Sarni is just taking the week's baking of bread out of the oven. She hopes Belle gets in soon; she has chores to complete before dinner.
Belle hurries into the house through the kitchen door, with Hajene Kat's letter clutched tightly in her hand. There's no doubt in her mind about whether this is what she has to do; already the headache is coming back yet again.
Belle: Hi, Mom.
Sarni: There you are. What kept you so long?
Belle: Uh, Mom... you know how I've been stopping in at Aunt Virla's?
Sarni: Yes, and I hope you'll be able to cook some of those meringues for your father.
Belle: And, um, you know Aunt Virla has... house guests?
Sarni: Half the town has dropped by to inform me of that, this past week. I hope that you've been exercising common sense while you're there.
Belle: Yes. Well, um, some time in the last few days... Mom, I'm a Gen.
Sarni closes her eyes in a moment of ~~ heartfelt relief ~~.
Sarni: You're sure? You've started to have the Blessing?
Belle: No. Not that, yet. But Hajene Kat -- she's a channel -- can tell, even from across the room. And she says I am.
Sarni: Well, at least she kept her distance. I suppose you can't shun her completely, when she's Virla's guest.
Sarni's admission is a little ~ grudging ~.
Belle: She's a nice lady, Mom.
Sarni: Still, I really think it might be wise for you to wait for more cooking lessons from your aunt until the Sime's gone. The neighbors are beginning to talk.
Sarni was practical enough to tacitly allow her daughter to be checked for changeover, but sees no reason to continue the connection now Belle is Gen.
Belle: Uh, Mom... there's a problem.
Belle wants to stare at the floor, but forces herself to meet her mother's eyes as she speaks.
Sarni: There is?
Sarni wonders if Virla is ill or something.
Belle: It's a medical thing. Did you know that all channels are sort of like doctors?
Sarni: Well, the ones who've come to Gumgeeville have certainly managed to find a number of interesting conditions to "treat". Many of them in people who seemed to be doing just fine before they got there, too.
Sarni isn't convinced all of the problems were real, or the "treatments" appropriate, but unlike some, she doesn't point fingers.
Belle: Well, this one isn't fine. The last few days, since I started to establish, I've started getting headaches. Really bad headaches.
Sarni: So drink some willow-bark tea.
Sarni has no sympathy for hypochondriacs.
Belle: I tried that. It didn't help much. But Hajene Kat... did I mention that channels are like doctors? Hajene Kat was able to help, for a while. And she wrote a letter for you, explaining what's going on.
Belle proffers the envelope she's been clutching.
Belle: It's all in here.
Sarni looks at the envelope, wrinkles her nose as if it smelled bad, and reaches out for it slowly.
Belle hands it over, with a strange mix of eagerness and reluctance.
Sarni opens it and scans it silently. She doesn't care much for the contents.
Belle watches her mother's face as she reads.
Sarni: She's got nerve, I'll give her that much. This would give your father a headache of his own for sure.
Belle: Do we have to show it to him? I only need one parent's permission...?
Fred comes in the kitchen door; he already has the predicted headache, as it happens. He looks at his wife, then at his daughter, then at his wife again.
Fred: All right. What's the story now?
Belle glances at her father, then quickly back to her mother.
Sarni silently holds out Kat's letter.
Fred takes the letter and squints at it, hoping it won't make his headache too much worse to read it. No such luck.
Fred hands back the letter to Sarni and rubs his head all over. That doesn't help either.
Sarni: Should I make you some willow-bark tea, dear?
Sarni is already moving to put the kettle on the stove.
Fred waves that off.
Fred: Don't bother. It doesn't help, you know that. With your headaches, or your relatives' headaches, fine. Mine, no. And now you've got 'em too, Belle?
Fred looks at his daughter with more sympathy than usual lately.
Sarni: Now, Fred, we don't know that for sure. Young girls go through all sorts of fits and starts.
Belle: Yes, Dad. Hajene Kat said it's possible yours are the same thing.
Fred: Yeah, figures. Your Uncle Nat has 'em too, you know.
Belle: So that means mine might not... might not go away in a few months like she said they usually do?
