"I've been doing those breathing exercises you taught me," Ava told her cousin as they threaded their way through the colorful chaos along Unity Boulevard. "They really do help. Lennie, I feel bad that you have to do this on your day off. Next month, you don't have to go with me. I'll be fine."
"I don't mind." It was true that since Lenatta worked at the Sime Center, it would have been simpler for her to take a few minutes during a normal workday to donate. And she had never really understood what Ava found so traumatic about such a simple and painless procedure. But the cousins had lived under the same roof for most of their lives, and since they were within a few months of the same age, they had always been close. Lenatta was more than willing to offer what moral support she could, so she'd fallen into the habit of scheduling her donation appointment back-to-back with Ava's.
"I feel silly dragging you along, Lennie. I want to do it on my own." Lenatta wished her cousin sounded a little less morose about it. But maybe this was just something Ava had to do for reasons she either could not, or didn't care to explain. Lenatta, who often made decisions guided by intuitions reached in a trance state or in dreams, could understand that.
"Either way, cuz. No big deal to me."
It was a hot, still afternoon in the final days of summer. The boulevard was crowded with locals and travelers in all manner of odd regional dress, including a few retainered Simes, hurrying to their destinations or shopping at a bazaar hosted by dozens of selyn-powered and animal-drawn conveyances. These were legal as long as they kept moving, but the law did not specify that they had to move particularly fast, and most did not.
Lenatta could vaguely recall a time, during her early childhood, when the streets of downtown Shaygo were not nearly so crowded with trade traffic. She knew that the city's economy had been revitalized twenty years earlier, after the Simetown wall had finally been completed. It was her father's progressive coalition that had first advanced the crazy idea of building a high wall around the most run-down area of the city, declaring it Sime Territory, and offering long-term leases at incredibly low rates to any Tecton citizen who was willing to fix up the properties. It had been a district filled with boarded-up buildings and long since given over to squatters and criminals, but now it was almost completely restored. She glanced at the wall on the far side of the boulevard, its plain gray concrete decorated by colorful murals. Farther down the boulevard, the Sime Center straddled the wall, acting as gate-keeper between the two territories among its many other functions.
The foot traffic began to thin out a little as they left the heart of the business district. Ava walked beside her in silence, and Lenatta allowed her mind to drift, wondering if she would have time to pay Garrett a quick visit while Ava made her donation. She hadn't told Ava anything about him yet, and she briefly considered using that topic to revive the conversation. But what would she tell her? It was such a new relationship, still in what her cousin would call the heavy flirtation stage. And she doubted Ava would approve of Garrett. She decided that conversation could wait for another time.
After glancing around to make sure there were no Simes nearby, Lenatta began doing Zheng K'ai exercises as she walked. Breathe in, spirit expands; exhale and contract. From the reactions she'd gotten from Simes in the past, there was a fine line—if any—between the Zheng K'ai concept of spirit, and what Simes perceived as nager. When she'd first learned the techniques she'd sometimes amused herself by tapping Simes on the shoulder from a distance to see their reaction, but she was older now and tried to be more considerate.
"My dad's coming into town next week," Ava remarked. So apparently it wasn't just their destination that had her in such a pensive mood. Ava rarely saw her father, who was a Tecton Donor. As a child, Lenatta had been obsessed with the idea of entering that same profession, a dream that was probably inspired by listening to her uncle's stories. But after she established, she had learned that her field did not carry enough selyn to satisfy even a Third-Order Channel. Ava had not understood her cousin's disappointment, because she could not imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing in the first place.
Lenatta focused her attention on Ava, and envisioned a tendril of energy reaching out to touch her shoulder. It was a trick that would have made a Sime's head whip around with some combination of startlement, annoyance, and possibly intil. Ava, lost in her own thoughts, remained oblivious. Some members of Lenatta's Zheng K'ai Lodge insisted that they could affect other Gens with their nager, or spirit-force as they preferred to call it. Lenatta had never seen any evidence that this was possible, at least not directly. But there were the s'dho, the externals, techniques that used spirit-energy indirectly to communicate with others.
