Physicians Across Borders: Episode 20

Nick is on break from his and Kat's shift in the small Sime Center annex near New Washington University. His channel is still pre-turnover after a good transfer, so he allowed himself to be persuaded to actually leave her and go for a walk.

Nick's Tecton uniform was a casualty of a minor mishap, but fortunately he long ago got in the habit of carrying a change of clothes in his satchel. He's glad Kat isn't a stickler for Tecton spit-and-polish, however.

Nick wanders down a street lined with student-oriented businesses, and on impulse decides to step into the Moonbean Cafe to warm himself with a hot drink.

Athanasia sits alone in a corner, thoroughly fed up with men. She's consoling herself with a double MocchoChoco. Her Nivet boyfriend Hrannen just sent her a long chatty latter describing his bedroom adventures with Some Other Woman.

Nick walks to the counter to order.

Athanasia is heartbroken; she'd managed to convince herself she was in love with the man she gave her virginity to over the winter break.

PPling wipes the spilled grounds from the espresso machine and rinses the cloth in the sink.

Nick looks over the offerings chalked on the board behind the counter.

Athanasia, despite her new aversion to men, can't help staring at the stranger standing at the counter. He's really cute, too old to be a student, and scruffily dressed. A common laborer, perhaps?

PPling is absorbed in her poem about Simes before Unity. She wonders whether she can get some kind of metaphor about how hard it is to get all the grounds off the cloth, or maybe their reluctance to be washed down the drain.

Athanasia wonders what such a man is doing in this part of town. Ah, well, even colleges need their snow shoveled and their drains cleaned.

PPling might be pumping Nick for colorful details about the experience of transfer instead of ignoring him, if she knew what he was. On the other hand, she prefers her imagination to boring reality.

Nick: How about a latte with, hmm, some of that hazelnut syrup?

PPling eyes the rather scruffy stranger, and nods.

PPling: Sure.

Nick looks around at the shabby, mismatched furniture, and finds it much more homey than Pollovic's mansion.

PPling goes about the process of preparing the latte with half her mind while the other works on her poem.

Nick: Nice mural on the wall.

PPling: Hm? Yeah.

Nick takes a closer look and does a double take.

PPling foams the milk with loud hissing and gurgling noises from the espresso machine, then squirts in some hazelnut syrup.

Nick is pretty sure that he recognizes the Sime painted to one side of the mural .

PPling: Here you go.

Nick: Thanks.

PPling waits for payment.

Nick fishes in his pocket for appropriate change.

Nick: There's a mike over there -- do you have bands or readings here?

PPling: Yeah. Open mike three nights a week.

PPling wonders if this guy is a musician.

Nick: Do you get a good turnout?

PPling: Depends. Some of the acts are pretty awful. Amateurs, y'know?

PPling plans to be a professional, so she looks down on amateurs.

Nick notes the symptoms of an under-appreciated wanna-be Artiste.

Nick: Do you ever get a chance to take the mike, or do they keep you too busy back there?

PPling: Oh, I don't perform.

Nick raises an eyebrow.

Nick: You are working on publishing, then?

PPling: Yes, I hope to be published, once my Work is perfected.

Nick notes the capitalization.

Nick: What is your work about?

Nick takes a sip of his adulterated coffee.

PPling: Simeland, before Unity. Well, the people there, I mean. Their lives.

Nick: An interesting subject.

PPling: Yes. The junct Simes, their short intense lives, their overpowering emotions, the intensity of their experience.

Nick considers this pronouncement.

Nick: So you're examining the attempts of people to have some sort of normal life, some beauty, while paying crippling taxes?

Nick perhaps knows a little more about in-T life before Unity than PPling.

PPling waves that away.

PPling: Not the mundane aspects. The consuming fire of need, that can only be slaked by devouring the life of a Gen. The agony and ecstasy.

Nick takes another sip.

PPling: The profound darkness and the blinding light.

Nick: I think a lot of Simes would be just as happy not to have to bother with need, if there was an alternative.

PPling: Ah, but they don't have a choice. That gives it the power.

Nick: Well, desperation, anyway.

PPling: Yes. The intense desperation of the Sime in need, the irresistible drive to seize and consume a Gen's life.

Athanasia is still staring at the (really, really cute) stranger. She decides to go to the counter for a pastry she doesn't really need.

PPling: The ecstasy of the Gen, his life consumed in the inferno of the Kill, fulfilling his purpose, his consummation. It's written from a junct point of view, of course.

Nick rubs at his beard, as an alternative to rolling his eyes, which wouldn't be polite.

Nick: I don't think Gens experience ecstasy while being killed. It hurts too much.

