by Marge Robbins

[AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story was very difficult for me to write. I want to acknowledge the tremendous amount of moral suport and technical assistance I received from Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer. Without her support, the story would never have been finished. If it affects you as deeply as it has me, and you want to talk, please contact me. I know how you feel. I've been there.

Kley's favorite time of day was early morning. The world was hushed and still in that quiet predawn moment before the sun would peek its rosy face above the horizon to begin its slow ascent into the daytime sky.

For just a moment Kley studies his reflection in the still-darkened window panes. His unruly red hair was for once under some semblance of control. His dark eyes glowed with pride as ne fingered the Chanel crest stitched to the breast pocket of his new crimson uniform.

With a contented sigh he picked up his text on the psychology of disjunction and bent again to his studies.

A few moments later his door flew open with an alarming crash. Startled, Kley jumped to his feet. He'd been so absorbed in the text he'd failed to zlin the approach of three renSimes. Two wore the uniform of the Tecton police. They were dragging with them a young girl whose nager was defiant and hostile.

"Hajene Kley?" asked one of the officers. At the channel's nod of acknowledgement, he went on apologetically. "Sorry to disturb you, but the duty channel said to bring her to you."

"What's the problem?"

Kley had taken control of the rather discordant fields and was working to calm the youngster. She glared defiantly as his field engaged hers. "You shendi-flayed lorsh! Let me go!"

"We caught her trying to leave the grounds of the Center. Since we know she's a disjunction candidate, we brought her back. Your duty channel said the Controller is busy and asked that you deal with her. She was hunting Gens."

That wasn't surprising. Though he was not yet officially assigned to the disjunction ward of the Cedar City Sime Center, Kley had some training and did occasionally help out with counseling and routine transfers while he continued the study of psychology, his House's specialty, that he had started while in First Year School.

"It's all right. She can stay with me." Smiling, he moved towards the girl. "Relax, honey. No one's going to hurt you."

She struggled futilely in the tight grasp of her captors. "Make those lorshes let go of me."

"Let her go. And you, young lady, stop augmenting. You're wasting selyn."

The girl struggled a moment longer then went limp, almost falling as the officers released her. "Her name is Arla," supplied one of the renSimes as they started for the door.

"Thanks." Kley dismissed the police with a wave then turned his full attention to the girl, who was regarding him defiantly. She was tiny, abnormally thin, even for a Sime. She had very delicate features and extremely long jet-black hair that lay in a rumpled mess on her shoulders. Her legs were covered with tiny scratches. Evidently she had come in contact with the many hedges on the Center's grounds.

She was also very close to hard need, so Kley raised his showfield to the pure Gen enticement of a working channel. Shutting the door he held out his hands to the girl.

"I don't want transfer," she muttered, staring at the floor.

The channel was surprised. He hadn't thought it possible for a renSime that deep into need to resist a channel's field. Strengthening his contact with the girl, he took a few steps in her direction. "Come to me, Arla," he crooned softly.

"You bloody-shen lorsh!" she screamed. "I can do what I want."

"Perhaps, but you may not go out and find a Gen. The Tecton won't allow it." Kley carefully kept his tone neutral, letting his nager speak for him. He knew that regardless of what Arla thought she wanted, her instincts would soon overrule her and she would attack him.

"I don't want a Gen!" screamed Arla, genuine revulsion in her field. "What do you tnink I am, a murderer? That man lied. I wasn't hunting."

This thoroughly confused the channel. "Well then, if you don't want to kill, why run? There are plenty of channels to cnoose from here."

Arla sank into a seat, her nager taking on a frightening resignation. "I don't want a channel either." She buried her face in her hands, surrendering to a cold despair that sent shivers coursing up and down the channel's spine as he zlinned her.

Unbidden, a well-known image swelled up in Kley's mind: the surface of a deep blue sea, moving restlessly, the long swells swiftly getting bigger as their color darkened ominously. 'Oh, no! She's suicidal!' The channel was all too familiar with the anguish radiating from the youngster before him.

Something in him ached to reach out and comfort her. But the danger to his own peace of mind was too great. Keeping a firm grasp on his field, Kley willed the waters to calm, the darkness to return to placid blue. No way was he going to confront what lay under those waters.

Seeking to hide his turmoil from Arla, he said gruffly, "It's obvious something's bothering you. Talk to me. Perhaps I can help."

"I don't want your help. I don't require it. Nothing's wrong. Just leave me alone."

"I can't do that." Kley took a deep breath. He knew he was going about this all wrong. "All right," he admitted softly. "You don't have to talk to me. But I can't let you go until you've had transfer."

He shrugged as he girl shook her head in determined denial. "Very well. I'm not going to force you to take transfer. But I do have work to do. Let me know when you change your mind." Resuming his seat behind his desk, he opened the textbook and started to read, though his professional attention remained fixed on the girl. She was stunned and trying unsuccessfully to hide it from the channel.

The next half hour passed exceedingly slowly for Kley. Though he couldn't think of anything else to do short of grabbing her and forcing transfer on her, he wasn't at all sure that his tactics were going to work.

Fervently he wished that Sectuib Aran was available. But he could easily be tied up for hours. Not only was he Chanel's Sectuib, he had just taken over as controller of the Sime Center across the street from Chanel headquarters.

Keeping his eyes firmly on the book in his hands, though he really wasn't reading much, Kley carefully monitored the girl. As he had expected, she remained resistant until the last possible moment, pacing restlessly up and down, fighting unsuccessfully to keep her aggitated laterals in their sheaths.

Finally, however, she went hyperconscious, springing at the channel and knocking the book out of his hands.

