A Time For Letting Go
by Kerry Schaefer
(later known as Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer)
Reprinted from Ambrov Zeor #14
I could see the puzzled look on Frevven's face as the CORMORANT maneuvered ponderously into its berth alongside the pier. I was probably the last person in the world that he expected to find coming in on the boat from the mainland. He shaded his eyes with one hand and the sun gleamed briefly off the metal surface of the retainers he wore. I knew Frevven couldn't see me clearly at this distance, even with the help of his eyeglasses, but he looked directly at me nonetheless, so I figured he knew I was there. He just couldn't believe what he zlinned. I wanted to wave and yell down a greeting, but I knew he would disapprove of such undignified behavior from a Tecton Donor amongst out-Territory Gens, so I waited impatiently in the sticky midafternoon heat while the last sails were lowered and the boat was secured to the dock.
Finally the passengers were allowed to disembark and I walked down the gangway and over to Frevven, unable to keep from grinning. "Surprise!" I announced cheerily.
"V'lissia Chalmers," he said, squinting his greenish-gold eyes against the glare of the sun, "it really is you, isn't it?" Somehow he just didn't sound too pleased. I couldn't help it. I giggled. He frowned.
"I was expecting Darnay Tibbetts," he said stiffly.
"Darnay was taken ill, so the District Controller sent me in his place, Hajene Aylmeer," I replied formally, miffed at his lack of enthusiasm over my presence.
"So you're to be my Donor this month?" he asked coldly.
"That's right. Will I do?"
"I suppose so," he admitted grudgingly, and then shrugged. "Besides I don't have too much choice in the matter, do I?"
Tact has never been Frevven's strong point, so I didn't bother to be insulted. Besides, I knew our transfer was scheduled for the day after tomorrow, so I figured he was pretty touchy just now. Determinedly cheerful, I ignored his last comment and turned my attention to Kurt, who, as escort, stood carefully between Frevven and the rest of the crowd on the dock. He still had the same little moustache and the same twinkle in his blue eyes.
"Hi, V'lis," he remarked. "How have you been these days? Do you miss Innsfrey?"
"I don't know. I've been too busy to miss anything lately. But it is nice to be back, even if only for a short while. Tell me, what are you two doing here at the dock? Certainly I don't warrant a welcoming committee."
"Oh, I'm on my way to the mainland. I've been assigned as Donor to someone in Easthaven this month, so I'll be boarding the CORMORANT as soon as they're ready for passengers. Frevven had a meeting with the Town Council this morning and it ran a little late, so we came directly here."
When he mentioned Frevven, Kurt's expression changed almost imperceptibly. If I hadn't known Kurt so well, I might not even have noticed. He was worried about something, I was sure. I looked at him curiously, hoping for some clue.
"Well, you and Frevven had best head back to the Center," he went on. "Sorry I won't get to visit with you while you're here." Glancing over at the channel, Kurt winked at me. "He's all yours, V'lis. Try to take good care of him, will you?"
Frevven glanced up quickly at Kurt, an annoyed look on his face. Then he seemed to realize the Gen was kidding and he went back to wearing his usual guarded expression. We said our goodbyes and headed down along the wooden pier towards the town.
"So tell me, how do you like running an out-Territory Sime Center?" I asked, trying to make conversation. "How long has it been since Shanneh was reassigned to Belhaven and you took over here on Innsfrey? Almost a year?"
"One year and three months. And I don't like it at all." And he didn't sound as if he wanted to talk about it either. Oh well, so much for the conversation.
Walking through the narrow cobblestone streets of the town, I was overwhelmed with memories of the time I had spent on Innsfrey Island. Could it really have been just a little over a year ago when this was home to me? The whole thing seemed eternities away. Even the horrible time when I had been kidnapped and held captive by the fanatical followers of the Salvation Church, when Frevven had so narrowly managed to rescue me, almost at the cost of his own life, seemed so far in the past as to have happened to some other girl. Everything had been so much simpler then. It was ever so much more hectic for me now in Danversport. I decided to make the best of this short vacation, even if the weather was hot and miserable. At least it was a little cooler out here than it had been on the mainland.
We were scarcely two blocks away from the Center, just outside the ship chandler's shop, when I noticed that Frevven had stopped dead in his tracks. He seemed to be concentrating intently, with the air of someone listening for a faint sound that he's not quite sure he heard. Then he apparently pinpointed what he was searching for, because he turned and ran down the narrow alley by the chandlery, almost colliding with a couple of local fishermen coming out the front door laden with supplies. Ignoring the resultant commotion caused by the two startled Gens dropping their purchases all over the sidewalk in surprise, I bolted down the alley after Frevven. A warehouse door stood open at the end of the alleyway and since Frevven could have gone nowhere else, I went hesitantly inside also. Looking around the dimly-lit interior of the warehouse, I decided that I liked this situation less all the time. Gathering my long skirt together in one hand, I held it up off the floor and close around me to avoid getting snagged on anything and scrambled around numerous barrels and shelves, searching for Frevven. I remember hearing voices outside in the alleyway; angry, confused voices.
I soon located Frevven down on his knees next to a very dishevelled and extremely distraught young girl, who was quite obviously in the last stages of changeover. He was talking to her softly, trying to calm her fears while he examined her. I suppose I shouldn't have been, but I remember being surprised at the unaccustomed tenderness in his voice.
"It's all right now. You'll be fine. You know who I am, don't you? I've been at your school teaching those new changeover classes. Relax now, it's almost over. That's it. Good. What's your name?" he asked, brushing her damp hair back from her forehead.
"Janni," she responded weakly, "Janni Cabrell. I was trying to get to the Center, but there were so many people -- "
"Don't worry, Janni. You'll be perfectly all right here. We're your friends and we'll help you." He looked up over his shoulder at me. "V'lis, I require your assistance. See to the child while I go lock the outside door and get out of these damn retainers."
I opened my mouth to object, but Frevven cut off my protests unspoken. "Do as I say. Now!" he ordered curtly, and disappeared toward the door.
I sank down next to Janni, uncurling her fingers and giving her my hands to hold. The new tentacle sheaths showed clearly along her forearms and I realized we had very little time. Breakout contractions would begin in earnest very soon now.
Someone pounded on the outside door and I could hear muffled shouts. I concentrated hard on calm and reassurance, not wanting to communicate my growing anxiety to Janni.
"Hurry up, Frevven," I said urgently. He was standing behind me now, but retainers aren't designed to be taken off easily, and I knew it.
Janni clutched my hands tightly and screamed in pain. This brought more frenzied pounding on the door and insistent demands to be let in. There was obviously getting to be quite a crowd outside the building. Janni looked up at me, her dark eyes wide and frightened.
"I'm sorry," she gasped. "Next time I won't scream." And she was as good as her word, enduring the next contraction with her teeth clenched.
"Frevven -- " I began, but the warning was unnecessary. He was already opposite me, taking Janni's hands from mine.
"Now, Janni, with the next contraction, throw your hands open, the way you've been taught. That's good. That's the girl. You're almost there," he coached, and you'd have thought no one else in the world existed for Frevven at that moment, so totally had he focused on the girl.
It got quiet outside and for a moment I dared to hope they'd all gone away. Then there came a loud crunching sound as someone took an axe to the door.
Janni's body convulsed with pain and she screamed again, but this was the last time. Her tentacles broke free with that contraction and she looked at me with an expression of astonished wonderment. She would have reached for me then, but Frevven had her hands already, his laterals twining securely around hers. The door finally gave way as he bent to make lip contact. I stood up quickly, trying to insulate them with my field from the mob of outraged Gens pouring into the warehouse. The men weren't sure as yet what had happened, but they knew they saw a Sime apparently attacking one of the local girls and they didn't like it. I sincerely hoped Janni wasn't picking up the emotions that must have accompanied the extremely ugly expressions on the men's faces. I saw one burly Gen take a wicked-looking harpoon off the warehouse wall, while another picked up a length of heavy chain.
"No!" I screamed desperately, trying to make myself heard above the general uproar. "Frevven, watch out!"
I was grabbed and pulled roughly aside by one of the fishermen. I kicked and fought, but it was useless.
Then Frevven came to his feet in a blur of movement and stood, half-crouched and ready, between the crowd and the girl on the floor. Never before have I seen such a look of total hatred as was on his face in that moment. Never do I hope to see it again. His laterals were extended and he was obviously hyperconscious and in full Sime hunting mode. It reminded me of nothing so much as a cat I had once seen, desperately ready to defend its last kitten from a pack of dogs. The mob hesitated and drew back, but the man holding the harpoon raised it to throwing position. There was no doubt that they could kill Frevven if they tried, but they were beginning to realize that several of them would die in the attempt. Frevven turned towards me, and I realized what my blazing terror must be doing to him. I could see that he was ready to attack the men holding me, with a complete disregard for the consequences. I stopped struggling and tried to bring my fear under control, hoping to lessen the provocation. The man holding the harpoon drew back his hand.
