THE WORST WAY TO DIE
Sectuib Aran ambrov Chanel fought back tears as he glanced back at the bodies of his best friend Charlen ambrov Chanel and a youngster, whose name Aran had never learned, lying wrapped in Chanel red in the back of their small wagon.
"This isn't going to work," he said bitterly. "And Klyd should know that. Charlen's death is all his fault."
Beside him his Companion was struggling to stifle her own tears and provide him with a supportive field. "That's a bit unfair to Sectuib Zeor," Freya said softly. "Charlen knew the risks when he volunteered for this assignment. We all did." Her voice trailed off as she choked back a sob.
"Yeah," Aran grunted glancing up at the cold gray sky that so accurately reflected his mood. "But he made it sound so good. Unity! No more fighting between Simes and Gens. No more killing. Send channels out Territory. Set up Centers in every town and hamlet. Wave a magic wand and all the hate and killing will just vanish.
So here we are, one of only four channels dead before we even reach our destination. How long will I live? How long will Helgen live? Or Lari? Nope! Klyd has sent us to our deaths. And fool that I am, I believed him."
Freya put a gentle hand on his arm, just above the metal retainer he was required by Gen law to wear, to strengthen the nageric contact she had made with him.
"No Aran, you're no fool. You're here, we're all here because we know Klyd is right. The Unity Treaty gives us an opportunity to show the Gens how to live in harmony with Simes. To prove once and for all that Simes do not have to Kill."
"As usual, Freya, you're right. That's what we have to do. But you know something? If we succeed it will be in spite of that treaty not because of it."
"It is a little strict," replied Freya, neutrally.
"A little! Come on Freya. Making the life of a channel forfeit just because he takes off his retainers is ridiculous." Aran shuddered. "I can be shot just for doing my job."
"Out Territory Gens don't know yet that channels never Kill. That provision is designed to reassure them that they're safe." The Companion hesitated.
Aran glanced at her sharply. "And you think I'm going to break it, don't you? That someday I'm going to rip my retainers off and do my job."
"I know how impetuous you are, Sectuib. How easily your compassionate heart overrules your common sense. It wouldn't surprise me."
Aran turned in his seat to meet Freya's eyes. "Not this time. I swore to Klyd unto Zeor and Chanel that I will not break that treaty even unto death. It may cost me my life, Freya, but I will not break my promise to Klyd."
Freya's field swirled around him, rich warm full of affection. "Oh, Aran. You never told me that."
"You were in bed when we had a little discussion." Aran was unable to keep chagrin out of his voice. The Sectuib in Zeor knows me all to well.
Freya chuckled. "He gave you a little lecture, did he?" Before the channel could answer, she changed the subject "I wonder," she mused, "what Nashua's like. We really weren't given much information."
"It's supposed to be small," Aran said softly. "Mostly a farming community I think. It sits on the Nashua River, just over that hill. But it zlins a lot bigger than we were told."
And indeed as their wagon crested the hill, Aran could see that Nashua was bigger than they were anticipating. Numerous feed and implement establishments lined the road leading into the town. The quiet streets were lined with well kept red brick and clapboard houses.
Horse, wagon, and pedestrian traffic picked up significantly as they approached the business district. Numerous stores surrounded a large park-like town square.
The square was dominated by City Hall, a three-story dark red brick building. The porch roof was supported by tall white columns. An elaborate wrought iron fence, its gates standing wide open separated the building from the rest of the square.
"Well here we are," Pulling up in front of the building Aran carefully tied off the reins. "our fate awaits."
The Mayor drummed on his polished oak desk impatiently, awaiting the arrival of the demons. And they were demons. The hated and feared Simes. Evil incarnate. It was bad enough that evil raised its ugly head in the form of children being transformed into demons in the midst of his community. Demons who lived only to hunt and kill their former friends and family.
But now a delegation of demons was arriving to take up residence in his town. Oh the government put a good face on it, claiming that the presence of demons in their midst would stop the endless parade of death.
But Mayor Friet knew better. Simes were evil. And as far as he was concerned letting evil into his community was only going to make matters worse.
But he had no choice. He had literally been ordered to accept these demons and make them welcome. channels they called themselves.
"It would be nice," the Mayor mused. "If what they claim is true. That the channels could put a stop to the endless parade of death. I am tired. So very tired, of death, death and more death." Why only yesterday he had attended a funeral. A young girl had died, killed by her own brother, a Sime, a demon. Punishment from God for being wicked and evil. Maybe the channels would make a difference. Friet didn't really believe this, but deep inside he tried to nourish a spark of hope that it could be true.
"Mayor, the Simes are here."
His assistant was standing in the doorway, nervously twisting a pencil in her shaking hands. "This this is Sectuib Aran. He's their leader."
Behind her stood a remarkably good looking young man. He had reddish brown hair and dark blue eyes that seemed to see right through the mayor's trembling body. He was wearing a long red traveling cloak. Beside him was a tiny woman with dark hair and even darker eyes. Her hand was resting on the channel's arm in what seemed like a very proprietary manner.
Friet rose. "Please come in. I'm Mayor Shon Friet."
The sime advanced into the room moving quickly and quietly. "I'm Sectuib Aran ambrov Chanel. And this is my Companion, Freya."
Why she's human a normal human. The mayor was surprised. What was a normal human being doing traveling with a demon. Willingly touching him. And apparently enjoying it. The mayor noted a warm smiling tugging at Freya's lips as she followed Aran into the room as closely as she could.
"Please, be seated." Friet automatically waved his visitors to seats before his desk. "And welcome to Nashua," the Mayor forced himself to say. No point in antagonizing this Killer any sooner than he had to. The Mayor had no wish to die.
"Thank you." Aran and Freya took the indicated seats, the woman's hand once again going to the channel's arm just above his metal retainer. Why does she keep doing that, the Mayor wondered.
"She's my Companion," the Sime offered. "It's her job to protect me from other people's fields."
Oh, God, can he read my mind? The mayor cringed inwardly. Taking a deep breath he said as firmly as he could, "there's a large house on the west edge of town that we have fixed up for your use." He hesitated a moment. Then curiosity got the better of him.
"What do you mean protect you? From what? Surely I'm no threat to you?"
"Yes and no. You can't really hurt me, but your emotions as reflected in your selyn field can make me uncomfortable. Freya here is trained to block my perception of them to an expertly calculated degree."
The Sime's eyes seemed to be boring holes into the Mayor's very soul. He squirmed uncomfortably. "And just what are you going to be doing here? The government seems to think you can do something about all the murders that berserkers have been committing around here."
"That's why we're here. We're channels."
"And just what does that mean?"
"It means that we can take selyn from Gens without hurting them and give it to Simes thus preventing them from killing. By setting up a Center here in Nashua we can provide that service to your community.
The Mayor snorted. "I rather doubt that. Simes are Killers."
"Simes aren't the only killers around here," Aran retorted sharply. "one of my channels was shot ...."
"Aran, don't." Freya whispered something into the channel's ear.
Aran subsided in frustration.
Freya turned to the Mayor, a challenge sparking in her dark eyes. "Wether you want to believe it or not, channels don't kill. If they did I wouldn't be here, would I?"
Friet sighed. Maybe she was telling the truth. "I don't know Miss. Maybe he has you bewitched."
"Freya is here because she wants to be." Aran took a deep breath obviously fighting for control of his emotions. "Look Mayor I'm here at the request of your government to do a job. It would benefit your community to cooperate with our efforts. This has worked in other towns. It can work here, too."
The Mayor sought refuge in formality. "I have no choice. Yes, you may set up your Center. The supplies you've requested will be delivered this afternoon
He met the Sime's eyes. "I'm sorry to hear that one of your people got shot. What happened?"
"He was trying to help a changeover victim," the channel replied tonelessly. "For that he was shot and died."
The Mayor squirmed not knowing what to say. The Sime probably got what he deserved. Yet the pain in Aran's eyes was very familiar to the mayor.
Fighting down a sympathetic response, Friet said softly "Simes can't be buried in the Church Cemetery. He hesitated. It was town custom to take the bodies of evil Simes into the woods and let the wolves devour them. But he wasn't about to tell Aran that. "I guess it would be all right if you buried him in your backyard. The grounds are big enough."
The channel nodded. "We'll take care of him."
"Is there anything...?" Freit was interrupted by shouts and sounds of people running past his door.
The Sime was on his feet. "Something is happening, Mayor." Aran rushed out without a backward glance followed by Freya who had to run to keep up.
Puzzled, Freit followed.
City Hall had gone crazy. Everyone was headed for the back staircase leading towards the basement.
"It's an evil one!"
"Sheriff has it trapped!"
"Shoot the slimy thing!"
Freit pushed his way through the crowd to find the Sheriff before the closed door to one of the basement storage rooms.
Aran was already there demanding that the Sheriff let him in.
"I can help him. Keep him from killing," the Sime pleaded. "Just let me go in there"
"I should shoot you." Sheriff Matt Tillis blustered. "You're a slimy one too. Now get back." Drawing his gun the sheriff shook it in Aran's face.
The Sime froze. "Put that thing away," he said softly. "Let me do my job and nobody will be hurt."
"Only person's gonna get hurt is an Evil one. Or maybe you, iffen you don't back off. I ain't letting no slimy one live."
"Mayor, please tell your sheriff to let me in."
Freit trembled at the intensity of the pleading glance the sime threw his way. "Well I suppose..." The Mayor took a few steps in the Sheriff's direction. "It is what he's here for"
Friet's head jerked around at that shout. Pounding down the stairs was Reverend Richelfs, minister of the town church. "Evil must be snuffed out." The minister skidded to a stop. "Mayor you can't let the slimy evil one live. I don't care what this..." Richelfs shuddered. "Sime tries to tell you. That thing in there is no longer human. You have to let Matt kill it."
Angry shouts agreed with the Minister. Out of the corner of his eye Freit could see Aran shrink back against Freya almost as if the hostility were harming him in some way the mayor couldn't understand.
But even with that, the channel's dark eyes settled on Friet with a frightening intensity. "Mayor, please, let me go in there and save a life. That child is no more evil than you are. Mark that room as Sime Territory and I can help him."
Friet was tempted. Maybe Aran was right. But no, he couldn't be. Only wicked children became evil slimy ones.
Gathering his courage Freit turned his back on Aran to give the sheriff instructions to do his duty.
"Mayor, no! I've got to help that child." Shaking off Freya's restraining hand Aran moved quickly towards the door.
"I knew it, I knew it" crowed the minister. "Evil ones are wicked. Lawless. Look at him. Ready to break our laws. Shoot him, Matt. Shoot him."
Aran froze. Every fiber of his being, all his channeling instincts cried out for him to enter that room, rip off his retainers and serve First Transfer. It was what he was born to do. Save lives. "My vow!" he swore softly to himself, cursing Klyd in Simelan. "Mayor please. Don't let this child die. Declare that room Sime Territory for just a few minutes and we can..."
"No," The mayor's nager was cold, implacable, determined. "Matt do your duty."
Falling back against Freya, Aran watched silently, helplessly as the Sheriff unlocked the door and disappeared inside, gun drawn.
A moment later, two shots rang out. The sheriff reappeared. "It's dead," he said flatly. "Somebody bring up the wagon. I'll take it out into the woods."
"What!" Shaking off Freya's restraining hand Aran strode forward to glare at the Sheriff and the Mayor. "Aren't you at least going to bury him decently?"
Friet shrank from the pain and anger in the channel's eyes. "It's our custom," he said softly. "That's not a person in there. It's a slimy evil being. It can't be buried in the church yard."
"Then we'll take care of him." Ignoring the protests of the people around him, Aran pushed his way into the room, followed closely by his Companion who was trying unsuccessfully to calm and comfort him.
In a corner, still covered with the blood and fluids of breakout, a young man lay dead, his eyes staring nowhere. His tentacles newly emerged, dangled from his limp wrists.
Fighting down nausea, Aran knelt beside the body. He closed the young man's staring eyes then went to work massaging his arms to retract the flaccid tentacles.
"They don't know any better," Freya murmured. She put a gentle hand on Aran's shoulder. "Poor kid," she murmured sympathetically. "He never had a chance."
"No Sime around here does." Aran shook his head, trying to banish his overwhelming feelings of anger and frustration. The very treaty Klyd had forced him to swear to uphold had killed this youngster just as surely as the Sheriff's bullets.
Shrugging off Freya's comforting hand, the channel rose, the dead youngster in his arms.
He sighed deeply. Death, death, and more death. Was it always going to be thus? Tenderly cradling in his arms the young Sime who would be alive save for the fear and hatred that was prevalent in his community, Aran strode from the storage room.
Silently the hostile crowd parted for him. Taking a deep breath the channel climbed the stairs to begin the long lonely trip to his Center where his first task as Controller was going to be to establish a Sime Cemetery.
"Shen Klyd to hell and back," Aran raged. "That bloodyshen treaty of his is as responsible for that child's death as the Gens are." Unable to rest or calm himself Aran paced the confines of his new office determinedly resisting the efforts of his Companion to soothe him. "I should have defied him and them. That youngster did not deserve to die!" Ripping the hated retainers from his belt Aran threw them across the room to watch them clatter down the wall.
"I let a helpless child die." Sinking to the floor Aran buried his face in his hands in an agony of self-loathing. Three people have died. Deaths I should have been able to prevent. How many more will die. I never should have listened to Klyd.
"Aran, don't do this to yourself." Kneeling by the channel Freya put a gentle arm around his shoulders. Her nager was warm supportive, full of trust. "You're not responsible for that young man's death."
Yes I am. I should have defied Klyd, defied the Tecton. Tears filled the channel's eyes. Brokenly he said "I let a youngster die Freya. I'm a channel and I let a youngster die." Turning into the comforting circle of his Companion's arms Aran cried for a long time.
Later the channel watched silently as the bodies of his best friend Hajene Charlen ambrov Chanel and the two children were lowered into side by side graves in a corner of the vast yard surrounding the old mansion that was now the Nashua Sime center. This is so bloody-shen unfair. Charlen didn't ask for this.
On the other side of the graves his assistant Hajene Helgen ambrov Imil was crying bitterly as his Companion tried unsuccessfully to comfort him. Beside him Freya was also offering comfort. The third channel in their party Hajene Lari was standing off to the side, shovel in hand. With him were the other four Companions in their party.
Aran took a deep breath. "Charlen ambrov Chanel we are gathered here to bid you farewell. You are gone but not forgotten. Your name and those of these children will be added to Chanel's Memorial to the one billion. To the long list of martyrs who have given their lives in the fight to end the Kill.
"Today is the first day in the Death Count of Charlen ambrov Chanel." Tossing a handful of dirt into the open graves Aran squared his shoulders and began the lonely walk back to the mansion. Behind him the voices of his friends were softly singing "Today is the first day in the death count of Charlen ambrov Chanel."
And how many more of us are going to die before this is over? How many more lives are going to be lost?
Aran's bitter musings were interrupted by the arrival of a heavily laden wagon that was pulling up in front of the Center.
Friet had housed them in a large mansion of brick and wood. At one time it had apparently been part of a wealthy family's estate. It was two story, boasting numerous glass windows, and a veranda that ran three quarters of the way around the house. Stately columns flanked the stairs leading to the front door.
The channel could zlin a frightened Gen and a child. Aran picked up his pace rounding the building as the Gen brought the wagon to a halt by the main entrance.
The driver was a youngish man with bright red hair and dark eyes, wearing dark blue denim and a red flannel shirt. Beside him was a young girl no more than twelve or thirteen. Aran judged. She was a pretty child with long blonde hair and the bluest eyes Aran had ever seen. Her features reminded him vaguely of the Mayor. She too was clad in denim and flannel shirt.
The Gen secured the reins and began to climb down.
"Hello there," Aran called as he approached the wagon. The Gen, startled, lost his footing. Pain spiked in his nager as he fell to the ground. "Don't come near me, Sime." He hollered as he clutched at his ankle.
Automatically Aran shifted into augmentation to reach the Gen. Kneeling he zlinned.
The Gen scooted away. "I said, don't touch me, Sime. You're not going to Kill me."
The youngster was screaming at the top of her lungs. "Don't kill him! Don't kill him."
"I'm not going to harm you." Remaining where he was Aran begin projecting need his professional attention focused on the man on the ground. The Gen had a painful but superficial ankle injury. He glanced up at Freya who was right behind him offering a supportive field.
Aran shook his head. "I'm fine. See if you can calm the child."
His Companion nodded and moved off towards the wagon.
Rising, Aran turned his attention back to the man on the ground. "I'm Hajene Aran. And you can relax. I'm not going to hurt you."
"Hajene Aran? I'm Stunnis," the man offered. Reaching the wagon he painfully pulled himself up, favoring the injured ankle. "I own the General Store. Brought you the supplies you ordered. And that's my niece, Melius. She's the Mayor's daughter. You'd better not touch her." Stunnis stared at Aran, fear and defiance warring in his field.
Aran took a deep breath willing himself to remain calm. Behind him, the child's wailing had stopped. The channel looked around. Meeting Helgen's eyes he gestured for the other channel to take everyone else inside. Perhaps with fewer Simes present the Gen would feel less threatened.
And, indeed, Stunnis' field calmed ever so slightly. "I'm not going to hurt you" Aran said softly. "But if you will permit me, I can heal that ankle for you." He took a couple of steps forward.
"Leave him alone!" Melius ran around the wagon to stand protectively before her uncle. "I'm not going to let you Kill him." The girl balled her fists and stared defiantly at the channel.
In spite of himself Aran chuckled. The young lady had courage. He liked that. "Melius, I'm a channel. I don't hurt people."
