Editor's note: This story was originally published in COMPANION IN ZEOR #11 edited by Karen MacLeod
Jimin was falling, down, down, down through infinite darkness. Ghostly wisps of swirling mist spun, writhing and twisting, as they slithered past him in his endless fall.
Soundlessly he screamed and screamed, trying in vain to control his madly spinning body. Gradually he became aware of pain, an exquisite throbbing centered in his wrists and arms.
The torment went on and on in searing waves, throbbing and burning. When he thought he could bear it no longer and was ready to surrender to the even deeper blackness, the oblivion of unconsciousness, there was a final bursting, a straining, a freeing of something.
With a scream of agony he attempted to throw his hands from him as if that would get rid of the bursting agony.
Briefly illuminated by reflected light from the swirling mists he saw his hands, familiar hands now alien in countenance, surrounded by dripping-dripping tentacles. Unbelieving his lips formed the word-tentacles, the organs of the demons, the evil ones, the creatures of his blackest nightmares.
"I'm Sime," he whispered to himself.
Before he could absorb this the scene changed. Before him was a field of golden warmth, gently beckoning. instinctively he went towards it, tentacles outstretched, not under his will, but with a life of their own. Eagerly they breathed in the glowing light, the swirling warmth.
Again the scene changed. Now he was standing on a darkened hill, the dead body of a young woman in his arms. Her blue eyes stared reproachfully up at him. Convulsively he dropped her, his treacherous tentacles now retractmg, somehow smugly satisfied with the damage they had wrought.
Jimin screamed again. "I'm a killer, a murderer!" He screamed and screamed.
"Jimin, Jimin, wake up." Someone was roughly shaking him.
"Go 'way," he muttered. "I'm a murderer. Leave me alone, let me die."
"You're having a nightmare," the calm voice insisted gently. "Open your eyes."
Reluctantly Jimin obeyed.
The concerned face of Lydia VanDyke, his stepmother, swam into view. "Are you awake now?" she asked gently as she smoothed back Jimin's sweat-soaked hair.
"I-I-" Jimin blinked, looked around at his familiar room. All was calm and peaceful. The cheerful red and blue curtains fluttered gently in the morning breeze coming in through the open window. "I must have been- Mom, I'm going to be a Sime." Jimin shuddered as he spoke the words. To be Sime was the worst fate imaginable. He would be hunted down like an animal, shot and killed as several of his friends had been.
With a sigh of infrnite patience Lydia rose and retied the belt of her robe. "Jimin, I don't want to hear any more of this. You can't possibly know what you're going to be. You're only thirteen, much too young for establishment or-" She paused a moment, her eyes reflecting Jimin's horror, then she shook herself briskly. "It's almost time for breakfast. Get up and get dressed. And please make your bed this time. You're much too old for me to be waiting on you."
"Yes, Mom," Jimin replied, throwing back the covers. "I'll be down in a minute." He waited until she had left the room, then got up and went over to his desk. Picking up a picture of his mother, he carried it to the window. Her young face smiled up at him. Jimin had never known his real mother, who died while giving him birth. But he liked to look at her picture, try to imagine what she must have been like.
Fun-loving, most likely. The corners of her mouth crinkled and her eyes sparkled as if in response to silent humor. Understanding, too, she had to be. She wouldn't tell him he was imagining things, that his dream -- no, his nightmares, had no meaning.
"But I'm not a Sime." Dropping the picture, he stared at his arms, smooth, no sign of tentacles. "I'm not a Sime," he repeated more firmly to himself. "Mom's right. It was just a nightmare."
"Jimin, Jim--in, breakfast is ready, get down here right now." Jimin flinched. The tone of his stepmother's voice left no doubt that she was not going to put up with any nonsense
"Coming, Mom, I'll be right down." Pulling his pajama top over his head, he ran into the bathroom.
Later, after a breakfast that he was unable to eat, thus earning him another lecture, Jimin finished dressing, made an unsuccessful attempt to comb his unruly blonde hair into some semblance of order, and left the house for school.
It was a beautiful morning in the small town of Corrivall, where he lived. The springtime grass was wet with dew and the white clapboard houses glistened in the bright sun. Reluctantly Jimin started off down the street towards the little schoolhouse several blocks away.
He had not gone very far when he heard shouting and the sound of gunshots. Curious, he broke into a run. Rounding a corner, he saw a group of men with guns gathered around a small figure lying ominously still in the street.
Jimin came nearer. His friend Bobby was in the crowd. "It's Billy Sompson," he whispered excitedly as Jimin approached. "He's a Sime. The sheriff shot him, and just in time. He was going to kill-"
"Shut up," Jimin whispered fiercely. "He's not going to kill. Sheriff Grady doesn't let Simes hurt anyone."
