A BORDER TALE

or

"BELLING THE CAT"

Featuring "Icy Nager"

by

Andrea Alton

copyright 1980 by Andrea Alton and Jacqueline Lichtenberg

All rights reserved

email: ambrovzeor@aol.com for permissions

Editorial Note: The following story was originally submitted to A COMPANION IN ZEOR in 1981. After Jacqueline read it, her opinion was that it was a good basis for a professional novel. It was further developed into "ICY NAGER" which at one point had been submitted to Doubleday for publication. Because of that decision, A COMPANION IN ZEOR never printed this piece. What you are reading is the original first draft of "ICY NAGER" which has been available both as a print fanzine and on our Websites. Karen Litman


Forward To the Web Edition

by

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Andrea Alton is a professionally published science fiction writer now. When she wrote this story, she had barely embarked on the project of learning to write. When I first saw her work, I thought "Andrea Alton" was a hoax being pulled on me by a famous professional writer of my acquaintance - the writing bore that out. I was wrong. Andrea Alton is a real person - and a nice one too.

She has been gracious enough to let us post this proto-story in its raw form. Karen Litman toiled away to retype this from the original submission manuscript which she kept all these years safe and sound. I read a printout scouring for typos and discovered that I love this version of "Icy Nager's" story as much now as I did then. There are flares of genius in this piece that still thrill me.

Those who have read the longer novella titled Icy Nager posted on the Zeor Visitor's Center may experience a moment of disorientation, though. This version has to be regarded as Alternate Universe Icy Nager because it was written before Prophets Town, Soul Sharing, Icy Nager's brother the Sectuib, and a wealth of background detail were added to the story. Obviously, though the elements are there -- and my favorite Andrea Alton postulate, the Bandegog Institute of junct archeologists is somewhere out there behind this story.

Writing Workshoppers from the Sime~Gen Listserve should note the way this opening, middle, and ending are constructed. She opens with 10 men and an 11th -- and the 11th is odd man out in everything, their prisoner. Andrea provides a visual image of the conflict she's about to work with.

The prisoner is embedded in a foreign milieu - the conflict is 11th against the 10. The stranger vs. the locals. At the halfway point, it is revealed that the prisoner is a victim of a worse law-breaker. At the end, the worse-lawbreaker gets what's coming to him, and the prisoner becomes an ally of the locals -- thus resolving the conflict addressed in paragraph one.

It was the presence of this underlying structure, and the obvious absence of essential background that telegraphed "there's a novel in here screaming to get out." Andrea went back to work and found that novel, which I have several versions of. I still intend to present Icy Nager and Evan Trandolphic (a.k.a. Even Randolph and Evan Randolph) in the professionally published material.

Here then are the origins of this towering mythic figure of the Sime~Gen Universe.


"BELLING THE CAT"

Featuring "Icy Nager"

by

Andrea Alton

It was past dusk when eleven men rode weary horses into the Gen-Territory border town of Three Oaks on a chill, late Fall evening. Ten wore the traditional khaki uniform of the Border Patrol. The eleventh wore a faded red wool shirt and worn blue jeans. His hands were bound behind his back.

The prisoner was a slightly built man in his late twenties. His hair, ordinarily coal black, was gray with dust. His narrow shoulders drooped wearily.

Shiny steel manacles an inch thick extended half-way up his forearms and the steel links between them were half an inch thick. A heavy leather collar was fastened around his neck and a stout chain went from that to the saddle horn of the man riding behind him. The collar was actually two collars. Under the wide leather band was a choke chain inside a doeskin cover. A firm tug was enough to cause it to tighten painfully. Even a Sime wasn't very dangerous half strangled.

The men were silent as their horses clip-clopped slowly through the darkening streets. Windows were being lit in the houses they passed. Occasionally the hungry men would get a delicious whiff of a cooking dinner. Somewhere a mother was calling her children to come in. A dog barked briefly from a back yard. On one corner, partly shielded by the trunk of an ancient oak, a gray and white cat watched enigmatically from the safety of a gate post.

The cavalcade turned into the Main street where the bars and restaurants were still open. Their big, bright windows threw yellow squares of light across the dark, dusty street. The lamp light flickered off the horses legs as they crossed in front of Willy's Bar and Food and shuffled to a stand in front of the Sheriff's Office next door.

The Sheriff's Office was a square, one story building set in the middle of the block. It was built of fieldstone and was only slightly less substantial than the bank across the street and two doors down. A light gleamed through the barred front window.

The Lieutenant swung tiredly down from his horse, beat ineffectually at the dust on his smart tan uniform for a moment before mounting the wooden step to the Sheriff's door and pushing it open. "Hello, Ted," he said, strolling into the building. He left the door standing wide behind him. A cold wind followed at his heels and busied itself around the large bare room. Sheriff Ted Baker, a gray-haired, stocky man promptly spread-eagled himself over his papers scowling fiercely at the officer. "Close the damn door, Ashe!"

The Lieutenant ignored him, picking up a few wanted posters which had escaped the Sheriff's frantic lunge and put them back on a corner of the battered oak desk, placing a dirty coffee cup on top of them.

Outside in the street, the prisoner bit back a scream as rough hands grabbed his arms and pulled him off his mount. Yanked by the chain at his throat and shoved from behind, the slight prisoner stumbled across the boardwalk, up the step and into the office. The Sheriff glared at the soldiers filling up his doorway. "Close that door!" he bellowed.

They did.

Still glowering he listened to Lt. Ashe's request to leave the prisoner in his care as he placed various heavy items on the stacks of paper littering his desk. His monthly reports safe at last, he reached up for the much wrinkled and grubby paper the Lieutenant was holding out to him. Baker rubbed a large hand over his blue stubbled chin as he perused it. "I don't know, Lieutenant," he said slowly. "I don't like keeping Sime prisoners. It riles the womenfolk."

"But the cells are strong enough to hold him?" Ashe glanced pointedly across the room as he spoke at the two sturdy iron barred cells at the other end of the jail.

"Oh, yes...It's just..."

"And my authorization is valid?" Lt. Ashe continued crisply.

"Oh yes,...it's just..."

"Then I really don't see that there is anything more to be said." He stared arrogantly down at Sheriff Baker.

The Sheriff pushed his chair back from the desk so he could look comfortably up into the other man's thin, dark face. The Sheriff's light blue eyes were hard and unwavering as he spoke with a ponderous clarity which overrode the other man's initial attempt to cut him off. "It's just that it's gonna cause trouble in a town already runnin' high with feelin' over that Sime attack last week."

Lt. Ashe leaned over the desk. "Sheriff Baker, this prisoner has information important to border security, but I can't finish debriefing him right now. I just had word the Raiders are over the border again and I have no safe place to keep him until I can get back."

"How long you gonna' leave him here?" the Sheriff asked resignedly.

The Lieutenant slapped his gloves into one hand. "Not long; five days at the most. You can understand I don't want to drag a Sime around with me for the next week? What if he should get loose?"
"What indeed?" replied the Sheriff dryly, thinking of the women's Saturday Marketing Day and the school two blocks over.

"You're a border Sheriff. You should be able to handle any unpleasantness that night come up," Lt. Ashe responded with the silken suggestion in his tone that Sheriff Baker was perhaps just a little too old for his position.

"I'm used to handling Raiders and such," the Sheriff answered equably, not rising to the bait. "But have you ever had the Women's Auxiliary on your back?"

The Lieutenant smiled politely.

"What if the prisoner should die while you're gone?" This softly spoken question came from a tall man quietly leaning against the filing cabinets in the gloom on the far side of the office. With his gray shirt and black pants he blended perfectly into the shadows. Lt. Ashe hadn't even noticed him until he spoke.

The officer squinted against the light from the oil lamp above the Sheriff's desk, trying to see the speaker more clearly. All he could make out was a tall, lean, broad shouldered man whose eyes were shadowed by a lock of straight hair. The light picked out the deputy's badge on his shirt pocket. "He's got about ten days to go before attrition gets so bad he can't answer questions. He should be all right until we get back for him." Ashe glanced impatiently at the cells. "I would really like to see him safely locked up before I leave," he hinted.

The tall deputy pushed away from the shadows and in the oil light his hair was goldy brown. His face was long, with angular features, too strong to be conventionally handsome. His wide set eyes under the unruly lock of hair were gray. He looked to be about thirty. He moved silently, with an almost Sime grace.

The Sheriff handed him the cell keys. After taking a couple of steps the deputy checked, turning thoughtfully to the impatiently waiting Lieutenant. "You do have the keys to the prisoner's manacles, Lt. Ashe?"

"Of course I have, but I can't see what you'll be needing with them. It's not as if you're going to be taking them off," the officer replied irritably.

Without moving a muscle the deputy's pause turned into an unyielding halt.

"Merryweather is right, Lt. Ashe. Regulations specify that all keys be left with the official in charge." Baker rocked his chair back, one foot propped against an open drawer.

The Lieutenant eyed him narrowly. "No keys, no cell. Is that it?"

"You catch on fast, Lieutenant."

Angrily Lt. Ashe dug inside his coat for a moment and then threw down a clump of steel keys on a rawhide string. They bounced once as they hit the desk top.

Behind him the Deputy nodded and moved towards the cell, opening the door wide; waiting patiently.

The prisoner, who had been standing, head hanging, swaying slightly through this conversation was grabbed and shoved roughly into the cell. He staggered, lost his balance and went to his knees beside the bunk. He screamed once, short and sharp as one manacled forearm hit the iron bed frame. He remained where he was...immobile...face pressed against the rough brown blanket.

The Sergeant stepped in after him and passed the end of the chain which he had been holding, through the bars, to another man, who pulled it into the office, wrapping the end around the room's center post and snapped a lock on it. There was just enough slack remaining to permit the Sime to lay down on the bunk. But if there hadn't been, the men would not have cared over much.