"No, he doesn't, Melius." Freya had taken a position halfway between the youngster and the channel. "Do you really think I would be here with him if I thought he was going to hurt me or anyone else?" Freya glanced at Aran, a suggestion in her eye.
Moving to Freya's side Aran held out his hand to his Companion, tentacles spread. Klyd's lucky. He's never had this problem. How am I going to convince her and the other children that I don't hurt people?
Melius squealed with fright retreating back towards her uncle.
Freya chuckled and turned towards Aran taking his hand gently caressing the channel's tentacles. "Melius, does it look like he's hurting me?" She sighed with exaggerated pleasure. "Actually, Melius, this feels good."
Aran bit his lip to avoid laughing. Freya could be quite a showoff at times. Now though he was glad for this tendency. Something had to be done to calm their visitors' fears and HE sure wasn't getting anywhere.
Melius stared a moment, both frightened and fascinated. Finally, her curiosity won out over the fear. Ignoring her uncle's frantic words of caution she moved slowly towards the channel and his Companion.
"Why didn't you Kill her?"
"Because I don't kill anyone, ever. Melius do you know what selyn is?"
The girl nodded. "It stuff we grow in our bodies that Simes need to live. You kill us to get it."
"I've never Killed, Melius. I'm a channel. Freya is trained to give me her selyn every month. I don't kill, and she just grows more."
Melius regarded Freya soberly. "Does it hurt?"
"No, it doesn't. It actually feels good to give Aran my selyn."
The youngster stared at Freya for a long moment then hesitantly took a few steps closer to the channel who still had his tentacles intertwined with his Companion's fingers.
Freya held out her free hand to Melius. "Would you like to look at Aran's tentacles?"
"Will they hurt me?" Fear was in the girl's eyes but she took Freya's hand and let the Companion draw her closer.
"Melius don't!" Stunnis was horrified. "Don't let him touch you. Simes kill."
The girl gave her uncle a rebellious look. "I don't think so. Miss Freya isn't dead and she's touching him. If she can do it, I can." She looked up at Aran. "You won't hurt me will you?"
Aran shook his head. Choosing his words carefully he said, "The tentacles you're looking at are my handling tentacles. They can't hurt anyone. They're just like extra fingers, to help me hold things." He smiled at the girl. "Would you like to touch one?"
"Extra fingers would be nice." Melius sighed. "I'm always dropping things."
Aran freed his tentacles from Freya's fingers and offered his hand to the girl. "Go ahead, Melius. Touch one."
Hesitantly Melius touched a finger to a tentacle.
Aran held perfectly still waiting. If he could get one person even a child to realize that his tentacles were harmless it would be a big step forward. A beginning of sorts.
"Why this is soft and silky." Entranced Melius lifted the tentacle from Aran's wrist and started stroking it. Delight bubbled up in the girl's nager. "Why, why this...."
Aran grinned in response. Gently he curled a tentacle around her finger. "See? They're harmless."
"They're cute." Melius smiled shyly at the channel then returned her attention to closely examining his tentacles.
Aran looked over at Stunnis. The man was horrified. "Let go of her," he demanded, frozen in his own fear.
"Uncle Stunnis stop it." Melius glared at her uncle in exasperation. "He's not hurting me. You and Daddy are wrong about that. Simes don't Kill. At least..." She looked up at Aran. "What did you say you are?"
"I'm a channel."
The youngster fixed her uncle with a stern look. "Channels don't kill."
"That man's in league with the Devil. Get away from him!" Stunnis took a step in their direction then gasped in pain reaching for the support of the wagon.
Aran's tentacles tensed a moment as he fought down his response to Gen pain.
Melius jumped back. "Did I hurt you?"
"No." Aran held out his hand to the girl. "Your uncle's in pain, and I can sense that. That's all. You can't hurt me by playing with my handling tentacles. But I'll tell you a little secret."
Melius returned quickly to the channel, and taking the proffered hand, intertwined her fingers with his tentacles. "What?"
Aran bent down and whispered in her ear, "Because I'm a channel I can make your uncle's ankle feel better. But I have to touch him to do it."
Melius frowned. "But you're not a doctor."
"No, I'm a channel. Let me show you what I can do."
The youngster considered a moment then nodded. "Very well. Somebody has to help Uncle Stunnis or we will never get this wagon unloaded." Retaining her hold on Aran's tentacles Melius marched over to her uncle dragging an amused channel with her.
"He says he can make your ankle stop hurting. Let him try." she demanded staring at her uncle imperiously.
"Melius! Are you out of your mind? I'm not letting that evil Killer touch me." Stunnis reached for Melius intending to pull her away from Aran.
But the youngster evaded him, managing to maintain her hold on Aran's tentacles. "Stop being a coward Uncle Stunnis. He's not hurting me, is he?"
"I'm not a coward," the Gen replied indignantly. "you're being foolish. Melius I want you to stop this and get back in the wagon."
"No sir, she's not being foolish." Aran decided it was time to intervene before things got out of hand or the youngster did accidentally find a way to injure him in her enthusiasm.
"Stunnis," he said in his most persuasive voice. "I can tell from here that ankle is giving you a lot of pain and is beginning to swell. If you don't take the boot off soon you may have to cut it off. Let me help you."
Startled the Gen looked down at his foot. Aran was right but the Gen was unwilling to admit it. His nager was replete with clashing emotions. Pain, horror, hope and doubt warred for supremacy. "I. I don't know."
"At least sit down and take off your boot," Aran moved a few steps closer and took control of the Gen's field willing calmness upon him. "We need time to unload the wagon anyway. Let Freya help you inside."
With a sigh Stunnis capitulated. "Well I guess I could sit down for a while."
Aran motioned for Freya to assist Stunnis into the house. While she was settling their visitors in the vast living room he found Helgen and instructed him to see to the unloading of the wagon.
By the time he rejoined his visitors, Freya had Stunnis' boot and sock off. The man's foot and ankle were visibly swollen.
Stunnis looked at Aran, resignation in his field. "You're right. It's worse than I thought. Is it broken?"
"No. You just have some tissue damage. I can fix that in a few minutes. But I'm going to have to touch your ankle."
Stunnis hesitated, his fear returning. "I, I don't know."
Aran felt a surge of sympathy. Even Gens familiar with Simes were afraid of being touched by one. And this man had no knowledge of channels and very little of Simes except that they needed to Kill to survive. While it frustrated and angered him, Aran could understand the man's reluctance. Softly he said, "I'm not just a Sime. I'm a channel. Healing's my job. Please let me help you. Then you can see for yourself that my words are true."
"Besides" Freya contributed. "Aran's not in need. And I'm here. As his Companion I have the ability to control him." Amusement filled her nager at the look of indignation Aran threw her.
Her words were true, of course. But Aran wished she wouldn't put it quite that way. "How about it Stunnis? Let me fix that ankle."
Stunnis took a deep breath, struggling to ignore his fear. "Go ahead. I'm not sure I believe you but do what you think you have to do."
"I want to watch." Melius left Freya's side to run over to the channel.
Aran grinned at her. "Actually you can help."
"How?" The girl was delighted.
"See that footstool in the corner. Go get it, and prop your uncle's foot up on it." While the youngster hastened to do his bidding, Aran drew up another chair and seated himself close to Stunnis.
Stunnis winced. "Melius be careful. That hurts."
"I'm sorry." The girl put her arms around her Uncle. "I. I didn't mean to hurt you."
Affectionately he patted her arm. "It's all right sweetheart." Sincere love for the child flooded his field. Turning to the channel he said resolutely "Go ahead Hajene Aran. I'm as ready as I'll ever be."
The channel allowed himself to slide into hyperconsciousness as he put his hand gently on the Gen's ankle tentacles spread. It was a simple job, quickly done.
He returned to duoconsciousness chuckling at the stunned look on Stunnis face. The swelling had stopped growing and the pain was almost gone.
"Magic," the Gen breathed. "It's stopping magically."
"No Not magic. Just a simple manipulation of your selyn field. Any channel can do it. In a few minutes your ankle should be back to normal" Aran retracted his tentacles and winked at his Companion who was smiling broadly. "That is, any channel with a good Companion."
Melius was crowing. "See I told you he could do it."
Stunnis flexed his foot experimentally. "I, I thank you, Hajene Aran." His fear subdued, at least for the moment, he held out his hand to the channel.
Aran, having heard of this peculiar Gen custom, shook Stunnis' hand, tentacles carefully sheathed. "I'm glad I was able to help. They should have the wagon unloaded by now. Can we offer you some refreshment before you go?"
Stunnis looked up from pulling on his boot. "Some other time, perhaps. If I don't get Melius home soon, her father will be upset. He really didn't want me bringing her out here in the first place."
Aran sighed. Winning the town over was going to be a long hard battle. But, he consoled himself as he escorted his visitors to the door, at least they had made a beginning.
A few days later Aran and Freya walked into town to visit the school. The mayor had reluctantly scheduled some changeover classes.
The school was a small neat wooden building painted a cheerful red. Shade trees liberally dotted the rather extensive grounds. Rope swings and wooden teeter-totters, interspersed with sandboxes comprised the recreation area. Cheerful sounds of laughter and childish voices came from the open doorway.
Freya smiled. "This looks like a cheerful place."
"It doesn't zlin like one." Aran scowled. Even from a distance he could detect hostile adult fields, Freit's among them. "Our beloved Mayor is waiting for us."
His sarcasm was wasted on his Companion who merely strengthened the focus of her field willing calmness upon him.
They found Freit just inside the front door pacing. Nearby waited an attractive middle-aged woman with short gray hair, a pencil stuck behind her ear.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Mayor," Aran said with all the cheerfulness he could muster. Which was not much. The fear and distrust coming from both the Mayor and the frowning woman was making him ill in spite of the warmth of Freya's protective field.
Friet scowled in response and gestured towards the woman. "This is Headmistress Hydean Headmistress, this is Sectuib Aran and Miss Freya."
The Headmistress attempted a smile that did nothing to dispel the hostility and fear coming from her nager. "Welcome to Nashua School", she said as if by rote. The older children will be in assembly in a few minutes. You may speak to them then."
"Thank you," Aran replied gravely. "In the meantime we have some posters we would like to put up. With your permission of course."
"I would have to preview them," the woman said sharply.
"Of course." Digging into the box of materials he had brought along, Aran pulled out a handful of tastefully done posters depicting changeover and directing children to come to a channel where they would be safe and cared for.
The Headmistress inspected the posters carefully. It was obvious that she was looking for a reason to refuse the channel's request.
"As I understand it, Headmistress, quite a few of your children have been changing over in recent months and turning on their teachers?"
The woman shuddered. "As a matter of fact, yes. Just last month one of our honor students attacked and killed a teacher." Her nager went cold and dark, filled with a fear and loathing that threatened Aran's control.
Is there no one in this town that doesn't hate and fear us? Taking a deep breath Aran said gently. "That's why we're here. If we can get the children to realize that if they come to us at the first sign of changeover they won't have to kill, that type of tragedy won't happen again."
"But, but we don't want to corrupt... " the Headmistress snapped her lips shut.
"Let him do it." Friet's field wasn't much warmer but Aran could read a grudging understanding, if not willingness and acceptance, of the need to cooperate. "Their precious Tecton has promised us that the channels can stop the killing. We'll give him a chance."
"But the children. I don't want them corrupted by..." Again she snapped her lips shut, her fear overriding her desire to tell the channel exactly what she thought of him and his kind.
"All we're going to do, Headmistress, is to teach them to recognize the early signs of changeover so they can come to us before they become a threat to the people around them."
"Very well. I'll have these put up in the lunchroom and some of the classrooms. Come along now. Assembly is about to start." Without waiting for an acknowledgement the woman turned and led the way down the hall.
The assembly room was a rather large room filled with pushing, shoving, and laughing children. Several teachers were trying unsuccessfully to restore order.
The Headmistress directed Aran to a table at one end of the room. Facing it were several rows of wooden chairs. The walls were painted a sickly pale green. A few dirty windows were decorated with worn looking gingham curtains. Two easels stood near the table.
Aran went over to the table, closely followed by Freya. As the children began to realize someone different was present, it grew deathly quiet, the youngsters drawing together into clumps at the opposite end of the room.
Oh, no, not the children, too. While it didn't really surprise him, Aran was a little bit dismayed and disheartened. Getting frightened children to trust the channels was not going to be easy. But this is where it has to start, he thought as he unpacked his box.
His musings were interrupted by a blonde whirlwind bursting into the room. "Hajene Aran, Hajene Aran." Melius tore across the room and threw her arms around the channel. "You came, you came." She started tugging on his arm. "Come meet my friends."
Aran winced. Her hand had to come rest on his retainer. "Melius please be careful." Gently he removed her hand.
"What are those ugly things?"
"What do they do?"
The Mayor intervened. "Melius, go sit down. Those retainers keep him from killing people." Freit moved to pull his daughter away from the channel.
The youngster stomped her foot. "He doesn't kill Daddy I told you that. Hajene Aran won't hurt anybody."
"Melius, go sit down." A stern Headmistress bore down on the girl and escorted her firmly to a seat. "You stay away from him."
"But he's my friend. I want to sit by him." The youngster glared defiantly at her father and the Headmistress.
"Melius, it's ok. Sit with your friends." Aran smiled gratefully at the girl.
She grinned back, and reluctantly took a seat in the front row. She was quickly joined by two other girls, the three of them beginning to whisper animatedly among themselves.
The Headmistress rapped on the table bringing the assembled children to order. "Boys and girls our visitors today are Hajene Aran and his friend Miss Freya. He's a Sime, a channel. And he's going to talk to you for a few minutes." Glaring at the channel she went to take her seat in the rear of the room. Right by the door, Aran noted.
"Good morning, children." Aran put on his sunniest smile. "as your Headmistress has said, I'm a Sime. A channel. Does anybody know what that means?"
The children were silent, looking at one another. Finally a voice from the back of the room yelled, "You're a killer. Simes murder us normal people for our selyn."
"Most Simes don't Kill any more," Aran replied softly. "I'm a channel. It's my job to feed selyn to Simes so that they don't have to kill." Ignoring the disbelieving looks on most of the children's faces he launched into his prepared talk on changeover.
To his vast surprise and gratification there was some genuine interest among the hostile comments that constantly interrupted him. The majority of the children seemed to be convinced that as long as they were good and obeyed their parents there was no way they were going to become evil Simes.
Reaching the end of his prepared text, Aran paused a moment, studying the children's faces. Then he said softly "I know you have been taught that Simes are evil killers. But that just isn't true."
"Stop that, Hajene Aran. You're not going to corrupt these children. Kids, what your parents tell you is true. Be good children, and you won't become Killers like this man." Friet had risen, and was glaring at the channel from the back of the room.
Aran bit back a sharp retort, attempting to ignore the Mayor. "I'm not going to argue the point. But children please understand this. Good or bad, one in three of you ARE going to become Simes. If you do, please remember this. If you don't Kill you won't become evil. Only Sime. Come to me, or one of the other channels as soon as you know or think you are going into changeover. We'll take care of you. Any questions?"
There were a few, mostly ghoulish ones about the mechanics of changeover and how a Sime actually kills. Aran answered them as completely and honestly as he could, then ended the session by having Freya pass out information packets.
The Headmistress then dismissed the children. Most filed out quietly soberly. A few, to Aran's dismay tossed their information packets unopened into the trash.
Melius approached Aran, her two friends in tow. "Can I show my friends your tentacles?" She waved a hand. "This is Samanta and this is Tamilina."
Aran smiled warmly at the girls. Samanta was a roly-poly youngster with black hair and silver gray eyes.
Tamilina was slender, almost Sime slender, and graceful. Her brilliant red hair hung loosely about her shoulders. She smiled shyly at the channel. "Melius says your tentacles are pretty. Can I see them?"
Aran chuckled. "Pretty is not how I would describe them. But they are useful. It's like having an extra set of fingers." He gestured to the material in the girl's hand. "There are some pictures in there."
"But they want to touch them. I told them it was fun." Melius had put her hand on Aran's arm in a very proprietary manner.
"Sorry, Melius. If I take off my retainers here, your Father would have every right to have me shot." Aran smiled at the disappointed looks on the girls' faces. "Tell you what. Come out to the Center after school. You can all play with my tentacles then."
"Absolutely not." You girls are not going anywhere near that Center. Get along now. It's almost time to go home." Friet yanked his daughter away from Aran and practically shoved the girls out the door.
"Shen and shid Freya, how am I going to get anywhere with these children with an attitude like that? I swear that man is a lorsh."
"He's frightened." Freya's field was calm. "You have to be patient and realize that the only experiences these people have had with Simes have been deadly ones. In time we will show them the truth."
Aran sighed. He hoped his Companion was right, but he didn't think so. He was wasting his time in this shendi-doomed town. He just knew that Simes would never be accepted as anything less than ravening monsters.
It was with a sense of relief that Freit watched Aran and Freya leave the school. The last thing Freit wanted was for the children to start believing that changeover was not a curse as the Sime claimed. And yet, he admitted to himself, Aran had a point. If the evil ones did seek out the channels maybe, just maybe there would be less killing.
Impatiently Friet glanced at his watch. He really needed to get back to his office, but he wanted to walk his daughter home. Melius, he reflected, was such a good child. There is no way I am going to let that Sime get anywhere near her. She's too pure and innocent to have to worry about becoming an evil one.
Finally the dismissal bell rang. Moments later, children began pouring out of the door laughing and shoving each other as they ran down the stairs free for the rest of the day. Friet smiled. Such good children. He could be proud of his community. People took such great care to keep their children innocent and pure.
"Oh, Daddy! Isn't he wonderful?" Melius and her friends came towards the Mayor at a much more sedate pace than their peers did.
