Pinecone has gone into Virla's back yard, not being used to houses with a ceiling overhead. He zlins the metal of the fence, and doubts it would do much to keep out the Egg People if they decided to break into Lady Virla's house to get him, but both Lady Virla and Lady Cat have assured him it won't happen.
Nick and Kat have joined Virla in the parlor for tea, not having anything else to do.
Katsura is feeling human again, after a bath. She ended up hacking off her hair to a sort of poodle cut, rather than try to get the mats out.
Nick's beard survived, since Virla didn't have a razor handy.
Katsura is wearing some oversized clothes borrowed from Virla. What a pleasure to be clean. She plans to do the group's (and Virla's) laundry later.
Pinecone takes the tool -- so many new tools the Egg People have! -- and piles the snow into heaps so that the stone parts of the yard are exposed.
Nick is worried about a different kind of work, but after Kat's reaction to his gambling scheme, he's a bit concerned about how to implement something acceptable to her.
Katsura is feeling more relaxed and safe than she has in a very long time. She's savoring the feeling, and refusing to think about her entran, which is barely suppressed.
Virla passes the plate of goodies around again -- different ones from last time, but still Sime-safe according to her Church of Unity recipe book.
Katsura takes a small cookie -- oatmeal with raisins, one of her favorites --, sips her tea, basks in Nick's beautiful rising field and sighs with ~~ contentment ~~.
Nick has not been so well fed recently that he has any inclination to refuse the treat.
Virla: Kat, do you feel up to answering some questions about in-Territory life? I had hoped to ask Hajene D'zoll before he left, but it just wasn't practical.
Virla remembers the time she went down to the Geggs' barn and found herself in the middle of a family quarrel of some sort.
Katsura: Oh, of course I can.
Katsura leans forward and has another nibble and sip.
Virla: Thank you so much. I've been reading the literature from the Church of Unity people, but of course they assume that I know all sorts of things that I really don't.
Katsura nods. She had a glimpse of the profound ignorance of out-T Gens about Simes and Nivet in Cottonwood City.
Nick makes a mental note that Virla, for all her hospitality and apparent comfort with Simes, is not to be trusted with the ambient or his channel unsupervised.
Virla: ~~ intense curiosity ~~
Nick delicately blocks the ~~ intensity ~~ while leaving the ~~ curiosity ~~ clearly zlinnable.
Virla: Well, one thing that's really none of my business, I guess, but I'm just really curious about it. If you're a channel or a Donor, you had to be born that way. But does that mean you have to work as a channel or Donor, I mean, if there's something else you want to do with your life?
Katsura: There aren't enough channels -- that's one reason we can't send enough to work out-T -- so almost all of us feel an obligation to do the work, even if the Tecton didn't require it of us. Also, it would be a shame not to use a rare talent that does so much good and provides so much satisfaction.
Katsura isn't mouthing Tecton or Householding propaganda, she really feels that changing over as a channel is a privilege as well as an obligation.
Nick: That said -- it isn't easy, in Simeland, to have the talent to be a Donor and not to use it.
Nick: Most Gens with talent who decide not to train as Donors end up in Gen Territory eventually.
Virla: I know there are some channels that aren't allowed to, well, channel, either, like that nice Hajene Marvin.
Katsura: Yes, it's too bad that they aren't allowed to do transfers or donations, but they are allowed some other channel's functions, and the work they do is very important.
Virla: It certainly is. Why, it would be terrible to have to send all those children on the train to a strange country by themselves.
Nick spent enough time in Gen Territory not to be surprised at Virla's assumption that Marvin's escort duty is anything but a minor sideline to his main job of shuttling selyn in-Territory.
Katsura: Indeed. The mule channels like Marvin also carry selyn in-T from out-T Sime Centers, and some transport selyn from place to place in-T as well, to even out supply and demand.
Virla: I see. I guess that's important too. It's a pity you don't have some kind of tanks you can carry selyn around in instead of having to use channels for it, isn't it.
Nick tries to imagine a giant artificial channel on a rail car.
Katsura can't imagine selyn outside a human being -- when it plumes away from a wound it quickly dissipates and vanishes.