Suddenly it was very quiet in the crowded room. I didn't even dare to breathe. The harpooneer's hand moved back a fraction and I could see the muscles in his arm tense to throw. Then Janni came up off the floor in a swift lunge and stood in front of Frevven.
"Daddy, no!!" she appealed beseechingly, "He didn't hurt me. I'm all right."
The barbed harpoon wavered slightly, but the other men seemed to realize only that they were now confronted with two Simes rather than one. Janni's face reflected her quick recognition of the fact that her erstwhile friends now viewed her as a deadly enemy. Her lower lip quivered and her eyes filled with tears.
"Daddy?" she whispered brokenly, "I won't hurt anyone. Not now. Honest."
Still standing directly in front of Frevven, she walked steadily over towards her father. With a strangled oath, his arm jerked down and the harpoon buried itself harmlessly in the earthen floor by his feet. I took advantage of that instant and broke free from my captor, grabbing Frevven and interposing myself between him and the crowd. "Take me now if you want," I hissed softly, "but touch one of them and we're all dead."
For a split second I thought I was about to be attacked killmode. Then his eyes lost their wild look and focused on my face. He blinked uncertainly and I knew he was seeing me again and not just a brilliantly attractive selyn field. Relief flooded through me and I relaxed a trifle. The crisis had passed, but we weren't out of danger yet. Taking advantage of the fact that the mob's attention was now on Janni and her father, I managed to get Frevven quickly into his retainers. His face was ashen and haggard, and I figured I'd better get him back to the Center very soon or I'd be carrying him back. Janni and her father still stood face to face, but the gulf between them now could not be easily bridged with words. I went to Janni and slipped one arm carefully around her waist, feeling her body tremble where it rested against mine.
"Mr. Cabrell," I said calmly, "it would be best if we could get your daughter over to the Center now. It's been a hard day for her." That was an understatement, but I wanted to get out of that warehouse before anyone could point out that Janni was now a Sime out-Territory without retainers. I smiled sweetly up at Janni's father. Now that I had a chance to really look at him, I recognized the weathered, suntanned face. Many times in my excursions around Innsfrey, I had seen him working on the fishing boats, or sitting on the wharf mending his nets. He had been one of the few to nod or smile or tip his hat to me as I walked by. It was a little thing, but it might tip the balance in our favor. "Janni is exhausted and should rest," I prompted hopefully.
That did it. Cabrell turned to the crowd behind him and ordered them out in no uncertain terms. His eyes flickered meaningfully down to the harpoon still quivering in the floor by his feet. The room cleared rapidly. As soon as everything seemed quiet outside, we headed for the alley. Janni hesitated in the doorway and looked back at her father, still standing in the gloomy room. "Daddy," she said hesitantly, "come visit me soon?"
"Aye, darling, that I will," he promised softly, much to my surprise.
By the time we reached the Center, we were all just about ready to collapse from sheer nervous exhaustion, if nothing else. Fortunately, there was no one in the reception area at the time except for regular Center personnel. My old friend Anieva was behind the desk and she jumped up and raced over to us. Another Sime, this one a very young man I didn't know, appeared almost immediately from the hallway. "Good God," he exclaimed, "what happened?"
Seeming more concerned for Frevven than anyone else, he steered the channel over to a chair and helped him take off his retainers.
Our arrival had been noticed by now, and other people were beginning to wander into the room to see what was going on. Janni stared wide-eyed and fascinated, trying to make sense of her new perceptions and feelings. Knowing how confused the girl must be, I asked Anieva to take her off to a quiet room where she could get cleaned up and rest.
Turning my attention back to Frevven, I was relieved to find that he looked a lot better. He had taken off his glasses and was rubbing his eyes and forehead with one hand while quickly relating the story of our adventure in technical terms to the other Sime. As I approached them, Frevven stopped talking. One hand still covering his eyes, he gestured with the other to the Sime kneeling next to him. "V'lis, this is Lyrian Mauchant, my Second. Lyrian, this is V'lissia Chalmers."
Lyrian stared at me for just a second before he stood up, as if he had expected someone else, as indeed he probably had. For my part, I didn't know there was another channel on Innsfrey, so I guess I was as surprised to meet him as he was to see me. We both recovered at the same time and recited the usual polite phrases of greeting simultaneously. Then we laughed in embarrassment. Frevven replaced his glasses on his nose and looked up at us strangely for a moment. Then he noticed the curious crowd that was beginning to collect around us.
"V'lis, why don't you fill everyone in on what happened?" he suggested. "I'm all right now. Besides, I want to talk to Lyrian and make out a report on Janni."
I watched him as he stood up carefully next to the other channel and I knew he was not all right. His eyes looked as if he'd been without sleep for weeks and when he reached up to readjust his glasses with one dorsal tentacle, I could see his hand shaking. Nevertheless, I know how Frevven hates to be fussed over, so I agreed to do as he asked. As I turned to greet all my old friends and answer their barrage of questions, I saw Lyrian put one arm around Frevven's waist and guide him away from the crowd and over to the hallway.
I was too busy after that to think too much about Frevven, especially after Anieva and Janni reappeared, with Janni looking shyly happy in a new dress, her hair done up in an adult style. We immediately decided an impromptu party would be just the thing and everyone went scrambling to make preparations and find suitable gifts. I figured if Frevven wanted me, he'd send for me. But as the evening progressed and I didn't see Lyrian or Frevven again, I worried just the same.
I slept late the next morning, so I must have been more exhausted by the previous day's excitement than I had realized. The sun shone in my open window and the room was already hot. Another sticky, uncomfortable day. I dressed and went downstairs to the dining hall, hoping to persuade the cook to feed a poor starving Gen who was too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. It didn't take much persuading. There are certain advantages to being able to make other people feel hungry just because you are.
As I sat contentedly eating a couple of fried eggs and toast, I looked out the window into the small courtyard. The flowers were all dried and dead-looking, their colors faded by the oppressive midsummer sun. Since I had always been in charge of the gardens, it hurt to see them in such a sorry state. Still, considering the lack of rain during this past month, I was certain there must be a serious water shortage on the island by now. I only hoped the vegetable gardens were in better condition, since it was awfully difficult to import some of the Sime favorites all the way from the mainland.
After breakfast, I wandered across the hall into the Center's small library, seeking an interesting book to take my mind off the heat. The curtains had been drawn against the morning glare and the room was dim and shadowy, creating at least the illusion of coolness. I glanced along the shelves, hoping there might be a few new selections amongst the old familiar ones. I had already picked out several likely possibilities when my eye was caught by a certain little book I had not expected to find on these shelves. Curiously, I took it down and opened it. Yes, that was it. The very same one Frevven and I had gotten into such an argument over when he had first come to Innsfrey. I flipped through the pages of my cousin Chaynek's official report on Frevven's disjunction, remembering how angry Frevven had been when he'd found me reading about his past. Strange that he had kept the book and left it in the library after all.
No sooner had I replaced the small volume on the shelf than Anieva came bustling through the door.
"Well, good morning at last, lazybones," she greeted me. "Goodness, it's dark in here. Let's get a little light. How on earth can you see what you're doing?"
Looking at her in the merciless light of day as she drew the curtains, I noticed guiltily how much older she appeared now, although we were neither one of us past our twenty-second birthday. Four years working in a remote Center like this was enough to age any renSime prematurely.
She looked over at me, some of the tension fading from her face. "Ah, V'lis," she sighed, "you can't know how nice it is to have you around again, even if only for a short time." She smiled and I caught a glimpse of the cheerful young girl I used to know.
"You'll never guess who came by the Center this morning," she announced. "Len Cabrell, Janni's father! He actually did come to see her. The poor kid was so thrilled. And before he left, he even made arrangements to come in this afternoon and donate for the first time. I was working at the reception desk, so I helped him fill out the forms and told him our hours. V'lis, no one in that family has ever been on our donation list before. I checked after he left. In fact, Cabrell's brother-in-law is one of the pillars of the local Church of the Purity, and rumor has it he was also a staunch supporter of the Salvation Church before we managed to get it closed down. Can you just imagine the arguments that must be going on in that family right now?"
"I guess so," I replied. "Say, Anieva, isn't there some place we could sit and talk for a while and not be disturbed? Preferably someplace cool? It's sweltering in here. And there's so much catching-up we have to do."
"I know just the place. I go on watch in a few minutes. Why not come sit with me in the tower? There's a slight breeze from the northwest this morning and it's the only spot high enough to catch it."
"Terrific," I said. "Let's go. I'll just leave word for Frevven as to where I am in case he wants me."
