Ma Mullins finished her errands at Hannard's Ford faster than anticipated: she spotted exactly the right pattern for her new apron as soon as she walked in the door of the shop. She also picked up pins, a nice blue plaid flannel from which to make a shirt for Jed, and some ribbon just because it was pretty.
Bibi is relaxing with a cup of trin in the Sime Center waiting room. There was a short run of donors, but things have been quiet for the past half hour.
Cristal is having a cup of trin too. He's a bit less tired than Bibi is, but he's glad of the break too.
Ma reflects that this time last year, she would never have been able to indulge in the ribbon, and she'd have been making the apron from an old sheet. She has to admit, albeit grudgingly, that not all of the consequences of her family's interaction with Simes have been negative.
Bibi: It's nice to see the sun, isn't it? It's been such a rainy spring.
Ma makes her way to the Sime Center, where Jed and Vrian were going to join her after the horse's thrown shoe has been replaced. She personally figures the ornery beast lost the shoe on purpose, just out of spite at being forced to make the trip.
Cristal: It sure is, and it sure has.
Cristal is practicing his farmerisms.
Bibi straightens up.
Bibi: Non-donor Gen coming... good heavens, it's Maree Mullins!
Ma makes her way down the path. She reminds herself that the Sime Center staff are not responsible for Bart's decision to go live in Simeland -- well, not really -- and opens the door.
Cristal looks at Bibi for permission and then gets up to answer the door. He feels fully recovered now, which is a Good Thing in these circumstances.
Ma is ~~ cautious ~~ but not openly hostile.
Cristal opens the door.
Cristal: Hello, Miz Mullins. Come in!
Bibi sits with retracted tentacles and hands in lap, smiling and looking harmless.
Ma is slightly ~~ taken aback ~~ by the enthusiastic welcome, but ~~ gamely ~~ steps into the waiting room.
Ma: Thank you.
Ma looks around.
Ma: Jed and Vrian haven't arrived yet?
Cristal: No, which is a little surprising. We expected them a while back.
Ma: I hope the horse didn't decide to be difficult.
Ma has stopped not far into the room, and a cautious distance from Bibi.
Bibi: Please, sit and have some tea and cookies while you wait for them.
Ma decides that Bibi is staying put, and sits in a chair on the opposite side of the room.
Cristal pulls a chair around to the appropriate neutral point and sits down too.
Ma decides that she might as well get to the point of the visit, or they won't get done in time to get home for the milking.
Ma: We've heard from Bart.
Bibi: How's he doing?
Bibi also hears from Bart, but doesn't have the latest news.
Ma: He's graduating. He sent us the announcement. I guess. We can't actually read it.
Ma pulls the much-handled envelope from her coat pocket and pulls out the card.
Cristal steps over, maintaining careful control of the ambient, and takes the card from Ma.
Cristal: Shall I translate it, or would you rather do it, Hajene?
Bibi: Go ahead.
Ma: Bart said it was an invitation?
Cristal: Yes. "Dear Mister, Miz, or Mister and Miz Mullins."
Cristal: "The honor of your presence is earnestly requested at the graduation of your son, daughter, or other relative," hmm, this must be "Bart Mullins", though if I didn't know him, I'd never guess that.
Ma: They got his name wrong?
Ma thinks that bodes ill for Bart's future.
Cristal: No, it's just that it doesn't go into Simelan letters very well. It's the "r" followed by the "t", well, never mind.
Cristal: There's a lot more, all in flowery language I don't know how to put into English very well.
Cristal: "The ceremony will be performed on the eighth of", well, about five weeks from now.
Bibi has been reading over Cristal's shoulder.
Bibi: It's very poetic, formal language, and the printing is in beautiful calligraphy.
Ma: It's pretty, all right. All those squiggles.
Cristal: Because of the sensitive nature of the", ummm, ceremony, "all of our out-Territory visitors will have to undergo special screening by a", a high-powered channel, it means.
Cristal: "in addition to the routine donation requirements for all Gens temporarily or permanently in Sime Territory."
Ma: "Special screening?"
Ma thinks that sounds ~~ unsettling ~~.
Ma: And what sort of "ceremony" is it, anyway?
Ma's voice is a little more shrill than normal.
Bibi doesn't like what she zlins.
Bibi: I think they may be using the traditional form of the pledge that derives from the ceremony many Householdings use.
Cristal: Oh, they'll be giving transfer to their channels up on stage before they take their oath to serve the Tecton, that's the Sime government. You can't see much because the stage is typically so far away.
Cristal couldn't see his parents at his pledge ceremony at all.
