Dancing Around The Problem: Episode 16

Doctor Tavis is back from his medical conference, and has spent the day frantically making house calls, on top of his clinic work. His path takes him by the slaughterhouse, and the Sime Center beyond. He hesitates, then turns down the walk and climbs the steps of the porch.

Bibi comes out of her office, having zlinned the physician approaching.

Tavis opens the door and steps inside, looking around to see if he is disturbing the normal business of the place.

Bibi: Good evening, Dr. Tavis. Welcome.

Tavis: Good evening, Hajene Bibi. I hope I'm not interrupting? It's rather late, I know.

Bibi: No, just doing some paper work. I'm glad to have an excuse to quit.

Bibi gives one of her charming, dimpled smiles.

Tavis is not as young as he once was, and his ~ sore ~ feet bear witness to the hard day he's put in.

Tavis: Ah, yes. Some aspects of a physician's work can't be escaped, even by crossing the border.

Bibi: Would you like some tea and a bite to eat? We can sit in the common room.

Tavis's stomach gurgles loudly, and he shrugs.

Tavis: I admit, that sounds marvelous. I didn't have time for a lunch, today.

Bibi smiles and gestures toward the common room at the back of the Sime Center. She isn't going to make any motherly or channelly remarks about how important good nutrition is.

Bibi: Follow me, have a seat and I'll get you something.

Bibi assumes the Gen won't be happy having a Sime walking behind him.

Tavis sinks ~~ gratefully ~~ into one of the comfortable chairs.

Bibi assembles a tray with a variety of wholesome goodies and makes a fresh pot of peppermint tea. No point challenging the man with trin.

Bibi: Here you go. I'll let the tea steep a bit.

Bibi sits across from him, tentacles in.

Tavis is much more comfortable with Bibi than before Cristal landed in his surgery, but he's too old a dog to learn an entire new repertoire of tricks.

Tavis: Thank you, this looks delicious.

Tavis takes a carrot stick and starts snacking.

Tavis: I just got back in town yesterday, and every patient whose condition wasn't life-threatening wants me to second-guess my locum.

Bibi smiles and nods. This locum made fewer waves than the last, relative to the Sime Center, at least.

Tavis: Although at least it wasn't as bad a disaster as last time.

Bibi: Thank goodness.

Tavis: Yes.

Tavis takes a sip of the offered peppermint tea, ~~ relaxing ~~ as it soothes his stomach.

Tavis: Our paper caused quite a stir, although its reception wasn't quite what I'd hoped.

Bibi: Yes?

Tavis: My colleagues were more interested in, well, the adventure-novel aspect of it than the potential for their own work.

Bibi chuckles.

Tavis: A few of the younger ones asked some relevant questions, but the rest -- I could tell that they weren't about to follow through. Even if it might help their patients.

Bibi: It was an adventure -- a frightening one -- for me and Cristal, but I'd think your colleagues would be accustomed to such emergencies.

Tavis: The surgery, yes. It wasn't all that complicated, although it is a little unusual for a town this small to have the capacity to do such surgery. Having you doing that... whatever you did... to stop the bleeding wasn't something I'm accustomed to -- and I was there.

Tavis shakes his head at the memory, although this doesn't prevent him from picking up a piece of bread and cheese.

Bibi: I suppose so. Uh, I guess I wasn't very tactful about it. I was feeling quite desperate. I hope I didn't offend you.

Bibi blushes and looks down.

Tavis gives a stiff smile.

Tavis: I'm used to dealing with desperate family members. Although most of the time, colleagues are a bit calmer. I suppose you do work a little more closely with Cristal than most people do with their colleagues.

Bibi: My well-being depends on his.

Bibi isn't going to point out that her survival does too.

Tavis: I admit, I'm still not clear on exactly what he does for you.

Tavis's time with Cristal has mostly been focused on the medical aspects of what he did for Cristal.

Bibi: He, or another Donor, of course, provides me with the monthly transfer I need to survive. It's more difficult to explain what he does to help me do my channeling work. Also, together with the other people living here at the Sime Center, we're a close community in a foreign culture.

Tavis: It's so far outside my own experience that I have trouble even imagining what it must be like.

