Katsura is sitting on the bed in a sleeping cubicle in the railcar, shivering and feeling depressed and discouraged.
Katsura and Nick came back early today. She was working on a head injury case and managed to reduce the swelling of the patient's brain enough that he regained consciousness, found himself in the grip of a Sime, and Genslammed her.
Katsura didn't go into convulsions this time, probably because she's been dosing herself with the Farris-safe anticonvulsant Nick brought along, but she was in pretty bad shape for a while.
Katsura was very grateful for Nick's skill in reviving her, but now that the physical effects have worn off, the implications of her weakness and oversensitivity are really getting her down. She is resolutely trying to ignore the fact that Nick's ad hoc methods, relying on his instinct as a Natural Donor, may not always be as effective as they were today. Someday, his lack of training might kill her, but he's all she has here and now.
Katsura wraps the blanket around herself more tightly. She can't seem to get warm, even by augmenting. It must be the shock. She wishes she had a Companion to stay with her and work on her, but Nick's the only First here, and she's sent him off to rest and recover from the hard work he had to do to get her well enough on her feet to be taken home in a wagon.
Nick has been using his time off not only to eat, but also to take another lesson from Norrin on how to cheat effectively at several of the most popular local gambling games. He has a feeling that the skill will stand him in good stead, as goods become scarcer, and as donors must be recruited to keep the renSimes in selyn and the channels out of entran. He's not above applying a bit of blackmail to get likely Gens to donate, although he has always stayed away from those who might cause trouble for his channel.
Nick is feeling much more useful here, where there is critical work to do and not enough people to do it. He has never quite gotten clear on the concept of being an off duty Donor, and so he collects an extra mug of soup and pokes his nose into Kat's compartment.
Katsura: Nick, you should be resting.
Nick: So should you. Here, I brought you some soup.
Katsura: Thanks. Just set it down here.
Nick sits next to Kat on the bunk, and offers the mug.
Nick: If I do that, it'll get cold. Just take a sip or two. It'll warm you up.
Nick's nager is quite ~~ warming ~~ in itself.
Katsura takes the mug, wrapping her tentacles around it. She obediently takes as little as can be considered a sip.
Nick: Your stomach isn't still queasy, is it?
Katsura shifts the mug to one hand and pulls the blanket around herself with the other.
Katsura: I can't seem to get warm.
Nick focuses on Kat, offering ~~ warmth ~~.
Katsura leans on his nager, not too heavily.
Nick: You shouldn't still be shocky like this.
Katsura: I've never been Genslammed before. I don't know what's normal for me.
Nick: I don't know what's normal, either. Neither Arat nor Snake had such trouble working with the relatively weak nagers of nondonors.
Katsura is ~~ humiliated ~~ by her weakness. She sets the mug on the floor.
Nick: Of course, Snake did get slammed by an out-of-control Donor trainee, and went into a coma for weeks.
Katsura: I really shouldn't be out here, with only you to protect me, with you learning on the job and winging it.
Nick winces at this reference to his lack of formal training.
Katsura: I apologize, Nick. You're certainly doing your best, and your best is very good. But I'm something of an unusual case, even for a Farris.
Nick: What Farris isn't an unusual case?
Nick: You're a lot closer to normal than what I'm used to: that's probably part of the problem.
Katsura: Normal? You mean not insane and exploitive and sadistic?
Nick winces again, telling himself that Kat never knew either Arat or Snake.
Katsura: I'm sorry, Nick. I keep offending you.
Katsura tries not to feel horrified at the idea of offending the only potential transfer partner she's got.
Nick: Well, Arat wasn't technically insane. Just politically ambitious and raised by a family that was only technically nonjunct.
Katsura thinks that a channel who alienates every Donor he meets is not behaving rationally.
Nick: Both he and Snake were a lot more, well, selfish than you are. I think that's a lot of the reason why they could handle out-Territory Gens easier, even more than the difference in sensitivity.
Nick: Kat, did you zlin that Gen starting to wake up?
