First published in Ambrov Zeor #19.
This story was written by Mary Lou Mendum years before she wrote the novel, A Shift of Means, and here the protagonists of Shift take on the problem of the town of Clear Springs. Or perhaps I should say the enthusiastic, in-Territory born and raised, Den Milnan takes on the problem while his cousin, the Channel in charge of this mess, is trying so hard to be reasonable.
Anyone who has enjoyed Shift of Means should find this story engrossing. Those who haven't read the novel yet may find this short series of stories enhances their enjoyment of the Clear Springs Saga.
The original text of this was done on an older Mac, and since then has been transformed. Then it was sent to a PC running WinWord7 as a text file -- which created a lot of spurious carriage returns, and left the text frozen in the Courier font. What you see before you is an attempt to clean up this file for reading -- it does not resemble the neat printing from the fanzine which was set in two columns and a different typeface.
First published in Ambrov Zeor #19.
"You don't want to go in there, sir! It's dangerous!"
Sosu Den Milnan looked at the ernest, middle-aged woman who had broken out of the picket line to accost him, then beyond to the newly opened Clear Springs Sime Center. The in-Territory architecture looked almost fragile next to the solid, square buildings that the out-Territory Gens favored, but it seemed reasonably stable to him.
"Dangerous?" he asked mildly, running a hand through the corkscrews the humidity had made of his dark brown hair.
"Oh, yes! They don't tell you half of what goes on in there." She smiled at him. "Look, I know a nice little coffee house right around the corner. Why don't I buy you a snack and we can talk about it where it's quieter?"
Despite the summer heat, the thirty or so anti-Sime demonstrators were generating quite a respectable volume as they waved their signs and chanted, "Keep your tentacles off my city!"
Den thought (briefly) about the regulation that required Donors to report promptly upon arrival at a new Center, calculated that it had been a good five hours since food had last passed his lips, and said, "Sure."
"My name is Carla Lifton," she said, patting her greying hair back into its neat bun as she led the way down the street. "I belong to the Conservative Congregation over on Second Street. What's your name?"
"Pleased to meet you, Den. I don't think I've seen you around before. Are you new in town?"
"I got in on the train, half an hour ago."
"Well, I'm sure you'll love our community..."
They made small talk as they sat at one of the outside tables of the Eight Mice Cafe and Grill. Den ordered a cheese sandwich, and Carla asked for lemonade. When the waiter had collected the menus and left them, she said, "Den, I'm so glad I caught you before you went into that place. You're too nice a person to fall victim to a murdering demon."
"Murdering demon?" Den had heard his cousin Hajene Rital Madz described many ways, not all of them complimentary, but this was something new.
"Yes, you can't trust a Sime. Here," she reached into her purse and pulled out a pamphlet, "this tells all about it."
DON'T BE A VICTIM! was splashed across the page in blood-red letters an inch high. Underneath was a figure that Den assumed was supposed to be a Sime. The poor thing looked like an octopus convention, with a least a dozen tentacles on each arm, dripping blood as they reached towards the viewer. An untentacled corpse lay at its feet, an agonized grimace on its features, the outstretched arms showing bloody, helical cuts.
The text inside would have done a grocery store tabloid proud. Den was amazed to find out that there was a secret Pen in the Center, in which unwary general-class donors were likely to find themselves imprisoned. There was also a mention of witchraft, used to cause donors' children to go into changeover, and midnight orgies where unspeakable debauchery held sway. I wish, he thought.
"My goodness, I had no idea," he said, taking a bite out of his sandwich. "You aren't the first to fall victim to the Tecton's propoganda," sheassured him. "Oh, they talk a good line, all those tales about how none of them kill anymore, and peace and goodwill between the Territories, but killing is the Sime nature; they live on Gen lives. 'We just want to help,' they say. 'We'll keep your children with the Devilseed from killing.' And when the unsuspecting government agrees, they move in and take over. Once we give them a hold on us, we'll be in their pens before you know it, just waiting for them to get around to killing us..."
She believes it, Den thought in amazement. She believes every word she's saying. "I thought Tecton channels only took donations from Gens who go to them and volunteer," he said, finishing his sandwich and reaching for the check.
"My treat," she said, picking it up. "If you're bad enough off that you'd consider earning money that way, it's the least I can do."
"No, really..." Den began.
"I insist," Carla said. "My church has created a special fund to help people who are in danger of falling for the Simes' lies. There are a lot of people who are down on their luck, or have families to feed, and they think the Tecton offers an easy way out. But by believing the snakes' propaganda, they lose their faith in God and the purity of the Gen species. We offer a less spiritually dangerous alternative." She gave him a measuring glance. "You, for instance. From your accent, you're a long way from home. You're new in town, don't know anyone; you're just the kind of victim they like to get their slimy tentacles on. But we can help tide you over until you can get back on your feet, maybe even help you get a job. Do you have any particular job skills?"
"Why, yes, I do," Den admitted with an admirably straight face. "For the last eight years or so I've been a First Order Donor." He ran his thumb over the Tecton crest ring with its diamond that adorned his right hand. "Speaking of which," he added, smiling into her stunned face, "I really ought to report in." He stood, pushing in his chair. "It's been a most interesting chat. Thank you for the lunch, and, by the way," he added, tossing the pamphlet onto the table as she continued to stare at him, "Simes only have six tentacles to an arm."
Shaking his head at the stupidity of out-Territory Gens, he made his way back to the Center, this time ignoring the calls from the demonstrators.
A sign pointed the way to the Collectorium entrance, so Den went in the other, main door and found himself in a wide foyer. A tall Gen woman with shoulder-length, light brown hair was sitting at the reception desk. She smiled at him and said, "You must be Sosu Milnan."
Gulf Territory, with that accent, he thought. "My friends call me Den." He returned her smile with interest; she was well worth being interested in.
"Seena ambrov Carre. I'm glad to meet you in person at last; Controller Madz has told me quite a bit about you."
"Nothing too dreadful, I hope."
She laughed. "No."
"Speaking of my errant cousin, where is he hiding?"
"He and Sosu Kolpev are across town at the power plant, recharging the batteries. They won't be back until dinner."
"Kolpev?" Den asked. "That wouldn't be Liren Kolpev, would it?" At Seena's nod, he grinned. "This is turning into quite a reunion. The three of us used to get into more mischief than any other seven students at Rialite. If it weren't for the Donor shortage, they would probably have expelled Liren and me, at least. I even thought she and Rital might pair off, for a while, but then she met Jannun."
"Would you like me to show you to your room, so that you can freshen up before they get back? Your luggage arrived this morning."
"That would be very kind of you."
As Seena led the way through seemingly endless corridors, Den was struck by the emptiness of the building. When he asked about it, Seena said, "They built this place on the grand scale, as if it were going to serve an in-Territory town of the same size. Only, we're not in-Territory. The townsfolk use their own physicians, there aren't any Simes except for those on our own staff, and so few of the local Gens are coming in to donate that Hajene Madz is the only channel we require--and he keeps complaining about entran. However, the Center has only been open for four months. Once the locals get used to us, things will pick up, and we won't rattle around so much."
Remembering the demonstration outside, Den doubted that, but he kept his pessimism to himself.
Den's room was pleasant, large and sunny. Two aging trunks and three crates had been stacked at the foot of a comfortable-looking bed. On top of one of the trunks was a battered guitar case. A quick inspection assured Den that despite the new scratches on the case, the instrument inside had once again survived the Transport Authority.
Putting the guitar back in its case, Den wandered over to the window. It gave a view of the Center's carefully landscaped backyard: several acres of lawn, woodland, and garden. Someone had planted a vegetable plot; he could see tomatoes blooming, and the corn was almost waist high. Beyond the chain link fence that delineated the Center's property, Den could see the square, unimaginative houses of the out-Territory community, huddled together in a way no Sime could tolerate. But then, there weren't any Simes out there to be bothered by the lack of privacy. Or rather, he corrected himself as faint cries of "We'll do fine without the Sime!" wafted through the window, those children who are unlucky enough to become Sime have greater worries than the crowding.
Den shuddered, and turned to his unpacking. When he had gotten his belongings arranged to his satisfaction, he called the main desk and asked Seena to send up Rital's file. When it came, he settled down in the most comfortable chair and got to work. Ignoring for the moment the daily log of functionals performed, he turned directly to the records of the channel's recent transfers.
He didn't recognize two of the Donors, but he knew Liren pretty well, and the transfer she had given Rital two weeks before should have been much more satisfying than reported. He was still frowning over the anomaly when the telephone rang. Sighing, he picked it up. In his best tape recorder imitation, he said, "You have reached extension 5439. Sosu Milnan is currently occupied, but if you will leave your name and number..."
"Forget it, Den," a very amused feminine voice advised. "You know and I know that your room phone doesn't have an answering machine."
"It was worth a try," Den said, smiling.
"Humph!" Liren snorted, mock-contemptuously. "You never change, do you?" "Of course not. That would ruin my reputation."
She laughed. "Listen, the cafeteria food here is down to its usual substandards. Rital and I have raided the pantry for some raw materials; do you want to help us devour our ill-gotten gains?"
"As long as Rital's the one that's doing the cooking, not you."
"Hey, even the worst Center cafeteria doesn't try to substitute powdered sugar for baking soda when making cupcakes. It's a good thing you married a man who can cook!"
"You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"
"Absolutely not," Den laughed. "Where have you hidden the loot?"
"There's a small kitchen down on the first floor. I left a map of the building in your top dresser drawer. Find it and I'll give you directions.
Half an hour later, Den was squinting at the map in the meager light from a basement window. His earlier feelings about in-Territory architecture were rapidly undergoing a reversal. This was definitely NOT a kitchenette on the first floor, he thought, glancing at the dusty crates stacked against the unfinished walls, but it should be one floor up. He folded the map in disgust, stuffed it into a pocket, and set out in search of stairs or an elevator. He seemed to recall seeing an exit sign somewhere. No doubt Rital would consider his present situation hilarious, but then, his cousin had the advantage of a Sime sense of direction.
When he finally found the right hall, he followed the smell of vegetable soup to the proper door. It swung open before he could knock, and he was immediately smothered in a bear hug by a slightly shorter, more lightly built mirror image of himself.
"Den! How's my favorite cousin? Come in and tell me what you've been doing with yourself."
Den frowned at the feel of the channel's nager. "Why don't you tell me what you've been doing to yourself, instead? You're on the ragged edge, Rital Madz, and I want to know why!"
Rital waved away the Donor's concern with a tentacle. "It's just turnover, and those shendi-flecking batteries. I'll be fine tomorrow, so why don't you come in and have some dinner?"
Accepting the change of subject for the moment, Den answered, "That sounds marvelous. I worked up quite an appetite during my tour of the basement." "I never knew a Gen with such a lousy sense of direction," Rital teased fondly.
"I wouldn't have such a hard time if the Tecton would settle on one floor plan for all new Centers," Den complained. "Or even if they limited themselves to one architect for each building. This place looks like it was designed by a committee of lunatics."
Looking over the channel's shoulder, Den spotted Liren, spoon in hand, taking the lid off a pot of soup. "Wait, no!" he cried in mock terror. "We're going to have to eat that!" Deftly relieving her of spoon and lid, he passed them to Rital and gave her a mock-passionate kiss. As usual, he had forgotten how tiny she was, coming barely to his breastbone. She had filled out since the last time he had seen her, but the wicked twinkle was still in her eyes. "Motherhood agrees with you, I see," he approved. "How are the wild animals, anyway?"
"Wild animals!" she said indignantly. "Ram and Ina are quite domesticated now."
"Give up, Liren," Rital advised. "You'll never convince Den that any kid under five years is quite human."
"He'll learn--when he has one of his own to raise," Liren said confidently. "Jannun did."
"And how is your husband?" Den asked.
"He's fine; he's teaching two literature classes and writing a novel, and loving every minute of it." A look of longing crossed her face.
"Shen, I miss him."
"Cheer up," the channel advised, ladling the soup into bowls. "You'll only be here another week."
"Thank goodness!" she said, hopping up onto a chair. "I couldn't stand this town much longer. I don't know how you manage it."
"It's the challenge," Rital explained, gesturing grandly with two tentacles as he set her soup in front of her. "Out there is history in the making."
"The kind of history Clear Springs is making the rest of the world made back before the First Contract. I prefer modern times." She picked up her spoon and began to eat.
The next morning, Den located the administrative offices (after three wrong turnings and two backtrackings), and started in on the forms, reports, and other red tape so dear to the bureaucratic mind. He had thought the previous day's protesters represented the isolated ravings of a minority, but the picture that emerged from Rital's monthly reports, supplemented by the local morning paper, was sobering.