Anieva and I spent the rest of the morning up in the watchtower, trading stories of our lives since I had last been on Innsfrey. The familiar view of the little town spread out around us almost made me wish I were still living here. How many endlessly boring hours had I spent just sitting up here and keeping an eye out for distress signals? We might go for weeks or months at a time without being summoned, but when the signal was seen we had to be ready to act fast, because on one of the four other Out-Islands, some poor child had gone into changeover. From then on, it was a race between death and our fast little cutter, the MORNING STAR. This system had worked pretty well since the Center had been established on Innsfrey almost a decade ago, especially now that we were gaining a measure of grudging cooperation from the local population. Most parents were fairly quick to turn over their children to the local police if they showed any sign of changeover. After that, the police would send for the MORNING STAR, lock the child alone in a basement cell in the police station, and wait for us to arrive. Sometimes we didn't make it in time, or sometimes the child wasn't turned in soon enough and either killed, was killed, or both, but that was common enough in any remote out-Territory area. The uncommon thing was that we had a survival rate of over 60%, and those statistics improved slowly but steadily from one year to the next.
Around lunchtime, I left Anieva to her vigil and went looking for Frevven, ostensibly to remind him it was time to eat, but actually because I wanted to assure myself that he was all right. I found him sitting alone in his office, plowing through the inevitable pile of paperwork under which the Tecton seems determined to bury its personnel. He didn't appear terribly pleased to see me and declined my invitation to have some lunch since we were due to take the next shift in the collectorium. He still looked pretty haggard, but he didn't take too kindly to my suggestion that he leave the donations to Lyrian this time. Deciding not to press the subject any further, I went to have a quick meal with some of my other friends among the Center's staff. Then I sought the relative coolness of my room and settled down with a book. I hadn't been reading very long when Janni burst through the door, hysterical with fear.
"V'lis, come quick!" she blurted out. "It's Frevven, and my father---"
I didn't have to hear the rest. I recalled Anieva telling me Cabrell was coming in this afternoon to donate. And it was Frevven's shift. I was already down the stairs and into the little room we use for taking donations before it occurred to me to wonder just which of them I was so worried about.
I took one look at the situation and fell to my knees on the floor next to Frevven. "Somebody go find Lyrian fast," I ordered. Frevven was deathly pale and his breath came in ragged gasps. He had that kind of inward-looking expression on his face that is characteristic of a Sime trying hard to restore his selyn currents to normal. I took his hands and strove to offer a calm, steady field, knowing that should make it easier for him to re-establish the proper balances. To my great relief, he began very quickly to look better. By the time Lyrian arrived, we had gotten Frevven off the floor and he was resting fairly comfortably on the couch. He even tried to wave the other channel away, protesting weakly that he was all right, but Lyrian insisted on examining him anyway. Only then did I notice Len Cabrell was still standing against the wall, complete astonishment written clearly across his rugged face. I went over to him, thinking to get him back outside to the reception area. As I led him through the door, he asked confusedly, "Miss Chalmers, what happened? Did I do that?"
"I don't know. Did you?"
He looked uncomfortable. "I'm not sure. Maybe. I got scared."
He looked even more uncomfortable. "Terrified," he admitted. "But why should that hurt him?"
I must admit I was rather exasperated with the man's ignorance. I guess I've gotten used to living in-Territory these days.
"Mr. Cabrell, if you panicked during your donation, Frevven obviously chose to abort the transfer rather than risk hurting you." I suppose my voice conveyed my annoyance, because he looked extremely unhappy.
"Oh," was all he said.
Janni stood in the hallway, making an effort to appear calm and grown up, but not being altogether successful. I left them both with Anieva at the reception desk and went back to see how Frevven was doing. He was sitting up on the couch, but still looked pretty awful. Lyrian was arguing with him, but they stopped as soon as I came in, so I don't know what they were discussing.
"Does this sort of thing happen very often?" I asked Frevven.
He pushed his glasses back up against the bridge of his nose. "Uh, no, it doesn't."
I glanced over at Lyrian, who frowned and shook his head slightly. Frevven must have noticed this, because he quickly added, "Well, not very often."
Knowing his reluctance to admit to any form of weakness, I figured this abort was not a particularly unusual occurrence. I didn't press the subject any further, but I did insist that Frevven rest for the next few hours and leave the rest of the donations for Lyrian. He didn't dare protest.
I didn't exactly sneak into Frevven's office that evening; I walked in quite openly and obviously, but I made sure beforehand that he was upstairs in his room. As his assigned Donor, I'm entitled to look through his chart, but somehow I felt more at ease if he wasn't around to watch me do it
I looked in the drawer where Shanneh used to keep all the charts and found that Frevven had moved them elsewhere. Well, that wasn't too surprising, considering that he had rearranged all the rest of the furniture to his liking also. Everything in the office was arranged and filed so neatly that at first I was hesitant to search any further. I sat down behind the desk and gently opened a few drawers. I noticed that he still had the framed portrait of Klyd Farris in the place of honor on his desk, where anyone else might be expected to have a photograph of his family. Next to the portrait there was a photo of a woman. Curiosity got the better of me and I picked it up for a closer look. She obviously couldn't be one of Frevven's relatives, since he claimed to know of no relatives other than a father who had disappeared years ago and a deceased sister. This woman was much too old to be Jozanna, the sister whom Frevven had killed after his changeover. Besides, she didn't look the least bit like him. A girlfriend? That seemed unlikely, knowing Frevven. I studied the little photo and wondered. Then it hit me, and I laughed to think I hadn't recognized the woman sooner. She was obviously a Farris, and who else would Frevven put next to Klyd but his daughter, Muryin, the present Sectuib in Zeor? I don't usually pay much attention to the Householdings, so it wasn't surprising that I hadn't recognized her right off. My cousin Chaynek may be ambrov Zeor and all that, but somehow it never much appealed to me. Come to think of it, Frevven isn't a member of Zeor either, but it must mean something to him or else why the picture?
I replaced Muryin where I had found her and went back to the searching through the desk. I didn't take long to locate the right drawer and Frevven's chart. I turned to the end and worked backwards, since I was primarily interested in the last year since Shanneh had left Innsfrey and Frevven had taken over.
When I finished reading, I was appalled. I'm familiar with most of the Donors in this general area, and some of the names on Frevven's past assignment sheets were just barely in his category. I was beginning to wonder if the District Controller or one of his assistants had it in for Frevven. Certainly there had to be a reason. Sure, Innsfrey Island is an out-of-the-way place to send a really top-notch Donor very often, but this was inexcusable negligence.
I went back and re-read the last few months, wondering how much was between the lines of the official reports. A thought hit me, and I pulled out Lyrian's work record also and spread it out on the desk. There seemed to be numerous periods of time when Lyrian was working unaccountably hard, taking most of the donations and working dispensary more than should have been expected, especially from a Second Order channel. Why? What was Frevven doing during those times? In view of this afternoon's disaster with Cabrell. I thought I had a pretty fair idea.
I was furious. Despite his protestations that he was perfectly all right, Frevven was being slowly driven over the edge, either deliberately or because someone in authority was simply unaware of the situation. Vowing that someone would pay for this either way, I carefully replaced the charts in Frevven's desk drawer and went up to my room.
I spent the rest of the evening trying to draft a proper report to the Controller's office, but somehow I just wasn't satisfied that it would do any real good. Besides, I could be wrong. Frevven might be much improved after our transfer tomorrow. Might be? Of course, he would be. After all, wasn't I the highest-rated Donor he'd had in the past year? Yes, and if Darnay hadn't gotten sick at the last minute, I'd never even have been sent out here at all, would I?
Indignant and frustrated, I wrote a long letter to my cousin Chaynek, telling him all that had happened and asking for advice. I figured he might be able to help me out, since he knows Frevven pretty well and has a fair amount of influence around this District.
I sealed the letter and went to bed satisfied, determined to do my best to make tomorrow's transfer a memorable one, even if I had to bend the rules a little to do it. After all, I had also noticed on his chart that a good transfer wasn't the only thing Frevven hadn't had in months, and there are those who tell me I'm a fairly attractive young woman. If I was the only one in the whole District determined to take care of Frevven, then I was damn well going to do a good job of it, one way or another.
The next day passed slowly. The weather continued hot and humid and I was beginning to long for a beautiful, cloudy, rainy day for a change. I felt cooped up and trapped inside the Center, so I went for a walk through town, but that only made me feel worse. The townspeople all knew who I was and I was the object of curious stares from young and old alike. I suppose it had always been like this, but somehow today it bothered me as it never had before. Damning the inhumanly exact scheduling insisted on by the Tecton, I waited impatiently for the appointed hour and minute, further annoyed that it was not until evening and I had an entire day in which to fret and fume.
