Bibi is out on the back veranda, relaxing after her day, enjoying the beautiful evening.
Nattin comes out to join her, carrying two mugs of tea.
Nattin: Care for some tea, Bibi?
Bibi: Oh, thank you!
Nattin hands Bibi one of the mugs and settles on the swing beside her.
Nattin: I think the lilac is particularly lovely this year.
Bibi: Yes, it is. I love the scent.
Bibi blushes a little, remembering the romantic scene under the lilacs with Seruffin last year, as they were getting to know one another.
Cristal joins the two, carrying his own mug of tea and his ~~ concerns ~~ as well.
Nattin notes the Donor's preoccupation.
Nattin: Is something bothering you, Sosu?
Cristal: Umm, yes. If you two are agreeable, I have some questions to ask -- from the local experts in Gen T culture.
Cristal smiles faintly.
Bibi sips her tea.
Nattin: Now, that sounds interesting.
Cristal: Do you remember last year, Bibi, when Nesta Brown came in to ask about that donor Rikk and whether he was attracted to her or not? And I put my foot in it?
Cristal: As I remember, she said something like "I know he likes me, but I don't know if he likes me likes me." Which confused me quite a bit at the time.
Nattin: It's an idiom. Some of them can be very confusing.
Cristal: Yes, although "put my foot in it" is pretty clear once you explained it!
Bibi smiles. Cristal is really doing much better, not just with English idioms, but with out-T culture.
Cristal: Anyhow, I went into Violet's the other day to take a break from jogging, and I saw Rikk there, so I decided to try to find out what was what.
Cristal: So we got to talking, and everything seemed to be going fine. I mean, I wasn't going to ask bluntly "Do you like Nesta, I mean like her like her?" after what happened back in the day. "Back in the day", is that right?
Bibi smiles and nods.
Nattin: Yes, it's correct.
Cristal smiles rather more ~~ calmly ~~ this time.
Cristal: So instead I brought up the general subject of women, I mean his attitudes to them in general, and then -- well. I don't exactly remember what I said, or what he said, but now he has the impression that I was trying to find out if he was interested in men, as opposed to women. Sexually, I mean.
Bibi: Oh, dear.
Bibi says this instead of "Oh, no".
Nattin looks at Bibi.
Nattin: Is that going to be a problem, Bibi?
Cristal: So I know that's completely socially disapproved of out here,
Cristal waves to indicate Gen Territory.
Cristal: ...maybe even illegal for all I know, and --
Cristal breaks off to hear Bibi's response.
Bibi: Well, to imply that a man isn't completely heterosexual can be a very serious insult. And... do you think he thinks you were making a pass at him? People would have a very negative opinion of you if they think you aren't completely heterosexual.
Bibi: And if I were in need, I'd be worrying about whether this would create a negative impression of the Tecton...
Cristal: Umm, yes, I think he does think that. But he would be wrong.
Nattin: Was he insulted?
Cristal: N-no. ~~ holding back ~~
Cristal: I think -- I think he was in fact attracted to me.
Cristal hesitates even longer.
Cristal: And I wanted to know -- I mean, what's the correct thing to do? I'm really out of my depth here.
Nattin: If he is interested in you, that might at least prevent him from talking about the conversation to others.
Cristal: Well, yes, that's true. If, I mean, I'm right.
Bibi: Cristal, I think it's very important that you avoid any kind of homoerotic activity when you're out-T, okay? I hate to say anything about your personal life, but this could disastrously affect our mission here.
Cristal: And yes, I know, and I wouldn't dream of impacting the mission here. But, I mean, I just don't have ---
Cristal runs down. ~~ mute appeal ~~
Nattin shakes his head.
Nattin: This could get complicated. Bibi, I didn't grow up out here. What are the implications?
Bibi: Well, we can hope that if nothing further happens, the man will assume his interpretation of what Cristal said was wrong, and the whole thing will be dropped.
Bibi runs a few tentacles through her hair.
Bibi: Are you interested in this man sexually? If so, it's probably best if you avoid him as much as possible, to avoid sending a subliminal message.
Cristal: In fact, yes. But I swear I never showed it! ~~ defensive ~~
Bibi: If he were a Sime, would he have zlinned it?
Cristal: I wasn't trying to control my nager, not in an all-Gen ice cream parlor, but I was controlling my voice and face.
Bibi: Nobody has perfect conscious control, so he may have picked something up. But without reinforcement, he may conclude he was mistaken.
Nattin: When does he come in to donate next, Bibi? Can we help him lose interest?
Bibi: I don't recall exactly. Next week some time, I think.
Cristal: Yes. Would you feel up to seeing him by yourself, Bibi? I know it's a lot to ask, but....
Bibi: It should be okay. He's an experienced donor -- he's never caused me any problems.
Nattin: Actually, I was wondering if having Cristal present might help clear up the misunderstanding. At a minimum, you could zlin whether Rikk is, in fact, interested in him. That may give us some idea how best to proceed.
Bibi: Good point. How do you feel about that, Cristal?
Bibi hopes that the whole thing is just confusion on Cristal's part. He isn't very good at interpreting the actions and motivations of people out-T.
Cristal: Okay. I can keep a stiff lip for a few minutes.
Cristal scratches his head.
Cristal: Where does that one come from? Never mind, I don't think I want to know.
