorry for them sometimes, though of course she would do her best not to.

Patience: You see? Your mother knew that it takes more than one person to raise children. I know Bibi loves children. She must want to have some of her own.

Cristal: [reluctantly] I don't know how to say this without sounding rude. So I apologize in advance.

Cristal: But I don't see how any Sime could want to bring up a child here, where the very basis of family life is fear and suspicion of one's own children and siblings. When and if Bibi decides to have a child, she'll most likely have to return to Sime Territory. And since her commitment to working out-Territory goes very deep, she may simply have to choose between her life's work and her children unborn.

Patience: Nonsense. Things have changed a great deal, in the past five years. Hannard's Ford is Bibi's home, now.

Cristal: [gently] I used to think so too. But some experiences I've had recently show me that fear and disgust run very deep, even right here in town, even among people who think of themselves as broad-minded.

Cristal: [hastily] I don't mean you, of course!

Cristal: But as long as Gen Territory continues to have retainer laws, rifles, and Black Pills, no Sime can truly be at home here.

Patience: How much "at home" can Simes be in Simeland, when families are optional?

Cristal: At least parents don't need to fear their children, nor the other way around. I won't say that abuses never happen, but most children grow up loved, whatever they turn out to be.

Cristal says this with confidence.

Patience: Of course they do.

Sunnee: It's getting better here. Lots better.

Cristal shrugs.

Cristal: There can be no doubt about that.

Patience: Yes. I can see we have a great deal of work to do. One thing about having those guns around: it's very easy to find a shotgun when you want one.

Cristal: I don't think I understand.

Patience: It's the traditional argument used by a girl's father when her boyfriend appears ready to shirk his responsibility towards her.

Cristal: Oh. Well, please don't shoot Hajene Seruffin. By our standards, he is going out of his way to make Bibi happy. And it's very important to me that she be happy.

Patience: To us, too. And to many others in Hannard's Ford.

Sunnee: Patience... we don't want people to think badly of her. Maybe we should tell them that they're just friends. After all, he is a lot older than she is.

Cristal laughs at the subtle self-deceptions of out-Territory Gens

Cristal: Well, they certainly are friends as well as sexual partners, so that's fair enough, I suppose.

Sunnee winces.

Sunnee: Cristal, maybe you shouldn't tell people that sort of thing either. They would take it the wrong way.

Cristal: Point taken.

Patience: I don't think any woman raised on this side of the border wouldn't prefer a husband to an occasional lover and friend.

Sunnee: You wouldn't want people to think she's immoral, would you? I mean, some people would see it that way.

Cristal: No, I certainly wouldn't.

Patience: It mustn't become common gossip, of course. On the other hand, with a word to the wise in the right ears, a great deal might be accomplished that would make Bibi a lot happier.

Cristal: Oh? What did you have in mind?

Patience: I'm not sure, quite yet. It will take some thought.

Patience wonders if Miz Brown might have some suggestions.

Cristal: You know, what you said about preferring a husband... What do you do, out-Territory, about women who prefer living with other women?

Sunnee: Well, that's okay. Like a widow moving in with her brother's family, like Miz Violet? Or two spinster sisters, like the Magpies.

Patience: In any case, Bibi has a strong preference for Hajene Seruffin, so that's not an issue.

Cristal: Quite so.

Patience: She shouldn't have to settle for less than a family, or uproot herself to do it.

Cristal: In a better world, she wouldn't have to.

Patience: Isn't the presence of a Sime Center in Hannard's Ford proof that a better world can be made, if we work together as a community to make it so?

Cristal: Yes, of course. But not quickly. Sime Territory changed immensely for the better when Unity came, but it meant an huge amount of pain and suffering and premature death for almost every Sime alive at the time. Seruffin's one of the very rare exceptions, as are Householders like Professor Nattin.

