Gritta walks toward the shack where the Simelanders are staying, accompanied by her younger son.
Gritta: You okay, Del? You don't have to say anything. Just listen and stick close.
Del: Yes, Mum.
Gritta: Awful the way these miners live. No gardens. Not even decent cabins to keep off the weather.
Del: Why do they stay?
Gritta: They don't have any land like we do, so they have to work for money to buy food and stuff. But they have to buy it from the store here that charges them a fortune, so they get in debt and can never get ahead enough to go elsewhere and survive until they can find other work.
Gritta pats her son's shoulder.
Gritta: We're real lucky.
Gritta hopes that if they have to relocate to Simeland they won't end up in a similar economic trap.
Del: Yeah, we are. We've got you, Mum.
Gritta: Yup. A family has to stick together, work together, help each other. And that's what we do.
Seruffin is trying to bear the nageric clamor coming through the thin walls with fortitude.
Seruffin sent his Donor out on yet another attempt to locate the supposed Distect activity in the area. He's beginning to suspect that Moose was merely saying what he thought his interrogators wanted to hear.
Seruffin notes a higher field than normal approaching, and for a moment thinks that Gerrhonot has returned, until it draws a bit closer.
Seruffin: What the shen is a Third Order Donor doing here?
Gritta: Here we are. Juniper said they were on the other side of him.
Gritta approaches the door and knocks.
Del sticks close to his Mum.
Seruffin winces at the zlin of knuckles smashing splintery pine and hastily opens the door.
Seruffin: Good afternoon, Ma'am.
Gritta: G'day. You're the channel, are you?
Seruffin: Yes, ma'am. I'm Hajene Seruffin. Won't you come in?
Gritta nods and enters, her arm around her son's shoulders. The boy has seldom left their farm, and hasn't met many strangers.
Del looks around curiously. The inside of the shack is as dismal as the outside.
Seruffin finds it a little ~~ confusing ~~ that a Third would knock, then address a channel in Genlan. He wonders if the child is the reason.
Seruffin: What can I do for you, Sosu?
Gritta is taken aback a little by being called by the wrong name.
Gritta: I'm Gritta, and my boy here is Del.
Del nods politely.
Seruffin: Pleased to meet you, Del.
Del awkwardly offers a handshake, like a proper grownup man would do.
Seruffin shakes hands, tentacles retracted.
Gritta: Del's nearly twelve, and we wanted to know if he'll turn Sime.
Del squares his shoulders under the adults' attention, but with none of the fear such a question would inspire in most children here.
Seruffin notes the boy's equanimity with ~~ interest ~~.
Seruffin: I see. Del, you're not obviously Sime or Gen yet. But if you like, I can zlin you deeply. That will let me tell if you will go through changeover in the next two days or so.
Del: Okay, sir.
Gritta pats the boy's shoulder, ~~ proud ~~ of how well he is handling the encounter with the stranger.
Seruffin: I'll have to touch you with my tentacles. Have you ever seen a Sime's tentacles before?
Del: Yes, sir.
Del again shows no fear.
Seruffin manages to conceal the worst of his ~~ startlement ~~.
Gritta wishes the boy hadn't said that. She was hoping to keep Spart's larity secret a bit longer.
Seruffin: You have? Where?
Del glances belatedly at his mother, remembering her lessons.
Del: Um, nowhere, sir.
Gritta nods ~~ encouragingly ~~, although she figures it's too late.
Gritta: My father told me about Simes he met in the war, and I told Del about what he said.
Gritta is completely ~~ truthful ~~ here, of course.
Seruffin: Del, where have you seen tentacles before?
Del speaks the lie more firmly this time.
Del: Nowhere, sir. Just pictures. ~~ falsehood ~~
Gritta: I showed him some pictures my dad drew when he was telling me about them. ~~ truth ~~
Seruffin: Del, did you know that Simes can tell when you're telling the truth and when you're not.
Del shakes his head, then nods. ~~ embarrassment ~~ Spart has always let him get away with little white lies in front of the grownups.
Gritta: My dad told me that, and I told him. ~~ truth ~~
Gritta pats Del's shoulder again.