Bibi: He can manipulate the ambient in ways that make it easier for me to zlin particular things, for example when I'm trying to diagnose a problem from the patient's nager.

Tavis: What makes that easy or hard to do? You said once that it was like looking inside the patient, as the Ancient machines used to do. And without slicing him open, as I have to do.

Bibi: It's... sensing. Not really vision. Perhaps like when you palpate a patient's abdomen, you get a picture of what the organs would look like, what the problem is, but it's a mental picture, and not entirely visual.

Tavis: So it's sort of... tactile?

Bibi shrugs.

Bibi: A blind person can use touch to know an object without ever seeing it... I can't explain it except with analogies.

Tavis: I've met some who could walk around their homes as comfortably as I do. I've never figured out how they could do it. Memory, I suppose.

Bibi: The ability to zlin can be a handicap too. Young Simes spend a great deal of effort in their first year learning how to interpret what they zlin.

Tavis: When you -- look inside -- do you "see" in color?

Bibi: I may develop a mental image that's visual and in color, although I've only seen the internal organs of dead animals. I suppose if you pick up a familiar object in the dark, you sort of see it in color in your mind's eye?

Tavis: Well, yes. I fill in the details I can't see.

Bibi: One thing Cristal does is suppress background noise, in analogy, and shine a light on what I'm trying to zlin, also in analogy.

Tavis: You said he can help you "see" inside a patient. Does that mean he can "shine a light" through a solid object?

Tavis is both ~~ a little confused ~~ and ~~ very interested ~~.

Bibi: There is a technique of having a Donor on the opposite side of what you're zlinning, and interpreting how his projection is affected by what's between you. I used it once when I was trying to figure out how twin calves were positioned in a cow's womb.

Tavis gives a small, stiff smile.

Tavis: Yes, I heard about that. I admit, I didn't know quite what to think about it.

Bibi: Animals don't have nagers like people, so it's more like zlinning an inanimate object.

Tavis: Do they teach channels to heal animals as well as people, then?

Bibi: Well, not really, although I suppose some of the same skills apply, like pharmacology and bonesetting and such, but I grew up on a dairy farm so I had experience with cattle.

Tavis: Ah. A happy coincidence, then.

Bibi: Yes. That cow and her calves meant so much to Uncle Tony and his grandnephew, and he'd been such a strong supporter of the Sime Center after I served his grandniece in changeover, and I had another channel staying here that night, so I wasn't taking any risks that a child in changeover might show up with no one to help him.

Tavis: I can see that you're even more constrained by your practice than I am.

Bibi: Yes. I have to be sure someone who can serve transfer is always here.

Tavis: Does it have to be another channel, or can Cristal fill in, as well? You did say that he can, didn't you?

Bibi: Yes, he can, assuming he has enough selyn, but it's not ideal. If I were out and a child in changeover came in, Cristal would send someone for me, so I could come back and take over, assuming there was time.

Tavis: Yes, time is always the critical element with changeover. Even more so than with other diseases, because a wrong decision can endanger a patient's family as well.

Bibi: The process takes hours, even after the first signs that a Gen can observe without zlinning. Unfortunately, children who don't trust their parents not to murder them often wait until very late to come here. If we can start working with them early, it's always easier for all of us.

Tavis: I'm not willing to make a final diagnosis until the arms start to swell. It's not that I'm not pretty sure, before then. I just have to be absolutely sure.

Bibi: I understand. Once the tentacle sheaths become visible, there can't be any more doubt.

Tavis: Yes. And then I have to give my patients and their families a choice. ~~ bleak ~~

Bibi pauses, and clasps her hands in her lap.

Bibi: Dr. Tavis, I'm willing to diagnose changeover at any stage I can perceive it, any hour of the day or night. Just have the child come here. Under good conditions I can diagnose it as much as two days in advance.

Tavis: If the child is willing to come here, they usually come on their own.

Bibi nods.

Tavis: There have been a few who changed their minds and were willing to seek your help once they were sure, but most... they already know why they're seeking me out instead. It's their right, under the law, but I don't like being an executioner.