Katsura: I don't think there's any way to do that.
Virla: Well, maybe one of your clever people will think of something one day.
Nick sincerely hopes not; somehow, the concept is vaguely nauseating.
Virla: Let me refresh those goodies.
Virla steps out with the plate, intending to remove the uneaten goodie types and add new ones.
Katsura pats Nick's hand. She hopes he'll gain back some of the weight he's lost in the past few weeks, now that they are in a safe place, with plenty to eat.
Nick is certainly putting in a decent effort in that direction.
Virla returns with a new plate and a pitcher of tea.
Virla: This isn't trin, I'm sorry to say, but it is rose-hip. Perhaps you'll enjoy it, Kat, Nick?
Virla takes the answer for granted and goes back briefly for three teacups.
Nick: You're not allergic, are you, Kat?
Katsura: No. Just tulips and watermelon!
Virla: No watermelon here. And the tulips are only in the back.
Katsura: And neither anywhere this time of year.
Nick: That's one advantage to doing one's traveling during the worst of the weather.
Virla fixes Nick with her gimlet-like eye.
Virla: I hardly think that counts as an actual advantage, Nick.
Virla: So what's it like living in a Householding, Kat? Is it very different from the rest of Sime Territory any more?
Katsura: I suppose it's something like having a big family, or maybe growing up in a village where everybody knows each other and looks out for each other. But we channels and Donors often work outside the Householding, so we see both.
Virla: Well, we all know each other here in the village, too. But aren't there a lot of, well, conflicts and backbiting and jealousy and ill-will among the different families and groups of people?
Katsura: There can be some, but just as in a village, people expect to live their lives there, so they don't want to develop a bad reputation. And Householding members work more closely together, and are united by the Householding's ideals, so feuds and ill-will are regarded as bad behavior.
Nick: Traditionally, I believe Householders have relied on the Sectuib as the arbitrator, when problems arise.
Nick looks at Kat to make sure he got it right.
Virla: I wish that we had someone like that here. Unfortunately -- But you don't want to know about my troubles.
Katsura: Of course we do, Virla, especially if we can help you with them.
Virla waves deprecatingly.
Virla: Oh well, there's nothing you can reasonably do. The Church of Unity will always be a minority here, and only a few people even accept tolerance as a virtue in principle, never mind actually practicing it.
Nick: Has your church been having difficulties?
Katsura doesn't know much about religions, even the few that are practiced in-T.
Virla: Well, they preach against us, even though we don't harm anyone and don't even try to convert people. I don't think we'll see a pogrom here or anything like that -- Reverend Kallan is too clever for that. Though some of the smaller churches are another story.
Virla: Still, they don't have the support, and they bicker amongst one another all the time anyway. And it's not as if my father or my sisters are particularly fanatical. I do wish they at least would "live and let live."
Nick: They're trying to get you to return to their faith?
Virla: Of course. Telling me I'm going to hell and all that.
Virla's tone is casual.
Nick is ~~ sympathetic ~~, having experienced more than his share of relatives with plans for his future.
Virla: But insinuating that I'm crazy because I don't believe Simes have no souls, that goes too far for family, as far as I'm concerned.
Nick: My grandmother was more direct: she preferred direct action to threats of damnation.
Nick: She had rather... old-fashioned views. She figured that since she bred and raised me, as she put it, I owed her my adult life as well as my childhood obedience.
Virla: Pish. How absurd.
Nick: Perhaps to you and me, but she took it very seriously.
Virla looks at Nick with ~~ sympathy ~~.
Katsura has heard a bit about Nick's recent ancestry, none of it good, and not much of it from him. She listens with interest.
Nick: The only way I found to get away from her was to go where she couldn't follow. And that only lasted as long as I stayed there.
Virla: Is she still on your trail?
Nick: I don't know.
Virla: Well, I'm sure you're safe here from her at least.
Nick hopes that the spate of publicity surrounding his and Kat's escape from Firlith won't reignite the hunt.
Katsura strokes Nick's hand comfortingly.
Belle has calmed down quite a bit while walking across town from Grandpa Henree's saloon.