"Who?" Friet smiled with pride and love at his daughter.
"Hajene Aran, of course." With a grin Melius handed her books and lunch pail to her father to carry. "Can we go home with him?"
"No, absolutely not. Melius he's a Sime. Simes are evil."
"He doesn't look evil to me." Tamilina was twirling her red hair between her fingers. "I think he's kinda cute. Why can't we go see him?"
"Because he's a Sime." Friet stared sternly at the youngsters. "The three of you are good girls. You obey your parents and stay out of trouble. So you aren't going to have to worry about becoming one of the evil ones. You will never need to go to Hajene Aran. Come along now, all three of you. I'm walking you home." Taking his daughter's hand, he led the girls out of the schoolyard over their protests that they really wanted to go with the Sime.
"I think you're wrong, Daddy." Melius gave her father a rebellious look. "Hajene Aran is kind and gentle. And he did fix Uncle Stunnis' ankle."
"That was witchcraft." The Mayor gave the girls a stern look. "Don't believe everything that Sime tells you. He's just as evil as the slimy ones.
"Then why is he here, and how come the Sheriff doesn't shoot him, too?" asked Tamilina.
The mayor hesitated a minute. He had never lied to these children and he wasn't about to start now. "They're channels. They claim they can stop the Killing. We're giving them a chance to prove it."
"But if they can do that, how can you call them evil?" Samanta quite reasonably wanted to know.
The Mayor didn't really have a good answer to that question which was causing him many sleepless nights. It wasn't that he doubted Richliff's teachings. But he was no longer sure that all Simes were totally evil. Aran seemed decent enough. If you kept your eyes off the retainers and didn't think of the deadly tentacles below, he seemed as human as anyone else did.
"Answer the question, Daddy." Melius demanded impatiently. "If the channels can keep the slimy ones from killing how can you call them evil?"
"They're Simes. Now that's enough discussion. Let's drop the subject." He gave the girls a stern look. "I don't want to hear you talking about those Simes."
But it was not to be. The moment she arrived home Melius ran into the kitchen where her mother was preparing dinner and began animatedly telling her mother about the channels.
"Melius," Friet said sharply. "I told you not talk about him anymore."
Trelina, a tall willowy blond whose hair was coiled in neat braids around her head gave her husband a sharp glance. "Shon don't be unreasonable. It is better for her to know about such things. And besides what if...."
"Don't even think it." Friet fought down a stab of fear. "There is no way that is ever going to happen. Melius is too sweet, too innocent, too pure"
His wife sighed. Putting down the spoon she was using to stir a pot of stew, she crossed the kitchen to give her husband a welcome home kiss. "I hope that you're right. But if you're not isn't it better that she knows what to do, where to go. Or do you want her shot too?"
Melius looked up from the materials Aran had given her to regard her mother soberly. "Don't worry Mommy. If I do become a Sime I won't die. Aran will take care of me. He promised. See it says right here that a channel can give me selyn. Then I won't kill." She pushed a flier across the table to her mother.
"Melius don't talk like that. You're not going to become a slimy evil one." Friet glared at his daughter, frightened by her casual mention of changeover.
"You don't know that." The youngster was quietly defiant.
Her mother sighed. "Melius, please don't argue with your father. It's almost time for supper. Why don't you put your books away and get washed up."
"Yes Mother." Obediently the Melius gathered her things and left the kitchen.
"And you, Shon, stop trying to discourage her. I hope and pray you're right. But if not and she does become a slimy one. I don't want her shot. Better that she go to a channel."
"But, Trelina, if she becomes a slimy one..."
"She'll still be our daughter." Trelina put her arms around her husband. "I'm not sure I believe the Simes either, but if there is any chance this Hajene Aran is right, that they can stop all the killing." She trembled violently. "Don't you see we have to encourage the children to give them a chance." She stiffened as her husband held her close, then relaxed putting her head on his shoulder.
"I am so sick of death, death and more death. Nashua is becoming one big cemetery."
Not knowing what to say, Freit just held her close giving what little comfort he could.
After a moment she moved away to start setting the table for dinner. "Jaceena went to see the Doctor today."
"How's she doing?" Friet was very concerned for his sister. Eight months pregnant she had been having a lot of problems.
"Not well. Not well at all. She still has the coughing sickness. The Doctor told her she could deliver any day. And if she does the baby may die."
"Oh God no." Stunned Friet sank into a chair. "That will destroy her. She wants that baby so badly. Isn't there anything he can do?"
"Apparently not. All he can suggest is that she stays in bed and drink lots of fluids. I'm going over there after supper to stay for a few days. Stunnis doesn't have the faintest idea how to take care of her."
"Good idea. Take Melius. She can help before and after school. She can't lose that baby she just can't." Feeling completely helpless the mayor put his head in his hands.
A few days later Aran was in his office writing his first report to the Tecton. A completely negative one. No donations. No changeovers. No one from town had come near them. On the other hand there had been no more deaths. Perhaps, the channel mused, he should be grateful for small favors.
He looked up as Freya entered the room amusement in her nager. "We have company," she announced with a very unprofessional giggle. "And Helgen isn't the least bit happy about it."
"Why not? Who's here?" As far as Aran was concerned any company was welcome if only to break the monotony. Never mind the fact that if the channels didn't get some work soon entran was going to become a real problem.
"Melius and a few of her friends. They're demanding to see his tentacles."
Aran chuckled. "He should enjoy that. He's almost as much of a showoff as you are."
Freya just grinned. "I suspect he would welcome your assistance."
Aran winked at Freya then rose and went to front room. Helgen was sitting on the floor surrounded by Melius, her two girl friends and a young man whose name Aran didn't yet know. Helgen's Companion stood nearby trying unsuccessfully to maintain a professional demeanor.
Aran himself had to chuckle. Tamilina and Samanta were playing with Helgen's tentacles while Melius looked on grinning widely. The young man was watching the girls a mixture of horror and fascination in his eyes.
Melius spotted Aran. Rising to her feet she rushed across the room to throw her arms around the channel's waist. " Hajene Aran, Hajene Aran! They like them too. I told em tentacles are cute."
Aran smiled as he hugged the youngster. "And I suppose you want to play with mine again?"
"We all do." Melius stared at his arms. "Where are they? You're hiding them," she said accusingly.
"I am not," the channel replied indignantly. "I was resting them. Here you go." Aran slid his hand into his pocket then held it out to Melius a small coin held in each dorsal. "See they have something for you."
Entranced, Melius took the coins from his tentacles. "What are these?"
"Tecton money. You can keep them if you like."
"Thank you," the girl said politely. She briefly examined the coins. Then stuffing them into her pocket she turned her attention back to the channel's hand, capturing a tentacle and gently curling it around her finger. "This is fun." She studied Aran's arm a minute. "Where are the ones that kill? The you know?" She waved her free hand groping for the right word.
"Laterals" Aran supplied. "I rarely extend those. They're little and very weak. All they do is take Freya's selyn and transfer it to my body."
"They can kill," Melius said solemnly. She looked at her friends who had come to watch.
"They do kill." The young man said firmly. "I don't think you should be touching him."
"Oh Lary stop it. Aran doesn't kill. He's a channel." Melius glared at the young man.
Tamilina was staring at Aran's hand with rapt attention. "Can we see a lateral Hajene? Please?"
Aran considered a moment balancing the necessity of convincing the children that he was their friend against the very real possibility that one of them might accidentally or purposely injure him. Well nothing ventured nothing gained.
Nodding to Freya to support him, Aran slowly extended his small pink lateral tentacles letting them lay calmly against his hand.
Simultaneously the youngsters gasped. Meilus released Aran's handling tentacle and jumped back. "Will will they hurt me?"
"No," Aran smiled reassuring. "It's true they can kill. But mine don't. I get my selyn from Freya. Remember I explained that to you last week?"
"Oh, yeah. She grows selyn for you." Melius regarded his hand with interest. "Will it hurt you if I touch it?"
"It won't feel very good," the channel said honestly. "Laterals are very sensitive. And don't like being touched except by Freya." With that he retracted them, grateful that the children were not insisting on actually playing with them.
His attention was caught by Tamilina who was holding her hand out looking from it to his hand. "Do you want to touch me, Tamilina?"
The girl nodded moving closer. Putting her wrist next to Aran's she lifted a tentacle to lay it on her own arm. "This would be nice," she whispered.
"Yes, tentacles are very useful," The channel studied the little girl closely. She almost looks like a Sime. I wonder if she knows something she's not telling. He decided not to ask. If Tamilina wanted to talk she would let him know in her own good time. In the meantime he would make himself available.
"Anybody hungry?" Helgen's Companion was standing in the doorway with a tray of lemonade and cookies. The children's enthusiastic response put an effective end to the anatomy lesson.
That night Aran was awakened from a sound sleep by the sound of loud pounding on the front door. The ambient was filled with Gen fear and throbbing pain. Jumping out of bed he began to hastily throw on his clothes. Beside him Freya stirred sleepily. "What is it, Aran?". Someone's in pain. I can zlin that and a lot of fear."
"Work at last, do you suppose?" Moving at a slower pace Freya got up and threw on her robe to follow Aran down the wide staircase.
Helgen was ushering a small party of Gens into the front room. Among them were Stunnis and his niece Melius. He was carrying a tiny figure wrapped in a blanket. Waves and waves of pain were coming from that person.
They were accompanied by a strikingly beautiful woman who closely resembled Melius and was clinging tightly to the child's hand, her nager filled with fear. The Mayor's wife, Aran surmised.
Helgen was directing Stunnis to place his burden on the sofa as Aran bounded into the room. "Sectuib, this is Jaceene. She's in labor."
"And this is my Mom. Her name's Trilina," Melius interjected. "You have to help Aunt Jaceene. Her baby's dying."
"Melius, don't be rude," Trilina admonished.
"That's quite all right, Mrs. Friet. You daughter and I are old friends." Aran winked at the youngster, who grinned back at him delightedly.
"Can you help Jaceene? Melius and Stuunis said that you fixed his ankle?" The woman attempted to smile at Aran curiosity slowly replacing the fear in her nager.
Aran smiled warmly. "What's the problem?"
Without waiting for an answer he went over to where Jaceene was lying curled into a little ball breathing heavily. Her husband was on his knees beside her trying to comfort her.
"Honey this is Hajene Aran. Let him help you." Stunnis looked up at Aran pleading in his eyes and field. "Please don't let her die."
"Nobody's going to die," the channel promised easily as he sat by Jaceene and started zlinning as he pulled back the blanket to get a good look at her.
Jaceene was a plain woman with long black hair now in total disarray. Her face was pasty white and covered with sweat. Her dark gray eyes stared up at Aran in fear and pleading. Her thin hands clutched at the blanket. As she opened her mouth to speak she screamed instead as an intense labor pain overtook her.
Going into functional mode, Aran took her hands and slid into hyperconsciousness working to zlin deeply and ease the pain of the contraction.
While her selyn level was acceptable, the woman was in very poor condition. Her lungs were full of fluid making breathing difficult.
As the pain of the contraction eased Aran turned his attention to the baby. The child, small for a full term infant was exhibiting signs of fetal distress. It's heartbeat was almost nonexistent and it was unnaturally still.
Aran bit his lip as he glanced up at Helgen. "I'll require your help," he said softly. "She's about to deliver."
Helgen nodded absently his eyes going unfocused as he too zlinned the desperate condition of mother and child. Gesturing for his Companion to support him he fell to his knees by Aran and extended his showfield to supplement the work Aran was doing.
Aran looked up at the mayor's wife. "Why don't you take Melius into the kitchen. We have cookies and milk. It shouldn't be long."
Trelina hesitated. "Is she going to die? The Doctor said the baby was going to kill her."
"Not if we have anything to say about it." Aran smiled reassuringly. "We'll do everything we can. Freya....." Switching to Simelan Aran quickly instructed his Companion to take Melius and her mother to the kitchen and make sure they stayed there. "Then get back here. This is going to be a difficult functional. One we have to succeed at."
"Yes Sectuib." Taking Melius' hand, Freya led the youngster and her mother from the room.
Aran begins to loosen his patient's clothing. "What's your name" he asked softly.
"Jaceene. My baby...please, don't let my baby die" Jaceene trembled, her field fluctuating wildly between hope and fear.
Gently Aran smoothed back her damp hair from her forehead.
She writhed trying to evade his touch. "Please, I .... Owweee!!!!!!!" Screaming as another contraction hit her, Jaceene grabbed desperately for the channel.
Taking firm control of her field Aran said softly "Breathe with me. In out, in out..." Murmuring soothingly he rode out the contraction with her.
Freya returned just then with some needed supplies. Taking her place by Aran's side she expertly meshed her field with Aran's, supporting him as he worked.
Aran took her energies and working with Helgen and his Companion, who was likewise occupied, wove a supportive bubble around their patient. Blocking her pain he soothed her and descending to the cellular level he projected an intense need to increase selyn production and lessen the strain on her lungs.
Beside him, the other channel provided the same support to the infant who was now in the birth canal beginning the slow painful descent to life outside the womb.
"She's going to die, isn't she?" Worried and scared Stunnis paced, horrified at the channel's closeness to his wife, but desperate for any hope they could offer.
"No, she's not. We're not going to let her die." Stunnis nodded, his face expressionless, but Aran could sense his hope was overriding his fear. "Come here and hold her hands. She needs your comfort."
Obediently the Gen approached to kneel by his wife and taking her hands said softly "It's going to be all right Jaceene."
"But, but they ...Simes are killers. My baby..." Jaceene was staring at Aran fear in her dark eyes.
"I'm a channel, a healer. You and your baby are going to be fine...."
"Ahhhh..." Jaceene started to scream as her muscles tightened in another contraction.
Again Aran rode it with her, blocking most of the pain and encouraging her to breathe in sync with him. He smiled into her eyes as it subsided. "There now that wasn't so bad was it?"
Jaceene blinked. "The pain...it doesn't hurt much..."
Aran grinned. "We're almost there. Next time I want you to push hard. Your son is very anxious now to be born."
Jaceene gasped. "A boy? I'm having a boy?"
"Yes. And I think he's about ready to make his appearance." Nodding to Freya to place some towels strategically, Aran pulled Jaceene's gown to her waist. "Now push" the channel instructed firmly as the woman's abdominal muscles rippled with the next contraction.
"I. I owe... oh...." Jaceene panted as she attempted to obey Aran's instructions.
"Good girl." Sliding his fingers into the birth canal, Aran made contact with the infant's tiny head. "He's almost here." He paused a moment to zlin Helgen's interaction with the child. The other channel had succeeded in raising the child's heartbeat to a near normal rate. His selyn draw was slight but steady.
"Good, good' he murmured. "Once more, Jaceene. Push hard now." Again he rode out the contraction easing Jaceene's pain as he guided the infant's path. "I can see his head now."
Jaceene panted. "Oh, it hurts..."
"Not for much longer. You're doing great." Aran gently massaged her abdominal muscles. "The next one should be the last"
"Please, Aran don't let her let them die" Stunnis was spiking a fear that make Aran wince.
He glared at the Gen. "Don't talk like that. You're only going to frighten her."
"But... but the doctor said...." Stunnis was holding his wife's hands tightly as if he could will her to live.
"He's not a channel" Freya interjected softly. "Aran is one of the best healers in the Tecton. They'll be all right."
Stunnis subsided, trying to believe Freya's words.
Aran went hyper focused fully on his patient as another contraction rippled over Jaceene. "Push, push!" Aran turned the baby gently as first the head then one shoulder emerged. As his mother screamed more in fear than actual pain the baby slid smoothly into Aran's waiting hands and tentacles. He was followed by a great rush of blood.
The baby was blue and still deathly still. The shock of hemorrhage hit Aran hard as Jaceene slipped into unconsciousness bleeding uncontrollably.
Quickly handing the still infant to Helgen Aran began to massage Jaceene's abdomen as he worked to slow the bleeding. A long fearful moment later and the placenta slide into Freya's waiting hands. Aran bit his lip. The bleeding was showing no signs of stopping.
Sinking into even deeper contact with the dying Gen woman he worked vessel by vessel cell by cell to slow then stop the bleeding. Finally it slowed to a normal trickle.
As Aran opened his eyes he heard the weak wail of a crying infant.
Helgen was grinning widely as he gently but firmly massaged the now wiggling body on his lap. "Shen Sectuib look at that. The little guy has a mind of his own."
Stunnis was saying urgently "My wife... is she...?"
Taking the towel Freya silently offered, Aran cleaned the blood from his hands. "She's in shock but I have the bleeding stopped. She's going to be fine. And it looks like you have a fine son."
Stunnis closed his eyes in relief. "Thank God. She's going to make it."
"Want to hold your son?" Helgen had risen and was holding out a blanket wrapped bundle to the new father.
Aran and Freya took advantage of Stunnis distraction to clean up Jaceene and snuggle her into a clean gown.
She opened her eyes as Freya was covering her with a warm blanket. "My baby..."
"Right here, honey. Our son is fine." Sitting by his wife Stunnis gently put the baby in her arms. As his wife cooed at her new son, Stunnis looked up and met Aran's eyes.
"How can I ever thank you?"
Aran smiled. "You just did." He took a deep breath fighting the dizziness that accompanied his recovery. Freya gently touched his arm, providing him with a firm field to rest against. "Now Aran why don't you give these two a few minutes alone to enjoy their new son." She winked at Aran.
He grinned back. "Of course Sosu. Stunnis I'll be back in a few minutes to take your wife and son to a room upstairs. Helgen and I'll take turns sitting with her through the night. But I can promise you all will be well."