Bobby chuckled, his young face sparkling with ghoulish interest. "No, he shoots the bastards first. Go take a look, Jimin. His tentacles are out, still covered with blood. Got him right and proper this time."
Ignoring his friend, Jimin pushed his way through the crowd until he was standing only a few feet from the fallen youngster. The dead Sime was lying on his back, his open eyes staring sightlessly up into the bright sun, a pool of bright red blood slowly spreading around his head.
Horrified, Jimin stared down at the dead youngster, his eyes glued to the flaccid tentacles. He felt an overwhelming sense of loss, of sorrow, as if something infinitely precious had been taken from him. His eyes filled with confusing tears. He shook his head, trying to deny his feelings.
Impulsively, he knelt beside the dead youngster and gently closed his staring eyes.
"Here now, leave it alone. You'll just get your hands dirty." A firm hand was on his shoulder.
"You get on to school now, son."
Jimin looked up into the stern eyes of the village sheriff. "But he's dead."
"It's Sime, deserved to die. You go on to school now, you hear?" Roughly the sheriff pulled Jimin to his feet.
Jimin started to protest, then fell silent. The sheriff was right. Simes were killers. They didn't deserve to live. "Yes, sir," he whispered, turning reluctantly away. Slowly he walked away, trying unsuccessfully to dismiss the feelings of kinship with the fallen youth, the sense of grief and despair at his loss.
All the rest of that day and into the night, Jimin's feelings of confusion, grief, fear and kinship with the dead Sime grew stronger, in spite of all his attempts to deny them.
By morning he knew what he had to do. He would go see Grandfather. Grandfather would know what to do. He could explain why Jimin felt so bad.
He made his preparations carefully. Rising long before dawn, he put some bread, cheese and dried meat into a bag and saddled a horse. He also packed a change of clothing, a couple of blankets, and his mother's picture. He wrote a short note, addressed to his father, explaining where he was going. His parents wouldn't be happy about it, but school was out for the summer in a few days anyway. And he often spent the summer with his grandfather.
Then, filling two canteens with water, he quietly left the house and rode out of town just as the sun was peeking over the horizon to bathe the countryside in a pinkish glow.
Corrivall was several days ride from the mountain range that separated Jimin's people from the hated Simes that lived on the other side of the border. Grandfather lived in a tiny village at the foot of these mountains.
Jimin rode steadily, camping out at night, and only going into towns when necessary.
One night, while sitting by his campfire, Jimin fell into a light doze. Suddenly, with no perception of transition, he found himself confronting a Sime whose tentacles were outstretched in hungry supplication, not towards Jimin, but towards another who was there. A young woman, whom Jimin could just barely see through the golden haze surrounding her.
He found himself extending his own tentacles in gentle invitation, hearing his coaxing voice inviting the hungry Sime. Time stood still for a long moment, then the Sime came towards Jimin, tentacles entwined, and Jimin was filled with a stunning joy as he poured forth life-giving substance into the other who was at once his brother and himself. Together they spiralled to a peak of fulfillment, then parted.
The Sime was crying, tears of joy and surprise. "I didn't kill," he murmured.
"Of course not," Jimin heard his own voice say. "You'll never have to kill again."
Mists of blackness surrounded him, and Jimin felt himself slipping to the familiar twisting and turning of his nightmares. But then it grew light and he was again Sime, but a different kind of Sime. He knew he was different, but he didn't know how.
A sick woman was before him. Her face was flushed with fever, her body racked with cough. Sitting beside her, Jimin extended his tentacles, touched her somehow, and made the sickness go away. Under his touch her body grew still, and she fell asleep with a smile of contentment on her now peaceful face.
With a denying shake of his head Jimin came to an awareness of his surroundings, the roughness of the tree against his back, the evening breeze cool against his face. His campfire was slowly dying to glowing embers.
"No, no," he whispered fiercely. "Stupid dreams. I'm not Sime. I've been a good boy. I'm not Sime, not that-" He shook his head, again dispelling the disturbing images. "I am not Sime. No way!" Wearily he got up and banked the fire, then rolled up in his blankets and tried to sleep. But sleep wouldn't come. He spent the night fighting the confusing images, trying to deny the possibility that the dreams were more than just dreams.
The next afternoon he arrived at his grandfather's home, a small shack by itself in the mountains.
The old man was outside chopping wood when Jimin rode up and slid off his horse. Immediately Grandfather put down his axe and came towards his grandson, arms outstretched in welcome.