The Sergeant paused beside the Deputy, jerking a thumb at the chain, "So's you can reel him in close for questioning." He nudged the tall deputy with one elbow and smirked. "Y'know what I mean?"

Merryweather's rawboned face betrayed nothing of his feelings but his body went rigid with distaste. "All too well," he replied flatly.

The Sergeant looked sharply up at him, a sneer starting to curl one lip. "You one of those dirty..."

Rather fortunately an excited voice behind him cut across the Sergeant's next words, because the Deputy was planning to let him finish his sentence and then beat him to a pulp.

"Hey, you're Rafe Merryweather! I thought I knew that name!" The trooper turned eagerly to his Sergeant. "Why Sarge, you're talkin' to Sime-Side Rafe. The toughest, meanest, orneryest..."

The Deputy studied the trooper with no special enthusiasm. "That's right," he said quietly.

"Sarge, that's the guy who goes into Sime territory to bring folks back. He's the one who brought back the Paxton kids just last month..."

Under Rafe's cold gray stare the eager voice trailed off.

"So," the Sergeant said, suddenly respectful, "You're a Sime-killer."

Rafe transferred his stony gaze from the trooper to the Sergeant. Suddenly uncomfortable the two men left. On the way out Sheriff Baker heard the Sergeant mutter to the other man, "Jeez, he's got cold eyes!"

"Yes," the other man said, perfectly delighted. "That's the mark of a Sime-killer. Did you see the snake belt he was wearing? Means he's brought back fifty

people!"

The door closed behind them and the tall deputy strolled across the room and picked the manacle keys off the desk.

"Be careful when you go in there," the Sheriff warned.

Merryweather pushed the unruly lock of goldy brown hair out of his eyes, while he studied the tense, unmoving Sime in the cell. "Looks as if all the fight's been knocked out of him, at least for a while anyway."

The Sheriff's voice sounded tired. "There's no reason men should mistreat anyone that way...even a Sime. I sometimes wonder who's the worst animal...Simes or us."

"Careful Ted, talk like that will get you into trouble with the Sewing Club." Merryweather was unlocking the cell door as he spoke.

Ted grunted.

Through his crushing pain the Sime became aware of a Gen field close by. That was all he was certain of through the sickening distortions the manacles caused in his Sime senses. He pulled his courage together; lifted his head proudly. With difficulty he forced his eyes open so he could see his newest tormentor.

The last beating had been aimed mostly at his face and the swelling had almost closed his eyes. All he could make out was the fuzzy impression of a large man with the characteristic Gen field. He let his eyes close.

Rafe halted just inside the open cell. Expression impassive he stared down into a face that should have been tanned but which was swollen, blood streaked and black and blue. The Sime's eyes were mere glittering slits in an unrecognizable face.

I will not kneel before a stupid Gen animal, the Sime was thinking to himself. It will not be said that Evan Randolph stayed voluntarily on his knees. He struggled clumsily to his feet; a pair of big hands took him by the shoulders to steady him. He started to twist away from that grip but the Gen tightened his hold. There didn't seem to be any point in a useless struggle so he relaxed, husbanding his strength.

"What is your name?" The words, softly spoken were in accented but understandable Simelan. Evan stiffened. What new trick was this? "Evan," he managed to say from between puffed and bleeding lips. It was the first time in his life a Gen had ever asked him his name.

"Evan," he heard that soft voice say, "I'm going to take off the manacles. Stand very still while I do it."

Evan did not want to believe the Gen. It was one of those vile Out-Territory tricks Wild Gens liked to play, but he couldn't bring himself to reject the hope instilled in him by those quiet words. "Yes," he heard himself croak in English.

"How good is a Sime's word?" Ted asked from across the room where he sat cradling a rifle...just in case.

"When they aren't in Hard Need, about as good as they come," Rafe answered, searching through the keys. "Aha, I found it." There was a metallic snap and the chain holding the Sime's arms behind his back came loose in Rafe's hands. He tossed this out through the bars, where it clattered loosely against the stone floor.

Evan's arms fell forward; pain lanced through his shoulders. He bit his lips to hold back the cry in his throat. His arms hung useless; heavy logs.

Gently the Gen's strong hands closed on his shoulders turning him around. One of his hands was taken in a firm grip. Miraculously Evan felt the fastenings on the manacle come open. The Gen removed the torturing steel with infinite care; showing a familiarity with the devices not given to many. It was an interesting revelation but the Sime was past the point of being curious.

As those torturing steel jackets came off Evan made a great effort to retract the delicate lateral tentacles which had been forcibly extended into narrow pockets within those steel gauntlets. The effort left him sick and shaking. He didn't bother trying to retract his handling tentacles. They were in much worse shape than the laterals and all the effort would gain him would be more pain.

As the steel finally slipped from his arms, he was hit by the full impact of the uncut Gen field before him. To his utter dumbfoundment it was admiring and utterly soothing in its strong, even, unthreatening beat. Instinctively, with a sob of relief, he reached his hands out to that comfort.

WARNING!!

Slapped with the Gen's reaction he stopped short, belatedly remembering the order to stand still. He let his hands fall, hoping desperately the Gen wouldn't change his feelings. The fear/warning took a few seconds to fade and was replaced by a strong sense of understanding. Evan gulped back another sob and kept his hands down.

To his further amazement his hands were taken in a hard, callused grip, not to hurt, but to inspect, so he suffered the touch. He could feel both dorsal and ventral tentacles hanging limp, swinging painfully at every movement. Suddenly filled with apprehension at his vulnerability Evan hastily tried to sheath them. The pain was incredible and they didn't so much as twitch.

"They should not be this badly bruised from the manacles," the Gen said, frowning down at them and being extremely careful not to let them come in contact with his hands.

"Most of the damage was done before the manacles were put on," Evan replied quietly.

Rafe looked down at those limp tentacles which should have been as smooth as the Sime's forearms, but which were in the same abused state as Evan's face and felt his respect for the smaller man go up several more notches. "How long have you been wearing those things?" he asked.

"What time is it?"

"Nearly Six O'clock."

"Fifty-seven hours." There was a twist to those puffed lips that might have been an attempt at a smile. "Give or take a century."

As if the Gen's answering wave of concern had been a signal Evan felt his knees give way. He was picked up and deposited on the bunk. The Gen's comfortable nager moved away. Evan wanted to cry out for him to stay, but pride and the knowledge of the uselessness of such a request kept him silent.

The Deputy filled a large kettle with water and set it on the pot-bellied stove while saying to Baker, "He's been wearing those things for nearly two and a half days. It's a wonder he hasn't turned into a bowl of jello."

Shortly the Deputy returned to the cell with a bucket of cold well water. Gently he picked up the Sime's hands and pushed them into the water, being careful not to bump those damaged tentacles against the sides of the bucket.

"Thank you!" Evan gasped fervently as his throbbing, aching flesh hit that numbing chill. Rafe quietly pulled a clean cloth out of his pocket and dipping it into the cold water began bathing the Sime's battered face.

Soothed and comforted physically and emotionally by the lanky Gen's presence, Evan didn't have the energy to question the miracle. It was enough the torment had ended.

It was nearly midnight. Ted had long gone home; the prisoner had been, to all appearances, sound asleep for hours under the course brown jail blanket, with one hand wrapped around the chain to keep it from dragging at his neck.

Rafe was seated with his feet on top of the Sheriff's scarred desk, quietly munching an apple while reading his copy of the Manual of Ancient Farming Machines, when the silence was disturbed by the sound of a rattling chain.

Rafe glanced over the top of his book as the Sime swung his legs over the side of the bunk, rubbed his hands through his newly washed black hair and sat, slumped, elbows on knees, staring down at his arms where the tentacles still dangled unresponsively.

"Bad?" Rafe asked in his accented Simelan.

The Sime looked over at the Gen sitting relaxed behind the big desk, half eaten apple in his hand. "Bad," he agreed with a painful smile. He looked down at his arms again. "But I think I would live," he said in quiet mockery of his situation.

Rafe's interest was aroused by these words. His previous contacts with Simes had not prepared him for calm words nor attempts at humor. Mostly they swore vilely while trying to kill him.

The prisoner's neck chain scraped metallically across the stone floor as the Sime moved to the bars. He stood staring through them at the water bucket and wooden dipper sitting just out of reach.

Merryweather got up and moved it closer. Eagerly the Sime reached through the bars, lifted the dripping dipper and drank. As his head tipped back his face was illuminated by the light from the oil lamp. Rafe was surprised at what he saw. In fact he was so surprised the Sime stood poised, dipper at his mouth staring at him, trying to understand what was affecting the other.

Rafe was staring at the slim man's face. Only a few hours had passed but the physical evidence of the brutal beating the Sime had received was already fading. The ugly purple bruises were a light green and the swelling was almost gone. The Sime's eyes, now wide open, were a deep blue, Rafe noted absently, and fringed with a thick sweep of dark lashes a girl might envy, a narrow well shaped nose was healing slightly askew, thin sensitive lips above a square stubborn chin, still showed some scars. Rafe had heard Simes were fast healers but this was beyond anything he expected. His gaze dropped to the Sime's tentacles. "Can you retract them?"

Replacing the dipper after a last swallow the Sime said, "No."

"Try," Merryweather ordered grimly.

The Gen's nager had an implacable bite to it that in the market place would have been irresistible to those who liked to spice their Kill with danger. Here, with their roles reversed, Evan felt strongly he'd better not push his luck. Bringing his forearms up waist high and gritting his teeth he made the effort the tall Gen demanded. Sweat stood out on his forehead from the excruciating pain. "Can't do it," he gasped finally.

Deputy Merryweather, who had been watching his face with keen attention, nodded his acceptance. "Hungry?" he asked, bending to remove the water bucket.