Bibi keeps a straight face as she leans on Cristal's field in anticipation of Ma's reaction. It has been a while since she last felt like kicking him in the ankle.
Ma: What's this about a pledge? I thought he'd be hired for a job?
Bibi: It's something like a doctor's oath. Or other professionals. About professional ethics and so forth.
Ma looks at Cristal.
Ma: They'll really make Bart donate on stage? With a channel who's in need?
Cristal: It'll be a piece of pie for him, Miz Mullins. Really. It's all just a ritual.
Bibi: I've never had the opportunity to attend such a ceremony, but what I've heard from other channels, it's quite an experience. The new Donors' emotions are very intense and very beautiful.
Cristal: [to Ma] Of course, we Gens can't tell that. But it's true. I remember from my own pledge.
Bibi smiles as Cristal's memory colors his nager.
Cristal has gotten much better at allowing his emotions to play freely without sacrificing control.
Bibi: Then he'll receive a Tecton ring like Cristal and I wear, and then there'll be a reception. A very nice party.
Cristal shows his ring to Ma.
Cristal: It's to remind us of our promises.
Ma inspects the ring.
Ma: Jed and I were thinking about going -- it would mean a lot to Bart, and he says there's no telling where they'll send him next, or how long it'll be before he can visit Gumgeeville.
Cristal smiles with ~~ satisfaction ~~.
Cristal: That's true, and I know you're very proud of him. It'll mean a great deal for his parents to be there.
Cristal ~~ remembers ~~ some more.
Ma: But it does seem to be rather complicated. What's this "special screening"?
Cristal defers to Bibi as the native Genlan speaker.
Bibi: It's probably that some channel is nervous that an out-T member of the audience may react strongly and negatively to the sight of transfer, which could cause disruption or unpleasantness. But you don't have to watch the transfer itself if you think it will upset you.
Ma: I don't think knowing it's happening would be less upsetting, to tell the truth. At least, it wasn't any worse watching Jed donate, that first time, than it was knowing he was doing it later.
Bibi thinks about how to phrase this tactfully.
Bibi: When you donated to Hajene Seruffin, you were surprised at your sudden reaction part way through the donation. These things happen. And that's what the people organizing the ceremony are concerned about.
Ma: So what sort of "screening" do they do? There's no point in going, if they're going to make me stay away, anyway.
Bibi: It will probably involve lateral contact. But whether you view the entire ceremony or not, you'll still get to visit with your son.
Ma: I miss Bart so much...
Bibi nods ~~ sympathetically ~~.
Cristal switches to Simelan.
Cristal: You know, your channel friend who's here sometimes could do the screening -- it just says "a First" -- if he were so minded, and if they didn't have -- history together.
Cristal doesn't want to name names, obviously.
Bibi: [Simelan] I wonder if I could work with her a little. I'm not sure I should try to take her donation myself. But if I can just accustom her more to a channel's touch....
Ma: Is something wrong?
Bibi: We were wondering whether you'd like me to work with you a little, help you get more comfortable with being touched by Simes, and perhaps Hajene Seruffin could evaluate you, see if he thinks you'd pass the screening.
Ma: Is he here?
Bibi: No, but he frequently stops here when he's traveling between Capital and New Washington.
Ma: I see. It would be good to know if this is even possible.
Bibi: It would be a shame to get your hopes up and then be turned back at the border.
Bibi: Would you like me to work with you? We can start right now. You could sit closer to me, for a start.
Ma opens her mouth to make an excuse, reflexively, then shuts it again.
Cristal is ~~ pleased ~~ at how neatly Bibi set that up.
Ma hesitates, then moves slowly across the room to sit on the other end of the couch from Bibi.
Bibi: That's good.
Cristal moves his chair.
Ma is ~~ nervous ~~, but not actively afraid.
Cristal: Don't mind me. When you move or Bibi moves, I have to change my place too.
Ma: How do you know where to go?
Cristal: I can't exactly say. It's sort of a feeling I get.
Ma is grasping at anything that takes her attention away from how close Bibi is.
Bibi: Much of Bart's training is to develop his ability to understand and use these feelings that are part of a Donor's talent.
Ma: So you didn't sit, oh, a foot to the right, because it "felt" wrong?
Ma is calming as the discussion turns to Bart.
Bibi: One of the early lessons Bart learned was to use a pattern of breathing to calm himself when necessary. Cristal can teach you that, if you like.
Cristal: Sure. Want to try now?
Ma: All right.
Bibi: You may find it useful when you donate.
Ma feels a ~~ twinge of uneasiness ~~ at the mention of donation, but she's already spent some time resigning herself to that necessity.