"Jimin, my boy, it's good to see you." He swept the youngster up into a big bear hug. "How are you? Your Mom and Dad? Everything well at home?"
Jimin grinned as he returned the old man's embrace. Everything would be all right now. "Yes, Granddad. Everything's fme." He hesitated. "I-I, Granddad, I didn't get permission to come here." At Grandfather's frown of displeasure, he added hastily, "I left a note telling them where I was going."
Releasing him, the old man stepped back and studied him carefully, concern shining in his black eyes. "You ran away? Why?" When Jimin didn't reply right away, Grandfather took a red handkerchief from the breast pocket of his work overalls and mopped his face and shiny head, disturbing what little gray hair he had left.
"Sure is a warm day," he remarked casually. "I could use a drink. Want some lemonade?" At Jimin's nod, he led the youngster into the cool, dim interior of his small but well-kept home.
Seating Jimin at the kitchen table, he made a pitcher of lemonade while keeping up a patter of idle chatter about the weather, his crops and a stubborn mule that kept knocking holes in a fence.
Pouring Jimin a glass and putting a plate of cookies nearby, he sat down across the table. "Now, son, tell me what's wrong."
Jimin took a sip of lemonade. It was cool and soothing against his dry throat. "I-I, Grandfather, what if I become a Sime?"
"That's nonsense," snapped the old man vehemently. "What ever gave you such an idea?"
Hesitantly Jimin told his grandfather about the nightmares. When he fmished the old man was silent for so long that Jimin got scared. "Granddad," he said timidly. "It's true, isn't it? I'm going to be a Sime and Sheriff Grady is going to shoot me like he did Billy Sompson."
The old mans eyes widened. "Billy Sompson, but he's only-"
"Thirteen," finished Jimin. "He's the same age as me and he got shot. It's going to happen to me, too, isn't it?"
The old man shook his head. "No, you're probably not going to be a Sime. But if you are-"
"I won't be!" Jimin burst out fiercely, resolutely denying the certainty that was welling up inside him. "I'll die frrst. Simes are wicked and evil demons. I won't be like them."
Grandfather chewed thoughtfully on his tongue for a minute. "Son, I'm fairly sure you're just having nightmares."
Jimin nodded eagerly. Yes, nightmares, that's all, just nightmares. Nothing was going to happen to him. He ignored the images of the other dreams, the story dreams where he did strange things he couldn't understand. "Can I stay here for a while? I can help you with spring planting. School's out in a few days." That was not an unreasonable request. For the past several summers he'd stayed with the old man, helping to farm his tiny fields.
After what seemed like an eternity, the old man nodded. "Old man Jenkins is going into town in a few days. I'll give him a message for your parents, letting them know you got here safely. If your Dad doesn't object, you can stay here for a while. Now, come on, it's going to be dark soon and you still have a horse to unsaddle and rub down." With a faint smile he led the way from the room.
The next few days passed quickly for Jimin. Caught up in the rhythm of the simple life his grandfather led, his days were filled with hard work that kept his mind from the horrors within. But the nights were a different story. Instead of going away, the dreams and nightmares intensified as time passed. Jimin's nights became long eternities of agony in which he feared to sleep, but he found as much terror in the unfriendly dark if he tried to remain awake, for the dream images would invade his waking mind with their senseless insistence on Simeness.
One cool evening after chores were done, Grandfather sat him down before a roaring fire, stuck a mug of hot cocoa in his hands and said softly, "Something's still troubling you, son. Want to tell me about it?"
Jimin was silent, staring at the flames. He really didn't want to talk about it. He just wanted the dreams and hated images to go away. He wasn't Sime, he wasn't going to be Sime, and that was that.
"It's the dreams, isn't it? They're not going away, are they?"
Jimin's eyes widened. "How did you know?"
The old man smiled, but there was no pleasure in his eyes. "I know more than you might think. Tell me about it."
Jimin shook his head. "Don't want to," he muttered. "I'm not a Sime."
Grandfather sighed. Picking up the poker, he worked at the fire a minute. "I hope you're right, but there's something I have to tell you." Settling back in his chair, the old man took a sip of his cocoa then began, "My mother and father were Simes.
Terror struck Jimin's heart. "No," he almost shouted. "No, Simes are wicked demons, killers"
"Killers, yes; demons, no. They are people just like us. Except-"
"They kill." Jimin had risen to his feet and was staring at his grandfather in horror. "How can you call them people? They kill!"
"Sit down," ordered the old man roughly. "Sit down and listen." He waited while Jimin complied. "I was hoping we wouldn't have to have this discussion, but it's obvious to me that your nightmares are getting worse. And I don't think they're just nightmares."
"How-how do you know?"
