A Legacy of Trust
Mary Lou Mendum
This story was first published in Ambrov Zeor #22
Forward to the Web Edition
In 1993, Ambrov Zeor, under editor and publisher, Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer, proudly presented the second Den&Rital story set in Mary Lou Mendum's town of Clear Springs. At that time, we didn't know there would be a novel to follow. Many of the events in this story are referred to and built upon in the novelA Shift of Means.
This is the third of the three stories rescued from the website that disappeared under us. The following text was retrieved as a text file made from an unproofed MAC word processing file, then translated into WinWord7, and html'd with Word Assistant. The result was the most ghoshawful mess in each case. Carriage returns in the middle of words, over three hundred spurious section spaces, and paragraphs spliced together so I could find the splices only if they came between quotation marks. I know there are errors in the text as it stands now, though I think I got most of the obvious typos. Errata should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have not put BLOCK QUOTES around the text because it is already 286K long. My apologies to those who read these onscreen.
Live Long and Prosper,
A Legacy of Trust
Mary Lou Mendum
copyright (c) 1993 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
This story was first published in Ambrov Zeor #22
All rights reserved:For permissions email email@example.com
"Hello, and welcome to Valzor's Old Sime Center. My name is Sosu Den Milnan, and I will be showing you around in a little while. But first, I'd like to take a moment to tell you a little bit about what a Sime Center does..."
The trouble with being assigned to a Center so close to the Gen Territory border, Den thought morosely as he automatically rattled off statistics, was that every out-Territory tourist and civics class within a day's travel wanted a guided tour. And, of course, they all wanted their tours during the month before Faith Day , when it was fashionable among out-Territory Gens to pretend that they were supportive of Sime/Gen unity, even if they never went within a block of a Sime Center during the rest of the year.
The group of out-Territory visitors currently seated in the Old Center's small auditorium looked fairly typical. There was a young couple with three bored children, and seated nearby were three older adults whose cameras and tastelessly garish clothing proclaimed them professional tourists.
Den didn't like tourists.
"In addition to these transfer-related services, this Center is also responsible for maintaining the selyn-powered generators which provide electricity for Valzor and the surrounding communities..."
The rest of the seats were filled with a gaggle of adolescent youngsters accompanied by a harried teacher. This particular class, Den understood, had traveled all the way from the Gen city of Clear Springs, eight hours away by train. Den knew that Clear Springs had its own Sime Center; his cousin, Hajene Rital Madz, was the Controller, and Den had been assigned there as his Donor the previous summer. However, the lure of a well-known educational program had apparently outweighed the disadvantages of a long train ride for the student group. Or maybe the equally well-known amusement park just across the river on the Gen side of the border had something to do with it.
"Although the district administrative offices and many of the services I mentioned were moved across the street when the new building was completed ten years ago, this original building is still in use..."
The official script didn't mention that the major "use" the Tecton had found for the hundred year old building was to give the mobs of holiday-inspired tourists something to gawk at, without letting them disrupt the real work taking place across the street.
"...and the feelings of goodwill between Simes and Gens inspired by our ancestors' sacrifices just over 100 years ago are especially strong as Faith Day approaches..."
The trouble was, these same feelings of goodwill meant that each year, mobs of once-a-year Faith Day donors descended on all Sime Centers located either out-Territory, or conveniently close to the territorial borders.
The Tecton had an unfortunate tendency to cope with this increased workload by temporarily reassigning any channel or Donor who was halfway fluent in English to such Centers. In previous years, Den had been assigned to Sime Centers in the sparsely populated Savran District, deep within Nivet Territory. Because of the Donor shortage, the Savran Controllers were reluctant to have him leave their district for the Faith Day season; there was too big a chance that they wouldn't get him back afterwards. Instead, to avoid charges that they were monopolizing his talents, they had conveniently discovered pressing reasons to reassign him every few months to different Sime Centers within the same district.
Den had enjoyed the travel for a while, but lately he had grown tired of the temporary life. A year ago, he had put in a request for reassignment to a larger city, in hopes that he would be able to get a more long-term situation. He had been happy when the assignment to Valzor District's main Center came through, until he had learned that the District Controller was also responsible for assigning staff to the Sime Centers in adjacent portions of Gen-governed New Washington Territory.
Less than a month after his arrival in Valzor, Den had been given a two-month temporary assignment to his cousin's Clear Springs Center. It was not an experience he cared to repeat, fond as he was of Rital's company. Den didn't like to think of himself as prejudiced, but one would have to be insane or a Householder to actually want to work out-Territory.
Upon his return from Clear Springs the previous summer, Den had embarked on a campaign to stay in-Territory. Because of his fluent English, he couldn't avoid working with out-Territory Gens entirely. Instead, he had volunteered to help out part time with the tour groups. By making himself indispensable to the politically powerful tour department, Den had managed to avoid being sent out-Territory again, but only at the cost of spending his mornings in the company of group after group of ignorant lorshes.
For a while, he had feared that he would be caught up in the Faith Day reassignments despite his efforts, but a fortunately-timed flu epidemic had swept through the Center the previous week. The already minimal staff had been drastically depleted, and even now, three full weeks before the holiday, replacements capable of communicating with out-Territory Gens had proven nearly impossible to find.
All of which made it very unlikely that Den or any of the other healthy staff members would get temporary assignments out-Territory this year. Unfortunately, it also meant that half the people were trying to do twice the work, even the out-Territory Collectorium had an hour-long wait for donations, and anybody who could speak halfway fluent English was working overtime.
And that, Den thought viciously as he finished his introductory spiel and signalled for the projectionist to turn out the lights and start the movie, was why he, an accomplished First Order Donor, was stuck wasting his mornings playing tour guide to group after group of giggling youngsters and their equally obnoxious elders, instead of using his considerable talents to do the serious work for which he had been trained. He slipped into an empty seat in the first row and ran a disgusted hand through his short brown hair, which was less curly than usual today, thanks to the dryness of the winter air. At all costs, he tried to avoid watching the screen.
The movie was unabashed propaganda, a Householding-produced half hour of donor recruitment disguised as a "documentary" of the origins of Faith Day.
The facts were there--sort of--but they were twisted almost beyond recognition. For instance, while it was quite true that the out-Territory Gen troops had agreed to donate selyn in exchange for food just before the Battle of Shen, Den sincerely doubted that they had done so with the enthusiasm and good will shown on the screen. In fact, he seemed to recall from his own school days that it had required blatant blackmail to get their grudging cooperation.
Even now, over a hundred years later, their descendants gasped with alarm at the sight of the actors' tentacles, and three of the adolescent schoolgirls hid their faces with little shrieks, rather than watch the filmed donations. (Though on closer inspection, Den had the distinct impression that the pretty, dark-haired one in the red skirt was peeking.)
The film ended with a patriotic flourish of trumpets, as the First Contract was signed by Nivet Territory Controller and Sectuib in Zeor Klyd Farris and the President of New Washington Territory. Den got to his feet as the lights came back on, congratulating himself for getting through one more viewing without throwing up, and braced himself for the question-and-answer session.
"Are Sime tentacles really slimy?"
"Why do Simes wear capes instead of coats?"
"Say something in Simelan."
"Why don't people in Sime Territory eat meat?"
"Do you really worship the Devil?" That last was the red-skirted peeker. Den answered the questions as patiently as he could, glad that this particular group was his last for the day. When he could stand no more, he ended the questions and urged everyone to follow him out the doors at the back of the auditorium for the tour.
There wasn't much to see, of course, since this building was more museum than functioning Sime Center. However, the garishly-clothed tourists dutifully snapped photos of the empty wards, and the students giggled and nudged each other between questions. The young parents paid much more attention to keeping track of their children than to Den's narration, which, the Donor decided, was probably the most sensible response of them all.
The power plant in the basement was still operational, and the towering banks of selyn batteries connected to humming generators by a spiderweb of orgonics tubing, all sequestered behind a metal safety grating secured by Gen-proof locks, drew exclamations of wonder. Den supposed that it was an impressive sight, but like most Donors, he shared the channels' aversion to selyn batteries.
The tour ended at the Collectorium, which was still staffed during tour hours, in case any of the visitors should be overcome with a sudden desire to donate selyn. To encourage this, the tour groups were allowed to watch a donation. (There was never any shortage of in-Territory Gen staff members volunteering for this duty, especially during the holidays, since such volunteers were able to make appointments in advance, eliminating most of the wait.)
Many of the out-Territory visitors seemed uneasy at the prospect, but they clustered obediently and peered through the field-insulated window that had been installed in one of the collecting rooms.
The dark-haired girl in the red skirt ended up close to Den. She was chewing her lip nervously, and tugging at the name tag pinned to her blouse. When the channel sat down on the transfer lounge next to the volunteer Gen, she prepared to hide her face again.
On impulse, Den touched her shoulder lightly to get her attention. When she looked at him, he suggested, "Why don't you watch, Bethany?"
Her eyes widened. "Oh, I couldn't!"
"It's not nearly as bad as you're thinking." Den nodded towards the window, where Hajene Tellanser was hamming it up as usual, moving very slowly and making sure that the watching tourists saw each tentacle. (The donating Gen, whom Den recognized as one of the cafeteria staff, was having a hard time keeping a straight face.)
Bethany automatically looked. She stiffened at the sight, but watched without comment until the donation was finished and the obviously unharmed Gen got up from the transfer lounge. She seemed a little less nervous afterwards.
Den sighed as he herded the group back out into the lobby and ended the tour with a final request for everyone to sign the guest book before leaving. He had met far too many out-Territory Gens on his one brief tour of duty across the border to think that Bethany's attitude was in any way unusual. That was even more depressing than cafeteria food.
A cheese sandwich and bowl of Den's least favorite vegetable soup turned out to be the best that the cafeteria could manage for lunch. To distract himself from the less-than-exciting meal, Den appropriated a newspaper someone had left at an adjoining table. The headlines were once again preoccupied with the treaty negotiations on the southern continent. The small Sime Territory of Corzona had pretty much given up the junct lifestyle in the last generation, but its fiercely independent citizens had refused to join the Tecton officially. However, a disastrous earthquake the month before had strained their resources to the limit and beyond, forcing them to turn to the Tecton for emergency assistance. The Tecton, of course, had been only too glad to oblige, and made no secret of its hope that its temporary presence in Corzona would be indefinitely extended.
To complicate matters further, Corzona was almost unique among disjunct Sime Territories, in that it was still actively at war with its neighboring Gen Territories, Amzon and Zillia. Corzona had survived as long as it had because Amzon and Zillia were at war between themselves over the right to mine the Ancient ruins on their common border. Under intense pressurefrom the Tecton and its affiliated Gen Territories, a three-way peace conference had been arranged for the following month. In preparation, the Tecton had sent its most talented diplomats to visit the three combatants. Quess ambrov Shaeldor, the Donor who was the official leader of the delegation, was quoted as having hopes of gaining a permanent peace--and not incidentally, three new signatories to the First Contract.
After lunch, Den stopped to check his mail on the way to his afternoon shift on the pediatric ward. There was a message slip in his box, asking him to report to the District Controller's office. Den read the message with delight, calculating that there had been just enough time for his request for a post-holiday reassignment to the changeover ward to have been processed. For the first time since he had volunteered for tourist duty, he had reason to hope that he could get back to doing what he did best--helping channels to help the people who depended on them. There was a spring to his step as the secretary showed him into Controller Monruss's office.
The office was plushly carpeted and the desk and chairs fairly new, but the dog-eared books in the ceiling-high shelves and the files and papers covering the desktop showed the hard work that went into coordinating the dozen or so Sime Centers in Valzor District.
Controller Mion Monruss was like his office: slightly worn around the edges, hardworking, and comfortable to be around. He was short, stocky, balding, and impeccably courteous. Unlike many channels who reached high office in the Tecton, Monruss was not a career politician. He had never held an office higher than Subcontroller until a Householding-led lobby had drafted him as a compromise candidate. Den didn't particularly care for Householders generally (they tended to be a bit fanatical for his taste), but Monruss had proven to be a better than average administrator. His channeling abilities were not particularly outstanding, but he had the ability to get the maximum use out of his more talented subordinates by convincing them that he was carefully considering their wishes--even when he wasn't. It could be disconcerting at times, but Den had worked for worse.
"Ah, Den, come in." Monruss greeted the Donor with a smile of welcome, closing the file he had been working on and placing it in the overflowing "out" basket. "I have good news for you. Pyssa is recovered enough to return to light duty tomorrow, so we won't require your help out at the Old Center any longer. That means I've been able to accommodate your request for reassignment immediately. I gather that won't disappoint you."
"Not at all. It will be good to get on to more challenging work." Den wasn't surprised that Monruss knew he hadn't enjoyed playing tour guide, even though the Donor had tried hard not to let his dislike show in his nager. The channel had a habit of guessing what he was not allowed to zlin, something that a much younger Den with a brand-new Donor's ring had found out when he had nervously reported for his first assignment.
"I'm glad to hear that you're ready for a challenge," Monruss said. "I was able to talk Asthan District into letting me keep some of the extra personnel they managed to scrounge up for me during this emergency, so you won't be going to the changeover ward full time, as you requested."
"Oh?" Den inquired, keeping his nager carefully neutral.
Monruss leaned back in his chair, folding his hands comfortably across his stomach, tentacles woven through his fingers. "You know, you really have been doing an excellent job over at the Old Center. I'm told that the groups you guided averaged nearly twice the normal number of donations."
"Out-Territory Gens are always more inclined to donate around Faith Day," Den pointed out quickly, not sure that he liked the direction the conversation was taking.
"True, but it often takes a certain amount of discreet persuasion to turn that inclination into action. You seem to have an unusual ability to convince out-Territory Gens that they don't have to be afraid of channels, and it would be a shame to waste a talent like that."
"What are you getting at?"
"Have you ever considered handling public relations at an out-Territory Center?"
"Shen, no!" Den exclaimed as sincerely as he could manage. "I'm a Donor, not a diplomat. I leave that to my cousin Rital."
"Well, he doesn't seem to be doing too well." Monruss flipped through a stack of folders and withdrew one, pulling out a thick report. "According to this, there has been increasing anti-Tecton agitation in Clear Springs for the last six months or so, and the situation is getting worse, not better. Not too long ago, one of the donors was injured when trying to get into the Center. I've asked the regional office for a troubleshooter, but they say they can't send me one until summer; all their diplomatic staff is working overtime on this Corzona business. I'm reassigning you to Clear Springs until they can free someone. It's just the sort of situation to make use of the ability you've been showing. Hajene Madz is overdue for a really good Donor, so you'll have plenty of the kind of medical work you like, but while you're there, I'd like you to start some outreach programs, and do whatever else seems necessary to calm things down. I've had my secretary get you a train reservation for the day after tomorrow. She's also pulled the Clear Springs reports from the last six months, so you can read them before you go."
"But..." Den protested futilely, seeing his careful scheme to stay in-Territory collapse.
"I'm sure you'll get the situation under control quickly. After all, the reports say that the city government is pretty much pro-Tecton, and you've been out there before, so you know the people. Think of it as a different kind of healing." Monruss picked up an inch-thick stack of paper with a green transfer-assignment card on top and handed it to Den, an obvious dismissal.
Den took the reports and gloomily left the office. Another temporary assignment--and this time, it's out-Territory with the lunatics. Shen.
The following day Den spent reluctantly reading the reports on the Clear Springs Center. The information was contradictory. The increase in the number of general-class donors which had begun after his trip to Clear Springs the previous summer had continued; approximately 20% of the Gens in the area had donated once, and half of these had returned at least once more. Due to the increased workload, an additional First Order channel, Tyvi ambrov Frihill, had been added to the staff, along with two Thirds, Reyna Tast and Zir Asran. The percentage of changeover victims turned over to the Center had also increased. The number of Gens killed in berserker attacks during the last six months was the lowest that the town had ever recorded.
All of this led Den to assume that the town had finally begun to accept the idea of a Sime Center, and that the fear and misunderstanding which had been so apparent on his last visit had begun to fade. However, the reports also stated that there continued to be daily anti-Sime demonstrations outside of the Center, and that these were getting larger and more violent. During the last cold snap of the winter, a young student named Marcy Ingleston had been shoved aside by anti-Sime demonstrators while attempting to cross through their line to donate. She had lost her footing on the icy sidewalk, fallen, and badly sprained her ankle.
The incident had aroused strong feelings in the town. The pro-Sime faction, which included Mayor Ann Kroag and Hank Fredricks, owner and editor of the Clear Springs Clarion, was demanding that the police arrest the perpetrators and any other demonstrators who resorted to physical intimidation or excessive verbal harassment. The demonstrators, led by the Reverend Jermiah Sinth of the reactionary Conservative Congregation, vigorously denied any wrongdoing, and insisted that they had a right to inform the public about the dangers of association with Simes. Unfortunately, the police chief of Clear Springs, Ezrul Tains, was an active member of the anti-Sime faction. He had flatly refused to act on the injured woman's complaint, and publicly announced that the demonstrators were within their rights to block access to the Sime Center. This had so outraged some of the university students that they had formed a group of counterdemonstrators to escort prospective donors past the demonstrations, and ensure that the incident was not repeated.
"I just don't understand it," Den told his friend and fellow Donor Liren Kolpev as they carried their lunch trays to a table. "The increase in donations simply isn't consistent with that kind of demonstrations. The records say that you were out there four months ago--what's going on?"
Tiny Liren put her tray on the table and carefully levered herself up into a chair. With her feet dangling off the floor, she looked more like a half-grown child than the mother of two (going on three). "Den, the problem might not be with the townspeople at all," she said, sipping from a tall glass of citrus juice. "I was assigned to the other First, of course, Tyvi ambrov something. I won't be up to Rital's capacity again until after the little one here is born." She patted her distended abdomen. "However, I did get the distinct impression that those continuous demonstrations have made your cousin a little paranoid. Not pathologically so," she hastened to assure Den, "but I think it's entirely possible that he is mistaking the efforts of a few malcontents for a well-organized conspiracy."
"He's been stuck out-Territory for what--," Den counted rapidly, "almost a year? That would be enough to get to any channel." He took a meditative bite of mystery casserole and chewed it slowly. "I hate to ask Monruss to replace Rital; he really likes running Clear Springs, and there are very few channels who could do it so well. But if he's beginning to crack under the strain... Well, as far as I'm concerned, my cousin is more important than a townful of nuts who don't appreciate him."
"I'm glad he's finally getting a Donor with some sense on the subject," Liren said approvingly. "Monruss keeps sending out Householders, because they don't mind living out-Territory so much. But they're so shenned fanatical about Unity that they are willing to accept anything from out-Territory Gens, whatever the cost to their channels."
Den shrugged. "No one's ever accused me of putting inter-territorial politics before my job. I'll look into it."
"Good." She winced suddenly and put a hand on her belly. "Stop kicking me, you juvenile delinquent. I'm feeding you as fast as I can. Den, I swear I'd know this kid was Sime even if she weren't a channel. She never sleeps more than two hours at a time."
Twenty-four hours later, Den was staring gloomily out the train window, watching the winter-bare fields go by as he fingered random chords on his ancient and much-battered guitar. The English words on the advertisements posted on the coach's walls were a glaring reminder that he still had no strategy to defuse the political bomb waiting for him in Clear Springs, before the whole town exploded into violence. If that happened, neither he nor Rital would ever be allowed out-Territory again. He wouldn't mind that himself, but Rital would be devastated.
On his visit to Clear Springs the previous summer, his one effort to confront the problem had caused more trouble than it solved. It had been shortly before the mayoral election, and the polls had shown that the pro-Tecton incumbent, Ann Kroag, was trailing the anti-Sime challenger, Len Dusam. Having nothing to lose, she had agreed to a public debate and discussion on the presence of the Sime Center. Unfortunately, the debate had been sponsored by several anti-Sime organizations, and their members were much in evidence. Den had attended, and the wild accusations levied against his cousin had prompted him to break Tecton regulations and publicly denounce the misinformation being distributed by Reverend Sinth and members of his church, the Conservative Congregation.
Den's talk had been well received, but Sinth and his supporters had been so outraged that they had pressured the City Council into passing an ordinance forbidding Center staff to leave the grounds except to provide emergency assistance to changeover victims. Only a fortunate error had saved the situation: the coucilmember who had written the law had forgotten that the city's selyn-powered electric generators were not on Center grounds, and Den had managed to talk Rital into "obeying the law" by refusing to recharge the selyn batteries until the ordinance was repealed. Mayor Kroag had been reelected, partly as a result of Den's actions at the debate and afterward, but Den knew that he couldn't count on finding such convenient loopholes to save himself from disaster.
I did make a difference with one family, Den reminded himself, remembering the Liftons. Carla Lifton had once been one of the most energetic distributors of anti-Sime literature outside the Sime Center. Her daughter Annie had still been a child when Den met her; he had taken a picnic lunch to the university campus, and she stopped to hear him practice his guitar. Annie's older brother Rob had recognized Den, and was furious at her for talking with a Donor. Not content with scolding her, he and some friends had climbed the Center's back fence that night, armed with spraypaint and cardboard stencils with anti-Sime slogans. Den and Rital had surprised the would-be vandals, and in the confusion all had escaped except Rob, who had managed to slip and knock himself out when climbing the fence.
Rital had healed the young Gen's concussion, and Den had loaned him a translated in-Territory adventure novel, Sailing the High Seas . It must have made an impression on him, because a week later he had appeared in the Collectorium, white with apprehension, and volunteered to donate in defiance of his mother's strict orders.
Later, when Reverend Sinth had declared his sister Annie to be in changeover, Rob had helped her to escape after their mother and Sinth tried to murder her, and had then gone to the Sime Center to ask Den and Rital for help. As it turned out, Annie was sick with flu, not changeover; she had already established as a Gen. On the following morning, Reverend Sinth and Carla Lifton had shown up on the Center's doorstep with Hank Fredricks of the Clear Springs Clarion, intent on publicly blaming the book Den had loaned Rob for causing Annie to become Sime. Den had taken great pleasure in, equally publicly, showing them exactly how wrong they were.
Carla Lifton had denounced Sinth and left his church group. She had also thanked Rital for helping Annie. Although she had never come in to donate, she hadn't tried to stop Rob from doing so, and she had stopped demonstrating against the Center.
There's a lesson for me in there somewhere, Den thought. If I can reach out to those demonstrators, touch individual lives, maybe I can get them involved in doing something more constructive with their time.
It was after dark when Den's train finally pulled into Clear Springs. Stiffly, the Donor grabbed his guitar case and his knapsack (filled with several changes of clothes, just in case the Transport Authority had mislaid his luggage again) and staggered out of the station. Unable to face the thought of sitting down, he bypassed the taxicabs and started down the road, hoping that he could remember exactly how to get to the Sime Center.
He had gotten three blocks from the station, and had paused under a streetlight to fish in his knapsack for the map of Clear Springs which he had acquired on his previous visit, when a car with the Tecton logo painted on the door pulled up beside him. The door on the passenger side flew open and a slender figure jumped out, calling over his shoulder, "See, Siv, I told you we'd find him this way." With a broad grin, Rital hugged his cousin in greeting, metal retainers digging into Den's back, then put his hands on the Gen's shoulders and shook him gently. "You idiot Gen, the Center's that way." He pointed back towards the station.
"But I could have sworn that the station was on the left coming from the Center, and I turned right," Den protested.
"I know. You also left by the south door instead of the north one." The channel grabbed Den's bag and tossed it into the car. "I know you have no sense of direction, cousin mine, but even you should be able to read street signs well enough to distinguish Almond Drive from Station Street!"
"Oh," Den said, glad that the poor light hid his blush from the Gen driver. Rital gave a resigned sigh, then motioned for his cousin to get into the car. "Den, this is Siv Alson, our other First. He'll be Hajene Tyvi's Donor this month. Siv, my cousin Den. Fortunately, his talents aren't limited to getting lost."
As he climbed into the car, Den judiciously weighed several mishaps, of a minor but suitably embarrassing nature, for their utility as applied to his cousin.
"Welcome to Clear Springs," Siv said, as he turned the car around.
The first hour after they got to the Sime Center passed in a flurry of introductions and greetings of old acquaintances. The two receptionists, Gati and Seena, were old friends, as were many of the other staff. The new First Order channel, Tyvi ambrov Frihill, was politely aloof, but seemed competent. A typical Householding channel, Den dismissed her with a shrug. She'll work with us poor, deluded, houseless people for the good of the Tecton, but that doesn't mean she has to socialize with us.
However, of the Thirds, Zir Asran turned out to be a fellow musician, and Reyna Tast was the embodiment of everybody's favorite grandmother, with her greying hair and twinkling eyes. It looked as if being assigned to the Clear Springs Center was going to be more pleasant this time. However, as his stomach growled, demanding something more substantial than the light snacks served on the train, Den reflected that the cameraderie that came from working at a small out-Territory Center had disadvantages as well as advantages.
Zlinning his cousin's hunger, Rital came to the Gen's rescue and extracted him from the crowd, claiming a relative's privilege of a private reunion. As Den consumed a very late supper, they caught up on family gossip and mutual acquaintances. Over dessert, trin tea and a better than average slice of apple pie, Den finally got a chance to ask the question that had been uppermost in his mind ever since his conversation with Monruss.
"Rital, what's been going on here? I thought things were improving after Mayor Kroag was reelected. Even the anti-Sime activists were beginning to moderate their hysteria. I would have thought the problems would be over by now, but according to your reports, the demonstrations are worse than ever. What happened?"
Rital shrugged helplessly. He was healthier than he had been the previous summer, and he no longer seemed ragged with incipient entran. However, there were lines on his face that hadn't been there six months before, and under the bright cafeteria lights he looked much older than nine years past changeover.
"I don't know what happened, Den," he said, tentacles tightly wrapped around his tea mug as if for comfort. He took a nervous sip, then put the mug down. "After the election last summer, things were quiet for almost a month. Some days there were less than ten demonstrators, and the number of Gens coming to donate increased when they didn't have to worry that the whole town would find out about it. I thought we'd won. Then Reverend Sinth--you remember him?"
"Unfortunately," Den said, remembering his confrontation with the fanatically anti-Sime preacher.
Rital nodded. "Sinth quit his church job and founded a group called Save Our Kids. I don't think you'll find it surprising when I tell you that his group is trying to save their kids from us."
Den snorted. "Typical stupidity. As if you or anyone else could take a donation from a child!"
"You're forgetting that out-Territory youngsters are legally children until they are sixteen natal years--so most Gens are considered 'children' for several years after they establish."
"So they're out to keep young Gens from donating?"
Rital shrugged, taking another sip of tea. "They're not particular. They'll harass donors of any age, and they aren't limiting themselves to name-calling and pamphlet distribution anymore. There are more of them all the time. We're losing a lot of our elderly donors--they're afraid of getting pushed off their feet."