Bibi: I understand. It must be very hard for you, even though you're offering them a gentler death.

Tavis: Have you ever dealt with a patient who wants to die, for reasons you can understand and even support, but who won't die on his own and needs your help? Or is your medical science beyond that?

Tavis clutches at his mug of tea, which is almost empty.

Bibi: Everyone dies. In Nivet, we have a population that's mostly relatively young by out-T standards. Except for Householders, almost everyone alive was born since perhaps twelve or fifteen years before Unity.

Tavis: So you don't have many, say, old folks seeking an easier way out?

Bibi: Yes, that's right. And we don't yet have a lot of cancer and other diseases of aging.

Tavis: Why don't you have old people?

Bibi: Everyone who was too old to disjunct after Unity died within ten or fifteen years afterwards. That means everyone -- every Sime -- who was more than a year past changeover at Unity.

Tavis: That's... harsh. I'm surprised they tolerated it.

Bibi: A junct Sime can live only so long on channel's transfer. Their health deteriorates, and they die of one thing or another.

Tavis: Why didn't they rebel?

Bibi: The old system of killing had collapsed, and so many people died before Unity because they couldn't get selyn. Nobody wanted to go back to that.

Tavis: Dying some time in the next ten years is better than dying now? Well, I can understand that.

Bibi: Before Unity, most Simes didn't live very long after changeover anyway. Twenty years was an old Sime. They didn't bother to eat or take care of themselves and just burned out.

Tavis: I suppose that was just as well, from a larger perspective. The world wouldn't have survived if they'd lived a normal lifespan.

Bibi: Yes, the whole system was infeasible as it was. It depended on raiding to make up shortfalls. And people dying when they couldn't pay their taxes.

Tavis: Capital punishment for non-payment of taxes -- and some of my patients complain about a small fine!

Bibi: Well, if you couldn't pay your taxes, you couldn't get a kill. So you either raided or died of attrition.

Tavis: It's too bad it would be unethical for me to institute such a policy. I'd have fewer patients in arrears.

Bibi smiles, but she finds the horrors of the past hard to joke about, even though she knows about them only indirectly.

Tavis: I understand that you don't have to collect fees from your patients. I envy you that.

Bibi: On the contrary. We pay half of them, and the others pay the government.

Tavis chuckles.

Bibi: We don't have to ask a Sime in need if his taxes are paid up. That's the government's problem. We can just go ahead and give him transfer or whatever else he needs.

Tavis: I think some of my younger patients think they should be paid for getting their vaccinations and such. And with more than a candy.

Bibi: Well, once they're older, they'll understand.

Bibi refills the doctor's cup and pushes the plate of food closer to him.

Tavis: I suppose so, although no one likes paying bills.

Bibi: Or taxes!

Tavis: No, indeed.

Tavis has another slice of cheese, washing it down with some peppermint tea.

Tavis: I admit, I was hoping to pique my colleagues' interest with the story of your Donor's misfortune. The potential with just the rapid diagnosis alone -- you can't treat a problem until you know what it is, most times.

Bibi: It's unfortunate that there isn't more cooperative work between healers on both sides of the border.

Tavis: I might not have been able to save Cristal if I hadn't known exactly what was damaged. On the other hand, even knowing what was wrong, you couldn't have saved him.

Bibi: Yes. A more powerful channel, or a group of channels in concert, spelling each other... but not me alone.

Tavis: The potential is considerable, and perhaps not just with regards to surgery. The way you healed the incision... that was amazing. And yet, you couldn't have done it without the sutures holding it in place, correct?

Bibi: The sutures helped keep things aligned while I worked, and continued to reinforce the incision afterwards. The healing I did wasn't very complete. I mostly wanted to seal the wound to keep infection out. Of course, I kept working with Cristal repeatedly afterwards, which speeded up complete healing a great deal.

Bibi waves a hand, tentacles retracted.

Bibi: Now someone like Katsura Farris could do it all on the spot.

Tavis: Katsura Farris? The channel at Cottonwood City?

Bibi: Yes. She's probably one of the dozen or so strongest channels alive.

Tavis: I've never really understood how channels are classified. She's had a lot of training you haven't, I assume?