Belle has formulated a plan, of sorts, and unless Aunt Virla has a better idea, she intends to carry it out with or without Aunt Virla's help. She hopes, however, that Aunt Virla will be willing to loan her a bit of money, since the train fare to Hannard's Ford probably costs more than the few coins in Belle's pocket.
Belle goes around the house to her aunt's kitchen door and knocks.
Belle: Aunt Virla?
Katsura zlins that it's a child calling.
Virla goes to the door and opens it.
Virla: Come in, Belle. I have company, but you're welcome. Want some goodies?
Belle: Aunt Virla!
Belle throws herself into her aunt's arms for a hug.
Virla hugs back good and hearty.
Belle: Aunt Virla, I need to talk.
Belle glances at the plate on the table.
Belle: Raspberry squares?
Virla: Go for 'em.
Belle's favorite has always been raspberry squares. She grabs two.
Belle: Thank you.
Belle takes a bite out of the first square.
Virla: Well, we can talk in an hour or so. But let me introduce everyone.
Belle: Aunt Virla...
Virla returns to the sitting room with Belle in tow.
Virla: Hajene Katsura, Sosu Nick, this is my niece Belle. Belle, Hajene Katsura, Sosu Nick, my guests from Simeland.
Belle abandons all her complex plans in a burst of incredulous ~~ joy ~~ .
Belle: Aunt Virla, how did you know? How did you do it?
Katsura is startled. She expected fear or distrust.
Nick, who had been prepared to help handle a frightened child, isn't quite sure what to make of this reaction.
Virla: Bless you, child, I didn't do it. They came here all on their ownsome.
Belle belatedly remembers her manners.
Belle: Hello, Hajene Katsura. Hello, Sosu Nick.
Katsura: Hello, Belle. Pleased to meet you.
Belle tries to transfer both raspberry squares to her left hand so she can offer a handshake.
Virla: Just brush their fingertips, Belle dear. That's what's polite in Sime Territory.
Nick reaches out to demonstrate.
Nick: I'm very pleased to meet you.
Belle offers her hand.
Belle: I'm so very glad to meet you.
Belle manages the fingertip-brush, more or less.
Belle: And especially you, ma'am.
Katsura offers her own fingertips, keeping her tentacles retracted.
Belle brushes the channel's fingertips with ~~ selfconsciousness ~~ , but not a hint of fear.
Nick wonders if Belle is just being polite, or whether she wants something from them. He can think of several reasons why a girl of "a certain age" might be glad to meet a channel, out-Territory.
Katsura: What can we do for you, Belle?
Belle hesitates, suddenly shy. After all, asking someone to save your life is a very big favor, and it's pretty clear that these people are here for some reason that has nothing to do with Belle.
Belle: I -- I don't want to have to die.
Katsura: You're not in changeover. But if you or any of your friends think you might be changing over while we're here, of course we'll give them First Transfer. Or if they want to know if they're already Gen, we can tell them that, too.
Katsura suddenly realizes that she's making a lot of assumptions about local culture, and may be bringing trouble down on them as well as on Virla.
Nick doesn't venture a criticism: yes, meeting with the children could cause trouble with their parents, but on the other hand, there's no way either of them would refrain from offering assistance to a child possibly in changeover.
Belle: I know I'm not in changeover yet. I know the signs. But I know I'm gonna. I just know it. And Grandpa Henree says with the way I'm growing, whatever happens is gonna be soon.
Belle: I was going to ask Aunt Virla to lend me train fare money to get to Hannard's Ford. But this is so much better.
Katsura wonders whether Belle might be having premonitions because she's going to be a channel, or if her feelings are just due to the awful fate of children changing over out-T. She's heard that out-T children often go to the extremes of either total denial that they can change over, or total conviction that they are doomed.
Belle: I mean, if you're not just passing through for the night? ~~ uncertainty ~~
Katsura: We'll be here for at least a few days, likely a week, possibly longer.
Katsura hopes Sectuib will have good news for them when he receives the telegram she wants Nick to send from Hannard's Ford.
Belle: I hope it's longer. Because I don't know how soon "soon" is.
