by Marge Robbins

Lyrics from PLEDGE by Kerry Schaefer, used by permission of the author.



Kareen Alidean, Companion, paused a moment outside the door to the insulated transfer room to tie her long black hair back with a Zeor blue ribbon. She had been awakened a few minutes earlier by Charnye ambrov Zeor, who had informed her of the crises that had left the Sectuib in hard need, without his regular Companion.

Entering the room she smiled warmly at Klyd Farris, who was waiting.

"Good morning, Sectuib. Charnye asked me to serve you. That surprises me." Focusing her field casually on him, she took her place by his side on the contoured transfer couch. "I thought I was scheduled to serve Hajene Jimin."

"Hardly anything goes as it should around here," observed the channel.

Oh, shen! He must be in worse shape than Charnye said.

She examined his expression, his breathing, the half-closed eyes. And suddenly realized she'd been paid a compliment. Klyd Farris, Sectuib in Zeor, had dropped all his automatic professionalism in her presence. He was just a Sime, not a Sectuib now, a Sime expressing need in a way she should have understood immediately.

"I'm sorry, Sectuib." She adjusted her field as he summoned an encouraging smile. "Relax," she said, "let me work." Gently she began to stroke his arms, encouraging the laterals to emerge.

He forced out a dry chuckle, then offered an explanation. "Denrau was injured, so Jimin volunteered you for me, and Charnye will serve him."

"They told me. Never mind that now. You're in no condition to start a transfer."

Klyd nodded. "That took you long enough to detect. What are you going to do about it?"

"I'm sorry. I'm having a little trouble reading the ambient right now," she commented as she moved closer to the channel. Strengthening the focus of her field, she began to gently massage his head, neck and shoulders. "We'll just take a few minutes for me to do what a Gen does best."

Klyd smiled wanly. "Just don't keep me in trautholo too long."

"No, Sectuib."

He closed his eyes, making an obvious effort to cooperate with Kareen. Gradually his breathing slowed as he became calmer.

She watched him closely for another minute or so. "Now, Klyd."

He opened his eyes. "Um. Very good, Kareen." Slowly he placed his tentacles in transfer position. "You do this quite well."

"I should. You taught me." She waited a moment longer, then, shivering with anticipated pleasure, bent her head to make lip contact and was lost in the joy of serving her Sectuib. Though the transfer was all she could make it, she knew from the way he terminated it, gently, as he always did, but without the shared peak of mutual fulfillment, that it wasn't all he needed.

Sighing contentedly, Kareen opened her eyes and smiled. No matter what, transfer with Klyd made her feel so good.

Klyd, however, was blinking at tears, but not quite crying. Kareen's glow evaporated. Again she had failed to get him completely post.

"I'm sorry, Sectuib." When he didn't reply she shifted positions, placed his head in her lap and began to stroke his temples.

After a few minutes Klyd opened his eyes. Um, Kareen"

"What did I do wrong this time?"

The channel raised a brow in surprise. "Why, nothing."

"But you're crying." Kareen was frustrated. Though she had met his need for selyn, she knew something was wrong.

Reaching up, he stroked her arm with a tentacle. "Because I'm partly post. Kareen, please believe me, no one except possibly Denrau could have done any better given the condition I was in. I know you did your best."

Kareen didn't entirely believe him. "If that was such a good transfer, then how about accepting my pledge?"

Klyd sat up and straightened his wrinkled clothing. "Kareen, I just can't."

"Sectuib, I don't understand this. This isn't the first transfer I've given you since you brought me to Zeor almost a year ago, to say nothing of my service to Hajene Jimin. Yet you still won't accept my pledge unto Zeor. Why not?" She tried unsuccessfully to keep her feelings of desperation out of her nager.

"The fact that you could ask such a question is a good indication of why I can't ask you to pledge."

Kareen bit her lip. "Sectuib, please let me pledge," she begged.

Regretfully, Klyd shook his head. "No, Kareen. Not now. Maybe later if-"

"If what?" interrupted the Gen, hopefully.

"Have you met Davee Nooneen?"

She nodded. "Spoiled brat if you ask me."

"I'm not asking you," replied the channel firmly. "Last night he tried to commit suicide and stabbed Denrau in the process. I had to restrain him." Klyd absenfly rubbed his arms. "Not an easy task when in need."

"Especially when your Companion's been hurt," replied Kareen sympathetically. "Anybody but you would have lost control."

The channel grinned ruefully. "I won't tell you what I wanted to do. But I settled for putting him to sleep and starting to heal his cut wrists."

"And Denrau? Is he all right?"

"He's fine. Jimin was there and took care of him. But he will require rest for a few days."

"What's Davee's problem?"

"I'm not sure. He won't talk to me or any channel. Jimin has been working with him since he was left here, but we can't get him to talk. I want you to try. He doesn't seem to be as afraid of our Gens."

Kareen met his eyes. "Is this related to my pledge?"

Klyd sighed, looking suddenly tired. "Not specifically. But, if you handle this well, I'll certainly be willing to discuss it." He hesitated. "Provided you give some serious thought to what a pledge means. This is no game."

"I know that, Sectuib," she flared indignantly.

"Then explain it to me," challenged the channel.

Kareen wilted. They'd been over this ground before. "You won't accept my answers."