Faster than a striking snake the Sime's arm shot through the bars and grabbed the deputy in an iron grip, yanking him sideways against the bars. With his other hand he twisted the big Gen's arm up behind his back to keep him in place and let go his first hold to scrabble at the deputy's pockets.

Held immobile, twisted awkwardly against the bars, Rafe's predominant thought was... Their strength does not lie in their tentacles, you fool. You are going to die and serves you right for getting careless. With difficulty he looked down at the Sime hand at his pocket and noted that the tentacles were still swinging freely. (Well, that was one consolation. The Sime hadn't lied to him.) "If you're looking for the keys, they're on the desk." It was hard to talk clearly with an iron bar against his jaw, but the Sime understood him easily enough.

Evan froze a second as his eyes sought and found the little tangle of keys in the middle of the papers on the battered oak desk. With a snarl of fear and frustration he thrust the Gen away so violently the big man stumbled and nearly fell.

When Rafe regained his balance the Sime was crouched in the middle of the cell, the chain pulled tightly to him, the slack wrapped around one hand; defiance blazed in his blue eyes. "Come on and get me!" he snarled.

Merryweather lifted one hand to his mouth to see if his lip was cut. It wasn't. He regarded the Sime thoughtfully, slowly rubbing his aching wrist where the other had grabbed him. By all the rules of the game he should either have been drained of his life force or dead of a broken neck. Clearly the Sime had been able to do either, so it was no accident he was still alive. But what did the thin Sime hope to gain by his actions? Rafe was baffled by this extraordinary behavior. The Sime was not acting in character.

To Evan, Merryweather was equally mystifying. The deputy, being a mere Gen, should have been hysterical with fear at being grabbed and held by a Sime. But he was just standing there, watching him out of steady gray eyes, radiating very little emotion, although he was not as calm as he was acting, his nager beat which Evan had gotten used to over the last few hours was just slightly out of rhythm.

The silence continued and with every passing second Evan felt his nerves stretched tighter with anticipation. When he couldn't stand it any longer he snarled savagely at the lanky, broad-shouldered Gen, "What are you waiting for, mighty Sime-Killer? Come on and try to get me. We'll see just how good you are!"

The Gen was damn good Evan had to admit a few minutes later. To his shock, instead of the big man grabbing for the neck chain to yank him closer to the bars, or even grabbing for a gun, it was the Gen's field which shifted, flowing around him. A firm, compelling blanket on his turbulent emotions, forcing him into a state of calm acceptance in spite of all he could do to fight it.

Evan had heard of Companions occasionally doing that, but had discounted the story as a Householding fabrication. Now he watched as his hand relaxed and fell away from the chain, leaving him open to an attack by the Gen, but such was the power of the Gen's field he couldn't even get concerned over the possibility. He knew remotely he was in real trouble as the Gen moved gracefully toward him but he was unable to make a move to defend himself until the Gen's mood shifted, releasing him.

With the bars between them their eyes met and held. The Gen pulled at his lower lip ruefully, but said nothing. Slowly Evan straightened up. Bewildered and shocked by the power the Gen had over him the compact, graceful Sime regarded the broad shouldered, rangy Gen uncertainly. "Why aren't you going to hit me?" Evan asked quietly after a time.

"I was expecting you to make some kind of move." Rafe shrugged, "I should have been ready...Why didn't you kill me when you had a chance?"

"I didn't want to," replied Evan defiantly, "Although I don't expect a Gen to believe that."

The Gen was not satisfied with that answer. He waited. Into that demanding silence Evan confessed reluctantly, "I didn't want to kill you because you have been...kind." He had an odd notion the words hung fire etched for an instant within the Gen's golden field.

"You hungry?" the deputy asked at last.

"I haven't eaten in four days. I could use something," the prisoner acknowledged warily, off balance again by the unexpected question. Wild Gens rarely fed their Sime captives hoping to weaken them. Also the lanky Gen was hiding some emotion under tight control and it made Evan nervous not knowing what it was.

"Fine. I'll have Moira fix you up a steak dinner."

"Uh, ...at the risk of sounding unappreciative... Simes don't eat meat."

The Gen's nager flared incandescent with surprise. Rafe turned to stare hard at the prisoner, trying to reconcile the image of a vicious killer, which in spite of everything, the Sime was, with the image of a man who did not eat meat; and THAT image was of his father.

"Some bread and perhaps some vegetables..." the Sime was saying, his voice trailing off doubtfully under Rafe's conflicting emotions.

"Right," Rafe said.

When the boy brought their supper over from Willy's Bar and Food, Rafe met him at the door, unwilling to let him see the prisoner.

"That's a lot of food," Evan commented as Rafe brought over his plate.

"A grown man needs to eat," was Rafe's reply as he sat down to a much larger plate containing a steak. The Gen's hunger and single-minded devotion to his meal sparked Evan's appetite and he ate much more than he was generally accustomed to. In spite of what he considered spectacular

inroads made on his heaping plate, Rafe's response was one of puzzled concern when he came to get the prisoner's tray. "I thought you were hungry?"

"I was."

"You didn't eat very much."

"I ate all I could," the prisoner protested.

Rafe looked him over carefully, noting again that the Sime was too thin, but not cadaverously emaciated like the Raiders he usually dealt with. He didn't look like a Raider, he didn't act like a farmer. His manners were those of a cultured man but his clothes showed he was used to hard living. He carried himself like a man who was used to walking the High Country. By which he meant he could hold his own along the Border. An area which drew to itself the outlaws and general hard cases from both sides of the Border. The Sime puzzled him.

Merryweather piled the dishes on the tray and set them by the door for the boy to collect later. He came back to the cell and stood regarding the Sime, pulling absently at his lower lip.

Evan, seated on the bed, stared back. The big Gen was coming to some sort of decision and he wondered what it was.

"Must bother you, having your tentacles hang limp that way," the deputy said finally.

"Painful, too," Evan agreed warily.

"Should bandage them."

Evan looked down at his arms. "It will be difficult with only one hand," he observed.

"Merryweather shot him a sharp glance. "I'll do it," he said.

Evan's mouth dropped open. The Gen actually meant it! he realized, zlinning him. "Why?"

Rafe pulled at his lower lip again. "Well, they should be looked after..."

"What's the use," the other replied wearily, "I'll be dead in another few days anyway."

"The thing is," the deputy replied softly, "Folks feel happier when a live Sime has something holding his tentacles." He hesitated, "It'll save a lot of trouble for both of us."

"You mean it'll save you trouble with the townspeople."

"Evan," Merryweather said imperturbably, "Ted and I are duty bound to protect you until the troopers come back, but I'd hate to have to face down a lynch mob because of you."

In spite of not having much of a future, Evan quailed at the picture. "I see," he said a trifle hollowly. "Very well...you may bell the cat...if you can do it."

"Is that a threat?" The Gen's tone remained unruffled but his nager had that unpleasant bite to it again.

"Not at all," the Sime replied hastily. "You have a lot of self-confidence, a lot of courage, but have you ever touched a Sime's tentacles before?"

For a long moment the Gen tugged at his lip, an inward turned look in his wide gray eyes as he thought back over past dealings with Simes. "No," he said finally.

The other's blue eyes were earnest. "You won't be able to, Gen. No Gen can, except for Companions and they're

...different."

Merryweather snorted, pulling a lower drawer open in the desk and withdrew several large rolls of bandages. He came back to the cell. The Sime did not move.

"Come here," Rafe ordered.

The prisoner sighed. The Gen did not know what he was asking. Evan flowed to his feet with that peculiar Sime grace. He lifted his left hand. It was shaking. He stared at it as if he was never going to see it again. I'm afraid to let a Gen touch me, he thought and resolutely shoved his arm through the bars, before he could examine that new knowledge.

Rafe's hand reached out to gather up those limp, bruised appendages and stopped just short of touching them. Rafe stared down at his strong brown hand in amazement. As if it had a life of it's own that hand refused to make contact. Gradually the Gen deputy became aware of the blood pounding in his ears, of dryness in his mouth, the way his heart leaped like a mad thing in his chest. Cold sweat stood out on his forehead. How can I be afraid? he thought. I didn't think I was afraid.

Profoundly puzzled, his gray eyes met those of the Sime. The prisoner grinned. That mocking white smile was the final goad Sime-Side Rafe needed. Gritting his teeth he grabbed spasmodically for the nearest ventral. Evan yelped at the sudden pain. Rafe loosened his grip, slightly. The deputy stood rigid, letting the waves of fear wash over him; letting it go on and on and on until the emotion finally wore itself out.

The entire time Rafe's eyes remained on the Sime's face. The other's blue eyes had taken on a queer, hungry brightness and were fastened blindly on a spot in the center of his chest. The Sime's hands clenched whitely around the bars, straining at the metal as if he would tear them apart.

Rafe was reminded unpleasantly of Sime faces glimpsed during the last Sime~Gen war and in other, more recent, private struggles. But as his fear ebbed and he cleared the debris of it out of his mind, never to be felt again, the odd look faded from the Sime's face.

"You overcame it!" Evan whispered awe struck. "I've never had a Gen do that before."

"Perhaps other Gens were not given a chance to do it?" Rafe suggested, gently.

Now that Merryweather was calm again, he became aware of the feel of the tentacle laying across his hard palm. It was incredibly soft and pliable, like a rope of gray doe skin, or like the velvet covering on a deer's new antlers. The touch of it was sending little thrills of pure sensation through his body. Wondering, he gently ran one callused finger down it's pearly gray length.

Slowly he picked up the dorsal tentacle and placed it beside the ventral, letting his fingers linger on the smooth warm velvetness. A corner of his mind was mildly perplexed at his reluctance to let go of something which just a few moments before had filled him with shuddering fear.

Evan made a small sound. Rafe's attention jerked to the other. The Sime's eyes were closed and his forehead was resting against the bars. Rafe studied him a moment, thinking his touch might be hurting the other man, but the Sime made a small motion with his hand for him to continue.

