A Companion's Heart


Cheryl Wolverton

Copyright © 1997 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Cheryl Wolverton All rights reserved. Attention Webmasters: All copyrights to fiction set in the Sime~Gen Universe are officially registered with the Library of Congress and Jacqueline Lichtenberg holds all the rights to that fictional Universe while some of the co-authors she has invited hold the rights to their own novels. You may not repost any of the Sime~Gen fiction you may find posted on the Web. However, we will be most pleased to trade links with your site should you believe your visitors would be interested in this Universe.

Email: AmbrovZeor@aol.com

This story was written by Cheryl Wolverton; the marvelous illustrations are by Kaas Baichtal. Original HTML conversion by the author, modified for CZ by the webservant, Mike Giroux. Please mail us your comments!


"I don't feel so good."

Concerned, Alissa studied the young woman on the horse next to hers. "You'll be fine."

"It's true, isn't it? I'm changing into one of those Sime things that kill people."

"They don't kill people, just...Gens." She muttered the last word. "Don't worry, Jeanetta," she added trying to sound more reassuring, "I told you you'd be safe with me."

"But you're a Gen," Jeanetta accused.

"Well, yes. However, I come from Sime Territory, remember? I've seen many people go through changeover. Simes aren't monsters like you think."

Jeanetta moaned and pulled her horse up abruptly. Sliding off, she ran to the bushes where she was terribly ill.

Alissa hurried after her. The hot muggy overcast day wasn't helping Jeanetta's disposition any. Her hair was plastered to her face and neck looking as bad as Jeanetta's words predicated this changeover was going to be. Gently, Alissa gathered Jeanetta's long blond hair in her hands and braided it. "I'm afraid we're not going to make it out of Gen Territory before you changeover, Jeanetta."

"But I don't want to changeover. You promised me you'd take me to that Householding place where both Simes and Gens live. I don't want to die out here. I don't want to kill you."

Alissa gently finger combed the bangs off Jeanetta's face. "You won't kill me. I worked in a Householding. I told you about the Sime, Tannon, who found me after I'd established as a Gen. I was on the run, but he saved me."

"You said you almost died."

Alissa cringed. She hadn't told the entire story to Jeanetta. "Well, I did. But Tannon was in worse shape." She thought back to Tannon, remembered the man who had come to mean so much to her before she'd left the Householding. She'd wanted to come and live in Gen Territory where she wouldn't have to hide behind walls to be protected from attacking Simes. "Tannon is Sime like you'll soon be. And, like I explained before, Jeanetta, each month a Sime must have selyn, that energy that every Gen produces to live."

"Which means I'm going to kill you like every other Sime kills Gens."

"No. The Householdings have found that it's the fear a Gen experiences that brings about their death. Do you understand me? The Sime doesn't cause the death. The Gen's fear provokes the Sime into the attack and kill. I served Tannon. He's a very powerful Sime. You'll be easy to serve. When your tentacles break out--"

Jeanetta moaned.

"That's going to happen. You have to accept it. Those bubbles on your arms...a tentacle is going to break out of each one. Four on each arm plus your two laterals. When that happens, you're going to have to have selyn. I'll be here for you. You'll wrap those tentacles around my own arms, make a fifth contact point--lip to lip--and then your laterals will draw the energy from me. There's nothing to worry about."

"I won't do it."

Alissa sighed. She stood and began to erect a tent. "Don't be ridiculous. Of course you will. You live or die hunter instinct will take over. You won't have any control. The control will come from me. You aren't going to hurt me. Now, get inside the shelter here. It's starting to rain."

Just what Alissa needed on top of everything else.


"What about ... do you suppose," Jeanetta hesitated.

"What, Jeanetta? I can't read your mind." She studied the young girl and it was obvious something other than just changeover was haunting her. "Tell me what's the matter."

"Do you think Donick knows you're gone yet? Do you think he's coming after you?"

That was something her young charge certainly didn't need to be worrying about. She smiled, trying to get rid of the tension that wanted to grip her over that unsolved situation. Jeanetta was the important one. She was the one who required the reassurance, the guarantee that that monster wouldn't come after them. If she was worried about that, it might just affect her, causing her to use too much selyn and die before the tentacles ever had a chance to break out.. "You're worrying about things which aren't important. I told Donick I wouldn't marry him. He won't follow me." An uneasy sensation crept up her spine because she knew she wasn't one hundred percent certain. "Let's just worry about you right now."

Alissa slipped into the tent beside Jeanetta. The rain started slowly then increased it's tempo. Jeanetta moved through the stages of changeover quickly. Her young child's body accepted the responsibility of adulthood--that time when a person either became Gen or Sime despite what they wanted.

Unlike what they believed in Gen Territory, that Gens were the ancient humans and Simes were monsters, Alissa believed that Simes and Gens were a mutation of the Ancient race who both had to function together to live. Tannon had taught her that.

"Don't worry, Jeanetta. We'll get you through this and get you to Tannon and Householding Carre," Alissa soothed.

"Promise me you won't leave me. You'll come with me," Jeanetta begged as a strong contraction hit Jeanetta's arms. She pulled her tender forearms close against her body and moaned.

"I have nothing here for me, Jeanetta. I told you that. I was wrong ever to leave Sime Territory. I was safe behind the walls of Carre. Their laws protected me. More than that, Carre is where I belonged."

Alissa thought back to all she'd left behind. Despite having to live behind walls, she'd found a place where she could help, could make a difference. She just hadn't realized it. In Sime Territory, Simes looked at Gens as animals, food for their selyn-starved bodies. In Gen Territory Gens looked at Simes as monsters, devoid of souls, preying upon them simply for the taste of killing.

Yet in the Householding, Simes and Gens lived in peace. Gens didn't fear Simes because of people like Tannon, who were channels. A channel could take selyn from a Gen and then give it to a Sime who had to have selyn to live on. Simes lived on selyn much like Gens lived on calories. Once a month a Sime required transfer of selyn or they would die. It was possible for Simes to take transfer from channels and not kill a Gen. Alissa had been a special Gen, a Companion to Tannon who was a channel. Yet she had given all of that up to come to Gen Territory where she could live without worries.

She had found out there were worries and prejudices on both sides of the border. Donick had brought that home...Donick, whom she'd almost married because of her stupid dream to belong.

"Alissa, something is happening. My arms feel different. I don't know...I need, I ... oooh... I'm seeing things, bright lights...you look, oh it's so beautiful, shiny--"

"You're zlinning, Jeanetta," Alissa said softly. "Get ready and on the next contraction I want you to throw your hands out and allow your tentacles to break through. Congratulations," she whispered.

Suddenly, Jeanetta stiffened.

"So. It's true, you filthy Sime-lover. You betrayed me."

Alissa gasped, swinging around to confront her former fiancee, the man whom she'd only found out a few days before was a fanatic about the death of all Simes.

How had he found her?

With deadly intent he raised his arm. Lightening flashed off metal.

Alissa lunged, knocking Donick's arm from it's downward path toward Jeanetta's heart, getting tossed across the tent for her endeavor.

Jeanetta screamed. The ambient in the tent had to be hurting her, Alissa thought. She was only thankful Donick didn't have the knife. She pushed herself up from the ground..

And saw Donick's furious face at being thwarted.

She knew what that meant. With a cry, she launched herself at the soaking wet Donick, trying to protect Jeanetta--too late. The ugly sound of flesh against flesh as Donick's fist connected with Jeanetta's jaw chilled Alissa.

Jeanetta's eyes rolled back in her head.

"You shendoni-be-flayed idiot!" she cried out, thrusting herself between Jeanetta and Donick. "Jeanetta's in changeover. Her tentacles are about to break out! How could you have done that? She would've been on the other side of the border before you knew it. What harm could she have done?"

With brutal force, Donick jerked Alissa toward him, falling on top of her, pinning her to the ground. "What harm?" he rasped out, his fury making his voice choppy. "It's our duty to destroy her." She knew his religion believed all Simes should die. How idiotic of her to forget, even for a second in her anger. "One less Sime is one less possibility that she'll raid across the border and kill one of us. But it wasn't her I wanted. It was you. You promised to marry me. Or have you forgotten?"

He glanced at the unconscious girl lying so still and pale and an ugly gleam entered his eyes. "But I don't want you now. I have no room for a Sime-lover in my life."

Alissa saw Jeanetta's bleeding from the wound Donick had inflicted had lessened. She thought she even saw Jeanetta's left arm twitch slightly. At least the girl wasn't dead. But if she didn't have Alissa there when her tentacles broke out, she might as well be.

Alissa wiggled but was unable to budge the massive bulk of the fanatic who had her trapped on the muddy ground. She could feel rivulets of water continually running under her where the rain from outside had made its way into their small tent. Looking into Donick's unnaturally bright eyes, she shivered, going completely still. He was quite mad, she decided in that instant. "We already discussed marriage and I turned you down."

"I told you I'd be back. I came back last night, thinking we could talk a little more ... you didn't expect that," he sneered. "You'd already left. I knew you were trying to escape back to your perverts in Sime Territory and I couldn't let that happen. The people in town would never forget it if I did. They'd know that a Sime-loving whore turned me down." Alissa wondered what she'd ever seen in him. Why had she thought it necessary to come to Gen Territory? Why had she thought it was where she belonged when she belonged at Carre with Tannon.

Oh, Tannon how I want you right now. You could help me. I wouldn't have even been in this mess if I'd listened to you. My destiny wasn't in Gen Territory, but by your side. But it looked like it was going to be too late to tell him now. Feelings she had hidden until now surfaced, the joy of being by his side, of helping him when he served another Sime, of sitting in the evenings and just talking, when he had the time. He was the head of the Household. His time was often taken up with duties. What she wouldn't give to be there with him now instead of here, pinned to the ground by a madman who was going to murder her and leave her lifeless body to be picked clean by the predators. Tannon would never know what had happened to her. He would never know of her change of heart, that she was coming back to him and Carre.

Alissa swallowed convulsively.

Jeanetta stirred. Alissa tamped down on her tension. The last thing Jeanetta required was the wild emotions flying around her. Simes did not react well to savage emotions. The least little thing could jar their selyn fields. And it could cause a Sime in need, one who required selyn like Jeanetta did right now, to attack and kill a Gen.

Urgently, Alissa repeated, "I'll go with you--now. Only just get off me."

"Like I said, I don't want you as my wife anymore. I do want you, though. And, after I'm done, I'll take you back to the town for their vengeance, or at least I'll take what's left of you."

Donick suddenly crushed her against him, taking her mouth in a punishing kiss, hurting the earlier bruise he'd left.

Alissa felt dizzy, unable to breathe. She began to struggle, twisting her head, attempting to break free. When she thought she would faint, he lifted his head. Letting go of her hands, he reared up to rip her blouse off. Alissa saw her chance. In a lightning quick movement, she raised her hands and swung them, hitting him in the chest. She watched stunned as he only wavered. His face flushed red and his eyes narrowed with rage.

"So, you still have spirit left in you?" His fist slammed into her jaw.

She saw stars. Pain and the coppery taste of blood filled her mouth. Black dots swam in front of her eyes. She was going to pass out. She fought it, slowly struggling back to awareness.

Donick took advantage of her momentary passiveness. He ripped her shirt and grabbed at her breast. "You'll pay you little whore," he whispered, and lowered his mouth to her throat.

With a supreme effort, Alissa twisted and thrust her knee up.

Donick stiffened. A low moan hissed through his teeth. Cupping himself, he fell forward right back on top of her. Shen, he must weigh as much as a tree.

Alissa clawed at Donick's form, managing to slowly maneuver out from under him, the rain and mud having made them both slick.

She gasped when her ankle was roughly grasped. She rolled to her back, desperate to get away. Raising her foot she kicked over and over, hearing the grunts, feeling the hands as they grabbed at her legs trying to recapture her.

Donick's hand suddenly went to his nose where blood poured out.

Alissa scrambled to her feet. His fingers closed around the forgotten dagger, stopping her in her tracks.

"You spawn of the devil. I don't care how I take you back. You're going to pay!"

She saw the knife arcing above Donick's head, raised her arms to shield herself. Then she heard a pitiful moan. With regret Alissa saw Jeanetta was conscious. She wavered, need telling her to protect Jeanetta from the pain and anger flowing in the tent, but another part of her saying if she didn't stop Donick, there would be no reason to protect her.

Jeanetta took the decision from her when she lunged up and blocked Donick's arm with her own Sime strength. The knife went flying.

Jeanetta suddenly gasped then thrust her arms upward. A keening cry erupted from her throat and tentacles burst forth from their sheaths.

Alissa staggered to her feet, shoving her arms out in offering, but it was too late. Donick, regaining his balance, had surged forward, his hands going for Jeanetta's neck, his intent obvious in his flashing eyes.

He realized his position the moment Jeanetta's tentacles broke out. He started to pull back. But Jeanetta was already turning toward Alissa, lowering her arms, planning to use Alissa to satisfy her desperate craving for selyn.

Donick's arms bumped across Jeanetta's tentacles and she knew Donick's selyn field erupted with fear because Jeanetta turned toward him, ignoring Alissa as she tried to entice Jeanetta with her own field.

Alissa might have been able to still distract Jeanetta had Donick not panicked and tried to knock Jeanetta aside in his futile attempt to get away. His abrupt gestures startled Jeanetta into kill mode. Seeing Donick's increased fear and his growing struggles, Alissa feared there was no way to stop Jeanetta, but she had to try. Donick's eyes bulged in horror and with one last burst of adrenaline, he attempted to pull away. But his strength was puny compared to a Sime in kill mode. Alissa started toward Jeanetta, flaring enticement, but Jeanetta's tentacles had already established a firm hold, her mouth had already planted itself against Donick's who's was open in a scream that would never be heard. And, by the time Alissa's arms were fully extended, Donick's lifeless body was already slipping from Jeanetta's grip.

Seeing Jeanetta wasn't satisfied, Alissa realized Jeanetta must be a channel. She offered her arms again, prepared for transfer. And that's all the encouragement the junct Sime required. She lunged, jerking Alissa into her grip. Knowing the horribly violent death of Donick had caused Jeanetta's intense reaction, Alissa began to push her selyn into Jeanetta's starving system as fast as she could take it.

Alissa felt Jeanetta straining and knew she wanted something that she couldn't give her. Killbliss. She'd heard it mentioned at Carre. Those who had killed reached a peak they referred to as killbliss. But Alissa couldn't give Jeanetta that. So, very carefully, she attempted to flood the girl with the feeling of deep satisfaction as the peaking came and then very carefully eased her off.

Jeanetta collapsed against her, knocking them both to the ground.

Alissa heard the wail as Jeanetta realized what she'd done. But the dull throb in her head that had been only an inconvenience earlier blossomed out into a full blown pounding blocking out her thoughts. The world dimmed and with a moan, darkness envelope her.

Chapter One

"Tell me again why you think these people are going to accept me?"

Alissa watched as the young Sime waved her tentacles about in abject fascination. "This Household I'm taking you to has both Simes and Gens living together in peace." She shifted on her horse, tempted to rub her sore bottom, barely restraining herself. Soon they would be to Carre...less than half an hour at the most.

"But don't the Simes want to ... kill ... each month when their need becomes so great for selyn?"

Alissa heard the fear in the young girl's voice. "They learn not to kill. Believe me, Jeanetta, would I be in Sime Territory if I had no hope of surviving?"

Reluctantly, Jeanetta nodded. "But I've killed." The whisper was so faint Alissa almost didn't catch it. She shifted on the horse, grumbling under her breath when the darned animal swung it's head around and snapped at her. She hated horses, hated riding for any length of time, and especially hated this particular horse who seemed to have it out for her.

"They can help you stop killing. That's what a Companion is for." Alissa wasn't sure how else to reassure Jeanetta. She was just going to have to wait until they arrived at Carre. Soon now, very very soon and they'd be there and then she'd be off this beast.

"And you're a Companion?"

"I was training to be one before I left." The wind whipped Alissa's hair into her face. Looking up at the sky, she realized with dismay that it was going to rain--again. She'd been wet this whole trip. Her face was black and blue, her whole body ached from the beating she'd taken from Donick and the uncomfortable ride had her so stiff she would fall on her face if she tried to dismount.

And now it was going to rain.

She sighed. Maybe twenty-five minutes left. Just twenty-five minutes.

"And a Companion is a Gen, a special Gen that isn't scared of Simes who can work with a Sime...no, not just a Sime but a special Sime called a channel, right?"

Alissa nodded, abstractly, peering through the deepening gloom. "That's right. But stop worrying. You'll learn all of this in time. After all, you're a channel too. You're going to be one of those special Simes who can take selyn from a Gen without hurting them and give that selyn to other Simes who must have it."

"I never knew the craving would be like that," Jeanetta whispered.

Alissa sighed. She had been raised on the Sime side of the border. She wasn't use to this reaction. All the people she had known considered it the norm to changeover. Only ones like her, that established as a Gen, were upset and feared for their lives.

Thank goodness Tannon had found her when he had.


She wouldn't think of him right now. She had to concentrate on getting the young junct channel to Carre. Twenty minutes. Just twenty more minutes and she could get off this brute that passed for transportation. She would swear it was bouncing worse than any other horse just to spite her. Every bump jostled her. She did her best to contain her pain, but could tell when she wasn't controlling it because Jeanetta would wince in reaction. No new channel should have to go through this.

Jeanetta sat up on her horse, her eyes going unfocused. "I saw something. A flash. I'm not sure."

Alissa turned her attention to the young girl. "Where? Which way?" She envied a Sime their differences. They could zlin--or see--energy fields before a Gen could see the person. They could run faster too--augmenting--and easily overtaking a Gen. They also had an ability to tell where they were at all times. Simes never got lost. And with their warmer body temperature, they didn't get as cold either, like Alissa was right now. Whereas Gens functioned on calories, Simes functioned on selyn. Gens thought of them as gods, as super beings who used Gens as animals, stripping them of their selyn and leaving them dead. Alissa had learned better from Householders.

"I'm not sure. Maybe I didn't zlin--"

"Jeanetta. Don't worry. You're still learning." Reluctantly, thinking of the delay this would make them getting to Carre, Alissa said, "Let's go check it out."

Jeanetta turned the horse in the direction she'd seen something. They cut across the field, through the woods and down a slope where there was a huge rocky decline. She recognized this area.

Jeanetta pulled up. Wrapping her coat around her neck she slipped off the horse and began to creep forward through the rocks. Alissa shivered, rolled her eyes at her horse who was suddenly eyeing her like she was it's next snack, and clumsily slid off it's back. She hated horses.

As if sensing her dislike, the horse turned knocking her sideways, making her stumble. Jeanetta was immediately there, grabbing her. "Shhh," she whispered.

Leave it to a new Sime to correct a Gen. Jeanetta had probably been just as clumsy before changeover. They started forward, Alissa muttering under her breath at the horse.

"What's the matter?"

"Nothing," Alissa replied. "I guess I'm just tired. We should have been to Carre by now." She didn't add that it hurt to walk. She grimaced and hobbled behind the graceful Sime, wondering what Jeanetta could have zlinned. Things couldn't get any worse.

Then the rain hit her. Cold and nasty, it started slowly as big fat drops and in seconds was a steady downpour. It slithered past her torn collar, down her skin in rivulets. She shuddered in distaste. Her bottom was already so sore she couldn't walk straight. Her legs would never straighten up again. And now she was going to be rubbed raw by the saddle. She was certain her horse would smile if it had any idea how much pain it was causing her. "Any idea what you did see?" Alissa whispered, wanting to hurry on to Carre and get out of the downpour. Simes didn't get as cold, and she sometimes had to wonder if any weather affected them as Jeanetta slinked silently forward to a vantage point where she could see below her without any show of discomfort.

When Alissa knelt beside Jeanetta and peered down at what Jeanetta had zlinned earlier, she was glad she hadn't hurried the girl. She could barely contain her gasp.

"Who do you think they are?" Jeanetta whispered, crouching down behind the rocks so as not to be spotted or zlinned by the group below.

Alissa hunkered deeper in her coat to get some protection against the pouring rain. "I'm not sure about those," Alissa motioned toward a group of four Simes who stood belligerently facing off a Sime and Gen despite the increase of the rain. "That, however," she added, nodding slightly to the other group talking over the sudden boom of thunder, "is Sectuib Tannon ambrov Carre and a Gen is with him," she added the last unnecessarily to the Sime beside her who could zlin the difference in them even if she hadn't been able to see it. "Probably his Companion."

Alissa could barely make out the shapes through the sudden thunderstorm, but she could pick out the smooth arms of a Gen. And she'd know Tannon despite his tentacles and the blue and silver of Carre's colors anywhere.

Wiping the water from her face, she cursed silently. Five maybe ten more minutes and they would have been at Carre. Alissa was glad she had insisted they travel cross-country on their way back from out-Territory. Because of that decision they were now shielded by the rocks instead of on the rutted road where they would have already been zlinned, unaware of the confrontation taking place below, possibly riding into a viper's nest bent on no good.

Sometimes Alissa wished she had the special ability to zlin so she could see the things her Gen's eyes couldn't pick up until she was right on top of the problem.

She couldn't tell who the Companion was with Tannon, but knew Sectuib wouldn't leave Carre without one. She also didn't know what Tannon was doing out in the rain, but knew he wouldn't be away from Carre if it wasn't an emergency. He was the head of the Household, the most important person to Carre, and he was always to be protected.

She looked at the injured Sime lying unconscious at Sectuib's feet. The way Tannon stood so closely, she would guess it was one of Carre's own people. Perhaps they were on their way back to Carre and had been waylaid like the time she and Tannon had been detained, she thought, remembering the horror they had gone through only four months ago. Four months, yet it seemed like a lifetime.

Having established, she'd been running for her life to Gen Territory. Antoch, a man who had betrayed her mother and had murdered her was after her to put her in the pens. He had almost caught up with her when she'd stumbled upon a group of Simes and Gens, a group of Householders. They'd protected her, blocking the way of her pursuers until she could get away. Later she'd found out only Tannon had survived of that whole group. Antoch had murdered them all, including Tannon's Secutib and Tannon's Companion right in front of him. It had been a miracle he had escaped though he hadn't been in bast of shape.

It had been unfortunate he'd stumbled into the Shrine of the Starred Cross where she was hiding. However, it had been fortunate for her. He'd taught her not to fear Simes, that it was the fear itself that was dangerous. What a lesson to learn too. Antoch had caught up with them and imprisoned them in a small cage, intending to let Tannon's supply of selyn run out so he would die of attrition. They knew by putting a scared Gen and a Sime in a cage together Tannon would either be provoked into killing the Gen, which was forbidden by the Households, or he would commit suicide. Oh, yes, they'd planned to see her dead and the ruination of the House of Carre at the same time. The scandal of what Tannon would have done would have brought the wrath of Norlea down on Carre's head. The local town would not have left a stone of Carre unturned.

But they hadn't counted on Tannon's persuasive words or the trust he'd inspired in Alissa. Alissa felt connected to Tannon in a way she couldn't explain. And when he'd asked her to trust him, she had, finally shown her trust in the deepest way possible, giving herself to Tannon when he was in desperate need. He'd taken transfer from her, and they'd both lived. Keon had rescued them from Antoch, who had vowed to fight another day and ridden off. Alissa had traveled to Carre with Tannon, basking in the warmth and learning about the Household Carre, though she'd never intended to stay beyond a month or more. At the time she had truly believed the only way for a Gen to be really free was if they lived in their own Gen Territory. How wrong she'd been. How she wanted to tell Tannon that now.

Just then Alissa was jerked back to the present when one of the angry Simes grabbed Tannon by the arm and propelled him across the clearing toward the horses that were tethered to some nearby trees.

"He's trying to reason with them," Alissa hissed as she watched Tannon raise a conciliatory hand, a motion she well recognized as a let's-talk-this-over gesture. Casually he reached up and wiped the hair from his face as if he wasn't facing an angry Sime from town--or worse, a raider.

"Doesn't he know they won't reason?"

His tentacled hand went up in the air as if forestalling an accusation.

"They're really angry," Jeanetta whispered, using her new abilities to zlin the emotions of the group below.

"And they're going to hurt Sectuib," Alissa added shivering. "Probably leave the other Sime to die," she said, thinking of the unconscious Sime on the ground.

"What are we going to do?" Jeanetta asked. She stiffened, her head suddenly whipping around as she zlinned off to their left. "There's a large group of Simes coming. From their position your Sectuib isn't going to see them until it's too late."

"A trap!" Alissa exclaimed and stood. "Come on. We've got to help."

"How?" Jeanetta returned, bewildered.

Alissa looked around. "We'll get on the horses and ride right between the two groups. The disruption will give Tannon a chance to get away. We'll have to get the Sime on the ground--"


"Don't argue. If these people are raiders I wouldn't leave a dead animal behind for them to get their filthy hands on." Not to mention an injured Householder, she added silently, knowing how raiders loved to torture to death their captives just for the fun of it.

"They're getting closer."

"Come on. Let's do it."

Alissa painfully mounted the horse.

With a cry of warning, they charged down the hill and into camp. Simes scattered in every direction. Shouts erupted. "Get out of here! Trap!" Alissa shouted.

"Watch out!" Tannon called, but too late. The Sime's came after them, fury written in their features.

"Run!" Alissa replied as she and Jeanetta raced toward the downed Sime. "Get out of here. More are coming! We'll get the Sime."

The enraged Simes had split into two groups. One group was headed toward Tannon and the Companion and another started toward her and Jeanetta. "Don't!" Tannon called, anger plainly written on his face. "Leave him!"

Alissa ignored Tannon and together she and Jeanetta hauled the unconscious Sime onto her horse. She knew Tannon was worried about the Sime's displacement. No Sime who was unconscious should ever be moved. That ability that let him know where he was all the time would be off kilter when he awoke. The displacement could be so severe between what his unconscious mind was telling him as compared to what his eyes were telling him that he would wish for death, but Alissa was more worried about the Sime being tortured. She'd seen too much torture in the last week to let an innocent suffer again, no matter what the cost.

"Ride!" Alissa said even as the other group came into camp.

Tannon shouted something again but it was snatched away by the turbulent storm. Just then two dozen riders broke through the clearing on the far side. He shouted again, something that sounded like Carre and their horse shot forward.

"Follow him," Alissa ordered the Sime, knowing she could follow easily even though Alissa, as a Gen, was unable to see through the now blinding rain.

Jeanetta rode through the line of horses scattering them. Alissa realized holding the extra body on her horse was slowing her down. However, despite her horse's wheezing, Jeanetta's horse was faltering. It was in bad shape. It was much older than the horse Alissa currently rode. Alissa tried to keep track of Tannon but he'd disappeared from view. "Can you zlin him?" she asked Jeanetta.

"Yes. He's still there, far ahead."