Katsura: Yes. But I had to keep on, or I'd make things worse. And I didn't anticipate his reaction. I wonder if he had had some... Sime-related trauma. A lot of people out here seem to have, like Dr. Mendels and his poor sister.
Nick: If nothing else, he's lived all his life with the knowledge that any time he walked past a dark alley, a berserker could come out of it and attack him.
Katsura: I guess everybody out here is like that.
Katsura finds the thought very ~~ depressing ~~.
Nick: That's enough of a trauma to earn a severe reaction when a person wakes up suddenly and finds a Sime standing in grabbing range.
Katsura sighs, and feels more incompetent.
Katsura: I should learn to be aware of that sort of thing. But neurological work like that takes such concentration....
Katsura shakes her head.
Nick: Arat or Snake would have repaired enough of the damage to ensure that man would survive, and then stopped before he regained consciousness. He'd have had a headache for a week or so, but they'd have been safely out of lateral contact before he was in any position to slam them.
Nick: Kat, if you want to save the most lives possible, not to mention stay healthy, you're going to have to work more defensively.
Katsura: I should have anticipated the possibility of a slam. And it's a fine line, doing just enough, instead of the whole job.
Katsura wraps her arms around herself, and begins to rock back and forth.
Nick bends over to pick up the soup mug, then puts it firmly in Kat's hands, softening the implied censure by placing a ~~ comforting ~~ arm around her shoulders.
Katsura takes the mug, and leans against Nick.
Nick: Neither Arat nor Snake was a particularly talented channel, by Farris standards. They didn't get the training they ought to have, and they had other troubles as well. However, they were both very effective channels in this kind of situation, because they were very good at drawing that fine line.
Katsura nods, thinking ~~ bitterly ~~ that it's a lot easier if you don't care about the patients, or your own dedication to do the best you can. She feels tears rising and grits her teeth.
Nick sees Kat's suspicious blinking, and squeezes her shoulders.
Nick: You have nothing to be ashamed about. You're a better person than either Arat or Snake, and this is a completely new situation for you. Have you even worked at a border Sime Center, before?
Katsura shakes her head.
Katsura: It's hard, Nick. All this fear and hostility and suspicion I have to zlin from the people I want to help, and those shenned retainers, on top of all the expected pain and distress from the patients. And I can't rely on myself. My own body is betraying me.
Katsura pounds the mattress with a fist.
Katsura: I hate being so weak. I hate being unreliable. I hate making all this trouble for you.
Nick: It is hard. Just remember that no channel's body could possibly stand up to treating every injured Gen out there, even if they'd let you, which they wouldn't.
Katsura: I just feel so incompetent. I should be managing better, but I just can't. Back in Nivet, I had things arranged to take best advantage of my strengths and avoid my weaknesses, but here...
Katsura grits her teeth again to avoid crying with frustration and misery.
Nick gives a very lower-class, Wild Gen type of snort.
Nick: How did it take you in your last position to figure out how to arrange things so you could work effectively?
Katsura: Not long at all. I went into pediatrics not only because the sensitivity gives me exceptional skill at it, but also because kids can't affect me as adults can. I'd had experience, I knew what to expect...
Katsura doesn't mention that she had Companions with whom she had had a great deal of experience working. She doesn't want to zlin Nick's wince again.
Nick: And how long did it take you to get that experience? I expect it was a bit longer than three days, right?
Katsura: I didn't have to do it on my own. I was in training, I had supervisors, experienced colleagues to consult, things were already set up to work smoothly and effectively.
Katsura: I'm making your case for you, aren't I?
Nick's nager is filled with ~~ Gen optimism ~~.
Katsura: But the fact remains that most of my Farris naztehrhai could do a better job of it than I have. They wouldn't be collapsing all the time.
Katsura turns to Nick.
Katsura: Sectuib wants me to succeed him, and I can't even handle this assignment.
Nick blinks with ~~ astonishment ~~, since he wasn't party to this piece of House business.
Katsura is ~~ embarrassed ~~.
Nick: No one told me that you were the Heir. Although I suppose there's no particular reason why they would: it's House business.
Nick's previous contact with a Householding was Naros, where everybody's business was widely disseminated.