Tapping Ava's arm with a finger to get her attention, Lenatta allowed her feelings of love and friendship for her cousin to well up from deep inside, projecting nagerically because that was the easiest way to allow the emotions to manifest themselves naturally in her face, where they were expressed in the form of a broad smile. The name of the technique was internal sunlight.
Ava smiled back, also bringing forth feelings to make it more than just an exercise of the facial muscles. Ava had never been interested in formal Zheng Kai training, and Lenatta was a little surprised to hear that she had kept up with the breathing exercises Lenatta had shown her some years ago. But this one s'dho had caught her fancy, and had become a private ritual between the two cousins.
They passed a toy store, then an alley half-blocked by a jumble of boxes. Another few moments and they would be across the boulevard from the Center, but Ava's expression remained cheerful. Perhaps the therapy was finally starting to help her get over the worst of her fears. And performing the internal sunlight s'dho invariably made one feel better, because an emotion could not be projected without being genuine. It was a question of finding the feeling inside and nurturing it.
"When my dad gets here, Lennie, I want to tell him—"
A chilling shriek echoed from the mouth of the alley behind them. Lenatta froze in place, trying to decide if it sounded like a cry of terror, or of triumph. Some other pedestrians had also paused to look for the source of the sound, but most continued walking, perhaps telling themselves it was a child at play. Some sped up to hurry past the dark, narrow alleyway, or crossed to the opposite side of the boulevard. Ava, on the other hand, turned back and took a few steps into the mouth of the alley.
"Ava, what are you doing? Come back here!" What they'd heard had convinced her something serious was happening back there behind the piles of boxes. Rape or murder, perhaps.
"Someone's hurt, Lennie. We have to—"
"Don't be crazy, anything could be going on back there. Ava!" Her cousin had moved deeper into the alley, and Lenatta followed her reluctantly.
"Hello? Is someone there? Do you need any help?"
Quick and feral, like a stalking cat, a scrawny boy of about twelve came out of the shadows. Lenatta's first thought was that he was too small to pose a threat to two grown women. Then she saw that he was no child, though he probably had been only a short while before.
Ava saw this too, and began to back up, pressing her hands over her mouth and screaming through her fingers. Nothing human in his face, the boy lunged for her. He caught her by one wrist with fingers and tentacles and tried for a grip on the other.
Lenatta grabbed his free arm, thinking to drag him toward the nearby Center. But she soon realized that she had no chance of overpowering him physically. He snarled at her and made a vigorous effort to shake her loose. He was incredibly strong, but she hung on by moving with him, rather than trying to resist his strength.
She glanced at Ava's face, pale as frost and showing no more intelligence than that of the young Sime. Lenatta knew that her cousin could survive the attack if she could overcome her fear, and knew also that to tell her so at this point would be as useful as telling a fish to breathe air. Desperate to redirect the berserker's attention, she interposed herself physically, trying to project the suggestion that he take her instead, because she was certain she could remain calm enough to avoid injury. He clawed roughly at Lenatta's arm, trying to shove her out of the way and get to Ava. Her training allowed her to ignore the minor physical pain, but it wouldn't take him long to get past her if he took the time to get a secure grip on some part of her.
Lenatta realized it was her very calmness that made her so nagerically uninteresting. The Sime was operating on pure instinct, and her desire to save Ava held no appeal for him. Lenatta focused her attention on their attacker completely, pushing Ava and their surroundings from her mind. She could see the desperate need in his face and let herself respond to that, trying to initiate what her uncle called selyur nager by projecting the desire to give, as strongly as she could.
He was on her in an instant, handling tentacles sliding into place around her forearms. They tightened, and she felt the moist, warm tickle of his laterals against her skin. A voice spoke from somewhere deep inside Lenatta, her own voice; you must not be afraid.
This was nothing like donating at the Center. Unlike the polite and professional channels, this Sime was gripping her hard enough to bruise as he jerked her forward abruptly, pulling her down to seek the fifth contact necessary to begin the transfer. But as their lips met, she found that fear was the farthest thing from her mind.
Ecstasy. It was over in the space of a few heartbeats, but as the Sime released her and began looking around him in confusion, it seemed as though the world around them had changed. The quality of the light was different, lending the alleyway a kind of solemn and otherworldly beauty.