"So instead, a younger donor got hurt," Den commented, capturing the last bite of pie with his fork.
The channel nodded. "Marcy Ingleston. The counterdemonstrators have helped, and we haven't had any more serious injuries since the weather warmed up, but the donors are angry at being put through the harassment, and I can't blame them."
"Even if it does make your job much more difficult," Den completed the thought. "Even if."
Den gazed uncomfortably into the dregs of his tea mug. "I don't quite know how to tell you this, but your reports on the situation here have been causing a lot of concern. Liren told me she thought you were beginning to crack. Monruss didn't go that far, but he told me start some outreach programs, to see if I can't calm things down a bit."
"YOU?" Rital looked up in shock. "You don't know anything about out-Territory psychology, and Monruss wants you to cope with the nutcases? That could ruin what little progress I've made in the last year."
"Oh, come now," Den said, a little miffed at his cousin's reaction. "I'm not a total incompetent."
"You haven't the faintest idea how precarious things are in this town. The last time you tried to meddle in out-Territory politics, I had to go on strike and leave the whole town without power for several hours to persuade the City Council to allow the Center's staff to leave the grounds."
"It worked, didn't it?" Den asked, not quite facetiously. "They repealed the ordinance."
"I'd rather not have to resort to blackmail again," Rital retorted. "It's bad for our image."
"You think you've got a good image now?"
Rital didn't answer.
"I promise I won't do anything rash, but if you want to stay here, something's got to be done about those demonstrations. Other out-Territory Sime Centers haven't had this kind of trouble--there's got to be a way to calm things down. If you won't help me, will you at least not hinder me?" Den extended a pleading hand across the table.
For a long moment, the channel just stared at it, then he slowly unsheathed two handling tentacles and gripped the Gen's fingers.
"All right," he agreed.
Den woke early the following morning. After the large supper he had eaten so late the previous evening, he wasn't particularly hungry. The sky was clear, with only a few puffy clouds to add interest. It looked so peaceful and inviting that Den decided to skip breakfast for the moment and go for a walk instead.
After a quick shower, he threw on a clean uniform, grabbed his cape, and headed outside. The air hadn't lost its winter chill, but the first signs of spring were evident. The buds on the trees were starting to swell and burst, softening the winter-bare branches with a faint haze of yellow-green. He even found some crocusses and snowdrops blooming in a sheltered nook beside a wall.
Somehow, life always looked better when there were green things growing. He knew that it would not be easy to solve a problem that had been festering in Clear Springs for the two years since the City Council had first considered asking the Tecton for a Sime Center, but he was ready to try. Monruss had specifically mentioned outreach programs. It shouldn't be too hard to make arrangements for tours and school programs, and as for the demonstrations, if Rital didn't know what might help, maybe some of the more pro-Tecton out-Territory Gens would be willing to make suggestions. Chilled, but filled with new optimism, Den started back towards the Center.
A glance at his watch showed that the Collectorium would be open in twenty minutes or so. Tyvi would be taking donations that morning, leaving Rital to cover changeovers, paperwork, and other emergencies. Judging from the previous summer, Den would probably have most of the morning to get started on his outreach programs. There would have to be time for a muffin and a warming cup of tea with his cousin before he got to work, however. Rital often forgot to eat breakfast unless his Donor reminded him.
Den was reaching for the knob of the back door, which opened onto a corridor near the Center's small library, when an earsplitting cacophony started, loud enough to be audible for three blocks away. It sounded like two songs being screeched simultaneously by a large group of people. Rampant individualists, one and all, Den concluded as he hastened around the building to see what was the matter. They can't even agree on a key.
He rounded the building's corner and stared in disbelief. There were almost sixty people crowded onto the sidewalk in front of the Sime Center, many of them carrying signs. About half of them were painfully well groomed and conservatively dressed townspeople, mostly middle-aged although there were a few younger couples with children. Their signs had slogans such as "Save Our Kids", "No Simes in Clear Springs", and "Don't Donate!", and they were screaming some sort of hymn about demon Simes.
The other half of the crowd was composed mostly of college students in faded denims or wraparound skirts. Almost all of this group wore identical sweatshirts, white with a tattered stocking silkscreened on the front in fluorescent orange. Underneath, in similarly orange letters, was printed OLD SOKS. Many of them wore faded knee socks as headbands or armbands. Their signs read, "If we want your advice, we'll ask for it", "Mind your own business", and "They're lying!" As Den shook his head in disbelief, they finished their song--it sounded like some sort of scurillous drinking ballad--and began to chant, "Save Our Kids, you're a lie! You don't care if children die!" waving their signs energetically.
How the blazing shen can anyone get through that to donate? Den wondered. The sidewalk beyond the demonstrators was clear for the moment, but there would be people arriving soon to donate on their way to work. Alarmed, he saw a Gen businesswoman in an elegant, cream-colored suit turn the corner and head towards the Center, her determined stride leaving no doubt that it was her destination.
Two of the sock-adorned student counterdemonstrators approached her. They spoke for a moment, then the students each took one of the woman's arms.
They had taken only four steps towards the path leading to the Collectorium when several of the anti-Center demonstrators caught sight of them and converged, waving their signs and screaming warnings as they tried to block the sidewalk.
However, the counterdemonstrators had also converged. Being equally enthusiastic and, on average, twenty years younger than their foes, they reached the woman first. Forming a flying wedge with the ease of long practice, they ruthlessly cleared a path through the demonstrators and deposited her on the other side. They cheered as she started down the path to the Collectorium, and began to chant tauntingly, "Bad makeup, bad dress, Save Our Kids, you're a mess!"
One of the counterdemonstrators sighted Den and made her way across the lawn to greet him. Den had to look twice to recognize Annie Lifton; in the six months since she had established, she had grown two inches and filled out considerably, in all the right places.
"Sosu Milnan, it's good to see you again," she said, grinning broadly. The smile pulled at the scar across her left cheek, a permanent reminder of the night her mother, believing that she was in changeover, had attacked her with a kitchen knife.
"Annie," Den greeted her. "You're looking well. What brings you here today?"
"I'm with OLD SOKS," she explained, gesturing to her sweatshirt.
"Old socks?" Den inquired.
"It stands for 'Organization for the Legal Disruption of Save Our Kids'Strategies'," she explained. "It's kind of a mouthful, but the uniform is cheap!" She grinned again and tugged at the once white (but now grey) piece of footwear that was tied around her upper arm. "We're here to make sure those fanatics don't force other people to abide by their beliefs." She winked mischievously. "We've been pretty successful, too. It's been quite a while since they managed to talk anyone out of donating."
After seeing the counterdemonstrators in action, Den believed her, although he found her enthusiasm for combat somewhat daunting. In-Territory, such shoving matches between Gens would never have been permitted. The probability of injuring a Gen was too high for any Sime to tolerate, and in-Territory Gens soon found that it was easier to cater to this prejudice and stay away from fights, than to face hysterical overreactions from every Sime in zlinning distance.
"How is your family?" the Donor asked, changing the subject.
Annie shrugged. "Mother was depressed about leaving the church last fall, but she rejoined after Reverend Sinth left. She's busy making up for lost time, but she stays away from the Sime-related functions. It would be too embarrassing, 'cause everyone knows I belong to OLD SOKS. Rob is making a fool of himself over Reverend Sinth's niece Bethany; she and her brother Zakry moved here two months ago when their mother got sick. Rob even stopped donating because he was afraid she'd find out, and he goes to the Save Our Kids meetings, too, because she wants him to." She grinned wickedly. "Of course, he tells me exactly what they're planning afterwards. Then I tell our fearless leaders, Silva and Tohm, who figure out what to do about it."
"Silva and Tohm?" Den peered at the mob, trying to distinguish individuals in the chaos. "Do you think I could meet them? I'm supposed to be starting some new outreach programs here. They might have some suggestions on handling Sinth's organization."
"Silva will talk your ear off about it if you give her half a chance," Annie said. "They've both got classes today, but they'll be by tomorrow."
"Oh." He watched as another donor was escorted through the demonstration. "You have a very efficient organization."
"Thank you," Annie said. "Speaking of which, I'd better get back and do my share. I'll tell Silva you want to talk to her." She waved goodbye and rejoined her friends, who were now chanting, "Don't fall for their intimidation, they're handing out misinformation!"
Shaking his head, Den headed for the cafeteria and breakfast.
"After the way Rob argued his mother into letting him donate, I'm surprised he quit," Den remarked to his cousin as he hastily wolfed down a bran muffin.
"I'm not," Rital said, scraping the last of the oatmeal from his bowl. "He never was comfortable with the idea of letting a Sime take selyn from him. He couldn't quit just because his mother wanted him to, but at that age, how could donating possibly compete with the girl of his dreams?" Rital rolled his eyes at the folly of youth, then added, "Besides, I understand he's been passing on what he learns at the anti-Sime meetings. In the long run, that information may be more valuable than the small amount of selyn he could contribute as a transfer-shy GN-3." The channel brightened. "His sister Annie is turning out to be a dependable donor, though. She made GN-2 last week."
"I never would have thought she'd donate at all," Den said, draining his glass of orange juice. "Not after you had to sedate her before she'd let you treat those knife cuts her mother gave her."
The channel shrugged as he stacked their dishes onto a tray. "Your mother used to tell me that Gens were full of surprises. I guess she was right." He stood and stretched. "Time to earn our salaries, cousin. Coming?"
Den spent the morning in the library, reading through the Center's small collection of public relations texts. Drawing on these and his own experience as a tour guide, he put together rough outlines of two public information programs for the Clear Springs Center, one for adults and one for school children. In the afternoon, he designed what he hoped would be a politically unprovocative flier advertising free tours and information, and asked Seena to type it up for distribution to local schools and the Chamber of Commerce.
A few days later, on Rital's turnover day, Den arranged to meet with Tohm Seegrin and Silva Vornast, the official Chief Rabblerouser and Subversive Strategist, respectively, of OLD SOKS, in the Sime Center's library. Tohm was a short, heavily built Gen with a neatly trimmed beard and dark blond hair which had not been combed recently. He was wearing worn denims and an OLD SOKS sweatshirt, with a button pinned to the front which read, "This Sime Center stays OPEN!" Silva's brown hair was cut slightly shorter than Tohm's, and she wore a faded calico skirt and brown boots with her sweatshirt. She also had a button, but hers read, "OLD SOKS gives a darn".
"So you're the one who tossed old Sanctimonious Sinth out on his rump last summer," Tohm said, grinning from ear to ear as he held out his hand. "I nearly died laughing when I read about it in the paper." He grabbed Den's hand and shook it, slapping the Donor on the shoulder with his other hand. "I always like a guy who knows how to pick his enemies." He dropped Den's hand and pulled his fellow activist forward. "I'm Tohm, and this lovely lady with the devious mind is my fiancee Silva. She's the one who comes up with the ideas--I just make sure her nefarious plans are executed."
"I'm pleased to meet you," Den greeted her, a little taken aback by Tohm's exuberance.
"Likewise," she said. "Don't mind Tohm; he always runs on like that."
Tohm slapped his chest melodramatically. "Oh, a mortal blow," he complained. "Hush," his loving bride-to-be ordered. "Annie Lifton tells me you want to find out about Save Our Kids," she told Den.
The Donor nodded. "There's often some trouble when a new Sime Center opens, but it's never been this strong or lasted this long. Usually, the problems stop when around 10% of the Gens in the area have donated at least once. Clear Springs passed that point months ago, but there's no sign that things are calming down. True, we are unusually far from the border here, but I wouldn't think it would make that much difference."
Silva shook her head. "The distance from the border isn't the problem. Clear Springs has demonstrators because of Reverend Sinth."
"A man whose dedication is exceeded only by his ego," Tohm commented gratuitously.
Silva ignored him. "Reverend Sinth gave up his church last winter to devote himself to running you folks out of town."
"He's obnoxious, I agree, but how could one man make that much difference?" Den asked. "I expect some of his former congregation would support his efforts, but there are only three hundred or so of them, and that's not enough to cause this kind of trouble."
"Exactly!" Silva grinned. "So instead of fighting you with just the small minority of Clear Springs residents who object to the Sime Center and are willing to do something about it, he pools the efforts of similar small minorities from all across the Territory. Let me tell you how it works." She plopped down on the couch, and Tohm sprawled beside her, one arm possessively around her shoulders.
For the next half hour, Den listened with utter astonishment as the two out-Territory Gens described a paranoid's nightmare: a hostile conspiracy to convince most of the conservative organizations in New Washington Territory to make shutting down the Clear Springs Sime Center a top priority. It had started when Sinth and a small group of like-minded fanatics had started traveling around the area, giving a lecture on the dangers of Simes. It contained many references to children of pro-Sime citizens who had gone into changeover, and children of God-fearing, righteous individuals who had established. (Somehow, they neglected to mention that the ratio of changeovers to establishments was identical in both groups.) The whole speech was lavishly illustrated with graphic photos of children in changeover and Gens killed by berserkers. By strongly insisting that Tecton channels were responsible for this human devastation, Sinth and his group had been able to glean a few new dedicated volunteers from each audience.
This increase in numbers had allowed them to expand their recruitment efforts, which had grown to involve mailing lists, phone solicitations, letter writing campaigns to newspapers and legislators, and even door to door visits in some carefully selected neighborhoods. Sinth had also contacted religious leaders from most of the more traditionally-minded denominations in the Territory, and asked them to urge their congregants to pledge a day or week as a demonstrator outside the Clear Springs Center, in hopes that the Tecton and the Clear Springs city government would believe that they represented a majority of the town's residents. Out-of-town demonstrators were given free food and housing at the homes of local volunteers.
Such tactics were utterly alien to in-Territory politics. When even the most single-minded of Sime activists could zlin their opponents' sincerity, and outright lies were readily detected, there was much more incentive to find a solution that everyone could live with.
"Most of the Save Our Kids members haven't ever been to Clear Springs, and even so, about half of the demonstrators on any given day are from out of town," Silva concluded. "That's why people were so angry when Marcy got hurt."
Den shook his head in disbelief. "I find it hard to believe that anyone could get that many people to stand on a sidewalk all day, waving signs and chanting themselves hoarse, just by mailing some letters and making a few speeches, no matter how sensationalistic they are."
"Why not?" Tohm asked matter-of-factly. "How did you think we got people to join OLD SOKS? We put up some fliers, got some letters into the newspapers, asked some of the more liberal churches to write us up in their newsletters..."
"Of course, we had it easier than Sinth, because there are more people in Clear Springs in favor of the Sime Center than opposed," Silva commented. "On the other hand, we're strictly local, while Sinth has built a Territory-wide organization. But the principle is the same."
Den clenched his fists in frustration, knowing that the Tecton would find such tactics as unbelievable as he did. No wonder Rital didn't try to explain this to Controller Monruss in his reports--Monruss would have put it down to paranoia and had Rital on the next train back to Valzor.
"There's got to be some way to fight them," Den said, trying desperately to think of one.
"Of course there is," Tohm reassured him. "Sinth's demonstrations haven't been nearly as successful in 'convincing' people not to donate since OLD SOKS started escorting people through their lines. The letters they write are only effective if no one writes back to correct their lies. If you folks are finally willing to start standing up for yourselves, they won't have a chance. For instance, my sister works for the Clarion. Why don't I get her to ask her boss Fredricks if you can write a regular column to answer peoples' questions?"
"Umm..." Den tried to think of a way to decline politely.
"Good." Tohm clapped him on the shoulder. "Get both sides of the story out before the public, and we can't lose. Now, one of the City Councilmen, Dav Senberg, has introduced a resolution of mine calling for the police to vigorously enforce the laws governing demonstrations, to prevent any more injuries. There's going to be a public meeting to discuss it tomorrow night. You ought to be there, so that you can tell them exactly what's going on. Marcy isn't the only one who's been hurt by those bullies."
"Speaking of which," Silva said, "We'd better get back to the group." She stood up from the couch, briskly shaking her skirt back into place.
"Duty calls," Tohm said, extending a hand to Silva. "Help me up, heartless wench."
Silva pulled him to his feet, giggling as he grabbed her and stole a hearty kiss. "Stop that, you animal," she scolded, impotently beating at his chest. "You see what I have to put up with?" she complained to Den.
Den laughed at Tohm's suggestive leer, and led the way back through the Center. When they reached the main entrance hall, they could already hear the discord outside, where a hymn was competing at full volume with a ballad which detailed the amenities of a (Den sincerely hoped) fictional bordello.
"Tell me," the Donor asked. "Why the choice of songs?"
Silva grinned. "It annoys them," she answered succinctly. Waving goodbye, the two walked briskly down the Center's entrance walkway and plunged into the crowd.
Early the following evening, the Sime Center was called to pick up a changeover victim. By the time Den and Rital arrived, it was too late to move the girl, but her parents agreed to let them take care of her in their house.
"It's our fault that she tried to hide it," the girl's mother said guiltily, wringing her hands. "She's only just turned thirteen, and we just didn't get around to talking about it with her."
The girl was untrained, of course, but she was good at following instructions and there were no additional complications. However, by the time Rital had given her First Transfer, and her mother had fussed around packing her a suitcase full of clothing, the City Council meeting was about to start. Rital insisted on having the ambulance driver drop Den off at the City Hall on the way back to the Center, and Den, satisfied that neither channel nor patient required his services, agreed.
The medium-sized auditorium where the meeting was being held was packed. Den scanned the sea of faces until he located Tohm and Silva, who were seated with a dozen or so other OLD SOKS members in the second row back. They were carrying their usual signs, but Silva had a new button pinned to her headband, with the defiant slogan, "Pro-Sime and Proud".
She saw him and waved. When Den had woven his way through the crush to her side, she indicated the empty aisle seat beside her. "I saved you a place, but I was beginning to think you wouldn't come."
"I had to help Controller Madz with a changeover," he explained absently, surveying the crowd with disbelief. People were beginning to stand along the back wall, since all of the seats were occupied. "I had no idea that
city government was such a popular attraction," he commented.
"Most of the time, there's less than a dozen people at a meeting," Tohm said. "Didn't you notice the church busses outside? Sinth has called in people from all over."
"Ironic, isn't it? They travel in selyn-powered busses to speak against a Sime Center," Den commented with a wry grimace.
Tohm shrugged. "If they're going to defeat the resolution, they've got to produce a lot of bodies. Rob Lifton reports that Sinth is very worried--if they have to leave a clear path into the Sime Center at all times, they won't be able to harass people as effectively."
Den nodded. "It would certainly make our jobs easier," he agreed. Looking around at the various signs, buttons, and T-shirts, he estimated that there were probably some sixty anti-Sime activists present, including the imposing, black-cassocked figure of Reverend Sinth.
The council members trickled in, and Mayor Kroag called the meeting to order a mere ten minutes late. They voted unanimously to skip all new business, and all old business except for Senberg's proposal. Because of the large number of people present, Mayor Kroag announced that those officially representing each side would be allowed fifteen minutes to present their arguments for or against the resolution, and then anyone who wanted to speak could have three minutes, and three minutes only.
First to speak was Tohm, the author of Senberg's resolution. "As a law student," he said, "I fully support the concept of freedom of speech, even when that freedom is used to support causes I despise, as long as it remains within legal bounds. In the case of demonstrations, the law specifies that any group demonstrating in front of a place of business must leave a clear path at all times, and that those who use this path to enter that place of business must not be verbally harassed or physically intimidated.
"During the past few months, I have watched the members of the Save Our Kids campaign break these laws on a daily basis. They routinely fail to leave a passage into the Sime Center--in fact, I can't recall one time when they have left such a passage. Anyone who tries to get onto the Center's grounds, for whatever reason, is immediately the target of verbal harassment and physical intimidation. I have seen anti-Sime demonstrators scream obscenities and threats at a thirteen-year-old girl who wanted information for a school assignment. I have seen the bullies beat men old enough to be my grandparents with their signs--and believe me, a club doesn't hurt any less just because you tack a piece of cardboard onto it.
"These actions are not legal, and the people who perform them are criminals. So far, the police have proven unwilling to enforce the law. Their unwillingness has already led to one serious injury. My resolution does not restrict the right of Save Our Kids to demonstrate at the Sime Center. However, it does ask the officials responsible for law enforcement to do their jobs and curtail the illegal portion of Save Our Kids' activities, before we have another Marcy Ingleston heading for the hospital."
The thirty or so pro-Center people in the room applauded loudly as Tohm sat down; Sinth's followers booed and hissed.
Sinth was the official speaker against the resolution, as the founder and acknowledged leader of Save Our Kids. He was an impressive sight, a tall, gaunt man with a flushed face, dark, bushy eyebrows that matched his floor-length cassock, and a booming voice that didn't require amplification. He shook his head in hurt innocence as he paced slowly in front of the podium, ignoring the microphone on it, and said in martyred tones, "I'm deeply hurt by what I just heard. Bullies, vicious criminals who beat children up....those are harsh accusations. Particularly coming from a self-proclaimed, radical rabble rouser who lives with his girlfriend without benefit of marriage." He turned to glare at Tohm, who put his arm around Silva and winked impudently. "Why, his group holds their weekly meetings at the Sudworks Brewery, so they have an excuse to drink beer.
"My followers are God-fearing, church-going, sober and respectable people; upright citizens of this community and others like it. We do not hate the misguided souls who have been driven to seek out the Simes. We care deeply for them and their families. And in our love, we are driven to share with them what the Scriptures say about Simes--that by donating, by willingly giving themselves into the tentacles of evil, they give the Devil unfettered freedom to turn their siblings, or their children, or their grandchildren, into bloodthirsty, murdering Sime demons!
"We are not breaking any laws. Why, Ezra Tains, our Chief of Police here in Clear Springs, has been joining us on occasion as we try to save these poor souls. Now, I've known Ezra for a long time; we went to school together right down the road a few blocks. If there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that he takes his responsibilities very seriously." Sinth's voice rose to a crescendo. "If we were breaking any laws, don't you think that the police chief would be arresting us, not helping us?
"This resolution Mr. Seegrin has talked Councilman Senberg into presenting for him is simply an attempt to harass us as we do God's work. AND IT WILL NOT WORK! It will not prevent us from carrying God's message to those who need it most!"
The applause and hallelujahs were much louder this time, due to the reinforcements Sinth had bussed in.
Mayor Kroag pounded her gavel for quiet. "At this time, I would like for those who wish to address us on this issue to line up in the center aisle, behind the podium." Over half of the audience made a concerted rush for the microphone. As they jockeyed for position, she raised her voice and continued. "I would like to remind everyone that you are limited to three minutes, and we are timing you. Also, please give your name and city of origin, so that we can keep our records straight."
Since Den's seat was on the aisle, he managed to grab second place in line, behind a chubby young woman wearing an OLD SOKS sweatshirt. As soon as things were quiet, she began speaking in a nasal voice. "My name is Marcy Ingleston, and I live here in Clear Springs. Reverend Sinth is lying about what Save Our Kids is doing. They not only pushed me so I fell and sprained my ankle, they were so full of loving concern for my welfare," her voice dripped with sarcasm, "that instead of helping me up, they stood around kicking me and screaming about how I was damned forever! For all they cared, I could have lain on the sidewalk all day. I'm asking the City Council to pass the resolution, and put those bullies out of business."
She yielded the podium to Den, who had just remembered how much he hated public speaking. He swallowed to relieve his suddenly dry mouth. "I'm Sosu Den Milnan, senior Donor at the Clear Springs Sime Center," he began, gaining confidence as he saw that all five council members were paying respectful attention. "I would like to bring up one additional legal question that Tohm Seegrin did not address. Due to the retainer laws, all Sime Centers are legally considered Sime Territory. By blocking access to a Territorial border, Save Our Kids is also in violation of the free travel provisions of the First Contract. The Tecton is very concerned about the situation here. If these demonstrations continue unchecked, you may have an inter-territorial incident on your hands." But I hope it doesn't go that far, the Donor thought as he returned to his seat, or Rital and I will be in even worse trouble than you!
"Good point," Tohm leaned over Silva to whisper. "I hadn't thought of that angle."
After that, the talks began to run into one another, but there were a few moments that Den was always able to remember clearly: A highly distraught woman who failed to identify herself before she sobbed, "When are you going to get those slimy snakes out of Clear Springs and save the children?"
Reverend Sinth's nephew Zakry, a shorter than average thirteen-year-old whose slight frame was not quite hidden beneath at least fifty extra pounds of fat. He gazed up at the City Council with the ecstatic, other-worldly (and more than a little vacant) stare of a mystic, as he explained with many scriptural quotations how his faith would make him Gen, unless he or his family were exposed to in-Territory contamination. The look of total hatred that he turned on Den as he said this would haunt the Donor for days.
A similarly hate-filled expression on the face of a local shopkeeper, as he ranted against the "heresy" of the scriptural interpretations Sinth used to justify his anti-Center stance.
Florence Grieves (whose daughter Rachel had been Annie Lifton's best friend before the girl had gone through changeover the previous summer, killed a sister, and was in turn murdered by her parents) insisting, "The Sime Center caused both my daughters to die!" When Mayor Kroag asked if she had called the Sime Center for help, the woman indignantly retorted, "Of course not!"
Several donors described in lurid detail how they had been pushed, shoved, and screamed at by anti-Sime demonstrators in their attempts to follow their own consciences by donating, and those same demonstrators flatly denied doing such things.
In all, there were thirty-two speakers in favor of the resolution, and sixty-four speakers against, nineteen of whom lived in Clear Springs. When everyone had had their say, the council voted three to one to pass the resolution. (One council member thought that the City Council shouldn't get involved in the issue if the police thought the demonstrators' activities were legal, and one had had to go home because his babysitter couldn't stay past ten thirty.)
It was past eleven when Den finally left the City Hall. He was making his way across the parking lot to the street, not paying much attention to his surroundings, when the trouble started. Afterwards, he realized that he should have been more cautious, but he had never had to defend himself against a physical attack in his adult life. As a First Order Donor, his nager was powerful enough to be zlinnable for quite a distance, and Simes tended to jealously guard the well-being of any Gens in their vicinity. Even the criminals in-Territory were well aware that the quality of the transfers and medical services available to them depended on the willingness of the best channels and Donors to work in their areas. Thus, Den could stroll through the high-crime areas of Valzor in the secure knowledge that his Donor's nager and the Tecton crest ring on his finger would protect him from harm.
He discovered that night that his profession was viewed a little differently by some groups on this side of the border. As he passed a group of well-dressed college students who were talking by the bicycle rack, one of them looked up and recognized him. "Hey, it's the Sime-lover," he called, looking at Den with a predatory sneer. Immediately, the others clustered around Den, pushing at the Donor and shouting, "Devil-worshipper!" "Why don't you go kiss a Sime?" and "Sime-lover, you're no better than a whore!"