Kley made no resistance as she roughly pulled him into transfer position. The girl had no will of her own now, but had surrendered to the killer instinct, her tentacles whipping quickly into place on his arms. Kley deftly entwined tentatcles with her, his laterals meeting hers, ready and willing to feed her voracious hunger.

She began her draw swiftly, but faltered after a bare moment. Before the channel could react, Arla had pulled away, reeling in flaming shen to lean weakly against the wall, arms held tightly to her chest, nager clenched in hopeless despair.

Moving swiftly, while she was still hyperconscious, Kley pried her arms free and again took her into position. She didn't resist as he entwined laterals. Doing his best to simulate the fear and panic a Gen feels in the kill, Kley began to push selyn into her at a speed slightly less than her previous draw speed. At first she resisted and the channel thought sure he'd be shenned again. The waters rose in his mind, muddy-brown and moving restlessly, pouring fear and helpless into his thoughts, spilling over into his snowfield. Before he could suppress this, Arla's field changed. She was responding. Weakly, but she was responding.

Arla began a lisitless draw that only increased momentarily when Kley offered the feigned resistance that should have brought her satisfaction. It didn't.

Nearing repletion, Arla ceased even her token draw, leaving it to the channel to terminate the flow and break contact.

Immediately Arla began to cry hysterically. "Let me die! Oh, God, why didn't you just let me die!"

Kley waited a moment, then put a tender arm around her, crooning soft words of reassurance. At first she resisted, but after a few moments she let him lead her to a seat.

Still in tears, she cuddled against the channel and cried for a long time. Kley zlinned deeply and unobtusively, discovering that her physical condition was very poor. Her selyn system was in knots. He also noted dark spots in her digestive tract that he suspected were ulcers. Considering the tremendous tension she was carrying, that wasn't surprising.

Kley debated deepening his contact with her to work on those dark spots, then decided against it. Undoubtedly she was already getting channel's therapy. And in any case, she was calming down, starting to draw away. To insist on therapy now might provoke more hostility.

Handing her his hankerchief, he asked softly, "Feeling better?"

Arla scrubbed the tears from her eyes. "Stupid question. I want to go back to my room now."

"Why not tell me what's bothering you?" asked Kley, hoping to take advantage of her momentary calm. Instantly Arla's nager returned to its former hostile state. "Shut up! I told you I don't want to talk to you. You're a lorsh like all channels. Leave me alone." Rising, she retreated to the opposite corner, silently daring the channel to do anything further.

"Very well." Kley went to the door and ordered a passing renSime to go for a Donor to escort Arla back to her room.

Picking up the book that had gotten tossed on the floor, he returned to his seat behind the desk. "If you decide you want to talk to me later, just tell one of the attendants. I'll come as soon as I can."

Nager radiating total rejection, Arla turned away without answering. Kley shrugged. So much for the idea that he might have been able to reach her.

They waited in uncomfortable silence for the arrival for Arla's escort. As the door opened the room filled with a dull-grey nager dotted with silver-blue speckles.

The rolling waters quickly turned an angry black, huge waves crashing against the shores of Kley's mind. 'This can't be,' he thought fighting down panic. 'That nager, that voice... No!' that was another time another place. Rising, he forced the fierce waves back. "You're...?"

"Verlyn ambrov Alger at your service," the Gen said cheerfully. "Arla, what are you doing here? You missed language class." When the girl didn't answer he glanced over at the channel. His green eyes widened as he shifited into a standard working mode. "Is something wrong, Kley? Should I

"No, thank you. I'm fine. Just take Arla back to her room."

The Donor shook his head. "No, Hajene. You're upset about something." Crossing the room, he took Kley's hands, closely studying the channel's face.

Kley took a deep breath, forcing himself to stand still to endure the Gen's uncomfortable touch. After all Verlyn was only doing his job. "Just put it down to turnover jitters," he said as calmly as he could. The waves were crashing wildly now, threatening to spill up onto the shore the dark things they were suppose to be covering.

"Take care of Arla. She's just had a rather rocky transfer." As he had hoped, the distraction worked. Though it was obvious that the Donor didn't completely accept his rationale, Kley had given a legitimate order.

"Yes, Hajene." Finally, Verlyn's professional attention turned towards Arla.

Though her nager radiated extreme fear, all of her beligerent hostility vanished, leaving in its place a sunny smile and outwardly submissive manner. Kley frowned sightly in puzzlement over the odd contradiction.

Verlyn held out his hand to the girl. "Come on, Arla, it's time for lunch. You must be hungry?"

"Yeah, I am." Arla took the Gen's hand, still smiling warmly. "I'm sorry I missed your class. I won't do it again, I promise."

The Gen grinned. "Don't worry about it. But you did miss some interesting..." He was still talking as the door closed behind them.

Kley sank back in his seat, burying his head in his hands. Stilling the dark waters took a lot of time and effort. As Kley regained his emotional equilibrium, his thoughts turned to the Gen. That name was very familiar.

Finally Kley placed it. "Oh, no! My next transfer. He's my Donor!" A fresh wave of despair swept over him.

True, he could probably ask Aran to make a change, but then he would have to explain to his Sectuib why that Donor was not acceptable. I can't do that. I just can't tell Sectuib about the dark waters. If he saw what was under them he wouldn't want me in Chanel any more. Feeling trapped, Kley finally got the restless waves under some semblance of control, the left the office to chart Arla's transfer.

The next two weeks passed all too quickly for the young channel. By burying himself in his studies and volunteering for extra duty in the collectorium and dispensary. he was able to do a fairly good job of avoiding the disjunction ward and contact with Verlyn. But he couldn't avoid the inevitable meeting with his donor for transfer.

Even though he was a few minutes early for the appointment, he found Verlyn waiting for him in the appointed place.

