Published as a part of A Companion In Zeor #13 , 14 & 15
WorldCrafters Students: This version has had a first copyediting.
Vidal entered the plush wood paneled restaurant with its turkey red carpets, and was immediately approached by the Maitre d’hotel. ‘Hajene Trent it’s nice to see you again, you are expected - if you’ll come this way please.’ He was lead with all due pomp and ceremony across to where Sam Betjeman, looking totally out of place, was waiting for him.
The opulent dining room was a far cry from Sam’s usual haunts, and the Channels eyes slid from the tables covered with crisp white linen, and laid with silver and glass, to the massive crystal chandeliers hanging from the domed ceiling. This was one of his own favourite eating places, and he had recently introduced his partner here.
‘Glad you could make it Vidal.’
‘Your message sounded urgent. Was there any particular reason why I shouldn’t bring Jason?’ He asked, as he sat down in the chair that the waiter had pulled out for him, and accepted the Menu written in Simelan.
‘Yes. Shall we eat first? I’ve already taken the liberty of ordering for both of us.’
‘As you wish.’ Vidal replied, and handed the Menu back. ‘I wanted to thank you for counter-signing the R & R request I put in.’
Sam flicked two tentacles towards his colleague, ‘it was the least I could do. After all, I requested you both to come back early from your last vacation, as I recall.’
Vidal did not bother to remind him that their sudden return had been more in the way of an order, than a request. Instead, he nodded his thanks to the waiter as their first course arrived, three small pink melon balls on a bed of crushed ice.
‘Have you seen any of the newscasts since you got back?’
‘No. I think everyone I know, not counting every member of my family, had left a message for me in my absence. It took hours to just clear the backlog, and then there was my Report to be filed, and the debriefing. And of course my therapist insisted I go and see him,’ Vidal sighed and shrugged his shoulders. ‘The last thing I’ve had time for is the newscasts. Why, is there something in particular I should have seen?’
‘They’ve resurrected that investigative programme The Probe!’ Sam said sourly.
‘Ah, I know the one! "Our intrepid reporters go everywhere in the known Galaxy, to find the answers to the questions that you, our loyal viewers, want answered!" ’ Vidal mimicked the booming voice that he had heard so often in the past. ‘And what can of worms are they sticking their long noses into this time?’ He asked, as the waiter cleared the dishes away and brought the second course. A lettuce and watercress tossed salad with chopped celery and nuts, topped by a spoonful of grated smoked cheese scattered over the top. The entire meal weighed no more than perhaps two ounces.
‘I brought it for you to see.’ Sam handed the small viewer across the table to Vidal who parked his fork in his tentacles. Sam continued to eat as the Channel watched the newscast in silence, and then handed the viewer back to him.
‘My thoughts exactly.’ The renSime admitted.
‘From the sound of it, they have a fair idea of where one at least is located.’ Vidal mused. ‘If so, then there may well be a leak somewhere, possibly in the hierarchy.’
‘Not necessarily. They could have found out in lots of other ways.’ Sam replied. ‘It’s one of the reasons I asked you to come here to discuss it. I don’t feel I can trust our offices any more. As we speak, they are being given a top level screening by the experts.’
‘Is that necessary? Since that scare a decade ago, no record has been kept anywhere, not even in computer archives.’ Vidal reminded him. ‘And apart from you as head of security and I - in error - only seven other Channels all householders, know anything at all. Besides which both they and the people who actually work in the establishments, are all sworn to secrecy.’
Sam sighed. ‘Unfortunately these particular Gen reporters play dirty! They could have planted listening devices in the main Sime Centre, not counting our own head quarters.’
‘And how would they have got in?’ Vidal demanded to know. ‘There is no way they could have got in to either place undetected. You know that! And even if by sheer bad luck they had done so - they would have found exactly nothing. Not one of the other Channels, or either of us for that matter, ever talks about the subject. You and I are only discussing it now because it’s an emergency, and that’s why we’re not using your office. Besides which, when it is on the agenda, Room Three is used, and it’s sealed completely during the entirety of the meeting. A dust mite couldn’t get in or out of there undetected!’