Cristal: Okay. Close your eyes and think of a safe place -- somewhere you like to be, that makes you feel comfortable. It could be somewhere you go now, or somewhere you went when you were a child. As long as you're in your safe place, nothing can surprise or hurt you.
Ma glances at Bibi, to assure herself that the channel is still at the other end of the couch, then ~~ cautiously ~~ closes her eyes.
Ma imagines her kitchen in late spring, when she's gotten her flowerbox blooming in the window, and she can leave the window open for the breezes. She adds the scent of baking bread, and her nager begins to ~~ calm ~~.
Cristal queries Bibi: ~~ all okay? ~~
Bibi smiles and nods. She thinks having Ma learn to relax only a meter away from a Sime is a good idea, and bringing Bart into the suggestion has worked like a charm.
Ma imagines the new apron she's going to make from the pretty new fabric, tied to the chair in easy reach when the bread is ready to come out of the oven. Her nager ~~ calms ~~ further, and she almost forgets to keep an ear cocked for movement from Bibi's half of the couch.
Cristal: Okay, you're doing wonderfully. Let your breath flow smoothly in and out of your lungs. Now slowly bring yourself back to where you are, here in the Sime Center, but keep the feeling of the safe place with you. Remember, you can always go back to the safe place just by closing your eyes and imagining it again.
Ma's eyes pop open at the reminder that she is not, after all, in her kitchen, and fix on Bibi.
Bibi smiles encouragingly and looks as harmless as possible.
Ma's nager bobbles with ~~ anxiety ~~ that gradually lessens when she sees that Bibi hasn't moved any closer. She remembers to breathe, and smells the comforting odor of gingerbread from the refreshments table.
Cristal: That's it. That's good. Close your eyes briefly if you need to. You're doing fine.
Cristal moves his chair further from Bibi, closer to Ma.
Ma closes her eyes for a couple of breaths, then opens them again. She is looking at Cristal, this time, instead of at Bibi. She is definitely ~~ calmer ~~ than she was the last time she opened her eyes.
Cristal: Excellent. You are doing much better. I don't need to be as close to Bibi as I did before in order to keep her safe from your feelings.
Ma: I know she can feel what I'm feeling, but if it doesn't harm me, why would it harm her?
Cristal: Painful emotions hurt Simes, is the short version.
Ma, who has endured a lot of painful emotions in her lifetime of subsistence farming, suspects it's more a matter of preferring not to deal with them, rather than actual damage.
Cristal: If they are really painful or change really suddenly, they can give Simes something like a heart attack. That's why your husband's friend Gegg is so dangerous to Simes.
Ma is a little ~~ confused ~~, which helps to further distract her from Bibi's presence.
Ma: I thought Gegg's problem was that he might have been a Donor?
Cristal: Exactly. But what's life-threatening from him -- or me, if I weren't well-trained -- is still painful or unpleasant from ordinary Gens.
Ma looks a little ~~ skeptically ~~ at Bibi to see if there are any signs that the Sime is suffering.
Bibi: You aren't hurting me now, Miz Mullins. You're calm, and besides, Cristal is here to help me.
Cristal: And she's pretty well-trained too.
Bibi chuckles too.
Ma doesn't understand what the joke is.
Cristal: Channels, especially ones working in Gen Territory, get a lot of practice resisting ordinary Gens' distress. But we believe in the suspenders and belt method around here.
Ma: Suspenders and belt? Two ways to keep your pants from falling off?
Ma inspects Cristal's uniform with the eye of a seamstress.
Cristal: If one breaks, the other still works. Gens and Simes, Donors and channels uphold Unity together.
Ma: So you're here to intervene if I turn out to be more... painful than she can tolerate? Or wants to, anyway?
Ma is not sure how she feels about being considered a public menace.
Ma: If people on this side of the border are that dangerous, why did they invite us to Bart's graduation? Or is it one of those invitations that are issued in the understanding that they won't be accepted?
Bibi: After a person donates, their effect on Simes is much weaker than when they have a full load of selyn. That's why the Tecton requires donation at the border.
Cristal: In addition, the school perhaps doesn't think that too many people from out-Territory will actually show up, but any of them who do will be very welcome.
Bibi: People who donate regularly are usually fairly comfortable around Simes, too.
Bibi smiles, dimples and all.
Bibi: You're already more comfortable with me, just after sitting there for a little while, right?
Ma: Well, a little. You're a little less, well...
Ma gropes for the proper adjective.
Ma: ...formidable than Seruffin, if you know what I mean.
Bibi: Yes. You're not the first person to make that comment!
Bibi leans forward very slightly.
Bibi: Would it be okay if I extend my handling tentacles? I won't touch you with them. I just want to extend them in the usual comfortable position.