As the students pushed him from one side of their circle to the other, Den struggled to stay on his feet. In the brief moments between shoves, he tried to peer through his tormentors and locate any of the OLD SOKS members. It seemed incredible that he could be roughed up within sight of a large crowd, without attracting their attention. But it's dark here, and there aren't any Simes around to zlin that I require help.
"What's going on here?" a deep, authoritative voice demanded. The mob suddenly disintegrated back into a group of students, who meekly allowed the uniformed police officer to push through them. He hooked his thumbs behind the leather gunbelt that strained to hold in his more than ample belly, and glared meaningfully at the students. "What do you think you're doing?" he repeated furiously, staring them down one by one until he reached the blond young man who seemed to be their leader.
"We didn't mean any harm, Chief Tains," the blond student drawled insolently. "We just wanted to teach the Sime-lover a little lesson, that's all."
Tains scowled. "We have law and order in Clear Springs, kid, and don't you forget it. Now, I don't want to have to arrest you to protect the likes of him," he nodded towards Den, "but I will if I have to. So you go on home, and I'll pretend that none of this happened."
In ten seconds, the students had hopped on their bicycles and pedaled away.
"Thank you," Den said a little stiffly as the last one disappeared down the road.
A fat globule of spit landed half an inch from the toe of Den's right shoe. "Get back where you belong, Sime-lover," Tains said contemptuously. "I don't want any more trouble in my town." He turned and strolled back to the parking lot.
The passage of the anti-demonstration resolution made little difference in the days that followed, since the Clear Springs police continued to ignore its provisions. In fact, the only real change was the addition of "Anti-Tecton, anti-beer, Save Our Kids, you're mighty queer!" to OLD SOKS' repertoire of chants.
Den's public relations program was also largely unsuccessful. He had gotten a few telephone calls after he sent out his fliers, from teachers seeking background information for lectures during the Faith Day season. However, his offers to visit their classes himself, or give them a tour of the Sime Center, were always politely declined. Apparently, those few teachers who were courageous (or foolish) enough to tackle such a controversial subject felt safer going to Valzor's Old Center. As one teacher explained, "If I 'balance' the Old Center with a tour of the Church of the Purity cathedral and museum across the river, and throw in the amusement park and a few art museums to round out the package, the kids and their parents go for it. If I just had you come in and give a lecture, I'd be up in front of the school board fighting for my job within a week."
Hank Fredricks, owner and editor of the Clear Springs Clarion, was delighted with Tohm's idea of a Sime Center column, and duly sent over a packet full of guidelines and suggested topics. When Den submitted his first attempt, Fredricks not only printed it, he decided to make it a regular feature.
As Faith Day came closer, the number of volunteer general-class donors increased to unprecedented levels, despite the best efforts of the anti-Sime demonstrators. In response, the Save Our Kids campaign took out a full-page ad in the Clarion, calling for all "citizens of good will" to turn out in support of their efforts to save the town from Simes. The following day, there were nearly twice as many people as usual on the sidewalk outside the Sime Center, but most of them were joining the counter-demonstrators. Many of the new Gens also donated in protest against the tactics Sinth's followers were employing. As one irate, middle-aged woman put it, "Any time folks like that are against something, chances are I'm for it!"
The large influx of new donors meant that two channels were required for each shift. Rital changed the schedule so that either he or Tyvi ambrov Frihill, the other First Order channel, was on hand to take care of the "virgins," as Seena insisted on calling them, while the Thirds, Zir and Reyna, handled the more experienced donors. This was a very sensible arrangement, as even Den had to admit, but the nageric and emotional strain of handling transfer-shy Gens all day was taking its toll on both Firsts. Four days after Rital's turnover, the usually patient channel snapped at the Center's chef for burning his toast, and Tyvi broke the handle off of a tea mug.
Den and Tyvi's Donor, Siv Alson, joined forces and informed their respective charges that no more first donations were to be taken unless a Donor was present to block the worst of the nageric chaos.
Neither channel objected very strenuously.
A week before their transfer date, Den and Rital arrived at the Collectorium ten minutes before it officially opened, to find two Gens already waiting for them. Den didn't know the young woman, but he recognized her older companion immediately.
So did Rital. "Mayor Kroag, how good to see you," he said with genuine pleasure.
"Controller Madz, Sosu Milnan," she greeted them, shaking hands automatically with the practiced firmness of a professional out-Territory politician. An untrained in-Territory Gen would have known better than to touch a Sime without invitation, but Den knew that Kroag meant it as a gesture of trust and respect.
"I'd like you to meet my daughter Meg," she continued proudly, drawing the girl forward with an arm around her shoulders. "When I told her I was coming here this morning, she said she wanted to come along and donate also."
"It seemed like the right time of year for it," Meg said a little shyly. "Besides, my literature class is reading Tharson's novel about the last campaign against the Raiders, and we have to write a paper on it."
"So you decided to do some extracurricular research?" Rital asked, amused. "It can't hurt," she shrugged, nervously twining the end of her braid around one finger. "Miz Ross's honors class has been using the same reading list forever. I've been trying to think of something original to say about the stupid book for weeks."
"I'm glad to see that the spirit of free inquiry is still alive." The channel winked, and Meg grinned back, more at ease.
"I have some more good news for you," Mayor Kroag interjected. "Clear Springs is going to be hosting a convention of city government officials from all over the territory next week. A number of the participating towns have been considering whether they should ask the Tecton for a Sime Center of their own, and some of the delegates have expressed interest in visiting your Center here. If it's all right with you, I'll have my secretary call and make the arrangements."
"That's wonderful," Den said, glad that he would finally have the chance to give his carefully prepared tour. Reyna had arrived by now, and was holding Mayor Kroag's file.
"Meg, why don't you come with Den and me," Rital suggested, "and we'll let Hajene Tast take care of your mother."
Meg swallowed and looked at her mother for reassurance. At Kroag's nod, she followed them down the hall to one of the small collecting rooms. She looked curiously at the transfer lounge as Rital sat behind the desk and Den perched on a stool behind him, but took her place in the visitor's chair without prompting.
Rital pulled out a copy of the pre-donation medical history form and absentmindedly fished in his uniform pocket with two handling tentacles for a pen. Meg watched the channel's tentacles in fascination, then blushed when she realized that she'd been caught staring. "I was just wondering what they felt like," she explained lamely.
"See for yourself," Rital offered, holding out a steady hand with one dorsal tentacle extended.
Den leaned forward, ready to shield his cousin if the girl became frightened. Come on, kid, you can do it.
Meg hesitated a moment, then cautiously reached out and lightly brushed the proffered tentacle with a finger. "They really aren't slimy, are they?" she said with a note of discovery.
"No, they really aren't," Rital agreed.
After that, it was easy. When the paperwork was finished, Meg lay down on the transfer lounge and offered her hands with the confidence of an experienced donor. She hardly blinked when Rital made the transfer contact, and when he finished taking her donation and let her go, she asked in a surprised voice, "Is that all?"
"That's all there is to it," the channel confirmed. "You're low field now." When Meg had rejoined her mother in the waiting room, full of inspiration for her book report, channel and Donor exchanged indulgent grins.
"You're dangerous, cousin, did you know that?" Den teased. "I'll bet you could seduce one of those hymn-singing fanatics on our sidewalk into donating, if you put your mind to it."
"They're hardly likely to give me a chance," Rital laughed.
There was a continual stream of Gens coming in to donate all day, until by early afternoon Rital had to delegate the pre-donation paperwork to Seena in order to keep up. This shortened the time he had to spend with each Gen, but also gave the newcomers less time to get used to him before donating.
By midafternoon, as he and Rital were escorting a white-haired but still active farmer back to the waiting room, Den was looking forward to the end of the shift and dinner. He was mentally listing the ingredients in his own private stash, trying to determine if they could be combined into something better than the cafeteria was providing, when Gati intercepted them before Rital could pick up the next folder.
"We may have a potential problem here, Hajene," she said, lips pressed together in concern as she tapped the file she held in her right hand against her left.
"What is it?" Rital asked.
"Another schoolgirl. She seems to be under control, at least as much as any of them are, but Zir says her nager is wierd, and there's something about her..." Gati shook her head. "It's probably nothing."
"Your instincts are usually pretty sound," Rital reassured her. "If the girl's likely to cause trouble, I'd best see to her now."
Gati held out the file folder she was holding. "Seena just took the girl's history; she said the girl didn't look at her once. And the friend that came with her brought along some of those pamphlets that the nuts outside are so fond of passing out."
"Is the friend donating too?" Den asked alertly. One possible Simephobe was bad enough.
"No, she's not."
Rital took the folder and flipped it open. Den peered over his cousin's shoulder and scanned the information inside. The girl had given her name as Bethany Thins, and she was fifteen natal years old. That was a little younger than most out-Territory Gens started donating, especially if no other family members donated. Den couldn't recall hearing about any other Gens named Thins, but he didn't know every donor in the area, so that might not be significant. There was nothing in the girl's medical history to suggest a problem, except, of course, that she had been raised out-Territory. That was often more than enough complication all by itself.
Den casually glanced out into the waiting room, where some twelve Gens sat waiting for the channels. There were only two women young enough to be fifteen. One of them, a small, anxious-looking mouse in a dark brown dress, was holding a pamphlet and showing it to her friend. Because the other girl was facing away from him, all Den could see of her was the dark hair that spilled over the back of her chair.
"Is Bethany the one facing us?" Rital asked Gati as he snapped the file closed.
"No, the other one."
Rital zlinned the girl as well as he could, given the chaotic ambient nager of the waiting room. "Zir was right, she's strange. Not frightened, particularly. It's almost a kind of...voyeuristic curiosity mixed with self-righteous revulsion. I'd expect that from one of the demonstrators out there, not a prospective donor." He zlinned her again, trying to make out details, until Den stepped closer and lightly touched one arm, partially blocking the channel's perception of Bethany's nager and effectively breaking his concentration.
"You'll have plenty of time to zlin her," he scolded tolerantly. "But right now, you'd better get her away from that friend and her pamphlets, before you have a mountain of misconceptions to complicate things."
Nodding sheepish agreement with his Donor's practical suggestion, Rital stepped around the reception desk and called, "Bethany Thins?"
The dark haired girl looked around with a start, dropping the pamphlet she was holding. "Me?" she asked in a small voice. Now that he could see her face, Den recognized the red-skirted girl from his last tour group. What the blazing shen is she doing here?
Rital smiled at her reassuringly. "I'm Hajene Madz," he introduced himself. "Would you come with me, please?"
Bethany gave him a calculating glance, taking in his slight build and carefully retracted tentacles, then nodded agreement and stood up.
"Bethie..." the friend objected in a wavering voice. Bethany whispered something, too quietly for the Donor to hear, then followed Rital to the collecting room, Den bringing up the rear.
Shen, Rital's good, Den thought as he perched on his stool and made himself inconspicuous. His cousin was deliberately moving slower and less gracefully than usual; almost like a Gen. Yet he managed to make it look natural.
It was working, too. With the desk between them, Bethany was already less wary of the channel. At first, Rital limited himself to neutral topics--general conversation and the information on the medical history form. Where does he get the patience? Den wondered. He'd sit there making small talk for half an hour, if that's what it took to win the girl's confidence.
In the end, it took only five minutes before Bethany's distrust eased. When she was ready to listen, Rital began to describe what went on during a general-class donation, as patiently and completely as if he hadn't been giving the same spiel all day. Strangely, the girl virtually ignored the channel's reassurances about what she would (and would not) feel during the donation, although every other first-time donor Den had seen in the last week had been vitally interested. Maybe she's been doing some background reading?
But when Rital asked her if she had any questions, she asked several that showed an appalling ignorance. Den's favorite was, "Are there any aftereffects?"
Den struggled to keep a straight face as his cousin reassured Bethany that the only known aftereffects of donating were a lessened susceptibility to some illnesses, and a temporary inability to attract Simes in need, if there were other highfield Gens around.
Gati was right, this is a weird one, Den thought as the channel finally coaxed the girl into reclining on the transfer lounge. From her questions, she could have learned everything she knows about Simes, Gens, and transfer at Reverend Sinth's knee. But no one with that kind of background should be so calm just before a first donation. Annie Lifton and her brother Rob had both been terrified, despite their previous encounters with Rital.
Of course, there was no guarantee that Bethany would remain as calm (relatively speaking) during the donation as she was before. Rital seemed to have everything under control as he took her hands, but just in case, Den laid his hand on the channel's shoulder and let their fields merge.
As Rital slipped neatly into the full transfer contact, Den watched Bethany's face as closely as he could, ready to intervene if the girl panicked. A little to his surprise, she looked more startled than frightened. She hesitated a brief moment, then tried to move her head and break lip contact.
That's funny, Den thought. Most out-Territory Gens who struggled tried to move their arms first. Not that it made much difference.
When she couldn't free herself, Bethany began to struggle in earnest. As her eyes widened in fear, Den quickly increased his support of Rital. "Relax, Bethany. Hajene Madz isn't hurting you," he murmured as reassuringly as he could. "It won't take much longer."
She seemed to hear him; at least, she stopped struggling. When the channel let her go a few seconds later, she wilted bonelessly back into the lounge, eyes closed with relief. Rital waited until she opened them.
"That's it," he said with a friendly smile. "It's all over."
"What?" Bethany asked, looking at him in a bewildered fashion. "You mean you really did..." She hesitated, then blurted out, "But I didn't feel anything happening at all!" She sounded almost indignant.
"Most Gens don't feel anything during a routine donation," Rital said, getting up from the lounge and reseating himself behind the desk. He scribbled the proper notations on the form as Bethany stood unsteadily. When she realized that she was unharmed, she walked back to the desk.
"Here," Rital said, handing her the file. "If you will give this to the receptionist, she will see that your check is sent to you."
Bethany took the folder from the channel at arm's length, to avoid touching him, and left. Since Rital had been escorting the Gens back to the waiting room, Den turned to his cousin as soon as the door closed behind her, worried that the girl's fear had done more harm than he supposed.
"I'm all right, Den," the channel said, waving him away. "She didn't hurt me."
"I'll be the judge of that," Den said, taking his cousin's hands and examining the laterals and ronaplin glands for signs of prematurely raised intil.
Rital cooperated, letting his laterals extend to demonstrate their steadiness. "See?" he said. "I sent Bethany back alone because she was nervous about me." The channel frowned, resheathing his laterals. "It's strange. Usually they're less frightened after donating, not more. I wish I knew why she came in to donate." He stared at the wall blankly for a moment, then recalled himself with a shrug. "Oh, well, I'm sure she had her reasons."
Den explained about seeing Bethany in one of his tour groups.
"I see I'm not the only one in the family with a talent for convincing unlikely Gens to donate." Rital grinned delightedly and gripped his cousin's shoulder, letting a handling tentacle briefly caress the back of the Gen's neck. "Let's get back to work."
When they returned to the reception desk to pick up the next folder, they found Gati vainly trying to smother a snicker.
"I could use a laugh," Den told her. "What's so funny?"
"Your mystery Gen's mousy friend," she said, grinning broadly. "When you took Bethany back to donate, she started reading one of her pamphlets out loud, all about how nasty donating is."
"Shen!" Den swore, thinking about how such propaganda would affect the already nervous Gens waiting for their first donations. "What's funny about that?"
"She happened to be sitting next to Mr. Duncan," Gati said, "who has very little patience with that kind of hysteria. He took the pamphlet away from her, tossed it into the wastebasket, and told her that he knew from personal experience that donating wasn't anything like that. He also told her that she was a fool for believing Sinth, since he's never donated. Then Miz Farral chipped in and told the girl not to worry, her friend was in good hands, or tentacles as the case may be, and other regular donors started agreeing with her. I don't know if they convinced the girl, but she shut up pretty quickly."
Den grinned at Gati in appreciation, then went to help Rital with the next Gen. Maybe Monruss is right, the Donor thought. If making Bethany watch that donation back at Valzor prompted her to come in and donate herself, my playing tour guide wasn't a total waste of time. Not that he was about to volunteer for such duty again any time soon. And if she talks it over with her friend, that's two Gens that are less likely to show up on our sidewalk to harass donors.
However, Bethany's donation didn't stop Den from sending a strongly worded report back to Monruss. These people are crazy, he wrote in frustration. There hasn't been a single school teacher who would even consider inviting me to speak to a class, for fear of complaints from a few parents, but large numbers of local Gens, including some of those same teachers, are quite willing to push through a mob of angry demonstrators to donate. Some of the Gens who spend hours every week helping donors through the demonstrations openly admit that they themselves would never even consider donating. The activists on both sides frequently issue wildly inaccurate statements, and no one seems to mind. Please, get a professional diplomat out here before I become as crazy as they are!
A few days after Mayor Kroag's visit to the Center, Den found his cousin in the channel's office, staring glumly through the window at the mob outside. "What's the matter?" he asked, putting a hand on Rital's shoulder.
The channel relaxed as his Donor's presence dispelled the unconscious, need-based conviction that he was going to die, but he didn't smile. "I was just wondering how eager those visiting dignitaries will be to have Sime Centers in their own towns, when they have to get through that to meet us." He nodded out the window.
Even though it was closed, Den could distinctly hear competing chants of "There's nothing here for Gens to fear; Save Our Kids, get out of here!" and "Sinners, we won't go away, we will stay right here and pray!" (Or maybe it was "prey".)
"I see what you mean," he said, as OLD SOKS switched their chant to "Anti-Sime, anti-Gen, who the hell do you like, then?" He considered the problem for a moment, then he brightened. "The Collectorium doesn't open until nine, and the demonstrators usually don't arrive much before then. What would happen if we started the tour here, at eight or eight thirty, so they don't get hassled when they arrive? Then we pack them into our bus and run them out to the power plant for another tour. That way, all they'll see of the demonstration is a brief glimpse from the bus window."
"It just might work," Rital agreed, looking happier. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"I think I know why," Den said suggestively, running a careful hand along his channel's arm, and delighting in the need-swollen ronaplin glands. What better way to celebrate Faith Day, than a transfer with one of my favorite channels?
Two days before the touring dignitaries arrived, Den accompanied Reyna Tast to the power plant, on her regular trip to refill the selyn batteries. As he juggled with the key, trying to unlock the door to the basement room which housed Clear Springs' small selyn bank, he recalled that even this had required extended negotiations with the out-Territory Gens. The previous summer, the Center's channels (then limited to Rital) had not been allowed their own key; some problem with the power worker's union, he believed. At least we don't have to wait for the manager to let us in any more, Den thought, encouraged by even this slender evidence of progress.
His optimism faded as they went down the narrow, concrete stairway and entered the large, musty-smelling cavern that housed the town's selyn batteries. From the threadbare carpet covering the front third of the yellowed concrete floor, to the battered table in front of the sagging, olive-green couch with white stuffing showing through the rents in its cushions, the atmosphere was one of total gloom. The only objects in the entire room less than twenty years old were the first aid kit on the table, the shiny new safety grating with its warning signs in Simelan and English, and the selyn batteries it protected.
"Those politicians are going to take one look at this place, and decide they can live without us," Den complained as he helped the channel remove her retainers.
"It's not quite that hopeless," Reyna said, surveying the room with the practical eye of an experienced hostess. "All it will take is a good cleaning and a little fixing up. There are some very attractive carpets in storage to cover the floor, and a matching blanket will hide the holes in the couch cushions quite nicely. If you use one of the ones from the cedar storage chest, that will help get rid of the musty smell. Put a tablecloth and refreshments on this thing," she poked the table with a tentacle, "and they won't notice how old it is." She frowned thoughtfully and pushed the table again with her hand. "Though you'd better prop up that short leg first, or you'll have spilled tea all over the floor."
"You're a genius, love," Den said, following her across the room to the safety grating. "I'll start rounding up some of the staff as soon as we get back."
Reyna pulled open the Gen-proof lock on the grating and grimaced at the three selyn batteries inside. However, she dutifully began to unhook the orgonics cable from the first one. As she reluctantly extended her laterals towards the contacts, Den moved unerringly to the exact spot where he could best hold the selyn fields steady. She looked over her shoulder at Den. "Sometimes Firsts are very convenient to have around," she said appreciatively.
The Clear Springs Center had both an arrival and a departure the next day. Due to two unexpected channels' changeovers and an injury, Siv Alson was recalled to Valzor to give an emergency transfer. As a tacit apology, his replacement was Tyvi's son Obis, who was supposed to arrive the following morning. Tyvi bravely expressed her delight at the prospect of having her son for transfer, and immediately retired to the deferment suite to wait for him.
The new arrival was Sera Coney, a freelance reporter who was researching a human-interest story about isolated Tecton outposts for one of Nivet Territory's leading news magazines. She was a stunning redhead with the luscious curves only a Gen could have, and she made no secret of the personal nature of her interest in Den.
The Donor was happy to oblige.
The visit of the out-Territory politicians went more smoothly than even Den had dared to hope. Most of them seemed genuinely impressed with the Center's facilities, and only one man asked questions about the demonstrations. As he listened to them speak among themselves, Den was forced to radically alter his view of out-Territory politics. From their conversation, these men and women had been elected, not because of their proven ability to solve problems by finding compromises acceptable to all, but because they had been more successful than their opponents in identifying and avoiding reasons for the voters to dislike them.
Suddenly, the tactics Save Our Kids and OLD SOKS had been using began to make sense. No wonder neither group is interested in objective truth or compromise. They're in a contest to show the politicians how many people will vote against a candidate who takes the opposing side. And it doesn't matter to anyone that the majority of Clear Springs residents support the Sime Center, if that majority won't switch its vote accordingly. What a backwards way to run a Territory!
At the power plant, over refreshments of cookies and trin tea (which many of the out-Territory Gens discarded after the first sip), several of the visitors made casual inquiries about where they might get more information, should they decide to ask the Tecton for a Sime Center in their own towns. In a purely hypothetical sense, they hastened to assure the Donor.
"And won't that look good on the next monthly report!" Den exclaimed happily as he finished bringing Rital up to date.
"It's marvelous," the channel muttered, staring glumly at the file folders on his desk.
Realizing that his cousin was too close to active need to feel anything else, Den reached for the channel's hands to control it, regretting the thoughtlessness that had led him to inflict his unrestrained emotions on Rital when his cousin was unable to share them.
Unexpectedly, the channel withdrew. Den paused in confusion; unlike some channels he had worked with, Rital seldom refused his Donor's assistance.
Zlinning his cousin's faint hurt, Rital tried an apologetic smile. It looked more like a grimace of agony. "Please don't, Den," he requested. He rearranged the files in front of him with two tentacles, not meeting the Donor's eyes.
"There's no easy way to tell you this," he said with a sigh. He reached for a pencil, tapped it on the desk a few times, then set it down and pushed a green transfer-assignment card towards Den. "The train from Asthan was delayed. Obis missed his connection and won't get here until tomorrow morning, so I'm reassigning you to Tyvi this month."
"You're WHAT?!" Den sat suddenly in the visitor's chair.
"She can't wait, Den." Rital pushed one of the files across to the Donor. "Here's her file; see for yourself."
Den thumbed rapidly through the materials. "She's been shorted lately, but tomorrow morning is well within her tested endurance ratings..."
"And what would happen if Obis is delayed again? You know what the trains are like around the holidays. By the time we learned of the problem, you'd be lowfield. Valzor doesn't have anyone--that's how this whole mess started in the first place. I can survive until Obis gets here. Tyvi's been in the deferment suite since yesterday. Losing her assigned Donor a second time just before her transfer is going to be hard enough on her. If there's no replacement within a hundred miles, she might crack."
Den knew Rital was right, but he didn't have to like it. "And where does this leave you?" he demanded. "You've been shorted lately, too. If this Obis is a good match for Tyvi, he'll be totally inadequate for you."
"He's actually rated a little higher than his mother, and he's young enough to have grown some since his last testing. He may surprise me."
"You don't believe that," Den stated.
"There's always next month." Rital finally met Den's eyes, and the Donor recoiled at the misery he saw on his cousin's face. "Do you think I want to give you up?" the channel demanded brokenly. "I've been looking forward to this transfer for weeks. But I'm Controller here, and that means I have a responsibility to look after my people. All of them, not just you and me."
Thoroughly ashamed of himself for making a bad situation worse for his cousin, Den reached for the piece of green cardboard. "All right," he agreed.
Den was still aching with frustrated sympathy for Rital's condition (and aggravation at the channel's stubbornness) when he arrived at the deferment suite for his own transfer. He paused outside the door for a moment, disciplining his nager. There wasn't anything more he could do to change Rital's mind, and it would be grossly unfair to subject Tyvi to his resentment. She's hurting just as much as Rital, he reminded himself, and she is also worthy of my concern. Even if she is a Householder.
Besides, there was no point in all of them having an inadequate transfer. Calmer, he thumbed the door signal, and when Tyvi opened the door, Den was able to summon a genuine smile.
"Hi, there," he greeted her softly. "Obis didn't make his connection, so I thought I'd steal his date."
Den had hoped to get a laugh, or at least a smile, in return, but Tyvi merely nodded solemnly and stood aside for him to enter. The apartment's sitting room was dim and plush, with blue shag carpeting on the floor that matched the overstuffed furniture and velvet draperies. It was very carefully designed not to allow the slightest outside stimulus to irritate the need-sensitized nerves of a channel, but Den found the whole effect smothering. He liked to have fun during a transfer--why else would one bother?--and he found the funereal atmosphere of a deferment suite inhibiting.
It was Tyvi's inhibitions which were his current worry, however. Now that Den was in the same room with her, he could feel her need, but she did not appear to be responding properly to his nager. Den looked her over carefully, wishing that he knew her better. Her file didn't list everything. Her reserve could simply be part of her personality, or the result of some Householding exercise in self-control. Alternatively, she might have been shorted so much in recent months that she was no longer able to let go and trust her Donor to keep up with her. If that was the problem, Den had forty-five minutes to convince her that she couldn't hurt him, or she would automatically hold back this time as well.
He told her as much, adding, "So why don't we have a cup of tea while I get to work?"
She murmured agreement, filling two mugs from the pot of trin tea she had left steeping on the small table that stood in front of the couch. Her handling tentacles shook slightly as she handed one to him, almost spilling some of the tea over the rim. Den relieved her of the mug with one hand, and with the other, pulled her down to sit beside him on the couch.
"I know you were looking forward to having your son for transfer," he scolded gently, "but holding yourself back with me won't help either of you."
"I know." Tyvi sipped from her mug, then gave Den an embarrassed smile. "I'm just worried about Obis, travelling alone out here. His English isn't very good."