‘Well how the shen did they find out then?’ Sam snarled. It was unusual for him to show his feelings to this extent, especially as he had only taken transfer about three days ago. Vidal projected calm.
‘Maybe they haven’t. Have you ever considered that it could all be a bluff? They put out a news report slanting it to sound as though they have definite proof. Then they sit back and await results - while we panic and run around like headless chickens!’ Vidal replied.
‘You could be right.’ Betjeman acknowledged, broadcasting faint hope into the ambient.
‘If you want my advice N’vet - do nothing at all. Carry on as normal.’
‘I wish I had your confidence.’ The Sime said slowly, then pushed his plate away. ‘I’ve had enough to eat, have you?’
‘More than enough.’
‘Good. Let’s go for a walk, I want to discuss something else with you.’
A short while later they left the restaurant and turned into the park, leaving the path, and walking across the manicured grass towards the lake.
‘We only have three Centres world wide.’ Sam murmured. ‘I take it you know where they’re located?’
‘No, and I have no wish to know. I prefer to forget they even exist. It was a mistake that I was told in the first place, you know that.’
‘You can’t bury your head in the sand Vidal. Remember, at that time, Jordan Farris was hoping that you’d be working with him.’ He sighed deeply. ‘These places are necessary you know.'
‘Are they? I wonder. When I first learned about them, I couldn’t in all honesty justify their existence, and in all the years since, I haven’t changed my opinion.’ The Channel stated, unable to stop his disgust from seeping into his field and making no effort to do so, aware that Sam knew exactly how he felt. ‘And please, I’ve heard all the arguments in favour of them ad nauseam - so don’t repeat them to me now.’
‘Very well, I’ll get to the nub of the matter. I hear you’re going to stay with the Devere family on Dunedin. Five miles further up the coast is another island - Rockall. It’s off limits to all visitors. As far as the fishermen and all the inhabitants of the other islands and the mainland are concerned there’s an isolation clinic located on the island, which cares mainly for patients suffering from highly contagious diseases.
‘The whole island is surrounded by a level 10 exclusion field. Should anyone attempt to either get onto the island or to leave it, well I hardly need to draw you a picture. The field itself cannot be lowered by anyone on the island save the Channel in charge, and only a Tecton ship carrying special equipment can neutralise it from outside.
‘The only time the field is removed is for the delivery of provisions - although a lot of food is grown on the island - and of course when new "patients" are sent there. Neither can the island be overflown, or surveyed by ship or satellite in orbit - there is a dampening field covering the whole area, which is completely impenetrable. To enable a shuttle to land, the same procedure as that used by a ship, would have to be employed.’
Sam paused, and then went on. ‘When I heard you were going to Dunedin, I could not believe my luck.’
‘I’m sure you couldn’t.’ Vidal murmured cynically. ‘So, Rockall is one of them. What then do you expect me to do? It seems that you have already covered every eventuality. I would imagine that even the "intrepid reporters" employed by the Probe, will draw the line at their own annihilation, even in the line of duty! Besides which, if they ask questions of the local population they’ll only hear what you want them to hear. I don’t see that my being there is going to make any difference one way or the other.’ He said bluntly.
‘All I’m asking you to do is to look out for strangers. That shouldn’t be difficult. They’ll probably stick out like a sore thumb in a place like Dunedin.’
‘There are quite a few visitors in the summer months you know. Some people actually enjoy the solitude and remoteness of the islands.’ Vidal reminded him. ‘Sailing, rambling and mountaineering - am I expected to interrogate every visitor I come across? Perhaps you should supply me with a Questionnaire, I can hand one to each new arrival and pick them when they leave.’
‘I didn’t expect sarcasm from you Vidal. I think you’ve been around Devere for too long.’ Betjeman snapped. ‘Of course I don’t expect you to speak to them, but you’re not a fool either. You’ll soon spot a genuine tourist from one of them.’
‘Okay, I’ll keep my eyes open, but I won't get involved any further than that Sam. This is not what I joined the TIB for. However, if I spot anyone I think looks suspicious, I’ll let you know, and you can take it from there. Although, as I said before, if you take my advice you’ll ignore the whole thing. Warn them off, and you’ll never get rid of them. You’ll just have proved them right, and they’ll know for sure that you’ve got something to hide.’