She caught his hands and held them tightly, determined to keep him from running off if she could. He had given her a precious gift, a memory she was sure she would treasure for the rest of her life. The least she could do in return was to get him safely to the Center, to Sime territory. Here on the Gen side of the wall, not wearing retainers, he could be shot or beaten to death even if he showed no aggression.
The Sime wrenched his hands free but did not try to escape. Instead, he collapsed against her, sobbing, covering his face with hands and tentacles. She wrapped her arms around him but could not keep him from sinking to the ground. She sat down beside him, still holding him protectively as she glanced over her shoulder. A small crowd had gathered, and Lenatta moved to shield the boy—an adult now, under Tecton law, but it was impossible to think of him that way—from the eyes of the curious onlookers. She pulled his face against her shoulder, hoping to keep his tentacles hidden. There were still plenty of citizens of Shaygo who were not as progressive as her parents.
"Somebody get a channel! I have an injured child here." The crowd shuffled back and forth on its many feet, but nobody turned to leave. They all seemed torn between caution and the desire for a better look at whatever was happening in the alley.
The Sime seemed content to lie passively in her arms. He didn't smell any too clean, and now that her eyes had adjusted to the dimness she could see that his clothing was ragged and stained. A street kid, possibly the child of squatters who'd been driven out of the old slum section when it was converted to Sime Territory. Simetown had unquestionably improved the local economy, but there were still homeless kids in Shaygo who scrounged through garbage cans looking for something to eat.
Lenatta turned to Ava, who stood with her back pressed against the wall of the nearest building. Her face was still pale but her eyes were aware as she looked back at her cousin. "Lennie, are you all right? What did you do to him?"
"Go over to the Sime Center and get Hajene Serault, will you?" Ava just looked at her with a dazed expression. "Go on. It's right across the street. Please, Ava, go and get her now!" The Sime flinched as Lenatta allowed her irritation to surface. Annoyed at her loss of control, she murmured an apology and stroked his shoulder. When she looked up again, she was happy to see that Ava was pushing her way purposefully through the gawkers without responding to their questions.
***Sitting across from the cousins in one of the Sime Center's conference rooms, Lise Serault did not speak until her Donor had helped remove her retainers. With a sigh of pleasure, she took a damp, herb-scented cloth from a dispenser and used it to wipe her forearms. Elegant and diminutive, the Director of the Shaygo Sime Center dominated the room in spite of her lack of physical stature. "All right, you girls want to tell me what happened?"
Ava sat looking down at the small table that sat surrounded by the plush floral-patterned chairs the four women were sitting in. Lenatta reached over to take her cousin's hand, which lay limp and unresponsive in her grasp. Since Ava seemed unwilling to speak, Lenatta gave a factual account of events, which did not take long. It seemed to her that she was leaving something out, failing to convey the momentous nature of what had transpired. Lise merely shook her head and covered her eyes. "Oh, Lenatta. You couldn't have gotten him the rest of the way here, and let me take care of him? This is going to complicate things."
"I tried. It was too late."
"I'd better take a look at you. You seem fine, but I'd like to be sure."
Lenatta, knowing what was expected, stood up and stepped over to an open area near the closed door, holding out her arms to accept the channel's grip. Margi, a slender Gen who wore her gray hair braided and coiled around her head, stood also and positioned herself to prevent any interference from Ava's field. Lise took Lenatta's arms gently, tentacles traveling over the sore spots left by the young berserker's attack. The channel made lip contact briefly, then said, "As I thought, no trauma at all. Really, it's a shame you weren't trained as a Donor. You seem to have the right instincts for it." As she spoke her tentacles continued moving over the bruises that were just starting to form, and the soreness began to fade. Usually, Lenatta felt at least a twinge of long-buried pain when she was reminded of her thwarted ambition, but at the moment she was feeling too good for those memories to bother her. So this is what post-syndrome feels like.
The channel released her. "Your turn, Ava." Ava finally looked up from the table, eyes wide with alarm. Lise made a grasping motion in the air with her tentacles to clarify what she meant. "Come on, let me have a look at you."
"I'm fine! He never got me. He just had me by one wrist—I'm fine." She didn't look fine to Lenatta; she looked like she might pass out at any moment, and Lenatta privately thought Lise could take it a little easier on Ava.