Sarni: Don't borrow trouble, Belle.
Fred: No need to borrow it. It's here, Sarni, and no fooling.
Belle had been counting on Kat's reassurance that they usually go away, so that even if her parents refused to let her donate, she wouldn't have to suffer till she was 16.
Fred: C'mere, Bellagirl.
Fred gestures for his daughter to come nearer.
Belle goes to her father and flings her arms around him.
Fred: Easy, honey.
Fred tries to rub Belle's head in the spot where his head hurts.
Belle buries her face in her father's shoulder.
Sarni watches with ~~ concern ~~.
Sarni: So what about this letter?
Fred stops rubbing and shrugs.
Fred: If it helps, it helps. I wouldn't want any child of mine to have to go through what I have, if I can help it.
Belle: Maybe it could help you too, Dad?
Fred: But there's this: if Belle feels better for a while, and then the Sime leaves -- what then? Will it get worse?
Sarni: People won't like it, either way. Remember all the talk about the Mullins family, and the Geggs?
Fred's face twists up further.
Sarni: How are we going to get help for the haying, and to put a new roof on the barn, if everyone knows our daughter is a Sime-kisser?
Fred: Money talks, you-know-what walks, Sarn. Donations pay and pay well, better than farming, or chicken-raising either.
Belle: Mom, we don't have to tell anyone.
Sarni: Belle, if you think for one moment that we could keep something like that secret for long, you must've been eating the wrong mushrooms.
Fred: Your mother's right, honey. We can't keep this secret. I just don't want you to get some help that makes you feel even worse in the long run.
Fred can only with difficulty imagine anything worse.
Belle: How could it be worse than this, Dad?
Belle knows her father understands. This is weird; always before, it's her mom who's been the sympathetic one.
Fred: Well, we don't rightly know yet. For me, it's a matter of maybe once a week, once every two weeks, I can't work for half a day. That's a bad thing for a farmer -- or a farm wife. But there's nothing to be done, and I live with it. Your mother helps a lot, of course. But what if you had the headache every day? That would be no life at all.
Belle: But if a channel can make it go away?
Fred: It says here, "problem can be cured by regular donation." Regular. How are you gonna regularly donate when there's no channel in town any more? That's not a cure, that's --
Fred is at a loss for words.
Sarni: Enslavement to the whims of Simes, for the rest of your life.
Belle: The train runs to Hannard's Ford.
Sarni: And what happens if they decide to close that Sime Center? Such things have happened, you know. Are you going to move to the big city, maybe leaving your home and family forever? And even if they keep the Sime Center in Hannard's Ford, what will you do when snow blocks the trains?
Belle: Mom, I'd rather hurt like this once or twice a year, when it snows hard, than all the time.
Fred shakes his head, cautiously.
Belle would really rather not hurt like this at all.
Fred: I just can't see it. The Gens in Sime Territory, they all donate every month, right?
Belle: Yeah. I think so.
Fred: Okay, then. So if one of them has this problem, it gets fixed and it stays fixed. But this channel can't be sure that just one or just a few treatments, or even treatments every month for most of the year, won't make things even worse, like I said, the rest of the time.
Fred: Your mother's points are all good ones. Believe me, I'd like nothing better than to get some relief now, and if it took going to the Ford every month, then we'd do that. I'd miss less working time that way, if it comes to that. But. If the headaches bounce back the rest of the time.... well, I don't think either one of us could afford that.
Belle: I didn't think to ask her any of this stuff. Maybe we should?
Fred: We can try, I guess. But if she's honest, she'll probably say she can't be sure, for us Gen Territory Gens. And if she's not....
Sarni: It's a risk.
Belle: Mom, you don't know what it feels like. I'd be willing to try anything.
Fred: I know you would, honey, and that's why you're still a child, Gen or not.
Fred looks at Sarni ruefully.
Sarni shrugs, spreading her hands in agreement.
Sarni: It's your choice whether you want to pursue it, Fred.
Belle: Please, Dad. For both of us. At least to find out.
Fred shrugs too, and then winces.
