A Walk in the Woods: Episode 6

Katsura rests comfortably, snuggled up to Nick, in the quinzhee Pinecone taught them how to make. It's a sort of snow house built by piling up and packing down snow then hollowing it out to make a snug, insulated shelter.

Nick is feeling warmer, now that they have shelter and a chance to eat.

Katsura is glad there's better shelter for her Gen tonight, as well as for herself and the new Sime.

Pinecone is proud that he was able to help his new friends. It amazed him how quickly the Snake woman was able to make the quinzhee with him telling her how it's done. He figures that he'll be able to be just as strong and fast when he gets used to his new body, but at the moment he seems to be slower and clumsier than usual.

Pinecone: Lady Cat?

Katsura: Yes, Pinecone?

Pinecone: Our people, when we are waiting for sleep at night, tell stories. Do the Sime People do so also?

Katsura: Some people do. Would you like to tell us some of the stories the Free People tell?

Nick settles down between the Simes to listen with ~~ interest ~~.

Pinecone: Very well. Many of our stories are about the wolf, because we count the wolves as Free People also. We say that a woman was captured by the Crow People in a raid and carried far away to their country. With the help of a Crow woman, she escaped their country, but she had no food to bring with her.

Nick's stomach adds some unintended verisimilitude by growling in protest at the Donor biscuit he just ate.

Pinecone: She walked and walked, but in the end she lay down under a tree to die. A wolf came to her and lay down beside her. With nothing else to do, she told her story to the wolf. The next morning, the wolf was gone, but there was freshly killed meat instead.

Nick hopes Kat is exercising sufficient control to avoid imposing the in-T prejudice against meat on the ambient.

Katsura knows that wolves and dogs and out-T Gens eat meat, so doesn't react much on a personal level.

Pinecone: She ate the meat and revived somewhat, but she still could not walk very well. So when the wolf returned, she leaned her hand on his back and he walked with her back to our country. They traveled together for many days and the wolf continued to bring her food.

Nick: This is why your people view wolves as people?

Pinecone is now zlinning well enough to realize that mentioning meat upsets Lady Cat, though not why.

Pinecone: Perhaps. But I think it is because wolves also live free lives. No creature can tell a wolf pack what to do, is it not so?

Nick: That is true -- although wolf pack does obey its leader.

Pinecone: So do the Free People obey the peace leader, or the war leader in war. But we have no wars now.

Pinecone: [thoughtfully] A good leader need not give many orders, though.

Nick: How do the Free People select their peace and war leaders?

Pinecone: I do not know, Nick. The Elders choose them in council, but I am not a hunter yet, so I do not even sit on the outside of the council floor.

Katsura notes that Pinecone hasn't fully internalized the fact that he can never go home and be a hunter, or sit on the outside of the council floor.

Pinecone in fact assumes that other cultures are like his, and that he'll become a hunter and eventually part of the inner council of the Snake People.

Nick: What do you know about the local Snake People?

Pinecone: Why, nothing. As I told you, they are forbidden in the Free People's land.

Nick: How do your people enforce that ban?

Pinecone shrugs awkwardly.

Pinecone: The Elders take care of it. When we return from the Vision Quest and the Hunter's Quest, then we are initiated and told these things, Nick.

Katsura: So you didn't know that you might become a Sime?

Pinecone: We know that some do not return from the Quests. They may join the Snake People or the Other People.

Nick: Is that part of what the Quests are about? Determining which People you will join?

Pinecone: I think so, yes.

Pinecone is too polite not to answer questions from elders, but is ~~ impatient ~~ to finish the story.

Katsura zlins the impatience.

Katsura: Did the woman and the wolf get back to the Free People's country?

Pinecone: They did, but the wolf would not come into the camp because it was still wild. So she lived in her own hut outside the camp with the wolf, until one day the camp dogs drove it away. When the woman joined the Other People, the wolf would return to the camp site for many years after.

Pinecone is silent for a time, and then says:

Pinecone: That is the end of the story, my friends.

Katsura now understands that joining the Other People is a euphemism for dying.

Pinecone knows he's not a very good storyteller, but at least he knows the story -- on some winter's nights it might be told as many as ten times.

Nick: It is a good story.

Katsura nods and projects a little ~~ approval ~~.

Pinecone smiles.

Pinecone: In that case, you must tell the next story, Nick!

Nick: A story.

Nick considers ~~ thoughtfully ~~, trying to figure out what stories he knows that are both appropriate for polite company and can be couched in terms that Pinecone might feel comfortable with.

Nick: There was once a serpent who considered herself to be very wise, although most people saw only her venom.

Pinecone's eyes widen. This tale is entirely new to him!

Nick: She had a dream of making a People of her own from among those animals who for one reason or another were not welcome among their own kind.