‘The whole lot of them are like leeches, one taste of blood and they’ll never let go. The worst part is that all three Centres are being moved next year, to an underground complex we’ve built on one of Mars’ satellites - Phobos. It’s just a useless chunk of rock, mined out decades ago, so no one’s interested in it any more. It’s sheer bad luck that all this has come up now. ’ Sam rubbed his eyes with his tentacles as he spoke. ‘As if I haven’t got enough to contend with. Anyway, that’s all I wanted to see you for. Hopefully I won't hear from you, and it’s all a false alarm. Have a good vacation.’
‘I’m sure to now.’ Vidal murmured with derision, as the two men parted company.
Sam Betjeman to stand and gaze unseeing across the wide expanse of the lake laid out in front of him and Vidal also deep in thought, to retrace his footsteps back across the grass.
Jason sighed as he looked up at the Departure Board, the bad weather was holding up all shipping in the area.
‘You’d never believe we’ve come half way round the world in less than twenty nine minutes, and now we’re going to be held up here for God knows how long because of this lousy weather.’ Jason sighed and looked around the waiting lounge. ‘A force nine Gale! Well that’s not going to die down before morning that's for sure. Come on, I know a place near here where we can get a reasonable meal, far better than we’ll get in here anyway.’
‘I can’t say I’m very hungry, and you did eat three hours ago.’ Vidal reminded him, as he looked at the rain lashing against the windows. The last thing he wanted was to go outside in that.
‘I had some tasteless warmed up beans and a dried up cake that's what I had! I wouldn’t call that a meal and you didn’t even touch yours.’
‘No, but dried up or not, you managed to eat it for me as I recall.’
‘Well I still intend to go and get something decent to eat, are you coming with me or not?’
‘Very well. But what if your mother has a meal waiting for us when we arrive?’
‘That’s okay, I can always eat her cooking.’ Jason led the way out into the driving rain, before the Sime could object any further. The wind was howling and he had to fight to stop the door closing before he could get through himself and then hold it open for Vidal. The Channel sighed and took it from him, stepped out into the elements, and allowed the door to close with a bang.
The ferocious wind, the rain, and the spray from the sea combined to almost knock the Gen off his feet, and his partner grabbed his arm with fingers and tentacles and they battled along the road that lead beside the sea wall and into the small town.
‘How far away is this restaurant?’ Vidal had to yell to make himself heard above the scream of the wind.
‘Not far, just up the road a bit, and it’s not exactly a restaurant.’ His eyes were beginning to sting from the salt in the spray. Suddenly he saw what he had been looking for, the golden glow shining through the windows looked welcoming, and they almost fell into the warm interior of the small harbour side café.
‘Its dreadful weather, I never expected to see anyone abroad tonight. Take off those wet coats and I’ll get you a wee dram to warm you up.’ A small plump elderly Gen female bustled passed them and disappeared through another door.
Vidal removed his cloak and hung it on the nearest hook, as Jason shook his coat, and dropped it on a radiator against the wall, where it began to steam almost at once.
‘Wee dram?’ The Channel raised his eyebrows. ‘This is a Tavern?’
‘No. This is a café, but her husband and son run the Bar right next door, they’re interconnected, that’s where she’s gone for the scotch.’ He explained, and dropped into the nearest chair on one side of the roaring fire, indicating that Vidal should sit down on the other side.
She came hurrying back into the room, and placed two small glasses of malt whisky on the scrubbed wooden table.
‘Thanks Aunt Bell. Right now I would die for a bowl of your thick onion soup, and some of that crusty bread you bake.’
‘Why bless me, it’s not - is that you young Jason?’ She blinked as she peered across at him.
‘Certainly is. I thought it was about time I came back to see the family.’ Jason smiled, ‘this is my friend, Vidal.’
She examined the Channel with her black button eyes, took notice of his tentacles, and then nodded a welcome, as Vidal murmured a greeting. As she turned away he zlinned her and could sense no animosity in her nager.
‘Two bowls of soup coming up.’
