by Jean Airey
This story was first published inCompanion in Zeor #6, senior editor Karen Litman. This online version was scanned and OCRd from the typewritten original and then reformatted for the web. Scanned by Ronnie Bob Whitaker, converted to HTML by Mike Giroux
The Sime~Gen universe was created by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. This story or its setting may not be reused without her explicit permission. This story copyright © 1980, 1997 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. All rights reserved.
The Lady Mairose sat quietly embroidering by the fire while her husband, Lord Lothair, sipped his wine and talked to their visitor. Only she knew that the stitches she seemed to be so carefully placing were crooked and that the whole work would have to be torn out on the morrow.
Upstairs, her last-born child, the last surviving son of their family was becoming a Sime and would soon die writhing against the leather and steel straps holding him in the bed. In spite of what the village doctor had said, she knew that the fever and delirium were not those of the plague. She had lost two children that way and one the other. She knew the difference.
Her husband did too. He had tried to tell her that the bindings were only temporary - so Petre could not hurt himself. But he knew too. Even now she could see that he was using both hands to hold his cup steady. And while he was participating in the conversation, he was not truly listening. At least she did not have to make idle conversation on such a night.
She wondered if it was a blessing that the stranger had come on this night. His family was distantly related to theirs, so they had to offer him full hospitality, but the relationship was sufficiently removed that he could not share their sorrow. He was a distraction, certainly, and that had to be welcomed. That other night, when Lysa had died, she and Lothair had stayed in the room until the end. She could not do that again. The last image she had of her loving daughter had been of bared teeth, widened eyes of fury and the suddenly appearing writhing tentacles. They said that death came quickly to those who changed so, and there were some who would have hastened that death, but the two children lost to the plague had seemed to die easier.
Her strand of thread ran out and she turned to her basket for another. Any colour would do now. The shades of red she had been carefully blending to surround the white scalloped flower that was the emblem of their family reminded her of blood. As she searched for a long piece, she listened to the conversation.
"So you consider yourself a philosopher, Lord Ressel?"
"It seems as useful an occupation as any in these times of chaos, Lord Lothair. I have been wandering about this country now for many years observing and considering what I have seen."
"And have you drawn any conclusions?"
"A philosopher never draws any final conclusions, but I have developed some theories."
"I have been studying the curious circumstances which cause some of our children - but not all - to change into those creatures we call Simes."
Mariose put down her sewing basket and glanced at her husband. Even with both hands holding the cup, it trembled. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. This man could not know what was happening upstairs. She was relieved that her husband's voice was steady as he asked "And what theories have you developed?"
"The first is that the newly changed Sime does not kill just to kill. There is another, more basic reason. The killing is only secondary."
"Yet it always happens."
"Unless the Sime-child is restrained - and dies. And that is always the consequence. You are aware that the far north of our island is controlled by Simes?"
"I had heard that. I believe that there is always constant warfare on the border."
"That is quite true. They regularly attack the border towns. That is why so much of our army is stationed there."
"I have also heard - that they kill the humans they capture."
"That is also quite true. Oh, I have my ways of getting information. I have good reason to believe that each Sime kills one human a month."
Mariose turned and stared into the fire. Could her child be capable of that?
"It would seem, therefore, that it is better that a child dies than to live like that."
"Perhaps. But that is where my theory comes in. You see, I have studied human killers and there is no such regular pattern. Do you know what Simes call us?"
"Gens. As nearly as I have been able to determine, they maintain that we are not human at all, but are simply producers of a substance that they need to live. So the adult Simes in the north regard us as cattle for the slaughter. If they do not have us, they die - and die horribly."
"My Lord Ressel," said Mariose to the older man, "How have you been able to find this out?"
"Very carefully, my Lady." He chuckled as though the very apparent danger had been amusing. "But my thirst for knowledge was such that I was willing to risk all to obtain what I wanted to know."
He smiled at her. She glanced at her husband who was staring into his wine, lost in his own thoughts.
"My Lord, is it your theory then that neither we nor the Simes are truly human?"
"You have a quick mind, my Lady. That is my present theory. You see, although the statues and pictures that we have of those who lived before the changes started show no signs of the Sime tentacles, yet we know that that change has occurred. We also know that this change that we can see occurs when a child matures. The Simes maintain that a similar change occurs to a child who does not become Sime. Except that we cannot see the change, they become Gen. The feeding pattern of the Northern Simes would seem to confirm that."