Clear Springs, he discovered, supported a prestigious, medium-sized university, which directly or indirectly employed three quarters of the population. So, when the Board of Regents decided that converting the town's power plant from steam to selyn would significantly cut the university's expenses, the City Council had agreed to ask the Tecton to build the Sime Center necessary to service it.
Thus, the Center had never had the popular support of the community, and the anti-Sime faction had been active and vocal. During the year and a half that it had taken to build the Center, they had done everything possible to cause delays, from contesting the location to intimidating the local merchants into refusing to sell the necessary supplies (and then staging protests on their behalf when the Tecton promptly imported building materials).
The Board of Regents had seen to it that the Center got built, and the power plant converted, but there their support had stopped. Only one member had ever come in to donate, and they had done nothing to encourage the community to accept the Center's presence and use its services.
It was this widespread opposition to the presence of Simes in Clear Springs that had gotten Rital, a fairly high First, an assignment which would normally have gone to a Second Order channel, or even two or three Thirds. District Controller Monruss had decided that Rital's diplomatic nature, skill at handling frightened Gens, and genuine interest in the problems facing a Sime Center so far from the border might be enough to bring the community to accept his presence. Since the assignment was originally supposed to be for one month only, the lack of work would not have posed a severe threat to the channel's health, as long as a competant Donor was available.
But Controller Monruss had not reassigned Rital at the end of the month, and the community had not accepted the Sime Center. The only prominent citizens to wholeheartedly support the Center were Hank Fredricks, owner and editor of the Clear Springs Clarion, and Mayor Ann Kroag, whose son had been one of the first changeover victims the Center had helped. Kroag was up for reelection in seven weeks, as were the two other members of the City Council who had voted for the Center but would not come to visit it, much less donate.
Ann Kroag's opponent, Len Dusam, was running on an anti-Sime platform, and showed every sign of having a landslide victory waiting for him at the polls. There were protesters outside the Center daily, passing out pamphlets filled with misinformation and harassing any Gen who dared to cross their line. There had even been threatened boycotts of businesses owned by or employing 'Simelovers'.
As a result, less than 1% of the local Gens donated, and two thirds of those were university students, who presumably were desperate for money and had no businesses to be boycotted. A quick estimate of the Clear Springs population gave Den a donation schedule that a Second would have found comfortable, and sent him reaching for Rital's file.
It was even worse than he had thought. Liren had logged five entran attacks in the last month alone. There were also records of therapy required after Gens had panicked during what should have been routine donations, and even one deathshock from a changeover victim who (he discovered by reading Rital's report of the case) would have survived easily if she had had even minimal training.
As far as Den could see, only recharging the selyn batteries at the power plant every other day was keeping his cousin sane. Even that was a mixed blessing; battery work was always unpleasant for a channel, and the power plant (really a selyn-powered electrical generator that had replaced the steam-powered one) was half a mile across town, which meant frequent use of retainers. To add a final insult to injury, Liren was the best Donor Rital had been sent during the whole four months he had been stuck in Clear Springs, and while she was good, she wasn't quite up to Rital's requirements.
Den could see that he had his work cut out for him.
Early the next day, Den met Rital in the foyer for the trip across town to the power plant. When the channel's retainers were comfortably seated (or at least as comfortably seated as such torture devices could be), they stepped out into the cool morning air.
Den automatically started around the building towards the garage where the Center's staff car and ambulance were parked, then stopped short when Rital headed down the walk that led to the street instead. "We are driving, aren't we?" he asked the channel.
"Of course not!" Rital answered. "It's only half a mile, and it's too nice a day to waste."
"Look," said Den, as persuasively as he knew how. "Fresh air is marvellous stuff, and I like it as much as you do, but there are an awful lot of non-donors out there, and you're not in very good shape right now."
"Nonsense," the channel said firmly. "The stores won't open until midmorning, so the streets will be practically empty. Come on, the exercise will do you good."
Realizing that it was useless to argue longer, Den gave in. "At least there aren't any sign-waving fanatics today," he said as they reached the sidewalk.
"They may be fanatics, but at least they're pragmatic fanatics," Rital explained. "They know the Collectorium is closed while I'm gone. Don't worry, they'll be waiting for us when we return."
They started off briskly through the deserted streets, past closed and shuttered shops. The silence seemed unnatural to Den; an in-Territory town never shut down so completely, even in the middle of the night.
"Don't the shop owners lose a lot of business, staying closed so much?" he asked Rital.
"What good would it do them to stay open when all of their customers are sound asleep?"
"Oh." Den grinned sheepishly. "I keep forgetting. It must be very strange, living in a town without Simes."
"Not to them."
Now that Den knew the reason, the closed storefronts no longer seemed so sinister. Actually, except for the English signs, it wasn't too different from the business district of an in-Territory town of the same size. There were more grocery stores and restaurants, and the clothing in the windows was differently styled, but there was the same college-town atmosphere.
They passed through the town's central square, where a bronze statue in the middle of a traffic circle faced the City Hall. The whole area was beautifully landscaped; Clear Springs obviously took pride in appearances. On a wooden bench beneath the statue, an elderly man sat feeding the pigeons. He called a greeting, and Rital waved back.
"That's Mr. Duncan," the channel explained. "He's one of our most dependable general-class donors. He came in for the first time on the day we opened, and he made GN-2 last week."
"It's nice to know that someone wasn't taken in by the anti-Sime propaganda."
"Oh, it's better than that," Rital grinned. "His daughter Carla has been organizing the demonstrations outside the Center."
"Is that Carla Lifton?" Den asked. At Rital's nod, he grimaced.
"Well, Mr. Duncan always comes in to donate on a day she's protesting, 'just to show her how silly she's being.' He's an independent old fellow. I like him."
They left the streets and cut through a corner of the university's campus. As at any residential college Den had ever seen, there were strategically placed bulletin boards covered with a patchwork of colored paper. Den stopped at one and glanced over some of the notices. The Drama Department was performing some obscure play by an equally obscure playwright, a visiting scientist had given a lecture on maize genetics the week before, a roommate was wanted for a two-bedroom apartment starting in the fall, the chemistry club was having a picnic and warned its members to "be there or we'll mutate your cat"...and then a red flyer with bold black lettering caught his eye.
WARNING! it said across the top in letters an inch high. The university and the city government have conspired to sell Clear Springs to the Tecton, it continued in slightly smaller print beneath. The following people have actively aided this treason by donating--support which the Sime Center must have to remain open. There followed a list of names, with occupations or business affiliations beside many of them. Remember, the flyer warned, if you give these Simelovers your business or your friendship, you are showing your approval of their actions! At the bottom, in small print, was, A public service message from Students for a Sime-Free City.
Den pulled the flyer down and shredded it. "No wonder so few Gens here are willing to donate," he said, tossing the scraps into a nearby trash barrel.
"Yes, no wonder," Rital agreed.
The power plant was a squat, ugly concrete building at the edge of town. There were people around here at least; the night shift was just getting off, and the day workers were arriving on bicycles and on foot from the nearly bus stop. To Den's relief, most of them seemed quite willing to avoid the lone Sime.
Channel and Donor were met at the gate by a fussy, officious-looking man whom Rital introduced as Nid Fulson, the plant manager. Fulson didn't bother to return Den's greeting, but impatiently beckoned for them to follow them, saying, "Yes, yes, come on then, I don't have all day."
He led the way to a door in the side of the building, pulled out a fist-sized tangle of keys, and began sorting through them. The third try produced the right key, and he pulled open the heavy metal fire door, reveal ing an unlit landing and stairs leading down to the basement. "Go on, then." He gestured angrily for Den and Rital to enter. "I don't know what the world is coming to, when plant managers have to waste their time showing Simes around," he was muttering as he slammed the door shut behind them, leaving them in darkness.
"What a charming person," Den said sarcastically as Rital switched on the lights.
"I believe his brother used to make a good profit importing wood for the steam boilers," Rital explained as he started down the stairs. "You can hardly expect him to be enthusiastic about me, when the switch to selyn caught his family right in the pocket book."
"If he objects so strongly to having to let you in, why doesn't he just give you a key?" Den asked.
"He can't. The plant regulations don't allow unauthorized personnel to have keys, authorized personnel must be union members in good standing, and their union is not about to let a Sime join."
The stairs ended in a large, gloomy, musty-smelling cavern that had apparently once been used as an employee lounge. A threadbare carpet covered the front half of the yellowed concrete floor, and an ancient olive-green couch sagged against the wall, white stuffing showing through the rents in the cushions. A battered table stood in front of the couch.
Looking totally out of place among the dinginess, a shiny new safety grating blocked off the back third of the room. Large signs warned the untrained of danger in Simelan and English both, and as a further safety precaution, the door in the grating was secured by a Gen-proof (and thus theoretically child-proof) lock.
"This seems a strange place to put the selyn banks," Den remarked as he carefully helped Rital to remove the cumbersome retainers. "Why didn't they put the batteries in with the generator?"
"They did, almost." The second retainer came off. "Oh, that's so much more comfortable." Rital streatched, working the stiffness out of his handling tentacles. "The generator is on the other side of the wall from the batteries," he continued his explanation. "That way, they don't have to run the workers out every time the batteries are being refilled, to keep them from making a mess of the ambient nager while I'm trying to work."
"That makes sense." Den put the retainers on the table to dry, and followed the channel over to the grating. Rital pulled open the door as easily as if it were unlocked, and Den had his first unobstructed view of the selyn banks.
"That's all?" he asked incredulously, staring at the three white boxes. Purple and green orgonics tubes filled with jelly-like artificial selyn conductors were attached to the leads on each battery and disappeared through a hole near the ceiling. The throb of the generator could be heard through the wall.
"Three batteries every two days is all they require for a town this size?" Den repeated. "They aren't even the largest size!"
"They supplement the batteries with wind power--didn't you see the windmills on the hill in back of the plant when we came in?"
Den shook his head.
"Well, they can provide quite a bit of power, at least when the wind is blowing. Also, this town uses a lot less electricity than an in-Territory one would. Remember, they were using steam to make up the difference until four months ago, and that's an expensive way to generate power. It was cheaper to use another energy source when possible." Rital contemplated the batteries for a moment, then made a face. "I suppose I'd better get started."
Kneeling beside the first battery, he unhooked the orgonics cables and placed them carefully to one side, where there was no danger of brushing up against one of them accidentally. Gripping the handholds, he reluctantly extended his laterals to contact the leads. Den took a half step to his right, feeling for the location that would give him optimum control, and held the ambient nager steady. After a moment's pause to brace himself, the channel leaned forward, pressed his lips against the red fifth terminal, and began to void selyn.
By the time the third battery was filled and reconnected to the generator, Rital was looking distinctly nauseated. Pulling the Sime to his feet, Den walked him out of the restricted area, kicking the safety door closed with a clang as they passed through the grating. Urging Rital to sit on the ancient couch, the Donor sat beside him, holding the channel as he shuddered in revulsion.
"Shen, I hate batteries," Rital muttered against Den's shoulder.
"The rest of the work here is fine, what there is of it, but the batteries are awful."
Den ran a soothing hand along his cousin's tentacles, letting his live nager dispel the 'dead' feel of the batteries. "I could always have a heart-to-heart chat with Controller Monruss when I get back to civilization. You were never supposed to stay out here this long, you know that. At an in-Territory Center, you wouldn't have to work with batteries so often."
"No!" Rital stiffened.
"I know you like it here," Den argued, "and you have a real talent for dealing with these people, but there just isn't enough work for a First in this town, and you know it."
"Den, I want to stay here." Rital straightened, reaching for his retainers. "At an in-Territory Center, I would be in charge of one, maybe two wards, doing mostly routine functionals. Oh, it's valuable work, and someone's got to do it, but here..." the channel's eyes lit with enthusiasm. "Here, if I do my job correctly, the children of this town won't have to fear being murdered if they go into changeover, and their parents won't have to spend years wondering if their own children will kill them. Have you any idea what a difference that will make in their lives? Can't you see that it's worth the inconveniences," he snapped the catches on the retainers closed, "to be a part of that?"
Den sighed. "I can see that you think so." He pulled himself to his feet and followed Rital to the stairs. "Just remember, you can't do anyone any good if you collapse."
To Den's relief, the change of shifts was over, so there were no out-Territory Gens to stare at them as they left. They passed through the gate unchallenged, and Den turned right and started down the sidewalk, only to come to an abrupt halt as Rital grabbed the back of his shirt.
"It's that way," the channel said, suppressing his laughter as he pointed in the opposite direction.
Den shrugged and followed.