Patience: We're not trying to change the world, here. Just one person's part of it. That's a much more manageable task, I think. Do you know if Hajene Seruffin will be coming through Hannard's Ford any time soon?

Sunnee wonders what Patience is planning. She's very clever. Or at any rate, much cleverer than Sunnee.

Cristal: Unfortunately I don't. He usually sends a telegram before he arrives, but we haven't had one lately.

Patience: Sunnee, your boy is still working at the train station news stand, isn't he?

Sunnee: Well, after school and weekends he is.

Patience: That's often enough for him to keep an eye on the telegraph office, I expect.

Sunnee: Yes.

Patience: We should be adequately warned, then.

Sunnee: Good. I'll tell him.

Cristal listens to this conversation with concern.

Cristal: Please tell me what you have in mind, so that we can reduce further misunderstandings.

Patience: It's just a vague idea, at present. But if you're right that Hajene Seruffin is an honorable man, by at least Simeland standards, perhaps something can be managed.

Sunnee nods. She has a lot of faith in Patience's ability to get things done.

Cristal realizes that since further misunderstanding is probably inevitable, Hajene Seruffin is the one with the necessary skills to manage the situation.

Cristal: I'm sure something can be, yes.

Patience: Now, if Bibi likes yellow roses, Sunnee, you'd best make sure Mr. Himble cuts his bushes back, so he'll have some with nice long stems by spring.

Sunnee: Sure, I'll tell him. Or maybe I shouldn't, if we're going to tell people that Bibi isn't...

Sunnee is confused and wants to get the story straight.

Patience: Just tell him they might be wanted. You don't have to tell him who might want them.

Sunnee: Oh. Okay.

Patience: And we'd better get together soon to look through fabrics to make a quilt.

Sunnee: A Double Wedding Ring this time!

Sunnee is an expert quilter.

Patience: Yellow and....hmm. Blue, perhaps?

Sunnee: That sounds nice. Rippet is saving up onion skins to do a batch of yellows.

Patience: Good. We can make it an album -- put inscriptions in the rings.

Sunnee claps her hands with pleasure.

Cristal gives up trying to follow all this.

Patience: Now, a venue. We'll have to find a place large enough. And available on short notice, preferably.

Cristal very much wishes Bibi would return and straighten things out. Or at least take the problem off his hands.

Sunnee: Well, the church of course, or if it's in the spring, the garden here.

Patience: We can certainly manage refreshments, and a cake.

Sunnee: Yes. But no strawberries, remember!

Patience: Of course not.

Patience stands.

Patience: Sosu Cristal, you've been a great help. Sunnee, come on. We've got a great deal of work to do.

Sunnee jumps up, happy and excited.

Cristal: I'm glad I've been useful.

Patience takes one moment to make sure that her fruit bread is properly displayed, then leaves the Sime Center, ~~ intent ~~ on furthering her plans.

Sunnee follows her eagerly.

Cristal tries to resume the proper mental state for Donoring, but the ~~ bewilderment ~~ and ~~ concern ~~ are very difficult to banish altogether. He does several relaxation exercises and hopes they will be sufficient.

Bibi opens the door somewhat later and comes in, ~~ concerned ~~ herself at what she zlins from Cristal.

Bibi: What happened? Is something wrong?

Bibi fumbles with the catches of her retainers.

Cristal: Hajene Bibi, I'm so glad you're here. ~~ enforced calm ~~

Cristal jumps up to help Bibi remove the retainers.

Bibi gratefully offers her arms. She hates the shendi-fleckin things.

Cristal: No, it's not an emergency, at least I don't think so. But I fear I may have been indiscreet again. Two of the church ladies were here bringing refreshments...

Cristal points to them.

Bibi nods and stretches and waves her newly freed tentacles.

Cristal: And they started asking me all sorts of questions, and, well, I think they intend to try to convince Hajene Seruffin that the two of you should get married.

Bibi is ~~ amused ~~. She's in a cheerful mood from seeing Marvin, albeit briefly.