Taking her hands, Klyd gently caressed her wrists with his handling tentacles. "Perhaps that's because you truly aren't ready to offer your pledge. When you understand what Zeor is all about, you'll have no trouble answering the question."

Kareen bowed her head. She knew he was right. "Yes, Sectuib," she replied in a low voice.

"You'll find the answer," he promised. His tone turned brisk. "Now, it's time to get to work. You go have breakfast, talk to Davee, and then find Jimin. You're attending him today."

Kareen smiled as she rose. "That'll be a pleasure.

After breakfast and a trip to her room to shower and change clothes, Kareen went to the infirmary to fmd Davee. When she entered his room, he was lying curled up in a small ball facing the wall. All she could see were a few tendrils of blonde hair. Taking a seat beside the bed, Kareen said softly, "Davee, Davee."

"Go away," muttered the boy.

"I can't. Sectuib Farris is worried about you." She reached out and touched his shoulder.

"Shenshid, can't that lorsh leave me alone"

Abruptly the boy sat up, glaring at her.

Kareen took a deep breath, struggling to control her temper. "Is that any way to talk about Sectuib?"

"He's not my Sectuib," muttered the boy, his eyes on the white bandages covering his wrists.

She blinked back tears of sudden sympathy. "Please, Davee. Tell me what's wrong."

He shook his head. "You're a Companion. You wouldn't understand."

"That doesn't make sense. What does my being a Companion have to do with anything?"

"You're a channel-lover."

She was silent a moment, trying to digest this somewhat incomprehensible remark. "This Householding revolves around the channels. You knew that when-"

"Who said I wanted to be part of your precious Householding?" Davee demanded, his icy blue eyes flashing.

"Then why are you here?" Kareen was beginning to lose her temper. "If you don't like the channels you're under no obligation to stay here."

"That's what you think. I have no choice except to " Davee fell silent, shuddering in response to some emotion she couldn't discern. "Go away," he muttered after a moment. "Just leave me alone."

Shen, this kid's a stubborn little brat. Aloud she said, "As you wish. I do have work to do. But if you decide you want to talk, have someone send for me." Receiving no answer, she left the room.

The Gen attendant on duty was waiting outside the room. "Did he talk?"

Kareen shook her head. "Only to insult the Sectuib. What's the rnatter with that kid anyway?"

"I suppose he's still upset about his brother's death."


"You didn't know?" When Kareen shook her head, the woman went on softly, "I guess this happened while you were at Imil with Hajene Jimin. His twin brother died in changeover. His tentacles were too deformed to allow him to take transfer. There was nothing Sectuib could do."

Kareen leaned against the wall, closing her eyes in sudden remorse. "No wonder he doesn't like the channels." She sighed. "I think I may have made matters worse."

"Why didn't you read his chart?"

Kareen glared at her. "Are you trying to make me feel guilty or something?" She strode away without waiting for the woman's reply.

She went next to the administrative wing, where she found Hajene Jimin in his office. Tall and slender with thick curly blonde hair and steely grey eyes, he gave the impression of quiet strength. His face broke into a warm smile as she entered the room.

"There you are. I was beginning to think-" The grin faded as he studied her. "What's wrong?"

Kareen attempted to project warmth and cheerfulness. "Nothing. I just missed you. And I'm curious. Why did you give me to Klyd?"

Rising, the channel went around his desk to take her hands. "Because I didn't want him to have to settle for a partial. High field you come close to meeting his need. Midfield Charnye almost meets mine."

"So you settled for a partial yourself?" She studied him, but could see no sign of that.

"No, actually he served me in transfer, but it wasn't the same." Embracing her, Jimin nuzzled her neck.

As some of the tension left her body, Kareen nestled against him. "I'm here now. Do you" Her voice held an unspoken question. He should be post. Charnye wouldn't botch it, as she had done with Klyd.

"Save some time for me later," he suggested softly. "For now, we have work to do."

She frowned. He wasn't reacting the way she expected him to. "You're getting to be just like Sectuib. Always thinking of work."

"If we start this now, we'll just be shenned out of it when they come looking for me. I'm on duty."

Standing on tiptoe, she gave him a quick but passionate kiss. "So am I, but the last thing I want right now is work. Don't we have just a little time?"

The channel grinned and tightened his arms around her. "I really wish we could-" At the hurt look in her eyes, he said softly, "Very well, a few minutes won't hurt. But you're not as post as you want me to think you are. Why not? A transfer with Klyd should have put you m a very good mood."

Sighing, Kareen sank into a seat. "The transfer was fine. It's what he said later."

Jimin sat beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. "What's wrong?"

"He's given me an assignment, and I don't know how to do it." She told him about Davee's suicide attempt.

"I know, I was there when it happened, fortunatelv. Klyd was in no condition to deal with

"No," the channel agreed. "No one can hold Klyd responsible for what happened." "Klyd's upset though. Oh, Jimin, if you could have seen him." Tears filled her eyes. "He was in knots, and really didn't want to let me see it." She sniffed. "He did though. Even said it wasn't my fault I didn't get him completely post."

"It probably wasn't. You've got to realize that not every transfer is going to be perfect, no matter how good you are." The channel paused to wipe tears from his own eyes. "I would be in a mess if someone attacked you." He shuddered. "I assume all this emotion is on Klyd's behalf?"

