The young Sime glanced at the note in disgust. It was so like his uncle not to bother to stay and greet him when there was a profit to be made elsewhere. The wealthy and jaded customers who came to inspect the Wild Gens here at the main Runzi holding camp got a guided tour and the best guest room. Even the tax collector got a cup of tea. All the boss's nephew rated was a bare closet of a room and four sentences scrawled on the back of a piece of scratch paper:
It didn't take him long to find Jan, the middle-aged woman who supervised the care and feeding of the Gens which were held here before being sorted and shipped off to Choice Auctions and pleasure palaces all over Nivet Territory. When he told her he was ready to make his choice, she left the pot of stew she was cooking for the Gens' evening feeding and showed him to the cages.
"Mind you," she said, as she led the way into the barn-like building where the Gens were housed, "there's not much choice at the moment. Your uncle took most of the Gens we had to sell, and the raiding party isn't due back for at least a week. That's why I gave the rest of my staff a few days off, those that didn't go with your uncle."
"I'm sure I'll be able to find something," the boy said reassuringly.
His optimism faded as he viewed the Gens. Of the four, one male had a blinding headache due to a concussion, probably sustained when he was captured. One had a wracking cough. The third had obviously just established, as her field was still low. She would make someone a good kill, but not for another week at least. The only healthy Gen in the lot was cowering in the back of her cage, looking at him with an expression of dumb bewilderment. No spirit, he thought.
It was just like his uncle to take every saleable Gen to the auction, leaving him with useless culls. Not that the average Sime would consider them a bad deal. Most Simes didn't much mind a Gen with a weak nager. He, however, had learned early that only the best Prime Kills could give him any satisfaction at all. Any of these Gens would leave him feeling shorted, and he would certainly not be able to last a full four weeks before he would require another.
"Well, what's your choice?" Jan asked impatiently. "I've got to get back before the stew boils dry."
In desperation, the boy went hyperconscious, trying to discern any spark of spirit in the Gens. He was finding it strangely difficult to concentrate on them. There was something impinging on his consciousness, a warm, golden pulsing pulling at him from somewhere across the room.
Abruptly, he walked down the aisle, seeking that golden warmth, oblivious to Jan's surprise. He found the source at the far end of the barn. She was nothing much to look at. Mousey brown hair framed a square face on top of a figure that had once been slender but now showed the after-effects of several pregnancies. Her field, though, was one of the strongest he had ever zlinned, and she returned his measuring look with a steady gaze that belied her situation. Why hadn't his uncle taken her with him? Such a Gen would fetch a good price, surely.
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, he reminded himself. "I'll take this one," he said.
Jan was dismayed. "But this Gen was being saved because . . ."
"Did my uncle give me the Gen of my choice or didn't he?" the boy interrupted, need and the proximity of the Gen bringing out his temper.
"He did, but . . ."
"No buts about it. I choose this Gen. Get her ready. You have until I finish unpacking." He stalked out, ignoring Jan's resentment of his high-handed attitude. After all, his father had always taught him that it was more important to be obeyed than to have the servants like him.
He forced himself to take his time, making sure all his clothes were neatly folded. He even wrote a short note to his father.
It was several hours later when a glowering Jan escorted him to the killroom at the top of the administrative building.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather have one of the others?" she asked as she showed him to the door. "Your uncle didn't take this one to sell because . . ."
"For the last time, I'm taking this one!" the boy snapped, luxuriating in the Gen's incredibly strong nager. "I don't care who my uncle promised her to, she's mine now. Now give me the key."
"All right," Jan said, giving up at last. "Orders are orders, and I guess you know what you can handle. I'd appreciate it if you'd take the body out back when you're done. I'll be running errands in town for a few hours, what with all the help gone, and there's no sense stinking up the building."
That much he could give her, for the sake of good relations. "Very well. Now get clear of the building."