Thundering hooves echoed behind the two riders on the tiring mounts. Alissa cast a desperate glance over her shoulder, peering through the shrouded forest which hid the hunters from her Gen view.

"Hurry, Jeanetta. They're gaining," she cried even as the young Sime leaned further over her horse's neck and urged it to a faster speed.

The Gen glanced back again, moving with the sway of the horse as the other woman expertly dodged trees in their path. Alissa clawed at the strands of hair the wind whipped into her face. She attempted to clear her vision, as she squinted behind her to see any sign of their would-be captors. Her heart pounded loud in her ears with her own fear and she was certain she wouldn't hear their attackers' approach over the wild beating.

"Who are they? What do they want?"

"I don't know!" Alissa cried out. Swinging her head back around so her voice wouldn't be carried away by the rumbling thunder she shouted over the noise, "Hunters, bandits, raiders; I'm not sure. Just be glad that Sectuib and his Companion were able to get away!"

"There they are!" a triumphant voice shouted causing Alissa to cast another fearful glance over her shoulder, her apprehensive eyes searching. The Simes who doggedly persevered on their quest of satisfaction as they hounded the two helpless travelers could see what she couldn't because of the dark shadows. She cursed her Gen sight under her breath.

Suddenly, a brief glimpse of a horse informed her that their mounts were losing too much ground.

"Hurry!" she urged, knowing the young junct channel's horsemanship was superb and she was getting everything she could out of her lathered mount. Even now Alissa could hear the harsh wheezing of her own horse and regretted the way they had to push it to the limits of its endurance. Yet her terror the people would catch them if they slowed precluded her from allowing herself or Jeanetta to slow their mounts.

Jeanetta's tense voice cut through Alissa's thoughts of concern for the horses. "There's something up ahead. A stone wall. It's on the other side of an open field!"

Excitement surged in Alissa. "That's it! That's Carre!"

A shot rang out and Alissa held on tighter, leaning into her mount, Jeanetta cut her horse sharp to the right around a large tree heading for the small wooden bridge. Alissa suddenly screamed as a branch caught her flying hair.

Her hands clawed at her reins attempting to hold on and not lose her seat. The hedge, which represented safety in Alissa's mind was only moments away, just across the bridge separating the forest and stream from the wide opened field. She had to make it! She teetered and the horse faltered. She felt herself falling and fought desperately, but at that moment a second branch caught her. Pain sliced through her face and chest and she thought, I'm going to die. Then steel-like tentacles were around her upper arm and she was hauled back to the safety of her horse.

Alissa sucked in a sharp breath against the pain. "I'm okay," she reassured. She knew she couldn't mask all of her pain and she didn't want to excite the new Sime into doing something drastic that would see the end to both of their lives. She instead concentrated on the good news that Carre was in sight and they would soon be safe.

Jeanetta calmed even as their horses pounded across the bridge that crossed the small river.

Alissa gripped the reins as the horse leapt the small hedge that traveled almost the entire width of the field.

She'd not come all the way from out-Territory where Gens ruled to Carre in Sime Territory only to fail so close. She would make it back to Carre with her junct channel and unconscious Sime in tow.

A junct channel.

Carre would be both thrilled and devastated.

Thrilled because a channel was a special kind of Sime who could be trained to take selyn from a Gen without killing them and then give that selyn to other Simes who required it every month to live. And they needed more channels. When she left they'd been desperate for them.

But they would also be devastated because Jeanetta was junct. She had killed a Gen for selyn. It'd take a lot of hard work to help Jeanetta learn not to hurt a Gen now. She would have to go through crisis where she would ultimately choose to kill or break away from the kill. Many couldn't make it through that. But at least there was still hope for Jeanetta. She would be at Carre, the best place as far as Alissa was concerned, to help Jeanetta through her difficulties. Yes, there was help for Jeanetta there...and a place for Alissa too. So she would make it there.

There were too many things left unsaid. She had to make amends with Tannon for what had happened after he'd brought her back to Carre to live. She had to make it up for running out on Carre, on him. She had to tell him he was right. Out Territory wasn't what she had been looking for. Her life was at Carre. She wanted to pledge herself to serving the Household and Tannon as Sectuib. She had to tell him that.

When they passed the old ruins of a House, Alissa's heart rate accelerated. Almost home.

"They've seen us!" Jeanetta exclaimed, urging the horse to push harder. Alissa wondered if Jeanetta even realized that, because of the rain, Alissa still couldn't see Carre.

"They're opening the gates! Your Sectuib is inside! Your Sectuib is inside!"

Even as the stone structure came into view, Alissa glanced anxiously over her shoulder. Out loud she reassured, "They won't follow us further. Carre has grown too much. Besides, it's been years since an attack was launched against Carre."

Alissa wasn't sure for who's benefit she said those words, but they proved true.

Racing toward the entrance of the smooth gray stone walls, Alissa felt a surge of victory, of homecoming. True it'd only been a short time since she'd been behind these walls, but to her, looking at the welcoming sight of the Simes and Gens as they came running, it seemed like eternity. With anticipation she remembered the quiet, tranquil atmosphere and the camaraderie of the people who lived here. Funny, she hadn't noticed that until after she'd insisted to Sectuib Tannon Ambrov Carre that she didn't want to live behind walls but wanted to go where she would be free and able to have a family.

Well, Gen Territory hadn't turned out to be the paradise she'd sought, but the opposite side of the warped piece of metal. Instead of Gens dying, Simes were ruthlessly hunted and murdered. And now she was back with a people she'd left; but this would be better than dwelling with a people who lived in fear of their own children.

Which brought her to Jeanetta, a failure she didn't want to dwell on until she faced Tannon.

Suddenly, Jeanetta's horse faltered, staggering like it was drunk. Alissa realized the horse was done for. Jeanetta, more agile with her Sime abilities jumped, somersaulting away as the horse tumbled and went down. But Alissa was slower. She couldn't turn her horse in time. It crashed into Jeanetta's own mount. And as a result she went flying toward the crowd of Simes and Gens that was racing toward them.

I'm going to have some mad Simes. She thought dismally of the shock her impact with the cold unyielding earth would cause. The ground rushed up toward her. Pain! her mind screamed and she closed her eyes. But instead of pain and hard soil, she landed with a thump against warm steel with arms that caught and held her close.

Her head cracked against someone's chin and she saw stars. She wasn't sure but thought she might taste blood too from biting her tongue. She pushed back and looked up into the furious brown eyes of Sectuib Tannon ambrov Carre.

Chapter Two

All was silent as she stared at his face. It seemed an eternity since she'd stood like this with Tannon. Easily six inches taller than her own average height, his features were strong, angular with prominent cheekbones, a square chin, classical nose and two long dimples, one on each side of his mouth when he smiled--which he wasn't doing now. She watched his features slowly change from furious to remote and closed. So long Alissa had thought of him and wondered what her homecoming would be like. She hadn't dreamed it would be anything like this. She had wondered what to say when she saw him, how she would explain her feelings. But now, standing here, leaning against him as he held her in his arms, she froze.

He pushed her away slightly, breaking the spell. This time when Alissa looked at him she saw more than just the fond memories of a handsome man. She saw his stress too. Dark shadows lay under his eyes, the sharp cheekbones were sharper than normal, showing he'd lost weight, and the tense way he clamped his jaw revealed lines instead of dimples. Uneasy, she blanked her field and was glad she had when he spoke.

"I never thought to see you again."

The sarcastic words struck like a dagger. She pulled back to break contact. Tannon didn't try to hold onto her, stepping back himself.

Ignoring her, he turned and jogged to where the horses had fallen. Calling to a passing Sime, she said, "The Sime I brought in. Help him."

Without waiting to see that he did, for a crowd was already around the body and carrying it off, she followed Tannon. He noted the people carrying off the other Sime, but instead of following them, he went to where the horses were. Kneeling down by Jeanetta's horse, he nodded. "Dead." He turned toward her horse.

She stepped forward. The horse snapped at her.

Scowling at it, she jumped back. Tannon examined it's legs. "It'll be a good addition to the stables."

"It's a hindrance," Alissa muttered, knowing how evil the horse could be when it wanted to. What really irked her though was how the horse stood still and allowed Tannon to stroke it's neck. It would have taken her hand off if she'd tried that.

"A lot you know about horses," the young female stable master said, taking the reins from Tannon and heading off. Alissa watched it trot docilely behind the young Sime and wanted to smack the horse for it's attitude.

Had Tannon not turned toward her at that moment, she might have given in to the urge. She was certain even the hairs on her head hurt, if that were possible. And that horse was part of the reason. But Tannon did turn. She focused on him, doing her best to hide her pain, though it was almost impossible to hide anything from this channel. But instead of commenting on her condition or her obvious pain, Tannon said bluntly, "What brought you here this time? Running from Simes again?"

As if he didn't know, Alissa thought, shocked by his unfriendly welcome.

She glanced around and saw all of the once friendly faces staring at her now with a wariness that she'd never noticed before. Although she'd only been gone a few months, they were acting like it had been years and they had forgotten who she was.


The impatience in Tannon's voice brought her eyes snapping back to his. But before she could reply, Jeanetta stepped forward. "It was for me that she returned."

Tannon turned and zlinned the girl quickly and Alissa knew Tannon wondered how the girl had understood. She doubted Jeanetta had actually understood. But anyone, know matter what language they spoke, could certainly understand a dressing down.. "A kill in the last day or so. A channel." It was said quietly as if an accusation. Turning back to Alissa he continued, "You're nowhere near low field. Your field isn't high either. And she's junct besides. Care to explain?"

She had just been chased for her life, was hurting and injured, exhausted with a junct channel by her side and he was questioning her like she'd committed a grave offense. Which, she admitted only to herself, she had. Jeanetta was junct. But she wouldn't admit her failure to him here before everyone. Instead, she allowed her anger to build as a self-defense.

"Aren't you going to do anything about those people who chased us?" she questioned unbelievably.

Tannon blinked and Alissa realized he hadn't even considered the people chasing them. What was going on here? Tannon was a good channel and a very good Sectuib. He was acting like a first year Sime who couldn't concentrate on anything.

He leveled her a look and turned to Lemel, a Gen standing by his side. "Get a riding party together. We'll see what we can find of them, although I'm sure they're long gone by now."

"But, Tannon," Lemel began. "Perhaps you should send someone else. You're required here--"

"No. I'm going. I'm Sectuib and fully capable of leading a searching expedition. Besides, after what she just did --"

She could tell he was angry again the way his face flushed.

"No," he said, slashing his hand through the air. "I will not discuss that right now." With only a brief glance at Alissa he turned toward the stables for a fresh mount. "I'll finish this when I return."

Alissa watched him stride away, unable to believe this was the same confident young Sectuib she'd known only a few short months ago. Trembling, she reached up and brushed her hair from her face, noting the twigs and leaves entwined within the long brown strands.

Katrin, the Sime in charge of the first year changeovers came forward. "Let's go get you cleaned up, dear," she said to Jeanetta.

Jeanetta's eyes widened and she gripped Alissa's hand. Alissa immediately forgot her own appearance and attempted to soothe Jeanetta as she smoothed the hair from her friend's face. "It's okay, Jeanetta. You'll love the Sime's housing. Go on."

"You won't leave me?" she questioned and Alissa suddenly realized the fear the young girl must be feeling.

Alissa had felt that herself the first time she'd gone to Gen Territory after establishing; the feeling of total abandonment, knowing no one, discovering a whole new life. And here was Jeanetta who had been raised to hate and fear Simes. Less than two days old, Jeanetta still occasionally looked at her tentacles with revulsion. Alissa was certain Jeanetta was remembering with horror how she had attacked a man and killed him, a man she had known for most of her life. Alissa had assured her she was not some demon or monster. Yet it would take time for her to adjust. Still, it must be a shock to have all of these tentacled people wandering around about her so freely when in Gen Territory, a tentacled person was immediately executed.

Alissa reached out and stroked a dorsal tentacle on Jeanetta's forearm. She said quietly, "Never. I'll always be here for you."

Hesitantly, Jeanetta nodded before finally leaving with Katrin. When she was gone Alissa returned her attention to the crowd. She was very self-conscious when she realized a majority of the people had broken up into small groups and were whispering. She was glad she couldn't zlin fields for she was certain the dark looks and whispers were aimed at her.

"Let's get you to the infirmary and examine you. You look like you've been riding under the horse instead of on it." If only he knew, thought Alissa.

Alissa looked up into the hazel eyes of Jorgre who had been standing nearby, giving orders to some of the others who were loitering. Although he was not much taller than her, Jorgre had an air about him that reeked of authority. Was he now working closely with Tannon? His slim Sime body was graceful as he quickly maneuvered her past the staring crowd and stables, past the dorms and finally into the main building which housed the offices, cafeteria, and a infirmary for minor injuries.

She touched her battered face, remembering how Donick had beat her only two days past intending to murder her before Jeanetta had attacked and killed him. She reassured herself that this was the reason everyone was staring at her. "It's true I look pretty roughed up," she said and tried to smile. "But it's a story I'd prefer not to discuss. I'd rather wait and tell the Sectuib first."

She felt Jorgre stiffen and wondered at it but didn't pursue it. Instead, she changed the subject. "We rode into camp breaking up the group and giving Tannon a chance to escape. We were right behind the Sectuib though our horses were slowed down. We weren't sure we were going to make it. But as you saw, Jeanetta's horse didn't give out until we passed through the gates." She thought about the poor beast they'd run into the ground. "And of course, Jeanetta's nerves are a mess. A new channel should never have to go through what she did."

Jorgre escorted her into the room, his face remote. The room was much like she remembered. Tan thick drapes to block out any and all sun when necessary, the walls close to the same tan color with very few decorations on them, all muted so as not to irritate a patient. Today the drapes were open allowing the gray cast of the sky to seep into the room. The wooden examination table was well padded, with bars that could be raised on either side if the patient was unconscious. A small wooden table with various supplies stood next to the bed. The craftsmanship was superb, with carvings of vines up the side of the wood holding the tray in place. Simple but beautiful. Cabinets kept locked with simple medicines in it was against the wall next to the sink. Alissa was suddenly uneasy at the lengthening silence. "Jorgre," she said as he helped her up onto the table, "what's going on here?"

Jorgre shrugged. "It's not the same since you left."

Surprised by the remark, for Jorgre had only arrived weeks before Alissa, she said, "It can't have changed that much. You know the motto, Unity through peace."

"Well, you wouldn't know that with all the trouble we've been having."

"What do you mean?" she asked as Jorgre helped her off with her top and examined her bruised ribs, his hands and tentacles touching gently as he zlinned her injuries.

"I mean, since Tannon came back from meeting you months ago he has changed. His focus is different, especially since you...well, anyway, he's different. He never did share what happened out on the trail with you. People want to know exactly what happened to the former Sectuib and why you suddenly decided to leave. There's even been rumors that Tannon just can't handle the stress. He's too focused on himself and keeping us here inside and safe. The programs he'd once thought to implement about going out to the people, working among them to teach them about our unity and peace have all stopped."

"That's not true," Alissa exclaimed, eyeing Jorgre with suspicious eyes. A superior attitude indeed, she thought. This channel obvio usly didn't like Tannon. She would set him straight right now.

She remembered the ice storm and running for her life and thought everyone here should know of it. "Tannon found me. The former Sectuib gave his life saving me and Tannon risked his own life too. True, Keon eventually saved us, but I would be dead were it not for Sectuib Tannon ambrov Carre. Tannon even asked me to be his Companion. I didn't understand Householdings. Instead of pledging, I left for Gen Territory, certain to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow I was hunting."

Her voice turned bitter as she remembered Tannon's anguished reaction to her leaving and her time spent out-Territory. "Too late I realized that perhaps here was where I belonged."

Jorgre, eyeing her differently--whether that was good or bad she wasn't sure--went to the cabinet and pulled out a vial. Pouring it into a glass he brought it back and proffered it to her with two tentacles.

She wrinkled her now at the sharp pungent smell but downed the fosebine anyway, grimacing at its awful taste. "Maybe if I had known more about Householdings," she said, trying to make Jorgre understand, "I wouldn't have run scared. Maybe I would have stayed." She shrugged. Looking at Jorgre she continued more strongly, meaning to make Jorgre understand. "I owe Tannon and Carre my trust and service."

"Tannon ambrov Carre isn't in very good shape, if you didn't notice," Jorgre said taking the glass from her and rinsing it out in the sink. He continued, "Since you've been gone, Tannon has been experiencing aborts and all kind of other problems. He's definitely not at his best."

Guilt pierced her soul. Although Jorgre hadn't said it was her fault, she couldn't forget how sour his post had gone after their transfer when she'd told him she was leaving. Could all of this be her fault? And who was serving him? It couldn't be Lemel for he wasn't strong enough. Maybe Katrin?

"We require a good First Companion. Your field is strong. I heard Tannon say you weren't at peak. We must have someone like you here who could serve Tannon," he paused then added a last phrase so softly she almost didn't hear.

No, she could not have heard right. "What did you say?"

"You'll see," he said, but she knew that wasn't true at all. He had said or me right after he'd said she could serve Tannon. What could have caused such an uproar that easy going Jorgre would be talking about ousting Tannon? Tannon couldn't be in that bad a shape, could he?

"The room across from the Sectuib's is empty. Why don't you go up there and rest. As you heard the Sectuib say, he'll want to see you when he returns." He turned his back on her dismissing her.

Alissa gingerly slid down off the table and went out the door. At the base of the steps was her bag. She picked it up and wearily climbed the stairs. The fosebine was already taking affect, for which she was thankful. Going to her room, she unpacked. Although it had only been a few months, it felt like she'd been running for years. Even though her life had been threatened, she'd known she was coming home when she had spotted the gates of Carre. The memory of walking through the compound, the people smiling and waving, standing together laughing over what one of the students had done or some prank that had been pulled...She'd always been included like she belonged, until today.

She didn't feel like she was home now. The people had pulled away, uneasy, whispering, eyeing with speculation both her and Tannon.

She went to the small basin and washed up, doing her best to get rid of all traces of grime and blood. She ached from head to toe, but thanks to the fosebine her aches were now barely noticeable. She should really be lying down, but she wanted to talk to Tannon, find out how the injured Sime was, see what she would be doing to help.

A knock sounded and this time it was a muddy Lemel who stood at the door. "Tannon wants to see you."

Alissa nodded. In minutes, dressed in her own sky blue skirt and white top with the lacy collar, she was downstairs outside Tannon's door. She took a deep calming breath then gently knocked.

"Come in." The deep vibrant voice was the same as she remembered except maybe a little strained.

Alissa opened the door and made her way across the plush carpet that insulated her steps. The scene was similar to the last time she was here, except the mugginess of the office made it stifling. Two large balcony doors were pushed open to help cool the office. The smell of rain drifted in. In the distance she could see people going about their duties, rushing from place to place to get out of the rain. Glancing around the familiar room, she noted several plants looked like they hadn't been watered in a couple of weeks.

Tannon and his plants. The upkeep of his plants mirrored his moods. When he was agitated or near need the plants suffered. If he was energetic and happy, his plants showed the results of his exuberance. Alissa had gotten into the habit of checking them the short time she had stayed here. Obviously, no one else had. The bookcases behind his desk were still full of books, including the one on Householdings that she'd always meant to read. She wondered what Tannon would do if she walked over there, turned the key, and pulled out the treasured volume to read. Before she left he would have been happy. But now? She saw Tannon staring at her, his features blank. "Why don't you tell me what happened?"

Alissa made her way over to one of the two overstuffed chairs in front of the huge wooden desk and perched on one. She brushed her hair back over her shoulder before carefully folding her hands in her lap. Lifting her eyes she gazed steadily at the man before her and replied, "Jeanetta went through changeover and I helped her across the border. I was attacked by a tree just outside Carre," she added the last as a joke, trying to ease the tension.

It didn't work.

When she didn't say anything else, Tannon stood. He stomped around the desk and faced her, angrily splaying a shaky hand through his unruly black hair before bracing them on the desk behind him. Alissa was certain he was attempting to hide the telltale sign of his weakness, for in the short time she'd known Tannon, she'd never seen anything except rock hard stability. Yet he was now trembling.

"So, that explains everything?" he asked softly, but she heard the steely anger. "Your face. Shen, Alissa, I can't even see one of your eyes. Your lower lip is blue. Did the horse trample you? Because you certainly didn't get these bruises with that clumsy Gen stunt out front. I was there, remember?

"And the junct channel? Your field isn't at peak, yet not low. You certainly haven't served someone unless it was a shen. No. You don't look like that has happened." He started to pace but stopped and whirled back around to face her.

"Come on, Alissa. What are you hiding? Earlier you were covered with blood, and your clothes were practically ripped off you. The scratches from a tree limb are obvious. Tell me what happened!" he finished, striding forward to the edge of the nice plump chair next to where she was seated and placing himself in the empty one.

He was certainly upset. Evidently he'd had plenty of time to ruminate on this and had already judged her. But Alissa was more concerned about what she saw in him. What was the matter that Tannon would act so unstable? Eyes filled with concern but etched with strain demanded answers. The sound of rain filled the uneasy silence, punctuating her hesitation in answering. For the first time since knowing Tannon, her confidence wavered. She had been so sure she could come in here, be a Companion, step in where she had left off. But right now she wasn't sure how to handle him. One wrong word might trigger those turbulent emotions that he held barely in check. She was relieved when the door opened and Lemel strode in carrying a tray of food. He immediately set the tray on the desk, moved up next to Tannon and touched his elbow. Was his Companion sick? she wondered, unwilling to believe what her eyes were seeing.

Alissa licked her lower lip, feeling the distorted flesh with her tongue, forcing herself back to the question he'd posed, wondering how to answer. "How do I explain about the crazed fanatic who beat me and tried to rape me?"

"What!" Tannon gasped, his gaze sharpening. He leaned forward, concern etched on his deeply lined face.

She shrugged remembering now how she had looked when she'd been running for her life. She realized that must be why Tannon hadn't thanked her yet for saving his life. He was worried about their arrival. She was making a mess of this. She cast a glare at Lemel for help, but his full concentration was on Tannon.

Alissa remembered in their desperate flight she'd forgotten her state of dress, her clothes hanging off her, the bruises, everything. She'd been more concerned with her young charge and staying alive. "We ran into some trouble --"

At his snort indicating a vast understatement, she shot him a disgruntled look. "There was a man. Well, actually, his name was Donick. He wanted --"

Grief filled her as she remembered the past three months. Had she not encouraged Donick to be friends with her, he might be alive today. Possibly, Jeanetta wouldn't be junct. The past twenty-four hours all came back and tears welled in her swollen eyes. Her cheeks flushed at the embarrassing display of emotion.

Tannon stiffened. Lemel stepped slightly in front of him, attempting to shield Tannon from her emotions but failing miserably. She saw Tannon's face whiten and his mouth tighten. She swallowed several times trying to stop the flood of tears that was right at the surface but all of her feelings over the past months continued to flood her. She'd hurt Tannon emotionally when she'd decided to go to Gen Territory, endangered Leonie--Jeanetta's mother--and caused Donick's death--not that she was horribly guilt-ridden over the last--but she was not over her guilt of being unable to stop Jeanetta from killing him. Jeanetta shouldn't be junct and it was Alissa's fault. She knew, without being told, that she'd failed in the role of a Companion. Jeanetta should never have had to go through what she did or what she would yet have to face.

"I'm waiting." It was said impatiently. Alissa forced her emotions aside, refusing to hurt this channel any more than she already had. She stared ahead at the shelves of books located against the walls behind Tannon's desk. She let out a deep shuddering breath.

"Well?" he persisted.

"He was the pastor's son of the local Church of Purity. He-we-well, I broke off our engagement." Tannon's eyes widened then narrowed and she felt as if she had somehow hurt him with that information. She was being ridiculous. In her emotional state she couldn't be sure of anything. "He was crazy, fanatical, and he came after me. Jeanetta was going through changeover and I promised to help her get to Sime Territory. We were only an hour from the border, but I was afraid to go further, afraid Jeanetta wouldn't have enough selyn for breakout.

"It was storming. I didn't hear him. Jeanetta---maybe she didn't realize what she was zlinning until Donick was at the tent. He knocked her unconscious. We fought. He tried to ra ... hurt me." Alissa gulped, remembering the terror that had filled her, the surety they were going to die. "Jeanetta--she stopped him. She went through breakout and I offered ... Shuven, Tannon," she whispered. "It was too late. Donick was there and when he tried to escape, he brushed against Jeanetta's extended laterals."

Alissa shivered in remembrance. "She wasn't satisfied with Donick, so I finished the transfer. She cried, terrified that you, the people of Carre, wouldn't accept her after she'd done something so atrocious. We talked but --"

"That explains Jeanetta's presence. But what about yours?"

Alissa shrugged and began to pluck at her skirt. When she realized what she was doing she quickly folded her hands again. She lifted her head and locked stares with Tannon. "I realize I was wrong in running away. I didn't understand. But I do now. I want to stay here myself and pledge." It took a lot of courage, but she refused to lower her eyes and grovel.

Tannon shot her a disbelieving look. "Why? Didn't you like out-Territory?" He shook his head, disgust on his features. "You can't run back to us every time you have a problem. You made your decision months ago."

Alissa's mouth fell open and heat stained her cheeks red at his words. Surely he didn't mean he was going to send her back out-Territory? A chill seized her. That would be no better than casting her outside the walls and telling her to fend for herself. "But I've changed my mind."

Tannon placed his fists on his hips and stared deeply into her eyes. His voice hoarse and laced with bitterness he asked softly, "How soon before you change it again?"

"But I want to pledge." The whisper was more of a plea than a demand and Alissa couldn't believe she was actually begging.

Tannon laughed, but his bitterness was traced with a despair that frightened Alissa. "I'd be a fool to take your pledge and put the people of Carre at risk should you suddenly decide you can't live behind these walls contentedly. I'm not willing to risk that again. I can't trust you to be here. You don't even understand what Carre is about."

Unity and Peace. She might not have before. But she did now. Didn't she?

"I was wrong," she whispered, unable to accept what he was saying. "I want to stay and help."

Tannon turned and started around his desk. "It's too late. Because, although you may be serious now, I don't think you'll be here in a week or two. You're still chasing rainbows, Alissa. You've not truly accepted what we are yet. There's still too much uncertainty in your life, and in your past, for me to trust you. Unity, Alissa. We are a people who work together. When its good or bad we stick together. Our Household couldn't make it if we didn't. And that means obeying an order, no matter what. That's what a Companion does, listens to his Sectuib. Rules and roles. A Companion has both. You never learned that."

"Gee," she said, finally letting her temper get the better of her, wanting to strike out against him for bruising her pride. "Aren't you even going to thank me for saving your life?."

Tannon whirled back around. "What do you mean?"