Katsura is charmed that Nick is making a fable of his experiences with Wise Snake Farris.

Nick: For a while, her plans went well. She was truly starting to build a People, a new People who were better off than they had been before.

Nick's nager has a tinge of ~~ nostalgia ~~.

Nick: But the serpent, for all her wisdom, was very young, and she had made a miscalculation. She had built a home for her People in a place that already had People of its own. Those People saw only that those who had once looked to them for leadership were following another, and they drove the serpent out.

Nick stares ~~ thoughtfully ~~ into the darkness.

Nick: So I suppose the serpent wasn't as wise as she and her followers thought, was she?

Pinecone: I don't know, Nick. It's not a story I've ever heard before.

Nick: No, I don't suppose you would have.

Katsura isn't sure what to think of this very idealized description of Wise Snake's early career. She noticed that Nick didn't put himself into the story.

Pinecone: What happened to the New People?

Nick: Most of them went back to their old people, I expect. Some joined the Other People.

Pinecone nods.

Pinecone: That must have been a difficult time.

Nick: It was.

Nick ought to know, since he was there.

Katsura squeezes Nick's hand, with ~~ compassion ~~.

Pinecone zlins Nick's feelings, but doesn't know what to do about them.

Pinecone: Lady Cat, can you tell us a tale as well?

Katsura tries to think of how to tell a story about the Householdings, or how they were founded, to a young man who knows nothing about the junct times. He didn't know, until she told him, about the Kill.

Katsura: Long ago, nobody knew that there were channels. Everybody thought that Simes had to kill every month or die. There was a boy who changed over, as you did today, but because there were no channels to help him, he had to kill to survive.

Katsura follows the Free People custom of not speaking the names of the dead.

Katsura: He had a good friend, a girl, and they planned to marry when she grew up and became a Sime too. He waited, year after year, killing a Gen every month, but she didn't become a Sime.

Pinecone nods. The style of story is familiar even if the details aren't.

Katsura: One day he came home from a short journey, and his friend was nowhere to be found. He asked many people, and they told him to ask his father. He went to his father, who told him that she had turned into a Gen, so she had been sold to be killed by Simes elsewhere.

Nick looks at Pinecone to see how he's taking the harsh realities of this story.

Pinecone: We have stories about a father who sends the girl that his son wants to marry far away, so that he cannot marry her. But not to be killed! ~~ appalled ~~

Katsura: Those were very bad times. The Simes tried to believe that Gens weren't really people, so it was not wrong to kill them, but it's hard to believe that of someone you know. ~~ sadness ~~ comfort ~~

Pinecone nods.

Pinecone: So they hunted the Gens like game?

Katsura: Some did. Some farmed them like cattle, too. This young man didn't want his friend to be killed so he tracked her down, and bought her back and took her to the border so she could live safely with the other Gens. But the warriors of the Sime people and the Gen people were fighting at the border, and he was injured, and desperately needed selyn.

Pinecone's selyn system ~~ resonates ~~ with the need displayed in Kat's field, even though he's still well before turnover.

Katsura: His friend couldn't bear for him to die, so she decided to give her life for his.

Pinecone: ~~ sympathy ~~

Katsura: He refused to take it, so she waited until he was so weak and close to death that he was unconscious, and then she took his arms and waited to die.

Nick can't help but ~~ respond ~~ to this story as a Companion, although he's careful to keep from overwhelming the Simes.

Katsura: Because she loved him so much, and was willing to die for him, and because he was a channel, although no one knew what a channel was, he took her selyn and she didn't die, and he lived and recovered too.

Katsura can zlin that Pinecone is struggling to remain awake, despite his interest in the story. It's been a very long, very hard day for him.

Katsura: So the young man and young woman stayed together, and the man learned how to give transfer to other Simes, and soon there were many Simes who could live without killing, and Gens who could live with them.

Katsura caresses Pinecone's forehead.

Katsura: And now no Simes have to kill to live, and you're one of those Simes who will never kill. ~~ comfort ~~ safety ~~ approval ~~

Katsura: Go to sleep, now.

Nick ~~ reinforces ~~ Kat's suggestion.

Pinecone falls asleep.

Nick looks at Kat.

Nick: He's going to have a hard time, adjusting to life as a Sime.

Nick has switched to Simelan, just in case Pinecone wakes up.

Katsura: I know. The flexibility of First Year goes only so far.

Nick: His people seem to be very isolated, and to keep their children ignorant of adult realities.

Katsura: At least he doesn't have the trauma of a kill to cope with, or have to go through disjunction.

Katsura shakes her head.

Katsura: Poor Norrin.

Nick: Yes.

Nick reflects that even his own situation appears manageable in comparison.

