Ma Mullins gets to her feet as the train finishes screeching to a halt. She looks out the window, down the tracks.
Ma: Huh. Looks like Simeland isn't all that different from Gen Territory, at least as far as the vegetation goes. Although this town is bigger than Hannard's Ford.
Jed: Yeah. A real city, I guess.
Jed has never visited a real city.
Jed: You wouldn't expect the crops to change much either, I guess.
Ma: I guess even Simes have to eat.
Jed looks around.
Jed: I think we're supposed to follow the crowd into that building there.
Ma eyes the building ~~ uneasily ~~.
Ma: I suppose so. Should we bring the suitcases?
Jed: I guess so.
Jed reaches them down from the overhead rack.
Ma takes one.
Ma: Do you think there will be a chance to get something to eat? The sandwiches we packed are getting stale.
Jed: I suppose so. Big stations sometimes have real restaurants and such. Depends on how much time we have before the train leaves.
Jed and Ma slowly follow the crowd down the steps and across the platform toward the station buildings.
Ma keeps an eye out for Simes, pickpockets, rogues, and other dangers that might prey on travelers.
Ma: A restaurant would be so expensive. Surely in a city this big, there's a grocer?
Jed: I guess so, but maybe not by the station.
Ma looks at the size of the city, which is becoming more apparent as they move farther away from the train.
Ma: Maybe not.
Ma finds the idea of a town so big that there are parts of it that just aren't accessible from other parts a bit ~~ daunting ~~. She looks up at the station building, which is much larger than the ones she's seen so far on this journey.
Ma: Look at that fancy decoration and brickwork. They must think highly of themselves, here.
Jed: City folk are like that, I guess.
Jed is doing a lot of guessing. He really has no experience with cities, much less Simeland cities.
Jed: Well, here we are.
Jed takes Ma's arm and ushers her into the building, ~~ hoping ~~ that this is going to go as smoothly as possible.
Ma looks around the large room.
Ma: With all that glass in the windows, it must cost a fortune to heat the place.
Jed: Maybe the climate's warmer here, or maybe they figure everybody will have their coats on, or maybe they don't care about the expense. Considering how much they must make on the train tickets...
Tirlan ambrov Zeor is glad of the train's arrival. It's been a slow shift thus far; scarcely enough to keep a First from entran. She turns to her Companion.
Tirlan: Find us someone interesting if you can, Rabbet. Maybe someone who could use a bit of healing. There's a promising pair over by the south doors.
Rabbet walks over to the "promising pair", who are of course Jed and Ma.
Rabbet: Hello there, and welcome to Sime Territory!
Rabbet, like all ambrov Zeor (and almost everybody in Valzor), speaks a Genlan indistinguishable from that of any out-T speaker's, or so he believes.
Ma takes a step away from the overly enthusiastic stranger, just in case he's a con man.
Jed recognizes the Tecton uniform.
Jed: Hello, Sosu.
Rabbet is impressed. Not many obvious out-T rubes can actually recognize a Donor at sight.
Rabbet: Can you tell me what your purpose is in visiting Nivet Territory, please?
Jed: Our son is graduating from Donor school and we're invited to the ceremony. ~~ pride ~~.
Ma is also ~~ proud ~~ that Bart has succeeded, even if she does wish he'd found a different profession.
Ma: He'll be the first person from Gumgeeville to graduate with a real degree.
Rabbet: Oh, how wonderful that is. You must be very, very proud of him, then.
Rabbet: Well then. I suppose you are both donors?
Jed: Uh. Well, I've been donating for more than a year now.
Ma wonders if her one attempt counts as a donation, since Seruffin stopped halfway through.
Jed: My wife, though... well, she tried once but it didn't work out. That was a long time ago.
Rabbet elevates his eyebrows.
Rabbet: I see. Well, our channels here are rated much higher than the people in the out-Territory Sime Centers. Especially the rural ones. So perhaps we can overcome that difficulty.
Rabbet sounds quite confident.
Ma isn't completely sure she likes the sound of that "overcome".
Jed pats Ma's shoulder in an encouraging manner.
Ma finds the pat ~~ comforting ~~.
Rabbet: Excuse me a moment; I'll be right back.
Rabbet returns to Tirlan and begins talking in rapid-fire technical Simelan. What it boils down to is that there's one donor and one non-donor who had some kind of trauma around donation, and would she take a zlin, please?
Tirlan nods and crosses the waiting room with the exaggerated slowness she always uses around Wild Gens.