Finally, the shadows lengthened, the sun sank towards the horizon, and I went looking for Frevven. Much to my dismay, he was neither in his office nor his room. In fact, he was nowhere to be found. I was becoming rather frantic when I remembered Frevven's habit of going out on the pier and watching the sun set over the water beyond Innsfrey Harbor. I pushed open the door and walked along the wooden walkway towards the MORNING STAR. I could see Frevven perched on the end of the bowsprit, and I breathed a sigh of relief. There was just the hint of a cool breeze blowing in off the ocean and it was a welcome change after the heat of the day. As I walked out the pier, I knew he had to he aware of my approach, but he kept his back to me, facing the fading colors in the western sky. It was a singularly depressing sunset, all pink and grey, with a few puffs of cloud looking rather like dirty pieces of cotton dipped in red ink. I stood on the dock, watching as the darkness deepened and the first faint stars twinkled into view. For all that I had known Frevven for quite a while, that was the first time we had been assigned as transfer partners. (Well, to be perfectly accurate, we had been assigned together once before, but the transfer had never taken place. However, that's another story.) I wanted so desperately for this to go well, but I must confess I was just the tiniest bit nervous.
"Frevven?" I finally asked, "Permission to come aboard?"
He stood up then and turned to me. "Permission granted," he replied as he balanced on the slender bowsprit and walked the few steps back to the bow of the boat. I stepped on board and made myself comfortable on the cushioned seat in the cockpit. He joined me there and sat next to the wheel, one hand resting on its highly-varnished surface. He curled a tentacle lovingly around one spoke.
"You know, V'lis, when the day comes that I leave Innsfrey, I believe I'll miss this boat most of all. It's become a part of me somehow," he remarked with a crooked attempt at a smile. "Funny, when I first got here, my one desire was to leave. Now I guess I've gotten kind of used to it all."
"Well, as my grandmother used to say, 'You get used to hanging, if you hang long enough.' " It was a dumb comment, but I couldn't think of anything else to say just then.
He looked at me and raised one eyebrow. "Yes. Yes, I suppose you do," he said slowly. He took his glasses and laid them carefully next to the wheel. Rubbing his eyes wearily with fingers and tentacles, he added, "But one thing I certainly won't miss is the bright sunlight. My eyes seem to be getting more sensitive all the time."
"I don't think I've ever seen you without your glasses before," I observed curiously. "Can you see me?"
He shook his head. "Right now I'm not even trying to see you. But if I did, you would be just a blurry smear in the darkness. I find it most disorienting to be able to zlin things very clearly, but see them only fuzzily. That's why I wear glasses in the first place. If I'm completely hyperconscious, it doesn't much matter. But the rest of the time, it helps if I can at least see a bit more clearly." He rubbed his eyes again.
"Well, let's go inside and get this over with, shall we?" he suggested listlessly.
"What's wrong with out here?" I asked and patted the cushions next to me.
"Sure. No one's around. It's nice and quiet. And cool."
He shrugged. "Why not?" and sat down. I got the strange impression that he was ill at ease with me and trying to cover it up by acting totally blase. I held out my hands for him, and projected invitation and willingness. There was no way he could be as indifferent as he pretended to be and I knew it. As he twined his tentacles around my arms and leaned forward to make lip contact, the hunger reflected in his green-gold eyes betrayed him. I half-smiled in triumph, but I don't think he noticed.
Nevertheless, he drew slowly and very carefully. Too carefully. I knew what it must be costing him to hold back so tightly and I also knew it wasn't necessary. I can't describe exactly how I knew, I just knew. Foolhardy I may sometimes be, but if Frevven thought he had to treat me like a nervous TN-3, he had another think coming. Impulsively, I wrenched control of the transfer away from him and poured selyn into his starved system at the fastest rate I could manage. I almost thought he was going to resist me, but of course he couldn't. I found the time to wonder whether he was simply accustomed to a long series of incompetent Donors, or whether he was so chronically terrified of what he might do that he was constantly over-careful as a result. I was bound and determined that this was going to be a good transfer, whether he liked the idea or not.
When I returned to an awareness of my surroundings, I was vaguely surprised to find that I had actually pushed Frevven over backwards and was now pretty much lying on top of him. I raised my head, breaking lip contact, and waited while he withdrew his laterals from my arms and released me. I propped myself up on my elbows and looked down at him. The expression on his face was so totally scandalized that it made me want to giggle.
"V'lissa," he finally managed to say, "you shouldn't -- I mean, it isn't -- you're not supposed to do it that way."
I shrugged. "It works, doesn't it? How do you feel?"
"Fine. Very good, in fact," he replied in surprise, as if he'd only just noticed.
"Well, then don't complain." I leaned down slightly and kissed him.
"Uh -- V'is, you're not supposed to do that either," he protested.
"Shen and shid, Frevven, will you never be done lecturing me on what I'm not supposed to be doing?" I asked in amusement.
He looked perplexed at that. I sighed and decided to try a different approach. Snuggling my head down against his shoulder, I concentrated on a series of very explicit images and feelings.
His body tensed and I heard him suck in his breath in an astonished gasp. Then he took me gently by the shoulders and pushed me up, shifting to a sitting position next to me. "V'lis, stop it, please. You don't know what you're doing to me. There are rules --"
"Oh, shen the rules! When was the last time you made love to a woman?" I challenged.
"I don't remember offhand. Not all that long ago."
I sighed in exasperation. "Frevven, must I remind you I have access to your chart? Do you want me to tell you names and dates?"
He stood up and turned his back to me, and I wondered if I had gone too far this time. "Just stop bothering me about it," he said, but there was a strange note in his voice.
Well, I reasoned, if eager and willing doesn't work, perhaps I'll have better luck playing hard to get. "OK, if that's what you want," I said casually and started to get up also.
"Where are you going?" he asked, too quickly.
I made a show of smoothing the wrinkles out of my skirt. "Since you don't want me, I'm going to find someone else for you. Let's see now, maybe Anieva would --" I crossed the small cockpit and put one foot on the seat, preparing to step up to the deck. Almost before I realized what was happening, I was grabbed, pulled off balance, spun around, and caught before I could fall. I was considerably surprised to find myself staring straight into Frevven's eyes, with his arms locked tightly around me. Perhaps I'd been more persuasive than I'd realized?
"Dammit, V'lis, I don't want Anieva. I want you." His voice was strained and harsh, as if this admission had been unwillingly torn from him. I pressed myself willingly up against him and we kissed, hungrily and passionately this time. When I could get my breath, I suggested we go down below into the cabin. He was more than agreeable to my suggestion.
I suppose I shouldn't have been, but I was quite surprised to find that Frevven was actually a rather gentle and considerate lover, at least after the first urgency was over. By the time we left the MORNING STAR and headed down the long pier back to the Center, the full moon had risen and its silver light made a long trail across the water. I'm afraid I was rather unbearably smug and self-satisfied for the remainder of the evening.
Anieva came to me the next morning as I was having breakfast and asked if I would spend some time with Janni and try to cheer her up a bit, as she seemed to be quite depressed and homesick during the last few days. We ended up playing card games and talking together most of the day. I described life in-Territory and tried to give her some idea what she could expect, and she told me all about her family and how much she missed being with them. I tried to tell her most out-Territory children who turn out to be Sime forget their family and friends pretty quickly and adjust to their new lives, but she was certain she would miss her family always, and especially her father. They had obviously been very close, and as she spoke of their happy relationship, I thought wistfully of my own father, and the way we had fought about darn near everything as I was growing up. As a matter of fact, my older cousin Chaynek had often seemed more of a father to me in those days than my real father. My life would have been a lot more miserable if it weren't for him I seldom talk about my father, but I found myself telling Janni about him now. By evening, she was looking at me as if I were her older sister.
I was certain Janni would be able to make a good adjustment if we could just get her away from Innsfrey and into some new surroundings. I planned to escort her back to the mainland myself and see her off to a good start, but, as the only Gen presently at the Center, I had to wait for Kurt to return from his assignment in Easthaven before I was free to leave.
I didn't get to see Frevven again until the following afternoon, as he and Lyrian were tied up in a meeting of some sort. We got word that Kurt would be coming in on the CORMORANT tomorrow, so I began packing and getting ready to leave. I had to get Frevven's official approval to take Janni in to Easthaven with me, but I was certain he wouldn't object.
When I finally managed to catch him alone in his office, my head was full of plans for my imminent departure and I was rather taken aback when Frevven looked up at me standing smiling in the doorway, grimaced, and exclaimed. "Oh, no!"
"Well," I retorted indignantly, "that's not much of a greeting."
"I'm sorry," he answered, nervously readjusting his glasses on his nose. "Come over closer."
"That's more like it," I beamed, walking to stand next to him. Then I hesitated, regarding him uncertainly. "Frevven? What's the matter? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You're pregnant," he said, unable to keep the consternation out of his voice.
"I am?" I replied. "Well, maybe I am. You don't have to look so dismayed."
"But you don't understand. That means I must be . . ." he hesitated before finishing incredulously, "the father?"
"That's the way it usually works, isn't it?"
He just looked shocked. Sometimes I really can't figure him out. After all, I was the one who should be upset, if anyone should. And yet he looked as if the world had just caved in underneath him.
"It's no great catastrophe," I hastened to reassure him. "I want children, and this is as good a time as any to get started."
"V'lis, I don't think you quite understand. What we did is illegal. Transfer and sex are supposed to be kept entirely separate. We're liable to be in a lot of trouble."