Gritta: So, you can't tell more than a couple days in advance if the boy is going to turn Sime, then? That's too bad.
Seruffin: Yes. But that's long enough to bring him here, so I can give him First Transfer. If he turns Sime at all, that is.
Gritta: Well, we live a good ways back in the bush. We started out at dawn to walk here. And he's not twelve yet, and you won't be here for the next five years, will you?
Gritta is ~~ disappointed ~~ that this channel can't resolve her problem by predicting Del's future larity. Spart didn't turn Sime until he was fourteen, but she can't count on Del taking that long. If he turns Sime at all, of course.
Seruffin: I'm sorry. Perhaps some day it will be possible to predict what a child will become and when, but at the moment, that's not possible.
Gritta nods, and tries to decide how much more to let slip. ~~ indecisive ~~
Gritta: Well, sir, I was wondering, from the stuff my dad told me... can a person make enough stuff to feed two Simes?
Seruffin: Two Simes?
Seruffin zlins her more closely.
Seruffin: Implying that at the moment, you are already serving one Sime?
Seruffin is starting to get a bad feeling about this.
Gritta: Not implying anything. But I'm curious, hey?
Seruffin: Ma'am, you're a little more than curious. This is important to you. Why don't you tell me why you want to know this. Then perhaps I can help you.
Gritta: Well, we live back in the bush, away from everybody. My dad used to say we were so far back in the bush we have to keep our own tomcat. We grow or make almost everything we need, and this is the same sort of thing.
Seruffin thinks this sure sounds like a good Distect hideout.
Gritta: ~~ uncomfortable ~~
Seruffin: You have a Sime there?
Gritta: It's just our family. ~~ truth ~~
Seruffin: What family? And how long has this been going on?
Gritta: We've had that place since before they opened this mine here.
Gritta hugs her son closer.
Gritta: Will you answer my question?
Del is tired of this stranger trying to intimidate his mother.
Del: You leave my Mum alone!
Del steps protectively in front of Gritta.
Gritta: It's okay, Del. He can't do anything to us.
Seruffin: I have no intention of harming your mother, Del. She's right, what she's doing is not illegal here, although unless I'm much mistaken, it is in Simeland.
Gritta: The way I was raised, a family stays together and helps each other. That's what we've always done.
Seruffin: That includes taking care of your Simes?
Gritta: What Simes? Del here is still a child, you said. And every family here at the mine takes care of its Simes. You know that.
Seruffin: Yes, but most of the time, that's fatal for the Sime. I was referring to the Sime who has been getting your selyn each month.
Gritta is getting ~~ worried ~~. She'd hoped she could resolve her problem with this channel's help, but he doesn't seem very sympathetic. And if what she's been doing is illegal in Simeland, what will they do to her if she crosses the border with her sons?
Seruffin zlins the worry.
Seruffin: Look, Ma'am. It's apparent that you've been dealing with a difficult situation with little or no help. I'm concerned because it could easily go wrong, especially if Del here does change over, and you haven't had the training to handle such situations.
Gritta has experience nursing one son through changeover. It looked pretty awful for him, though not as bad as childbirth. But the joy at the end was very similar.
Gritta ~~ thinks ~~ about the situation. She isn't likely to have another opportunity to talk to an expert, like this channel must be. ~~ indecisive ~~
Gritta: Well... Can we sit down? We've been walking all day. And can we have some water?
Seruffin: Of course.
Seruffin gestures towards the two rickety chairs.
Gritta: C'mon, Del.
Gritta takes a seat.
Del glances at the older man, then drops down to sit crosslegged on the floor beside his mother, leaving the second chair for the channel.
Gritta rests her hand on her son's shoulder again.
Seruffin: Would you care for some trin tea? It isn't served out here much, but it's very popular in Sime Territory.
Gritta: You want to try that, Del?
Gritta: Okay. The both of us.
Del is thirsty enough to drink just about anything reasonable.
Seruffin shortly produces three glasses and distributes them.
Gritta sips hers. It tastes okay, so she drinks more.
Del tries a sip, then drains the rest as fast as the heat of the liquid permits.
Seruffin: Now, why don't you tell me how you started providing transfer to Simes.