Rabbet follows, providing Zeor-standard support, which is quite another thing from Tecton-standard.
Tirlan: Hello, sir, ma'am.
Ma eyes the new arrival somewhat ~~ skeptically ~~.
Jed: Hello, Hajene.
Jed squeezes Ma's arm.
Ma is reminded of her manners.
Tirlan signals Rabbet for a slight adjustment in support, and zlins both Mullinses without extending her laterals more than a few millimeters.
Tirlan takes note of Jed's many old injuries, and the fact that someone has already done some superficial healing on the worst of them. Then she turns her attention to Ma.
Ma is, of course, oblivious of what either Zeor member is doing.
Tirlan: I understand that you, ma'am, are not a regular donor?
Ma: No. I've only tried it once.
Tirlan is only making conversation; Ma's nondonor status is plainly zlinnable in her field. She, too, has an assortment of old injuries, none of which have been worked on at all.
Tirlan: May I ask what happened that one time?
Ma: The channel stopped halfway through.
Tirlan: Do you know why?
Ma: I think it was because I couldn't hold still.
Tirlan: You were struggling to get away?
Tirlan knows better than to use the words "fear" or "panic" with a Wild Gen.
Ma doesn't like to admit that her emotions got the better of her.
Ma: A little.
Tirlan: Ah. This was how long ago?
Ma: A little more than a year ago.
Tirlan: So you're ready to try again?
Tirlan zlins the emotions that flicker through Ma's field as she replies.
Ma is too honest to prevaricate...much.
Ma: I want to see my son graduate.
Tirlan: Ah. He's studying here in Nivet?
Ma: Yes. He's going to be a Donor.
Tirlan zlins the ~~ pride ~~ in Ma's nager, measures it against the ~~ fear ~~ , and makes a decision.
Tirlan: Then come with me, please. Both of you.
Ma looks at Jed.
Jed puts his arm around his wife and follows the channel.
Tirlan leads the way back to the donation room.
Ma tries not to trip over her suitcase, very ~~ glad ~~ that Jed is with her.
Rabbet trails after the group, shielding random Simes from the weird pattern in the field that would otherwise result.
Tirlan waits until Rabbet has closed the door, then gestures to two of the chairs in front of the desk.
Jed guides Ma toward the chairs, his arm still around her. Momentum helps.
Tirlan: If you'll sit right here, please, we've got some routine paperwork to take care of first.
Ma sits in the one farthest away from the Sime.
Ma: I hope it won't take too long? We've got to catch our train.
Tirlan: There's plenty of time. Everyone from the train has to go through the same routine, and there are still a lot of people out there waiting their turn.
Tirlan smiles, and gestures for Rabbet to begin filling out the forms. She listens with half an ear to the answers, zlinning for any trouble spots.
Ma lets Jed provide the answers.
Rabbet writes it all down as it comes.
Tirlan nods as Rabbet finishes and sets down his pen. There were no further surprises, at least.
Tirlan: Mr. Mullins, you're at about half field, so you're not strictly required to donate now. If you do, however, I can strip your field a bit lower than usual, so you'll have minimal impact on the Simes around you. And perhaps I can do something for a few of your old injuries.
Rabbet smiles and nods encouragingly.
Jed is a little ~~ taken aback ~~ but quickly realizes that it will mean more cash in hand.
Jed: Sure, if you think it's a good idea. I don't think you'd have much time to do anything about my scars, though.
Tirlan: It doesn't take long at all.
Tirlan turns to Ma.
Tirlan: Normally, ma'am, I'd ask you to wait outside for a minute. But if the two of you wish, I'll offer you the option of watching your husband's donation. You might find it reassuring.
Jed: Whatever you want, Ma.
Jed figures it might help to watch, and Ma might feel uncomfortable alone in the mixed larity crowd out there.
Ma: I don't want to wait alone out there.
Tirlan: Very well, then.
Tirlan gestures for Jed to settle himself on the transfer lounge, and lets Rabbet position a chair for Ma.
Jed complies, removing his coat and rolling up his sleeves.
Tirlan seats herself alongside Jed on the lounge.
Tirlan: Whenever you're ready.
Jed: Sure. Go ahead.
Ma discovers that the chair she was given provides a bit closer view of the proceedings than she'd prefer.
Jed thinks this channel isn't as pretty as Bibi, but she seems to be competent. Besides, he's an old hand at this by now.
Ma finds it easier to watch than to not watch, but not by much.
Rabbet makes the well-schooled motions of the well-schooled Donor.