Den shrugged. "It's kind of hard to get lost on a direct train, unless you're a piece of luggage, and the same out-Territory Gens who would run screaming at the sight of you are perfectly willing to help out a fellow Gen. If your son is anything like I was at that age, he's probably enjoying the adventure. Don't worry, he'll make it."
"It's a parent's habit, I suppose, to worry long after a child is grown. I'll try to behave myself."
"Good." Den drained the last of his tea, put the mug back on the table, and reached for her hand. He inspected the tentacles above it, gauging her readiness for transfer, then sighed. "We've got a long way to go before you're ready, so let's get started."
Tyvi tried hard, and so did Den, but with less than five minutes to go, she was still unable to fix on him.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, flushed with an embarrassment that she shouldn't have been able to feel so close to transfer. "It's been so long...."
"And I'm not the Donor you want," Den completed the thought for her. She nodded miserably. Den shrugged, letting go of her hands and withdrawing nageric support. "Well, if you'd rather wait for Obis to get in tomorrow, I'm sure Rital won't object." He got to his feet, ignoring her astonished stare, and started for the door.
He had taken only three steps when he heard the loud crash of the table being overturned, sending the teapot and mugs flying. Before he could take a fourth step, Tyvi had charged around to block him in a flicker of augmentation. She snarled, pure predator, and reached for him, then hesitated and forced herself duoconscious as some vestige of channel's control reasserted itself to prevent her from attacking an unwilling Gen. "Don't stop now," Den said, grinning in relief as he reestablished the nageric linkage.
Channel's ethics satisfied, Tyvi threw herself at him, intent only on slaking her need as quickly as possible. As the selyn flowed from him, swiftly but not quite fast enough to really satisfy him, Den concentrated on how good it felt, providing the feedback Tyvi needed as much as his selyn. He did not allow himself to remember how much better it would have been with Rital.
When Tyvi stopped--much too soon for Den--he held the channel as she cried out all the frustrations of the past weeks, shedding a few tears himself at his missed opportunity.
Afterwards, lowfield but not-quite-post, he wandered down to the Center's small library for something nontechnical to read, and discovered Sera reading the morning paper. They exchanged greetings, and Den borrowed the front page and settled down beside her to scan the headlines. Even this far out-Territory, they were full of the upcoming peace conference between Corzona, Amzon, and Zillia. Once again, both Gen territories were insisting that the Tecton pressure the other to give up all claims to the disputed Ancient sites, as a precondition to their discussing an end to hostilities with Corzona. Quess ambrov Shaeldor was still officially optimistic about the chances for a lasting peace, but the slight note of exasperation that crept into his carefully worded statement made Den feel better.
I'm right. Out-Territory politicians are irrational enough to get on the nerves of anyone, even a Householding diplomat!
He had gone on to a description of the upcoming Faith Day celebrations in Clear Springs and other nearby towns, when Sera gave an exclamation of disgust.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Take a look at this," she said, handing him the editorial page and pointing to a letter. "What is it about living out-Territory that turns people into fruitcakes?"
Den skimmed the letter, which was a slightly incoherent version of the standard "my religion says Simes are bad, so my tax money shouldn't go for pro-Sime purposes and the Sime Center should be closed down" argument. The day before, he would have agreed with her assessment of its author, but after his insight that morning into out-Territory politics, he had been forced to reassess Silva and Tohm's lecture on letter writing.
"How can they write that kind of nonsense?" Sera asked again. "The Sime Center is supported by donations, and the initial expense was funded by the Tecton. I've been doing research; I know that information was in this
paper on several occasions, most recently in your column from last week. Why does this," she peered over his shoulder to read the name, "--Ephriam Lornstat think his taxes pay for it?"
"Oh, I expect he knows the truth," Den said, a little cynically. "Lornstat is Sinth's second in command, and he's also a member of the school board. Mayor Kroag told me that Save Our Kids has been going over the city budget in detail, to see if we had any sources of funding that they could cut off. They didn't find any, of course."
"Then why is the man lying?"
"It's out-Territory politics," Den answered. "You should get some of the counter-demonstrators to explain it to you--I'm not sure I really understand it--but basically, the important thing for them is to have anti-Sime
letters in the paper frequently. It doesn't matter if their content is fact or fantasy, because few people will bother to check the facts for themselves. Actually, since the Sime Center poses no threat to anyone, and they know it, it's actually to their advantage to circulate lies, because it keeps the pro-Sime faction busy with damage control, and prevents them from building a positive case."
Sera's mouth twisted in disgust. "The more I learn about out-Territory people, the worse they sound. What kind of unprincipled lorsh would use a strategy based on lies?"
"A desperate one," Den said, "representing a small but determined minority. Despite their best efforts, they haven't been able to convince a working majority of the townspeople that the Sime Center is dangerous. The Tecton is building a reputation for safety here--a legacy of trust that includes even the Gens who never donate. Unless that trust is betrayed, Sinth and his crew are never going to succeed in getting rid of us, and they know it."
Sera gave him a thoughtful glance. "You know, you're pretty eloquent this morning. Though why you would want to defend the people out here, after what they've been putting you and your cousin through, is beyond me."
"Most of them aren't that bad," Den protested. "You can't judge the whole town by the forty or so nuts who choose to spend all their time waving signs at each other, and making everybody else miserable. The vast majority of Clear Springs residents aren't involved in the demonstrations--on either side."
"I find that kind of hard to believe, after what I've seen in the last few days," Sera admitted.
"Come on, then," Den suggested. "The paper says they're holding a Faith Day fair over at the university today, before they close down for the holiday. Grab your coat, and I'll show you what these people are like when they aren't being political."
The campus was packed with brightly dressed people, a mix of students, townsfolk from Clear Springs and other nearby towns, and packs of shrieking children dodging through the adults. There were food booths selling pies, drinks, sandwiches, eggrolls, and large chunks of grilled meat which Den was careful not to inspect too closely. Craft booths sold overpriced jewelry, leather goods, handmade shoes, paintings, pottery, and wooden instruments.
It wasn't totally apolitical, of course. There were booths run by groups favoring development and slow growth, environmental management, various politicians, and, inevitably, the campus anti-Sime organization, Students for a Sime-free City. While Sera looked through the earrings in the neighboring stall, Den glanced through their materials. Their pamphlets were the same ones that Sinth's Save Our Kids demonstrators were passing out, but there was also religious jewelry, and buttons and bumper stickers with anti-Sime slogans. Also on the table was a clipboard with a sheet of paper. If you would like more information on this issue, it read, please leave your name and address. On impulse, Den scribbled down Liren's name and the number of the out-Territory post office box her husband Jannun had rented when one of his books was translated into English. Maybe, if she saw some of the anti-Sime literature that was being circulated, she would stop thinking that Rital was paranoid.
OLD SOKS also had a booth, but it was much busier.
Den and Sera bought lunch at one of the food booths, and wandered for a few hours. They ended up at the sports arena, which was located at the far edge of the campus, near the power plant. They rested their tired feet on the bleachers as they watched sausage-shaped, short-legged dogs race after a much-chewed rabbit pelt. The whole stadium cheered when Frankfurter beat Muffin and Fritz for the grand prize. As Frankfurter's owner accepted the rubber pull-toy ceremoniously presented by the president of the Veterinary School Student Association (while unsuccessfully trying to keep the champion from grabbing it instead), Sera convulsed with giggles.
Den didn't mind. Despite his less-than-ecstatic transfer, he was post enough to notice that she had a very nice giggle.
"You were right," she admitted when the champion was carried off by his proud owner and the crowd had begun to file out of the bleachers. "Once you get them away from Simes, these are normal people. Or at least as close to normal as you can get with only Gens."
It was dusk when they started back towards the Center, pleasantly tired and too happy to talk much. Across from the power plant, the Conservative Congregation's church was brilliantly lighted, and the bumper stickers on the vehicles parked outside it indicated that a Save Our Kids meeting was taking place, but Den was unable to conjure much interest in the anti-Center tactics which were undoubtedly being devised there. Instead, he was debating whether it was the proper moment to invite Sera to spend a last night with him, before she returned to Valzor the following morning, when he was distracted by a low moan and the smell of old vomit.
Physician's instincts alerted, Den followed the sound towards the power plant and discovered a youngster huddled under the bushes. "Are you all right?" Den called softly, already suspecting what was the matter. It was the wrong season for stomach flu, and if the kid had simply eaten too much at the festival, he wouldn't still be hiding in the bushes.
"Go away!" The adolescent voice cracked over two octaves. Ducking under a branch, the Donor knelt by the boy's side. Den could feel his own selyn production rate increasing rapidly. He knew what he would find even before he touched the boy's neck and felt the glands swollen with changeover.
The boy cringed away from his touch with changeover-induced paranoia, and Den murmured, "Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you. Do you think you could stand if I help you? You'll feel a lot better once you've had a chance to clean yourself up."
The boy slowly sat up, as if only then becoming aware of the dirt and less pleasant things that were spattered on the front of his lightweight jacket. With a jerky nod, he allowed the Donor to help him to his feet, and they stumbled out of the bushes to where Sera was waiting. Gesturing for her to support the boy's other side, Den steered them towards the door that led to the battery room. As he fished in his pocket for his key ring, Den was glad that the morning's confusion had caused him to forget to return the plant key after the tour. He managed to find it after only three false tries. "There are steps," he warned as he pulled the door open. "Let me get the light first." He flipped the switch, blinking in the sudden brightness. He turned to help the others down the stairs, then stifled a groan as he recognized the boy.
"You!" Zakry Sinth snarled, pulling loose from Sera's grasp and stumbling backwards a few steps.
"Well, if it isn't the self-proclaimed holiest boy in the Territory," Den said.
"Get away from me, Sime-lover! I don't need any help from the likes of you." Den looked at the boy sourly. "Yes, you do," he corrected. "You can't even stand up straight, and it's going to get worse before it gets better. Or didn't you know you're in changeover?"
Zakry, already pale, turned even whiter. "No!" he insisted, swaying dangerously. "I'm not a Sime. I can't be. I've prayed every day, and besides, only thin kids turn Sime." He turned to run away, but was only able to take three steps before his unsteady legs collapsed. He yelped with pain as his arms hit the ground, then began crying like a much younger child.
Den gave Sera a long-suffering look, then knelt by Zakry's side. "It's true that Simes tend to be thin and lightboned as children," he explained, "but you can't change your genes by overeating. You'll lose those extra pounds very quickly, now that you're an adult Sime."
"I'm no murdering demon," the boy insisted.
"Of course you're not," Den agreed immediately. "There's no reason at all for you to have to kill. That's why I'm here." Instead of being someplace civilized, where there aren't any nutcases like you, he added silently. Without wasting time on more arguments, he scooped the boy up, grunting at the weight, and carried him down the stairs.
He deposited his patient on the sagging couch, still disguised with a sweet-smelling blue wool blanket, and began to unfasten the buttons on the boy's vomit-encrusted coat. Gingerly, he helped Zakry out of it, trying to ignore the sympathetic heaves that the smell evoked in his own stomach.
After depositing it in a nearby wastebasket half filled with crumpled paper cups, plates, and napkins, he unbuttoned the boy's shirt cuffs and rolled up the sleeves.
The changeover was more advanced than he had expected. The new tentacles were well developed, but the sheaths had not yet begun to swell with fluids in preparation for breakout. Zakry must have been hiding in the bushes for most of the day.
"There's a first aid kit under the table," he told Sera in Simelan. "Could you get it for me?"
"Sure," she said.
Either her moving field, the sight of the growing tentacle sheaths on his newly-bared arms, or both, proved too much for Zakry. He moaned and clutched at Den dizzily. Stage six transition, the Donor identified. Ignoring the incipient bruises that the boy's Sime-strong hands had left behind, he grinned his thanks as Sera handed him the first aid kit and a mug of cold tea from the still-unemptied pot.
"Here," he said, passing the tea on to Zakry and opening the first aid kit. Zakry sipped cautiously, then spat vigorously into the wastebasket. "What is this stuff?" he complained. "It tastes awful."
"It's just trin tea," Den reassured him. "It tastes a lot better when it's fresh, but it's perfectly harmless, and there isn't any water."
Zakry looked unconvinced.
Den held out a pair of brown pills. "Here," he said. "These will make you feel a little better."
"I don't want any medicine from Simes," the boy protested, pushing Den's hand away.
"The last time I looked, Sera and I didn't have any tentacles," Den pointed out. "You, on the other hand, have a fine set of tentacles growing there. Do you think that medicine for Gens would do you any good?"
Zakry looked down at his swollen arms, gave a muffled sob, and reached for the pills.
While Zakry gulped the sedative, Den sent Sera off to find the nearest phone and call the Center for a channel. It was too late to try to get Zakry to the Center; the boy had no more than an hour and probably less before he would be in breakout. The power station basement was adequately insulated, though, and everything seemed to be progressing normally. Zakry even seemed to have an adequate selyn reserve, although that was just an educated guess.
This last surprised the Donor; it was very unusual for an untrained out-Territory child to get so close to breakout without using up most of his resources. They were simply too frightened of becoming Sime. The kid was probably so sure his God wouldn't let him go through changeover that he didn't figure out what was happening to him.
However, now that Zakry knew, he was not at all enthusiastic about cooperating. It took painful cunvulsions to persuade the boy to try some breathing exercises, and he did his best to ignore Den's pep talk about life in-Territory.
Den knew that the mutual dislike between himself and his patient was not helping matters any. The Donor could keep his feelings from overrunning his nager, but no matter what he did, Zakry would still think of him as the "evil Sime-loving Devil-worshipper" who was his uncle's most active opponent in the battle against pro-Sime heresy. Of all the channels and Donors in Clear Springs, Den was probably the worst choice to help Zakry through changeover.
As the boy's tentacles began to swell with fluids, Den checked his watch yet again, trying to calculate exactly how long it would be before help would arrive. He frowned as he realized that it would be close, maybe too close.
Zakry gasped and tried to clench his fists as the pressure built. "No, not yet," Den warned, straightening the boy's hands. "Just relax and save your strength. I know it tickles, but you're not ready for breakout yet."
He would be soon, though, and there was no sign of the channel who should have arrived long since. For the first time since Rital had spoken to him that morning, Den was glad that he had not given his cousin transfer after all. If he had, by staying with the boy he would have been risking an unpleasant death by being drained of selyn. As it was, although the Donor was technically lowfield, the inadequate transfer with Tyvi had left him more than enough selyn to satisfy a renSime, even without the increased selyn production stimulated by the presence of a Sime in need. Den began to offer Zakry more nageric support, preparing to give the boy First Transfer if necessary.
It wasn't something he would have done in-Territory for a renSime in changeover. Zakry's need was so shallow that it was difficult for Den to respond properly to it, and despite the sedative, the boy resisted the Donor's attempts to calm him and moderate his fear-induced excess selyn consumption. It was almost as if Zakry's self-hatred at becoming Sime prevented him from zlinning the Donor's compassion (such as it was), because to acknowledge that concern was to admit that a Sime could be worthy of consideration. That was a problem with which Den had little experience, and he didn't know enough about Conservative Congregation theology to even guess what arguments might be effective in winning Zakry's cooperation. If there were any. The Conservative Congregation had broken off from the rabidly anti-Sime Church of the Purity shortly after the First Contract, because unlike their parent sect, they considered any end to the Sime/Gen wars other than the total extermination of all Simes to be rank heresy.
Den almost cheered when the basement door opened and footsteps clumped rapidly down the stairs. "It took you long enough!" he scolded in Simelan. "Did you stop off for dessert on the way over or something?"
"Silence, Sime-lover!" Reverend Sinth commanded, brandishing a double-barreled rifle as he paced grandly into the room. "You will not use that heathen tongue around decent people." A scared-looking Bethany Thins trailed in his wake.
"Well, Zakry," the preacher continued, flushing with anger as he glared down at his nephew. "I would have thought better of you, at least. What did you do to give the Devil a foothold in you?"
Despite his weakness, Zakry struggled to sit up on the couch. "I didn't do anything," he insisted with a peculiar mixture of sullen fear and self-righteous belligerence. "It was all her fault." He pointed at Bethany, wincing as the movement brought pain from the developing tissues in his arm. "If my loving sister there hadn't gone sneaking off to donate last week, this would never have happened."
Bethany is Sinth's niece? Den wondered why he was so surprised. Now that he was looking, he could see a definite family resemblance. I guess that explains where she picked up those weird ideas about donating; she did learn everything she knows about Simes, Gens, and transfer at Reverend Sinth's knee!
Whatever Sinth had been expecting to hear, this was obviously not it. He turned to Bethany, who flushed red with shame.
"I didn't mean to!" she insisted, long-suppressed guilt bursting out of her like pus from a lanced abscess. "I was just trying to do what you suggested, but it didn't work out right."
"And when did I suggest that you go and donate?" the preacher demanded icily. "At the last SOK meeting," Bethany quavered, avoiding his glare. "You said that it would really help if someone could get into the Sime Center's waiting room, and tell all those people what they're doing to themselves. You said if even one person could be persuaded to walk out without donating, a lot of others might follow."
"I also said that the idea wasn't practical, because the snakes wouldn't allow us time to work," Sinth said in a voice cold enough to cause frostbite. "What prompted you to go against the judgment of your elders?" "Well, Myra and I..." She looked down at the floor, kicking it with one foot. "We haven't been demonstrating, so we figured the Simelovers wouldn't recognize us, especially if I gave a false name." She shot a guilty glance at Den. "I was going to say I wanted to donate, and Myra was supposed to 'talk me out of it' by reading some of the pamphlets. We were hoping that when we walked out, some of the other people would come with us."
"So you endangered your friend as well." Sinth's voice neared the temperature of liquid nitrogen. "What went wrong?"
"Well, we'd hardly gotten started when their leader--Controller Madz--called me, so I told Myra to try talking to some of the other people, while I stalled as long as possible, to give her time to work. I was going to tell him I had changed my mind at the last minute, but..." She shot Den another glance, then met her uncle's eyes for the first time. "It all happened so fast!"
No, Hajene Tellanser was slow, when she watched him back at Valzor, Den thought, realizing the source of Bethany's miscalculation.
"You donated," Sinth finished for her. "You deliberately endangered yourself, your friend, and your brother. And while you and Myra seem to have gotten off lightly, your brother is not so lucky. I want you to watch closely while I do what I must. And I want you to remember that if you had obeyed my clear instructions and stayed away from the Sime Center, your brother would not have to die to protect the lives of others!"
Bethany began to cry. Ignoring her, Sinth turned and leveled his gun at Zakry. Den stepped between them. "Nobody has to die," he said firmly. "Not Zakry, and certainly not anybody else. Reverend Sinth, Zakry will be reaching breakout soon. Please leave, so that I can take care of him until the Center's ambulance gets here."
Sinth grinned unpleasantly. "Oh, don't hold your breath waiting for reinforcements. That lady you sent isn't getting near a phone until I get back to the church and give the order personally."
Back to the church? Den thought in disbelief. Sera, don't tell me you were stupid enough to walk into the anti-Sime headquarters of Clear Springs and ask for a phone to call the Center!
Sinth nodded. "I see you understand your position. Now understand mine. Scripture clearly teaches that a child who dies in changeover can still hope for mercy, but a child who survives to kill is damned forever. I can't yet stop you from meddling with the salvation of others' children, but you will not meddle with my family! Now, will you step aside while I fulfill my responsibility to my nephew, or do I have to shoot you first, and then Zakry?"
"Uncle Jermiah," Bethany protested weakly.
"Silence, girl!" Sinth ordered. He leveled the rifle at Den. "Move." The diameter of the gun barrel suddenly seemed to triple, a geometric phenomenon which would have interested Den much more under less trying circumstances. It swayed back and forth as the hand holding it wobbled.
Den looked at the unsteady gun barrel, and the white-knuckled hands clenching it so tightly. Sinth's right index finger rested uncomfortably close to the trigger. The nail was thickened and almost claw-like, and there was a slightly orange tint to it. Startled, the Donor looked more closely at Sinth's face. The preacher's pupils were dilated, and he was sweating freely, although the basement was cool. There was a peculiar odor to the sweat, almost like crushed tomato leaves, and that was enough for Den to make an unpleasant diagnosis. He's been chewing melic weed, the Donor realized. He doesn't show it much, but the signs are there if you know what to look for.
When chewed, the leaves and seeds of melic weed produced a powerful high in Gens, during which the user felt invincible. There were also some very interesting toxic side effects, which gave addicts a slow and unpleasant death, as they consumed ever-greater quantities. From Sinth's relative coherence, and the strength of the crushed-leaf smell, he must have been using melic weed long enough to build up a high tolerance.
Handling belligerent drug addicts was not Den's specialty, but he had coped with several during some of the wilder misadventures of his youth. It was usually possible to distract them with conversation, until they got so confused that they forgot why they were angry. That might not work with Zakry present to remind Sinth of his grievances, but there was nothing to lose by trying.
"Reverend Sinth..." he began, in a soothing voice.
The gun barrel moved a fraction of an inch as Sinth's finger squeezed the trigger.
There was a thunderous explosion--far louder than Den would have expected--and a metallic zing as the bullet missed Den's left ear by two inches, ricocheted off the concrete wall, and embedded itself in the ceiling.
Sinth looked surprised that he had missed, but recovered quickly. "If you don't move aside, the next one will hit you," he said calmly.
He means it, Den thought in shock. He's willing to shoot me if that is the only way he can murder Zakry!
Den swiftly reconsidered the situation and concluded that, contrary to his previous analysis, handling armed and belligerent addicts was outside his area of expertise, and that he had a great deal to lose by trying.
Like my life. Slowly, the Donor stepped aside, begrudging every inch, but knowing that allowing himself to be murdered wouldn't save his patient.
"I see you've decided to be practical," Sinth approved. "Suppose you stand over there," he gestured with the gun barrel toward the safety grating which fenced off the batteries, "--while I show you how we deal with Simes out here."
Den backed slowly towards the grating, trying desperately to come up with a scheme that might have a chance, however slight, of dissuading Sinth from murdering his own nephew. If I were a hero in a story, it would be simple, he thought glumly. Some unexpected plot device would jump out of the author's fevered imagination, shift reality upside down, and save the day...
But the only thing that shifted was the metal grating, as his shoulder bumped the gate and it swung open. Reyna must have forgotten to check that it was locked after the tour this morning, he realized.
"Excellent," Sinth said, motioning the Donor to step through the grating.
To Den's dismay, the preacher pulled the gate shut behind him. There was a click as the lock engaged. It was a low-security, mechanical device, not one of the new selyn-powered locks which required a channel's precise nageric control to open. Still, it would take tentacles and Sime strength to get the gate open, so the battery enclosure made an excellent Gen-proof cell. "By rights, you should have been locked up a long time ago," Sinth commented, as he tried the gate to make sure that it would stay locked, and nodded in satisfaction. "I suppose that one of your Sime friends will come along to let you out eventually. But not until I've done my duty by my nephew!" He took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
"Uncle Jermiah!" Bethany warned, as Zakry gave a choked grunt and convulsed with breakout contractions.
Sinth whirled and fired wildly.
The bullet tore a new hole in the back of the couch.
Sinth's knuckles whitened as he remembered that he had already used his other shot, and realized that his gun was now unloaded. And Zakry gave a triumphant cry as his tentacles broke free.
Den might be helpless when faced with a drugged and armed Gen, but a sober and unarmed Sime was well within his capabilities. "Reverend, Bethany," he called softly but urgently. "Both of you, come this way. Slowly! And keep your emotions under control."
Bethany, who was closest to Zakry, paled and began to inch towards the Donor. Sinth, more angry than frightened, did not. Instead, he stared at Zakry's bloody tentacles, face twisted with revulsion and hatred.
Den worked as hard as he could to gain control of the ambient nager. It was difficult when he was so lowfield, but Sinth was a nondonor, and Bethany had donated less than a week before. He was actually carrying more selyn than either of them. If he could coax the two out-Territory Gens close enough, he could keep Zakry from fixing on them, and turn the berserk Sime's attention to himself. And the lock won't stop a Sime.
Zakry lunged to his feet in an augmented bound, his face twisted with the screaming emptiness inside of him. His eyes unfocused as he zlinned for the life he needed, and he began to stalk the Gens.
Den calculated that at this distance, he and Sinth were about equally attractive to the young Sime, while Bethany, who was closest, was too lowfield to be worth bothering with. He projected love, compassion, and acceptance as hard as he could, trying to fix Zakry's attention while he verbally urged Sinth to come closer. "Don't run for it," he warned as Sinth eyed the distance to the door instead. "You can't possibly outrun a Sime."
Zakry's attention wavered between the two Gens, then fixed on his uncle. Totally enraged by the vacant gaze and extended tentacles which proved his nephew's soul was lost, Sinth broke and ran despite Den's warning, not for the door, in an attempt to escape, but directly towards the berserk Sime, gun held in both hands as a club. In a last-ditch attempt to avert disaster, Den slammed his hand against the bars, hoping that his pain would attract the berserk Sime. Zakry turned towards the Donor for a moment, but his uncle's moving field was closer. He brushed Bethany aside and pounced.
The gun went flying. Undismayed, Sinth tried to use his fists instead, too filled with drug-induced anger at being thwarted to experience the fear a sober Gen would have felt. He was so obsessed with destroying the object of his hate that it wasn't until Zakry actually began drawing selyn that he began to realize his danger.
Sinth struggled for a brief moment as his nephew voraciously stripped him of selyn, then fell limply to the floor as the boy dropped him. Zakry chuckled with glee, eyes closed, too caught up in the pleasure of winning his fight for survival to understand what he had done.
"Zakry, you've killed Uncle Jermiah!" Bethany accused.
Distracted from his concentration on inward satisfaction, Zakry's eyes popped open and focused on the corpse at his feet. Stricken, he fell to his knees and shook his uncle's body, desperately searching for a sign of life. "NO!" he screamed when he didn't find one, and before Den could say a word, the young Sime had turned and sprinted with augmented speed for the door. The Donor gazed after him in despair, hands clenched into fists at his sides, as he saw all the trust that he and Rital had worked so long to build being destroyed. Zakry could only hope to survive for a few short months before he was hunted down, but the Gens he killed in that time would far outweigh, in the public perception, the lives that the Sime Center had saved.
In the sudden quiet Zakry left behind, the painful rattle of a labored breath was clearly audible.
"Uncle Jermiah!" Bethany cried, running to Sinth's side. "He's still alive!" "He won't be for long, if he doesn't get help," Den told her. "Can you bring him over here, so I can take a look at him?"
"I think so." Bethany managed to lift her uncle long enough to get a firm hold beneath his arms, and dragged him over to the grating.