They had to go around instead of through the campus on the way back, to avoid being trampled by stampeding students during the change of classes. The detour delayed them just enough so that they reached the business district as the stores were opening. The streets were already filled with shoppers hurrying to finish their errands before the day's heat became too unbearable. The bustle stopped as the channel was sighted, and people stared with expressions of alarm, revulsion, or (occasionally) curiosity.
No one offered any overt hostility, but the walk back through the crowded streets was nervewracking for both channel and Donor. Den was kept busy shielding his channel from the ambient nager, uncomfortably aware of how little it would take to turn them into a mob. He was so glad to see the Center that he didn't even mind the seventeen sign-waving demonstrators blocking the sidewalk in front of it.
Their chanting ground to a ragged halt as the channel was sighted, and they drew to one side to let the in-Territory pair pass, faces twisted with hatred.
"Devil-worshipper!" one of them hissed at Den, and he recognized Carla Lifton.
Den gave her his most impudent wink as he went by.
Over steaming mugs of trin tea in Rital's office, he asked his cousin, "Why didn't they put the power plant in the basement of the Center? That would make much more sense than sending a channel all the way across town."
"It was suggested at one point, but the City Council voted not to.
The official reason was economic--rewiring the whole system for a new location would have added to the initial cost. The unofficial reason was political--they would have gotten a lot of flak for losing the plant workers' jobs."
Den shook his head in bewilderment. "How? It's not as if it would take fewer people to run the plant here."
In a flat voice, Rital intoned, "Ah, but the union refused to ask its members to work at a Sime Center--too many of us ferocious demons about." He raised his eyebrow over the rim of his mug and said in his normal voice, "Which has actually worked out for the best. It gives the townsfolk who won't come to the Center a chance to get used to me."
"USED to you!" Den sprang to his feet in indignation. "They won't work in the same building with you, they act as if you carry shaking plague when you walk down the street, there's a horde of them demonstrating outside the Center every day, and you think they're getting used to you?"
"This is the first time you've been posted out-Territory, isn't it?" "And the last, if I have anything to say about it. I've never seen a ruder, more ungrateful bunch of people in my life. For four months now, you've been wearing yourself to the bone, trying to put them at ease, and most of them still won't admit that Simes are human." Den sat down again and frowned morosely into his tea. "Frankly, I think we're wasting our time here, trying to help people who think you're a murdering demon and I'm a devil-worshipper, so that they can have more security while they teach their kids to hate us even more. There are times when I think the Distect had the right idea--let the Gens who won't accept Simes die of their own phobias, so they won't go breeding another generation of lorshes."
"Oh, Den, you know Simephobia isn't a genetic trait. And it isn't as widespread as you seem to think it is." The Sime set his tea mug aside and leaned back in his desk chair, lacing his tentacles together. "When the Center first opened, there were twice as many demonstrators each day, and no one would come within half a block of me when I went to the power plant. Sure, it's a slow business. The attitudes of the local Gens range from the merely apprehensive to the frankly terrified, but that's normal enough, considering. Until I came here, just four months ago, very few of them had ever seen a channel--but they all know of someone who was killed by a berserk changeover victim. It takes time to overcome such fears, but the number of general-class donors doubled last month."
"To a whopping 1% of the eligible population," Den retorted. "The other 99% would just as soon run you out of town. Do you think that mob outside is about to learn anything you might teach? They'd rather believe their own lies."
"Don't underestimate them, just because you don't agree with them.
The worst anti-Sime fanatic is capable of learning. And once they have changed their minds, their hearts will follow."
Den snorted in disbelief, but before he could frame a suitable reply the desk phone rang.
Rital reached for it with one dorsal tentacle. "Hajene Madz." He listened for a moment, giving a few grunts and monosyllables, then said, "We'll be right there," and hung up.
"That was Gati at the front desk," he explained, getting up and stretching. "One of the maintenance workers fell off a ladder, and they think he might have sprained his ankle."
Den stood up reluctantly, casting a sorrowful glance at his tea mug, which was still half full. "Just once, I'd like to finish my tea before the next emergency," he complained.
That afternoon, Den filled in for the receptionist in the Collectorium. After spending half an hour familiarizing himself with the filing system, he sat down behind the desk, surveyed the empty waiting room, and pulled out a mystery novel.
During the whole afternoon, only two Gens crossed the picket lines to donate; a student from one of the border cities, who had been donating there regularly for several years, and his roommate, who had donated for the first time the month before.
If that's the 'progress' that Rital is making with donor recruitment, Den told himself cynically, I'd hate to see his idea of stagnation.
Over the next week, Den fell into a routine. With Liren sharing the workload, and only one channel to worry about, the Donor found himself with more free time on his hands than he had had since before his establishment. The only excitement occurred one evening when a changeover victim was brought in by his parents. Because Sam was just as terrified of Rital as his Gen family was, Den was the one who had to coax him through the breathing exercises, stage by stage. Rital took over at breakout, expertly intercepting the boy as he grabbed for Den.
The transfer was ragged for a changeover, as Sam fought both Rital and his own need. Afterwards, it took nearly an hour of therapy before the boy was calm enough to be entrusted to the nursing staff.
Den went to reassure the boy's parents, only to find that they had not bothered to stay long enough to learn if their child would survive.
When Liren overheard him muttering obscene things about lorshes, she shook her head in sympathy. "Don't, Den," she advised. "That boy is luckier than most of the changeover victims in this town--his parents cared enough to bring him to us. In one piece, too. Most parents here still murder their children if they suspect changeover."
Den gave her a disgusted glance and stalked away.
Two days later, a trunk with Sam's belongings was delivered to the Center, without even a note of farewell. Den admired the boy's courage as he donned his new retainers and left with Liren for a more civilized Territory--but the Donor wished he were the Escort, instead.
As the date of their transfer approached, Den reserved at least an hour or two each day to work with Rital, counteracting the inhibitions that prolonged shorting had left the channel. It was slow, painstaking work, particularly given the complications caused by Rital's too-light workload, but it did allow them time to enjoy each other's company. It had been a long time since Den had had so much fun in the line of duty.
Under his Donor's eagle-eyed management, Rital's health improved noticeably. He ate more, there were fewer entran attacks, and his nager no longer felt so ragged. Even the trips to the power plant became less stressful, after Den applied a little judicious blackmail to convince his cousin that the staff car was there to be used.
On the appointed day, Den took the precaution of getting to the transfer suite half an hour early, to avoid being dragged into any last minute emergencies. He puttered around a bit, checking the cabinets, putting on the water for tea, and unplugging the phone jack, letting the solitude pull him into the state of relaxed anticipation necessary for a good transfer.
Rital arrived a scant ten minutes before their transfer was scheduled. "Sorry I cut it so fine," he said, flopping face down onto the lounge with a sigh. "It's been one of those days."
"Well, no one will bother us for the next hour or so, so relax and enjoy it."
Den sat down beside his cousin. He could barely feel the need underlying the strict control Rital had been using to enable himself to function at almost his usual efficiency. When the Donor placed a cautious hand on one tentacled arm, he saw that the ronaplin glands were barely swollen, although the Sime's laterals were beginning to respond to his high field. It would do Rital no good at all to attempt transfer in such a condition.
"Why don't you turn over and let me get to work?" he suggested.
When Rital had complied, Den began to ruthlessly provoke the Sime, letting his high field and his anticipation dissolve away the other's self-control. Within minutes, he could feel Rital's need soaring, a bottomless hunger that he ached to feed.
"Careful" the channel said, handling tentacles reaching to restrain the Donor's hands. "It's not quite time yet."
"Relax," Den said again. "This one's for fun."
This time, when he checked, the ronaplin glands were swollen to almost three times their normal size, and the dripping laterals were quivering with anticipation. They left tinglingly pleasant streaks on his arms between the handling tentacles that now gripped his arms with the urgency peculiar to personal transfer.
When the proper moment arrived, Rital didn't wait for the Gen to bend over, but instead jerked his Donor down to make the lip contact. Den abandoned himself enthusiastically to the channel's deep, swift draw, an irresistible demand for selyn that reached the very core of his being, to be fulfilled in an ecstatic celebration of life. This was the bond that held the Tecton's First Order together, that made all the petty regulations and endless paperwork worth enduring. The demand for selyn slacked off as Rital reached satiation, and Den felt a flash of pity for the out-Territory Gens of Clear Springs, so caught up in their fear of Simes that few could even find the courage to donate. They would never know this double satisfaction, never even believe, most of them, that a Sime's touch could bring anything but pain. How can they bear such a crippled existence, cutting them off from everything that makes life worth living?
There was no time to consider the matter. Rital had just completed his best transfer in months, and Den had no intention of letting stray distractions interfere with his job. As Rital's handling tentacles released him, Den reached with one hand to help the channel sit up, and with the other deftly snagged a tissue from the newly opened box he had placed beside the lounge.
Rital gave an anguished cry and collapsed forward into the Donor's arms, sobbing convulsively as the accumulated pain of months overwhelmed him. Den had known that his cousin was hurting, but this was far worse than he had anticipated. As Rital wailed, "Why do they have to hate me so much?" Den's earlier pity for the out-Territory Gens evaporated, to be replaced by anger. Frightened or not, no Gen had the right to mistreat a channel that way.
They're ignorant, but not stupid, Den thought as he savagely pulled yet another tissue from the rapidly emptying box and handed it to his cousin. They know exactly what they're doing to Rital, with their signs and their chants and their hatred.
And I'm not going to let them get away with it!
After Rital's post reaction had passed, they had a leisurely cup of tea. When Rital left to work on the Center's monthly report (though not for long, Den suspected, at least if Gati had her way), the Gen took a quick shower and changed. Officially, he had the rest of the day off, since he was too lowfield to be of much assistance to a channel. However, Den knew from painful experience that his "day off" would be filled with one "emergency" after another, demanding his immediate attention, if he could be located.
He wheedled a picnic lunch from the duty cook, grabbed his guitar (and his map of the town), and went off to explore. He wandered through the business district for a while, windowshopping. When the summer sun grew uncomfortably warm on the unshaded sidewalks, he headed for the university campus.
The lawns were decorated with sunbathing students, some studying their texts, others employing them as headrests. Den settled in a shady spot under a huge maple tree and ate his lunch, enjoying the atmosphere and remembering his own university days.
He fed the last scraps of his sandwich to a passing duck, and began idly strumming his guitar, wandering from chord to chord, occasionally playing snatches of tunes.
He flubbed what should have been an easy run, went back and corrected himself, and then settled down to a serious practice session. He had never been particularly diligent about studying music; he had known even as a child that he wanted to be a Donor if he established (which, since he was the nonchannel child of two channels, was the highest probability). Still, he practiced when he could make the time, and the skill hadgotten him into more than one good party.
He had just finished a rollicking folk tune when his concentration was interrupted by applause. Startled, he looked up and saw that he had attracted an audience: two adolescent girls, twelve or thirteen years old. Neither had the solid muscle that most Gens acquired shortly after establishment, although only one had the small size and light bone structure that often characterized Simes as children.
Not that small size necessarily means that a child will be Sime, Den reminded himself. Liren was a pretty spectacular exception. Still, he couldn't help worrying that the girl would go through changeover, out here where even channels were considered less than human. His concern made him smile at her more warmly than he had intended.
Emboldened, she came a little closer.
"Hello," Den said. "My name is Den Milnan. What's yours?"
"Annie Lifton," she said shyly, twisting one light brown braid around a finger. "This is my friend Rachel Grieves."
"I'm pleased to meet you both." He winked at them. "After all, there aren't too many people who want to listen to a practice session--usually they want to wait until I've got it right."
Both girls tittered.
"Are you out here to enjoy the weather?" Den asked.
"No," Rachel said, shaking her dark curls. "We came with Annie's brother Rob. He's meeting with some friends over at Wilson Hall," she gestured towards a nearby, ivy-covered building, "and then we're going to a movie."
"Quite intelligent of you," Den approved. "No one with any sense would stay outside in this heat."
"You're outside," Rachel pointed out.
"I never claimed to have any sense." The Donor strummed a chord. "It's a requirement for anyone in my profession."
"I've never heard that song you were playing earlier," Annie said, considerably more at ease. "What is it called?"
"It's an old dance tune called 'The Obedient Apprentice.' There are words that go with it--all about a boy who tries to learn different trades. Every time, he does exactly what he was told, and it turns out to be the last thing that his teacher wanted."
"Play us another one," Rachel asked. "Something slower. It's too hot for dance music."
"All right," Den agreed, adjusting the tuning on one string. "This one is a shepherd's song, from out west. You can't get much slower than sitting around watching sheep!"
Den was halfway through the first verse when they were interrupted by an outraged shout.
"Annie, Rachel, get away from there this instant! Can't I trust you to stay out of trouble for fifteen minutes?"