Tirlan quickly makes contact and begins drawing selyn. The man is a mass of old scar tissue layered upon old scar tissue; his local channel has obviously done some work, but only on the simplest things.
Ma stifles an ~~ objection ~~, knowing that the channel is taking her man's selyn.
Tirlan wrings out a few extra dynopters, then settles down to some serious repair work. Exactly sixty seconds after she began, she stops and dismantles the contact.
Rabbet adjusts his field once more as his channel undoes the contact.
Ma relaxes, now that there is no more perceived threat.
Tirlan: That's only a beginning on the healing work you could use, but I think you'll find it helps a little. I've fixed a small detail in your left ventricle that might have become a problem in another few years, and cleared up some of the scar tissue in your leg.
Tirlan doesn't even bother to detail the dozen smaller things she worked on.
Jed doesn't know what a ventricle is, and is used to having scars. Still, the thought counts.
Jed: Okay, thanks.
Jed gets up and rolls down his sleeves, nodding encouragingly at Ma.
Tirlan leans on Rabbet's ~~ support ~~ for a few moments, then turns her attention to Ma.
Ma swallows and squares her shoulders as the channel's attention fixes on her.
Ma: My turn now?
Tirlan: Yes, ma'am.
Tirlan gestures to the freshly vacated space alongside herself on the lounge.
Jed pats Ma's shoulder.
Jed: Go for it, Ma.
Jed hopes this doesn't count as pushing her into it, which he did promise not to do.
Ma reminds herself firmly that this is the only way she's going to be allowed to see Bart, and nods stiffly. She tries to muster what outward ~~ dignity ~~ she can, as she goes to the lounge.
Tirlan signals to Rabbet for increased support. Oh, but it's good to work with a Companion with such a smooth touch!
Ma doesn't blame Jed for her being here: she knew what she'd have to do before she left Gumgeeville.
Tirlan: Now, settle yourself comfortably. Are you comfortable?
Ma: After hours on the train, I'm about as comfortable as I can be, sitting down.
Tirlan has sunk, without conscious effort, into the rhythmic, soothingly hypnotic voice of a working channel.
Tirlan: Then relax, and take a few slow, deep breaths. Let the tension drain out of you as you breathe out, then fill your lungs again with warm, comfortable air. In, and out. In, and out.
Ma recalls Cristal's similar instructions, and imagines herself in her kitchen. Her kitchen might be primitive, and in a house that isn't much, but at least it's mostly far away from Sime threats, now that her boys are grown up.
Tirlan: Now, when you're ready, I want you to reach out and take my hands.
Ma tries to stay in the kitchen while she reaches out to take Tirlan's hands.
Tirlan catches Ma's work-roughened hands gently in the proper position, then slides her grip slowly up to the wrists.
Ma braces herself.
Tirlan: That's good. That's very good. Take another deep breath. Now, I'm going to extend my handling tentacles.
Tirlan does so, and wraps them very lightly around the dry-skinned forearms.
Jed grits his teeth. He knows how hard this is for his wife, and is not looking forward to the arguments about whether he should go on alone if she can't donate.
Ma is, fortunately, quite used to unpleasantness.
Tirlan is quite aware of Jed's reaction, despite his very low field. She keeps her attention on Ma, though.
Tirlan: You're doing so well. Now I'm going to tighten my grip just a little. Let me know if it's too tight.
Ma grits her teeth.
Jed notices that and gets more ~~ tense ~~.
Tirlan: Easy, easy. Let your jaw muscles and the muscles of your face relax. Let warmth and drowsy relaxation fill you.
Tirlan is speaking to Jed as well as to Ma.
Ma thinks it through, and decides that the grip isn't too bad -- yet.
Tirlan: Now I'm going to extend my laterals. Please try to stay very still, as you could injure me if you move too suddenly now. Stillness and warmth, warmth and relaxation.
Tirlan has no intention of letting Ma injure her, but she finds it helps with nervous donors, to let them feel that they have some power in the process.
Ma ~~ freezes ~~, which is a sort of stillness.
Tirlan lets her laterals glide into place, moist with ronaplin.
Ma manages not to flinch. Much.
Jed finds it ~~ interesting ~~ to view the tentacles from this angle, and ~~ hopes ~~ Ma won't panic this time. So far, so good.
Tirlan: You're doing well. You're doing very well. Now, when you're ready, you make the lip contact.
Tirlan waits, her lips hovering a fraction of an inch from Ma's.
Rabbet does does does what he did did did before, baby.
Ma makes the lip contact.