"Has your father ever told you much about the family?" Jimin shook his head. "He refuses to talk about it."
"You may find this hard to believe, but all Simes don't kill."
But, but-they have to, to live. Simes are a disgusting mutation. They need our life to live. And they kill to get it."
"Not all Simes kill," the old man repeated stubbornly. "You have a great-uncle who is Sime. He's never killed. In fact, he saved my life when I established."
"That's not possible. How can he live without killing?"
"He's a channel, one of a special submutation of Simes that can take the selyn from Gens without killing and channel it to other Simes, keeping them from killing."
Jimin frowned. He wanted to believe his grandfather's words, but it sounded so incredible. Simes not killing. "Then how come Simes still kill people?"
"Because most of them don't believe that Gens are human beings. They feel that it is their right to kill. Some Simes don't feel that way. Those special Simes live in Householdings, like Zeor, where they can get the selyn they need to live from the channels. My brother, Estabon, lives and works in Zeor. I want you to meet him."
"Because he had dreams like yours before he changed over. He knew he was going to be a channel, so he ran away to Zeor. I went with him. It was beautiful." He paused a moment, remembering. "Sectuib Farris himself coached him, then a Companion gave him transfer. He was so happy."
"You think I'm going to be a channel just like him, don't you? Well, I'm not. I'm gonna be a Gen like my Mom and Dad."
"Yes, I think you're going to be a channel. You're having the same kind of dreams Estabon did, before he changed over. Jimin, I want to take you to Zeor. I know where it is, how to get there. You can meet Estabon and the other channels, and when you change over they can help you. Find you a Companion. You'll never have to kill."
Jimin regarded his grandfather suspiciously. "If Zeor is such a good place to be, why didn't you stay there?"
"Simple. I did stay in Zeor for a few months, then your grandmother established. We had been sweethearts for a long time. She didn't want to stay in Zeor. She thought we'd be safer here."
"But, but you said the Simes in Zeor don't kill."
"They don't. But the rest of the Simes hate the Householders. Zeor does sometimes get attacked by renegades and malcontents. She didn't want to live with that fear. So she came over here. I loved her too much to let her go, so I came with her. Estabon actually helped us cross the border. He made me promise that if we ever had children or grandchildren I'd tell them about Zeor, not let them get shot like animals if they became Sime."
Putting down his empty mug, he reached out and took Jimin's hands. "Your parents knew about Zeor and now you do too."
"But I'm not going to be Sime."
The old man sighed. "Denying it isn't going to make it go away. Jimin, I want to take you to Zeor before it's too late. The dreams are getting more intense. You'll change over soon. I don't want you to kill or be killed."
Jimin pulled away. "But I tell you I'm not Sime."
Grandfather shrugged. "Well, maybe, but I doubt it. Estabon could tell us that too. If you are Gen, we can return home later. But..." He leaned forward, staring intently at his squirming grandson. "If vou are Sime and we don't go, it's kill or be killed on this side of the border. Your only chance is Zeor."
Jimin started to walk away, but something in the old man's eyes stopped him. What if he is right? What if J'm Sime? What if I'm not?
"Promise we'll come home again when I establish?"
Grandfather nodded. "If you establish, yes. Only a Sime can tell us for sure."
"All right," Jimin conceded unwillingly. "I'll go to Zeor with you."
The old man closed his eyes in relief. "You go to bed now. We'll leave early in the morning."
It took over a week of hard riding to get through Wej on Pass to the other side of the mountain. It was not an easy ride, for in many places the melting of the snows and spring rains had washed away the path, leaving behind huge boulders and tons of mud. They were forced to make more than one detour.
Finally, however, they were through the worst of it and were following the river that would lead them to Zeor. The going was very treacherous as the winter before had been a severe one and there were many rockslides.
The closer they got to Sime Territory the more nervous and uneasy Jimin became. Many times he begged Grandfather to turn back. But the old man remained adamant. He was determined that his grandson was going to be seen by a channel.
Jimin, on the other hand, was convinced that some disaster was going to befall them if they didn't return to what he considered the relative safety of the Gen side of the mountain.
Late one afternoon, shortly after they had set up camp under the shelter of some pine trees, he was out gathering wood when he heard a tremendous crashing and roaring that seemed to go on and on. Dropping his load of wood, he started to run for the tent, anxiously calling for Grandfather.
All around him the rocks, boulders and streams of mud pushed their way downward, destroying everything in their path as they flowed inexorably down the mountainside.
Panic-stricken, Jimin ran faster, twisting and dodging in an effort to remain free of the tumbling disaster. Just when he thought he was going to succeed in reaching the campsite ahead of the maddening flow, his ankle caught in a twisted tree root and he fell, then was caught from behind by a large rock that knocked him flat and enveloped him in dark oblivion.