"Good morning, Kley," the Donor said cheerfully. Rising from his seat by the window, he crossed the room to offer his hands to the channel.

Kley stiffened as the Gen made nageric contact. The waters stirred restlessly, the blue changing to a deep blue-black. 'This is silly,' he told himself, 'Verlyn's just a Donor. He won't hurt me.' But he couldn't keep himself from flinching or his hands from trembling as Verlyn's field engaged him.

"What's wrong?" asked Verlyn softly. "I seem to be frightening you. Am I doing something wrong?"

Shaking his head, the channel reached for Verlyn's hands, making an effort to relax. "No, I'm..." Kley stopped, unable to think of a good reason for his unusual reaction.

Verlyn grinned wryly. "Well, I haven't spent any time with you. I guess that was a mistake."

Kley seized the excuse gratefully. "I suppose that's it." Generally I get a Chanel Donor, someone I know.

The Gen chuckled. "That's what my channel said last month. Maybe coming here for specialized training wasn 't such a good idea. I seem to be at a disadvantage. But I assure you I can do just as good a job as..." He hesitated, eyeing Kley speculatively. "You're not really ready for transfer, are you? Let me work a little."

Kley took a deep breath. "Yes, I guess that's a good idea." He let himself be led to the tranfer couch, where the Gen started a gentle systematic massage ofthe channel's head, neck, and shoulders, gradually working his way down Kley's arms.

By cooperating fully with the Gen, Kley was able to relax somewhat. "Initiate trautholo. I'm as ready as I'll ever be."

But Verlyn wasn't satisfied. "My field isn't raising your intil as it should." He was genuinely worried. "Perhaps I should ask Sectuib Aran if another Donor..."

A wave of guilt washed over Kley at the faint hurt in the Gen's nager. "No," he said firmly. "You're doing just fine. don't want another Donor." He wasn't sure he could take transfer from Verlyn, but he was sure that he didn't want to explain to Aran why he couldn't.

Verlyn wasn't satisfied, but he did as the channel requested, deepening his link to pre-tansfer readiness.

Kley stiffened momentarily then relaxed. He slid into hyperconsciousness, zlinning only the selyn currents in the Gen's body. Though the angry waters wre crashing wildly now, he ignored them, his need blotting out everything but the promise of fulfillment in the warm glow of the sleyn field before him.

Making lateral contact, he leaned forward, found the Gen's lips, and began his draw. For a few moments all was well. The warm selyn poured into his body in satisfying pulses of sparkling energy. The cold dark numbness and fear of need receded, leaving behind the light and warmth of life renewed. But as he neared the terminus, the crashing waves began to get too big to ignore.

Images came out of the rolling waters. images of a time long past that Kley tied hard not to think about. A face rose, featured distorted with rage and loathing. 'evil child!" it wailed. "Devil's spawn. Evil! Evil! Evil!" Memories of searing pain. Kley's arms began to ache then burn with an intensity that made him start to draw back from the contact he was holding.

But even as he lost control of the selyn flow in the panic of withdrawal, the strugggle to rebury the dark face, the hated words, to overcome the searing pain that seemed to be tearing his lateral into shreds, he was aware of a warm compassion coming from the one who was holding him.

Verlyn had taken control of the selyn flow and was fighting the threatened abort with all the skill and compassion at his command. Realizing this and knowing that the "dark other' of his nightmares was not really present, though his nager seemed to be, Kley was able to calm the crashing waves to a dull roar. The selyn flow resumed its speed, the abort was averted. But Kley was afraid to resume control, so he let the Donor bring the transfer to a barely acceptable conclusion.

He opened his eyes to see Verlyn's green ones staring at him in bewilderment and concern. "I'm sorry, Kley," the Gen whispered as the channel broke the contact between them and retracted his tentacles.

Kley sighed. Reaction was setting in and he felt very ashamed of himself. Low-field, Verlyn was no longer threatening and the agaitated waters were slowly calming, the channel's automatic control mechanisms sliding into place. "For what? It wasn't your fault I lost control."

But the Donor was unsatisfied. "Something went wrong. What? Did I do something not up to Chanel's high standards?"

Kley shook his head. "You did just fine." He could sense that Verlyn was not satisfied, but he couldn't explain that Verlyn's nager reminded him all too vividly of his buried nightmares. That would just lead to other questions that he couldn't answer. "It's not you fault that I almost aborted." he repeated helplessly.

"Then what happened?" demanded the Gen.

"I... I..." Not wanting to confess the truth, Kley resorted to a subterfuge. "The flow became lopsided and I couldn't balance it. He could see in the Gen's eyes and nager that Verlyn didn't believe him, but wasn't going to pry. "Sure, Hajene. If you say so. But it might not be a bad idea for you to see your Sectuib. Something IS wrong whether you want to admit it or not." He then left the room before the channel could reply.

Feeling miserable, Kley went outside for a short walk to clear his head before returning to his duties. On impulse he crossed the street and rounded Chanel's administration building. There was a small park behind it, where Chanel's children loved to play. This time of day, however, it should be empty. He was fairly sure he could be alone there for a few minutes.

However, that was not to be. As he rounded the corner, he could hear youthful voices laughing and shouting gleefully. A small ball bounded by him out of control. Automatically augmenting, he capture it.

"Thief!" roared a familiar voice in his head. "Give me the ball." All around him other voices were protesting.

"But he found it!"

"It was just lying there!"

Kley blinked. The park had disappeared. He was somewhere else being confronted by an angry face, features twisted with rage. "Devil's spawn, all of you! That ball is stolen. Give it to me."

"I found it," Kley protested.