"Oh, phooey. What harm have we done? We're not involved in any kind of a dependency, are we? And we're too far from being matchmates to have to worry about lortuen. The Tecton should be pleased I'm pregnant. They're always encouraging channels to have children, aren't they?"
"Well, yes. But not like this. And there's always a risk, you know."
That I knew. Very well. "Pregnancy is a calculated risk under any circumstances. That hasn't stopped women from having children, though."
"But I don't want children," he admitted forlornly.
"It's a little late to think of that now, isn't it?"
He sighed. "Yes. Yes, I suppose it is. Would you like to get married?"
"That's not exactly what I'd call a romantic proposal."
He looked right through me. "Sorry. I don't feel very romantic."
My thoughts strayed back to that night on the boat, but Frevven's voice cut sharply through my reverie. "Stop it! You caught me post and off-balance that time. I have no desire for a repeat performance."
Resentful and hurt by his attitude, I retorted, "Well, we're going to have a hell of a boring marriage then, aren't we?" and stomped angrily out of the room.
Tears stinging my eyes, I ran out into the garden. Things were not working out at all as I had planned. Well, I mean I hadn't exactly planned on having a baby, but since I was, Frevven might at least act like a proud father-to-be, instead of a reluctant bridegroom. I felt as if I had to take my anger out on something, so I went into the tool shed and armed myself with gardening implements. Picking a particularly pathetic-looking spot, I raked, weeded, and hoed enthusiastically, all the while knowing that I couldn't give my poor flowers the one thing that would really help them: water. Still, I did my best. By the time I finished, they looked a bit more lively. As I stood surveying the slightly-revivified trinroses, Anieva came hurrying across the small lawn, carrying a pitcher and some glasses.
"Come sit down for a while and have a glass of tea with me," she suggested as she approached. "We've no ice to spare, so it isn't very cold, but at least it's wet."
As we made ourselves comfortable in the shade of the lone oak tree in the yard, I noticed Anieva looking at me out of the corner of her eye and frowning slightly.
"What's the matter?" I asked, wondering if she could sense the developing baby this soon, the way Frevven had.
"I don't know exactly," she admitted. "Something about you isn't the same, but I can't tell what. And you're upset today. What happened? Did Frevven say something to hurt your feelings?"
One of the tears I had been holding back slipped through my defenses and slid down my cheek.
"Aha," Anieva said, "I was right. He snapped at you again, didn't he? Poor V'lis, I thought you knew better than to let that bother you. He doesn't really mean half of what he says sometimes. Want to tell me about it?"
I told her about it. Anieva managed to look shocked and delighted at the same time. Then she scolded me for working so hard out here under the hot sun in my condition and insisted on clearing away by herself the pile of weeds and dead vegetation I had accumulated.
Anieva's reaction made the whole thing real to me at last. I truly was going to have a baby. It was a wonderful and yet scary feeling all at once. By the time she had finished cleaning up the yard, I was already thinking about names for the baby and wondering if it would have my brown eyes or Frevven's greenish ones.
Anieva came over and stood in front of me, hands on hips. "Well, don't just sit there, you lazy Gen," she teased, "get up and let's go tell everyone the news."
I laughed and got slowly to my feet. As we crossed the courtyard, Anieva asked cautiously, "V'lis, are you really going to marry Frevven?"
"Oh, nothing," she replied, but she looked away from me as she went on, "I guess I just can't picture him as a husband. Or a father."
Since she put it that way, neither could I. But I didn't say that. I was trying not even to think it.
The rest of that day was filled with joy for me, as the news spread and everyone offered me congratulations and best wishes. I didn't see Frevven very often, but when I did, he looked uncomfortable rather than happy. I got the distinct feeling he was avoiding me.
And still the weather continued hot and muggy. As the next day wore on slowly to afternoon, I was feeling as wilted as the flowers in the garden. It would be almost a relief to get back to Danversport. At least we wouldn't have such a severe water shortage there, being on the mainland rather than an island.
I walked across the dry brown grass and surveyed the dead and dying bushes and plants. Sitting down in the shade of the solid wooden fence, I felt the urge to cry for no really good reason. Then I heard the Center door slam behind me and looked over my shoulder to find Frevven coming rapidly in my direction. I could tell from the look on his face that he was furious, but he didn't say anything until he was standing next to me. Thrusting a sheet of paper in front of my face and pointing to the writing with one tentacle, he demanded coldly, "Is this your doing?"
I stood up and took the paper from his hand, attempting to pull myself together and banish the incipient tears of a few moments ago. I surveyed the letter curiously, wondering what it could possibly say to get him so upset.
OFFICE OF THE DISTRICT CONTROLLER
EASTHAVEN SIME CENTER, EASTHAVEN
Hajene Frevven Aylmeer: You are hereby relieved as director of the Innsfrey Sime Center and are ordered to report to the District Controller as soon as possible for evaluation and reassignment. Lyrian Mauchant will take charge as acting director of the Center until further notice.
It was signed and sealed by Controller Jarad. "Uh-oh," I thought, "now what do I say?" I lowered the paper and confronted the fire in Frevven's eyes.
"Yes," I said levelly, "I suppose you might say this is my doing. You read my last report, so you know it was my recommendation that you be reassigned in-Territory as soon as possible."
I suppose he knew that I wasn't telling the whole truth, because he frowned and asked coldly, "Is that all?"
I squirmed under his gaze and finally had to admit, "No, that's not all. I also wrote to Chaynek."
"You and that busybody cousin of yours! I might have known he had something to do with this."
"Frevven, I didn't honestly think they would recall you so soon like this. I thought maybe they'd send you more help, or better Donors. That's all I had in mind when I wrote Chaynek. And besides," I added reasonably, "you don't like it out here. You've said so yourself. What's so terrible about being sent somewhere else?"
"That's not the point. They're calling me back because they don't think I can handle it. V'lis, I can't afford to fail at anything. Too many people are just waiting for me to fail so they can prove they were right all along and disjunct channels aren't worth training."
"So you'll go right on beating your head against a stone wall just to prove you can do something you never should have been expected to do in the first place? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. You shouldn't be dealing with out-Territory Gens all the time. It takes a different kind of channel for that. Someone who can absorb easier, someone whose past doesn't come back to haunt him."
"Someone like Lyrian?" he interjected bitterly.
"Yes," I said, "someone like Lyrian." I could tell he didn't like that too well, but it was true.
"So I shouldn't be out here, huh?" he snapped. "What's the matter? Are you afraid I'm going to hurt someone?"
"No," I replied, beginning to get annoyed, "I'm afraid you're going to hurt yourself." He looked at me strangely, as if that possibility had never occurred to him. "Look," I pointed out, "all this discussion is getting us nowhere. You've been ordered to Easthaven and there's nothing more to be done. Kurt should be back when the CORMORANT comes in later on today, so you and I can leave any time you're ready. I'll walk down to the Town Wharf to meet him and book passage for us tomorrow while I'm there."
My attempt at being reasonable must have gotten through to him, since he replied more calmly, "No, give me a couple of days to get Lyrian ready to take over. And I'll have to arrange for another escort for Janni now. Get tickets for early next week. The District Controller can just wait a while."
He turned his back on me and stomped across the lawn. I didn't see him again for the rest of the day, but I went to meet Kurt and bought the tickets as requested.
The next day dawned bright and sticky and the hot spell wore on mercilessly. Shortly after lunch, I felt so hot and grimy that I decided to go for a swim. Due to the water shortage, there was very little fresh water available for bathing and I had used my quota for the week. I figured I could at least get washed off a bit in the ocean, so I borrowed a bathing suit, located a towel and soap, and headed out to the end of the pier. The tide was low and the water could be barely over my head even out by the MORNING STAR. A thin heat haze hung over the distant horizon, and a few puffy clouds drifted lazily overhead. Not even a breath of wind stirred the glassy surface of the water. Hanging my towel over the Main boom of the boat, I went below decks and donned my swimsuit. Relieved to be free of my clothes, I dove gratefully over the side and into the invitingly-cool water. It was marvelous, and I berated myself soundly for not thinking of this sooner. After I tired of swimming around, I fetched my soap and got down to the serious business of washing my long hair. No sooner had I gotten a fairly-decent lather worked up than I heard a faint "poof" overhead and automatically looked up to see what it was. A single green flare arched through the sky over the harbor mouth and my heart turned suddenly colder than the water in which I swam. That was the distress signal from Beach Plum Island, summoning the MORNING STAR. I could hear the distant clamor of the Center's alarm bell begin even as I hurriedly rinsed the soap from my hair and clambered on board the cutter. I had barely gotten up on deck before Frevven and the rest of the crew were also aboard, preparing to get underway. They were considerably surprised to find me already there. I looked around for Kurt, expecting to find him in his usual place by the wheel. Then I remembered he and Lyrian had a meeting with the Town Council this afternoon. I tied my towel around my shoulders and sat down, obviously intending to stay right where I was. Frevven didn't look too pleased over my presence, but there wasn't much he could do about it. I knew he'd much rather have Kurt along as escort, but that was just too bad.