He didn't know how long he was unconscious, but when he woke up his head ached abominably and his ankle throbbed with a burning pain. Tears came to his eyes and for a few moments he cried like a helpless child. But then he thought of his grandfather.
What if he were hurt, or even dead'. Struggling to a sitting position, Jimin resolutely banished the tears and began to push and tug at the rocks that held him imprisoned.
Long agonizing minutes later he was free and attempted to stand, but fell again to his knees, the swollen ankle refusing to support him.
Angry now at fate and his situation, Jimin refused to be defeated. Grabbing his axe, which had fallen only a few feet away, he hacked at a tree limb until he had fashioned a crude crutch.
As quickly as he could, he hobbled to where the tent had stood. At first he could see nothing but large puddles of mud and piles of rocks jumbled together helter-skelter. The friendly trees that they had sheltered under were now twisted and broken, strewing the ground with their shattered limbs.
"Grandfather!" Jimin called, panic-stricken. What if he were dead. What if Grandfather were dead. Stumbling forward he called again, louder this time.
He was rewarded with a faint moan. Following the sounds, he found the old man pinned by a huge boulder to the trunk of a now topless tree. Grandfather was covered with mud, and blood was running from the corners of his mouth and from a large gash on his forehead.
"Grandfather, oh Grandfather." Frantically Jimin pushed against the boulder, trying futilely to move it. As he strained with all his might, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Jimin, don't waste your strength," the old man whispered. "It's too late. I'm dying." Freeing his hand from the pervasive mud, the old man tightly gripped Jimin's hand.
"No." Jimin screamed. "You can't die!" He turned to face his grandfather, fresh tears in his eyes. "You can't die. I won't let you." Moved by a desperate impulse to do something, he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and began to gently wipe the blood from the old man's face. "Please don't die," he whispered.
The old man coughed, fresh blood oozing from between his clenched teeth. "Jimin, listen to me. I haven't got much time left. Promise-" He coughed again. His voice came out in a raspy whisper, "Promise me you'll go to Zeor. It's very important. You-must-get to Zeor."
"But-but how shall I find Zeor?" Jimin tried unsuccessfully to control the flow of tears as he leaned closer to his grandfather. "You can't die and leave me now. Please."
Painfully Grandfather shook his head. "You'll find it. Just follow the star. Zeor is a sliinmg star." He coughed again. "We're not far now. Just over the hill. Promise me-Jimin, you must promise me. Go to Zeor, find Estabon, tell him-tell him-" His eyes began to glaze. "Promise me!" he whispered fiercely.
"Yes, Grandfather. I'll fmd Zeor." Jimin's fingers tightened around the old man's. "I promise. I'll find Zeor."
The old man nodded, a look of peace and contentment in his eyes. Calmly, as if at home in his own bed, he whispered, "I love you, Jimin, more than life itself. And I'll never be far away. Remember that." Closing his eyes, he laid his head back against the unfriendly rock and with one final sigh, gently slipped away.
"I love you too, Grandfather." Jimin leaned forward and kissed the old man's cheek, then, curling into a ball, he surrendered to tears of grief.
For a long time he cried. The sun was low in the sky when the tears ceased and he took stock of his situation. Forcing himself to think calmly and rationally, as Grandfather had taught him to do in an emergency, he began to search through the mud for what was left of their gear. He didn't fmd much. Some blankets, a small sack of provisions and a dented canteen were all that was left of their survival gear. The horses he found dead a short distance away, crushed by the falling rocks.
Fortunately he had a few matches in his pocket and soon was able to start a fire. He spent the night huddled beside it, shivering from more than the cold mountain air. He wanted to honor his promise to his grandfather, but his fear of Simes and his unwillingness to acknowledge the kinship he was beginning to feel for them propelled him to a decision to attempt a return over the mountains towards home.
When dawn finally arrived, he made his preparations. Knowing he couldn't give his grandfather a decent burial, he settled for covering him with one of the blankets and piling rocks around him to keep away the scavengers. This occupied most of the day and made the pain in his foot and ankle much worse.
Tearing the other blanket into strips, he took a tree branch and fashioned a crude splint. Then he started back the way they had come, again climbing towards the summit.
He hadn't gone far when he began to have the strangest feeling he was being watched. Hearing footsteps behind him, he turned quickly but nobody was there. Only the wind whispered as it blew gently through the treetops.
"Jimin---Jimin," it seemed to say. "You promised. Follow the star. Follow the star."