‘Ah...not for me thank you. I ... er... I think it’s best if I don’t eat anything till we get to Dunedin. I don’t believe I am too good a sailor.’ Vidal confided with a brief smile in her direction.
‘They do say it’s best to have a full stomach, so that you’ve got plenty to bring up.’ She stated firmly, as she went to fetch the soup.
Vidal grimaced at the unpleasant vision her words conjured up, and then noticed that his partner was grinning at him. ‘You’re related to her?’
‘Oh no. It’s just that she came from Dunedin originally, and the communities on all the islands are very close, a bit like an extended family. Most of the older women are called Auntie by the kids - it’s just an honorary title, nothing more.’ He explained.
She came back with a steaming bowl and placed it down in front of Jason, before she picked up a sharp carving knife and proceeded to hack off two huge doorsteps from a home made loaf to accompany Jason’s soup.
Vidal found himself shivering inwardly as he watched her wielding the vicious looking blade, and sighed with relief when she finally put it down again. Ancestral memories never disappeared completely, he thought wryly, and realised she was talking.
‘I was just telling my Andrew and Jimmy that the pair of you are waiting for the ferry to cross to the island. Andrew reckons the wind will drop in the next hour, just for a wee while you ken, and then pick up again after that. To save you waiting till morning for the ferry, he’s offered to take you across during the calm, if you’ve a mind to go?’ She looked askance at Jason, then glancing across at Vidal added. ‘Andrews my husband, he has his own boat. And Jimmy’s my son.’
The Channel was just formulating a polite refusal to her offer, when Jason swallowed the soup and bread he had in his mouth, and nodded vigorously at her. ‘Yes please, that would be great.’
Both the boat and the trip to Dunedin, lived up to the Sime’s worst expectations. The wind had indeed dropped for a short time, but no sooner had the small vessel left the safety of the inner harbour than the rain began to fall again, and the wind came up even louder than before. The waves tossed the little boat around like a cork, and Vidal clinging with this hands and fingers to the side of the boat decided that his end was nigh! He kept his tentacles sheathed, terrified that they might get damaged. Indeed, if he had been a religious man, he might even have prayed.
‘Vidal, come down below!’ Jason screamed the words into his ear, as the boat rose up like a living creature under the Channel, and endeavoured to toss him into the black water that lashed again and again against the sides of the boat.
‘How do you suggest I manage that?’ He yelled back, feeling completely out of charity with his partner. If the Gen hadn’t been so keen to accept this offer, they would both have been on shore, dry and warm, and would not have set out until the Gale had blown itself out early tomorrow morning. Why had he agreed to come on this vacation in the first place? After all, he had known that Jason didn’t come from a civilised part of the world. So, in a way, perhaps all this was his own fault! But even admitting that did nothing to ease his disposition or his temper.
‘Come on laddie lets get you away out of here, and down into the cabin.’ A new voice with a soft burr spoke into his other ear, and he suddenly felt Andrew’s arm around his waist, before he could object, or even prepare himself for his touch. Then the two Gens began to push and pull him across the deck and down the narrow steps into the small cabin. Andrew immediately left, and Jason pushed a pile of books off the couch and onto the already cluttered floor, before he instructed the Channel to sit down, and threw a hand knitted woolen shawl over him.
‘The lights aren’t working down here, if I get a minute I’ll come back and fix them.’ Jason patted his friend on the shoulder. ‘I’m going up to give Andrew and Jimmy a hand. Stay down here and you’ll be fine. It’s a bit more choppy than I expected, but we’re almost half way across. Hold on tight and lie down if you want to. And there’s a bowl down there should you want it.’ With these far from comforting words, he disappeared outside again, before Vidal could say it was too dangerous for him to do so, and order him to stay inside the cabin.
The Channel looked around, but now that the two Gen’s had gone, he had nothing to zlin by. But at least he was warm and dry, although he could still feel the small craft fighting against the heaving waves, and he wondered what it was like to drown? Not a happy way to die he decided, and quickly dismissed it from his mind.
Sighing he pulled the woolen shawl closer around his shoulders. Thankful that he had no Farris genes, for if he had, he would no doubt be covered in hives and scratching like mad by the time he arrived on the island. He smiled as he remembered that his friend Jordan Farris had had hundreds of allergies, one of, which was wool!