Stunnis nodded an absent acknowledgement then returned his attention to his wife and new child.
Signaling to Helgen to take control of the fields, Aran eased him and Freya out of the bubble around the new mother and led the way to the kitchen where he had the pleasure of telling Melius that she had a new cousin.
Friet took a deep breath, trying to still his furiously beating heart and calm his fears before pounding on the door of the Demon's Center. Earlier that morning he had gone to his sister's house only to learn that she had been taken away in the middle of the night to face what he was sure would be certain death at the hands of the Demonic Simes.
"So help me", he muttered. "If anything has happened to her, Aran's going to wish he'd never come near my town." Raising his hand he pounded loudly on the heavy oak door.
It was opened almost instantly by Aran himself. The channel was smiling happily as he greeted the Mayor. "Congratulations. Mayor. You have a brand spanking new nephew."
"I .. I what? Where's Jaceene? If anything has happened to her..." The Mayor stared belligerently at the Sime leaning casually against the doorframe. Involuntarily his eyes went to Aran's hand resting negligently on the doorknob. Startled, Friet took a step backwards, repelled by the tentacles, small grayish ropes lying quietly on Aran's wrist.
He shuddered pulling his eyes away from the instruments of death. For the life of him, he couldn't understand why they fascinated his daughter so.
"She likes to play with them", Aran said softly.
The mayor jumped. "You, you're reading my mind."
"No. Just zlinning your emotions. Why don't you come in and meet the newest member of your family." Aran turned his head and raised his voice. "Melius your Father's here."
"Father! Good. You have to see our new baby." Before Friet could regain his composure he was enveloped in a big hug from his daughter who was grinning from ear to ear. "His name is Tomity." Tugging on his hand Melius pulled her father into the house. "He has black hair and black eyes. Looks just like you. He smiles when I hold him."
"Whoa! Slow down. Who are you talking about?" Freit was having trouble with the concept of a living child born in a House of Evil.
"Our new baby. Auntie Jaceene had him last night. Come see him." Impatiently Melius tugged on her Father's hand again.
You mean she, they?" Incredulous Friet stared at Aran. "They didn't, I mean...."
The channel chuckled. "Mayor, I keep telling you channels don't kill. Among other things we're healers. Now perhaps you'll believe me. Jaceene and her son are doing quite well this morning. In fact she got up for breakfast."
Friet nodded. "I... I'm sorry Hajene Aran. Can I see her?" Friet stared at the floor, unable to meet the Simes eyes.
"Melius, take your father to the dining room. I'll be right there." Silently the channel vanished into the shadows.
Friet stared absently after him. Healer or Demon? He was no longer sure what Aran was. Not a killer at least. Shaking his head to banish the disturbing thoughts now whirling through his mind, he smiled at his daughter. "All right honey, let's go find your Auntie."
Chattering excitedly, Melius lead her father through the silent main room into a warm, brightly light dining room. Joceene was sitting at the large wooden table sipping tea and cooing at a small bundle in her arms. Her eyes were sparking and her face had more color than Friet had seen in months. With her were Stunnis and Trelina. They were calmly eating breakfast.
"Shon!" Friet's wife rose instantly and came to him. "Please don't be mad. We... we didn't want her to..."
Friet opened his mouth to chastise her for bringing his sister into a house of evil, then shut it again. What could he say? Simes may be evil, but Friet couldn't argue that channels are different. Or at least were capable of doing good. This concept was so startling that Friet could only shake his head helplessly. Whatever he had expected to find, this wasn't it.
Finally he said softly, "How can I be mad? Jaceene and the baby are alive and well. That's all that counts." Pulling his wife to him, he hugged her, grateful for her courage. HE would never have been able to bring his beloved sister into this den of evil.
Jaceene chuckled. "Come see your nephew, Shon. He's adorable."
Bemused Friet let himself be dragged into the room. Going to Jaceene he gently took the baby from her. He smiled tenderly as he gazed at the tiny face all red and wrinkled as all newborns are.
Melius bounced. "Isn't he adorable, Daddy?"
"Yes, honey, he is very beautiful." Sitting down Fret studied his sister. "And how are you feeling?"
Jaceene smiled happily. "Literally like a new woman. I don't understand how they did it, but the er...." she hesitated.
"Channels," supplied Melius impatiently. Hajene Aran and Hajene Helgen are channels. Healers. I keep telling you that."
"But how... what?" Friet was still confused. From all he knew about childbirth Jaceene should still be in bed, weak and tired. Yet here she was, calmly eating breakfast, the picture of health.
Jaceene shook her head. "Shon I don't know how they did it. But somehow they did. Last night I thought I was dying. But somehow Aran took away my pain. Timoty was born alive and well.
Aran and Helgen sat with me all night...I think."
"They did," affirmed Trelina. "Hajene Aran said their presence, something they do causes a Gen's body to heal itself"
Friet shook his head. It sounded like witchcraft to him. But he couldn't argue with the results. "Well whatever they did, it worked. Are you ready to go home now or..."
Jaceene nodded. "Yes. Hajene Aran said the coughing sickness is gone. We can go anytime."
"I have the wagon ready outside," interjected Stunnis. "But I think Melius should finish her cereal first. Miss Freya fixed her favorite kind for her."
"I ate most of it," the youngster interjected indignantly. "I'm not hungry anymore."
"Then I think we should go before..."
"Before what, Shon?" Trelina's eyes bored into her husband's. Surely after what they've done for us, you don't still think we're in danger here?"
Friet sighed. Evil or not, the channels had certainly won his family to their cause. "Perhaps not, but you all belong at home. And Melius has school today. We really need to go."
"Oh, Father..." Melius pouted. "I want to stay here. I like Hajene Aran and Hajene Helgen. And Miss Freya. She makes good cookies."
Stunnis rose. "Now Melius, your father is right. It's time for us to go home. I'll find Aran and let him know..."
As if on cue, the channel appeared in the doorway. He smiled at the little girl. "Your Father's right, Melius. You should go to school today." Aran smiled at Jaceene. "And it's all right to take Jaceene home. She and the baby will be fine. Just make sure she gets plenty of rest and fluids. She did lose a lot of blood."
Friet nodded. "Hajene Aran how can I thank you?" He squirmed embarrassed. Once again he felt as though the channel's eyes were boring deep into his soul. He still wasn't sure that Simes are not evil, but they had saved two very precious lives.
Swallowing his fear he held out his hand to Aran. "We're most grateful. Send me your bill."
Aran shook his head as he took the Mayor's hand. "There's no charge for channel's services." Slowly Aran extended his tentacles to seal their grip in accord with in-territory custom.
Friet gasped but forced himself not to pull away. He was fairly sure that Aran wasn't going to harm him. Nevertheless he couldn't suppress a tiny sigh of relief when the silky gray ropes retreated and his hand was free.
"Father," Melius tugged at her Father's hand. "Can Hajene Aran and his friends come to the Spring Picnic. Please... I want them to meet our friends."
Friet was shocked. How could his daughter think of such a thing.
"Yes, Shon, that's a good idea." Trelina came to her husband's side and smiled at the young channel. "Please do come Hajene Aran. Two weeks from today. At the church."
"But Trelina, Simes are ...Reverend..."
"Richlefs is going to have to face reality," snapped Trelina. "Simes are not evil and ..." She blushed. "Um Hajene Aran, I'm sorry."
"I understand Mrs. Friet." Aran's voice was gentle. "But if the Mayor thinks it would be better if we didn't..."
Friet sighed. How could he say no, after what Aran had done for his family. Forcing himself to sound cordial, the mayor formally invited Aran and the center staff to the upcoming Spring Picnic.
Later that day, to Aran's surprise, they had another visitor. Jabri Stubbins, Deputy Sheriff hesitated in the doorway to Aran's office. He was a young, portly Gen with dark red hair and sparking blue eyes. He was dressed in the green and gold uniform of the Nashua Sheriff's department. Nervously he twisted his cap in his hands.
"Come in," Aran said cordially. "What can we do for you?"
"I, I... Joceene is my cousin. You saved her life."
"Please, have a seat. Yes, we were able to help her."
Gingerly the deputy took a seat by Aran's desk. "How I don't understand. The Doctor said she was going to die."
Unobtrusively, Freya resumed her seat in the corner, her field lightly supporting the channel.
Aran studied the Gen a minute. The man was frightened, of course. Almost everyone was the first time they got close to him for more than a few seconds. But under all that there was a sincere gratitude and a genuine desire to know more about these alien creatures called Simes.
"It's rather hard to explain in English. But because I'm a Sime and a channel I have the ability to influence a Gen's selyn field. This encourages the body to heal itself."
"We owe you Jaceene's life. And her baby's. Thank you." Stubbins scratched his head. "But I still don't understand. It sounds like witchcraft to me."
Aran suppressed a sigh. "That's what a lot of people think. But it's not true. Our ability to heal is just a physical talent. Like strong muscles or keen eyes."
Stubbins nodded, his field reflecting a confused acceptance. "Well obviously it works. Jaceene and her baby are alive and well." He took a deep breath. "We owe you one."
Aran shook his head. "No. I was just doing my job."
"There must be something I can do for you." The deputy hesitated, fear warring with determination in his field. "I, I understand you need er want ..."
"You're talking about donating?" Aran guessed.
The Gen nodded. "Yes. I want to donate. Melius says.." He hesitated, clearly embarrassed to be quoting a child.
Aran chuckled. Apparently his young friend was taking it upon herself to educate her entire family. "She's correct. channels have the ability to take selyn from Gens such as you without harming them in any way. Then we use that selyn to serve Simes so they do not have to Kill."
Understanding and acceptance flooded Stubbins' field. "That's how you keep the slimy ones from killing."
"That's how we keep Simes from Killing," Aran replied neutrally."
"I want to donate then." Stubbins was working hard at controlling his fear. "Will it hurt?"
Aran glanced at Freya, signaling her to field that question.
The Companion smiled. "No, Deputy. Not only does it not hurt you won't feel a thing."
Stubbins looked confused. "But but you told Melius it's a beautiful experience."
Freya chuckled. Rising she came to stand behind Aran and rest her hands on his shoulders. "For me it is. I'm what's called a Companion. Once a month I serve Aran's personal need. That is a very special very beautiful sharing." She smiled as Aran reached up and stroked her fingers with a tentacle.
"What you will be doing, donating selyn for other Simes to use, is different. You won't feel a thing. I promise."
Stubbins nodded, relaxing as he observed Freya's calm interaction with the channel. "Let's do it then."
"Roll up your sleeves," Aran instructed as he moved his chair closer to the Gen. "I will have to touch you."
Stubbins quickly obeyed. "I know. That's all right."
Aran held out his hands. "Here. Give me your hands."
Again the Gen obeyed. His field was calm steady with only a shade of residual fear.
The channel smiled. "Now I'm going to put my tentacles in place. This won't hurt. But you do have to hold still." Slowly he wrapped his handling tentacles around Stubbins' arms then extended his laterals.
The deputy stared at the tentacles, bemused. "They're wet and sticky.
"That's ranoplin. It conducts selyn. Now when you're ready, touch your lips to mine. Then I can draw your selyn. It will only take a second."
Without hesitation the Gen leaned forward and made lip contact.
Aran drew slowly draining only the first most superficial levels, then dismantled the contact.
"That's it? You're done?" Stubbins seemed faintly disappointed.
"That's all there is to it." Aran grinned. "You can if you wish, do that once a month."
Stubbins paused in the act of rolling down his sleeves. "And this will save lives?"
"Yes," the channel affirmed. "I will use that selyn to serve changeover victims. There is no real reason for anyone to die. Sime or Gen."
Stubbins rose, acceptance in his field. "I'll be back next month then."
"I'll look forward to it." Aran rose and offered his hand, tentacles sheathed, to the Gen. "Freya will show you out and give you your money."
"Selyn's a valuable commodity. The Tecton pays well for it."
Stubbins shook Aran's hand. "No I don't want the money. If you can save lives you are welcome to my selyn." Turning he followed Freya from the room.
Aran was elated. We are finally making some progress. Maybe just maybe this will work. We have a convert.
A few days later Aran and Freya were outside working in the garden when Lary, Melius' young friend, came running down the street. Bursting through the gate he yelled, "Hajene Hajene come quickly before she kills somebody."
"Aran quickly rose, pulling his retainers from his belt. "Before who Kills? What's happening Lary?"
"Headmistress said you have to come at once. They have a slimy one trapped in the storeroom. But if she gets out she'll Kill. You have to come." Though he was bouncing impatiently, Aran noted the youngster kept his distance.
"Calm down Lary. We'll go in a minute. There's probably plenty of time." Aran held out his arms to Freya who gently encased his wrists in the uncomfortable metal retainers.
"Now come now!" Lary begin edging towards the gate. "You can't let it kill anybody."
"No one's going to die. Come Freya." Resisting the impulse to augment, Aran trotted briskly the few short blocks to the School, Freya and Lary trailing behind.
Headmistress Bettiena was waiting for them on the steps. "Hurry hurry. It.. er she's in the store room."
Aran pounded up the steps, Freya on his heels. "Show me the way. Who is it?"
"Lucen." Bettiena was very agitated. "My niece. I. I..."
Aran paused to zlin. "You don't really want her to die, do you? That's why the sheriff's not here isn't it?"
The Headmistress nodded. "Yes, yes...If there's a chance...." The woman turned away her field radiating a desperation she was unwilling to admit to the channel. Her voice was muffled. "Take it away please. Keep her safe. If you can."
Aran shook his head at the dichotomy. "Headmistress, she's only going to become a Sime. That doesn't make her evil."
Bettiena whirled. "Blasphemy. All Simes are evil. Just get her out of here please. She's in the storeroom. At the end of the hall." The Headmistress pointed with a shaky hand."
Well it's a start. Small but a start. Aran ran down the hall to where a small group of children were gathered by a closed door.
An elderly Gen, evidently the custodian, stood guard. "You're that channel fellow. Headmistress said you was the only one who could go in there."
"And Freya, my Companion. Please unlock the door."
"All right, but iffen it gets out, I'll have to shoot it." With trembling hands the man unlocked the door then backed quickly away, putting as much distance as he could between himself and the channel. His hand went nervously to his pocket where Aran could see the outline of a small gun.
"No one's going to get hurt." Shoving open the door Aran stepped into the room, Freya close behind. Gently the Companion shut the door behind them.
"She's over there." Aran moved swiftly to a far corner where Lucian cowered behind a tall stack of boxes.
The child was moaning with pain, her eyes glued to the blisters on her arms. Her mousy brown hair obscured her features. She looked up as Aran approached and screamed "Don't kill me don't kill me."
Aran shifted into functional mode projecting a pleasant genness as he zlinned the girl's condition as best he could through his retainers. Taking them off could get both of them shot by the nervous custodian outside.
"Do we have time..." Freya's nager was neutral, but Aran knew she was worried.
Kneeling Aran took Lucen's hands. "I think so. She's just past third stage transition. Lucian do you know who I am?
The girl nodded. "You're a channel. But you feel like er...."
"...like a Gen? Like something warm and safe? I'm supposed to. When it's time I'm going to give you the selyn you require. Nobody's going to die.
"I have to die. I'm a slimy one. I was not good ...." Lucian screamed in pain as her contractions got stronger.
"No you don't have to die. We're going to take you back to our Center and take care of you." Aran closed his eyes a moment to deep zlin. Changeover was going well in spite of the girl's fear.
Dropping to duo Aran smiled his most winning smile and deepened the intensity of the Gen field he was offering. "Come with us Lucien. We will take care of you." Gently he drew the girl to her feet.
Calming slightly, Lucen clung to Aran. "but but he wants to shoot me. He's supposed to shoot me. It's right. But I don't want to die."
"Well he's not going to." Sweeping Lucian up into his arms, Aran gestured for Freya to open the door.
Raising his voice he said firmly "Children back away. We're coming out now."
Spiking fear, Lucen buried her head in Aran's shoulder and whispered "Don't let them hurt me."
Murmuring words of reassurance Aran left the storeroom Freya by his side, her field shielding him from the hostility outside.
"Where are you going?" demanded the Headmistress. "Is she?"
"Not yet. Changeover takes a long time. We'll be at the Center. You can come see her later."
A harsh coldness filled the woman's field. "I don't think so. She's an evil one now. Get her out of here."
Biting back a sharp retort Aran strode from the school, tenderly cradling Lucen in his arms. Unbelievable. She sends for us, then turns around and rejects her own niece as being evil.
Ignoring the taunts from some of the children and the waves of hostility emanating from their teachers, Aran strode quickly from the school. He noted that Headmistress Bettiena had retreated to the relative safety of her office.
Outside a few people had gathered, silently watching. The ambient was filled with fear and hatred. But no one interfered as Aran carried the child back to their center.
Taking the stairs two at a time, Aran took Lucen to one of the empty bedrooms and gently laid her on the bed. "You're safe now, little one."
Holding out his arms, Aran waited impatiently as Freya divested him of his retainers. He wiggled his tentacles in relief. Behind him Lucien screamed. "Fourth stage transition. It's almost time." He looked up as Helgen entered the room, inquiry in his field. "Lock the gates and set some guards. I wouldn't put it past Friet to come after us." The other channel nodded and glided silently from the room.
Sitting beside Lucen, Aran gently took her hands, projecting a pleasant genness. "It's almost time Lucien."
The girl blinked several times. "What's that shiney stuff around you?"
Aran smiled, pleased with the girl's curiosity. "That's my showfield. Relax now and concentrate on it."
Lucen nodded and closed her eyes. "I'm scared." She moaned in response to a contraction, her fingers tightening around Aran's.