"But Rob, we were just listening to the music," Annie objected. "You never said we couldn't."
Rob, a solidly built young Gen with a strong resemblance to his younger sister, jerked the two girls to their feet and glared at Den. "Don't you try your Sime tricks on my sister," he snarled.
Den instantly took a dislike to Rob.
"Haven't you got any sense at all, Annie?" Her brother shook her, not gently. "That's the man who always goes with the Sime to the power plant. The one who tricked Mom into buying him lunch out of the church fund. And now I find you talking to him! Do you want to turn into a Sime?"
Annie's eyes opened in terror; terror of Den, not her brother. In an effort to calm her, Den said, "Come now. If listening to in-Territory music made children become Sime, I would never have established."
Rob ignored the Donor. "Mother's going to be furious." He dragged the two girls away, continuing to scold them. Rachel never looked back, but Annie did, once. The look of horrified revulsion she gave Den showed quite clearly that she was prepared to believe anything bad her brother cared to say about him.
Den tried to get back to his practice session, but found himself unable to concentrate on the music. Giving up in disgust, he returned tothe Center.
Zlinning his cousin's depression, that evening Rital announced that he was going to bake cinnamon rolls, and recruited Den to help. By the time they had made a thorough mess of the kitchen, Den's spirits had lightened considerably. The kitchen was still uncomfortably hot with the day's cooking, so they slipped outside to enjoy the slightly cooler night air while the rolls were baking. The full moon cast a silvery glow over the garden, but a brisk breeze was blowing, bringing with it the smell of rain. There was a flash of lightning on the horizon, and a distant grumble of thunder.
"It looks like we're going to get some rain in a little bit," Den remarked. "Good, it might cool things down a bit." Suddenly, Rital stiffened, holding his arms out, laterals extended to zlin the garden. "There are four...no, five Gens out there. Non-donors. What the bloody shen do they think they're doing?"
He trotted off down one of the cobblestone paths, Den stumbling in his wake, unable to see the ground clearly because of the shadows cast by the bushes on either side. The Donor gave a sigh of relief as the path ended on a strip of lawn bordering the vegetable garden. He could just make out the intruders on the far side, blithely trampling through the corn.
"Hey!" he yelled in English. "Get out of the garden!"
"Damn!" one of them swore.
"It's the Sime," another yelled in panic as he caught sight of Rital. "Let's get out of here!"
They ran for the nearby boundary fence. Den clenched his fist in anger as one of them tripped over the sweet peas, bringing down half a row. The culprit scrambled to his feet with a curse and headed after his friends, who were already swarming over the fence.
An augmenting Sime could run faster than any Gen, but Rital, running around the garden instead of through it, had a much greater distance to travel. He was still a good forty feet away as the last intruder reached the fence. Pounding along behind the channel, Den saw the Gen make a desperate leap for the fence, scramble halfway up, miss his footing, and fall. There was a solid thunk as his head hit the ground.
Rital staggered, grunting at the nageric shock, then recovered and knelt by the unconscious Gen's side, laterals extended as he zlinned for injuries.
"How...how badly is he hurt?" Den panted, sliding into the proper
Donor's position across from the channel.
"Not fatally." Rital slipped a diagnostic hand under the limp head. Den obligingly shifted a knee underneath to support it, allowing Rital's laterals to seek the injury. "Hmm," the channel muttered abstractedly, "Skull's not broken, but he's bleeding underneath it. Got to get it stopped or he'll never wake up."
With a nod, Den slipped into working mode, letting his concentration shift to the channel, blocking out extraneous nageric influences and their patient's pain, freeing the channel to concentrate on healing. For most kinds of injuries, applying a backfield to control bleeding was a routine functional, posing little danger to a First Order channel of Rital's ability, so long as the patient was cooperative and safety precautions were observed. However, the selyn field associated with a living brain was much more complex than that of, say, a muscle, and interfering with it in the wrong way could lead to some nasty complications for the attending channel as well as the patient. In this case, the procedure was also made more difficult by the insulation provided by their patient's skull (and judging by the behavior of its owner, Den suspected that this skull was thicker than average).
Den carefully watched both channel and patient, ready to stop Rital at the first sign of distress from either of them. Den was too low-field to have complete confidence in his ability to help the channel over a death shock if their patient's injuries proved too severe, and the Donor had no intention of letting his cousin take unnecessary chances to save the life of this out-Territory trespasser.
When Rital straightened, a few minutes later, Den blinked in relief as he came out of his semi-trance.
"That should do it," Rital said with a sigh. "He'll come to in a few minutes." "Good thing; the rain won't hold off too much longer."
The wind was gusting stronger, and thick clouds were blowing across the face of the moon, blocking the light for seconds at a time.
"What brought them here on a night like this?" Den wondered aloud.
"If I had to venture a wild guess, I'd say vandalism," the channel said, nodding towards the bundles which the others had dropped in their haste to escape. "At least, I can't think of any other reason for them to be carrying spraypaint and stencils with anti-Sime slogans, can you?"
"Terrific." Disgusted, Den looked down at their patient. It was hard to tell in the uncertain light, but the face seemed vaguely familiar. Mentally, Den erased the dirt and bruises, and then recognition came.
"He's Rob Lifton; I talked to his sister this afternoon." Briefly, Den described their confrontation. "So it may be my fault that Rob and his friends paid us this visit."
Rital shrugged. "Maybe. Or maybe not--Carla Lifton has been a leader of the anti-Sime faction since before the Center opened. These slogans have appeared elsewhere, and have been quite effective in persuading local businesses not to deal with us. They may just have decided that it was our turn tonight."
There was a soft moan, and Rob's head shifted on Den's knee. Rital put one hand, tentacles carefully retracted, on the boy's chest to keep him from moving. "Lie still for a moment, Rob," he said softly in English.
Rob's eyes fluttered and opened cautiously. They drifted, unable to focus properly. There was a louder grumble of thunder, and the Gen flinched, lifting one hand to his injured head. "What happened?" he mumbled. "My head is killing me."
"I know it hurts," Rital said with brisk sympathy. "You gave yourself a nasty concussion. Next time you try to climb a fence, watch where you put your feet."
"Fence..." Rob repeated vaguely, then his eyes opened wide with alarm. The moon chose that moment to come out from behind the clouds, throwing enough light on the scene that the out-Territory Gen was able to see them clearly. "No!" he cried, trying to sit up. "Let me go!"
"Take it easy, kid," Den advised, helping Rital to restrain their patient before he undid all of the channel's hard work. What does he think we're going to do to him, anyway?
"Let me go," Rob kept insisting. "You can't keep me here. I want to go home."
"You are in no condition to go anywhere," Rital said firmly, cutting through the incipient hysteria. "Den will drive you home in a little bit, when you've rested, but right now, we'd better get you inside before we all get soaked. No, don't try to stand up," he warned as the boy tried to get his feet untangled. "We'll carry you."
Rob stopped struggling and let them lift him. The moon had disappeared again, and Den stepped carefully, trying to avoid a stumble.
He let Rital lead the way, trusting the Sime to steer him around any obstacles. They barely made it inside before the rain hit, a solid sheet of water beating into the ground.
They installed their patient in a well-insulated treatment room on the empty changeover ward, where his high field wouldn't bother any of the staff renSimes. Rob looked around at the strange equipment, trying to force his eyes to focus. Den handed him a glass of medicine, and he sipped automatically, choked, then spluttered, spitting it out. "What is this stuff?" he demanded suspiciously.
"Fosebine," Rital told him. "It tastes awful, I know, but it will help your headache."
"I don't want any of your Sime potions," Rob insisted, putting the glass down on the bedside table. "You're not going to poison me."
Den had had enough. "If we wanted to harm you, we could easily have just left you out there," he pointed out acidly. "If Rital hadn't stopped the bleeding before it put pressure on your brain, you might never have woken up. Now drink that down before your headache drives him nuts!"
Rob glared back, but the Donor's righteous anger was unarguable.
Resentfully, the boy raised the glass and drained it. "There," he said, flinging the glass at Den.
Rital intercepted it effortlessly with two tentacles and set it on a counter. "Good. Rest for a bit, and then Den will take you home."
"I want to go now."
"You're pretty demanding, aren't you?" Den remarked sourly. "Particularly for someone who sneaks around at night, climbing fences and trampling other peoples' corn and peas--if you had to go through the garden, you could have gone for the zucchini instead. For your information, I'm not driving you anywhere until the rain lets up."
An extra-loud crack of thunder made Rob flinch.
"That was close," Rital said. He went to the window and pulled back the curtains. "Look, the lights are out all over town. It must have hit one of the main power lines."
"But..." Rob looked up at the steady light of the ceiling bulb. "How come the lights here... What kind of magic are you using here, anyway?"
"The magic of modern science," Den said dryly. "We've got our own generator in the basement."
"I just hope that the batteries didn't get scrambled." Rital sighed. "It started out as such a quiet evening."
Channel and Donor stiffened simultaneously, staring at each other as they remembered. "The rolls!" Rital groaned, forgetting to use English as he made an augmented dash for the door.
"What was that about?" Rob asked.
"That was about my breakfast, which your little prank has probably reduced to charcoal by now," Den answered, making no attempt to hide his anger. "We were baking cinnamon rolls when Rital spotted you and your friends."
Rob stared at the Donor in confusion. "But only women cook," he said. "If your only other choice was the indigestable mess served in the average Sime Center cafeteria, you'd learn to cook, too."
As the fosebine took effect, Rob grew more alert. Soon he was complaining of boredom, and once again insisting that he be immediately taken home, despite the loud pattering of raindrops against the windowpane. After the fourth request in ten minutes, Den ordered the boy to stay put, and stepped out to the changeover ward's nursing station.
Rummaging through the desk drawers, he located the small collection of books the staff kept handy for patients who were too badly injured to leave their beds. These were mostly English translations of popular in-Territory works, which entertained while introducing new Simes to in-Territory society. Scanning the half dozen titles, Den selected a novel he had enjoyed at Rob's age. It detailed the improbable adventures of Slem, a cabin boy on the Far Horizon, one of Householding Shaeldor's early clipper ships. Perhaps storms, shipwrecks, and hairsbreadth escapes from unfriendly natives would silence Rob's whining.
It was a much subdued Rob who sat next to Den in the passenger seat of the Center's staff car, an hour later. He mumbled directions, casting sideways glances at the Donor as he clutched the book, which he had asked to borrow. Finally, he blurted, "Here, in the first chapter...is that what that Sime did to me?"
Den tried to remember the convoluted plot. The first chapter... "Do you mean the part where Slem knocks the spice jar off the top shelf, and it shatters on the stove?"
"Yes. What the ship's channel is doing to the cook's injuries in this picture...is that what that Sime did to me?"
Den glanced at the engraving, considering the question for a moment. "Well, I haven't read that translation, but if it's close to the original, yes, that's pretty much what Rital did."
Den was surprised to be asked such a question. "Because you would have died if he hadn't," he explained as patiently as he could.
"Oh." Rob was quiet for a moment, then he asked, "How can you do it?" "Do what?"
"Let that Sime take selyn from you. I know there's a law that says you have to, in Sime Territory, but here--they couldn't make you do it, if you object."
Den, who was still post and enjoying it immensely, censored his first two replies and eased the car through an intersection before answering. "First of all, Rital isn't 'that Sime', he's my cousin. We grew up together, and I'm very fond of him. Second, what on Earth gives you the idea that I object to giving him transfer?"
Rob stared at Den. "But Reverend Sinth says it's horrible."
"Rob, do you think Reverend Sinth has ever worked as a Donor?" "Of course not!"
"Or even donated?"
"Then how could he possibly know that it's horrible? I've been a Donor for eight years now, and I wouldn't want another profession. Especially not if it meant giving up transfer."
Rob shook his head in disbelief. "But everybody knows it's true. I mean, just thinking about letting those slimy tentacles...ugh!" He shuddered.
"Rob, who is 'everybody'? And how do they 'know' the truth? My mother once told me that there are two ways to find out what something's like: try it yourself or ask someone who has. Have you ever asked any of the people in town who have donated how they felt about it?"
Rob shook his head.
"Maybe you should."
Fortunately, Rob's mother was not at home to see her son return home in a Sime Center vehicle; she would not have approved, if the look of horror on his sister Annie's face was a clear indication of the Lifton family's opinion of anything (or anyone) associated with the Center. Annie wouldn't let the Donor get within arms' length of her, and helped her brother into the house without addressing one word to him, as if she believed any contact with him would contaminate her.
Den hoped that if the girl went through changeover, she would have the courtesy to wait until he had left--he didn't want to be the one stuck with trying to convince her that being Sime was not the end of the world.