"Back in the clearing," she replied, totally disgusted with his anger. She had expected him to be a little irate, but nothing like this. "I've been through the very devil to get back here. Jeanetta and I spied you and Lemel, then risked our own lives to rescue you, yet you are still furious with me saying I have no idea how to follow orders or what unity means."

Tannon's features darkened. "Come to my rescue? And just what were you rescuing me form, Alissa?"

She looked from Tannon to Lemel who was again holding Tannon's elbow trying to calm him. Although he was woefully inadequate, he was at least, having a little affect on Tannon. Tannon now looked like he only wanted to toss her out instead of throttle her.

"Those Simes," she started.

"The ones we were talking with," he replied flatly.

"Well, yes," she said, "We saw you trying to reason with them."

"About the Simes, or rather the one you brought to this compound," he added harshly. "Because of that incident the other Simes are now being totally unreasonable."

Shocked by his attitude she said, "What do you care about what a bunch of raiders think? Especially when they were looking at you like you were going to be the perfect victim for their trap. I wasn't going to leave one of Carre's people there to die. Not with the menacing mood they were in."

"That Sime would have rather died then face the displacement you forced upon him by that wild ride, if he had even been alive in the first place!"

Alissa surged to her feet. "He was dead?" she croaked out.

Jeanetta's hesitation when she mentioned the Sime back in the clearing suddenly made sense. Jeanetta had realized he was dead. Why hadn't she said anything?

Because, Alissa reasoned, Jeanetta was from out-Territory. She probably hadn't known what to think when told by Alissa that they had to get the body, assuming it was a necessary ritual or something for burial.

"Yes, he was dead," Tannon said between gritted teeth. "He was also their cousin. Raiders murdered him. Lemel and I had been on a journey and came upon the body. The men accused us. We had no trouble convincing them it wasn't us, until you came riding down into the middle of everything yelling for us to run!"

Alissa paled, her vision dimmed. She had to sit down.

"I told you to stop, Alissa. I told you to leave the body! Why can't you ever listen to anything I say? Why must you always go your own way?"

He snorted and walked around the desk. "Then you come in here and demand I let you pledge. You can't even follow my orders! There is nothing to convince me you would be able to function well in the roll of a Companion. Do you even know what a Companion does?"

"Of course," she replied hotly.

"What?" he demanded, seating himself. He clasped his hands together, and waited though his penetrating gaze never left her. She walked over to the desk, her steps slowing as she reached it.

"Well, to serve you--" she began, running her fingers over the polished wood.

"Any channel," he cut in.

"Well, yes. Any channel."

In her agitation she reached out to pick up a small thin blade Tannon used to open letters with.

Tannon snatched it from her grasp with a look of absolute horror on his face. Frustration at the little forgotten matter of how any Sime absolutely refused to allow a Gen to touch anything that might possibly be the slightest bit sharp, she scowled. She had thought at one time that Tannon trusted her more than that. Obviously, now he didn't trust her at all. Replying louder than she intended because of her anger at Tannon's reaction, she said, "There's also the infirmary. They do that and help wherever they're required. Um, there is the internal shunt...What?"

Tannon was shaking his head in disgust. "Lemel may not come near matching you in draw or capacity but he's a true Companion." Pointedly he stored the letter opener in his desk drawer, then made a point of turning the key in the lock with a loud click, making sure it was locked, much like she surmised he had done with his emotions, locking her totally away from any hint of what he might really be feeling.

He flinched at Alissa's reaction. She couldn't control the insult she felt at his actions. Lemel stared at her as if she were beneath contempt, though she thought there might be just a hint of triumph in his eyes. "I'm willing to learn," she whispered, her voice sounding weak to her own ears. "You'd force me to leave when you know you're short Companions? You won't even let me prove myself? New channels and Companions are allowed to go through training their first year and learn --"

"You've had half a year already," he stated.

"Not here. Yet, you won't even give me six months, five months, a month," she cried out, her chest aching at what he was saying.

He leaned back in his chair, folded his hands behind his head and studied her speculatively. "You think you can learn everything there is to learn about a Companion in just a month?"

"Yes," she said, then added, "or enough to serve you."

"Forget it. I wouldn't come near you," he said.

Her pride felt ground into the floor and she wanted to shout, but she bit down on the inside of her lip to keep from responding.

"That's fine. You just give me a month and I'll show you what I know."

"Tannon," Lemel began, but Tannon waved a tentacle in his direction, silencing him.

"You've got yourself a month."

Alissa blinked, unable to believe he had actually given her any time at all. Air whooshed out of her lungs in relief. "So, where do you want me to work? The infirmary? With first year channel's? Where?"

"Lemel, send for B'eki."

Lemel suddenly smiled and went to the door. That smile made Alissa very uneasy.

When he came back there was a young Sime woman with him. Alissa smiled. It was obvious the lady was in awe of the Sectuib which meant she didn't work closely with him, which meant, Alissa suddenly realized, that this girl was probably renSime.

As if reading her thoughts--no the rat was probably zlinning her emotions--he said, "B'eki is doing a great job of trading with Norlea. I want you to be her escort until I decide otherwise."

Alissa shot to her feet. The girl wavered at her outburst. Tannon sliced Alissa a warning glance and Lemel was torn between protecting two Simes. Alissa immediately sat back down, forcing herself to calm down. "But Tannon," Alissa said as sweetly as possible. "I'm a Companion. Perhaps the Sectuib has made a mistake, for surely my duties would be more ... profitable somewhere else."

"I've made no mistake," Tannon said calmly. "You may go, B'eki. Alissa will be ready to work with you in the morning."

B'eki shot a wary look at Alissa before slipping from the office. "You've got to be kidding," Alissa said as soon as the door was closed.

"I am not," he replied. "But it looks like you were," he added, his pen pausing over his papers. "You evidently weren't serious about learning to be a Companion or you wouldn't be questioning my advice."

"But an escort," she said, outrage in her voice. "My field is higher than most of the high field Companions in Carre when I'm low. And yet you would waste that by sending me as an errand girl."

"I'd rather do that than risk you hurting anyone here," he said. "Take it or leave it."

Many things raged in her mind that she would like to say to him, some of them would shock his tentacles right back into their sheaths looking for cover. But she would not give him the satisfaction. "I ... take ... it," she gritted out.

Tannon looked mildly surprised. "Good. She'll tell you what she wants you to do. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm busy. Besides trying to find out just who it was that surprised us back there, I also had to deal with the enraged relatives of the Sime you stole. Because of that I'm behind on my paperwork which I have to get done before infirmary duty."

"Yes, Sectuib."

"I'm not your Sectuib, Alissa," Tannon said and this time there was a trace of bitterness in his voice. "Address me as Tannon."

So no one would think he had caved in and let her join the House, she supposed. Now those looks on everyone's faces made sense. Their Sectuib was falling apart and they blamed her. There were some who were whispering about tossing him out because of her.

Standing, she bowed her head slightly. "I'll go rest. The fosebine is doing it's job admirably. I hope you don't mind if I don't show up for supper tonight."

"You follow the rules of the House," he replied simply, not answering her question. In other words, if she were a Companion she would know whether she was required to be at dinner or not.

Without another word she turned and headed toward the door.

"I'll be right back, Sectuib," Lemel said and Alissa realized Lemel was right behind her.

She smiled slightly in greeting. "Lemel. It's ... good ... to see you. I'm sorry we didn't get to talk earlier but I hope we can now. Who's Tannon's regular Companion now?"

"I am."

"But you're nowhere near his capacity," she said then sighed at his angry look. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I just meant, I wondered if --"

"At least I'm dependable and steady."

Alissa recoiled, surprised, though she shouldn't be, by his attack. "I thought you were on my side, Lemel. You did help me to cross the border."

Lemel's face reddened. "Sure, I helped. We all thought you'd discussed everything with Tannon and he was going into transfer knowing you were leaving."

Alissa's guilt was obvious in the slow color that stained her cheeks. "I didn't mean to hurt him," she replied straightening her spine and declaring defiantly. "I thought he understood. I care for Tannon. I'd never --"

Furiously, Lemel turned on her. "Care? How can you even say that? After what you did to him--"

Alissa stiffened defensively. "I mean what I said. I just didn't think--"

"That's right. You sure didn't. Right after transfer, you blithely announce you're leaving and go without a backward glance. Do you realize how much time it took us to get Tannon back in working condition after you messed him up so? Did you even think that he had just lost his last Companion saving you? Or that there was no other Gen near his speed or selyn supply to serve him? No Companion would have done what you did. He was a wreck and still is."

"But who's fault is that?" she questioned, refusing to take the entire blame. "If you're his Companion now, then you should take charge of him, and make him rest and do what you say. I know you think I don't care about him but believe me, if I thought my presence was hurting him in any way then I'd leave."

Lemel folded his arms belligerently and continued, "I do care for him. Obviously more than you if you don't think your presence is hurting him. You saunter in here and expect to return to your old duties? I don't blame Tannon for his mistrust! Unless you're willing to do as Tannon says, it would be better if you leave, best had you never returned."

Alissa reeled from the anger in his voice. "Better had I not come?" She stared aghast at his attitude.

"You don't believe in what we do. You're arrival will only flame the fires of dissent. And Tannon is finally getting used to me as his Companion. How can you think anyone would want you here knowing all of that? I came out here to tell you I want you to stay away from him."

She stared at Lemel, unable to believe his anger, but accepting it as her due but disagreeing just the same. "I can't do that," Alissa finally said. "I'm going to prove to him, to you all, that I can be the best shendoni-be-flayed Companion you've seen."

Lemel rolled his eyes. "You won't last two weeks," he muttered. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to Tannon's side. I happen to know he'll require my help after that little display of emotion you've put on this morning and then just a few minutes ago."

He turned and went back inside the office, leaving Alissa reeling from the anger in his voice. Slowly she climbed the stairs to her room, wondering the whole time if everyone felt that way about her.

She was going to have an uphill battle if they did. But Lemel? Why was he so angry? Maybe he felt threatened. She could understand that. Under any other circumstances he would never be matched with Tannon. Of that she was certain. Or maybe he was really upset at her. She had handled her leaving badly. Alissa would give anything to go back and change it. And this morning hadn't helped any. She'd made an awful mistake.

Sighing, Alissa slipped into her room, closing the door quietly behind her. Pulling off her clothes she lay down on the bed, barely noting how soft it felt.

Tannon had said he didn't want her there, wanted her gone. Her heart ached at the thought, the pain almost unbearable. Surely she hadn't come this far only to fail? No. Alissa wouldn't believe that. She'd be on her best regard over the next month, do her best to prove to Tannon she could learn what she had to so she could stay, do her best to follow the shendoni-be-flayed rules.

Her mind tried to plan, desperate to go over all she had heard and said this morning, but her body and the medicine fought her and won. Slowly, quietly, Alissa drifted off into oblivion, her sought after solutions just out of reach.

Chapter Three

He couldn't believe she was back.

Tannon ambrov Carre collapsed back against his desk, his knees feeling like jelly. Leave it to Alissa to make a grand entrance. He ran a shaky hand through his hair.

"I'm back, now where were we?" Lemel said coming into the room.

His nager hit Tannon like a blast of hot angry heat. His already abused system from bad transfers threatened to crumble. Tannon closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry, Sectuib. Let me help you."

Cool Gen hands slid around him as his Companion immediately closed off his anger and turned his attention to straightening out Tannon's system. It'd been too long since he'd had a good transfer. Seeing Alissa and her system had made him almost delirious with need. No, it wasn't time for him to take transfer yet, but the promise of her as she'd stood there in front of him...he almost groaned.

Shuven, few people had what Alissa had, if she could only learn to focus. He'd done his best to stay hypoconscious while she'd stood in front of him. He'd been afraid of something she'd do that might send him into convulsions or tempt him to act on his overwhelming desire to engage her field. It was best not to zlin it if it was going to tempt him like that. He just had to have a good transfer this month. He could do it, would do it with Lemel.

Lemel forced Tannon down on the couch, though it didn't take much to force him. "Lay here."

Tannon focused on Lemel as he narrowed his concentration in on him. Slowly the shakiness left his body. "It'll be good this time. Just relax right now. You've been pushing yourself too hard over the dissension in the ranks."

Tannon sighed. "I'm still not sure what I want to do. I know Jorgre thinks I'm failing in my refusal to allow people to live outside the walls and still be members of the House. However, until we're totally unified within the walls I'm not going to dilute our numbers by allowing them to live outside the walls with their families."

"And now Alissa comes along."

Tannon winced. Lemel immediately focused, again doing his best to ease Tannon's worries by presenting a calm soothing presence for Tannon to rest on. Tannon knew he was doing his best, but for the first time in months he realized it wasn't going to do anything to diminish Alissa's presence. While she was gone, he'd been able to push her and their transfers to the back of his mind, but now, with her hovering within his sight constantly, she was going to be a major problem between him and his Companion. This did not bode well for his next transfer. Inwardly he cursed her arrival. If not for her, he wouldn't be in such a mess. He wouldn't have realized the good transfers he'd been missing, wouldn't be aborting. If not for her, he would be functioning and the House wouldn't be split down the middle over his inadequacies. He had to heal the breach in his House, but as long as his transfers kept souring, he wasn't going to get any better.

"What are you going to do about her?" Lemel asked when Tannon's breathing eased and he had relaxed.

"Keep her as far away from me as possible," Tannon replied. "She says she wants a chance. I'll give her a chance."

"Do you think that's wise? I don't think she should even be inside the gates near you," Lemel protested.

"What am I supposed to do? Toss her outside to the junct Simes?" Tannon demanded easing up on the couch. He still felt weak and shaky, but not on the verge of collapse. Wearily he wiped a hand down his face. "She's come back. In a way, I'm responsible for her."

"All you did was rescue her on the road and keep her from getting killed. She's the one who decided to go to Gen Territory and leave you. You had nothing to do with that decision."

But you did. Though Tannon didn't say it, it hung in the air between them. Tannon knew it was Lemel who had set up the way for Alissa to find safe passage to Gen Territory. He'd told Lemel it didn't matter, but right now, past his turnover point--a point halfway through a Sime's cycle where they had used up over half their selyn--he remembered.

"Look, Secutib," Lemel said sitting back and giving Tannon room to push up further, "I'm not asking you to throw her out, but there is V'lar. V'lar is short Companions. They're a new House. How many of our group broke off and formed that House, though it is in Zeor's area. Couldn't you send her up there?"

Tannon smiled. "I wouldn't do that. Sherinal would serve me up to the Gen police if I sent someone to them as unfocused and distracted as Alissa currently is."

"Or she might thank you if she could harness that distraction and teach her how to focus with it."

"As would Carre," Tannon said. "If Alissa can learn to be a Companion, everything it entails, she would be what we require. We've lost too many channels and Companions. I hate to give her up until I know."

"And you feel responsible for her," Lemel said, resigned.

"And I feel responsible for her," Tannon echoed. "I promised her one month. She's got that much time to prove to me she can focus, work as a Companion in no matter what job I assign her. If she can just learn to follow orders and not go off thinking on something else--"


Tannon shrugged. "I fear you're right. But like you said, if she can learn ... Look what you've learned in the last three months."

Lemel had no comment to that. After all, he was not Tannon's equal and had taken great leaps in the last three months to be Companion to him.

Tannon knew Lemel was trying. But he wasn't quite where he should be. He knew that. Lemel knew that. The only thing was, he didn't know why. But what Lemel lacked in other areas he made up for in focusing. When Tannon had something that had to be done, Lemel could sit for hours and do exactly what Tannon asked without wavering. Had it not been for him, Tannon wouldn't have made it these past three months. He was going to be depending on him to get him through this next month with Alissa around.

He freely admitted some of her antics sent cold chills down his spine. When she'd grabbed the letter opener earlier, he'd been afraid she might decide to toss it from hand to hand, not thinking about the consequences to any Sime in the building were she to accidentally cut herself. He still shuddered at the thought! He had thought he'd known her, but realized too late that he knew nothing about her, nor did she understand her impact on a Sime whether she meant to or not. No way was he going to allow her to experiment on him again. Nor was he going to risk himself with her when his system was so out of kilter.

"She'll stay. I'll allow her to work here for a month. If at the end of that time she shows a radical change, then we'll discuss her staying on longer. If she hasn't changed, then we'll talked about V'lar. But I am not sending her to V'lar until I see how she does. Is that understood?"

Lemel nodded. "Now, Sectuib, do me a favor?"

"What?" Tannon asked, recognizing that determined look in his Companion's eyes.

"We have a transfer coming up soon. I want you to spend the next hour resting, thinking good thoughts...no worries, no paperwork, just rest."

Tannon wanted to argue. But with Alissa showing up, the stakes had been raised. He would require every bit of control he could muster to make sure this transfer didn't go bad and Alissa didn't in some way distract him. He would submit to his Companion's request. "I think that sounds good. If you promise to have Jorgre cover for me."

Lemel grimaced but nodded. Standing he said, "As you wish. I'll go find him now."

Lemel left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. He strode down the hall intending to find Jorgre and give him the message. Knowing he would be finishing up in his office and heading toward free time, he stopped by there. Not pausing to knock, for Jorgre was a Sime and would know he was on the other side of the door, he pushed it open. Immediately he wished he'd waited.

"Trouble?" Lemel eyed B'eki and Jorgre who stood nose to nose. Jorgre looked at ease leaning back against his desk, with his Companion at his elbow. B'eki looked angry.

"No problems," B'eki replied, though she was still scowling at Jorgre. She was renSime, a Sime who only had one system in them and had to take transfer from a channel each month. She had no Companion with her as they were reserved for channels. Jorgre could handle anything that might come up with a renSime. Normally. However, B'eki was the leader among the House that believed in blind obedience to Tannon whereas Jorgre believed it might be best for Tannon to step down. Not a good situation, and one Lemel had wished he could have avoided.

Smoothly he stepped up by B'eki, insinuating his field between her and the other two people in the room. "Tannon is going to have to miss this session in the infirmary today. He wants you to reschedule with him. If you'll see to it."

Jorgre frowned, but nodded.

"You come with me," he said gently to B'eki. "I have some questions about the supplies going into town."

Without a backward glance he left the office, B'eki with him. "Were you telling the truth or was that just an excuse to get me out of his office?" B'eki asked as they started across the compound.

"I wanted to get you out of his office. But I did want to ask you about tomorrow. Tannon assigned Alissa to work with you and I wanted to make sure you keep a close eye on her."

"Why?" B'eki asked bewildered.

"She's come back from out-Territory. Tannon is a mess because of the transfer she gave him and then dumping him just before she left. He assigned her with you because he expects her to fail. You should have seen Tannon. He panicked when she walked into his office. He doesn't want her near him. I can't blame him. I imagine doing the work with you when you'll be going outside is the best way he can think of to keep her away from him. Still, it's up to you to help me make sure that we keep her away from Tannon."

B'eki nodded. "You have Secutib's best interests at heart, I'm sure. You know, everyone is talking about her. Some don't believe she lied to Tannon about leaving and going out-Territory. They say she just didn't know what she was doing when she waited until after transfer to inform him she wasn't staying, that she didn't realize we'd lost so many others before her and that it would crush Tannon to lose another Companion."

She whispered the last. Lemel knew B'eki worshipped her Sectuib. "I know you can't grasp anyone putting their own loyalties and feelings before the Household. That was Tannon's problem. He was raised in this Household. He couldn't imagine anyone leaving. I'm afraid letting her stay here a month is going to end up another mistake for him. But once he's made up his mind, there's no changing it."

"She's only going to be here a month?"

Lemel shrugged. "Until we can confirm it with V'lar and send her up there." Lemel had no doubt that Alissa would mess up and be sent away. She didn't have what it took to be a good Companion. Not like he did. "Until then she'll be with you. Make sure she has plenty to keep her busy."

B'eki frowned. "I'd prefer not to work with her if she's only going to be here a month. It'd be a waste of my time to train her only to have her leave. Why would Secutib assigning me someone like that?"

Lemel shrugged. "The best way to keep her away from him, I imagine. Anyway, think you can do that? Keep a close eye on her, warn me if she gets out of hand?"

A militant light came into B'eki's eyes. "Don't worry, I won't let her bother the Sectuib. Send him my good wishes too."

Lemel leaned down and planted a kiss on her cheek. "I'll see you later when I have a break. Thanks."

He turned and started back across the compound toward the main building. With Alissa covered he could now concentrate on making sure Tannon got what would help him over the next week: rest, peace of mind, and a good transfer.


"Okay, now listen, horse. Everything is loaded. All we have to do is get you hitched up and you'll be ready to go."

Alissa scowled when the horse bared it's teeth. This was the same horse she'd ridden in on, looking none the worse for wear. It looked like it wanted to take a bite out of her again.

She edged closer, grabbing the leather straps to lead it to the cart.

It threw it's head back in objection.

"Look, I'm sorry I rode you so hard. What do you want from me? Must you be so stubborn?"

A snort from behind her informed her she wasn't alone. She dropped the reins and whirled around to find Lemel standing there watching her.

Then in pain, she yelped. "It bit me!" she cried out, grabbing her bottom and swinging back toward the horse. The abrupt movement tangled her in the in the leather straps and she fell.

Lemel jumped forward, grabbing the straps and soothing the mare. "First lesson. Pay attention to what you're doing."

Alissa stood, rubbing her offended backside. "And you work around horses?" she demanded.

He raised a haughty eyebrow. "Hardly. I'm Tannon's Companion now."

He sounded so smug she wanted to rub is face in the smelly droppings the horse had just presented to them. Lemel ignored her glare and continued, "I had to speak with B'eki. But I do know enough that if you're going to do something, then you have to give that task your complete attention."

"I was," she replied to Lemel, though she had been remembering that day she'd arrived, she realized now, instead of actually concentrating on getting the horse ready.

"Here," he said, tossing her the reins. "See if you can finish it."

"I'm going to succeed, Lemel. No matter how you look down your nose at me or what you say, I'm going to prove to Tannon that I belong here."

"It's not just Tannon you're gonna have to convince, but Carre," he said, strolling off, his tone stating that he thought that task impossible.

She gritted her teeth and tried to ignore the fear his words touched in her. "Come on, you lazy horse." She pulled on the leather and led the reluctant animal to the cart. "Now stand still and let me ... aw, oh!" She looked down and grimaced. "Just how often do you have to do that?" She wiped her shoe in the grass. "You know, Lemel is wrong." She hooked the mangy beast to the cart. "I think you understand me. I do pay attention. Okay, so B'eki's assistant said to hook you up first and I didn't. That's why I'm doing it instead of the stable hand. I had no idea she wouldn't be here later. Just ... stand ... still," she grunted, pushing against the stubborn animal, trying to back it up so she could latch it to the cart.

"There," she said, stepping back, wiping sweat from her brow.

She spied Lemel coming to the door. He leaned his head in then walked away, a content look on his face. Surely he and B'eki weren't...


Rubbing her left shoulder which was sore, she waited for Lemel to turn around and check her progress. He never once looked back.

"I wanted the cart ready tomorrow afternoon, not now! The jewelry was what had to go today. Can't you read?"

Alissa jumped then gritted her teeth against B'eki's scathing tone. It had been this way four hours now. Alissa was certain B'eki had no intention of changing her attitude. She turned to B'eki who was striding toward her, anger on her features.

Alissa wanted to blame B'eki's attitude on need, for the woman would probably be receiving transfer tomorrow. But Alissa knew that wasn't the cause. No, the woman had made it plain when Alissa had shown up this morning to start her duties that she didn't think Alissa had really been too ill to work the last three days. She believed Alissa had been sulking over the fact that she had to be an escort instead of a Companion.

Alissa had tried to explain about her injuries and how she'd been too stiff to move the next day, but B'eki was having none of it. Instead, she'd immediately begun ordering Alissa around like a drudge. "The duty sheet you gave me said you wanted the cart ready today at this time," Alissa replied, angry and not wanting to back down again to this overbearing woman.

"Obviously you weren't paying attention," B'eki snapped, coming to an abrupt stop in front of Alissa. "The sheet says tomorrow at this time for those supplies." She waved a tentacle toward the decorated cooking pans and utensils.

It was no use. The woman wasn't going to budge. Taking a slow deep breath, Alissa replied. "I will unpack the cart. Then I'll--"

"No," B'eki said petulantly. "The jewelry has to go into town this afternoon. I was going to send Siella since Morget is so impossibly stubborn when it comes to the date and time of deliveries for the jewelry. But, since this is already packed too I'll have to go because S'werd, the owner of the store where we trade the cooking utensils will talk to no one else. This has really messed up my schedule for the day," she added, tossing Alissa an overwrought look. "I would think you could at least follow simple directions, but no, you have to muck this up as well." The implied words referring to the only other thing she'd mucked up: Tannon.

B'eki continued to mutter as she strode back to her office.

Tannon, I will get you for this, Alissa thought, vengefully. Four hours. Only four hours she'd been here and she was ready to throttle the renSime. Still, however angry B'eki made her, she had to talk to B'eki before they left. Crossing through the metal shop where she'd just been thoroughly humiliated in front of the workers, she wove her way to the back office. B'eki was just coming out, heading for the side door where the cart was parked.

"B'eki," Alissa called, hurrying to catch up.

"What is it?" B'eki demanded waspishly.

"Do you think you should be going into town today? You're very close to need. I imagine Tannon wouldn't like it."

B'eki's lip curled in a sneer at the way Alissa called him Tannon instead of Sectuib. It only reminded these people that she was not a Householder like everyone else here. "I'm sure you wouldn't know what Tannon would or wouldn't allow since you haven't been here in awhile. He assigned you to help me. If you can't do it without complaining, I'll be glad to go to Sectuib and request he find you someplace else to work."

Alissa suddenly wondered if maybe she hadn't hit on the problem behind B'eki's anger. "You don't want me here, do you?" she asked.

B'eki, who was just climbing onto the seat of the cart, hesitated. "I just wonder why I'm being punished is all," she replied.

Alissa sighed. What had she expected? For the woman to break down and confess that her anger was wrong and tearfully apologize for her attitude? "You've done nothing," Alissa replied. "Your Sectuib is simply trying to teach me to follow rules. He thinks I tend to ignore them."

She adjusted her cape and moved around on the seat to a more comfortable position. "Well, are you coming?" she asked.

"Yeah, right now."

Alissa, grabbed the Householding cape from across the seat and slipped it on. At least in Norlea she would be wearing Carre's colors. The beautiful sky blue and silver was a prize she coveted above all else. Yet one that would be denied her if she could not pass Tannon's tests. She gave the horse a wide berth and climbed warily into the cart.

She really hated horses.

B'eki lifted the reins and steered the horse from Carre.

The sun beat down on their uncovered heads. At least it wasn't raining--yet. Birds sang in nearby trees and a muggy breeze stirred the leaves, creating the occasional rustle of sound.


