Pollovic is already dressed for travel, though he and Pametta won't be leaving for the train station until after lunch. He's standing just outside his own front gate, with a wooden toolbox at his feet and a screwdriver in his hand. He is staring irresolutely at the shoulder-high little brass plaque that proclaims his estate to be Sime Territory.
Pametta wants to clear a few last-minute arrangements with her husband. She finally finds him at the gate.
Pollovic stares at the plaque, neatly polished like all the brasswork on the grounds, but with deep gouges from when someone once tried to pry it off.
Pametta: Brenn? Are you all right?
Pollovic: Hmm? Yes, sure.
Pametta: What are you doing?
Pollovic sounds distracted, and doesn't even look up at his wife's question.
Pollovic: Trying to make up my mind.
Pollovic raises the screwdriver towards the plaque, then lets it fall again.
Pametta: Make up your mind? About what? And what's the screwdriver for? Has someone been trying to take down the sign again?
Pollovic: I remember when this plaque represented a fine, proud thing. Unity. Ideals. Goals.
Pametta: It still does. It shows this house looks towards the future, not the past.
Pametta looks at it with ~~ pride ~~.
Pollovic: Idealism is fine until it meets up with realism. When I put that up, I'd never been in the same room with a Sime who wasn't wearing retainers.
Pametta: Now you have been... and you're a better person for it.
Pollovic: ~~ bitter ~~ Am I?
Pametta: Yes. You are. You have put your own person on the line to forward your ideals.
Pollovic: Ah, but could I do it again?
Pametta: What do you mean by that?
Pollovic, shoulders slumped in defeat, lets the hand holding the screwdriver fall to his side.
Pametta: Brenn, what's wrong?
Pametta puts an arm around the slumped shoulders.
Pollovic looks up and sees the shining trust in his bride's eyes.
Pollovic takes a deep breath.
Pollovic: Pametta, I can barely let Seruffin touch me. Any other channel, anything resembling a full donation contact...
Pollovic: I'm not sure I'll be able to donate again.
Pametta: But... why? Seruffin would never harm you. Nor would any other channel.
Pollovic: It's not him that's changed. It's me. I lie awake at night, picturing tentacles coming at me. Thinking about what nearly happened that night. You could so easily have been a widow, Pametta.
Pollovic drops the screwdriver and turns to hug her.
Pametta: What nearly happened that night, nearly happened because Unity hasn't gone far enough. The boy should never have had to rely on us to take him to the Sime Center.
Pametta hugs back, firmly.
Pametta: I'm proud of what you did that night, Brenn. You were a real hero.
Pollovic shakes his head.
Pollovic: I was a headstrong fool. And now, it turns out, I'm a coward too.
Pollovic pulls out of Pametta's embrace.
Pollovic: You should have married someone better.
Pametta: No. A coward could never have done what you did. Not just last week, either.
Pollovic shakes his head.
Pollovic: A fool could have. But what happens when a fool gets wiser? When he starts asking questions, and stops seeing things in black and white?
Pametta: What happens? He starts seeing the world in glorious color, both as it is and as it could be. How else can we change the world for the better?
Pollovic: Would it be better? Would it really?
Pollovic remembers a time -- was it only days ago, or was it aeons? -- when he felt just as Pametta does.
Pametta does her husband the courtesy of considering the question seriously.
Pametta: I think it would. You had a close call, but the boy didn't kill you. And he's on his way to a new life. A generation ago, he would be dead. And he might well have killed you before he died, too. There wouldn't have been a Hajene Seruffin to stop him.
Pollovic: But it was purest luck that he didn't, anyway.
Pametta: No, it wasn't. He didn't kill you because you'd gotten him close enough that Seruffin could intervene. That wasn't chance.
Pollovic bends to pick up the screwdriver.
Pametta hugs her husband again.
Pollovic: But next time?
Pametta: It was close. I'm selfish enough to hope that neither of us ever comes that close to a berserker again.
Pollovic pulls out of the hug and waves his screwdriver at the plaque.
Pollovic: As long as that sign is there, we will be. It will happen again. And again, and again.
Pametta thinks about that.
Pametta: You're right. We should definitely plan better for next time.