Other Simes had run their fingers over Evan's tentacles, but a Gen had never run a golden selyn laced finger gently down them before. The Gen's touch was doing indescribably delicious things to his selyn balance. Once he'd seen a Channel carelessly rest his hand on his Companion's shoulder and affectionately let a lateral slide down the Gen's cheek. Since then he'd had a morbid fascination about the relationship between a Channel and his Gen. Was THIS the sort of thing a Channel had with a Companion?

A drunken shout with a short burst of yelling, somewhere nearby, broke the spell. With a sigh Rafe came out of his absorption. With ineffable gentleness he gathered up two tentacles at a time and wrapping them in clean bandages bound them to the Sime's arm above the tentacle sheaths.


Baker appeared at dawn, stumping in through the front door, hanging his battered hat on the pegs on the wall before greeting his deputy. He never said much in the mornings. He was on his second cup of coffee before he noticed the bandages on Evan's arms. "How did you manage that?" he exclaimed, turning an impressed face to his Deputy.

"It wasn't difficult. The prisoner was happy to cooperate," Rafe said mildly. Unaccountably Evan blushed.

"What are we going to tell folks when they want him back in manacles?" Sheriff Baker asked.

Rafe shrugged. "Tell them the wrappings are a new form of restraint I learned about last month when I was in Whelan."

"As good an explanation as any. Just so long as he doesn't use those tentacles," Baker replied, shooting the Sime a warning glance.

Evan got to his feet and bowed mockingly. "Not even if my life depends on it," he said.

At seven-fifteen the paper boy, a skinny eleven year old towhead stopped in, staring eagerly at the prisoner as he handed the Sheriff his paper. "Thanks, Bobby," Baker said, fishing in his pocket for a coin. He sighed heavily as the door closed behind the boy. "The things it takes to get a paper hand-delivered and early." He shook his head as he unfolded it and turned to the town news.

By eight A.M. Sam Chow, the local storekeeper, a tall, thin, gangly man with faded red hair, was in the office, flapping his arms up and down and hotly demanding alternately that the prisoner be taken to some other town and that the Sime be put on public display in the town square as an object lesson. What he thought a Sime dying of attrition was supposed to teach people wasn't clear.

Ted was unable to calm him down. In fact nothing short of shooting him was going to calm down the excitable merchant he told Rafe morosely when his deputy came back from taking care of his horse. The wistful tone Ted used when he mentioned shooting made Rafe grin.

The deputy went out to shower and shave at the barber shop and then went on up the street stepping in at Rosie's Place for a leisurely breakfast. At 10:30 he stepped out of Rosie's, a contented man, and looked idly down the boardwalk towards the office. There was a crowd of irate citizens outside the jail, brandishing such things as pitchforks, brooms and rolling pins. Sam Chow, distinguishable by his height, was waving a rope. Rafe broke into a run.

Ted was standing in the doorway, his stocky body effectively plugging the entrance. He was angrily shouting the crowd down when Rafe arrived. "We need him to give us information about the recent raids...What good will he do us dead!" He was shouting as Rafe reached his side.

They were about to disperse until Sam Chow, who seemed more or less the leader, turned mulish at the last moment. He proclaimed loudly that he wasn't going until he had a chance to look this vicious monster right in the eye. A few more echoed him and then a few more and in seconds everyone was all stirred up again. No one paid any attention to Baker's acid comment about Sam's short memory.

As they stood together in the doorway Baker muttered to Rafe, "I dunno, they seem pretty set on seeing the prisoner. I don't like it but it may be the only way to get rid of them as long as Sam is egging them on."

Rafe had to agree. After confiscating the more dangerous of their weapons, including Sam's coil of rope, the lawmen let the crowd file into the jail, four at a time. Men and women shouted curses at the Sime, shook their fists and uttered dire threats. Just as fast as they came in and said their piece, Rafe politely saw them out the door and told them to go home.

Through it all the prisoner clamped a sneer on his handsome face and snarled nasty things back at the crowd in Simelan.

Finally Rafe escorted the last of them out the door and closed it with a slam. "Well," he said, "It went off better than I thought it would."

Ted was leaning against the front of the desk, mopping his face with a bright red bandanna. "God, those people can get ugly." He stood up abruptly, jamming his battered gray hat decisively down on his head. "You stay here, I'm going to circulate through town. I'm not going to put up with any more of this nonsense." He strode purposefully out the door.

As the door slammed behind him, the Sime let go of his hold on the bars of his cell and sank limply onto the bed, white and shaking.

Rafe glanced in his direction as he took some paperwork out of the desk. "Congratulations!" he said lightly. "You upheld the honor of Simes everywhere. Imaginative without being filthy," referring to Evan's retorts to the townspeople.

Rafe was unprepared for the Sime's dart of black hatred. "After last night, I thought you were...different. I should have known better. Gens are all animals and Wild Gens are not only animals they are vicious and disgusting!"

"Because we let the crowd in to look at you?" Rafe hazarded in bewilderment.

"You're no different from those soldiers. You just use a different form of torture," the prisoner snarled.

"A man should be able to tolerate a little swearing, especially if he deserves it, without going all to pieces," Rafe replied contemptuously.

"A little swearing!? Why you...!!" the Sime choked, unable to think of a name bad enough. "You have no idea what you did, do you?"

Rafe blinked thoughtfully at him, pulling at his lip. "Evidently not," he said mildly. "Suppose you tell me?"

The other's calm nager was having it's effect on him again, Evan realized, leaning wearily back against the wall, chain jingling. "Why should I tell a stinking Gen anything?" he asked bitterly.

Rafe remained silent, waiting.

The Sime scrubbed at his face, the bandages on his arms flashing white in the gloomy cell. "It was their hate... and other ... underlying emotions. Strong emotions can soothe, if they are positive, or cut into our very souls if they are strong and negative. The emotions those people threw at me were both strong...and negative. I feel as if I've been run over by a herd of cattle," he muttered, completely drained.

There was a puzzled frown on Merryweather's rawboned face. "I see," he said slowly. But Evan could tell he didn't. Not really. "I'm sorry for what I put you through, Evan."

Evan's smile lit up his entire face.



Ted returned about three in the afternoon, tired and foot sore. He seemed reasonably sure his efforts had worked and that no one would actually form a mob to break in and haul their prisoner out to be strung up from the nearest tree.

"I need to make the rounds of the bars yet tonight," the Sheriff said, lowering himself stiffly into the armchair in front of the stove. "Tell you what, Rafe. You get a couple of hours sleep now, and then take care of the prisoner while I walk the bars tonight. No telling what will hatch if I'm not there to squash it. I'll relieve you at one A.M. when all the drunks go home and then you can go."

Rafe grinned at him, that rare grin that he reserved for special people. "Any man who has a young wife near to having their first child should be home nights. I don't have anyone waiting for me. I might as well be here as anywhere else. After you finish the rounds, go on home to Sally."

Baker grunted his satisfaction with this arrangement before Rafe stretched out on the bunk in the empty cell. He was immediately asleep. At ten P.M. he woke and after washing up, a process which consisted mainly of throwing ice-cold water on his face from the wash basin outside the back door, poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot that sat perennially on top of the pot-bellied stove. He sat down in the creaking arm chair to sip his coffee and wake up. After some small talk, Ted left to make his rounds.

Rafe moved behind the desk, put his feet up and opened a new book. He settled himself comfortably, preparing to enjoy himself and sipped absently at his cooling coffee as he turned the pages.

Evan, sitting cross-legged on his bunk on the far side of the room, watched quietly.

About eleven P.M. there was a knock at the door. It was the old Do-All from the bar across the street. "Sheriff said you might be hungry about now. Can I get you supper?" His rheumy old eyes stared avidly at the Sime.

Evan turned his dark head and smiled malevolently at him.

Rafe gave the man his order and then called across to Evan. "Evan? What do you want?"

About to refuse the offer of food Evan hesitated. Oddly enough he was hungry. "Tea and some brown bread," he called back.

Rafe sent the man off and walked over to the cell. "You are sure that's all you want? You didn't eat all day."

"I don't eat much when I'm approaching Need."

"Ah," Rafe was surprised at the chill that reminder sent down his back.

"Precisely," The other raised his dark head and smiled crookedly. "Don't worry. The soldiers won't be back for me before it's over. The town will get it's show."

"Lt. Ashe said..."

"Healing takes a lot of selyn. My reserves are way down."

"How long?"

"What do you want to do? Sell tickets?"

"How long?" Rafe asked impatiently.

"Four to five days. Before..."

"Before?"

"Before Need starts in earnest," the Sime said quietly. "I will perhaps last another three days after that. Of course towards the end..." His voice trailed off.

Rafe pulled at his lower lip. "I see."

That's all he said, but he was guarding his emotions. Evan was learning Rafe did that when a subject made him uncomfortable. He wondered why a Gen would find the subject of Sime attrition so...disturbing.

Once they had finished eating, the lanky deputy brought a chair over to the bars and straddled it, his arms folded across the high back. "Evan, what makes a man like you become a Raider?"

Evan, who was once more seated cross-legged on the bunk with one hand pulling on the chain to loosen its strangle hold around his neck, looked up in surprise at the question. "I'm not a Raider."

"Lt. Ashe said you were."

The prisoner stared at Rafe for a long expressionless moment. "Lt. Ashe knew I wasn't a Raider. He caught me junking up in the mountains. I had smelted bars of iron and steel on my pack mule to prove it."

Sime territory was short on metals Rafe knew. As a result Simes were forced to raise the recycling of metal to a fine art. Junkers, Simes who searched out sources of junk metal, were common enough. Rafe's eyes dropped to the Sime's hands. They were callused from hard work and scarred by burns where he had been splashed by hot metal.

"Lt. Ashe said you were a Raider," Rafe said slowly. "He was very specific. He even said he had caught you Raiding and he was leaving you here because he was on the trail of the rest of your band."