He knew to the exact second how long it took to get from the mainland to Dunedin when he both heard and felt the boat scrap against the sea wall as the Gens tied her up. Almost at once Jason stuck his head through the door, his hair a mass of wet curls.
‘Vidal, are you okay? We’ve arrived. Do you need a hand?’
‘I can manage thank you.’ He said stiffly and climbed the steps up to the deck, the boat was still moving up and down in the water, as though alive.
‘You’ve got to climb up the stone steps cut into the sea wall over here, you ken? Watch how you go laddie, they’re a bit slippy.’ Andrew called, and wrapping his arm around a hook sticking out from the wall, he pulled the boat in as close as he could to the steps.
‘Thank you.’ The words were blown away in the howling wind, as Vidal, glad that his Sime agility had not deserted him, stepped off the boat and climbed the wet slippery steps. Seconds later Jason joined him, and the small craft set out at once on the return journey.
‘Will they be safe?’ The Sime asked as he watched in trepidation as the tiny boat was tossed this way and that, until it disappeared from view in the raging sea.
‘I asked them to stay, but they said Aunt Bell will be worried if they don’t go back tonight.’ His partner yelled back over the wind.
Vidal thought that in her shoes he would have preferred they stay on the island rather than attempt the return journey, but then he was not a sailor, and knew very little of the sea. For which he was truly grateful. He suddenly became aware that his partner beside him was shivering, his teeth chattering. Hardly surprising since he had spent the whole of the journey up on deck helping Andrew and Jimmy, and little wonder either that he was soaked to the skin.
‘Tell me that this is not summertime!’ Vidal shouted the words in disbelief at his friend’s back as they began to walk away from the quayside, towards a cluster of lights in the distance.
‘JASON!’ Both men looked towards the voice as a flitter, probably at least thirty years old stopped beside them. Vidal starred at it as he tried to ascertain what model it was. He had never seen one as old as this still being used. No sooner had the machine come to a halt than a muscular young Gen jumped out and ran towards them. ‘Aunt Bell let us know you were on your way across.’ He called, as he threw his arms around Jason, and the two men embraced. ‘It’s great to see you again brother.’
‘You too Jamie! Is that Niall I can see sitting in there?’ Jason waved at his other brother as he spoke.
‘James - if you don’t mind. I’m nineteen now you know, I’m not a kid any more.’
‘I forgot sorry.’ Jason smiled ruefully at his sibling. ‘Come on Vidal let’s get in the flitter, I’ll introduce you later.’ He urged his partner across the shingle path, taking his case from him and handing it to James, along with his own bag. They scrambled into the back seat, and moments later James got in and sat down beside his brother Niall.
Jason shook hands enthusiastically with Niall, and then introduced Vidal to both of them.
‘How come Dad let you use his pride and joy?’ Jason demanded.
‘What did you expect when the wandering son returns? You always were his favourite Jason, you know that.’ Niall grinned as the flitter lifted off the ground, and was suddenly caught by the wind coming off the sea, and tossed to one side. Deftly Niall adjusted the small thrusters to bring it back to even keel. Again and again the small machine was buffeted by the gusting wind and rain, knocking it off course, and again and again Niall fought to correct it.
Vidal felt he should offer to take over the driving of the flitter, for it was now dancing above the rough track that lead them away from the harbour and the small cluster of dwellings. But somehow he managed to keep the words unsaid, and was glad that he had done so, when Jason placed his hand on his arm and whispered. ‘You did right Vidal. Niall would have been humiliated, if you had suggested taking over from him.’
‘Mind reading Jason?’
‘No, I suppose I’m starting to understand you more.’ He admitted quietly, then raised his voice slightly. ‘How many at home James?’
‘All of us except Sharon, she’s out visiting with Raine. He’s staying with us for a couple of days before he returns to the mainland. He’s bosun on the Seagull.’ James explained.
‘I understood he was a fisherman. The Seagull’s not a fishing boat is she?’
‘No, she belongs to the Centre.’ Niall called over his shoulder.