Jimin shook his head. "Nobody's here. Stop being a silly goose and get going." He began walking again. But the feeling of being watched just got stronger. He knew he wasn't alone. Stopping, he sank wearily to the cool grass and mopped his sweaty brow. "Grandfather," he whispered. "I can't go."
"You promised me." It was the old man's voice, calm and still, filling Jimin with a new sense of peace and calmness.
Jimin nodded. "To go to Zeor."
"Follow the star," came that still voice once more. "You can do it."
Jimin shook his head, wanting to ignore the voice, forget his promise and continue on towards the safety of the Gen side of the border. He wanted nothing to do with any Sime, even a channel named Estabon.
But he couldn't shake the look in the old man's eyes as he lay dying, or forget the words he spoke. "You must go to Zeor". The very wind seemed to echo the old man's dying words.
"If it weren't for me you wouldn't be dead," whispered Jimin.
"Find Zeor," was the calm reply.
Jimin sighed and struggled to his feet. His ankle was now a burning, throbbing mass of pain that sent darts of agony up his leg every time he moved. But that pain was trivial compared to the ache in his heart. No matter what, even if it meant confronting a Sime, meeting a channel, he had to honor Grandfather's dying wish.
"I'll go," he said aloud. "I'll find Zeor." As he started back down the way he'd come, he was filled with a sense of peace and contentment.
By the end of the day, he had made little progress due to the persistent pain in his ankle and leg. Stopping to rest, he sat by the stream and, removing the improvised splint, stuck his injured leg into the cool water. Leaning back, he rested his head against the muddy bank, tears of weariness and pain escaping from the corners of his closed eyes.
The sound of moaning came to his ears. At first he ignored it, then it got louder, interspersed with whimpering sounds. Somebody was nearby! Instantly alert, Jimin replaced the splint on his still throbbing ankle and rose, looking warily around. He could see no one.
He listened carefully. The sound seemed to be coming from downstream. Gripping his knife, Jimin moved cautiously towards the whimpering noises.
Suddenly he heard a scream of pure terror. Forgetting to be cautious, he began to run towards the sound. Rounding a bend in the stream, he saw a youngster about his age lying on the ground. His foot was caught in the twisted roots of a fallen tree whose broken branches trailed in the water.
As the boy fought frantically to free himself, Jimin saw what was terrifying him. A rattlesnake was a scant two feet away, poised to strike.
"Hold still," Jimin said very softly as he moved closer.
He wasn't sure he was close enough, but there wasn't time to get closer. Taking careful aim, Jimin threw his knife. Sailing swiftly through the air, it neatly pinned the snake to the ground, nearly severing the serpent's head in the process. The rattler twisted convulsively several times, then lay still.
Jimin leaned weakly against a tree for a few moments before moving forward to kneel by the other youngster. "You'll be alright now," he murmured as he began to tug at the roots trapping the other boy.
"Who who are you?" The other boy was staring at him, blue eyes wide with stunned surprise. "How did you-"
Jimin grinned self-consciously. "I'm Jimin Vandyke. My grandfather taught me to use a knife. Are you Gen too?"
"Yes, I just established last week. My name is Shean Vereen. I've been trying to get across the border." He slumped. "But my horse broke his leg. I had to shoot him."
Giving up on the roots, Jimin retrieved his knife from the snake's body and began sawing away. "Mine died too." Quickly he told Shean all that had happened.
"I'm sorry," replied Shean softly. "I owe you my life." He paused a minute to rub the ankle that Jimin had freed. Looking up, he met the other boy's eyes. "I can show you the way to Zeor."
Jimin's eyes widened. "You know about Zeor? Why didn't you go there yourself? My grandfather says Gens aren't killed at Zeor."
Shean shrugged. "They're not, by the channels anyway. But I don't think it'll work. The channels at Zeor have the crazy idea that they can stop all Simes from killing. But I don't believe it."
"I have to go," whispered Jimin. "I promised my grandfather that I would go. He-he-"
"He what?" asked Shean gently.
Somehow knowing that he could trust Shean, Jimin told him about the dreams, the nightmares and the story dreams. "Grandfather thinks I'm going to be a channel. So he wants me to go to Zeor."
Shean nodded. "That makes sense. Channels can heal people by just touching them, and they can keep people from killing."
"But I don't want to be Sime!" Jimin burst out passionately. "I'm only going to Zeor to keep a prormse.
Shean stared at the ground for a moment, obviously having an inner argurnent with himself. Finally, pushing his mousy brown hair out of his eyes, he smiled at Jimin. "I'll make you a deal. I know a shortcut to Zeor. It'll take forever if we follow the river. But if we cut through the woods, we'll cross the river and the border around the next bend. It isn't far that way. After the channels tell us you're Gen we can cross the border together. Then you can help me."