Pollovic: When I put that thing up, it was nothing but a political statement to me. I was actually proud of myself every time I saw someone wince at it as they came through the gate.
Pametta: I wish I'd seen some of them.
Pollovic: And then it was a convenience for my Sime guests. It meant they could take their retainers off and be comfortable when they visited.
Pametta: That's only common courtesy. Retainers are very painful, Saag says.
Pollovic: But what it really means is that this land is a little piece of Sime Territory. That Sime laws apply here. That Gen laws, Gen culture, Gen fears are irrelevant.
Pametta: It's still our home, Brenn. Sime law doesn't change that. And it's not as if they're going to send police out here to enforce their laws, either.
Pollovic: But they would be within their rights if they did.
Pametta: Are you really afraid that they'll do that?
Pollovic: What happens when another child in changeover shows up, just minutes short of breakout? Do I die, or become guilty of murder?
Pametta: No. We come up with a plan. A place for such children to wait, until a channel can be summoned. Perhaps on a wagon, so we can bring the child to the Sime Center.
Pametta: But that's not what's bothering you, is it? It's not being comfortable with channels that's the problem, right?
Pollovic nods without speaking.
Pametta: Have you talked to Seruffin about it? Perhaps he can suggest some way to help you.
Pollovic: I -- not Seruffin. But I did talk to one of the other channels, a few days ago.
Pametta: Did you learn anything useful?
Pollovic: I don't know if you remember Hajene D'zoll? He was at that disastrous ball of my mother's.
Pametta: The handsome young channel?
Pollovic: Dark hair, big nose. His Companion was older, but looked enough like him to be twins.
Pametta: I remember them.
Pollovic: His specialty is mind-healing. The channel I was talking to suggested I go to him.
Pametta: Do you think he can help you? We were planning to visit Sat'htine, after all.
Pollovic: I guess I can find out, while we're there. But don't you see, to them this isn't a natural fear, but a sickness. A sickness of the mind. How can I make my own home a place where the rules are so different? How can I say I want the whole world to be like that?
Pametta: Brenn, sickness is natural. That doesn't mean we can't, or shouldn't, do what we can to cure it.
Pollovic: Is that what you think? That I'm sick? Not that I've finally come to my senses?
Pametta: I don't know. But I do know that as long as you're afraid to let a channel touch you, you can't make a free decision about whether you ought to donate in the first place.
Pollovic: And you think I'll be saner -- more like my true self -- if I let them change that in me?
Pametta: Were you ever that afraid of Simes, before last week?
Pollovic begins pacing nervously back and forth.
Pollovic: No. But was that sanity, or ignorance?
Pametta: I don't know, Brenn. Not for sure. It could even have been both. A sane view of the world that you didn't fully understand? In either case, you can't go back. All anyone can do is go forward.
Pollovic looks at Pametta with love in his eyes.
Pollovic: You're too good for me, Pametta. You shouldn't have gotten yourself stuck with a failure like me.
Pametta: I don't know a lot about the world -- my parents saw to that. But I do know you're no kind of failure, Brenn Pollovic.
Pollovic: My whole life's goal has evaporated out from under me; I'm making you think about things you should never have to consider. I'm a failure as a man, and I've failed you as a husband.
Pametta gives a smug smile.
Pametta: Now, that last, at least, is nonsense.
Pametta looks up, spots a bit of mistletoe in the tree above them, and takes the opportunity to indulge in a gratuitous smooch.
Pollovic: And as for that, the fact that you don't know how much you've been missing while we wait for my ribs to heal simply means you're not qualified to judge.
Pollovic does not, however, deny himself the kiss. He makes, in fact, quite a thorough job of it.
Pametta: Mmmm. I can judge what I like. And I like that.
Pollovic kisses her again.
Pollovic: I'm told my ribs are now healed well enough for normal activity.
Pametta: You see? Channels are very useful. Now, come eat lunch. We've got a train to catch. A train with a private compartment and an extra-wide bunk.
Pollovic looks at the sign once more, then shrugs and puts the screwdriver back in the toolbox. It's been up there this long; it can wait until after the honeymoon for a decision. He latches the toolbox and picks it up.
Pollovic: Who am I to deny my bride the last decent meal she'll find in days?
Pametta chuckles and threads a companionable arm through her husband's.