Sighing, the Donor pulled out his flashlight and map, and began to figure out how to retrace his steps.
As it turned out, it was Annie's friend Rachel Grieves who went through changeover instead. A week after Den's transfer, he saw the notice in the Clarion . Rachel had killed a sister before her parents succeeded in beating her to death. Len Dusam, the anti-Sime candidate for mayor, was citing this as an example of the evil Sime nature; Mayor Ann Kroag, running for re-election, had pointed out that both girls would still be alive if their parents had called the Sime Center for help. The letters to the editor were running three to one in favor of Dusam's position.
Den was in Rital's office that afternoon, halfheartedly going over the monthly no-progress report with the channel, when the phone rang. Since Den was closest, he answered, mumbling a distracted greeting.
"Den? This is Seena, in the Collectorium. We've got a virgin down here; he's displaying an admirable amount of courage and a less admirable lack of control. Could you get Rital down here to take care of him before he paces a hole in the carpet?"
"We'll be right down." He passed on the message to Rital, adding, "If he's that scared, I'm going with you to attend."
The channel started to object, noticed the stubborn determination in his Donor's nager, and gave in gracefully.
When they reached the Collectorium, Den was astonished to see that their visitor was Rob Lifton. Seena had underestimated his emotional condition, if anything; the boy was pacing back and forth in the waiting room, shoulders hunched with tension, and his face had the greenish-grey tint of someone who had been through a prolonged ordeal--or was anticpating one. It clashed horribly with his yellow T-shirt.
Rital cleared his throat, and Rob started, whirling to stare at them, wide-eyed. Den could feel the channel brace himself against the other Gen's fear, and moved between them to cut the nager. Does he think Rital is going to attack him?
"Hello, Rob," Den greeted, trying to distract the boy. "How's your head?"
Rob relaxed infinitesimally. "Much better; the headaches are all gone." "I'm glad to hear that. And your sister?"
"She's...as well as can be expected, but she's pretty upset about what happened to her friend Rachel. She thinks God punished Rachel for talking to you, and she's afraid that she'll be next. Mother is still furious at her; she's forbidden Annie to come within half a block of anyone who works here."
"I'm surprised to see you here, if your mother feels so strongly about it." "Well..." Rob gave a weak but genuine grin. "I didn't exactly tell her I was coming, and I came in over the back fence to avoid the demonstration. I don't think anyone could have recognized me from the street." He gestured towards one of the waiting room chairs that held a freshly purchased, wide-brimmed hat, price tag still attached, and a pair of sunglasses.
"Well, now that you're here, what can we do for you?" Rital asked. Rob tensed again, then focused on Den with a kind of desperate courage. "I've been thinking about what you said," he began tentatively. "About all those folks out there," he waved a hand towards the distant chanting of the demonstrators outside, "not knowing what they're talking about, and..."
He swallowed convulsively. "Everyone I know thinks they're right, but I can't take their word for it any longer. I've got to find out for myself." Shen. "So you've come to donate," Den completed the thought for him. Rob nodded.
Den groaned silently. It was patently obvious even to Gen eyes that donating was the last thing the boy wanted to do. He was frightened enough to turn what should be a routine procedure into something fully as horrible as he obviously expected it to be. However, if they turned Rob away, refusing his donation, he would assume that they had something to hide, and he would never trust anyone connected with a Sime Center again. It was a no-win situation either way.
The final decision was Rital's, since it was the Sime who would have to experience Rob's fear if they proceeded. One look at the channel gave Den the answer he had expected. No First Order channel with such a light workload would turn down a donation. With a sigh, Den resigned himself to assisting. The kid's going to panic--shen, he already is--but if he's handled properly, he won't start to actively fight us until it's too late to do him any good.
"All right, then," Den said, in as reassuring a tone as he could manage. "Why don't you come with us?"
Rob squared his shoulders and followed them down the short hall to the Center's one furnished Collecting Room. (There were actually seven of them, but with only one channel taking donations, the rest were being used as storage closets--one more example, in Den's opinion, of the architect's foolhardiness in building on the grand scale.)
Rob surveyed the room in quick, nervous glances, taking in the cheerful yellow carpeting, the desk and chairs, and the transfer lounge along the far wall.
Smoothly, Den faded into the background as Rital sat down behind the desk and, tentacles carefully sheathed, gestured for Rob to take the visitor's chair. Rob perched on the very edge of the chair, and Den inched a little closer to the channel.
Rob watched closely as Rital fished in a drawer and pulled out one of the Tecton's more formidable forms. Ignoring the scrutiny, Rital began collecting the endless list of information--demographical, biographical, and medical--required of all new general-class donors. When at long last it had become excruciatingly clear that Rob was a normally healthy young Gen, the boy was sitting back comfortably in his chair, and the wild look in his eyes had been partially replaced by the glazed boredom common to all victims of the Tecton's lust for documentation.
In the same calm, matter-of-fact tone, Rital began to explain the donation procedure: what would happen, how long it would take, and most particularly, how it would feel. By this time, Rob was comfortable enough with the channel to ask questions, mostof which had to do with the misinformation he had picked up from his mother.
When his curiosity was fully satisfied, Rob moved to the transfer lounge and lay down at the channel's direction. He let Rital sit next to him, not quite drawing away, but not trusting, either.
"I know you're frightened," Rital said soothingly. "That's very common; I'd be more surprised if you weren't afraid. I promise I won't hurt you, no matter how frightened you are--but it's your decision." He held out his hands, tentacles still retracted, and waited.
Rob stared for a long moment. "I guess if I never try, I'll never find out what it's like, will I?" he remarked with the ghost of a smile. He hesitated a moment more, visibly gathering courage, and then timidly reached for the channel's hands.
Den had to admire both Rob's nerve and Rital's skill at seduction, but he knew that neither would be sufficient. Laying a hand on Rital's neck, the Donor offered a steady support. He felt the channel's field mesh with his, accepting the help, and then Rital deftly completed the transfer contact, so quickly and smoothly that it was done before Rob could react.
Rob stiffened, the whites of his eyes showing clearly. For one long moment, Den thought the boy's nerve would hold, and then he began to struggle.
Transfer lounges were designed to be comfortable to lie on, but they did not provide much leverage to a person trying to get up without using his arms. Rital hardly had to augment to keep the Gen immobilized. Rob soon discovered that he was not going to escape, which fed his panic even more.
Because the Gen was locked tight against him, it took the channel half again as long as usual to finish. When he had drained the GN-3 level, Rital dismantled the contact, carefully sheathing his laterals before he let his handling tentacles loosen their grip. Rob stopped struggling as he was released, sanity slowly returning to his eyes, and with it, embarrassment.
"I'm...sorry," he said awkwardly. "I don't know why..."
Rital murmured something reassuring, and returned to his seat behind the desk, scribbling the relevant notations on the form. Seeing the channel's exhaustion, Den picked up the file when he finished, and herded the boy towards the door.
As they walked back to the waiting room, Rob admitted, "You were right--but so was my mother. I didn't feel anything happening, but..." he shuddered convulsively, revulsion twisting his face. "Still, I'm glad I came."
That makes one of us, Den thought, leaving Rob and the form in Seena's capable hands as he hurried back to Rital. The channel was slumped over the desk, massaging the back of his neck with all eight handling tentacles. Den pushed them aside and substituted his own hands, reaching out nagerically to undo the havoc Rob's terror had wreaked.
Rital gave a small moan of relief. "Thanks," he said. "That was NOT fun." "The kid had no business coming here, if he couldn't behave himself."
"Now, Den," Rital chided, "that's not fair. First you say those frightened Gens should come in and find out what we're about, and then as soon as one does, you want to kick him back out again. Besides, from what he said, you were the one who suggested he donate."
"I most certainly did not!" Den finished with his work and moved around to perch on the desk. "I just said that his parents and other non-donors didn't know any more than he did about it. I thought he'd ask one of our regulars, or even go to the library and look at one of those books you gave them. If I'd thought he was the type to go for experimentation, I'd have kept quiet."
"But you were right--how could Rob ever learn, without trying?" "Learn?" Den scowled. "He hasn't learned a thing, and he managed to give you both a very hard time while he was doing it. Maybe now that his curiosity is satisfied, he'll have the sense to stay away with the rest of the Simephobes." He gestured towards the front of the building.
Rital's eyes twinkled. "Your parents used to tell me, 'Never underestimate a Gen.' I think Rob has changed his mind about Simes...a little bit. That's really all we can ask for, at this point. Even our more vocal opponents can learn a little bit--but not unless we're willing to teach them."
"Oh, they're learning so much about Simes, standing out there waving signs with hate messages at you," Den said sarcastically. "There are more of them out there today than there were on the day I arrived."
"I know. A busload of them came in from one of the outlying communities this morning." Rital grinned mischievously. "They used to be able to bug us full time, using locals only. Think about it."
The next few weeks passed quietly enough. There were no more changeovers in the town, and two new Gens came in to donate. Fortunately, neither one of them was quite as panic-stricken as Rob had been. Rital was still suffering an occasional bout of entran, and Den began to seriously consider ignoring Rital's wishes and recommending to the District Controller that his cousin be replaced. He knew that Rital liked the challenge of Clear Springs, but he had no intention of letting the channel ruin his health over it.
As election day came closer, the protests outside the Center grew noisier, and the Center's staff began to develop a siege mentality. After a particularly bad day, Den was reading the Clarion when a notice under University Events caught his eye.
8:00, 155 Norvan Hall--Public Debate. Mayor Ann Kroag and challenger Len Dusam will discuss whether the Sime Center should remain in Clear Springs, followed by comments and questions from the audience. Come and let us hear your views! Sponsored by Students for a Sime-Free City, the Friends of Len Dusam, and the Conservative Congregation Committee for Political Action.
Den read and reread the sponsors' names, his anger growing with each repetition. He had no illusions about what would happen. The audience would be packed with every anti-Sime fanatic for miles around, and before the evening was over, the town would be officially on record as strongly in favor of closing the Center. And won't Controller Monruss be happy about that! The more the Donor thought about it, the more unfair it seemed. They're not content anymore with just making Rital miserable while he's here; no, now they want to put a permanant blot on his record!
The Tecton forbade its members to take part in out-Territory politics; it was felt that this might lead to charges of an attempted takeover. But suddenly, staying out of trouble with the Tecton was unimportant to Den if it meant letting Carla Lifton and her friends speak unopposed.
I won't let them get away with it!
Den glanced at his watch. 7:15. There was plenty of time. He slipped out the back door without telling anyone his plans. There were still a few die-hard protesters blocking the front sidewalk, so he followed Rob's example and went over the back fence.
It wasn't until he reached the outskirts of the campus that he realized that he had forgotten his map, and he had no idea where Norvan Hall might be. After failing to find a name on the three closest buildings, he cornered a passing student and asked for directions.
"Norvan Hall?" she repeated. "Are you going to that debate thing?"
"So am I. It's this way." She pointed down a brick path.
"Do you belong to one of the sponsoring organizations?" Den asked as he followed her.
"Those fanatics?" she said scornfully, tossing her long hair back over her shoulders. "No, I have better things to do with my time. Besides, I don't particularly care if the Sime Center goes or stays."
"Then why are you going to tonight's debate?"
She shrugged. "It's free entertainment. Why not?"
Norvan Hall turned out to be the chemistry building, and room 155 was a large lecture hall. At the front of the hall, under the periodic table, several frantic-looking students were trying to hook up two microphones, one on the lectern for the speakers and one at the bottom of the center aisle, presumably for audience members to use during the discussion.
About three quarters of the seats were occupied with a mixture of students and townspeople. At least a third of them were carrying anti-Sime posters or wearing "Tecton go home!" buttons. (Students for a Sime-Free City was selling them for an outrageous price from a literature table at the entrance.) Almost all of the people who regularly demonstrated in front of the Center were present, but Den was gratified to recognize a few of the Center's regular general-class donors as well.
As the Donor wandered down the aisle in search of a seat, an impeccably groomed student handed him one of Students for a Sime-Free City's flyers, with the current list of "Simelovers", and a familiar pamphlet.
The Sime on the pamphlet still looked like an octopus convention. Eventually, things got started. The moderator, a formidable older woman who looked quite capable of enforcing order on any gathering, took the microphone to explain the rules. Each candidate was to make a fifteen minute speech, followed by five minute rebuttals. Members of the audience would then be allowed to address the speakers with comments or questions, "so long as they are relevant and politely phrased--this is a schoolroom, not a schoolyard," for three minutes each.
The first candidate, Len Dusam, took the microphone to a spatter of polite applause. Dusam was a balding, portly gentleman dressed in a suit far too heavy for the climate. He was obviously ill at ease as he adjusted the microphone and began his speech.