"Let's go then." He rose and pulled Shean to his feet. Together they started off into the woods, Shean in the lead.
Though it was beginning to get dark there was a full moon, so they were able to travel through the woods relatively swiftly.
In spite of his throbbing foot, Jitnin insisted on travelling as fast as possible through the night. By morning they had come out of the woods and were again descending the broad slope that Shean said led to Zeor.
As the sun began to rise, Jimin collapsed, unable to travel any further.
Instantly Shean was by his side. "Jimin, what's wrong?" <p? "I-I don't know. I'm so cold." Jimin's teeth were chattering.
Shean put a hand on his forehead. "Shen, you're burning up. I'll bet it's changeover."
Roughly Jimin pushed his hand away. "No, it can't be. I told you, I'm not a Sime. Maybe it's just the flu." He spoke sternly, trying to convince himself, and for the moment, succeeding.
Shean shrugged. "I'm not going to argue with you. Either way, we'll know soon." He glanced around. "Stay here and I'll get some wood for a fire."
Jimin nodded, giving himself up to unrestrained shivering. He didn't even notice when Shean left to get some wood for the fire.
Shean's fire, when it was finally built, did little to alleviate Jimin's chills. Finally, however, he fell into an exhausted sleep.
When he awoke it was almost dark, the fire was low and Shean dozed, resting against a rock.
Jimin blinked in surprise for somehow Shean was different, his body surrounded by a nimbus of glowing warmth and light that reminded Jimin very vividly of the nightmares in which he killed.
"Oh, God, no. It can't be. I can't be a killer."
Shean woke at those whispered words and immediately came to Jimin's side. "It's changeover, isn't it?" Gently he took Jimin's hand. "See, the tentacles are forming. It won't be long now." Fear showed in his eyes that he couldn't hide.
"Leave me," whispered Jimin. "Don't let me kill you. Go while you have the chance."
"Don't be silly. I can't leave you here to die."
"I'll kill you!" screamed Jimin. "Don't you understand? I'm a monster now, a demon. I can't be a killer too. Get away from me."
"Maybe we can still get to Zeor. Jimin, I'm not leaving you here to die. Zeor is only a few hours walk away now."
Jimin didn't really believe that they would make it to Zeor, and even if they did he was convinced that he would kill. But he was unable to convince Shean to leave him, so he agreed to keep travelling.
They walked for several hours under the full moon. But as his changeover progressed and the burning contractions of his nightmares appeared and got stronger with each passing moment, Jimin got more and more frightened.
Soon, by the bright light of the moon he could see his treacherous weapons of murder forming in their sheaths. Finally he knew it was almost time. He wasn't going to make it. Leaning against a tree trunk, he said, "Leave me, Shean. Now. I can't kill you now.
The other boy stopped, came back to Jimin. "But Zeor is just over the next hill. You can make it."
Shean was now a brightly glowing field of warmth that Jimin wanted desperately. Responding to an instinct he didn't understand, he took his friend's hands and pulled him closer.
He blinked, then moaned as he realized he was holding Shean in the position of death. When his tentacles emerged they would strip the other youngster of life-giving selyn.
Convulsively he pushed Shean away. "No!" he screamed. "Please go. I don't want to kill you. Please go."
Shean sighed, tears of concern and sympathy shining in his eyes. "I don't want to, Jimin. I-I-" Taking a deep breath he said softly, "I'm going to Zeor. I'll fmd help for you."
Jimin turned away. He could still sense, though he didn't know how, the glowing field surrounding his friend. "Just go," he whispered. It wasn't until Shean had retreated beyond his range to sense that he allowed his hands to unclench, his tense muscles to relax a little bit.
The contractions were very intense now, his tentacles writhing in their sheaths, straining to burst free.
Jimin fought the contractions with all his might, trying to prevent the emergence of the organs of death. His body was gradually growing cold and numb. A numbness he welcomed, for somehow he knew it preceded death and this he now longed for. He was not going to allow his tentacles to fmd and strip a Gen of the glowing warmth of life.
"Jimin, Jimin," a familiar voice spoke quietly.
Jimin raised his head and looked around. "Grandfather?" he said unbelievingly.
A short distance away he saw a glowing figure gently beckoning. He hesitated, not sure what he was seeing. His tentacles writhed, and he instinctively raised his arms, reaching towards that glowing warmth. He shook his head. Grandfather was dead, yet his body was reacting as to a living Gen, as he had in so many nightmares in which he killed and killed.
"There are Gens you cannot kill," the figure said softly. "One such awaits you in Zeor."