Bibi: Yes, she has training, but she also has much greater innate power and precision than I do. Almost all Farris channels are in the top few percent in rating.

Tavis: Like a truly brilliant surgeon, who can reattach a finger and have it even regain some feeling?

Bibi: I suppose. Or you could compare a clumsy person with one who has extreme dexterity, or someone who's terribly near-sighted with one who has perfect vision.

Tavis: And it's a situation where there's no such thing as glasses? Or... do your Donors act as "glasses"?

Bibi: Yes, they do, in a way!

Bibi smiles, glad that the doctor is getting the concept.

Tavis: So with Cristal, your not-eyes can focus better? On the other hand, no pair of artificial lenses is perfect. There's always distortion. Does the analogy hold in that respect?

Bibi: Cristal's rating is comparable to my own. He's extremely good, extremely skillful for a Donor of his rating, but he can't compare to a Donor who can match a Farris.

Tavis: Like that fellow who dressed like a vagrant? And gambled with the refugees?

Bibi: Oh, dear. I understand Nick is something of an outlier, a bit of a wild talent. Most Donors, especially Farris Donors, are much more conventional, more like Cristal. But Gens with Nick's ability to work with Farrises are so rare that allowances have to be made for their eccentricities. Perhaps you know surgeons like that.

Tavis: I had a teacher -- the Chief Surgeon at a major hospital in Cago, no less -- who always wore a raincoat, even when it was sunny outside. But he knew his way around an abdomen, so he was tolerated, even when he threw what in you or me would be called a childish temper tantrum.

Bibi: Nick, at least, is a pleasant person to talk to.

Tavis: I admit, I didn't spend a lot of time with him, but he struck me as, well, very average.

Bibi: Yes, I suppose he would. But nagerically, he's extraordinary.

Tavis: He's a savant, then? With one wild talent in an otherwise uninspiring background?

Bibi: Perhaps. I don't know him well.

Tavis is male, and not sexually adventurous, so he is pretty much immune to the charms Nick inherited from his father and grandfather.

Tavis: Most savants I've heard of have been musical or mathematical prodigies. Does this -- nageric stuff -- have a mathematical basis?

Bibi: Well, some theoreticians have tried to put it all on a mathematical basis.

Bibi is embarrassed that she didn't do notably well in the brief introductory theory course she took as part of her First Year training. She found it rather dry and lacking in both interest and practical application.

Tavis: Really? I would be interested in seeing such an analysis. I was rather good at mathematics.

Bibi: I'll ask Professor Nattin if he can find material for you in English.

Tavis is ~~ curious ~~ whether he'd be able to make more sense of the math than of these vague descriptions of seeing like a blind person.

Bibi wonders whether a mathematical analysis of stuff he can have no direct experience of can possibly make sense to a Gen.

Bibi: While mathematicians are often musical, I don't think the reverse holds. I suspect the talent to do the work of a Donor is more like that of a musician than like mathematical talent.

Tavis: Are there many Donor musicians?

Bibi: I don't know. I suppose music is as popular with Donors as with anybody else.

Tavis: So there's no correlation, that you know of?

Bibi: No, I don't think so. Maybe you should talk to Cristal about his talent and his work, Gen to Gen, some time.

Tavis: I would like that, although the poor man seems to view me a little skeptically, as if he's still wondering if I'm going to come after him with a scalpel.

Bibi laughs.

Bibi: He's very glad you saved his life, but still rather squeamish about the way you did it.

Tavis: Well, I admit that I'm a little squeamish about parts of it myself. So I suppose that I shouldn't blame my colleagues for not jumping in to start their own experiments, after all.

Tavis finishes his tea.

Tavis: Thank you for the refreshments and the conversation, but I really should be getting home. With luck, Miz Abram's baby will decide to wait another night to be born, and let me sleep in peace.

Bibi: I've enjoyed your visit. Please come again.

Bibi favors him with her charming dimpled smile.

Tavis returns the smile, although his isn't half as charming and lacks dimples completely.

Tavis: I will, Hajene.

Tavis discovers on his way home that his feet are no longer hurting quite so badly, perhaps because he has new things to think about.

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