"Liar!" Strong hands wrested the ball away from him, then slapped him across the mouth. "Evil child! Prepent this instant or the devil will make you a filthy Sime. Repent!" roared the ugly voice.

"I can't," objected Kley. "I didn't do anything wrong."

He was hit again and again. "Repent! Repent!"

"I'm not evil," Kley protested helplessly. "Please don't hit me, please!"

"Hajene, what's wrong?" a small girl was facing him, a look of intense worry on her face. "We weren't trying to hit you, honest."

Kley took a deep breath. The waters were completely out of control now; the dark images refused to recede. Concentrating on the childish nager before him, he forced a smile. "Why aren't you kids in school?"

An older boy came up, "We have a long recess today. Several kids went into changeover and our teachers are busy."

The girl giggled. "So are the channels. Why aren't you working, Hajene Kley? Are you playing hooky?"

Gathering the remnants of his tattered dignity, Kley shook his head. "Channels don't play hooky. I was just taking a walk after my transfer."

The little girl shook her head vigorously. "If you had transfer, you wouldn't look so sick. Go see Sectuib. He'll make you feel better."

"Tasha shut up,"admonished her playmate.

Kley forced a smile. Tossing the ball to Tasha, he said, "I just might do that. Later. Now I do have to get back to work. So you kids go on and play."

Tasha grinned. "Yeah, or Sectuib will scold you, too. Bye, Hajene." She ran off, followed by her playmates.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Kley hastened to his office to take refuge in his studies. It was going to take a long time to still the angry waves this time.

But he didn't have that luxury. Less than an hour later a messenger told him that Aran wanted to see him as soon as possible. Wearily, Kley got to his feet and climbed the two flight of stairs to the Controller's office.

Aran looked up as Kley entered. "Oh, hi, Kley." The smile on his youthful face faded. "Wasn't your transfer satisfactory? You look like shen and zlin worse."

"You don't look so hot yourself," the younger channel retorted, hoping to distract his Sectuib. "You seem tired. Did you sleep at all last night?" Sliding into a chair, he ostentatiously began zlinning. "Shall I do some field work?"

"That won't work. The day you can zlin through my showfield is the day I'll resign as Sectuib," Aran teased. Making nageric contact with the other channel, he began working to gently iron out the kinks in Kley's systems left behind by the poor transfer.

"What happened? You and Verlyn should have been a good match."

"We are. It was nothing really. Sectuib, did you send for me to scold me?"

Aran raised innocent eyebrows. "I never do that." Then he sobered. "No. I haven't read the report on your transfer yet. But since you're in no condition to work right now, perhaps it's a good thing I did." He smiled as the younger channel relaxed in response to his therapy. "That's better. Are you sure you don't want to tell me about it?"

"I'd rather you told me why you sent for me." Kley forced an innocent smile. "There's really nothing to tell."

Aran's field reflected his disbelief, but he just nodded. "Very well, but the issue isn't closed. We'll take it up later." He shuffled some papers on his messy desk. "Just now there's something we have to discuss."


"You're supposed to be helping out at the disjunction center, yet in the past two weeks you haven't been near the place. Why?"

"Um..." Kley thought fast. "I've been working extra hours in the collectorium and dispensary."

"I know. All volunteer." Aran gazed quizzicaly at the other channel. "Is there some reason why you shouldn't be working with the disjunction candidates?"

"Of course not," replied Kley indignantly. "You know I've chosen that as my specialty."

"I'm beginning to wonder. Remember Arla Friet?"

"Arla who?" In a hasty attempt to hide his sudden panic, Kley raised his showfield, which had weakened under Aran's therapy. "Arla Friet. The disjuction candidate who tried to run away a couple of weeks ago. She asked for you this morning." Aran handed Kley a rather thick file and waited patiently while the other channel leafed through it.

"As you can see, she's very ill and approaching her crisis."

Kley was puzzled. "But surely ulcers are curable. You have her in the hospital under channel's therapy."

"She's not responding. Evidently she's lost her will to live." Aran ran his hands through his untidy reddish-brown hair. "I was hoping you could tell me why."

'Oh, shen! How much does he know?' Kley had to work to fight down panic. The waves were crashing loudly now, images pounding away behind his eyes, interfering with his vision.

"She's the daughter of Reverend Gaylon Friet of Granite City. A rather prominent family, I gather. I thought maybe there was something...." Aran's voice became a dim whisper.

Kley's mother stood before him, a leather strap dangling from her hand. "I didn't do it, Mother. The ball was just lying there." Kley cringed, shrinking away. More than once he'd felt the bite of that strap.

"Liar! Reverend Friet saw you. Damn it, Kley, do you want to become a wicked Sime?" The strap flickered across his face...once...twice.

Kley stumbled and fell, tears falling from his eyes mingled with the blood that was welling up from deep cuts in his cheeks.

"Repent, you evil child! No son of mine is going to be Sime." The strap cracked again, this timecutting a deep welt across the arm he threw up to protect his eyes. "Mother, please," he sobbed. "I'm not evil. I swear. I didn't take that ball."

"If you're lying, you'll pay the price." His mother turned and walked away. Over her shoulder she snapped, "You're dripping blood. on the carpet. Go wash your face, then clean up your mess!"

"I'm not evil," sobbed the younger Kley. "I'm not. I'm not!"

"Kley, are you listening to me?" Aran's voice had an impatient ring to it.

Kley blinked. Sectuib was frowning at him.

"Have you heard a word I said?" Aran asked.

"Oh, um. Sorry, Sectuib. Yes, I've met Friet." he repressed a shudder. If Arla was that man's daughter, then...

"Well," prompted Aran. "Have you any idea why Arla wouldn't want to live?"