Fred: All right. Let's go, then. Sarni, you come too.
Fred doesn't use that tone very often, but when he does, he's made a decision, and everyone in earshot needs to snap to.
Sarni sighs, but throws a towel over her bread to keep the dust off.
Belle still has her coat on. She refastens the top button, and reaches for her mitts.
Fred holds the door open for his womenfolk, and then closes the door and heads off for his sister-in-law's.
Sarni just hopes the neighbors are busy with their own chores.
Belle follows along, reflecting that both her parents are being far more reasonable than she'd expected.
Sarni is an adult in a subsistence economy: she's used to hard choices, difficult compromises, and the failure to live up to her girlhood dreams. She certainly never dreamed as a child that she'd be following husband and children across town to consult a Sime about....
Sarni decides she'd really rather not think about this proposed "cure" for the headache.
Katsura is sharing a pot of tea with Nick, watching him eat the nourishing snack she brought him, and bringing him up to date on the Belle situation.
Nick shakes his head in ~~ bemusement ~~.
Nick: Some learned academic is going to go insane, trying to track the genetics of Gumgeeville.
Katsura: Not me! Send a Gen!
Nick gives a chuckle that ends in a cough or three.
Nick: The Wild Gens have you intimidated, do they?
Katsura: I'm getting used to them, but I wouldn't want to panic one without you around. I did manage to work on Belle alone, even after she established, but without touching her.
Nick: She's just established, so it probably was an acceptable risk.
Nick is well aware that he can't leave Kat to fumble around on her own for much longer.
Katsura: Yes, and she's rather Sime-positive in her thinking, having been sure she was going to change over.
Nick: Did that change, when she learned she was Gen?
Katsura: No, she still acted quite trusting with me. Well, rather demanding that I do something about her headache, take her donation without parental consent. I wonder if she's going to show her parents the note, and how soon after they'll come storming over here.
Nick winces at the thought.
Nick: Let's hope they're not too confrontational.
Katsura hopes they won't be armed and dangerous.
Katsura: Yes. I wonder... maybe I shouldn't have done that...
Nick: They are Virla's kin. That might make them a bit less likely to do anything that might cause her distress.
Fred knocks on the door of Virla's, loudly enough to be heard but not enough to make his headache too much worse.
Fred: Virla? You home? It's Fred.
Nick hears the knock.
Nick: It sounds like we have visitors. Would you like me to come down with you?
Katsura: Oh, Virla came home while you were asleep. She'll get it.
Virla hears the knock and walks quickly to the door and opens it.
Virla: Hello, Fred, Sarni, Belle. Come in, come in. What brings you all here?
Fred: We got the letter, Virla.
Virla: [puzzled] What letter?
Fred hands Virla the letter.
Virla: ~~ excitement wonder ~~
Virla: Why Fred, that's amazing! So if Belle has your headaches, and she can be treated, so can you!
Katsura can overhear the conversation quite easily and looks at Nick. She hopes Fred is as Sime-positive as Belle, but strongly doubts it.
Fred: Well, maybe yes, maybe no. That's what we're here to find out about.
Sarni: One step at a time, Virla.
Nick looks at Kat, then reaches for his shirt.
Nick: I'm going down with you.
Katsura knows Nick is recovering, but he's still weak and ill.
Katsura: I better warn them, in case they haven't had it.
Nick: Fine. That'll give me time to get dressed.
Nick shrugs into his shirt and starts buttoning it.
Katsura affectionately tidies his hair and beard.
Nick leaves the cuffs of the Gen-style shirt unbuttoned, just in case. He reaches for his pants.
Nick: Go on. I'll be right down.
Katsura goes out and pauses at the top of the stairs.
Virla: Yes, Kat?
Katsura: I think your guests would like to talk to me, and Nick wants to come with me. Have they had the coughing sickness?
Virla: My sister has. Fred?
Fred: Umm, yes, me too.
Belle nods silently.
Fred: Belle too, Virla.
Fred continues to address his sister, since he hasn't been introduced to the Sime.
Katsura isn't zlinning any strongly negative emotions from the Gens downstairs.
Katsura: Okay, I'll come down now.