Den knelt, poked two fingers through the mesh, and snagged the nearest wrist, feeling for a pulse. It was fast and irregular, but there. "Talk about undeserved luck," the Donor muttered. "If he hadn't been so full of melic that it never occurred to him that he could get hurt, he would have resisted Zakry's draw sooner, and he would have been killed."
"You mean his sinful addiction saved his life?" Bethany asked, holding back tears.
"No, if he'd been sober, he wouldn't have been stupid enough to attack a berserk Sime with an unloaded gun, and no one would have been hurt."
Sinth's skin was moist and cool with shock, so Den had Bethany fetch the blanket on the couch. Seeing how her hands shook as she covered her uncle, Den reminded himself that however much he personally disliked the man, others saw him differently.
"He's got a chance, at least," he told Bethany. "If we can keep him breathing. Bring that first aid kit over here, would you? And also about half a cup of tea from the pot."
When Bethany complied, Den pointed out the glass bottle with concentrated fosebine and had her pour a generous dose into the tea. He hesitated to imagine what the mix would taste like, but Sinth would require medication immediately if he regained consciousness. Not that that was likely, if he didn't get a channel's help quickly.
In aid of which... "Put that cup over here by the grating, where you won't knock it over accidentally, but you can find it again in the dark."
"In the dark?" Bethany asked.
"Yes." The Donor got up and went over to the selyn banks, inspecting the battery leads closely. "There isn't a telephone here, but there is in the night watchman's office." Carefully, Den unhooked the orgonics cable from the first battery, setting the leads to one side. "It shouldn't take them long to trace the power outage to here," he explained, removing the second battery from the circuit. As the last set of cables was unhooked, the steady throb of the generator on the other side of the wall faltered and died, and the lights flickered and went out. Den nodded in satisfaction and felt his way back to the grating. "They'll have a channel out here in about fifteen minutes."
It seemed like hours to Den, listening for each gasping breath to tell him that his patient was still clinging to life. He had seldom felt so helpless since he completed training. It was doubly frustrating because he knew exactly what must be done to save Sinth's life, but locked away from his patient and without a channel, that knowledge was useless to all of them.
Twice, the tortured rhythm of Sinth's breathing stopped. The first time, Sinth began breathing again on his own. The second time, Den had to coach Bethany in the proper way to breathe into her uncle's lungs. The unsteady pulse under his fingers faltered, and the Donor thought for a sickening moment that his patient had lost the fight for survival, but then the heartbeat steadied, and the unconscious Gen gasped once out of the rhythm that Bethany had established.
"Stop a moment, Bethany," Den directed. "Let's see if he can breathe on his own, now."
Bethany obeyed, sighing with Den as her uncle took a second breath. "Do you think he'll make it?" she quavered.
"I don't know," Den answered honestly. "I haven't seen a lot of bad transfer shock cases--it just isn't that common in-Territory. Being a melic addict won't help; melic is pretty toxic stuff. Your uncle's a fighter, though, or he wouldn't have survived this long. And my cousin, Controller Madz, is pretty good at repairing damaged nerves. If your uncle survives, he'll be hurting for quite a while, but at least he's got a chance."
Bethany sniffled. "It was all my fault. Why didn't Zakry attack me instead?" "Because you're still lowfield from donating last week," Den said, surprised by her ignorance. Realizing that this might sound like an accusation to her, he continued reassuringly, "It wasn't your fault. You aren't trained to handle such situations, but you did exactly what you should have--followed directions and left Zakry for me to handle. If your uncle had had the sense to do the same, he wouldn't have been hurt."
"But if I hadn't donated, God wouldn't have turned Zakry into a Sime!" Den rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Bethany, there were changeovers in Clear Springs long before there was a channel to take anybody's donation. On average, one third of the children of two Gens will be Sime, and no amount of praying or sinning has ever changed that."
"But the Scriptures say..."
"If Zakry cheated on his classwork and the teacher punished you instead, I expect you'd lose your respect for that teacher. Is a God who would punish your brother for what you did worth worshipping?"
Bethany made no reply.
When the door at the top of the stairs finally opened, only the necessity of maintaining a professional facade in front of Bethany kept Den from cheering.
Streaks of light from a portable lantern preceded Rital's voice. "Shuven!" the channel swore as he zlinned the three Gens, then the shadows danced wildly as he clattered down the stairs.
He crossed the room in four long strides, dropping the lantern on the table as he passed it. Struggling out of his retainers with more haste
than prudence, the channel knelt to examine Sinth, without wasting any time on questions. Bethany shrank back as the channel approached, but didn't object when he scooped Sinth up, blanket and all, and deposited him on the couch. She looked away and swallowed hard when he used his handling tentacles to unbutton her uncle's shirt.
Reyna, who had followed Rital into the room, opened the safety gate for Den. The Donor planted a hasty kiss in the vicinity of her right ear, murmuring, "Thanks, dear, I love you forever, would you reconnect the batteries?" and hurried past her to kneel by his cousin's side.
For the next half hour, Den held the fields steady as Rital, with infinite patience, coaxed Sinth's damaged nerves to heal. The task was complicated
by the effort to avoid placing undue strain on a liver which had been badly damaged by long-term drug abuse. Den was vaguely aware of the lights coming back on, and a decrease in the background nageric turbulence as Reyna took charge of Bethany.
When Rital finally straightened, looking as exhausted as a Sime ever did, Sinth was breathing almost normally, if shallowly, and his skin was no longer ash-grey. Satisfied that the Gen was no longer in immediate danger, Den turned his attention to his cousin, letting his own sympathy well up to control the ache of deferred need.
"You don't have to nag, Den," Rital said tiredly, sitting down on the edge of the coffee table. "I promise, I'll rest when we've gotten Sinth back to the Center."
"This isn't the kind of job you should take on when your transfer has been delayed."
"I'm not actually overdue for a few more hours." The channel gave a lopsided grin. "Besides, if I weren't in need, Sinth would have died."
"Good riddance," Den muttered. "The lorsh is nothing but trouble."
"This from the man who is single-handedly responsible for saving said troublesome lorsh's life?"
"My training overcame my good sense."
Rital's grin vanished. "What happened?"
Den briefly explained, leaving out Bethany's motive for donating the previous week. Rital wasn't in any condition to cope with that. "It's all my fault," he finished, clenching a fist in remembered frustration. "If I'd been able to reach Zakry, convince him to trust me, he would have been fixed on me before Sinth arrived."
Rital shook his head. "I don't think it would have made much difference, not with a highfield Gen actually attacking him." The channel paused as one of Sinth's arms moved. "Speaking of which, is there any fosebine around? He's going to come to pretty soon."
Den turned and located Bethany in earnest conversation with Reyna. Her eyes were reddened with crying, and there was a damp patch on the channel's uniform. Everybody's favorite grandmother, indeed . Grinning, he asked Bethany to bring over the paper cup containing the trin-fosebine mixture. She brought it, eagerly noting her uncle's visible improvement, then stopped short in sudden fright as Rital absentmindedly reached for the medicine with one tentacle.
Shen, that's right, Den remembered as he quickly steadied the fields. Rital was the channel who took her field down. When she didn't want him to.
For a long moment, Bethany eyed the channel warily, but then Sinth moved again, and she handed Rital the cup without comment.
Rital took it with a nod of thanks, and expertly forced the contents down the barely conscious Gen's throat. Sinth didn't gag, so Den assumed the preacher was not yet aware enough to register the taste of the concoction.
A few minutes later, Sinth finally opened his eyes, then quickly closed them again with a moan of pain, one hand futilely trying to massage away his headache.
Den, who had suffered through his share of minor transfer burns, was very glad that he couldn't zlin. He didn't particularly want to know what the injured Gen was feeling; his imagination was bad enough. "Just lie still for a few minutes," he suggested softly. "We've given you something for the pain, but it will take a little time to work."
Sinth obeyed, biting his lower lip.
"Good," Rital approved. "You've been badly burned. You'll require a lot of care for the next week, so we're going to take you back to the Sime Center."
Sinth's eyes snapped open. With an effort, he focused on Rital, then his face hardened with a peculiar mixture of fear and hate. "Get away from me, Sime!" he ordered with more strength than Den would have credited him with.
"I'm not going anywhere with you."
Rital sighed. "Reverend Sinth, the nerves that control your lungs are badly damaged, and your heart is affected, too. I've done what I can for now, but it's going to take a lot more work to get you back to health."
"No," Sinth insisted more quietly, but with utter determination. "I won't go along with your plot to subvert me the way you did my niece and nephew."
"Uncle Jermiah," Bethany said, forgetting her wariness of Rital as she came close enough to take her uncle's hand. "They saved your life. Please let them help you."
"Bethie, I can't help what they did to me when I was unconscious, but that slimy snake isn't going to put a tentacle on me when I'm awake. If God means for me to live, I will live."
Rital picked up the empty cup which had held the fosebine. "If that is the way you feel about it, I'll have to abide by your wishes." He crumpled the cup and pitched it into the wastebasket on top of Zakry's coat, which was still filling the room with the sour smell of vomit. "You do understand that without further treatment, your chances of surviving aren't very good?"
"Dr. Hardstrom can give me any help I require."
"The out-Territory medical establishment isn't exactly noted for its success in treating transfer burn," Den remarked.
"If I save my life at the cost of my principles, I'm no better than Mayor Kroag," Sinth retorted.
The Donor shrugged and began repacking the remains of the first aid kit. "If you want to die early, that's your business. Just don't let this doctor of yours give you any opiate derivatives for pain. You're having enough trouble breathing as it is. And stay away from melic." Closing the kit, he stretched, stifling a yawn, and went to put it away.
Rital got up also, retrieving his retainers from the floor where he had discarded them. Den moved to help his cousin put on the loathsome devices, while doing the least possible damage to the need-swollen glands.
"No, please, he didn't mean it," Bethany pleaded. "You've got to stay and help him!"
Rital met her eyes with infinite sadness. "I can't. Quite apart from the ethical considerations, there isn't much more I could do for him without his cooperation."
"We'll call an ambulance when we get back to the Center," Den said, leading the two channels towards the door. "If he changes his mind, let us know."
Bethany stared after them from her uncle's side.
Sera was also angry and hurt when they rescued her from the church. She spent the entire trip back to the Center in describing the habits and morals of out-Territory Gens, who, in her opinion, were not only lorshes, but added insult to injury by being proud of their bigotry. Den sadly concluded that his attempt to show her the normal side of out-Territory life had backfired. All he could hope for was that she would try to understand before she wrote anything too inflammatory, after she returned to Valzor the following day.
When they got back to the Center, Den insisted that Rital spend a few hours resting. To make sure that his orders were obeyed, the Donor sat by his cousin's bed, letting his nager keep the channel's need at bay. By the time Rital got up, much refreshed, Sera had long since gone to bed. It was just as well; after the events of the evening, Den was no longer in the mood for anything but sleep.
The following morning, Tyvi's son Obis arrived on the scheduled train, even though his luggage didn't. He and Rital retired immediately to a transfer room, while the rest of the Center's staff scrambled to find him toiletries and a change of clothing. His freckled face was shining when he emerged an hour later and went to greet his mother, but one look at Rital showed Den that even forcing Obis to his limits hadn't been enough for the channel.
There was no time to worry about it, though, because they would have to hurry to make the Faith Day parade on time. Mayor Kroag had invited them to share the official viewing stand as honored guests, so it wouldn't do to be late.
As it turned out, they were late, but the parade was even later. There was time for Kroag to introduce them to the other dignitaries, among whom were several of the more liberal clergy. Den had small use for religions at the best of times, and even less for the way they were practiced out-Territory, but these particular individuals seemed refreshingly openminded for nondonors.
Over the next few days, it became obvious that Zakry had disappeared, although the police were still searching for him. Den hoped the boy had had the sense to head for the border, where he could find help. Sinth was alive, but unable to leave his bed, Tohm reported via Bethany, Rob, and Annie. Both Den and Rital were relieved that their failure to convince the preacher to accept their help hadn't meant his death.
Curiously enough, while most of the newspapers in the area, including the Clarion, ran front page stories on the events surrounding Zakry's changeover and disappearance, it was not the danger the boy represented which caught the public's imagination in the days that followed. After all, berserkers were nothing new, so far out-Territory. An in-Territory town would have demanded a detailed explanation from the Sime Center on exactly how the boy had managed to almost kill a Gen in the presence of a Donor, but no one in Clear Springs seemed to blame Den. Instead, the letters columns were full of horrified condemnations of Sinth, but not because he had tried to murder both Den and his own nephew, or even because he had stupidly gotten himself hurt. No, the public was outraged because Den, in an interview, had innocently told the reporters that Sinth had been high on melic weed!
Den could understand, if not condone, Tohm's angry letter accusing the preacher of hypocrisy; the Donor had heard Sinth's scathing public remarks about OLD SOKS' favorite meeting place, the Sudworks Brewery. However, the harshest criticisms came from Sinth's own followers, and his former congregation. In their world of saints and sinners, it seemed, even a small failing was unforgivable, particularly in a preacher. No one seemed to feel that Sinth deserved either sympathy or help.
Den was so shocked by this unforgiving attitude that he rewrote his weekly column. Instead of the material on changeover and establishment that he had planned to cover, he gave some background information on drug addiction and its treatment. He ended by sharply suggesting that those who objected to Sinth's drug use would do better to offer him the support he would require to overcome his addiction, rather then condemn him for what was, in fact, a rather common weakness.
Fredricks liked the column so much that he ran it in the Sunday commentary section, under the headline "A Little More Compassion, Please", instead of in the Wednesday local news section as usual. The flood of angry letters slowed after that, but even the very religious townsfolk seemed more skeptical of Sinth's anti-Sime position.
While this new-found skepticism was welcome, Den found the reason for it disturbing. As if his fondness for mood-altering drugs has anything to do with the truth or falsity of his political philosophy!
There was an unexpected advantage to Sinth's misfortune. Between his injury and his fall from grace, the preacher was unable to effectively coordinate Save Our Kids. The number of anti-Sime protesters outside the Center dropped precipitously, and those who did show up were poorly organized and comparatively unenthusiastic. This instant demoralization caused Den to rethink his overall strategy. Through his newspaper column and other public relations activities, he had been trying to reach as many individuals as possible, and convince them that the Sime Center was not a threat to them. This had worked reasonably well with some Gens, like Annie Lifton and her brother Rob, but less well with others. None of these efforts had had any effect on the demonstrations, or on the public's perception of them as a legitimate expression of religious belief.
What had discouraged the demonstrators, at least in part, was a loss of faith in their leader and his organization. If Den could redirect his efforts towards an issue which Sinth could not afford to ignore, and publicly expose Save Our Kids as the unreasonable fanatics that they were, he might be able to discredit the preacher completely, particularly if the issue were carefully selected and framed to appeal to the general public as much as it inflamed Save Our Kids.
Den decided that it was time to introduce a new service: changeover training classes for children in the local schools.
"Most of the kids we've lost to changeover could have been saved if they'd had training," Den explained to Tohm and Silva over a beer at the Sudworks Brewery. "Also, trained kids are more likely to realize what's happening to them and get help. That means fewer Gens killed by berserkers."
Silva nodded thoughtfully. "The school board would have to approve such classes, but Ephriam Lornstat is a member. I think you'd have a better chance if you approach the City Council first, and get the issue out before the public. That way, Lornstat will find it much harder to convince a majority of the school board to quietly table the matter." She went on to give suggestions about information packets, the most likely arguments ("Telling them more Sime kids will live isn't as effective as telling them fewer Gens will be killed."), and publicity.
Den, who had developed a healthy respect for her political astuteness, listened carefully. Afterwards, at their request, he taught them and the other OLD SOKS members present a few in-Territory childrens' songs about toys and animals: simple, repetitive, and easy to memorize.
"It doesn't matter," Tohm said gleefully. "Save Our Kids won't know what the words mean, so they'll be just as bugged as if we were singing the bawdiest ballads from the most licentious of shiltpron parlors!"
He and Silva were waiting at the City Council chambers a few days later, when Den arrived to make his presentation at the Council's weekly meeting. They weren't wearing their OLD SOKS sweatshirts, but Silva was wearing a new button that read I READ BANNED BOOKS.
"What's that in aid of?" Den asked, pointing at the button as he slipped into an empty seat beside them.
"This button is just a show of solidarity," Silva answered with a mysterious smile. "There was a little controversy at the last meeting that should be cleared up tonight."
Seeing that she was not going to tell him any more, Den looked around. Today there were only a dozen or so spectators, so it was likely that the meeting would end at a more reasonable hour. Sinth wasn't there, of course, but he recognized the preacher's second in command, Ephriam Lornstat, and Hank Fredricks of the Clarion.
After Mayor Kroag called the meeting to order, the minutes of the last meeting were read, and they started discussing old business. The first item on the agenda--the addition of a new bus route to the city transit system--was passed with little discussion. A plan to build some additional playground equipment in Central Park was tabled until the City Clerk, Jess Rebens, could determine what lumber, tools, and other equipment local businesses would be willing to donate.
Den was having trouble keeping his eyes open by this point, but Silva jabbed him awake with an elbow as the next item--something about a library book and a citizen's petition--was opened. "Listen up," she said. "This should be interesting."
Mayor Kroag asked Jess Rebens to refresh the council members' memory of the matter. He fumbled through his notes of the last meeting, then read, "Citizens' Petition. Reverend Jermiah Sinth, Ephriam Lornstat, and Florence Grieves asked that a novel, Sailing the High Seas, be removed from the children's section of the library." Den sat up alertly; Sailing the High Seas was the book that he had loaned Rob Lifton the previous summer, and that Reverend Sinth had blamed for Annie Lifton's nonexistent changeover.
"Said novel was deemed offensive because of unsuitable content, explicit illustrations of immoral acts such as donating, and a strong pro-Sime bias, which undermines religious values instilled by parents," Rebens continued. "Petitioners presented the City Council with approximately fifteen hundred signatures of similarly concerned citizens. The Council voted to refer the matter to the head librarian, Miz Dilson, for her advice."
Mayor Kroag nodded. "I see Miz Dilson out there; are you ready to give your report?" she asked.
A pleasant, conservatively dressed woman carrying a clipboard made her way to the podium. After a false start, she managed to get the microphone working, and said, "Mayor Kroag, members of the City Council, our library has a limited budget, so we try to buy books which fill specific gaps in our collection, as revealed by patron requests. We purchased two copies of Sailing the High Seas last summer, after newspaper publicity resulted in our receiving over two hundred individual patron requests. This is more requests than we have ever before received for a single title. Since their arrival, the two books have been among our most popular offerings, and we have gotten many favorable comments from those who have borrowed them. In fact, they are so popular that we still have a waiting list to check them out. That is why I was a little surprised to get fifteen hundred signatures asking that they be removed from the collection. At Mayor Kroag's suggestion, I put one of our library interns to work investigating the signatures."
She looked down at her clipboard. "There were 1,521 legible signatures in total. Of these, slightly over a thousand signers did not live in Clear Springs and its associated counties. Only 307 of the remaining names belonged to people with Clear Springs library cards. Two hundred and twelve of these library patrons do not have any children with library cards. The remaining 95 signatures, comprising some 55 families, represents only about 1% of the children using the collection. Strangely enough, none of the petition signers' names have appeared on the waiting list for the two books, so it appears unlikely that any of these parents have even seen, much less read, the book they find so obscene."
Silva was doubled over with silent laughter, but Den was frozen in shock. Fifteen hundred people signed a petition to censor a book they haven't even read? And I thought Silva was exaggerating Sinth's influence!
Miz Dilson put her clipboard down on the podium with a decisive snap. "Given the popularity of the books Reverend Sinth, Mr. Lornstat, and Miz Grieves wish the children of Clear Springs not to read, I recommend that both copies be retained for the general collection. Those few parents who do not wish their children to read such material can prevent it by simply inspecting their child's selections before leaving the library."
Mayor Kroag nodded. "That seems a reasonable compromise, given the small number of children involved. All those in favor of retaining the books?"
Four hands shot up.
"The motion carries unanimously. The books will remain in general circulation. And, Miz Dilson, would you kindly add my name to the waiting list? I'd kind of like to read the book myself."
Lornstat, who was seated in the front row, was on his feet immediately. "How can you just ignore fifteen hundred people who feel those books are a danger to innocent children everywhere?" he demanded.
Mayor Kroag looked down at him with almost feline distain. "Mr. Lornstat," she enunciated carefully, "I would like to remind you that the City Council represents the people of Clear Springs, not the nation at large. It is very generous of your compatriots in other towns to concern themselves with the contents of our library, but we are not bound to follow their recommendations."
Lornstat reluctantly sat down again.
As the City Council moved on the the next item on their agenda, Den scribbled down the librarian's name. If the Clear Springs library staff was willing to fight for the right to circulate books on in-Territory life, Den would do his best to make sure that their budget wouldn't limit their offerings. He could think of several books, now sitting unread in the Center's library, which would provide the public with facts to counter Sinth's fantasies. There had also been a sequel to Sailing the High Seas, Den recalled. He would have to check to see if it had ever been translated. The Sime Center's slush fund would probably cover it, or if not, he could well afford to buy the books himself.
The last item of old business was a reorganization of the city workers' pension fund--Den didn't bother to follow it. Then Kroag asked if any of the council had any new business to introduce, and the newest council member, Faye Wolk, took the floor. It seemed that a seventeen year old girl in Cloverdale, twenty miles from Clear Springs, had unexpectedly gone through changeover. The girl had died, not surprising at that age, but there was some concern about Clear Spring's liability if any of the many teenagers employed in the city-sponsored summer work programs should survive to kill.
"Currently, the city does not employ anyone below the age of sixteen, precisely because of the danger of changeover," Wolk concluded. "It seems to me that we ought to raise the age of employment above the age of possible changeover."
"That will eliminate a vital source of income for many young students," Mayor Kroag said. "Those are exactly the people that program was supposed to help."
"I know," Wolk said unhappily. She had been elected on a platform of student issues. "I'm open to suggestions."
Mayor Kroag searched the audience, then beckoned to Den. "Sosu Milnan, could you give us some information?" When the surprised Donor reached the microphone, she asked, "What is the latest age where changeover is possible?"
"I believe the oldest changeover on record is nineteen," the Donor said. "But if I might make a suggestion, it isn't necessary to restrict your hiring to people above that age in order to prevent accidents, if you ask job applicants for proof of establishment. The Sime Center would be willing to provide such documentation, and you could avoid the liability of late changeovers without depriving young men and women of their jobs."
Wolk brightened at the idea of such an easy solution, and a motion was quickly formed to limit employment to those over the age of nineteen, and those between sixteen and nineteen who could present proof of establishment. Mayor Kroag was almost ready to call for a formal vote when Lornstat stood up again.
"Now just a minute," he complained, putting both hands on his hips in an argumentative stance. "This proposal of yours strongly penalizes those who believe, as I do, that association with Simes is sinful. You want to prevent youngsters of my faith from being eligible for jobs, while giving jobs to kids who have other beliefs. That's not fair, it's not right, and furthermore, the city's charter forbids it!"
"The city charter, and the New Washington Constitution as well, also forbids us to force the rest of the citizens of this city to obey the particular tenets of any religion--including yours," Steth Marden, the city attorney, remarked. "Miz Wolk's motion is legal because it has a very secular purpose--to protect the city against lawsuits--and it does not force anyone to acquire proof of establishment. I don't think there's any doubt that it would stand up in court."
There was a little more discussion, but the motion passed, and Den resolved to speak to Rital about selecting a few dates for mass screenings. Looking at the scowl on Lornstat's face, and remembering that the man was a member of the school board which would have to approve the changeover classes, the Donor wondered if this was the proper time to introduce the idea.
When he asked Tohm and Silva, though, they both urged him to go ahead. "It's the same tactic they've been using against us," Silva pointed out. "If Save Our Kids has to organize to get the proof of establishment business repealed, they can't fight changeover classes as effectively. Particularly with Sinth out of the way." She winked. "Better yet, they may try to fight both, and overextend themselves."
Mayor Kroag opened the floor to new business from the audience, but before Den could get to the podium, a short and very irate man had captured the microphone and asked the City Council to restrict public parking on his residential street, which bordered the campus. Apparently, during class hours, the lack of spaces in the university parking lots forced students to seek on-street parking.
When Mayor Kroag had promised to look into the matter, several times, the man was finally persuaded to give up the microphone. This time, Den managed to grab it. He briefly explained what changeover training entailed, why it was important, and asked the city to consider offering such classes through the summer recreation program. When he was finished, he handed an information packet to each council member, as Silva had suggested, and sat back down.
"Good job," Tohm said, and Silva nodded in agreement.
It was getting late, so the council unanimously voted to postpone discussion on the matter until the following week's meeting, and adjourned. Den had learned enough about out-Territory politics not to be too discouraged by this, but he took the precaution of giving Hank Fredricks a copy of his information packet as he left.
After talking it over with Rital, Den picked a date ten days away for the first mass establishment screening, and advertised it in the Clarion and its sister papers in nearby towns. Since many private businesses had immediately declared their intention of also asking teenage job applicants for proof of establishment, Den was smugly anticipating a large turnout.
Sinth, now largely recovered from his transfer burn, gave a guest sermon from his former pulpit in the Conservative Congregation's Clear Springs church, at which he tearfully admitted his error in chewing melic weed, and blamed the evil influence of the Sime Center for his failing. He did not try to explain how this influence could have extended back for years before the Sime Center had opened. As further proof of the Center's pernicious nature, he described in lurid and highly inaccurate terms the proposed changeover classes, which were characterized as being an attempt to win the congregation's children for the Devil.
Faced with this horrifying possibility, the congregation rushed to forgive Sinth, and in less than a week, Save Our Kids was once again filling the Center's sidewalk with angry demonstrators. When he had regained his position, Sinth retaliated for Den's exposing his drug addiction by publicizing Rital's "attack" of Bethany. The first Den learned about it was when Ref, the janitor, handed the Donor a copy of the morning's Clarion at breakfast, folded to show a full-page advertisement.
"I thought you should see this," he said simply.
The advertisement was carefully designed to look like a legitimate news article, with a headline that screamed, "SIME CENTER CHANNEL ATTACKS 15-YEAR-OLD GIRL. Hajene Rital Madz, Controller of the Clear Springs Sime Center, forced 15-year-old Bethany Sinth, niece of Save Our Kids' leader Reverend Jermiah Sinth, to donate last week," the text began. "Miz Sinth had gone into the Center Collectorium to witness to the unfortunate souls who were being deceived by the Simes. Hajene Madz refused to allow her to leave until she had submitted to him and let him take her selyn." The article went downhill from there, blaming Rital for Zakry's changeover, and ending with the warning that any Gen who attended the screening would be forced to donate before being given the required proof of establishment.
It also called for a massive increase in anti-Center activities.
"Has Rital seen this?" Den asked.