Cristal's eyes become a bit unfocused.
Cristal: I was right to begin with. Rikk is a hottie....
Cristal realizes what he's doing and sharply reins in his nager.
Nattin chuckles, not unsympathetically.
Nattin: You've been very lonely out here, haven't you, Cristal? And you're young enough to find that more of a hardship than I do.
Cristal: Well, yes. Of course you two have become my friends here, and Virginia for a while too. But it's not exactly ... company.
Nattin: Bibi, what if Rikk is interested in Cristal? Is there a way for Cristal to pursue the interest without compromising the Center?
Nattin is ~~ hopeful ~~ for Cristal's sake.
Cristal: You were the one that told me there are no secrets in small towns, just things that people intentionally overlook.
Bibi: It would be very risky, Nattin. And think of Rikk, too. Encouraging him to engage in such behavior could turn him into a pariah with his own people, when he may just be somewhat bisexual, and could be quite content with an entirely heterosexual life. Even causing him to doubt his inclination could be very destructive to him personally.
Bibi waves a few tentacles.
Bibi: I'm inclined to agree with my instructors, who say that everyone is more or less bisexual, and what people around you expect of you mostly determines how you think of your sexual orientation.
Nattin: I see. Then you think it would be more appropriate to steer the conversation to, say, Nesta? If he zlins interested, he could be encouraged to pursue that interest instead.
Cristal nods, not trusting his voice.
Nattin is a Householder, and used to meddling in other peoples' private concerns.
Bibi: It's his life, Nattin. It's not up to us to steer his interests. I just don't want a scandal here that could cause the town to despise and reject us.
Cristal: Even though it's in everyone's best interests if we do steer him -- assuming he can be steered at all? He is human, after all, not a cow.
Nattin: By opening up the subject, hasn't Cristal already compromised the young man? He may have to publicly demonstrate his interest in a young lady to restore his reputation.
Bibi: Rikk's love life is not the business of this Sime Center. Unless he asks for our help, I suppose. I hope he doesn't -- why should he? And I don't think it's exactly fair to Nesta for Rikk to use her in that way, but if he does, that's not our business either. It certainly isn't our business to encourage it.
Cristal sighs too, with somewhat more mixed emotions.
Cristal: Yes, Hajene.
Bibi: Do you want a longer rotation in-T, Cristal? One month isn't long enough to develop any kind of real relationship. I can write to our Controller.
Cristal: Even a longer rotation won't help, I fear. I've pretty well committed myself to an out-T life. Professionally, I mean.
Cristal remembers a conversation with that same Controller on his last rotation, and the smell of burning bridges.
Bibi: That's a commitment to heterosexuality or abstinence, Cristal.
Cristal sighs again.
Nattin: Perhaps. Or perhaps not. We do have staff here.
Cristal: Sorry, Professor, but you're not my type.
Cristal smiles again.
Nattin smiles back.
Nattin: Perhaps not, but I do have students.
Bibi: You could transfer to a larger city, Cago or New Washington, perhaps?
Cristal: I don't think the Tecton would approve of anything illegal, even in New Washington.
Nattin: It's not illegal, as long as you keep it in the Sime Center.
Bibi: With other people from in-T they'd have no right to interfere, I'd think. Of course, you'd have to be careful not to let any of the clients see anything.
Cristal: Maybe. If you'll excuse me, Hajene? I have to -- think.
Bibi: Of course. Remember, Seruffin can probably help, if you want to transfer to another District.
Cristal takes his still-full cup of trin and walks back into the Sime Center, ~~ pensive ~~.
Nattin looks at Bibi.
Bibi sips her tea and looks out over the garden.
Nattin: This is inconvenient timing, not that any time would be good. But we owe it to Cristal to find someone for him. Or at least to get him somewhere he can find someone for himself.
Bibi: We have no obligation to find anyone for him. That's his problem. If this posting is too isolated, and there's a risk that he could cause a serious problem, we owe it both to him and to the Tecton to get him somewhere better for him.
Nattin: I would hate to see this Center lose him.
Bibi: I would hate to see our efforts go down in flames over a matter of out-T cultural prejudice.
Nattin: Am I correct that there would be much less problem if Cristal was interested in a woman?
Bibi: Yes, but if he wants a sexual relationship without marriage, it had better not be a young marriageable woman. If he were to get involved, discreetly, with Virginia for example, it would be one thing. But if it were Nesta he were interested in, he could cause almost as much of a disaster.
Nattin: After what Seruffin went through when the locals thought he was "dishonoring" you, I'd have to agree.
Bibi: They make quite a fetish of virginity here. For women, that is.
Nattin: It seems so complicated.
Bibi: Not really. If anything, it's simpler and more circumscribed than it is in-T. There are rules, and you follow them. Break them and you can ruin your life, or someone else's.
Nattin: Yes, but the rules are so unrealistic. As far as I can tell, few people actually manage to follow them. The best one can hope for is not to actually get caught breaking them.
Bibi shrugs. She's rather upset that this has blown up suddenly, and she may lose her Donor. Cristal has his faults, but he has his virtues and she's used to both now. Who knows who else the Tecton might send her if Cristal leaves?
Nattin settles back, mentally going over the pool of grad school applicants to figure out which might be interesting to Cristal.