"No, I don't understand that" Kley took a deep breath. "I knew Reverend Friet. Everybody did. His church is the biggest in Granite City. But I have no idea why Arla would want to die." He squirmed uncomfortably, sure Aran didn't believe him.

"This is a serious matter. Arla isn't the only child from the Granite City area to feel this way. We've lost several children already. I don't want to lose anymore. If you know something, you should tell me."

"Reverend Friet is a very devout man." Kley spoke slowly, trying to gather his thoughts. "Very strict. He believes that Simes are evil."

"What Gen doesn't?" Aran shook his head. "Anything else?"

"What can I say? That wickedness causes changeover? That Arla and I are Sime because we weren't obedient enough, weren't good enough to please God and..."

Kley shook himself, resolutely banishing that train of thought. He wasn't evil. Friet was wrong, he had to be. Holding to that thought in defiance of the painful feelings welling up inside of him, Kley said softly, "I'm sorry, Sectuib. I really didn't know the man personally. I don't know what to tell you."

He stared at the floor, knowing that Aran didn't believe him, but he just couldn't tell the truth. However, there was nothing he could do about the shame and self-loathing that were flooding his nager.

He looked up at the answering tide of compassion coming from the other channel. "Kley, I hope you know you can tell me anything."

Yeah, except what I really am. Kley just nodded, unable to speak.

"Were you mistreated as a child? Were others

"No!" interrupted Kley. "My parents were good to me." Though he had put as much indignation into his voice and nager as he could, it obviously wasn't enough.

"What's the gist of our pledge?" Aran asked.

Kley blinked, caught off guard by the apparently unrelated question. "To give service to anyone who requires it."

"No matter what the price?"

"That's not in the pledge."

Aran steppled his fingers and just stared at the younger channel.

Kley dropped his eyes. "But you expect it of your channels," he admitted unwillingly.

, "I expect it of anyone who claims the name ambrov Chanel." Aran rose, rounded his desk, and perched on a corner directly in front of Kley. "Arla requires your help now. She's dying and nobody has been able to reach her. She asked for you. It may be she's willing to talk to you. I know you haven't had much training and ordinarily I wouldn't think of making such an assignment, but if there's any chance you can reach the girl we have to take it."

Kley shook his head. "Sectuib, I can't do it."

"Why not?"

Kley was silent, unable to think of an answer that Aran would accept.

"Unless you have a good reason, you will take the assignment." He waited a minute, but shame and embarrassment kept Kley's tongue still.

Suddenly Aran dropped his showfield, revealing to Kley his deep and abiding love for the younger channel, his concern for Arla, and his sure conviction that Kley was not being truthful with him. Also present was a reluctance to take the course he was taking with the other channel. Overriding all was Aran's determination to help both Kley and Arla, no matter what.

Aran said softly, "In the last few minutes you've given me a lot of valid reasons for taking you off all your cases and putting you into therapy."

"But there's nothing wrong with me," Kley protested.

Aran raised a hand. "Please, don't make it worse by lying. I KNOW something's troubling you. But I'm betting that you'll find the courage to tell me about it, without forcing me to take drastic action. So I want you to spend some time in the memorial thinking about our pledge. I know you're deeply committed to Chanel. I want you to consider what that means. And consider this: you can't be an effective therapist unless you're willing to confront your own problems."

Feeling very unworthy of Aran's affection, Kley mumbled some quickly forgotten response and escaped to the privacy of his own office.

Running quickly through some relaxation drills, Kley was able to regain some control of the crashing waves. However, it was several hours before he could face obeying his Sectuib's orders. When he finally left his office in the Center's administration building to cross the quadrangle to the hospital, the sun was low in the sky. The tall oaks were casting eerie shadows that did little to improve the wretched channel's mood.

He found Arla in a private room on the critical care ward. Here the atmosphere was hushed, the lighting dim. Only the critically ill were housed here, patients requiring almost constant channel's attention.

When he entered Arla's room, she was lying on her side in a fetal ball, totally ignoring Hajene Tyrus, who was attending her. Inserting himself deftly into the room's ambient, Kley raised two tentacles, signaling to Tyrus that he would watch her for a while.

The other channel left the room, giving Kley an affectionate pat on the back as he passed by. Gently closing the door, Kley wenL towards the bed, zlinning.

He was stunned at the deterioration in Arla's condition in such a short time. Even without lateral contact he could feel the burning pain in her abdomen, her chronic nausea. Her blood pressure was low, and her body extremely thin and wasted.

Kley noted and filed away the clinical details automatically as he moved towards the bed. Arla was at turnover, so he made his showfield a pleasant restful Genness.

Knowing that she was awake and fully aware of his presence, he sat on the bed and began to gently rub her back. He could feel each sharp bone of her spine under the thin fabric of her hospital gown.

"Go away, Kley" she mumbled after a few minutes. "I'm sleepy."

Kley chuckled. "You sent for me, remember? Sectuib Aran said that you wanted to talk to me, so I'm here."

"I.. I changed my mind. Talking won't do any good." Abruptly sitting up, Arla shoved him away roughly. "Leave me alone."

Caught off guard, he almost fell off the bed. Retreating to a chair, he said "I can't do that. Not for a few minutes anyway." He studied her carefully. Her field was restless, changing colors rapidly as she tried suppressing feelings he couldn't quite identify, but which seemed quite familiar. 'Shen, this kid should have been a channel. Her control is phenomenal for a renSime. Wish I could do that.' In a matter of seconds her nager was a cheery goldish-pink, sparkling like effervescent wine.

"Very good. Now tell me what's wrong."

She giggled. "Why should I? Your nager's yucky. You tell me what's wrong!"