He ignored her muttered farewell. Need ruled him now, as the insulating door cut off his perception of the outside world. Hyperconscious, he took a few steps forward, stalking the source of warmth that was the only other object in his universe.
Something was missing. Fear. The Gen ought to have been terrified, chained to the wall as her death closed in, but her field was as calm as it had been earlier. Confused, he dropped back down to duoconsciousness and looked at her.
She was watching him with that same level stare that had been so intriguing to him earlier. "If you attack me, you will regret it," she told him calmly in perfect Simelan, for all the world as if she were discussing the weather.
It was disconcerting to have a Gen speak Simelan, and even more so to have one that stayed calm in the killroom. No matter. She would fear soon enough, as her life fed the hunger that was tearing at him.
"Shut up," he told her, quickly closing the distance between them. His impatience made him clumsy, and he fumbled with the key for a moment before the lock on her collar gave way. He reached with one hand to hold her still while he removed her collar with the other.
Suddenly his need disappeared. No, he realized a second later, he was still low-field, in need, but he couldn't feel it or act on it. Whenever he tried he was wrapped in a soothing warmth--Gen warmth. With growing horror, he looked at his arm, where the Gen's hand rested gently, directly above the main transport nerves. She could kill him without the slightest effort, just by tightening her grasp, but at the same time it felt so good that he didn't want her to stop.
"I'm sorry, but I have no intention of dying," she said. "Now, if you do what you're told, you'll be none the worse."
Helplessly, the boy let her maneuver him within reach of the collar and chain. As she fastened it around his neck, he fought down a wild panic at the thought of being left alone, in need, without the comforting presence of his Gen.
"Oh, don't you worry," she said, projecting a reassurance that soaked into every need-battered nerve and calmed him in spite of himself. "I won't leave you in this state. No Companion would."
The boy didn't reply immediately. He was too busy being amazed at his own stupidity. Of course his uncle hadn't sold the Gen for a kill--she couldn't be killed! And Jan--he owed her an apology. She had tried to warn him of the danger.
"You belong to a Householding," he said, myriad horror stories running through his mind. Householding Gens were not only unkillable, they were also supposed to be capable of killing in transfer, and of controlling Simes against their will. Well, he had ample proof that that last, at least, was true.
"Yes, I am a Householder," the Gen said, amusement twinkling in her eyes at his reaction, "and I intend to continue being one. Now I will have a much better chance of getting home if I am low-field, and as you're in need, I think we can arrange a mutually satisfactory exchange."
She sounded like a merchant negotiating a deal, he thought wildly, as his whole being rebelled against what she was doing to him, and what she intended. Still, when she stopped controlling his need and began to encourage it instead, he couldn't think of refusing that transfer.
Always before, when he had taken selyn, no matter how strong a field his Gen had had, there had been a feeling of suffocation. The selyn never seemed to come fast enough to satisfy, no matter how deliciously frightened the Gen was. This time selyn came as fast as he could demand it, carrying him away on a wave of euphoric pleasure (her pleasure, he realized dimly) until he could take no more.
Awed by a satisfaction he had never known in transfer before, he slowly and reluctantly came back to awareness of his surroundings. Somehow the Gen had disentangled herself from his grasp. She was standing by the door of the killroom, impatiently waiting for him to recover.
"I'll leave the key to your collar right here," she said, dropping it on the floor. "This should be the first place Jan looks for you when she realizes you aren't around."
A sudden anger pierced the boy's pleasant glow. How dare she be so insolent, when he was so helpless? "You won't get away with this," he bluffed wildly, tugging futilely at his collar and chain. "I'll level every Householding if that's what it takes."
The Gen cast an amused look at him, much as a mother might, whose child had just expressed a desire to jump over the moon. "Good-by," she said, and left.
"You haven't heard the last of Andle, I promise!" the boy called after her.
There was no answer. Andle waited until he could no longer zlin the faintest trace of her nager, and then settled down to wait for Jan, anger and humiliation feeding a hatred for the Householdings that was to last the rest of his life.
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