The crew cast off from the dock and hoisted the sails. As the cutter crawled slowly forward, I looked out over the shining water to the nearby silhouette of Beach Plum Island, its hills clearly visible over the low-lying spit of Sandy Point. So near and yet so far, I thought in dismay. There was barely a breeze. One of the crew looked up to the little flag hanging at the masthead. It fluttered once and fell limp. The woman shook her head hopelessly and glanced over at Frevven. "A sailboat can't get very far without any wind," she pointed out unnecessarily. "We'll have to try," Frevven replied, but I knew the odds were against him. Not only against him, but against the child now doubtless lying locked in the basement cell on Beach Plum, whose only hope was that the MORNING STAR would arrive before he or she finished going through changeover.
We watched hopefully as the mainsail caught a breeze, filled, and drove the boat briefly forward. But it wasn't enough to keep us going for long, and what at little wind there was came from the wrong direction. To have to tack back and forth, in such a faint breeze! Although the helmsman took advantage of every puff of wind, it was soon apparent that we were rapidly getting nowhere. I went below and changed back into my clothes. At the rate we were moving, there was no rush. I brought my comb back up on deck and began to smooth the tangles out of my wet hair.
Frevven paced back and forth across the narrow deck. I couldn't see the expression on his face because he wore one of Kurt's peaked caps pulled low on his forehead in order to shield his sensitive eyes from the glare of the sun. He swore softly in frustration, watching the sails again fall slack.
"Ahoy! MORNING STAR!"
A deep voice boomed out over the water and we all turned to discover its owner, a burly Gen, rowing rapidly towards the cutter in a small dory. As he came closer, I recognized the man as Len Cabrell. We watched in open-mouthed amazement as the trim little boat glided to a halt alongside us. It was totally unheard of for any of the local fishermen to approach the MORNING STAR, for any reason whatsoever. In fact, most boats avoided us by as wide a margin as possible.
"Frevven? You there?" Len called uncertainly, looking up against the bright sunlight.
Frevven went over to the rail and looked down. When he saw the channel, Len grabbed the edge of a porthole and pulled his dory closer alongside. "Well, don't just stand there staring, man! Come aboard," he invited.
"What?" Frevven asked, looking at me as if he hadn't heard right.
"Come aboard," Len repeated, gesturing with one hand to the seat in the narrow stern of the little boat. "You want to reach Beach Plum, don't you? Well, come on. I'll take you there."
"You'll--row--me over there?"
"Sure. It's not far." Len smiled. "Unless you want to drift back and forth all day" --the smile froze-- "until that kid out there is beyond help."
Frevven didn't answer right away. He looked down once at the fragile-seeming dory and his gaze flicked quickly over to the faraway shore of Beach Plum Island. Then his eyes narrowed and he regarded the Gen appraisingly. Len smiled hopefully, but even I could see the nervousness behind that smile. There was cause for trust and cause for mistrust between those two.
Frevven made his choice. Pulling the peak of his cap down lower over his eyes, he ordered softly, "Get my retainers."
"You're not really going with him, are you?" I objected.
"I am. Get my retainers. Now." One of the crew scurried away to obey.
I didn't say a word as Frevven put on the awkward retainers, but I knew he could feel my apprehension and doubt. I just didn't like the idea of him going in that little dory with Len. Too much could go wrong. Frevven climbed gingerly over the side and groped with one foot for the bottom of the dory.
"I'm going with you," I announced.
"Come along then." He reached one hand up to steady me as I climbed over the rail, and down into the little boat, hampered by my long dress. There was barely room for one person to sit on the seat at the pointed, narrow stern of the dory, so I sat on the bottom between Frevven and Len. I figured that was the best place I could be to shield from the obviously-nervous Len anyway.
"Get the MORNING STAR over to Beach Plum as quickly as you can," Frevven said calmly to his crew as Len shoved off and began to row.
I was rather surprised at how fast we moved across the bay. The cutter was soon left far behind and we were passing the old lighthouse on Sandy Point before I knew it. Frevven said nothing, but he held on to either side of the boat like grim death. Despite the heat, Len rowed steadily and easily through the flat-calm water. As Beach Plum Island loomed nearer, I asked Frevven why the Center didn't have a boat like this for use on windless days.
"It was all we could do to get permission to use the MORNING STAR without wearing retainers while we're on board. The Town Council wouldn't bend the rules any further than that, or so Shanneh told me when I first came out here. And you can imagine a Sime trying to row while wearing retainers?" He grimaced.
"Well, you could get some Gens to row," Len suggested between strokes. "Some of us can do it rather well, you know."
Frevven looked at him. "I guess that just never occurred to us," he replied thoughtfully.
As we drew closer to the island, we could see a man standing on the end of the dock, wearing the uniform of the local police. I expected questions and arguments as soon as we were recognized arriving in so unorthodox a fashion, but as we approached he waved and yelled urgently, "Hurry up! We've got a berserker loose!" Len took one last stroke with the oars and then reached out to catch hold of a piling. Frevven grabbed the slippery ladder and climbed rapidly up to the dock above us. I heard him ask the policeman "Where?" He pointed and said, "The church." I was still struggling up the ladder as Frevven took off towards the town. Len came up behind me and all three of us ran down the pier.
"What happened? Why didn't you call us sooner?" I demanded as we turned onto the main street.
"I sent up the signal as soon as his mother came in," he puffed. "She only told me her son was sick and acting funny. Seems the kid pretty much fought his way out of the house and disappeared. We called your boat and then started searching the woods. That's where they usually go, you know. But not this one. He apparently hid in the church, because he killed Reverend Willis after he got through changeover. He's holding the Reverend's son inside with him now, and threatens to kill the boy too if we come after him."
There was a crowd around the church, but no one was near the open door. The policeman laid one hand gently on my shoulder. "You don't want to go in there, Miss," he said. I shook him off impatiently and headed for the doorway. As I stepped into the shadowy darkness inside, I realized that Len was right behind me. I walked cautiously up the side aisle as my eyes adjusted to the dim light that filtered through the dark stained-glass windows. Frevven was up at the front of the church, near the pulpit. His back was to me and I could hear his voice, but I couldn't quite make out the words. Several men crouched behind pews or pillars, shotguns and rifles aimed at the figures up by the altar. The berserker had his back to the corner and held one arm tightly clasped around the throat of a young Gen, using his captive's body as a shield. His other hand held one of the heavy silver candlesticks from the altar raised threateningly over his head. I was close enough now to hear Frevven talking calmly to the wildly-hysterical Sime, trying to convince him that he should safely surrender now and let his captive go. But the boy was beyond reason and only insisted shrilly, "No, no! They'll kill me!"
I stopped by the altar railing, off to the side of the confrontation. Wishing I weren't still so low-field, I concentrated on the boy, hoping I might be able to calm him somewhat. He turned his head suddenly to look at me, and I almost fainted when I saw who it was. He wasn't quite the same little boy I had known last year. He was a good bit taller now and his face was distorted with terror and hatred, but I knew him just the same. How could I forget a friend who had once risked his life to save mine?
"Kem Lorell," I gasped in shock.
"V'lis?" he asked disbelievingly.
And in that instant of distraction, Frevven moved. With one hand he wrench Kem's arm from around his captive's neck and dragged him out of the corner and away from the terrified Gen. Kem's lips were twisted into a snarl and he attempted to bring the candlestick he still held in his other hand down on Frevven's head, but Frevven reached up and blocked the blow. Hampered by his retainers and trying not to hurt the boy, Frevven was getting the worst of the ensuing struggle when a shotgun blast rang through the church and the stained-glass window above the altar collapsed in shimmering splinters. I turned to see Len wrestling with the man who had fired at the two Simes. Startled by the commotion, Kem stopped struggling and looked around in confusion. I went over quickly and pulled him away from Frevven, who staggered backwards and leaned against the glass-covered altar. Kem stared at me and I saw a flicker of rationality come into his eyes. Then he collapsed against my shoulder, hugging me tightly and trembling violently. I smoothed his hair and rocked him, reassuring him softly that it was over now and he was safe. Frevven still stood leaning against the altar, but there was blood running down his right hand and his eyes were unfocused. Len came over just in time to catch Frevven when he collapsed. I was frantically wondering who was in worse condition when Kem let me go. "See if he's all right," he murmured shakily. But there were still guns pointed at us and I knew Kem wasn't safe yet. Seeing the policeman who had met us at the dock, I gestured for him to come over. As he approached hesitantly, I said, "Take the boy down to the jail and lock him up until the MORNING STAR arrives. Kem, you'll go with him and do as he says, right?" Kem managed a smile and a nod. The policeman looked dubious. Len strode over and placed one hand confidently on Kem's shoulder. "I'll just go along too and see that there's no trouble, Miss Chalmers," he offered. This convinced the other man and he agreed to do as I suggested. He went to round up a few other volunteers to escort Kem to jail.