Stunned by the surprising attempt at role reversal, Kley could only stammer, "I.. I. I'm worried about you. They tell me you're very sick."

Her field dimmed. "So?" Hugging her knees, she rested her head on them. "It doesn't really matter. Not any more."

Her loose gown fell off one shoulder, revealing an ugly scar that Kley hadn't noticed before. Reaching out, he touched the scar with a gentle tentacle. "Who did that to you?"

Pulling away, she yanked the gown back in place, glaring at him. "None of your business. That was an accident a long time ago."

"Your father?"

"Of course not. My father's a minister. He doesn't hurt people!"

"Not even filthy Simes?" Kley nearly choked on the words that had been screamed at him so many times. Maintaining a tight hold on his nager and an even firmer grip on the crashing waves, he waited.

Arla had turned her head and was fighting her own battle of suppression. "That's not fair," she finally whispered.

Kley touched her arm. "Arla, look at me."

She turned, met his eyes. "Get out of here," she said roughly. "You're a dumb channel and I hate you. You're just like all the others wanted to tear my guts to shreds. Get out!"

"Arla, that's not true. I really do care about you. I want to help you."

"Then why is your nager so thick?" Sne shook her head as he started to speak. "No, I won't believe a word you say. You're hiding stuff. You probably hate me like everyone else does. Get out!" When he didn't respond, she threw a pillow at him, then reached for her water pitcher. "Get out!" she shrieked.

Giving up, Kley left the room. Pausing only long enough to send an attendant for Tyrus, he returned to his office and the omnipresent textbooks that were becoming his favorite refuge from an unpleasant reality.

The next week or so was pure shen for Kley. Though he visited Arla every day, he made no progress in reaching her. He tried every avenue of appraoach he could think of, but got rebuffed at every turn. Either she would be defiant and hostile or she would do a very good job of pretending that nothing was wrong.

Making matters worse for Kley was the knowledge that Sectuib Aran was watching and waiting. Waiting for him to come in and confess the unconfessable; expecting him to accomplish a miracle with Arla. If the girl died, Kley was sure that Aran would hold him responsible. Yet he couldn't confide in Aran, for that too would bring Sectuib's wrath down on him. He disregarded the fact that other therapists were making no progress either.

Arla's physical condition was deteriorating rpaidly. As she got closer to her scheduled tranfer, bleeding episodes became more and more frequent. On more than one such occasion it took two channels working in unison to stop the bleeding.

"Oh, bloody shen!" Kley leaned weakly against the wall outside Arla's room, dabbing ineffectually at the blood covering his arms and tentacles. Arla had vomited all over him and Tyrus while the channels had been trying to control her bleeding.

"Don't cuss," Tyrus admonished automatically. He tossed the other channel a towel. "That won't help. Besides she's stable now."

"For how long?" Kley was making more of a mess trying to clean Arla's blood off his uniform.

Tyrus shrugged, his expression grim. "Unless she regains her will to live, we re just wasting our time. She's going to die no matter what I do."

Kley glanced at the closed door. Perhaps if he tried talking to her again. Tyrus put out a restraining had. "No, let her rest. Verlyn should have her asleep by now. And you're due on duty in a few minutes."

Kley knew that Tyrus was right. He had no choice but to report to the dispensary as soon as he had taken a shower and changed his bloody clothes.

However, he was unable to concentrate fully on what he was doing. After hearing complaints from a couple of renSimes who were unhappy with the quality of their transfers with Kley, the duty channel told him, not unkindly, to take the rest of the day off and get himself under control. A trip to Sectuib's office was suggested.

But this Kley most emphatically didn't want to do. So he retreated to the Memorial where he could be alone. After all, Aran HAD ordered him to do just that.

At first he paced restlessly up and down the small confines of the room that held a replica of the larger memorial first built by Rimon Farris many generations ago.

After a while, he grew calmer and knelt by the edge of the reflecting pool to dabble his tentacles. in the cool water. He stared in disgust at his reflection. 'You lorsh, ' he berated himself. 'You don't deserve to be a channel, a Chanel therapist. You can't even reach one renSime in disjunction crisis.'

Violently he agitated the waters, destroying the image of his haunted eyes. "I wish I'd died in disjunction!" he cried in anguish. "Aran should just have let me die!" he screamed at the silent obelisk. "I'm not good! I'm no good!"

But the Memorial was silent, its flame steadily radiating a cheery yellow-orange glow that bathed the room in tranquility. In spite of himself, Kley calmed slightly, his thought turning backwards to the first time he'd ever been in Chanel's Memorial.

Aran had brought him there to talk after a rather rocky transfer during which he had aborted several times, begging the Sectuib to let him die.

At first they had just sat by the pool in silence, though Kley was painfully aware that Aran was doing his best nagerically to calm him down. But Kley hadn't wanted to be calmed.

"Why are we here, Sectuib Aran?" he had finally demanded. "Why do you want to die?" Aran countered. "You've never given me a reason."

Kley hesitated. he couldn't tell Aran the truth: that just being Sime was proof that he was wicked and unworthy of life. "I'm a killer," he said finally. "I have no right to happiness."

"Are you repsonsible for the killing you've done?"

"What?" The question astonished Kley. He stared at Aran. "Of course I'm responsible. Two people are dead because I'm a Sime and I killed." Tears rolled down his cheeks. He'd killed his mother in First Need, then, after his capture by Reverend Friet, he had also killed a Deacon in the church, one of his guards, during his escape from the small prison in the church basement. He rubbed tears from his eyes and stared at Aran. "How can you even ask that question? I killed two human beings."