She'd forgotten how peaceful it was and how vast around the outer perimeter. But she knew all of that was a facade. One wrong move with the town folks and they could have a major war on their hands.

"I've only been to Norlea once," Alissa said as the horse plodded along the road into town. "I remember looking out at the Mizipi River and thinking how large it was."

"They get a lot of trade there," B'eki murmured. "For those who are willing to risk traveling by water," she added and snapped the reins to hurry the horse on.

Only minutes outside Carre's gates they passed a large mound of rocks and then were miraculously in Norlea. One wouldn't realize it was so close to Carre if they didn't venture beyond the stones. Yet here a Sime town sat, a large town filled with commerce and trade, and vital to Carre's well-being. She'd heard Tannon talking about the trade with the town and how important it was and how much money they made from it. Carre wouldn't stay afloat without that trade. Alissa had often wondered if that was how Carre's motto, Unity through Peace had developed. She'd have to read the Householding books one day and find out.

"So, tell me where we're going?" Alissa questioned as she glanced around at the teaming activity. Women and children hurried from one store to another doing their daily errands. Shop keepers, dressed in an apron, in case of the baker, and very little else but sweat, in the case of the blacksmith, worked diligently as people came and went from their businesses. She spotted a cloth merchant, and several vegetable vendors.

The sound of metal being pounded into shapes, children whining as their mother dragged them along behind them, the creaking of wagons they passed all added to the symphony of sound that marked this as a thriving city. People stood together laughing over the latest news, complaining about what they didn't like, and all eyeing warily or with outright disgust, Carre's representatives as they passed by.

"We're headed to the shop at the end of the road, four streets down. S'werd buys our utensils. We told him we'd be by tomorrow, but he'll accept us today. He doesn't care to do business with the Household, and will only deal through me," she added. "And then only because Morget put some pressure on him to buy our stuff. Morget evidently told S'werd if S'werd didn't buy the decorated utensils and pans that he would and set up a section in his shop. As for you," B'eki said, turning a warning gaze on Alissa, "S'werd will despise you simply because you're Gen, so try not to do anything embarrassing while we're there." B'eki maneuvered the cart around a parked wagon then continued toward their goal.

"We'll save Morget until last. He isn't overly fond of Householders either, but trusts me implicitly. If I can't be here I only send Siella, since I'm still trying to reassure him of our peaceful presence in dealing with him. He's a nice old man. His daughter, C'tin, will be taking over the business soon. She's much more friendly. I think she's probably the one who saw the profit in trading with us. As a matter of fact, if I didn't know better, I'd think she's the reason S'werd is now dealing with us. I think S'werd is interested in C'tin." B'eki smiled.

"We make the most money with Morget and C'tin. With S'werd, we usually end up trading for things we can't grow or make at Carre. Of course he cheats us, but there's nothing else we can do."

The cart ambled past several more buildings, rocking precariously as it slipped in the mud from an overnight rain. Unobtrusively as possible, Alissa pushed her hair over her shoulders, trying to easy the muggy heat that was causing her neck to itch with sweat. The fishy smell of the river reached her nose the closer they got to their destination. Sounds of people working as they hauled in their daily catches could now be heard.

"Here we are," B'eki said, pulling up before a clean, whitewashed, two story building. People on the boardwalk slowed their steps and eyed Alissa. "You were right," Alissa said. "These people are looking at me. They probably wonder where your other Gen is," she murmured.

"No. Your field is shining like a lighthouse," B'eki replied, pulling out a few of the first bags she would take into the store.

"Oh, shen," Alissa whispered. "I forgot to have a channel take down my field. Tannon is going to be furious."

B'eki shrugged, unconcerned. Of course, B'eki didn't realize what a temptation Alissa's field would be to a junct. She couldn't or she wouldn't shrug it off so easily Warily, Alissa looked around, wondering if any near her were in need.

She spotted the green flag down the street, not sure if she was relieved or worried that the pens were so close. Reaching into the back of the cart she grabbed two more bags and headed toward the store.

"I didn't think Companions liked their field taken down," B'eki said, going into the store.

"They don't. As a matter of fact, it's a fate almost as bad as death," she muttered. "But provoking someone here is even worse because that is a fate tempting Carre's death."

"Don't you dare do anything to cause Carre or Sectuib trouble. He put me in charge of you and I can tell you right now that I'm one hundred percent loyal to Sectuib."

"Good for you," Alissa muttered under her breath.

"You know how I feel about you bringing your Gen in here," a deep male voice called out.

Alissa followed the sound and saw a tall thin man, looking like he already had one foot in the grave wiping his hands on a towel before coming forward.

"And you know we always travel together," B'eki called back. "Alissa nor Carre would want to offend you, though. Alissa, would you browse the isles while we do business?"

She shrugged though she had trouble believing B'eki sent her other traveling partners off so easily. "If you don't mind," she replied.

B'eki smiled.

It was obviously false if the way the man was eyeing them was any indication. "Lover's quarrel?" he queried of B'eki.

Alissa flushed, turned and started down the nearest isle, his laughter sounding disgusting in her ears. She hated this job. She absolutely hated it. But she had to do this to prove to the stubborn man at Carre that she was ready for her job.

She wanted to be a Companion. Every part of her yearned to be a Companion. Yet Tannon said she couldn't separate rules versus her role. She had the natural talent but didn't understand the first thing about being a Companion. A small niggling voice in the region of her heart asked if Tannon was right, was it possible she wasn't ready? She wondered how working here with this renSime was going to help her.

She paced up and down the isles, keeping a watch on B'eki as she went. When B'eki finally finished bartering, Alissa knew it would only be a moment before B'eki was ready to leave. She ambled over to the door to stare out. Simes were wilting from the heat as they walked along the sidewalks. Alissa felt sorry for the people in the fields at Carre. It had to be sweltering there.

Carts went back and forth, some filled with supplies like their own cart while others were empty. One cart in particular caught her attention. The man driving it as well as his crew were obviously drunk. The driver lurched sideways as he slapped his reins against the horses flanks, hollering for it to hurry up. As it pulled even with the store, one of the wheels sank in a mud puddle. The owner cursed and urged the horse forward, but to no avail. The wagon refused to budge any further. Alissa would have turned away, but suddenly realized his wagon along with Carre's cart was blocking the entire street to traffic. Glancing back at B'eki, she thought to hurry her so they could move the cart. Seeing she was filling her bags with supplies and would be there any moment, Alissa decided to watch instead.

The man continued to shout, instructing some of his men to get out and help. Four well-bodied young Simes jumped off their perches and began to heave, trying to get the overweight wagon moving again. For a Sime augmenting it should have been no problem. Yet, for these drunk Simes who couldn't stand up long enough to focus on what they were doing, it was impossible. Across the street people began to gather and watch the spectacle. Evidently, because she--a Gen and Householder--was standing in the door of the store, the townspeople were going to avoid her.

Alissa smiled when the people who were gathering began to snicker at the spectacle. The mud was so slick the men who were assisting with the wagon were providing comic relief. One would slip, fall in the mud and struggle back up. Just as he got up another would fall. But it wasn't just because it was slick, no indeed. One completely missed the wheel that he had grabbed for and went down face first in the muddy water. When his friend bent over to help him up, he was unable to sustain the weight of the man he pulled on and landed on top of him.

Alissa shook her head, enjoying the scene. The people who's wagons were blocked certainly weren't enjoying it, though they seemed reluctant to offer a helping hand. Some were beginning to grumble, while others were getting out of their conveyances to run into the nearby stores on quick errands. One man coming down the street snared Alissa's attention. It was a Sime in need and he was headed straight for the crowd, dragging a chained Gen behind him.

Her heart ached as she watched the pitiful creature follow the Sime. Had it not been for Tannon she would be one of those chained Gens, or worse, already be dead.

The man, seeing his way blocked on the opposite side of the street, veered around the crowd, intending to slip between the stuck wagon and their cart. Just as he was passing their cart, the unthinkable happened.

The wagon came loose with a jolt. The Sime, pulling the Gen along behind him, augmented to avoid being run down. The Gen wasn't so lucky. Only the widening of his eyes indicated he knew what was happening. Before he could even scream, the wagon was on top of him. Unconsciously, Alissa started forward.

She was by their cart when Gen pain screamed through the ambient. Simes shuddered, curling in on themselves while others were shocked hyperconscious.

Alissa's hairs stood on end. B'eki! her mind screamed.

She swung around to see B'eki, hyperconscious heading straight for the pen Gen. The other Sime was too.

Doing the only thing she could think of, Alissa flared her field to attract B'eki's attention.

B'eki immediately turned. Alissa's arms just cleared her sides when B'eki attacked. Alissa and B'eki went rolling. By the time they'd come up against the wall of the store, B'eki was done.

Opening her eyes, she stared for a moment in stunned shock, then shuddered. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the astonishment of the crowd turn to disgust, then rage. "Uh, B'eki," Alissa said. "I hate to do this...but we've got to go...now!"

Muttering began and then someone threw something. "Perverts! Right in front of us, will you!" A rock glanced off Alissa's shoulder.

B'eki, galvanized by the missiles shooting toward them and the Simes advancing, shot up, grabbing Alissa by the arm. "Come on!" she said.

Pulling her back into the store, she made for the stairs.

"Hey, you can't do--"

The proprietor got no further for B'eki did. Right up the stairs into his private rooms. She slammed and locked the door.

"Where are we going?" Alissa asked, panting from being hauled up the stairs almost faster than she could traverse them, but thankful, for otherwise one of the angry Simes would have had them by now.

Pounding started on the door.

"Out," B'eki said, and headed toward the window.

"You're forgetting I'm Gen," Alissa cried, looking down below.

"Come on outta' there, you filthy perverts!" a voice snarled.

Alissa glanced at the door.

"You want to face them or take your chances?" B'eki demanded.

"My chances," Alissa said. After all, had she been paying attention, B'eki would have never experienced the Gen pain and been shocked into kill mode. Had she been doing her job and staying by B'eki like she should have, they wouldn't be here now.

B'eki bolted into the bedroom and checked that window. "Here," she called out. Alissa hurried in, the thundering against the door reaching deafening proportions.

"We can jump to that low shed and crawl up on the adjacent roof top. That'll give us enough time that we should be able to get two or three buildings away before they can work their way around these buildings and catch up with us."

Alissa nodded, praying B'eki was right.

"Go," B'eki said.

"You first," Alissa replied.

"And leave you in here? Forget it. Sectuib is obviously upset at me over something or you wouldn't have been assigned to me. I'm not going to be blamed for this." She shuddered again.

"You didn't kill," Alissa said, suddenly realizing that B'eki was having trouble accepting what had happened.

"I could have. You're lucky you weren't--"

"Not luck, B'eki. I'm a Companion, remember?"

B'eki grabbed Alissa's arm and shoved her through the window. "Go or neither one of us will have time to finish this argument later."

Alissa went, falling clumsily to the flat roof of the shed. B'eki was immediately behind her and pulling her up to the next roof. Alissa had never felt so awkward in her life. Gaining her feet they sprinted across the rooftop, Alissa being hauled roughly behind B'eki until she had a stitch in her side. Just as they started down the sloped jewelry shop roof, Alissa heard a shout.

"They're through the door," Alissa said grimly

"And will be here any time. Can't you run any faster?"

Incredulous, Alissa stared. "I'm a Gen, B'eki, remember?"

"You're gonna be a dead Gen," she shot back.

Distant footsteps echoed. "Here," B'eki said, grabbing the reins to a horse.

"There they are!"

Alissa didn't look back. She didn't argue about stealing the horse. She didn't pause. She vaulted onto the bare back of the horse. B'eki was right behind her, digging her feet into the mount, almost causing Alissa to fall. A man came running out of the jewelry store his face a mask of shock. "One month supplies free," B'eki called. "In the cart. We'll bring the mount back."

"The owner, you're friend?" Alissa asked, between gasps of breath.

"Former friend, probably," she said.

Startled looks met their own desperate ones as they flew through town and toward Carre, neither speaking as each contemplated the events that had just transpired. "What are we going to tell Sectuib?" B'eki moaned as they approached the gate.

"No one's following. Don't worry about it, B'eki. I'll talk to him." Alissa did her best to reassure the renSime. But she had to admit that B'eki had voiced her own question too. What was she going to tell Tannon?

The gate was open. People were already turning, looking to see what brought them back in such a rush, and without the cart.

B'eki slowed the horse and led it directly to the stables. She slid off, Alissa right behind her. "Feed it. It belongs to a friend in town," she said to a stable girl who came out.

They turned toward the main building located in the middle of the acreage both hesitating as they decided what to tell Tannon.

Their hesitation did no good. Tannon, followed by Lemel, came striding out of the building. Had he been able to zlin that far? Alissa wondered. Of course. Tannon could zlin that far and further. He'd probably sensed something amiss as they'd entered the gates.

"Oh, shen," Tannon whispered, his step faltering as he zlinned them. "Shen!" he cursed louder and hurried his pace. "You," he said to B'eki never taking his gaze from Alissa, "to the infirmary. And you," He leveled a glaring look on Alissa. "I'd better find your backside planted on the bench outside my office when I return."

He swung around and followed B'eki toward the main building and infirmary.

Alissa followed more slowly, quietly entering the building, as if the least little sound might call attention to herself. She couldn't help slinking in like a whipped puppy. She's seen that look on Tannon's face before. He was furious.

Her steps sounding loud in the quiet hall, she nonetheless did her best to walk with her head up. It'd do no good to allow anyone coming or going to see her defeated. Turning to the left, away from the cafeteria, she passed the donation rooms. The infirmary was on the right, though only a couple of doors opened on this side for emergency purposes. At the end of the hall she turned right. Here were the main doors to the infirmary while on the left were the offices. In the Northwest corner of the building was the Sectuib's office. She passed the offices and infirmary doors without a word. She knew there were glances cast her way, was certain even now news was spreading about B'eki, but she didn't dare let on she cared.

At the Sectuib's door she seated herself on the bench, feeling much like a naughty child sent to the office. She smoothed the legs of her pants, then pulled at her boots before crossing her hands in her lap.

It seemed like hours as people came and went from the infirmary and offices, but was probably only minutes before Tannon came out of the door across the hall. He didn't pause, only flicked a tentacle at her as he pushed open the door to his office and strode in. Peevishly, she looked around for his Companion, certain Lemel would enjoy gloating over her disaster. But he wasn't there.

Alissa stood, relieved that no one was going to be there to witness this. Going in, she quietly closed the door behind her. But instead of being behind his desk, Tannon was near the furniture that was loosely clumped around the cold fireplace. He was pacing back and forth, back and forth.

As softly as possible she inched toward where he paced, then waited. It wasn't long in coming.

"I know I don't want to ask this, but how, Alissa? How did this happen?"

"Well, when we were in town --"

"Not that!. How did a non-junct renSime who was in need end up in town with a Companion whose field is a welcoming beacon for every angry Sime in the territory?"

She sighed. She'd just known he'd be mad about that. And she didn't want to tell him. "Wouldn't you rather hear about what happened in town first?"

"No. It's obvious. You gave a renSime, a renSime transfer. Do you know what she's going to ... no. You're not distracting me. Tell me how you ended up in town with a field like that." He obviously believed that was why B'eki had attacked her.

She was going to be tossed out to the townspeople when he found out the whole story, she thought miserably.

"Well?" he demanded.

"I, um, was busy and just forgot," she muttered.

"Forgot!" His voice rose an octave, his eyes bulging. "You forgot?" He dropped onto the couch, rubbing his hands at his temples while his tentacles laced with each other in his hair. "You want to be a Companion, Alissa. I gave you a simple job. A job any Gen can do. All you had to do was stick with B'eki, watch out for her, not engage her in transfer."

"But I'm not just any Gen," she cried, feeling his accusations were unfair. "I've only been a Companion since I met you. Out-Territory I had no reason to worry about an accidental, especially in a town and with a renSime. I admit, when the Gen was crushed I acted, thinking like you would with a channel."

"But she's not a channel. She's renSime. And if you had been by her side like you should have, she wouldn't have been jolted into kill mode."

Alissa flushed guilty.

"That's the role of a Companion, Alissa. To protect the Sime. Oh, yeah, you went into town with her, just like you were suppose to, but you failed a basic rule of being a Companion."

Tannon's hands shook as they ran through his hair. Unconsciously, she eased forward, hurting for him as she realized the burden he must be under. "I'm sorry, Tannon," she said, her anger draining away. "It's my fault. I was upset with B'eki and because of that didn't stick as closely to her as I should have."

"You shouldn't have even let her go into town," he returned harshly.

She moved forward until she could ease down by him, wanting so badly to reach out and touch him, ease his pain, but not daring to. "You told me not to practice any Companion skills, Tannon. I was only trying to follow your orders."

Tannon slowly relaxed, his body slumping against the couch. Closing his eyes he leaned his head back and groaned. "That is not what I said, Alissa. I won't allow you to give transfer, engage fields, anything like that. But if someone is going to pull a stupid stunt, you, as a Gen who has worked with channels and know what dangers await a nonjunct Sime out there, should have stopped her. You are a very forceful person, Alissa. Had you put your foot down, B'eki would not have gone."

"It wouldn't have mattered what I said, Tannon," she replied sadly, not wanting to disturb him. His face was etched with weariness. This looked like the first rest he'd gotten since she'd been back. Compassion flooded her for Tannon.

He slumped a little further, the lines easing on his face.

"What do you mean? Of course she would have," he muttered absently, not bothering to open his eyes.

"No, Tannon. They remember what happened. They've followed their Sectuib's lead in shunning me."

Tannon opened his mouth to reply but never got the chance.

"What are you doing!" Lemel demanded, striding into the office.

Tannon jerked upright like he'd been touched by a live wire. Alissa jumped, her gaze shooting guiltily to Tannon. Whether she'd meant to or not she'd been working Tannon, easing his tension. She had been so worried she hadn't noticed.

Nor had Tannon it was apparent. Tannon's eyes narrowed on Alissa as Lemel came up. "Don't ever do that again without my permission," he said softly, deadly serious. "I just told you that not listening to me is what keeps causing problems here. Yet you continue to do what you think is best."

He unconsciously leaned into Lemel who stood next to his shoulder glaring at Alissa. "I've had enough trouble with his transfers these last months. Now with your help, you've probably just ruined our next transfer too."

Alissa suddenly realized Tannon was in need. He was good at hiding it, but sitting there now, it was as if she could feel him trembling with it, though he didn't move a muscle.

"Don't worry," Lemel said soothingly. "It'll be fine. We still have time to work."

Tannon shuddered, forced himself up and walked toward the desk. "What am I going to do with you, Alissa? You've been here less than a week and now you have B'eki in the infirmary trembling, afraid she's going to have to kill next month to get what she got from you. At least no one in Norlea witnessed --" his voice trailed off.

Looking up, he said, "Crushed." His eyes widened in dismay as her earlier words finally penetrated his anger. "Tell me you were inside a store when B'eki received transfer and that we've only lost the business of one proprietor."

She only smiled weakly. If his day hadn't been ruined before, it would be now.

"Shen and shid," Tannon cursed. "You'd better tell me what happened."

"I was standing in the doorway of the store when a Gen's leg was crushed under a wagon. It happened directly in front of me. I ended up on the sidewalk before I realized I had moved. I turned just in time to stop B'eki, but, well--"

"On the sidewalk?" he asked, incredulously.

He was getting worked up again. Nervously, she replied, "I didn't have a choice, Tannon."

"You could have shenned her," he replied.

"How?" she asked. "I'm not trained and might have killed her. That's why I should be trained as a --"

"Don't say it," he warned. He dropped his head into his hands, his shoulders drooping wearily.

Alissa shot Lemel a nasty look, nodding toward Tannon. He shot her a nasty look back, but moved forward trying to help the Sectuib. "If you don't have any other questions, I'll get back to work--"

"Oh, no you don't," Tannon said, pulling his shoulders back and meeting her eyes. "I don't want you around any more renSimes. You're going to be giving the entire compound either nightmares or fantasies. Jorgre can take your field down. Don't shudder at me like that. I won't have you walking around looking so, so--" he waved helplessly at her before continuing. "Then I think maybe you'd better be assigned stable duties."

"Stable du--" she trailed off, appalled.

"That's right. I heard a little boy call it exactly that the other day. Doo. You'll be responsible for mucking out all of the doo for the next three weeks."

"How am I suppose to learn to be a Companion if I'm not near anyone?" she asked, doing her best to hold in her hurt and anger.

"People come and go. But none will be there long enough for you to hurt them. That's all I'm worried about right now. I'd suggest you study in the evenings when you're in your room. Now you can go."

She turned to the door.

"And Alissa?"

She paused, glancing back over her shoulder. "Yes?"

"Write up a full report on what happened in town."

She opened the door but paused. "Tannon, I think you should know, the townspeople were pretty upset. They chased us. The only reason we outran them was because of the horse we stole."

He groaned.

"But that's okay. The owner wasn't mad. B'eki promised him a month of free supplies."

His groan was louder.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Lemel," she heard Tannon say as she left the office, "Send someone to warn the gatekeeper. Any sign of problem, call me immediately."

Chapter Four

"What can we do about B'eki?" Lemel asked, certain Alissa was gone and not coming back.

Tannon shook his head. "I don't know. She's definitely going to want Gen transfer again. Getting it from a channel isn't the same."

Lemel eased against the edge of Tannon's desk. "She stopped me on my way in here. She's worried about her loyalty coming into question. She's afraid she's also hurt Carre's reputation."

Tannon shook his head. Deep lines bracketed his mouth and his eyes looked weary. "She didn't do anything. It was a bad situation. I just don't understand how the situation happened. B'eki isn't one to go into town and risk herself like that."

"But we know Alissa is," Lemel said, frustrated that Tannon couldn't see what he did about Alissa. She shouldn't be here. He was only postponing the inevitable. She would have to leave, and in the meantime, it was going to cause problems between him and the Sectuib. He'd seen the way Tannon looked as Alissa had sat by him. In the end, he was going to be worse than now, and he wouldn't survive it again. His system was already shot.

"Alissa isn't really like that. I think she really wants to learn, but she's just too impulsive. I was hoping maybe she would learn to curb some of that--"

"So, what about V'lar?" Lemel asked. "Are you still willing to give her a month or can we contact them--"

"I gave my word. No matter how much I might regret that at the moment, I can't send her off until that month is up. Besides, you never know, there might be a chance."

Lemel knew it was a lie. Alissa wasn't going to change. Tannon just couldn't see that.

"What do we do with her in the meantime?"

Tannon leaned back in his chair. Lemel's steady presence had calmed Tannon and he was able to think more rationally now. "Her field is so tempting."

Lemel jerked.

Tannon winced. "Don't worry. I've learned my lesson. But if she's a temptation to me, think what she's like to the others."

Lemel nodded. "And she'll be safe in the stables?"

Tannon smiled, a smug smile that Lemel couldn't interpret. "I think it's the perfect place for her. If she's going to learn anything about being a Companion and the working of a Household, that will be where she learns."

"I don't understand," Lemel said. "Alissa hates horses. How is she going to learn anything there?"

Tannon's smile widened as the last of the tension drained away. "Don't worry. Just watch and if Alissa is changeable, you'll see it in the next few weeks."

Lemel, upset because he didn't know what his Sectuib meant, focused his energies back on Tannon. "Well, I think you should concentrate on me and forget about our temporary guest. We have a transfer coming up, remember. And I have a feeling this one is going to be worse than the others."

Tannon's smile immediately left. He turned his eyes to Lemel. "I haven't forgotten."

Lemel nodded. "I'll go run the errand to the gatekeeper and then be back. We have some work to do."

Lemel left, thinking maybe he shouldn't have been so blunt, but at least Tannon's mind was back where it should be...on transfer.


Alissa stopped outside the door where she knew Jorgre was working.

A Gen was just coming out when she walked up. "Jorgre," she said, pushing the door opened. Jorgre was leaning against his desk, his Companion across the room.


So, he'd heard. She could tell by the look he cast his Companion.

"Give us a few minutes, Joran."

Joran nodded and slipped out of the room.

"So, what happened?" he asked, going over to the couch and seating himself. He patted the cushion beside him. Memories of working with him from months ago resurfaced and she longed to confide in him. Slowly, she walked across the thick carpet and sank wearily down on the recliner at right angles to him.

"I really messed up, Jorgre. I guess I was bothered by all of the negative attitudes around me and let B'eki's nagging get to me. I left her side, even though I knew it was wrong. And I'm sure you've heard the rest."

"Tannon shouldn't have sent you into town, Alissa. I don't mean to criticize him, but before...you were only here a month. That's all. You can't be expected to learn everything in such a short time."

"But Tannon has the right to protect the people of Carre too. He feels I'm a threat."

Jorgre huffed indignantly. "I don't think that's it at all. I think Tannon's afraid of you."

Alissa opened her eyes, dumbfounded by Jorgre's words. "No, Jorgre, you're wrong. Why would he be afraid of me?"

"Dependency. He almost lost it when you left. We've had to work with him. I know you didn't mean it to happen, but he had put his total trust in you, thinking you would be there forever and when you left he went crazy. To be honest, I think that's the problem now. You're back, he wants you, but he's terrified for you to get near him and hurt him again."

"Surely it wasn't that bad," she said.

"He almost died the first month you were gone," Jorgre said bluntly. "Every time we tried to get transfer into him he aborted. I didn't think there was anyone here who was going to be able to do it."

"Who did?"

"Me," he said. "Lemel couldn't handle it. I stepped in."

Alissa paled. Then she came to Tannon's defense. "He's a new Sectuib. Remember, that was also his first month as Sectuib. He's learning. And he's doing a good job if he's willing to protect Carre against me."

Jorgre shook his head. "You'll defend him until the end."

"What end?" Alissa asked, suddenly alert.

"Until he hurts someone or is tossed out," Jorgre said.

"Or until he gets a good transfer and can get everything straightened out here," Alissa replied.

Jorgre nodded his head. "I certainly hope that's the case." Alissa didn't believe him. "You've come for me to take your field down, I suppose."

She grimaced. "Yes."

He smiled gently. "I know you don't like it."

"I'd do anything at this moment if Tannon would let me give transfer instead," she said ruefully.

"Even entice me?" he said, grinning.

She looked down at his arms and laughed. "You're not close enough to need for me to entice you," she replied.

"Or maybe I'm just good at hiding it," he returned.

Realizing she had relaxed with his bantering she smiled, gratitude shining in her eyes. "Thanks. I appreciate a friend right now."

"You have some here. Despite what you think. Everyone is just trying to stay out of the line of fire. It'll get better."

"I hope so," she murmured.

"Are you ready?" Jorgre lifted his arms slightly and met her stare.

"Are you kidding?" Alissa replied, rolling her eyes. She started to stand.