"Mostly. You know how much he cares for everyone in Zeor. This is hurting him." Kareen touched his face. "I'm sorry, Jimin. I can't seem to control my nager right now."

"That's obvious. It's a good thing for me you're low field."

She relaxed. He was right. She had no nager to be careful of right now. "What if Davee tries to suicide again?"

Jimin sighed. "I don't know. If we can't reach him--"

"What am I going to do?" Kareen wailed in desperation. "Klyd left it up to me."

The channel shrugged helplessly. "Ask me how to heal a dying man. It would be easier to give you an answer, Kareen. I don't know either. But-" He forced an encouraging smile. "If Klyd gave you the assignment, he probably sees some way you can accomplish it."

She shook her head. "Jimin, what if I fail him?"

"Fail who? If Davee refuses to talk, it won't be your fault."

"Fail Sectuib. He won't accept my pledge if I fail his assignments."

"Kareen, you're being illogical. Success or failure here isn't related to your pledge."

Suddenly indignant at his apparent lack of understanding, she pushed him away. "It is too," she flared. "Sectuib much as said that. If I fail this assignment, he'll never let me pledge."

"Sectuib said that?"

"Well, he said if I handle this well, we'll talk about it."

Jimin sighed, spreading his tentacles in frustration. "Kareen, be realistic. Agreeing to talk about it is not the same as saying he won't accept the pledge if you fail. And handling it well doesn't mean succeed. I'm sure Klyd isn't going to deny you membership if you don't pull off a miracle. Zeor is not perfection, it is striving for excellence. The idea is to keep trying even in the face of failure, doing a little better each time you try."

"You may be a channel, but you don't know everything. I see no point in continuing this discussion, so just drop it." She rose, totally frustrated at her inability to make him understand the hopelessness of her situation. "Let's just go to work."

Jimin threw up his hands. "As you wish. We are due in the collectorium."

Kareen's duties as Companion prevented her from returning to Davee until the next morning. She found him in his room in the infirmary picking at his breakfast.

"Good morning, Davee," she said softly as she took a seat across the table from him.

"You again," Davee muttered as he threw her a glance of hostility.

"Me again. I see your mood hasn't improved any. Are you ready to talk?"


"Come on, Davee. At least tell me why you're so angry with the Sectuib."

"He's-" Davee looked away.

"He's what?" asked Kareen gently. "Are you afraid of channels?"

The youngster tightened his lips. "Don't want to talk about it," he muttered.


"You wouldn't understand."

Kareen was silent for a moment, searching for the right words. "Don't be so sure about that. Sometimes that man drives me crazy."

"Really?" asked Davee suspiciously.

"For example, he keeps refusing to accept my pledge, even though I'm qualified."

Davee snorted. "Big deal. Who wants to pledge Zeor anyway?"

"I do," snapped Kareen. "So tell me what's wrong with pledging Zeor."

"The Sectuib and all the other channels, they're perverts!"

"That's a disgusting thing to say."

"I told you you wouldn't understand."

"Well, then, why are you in Zeor if you reject the channels?"

Davee stared at her a long moment then looked away. "I didn't ask to come to Zeor. My mother made us come."

You don't have to stay, if you don't want to. I know Sectuib will let you leave any time."

"If I leave, I die. If I stay, ugh."

"What makes you think you are going to die?"

"My brother and sister did, in changover. It's going to happen to me too. Davee turned away with tears in his eyes.

"Oh, Davee." Reaching out, Kareen tried to take the youngster into her arms, but he twisted away. You can't be sure this will happen to you. You don't even know if you're going to be Sime."

"I do so. I'll changeover then I'll die, just like Marcus did the day we arrived. Even your precious Sectuib couldn't save him."

"No, the channels can't save everyone," she admitted reluctantly. "But even assuming you do go through changeover you have a better chance here. Sectuib is very good at what he does."

"He couldn't save Marcus," muttered Davee. "And he can't save me. But even if he did he's a pervert like the rest of the channels."

Unable to deal with his continuing to insult the channels, Kareen lost her temper. "Davee, stop this. I won't listen to you insulting Sectuib."

"I knew you wouldn't understand." Tossing his breakfast tray to the floor with a shocking crash, Davee threw himself across the bed, burying his head in the pillow, refusing to talk anymore.

A moment later, the attendant came in. "What happened?"

Giving up, Kareen sent her away and cleaned up the mess, silently berating herself for not managing better. Then she reported to Jimin's office to help him with the endless paperwork.

However, she was unable to concentrate. Her mind kept whirling and turning over and over again, as she replayed her interview with Davee.

Finally the channel threw down his pencil in frustration. "Kareen, you're not doing me much good. I keep making mistakes. If you can't keep your mind on your work, I'll find someone else. These charts have to be done right."

"I'm doing my best," she flared.

"No, you're not," he replied genfly.

"Jimin, don't fuss at me."

"You're not really here. You're with Davee."

She shook her head in denial, wanting desperately to please him, but not being able to control her emotions sufficiently to do what he required. "Jimin, please" she whispered.

The channel spread his tentacles in appeal. "Look, I know you're upset about Davee. So am I. But right now we have work to do. His suicide attempt put me way behind. If you can't concentrate and really assist me, it would be better for me to find someone else."

"But Jimin- Oh shen, you're right. I'm a failure as your Companion." Giving up totally, she fled the room, not giving the channel a chance to reply.