"First of all, I'd like to thank all of you for coming out here tonight," he said, wiping the beads of perspiration from his forehead with a wrinkled handkerchief. "Now, I'm not a big talker, but I'd like to take a few minutes to tell you why you should vote for me, instead of putting Ann Kroag back in office, and letting her do even more damage than she has already."
Dusam then began a critical review of Kroag's last term, all of which added up to a blanket condemnation of her for allowing Simes into Clear Springs. He wasn't a terribly inspiring or even coherent speaker, but many of the audience were murmuring in approval.
"On behalf of all of us here, I'm going to finish by asking my opponent just one question. Are you going to send those Simes back to their own country where they belong, or are we going to have to elect someone else who will, Miz Kroag?" He sneered. "Or is that 'Naztehr Kroag'?"
That got him cheers, sneers, whistles, and hallelujahs from his supporters in the audience.
Ann Kroag was not a large woman, but to Den's critical eye, she had more poise and presence than Dusam and the moderator combined. She expertly adjusted the microphone and suggested in a pleasant voice, "Perhaps it would be easier if you addressed me as 'Mayor Kroag'.
That netted her her own round of applause, especially from the women in the audience, and when she held up her hand for quiet, she got it, as everyone settled down to listen.
"Folks, Mr. Dusam has asked me to tell you why I suppport having a Sime Center in Clear Springs. I'll admit that when the university first approached me on the subject, I wasn't too happy about it. The other members of the City Council and I did a lot of research before asking the Tecton to build the Center, and we concluded that the impact would be more positive than negative. I think the past four months have justified our action."
There was a murmur of discussion, about evenly split between supporters and detractors.
"For one thing, everyone's electric bill has gone down--I don't know about you, but I'd rather not go back to last year's prices."
There was a swelling agreement, until a heckler yelled, "I'd rather have higher bills than be attacked by Simes!"
"And that brings me to my second point," Kroag continued smoothly. "There have been eleven changeovers in Clear Springs in the last four and a half months, since the Sime Center opened. The parents of seven of those children did not call the Sime Center for help. All seven children died, and three of them killed first. None of the changeover victims turned over to the Sime Center have killed--and all but one are alive and well.
"It wasn't easy for me to turn my son over to strangers, but I'm very glad now that I did. I got a letter from him yesterday; he is happy and healthy, and it looks like he's going to be a lawyer just like he always wanted. Can Rachel Grieve's parents say that about their daughter? Either one of them?" Her voice firmed with utter conviction. "Having a Sime Center to take care of changeover victims has only saved lives, not endangered them. And I, for one, think saving lives is a goal worth working for!"
Several people applauded loudly, and all but Dusam's most hard-core supporters joined in. With an eye towards regaining his lost support, Dusam appealed to his listeners' fears in his rebuttal. "I'm sure we all agree that the Sime Center has done good things for those children who turn Sime, but I'm more worried about the Gens of this city! I don't care how they try to sanitize it, how innocent they make it sound, they are doing their level best to lure my friends and neighbors into their clutches. Friends, I don't know about you, but somehow, a Sime's clutches doesn't strike me as a very pleasant or safe place to be!"
It was nonsense, of course, but effective nonsense. Den knew that this crowd of votors, mostly non-donors, contained many Gens who got shaky at the thought of a Sime touching them. Such people could easily be induced to ignore the facts.
Kroag was a good enough politician to know this, but she tried anyway. When the applause had died down, she used her rebuttal time to point out that there were no reports of injuries during donations, in Clear Springs or elsewhere, and that none of the local Gens donating since the Center opened had complained of mistreatment. Her rational approach was surprisingly effective. By the time she finished her rebuttal, even some of the people wearing 'Dusam for Mayor' buttons were nodding in agreement, and Dusam was a very worried man.
However, the mood was broken by the very first audience member to speak, a tall, thin Gen man wearing a T-shirt with 'Sime-free Zone' stenciled on the front. He drawled, "Very pretty speech, Mayor Kroag," lingering sarcastically over the title. "But just because no one's been hurt yet, doesn't mean it won't happen. I think I speak for most of the people in this town when I say that I don't want me or anyone else in Clear Springs to be the exception that proves the rule!"
The anti-Sime faction was out in force, and almost all of them were in line to speak. They had even imported speakers from surrounding communities--these were easily identified because everyone who could prefaced his or her speech by claiming to be "a Clear Springs resident and registered voter". For the first hour of comments from the floor, only two speakers came out in favor of the Center: one businessman who liked his lower utility bills, so long as he "didn't have to deal with the snakes personally", and a student who depended on the income from donating to supplement her financial aid. As the evening dragged on, the presentations became a little less one-sided, but they were still running two to one in favor of asking the Tecton to close the Center.
To Den's utter surprise, many of the most virulently anti-Sime speakers--those carrying the "Don't be a Victim!" pamphlets and identifying themselves as members of Reverend Sinth's Conservative Congregation--expressed concern about the welfare of the Center's Gens. Apparently, it was widely believed that Rital forcibly confined the Gen staff to the Center's grounds, to keep them from converting to the out-Territory religion. This spiritual deprivation was supposed to make the eventual confinement of in-Territory Gens to Pens easier.
After five speakers in a row had accused Rital of enslaving him for purposes of homicide, Den had had enough. He joined the considerably-shortened line, and when he reached the microphone, seven anti-Sime speakers later, he was coldly furious.
"My name is Sosu Den Milnan; I'm Hajene Madz's Donor," he began, winning astonished stares from many of the audience. "I am...deeply moved...by the expressions of concern for my well-being that I have been hearing from the members of the Conservative Congregation tonight. However, if they had come to me with their concerns, I could have saved them some sleepless nights. No one forced me to become a Donor; no one is forcing me to continue being one. I enjoy my job, or I'd find another.
"Many of you have also expressed concern about what exactly is happening inside the Center, particularly to those people who come to donate selyn. My advice to anyone who wants to separate truth from fiction is to ask the only people who know--the ones who have donated. For your convenience, Reverend Sinth's congregation and Students for a Sime-Free City have thoughtfully provided lists of such people; copies are available at the table in the back." Den held up his flyer, and got a laugh.
"Or if you don't like second-hand information, come and see what's going on for yourself." Den continued. "But don't rely on the ignorant ravings of a fanatic who doesn't even know how many tentacles a Sime has on each arm!" Den waved the pamphlet he had been handed, ignoring the glares from Reverend Sinth's congregation.
Surrendering the microphone, Den sat down in the nearest empty seat, surprised at the applause his speech had garnered. "Nice speech, son," the man next to him said, and Den recognized Mr. Duncan. "It's about time you folks stood up for yourselves."
The remaining anti-Sime speakers moderated their language, accusing Rital of seduction, not enslavement, and they were not as well received as the earlier speakers.
Not even getting lost kept Den from whistling all the way home.
Rital was horrified when Den told what he had done.
"How could you do such a thing? Are you trying to get the town to close down the Center? You know that we aren't supposed to take sides in out-Territory politics."
"That's a little hard to do when our presence is the major political issue in this town," Den pointed out.
"It's an issue that the citizens of this town have a right to decide for themselves--without our help. They won't appreciate your interference, and with the situation so explosive, they just might retaliate."
Den knew that much of his cousin's upset was due to approaching need, but he couldn't help being annoyed by it. "Rital, the folks who don't want us here can hardly dislike us more than they do already. And who knows, I might have reached some of the undecideds." He gripped the channel's shoulder in reassurance. "So stop being a spoilsport and come have some dinner."
"I'm not hungry," the channel said, but he followed Den to the cafeteria. Over the next week, the demonstrations outside the Center grew larger and noisier. "Mayor Kroag is a rogue" was added to the chants, and "Elect Len Dusam" campaign buttons were in evidence along with the usual anti-Sime slogans. In spite of this, over a dozen new Gens showed up at the Collectorium to donate, and most of them were townspeople, not students.
This was a mixed blessing, as far as Den was concerned. The extra work prevented Rital from having any more entran attacks, but as their next transfer date approached, taking first donations from frightened Gens began to take its toll on the channel. Den left standing orders for the duty receptionist at the Collectorium to inform him whenever a new general-class donor came in, so that he could bring the channel's intil factor down to an acceptable level afterwards.
Still, the polls showed that Mayor Kroag had caught up to Len Dusam, and a few people had even nodded a surreptitious greeting when Den and Rital drove through town on their way to the power plant to recharge the batteries. Rital was very encouraged, and that made Den happy.
Two days after their second transfer, Den had found a quiet corner in the garden in which to practice his guitar when Rital stormed up, waving an official-looking bundle of papers.
"This is your fault, you brainless escapee from a Pen! Everything was going along well, and then you had to meddle!"
"What's the matter?" Den asked, unimpressed with his cousin's histrionics. "This is the matter!" Rital thrust the papers into the Gen's hands.
"Your prank the other day has backfired in a big way. If you hadn't gone on about the 'ignorant ravings' of a prominent and respected clergyman, his congregation wouldn't have lobbied intensively enough to convince the swing vote on the City Council to vote against us!"
Den smoothed the wrinkled pages. Under the city letterhead was neatly typed: City of Clear Springs
Dear Hajene Madz:
Due to the disturbance caused by religious slurs uttered by a member of your staff at a recent political debate, the city council has passed the attached ordinance by a vote of 3 to 2. We request your immediate compliance.
Jess Rebens, City Clerk
Den read the resolution in disbelief. When the legal jargon was stripped away, the message was clear: no Center employee was to leave the grounds except when notified of an emergency. Period.
"What are we going to do?" Rital paced back and forth, tentacles lashing in agitation.
"Hope Mayor Kroag and her supporters running for council seats win the election?" Den suggested lamely.
Rital's lip curled in disgust. "Oh, go back to your music. What do you care if everyone here is confined to the grounds? You'll be gone in another two weeks anyway. Who knows, without the distraction of being able to go to town when you have time off, you might even be able to get 'The Obedient Apprentice' up to tempo. Sometimes I wonder about you, Den. I know you don't think much of the local Gens, but you might show some consideration for those of us who are going to have to deal with them!"
"That's IT!" Den interrupted.
"'The Obedient Apprentice'...they'll repeal this nonsense in no time!" Den grinned at his cousin's confusion. "All we have to do is take a page from the apprentice in question and follow orders to the letter." He pointed to the relevant clause. "See, we can't leave the Center except for an emergency, which this section defines as a life-threatening situation, like a changeover victim who might die or kill somebody. They forgot to make an exception for nonessential services, say, refilling the batteries at their power plant."
"Go on strike?" Rital considered. "There hasn't been a breath of wind all week. Unless it really starts blowing, the town would be out of power by tomorrow night. Isn't that a little harsh, to punish the whole town for the mistake of three councilmen?"
"It's high time that the people in this town learned exactly how much the Center has improved their lives. Besides, if you were a councilman running for reelection, would you want to take the blame for a city-wide power outage? Particularly if the local newspaper wouldn't let you get away with redistributing the blame elsewhere? I've read Hank Fredricks' editorials; he's fed up with Reverend Sinth's fanaticism." Den gave his cousin a wicked grin. "Just let me do the talking, and those poor idiots won't know what hit them."
It took some persuasion on Den's part, but once convinced, Rital entered into the spirit of the thing. Early the following afternoon, Nid Fulson, the manager of the power plant, called to find out why Rital had not appeared, and was most upset to discover the reason. A staff reporter for the Clarion called shortly thereafter, and Rital gleefully listened in on the extension as Den, dripping innocence, carefully explained that the City Council had passed an ordinance forbidding them to visit the power plant, which, as law-abiding visitors to the community, they were bound to obey.
The three council members who had pushed the ordinance through called in the early evening. They threatened and cajoled, but Den stood firm. Rital would be happy to refill the batteries, but not until the ordinance was repealed.
At eight, the power went out throughout the city (with the exception of the Sime Center, of course). Twenty minutes later, a messenger arrived to inform them that the ordinance had been unanimously repealed during an emergency candlelight session of the city council. Half an hour later, the batteries were refilled, and the power came back on.
The incident was fully covered by the Clarion, in terms even more favorable than Den had dared to hope, including a scathing editorial condemning the three errant council members who had voted for the ordinance of "putting personal prejudice and political partisanship before the interests of the people of Clear Springs," and reminding readers that if the anti-Sime faction had its way, the town would be at the mercy of the wind for however long it took to locate, purchase, and install a new steam generator--at considerable cost to all concerned.
The next day's poll showed the pro-Center candidates, particularly Mayor Ann Kroag, pulling ahead of their opponents for the first time.