Katsura comes slowly down the stairs, tentacles retracted, trying to look harmless and civilized.
Nick struggles with his belt, then reaches for his satchel.
Katsura: Hello. I'm Katsura Farris. You must be Belle's parents.
Sarni is comfortably ensconced behind her husband's bulk, and has little desire to move from behind it. She finds facing a Sime in person is a bit different than letting her daughter see one in the abstract.
Fred: Um, yes. I'm Fred, her father, and this, um, this is her mother Sarni.
Katsura: Pleased to meet you.
Katsura doesn't offer to shake hands.
Nick comes down the stairs, holding on to the railing to make sure he doesn't alarm Kat with a stumble.
Fred doesn't worry about Miz Farris's courtesy or lack of it. His ~~ attention ~~ is captured by the man coming down the stairs. He doesn't look well; if this is a sample of the Sime's doctoring....
Katsura is much relieved to have her Donor at her side.
Katsura: This is Nick Reckage, my assistant. He's recovering from the coughing sickness.
Nick nods politely.
Nick: Pleased to meet you.
Fred: Likewise... Umm, Miz Farris, we need to talk about this letter you sent home with our Belle. What we think is, well, what I think is, if...
Fred runs down. ~~ nervous ~~
Virla: Take your time, Fred. Kat's harmless, you know. ~~ encouraging ~~
Fred's headache ~~ gets worse ~~.
Katsura refrains from wincing at the increased pain, and leans on Nick's nager.
Nick tries to ~~ shield ~~ Kat from the ambient. His nager is almost back to normal, fortunately.
Katsura: Perhaps we can sit down and discuss it? Can we use the parlor, Virla?
Virla: Of course, of course. How foolish of me not to think of it.
Virla leads the way and rearranges the furniture a bit, enlisting Fred's help for the larger pieces.
Nick atypically does not offer to help, as he is still feeling a little wobbly.
Virla: You sit there, Fred.
Virla points to the largest and most weight-bearing chair.
Katsura heads for the far side of the parlor and sits on a sofa. trying to look immobilized and harmless.
Nick sits next to her, trying to look as if he sat by choice, rather than because he's worn out after walking down the stairs.
Katsura pats his hand gratefully.
Virla, Sarni, and Belle take the remaining spots.
Katsura: I'll be glad to answer your questions.
Fred: Well, the main thing is, and I know you may not know the answer to this, but... What it is, is, what if we give you our... stuff, and things get better, and then you go away and we can't do it any more, will it get worse? Because really, I don't think I could stand it any worse. It's bad enough a few days a month as it is.
Katsura gives the question serious consideration.
Nick tries to look ~~ sympathetic ~~.
Katsura: I don't know for sure. We don't have much experience with Gens who don't donate regularly, and Belle's condition is quite rare. I wouldn't expect it to get worse after she stopped, but nothing is absolutely sure in medicine.
Fred nods slowly.
Katsura: I don't know if you have the same condition as Belle, or if your migraines have a different origin.
Fred: Is there any way you can check it, look at me or test me or do whatever it is you do?
Virla beams ~~ encouragement ~~ at Fred.
Belle looks ~~ hopefully ~~ at the channel.
Katsura has had the opportunity to zlin a few Gens who had shown the symptoms of Latifa's Syndrome years before, when they first established, but they had been donating regularly since establishment, and had had no migraines after the first year or so.
Nick deftly blocks the worst of the projections, hoping his stamina will hold out.
Katsura: I can examine you, but I don't know if I can tell if you have the same condition as Belle. As I said, we don't have much experience with Gens who don't donate. If you like, I can try.
Fred tries to cover up his ~~ longing ~~ with polite deference.
Katsura: I'll have to touch you with my tentacles, and perhaps make a lip contact.
Katsura hopes that statement doesn't cause a panic, Nick's support or no.
Fred ~~ steels ~~ himself, as he would if he went to a Gen doctor.
Belle is ~~ puzzled ~~ . Hajene Kat never touched her.
Sarni ~~ winces ~~ at the description, but doesn't object out loud.