Upset and in tears, Kareen was running aimlessly in the general direction of the Gens' dorm when she heard a commotion. A crowd was gathering behind the infirmary. Blindly she followed them around the corner of the building, coming to a shocked halt as she caught sight of Davee's bodv hanging from a tree.

As she stared in horror, she heard Klyd's voice. "It's too late. He's dead. How did this happen?"

Oh, God! This is my fault. I murdered Davee. Choking back a sob, Kareen ran for the dim sanctuary of her room. Throwing herself on the bed, she cried for some time.

Finally she ran out of tears. As she sat up, her eyes fell on a picture of the Sectuib on her bedside table.

"I can't do it, Klyd," she whispered as she picked up the miniature and caressed its surface gently. "I can't be the Companion you and Jimin want. I murdered Davee and I-" She fell silent, staring at his picture.

"You're never going to accept my pledge. And you're right. Zeor is no place for a failure. I don't belong here."

She stared at the wall for a moment, trying to consider her options rationally. If she couldn't be a part of Zeor she really didn't care what happened to her, and she was sure that now Klyd would never consider accepting her pledge.

"I might make it out-Territory," she whispered. "Where there are no Simes, no channels-" She sobbed once more. Oh, Jimin. I even failed you. I'm so sorry. Taking a deep breath, she rubbed her eyes. "I've got to go now"

Before she could act on that decision the door opened and Klyd entered the room.

Immediately she stood up, attempting unsuccessfully to scrub the tears from her eyes. "Sectuib,I-I-"

"Sit down," he said gently. "I think it's time we had a little talk."

She took a deep breath. "I know I'm supposed to be on duty. I'm sorry."

He shook his head. That's not why I'm here. Charnye's with Jimin, so don't worry about it. It's you I want to talk about."

Uh oh, I'm in trouble now! Slowly Kareen sat back down on the bed as the channel took a seat on its foot. "I know what you are going to say Sectuib, and you're right, I don't belong---"

The door opend and a renSime stuck his head in. "Sectuib, come quickly. There's a youngster at the gates in changeover."

Klyd threw him an annoyed glance. "Find one of the other- Oh never mind, I'm coming." Rising, he briefly touched Kareen's shoulder. "Stay here. I'll be back as soon as I can." He left the room before she could reply.

I can't stay here. I know what he's going to say.

Quickly she wrote a note, explaining her intentions and begging Klyd to forgive her for being a failure, and pinned it to her pillow. Then leaving the dorm, she saddled a horse and quietly left the grounds of Householding Zeor.

She crossed the river separating Zeor from Gen Territory, but hadn't gotten very far when she was suddenly surrounded by Simes on horseback. Raiders, she thought dully. Perhaps it doesn't matter. Knowing she couldn't escape, she reined in her horse and waited passively to be captured. Quickly the Simes closed in on her.

"Don't touch me," she snapped defiantly, as the leader snatched the reins from her hands.

He just laughed, and began to run his hands lewdly over her body. "Spirited one, aren't you? Must be from one of them Householdings. Zeor?"

"None of your business." She tried to be defiant, but was unconvincing.

"No matter. You're coming with us." He gestured to one of his men, who quickly bound her in white chains.

She was taken first to a Genfarm, then sold to an auction house in the town of Leanea, a week's ride from Zeor. With little ceremony she was thrust into a tiny cell and left alone.

Sinking to the floor in a corner, she put her head in her hands. "Well, dummy, you've done it now." She laughed harshly. "Fitting perhaps, that I should end up here. Soon, I'll die." She knew she would be left alone for a while because she was low field. But in a few weeks- She shuddered.

They knew she was a Companion. The buyers would know it too. They'd know that she wouldn't make a good kill, unless she was first tortured or worse.

She sighed. "I would have been better off as breeding stock."

Resting her head on her knees, she thought as she often did of her father, Terrie Alldean, the successful Genfarmer. He ran one of the largest government pens in the territory. She remembered vividly the look of total disappointment and shock on his face as he zlinned.

"Gen!" He had retracted his tentacles in disgust. "My only child, my heir, a Gen."

"Oh, no! Daddy, you must be wrong. I'm your daughter. I can't be Gen."

He slapped her hard across the face. "Shut up. Don't you think I know when a Gen establishes". I've been doing this for years."

Kareen had stood silently for a few minutes, trying to digest this. She was a Gen. A subhuman animal. She had begged her father to say he was wrong. But she had known. She wasn't even a human being.

And yet in his own way, Terrie Alldean had been merciful. True, he locked her up, forbade her to ever call him Father again. But he did tell her he wouldn't have her killed. She was to be sold as breeding stock.

At the first opportunity, she ran to nearby Householding Keon. Though she hadn't entirely believed the rumors of Householdings, she had to see for herself if there was a chance.

She had been quite fond of Sectuib Nedd. And even though she had never succeeded in qualifying as a Companion in Keon, he had taught her much. But then Nedd had died, and she had been unable to handle the sweeping changes that were being made in Householding Keon.

"So I ran." Rising, Kareen began to pace the cage.

To Gen Territory that time. Convinced that she would never succeed in-Territory, she escaped across the border and attempted to make a new life for herself

But she wasn't happy there. No matter what she did, she was restless and unhappy, longing for the touch of a Sime.