Without answering, Aran rose and went to the monument. He took down a big book resting on a stand before it. Returning to his place by Kley's side, he handed the younger channel the book, now open to the first page. "Read this."

"Roll of martyrs to the cause of Unity. Billy Kell, Drust Fennel, Vee Lassiter, Jon Forester..." Kley read on for a while, the list of names unfamilair to him. Finally he looked up at Aran. "Who are these people?"

Aran didn't answer directly. "There was once a time when all Simes killed."

"I know that. They've been making me take a history class. Until Rimon Farris discovered he was a channel."

Aran grinned. "Right! But it hasn't been easy. A lot of people have given their lives in the quest for the precious knowledge we require to avoid the kill."

Kley squirmed. The whole idea that Simes were willing to attempt to end the kill didn't jibe with his sure knowledge that Simes are evil. "I don't see what this has got to do with me."

"Everything." Aran put his arm around the younger channel. "I think I know how you feel."

"But you've never killed," Kley protested.

"True, but I've counseled many that have." Aran was silent a moment. "Let me ask you something. When you killed, did you have a choice?"

Did your parents make any effort to get you to a Sime Center or to summon a channel?

Kley didn't answer. His parents had locked him up and sent for the Deacons. Because their child was wicked, they had had no choice. He should have died. Tears began to fall. Fervently he wished he was dead.

Aran's arm tightened around him, his voice gentle in Kley's ear. "I thought so. You weren't given a choice. You had to kill to survive. For a moment Aran's field radiated a bitterness that such things could happen in a city where channels' help was readily available. Then the Sectuib quickly regained control of himself. "Nobody can hold you responsible for that."

"But, but, two people are dead because I was..." Kley abruptly bit his tongue. He had been about to confess his wickedness. "Two human beings are dead because of me," he finished weakly.

"Only because you had no choice. You have one now. It's up to you what you do in the future."

"Nothing I can do will bring them back."

"True. But you are a channel. That's a gift from God. You have the opportunity not only to forsake the kill yourself, but to help others not to kill. Won't that balance the scales?"

Kley raised his head to meet Aran's eyes. "Can I... Can I really? I mean.. ." It had never occured to him that the Tecton would be willing to use him as a working channel. Not an evil person like him. But Aran was smiling fondly.

"Kley, the day you come through disjunction, I'm going to offer you a place in Chanel. If you want it. As a working channel, you can save many lives by standing between other Simes and the kill."

"But, but...what if I fail?"

"You won't." Aran's field was full of confidence and trust. "I know you can do anything you want to do. And I can use all the good channels I can get." He touched the book on Kley's lap. "The fight against the kill began a long time ago with the sacrifices of these people. It continues even today. Will you help us?"

Kley hadn't given Aran an answer then, but he thought a long time about what the Sectuib had said. The opportunity to be a working channel seemed almost too good to be true. But if there was even a chance that he could be of some use, do some good to make up for his wicked past, he had to do it. He had to atone somehow not only for the killing he'd done, but for his own evil nature.

The following month when his crisis had come, he chose not to kill. Afterwards, he had knelt and offered his pledge to Aran, vowing never to betray the faith and trust his Sectuib had placed in him.

Sighing, Kley raised his eyes to the flame of the Memorial, still burning brightly. "Oh, Aran," he whispered. "I'm not the person you think I am. I'm wicked and evil. Chanel would be better off if I was dead. I haven't lived up to the promises I made to you and Chanel." Kley knew now that Friet was right. He was evil and useless. Becoming a channel had been a waste of Aran's time and an insult to Chanel.

"I can't help Arla. She's going to die and I can't do anything about it. I'm no good."

In his mind he could hear Friet's triumphant voice. "I told you you are a wicked child. You're not even any good as a channel. Worthless son of Satan."

"No!" Kley seemed to hear Aran's rebuttal. "You can do anything you want to do, Kley. You can choose to help us in the fight. Will you join us? Will you join us? You can do it, Kley. I know you can do it."

"Evil child! Devil's spawn!"

"You are a good channel. You can do it!"

Back and forth the voices argued. Kley put his hands over his ears in a useless attempt to shut out the raging debate.

"Leave me alone!" he screamed in agony. "Both of you go away and leave me alone! Please!"

Suddenly the door flew open and Arla burst into the room. She was in terrible shape. Her nager was so dim as to be almost unzlinnable. She was very pale, while fresh blood spattered the front ofher rumpled white gown.

Seeing Kley, she screamed "Make them leave me alone! Please make them leave me alone!"

"Make who leave you alone?" Kley struggled to his feet, his training coming to the fore. A Sime was in need. He went into functional mode.

But this provoked fear and hysteria. Kley backed away a few steps, all the while zlinning. Arla was in disjunction crisis, near attrition, yet rejecting his field. 'How could she do that! And what's more, how can I get her to stop?'

At that moment, Tyrus and Verlyn came running into the room.

"Kley, get out of the way!" Tyrus ordered. "She's bleeding heavily. If we don't complete this now she'll die."

Kley changed his showfield to zlin like a renSime and retreated to a corner of the room. He knew he couldn't handle this. Not the disjunction crisis of a dying patient.

Tyrus approached Arla, strongly enticing her. Verlyn moved to form the third corner of the triangle, his field calm yet mildly tempting.

At first Arla seemed to be unaware of their presence, but then she went into hunting mode and began to stalk the Gen. Tyrus responded by strengthening his showfield. But she ignored him, advancing rapidly and with deadly grace upon her intended victim. She grabbed Verlyn, her tentacles whipping rapidly around his arms. The laterals seated themselves and she leaned forward to make lip contact.

But that contact was never completed. Fear and revulsion showing in her nager, she thrust the Gen away and reeled backwards.