"Stay there." He eased down on the edge of the comfortable chair and took her small slender arms into his own tentacled ones. The smooth flesh-colored cords lashed firmly around her forearms. Leaning forward he wiggled his eyebrows, "Remember, with your field low you won't send renSimes jumping the walls to get out of your way and you'll be able to concentrate more on learning your role here."

"It's worth it then," she whispered.

Jorgre allowed his tiny laterals to snake out, then leaned forward and touched his lips to hers. She waited patiently while he drew. In seconds it was over. He didn't move from his position but relaxed his head against her own forehead. "Be patient, Alissa. As angry as I am with Tannon right now, Carre still has to have you. You'll come through this and then we'll have a top notch Companion."

"I hope so," she replied.

"And I claim one transfer," he said, finally disengaging and standing. "Now go. I have others waiting and you've put me behind."

It was said good-naturedly but she knew it was true. They were still short Companions and channels, though yesterday she'd seen a new Companion she hadn't noted before.

"Thanks," Alissa said, and went to the door. "Where did the new Companion come from?" she asked, turning back to Jorgre.

"V'lar," he replied. "Tannon is scheduled to make another trip there in about three weeks to trade some more people. There's another Companion wanting to come to Carre and some others as well."

"Household having problems?" she asked referring to the other Household.

Jorgre shrugged. "Ask Tannon."

She nodded and pulled open the door.

Jorgre's Companion and two other Gens were standing in the hall chatting. With a quick smile at Jorgre she slipped out the door.

Heading up to her room to change she wondered how the next weeks were going to be working in the stables. Now all she had to do is find out who she would report to and then tomorrow she'd be ready to start.


"He's in the Sectuib's office."

Alissa rolled her eyes. Chasing down Jorgre was proving to be difficult. Had she known yesterday he was the one she should speak with then she would have asked him then about what shift to report to and who her direct supervisor would be.

But no. Lemel hadn't bothered to tell her until this morning at breakfast. And now she was chasing a shadow all over the compound, arriving just after he'd been there.

Well, she was fed up with it. An hour an a half was too long to chase anyone. She'd go to the Sectuib's office and if Jorgre wasn't there, she'd make Tannon tell her the duties she would perform, despite how busy he might be.

Striding down the hall, she hesitated only a minute before going on in his office.

What she saw told her she should have knocked. Stunned she stared at Tannon on the couch, his back bowed as if he were in pain. Lemel, Jorgre and Jorgre's own Companion stood circled around Tannon.

Then she realized...Tannon was in abort. All three people were intently focused on the man who looked like he was in convulsions. Lemel had his hands fisted, his face wreathed in defeat as he stood to the side of the couch. Jorgre was leaning over Tannon, his tentacles just slipping up Tannon's arms. His Companion was at his side.

Shock rendered her speechless. She hadn't realize he was this bad. Tannon sensing her presence, let his gaze slipped to her, zlinning her field.

Alerted to her presence too, Jorgre's head jerked up from where he knelt on the far side of Tannon. His face was pale but his eyes were sharp with understanding of what Tannon was feeling. "Get out of here. Now!"

Alissa didn't argue. She slipped out, still shaking from what she'd seen. Unsteadily she left the main building. In a daze she wandered down to the stable, where someone saw her and put her to work. It consisted of oiling tack, an easy job, she supposed since she wasn't near the horses; a job she didn't have to think about but could do as she concentrated on Tannon.

True she hadn't known Tannon long, but in the short time she'd known him, she'd felt they had developed a bond. She had discovered it was one-sided when she returned. She had even wondered if she had imagined her feelings for Tannon. But now, she had to admit, she thought it was still there. He was a part of her, something special that she would never be able to set aside. Just seeing him lying there, so helpless as the others labored over him, had almost destroyed her.

What had she done to him?

Guilt ate as her as she realized what she had done to him in the past. No wonder everyone was so angry, so bitter toward her. She'd destroyed a strong vibrant man by her thoughtlessness.

"I'm sorry you had to see that."

Alissa jumped, turning to see that Jorgre stood in the doorway. She looked down at the piece of leather in her hand and realized she'd been holding the same piece for almost an hour. She dropped the leather across the bail of hay she was sitting on and stood. Going over to the wooden rails, she leaned against it. Finally, she met Jorgre's tired gaze. "How is he?"

Jorgre sighed, motioned to the hay, then strolled over and seated himself. She waited until Jorgre motioned her down on the hay beside him before she approached him. "Cautious, I see," he murmured, keeping his eyes closed. Still, he reached out and took her elbow, signaling the help he wanted from her.

She shrank away. When he opened his weary eyes, beseechingly, she gave in and allowed him to rest on her field. He immediately relaxed. "You're good at that," he muttered. "Too good to be wasted."

"Don't," she whispered.

"I know. I know." He sat in silence for a moment, and she didn't say anything, allowing him his time to recoup his strength. "He can't go on like this. Another bad transfer and I'm afraid we're gonna lose him."

At her start, Jorgre opened his eyes and lifted surprised eyebrows. "Well, well. Does he know how you feel?"

"I don't know what you mean," she replied.

He chuckled. "It doesn't matter. We've got to find someone else, other than Lemel to give him transfer next month."

Alissa agreed, but she wasn't sure why. She was afraid it might just be jealousy as much as concern. Curious as to why Jorgre felt that way, she asked, "Why can't Lemel do it? He seems to be what Tannon wants."

"Oh, yeah, that's what he wants. Lemel is safe. Lemel can't overpower him. Lemel would never betray him, at least that's what Tannon thinks in his blind quest for safety. But just as Lemel would never overpower him, Lemel isn't powerful enough to override the problems Tannon is having either. He does make up for that the rest of the month. But I don't think it's going to matter if he can't get a good transfer in him next month."

Alissa's heart tripped over at his words. "I've never seen him like this."

Jorgre reached out and patted her hand. "Neither have I, dear one." Opening his eyes, he met her gaze. "He needs you."

Alissa tried to pull back, unsure for the first time in her life. "I-I don't think I can." Squaring her shoulders, she added, "Besides, if I could, he wouldn't accept me. I don't understand something that's imperative to him. But I can't figure out what that is."

Jorgre laughed. "Ah, chérie, you are a very strong Companion. You have everything any channel would fight for. But the problem is that you don't have any control over it. That's something any channel would willingly run from."

"I don't understand," she said, still not comprehending exactly what he meant.

Sitting up he looked into her eyes, his own clearly serious. "Unity. That isn't only our motto, but a major part of a Companion's life. I've worked with many outsiders, many more than Tannon. They don't understand what being a Companion is. However, Tannon has always worked with only the strongest Companions from Carre. Unfortunately, when we lost almost all of our Companions a few months back when, well, when he was rescuing you...don't look that way chérie," he said, when guilt overwhelmed her again.

"Listen to me and learn. There was no one to serve him. He had to learn over. You were there and you two are very closely matched. Even in the House he hadn't had anyone as good as you will be one day. It helped his grief. But he didn't understand that you don't know our ways. He expected you to be what you should be, if you'd been raised in a Household. You aren't. Rule number one: You must pay attention. You must learn that no matter what is going on around you, it isn't important. Your channel is important. If someone is running at you with a knife, threatening you and you are facing certain death and your channel commands your attention, you give it to him and ignore the knife. Even if everyone around you is being slaughtered, you don't take your attention from that channel until he gives you permission. If someone says hey look, you stepped in horse dung--"

She looked down, thinking that was a real possibility.

"See what I mean! Pay attention. Look at me, not at what you are thinking of. Focus on me. If I tell you to stay put, then that foot stays in dung until I tell you to move it. He has to have that from you and you haven't mastered it. Who knows, there very well might be a reason he has you standing in it."

She laughed at his small smile. Then her eyes grew serious. "But what if he's wrong. What if I know he's wrong? Am I still suppose to listen to him?"

Jorgre smiled and stood. "It won't matter if you can't learn the first lesson. If you don't know how to pay attention then it'll never matter if you know when to override his orders, will it?"

Alissa had to admit, he was right. Smiling up at him, she said, "Thank you. I promise you, I'll think about what you said."

She went back to work, scrubbing everything she was told to scrub, oiling and polishing until she ached. It was as she was going to bed that evening she saw B'eki and Lemel, together across the compound, walking toward where her sleeping quarters were that Alissa finally took the time to think again about Tannon. She wondered who was with him, how he was doing, and why she resented the fact that he wouldn't accept her as a Companion.

Slipping inside, she went up the stairs and to her room. Could Jorgre be right? She thought she paid perfect attention to Tannon. She didn't note that she was lax. Maybe, she thought, if Tannon had told her it would have made an impact. With Jorgre...she believed him, but he'd never shared transfer with her like Tannon. She had to wonder if maybe it was more than what he'd said. But for the life of her she couldn't think what it would be.

Even the next day, when she was finally given the task of cleaning the horse poop out of the stables, she was still wondering what she would have to do to become a Companion.

"This stuff stinks," Alissa muttered under her breath. "You just like doing this, don't you, you old nag," she said eyeing the horse with distrust. It tossed it's head, nickering at her. She thought of that as his laugh. He did it every time she was upset. "If you would just stop your doo dooing long enough, I might get this all cleaned up and then get to put down fresh hay."

"You're suppose to take them outside to clean the stalls, not switch them back and forth."

At the sound of that voice, she swung around. Tannon stood there looking tired, but recovered. Awkwardly, she shifted from foot to foot. "How are you?" she asked.

He managed a smile. "No different than usual. I came to get a horse. I have to go into town today. I need to smooth over some problems."

Alissa dropped her gaze. He was, of course, talking about the problems she'd caused. "Of course," she said.

He went over and got a horse, pulling out what he would require to saddle it. She watched as he moved. Though he'd said he was okay, he walked like he was years older, his back bowed under the weight of his strain. She knew it was because he had an awful Companion.

Jorgre had admitted as much.

He hadn't looked that way when she'd had transfers with him, she thought. Why wouldn't he take transfer from her?. How could she prove to him she was there to stay, that she could be trusted?

"Wanna tell me why your broadcasting your resentment to anyone who can zlin?"

Shen. When was she going to learn to be more careful?. She was raised in-Territory. Swallowing her anger, she replied, "I could be a Companion, Tannon. You know it. I just can't understand your reluctance when you look like you do."

He stiffened, and slowly turned to face her, leaving the saddled horse to stand idly by. "No, Alissa, you aren't a Companion. You're a good transfer partner, but not a Companion."

She reeled backward at his words. "You accepted me."

He shrugged. "I was wrong. You have potential, but I forgot you had no idea what you were doing. And, after working with you, I'm not sure if you'll ever reach that potential, which would be a shame."

"Let me try," she pleaded, knowing no one else was around. This was Tannon. Only Tannon. He could understand what she was feeling like no one else. Locked together in a cage as they had been for hours on end helped them learn things about each other they would've never known. He'd known then she had the ability in her even when she hadn't.

Tannon shook his head. She could see the pain on his face, the indecision, the desire to say yes, but the determination to say no. "I can't," he finally said. "I don't trust you." Dropping his head, he sighed. He grabbed the reins and started out the door. "You'll have to prove to me you can."

And right then her mind was made up. She would learn what Jorgre said she had to learn. She would prove to everyone at Carre that she had what it took to be the best Companion around.

Finishing up her chores, she put everything away and then went to find Jorgre. He didn't seem surprised when she showed up at his bedroom door.

Pulling it wider he nodded to her. His hair was rumbled. In the background she could see a book laying open across his bed. "I want to talk to you."

Jorgre smiled. "I gathered that. Any particular reason?"

She nodded. "I want to learn everything you can tell me that will help me learn in the next month how to become a Companion."

His smiled widened and he stepped back, motioning her in. "Now you're talking."

The door shut quietly behind them

Chapter Five


Alissa jumped, turning toward the door of Tannon's room to find him just coming out. Had she heard him when she left Jorgre's room, she would have been more quiet and turned away so she wouldn't have had to talk to him. He'd done an admirable job of avoiding her the last week.

The last week.

She knew that was a short time, but it felt like an eternity to her. She'd been spending every evening with Jorgre as he talked with her, giving her other books, quizzing her, working with her as she learned to concentrate on her duties. He'd warned her to tell no one, and now she'd been caught coming from his room. "Hello, Tannon."

She would still be in with Jorgre tonight except that he'd told her she was pushing herself too hard and had to get some sleep tonight. Between her work in the stables and her extra reading, then their lessons together, she was exhausted.

Tannon cast a glance at Jorgre's door then at her. " What's up?" he asked, nodding toward Jorgre's door.

Alissa shrugged. "We were talking," she mumbled and started past him.

He stopped her with a tentacle against her right cheek. She glanced up at him. "About being a Companion?" he queried gently.

Surprise lit her eyes and he chuckled.

"Is there anything that goes on that you don't know about?" she asked, grouchily.

"I know Jorgre is lending you books to read. He wouldn't keep that from me."

She wondered if that was all he knew, and didn't dare ask him. She doubted, as hurt and angry as he was with her, he'd appreciate anyone else risking hurt by her clumsiness as a Companion.

His tentacle slid down her check, touching her collarbone before sliding down her arm. It wrapped around her wrist, pulling her hand up until he could link fingers with her. "I'll be honest and say I'm surprised to hear you've been reading up on being a Companion. But you know, there's more than just books."

Alissa nodded and gently disengaged from Tannon. Yeah, she'd learned in the last week about accidental touches and the when's and when not's of touching.

At her action, Tannon lifted an eyebrow. "I'm still pre-turnover," he said and she couldn't believe he accepted that she'd learned at least that much.

"But you're having problems and," she lowered her eyes, the next words almost choking her. "And, it wouldn't be a good idea to allow you to possibly fixate on me."

He chuckled. "I see someone's been talking. I'll have to have a talk with Jorgre."

She lifted her eyes. "It wasn't Jorgre who told me that. Give me some credit that I understand what I've read. We had good transfers before. You're unable to take transfer from Lemel. It wouldn't be natural for you not to want what we once had."

Tannon's easy smile dropped away. "I may want it, but I know not to try it. That's what makes me Sectuib, Alissa. The power to deny what I know would hurt me or the House."

Alissa opened her mouth to argue when B'eki came up the stairs. She stopped abruptly when she saw Alissa standing there. Giving her a haughty look she then turned to Tannon. "You're working infirmary. Myratha send me up to tell you."

He frowned. So, the Secutib didn't like being reminded. Well, he'd better accept that everyone realized he wasn't doing so hot.

She immediately felt guilty for her smug thoughts. "It's nice of you, B'eki to make sure Sectuib wasn't being delayed because of some distraction," she said.

Tannon turned her gaze on her, scrutinizing her. She smiled, keeping her field blank so he couldn't zlin why she'd given him an out.

"I'm on my way," he finally said to B'eki and left.

Alissa sighed. Would it ever be any different between them?

"Rumors are flying about you and Jorgre."

Alissa looked over at B'eki who hadn't taken the opportunity to leave with Tannon. "Is that so?" she said, and decided to go downstairs and get a late snack from the kitchen.

B'eki followed. "People think you're involved."

Alissa shrugged, refusing to answer that.

"You're hurting Tannon!" B'eki hissed finally. "Don't you care? Jorgre is the one behind all of the bad that's happening here at Carre. And you, who profess to care so much about Tannon and Carre, you, the one he made excuses for when you deserted him, you're making him a laughingstock before the people."

Oh, how she wanted to lay in B'eki, except she knew B'eki had a very good reason to be angry with her. "You know, B'eki," she said instead, "I once thought Jorgre was trying to tear apart Carre. And on the surface, it might look like that. But I think you and your friends are doing more harm than Jorgre ever could."

B'eki gasped and stomped off.

Alissa didn't mind. And she stood by what she said. True, Jorgre was frustrated. Burt he was trying to make Tannon face the problems whereas B'eki was hiding behind her loyalty to allow Tannon to sink deeper and deeper into his problems. Tannon had to have some help, but Lemel and B'eki and so many of the others thought wrapping him in paper and hiding him away until he got better was the only answer. They couldn't' see he was drifting further and further from this life.

At least, that's what Jorgre said, and Alissa feared he was right. Lately she had noticed Tannon drifting hyperconscious at odd times. He seemed distracted, exhausted, and had actually tripped the other day crossing the compound. She didn't think anyone except her had witnessed it.

But it was enough to cause her great worry. If there was anything she could do, she had vowed to do it. Since her job in the stables brought her more in touch with people, she had vowed to watch all the Gens, look for any that might be stronger than Tannon. She was praying for strangers, even the occasional Householder from another House that passed through and spent the night, to show up and have a field that Tannon couldn't help but see.

And she would find one. She had settled into her job. They had her cleaning and polishing. She found she didn't mind the job at all.

She'd only had to shovel doo once in these first five and a half of days at working at the stables. And she'd only had to work with a horse once.

Tannon didn't know it, but he'd given her a wonderful job. From here on out it looked like smooth work. She would have plenty of time now that she had everything caught up to watch for someone who could help Tannon.

After all, the job hadn't been like she'd originally thought. How bad could anything else be that they threw her way?



The only word to describe her job.

No, she thought, disgruntled. She could think of a few more. "Disgusting. Abominable. Stinky. Offensive. They should call horses Doo Doo machines instead of horses because I've shoveled enough of this sh--"

"Good morning."

Jeanetta's voice cut off Alissa's irate grumbling in mid-word. She was glad the girl was only still learning Simelan and probably hadn't understood what she'd said. "What are you doing out here today?" she asked, smiling at the young girl.

Two weeks of shoveling this stuff had taught her not to get too close to anyone until late at night after she'd scrubbed and soaked in sweet smelling water to rid herself of the smell. Had it been only a short time ago that she'd thought she had a cushy job?

Cushy was the right word.

"Coming to see you. Were you expecting someone else?"

Lemel, Alissa thought though she didn't say it. The man had been spying on her. She was certain of it. Every time she'd turned around the past two weeks it had seemed Lemel was within her line of vision. It was enough to make even the calmest Gen nervous and jumpy.

"No. No one. I just don't get many visitors," Alissa replied, wrinkling her nose at the odor emanating from the pile of manure she had scooped up.

"So, where's your Companion?" Alissa asked, going back to her duties. She had to finish this and then spread fresh hay before she could bring the horses back in to feed them. The young girl she was working with was at Norlea and she wanted it done before she returned. Then she had the pleasure of shoveling the stable yards.

Ugh. If only Tannon would come back by for a visit. She'd tell him what she thought about him assigning her this job from Hades.

"My Companion's around," Jeanetta said vaguely.

Alissa paused in her diatribe against Tannon and his lack of visiting her in the last week to study Jeanetta's averted gaze. "You ran off again, didn't you?" Alissa asked, sighing with exasperation.

"She's driving me crazy," Jeanetta exclaimed. Leaning against the stable door she continued. "She even wants to sleep with me. I have no privacy."

Alissa smiled relieved that was all that was the matter. "She's only trying to help. You're past turnover now and shouldn't leave her side, Jeanetta."

"I thought you told me you'd always be here for me," Jeanetta replied, looking wounded by Alissa's words.

"I am. I'll always be your friend. And as your friend, I'm telling you Sectuib...Tannon," she amended, "knows what he's doing."

"Just as he knows what he's doing with you?" Jeanetta demanded. "Why do you stay here? Why don't you leave? I keep expecting to come out here and find you've gone out-Territory."

Wiping a strand of hair from her face, Alissa propped the shovel up against the wall and went to gather some fresh straw. "No, Jeanetta. I'll never go back out-Territory. That's not the life for me."

Jeanetta blinked as if shocked by her words. "Then what will you do? Is this all life has for you? Isn't there anything better than staying here day after day being punished for some vague misdeed?"

"You don't understand, Jeanetta." Alissa came back over and finished up the stalls as she tried to explain. "Out there, in Gen Territory I was restless. At the time I left Carre I thought living in Gen Territory was what I wanted, but there was always something missing. At nights I couldn't sleep as I lay there wondering, asking myself the very question: Isn't there more? I realized that I missed being a Companion. It's intoxicating. I can't explain it, but it's like something in me that demands I give of myself to a channel. I'm not complete without it. Like two sides of the coin. It's impossible to have only one side. That was how I felt."

"So, if that's how you feel," Jeanetta said, stepping out of the way when Alissa started toward the corral where the horses were, "then why are you still here? The Sectuib won't allow you to be that other side of the coin."

"I'm the other side whether Tannon says so or not, Jeanetta," Alissa said.

"But you're not practicing. I don't understand," Jeanetta said.

"It's not a matter of practicing or not practicing. I've had time to study the last two weeks and have realized being a Companion is just something you are. There are rules and precautions that must be taken. I think that's part of what has Tannon so upset. I don't know all the rules and the role I should be performing, so I keep overstepping or messing up. He has every right to be upset. Because of my mistakes, someone could end up hurt."

"What about duties?" Jeanetta asked.

Alissa went to the pump to wash her hands. Drying them as she headed back into the stables to put away her tools she said, "It's true I'm about to go crazy not being able to share with a channel. But there are other things. Think about what you're learning in first year classes. You're able to help other Gens and Simes, even heal them. But you must have help, someone you can trust to never hurt you, to be there to support you. That's your Companion. The Companion is closer than your mother and you were because your very life is in the Companion's hands."

"But the Sime kills the Gen," Jeanetta said, and Alissa could see the haunted look in the girl's eyes as she remembered her own kill.

"But a trained Gen could kill a Sime easily, without any weapons."

"I don't believe you," Jeanetta said.

"It's true. Ask your own Companion. And because of that, a channel is risking his life each time he takes transfer from a Gen, opening himself up to death. He must be able to trust his Companion completely or he'll do crazy things like abort or have a sour post which will make the rest of the month awful, which will make anyone he comes in contact with suffer." Alissa grinned. "I grew up here in Sime Territory. It's true. Besides, just look at Tannon if you don't believe me. That's part of his problem now."

As if realizing she'd said to much, she drew herself back to her explanation. "There are very few Gens that can overcome that fear to be a Companion. I don't know why, but I did. Tannon is the one that taught me. He trusted me, yet I betrayed him. I imagine that the Gens who are capable of becoming a Companion are ones like me, who feel need deeply, just like a Sime."

Jeanetta laughed. "That's ridiculous. Gen's don't need."

"Oh, yes," Alissa replied, "they do. I don't think it's exactly the same, but there's a hunger, an almost overpowering desire, a compulsion to help a channel when they're around. It reaches all the way down into your soul, demanding you not ignore it, forcing you to acknowledge it and serve. I can't explain it, but it's there. I'll never forget the first time I served Tannon, the trembling desire that overcame me and made me forget all of my fears and serve him."

"If you understand all of this, then why isn't Tannon allowing you to help? You sound so fervent, so desperate."

"I'm just really learning all of this," Alissa replied. "But I think it's because I don't understand the rules, for lack of a better word. Like I said, everything I do is so much more dangerous because I'm a Companion, not a normal Gen. And from what Tannon has said before, I'm a strong Companion, stronger than most. So, I imagine that means I must have to exert even more control than a normal Companion. And in a Household like this, where Gens and Simes mix fairly freely, it's even more important that I be careful. I suppose I just haven't learned the ins and outs."

"And you never will stuck out here in the stables," Jeanetta replied, staunchly, reaching out and touching Alissa's arm.

Alissa grew still, focusing on Jeanetta. "Jeanetta you shouldn't--"

"What are you doing here?" Lemel said, stepping into the barn. He swiftly stepped in between Alissa and Jeanetta causing Jeanetta to wince at his abrupt movement. "Your Companion is in Sectuib's office right now telling him of your latest escapade. He sent me here to get you."

"He knew she'd be here?" Alissa asked, resigned.

"Of course," Lemel replied. "I saw her headed this way from my office. When I mentioned it to Tannon, he sent me out here."

Which meant he was spying on her, she thought, disgruntled.

"Sectuib wants to see you, too, Alissa."

Alissa sighed. She shouldn't be surprised. It had been too much of a chance that he'd let this slide by. And of course, he wouldn't believe that she had been getting ready to send Jeanetta away. No, he probably knew Jeanetta had been slipping out here two and three times a day to visit all week.

Alissa just didn't want to hurt her friend. She knew Jeanetta was having trouble adjusting to this new way of life. She didn't understand the language and was still so new here. But Jeanetta couldn't keep slipping off. It looked as if she was just going to have to be blunt with Jeanetta.

"I'm coming. Tell Tannon I'll be there shortly."

Lemel raised an eyebrow and she started to tell him the truth. She didn't want to go into Tannon's office smelling like she did. But his indignant look stopped her. With a smile, she grabbed up the stable keys and approached Lemel. "Lead the way," she said.

She knew the minute she got within smelling distance. Lemel wrinkled his nose and stepped back. Turning on his heel, he hurried off with Jeanetta.

Despite the joy she had received from doing that to Lemel she was still harboring a case of nerves. What would Tannon have to say to her this time? Tyrant Tannon, she thought sourly, then admonished herself. That wasn't true. He was just...She hated to admit it, but she was beginning to think Jorgre might be right. Tannon was afraid of her. He feared she'd do something else like the last time. The more she though on it, the more she realized that maybe, just maybe, all of this could be solved if she could only prove to him she could be a good Companion.

But she wasn't sure how to go about that. And she didn't think she had enough time left. One week. That was all she had. It had staggered her when Tannon had come from transfer almost three weeks ago looking almost as bad as when he went in.

She knew it was her fault. Tannon hadn't said anything, but Lemel had shot her a dirty look and was clucking over Tannon now any time she was in the vicinity. She'd wanted so bad to give Tannon transfer. Maybe that was why she had unconsciously engaged Tannon during one their previous conversations. He'd looked so tired.

There would be no problem of engaging him now, if the wide berth she was getting from people passing by were any indication. Tannon would probably make her stand outside while he talked to her.

At his door she raised her hand to tap.

"Come in," he called out just as her hand touched the door.

Pushing it the rest of the way opened, she stepped inside.

"Close the door behind you," he said, quietly.

Alissa obeyed. But instead of seating herself, she walked over to where the balcony doors were opened and stared out. "You wanted to see me?" she asked.

The gardener was out working in the garden today, pruning the dead flowers and weeds from the beds. All kinds of flowers in a beautiful array of colors dotted the area, following the curving stone path, past the benches and the huge oak that was surely older than the Household itself. Around the base of the tree decorative plants grew also. Their sweet fragrance wafted to her on the wind, temporarily eradicating her awful smell and taking her back to days of happiness she had spent her, a time of innocence and joy. Alissa had occasionally sat with Tannon in the evenings when he had time. It was one of the few places he could be alone when he was tired and just had to relax. The gardens beyond the gate were for others, but this one small area, right here, was for the Sectuib and those who worked closely with him.

"Alissa, what am I going to do with you?"