I became a drifter." Moving from town to town, from job to job, never staying in one place for more than a few weeks, she gradually worked her way northwards, finally attempting to settle down in a small town on the Nivet border.

"Even then I couldn't stay out of trouble." She laughed mirthlessly, remembering.

She had been attempting to help a changeover victim in defiance of the town rules that said all Simes were to be shot on sight. The child had died, victim of the sheriffs bullets, and she was run out of town.

Shaking her head, she returned to the present. "All I've ever done is cause trouble. Like I did for Sectuib Risa, for Davee, Jimin and Klyd. All I ever do is fail and run." She shrugged. "Perhaps it's just as well I'm here. I can't run now. A few days later she had a visitor. At first she paid little attention as a renSime of questionable appearance entered her cell and began to examine her as one might livestock.

It wasn't until he began to pinch and scratch her arms that she came to life. Defiantly she pushed him away, wincing as he grabbed her. Augmenting, he held her securely, laughing at her pain.

"Leave me alone," she said defiantly, flicking her nager in a way that caused the Sime acute pain.

Reeling, he released her to fall back against the bars. "Let me out of here," he ordered the dealer. "She's too much of a spitfire. I don't want the likes of her"

The dealer entered the cell as the sadistic Sime left in disgust. Grabbing her hair, he shook her viciously. "Use your field on me and you'll be sorry.' He slapped her face. "That stupid stunt cost me a sale. You're going to pay for it."

"You can't do anything to me," Kareen snapped defiantly.

The dealer just chuckled. "We'll just see about that. N'Vet Joash Mendes will be here for the auction in a few days. Perhaps he'd be interested in taming you." He shook her roughly one more time then threw her to the floor, leaving the cell without a backwards glance.

Joash Mendes. Just the mention of his name made Kareen shudder- Long an enemy of Zeor, Mendes was the worst Gen abuser the territory had ever seen. She knew what he would do.

He would torture her, perhaps even kill her, attempt to force Zeor to pay her ransom. Not too long ago he had captured another Zeor Companion, killed him and threw the man's bloody and broken body over Zeor's wall in the dead of the night.

Angrily Kareen shook her head. No one was going to use her to humiliate Zeor like that again. I can't let that happen. No matter what, I will not make Klyd go through that again. She knew she had to escape.

One evening when the guard was bringing her dinner, she zapped him with a Genslam that felled all the Simes in the vicinity.

Grabbing the keys from his belt, she managed to escape from the cell area, but was intercepted by several more guards who attacked her one after the other in kilimode. Though they couldn't harm her, they did drain her field, after which she was severely beaten for attempting to escape, and thrust back into her cell.

The next few days passed all too quickly for Kareen. She was too closely guarded to make another escape attempt. Before she knew it, she was pulled from her cell, given a shower and dressed in exotic clothing. She was to be sold at auction.

She was filled with a very strong sense of deja vu as she was led onto the stage and put in one of the cages.

It was almost a year ago when Klyd Farris had bought her at another auction, offered her a chance at a new life, and took her to Householding Zeor.

But I failed him too. Caught up in her thoughts of her past, she paid no attention to the bidding going on around her.

Finally dressed in the white shift of the killroom she was brought face to face with her owner.

"I said I wanted her dressed for the road," a familiar voice spoke quietly.

Jimin! She looked up, met his warm compassionate eyes. "Why?" she whispered, stunned.

Her emotions in a state of shock, she meekly followed him to the horses.

As they rode out of town, she struggled to understand this new turn of events.

After a while, Jimin turned to her and said, "Well, don't you have anything to say to me?"

"Why didn't you just leave me alone?"

Jimin sighed. "Kareen, please. I need you. I just couldn't let you die."

She studied him a minute. He was very deep in need. "Oh, sure. For transfer." She gave a harsh laugh. "Sure, Hajene. I'll serve you. I'm good at transfer." A nd not much else, she added silently to herself.

"No!" the channel roared. "I don't want transfer-" He took a deep breath. "Kareen, I'm sorry, I do want transfer, but not while you're so unhappy. Please talk to me. You're my Companion, and I do care for you."

She remained silent, unable to believe that he meant what he said. All she was good for was transfer. She had failed at everything else. Why couldn't he see that and leave her alone?

After a while he spoke again. "Kareen, would you rather I took you to the border, instead of returning you to Zeor? I'm not going to force you to go with me."

She shook her head. "No, Hajene. You're in need. I'll go back to Zeor with you, serve you when you're ready, but I won't stay. If Sectuib won't let me go, I'll run away again."

"Why?" Reaching over, he covered her hand with his, caressing her with his tentacles. "Please tell me what's wrong."

She just shook her head. Resisting him was hard, but she knew he wouldn't understand, and she didn't want to argue with a channel in need. After transfer she would try to explain.

Finally he gave up and they rode in uncomfortable silence until sunset. At Jimin's suggestion they stopped for the night in an old abandoned barn.

While the channel was off collecting wood for a fire, Kareen attempted to light an oil lamp. Her hands shook so badly as she held a match to the wick that she fumbled, cursing. The lamp flared, then slipped from her hands. In an instant dry straw began to blaze.

Almost before she could react, the barn was full of black smoke. Blinded by the smoke she stumbled around trying to find the door. Gasping and choking she finally succumbed.

When she regained consciousness, she was outside on the cool grass, Jimin on his knees beside her.