Katsura: Well, if Sectuib lives to Rimona's age, there's decades to go. Dozens of better candidates could change over in that time.
Nick: I guess that's why you were put in charge of this? To give you practice in handling chaos?
Katsura: Well, it was supposed to be well-planned, organized chaos, an exercise.
Katsura tries a weak smile.
Nick: Chaos by definition is not organized. But tell me, when we were sent here instead, was there any indication that they planned on replacing you?
Katsura: No, but all we've had is a few telegrams. And Sectuib may be figuring on seeing whether I can sink or swim. He was out-T recently, so he may be regarding this as a test of just how much I can take.
Katsura wonders whether he'll send a Companion more experienced with Farrises, and with her own problems.
Nick: From what D'zoll said, your esteemed Sectuib had his own difficulties dealing with the conditions out-Territory.
Katsura closes her mouth on any comment about how Sectuib also had Lusinka and Shorsh, with their decades of experience, a great deal of it with him, to help him.
Nick: And he was raised before Unity. I expect he was specifically trained how to deal with "Wild Gens", using captives who had to put up with his mistakes.
Katsura shrugs, without pulling away from Nick's comforting arm.
Nick: And he didn't have to worry about causing an interterritorial incident if he got it wrong.
Katsura: Don't give me more things to worry about, Nick.
Nick: I was trying to do the opposite. You've been muddling through quite well, actually.
Katsura: The army people have been surprisingly easy to cooperate with, as long as we do so at their arms' length.
Nick: They don't have any more experience dealing with channels than you do with them.
Katsura: Our Simes haven't found any more survivors today. I suspect the search will be called off soon. Then we'll have to see whether they want more help from us or not.
Nick: There will be plenty of injuries as people try to salvage what they can, and disease and exposure among the refugees. The army isn't planning to leave any time soon.
Katsura: Yes. They have to keep order here, control looting, organize temporary shelter and food.
Nick: If Dr. Mendels has anything to do with it, we'll be staying for a while longer. I have to wonder if he has a bit of Donor talent, under all that cultural conditioning.
Katsura: I think it's both intellectual curiosity and his dedication as a healer, eager to learn new methods. I haven't zlinned the least inclination to selyur nager from him.
Nick: He's still a fortunate ally.
Katsura: Yes. And everything we do for his patients makes him a better one. He's really pleased at the work we're doing on the amputees and surgical patients.
Nick: Yes. It's helping more patients than either of you could help alone.
Katsura spreads her hands.
Katsura: I think he'd send changeovers to us. I hope some will come here.
Nick: We could also use some more donors, with all the selyn the renSimes are using.
Katsura: We may need more eventually, if we stay here long enough. If we can arrange something with the Tecton, I think it would be good to set up a real effort to export selyn from here. People can use the money.
Katsura hasn't talked to Ezeekel.
Katsura: And I'd really like to get Norrin out of here. He could cause some disastrous trouble.
Nick: Yes. What are the chances of sending him back with whatever supply train comes, when they get around to sending one?
Katsura: If there's a channel or Donor, or even some reliable renSimes... It's not all that far to the border.
Nick: It's plenty far enough, if you're trying to make a run for it.
Katsura: I suppose. The more I see of him, the worse I think his prospects for disjunction are. The sooner the disjunction specialists can start working with him, the better.
Nick: He did kill several times. That's got to do a lot of psychological damage.
Katsura: Yes, but he isn't showing any guilt or remorse. And he never tried to head for the border. This isn't my area of expertise, but those are bad signs.
Nick: He wasn't raised to have much sense of social responsibility, apart from looking after his own interests.
Katsura: He'll have to accept responsibility for his past and future actions, and make some strong, determined decisions about the future, if he's to have a hope of disjuncting,
Nick: I don't think he ever really believed in a future, even before he changed over.
Katsura shakes her head.
Katsura: When I first encountered him, I assumed he was mainly afraid of being caught and murdered, ashamed and terrified and despairing. I expected a suicide attempt, eventually, but as you can see, he's just settled in, ignoring the past, and none too concerned about the future, once we told him we'd look after him.