Her field was dimmer now, filled with self-hatred and a death wish so strong that it affected Kley's control. His showfield flickered in involuntary empathy, then again steadied under his determination not to interfere. He was out of his depth and he knew it. Arla turned to Tyrus, laterals seeking a safe selyn source.

For a moment Kley thought Tyrus was going to win, but she turned away from him too, moving rapidly back towards Verlyn. Again she failed to make complete contact with the Donor. In attrition, she retreated, her nager dimming rapidly.

'She's dying. We're going to fail! I've got to do something. I can't let her die!' In desparation Kley pushed his feelings of incompetence into the background and searched his mind for something he could do that Tyrus couldn't, that would make is field attractive to the dying girl.

Words that Aran had said to him earlier rang in his ears. 'You can't be an effective therapist unless you're willing to confront the problems in your own life.' Oh, no! Suddenly Kley knew what he had to do. He almost lost control as the angry waters crashed ominously, tearing free from his control, the hideous images bursting their bonds.

Black waves rose above him, their tops whipped into a churning froth by the violence of his emotions. Shame and fear flooded his entire being. This time he didn't fight. Perhaps if he showed Arla that they had a common bond, that she was not alone. Perhaps that would be enough to counter the all too familiar desire for death that was preventing her from taking transfer.

'But can I do it? She wants to die as badly as I...'

In desparation Kley glanced at the Chanel crest set into the side of the obelisk, just beneath the flickering flame.

'As long as this flame continues to burn,' Aran had said the day Kley had pledged. 'Our combined energies will serve as a beacon to all whom we serve.

Suddenly the cresting waves were caught by a cooling breeze and dissipated as warm sunlight shone down upon his battered spirit.

A strength he didn't know he had filled him with renewed determination. Dropping what was left of his control on his nager, he let the feelings of shame and helplessness fill his field. If he could establish a rapport with Arla by admitting that he too had been a wicked child, perhaps he could save her life. At that moment nothing else mattered.

Shifting to functional mode, he moved forward, saying softly to the other channel, "Let me take it."

Tyrus was puzzled, but retreated, his field shifting to that of a neutral renSime.

Arla forced herself duo-conscious, staring at Kley in disbelief. "You, too?" she gasped. "But Daddy said..."

Kley shook his head. "No, Arla. We're not evil. Your Father was wrong. Being Sime is not evil." He waited, soul bare to the world, hoping against hope that Arla would believe the words that he scarely believed.

She zlinned him for what seemed like an eternity, then went hyperconscious and moved quickly, attacking him with a frightening desparation, beginning her draw even before their laterals were securely intertwined.

Kley carefully matched her draw with just the right amount of resistance, giving her the challenge and exultation she craved. As the transfer neared completion, Kley was filled with such a happy realization of successs that in gratitude he fed Arla all his personal love and compassion.

As the transfer ended, he took her into a close embrace. Returning to an awareness of his surroundings, Kley discovered that Aran was standing just inside the door. 'Oh no!' he thought in dismay. 'How much had Aran seen?' He started to put the blocks back into place in his mind, then realized it was far too late for that. Tyrus knew and he would tell. Sectuib would be disappointed, perhaps even want to kick him out of Chanel for being dishonest.

'At least I'ved Arla's life. That has to count for something.' Fearfully, Kley met his Sectuib's eyes. To his surprise, he found no condemnation there, only the same warm affection and acceptance that Aran had always shown him. Tyrus, too, was smiling warmly, his nager touching Kley's affectionately.

"Congratulations, Kley." moving forward swiftly, Aran embraced both Arla and Kley. "You, too, Arla. You'll be just fine now."

The girl smiled weakly. "Oh, Sectuib Aran, I..." Ashamed, she met the channel's eyes. "Are you mad at me?"

"Or me?" Wiping embarrassing tears from his eyes, Kley watched Aran closely, half expecting that both he and Arla would get reprimanded.

Aran shook his head. "No, Arla. I can't condemn you for something that isn't your fault. Either one of you." He had one arm around Arla. With his free hand he gently stroked Kley's arm.

A wave of profound relief washed over Kley, momentarily weakening his knees, but Aran's arm was there sustaining him, Aran's field engaging his supportively.

Puzzled, Arla looked at Kley. "How much did you tell him?"

"Nothing," Kley reassured her. "It's up to you how much you want to tell him, or me for that matter."

"And that," said Aran firmly, "will come later. Right now, you're going to rest. And have some therapy for that bleeding." He gestured to Tyrus who gently took the girl from his Sectuib, immediately beginning healing therapy.

"Come with me," Tyrus said softly.

Arla's eyes remained fixed on the Sectuib's face. "Am I going to die?"

"Not if you cooperate with Hajene Tyrus. He's pretty good at healing ulcers."

"Can, can I talk to Hajene Kley?" she pleaded. "He undestands. I know you're my therapist but..

Aran grinned. "Of course, Honey. I think that might be a very good idea for both of you. He'll come see you in the morning." He patted her arm. "Go with Tyrus now. He and Verlyn will stay with you for a while."

He smiled at Kley, who hugged the girl and reiterated the Sectuib's promise that he would be back.

Aran turned to Kley with a grin. "Do you know what you just did?"

The question confused Kley. "Served a successful disjunction transfer."

"And a bit more. That was a Chanel transfer. The extra dimension I encourage my channels to deliver whenever they can." Aran's smile faded. "What's wrong?"

Kley took a deep breath. He knew he had to finish what he'd started before he lost his nerve. There was no more hiding. "Sectuib, I... um, I haven't been totally honest with you."

Understanding flooded Aran's field. Encouraged, Kley went on. "Can we talk? There are some things I should have told you a long time ago.


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