"I expect so. He likes to read the paper as soon as it comes. He hasn't been in to breakfast, though."
"It probably spoiled his appetite." Den knew that his own had fled at the prospect of losing all the hard-earned progress of the past few weeks. It was already too late to do anything more than try to contain the damage, and protesting Rital's innocence would never still the doubts Sinth's innuendoes would raise.
Ref nodded understandingly. "There's an interview with the girl in the local section, and an editorial, too," he said, and then mercifully went off to fill his own plate.
Den turned to the interview, which was headlined, "CHANNEL ACCUSED OF ATTACKING GIRL". It was written by Hank Fredricks himself, which surprised the Donor. In the past, Fredricks had always been a staunch advocate of the Center. But when Den read the subheading, "BUT ALLEGED VICTIM TELLS ANOTHER STORY", he began to relax, and by the time he was finished with the interview and Fredricks' editorial, he was chuckling with relief. The canny newsman had managed to get all the details out of Bethany, from her initial decision to disrupt the Collectorium to her failure to inform Rital that she didn't intend to donate. There were several interesting quotes as well, including what sounded suspiciously like praise of both Den and Rital for saving Sinth's life after Zakry's changeover. The appearance of the interview in the same edition as Sinth's ad would make the more reasonable members of the community very skeptical about any claims of forced donations during establishment screenings or at any other time, and the unreasonable members of the community would never have come anyway.
Considerably cheered, Den went to find his cousin. Rital was in his office, the desk in front of him covered with paperwork which he was ignoring in favor of staring at his hands. His tentacles were retracted far up their sheaths, knotted in balls of tension. He glanced up as he zlinned Den, noted the paper the Gen was carrying, and said flatly, "You saw it."
Den nodded, slipping into the visitor's chair. "Hank Fredricks got Bethany to admit what really happened. I don't think the out-Territory Gens will blame you for it--even Bethany admits you made an honest mistake."
But it wasn't the response of the out-Territory Gens that concerned Rital at the moment; to a Tecton channel, taking selyn from an unconsenting Gen was as indefensible as rape. "I should have guessed," he said, going back to staring at his hands. "I knew something was wrong--it just didn't feel right: her nager, the questions she was asking... I should have taken the time to find out what was going on, before blithely pressing ahead and taking her field down." He gave an abrupt, humorless bark of laughter. "You even said it that same morning, that I could seduce one of the demonstrators if I tried. And I had to go and prove you right!"
Den rudely snapped his nager, causing the channel to look up in surprise. "Will you for once try thinking with your brains, instead of your laterals?" the Donor snorted derisively. "Bethany may be an ignorant lorsh, but she isn't stupid. She knew you believed she wanted to donate, before she went into that collecting room. She had plenty of time to tell you she had changed her mind, and she didn't. Do her the courtesy of allowing her to accept responsibility for her own actions!"
Rital stared at Den, wanting but not quite daring to believe.
"Look, Rital," the Donor continued in a softer tone, "I know you can't take a donation from an untrained Gen without feeling protective; it's part of what makes you so good at what you do. But I don't think Bethany would thank you for assuming that she was too witless to understand what was going on. And as it turned out, being lowfield saved her life. She was actually closer to Zakry than her uncle, when the boy fixed on him. So there's no harm done."
"No harm?" Rital asked, still unconvinced. "Donating can be traumatic enough at first for some out-Territory Gens who really do volunteer. A lot of them are only able to do it because they trust that they have at least some control over the situation--that they won't be forced into anything they can't handle. What are they going to say when they find out that I betrayed that trust?" His tentacles, which had begun to relax, knotted back up again at the thought. "Will any of them be willing to let me take their donations after this?" he asked himself in a whisper.
"Did you read Hank Fredricks' interview, or just Sinth's fantasy?" Den demanded, impatient with his cousin's insistence on shouldering the blame. "I doubt that many out-Territory Gens will take Sinth's accusations seriously--not even among his followers. He's too well known as an anti-Center activist, so anything he says will be viewed as a political maneuver, not a serious accusation. Trust me, they aren't going to believe that you attacked her."
"But I did!" The channel clenched his fists, face twisted with guilt. "I never bothered to ask her whether she wanted to donate."
"You had every reason to assume that a Gen who walked into the Collectorium, and put her name on the donor's waiting list, was there to donate," the Donor said firmly, "especially when she cooperated better than many Gens who really were volunteering. The Gens here have lived with berserkers for generations. They know the difference between an honest mistake and a real attack. Even Bethany doesn't seem to hold it against you. Look here." He flipped to Hank Fredricks' interview and scanned the column rapidly, then stabbed at a paragraph with his finger. "See, she says, 'I didn't start to get scared until I remembered I hadn't told him I didn't want to donate.'"
He moved the finger down the column. "And here, 'If I'd gone in there to donate, that's exactly the way I would have wanted it to happen.' At the end, she says that the worst thing about the Sime Center is that donating isn't unpleasant, so there's no motivation for the less-than-pious to avoid sinful contact with Simes. And when Fredricks asks her about the different story in Sinth's ad, she says, 'I'm not responsible for my uncle's publicity campaign.'" Den glared fiercely at the channel, trying to break through the guilt. "You didn't harm the girl, and everybody knows it. Only Sinth thinks you attacked her, and he has to stretch the facts to the breaking point to justify his position, even to himself. I may not have a fancy diplomatic rating, but I've come to know these people enough to trust them to act rationally--at least as they define rational behavior. Or are you just looking for a good excuse to quit and let Sinth win by default?"
Rital flinched away from the scorn in his Donor's nager, then slowly and deliberately relaxed, letting his handling tentacles emerge from their sheaths. "You're right, I guess I did lose my sense of perspective," he admitted. "Thanks for bringing me back to my senses."
Den nodded, not sure that his cousin's senses were restored. Abruptly, Rital stiffened. "Shen, we were supposed to be in the Collectorium ten minutes ago!" He exploded from the desk chair and leaped for the door.
If Rital was willing to go back to work, the Donor supposed as he pounded down the halls in pursuit of his cousin, then he was as close to normal as he was going to get. However, it was obvious that the channel's confidence in himself was badly shaken, and a brittle facade of bravado was no real substitute. Den was afraid that his cousin would abort if any of the Gens became frightened. And that would scare the donors more than being forced to complete their donations, quite apart from the damage to Rital.
Fortunately, the Faith Day rush was over for the year, so there were fewer new donors. Zir was taking care of the most experienced donors, but Rital's confidence seemed to grow as he zlinned that the Gens coming in for second and third donations, nervous as many of them were at the prospect, still trusted him not to harm them.
It was almost an hour into their shift when Seena announced that the day's first "virgin" had arrived. Rital flinched visibly at the word, and Den realized worriedly just how superficial the channel's recovery was.
As the Gen, a middle-aged man who had given his name as Karl Seegrin, followed them back to the collecting room, he admitted, "My son Tohm has been after me to come in and donate for months, and I just couldn't make myself do it. But when I read the paper this morning, I figured that if even Reverend Sinth's niece didn't mind it--well, it can't be so scary after all."
Rital did a double take at this novel interpretation, then truly relaxed for the first time that morning.
Den shook with silent laughter, knowing that the crisis was over.
In the days that followed, Den's prediction proved accurate. Clear Springs greeted Sinth's forced donation story with a yawn, and the anti-Sime fanatics were too embarrassed to repeat it. (OLD SOKS, in contrast, was having a marvelous time showing people the differences between Sinth's and Fredricks' versions of the event.)
As many of the Center's staff expressed their bewilderment with this non-reaction, Den began to realize just how well he had learned to think like an out-Territory Gen, and what a valuable skill that could be. Being able to anticipate how the town would respond to Sinth's anti-Sime crusade was a large step towards countering it.
Considering how useless the diplomatic textbooks had proven, the Donor wondered smugly if a trained expert in inter-Territorial relations would have been able to do as well. It felt good to know that he was making a real difference in the world. With some surprise, he realized that he was no longer looking forward to leaving Clear Springs.
Five days before the establishment screening, Den was working late on his newspaper column. Since it would appear the day before the screening, he wanted to use his space for the week to explain exactly what was involved. Although the threatened increase in demonstrations had not materialized, there had been several misleading letters and advertisements in the Clarion, designed to discourage attendance. Den had a stack of recent editorial pages beside his notepad, so that he could focus his column on debunking the most persistent rumors being spread by Save Our Kids.
Den didn't like writing by hand, and as he worked he cast occasional longing glances at his Simelan typewriter, wondering if it would be worth the trouble to learn to type in English. He was putting the final touches on the much-edited page, and hoping that Seena would be able to decipher his handwriting, when the phone rang. He picked it up, absently mumbling a greeting as he debated the proper position of a comma.
"Den, it's Seena."
"I've finished, I've finished," he assured her. "I'll put it in your box this evening, and you can type it up tomorrow."
"Good. You've got an outside call on Line 1. Sounded pretty urgent."
"Put it thorough," he directed, mentally running through a list of possible reasons for an urgent, late-night call, and not liking them. Was it his parents? His sister? Liren, who was due to give birth any day now?
"This is Den," he said in Simelan. "What's the problem?"
There were a few seconds of silence, and then an uncertain voice asked in English, "Mr. Milnan? This is Rob Lifton."
A different list of potential disasters replaced the first one. "Rob, what's the matter?" The last time Rob had contacted the Center late at night had been when he had believed his sister Annie to be in changeover.
"Bethany and I went to a Save Our Kids meeting tonight," Rob said, sounding obviously upset. "Reverend Sinth is really mad about the way you talked the City Council into this proof of establishment thing, and he's determined to stop it. They're going to call in activists from all over, enough to have the Collectorium entrance blocked from the door to the sidewalk. To keep OLD SOKS from stopping them, they're going to start at seven in the morning, two hours before the screening starts, and they'll stay until seven in the evening. No one will be able to get near the door."
"Shen," Den swore.
"Bethany made me promise not to tell Annie, because they don't want OLD SOKS to know. But I never promised not to tell you folks. She may hate me for this, but what they're planning is wrong. Trying to talk people out of donating is one thing, forcing them to stay away from the screening is something else."
"I agree," Den said. "It's also illegal under Tecton law to demonstrate on Sime Center property. Thank you for calling. If it's any consolation, I think you've done the right thing, even if Bethany doesn't."
"Thanks," Rob said glumly, and hung up.
Den immediately went in search of his cousin, and found the channel sitting on the library couch, immersed in a formidable-looking volume on transfer mechanics. Rital listened, appalled and outraged, as Den outlined Sinth's latest plan. "I'll get in touch with Tohm and Silva tomorrow," the Donor ended. "Maybe they can get enough volunteers together to keep a pathway clear."
Rital snapped the book closed. "No," he said with absolute finality.
"What?" Den shook his head in confusion, not certain he had heard correctly.
"We don't call in OLD SOKS for this one. What those demonstrators do on the sidewalk is a matter for the out-Territory government to regulate, but the Center is under Tecton law, and forcibly preventing people from entering a Sime Center has been illegal since the Distect Revolt. If Sinth and his group of lorshes break the law by blocking access to the Collectorium, they will be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
There was no room for compromise in the channel's level gaze, but Den had to try. "Rital, have you thought this through? Arresting Sinth and his crowd will make them martyrs--the out-Territory press will go wild over it. And the Tecton won't think much of it either. They'll pull you out of Clear Springs if there's too much fuss."
Rital's jaw firmed. "Den, I love working here, but there are some principles I hold even dearer. I've spent the last year watching those bullies harass, intimidate, and sometimes physically assault any Gen in sight. Nothing you or I have done has been able to make them listen to reason. Now they want to go after children as well as adult Gens." His tentacles lashed with anger. "I want Sinth. I want him to pay for every lie he's told, every scared, bruised Gen who's had to fight through his followers' abuse to donate, and every child who's been murdered because he told the parents it was a sin to call us for help. You're right, it may cost me Clear Springs, but at the moment, I just don't care."
Den wasn't sure he like this new vengeful attitude in his usually gentle and pacifistic cousin. He sat down on the couch next to Rital, placing one hand on the channel's arm to still the restless tentacles. "Will you at least let me try to talk them out of it before you call in the police?" he asked gently.
Rital considered a moment, then nodded reluctantly. "If you can dampen their enthusiasm, go ahead. But any demonstrator who is still on Center property by eight will be arrested. I want the entrance clear before the kids start showing up."
"All right," Den said, standing up. He chuckled suddenly. "Dampen their enthusiasm. That gives me the most wonderful idea!"
Three days later, Rital suffered a very rough turnover, making it through his usual duties by sheer stubbornness. Den did his best, but he couldn't completely erase the effects of too much stress and too few good transfers.
He consoled himself with the thought that in two more weeks, he would be able to give his cousin a proper transfer.
The newspapers were full of the peace conference between Corzona, Amzon, and Zillia. The official speeches were full of sweetness and light, but carefully said absolutely nothing of substance. Den wondered what was actually taking place behind the closed doors of the meeting room--not to mention the equally closed doors of all three warring governments, New Washington, and Solar House.
A birth announcement arrived from the Tecton maternity center in Seermah, twenty miles upriver from Valzor: Linnel Amm Kolpev, channel, healthy and a quite respectable birth weight, mother doing well and "glad that she's keeping her daddy awake at night, instead of me," as Liren put it.
Tucked into the same envelope were three much-folded pages torn from a magazine. At the top, Liren had scrawled, "What the blazing shen is going on out there? I hear Monruss is furious." The article was from one of the popular news magazines, and Den started to get apprehensive when he saw that it was written by Sera Coney.
The text rivaled his worst nightmares. Clear Springs was pictured as a town full of anti-Sime fanatics out of the days before the First Contract, and Den and Rital were described as heroes battling single-handedly to force sanity on a bloodthirsty mob. The anti-Sime demonstrators' activities were described in detail, but there was hardly a mention of OLD SOKS, or the many other out-Territory Gens who supported the Sime Center. Worst of all, there was a graphically detailed account of how Sera had been held prisoner by Save Our Kids, while Sinth went to murder his nephew.
This is just as slanted as the stuff Sinth writes, Den thought with disgust. Sera, I thought better of you.
The day before the screening, Den was scheduled to talk to the school board about the proposed changeover classes. When he arrived at the Southside Upper School, classes were just finishing for the day.
Nervously, he threaded his way through the parking lot, narrowly missing several groups of youthful pedestrians who were heading for the gate with a total disregard for traffic patterns. It's a wonder any of them survive long enough to require changeover training, he thought, jamming on the brake yet again as a pair of giggling young women stepped off the sidewalk directly in front of his car. One of them stopped long enough to make an obscene gesture at him; the other never paused in her chattering.
Den knew that by out-Territory law, all of these youngsters were considered to be children, even though a good proportion of them had already established as Gens. He had always thought of that as a ridiculous legal fiction, but these young men and women were acting as irresponsibly as children, at an age at which in-Territory youngsters were already earning their own livings and starting families. But you don't learn responsibility until you are held responsible for your actions, he thought as he maneuvered the car into a visitor parking spot. And both kids and their parents out here have a quite natural reluctance to face the kids' growing up, since that means the possibility of changeover.
Well, perhaps he could persuade the school board to let the Center's staff make that possibility a little less mysterious and frightening. Scooping his briefcase off of the front seat, he went in search of the conference room.
The small meeting room, when he found it, was filled to overflowing with all six members of the school board, the principals of Clear Springs' two upper schools, and an elderly secretary who sat off to one side of the table, preparing to take notes. Ephriam Lornstat was openly hostile, of course, but the other five school board members were polite, if reserved. Good, Den thought optimistically, they haven't already made up their minds to vote against me, so I've got a fair chance to convince them to try the classes.
They wasted half an hour on reading the minutes of their last meeting, and discussion of such uncontroversial matters as a minor outlay of funds to purchase two new flutes for the music department. Eventually, they got around to the main topic of the day, and asked the Donor to introduce his proposal.
Den had spent a great deal of time revising the speech that he had given to the City Council, with the help of Tohm and Silva. Also helpful had been a book on previous school curriculum disputes in New Washington Territory, recommended by Miz Dilson, who had been very glad to have the Sime Center donate books to her library. The revised talk was carefully crafted to appeal to the moderate majority of the school board, and also paid particular attention to the issues that Sinth's followers had been raising in the Clarion 's letter column. It was easy to predict that Lornstat would be mentioning them, and by answering the objections before they were raised, Den could make Lornstat look unreasonable at best, or inattentive at worst. It seemed to be working, the Donor thought with satisfaction, as he ended by restating that the Center's classes would only be available to children whose parents gave written permission. Even though that will deny help to those children who need it most...
On the other hand, at least the kids whose parents refused them training would be able to get some information from their friends. Hmm, if they go for it, we'll have to make sure that we pass out a lot of extra copies of each handout.
When he had finished, the board members began a spirited debate. It was soon apparent that two of them were moderately in favor of the classes. Lornstat was predictably violently opposed, and the three remaining members were political opportunists who were not willing to commit themselves either way, until they had a better chance to assess public opinion.
Den compared this with the reaction of the City Council the week before, and began to realize for the first time the value of Sinth's tactics. If he had tried speaking to the school board first, Lornstat would probably have succeeded in persuading the other members to avoid controversy by quietly dropping the proposal, simply because none of the more liberal members cared enough to oppose him. Silva's suggestion of presenting the idea at the City Council meeting had prevented that, but Sinth's letter writing campaign had quite obviously managed to give three of the school board members second thoughts. What should have been an easy decision in favor of the classes had become an uphill fight.
But it's a fight we can win, Den promised himself and the children of Clear Springs, breaking into the discussion to politely remind Lornstat yet again that since the classes would be offered by parental consent only, there was no question of childrens' religious values being undermined. Since this was the third time in ten minutes that the man had raised this issue, only to be corrected, even the three undecided members of the board were beginning to look annoyed.
Good. The more unreasonable Lornstat looks, the better the chance that the classes will be approved.
After an hour and a half of indecisive discussion, they finally decided to postpone the final decision for two weeks, until their next regular meeting, and then vote. Den was moderately pleased, and made sure that each board member had one of his information packets to study. Got to get some to a place parents can look at them. The Center won't work, not with the demonstrations outside. Maybe the library? He made a mental note to pay another call on Miz Dilson as the meeting came to a fairly cordial close. Even Lornstat, perhaps recognizing the liability of his earlier behavior, deigned to offer his hand to the Donor. However, before Den could shake it, the conference room door was flung open by an hysterical junior secretary, followed by an equally frantic Rob Lifton.
"Oh, Mr. Buchan, come quickly!" the secretary cried, wringing her hands. "That Sime they've been hunting is on the roof, and he's holding one of our girls hostage. He wants to speak with someone in authority, or he'll kill her!"
Principal Buchan jumped to his feet, wearing his best "take charge" expression, and no doubt cursing under his breath at the ill timing that placed the entire school board in his school at such a time. In a firm voice, he got the younger secretary calmed down, sent the elderly secretary who had been taking notes of the meeting to call the police and have them send a squad of sharpshooters, and left to begin supervising the evacuation of the building. The school board followed him out with an excited babble of conversation, leaving behind Den's carefully prepared information packets.
Shen! Den swore, trailing after them. Are they insane? Sharpshooters wouldn't do much to keep a Sime from killing. I've got to let them give me a chance to deal with the situation before someone dies. Rital would have been a better choice to handle Zakry, but there wasn't time for the channel to arrive. So I'll have to get it right this time.
"Mr. Milnan," Rob Lifton said, tugging at the Donor's sleeve. "Zakry's got Bethany. We were going up on the roof to have some privacy; I was trying to talk her out of joining her uncle's Sime Center blockade tomorrow. And then Zakry grabbed her. Please don't let him kill her!"
"He won't if I can help it," Den promised, finally catching up with Buchan. "Principal Buchan," he called. The principal was too busy to listen until Den grabbed his arm and forcibly restrained him. "Principal Buchan," he repeated when he had the man's attention. "If you'll give me a chance, I think I can persuade Zakry to surrender without hurting anyone. If you start shooting at him, he'll only kill his hostage. If the police don't accidentally murder her first."
Buchan shook his head. "It's too risky. He might try to kill you instead, and I'd be held responsible for endangering you."
"I'm a Donor," Den reminded Buchan. "Zakry can't harm me in transfer. Let me try, before anyone else gets hurt."
Buchan pondered for a moment, then nodded. "All right," he agreed. "As soon as we've finished evacuating the building, I'll show you the roof exit. And I'll tell the police not to shoot unless the Sime tries to run away."
"Thank you," the Donor said. He turned as Rob began to open his mouth and continued, "No, you may not come along."
"But..." the younger Gen protested.
"No," Den repeated firmly. "The fewer Gens there are up there, the better chance I have of keeping Zakry from killing. Promise me you'll stay here."
"Oh, all right," Rob agreed reluctantly. "I promise."
Ten minutes later, Buchan showed Den a rickety ladder hidden in a storeroom, which led up through a trapdoor onto the roof. "Are you sure you want to do this?" the principal asked once more. "That Sime's been on the run for almost three weeks now; he may be close to need."
"I'm counting on it," Den said, putting his right foot gingerly on the first rung and wondering if it would support his weight. "It'll make it easier for me to control him. Besides, a Sime in need might be willing to kill a Gen, but he probably won't murder one--it's too wasteful." The rung held; Den made his way up the ladder carefully and reached for the handle of the trap door. "You just make sure those police don't shoot," he called over his shoulder. Opening the trap door, he squirmed through onto the roof.
The roof of the school was mostly on one level, with air vents and other pipes in irregular clusters, and occasional puddles from the previous night's rain. There was a solid-looking brick chimney near the trap door. Since Den couldn't immediately see Zakry and his hostage, he worked his way around it, hoping that the young Sime hadn't changed his mind and escaped down the fire ladder, taking Bethany with him. If they're gone, we'll never find them in time.
"Who's there?" Zakry called from behind the chimney, in a voice that quavered with tension.
He should have zlinned me sooner, Den calculated. Or maybe he just doesn't know how to interpret fields yet....
That could be a real advantage for the Donor.
"Come out slowly, or I swear she'll die."
Orienting on the boy's voice, the Donor continued around the chimney, and finally located Zakry on a raised section of roof, perilously close to a two and a half story drop onto the concrete sidewalk. He was still dressed in the blood-spattered clothing he had worn at his changeover, now reduced to little more than rags. In the two and a half weeks since Den had last seen him, he had lost almost all of his excess weight, and the tattered remnants of his clothing hung loosely on his newly Sime-slender frame. With one hand, he was holding a struggling Bethany in front of him as a body shield, her head forced into a very uncomfortable angle by the handling tentacles pulling her long hair.
Den eyed the swollen ronaplin glands on the other arm, confirming what his own body's response to the Sime had already told him. Zakry had probably hit turnover one and a half weeks after his changeover. It wouldn't take much to provoke the boy into attacking his sister. And she isn't lowfield any more.
But Den was also a full eighteen days past his own last transfer, and it hadn't come close to draining him. He was substantially above midfield, and this time he wasn't separated from Zakry by iron bars, unable to get close enough to use his nager effectively.
Bethany had stopped struggling when she recognized him, hope displacing some of her fear. Though between Sinth accusing Rital of attacking her, after we saved his life yet, and her current plans to help her charming uncle stop our screening, I wonder how she dares expect me to get her out of this, the Donor thought resentfully.
But dwelling on the Sinth family's shortcomings would do no one any good, least of all Rital. Instead, Den took his annoyance and directed it at Zakry, climbing onto the raised roof section and marching as closely as he dared to the Sime and his hostage. When Zakry took a nervous half step backwards, Den stopped.
"And just what do you think you're doing, young man?" Den asked angrily, putting his hands on his hips as he glared at Zakry across the ten feet that separated them. It wasn't easy; the Donor couldn't help feeling responsible for the boy's misfortune. If I didn't dislike him so much, maybe I could have gotten him to turn to me for First Transfer, instead of attacking his uncle.
But sympathy would only sanction Zakry's actions, which was the last thing Den dared to do. "Well?" he demanded. "I hope you have a good reason for causing this circus." He gestured towards the parking lot below, where police cars swarmed like angry wasps, disgorging passengers to the accompaniment of wailing sirens and blowing horns.
"Shut up, Gen." Zakry shifted his grip on his sister, who gasped as a handling tentacle grazed her neck. "Now that I'm a Sime, I don't have to answer to anybody. I can do whatever I want, and anyone who tries to stop me will end up like Uncle Jermiah."
"Is that what you want?" Den asked. "To go around hurting your relatives?" The boy forced a chuckle, unnaturally loud and completely devoid of humor.
"That was poetic justice," he said contemptuously. "Uncle Jermiah thought he'd just waltz in and shoot me, but his prayers didn't protect him from evil Simes any more than mine kept me from becoming an evil Sime. The only difference is, he's a dead Gen and I'm a live Sime. And you know what?" he blustered. "I'm glad of it!"
Bethany choked at this callousness, but Den knew bravado when he heard it. "Your uncle isn't dead," he said gently. "You burned him badly, yes, but Controller Madz was able to save his life." Den watched Zakry closely to gauge the effect of his words. The boy had to be feeling a tremendous amount of guilt over his victim, but he couldn't express it and begin to heal until he regained his sense of self-worth.
Zakry shook his head in denial, wanting to believe Den and fearing that the Donor was right.
"Your uncle didn't give you a choice about whether or not to attack him, so his injury does not make you evil," Den continued, letting his nager reflect his conviction. "Once you've overcome the need for pain, there's no reason why you can't live a moral and upright life in-Territory."
For a moment, Zakry's resolution wavered, but then his lifetime of religious anti-Sime indoctrination reasserted itself. "Are you kidding?" he asked incredulously. "Why should I settle for being third-rate good, when I can be first-rate evil? You and your channel friends have been trying to get a foothold in this town for a year, and most of the Gens have ignored you. I'm going to show them the kind of damage a real Sime can do, if they don't show me the proper respect."
Why? Den wondered frantically. Zakry was behaving like a Freeband Raider out of the history books, attracted only by negative emotions like fear, hatred, and pain. Because he fears and hates what he has become? Well, if fear and hatred was all the boy was able to comprehend at the moment, that was the argument to use. "Zakry, you can't force people to respect you by killing them. All you can make them do is try to murder you first. And make no mistake, they will do that, if you try to run for it." He pointed over the side of the roof again, directing the boy's attention to the clusters of sharpshooters posted in the parking lot below.
Zakry looked nervously at the rifles. His eyes unfocused as he zlinned the policemen, then he moved a few paces closer to Den, preferring the Donor's honest anger to the deadly intent coming at him from below. "They're only Gens," he said, trying to convince himself as much as Den. "I'm a Sime. I'm stronger and faster than they are; they can't hurt me."