Katsura: Virla, do you think Belle's parents would be upset if I made a transfer contact to examine her more closely? I should be able to tell a couple of days in advance if she's going to change over.
Virla: I'm afraid they probably would be, Kat. Of all my sisters, Sarni is the most -- intransigent. But if you think changeover is actually imminent, of course it would be an emergency -- and this is Sime Territory.
Virla has been reading her Church of Unity legal manual.
Belle: It's my life. Just don't tell Mom.
Nick: I doubt we'll have the opportunity.
Katsura: I can tell at least a day in advance without touching you, Belle, with Nick's help.
Belle: It's okay to touch me.
Belle sticks out her hands awkwardly.
Belle: Just... promise me you'll tell me the truth, even if it's bad news?
Katsura: Of course.
Katsura isn't any good at lying, anyway.
Belle is far too used to adult lies like, "It won't happen to you, dear."
Nick settles into ~~ support ~~, leaving a window through which Kat can zlin Belle closely, while blocking Virla's well-meaning concern.
Katsura: Just stay still, Belle.
Katsura places her arms under Belle's, and extends her laterals, ready to protect them with her handling tentacles instantly. She doesn't touch Belle's arms at all.
Belle tries not to move or fidget. Waiting for news is so hard.
Nick wishes that Kat was being a bit more cautious in protecting her laterals, but knows better than to make an issue of it in front of a patient.
Katsura closes her eyes and concentrates. She zlins nothing but the normal undifferentiated selyn system of a child. She can zlin that Belle is in good health and starting an adolescent growth spurt, but her development isn't far advanced.
Katsura: No sign of changeover, Belle. Or establishment.
Belle is strangely ~~ disappointed ~~ . For a long time she's wished, "not yet." Now she wants to get it over with while there's still a channel here.
Belle: You're sure?
Katsura: Yes. You won't change over for at least two days, if ever.
Nick: You're welcome to come back in two days, if you want to check again, Belle.
Belle: Can... can I come over after school, then, Aunt Virla? For as long as they're here?
Virla: Of course. If it's all right with you, Kat, Nick.
Virla is always glad to see Belle, who is one of the few relatives who'll talk to her at all.
Belle: And will you let me know when you're going to have to leave? I mean, if nothing's happened yet by then.
Belle looks ~~ hopefully ~~ at Kat and Nick.
Virla: If they can, dear. Kat and Nick are here under difficult circumstances, so perhaps it's best to say nothing to anyone about it.
Katsura: We may leave at short notice, but Virla will tell you.
Belle: But... but what if one of my friends...?
Virla looks at Katsura.
Katsura: I'm pledged to give transfer to any Sime who needs it. I don't want to bring trouble on you, Virla, but for a child to die, or to kill, because they don't know there's a channel in reach...
Katsura looks down, then at Nick.
Nick: If your friends want to come visit your aunt for tea... well, we would be very glad to make their acquaintance.
Belle: Is it okay, Aunt Virla, to just tell them to come here if they're in... that kind of trouble?
Virla: I'm concerned that one of your friends will come here after my guests leave. What should I do then, Belle?
Belle looks ~~ uncomfortable ~~ .
Belle: The same as Dad did for Lezlee, I guess. Unless it's the right time of day for a train.
Katsura winces. If Virla is killed by a child in changeover whom she's trying to help, it will set back her efforts towards unity substantially. She doesn't think sending children to Virla to be murdered is appropriate either.
Virla: The way things are, Belle, is that it's the parents' responsibility to do things like that.
Belle: But, right now, when there's a channel...?
Nick: Right now, while we're here, we will help those we can.
Belle nods solemnly.
Belle: Thank you. I'll see you Monday after school, then, Aunt Virla?
Belle is buttoning up her coat as she speaks.
Virla: Okay, Belle.
Belle hurries out, using the front door this time since it's closer.
Katsura takes Nick's hand. She'd been feeling safe and comfortable, but now she realizes that she's surrounded by horrors.
Virla sees that her guest is distressed, but doesn't know what she can do about it, and decides to leave the matter in Nick's hands.
Nick is just ~~ glad ~~ that they will soon be able to help any child who's in changeover -- or just hysterical about the possibility.