PPling shrugs. How would he know?

Athanasia steps up to the counter.

PPling: The Sime experiences it as ecstasy, and he projects it on the Gen, whose destiny is to be consumed in fire.

Athanasia: I'll have one of those pecan squares, please.

PPling: Sure.

PPling puts a pecan square on a plate and hands it over.

Athanasia fishes in her purse for some coins.

Athanasia: Thanks.

Nick: I expect the Gens had a different opinion of their destiny.

Athanasia: So what's this about being consumed in fire?

PPling shrugs. Most people don't understand Art.

Athanasia isn't really interested in PPling's boring poetry, but she's looking for an opening to start a conversation directly with the cute guy. Who, up close, smells better than she'd expected.

Nick: A symbol for death in transfer.

Athanasia: Hmm. Well, they do call it "transfer burn", don't they?

PPling smiles secretively. The juncts didn't use wimpy euphemisms like 'transfer'. They called it the Kill, and were unashamed. Indeed, they gloried in it.

Nick: Yeah. I'm told the sensation is similar.

Nick wouldn't know, as he's never experienced temperature-related burns of any severity.

Athanasia: You know, myself, I'd be more interested in what it feels like when it doesn't hurt. The pleasure they talk about, that Companions are supposed to feel.

Athanasia has been thinking about sex a lot lately, and of course thinking about one form of pleasure leads to thinking about others.

Nick: Now, that's a different sensation altogether.

Athanasia: One would hope so! They say it can be better than sex.

PPling thinks it's probably pretty tame, compared to the real thing. The staff at the Sime Center don't act like they have peak experiences like the Kill every month.

Nick: Different, certainly. Although a Donor doesn't have to choose between the two.

Athanasia gives Nick a curious look.

Athanasia: You almost sound as if you really know.

Nick: I've gotten to know a few channels and Donors, these past few years.

Athanasia: I thought only big-D Donors got to try that kind of stuff.

Nick: Usually, that's true. Real life is messier than the rule books, though.

Athanasia: So tell us about real life and Simes. Simes who really exist, not just Simes in poems.

Athanasia gives PPling a harsh glare.

Nick shrugs.

Nick: Real Simes are not too much different than real Gens. Some are brave, some are cowards. Some are trustworthy, some would cheat you just to stay in practice, and most fall somewhere in between. Now that most Simes don't spend their lives worrying if they're going to have the money to pay their taxes next month, they've switched over to wondering if they can pay their mortgages.

Athanasia: Simes cheat? How about all that stuff about "Simes never lie"?

PPling turns away and starts tidying up the supplies cabinet. She's a donor -- she knows all about boring modern Simes.

Nick: There's lying, and there's selecting what truth to tell. The results are often the same.

Athanasia: Hmm. That would really throw that Brother Andrew for a loop.

Nick: Also, there are plenty of ways to engage in skullduggery without telling actual lies.

Athanasia: Such as?

Athanasia thinks this guy is really fascinating. And the more he talks, the less he sounds like some laborer with no education.

Longo walks from his table to try his luck with the conversation.

Longo: Such as, telling the truth but not all of it. 'Scuse me for interrupting.

Nick: Crooked gambling, blackmail, extortion, intimidation, assault... the police in Sime Territory are just as busy as their colleagues on this side of the border.

Nick looks at Longo and nods.

Longo nods back.

Longo: Sounds ugly.

Athanasia: Sounds like you've been there.

Longo: Yeah.

Athanasia: Across the border, I mean.

Nick shrugs.

Nick: The bad parts of Simeland are not all that different from the bad parts of any big city on this side of the border.

Athanasia wouldn't want to imply that this cute, intelligent man has ever been involved in crooked gambling or blackmail.

Nick: And yes, I grew up on the other side of the border.

Athanasia: You must have all kinds of fascinating stories.

Athanasia knows the fastest way to a man's heart is to encourage him to talk about himself.

Longo actually finds himself distracted from the babe by the idea of meeting a real person from across the border.

Nick chuckles.

Nick: Funny. When I'm on the other side of the border, people all want to hear about how wild and exotic life out here is. They can't imagine a society with only one larity.

Longo: "Larity?" Oh, you mean, like with just Gens?

Athanasia: Like, who do you give your selyn to if there are no Simes around? Who does the speed-and-strength jobs?

Nick: Yes.

Athanasia: What do Simes find really weird about us?

Nick: I think the biggest difference is that very few peoples' lives revolve around a need cycle. Even Gens who live with Simes have to accommodate their cycles.

Longo nods.

Longo: Yeah, that makes sense. I guess that's why they still call it Sime territory. Everything is arranged around what Simes, umm, need.