His voice sounded tired, sad, full of defeat. There was no more innocence, no more fairy tale, just the reality of the awful present she had created by her stupid mistakes of the past. Turning her attention back to Tannon, she saw his shoulders drooping with the burden they carried. "Do you want to know what happened?" she asked.

"I already know. Lemel informs me of things he thinks I should know."

"I haven't been inviting Jeanetta's attentions, Tannon. I just don't want to hurt her."

"I realize that," he said, "But if she doesn't form a better relationship with her Companion and let go of her fixation on you, she's going to have an almost impossible time of disjuncting. She's a channel, Alissa. You don't know what that's like. It's going to be the hardest thing she's ever done. One small distraction, one little incident could ruin it all."

Alissa slumped against the door frame. "I know, Tannon."

"Then why won't you send her away?" he demanded fervently. "I've given you several chances, but you just keep allowing her to come back. You've got to break it off. I know you've been reading up on things around here, asking questions...Don't look so surprised. You know how everyone knows everyone else's business here. I've been keeping track of what you've read--especially since the night in the hall."

So, he still believed someone was coaching her on what to say. Well, she wasn't going to tell him he was now partially right. She and Jorgre had progressed past just discussing the books.

"But that's besides the point," he continued. "If you've learned anything these last weeks, it should have been to break with Jeanetta now, instead of dragging it out. You're only making the situation worse."

"I already realized that. I had planned to talk to her--"

"No. I don't want you talking to her. Bring her to me. Drag her back to her Companion. But don't try to reason with her. "

"But she's so lonely," Alissa whispered. "She's new to the territory here."

"I know that. But if she doesn't stop zeroing in on you she's going to be dead in this territory. She'll be reaching transfer in a week, maybe a little less the way she's been augmenting. She told her Companion today she doesn't believe anyone can serve her but you, that she'll kill them. I'm worried about this transfer and with her coming to you for reassurance you're confirming that it's you who will take care of her."

Alissa paled. "I didn't realize--"

"Exactly," he said. "I thought getting minimal exposure to a wide range of people while you worked in the stables would help you see...but I just don't know."

He got up and came around his desk to lean against it, running a hand wearily over his tired features. "You've got to break it off. You're not doing any good for her as it is now."

Alissa nodded and started toward the door.

"Also, I've decided to let you work with Lemel the rest of this week, though not in the infirmary."

Alissa almost stumbled. Was he serious? Didn't he realize Lemel couldn't stand her? Trembling, she fell into the nearest chair, dropping her keys on the small table beside her. "Why?" she asked. "You can't say I haven't been doing a good job in the stables."

For the first time he smiled. "That's true, but here, at least, you won't be alone and will have more help staving off Jeanetta."

"I don't think Lemel will like this?"

Tannon raised an eyebrow. "You can't work it out with him?"

If she said no, then it would be a strike against her. If she said that Lemel didn't want to work anything out, Tannon would think she was jealous. "I can certainly try," she responded, being as honest as possible and giving the only answer she could.

He eyed her, studying her features as if he could see what she was thinking then said, "I think you really want to learn, Alissa. I just wish I could believe it. But I've got to know you would follow your Sectuib to death if necessary. Yet I also have to know that when it wasn't necessary you'd be able to save that same Sectuib. Do you understand what I'm saying? You act before you think. Just like engaging my fields...not thinking how hard it would be for me later, only thinking of the temporary relief it would give me. This is the problem your facing. You're going to have to work through this, learn the rules and role of a Companion."

"You haven't given me a chance to learn," she replied, frustration in her voice.

"Sometimes the lessons are learned in the everyday activities, not in the infirmary or in donations, or even during transfer. This is a lesson of the heart. You have the ability and talent, but you're not tempering it with knowledge and caution. A Companion and channel are like two parts of the same. They must work together like one person, know each other more than any other, trusting each other."

"Maybe you're just afraid to let me give you transfer," she stated bluntly.

Tannon visibly shook then slumped. "That too. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's because we had just lost the Sectuib and I was new to the job; I depended too heavily on your silent presence, Alissa. I've never experienced anything like I did with you. Or maybe I opened myself up to you like no one else. Maybe that's the reason I just can't trust anyone else right now. I wasn't ready for this job. Our Sectuib said I would one day be his replacement, but I didn't know what I should have known. Then you gave me transfer. So many had died. I was wrong to blithely assume you would pledge. I admit that."

He came over and sat down in a chair across from her own in front of his desk. "But Alissa, it was like the world fell out from under me when I lost you too. We were--and are--still struggling, working double shifts in some cases, trying to keep up from the massive lost in our battle that day in the forest. Then you were gone. I was alone with no Companion, trying to do all of my work. It was utter chaos. And of course you know what's going on behind the scenes here with Jorgre," he said. "I want to trust you. It'd make everything so easy, greatly relieve the burden. But I've got to know if I give you an order, you'll follow it no matter what. No matter what!" he reiterated. "I can't be second guessing one of the Household Companions, wondering, will they really obey me, really understand their role when I'm in a crisis situation."

"But we were in a crisis situation when I gave you transfer that first time."

"Yes, we were," Tannon said, his eyes unfocusing with fond memories. Almost instantly he refocused on her face. "But then look what happened in town, and with Jeanetta, and with me. You can't just go about the job with a devil-may-care, hit or miss type of attitude."

"That's not what I do," she defended.

"It's not what you mean to do. But it is what you've been doing. You have to learn to listen, obey, not risk others in ignorance. You have to learn that if I say no, it's no. There's only a few times you should gainsay me. And you have to learn those times too. Right now I don't trust either one: I don't think you would obey orders--remember the dead Sime--and I don't think you'd know when not to obey orders--the incident in town would not have happened if you had come to check with me about B'eki and going into town instead of using the excuse that I had told you to work with her. Do you see what I mean?"

Unfortunately, Alissa saw all too clearly. Despite her hard work, she had ruined any chance she'd had at Carre. There was no way in a week's time she was going to prove to this man she could perform either of those feats. She sighed.

"I do, Tannon. I only wish you could see inside me right now and see how much I want this and how much my heart breaks at your words."

"I don't have to see, Alissa. I think I know. Because you're like me. When are you going to see Jeanetta again?" he asked, changing the subject.

Alissa shrugged. "When she escapes her Companion."

"Then you haven't been setting up meetings. Good."

Alissa bit down on the pain his words caused. She had truly believed he knew her better than that. "No. No meetings. Like I said earlier, I was going to tell Jeanetta to stop coming by, but Lemel got there first."

"I'm sorry, Alissa," he said, leaning forward to take her hands. He hesitated, sniffing then leaned back with a grievous look on his face. "Were you shoveling or playing in that stuff, Alissa?" he asked, dismay sounding in his cultured tones.

Despite the breaking of her heart at Tannon's words, she smiled. "Would you believe me if I told you I'm just a clumsy Gen?"

Tannon smiled. "Remembering your trip up and down the mountains four months ago--yes!"

She stood. "I have a few more duties to perform then I'll be showering. I can't wait. But maybe you'd like me to stop by here one more time just so you'll be reminded of the noxious job stable cleaning is before you assign anyone else that duty."

He shook his head. "No. Go on. Get out of here." It was said benignly.

"I'm going. I'm going."

"Alissa? You're forgetting something." Tannon held up her keys, a sad, knowing look in his eyes.

She flushed. Part of her job had to deal with those keys. They kept the tack locked up each evening so it didn't get stolen if there was a raid. Was that what Tannon was thinking right now. If she couldn't even remember the small, important things of her job, how could she be a Companion?.

Suddenly it hit her between the eyes. If she couldn't devote herself fully to what she was doing here, in the stables, how in the world could she learn to devote herself fully to the other job?

"I'll learn, Tannon. I promise you, I'll learn," she whispered fervently.

"In only a week?"

The door opened and Lemel came rushing in. Seeing her he stopped, backed around her odorous presence and then strode over to Tannon. He looked like he thought she might have stuck a knife in Tannon while he was gone, his look was so scrutinizing. Oh, well, it wasn't her problem. But she did want to see his reaction when she told him she was working with him...No, she couldn't do that. He was standing too close to Tannon and Alissa knew Lemel's shock over that news would send Tannon's systems into failure it would be so great.

"I'll talk to you later," she said to Tannon and went out the door.

Pulling the door closed behind her, she almost missed Lemel's words, "We've got more problems with some of the people from town, Sectuib. Seems like there's an entire debate going on--" his voice faded as the door clicked shut.

Just something else to lay at her feet, she supposed. Now the townspeople were talking about retaliation.

Heading toward the stables, she finally let go of the tight control on her emotions and allowed all of the desolation to flood her. She was not going to succeed in her quest. She was going to fail. And where would she go when that happened?

"I suppose I'll have to send someone into town to talk with this man who is causing the problems," Tannon said wearily. He waved a hand at Lemel. "Sit down. I have to talk to you."

Lemel gladly seated himself. "I'm sorry, Sectuib that Alissa didn't take a bath first. Had I realized just how noxious she was--"

"Don't worry about it. I've shoveled a few stables in my time. I think everyone should spend at least one week a year doing that. It keeps them humble."

Tannon rubbed the back of his neck. "I talked with Alissa about what you told me. I've also decided to assign her to work with you this next week--"

"What!" Lemel stood up and Tannon grabbed his desk.

His eyes wide with shock, he looked up at Lemel.

Lemel realized his mistake. "I'm sorry, Sectuib." He reined in his emotions and re-seated himself. "But you can't be serious. Why would you foist off that failure on me?"

Tannon's eyes widened, then went unfocused. Finally, he re-focused and his eyes narrowed. "You are holding a grudge against Alissa, aren't you?"

Lemel flushed and stiffened belligerently. "I'm not," he denied. "I'm just being honest. She's a failure. She's no good for this House and you've kept her around out of pity and your fixation on her."

"That's enough," Tannon warned low. "You don't know her and have no idea what she's been through. I do. It's not pity that let me keep her here. Did you ever wonder if maybe I engineered it that she'd have a month to prove herself."

Lemel's jaw dropped. "But why?"

"Because she could easily train at Zeor if she could only get herself under control. And I want that for our House, not someone else."

Lemel bristled. "You want her for yourself."

At Tannon's narrowed look he said, "I'm only telling you this as your Companion. You're fixating on her. It's not healthy. Our next transfer is only a week away--"

"About that," Tannon said. He placed his hands on the desk and met Lemel's angry gaze. "I've decided to take transfer at V'lar."

Lemel stared for a minute, then blustered, "But that will be cutting it awfully close. I think it'd be better if we--"

"I plan to take the Companion V'lar offered me last time I was there."

Lemel stuttered, then swelled up, offended. "I would request to know why, Sectuib. Has Alissa said something or maybe you're just hoping not to have enough time and end up with her in some forced situation--"

Tannon's look quieted Lemel. "I won't explain it to you, Lemel, not until you get your emotions under control."

Lemel immediately forced his anger aside and was again the respectful Companion.

"I'm in bad shape. I think being somewhere different might help the situation. There are too many memories here."

"But I'm your Companion," Lemel argued.

Tannon nodded. "You are. And if that other Companion isn't available, then I'll gladly turn to you. But I've been feeling some resentment or something from you lately about Alissa. I can't have anything affecting this transfer. It has to be good. It has to be. That's what has led me to this decision."

"And Alissa?" Lemel asked.

Tannon shrugged. "What about her?"

"Won't she be going to V'lar?"

Again Tannon shrugged. "She still has a week."

Stiffly, Lemel stood. "I see. If you don't require my presence?"

Tannon nodded. Lemel left.

Tannon leaned back in his chair.

Why hadn't he seen the anger between Lemel and Alissa sooner. He wondered exactly what was going on between those two. Had Alissa been taunting him, or he Alissa? Or was it just that Lemel realized he was having problems and knew he hadn't had them when he and Alissa had shared transfer.

True, he'd insulted Lemel by telling him he was refusing transfer with him this month. But in most houses Companions rotated so the Sectuib could work with each one. Unfortunately, he hadn't because Lemel was the only one who had worked with him before his problems. He might not have the best transfer rate, but the man knew how to focus. He could be wading through a hurricane on the Mizipi and Tannon was sure Lemel would keep focused on him until he breathed his last breath or they made it through the storm.

If he was only strong enough for the transfer...and he could get what he required from him. But each time he started the transfer, he thought of Alissa and then he was aborting and then Jorgre was there.


He was lucky the man hadn't let him die as angry as he was. But Tannon was beginning to see that maybe Jorgre really had the best interests of Carre in his mind.

He sighed and rubbed his neck.

There was too much to think about right now to worry about his own problems. He had to see to his House, and make sure the townspeople, who hadn't been violent in years, weren't planning a raid against Carre.

He had to hand it to Alissa. She never did anything halfway. Just like her transfers were out of this world, so was her ability to cause chaos.

Chapter Six

"I'll be right back. You stay here. I wouldn't want you tempting the renSimes," Lemel said, heading toward the fields, leaving Alissa standing near the gate entrance.

It had been that way for three days. Whenever there was anything outside the office, Lemel forced Alissa to wait somewhere while he went to see to it. He didn't bother to tell her what was going on or why he was going. She was beginning to think he made up most of the errands just to parade them around so all would see he was in charge of her.

She'd never realized what an ego Lemel had. But what he couldn't see was she was glad that Lemel had stepped in to help Tannon. What she didn't appreciate was that he wasn't helping Tannon enough. That was the main tension between them. At least from her, it was.

Sighing, she strolled over and stood by the guard at the gate. "So, anything happening lately?" she asked the young female renSime, the exact people Lemel was worried about her bothering.

"No. Well, last night we had some more hecklers come out and shout at us. But I'm sure you heard about that."

"Yeah," Alissa said. That was something that hadn't been happening until Alissa's trip to town.

"Just a bunch of drunks," the young renSime reassured Alissa. "Nothing you've done. It would've happened sooner or later. That bunch was just waiting for an excuse to come after us."

"They wouldn't have had the excuse if I hadn't given it to them though." Glancing into the distance she spotted Lemel way off, talking to some of the workers. "I wonder what he's up to?"

"I don't know. I'm beginning to wonder if he's Sectuib's Companion or not. I've noticed more and more that he's rarely with Sectuib."

Surprised, Alissa turned to examine the young woman. The woman stared solemnly back. "Sectuib isn't doing very good. There are many of us here who love Sectuib and want to see him succeed. Lemel is faithful to Sectuib, especially during transfer, but he's too busy with other things to pay attention and see that Tannon has to have more than just transfer from him and faithfulness. I'm almost certain he doesn't know how to work with Sectuib when he's like he is now."

For the first time in three weeks, Alissa felt some of her burden lift. But she had to be honest with the renSime. "Lemel will learn if he continues to serve Tannon. And maybe he'll be able to serve him well one day. Unfortunately, he just doesn't have what Tannon has to have when it comes to draw. But he's better than all the other Companions here. Maybe V'lar will provide some answers."

"We had hoped you--" the renSime started.

Alissa shook her head. "It will never come to pass."

Suddenly, the renSime stiffened. Turning, she climbed the steps to the wall. Concerned, Alissa followed right on her heels. "What is it? What's the matter?"

But she need not have asked for it was plain for her to see. "S'werd," Alissa breathed.

"The Sime in his arms is injured. So is the man carrying her, though not as bad."

The man stumbled, and fell to his knees. Seeing them on top of the wall he called out. "Send your Sectuib out here. C'tin is injured. A fight in the city. She'll see no one but him."

"Something isn't right," the renSime whispered. "Why would a person from town bring an injured junct here?"

"C'tin believes in our ways. S'werd is in love with her. I imagine he wants her to have the best care." Alissa started down the stairs. "Go, call the Sectuib. I'll go out and collect C'tin."

Alissa hurried to the front gate, going out without a hesitation. Tannon wouldn't mind her doing this, not in an emergency. Besides, the renSime could reach Tannon before she could so it only made sense for Alissa to go to C'tin.

Outside the gate, though she realized S'werd was further from the entrance than she had realized. She glanced at the tree line, wondering if this could be a trap. No, the renSime would have zlinned that. And C'tin was injured.

"Where's your Sectuib?" S'werd demanded and Alissa suddenly remembered he didn't like Gens.

"He's coming," she replied to S'werd. "Why don't you let me take C'tin," Alissa coaxed getting closer and closer with each step she took. "I'll take her inside and we'll see that she's tended to."

"No," S'werd said, pulling the young Sime closer to his body. The young woman groaned at S'werd's rough handling.

"You wouldn't have brought her here if you didn't care about her. We won't hurt her. Come, let me have her."

She was only yards away when suddenly a shout from behind her stopped her in her tracks. "Alissa! I know you wouldn't be disregarding my orders. Get back to the compound, now!"

Disbelieving, she turned toward Tannon who was striding toward her though he never once met her gaze. The woman on the ground propped awkwardly against S'werd was injured, possibly fatally if the paleness of her skin was any indication. Alissa was there, she could help. There was no one else with Tannon. Surely he couldn't mean for her to turn around and just leave the injured woman?

I've got to know if I give you an order, you'll follow it no matter what. No matter what!

Tannon's words came back to her, and with them the desperation behind them. He was right. He was Sectuib and his word was law. And there was no reason to go against his order. There were helpers within shouting distance if he had to have help with the young Sime. She was certain others would be out here any second. And she'd forgotten that he plain didn't trust her. As much as it went against everything in her, she knew she had to turn around and walk away.

"Alissa!" Tannon's voice was sharp.

"Yes, Sectuib," she replied, letting him know she understood and followed his order as she would a Sectuib. He might not think she had learned anything, but she had, and he would have to accept that before she left.

She turned and started back toward the gate. What happened next was almost over before she even realized it had happened.

S'werd attacked, leaping right for Alissa. Tannon lunged, knocking Alissa out of the way and intercepting S'werd. Alissa went flying, coming down hard on her shoulder. Rolling over she saw the flash of metal and realized S'werd had a knife.

Seeing two strong Simes in a life or death struggle was something Alissa never wanted to see again. She remembered the sounds from her first meeting with Tannon. But she'd never actually seen it happen. S'werd was young and possibly stronger. But Tannon was more experienced. He held the man's arm in his grip as he tried to peacefully disarm the junct without causing damage. The junct was out for blood. Alissa heard him screaming, "...corrupt our people....she'd turned to loving you perverts... kill all your Gens and you too," as he grunted, struggling against Tannon's grip.

Suddenly, Tannon misstepped. Triumphantly, the junct smiled and brought the knife down. Tannon sucked in a sharp breath. He jerked. The knife went flying. She couldn't tell what Tannon had done, probably something with his field because the other Sime didn't look so triumphant now.

At that same moment two renSimes burst through the gates. The man, seeing he was outnumbered, dug a tentacle into the bloody injury on Tannon's shoulder. Tannon released him doubling over in pain.

Augmenting S'werd was down the road before anyone could stop him.

Alissa jumped to her feet and rushed over to Tannon. "Are you okay? Let me see to--"

"No. The girl's injury is more important. The knife only glanced off my shoulder." Left unsaid was had he been more himself he never would have been injured at all. "Here, help me," he said, wrapping the tentacles around Alissa's arm and pulling her down beside him as he begin to work on the injured Sime.

"This is C'tin. She's Morget's daughter. The one who attacked--S'werd--was supposedly in love with C'tin."

"Obviously was is the correct word."

The young Sime moaned as Tannon continued to work on her. Getting her stabilized, he whipped off his cloak. "I was looking for Lemel, I had to go into town," he murmured. "Place her on this," he said to the other renSimes, "Get her to the infirmary. I'll be right there."

They transferred her to the cloak, then Tannon leaned over once more to check her, Alissa at his elbow.

"What are you doing!"

Alissa jumped, hearing Lemel's voice directly behind her.

"I'm First Companion here, Alissa. You just can't stand that, can you! You should have sent for me immediately instead of--"

Tannon jerked around, impaling Lemel with a look of rebuke. "I asked her to help me," he said. "And now is not the time fort this."

Turning back to the others who knelt by the injured junct. Tannon said, "Go."

Standing, the entire group started toward the gate. Lemel, vibrating with outrage, sidled up as close to Tannon as he could get. Tannon ignored him as he continued to walk alongside the girl.

"Shen," Tannon suddenly whispered and grabbed Alissa by the arm, thrusting her behind him. "Go on Lemel. I'll meet you there."

"Tannon, what--" Alissa said, coming around his side.

"Alissa I want you! It's not fair that they expect me to take transfer with the other Companion. And she even told me you were leaving!" Jeanetta came skidding to a stop in front of Tannon.

Alissa stood frozen, staring in shock at Jeanetta's face. She wasn't due transfer for two more days.

"You're not in need, Jeanetta," Tannon soothed. "You've still got time. Even if Alissa is leaving, she's still not a choice in this transfer with you. I want you to go back to your Companion now. She's a wonderful Companion and will help you through this."

Alissa saw Jeanetta's Companion come huffing up, dragging in deep breaths of air when she stopped nearby. "I'm sorry, Sectuib. I thought she knew Alissa was leaving. I wouldn't have said anything otherwise. But she was being difficult, insisting Alissa was going to give her transfer when the time came."

"Why didn't you tell me you were going to V'lar, Alissa?" Jeanetta cried. "You said you'd always be here."

Because I didn't know, Alissa wanted to respond. But she refused to let Tannon see her distress over his actions. He had blithely mentioned something to Jeanetta's Companion that he hadn't even mentioned to her. "Go with your Companion," Alissa said. "When you're better, you both can come to the Sectuib's office, if it's okay with Tannon, and we'll explain why I'm leaving then."

Tannon stiffened. Yes, he'd told her not to reason with Jeanetta, but she didn't think that short sentence was violating his warning to stay away.

Desperation lit Jeanetta's face. Alissa couldn't stand it. Deciding behind Tannon's back was the best place for her, she started to step back. Jeanetta lunged, intending to force Alissa to give her transfer. Alissa had no time to react. But Tannon solved everything. At the last second Tannon intercepted Jeanetta, pushing her into her Companion's arms.

They stumbled, and fell. By the time they'd reached the ground, Jeanetta had been served. Alissa glanced up at Tannon's face. A small tick had appeared in his jaw. Only then did she realize there were people standing around looking on. Jeanetta sobbed then shot to her feet. "I hate you!" she cried at Alissa. "I'm glad you're leaving."

The Companion rose and dusted herself off, then took the young channel in her arms and headed back toward the compound.

People dispersed. "I'm sorry, Tannon," Alissa whispered. "I didn't mean for that to happen."

"It was inevitable. That's why I kept telling you to break if off with Jeanetta. It seems your presence is going to disrupt no matter what, Alissa."

Alissa swallowed a retort against his anger. What he said was unfair. "You should see to your arm. You've lost quite a bit of blood."

Tannon glanced down at his reddening shoulder. "I've not lost that much. But you're right. I should see to this and check on the young junct."

He walked off leaving her standing alone in the middle of the compound. What had she expected? That he would ask her to stay after she had obeyed an order. One order. One order was all it had been. But still, it showed she was learning.

She went back into the main building, intending to go upstairs and wash up. Lemel was just coming out of the emergency room, on his way somewhere else--probably to Tannon's side.

"Where is he?" Lemel demanded, looking around suspiciously.

Alissa sighed. "Probably in the infirmary. I imagine he went in the main entrance," she said, eyeing the emergency entrance he had just come out. They put the worst cases there and then took them to the main infirmary when they were stabilized. "He was injured and probably has someone tending it."

"I'm surprised you aren't trailing after him," Lemel replied bitterly.

"It's not my job," Alissa snapped back. "Look, Lemel," she said, tired of his attitude over the last three weeks. "I'm no threat to you. Especially now, since I'm going to V'lar. I'm sure they can use a Companion or donor or whatever they will have me as," she said, thinking of the dismal future of simply donating selyn. "At any rate you should be with Tannon. I'm not going to be there interfering like you fear."

"It's for the best," Lemel replied, his anger suddenly cooling. "You'll do much better at the other House."

If they'll even accept me after they hear what happened here, she thought despondently. "I suppose that's true. It'll be for the best," she said, hating the satisfied look on his face. "But Lemel," she added, looking at him steadily as she continued. "Though my leaving is for Carre's best, Tannon's best will be a stronger Companion than you. I wonder if you're going to like that any better than I like getting sent away."

Lemel stiffened in anger.

Alissa didn't stay to hear his retort. She turned and went to her room where she began to pack. From what she knew, Tannon would be leaving in two days for V'lar. He wanted to hurry the trip because he would be due transfer right after arriving. Alissa assumed he was hoping there would be less stress at that House which would allow him a smoother transfer, or maybe he was hoping to find a Companion there that might serve him. She wasn't sure anymore and was tired of second guessing him. She only knew he was in a hurry and so she wanted to be ready to leave. She'd give neither Tannon nor Lemel cause for complaints after this day.


It was black out, the early morning air bearable, but Alissa knew that would soon change. Once the sun was up the heat would be hot and sticky.

"Remember. Just keep things going until I return. Don't make any unnecessary decisions, Jorgre," Tannon said quietly in the near blackness.

"I won't, Sectuib. Still, if anything should arise in town--"

"All activities have been suspended for the next two weeks. With B'eki traveling along I don't want anyone going into town. Also, keep a watch on Bryn. I think he's going to go through changeover any day now. I hope he waits until I'm back, but we don't always get what we hope for."

Alissa could certainly agree with that. Jeanetta had refused to talk to her, believing it a betrayal that she was going. Jeanetta no longer blamed Tannon. Which was good. Alissa was leaving and she didn't want Jeanetta to have any harsh feelings against Tannon. As for leaving, Alissa had never discussed the subject with Tannon. She'd passed him only once in the hall since she'd found out she was to go to V'lar. He'd called out to her, but she'd refused to stop, simply calling out that she'd be ready.

And she was, as she stood near the mare, her belongings in a bag tied to the back of the horse. As usual, the horse turned its head, trying to take a bite out of her.

She jumped out of the way and frowned, not allowing her gaze to drift until the horse backed down.

She grinned. She'd learned an important lesson with this horse. As long as she kept her eye on it, the horse wouldn't bite her or purposely leave droppings on her foot. Yep, it all had to do with paying attention and she was getting downright good at that.

She saw the horse sneak a peek around at her and she curled her lip, letting it know she was still watching. It shook its head, neighed, then turned back around.

Satisfied that it understood she wasn't going to drop her guard she nodded.

"Everyone ready?" Tannon asked surprising her out of her musings..

Murmurs of the affirmative sounded loud in the still quiet of the morning. The only lights on were in the main building and the renSime dorms. The Gen dorms were all black. Mounting her horse, she fell in next to B'eki as they headed out the gate. B'eki had insisted on coming as originally planned, assuring Tannon that Alissa's presence would not upset her. True to form B'eki simply gave Alissa a curt nod and mounted.