"No." Jimin forced his arms behind his back, heedless of the searing pain. "I will not kill. Go away and let me die."
The old man sighed, a very human sigh. "Channels don't kill. Jimin, remember the dreams, the ones you call story dreams?"
"Yes." Reluctantly Jimin let the images fill his mind. Images of Simes and Gens taking and giving the life force from his tentacles.
"But, but, I have to kill to live."
You are a channel." The glowing figure came closer. Jimin could see his grandfather's face smiling from the center of the glowing field. "You will not kill. Just keep your promise. Zeor is just over the hill." The glowing figure held out its hands. "You must go over the hill and meet your Companion."
Jimin put his hands into his grandfather's. They felt as real as any living hands and warmer, oh so warm. The glow seemed to suffuse him as a gradual warmth spread over his body, faint but definite. The cold numbness retreated.
The figure smiled. "I must go now. The rest is up to you. Remember you are a channel; you can help stop the killing."
"Grandfather, please don't go," Jimmin pleaded with the glowing figure, but it was no use. The glow faded and he was alone.
A channel! A Sime that doesn't kill. Could it be possible? Jimin stared at his arms. The tentacles were quiet now, the contractions calm, non-threatening. Unbidden the story dream images flooded his mind. He saw himself giving the warmth and light within to Sime after Sime after Sime. He saw himself surrounded by Simes and Gens, happy and laughing, living and playing together. And somehow he knew that this was the way it should be.
"I'm a channel," he whispered. The words felt good. He said them aloud. "I'm a channel." Exultant now, he cried it to the shining moon. "I'm a channel, I don't have to kill!"
But he did have to get to Zeor. And though he was much calmer now, the contractions were still there, steady, regular, pulsing and throbbing.
Heaving himself to his feet, he started over the hill. He hadn't gone very far on the other side when the pulsing forced him to stop, to work with the contractions. Finally his tentacles burst free, in a tremendous shower of bloody fluids, and waved in the cold night air, filling him with strange sensations.
The world seemed different, shimmering somehow with oddly colored patterns superimposed on the objects his eyes told him were there.
"Zeor," he whispered to himself "I must find Zeor before I die." Holding his hands before him, tentacles outstretched, he attempted to use his newly acquired Sime sight to scan the area.
In the distance he could sense a glowing field, a mass of fields really, glowing and dancing in unity.
"The shining star. I must reach the shining star." He went forward, swiftly now, almost effortlessly, as he floated down the hill.
A timeless moment later and he was facing the warm glow of a shimmering golden field that was beckoning him onwards, welcoming him, enticing him.
Eagerly he walked into that warmth, his tentacles embraced the glow, cool hands touched his elbows. He leaned forward, following his instincts, and was lost in the total beauty and contentment of the selyn flow.
The shimmering field filled him to overflowing and still it came, filling a second time as his body awoke to an awareness of life like he had never before had.
Too soon it was over, and he found himself staring into the eyes of a young man with an impish grin.
"Congratulations, Hajene." The Gen gently withdrew his hands, though he carefully remained close to Jimin. "My name is Karlyn ambrov Zeor, Companion in Zeor."
Jimin blinked uneasily. The world seemed somehow different. He didn't understand the change, and he wasn't sure he liked it. "I-I'm Jimin VanDyke. You-you called me Hajene?"
A voice very much like Grandfather's chuckled. "Well, son, you are a channel."
An older man, who looked almost exactly like Grandfather, was standing by the Gen, smiling warmly. He had the same black eyes and sparse grey hair. He held out his hands, tentacles outstretched in welcome. Tentacles that no longer seemed organs of evil.
Jimin glanced uneasily at the Gen by his side. For some reason he didn't understand he was reluctant to pull away from the now diminished but still glowing field.
Karlyn touched his arm. "It's all right. I'm not leaving you."
Thus reassured, Jimin held out his hands to the other channel, fmding that his tentacles automatically entwined with the old man's. "Uncle Estabon?"
The old man nodded. "Hajene Estabon ambrov Zeor, at your service. Hold still a minute." He leaned forward and made brief lip contact, then smiled as he released Jimin. "Good, you're just fine, and your secondary system is fully activated. An excellent First Transfer."
"Wha-what are you talking about? What did you just do?" Jimin was thoroughly confused at the Simelan terms.
The older channel just smiled. "I'll explain later. For now, go with KarIyn After you're rested, Sectuib Farris wants to meet you."
The Gen held out his hand. "Come, Hajene."
Trustingly Jimin put his hand in Karlyn's and went with him down the hill, towards Zcor, now beckoning even more brightly. The shining star waited to welcome him to his new life as a channel.