The channel smiled as she opened her eyes. "Lie still. You have some internal bleeding."

"Wha, What-" She became aware that her body was a mass of pain. "Jimin, what happened?" she whispered.

"A beam fell on you." The channel reached out to touch her, then pulled back, savagely sheathing his questing laterals.

Kareen's eyes widened. "Jimin, you're in attrition."

"Close," the channel agreed quietly. "But I couldn't let you die."

Tears filled her eyes as she realized the sacrifice he'd just made for her. Augmenting to save her had used up most of his available selyn reserves. "It might have been better. Let me give you some selyn."

He shook his head. "You're bleeding internally. You need all your resources to recover from this." Gently he touched her cheek. "Kareen, I love you. Promise me you'll try to return to Zeor, tell Klyd what happened. Your tags are in my saddlebags."

Kareen struggled to rise, determined that the channel wasn't going to die just for her. She wasn't worth such a sacrifice. "No!" she cried hysterically. "No, I won't be the cause of- Jimin, you can't die, not like this."

The channel shook his head. "It's too late for me, Kareen. The only way I can survive now is to kill you and that's not my idea of surviving. Please go back."

She began to sob hysterically. "Oh Jimin. It wasn't you I was running from. Please believe that."

"I do," he replied gently.

She gritted her teeth as she held out her arms, trying desperately to entice him. "Take transfer, Jimin, please. I can give you a partial-enough to save your life." She didn't care if she later died of her injuries as long as he could return to the House he loved so much.

Jimin bit his lip as he shook his head in denial. "No," he whispered. "It's too dangerous. I've got to go before I lose control and hurt you. Promise me you'll try to get back to Zeor." He reached out to touch her, then drew back before his tentacles could come in contact with her Gen flesh.

"No, don't go. I don't want you to die, please-"

"Perhaps I can help," a cool voice came out of the darkness, startling both Jimin and Kareen.

"Who, who-?" Jimin struggled to his feet, assuming a defensive posture by his Companion.

"Relax, I'm a friend." A tall pale Sime with curly blonde hair and piercing eyes stepped into the circle of light cast by the still burning barn. He was covered from head to foot with a green cloak.

Holding out his arms, he extended his tentacles in invitation. "Come, let me give you emergency transfer."

But Jimin resisted, apparently unable to believe that deliverance was at hand. Falling to his knees he clutched his hands tightly across his chest. "Kareen, go to Zeor. Tell Klyd I --didn't--kill."

"No!" Kareen screamed "Jimin don't die.--oh please don't die. Desperately she attempted to project invitation, holding out her own eyes to the helpless channel.

"don't" orderd the stranger sharply. You have too little selyn to overcontrol him in a killmode transfer."

Kneeling between them he reached for Jimin's arms, gently prying them loose.

"Oh thank God," Kareen whispered, falling back as Jimin finally responded and entwined his tentacles with the other channels.

As she watched the transfer through pain-glazed eyes she had time to think of the implications of Jimin's actions. He must really love me. ME! And not for transfer. Jimin was willing to die to let me live. She began to cry again. She knew she wasn't worht the channel's regard. Or was she?

Before she could follow that thought the stranger was kneeling beside here, taking her arms to make lateral contact. Almost immediately her pain vanished.

"What did you do?"

The stranger smiled. "I'm in control of your fields. Lie still a minute." He bent his head to make lip contact. "You have some internal injuries, and some bleeding, but I'll have that stopped in a few minutes. My name, by the way, is Quinnen."

Kareen had heard that name before. "You you're-Sectuib's talked about you. The Company."

Quinnen nodded. "Your Sectuib and I have been friends for a long time. He sent me to look for Hajene Jimin."

"Jimin, is he-?"

"I'm right here." And Jimin's arms were around her, helping her to sit up. "And just fine." Gently he gathered the folds of the Zeor cape more closely about her trembling body. "I'm so glad you're not dead," he whispered huskily.

"Oh, Jimin, I've been so dumb. Running away like I did, putting your life in jeopardy."

"Ah, hum." Quinnen was smiling at them. "We can't stay here. That fire is going to be attracting unwanted attention. I'm camped nearby. Come with me now and you can talk later." He gently tousled Kareen's hair. "You, young lady, require some more therapy."

"It's our best choice," added Jimin. "While I could heal your injuries, he can do a much faster job."

Kareen nodded. "As you wish." Closing her eyes, she wearily rested her head on Jimin's shoulder, too tired and drained to really care where they went. He was safe. That was all that mattered.

Kareen was only vaguely aware of the short ride to a nearby shrine of the starred cross where Quinnen's Companion, a young woman named Janina, was waiting.

Janina fussed good-naturedly as she bathed Kareen and tucked her into bed. Quinnen then put her to sleep.

The next morning when she awoke, Jimin dozed by her side. He woke instantly as she sat up.

"Feeling better?" His grey eyes sparkled with health and happiness. "Quinnen has all your injuries healed and your field is rising rapidly now."

But Kareen's mood was somber. "You shouldn't have done it."

"I had to. Kareen, I love you. Please accept that."

"I do. But Jimin, it's useless. You're Zeor and I never can be."

"Nonsense. There is no reason why you can't pledge Zeor."