"Let me check, just to be on the safe side."
Ava stood up, breathing hard, arms trembling as she held them out to the channel. Margi stood close behind Lise, gesturing at Lenatta to step back out of the way before she placed her hands on the channel's shoulders. Lise beckoned to Ava. "You come to me," she said implacably. Ava took a couple of steps forward, but when Lise reached for her she let out a little whimper and backed rapidly away, not stopping until her back hit the oak-paneled wall.
Lenatta had sometimes thought that Margi's slender build made her look almost Sime until you looked at her bare forearms, but seeing the two women standing together, she wondered how she could ever have had that impression. Margi could never look the way Lise did now, hyperconscious, the very essence of Simeness as she tilted her head to one side like a bird of prey and zlinned Ava with her laterals slightly extended. Lenatta thought it was fortunate that Ava's eyes were tightly shut, because she believed that otherwise, her cousin would have fled the Center then with no intention of ever returning.
Margi stroked her channel's shoulders and murmured soothingly to her, and Lenatta knew she was doing a great deal more that was not visible to the eye. Working at the Center had given her more understanding of her own effect on the ambient than most out-Territory Gens, and her Zheng K'ai training gave her better nageric control than was expected even of those raised in Sime Territory. She had picked up bits and pieces of the Donor's trade over the years, but her amateur efforts were not always appreciated, and she had the feeling that this was a situation where she had better step carefully to avoid getting yelled at by Lise or Margi. But it was frustrating to just stand here and do nothing.
Lenatta decided she couldn't get in too much trouble for going over to offer a little comfort to Ava, and if she interposed whatever was left of her selyn field between Lise and her cousin in the process, so much the better.
"Hey, cuz. Take it easy." Ava's eyes were still shut, so she he was careful to speak first so that Ava would know she was there. But it still proved to be a mistake to lay a comforting hand on her cousin's arm, because Ava jumped and made a small sound of terror. Margi looked at them balefully.
"Have some consideration. This is not the time or place for you to cause this kind of disruption." She lowered her voice. "Lise, I think you should have someone else examine her." Lenatta knew that Lise was only three days from her scheduled transfer date, but decided it would not be a good idea to mention this to Ava by way of explanation.
"No, I'm all right." Lise's eyes were focused again and she looked calm enough, though she reached back to trap one of Margi's hands against her shoulder. "Just stay with me. If we're going to do this, we have to do it now. Ava, just let me take a look, and if you're not hurt—and I don't see how you would be, if he only had you by one wrist—then I can take your donation here. We don't have to move to the other room."
Ava looked at her disbelievingly.
"Well, isn't that what you girls came here for today? I can't very well take a donation from Lenatta, of course. She doesn't have enough selyn left for it to be worth the trouble." The channel's lips quirked briefly. "But there's no reason not to take yours. Unless you are injured and unaware of it, in which case I certainly want to know about that."
She looked at Ava and waited for an answer, and there was something about her pose that suggested she could wait as long as was necessary. Ava looked at Lenatta, which made her wonder what was expected of her. The last thing she'd tried to do to improve the situation hadn't worked out very well.
"Can Lennie—I know she can't hold my hand, but could she sort of stand behind me and put her arms around me?"
"Yes, that would work. Lenatta, try for a more neutral field effect, please. I know you are trying to support Ava, but she can't zlin what you are doing anyway. Interfere as little as possible. There, that's much better."
Lenatta hugged her cousin awkwardly from behind, and caught herself starting to project a warm, comforting feeling at Ava. Neutral, that was what she said. It was Ava's father who'd first told her that the secret to getting along with Simes was to think calm, happy thoughts at them, and Lenatta had found that it worked pretty well with Gens as well, though the results were not as immediate or as dramatic. "Breathe, Ava. Breath control is mind control."
Ava, her eyes still closed, nodded jerkily and took a deep, shuddering breath.
"Ava, I will not come any closer until you open your eyes."
Ava didn't reply right away, and Lenatta watched with approval as her cousin visibly got herself under control. "All right, Lise. I'm as ready as I'm going to be."