Ma isn't completely comfortable with the idea, but it is clearly a matter of etiquette, and she is nothing if not properly behaved.
Ma: By all means. It's your home.
Bibi slowly extends her tentacles, but keeps them quiescent along with her hands.
Bibi: Thank you. That's more comfortable.
Ma looks at the tentacles long enough to make sure that they really aren't getting any closer, then looks away.
Ma: You're welcome.
Bibi: Wouldn't you like some tea and cookies? We have peppermint tea in the pot today, and oatmeal cookies with raisins. Cristal, will you get some for all of us?
Cristal: We really need a fresh pot. I'll go make it.
Cristal hands off Bibi to her own control and goes off to the kitchen to do those things.
Ma finds herself alone with Bibi.
Ma: Please, be honest with me. Will they turn me back at the border?
Bibi: If you can donate, or have donated recently, they'll certainly let you through.
Bibi reserves the caveat that e.g. hysterical behavior might make them reject her anyway.
Ma is not the hysterical type, usually. If she were, she'd never have survived marriage to Jed Mullins.
Ma: And this "special screening" to attend the ceremony? There isn't anything more about it on the invitation?
Bibi: I can try to find out more, if you like. I suspect that they're just a bit overcautious. Many channels who were raised in-T are more nervous about out-T Gens than is really necessary. They just don't understand our culture as well as they might.
Bibi makes a point of identifying herself with out-T culture, which is, after all the culture she was raised in.
Ma: I would appreciate that. Bart would be upset if we came and weren't allowed to attend, and I don't want to spoil his day.
Cristal returns with the pot and picks up the delicacies from the refreshment table on the way.
Cristal: It would spoil his day even more if you wound up staying home, I think.
Bibi picks up her cup in the natural way and offers it to Cristal for refilling, zlinning for Ma's reaction to her use of her tentacles.
Ma finds the moving appendages a little ~~ unsettling ~~, but not actually frightening.
Ma: I suppose Jed wouldn't have any problems being permitted to attend the ceremony?
Bibi: He's quite the experienced donor now -- he's donated more than a dozen times. He's never been particularly nervous with me, even at the beginning. So I think he wouldn't have any trouble.
Ma: Please, be honest with me. Would it be better for him to go alone?
Bibi decides to take a bit of risk for herself in order to make this important step more possible for Ma.
Bibi: You have time to make two donations before you leave. I think that if you can manage to do that without too much difficulty, you should be able to pass any screening these channels come up with. If it goes well, I could write you a letter giving them my opinion, or if Hajene Seruffin has a chance to examine you, he could. They'd be more likely to believe him than me, of course!
Ma: Hajene Seruffin... wasn't able to take my donation. Or that's what he said. He stopped halfway through.
Bibi: That was more than a year ago. A lot has changed since. I'm sure your thoughts about Simes have changed a lot, haven't they?
Ma figures it is best to be honest.
Ma: Not as much as one might think. It's my menfolk who have changed their opinions of Simes the most.
Ma: I understand Simes better, I think. Is that enough?
Bibi: We seem more like other people now, don't we?
Ma: Yes, you do. Other people with potentially dangerous appetites, however.
Bibi spreads her hands, not spreading the tentacles too obtrusively.
Bibi: As a channel, I'd die before I could kill.
Cristal: Dogs have potentially dangerous appetites, and people keep dogs. It's all in the training.
Bibi: Other than berserkers, almost every Sime you'd meet these days has never killed and never will.
Ma: As long as nothing goes wrong.
Bibi: Pretty much everyone you know has and can use a rifle. Any one of them could murder someone, if something went wrong. But it's not very likely, is it?
Ma: We don't have many murders, that's true.
Ma is using the out-T definition of "murder", which doesn't include the execution of changeover victims.
Ma: But there have been several accidental shootings.
Ma: Simes are human, and no human can be perfectly in control at all times.
Bibi: True. But things are arranged in-T so the chance of someone losing control to the point of attacking someone else is very small. It's less common than murder on either side of the border. It's far less common than the Kill is here.
Bibi casually lifts her arms to zlin better.
Ma leans sideways against the arm of the sofa, to get a little farther away from the raised arms.
Bibi: Ah, here come Jed and Vrian now.
Ma is ~~ relieved ~~ at the appearance of her menfolk.
Ma: It's about time. We'll be hard pressed to get home in time for milking.
Bibi: I guess your goats are all freshening, aren't they?
Bibi shifts the conversation to farming matters to dispel the emotionally charged ambient before the two men come in.
Ma: Yes. We have two kids this year, and we may have three when we get home.