"It's ok," he murmured. "You're safe with me." Aran let her rest on his field for a few minutes, then said softly. "Open your eyes now. I want to show you something."
Obediently Lucen opened her eyes. "Now you look different."
Aran grinned. "In a few days you will be able to look at people both ways easily. Now watch my hands. Can you do this?"
Aran made fists of both his hands the flung his fingers wide open.
"Of course I can." She started to imitate him.
"No honey, don't do it now. That's what I want you to do when its time for breakout." Aran smiled at her confusion. "Your tentacles are almost ready to come out."
"My extra fingers," the girl murmured. "Melius said it's like having extra fingers."
"Yes in a way it is. When your tentacles are ready to come out, you have to help them a little. By closing then opening your hands like I just did. Do you think you can do that?"
Lucen nodded absently, her eyes on Aran's tentacles. "I guess so. Will mine wiggle like that?"
Aran chuckled. "If you want them to."
Lucen gasped, then screamed clenching her fists tightly, her breathing labored.
"Stage five transition. Open your hands.." Gently Aran coaxed her fingers to relax. "It won't be long now."
The girl panted a moment. Her eyes went to her arms. "they're ugly."
"They won't be after they come out." Aran smiled reassuringly. "And you'll be able to do all kinds of interesting things with them."
Lucen suddenly lost interest in the conversation. "I'm going to die," she said flatly. "Sheriff Tillis is going to shoot me"
"No he's not", Aran promised. "We're not going to let him come anywhere near you." Aran looked up as the ambient changed. Helgen had entered the room.
"The gates are locked and I have our Gens guarding the doors." The other channel's eyes went unfocused as he zlinned Lucen's progress.
"Good. We shouldn't have any trouble." Aran turned his attention back fully to Lucien who was panting with sixth stage transition.
Freya moved in deftly merging her field with Aran's so as not to confuse the new Sime. Helgen retreated to a corner, his field morphing into that of a neutral renSime.
"It's almost time honey. With the next contraction I want you to make those fists."
The new Sime nodded. Her eyes were closed all her attention focused on the Gen field Aran was offering her. She moaned as the final contraction started then balled her hands up into tight fists.
"Good, good," Aran murmured. "Open your fingers now"
Lucien moaned, then throwing up her hands, screamed in pleasure and pain as her tentacles burst free, showering the channel and his Companion with hot bloody fluids. Her field radiated exultation and the joy of a new life.
Tears sprang to Aran's eyes as he experienced with her the thrill of breakout, the sense of life renewed. Holding out his hands to her, he offered her a glowing reflection of the sparkling effervescence he received from Freya in his own personal transfers.
Her response was instantaneous. Her wet tentacles reached for him seeking fulfillment. Entwining tentacles, Aran leaned forward to make lip contact.
Though the transfer took but a split second, it was the most beautiful transfer Aran had ever served, bringing as it did a hope for the future. Klyd's dream a reality.
Afterwards Aran and Freya had the joyous job of teaching the new Sime what being a Sime is all about.
At the sound of an angry voice coming from his reception room, Freit put down his pen. He had been expecting this all morning. Rising he attempted to smile as his office door flew open.
"Good morning, Reverend. What can I do for you?'
Richlefs shoved his way into the room, his dark blue eyes sparking anger. His normally well-groomed silver gray hair was in total disarray. "is it true what I'm hearing? We let an evil one live? How could you?"
Friet spread his hands placatingly. "Please Reverend. The channels kept her... er it from killing. Isn't that sufficient? After all, that's what they're here for."
"Shon, I can't believe I'm hearing you say this." The minister took a deep breath. "We have a good town here. Our people are righteous and God fearing. Or at least I thought they were." His eyes bored accusingly into the Mayor's. "Simes are evil, servants of Satan. They must not be allowed to live, to spread their wickedness."
Freit shook his head in denial. "I'm not so sure channels are. They saved my sister's life. How can you call that evil?"
"It's witchcraft. The good book warns us that the devil is very cunning and clever. Those so-called channels of yours were sent here to lure us into a false sense of security. While all the time they're plotting to corrupt our youth."
"But, but..." Friet was torn. He knew Simes were evil demons. But he couldn't down a strong feeling that Richlefs was wrong. That channels are different.
"Call Matt," the minister said softly. "Let him get rid of the slimy one. Like we've always done. Don't let yourself be lured away down to hell by the deceptions of the so-called channels. Demons pretending to be righteous. Sure they may do some good things to fool us. Evil works like that.
"They'll lull you into a false sense of security then move in for the kill."
"How can you be so sure?" Friet protested weakly. "What if we're wrong. What if we've been killing innocent children for generations. Surely we can...."
"Blasphemy! Beings who kill to live have to be creatures of Satan. Would God permit such a travesty? No! Of course not!" Richelfs thundered. "HE has charged us to defeat Satan by not allowing his minions to live. Let those Evil Demons get away with this and you are giving the devil a strong victory over our town. Do you want to be responsible for that?"
Freit started to speak then fell silent. He's right. I don't know for sure. And I can't take chances. Not with my town. I can not, I will not let evil take root here. Better the slimy ones die. The evil killers. But what if....
"What if you're wrong? The Territorial Governor has said that the channels can save lives. Protect us."
Richlefs snorted. "He's a fool. Somehow the demons have bewitched him. Don't fall into the same trap. Nashua is a good town. It's your duty to keep it that way. By snuffing out evil. Let Matt kill the slimy one."
Friet sighed, defeated. The Reverend was right. In spite of the apparent miracles the channels had performed there was no proof that they weren't evil like the slimy ones. Yes Simes were evil. They had to be. Why did I ever let myself get my hopes up? Why did I allow Aran to convince me to give him a chance. God would not create such a travesty of nature. Beings that have to kill to live.
Rising he said softly "Very well. I'll get Matt and we'll go eliminate the evil slimy one."
"I'm going with you. Perhaps I can persuade the evil ones to leave. That will solve our problem." Richlefs took the Mayor's jacket from the coat rack in the corner and handed it to him.
Troubled Friet put it on, and led the way silently from the room. He didn't feel quite right about what they were doing, but he didn't see they had any choice.
Dragging a not at all reluctant sheriff from his office in the basement, Friet led the way through the quiet streets of Nashua.
It was a beautiful spring day. Flowers were blooming everywhere. The grass had just turned green the week before. The well-kept homes glistened in the bright sunshine. But the mayor was oblivious. His mind whirled around and around. On the one hand he really didn't want to take the step they were about to take. Shooting a young girl for being Sime. But she's a slimy one. A demon. The reverend is right. No he can't be. Aran and Helgen are Simes. Yet they're not evil. Are they? Was healing Jaceene witchcraft as the Reverend said?
Freit sighed. There wasn't an easy answer. But one thing he did know, Demon or not, Simes had been killing his people for generations. And THAT is evil. Richlefs is right. We can't take chances Evil must be snuffed out before it drags us down to hell.
The sheriff drew his gun as they approached the wrought iron gates set in the tall fence surrounding the Sime Center.
Freit jumped. "Is that necessary?"
"We can't take any chances, Mayor," the sheriff answered. "We know that Simes are killers. What if they turn on us? I have no wish to see more of our people die."
"But, but," the Mayor started to protest.
"Don't be deceived, Shon," Richelfs advised softly. "Don't let the cunning of the evil ones blind you to their true nature."
He's right. Simes are evil. They kill. And Aran probably does too when he gets the chance. There is no proof that what Aran claims is true. Friet nodded. "Go ahead Matt, do your duty."
"The gate's not locked," the sheriff announced. "You two stay behind me." Gun drawn, the sheriff slowly opened the gate and led the way up the winding path to the Center. Freit and Richelfs followed.
As they approached the steps the door opened and Aran emerged.
"Hold it right there, Sime." The sheriff leveled his gun at the young channel.
Aran didn't seem to be surprised at their presence. Shutting the door behind him, he said softly "What's this all about Mayor? We have done nothing to warrant this intrusion."
"Give us the slimy one," demanded the sheriff. "It's my duty to dispose of it."
A faint look of disgust crossed the channel's face. "Mayor is this your wish?"
"It's what has to be. The thing is evil and must be destroyed." Friet spoke firmly, but he was unable to look the channel in the eye.
"We will not tolerate evil in our town." Richlefs took a few steps forward, but carefully remained behind the sheriff. "You might as well pack your things and go. No one here wants you or your evil friends polluting our town."
"Listen to me, Please." Aran spoke softly but intensely, his words commanding their reluctant attention. "I know it's hard for you to accept and believe. But Simes are not demons. Most of us no longer kill. My friends and I are here to put an end to killing here in Nashua. That is a promise Sectuib Klyd Farris ambrov Zeor made to your government when he signed the Unity Treaty. It's a promise we're here to keep. Simes do not have to kill."
"Liar." Richlefs bristled angrily. "Don't try to deceive us. Creatures who have to kill to live can't be considered anything but Demons."
"But what about creatures that don't have to kill?" Aran countered. "Lucien didn't kill yesterday, did she? I gave her the selyn she required." Aran's eyes and voice were persuasive, hard to resist.
Friet shook his head. "Give it to us, Hajene Aran. It's a evil slimy one." Freit had to look away from the disappointment in the channel's eyes.
The Sime was silent for a long moment. "I'm sorry Mayor. I can't comply with that request. She's not here."
"Where is it then?" The Sheriff waved his gun menacingly. "IF you have turned it loose, I'll shoot you, then I'm going after it."
"SHE left last night. One of our party, a trained Companion has taken her away, well guarded. She's out of your jurisdiction by now." Aran's eyes held a challenge. "We are here to put an end to death on both sides. We will protect you from Simes killing in First Need. But hear this Mayor, we will also protect Simes from being murdered for the crime of being Sime."
"That's what you think," growled the Sheriff. "Slimy ones must die. Now get out of my way. I don't believe you." Tillis charged up the stairs and waved his gun in the channel's face. "I'm searching your house."
"Mayor are you going to allow this?" Aran glared at Friet. "I don't think your Governor is going to like hearing that you're violating the Sanctity of our Center, Sime Territory. Our laws apply within that gate."
Gathering his courage Friet said firmly, "My duty to protect my town from evil is more important. Now get out of the way and let the sheriff do his duty. Or I will let him shoot you."
Aran's lips tightened, fury darkened his eyes. But his voice remained calm. "Very well. But I will make a formal complaint." Gracefully the channel opened the door then stepped out of the Sheriff's way. "Conduct your search. But you're wasting your time. She's not here."
"We'll see about that." Aggressively the Sheriff pushed his way into the building. Aran followed him, shutting the door quietly behind them.
Silence fell. A deep ponderous silence. Friet glanced over at Richlefs. The minister was watching the door, an expression of triumph on his face. It was as if he knew good had won a victory over evil.
And we have. Aran has got to learn that we're not going to tolerate the spread of his heresies. Killers are evil. There is no two ways about it. Friet paced, trying to down that small voice within that said channels are different. You must give them a chance.
Finally the door opened. Sheriff Tillis emerged, his gun back in his holster. He was alone.
Freit whirled. "Well did you get it?"
Tillis shook his head. "Nope! Aran was telling the truth. The slimy one is gone."
Richlefs swore under his breath. "This must not be allowed to happen again. Who knows what evil that thing will do."
Friet shrugged. "If it has gone into Sime Territory as Aran claims, we have nothing to fear. Deep inside he had to admit to himself that he really hadn't wanted to let the sheriff kill anyone. Not when he was so unsure.
Without a word he turned and walked off, not wanting to hear the heated discussion that erupted between the Sheriff and the Minister.
The day of the annual Spring Picnic dawned bright and clear. The sun shone brightly. Fluffy white clouds floated serenely in the light blue sky. The little country town of Nashua bubbled with excitement as people streamed in from all over for the Annual Spring Picnic.
Even Aran was in a cheerful mood as he lead his contingent of channels and Companions through the streets of Nashua to the church grounds near the center of town. Perhaps, he thought to himself, things will be different today. After all people are starting to come around. A donation here, a donation there. Yes today just might be a good day for our cause.
The Church of Pure Intent was a good-sized red brick building with lovely stained glass windows, a bell tower and a tall spire topped with a large golden cross that glistened in the sunlight. The bell was enthusiastically tolling, summoning one and all to the festivities.
Families were arriving on foot, and in wagons. The women bore large bowls and covered platters for the potluck that was to follow the games. Frolicking children were everywhere.
"This must be the social event of the year," murmured Freya. "The whole town must be here."
"Pretty close," Aran agreed. "This could be interesting." He took a deep breath fighting nausea. The sickening smell of roasting flesh hung heavy in the still air. "Let's go on around back." And get this over with.
The grounds of the Church of Pure Intent were spacious and well kept. Stone paths wandered among flowerbeds, all in full bloom. Overhead birds chirped from the branches of numerous shade trees.
Behind the church long tables were setup covered with brightly covered cloths. Women were setting out food on serving tables off to one side. The men were gathered around a barbecue pit, the source of the noxious odors. Children were everywhere.
As the channels approached however, the chatter stilled. People nudged one another and stared with hostility in their eyes at the new comers. The ambient grew dark. In reflexive reaction each channel drew closer to his Companion.
Freya put her hand on Aran's arm and murmured "Steady Sectuib."
Aran winked at her. "I can manage. We're not going to stay long enough to spoil their party. I wonder where our little hostess is?" He looked around trying to spot the Friets.
Trelina looked up from utensils she was laying out. A warm smile crossed her face. "Hajene Aran, Welcome." Coming swiftly to him she offered him her hands as she warmly greeted the rest of his party.
Aran took her hands with a smile, ignoring the hisses of horror coming from the onlookers. "Thank you Mrs. Friet."
"Come have seats. I'll have Melius bring you all something to drink." Trelina called loudly for her daughter as she led Aran's party to a nearby table and urged them to sit.
Amid a hostile silence Aran and his party sat down at the indicated table. Aran looked around. Richlefs was talking angrily to the Mayor. The channel didn't need to zlin to know what the minister was demanding.
Others were turning back to their activities trying to pretend the demons had not appeared among them.
The one exception was Stunnis. He and his wife were coming towards the Sime party warm smiles of welcome their faces. Jaceene carrying a softly cooing baby. Ignoring the mutters of protest rising around them, Stunnis and his wife took seats at Aran's table.
"I'm glad you came Hajene. All of you. Now people can see for themselves what wonderful people you are." Jaceene was smiling at Aran adoration in her sparkling eyes.
Melius wandered up. Dressed in long blue dress covered with tiny embroidered roses, her hair curled neatly around her face, she was a picture of innocent loveliness.
Aran however barely noticed, his attention caught by the revolting piece of burnt flesh she was chewing contentedly on. His stomach lurched as she gestured, blood red fluid running down her fingers. "Pork rib, Hajene. Yummy Do you want one?"
"I. I don't think so, Melius," the channel managed to respond politely before heading for the bushes where he was abysmally sick. Falling to his knees Aran struggled to bring his retching under control. Freya was there instantly, her nager surrounding him, completely blocking his perception of the confused hostile ambient. However she couldn't keep the noxious odors from assaulting his nose.
Neither could Helgen. But the other channel was able, by linking deeply with him, to control his nausea and bring an end to the humiliating heaving Aran was doing.
Sinking back on his heels Aran said softly, "Thanks Helgen but you shouldn't have done that. Your face is pretty green too."
"Barbarians," muttered Helgen in Simelan. Handing Aran his handkerchief, he said softly "How can they eat that vile stuff?"
"Hajene, Hajene, What's wrong? You're sick" Impatiently Melius pushed past Freya to rest her hand gently on Aran's shoulder. Handing him a wet cloth she said softly "I'm sorry."
Aran smiled as he took the cloth and finished cleaning his hands and face. "It's not your fault, Melius. I can't eat meat. No Sime can. It makes us sick."
"But meat is good for you." Melius looked confused. "It makes us grow up big and strong."
Rising, Aran took Melius' hands, now mercifully free of meat sauces. "I'm a Sime remember. Our biological needs are different."
Before Aran could expound, his senses were assaulted with a strong feeling of terror. At the same time the sound of galloping horses came from the street.
Loud voices rang out... "Runaway wagon." "look out!" "look out!"
Jumping to his feet Aran ran under augmentation around the church building followed closely by the other channels.
He rounded the building in time to see a large heavily loaded wagon careen around a corner on two wheels. It teetered a moment then fell heavily on it's side. The horses pulling it whinnied in fright, lunging forward managed to drag it a few feet before breaking free and galloping off.
Gen pain and fear filled the ambient, almost overwhelming Aran's need heightened senses in spite of his retainers. Slamming into augmentation, Aran ran across the street, Helgen fast on his heels. The driver, a rather good-looking young man, was pinned underneath. As they approached he stopped screaming and lay very still.
The sheriff pounded to a stop beside Aran. Quickly directing several other men to help, he lifted the wagon off the driver.
Heedless of the crowd gathering around, Aran knelt by the victim, zlinning as best he could. The driver was unconscious, bleeding from his ears and nose. One leg was bent at a very unnatural angle. As Aran watched the man's field begin to falter and darken. He's dying.
Reaching for his retainers, Aran caught the Sheriff's eye. "Declare this street Sime Territory for a few minutes. I can save his life."
The Sheriff drew his gun. "No. Doc will take care of him."
Aran was stunned. "Sheriff please. I can save his life. All I require is a few minutes."
Tillis waved his gun. "Nope. I don't trust you. Don't you dare take off those retainers. Doc'll take care of him." He waved his free hand at a portly gentleman carrying a small black bag. The doctor knelt by the driver and started to examine him, poking and prodding in a manner that made Aran wince.
"Look sheriff he's going to die if you don't let me help him. I'm a channel. I can...."