‘What’s Raine like?’
‘Okay, Mum likes him well enough.’ James replied.
‘Oh well, if he’s got the seal of approval, what more is there to say?’ All three brothers laughed as Niall brought the machine to a halt. ‘If Mother says you’re okay, then that’s it, you’re in.’ Jason explained to Vidal.
They all climbed out and Jason led Vidal inside the rambling old farmhouse that had been extended many times over the years. Leaving his brothers to bring in their bags. The light and warmth hit them as they stepped inside.
James informed Vidal that his father had arranged for one of the Channels from the Centre on the mainland, to call the previous day, and take all their donations at once. It was a thoughtful gesture, and one that he knew was probably instigated by his partner, for which Vidal was truly grateful.
It was a few hours later, standing by the window in his darkened bedroom, that he considered his welcome into the Devere household.
Within moments of their arrival Jason had been surrounded by the whole of the Devere clan. Leaving Vidal standing between James and Niall watching the welcome they were giving to his partner, and wondering what his own people would make of it. Because surprisingly, for a Sime family, emotions had never been given a high priority in the aristocratic Trent family. Vidal had never thought of either himself or his family as either aristocratic or privileged, but his father did, and encouraged others to do so too. In fact he had been only twelve years of age when it had finally been brought home to him that his father was an out and out snob!
All of which had made his task of becoming a Channel that much more difficult. For he had had to overcome what his tutors had considered the "handicap" of repressed feelings, (a shortcoming more often found in Gens), before he could begin to apply the art with any expertise. If he was honest with himself, it was also one of the main reasons why he had decided to abandon Channelling as a profession, and join the TIB.
Upbringing versus instinct, it was a battle he still found himself fighting, and he was considered by many even now to be far too stiff, conservative, and sober. Charges that he could not in all conscience deny. But he was trying, and his Companion tended to make sure that he kept his feet planted firmly on the ground.
The Trents after all, although not from a householding background, could still claim to be one of the oldest Sime families around. They had also, until recently, belonged to a breed of Sime who claimed never to have produced a Gen or a Channel in their dynasty. A total fiction of course, but even today some of the older members of the family, like his paternal grandfather, still half believed it to be true.
Vidal himself was convinced, that in the old days any Gens in his family who established, and he knew there must have been many, would have been spirited away to the auctions. In later years they would either have been sent to Gen orphanages run mainly by the householdings, or given over for adoption. He often wondered how many of the people that he met during his travels were actually related to him in one way or another? Unfortunately, it was a question that would never be answered.
When Jason had introduced his parents, both had been uncertain how to greet him. He could sense the hesitation in their nagers, which was not really surprising since from infancy Gens were taught, that as a matter of courtesy, you did not touch a strange Sime unless invited to do so.
This being the case Vidal immediately took the matter into his own tentacles, and stuck his hand out to Simon, Jason’s father, in the Gen manner. Even allowing a peck on the cheek from his mother Betty. Both insisting that he call them by their first names.
‘Tell me Vidal. I know you and my son are partners, but what exactly does your work entail?’ Betty asked as she shepherded them both into the kitchen. ‘I thought it would be more cosy if you eat in here tonight, as you two boys are the only ones still to be fed.’ Vidal had not been called a "boy" since he had changed over, but he kept a discreet silence as she chatted on. ‘Jason sent me a list of the foods you don’t eat Vidal, so there’s no necessity for you to keep worrying about the ingredients.’
Vidal thanked her politely.
‘I have to admit we do occasionally eat meat,’ Simon interrupted, ‘but not often. We keep sheep, but we make more from their wool, and it would be foolish to eat the profits on a small farm like this. So apart from eggs, we tend to eat a lot of fish, and we grow our own veggies.’
‘Besides there’s far more synthetic meat around these days.’ Betty chimed in. ‘But we couldn’t afford to keep it.’
Vidal managed not to shudder. Meat, which was still eaten by most Gens, was not synthetic in the strict sense of the word. Yet neither did it come from an animal grazing in the field. It quite simply grew like a huge lump from animal cells, in a cold room in most Gen households. There was no brain, which could order the rate of growth, nor a nervous system to enable it to feel pain. Strips would be cut off the lump as required, and it would simply grow a replacement of the piece thus removed. When not cut, it simply remained inert. But as it was living flesh, it never went putrid.