"Len," I said softly, "see if you can get everybody out of the church. I can't move Frevven while he's unconscious, and I'd rather stay right here until the MORNING STAR arrives anyway."
"No problem. I know most of these men. They'll listen to me."
And they did. Much to my relief, I soon found myself alone with Frevven. Not knowing if someone might come in the still-open door unexpectedly, I didn't dare take off his retainers. But I unclamped the right one and loosened it enough to find out where the blood was coming from. Apparently the metal edge of the retainer had cut into the inside of his wrist while he was fighting with Kem, but the cut was far enough down towards the palm of his hand to have missed doing any serious damage. I folded my handkerchief and laid it over the jagged gash, carefully slipping a part of the cloth between his wrist and the cuff of the retainer before I clamped it shut. Then I looked over and saw that his eyes were open and he was watching me.
"Where's Kem?" he inquired weakly. I explained the arrangements I had made. "Good," he said and nodded. "Help me get up."
I didn't at all like the expression on his face as he stood. I had the feeling he was about to shatter into as many pieces as the bits of colored glass that littered the floor beneath our feet.
"Are you all right? What's the matter?" I asked.
"No, I'm not all right. This----" he gestured at the shambles surrounding us---- "is the matter! None of this should have happened in the first place. Do you know how many children have died or been killed because we weren't called in time? Have you any idea?" Of course I had. I'd already been assigned on Innsfrey for over a year before Frevven arrived in the first place. I kept silent. He turned on me, hatred and hurt in his eyes. "Why, V'lis? Why? You're a Gen; explain it to me. How can they let this happen to their own children?"
"Frevven, what would you have them do? They're scared. And this is an improvement over what used to be. Ten years ago there was no Center out here. No one survived. Have you forgotten what it was like then?"
That was the wrong thing to say and I seriously considered biting my tongue.
His lips twisted into an ironic smile. "Have I forgotten? Shen, I only wish I could," he remarked softly. "Am I ever likely to forget, working out-Territory, facing this kind of thing day after day? V'lis, where I grew up, children were killed if it was even suspected they were going into changeover. If my father hadn't been out of town, and poor Jozanna"---he stumbled over the name of the sister he had killed--- "had turned me in to the police as she should have. . . ." He turned his back on me and paced over to the altar before he continued miserably, "Every time I come out on a distress call, I dread what I may find. Even the ones who survive have a hard time of it, with hardly any preparation and no support from family or friends. And the ones who don't survive, or. . . ." His voice fell off to a ragged whisper and I wasn't even sure he knew he was talking to me any more. "They're all me. Over and over again. It shouldn't be this way. It doesn't have to be this way. And I can't stop it! I can't stop it!!"
With an anguished cry, he slammed both fists down against the cold stone altar before I could stop him and then just stood there with his head bowed and tears running down his face. I went over and took him in my arms. "Don't, don't," I soothed. "It isn't your fault." I was surprised to find he was crying uncontrollably now, his face pressed against my shoulder and one hand clenched lightly in the fabric of the front of my dress. I just held him, not knowing what else to do. For a while we cried together, but in time we ran out of tears.
"Here." I said, digging a handkerchief out of his pocket, "and give me your glasses for a minute. They're a mess."
He did as I asked and I dried and polished the lenses on the edge of my skirt while he wiped his eyes and blew his nose. I handed his glasses back to him and he settled them once again on his nose.
"V'lis, you're right. They're all right. I don't belong out here. I can't handle it." And the dead hopelessness in his voice and in his eyes was more awful than the tears. "I want to go home."
Then he sat on the step by the altar rail and stared down at his feet and he wouldn't talk to me anymore. I sat down next to him, and decided to keep my mouth shut. Blood was still oozing down his hand from the cut on his wrist, but I didn't say anything. At one point he seemed to notice it. He wiped his hand on his trousers, and looked curiously at his wrist as if he'd only just been reminded that it was there. After that the bleeding stopped.
By the time the MORNING STAR arrived at the island a half hour later, he had recovered his composure to the extent of at least being able to function normally, but he said very little and spent the slow voyage back to Innsfrey lying on the bunk in the main cabin. He didn't want my company, so I left him alone.
Len joined us on board and we towed his little dory behind. He suggested timidly that we should seriously consider getting a good-sized dory of our own, just in case there were other emergency calls on windless days. He was certain we could get approval for such an arrangement from the Town Council, especially in view of this afternoon's events. He even offered to present the proposal himself. As we neared the dock, Frevven finally came up on deck and we suggested this idea to him.
"Yes," he replied, not sounding very interested, "yes, I believe that might work. But you'll have to take it up with Lyrian now. I won't be on Innsfrey long enough to do anything about it."
So it's Lyrian who is generally remembered as the one who pioneered this successful innovation in our rescue system, although I personally believe it was Frevven's decision to take a chance and trust Len Cabrell that is really responsible for the presence of a well-equipped, heavy-duty lifeboat tied to the dock across from the MORNING STAR, not to mention the town's permission to use it when necessary.
With the resiliency of the young, Kem recovered quickly from his harrowing experience. As it turned out, he and Janni had been friends in their younger days when both had lived on Arendell Island, so they now had a lot to talk about. I was glad to see them together, as either one alone might have felt isolated and depressed. Heaven knows, they each had reason to be unhappy. Janni was soon to leave her home and family far behind and I knew she was scared. While this particular consideration didn't appear to bother Kem too much, he faced the unpleasant prospect of disjunction. On the whole, I was very pleased they had each found someone else to confide in.
Frevven and I were scheduled to leave for the mainland on the day after tomorrow. We had gotten word that Darnay Tibbetts had been assigned as Janni's escort and would be on the CORMORANT tomorrow, so we planned on travelling all together. Kem begged to be allowed to go also, as he was more than anxious to begin his new life. I told him I'd check with Darnay and see if he felt he could manage with two youngsters, but I was pretty sure it would be all right.
Frevven continued to be apathetic and totally uninterested in anything. He spent most of his time lying on his bed and staring at the ceiling, barely even noticing me when I went in to check the bandage on his wrist and try to persuade him to eat something. I was very much afraid he required more help than I could give and the sooner I could get him to the Center at Easthaven, the better I would like it.
I went to bed that night feeling very depressed myself and tossed and turned for ages before falling asleep.
I woke up late the next morning and spent most of the day packing my things. Frevven finally overcame his apathy enough to get his own belongings together and see that all the Center's records were up to date and in order, ready for Lyrian to take over. We had a farewell party in the dining hall towards evening, and everyone tried very hard to appear cheerful. Except for Frevven, of course. He disappeared soon after the party began. I saw him go out the back door, so I figured he was probably out on the MORNING STAR, brooding and feeling sorry for himself.
After the festivities were over, I decided it was high time that Frevven and I had a little talk. I was pretty certain of the outcome; in fact, I had already formulated my response. I'd done a lot of thinking over the past few days, and although I didn't really like the conclusions I had reached, they were there nevertheless.
As I walked out the creaking wooden pier, my footsteps echoed loudly in the still air. Then a sudden flash, accompanied by a distant rumble of thunder, disturbed the quiet night. I looked up at the sky in surprise and saw a bank of heavy clouds rapidly blotting out the stars. Wonder of wonders, perhaps some rain at last? I quickened my pace alone the dock.
Frevven sat in the helmsman's place beside the wheel. He glanced up at me balefully as I jumped onto the boat.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked. "You'd better go back inside. There's a storm coming and you'll get soaked."
"Good," I said. "We can use the rain." I stepped down into the cockpit. "I have to talk to you."
This was going to be harder than I thought. Another mutter of thunder rolled over the water.
"How is your wrist doing? Does it bother you?" I was stalling, unwilling to bring up the real reason I had sought him out.
"It's fine. See?"
He held out his right hand for my inspection. The jagged cut had almost healed, but it looked as if it would leave a scar.
"Surely that isn't what you wanted to talk to me about, is it?"
I shook my head.
"You don't want to marry me, do you?" I asked, trying to sound casual.
"Right now I don't particularly want to do anything," he replied listlessly. That was an evasion, and I knew it.
"You don't love me, do you, not really?" I persisted, still trying to sound as if it didn't make any difference to me one way or the other. It was a statement of fact and not a question.
He just closed his eyes and shook his head.
"That's what I thought." I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I want someone who loves me, not someone who marries me out of a sense of duty. I won't hold you to your proposal, Frevven. It would be a disaster for both of us." There, I'd said it. And it wasn't so hard after all.
I saw from the relief on his face that I was doing the right thing. Whatever we might mean to each other, he didn't want me as a wife. Another flash of lightning split the sky and a chilly breeze ruffled the dark water surrounding us.
"I'm sorry, Frevven. I only meant to make things better for you, but it seems all I've done is make them worse. I never meant it to work out this way, believe me."