One rainy night shortly before the election (the fourth day of a drizzle only a farmer could love, not that it seemed to dampen the spirits of the demonstrators), Den was passing by the Center's back door on the way to the library when he heard a frantic knocking. Curious, he opened it and discovered Rob Lifton: soaked, shivering, and sporting a spectacular black eye.
"What...?" the Donor started to ask.
"It's Annie," Rob panted, grief thickening his voice. "You've got to help me find her before my mother does. Mom'll shoot her this time. Oh, come on, hurry!"
Den held up a hand to stop the flow of words. "Calm down. I can't do anything until I know what's going on. Now. What's this about your sister?"
"It's changeover. She started running a fever this evening, throwing up. I thought at first that it was just her cough getting worse; she always gets a nervous stomach when she's got a fever. Mother didn't believe me, so she had Reverend Sinth come over, and he said that it was changeover. Mom wouldn't let me call you; said she could take care of it herself. She took the carving knife and..." Rob shut his eyes, swallowing convulsively. "There was blood all over. I tried to hold her back, and Annie ran out the door. Reverend Sinth was furious. That's how I got this," Rob indicated his bruised eye. "Mother locked me in my room, took the gun, and went outside to track Annie down. I got out the window. I think I know where Annie would go to hide. You've got to help me find her before Mother shoots her!"
Den nodded as he rapidly led the way through the Center. He sent a passing renSime ahead to rouse the ambulance crew. Rital joined them by the ambulance docking bay, and was quickly briefed.
"It's only been a few hours. We have plenty of time to get her back here before she reaches breakout." Rital put a reassuring hand on Rob's shoulder.
Den deftly took control of the fields as the other Gen flinched, then allowed the touch.
"Where do you think she's gone to hide?" the Donor asked, impatient with the boy's fear.
"There's a sort of cave under the bank of the stream that runs through the park. We used to play there sometimes. I can show you where it is."
"You can tell us where it is," Rital corrected, holding up a hand as Rob started to protest. "I know you're worried about your sister, but you can't come along. If she's there, we'll find her."
"I've got to go along," Rob protested. "Annie won't let you near her if I'm not there. She's terrified of Simes. You know she is," he appealed to Den. "Tell him."
"I know your sister's feelings about Simes," Den agreed. "BUT," he continued, firmly overriding Rob's next words, "it's been a good four weeks since you donated. You're high-field again, and you haven't the faintest idea how to behave properly around Simes." At Rob's indignant look, the Donor explained in simpler terms. "That means that you could hurt your sister very badly by being in the same room with her. Understand?"
"Yes." A determined look settled on Rob's features, and he began rolling up his sleeves. "If my being...high-field," he stumbled over the unfamiliar term, "bothers you, that can be changed, but I'm going with you."
Rital looked at the Gen's offered hands, sighed, and signalled Den with one tentacle. Obediently, the Donor blocked the nageric chaos of the assembling ambulance crew, surrounding the channel with a bubble of privacy.
Rob flinched and closed his eyes as Rital made the transfer contact, but did not struggle. When the channel let him go, he shuddered, then followed close on Den's heels to the ambulance.
It was a wild ride through the rainy darkness, the ambulance swaying on the curves. As soon as it coasted to a halt, Den helped Rital to put on the loathsome retainers, grabbed an electric lantern, and climbed out after his cousin.
The park was a large one, with picnic areas, a playground, a playing field (which was rapidly turning into a marsh), and several acres of overgrown forest with hiking trails.
"There's a path over thataway, on the other side of the picnic area," Rob said, pointing to the other side of the playing field as he joined them. "It leads down towards the stream."
Den could barely see the trees, much less any picnic tables beneath them, but Rital nodded and led the way across the field, splashing through ankle-deep puddles. Den and Rob fell in behind him, followed by two of the Center's Gens carrying a light stretcher.
Rob stumbled over a grass clump and cursed. "It must be nice to be able to see in the dark," he remarked a little enviously, watching the channel's unhindered progress.
"Rital can't see in the dark any better than you or me," Den told him absently. "Less, actually; he's always been a little nearsighted. But Simes don't require light to sense selyn fields any more than Gens require selyn fields to see light."
"Oh." Rob tried to wipe the water off of his face, then gave it up as a futile task.
They slogged onward in silence. Den shivered in the wet chill, wishing he had thought to put a sweater on under his raincoat. He hoped they could find Annie soon, before the cold and her reported injuries combined with fear and lack of training to bring her into attrition before she was ready for breakout.
When they reached the picnic area, Rob appropriated Den's lantern and led the way down a narrow, winding dirt path that had obviously been designed by the local children, not the Park Authority. Before long, it began to slope sharply down towards the stream, ankle-deep in muddy water. Den skidded on the slick clay, and was only saved from a fall by Rital's augmented grab at his arm.
"Thanks," the Donor muttered as he got his feet on firmer footing.
"Can you zlin her yet?"
"No. Either Rob's cave is deep enough to insulate her nager, or she isn't here, or..."
"Yeah. Or she's already dead."
An anguished moan echoed down the trail. Den hastily slithered down the last of the path, landing knee-deep in the cold stream, the others close behind. Rob was inspecting a raw gash in the bank, where a deep undercut, softened by the rain, had recently collapsed.
"Shen," Rital swore. "If she was under there when it went..."
"No!" Rob denied. "Look at how high the water is. The floor of the cave must have been underwater before the cave-in. She'd have hidden somewhere else." Cupping his hands around his mouth, he yelled, "ANNIE!"
"Go away, Rob!" a faint cry came from above, barely audible over the stream's roar.
Rob scrambled up the bank of the stream and bolted up the hill like a goat, making his own path. Den watched the pool of light rise and hoped Rob would manage not to break the lantern. The three remaining Gens let Rital lead the way back to the path, stumbling in the darkness. The channel wound through the bushes and boulders, taking a roundabout but less obstructed way to the top.
Den could hear Annie crying faintly when Rital stopped, uttering a string of soft obscenities, in which the word "lorshes" featured prominently.
"What is it?" Den asked.
"She's no more in changeover than you are," the channel explained succinctly, working his way between the boulders that had prevented him from zlinning her earlier.
In the pool of light cast by the lantern, Den could see Annie huddling in her brother's arms. Her thin face was blotched with dirt, rain, tears, and blood from a knife slash across one cheek. She shrank back like a trapped animal when she saw Rital.
"No! I won't go! I won't be a Sime!" She doubled over in a convulsive coughing fit. When she brought her hands up to cover her mouth,
Den could see that her arms had also been slashed by the knife. Wielded by her own mother, just on the suspicion that she might be in changeover!
The Donor fought down his outrage; this was no time for it.
"You're right, Annie," Rital said in his gentlest tone, kneeling on the leaf mould beside her, but not trying to touch her. "You won't be a Sime, because you're already a Gen."
Rob and Annie stared at him, identical looks of dumfounded astonishment on their faces.
"But Reverend Sinth said..." Annie began, trying not to hope.
"He was wrong," Rital said quietly. "You've established, Annie, about a week ago, I'd judge. You're not in changeover."
She went limp with relief, took a deep breath, and began coughing again. "However, that cough sounds like it's trying to turn into pneumonia, and those knife slashes are filthy," the channel continued. "We have a stretcher here. Do you think you can get onto it?"
It took some encouragement from her brother, but finally Annie let them put her on the stretcher, and they started down the trail to the ambulance.
Back at the Center, Annie refused at first to let Rital treat her, asking for a Gen doctor.
"Leave her to me for a few minutes," Rob said, waving them out of the treatment room.
The room was insulated against both sound and nager, so Den and Rital couldn't hear what Rob was saying, but before long he poked his head around the door. "She'll cooperate now," he assured them.
"Robbie..." she wavered as she got her first good look at Rital's tentacles, now free of the retainers.
"It's all right," her brother reassured her, taking her hand. "I'll be right here."
Den wasn't keen on having an untrained Gen around when Rital was trying to do serious healing, but it was pretty obvious that Annie wouldn't let the channel touch her otherwise. The Donor settled on a compromise, placing Rob behind him and to one side, where he could see but his nager would be pretty much blocked off from Rital's perception. At least he's low field.
Den was expecting difficulties as Rital began to asses the damage, and he wasn't disappointed. It took the channel nearly five minutes to coax his patient into letting him zlin her lungs. Even with Rob's continual stream of reassurance, she gasped in fear at the feel of tentacles on her back. Fortunately, the gasp triggered a thoroughly distracting coughing fit, and by the time it was finished, so was Rital.
"You're in luck, Annie," he told her. "You've got a bacterial infection, not a virus. Are you allergic to any antibiotics?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Good." Rital rummaged in a cabinet. "These will start taking care of the infection," he dropped two pink pills in her hand, "and this will bring down your fever." He added an aspirin to the collection, and Den handed her a glass of water. Annie obediently swallowed the pills.
It was when Rital began to work on the knife cuts that the real trouble began. Annie gritted her teeth and endured as the channel carefully washed dirt and bits of leaf from a particularly nasty slash that ran almost the length of her left forearm, but when Rital extended his laterals on either side of the cut and reached for the nageric control necessary to heal it, she panicked.
Rital yelped in pain as he was shenned out of the contact, and Den reached for his channel with both physical and nageric support. And I used to think Rital would have fewer problems if the locals would bring him their injuries! Den thought ironically, as he worked on the damage.
Annie was watching Rital wide-eyed, knowing that something was wrong, but unable to understand what.
"A...Annie, I can't help you if you keep flaring fear at me that way," Rital told her when he could speak again. "You've got to control yourself better."
"I'll try," she said meekly, but Den had little hope that she would succeed.
He was right. The next attempt ended when Annie panicked again, this time before Rital could make a firm lateral contact. After a third unsuccessful try, Rital gave up and admistered a sedative to overcome the girl's fear reflex. When Annie's eyes began to glaze, the channel was finally able to gain the necessary nageric control. Rob watched then in utter fascination as the channel healed the deep cuts, using minute selyn currents to weave together the undamaged cells until all that was left was red lines. Afterwards, Rital encouraged Annie's lungs to reabsorb the liquid that was accumulating in them, easing her breathing considerably.
"I didn't think it was possible to stop an infection that fast!" Rob exclaimed.
"It isn't," Rital told him, and coaxed another dose of the antibiotic down his sleepy patient.
Annie's lungs had to be cleared out twice more, but by dawn the antibiotics had the pneumonia under control, Annie had fallen into a restless sleep, and even Rital admitted to wanting a nap. Leaving one of the Center's Gens to watch and report any changes for the worse, they stopped by the kitchen for a snack and went to bed.
Den woke early the following afternoon. The rain had gone, leaving the sun to shine down on the world with its full summer strength, evaporating the puddles and raising the humidity to near saturation. Let's hear it for air conditioning, Den thought, pulling on a clean uniform and heading towards the cafeteria for breakfast.
It was too late for breakfast, but lunch was still being served. He was almost finished with his soup, bread, and cheese when he was paged to the main foyer. Thinking that another Gen had come in for a first donation and gotten the wrong door, he quickly disposed of his dishes and ran for the front of the building.
The reception area was occupied by a most unlikely trio of Gens: Hank Fredricks, notepad and sharpened pencil declaring him to be present in his official capacity, Reverend Sinth, soberly dressed in a long, black cassock, and a haggard-looking Carla Lifton. Her greying hair had escaped from its usual bun, and there were dark circles under her tear-streaked eyes.
When she caught sight of Den, she gave an outraged shriek. "There he is!" she cried in mingled rage and grief. "He's the one who corrupted my daughter, showing her that filth." Her voice broke. "Well, you succeeded with my Annie, Devil-worshipper, but you won't get another child in this town, not if I can prevent it!"
She started for the Donor as if to attack him, but was restrained by Reverend Sinth. "Patience, my child," he soothed in a patronizing tone. "God's might will prevail." When Carla was calmer, he let her go and addressed Den. "We have come to put an end to your campaign to corrupt our children and turn them to the worship of evil. You have deceived the people of this town long enough. I command you to stop in the name of the Almightly God!" The preacher made a dramatic gesture widely used among his colleagues to banish the power of the Devil.
The significance completely escaped Den, who knew little and cared less about out-Territory religions.
"You can deceive mortal man, but God knows all," Reverend Sinth continued in his booming voice, forgetting for the moment that he wasn't in his pulpit. "How long did you think you could hide your pact with the Devil, when his evil influence corrupts everything you touch?"
"I don't believe in your Devil any more than I believe in your God," Den said, able to partially understand that accusation, at least.
"Now, now," Fredricks interrupted, as Sinth drew another deep breath to continue his harangue. "There's no reason to get all excited."
"You don't think the wholesale subversion of children is something to get excited about?" Carla asked.