Tirlan feels every single one of Ma's old scars and injuries resonating in her own body. Ignoring them for the moment, she begins to draw selyn.
Ma suddenly has an absolute ~~ conviction ~~ that she's being drained, and tries to staunch the flow. She isn't sure how she knows, since she can't feel anything happening, but that doesn't shake her conviction.
Ma's ~~ anxiety ~~ grows as the flow continues, despite her efforts.
Tirlan, who has been drawing very slowly, cuts her speed back even further but continues to draw. Suspecting that she won't have time to do any healing afterwards, she begins working on the worst of Ma's health problems.
Ma responds to the cut in speed with momentary ~~ relief ~~, then tenses again as the draw continues. She finds her responses to the channel's touch both ~~ unsettling ~~ and just plain ~~ confusing ~~.
Tirlan applies a surge of focused ~~ need ~~ to some of the uterine and abdominal scarring left by two ill-tended pregnancies.
Ma feels something shift, and jerks backwards.
Jed notices the jerk and ~~ winces ~~.
Tirlan immediately eases off the healing, and tightens her grip on Ma's wrists as she continues to draw selyn.
Ma stills, remembering how badly she was bruised the last time she tried to arm-wrestle a channel.
Tirlan makes a quick assessment and decides to see if she can complete the donation after all.
Ma keeps telling herself, over and over, that it's got to end sometime.
Tirlan understands, now, that it's even more important than usual to drain this first-time donor as far as possible. She speeds up the flow by tiny increments, and finally brings the donation to an adequate end at one minute and three seconds.
Ma is panting in ~~ relief ~~ as the frightening not-sensation ends.
Tirlan immediately breaks the lip contact and begins withdrawing her laterals as quickly as possible.
Jed breathes a sigh of ~~ relief ~~.
Tirlan basks in Rabbet's ~~ nurturing support ~~ , and gives Ma Mullins a bright smile.
Ma: I can go into Simeland and see Bart graduate now?
Tirlan: Yes. And I can see where your son gets at least some of his Donor talent.
Jed is ~~ startled ~~.
Jed: From his mother?
Tirlan: Mrs. Mullins, you have an unusual talent. You can sense selyn movement. Aside from those who become Donors, most people can't.
Jed: Son of a gun.
Ma: Is that what that awful, not-quite-feeling was?
Ma swallows, then looks at Rabbet.
Ma: How can you stand it?
Rabbet: It's completely different for me, I assure you. What you experience as discomfort, I experience quite differently, as something very pleasant indeed.
Tirlan considers briefly, then decides it's worth trampling a bit on an out-T taboo in order to make her point.
Tirlan: I can zlin the amount of love between the two of you. I'm guessing that you have a happy marriage in all respects?
Ma: We're as happy as anyone. At least when the roof isn't leaking, and the goats don't go dry too early.
Tirlan: But in bed, you're happy? Have you ever realized, during the most intense moments of very good sex, just how closely that intense good sensation actually resembles the sensation of intense pain? Or how easily the one could turn to the other, if you weren't happy to be with the man you're with?
Jed is ~~ shocked ~~.
Jed: I don't think you should discuss such things with a respectable woman like my wife.
Ma was warned that Sime manners were different than what she's used to, but this goes a little too far.
Tirlan: I won't ask you to reply to that, but woman to woman, I hope you understand what I'm saying.
Ma: What has that to do with... the other?
Rabbet: Oh, everything! The selyn system and the sexual function are deeply intertwined.
Jed is further ~~ taken aback ~~, and wonders what Bart will have to say about that, man to man.
Tirlan: In any intense physical sensation, whether it's interpreted as pleasure or pain depends more on the mindset you approach it with than on the physical stimulus alone.
Jed hasn't found any of the pain he's gotten from various injuries over the years to be pleasurable at all, despite his attitude that strain and injury are just part of life for a farmer.
Tirlan: Because you started out by expecting misery and suffering from Simes, your first awareness of selyn movement was interpreted through that expectation. And the first time you tried to donate only reinforced that.
Tirlan: But can you imagine how different the experience might be for someone who didn't start out afraid of Simes? Who didn't begin with that negative expectation?
Ma: Is that why Bart was mooning over that Sime who stayed with us so shamelessly?
Tirlan: He sensed a channel's nager, and perhaps a channel's need. And yes, his natural Donor's response to those sensations was pleasure, not pain or fear. As a Donor, your son enjoys transfer as much as the channel does. Possibly more.
Ma: I'll try to keep that in mind.