"How do you know that?"
"Because, as some of our children become Sime, some of theirs become Gen. And as our Sime children die, theirs attempt to flee to the safety of the border towns to avoid the death all Gens face in that wild and savage land."
"Did you know such a child?"
"Yes." Some horrible memory seemed reflected in his eyes. Mariose decided that she did not really care HOW he had obtained his information, but if it were true . . .
"So you are saying that neither of us is truly human!"
"Oh, no, I am merely saying that we cannot tell anymore what 'human' is - or was. We have lost so much during the chaos of the last years." Ressel stared morosely into the fire.
Mariose looked at Lothair. He did not seem to have heard any of the conversation. Indeed, he was turning to refill his cup with more wine. A desperate thought entered her mind and she got up and went over to Ressel. Her long green velvet skirt fell in emerald pools about her as she knelt by his chair. Her auburn hair reflected golden in the firelight.
"My Lord, you speak of theory, but how close is it to fact?"
"To fact? Well, my Lady, if I were not a philosopher, I would say that it is fact. But I am only a philosopher." He reached out and patted her shoulder. "You have children, too."
Mariose bowed her head so that he could not see the tears in her eyes. Children? she thought. One child lost, one that I am losing even now. She looked up at him again.
"My Lord, let me see if I understand your theory?"
"But of course, you seem to be an apt pupil."
"I am not a human as my ancestors were, I am a Gen and I produce a substance . . ."
"Selyn - they call it selyn."
"Selyn. I don't need or use this selyn, but a Sime does. And a child newly becoming Sime needs it desperately."
"And kills to get it."
"But if there is a Gen to supply the selyn, then the child will not die."
"Well, no. But the Gen will. So you have one life for another. And the Sime will then continue to kill."
Mariose stared into the fire. She did not want Ressel to have any opportunity to see what she was thinking. The man might claim to be a philosopher, a man of thought, but in his hands he carried the scars of a man of war.
"Does the Gen have to die? If we don't need this selyn, can't a Gen just give it to a Sime - so they both could live?"
"Have you ever seen a Sime attack?"
She shook her head.
"I thought not. It is a fearful thing. Indeed, the sight of the attacking Sime is so fearful that only the troops of the Knights Comitatus have been able to successfully defend the border."
The Knights Comitatus. Mariose had heard of them. Once an obscure branch of the Church, they had now risen to hold great power. Young sons often went into their service. She wondered if Lord Ressel had been such a younger son once, it would explain something of what he knew . . . but she did not seek the answers to such things now.
"Still, if the Sime must have this selyn to live - Does the Gen always die?"
"Perhaps - not always." He reached out his cup and filled it with more wine. She noticed horrible scars on his arms and shuddered at the sight of them.
"I have been burned, my Lady." She looked at him in momentary shock at the sudden undertone of steel in his voice. "But I survived."
"My Lord, I did not mean to stare."
"It is of no matter. It is a scarring of the past."
She hesitated for a moment and the sharp gaze that had momentarily locked with hers fell and the smile of the old man returned.
"My Lord, if the Gen offered the selyn to the Sime, would the Gen die?"
"Who could do such a thing freely, not knowing the consequences? To give of what might be part of the essence of one's self, to risk death for the sake of someone else's life . . . We all fear death, My Lady, and we all love life much more."
"Is this what your philosophy teaches you?"
"It is merely the reflection of my observation. How could one love another more than one's own life?"
"How indeed, My Lord. That is truly a question for your philosophy."
Lothair stirred. Mariose stood up gracefully and dropped a curtsey to the men.
"My Lord, My Lord Ressel, if you will excuse me now, I have a duty I must perform."
She moved slowly and naturally out of the room but once outside ran up the stone stairway to isolated room in the tower. Lothair's mind was slow, but the philosopher's was quick, almost as quick as hers.