Nick watches the Gens carefully, and Kat as well, using Gen observation to judge potential trouble.
Katsura: [Simelan] Nick, can you manage strong nageric isolation in the middle of this crowd or should we go into the kitchen, if he consents?
Katsura knows Nick can if he's well, but he isn't yet.
Nick: [Simelan] I can manage.
Katsura: If you'll come over here, Fred, I'll examine you.
Fred gets up and attempts to drag his chair with him, gives up on it, and walks over to Katsura.
Fred: Where do you want me to be, Miz?
Nick scoots over on the couch, clearing space for Kat to clear some space for him.
Katsura: Just come over here and sit with us.
Belle gets up and slides a footstool into place for her dad to sit on.
Fred: ~~ distracted ~~ Thanks, Bellagirl.
Fred sits on the footstool.
Fred: Okay. Now what?
Katsura leans forward and offers her hands.
Katsura: Can you take my hands?
Nick puts his hands on Kat's shoulders, a gesture that he usually doesn't require, and starts constructing his nageric "bubble".
Fred takes Katsura's hands. Doing so seems to make his headache worse, but he can't be sure. ~~ worry hope pain ~~
Katsura: I'm going to extend my handling tentacles now, and grasp your arms. I'm a channel, and I would never harm a Gen.
Katsura cautiously extends her tentacles and wraps them lightly around Fred's arms.
Nick spares a glance for the audience, but at least they seem to be willing to keep their distance.
Belle: ~~ hope ~~ sympathy ~~
Fred is concentrating on not noticing his headache, and he has no energy left for noticing what Katsura is doing.
Katsura is pleased that Fred isn't reacting badly, so continues.
Katsura: Now, I'll tighten my hold and extend my lateral tentacles. They may feel a bit strange, but they won't hurt you.
Nick blocks a bit more of Fred's field than he normally would, "clouding" his "window", until he's sure that Fred won't react with a slam.
Katsura girds herself and does so, intensifying her perception of Fred's pain, and very glad of the way Nick is protecting her.
Fred feels nothing except his ~~ pain ~~, of course.
Katsura: Now I'll make the lip contact and examine you. It's nothing like a kiss. I'll also work on your headache, alleviate it somewhat.
Nick presses his own lips together in ~~ concentration ~~, and slowly "cleans" his "window".
Katsura makes the fifth contact and works on the headache, figuring she'll be able to perceive more without the pain confusing the issue.
Fred doesn't react to the lip contact much; it certainly isn't a kiss of either passion or affection. He's too busy noticing his ~~ headache fade ~~ . ~~ amazement ~~
Katsura is pleased at how well Fred is responding, and now zlins intensively, tracing the structure of his selyn system, then dismantles the contact and releases him.
Nick gives a sigh of ~~ relief ~~ and settles back into a standard, nager-blocking ~~ support ~~, which is much less work than a window.
Katsura: I'm glad you're feeling better. I believe I can detect traces of Latifa's Syndrome in your selyn system, so it's possible that donating, especially regularly, may decrease the frequency of your headaches.
Fred breathes heavily with ~~ relief ~~, partly because it's over and partly because his headache is almost entirely gone.
Fred: You have no idea how much difference that would make. Can we do it now, Belle and me? Or are you too -- tired?
Nick knows that it's his own stamina that's in question.
Katsura turns to Nick.
Nick also knows, however, that Kat's entran-reduction opportunities have been limited during his illness.
Nick: I can manage.
Fred looks at Nick with ~~ puzzlement ~~.
Katsura: I can, if you like. It won't feel to you any different than what I just did, and will take about the same length of time.
Katsura wouldn't have offered so readily if the Gen had been potentially a difficult donor.
Fred: [split between Katsura and Nick] Don't overdo it now. We can come back if you need us to.
Belle grins, despite her own ~~ pain ~~. Dad just gave her the consent she needed, without a moment's hesitation.
Virla is ~~ very pleased ~~ that everything is going so well.
Katsura smiles at Virla then turns back to Fred.
Katsura: Shall we?
Katsura offers her hands again.
Nick settles once more into ~~ firm support ~~.