Cristal: A shotgun was mentioned, although I specifically asked them not to shoot him.

Bibi: Oh, dear. That's more of an idiom than a reality, Cristal.

Cristal is relieved.

Cristal: I tried to explain why high-order selyn workers don't normally marry, but the more I tried to explain, the more shocked they seemed to become.

Bibi: Hm.

Cristal: In particular, they asked me not to mention to anyone that you and Seruffin are sexual partners, and I agreed to that, of course.

Bibi: You told them that we are?

Cristal: Er, yes. I was explaining how fortunate the two of you are. Somehow that just made things worse, though. I do apologize, Hajene.

Bibi sighs.

Cristal: They also asked a lot of questions about colors and flowers that just mystified me. And at the end there was some talk of a quilt.

Bibi: Sounds like they're planning the wedding despite what you told them. Oh, dear.

Cristal: I was afraid that was what it was. I suppose that Hajene Seruffin, as a professional diplomat, would be the best person to straighten all this out?

Bibi: Who was it, Patience and Sunnee? I thought I zlinned them going away from here as I approached.

Cristal nods.

Bibi: I better talk to them before things get further out of hand.

Cristal: I gathered that they were going to find out when he was coming to town by suborning the telegrapher, and then ambush him. Hajene Seruffin, that is.

Bibi: I better warn him in case I don't head them off in time.

Bibi scratches her head with a few tentacles.

Bibi: Cristal, the whole issue of sexuality is pretty loaded out here. It's not at all straightforward.

Cristal: I knew that. But I didn't know just where the kinks in the flow were, unfortunately.

Bibi: People feel they have to derogate certain behaviors publicly, while privately they tend to have a live and let live attitude, especially as they get older. Unmarried people are supposed to be celibate, although they often aren't, of course.

Cristal: Ah. Of course they don't know that channels can't do that. Fortunately, we didn't get to the CDs.

Bibi: Good. Please don't tell them about that, or they'll figure out Seruffin isn't the only man I've had sex with here. While they may ignore an "affair", promiscuity is something they can't tolerate.

Cristal nods.

Cristal: Quite so.

Bibi: It would be better if they figured Seruffin and I were just friends, or maybe courting, but the cat's out of the bag now.

Cristal: "Promiscuous" as in "Having more sex partners than I do"?

Bibi: Promiscuous as in having more than one sex partner, mostly.

Cristal: Okay.

Bibi: So they figure Seruffin should [English] make an honest woman of me, eh?

Cristal: That phrase was used, yes. I got rather upset at it; I thought they were suggesting that you were dishonest.

Bibi: It's also an idiom, but it shows that they haven't lost respect for me, officially or unofficially.

Bibi stretches her tentacles again.

Cristal provides ~~ standard medium support ~~.

Bibi: Cristal, it's a somewhat delicate matter. If I'm seen as immoral, people will be unwilling to let me have anything to do with their children. That could be disastrous to our role here.

Cristal: Well, certainly. But you aren't -- immoral.

Bibi: Immoral is a matter of culture, really. We despise a lorsh, and so do they, but for opposite reasons.

Bibi thinks about it.

Bibi: I think it would be best if you try to avoid discussing my sexual activities or my relationship with Seruffin as much as possible, okay? If you can imply that I don't have any sexual activities, all the better.

Bibi wishes she'd had this discussion with Cristal somewhat earlier, but she didn't imagine anyone would bring the topic up.

Cristal: Absolutely. But I think, as you said, that the cat's out of the bag.

Bibi: Well, let's hope it dies down rather than flares up. I'll talk to Patience when she's next in. I think she donates late next week.

Cristal: Yes, I think so.

Bibi hopes the community feels positive enough about her that they will tolerate her alleged sexual relationship with Seruffin, especially if it's kept discreet.

Cristal hopes nothing bad happens in the next week and a half. That's a long time in a small community.

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