"I'm sorry too," he replied, his voice softening almost to a kind of pathetic tenderness. "I never wanted to hurt you, but I have. Sometimes I think I make a habit out of hurting the people who care for me. You've done everything you possibly could, V'lis, but . . ."
"But I can't give you what you really want, can I?" I finished for him. "Frevven, is there anything that would truly make you happy?"
He frowned and looked perplexed, as a heavy drop of rain splatted down on the deck beside us. "I don't know. Maybe just to be like all the others. Not to have to fight every step of the way. Not to be the disjunct channel who made good----maybe. Not to know always that no matter how well I do, I could have done better if things had been different."
"But that's impossible," I objected. "No one can undo the past."
He smiled crookedly. "Don't you think I know that? Since when has the simple fact that a thing is impossible ever been enough to stop a person from wanting it anyway?" For a moment he was silent, as if he'd said more than he'd intended to already. Thunder crashed angrily overhead and echoed in long growls across the windwhipped water, as the storm drew a heavy curtain of rain across the bay. In scarcely half a minute we were both soaked through. Frevven wiped futilely at the dampness on his glasses as I pushed wet straggles of hair out of my face.
"Well, I told you you'd get wet if you stayed out here, didn't I?" he pointed out.
I nodded. "I don't mind. At least it's cool."
"Um-hum. But pretty soon you'll be getting chilly. Come on, let's get back to the Center."
We walked down the pier together in the teeming downpour, dripping and bedraggled. I had said what I'd intended to say and I knew I'd done right, but still I was grateful for the falling rain, for it disguised and washed away the tears running down my face. If Frevven knew how I felt, he pretended not to. I laughed and made jokes with the people who noticed us come in the door, and endured contritely Anieva's scolding for getting caught in the storm as she mopped up the puddles we left all over the floor and hustled us up to our rooms to change into dry clothes.
For a long time I watched the rain, sitting by my window and thinking over all that had happened in the short time I'd been on Innsfrey. This little holiday had led to so some unexpected complications. I looked down at my still perfectly flat tummy and wished I could sense the new life developing there, wondering just exactly what I had gotten myself into. I loved children, and raising a child alone would be no problem, I was sure of that. The Tecton is very generous to any woman who bears the child of a channel, so I wouldn't even have to work if I didn't want to. Things would be just fine. I could get along perfectly well without Frevven. Yes, perfectly well, I assured myself solemnly. But then, why was there such a cold, empty feeling in the center of my chest? And why did I feel like crying?
When I finally went to bed and fell asleep, the rain was still rattling steadily against the windowpane.
Much to everyone's delight, the downpour continued through the night, slowly clearing only as the sun came up. Happy as I was to see the revival of the vegetables and flowers after the rain, I was happier still to find a steaming tub of bathwater set aside for my use, now that the long drought had ended. After soaking blissfully for an hour and finally washing the accumulated dust and salt out of my thick hair, I felt ready for anything, even the long trip to the mainland scheduled for later this morning. As the last tattered shreds of cloud blew off into the distance, the day turned crisp and crystal-clear, with just a hint of coolness in the stiff breeze. The voyage to Easthaven would be a quick and pleasant sail, for which I was truly grateful.
Amidst tearful farewells and promises to keep in touch, we left the Center and started down the street towards the pier. Darnay had readily agreed to escort both Kem and Janni, and the two youngsters walked self-consciously on either side of him, trying to adapt to wearing the unaccustomed retainers and feeling extremely conspicuous. Frevven, lips compressed into a grim line, stared steadily at the pavement several yards beyond his feet and walked as if he neither knew nor cared where he was going. He seemed even more withdrawn than usual and unnaturally detached from what went on around him. I wondered if he had taken some kind of drug, but decided against asking him. No one spoke as our little party made its way slowly through the quiet town.
As we neared the pier, the streets became more crowded, but all the passersby rapidly got out of our way as we approached. We hurried out on the wharf towards the CORMORANT, anxious to be on board and underway. It was only then that I noticed quite a mob of people standing near the gangway. Uh-oh, I thought in alarm, what's going on now? As our little group came to a sudden halt, Darnay and I exchanged apprehensive glances. I recognized the mayor and several members of the Town Council mixed in with the crowd and my mind started sorting through possible explanations for their presence. I wondered grimly what rules we had broken this time. I edged over closer to Frevven, but he just stared vacantly down at the wooden planking, totally oblivious to everything except his own misery.
Then Len Cabrell shouldered his way through the crowd and came towards us, smiling broadly. I relaxed a bit. Whatever it was, this was evidently no lynch mob.
Len stopped in front of his daughter, his hands reaching out as if he wanted to take her in his arms and hug her, but he wasn't at all sure if that was the proper thing to do. Janni reached and took his hands, moving carefully so as not to hurt herself with her retainers.
"Good-bye," she said simply.
"Farewell, darling," Len replied softly. "Never forget us."
"I won't. I love you, Daddy." She held her head high despite the tears running down her cheeks and her face was no longer that of a little girl. "I'll come home and visit someday." she said as she released her father's hands. "I promise."
Len turned hesitantly towards Frevven. "Mr. Aylmeer," he began, "some of us here" ---- he glanced over his shoulder at the people behind him ---- "would like to express our gratitude for all you've done here on Innsfrey." He shifted nervously from one foot to the other. "I'm not much for making speeches, but we all think you've done a good job and we're sorry you're leaving. Some of us" ---- he looked over at his daughter standing proudly next to Darnay ---- "well, some of us have a lot to thank you for. We got together and made you something, just to kind of show our appreciation, as they say."
Len gestured to one of the men behind him and he brought over a small box. Len opened it and carefully lifted out a miniature model of the MORNING STAR, complete with sails, rigging, and beautifully-wrought fittings and tiny details. He held the exquisite little boat out to Frevven. Frevven had only stared in dumb amazement during Len's speech, and I was almost afraid I was going to have to kick him in the shins just to get him to react, but such extreme action turned out not to be necessary after all. He looked around dazedly at the group of Gens, most of whom wore tentative smiles on their faces. Then his eyes came to rest on the model of the MORNING STAR and he took it carefully from Len. He held the tiny boat in front of him and squinted in an effort to see it clearly. He looked up at Len. "It's lovely," he said. "Thank you." Their eyes locked and held and Len smiled. Then someone started to applaud and soon the whole crowd was clapping and cheering wildly. Frevven blushed and readjusted his glasses. As if all this commotion weren't enough, the CORMORANT's whistle blew loudly, reminding us it was time to get on board. The crowd parted before us as we scurried up the gangway. We stood at the rail, waving and calling farewells as the sails were set and the dock lines let go. The sun sparkled brightly on the widening expanse of water separating us from Innsfrey Harbor Town and more than one tear fell unnoticed into that shimmering ribbon of sea. The CORMORANT heeled over to the brisk wind and we moved inexorably away from the pier and out toward the mouth of the harbor. Janni and Kem stood staring steadily back at the only home they had ever known, as the town receded quickly into the distance. Then Kem turned to Janni. "Come on," he suggested, "let's go up forward and see who can spot Easthaven first. Can we, Darnay?" Darnay nodded and the three of them walked up to the bow, leaving me standing alone with Frevven. He held the little model up in front of his eyes and looked at it once again. Then he sighed. "V'lis, they seem to think I'm some kind of hero, when I'm really nothing but a total failure," he said softly.
"Well, hardly a total failure," I hastened to reassure him. "If you hadn't been doing something right, Kem and Janni might well be lying in the town cemetery today. rather than sailing with us to a new life. And I'm sure they aren't the only ones either."
"If I did so well, how come I'm being recalled?" he asked bitterly.
"Maybe it isn't so much a case of success and failure." I searched desperately through my mind for the right thing to say, the proper words that might get through to him. "Maybe it's just that it's time for you to do something else. This island isn't the whole world, you know. There are other things out there. Maybe it's time for you to leave, just as it's time for Janni and Kem to leave."
He stared at me strangely and then looked off at the distant town. I had just about decided he had dismissed me from his consideration when he recited very softly, almost as if he were reading to himself
"To everything is given a season, and (sic Add A) time appointed for all things under the stars:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time for laughter, and a time for tears;
A time to love, and a time to refrain from loving;
A time for holding on, and a time for letting go."
"My father used to read it to us. He claimed it came from a holy book from before the Ages of Chaos." He fumed to me. "Maybe you're right. Maybe all I can do now is let go of Innsfrey." He looked down at the miniature boat in his hand. "It isn't mine anymore. I don't suppose it ever was."
With that admission, some invisible weight seemed to slip from his shoulders. "Enough of contemplating where we've been," he announced decisively. "Let's go up forward with the others and see where we're going instead."
As we turned our backs on the silhouette of Innsfrey Island, I took my own advice. Somewhere inside my heart, I let go of Frevven, knowing he had never truly been mine in the first place.
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