They started out at a fast gait...ready to forge ahead to V'lar in the cool pre-dawn mist. By mid-afternoon they were all wilting on their horses. They trudged on and spent the first night near a stream where they could fix their rations and wash up. As night approached they rested. That first day set the pace for the next two days of the five day trip. Up in the saddle at dawn, stopping only after dark to eat and rest.

Alissa knew Tannon was only a week away from transfer. Some of the tension was beginning to show in his face. B'eki was in much better shape. She was just now reaching her turnover day. Alissa understood that not only did Tannon want to reach V'lar for his transfer, but he wanted to be rid of her, yet the pace was beginning to tell on her.

She thought to remind him that Gens got tired...evidently Simes didn't, she thought sourly as she shifted over and over again in the saddle. Yet she refused to voice a complaint. After all that had happened between them they weren't talking. Or at least she thought they weren't.

"We're going to stop ahead," Tannon said to the group, but she noted his gaze dropped back to her.

Had he actually realized she was exhausted?

"Good," Lemel said, smiling as he glanced at B'eki. "I could use a rest."

It was obvious the two had a relationship. If she'd had any doubt before, it had been cleared up during the trip. Tannon frowned occasionally but had never said anything against it. She was surprised but then, maybe B'eki wouldn't be adversely affected by what she'd done and she wouldn't fixate on Lemel as a Gen to get transfer from. B'eki was really shaken up over that and certain she was going to kill a Gen because she'd taken transfer from Alissa.

"There's a good place," Tannon said and pulled his horse into some trees off the main road. He picked his way through them until he found a small clearing.

Alissa groaned as she slid off her horse. She actually had to grab the saddle to hold herself up. And the beast from Hades knew that as it tried to sidestep, baring its teeth in a parody of a grin. "Stay still you stupid animal or I'll make sure to give you to raiders when we return. They won't feed you and will run you into the ground." She saw Lemel and B'eki heading off toward a nearby stream she could hear gurgling and wondered why they weren't affected from the hard day's ride.

"Having problems?" Two warm strong hands clasped her waist, holding her up.

She stiffened.

"Relax," Tannon said. "Lean on me until your legs work again."

She didn't have any choice. The darned horse stepped out of reach and she was totally dependent on Tannon.

Alissa fell back against Tannon, allowing him to support her as her legs sang out their misery in cramps. "They feel like jelly," she said.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

She shrugged, liking the feel of his solid chest behind her. It was warm, comfortable, and stable. "I didn't think we were on speaking terms."

Tannon's grip tightened and then one arm slid tighter around her waist. He allowed his other arm to slide around her shoulders, then he dropped his chin to the top of her head. She could feel him rub it gently back and forth across the crown. "Alissa, Alissa," he finally sighed. "That was your choice. I had no right to intrude on your privacy. But that didn't mean I wouldn't converse when you were ready. And it certainly didn't mean I wanted you to exhaust yourself out of pure stubbornness. You're a Gen. Don't you know that your exhaustion and pain effects B'eki and I?"

She nodded against him. Testing her legs, she realized the feeling had come back. She didn't want to leave the safe haven of his arms, but supposed she must. He was too close to transfer to be holding her so closely. She eased away, being careful not to jar him.

She saw the surprise on his face, then the rueful grin. "Now is the time to back away," he confirmed.

"I know and I'm sorry for that," he returned, earnestly. "I only wish..."

He sighed when she didn't continue. "Me too."

Did that mean there was hope? She opened her mouth to ask him when Lemel came stopping back to camp with B'eki on his heels.

"I disagree. You are not what the Sectuib should have either. He's got to find another Companion, one who can help him." She shook her head, and there were bitterness in her next words. "I've been such a fool to think you were what was right for him. The whole movement is wrong. Jorgre might just have the right of it, I don't know. But after what you said, I think I might just see if V'lar will take me."

"B'eki?" Tannon said, stepping forward.

She turned angry eyes on him. "No. I don't want to talk about it. You've been so crazy over this woman," she waved a tentacle at Alissa, "that you've let the whole House fall apart. You should have never taken her back. I've been faithful and loyal the entire time and yet I've had to work with her, a traitor and this man," she shot an ugly look at Lemel, "who's only worried about his status. I'm sick of it all."

She threw down the water jugs and turned away. "I have to go to the river to take care of some private business."

She stomped off, leaving the clearing quiet. Lemel walked over to Tannon, easing up to one side of him.

Alissa wondered if Tannon could see the possessive look Lemel shot her or if he was still blinded by his fear of her. Since he didn't comment, she thought he probably didn't realize some of what B'eki said was right.

"I'm sorry, Sectuib. B'eki is so worried about betraying Carre she doesn't know what to do. Everything she says or does lately seems to be tied in with her desire to do the right thing. I think she's really terrified over her coming transfer and this is her turnover day." He shook his head.

Alissa, who had been staying close to his side reached out to touch his arm.

"I understand," Tannon said simply. "But..."

He broke off and whirled, just as two men and a woman came rushing out of the forest.

Alissa and Lemel both lunged forward in front of Tannon at the attack. Alissa faltered when the feral gaze of one of the men met her and she felt deja vu.

She knew him!

She felt Tannon thrust her aside again and realized the man had a whip. The sting of it touched her even as Tannon reached out and snatched it in mid-air. He jerked the man toward him and did something that had the man stiffening and then curling in on himself.

The other one was on Lemel. She knew what Lemel did because the woman stiffened and dropped dead at his feet. But the shock had Tannon almost crumpling.

The third one stopped, backed up a step, looked between the three then ran. The other man on the ground was crawling away. His friend managed to reach down and grab him and they were gone.

"Tannon?" she said when he staggered up. She started to reach out, but Lemel was there, holding his arms out and allowing Tannon to steady his systems. She was surprised how long it took and how pale he was when they were done. This wasn't good at all.

"Raiders," Tannon said flatly when he could stand on his own again.

Alissa shivered. Then shivered again. Her stomach turned. She had to sit down.

Tannon sensed her distress because he turned toward her. "Are you okay?"

She lifted the hand clamped over the bleeding cut on her arm. "This is only minor. Thank you." Okay, Alissa admitted, she had been sticking close to Tannon as had Lemel, but how had Tannon missed that? Surely their fields couldn't have masked all of that? Could it be Tannon was in worse shape than even she had realized?

"I'm sorry! I was washing up. Is everyone okay?" B'eki came running into the clearing, her Sime senses on full alert as she zlinned.

Tannon turned to meet her gaze. "Everything's fine. They thought to steal the horses and leave us dead. They didn't realize we were Householders until they broke into the clearing. By then it was too late to do anything except attack."

B'eki nodded. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I should have been here."

Tannon hesitated between Alissa and B'eki. Finally he turned to B'eki. Going over to her, he said, "It could have happened anywhere. Don't blame yourself for not being here."

B'eki nodded, but said, "The Sectuib should be protected. I wasn't here to protect you."

Alissa wanted to roll her eyes. B'eki was definitely a kid who had been raised in a Household. She'd never had to deal with raids outside when traveling. She'd never killed. She had never faced adversity of any kind.

No wonder she was having such a hard time adjusting to the mess the House was in right now. She was grasping, trying to fit together a world that was falling apart around her ears and she wasn't coping with it well at all.

Alissa had to feel sorry for her.

"We won't see them again. It was an accident they stumbled upon us," Tannon reassured her.

"Um, Tannon," Alissa said, drawing his attention to her.


"Before you reassure yourself with that statement." She swallowed and smiled sickly up at him. "I think you ought to know I recognized the one who attacked me."

Tannon looked puzzled. "You lived with him? Grew up with him?"


The tremors started again as she remembered the past. "He's one of Antoch's men."

Tannon strode over to her and grabbed her by the arms, lifting her to her feet. "Are you sure?" he asked, meeting her eyes, his dead serious at the implications. "Maybe the man has left Antoch's company."

She shrugged. "I don't know. I just remember him from when we were in the cage."

"Antoch? Who's Antoch?" Lemel asked, coming forward and hovering over Tannon.

Tannon reluctantly released Alissa and began to pace, ignoring Lemel.

Alissa knew B'eki and Lemel had a right to know. Even if the man she'd seen wasn't with Antoch anymore and didn't run back saying who he'd seen they still had a right to know. It'd help them understand her odd relationship with Tannon.

"My mother was the pen Gen dealer where I came from."

B'eki gasped and stared horrified. Lemel already knew that much. "What does that have to do with Antoch?" Lemel persisted.

She nodded, indicating she understood his impatience. "As I told you, my mother was betrayed by someone who found out she was helping Gens escape across the border. It was Antoch. He was greedy and wanted the pens. I didn't know this for at the same time my mother was murdered, I established. I was running for the border when I ran into a group of Simes and Gens from Household Carre. At the time, all I understood is that they were helping me. They helped me escape from my pursuers. It was later, when Tannon wandered injured into the Shrine of the Starred Cross that I realized the group had paid with their lives by helping me."

"It was your fault everyone died," B'eki whispered, horror in her eyes.

"Yes," she said.

"No!" Tannon said whirling on B'eki. "We chose to help her. She wasn't responsible. She was a kid establishing. She'd never been around a Household. She had no idea what we were."

"Well, there you're wrong, Tannon. If you'll remember, I did know you were a bunch of perverts, people I didn't want anything to do with."

"But you thought Keon had murdered your brother."

She shrugged.

"You think Householders murdered someone?" Lemel asked, shocked.

"I know now they didn't," she replied.

"Who did?" B'eki asked.

"I don't know. I don't guess I'll ever know." She couldn't stand the tension inside her so she moved back a bit from the rest of the group. Tannon shouldn't have her roiling emotions affecting him so the further away from the two while she told her tale, the better. "Anyway, I begged Tannon to help me to Gen territory. He promised he would, but insisted we had to stop at Carre first because he was in need. Unfortunately, Antoch was afraid I knew he'd helped my mom and that I'd somehow find a way of revenge against him. He couldn't let me live, especially with Householders where I'd have the tale to spread."

"Why would he care if you were with Householders?" Lemel asked skeptically.

"Besides hating them? It's rumored that they're gaining a bit of clout in some areas. Antoch wouldn't risk it. He has delusions of being in charge of Gulf Territory."

"So, he came after you?" B'eki asked.

"He came after us and caught us and caged us. He planned on keeping us in that cage until Tannon killed me.

"He wouldn't do that!" B'eki said, outraged.

Alissa looked at Tannon. Their gazes met, memories mingling. "I know," she finally said, smiling softly. Returning her gaze to B'eki she added, "But I didn't know that at the time. I had to learn to trust him, be willing to turn over all of my fears to him."

Tannon nodded. "And Keon got there and released us."

"But Antoch vowed revenge."

"He saw to it a price was put on my head, though," Alissa said.

"Of course, I never worried about it because we got back to Carre and then you were gone and Antoch doesn't come that far South, that I know of," Tannon added.

Something dark passed in Tannon's eyes and she nodded. "He's all over Gulf Territory. But I'd think he'd heard I went over the border."

"And now there's the chance he knows you're back."

Silence met that statement. "Maybe he doesn't know. Maybe the man doesn't work for him anymore. And maybe he just doesn't care."

Tannon laughed. "Don't risk your life on those hopes."

She nodded.

"So now, because of you," B'eki said, "And you," she said looking at Tannon, "we're all in danger."

"B'eki!" Lemel admonished.

Tannon nodded. "She's right. If you and Lemel want to turn around..."

Lemel shook his head. "I'm not leaving you."

"But the danger. It's ridiculous for us to risk anyone if this man is out here," B'eki argued.

Alissa couldn't believe this stout loyal individual was actually suggesting they turn back. Usually she agreed with anything that Tannon said. Evidently, disillusionment rode heavy on her shoulders.

"But I have to get to V'lar and get Alissa there too," Tannon said gently. "I'll understand if you want to turn back, B'eki."

B'eki hesitated. She cast an angry look at Lemel and then a sad look of betrayal and hurt entered her eyes when she looked at Tannon.

Alissa was certain she'd put the look there. B'eki was certain Tannon had betrayed them all by bringing Alissa into the House when she had failed them before. And with his determination to stay with her to V'lar, it only confirmed her pain.

"I can't leave you until we get to V'lar. Then I have to have some time to think, decide if I want to go back to Carre." She cast another painful glance at Lemel. At least he had the grace to look hurt over her pain. Then she watched him lift his jaw and returned her steady gaze.

She turned and walked back to the river. Tannon shot him a look. "Go smooth things over. I don't know what happened and I don't care. But she's past turnover and we have a couple of days left before we reach V'lar. I won't have her feeling the way she does the entire time."

Lemel cast a glance at Alissa, then back at him. Finally he nodded. "Yes, Sectuib."

He left.

"Well, then, let's set up camp," Alissa said brightly and strode over toward the horse.

Tannon followed. As she was undoing the straps that held her pack on the horse, his hands fell on her shoulders. "I won't let him have you, Alissa."

"I'm not your responsibility," she whispered.

Tannon wrapped his arms around her from behind. "You are until you reach V'lar. And I won't let that animal get his hands on you again."

Alissa hesitated before turning in his arms and holding him back. "I'm scared. But not just for me. I've jeopardized this entire trip."

"No. You didn't put those men out there. You didn't lead them to us. There's no guarantee he even recognized you."

"But he knew we were Householders, and not very many."

Tannon sighed. "We'll handle it if anything happens. We'll just have to believe we can outrun them to V'lar and hope they don't think four Householders are worth the trouble."

"Three," she whispered, realizing she belonged to no House.

Tannon didn't argue.

She wanted to cry.

Instead, she clung to Tannon, soaking in his warmth, his reassurance, knowing that despite how the others felt, Tannon wasn't going to desert her to them. She'd been afraid that's what B'eki was going to say.

At least he was going to see her safely to another House and then they'd say their good-byes, though she didn't want to think about that.

And really, she didn't have the time to think about it. Because, despite what Tannon thought, she believed they were going to see more trouble.

Chapter Seven

On the fourth day of their trip while they were plodding along through a mountainous area, Tannon dropped back on the trail by Alissa.

She didn't bother to look up, the winding path they were on going up and down and around holding her attention. She had thought Tannon merely meant to replace B'eki as they continually traded places throughout the day as they rode. Instead, he pulled up his horse to walk alongside her. After a few minutes, she realized he was still there. She glanced up, surprised . His eyes were straight ahead, but she knew his attention was on her.

"Why?" he finally asked.

Why what? she wondered. "I don't understand," Alissa replied, glancing to where B'eki and Lemel were now whispering in front of them a few hundred yards ahead.

"I want to know why you didn't discuss your decision to leave with me."

"Why didn't you discuss your decision to send me away?" she countered, the hurt of the last few days bubbling up in her.

"It was your decision, not mine."

"No, Tannon," Alissa replied quietly. "It was your decision. You know how I feel about Carre. I was doing my best, staying up nights, observing all I could, trying to be what I should be. Even when the young junct Sime who was injured was brought to the gate my thought was...the Sectuib's word. I judged it like you told me to and bowed to your authority even though it went against everything within me. Yet you weren't ever planning on letting me stay. Do you realize how much that hurt me?"

Tannon glanced over at her for the first time. "It was already around that you were leaving. Even Jeanetta knew, Alissa. Yet you hadn't come to me--"

"I hadn't told anyone I was leaving!" she cried softly. "Why would I have still been doing my dead level best to work out the problems between us if that were the case?"

Suddenly, Tannon paled, then cursed softly. "Alissa, I think--" his eyes narrowed on Lemel. "No, I know what happened. One night after a particularly grueling day, Lemel came to me with some complaints. During the course of the conversation I mentioned maybe you'd like to go to V'lar."

"I should have known," Alissa said, sadly.

"I didn't think. I hadn't even realized Lemel was jealous of your abilities until the day the injured junct showed up. I've since realized he is bitterly jealous. I was hoping to wait until we returned to Carre to speak with him. I see now I should have done it before. I can't believe he would betray Carre like he has. There was no good reason when Carre has to have more Companions. You know, suddenly other things on our last trip to V'lar are making sense."

The pain of betrayal and disillusionment shone in Tannon's eyes making Alissa's heart break. This channel had been through more suffering than one deserved in a lifetime. Why couldn't Lemel have controlled the petty problems and just accepted that Alissa would be gone...unless he thought there'd be a chance she could stay?

"Please, Tannon. It's too late now to say anything," Alissa said. "It'd only cause strife on the trip if you bring any of this up."

Tannon studied her, his features turning suspicious. "How come I have a feeling this isn't the first thing that's happened to you that's been misinterpreted at Carre?"

"Because it isn't. But it's no longer important, is it?"

"It is to me. I may have not listened earlier, but just maybe I'm ready now. Over the past few days I've watched your grit and determination as you've rode further away from Carre. I've seen the stark loneliness when you don't realize anyone is looking, and the despair, yet you've continued onward. It's made me re-evaluate things. What you said in my office that day, about the problems between us being both ways," he hesitated as if reluctant to say it, then forged ahead. "You were right. Before, I'd only seen the problems as your fault, Alissa. You were the one who deserted me, deserted Carre. You were the one who couldn't be trusted. I was so certain it was your fault that I wouldn't even consider you might have changed."

Turning, his gaze locked with hers. She saw the truth of his confession as he said, "But you have. I think I finally realized it the day S'werd tried to attack me. You actually deferred to me, something you've never done before."

He sighed, his shoulders slumping just a little. She doubted anyone else would notice the indefinable movement, but she did. "I was going to ask you if you wanted to stay and see what we could work out, but then you agreed with Jeanetta's Companion that you were leaving."

"I thought you had decided that," Alissa said. "Beside, there's no other choice now."

"But there is."

Alissa looked over to Tannon's intense expression. "Is there, Tannon? Let me ask you something. If we were in a situation where you had to trust me or your instincts, would you be willing to put your life in my hands?"

Alissa's heart sank at the brief flare of indecision in Tannon's eyes. He sighed, returning his attention forward. "I don't know. With time, maybe--"

"And maybe not. You could work with me as long as you were in control. But if something came up one day, something I was certain about and yet you wouldn't trust me and got hurt by that, I couldn't live with it. Not the Sectuib of Carre. It'd destroy me if you were hurt because you couldn't trust me."

"I'm trying, Alissa. Maybe we just won't know that."

Alissa shook her head sadly. "Sounds like we won't since we'll be to V'lar tomorrow."

B'eki turned and motioned to Tannon. Without another word, Tannon rode up pausing to speak to B'eki before she came back to join Alissa.

Alissa lapsed into silence. B'eki didn't harp at her anymore, but she still didn't talk to her. Alissa had wondered why B'eki despised her so much. She'd found out why. B'eki and Lemel were close, very close, and evidently believed everything Lemel had said. That was why she worshipped Tannon so, because Lemel sang his praises to B'eki.

Oh, well, soon none of these people would be a part of her life again, soon they would all be gone and she would be...where? A donor or, if something miraculous happened, she might even get to be a Companion. She was certain Lemel would spread his anger around V'lar which would mean Alissa would probably be on a probationary period if they even took her after his slander.

Yet that wasn't what really bothered her. What really kept her up at night was that she wanted to be with Tannon, at Carre. They had the same vision: Unity through peace. Her heart cried out for that. She had learned what it meant to serve, and wanted that unity in her life with Tannon and Carre.

The sound of a familiar bird sounded above and then an answering call from ahead. Alissa thought how, even during her most desolate times, life went on.

Dust and rubble from overhead caught Alissa's attention. She shot a look ahead toward Tannon and Lemel and noted they were very far ahead. She hadn't meant to fall so far behind. Glancing up, she could see nothing. "B'eki," she called out to the woman who was just coming back toward Alissa, "Zlin toward those rocks up there--"

She got no further. B'eki cursed. "Shen and shid! Ambush!" she cried.

Immediately riders poured out from behind rocks, riding down toward their location. B'eki hesitated only a moment, panic on her face. Then she said, "I refuse to die for you," and without thought to Alissa, kicked the heels into her horse and cut down off the path across the way toward the distant trees.

Alissa flared panic, but only for a moment. It was quite unnerving to be left alone in Sime Territory when Simes were thundering up from behind them and in front of them.

She turned her horse and started after B'eki, knowing she would be safer with her than alone. Tannon's shout up ahead told her he had seen what happened. She noted Tannon was coming back while Lemel rode off toward B'eki. How had Tannon missed the Sime's above? He was the strongest channel in the House, one of the strongest people she knew, yet he had missed them.

She had to wonder if this could be put at her door too. Had her actions caused so much damage to Tannon that he was actually incapable of zlinning the danger around him?

Tannon had his own group of Sime's to attend to. And Alissa didn't have time to worry right now about Tannon's error. She had to escape.

The sound of thundering hooves in her ears was all too familiar and she decided it was a sound she was ever going to be hearing. She urged her mount onward, her long hair flying out behind her.

Another lesson she would learn if she lived through this was to keep her hair pinned close to her or to cut it all off. Pain shot through her scalp when the approaching Sime reached out to snatch her out of her seat.

She was tossed, face down, over the front of his horse. She tried to see what was going on but all she could hear was the shouts and grunts. "Halt or she dies right here!"

Oh, shen, she moaned. She knew that voice. Antoch was holding her down over the front of his saddle. Antoch, the one who had seen to her mother's death by attrition. Antoch, the one who had captured Tannon and Alissa when she'd first run for out-Territory when she'd established. Antoch, the one who had vowed revenge against the Gen who had outsmarted him. The one who was now holding a knife to her throat.

"Well, well, well, Sectuib, we meet again," the voice snarled. "Look-ee what I have over my saddle. Salvage."

"She's with our group and you know it, Antoch. You can't just take her--"

"Oh, but I can...unless you have tags on this Gen. I can't believe my luck when I happened upon a disgruntled man in Norlea by the name of S'werd. Imagine my surprise to find you again."

Alissa knew Antoch didn't care if Tannon had tags or not. He was simply goading Tannon. Besides, B'eki had her tags.

"He doesn't," Alissa said, pushing up enough to meet Tannon's eyes. Tannon sat near the path, still on his horse, Lemel had already disappeared into the trees.

"Alissa!" Tannon began, but she cut him off.

She remembered his words, that a Companion be willing to die for his Sectuib. "I'll not see you risk your life. Besides, we don't always get what we want, isn't that right?" She pleaded with him to take the message, to go on without her.

"We're taking her to Lemeth, the city she ran from. I imagine there are still charges there for her."

"You don't plan to ever let her make it that far."

"Oh, I don't know, if she behaves," he said then laughed an ugly sound that sent chills down Alissa's spine.

"Go, Tannon. At least it's not you he's after. Go!"

Tannon shot a desperate look at Alissa, struggling with his very soul over leaving her to this monster. Then without a word, he kicked his horse into motion, riding, straight toward Antoch.

"No!" Alissa cried.

Four Simes were instantly on him, pulling him from his horse and shoving him down to the rocky dirt. They managed to capture him, but not before he'd incapacitated two of the Simes attacking him.

Alissa struggled, desperate to help Tannon as he fought, but her struggles were puny next to a Sime's strength.

Finally, he was subdued, his hands behind his back, trussed up like she'd seen them do to animals they'd bought at market out-Territory.

When they jerked him up, she cried out again at his bloodied face. "Oh, Tannon," Alissa said, sadly.

"Should we go after the others?" one of Antoch's men asked.

"Nah. The fine I had to pay when Keon brought me up for my actions against this one ain't worth it again. That Sime that rode off into the forest will scream what happened from the mountain tops. However, this time we have legitimate charges against this Sime. He was trying to steal our salvage. Since this one ain't got it's tags," he said, sending Tannon a dark smile, "We can get revenge easily. Come on," he said, chuckling, motioning his men back the way they had come.

"Ran like the cowards they are," Antoch said, glancing toward the forest. "I won't forget that Householder leaving her helpless Gen to bear the brunt of the consequences. Those who say they work together. This is a story I'm going to like to be telling."

He kicked his horse into a gallop. "To camp. One of you hang back and make sure they don't follow us."

"They didn't even have the courage of your brother, Gen."

Alissa stiffened in shock.

"Yeah, that's right," Antoch said, revealing a mystery that Alissa had longed to solve for years. Had Antoch realized how much the unknown had bothered her, he would never had said a word. But that was Antoch. He couldn't go long without bragging. "Your daddy works with us. It was our group that found that pervert brother of yours on his way to Keon." He laughed. "Murdered him. Of course, your father only wanted him to turn back but was too drunk to realize he was beating your brother to death until the boy stopped breathing."

Alissa felt sick. Her stomach rebelled and she lost her breakfast on Antoch's leg.

"Hey, there...shen!"

He shoved her off his horse. Alissa hit the ground with a thud that rattled her teeth and made her eyes cross in pain. "Take her up, Korath. I don't want the Gen sick on me again."

She was hauled roughly to her feet, still dazed from the fall. She brought her pain under control as best as possible even as she heard Antoch's words reverberating in her head. Her father had murdered her brother...not Keon. Of course, she had realized long ago that Keon would not have done such an atrocity...but her own father...Tears leaked from her eyes as she grieved anew over the loss of her brother. Everything could have been so different if he'd only made it to the Household. The whole course of her life would have been different. She never would have run from Lemeth, ended up out-Territory, or been claimed as salvage as she was now...or met Tannon.

Tannon, she looked to where he was lying over a saddle and grieved. Why hadn't he run like B'eki? Why hadn't he saved himself?

He had to live. Carre wouldn't survive without him. There was too much turmoil right now. He had to prevail to pull Carre out of the nose dive it had taken on the issue of unity. Yet he had risked his life against hopeless odds for her. She wasn't even a Householder.

The men took off at a fast pace. Alissa bowed her head, putting her thoughts aside while she concentrated on staying on the horse.

Chapter Eight

Alissa groaned when the person passing by shoved her roughly against the tree she was tied to. Three days now they'd been traveling. It looked like Antoch really meant to let her live for his plan of revenge. That, or he planned to push her until he was sure he could scare her enough for a satisfying kill.

That was the first thing he'd done when they'd gotten back to camp. He'd tried to terrorize her with stories, threats, innuendoes. When she had simply stared at him and not responded, he'd taken to inflicting small amounts of pain--not enough to push any of his men over the edge, just enough to work on her and frighten her. He wanted her whimpering and begging at his feet.

She refused to do it. She still wore Carre's colors about her shoulders and she would be shenned if she'd give Antoch the satisfaction of seeing her cower.

So, here she sat, aching head to toe, tied to a tree around her neck and waist, two days from Lemeth, the town she'd originally run away from.

Alissa cautiously glanced around, careful of the rope around her neck, noting only three of the enemy were in camp, including Antoch. Her father, she had found out, lived in Lemeth now, was the new pen owner as a matter of fact. She felt no desire to see him. He was dead as far as she was concerned.