Evan's blue eyes were bleak. "Of course you believe him over the word of an In-territory Sime..."

"The question is why he wanted us to believe you were a Raider and NOT a junker," Rafe's mild tone was questioning. His gray eyes never left the Sime's face which had become an interesting study in conflict.

The Sime opened his mouth and then shut it. "I...won't tell you." His jaw jutted stubbornly.

Rafe nodded. "Very wise. I would never have believed you if you said you didn't know. This thing you found..."

The other's startled blue gaze flew to his face.

Aha! Rafe triumphed inwardly and continued his sentence smoothly, but the Sime had caught the Gen's flare of triumph and curled his lip in disgust of himself.

"This thing you found has some importance for both Simes and people. Lt. Ashe wants it...for himself... otherwise he would have turned you over to Patrol Headquarters," Rafe mused aloud. "Ergo the torture...extreme even by Border Patrol standards. And he left you in the only jail in a hundred square miles where there is a lawman who can speak fluent Simelan... Interesting." He pulled at his lip while he thought. "Has Ashe made a colossal blunder? Or did he plan it this way?" Gray eyes met blue.

Evan shook his head. "He doesn't want anyone else to know...what I know. He even sent the interpreter away and interrogated me himself. He left me here because he did get an urgent summons of some sort. He hoped, with the manacles on I would be unable to talk coherently with anyone. I don't think he knew you were here."

"Obviously you didn't tell him what he wanted to know..."

Evan smiled thinly at the Deputy. "I never told that Shenoni Devil ANYTHING!!" He leaned back against the wall, staring up at a far corner of the ceiling. "I hadn't made a strike in two months and I was getting desperate. I need...needed...the money to winter over on. I'd heard from some Licensed Raiders that there was an abandoned village on the Out-Territory side, in the mountains north of here. Well,...I found it." His voice took on a peculiar flatness that alerted Rafe instantly. Evan stopped talking and looked at him with his twisted smile. "Are you sure you're not Sime? You pick things up as well as any person...I melted down a few odds and ends...and then...I found this...artifact. I packed it away to save for a historian I know. I loaded my mule and started back. I was in a hurry and evidently I got careless. Lt. Ashe and his men ambushed me up near Five Mile Pass."

Thoughtfully Rafe studied his hands along the chair back. "It's very difficult for a Gen to ambush a Sime."

"I thought it was damn near impossible," Evan muttered.

"You have to know precisely where the Sime is going to be and you have to pick your spot carefully...Tell me, when they interrogated you, who did the questioning?"

The slight man shook his head. "I don't know. It was a Gen, but I never heard his name."

"What sort of questions did they ask?"

Evan sat forward, tense blue gaze on the Gen. "They wanted to know where my partner was and when I told them I didn't have one they insisted I was lying. They also asked a lot of questions about where I had been and what I had seen in the two or three days before they captured me. They insisted I had to have seen something in the mountains. It was only after I satisfied them on those counts that Ashe wanted to know where I had found...the thing."

"And HAD you seen something in the mountains?"
"Yes," the Sime replied simply. "I saw a group of Gens selling their own people to the Morrisey Raiders at a place not three days ride from here."

Rafe's long, rawboned face didn't twitch a muscle but Evan recoiled under the lash of his shock. "Please, Don't!" he protested, looking sick.

Rafe throttled down his rage with an effort. "How much of this did you tell Lt. Ashe?"

"Nothing," the Sime replied softly. "Lt. Ashe was in charge of the selling."

The Gen's nager once more registered shock then became bleak and grim. "Evan, why are you telling me all this when Ashe couldn't get it out of you with torture?"

Evan's blue eyes went black with hate. "I want Ashe dead." He took a deep shuddering breath. "Beyond that he has a sick, twisted mind; you should know about him." Suddenly Evan stopped talking. Something in the back of his mind clicked into place. He sat upright with a jolt. He had a weapon now! A chance to live, but he was running out of time. Need's fierce song was playing along his nerves with greater and greater urgency. Yet even as the thought crossed his mind he realized it wasn't true. He felt no Need at the moment...though he had earlier.

Meanwhile a startled Rafe was watching him closely.

"I know where their camp is," Evan said, managing to keep his voice level in spite of his excitement.

The silence stretched out between them on the heels of Evan's words.

"It is a trade you are wanting, then?" Merryweather asked finally.

"A trade," the other agreed tensely. "I'll take you to the Gen camp if you'll let me go afterward."

"And the thing Lt. Ashe is so interested in?"

"No deal," the Sime stated flatly.

Rafe quietly weighed the other's fierce determination against Evan's story. If Ashe already had possession of the artifact he either did not realize it's importance or whatever Ashe had taken from Evan was not the real find. The last was most likely. Evan was not worried about Ashe being captured and the artifact falling into Gen hands. Therefore whatever Evan thought was so important was probably still in the abandoned town. Under the circumstances Rafe could afford not to press the issue.

"I agree to the trade," Rafe said quietly. "I'll need a posse of about..."

"No posse."

?

"Just you and I," Evan stated flatly.

"I suspect a Sime in Need will make an uncomfortable traveling companion," Rafe replied mildly, but his nager was rolling with uneasiness.

The prisoner held out his bandaged arms. "There's no way I can take a Kill with them like this. You'll be in no danger from me."

The deputy pulled at his lower lip as he studied the smaller man. "I want to know where that Outlaw camp is so bad I can taste it. And yet...I don't quite trust you to go alone with me. It would be a simple matter for you to take off and make a run for the Border."

"I won't do that."

"What is to keep you from it?"

"MY word," the Sime replied softly, "And my bond," Gracefully Evan moved to the bars. "Rafe, take my hand. Please?"

Puzzled and a little wary the other reached out and grasped those slender, fine boned fingers.

Evan took a deep breath. "If I touched someone, a Gen say, with a lateral and they pulled away before I was ready to break contact I would get a very bad shock. The degree of shock depends on how much of the lateral is in contact. A full contact...as in Transfer...and the shock would make death by attrition look easy in comparison."

Rafe had an idea of what was coming next and tried to pull away but the other's fingers clamped down in an unbreakable Sime grip.

Both fascinated and repelled, Rafe's eyes fastened on the other's wrist where both laterals were coming, moistly, pinkly towards him. They wrapped themselves almost tenderly around his wrist. They were hot, damp and vibrated against his skin. It was an incredibly strange sensation and Rafe swallowed hard, forcing himself to remain still. He couldn't take his eyes off of them.

Evan was saying, "You don't know that I'll take you to the Gen camp. I don't know you won't shoot me after I do." (Rafe was so engrossed in the laterals he scarcely realized he'd been insulted.) "But this is my assurance to you that I will keep my word." The Sime took a deep breath and loosened his hold, sliding his fingers under Rafe's so that it was Rafe's grip which was holding their hands together. Rafe froze...hardly daring to breathe. After a long, long moment he said dryly, "I think you have made your point."

Slowly Evan dismantled the contact trying hard not to snatch the laterals into the safety of the sheath. It had been harder for him than it had for Rafe, and he let go a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. "You accept my bond?"

"I accept your bond," Rafe replied formally. He studied his wrist still slick with ronaplin. "If your tentacles are still in such bad shape, how is being free going to help you, Evan?"

"If I can get over the border to one of the Householdings, I can get a Channel to serve my Need."

"What's a Channel?"
"A Channel is a Sime who can take selyn from Gens without killing them and transfer it to other Simes without being Killed. They're...sort of like Gen doctors. I won't need my holding tentacles with one. He'll serve me willingly."

This was the first time Rafe had ever heard of a Channel. He was quite intrigued by the idea. "You use a Channel very often?"
Evan looked uncomfortable. "No."

"Why not?"

"A Channel is a pervert."

"He's a pervert because he doesn't Kill people?" Rafe asked after mulling it over.

"Yes...no...," Evan squirmed. "Mainly it's because when he gives transfer to a Sime he plays the part of the Gen."

There was another long pause. "I guess it depends on your point of view," Rafe said finally. "How does he...er...go about not Killing?"

The other man shrugged. "He doesn't Kill because he's a Channel."

"What happens when a Channel goes into Need?"
"A Channel has a specially trained Gen, a Companion, the Householdings call them. A Channel can take selyn from this Gen without hurting him. They say a Companion is better than a Prime..." Evan stopped, suddenly realizing who he was talking to.

"Just what IS a Prime Kill?" Evan had the grace to blush.

"You mean ME!!?" The lanky Gen's nager swirled with conflicting emotions. The one that was paramount was laughter. "Evan...don't you EVER invite me to dinner."

Bewildered, Evan asked, "Why not?"
"I don't intend to be the main course."

Evan's answering grin was rather feeble.

Merryweather pushed himself off the chair. "It's bad enough a man should be caged without also being leashed. Let's take that collar off of you."

The prisoner's face brightened and he leaned willingly against the bars so the other man could reach the lock.

As the Deputy was unfastening the collar Rafe asked, "What do you know about the Morrisey Raiders?"
"Not much. I recognized Les Morrisey by his field."

"Were Redeck Lamath and Rogill Predent there?"

"Not Lamath, Rogill was there. How do you know them?" Evan asked, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand where the collar had chafed.

"I've met them before," Rafe replied rather vaguely as he wrapped the chain around the collar and tossed the whole mass in the general direction of the main post. "The Morrisey Raiders generally work further West. I wonder if they came down here just because of the Gen Outlaws? And if they did, who was their contact? Winter's coming. They can't keep their prisoners in the mountains very long. They would take the group you saw, up to the Shoshun headwaters for transfer down the coastal route to the Lambeth Market and the Predent Gen Farms...That would be the fastest and most profitable route..."

Evan was staring at him. "How do you know so much about In-Territory Raiders?"
"I thought you knew who I was when you called me a Sime-Killer," Rafe answered in mild amusement. "When the soldiers brought you in we had quite a discussion about it. You have enough English to have understood what they were saying."