Katsura: I wonder how his people manage to keep their children so ignorant. There must be changeovers they don't catch and... dispatch in time. Don't the adults in the mainstream out-T culture expect their children to come to them to be shot?

Nick: Yes. It's also a parent's responsibility to make sure that every child of that age is present and accounted for at least two or three times a day, so the alarm can be raised in time if necessary.

Katsura: The poor kids. The poor parents. Years of that...

Pinecone shifts in his sleep, responding unconsciously to the ~~ distress ~~ in the ambient.

Nick offers ~~ reassurance ~~.

Pinecone ~~ relaxes ~~.

Nick: Yes. And they can't even relax once their immediate household is safe -- there are always the neighbors' kids.

Katsura: And even when there's an alternative, they won't take it.

Katsura was disappointed that no one brought a child in changeover to them in Cottonwood City.

Nick: Sometimes. Many truly believe that being Sime is a fate worse than a quick death. Even many children believe that. And when being Sime means killing, I can't be sure they're wrong.

Katsura nods.

Katsura: There's a long way to go, to true Unity.

Katsura caresses Nick's hand with a tentacle.

Nick: Yes. If we can manage not to lose our way.

Nick ~~ enjoys ~~ the caress.

Katsura: I should do an outfunction. And work on you a little, not that you really need it....

Nick chuckles.

Nick: A typical channel, inventing excuses to get your laterals on your Donor.

Nick doesn't mind, however. He reaches for Kat's hands.

Katsura takes Nick's arms in a four-point contact, leans against his chest and invites deeper nageric engagement.

Nick lets his nager do what it does best: blend with a channel's.

Katsura sighs with pleasure, then performs the outfunction. She projects some need, and begins to work on the muscles Nick strained in his fall, which are starting to get a bit stiff.

Nick: Ah, that feels better. Thank you. How is your selyn supply holding out?

Katsura: Not too bad. I've been trying not to augment too much, but I gave Pinecone 2364 dynopters.

Nick: We'll have to find some donors for you before long, then.

Katsura: I can hold out pretty well, I think, now that we know how to build a quinzhee. I won't have to augment as much to keep us warm at night.

Nick: Still, it's better to have selyn and not use it than vice versa.

Katsura: Yes. But if I have to, I can short myself. I've sworn not to burn you, Nick.

Katsura unconsciously tightens her grip at the thought of being shorted.

Nick is, fortunately, used to bearing the brunt of Sime strength.

Nick: Kat, when the time comes, we'll do what's necessary for both of us to survive.

Katsura: You can control, if you want. I can keep myself from overpowering you.

Nick: I'm sure you can. It might cause problems for you later on, though. Not physically, but politically.

Katsura: Politically? Nick, if I burn you, they'll really think I'm a rogue.

Nick: You already are. When you defied a Controller's arrest warrant, you cut yourself off from the Tecton. Perhaps Sectuib Hiram can cushion the blow, but there will be plenty of non-Householders who will never trust you again.

Nick speaks from painful experience.

Katsura: It wasn't a lawful warrant. He wasn't within his rights. Besides, it's too late to put you back.

Nick chuckles.

Nick: That's true enough.

Katsura: I like you better when you aren't a zombie. Although I was charmed by the way you tried to give me support every time I touched you, even though you weren't really conscious.

Nick: Some reflexes are hard to overcome, I expect.

Nick winks.

Katsura admires his beard in the candle light.

Nick: Seriously, though, you're going to face a lot of criticism, when we manage to get back to civilization. There will be a lot of people who will want to add you to my list of victims.

Katsura: It's too late to talk me out of doing my duty as a channel and Householder to protect the Gen assigned me by my Controller and Sectuib.

Nick: And so you'll be one more Farris channel ruined by a rogue Gen who's spent too much time among the Wild Gens, continuing the tradition started by Klyd Farris and Hugh Valleroy.

Katsura: Oh, Klyd brought it all on himself. And it was Hugh who was ruined by it, not Klyd. Besides, we aren't matchmates. Far from it, alas.

Nick is ~~ curious ~~.

Katsura: Hm?

Nick: Why do you say Klyd brought it all on himself? What I was always told, is that Hugh Valleroy was never willing or able to adjust to life as a Companion.

Katsura: Klyd was never willing to see Hugh as anything but a Companion who wouldn't absolutely conform to his desires. Hugh had a life before he met Klyd. He had a right to live it as something other than Klyd's servant.

Nick was very strictly trained by two semi-sane Farris channels that his job as a Donor was to be a servant who absolutely conformed to his channel's desires.

Nick: How could he have a separate life and still look after a channel? There aren't that many hours in the day.

Katsura: Not completely separate, but not completely consumed, either. Look at the Sat'htine Companions. Most have families, and time to spend with them, time to do other things they like. Hugh wasn't the only Zeor Companion who could match Klyd, but Klyd wanted as much of him as he could demand.