Gritta takes a deep breath.
Gritta: Well, it goes back to my dad, in the war. In the retreat from Shen, he got banged up when his horse panicked and threw him. Caught his foot in the stirrup and got dragged some.
Seruffin winces in sympathy.
Gritta: He woke up and this Sime was carrying him. They found some shelter in a cave in the snowstorm, and the Sime looked after him. Cleaned his wounds, fed him all her food, was real good to him. She was from this side of the border originally. Treated him like family.
Seruffin: I see. What happened?
Gritta: Well, what you think. She needed him to feed her, and he did. He said it was easy, because by then he really cared about her. She told him that as long as he wasn't afraid, and really wanted to save her life, he could do it. He believed her and she was right.
Seruffin: I heard about several such incidents during the Unity War. There were several other incidents that didn't turn out as well, of course.
Gritta: Maybe they were afraid, or maybe they didn't love the Sime like my dad loved this one. Or maybe the Sime didn't love them like this Sime loved my dad.
Seruffin: Love makes giving transfer much easier.
Gritta: So when my son needed me to feed him, I figured I could do it, because we love each other. And it worked out real well. And Del and me love each other a lot too, but I don't know if a person can feed both her sons.
Gritta looks up.
Gritta: Nobody knows my other son is a Sime. I don't want them to find out, either.
Seruffin: I can understand your caution. There are a lot of people here who probably wouldn't be very understanding.
Seruffin: As far as your ability to serve more than one Sime goes, that is a difficult question. It would depend on how recently you'd given transfer to your other son. And on whether he could tolerate your giving selyn to another Sime.
Gritta: He loves his brother too.
Gritta is a little ~~ uncertain ~~, after what Spart said the night they delivered the last lot of produce.
Seruffin: That might not matter. Simes can be very... possessive of their donors. It's a difficult reflex to master, and if it catches him by surprise, he might crack.
Gritta: He'd hurt his brother?
Del: ~~ alarm ~~
Seruffin: It has happened, when a Sime has become dependent on one Gen. For that matter, it is possible that you have become equally dependent on him.
Gritta: I wouldn't let Del die!
Del: I know you wouldn't, Mum.
Del pats his mother's knee reassuringly. ~~ unsure ~~
Seruffin: The reflex can be very strong. I might be able to tell whether you have such a dependency.
Seruffin: By faking the situation well enough to trigger the reflex, if it's there.
Gritta: You wouldn't actually take my stuff, would you? My son needs it. Maybe both my sons.
Seruffin notes what might be an early manifestation of a dependency, or just the concern of someone who knows she might be in trouble.
Seruffin: I wouldn't take enough that your son would miss it. And I can give you some idea whether you have the capacity to serve a second Sime.
Gritta doesn't see how she has any other choice than to trust this channel's word. She needs the knowledge.
Gritta: All right. What do I do? Pretend like I'm going to feed you?
Seruffin gets up and approaches, zlinning closely.
Gritta takes a deep breath and thinks about her son as a tiny infant, utterly dependent on her love, as she puts him to her breast. She stands and reaches her hands towards Seruffin.
Seruffin takes them.
Seruffin: Put your attention on me, Gritta. Don't imagine me as your son; that will make the test less accurate.
Gritta looks at Seruffin, who's almost as old as her father would have been had he lived. She thinks about how she ~~ loved ~~ and ~~ trusted ~~ him in everything, and how she would have ~~ gladly ~~ done this for him had he been a Sime. She smiles, full of ~~ kindness ~~.
Seruffin: Gritta, I can tell you love and trust whoever you're thinking of, but it's not me.
Seruffin's voice is kind, not accusatory. He lets a little bit of ~~ simulated need ~~ to enter his nager, and extends his laterals just a bit to zlin the response.
Gritta can feel that this Sime needs what Simes need. She ~~ wants to give ~~ it.
Gritta: I have to trust you.
Seruffin: It will help, yes.
Seruffin lets his handling tentacles wrap around her arms.
Gritta reacts with ~~ pleasure ~~.
Del watches, both ~~ hopeful ~~ and ~~ concerned ~~ .