Nick: The closest he ever got to learning a way to make a living before he changed over was learning how to cheat at gambling. He's also a fair pickpocket and petty thief.
Katsura: Well, Simes can change a lot in First Year, and he'll have to make some drastic changes or he'll be dead by this time next year.
Nick: Either way, it won't be your fault, or your credit.
Katsura: Of course. But as he is now, he can't be relied upon. His mere presence could cause us a lot of difficulties, if it becomes known that we're harboring a junct. And he can't be counted on to stay unobtrusive.
Nick: That's very true. Although it's also possible that the locals won't distinguish between junct and nonjunct. What they mostly care about is whether or not he's going to kill somebody, and we can prevent that, with care.
Katsura: We have to make sure someone is watching him at all times, when we have more productive things to do.
Nick: I know. Let's hope we can get him off our hands quickly.
Nick: In the mean time, how about drinking that soup? You could use the nutrition, and the warmth.
Katsura: It's no longer very warm, but you're right. I think I'll require your help, though.
Nick obligingly summons a bit of ~~ appetite ~~, despite the full meal he finished not long ago.
Katsura forces herself to drink the soup, trying not to gag.
Nick deftly soothes the resulting nausea.
Katsura puts the mug on the floor, and shudders.
Katsura: I'm still feeling pretty shaky, and more tired than I ought to be.
Nick: When was the last time you got a good sleep?
Katsura: I got almost three hours last night.
Katsura relates the quantity not the quality.
Nick notes the evasion.
Nick: Were you having nightmares?
Katsura: Just not sleeping soundly. Waking up briefly a lot.
Katsura is still pre-turnover, so attributes the poor sleep to anxiety and stress.
Nick suspects that Kat might not be telling the whole truth, but accepts the possible prevarication. He mentally kicks himself for letting Kat sleep unsupervised in the first place.
Nick decides that he's out of practice managing a channel in a disaster area, and resolves to do better.
Nick: Look, why don't you try to take a nap now, while I'm here?
Katsura: You should be sleeping too. It's late for you.
Katsura is reluctant to impose on Nick by asking him to sleep with her.
Nick: I slept pretty well last night. I can stay up for a bit longer.
Katsura: No, Nick, I'm already working you too hard. I don't want to take more of your time.
Katsura thinks ~~ ruefully ~~ that her Iron Farris act is unconvincing, after the earlier part of the conversation.
Nick: I'll have a much easier time of it tomorrow if you get enough sleep.
Katsura feels even ~~ guiltier ~~ at how her weakness is making more work for her Donor.
Nick decides to take full advantage of the guilt trip.
Nick: Now, why don't you lie down, and I'll get comfortable and catnap a bit?
Katsura: I don't want you to have to get up again later and go out in the cold.
Nick: I'll survive it.
Katsura: Nick... will you sleep with me? Just sleep.
Katsura knows from D'zoll about Nick's reaction to his father's notoriously indiscriminate sexuality, and wants to make clear what she's asking.
Katsura: I usually don't require help like this except when I'm in need and having a hard time of it.
Nick looks at the narrow bunk, barely big enough to hold one person with Gen bulk. He's slept in more crowded situations, although not recently, and as a Sime, even at best Kat will be up in a few hours.
Nick: All right.
Nick starts taking off his heavy sweater.
Katsura quickly removes her own outer clothing and gets under the covers.
Nick scoots in next to her, having a little difficulty folding his longer legs into the limited space. He hasn't been this close to a woman in a long time, but is tired enough not to rise to the occasion. Much.
Katsura arranges the blankets to make sure her Gen is well insulated.
Nick yawns, letting himself feel the hard work he put in over the past twelve or so hours.
Katsura relaxes, absorbing Nick's sleepiness.
Nick snuggles into a comfortable position, feeling the warmth of the Sime body radiating next to him.
Katsura is comforted by the steady rhythm of selyn production in his beautiful nager.
Nick lets himself drop off to sleep, secure in the knowledge that his nager will take Kat into dreamland with him.