"I wasn't paying attention," Evan answered, wide-eyed, "I had other things on my mind. Who are you?"
Rafe shrugged. "I return people who have been taken Sime-Side."

"You're THAT Gen? My...God!" Evan stepped back, horror on his face. For almost ten years the Border had been plagued by a huge Gen who harassed and killed both licensed and Free Raiders, pursuing them far In-Territory and returning Out-Territory unscathed. He had attacked Gen Farms and raided Gen trains on the way to the Markets. Once he had actually raided Lamath Market and carried off several choice Wild-Gens. He wore a snake-head buckle. Evan's eyes flicked to the other's waist. A wicked looking gold snake head, ruby red eyes glittering balefully at the dark-haired Sime, lay snugly against the Gen's flat stomach. Evan felt himself go white. Just five minutes ago he'd actually had his laterals on the Unkillable Gen. Had actually been tempted to make a Kill. He gulped and dried wet hands on his shirt.

The Gen's nager was warmly amused, calm and steady.

"So...you're that Gen," Evan repeated more quietly. "D'you know? All the years I've been junking in these mountains, meeting up with you has been my biggest fear."

"That so? Mine was meeting up with Simes."

Evan grinned crookedly at the other's joke. "You're not as big as I thought you'd be."

The lanky Gen chuckled as he settled down behind the desk. The End-of-the-Month Reports were still waiting for him. They never seemed to get done. He had a private theory that official papers generated new forms when stacked together and locked away in a dark drawer. He sighed as he picked up a pencil. He also had to write to the Border Patrol Headquarters.

As Rafe moved away and his field stopped interacting with Evan's field the Sime felt the familiar growing ache of Need. It was strange, when Rafe was close by he didn't feel Need. He wondered uneasily if he was getting fixed on Rafe.

He looked across the bare room at the Unkillable Gen hunched over the paperwork on the battered desk, a pencil looking fragile in his big fist. He licked the tip of it now and again as he wrestled Out-Territory's version of official red-tape.

Somehow, whenever he thought of the Unkillable Gen, that was not a vision that had ever come to him. His inner vision had been of a flaming-eyed, blood-thirsty, crazed monster of a man who leaped out at unsuspecting Simes and blasted them down with a rifle.

Who would have thought the Unkillable Gen was this quiet, gray-eyed man, with the soothing field and the grace of a Sime? It was only now and then that the broad-shouldered Gen's nager took on that hammered-steel quality that showed how dangerous he could really be. A Sime with a nager like that would be treated with great respect and when he was touchy with Need, men would go on tip-toe around him.

But a Gen so fierce Simes had to walk wary of him? It was almost beyond comprehension. It had been universally assumed the Unkillable Gen was insane. He certainly was not a Companion. He didn't let Simes get that close to him. But Rafe was not insane...just...implacable. He didn't even know his real power over Simes...which was his ability to control fields.

In spite of it all Evan liked the Gen. He wondered what it would be like to take a Kill off the Unkillable Gen. At the thought the ronaplin flooded inside the lateral sheaths and his laterals flicked out briefly around his wrists. Okay, so it was liking compounded with greed.

He had a sudden vision of a dead Rafe under his tentacles. The thought was so repulsive he snatched his hands to himself, the ronaplin flow snapped off with a suddenness that left him feeling slightly queasy.

"What IS your problem?" Rafe was thoroughly exasperated.

"Huh?"

"You've been pacing back and forth like a mountain lion on a narrow ledge trying to make up his mind which of two paths to take and not liking either."

"I'm restless."

"I can see that. Why?"
"I...," Evan ran one hand through his black hair, setting it all on end. "I...You're too far away!" he blurted, and looked away, embarrassed.

"Too far for WHAT?"

Incoherently the Sime tried to tell him about field gradients, selyn ratios, imprinting and Need all at the same time. Rafe was understandably confused, but he managed to pick out the one important fact. "When I'm close to you, you don't pace back and forth."

"Yes," Evan said.

"Okay, I can see this is the only way I'm going to get any work done tonight." The bronze haired deputy picked up his keys and came to the cell. "You can sit where you want, but if anyone comes to the jail, you get back in there...FAST. Understand?"

Evan nodded. He settled himself into the armchair beside the desk. By the time Rafe stopped to sharpen his pencil Evan had lost enough of his awe of the other to dare break the silence. "What's the name of the book you've been reading tonight.

"Ancient Towns of the Upper Mississippi."

"You interested in Archeology?"

"Not so much Archeology as in the history of the Ancients."

"This is important to you." Evan made it a statement.

Rafe glanced across the desk at the other. "Yes. A man should know what has gone on before him. To understand that, is to understand why life is the way it is today." He stopped, wanting to say more but unable to put what he felt into words.

Evan tilted his dark head to one side. "We have a saying...'A man with no knowledge of the past beyond his own narrow life is like a man adrift in the ocean.'"

Rafe looked at him in surprise that a Sime would understand something even his own father had not fully grasped.

His blue eyes twinkling Evan explained, "I worked for an Archeologist a few years back. He taught me a lot about Ancient artifacts and the importance some of them have...or could have. The attitude of most junkers is to dig it up, smelt it down and sell it. And if you can't melt it down, toss it out of the way. There are some things too important to just toss away," he muttered. "My reluctance, my great reluctance in some cases, to melt down some of the stuff we found made me unpopular with my partners. That's why I work alone."

Rafe asked idly, "When you're looking for junk, have you ever come across those black discs with the holes in them?"
"Yes." The reply was cautious.

"Have you ever figured out what they're for?"
"Not really, but I have an idea..." And Evan plunged into an explanation that set Rafe rocking with laughter. Reports forgotten now, the talk flowed, lightly, widely, over the country they'd covered, the things they had seen and handled in ruins, for Rafe was something of a junker himself. They speculated, sometimes seriously, but mostly wildly and hilariously on their mutual ancestors habits.

When Ted opened the door that morning, he stopped dead on the threshold, eyes bulging. Rafe had his feet up on the desk, reading as usual and the Sime, apparently fast asleep, was stretched out on the floor beside him. The tableau lasted only a moment as Rafe looked up in greeting and the Sime came to his feet ready for battle. At a word from Rafe he stalked back to his cell with haughty indifference and pulled the door shut behind him with a clanging slam.

Baker finally closed his mouth and looked mutely at Rafe for some kind of explanation.

Evan leaned against the cell wall where he could get a clear look at the two Gens. He could make nothing of their low-voiced conversation and the flaring impulses from their nagers didn't make their train of thought any clearer. He folded his arms across his chest and resisted the impulse to pace.

At last Ted exploded... "I can't believe it! Our own people! Yes, you are right. We must stop them." He took a few harried steps around the office, coming to a stop in front of the barred windows. He looked out at the quiet street. "When they find out Ashe is behind those last Raids..." He shook his head. "You think feeling is running high now! The last time something this big hit the town the women burned down the whore house and the men took an axe to the Town Hall." He turned his head to Rafe, smiling slightly. "They were upset over taxes. I got paid in live chickens for a year, because after they rebuilt, there wasn't enough money in the treasury for my salary."

"So THAT's how you got into the egg business!" Rafe said blandly.

"That's my wife's business!" Ted barked. Moodily he shuffled papers on his desk for a few moments. "I don't like the idea of you goin' out alone."

"I've gone out alone, on harder assignments. I'll be back in a week."

The older man looked at him shrewdly. "Well, you're grown, but remember this Boy, a lot of dead men under-estimated a Sime."

"Yes, Sir," Rafe replied meekly.

Baker made a disgusted sound.

The pack horse was loaded, and their mounts saddled. An hour later Rafe took the keys out of the desk drawer for the last time. He handed Evan a heavy winter coat as the Sime stepped out of the cell. The Sime handed it back.

"It'll rub my tentacles. I'll be warm enough without it."

"I don't believe for one moment you will, but if you want to freeze to death that's up to you. However, our route out of town goes through the residential district. If the gentle wives and mothers of Three Oaks see those tentacles they will throw rocks first and ask questions later. Women, having the sort of aim that women generally have, will most likely miss you and hit me. Wear the coat."

Evan wore the coat.

By late afternoon they were on a little used trail, winding deep into the foothills. Evan had the lead on a stocky bay standard bred Quarter horse of no distinguishing qualities. Rafe was riding his pure bred Appaloosa, whose name was ostensibly 'Grey Haze,' but to whom Rafe referred almost constantly as 'C.C.' When asked what this meant the Gen had replied it stood for 'Complete Confusion.' Evan decided not to inquire further as there was a faint glint of mischieviousness in Rafe's nager that warned him there was going to be a joke in this somewhere. At the moment he didn't feel up to one of Rafe's jokes.

It was the time of year when bad storms blew up quickly and Rafe kept an uneasy eye on the cloudy sky. If they hadn't been on a tight schedule because of Evan's Need Rafe would have put off this trip for a week, perhaps two. But they didn't have that choice. Rafe shrugged fatalistically and kept riding.

The day passed uneventfully. They found a sheltered spot to make camp that night. After dinner, which Evan only picked over in spite of the Gen's hearty appetite, they talked companionably for a time. Finally Rafe picked up his rifle and moved away from the fire, saying, "I'll take the first watch."

As he spread his blankets on the dead grass, Evan said over his shoulder, "There's no need for you to lose any sleep. Simes don't need much rest. After all that sleeping I did in jail I could keep awake for a month."

Evan didn't understand why Rafe was offended.

"A man pulls his own weight," the gray-eyed Gen said, making the matter a little clearer, but not much. Evan let it go. Rafe could be as touchy as a Sime about some things.