Gritta: You're sure you won't take what my son needs?
Gritta is feeling herself remarkably ~~ attracted ~~ to this Sime she's never met before.
Seruffin: I should be able to do this and leave enough selyn for him. All I have to know is whether you can commit to giving transfer to a different Sime.
Gritta ~~ doesn't really understand ~~ what he means, but is ~~ willing ~~ to continue. Maybe even ~~ eager ~~.
Seruffin lets his laterals extend, increasing the incipient nageric linkage.
Gritta: You... feel... different than my boy. ~~ attracted ~~
Seruffin: Yes. You're doing well, so far. I'm going to make a lip contact for a moment, now. All right?
Seruffin leans forward, letting the fake need he's projecting peak.
Gritta responds with the feeling of a woman experiencing the run-up to orgasm, surprising herself with it. She drops her barriers automatically.
Seruffin takes a few dynopters, cautiously, in case she tries to grab control.
Gritta feels the flow begin, then stop. ~~ confused ~~ ~~ somewhat shenned ~~ She reminds herself that she didn't want to risk depriving her son, so it's right that it stopped.
Seruffin breaks lip contact.
Seruffin: Relax, Gritta.
Seruffin retracts his laterals and lets her go.
Gritta takes a deep breath and tries to regain her self-possession.
Del: You all right, Mum?
Gritta has never met a Sime other than her renSime son, and exposure to Seruffin's extreme sec has been a remarkable experience.
Gritta: Yes, Del. Just a little flustered.
Del: You were acting... different, Mum. Almost like the way Spart does.
Gritta's emotions are still swirling, including ~~ sexual attraction ~~ as well as ~~ nageric attraction ~~ to this strange Sime. ~~ embarrassment ~~
Gritta: I guess channels are different than regular Simes, Del. Or maybe it's that this one has more experience.
Seruffin: As far as I can tell, you probably don't have a dependency on your son. That means you could theoretically serve a different Sime. That assumes, of course, that you didn't just serve your older son.
Gritta turns to Seruffin.
Gritta: It's been nine days. Since four days before the full moon.
Seruffin: You could probably serve a normal transfer to an adult Sime in another few days, if the Sime wasn't a channel. A changeover, as you know, is a little more demanding.
Gritta: So if the two of them are two weeks apart... but that's not very likely, is it? ~~ worry ~~
Seruffin: No. It's more likely that Del would change over when you were either too low field to serve him properly or if not, that your older son would be shorted instead.
Gritta shakes her head.
Seruffin: Of course, he might establish instead. If so, his brother should be able to tell you quickly, so you can stop worrying.
Gritta: We'll have to go to Simeland, then. Or Spart will. ~~ pain ~~ And once he goes, he can't come back, even if Del doesn't turn Sime.
Seruffin: Probably not. I'm sorry. Unless... I can't promise anything just yet, but there might be a way.
Gritta looks up. ~~ strained hope ~~
Seruffin: In the mean time, why don't I zlin Del. That way, you will at least know whether he'll go through changeover in the next day or two.
Gritta: You want to do it, Del?
Gritta nods to Seruffin.
Gritta: Go ahead.
Del stands, then calmly rolls up his sleeves and offers his hands to Seruffin.
Seruffin takes the hands and his eyes go vacant as he zlins. He relinquishes contact and steps back from Del.
Seruffin: Del, you're still a child. So there's time to figure out what you and your family want to do.
Seruffin looks at Gritta.
Gritta doesn't think a guarantee of two days is worth much, but she didn't expect her son to be close to changeover anyway.
Seruffin: You have some choices to make. I don't know which would be best for you, but I can go over your options. At least as far as I know them.
Gritta nods. ~~ faint hope mixed with concern ~~
Seruffin: If you do nothing and Del here establishes, you have a second Gen on the premises, and only one Sime. You can continue pretty much as you have. However, there's a one in three chance that Del will be Sime. And that could be very dangerous, if you're out on your farm with just the three of you.
Gritta presses her lips together and nods again.
Seruffin: You couldn't serve both boys. And you might not even get a chance to try. A Sime's strongest instinct is to protect his source of selyn. Your elder boy is still young, I'd guess, and he's not used to being around other Simes.