When it was done, Ava turned around and rested her head on Lenatta's shoulder, hiding a face that looked wan and tired. Lise did not look much better. Margi stood behind her, rubbing her neck and regarding Ava's back through narrowed eyes. To Lenatta she said, "All right. Why don't you take her out of here now?"
Lenatta rose early the next morning to go to the Lodge before work. She was not a morning person, and usually attended the evening sessions. But today she'd woken before dawn, filled with restless energy. She would have to do something to settle herself if she was to be of any use at the Center, where she managed the selyn records, compiling abstracts prepared by secretaries from the channels' reports into the Center's master ledger. She'd done a few exercises in her room, where she kept a large open area for just that purpose. But her focus was poor, and sometimes the group environment helped.
It was a small gathering, mostly Inner Circle, those who had demonstrated their control over the physical component of energy. Bren led, as usual, which was good. She sometimes found him annoying on a personal level, but he seldom failed to knit the group's energy into a harmonious whole.
However, as they began the session, Lenatta still could not find her focus. They began with the y'oa, the physical movements, stretching and tensing muscles in a pattern long familiar to Lenatta. But she was merely going through the motions. And as Bren moved on the spirit disciplines and led them through pillar between earth and sky, it was all Lenatta could do to keep from bursting into laughter. This exercise, in which the practitioner visualized the body as a tree with deep roots and branches that stretched toward the heavens, was normally one of her favorites. But as she began to will the polarized energies to surge through her body in opposite directions, all she could think was, it tickles! And during the closing meditation, she found herself wanting to drift off to sleep.
As she made her way toward the women's changing room after the session, Bren managed to intercept her. "I guess I know who's been giving her selyn to the Simes again," he muttered in a low voice, smirking at her. She favored him with a cheery smile but made no other reply. She was the only one of the Inner Circle who donated. The rest of them held the belief that it would interfere with their spiritual development to be low-field part of the time. But there was room in the Lodge for difference of opinion, plenty of room, sometimes leading to lengthy debates over points that were trivial or unprovable. Lenatta had never had any problem doing the exercises after donating, though it did make her feel different—less powerful perhaps, but lighter, more free.
Inside the changing room, Danae was telling everyone about another of her visions. She had them often, during closing meditation, and usually told the other women as they changed.
"I left the ground and I flew through the air like a bird," Danae said in a dreamy chant, like the voice Bren used when leading the group. "There were some people in a tall, narrow building, like a needle with glass all around. No windows were open but I could hear one of them talking to me, as if she were speaking into my ear. I knew that if I did as she said, I wouldn't get into any trouble, but I found myself thinking that I might like to do something else, instead. Then it changed, and a man in an underground chamber filled with strange lights gave me numbers that would be of significance as I began my journey."
A couple of the women made noises of polite interest, probably out of respect for Danae's position as an initiate of the Inner Circle. She claimed that her visions were glimpses into the life of the Ancients, and perhaps they were. But she never retrieved anything useful, like a lost technology. Most of them were either very commonplace or else difficult to interpret, like this one.
Lenatta wiped away the sweat that had formed from the exertions of the y'oa and put on her work clothing, trying to straighten the wrinkles from the blue linen dress that she'd carried to the Lodge in a knapsack. This was another reason she preferred to go after work, instead. But perhaps, though not successful for her in any usual sense, this session had calmed her down a bit.
As she left, Bren caught her arm. "I had a dream about you last night, Lenatta." There was nothing of mockery in his voice now. "I dreamed that you died, which is often symbolic of some great change in a person's life. You also turned a young child into a Sime. I don't know what that means, I've never received that image before."
"Thank you, Bren, for telling me." She was not surprised to hear of the dream, for unlike Danae, he often received knowledge of things that could be verified in the real world. But he often had an inexact understanding of the information, and his dreams usually contained a mix of symbolism and literal truth. She was not about to tell him that the second part of the dream was not far from the latter case.
She decided to walk to work rather than taking the bus. The morning session was held early enough that she had plenty of time, and the sun was still low enough on the horizon that the air was still cool, though a clear sky promised relentless heat later in the day. When she got to the Center, rather than going to her office, she cut through the building to the medical section. The office of Garrett Brunson, the Medical Administrator, was near the back of the building—or the front, if you came in through the Sime-side entrance. Garrett was a channel, but could never be licensed for actual channeling work because he was disjunct.