Taking a huge bite out of the meal in front of him, Antoch made a show of licking his fingers. She hadn't had a bite of food since they'd started their trek. Smiling, Antoch stretched. "Good food, Alissa. I've often wondered if Gen's could enjoy food. I doubt it. I imagine they lose all sense of taste after turning into an animal." He took another bite of food and stood. He adjusted his belt, the keys hanging on it rattling every so slightly. He made a show of checking his knife and whip.

Walking over to where Tannon was chained to a tree like an animal, Antoch smiled. He picked up a stick and poked it at him. He laughed when Tannon moved to avoid it but couldn't. His neck was in a vice that held him upright, in one position constantly. Thin chains were wrapped around tentacles and arms that ran around his waist. Alissa had found out they kept Tannon immobile-- for to try to get rid of them could hurt him severely--but allowed him to zlin all that as going on. It was an Antoch special. He'd said he didn't want any of the pain Alissa felt dampened by manacles. Loosening the keys, Antoch attached them six inches form Tannon's face on a branch. He made an ugly sound that Alissa supposed was to be a laugh.

That's right, taunt Tannon with the keys to his own rescue, she thought angrily.

Nodding in satisfaction, Antoch sauntered across the clearing and went into the woods to relieve himself.

Alissa concentrated on relaxing. Usually when Antoch got that look, it meant she was in for some more torture. He enjoyed watching Tannon squirm. However, Antoch was further into need now. Maybe that meant he wasn't going to cause Alissa as much pain. "Why hasn't he tried to kill me yet?" she murmured, unable to understand Antoch's strategy.

"He's waiting until my need is worse."

Tannon's quiet words told Alissa she had spoken aloud. Glancing to where he was chained to the tree she admitted he was probably right. Dark circles bruised the places under both eyes. His cheeks were gaunt and sunken. And his tentacles...she could see the swollen ronaplin glands. Oh, he was in need, but Antoch wanting him raving before he did anything. And Tannon knew that. She had to ask, though she knew she shouldn't. "How did you miss their presence on the trail, Tannon?"

His jaw tightened as if he was not going to answer her and stay stubbornly silent. He glanced off in the distance his features harsh and she noted the anger flashing in his eyes. She shouldn't have asked. Such a failure for a Sectuib was inviting open rebellion in the House. Even a first year channel should have sensed something and here was their strongest channel, unable to zlin a threat to his people.

"I wasn't zlinning," he hissed low.

Alissa's eyes widened. "But you're close to need. And we were out in unknown territory. Why wouldn't you be zlinning?"

"I was doing my best to stay hypoconscious."

"I don't understand."

"Oh, come on, Alissa. Of course you know what it is."

"You don't have to be sarcastic," she replied softly, not taking umbrage as his tone. She imagined he had many self-recriminations at the moment over his colossal mistake. "Just tell me why you wouldn't want to zlin."

Again, she didn't think he was going to answer. Finally, he turned toward her. His dull eyes showed the strain of the past months as he stared at her. His eyes looked lifeless, dead in his near exhausted body. "I didn't want to put up with your field."

Alissa swallowed the pain his words caused. "That's why you stayed by Lemel so much?" she asked. "You could lean on his field."

He slowly shook his head, never breaking eye contact with her. "That was my place. And I didn't lean on his field. Though Lemel is good, he couldn't completely block out your field. And knowing it was him I would probably end up taking transfer with if there was no one at V'lar while you were sitting yards away was just too much to deal with. For the first time in my life, I was afraid I was going to do something that I would regret, that would embarrass my House."

"Oh, Tannon," she whispered, aching regret in her voice.

"A lot of good it did. I ended up disgracing my House, anyway."

She heard the guilt in his voice. Would he ever forgive himself for missing Antoch and his men? If they got out of this, then Tannon would have to be taken care of and then they could decide what to do as far as his mistake. If he regained his strength, could find someone who could give him a good transfer for two or three months until he could find another Companion closer to his strength, then they could decide what to do. Now, they had to keep their mind on escaping.

She didn't want to think about that right now so she changed the subject. "I've decided something over the last hours, Tannon."

Tannon, looking no less ragged than Alissa opened weary eyes and glanced at her. "What's that?"

"I've decided that it's hazardous to my health to travel with you." She nodded, squirming when she moved wrong and the ropes further abraded her arms and hands. Taking a shallow breath she adjusted her body, wincing only slightly when the ropes bit into her bruised ribs. "This is the second time I've been with you and the second time Antoch has caught me...and the second time I've looked like this," she said, indicating the bruises and cuts all over her body.

"But the first time you already had the bruises before we met," Tannon said, logically. "And then let's not forget I wasn't with you on your return trip to Carre, when you also looked like this." He sighed, a deep shuddering sound. Alissa was concerned about his state of need. However, though she was less than three feet away, the two trees could have been in different territories as far as touching him was concerned. But at least his mind was off what had happened earlier. She breathed a silent sigh of relief, deciding to concentrate on one thing at a time.

"And," Tannon suddenly continued, "Now that I think about it, maybe it is I who should consider traveling with you as a dangerous pass-time."

"Maybe you're right," Alissa said ruefully, then sobered, done with her bantering as she focused on what had been bothering her the last two days. "Why, Tannon?"

"Why what?" he returned.

"Why didn't you run? When Antoch got me? You could have made it. I know you, saw where those men were around you. If you had only run you wouldn't be here now."

Grimly, Tannon replied, "I would never leave a Gen alone to face Antoch."

"B'eki did," she murmured so softly she thought Tannon didn't hear.

"She shouldn't have. She's a Householder. However, I will grant that she's renSime and nonjunct. Maybe she doesn't understand what would happen to you in Antoch's hands."

Alissa wanted to give the woman the benefit of the doubt. However, it was hard. She'd never forget the sudden flare of panic when she'd seen her Sime take off, deserting her to the fates.

"I could have handled Antoch. I'm a Companion," she said, trying to reassure Tannon.

Though Tannon was chained at the neck to the tree, he managed to lift his head and regard her steadily. Finally, he said simply, "I know."

A tiny thrill shot through Alissa at his simple statement.

"However, it still wouldn't matter. I wouldn't leave you alone. Lemel went after B'eki." His eyes sought out Antoch then returned to her. "He's to go to V'lar and should be back anytime. Actually, I was expecting him yesterday. He was to get some help. I came simply because I thought I might be able to help you or find a chance to escape."

"It was foolish. You're Sectuib. You should have never put yourself at risk."

"As you say, but with a choice between risking myself or protecting a Gen I had to choose the latter. After all, Carre would be nothing without the unity of the two." He fell silent and Alissa pondered what he said.

"I just don't want you to see when they kill me," she finally murmured.

"That's why I couldn't leave you. Remember, I was there when Antoch murdered my last Companion. I know what he's capable of."

Suddenly, her eyes widened. "You hope to put yourself between me and Antoch. That's your whole strategy. You come along. Antoch will torture you by keeping me alive and inflicting pain. During this time Lemel will go for help and they'll find a way to help you."

Tannon didn't confirm or deny her hypothesis. But Alissa knew it was true. Her blood turned to ice in her veins. She would not let Tannon sacrifice himself for her. She couldn't. Too many things had happened in the past to him because of her. She was suppose to be a Companion, a person who's job it was to protect the channel.

She shuddered at the realization that she couldn't protect him now no matter how much she wanted.

Just then Antoch came strolling back into camp crudely adjusting his britches. His gaze was on her, his footsteps sure. "Shen," she cursed under her breath while masking all emotions.

"Steady, Alissa," Tannon murmured. "I'd take the pain if I could. He won't push you too far this time."

"Plotting?" Antoch asked as he stopped in front of Alissa.

Reaching down, he released the ropes around her body and neck. Then for the first time since they'd been traveling, he released the bonds holding her wrists. Unease trickled down her spine. If he only meant to hurt her, why would he release her wrists?

He laughed which immediately caused Alissa to relax. She would not give him the terror he wanted. "Why would I plot? I'm sure B'eki is in Lemeth waiting to reclaim me already," she lied.

Suddenly he reached up and jerked off the cape Alissa wore. "No!" she cried, grabbing for the cape.

Antoch ignored her. Ripping it in half, he threw it to the ground and spit on it. "That's what I think of your Household and its rules. It won't matter if she's waiting or not. You're not going to make it."

He jerked her forward, wrapping his tentacles around her arms and squeezing until she cried out in pain. Then he shook her. "Hear me well. You may think you're something special, but all you are is a Gen. Whether you call yourself Companion or not doesn't matter. His last Companion died just like any other Gen. I've only been patient because I'm waiting for him to go into attrition."

He shot an ugly look at Tannon. "I've grown tired of waiting. I plan to hurry him along then kill you in front of him. What do you think about that?"

She stubbornly refused to refrain.

"Answer me!" he demanded shaking her again until she was certain her head was going to fall off her shoulders.

"Won't...let...you," she gasped out.

He stopped shaking her at her words. An evil grin crossed his face. "We'll see. When all of the men are back tonight, and Tannon's selyn is bleeding away from the wounds I'll inflict on him, we'll see if you can be killed or not."

The sound of horses drew their attention. Shock shot through Alissa as they rode into camp. Antoch jerked his head toward her, feeling her reaction. Glancing back at the horses he smiled when he spotted the Carre cape draped over a saddle. Dragging her back over to the tree, he wrapped the ropes around her neck and quickly re-tied them, not bothering with fastening her waist or hands like the one who usually tied her would. Of course, the neck was just as easy to tie. And if she pulled too hard she'd suffocate.

"Tannon, can you see? Who is--"

"Lemel," Tannon replied flatly.

Sure enough. At that same moment a dirty, disheveled Lemel was dumped off the horse at Antoch's feet.

"Another one of them," he said casting Tannon a triumphant look.

"Found him and a pervert following us, sir," the man who had been holding Lemel replied. "When we tried to take them, the other one committed suicide."

Shock ran through Alissa. B'eki, dead? And where was the help from V'lar?

Antoch grabbed Lemel by the arm, roughly pulling him over to where Alissa was. Taking the extra rope left over from the way he'd tied her, he quickly wrapped the extra around Lemel's chest before running it back around and tying it behind the tree.

"Here's some company for you, channel," Antoch called out. "They should prove ample entertainment for tonight."

He strode away, heading to where the other men were around the fire discussing their latest kills. Only then did Alissa noticed they had some Gens with them. She watched as the men cut out one Gen from the group of six. They terrorized the boy until he began to fight, trying to escape. One of the Simes suddenly lunged and took the Gen into kill position. In a snap it was over.

To her disbelief and nausea, they began the process again with a young female this time, laughing, calling out, mocking until the girl was sobbing hysterically and started swinging out in defense of herself. Alissa shuddered.

"Where is V'lar?" Tannon asked softly so the Simes across the clearing wouldn't hear.

Lemel stiffened.

Curious, Alissa turned until she could see his face.

Tannon cursed.

"What?" she asked. "What is it?" she repeated, looking back over to Tannon. But it was Lemel who spoke.

"I didn't go there. When I found B'eki, we decided to follow you."

"But I gave you specific directions not to risk you or B'eki in this," Tannon said. Alissa could see the anger on his face. She focused her attention on Tannon, doing her best not to waver. Tannon was due transfer. No help meant no transfer, no hope, death. He'd been able to keep the panic at bay until now. But now , terror had to have him in a strangle hold.

"We thought it best to follow," Lemel replied, his voice cold with his own anger, the anger from misplaced pride that often accompanies a mistake that a person refuses to admit to.

"You've signed our death warrants," Tannon replied. "By disobeying me not only is B'eki dead, but we have no chance of escaping either."

"Maybe he will take us to Lemeth," Lemel began.

"He's going to make sure I die of attrition tonight," Tannon returned and Lemel paled when he understood the implications. "Even if I wasn't already in need, he would still do it. He's ready for revenge."

"Let's not argue," Alissa said, eliciting surprised looks from both men...arrogant too, if Tannon's raised eyebrow was any indication.

"Look," she said, to Lemel, "We should concentrate our effort on Tannon, not on anything else. This is what Antoch wants. Believe me, I know him."

Lemel scowled.

"She's right."

Tannon's quiet words brought her head around and she saw understanding in his eyes. She nodded, accepting the look. "We have to work together," he said. "Since no help is coming, we'll have to make our own escape."

A scream from the crowd brought their heads around. A young blonde, around Alissa's age only looking much thinner and filled with terror had taken off across the compound toward them.

The others were laughing. Alissa watched, unable to turn away, as hope flared in the young girls eyes as she focused on the forest behind them.

Then a female Sime was on her, and pulling her into her grip. The girl fought and Alissa watched as the Sime let her before her instinct finally took over and she went hyperconscious and stripped the girl of her selyn.

The girl fell dead at Alissa's feet.

Lemel flinched.

Alissa didn't bat an eye though her heart rate had increased.

The Sime smiled, then laughed, before kicking the dead body and walking off.

" How can you just sit there," Lemel said, disgust in his voice.

"Because Tannon doesn't need my disgust," she said quietly.

She looked over to where Tannon's head was turned away as he shuddered. Slowly, Tannon regained his composure. She wouldn't break concentration as she willed him strength.

She knew Lemel was concentrating on Tannon too.

But the kill so close had taken it's toll. Tannon was visibly shaking.

"Tannon. Do you think, if we could get loose, you could reach those horses?" she asked. She indicated the horses the men had left casually grazing not fifty feet away when they'd brought in Lemel. "Could you help us hold off the Simes until we were mounted and gone?"

"There's only eight of them," Tannon replied slowly, straightening. "The rest are still gone. If we could get loose it might be possible. But how are we going to get loose?"

"The ropes. Look in front of me, near the girl."

Tannon looked and saw what she'd seen. Near her foot was a small eating knife. The Sime had obviously dropped it and, being hypoconscious after her kill, hadn't noticed it.

"Can you reach it?" he asked, his voice low.

"If they don't catch me," she muttered.

"Let me worry about that," he said and allowed his eyes to go unfocused. She admired the way he could do things with the fields. She'd actually forgotten. How could she have? Tannon was a very powerful channel. Of course, he was very ill now so she hadn't been seeing him at his best. But watching now, she knew he was somehow masking what was going on, distracting her.

Slowly she stretched her legs out in front of her. The front of her foot just touched it. She did her best to hide her frustration as time and again she worked to get the knife to her.

Finally, it moved. Barely an inch, but it was in a better position for her to scrape it along with her heels.

Which is just what she did.

Tannon glanced to where the men were still entertaining themselves with the Gens. A young girl was on her knees sobbing pitifully, just before the next Sime took her in kill mode. He waited until he was certain Antoch was engrossed in his amusements before whispering sharply, "Do it, now."

Alissa, who had been inching her legs up toward her chest, now eased the knife to where she could reach it with her hands. She slipped it up under the edge of the rope around her neck and sawed away. In seconds the rope was released. Giving an unobtrusive swipe to Lemel's rope she warned, "Don't move when this gives way. I still have to release Tannon." She tucked the knife in her waistband.

She glanced over at Tannon. "You ready?"

He had his eyes closed and his head lowered. His breathing was harsh. It was only then she actually realized how bad his need was. Tannon was an expert at hiding it. Too good. He was probably almost in attrition and they hadn't even known.

"Now," he said, raising his head and using his systems to mask her own field.

She grabbed the key and then was back to Tannon in seconds. She nodded to Lemel to inch toward the horses while she worked on the chains.

Something she did must have alerted Antoch though, for his head suddenly whipped around and pierced her with rage.

"Oh, shen, Tannon. Come on," she said jerking at the chain that had just released its lock. She couldn't get them off his tentacles though.

"Get them!" Antoch bellowed.

Sudden chaos erupted.

The three remaining Gens tried to run.

Lemel grabbed the horses.

Desperation lit Alissa's features as she tried to get the chains off Tannon. "I can't do it. I'm going to hurt you."

"Let me," he hissed as she again jerked wrong on the intricately wound thin chains that had been wrapped around his tentacles.

Simes split in two directions, some grabbing the Gens who tried to run, the rest coming after the prisoners. A tall, dark haired woman, hyperconscious was headed directly toward where Tannon and Alissa crouched.

Alissa stood, easing in front of Tannon. She braced, getting ready to serve, when Tannon suddenly erupted from his chains and intercepted the woman. They went staggering backward and ended up back down on the ground.

He lifted his head, released her then rolled her over, clipping her on the jaw before she could recover from the transfer. He left her unconscious at his feet.

He turned to Alissa, but another Sime was already there.

"Run!" she cried at Tannon. Alissa remembered what she'd learned this last month and just as the Sime grabbed her she shenned him. The Sime stiffened then collapsed at her feet.

Turning, she started toward the horses. Tannon was already on one, pulling Lemel up on another. "Hurry!" he called out as he glanced over at her. He sounded ragged, at the end of his endurance.

Alissa pushed forward and sprinted toward them

Distracted by her, Tannon was unable to stop a Sime when he grabbed Lemel by the collar and pulled Lemel down. Alissa pulled her knife and continued toward him.

But Lemel was able to handle it on his own. He turned and did something to the fields that had all of the Simes around him staggering. Then he was back up on the horse.

Alissa took another lunge toward Tannon who was visibly shuddering from whatever Lemel did but was stopped as pain exploded in her head.

Antoch had her by her hair...again. "You're not getting away this time," he growled, pulling her forward into kill position.

Alissa, the knife in hand, didn't fight him, but surged forward, slicing at his arm with the blade. His gasp then agonized cry cut through the forest.

Sickly she saw she had cut his lateral...but she didn't let herself think about the atrocity she'd just committed. She ran to the horse, grabbed Tannon who was also doubled over in sudden agony from being only feet away from the injury she'd inflicted and vaulted onto the horse behind him.

Putting her heels to the sorrel's sides she cried out to Lemel, "Ride!"

They took off at breakneck speed, ducking branches, swerving around trees. "They'll catch us with you riding double," Lemel said.

"No. Antoch's men are cowards. With him dead--" she shuddered. "They won't come after us. To the left up here. I know a place we can stop."

"Stop! For what?"

"Tannon!" she said, even as she pulled him back against her. "Whatever you did, combined with what I did to Antoch hurt him. He's convulsing."

In seconds they were on a dirt road and climbing up the side of the mountain. Alissa didn't slow her horse, but pushed it hard, forcing it to dig in its hoofs as she charged up the side of the trail. "Here," she called out, pointing to a Shrine of the Starred Cross. "This is where Tannon first found me."

Jumping down she pushed opened the door, taking Tannon, still on the horse into the Shrine. "Bring your mount," she said.

Lemel didn't hesitate but followed her in, still mounted, across the flat wooden floor. He only had to duck as he entered. The room was small, little room for them to move around, but it was better than allowing someone to spot the horses outside.

Alissa grabbed Tannon, pulling him from his horse. He fell into her arms. But before she could anything more than lay him down, Lemel was there. "Move," he ordered.

Leaning down he coaxed Tannon's laterals out. Making contact he began to serve Tannon.

Alissa stepped back out of the way, feeling suddenly lost and empty. She watched, waiting to see the relief as Tannon stabilized. Instead, Tannon suddenly jerked in abort. Alissa clenched her hands to keep from running to him.

Lemel gasped, falling back. "Shen," he whispered, and leaned back down to try again.

The same thing happened. Each time Alissa felt his abort as a physical pain to herself. She felt as if she was going to suffocate if she didn't serve him. But Lemel blocked her way.

Alissa's heart rate doubled as Tannon's face bleached of color and he started to convulse yet again. When Lemel reached for Tannon again, she stopped him. "You can't do this again, Lemel. Look at him." She flung her hand out. "His system can't take it. Between what we did and your betrayal along with the bad transfers over the last months your gonna destroy him. Let me."

She started to move forward. Lemel barred her way. "You're not even a Householder. Besides. He told you never to touch him again without his permission, remember?"

"You'd let him die?" Alissa asked incredulously.

Seeing the set look to his jaw she turned to Tannon who had his arms wrapped around himself shuddering and whimpering. "Tannon," she said, forcing his gaze to her with her sheer presence. "Listen to me. Don't let him do it again. You can't take it."

He hesitated, his teeth clenching, unable to reply.

Alissa cursed. "As First, Lemel should have your best interests at heart. He doesn't." She shot Lemel a quick look of warning. "You have no choice, Tannon. You're taking transfer from me."

She held out her arms.

So did Lemel.

"Trust me," she ordered, flaring her field, enticing Tannon.

Tannon hesitated only a moment. Then with a dry sob, he went hyperconscious and threw himself on Alissa.

Tentacles whipped out, around her arms, binding her to the Sime. Just like two sides of a coin are inseparable, so was she and Tannon at that moment. But this transfer was nothing like his last one.

His laterals snaked out and he began to draw, only to suddenly stiffen as his abused system fought with what he needed. Alissa overrode the abort, wrenching control from Tannon and pushing the selyn into his system. Once more he tried to abort, then suddenly his system stopped fighting her and accepted the succor it needed that she furiously pushed into his system.

Tannon wrenched control and Alissa gave it freely, feeling the desperation as Tannon suddenly lunged forward, pulling her against him as he began to draw, pulling faster and faster from Alissa, sending every nerve in her body singing with joy as he filled places that had remained empty these past months. It went on and on, seeming to continue forever until finally they peaked.

Alissa who had started out leaning over Tannon now found herself on the hardwood floor with Tannon above as he'd attacked her hungrily drawing the selyn. Slowly, he relaxed against her body.

Finally, his eyes still closed, his lips softened and molded to hers. Surprise flickered in her eyes when she realized he was kissing her.

She hesitated, not sure how to respond, then swept up in the feelings he evoked, returned his ardor, opening her mouth to his gentle insistence. A whole new kind of emotion swept her this time, one she'd never experienced before.

A new kind of desire.

His tentacles slid up her arms, leaving tingling trails of ronaplin as he caressed her body. Alissa raised her hands and touched his chest, enjoying the rough feel against her fingertips, moaning when the callused pads of his fingers brushed her cheeks then slid around in her hair.

Now this was something she could really like, she thought as her body vibrated with new feelings. She moved her hands to the buttons of his shirt, to undo the few that were still intact.

"He wouldn't have died."

That flat statement from Lemel reminded Alissa they weren't alone. Tannon lifted his head, his gaze one of banked desire. Only when he disengaged her arms did she realize he had allowed his tentacles to move back down her arms. She shivered with unfulfilled desire when his laterals slid slowly across her arms as he resheathed them.

Reluctantly rolling off her, he sat up. Though he didn't look as good as when she'd first met him, he certainly looked healthier than when she'd returned from out-Territory. Still, Alissa knew it was going to take two or three months before Tannon was again at peak efficiency.

"Yes, I would have, Lemel," Tannon replied, his voice husky, but still weak.

It took a moment before Alissa realized Tannon was referring to Lemel's statement.

"After all that happened in the clearing with Antoch--" he trembled then regained control. "You weren't able to override the abort. Every time my system fought you, you pulled away. I was trying to tell you...I just couldn't get the words out."

Glancing at Alissa he said, "Alissa learned a lesson you've failed in. She's learned when to give up her authority as a Companion and when to take charge."

Alissa basked in Tannon's surprising praises. But he wasn't done. He returned his gaze to Lemel. "It wasn't your fault, Lemel. It was mine. You weren't ready for the job I thrust upon you, just as Alissa wasn't a few months ago."

"But I--"Lemel began.

"No, Lemel. You weren't ready. We had our top Companions all die. I wasn't ready for the job of Sectuib. There were no Companions qualified to step into the shoes of the three Companions we lost. I'll try to make up for that by working more with the Companions when we return to Carre."

"You want me to go back?" Lemel said, sullenly. "I thought you said I'm not ready."

"You aren't. You'll be a good Companion one day. You'd be better matched to Jeanetta or Bryn when he change's over, if I'm not mistaken about the type of channel that boy's going to end up being. Carre wants you," he paused, glanced at Alissa, then back at Lemel. "if you can work with Alissa."

Lemel shot Tannon an angry look before finally nodding in frustration.

"I don't understand," Alissa began, only to trail off when Tannon turned toward her. Kneeling in front of her he took her hands in his own. "I'm asking you to be my Companion, Alissa."

"But you don't trust me," she replied, then realized how stupid that was. He'd just taken transfer from her.

He smiled gently. "You've learned more in this last month despite my lack of help, than I've learned in the last six months as Sectuib. You're just what Carre must have if it's to survive the turbulent days ahead. But I'm not assuming anything this time. Carre has treated you unjustly. It's your decision. Will you be my Companion? Will you pledge to Carre?"

Alissa hesitated, thinking of the awesome responsibility that Tannon was placing on her shoulders. When she'd arrived at Carre she had seen being a Companion as someone that simply gave selyn to a channel in need. Over the last month she had learned how much more it was, how dependent a Companion and channel were to each other, how like two sides of a coin they were. And to be First Companion was a duty much more intense than any other because it entailed so many responsibilities that she'd never dreamed of before.

So, she hesitated as she thought of what Tannon was really asking her. Could she do it? Could she stand up as First Companion and be responsible for all that was asked of her?

Looking into the deep brown eyes of Sectuib Tannon ambrov Carre, she knew that together, they could do it. Slowly, biting her lower lip, she nodded.

Without breaking her gaze, Tannon released her hand. He unclasped his blue and silver cloak and whipped it off. He draped it around her shoulders, tying it under her chin.

Taking her hands, he nodded.

Solemnly, Alissa whispered, "I, Alissa, choose to serve you, Tannon ambrov Carre, and Carre. To you I pledge my life, my strength, my future in unity, my all."

Alissa waited, then heard Tannon's strong, vibrant voice. "I, Tannon, Sectuib in Carre, accept your pledge, Alissa, Companion ambrov Carre."

When the pledge was over, Tannon leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips.

She smiled. "You don't do that to all the people who pledge," she said.

He smiled, slowly. "No," he drawled, lazily, allowing his gaze to heat up as it traveled over her, "I don't."

Standing, he pulled Alissa up. "As much as I'd like for us to have time to rest," he said, eyeing Alissa again with a peculiar gleam in his eyes. "I remember getting caught in this very Shrine not too many months ago. We must go before some of Antoch's stragglers find us. Besides, V'lar will be looking for us."

He grabbed one of the horses while Lemel, looking defeated and weary, grabbed the other and led them outside.

Boosting Alissa up, Tannon mounted behind her, still shaky, but able to sit up on his own.

"What happens when we get to V'lar?" Alissa asked as they started off down the trail to make the four day trip back to V'lar.

Tannon grinned. "You should be asking what will happen when we get home."

"Home," she whispered.

"Carre," Tannon replied.

"Home," Alissa said, stronger and with a smile, leaned back against Tannon, looking forward to her new life and new home, glad to have finally found that one indefinable thing she'd been seeking. A Companion's heart.

The End

From Companion in Zeor #12

Last modified on 12 August 97 at 1850