Gritta: He's never met another one.
Seruffin: He probably has a transfer dependency on you. That would make it almost impossible for him to surrender you to another Sime. Not even his much-loved little brother.
Gritta looks down. ~~ pain ~~
Seruffin: And you couldn't serve two Simes, as I said.
Gritta: Unless the timing was perfect.
Gritta doesn't believe it could be.
Seruffin: Even then, it would be very difficult.
Seruffin: You do have some options. None of them are perfect, but they are probably better than doing nothing.
Gritta sighs deeply.
Gritta: Two out of three, we go along as we have until something bad happens, like somebody finding out Spart's a Sime. One out of three, something dreadful happens, and one of my boys dies, or I do.
Seruffin: Yes. So, here's what you can do to tilt the odds of that one-out-of-three more towards something livable.
Seruffin: If you are determined to stay here and keep your farm, then the safest option is to send Del to a town with a Sime Center, so he can be monitored by a channel and given transfer if he should go through changeover.
Gritta doesn't see how she could afford to have him board out, and she can't imagine letting some careless stranger raise her child for four years.
Seruffin: I would recommend Hannard's Ford. I know the channel there, and she has arranged for various children in the area to stay with local families.
Gritta shakes her head.
Gritta: I haven't much money, and how can I let some stranger look after my son for years?
Seruffin: There would be no charge. Although you are right that you would be allowing someone else to care for your son until he matures. If he should establish, he could come back to you here; if not, he would be sent in-Territory, to a camp where he would be taught how to live as a Sime.
Gritta thinks he'd come back a stranger, and their tight family bonds would be lost.
Gritta: If we went to Nivet, we could stay together. Or could we? I'd be a criminal there, you said.
Seruffin: You would not be allowed to continue giving transfer to your son every month, that's true. Only channels take transfer directly from Gens under the Tecton. Even if your son is a channel -- which is possible -- channels rotate Donors.
Gritta: But there'd be someone, a channel, to look after him every month. He wouldn't risk having to starve.
Seruffin: Absolutely. Also on the positive side, you do have Donor talent yourself. If you want to move your entire family in-Territory, you could make a very good living.
Gritta: Feeding... giving transfer to a channel, like you are.
Gritta looks into Seruffin's eyes, and remembers the ~~ thrill ~~ when he tested her.
Gritta: So we wouldn't get stuck in poverty, a place like this coal mine, sinking deeper every day.
Seruffin: Absolutely not. You would have to go through a training program, but you would earn a stipend while you learned. Enough to support your boys in reasonable comfort.
Gritta: We've never lived in a town. We've never lived anywhere but our farm.
Seruffin: It would be strange. But your lives will change no matter what you do.
Gritta: Yes. I should have taken the boys to Nivet right after Spart turned Sime. Well, once the weather got better. But things were working out... I knew it couldn't last, but I was afraid... afraid of what I didn't know anything about.
Seruffin: You can't change the past, but you can plan for the future.
Gritta: Yes. What do I do? Just show up at the border?
Gritta figures the chances of selling the farm are nearly nil -- it's not much of one, and it's too isolated. She'll have to walk away from it.
Seruffin: If you want to take your family to Sime Territory, I will help you make the arrangements.
Gritta: I'd appreciate it. It might take us a while to be ready to go, anyway. Spart should be able to tell if Del's going Sime before I can, right? So we can bring him to you. How long will you be here?
Seruffin: I'm not sure. Probably another month or so, at least.
Gritta: I'm back here every week or so, selling produce to your next door neighbor. I can come talk to you then. It's late at night, but if you're like Spart you don't sleep much anyway, right?
Seruffin: That is true. My Donor Gerrhonot does, however. If you stand in front of the door, I'll know you're there and answer.
Gritta: Spart knows where I am, too.
Seruffin: You should bring him to town, so I can meet him.
Gritta: He helps me bring the produce in. Juniper hasn't figured out yet that he's Sime, but he's usually drunk on his own moonshine. I can't count on the guards not noticing, though. We meet Juniper out in the bush, a little ways out.
Seruffin: I see. Well, perhaps we can arrange something later.