By noon of the third day they were high in the mountains, above the timber line, following a goat path among the rocks and scrub. Driven by his approaching Need Evan was pushing the pace unmercifully. They came off a riven, faulted, boulder strewn mountain shoulder into a high mountain meadow, brown and yellow under the gray sky. Evan kicked his horse forward without a pause. Behind him C.C. leaped forward as Rafe applied the spurs, his long arm reached out and grabbed Evan's rein and pulled him to a stop.

Evan rounded on the other fiercely. "There is no one here! Just as there was no one the last three times you made us stop!"

Unmoved by the Sime's impatience Rafe sat his horse and studied the terrain. "The mountains don't forgive mistakes," he said after a while. "A man moving through strange country has to be careful; has to take note of the little things."

"There's not a Sime or Gen in ten miles, I tell you!"

"There are other things besides Simes and Gens a man should be wary of." Rafe replied calmly. "I haven't lived as long as I have by being careless. You see life-fields, I see the land. You depend on your strength and quickness to get you out of trouble. I am a strong man, but my strength does not compare to yours. I rely on patience to keep me from getting into trouble. I figure things come out about even in the long run."

Evan zlinned the big Gen, perceiving for the first time what he should have been aware of long before. The deputy's field had become muddy with tenseness and a sharp edged wariness. His field has extended in an odd way, as if he was trying to feel the terrain with his field the way a Sime did when he zlinned. The steel hard quality of his nager was in firm evidence. He was a man primed to react instantly to danger, and yet running beside the alert violence was a deep, cool river of patience. This man did nothing carelessly.

Evan compared the quality of that patience with his own inward urgency and for the first time he felt with his entire being the great, fundamental difference between Sime and Gen. Gens felt no Need, were not haunted by the passing of the days, hours, minutes. They could squander whole weeks, months, years with an abandonment a Sime could never equal. Gens had Time on their side.

Suddenly a wave of hot hate went through him. He didn't know whether it was the tall, calm Gen beside him, or the faceless Master of Destiny he hated. Hated, because the Gen was free of Time, or hated himself for being Sime. He gathered what patience he could and tried to ignore the clock inside him, ticking its way to attrition and death.

Several more hours passed before Evan pulled his horse to a stop and pointed to a granite ridge separating one mountain spine from another. "There's a valley on the other side of that," the Sime said to the lanky Gen. "That's where the Gen Outlaws have their camp."

"Did Ashe question you here?"
"No." The Sime pointed down the mountain. "You see that red cliff? Just below it is a loop of the river. That's where they took me."

They started forward again and Rafe cast a worried look at the heavy, dark clouds building up around the peaks. Privately he thought it would be a near thing if the snow held off long enough for them to get off the mountain. A sudden cold blast of wind made him shiver and pull his collar up closer around his ears. He revised his thinking about the snow. They weren't going to get off the mountain before it hit.

The first flakes of snow were drifting lightly down as they reached the base of the ridge. They would have to climb the rest of the way.

"They have their camp tucked up against the mountain side," Evan told him. "Be careful, the rocks make the slope treacherous."

Rafe settled his binoculars around his neck and followed the Sime's lithe form up the crumbling ridge face. Half an hour later they had crawled to a position where they could see down into the valley. Beside the deputy Evan murmured, "Keep behind a rock. There is a guard about a quarter mile to the left of us. I think there may be a Sime down there, in camp, and he could see your field for miles."

"What would a Sime be doing with peop...with Gens?" Rafe asked, adjusting his binoculars.

The smaller man shrugged. "Having dinner?" he hazarded wickedly. Rafe punched him lightly on the shoulder.

The Sime was behaving normally enough but in the last few hours Rafe had noticed his eyes developing a bright HUNGRY look. Now out of the corner of his eye, Rafe could see the Sime's hands twitching as he stared down into the valley. It gave Rafe an itch between his shoulder blades.

He put his binoculars to his eyes and the scene below sprung into focus.

POINT: The people below him were Gens, not Simes. So much for his lingering suspicion that the Sime may have been leading him into a trap.

POINT: Undoubtedly the men below were outlaws. They were all wearing BOTH knives and guns. The armament contributed to the air of suppressed violence hanging over the shacks below.

POINT: There WAS a Sime among them and he was gesturing up the hill in their direction.

Evan was already yanking on his leg to get him to move. Rafe scrabbled backwards off the ridge just as the first rifle shots were being fired from below. Rafe followed Evan on a wild plunge down the slope, sliding ankle deep among the loose shale and accumulating snow. The lookout spotted them and his bullets began spanging off the rocks around them. They flung themselves on their horses and pounded back the way they'd come, taking the trail at a dangerous speed...seeking the concealment of the rocks and heading for the greater security of the timber line. They didn't have much time before the Outlaws would be on their trail and they needed to make the most of it. For the first time Rafe was glad it was snowing. Then the sky opened up and dumped its load.

Wind and snow lashed the two men furiously; visibility suddenly reduced to a foot beyond his horse's ears they struggled on. Pausing for a moment in a small stand of scrub oak, Rafe looked around for Evan who had been riding almost stirrup to stirrup with him when the snow hit. The Sime was no longer in sight.

Rafe shouted. The wind whipped his voice away. He waited. The Sime did not come. Well, Merryweather, thought to himself, there was no need for the Sime to stay with him any longer. He had fulfilled his part of the bargain. He was probably well on his way to the Border for the help he so desperately needed. Rafe raised a hand in farewell, hoping the storm wouldn't delay the Sime too long.

Evan had indeed turned his mount towards Five Mile Pass and when Rafe turned to look for him was nearly a quarter mile behind him, sitting his horse watching the Gen, strangely reluctant to let Rafe go out of his life. The storm was no hindrance to his field sense, he could sense Rafe's field exactly.

As he watched Rafe ride away, it came to him suddenly that for all his reputation Rafe was no more able to take care of himself than any pen-raised Gen. Right now he was heading his horse straight for a...

At that moment horse and rider disappeared as they fell into a deep gully. The big grey horse fall awkwardly, neighed frantically once as he went over and somehow twisted his head so that when he landed he broke his neck. Pinned beneath his horse and in an agony of pain Rafe's last conscious thought was that C.C. had once more lived up to his name.

Rafe was warm, sleepy, contented. All he wanted was to be left alone, but someone was slapping his face and calling his name over and over. He forced his eyes open and looked straight up into Evan's frantic blue eyes. The Sime's dark hair was plastered white with snow and his eyelashes were frosted. "Don't go to sleep, Rafe," he yelled over the wind.

"I have a broken leg," Rafe tried to yell back and slipped into the insistent, comforting blackness.

In spite of his worry for the other man, Evan breathed a sigh of relief when Rafe went unconscious again. The few moments Rafe had been awake the Gen's pain and lowered body functions had only been too clear to him. With Rafe unconscious it was a lot easier to touch him. Evan heaved the big Deputy over his shoulders and started the difficult climb up the slope. He was forced to augment and he knew with grim clarity just what it was going to cost him.

The next time Rafe woke he was aware first of the throbbing pain centered in his left leg and across his chest when he breathed. The second thing was that it was quiet and he was warm. At that point he opened his eyes. He was lying on the floor, in his blankets...inside a house. Sime-Side? he asked himself uneasily. But everything was old, falling apart. Of course, Evan had gotten him, somehow, to that abandoned village he'd told him about. Something here was vitally important to the Sime. Wearily he wished he could take more interest in his surroundings.

Before him a cheerful fire leaped in the hearth and a pan of water was boiling nearby. He shifted painfully and suddenly Evan was there at his side, handing him a hot cup of tea. "What are you doing here?" Merryweather croaked. "You should be over the Border by now."

The Sime shrugged. His face was pinched and white, his blue eyes had gone black...they glittered in the dimness. "You were unconscious. I couldn't very well leave you here unable to take care of yourself. Besides...," he nodded at the door where they could hear the wind whining disconsolately, "I would never have made it to the Border. There are some things even a Sime can't do."

Throat constricted with emotion Rafe put out a long arm to touch the other's hand. "Evan,..."

"DON'T!" Shaking, Evan yanked away. "Don't touch me! It makes me..." for a moment his eyes blazed with the feral light of a Sime in Hard Need. He caught himself, struggled with it and finally fought it down. He turned from the Gen and the Gen's blazing field to move as far away from him as the room would permit. He lay down as if every bone in his body hurt.

Soberly, Rafe watched that inner struggle. His hands, automatically reaching for a weapon found his rifle at his side. He looked at it in surprise. Gritting his teeth he forced himself to sit upright so he could lean against the wall. The Sime lay still, back turned to him. The night wind howled. In the dark, in front of the flickering fire, it was a good time to think.

Hours passed. Rafe was yanked out of a light doze by the sound of footsteps coming lightly across the floor. The Sime was standing in the center of the room, a dark shape against the light from the dying coals, hands clenched tightly, moist laterals writhing uncontrollably around his wrists, the bandages supporting his still useless holding tentacles a patch of light on his arms.

In a voice that did not sound quite sane the Sime said, "I can't stay here any longer. It's better to die in the snow..." Swiftly he moved towards the door.

"WAIT! Evan, Wait!" Rafe picked his rifle up by the barrel and threw it aside. It skidded far across the wooden floor. Not just the Gen's words and actions, but some odd quality in his nager caused the Sime to halt at the door, one hand on the latch.

Rafe twisted painfully to look at him. "Those Companions you were telling me about...How do they survive a Kill?"
"This is not the time for a discussion on Householding techniques, Rafe," Evan replied with distant patience.

"If you knew how, we could try it."

"I don't know how."

Rafe sighed...just a little. "Then we will have to do it the regular way."

"What?" The word was faint. Slowly the Sime turned to look at the Gen. Rafe's hair, glinting gold in the red light from the dying embers, blended into the golden, dancing, desirous, nimbus of his field.