Den shook his head at the boy's fantasy. "You know better. You can't augment fast enough to outrun a bullet. Haven't you learned anything about Simes in the past two and a half weeks?"
"I've learned how to kill uppity Gens like you!" Zakry dropped Bethany absently as he began to stalk Den. She collapsed to the roof. Den thought for a moment that she had fainted, but then she began to slowly crawl away, heading for the cover of an air intake vent.
Good girl, Den cheered her silently, glad that she had remembered not to move quickly. He backed slowly away from the stalking Sime, drawing him away from her. "You haven't learned a thing since your changeover, have you?" he taunted cruelly, hoping to distract Zakry long enough for Bethany to get out of nageric range. "You're still the same self-righteous, arrogant bigot who stood up in front of half the town and said that his total ignorance would make him be Gen."
Zakry's fists clenched, tentacles lashing, too angry and too close to need to critically examine the Donor's accusations. He took several more steps towards Den, then stopped and screamed, "I'll show you what a Sime is!" He suddenly turned on Bethany, tentacles outstretched to grasp her arms.
"Don't!" Den commanded, but Zakry was hyperconscious and couldn't hear him. The Donor had half a second to regret the necessity, then he lashed out viciously with his nager. Zakry gave a muffled cry and dropped to the graveled rooftop in a fetal ball, fighting the agony of being shenned out of his attack. It could easily have been fatal, but in the absence of a channel, it was the only way Den could keep Zakry away from Bethany. And if he kills her, they'll never let him leave here alive.
Den motioned for Bethany to get farther away, then knelt by her brother, ho ping that the damage wasn't irreversible. With all the skill at his command, the Donor soothed the young Sime, straightening twisted selyn currents and averting the incipient convulsions.
When Zakry finally uncurled and opened his eyes, Den looked down at him sternly. "Lesson number one about being a Sime," he lectured. "Never argue with a Donor." Zakry shrank back, eyes widening in fear. Good. If he learns he isn't an invulnerable monster, he might be more amenable to reason.
He took the boy's hands. "If you want transfer now, I'll give it to you," he offered. Rital would never miss the small amount of selyn a renSime could take. "Or if you prefer Controller Madz, you can wait until we get to the Sime Center. But I'm not going to allow you to kill your sister, or anyone else for that matter."
Zakry's laterals were emerging from their sheaths, dripping with ronaplin, but he glared back defiantly and spat out the worst insult he knew. "Sime-lover!"
Den froze in astonishment, then guffawed, almost dropping the boy's hands. As his concentration slipped, he lost his tenuous control of Zakry's need. Immediately, powerful handling tentacles lashed around his arms.
"All right, if that's the way you want it," Den said, and bent forward to complete the transfer contact.
Den felt a faint surge of selyn movement as Zakry began his draw, excruciatingly slow compared with even the lowest rated channel. It took all the discipline he could muster to keep himself from grabbing control and forcing the selyn to flow at a reasonable rate, while still providing the emotional feedback the Sime needed for satisfaction. It was even worse when Zakry's draw petered out long before even the Donor's shallowest selyn storage levels were empty.
Aching with frustration, Den let the transfer end. When Zakry released him, he sat back on his heels. "See?" he said, pushing a stray hank of hair out of his eyes. "You don't have to kill to survive."
Zakry got to his feet slowly, staring at the Donor. "You're not dead," he said accusingly.
"That's right." Den stood and held out a hand. "Why don't you come back to the Center with me now? You'll feel much better after a shower and some clean clothes."
The Sime stared at the outstretched hand for a moment, then slapped it away. "I'll see you in Hell first!" he snarled.
Whirling with augmented speed, he ran for the edge of the roof and leaped off. There was an explosion of gunfire from the police below, and Zakry jerked in an obscene dance as his body was riddled with bullets.
He was dead before he hit the ground.
Den walked to the edge of the roof and looked over at the pitiful, bloodstained bundle of rags. The police were slapping each other's backs and raising fists in triumph, cheering their victory over a confused, unarmed boy. Fighting tears which he dared not shed out-Territory, where they were considered inappropriate for a man, he turned to make his way back to the trapdoor.
Bethany met him partway, highly indignant. "You're sorry he died!" she accused him. "He threatened to kill me, and he tried to kill you. He wasn't worth saving."
All the pent-up grief and guilt came to the surface. "I seem to remember that I'm not the only one who thinks the children of Clear Springs are worth saving," he snapped, silencing her. Pushing past her, he stalked to the ladder and started down.
"Why did Zakry do it?" Den asked Rital later in the channel's office, turning haunted eyes on his cousin. "He knew the police would shoot him, even if he managed to survive the fall. He had so much to live for. Why did he deliberately choose to die?"
"Perhaps he truly believed the teachings of his religion." Rital refilled Den's tea mug from the pot on his desk. "There's no place in Conservative Congregation theology for a Sime who doesn't kill--and even being an evil monster is better than being nothing."
"He was ranting like a Freeband Raider, all about how he was going to kill any Gen who didn't show him respect, starting with Bethany." Den closed his eyes, but that didn't block out the memory. He got up from his chair and began to pace. "I thought I had him convinced, after I proved he couldn't kill me, but he broke out of my control. I wasn't expecting him to jump."
"How could you?" Rital asked. He came around the desk and place both hands on Den's shoulders to stop the pacing, grasping the Gen's biceps firmly with his handling tentacles. "Den, it wasn't your fault." He shook the Donor once to emphasize his point. "You did everything you could to give that kid a chance to live, and he turned you down. Twice. Thanks to you, he was the only one who died."
Den listened politely, unconvinced.
The channel gave an exasperated sigh. "Cousin mine, not quite a week ago, a certain Donor accused me of patronizing young Bethany by failing to hold her accountable for the consequences of her own decisions. Well, I may be soft in the head when it comes to donors, but you are guilty of the same thing if you assume responsibility for Zakry's death!"
Den froze for a moment, then began to laugh almost hysterically at being caught in his own trap. "You win, Rital," he gasped, groping for his chair. The channel steered him to it, then held him as the laughter turned to tears of grief for a boy who was so intent on salvation that he refused to be saved.
The previous week's news of Corzona Territory's decision to officially join the Tecton, and the signing of a permanent peace treaty between Corzona, Amzon, and Zillia Territories, had sparked off a wave of pro-Tecton sentiment. Donations all across New Washington Territory climbed to near Faith Day season levels for the two days after the treaty was announced, and the New Washington government nominated Quess ambrov Shaeldor for an award to honor his central role in stopping a centuries-long war.
Unfortunately, this love fest sparked an equally strong counter-movement among the Conservative Congregation and the more reactionary members of the Church of the Purity. Pledges of support poured in to Save Our Kids' headquarters in the basement of the Conservative Congregation's church building, and both Rob and Tohm called to grimly warn Den to expect several hundred protesters for Sinth's massive anti-screening demonstration.
The morning of the screening dawned at last, cool but clear, much to the relief of Den, who had feared that it might rain. In the pre-dawn chill, he directed the gardening staff in last-moment preparations, acutely aware of the Tecton police waiting in the parking lot. At Rital's request, Valzor had sent a hand-picked squad of six renSimes less than a week from their last transfer, and four highfield Gens trained to hold the ambient nager steady as they worked together against belligerent crowds. By six thirty, everything was ready, and the front of the Center was deserted again.
Den watched from the window in the Collectorium's waiting room as Sinth arrived with the first of his demonstrators. They set to work unrolling a large paper banner which read DON'T LET YOUR CHILD BE DAMNED! in blood red letters. As more people arrived, they were issued pamphlets, signs, and buttons. Many of the demonstrators carried prayer books, which they read loudly to their neighbors.
By twenty after seven, nearly two hundred people were packed onto the Center's front lawn, and the path leading from the sidewalk to the Collectorium could no longer be seen. Rital paused in his preparations to inspect them, then said, "You've got forty-five minutes to talk them into leaving, cousin. Better get started on this mysterious plan of yours."
Den grinned. "You're right, it's about time for the fun to begin." He used the house phone on the reception desk to contact the basement maintenance room. "All right, Alyce," he directed the chief groundswoman. "Turn 'em on." With a malicious chuckle, he turned back to the window, saying, "Come watch, Rital. You won't want to miss this!"
For a moment nothing happened, and then with a whoosh of spraying water, the Center's lawn irrigation system turned on. Alyce and her crew had readjusted the nozzles close to the sidewalk, so that the pavement was soaked as thoroughly as the grass.
After two seconds of shock, pandemonium reigned among the demonstrators. Half of them fled immediately with screams of outrage. Many of the others paused only long enough to try to rescue boxes of pamphlets before following.
Sinth and a few of the other men began to search for a way to cut off the water. However, the shutoff valve was in the Center's basement, and it was next to impossible to turn off or adjust individual nozzles when the water was on. Den snickered as Sinth half drowned himself in an unsuccessful attempt to beat a nozzle into submission with a wooden post, to which a few tatters of mushy cardboard still adhered.
By quarter to eight, only thirty or so demonstrators were left, stubbornly refusing to give up. Den recognized most of the hard-core Save Our Kids leadership, including Sinth and his niece Bethany, Ephriam Lornstat, Florence Grieves, and Ezrul Tains.
Den phoned Alyce again and asked her to turn the water off. "Now is the time to talk them into leaving," he told his cousin. "Wish me luck."
"I do," Rital said. "But the police will be by in fifteen minutes to arrest anyone who's left."
Shaking his head at his cousin's vengeful attitude, Den threw on his cape and slipped out the back door. As he made his way around the building, he rehearsed his carefully planned arguments.
The demonstrators were cursing and shivering in their soaked clothing, but they quieted as they sighted Den.
"Folks, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave," the Donor began. "We're not going anywhere," Sinth growled, wiping futilely at a runnel of water which was making its way across his forehead and dripping off his nose. "You're not going to doom any more children to damnation, even if we have to sit here in wet clothes all day."
Den ignored Sinth and addressed his followers. "It is illegal to block the entrance to a Sime Center, and unlike the Clear Springs police," he threw a pointed glance at Tains, "the Valzor District police are quite willing to arrest and prosecute you."
"We are within our rights to let people know what the Scriptures say on the danger to their children!" Sinth insisted.
Den shook his head. "I don't think an in-Territory court is going to be impressed by your scriptures. Under the anti-Distect Laws, blocking entrance to a Sime Center, harassing people attempting to enter one, or demonstrating on Center property are crimes. For a first offense, the penalty is a mandatory six months in jail and a substantial fine. The police will be called in--," he glanced at his watch, "--ten minutes to arrest anybody who remains."
"I hope you do call the police," Sinth said complacently. "Police like to take their time, and issuing warnings requires so much less paperwork than a criminal prosecution, particularly for such a minor thing as trespassing. It will take them quite a while to get around to actually doing anything. In fact, I calculate they should be making the first arrests about nine thirty, right in front of the parents and children you want to convince of your harmlessness." He smiled beatifically. "I've also taken the liberty of inviting the press to drop by around then. Innocent demonstrators being dragged off by uniformed Simes... Just think what they'll make of it!"
"In-Territory law treats blocking access to a Sime Center as reckless endangerment of the entire community, not as trespassing," Den corrected, shaking his head. "Also, I think the Tecton police are a little more efficient than the ones you're used to. One way or the other, you'll be gone long before the press arrives." The Donor made eye contact with as many of the demonstrators as he could as he warned, "Unless you want to spend the next six months in a Tecton jail, I suggest you leave."
The demonstrators exchanged uneasy glances, then several of them started slowly down the path.
"Come back here!" Sinth ordered. "Are you so weak in your faith that you refuse to make the sacrifices God demands of you?"
One of the men paused and turned. "Sorry, Reverend," he said regretfully. "If it were just me, I'd stay, but my Tilda can't run the farm alone. If I spent six months in jail, the bank would own my place before I got out."
He turned and followed the other deserters.
"Let us pray for our weaker brethren, that they may find strength," Sinth said furiously, his piercing gaze threatening instant denunciation to any other demonstrator who dared to leave.
As the shivering, dripping group began to recite some nonsense about defeating Sime devils, Captain Yungsha, the leader of the Tecton police squad, ambled up. "Are these the ones who won't leave, Sosu Milnan?" he asked in Simelan. He looked the group of Gens over carefully, one handling tentacle resting absentmindedly on the handcuffs attached to his belt.
"Apparently," Den said. "I'd hoped that a few more would give up, but it doesn't look like that will happen."
Yungsha waved away the tacit apology with one tentacle. "It's better than the mob that was out here before you turned the sprinklers on," he pointed out. "That was a great idea."
"Thanks." As Yungsha turned and signaled to his squad, Den warned the demonstrators in English, "This is your last chance to leave peacefully."
They ignored him, except to increase the volume of their prayer. Den shrugged and told Yungsha, "They're all yours, then." He stepped back to watch.
One of the squad had driven a prison transport bus onto the lawn. At Yungsha's command, the others descended on the demonstrators and began efficiently handcuffing them and marching them onto the bus. Den kept a careful eye on the proceedings, ready to intervene if any of the renSimes were provoked by the untrained Gens' nagers, but his assistance was unnecessary. Most of the demonstrators were too intimidated by the Sime police officers to struggle. Those who tried to sit down and force the police to carry them found that Yungsha's Simes, unlike Gen police, didn't mind doing so, and those who tried more active resistance discovered that Simes were much stronger and faster than Gens.
It took just fifteen minutes for the police to arrest all twenty-seven remaining demonstrators. When one of the Gen officers reported to Yungsha that all of the prisoners were ready for transport to the Valzor police station for booking, the Captain waved acknowledgment. "That's it, then," he told Den. "We'll get out of your way now, and let you get on with your business."
As the bus and its accompanying squad cars started on the long trip back to Valzor, a dozen members of OLD SOKS arrived, ready to escort parents and children through a massive anti-Sime demonstration. They were astonished to find Sinth's group absent, but when Den explained what had happened, they cheered. Then they set to work helping Alyce's staff clean up the soggy pamphlets, signs, and prayer books that littered the Center's front lawn. By the time the first family arrived for the screening, the only remaining sign of Sinth's massive demonstration was the tire tracks that the prison bus had left in the water-softened lawn.
There was a steady stream of youngsters coming for establishment certificates all day, enough to keep all four channels busy during the peak hours. In the absence of chanting demonstrators outside, the mood in the waiting room was more peaceful than Den had ever seen it, despite the crowds. A fair number of the parents and young Gens decided that they might as well donate, as long as they were at the Sime Center anyway.
Other parents, learning that their child had not yet established, inquired about changeover training classes. Gati and Seena covered three pages with names and addresses of children who were interested in coming to the Center for lessons if the school board refused to sponsor them.
When the reporters Sinth had alerted arrived, Den and Tohm gave them a guided tour of the Center, complete with interviews of channels, Donors, staff, and Gens who had used the various services the Center offered. Over the next week, most of the local papers carried at least one highly favorable article on the Sime Center, and the Clear Springs Clarion did a whole series. The newspaper reports mentioned in passing that some demonstrators had been arrested, but because there were no photographs available, they did not devote much space to it.
The new acting police chief promptly announced that he would enforce the laws governing demonstrations outside the Sime Center. With Save Our Kids' leadership and most of the more dedicated local anti-Sime activists in Valzor awaiting trial, the demonstrations in front of the Center almost disappeared overnight. Most days, there were only one or two people ostentatiously praying on the sidewalk, but these seemed to have lost their taste for harassing the ever-increasing number of people who came to the Center to donate, to get establishment certificates, or to take one of the changeover classes that Rital had started as a stopgap measure until the school board made up its mind whether to offer them through the schools.
"It's just as well," Tohm commented. "Exams will start soon, and it'd be nearly impossible to get people to spend time counter-demonstrating then."
Den found the visible daily progress his programs were making deeply satisfying, in a way that his in-Territory work had never been. He found himself wondering in odd moments just what would happen in Clear Springs after he left. Would his replacement understand that most of the local Gens were not particularly anti-Tecton after reading the reports on Save Our Kids? Would the demonstrations begin again when Sinth and his core group were released from jail in the fall? Most important, would the kind of diplomatic specialist Monruss had requested for Clear Springs, trained to negotiate with Gen governments, understand the very different tactics necessary to handle citizen-based groups like Save Our Kids and OLD SOKS?
Den doubted that the Regional Controller's Diplomatic Office had anyone who could deal with Clear Springs' problems as well as he could. In fact, the training given to inter-territorial troubleshooting specialists might well be more hindrance than help. There was a world of difference between politicians, who were individuals that could usually be convinced with facts, and groups of fanatics who already knew all the "facts" they cared to learn. The only way to counter an out-Territory style political movement was by using the same tactics to maintain a counter-movement, and doing it better.
The more Den thought about it, the more convinced he became that the only real solution was for him to stay in Clear Springs and see the matter through himself. He would miss the conviviality of in-Territory life--the Sudworks Brewery was no substitute for a certain shiltpron parlor not far from the Valzor Sime Center--but the lack of civilization in Clear Springs was easier to bear than knowing that his hard work might be destroyed. Mentally, the Donor began to compose a letter to Monruss, requesting that his temporary assignment to Clear Springs be indefinitely extended.
Considering how hard it is to get people to work out-Territory, Den thought ironically, this is one permanent assignment that I might actually get!
In fact, things were going so well in Clear Springs that neither Den nor Rital thought to consider how the spring's events would look to those unfamiliar with the out-Territory city's recent political history. It was thus an unpleasant surprise when Gati handed Rital an official communication from Monruss, just as they were preparing to set out for the power plant to recharge the batteries.
"If they're redoing the transfer assignments again, tell them I quit," Den said, not quite facetiously, as he opened up the channel's retainers.
Rital skimmed the message, then gave Dan an appalled look, all eight handling tentacles extended in shock. "We're summoned to Valzor for an official investigation into 'certain recent events,'" he said numbly. "Now that that business with Corzona is finished, the Regional Controller's Diplomatic Office has finally found the time to deal with local problems. They reviewed the reports that Controller Monruss sent with his application for a diplomatic specialist for Clear Springs, and they didn't like what they saw. They're blaming us for everything Sinth's done in the past year!"
Den snatched the page from his cousin's fingers and scanned it rapidly. "'....ordered to return to the District offices in Valzor by one week from today....answer to certain charges....why you have been unable to win the trust of out-Territory Gens in your area....before a panel of impartial investigators from the Regional Controller's Diplomatic Office....possible disciplinary action....'"
He looked up at the channel, equally horrified.
"Oh, shen!" they swore in unison.
Two days before the channel and Donor were scheduled to return to Valzor, some unexpected visitors were shown into Den's office: Rob Lifton and his mother Carla.
"We want to travel to Valzor," Carla announced as she seated herself on one of the visitor's chairs.
"Why?" Den asked. Although Carla hadn't joined Save Our Kids, or demonstrated in front of the Center for nearly nine months, she openly sympathized with their goals. She had studiously avoided having anything to do with the Center and its staff,not easy when her daughter was a charter member of OLD SOKS.
"Our friends and neighbors are in jail," Carla said a little indignantly. "Is it so strange that we should want to visit them?"
"Actually, yes." Den rearranged some of the papers on his desk. "It's been over a week since they were arrested, and you're the first people to inquire about a visit."
"I know," Carla said, "but Rob wants to see Bethany, and I..." She swallowed. "I got a phone call from Florence Grieves yesterday. She sounded so depressed. She says that very few of the other inmates speak English at all, and those that do aren't friendly, not even the Gens. Florence saved my sanity after my husband died--how can I desert her now?"
Den sighed. "Well, if you really want to go, you'll have to make an official request. I'll ask our secretary, Seena ambrov Carre, to get you the forms and help you fill them out. Then you'll have to wait for an Escort."
"A what?" Rob asked.
"An Escort is a channel or Donor who can keep you from provoking nearby Simes, and translate for you. All out-Territory Gens traveling in Tecton-governed territories are required to be escorted; it prevents accidents."
"How long would it take to get one of these Escorts?" Carla asked.
"Rital and I will be travelling to Valzor in two days. If you can get the paperwork done by then, you can come with us. Otherwise, it could take a while."
"We'll go in two days, then." She nodded in satisfaction, reaching for her purse. "My boss won't be happy about such short notice, but Florence is more important than the spring inventory."
"Fine." Den absentmindedly stuck a message slip into the proper cubbyhole on his desk. "Sometime before you go, you should both come in and donate, so you'll be lowfield."
Carla, who had started to stand, turned chalk white and plopped back into her chair. "Is that really necessary?" she asked.
"I'm afraid it is," Den said apologetically. "It's not precisely illegal for nondonors to travel in-Territory, but few hotels, restaurants, or taxi drivers will accept their business. And do you really want to wander around a city full of renSimes when you're high field?"
Carla slumped in defeat. "All right, then. If I have to, I will."
Rob laid a reassuring hand on her arm. "It's not that bad, Mother. Really."
"If you say so." She shuddered. "But please..."
Her voice trailed off, and Den lifted a politely inquisitive eyebrow.
"Could it be Hajene Madz?" she asked in a small voice. "I don't know if I could let any of the other channels... do that to me, but Hajene Madz is different."
'Unable to win the trust of out-Territory Gens', indeed, Den thought gleefully. Wait until the Regional Controller's office hears about this!
"I think that can be arranged," he told Carla.
Of the four travelers headed for Valzor on the night train, only Rob seemed to be excited about the trip. He kept asking Rital questions about life in-Territory, which the channel answered in monosyllables, since he was too worried about what awaited him in Valzor to carry on a conversation. Den was completely occupied with minimizing the inevitable damage that an eight hour train ride in retainers while in need would be doing to his channel. Carla, too, was subdued. She had managed to donate to Rital the day before, but neither of them had enjoyed it.
They arrived in Valzor early in the morning, and found a restaurant near the train station where the Gens ordered breakfast. Rital was too close to need to be interested in food, particularly after the strain of out-Territory travel, but he sipped a mug of tea to keep them company.
Afterwards, they took a taxi to the hotel where the two out-Territory Gens would be staying. There was a message for Den waiting at the desk, informing him that Terressa Bowlers, the Liftons' assigned Escort, had been caught up in an emergency, and asking the Donor to fill in until she could get free. So, after Carla and Rob were checked in, Rital headed for the Valzor Center to get more information about the progress of the Regional Diplomatic Office's investigation, while Den escorted the two out-Territory Gens to the jail where the twenty-seven arrested demonstrators were imprisoned while awaiting trial.
The district prison was in the oldest section of the city, a squat, heavily fortified stone building that still looked like the Pen it had once been. Den arranged with the prison warden for Rob and Carla to see Bethany and Florance Grieves. When they were settled in the bare, depressing interview room, Den headed for the infirmary, hoping to find a mug of trin tea and more congenial company than the guards would provide.
Hajene Rassam, the Second Order channel in charge of the prison's small infirmary, was a middle-aged woman with hair grey as iron and a temperament that was just as yielding. She was obviously unhappy with her less-than-prestigious assignment, and inclined to take it out on anyone nearby.
"Those lorshes!" she exclaimed, when Den confessed what had brought him to the jail. "Why anyone would want to visit them is beyond my comprehension. They've been nothing but trouble from the moment they arrived." She busied herself getting the Donor some tea. "I'm supposed to zlin incoming prisoners for contagious diseases--they spread pretty quickly in such close quarters. You would have thought I was a Freeband Raider going for a kill, from the fuss those idiots put up."
Den shrugged, accepting his tea and sipping cautiously at the hot liquid. "Well, where they come from, berserkers are a lot more common than channels, and their religion prohibits them from having contact with Simes."
"They're lorshes," she insisted. "Won't donate, haven't the faintest idea how to behave themselves..." She snorted in open contempt. "We had to put six of them into isolation cells--the other Gen prisoners were getting a little tired of being preached at, and they threatened to shut the idiots up permanently if something wasn't done. I can't blame them. I had the leader, Reverend What's-his-name, in here for a few days--melic withdrawal--and my Donor was about ready to strangle him. The things he was saying...and that's when he wasn't hallucinating."
"Have there been any injuries?" Den asked worriedly. The out-Territory press might have been willing to accept the arrests without too much comment, but physical abuse of helpless prisoners in a foreign jail was a terrific way to sell newspapers.
Rassam shook her head. "Some of them got shoved around a bit, that's all. They refused to let me look at them, so they can't have been hurt too badly."
Remembering how Sinth had refused treatment for a life-threatening transfer burn, Den wasn't convinced of this, but he didn't think it was worth arguing the issue with an obviously closed mind.
When he returned to the interview room, he found Rob and Carla looking content, if not happy.
"Did you have a good visit?" the Donor asked.
Carla nodded. "We prayed together, and talked about what the Scriptures truly mean. They don't specifically forbid donating, you know."
"I'm not surprised," Den said. "They were written shortly after the downfall of Ancient civilization, weren't they? That was centuries before there were any functioning channels to donate to."
"God knew about channels," Carla insisted. "And His written words will tell us His wishes, if we have the wisdom to understand them properly."
Den had a hard time understanding how a book could be considered authoritative on subjects that didn't exist when it was written, but he knew better than to argue religion with a True Believer, so he dropped the subject. When Carla stopped off at the bathroom, he asked Rob how his talk with Bethany had gone.
"She was a bit mad at me for telling you folks about the demonstration," he confessed, "but when I told her about what you and Hajene Madz did for me and Annie last summer, she said she understood."
"Then she forgave you for spying?"
"Well, mostly," Rob said hopefully. "She's not as convinced all Simes are bad as she used to be. In fact, she wouldn't have been at the demonstration at all, if her uncle hadn't made her. And in the past week, she's been talking to some of the other Gens here. It hadn't really dawned on her that there were people whose friends' and relatives' lives depend on the selyn those Gens in Clear Springs donate. She thought it all went for cars and cheap electricity."
"But she understands now?" Den asked tiredly, wishing Bethany's change of mind had happened before she was arrested.
Rob shrugged. "She said I'd given her a lot to think about, but she hasn't quite decided what to do about it. Her uncle still insists that all contact with Simes is sinful, or at least he was before they locked him into an isolation cell."
Somehow, Den wasn't surprised that Sinth was one of the six out-Territory prisoners who had been put in isolation for unwanted preaching.
On their way back to the hotel, Rob and Carla began to argue over the proper interpretation of certain key passages of either their Scriptures, or some theologian's commentary on them, the Donor wasn't sure which and didn't really care. He had been forced to read excerpts from the Church of the Purity's Scriptures in one of his classes on out-Territory culture, and had found them to be full of hatred and violence, and even downright obscene in places. Den listened with amazement (and more than a little amusement) as the two out-Territory Gens came up with two very different meanings for one sentence, neither of which made the least sense when taken in context. As far as he could tell, there were only two rules to the game: the individual words or phrases had to be contained within the Conservative Congregation's version of Church of the Purity Scriptures, and it was against the rules to declare that any mistakes existed, even if those mistakes were easily demonstrated, like the bit about slimy tentacles that was currently being discussed. (Carla was insisting that Sime tentacles had "spiritual" slime, whatever that was supposed to mean, while Rob claimed that this showed that the passage in question referred to new Simes, whose tentacles were covered with the blood and other fluids of breakout, not adult channels.)