Lenatta pressed the door signal and could hear the soft chime from inside Garrett's office. The room was well insulated against selyn field interference, but not for sound. Garrett called out an invitation. She opened the door and stepped inside. Garrett was sitting behind his desk with the lights out, the room lit only by the sunlight coming through the tall, narrow windows that looked out on Simetown's Circle Drive. Lenatta closed the door behind herself but did not move further into the room.
"Len'ta, I understand you had a little adventure." His voice was flat and controlled, and she could read little in his face due to the poor lighting. It might not have revealed much, anyway, as Garrett was very close to the end of his need cycle.
"I guess you could call it that." The last time they'd spoken, he had asked her to stay away until after she donated. Lise had assured her that her experience in the alley had lowered her field at least as much as a normal donation would have done. Still, to be sure that what little effect her nager had on Garrett would not annoy him any more than necessary, she breathed deeply and thought of running water and composting leaves. The running-water image settled her own nerves and allowed her to project a feeling of calmness. It was a trick used by some of the professional Donors. The other was more unique to Lenatta; she'd learned through a long process of experimentation and feedback that when she thought of the smell of leaf compost, it had the effect of lowering intil for any Sime nearby.
"Lise told me what happened. I'm glad you're not hurt."
"I'm fine. What about you, how are you feeling?'
"As well as can be expected." Lenatta wished there were something she could do to help. Earlier in his cycle, she could have made him feel better by rubbing his shoulders or the sheathes of his handling tentacles. But just now, she had a feeling that he'd get mad if she even offered. All she could do for him was to think positive thoughts, for whatever good that might do given the weakened state of her field. "So are you still taking me out to dinner tomorrow night, after you have your transfer?"
Her eyes had adjusted to the dimness enough for her to see the smile that passed briefly over his features, like a flicker of sunlight on an overcast day. "Of course. Don't say I didn't warn you, though. Lise can get me very post. If you just want to have a pleasant meal with civilized conversation, it might be better to postpone this until later in the week. Otherwise you might have to hit me with a loaf of bread of something to get me to behave."
"Oh, I don't think that will be necessary." She wanted to touch him, and she didn't want to wait until tomorrow night. Perhaps, with her field as low as it was, it would be safe for her to offer him a backrub. "Do you want me to—"
"You'd better go now." She'd forgotten all about the running water and the leaves. For a few moments, it had seemed as if he'd managed to push away any thought of need, but now he was regarding her with an intensity that might have alarmed her if she'd been foolish enough to allow herself to react that way. "I'll see you tomorrow. I promise, I'll have all this straightened out by then."
The next morning, Lenatta went back to the medical section, walking past the closed door to Garrett's office on her way to the patient apartments. These were mostly used for long-term patients who did not require constant medical surveillance, but who the channels felt should be isolated from the general population of Simetown for one reason or another. These apartments were not as heavily secured as other parts of the Center complex, such as the disjunction ward, but they could be accessed only through the office of the program coordinator. When Lenatta arrived there she found the coordinator, a renSime named Fai, sitting at her desk with a harried expression on her face and a pile of paperwork in front of her. Through a window that looked out on an adjoining room, Lenatta could see Sephin, sitting on the edge of a comfortable-looking sofa and peering around himself with quick, nervous curiosity. He was scheduled to leave for an orientation camp in-Territory in a few days, and had asked for a chance to say goodbye to Lenatta. Lise had approved his request, with some reservations.
Fai unlocked the door between the two rooms and closed it behind Lenatta, who sat down facing Sephin. She glanced at the window, and could see Fai bent over her paperwork once again. When she looked back at Sephin, his eyes had lost focus in hyperconsciousness.
A moment later he was looking at her again, with a rather haunted expression. "I guess that wasn't very polite. I'm sorry. But I wasn't sure if I could recognize you just by seeing, because…" He trailed off and looked into the distance over her shoulder, and Lenatta had the impression that this time, his focus had turned inward.
"It's all right. I know things must be kind of confusing for you right now."