Pushing him away, she rose and went to stand by the fire. "Jimin, please. I don't want to discuss this. I said I'd go back to Zeor with you. And even though you no longer need me-"

"I do so. In many ways."

Kareen ignored the interruption. "I'll keep my promise. But that's all." She turned away, fighting to keep her reaction to the hurt in his eyes from her nager.

Silently the channel left the room. Kareen took a deep breath, relaxing the tight hold she'd been maintaining on her nager. She wanted nothing more than to hold him in her arms, beg his forgiveness and admit the love she was feeling for him.

But you can't do that, she told herself sternly. Having you around would be the worst thing for him. You'd just ruin his life.

After a breakfast of fruit and cereal prepared by Janina, they saddled up and started the two-week journey to Zeor.

Kareen avoided Jimin as much as she could. Developing a fondness for Janina, she spent most of her time in the gypsy woman's company. From time to time both channels tried to draw her out, but she remained determinedly unresponsive.

Their last night out, only a day's ride from Zeor, the four of them stopped for the night at another waystation. Upon entering the tiny shelter, they discovered a young renSime already there. She was lying on a pallet on the floor, apparently unconscious.

"Hard need," said Quinnen.

"But why is she unconscious?" Jimin voiced the puzzlement Kareen was feeling. "She should be out hunting. Your field's not affecting her either."

Quinnen threw him a worried glance. "You'd better hope it's not what I suspect." Going to his knees, he made lateral contact. The girl opened her eyes, staring blindly at the channel. As Quinnen bent to make lip contact, the girl jerked, almost breaking the contact.

"Oh shen, Janina" Without looking up. Quinnen again attempted contact as his Companion knelt beside him, a hand on his shoulder.

Uneasily Kareen moved closer to Jimin merging her field with his. "What's going on" she whispered.

Befor Jimin could answer, Quinnen fell away from the youngster breathing heavily. "Shen, Jimin. I can't get a grip on her field. You try."

Kareen was shocked. "How can he do it, if you can't?"

"Her problem's emotional." said Quinnen. "The right nager is essential. And I don't know what she wants."

"What are you talking about?" Kareen had followed Jimin across the room, automatically taking a position by his side as he slid into transfer contact.

Almost immediately the girl began to moan and twist away from the channel. But Jimin tightened his grip, wrapping handling tentacles around her forearms. He entwined his laterals with hers, then bent to make lip contact.

His body jerked as if transfixed by a jolt of electricity. He hung on and tried again and again. On the third try the force of the backlash flung them apart.

Moaning, the girl curled back up into a tight ball, while the channel fell back against Kareen.

Automatically she met his hands and tentacles in transfer position, offering a steady field for him to rest against while he went into recovery.

"We're not going to reach her." Quinnen was kneeling across from the Zeor couple, conducting another examination. "And now she's close to attrition."

"What's wrong?" whispered Kareen. "Do you know?"

Quinnen's expression was grim. "I think so. Kareen, you try. She's renSime. Your field is high enough. Pretend she's an overstressed channel and offer her transfer."

"Me!" Kareen was stunned. "I-I can't do something a channel can't."

Jimin touched her shoulder. "Of course you can. You're Gen. Offer her the real thing."

Kareen was skeptical, but wanted to help. Taking Jimin's place, she focussed her attention narrowly on the girl. The Sime's only response was to moan and wiggle restlessly. Putting her hands in transfer position, Kareen stroked the girl's lateral sheaths.

As the tentacles slowly emerged and seated themselves, she bent and made lip contact. But the Sime didn't draw. After a moment Kareen began the flow, tentatively, for she'd never tried this in the field before.

The girl shenned her violently, shoving Kareen away so roughly that she fell against Jimin.

"I knew it!" she screamed. "I can't do it. I can't do anything."

Ignoring Jimin's attempts to comfort her, she ran out of the shelter and leaned against a tree, trying not to cry.

Quinnen came after her. "Kareen, get back in there. You're her only chance. You have to try again."

"No!" she screamed, near hysteria. "I can't do it. I can't do anything. I'm a failure." She turned away.

The channel put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You can't fail unless you give up."

Unless I give up. Unbidden the words from an old Zeor folk song ran through her mind. Never stop caring, never stop daring.... to never stop trying, living or dying, to never cease striving for perfection.

She shook her head. "Quinnen, I just can't. Please don't ask me."

"Kareen, you're her only chance. If she did kill her mother in first need, as I strongly suspect, you're the only one here who has a chance of reaching her. Janina can't try. She served me transfer last night."

"But, I'm a failure."

The channel shook his head. "Only if you say so."

Kareen sighed. She knew she had to try. She couldn't let her fear of another failure keep her from trying to save a human life. Ignoring the channel, she went back into the shelter and sat by the young Sime.

Acting on an impulse, she took the girl into her arms and began to croon a nursery rhyme as she enveloped her in a strong nageric field of maternal warmth.

Almost instantly the girl began to moan quietly, her face pressed against Kareen's shoulder.

Ignoring the channel's whispered words of advice, Kareen began to murmur words of comfort to the youngster as she changed positions to take the girl into transfer position.

This time the girl responded. With blinding speed all her tentacles emerged to tightly grip Kareen's arms.

Kareen made lip contact and instantly the Sime began her draw. Almost as quickly the transfer was over and the girl started to scream, "Mother, Mother, please don't die!:

"It's all right, honey. You're with friends." Gently Kareen pushed the girl's long blond hair back off her sweaty forehead. "Tell us about your mother."