Once inside the room, she dismissed the nurse who had been watching the boy. Alone in the room with her son, she barred the double hinged door on the inside with the heavy wooden beam that was always present. Another stood by the outside, should the door need to be barred from that side. The room was cold and bare. No rich tapestries hung from its walls, no rushes covered the floor. The bed stood isolated, massive and forbidding with its heavy wooden frame and the leather and steel straps that bound the child to its mattress. A small fire flickered in the fireplace. There had been times in the past when a child had truly been ill, but this was only the pretense of a sickroom. She knew that her child who lay there now did not have the plague nor any other illness that time would cure. She paused for a moment and listened. There were no sounds of pursuit. With Lothair's mind even more befogged than normal with the wine he had drunk she might have the time she needed.
She walked over to the bed and looked down at her son. His golden hair was soaked with sweat and his body was straining against the restraints. His blue eyes were open but did not seem to be able to focus on her. She pulled back the blanket that covered his body and studied his arms. She could see the ridges and swellings where the tentacles were forming and preparing to break through. There was still some time.
Somehow, she felt that he too had to understand what she was about to do. Would there be time enough - and could she bring him to his senses enough to listen? She wondered briefly if she was afraid of what she was about to do but then realized that the emotion overriding all others was her love for this child. Her decision had been made. There was no time to be afraid.
She undid the restraints and gathered her now sobbing child into her arms.
"Petre, Petre, my dear."
"Oh, Mother," he cried, "This cannot be the plague."
"Petre, you must listen to me."
He looked at her trustingly. So it had always been between them. Sickly in childhood, not sent to another family for fostering as was commonly done, their relationship was uncommon in a chaotic age. Child of my heart - and mind, she thought.
"You are becoming a Sime." The very shock of the blunt statement held him still in her arms.
"I think I knew it all the time." Be looked up at her again. "Are you going to kill me . . . . before . . ." He could not finish the sentence and buried his head in her shoulder.
"I will not kill you, and I will not see you die. Listen to me carefully. As you become Sime, you will need a substance that you can obtain from me, and I will give it to you."
"I will kill you, Mother, leave now!" His hands clenched into fists.
"You will not kill me." She looked at him defiantly, willing away his terror. "When you were born, I risked my life. It is my right to give you life again."
"Mother? I . . ."
"I am not afraid, and you must not be either. We will both do what we must, but you must live."
He pulled away from her again and his fists clenched tightly.
She could see the now clearly defined tentacles bulging above the normal surface of the skin and pushing at the opening they needed just above the wrist.
"Mother," he cried out, "It hurts so."
She slid her hands in his. So her own hands had been held as she had struggled at his birth.
"Squeeze my hands tightly now."
Breathing rapidly, he did so as the next spasm shook him and suddenly there was a rush of fluid and the tentacles burst forth glistening in the light of the fire. They writhed with sudden life. Mariose saw the pain disappear from his eyes and he looked at her as though she too had changed.
He is seeing me as Gen, she thought. He can sense that I have what he now needs. Without hesitation, she reached out her hands to him, not knowing what to expect.
He grabbed her arms roughly, tentacles snaking into a position that held her arms motionless. She glanced down at their arms so strangely joined and saw two more slender tentacles emerge from each arm and snake into position on her arms. She felt a slight tingle as they touched her.
She looked at him in wonder and felt his lips touch hers. As the fifth contact was made she could feel something flowing from her to him and realized with an amazement of delight that the philosopher had been a scientist after all.
There was no fear in her. This was the child whom she had nourished in her body, had fed from her breasts. What she was giving him now was another type of nourishment - and life itself.
He began to draw faster and the sensation delighted her. As a mother she had often taken the greedy suckling child from her breast to place it over her shoulder, so now she reached to him to slow down the draw rate. He protested, but she firmly controlled him. She could sense his final satiation and then he broke the contact and lay back on the bed.
She got up and covered him again with the blanket.
"Mother," His eyes opened and looked at her as though still questioning all that had happened.
"Hush now and sleep. We are both going to have a lot of work to do."
"What will father . . . ?"
"You are our son, his heir, and you are alive. I can handle your father." He smiled at her assurance and closed his eyes.
She looked at her Sime-child and smiled. Perhaps they were neither of them human, but together, as Sime and Gen, they could chase terror and anarchy from this island.
She heard a pounding at the door and her husband's voice calling.
"Mariose, are you in there?"
"Yes, Lothair." She went to unbar the door.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, Lothair, both Petre and I are fine."
FromCompanion in Zeor #7
Last modified on 30 June 97 at 1950