Rafe's serious gray eyes, held steady on the Sime. "Evan, it is better for one of us to live than for both of us to die. Even if you walked out now, without laying a tentacle on me, what good would it do? I'd be dead inside two, maybe three days. Frozen to death most likely."

"I would have to Kill you to live," the Sime whispered. "I'd rather be dead!" He jerked viciously at the door handle.

"EVAN!" Rafe's cry was desperate. "Don't make my death totally meaningless!" His field swirled out, encompassing the equally desperate Sime, willing him to remain.

"What kind of a man do you think I am that I could Kill a friend!" Evan screamed in a rage of pain and despair. He pounded on the wall with clenched fists.

Rafe groped for calm. "We are out of options, Evan. Either you walk out that door and we both die, or you take my..."

"Selyn," the other supplied dully as Rafe hesitated.

"...selyn and live, and pay back the price of my death by finishing what I...we...started."

"What would you have me do?" he asked numbly, thinking of Rafe's reputation for saving Gens.

"I want you to carry a letter from me to Sheriff Baker. If you still feel like you'd rather be dead...hand it to Ted in person. He'll likely shoot you on sight."

The Sime managed a faint grin. "This is supposed to make me feel better?"

The Gen's solid determination to go through with the Kill was having s strange calming effect on Evan, a lifting of Need Urgency. As long as Rafe felt the way he did, he, Evan, was going to be unable to do anything else but go along. It was a comforting feeling, but like a black worm wriggling through his brain was the conviction that he could fight the Gen's decision if he wanted to. It made him ashamed.

He brought Rafe the only paper he could find, the greasy cheese wrapper. As the lanky deputy wrote out his last message with the stub of a pencil, Evan drifted to a place beside him. In an agony of guilt he removed the wrappings around his tentacles.

Finally Rafe signed his note, folded it and handed it to the Sime. Tentacles firmly retracted so he wouldn't be tempted to take Rafe before the other was ready, Evan slowly reached for it, eyes on those square tipped, callused Gen fingers, remembering with piercing clarity the exciting touch of them along his tentacles.

"Rafe," Evan whispered, "Gens always pull away during a Kill."

"I won't pull away. Trust me." Merryweather held out his hands. He started to sweat. (Kill or Die, Kill or Die.) The litany sang through his mind. Killing a pen-Gen was survival, Killing Rafe would be murder. (Kill or Die. Kill or Die.) The beat pounded insistently along his nerves. Why did Wild Gens have to be people? "NO!" he screamed and wrapped his arms around his middle, rocking back and forth, tears running unheeded down his face.

Then his shoulders were taken and held in a hard grip. Rafe was saying something but he couldn't hear the words. Thrown hyperconscious by the Gen's touch he was in hunting mode and aware only of a golden field and a steady pulse of affection and compassion, willingness and a steady ache of ignored pain. At the core of that inviting field was an utterly ruthless determination. The Gen was going to have his way. Totally exhausted, Evan allowed Rafe to pull his arms loose. As the Gen placed his hands on Evan's forearms, the Sime attacked.

Feebly his tentacles tried to grasp the muscular Gen forearms, his laterals dripping with ronaplin lashed about the Gen's wrists, seeking the selyn rich nerves. Evan grabbed savagely with his hands, jerking the big man toward him, seeking the fifth contact point. Rafe made no attempt at escape.

Evan drew fast and hard, aware only that the bright source of Life was coursing through his nerves, easing the pain. There was no resistance to his draw, no Gen pain. He found this odd, unsettling. He drew harder. For the first time in his life he went beyond the first level. For the first time in his life he realized there was such a thing as deeper selyn levels.

There was a quality to this selyn that was richer than anything he'd ever known. Suddenly he knew he'd been shorted all his life. This was the way a Transfer was supposed to feel! His draw peaked, hovering on the edge of ego-bliss. Then his system was echoing with delighted surprise. Rafe's feelings he realized suddenly and the reaction he got between Rafe's feelings and peak draw was better than ego-bliss. Evan spiraled down into a sodden contentment feeling as he had as a child, before he turned Sime. Good. He couldn't remember a Kill ever making him feel that good. And what was better...Rafe was still alive.

Slowly, reluctantly they broke contact. Evan sat back. Rafe opened his eyes. It was a moment of perfect, complete silence. They sat there, saying nothing, smiling idiotically at each other.

Evan looked at his hands in amazement, spreading them open before him and turning them over. Wondering how it had happened. He reached slowly for Rafe's hand. A sharp snap of blue electricity flung them apart. They stared at each other...mouths open. "What was THAT!?" they said simultaneously.

It was another two days before the storm blew itself out and during that time Evan paced uncontrollably. Following the transfer, Rafe got a fever. He was sick and getting sicker. He drank but did not eat and he was slipping in and out of delirium. Evan did what he could for the big deputy but it wasn't enough. He just didn't know that much about taking care of Gens. He was consumed with a fear that if he didn't get Rafe back to Three Oaks and a Gen doctor he was going to die. So as soon as the wind let up he wrapped the Gen as warmly as he could, tied him on to the bay horse and started walking, breaking a path through the snow that was waist deep in places.

By moving all night and taking short cuts Rafe would certainly not have approved of had he been conscious, Evan was pounding on the back door of the jail a mere 36 hours after he set out.

Ted opened the door. Framed in the narrow doorway, he looked even broader than usual. He took in the snow-covered Sime, the shapeless bundle on the weary horse in one startled glance. Looking anxiously up and down the alley to see if anyone had noticed the two men, he reached out one brawny arm and yanked Evan out of the alley into the jail, before moving to lift Rafe off the horse.

Summoned by the Do-All from the bar across the street, the doctor examined Rafe as he lay on one of the cots in a cell. Anxiously, Ted hung over him. Finally, the doctor pulled the blanket up over that unconscious form. "A little frostbite, a broken leg (set very nicely too,) some bruised ribs. The big thing is the fever. He's a very sick man, Ted. I want him moved to my hospital room where I can keep an eye on him."

Hours later, after the doctor's wife had shooed him out of Rafe's room, Ted went out to the stable behind the jail. The bay Quarter horse was standing hip-shot, knee deep in fresh straw, contentedly eating oats. MY oats, the Sheriff thought sourly. As lightly as a ghost Evan moved out from the adjacent stall. The two men eyed each other a moment.

"Is he going to be all right?" the Sime asked.

"He's very sick. We'll know more in a day or two."

Baker studied the Sime for a moment. "You've had a Kill recently."

Even in the gloomy stable Baker could see the way the Sime's blue eyes lit up. "No. Not a Kill, a Transfer." Evan dug in an inside pocket a moment and then pulled out

a worn, folded piece of paper, tentacles retracted. "Rafe wanted you to have this."

Gingerly the Sheriff took it from him. "What are you still doing here?"
"You don't leave your...Companion was not quite the right word. Channels had Companions." Evan wasn't sure there was a word to cover his relationship to the tall, raw-boned Gen. "He's mine," he said finally.

The Sheriff gave him a long look from under lowered brows at that remark. Then he shrugged. "I'm grateful to you, but you can't stay here."

"I remain until I know whether or not Rafe lives." The Sime stuck his jaw out pugnaciously.

Baker mentally reviewed the hazards of forcing the Sime to leave and decided not to push the issue.

Three days passed before Ted was able to inform Evan that Rafe was out of danger. That night a silent figure moved like a wraith across the moonlit snow, seeking the shadows between houses, pausing at corners to scurry faster than a man could blink across open spaces, until he came to the doctor's house. Rafe was in a downstairs room. Quietly Evan opened the front door, which was unlocked, and stepped silently into the hospital room.

It was well lit to his eyes, by Rafe's nager. Rafe was awake and turned to the door as the Sime entered. Evan moved swiftly to Merryweather's side.

"Evan?" Rafe asked, softly.

"Who else? I have to leave, but I didn't want to go without saying good-bye."

"What are you still doing here? Don't you EVER leave when you're supposed to?"
Evan grinned and sat down on the bed beside the Deputy. "There's a few things I wanted to say first. You're a Companion now. There's no way a Sime can Kill you. But watch out for Channels when you go hunting In-Territory. They'll grab you up faster than a whip can snap."

"Is that what you stayed around to tell me? To watch out for Channels?" The other was amused and exasperated.

"Well...yes."

Merryweather held out his hand. "I'll do that. Good luck, junking Evan. Watch out for soldiers." His nager pulsed with friendship but under it was a steady thrum of loss.

Why he feels about me the way I feel about him! Evan realized with happiness. He took the Gen's proffered hand in the way of a Wild Gen and let a lateral flick briefly across Rafe's wrist in affection. And then, silent and quick, the compact Sime was gone.

EPILOGUE

Two days later a Major Leo Imfeld of Patrol Headquarters spent four hours talking to Rafe. Then he sent a telegraph message to Fort Birny. The next morning a detachment of fifty soldiers left Fort Birny and headed into the mountains. Incredibly, the Outlaws were still there, although Vincent Peska, the outlaw leader had had sense enough to realize his impersonation of Lt. Ashe was over.

Three weeks later the soldiers returned to Fort Birny with Vincent Peska alias Lt. Ashe and several other outlaws. In the presence of a Territorial Judge and Major Leo Imfeld, Peska and his men were put on trial for their crimes. It was brief.

The Judge was a great believer in a punishment fitting the crime. Peska and his men were taken into Sime Territory, left afoot and weaponless. Soldiers on the Gen-Side of the Border waited, rifles at the ready to case any of the condemned made it back. None did.

Before he died Vincent Peska gained no little pleasure from telling the authorities how he had waylaid the real Lt. Ashe and his men, killed them, took their uniforms and spent ten months impersonating Border Security. How easy it had been in that guise to round people up, and before they realized what had happened had turned them over to Morrisey's Raiders.

The Judge derived a great deal of enjoyment in watching Penska's face as he pronounced sentence.

THE END


From Companion in Zeor #12

Last modified on 23 July 97 at 1402