"Well, they have been explaining it to me, about that camp where I have to go and learn how to be a Sime." Sephin was clean now, and wearing decent clothing that fit him reasonably well. If anything, this made him look younger—too young, surely, to be told he was an adult now and sent away to some strange place all alone.
He held up one arm and extended his handling tentacles, which had been retracted since she'd come into the room. He looked at them, then at her. "Do they scare you?"
"No. Why should they?"
"People are scared of Simes."
"You'll be living in-Territory. Things are different there. So I'm told, anyway, I've never been there myself." She recalled the last time her mother had served carbonated water with dinner, the way the bubbles had risen in the glass. Upward, endless, effervescent. "So what are you going to do after the camp?"
He smiled. "They told me there's all kinds of different jobs I can learn at the camp, so when I get out I should be able to earn some serious money. I always wanted to go to plumbing school, but I didn't see any way we could afford it. There's no charge at all for anything at that camp, did you know that?" It occurred to Lenatta that despite the complications Lise had told her might arise from their transfer, Sephin's future prospects were probably still brighter than they would have been if he'd established, instead. Had that been the case, it was unlikely that anyone would have paid his way through trade school. It made her a little ashamed on behalf of the Shaygo city government.
"I have to take tests at that camp, to see what I might be good at," Sephin continued. "But they said it's partly up to me what I want to do. Do you have to study a lot to learn to be a plumber?"
"I don't know much about plumbing. But I'm sure they can tell you at the camp. Sephin, I talked to Hajene Serault, and she told me you might have some problems because of what I did. I'm sorry." Lise knew that Lenatta had not had much choice, but had told her the consequences were still her responsibility. Lenatta agreed, because she hadn't offered transfer to Sephin just to save Ava from him. She had wanted to do it. She had not realized that renSimes who experienced direct Gen transfer, particularly their first transfer, sometimes had problems. Some adjusted to channel's transfer with no significant difficulty. But like disjuncts, a Sime with that background had a statistically shorter life span, lower income, and greater chance of a criminal record. The stigma was less severe than disjunction—she knew something about that, having heard Garrett talk about some of what he'd been through on his way to finding a relatively respectable and well-paid job, though of course he did not enjoy the status he would have had if he were permitted to work as a channel.
"I knew what was happening," Sephin said. "I was going to come here and ask for help. But it's such a nice looking building, I wasn't sure if it was all right for me to go in. I know that sounds stupid. But I decided I was going to just rest for awhile and think it over. I remember finding a place to hide behind some boxes, and then, then everything was these bright lights."
He fell silent, lost in a memory so far outside Lenatta's experience that she could think of nothing to say. "If you hadn't stopped me, I guess I would have killed that other girl. I couldn't help it. It was like I went crazy. I guess it'll happen again next month."
Rising bubbles. From his expression, it wasn't helping as much this time. "The Tecton won't let you hurt anyone, Sephin. You just have to trust that the channels will take care of you."
"I guess. They're sending me to that camp in a couple of days. Can I get your phone number, so I can call you if I need someone to talk to?"
Lise had foreseen this request. "Hajene Serault told me I could give you my address if you want to write to me. Here, I wrote it down." Sephin was barely literate, and Lise felt it might be a good idea to give him some incentive to improve his writing skills. But she had told Lenatta that telephone contact would be too immediate, and might encourage Sephin to form a stronger bond with Lenatta than was really wise. She's also told Lenatta not to extend this visit for too long.
It felt wrong to leave so soon. She wanted to talk to him awhile longer. But she didn't want to do any more harm than she'd done already. She stood up and held out the slip of paper. "I will be thinking about you, and hoping things work out for you. Please believe that."
He reached for the paper in her hand, tentacles carefully retracted once more, and caught her fingers with his for a moment. She glanced at Fai through the window, and saw that the coordinator was still looking down at the papers on her desk. Which did not, of course, mean that she was not also observing them carefully. So be it. For good or bad, there was a connection between them. His first transfer, and hers—doubtlessly first and last, in her case. When he took the paper and their hands parted, she imagined that a flexible strand still bound them together.
Read Chapter Two
Comment to the Author
Companion in Zeor is Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 by Sime~Gen Inc.
Vocation is copyright © 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: email@example.com
This Page Was Last Updated by KXR 06/21/01
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