"No!" Tillis stuck his gun in Aran's face. "I'm not taking that chance. Too many people around."
Aran fought for control. "I'm a healer, Sheriff. Please let me try."
"Nope!" Tillis' nager radiated total rejection of the very idea of letting Aran remove his retainers even to save a life. "Back off. You and your friends are not going to touch this man. We don't allow witchcraft in Nashua."
The Doctor looked up. "Matt let him try. This man is dying. Hajene please. There isn't much I can do."
Aran gave the Doctor a grateful smile as he intensified his contact with the victim. "I'm doing what I can now. But unless the Sheriff lets me take off my retainers. " The channel's words were calm, but inside he was fuming and cussing Klyd and the treaty. The man was dying and Aran was powerless to do much for him.
"No," the Sheriff reiterated firmly. "I am not going to give you the chance to attack innocent people."
Aran fumed, but there was nothing he could do. Suddenly he gasped falling back against Freya, momentarily reeling from the fallen man's death shock. Helgen also was hit hard by the unnecessary death.
Reacting smoothly, Freya surrounded Aran with her strong steady field, working to draw his systems back into balance.
"He's dead," the doctor reported. "There was nothing I could do."
But I could have saved him. I know I could. Shenshid these people are impossible. Sick at heart in spite of the dampening effects of his need, Aran straightened glaring at the Sheriff. He started to speak, then changed his mind. Words were a waste of effort with that man.
Gathering his staff with his eye, Aran led the way out of the now silent crowd starting the long silent walk back to their lonely Center.
Later that night, Aran sat silently in the small well-insulated room set aside for transfers. Though deep in need, his heart was heavy. Even Freya's warm gentle field wrapped supportively around him, bringing with it the promise of life renewed, did little to relieve his black mood.
Across the room, the Companion puttered with the tea things. Finally she turned and smiling at Aran deepened her contact with him. "It's almost time, Sectuib."
"Why not let me die and be done with it. We're accomplishing nothing here." Aran stubbornly remained duo attempting to resist the glow of Freya's field.;
"Now Sectuib, that's just need talking. It's cold and dark." Crossing the room, Freya sat beside Aran and reached for his hands.
"Life is cold and dark," the channel retorted. "Around here anyway." He took a deep breath and slowly let it out, relaxing in spite of himself warming to the touch of cool Gen fingers on his lateral sheaths.
Freya softly hummed an old Zeor lullaby as she gradually coaxed Aran's laterals out onto her fingers. Her field warm and gentle sparkled around them.
Aran sighed, his control slipping in the face of the gentle Gen assault. Sliding involuntarily into hyperconsciousness, he let his handling tentacles whip themselves into place around Freya's arms, his laterals seating themselves almost immediately.
"You'd better control," he whispered, surrendering all his will, all his control to his trusted Companion of many years. With her he was safe, warm comfortable. The cold and the dark retreated to be replaced with warmth, light, and the promise of the renewal of life.
Dimly he felt Freya make an adjustment in her field, then her lips were pressing lightly against his, her selyn beginning to trickle into the dark void of his almost depleted systems.
Aran growled deep in his throat as an ancient hunger was awakened in him. But before he could act on the savage impulses being aroused, the speed of the flow increased. Faster faster until Freya was pushing her life's force into him at his top speed. He could sense her barriers were down, all her selyn all that gave her life was there for his taking.
Relaxing he moved with her, higher and higher with exultation as once again the darkness retreated banished by the sparkling pulses coming from Freya.
Nearing completion, Aran could feel Freya pause, holding him suspended in joyous non-need. Then the flow resumed at top speed flavored this time with the essence of Freya. The Gen's basic happiness, joy of service, affection for Aran and intunement with the world around them itself, flowed to Aran on the crest of the waves and waves of selyn that coursed though him gently, happily in a rhythm as old as time itself.
A few glorious moments more and Aran was full and overfull. Slowly gently the flow trickled to a stop.
Aran sighed, reluctantly dropping hypo and releasing Freya. He smiled into her eyes. "Perfect as usual, Sosu. What would I ever do...."
Suddenly Aran was hit not with a ton of bricks, though it felt that way, but with all the pent up emotions his need had been damning up. Helplessly he began to weep, then cry hysterically.
Clinging to Freya he cried a long time, sobbing out his grief at the many deaths he'd seen since leaving Chanel a few short weeks ago.
Dimly he felt Freya's gentle arms around him, her soft hands rubbing his back, her voice in his ear humming his favorite nursery songs. "Talk to me, Sectuib" she murmured.
"Charlen," Aran gasped. "And the children." The channel took a deep breath scrubbing at his eyes. "I feel so bloodyshen helpless. I couldn't save my best friend. He trusted me and I let him down."
"You had no choice." Freya's voice broke, tears appearing in her own eyes. Aran didn't need to zlin to know that his Companion shared his pain. Softly she said, "Not with Charlen or the children. It's not your fault, Sectuib."
"I'm a channel. I'm supposed to save lives. Not stand by and watch people die. I could have saved that boy in the cellar. And that man. His death was so senseless. So unnecessary." Aran buried his face in his hands as fresh tears coursed down his cheeks. "I'm a channel", he sobbed. "But all I'm doing is letting people die."
Freya responded. Not with words, but with a warm embrace, her own tears flowing as she just held him, sharing his grief, his anguish.
Finally the tears ceased. Falling back on the cushions Aran sighed deeply. "Freya I've made a decision."
"And what's that?" Freya gently dried the tears from his cheeks.
"I'm closing the Center. We're going home."
If the Gen was shocked, she didn't show it. Instead she rose and crossed the room to put the water on for tea. "And what are you going to tell Klyd? The Tecton?"
"That it's hopeless. These people are never going to trust us. Or give us a chance."
"Hum and what of the treaty? What of our goal to end the Kill?"
"It's not going to work. These people are so irrational. Their hatred is deep and unyielding." Aran stared at his tentacles. "They are so convinced I'm a demon that they let a man die, rather than let me do my job."
"And you Sectuib are simply feeling sorry for yourself." Freya fixed Aran with a stern look. "Yes today was a setback. But can you really say we have accomplished nothing in the time we've been here?"
Aran tried to stare back, but his eyes fell first. Freya was right. There were a few people that had accepted them. A couple of people had even come in to donate. Lucen's relatives. Stunnis and his wife knew the truth. Melius.
Aran looked up. "All right so a few people don't think we're demons. The rest of the town hates us.
"Most of these people would like nothing more than shoot us for being evil. And leave our bodies in the woods for the wolves." Aran shuddered. "Shen Freya we may not even survive this assignment. Charlen didn't." He shook his head. "We should just go home. Before we're all murdered."
Freya was silent a moment. Pouring the tea she returned to Aran, handed him a cup and once again sat beside him. Her brow furrowed in thought. "Sectuib how many lives did you save by serving Lucien First Transfer then sneaking her out of town?"
"At least two. Freya don't play the numbers game. This isn't about numbers. It's about an impossible dream. Klyd's idea just won't work."
A small smile crossed Freya's lips. "Would you rather hear the story of Fort Freedom and the beginning of the Memorial to the One Billion? It wasn't a numbers game for Rimon Farris either. It was a deadly fight against impossible odds. One Zeor is still fighting today. I thought you agreed to become Sectuib because you know that it was Chanel's destiny to stand with Zeor against the Kill?"
"Shen Freya, that's a low blow. You know very well I was forced by circumstance into becoming Sectuib."
"Were you? You had, we all had the option of returning to Zeor. Yet you stood in the memorial, Klyd by your side and told us that noble and courageous as Zeor is, it will never win the war against the kill without the support of Chanel's vision." Tears filled Freya's eyes. "I was so proud of you that day. And I knew in my heart that you are my Sectuib. You carry the vision the world requires to defeat the Kill and achieve true Unity."
"I thought I did." Aran set his tea aside with trembling hands. "And I thought that coming here would advance that vision. But it won't."
"Are you sure?" Leaning her head on Aran's shoulder, Freya took his hand into her lap and began to play with his tentacles. "If you can look me in the eye, zlin my field, and still say with conviction that continuing to try to win Nashua to the cause of Unity won't advance the vision Zeor and Chanel share, then I'll withdraw my objections and follow you home."
Aran dropped duo studying Freya's field. The Companion was filled with a rock solid conviction that what they were doing was right and a very strong faith that he would succeed. "You know I can't do that," he murmured. Unwillingly he admitted to himself that deep in his heart he knew she was right.
Freya grinned, humor changing the flavor of her field. "Good. Then I won't have to hit you with ...leave now and you violate your oath unto Chanel."
Aran sighed deeply. Freya was right. He couldn't quit now. "You win," he said softly. "But how? We have to find a way to reach these people. Convince them we're not evil." Bouncing to his feet, Aran began pacing as his mind searched for the solution to an impossible problem.
A few weeks later the channels were summoned to Stubbin's home on the edge of town. It was an older wood frame house painted a cheerful blue with white trim. The deputy was waiting for them on the front steps.
"Hurry Hajene hurry. My son, he's in changeover. You have to help him."
"We will," promised Aran. Vaulting from his horse, the channel handed the reins to the farmhand who had brought him Stubbin's message. "Where is he?"
"I have him locked in the storage shed around back." Stubbins squirmed under the channel's scrutiny.
Aran studied the Gen a minute, as Helgen and their Companions dismounted. The Deputy was afraid, though Aran couldn't tell if it was fear of the channels or something deeper. This could get him into trouble. Aloud Aran said, "You will have to declare that shed as Sime Territory."
Stubbins nodded resignedly. "I know. It is for now. I don't have a sign but I don't think that matters."
"Let's go then." Aran gestured for the deputy to lead the way.
Behind the house back in a corner of the large well-kept yard was a moderate sized freestanding storage shed. It was bolted shut. Aran noted that Stubbins stopped a few feet from the door.
Waving the channels on ahead, the Gen said nervously "He's inside. Just get him out of here."
Hiding his disgust at the dichotomy in the man's attitude, Aran said gently "We'll take care of him. You wait here."
Unbolting the door Aran entered the shed followed by Freya. Helgen and his companion, at Aran's low voiced direction remained just inside the door casually guarding it. Freya quickly divested Aran of his retainers, hanging them from her belt.
Stubbin's son, a youngster of 14 was lying curled in a corner of the shed moaning with pain and fear. Kneeling beside him Aran begin zlinning.
"Who, who are you?"
The channel smiled. "Surely you remember me? I'm Hajene Aran, Melius' friend."
"Oh yea. You got sick at the picnic."
Aran made a face. Evidently the youngsters were not going to let him forget that any time soon. "Yes. Yes I did. What's your name?"
"Bobby. Am I going to die? Dad says I'm a Sime. He has to shoot me."
Aran shook his head. "If he wanted to shoot you, he wouldn't have sent for me. I think your father loves you."
"Nobody loves Simes," the boy said flatly.
"Well" replied Aran calmly. "You're not a Sime. You have a very strong Gen field." But I do have to get you out of here.
"You have the flu. That's all. Just the flu."
Aran smiled at the relief in the youngster's field. Raising his voice he called to Helgen to take Bobby outside to his father.
"What is it, Aran," Freya whispered as the other channel left the shed with the sick youngster.
Rising Aran moved deeper into the shed. Skirting a large stack of boxes, Aran knelt by another youngster moaning silently in a corner. It was Tamilina.
She was curled in a ball, moaning with pain and trembling with fear. Her normally well-kept red hair was in total disarray obscuring her features. As Aran approached she screamed.
"Shuven" Aran swore softly. "Fifth stage transition. Breakout is eminent."
Freya knelt beside him, supporting him. "Let's hope Stubbins doesn't decide to come in."
"This IS Sime Territory. We should be fine." Aran gently touched Tamilina's hand to get her attention.
Tamilina moaned. "No No go away. I don't want to kill you."
"Open your eyes," Aran said softly. "It's me Aran. I'm going to help you."
The girl's eyes flew open. "Hajene Aran but, but you..."
The channel smiled at her confusion. "You're zlinning honey. You're supposed to want me."
Tamilina moaned. "It hurts."
"I know, but it's almost over." Aran took her hands, unobtrusively zlinning. Shuven! A channel. And both our Companions low field. What a mess.
"Tamilina look at me..." Before Aran could give the girl instructions however, she screamed loudly as her tentacles broke free. "Oh god" she sobbed, instinctively reaching for the channel.
Aran met her groping hands and tentacles ready to feed her voracious First Need. Willingly he leaned forward to make lip contact.
Tamilina drew swiftly savagely desperate to fill her need-darkened system. Aran let her for a moment, then took control of the flow guiding and balancing. Her primary system full, the new channel relaxed slightly as her secondary system awoke. Aran feed that too at a slower speed. As his own supply of selyn dwindled, Aran, determined to give her the best First Transfer possible under the circumstances, prepared to shift to his own primary. And indeed Tamilina drained his secondary system, her need still unsated.
Aran flipped to his primary. A wave of searing pain tore through his viramic node as the new channel drew from his personal supply. First Order part of Aran's mind supplied analytically as he struggled to keep his pain from Tamilina.
A moment later and she was satisfied. Pulling away from Aran she curled into a ball in tears.
Aran turned instinctively to Freya for assistance in bringing his systems into recovery. "We'd better get her out of here before Stubbins comes back. I don't want to push our luck."
"You're in recovery, Sectuib. Give yourself a minute." Freya's field was working to pull Aran's systems back into normal balance.
"I'm fine," the channel responded impatiently. Turning back to Tamilina he gently raised the still sobbing girl to her feet. "Come on honey, we'll take you to a safe place."
"They, they'll shoot me," the new channel sobbed. "I'm a slimy one now."
"No, we're not going to let anyone hurt you." Putting his arm around her, Aran led her towards the door.
"We have a problem", Helgen said urgently in Simelan. "Tillis just arrived. The family is having some sort of gathering tonight. If he sees Tamilina..."
Cursing softly in Simelan, Aran turned to Freya, reaching for his retainers, but it was too late. The Sheriff was pushing his way into the shed.
Tillis drew his gun. "Hold it right there, Sime. The slimy one dies."
Grabbing Tamilina Aran thrust the still sobbing new channel into Helgen's arms. "Get her out of here. Now... Protect her no matter what. She's a First Order channel."
Helgen nodded, his face grim. "I'll come back for you." Picking Tamilina up bodily, Helgen ran off augmenting. His Companion followed struggling to keep up.
"No" shouted the sheriff. "Let me have it. Slimy ones must die."
Tillis tried to brush past Aran. The channel, however blocked his way. "No she's not going to get killed." Augmenting Aran shoved the sheriff backwards.
"That does it, Hajene." Recovering quickly Tillis stuck his gun into Aran's ribs. "Stand still or this gun goes off."
"No!" Freya tugged at the Sheriff's arm. "Leave him alone. He didn't do anything wrong."
"Want me to shoot you too Miss Freya. Back off."
Freya however refused to move. "You're not doing anything to Aran."
"This is Sime Territory, Sheriff." Aran spoke calmly. "We have done nothing wrong."
"Jabri, you didn't?" Tillis looked sharply at his deputy.
Stubbins hesitated a moment then said softly "No I didn't give him anything." Fear and shame warred for supremacy in the Gen's nager. He stared at the ground, unable to meet the channel's eyes.
"I should shoot you, Sime. But we'll let the Mayor decide what to do. Come with me." Roughly he prodded the channel in the ribs with his gun. "Jabri, get that woman out of here. Then go after the Slimy one. We can't get it escape. let's go Sime."
Sick at heart, Aran make no resistance as the Sheriff herded him away.
Meanwhile Friet was being confronted in his office by a very unhappy Richlefs. The minister was pacing the floor, very agitated. "I tell you Shon, evil is taking over this town."
"Please calm down, Reverend." Friet spread his hands in appeal. "Surely a few people going to the channels, doesn't constitute....."
"That's how it begins. First they practice their witchcraft. They flatter they wheedle. They lie and deceive. Sure they're pretending to do good now. But how long will it be before this whole town is ensnared in their deceptions? some people are actually giving those demons their selyn." The minister shuddered with disgust. "Though how anyone can let a demon touch them is beyond me. And to let them practice their witchcraft by healing sick children. More corruption of our youth."
"They haven't hurt anybody."
"Not yet. But they're slowing spreading their lies their witchcraft. Under the guise of being healers. I tell you our people are being deceived. You have to stop it before our entire town is lead down into the pits of hell."
Friet sighed. This had been worrying him too. "But what can I do? They have the legal right to be here, to practice their craft."
"Call it what it is, witchcraft. The law is wrong. Those fiends should never have been allowed into Nashua. Put them out. Cleanse our town of this evil." Richlef pounded Friet's desk. "And do it now, before it's too late. Sooner or later they're going to show their true colors. Go on a rampage of death and destruction."
Friet thought a moment. He still wasn't sure about the channels. He wanted to believe that they weren't evil demons. That Aran's words were true. But he just wasn't sure. Simes had been killing his people for generations. That was evil. Surely God wouldn't continence such a creature. Yes they had to be demons. But where they? He sighed deeply.
"I don't know Reverend, I just don't know."
"You have to do something," the minister thundered.
"Until and unless they break one of our laws, I can't. You know that. The Territorial Governor has ordered....there are laws."
"Stupid ones," retorted the minister. "Surely the welfare of our town comes first?"
"I can't break the laws. But I'll promise you this, the minute Aran or one of his group break the law I'll ....."
Freit broke off as someone pounded on his door. "Come in."
The Sheriff pushed into the room, a look of triumph on his face. "We've got the demons now Mayor."
Alarmed Freit rose. "What do you mean? What's happened?"