Nick: It's natural enough for a channel to have a strong preference in Companions.

Katsura: Yes, but a channel should also respect his Companions as independent human beings, with their own preferences.

Nick gives a wry smile.

Nick: Some channels are better at that than others.

Katsura: Decent people try not to be selfish.

Nick: And some conditions don't give even decent people the opportunity to be otherwise.

Nick has never blamed Snake or Arat for being so clingy with him, knowing how rarely they saw compatible Donors before his arrival on the scene.

Katsura: That's true. I needed your help for long hours in Cottonwood City, but I tried to give you as much time for yourself as I could. But that's no way to live for years, if things can be set up differently.

Nick: I envy Sat'htine, a bit, that it's been able to keep that balance.

Katsura: It didn't just happen. We work at it. We try to make sure most of our Farrises come from Gen/Gen pairs, so we aren't short of Farris-rated Companions.

Nick raises an eyebrow.

Nick: However do you manage that?

Katsura: Well, if a Gen woman wants to try for a Farris child, we recommend she find a Farris Gen father for it. And pregnancy is so risky for female Farris channels that we don't encourage them to have many children any more.

Nick: And male Farris channels?

Katsura: We recommend non-Farris Gen women for them. But really, this is just biology. If a couple of Farrises want to live together and raise children, the kids don't have to be the children of both of them.

Nick: It's a strong instinct to fight, though.

Katsura: Less so in Householdings than outside, I think.

Nick: Perhaps.

Katsura: There's also another instinct to work with -- the tendency of young women to want to have children with the most prestigious male.

Nick's face twists in ~~ revulsion ~~.

Nick: That can be dangerous in itself.

Nick is, after all, the product of that principle carried to extreme.

Katsura: Outside it can be a real disaster, but in a Householding children have everything they need, and plenty of people to take care of them and love them.

Nick: That solves a lot of the problems, I grant.

Katsura: Sorry, Nick. I wasn't thinking of your own situation. It must have been a shock when you found out your ancestry.

Nick: It was. Rather.

Katsura has the tact not to expand on how well Nick, as a very high order non-Farris male Gen, would fit into Sat'htine's preferred mating systems.

Nick: At least it means that the Tecton isn't after my offspring. They'd rather get Riyyh's genes from someone more tractable.

Katsura doesn't think that follows, considering Nick's exceptionally high rating, much higher than Riyyh's, but isn't going to argue.

Katsura: They're your genes. Up to you what you do with them. And your potential partners, of course.

Nick wonders what sort of partners would be interested in a rogue Donor of dubious Tecton standing and even more dubious bloodlines.

Katsura is not going to suggest he ask Rimona if she has anyone in mind she'd like to breed him to.

Nick is trying hard to set aside any speculations on his future until he discovers whether he's going to have one.

Katsura: I liked the story you told Pinecone.

Nick gives a ~~ bittersweet ~~ smile.

Nick: Thank you. It was true, you know. At least for a while.

Katsura: At first she was very idealistic, wasn't she? Or she seemed like it, anyway.

Nick: She was. She was determined to reach the people who fell through the Tecton's cracks, because they couldn't or wouldn't trust the authorities enough to turn to them for help.

Katsura nods.

Nick: Oh, that wasn't all she wanted. She had personal ambitions, as well. But back then, she was barely out of First Year, and she thought she could earn acceptance. For all of us.

Nick remembers Snake's other Donor Rapol, Bum-Bum the junct channel, and others.

Katsura: Shorsh says it all seems like a Householding founding story gone awry, forty years too late.

Nick: Possibly. I don't know what Snake would have built, if something hadn't scared her so much that she bolted.

Katsura doubts that a person like Snake would have made a very good Sectuib, but in the junct world, she still would have saved a lot of lives.

Nick: It's irrelevant, now. She'll never be allowed to build anything, ever again.

Katsura nods, and strokes Nick's cheek, enjoying the texture of his beard. ~~ comfort ~~.

Nick also takes ~~ comfort ~~ in the closeness. He's now almost warm enough to sleep.

Katsura blows out the candle, pulls the blankets more closely around Nick, and snuggles closer to him. She zlins Pinecone, who is warm and deeply asleep, pressed against Nick's back.

Nick wraps an arm around Kat, and gradually drifts off to ~~ sleep ~~.

Katsura brushes Nick's lips with her own, taking pleasure from the nageric contact, and lets his sleeping nager draw her down. She wishes there were something she could do to convince him that he has a future with Sat'htine, but he seems determined to see the darkest sides of his situation, and refuses to hope.

Katsura is just as determinedly refusing to believe that Sectuib can't protect her from the consequences of engineering the jailbreak. It's an effort, but she's keeping it up. If they both despair, they're lost.

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