Vidal had read about it, understood the mechanics well enough, but had never actually seen it. Neither had he any wish to do so. Gens however put forward the argument that it left more land for Earth’s ever-growing population to live on. They also insisted that it was far more humane to grow their meat this way, rather than raise animals to be slaughtered. Perhaps they were right, but he had no desire to debate the point, for both ways were equally obnoxious to a Sime. Quickly he swallowed his nausea at the very idea, as he forced his attention back to the present.
Vidal glanced at the Gens clustered around the table. They were now all talking at once, most of the questions directed at his partner. However, there was no animosity in the ambient towards himself, just curiosity, which was to be expected and natural pleasure that Jason was home.
Aaron at twenty-four could be Jason’s twin, rather than his younger brother. Although unlike his older sibling, he tended to listen rather than talk.
Clarrie, Jason’s older half sister, who taught at the local school on the island, sat to one side embroidering a cushion cover. A gentle art that was rarely seen nowadays.
The two youngest girls, Gail seventeen and Rachel fifteen sat directly opposite Vidal and starred rather disconcertingly straight at him, neither of their gazes wavering one inch from his handsome face. He knew at once that they both had a bad case of infatuation, and made a mental note to tell his partner at the earliest opportunity. The last thing he wanted was to cause any problem for his hosts while he was staying here.
Ian at just thirteen, the youngest Devere, was also the most inquisitive. Vidal had zlinned him as soon as he was introduced, and had ascertained at once that he had not yet established. Neither did he look particularly Gen or Sime. He did not have the wiry frame that sometimes denoted a potential changeover. On the other hand, he did not carry the usual puppy fat that boys of his age did.
The Channel was well aware that none of these things could ever really indicate which way the boy might finally go, and therefore he decided to keep a close eye on his partner’s younger brother during their stay on the island.
‘Stephen and his wife have asked you and Vidal to visit them,’ his mother suddenly called across to Jason, who waved a hand in acknowledgement.
‘Do you still have pens Vidal?’ The young voice had immediately brought the Channel’s attention crashing down to Earth, as he stared across at his interrogator in surprise. Aware also that practically every eye in the room was now turned towards him.
‘Ian! Don’t be so silly.’ His mother said at once, with an apologetic glance.
‘Holy hell I’m not being silly Mum!’ Ian denied the accusation at once, as she told him not to swear. ‘It was on the newscast the other night, Dad saw it too, didn’t you Dad? They said the Tecton still have Pens, and Gens are put in them and they keep them drugged and chained and then they kill them!’ His voice rose high with excitement, as he recounted the gory details, making sure everyone within range could hear. ‘You heard it Dad didn’t you?’ He persisted, as bloodthirsty as any youngster of his age.
‘Simon what have I told you about letting Ian see things like that?’ Betty demanded of her husband. ‘He’ll be having nightmares next.’
‘It was just one of those investigation programmes Betty.’ His father defended at once. ‘I’m sure most people didn’t really take it seriously.’
‘Of course not!’ She agreed, ‘but youngsters shouldn’t watch them, you know that.’
‘I’m thirteen Mum, and besides they said they had proof.’ Her son began again, only to be shushed by his father, and asked if he didn’t think that it was time he was in bed, as it was a school day tomorrow, by his mother.
It had now stopped raining, and Vidal stared through the window at the new Moon, it was just visible amongst the storm clouds that were moving away from the island.
Ian’s question had brought the whole unpleasant episode with Sam Betjeman back into his mind. No one, unless they were directly involved with the running of these establishments, and therefore sworn to secrecy, were aware that the modern Tecton still had Centres that catered exclusively for the small number of Simes, who could not, and never would, be able to disjunct.
Unfortunates who may have killed several times before they were caught. Including those who did not have the willpower, or indeed in some cases the desire, to change their way of life. Vidal sighed. Unfortunately even today, out of a population of over two billion, there were always some Simes each year, who fell into this category.