"I've arrested Hajene Aran for breaking the retainer law." The sheriff handed Freit a report. "He took off his retainers and did whatever it is to help a new slimy one."
"Why didn't you just shoot him?" Freit demanded. "That's the law."
"Did you catch the slimy one and shoot it?" demanded Richlefs.
The sheriff sank into a chair shaking his head. "Nope. The demon had help. One of the others took the slimy one away while Hajene Aran was arguing with me. I have him locked up downstairs. Maybe we can force him to order his henchmen to surrender the slimy one to us."
"And what if he refuses?" demanded the minister. "You can't let it get away. Go raid the Center."
Sheriff shook his head. "Can't. Legally anyway. The gates are locked and they have their Gens standing guard."
"Break the gate down. You have the manpower to do it."
Friet shook his head. "No. We're not going to break the law." He thought a minute. "I have an idea. How long before the circuit judge is due back in town?"
"Three months," replied the Sheriff. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"In the judge's absence I am the law." Friet rose. "If the demons won't agree to surrendering the slimy one to my jurisdiction, we'll just keep their leader locked up, away from his Companion. Soon he will die of attrition. Let's go out to the center and talk to them."
Aran restlessly paced his tiny cell. The Sheriff had confined him in one of two cages in a corner room in the dark musty basement of City Hall. There was a cot covered with a ragged blanket and a small chamber pot. The floor was cement, littered with debris. Evidently it wasn't used much.
Back and forth, back and forth, Aran paced in an agony of suspense. Had Helgen made it safely back to the Center with Tamilina? Was Helgen dead? Or Tamilina?
And Stubbins. How could I have been so stupid. I never should have trusted him. Soundly Aran cursed himself out in Simelan for so badly misreading the Gen. I should have known better. Even if he does accept us, no Gen is going to put his job, his family on the line for demons.
Aran sighed. At least Tamilina was saved from being murdered. That was a victory for the Tecton.
"If we can get her out of here alive", the channel muttered to himself. For all he knew she and Helgen had been shot before gaining the relative safety of the Center. His own life, Aran knew, was probably forfeit. Richlefs wasn't going to miss this opportunity. Somehow, Aran was sure, they would find a way to use this as an excuse to shoot him for witchcraft or some other demonic activity.
Whatever happens I'm going to get Tamilina out of town safely. Aran vowed that the Tecton would win at least that much.
The channel stiffened as the ambient suddenly filled with hostility. Friet was coming down the stairs accompanied by the Sheriff and Richlefs. Their nagers held a ring of guarded triumph.
Oh shuven. Helgen and Tamilina must be dead. Nothing else would make them so happy.
Quickly running through some relaxation drills, Aran composed himself.
Freit paused a few feet from the cage. "Well Hajene Aran what do you have to say for yourself?"
The Sheriff grunted. "Not much he can say. He broke the law and he knows it."
"No Mayor. I didn't break the law. Deputy Stubbins had declared that shed Sime Territory."
Tillis shook his head. "Don't make it worse by lying, Sime. He says he didn't. And I sure didn't see the required sign."
"That would seem to settle that. Consider yourself lucky that the Sheriff here didn't shoot you on sight. It would have been perfectly legal." said Freit softly.
Aran forced himself to remain calm and quiet. Whatever the Mayor had in mind, the channel was sure would not be to the Tecton's advantage.
"We just had a rather interesting conversation with your Hajene Helgen. He refuses to surrender the slimy one to us. Said he can't do that without instructions from you."
Alive! They're both alive. Aran fought to keep his elation from his face. Calmly he said, "That is correct, Mayor. As Controller, only I can make that kind of decision."
"Then as Mayor, and acting Judge, I order you to surrender the slimy one to us immediately."
The channel shook his head. "I'm sorry Mayor. I won't do that. Our Center is Sime territory. You have no jurisdiction there."
Friet nodded. "I expected you to say that." He hesitated a moment then said softly, "Are you aware that refusing to obey me puts you in contempt of court."
Aran shook his head. Actually he hadn't given the matter much thought. "I don't suppose I get a trial."
"No need for one. You are refusing to obey my lawful order. In the absence of the Circuit Judge I am the law. And he won't be back for three months."
Unwilling to debate the issue, Aran just waited. He was sure the Mayor was up to something.
"The penalty for disobeying an order of the court is death by attrition. You will remain here in this cell without any of your Gens to help you. After you're dead your body goes into the woods."
Aran reeled as much from the blast of triumphant hatred coming from Gens as from shock. ATTRITION! Shenshid how can anyone possibly be this savage, this cruel, this inhuman.
Taking a deep breath, the channel forced himself to remain outwardly calm. "And you call my people vicious killers. Death by attrition is more cruel, more inhuman, than anything any junct Sime has ever, ever done to any Gen."
Softly the Mayor said, "It's your choice, Hajene Aran. Order Helgen to surrender the slimy one to us and I'll drop the contempt charge, as well as overlooking your breaking of the retainer law. You can walk out of here a free man."
Aran closed his eyes in pain. He thought that he had seen the worst of human nature during the Unity wars. But this. This was so horrid he could hardly bear to think about it. His life or the new channel's. And what a way to die. Only once in his entire career had he witnessed a death by attrition. It had taken him months to get over it. Nothing could be worse.
Except breaking my Oath to Chanel. I have to do what I have to do. Aran quickly realized he had no choice.
"And what about Freya, my Companion. Your sheriff was threatening to shoot her too." Aran fought to keep his voice steady.
Shock surged through Friet's field. "Matt you didn't? Miss Freya is not a demon."
"She's a demon lover," muttered Richlefs. "She should be punished too."
The sheriff shook his head. "I only said that to get her to back off. She was trying to help this thing get away."
"Where is she?" demanded Aran. The last time he had seen Freya she was being roughly hustled away by Deputy Stubbins.
"We took her back to your Center", said the Sheriff. "She can't come see you, but I assure you, she's unharmed. Her only crime is letting you seduce and bewitch her."
"Enough," interjected the Mayor impatiently. "Hajene Aran give me your decision. Do we get the slimy one or not?"
"No you do not. We are not going to let you harm Tamilina." Aran fought to remain upright, to keep from letting the Gens see his fear, his nausea.
Something akin to regret surged briefly through the Mayor's field. Then it hardened again. "Very well. Then you will die. If you change your mind, let one of the guards know. I will be summoned." Abruptly the Mayor turned on his heel and left the room followed closely by the sheriff.
Richlefs lingered a moment. "Better change your mind, Demon. Sooner or later, we're going to get the slimy one. It is evil, deserves to die." Radiating waves of anger, fear and hatred, the minister turned on his heel and followed the other two men out of the room.
Shaking, Aran sank slowly to the floor. It took all his self-control to not give in to the waves of fear and terror that were threatening to overwhelm him. Death by Attrition!
He couldn't imagine anything more horrid. "Yet if this is what must be. I am not going to surrender the girl. Unto Chanel, forever."
Time passed slowly for Aran. Alone in that tiny cell the days passed in an agony of cold blackness. The blackness of encroaching need. He wasn't treated unkindly. Meals, that he was unable to eat, were brought on a regular basis, albeit at the point of a gun. The chamber pot emptied. Drinking water provided. Otherwise he was left alone, except for the ever-present gun toting guards just outside the door. And perhaps most merciful of all, no one insisted that he don his retainers.
Hardest of, all perhaps was not knowing what was happening in the outside world, for he was permitted no visitors.
Late one afternoon, less than a week before he was supposed to have transfer with Freya, the ambient suddenly lightened. A familiar golden glow assaulted Aran's need starved senses.
The channel leaped to his feet. "Freya".
"Oh Sectuib!" Pushing ahead of the deputy escorting her and Helgen, Freya ran to Aran, reaching for him through the bars. Her field was warm, bright and full of affectionate comfort. "We've been trying to get in to see you. But they kept saying no." Blinking back a surge of tears, Freya strained to reach Aran through the bars, her field immediately engaging his.
Gratefully Aran entwined his fingers with hers, allowing himself to rest on her field. As his need was distanced, he smiled. "You will never know how glad I am to see you."
"Oh Sectuib. I've missed you so." Freya's eyes glistened.
"Not as much as I've missed you." Aran's eyes half closed as he floated on the gentle golden glow surrounding her. Dimly he could hear Helgen demanding that the guards wait outside.
Reluctantly Aran dropped to duoconsciousness. The other channel was standing by Freya, his Companion by his side. The Gen was working hard to control feelings of anger and frustration.
Aran sighed. "All right, Helgen. What's the bad news?"
"We're not going to get any help from the Territorial government. I've sent two couriers. The first was unable to get a hearing. The second one got in to see the Territorial Governor. He refuses to override the local authorities." Helgen's field reflected his anger and frustration, in spite of the comforting presence of his hard working Companion.
"What about the Tecton?" Aran's tentacles tightened on Freya's fingers. The thickness of the bars prevented closer contact.
"No word yet. I doubt that we will get help in time. Even if a messenger is sent to the Gen Capitol immediately...." Helgen's voice broke. Impotently he shook the bars to Aran's cage so hard Aran could zlin his retainers putting painful pressure on his laterals.
"Hajene, don't." Durus, deepening his contact with Helgen, gently freed the channel's hands from the bars. "Hurting yourself won't help Aran."
"I won't let you die." Helgen cried in anguish. "There must be something we can do. Maybe they will let me take your place. I'm more expendable."
Aran shook his head. "No Helgen. I promised your Sectuib I would get you back to Imil safely. I doubt that is an option anyway. It's me they're after."
"Aran there must be something.... I can't bear the thought...." Freya broke off, close to tears herself.
Aran shook his head. "I think we've run out of options."
"You could give them what they want." Freya's nager reflected her dislike of that thought.
"No that's not an option. If we give in now, no Sime will ever be safe in this town." Aran gently freed his hands from Freya's and turned to Helgen. "This may be my last chance to talk rationally. So listen carefully. If I don't ...."
Aran bit his lip. "Whatever happens I want you to promise me unto Imil that Tamilina will be protected whatever it takes."
"Aran I can't. You're Sectuib in Chanel. I can't let you die." Helgen's showfield was slipping out of control, revealing to Aran his feelings of total anger, frustration and helplessness. "Maybe we should..."
"No!" Aran barked. "Listen you two. I refuse to live at Tamilina's expense." Taking a deep breath he forced himself to continue calmly. "On the surface it may seem that my life is of more value. But Chanel has never worked on that equation. Freya what's our philosophy?"
The Companion rubbed tears out of her eyes. "To serve the one no matter what." She paused, her field displaying a reluctant understanding and acceptance of Aran's decision. "Even unto death. For only that way can the many be strong."
Aran nodded, his fingers and tentacles resting affectionately on her fingers as they clenched the cold metal bars. She smiled into his eyes, then turned back to Helgen. "Aran's choice is not between life and death, it's between honoring his oath to our House, or being foresworn." Her voice broke, new tears coming to her eyes.
Tightening his grip on Freya's fingers, Aran met Helgen's eyes. "Please Helgen. Don't make me break my oath to Chanel. Promise me. Unto Imil. Tamilina is to be protected no matter what."
Helgen was silent, but Aran could zlin his understanding and reluctant acceptance. Finally the other channel said softly, "No wonder Chanel is such a successful House. I'm not happy about this Aran, but I promise unto Imil and Chanel we will get Tamilina safely to the Tecton."
Aran nodded satisfied. Now he could die with peace in his heart, Tamilina safe, his oath to Chanel honored to the very end.
"Daddy, is it true you're going to let Aran die?" Melius was seated at the table playing with her breakfast cereal.
Friet sighed. He had known that sooner or later Melius was going to ask that question.
"Sweetheart, he's not giving me a choice. He put himself in contempt of court by refusing to surrender the slimy one to us."
"He saved Tamilina's life," Melius responded indignantly. "How can that be wrong?"
"Yes Shon. Tell her how saving a life can be wrong." Trelina idly played with her napkin. Her breakfast, like that of her daughter's, was untouched.
"Tamilina is no longer a human being, Meilus. She's an evil demon. A slimy one. Aran refuses to let us have her."
"You just want to kill her and Aran." the girl burst out passionately.
"Aran's in contempt of court, Sweetheart. I have no choice."
Trelina shook her head. "No Shon. You made that up. You don't have the courage to admit that Simes are people too."
"Look you two, I don't like this any better than you do. But you both know what we've been taught. Simes are Demons, evil killers. I can't let them get away with corrupting our town."
"How can Aran be wicked and evil? He saves lives and heals people." Melius stared stubbornly at her father.
"Shon, you know this is ridiculous. Tamilina didn't harm anyone. Aran kept his promise. Why don't you just let him go? Let Tamilina go into Sime territory? Isn't that what we've always wanted, to stop the killing?" Trelina too was staring at Shon, rebellion in her eyes.
The Mayor sighed. "This is not as simple as it looks. "Reverend Richlefs says that demons are very deceptive. What if Aran is deliberately setting us up?"
"Aran's no Demon Daddy. He's nice. And he's my friend. You can't let him die." Melius began to sob.
"Honey don't." Tenderly Trelina took her daughter into her arms. "Daddy's not going to let Aran die. Are you Shon?" she fixed her husband with a steely glare. "I don't believe he's a demon. And I don't think you do either. And if he's not, letting him die is murder."
What do I do now? Melius is never going to understand. Never had Friet felt so helpless. Melius would never understand that he just could not take chances with the welfare of his town. If only I could know for sure what Aran is. Demon or Savior. But I don't know. I just don't know.
Aloud he said, "Melius, I know you think Aran is wonderful. But we don't know that he's not a Demon trying to deceive us."
"Daddy please. Don't let Aran die." Melius scrubbed tears from her eyes.
"Shon you just can't." Trelina added her pleas to her daughter's. "The channels are our only hope. You can't let Aran die."
Friet was silent for a few minutes. He wanted to believe that his wife was right. If he let Aran die, most likely the others would leave, taking with them the only hope Nashua had. It would be back to kill or be killed whenever a child became a slimy one. At least the channels keep them from killing. That can't be evil. Surely Richlefs is wrong. Maybe we've all been wrong all these years.
But I can't take that chance. If Richlefs is right and I let Aran live and spread his corruption our whole town will suffer.
"Melius, I'm sorry. I just can't free Aran. Not unless he agrees to let us have the Slimy one."
Pain lanced Friet's heart as his daughter started to speak, then tears in her eyes left the room deftly avoiding his attempt to pull her into his arms.
"There's someone at the door." Trelina was rising. "I'll get that." She left the room to come back a minute later followed by Richlefs.
The minister smiled as he entered the kitchen. "Good morning everybody. I just stopped by to drop off the music for Sunday's service. It will be a real treat to have you sing for us Trelina." His smile vanished as he looked from Friet to his wife. "Is something wrong?"
Friet sighed. "My daughter's convinced I'm letting the Sime die for no good reason."
"She's not the only one." Trelina nodded to the minister and left the room before either man could reply.
Friet waved the Minister to a seat and poured him a cup of coffee. "As you can see my family is unhappy with my decision. And I'm not so sure I'm right." He flinched, expecting Richlefs to begin yet another tirade.
Instead the Minister took the indicated seat and said quietly "I take it then, you're considering enlisting in the devil's army?"
"Of course not," Friet replied indignantly. "I'm just not sure that Aran is a demon. He's kept two slimy ones from killing. How can that be evil?"
"You're being deceived. The good book warns us to beware of false deceptions. Evil pretending to be good. Shon I am very disappointed. I thought you cared for the welfare of our town."
"I do" Friet was indignant. "Aran is..."
"Silence," thundered the minister. "Aran is a demon. You know it. I know it. Think man. Would a loving, a just God create beings that need to kill to live? Slimy ones kill. They've been doing it for generations. Aran will too sooner or later. He's biding his time. Trying to gain your confidence. Soon, like a cobra he and his friends will strike. Then we will all be dead or worse. How can you even think of serving the cause of evil?"
"But how can we be sure?" whispered Friet.
"I the Lord can't look on evil with the least degree of allowance." Richlefs eyes bored into the Mayor's. "How can you take that chance? Let Aran live in defiance of our laws and soon they'll all be breaking that rule. Simes kill. channels are no different. Do you really want to take that chance? Let evil's death and destruction loose among our good people. Shon you can't let it live. You know that I know that."
Friet was silent. I just don't know. Aran may be what he seems. Or he may be a demon. If only I could be sure. If I knew, really knew, that Simes aren't demons in disguise.
Friet sighed deeply. "You're right. We can't take chances with the welfare of our town. If only we knew for sure."
The minister was silent a moment, the said softly, "You know Shon I wish I was wrong. I don't like all the killing any better than you do. I just don't see that we have any real choice. I'm convinced Simes are evil. Those channels have done nothing to prove otherwise conclusively."
"How can you be so sure?" Friet demanded.
"Look at the evidence," replied the minister candidly. "God would never create such a being. A creature that preys on others. How many people, good God fearing innocent people, have been killed by Simes in Nashua alone? Just in the last year? That's evil....No we have to snuff it out. And if that means letting Aran die....better that a few die than an entire city be dragged down to hell."
Freit was silent, having no answer to that. Richelfs was right. Nashua must be protected from evil at all costs.
The day Aran was to have taken transfer from Freya was dark and gloomy. From the tiny window just outside the bars, the channel could see dark gray clouds hiding the sun. The single oil lamp burning did little to dispel the encroaching darkness.
But it was nothing compared to the blackness encroaching on the channel's very soul. Need was slowly but inexorably consuming him. 18 hours Aran calculated and he would die, horribly, painfully.