The girl started blankly at Kareen for a few minutes. "My Mother-- you're not my Mother." She spoke a mixture of English and broken Simelan. Fortunately, Jimin had taught Kareen some English, so Kareen could understand her.

"No, I'm not your mother. But I am your friend."

"Who are you?"

"I'm a Companion." Kareen gestured towards Jimin. "and he's a channel."

"My mother told me if I went into changeover to find a channel, to go to Zeor. But I-I killed my mother." She began to cry again.

Kareen looked to Quinnen for help. She didn't know how to deal with the hysterical youngster.

Gently the channel took the girl into his own arms. "We're going to Zeor," he murmured soothingly. "You can come with us if vou wish."

"Kareen, come. Let me." Jimin assisted her to her feet and led her outside.

As she sank to the cool grass, he put a tender arm around her. "I'm so proud of you." But Kareen was crying again, tears of relief and happiness this time. The channel smiled. "Tell me what you're thinking."

"You were right," she whispered. "About success and failure." Meeting his eyes, she attempted a tiny smile. "Do you suppose Sectuib will give me another chance?"

Gently he wiped the tears from her eyes with a tender tentacle. "Do you know what Zeor is all about now?"

"I think so. It's kind of like today. You keep trying, even if you think you're going to fail. Always doing your best, trying to fail less each time."

"I suspect that's just what Klyd wants to hear you say.

"Kareen." Quinnen was standing before them, his arm around the now smiling young Sime. "This is Teresa Johns."

Dropping to the grass, Teresa held out her hands to Kareen. "You saved my life."

"I'm glad you're all right now." Impulsively Kareen hugged her. "Did I hear you say you wanted to go to Zeor?"

The girl sobered quickly. "I'd like to. I don't want to kill again. Quinnen said you were from Zeor. Can I go home with you, please?"

Kareen glanced at Jimin, who was smiling. "Of course," he said. "Sectuib will be very glad to welcome you."

And he was right. The next day, after Quinnen had escorted them to the gates of Zeor, Klyd gave Teresa a very warm welcome to Householding Zeor, before sending her off with Denrau to get settled.

Waving Kareen and Jimin to seats before his desk, the Sectuib then said gently, "Now, I think both of you have some explaining to do."

"Don't be angry with him," Kareen said softly. "He was just out looking for me. And he saved my life." Quickly she explained all that had happened.

When she was finished, Jimin said softly, "I know you didn't want me out looking for her alone. Sectuib. But I had to. If you want to punish me-"

Klyd waved a dismissing tentacle. "In vour place, had it been Yenava, I might have done the very same thing. Forget it." He turned to Kareen. "However, I'm not too pleased with your behavior. You came very close to depriving Zeor of a good channel."

Nervously, Kareen rose to go around the desk and kneel at Klyd's feet. She knew full well he could refuse to let her stay in Zeor.

"Sectuib, my behavior has been very foolish. I'm sorry. All I can say is that I didn't understand what it means to be ambrov Zeor."

"And you do now?" asked Klyd gently.

She nodded. "I think so."

Klyd held out his hands to her. "Are you going to ask me to accept your pledge?"

Kareen put her hands in the channel's. "No, Sectuib. That's just a formality. In my heart I am ambrov Zeor. Please let me stay. Give me another chance."

Klyd glanced over at Jimin. "What do you think, Hajene? Should we let her stay?"

"She has learned her lesson," Jimin replied with a warm smile.

Klyd turned back to the anxiously waiting Gen, studying her intently for so long that Kareen began to get frightened. Finally he smiled, releasing her hands.


Rising, Klyd gently lifted her to her feet. "There never was any question of turning you out. Zeor requires all the good Companions it can get." Going to a cabinet in the corner of the room, he took something from a drawer.

Moving a chair to the middle of the room, he gestured for her to be seated.

"Sectuib, what are you doing?" she asked.

The two channels exchanged mysterious smiles, then Jimin rose and went to stand behind Kareen, hands and tentacles on her shoulders.

"Grandfather's not feeling very well today, so we'll do this informally and announce it after dinner." Klyd grinned. "I suspect that will put an end to anyone wanting to work today."

"Do what?" Kareen stared from one channel to the other, trying in vain to read their intentions.

"You do know the words to the pledge? Klyd held out his open hand. In his palm was a gleaming new Zeor ring with the Companion's crest.

Her mouth flew open. "You're going to accept my pledge now?"

"Why not?" asked the Sectuib quietly as he knelt before her. Handing her the new ring, and his Sectuib's crest, he gently took her hands, nodding to Jimin who covered their hands with the traditional blue cloth.

"Whenever you're ready, Naztehr."

Fighting a lump in her throat and a dimness in her eyes, Kareen said steadily, "Unto the House of Zeor I pledge my heart, my hand, my substance. And unto Klyd Farris, Sectuib in Zeor, I pledge my life, my trust, my undying loyalty. I commit my life, my substance and my children, Unto Zeor, Forever."

"Unto Kareen ambrov Zeor, I pledge my substance, my trust, my undying loyalty, in my own name. Born from death --Unto Zeor, Forever."

End of the story

The text of the pledge is from Unto Zeor, Forever by Jacqueline Lichtenberg.

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