Deciding that the two Gens could solve this weighty issue without his help, Den introduced them to the substitute Escort who was waiting for them back at the hotel, and went to the Sime Center in search of his cousin. As he took a short cut across the Center's lawn, he was still shaking his head over the uselessness of trying to determine what people centuries dead had thought about modern issues, instead of concentrating on how today's problems could be solved by today's people using today's technology.
Rital pounced on him as soon as he came in the door. "Monruss wants to talk to us," he said.
"When?" the Donor asked.
"Now," the channel said, leading the way.
All thoughts of the intricacies of out-Territory theology fled.
"What the bloody shen have you two been doing?" Monruss scolded, looking like an indignant pigeon ruffling its feathers. "Den, I sent you out there to stop the demonstrations, and six and a half weeks later you have a blockade instead. Not a great improvement."
Den squirmed uncomfortably, but before he could open his mouth to explain, Monruss had rounded on Rital. "And you, Rital. Even if your cousin there didn't understand the consequences of his actions, you've been out-Territory long enough to know better. Don't you two ever speak to each other?"
Rital also tried and failed to get in a word of explanation.
"Now I have the jail warden complaining about being stuck with twenty-seven Gens who won't donate and spend their time trying to convert the other inmates to their lunatic religion. The newspapers are printing lurid tales of a reporter being held at gunpoint to prevent her from getting help for a changeover victim, and the Regional Controller's office is on my neck, wanting to know why I haven't pulled you out of Clear Springs for incompetence, and offering to do it for me." He glared at them both, daring them to speak.
"I've done what I can for you," he continued somewhat more calmly after a moment of silence. "The investigating team is reading through the reports today, so they probably won't want to talk to you about them until tomorrow. That will give you a chance to have transfer first. Now get out of here and let me get some work done."
When they reached the privacy of their assigned transfer room, Rital turned lost eyes on Den. "If they pull us out of Clear Springs for incompetence, neither of us is likely to get out-Territory again!" he said, stunned at the enormity of the penalty. "Den, what have we done?"
"We did what we had to," the Donor insisted as he guided his cousin over to the transfer lounge, and mentally berated whichever lorsh from the Regional Controller's office was responsible for starting this investigation just before their transfer. "And it worked! We got rid of the demonstrations, and more Gens than ever are using the Center. Whatever the investigators decide, they can't take that away from us."
"It's all right for you," Rital said, just a little scornfully. "You'd rather work at an in-Territory Center anyway, and you've got enough talent that no controller is going to mind one problem on an otherwise excellent record."
Den shook his head thoughtfully. "Two months ago, I would have agreed with you," he said quietly. "But I've discovered that I have a talent for coping with out-Territory politics, just like you have a talent for dealing with individual out-Territory Gens. I want to keep using that skill, and I don't want to see my work in Clear Springs messed up by someone who just can't understand the situation."
"And you think you do understand it?" Rital asked skeptically.
"Not as well as I'd like, but I do know one thing." Den let himself feel his cousin's need, and felt that need begin to grow in response. "Those Gens aren't out there screaming on our sidewalk every day because they're afraid you might hurt someone; they hate you because they know you won't. Your existence makes them question all the fundamental assumptions that their religion has given them about the universe and their place in it. That's a lot more threatening than any number of berserkers."
"I hadn't thought of it that way," Rital admitted, sitting on the transfer lounge.
Den began massaging away the knots of tension in his cousin's shoulders. "No one in the Tecton thinks of it that way," he said. "That's been our problem all along. We think that all we have to do is prove that channels won't hurt them, and they'll magically accept us. But until we understand why they perceive us as a threat, how can we prove anything to them?"
"But they do fear that channels will hurt them, at least at first," Rital insisted. "I zlin it every time I take a first donation."
"Oh, sure they're nervous," Den shrugged it off. "But that fear they can face, if the channel takes the time to win their trust--and you're an expert at it. That's not the fear that motivates the demonstrators, or the kind of political campaign Sinth has been running."
"That." Rital groaned, covering his face with both hands. "How can we convince the Tecton that that sort of politics even exists, much less that the two of us are able to fight it effectively?
Den nodded. "It's not only the out-Territory Gens who have trouble accepting new ideas, is it? This whole investigation is one big misunderstanding on the part of the Diplomatic Office. They mean well, but if they pull us out of Clear Springs, Sinth will have won, and the whole city will know it. On the other hand, given six months to work while he serves his jail sentence, we could have the city so pro-Sime that Save Our Kids would have to give up."
Rital's laterals were extended, searching for the selyn they needed.
Den smiled ruefully, and held out his arms in invitation. "This may not be the best time to mention it, but I was going to ask you and Monruss for a permanent assignment to Clear Springs, so I could help it happen--after the last two months, Valzor's changeover ward seems pretty dull. That is, if you want me."
"Want you!" Rital was finding it more difficult to speak as his need rose to the surface under the Donor's expert coaxing, but the possessive strength with which his handling tentacles gripped the Gen's arms left no doubt of his feelings. "Though I may not have the authority to permanently assign the cockroaches in my office, by the time this is over," he warned, letting his laterals slip into contact at last.
"Then we'll win or lose this one--together," Den said as he leaned over to make the lip contact, knowing that his cousin was probably unable to hear his words, but also knowing that he would zlin their meaning, if not their content.
They had always had good transfers; they were a close match, and they knew each other's habits and preferences well. However, for the past year or so, since Rital had been assigned to Clear Springs, their closeness had been lessened by the mutual awareness that their goals and commitments were very different. With this barrier removed, there was an extra empathy between them that Den had never felt before, not even on the long-ago day when he had qualified as a Donor and officially gone to work for the Tecton.
Then, he had been barely more than a boy, facing alone a nebulous and largely undefined future. Now, he knew exactly what he was committing himself to, and the knowledge that his cousin was working for the same thing gave him the confidence that they would succeed.
We did so much when we were working separately. How can we fail now that we are working together?
Early that evening, when Den and Rital met to discuss strategy in the staff lounge, they were visited by a miniature thunderstorm, in the form of a furious Liren Kolpev.
"All right," she demanded, hands on hips. "Which one of you practical jokers thought it would be funny to tell every anti-Tecton organization in New Washington Territory that I was interested in becoming a member?"
Den wasn't about to let her spoil his mood. "Why, Liren," he said, smiling. "I'm so glad to see you again. How are you? We're just fine, as you see. You're looking much better now that you've deflated a bit..."
"Deflated!" She glared at him, then suddenly began to chuckle. "All right, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you."
"If you don't believe that, don't expect me to!" Rital teased, giving her a hug and bending over to kiss her forehead. Den saw the channel's eyes unfocus as he used the opportunity to zlin her deeply. "You're doing well," he approved.
Liren rolled her eyes at Den, with the exasperation of a Donor who has suffered through too much mother-henning from zlinprying channels interesting themselves in her state of health. Den, who remembered only too well how he had been mobbed the time he had sprained an ankle, tactfully changed the subject by asking, "What was that about anti-Sime organizations?"
She frowned. "For the last month, I've been getting two or three letters a day at Jannun's out-Territory post office box, from various groups asking me to join them in their fight against Simes, or at least send money. Most of the letters are full of vicious, hateful lies about killer channels and Tecton conspiracies. I think I've gotten over twenty individual requests to come and demonstrate at the Clear Springs Center. You two are the only ones who know that I can be reached at that box number, so I assumed one or both of you was having a little joke." She looked up at them uncertainly.
"I did give your name and that address to the student-run anti-Sime group in Clear Springs," Den said slowly. "They were offering to send free information on their organization and activities to anyone who signed up. I thought it might give you a better idea of what was happening. But I swear, I didn't sign you up for any other groups."
"Then how did I end up with a sackful of hate mail?" Liren asked, obviously not believing him.
Den thought it over for a long moment, then suddenly remembered the lecture on Sinth's recruiting tactics Tohm and Silva had given him the first time they had met. "Mailing lists, of course!" he exclaimed.
"Liren, I've got to see those letters. If I'm right, they'll show those people from the Regional Controller's office exactly how the tiny anti-Sime minority in Clear Springs has managed to cause such a fuss!"
Neither Rital nor Liren understood why Den was so excited, but Liren obediently led the way to her office and showed them a large canvas totebag full to overflowing with letters. Most had been mailed in the cheapest available envelopes, with URGENT, Dated Material, and Immediate Response Requested splashed on the outside in equally cheap red ink, to make them look as impressive as possible.
"They started coming about ten days before Linnel was born," Liren explained. "I was staying at the maternity center upriver by then; since the baby's a channel, Monruss wouldn't let me stay here. Jannun just set the letters aside for me, and with a new baby to look after, and Ram and Ina feeling neglected, I didn't get to them until yesterday. They were so awful that I almost tossed them all in the garbage, but one of Ram's little friends collects stamps, so I was going to let him have them."
"It's a good thing for us that you didn't," Den said, busily sorting the envelopes by postmark. "See, Students for a Sime-free City--that's the college anti-Sime group I was telling you about--immediately gave your name and address to Sinth's Save Our Kids. That's why those are the earliest letters. According to Tohm and Silva, Sinth recruits his new members by buying or trading membership lists with other organizations whose members might have similar interests. See, that's how these conservative church groups in other nearby cities and towns got your name. And, of course, the national organizations are equally interested in getting more members, but they can afford to send sample copies of their monthly magazines to prospective members. If a certain percentage end up joining, and paying dues, it's worth their investment." Den picked one such publication up, and thumbed through it rapidly. "And what do you know, here's a three-page article written by Sinth himself, urging people to come and help him stop our establishment screening!"
With growing excitement, they began to read, tracing the strategy Sinth had used to organize his mass demonstration. By the time Liren had to leave for the nursery to feed Linnel, Den was reasonably confident that he had the hard evidence he would require to convince the investigating team that the bulk of the anti-Sime activism that had plagued the Clear Springs Center was not locally initiated.
If they believed it.
Early the following morning, Den made a strategic telephone call to Tohm and Silva in Clear Springs before joining Rital in the conference room which had been set aside for the investigation. The Regional Controller's Diplomatic Office had sent three representatives: Alim Fassmij, a young and idealistic First Order channel who was being groomed for a Controllership of his own, Kirlin Mayori, a career administrator who had gone through her Donor's training a few years ahead of Den's class, and the committee's chair, Quess ambrov Shaeldor, fresh from his triumph in Corzona Territory. He was a balding Donor of indeterminate years, dressed in a spotless uniform, and looking fully awake in spite of the early hour. He was not participating in the subdued conversation between his fellow committee members, preferring to look Den and Rital over with a measuring intensity that made the younger Donor want to squirm like a small boy caught in mischief.
Householders, Den thought resentfully. Why do they always look down on non-Householders as if we were second class citizens? The Householdings might have founded the modern Tecton, but it wouldn't have survived long without us "houseless" channels and Donors.
Of the three committee members, only Quess had spent a significant amount of time outside of the Tecton-governed Sime Territories. Den thought the senior Donor was the most likely of the three to truly understand what had been happening in Clear Springs, but even the most openminded of Householders tended to judge people by their results, often without making allowances for the difficulty of the task. If Quess decided that they had failed where he could have succeeded, he would probably rule against them.
Fassmij was too inexperienced to appreciate the differences between out-Territory Gens who lived near the border and frequently interacted with Simes, and the Gens of Clear Springs who had never seen channels except in the past year. Kirlin Mayori probably didn't care about the out-Territory Gens' opinion of the Clear Springs Center as such, but from her expression, she was annoyed at them for causing a Situation, and thus hauling her away from her comfortable office at the regional capitol. Both Fassmij and Mayori would most likely follow the recommendation of Quess, as the senior and most experienced member of the group.
So it's Quess the inter-territorial diplomatic hero that I've got to convince, Den thought as he and his cousin took their seats. Shen.
Monruss was there in an advisory capacity only, and did not have a vote. He was inclined in their favor, Den knew, if only to justify his actions in sending them to Clear Springs in the first place, but he had already displayed his basic lack of understanding of the situation. Any help he tried to give might do more harm than good.
When everybody had filled their tea mugs, and the Gens had helped themselves to muffins and donuts, Quess cleared his throat and indicated the stacks of paper that filled a substantial percentage of the conference table's center. "We have been going over your official reports for the past year," he said neutrally, "and have discovered several areas of concern. First, there have been continuous, violent demonstrations since the Clear Springs Sime Center opened. We expected some trouble when we approved a Center so far from the border, but this has gone far beyond our predictions. Second, there have been a number of events involving one or both of you which seem to have been grossly mishandled. In the past two months alone, these include public accusations of Hajene Madz forcing an unwilling out-Territory Gen to donate--," Quess nodded towards Rital, "--and a changeover victim who attacked an out-Territory Gen in your presence, Sosu Milnan."
Even though there was nothing he could have done to prevent Zakry from attacking Sinth, Den had an overwhelming urge to squirm under the older Donor's implied accusation.
"Last but not least, while the arrest of the twenty-seven out-Territory Gens was legal enough, no other Sime Center has had to resort to police action in order to stay open. Taken together, these incidents show a consistent lack of trust in your abilities on the part of Clear Springs' population. We realize that the reports don't tell everything, so we would like to hear your version of these events, and any explanations for your actions that you might wish to offer." He settled back in his chair and prepared to listen.
Den took a deep breath, and began talking. He explained the tactics that Sinth had used to forge Save Our Kids into an effective weapon against the Sime Center, using the library censorship attempt and the letters and magazines that Liren had received as documentation that many of the protesters came from outside Clear Springs. He described the unfortunate coincidence of Ezrul Tains' refusal to keep the protests within legal limits, and how it had led to OLD SOKS and the passage of Tohm's resolution.
Rital told about Bethany's accidental donation, and Den confirmed that there had been no reasonable way for Rital to have known her real purpose in coming to the Center. Den explained how Zakry had managed to nearly kill Sinth in his presence.
And most importantly, Den described as well as he could the fundamental world view of Sinth and his supporters, that would never allow them to accept the non-threatening presence of channels, precisely because they did not present a danger. He used Sinth's refusal of Rital's help, and Zakry's suicide, to illustrate their willingness to die before giving up their convictions. And to emphasize that only a small number of Clear Springs Gens shared those convictions, he told them of the virtual disappearance of the demonstrations after the arrests. "If there were hundreds of Gens in Clear Springs who wanted us gone, getting rid of only twenty-seven of them wouldn't even have slowed the protests," he finished hoarsely. He took a sip of stone-cold tea from his mug, only then realizing that he had been talking for nearly three hours.
Quess shifted in his seat, discretely stretching his cramped muscles. "This has been very interesting, Sosu Milnan, but I'm not sure I accept your analysis of the situation. I've never heard of the kind of tactics you describe in all the time I've spent out-Territory, and I'm not sure I believe they really exist. May I borrow those letters of yours? I'd like to read them more thoroughly."
"Certainly." Den pushed the stack across to the older Donor.
Quess gathered them up. "I suggest that we take a two hour break, then, so that we can examine the evidence more closely. If that is all right with you?" he asked the other members of the committee.
They nodded, and everyone began to stand, stretch, and gather belongings. "Did I convince Quess?" Den asked his cousin privately as they headed for the cafeteria and lunch.
"Den, the man has just finished negotiating an end to a centuries-old war between three Territories, and he talked them into joining the Tecton as well," Rital reminded his cousin. "Do you really think he's going to be impressed with our efforts in Clear Springs?"
"Shen, I thought I'd done better than that."
"Look at it this way. At least he didn't fall asleep."
When they reconvened after lunch, Kirlin Mayori pushed the stack of letters across the table to Den. "These are all very interesting, Sosu Milnan," she said a little petulantly, "but I don't really see how they prove your claim that you and Hajene Madz were acting appropriately. It was your job to prevent trouble, not to combat it once it started. If anything, your evidence this morning demonstrates a complete inability to anticipate events that anyone familiar with out-Territory culture would have predicted."
Suddenly angry at hearing such harsh criticism from someone who had never worked at an out-Territory Sime Center, Den glared at her. "May I respectfully remind you that neither my cousin nor myself has any training as a diplomatic troubleshooter?" he asked icily. "Rital was assigned to open the Clear Springs Center because he's good at handling people, not politics. If he hadn't been succeeding at that, Reverend Sinth would never have seen him as a threat, and Save Our Kids would never have been founded. The existence of such organized resistance is proof of his ability. I was sent out to Clear Springs because your office was too busy with other problems to send the expert Controller Monruss requested. I improvised as best I could, and along the way I learned something about how out-Territory politics works on a local level. I'm not sure anyone from your office could have done better."
"Oh, come now," Mayori objected.
"I'm serious," Den said. "I haven't taken any diplomatic troubleshooting courses, but I spent quite a bit of time reading the relevent textbooks, looking for ideas. All of the strategies listed centered on identifying community leaders, and convincing them that a Sime Center was in their best interests. That was never Clear Springs' problem. The mayor and the newspaper have been on our side from the first, and most of the rest of the town is at least willing to go along with them. In fact, during the Faith Day rush, almost a third of the population was so convinced that the Sime Center was in their best interests that they were willing to force their way through an angry mob of anti-Sime demonstrators to support us by donating."
Fassmij dropped his pen onto his notepad, grimacing with disgust. "If you had the whole town so convinced that the Sime Center was in their best interests, why was that mob of demonstrators there in the first place?" he demanded.
"Because they value the integrity of their religion over worldly self-interest," Den answered a little wearily, trying once again to find a way to make them understand his insight into the demonstrators' motivations. "They are so dedicated to upholding their beliefs that they are willing to spend huge amounts of time and money to fight our presence in Clear Springs, even if that means facing the disapproval of the rest of the town. They firmly believe that they are helping to save the souls of the donors they shove and scream at. You can't diplomatically negotiate with such fanatics--they are already firmly convinced that they know all the answers, and no amount of reason or logic will convince them that they are wrong, or even that compromise is possible. All you can do with people like Sinth and his followers is limit their effectiveness. My methods may have been a little unorthodox, but they worked--and if I can finish what I started, Clear Springs will keep Sinth from making a nuisance of himself when he gets out of jail."
Monruss cleared his throat. "There have been some developments I believe you ought to know about before you make your final decision," he told the investigating committee. "First, this inquiry has somehow become public knowledge in Clear Springs, and a number of the out-Territory Gens don't seem to be happy about it." He emptied a box full of phone message slips onto the table. "My office's inter-territorial phone line has been tied up all morning with Gens who want to express their confidence in Hajene Madz and Sosu Milnan. Mayor Kroag reports that several nearby towns are thinking about asking for Sime Centers of their own, and says," the channel cleared his throat and read in his accented English, "'don't blow it by getting rid of your best representatives.' The newspapers from Clear Springs and several other towns want interviews--and they don't sound happy."
"This puts a little different perspective on the situation," Quess admitted, leafing through the stack of message slips. "I find it incredible that so many out-Territory Gens would call to express their opinions about a specific channel."
Even Den found the number of messages hard to believe, if not their existence and subject matter. He would have been pleased with a dozen calls, but there seemed to be roughly ten times that. I should be feeling guilty, the Donor reflected. However, if the investigating panel was willing to accept the phone calls as representing a cross section of Clear Springs citizens, Den wasn't about to enlighten them. After all, he had explained exactly how such tactics worked, and they hadn't believed him. "But the constant demonstrations," Fassmij protested. "What about those twenty-seven prisoners sitting in the district jail?"
"That's even more interesting," Monruss answered. "Guss Narlin, the prison warden, phoned me during the break. Apparently, the twenty-one out-Territory Gens who are not in solitary confinement got together last night and decided that their Scriptures don't forbid association with all Simes, after all. Eighteen of them have told the warden that they are now willing to donate--to Hajene Madz only. I gather they don't trust Hajene Rassan. Narlin said that they were all insane, but he wants Hajene Madz over there this afternoon to take their fields down, before they have a chance to change their minds."
For a moment, Den thought that the committee was ready to rule in his and Rital's favor, but then Quess fished a sheet of paper out of the stack at his elbow. "Tell me, Sosu Milnan," he said sternly, passing it over, "if you are such an expert on out-Territory politics, how do you explain this?"
With dismay, Den scanned the letter which he had sent to Monruss with his first interim report.
"This letter hardly shows either understanding or sympathy towards out-Territory culture," the Householder continued implacably. "I don't mind telling you that it raises some serious questions about whether you should be allowed an out-Territory license at all."
Den quickly controlled the icy dread that gripped him at Quess's statement, but not before the channels were able to zlin it. "Look," he said desperately, as his hopes for the future began to crumble, "I'm not going to pretend that I don't feel that many, maybe even most, out-Territory Gens are less than rational by our standards when the subject of Simes comes up. Of course, by their standards, every Gen in this room is certifiably insane for wanting to be a Donor, and our system of government is just as incomprehensible to them as theirs is to us."
"Their Congress isn't so different from our Tecton Council," Quess corrected impatiently. "I've dealt with it often enough."
"But it is!" The Donor stopped trying to control his nager, letting the channels zlin how deeply he believed what he was saying. "The superficial structure may be similar, but the whole philosophy behind it is distorted beyond recognition because no one out there can zlin."
"I think we know that, Sosu Milnan," Fassmij said, with a slightly patronizing tone.
"But do you really understand what it means?" Den insisted. "No one can tell how people really feel about an issue, unless they say so publicly., and that's shaped their whole political system. Except for the few issues they personally care about, out-Territory politicians will cast their vote for the side with the loudest and most energetic activists, whether or not the silent majority agrees. Everybody in Clear Springs knows and expects this, and it works pretty well for them. Then we came along and opened a Sime Center, and instead of running the aggressive publicity campaign they expected, we just sat there behind our fence and let the anti-Sime faction tell lies about us. Some of the local Gens are still wondering what we're trying to hide.
"Every time I made progress, it was because I discarded the techniques developed to win over junct Sime towns, and substituted the same tactics which were being used with such success against us. If the Tecton wants to keep a Center open in Clear Springs, it will have to run its public relations by Clear Springs' rules. I've spent the last two months learning those rules, through trial and error. I still think most out-Territory Gens are crazy, but my publicity campaign worked. In the last week, the Clear Springs Center's sidewalk was clear for the first time in a year. How will it help the Tecton to win over out-Territory society, if you take away my license just because I achieved the right results by an alternative method?"
The three committee members broke into a babble of comment. Most of it, to Den's dismay, seemed to center on whether it was ever permissible for a Tecton Donor to blithely ignore the accumulated wisdom of those more experienced in the field of public relations.
I've lost, he thought numbly. It's all over except for setting our punishment. They're too bound in their own traditions to accept an outsider's innovations as valid, and because of that, Clear Springs is going to be a battleground again. He slumped in his seat, too dejected to try defending himself any more.
At last, Quess called for the official vote on whether Den and Rital should be allowed to continue at the Clear Springs Center.
"The out-Territory Gens I've met haven't been insane or unreasonable," Fassmij said, with the unconscious arrogance of youth. "If they can't convince the town to trust them, I say let someone else try."
Mayori shrugged and indicated the stack of phone message slips. "They've obviously won the trust of some of the Gens out there. It's hard enough to find channels and Donors willing to work so far out-Territory--if those two actually want to stay in Clear Springs and deal with the Simephobes, I'm inclined to let them do it."
Quess sighed and looked at his laced fingers. "It's my decision, then," he said tiredly. "I'm not convinced that the two of you have handled some of these incidents as well as you should have, and I don't like your attitude, Sosu Milnan--," he indicated the stack of reports, "--but I also can't ignore the support you've gleaned. If the mayor and the local newspaper both want you in Clear Springs, pulling you out of there might do the Tecton more harm than good. So I'm casting my vote with Kirlin, with the recommendation that Controller Monruss keep a closer eye on the situation to prevent further incidents."
We've won! Den thought in disbelief, as he exchanged relieved and triumphant grins with Rital. They're going to let us see it through.
They spent the rest of the afternoon at the jail, where Rital took donations from twenty nervous Gens. (Two of the three holdouts changed their minds when they saw that their fellows were unharmed.) Afterwards, Den and Rital treated Rob and Carla to a celebratory dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, and then all four boarded the night train back to Clear Springs. It was only an hour after dawn when the train pulled into the station. After seeing the two out-Territory Gens on their way, channel and Donor wearily claimed their luggage and headed for the Center.
Tohm and Silva met them at the front desk, looking disgustingly wide awake to Den, who was never at his best before breakfast. "What did they decide?" Silva asked eagerly. "Will you be staying?"
Rital nodded. "It looked pretty bad there for a while, but then just over a hundred people spontaneously decided to call Valzor to express their support for us. Isn't that strange?"
"I'll say," Tohm agreed. "We had over three hundred people who said they'd call, but I guess a lot of them didn't bother."
"More likely they couldn't get through," Den suggested. "The main office only has one phone line for inter-territorial calls. Controller Monruss was a little upset about having it tied up all day."
Tohm shrugged. "Oh, well, at least it worked! But could you give us a little more warning next time?" he asked the Donor. "These things are easier to coordinate if we can get organized first. Speaking of organization," he went on, "the school board is meeting tomorrow night to consider your changeover classes. Since the remaining membership of Save Our Kids can't keep Gens out of the Center the way they used to, they've turned all their energies to keeping you out of the schools." Tohm reached into the worn leather briefcase at his side and pulled out a stack of papers. "This is a copy of the petition they've been circulating door to door--," he said, passing a clipboard to Den. "--and here are the misinformation pamphlets they've been leaving in most of the town's mailboxes." These joined the petition. "They've also been getting letters into the local papers, of course--," a dozen copies of editorial pages from the Clarion and other local papers landed on top of the petitions and pamphlets, "--but Hank Fredricks had a copy of your information packet--smart move, that--and did this feature on the classes." A local news section balanced precariously on the top of the stack.
"We've both got ten o'clock classes today, so we've got to run," Silva said, "but we'll be by afterwards to talk over some ideas we've come up with."
The two young out-Territory Gens waved goodbye and trotted briskly away.
Den tried to free a hand to wave back, then swore as the newspapers slid off the petitions and pamphlets and hit the floor with a loud smack.
Rital knelt to gather them, prudently trying not to laugh at this exhibition of Gen clumsiness. He restacked the sheets of newsprint into a neat pile, and presented it to the Donor with a flourish.
"Welcome home, cousin," he said with a grin.
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