Forcing himself to sit calmly on his cot, Aran passed the hours reviewing his life. The triumphs. The defeats. The successes. The failures. Inevitably his thoughts centered increasingly on his Companion. Freya, that dear loyal woman.
Aran remembered vividly the day she became his Companion. It had been a warm spring day, not long before he had left Zeor with his parents to help found Householding Chanel. At the time he had been Companioned by a young man named Darren who was vehemently opposed to leaving Zeor on what he called a fool's journey. They had argued most of the morning to no purpose. Finally fed up, Aran had sent him away.
The channel made his way to a small play area behind the administration building, hoping for a few minutes of solitude. He had known that going with his parents was what he wanted to do, but the thought of leaving Zeor was heavy on his heart.
Freya had been there, alone reading a book. She smiled as the channel approached. "Hajene Aran, this is a pleasant surprise." Her field rich and warm had automatically reached out to the channel offering gentle support.
Aran smiled. "Sosu Freya. I hope I'm not disturbing you?"
"Of course not. Please join me." Freya patted the bench beside her.
Taking the indicated seat, Aran glanced at her book. "What's that you're reading?"
"The Founding of Zeor by Klyd Farris. The story of Rimon is fascinating."
Aran nodded. He had read the same book. "Yes I really admire Rimon."
Freya was studying Aran. "Something's bothering you, Hajene. Want to talk about it?"
Aran could tell Freya was very curious as to why he was unattended. He chuckled. "You're good, Freya. Did you know that?"
She grinned. "It's not hard to tell when a channel's unhappy. Is this about your parents leaving Zeor?"
"Only indirectly. I had a fight with my Companion and sent him away. He thinks I'm being a lorsh for wanting to leave Zeor and help my mother found Chanel."
Freya was shocked. "How can he say that? Kareen is doing a wonderful thing. I'd like to go myself."
Aran was silent a moment as an idea occurred to him. Freya's field held a special something that both attracted and intrigued him. Calm, steady, comforting, it nevertheless sparkled with an enthusiasm for, and love of life that he found very appealing.
"May I zlin you?"
Freya pretended not to understand. "But you're doing that now."
Aran chuckled as he held out his hands. "You know what I mean."
"Yes Hajene, I do." Obediently Freya put her hands in Aran's smiling warmly as his tentacles whipped into place around her forearms. Her support for him deepened as she gently, professionally engaged his field.
Aran immediately relaxed as the tensions of the day vanished. "Very good," he murmured. Sliding into hyperconsciousness, he gently brushed her lips with his.
Dropping to duo, he retracted his tentacles, but kept her hands in his. "Freya what would you say if I told you I think we would make a good match."
The Gen made no attempt to control the rush of pleasure that ran through her. "Sectuib said the same thing yesterday. He said that I should be on your service. But you're leaving."
"Come with me," the channel said softly. "Darren won't come. I don't want him anyway. I want someone like you."
"Are you sure, Aran? I haven't had much training. I can't do a fraction of the things your Mother can do."
"You have the right field, Freya. Everything else can be learned." Aran released Freya's hands. "I would understand if you say no. Leaving Zeor is a big step. And it won't be easy. The first year, at least, we're all probably going to have to do a lot of hard manual work."
"I'm not afraid of hard work. Hajene. I grew up on a Gen farm." Freya gently caressed Aran with her field. "I can't think of anything I would like better than going with you as your Companion." She grinned. "but you have to promise me one thing."
"Your Mother has to teach me her specialty."
Aran had roared with laughter. "Scheming to control me already, are you Sosu?"
"Everyone knows the Gen is the master of the Sime," Freya retorted bubbling laughter in her eyes and field.
Aran sighed, returning reluctantly to the present. Freya had indeed learned many things from his mother over the years.
I have been blessed to have her by my side all these years. She has been so steadfast, so loyal. And now she's gone.
Aran bowed his head, a sob escaping his lips. Never again would he see her in this life. Never would her rich warm field surround and fill him.
"Aran," A gentle voice rang in his ears. A familiar warmth surrounded him.
At first Aran didn't look up. He was hallucinating. He had to be.
The warm field got stronger, more insistent. "Aran... Sectuib. We don't have much time."
Annoyed Aran opened his eyes. For a hallucination this one was pretty real, and getting stronger by the minute.
"Freya!" Leaping to his feet, Aran bounded across the room to grab for Freya through the bars.
The Gen was smiling through tears as she touched his fingers though the bars, her field embracing and comforting him. "I probably can't stay long. Helgen is upstairs having a yelling match with the Sheriff. He's trying to give us a few minutes."
Aran trembled, unable to cry. "Oh God Freya, I thought I would never see you again."
"I had to come, Sectuib." Gently Freya stroked the tips of Aran's tentacles, which were straining to reach her. To say goodbye! The thought hung unsaid in the air between them.
"Freya, I want you to know just how much I've appreciated your service, your loyalty all these years. No channel could ask for a better Companion."
Freya sobbed, losing control of her field. "Oh Aran..I I...Shen this is so unfair."
Gently the channel caressed her trembling fingers. "Please don't cry Freya. It's what has to be." Aran bit his lip, wanting to say more.
His Companion nodded. "I'm sorry Sectuib. I don't have your courage." Pulling her field back into some semblance of control, Freya said softly, "Aran. I want you to know, I love you. I will always love you, as my Sectuib and my friend. You will never be forgotten."
"I've known that for years, Freya. I love you too, in a very special way. When you get back to Chanel, tell my daughter, tell Lisa not to mourn. Tell her I love her. And make her promise to ...to..." Aran bowed his head, unable to continue.
Freya nodded. "Don't worry Sectuib. The House will rally around her. Chanel will march on..."
Whatever else Freya might have said remained unsaid. Helgen was descending the stairs, being herded by the sheriff at the point of a gun.
"Five minutes, Hajene Helgen and that's it. The Mayor doesn't want him to have visitors." Catching sight of Freya, fingers entwined with Aran's, the sheriff raised his voice. "Miss Freya get away from him."
When Freya didn't respond right away, Tillis grabbed her arm and roughly pulled her away. "That's enough. No tricks now."
Aran grabbed the bars, reeling from the shock of being abruptly separated from his Gen. One corner of his mind noted and was pleased with Freya's composure. She stood quietly in the Sheriff's grasp, radiating a calmness and dignity that Aran was hard pressed to emulate.
Aran took a deep breath as Helgen engaged his field, working to stabilize him. "Any news?"
Helgen shook his head. His face and field were grim. "No. Not a word from the Tecton. The Territorial governor still refuses to intervene." Lowering his voice Helgen said "Maybe we can get you out. Tonight perhaps."
Aran shook his head. "No. Helgen I don't want you to do anything to jeopardize the Unity Treaty. Or Tamilina's safety. Remember your promise."
The other channel sighed. "You're not going to change your mind are you?"
"Promise me unto Imil."
Helgen nodded. "We will guard her until the Tecton can get her out safely. I swear unto Imil..and Chanel."
Aran smiled, but before he say anything Tillis was there his gun pointed at Helgen. "All right. That's enough. Say goodbye and get out of here."
"Go now," Aran reached for calmness. "And take Freya. See her safely back to Chanel."
"I will, Sectuib." Helgen's field linked deeply with Aran's for a moment. "Goodbye, my friend."
Reluctantly Helgen gathered Freya and slowly, sadly left the room taking with him Aran's last ray of light, of warmth of comfort.
Alone in a blackness deeper and colder than a moonless night in midwinter, Aran returned to his cot to await the madness that would precede his cold lonely death.
Freit worked late that night, toiling away on his budget requests for the coming year. But he was unable to concentrate. His thoughts kept returning to the channel locked in the basement below him. A man condemned to die primarily for being a Sime. A demon. "But is he?" Friet mused. "Demon or savior. I just don't know." The mayor sighed, picking up his pen once more. If only he could be sure. He would like nothing more than to march downstairs and release Aran. But would that condemn his beloved town of Nashua to even more death and corruption? The only thing Freit knew for sure was that he could not take chances with the welfare of his town.
His musings were interrupted by a loud commotion in the hall. A heavy hand pounded on his door. "Mayor! Mayor!"
Alarmed Friet rose as the door flew open. Sheriff Tillis was standing there, his gun in his hand. "I've captured a slimy one."
Friet was puzzled. "Why didn't you just shoot it?"
"Er... Mayor I think you'd better come see for yourself." Tillis shifted uneasily. "I. I'm not sure I can shoot this one."
Friet was shocked. Although Tillis was not fond of killing, he had never before had a problem with shooting a slimy one. Damn! Maybe Richlefs is right. Evil is corrupting us!
"Where is it?"
"In the basement. We locked it in a cell. That way at least she... er... it ... I mean nobody will get killed."
The sheriff hesitated. "Before we go down there, Stubbins has something to say, I think you should hear." Roughly he thrust his deputy forward, a look of disgust on his face.
"What is it?" snapped Friet.
"Er... Mayor, I... " Embarrassed Stubbins stared at the floor. "The day we arrested that Sime I...." Taking a deep breath, Stubbins meet the Mayor's eyes. "I DID tell him to consider my shed as Sime Territory."
"Tell him the rest of it," ordered Tillis.
"I sent for him. I thought Bobby was in changeover and...."
"And you lied to Matt." Freit cussed softly, attempting to control his temper.
"I. I was afraid," the Deputy said in a low voice. "You and Matt both refuse to consider that Aran and his friends are not evil Demons."
"So you lied to us. I'll deal with you later. Come on. Let's go. One crisis at a time." Trying to deny a sick feeling that an injustice was being done, Freit rushed out of his office taking the stairs two at a time. Brushing past the deputies guarding the door to the cell room, Friet ran inside.
Stunned he halted staring. In one cell Aran was pacing, growling, and rattling the bars as if he were trying by brute force to escape. In the other a small form huddled in a corner, long blonde hair hiding her face. Oh no! Not Melius! Not my daughter!
Beside him the sheriff said quietly, "I'm sorry Shon. I just can't shoot her. If Melius is evil then we all are."
"It can't be." Frantic, Freit ran to the cell and rattled the locked door. "Let me in there. It can't be my daughter."
Gently the sheriff pulled Friet away from the cage. "You can't go in there. She'll kill you. I'm sorry Shon, but that is your daughter. We found her trying to break in. She was crying calling for Aran."
Of course! Aran is her friend. And I've locked him up! Condemned him to death! He has done nothing wrong. Nothing at all.
The truth hit Friet like a ton of bricks. For weeks he had been praying for guidance. For a sign! For some way to know for sure. Are Simes demons or just different? Melius, his beloved daughter was the heart and soul of pure innocent. Freit knew that she was no more evil than the flowers that grew in his front yard, or the birds that chirped so cheerfully outside his window every morning.
"What have we done," Friet moaned. "We have been wrong, so very deadly wrong." In that awful moment he saw with blinding clarity just how wrong he and almost everyone else has been. "Not all Simes are evil killers," he whispered.
Reaching a decision he turned to the Sheriff. "Matt go get Miss Freya and Helgen. Now! Maybe it's not too late." Freit didn't want to think what would happen if either Aran or Melius died.
Tillis nodded and ran out if the room.
Eagerly, it seemed to the Mayor. He doesn't want to think of Simes as evil any more than I do. Oh God, I hope he gets back in time.
"I'll make a sign, Mayor," offered Stubbins hesitantly. "If we make the basement Sime territory...."
"Do it," ordered the Mayor.
Friet paced the floor in an agony of suspense for what seemed like an eternity. He couldn't bear to look at Aran who was doing his level best to break out of his cage. The channel spoke rapidly in Simelan, repeating Melius' name over and over.
The man is dying and he still wants to help my daughter. What have I done! What have I done?
This man, this Sime, was willing to die to sacrifice his life for Tamilina. That's not evil. Why didn't I see it? Why was I so blind, so stubborn?
Watching his daughter was equally impossible. She remained crouched in her corner, alternately screaming in agony and crying out for Aran.
Surrounded by coldness, encased in the blackness of attrition Aran ceased his attempts to escape. The channel knew he had lost. Selyn reserves gone, he sank to the floor surrendering to death. Aran felt his heart falter. It skipped a beat, then two. This he welcomed for it meant an end to the agony that has been his for days.
But the cold was retreating, being chased away by a familiar warmth. Freya! Is this what death feels like?
Aran didn't think he had spoken aloud, but a gentle voice answered softly "You're not dead, Sectuib. I won't let you die."
Cool fingers stroked his arms. Instinctively his tentacles emerged. Lunged for that light and warmth. Rapidly he whipped them around cool Gen arms. Soft lips touched his. Instantly his dying systems came alive reveling in the sparkling selyn that was being pushed into them at better than his normal top draw speed. Aran sobbed deep in his throat. Against all odds, Freya was there. She would never let him die.
As the selyn filled his systems, clarity returned to his battered mind. As the transfer ended, raggedly, Aran collapsed in tears, clinging to Freya. Death had been so close, the channel trembled at the thought.
Freya hugged him. "You're all right now Sectuib. You're all right now." Her voice was ragged, filled with unshed tears, but to Aran's ears it was the most beautiful sound in the universe.
Another voice caught Aran's attention. A Sime! In changeover! Suddenly he remembered. "Melius. She! Freya, I have to help her."
"You're in no condition," began the Companion. "Helgen is with her."
"But she wants me." Gently Aran pushed Freya away and struggled to his feet. He staggered, still dizzy from his brush with death.
Freya caught his arm, steadying him. "Give me a minute to level you."
"I want Aran." In the next cell Melius was scuttling across the floor, trying in vain to get away from Helgen and his Companion. "He promised. I want Aran."
Aran cursed in Simelan. He paused a moment to let her work, then shaking off Freya's restraining hand, Aran went into Melius' now unlocked cell and quickly knelt beside her. One corner of his mind noted Freit, Stubbins, and the Sheriff watching from the doorway, over which hung a sign declaring the room Sime Territory, but he had no time to wonder what brought about that miracle.
Helgen moved aside at Aran's approach. "She's just past fifth stage transition. Breakout at any moment. But Aran you can't."
"I made her a promise, Helgen. I'm going to keep it." Reaching for Melius' hands Aran forced himself into functional mode, projecting a soothing Genness.
The girl opened her eyes. "Aran I knew you would take care of me." She screamed clutching at the channel. "It hurts, it hurts."
"Relax honey. Those contractions are helping your tentacles get ready to come out. Remember the contractions your Aunt had when her baby was born?" Gently Aran pulled Melius into his arms. He smoothed her hair back off her face.
Melius smiled, calming at his touch. "You won't let me die."
"No I'm not going to let you die. Now listen. It's almost time. Here's what I want you to do." Quickly Aran demonstrated. "Can you do that with the next contraction?"
The girl nodded. She gasped as the next contraction hit her.
"Now Melius," Aran coached. "clinch your fists and .."
Melius doubled up her fists, then screamed in triumph opening her hands as her tentacles broke free spraying Aran with hot, bloody fluids.
"Wonderful. Melius you are wonderful." Aran grinned. The girl's eyes were closed, but he knew he had her full attention.
"I'm a Sime," she whispered, delight in her voice. Instinctively she reached for Aran's waiting tentacles.
The transfer was one of sweet triumph for the channel. Against all odds, he had lived to keep a promise to a very special young lady.
Melius opened her eyes, staring in awe at her channel. "I. I. Is it always that beautiful."
Aran pulled her into his arms, tears of happiness dropping onto her golden curls. "Yes Melius. It can be."
"Can I see her now? Is it safe?" Freit was standing in the door to the cell, his nager filled with relief and acceptance.
Beside him stood Stubbins, abject apology and embarrassment in his field. Softly he said, "I told them the truth, Hajene. I'm sorry."
"I know you didn't break the retainer law, Hajene Aran. As for the slimy one, you were just doing your job. All charges have been dropped. Is Melius?" The Mayor's field too was a study in remorse and regret.
Aran rose, his arms still around the new Sime. "Your daughter will never Kill, Mayor."
Freeing herself from the channel's arms, Melius took a few steps in the Mayor's direction. "Are you going to shoot me now, Daddy?
Shame flooded the Mayor's face and nager. "No sweetheart. You were right and I was wrong." He met Aran's eyes. "We all were wrong." Hesitancy entered his field. Can I... er .."
"She can't hurt you now." Aran smiled. "And she's still your little girl. Being Sime doesn't change that."
Friet held out his arms, tears coming to his eyes as his daughter flew into them. His field flooded with the great love he still held for her.
Putting his arm around his smiling Companion, Aran met the Deputy's eyes. "Did you tell them the whole story?"
Stubbins nodded, embarrassed. "Yes. I told them everything. And I I'm so sorry." He stared at the floor unable to meet the Sime's eyes.
"IF you want to blame someone, Hajene Aran, blame me." Friet, his arm around his daughter, moved slowly towards the channel. "Jabri knew we would probably fire him if we found out he had sent for you."
Aran nodded. He had surmised as much. "And now?"
"We were wrong," Freit said softly, guilt and regret warring with understanding and acceptance in his field. "We all were. You came to help Nashua and I was too blind to see it."
"You thought we were Killers, evil demons." Aran studied the Mayor. It was true Friet had fought him at every turn, almost killed Aran and his own daughter. But now the channel could zlin that Friet had accepted the truth. All traces of anger towards the Gen vanished.
"I know better now," admitted the Mayor. "Words can't undo the hell I've put you through, but I am sorry. And I will do whatever I can to make amends."
Tentatively Freit held out his hand to Aran. This time there was no vestige of fear in his nager, just a determination to make amends.
Aran smiled as he clasped the Mayor's hand, tentacles sealing the grip. Softly he said, "Now, together, we can put an end to the constant parade of death in Nashua."