Fredricks sighed. "Miz Lifton, Reverend, I'm here because you claimed to have uncovered a plot to harm the children of this town, and if you're right, the citizens of this town have a right to know about it. But so far, all you've done is make the same wild accusations you first made two years ago. I wouldn't print them then, and I won't print them now. If you can't come up with solid evidence, I'm leaving." He turned towards the door, but before he had taken more than one step, Sinth reached under his long robe and produced a book, which he waved dramatically under the newsman's nose.
"Is this solid enough for you?" he demanded. "This...obscenity...has been read by at least five young girls that I know of, without the knowledge or consent of their parents. One of them has already suffered incalculable harm as a result." Sinth turned to Den. "Do you deny that this volume came from your Sime Center, and that it was given to Miz Lifton's daughter?"
Den took the book and inspected it. "Well, Miz Lifton's son Rob was the one who borrowed it, not her daughter, but it did come from here. It's a translation of a popular children's novel," he explained to Fredricks.
"I understand it won several awards when it first came out. It's certainly not obscene."
"Not obscene!" Sinth snatched the book back, flipped feverishly through it until he found the page he wanted, and thrust it into Fredrick's hands. "Just look at that! Is that suitable fare for children?" He pointed to one of the detailed engravings.
The book was opened to the chapter which described the hardships of the Far Horizon 's crew after storm damage stranded them in Gen Territory. The picture showed Slem the cabin boy and the ship's Companion standing guard over a traveling peddler who had stumbled over their encampment. The peddler was staring in disbelief at the ship's channel, who was taking a donation from one of the crew. Below the picture, the Companion was quoted as saying, "Fortunately for you, channels aren't a legend."
Fredricks inspected the picture for a long moment, then looked at several of the others. After reading the plot summery on the dust jacket, he closed the book and handed it to Den. "Reverend, I can see why you would want to prevent the youngsters in your congregation from reading a book like this," he said judiciously. "But I don't hold with censorship. Just because a book might encourage children to question the teachings of your church, that doesn't make it obscene or harmful."
"Not harmful!" Sinth said indignantly. "Mr. Carlon discovered his daughter Meg reading this book two days ago. Upon being questioned, the girl admitted that she had gotten it from one of her friends, who in turn got it from another friend. In all, at least five impressionable young girls have been exposed to this heresy. Five children, whose loss of faith may well cause them to become demon Simes...thanks to that evil and pernicious text!"
"You think reading a book can cause changeover?" Such ignorance had only been a theoretical possibility to Den. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!"
"I have proof!" Sinth thundered. "We were able to trace the volume back to Miz Lifton's daughter Annie, who, it now seems, got it from her brother. And last night," he paused dramatically, "last night, Annie Lifton went into changeover. And her brother, who was also corrupted by this Devil-worshipper, prevented his mother from giving her the death that would have freed her soul!"
"That book didn't make Annie Lifton go through changeover..." Den began. "You liar!" Carla Lifton interrupted. "My Annie was a faithful and obedient daughter. God would have rewarded her faith by making her a Gen. Until that book got into her hands, and turned her into a vicious, slimy..." her face twisted in disgust. "My girl was lost because of you, Sime-lover, and don't think you're going to get away with it!"
To hear her talk, you'd think I was the one who sliced Annie up, Den thought indignantly. "As I was about to say," he repeated, "neither I nor that book caused Miz Lifton's daughter to go through changeover. Annie Lifton is a Gen, and Gen's don't go through changeover."
"See how he attempts to deceive us, even now," Sinth said. "I confirmed the changeover myself."
"You were wrong. And because of your mistake, Annie almost died."
"You have seen the girl, then?" Fredricks asked.
"Yes," Den said. "Annie's brother believed Reverend Sinth's misdiagnosis. He came here last night, and asked our help to prevent her from killing. When we found her, she was half dead from pneumonia, but she's as Gen as you or I."
Conflicting hope and disbelief warred on Carla's face, and disbelief won. "Liar!"
"Come see for yourselves," Den suggested in exasperation.
The out-Territory Gens stayed close together as they wended their way through the Center. The "Do not Disturb" light on Annie's room was off, so Den thumbed the door signal.
"Come in," Rital called.
Den poked his head in the door. Annie, looking much better, was sitting up in bed, clutching a handful of cards. Rob was sitting in a chair on the near side of the bed, scribbling on the scorepad, and Rital was perched on the other side of the bed, frowning over his cards (and, the Donor knew, encouraging Annie's selyn production to help her heal faster).
"Annie, Rob, your mother and Reverend Sinth are here," Den said. "Do you want to talk to them?"
What little color Annie's face had regained faded away. "Do I have to?" she asked.
"No, but I think you should," the Donor answered.
Brother and sister looked at each other. After a long moment, Annie nodded, and Rob said, "All right, we'll talk to them. But only if they'll leave when we tell them to."
Carla opened her mouth to protest the condition, but Fredricks grabbed her elbow and shook his head. She hesitated, then nodded agreement to Den's raised eyebrow. Den entered first, to control the fields, but Carla followed close behind. She eyed Rital nervously, then met the accusing eyes of her children and forgot the Sime.
"Mother," Rob greeted her coldly, not giving an inch as he let his bruised eye speak for itself. Annie, taking her brother's cue, crossed her obviously untentacled arms across her chest, displaying the red, slightly swollen lines where she had been cut.
Carla flinched as if she had been hit. "Annie isn't Sime," she whispered to herself, turning chalk white. She groped her way to a chair, burying her face in her hands. "And I tried to murder her," she mumbled, grief-stricken. "She wasn't in changeover, and I..."
"You had something to say to us, Mother?" Rob prompted.
Carla straightened. "Yes, I do," she said. "I was wrong, and you were right. Thank you for stopping me from murdering your sister." "Because I turned out to be a Gen after all?" Annie asked sweetly. "No!" Carla said, a little too loudly. "Annie, I've always been taught, and believed, that it was better to help changeover victims die than to condemn them to live as Simes. But...I spent most of last night hoping you'd made it here in spite of me."
Rob and Annie held their poses for a moment more, and then Annie held out her hands to her mother. Hardly daring to believe it, Carla went to the bed and hugged her daughter, crying unashamedly into the girl's hair, then hugged her son as well.
As he watched the reunion, Den realized that his perception of Carla Lifton had changed. He could no longer view her as a fanatical lorsh who got sadistic pleasure from slaughtering helpless children at the first sign of changeover--although he still found it hard to understand how any loving parent could honestly believe that her child was better off dead than Sime.
When she had dried her tears, Carla turned to Rital. Carefully keeping her eyes on his face to avoid the sight of his tentacles, she said, "Thank you for taking care of my children."
"You're welcome," the channel said politely.
"We should get you home," Carla said to her daughter.
"Annie really ought to stay here for a few more days," Rital said, in a firm but nonthreatening tone. "That pneumonia is only controlled, not defeated. I'd hate for her to end up with lung damage."
"You should have seen it, Mother!" Rob said enthusiastically. "Last night, Annie could scarcely breathe, she was coughing so hard. Rital fixed her in half an hour. I've never seen anything like it."
"Annie?" Carla asked.
"I'll be all right," Annie reassured her mother.
"Very well, then," Carla gave her permission.
"Are you blind, woman?" Sinth demanded. "Can't you see what the demon has done? You find your children with a Sime, playing who knows what evil game with cards, and you want to leave them in his care? He has already gained power over your father--will you give him your children, too?"
Carla hesitated, casting a suspicious glance at the channel.
"As your spiritual advisor, I counsel you to fight the Sime's evil influence, and protect your children from harm."
This was one unfounded accusation too many, as far as Den was concerned. "Haven't you offered Miz Lifton enough counsel lately?" he asked. "Her daughter almost died last night because she followed your advice."
"Silence!" Sinth turned back to Carla and in his most persuasive voice said, "You must not listen to his nonsense. He is a Sime-lover, a Devil-worshipper..."
"And you," Den placed himself in front of the preacher and poked his chest with an accusing forefinger, "are an ignorant, superstitious, bigoted fool. How many of your followers' children have died because you never bothered to learn the difference between changeover and flu?"
Reverend Sinth stared disdainfully at the Donor. "It is far better to err on the side of caution in such cases."
"So it doesn't matter to you that you might be wrong? When all it would take is one telephone call to settle the matter?"
"You see?" Sinth addressed Fredricks. "They will go to any lengths to spread their influence." He turned back to Den. "Well, it won't work. My followers won't tolerate you threatening their children..."
"Shut up, you hypocrite!" Carla cried, pushing Den aside to glare at the preacher. "He's right, Simelover or not. The one who's endangering the children is you! You were the one who told me Annie was in changeover! You were the one who told me that it was my duty to kill her before she could kill us!"
Den had a most improbable mental picture of a berserk Sinth attacking Annie while wearing a set of those fake tentacles some in-Territory costume stores sold for children. Then he remembered that in English, the word 'kill' had a broader meaning than in Simelan.
"Now, Sister Carla, you know you don't mean that," Sinth said in a patronizing tone. "You're just upset."
"You're absolutely right, I'm upset!" Carla agreed. "I'm upset that I was foolish enough to believe that a man like you could speak for God."
She glared up at him. "I don't believe it any more, so I suggest you take your 'advice' and offer it to the people who want it...and may God help them!"
Sinth flushed at the insult, but before he could answer, Den grasped his elbow and propelled him firmly towards the door. "I think you have outstayed your welcome for today, Reverend," he said.
Several people had congregated in the hall outside, attracted by the commotion. Den beckoned to two of the Gens; not Donors, but highfield GN-1's capable of shielding the renSimes from a non-donor's relatively weak nager. "Ref, Gati, would you please escort the Reverend here to the front door?" he asked.
"I hope you will excuse me if I join them," Hank Fredricks apologized, still scribbling on his pad as he hurried after the three Gens. "I have a new front page to design--though it won't be the one Reverend Sinth was hoping for when he asked me to come along!"
"That Sime isn't at all what I expected," Carla told her son later, as Den was escorting them back through the Center.
"I know," Rob said, with just a touch of sarcasm. "Not a horn or cloven hoof to be seen."
"I'm serious. He's polite, he's got a better bedside manner than any doctor I've ever known...I have to keep reminding myself that he's the one who is doing those horrible things to the Gens who come here to donate."
"Oh, it's not that bad," Rob said without thinking.
Carla stopped short, grabbed her son's arm, and jerked the boy around to face her. "Robert Sammel Lifton, have you been sneaking in to donate when I told you not to set foot on the Center grounds?"
Rob scuffed his shoe on the linoleum floor. "Yes," he admitted. "Why?" Anger and betrayal colored her voice. "How could you?"
Rob straightened, looking his mother in the eye. "Because I had to know what it was like," he said passionately. "I had to know whether the church was right about Simes endangering the community, or whether our whole family has spent nearly two years fighting a menace that isn't there. I found out, too. Reverend Sinth is wrong about donating, Mother--just as wrong as he was about Annie."
Carla stared at Rob, taken aback. "Well," she said finally, "if you really want to donate, I won't forbid you. Not that that would make any difference, it seems. Just don't ask me to come with you."
The day after the election, Den climbed the back fence to avoid the protesters and headed into town. He stopped at a bookstore and selected some reading material for the next day's long train ride back to Nivet Territory.
The headlines on the news vendors were filled with the usual depressing world news, except for the local Courier. Mayor Kroag Reelected, it screamed. "In an election widely viewed as a referendum on the presence of Clear Springs' Sime Center..." the story began.
After reading the story, Den was ready to concede that the Tecton's policies were not preserving the anti-Sime culture, but were actively changing it for the better. It was a slow process, requiring generations, perhaps, but it was inevitable. Carla Lifton had admitted that murdering changeover victims was wrong. She might never find the courage to donate, but her son had. Her grandchildren would grow up fearing changeover less, and accepting donating as a natural part of being a Gen. As more and more Gen towns went through this evolution, eventually a time would come when the out-Territory Gens themselves would demand that their Sime children be allowed to live with them, and when the borders had been dissolved, they would begin to wonder what they were missing in transfer. But before their hearts could be changed, their minds must be taught...
In his preoccupation, Den forgot to use the Center's back door.
"Sir, please don't go in there! Those murdering demons might kill you!" Den automatically accepted the pamphlet he was handed. It was a new one. "Do you know what you're getting into?" it asked. Den glanced inside. Instead of wild accusations about secret Pens, the text concentrated on gruesome descriptions of slimy tentacles. The illustration bore a suspicious resemblance to the engraving Reverend Sinth had taken such exception to, and as a consequence, there were only six tentacles to an arm.
Den guffawed and started down the path to the Center.
"But sir," the demonstrator called after him, "Where are you going?"
Den called back over his shoulder, "I've got to tell a certain murdering demon he was right!"
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