Gritta: Yes. We've got some time now. We got to do some planning. I'll talk to Spart about it all, see if he has any questions for you.
Seruffin: I'd be happy to answer any questions he has.
Gritta: Well, thank you, Hajene. We better get going if we want to make it to the camp site before dark.
Gritta has a few places to sleep over so she doesn't have to do the long walk both ways in one day and night.
Seruffin: You're quite welcome.
Gritta: C'mon, Del. Not such a long walk this time.
Gritta and her son leave.
Seruffin makes himself a cup of trin and sits back to wait for Gerrhonot, ~~ bemused ~~.
Gerrhonot comes home empty-handed. The mail train was late, and they didn't get any mail anyway. And he didn't gather any information about Distect activities either, just some ugly stories about murdering Simes.
Gerrhonot: Hi, Hajene. Still no luck. We didn't get any mail.
Gerrhonot thinks his channel looks well enough, but can see that he's thinking about something.
Gerrhonot: Anything happen while I was away?
Seruffin: Well, yes. While you were out looking for the Distect, they came looking for us. After a fashion.
Gerrhonot is ~~ startled ~~.
Gerrhonot: There's Distect people here?
Seruffin: Well, they've never heard of the Distect, but there is a family -- a mother and her two sons. The older went through changeover several years ago, and she's been serving him ever since.
Gerrhonot: Wow. She must be some kind of Natural Donor or something, right?
Seruffin: Probably. She did respond to my field, as well. She came because she was worried about what might happen if the younger son also went through changeover.
Gerrhonot thinks about it.
Gerrhonot: I guess nobody knows the guy is Sime or we'd have heard about it. How are they keeping it secret?
Seruffin: They live out in the back end of nowhere, and don't see anybody but our next door neighbor. Who as you know is usually drunk.
Gerrhonot: Um. It's really dangerous for a Sime here. People have been telling me ugly stories about berserkers. I'm surprised they don't mind that you're Sime. I guess it's the money for donating.
Seruffin: That does make a difference.
Gerrhonot: It's real different here than in Gumgeeville that way. I mean the way it was when we first went there, before all those people started donating to Hajene Bibi.
Seruffin: The people here are even more desperate.
Gerrhonot: I guess. In Gumgeeville most everybody had food, because they could raise a lot of it themselves.
Seruffin: Yes. And they were more settled -- the land was theirs, not their boss's.
Gerrhonot: Some women told me that even if they had space to grow gardens, the coal poisons the ground so stuff doesn't grow well. And some people tried to grow food further away but other people stole it all.
Seruffin: They don't have time to farm much, anyway, with the stronger labor down in the mine all day.
Gerrhonot: This is an awful place.
Gerrhonot thinks not being able to grow some food when you can't buy it is really bad -- even at the Snake River Dam he planted a little garden of vegetables and Sime herbs for his channel. At least he and Seruffin get good food even when they travel. Well, except for here.
Seruffin: It is, for everybody but Coleman and a few of his administrative people.
Gerrhonot: So what's that woman going to do?
Seruffin: She hasn't decided yet. The options that are best for her younger son don't allow the three of them to continue their lives. Unless the boy establishes, their family will break up or lose the farm.
Gerrhonot: Do you think the Tecton will give her a hard time if they go to Nivet? For being kind of Distect? And her son? I mean, she just wanted to save his life, right?
Seruffin: They acted out of ignorance. If the situation is handled properly, they will not be ill treated.
Gerrhonot has noticed that the Tecton, in the person of some of its channels, doesn't always handle situations properly.
Seruffin: In either case, Gritta is very sure that nobody but the three of them, and now me, know that the older boy is Sime. So they can't be the source of the rumors of Distect activity.
Gerrhonot: Do you want to stick around and take more donations to help these people around here, or will we go back to Nivet?
Gerrhonot thinks this is a wretched place to take a vacation, but at least Seruffin isn't wearing himself out with senators and paperwork.
Seruffin: We must stay until we have confirmed that there is no organized Distect activity.
Gerrhonot: Okay. I hope our package of food from back home comes soon.
Seruffin: So do I, Gerrhonot. So do I.