Nick: Well, the Simes do tend to fuss over getting the Gens what they require, as well.

Longo: Require, fine. How about what they want? I'd think a Gen in Sime Territory would hardly get a chance to figure that out at all.

Athanasia: Do Simes need... um. Lots of relationships?

Nick looks at Longo.

Nick: A Gen in Sime Territory has the same chance to figure out what they want as one out here. Getting it isn't necessarily easy, anywhere. And as for relationships -- Simes come in all flavors, from those who never reach out to anyone to those who, er, reach out to anyone and everyone.

Nick tries not to think too much about his Householding full of half siblings. And those who are more than half.

Longo: Fair enough, but how can you even begin to get what you want with half the population trying to give you what you need, or they think you need, all the time? It'd be... just like being under your parents' thumb all your life.

Athanasia: Is it normal over there, if a couple is serious, for a guy to tell his girlfriend about this other woman he's also dating? And think she'll be okay with it?

Athanasia doesn't want to hear about parents. She's got two of her own, which is plenty.

Nick looks at Athanasia with ~~ sympathy ~~, suspecting that she's not asking a hypothetical question.

Longo figures the same, and thinks, Oho.

Longo: What a sleazeball.

Nick: Well, usually if the relationship is serious, he'd ask before he started dating someone else. Although the rules for dating are a lot more flexible there.

Athanasia: Flexible how?

Nick: There is less public pressure to conform to only one pattern. That means for more possibilities, and also more misunderstandings.

Athanasia: You mean, like what I just said?

Longo: I can't imagine a worse way to tell someone it's all over, really.

Athanasia: It's like... he wasn't acting like it was over. But he wasn't apologizing, either. He sounded happy.

Nick: It does seem tactless. Perhaps the people in question had different expectations?

Athanasia suddenly realizes that talking about her old boyfriend is no way to attract this man as a new one.

Athanasia: Well, the girl -- she's a friend of mine, and she cried and cried on me -- she thought they were serious. She did things with him that she wouldn't have done if they weren't. Things she'd never done with any guy before.

Nick: It does hurt, to learn that someone doesn't care for you as much as you care for them.

Nick has a lot of personal experience of that.

Athanasia: You think he doesn't, then. He thought it was just a little holiday fling.

Athanasia can't keep the bitter disappointment from her voice.

Nick: From what you say, it seems likely. Although there are some people who just like having lots of partners, and tend to assume the partners feel the same way.

Longo: She sounds like she might have a lot of trouble trusting guys after that, wouldn't she.

Athanasia looks directly at Longo for the first time.

Athanasia: Yeah.

Longo: I mean, they really can be pigs -- from Sime Territory or not.

Athanasia tries to make a joke of it.

Athanasia: Gosh, you're really down on your own species.

Longo: Species?

Longo laughs.

Athanasia: Gender.

Longo intones pompously "Men and women are just the same, with a slight difference that doesn't matter except on special occasions."

Longo: Relationships being, of course, the main special occasion.

Nick guffaws.

Athanasia can't help it. She laughs.

Longo joins in the laughter; get 'em laughing and you're halfway there.

Nick: Well, the same thing can be said about Simes and Gens. Personally, I think it's the "special occasions" that make life interesting.

Athanasia looks hopefully at the man. He's older, so presumably more stable, sympathetic, intelligent. And don't forget cute.

Nick recognizes the look, having seen it often while traveling with Riyyh. He sets his now-empty cup back on the counter.

Athanasia: My name's Athanasia, by the way.

Nick: I'm Nick. It's been a pleasure, but just now, I have a lady who's expecting my company.

Athanasia's expression falls. Oh well, at least he's being honest about it.

Athanasia: It was good meeting you, Nick.

Nick: Likewise. Perhaps we'll meet again.

Longo: I hope so.

Nick waves at Longo, and heads for the door.

Longo turns his full attention on Athanasia.

Athanasia stares after him, then turns to look at Longo.

Longo: Can I interest you in another of whatever you're drinking?

Athanasia: I've still got most of one, over at my table. Care to join me?

Longo: Okay. Let me grab my double ChoccoMocco, or whatever they call it.

Longo smiles, steps over to his table, scoops up all his belongings including his drink and joins Athanasia at her table.

Athanasia smiles at the guy. He's not quite as cute as Nick, but much closer to her own age.

Athanasia: I don't think I caught your name.

Longo: My name's Longo, my subject's philosophy, and my status is unattached. Now tell me all about you!

Athanasia grins, takes a sip of her cold MocchoChoco, and tries to figure out where to begin her answer. Yes, Longo really is kind of cute, in his own way.

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