To his eternal shame, he knew that these Centres did indeed breed Gens simply to be killed. Oh he knew the conditions in which they were raised were nothing like the pens of old. But could all the luxury in the world, and the gentle handling, disguise the fact that Gens were kept drugged, and then sacrificed to keep Simes alive? Could it ever be justified?
How could one life be weighed against another? More importantly of course, it was not just one life! True a good Channel could force a transfer into a junct for several months running, but sooner or later, perhaps once or even twice a year, they had to take another kill. A junct might not live as long as a normal Sime, but with the care and attention they received their life expectancy after changeover was usually far in excess of fifteen years. Which meant a minimum of fifteen Gens per Sime sentenced to death, having committed no crime, except the one of being born a Gen.
What if the irrefutable proof that the reporters were after ever found its way into the outside World? Proof that these places still existed? How could the Tecton justify or explain why they considered that the life of one junct Sime, was worth the sacrifice of so many Gens? No matter that the Gens were bred in the Centres, knew no other existence, and were drugged from the cradle to the grave - they were still human beings - with as much right to life as the next man or woman, be they Gen or Sime.
He had never heard one good argument put forward to support the system amongst his fellow Channels, and he knew that he never would. He himself believed, rightly or wrongly, that fear of attrition itself was the underlying reason why the system still prevailed even today. The fear of most Simes - that there, but for the grace of God, go I!
What should he do, expose what was going on to the authorities? To do so might well cause riots in the streets. Gens would refuse to donate selyn, frightened that they would be spirited away to a Sime Pen! Desperate Simes might then return to the kill. Could he condone all that, or perhaps even be responsible for returning the Earth to such chaos? It could happen again, just as it had happened in the past. Only a fool would say that it could not, and he had heard all the arguments for and against so many times before.
Yet what was the answer? In a way it was simple. If a Sime could not disjunct then he must be allowed to die. He had suggested as much to Jordan Farris during their many heated arguments. If they could not face attrition, then they could be sedated, or perhaps even helped to die by the administration of a quick acting poison, if they so wished, and was it really any worse than what the Gens had to face? A harsh reality, but one that had to be faced if humanity were to co-exist in peace and harmony for much longer.
He had also argued, that the prestige and honour that was still bestowed on the Householdings and the Tecton, would be lost for ever, if the Gens found out what was happening behind their backs.
He had tried once, in the past, to alter the ideas of the hierarchy that condoned and ran these institutions, but without any noticeable success. He well remembered the reasoned arguments he had tried to have with Jordan, who at the time was next in line to the House of Zeor. Since then Jordan’s father had died, and Jordan had become Sectuib. Vidal did not envy his friend his new position.
During their many angry discussions, he had asked Jordan just how many Gen lives did he believe should be sacrificed to maintain one Sime life? Unfortunately he had been very young at the time and had quickly lost his temper, with what he had thought to be Jordan’s unfeeling arrogance, and had quickly learned a hard fact of life. That he, who looses his temper, also looses the argument. Today if he again got the opportunity, he would not be so stupid.
As he recalled now, the Jordan Farris he had shared a room with had not been a fool. Perhaps as they had both grown older, his friend had learned not to have a closed mind, but to think for himself, and not just accept the teachings handed down by his ancestors as being the only true gospel around.
After all, how could even the Sectuib in Zeor explain to a Gen like Jason or to any one else, that such institutions still existed? And existed with the full knowledge and co-operation not only of the Tecton, but also such respected householdings as Zeor, who also supplied most of the Channels and staff that ran them?
With a deep sigh he firmly pushed the problem to the back of his mind to be dealt with at a later date. He was playing the coward he knew, for it had to be faced sooner or later, but for the moment at least, he preferred for it to be later.
Read Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3--Comment to the Author and then READ Chapter 2 NOW.
Companion in Zeor is Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 by Sime~Gen Inc.
A New Beginning is copyright © 2000, 2001 by Sime~Gen Inc.
The Sime~Gen universe was created by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and is owned by Sime~Gen Inc. This story and its setting may not be reused without explicit permission of the Corporation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This Page Was Last Updated by JL 01/19/01 10:20 AM EST (USA)
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